§ 3.58 p.m.
§ That this House regrets that the Chairman of Ways and Means, having selected for simultaneous discussion 16 Amendments numbered 34, 147, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 35, 37, 39, 40, 161, 175, 220, 361, and 73, of Clause 42 of (IC Finance Bill, failed to ensure adequate discussion of this Clause, which raises £1,100 million of taxation, by accepting a Motion for the Closure of Debate when a large number of Members still wished to speak during the sitting of Wednesday 29th June, thus infringing the rights of minorities.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would I be right in assuming that it would be convenient for the House to deal, at the same tine as it deals with the Motion just moved by the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod), with the Motion dealing with the same subject which I have on the Order Paper, appearing as item No. 23?
§ [That this House congratulates the Chairmen of Ways and Means on the manner in which he has exercised his discretion to accept Motions for the Closure of Debate, and considers that he was especially justified in accepting the Motion on 29th June in view of the difficulties Members had during the same week of June in securing time for debates in the House and in Committee on matters of paramount international importance and urgency.]
§ Mr. Speaker
I think that, in view of the terms of that Motion, it is inevitable that it will be discussed in connection with this Motion.
§ Mr. Macleod
These Motions are very infrequent, but not, of course, unprecedented, and the House normally treats them gravely and leaves them fairly swiftly. There have been about half a dozen since the war, and they have come equally from both sides of the House. The most recent cases refer to the acceptance of the Closure, and as what is now our Standing Order No. 31 governs this question, perhaps I could read the first paragraph to the House. It is called "Closure of Debate" and it says:After a question has been proposed a Member rising in his place may claim to move, 442 'That the question be now put,' and, unless it shall appear to the chair that such Motion is an abuse of the rules of the House, or an infringement of the rights of the minority, the question, 'That the question be now put,' shall be put forwith, and decided without amendment or debate.It is, of course, on the words about the abuse of the rights of the minority that this Motion, and virtually all previous Motions, has been linked.
The most recent Motion of this sort to come before the House was that concerning Sir Gordon Touche, on 13th February, 1961. I shall make some reference in the course of my speech to that debate. It was moved in an admirable speech by Hugh Gaitskell and I should like to adopt and adapt two of his comments. Having quoted that Standing Order, he went on to say:It is, in effect, because we believe that the acceptance of the Closure Motion by the Chairman on the occasion to which I have referred was an infringement of the rights of the minority in this House that we have felt obliged to put down the Motion."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th February, 1961; Vol. 634, c. 1029.]You, Sir, as Speaker, or the Chairman of Ways and Means, are normally the last court of appeal in these matters, subject, of course, to the final voice of the House itself. Naturally, the Closure is an essential part of our procedure, otherwise the power of the Opposition to obstruct business would be far too formidable. There are occasions when the Closure comes as a welcome conclusion—especially sometimes to Government supporters—of a debate, but it is always an infringement, even if a necessary one, of the rights of Members of this House and, therefore, the House, through the Standing Order which I have quoted, guards jealously its use.
As in so many cases, although the final complaint I am coming to lies in our view against the Chairman, the original complaint is in the handling of Government business itself. It is not only—the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) referred to this in another context a moment ago—that the programme is now hopelessly overloaded. We have far more than we can digest even by sitting absurdly long hours. Much of this, of course, comes from the fact that because of the General Election the Budget was a month later than usual. It would have been sensible, therefore, to have 443 recovered the time by having a Budget which could have passed fairly swiftly. Instead, we have the Selective Employment Tax.
We have, in effect, two Finance Bills, the one we have been considering and which, presumably, we shall conclude on Report in a few days' time, and the Ministry of Labour Bill, which has had its Second Reading, but is still to come before the House in Committee. It is not the fault of the Opposition that there are, in effect, two Finance Bills this year, nor can their rights to detailed criticism be thwarted because of this.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
The right hon. Gentleman has said that it is not the fault of the Opposition. Does he not realise that the obstructive and unnecessarily long and irrelevant speeches made by the Opposition during the Committee on the Finance Bill unnecessarily took time which could have been used for a variety of other business?
§ Mr. Macleod
I do not recall the hon. and learned Member being present during the long debates to which he has referred. I should be grateful if I could be allowed to proceed with my argument. Certainly, it cannot be the responsibility of the Opposition that there was this misjudgment about the Selective Employment Tax. Certainly, this has led to the largest postbag I have ever had in my time in this House—[Horn. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes, at any time, so far as I am concerned, and I speak only for myself. This has led to an attempt to force the Finance Bill, and especially Clause 42, which is now Clause 44 in the reprinted Bill, through the House by the use of the Closure.
We believe that in two instances, and it is the second which forms the subject of this Motion, in accepting the Closure, the Chairman was at fault and in breach of the Standing Order in agreeing to the Government's attempts to hurry on at all costs.
The Leader of the House has said that seven days is an average for a Committee stage on the Finance Bill. I think that he will agree that that is a meaningless phrase. Sometimes it takes one day and sometimes, as last year, it may take 444 20. This year we spent two full days on the errors of last year's Bill. What is quite clear is that we cannot weigh a Clause or a Bill by its size. Clause 44, which has led to this debate, is comparatively short—Clause 44 in the reprinted Bill and Clause 42 in the Committee. There is no disagreement on that. It is comparatively short and clear, but it is, of course, itself the whole of the Budget.
This Clause raises £1,133 million in taxation by deeply controversial measures and another Bill deals with the refund. The two Bills were not ready together. That is one of the difficulties there have been before the House. To give a comparison, we spent nearly a whole day debating a betting tax, although that is largely agreed, to raise £11 million. This Clause raises more than a hundred times as much and we spent only two days, although they were very extended indeed, on it. To this Clause the Official Opposition Front Bench tabled only four Amendments. We could scarcely have been more modest than that. One of these was not called. Another dealt with a legal point which was disposed of swiftly. So there were only two which we asked to be discussed.
The first was to bring together the dates of the two Bills so that, first, the interest-free loan element would disappear, and, secondly, we would have time to put right what we thought were apparent flaws both in the drafting and in the intention of the two Measures. After an excellent debate which the Chancellor will remember, that was disposed of. Then we came to the Amendment which has led to this debate. The Chairman selected Amendment No. 34, in my name and the names of my hon. Friends, plus 16 other Amendments. Indeed, he selected 21 other Amendments because there were five Amendments to the Schedule which we were discussing as numbered 73 on the Notice Paper.
None of these, or very few of them, were consequential. They were all on different points and I protested privately and on the Floor of the Committee, as reported in the OFFICIAL REPORT in col. 1824, about this grouping. The usual phrase was omitted—not surprisingly perhaps, on this occasion—"It may be for the convenience of the Committee". It 445 clearly was not for the convenience of the Committee and a number of my hon. Friends joined in this protest. We were overruled and the debate opened.
The actual debate continued for seven hours and eight minutes. That seems a long time until one looks at it more closely. In fact, it was no more than 20 minutes per Amendment. There were 28 speeches made, 13 from these benches, 13 from the Socialist benches, and two from the Liberal benches, this being the only occasion when—obviously is entirely in their rights—hon. Members on the Government benches spoke in force on this matter. Normally, of course, the pattern of debate is something of a dialogue between the Opposition and the Treasury Bench with occasional interventions from some o' our hon. Friends or the hon. Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. Harold Lever) and others; but the pattern of dialogue remains unaltered.
On this occasion—as I said, this is absolutely beyond criticism—hon. Members on the Government side spoke until we came to the Motion for the Closure, one for one, with this side of the Committee. We say that that is something which should have been taken into account by the Chief Whip when he moved the Closure, and even more so by the Chairman, who is our guardian in these mutters, when he considered whether to accept the Closure or not. The Financial Secretary spoke for 50 minutes. The three longest speeches came from the Labour benches. I ask the House to remember the wording of the Standing Order. The opposition had no more than nine minutes per Amendment.
I want to come swiftly to what happened at the end of the debate. I will just say of the debate itself, as anyone who heard it will testify to and as any body who has read the OFFICIAL REPORT of it would agree, that it was one of the best and most moving debates I have heard in the House of Commons. It was an excellent debate at all times. If there was any repetition, it was repetition on the question of part-timers, to which I have already referred.
The time came, at 10.40 p.m., when the Government had run out of their back bench speakers. Then, without considering the convenience of the rest of the Committee, they at once began prepara- 446 tions to end the debate, even though perhaps 10 Members on this side still wanted to speak. I do not blame the Government very much for trying this on, but in my submission it is clear from the facts I have given that the Chairman was wrong to accept the Motion.
The Financial Secretary, who was courteous throughout, sent me a note saying that he proposed to rise. This was immediately after the last speaker from his side of the Committee had sat down. I asked the Financial Secretary not to, pointing out that many of my hon. Friends had been here for about 7½ hours: but the Financial Secretary still rose to speak. I put a point of order to the Deputy Chairman. I appealed to the Financial Secretary to speak again, if necessary, and give an undertaking that he would answer the debate. The hon. and learned Gentleman's answer was.
"I give no undertakings at all."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th June, 1966; Vol. 730, c. 1946.] The Financial Secretary was polite, but he was clearly under orders.
Then we had to rely upon the Chair. In our view, the Chairman failed us. We were already convinced that the proceedings on the Finance Bill were being squeezed and that the programme was being squeezed so that time could be found for debates, not on Vietnam, because this was coming anyway, but on such matters as steel nationalisation or the Second Reading of the Prices and Incomes Bill.
What was needed from this side to complete that debate was about two hours—not more than that. Hon. Members opposite, whatever their enthusiasm may be, say, for steel nationalisation, will understand that we find it irritating and think it in breach of the Standing Order that we should have been constricted in that manner so that other matters irrelevant to that particular social service debate could come forward.
One of the difficulties of a Closure Motion, as the Chief Whip, whom I very sincerely congratulate on his new appointment, will know, is that the gallows is always knocked together in sight of the condemned men, who know that there is no possibility of a reprieve. One sees the P.P.S. moving backwards and forwards along the bench. One sees—I have done it in my time—[Laughter.]
447 Of course. One has the various consultations. Then the moment comes when the Chief Whip strolls casually into the Chamber and finally, when the Chairman slips into his seat, the Closure is moved. One knows that the Closure is about to take place.
