§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 12.14 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Churchill)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
In asking for a prolongation of the life of this Parliament for another year, I doubt very much whether the Parliament will last so long. There are powerful factors of uncertainty which tell in opposite directions, or from different angles. The meetings of the various parties comprising the Coalition are to take place shortly before and shortly after Christmas, and while we cannot at all forecast what will occur, we certainly cannot exclude the possibility that a desire to return to the party system will be strongly expressed. On the other hand we cannot tell when the war against Nazi Germany will be definitely ended or will fall into the guerilla stage.
I am confident that all organised parties will see that business through to the very end. This would almost certainly be the view, I believe, of the great trade union movement, where determination to finish Hitlerism is strong and invincible. I am very clearly of opinion that the coalition of parties ought not to be broken before Nazidom is broken. This was the purpose for which we came together in the present National Government, and it is still the supreme purpose which affects the safety of the nation and the Empire. As I said the other day, any attempt to estimate the date when the war with Germany can be officially declared over can be no more than a guess. A political convulsion in Germany might bring it to a speedy end at any time, but against that must be set the iron control of German life in all its forms, including the Army, Which has been established by Hitler's storm troops and secret police. This exceeds anything previously known among men. Therefore, we cannot count upon any of the normal reactions of public opinion. From every quarter it seems that the civil population are plunged in a dull apathy, and certainly anyone who 663 stirred against the police would instantly be shot or decapitated. Therefore I simply cannot place any dependence upon political uprisings in Germany.
On military grounds it seems difficult to believe that the war could be ended before Christmas, or even before Easter, although, as I have said, many high military authorities with every means to form a correct judgment have expressed themselves more hopefully, and although every effort is being made, and will be made against the enemy. The German troops are fighting with the utmost tenacity, although cut off in many places, and in defence of positions evidently forlorn. They have been counter-attacking with vigour, though as yet without success, in Holland and on the Moselle. A great deal of work has still to be done to improve the ports and build up supplies and concentrate forward the ever-growing Allied Armies. In Italy the fighting is also of the most obstinate character and the weather has broken. The Eastern front has shown its main activity on the North and South flanks. Immense successes have rewarded strenuous Russian military efforts and skilful Russian and Ailed diplomacy. The distances are however very large and many hostile defence positions have to be stormed or turned. In all these circumstances I certainly could not predict, still less guarantee, the end of the German war before the end of the spring, or even before we reach the early summer. It may come earlier, and no one will rejoice more than I if it should. Anyhow I have no hesitation in declaring that it would be a wrongful act, unworthy of our country's fame, to break up the present governing instrument before we know where we are with Hitler's Germany. Those who forced such a disaster, even thoughtlessly, would take on themselves a measureless responsibility, and their action would be fiercely resented by the nation at large. I am thankful to say that there are no signs of any such desire in any responsible quarter.
Let us assume, however, that the German war ends in March, April or May, and that some or all the other parties in the Coalition recall their Ministers out of the Government, or wish to bring it to an end from such dates. That would be a matter of regret, both on public and on personal grounds, to a great many people, but it would not be a matter of reproach 664 or bitterness between us in this Government or in this House once Germany has been defeated
We are told there must on no account be what is called a "coupon" election. By that I presume is meant an agreement between the official parties not to oppose each other in most of the seats, and to form a solid front against those who criticise or oppose us. In other words, it would mean that the present Coalition should go to the country and obtain from it a renewal of confidence. I have no doubt they would get it, but there would be some who would say it was too easy. But one must admit that many people would think this would hardly be a fair way of testing opinion in the country, and in fact it would be quite impossible to obtain party agreement to such a course. Many people feel that it would impede the electorate in expressing their free choice. Neither would it be seemly, or indeed practicable, once a dissolution had been announced, for Ministers to go all over the country expressing the utmost distaste for each other's views and records and yet be together in Cabinet discussing as colleagues all the gravest matters of the hour. Nor again would it be proper for the Ministers who are also in some cases leaders and whose knowledge is needed to guide the country, to remain silent and apparently indifferent to the fortunes of their parties or of their candidates. I do not find it easy to escape from the weight and force of these arguments.
The announcement of the dissolution would therefore necessarily mark the close of the present Administration. The Conservative Party have a majority of more than 100 above all parties and independents in the present House, and it would therefore fall to us to make arrangements for the inevitable General Election. I cannot conceive that anyone would wish that election to be held in a violent hurry or while we were all rejoicing together and rendering thanks to God for our deliverance. There must be an interval. Moreover we have above all things to be careful that practically everybody entitled to vote has a fair chance to do so. This applies above all to the soldiers, many of whom are serving at great distances from this country. Nothing would be more shameful or more dishonourable than to deny the great mass of the soldiers, and 665 Service men of the Air Force and of the Navy, a full opportunity of recording their votes. In my opinion they have more right to vote than anyone else in the country, and we should all be ashamed if anything were done which prevented these men, to whom we owe almost everything, from taking their full part in deciding the immediate future of their country. That is not to say that every single man in the most remote station can be certain of being able to vote, but everything in human power will be done to give the fullest possible opportunities for the exercise of the franchise to all in the Fighting Services.
It is however in fact not legally possible, after the new electoral arrangements have come into force, as they do on 1st December this year, for polling to take place in less than eight weeks from the issue of the writs. A minimum of six weeks must in fact elapse between the issue of the writs and the nomination of candidates alone. All this has been concerted with a general measure of assent by the House, and with the sole view of obtaining the fullest and fairest expression of the national opinion. Besides all this the partial redistribution authorised by the recent Act has to be carried through. A start will be made immediately, not waiting for the end of the German war, but the process will certainly take several months.
It may therefore be taken as certain that from the moment the King gives his consent to a dissolution a period of between two and three months would be required. This also would be fair to the political parties and candidates, who have to set about one another in the usual lusty manner. Moreover, in the interval there will undoubtedly have to be certain financial arrangements made and other matters of business wound up. It follows therefore that if events should take the course I have indicated it would seem that, roughly speaking, there is no likelihood of a General Election for from seven to nine months from now. Finally, it is contrary to precedent for Governments to hold on to office until the last moment of their legal tenure, or legally extended tenure, and it would be very unwholesome for any practice of that kind to be introduced. For these reasons we have decided not to accept any proposals or suggestions such as I have seen bruited about to reduce the period in the Bill 666 from 12 months to six months, and I ask to-day, in introducing it, for a 12 months' prolongation of the life of the present Parliament. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who will be in charge of the Bill, will deal with any points of detail which may arise.
We think that we have given good reasons to the House to show that the 12 months period would be a reasonable and proper provision to make at the present time. On the other hand we must assume that the Japanese war will have to be carried on for an indefinite period after the destruction of Nazi power. Here again there may be the possibilities of some political upheaval in Japan inducing a sudden surrender, but it would be very foolish to count upon this in a race of men of this desperate and barbarous character, whose whole Constitution is dominated by the military and naval hierarchies who dragged them into their mad aggression. When the whole of the Japanese problem is examined, on military grounds alone it would certainly not be prudent to assume that a shorter period than 18 months after the destruction of Hitler would be required for the final destruction of the Japanese will or capacity to fight, and this period must be continually revised every few months by the Combined Chiefs of Staffs.
The prolongation of the life of the existing Parliament by another two or three years would be a very serious constitutional lapse. Even now, no one under 30 has ever cast a vote at a General Election, or even at a by-election, since the registers fell out of action at the beginning of the war. Therefore, it seems to me that, unless all political parties resolve to maintain the present Coalition until the Japanese are defeated, we must look to the termination of the war against Nazism as a pointer which will fix the date of the General Election. I regret the break-up of the present highly efficient Government which have waged war with unsurpassed success and have shaped or carried out within the last two years a programme of reform and social progress which might well have occupied a whole Parliament under the ordinary conditions of peace for five or six years. In fact, I may say—and I will indeed be quite candid on this point—that having served for 42 years in this House I have never seen any Government to which I have been able to give a more loyal, confident and 667 consistent support. But while I should regret and deplore the break-up of these forces, so knit together by personal good will, by the comradeship of fighting a great cause, and by the sense of growing success arising from that comradeship, yet I could not blame anyone who claimed that there should be an appeal to the people once the German peril is removed. Indeed, I have myself a clear view that it would be wrong to continue this Parliament beyond the period of the German war.
The foundation of all democracy is that the people have the right to vote. To deprive them of that right is to make a mockery of all the high-sounding phrases which are so often used. At the bottom of all the tributes paid to democracy, is the little man, walking into the little booth, with a little pencil, making -a little cross on a little bit of paper—no amount of rhetoric or voluminous discussion can possibly palliate the overwhelming importance of that point. The people have the right to choose representatives in accordance with their wishes and feelings, and I cannot think of anything more odious than for a Prime Minister to attempt to carry on with a Parliament so aged, and to try to grapple with the perplexing and tremendous problems of war and peace, and of the transition from war to peace, without being refreshed by contact with the people or without being relieved of any special burdens in that respect.
I can assure the House that in the absence of most earnest representations by the Labour and Liberal Parties, I could not refrain from making a submission to the Crown in respect of a dissolution after the German war is effectively and officially finished. I am sure this is a straight-forward, fair and constitutional method of dealing with what is in many ways an unprecedented situation though not one which need in any way baffle our flexible British system. Meanwhile, I must confess that the position will not become increasingly easy. The odour of dissolution is in the air, and parties are inclined to look at each other across the House with an increasing sense of—
§ The Prime Minister
Well, of distrust in some aspects, and of regret for impending division in others. But we have to be specially careful in such circumstances that nothing should hamper the vigorous prosecution of the war, and that, I am sure, is the resolve of all parties and also of most of those individuals who are specially interested to bring the Coalition to an end.
