HC Deb 16 June 1924 vol 174 cc1751-815

Order for consideration of Lords Amendments read.


I beg to move, "That the Lords Amendments be now considered."

I desire to say a very few words preliminary to the discussion of the Amendments to this Bill which have been returned from another place. As the House already knows, the Bill is of a very limited kind and, having considered the Amendments which have come from another place, the Government feel they cannot further restrict the Bill. The Government therefore will move to disagree with all the Amendments. I do not propose to deal with the Amendments at this moment, but I thought it would be for the convenience of the House to know that the intention of the Government is to take objection to each of the Amendments which have come from another place.


I do not propose to deal with the Amendments in detail at this stage. I am obliged to the hon. Member for having told us the intention of the Government and I should like to make one or two observations on the general position of these Amendments, because this is the first occasion during the current Session when Amendments have come back to us for consideration from another place. I desire to impress upon the House that it is peculiarly an occasion when it is the right and the duty of the House of Lords to take their proper share in the legislation of this country. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] It is rather remarkable that the Government, who are in a minority in this House, and who have no authority at all to represent anybody in the country, should object to both Houses of Parliament taking their share in the work of legislation. I could understand a Government which was acting with the full authority of a majority of the people in this country and a majority in this House taking grave exception to alterations made in another place in legislation passed by this House, but the position here is entirely different. We have to-day a Government which quite frankly tells us it is existing on the sufferance of another party in this House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] There is no doubt whatever as to that; we may read dozens of speeches made outside this House by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite saying that they are unable to pass legislation without the consent of another party—the party sitting below the Gangway. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] Therefore, I submit that in a position of that kind, when there is no Government entitled to speak with the full authority of a majority of Members of this House or a majority of the electors of this country, it is not only the right but it is the bounden duty of the House of Lords to scan carefully any legislation which may be sent up to them, having been passed by such a composite and irregular majority.

4.0 P.M.

That being so, it will be my duty, when we come to discuss the various Amendments, to ask the House to agree with the House of Lords in certain of the Amendments. As it may not be in order to do so on a particular Amendment, let me take this opportunity of calling attention to the fact that this is not the Government's Bill on the subject of evictions. The Government brought in a Bill, and if they had sent their own Bill to the House of Lords, with the full authority of a dominant Government, they might have been entitled to take this course. But they withdrew their Bill because it was so essentially bad that they dare not ask this House to pass it. Then came another Bill, which rather suffered in Standing Committee because the Government could not quite make up their minds what course to adopt. Now comes the third Bill, the Bill of the hon. Member for Withington (Mr. E. D. Simon) which we are now discussing. The Government, anxiously clinging to any anchor in a time of trouble and stress, clung to the hon. Member's Bill in the hope that it might be something for them from the electioneering point of view. That is the object of this Bill and the object of the Government in clinging to the lifebuoy thrown to them by the hon. Member. But for the hon. Member's assistance, they would have had no Bill at all, and they would had to go back to the country with an admitted failure to legis- late on this question of evictions. It is within the recollection of the House that in regard to one of these Amendments—the first that is going to be discussed—the Government themselves first voted with the House of Lords. The Government have been in two minds with regard to it. One day they accepted it, and another day they rejected it. I do not know whether the House of Lords is to be regarded as the right authority to judge between Philip Sober and Philip Drunk, but they have accepted, I believe, Philip Sober and have restored the Amendment which the Government first of all accepted. Therefore, it is essentially right that this House should consider with great care the Amendments made by the House of Lords. We intend, as part of our right and duty, to discuss these Amendments, and I hope, when we have given our reasons, that the House will at least agree with some of them and send them back saying that we are prepared to accept them.


I did not quite follow the right hon. Gentleman's argument. First of all, he said that it was a Government Bill and that the Government were in a minority, and then he went on to say that it was our Bill. The plain fact is that this is a Bill backed by the majority of the House, and it has been turned inside out by another House. When it comes to a conflict between this House and the other House, the right hon. Gentleman and his party, as we might have expected, are prepared to back the undemocratic and unrepresentative Chamber. Here, at any rate, we are on ground with which we are familiar, and, if the old battles have to be fought over again, we are quite prepared to assist in fighting them. This only shows that we are in face of a great struggle on this tenants' question, which is vital to millions of people, between the two Houses. I want, however, to make a suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman representing the Government. I will not go over the history of these Bills. One of their own Bills was defeated, one of their supporters' Bills died, for which there were reasons and counter reasons given. The only Bill which has so far emerged is the Bill of the hon. Member for Withington (Mr. E. Simon), though there are two other private Members' Bills also before the House. If it be true that we are going to have a conflict with the other Chamber about this tenants' question, will not the Government consider the advisability of bringing in a reasonable, Bill backed by their own authority and which, I am perfectly certain, would have the support of many hon. Members on these benches.


It has been done already.

Captain BENN

it is useless for the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) to say that it has been done already. It has not. There was only one Bill brought in by the Government, and the first Clause, as it stood, as he knows perfectly well, was unjustifiable. We need not, however, go back into that question. I only plead with the Government to take the question up seriously and to bring in a Bill which will do the right thing by the tenants who are in a difficult position and behind which we can stand a united House in any conflict with the other Chamber.


I do not think that we can discuss possible future legislation. We are here to consider a. specific point, namely, whether this House agrees with the Lords in the Amendments that have been sent down.