One more speech was allowed from this side after the Financial Secretary had spoken, for form's sake. One urgent appeal was made by the Liberal Chief Whip that at least one speaker should be allowed to an Amendment to which up to that time no one had spoken. This was done. Then, at 11.58, the Closure was moved and accepted.
It is not easy from HANSARD—very few hon. Members opposite were here at the time—to resurrect the scene that followed. In the pages of HANSARD uproar is often simply described as "Interruption". It is very hard to know exactly the depth of feeling that was aroused. Some importance should be given to the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover), seated and covered—he is abroad now on business—gave notice—I direct hon. Members' attention to c. 1968—that he would move the sort of Motion which I now put before the House.
I want to make it clear that I had no knowledge of this; indeed, I did not discover it until some time afterwards. I myself had moved into the No Lobby both to oppose the Closure Motion and to consult. On returning, I gave notice—I direct attention to c. 1973—which has led to this debate. I gave one instance which I can repeat now. My hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Maurice Macmillan), who had been Economic Secretary to the Treasury and who had put his name to a key Amendment concerning medical contractual schemes, was among those on this side who had sat for over seven hours waiting in vain for the chance to speak. I emphasise that no one, apart from hon. Members on this side, was excluded by the Closure Motion.
Right up to the end of the debate entirely new points were still being raised. Entirely new points were raised in the very last speech made before the Financial Secretary spoke, as, indeed, the Financial Secretary immediately acknowledged. The speech which 448 immediately preceded the Financial Secretary's was that made by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devon-port (Dame Joan Vickers).
This was not the first time on Clause 42, as it then was, that we had found ourselves in serious conflict with the Chair. There was a disastrous earlier intervention by the First Secretary when he entered the Chamber and ordered the then Deputy Chief Whip to move the Closure, although only two Members wanted to speak. Then, in vast excitement, the First Secretary led his troops into the wrong Lobby on that proposal.
When we returned from that I moved to report Progress. I said:… if the Opposition feel that their rights are being abused we will not hesitate to put such a Motion"—that is, to criticise the conduct of the Chair, —on the Order Paper."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th June. 1966; Vol. 730, c. 1411.]Notice of this had already been given some little time before.
I want to speak briefly and come fairly swiftly to my conclusion. Amendment No. 34 was taken with 21 other Amendments. They related to the disabled, the blind, the deaf, the part-time, and to the elderly; to education, to health, and to the arts. Indeed, they were half a dozen Supply days in one. It is intolerable that the Closure should be applied when Opposition speakers, as I have shown, had had so little time to debate these, the most important of all the measures concerning the Selective Employment Tax.
So we bring the Motion before the House for exactly the same reason as that mentioned by Hugh Gaitskell in the speech to which I have referred:… we stand up not only for ourselves as the present Opposition, but for all future Oppositions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th February, 1961; Vol. 634, c. 1036.]Hugh Gaitskell was basically on a very similar point.
I am very grateful for the way the House has listened patiently to me. I have only a few short points to make. First, I wish to establish that the tabling of this Motion, although I was angry at the time, was not done just as a retort to a Ruling that we disliked. It was the culmination of a series of dissatisfied 449 complaints. This had been going on since the beginning of the Committee stage of the Finance Bill. At the end, I had written on the selection of new Clauses formally to the Chairman of Ways and Means. Secondly, I had protested, both privately and in the Committee, about the grouping around Amendment No. 34. Thirdly, with others I objected to the Closure arranged by the First Secretary of State. I gave a clear indication then of the course we would take.
Fourthly, the usual channels, which have a ceaseless intelligence in these matters, were very well aware of the dissatisfaction that there was on this side of the Committee. Then my hon. Friend moved entirely independently of myself such a Motion, and finally, although we drew up the Motion at once, we decided to wait a day before tabling it so that those who had not been present could have an opportunity of hearing us and deciding whether we should put it down.
How should this debate end? In all these Motions to which I have referred this side of the House—or perhaps I should say the Conservative Party, because sometimes we are on different sides of the House—has never voted in these matters and I would not advise them to vote today. I am bound to say that in considering this I have given a great deal of weight to the very last words used by the First Secretary of State, then Deputy Leader of the Opposition, in the Gordon Touche debate. He ended with these words, at c. 1070:We must, therefore, mark the fact that from here on we would not have confidence in him by dividing the House."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th February, 1961; Vol. 634, c. 1070.]Nobody who heard that had any doubt what it meant. That, in fact, was a notice to quit and anybody who likes to read through that debate, as I have read it through, can see how implacably that was carried out. Those who have a taste for political irony may see who took part in that particular hunt at the time.
I think that the logic of a vote, even if one is in a large minority—because the figures were much the same in 1961—would be that the Chairman would in due course probably leave, as Sir Gordon Touche did shortly after that debate. I would rather quote a phrase from a 450 similar debate when Mr. Winston Churchill, as he then was, said on 21st June, 1951:One may be unfairly treated just as much by an error of judgment as by want of good faith or malice. We do not impute malice."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st June, 1951; Vol. 489, c. 739]I would like to adopt those words in their entirety. I have made no personal reflection whatever upon the present Chairman of Ways and Means, apart from my reflection on his judgment.
I am sure that the House, and especially the Leader of the House, will not mistake the moderation of the language that I have tried to use in putting forward this Motion for an absence of deep feeling on the injustice to which we feel we were subjected and which led us to put this Motion on the Order Paper.
I could in due course ask for this Motion to be allowed to be negatived by the House. I remember the previous Minister of Public Building and Works, the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), in the last similar debate, saying that he thought that that course was wrong and that if one did not intend to vote one should ask the leave of the House to withdraw the Motion. With respect, I think that he was right and I would propose to follow that advice.
Therefore, Mr. Speaker, at an appropriate moment—and that can be as briefly as the House wishes—and without making a second speech, I shall in due course seek leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)
As one who was present on the occasion in question, I am able, in the words of the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. kin Macleod), to resurrect the scene. It seems to me that the task which the Israelites had of making bricks without straw was not more difficult than the task of the Opposition of making this so-called censure Motion credible to the House.
It is a very mild censure Motion, and I do not think it is really worth the time of the House discussing it. What does it say?—that the Opposition regret that the Chairman of Ways and Means accepted the Closure. That is not unusual. Oppositions usually do regret that the Chairman accepts the Closure, and 451 very often they protest about it vocally. But it is not very usual to put a Motion of censure on the Order Paper. It occasionally happens, but there should be better grounds than there are in this case.
Incidents are not unknown on the Finance Bill, and I suppose they will continue so long as we continue to have this annual ritual on the Floor of the House—this Parliamentary equivalent of the spring tribal dance.
The Committee stage of a Bill really should be for close examination of detail, and not a free-for-all so that as many hon. Members as possible can get their names in the local Press. On this particular occasion 47 right hon. and hon. Members got their names in HANSARD, many of them on a great number of occasions. Then when the right hon. Member for Enfield, West moved to report Progress most of them had another go, and another five Members also took part.
What is the crime of which the Chairman of Ways and Means is accused? It is that after 7½ hours of debate he accepted the Closure. But any Chairman of Ways and Means under those circumstances would have accepted the Closure, and the Opposition know it. Whether the Chairman of Ways and Means had been a Conservative, a Labour Member or a Liberal, he would have accepted the Closure under those conditions.
If a mistake was made, perhaps the mistake was in allowing so many Amendments to be discussed together—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—wait till I have finished—which generally leads to discursive and ragged debates. Perhaps the solution is that the Chairman should be less generous in the selection of Amendments. Is that the solution which the Opposition want? In any case, even allowing for simultaneous discussion of a large number of Amendments, the debate had continued for a longer period than the normal Parliamentary day, and I cannot see, under those circumstances, that there should be any censure upon the Chairman for accepting the Closure.
The Opposition really cannot sustain the argument that during the course of the Finance Bill they were gagged either by the Government or by the Chairman.
452 I should like to mention that we are now spending about twice as long as we were spending on Finance Bills before 1950. On the occasion which we are now debating generous time was allowed for debates and our Front Bench spokesmen answered meticulously every debate. I wished at times that the Treasury Ministers had remembered the Italian proverb, "It is a good answer which knows when to stop".
If the Opposition Front Bench had no opportunity to reply to the debate, it was entirely their own fault. They must have realised—and I think that the right hon. Member for Enfield, West has admitted this—that the debate could not go on interminably. An hour and a half before the Closure was put, the right hon. Gentleman made an appeal that it should not be put. Therefore, the Opposition had been expecting it for quite a long time. On at least two occasions when we expected Front Bench spokesmen to rise they allowed hon. Members behind them to speak, and from the nods which I noticed it was evident that that would continue. Under those circumstances, they were not surprised when the Closure was moved.
The Chairman was right to accept the Closure after such a lengthy debate, and no amount of indignation can alter that fact. If any censure is needed for the events of that night, it is not upon the Chairman of Ways and Means, but upon those hon. Members opposite who were on their feet shouting at him after the Question had been put. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] It was a shocking display not worthy of this House. I thank God that television cameras were not present.
The Opposition are ill-advised to call attention today to the events of that night. I suppose that after the speech which the right hon. Member for Enfield, West made in the moment of anger on that night they had to bring forward a Motion of censure of some kind. But they would now be well-advised to allow their halfhearted protest to die a natural death.
I was very pleased to hear that the right hon. Gentleman did not intend to put the Motion to the vote.
§ 4.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Maurice Macmillan (Farnham)
The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn), is suggesting that 453 the terms in which the Motion is put on the Order Paper make it unreal, must have forgotten the terms in which previous Motions of this type have been put. As far as I can remember, it has the exact wording used in a Motion made by the late Mr. Hugh Gaitskell. The scene in the House that led to the incident preceding that Motion was far more disgraceful.
I was very glad to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as one who was concerned in the second of the two Closures mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod). I am sure that my hon. and right hon. Friends are right in setting this Motion on the Order Paper, but I am also glad that it is not being pressed too far, to a Division.
I think that all concerned—the new Government Chief Whip, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, and the Chairman of Ways and Means himself—were to some extent the victims of circumstances which the Government have created outside the House, as well as in Parliament, by their arbitrary and erratic progress from crisis to crisis and by the evil effects of what has been called "instant government".
