Motion made and Question proposed,
That this House, at its rising on Friday, do adjourn till Monday, 23rd October.—[The Prime Minister.]
§ Mr. Speaker
May I inform the House that I have selected the Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton).
§ 3.54 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)
I beg to move, to leave out 'Monday, 23rd October' and to add instead thereof: 'Tuesday, 19th September'.
I anticipate that this Amendment will not be the most popular one to be moved either by me or by anyone else in the Chamber. I should like to point out that normally I do not take part in debates on the Summer Adjournment Motion, and that I do so now only to put on record thoughts which I have entertained for some time and which have been reinforced by events of the last few weeks.
The spectacle of a succession of feverish all-night sittings of the House, with bleary-eyed back bench Members and equally bleary-eyed Ministers is not a pleasant one. In my view, it does nothing to improve the dignity or image of Parliament as a whole, or the temper of those called on to endure such penancies.
Since about the beginning of July, the House has been run almost like a slave ship. However, unlike many hon. Members, I attach no blame for that state of affairs to the Leader of the House. On the contrary, I have felt that his leadership of the House has been by far the best and most outstanding in my experience. Gradually, he is digging this place out of the morass and ruts of reaction and complacency into which it has fallen over the centuries—
§ Mr. Hamilton
Mr. Speaker, I hope that you will find this relevant. It is a kind of hors d'œuvre to my speech. If you will allow me another couple of minutes, I think that you will see that 336 it is very relevant to the points which I intend to make specifically on my Amendment—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. There must be a rule about this debate. The hors d'œuvres which the hon. Gentleman is offering are in the nature of an inquest on what has happened. He must come now to whether we should adjourn.
§ Mr. Hamilton
If I might do that directly, my right hon. Friend has been subject to some abuse for driving the House, on the assumption, long since arrived at by the Government as a whole, that the House should rise on Friday and adjourn until 23rd October, which is a recess of rather more than 12 weeks. It is quite clear now that that was not a decision of the Leader of the House. It was the Government's decision, coupled with the fact that, to their credit, the Government made clear that they were determined that time should be available for a free decision of the House on matters of very great social concern to the nation and to the House, dealing with the medical termination of pregnancy and homosexual law reform—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. This is a difficult kind of debate, but the hon. Gentleman must keep to the rule. If I let him depart from that, then I must extend the same latitude to the whole House.
§ Mr. Hamilton
Mr. Speaker, I am trying to keep within the rules of order. I am not opposed to fixing the dates for going into recess on Friday and coming back on 23rd October, but I object strongly to our taking 12 weeks as a whole, instead of the shorter period which acceptance of my Amendment would mean.
My reasons are quite simple. The first is that I am well aware of the arguments in favour of a recess of 12 weeks, that hon. Members can attend to matters in their constituencies which they could not do otherwise, that Ministers have an opportunity in that time to do some of their reading, briefing or brain-washing by civil servants, however one likes to describe it, and that there are opportunities for official and unofficial visits on behalf of the House or of organisations within it.
Nevertheless, the fact that we are away from this building for 12 weeks gives an 337 enormous advantage to the Executive. There is a great difference between the Executive having to come here and answer orally for what they are doing or not doing, and our trying to conduct criticism by correspondence. Even when we are here, our opportunities are extremely limited. Although the Question Hour is argued by the pundits as being one of the great means of controlling the Executive, it is a farcical procedure. It is significant that, during the long Summer Recess, public opinion polls invariably show it to be of great advantage to the Government, because they can get away almost with murder during that period.
Although the Amendment cuts down the recess specifically to about six weeks, as opposed to 12, linked with it is the proposition that the extra period should be regained by having a week free in each of the months in which there are no holidays. In other words, there should be Easter, Whitsun and Christmas holidays of perhaps 10 days each, and then, in the months in which those holidays did not occur, there should be a full week devoted to attending to constituency work which we all say that we do in the Summer Recess.
Those who are on Select Committees of investigation of the Executive could indulge in their taking of evidence and in their visits to many places, most of them in this country, but some of them abroad. These Committees would be able to get on with that work without being diverted by activities within the House.
With the increased number of specialist Committees, a move which I very much welcome and which my right hon. Friend has striven hard for, there will be an increased conflict of interest between hon. Members serving on those Committees as to where they should be at any one time, whether in the Chamber or upstairs in a committee of investigation. I move the Amendment in an effort to persuade the Government to have a look at the parliamentary year and not to regard the Summer Recess as unchangeable merely because it has been going on for so long. My proposition would mean that we wouldd have two or three extra weeks per year only actually in the Chamber. The other weeks would be devoted to work 338 done by specialist Committees or by Members in their constituencies.
§ 4.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland)
I am opposed to the Motion. I find considerable attraction in the Amendment. It is wrong that the House should adjourn on Friday, because agriculture faces one of the greatest crises that it has faced since the war.
§ Mr. John Pardoe (Cornwall, North)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I, too, wish to speak against the Motion that the House should adjourn on Friday until October, but I understood that that would not be in order on the Amendment, but should be raised on the substantive Motion.
§ Mr. Speaker
Any aspect of the debate which is in order either on the Motion or the Amendment is in order in this debate. It is a wide debate.
§ Mr. Jopling
I am grateful for your Ruling, Sir. Now that the Liberal Member has got his word in, perhaps I can get on.
Confidence in the agriculture industry is ebbing away. Morale among farmers, and among those who live around the industry and off it, is at its lowest level since the war. Recent price trends for agricultural commodities and the surplus of produce which has been imported into this country, particularly in recent months, have rocked the market. This is particularly true of beef and eggs. It would be wrong for the House to go away on Friday without adequately debating this crisis.
There may well be merit in the Amendment, which seeks to secure that the House should return in the middle of September, because, unless action is taken soon, the crisis might well become much worse than it is now. The crisis has been building up for some time. Most hon. Members will remember the great market slump which occurred last autumn.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot debate the crisis. He cannot debate the things he wishes to debate if the House were to come back. He can use the serious nature of what he is suggesting as an argument against either the 339 Motion or the Amendment or for either of them.
§ Mr. Jopling
I am sorry, Mr. Speaker.
Perhaps I can say a few words about eggs and why it is so urgent for the House to debate the problem they have caused. Never before have egg producers found greater troubles confronting them. There is, on the one hand, the movement towards larger units. There is, on the other, the great squeeze which is taking place on smaller and medium-sized units. During the last few months considerable supplies of imported eggs, particularly from Poland, have tipped the balance of the market. The supply and demand position has been completely upset. It is causing a great crisis.
Last week, the President of the Board of Trade publicly admitted that these imported eggs are dumped. However, in spite of that, he says that he is not prepared to do anything about it. Some of my right hon. and hon. Friends went to see him last week. The conclusion of that meeting was totally unsatisfactory to egg producers. The right hon. Gentleman admitted that the eggs were dumped and that there were hardships to our egg producers because of the dumping.
§ Mr. Jopling
If the situation is not tackled within a few days, and the House does not debate it urgently, it will greatly deteriorate. I am sorry that there are no Ministers from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food present. Unless hon. Members have an opportunity to tackle the Ministers responsible for this crisis and persuade them to take action, the greatest possible damage will be done to the industry in the next few weeks. It is vital that the House should not rise on Friday, but should continue to sit until there is an opportunity to debate this crisis.
There is also a crisis in the beef industry. Within the last few weeks there has been a most spectacular fall in beef prices. In one market in the North of England beef prices have fallen during the last seven weeks by about 40s. a cwt. This is serious for our cattle producers. Confidence is ebbing away. The production of cattle is a long-term business before 340 it reaps benefits. One cannot begin now in the hope of reaping benefits by Christmas. It may take three years before benefits begin to accrue. Already in the first six months of this year calf slaughterings—
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of what the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) is discussing, may I have your permission to discuss the mining situation in my constituency, on the Motion?
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) must heed the Rulings I am giving. He must link what he seeks to say about agriculture to the Motion.
§ Mr. Jopling
I was about to do that, Sir. I hope that the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) does not have in his mining constituency a crisis as severe as some of us have in agriculture. I am seeking to explain why it is vital that the House should discuss the question of beef. Already, during these first six months, 80,000 more calves have been slaughtered than in the previous year—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman must not discuss the beef situation. He is asking for an opportunity, by changing the dates, to discuss the egg and beef problems.
§ Mr. Jopling
I am sorry, Mr. Speaker.
We must stop this increased slaughter. If we do not ask the Minister at the earliest possible moment whether he is aware that these extra calves are being slaughtered—and the extra slaughterings will mean less beef in two years' time—and what he intends to do about the position, the House will be failing in its duty.
The Minister does not at present seem to be prepared to take any action at all over the crisis in the beef industry. Great importations of beef are coming from Ireland. We understand that the Minister has been having discussions with the Irish Minister, but the right hon. Gentleman has not told the House the outcome of those discussions. We must have the earliest possible opportunity of asking the right hon. Gentleman what he is doing as, so far, he has been singularly unprepared to tell us anything about the position. 341 There is nothing at present on the Order Paper to enable us to have the debate I seek, so it is only by either continuing to sit after Friday, or, as the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) suggests, returning in September that we can properly discuss the beef situation with the urgency it deserves.
A great number of my hon. and right hon. Friends feel extremely strongly and bitterly about this agricultural crisis and I plead with the Leader of the House to take note of what I have said. Others of my hon. and right hon. Friends may wish to elaborate on this very serious crisis and urge, as I do, that it would be wrong to go off on the Summer Recess without our having had an adequate opportunity to debate the subject with the Minister present.
§ Mr. John Farr (Harborough)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As it is obvious that a large number of my hon. Friends are extremely concerned about various aspects of the current agricultural situation, would it be in order for me to ask you whether a representative of the Ministry of Agriculture can be present to answer adequately the very real concern being expressed from this side of the House today?
§ Mr. Speaker
I should have thought that the hon. Member would know that that is never a point of order.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Laurence Pavitt (Willesden, West)
I have every sympathy with the case put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton), but I do not wish to address myself to the Amendment. Nor do I follow the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) in his agricultural argument: my constituency is industrial—the only farm in it is owned by Messrs. Guinness.
I want to raise a very important matter which is referred to in today's Guardian. A few weeks ago I raised with the Minister of Power the appointment of the Steel Corporation's regional chairmen. Unfortunately, I was then unable because of the state of the Order Paper to ask the supplementary questions I had intended to ask, and perhaps, further discuss the whole subject. I am concerned about the statement in today's Guardian that the announcement of an appoint- 342 ment is being delayed until a week today, the inference being that the House will then have risen and we shall have no opportunity to discuss it.
I understand that Lord Melchett then intends to announce the appointment of Mr. Niall Macdiarmid, formerly of Stewarts and Lloyds, as chairman of one of the Corporation's regional groups, and his appointment to the Corporation. This is a matter of great concern to hon. Members on both sides. The fact that the appointment is being deliberately delayed, in spite of the fact that as long ago as 8th July the Financial Times published a "leak" foreshadowing it, would seem to indicate that the House is not being given an opportunity to discuss this very important matter.
The appointment of Mr. Macdiarmid comes after the Minister stated a few weeks ago, when there was some considerable interest here about the possibility of this appointment, that no appointment was then contemplated. My right hon. Friend was not misleading the House, because he said quite clearly that at that moment the appointment was not being made. Nevertheless, the appointment is now to be announced a few days after this House rises, which will make it impossible for us to raise various points about it with the Minister.
Many of us believe that appointments to publicly-owned industries should be of those who believe in public ownership—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. So far, the hon. Gentleman has been in order. He must not drift into arguing the merits of what he would like to talk about if the House were meeting next week after the appointment was made.
§ Mr. Pavitt
I am trying to show that the time factor is important for a number of reasons, and that if the delay in announcing the appointment goes on we shall not be able to give the House and the Minister our reasons for believing that the House has a right to discuss an appointment like this. My hon. Friends are trade unionists, and the person being appointed is opposed to trade union organisation within the Steel Corporation. This, again, is something that we should have an opportunity to discuss.
