HC Deb 05 March 1951 vol 485 cc32-6
Mr. Eden

Before I put my more controversial question, may I say how glad we all are to see the Foreign Secretary back with us?

May I ask the Leader of the House what are the Government's intentions in respect of the Motion carried by the House on Friday last?

The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Morrison)

I join with the Deputy-Leader of the Opposition in the welcome he has given to the Foreign Secretary, whom we are all glad to see back.

With regard to the proceedings on Friday, naturally, the Government will take into account the expression of the opinion of the House on a Private Members' day, but I am bound to say that I think it is a new doctrine that on a Private Members' day the Government can be instructed to do certain things, or that a Motion on a Private Members' initiative should be regarded as a Vote of Censure. I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) should try to elevate a Private Members' day into that degree of importance. We take note of what the House resolved, but we cannot accept a decision on a Private Members' day either as an instruction to the Government or as a Vote of Censure; and that must be the sense of proportion in which the matter is taken.

Mr. Eden

Had the right hon. Gentleman or somebody else on the Treasury Bench been capable of making an explanation on Friday there would not have been any of this misunderstanding at all. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Certainly. My first question on that day was to ask what action the Government proposed to take. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman himself will have noticed that the Motion itself expressed regret for the past failure of the Government to take certain action. Nothing could be more natural in a helpful Opposition than to wish to know what steps the Government propose to take in the future so that the House will not have to complain of them again.

Mr. Morrison

I noticed that when the right hon. Gentleman referred to the decision of the House and its implied binding effects he could not help smiling, and I join with him in that facial expression. On the other point, his observations are really irrelevant. This was an expression of opinion of the House on a Private Member's Motion, and we take note of it. I only want to say that if the Opposition want to use Fridays for Motions of censure I think they are wrong. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] If they want to go in for Votes of Censure they had better go into them in a respectable and proper manner.

Mr. Eden

Let me put this to the right hon. Gentleman. It is true that a Private Member's Motion can vary in its emphasis and significance. The emphasis of this one was added to by the fact that the President of the Board of Trade, a member of the Cabinet, was the Government's spokesman, who asked the House to resist the Motion. There is nothing in the constitution which places a Private Member's Motion on a different footing from any other Motion of Censure.

Mr. Morrison

But suppose that the President of the Board of Trade had not answered: the House would have had a grievance that the appropriate Minister had not made his comment. I am surprised that an experienced Parliamentarian like the right hon. Gentleman should dare even to entertain the idea that a Private Member's Motion should be elevated either into an instruction to the Government or into a Vote of Censure. If the Opposition want to go in for Votes of Censure, let them go in for them, and not shield themselves behind Private Members' Motions.

Mr. Michael Foot

On a point of order. In view of the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), that the main difficulty—the only difficulty—on Friday arose from the fact that the question he asked was not immediately answered by the Government, could you tell us, Mr. Speaker, what will be the procedure in future? Is it really in order, at 4 o'clock on a Friday afternoon, when the House should proceed to the Adjournment, for the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington to initiate a debate on the consequences of a vote which has been taken by the House? Could you tell us on what Motion the discussion which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington initiated on Friday took place?

Mr. Speaker

There was no Motion, but it is always customary, when an unexpected Division goes against the Government side, for the Leader of the Opposition, or the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, to ask what the Government are going to do about it. I have known that in my experience. Once I happened to be on the side which beat the Government at the time I supported it, when, I am afraid, the then Speaker put his foot into it at that time and gave the wrong answer. Actually, the questions on Friday did not interfere with the Adjournment, because we had to go through quite a long list of business in any case. It is really quite customary on such an occasion to ask the Government what they are going to do. That may not be on a Motion, but it is part of the Business of the House.

Mr. Foot

Further to that point of order. Are we to understand that if, unhappily, any such occasion should arise in the future, Members of the House are entitled to engage in some form of debate following such a vote?

Mr. Speaker

There is no form of debate about it. The Leader of the Opposition or the Acting Leader of the Opposition asks the Government what they are going to do about it The Government are entitled to say that they are doing nothing about it. It is quite in order.

Mr. Foot

Are we therefore to understand, Sir, that the Acting Leader of the Opposition, in such a case, has rights which are not available to the other Members of the House?

Mr. Speaker

The Prime Minister has rights which are not available, I imagine, to every back bench Member of the House, and out of courtesy we always have given the Leader of the Opposition a certain amount of liberty. We do not want this to become the kind of place where everybody is equal and everybody can talk on everything. We must have rules; we must have customs; otherwise, we become a Tower of Babel and not a Parliament.

Mr. Henry Strauss

In order that we may follow the doctrine of the Leader of the House, would he tell us whether it is his opinion that a Motion carried by the House represents the opinion of the House less accurately if the Whips are not on?

Mr. H. Morrison

Obviously, it makes a difference whether the Whips are on or off. I assume that they were off on the Opposition side. There have been occasions when, on a Friday afternoon, the Opposition have been defeated on a Motion. Are my hon. Friends thereby entitled to demand that the whole Opposition Front Bench should resign and give place to hon. Members behind them?

Mr. Paget

Does my right hon. Friend recollect occasions before the war when Motions were carried against the Government in favour of equal pay for equal work and of the abolition of the death penalty? What action did the then Government take?

Mr. Morrison

I recollect one during the war, when the House, within 48 hours, reversed its decision—which, as a member of the then Government, I thoroughly welcomed. I do not blame the Deputy-Leader of the Opposition for having his bit of fun, but he knows it is a bit of fun, I know it is a bit of fun, and we all know it is a bit of fun.

Sir Herbert Williams

Is the Leader of the House not aware that on Friday the President of the Board of Trade specifically asked the House to reject the Motion, and, therefore, assumed responsibility for opposition to it, which rather changed the position? Would the right hon. Gentleman also inquire who moved the reduction of a Vote on cordite in 1895, which destroyed a Government?

Mr. Morrison

I was not here in 1895; I was only seven years old. The President of the Board of Trade was entitled—indeed, I think it was his responsibility—to give advice to the House on Friday.

Sir H. Williams

It was not advice.

Mr. Morrison

Oh, yes, it was. Nothing else could be done. He gave advice and, as it happened, by a majority of four that advice was not taken; but the world does not come to an end because of that.

Several Hon. Members rose——

Mr. Speaker

I think we had better get on now.