The Chairman of Ways and Means has an extra responsibility; it is easier for him to commit the sin of omission, and the consequences of his doing so are worse. He has the responsibility of getting through Government business, but not at the expense of the rights of the House, especially in matters such as those which we were then discussing, which touched so closely on so many people.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)
Would my hon. Friend not expect, from the argument which he is putting, that the Government Chief Whip would be present, because he is very much a party to this, and I should have thought that he ought to have been in his place?
§ Mr. Macmillan
In view of the amount of time which was spent by the then Deputy Government Chief Whip, compared to the then Government Chief Whip, in the course of that long night's sitting, perhaps he might he excused this afternoon.
The Chairman of Ways and Means has a special duty—and I speak as a back 454 bencher—of protecting all minorities—especially when the Government are behaving in a way which, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, is arbitrary and ungenerous to the House. Perhaps, in criticising his judgment, as the Motion does, I should make the point that it is all the more important for him to resist such pressures as the Government may put on him and for him to act as the champion of the back benches and of the minority.
My complaint is not so much that the Opposition were unheard, although Clause 42, and Amendment 34 in particular, contained much of the kernel of the Finance Bill and the Budget. It is more that special points of view and representations were not fairly or fully heard, even in the course of the long debate.
The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde suggested that one method of solving the problem was to limit not only the extent of the discussion, but the number of points discussed, the number of Amendments that were chosen. That is a very odd suggestion when one thinks how many close personal interests were affected by the matters discussed under Amendment No. 34 and the Amendments taken with it, and how intimately the tax concerns every individual indirectly, and more than the usual number directly. Many of those who are most concerned are in the most vulnerable position personally, and are least able to speak for themselves, or to put pressure on the Government.
That is why I am so concerned. I do not think that my views are so valuable that I have any particular right to be heard, despite my right hon. Friend's suggestion that ex-Treasury Ministers have a kind of right to be considered as honorary Privy Councillors for Finance Bill purposes. I am, on the whole, far too lazy to sit here for seven hours and more simply to put my own point of view.
But I had a special point to make on the exemption from the Selective Employment Tax of subscriptions to medical insurance schemes, which was proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Dean) in an Amendment to an Amendment. That is why the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde is so wrong. It was not the 455 Front Bench that was being suppressed. It was not the Official Opposition, that was curtailed, but rather the special plea by two back-benchers to make an addition to the items set out on the amended Schedule 3, which were put forward by our Front Bench.
That case was not adequately answered by the Financial Secretary in his general reply. I did him an injustice when I said that he failed completely to deal with the point then under discussion. That is not quite true. He dealt with it obliquely. He said that my right hon. Friend had referred to an organisation, the Hospital Savings Association, quoting it as an example of a non-registered charity. He said that one of the instances which my right hon. Friend had given was that the investment income of this organisation was taxed. The hon. and learned Gentleman continued:I assume that if it had been able to bring itself within the legal definition of a charity it would have had an obvious economic incentive to do so. But I suppose that because its benefits were confined to its members it did not qualify."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th June, 1966; Vol. 730, c. 1951.]The whole of the top half of that column of the OFFICIAL REPORT is no reply to a closely reasoned argument setting out a claim that employees of this organisation should be exempt from tax. It was a special plea that was put forward, and it was not answered. But it would perhaps be ungenerous to deal with this point especially for myself, as the point of principle underlying it—and I am grateful to the Chair—I was allowed to make by bringing forward a new Clause which was added to those which had been selected. I should like to go on record as expressing my gratitude.
This matter is important mainly because it shows that the trouble lies deeper—that it is the attitude of the Government which is behind all this in the relationship of the Executive to the legislature and in the attitude of the Government in dealing with the citizens of this country.
Why did 50 hon. Members sit on these benches all night? Not out of a desire to obstruct right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, not out of mere petulance and certainly not because it was a demon- 456 stration organised by the Opposition Chief Whip. It was because of the spontaneous indignation built up over a longer period at the way in which the Government are treating Parliament and in the way at which Ministers, more and more, as hon. Members opposite have said, are sending their Parliamentary Secretaries and Under-Secretaries here to deal with the House.
Apparently the Chancellor of the Exchequer is muttering that my speech sounds like a motion of censure on the Government. If so, it is because, as I have said at the beginning, this situation is the fault of the Government and because we are not attributing malice or anything more than lack of judgment to the conduct of the Chairman of Ways and Means. As my right hon. Friend said, our view is shared widely in the country. I have had more correspondence on this subject than on any other.
To me, the importance of and justification for this Motion lies not in the fact that we on these benches were prevented from speaking, but in the fact that representations which had been made to us by our constituents and by interests and individuals throughout the country were not heard in the House, and in the fact that he on whom we had relied for protection gave way to the pressure of the Government to get their business which, as we all know, is overcrowded. That is the purpose of the Motion.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
The right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) concluded his speech in terms of great moderation even to the extent of saying that he and his party would not press the Motion to a Division. I am certainly not suggesting that there is anything improper in hon. Members proposing Motions which they do not wish to press to a Division, for that is a customary process on quite a number of occasions, and it meets the convenience of the House to be able to state views on a general matter and not to have to vote upon it at the end. I well see that there may be occasions on which it is right to resort to such a practice in moving a Motion of censure—because that, after all, is what this is, despite our view that the right hon. Gentleman's speech was not worthy of a Motion of censure. It 457 may be right in such cases as this—and it has been done on previous occasions—for Motions of this character to be put down and then not pressed to a vote.
What I suggest to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite is that it is unfair to use a debate of this nature, which purports to be an attack on the Chairman of Ways and Means, in order to launch a general censure of the Government. There are plenty of facilities open to the Opposition and to anyone else who wishes to criticise the Government. We can all find occasion for that and, what is more, provocation. But it is quite unfair on the Chairman of Ways and Means, when nine-tenths of the case which the right hon. Gentleman made out is directed against the Minister, to use that to batter the Chairman of Ways and Means.
§ Mr. Quintin Hogg (St. Marylebone)
Has the hon. Member not studied the previous occasion when the Motion was moved by the present First Secretary of State? The right hon. Gentleman then said that the real criminal—I quote his exact words from memory—was the Government. Does not the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) realise that almost always the Government of the day are primarily to blame for feelings of resentment among the Opposition? Is it not a fact that it is just on such an occasion that the real qualities of a Chairman come out? At any rate, that is what the late Mr. Hugh Gaitskell said, and that is what we think.
§ Mr. Foot
The right hon. and learned Gentleman will have a chance a little later to polish up the speech of his right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West. He made a rather more formidable case in those few minutes than did his right hon. Friend in a much longer time. Everyone to his own taste, but I have never accepted the First Secretary as a model of Parliamentary demeanour. It may be that right hon. hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite think that they should always tread in his footsteps, and that wherever he goes they must follow, but I am a more independent character than that, and while the Opposition may follow my right hon. Friend in his Parliamentary course, I prefer to choose my own path.
§ Mr. Foot
I am hoping to convince even hon. Members opposite. But I was saying, seriously, that this procedure is quite unfair, when the purpose, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman now admits quite openly and without any attempt at concealment, is to attack the Government, because in the process what they injure is the position of the Chair, and I say that that is a very dangerous course, whatever the precedents may be for it. Nine-tenths of the speech of the right hon. Member for Enfield, West was directed to attack not the Chairman of Ways and Means at all but Ministers.
§ Mr. Foot
I doubt very much whether it was in the proportion of nine-tenths on that occasion. Even if it were, Mr. Gaitskell was never my model, either. What I am discussing is whether it is proper for the instrument of a Motion of censure of the Chairman of Ways and Means to be used when what the Opposition intend is an attack on the Government. If that process is used and if it becomes the practice, whatever may have been the unfortunate precedent; and if every time the Opposition wish to pursue an attack, where they have been defeated or wished to say more, by following it up with a Motion of censure on the Chair, we shall bring the conduct of the House into very great difficulties.
At the beginning of his speech the right hon. Gentleman attacked the Government for the way in which they had organised business. He went on to attack the First Secretary for what he had done in an intervention in a previous debate. That had nothing to do with the Chairman of Ways and Means. The right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) said that the real cause of the trouble was the attitude of the Government. This is a most unfair method to use to attack the Chairman. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for St. Marylebone mutters away about it. If he wants to attack the Chairman let him get up and say so.
§ Mr. Foot
I think that Chairman of Ways and Means is one of the offices to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not aspire.
These are the facts of the matter and it is an important precedent that most of the argument so far has been concerned with matters which have nothing to do with the conduct of business.
Now we come to the question of the night itself, which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Enfield, West, quite properly said that he had some difficulty in resurrecting. He was pushed into it. And he was pushed into it by, of all people, the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) who, I am not surprised to see, has not had the face to show up at all. It is a very sad decline when the Opposition are led into battle by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ormskirk, great though our admiration for him is. We are told that we have "instant Government". If he becomes Leader of the Opposition we are not going to have "instant Opposition"—we are going to have a kind of elongated Opposition.
What happened was that the hon. Member for Ormskirk—and I was here watching everything that went on, with my usual care—started the protests, and if ever there was a factitious indignation that was it. It was taken up, with great hilarity by a few hon. Gentlemen on the back benches, by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Shipley (Mr. Hirst) and others, who set up a kind of hon. and right hon. cackle, saying "Let us have some fun and kick up a row." One could have knocked them down with a feather when they looked down and saw that the right hon. Gentleman was taking them seriously.
When they saw that a Motion was going to be put down they were struck dumb. The real explanation of the whole of this affair is concerned much more with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Enfield, West rather than with any misdemeanour of my hon. Friend the Chairman of Ways and Means. The right hon. Gentleman has a habit of going along very skilfully for quite a long while and everyone thinks that he is doing fine; everyone admires his skill and his debating power. Everyone thinks that he is going to continue for a long 460 time and then suddenly he makes a crashing error. We have seen this throughout the whole of his political life. The trouble with the right hon. Gentleman, or one of the troubles, is that he can never tell the difference between a bandwagon and a sinking ship—and no one can say that it is not for want of trying. We have seen the right hon. Gentleman sweeping the Treasury Bench with the fire of his irrepressible green-eyed ambition, and he thought that this occasion might be a further opportunity for another massive attack, because of the events of that night.