I accept your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, that most of the points I should now like 343 to make to the House today would be more appropriately made if my plea were successful, but I must draw attention to the extreme importance of a case in which something is being done deliberately in order to circumvent the right of the House to pass an opinion on it, whether we agree with the appointment or disagree with it. I believe this to be a profound abuse of our procedures. In other circumstances I should have sought the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9, but I realise that it was unlikely that I would get your favourable Ruling on that, Sir.
I maintain that it would be wrong for the House to rise knowing very well that the appointment is to be announced next Tuesday. We should not rise until Wednesday next. The announcement could then be made, and we could devote a complete day to a full-scale debate in which hon. Members in all parts of the House could express their views. I hope that the House will not accept the Motion. I know that most hon. Members are very tired—we have had a very fatiguing Session—but I am convinced that this matter is so important that we should delay our rising for a further few days in order to discuss it.
§ 4.18 p.m.
§ Sir Derek Walker-Smith (Hertfordshire, East)
The hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton), in moving his Amendment, said that he did not customarily participate in these debates. My own rule is a simple one. I do not venture to seek to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, in these debates, on the fixing of a Recess unless I feel that the state of the country and the conduct of the Administration is such as imperatively to demand the close and continuing attention of Parliament. It is, therefore, no coincidence that during the last few of these debates I have felt constrained to seek to catch your eye. Now, as on previous occasions, there is a very strong case for saying that Parliament should continue to keep the Administration under as close scrutiny as possible—
§ Sir D. Walker-Smith
It should be even longer, as my hon. Friend rightly says.
344 The hon. Member for Fife, West, who moved the Amendment, did not say whether he proposed to press it in the Division Lobby. Presumably, he intends to conform to the pattern set last night, to be content simply with voicing his sentiments and not to pursue the logic of the matter into the Division Lobby.
§ Sir D. Walker-Smith
No, I am not sure that I can undertake to do that.
The hon. Member made a characteristic speech. On this and in other matters his unerring instinct assured him that something was wrong somewhere, but his prescription was not a very logical or valid one. He did not explain how he fixed the exact date in his Amendment. He did not explain whether he thought it an advantage or otherwise that all three party political conferences would thereby be sacrificed—a considerable conserving of resources of political platitude, no doubt, if they were—
§ Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)
Much to the relief of the Lord President of the Council.
§ Sir D. Walker-Smith
I was coming next to the Lord President of the Council. He was defended by the hon. Member for Fife, West on this basis, as I understood. He said that it was wrong that all this criticism should be directed solely and expressly to the Lord President; it ought to be shared universally by every member of the Administration. That was the tenor of his argument, and there is a great deal to be said for that.
I do not think that I would be able to support the hon. Member on the exact date he has fixed. I agree with those hon. Members who in principle, have said that this is a very long Adjournment and something which, in the present state of affairs, the House should view at any rate with doubt from two points of view—
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
My right hon. and learned Friend seemed to believe that my intervention, which he overheard, meant that I thought the recess should be shorter. I am supporting the Government. I think that it should be longer than is stated in the Motion and if I catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, I shall explain 345 that. I did not want my right hon. and learned Friend to have the wrong impression.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. If the hon. Member intervenes at length in a debate like this, will have caught my eye.
§ Sir D. Walker-Smith
If my hon. Friend succeeds in catching your eye, and I very much hope he does, I shall listen with interest to what he has to say, because I know that he is a master of the persuasive paradox which seems implicit in the view he is about to put forward.
Both on the grounds of the efficiency of business and of the degree to which the Government can act without the authority of Parliament, which should be closely safeguarded, Parliament should look with suspicion at recesses as long as this. Clearly, if the business of the Session had been properly planned and proper time allocated for the business that there was to do, there should have been no question this year of the House rising next Friday. The House and its machinery have been grossly overloaded during recent months and without any justification, except apparently the hypnotic influence exercised on the mind of the Leader of the House by the date 28th July, arbitrarily chosen for some reason not yet indicated to us even if it is known to himself.
It is an absurd and melancholy paradox that, on the one hand, we get the hustle and bustle, the long hours and difficulties of the last few months, and, on the other, that the House should adjourn for 12 weeks. It makes nonsense in the eyes of people outside, it is bad for the image of Parliament, and bad for the conduct of business. This is normally put on the basis of the strain imposed on hon. Members and on the staff at the Palace of Westminster. These are important considerations, of course, but there is a still more important consideration at stake.
This House, we were reminded recently in an article in The Times, is a workshop and the work which the House produces is the law of the land. The law of the land is something which has to be interpreted. There is a tradition, which is becoming something of a fiction, that everybody is presumed to understand it. Certainly they are intended to comply 346 with it. The legislation produced this Session is some of the most complex I have ever seen, in particular, the Land Commission Act, which certainly could have had another week or two with benefit to the clarity in which it is expressed.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has partaken in a number of these debates. He must know that he should come to the Motion.
§ Sir D. Walker-Smith
I beg your pardon, Mr. Speaker, if I was a little over-ample in the illustrations with which I was seeking to support my proposition.
That is my first proposition, that it is a paradox that the House should rise for 12 weeks when we have had so much complex legislation compressed into a clearly insufficient time.
The other point I wish respectfully to submit to the House, leading to the same conclusion, is one which was also adverted to by other hon. Members. It is the degree of power which a Government exercise as soon as Parliament goes into recess. Everybody knows that a sigh of relief goes up in the corridors of power in Whitehall as soon as Parliament rises. The longer the recess, the bigger the sigh of relief, and the more stringent and difficult and challenging the situation, again the bigger the sigh of relief.
That is perhaps a melancholy reflection on our institutions. Here we have a very long recess coupled with a very difficult situation and very wide powers that present Governments have of action of a fundamental nature which can be taken without the approval of Parliament as soon as Parliament goes into recess. I want, if I may, to give one illustration, and one only, of this part of my argument. It is very topical because it arises in the context of yesterday's debate. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, very properly, made a very clear pronouncement against devaluation in the course of his speech, but on another matter he was much less categorical.
On the possibility of the imposition of import restrictions as an aid to dealing with the economic difficulties in which the country finds itself, he said:… we shall need to watch very carefully this import pattern and be ready to encourage British industry to provide competitive substitutes for imports."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th July, 1967; Vol. 751, c. 98.]347 The whole economy of the country can be changed by the Government by purely administrative action without any recourse to Parliament at all because the statutory powers are there under the Import, Export and Customs Powers (Defence) Act, 1939. Legally, the position is that no imports can come into the country except on licence and the open general licence which operates to admit them can be varied by purely administrative action.
There is no need to recall Parliament to implement such a policy and no need for legislation. If the House were not sitting, Ministers could not be called upon to account for, to defend or even to explain the action they have taken. That is a topical and very real example of the great growth in the administrative powers of a Government in the modern time which they can exercise without recourse to actual legislation. That being so, there is obviously a very great need for Parliament to be able to call Ministers to account for administrative action taken by them.
I give that illustration because I think that in addition to the efficiency of the business it is also requisite that Parliament should have an opportunity to correct the defects in administration. It is very difficult to do that if for twelve weeks the Government are given the completely free hand which they want but which in my submission is not in the interests of the country. If the Motion is carried, as it will be, and we do not meet again for 12 weeks—though some crisis, I suppose, might arise which would compel the Government to recall Parliament—then we can only hope, without any very great confidence, that the situation will not deteriorate in many respects in that time, and in respects which Parliament, had it been sitting, might possibly have been able to restrain or correct.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Mr. John P. Mackintosh (Berwick and East Lothian)
I support the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr William Hamilton) and I wish to take up some of the arguments advanced by the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr Jopling) It is important that we should not go into Recess without emphasising our alarm and also 348 our desire to discuss the problems in the farming industry which the hon Member mentioned and which we have not had the opportunity to discuss.
That is an admirable illustration. Many hon. Members will draw attention to other things which may arise during the next 12 weeks, but this example is particularly appropriate because it not only affects my constituency and many others but it is a seasonal matter which reaches a peak at a certain time of the year. When this happened last year it was fair enough to say that it might be unusual and that the collapse in store prices and the flood of cheap food imports, particularly beef and eggs into this country, might be a peculiar phenomenon which would not recur.
This was the line which the Ministry pursued through most of the winter until pressure from hon. Members on both sides of the House persuaded the Government to take some remedial action. Having had a very easy Price Review—I know that there were objections to it in some quarters, but in many ways it was the best that we could have hoped for—and having had some increase in prices, we are faced with the same problem, starting again now.
I am worried that by the time we return in October a great deal of damage will have been done to certain sections of the farming industry and that, once again, we shall be faced with a rescue operation rather than an analysis of the problems and the prevention of the problems before they become too serious.
I will not analyse the problems in this debate, because that is not in order. We have done so in past agriculture debates. But on the question of timing, it would help if we continued to sit, not because I think that if we had the Minister here we should get a great deal of change—because whatever the Minister is planning and thinking about the matter, he will go on working on it—but because we have the machinery in the House by which we can do this job for ourselves.
Were we to continue to sit, the specialist Committee on Agriculture could continue its work and we could call before us the necessary officials and find out the facts of what is happening in store market prices. We could find out the diagnosis of those who specialise in 349 this field and we could then press upon the Government some solution which we could crystalise and bring to the point of action—all because we have in our hands a specialist Committee which can call for facts and produce reports and demand action. I hope that the House will shortly see the result of our working in another field.
I should have liked to argue that we should continue to sit for another reason, but I do not have the same technical means of following that argument through. I should have liked the House to sit to discuss the whole question of the future of public expenditure in this country. I would draw attention to the fact that after we rise—indeed, even before we rise—the Government will be considering a five-year programme of public expenditure on the creeping system which has been adopted ever since the Plowden Report. Each summer at this time the Government reconsider public expenditure for a five-year period ahead.
We are in the embarrassing, and to hon. Members humiliating, position that all the newspapers are discussing whether there will be cuts in this, that or the other, or increases in taxation or decreases in consumption, while we are unable as a House to take part in that discussion. I do not think that that is just a matter of timing. It is a matter of machinery, because our system of the control of public expenditure dates from annual budgeting in the nineteenth century—and here I cannot support my hon. Friend's Amendment, because were we to sit for the next three weeks we should still not find out more about these decisions on public expenditure because our machinery for the control of this exercise is nineteenth century machinery. We want machinery which will enable us to call for the facts of public expenditure—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Eric Fletcher)
Order. The hon. Member cannot discuss the question of machinery on the Motion.
§ Mr. Mackintosh
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
I was about to suggest that we could have pressed the Government, if we sat longer, for a specialist Committee on economic policy to do the kind of work in that field which we could have done in agriculture had we sat longer. I hope 350 that, when we resume, one of the first tasks of the Select Committee on Procedure will be to bring up to date the system of control which the House exercises over public expenditure so that we have the facts and the capacity as a House to take part in what are the most important decisions being taken by the Government.
§ 4.37 p.m.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)
After such a disastrous Session I should not have thought that at the end of it I should be making a speech in which I appear to agree with the Government. There is only one alternative to the Government having a long recess to think themselves out, and that is for the Government to resign. The Government as constituted have "had it".
§ Sir H. Nicholls
The hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) is no greater supporter of the Government than I am. He has no faith in the Government at all, and he has shown it on many occasions.
If I thought there were the fraction of a chance of the Government resigning, that is the option which I should be taking up, but the voting last night showed clearly that even when 70 Members of the Labour Party feel that the Government's policy is disastrous they are not prepared to cast votes in the Lobby against it. But if the Government will not make use of Parliament in this way, we have to face realism: we have a tired, worn-out Treasury Bench.
If the Government are not prepared in the interests of the nation to give up the job, the next best thing is for them to think themselves out and to get their minds straightened out. I should like to think that the members of the Treasury Bench could sort themselves out while Parliament was sitting, but I do not believe that they could do so. They are both frightened of Parliament and arrogant towards Parliament, and in a split state of mind of that sort they are not capable of sorting themselves out.
In the interests of the nation I believe that if the 12 weeks on the Order Paper is the most they want to give themselves, it ought to be granted, although I believe 351 that they are much too far down the slippery slope and that 12 weeks will not be long enough. That is why said that in the interests of the nation and in the absence of their resignation the Recess should be even longer.
