HC Deb 13 October 1942 vol 383 cc1502-18
Sir Richard Acland (Barnstaple)

I beg to move, in page 1, line 7, to leave out "eight," and to insert "seven and a half."

The effect of this Amendment would be to prolong the life of this House by six months instead of the 12 proposed in the Bill. That this House shall prolong its life was decided last week, against the votes of some of us. I, therefore, regard that issue as not being discussable to-day, and I am sure the Chair will agree with me in that view. But I think we can consider whether 12 months is the correct period for which the life of this House should be prolonged. In the Second Reading Debate I and one or two other hon. Members brought forward evidence which, clearly, did not prove to the satisfaction of other hon. Members that this House is now an object of derision among the people of this country, but I think that that evidence was, at least, powerful enough to suggest that among some patriotic citizens of this country this House is appearing, ever more and more in an unsatisfactory light. In these days, when political as well as military developments move pretty swiftly, I suggest it is by no means impossible that within a short time a substantial number of our fellow-citizens may become extremely impatient with this House of Commons and may ardently desire that it should be brought to an end. In these days a lot may happen in six months, and I think six months would be a much better period for which to prolong the life of this present House than the 12 months proposed by the Government.

I hope the Minister will not reply to this Amendment by re-emphasising the difficulties of holding a General Election and suggesting that there is no alternative but to prolong the life of this House in its present state. During the Second Reading Debate some of my hon. Friends and I drew attention to what seemed to us to be a feasible halfway house between indefinite prolongation and a General Election, I do not think the Minister, in the course of his reply, referred to our arguments, and obviously, I cannot repeat those arguments now, but at any rate there are other alternatives to a 100 per cent. General Election which might come up before the House six months from now and which the temper of the people might by that time force upon the House.

There is one other reply which I hope the Minister will not make to my arguments. He may be tempted to say that this Amendment can make no practical difference and he may support his argument by saying that if the House prolongs its life for 12 months, it is none the less open to the House, or to the Prime Minister, or to the King, to end the life of the House at an earlier date whereas, on the other hand, if we now prolong our life for six months, it will remain open to us in six months' time to prolong it for a further six months. So, the Minister may argue, my Amendment would make no substantial difference. I think that argument would come very poorly from the lips of a Member of the Conservative party, because the difference between what I propose and what the Government propose concerning the situation in six months' time is the precise difference between contracting in and not contracting out; in other words, I think it is important that in six months' time the House should be faced by the necessity, if it so desires and if hon. Members so dare, deliberately by positive action to prolong its life all over again and that hon. Members should not now put themselves in the nice, easy, comfortable position that they will not have to bring up this question for decision for another 12 months. For these reasons, I hope the Committee will support the Amendment.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Peake)

There does not seem to be any great enthusiasm in the Committee for the Amendment moved by the hon. Baronet the Member for Barnstaple (Sir R. Acland). He suggested various arguments which might be put forward against his Amendment, but I could not discern in the remarks he made any arguments in favour of it. The short question before the Committee is whether we should pass enabling legislation, and enabling legislation only, for a period of 12 months or for a period of six months. The Government, having given their best consideration to the matter, came to the conclusion that it would meet the general convenience to introduce legislation covering a further period of 12 months. After all, 12 months is a convenient period. In the Expiring Laws Continuance Act every year, we renew Acts of Parliament for a 12 months' period. In my view, the hon. Baronet has put forward no sound reasons for shortening the period in this case, and I hope the Committee will reject the Amendment.

Mr. David Adams (Consett)

The hon. Baronet the Member for Barnstaple (Sir R. Acland), in moving his Amendment, said that the House is looked upon by the general public in an increasingly unsatisfactory light, but he did hot fortify that statement with any arguments. It would appear from the by-elections in which the hon. Baronet has participated that not only is the House looked upon as performing its duties to the nation in a thoroughly satisfactory way, but no interest is taken by the electors at large, when the opportunity is placed in their hands, to indicate their feelings in the matter.

Sir R. Acland

I think I would have been out of Order if I had attempted to repeat the arguments I used in the Debate on the Second Reading of the Bill; but I thought it would be in Order, and convenient to the Committee, if I simply referred to those arguments. If the hon. Member will look at what I said in the Second Reading Debate and at the figures, he will find that the by-elections in which I have participated have indicated exactly the contrary of what he is saying and supported precisely the arguments I have made.

Mr. Adams

That is a matter of opinion.

Sir R. Acland

It is a matter of looking at the arguments and the figures.

Mr. Adams

There is no indication throughout the country that, even if the opportunity were presented to the electors, a General Election would be satisfactory.

The Deputy-Chairman (Colonel Clifton Brown)

The hon. Member is not in Order. The Amendment merely concerns the length of the period, six months or 12 months. As the hon. Baronet the Member for Barnstaple (Sir R. Acland) made the statement, the hon. Member may disagree with him, but he may not argue the point.

Mr. Adams

I will only say that there is no indication, as far as the feelings of the public are concerned, that there is a general demand for a General Election at the earliest possible moment, the belief being that the Government are fulfilling their obligations to the country in a perfectly satisfactory manner.

Amendment negatived.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.