It has fallen rather flat and t would be most ill-advised of right hon. Gentlemen to proceed with the idea that they can use the machinery of Parliament for furthering their purposes. They will only injure the instrument of Parliament if they do it, so they should act with great care. Most hon. Gentlemen who have been in this House for a long time would have been dumbfounded if the Chairman of Ways and Means had not accepted the Closure on that occasion.
Certainly those of us who have experience of these matters and have had many Closures moved upon us, would have been very surprised if that had not occurred. Moreover, although I realise that this is a technical argument, in a sense the Chairman of Ways and Means who accepts the Closure is not thereby saying that the debate is closed. He gives the House the decision as to whether the debate is closed. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It is true. On quite a number of occasions I have voted against a Closure moved by my own party, and I dare say that occasions might occur in the future and I am just staking my claim and making quite clear how legitimate it is, but it is a fact. It is a further illustration of the fact that it is most unwise for the Opposition, or anyone else in this House, to try to divert the animosities that they may have against one another against the Chair.
There is a further over-riding reason why, in my opinion it was perfectly proper for the Chairman to accept the Closure on that occasion and I have indicated it in the Motion which I have placed on the Order Paper. We are having a debate of two to three hours about the procedures of this House, and 461 hon. Gentlemen opposite, by insisting, as they have the right to do as an Opposition, that prominent Parliamentary time should be given to this discussion, are suggesting that acceptance of the Closure by the Chairman of Ways and Means on that occasion was a monstrous interference with the right of Members of Parliament. There are many more monstrous interferences with the rights of Members of Parliament; there are many more injustices inflicted upon back benchers of both sides than the acceptance of Closures by the Chairman of Ways and Means in such conditions.
We had an example last week, which is the reason why I have incorporated it in my Motion. A far more serious offence against the rights of Members of Parliament was the suggestion then that we should be denied the right to have n early debate upon Vietnam. I am very glad that we are going to get it, and we are going to get it because we used our Parliamentary rights in order to press for it. If that had been denied then it would have been a much more serious denial than was caused by the Chairman's acceptance of the Closure. But there are many other matters which vie wish to have debated on both sides of the House. One can see the Early Day Motions on the Order Paper.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
I thought that the hon. Gentleman was protesting a minute ago because by hon. Friend was referring to something outside the narrow confines of this Motion. What is the hon. Gentleman himself doing now?
§ Mr. Foot
—he would have heard Mr. Speaker say that it would be better for the Motion which I have placed on the Order Paper to be discussed at the same time. The latter part of my Motion says that the Chairman of Ways and Means:… was especially justified in accepting the Motion on 29th June in view of the difficulties Members had during the same week of June in securing time for debates in the House and 462 in Committee on matters of paramount international importance and urgency.Since that is part of the matter which we are discussing, clearly, whether hon. Gentlemen agree with what I am saying or not, what I am saying is in order.
I am in favour of the procedures of this House being reorganised, in order that we should be able to debate many more matters of urgent national and international importance on dates when they are much more topical. This should be done and could easily be done. When I was placed on the Select Committee on Procedure we unfortunately got into a bog, from which I tried to extract hon. Members, in discussing the whole question of whether we should have Select Committees of the House as substitutes for reforming the House of Commons. This is a distraction from real reform. It is a distraction from real reform when the Opposition use their time to say that a grievous wrong has been done because of the way in which a Closure is being operated on the Finance Bill. I quite agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) that the Finance Bill Committee stages should be upstairs and then we would be able to discuss much more of these important matters.
I hope that, not as a result of the Motion moved by the right hon. Gentleman, but as a result of the Motion which I and my hon. Friends have put down, we will be able to urge upon the Government that one of the most essential things that they should do to restore the reputation of this House, and its capacity to deal with immediate and urgent subjects, is to examine the operation of Standing Order No. 9. It should be considered by the Select Committee and recommendations made with the utmost urgency. I suggest that the Committee should report within a matter of three or four weeks at the maximum. Let us get to a situation in which we have to have many more debates on urgent topics and time will have to be provided for them; time will have to come from somewhere.
Therefore, as I am always reasonable and wish to make sure that, in putting forward positive suggestions, I make further suggestions which make them acceptable, we must oppose the absurd suggestion of the Opposition that we should criticise the Chairman of Ways 463 and Means for exercising perfectly properly the rights which Parliament has properly given to him.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
Providing that a clear majority of the House expresses approval of the Motion on the Order Paper dealing with Standing Order No. 9, is it necessary for it to go to the Select Committee? Should not an immediate decision be made by the Government?
§ Mr. Foot
Unfortunately, I do not believe that the Motion on the Order Paper about Standing Order No. 9, good though it may be and an improvement on the present position, would remedy the situation in anything like the drastic manner which I desire. Therefore, I hope that we shall not be fobbed off by this minor proposed reform.
I want to see a system whereby almost every week we would have the opportunity, if 40 or 60 Members wish it, of pressing matters of urgent importance. Then we should be discussing on the Floor of the House topics of major interest to the country. The House of Commons would much better serve its interests by discussing my Motion on the Order Paper than the Motion so fruitlessly brought forward by the Opposition.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)
I shall certainly not attempt to follow the remarks of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot). When he speaks in the House he interests us tremendously. He gets in everything that he wants to say, but criticises my right hon. and hon. Friends for doing exactly the same thing.
It is very difficult for any back-bench Member to take part in this debate. But I thought that as a reasonably old Member of the House I might be permitted to give my ideas about the circumstances of the Closure moved on that fateful night. What worried me was that the situation seemed to be organised. I watched the closure situation develop with great interest, not only on the occasions so admirably referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod), but practically throughout the night. I did not very much care for it. I say genuinely and honestly, even though I am not always the most co 464 operative of Members, that it is very difficult for a newly appointed Chairman of Ways and Means to see exactly how the situation affects back-bench Members.
It was different when my party was in power; that I can assert. Perhaps we made our position plain in not so obvious a way. On the occasion we are discussing, I watched the appropriate Whip enter the Chamber. There were groans from this side of the Chamber. I never remember that in the days when we were in office. It was then done much more sub rosa.
A number of members of the Treasury Bench marched in like a lot of penguins, probably a dozen or 18 of them. They did not come in one by one. The art of good government is sometimes to hide what one is trying to do. Those Government members could not have gathered together at the same time by accident. They must have known that the time for the application of the Closure was very near. They all sat down, and before long the Whip moved the Closure. I am not saying that the Chairman was aware of this, but, having a suspicious nature, I thought, "This is very peculiar". We all knew when the Closure would be moved.
When there is what I call an organised arrangement it does not give the Chairman of Ways and Means an opportunity of deciding whether there has been sufficient debate on an Amendment or a Clause. He cannot know how many Members want to speak. He could not know on this occasion whether all the points so admirably raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Maurice Macmillan) had been properly discussed. What I was worried about was the way in which the Government operated against the constitution of the House. It is the duty of the Chairman of Ways and Means to protect the interests of minorities.
I will not get into the position of being attacked by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale, who always makes very penetrating observations and knows how to build up his case. I cannot remember with absolute certainty how long he sat in the Chamber that night. If my memory is accurate, I do not think that he saw the scene which I saw.
§ Dame Irene Ward
No. The hon. 'Gentleman was not here all those hours of the night. I will not be put off by that. I know how easy it is to be put off, because nobody can prove anything. I cannot prove, when the hon. Gentleman was discussing with his party, all the things in which he is interested. The hon. Gentleman cannot tell me when I went out to get my Ovaltine. Therefore, E do not believe that he saw the organised scene in the same way in which I saw it. It is maddening to any hon. Member to have the Closure moved.
The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong in wanting to debate Vietnam, but I am equally right to want to debate the questions which I wish to raise on the Floor of the House. If I may say so with great respect, it is not for the hon. Gentleman to decide what is important in the national interest. I am not sure that his ideas are always any more acceptable to the House as a whole than, perhaps, mine. I think that it is arrogance on his part, and I thought that his speech was arrogant.
It is an extremely difficult situation when a Closure Motion has to be put. We all recognise that it irritates Members who have sat for hours waiting to make their case when the Government decide that they want to move the closure. I always feel sorry for any Chairman of Ways and Means when he is faced with this sort of situation, just as I felt sorry for the Chairman of Ways and Means of my own party, Sir Gordon Touche, whose position was spoken of so admirably by my right hon. Friend.
But I was absolutely staggered at the inadequacy of the Treasury Bench, daring o an occasion like that to give the impression of an organised arrangement at a specific moment. I accept that the Chief Secretary, the Financial Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer had to be there, but all the others, all the Lords in Waiting, had no idea what had been going on in the Chamber. They had no idea of the important points which my hon. Friends wanted to raise or had raised. I am familiar enough with the ways of government to know that hon. Members opposite who used to be so vocal when in opposition had been silenced by their Whips. We all know that. Everyone on the Government side was sitting silent. Then all the Lords in Waiting 466 tripped in and sat down, having no idea what had been going on. They had no idea of the issues involved or how deeply so many of us felt on the points we wanted to make. They gave this impression of an organised arrangement, as I say, and they were treating the Chairman of Ways and Means very badly. His position is a difficult one, and they were not making it any easier.
I shall not say any more—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members may say "Hear, hear" if they like, but they would be better advised not to do so, because I can go on talking for an hour. I am glad that my right hon. Friend does not propose to press this matter to a Division, but I give this warning to the Government. We shall have many difficult issues to discuss in this Parliament. Although it may be appalling to realise that I have been in the House of Commons longer than most of those who sit on the Treasury Bench, I must put it to them that, if they want to make the position of the Chairman of Ways and Means tolerable, they must learn better how to arrange for the moving of the Closure.
When we were the Government, we often asked our Whips if we could have the Closure—all hon. Members want to get home—but the answer was always very straightly put to us, that the Chairman of Ways and Means would not accept it. On such occasions, one would see all sorts of to-ings and fro-ings and, quite often, the Closure was refused.