I argue in support of the Government and the Leader of the House that we should give them at least 12 weeks' recess, and if we could find a week or two extra we ought to find it. I am convinced that if we called for the expert advice of psychiatrists and the medical profession they would say that 12 weeks is not long enough to get the Government back on line. But if 12 weeks is all that they propose to give themselves, let us agree to it in the hope that they will do good next Session—better than in the last 15 months, in which we have been in so much trouble.
There are many problems. Let me give an example. One of the points they ought to keep in their minds while they are benefiting from the 12 weeks' recess—
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
—concerns the interest of the medium and small firms of this country, who feel that we need a Government, and particularly a Treasury Minister, who will use the recess in order to give these firms a chance of contributing to the wealth and success of the nation.
I have examples, and one in particular, which is typical, of a medium-sized firm whose balance sheet 18 months ago was in rather a "dicky" state. It used the following months to tighten up and sort itself out, and two months ago it was able to look at the results of its efforts. The firm found that by its efficiency and internal economies—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
No, I do not think it is relevant to the question of the length of the recess. Having said that, the hon. Member cannot pursue it.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
It is in the interests of medium-size and small firms that they should be able in the 12 weeks' 352 recess, which I am supporting, to concentrate their minds on these important matters. The firm to which I was referring found that £8,000 economies which it had brought about in 18 months had been completely eaten up by extra expenses put on it by the Government—
§ Sir Harmer Nicholls
I think that this point will be relevant, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
In supporting this proposed 12 weeks' recess, I am asking the Government to concentrate their mind upon some way by which they can reduce the expenses placed on small firms upon whose success the nation depends. If the Government could use the 12 weeks to do that, I am certain that I shall carry the House with me in saying that the 12 weeks will be well spent. [Interruption.] I am arguing very much in the interests of the City of Leeds. In Leeds, there are many medium-size and small firms suffering from the problems on which I should like to focus the Government's attention. The same applies to Peterborough. Peterborough is even more important than Leeds, because there one has the heart of England with the future of the country in its hands with its precision engineering. If the Government use the 12 weeks' recess in the interests of the industries of Peterborough, Leeds and Coventry, part of which is represented by the Leader of the House, they will be using the recess to good advantage. But if they are going to use the 12 weeks' recess in going to sleep and, having got the Parliamentary watchdog off their chests, carrying on in the same silly way as they have behaved in the last 15 months, then my support for the 12 weeks' recess will have been wasted. It is in the hope that they will use the recess to sort themselves out that I am supporting the Government.
Sir Winston Churchill said that under the system under which we work here, one can elect any Government one likes and, having got it, one has to like what one has got. The only alternative to allowing hon. Members opposite to wade into the Lobby with their majority of 100 to do things which even they themselves think are disastrous, is to give them 353 a rest and an opportunity to sort themselves out, in the hope that they can cure themselves and come back even marginally better than they have been, when they have been carrying out the disastrous policies which we have seen during the last 15 months.
§ 4.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Finch (Bedwellty)
I wish to raise a point on which I hope the Lord President of the Council will be able to reply. It is a matter of great importance to the mining industry and, in particular, to those in South Wales. I refer to the anticipated report of the Aberfan tribunal, for which we have all been waiting. I should like an assurance from my right hon. Friend that we shall be able to have a debate on this subject as soon as we return after the recess.
I support the Motion in principle, but much depends upon the reply of my right hon. Friend. This was a very disastrous occurrence at Aberfan and everyone is anxiously awaiting the report. We want to debate it as soon as possible. May I be told when the report is to be published and when we shall be able to debate it?
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. John Peyton (Yeovil)
I support the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton), who moved the Amendment. Reference has been made with accuracy to the House of Commons having been conducted like a slave ship with "Captain Bligh" himself sitting on the Front Bench. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that Captain Bligh, for all his apparent power, suffered a bad end, and that the kind of bullying tactics to which he resorts could land him in the same boat. Having rightly compared the House of Commons to a slave ship, the hon. Member for Fife, West, apparently recollecting that dogs are allowed only one bite, after which they will not get their licence renewed, then resorted to the extraordinary and rather contradictory sequence of a long paean of praise for the Leader of the House. There was not general applause for that, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will learn some lesson from it.
I was impressed by one argument of the hon. Gentleman's. He said that when Parliament is in recess the Government get away almost with murder. What worries me is that the present Executive get away with murder even when the 354 House is sitting. They do so by fixing our attention on peripheral matters while Rome burns in the middle. There is some justification for a hidden Standing Order which requires the automatic postponement, without the knowledge of the Government—I realise that this would be difficult to put into effect—of the rising of the House for one week after the date fixed by the Government.
This would catch all those announcements which are dribbled out immediately Parliament has risen for a recess—all these things like the fixing of electricity prices of appointments which are not universally popular on the other side of the House and the fixing of the exact steel compensation terms. There are many things which, doubtless, we have not yet heard about. Friday's HANSARD will, no doubt, be full of Written Answers all containing the most sepulchral announcements of which the House of Commons probably has no inkling at all at the moment. Therefore, I should very much like to have this automatic postponement for at least one week to enable us to catch up with the less likeable of the Government's droppings.
I see your eye upon me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so I will pass on to another point. I support my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling), who drew attention to the need for the House of Commons to discuss the serious plight of agriculture. As has already been said, we had this situation last year, and it is happening again this year after the so-called favourable Price Review. Is this to be the routine for agriculture? This is what we should like to know before we rise for such a long recess. Yesterday, we had—and I mean no offence to anybody who took part in the debate—a rather stylised 18th century engagement on economic affairs. I do not think that I shall be regarded as discourteous to anyone it I say that that debate left some of our more intractable problems wholly unsolved.
We want to know how the Government's thinking will move—if they move at all—during the next three months. It would be of value if the House had a passing opportunity to comment on the way in which stagnation ever characterises their thinking. We should very much like to be informed by the Government of their views on Rhodesia. I am very 355 worried about the Prime Minister's attitude. The right hon. Gentleman's motives and moves are so difficult to follow for anyone who has not had long experience of labyrinths. In answer to a question, the Prime Minister spoke of the present régime in Rhodesia as being partly Fascist. Is this the phraseology which one expects from the lips of a man who is about to undertake serious negotiations? As usual, the Prime Minister leaves us in mid-air. He is not to have an opportunity to explain himself.
Those are some of the matters on which we should like to have, and about which it is our duty to require, regular information from the Government. After 2½ years of words—it seems like 25 years to me—preceded by goodness knows how many years of promises, we find ourselves spiralling rapidly down towards disaster. By their perpetual smokescreen of words, and with their almost unique gift for manipulation so that attention is diverted to peripheral matters, the Government are able to put out of reach the really major issues which will affect the fate and fortune of every one of us for many years, letting them go untouched.
I recognise the weaknesses and inadequacies of Parliament in controlling an Executive like this. Neverthless, there is no other institution, and for that reason I regard the departure of Parliament at this juncture as an ill event. I fear the consequences for the country, with the Government untrammelled by even that minor measure of control which Parliament is able to put upon them.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
I hope that the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) will not misunderstand what I am about to say. Nothing grieves me more than having to support him, because my basic principles are the very reverse of his own—if, indeed, he has any basic principles.
§ Mr. Peyton
Without being very original, I was about to ask the right hon. Gentleman to enlighten us.
§ Mr. Shinwell
The hon. Gentleman did not note what I said when I began, that I hoped that he would not misunderstand me. Although we differ almost fundamentally on every problem which 356 comes before the House, on this issue I am with him 100 per cent., while, at the same time, discarding almost every argument he used in support.
I support my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton). My only regret is that he does not intend to push his case all the way by going into the Division Lobby. I assure him that, if he decides so to do, I shall follow him.
I hope that I shall not be misunderstood in what I am now about to say, since it has a bearing on the decisions taken by the Chair, for whom I always have the highest respect, but, having listened to the major part of this debate, I have had the impression that almost everyone has been out of order. I do not propose to be out of order. At least, that is my intention.
I give one valid and substantial reason why we should return on 19th September. My holiday period will by then have terminated. That is not out of order, and it is a thoroughly sound reason. There is another reason. Although, I confess, I am sometimes bored by having to listen to speeches in the House—sometimes one is bored by one's own speeches—I am even more bored during the Recess. Sometimes. I do not know what to do with myself.
What can I do? The holiday is over. I have spent the best part of my ill-gotten gains. I return to a normal condition of existence. What am I to do?—visit the Tower of London, visit Westminster Abbey, visit the British Museum again to see the Elgin Marbles? Should I pay a visit to the Zoo? Why should I do that?
I mean what I say—I always do, of course—and I say that 12 weeks is far too long. I have given substantial reasons why we should return, and willingly, on 19th September. Here are further compelling reasons. This afternoon, I had down Question No. Q11. I made strenuous efforts to persuade Mr. Speaker to allow me to put it, and only the unwarranted intervention or intrusion of the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond)—I am sorry that he is not in his place—who put an irrelevant and immaterial question, prevented my Question from being answered.
Not that I expected a very satisfactory answer, anyhow. Often, when young 357 Members coming into the House ask my advice—I assure hon. Members that it does happen—I tell them that what matters is not the answer one gets from the Treasury Bench, but the point which one makes. If all we had to rely on were answers from the Treasury Bench, there would be very little satisfaction from putting Questions down.
My Question was not answered, but I wanted to know—I am sure that many right hon. and hon. Members would like to know, too—when the Suez Canal is to be reopened. I wanted the Prime Minister to tell the House when that event is to come, and for very good reason. If the Suez Canal is not reopened within the next six to 12 months, and this is by no means unlikely, it will be a serious matter for our shipping and economy. Shipping freight charges will rise to extreme heights, and this will obviously have a detrimental effect, not only on shipping, but on our economy as a whole.
When are we going to learn from the Government what action is to be taken? Some action has to be taken. I am not suggesting that we should send out a gunboat. Whenever anyone asks a question about what action is to be taken by the Government to protect British nationals who happen to be overseas, some of my hon. Friends immediately interject "Send a gunboat".
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman appreciates that we cannot, on this Motion, discuss what action should be taken with regard to the Suez Canal, or elsewhere. We can discuss only the length of the recess.
§ Mr. Shinwell
How right you are, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I could not agree more with you I was merely using that as an illustration. I am not discussing what should be done. How do I know, anyway? It is only the Government who know anything about what is to be done.
This matter is as simple as ABC. Is ABC simple? I am not sure, but it is the only thing that I can think of at the moment. Within the next three months this country may be placed in a position of extreme economic difficulty, indeed distress, unless the Suez Canal is opened. When shall we know what pressure we can bring to bear on the Government so that action is taken? 358 I am unable to say what action should be taken. It is for the Government to tell us what kind of action is essential, and what action it is within their power to take.
Those are the reasons why I think that the House should meet again on 19th September. That date will suit me very well. I shall go off on holiday at the beginning of September, and return on the 16th. I shall, therefore, be back just in time for the House to meet on the 19th. Before then, it is the prerogative of every Member, and I shall avail myself of the privilege, to put down a number of Questions. I shall repeat my Question on today's Order Paper. It was not answered orally, and I am sure that when I see the Written Answer it will not give me or anybody else any satisfaction. When I put down my Question again, I shall get an Answer, which is what I am anxious to have, and through the pages of HANSARD I shall be able to inform everyone who is not present in the House at the time.
§ Mr. Peter Mills (Torrington)
I am interested in what the right hon. Gentleman has said about going on holiday. It will be very interesting to know when he intends to visit his constituency.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I am delighted to answer that question. I know that the whole country is anxious to know the answer to it. I visit my constituency frequently, and I assure the hon. Gentleman, if he wants an assurance, that my constituency is very well satisfied with me. Only recently—
§ Mr. Shinwell
I am in a quandary now, because I was asked a question, and if this appears in The Times tomorrow morning—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I think that the question, which was out of order, has already been satisfactorily answered.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I was about to say that I visited my constituency last week and 359 received two valuable gifts from my constituents. If the hon. Gentleman wants to see them, I can arrange for him to visit my little domicile and see them. He will then realise how much I am appreciated in my constituency.