The Motion before the House is "That the Lords. Amendments be now considered," and not whether the. House agrees with them or not. The hon. and gallant Member for Leith (Captain Benn) has just made what, I think, is a very proper suggestion. He says, in effect, that this Bill is so bad that we ought not to consider the Lords Amendments at all, and, in order that we may have a proper Bill, ha appeals to the Government to withdraw this Bill and to bring in another one. Surely we are entitled to discuss that proposition.


I am afraid that shall have to disallow the Government from foreshadowing any Bill at this stage.


I only want to add a word or two to the observations of the hon. and gallant. Member for Leith (Captain Benn). I would like to remind him that these Amendments are not such an important matter as he apparently anticipates. I observe that the Lord Chancellor, in referring to these Amendments and to the Bill, said: This is a Bill which does not amend the whole Act of 1923, but seeks to amend one part of it, and that a minor part. Therefore, I hope my hon. and gallant Friend opposite will not think that there is any great struggle going on this afternoon about tenants' rights or any matters of that kind, because it is somewhat flattering to Members on this side of the House that the Lord Chancellor, in referring to these Amendments in another place, said that he propossd to leave absolutely intact the bulk of the legislation which has been passed in connection with rent restriction. So satisfied was he with the present situation that he does not apparently share the views of the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite, who wants something great done, but he says that he proposes to leave intact the great bulk of what has been accomplishel, and, as regards this Bill and these Amendments, they are a minor part indeed. On that occasion, the Lord Chancellor—


On a point of Order. Is the hon. Member in order in referring specifically to a Member of the other House and quoting remarks made by him in the course of the Debate, and is it open to this House to discuss the actual speeches made in the other House?


On that point of Order. May I submit that the absolute rule preventing quotations from speeches in the House of Lords has suffered so many exceptions that it does not now remain in its pristine vigour. I understand that it is not in order to quote the utterance of anybody in another place for the purpose of replying to it, but I have heard quotations made, not for the purpose of replying to them, but for the purpose of elucidating points under discussion here.


If these remarks are allowed, would it be in order for us to reply and discuss the views of the Lord Chancellor as expressed in another place?


No; I think it is quite irregular, and indeed impossible, that we should have quotations from speeches made in another place, for the purpose of argument here. The only exception that I know is reference to some substantial Ministerial pronouncement made in the other House. That is the only exception that can be allowed.


If I may respectfully say so, I regarded the statement made by a Minister in the position of the Lord Chancellor, occupying I suppose one of the highest positions in the Government, as a matter to which I might perhaps refer quite briefly in the course of this debate. I will pass at once from it, merely observing that the reference I have ventured to make does at any rate show some little disagreement with the views taken by the hon. and gallant Member for Leith and I will only reinforce, the observations of that very high Member of the Government by pointing out to my hon. and gallant Friend that these Amendments which we are about to consider do not involve any great constitutional struggle such as he anticipates, and that this Bill and these Amendments are a very minor part of the Rent Restrictions legislation. Therefore, I hope that no hon. Members will get unduly perturbed or excited about the business which confronts us this afternoon. It is perfectly true that these Amendments do not deal with a matter in which, I know, hon. Members opposite took some little interest, namely, the question of evictions arising from non-payment of rent. None of these Amendments deal with that matter; in fact, no part of the Bill deals with it. I must confess that I was wondering whether the Government were going to deal with this matter, especially after the speeches which have been made. I was interested in the fate of the Bill which the hon. and gallant Gentleman himself introduced, but of which we have heard nothing more. If that Bill had been brought forward, we might have been dealing with a matter of some importance. I hope that in dealing with these Amendments we shall preserve a due sense of proportion and realise that they do not raise any great constitutional struggle this afternoon.


The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Twickenham (Sir W. Joynson-Hicks) has made a very good-humoured speech, as he usually does, but he seemed to have some difficulty in precisely defining the character of the Bill to which these Amendments have been made. At one time he described it as a "lifebuoy' and at, another time as an "anchor." Under these circumstances, it. does not seem inappropriate that he should have inquired into the intoxication of the Government at the time of their varying attitudes towards one of these Amendments. I agree with the hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) that we need not get very excited over these Amendments. The House of Lords is still entitled to propose Amendments; indeed, it has statutory authority to do so. The real question is what attitude we should take in regard to these Amendments. It is altogether irrelevant to deal with the Government's attitude. This, more than any other Bill, is a Bill of the House itself, first of all, in its origin, and, secondly, in regard to an Amendment. which was made by the House after consideration, because during the Committee stage it was declined by the Government. and the Government's refusal was supported by their own regular supporters, and it was only when we came to the Report stage, after full consideration and after the matter had been thoroughly debated, that the House decided on the insertion of the words which the House of Lords wishes to delete. Under these circumstances, the House has a special duty to maintain its position. It is not a matter which has escaped attention and to which the other House is calling attention; it is a matter which has been already fully discussed, and I am very glad that the Government have indicated that in regard to all these Amendments they are going to advise the House to reject them.

Lords Amendments considered accordingly.

  1. CLAUSE 1.—(Amendment of 13 & 14 Geo. 5, c. 32, s. 4, ss. (1).) 23,495 words, 2 divisions
  2. c1815
  3. CLAUSE 2.—("Application of Act to pending proceedings.") 239 words