My objection to what happened last week is this: I do not believe that the Closure Motion was ever refused by the Chairman of Ways and Means. The Government have no idea how vital it is for them to be able to do their business with decency and with adequate support from those who have these difficult decisions to take.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Lever (Manchester, Cheetham)
The hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) has added to our bewilderment because it seems that she has spoken to a Motion of sympathy for the Chairman of Ways and Means and of censure upon my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot). I hope that I shall be excused if I do not follow her with an original Motion of my own.
467 I suppose that no one on either side of the House can quite equal the record of enthusiastic and brilliantly articulate oppositionism of my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale. If there was one point in his speech on which I did not follow him, it was in supposing that the Chairman, by accepting the Closure Motion, does not decide the matter which we are discussing this afternoon. It is precisely the question of whether the majority of the House shall exercise the power of the majority to end the debate which is in the Chairman's power, and it is the exercise of that very power which we are discussing. So that a temperate Motion by an Opposition to criticise the Chair for an error of judgment in accepting the Closure when he did—on this or any occasion—would be perfectly respectable and, indeed, even desirable in certain circumstances because it is the only way by which an Opposition can, within our rules of order, express their doubts, displeasure or anxiety in respect of the premature application of the Closure about which hon. Members complain.
We must never forget that the Opposition are the custodians of the rights not only of the present Opposition but of all future Oppositions. I hope to extend considerable sympathy and admiration to the present Opposition in their exercise of that exalted function for quite a long time to come.
Unfortunately, this debate, although opened with great moderation by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod), has turned into an attempt to use the Chairman of Ways and Means as a sort of battering ram against the Government. I respectfully submit that this is a most dangerous and deplorable proceeding. If there is a complaint that the Chairman prematurely exercised the right to put the Closure, that complaint should be fairly, honourably and squarely directed against the Chairman of Ways and Means, and no Opposition can be justified in skulking behind an attack on the Government in making this sort of improper attack on the Chair. If there is any criticism to be made of the Chairman, it must be that he exercised his judgment wrongly and unfairly, not protecting the rights of the minority—which I absolutely agree it was his bounden duty to do.
468 If we look at this matter with any impartiality, we are obliged to look at some of the circumstances surrounding the putting of the Closure that night, the background to it, so to speak. Was this a ruthless Chancellor riding unfeelingly over the wishes of the House in Committee to debate matters before it, or had the Chancellor and his team shown an adequate respect for the House? It ought to be recorded at this point, in view of the remarks which have been made, that the Chancellor and his team have shown a respect for the Committee which I have never seen exceeded in all my membership of the House. My right hon. Friend sat through long hours of tedious debate on detail and showed to the maximum his respect for the Committee and its argument. This ought to be taken into account.
What of the Chairman himself? Were we submitted to a constant display of bias and irrascibility by the Chairman of Ways and Means? Not at all. It would be impossible to fault the even-tempered impartiality which he displayed throughout the debate. This ought to be borne in mind, too, in deciding our approach to the question of his acceptance of the Closure Motion on that occasion. I would say—and I am not altogether unfamiliar with our rules of order—that, far from any sign of bias or ill temper, he showed lenient good nature in interpreting our rules so as to allow the widest possible debate.
As for the Chancellor, the Treasury team and the Government Whips, it should be added that, not especially on the particular Clause in question but in general, throughout our proceedings on the Finance Bill, they have exerted a continuous encouragement to the taciturnity of Government back benchers which I have rarely seen excelled, and I can only suppose that this was undertaken in order to extend opportunities for discussion to hon. Members opposite. The Opposition cannot complain on that score either.
It should also be borne in mind that our rules do not proceed from some kind of refined impracticable intellectuality, but from experience, common sense and fair play, and although the Opposition have got their rights, the Government have got to get to their business. 469 I listened to almost all of the debate on the Bill. I must make a confession, that there was no intermittent Ovaltine, such as the hon. Lady had, about my absences, but I was present at that scene and during a good deal of the debate. I must say that I am quite satisfied that in exercising the discretion he did, the Chairman was performing his duties with strict honour and impartiality, and in a matter which cannot be complained of. I think it is unjust to use the Chairman's use of his discretion on that occasion in the way it has been used today as a means of attack upon the Government.
I must add another word to the Gordon Touche reference which has been made. I cannot myself help feeling—I hope somebody on the other side of the House will utterly disavow this—that there is something of a game of tit-for-tat involved involved here, because the Opposition, in certain circumstances—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am glad to hear that this is disavowed by the Opposition, and I readily accept that they so disavow it, because if we were, each side in turn, to start on some such unworthy and impracticable practice of assailing a Chairman drawn from the other side, for a sort of revenge for what had gone before, we should bring both sides of the House into the deepest disrepute. I am glad to hear that the Opposition have no such thing in mind.
With reference to the comments by my hon. Fr end the Member for Ebbw Vale on overloading, the answer is not, as was implied by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Enfield, West, that the Government should curtail their Parliamentary programme, or still less that we should have even fewer occasions for debating matters of urgent public importance. The answer to the overloading of the programme is some intelligent and moderate reform of our Parliamentary system along the lines which were indicated by my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn), although I would not go with him at all in suggesting that these long and tedious debates are to be regarded with suspicion or as merely vehicles for making hon. Members' names known through local newspapers.
I hold the view that these long and tedious debates are a vital and necessary part of our Parliamentary function in 470 protecting Parliament and the people from the dangers of suppression and blunder by Government, and I make no apology for having participated in them fairly frequently. That does not mean to say that there are no better ways of covering the large areas of activity than we have at present.
The answer about the Closure, too, is this, that so long as Parliament is unreformed the use of the Closure is sometimes a protection of the rights of minorities on other matters than those being discussed at the time of the Closure, because there are other minorities waiting to be heard on other subjects, and if we do not have the Closure and some reasonable use of the Closure, we simply squeeze those minorities out of opportunities to speak on those subjects which are as urgently important to them as certain aspects of the Selective Employment Tax are to certain Members opposite.
I would conclude by saying that one aspect of the debate which has given me very great gratification is that the honour and impartiality of the Chairman of Ways and Means throughout that debate and at all times has never been under challenge by a single Member on either side of the House. I am very glad indeed that the right hon. Member for Enfield, West, as we would expect from him, made it quite plain that this was the position, and I hope, in these circumstances, that when the Motion is withdrawn it will be well understood that the honour of the Chairman of Ways and Means is absolutely untouched and, indeed, that he enjoys the respect and authority which are necessary to him in the very arduous duties he is called upon to perform.
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ Colonel Sir Harwood Harrison (Eye)
I think that any of us who love this House and its traditions find any debate of this sort rather distasteful, and I think that the only good thing which came out of the Gordon Touche debate which has been referred to was that at least in the last Parliament we did not have a repetition of those circumstances. Therefore, I hope that from this debate we shall learn so that we do not have a repetition of it in the years ahead in this Parliament.
I intervene in this debate only because for a long time I was a Government Whip, and the Whip dealing with the 471 passage of three Finance Bills, and working under three different Chancellors. I then gained a great deal of experience, and it seemed to me that there has to be a great deal of good will in conducting our affairs—most particularly, it seemed to me—in Committee on a Finance Bill, which we take in the summer, when it is hot, and when tempers get a little frayed. To get it through there must be good will between the Chancellor of the day and the "shadow" Chancellor.
The Opposition know perfectly well that the Government are going to get their Bill, but if the Chancellor is wise—and I have seen three different Chancellors exercising their different skills in how to do this—the Chancellor gives the Opposition plenty of time on the matters on which the Opposition feel very keenly, and then he gets the good will of the Opposition to go quickly through other Amendments on which they do not feel so strongly.
On that particular lot of Amendments which were taken together, my right hon. and hon Friends did feel extremely strongly. How was it that in that case the Government felt they could get their business through only by applying the Closure? As my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield. West (Mr. Iain Macleod) has said, another two hours would have been sufficient for hon. Members on this side.
What is meant by the Standing Order? Surely, that the rights of minorities should be protected. If it means anything it means that the minorities have at least an equal, if not a greater, share of the debate. There is nothing said about the majority on the Government side having a share of the debate. Time after time, when I sat on the Treasury Bench, I have seen the Patronage Secretary of the day go round to Government supporters, as we were then, saying, "Please do not speak, or if you do, only very shortly, so as to give the minority on the other side more time."
On this occasion the present Patronage Secretary, who was in charge on that evening, so far as I know, made no effort—
§ Mr. Harold Lever
The hon. and gallant Member is pursuing a false point. 472 The purpose is to give the critics more time. When the critics are on the Government side then it is in nobody's interest that they should be suppressed. I think that in this case the hon. and gallant Member's point is a false one, because it was the critics of the Government on this side who also were closured.
§ Sir H. Harrison
The hon. Member really reinforces my point, because there is a case for saying that it is the critics upon the Government's side who are more important than the critics on the Opposition side.
I know perfectly well that the Chief Whip of the day has in the past often gone to the Chair and asked whether the Chair would or would not accept a Closure Motion, and has been told, "No. You have got to give sufficent time for this debate." I thought the Government seemed reluctant to do that. I know they were in great difficulty, because I do not think Governments make a great deal of progress after about 2 o'clock in the early hours, and it is far wiser to give an extra day for a debate and to make arrangements accordingly with the Opposition.
Having said that, I now come back to the question of the conduct of the Chairman of Ways and Means. We have here a system by which we can judge whether people are competent to preside over our affairs, and that is through the Speaker's Panel. This is the means by which Members on both sides, Government and Opposition, get experience both in Standing Committees upstairs and on the Floor of the House in chairing our Committees, and by which other Members can form a judgment on how their fellow Members manage in the Chair. In the last Parliament the Government of the day were quite happy to draw as they felt fit on Members of the Opposition to fill those posts. In those posts an hon. Member gains a great deal of experience of Committees before becoming Chairman of Ways and Means.
It went through my mind at the beginning of this Parliament, when we had lost the previous Chairman of Ways and Means and the Deputy Chairman in the hurly-burly of the General Election, that there were very many hon. Members on the Government side who had proved 473 themselves to be good Chairmen of Committees, and I expected to see them promoted. There were, for example, the two hon. Members opposite who have spoken this afternoon, the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) and the Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. Harold Lever). But, no. The Government put down in their Motion the names of two other hon. Members, both of whom personally are very popular in the House but who had no experience of the Chair and who had been Ministers, rather than back benchers.
