HC Deb 26 July 1933 vol 280 cc2598-601

3.50 p.m.


I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to repeal the Parliament Act, 1911. This is a Bill for the restoration of the Constitution under which we were all brought up—a Constitution which existed for hundreds of years. This country is governed by King, Lords and Commons, those three powers each checking and balancing one another. I may point out that it is the English Constitution, and not the Scottish, Welsh, or Irish Constitution. It was very seriously impinged upon by the Parliament Act, 1911, which practically put this country in the position of being ruled by a single-Chamber Government. This Constitution, with its three powers checking one another, saved England for hundreds of years from anything in the nature of a dictatorship. We only had one dictatorship in all those hundreds of years—for 10 years in the time of the Protector. It was a very efficient 10 years, but it was a, very unhappy England. One can imagine what England would be like if we were under the iron rule, say, of the opinion of the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) and of the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor). It would not be a very comfortable country to live in. The balance of the three powers guaranteed our liberty in a way that made us the envy of all the peoples of the world. There were attempts to usurp power. An English king once did it, and it cost him his head, because he endeavoured to infringe upon the powers of Parliament.

The only other public guarantee that we had was our judiciary. Our judges represent the majesty of the law. They are above even the King; they are above the Commons; they are above all of us, because they are a, permanent institution, which cannot be removed except on the petition of both Houses of Parliament and with the assent of the King. They have time and again stood between the subject and the tyranny of the Executive, and I may say, incidentally, that 1 and all other good citizens are very much shocked at the treatment which has been meted out to them, and the frivolous attitude of the politicians in this House and outside towards them. The politician is the creature of a day, the creature of accident, but the judges represent the dignity and majesty of the law. They are specially picked men of great experience, and they should be absolutely independent financially, as they are legally. A grave mistake has been made in regard to them.

This balanced Constitution was, as I have said, upset by the Parliament Act, but the Parliament Act in its Preamble said specifically that the powers of the new Second Chamber were going to be defined. The Preamble contains these words; Whereas it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis, but such substitution cannot be immediately brought into operation. That was practically an undertaking to the people of England, and of the Empire generally, that such a Measure would be introduced and that a reformed Second Chamber would be brought into being. It was a promise that was made, and Mr. Asquith himself said in the same Session of Parliament that it was a matter that would not brook delay. He repeated that, and said that he was determined to bring in a scheme of that kind, and so did the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), who also, in a joint manifesto with Mr. Bonar Law in 1918, gave a pledge that they would make it their business to provide for a proper Second Chamber, with the powers that a Second Chamber should have. No one, however, has done that, and we are now in a position which depreciates very much the power and prestige of the House of Commons, because there can be no doubt that Parliamentary institutions are suffering from the fact that we have not the balance which we used to have. I would also mention that only the other day the Lord President of the Council himself pointed out in the Press the grave danger that an Emergency Powers Act might be passed, giving an extremist Government of the day power to alter and destroy all the fundamentals of our economics and civilisation, and to institute a tyranny such as we have never seen in this country. All that might be rushed through in terms of some Emergency Powers Act, and we should have no legal means of stopping it.

I would ask for the support of the Labour party especially, and, in view of the above-quoted statement of the Lord President of the Council, I feel that I am entitled to ask for his support also, and the support of all his party. If, through some obscure cause, an election took place and an extremist party got into power, there would be nothing to stop them from acting in such a manner. It is the duty of the House of Commons to protect the freedom of the country by putting us back into the status quo until we have created a properly reconstituted House of Lords. Above all, the party opposite ought to support this Measure, in view of what might happen if they found themselves driven into such a position by their own extremists. An immediate result would be a tremendous uprising of Fascism. I do not want to see Fascism in this country, or anything in the nature of Hitlerism. Hitlerism is a middle-class movement, and I would point out to hon. Gentlemen opposite that there are in this country far more middle-class people than there are of any other class. Some hon. Members do not seem to be aware of that, but that is a fact. Therefore, I would urge them to support this proposal in the interests of good government and of the Constitution of this country, so that we may at least have a Second Chamber with full powers to protect us from such dangers. It may not he the Second Chamber that we desire. It may have weaknesses. Our previous Second Chamber had many weaknesses and faults, but at least it gave us the balanced Constitution under which this country reached its great eminence. I submit very respectfully that this is a Motion which ought to be granted unanimously by the House, because it would greatly strengthen the institutions of Parliament, and would guarantee in time to come our liberties as we had them in the past.


Having listened to the hon. and learned Member's speech, I have come to the conclusion that this is not a suitable subject for a Motion under what is known as the Ten Minutes Rule, and, therefore, I shall put the Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned."

Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned." put, and agreed to.