I want, now, to refer to what the hon. Member for Yeovil said about the Government Front Bench. I deprecate these attacks on the Front Bench, and more particularly those on my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. On a B.B.C. programme the other night I was asked whether I disliked my right hon. Friend. I responded at once, "Of course I do not. Why should I?" I said that he was a man of remarkable intellectual distinction, but I went on to say that I did not think he made a very good Leader of the House. I was also asked what I thought was his proper vocation—though this did not appear in the programme, nor did my answer—and I said, with respect to Mr. Paul Johnson, of the New Statesman, my right hon. Friend would make a better editor of that paper and that he would even make a better editor of The Times than Mr. ReesMogg.
When Mr. Robin Day asked whether that was logical, in view of my suggestion that my right hon. Friend was sometimes unreliable, and indulged in variations, I said that if one read the leading articles in The Times that is precisely what one discovered. I think, therefore, that one can understand that I do not dislike my right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I have no doubt that all this is very interesting, but it is not relevant to the length of the recess.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am really surprised at that. I should have thought that it was relevant, for the reasons which I am about to tell the House.
I have a great respect for my right hon. Friend, although I do not think that he is the best Leader of the House. This is all the more reason why we should return sooner than 12 weeks hence, so that he will have an opportunity to show what he can do. We have seen the liberalisation programme, which had a remarkable effect last night when some of my hon. Friends who had ventured 360 something in the nature of a revolt decided to vote with the Government, which was, of course, the proper thing to do in the circumstances. There is every reason why we should return on 19th September.
The right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) talked about the effect which an early return might have on the various party conferences. Would it really matter if hon. Members on this side of the House did not attend the Labour Party conference? Do they really think that they make any impact on the conference platform? For perhaps 50 years I have attended Labour Party conferences, and I made no impact; and when I was on the platform nobody on the floor could make any impact on my mind.
As for the Tory Party conference, one knows what happened there not long ago. There was a disputation about who should be the Leader of the Tory Party.—[An HON. MEMBER: "And see what you got!"] In my judgment that is not a valid reason for not returning on 19th September. As for the Liberal Party conference, I ask you! Well, I do not ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker; it is really a rhetorical question. Would it really matter? Is their journey really necessary? The arguments which occur to me, and some of the arguments which have occurred to those hon. Members who have addressed the House, point to one conclusion only, namely, that we should return on 19th September. If anybody wants to return earlier than that, it would not suit me.
The hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) raised the question of eggs. I agree that this is a very serious matter. I can understand their distress. The egg business is not doing so well. I assure hon. Members opposite that I am not an opponent of theirs in this matter. I consume two eggs every day. What could one do more than that? [HON. MEMBERS: "Consume three."] Sometimes I am asked the reason for my very good health. There you are; there is the prescription. Two eggs a day. If necessary, I will consume another—not every day, but perhaps on Sundays.
I beg hon. Members opposite not to imagine that I am in opposition to them. They want us to return on 19th September so that the Minister of Agriculture 361 can appear on the Treasury Bench and answer their questions. I want the Minister of Power to appear to tell us about pit closures in my constituency in Durham and elsewhere. I want the Minister of Power as soon as possible to give me a valid reason why the Seaton Carew power station, which is in contemplation, should not be powered by coal instead of nuclear energy, and—last, but not least—I want the Foreign Secretary to give me the reason why the Suez Canal remains closed. I want at the earliest moment to know what the Government intend to do to ensure its reopening.
I am sure that in saying that all these are valid reasons I have the House with me—except for the hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls) who, by the way, suggested that the Government should resign. Does he realise what that would mean? There would be another election. [An HON. MEMBER: "He would double his majority."] Does he realise the effect of another election? Let him recall what happened last time. He got in by the skin if his teeth—a matter of three votes. He should not ask the Government to resign. The longer the Government remain there, the better it will be for his chances. [Laughter.] Hon. Members can interpret that remark as they wish.
I think that I have made out my case. I have also fortified my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West and I have given support to the hon. Member for Yeovil—I think for the first time in the history of our acquaintance in the House of Commons. For all the reasons that I have given I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West will press this very important matter to a Division. He will find that I will follow him right through the Lobby and inscribe my vote in favour of a return on 19th September.
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ Mr. John Pardoe (Cornwall, North)
I do not wish to follow the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) in the troubles of his constituency, except to say that I do not know whether my next visit to Blackpool will be necessary. I know that my last was not, because I went there as a delegate to the Labour Party conference in 1959.
I cannot understand why the House should have 12 weeks' holiday, and I do 362 not believe that anybody else can. There are many things in respect of which one could oppose the Motion to rise on Friday and not come back for 12 weeks. There are many things that we have left undone that we should have done. I want to focus attention on a matter that concerns me, namely, the rÔ le of the House as watchdog of public expenditure. I believe that we have a duty as overseers of the public purse and that during the last two or three weeks, in relation to social security, we have lamentably failed in that duty.
Yesterday, we had a statement from the Minister without Portfolio to all intents and purposes committing the Government to an additional expenditure of about £53 million. It may be said that we shall have an opportunity to debate this when we reassemble, but we shall be able to debate only that part of the expenditure which does not become operative until April, 1968. If that is so, why announce it yesterday? To the public it will appear that we have signed and sealed this item of expenditure with little more public examination than a few cursory questions yesterday afternoon. It will be said that we have already debated that part of the expenditure which becomes operative in October.
The debate which has taken place in the House on the money allocated for social security during the last two weeks has been totally inadequate. We spent a miserable three hours debating the Second Reading of the National Insurance (No. 2) Bill on Monday, 3rd July, Clause 5 of which, which related to yesterday's statement, gives the Government temporary power to increase family allowances by Order.
It is impossible to say how much of that three hours' debate was taken up by discussing the item relating to yesterday's statement, but by no stretch of the imagination could it have been more than half an hour. In Committee, on Friday, 7th July, the Clause was debated for no more than 35 minutes, and both the Second Reading and the Committee stage were taken in such a hurried fashion that no vote was taken on any part of the Bill. I understand that Her Majesty's Opposition, through the usual channels, formed an unholy alliance with the Government to stifle discussion of the Bill.
363 The Chair—and I make no criticism in this respect—ruled that no debate on the Question, "That Clause 5 stand part of the Bill", could take place. In other words, the National Insurance (No. 2) Bill, which raised public expenditure by £230 million in a full year and was responsible for public taxation amounting to £217 million, was put through the House with less than nine hours' discussion. Yesterday we had a statement which incurred the direct expenditure of £5 million, and we had no chance to debate it at all.
If the right hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Barber) wishes to intervene, I shall happily give way.
§ Mr. Anthony Barber (Altrincham and Sale)
I was only intrigued to know what the hon. Member wanted to do about the Motion and the Amendment.
§ Mr. Pardoe
I would have thought that I was at least as much in order in my remarks as the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) was in his; indeed, I do not think that I have been called to order by the Chair.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)
Order. I would remind the hon. Gentleman that many other hon. Members wish to speak. Perhaps he will devote himself to the Motion, so that we can make faster progress.
§ Mr. Pardoe
I would have thought that the most important rÔle of the House was as watchdog over public expenditure. My point—which I would have thought the right hon. Gentleman would take account of—is that we have agreed to large sums of public expenditure in respect of National Insurance, and to increased taxation, without any discussion. This has particular relevance to yesterday's statement.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)
We are not discussing what happened yesterday; we are discussing why we should not adjourn on Friday, or why we ought to come back in September. That is an entirely different question from the question of what happened yesterday.
§ Mr. Pardoe
I do not think so. If we had another week of debates we would be able to discuss this item of public expenditure properly. If we had 364 another two weeks—it is possible that we would not use the time usefully, but that is another matter—it would be still better. I do not intend to be led, through interventions, to a discussion of the merits of yesterday's statement, but in our role as public watchdog over expenditure we have failed. That is why I oppose the Motion that the House should rise on Friday for the Recess. It would be better—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Member is not relating his remarks to the Motion. What has happened may be regrettable, but unless the hon. Member can relate his remarks to what we are doing in the future—especially in relation to the Recess—he will be out of order.
§ Mr. Pardoe
I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am prepared to accept that I may be out of order. What I am trying to say—I thought that this was in order, but I am prepared to accept your Ruling that it is not—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The Chair takes a different view from that which the hon. Member takes. He must direct his remarks to the Motion.
§ Mr. Pardoe
If we go away on Friday without having done our duty in this respect we shall be seen to have failed. There is no case for rising on this date, because the House has not done its job and a mass of business remains. I will not go into detail, or discuss the egg situation, or the coal situation in Easing-ton, but we could be better watchdogs of public expenditure in this respect if we stayed for another week or came back earlier.
I do not understand why the Government accept that Parliament should always recess in August. It might be better if we set an example so that the country did not always go on holiday in this month. Perhaps we could recess at some other time if the Government desperately want 12 weeks every year to themselves. If we fail in this duty, we might as well amend the Motion to say that we go away on Friday and never come back.
§ 5.21 p.m.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Croydon, South)
Two points need clarification before we 365 rise for the recess. First the Government should announce before Friday whether they intend to extend the Race Relations Act. It is now four or five months since the publication of the P.E.P. report on colour discrimination, and an early day Motion, signed by over 150 of my colleagues, calls on the Government to extend the Act to cover insurance, housing and employment facilities. In view of the controversies over race relations in other countries and colour discrimination in Britain, the Government must say before we rise whether they have come to the right solution, that the Act will be extended—
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
By the same token, would the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government owe the country an announcement about what they intend to do if Mr. Stokely Carmichael seeks to come back to this country?
§ Mr. Winnick
If we debate race relalations, the hon. Gentleman will be able to make his point then.
My second point relates to the statement issued yesterday by the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys). It would be wrong if we did not debate this matter as soon as possible, because the right hon. Gentleman issued a shocking statement yesterday. It was a clear incitement to colour hatred in Britain—
§ Mr. Jopling
The hon. Gentleman is attacking my right hon. Friend. Did he give him warning of his intention to do so?
§ Mr. Winnick
The hon. Gentleman knows that it is normal practice, when one intends to mention a right hon. or hon. Gentleman, to inform him. I did so, and received a note from him, saying that he could not be present.
This was a disturbing statement and this is a reason why we should not rise yet. We know that the Press is devoting a great deal of space to race relations in other countries and the unfortunate events in the United States of America. What the right hon. Member for Streatham has done is to exploit this situation and incite hatred, it seems to me, of non-white people in Britain. I have a copy of the statement—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman has made his point on this subject. Perhaps he would now move to another one.
§ Mr. Winnick
There is no other point to move to, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I was about to try to strengthen my argument for our debating that statement—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman is in danger of getting into a debate on the subject itself, which is not admissible on this Motion.
§ Mr. Winnick
I appreciate that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I always want to remain in order.
This statement was so serious—I wished to quote from The Times report of it—that there should be a clear statement from the Government and Opposition Front Benches dissociating themselves from this shocking and, I would describe it, evil statement from the right hon. Gentleman—
§ Mr. Winnick
I have made the two points which I wanted to make, and I hope that there will be some comment from the two Front Benches, first, about the Race Relations Act, and, second, on the statement of the right hon. Member for Streatham.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)
The Lord President of the Council, who sat through the debate on the Whitsun Adjournment, will recall, as I do, that there has been one curious omission in this debate from the reasons given in that debate against our adjourning. It was formerly argued from hi, side of the House then that we should not adjourn until a debate on Suez had been arranged. Curiously, not a single suggestion to that effect has been made today in a debate which has lasted for the best part of an hour and a half.
Something must have happened. Hon. Gentlemen opposite apparently now realise that they backed the wrong horse, and I thought that it might be as well simply to eliminate that reason from this debate, as hon. Members opposite have already eliminated it from their arguments. It is gratifying to know that hon. 367 Members sometimes learn, even though, in this case, it took them 10 years.
These debates tend, to use a phrase of my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) to be somewhat stylised and to contain highly entertaining episodes like the speech, which the whole House enormously enjoyed, of the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell). He gave the Egg Marketing Board a commercial trailer which, if that body has the slightest commercial sense, it will use to the full.