Usually, of course, we expect to have Chairmen selected from amongst the back benchers, who know the frustrations that many of us go through. But, in their wisdom, the Government put down a Motion nominating the present Chairman of Ways and Means and yourself, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We accepted it, of course, but it occurred to me to wonder whether, because of lack of experience of being in the Chair at difficult times, we might not run into problems.
I believe that the present situation is entirely due to the inexperience of the Chairman of Ways and Means of being in the Chair. If today's debate has done nothing else, it may have freed our debates for the future, because the Chairman of Ways and Means, or whoever else sits in the Chair and presides over our deliberations, must never put himself in the position of being accused of being the tool of the Government of the day. He is the servant of the House of Commons.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Driberg (Barking)
The last two speakers from the other side have been remarkably charitable in different ways. The hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) has given an extraordinarily charitable interpretation of that phenomenon which we all know, of the Whips going round unostentatiously persuading people on the Government side either not to speak at all or not to speak at undue length. I had never realised that that was because the Whips wanted to allow the maximum time to Opposition speakers and critics of the Government. I am delighted to hear it.
474 The hon. Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) has a charitably selective memory. I can assure her that, when we were on that side, the spectacle which she has described—the to-ings and fro-ings and the organised preparation for the Closure—looked exactly the same to us as it looked to her the other night. It was just as obvious, and everyone knew what was coming. As the hon. and gallant Member for Eye said, everyone knows that quite often the Chief Whip will go to the Chairman and will be told, "No, you cannot move it yet. I cannot accept it yet." That happens, whatever Government are in power.
Except for the speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) and others of my hon. Friends, the debate has been, especially in view of the last words of the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod), strictly a non-debate. It has been almost a complete waste of time—but not a complete waste of time, because of the speeches of my hon. Friends and also because we have been able to assess some of the sheer humbug and hypocrisy underlying the Motion.
The right hon. Gentleman gave the show away himself, in a moment of candour, when he referred to P.P.S.s scurrying to and fro, and said "I have done it myself in my time, as we all have". It is a case of what used to be called the ins and the outs: the party which is in moves the Closure, and the party which is out shouts "Gag". The same thing happens whatever Government are in power.
The hon. and gallant Member for Eye repeated something that the right hon. Member for Enfield, West said, that only two more hours would have been needed the other night. However, the right hon. Gentleman read out a long and formidable list of important subjects which he claimed had not been dealt with adequately. Two hours—perhaps six or eight speeches: I do not think that would have been enough to cover all those subjects. If the Closure had been moved two hours later, there would still have been the same cries of "Gag" and the same angry scene.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
It is likely that there would not have been a Motion 475 if the debate had continued for the extra two hours.
§ Mr. Driberg
That is very unlikely. If there were all those subjects still to discuss, it may well have been that a number of hon. Members would have picked on the same subject, and several subjects would have reminded not adequately covered in the view of the right hon. Gentleman. There would still have been the necessity for the Closure to be moved. It is a matter of opinion, anyway—and it is hypothetically retrospective, and not worth going into.
I have referred to the angry scene, and the right hon. Gentleman admitted in his speech that he was angry on that occasion. I would put it a little more crudely and say that he lost his temper. I was listening to what he said on that occasion, and I was watching his conduct. In my opinion, this ought to be a Motion of censure on his behaviour, rather than on the conduct of the Chair. He was extraordinarily rude to the Chair. His shout of, "I know the rules as well as you do" was insulting. There was none of the slightly hypocritical "flannel" in which we wrap our arguments with the Chair. If I may use a school-boyish word which is also appropriate, the right hon. Gentleman was distinctly cheeky, and he should have apologised for his behaviour.
I see that the Motion is in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, though he has not bothered to attend the debate. [HON. MEMBERS: "He was here."] If he was, I apologise. I have been here the whole time, and I had not realised that the right hon. Gentleman was present. He must have been here for a very short time. At any rate, he has left it to the right hon. Member for Enfield, West, who no doubt felt that he had to speak to the Motion in order—uneasily perhaps—to excuse his extraordinary and unparliamentary behaviour and his sheer bad manners.
§ 5.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Hirst (Shipley)
As a signatory to the Motion, I hope that the House will permit me to make one or two short observations.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) said in 476 the course of his remarks in moving the Motion that we were very angry that night. I must readily admit to the House that very few people were more angry than I. Inasmuch as I might have offended the House or the Chairman of Ways and Means in anything that I said, I apologise personally for it. But I still say that there was absolute justification for the anger that was felt.
Reference has been made to the earlier episode in which the Closure was moved, when I personally happened to be concerned. I have been concerned in a very large number of Amendments on the particuar Clause, as those hon. Members who have followed our debates on the Finance Bill know. I was cut out of the debate although I had my name to several Amendments.
I found that rather distressing, although I did not say very much about it at the time. I did, however, have a feeling of sympathy for other hon. Members when the Chair accepted the Motion for the Closure. I had been fortunate enough to catch the eye of the Chair on that occasion, so I have no personal grumbles on that score, but I knew only too well that several of my hon. Friends had extremely important points to put. To my knowledge some of them had sat here solidly for some hours, and I suggest that this should have been known, or could have been ascertained through the usual channels, and the information made known to the Government. I am surprised that the Chairman of Ways and Means was not apprised of the situation by the Clerks of the Table or by those who watch our proceedings, or did not see it for himself.
I support my right hon. Friend when he says that a couple of hours would, in all probability, have saved the situation. The hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) is wrong in his interpretation of what would have happened. One knows what happens on these occasions, especially when people are a little angry as a result of earlier closures. We were not happy about the operation of the Chair in this matter, and I think that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) has a point—but I shall not pursue it as I have not his personal experience—when he says that there was some lack of experience in this matter.
477 We on this side of the Committee were very angry. Many of my hon. Friends rose to speak on that occasion, and anyone who had been following the debate would have realised that there was a great deal of interest in it. The Chief Whip, or the Deputy Chief Whip, should have been paying attention to the debate in order to give the correct guidance to the Government. The Chair, too, should have appreciated the situation.
In the past I have often been involved in this sort of thing, because I am a hit of a stormy petrel. Time and again I have seen the Chief Whip come into the Chamber, perhaps an hour or an hour and a half before any step was taken, to get the tone of the debate, and to sense the atmosphere of it and the position of the speakers, following which he advised the Leader of the House or the Minister in charge of the Bill as to the best step to take.
That was not done on this occasion. The first that we knew was when the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. George Brown) came into the Chamber like a bull rushing into a china shop and pressed the Front Bench into a premature Closure. The Deputy Chief Whip came in and only a little bit of the debate was allowed afterwards. No appreciation was taken of the fact that some hon. Members had been sitting here solidly for hours. About four of my hon. Friends, one of whom was sitting next to me, had been here the whole evening. I know this to be true because I hardly left the Chamber at all. In particular, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve) sat here solidly the whole evening. He did not leave even for a cup of tea or Ovaltine, or a meal of any kind. He did not even go out to get a biscuit.
Ever since I have been in this House, on whichever side I have sat, I have in my humble way been a great protector of the individual rights of Members. Both inside the Chamber and outside, in Committee and elsewhere, I have fought for Members' rights. I have fought my own side over this, and nothing incenses me more than to see those rights sat on in this House, and I admit that I was angry that night. I do not dispute that I was furiously angry, and that I expressed myself rather more strongly than 478 I think is respectable in this Chamber. This is why, in the hearing of the Chairman of Ways and Means, I expressed an apology. I hope that I shall always be good enough to do that when it is necessary.
I was very angry, and I had an especially good reason for my anger, because I took part in the points of order which were raised at the beginning of the proceedings on 29th June. This was at about half past four, when my right hon Friend the Member for Enfield, West spoke as he has done today about the order of business. My right hon. Friend said that it was not to the convenience of the House to discuss in one debate so many Amendments carrying in the aggregate a vast number of supporting signatures. The Chair drew rather a peculiar distinction between who signed the Amendments. We disputed this at the time, because I take the view that all right hon. and hon. Members are equal in this House, and that equal attention should be paid to their desires to press Amendments. The only distinction is that the Chair has the right of selection.
We drew attention to the fact that it was not for the convenience of the House to take so many Amendments together. I shall spare the House a recital of the points of order, because they occupy two and a half columns of HANSARD, but I think that my hon. Friend will agree that the point raised was a substantial one. Having got what seemed to be a reasonable answer, I thanked the Chairman of Ways and Means for it but,—and I do not mean to be personal, or rude—I was a little premature in so doing, but I felt that we were getting somewhere.
Following that, however, I had second thoughts, the sort of instinct that one gets after taking part in these debates. I had a fear, born of personal experience, that things would go wrong. I drew attention during those points of order to the previous happenings, because I foresaw the same sort of thing happening again. I also drew attention to what might well be the result of taking so many Amendments together on so important a Clause as Clause 42 as it then was, and 44 as it is now.
We know that whichever side is operating the Finance Bill, it is inevitable that perhaps one Clause represents the hones 479 of it. Perhaps on occasion two Clauses contain the bones of a Finance Bill. It is rarely more than that. Last year two Clauses were of vital importance, and this year the bones of the Bill are in one Clause, the one which deals with the Selective Employment Tax.
This tax is the whole theme, the whole bones, of this Finance Bill. The Bill of course contains other Clauses in which we are interested, and to which we object—in fact I object to everything in the Bill except the first sentence—but the fact is that the bones of the Bill are in this Clause. The Government knew it, and, with respect, naturally the Chair knew it.
This was the item which was going to cause all the difficulty, because it is by this Clause that this astronomical sum is to be raised. I know that some of this money is to be paid back in peculiar ways, but the fact is that by this Clause the Government will raise £1,100 million, and it was the duty of the Opposition to conduct the most searching inquiry into the provisions of this Clause and how it would operate. I have no doubt that had hon. Gentlemen opposite been on tense benches, they too, would have subjected this tax to the most searching inquiry.