I thought it right as a preface to this Bill, in moving the Second Reading of it, to touch upon these matters because they are after all of very considerable importance to our constitutional procedure, but further than this I find it impossible to form an opinion. Mr. Jorrocks said of fox-hunting that it was the image of war without its guilt and ½ per cent. the danger. Something like that might be said of a General Election. It is a trial of strength between parties of which the nation is the arbiter. I have often thought that it is sometimes unwise of generals to try to foresee with meticulous exactness just what will happen after a battle has been fought. A battle hangs like a curtain across the future. Once that curtain is raised or rent we can all see how the scenery is arranged, what actors are left upon the scene and how they appear to be related to one another. In this case it will certainly be much better to wait till the new situation is fully disclosed.
Meanwhile, as we probably have a good many months of the closest comradeship and hardest work before us, and there will be ample opportunity for party oratory, which will necessarily occur between the dissolution and the poll, I should deprecate strongly the over-emphasising of party differences now, and recommend that we all bend ourselves with unflagging energy and unbroken union to the national task.
§ 12.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Greenwood (Wakefield)
I should like to thank my right hon. Friend for the tone and temper of his speech, and I hope I shall say nothing which will impart into this Debate very narrow considerations. I may say at once that, so far as those for whom I speak are concerned, nothing will deflect us from the most active participation in a victorious end of this war, and whatever the political situation may be, if there is a General Election before the end of the Japanese 669 war, those for whom I speak will support that Government in a victorious end of the Japanese war. We have never divided this war into two parts. We regard it as one. My party has not played an undistinguished part during the war. Its attitude has always been perfectly clear. If I have spoken strongly on occasions in the House it was only that I was trying to voice the opinion of my hon. and right hon. Friends on these benches in support of a strong policy for ultimate and final victory. We have, as my right hon. Friend said, lived through a Coalition in a way, perhaps, that other countries would find it difficult to do. I do not want to rouse the hostility of my right hon. Friend who is leading the Liberal Party below the gangway, but we are instinctively a two-party country. We have never fallen into the error of some Continental countries, and, because we have been a country of two parties, coalition lies uneasily on our shoulders, but, if I may say so, looking at it now quite objectively, I think this Coalition, on the whole, has worked with conspicuous success, as may be shown by the military situation at the present time.
We do not know, as the Prime Minister has explained to us, when the war with Germany will be over, but it is my own strong conviction that it would be against the national interests if we were to try to prolong this Parliament until the whole of this desperate struggle is finally tidied up. Hon. Members will understand from what I have already said, that whatever the political situation may be after a General Election, if the war still goes on in any part of the world, my hon. Friends will give active support for its successful conclusion. I do not believe that any responsible person in this House desires to see the Coalition Government ended before the Germans are brought to final defeat. That does not necessarily mean that there will not be differences of opinion expressed in this House.
My right hon. Friend, who is perhaps the greatest controversialist of our age, has become extraordinarily timid about controversy since he has been Prime Minister, and, if I may say so, I can appreciate his reasons. But what was sauce for the goose was also sauce for the gander, and if he is a reformed character I fear that many Members of this House are not. I think we have to face the fact—and I am not saying this in any narrow party spirit 670 at all—that in the coming months, when we are thinking and talking in the House more about the future, there will be deep differences of opinion expressed. We have had them in the House on a recent Bill which now, happily, is in the House of Lords, and I have not the faintest doubt that in the new Session there may be legislation which my right hon. Friend will hope will not prove to be controversial, but which I am afraid will in many quarters of the House be regarded as controversial. If I may say so, at this stage of the war, when the dark clouds have been dispersed, bitter though the struggle may still be, I do not think my right hon. Friend ought to complain if there is a healthy spot of controversy in the House on issues on which people feel strongly. That, at this stage of the war, will do nothing to impair the spirit of national unity for the pursuit of the war.
I can see a case in those very dark days of 1940 when divisions in this House might have been interpreted as disunity among the people, but that day has gone and I think we can be bold enough, courageous enough, and confident enough at this stage of the war to indulge in a little healthy controversy without in any way breaking anything that looks like being a truce, because there never has been a truce in this Chamber. There has been a common understanding of common problems. Hard things have been said about me from the benches opposite, but I claim the right to say hard things about them should the occasion arise.
I am glad that my right hon. Friend was frank about what might be called a "snap" or "khaki" election depriving people who are fully entitled to vote of the opportunity of exercising their vote. My right hon. Friend did a broadcast about 18 months ago in which he talked about a four years' programme and so on. Some of us were a little uneasy about it. I leave aside my right hon. Friend's reference to myself and to a statement which I had made—a reference which he was quite entitled to make—but we were alarmed about this four years' programme. There can be no coupon election in this country following this war such as we had at the end of the last war. The reason is that it is not primarily the concern of politicians; it is that a successful Government can only be formed on the basis of a free expression 671 of desire and opinion by the electorate. No party, and certainly. I would be no party to it as regards those for whom I speak, could accept a coupon Election which defeated the objects of a General Election, and, in effect, stabilised the representation in the House broadly in the proportions of parties that have existed for so many years. I am prepared, at the next election, to take a chance. I would not object if we on these benches came back 368 strong instead of 168, but we take our gruel if we come back only with 68 Members. At least the people will have spoken their minds. I am very glad my right hon. Friend has made it perfectly clear we are to have a straightforward election, so that the House can be properly refreshed with the views of those millions of people who up to now have never been able to exercise the vote.
My own party has made its position perfectly clear on this matter. We say thatnothing must be allowed to conflict in any way with the paramount necessity of bringing the war to a speedy and successful conclusion.We go on to say this, and I associate myself with this statement, thatwhen the time comes, as come it must, to dissolve what has been a great partnership, the dissolution should be accomplished with the dignity and good feeling that is fitting for those who have together encountered and overcome the greatest danger that our nation has ever had to face. It would be an unworthy thing for so great an adventure to end in squalid bickerings.I have myself never indulged in personalities in politics. I have even gone so far as never to refer to my opponent by name. That is perhaps carrying it too far. But after people of all parties in this House have worked together, it would be a tragedy if we allowed the next struggle to degenerate into what we call here "squalid bickering." The next Election is to determine the general plan which the people of this country are to follow in the future. It must, therefore, be a conflict of principles, a conflict of sincerely held policies. It must be a fight of brain and principles, and not a struggle of brawn. That does not mean that everybody will be kind to everybody else, but it does mean that when the fight is on, each party will participate in it with the consciousness that they are trying, according to their lights, to shape the future of our land.
672 There is one point that worries me a little in what my right hon. Friend said about this two to three months' hiatus between the dissolution and the Election. It may be necessary for mechanical reasons; that I am not prepared to argue. But it seems a long time for a political campaign, and if I may say so—again I am not raising this in any party spirit—it does give an initial advantage to the caretaker Government which is in charge during those two or three months. That, I think, is a matter for some consideration. The next point of detail I would make is that I think a year's extension is right. It will probably be the last time this House will be expected to continue the length of its own life. I do not see any point whatever in trying to reduce that period to six months. If it should be that an Election is called for within the year, that Election can well take place, but I think it would be unfortunate if the House were to agree merely to a six months' extension, because there would immediately be imported into this House not a desire for consideration of the matters which ought to be in the King's Speech, whether they are or not, but all Debates would be conducted in an electioneering atmosphere. I would prefer the electioneering to be done on the public platforms outside. I hope that the House will not agree, when we come to the Committee stage of the Bill, to a limited extension of the Prolongation of Parliament Act for six months.
That is all I wish to say. I am glad the Prime Minister has, with great honesty and great straightforwardness, come down and explained what is in his mind. I am quite certain that my right hon. Friend would not be guilty of any mean political manoeuvre. I say that, and I believe it, and we are grateful that he has, so to speak, made a clean breast of his intentions. When the battle is on—and it must be a time to which many of us will look forward, and I for my part have suffered from a sense of frustration for five years in never being able to disclose what I think about some hon. Members in this House—I hope it will be conducted forthrightly, but with dignity and honour to our people.
§ 12.57 p.m.
§ Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South-West)
When the Prime Minister announced last Thursday that he himself 673 would introduce the Prolongation of Parliament Bill, I assumed that he would make an important statement. I proved to be right. Over nine years have elapsed since this Parliament was elected for five years, and on the face of it as we have, year after year, complacently continued our life, there appeared to be something indecent about it, as though we thought it was very right and proper of us to save ourselves from the assaults and thrusts of an Election. The Prime Minister is perfectly right; it has been argued that it would be more proper to extend our life only for six months. I know it has been said that Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the great country at the other side of the ocean, the United States of America, have been able, during the present war, to go through all the machinery of an election, and that at the present time not only are the United States re-electing Congress, but are choosing a new President. Superficially there would seem to be a very strong case for a shorter time, and I confess that some of my hon. Friends were attracted to that idea.
I am satisfied however that the Prime Minister has taken the right course in coming to us and asking us to go through the same procedure this year as last, and renewing the life of Parliament for a year. There are many reasons for it. It is quite obvious—I wish I could think otherwise—that we are very far from being through with the war against Germany, and we must prove to the world we are still a united nation behind the Government in our determination to fight for unconditional surrender, and destroy the Nazi menace to the world. It is quite clear, therefore, that while there is this uncertainty it would be unwise and foolish to suggest that an Election is probable in six months. Obviously, we cannot have an Election in the spring. There is the Budget to be faced, and on top of that I deprecate any attempt to have a rush Election. There must be reasonable time. We had a rush Election in 1918, the famous coupon Election. Nobody was satisfied with the result of that Election or wants to have a repetition of that experiment. Nor do we want another Khaki Election as in 1901, which, as the Prime Minister remembers very well, though some younger Members may not do so, resulted in a very unsatisfactory Parliament, and did no good to the Government 674 that engineered it. It resulted in a very severe defeat for the Conservative Party in the following Election. Therefore, common sense decides that there should be a reasonable period before the nation is plunged into an electoral struggle. But when the Election does come we want a free Election. We want the electorate to have a free choice, with no attempt to dictate.