I want to bring the House back to the serious background—
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Even the hon. Gentleman's support, though agreeably offered, will not divert me from my argument.
We are being asked to go away for three months when the state of the nation and of the world is exceedingly grim. The right hon. Member for Easington rightly reminded us that a vital artery of world traffic is closed and we have not been able to get from the Government the faintest indication of how and when and by whom it will be reopened. We leave the Middle East in a state of explosive and very real danger. We leave our national economy precarious, with all of us who have studied the subject expecting awkward and dangerous developments before 23rd October.
The hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) was right to refer to public expenditure. It was impossible to extract from the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday, and still less, naturally, from the President of the Board of Trade, in his peaceful readings of the "Thoughts of the President of the Board of Trade", the slightest indication about the Government's intention to control the mounting total of public expenditure.
368 As the hon. Member said, the basic function of this House is to control public expenditure. How can we do it if we go away for three months which are the decisive months, during which the decisions will be taken which, one way or another, will determine the level of public expenditure in the forthcoming financial year?
If we accept the Motion, therefore, we are leaving Parliament for three months to go away in a stormy, dangerous external world. I do not suppose that anyone has the slightest doubt that there will be crises and alarms. We are leaving a deteriorating economy, with unemployment already at its highest level for this time of year for 27 years—and, so far from having an assurance from the Chancellor that it will soon be better, we have a clear indication from him that it will be worse and that he intends to do nothing about it. That is the state of affairs in which Parliament is asked to go away for three months.
I ask the House in all seriousness to look at this matter from the point of view of Parliament. If we are to seek for a measure of control over the Executive, if as an institution we are to play a part in the affairs of the country, how can we do it if we placidly, and at the behest of the Government, go away in these circumstances for three months? I know that the right hon. Gentleman will remind me that there is power in the Government to ask Mr. Speaker to recall us. But that is power in the Government, on the initiative of the Government and under the control of the Government, and it is just because very few of us believe that in this state of the world the Government are to be trusted with the nation's affairs without any Parliamentary checks for three months that many of us are genuinely unhappy at so long a recess being proposed simply because it is—as it undoubtedly is—the normal practice.
No doubt the right hon. Gentleman will be able to find precedents—I could recall them myself—for recesses of a similar length. That is not the point. Parliament—and I say this with regret, because I love the House and I am a devoted upholder of Parliamentary in stitutions—is standing not all that high, let us face it, in public estimation at the moment. It will not do so if for 369 three difficult months it does not even try to do its job.
I am not sure about the Amendment. I am not at all sure that it chooses the right date. I am more inclined to feel that we should not rise on Friday with so much unfinished business. I am more inclined to think that we ought to go on. But whichever way we look at it—and opinions can differ—I suggest that a three-month recess in these circumstances is damaging to the standing of Parliament and to the opportunities of Parliament to stand up to the Executive.
To obtain this end of rising on Friday, we all know—the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) referred to it—that vital business had to be discussed right through the middle of the night. I do no mean simply the "phoney" Private Members' business. I mean the admittedly Government legislation such as the Prices and Incomes Act, which had to be taken through in the middle of the night. That cannot but make people outside deeply critical of the way in which we conduct our affairs. The tragedy is that this would not have been necessary, not even with the Lord President's ideas of how the House should be managed, if we had taken it calmly and said, "We shall sit for another week or fortnight". If these are matters which demand Parliamentary scrutiny, and if they are matters to which it is right that he should give Parliamentary time, very well, let him give it, but at a time of the day which people regard as reasonable.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)
The right hon. Member is generalising too much and not applying his arguments to the Motion.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I accept your Ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
With respect, I invite your attention to the fact that when Mr. Speaker was in the Chair, the hon. Member for Fife, West spoke very much on those lines and went out of his way to praise the Lord President of the Council for the admirable management of our affairs which produced this situation. If the hon. Member is entitled to praise the Lord President of the Council, which, I admit, is a very difficult mental exer- 370 cise for anybody, surely it is equally open to those of us who do not share his uncritical enthusiasm for that great man to indicate a slight difference of view on the matter and to suggest that another interpretation can be placed upon the arrangements under which the Lord President of the Council has kept the House going like a broilerhouse day and night for the last three or four weeks to the detriment of the House—which matters a certain amount—and to the detriment of public business—which matters a great deal.
That was the only point which I desired to make and, therefore, grateful as I am, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as always, for your guidance, I do not think that I need seek to speak further about this. I wish to make two points to the Government. If the Government desire to do so much business and to find so much time for what purport to be Private Members' Bills, there is only one way in which to do it effectively without damaging Parliament as an institution, and that is to prolong the length of the Session and to take the business which the Government claim to be necessary during ordinary hours during an extended Session. I put these arguments in very considerable seriousness. If Parliament is to gain in respect, as we all want to see it gain, from our fellow countrymen, if it is not only to do the job of keeping the Government under control but to appear to do the job, we have to be here. The absent are always wrong, and three months is too long an absence.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)
Those of us who have not been Members of the House for quite as long as some others who are present may perhaps be more aware that one of the things which causes people outside the House to question some of our customs and activities is the very practice in which we are indulging now. We are considering an Amendment which says that we should come back earlier and we are questioning a Motion which says that we should adjourn on Friday. Everybody knows, both inside the House and outside it, that all this is arranged. Everybody knows that discussions have taken place through what are normally called the usual channels. Everybody knows what will happen: we shall go on Friday. Everybody knows 371 that we shall come back at the time which the Motion states that we shall come back.
§ Sir D. Glover
If the hon. Member wishes to put this Question to a Division I am willing to tell with him. If there are enough back-bench Members here who will support it, we shall come back on 19th September.
§ Mr. Jenkins
If I may digress from my argument, I will point out to the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) that although it is theoretically within the power of the House to do so, in point of fact all arrangements are made, the business of the House has been discussed, the arrangements of the servants of the House are made, and holidays are arranged. In spite of the hon. Member's desire to maintain the validity of the charade, outside the House the charade is seen to be invalid.
I may be on a tender point there when I say that when we go through some of the procedures of the House which we accept as valid, they are enjoyed by many hon. Members here—and the longer hon. Members are here the more they are enjoyed—but they are not enjoyed outside the House. Those outside the House often wonder what we are getting at when we are spending time discussing the question of coming back at a certain time, offering reasons why we should come back earlier, when we know very well that, although theoretically we have the power to change the situation, we do not intend on either side of the House to push the matter to a Division. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Hon. Members may disagree with me and dislike what I am saying. But if they ask themselves, in their heart of hearts, what the situation is, they will admit that this matter has been discussed and has been arranged and that what we are going through here is a charade.
What useful purpose are we serving in the debate? I think that we can serve a useful purpose. It seems to me that if we use this occasion to put forward arguments for a considerable change in the whole approach for Parliamentary time we shall use the debate for a useful purpose. But if we go on year after year, recess after recess, going through the motions of not wanting to go away and 372 wanting to come back quickly, we shall merely do what the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) fears and bring the House into contempt.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I have listened to the hon. Gentleman's argument with interest. Is he really saying that if the Amendment were accepted, or the Motion were rejected, we would not, under the Standing Order, automatically resume next Monday or come back on 19th September? I hope that he is not suggesting that the Government would seek to overrule the decision of the House. I have not suspected even the Leader of the House of that.
§ Mr. Jenkins
The right hon. Gentleman is illustrating the validity of what I say. He knows full well that what he has said is absolutely true in theory. We have full power to make these changes, but he knows that it is also true that it is not the intention that the changes shall be made. This is precisely what I think is wrong.
Therefore, the use of this occasion is not to go through this annual charade, but to suggest changes in our procedures. Hon. Members who said that 12 weeks is too long a period are right. It is a ridiculous time. If, as a result of this debate, the "usual channels" on either side were seriously to get down to the question of changing the Parliamentary timetable we would have served a useful purpose this afternoon. If we had a recess of a month—or six weeks, if hon. Members opposite prefer—in the summer and more frequent breaks so that we could visit our constituencies properly for a week at a time, rearranging the Parliamentary timetable as a result, we should achieve something.
Quite apart from the general arguments, about the Summer Recess being too long, with which I agree, I have a personal interest for feeling that we should not go away on Friday. I have a Private Member's Bill on which there have been nine Committee sittings. It had its Second Reading more than a year ago, in June, 1966, and one day has been spent on its Report stage.
§ Mr. Jenkins
It has been filibustered, as my hon. Friend says. It needs another 373 day on Report to be brought to its conclusion. I suspect, that because of an agreement between the two Front Benches we are bound to finish on 28th July. Because of this and because we are not returning until near the end of October, the Bill cannot be concluded.
If we did not rise until a day or two later, we could conclude the proceedings on that Measure and do one or two other things which my hon. Friends would like to do. We could also conclude all those matters if we began again on the date suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton). It will be a pity if we do not, but I shall not blind myself with the feeling that we shall. I know full well that we shall not, in spite of what is said this afternoon. It is time some of the conventions were broken down, and that is what I seek to do now.
The Amendment is not serious, but it is serious in its intention. Even if we do not come back on 19th September, the Amendment gives us the opportunity to draw attention to the fact that our timetable is an agricultural one of 100 years ago and is completely out of date in modern conditions. I want us to look at the whole situation so that we readjust our timetable as well as our methods of operation. It is too late to change this year, but I hope that as a result of the debate we shall decide to change another year, and that this may be the last 12-week Recess on which the House ever embarks.
Although my Private Member's Bill, the Employment Agencies Bill, will not be reached this Session, I think that it is possible that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House can say something encouraging about the intentions on it for next Session. If he can do so, I hope that he will not hesitate to say those encouraging words.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
The hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) said that he thought that the debate on the Motion and the Amendment was "phoney". He added that the House was expressing a view and hoped that we should alter our procedure for next year. This is exactly how Parliament brings about change. When we have debates it does not necessarily follow that because the votes in the Division Lobbies 374 go one way the argument is not won by the other side; policy may change. This is the purpose of Parliament. Therefore, I do not think that anybody need apologise for speaking in this debate.
If the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) wished to carry his Amendment to a Division I should be sincerely willing to be a Teller for him. I think that this year, in particular, a 12 weeks' recess is far too long. My hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) made a powerful speech about meat and eggs. I agree with every word of what he said. It is an absolute tragedy that the House is rising without an opportunity for these matters to be put to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and, perhaps more important, for him to tell the House what he proposes to do about these grave problems. There is also the desire of the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) to raise the question of coal-mining.
It has been known for far too long that the date of this recess was much more formalised and solidified than any I have known since I have been in the House. We have been talking about 28th July for weeks, which means that the Leader of the House deliberately said, "We shall rise on 28th July, come hell and high water. Whatever the problems, whatever the crises, this is what will happen." The result is that we have had the most appalling time during the past three or four weeks, with all-night sittings.
There is another reason why I think that the Amendment should be given serious consideration. I accept what the hon. Member for Putney said about an agricultural timetable. I also have a mental picture of coaches and fours loading up outside St. Stephen's entrance and people trundling off into the country in 1767 instead of 1967. We should all be very healthy if, instead of having 12weeks' recess at one time in the year, the recesses were broken up in the way the hon. Member for Fife, West suggested.
But, more important, I have had ever since I entered the House, whichever party was sitting on the opposite side of the House, a grave suspicion about the Executive and the Government. I have only an even greater suspicion when they are Labour than when they are Conservative. I think that the House has always been wrong to leave the Executive 375 without control and untrammelled for 12 or 13 weeks at a time. My hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls) seems to think that members of the Government are so exhausted, so decrepit, that unless they have 12 weeks to recharge their batteries the nation will come to a very sticky end.
I assure my hon. Friend that with the party opposite in power the nation would probably come to a sticky end, whether they have 12 weeks' recess or 24. I do not understand how my hon. Friend, whose wisdom I have valued and admired on most occasions, can wish to allow a lot of animals with rabies to go rushing around the country without any control by their guardians for 12 weeks and think that this will do the nation good. It is beyond my comprehension.