When it was decided to take 16 principle Amendments together, I had an instinct that there was going to be trouble, and I was right. I had a feeling that there was going to be trouble, because there was obviously going to be a big debate, and in such circumstances it is very difficult for this sort of situation not to arise. One cannot judge this in hours. In some circumstances two and a half hours can be far too long for a debate. I might want to spread it to three hours, but I would not be justified in doing so. Sometimes half an hour can be too long. But on this occasion we were to discuss the bones of the Finance Bill. The country is concerned about this tax. This cannot be judged in hours. It can be judged only by the Government, and, indeed, by the Chair, taking into account the need of hon. Members to do their duty to their constituents, and this is why we feel it right to bring this matter to the attention of the House.
480 In an additional point of order I raised another matter. I submitted to the Chairman thatit would be a very serious matter for the rights of the Opposition if by reason of the Chairthe moving of the Closure did not permit adequate discussion. I said that at 4.45 in the afternoon, before the discussion started. That was anticipating the very situation which later arose.
I went on to say that I hoped that we could have an assurance from the Chair that we would not be put on the spot. That was intended to be a friendly probe to the Chair, to make sure that we would have full opportunity to discuss the fundamental point of the Bill. The Chairman kindly replied:I do not think that the hon. Member ought to imagine for one moment that the Chair is unconscious of the fact that a number of Amendments are grouped together."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th June, 1966; Vol. 730, c. 1830.]I naturally did not expect to get an assurance from the Chair that under no circumstances would the Closure be accepted; that would have been ridiculous. I did not expect to get any undertaking, because I know that the Chair would not give such a thing. But at that time I was satisfied—and by the sound of the voices from this side of the House my hon. Friends agreed with me—that I had made my point and that the Chair had indicated that it was conscious of that point and was seeking to show that my fears about the dangerous possibilities were unnecessary.
The fact that the point that I made was not fully accepted in that sense by the Chair occasioned the trouble which has been the root of the whole matter. I do not mean anything personal—the right hon. Gentleman in question knows that—but I feel that this is a serious matter. I agree with the line adopted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West. I support him in all that he said; I support him completely on the action that he has taken, and I deprecate the remarks made by the hon. Member for Barking that there has been any humbug from this side. There is deep feeling and a sense of responsibility. I remember past occasions when hon. Members opposite, when on these benches, took an attitude 481 similar to that which we are now adopting on points about which they felt very sincerely but which were not necessarily accepted by everybody. I see no reason why we should not be given credit for having the same degree of sincerity as we have always given them credit for, and it is in that spirit that I support the Motion.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
I shall be brief. Being short of stature, I shall be short in speech. The speeches made today resemble in one respect those made on the Finance Bill. They have not always been strictly relevant and they have been unnecessarily long.
I submit that the conduct of the Chairman of Ways and Means, since he has occupied that position, has always been admirable and judicial in character, strictly relevant and very fair to both sides. The right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) gave us a bad lead by making his speech too wide, and seeking to transform it into an attack upon the Government instead of adhering strictly to the matter it hand, which was to show that the Chairman of Ways and Means was unfair in his conduct in the Chair.
Let us look back at the occasion out of which this debate arises. The Chairman of Ways and Means was confronted with a situation in which a number of hon. Members on both sides of the Committee had debated, ad lib, at great length, and, I suppose one might almost say, ad nauseam, certain aspects which they regarded as of importance. The Chairman had to decide whether the subject in hand had been fairly and fully debated. That was his job; that was what he was in the Chair to do. When the Closure was moved he, as a judge, had to decide whether the debate had been full and fair. He did decide, in a judicial way, that it had been full and fair, and accepted the Motion.
I do not wish to wander far—as some other speakers have done today and in the debates on the Finance Bill—so I shall content myself with supporting the Chairman of Ways and Means. His conduct has at all times been judicial and fair, and in my submission no case has been made out—certainly not by the right 482 hon. Member for Enfield, West, who wandered far and wide in his speech—against the Chairman of Ways and Means. Therefore, the Motion should be rejected.
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ Mr. John Peyton (Yeovil)
The hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) has referred to his small stature. It may be for that reason that we noticed his presence on the benches opposite so infrequently during our debates on the Finance Bill.
It has been noticeable during this debate that the Government's trumpets have sounded and that four or five of their most skilled debaters have come to their aid. The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) nearly achieved what must be the summit of every Parliamentarian's ambition; he almost succeeded in changing the mind of the House. If he had gone on much longer, I think that he would have been able to offset the cogent advice given by my right hon. Friend, and the House would have felt inclined—with disastrous consequences and great error of judgment—to vote on the Motion. The hon. Member cut his speech short just in time to avoid that result.
We had a very interesting speech from the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot). His Parliamentary performances are of great skill. To hear him today was a wonderful experience for all of us. Never did I see the robber playing "cop" with more pleasure than he showed in his own speech. He accused one of my right hon. Friends of not being able to distinguish a bandwagon from a sinking ship. To make any sort of accusation of that kind against the hon. Member would be grossly unfair, because we all know his deep predilection for sinking ships. The hon. Member would never go anywhere near a band-wagon and we all admire him for that.
The techniques of the hon. Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. Harold Lever) are most interesting. He also has great skill as a Parliamentarian, and he uses an occasion such as this, with infinite cunning, to build up some credit with his own Front Bench so that, later, he can attack it and almost exhaust that credit—although he is always very careful 483 to keep the balance right. He never goes so far as to exhaust entirely his credit with his own side.
The hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) unfairly accused us of humbug. We must leave him to be the judge of humbug. I wish that time and my own modesty were not in the way of my pursuing the comparison into which he lured us between "hypocritical flannel" and "cheek". He confessed, in very charming innocence, that, in his own approaches to the Chair, in the past, he had frequently been dressed in hypocritical flannel. It is nice to know that: no one would challenge the honesty of the hon. Gentleman's description of his own attire. What would have been interesting to know from him is what precisely is the difference between addressing oneself to the Chair garbed in that way and doing so with a measure of cheek.
Unlike some of my hon. Friends, I was not present throughout the debate which led up to the Closure being moved on this occasion. I had earlier abandoned the hunt because there was no possibility, I believed, of the debate being conducted in a satisfactory manner, due to the fundamental error—it was no more than that—of grouping that heterogeneous collection of Amendments together. That did more to inhibit the debate than anything else.
I do not want to repeat at length the personal recollections which we all have of the various processes which lead up to the moving of the Closure. But nobody relishes the Closure, save, perhaps, that hon. Member who happens to be on his feet at the time that it becomes clear that the Closure is about to be moved. He knows that at least he will not suffer the "chopper". I was in that happy position on a previous occasion, when the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Chief Government Whip came into the Chamber and I compared him to a "vet" carrying with him a humane killer. I think that it was my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) who suggested that the humane killer should be carried decently under a coat and not shown to the victim so obviously. None of us with experience can fail to realise what is to happen when the veterinary surgeon enters the 484 Chamber, whether or not his humane killer is concealed.
The Government and the Chairman of Ways and Means would be wholly wrong to underrate the importance which we attach to the Finance Bill and to the Clause which was under discussion. As my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Hirst) has pointed out, that Clause is really another Bill altogether, of a major kind. Many people in the country have written letters expressing the points of view of all occupations, all ages, all parties, and all kinds of people, who do not know—I do not believe that the Government know—what will be the consequences of this Measure, which will take out of the economy £100 million before anything is put back.
We believe that this has been a disastrous and ill-thought-out Measure. It is exceedingly unfortunate that, in those circumstances, the Chairman of Ways and Means should have so exercised his judgment as to curtail discussion of a tax which has been so obviously ill-thoughtout and ill-considered. Any suggestion made by the Government or from any other source that the Opposition were guilty on this occasion of fillibustering or humbug will not only be greatly resented now but will be followed by consequences which will not make the working of Parliament any easier and by consequences throughout the country, a feeling that this new and much-resented Measure has not been adequately discussed in the only place in which it can be.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Herbert Bowden)
During the past two hours, I have listened to criticism of the Government, of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, of the First Secretary of State—for a speech he made five years ago—of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and of my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip. We have heard very little criticism of the Chairman of Ways and Means, so I am inclined to ask, why, then, was this Motion put upon the Order Paper at all?
However, it is my duty, as Leader of the House of Commons, to reply to the Motion, which purports to be critical of the Chairman of Ways and Means. In 485 doing so, I agree with the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) that although these Motions are not without precedent they are few and far between. As part of my duty in preparing for this debate, I read back over the years some of the reports of similar debates which have taken place. In doing so, I was struck by the very wise remarks made from this Dispatch Box by Leaders of the House of different parties on this subject.
I should like to draw the attention of the House to what was said in June, 1951, by the then Mr. Chuter Ede. He said:We have entrusted this power of selection to the Chairman. It is quite clear that, if from time to time his method of selection is to be brought before the House, it must make the position of the Chairman intolerable …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st June, 1951: Vol 489, c. 736.]The position has not changed during the last 15 years.
The House has placed the Chairman o Ways and Means in charge of its proceedings in Committee. The House has given h m the discretion to accept or to refuse the Closure. It has given him discretion, equally, to select Amendments for debate. Obviously, the exercise of this discretion must be a very difficult task for him or anyone else entrusted with it. Equally it will give rise to disappointment, frustration, and hard feelings when hon. Members are deprived of the opportunity of making speeches, many of which have been prepared some time in advance.
However, no better way has been devised—either in this country or in any other—for mediating between the rights of the majority and those of the minority in Parliament. Rejecting the authority of the Chairman, or denying him discretion, would only lead, could only possibly lead to worse evils. If we get ourselves into the position of thinking that every speech must be made, every Amendment called, every speaker called who has his name to a particular Amendment, we shall simply put an end to Parliament as we know it. We shall not serve democratic government: we could go some way towards destroying it.
I now turn to the Motion, which sets out the charge against the Chairman of Ways and Means, that he failed to ensure 486 adequate discussion of Clause 42 of the Finance Bill. The Motion sets it out fairly explicitly. In accordance with the practice of the House, and to avoid repetitious debate, it is customary to take together a number of Amendments bearing on the same topic. This is clearly laid down in Erskine May which deals with the selection of Amendments. The Chairman of Ways and Means, in making his selection, does a number of things. He not only consults the hon. Members concerned, as and when he thinks fit—and it may be of interest to the House to know that he had eight such discussions on this occasion—but he also receives advice from his learned staff. However, the final decision must, of course, be his. It was as a result of such discussions on this occasion, and at the request of hon. Members of the Opposition, that it was decided to have a special debate on Amendment No. 325.