§ Sir P. Harris
I mean not a coupon Election by the parties acting together. We want the electorate to have a free choice. We do not want to have an umbrella, either that of the Leader of the Labour Party or that of any other party. We want our own leaders. We want a free contest. As far as we are concerned, therefore, we are all for the suggestion of a reasonable period being allowed to elapse after the end of the war with Germany before a General Election. The nation does not like coalitions [Interruption.] My hon. Friend says "How do you know?" Experience proves that in the end they always turn on coalitions in favour of a free expression of opinion.
I do not want to say any more, except to support the action of the Prime Minister in coming to us and taking us into his confidence. I think he expresses the view of the whole House. As far as the Liberal Party is concerned we shall continue to give our loyal support to the National Government to the end of the war against Germany. I was a direct party to the arrangements for forming the National Government. I was a party to the truce. I am quite unrepentant. I am sure we were right, while this horrible conflict was on, to decide that we should not indulge in the ordinary party fights at by-elections. But when it is necessary to elect a new Parliament there must be a free Election. Each party must be allowed to express its views, to put them before the electors, and the electors must feel when they are charged with the responsibility of electing a Parliament to work out post-war policy, that they have had freedom of choice and that it is not a machine-made election.
§ 1.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Erskine-Hill (Edinburgh, North)
I am convinced that the Prime Minister 675 can count on the whole-hearted support of Members on this side of the House for anything which is connected with the winning of this war. So long as the national interest demands it, so long will the Prime Minister and the Coalition Government have our support. But it is right to point out that in the year 1940 this House was dealing with a very different situation than that with which it is dealing now. Then it was a House of Commons dealing with the war; now we have a House of Commons which is dealing with war merging into peace. It is obvious that there are questions which have to be dealt with which may raise controversy. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) says that he likes a "spot of controversy." It is only right for us all, and for the Government, to face the fact that when you have questions of principle raised in this House there will be a tendency to have controversy. To that I do not myself demur at all.
There are three other factors which the House ought to bear in mind. The first is that both the Labour Party and the Liberal Party have given notice to quit. I do not object to that in any way, but it is a fact which has to be taken into consideration, and which will no doubt give rise to controversial moments in this House. Secondly, you have as well a large number of Members who have entered this House without controversy at all: one might almost call them co-opted Members. That makes for the necessity as soon as possible for the House to go to the country as early as possible as the Prime Minister has suggested. I ask the Government to bear this in mind. Controversial issues are bound to arise in Bills dealing with the post-war period. The Government must expect these controversies, and must allow the House, particularly in Committee, to have its say in the framing of Bills. That is absolutely vital unless the Government take the line that they do not want controversy, in which case Measures which would inevitably be controversial ought not to be brought forward.
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
Did the hon. and learned Gentleman bring that proposition forward with the same insistence in the case of the Education Bill?
§ Mr. Bevan
In the case of the Education Bill the House, in Committee, by a majority, amended the Bill, and then had to withdraw the Amendment, on the instance of the Prime Minister.
§ Mr. Erskine-Hill
Those issues arose then almost without warning. I am saying that now with the knowledge of those various factors which I have put forward, we should either have controversy and not mind amending Bills on the Committee stage, or else the Government should decide to have no controversial Measures at all. Nothing else seems to me to be of such importance as the winning of this war at the earliest possible moment. If controversy is going to have an ill effect in that respect, do not let us have controversy. I would only add that, so far as my hon. Friends on this side are concerned, we are in the hands of the Government in this matter. I would emphasise again what is the essential issue that we are out for; it is to support in every way the further conduct of this war to victory.
§ 1.5 p.m.
§ Sir Lewis Jones (Swansea, West)
The Prime Minister has impressed, not only on the House of Commons, but, I hope, on the country and on the world generally, that, however successful the Allies may be in these days in the various theatres of war, very strenuous months are in front of us, and that the tasks we have to face are very serious indeed. Glorious pages of British history are being written during these months. Britain's achievements and the achievements of our Allies have been the fruits of magnificent leadership, excellent planning, and the amazing fortitude of our Fighting Services and the civilian population. But these things have been possible only because, during these years of war, there has been this remarkable degree of unity among the various political parties, not only in the House itself but in the country. I doubt very much whether the magnitude of this unity among the people of this country has been fully realised. The immensity of this underlying unity has been obscured by critical speeches, the criticism, no doubt, being very well deserved; but this unity has won the admiration of the whole world, and, more important still, it has been achieved by voluntary means. It was a stupendous expression of the desire of the people of this country, not superimposed upon us from above. It was the result 677 of the strenuous times in which we live, and it has carried us through very dark and difficult periods. The House realises that it is not only a question of the unity of the House of Commons, but that, behind that, there is this amazing unity of the people in the country. The Prime Minister, in a remarkable speech the other day, said:Let all hope die in German breasts that there will be the slightest division or weakening among the forces which are closing in upon them."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th October, 1944; Vol. 404, c. 492.]One may read into that more perhaps than the Prime Minister meant to convey. We in the British House of Commons, and in Britain generally, should so cement ourselves together in these difficult times as to strike further terror into the hearts of our enemies. They should be shown that we shall remain united until they are completely defeated. There are before us, not only the tasks concerned with the winning of the war, but the tasks relating to the immediate transfer from war to peace. These are vital and urgent. I am satisfied that these post-war policies are the immediate responsibility of the Government, and that the Government should take those responsibilities very seriously to heart. The Government's task is not completed—far from it. I am satisfied that it is the wish of the country that the National Government should not shirk their responsibility for finishing the job. The Prime Minister, some time back, said, "Give us the tools, and we will finish the job." The country gave him the tools and the confidence, and now it is for the Government to carry out their side of the contract, and not to give up their job until we have defeated the enemy. I want to say, on behalf of my hon. Friends here, that we heartily support the Government and the Prime Minister.
§ 1.10 p.m.
§ Commander King-Hall (Ormskirk)
My right hon. Friend made a speech to-day of which the outstanding qualities, I think, were his extreme honesty and the straightforward manner in which he put his cards on the table and refused to say anything which could be interpreted as making the speech a party speech or a type of special pleading. But I think his speech revealed the dilemma with which this country is faced at the present time, and which I venture to say, if I may do so without impertinence, is in my right hon. Friend's 678 mind. As I see the workings of his mind, from the speeches he has made on this subject, there seems to be a conflict between two points of view. There is the point of view of the national leader, and also the point of view of a Member of this House who is also the leader of one of the political parties and who has taken part in some of the great political conflicts of the day. On the one hand, I feel, he has his responsibilities as a national leader; on the other hand, I feel that he must sometimes liken himself to the war horse in Job, who smelleth the battle from afar, and who paweth the ground and saith, "Ha, ha." That, I think, must be in his mind when he talks about the political parties setting about each other in the usual lusty manner.
In both his speech and the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) there was, I think, a tendency to think too much of this total war as being something which can be limited within the framework of the military defeat of Germany. I have consistently maintained that it is impossible to cut the war into these sections, and to say that total war ends when Germany has a military defeat. The whole of the post-war problems are so closely linked up with actual operations to-day that I cannot see how they can be separated. I have been consistent in my attitude on this matter. In 1937 I wrote a small pamphlet, entitled "The Future of Party Politics," in which I ventured to say that we were in a crisis then, and that we should have had a National Government then. I mentioned the names of those who I thought should have formed that National Government—they are all in the Cabinet to-day, with one exception. The Nazi menace had become pretty evident then, and the only way in which I think we could have prevented the war would have been for us to have united and have made it clear to the Nazis that we would not stand for the things that they stood for. Now it is a matter of finishing the war. It is not in my opinion essential that we should have national unity in order to finish off the Germans, but it will be much better if we can have that unity. But I feel most strongly that we can never tackle the vast range of post-war problems now looming up before us unless we can preserve this remarkable national unity of which my right hon. Friend has been 679 the expression and the symbol during the past four years.
It is unlikely that any one political party will come back with a great political majority, and consequently we should have a Prime Minister going to the peace conference without his being the leader of a party which had a large majority in this House. My right hon. Friend in one of his speeches, said that Conservative, Liberal and Labour men were dying together on the battlefield, and were appealing to us for unity. I agree. But I have a right to remind him that, although there are very few Independent Members in this House, there are many non-party people in the country at the present time. Of course I am not against the principle of party but against the present set-up of parties.
If you took 100 men in the Army and asked those to step forward who were closely attached to one of the existing parties, I question if 50 men would step to the front. The other 50 are waiting to see where they are to go in the political world, and I think they want to follow the Prime Minister, if they are allowed to do so, in some form of national unity in the next three or four years.
I entirely agree that we must have an election, and that is the dilemma. How are we to have an election, if we are not to do it in the old style of the parties setting about each other in a lusty manner? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield did not like the four years plan broadcast by the Prime Minister. I liked it very well, and so did very many people in this country. My suggestion is this, although I think there is no hope of its being adopted. The leaders at present in the War Cabinet should set up a broad programme of ten points, approximately on the lines of the Prime Minister's plan, so that they can invite the country to return Members—no coupons about it—who would, broadly speaking, support that programme. I foresee possibly three candidates in a constituency, and the possibility of people, while agreeing in a general way, disagreeing in particular matters, some thinking that it did not go far enough and others that it went too far. When the new House of Commons comes back, if, as I believe, there will be a considerable increase in the numbers of hon. Gentlemen who sit on these benches, the 680 War Cabinet could be re-formed, to reflect the changed composition of the House, and we could start again with a new National Government. I forecast that, as I believe, if we have a phoney party election, within a week the situation will be such that a new Coalition or National Government will have to be formed.
§ 1.17 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
I am sure the whole House, while welcoming the good-humoured way in which the Prime Minister moved the Second Reading of this Bill to-day, will deplore the necessity for the Bill itself. Many hoped that the war with Germany would have been concluded by now, and many people were justified in that hope by what they knew of the situation on the Continent of Europe, and by statements made by people entitled to make them. But the Nazi resistance has proved to be much greater internally than many expected it would be. I would not like to say anything about the reasons for that, although I think I would be entitled to point out, that the psychological leadership of the Allied war effort at the present time has contributed materially to the stiffening of the German resistance. Had we been conducting the war at the moment with as much skill, mentally and spiritually, as militarily, the war might have been over long ago.
Therefore, I do not subscribe to those sentences of the Prime Minister in which he was so wholeheartedly enthusiastic about the Government of which he is the head. We can understand his enthusiasm, although many of us do not share it. As I ventured to point out to the House some weeks ago, when speaking of the war situation, the extraordinary fact to-day is not the concentration of military power that the Allies are bringing to bear upon the German people, but the extraordinary resistance which the German people are able to maintain at the present time. That resistance is formidable, unexpected—because the progress of our troops since "D" Day has been as great and swift, militarily, as we expected it to be—
§ The Prime Minister
I certainly did not form such high expectations as those which have been realised in the campaign in France.
§ Mr. Bevan
The Prime Minister formed a cautious estimate of our possibilities, but, nevertheless, there were persons in very high positions who expressed themselves as delighted with the progress made, as leading to the reasonable hope that the German resistance would have broken before now, and it is no use their telling us that we are being held because of the weather. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister has not said so, and I am not accusing him of doing so. Therefore, if we anticipated the collapse of Germany, it is because we thought that the German internal situation would have resulted in the collapse of the German military front. These were, indeed, reasonable grounds for hoping that the war would have been over by now and one would have thought that the policy of the Government would have been directed to influencing that internal situation.
Instead of that, so far the policy of the Government has reinforced the Nazi resistance against the Allied armies, and has resulted in the death of many British and American soldiers who would now be alive if the Government's policy had been more intelligently conducted. I am not going to subscribe to this rubbish that the policy of the Government deserves the full support of the House of Commons. On the contrary, I take the view that the Government have made fundamental errors, which have resulted in our having to face a sixth winter of war. I believe that when the war is over, and all the facts can be examined, it will be shown that the Government's use of our material and moral resources has been far less than it should have been and has resulted in the prolongation of the war. I do not, however, want to speak about the war, although I am quite sure I am entitled to do so, having regard to the expansive manner in which the Prime Minister moved the Second Reading of this Bill.
I would like to say a word or two about the Coalition Government. I never believed that a Coalition Government was necessary in order to unite the nation against Germany. I never thought that was the reason for it at all. It is true that we joined the Coalition Government in 1940, in order to bring the spiritual 682 resources of the Labour movement into unity with those of the Conservative Party. At that time, the Government needed a great deal of refreshment, and the Labour Party joined the Government in order to give it, but the reason why the political truce has continued so far, is because of the physical difficulties of holding a General Election in Great Britain during the blitz, and also as a consequence of the disturbance of the civil population. To say that the Coalition Government was necessary in this country in order to unite Great Britain against Germany, is to disregard the example of the Dominions. Canada, Australia and New Zealand have all had elections during the war and their military effort has been comparable with ours. They have been able to engage in party differences and to hold elections and, at the same time, to concentrate their military strength behind the war.
It is, therefore, no answer to say that the Coalition Government has been an essential instrument of British national unity against Germany. Nor do I suppose that the presence of Ministers of this party in the Government has been indispensable to the better conduct of the war. I have held the view, and I hold it even more strongly now than previously, that, on very many occasions, the war effort of this nation could have been much more efficient and effective if the Opposition in this House had been stronger. If I am challenged on that matter, I can give many instances, from the factories, from the provision of weapons, from the formation of strategy and from a hundred points of view, to show that the ineffectiveness of the Opposition in the House has contributed materially to the inefficiency of the Government. Therefore, I do not subscribe to that view either.
But, having joined the Government, having gone so far, I think it would be foolish to break up the National Government now before Germany is beaten. I think our representatives are entitled to say that, having gone so far, they must complete the journey and remain in the Government until Germany is defeated. What causes us anxiety, on this side of the House, is the period between now and the break-up of the Government, that is, the period between now and the defeat of Germany. What is going to happen? The chairman of the 1922 Committee let 683 drop some ominous suggestions. What did he suggest? My hon. and learned Friend suggested that the Prime Minister should submit himself more readily to the majority vote in Committee on important Bills. That is to say, the leader of the back bench Tories, following, of course, the vote we had last week, is now suggesting that we, on this side of the House, should submit ourselves to be voted down by the Conservative majority in the House of Commons, while remaining loyal to the National Government. That is the suggestion.
I have held the view on several occasions in the House that it would be far better if the Government were more disposed to accept the judgment of the House, and I have held that view ever since 1940—since we joined the National Government. It always seemed to me that, there being no chance of an appeal to the electorate during the war, in these circumstances, the House of Commons itself should become the microcosm of the electorate, and therefore, divisions in the House of Commons about policy ought to be accepted by the Government, not so much as a threat to the Government, but as an expression of opinion about their policy, and that they ought, on many occasions, to have taken our view of their behaviour without always suggesting that, when we disagreed, it was necessary to dissolve the whole Coalition.
I believe that, by insisting on rigid party discipline since 1940, the Government have often deprived themselves of effective counsel by the House itself. They have cut themselves off, on many occasions, from the public opinion of the House of Commons. It would have been far better for us if we could have expressed our point of view more freely in the Division Lobby without being exposed to this business of party discipline, from which I have, on several occasions, suffered some personal embarrassment.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
The hon. Member is not the only one.
§ Mr. Bevan
No. I know the schoolmaster is hurt as much by the cane as the pupil. We know about that. This counsel of mine having been rejected, it does seem rather hard that we should have 684 to listen to it at the tail-end of this Parliament. Now we are having it from the leader of the back bench Tories. Now that we are going to face, it may be, important social legislation, he wants the Whips to be taken off the Tory majority. That is the idea. When, during the war, we have been trying on several occasions to focus the progressive opinion in the country on the policies of the Government, and to obtain some advance in our social policies, the Tory Whips have been put on in order to keep us in order.
§ Mr. Bevan
Now that Parliament is coming to its end, and is facing important policies, the Tories want the relaxation of Tory discipline in order to use the Tory majority to vote down the things with which they disagree. That is what the hon. and learned Gentleman the Leader of the 1922 Club has suggested.
§ Mr. Quintin Hogg (Oxford)
Is the hon. Member aware that the Conservative and Unionist Members of that Committee have no leader in that sense at all, and that whatever an hon. Gentleman may say who happens to occupy an official position there, it does not bind anybody else who happens to belong to the Parliamentary party?
§ Mr. Bevan
I did not say for a moment that the hon. Member was expressing the views of all Conservative Members, but we know from events of last week that Members of the Conservative Party who voted with us in the Lobby, did so with very great reluctance and that they would have infinitely preferred the other Lobby. One of the important spokesmen of the Conservative Party now suggests that that system should not be continued. In Committee on the Education Bill we carried an Amendment on equal pay for men and women teachers. We, on this side, although small in numbers, succeeded in getting enough Conservative Members to go into the Lobby to vote for equal pay.
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Peake)
It was a Conservative Amendment.
§ Mr. Bevan
It was a Conservative Amendment because the only chance of getting an agreed principle at all was to divide the Conservative Party. But the majority in the Division Lobby came 685 from these benches and were led into the Lobby by the spokesmen of the Labour Party. We succeeded in obtaining a majority of one. What happened? The Prime Minister came down to the House of Commons and suggested that the unity of the Government was imperilled and he would only remain Prime Minister if the Amendment were withdrawn. The Prime Minister threw in his own personal prestige and his authority as Leader of the Conservative Party to obtain the withdrawal of a principle which was agreeable to progressive opinion If that be the case, we are not going to stand down quietly and accept the situation. If the Tories use their power to vote us down, do they still imagine that the unity of a National Government can be preserved? It is as much an obligation on the benches opposite in these circumstances to preserve unity, as it is for us on these benches, and more so. I want to say at once that, as we enter the lists in the next few months, we shall watch the Prime Minister very carefully and not accept the doctrine that we are to be voted down in the Division Lobbies by Conservatives exercising their Conservative majority in the House of Commons.
I do not know what we are going to do when this Bill is considered in Committee, but I would like to reinforce one thing which was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood). I also am disturbed about the interregnum between the dissolution and the election. What sort of Government will be in existence at that time? Will it be a Coalition Government? It was not made clear, and I hope that when the right hon. Gentleman replies, he will make clear what is to happen.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
I am not going to form it myself, as far as I know.
§ Mr. Bevan
Those of us on this side of the House want to know what the Prime Minister will do in the interregnum. His Majesty's Government will still be in being although the House of Commons will be dissolved. What Government will be in being? Will it be a reconstituted Conservative Government upon which the Prime Minister will be appealing to the country, or a continuation of the Coalition Government? [An HON. MEMBER: 686 "It will depend on the Labour Party."] Oh, no, it will not. If we remain in the Government at that time, that will not be the Government that will appeal to the country. The Government that will appeal to the country at that time will be a Conservative Government. If the parties have decided to go their separate ways, there will be a Government appealing to the country, and that will be a Conservative Government. Who, at that time, will be in charge of the nation's affairs for two months or more?
§ Mr. Bevan
The hon. and gallant Member must not put those things as alternatives to us. You must not expect us to keep in prison permanently, in order to be free for a few days. We all know my hon. and gallant Friend's difficulties in the matter. He is in great trouble about political auspices. He must not make his difficulties general difficulties; they are his own difficulties.
§ Mr. Bevan
My hon. and gallant Friend said he would like a National Government led by the Prime Minister. He is not going to have it. I can understand his difficulties in that respect but we do not share them. What we desire to secure is that, in that constitutional hiatus between the dissolution and the re-assembly of a new Parliament, some constitutional device may be formed for the purpose of keeping the Prime Minister in effective control. I do not propose to oppose the Bill and I would only point out that the need to prolong Parliament for another year at this time is a poor epitaph on the manner in which the Government are conducting the affairs of the nation.
§ 1.39 p.m.
§ Sir Edward Grigg (Altrincham)
I do not propose to follow the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) in what he said in the earlier part of his 687 speech on the might-have-beens of recent history. We all may have different views about that, and, if I followed him, it would probably open a very wide field of disagreement which does not seem to be relevant to the purpose of this Bill. In this Bill we are dealing with facts as they are to-day, and the facts being what they are to-day, I would like to say that I congratulate the Prime Minister on the statement he has made to the House. I believe that it will not only be satisfactory to the House but to the whole country. At any rate, I feel personally completely satisfied with it. I do not agree with the hon. Member that the political unity which has been shown in this war up to the present time and which, I hope, will be shown up to the end of the war with Germany has been unnecessary.
§ Sir E. Grigg
I do not think that we disagree. The hon. Member said that elections had been held in all Dominions and several other countries, and that, therefore, there was no reason, except technical and mechanical difficulties, for an election not being held here. I am very glad, for my part, that an election has not been held here. I am sure the political unity of this country, despite the fact that there has been political division in other territories closely connected with us in this war, has had a great effect upon the world in general and, certainly, it has been deeply appreciated in the Fighting Services. The Fighting Services are not interested in party politics, and the fact that they have been set aside for a period has undoubtedly tended to raise the morale of our fighting men and their confidence in the Government conducting military operations. I hope, therefore, that that unity will not seriously be impaired until the war with Germany is over.
I also fully agree with the Prime Minister that it would not be possible, things being what they are, to expect that unity to continue after the war with Germany is over until the end of the war with Japan, which may 688 be at a much more distant date. Before the war with Germany is over, and still more after the war with Germany is over, we shall be dealing with the immediate future of this country—with its political, economic and social structure and the main principles which that structure should reflect. We shall approach these issues from different standpoints and with divergent principles so far as the two main parties are concerned. We should therefore return to our normal constitutional and Parliamentary practice, as soon as the emergency which created the present Coalition is past. Because this seems to me right and inevitable, I particularly welcome the statement which fell from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) when he said that, whatever the result of the General Election which will be held, there can be no question of this war not being one war, and that we shall still be at one in carrying on until the complete and final defeat of the Japanese Empire. That statement will be warmly endorsed on this side of the House and it ought to go out to the whole world as showing our determination to carry on the war as a whole whatever political divisions there may be in this country when the Coalition ends.
As to what happens while the Coalition still endures, I am bound to say that I am in some agreement with what fell from the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale. It is undoubtedly desirable that the problems of the future should be dealt with by a Government with a fresh mandate from the country, whatever the character of that Government may be. It is equally desirable that criticism of that Government in our proper constitutional form should be carried on in this House from the benches opposite, whoever may occupy then, by Members of this House who have upon them the responsibility of forming the alternative Government, if their criticism prevails. That is the basis of our constitutional and Parliamentary system, and I think it desirable that it should be resumed at the earliest possible moment. In the meantime, however, I agree with him as to the undesirability of pressing party points of view or party divisions too far, and I hope he will himself conform to his own argument. I myself would feel that it would be an improper use of the majority which the Conservative Party still possess in this House to use it, even at the Committee stage, to press purely 689 Conservative points of view. That is why, although I profoundly disagreed with the new Clauses produced last week to the Town and Country Planning Bill, I voted for the Government.
I hope, therefore, that in the period which must still lapse before National Government comes to an end, moderation and consideration will be shown to each other by both sides, and that if Conservatives, as I think they will, do not attempt even at the Committee stage to use the strength which they possess in this House, the same consideration will be shown for them from the other side. Clearly this consideration must be mutual if it is to be effective, and it has not been mutual at all times. With those few remarks, I would repeat that I welcome very warmly the statement from the Prime Minister this afternoon, and the corollary which was added to it by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield.
§ 1.46 p.m.
§ Major Markham (Nottingham, South)
Listening to this Debate to-day one could not but be impressed by the universal agreement with the Prime Minister's determination that there should not be a General Election until the end of the war with Germany was in sight or achieved. I myself agree reluctantly with the Prime Minister. For nine years I have been the Member for South Nottingham, and for five years of that nine I have had very little chance of refreshing myself with local opinion. That is because I, in conjunction with many other hon. Members, have turned from party politics to the achievement of the finish of the war as the first aim in life. I have naturally sacrificed many advantages but I may say that as far as my political opponents are concerned, I have no complaint of their behaviour during the period. As one of those who have put the conclusion of the war first, I think the Prime Minister's speech this morning will help many of us to continue in that vein instead of returning to what may be very wasteful and tiresome faction. I should very much regret to see energy and time wasted in the pursuit of party politics until we are much nearer the end of these troubles that beset the world.
The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) pointed out that there were in Australia, New Zealand and Canada, Governments which still indulge in party 690 politics. He might have also have used the illustration of the United States of America. It has been my fortune during this war to see service in each one of those four great countries, and I think I can say without any hesitation that leading statesmen of those countries would agree that their war effort has been sadly hurt and crippled in many ways through unrestrained party politics in those four great countries. I remember a conversation with the Prime Minister of one of our great Dominions only a few months ago, in which he complained most bitterly about the factious opposition which was coming from another political party—
§ Major Markham
This complaint was not that he was opposed, it was that it was taking so many men's time and energy away from the prosecution of the war. I do not think there can be any quibble about that; you cannot indulge in party politics without spending time and energy, and, at the moment, we cannot afford that luxury.
§ Major Markham
From each according to his ability, from each according to his merits, and from each according to the opportunity he has to serve.
§ Major Markham
A good many hon. Members of this House are too old to render active military service and, in their wisdom, they render much greater service here. We in this country were so near the battle front—indeed, we were the battle front—that we could not indulge in the luxury in which other countries have indulged from the comparative safety of distance from the actual war. Anyone who has just come back from the United States would be astonished at the amount of space taken up in the Press, the amount of time taken up publicly, and the amount of money and war materials that are being used in the Presi- 691 dential Election. The same has been true of the Dominions as regards General Elections. I myself hope that this country will keep a national spirit until the war and foreign affairs have been determined in a satisfactory manner.
It has been said that coalitions in this country are not popular. There is certainly an air of truth about that, but I think it would be truer to say that it is coupon elections which are really unpopular. I do not think anyone would charge this Government with being unpopular with the country in the way it has handled the war. If this Government went to the country on that issue to-day, I think it would come back with overwhelming support. However, what is undoubtedly unpopular is a coupon election where the elector has not the right or opportunity to choose for himself a man who will represent him during the course of the next three or five years.
I would go a little further than most in urging national Government on this ground. I, for one, have always taken the view that when this country is dealing with other countries, when indeed the whole subject of foreign affairs comes up, we cannot afford to show a disunited front abroad. If we have differences of opinion, those differences should be settled or compromised in this country, and abroad we should speak with a single mind and a single voice. Any other method of dealing with foreign countries leads to weakness abroad, and the inevitable result is chaos and a lessening of the prestige which Britain enjoys. I am very proud of the prestige which Britain enjoys abroad. I am not one of those who believe that this country's influence abroad has been consistently bad or immoral. I have seen something of this magnificent Empire we have built, and I am very proud of it, and I believe and maintain that the only chance we have of getting the world to greater sanity, and indeed, to greater purity of purpose, is by ourselves remaining united so long as foreign affairs are the dominant problem with which this Parliament and this country have to deal.
§ 1.54 p.m.
§ Professor Savory (Queen's University of Belfast)
We have heard this afternoon representatives of all parties, representatives of the Government, the Conservative 692 Party, the National Liberal Party, the Liberal Party, the Labour Party, the Left Wing of the Labour Party, and the Independents. Is it not fitting, therefore, that now the House should give its kindly attention to a representative from Ulster? The Ulster Members in this House constitute an independent party. They have their own constitution, their chairman and their secretary. They meet regularly, and they consider all the affairs of the nation, especially those which concern Ulster. Very well then, this party, being absolutely independent, and looking at things from its own point of view, is entitled, I think, to have its voice heard. Whenever it can conscientiously, it votes for the Government that is when the Government are right, but should it be a question, for instance, of gambling away once more our Irish ports, you would soon see where Ulster stands, even when you allege the pretext of conciliation.
I shall not attempt to follow the speeches of the hon. Members who have preceded me. I entirely agree with what the Prime Minister has said, and, to a very large extent, with what the Leader of the Opposition has added. However, a good many of the considerations that have been brought forward seem to me to have very little to do with the Bill before the House. I would ask the House therefore to turn to this Bill, which they will see consists of two Clauses and of these two Clauses, the lengthier—I will not say the more important but the equally important—second Clause refers to Ulster, to the prolongation of the Parliament of Northern Ireland. Now it would perhaps not be superfluous if I were to say a word as to the necessity of our coming to the Imperial Parliament and asking it to empower us to prolong our Parliament once more.
The Act of 1920 which set up the Ulster Constitution is a Measure of devolution, and lays down very clearly in Section 14 that there must be a general election every five years. Therefore it is not within our power to lengthen our Parliament; that would be immediately ruled out as being ultra vires. So we come here and ask you to do for us what you are doing for yourselves, and for the very same reasons, to prolong the life of our Parliament. What the Prime Minister said applies equally to Ulster. A very large number of Ulster men have joined voluntarily, 693 without any compulsion whatsoever, His Majesty's Forces. If an election were to take place, as it would have to take place in February next year so far as Ulster is concerned, it would be impossible to get these men on to the register to enable them to vote. Here, in this Parliament of the United Kingdom, you are asking for a prolongation to carry you into a tenth year. The Ulster Parliament was re-elected in February, 1938, and all that we are asking you to do, if you pass the second Clause of this Bill, is to prolong our Parliament for an eighth year. The reasons for that prolongation are of supreme importance, and I should like to allude to what this Parliament has done to show that it deserves to have its tenure of office prolonged.
Two years ago, and last year, great latitude was given to various speakers when they were addressing the House on the Second Reading of the corresponding Bill, because they insisted that the Ulster Parliament should not be prolonged as it was not a Coalition—it was only a one-party Government. Well now, that reason no longer has any validity because the Government have taken into the Cabinet a very distinguished representative of the Labour Party, the right hon. Harry Midgley, formerly leader of the Labour Party in the Ulster House of Commons. He has joined that Coalition without sacrificing any of his principles, is just as much a Socialist as he was before, holds very similar views to our Home Secretary and to other Labour Members of the British Government and, if he has joined the Ulster Government, it is only on patriotic grounds. It is, above all, for the reason that he believes so far as the labouring classes are concerned—and he represents the labour classes as he rightly claims—their interests are bound up with the interests of the United Kingdom, and that it is only by Ulster remaining a part of the United Kingdom that all those great social advantages and all this very beneficent legislation which you are carrying through in this Parliament—it is only by closely associating ourselves with the Imperial Parliament—that we can apply that legislation to Ulster. This consideration of a Coalition has, I think, been fully met.
People have said, "Cannot you carry that principle a little further?" Well, in order to reply to this argument, I would 694 like to call attention to the constitution of the Ulster Parliament at the present moment. It consists of 52 Members. There is one vacancy, and there are 38 Unionists, six Nationalists, three Independent Unionists, two Labour members and one Republican, who has not taken the oath. Of the six Nationalists, only two ever attend the House and, as I have said, the Republican has not taken the oath. There are only two members of the Labour Party left, so I think it will be agreed that the prospects of further Coalition are not too promising. If you want a Coalition, you have to coalesce with somebody and it is difficult, out of these heterogeneous parties, to find somebody with whom to coalesce. I maintain that we have formed a truly National Government which is out and out for the war effort. Last year, great latitude was given to a speaker in this House for attacking the Ulster Parliament, and opposing its prolongation on the ground that it had not successfully dealt with the question of unemployment. Well, just before the war broke out, on 14th August, 1939, there were, in the whole of Ulster, 63,113 unemployed. That number was reduced, by 17th July of this year, to 14,687. The up-to-date figures are—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Charles Williams)
I gather that a certain amount of latitude was allowed last year, but I do not think it would be in Order to reply to what was said then by now going into the unemployment figures for Ulster.
§ Professor Savory
Very well. I would now like to deal with the question of education, which has occupied so very much of the time of this House.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I do not think the hon. Gentleman understands me. This is not an occasion for discussing the local matters of the Northern Ireland Administration as regards employment or education. This Debate is for the larger and wider issue of whether it is of general political interest to extend the Northern Ireland Parliament, or this Parliament.
§ Professor Savory
So far as the war effort is concerned Ulster is doing all she 695 possibly can. We had an interesting visit from my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture recently and he pointed out that we had increased our tillage acreage by 80 per cent., whereas here, in Great Britain, the increase had been only some 70 per cent. It is also of great importance for the war effort that we should increase our production of flax which, from 73,000 acres in 1942, has been increased to 93,000 in 1943. Those who honoured us by seeing the film dealing with Ulster, which was shown in the House the other day, saw what we have tried to do to help forward the war effort, which is just as much the concern of Ulster as of any other part of the United Kingdom. In 1943 we sent you over £2,376,000 worth of fat stock, and we are sending, at the present moment, three-quarters of our egg production to enable you to carry on the war effort—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I am very sorry to interrupt, but this seems to be a long way from a reason why the Northern Ireland Parliament should be prolonged. If the hon. Gentleman could connect it in some way with such a reason he would be in Order.
§ Professor Savory
It is essential for the common war effort that Britain should have certain textiles, and our Parliament has done everything it possibly can to help in that way. We have supplied 164,000,000 yards of material for the Ministry of Supply, 65,000,000 yards for the Ministry of Aircraft Production and a further 65,000,000 yards for the Board of Trade. Practically the whole of the linen which is used at the present time in connection with aeroplanes, for harness and webbing for parachutes, is being provided by Ulster.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I would ask the hon. Gentleman, quite seriously, to relate this to a sound reason why the Northern Ireland Parliament, or this Parliament, should be prolonged or not.
§ Professor Savory
I am afraid that if the Northern Ireland Parliament were not prolonged, the interruption which would be caused by a General Election would interfere with the war effort. We are doing everything we possibly can on behalf of Great Britain and the United Kingdom. For instance, our sales of milk have in- 696 creased from 45,000,000 gallons in 1941 to 54,750,000 gallons in 1944. We are sending daily, to Scotland, no less than 23,000 gallons of liquid milk to help relieve the great shortage.
It has often been brought forward against our Ulster Parliament that it is dependent on Great Britain, that it lives by subsidies from Great Britain, that it does not pay its own way—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I do not think the hon. Gentleman can use this occasion to go into subsidies for the Irish Parliament. The hon. Gentleman must keep that for a later date.
§ Professor Savory
The Parliament for which I am asking for prolongation has contributed the net sum of over £157,000,000 since it was set up in 1922. Therefore, it is not, as it is sometimes thought to be, a poor relation. It is a partner in the carrying on of the great work of Empire. It has shared with the rest of the United Kingdom in its liabilities and responsibilities, and on these grounds it deserves to be prolonged. If a General Election were to take place all the great advantages which are forthcoming from the Northern Ireland Parliament might be very seriously imperilled. In conclusion—and I think this is strictly relevant—I want to quote some great words of the Prime Minister, whom Homer would have called .
In a letter he wrote to Ulster's ex Prime Minister, the right hon. J. M. Andrews, on his retirement, he laid stress on what the Ulster Parliament had been doing, after the disasters which had taken place in 1940, when Britain was refused the use of the Southern ports, and went on:Only one great channel of entry remained open because loyal Ulster gave us the full use of the Northern Ireland ports and waters and thus ensured the free working of the Clyde and the Mersey. But for the loyalty of Northern Ireland, and its devotion to what has now become the cause of 30 Governments or nations, we should have been confronted with slavery and death, and the light which now shines so strongly throughout the world would have been quenched.
§ 2.13 p.m.
§ Captain Duncan (Kensington, North)
I do not propose to follow my hon. Friend the Member for the Queen's University of Belfast (Professor Savory) in his glorification of Ulster. We all know its patriotism and the work it has done. 697 agree with you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, in suggesting that many parts of that speech were out of Order, but if I may be allowed to say so with respect, it was a little unfortunate that my hon. Friend should have been stopped just when he was speaking about eggs, because surely eggs are good Parliamentary missiles. I rise to-day to put only three points. First of all, I am no lover of a Coalition normally, but I do not disagree with the Prime Minister in his suggestion to-day that this Parliament should be prolonged, and that the Government should continue until the end of the war with Germany on a coalition basis. There are two small points arising out of my right hon. Friend's speech, in which he went into some detail as to the mechanics of the future. One is the question of agents. The Prime Minister said that a General Election could not be held within seven to nine months from to-day. I understand that there are many agents—it does not affect me personally—who are serving in the Forces, and who have no priority for release. If it is a fact that there cannot be an election within seven to nine months, although there might be, it is obviously necessary for the parties to appoint their agents in the constituencies at a fairly early date, so that they will be able to take charge of registration and prepare for the election. I should be grateful if the Minister who is to reply would give us an assurance that some arrangements will be made in good time for the priority release of people who are agents, or who are required as agents, and who are now in the Forces.
The next point is the question of dissolution. I was interested to hear the hon. Member of Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) on this point. As I understand it, there might be an interregnum of three months between dissolution and the setting up of another Parliament. That seems to me a very long time. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale said he was doubtful about the form of Government which would rule the country in the interregnum. I, too, am doubtful. I should have thought that on dissolution Parliament would be dissolved but that the Government in office at the time of the dissolution would continue. If, however, Labour Ministers take the view that at the time of the dissolution the "dog-fight" should start, they will then walk out, and it will be left to 698 the remaining parties on the majority side of the House to form a Government.
Let us take that a little further. The Financial Secretary to the War Office is a Labour Member. Supposing he goes out at the dissolution and my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford City (Mr. Hogg) comes in as Financial Secretary to the War Office. He has views on the length of overseas service. Is it not going to be extremely difficult for the interregnum Government to carry on the continuous policy of the previous Coalition Government? I think we ought to get as clear a statement as we can, because it seems to me imperative that during the interregnum there should be a continuity of the Coalition until we can make a fresh start with the new Parliament, and it would not be fair to new Ministers coming in from the majority party to take over the mistakes of Ministers who have walked out.
Lastly, there is the question of controversy. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) when he talks about encouraging controversy now. We all agree that in 1940 it was impossible. It would have been taken in the world to mean that the country was not united in the prosecution of the war. I believe that there should be controversy now, and I believe that inevitably there will be, but I suggest that it should not be in connection with the prosecution of the war. Most recent legislation has had, and prospective legislation will have, nothing to do with the war. It will have to do with the peace, and that inevitably will lead to controversy. Either the Government has to refuse to introduce further controversial legislation or it will introduce it. If it does—and I do not see how it can avoid it—it must be prepared to accept controversy and to accept arguments from both sides of the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg) said he would deprecate controversy on political occasions. The Government must realise that both sides have principles, and it is very hard for us who dearly hold our principles, as was shown last week, to set them aside in the interests of the continuity of the Coalition Government, which has been allowed for so long. Therefore, if on occasions there is controversy, the Government must realise that it is only due to their introduction of controversial 699 subjects and they must accept that, and, if they are to deal with controversy, they must accept the effects of the controversy in the Division Lobby if the occasion arises. That being so, I hope the Bill will be passed and that the Government will avoid controversy as much as they can, but will understand, if there is controversy, the reason for it—that both sides hold principles which they must hold and find it extremely hard to ignore them in the interests of a united front on the front bench.
§ 2.20 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
There is, I think, general agreement in all parts of the House with the Prime Minister's speech and, though some points have been noticed and observations have been made upon it here and there, broadly speaking I think the House accepts the state of mind and the general arguments with which the Prime Minister moved the Second Reading. I think I shall carry the House with me if I say we all agree that it was a fair speech, that it was broadminded, that it sought to get a good public spirit into the consideration of a matter which could so easily degenerate into a mere series of sectional wrangles. These are bad enough, though perhaps inevitable, when elections take place, but certainly would be harmful if they were to take place during the conduct of the European War. I should like to be able to say, with the agreement of the House, that the House very much appreciated and respected, and even admired, the broad public-spirited manner in which the Prime Minister approached the wide issues which he raised. This has been the most unusual Debate on a Prolongation Bill that I have witnessed, and naturally so, because we all feel that this will almost certainly be the last Bill for the prolongation of this Parliament, and it is inevitable that Members should be beginning to think more concretely about the electoral situation and the possibilities of the future of the Government than on previous occasions. If I do not cover everything that everyone has said, it only because I cannot profess to be expert about everything that everyone has said, for the Debate has gone very wide and has touched on a number of interesting topics and, either through ignorance or because it would not be appropriate 700 for me to do so, I shall not deal with everything that has been said.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) gave general support to the views that the Prime Minister expressed. The one thing about which he was not inclined to be in full agreement was the possible period of time between the dissolution of this Parliament and the election and meeting of the new one. That question has been raised in a number of other quarters. I think I shall be able to satisfy the House thoroughly that there is no need for undue apprehension on this point. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said there would have to be time to form a new Government between the break up of this one and the election of the new Parliament. That point has been raised by others, including my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan), who was greatly intrigued as to what sort of Government that would be and was very anxious to have full particulars about it. I am not sure that I am the right person to answer his questions, and I cannot answer them in detail, but broadly speaking this seems to be inevitable. The Labour Party has made a declaration of its intentions, and the Liberal organisation outside—I do not know how far it speaks for the Liberal Parliamentary party—has also made a declaration. All sorts of people have been writing and talking about the interesting events that may happen some day.
If the election does not take place until the conclusion of the European War and the Labour Party, and possibly the Liberal Party, are going to fight the election independently, it follows that there will be a dissolution of the Government between the conclusion of the European War and the actual electoral contest. That seems to be inevitable in the political layout at the moment in so far as we know the parties' intentions. If that happens, a new Government will have to be formed, and the appropriate person to form it would be the leader of the majority party unless there are particular reasons to the contrary. One must assume, therefore, that the Prime Minister will be faced with the responsibility of forming another Government out of the present Parliament, which will presumably be very much more exclusively Conservative than this Government. It seems obvious that some 701 such development will take place, subject to all sorts of possibilities we do not know now, which might change the situation.
§ Mr. Woodburn (Clackmannan and Stirling, Eastern)
It seemed to me that the point raised was a slightly different one. The time between the finish of the war and the election is hypothetical. It may be three, six or nine months. I gathered from the spirit of the Prime Minister's speech that the Government were going to be dissolved on the eve of the election, in order that there might not be the kind of acrimony that he does not want to have develop in the intervening period. He rather gave the idea that the Government will dissolve immediately after the war, and therefore the time will be indeterminate as to when the election will take place.
§ Mr. Morrison
I did not give that idea at all. I said some time between the end of European hostilities and the election. I do not complain of my hon. Friend putting the point, but I think a complaint might reasonably lie against me if I answered it with the precision that he wishes. These are matters for the discretion of the Prime Minister of the day when the time comes.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
Both the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Clackmannan and Stirling, Eastern (Mr. Woodburn) used the word "dissolve." A Government does not dissolve. It hands its resignation to the Crown, and it is for the Crown to send for the most appropriate person who must form a new Government. It is not a question of dissolution but of resignation.
§ Mr. Morrison
I quite agree. One is perhaps a little clumsy about one's phrases. "Dissolution of the Government" is a wrong term, and the Noble Lord is quite right to pull me up. However, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield gives general support to the attitude of the Prime Minister, and I speak for the latter when I say that he much appreciates the very good spirit with which my right hon. Friend responded to his speech. Indeed, the whole Debate has been conducted with that good public spirit which is so helpful in these matters. After all, there is nothing wrong in being reasonable with 702 each other while there is yet time. The day will come when it will not be so easy. The Prime Minister has asked me to say that he is not the sort of man who would wish to hold on needlessly and with a lack of decency to things as they are, or keep Parliament in being longer than Parliament ought decently to be kept in being. On the other hand it was clear that he does not want to be indecent in the opposite direction, by having a snap election or playing similar tricks, at the time when the nation has to make a great and responsible decision at the end of a war, in which all the established parties have played their full part and co-operated in the Government.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Erskine-Hill) said, quite rightly, that we are now entering upon the transition from war to peace and that, whereas in the earlier years of the war the Debates and discussions, and even the legislation in this House, were almost entirely directed to the prosecution of the war, we are now getting into a phase when legislation and discussions arise on the matters which will face the country after the war and we are beginning to look ahead to post-war problems. He said that it might not be as easy to be non-controversial then as it has been in the past. I quite agree. The Government will have to feel their way. First, they will have to agree about these things themselves, and they will then have to concentrate on how far they can get agreement in the House of Commons and how far it will be possible to come to decisions in the House without disturbing the co-operative basis of the administration. But it is inevitable that the House will not only have to concern itself with matters arising out of the war, but possibly to an increasing extent prepare for problems which will arise after the war. If we approach them with the object of doing the best we can for the nation in the solution of the grave questions that will face it then, we shall have done all we can. If, in the outcome, we are unable to agree, we shall have to get are unable to agree, we shall have to get out of that difficulty as best we can. I do not think that in itself the possibility of differences is a reason why the problems should not be faced; we shall have to discuss them and consider them in accordance with what is on the agenda at the time.
703 My hon. and learned Friend said that there were a number of Members of the House who were almost co-opted, that is to say, in whose cases the appropriate party organisation nominated the successor to a former Member and the return was unopposed. Co-option is not far from the mark as a description of what has happened in a number of cases. This has happened as a result of the electoral truce, which, I think, has had great advantages, although I know there are many people who think that it has not. Indeed, some Members have entered the House as the result of setting aside the electoral true and achieving victory over the candidate who had the support of the Government. That is a reason why this Parliament should not last too long, and it is a legitimate argument to advance. My hon. Friend the Member for West Swansea (Sir L. Jones), speaking from the Liberal-National Bench, gave general support to the Bill, as did my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Commander King-Hall), whose tribute to the Prime Minister for his honesty and forthcomingness in opening the Debate I very much appreciate on behalf of my right hon. Friend. My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg) said that he thought it would be a mistake if the Conservative Party were to use its majority in the House for partisan purposes, even in the Committee stage of a Bill. I am sure that that kindly and tolerant gesture of my hon. Friend will be listened to in the right quarter, for which I am not in a position to speak with any authority.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Nottingham (Major Markham) deprecated the return to party politics. He had seen party politics operating in the Dominions and thought the result was not good. I will say nothing about the Dominions. As to the return to politics, it is no good grumbling about it; it is inevitable. It is the shape of things to come, both because some of the political parties have so decided, and because I myself believe John Bull will not be sorry at the right time to have a little more of the sporting element in electoral contests and a little more freedom of choice between the candidates. My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast University (Professor Savory), whose speech I am sorry to have missed because 704 I always enjoy listening to him, made, I understand, quite an election address on behalf of Northern Ireland and its virtues. As the Minister whose business it is to defend Northern Ireland whenever he conscientiously can—which is quite often—and whose relations with Northern Ireland are very good, I can only say I am sorry I was not here, and that I hope with some confidence that I would have agreed with the general argument that my hon. Friend advanced, in so far as it was in praise of that part of His Majesty's Dominions for which I have some responsibility as liaison officer between the Government of Northern Ireland and this Government and Parliament.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Kensington (Captain Duncan) said that there was a problem in connection with the release of political agents from the Forces so that they might resume their work and get on with their quiet and efficient preparations for the battle to come. I am sorry that I cannot deal with that matter, which is one for the Minister of Labour. I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend that the Minister of Labour has had representations about it and that I believe it is under consideration by him. If there are questions about it they should be raised with my right hon. Friend who, I am sure, will be prepared to consider representations. I can give no decisive answer either about individual cases or general policy.
That leaves me with the point about procedure which has been made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield, by hon. Members on this side, and also by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale. That is the point about the length of time which the Prime Minister indicated might elapse between the dissolution of Parliament and the polling day. The House has forgotten—and I do not blame it at all—that I dealt with this matter in the Parliament (Elections and Meeting) Act, 1943. The Prime Minister said that it might be two or three months between the initial decision to start the process of dissolution and its positively being known that this move was being made, and the polling day. I hope that it would be nearer two months than three, but my right hon. Friend wanted to be cautious and allow a little margin in case he cannot live up to that. The official time for completing the processes to be gone through in the running of the official 705 side of the electoral organisation, is about seven-and-a-half weeks, so that two months may be near enough. That begins from the effective date of the Parliamentary dissolution. The trouble lies in the mechanical difficulties. With things as they are the register will not exist at the start. It will have to be made afterwards and it is doubtful whether it will be printed. It may have to be multigraphed. That is the biggest difficulty from the point of view of timing, but it is inevitable as things are. If circumstances change, if later legislation should alter the situation and we find it possible to speed up the official machine, I shall of course be very happy to do whatever is practicable in this direction. On that I cannot give any assurance because, like the Prime Minister, I am simply dealing with the matter as things are.
§ Mr. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
The Prime Minister said that there would be roughly two weeks between the nomination of candidates and polling day after the seven-and-a-half weeks. Will my right hon. Friend say how it will be possible in that time to get the poll of the troops serving overseas?
§ Mr. Morrison
I am not going to get so far as that, because it is a pretty big subject. It is all dealt with in the Act of 1943.
§ Commander King-Hall
Will my right hon. Friend allow me to remind him that he said, in reply to a question, that he was looking into the matter, and that if the machine could be speeded up his mind was still open to the possibility that the register might be printed and reprinted every six months, so that something was available? Otherwise, there will be five weeks during which candidates will be milling round without any register.
§ Mr. Morrison
If I can give any advice to candidates, it will be not to mill round for five weeks. They will be very bored if they make the campaign too long, but that is their business and, may be, their funeral. I cannot say more than I have said. If a definite opportunity should arise for speeding up the making of the register—and I think this is contemplated under the Act of 1943—I shall be happy to take it. My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale raised a point about the possibility of the country being without a Parliament for two months.
§ Mr. Morrison
Possibly more. That period was in the mind of the Government when the Parliament (Elections and Meeting) Act, 1943, was passed. I do not like the idea of so long a period without the country having a Parliament. We, therefore, considered what should be done, and Section 3 of that Act provides this:If, at any time when no register under this Part of this Act for the election of members to serve in a new Parliament is in force, His Majesty is pleased, by a proclamation dissolving a Parliament and summoning a new Parliament, to dissolve the Parliament on a future date fixed by the proclamation,—What we sought to do there was to enable the period without a Parliament to be shortened by the Proclamation stating a date in advance of its own date when the dissolution should be effective.
- (a) the date so fixed shall not be later than the day on which the register under this Part of this Act for the election of members to serve in the new Parliament comes into force; and
- (b) any writ for the election of a member to serve in the existing Parliament issued but not returned before the date of the proclamation shall be superseded as if the Parliament had been dissolved on the date of the proclamation."
§ Mr. Morrison
It might name a date in advance. I do not know whether there would be discussions or whether it would be practicable to have discussions through the usual channels. It would, however, be a curious Parliament during those few weeks. It would be a Parliament which knew it was doomed to dissolution. Nevertheless, I should have thought that during that time some business of a non-controversial character could be handled, though the House might be in a mood to deal with controversial business. If it only dealt with non-controversial business, or met for the purpose of examining and questioning Ministers, two of the points which have been made would be met. One is that we would be too long without a Parliament, and secondly what might otherwise be an 707 unduly long election campaign would tend to be shortened. If candidates like to make the campaign long there is nothing to stop them, but I think that broad commonsense will prevail and this is that there is not much advantage in spreading it out.
§ Mr. A. Bevan
My right hon. Friend has made the point very clear. As a matter of fact, a constitutional novelty would be introduced. After the date of the dissolution fixed by His Majesty the date of the election would be announced, and between those two dates the writs would be issued.
§ Mr. Morrison
I follow my hon. Friend's meaning, and I am not quite sure of the proper answer on the point. Anyway, his observations are on the records of the House, and I will take them into account. My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale gave us, as usual, a most interesting speech, in which he took every advantage of the width of the Debate. He was not quite as appreciative of his Labour colleagues who are Members of the Government as he might have been. I live in eternal hope that one of these days he will express great appreciation. He argued—at any rate, he implied and I thought he argued—that the purpose of Labour in entering the Government was as a demonstration to the nation of the highest spiritual unity. They were, so to speak a body of fraternal delegates who had come together to convey the greetings of the general population to the Prime Minister and to intimate to him and his colleagues in the Government that we wanted to win the war. We were there to demonstrate our wish to end it victoriously and as soon as possible. It is true that Labour entered the Government partly, as did other parties, in that mood, and that the demonstration of national unity was an element. That demonstration of national unity was useful in itself, but I should hesitate to say, and I should be very sorry to feel, that although we have drawn the rate for the job as we have gone along, we had joined in the Govern- 708 ment only for the purpose of a demonstration of unity. We have done a job of work as have other Members of the Government.
§ Mr. A. Bevan
While I do not want to join in the encomiums given to the right hon. Gentleman by the Parliamentary Private Secretary, perhaps I might say that I do not deprecate the services rendered by Labour Ministers, except in the respect that perhaps even greater services might have been rendered from other benches.
§ Mr. Morrison
That is at any rate a negative admission that we have not done any harm. That is something, at any rate. We are getting on. If I speak long enough perhaps I shall get my hon. Friend into a mood of modified enthusiasm about the Labour Ministers in the Government. We joined, as did Members of other parties, for the purpose of doing a job of work and we have tried to do it to the best of our abilities and with the full energy of Which we were capable. Let me add that the formation of this Government was not merely a demonstration of national unity but that it had very practical purposes. I remember sitting on that Bench, opposite the Government, when a previous Administration existed, at the beginning of the war and up to the formation of this Government. We were, invited to join it, as is known, and we declined. I do not in the least wish to be controversial as to the nature of that Government or our decision, with which I personally agreed. I say nothing about that Administration at all, and it would not be right that I should.
I say this, however, that I am sure that it will be generally agreed that that period in the prosecution of the war might well have been more successful if that Government had found it possible, or if it had been possible, for all the major political parties to have been members of it. I am not apportioning blame or credit. I am certain that the present Government would not have been as effective and as successful in the actual prosecution of the war as they have undoubtedly been if 709 they had not been completely representative of the major political parties in Parliament. Even in the early days of the war, under Mr. Chamberlain's Government, the Labour Party and the Labour benches, I think it will be agreed, were not unhelpful to that Government. We did not obstruct. We did not play the fool, but we were outside, we were not sharing the responsibilities, and that was bound to have its effect on the administration. I personally agreed with my Labour colleagues on the decision that they took about it. The existence of this Government during the war has not been a mere gesture of national unity. It has been a valuable combination, to which each of the political parties has made its full contribution. Each of the political parties has done so, and it is of no use to try to pick and choose. They have played their part according to their abilities, competence and undoubted enthusiasm for the winning of the war.
I think I have now dealt, generally speaking, with the matters that have been raised. I will not go into points concerning party discipline. I was surprised at my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale talking about party discipline for such a long time. I thought that was a subject that he would not want to drag up too frequently.
§ Mr. Morrison
He having so notoriously, and indeed in his speech, denounced excessive party discipline; I thought that he was on the verge of trying to impose some party discipline on the Conservatives. I have often noticed that he who imposes party discipline is different from him who receives it; perhaps that application of this rule is as capable of coming from me as from my hon. Friend. I can only thank the House very much for the generous way in which it has received the Bill and for the appreciation which has been rightly expressed about the very fine public-spirited speech of the Prime Minister in moving the Second Reading. I shall be grateful if the House will give us the Second Reading, and the other stages as soon as possible, in order that the Bill may go to the other place and that it may be once more possible for this Measure to be on the Statute Book.
§ 2.54 p.m.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
I will not stand for more than one minute between the House and the Second Reading, but I want to elaborate one point which I made in an interruption of my right hon. Friend, and I thank him for his customary courtesy in not objecting to it. I believe I should be the last person to attempt to give—and it would be most improper of me to give—anything like a constitutional lecture, but I am not quite sure that in the course of the proceedings it has been quite clearly appreciated what the actual constitutional position is. Let us assume that the Government are in office within the period covered by the Bill. It might happen that there would be a revolt of one or other of the larger parties composing the Government. I do not say that a revolt of the Liberal Party would be equally important. It would be on a much smaller scale, because of the numbers involved. Assume that the Tory Party or the Labour Party gave a more or less block vote against the Government and that the Prime Minister, as I think he would have to do, resigned. What then happens?
The Crown presumably sends for the Prime Minister and asks him whether he is prepared to form another Government. If the Prime Minister says: "No, I am not, because both the major parties in the State have voted against me," what then happens? It seems to be assumed in some quarters that there would immediately be a dissolution. I do not think there would be anything of the sort. The Crown would send for the Leader of the Opposition and ask whether he would form a Government or not. He might easily send for some Minister of the Government which had resigned or of which the head had resigned. It is often forgotten that the Prime Minister has absolute power of resignation in his hands. It is nothing to do with his Cabinet or with anybody. He can at any moment say "I resign." The Crown then sends for some other member of the Government.
Let me warn all members of the Government of whatever party—it might even be my right hon. Friend himself—that the public pressure would be enormous, assuming that the war was not over, for all-party government to continue. People 711 would ask: Are we to be deprived of all-party Government because this Government have been destroyed? I think Ministers have to be a bit cautious in predicting the course of events in the future, which might not be quite as much in their hands as they may suppose. The situation would be partly governed by constitutional circumstances and largely by the state of public opinion at the time, and I think that the demand would be very strong that this country should not be left in a state of interregnum.
§ Earl Winterton
Yes, 1940 is a case in point. There is only one other point I wish to refer to. I take no side, because I do not want to say whether I want to see party government or not. No wise old hand, as I believe and hope I am, wants to disclose his hand before the election. There is plenty of time to see which way the cat jumps before the election, if I might indulge in a cynical observation. Assuming that the war is already over, that is to say that organised resistance has ceased, but there is still a huge Army of Occupation in Germany, and sniping is going on, as it may go on for years, against that Army; that there is civil war in one or more European countries—we shall be very fortunate if we can get through without it; and that we have still the issue of Japan on our hands; are the leaders of all parties going to say that that is the time to go back to party politics? I am not at all sure that the party who took that view would get a majority at the next election.
§ Mr. Woodburn
Has the Noble Lord forgotten that the Prime Minister may recommend the King to proclaim a dissolution?
§ Earl Winterton
Yes, that is quite likely. The hon. Gentleman is a student of our constitutional procedure, but I was for the moment addressing myself to the other point—and I thank the House for listening to me—that there seems to be an assumption that when the country is faced with one of the gravest set of problems in the history of the world it will be popular to go back to pure Socialism or pure Toryism. Hon. Members may be right and I may be wrong, but I think I am right. I think there would be very great resent- 712 meat on the part of the people of the country.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
Perhaps I may, by leave of the House, say just two things in response to the Noble Lord. In what I said I did, of course, allow for possible exceptions or unforeseen circumstances, and I do not dissent in principle from what he has said as to the broad working of the Constitution. Further, I ought to have expressed, and I do now, my very grateful appreciation for the kindly speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) on behalf of the Liberal Party in supporting the Bill. I would not like my right hon. Friend to think I was discourteous.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House.—[Mr. Pym.]
§ Committee upon Thursday.