What is the purpose of the Leader of the House in giving all hon. Members 12 weeks' holiday when I gather that most of us who want to go abroad have enough money to last us for only 10 days? There does not seem to me much point in having 12 weeks' holiday. I agree with the question asked by the right hon. Member for Easington: what are hon. Members to do during the rest of the recess? Are they to go to the British Museum, or to Southend on a day ticket? I shall not go to the Zoo, because I might meet there too many hon. Members opposite earning a little extra keep on the side.
What are we to do with all the time the Government are giving us? All the talk about hon. Members spending weeks at a time in their constituencies is not true. Of course, hon. Members spend a lot of time in their constituencies during the recess, but they do that when the House is sitting, anyway. I do not think that the average hon. Member goes on a carefully planned tour of his constituency for 28 days during the Summer Recess. He visits his constituency just as he does when the House is sitting and carries out various functions all the time.
What do hon. Members do during the long recess? They have a holiday. Their wives get fed up with having them at home. All this time, whilst the backs of hon. Members are turned, the Government are getting into more and more trouble and getting the country into a far 376 worse condition. When we meet on 23rd October, we shall be presented with an enormous number of faits accomplis. The Government will say, "We have done this. We have done that. We have done the other. We want the House of Commons to approve it all".
Yet the House wonders why it is losing control over the Executive. It is because we encourage the Executive to take our power from us. We rather like the Executive to take it away from us. We do not like to have to face the decision of whether our consciences are strong enough to make us break with our parties on an issue. Back benchers are great people for marching up to the gates, turning round, and marching back again, as those in the rear cry "Forward", and those at the front cry "Back". This is what hon. Members opposite did last night. It happened when the Conservative Party was in power. It takes a great deal of courage for back benchers to do what is necessary if they are to control the Executive. We could do it if we had the guts and the determination to ensure that the Executive did not exercise the control over our affairs that it does at present.
This is why, as a demonstration, the House should try to get more control over the Executive and act much more as a watchdog. The hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) referred to our being a watchdog on expenditure. The hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) referred to having specialist committees on the affairs of the nation. To show that we want to keep control over the Executive I hope that the hon. Member for Fife, West will force the Amendment to a Division. Let us see how many hon. Members there are who want to keep a grip on the Executive.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover). There is only one point in his speech with which I agree, namely, his comment on the question of travel allowances. If hon. Members want to go abroad, the allowance of £50 will not be much use. The hon. Gentleman knows that there are people who can get more than £50. I do not know whether that is legal.
377 One reason why I oppose the Motion is that I have been trying to raise one such case with the Executive. I cannot make any headway. If we were not to adjourn on Friday, or if we were to return earlier, there might be an opportunity for me to raise the question. It would be out of order for me to go into the details. The Sunday Express has carried a report that a man in Majorca says that he travels to Majorca three or four times a year and spends three or four months there. He says that he will stay there until the end of August or until the report affecting him—the man concerned is Mr. John Bloom—is out.
I ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to ascertain how Mr. John Bloom and his wife can, on an allowance of £50, go three or four times a year to Majorca. Why have the Government allowed this man to stay in Majorca when, as I was told by the Attorney-General yesterday, there might be a report affecting him issued while the House is in recess.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I think that the hon. Gentleman has indicated very clearly why he does not want us to adjourn. He must not go into further details.
§ Mr. Lewis
I was about to say that the Report, which the Attorney-General mentioned only yesterday, is due to come out while the House in is recess. Not only should we be here to enable us to debate this very important Report, but the Executive ought to be called to account and made to tell us why it has allowed the main person named in the Report—Mr. John Bloom—to be away for this time.
There are a number of burning issues of a local and national character which I have tried to get the Government to deal with, but I have not been able to get any answers. There is the question of the reopening of the Suez Canal. We have been told in Answers that it is costing £2 per ton extra to carry the oil round the Cape. This will mean an extra £88 million on our imports of oil, taking the last recorded figure.
This leads me again to the question whether we should adjourn on Friday, or whether we should return in September. I understand that one of the announcements which may be made 378 whilst the House is in recess is that petrol is to be rationed. This announcement may or may not be made while the House is in recess, but I want to be able to ask the Minister how he will operate a rationing scheme. One of my pet subjects has been the thousands of vehicles on the roads without Road Fund licences. Will the owners of those vehicles be allowed to get their petrol ration? If so, on what basis?
The hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) mentioned the speech made yesterday by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when my right hon. Friend suggested that there might be import controls. The hon. Gentleman seemed woried about that. I should be very happy about it, because one of the questions which has been bothering me, but upon which I cannot get an answer, either from the President of the Board of Trade or from the Prime Minister—I shall not be able to get an answer during the next few weeks, because the House will be in recess if the motion is agreed to—is as to why Britain should, under a Labour Government, be importing just on £4 million worth of one-armed bandits and jukeboxes from America. The Tories have not got clean hands in this matter, because under them Britain was importing about £1 million worth. But under a Labour Government there is an increase of 400 per cent. This is another reason why—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I think that the hon. Gentleman is now getting involved in a debate on the subject matter of the matters he is raising, rather than on the Motion.
§ Mr. Lewis
No, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am not going into the merits or demerits, because one could probably advance quite a good argument in favour of Britain having these one-armed bandits. I have not been able to get an answer from the Government. If the House were to sit for a little longer, or return a little earlier, I might be able to get an answer.
Next, I raised in the House today the fact that rents for slum properties are doubling and even trebling. Rent officers and rent assessment committees, for whose setting up the Leader of the House was responsible, are not doing their job properly. I shall debate the merits, but 379 this, again, is something that we could debate during the next 12 weeks if we were not in recess.
We could argue that the Tories want complete rent decontrol. Again, I shall not go into the merits, but they could be argued. I am not in favour of rent decontrol. To debate the merits now would not be in order, but it is an important subject that we could discuss if we had a longer session.
Cattle and beef prices have been referred to. They may have fallen for the farmer, but the housewife has not seen much of that. Whether they have or not fallen is not a question to debate now, because it would not be in order, but if we were to come back earlier or go later we could debate whether the housewife has seen any reduction in the price of meat.
Then there is the question of resale price maintenance on sweets. The small shopkeepers object to its being lifted and we might discuss that.
We are told that there is also a big shortfall on apples and other fruit and that there will be a drastic rise in prices during the summer and autumn while we are in recess. I have asked the Minister of Agriculture to take action to see that price rises are not passed to the consumer, but I got no satisfaction. If we were to sit a few weeks longer or return a few weeks earlier, no doubt he would be pleased to give answers to these questions.
There is another aspect of the travel allowance. The Government are intent on going into the Common Market. The discussions will go during the recess. One aspect will be the free flow of currency. But we shall not be able to discuss it and see whether we are making progress towards entering the Common Market. In the Common Market there is free flow of capital and no restriction upon holiday allowances. The natives of the Six have no restriction on the money they make take in or out of their countries. In a debate, we might be able to suggest that the Government should allow a free flow of capital for travel purposes to show General de Gaulle that we are intent on getting into the Common Market.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman is getting into the merits of 380 the matter. He has already brought it to the attention of the House in the earlier part of his speech. I hope that he will not enumerate all the subjects which could be debated during the 12 weeks of the recess.
§ Mr. Lewis
I shall not do so, but I want to make a good case to the Government for an earlier return. The more I put, the more the Government will have an opportunity of seeing the wisdom of my case. You suggest, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I have put the same case on currency already, but I referred to an individual case and now I am referring to our application to join the Common Market in relation to the free flow of capital, pointing out that the Government could show General de Gaulle that they are intent on joining by making a free flow of capital available for holiday purposes.
Then there is the question relating to the chairmen of the local steel boards. I have the cutting referred to. I would like to have asked the Minister of Power whether it is true, as The Guardian says, that he has been informed that Mr. Macdiarmid is to be appointed at a salary of £19,000 a year. During the next few weeks, the Government will insist on wage and salary restraint. We may not have a freeze but they will ask people to go easy. Will they do that as far as Mr. Macdiarmid and his £19,000 are concerned? If they do, we may well want to argue about it.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman can mention the subjects he feels should be raised, but he is going into too much detail.
§ Mr. Lewis
I had not given thought to that point, but during the next two months we could discuss Mr. Ray Brown, because there is talk that he is thinking of resigning his job and returning to private industry. If that happens during the next three months, I would like time 381 to debate it and whether it is right that he should have to go back to private industry when the Government are interested in selling arms to both sides in the Israel-Arab dispute. I am not debating the merits, because that would not be in order, but it is another subject which could well be discussed during the Recess.
The hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) said that during the Recess the Government would make announcements about cuts, reductions and various other unpalatable things. One would think that the Tory Government never did such a thing. The Government have followed the Tories in many respects, but I hope that they will not follow that example. But if they do, we should be back earlier to discuss any statement attacking the social services. I have great confidence that the Government will not do it but if they do I want to be here to challenge it.
Then there is the question of supersonic bangs.
§ Mr. Onslow
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The topic the hon. Gentleman has just mentioned is set down for debate later today. May I go on to suggest that he is abusing the courtesy of the House? He is producing an apparently limitless catalogue of reasons for speaking on this Motion. Very many of us wish to take part in the debate. I suggest the time may be coming when a Motion that the hon. Gentleman be no further heard will be appropriate.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
That is not a point of order. I am sure that the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) will bear in mind that many hon. Members wish to speak on this Motion and that a long list of topics, including the subject of supersonic bangs, has been set down for the rest of the day.
§ Mr. Lewis
I was not going into that subject. But there is surely no point of order. Everything I have mentioned is in order. I have been in the House 23 years and have spoken on 10 occasions, including my maiden speech and two Adjournment debates. No one can accuse me of overbearing conduct in speaking in the House. Whether the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) likes it or not, I 382 intend to explain the subjects which could and should be adequately discussed during the next few months. I will continue with or without the approval of the hon. Member.
§ Mr. Lewis
I am coming to the Motion. I have been on the Motion all the time. I am explaining why the date, 19th September, proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) would give us a better opportunity of discussing not only the subjects which I have mentioned, but the hundreds of important subjects which other hon. Members can and no doubt will mention.
I was coming to a local issue which I have mentioned before and about which I have not had a satisfactory answer. It concerns the transport of coal in and around the East End of London. It is stupid for the National Coal Board to take coal traffic off the canals and put it on to the roads, and this is a subject to debate during the summer months. We ought to get as much traffic as possible off the roads; not take it off the canals and put it on the roads.
In deference to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and not to hon. Members opposite, I will conclude the whole list of subjects which the Government could and should allow time to debate. If my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West wishes to put this issue to the vote, I will support him in the Division Lobby.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Mills (Torrington)
I rise to oppose the Motion. There are still very many important subjects that should be debated before the recess, one of which is the urgent problem of agriculture and the effect of increasing imports. These are coming in at a steady flow the whole time and doing increasing damage to the agricultural industry. It is summed up well in Motion No. 601 which… urges the Minister of Agriculture, as a matter of the utmost urgency, to seek a solution in the interests of farmers and taxpayers alike by securing agreement of supplying countries to limit exports while prices are at a low level and at the same time to formulate long-term plans to control imports for the future.383 This is what we should be debating in the coming week. I am not suggesting that we should go on for very long into August, but there are important matters to be cleared up. I am sincere, in spite of what has been said, that time should be given to debate these matters, and I humbly suggest that agricultural imports is one of the most serious issues for which time should be found, as the trouble will increase as the months go on before we return. These matters should be discussed in the interests of the consumer. I agree slightly with the hon. Member who said that prices in the shops are not coming down fast enough. This is an important matter which should be debated.
Before the recess the Minister should tell us what his plans are. It might be important to know what he proposes to do about these matters.
§ Mr. Mills
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding me of the Minister's plans. He should be here next week telling us what he proposes to do about these problems.
Time is running out. October is too far away to leave this problem alone. The House has a duty to debate this sort of thing and it should be doing it next week. The position is getting worse each week. Heaven knows what it will be like when we return in the autumn. This is why I am asking for time to consider these matters before the Recess.
One of the most pressing problems in agriculture relates to eggs and poultry farmers. We have had unsatisfactory replies from the Board of Trade. The British Egg Marketing Board, too, has had unsatisfactory letters when it has suggested that dumping has taken place. We should be asking the President of the Board of Trade why he wrote these letters and why he gave these rather stupid answers.
I could quote from letters which I have, but I should be out of order. I hope that the House will take my word 384 that this is an important subject. British poultry farmers are in serious trouble and we should be doing something about it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) has mentioned beef. The Minister should be here answering questions and telling us what he proposes to do. The serious problem of store cattle should be debated next week.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
On a point of order. Is it not an affront to Parliament that there is no one on the Treasury Bench?
§ Mr. Mills
I was saying that the problem of store cattle will be the same as last year with serious repercussions to the small farmer and the hill farmer. Yet we are not allowed to debate these matters; we are not allowed to have an answer from the Minister of Agriculture. I want to know what he proposes to do. Is he proposing to let this matter drift on and on? When we come back in October it will be too late and the damage will be done.
We should also be considering the views of the National Farmers' Union, which is most concerned about what is going on. I hope that I am in order in referring to the sort of letters that have been received from the National Farmers' Union. I know that time is needed and that is why I am asking for another week so that we can debate what the N.F.U. has to say about the problem. The President of the N.F.U., Mr. Williams, has written to the Ministry of Agriculture expressing grave concern at the present depressed state of the home cattle industry and urging the need for immediate steps to be taken to restore the market situation. The National Farmers' Union is also concerned to get rid of the cattle guarantee abatement scheme, and this is another important matter which we ought to debate. The N.F.U. says—
§ Mr. Mills
I shall try to keep in order, but I was suggesting that this was an important subject which ought to be debated.
385 We have never debated the Irish Trade Agreement, which could be debated next week. This agreement is causing serious trouble to agriculture and I understand that it is not helping farmers in Ulster, although it is not for me to represent Ulster farmers.
These are all important matters and we ought to have another week to discuss them. It is high time that the Minister of Agriculture clearly told the House his plans for the next two or three months before it is too late, and for that reason I oppose the Motion.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)
It is sometimes difficult to make a contribution to a debate which is hooked on a Motion like this to which one is fundamentally opposed. To judge from speeches from both sides of the House this afternoon, one would imagine that all the activities of a Member of Parliament took place in the House. That is an extraordinary suggestion. As much of my time is taken outside the House in my constituency as in the House, and the time during which the House will not be sitting will not be an easy time for me. I shall be visiting a number of Ministries, particularly the Ministry of Transport, and delving into a number of problems on behalf of my constituents.
I know that to some hon. Members opposite, to judge from their smiles, this sort of activity is strange and fanciful, but that is my view of Parliament. My job is to represent the many thousands of people in the constituency of Ealing, North, and I represent them as much as I can 24 hours of the day and not only when Parliament is sitting. To me this is not a nice, gentleman's club, but a workshop and the only thing which is not real about it is the fact that we do not have proper workshop tools to get on with the job. I am distressed when I hear of the agony which some hon. Members have gone through when they have had to stay up for a few nights.
§ Mr. Molloy
It has been said that the House should not go into such a long Recess and should not have had so many long night sittings. I would have had some sympathy with that view were it not that I have never found that late 386 night sittings were so tremendously wearing as to put me in the grave. I became used to night shifts when I was a teenager and in the war I found that I had to behave in all sorts of ways and work through all sorts of nights.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. We are not debating night shifts here, or when the hon. Gentleman was a boy, or night shifts in war time.
§ Mr. Molloy
I am grateful to you for pointing that out to me, Mr. Speaker, and I shall try to direct my remarks in support of the proposition of my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) who made an important contribution to the debate.
He pointed out that over the past 50 years, irrespective of the party in power, hon. Members have argued when in opposition that certain things should be done and then, when in power, forgot all about them. This afternoon we heard ideas from hon. Members opposite which slipped their minds for the 13 years they were in power. I hope that what my hon. Friend the Member for Putney said will receive support from back benchers on both sides of the House. I find it rather distressing that on the back benches on either side of the House there are Privy Councillors. They seem to form partially extinct volcanoes which have infiltrated into our midst and which take a great deal of privilege—
§ Mr. Molloy
I am grateful for the first part of that remark, Mr. Speaker, and I shall take cognisance of the second.
Instead of considering the length of the Recess, what we ought to be considering is a complete reorganisation of Parliamentary timetables. It must be daft sometimes to sit for 24 hours right through, with all-night sittings regularly for a number of weeks, and then suddenly to take three months off and not sit at all, although, as I have said, that will not mean that hon. Members are not busy.
Hon. Members opposite have rightly criticised certain aspects of Government policy. We were chided by the hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls) about there being some dissension between hon. Members on this side of the House and the Government. I 387 ask him to consider that we have sometimes been faced with the responsibility of providing not only the Government, but a reasonable opposition.
§ Mr. Molloy
I was about to say that on this side of the House we have a dual responsibility which may be all the more reason for having a properly planned timetable for Parliament in future.
It would be wrong for those who have listened to the humorous speeches, including that from my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) and the almost vitriolic attack on the Government by the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), to believe that we are going away for three months and that nothing is to be done. That was the picture which those right hon. Gentlemen painted and it was erroneous and phoney and, what is worse, they probably know it. If we are to take this issue of Parliamentary time seriously, I recommend to the House the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Putney. The points have been made from both sides of the House, although always from the back benches which distrust the Treasury Bench and the Executive, irrespective of the party in power. Unless the back benchers on both sides of the House can get together and have some organisation—and I really mean this—we will not change this archiac system and bring it into line with modern times.
We now have an extraordinarily able, generous and helpful Leader of the House. [Interruption.] Let us be frank about it; hon Members opposite know in their hearts that they could not provide such a liberally-minded and able Leader of the House. I hope that he will ignore the political arguments which hon. Members opposite have tried to make on a host of subjects, but will take more cognisance of what I have said and what my hon. Friend the Member for Putney has said about trying to modernise the House of Commons.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Barber (Altrincham and Sale)
I rise now because I understand 388 that it is the intention of the Leader of the House to address you, Mr. Speaker, and the House for a few minutes. It seems to be advantageous to make certain observations at this stage of the debate, but it is not for me to determine, or to give any guidance of any kind about the length of the debate.
It has been a good-natured and in some ways fascinating debate. The hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis), as I understand the points which he made in your absence, wished to raise during the next 12 weeks all the subjects which he had not had a chance to debate during the past 23 years. I doubt whether he will get the opportunity, but that was the burden of what he had to say. The debate was started, If I may say so, with great respect to him by the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) in a short and model speech.
He began with what was almost a unique statement—at any rate I have not heard it before—to the effect that the Leader of the House had been an outstanding success. Then he became more serious and pointed out that the recess gave great advantages to the Executive. He said that the executive of any Government during the long recess could get away with murder. From my own experience in office and Opposition, I believe that he is quite right to point that out, because it is true. He spoke not as a Member of the Government back benches, but as a Member of the House of Commons.
What he said is true, whether we sit on the Opposition benches or on the Government benches. I am bound to add that I wonder whether it would make very much difference if he had his way, and the House resumed in September. After all, we had a depressing experience yesterday evening, and I will not go into details, when it was known that a large majority of hon. Members opposite were, to put it mildly, very concerned about the attitude of their Government on the economic front, and yet were not prepared to do anything about it. Therefore, even if Parliament were recalled, or even if Parliament resumed in the normal course of events if his Amendment was accepted, I doubt very much whether it would have the effects which he has led us to believe it would have.
389 My hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls) took a different view. He was one of the few hon. Members who was against the Government Motion because he believed that we ought to have a recess longer than 12 weeks, because he was concerned about the health of right hon. Gentlemen opposite. He thought that many Ministers were tired and would need something a little over 12 weeks in order to recover. He said that he had taken advice and that this was the view of a number of eminent psychiatrists.
I hope that you will bear with me for one moment, Mr. Speaker, while I explain to the House—and you will see the relevance of what I have to say to the Motion and the Amendment—that I heard the other day of one senior Member of the Government who had consulted a psychiatrist recently because he was not feeling too well. He was told by his colleagues that all he had was an inferiority complex. He saw his psychiatrist and was told after a very thorough investigation that he was wrong—he had not got an inferiority complex, he really was inferior.
I mention that because it illustrates the force of what my hon. Friend was saying. To be serious, I should like to add to one general point raised by the hon. Member for Fife, West. It is true that during the long recess of 12 weeks the Government have the most tremendous executive powers, which they can use without any reference to Parliament, when Parliament is not sitting, without notifying any of us. I must not go into details, but under Acts passed by this Government, such as the I.R.C. Act and the Iron and Steel Act, the Government have the power, during this period of 12 weeks, without reference to Parliament, to take over companies and to do all kinds of things which they in their wisdom may think to be right, but on which there is some case for discretion.
The subject which has been touched upon most during this debate has been that of agriculture. The view has been expressed by a large number of hon. Members that during the next 12 weeks certain aspects of agriculture are likely to cause very great anxiety. Because of this it was suggested that the House ought to return earlier than the date in the Government Motion. My hon. Friends 390 the Members for Torrington (Mr. Peter Mills), Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover), Yeovil (Mr. Peyton), Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) and even the hon. Member for West Ham, North, all made the point that in relation to the import of eggs and beef prices farmers were likely to be in difficulty during the coming weeks. Indeed it was my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland who raised this matter.
This debate might have been much shorter if, like my right hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber), the Minister of Agriculture had been asked to come to hear part of it. The hon. Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Pavitt) complained that he had read in a newspaper that an announcement was to be made next week, quite deliberately after the House had risen, about the appointment of Mr. MacDiarmid to a position under the new National Steel Corporation. He knows my views on the merits of that. If the announcement of Mr. MacDiarmid's appointment is to be deliberately deferred until after the rising of the House, this would be intolerable. The hon. Gentleman has a very good point, and I hope that the Leader of the House will take note of it. It may be that before we rise on Friday we shall hear something from official quarters. This is a matter of which the Minister of Power ought to take note.
We had an amusing speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil but as he is not here I will not pursue that. The right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) said that he wished—I see that he is not here either; he said that he was looking forward to his holiday, and he may well have gone on it already. I do not think that you were here Mr. Speaker, but he said that on his holiday he did not want to visit the Tower of London, the British Museum or the Zoo, and the problem that we are faced with is that we do not know whether he wants to visit Easington. This is something that he can decide.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) raised a very significant point, if I may say so without being patronising towards someone who is very much my senior in this House. It was one which, until he raised it, had not been mentioned. It was the question whether the House ought to rise before we had 391 had a debate on Suez. This is very significant. It was the Leader of the House who led us to believe, some time ago, that we would have a debate on the Suez inquiry before the House rose. I will not go into the details but he said that we should wait until the book by Mr. Nutting had been published.
We have heard no more about that, and have had no request from any hon. Member opposite for a debate before we rise. It was left to my right hon. Friend to raise this matter, and the House will draw its own conclusions. Whether we do or do not rise on Friday, one thing is quite certain and it is that the Government should have planned to sit for several days longer, beyond 28th July. This is because the Government have now got themselves into an almost impossible position, entirely of their own making.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames referred to the strain on the House as a result of both morning sittings and a succession of all-night sittings. The general public believe that we are quite mad to sit as long as we do, mornings, afternoons, evenings and through the night. They think that we are crazy to conduct our business in this way; and I believe that most hon. and right hon. Gentlemen agree with them. Certainly during the past few weeks our hours of work have been farcical. The Government would have been much wiser some time ago to have made it clear that they intended that the House should sit for a few days beyond 28th July instead of having the all-night sittings which we have had and which tend to bring the House into contempt.
If we rise on Friday, we rise knowing that the United Kingdom faces dire economic troubles at home and serious problems abroad. If the Motion is to be passed, we must have an assurance from the Leader of the House that the Government will ask you, Mr. Speaker, to recall Parliament in certain eventualities.
This afternoon, the Prime Minister announced that renewed negotiations are to take place with the Rhodesian Government. I did not quite like the tone of some of his answers to supplementary questions, but we must give him the bene- 392 fit of the doubt. Certainly we hope that the talks will be successful. But if they are not successful, and if the situation deteriorates, it may well be that we shall want Parliament to be recalled forthwith. I need not remind the House that, with certain inquiries going on within Rhodesia concerning its constitution, this may well be our last chance to bring the problem to a sensible conclusion. We want a similar assurance if the situation in the Middle East should deteriorate. Certainly we may well want Parliament to be recalled if the economic situation deteriorates even more than we expect as a result of the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday.
If we rise on Friday, we rise at a time when the Government's economic policies are failing and when Britain's standing in the world is depressingly low. It is right, therefore, that we should insist on the undertakings for which I have asked.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Richard Crossman)
In intervening at this point, I am aware that it is merely a convenient time to do so. I thank hon. Members for contributing to another traditional debate, with its mood varying from high farce to intense seriousness. I traced—one always does in this kind of debate—a motif underlying it. There was a sense of unease, not only about international and economic problems, but about ourselves. There was a sense of uncertainty about whether the public takes us as seriously as we do, or thinks that we are as funny as we think we are.
Everybody is, I think, intensely aware, more aware than a year ago—and I noticed this particularly in the speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) and Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) and the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover)—of his uncertainy about the rôle of the House vis-à-vis the Executive and about whether it is doing its job effectively. I think that there is more readiness to see the possibility of self-improvement than at any time that I can remember. This is a mood which we should seize on and make the best of. But it makes it very difficult for me to take up some of the points made in the debate without straying dangerously near to being out of order. I hope that you, 393 Mr. Speaker, will permit me to take up these points, even though some of them were rather remote from the narrow terms of the Motion.
There were two parts to the debate. There was the complaint arising from the Amendment that the recess is too long and the argument that we should have a six or eight weeks' recess rather than a 12 weeks' recess. There was also the more conventional objection that we could not go into recess because certain subjects were unanswered.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch) asked an important question about the Aberfan inquiry. I am grateful to him for raising this extremely important matter, because it gives me the opportunity to say that the Government are most grateful to Lord Justice Edmund Davies and his colleagues for their thorough and painstaking examination of all the circumstances of this disaster and for their recommendations about future action, which include proposals for legislation. As my hon. Friend observed, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales has already told us that he expects to receive the report from the printers early in August. I think that he got it in typescript on 19th July. It includes some very complicated diagrams which are essential to an understanding of the report. The recommendations are already under urgent consideration by the Ministers concerned. I want to say as Leader of the House, having looked at the report, that there can be no question that it must be debated as soon as we resume after the Recess. It is an extremely important, serious report which must be fully debated in the House.
My hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Pavitt) raised a question about the Steel Board. I have had inquiries made about the matter. We have seen only the report in the Guardian, and that is all that I have as firm confirmation. The appointment of group managing directors is a matter for the Steel Corporation and the question whether the managing directors should be appointed to the Corporation itself cannot come before my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power until the Corporation submits its first report on organisation. Under the Act, this report cannot be laid before vesting day, which is next Friday. 394 This is too uncertain a matter to justify deferring the adjournment. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend will be prepared to answer all the questions asked as soon as we resume, whether or not the appointments are made. There is no question of deliberately circumventing the House. It is a question of the timetable.
My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Winnick) asked about race relations legislation. I expect my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to make a statement on this subject at 3.30 tomorrow.
§ Mr. Winnick
Would my right hon. Friend make some comment on the statement made yesterday by the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys)?
§ Mr. Crossman
For the convenience of the House, I wish to deal with a number of specific points on which Members want precise answers. I will deal with the debating points later.
The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames asked about the Suez inquiry. I was very careful to say that I have not dated the debate to take place before the recess. There is no doubt, in my view, that, now that we have seen the book, a debate on Suez would be extremely valuable. We should learn a great deal from it. Perhaps right hon. and hon. Members opposite will enjoy taking part in the debate more now than they would have done six months ago, but we shall all enjoy a great deal an analysis of the disaster of Suez and of who was responsible, from which we can all learn lessons about the relationship of the House to the Government and the responsibility of Ministers to the House.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) suggested that we could not go into recess while the Suez Canal was blocked. He wanted to know what we proposed to do about unblocking it. I say to him bluntly that the Canal is blocked and that it may well stay blocked for some time. What we are much more concerned about is making preparations to ensure that we get the oil, whether it is blocked or not. My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) mentioned petrol rationing. I do not think that there is any reason for undue 395 alarm. Precautions have been taken to ensure that, if things got worse, the rationing system could be introduced.
§ Mr. Ian Lloyd (Portsmouth, Langstone)
Will the right hon. Gentleman make clear the Government's view about the blockage of the Suez Canal at the southern end?
§ Mr. Crossman
I am replying to a debate on a Motion concerning the Adjournment for the Summer Recess and not on the geographical nature of the blockage of the Suez Canal.
The main concern of most hon. and right hon. Members opposite at the end of the Session is agriculture, and I must declare a personal interest in this. One or two of them have said that agriculture is in a desperate plight. It is true that two parts of agriculture—beef and eggs—have special difficulties, but hon. Members should not neglect that there are other aspects of agriculture which do not look quite as unsatisfactory in the kind of summer which we are having. Do not let us forget that.
I agree that the problem of beef has recurred for the second year running and is extremely serious. I will of course impart to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture the strength of feeling in the House. I regret that the luck of the Ballot has, or may have, deprived the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) of an opportunity to ventilate this matter, however late at night. I am extremely sorry that this has happened because it is exactly the kind of subject which we should have debated before we went down. I will make sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister appreciates the seriousness of the House's view on this subject.
My hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian, who is no longer present, made an interesting suggestion that we should not let the House go down because that would prevent the specialist Committee from continuing to study agriculture and keep the Government alert. I have looked up the constitution of the specialist Committee. It can meet every day in the Recess. It can stand up to the Government. Indeed, that is what I am expecting of it in view of its keenness in keeping the Government alert. I hope to 396 see that Committee day in and day out in the House of Commons during the recess doing its job as a specialist Committee and keeping the Government alert.
The hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe), who also has disappeared, suggested that social security was a subject which we had not debated enough. Had the hon. Member been present, I would have disagreed with him. We have debated social security on three occasions at some length. I do not think that the uprating Bill in question was particularly controversial and required more time than we gave it. We had a whole day on the major issues of family endowment. I would not have thought that we had neglected that subject sufficiently to make us feel that we had to postpone our going away.
The hon. Member for Cornwall, North added, indeed, that if we had another fortnight, we might not have used it so wisely, a remark which the leader of the House appreciates. The right hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Barber) asked why I did not agree to ease everything off and make everything easy by having an easy week in which there were no late nights. What an Opposition the party opposite would be if they allowed us to do that! It is Oppositions who make things uncomfortable for Governments. Oppositions rightly do that and I do not resent it.
If the right hon. Gentleman looks again at the number of late nights we have had, he will see that they got bunched because we did not have one late night this year on the Finance Bill owing to the admirable arrangements between the two sides for managing business on the Finance Bill, which worked extremely well. [An HON. MEMBER: "There was nothing in the Bill."] There may have been nothing in it, but there can still be late nights on a Bill even when there is nothing in it.
The late nights came at a sticky time in July. It is true—I have to take it to heart—that because we are having morning sittings on two days a week, there was not an abnormal number of late nights. I have looked at the statistics. They are the average for sittings at this time of year.
§ Mr. Crossman
If the hon. Member studies the number of late nights in the period from Whitsun onwards, he will find that in 1963 there were 12 as against 13 this year. So there was not all that difference.
The important thing—I admit it—is that having, in addition, our morning sittings starting at ten o'clock, undoubtedly imposed a strain on you, Mr. Speaker, on the Serjeant at Arms, on the doorkeepers and on the policemen. I take this very much to heart. It is something which one has to think over extremely carefully as Leader of the House. I assure the right hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale that the Patronage Secretary and I have been thinking it over. We shall come forward with our new proposals for organising our sessional business next year. We have to take account of this and see how we can ensure that those difficulties are overcome in our new development of business. I cannot say more than that about it.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Was not one of the further factors which created this situation the unprecedented action of the Government in providing three nights of unlimited suspension for private Members' legislation?
§ Mr. Crossman
That is the very point to which I was coming next. Three all-night sittings were conducted by private Members for the purpose of reaching a decision on two extremely important Measures. This is a controversial matter, but it is not so much a matter of controversy between the parties. It is a matter of discussion about how we as a House conduct our business.
On reflection, I believe that we did well to give the extra time. If, however, in future there is to be a practice of giving extra time to important Measures introduced by private Members, it would be unwise always to assume that it had to be given at night, and one might have to allocate daytime for this purpose. I am certainly considering the possibility of this becoming a practice. I want to discuss this, because the House as a whole has the right to consider it. It is not Government time; it is the House's time. This is the Government seeking to do what private Members want. I want to make sure that they want it and 398 that that is a wise way of developing private Members' time.
If it were to develop on those lines, we would have to consider the time and not automatically think of an endless series of all-night sittings for finishing those Bills, and the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) as well. Those are points which I have certainly taken away. I am thinking of them carefully, and I thank the House for making them to me.
§ Mr. J. B. Godber (Grantham)
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain how he proposes to assess which are the important Private Members' Bills which should have that privilege, if any are to have it?
§ Mr. Crossman
I would like to answer, but I would be likely to be ruled out of order in doing so. On a Motion to decide the Summer Recess, one should not go into the details. I was merely replying to the point and saying that I had taken it. It is one which we shall have to consider. I shall be making, through the usual channels in the not too distant future, positive proposals for dealing with it.
I want to deal with the other point in the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West, who said something quite different. He said that the Summer Recess is too long. It is not unusually long. Eleven or 12 weeks is the normal length of a Summer Recess. Undoubtedly, from the point of view of Parliamentary control of the Executive, a 12-week gap is a very long one for a Parliament which claims to be continuously checking the Executive.
What strikes me as remarkable, however, is how, for 13 years, that was not noticed by the Conservative Party when they were in power. I am glad that they notice it now, although when they were in office they did not check the habit and they had recesses of that length. [An HON. MEMBER: "We did not need checking."] Anyone who thinks that he does not need checking is in danger of becoming a natural totalitarian. We all need checking. That is why we have a Parliament. The party opposite would need it as much as we need it.
A subject to which I am also giving a great deal of thought is the division of 399 our time over the year. I was particularly glad to notice in the Daily Telegraph in an article by the Leader of the Opposition, that he, too, is thinking about this. He made a suggestion, which I first heard from the late Aneurin Bevan, that we might stop the spring festival of the Budget and start our financial year at the same time as the calendar year, in which case we could well end our summer Session in the middle of June and avoid the stickiest part of the year for our hardest and most arduous debates.
I believe that the House should seriously consider the reorganisation of its time, not only in the day or in the week, but in the year. My own view is that short and sharp Sessions are things which we do best. We get jaded over too long a time. Perhaps a period of eight or nine weeks is the time when we are at our best, in which the Opposition are the greatest nuisance to the Executive, as they should be. Therefore, I take this point with great seriousness, and I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for putting it to me, and the Amendment has been extremely useful as a reminder that it is about time we re-thought the division of our year.
Let me throw in this thought, that there is a great deal to be said for trying to make our holidays coincide with our children's holidays. That really is important, and something we have to bear in mind, and something which means that 400 a block of time of three months or so is not particularly convenient.
So, in conclusion, I want to thank the House very much indeed for the suggestions it has made. If both sides simultaneously describe me as a libertarian slave-driver—which is what, I think, I was called during the debate—I suppose there is an element of truth in both things. It is true that we have done a lot of important business in a relatively compact period; it is certainly true that we have strained ourselves; it is true we have strained our staff a good deal, in a way, I think, we must avoid in the future; it is also true that we have kept our temper pretty well, and it is true that this debate reflects the kind of temper we should have. In that temper I would ask the House to agree to our proposal to adjourn on Friday.
§ Mr. William Whitlock (Lord Commissioner to the Treasury)
rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
§ Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.
§ Question, That the words "Monday, 23rd October" stand part of the Question, put accordingly, and agreed to.
§ Main Question put and agreed to.
That this House, at its rising on Friday; do adjourn till Monday, 23rd October.