HC Deb 02 June 1919 vol 116 cc1786-9

(1) The Minister may appoint such secretaries, officers, and servants as the Minister may, subject to the consent of the Treasury as to number, determine:

Lords Amendment:

After the word "appoint," insert the words, one Parliamentary Secretary and

The Lords insist on their Amendment for the following reason: Because they consider that no case has been made oat for the unusual multiplication of Parliamentary officials in the case of the now Ministry of Health.

Mr. BONAR LAW (Leader of the House)

I am advised to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment. I shall give my reasons for taking this course in a very few words. The position is this. The Amendment we are now considering was carried in another place. It then came up for discussion in the House of Commons, and after that a vote was taken and the Amendment was rejected by 170 to 25. It came up again for reconsideration in another place and the Amendment was persisted in in spite of the decision of the House of Commons, and in taking that course the majority of the House of Lords did take what might have been the very grave responsibility of putting us into this dilemma, that either a Bill which I think is earnestly desired by the country and which has won the approval both of this House and the other Chamber must be lost, or the House of Commons must in this instance give way to the judgment of the House of Lords.

It is only necessary to deal with this question in proportion to the merits of the subject under dispute. As a matter of fact, I know some members of the other place who have taken an active part in producing this result have a great belief in our old constitutional practices, and they are of opinion that no Government can get on well without it has some opposition. They have come to the conclusion that the Opposition in this House is perhaps not as strong as they would like to see it, and they have tried to make up for it by opposition in another place. I have been rather touched by reading the enthusiastic way in which some journals like the "Daily News" and the "Westminster Gazette," who did not always take this line, have been delighted at the action of the House of Lords in this matter. I am sorry that the majority in the other place have taken this course, and I am sorry this has happened. This is certainly not my recollection of what happened on previous occasions in a difference of opinion between the two Houses, and I do not remember a single instance where on a matter like this—after all this is a matter more or less of detail where this House has insisted that you must have the additional secretary and the other Chamber says you must not—the House of Lords has taken up the view that it is the House of Commons and not the House of Lords that must give way. I do not think that is the right attitude and as Leader of the House of Commons I think it my duty to say that in a case of that kind—I speak as one who in our own councils has expressed the belief which I hold as strongly as anyone that there must be a Second Chamber, and as one who justifies, as I have done my best to do, the action of the Second Chamber—it is not the House of Commons but the House of Lords which ought to give way.

I must, however, look at this matter in view of what the result would be. We cannot afford to lose this Bill, and the present position is not serious. It only means that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health will be inconvenienced, although it is possible we may put it right later on. One of the inconveniences that will arise is that in the other place where there are so many members who are deeply interested in this subject and well qualified to speak, it will not now be possible to have this Department directly represented in the other House. I feel sure that the House of Commons will agree to accept this Amendment in the present instance. It is not serious, and anything approaching a conflict between the two Houses would be grave indeed. We are living in very serious times, and we cannot afford to take liberties which might be taken without danger in other times, and I think it is the duty not only of the Government but of everyone who has power at any time to realise that power must be exercised with a full sense of responsibility.


I agree in the main with the statement which has been made by the Leader of the House. I am sure that we are all glad to hear the Leader of the House stand up for the position which the House of Commons ought to hold in the constitution. I shall never quarrel with any right hon. Gentleman, whatever his past expressions of opinion may have been, for standing up for the undoubted right of this House of Commons to control the expenditure of the country. I wish, however, to point out that at this moment, when the gravest need is for public economy and when the very greatest danger which this country is running arises from the profligate expenditure of the Government in a House of Commons which has been newly returned from the polls, an expenditure is passed and it is left to another place, not in touch with the electorate, to make an economy which, although small and only a matter of detail, is absolutely in line with what I believe to be the earnest desire of the people of this country. The House of Commons is shown under the direction of the present Government to be unable to make an economy, and it is left to another place to force an economy, however small, on the House.


The hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite has expressed himself as pleased with what has fallen from the Leader of the House. I am equally pleased with what has fallen from the hon. and gallant Gentleman. It is certainly very refreshing to hear from that Front Bench that in a matter of this sort the House of Lords represents the opinion of the country better than this House, and as the hon. and gallant Gentleman said that he would forgive my right hon. Friend for anything that he has said in the past, I feel rather inclined to extend that same indulgence to the hon. and gallant Gentleman himself. I confess that I am not at all sorry at the action the House of Lords has taken. It may seem inconsistent to say so inasmuch as I was one of that gigantic majority in this House to which the Leader of the House has referred. It only shows, however, that the House of Lords is more independent than this House. I agree that this is an economy that the country desires, and which I think it is proper to make, but in point of fact I was not sufficiently independent, and I had not the heart to vote against my right hon. Friend. When the Government expressed their desire to appoint this second secretary, and when they put on that very menacing procedure of the Government Whips, I confess that my independence may have entirely evaporated and that I voted against my conscience. I believe that a very large number of those who voted in the majority believed the same as I did, though perhaps they have not the same candour as I have in confessing it. I feel quite confident that a large number of those who voted with the Government in this House in their innermost hearts are not at all sorry that the House of Lords has proved itself more representative of public opinion in the country than we did here, and that they have effected this small but very useful economy.

Question put, and agreed to.