I hope that hon. Members will read the OFFICIAL REPORT of the discussion which took place on Amendment No. 325. I think they will agree that it was the least useful of all the debates we have had on the Finance Bill this year. If, therefore, we add the time taken on Amendment No. 325—which was related and which the Chairman of Ways and Means was asked to take separately—and add the three hours of that to the 7 hours and 41 minutes spent on Amendment No. 34—and I am referring not to the Clause, but to the particular topic of that Amendment—we see that the discussion took well over 10 hours.
There is no formal rule at all when a Closure should be moved, and I have been looking back over the years at the precedents. I have found one remarkable one; that a Closure was accepted on one occasion after only 23 minutes. In our researches we have found no precedent for a Closure having been refused when a debate had taken as long as this one had taken. However, there is a Ruling—and I mention it only in passing; it was given by a former Chairman of Ways and Means—when the then Chairman said that he would always accept a Closure at 10 p.m. on a debate which had started at 3.30 p.m. that day, which is 61 hours. This one went on for 7 hours and 41 minutes. I do not think that it can be argued that the Closure, after 7 hours and 41 minutes—or 7 hours and 487 8 minutes, for the sake of argument—was accepted quickly.
If we take the debate itself, and the Amendments grouped together, we see that 27 hon. Members spoke. In calling the speakers in the debate on Amendment No. 34, it is true to say that the Chairman of Ways and Means called them one from one side and one from the other. It is equally true to say that one, and sometimes two, of the signatories to each one of the Amendments grouped with Amendment No. 34–16 in all—were called to speak. Looking at this in perspective, the House will, I hope, appeciate that the period of well over 7 hours spent on Amendment No. 34 was longer than very many Second Reading debates on the Floor of the House on major Bills.
In these circumstances, it is difficult to sustain the charge that the Closure was accepted too soon, and I stress that what the Chairman of Ways and Means did in accepting the Closure was not to end the debate on Amendment No. 34 but to give an opportunity to the Committee to decide whether a majority of the Committee wished to end the debate. This is a valid point. It is quite unfair—and this has been said—to say that the Chairman of Ways and Means ended the debate. He did not. The Committee itself decided to end the debate. The decision was in the hands of hon. Members, and my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) reminded us of that.
I was not present that night, but I have been careful to read the OFFICIAL REPORT of every speech and I have analysed them. I do not think that hon. Members will disagree that while many hon. Members might have wished to have spoken on that occasion and were prevented from doing so, nevertheless, every part of every Amendment tabled was covered by someone, with the exception of one point. This can be checked by any hon. Member who wishes to do so. Beyond that one point, every matter raised was answered—though perhaps not to the satisfaction of the hon. Member who raised it—by one or other of the Treasury Ministers.
The Motion regrets that the Chairman of Ways and Means… failed to ensure adequate discussion of this Clause …".488 There is some ambiguity here and there seems to be some confusion in the Motion because while the earlier part of the Motion refers to Amendment No. 34 and the Amendments grouped with it, the remaining part of it refers to the Closure of the Clause. The Closure that was moved and accepted by the Committee did not put an end to the discussion of the Clause. Therefore, if the gravamen of the charge is that not enough time was allowed for the Clause, then it is worth while my mentioning that the debate on what was then Clause 42 took exactly 33 hours and 6 minutes, roughly equivalent to a full week's debate. If one analyses it, one sees that 80 Amendments were tabled to Clause 42, now Clause 44, that 24 of them were out of order, that 56 were in order for debate and that, of those 56, 47 were selected for discussion. No one can argue that the selection of these Amendments on that Clause was in any way unfair.
In view of the gravity of a charge of this kind, I feel that I must point out that the grounds for objecting to the Chair's decision—in the words used by the right hon. Member for Enfield, West at an earlier point in the debate and which have been quoted once today… we … have no confidence in you as Chairman of Ways and Means …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th June, 1966; Vol. 730, c. 1973.]is not reflected in the Motion before us. The Motion merely questions the decision of the Chair.
The House must be free to question specific decisions at any time, although, as I said, it should be slow and hesitant to take this extremely grave step of censuring either Mr. Speaker or the Chairman of Ways and Means. Therefore, the Motion is quite a different matter from criticising the impartiality of the Chair. The right hon. Member for Enfield, West has made it clear, that although he spoke hastily, and in some heat, in his subsequent withdrawal that night he withdrew any suggestion of partiality. It is one thing to question the Chairman's judgment, but quite another to question his integrity in that way.
I am afraid that one cannot leave it there, because during the debate of the last two hours I heard the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Maurice Macmillan) say that the Chairman of Ways and Means gave way to pressure from the 489 Government. I hope, on reflection, that he will agree that it was a mistake for him to say that. Perhaps he is prepared to withdraw it, because that was the most serious thing said in today's debate.
Further, I must refer to the remarks of the right hon. Member for Enfield, West, when he said:… if the Opposition feel that their rights are being abused we will not hesitate to put such a Motion"—that is, a censure Motion—on the Order Paper".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th June, 1966; Vol. 730, c. 1411.]Technically, there is nothing improper about that remark, but I am not so sure that such remarks are in the interest of the House since they purport to be a constraint on the Chair and can be construed as a threat to the Chair. I know that the right hon. Gentleman did not intend this, and as there is to be a withdrawal I propose to say no more on the matter.
The attitude of Opposition Members in this context is very much in conflict with the professed desire of some of them, expressed from time to time—and I am subjected to this in the usual business question exchanges on a Thursday—that the House should modernise its proceedings. On the day in question the Committee sat continuously for 20 hours and 8 minutes. Perhaps I may express the personal view that unless the House is willing both to discipline itself and to respond to discipline imposed on it from the Chair there seems very little prospect indeed that we shall ever be able to run our affairs both efficiently and in reasonable hours.
I would be the first to pay tribute to what the former Administration did in this field. The present Opposition, when the Government, dealt with three points on which the House used to be kept up unnecessarily for very long hours. I remember that when there was a former Labour Government we were subject to Prayers right through the night—that did not necessarily mean that we were particularly devout. The former Administration ended that by bringing Prayers to an end at 11.30. As Opposition Chief Whip al the time, I agreed with this. It was a good step forward. Debates on Money Resolutions were restricted to 490 three-quarters of an hour—another good step forward.
Again, the old idea was that the annual debates on the Service Votes—Army, Navy and Air Force—should be taken through the night. That idea was ended. I recall that when I came here first, in 1946, newly out of the Royal Air Force, I was told by a colleague, "The Army kept the House going all night. Do not let the R.A.F. down—we must keep the House going all night." What a fantastic way to look at things. I am glad to pay tribute once more to what the former Administration did in that respect, but we have a great deal more to do, and I hope that we shall have approval in all quarters when we move in that direction.
Let me make one final remark. What is at issue is whether we are prepared to ask one of our number—a Member who, in this case, has been in the House for many years and has had very wide experience of Finance Bills—to act as our Chairman; and to accept his decisions even when they may be unpopular to any particular section of the House because we know that the decisions he has taken are honestly and fairly taken in order to protect the interests of both minorities and majorities. His task is a very difficult and a very onerous one, and we should be very careful before making charges against him or against his conduct, particularly if at any time those charge are based on allegations of partiality. If this House, and its Committees, were to show itself in all reasonable circumstances unable to accept guidance and rulings from the Chair it would be a very sorry day for us and for Parliament.
I very much hope, therefore, Mr. Speaker, that the sponsors of the Motion, who have said that they will withdraw it, will, in fact, do so. I agree with the right hon. Member for Enfield, West that it is not sufficient to have it negatived. On reflection, I am sure that the Opposition regret having tabled it—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I therefore invite the right hon. Member now to withdraw the Motion.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Iain Macleod
Although, as the mover of the Motion, I have, I think, a right to reply, I earlier abjured the intention of making a second speech, and I hold to that course. I limit myself to one 491 observation, perhaps, to the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), who honoured me with some of his most ancient and cherished jokes, and also to the Leader of the House.
I repeat my earlier comment that Members should, in connection with this debate, look up the previous debates—as the Leader of the House has done, and as I have done. They will then see that invariably a Motion of censure on the Chairman of Ways and Means—and the last four Motions have been of this nature—is also inevitably one on the conduct of business by the Government, because the Chairman only comes into it at the very moment when he either shakes his head at the Chief Whip or rises to put the Question.
If hon. Members will look back over the years they will find that invariably it is the lead-up to that which in every single instance inevitably has to be developed as comment on the Government. That explains why in this case, and in every other case, this has taken place. It was so in 1961; it was so in 1951.
When I first spoke, I said that I intended to ask the leave of this House to withdraw the Motion, and I believe that that is the right course. There has only been one vote on such a Motion since the war. That was called by the party opposite against the previous Chairman of Ways and Means, and in a very short time he left office. I prefer, as I said, the words used by Sir Winston Churchill in 1951—paraphrasing them, because I do not have them in front of me—that we suggest that there was a lack of good judgment. We do not regret in the least, therefore, that we put the Motion on the Order Paper, but we do not impute bad faith, we do not impute malice. We are perfectly content to go on sitting under the Chairman of Ways and Means in the future.
Having, as is the right of all Parliamentarians, brought this matter to the 492 Floor of the House, I would equally ask the House if I might have its leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Maurice Macmillan
Mr. Speaker, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House chose to put a point to me personally and I should like to point out that the words he complained of—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Macmillan
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Leader of the House asked me to withdraw certain words.
§ Mr. Macmillan
By leave of the House, perhaps I may refer to the speech of the Leader of the House. He quoted words of mine which appeared to impute ill faith to the Chairman of Ways and Means.
In my opening and closing remarks I specifically said that I join my right hon. Friend only in criticising the Chairman's judgment. The words I used, which I cannot now recollect, were intended, even if they did not specifically appear to do so, to convey my view that the Chairman had given too much weight to his duties as Chairman of Ways and Means in getting Government business through, and that his judgment was at fault in over-balancing that side of his duties compared with his duty of protecting the back benchers. I in no way impugned his impartiality.
§ Mr. Speaker
I think that I must in the present situation use my discretion. Is it your wish that the Motion be withdrawn?
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn