§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.32 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
In the course of the Debate on the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech, I argued, as did my hon. Friends, that the philosophy behind the Parliament Act, 1911, was not applicable to the present times and was out of date. As was said at the time by the then Home Secretary, the present Leader of the Opposition—and indeed, it has been somewhat reaffirmed by him personally during our Debates on this Bill in the House—the idea was that a Parliament elected for five years should have its effective life, so far as controversial legislation went, terminated at the end of three. As I indicated on that occasion, in the days of leisure and of not much legislation it might have been understandable, though I personally do not agree with it. Indeed, there were many Liberal and Radical Members of the House of Commons at that time, supporters of the Liberal Government of 1906 onwards, who themselves urged that the period of delay should be one year instead of two and that the number of sessions two instead of three.
Therefore, it is not exactly a new issue, but the issue is certainly more real and requires more attention in 1948 under our modern legislative conditions than was the case in 1910 and 1911. If a Parliament lasts only four years, or even less, as is sometimes the case—though I have no reason to believe that that will be the case in the present Parliament, because it is a Parliament with a good majority and one of exceptional quality and ability—the period of effective time for the Government to carry out their programme might be reduced to two Sessions or even less. In such circumstances not only was the Liberal Government of 1906 wickedly penalised, as was stated by the Liberal Ministers of that time, but the remedy of the Liberal Governments of 1910 and 1911 is ineffective in relation to the present conditions of 1948.
523 It is therefore unfair to us, and it would be equally unfair to a Liberal Government if another Liberal Government took office; and it is doubly unfair for the reason that Conservatives wish to pass much less legislation. This is natural in the case of Conservatives because they wish to conserve and not to alter; they wish to stand still and not to go forward; it might even be argued that they want to go backwards, and, therefore, the question for them is not how much but how little good they can do, and how effectively they can keep things undisturbed, so that their supporters who represent various economic interests may feel that they are secure and that nobody is going to stimulate them into efficient economic and other activities.
Moreover, there may be other considerations. There may well arise, in the later sessions of a Parliament, vital, urgent new issues, which may not have appeared in the programme at the General Election or in the discussions that took place upon issues at the General Election. These things happen, and if such urgent issues arise with which it is vital in the national interest to deal, is it then going to be urged that this House, as representative of the current needs of the nation, is notwithstanding to be at the mercy of another place for that purpose? Therefore, the philosophy behind the Parliament Act, which was objected to strongly by the Conservative Party at that time, though it is accepted by them now, was undoubtedly the doctrine that a Liberal or Labour Government should run the material risk of being ineffective in its fourth and fifth sessions and possibly even in its third, and should be at the mercy of another place, who could not only reject their legislation or maul it into a hardly recognisable state, but might also well be in a position to determine the issues upon which the General Election should subsequently take place. That is an intolerable state of affairs, and in our judgment their Lordships should not have such authority.
It is argued that the Commons may be unrepresentative in the fourth or fifth sessions—of course, not when there is a Tory majority, but when there is a Labour or Liberal majority—and that the House of Commons may have become stale, unrepresentative and out of touch 524 with the country. The Parliament Act of 1911, though it had great virtues at that time, is not the remedy for that situation, since it transfers the judgment as to the character of the House of Commons from the electorate and from the House of Commons into the hands of their Lordships; and, with great respect, their Lordships are neither competent nor able to judge properly upon that issue. But if the Opposition take the view that the House of Commons is likely to be out of touch with the electorate in the fourth and fifth sessions, then they should incorporate in one of the numerous Charters with which they are playing about at their Central Office, under the guidance of the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler), accompanied by occasionally rather cold references by the Leader of the Opposition, a demand that the life of Parliament should be reduced from five to three years and they should go in for triennial Parliaments. That would be an understandable policy; but they have not gone in for that, because they stand by the doctrine, so far as I can see, that it is for the House of Lords to decide when the House of Commons ought to be pulled up.
As I said the other day, I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition is not here. It was indicated in the House by the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) that he had returned, but the hon. Member has since written to me to say that that was a misunderstanding. I am bound to say that, when he said that in the House, there was a look of bewilderment of the Front Opposition Bench, coupled, I think, with fear and apprehension as to the sudden descent of possible chaos upon their calm ranks, which were getting on pretty well among themselves in the meantime. However, the right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench can be happy; the Leader of the Opposition has not returned yet. I did think he would be here because he indicated that he was going to give us a dreadful time in this short Session and when the Bill came along. Still, I am not complaining; he is going ahead in the South of France and no doubt doing useful work on his book. He is staying there quite a time and I can only hope that he will eke out his existence within the limit of the £35 allowed by His Majesty's Government. I am bound to 525 say that I had to watch my money in the much shorter period for which I stayed. I was within the legal limit; I think it is a good thing that Privy Councillors, like any other citizens, should be within the legal limit.
§ Mr. Eden (Warwick and Leamington)
Is not the right hon. Gentleman a little ungenerous to the greatest dollar earner we have?
§ Mr. Morrison
Ah well, Sir, if it is a question of that, I readily withdraw at once—if it be a question of American aid. But if that be the case, I hope we shall hear no jeers and gibes at this Government for accepting American aid in the general economic interest— [Interruption.] I am not wishing to pursue the point, and if I were the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) I would not do so, either.
That, then, is the case for the Bill— [Interruption] the case that I have put —and it has been put on a number of occasions. It has never been answered. All we get from the Tory speeches and from Conservative newspapers is the allegation that no case has been made, but, if I may say so, it is a very good case. There is no point in expounding it at great length, but at the end of my speech I shall put some questions to the Opposition to which I should like answers before the Debate concludes, because it is time that certain concrete, relevant and material questions were dealt with by the right hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench opposite.
Now, the only argument—the main argument; I will not say the only one, but the main and preponderating argument—which has been used by the Opposition against the Bill is the gratuitous allegation that this Bill has been brought in for the purpose of ensuring the passage of an as yet un-introduced iron and steel Bill to the Statute Book in the lifetime of the present Parliament. I have denied that. I deny it again and I will proceed to prove two things. One is that the argument is unsoundly based, and the other is that, in persisting in the argument, the Opposition are indicating to the House of Commons that they have fixed up with the House of Lords, before the Bill has been introduced, to reject it. This argument rests upon an assumption 526 that the Tory Leaders in this House, no doubt with the assent of the Conservative Central Office, have arranged with the Tory Lords in another place that a Bill, as yet unintroduced, shall be rejected— otherwise the argument means nothing. It must be an assumption on the part of the Party opposite that this is so—[An HON. MEMBER: "Whose assumption?"] A Conservative assumption.
I deny that this Bill was brought in for the purpose of ensuring the passage of the iron and steel Bill. I will say something else; that this House and the Tory Party in this House, and certainly the Government, too, in this House, have no right at this stage to assume that their Lordships will reject the iron and steel Bill—no right at all. Indeed, I will now quote statements by the Leader of the Conservative Opposition in the House of Lords all of which go to show that the iron and steel Bill will be passed. If that is so—I shall read what has been said—clearly it would be ridiculous for the Government to assume that the Bill is going to be rejected. [Interruption.] I have my speech to make. If the Opposition wish to be boisterous and wish to interrupt, it is all right, but two can play at that game if it is to go on. If we are to have a riotous day—always within the Rules of Order, Mr. Speaker—let us get ready for it.
What the Leader of the Conservative majority in the House of Lords said on a number of occasions, goes, in my judgment, to indicate on the whole an intention, up to now, on the part of himself and his noble Friends in the Lords that the iron and steel Bill will probably be passed. On 16th August, 1945, he said this—he was dealing with coal nationalisation at that time; it is only fair to say that—
§ Mr. Morrison
In the House of Lords, in the Debate on the Address on 16th August, 1945. He said:But, at any rate, with regard to this"—that was coal nationalization—and other similar proposals I would say this to your Lordships and especially to noble Lords on my side of the House. Whatever our personal views, we should frankly recognise that these proposals were put before the country at the recent General Election and 527 that the people of this country, with full knowledge of these proposals, returned the Labour Party to power. The Government may, therefore, I think, fairly claim that they have a mandate to introduce these proposals. I believe that it would be constitutionally wrong, when the country has so recently expressed its view, for this House to oppose proposals which have been definitely put before the electorate. Moreover, I believe, from every point of view, that it would be an error of the first water.I knew Lord Salisbury well as a colleague in the War Government. I disagree with him on many things and our politics are very different, but I believe he is an honourable man and a gentleman as well as a noble Lord. But if it is argued that by these references to the return of the Government in recent times and to proposals upon which the country had "so recently expressed its view" Lord Salisbury meant to limit his advice to the time being and that later on their Lordships would reject other legislation, that is not an interpretation I can accept. If the noble Marquess had meant that, he would have said so at the' time.
I am confirmed and reinforced in that view by something Lord Salisbury said in the next Session, on 12th November, 1946, again speaking in their Lordships' House. He expressed his doubts about —indeed, he condemned—the nationalisation of electricity and the nationalisation of inland transport. He thought the Government were pursuing a false and undesirable policy. Nevertheless, he went on to say:So far as the actual proposals in the Speech are concerned, I have no doubt at all as to the attitude which noble Lords on this side of the House will take to them. We shall indulge in no factious opposition. We shall give these proposals full and fair consideration. Our object will not be to thwart the will of the people, where, indeed, that has been expressed at the General Election. Our object will be to amend and improve legislation to make it more practicable, and more fair to all sections of the population.That was unqualified reinforcement of his doctrine, that their Lordships' House would not reject Measures which had been approved at the General Election. That is not all. On 27th January this year, dealing with this very iron and steel Bill, he evidently wished to make it clear that this assumption of his Tory colleagues in this House, that the Lords would necessarily reject the iron and 528 steel Bill, was false. Referring to the iron and steel Bill he said:Moreover, what grounds are there for assuming what would be the attitude of your Lordships' House to such a Bill if it were introduced here? That must depend on the character of the Bill itself.
§ Mr. Morrison
Certainly. Lord Salisbury went on:No one has seen this Bill or any of those other Bills the Leader of the House "—that is, the Leader of the House of Lords—may have in mind. Probably most of them are not yet drafted, and it is conceivable that some of them will never be introduced at all. Nor is it as if, since this Government have come into office, your Lordships' House has shown itself irresponsible or prone to reject Government Measures on frivolous or inadequate grounds.Clearly he had made no decision in his own mind as to whether the House should be advised to reject the iron and steel Bill. It is true he has urged the Government not to bring in that legislation. He does not think it in the public interest, and he is entitled to argue against it.
But this steady assumption, behind the Conservative Party in the this House and in the Tory Press in the country, that the Lords are going to reject the Iron and Steel Bill, is one which I do not accept; and it is a comfort to me that it is one not accepted by the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Lords. The Leader of the Conservative Party nationally and in this House is one who respects—
§ Sir Waldron Smithers (Orpington)
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the House of Lords, will he allow me to ask him one question? Would he also quote what Lord Melbourne, chairman of the Finance Corporation for Industry, said when he definitely stated that the one object of the Government in introducing this Parliament Bill was to nationalise iron and steel?
§ Mr. Morrison
I think the hon. Gentleman has got the wrong name. I think he means Lord Bruce of Melbourne. In any case, I cannot undertake to quote all Members of the House of Lords on iron and steel. But, by contrast with what was said by the Leader of the Conservation Opposition in the Lords, something rather different was said by the Leader of 529 the Opposition in this House who is the Leader of the Conservative Party as a whole. He is reported in the "Financial Times" of 12th July, 1948, as saying;We shall use all constitutional means to save the country from this disaster, and to make sure that the people are consulted before it is brought upon us.That is a reference to the Iron and Steel Bill, and that, of course, comes much nearer a threat—when the right hon. Gentleman refers to "all constitutional means."
Are we to understand that he has advised and arranged with the Conservative Party majority in the House of Lords to reject the Bill? If we are degenerating to the position that the House of Lords does not even deal with things on the merits of the case, that the Conservative Party majority there does not deal with these things from the point of view of the public interest nor in a judicial spirit, but acts on the orders of the Tory Party Leader in this House, then it means that the party that has been defeated in the country nevertheless becomes the master of our Parliamentary and political fortunes for two or three Sessions. I should like to know, who is it who settles the policy of the Conservative Party in the House of Lords? Is it the Tory Lords under Lord Salisbury, or is it the Tory Central Office and the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons?
I say that the Government have a mandate for this legislation and that, therefore, it comes amply within the categories defined by the noble Marquess in another place, when he indicated that their Lordships' House would respect the Measures for which the Government had obtained a mandate at the General Election. Our programme "Let Us Face The Future," dealt with these items: First the public ownership of fuel and power —that is, the industries of coal, gas and electricity; second, the public ownership of inland transport, air and surface; third, the public ownership of iron and steel. That was the public ownership programme, together with the ownership of the Bank of England, that we submitted to the electorate, and these items are all dealt with in the same manner; and so any of these items of public ownership is entitled to the same respect from another place as another.
530 I will further deal with the argument that this Bill is brought in for the purpose of putting through the iron and steel Bill; and I will deal with it by reference to two other considerations. One is that we seriously considered bringing in the Parliament Bill in the Session of 1946–47. We did seriously consider it; but the programme was pretty heavily laden, and we therefore decided to defer it to a later Session. The second is—and this ought to be conclusive—that if the Leader of the Opposition, or the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Lords—I do not know which would be the right one— sent to the Government a signed document, signed by the one, countersigned by the other—I do not say they would, or that it would be right to do so— telling us that the iron and steel Bill would not be rejected by another place, then I am bound to tell the House this Parliament Bill would, nevertheless, still go forward.
I think that these arguments are conclusive against the assumption that this Bill was brought in solely for the purpose of passing the iron and steel Bill. It was in fact brought in in accordance with our belief that as a broad issue it was constitutionally right; and it is upon that basis that we fight it through. If it were a political manoeuvre, surely the wisest course would have been to wait until the Lords did something to create a crisis. But, in fact, we have brought the Bill along deliberately on broad constitutional grounds, and it is really quite nonsensical to say that the Government are moved by unsound considerations and by the fate of a single Bill.
This is the first time since the Parliament Act, 1911, and since the Parliament of that day, that this House has a progressive Government in office and in power. The present position as between the two Houses is unstable and is bound to be, particularly in the fourth and fifth Sessions. It is, of course, the dearest wish of the Tory majority in the House of Lords that the Government should be displaced, and I want to know what chance the constitutional proprieties would have under the sort of pressure which I have quoted, if we left the position as it is at the present time. Subtle activities might be engaged in, which would not only embarrass the House of Commons but 531 which would be politically unfair to the Government of the day. We came to the conclusion, therefore, that any part of our 1948–49 programme might be in danger, and that we had a right and a duty to protect it.
The Government themselves have been perfectly sincere in their wish to preserve the proper functioning of the powers of the Second Chamber, and that was demonstrated at the inter-party conference. It was our wish that the Conference should succeed; yet, even with the reformed Second Chamber, the Government did not feel able to jeopardise the fourth Session, and we made that clear. The Government's views were based upon a settled opinion about the powers of the Second Chamber under modern conditions in this country. The Government's spokesmen indicated in the inter-party conference that the Government were prepared to recommend to their friends that a period of delay in the reformed chamber should be either one year from the Second Reading in the Commons on the first occasion, or nine months from the Third Reading, whichever was the longer period.
At the end of a long Second Reading Debate in the House of Lords itself, His Majesty's Government, through the Leader of the House of Lords, Lord Addison, went further, and indicated that they were prepared to agree to the application of their proposal to the present House of Lords, if the Lords gave the Bill a Second Reading. This was done with the authority not only of the Government, but also of the Parliamentary Labour Party whom we had consulted, as we were entitled to do. That was the final effort to avoid conflict with the Lords and to reach a compromise solution. It was rejected by the Opposition in the House of Lords, and the Government, therefore, today stand, as they are entitled to stand, by the Bill in its original form.
The powers which the Bill will leave to the House of Lords are really sufficient to enable the Lords adequately to fulfil their functions. As a revising Chamber, the Upper House is entitled to ask that the Commons should be required to give time and consideration to the Amendments which they have proposed to Bills sent up from the House of Commons.
532 In our judgment; this Bill properly safeguards the reasonable rights of the House of Lords in that respect. The need to introduce the Bill for a second time in a subsequent Session is bound to give the Government a sense of caution and fairness, because it is disturbing to the time table of subsequent Sessions when a Bill has to be brought in for a second time. I submit that in 1948 this is as strong an inducement to the Government and to the House of Commons majority of the day to be reasonable, as were the requirements of three Sessions, and not less than two years, so far back as 1911. It is an encouragement to meet the House of Lords on Amendments, so far as that can fairly and reasonably be done. With the growing congestion of the Parliamentary time table, the provisions of this present Bill are just as effective a sanction in 1948 as the provisions of the Parliament Act, 1911, were in the Parliament of that time.
Then there is the power of delay, by which is meant the rejection of a Bill by the Lords on Second Reading, with a view to the matter being further considered by the Government and the House of Commons. Here, the argument is that under this Bill there will not he proper time for the public to examine the issue, come to their conclusions and make their feelings felt. I would urge upon the House that the means of the public becoming informed of things in these days is a much more rapid process than it was way back in 1910–11. There is wireless. Newspapers, which are much more extensively and rapidly circulated—
§ Mr. Morrison
The newspapers which support the hon. Gentleman's party will always find space to attack the Labour Party and the Government, which they have every right to do. I will give one or two examples of different reactions which have been very rapid, and which have had their effect on Parliament. It did not take long for the public to make up its mind about the whole question of Abyssinia at the time of the Hoare-Laval Pact. It brought the then Foreign Secretary down within a few days. That was pretty quick work. There were the unemployment pay regulations, with which, if I remember rightly, the right 533 hon. Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) was associated. He was not long learning what public opinion was about those regulations, and he quickly retired from the position which he had up to that point adopted. Public opinion can express itself very rapidly.
In connection with legislation on the Criminal Justice Bill—here I touch on delicate ground—it was argued by the Opposition—and I would say in fairness that it was also argued by the Government—that public opinion was not yet ready for the abolition of capital punishment, and personally I think that there was a case to argue there. If that is so, surely hon. Gentlemen would agree that public opinion—assuming public opinion is right—pronounced itself with speed and fairness on the issue at that time.
§ Mr. Morrison
It had nothing to do with the action of the House of Lords. Everybody in both Houses was watching the development of public opinion. It is irrelevant whether it was the House of Lords or not, because the essence of the argument which I am advancing is this: That public opinion can express itself with fairness and speed upon a proposition when it wants to, and, therefore, the argument of the Opposition that it takes two years for public opinion to express itself is, I think, thoroughly out of date. It may take the Opposition at least two years to make up their minds about a big issue of public policy, but public opinion moves somewhat quicker than the Conservative Party.
I am anxious that whoever replies to the Debate will answer the questions which I will now put to them. It may be said that it is for the Opposition to ask questions of the Government—
§ Mr. Morrison
I was not asking the hon. and gallant Member, because I would not regard him as representative of anybody, not even of the Conservative Party. It may be argued by the Opposition that it is for them to ask questions of the Government and not the other way round. In this matter, we really have the right to ask the Opposition questions, because they repre- 534 sent, according to the Leader of the Opposition, or, at any rate, they have associations with, the exercise of real and predominant political power in another place, namely, the House of Lords. I want to ask these questions because I want to know where the Conservative Party stand on them. As the reply, I gather, will come from the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) I want him to answer these questions authoritatively on behalf of the Conservative Party.
The first question is: Do the Conservative Party consider that in a five-year Parliament a government with an assured majority in the House of Commons should only be able to secure the passage of legislation approved by the Electorate only in the first three years of the Parliament? That is the first question; indeed the three years will often be two years only, as Parliament often lasts for only four years. Secondly, what is the view of the Opposition about new, important and urgent controversial issues which arise in the fourth year of a Parliament? If the Lords reject the Government's solution and a solution is urgent, how do the Opposition propose to handle the situation without allowing the Lords to force a General Election on the issue? The Opposition in this respect must face modern needs. They might have luck and get into Office again and it is well for them to answer the question.
Thirdly, the attempt to reform the House of Lords has broken down. The Opposition must, therefore, face the problem of the powers of the present House of Lords. The Lords do not interfere with Bills passed at any stage in the life of a Parliament dominated by a Conservative majority in the House of Commons. I therefore want to ask the Opposition, do the Conservative Party think it right that the power of veto, which the Lords like to exercise against progressive Governments, Labour or Liberal, should in practice be reserved for use against Labour and Liberal Governments?
In spite of Lord Salisbury's assurance of respect for legislation giving effect to proposals specifically mentioned in "Let Us Face The Future," I want to ask the Conservative Party this fourth ques- 535 tion; Have the Conservative Party in the House of Lords been told, or have they not been told, by the leader of the Tory Party and the Conservative Central Office to reject any steel legislation?
This House, my noble Friends in another place, and the country at large, would be glad to have answers to these four questions which I have put to the Opposition. I think they should answer them clearly and categorically in order to show what are the constitutional claims of the Conservative Party. These issues are vital. These issues are all inherent in the Division which will be taken in the House tonight. My submission to the House is that on this and other occasions the case for this Parliament Bill has been made and that it deserves the support of an overwhelming majority in the House of Commons and ought to be accepted by their Lordships in another place.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ Major Sir David Maxwell Fyfe (Liverpool, West Derby)
I rise to move the Amendment in the name of my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself;That this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill for which there has been no public demand, which ignores the readiness of all political parties to reform the composition of the House of Lords, and which can only have the effect of depriving the nation of sufficient time during the passage of important and controversial Bills to form and express its opinion.Before moving the Amendment, I hope to deal as adequately as I can with the arguments and, let me say at once, with the questions of the Lord President of the Council has seen fit to put. I do so because the questions are very easy to answer. I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman's modus operandi that after constructing his own speech he should do his best to dictate the lines which the speech which follows his shall take. I shall not accept, and my friends do not accept, his refutation of the suggestion that this Bill has anything to do with a Measure for iron and steel, for reasons which I shall explain.
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that when I do not accept that, I consider his speeches on this topic as a monument to his naivete rather than to his mendacity. In the various comments on this petty Session there have been two main lines, one a sort of bewilderment 536 and derision as to its avowed purpose, and the other a very real anxiety as to the difficulties in every part of the world— Berlin, India, Burma, and Malaya—that it has disclosed. I want to make it clear that my friends and myself are not going to be taken away by that mixture of emotions from the inherent vice of this Bill. The inherent vice is very clearly shown by the right hon. Gentleman confessing in his earlier remarks and in the main part of his speech that he thought that the principal argument against this Bill was the alleged connection with the nationalisation of iron and steel. That has never been so. As he should have learned at this stage, the difference between us is that we believe—and it is part of our conception of democracy to believe—that there should be a period for reflection and ability to form opinions when there is highly disputable legislation before the country. If the right hon. Gentleman has not appreciated that at this stage, I will do my best, though it is a difficult task, to make it clear to him now.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
May I give the right hon. and learned Gentleman an example of where, if his doctrine is right, it ought to have applied? That was the Trade Unions and Trade Disputes Act. 1927, which was highly controversial and for which the Government of the day had no electoral mandate whatever.
§ Sir David Maxwell Fyfe
The right hon. Gentleman has quoted an example which he knows is completely ungermane to the point and as this discussion proceeds we shall get much nearer to the realities and much further from the reddest of his herrings.
I want the right hon. Gentleman to appreciate the three points on which we primarily base our opposition. The first is that up to the very introduction of this Bill there was not the slightest complaint about the way in which the House of Lords had exercised their powers. The second is that there is no public demand, and I shall show by comparison with literature for which the right hon. Gentleman is responsible that there was a very different statement in electoral manifestos than ever before as to this problem. That is the second point, that there was nothing to crystallise into a public demand and no public demand crystallised. The third point is our deep feeling 537 as to the necessity for delay where there is a dispute between the Houses.
In addition there are two points. The right hon. Gentleman has touched on one and skirted round the other, which have arisen since we discussed this matter before. The first is the effect of the conference of party leaders. It is clear from the agreed statement that there is now no serious disagreement in any part, or in any responsible part, of public opinion in the country as to the necessity on broad lines for the reform of the Second Chamber. The second and I am glad to note the attention of the Home Secretary to this—is the experience which parliamentary Government in this country has gone through on the question of the death penalty. I shall deal with these matters, and also, as I warned the right hon. Gentleman, with this curious misconception of his that this Bill has nothing to do with the suggestions in regard to iron and steel.
The House will not expect me for the second time to remind it in detail of the various occasions when Members of His Majesty's Government, and especially the noble "nine," the two earls, the two viscounts and the five barons who are Socialist Ministers, have repeated time and again their complete approval of the way in which this Government has been treated by the House of Lords up to the introduction of this Bill. With some sadness I also refrain from re-quoting in extenso the remarks of the Lord President of the Council, because I should like to buttress my own words by the vigorous rotundity of his expressions. He will remember he said how Members of the House of Lords co-operate to the full in respecting the wishes of British democracy. He will also remember, and he will no doubt compare this with the opening part of his speech today—that he said that the rarity of the conflict between the Lords and Commons is nowadays so great that most people take the smooth working of the two Houses for granted. And, yet, one-third of the right hon. Gentleman's speech today was to show that there is every reason for taking away the powers of the House of Lords which he himself has said they have exercised so well.
I have only one other example which I will give, because it fixes the time and should go on record as fixing the time 538 It is what Lord Hall said on 9th September, last year. Lord Hall said this within a few weeks of the printing of this Bill, speaking on behalf of the Government:Noble Lords opposite have used their majority here in a moderate and statesmanlike way and in a manner which has given us on this side of the House no real or reasonable ground of complaint.That was the position up to the introduction of this Bill. Apart from that, on various occasions there have been statements made as to the excellent way in which the revision work has been done. The two facts, that the work of revision has been done well and that there was no ground for complaint up to the introduction of this Bill, have been unchallenged. The right hon. Gentleman realised the difficulty in which he was and expatiated on the position between 1906 and 1910. I would respectfully remind him that most of us have now moved on some 40 years while he, apparently, is still stuck in these conflicts of the past which are very far from reality.
I should like to bring forward two other examples which have their relevance in this historical argument. The first Labour Government was in 1924, and the Lord Chancellor, Lord Haldane, whose memory is treasured in all political parties, at the close of that Government said, with regard to the position of the House of Lords and the first Labour Government:During the days of the late Government you were very good to us. You recognised that we stood for a good deal in the country and that it was not expedient that there should be a conflict between you and us. You met us handsomely on every occasion.He said that in the House of Lords Debate, the reference being Vol. 60, c. 669. When the next Labour Government came in some 79 Measures were passed, 73 of which passed without any Amendment. Of the remaining six—and the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that I cannot go into the merits of each case—where Amendments were made, it will be found, if the right hon. Gentleman looks hack, that the course of action taken is not a matter on which complaint has been made. I merely mention these examples in order to show that the right hon. Gentleman left the present day occurrences and went back divertingly to 1906 to 1910 because there have been no complaints.
539 I come now to the right hon. Gentleman's next point, that the Government are authorised to take this action by their mandate. The right hon. Gentleman made reference to what appears in "Let Us Face The Future," which states:We will not tolerate obstruction of the people's will by the House of Lords.If that means anything at all—and occasionally the right hon. Gentleman does mean a great deal when he issues a document—it means that action will be taken on obstruction. But, as I have shown quite clearly out of the mouths of the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues, no such obstruction has taken place. The matter does not stop there. The right hon. Gentleman is supposed to be, and has jocularly credited himself with being, one of the shrewdest political campaigners of our time, and when the right hon. Gentleman changes the tune of his party pronouncements as to the House of Lords it does mean something.
Let us compare these remarks in "Let Us Face The Future" with two other pronouncements. The first pronouncement in 1918 is that:The party stands for the complete abolition of the House of Lords and for a most strenuous opposition to any machinery for revision of legislation taking the form of a new Second Chamber, whether elected or not, having in it any element of heredity.There is no doubt about that. The second pronouncement was made in 1935 after the right hon. Gentleman had had 17 more years of political experience. It was:Labour seeks a mandate. It seeks power to abolish the House of Lords.In 1945 we have this watered down version of a very different state of things.We will not tolerate obstruction of the people's will by the House of Lords.The right hon. Gentleman knows very well that the most intelligent elector whom he is fond of congratulating would draw a distinction between these out and out avowals of abolition and this mild suggestion that if there is obstruction action will be taken. There is no electoral mandate for the view. The right hon. Gentleman dealt, with a modesty of manner to which we are quite unaccustomed, with the state of public opinion about this Bill. Even he—and I doubt if there is any other person who emulates even his modest enthusiasm for this 540 Measure—did not suggest that the country was up in arms in favour of this Bill. He said, unusually quietly for him, that he did not think there was any real opposition, and that there might even be some quiet support for the Bill in the country. Nothing the right hon. Gentleman had said, in all the opportunities which he has had, has even attempted to demonstrate that there is a public demand for this Measure.
I want now to deal with a point touched on by the right hon. Gentleman about the difference in our approach on the question of delay. The right hon. Gentleman will have seen the leading article in "The Times" this morning, and if I may, I will take my position on one part of it because I want to be sure that there is no misunderstanding about where we stand. The article states:The Government apparently take the view that a party, once returned to the House of Commons, is thereby given a commission to legislate in the name of the people which endures until the dissolution of Parliament becomes compulsory by law.On the other hand, we believe it is necessary to give effect not only to periodic expressions but to the steady persistent opinion which it is the duty of an educated electorate perpetually—and not merely periodically—to form and express. That is the difference. Right hon. and hon. Members opposite think that if they have been elected it rests with them; we believe that it rests with the people continually to express their will, and for this House to give expression to that will. That is, broadly, the difference which showed itself in the different views expressed in the controversial paragraphs of the agreed statement of the Party Leaders' Conference.
Let me take an example, to see how it works in effect. An interesting point about the death penalty sequence of events was that it first of all bore out exactly what the late Mr. Lees-Smith wrote in his book on "The Second Chamber" when he said:A section of a Party is not necessarily more than an insistent minority in a Party, and is only a fraction of the people as a whole. Yet under the system of Party Government it may impose its views on the whole nation.We had an example of a pressure group, a section of a party, imposing its will on this House contrary to the wishes of Ministers and the earnest arguments of 541 the Home Secretary, put forward with all the knowledge which comes from his great Office and all the force of his personality and weight of the Government, being upheld and the view of the House of Lords and the country being upheld. The interesting thing is that the Home Secretary must have pondered, as I have pondered, that in his speech on the previous Second Reading of this Bill he said that a possibility, apart from iron and steel, was that there would be differences between the Houses on the Criminal Justice Bill. Little did he think that it would be the House of Lords, and the House of Lords only, that would maintain his own opinion, and save the country from what might have been irreparable injury.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
That is quite irrelevant to this Bill. What happened between the two Houses on that matter happened in the normal course in one Parliamentary Session. The present Bill would not have obstructed, obscured or prevented that issue from being thrashed out at all.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
The answer to that is this: The right hon. Gentleman and his colleague decided that they would maintain their own view, and not seek to press the view of the pressure group inside their party as a party view when the matter came back to the House. They invented, in fact, the unworkable compromise which is known in less serious circles as the "One bride in one bath" Clause to take its place. If the right hon. Gentleman had adopted the view of the pressure group in his own party, then the situation would have arisen, and he cannot get out of the relevance of the situation because arrangements of party management enabled him at that time to persuade his pressure group to withdraw their pressure. That is trying to get the best not of both worlds but of heaven, hell and limbo at the same time. The country has seen how the House of Lords can protect the people, and interpret what everyone admitted was the majority opinion for the safety of that majority opinion. We have also seen that when a Government attempts a weak compromise of the kind I have mentioned the House of Lords can get rid of that weak compromise, and prevent our criminal law from becoming the laughing stock of the world. What was done shows 542 the strength of our case, and the weakness of the right hon. Gentleman's case.
May I for one moment deal with his next argument—why should a Socialist Government have an assured and an effective life of three years only and a Conservative one of five years? I am quoting his own words so as to be quite sure that I am putting his point correctly. The answer to that is that we have always stood for an alteration in the composition of the House of Lords. Let us look at the position in which we are. No one can doubt, as I have said, that items 1 to 9 of paragraph 5 of the Agreed Statement commanded practically universal support. May I remind the right hon. Gentleman of the wording of the first four because he was not sure of the wording when the matter was before the House. Here is the wording:The fourth point, to put it shortly, is a provision for the making of life Peers. Two others also secure universal support —the inclusion of women and the payment of members of the House of Lords.
- "(1) The Second Chamber should be complementary to and not a rival to the Lower House….
- (2) The revised constitution of the House of Lords should be such as to secure as far as practicable that a permanent majority is not assured for any one political Party.
- (3) The present right to attend and vote based solely on heredity should not by itself constitute a qualification for admission to a reformed Second Chamber."
What we hold against His Majesty's Government is that they refuse the powers of delay not only to the House of Lords as it is constituted at present, but, as the right hon. Gentleman has reaffirmed today, to a reformed and modernised House of Lords. We say that this is bad. We will not argue about details because the right hon. Gentleman and I have thrashed this matter out so often, but let me take what are now agreed figures. If a complicated Bill with a large number of Clauses is introduced in November in one Session it enters its final form in this House about the beginning of May in the next year. The right hon. Gentleman and everyone else knows that a Bill in that form as it leaves this House is very different indeed from the Bill which comes in.
Take the Transport Act, because that is an example we discussed before. It 543 contained the original unworkable provision as to the transfer of stock and a very important provision as to "C" licences. These were taken out of the Bill before it went out of this House. Contrast that with a complicated Bill as it leaves the House of Lords. It would achieve its final form somewhere about July and then we have—and this is the point from which we cannot get away—a period of five months from the Bill going into its final form in the Lords before it passes again by the operation of the Parliament Act as amended by this Bill.
The right hon. Gentleman has endeavoured to deal with that point. His answer to that is, "But look at all the improved methods of public information." I say to the right hon. Gentleman that since the Government have taken certain action with regard to newsprint, particularly last year when they took the action of suppressing the weekly newspapers which deal particularly with political matters at the first fear of a fuel shortage, the ordinary elector has much less chance of getting political pabulum from the newspapers than 35 years ago. The right hon. Gentleman and his colleague are very largely responsible for that, and they must face that fact and the position which they themselves are creating. To suggest that the ordinary electorate could form a view on an important and complicated matter like the question of "C" licences and show their general reaction to the question of transport in a period of five months is playing with the matter and with the idea of reasonable delay.
I promised the right hon. Gentleman that I should not burke his questions. I want for a moment to deal with the position of iron and steel. The right hon. Gentleman has endeavoured with the skill and cunning of which he is such a master to play the ball back to me on this point, but I would remind him and I think he will appreciate the fairness of the reminder that it was not only the Conservative Party who made the suggestion that the two Bills were inextricably joined. I put a question to him on the last occasion which provoked a denial of his responsibility for the "New Statesman" which I was very glad to hear. A paragraph in that paper which had been included in its editorial comment stated that it was the generally held belief in 544 informed circles in this country that there was a difference between the right hon. Gentleman and the Minister of Health which found expression in the postponement of the Iron and Steel Bill for a year and the introduction of the Parliament Bill.
§ Mr. H. Morrison indicated dissent.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
All right, but the first person who was misinformed was the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Arthur Greenwood), who had been a colleague of the right hon. Gentleman's up to about two months before he made the statement which I am going to read to the House.I would have preferred to see iron and steel in the programme … My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in his opening speech this Session, pledged this Parliament to deal with iron and steel in accordance with the policy of my party Had the steel Bill been introduced this Session, the need for the use of the Parliament Act as it was passed might have arisen, but no need would have arisen for tinkering with it… I regard this as a very doubtful political expedient on which we are entering this Session." [OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th October, 1947; Vol. 443, c. 895–6.]The right hon. Gentleman was amongst those who were less informed, but not only the right hon. Gentleman but others among the supporters of the Lord President of the Council were also misinformed. This is what the hon. and learned Member for Llandaff and Barry (Mr. Ungoed-Thomas) said:The reality of this Debate is whether or not the Government is to be enabled to carry the Iron and Steel Bill through or not"— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th November, 1947; Vol. 444, c. 141.]The hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) said;It is obvious that if this provision to make it retrospective had not been put in, the Government could not be certain that they would, within the lifetime of this Parliament, be able to make effective a Bill for the nationalisation of iron and steel."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th December, 1947; Vol. 445, c. 596.]I do not intend to quote to the right hon. Gentleman every Socialist politician who suffered from the same misinformation because he might get weary, but I only want to say to him that informed 545 opinion among the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues came very near to expressing that the purpose of the retrospective provision of this Bill was to safeguard the position of the iron and steel Bill in case of the Bill being thrown out. That was the position. Everyone believed that that was the reason for the Bill.
Then the right hon. Gentleman says to us: "Have you made arrangements that the House of Lords will throw out the iron and steel Bill?" Of course we have not. Of course, no such arrangements are in existence. The House of Lords will consider the iron and steel Bill on its merits, as Lord Salisbury has said, when that Bill comes up. There is one portion of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman with which I do not dissent. I believe that that will be done; the Bill will receive that consideration. The Bill is not prejudged in advance. There is no arrangement to that effect. I- want to make it quite clear. The position of the Government with regard to the iron and steel Bill makes the claims of the right hon. Gentleman more preposterous than usual.
Let me remind the House of the history of the matter. In April and May, 1946, the then Minister of Supply came to the House with completely incomprehensible proposals with regard to iron and steel. He was not able to clarify them to the House, and the proposals were withdrawn. They were then followed by that right hon. Gentleman demitting office under the Crown. Since then, a period of two and a half years has passed, within which no proposals have been put forward in the matter. The Government say, after a period of two and a half years, that the proposals will come forward now. They place in the Bill a provision which can have no other purpose than to prevent the possibility, however bad their proposals, even if they are as incomprehensible as those put forward two and a half years ago, of the people of this country having an opportunity to make up their minds in a reasonable time upon them.
Having done that, the right hon. Gentleman, conscious of the hypocritical nature of such an approach, then puts it on to me and says: "What would you do with the iron and steel Bill?" We are coming to a sort of metaphysical inversion of Parliamentary procedure, to 546 a method of endeavouring to prove a case by cross-examination of the opponent. That method has certainly not been tolerated so far in this House or in any deliberative assembly of which I have any knowledge. The right hon. Gentleman has done that through a Measure for which, on his own showing, and whether his statement be right or wrong, for which there is no urgency at all. There cannot be any urgency over iron and steel. The whole of his argument with regard to possible urgent Measures falls, in this regard. The right hon. Gentleman, as master of the Government's programme, has deliberately failed to bring iron and steel on for two and a half years. He has deliberately adopted a programme, and has produced this farcical Session, so that iron and steel cannot be passed before February, 1950 and that he cannot be put in the position of implementing it before that date.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
Why not? Why cannot iron and steel be passed before February, 1950, if their Lordships are still open to consider the matter on the merits?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
On the basis which the right hon. Gentleman was taking, it cannot be passed until 1950.
§ Mr. Morrison indicated dissent.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
The right hon. Gentleman has indicated a timetable which is put forward on the basis of the Bill's being rejected. As I have said, we have not seen the Bill and we do not know whether that will happen. On the basis on which the right hon. Gentleman has proceeded, the Bill cannot pass until 1950. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is right or wrong.
The other matter that is quite clear is that all the Machiavellian preparations of the right hon. Gentleman have been on the basis of losing the next election. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the Parliament Act operates whether an election has happened or not. In the event, for which he has provided in the proviso to the Bill, of the Bill's being rejected, the ordinary procedure of the Parliament Act would still apply, but so satisfied is the Lord President of the Council of defeat in the election of 1950 that he has had to adopt this special arrangement in order to deal with it.
547 Now let me deal with his questions. I promised the right hon. Gentleman that I would do so. The first question is: "Do the Conservative Party consider that in a five-year Parliament the Government should have only three years?" The Conservative Party do consider that the momentum and mandate of the Government weakens in the latter years of Parliament, but they say that the Second Chamber should be modified and altered so that there will be no question of its operating differently for a Government of the Left from the way it operates for a Government of the Right. They believe in the reform of the composition, and we hold ourselves quite free to make reforms of the composition of the House of Lords and to give appropriate powers to a Second Chamber. That is our view clearly, in regard to that question. The answer therefore is; Yes, but subject to a reform of composition which will prevent the Second Chamber operating differently as between the Right and the Left.
The next question is: "What is the view of new and urgent questions and a solution of them without a General Election?" There the right hon. Gentleman has been, of course, as he will appreciate, very hypothetical. We say that if it is a question of a solution of an urgent question, the likelihood of difference between the two Houses is correspondingly smaller, and that the provision that the Parliament Act operates irrespective of there being a General Election, is sufficient. If there is a difference, then it is a sound matter that opinion should be expressed at the General Election. It is equally sound that the Government which has propounded the matter should not lose the lime of the General Election before getting their solution.
I come to the right hon. Gentleman's third question. I hope he will forgive me—I took the questions down as well as I could—if I am wrong, and I hope that he will correct me. He said: "The attempt at reform has broken down." Perhaps he would do me the kindness to help me with this third question?
§ Mr. H. Morrison
I appreciate the point. I said "There has been an attempt to reform the House of Lords, but it has broken down." My point was 548 put that the Opposition must therefore face the problem of the powers of the present House of Lords. I then went on to say that the Lords do not interfere with Bills passed at any stage in the life of Parliament by a Conservative majority, and I asked: "Do the Opposition think it right that the power of veto which the Lords may exercise against progressive Governments, Labour or Liberal, should in practice be reserved for them, as against Conservative Governments?"
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I think he will agree that I have endeavoured to answer that question, but I will do it again because I do not want to run away from anything. We think that is a matter of composition and we hold ourselves free to alter the composition of the Second Chamber and to give appropriate powers. The last question was: Has the House of Lords been told to reject any iron and steel legislation? I have already assured the right hon. Gentleman that they have not and no such order or agreement has been made. I have to ask the pardon of the House for taking so long a time but I have tried to deal with the points raised by the right hon. Gentleman.
For the reasons which I have put forward, I beg to move to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof;this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill for which there has been no public demand, which ignores the readiness of all political parties to reform the composition of the House of Lords, and which can only have the effect of depriving the nation of sufficient time during the passage of important and controversial Bills to form and express its opinion.
§ 5.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Greenwood (Wakefield)
I feel very much like a Bevin boy up from the pit and continuing his education I have been away so long; but I do not on that ground claim any mercy from hon. Gentlemen opposite after I have spoken.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
Before the right hon. Gentleman speaks, may I say—I intended to say it—how very glad everyone is to see him back in his place?
§ Mr. Greenwood
I hope the House will continue to be as pleased as I am myself. I anticipated, of course, that some 549 speaker from the Tory Front Bench would refer to the speech I made in the Debate on the King's Speech about a year ago. I still hold the view that I held then. I feel that the sooner we tackle iron and steel the better. I did suggest in that speech that I thought the House of Lords would pass the Gas Bill, but I was firmly of the conviction that neither the Commons here, nor the Lords upstairs, meant to pass any sort of iron and steel Bill if they could get out of it. That was why I made the proposal about having the row straight away.
I have nothing to apologise for. The difference between my right hon. Friend and myself is one of timing rather than procedure. I always foresaw that one day this pleasant and friendly relationship between the Commons and the Lords might break down on some question of vital principle, and it does not surprise me that the battle has come upon this issue, though as the right hon. and learned Gentleman has pointed out, and as I will make clear in a moment, the problem was lurking in the background anyhow on this Bill or on other Bills.
Somehow hon. Members opposite will not or cannot understand what is the present position. I cannot think they do not understand. They know that after three years in power the life of an anti-Tory Government is not its own. It finds itself confronted by a Tory minority in the House of Commons and a permanent Tory majority in the House of Lords which under the existing law can hamstring all the fourth and fifth Session legislation of an anti-Tory Government of whatever type it may be. At that stage after three full years the effective power in Parliament passes from the Government to the combination of the Tories in both Houses. That situation is clearly, in this year of grace, 1948, an intolerable one. It must be so in any democratic country. The calling of this Special Session, the strategy of the Government and the Bill which we are met together to consider have been described variously by different Members of the opposite Front Bench. They have engaged in what I call an exercise in denunciation by adjectives. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) called the Bill "pettifogging." The right hon. and gallent Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) called it "paltry."
550 If this Bill is as described by the right hon. Gentlemen, what is all the hullaballoo about? Did they want a more drastic Measure? Would they have liked a Bill to exterminate physically and politically all Members of the House of Lords and banish all heirs to peerages to far-distant climes? Of course they would not have wanted a Bill of that kind. Indeed, it would not surprise me if right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite hoped to see—indeed, it has been implied today that they want to see it—a Chamber of some kind which would be a place of refuge and of influence in a rejuvenated House of Lords looking rather like a popular assembly and one to which they themselves might repair as elder statesmen or as renowned pro-consuls from one or other of our more distant colonies. It is not a paltry Bill in their view.
The Tories, if they could, would like to maintain a privileged position in this House and in this State—if they could. They would like to be the only party in the State so that they could, with their occasionally aroused sleeping partners in the House of Lords, reduce the effective life of a Labour Government to three years, while reserving to themselves a full five years to amble along through little or no programme at all should they be returned to office. As I will show a little later, this intense revivalism for a reformed and modernised Upper Chamber springs to life when the Tories in the House of Commons look like being deprived of some of their long-held powers. The Opposition—I can speak with some freedom, if not with great responsibility —hate and fear this Bill, just because it undermines the privileged position in the affairs of Parliament which they have already enjoyed far too long.
At this point let me turn to the storm that was brewing about 40 years ago. The right hon. and learned Gentleman wished the Leader of the House to be more modern and not to hark back. Well, the right hon. and learned Gentleman himself harked back. There are very few left in this House who remember those days. I do not remember them in this House. I would rather be here now than have been here then. It is as well for the House to recall the significance of that struggle. In 1905, after some calamitous years of Conservative government, the Liberals were 551 returned to power with an overwhelming majority and with the Conservatives as a small minority, a mere handful. They were very much in the same position as we were after the Coalition election of 1931, a little island in a vast sea of opponents, as some hon. Members will well remember. The Conservative Party in that Parliament, completely helpless and powerless in the House of Commons, used the House of Lords to massacre and mutilate Liberal legislation. Forty years is a long time, but it takes 40 years for the Tory Party to forget its own past. I will quote an article published in the current issue of "The Tribune" by my hon. Friend the Member for Central Southwark (Mr. Jenkins). These are his words, excellently summarising the situation:During its first three Parliamentary sessions, the new Government "—a Government of the Liberal Party—introduced and carried through the House of Commons eight important controversial measures. Five of these were killed by the Upper House, and two of the remainder were altered out of all recognition. The extent to which, on these occasions, the House of Lords was acting as an adjunct of the Conservative Party and not as an independent deliberative assembly may be judged from the fact that, in the case of the Education Bill of 1906, Balfour, the Tory leader in the Commons, drew up and presented to the majority of their Lordships a detailed memorandum of instructions, telling them which clauses to delete and which amendments to insert. Lloyd George's remark that the House of Lords was not the watch-dog of the constitution, but Mr. Balfour's poodle' was well justified.That was their attitude then. Hon. Members have no doubt read with interest and, I am sure if they have read carefully, with value, the events of those years. Some may have read the speeches made by a much younger, vigorous politician with great oratorical power—the present Leader of the Conservative Party. 1f hon. Members opposite read those speeches, which to me ring as true today as they did 30 years ago, they will hang their heads in shame and wonder wherever they got such a leader. [AN. HON. MEMBER: "They do not know anyway."] I do not know either. In that period, which I need not elaborate, two things happened. The first was the Bill passed to limit the Lords' veto and to 552 control Money Bills. The position of the House of Lords as co-equal with the House of Commons came to an end. The supremacy of the House of Commons was acknowledged. That supremacy has never since been challenged by any political party.
Now the maximum time allowed under that Act for the Lords to conduct delaying operations on the instructions of their higher command on the Floor of the House of Commons is not sacrosanct, and the Bill now before us carries on what is a valuable precedent. The Government have chosen to put further restrictions on that period of delay which the right hon. and learned Gentleman presumes is fundamental to the constitutional policy of the Conservative Party.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter (Wood Green)
Since the right hon. Gentleman has been looking back to 1911, would he be good enough to say why the Liberals, who were in a minority in the House of Lords, were willing to accept the two years' delay Clause instead of one? Why was this so urgent to the Socialists when it seemed unwise to the Liberals?
§ Mr. Greenwood
I can speak with no authority on the history of the Liberal Party. Those remarks had better be addressed to hon. Members a little lower down the Gangway. The first Bill was important, and so is the second—I do not regard it as paltry or at all pettifogging—and just as the Liberal Act before the first world war settled the question of the final seat of authority in Parliament. this Bill after the second world war gives a majority Government for the first time a reasonable chance, not 100 per cent. certainty, but a reasonable chance, to complete the programme on which it won an electoral victory in a General Election. What is wrong with that? Do hon. Members wish to oppose that?
Never again, with this Act on the Statute Book will an elected majority in the House of Commons be frustrated and humiliated by an unholy conspiracy of a Tory minority in the House of Commons and a Tory majority in the House of Lords, taking its orders from the Leader of the Tory Party who sits in this Chamber and who will always continue to sit in this 553 Chamber. I will come to the argument of the right hon. and learned Gentleman a little later. I know it may be that they may mend their ways, but the truth is that the undisputed Leader of the Tory Party, whether upstairs or downstairs, is the Leader of the Opposition in this House, whoever may be Leader of the Opposition upstairs. Although we do not need to teach old dogs new tricks, there are enough old dogs left to know what they did against the Liberals in the 1906 Parliament.
The second thing which happened in those Liberal days of long ago had reference to the relation between the functions of the House of Lords and its composition. I suppose, during those years of Liberal predominance, the Conservative Party saw the red light, or the pink light, or whatever one may call it. However, the trend of the times was sufficient to interest the Conservative peers in their own future, and the late Lord Lansdowne introduced a Bill into Parliament with the object of making the House of Lords look a rather more respectable and somewhat more representative Assembly. We have had discussions more recently. I believe I am right in saying—one does not want to do an injustice to the Upper Chamber—that before the war was ended discussions were going on there amongst the members of another place on possible alterations in the composition and the personnel of that Chamber. I am pretty certain in my own mind that that was done because leading Members of the House of Lords, with a sense of responsibility and trying, as well as they can, to keep their finger on the pulse of the people, realised that the ancient assembly could not very well go on as it had done for so long. I would not mind myself if it did go on, so long as it did not interfere with us. It is picturesque; it is nice, and I am bound to say that on occasions we receive enlightenment from their Lordships' Chamber. But they want to make a show now of democratising the House of Lords without completely removing the hereditary principle.
Now, the House of Lords has behaved very well. Everybody has said so. The Prime Minister has said so; the Leader of the House has said so; most magnificent praise has been meted out to the membership of the House of Lords. 554 From that praise proceeds the argument that, as they have been so good in the past they will probably go on behaving well in the future. Believe me, the House of Lords will regard coming legislation with even greater hatred than they regarded that introduced by the father of the noble Lady the Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd George) a generation ago, and one wonders whether they are the nice little tame pussy cats which their behaviour in the last two or three years would lead one to believe.
The right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) in his speech last week spoke about the Government stirring up a quarrel between Lords and people. It is not a case of stirring up a quarrel. I had my suspicions about it a year ago, and I still strongly suspect that, although no orders have been given up to now, the House of Lords is going to give the fight of its life to the Bill if it does not please them—as indeed it hardly can in the circumstances; at least I hope not. In those circumstances I would not call this stirring up a new quarrel. I would call it taking time by the forelock, or adopting the policy so dearly beloved of the Conservatives' former leader, the late Earl Baldwin safety first. We have never had any promise nor indeed could any promise ever be made—that the House of Lords would not oppose this or that particular Measure. The right hon. Member for Saffron Walden said that up to now they had' behaved very nicely; but I submit there is no guarantee about the future.
The party opposite have made some sort of opposition to certain Bills, such as the various fuel and power Bills, transport, and so on; but they have seemed to be rather half-hearted in their opposition. But in our Third Session the Gas Act—which I, in all my innocence, had assumed would be hardly a controversial Measure at all became a terrifically opposed Act. I remember last Session my hon. Friends who were on the Standing Committee which dealt with that Act complaining about the amount of gas which was expended at every one of their very numerous meetings. The Opposition began to show fight; they put the fight in the hands of their chief commando, the right hon. Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken)—once, for a few weeks, First Lord of the Admiralty, 555 but never representative of the "silent Service." He, with great gusto, led the Opposition on that Act, and fought it in a way in which no other nationalisation Measure has been fought in this Parliament. Hon. Members know that is true.
On such a little Measure as the Gas Act, although over a large area gas had been under public ownership for a generation—and under Conservative town councils—a minor thing compared with coal and, in a sense, with electricity, an important element of fuel, light and power, the Opposition made more fuss than they did even over the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act itself. Now, why? As I forecast, the Gas Act got through in the Third Session. But was this fight a preamble to a little trouble about iron and steel? Iron and steel is a sort of holy of holies to the Tory Party. In the columns of a financial paper the Leader of the Conservative Party, who is also leader of the Opposition, has declared— as he can declare without an annual conference—what their policy is going to be: one of bitterest opposition to the iron and steel Bill when it comes on to the Floor of the House.
I am going to do a bit of questioning now; it has become fashionable this afternoon, although, as the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) said, it is a little irregular. Is it not a fact that the Opposition mean to fight the iron and steel Bill tooth and nail and to the last drop of blood? Of course, they do. Can the Opposition lay their hands on their hearts and say they will not prompt the strongest possible opposition from their Tory friends in the House of Lords? If they do not, they are not running true to type. No Tory leader has ever said that this Bill, which is promised consideration, will be treated with the kindness with which all the other nationalisation Bills now on the Statute Book were received when they passed through another place. Do they deny that were they able to do so they would use every means in their power to use the Parliament Act to kill the Bill? Of course, they would. On the whole, I am inclined to think that they, like me, would have liked to see the Bill in the Third Session, for then they would not have been in the awful mess they are in 556 now, constitutionally and politically. The Tory Party means to kill this Bill whether it is a good Bill or not.
I hope the Leader of the House is right in his optimism. Of course, we have not seen the Bill yet, but let us hope that it merits that sympathetic attention from the Commons and the Lords that he thinks it may. If it does not—and this is the dirty side he has got to look at— if it does not meet with their approval, I still say that we shall have a more bitter fight over this Bill than any they have ever given us on any Measure in this Parliament. To them it is a symbol. Well, we shall get the Bill—both Bills. They will be accomplished facts.
What, in the event of a great political disaster at the next General Election, would happen to the steel Act if the Tories came back when it was on the statute book? I do not know, but I would not put it past them to try to "fiddle it away." They cannot do so in the case of the other Acts because they are working. This Bill will go on the statute book, and apart from the usual ups and downs of political life will enable the Government to fulfil their programme. As I said a year ago, this would not have been my timing of this Measure, but this Bill marks the beginning of the end of the long period during which for party advantage—they are always flinging it at us that we are using our position for party advantage— the Tory Party have used their influence and power with the House of Lords to block the way to democratic progress. The Bill must go on the statute book.
§ 5.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Martin Lindsay (Solihull)
I, too, would like to say how pleased we all are to see the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Arthur Greenwood) back in his place, and as was quite obvious, having completely recovered his former health. We have, if I may say so, never heard him in better voice and in better form, at any rate in this Parliament. I listened with great interest to all that the right hon. Gentleman had to say, and of course I was not much surprised that in a large part of his speech he followed the general pattern of all speeches and articles of right hon. and hon. Members opposite in the remarks he made about the composition of the existing House of Lords.
557 The right hon. Gentleman said that after three years the life of an anti-Tory Government was not its own. He went on to describe the malevolent things which the House of Lords could do—a quite intolerable situation, etc., he said. That is a problem not of powers, with which this Bill deals, but purely of composition. I and, I am sure, all Members on this side of the House, entirely agree with everything which the right hon. Gentleman and hon. Gentlemen opposite say about the present composition of the House of Lords being entirely unsuitable to modern requirements.
I do not intend to follow the right hon. Gentleman in what he said about the happenings of 40 years ago. I am speaking about 1948. And I do say that we agree with hon. Members opposite that we, like them can no longer accept the fact that so many of our legislators are still neither appointed nor elected but rather selected upon the merits of their ancestors, just as we no longer accept the unchanging political composition of the other House. But if the right hon. Member for Wakefield will do full justice he will admit that nowhere is this view more firmly held than in the House of Lords itself. It is over 38 years since their Lordships themselves passed a resolution that "a peerage should no longer of itself give the right to sit and vote in the House of Lords." I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman was at all doing us justice when he said that we intend to make "a democratic show of reforming the House of Lords without completely removing the hereditary principle," because that is certainly the desire and intention of the Conservative Party today.
Never before has there been so wide a measure of agreement as to the broad principles of the reforms which are necessary. The proposals were outlined, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) stated, in the third page of the Agreed Statement on the conclusion of the conference of party leaders. For my part, I very much regret that the Government have not taken this great opportunity when for the first time there has been a real measure of agreement between the parties on this question of composition, to reform the composition of the House of Lords.
558 I ask myself why it is that they have not tackled this problem of the composition of the House of Lords? In my opinion there are two reasons; firstly, because I believe that the party opposite wish to keep the House of Lords as it is at present composed as a convenient Aunt Sally for the next election. I believe that they intend to revive the issue of "The Lords versus the people." I believe that they intend to try to create a great wave of prejudice which they hope will sweep them back to power at the next election. The second reason is that they are reluctant to set up a newly constituted House of Lords which would command more confidence than the present one because they realise that such a Chamber, unfettered and independent in judgment and judicial in temper, would be strong by virtue of the national confidence reposing in it, and so would be able to act as a check upon their own power.
There is no doubt in my mind that the real reason for this Bill is that this Government are believers in the principle, in so far as delaying action is concerned, of Single Chamber Government. Of course they appreciate that it is convenient to have an Upper House which can revise some of their more hastily conceived legislation. That is why the majority of hon. Members opposite no longer seek to abolish the House of Lords. It is remarkable how quickly hon. Members learn. In 1936, I was adopted as a candidate in a certain constituency, and the old stagers in Parliament whom I knew said, "One of the things you must do is to read the election address of the sitting Member for the constituency so that you can see the sort of man you will be up against." I read the 1935 election address of the sitting Member for that constituency who represented the Labour Party. In it he said:I am utterly opposed to the House of Lords. The sooner this antiquated, useless, reactionary and privileged institution is abolished the better.Where is this hon. Member now? He is sitting in the House of Lords. At all events that hon. Member. is not the only one who has learned something in his political life.
It is a fact that the majority of hon. Members opposite no longer wish to abolish the House of Lords, at any rate 559 this House of Lords which, as the Lord President has told us, co-operates so fully in respecting the wishes of British democracy as expressed in the Lower House. They no longer wish to abolish it, but, as far as its delaying powers are concerned, I submit that the right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench and the hon. Members opposite have no use whatever for a Second Chamber. They believe that a political party with a majority in the Commons, or at any rate their own party when it is so blessed, should be omnipotent; even four or five years after the Election which gave them power, no matter how circumstances have changed meanwhile. I hope I am not being unfair to the party opposite when I say that in my opinion they are by no means so ready to concede the same authority to us when we on our side are in that position.
I can remember so well throughout the war hon. Members opposite used to remind us on every possible occasion that the predominantly Conservative Parliament of that time had been elected in 1935 for the purpose of imposing sanctions on Italy, and that our Members no longer had any right whatever to represent our constituencies and to govern the country under the very different circumstances of some 10 years later. I concede a certain sympathy with that point of view, but I do say that hon. Members.opposite should try to see our point of view when we say that a General Election today would produce very different results, and that they would certainly not get the mandate for the nationalisation of iron and steel in 1949 which they received in 1945. If they doubt that, then why this Bill? For, as the right hon. Gentleman stated, there is the carry-over provision and all that they have to do is to pass the iron and steel Bill at the beginning of the next term, and, quite irrespective of the Parliament Bill before us now, that Bill would go through, if they have confidence that they would be elected again.
The fact is that this Government believes in reducing the delaying power of the Lords to a minimum because they do not want anything whatever to stand in their way. I personally believe that this is a very short-sighted point of view because, however confident hon. and right 560 hon. Gentlemen may be in their own virtues as legislators, who is to say that there will always be a moderate Labour Government? I am sure that they would call themselves a moderate Labour Government, in one sense if not in another. But who is to say that there will always be a moderate Labour Government in power in this country? Nobody, however strongly they. supported this Government, could ever think for one moment that there is always to be a Government of exactly the same political complexion. Quite obviously there will be swings of the pendulum to the Left and to the Right. Hon. Members opposite would view with a great deal of apprehension strong Governments with large majorities in this House from either of these two extremes. Yet they are prepared to put into the hands of such people, their successors, of the extreme Left or the extreme Right, powers which when the time comes will enable these successors to force through this House Bills which they, in their turn, will regard as equally detestable. I have no doubt that when these circumstances occur they will deeply regret their own folly in doing anything to weaken the stabilising effect of the very small power which has been left to the House of Lords since 1911.
Hon. Members who wish for what would virtually be a single Chamber Government in this country should pay attention to one fact. It is a remarkable thing that the legislative systems of all the other principal nations in the world, and in particular all the great English speaking English Dominions overseas, are almost uniformly bicameral. It is a remarkable fact that no English speaking, and very few foreign countries, have thought fit to trust their destinies to the omnipotence of a single Chamber. I submit that we are going very far indeed towards single Chamber government if we pass this Bill which is now before the House.
It is a fact that the constitutions of so many of these other nations in the world, unlike our own, do contain definite provisions safeguarding the rights of minorities and special interests, which we have not got in ours. Thus the Congress of.the United States is limited to 18 carefully defined spheres of action. In the case of Australia, the separate interests 561 of the States are the particular responsibility of the Senate. In other countries, for example in Belgium, the legislature is unable to interfere with certain individual rights which are constitutionally unalterable. The British Parliament on the other hand, as we all know, has more power than any other legislative assembly in the world and can do anything which is not logically and physically impossible.
I should have thought that the fact that our unwritten Constitution does give Parliament such tremendous and unexampled powers is a very strong reason for ensuring that we have an Upper House of reasonable strength. But there is another reason—and this is a fact, which the party below the Gangway remind us of so frequently—that the British system of direct election does have the effect of producing most anomalous results by swelling the majority of the winning party out of all proportion to the total votes cast. That system is sometimes advantageous to one party and sometimes to another. It was advantageous to us in 1931 and 1935. It was advantageous to the party opposite last time. Who knows to whose benefit it may be next time? This enables parties to claim to have secured a majority to carry out the most extreme measures which in fact a majority in the country have voted against.
I believe that the need for checking the power of the Executive has never been greater than it is today. If we look round the world today what do we see? We see in country after country despotism of unchallenged authority. What do we find in our own? That no group of men at the head of any democratic State has ever possessed such power as that of the Cabinet today, with its unparalleled powers and unparalleled authority in a time of peace. I do not think that any true democrat can regard uncontrolled power in the hands of a Government, whatever Government and of whatever party it may be, with anything but apprehension. Indeed, recent trends whereby we are coming to be ruled more and more by a Cabinet oligarchy seem to me to be most unfortunate.
We all of us know that if an hon. Member of the party which is supporting the Government resists the Government's decision, he soon finds himself not only out of his party but out of Parliament 562 after the ensuing election. It may well be that there were special reasons for which the hon. Members for Finsbury (Mr. Platts-Mills) and East Middlesbrough (Mr. A. Edwards) were expelled, domestic reasons which it is not for us on this side of the House to criticise. But let us be more and more on our guard against this modern trend whereby followers of the party with a majority in the House of Commons must do exactly what they are told by the Government of the day. It is just because today we are governed by a modified form of Cabinet oligarchy that there should be provision for occasional appeals to the people in the rare cases that their will is in reasonable doubt.
§ Mr. Scollan (Renfrew, Western)
Before the hon. Member leaves that point, would he explain what would be the position of a political oligarchy with a Cabinet of the type he has described if in addition to the powers that are wielded in this House, they also had a Second Chamber of the same political persuasion?
§ Mr. Lindsay
I should be against that, but that is entirely a problem of composition. If the hon. Member had been in his place when I started to speak, I think he would agree that I covered that point.
§ Mr. Lindsay
To us on this side of the House there would seem to be all too few safeguards when one considers that so small a body of men, actuated by who knows what secret motive and subject to all kinds of sectional pressure, make decision such as whether or not to put into motion machinery which will result in an irrevocable economic change in the life of the country, or even an alteration of the Constitution.
The case for a strong Second Chamber is irresistible no matter what political party may hold office, now or in the future. Such a Second Chamber must have the power to impose a limited delay in respect of occasional Measures of exceptional importance in order that the nation's second thoughts may be expressed. It is with this conviction that we shall go into the Lobby tonight. And I hope that we shall go with the firm intention of ourselves consolidating at no 563 far distant date the general agreement which now exists between all parties as to the need for a reform of the composition of the House of Lords, a problem which the Government have so unfortunately failed to tackle in spite of the dissatisfaction with that aspect which they have so loudly and so frequently voiced during the last 40 years at least.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Maurice Webb (Bradford, Central)
; Whilst I was on holiday I had the agreeable pleasure of reading a book by the hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. M. Lindsay). It was an excellent book and I can commend it to the House. I found it much more convincing than the speech which the hon. Member has just delivered, and I shall turn again to the book tonight to recapture the pleasure I had on my holiday. The hon. Member for Solihull repeated what has become the recurrent theme throughout the whole of the Opposition's argument against this Bill. It is a theme which was put when the Bill was last before the House and it was put again today by the hon. Member and the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) who moved the Amendment. That theme is quite simple. They admit the need for changing the composition of the Upper House but they object to changing its powers. They have insisted that whilst it would have been proper to remedy the admitted faults in the structure and composition of the Upper House, there is something grossly improper in trying to remedy its powers.
This, surely, is a strange doctrine. I find it a most unreasonable case. If the composition is faulty, if the instrument is at fault, then surely the use to which that faulty instrument is put is a most relevant and urgent matter to consider. It is generally agreed, and it has been repeated here today, that the present structure is indefensible. Without going into the ancient controversy as to whether or not we should have a Second Chamber at all, it is agreed that in so far as we have a Second Chamber, the present one is faulty. That is the common view of all parties. Back in 1910 I believe that the Members of the Upper House themselves arrived at that judgment. They made a declaration at that time that a title to a peerage ought not to confer an automatic 564 title to sit in the Upper House. That was in 1910. That was their own conviction.
It is very strange—and we on this side of the House note it as strange— that nothing has been done in that period to correct these admitted faults. There they are. There is no one to defend them. Nobody opposite will get up to defend them tonight. There is a unanimous view that the Upper House is a faulty instrument of Government. If that is so—and it is not denied—it is our duty to look at once into the powers of this faulty instrument. The reason for that is that the removal of the faults in the composition of the Upper House will be far too long, far too delicate and complicated a task for us to undertake at this time. With all the pressure that there is on this House and the Government generally it would not be a possible and permissible task. I believe also that the revision of the Upper House cannot be separated from the wider task of overhauling the whole machinery of Government.
The hon. Member for Solihull touched on that question when he talked about the need for some check on the power of the Executive. I believe that the whole machinery of Government in this country, concentrated as it is here in Westminster and again outside in Whitehall where the Executive work, requires a most comprehensive and thorough overhaul. The composition of the Upper House is very relevant to that question. I agree with the hon. Member for Solihull that it is necessary to find some new check on the power of the Executive. I believe also that it is necessary to give the Executive wider and swifter powers to deal with its tasks. But these are all complicated and intricate problems which will have to await a more leisurely period of Parliamentary time. [An HON. MEMBER: "Question."] That is my view and I put it. I cannot put the view of the hon. Member who interrupted. No doubt he will get the opportunity to put it himself if he attempts to catch Mr. Speaker's eye. Until that task is faced, it is purely academic and irrelevant to begin to consider the constitution of the Second Chamber.
It is probably true that when we face that problem it will be an all-party matter. It is probably true that it will take longer than the life of one Parliament to effect the kind of changes which 565 will be found to be necessary. For that reason it would be wiser for us to make it an all-party matter. Certainly it is not something we can now undertake under the pressure of events such as they are. Therefore, when we reach that time, that will be the appropriate time to consider the fundamental matter of how the Second Chamber is constituted. But meanwhile, if the instrument is at fault, surely we must at least see that its powers are not such as to project those inherent faults into the process of Government.
§ Colonel Dower
I am sorry to interrupt, but I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument seriously. Would he consider then, when that reform takes place and when there is an agreed Second Chamber supported by all parties, returning to them any powers that might be taken away from them now?
§ Mr. Webb
If in the process of that examination it was found desirable to return any powers that the House had lost and that was an all-party recommendation, as I always agree with all-party recommendations myself, I should not dissent from it. The point is quite simple. It seems to me that if the vehicle is badly constructed and cannot be taken off the road for essential repairs, we must at least modify the rules of the road in order to see that it does not do any public damage. That is precisely what we are trying to do in this Bill. That is just what the Bill does. It does no more than that, and I submit that it is necessary to do at least that, at this time. I just cannot understand the feeling that has been generated on the opposite benches about this matter. These are modest and reasonable proposals. I cannot think why they should cause so much distress.
What is the Opposition's case against the Bill? There seem to me to be two objections. The first is that this is not the time to do it. When the Bill was before the House a year ago, we were told that it would cause a great diversion of public interest from our urgent economic tasks. We were told that at this moment the whole aim of the nation should be concentrated upon the business of production, and that this was not the time to introduce something that would take the nation away from those tasks. Those warnings and forebodings have been proved quite groundless. Last week, 566 from that Box, we had a statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer which proved how unfounded those allegations were. It is now said that it is the wrong time because, again, the country would be diverted from its more primary tasks. I cannot believe that the textile workers in my constituency in Bradford will bustle less busily about their looms because their attention has been concentrated on what is going to happen to the House of Lords. So I do not think that there is any substance in this objection about the wrong time to do it. If some hon. Gentlemen opposite had their way, there never would be a time for some of the things which this party wants to do.
The other objection is more solid, and it must be met by argument. It is that another place must be in a position to stop this House doing something which public opinion does not want. If there is any merit in that idea, I suggest that this Bill does little, if anything, to destroy it. The veto will remain. If it is desirable that the House of Lords should somehow act as the custodian of public opinion and the public interest in this matter and be able to hold things up, it still has a very considerable power to do so and it will still have it if this Bill goes through.
What do we mean by public opinion? I am never quite sure, when people pose this question, what they mean when they talk about public opinion. There is never any such thing as a solid public opinion on any issue in this country. There is a wide range of public opinion, with some people in a majority and some in a minority. Is it claimed that the House of Lords is in a better position than this House accurately to say what, at any given moment, is the majority opinion of this country? If that is the claim, I suggest that it is a ludicrous claim and one that cannot be supported.
The Criminal Justice Act has been cited as an example of the value of having a Second Chamber which can arrest the processes of this House and express public feeling. This Bill will do nothing to stop that kind of process. What happened to the Criminal Justice Act can happen again next year or the year after, and this Bill does not stop it. I see no merit in the submission that the House of Lords is more competent to assess 567 public opinion than this House. By its very nature, the Upper House cannot have the same lively and active apprehension of public feeling which is the quality of this elected House. We here know that we cannot escape from the consequences of our actions. We are responsible for them, as I believe we all are, and we know that we cannot indefinitely run counter to the great, wider and more manifest tides of public opinion without forfeiting our expectation of resurrection when the General Election comes. That is a constant, steady and permanent safeguard, and we should be foolish to dismiss it as of no consequence.
I say that it might be desirable to give the Upper House power to revise. That may be good. It may be desirable to give it adequate time in which to revise, but the claim that it should indefinitely prevent this elected assembly from acting according to its judgment is completely indefensible. Here, we are not trying to remove that power, but very reasonably to restrict it. I think it is intolerable that an elected Government should have nearly half of its elected period of office subject all the time to the whims and caprices of the Upper House. Surely, that cannot be defended in a democracy, and it is in order to modify that situation that this Bill has been brought forward. I submit that the Government are entitled to safeguard their position. They have been elected to rule for five years, and we should see that they do. In that mood and spirit, we shall go into the Lobby tonight to support this Bill.
§ 6.6 p.m.
§ Lady Megan Lloyd George (Anglesey)
I am very glad to be able to follow the hon. Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Webb), and to tell him, on behalf I feel sure of hon. Members on all sides of the House how glad we are to see him back in vigorous health. The right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Arthur Greenwood), whom we are also very glad to see back in his place and in his usual fighting form, was interrupted in his speech and asked why the Liberal Government agreed to a delay of two years instead of one year when the original Parliament Act was passed. The answer, I think, is well known, and it is that it was only 568 on the threat of the creation of a sufficient number of peers that the Parliament Act was passed at all even in its modified form. That was after two General Elections had been fought on the issue, which shows how eager the House of Lords was that the will of the people should prevail.
§ Mr. Baxter
The hon. Lady was good enough to refer to a question which I put to the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Arthur Greenwood). May I ask her why, since at that time the Liberals, who had got away with one threat and could have got away with another accepted two years instead of one as is now done by the Socialist party?
§ Lady Megan Lloyd George
I have pointed out that after two General Elections, in which the majority of the people of the country clearly expressed their will, it was still only possible to pass the Parliament Act in its modified form with the two years instead of one, which would have been acceptable to my party, by the threat of the creation of a number of peers. If the party had insisted upon one year, the creation of the peers would have been necessitated, or the Bill would have again been rejected.
We have been reminded by the hon. Member for Central Bradford that the point has been raised again and again by hon. Members above the Gangway that this anxious and critical moment is not the time to bring forward a controversial Bill of this kind, and the Government have been asked to think again and to withdraw the Bill. The truth is that there never would be an acceptable time for such a Measure in the view of hon. Members above the Gangway. In the Debate on the Address last week, and in the Debate on the Second Reading of this Bill when it was first introduced last year, we heard a great deal about national unity. Last year, we were asked to unite because of the economic crisis; this year, because of the international situation. I should like to know what hon. and right hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway mean by national unity. I remember very well what it meant in 1931—
§ Lady Megan Lloyd George
I was not a member of the Government. The hon. Gentleman is quite mistaken. I had the great privilege of fighting against a Conservative Government under the guise and name of a National Government. What do they mean by national unity? Do they mean that they are ready for a political truce, that they are ready to abandon party warfare and this campaign which is now being carried on throughout the constituencies? Do they mean that they are prepared to abate party warfare on domestic issues in this moment of national crisis, or only that they expect the Government to give up the Parliament Bill or any other Bill which is obnoxious to them? Is that what they mean by national unity? I hope that before this Debate is over we shall have a fuller explanation of this great appeal to the House of Commons and to the country to unite.
What is to be their contribution to national unity? Will they tell us that before the Debate comes to an end? What has been their contribution to national unity as far as this particular issue is concerned? The Government, I think quite sincerely, have shown that they wish to avoid a conflict with the House of Lords. They have gone far to meet the Opposition and the wishes of the House; they have been ready to discuss the wider problem of the reform of the House of Lords. When we remember the resolutions passed by Labour Party Conferences not so very long ago we realise that that is a great concession on their part. It is a considerable advance. [An HON. MEMBER: "Too much."] An hon. Member says "Too much;" I have no doubt that there are other hon. Members who hold the same view.
The right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) quoted a very admirable passage from a speech of the Lord President of the Council in which he advocated the abolition of the House of Lords. That was in an earlier political incarnation of the right hon.' Gentleman; it must have been before he burst out of the chrysalis into the full glitter of Ministerial glory. But the Government offered valuable concessions; there is no doubt about that in view of the policy of the Labour Party in the past. The Government entered into a conference with 570 the three political parties. They agreed on the composition of a new Second Chamber, and they came very near agreement—or so it seemed; I am not so sure about that—on the powers of the House of Lords. A compromise proposed by the Government was accepted by my hon. Friends who were represented on that conference, accepted by the Liberal Party, and accepted by the Government, but the Conservatives could not agree over the matter of the three months, and the conference broke down.
Therefore, we find ourselves today discussing this stop-gap Measure when we might have been given the opportunity of debating a comprehensive Measure for the reform of the House of Lords, a great constitutional change which would have been accepted by the three great parties.. It was a golden opportunity for getting rid of the hereditary principle or for securing a representative Second Chamber such as, I believe, the great majority of the people of this country desire. Here was a real opportunity of preserving national unity, and it was thrown away by the Conservative Party.
As the Lord President of the Council pointed out today and in his speech on the Address last week, what is really at stake is a fourth Session of Parliament. What is the position today under the Parliament Act of 1911? A Conservative Government could guarantee the performance of a five-year programme—if they were to look so far ahead—but a progressive Government has to do the very thing for which hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway are condemning the Government in their Amendment to this Bill, that is, rush through legislation in three years. It is the very thing for which the right hon. and learned Gentleman was again condemning the Government today, and yet he is doing his best to push them on to that slippery slope.
It has been said that there is great danger to the Constitution and to democratic institutions in reducing the power of delay of the House of Lords. It is said that it is a move towards totalitarianism and towards minority Government. But what is the position today? Conservative Government with a small majority in the House of Commons enjoys complete power for five years. Yet a progressive Government with an overwhelming majority in this House of 571 Commons can only be guaranteed three years of power. Is there no danger there? After all, we must remember that the danger to our free democratic institutions does not only come from the extreme Left; indeed, there is no surer way of encouraging revolutionary tendencies in this State, or in any other, than by allowing reaction to go unchecked. I think it was the Leader of the Opposition who said in the Debate last year that the brake on a car prevents an accident caused by going too fast. It is equally important not to keep the brake on when the car is in motion, however slowly it is moving; it engenders great heat, and, if the brake is kept on long enough, probably results in an explosion.
We have been told that this Bill is purely a party manoeuvre to ensure the passage of the iron and steel Bill. The Lord President of the Council again denied that today. He said that, in point of fact, the Government considered at one moment whether this particular Bill should not have been passed in the 19461947 Session. But if it were argued that this was a partisan and political Measure it could equally well be argued today as it was in 1911, that the Parliament Act was a party Measure. It was claimed, and rightly, that the first purpose of that Measure was to enable the Finance Bill of 1909 to become law. But it had a very much wider significance and wider constitutional purpose than that; it was to ensure that Liberal Measures should not be at the mercy of a permanent Conservative majority in the House of Lords, and that a Liberal programme should not be sabotaged at every turn.
I believe that this Bill is a very modest step indeed—nothing to be frightened about—towards equalising the opportunities of a Conservative and of a progressive administration. If hon. Gentlemen really think that a Government has lost contact with public opinion in three years, then, as has already been said, the real remedy is to amend the Parliament Act and have triennial Parliaments. In dynamic days such as these the remedy is certainly not to keep a progressive Government marking time for two years. Many years ago but it is equally true today—the Leader of the Opposition spoke of the formidable and menacing powers still left to the House of Lords 572 as a result of the Parliament Act, 1911. Well, for the fifth Session those menacing and formidable powers of which he spoke remain unimpaired.
We have heard a great deal in this Debate about the importance of safeguarding the Constitution. I wonder what would be the attitude of the Conservative Party if the position were reversed and there were a permanent Socialist or Liberal majority in the House of Lords. I wonder what would have been their feeling about constitutional safeguards in such circumstances. I wonder whether they would have been satisfied with this very modest little Bill; I wonder whether they would have even been prepared to allow the fifth Session to go free and unchallenged.
There is one other important claim that has been made for the House of Lords. We are told that it is not only important as a revising Chamber but that by some magic sixth sense it is peculiarly fitted to judge public opinion in the later stages of the Parliament when the House of Commons, which was only elected by the people four years before, has got completely out of touch with the electorate. With one single exception, I do not recall in the years before the war when the Government of the day was tragically out of touch with public opinion on foreign affairs, that the House of Lords made a protest; I do not remember that they expressed public opinion or felt the pulse of the nation with that sixth sense of theirs. I do not remember that there was a single protest from the House of Lords at the inept conduct of the war in 1939 and 1940. It was left to the House of Commons in that famous Norway Debate to express that public opinion.
This Bill, after all, is a preventive Measure. It is an all risks insurance policy, covering all eventualities. We are told that it is not necessary, that the House of Lords has changed, that it is no longer the place that it was, that today there are men of varied experience who have served their country with distinction, and who can make a valuable contribution to the Debates. That is perfectly true—no one would deny it—but there were men of that calibre in the House of Lords in 1909. In 1909 perhaps only 100 men carried the real burden of the day-to-day work of the House of Lords. 573 It is equally true today that there are only about 100 out of over 800 who take part in the Debates in the House of Lords, and yet it is the 800 who still have the voting power. The backwoodsmen still have that power, and I think it is a dangerous power which should be restricted. We on these benches would like to have seen a Measure of full reform. We deeply and sincerely regret that the Conference did not succeed, but we are ready to give wholehearted support to this interim Measure to ensure that, at any rate, for the greater part of Parliament the will of the people shall prevail in this great democracy of ours.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir (Aberdeen, South)
I must confess that I have always found this controversy between the two Houses quite unnecessary. To my mind, relations have always been most cordial. Yet, despite the successful partnership between the two Houses we are forced to engage in what is really an irrelevancy at a time when terrible events overshadow all our lives. It is perhaps for that reason that, while listening to this Debate, I have felt a certain lack of reality in the proceedings, because whatever the Lord President may say, we are very conscious of the mischievous motive that prompted it. Indeed, I felt that he well earned the rather engaging title which was bestowed upon him by a well-known newspaper only this week, I think, which described him as a "mischievous tufted pixie."
The noble Lady the Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd George,) whom it is a great pleasure to follow because she always speaks with that charm which leaves this House in delightful anticipation of the way in which the party she represents may vote—
§ Lady Megan Lloyd George
I hope the noble Lady is in no doubt about it tonight, as I said it most clearly in the concluding sentence of my speech.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
Indeed we are, as always, quite clear as to the intentions of the noble Lady, but she nearly always leaves us in anticipation until the very last moment. The whole argument of her speech, I felt, was related entirely to the composition of the House of Lords. Of course, all her questions would have been answered had an all-party agreement been arrived at. I submit that it 574 is impossible to discuss either the composition or the powers of the Upper House separately. This is quite the most important Bill that has come before Parliament since 1945, and I have not changed my opinion which I held when I said on the Debate on the King's Speech last year that it is also the most dangerous, because it does nothing more than tinker with the Constitution.
We have heard a great deal in this discussion which I feel is inclined to befog the fundamental issue which we are in the process of trying to unravel. Surely as we end the closing stages of this Debate this is the time to examine the fundamental principle on which the whole of our Constitution is based. Do we all in this Chamber realise exactly where we are going, or has the issue become obscured. I am certain that the reason of hon. Members opposite has succumbed to a large extent to propaganda. There has been a great deal said, not only this afternoon but in the previous Debates, on the delaying powers of the Upper House, that if we reduce those delaying powers from two years to one it is in fact of little account. But we all know that a delay of two years is in practice only 18 months, and that of one year is probably only six months.
It is widely held that a delaying power of 18 months in practice is the shortest possible time in which to cover that time lag between a Bill being presented to Parliament and becoming law and a true understanding of its scope and purpose by the public. There are some—I think particularly the hon. Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Webb)—who have said, "What is public opinion, anyway?" and that an ill-informed populace should be guided—a Hitlerian expression—as to what they should think.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
That exactly bears out my argument, because it is this difficulty in assessing public opinion which makes it important that there should be an adequate delaying power in the House of Lords. It is always to the electors that we must look. Power should always be 575 vested in them—not in us, the elected. When talking of public opinion, we must remember that in these times of rush legislation it is becoming ever more difficult for the public to understand what Parliament is up to.
Indeed, there are most extraordinary misconceptions of Parliament in the public mind. There are a great many who do not understand that Members of Parliament, taken in the wider sense of the term, are also Members of Parliament of both Houses. To large sections of public opinion this Parliament is carried on only through the Commons and not through the Lords at all. And yet no Minister introducing a Bill could possibly expect his own Bill to be perfect; we all expect it to receive the attention.of hon. Members in this House. Equally, no one would expect a Bill to be complete until it had received similar attention in the Upper House. Take the Civil Aviation Bill. Who in this Chamber could say that the Civil Aviation Bill had received all possible expert attention in the Lower House when we have, at the present time, in the Lords no fewer than 13 ex-Ministers for Air?
§ Mr. Scollan
Would the noble Lady say why are the ex-Ministers there? Is it not because they were not fit for the job?
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
I think it would be improper for me to comment on that. The fact remains that we must study the question of public opinion in everything which is related to Parliament all the time. Particularly now, absorbed as they are constantly with the mechanics of living, the public are inclined as a whole to shrug their shoulders, and say, "Ah well, let us leave decisions to them"—to the all-mighty few who are the heads of government and who control their destinies, not only through material means but even by the obscurement of reasoned thought. The Lord President of the Council may shake his head, but perhaps we have seen what is to come in a few words of a speech he made during the weekend when he informed, I forget which conference it was, that perhaps—I have it here—we have to "socialise men's minds."
We are always being told that this or that is best for us; almost as if the public 576 were incapable of forming an opinion of their own. All I can say, is, what a commentary on our overcrowded schools! We should guard against this sort of thing because we often find under the guise of advice or instruction or expediency or, above all, equality—which is nothing more than uniformity—and also under the guise of mass propaganda and curtailing laws, the average person is ever being menaced in the exercise of his free will and his independent judgment. This, together with a Parliament which enacts laws before there is adequate time for the public to understand their effect, means that we lull our people into a kind of passive acceptance of a way of life which is really only dictated by a few.
During this Debate hon. Members on the benches opposite have said to us that because they were elected with a huge majority they, therefore, represent the will of the people. But they have been three years in office and no one will deny that public opinion has greatly changed. Those on the benches opposite hold what is a great trust for history. Whether they would be re-elected now is, of course, a matter of opinion and one can argue that the British public at this moment are in the process of choosing a Government for the next election. The Lord President of the Council knows quite well that political parties do not gain power on the eve of polls. Public opinion is changing between elections. It is exactly in this time—
§ Mr. H. Morrison
For the sake of history that last comment should not be allowed to go unchallenged. Sometimes political parties do snatch victories on the eve of polls. I quote the red letter election of 1924 and the financial panic election of 1931.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
There may be many red herrings of that nature and they are related to all political parties, but the fact remains that, taking the average life of Parliament as five years, public opinion in the country is changing in the period between elections. That is the time when it is most important for any democratic Government to use an all-powerful majority with the very greatest consideration. I would suggest to the Government that those with a majority should use it most carefully, even to the extent of endangering their own political lives, I therefore challenge the Government to 577 examine the real purpose of this Bill because it would do them ill were history to record that under the pretence of establishing the rights of the people they sought to impose the tyranny of the triumphant. In fact, they sometimes regard attacks upon themselves as lese-majesté.
As a people we are renowned for our moderation, but it is just that quality which encourages drift and a tendency to allow the great democrat principles of our Constitution to go by default, with the comforting assumption that a genuine betrayal of liberty cannot possibly happen here. I maintain that this Bill is a striking example of the undermining of the whole conception of democratic liberty as we know it. [Interruption.] I can tell by the laughter—the happy laughter—of hon. Gentlemen opposite that they have no conception of what they do. The essence of our Constitution has always been that we try to give to the average person the maximum possible personal liberty. We cannot have that at all without constitutional liberty and it is that which we are now in the process of changing. Little power is left, but just enough to obscure the true trend of events to the uninitiated eye.
My hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. M. Lindsay) paid particular attention to the check to the power of any political party which has an irresponsible majority, and that is the fundamental issue we are discussing today. We all remember how in the past the threat came from the Monarchy, until power was transferred to the Legislature. Now we face different circumstances. We find increasingly that power is transferred to the Executive, even to the extent that the average citizen is often unable to appeal to the courts of law from the ruling of a Minister, or even one of the Minister's subordinates. This fact, together with the extent to which Orders in Council are used, make it imperative that this Parliament, under the Constitution, should retain an adequate balance of power.
After all, we have growing up amongst us a younger generation who are maturing into an age where they have not known that extent of liberty which either we knew or our fathers before us knew—the kind of liberty in which, for instance, our grandfathers did not have passports and 578 we did not have to submit to the Control of Engagements Order, or the ban on travel or identity cards. This younger generation, now maturing, may not value what it has never experienced, may not realise how far their indifference to reasoned thinking is leading us. We remember so well that in our fathers' time we thought the democratic way of life and government was a faith which would embrace the whole world. What have we seen? In our time we have seen four great countries voluntarily abandon it. We have seen many other countries forced to abandon it. Why? It is fundamentally because the average citizens have been unwilling to face up to their ordinary responsibilities. They have put up with a great deal they did not like and did not understand and much which they actively disliked, in return for not having to make up their minds. I think it was Bernard Shaw who said, somewhat cynically:true liberty means responsibility and that is why most men dread it.The power of this Parliament even under the present constitution is immense. I have read the Debates of both Houses on this Bill. Only once have I seen one very important aspect stressed; and that is, that any future Government could perfectly easily bring forward a one-Clause Bill to delete certain provisions in the Parliament Act, 1911, which make it impossible for a Parliament to extend its own life. The Bill we are discussing today means that at a future date the Government could perfectly easily, even in this country, stage a coup d'etat. I hope I am not putting ideas into the Lord President's head, because, no doubt, he realises that even his Government—
§ Mr. Ungoed-Thomas (Llandaff and Barry)
Would the noble Lady explain how this Bill affects that position in the least, one way or the other?
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
The whole purpose of my speech has been to try to show that it is very important to keep adequate delaying powers in our Constitution, in order that the public may have time to understand the measures in question. The introduction of a Bill such as that we are discussing today, which reduces the delaying power of the Lords to one year—which, in fact, is only six months in practice—means that the public will not have time to realise exactly what is 579 happening. Any future government with an irresponsible majority can perfectly easily introduce a one-Clause Bill to prolong its own life. Even the present Government could introduce such a Bill, and it could be got through before 1950. Therefore, I do feel that, in a Constitution such as ours which is largely unwritten, and in which power can be so readily abused, it is ever more important to allow the people the maximum possible opportunity to form and express their opinion on every constitutional issue. In a written constitution there are, mercifully, those safeguards which make it impossible seriously to disturb the constitution.
It is because I believe most sincerely that this Measure we are discussing today is one of the greatest magnitude that I feel it is also worthy of the highest degree of statesmanship. Therefore, even at this late hour I would ask the Lord President, if he will attend one moment, to consider whether he will withdraw this Bill, await a General Election, and let the people have a proper opportunity to give their minds to the great and fundamental issues involved. If he will not do so at such a late hour, then I challenge every Member of this House to vote in the Lobby tonight according to his conscience because this Bill is a challenge to our personal political judgment at this time. [Interruption.] Judging from the raucous noises opposite, I fear the worst. So perhaps this House would do well to remember the words of an old Scots' prayer which says:God bless the Houses of Parliament and overrule their deliberations for the people's good.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Miss Jennie Lee (Cannock)
I must begin by confessing that I had some difficulty in following some of the speech of the noble Lady the Member for South Aberdeen (Lady Tweedsmuir). I think I understand very clearly her opening remarks, which showed a certain domestic prejudice in favour of the House of Lords. We were all delighted she should feel in that mood, but we would beg her not to allow her domestic attachments to prejudice her public judgments too much. Apart from the personal angle, I can find only one small point of agreement with the noble Lady, and that is in her insistence that this is an important Bill. I hope we shall drop 580 all talk about its being anything other than a Bill of major importance, because what we are seeking to fashion is an instrument which will be effective enough to keep fresh in this country the belief of the ordinary citizen in democratic government. No greater tragedy could overcome us, either in our economic difficulties or in world difficulties, than that ordinary people should become cynical and apathetic, thinking that, though they elect a Government and a House of Parliament, another Chamber decides what that Government shall do.
I fail to understand why the noble Lady should feel that there is wisdom in that Upper Chamber which is denied to us. I am prepared to be modest enough on my own behalf, or even on behalf of this House. Therefore, I would have us examine as carefully and scrupulously as we can the record of the Upper House. We have difficulties at the present moment. That is nothing new: this country always has had difficulties; and always, from the writings of the journalists of the different periods, one would suppose that the difficulties of which they were writing were the supreme difficulties, the greatest ever to have arisen, or that could arise.
Looking back to innumerable times of strain and tension, can we really say that the other House has justified the claim made on its behalf to wisdom and power denied to us? I am older than the noble Lady, though not so much older. I had the privilege to be a Member of this House in the 1929–31 Parliament, when there were difficulties and decisions so complex that people of all political opinions could be forgiven if sometimes they lost their way amid them; but I cannot recall a single instance in which this House, in my judgment, made a wrong decision, and had wisdom shed on it from the Upper House.
I can remember what to us at that time was a bitter issue with moral as well as economic implications. The noble Lady has stressed today that there are moral as well as political aspects of public life. One issue at that time was that we as a nation were giving the child of an unemployed worker 2s. a week on which to live. As a nation we were immensely richer then than we are today. I cannot recall from the Upper House any correction put on the foolish economics and the lack of social decency 581 which, collectively, I am sorry to say, we showed in the House of Commons then. Had there been, I might myself have been today prejudiced on the side of the Upper House. But in the days when some of us would have liked allies from the other House there were not any. I can recall—and, no doubt, so can the noble Lady—that in Scotland wide areas lay desolate. Can she tell me that in those days there was a social wisdom, a moral wisdom, an economic wisdom in the Upper Chamber which urged us to develop those areas?
§ Mr. M. Lindsay
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady, but surely she will see that every one of these arguments is an argument against the composition of the other House and not against its powers?
§ Miss Lee
I shall come to composition later. For the present I am discussing the House of Lords as we knew it then. Reference has been made to foreign affairs. Members of the Upper House live in an upper economic strata, and maybe we should not expect them to be much concerned about the allowances to the unemployed. But do they in their wisdom know more of the wider world, perhaps? I can remember when Hitler was the political darling of hon. Members opposite. There was no protest from the majority of the Peers. In my view we trample on our own democratic traditions when we behave as if the ordinary worker—the bricklayer, the butcher, the school teacher—has not the same judgment and the same sense of discrimination as any one who may be an hereditary Peer.
I cannot see any justification at all for the claims of the noble Lady. Because I disagree with her so completely, I am all the more pleased to find so much to agree with in the speech of the noble Lady for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd George). While she was speaking, my attention was not entirely concentrated on her. I was watching carefully the leader of the Liberal Party, who was sitting by her side, and I was delighted to see that he made signs of agreement throughout the whole of her speech. I hope that, since not only the able and civilised sentiments of the noble Lady, but, I gather, the sentiments and the votes of the Liberal Party lie with the Government, some of these sentiments may percolate through to the Liberal Press of this 582 country. After all, the Liberal Press claims that it puts points of view fairly; ye the reporting we have had—the prejudiced one-sided reporting—of this Measure and the issues which lie behind it in most of the Liberal Press of Great Britain has been shocking.
Earlier in the Debate, other speakers stressed what seemed to me to be a rather strange point, that we should be actually grateful to the House of Lords for not having frustrated the will of the people in the first three years of the life of this Parliament. That really is too silly. I am not an excessive admirer of the House of Lords, but I did not expect them to be so stupid as to risk opposing Measures in this House in the first three years of the life of this Parliament, knowing perfectly well that their opposition would be totally ineffective. Now, we come to the point made by the hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. M. Lindsay)— the composition of the other House—and on that I would say this: the Conservative case which is being put today is being put from these benches, because, if some of us agree to the compromise represented in this Measure, we are agreeing to the maximum that can possibly be expected of us. It still remains that while a Tory majority can command power for five years, we have power for only four years at the most. That is a very big compromise and a very big concession which we are making. This Debate might have taken a different turn if the issue had been the composition of the House of Lords, for we would then have had to look with the greatest care at the muddled contradictory paragraphs in the Agreed Statement on the Conference of Party Leaders.
The right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe), who opened the Debate for the Opposition, quoted the second point which was agreed on by the leaders of the various parties, and I will read it again so that the House may either share my doubts or help to clarify them. The second paragraph says:The revised Constitution of the House of Lords should be such as to secure, as far as practicable, that a permanent majority is not assured for any one political party.I do not know how that is to be achieved, if we are to have life Peers. According to another paragraph we are 583 not going to elect Peers who will correspond in number to the majority party in the House of Commons in each new Parliament. Has anyone thought out the implication of these conflicting paragraphs—that one party should not have a permanent majority, yet that the Peers should be life Peers? I think that this House should be congratulated upon not being called upon to debate this extremely unclear and muddled document. Although we have an agreed statement by Members of the Cabinet, probably by the whole Cabinet, and Members opposite, we have had no agreed statement from the Labour movement of this country or from its annual conference. Our policy in 1918 was the abolition of the House of Lords. Our policy in 1935 was still the abolition of the House of Lords. At the last annual conference of the party, we dodged that issue for the reputable reason that we wanted fuller time to consider it, and the thing is left very much in the air.
I can assure hon. Members opposite that if they are not prepared to accept this Measure, and if they are going to insist on an hereditary, unrepresentative House of Lords—
§ Mr. Birch indicated dissent.
§ Miss Lee
—which, however much the hon. Member may shake his head, is, always has been and always will be the instrument of the Tories—that the Labour movement of this country and the masses of the workers generally will have to reconsider their whole attitude to the abolition of the other Chamber. We have no dislike of pageantry. We are perfectly prepared to see the House of Lords continue as an historical hangover, which does a useful job of revision and re-drafting; but it is really intellectually cheap to pretend that we cannot revise this present Chamber in order to make one Chamber do the job perfectly efficiently. [Interruption.] Some hon. Members say "No" and some say "Hear, hear," which is precisely what would happen throughout the country.
I myself would be perfectly satisfied to see the House of Lords continue provided this Bill is passed. But let it be clear, that the balance will still be weighted against my party. If hon. Members opposite think that there is no interest in the 584 country in this Measure, I assure them it would only need a campaign in the country pointing to Measures which have been considered and voted upon, by the Commons and rejected by the Lords to make this a very live issue indeed. I hope that with our peculiar genius we shall accept this compromise Bill, and go ahead with the carrying out of a vigorous iron and steel Measure and any other Measures which may seem appropriate to this Parliament; and thus do the important job of proving to British and world opinion that there is an effective and responsible Government in Great Britain, and that what it says it will do, it does.
§ 6.59 p.m.
§ Professor Savory (Queen's University of Belfast)
At the Oxford Union, we used to have occasionally what was called a ladies' night, which was very attractive, It brought together a very large audience, and it was also very amusing, but I am not sure that it was altogether very serious. This evening, instead of the hon. Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) answering these solid arguments of my hon. Friends she has given what can only be called a diatribe against the House of Lords. She has gone so far as to stress a preference for a Single Chamber. I cannot help thinking that this Bill which can, as the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) has pointed out mean only of necessity a delay of six months is really the equivalent of setting up a Single-Chamber constitution. That is what it virtually amounts to.
I should like to point out to the hon. Lady that throughout history Single-Chamber government has led invariably to the most serious abuse. Perhaps the best example would be the Convention of 1792 which inaugurated the reign of terror, leading to the execution of both king and queen. The French have never again made the same mistake; in all the various Constitutions through which France has passed they have always had two Chambers, and the Upper House has always been invested with amazing powers.
Take, for instance, the Senate of the Third Republic; over and over again it threw out legislation; over and over again it threw out even Finance Bills; and almost invariably with the full approval of the people. Then again, when the 585 Fathers of the American Republic were setting up their federal constitution they took very good care to give an enormous amount of constitutional power to the Senate, and the Senate still exists today with those same powers. Amendments have been made to the American Constitution in the course of the last 150 years, but nobody has ever attempted to reduce the powers of the Senate of the United States. It is all the more essential that we should have a Second Chamber because of our Constitution which allows us to have exactly the same process for vast Measures carrying out revolutionary constitutional changes as for the most trifling proposals.
If we look around to see what is today the most successful democracy in Europe I would say, without the slightest hesitation, it is that of Switzerland. In Switzerland there is not merely a very important Upper House, representing all 22 cantons, but there is the wonderful safeguard, constantly used, of the referendum. If a piece of legislation which is being brought forward by the Parliament is disliked, by going round and collecting 50,000 names, or whatever it may be, a referendum can be demanded; the Swiss can require that the proposal be submitted to the judgment of the people. We have no safeguard of that kind. Our only safeguard is the one the hon. Lady for Cannock would wish to do away with the safeguard of the Second Chamber.
In the Preamble to the Parliament Act, it was laid down that we were to have—it was thought during the lifetime of that Government—a complete reform of the composition of the House of Lords. It was stated that the House of Lords was to be set up on a popular instead of an hereditary basis. It was on that understanding that the Parliament Act was passed. But that pledge given by the Liberal Government at that time has never been implemented. An attempt was made—
§ Mr. Jenkins (Southwark, Central)
Who understood that, and who, therefore, agreed to pass the Parliament Act of 1911?
§ Professor Savory
It was understood by the Parliament of that time. I have read very carefully the speeches made on that occasion; in fact, I was present in the old House of Commons and sat under the 586 clock and heard the speeches made, when Mr. Asquith gave the most definite pledge that the proposal to limit the powers of the House of Lords was only temporary, and he gave the most solemn promise that its composition would be completely revised, as the Preamble states. As a matter of fact, an essential reform has very often been sketched out, and was referred to by the hon. Lady the Member for Cannock: the establishment of life peerages. It is very unfortunate that the Government's attempt in 1857 to introduce life peerages, by the mere use of the Prerogative, in the famous Wensleydale case, fell through; the Government had not the courage to impose its will upon the Parliament and the Upper House which resisted it. Had that been done we should have had a much fairer representation of the different elements in the nation, and the Upper House would have been considerably strengthened.
The point I want to make is that it is essential, in view of the composition of the House of Commons itself, that we should have a strong Second Chamber. Do hon. Members realise that in this present Parliament there are 177 Members who have been returned by a minority? There are 177 Members against whom the majority of their constituents have voted. Yet those 177 Members come here and say, "We represent the British people." Is there any Constitution in the world under which such a defect would be allowed to exist? It is well known that every General Election is a gamble. These terrific swings of the pendulum—as in 1931 and 1945—are due to the fact that the composition of the House is irrational and illogical. At the present moment, 48 per cent. of the electors have returned this Government with a majority of 153 over all other parties combined. Had there been a system of fair representation it is doubtful whether this Government would have come into existence at all; it could not have come into existence without coalescing with either the Conservatives on the one hand or the Liberals on the other.
§ Mr. Daines (East Ham, North)
The hon. Member makes the point that Members of this House are elected on a minority vote. Would he like to comment on the fact that the hon. Member 587 for Queen's University of Belfast (Professor Savory) got a total vote of 1,923?
§ Professor Savory
All I know is that I was elected by the élite of Ulster, and if it was the elite of Ulster it was the elite of the United Kingdom; and of that elite I had nearly a three to one majority. There was no minority vote there.
§ Professor Savory
If I allow myself to be interrupted, the time will be counted against me. I want to complete my speech in the shortest possible time so as to allow others to take part in this Debate. If the hon. Member comes to me afterwards in the smoke-room, I shall be glad to discuss the matter with him.
What impressed me so much was the General Election of 1906 when the whole Principality of Wales was represented solely and exclusively—I wish the noble Lady the Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd George) had not gone out, because I should like her to hear this argument—by 30 Liberal Members. What does that mean? It means that the greater part of the intelligence of Wales, the education of Wales, the property of Wales, and I may almost the whole of the Church of England in Wales, was without any representation whatsoever in that Parliament. When there is so defective an electoral system of the House of Commons is it to be put forward as justifying a restriction of the powers of the Second Chamber in the way proposed? On the contrary, it is very regrettable that these powers should have been reduced in the way that they were even in 1911.
I am glad that the Lord President has returned because I listened very intently not only to the eloquent speech he made today, but to the very forcible speech he made on the Second Reading of this Bill last year, to which I now have an opportunity of replying which I did not have on the former occasion because I was unfortunately unable to catch Mr. Speaker's eye. The right hon. Gentleman referred in that speech to the Government of Ireland Bill and rebuked the House of Lords for having rejected it. What are the facts? That Bill was passed 588 by the House of Commons on 1st September, 1893, by a majority of 34. It went to the House of Lords and, after a wonderful Debate for four days on Second Reading, they rejected it by 419 votes to 41.
I put this question to the Lord President who brought up this matter. Which House represented the people of Great Britain on that occasion! Was it the House of Commons or the House of Lords? What did the people say when it came to the General Election of 1895 when the combined Conservative and Unionist Party was returned by a majority of 152? The action of the House of Lords was fully and amply justified. Not only that, but the service which they had rendered in throwing out the Home Rule Bill was recognised by the electors five years later when once more they returned the Conservative Party to power by 134 votes.
The Lord President in his speech last November, which I read through very carefully again last night because I wanted thoroughly to understand his argument, reproached the House of Lords for having thrown out Mr. Lloyd George's Budget. I contend that the House of Lords on that action received the approbation of the people of the United Kingdom by a considerable majority. Why was that? The Irish Party had voted solidly against the Budget. The Irish Party went to the polls denouncing the Budget. I remember the eloquent speeches of Tim Healy, the champion of the Irish Party, who was returned with the mandate of opposition to the Budget.
What happened when they came to the House of Commons? There was a majority in the House of Commons of 39 against the Budget, but Mr. Redmond stated in Ireland that the Liberal Party would have to "toe the line." He used more polite language in the House of Commons. He said that they were opposed to the Budget, but that if they sacrificed their opposition to the Budget they could do so only at a price. No one was more candid than Mr. Redmond. What was the price? Everyone knows that the price was that they must have a Home Rule Bill carried through during that Parliament. Mr. Asquith complained that the demand was a very exorbitant one, but Mr. Lloyd George was anxious that his Budget should be 589 passed and persuaded the Liberal Government to accept the very exacting terms which were laid down by Mr. Redmond.
The whole object was to place the Home Rule Bill on the Statute Book without consulting the people of the country. They passed it in 1912 and again in 1913 and placed it on the Statute Book in 1914, although it is true that its operations were suspended on account of the war. That is my reply to the right hon. Gentleman when he rebukes the House of Lords for having thrown out the Budget. It is true that they threw out the "People's" Budget, but they received the approval of the majority of the electors. As I have already said, there was a majority of 39 in opposition to Mr. Lloyd George's Budget when the House of Commons met after the General Election in January, 1910, and if it passed, it was as the result of a discreditable bargain.
Every writer who has studied the British Constitution has insisted on the importance of a Second Chamber. There was no greater French publicist in the 18th century than Montesquieu, who wrote "L'Esprit des Lois," or as Voltaire wittily described it "De l'Esprit sur les lois." He studied most minutely the British Constitution. and what struck him as the real reason for its success was that one power checked the other—the Lords and Commons were there to check each other. It was this equipoise of powers which appealed to him. The fathers of the American Constitution were familiar with his work and were influenced by him. When introducing their wonderful Federal Constitution, they took very great care to follow his precepts, and set up a constitution in which there was a strong upper house to check the lower house in order to sec that the will of the people really did prevail. At Oxford, when we studied the British Constitution we had to begin with dear old Blackstone. In "Blackstone's Commentaries" we find it stated:Herein consists the true excellence of the English Government, that all the parts of it form a natural check upon each other.In other words, he said the same thing as Montesquieu. The object of our Second Chamber is to see that the will of the people does prevail. I need not repeat what has already been said in regard to the services rendered by the House of 590 Lords on the question of capital punishment.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
Before the hon. Member leaves that point, does not Blackstone also go on to say that legislation should keep pace with the needs of the day?
§ Professor Savory
So it always has in this country and the House of Lords has never in recent years obstructed useful legislation really desired by the people. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."] That is so. What we have to see is not merely that the wishes of a fictitious majority such as we have in the House of Commons today prevail, but that the real will of the people prevails. That can only be the case in a Constitution such as ours, if there is a strong Second Chamber. What I fear the Government are really aiming at is not that the people should be the masters of the House of Commons, but that the House of Commons—a fortuitously and disproportionately elected House of Commons such as this, which does not represent the people at all—should be the masters of the British people.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Jenkins (Southwark, Central)
The right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe), who opened for the Opposition this afternoon, claimed that the Lord President had given us rather too much history. I do not know what he would say about the speech of the hon. Member for Queen's University (Professor Savory). But it is refreshing to listen to the history of the hon. Member because he, unlike many of his hon. Friends, does not dismiss with a wave of the hand the past history of the other place. He is prepared to defend every action of the other place during the last 50 years, which is a very different story from that put forward by the hon. Member's friends. When the hon. Member talks about the dangers of fictitious majorities in this House—and I take it that they mean progressive majorities—I hope he was saying the same thing when there were equally fictitious Conservative majorities, and far more dangerous because there was then no check at all from the Second Chamber.
§ Mr. Jenkins
I was only expressing the hope, and I am glad to be reassured However, I do not want to follow the hon. Gentleman any further.
I wish to refer to the speech made by the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby who, I am sorry to say, is not in his place at the moment. He got very much nearer to discussing the real substance of this Bill on its merits than any speaker from the opposite side had done so far today. He discussed it. however, on a rather artificial basis because he was postulating all the time not the House of Lords as we know it today, as it exists now, but an idealised House of Lords which existed only in his own imagination, which he hoped would be set up some day, and would be so carefully constituted that in some miraculous way it would hold a complete balance between Left and Right and be entirely impartial between Conservative and Labour Governments. With the best will in the world I do not believe it possible to create a Second Chamber which will be impartial between Left and Right.
We on this side are entitled to be suspicious of the motives of the party opposite when they talk about the reform of the House of Lords, when we look back on their record in connection with this question. The hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. M. Lindsay) pointed with pride to the fact that Members of the other place carried a Motion early in 1910 saying that a hereditary peerage should not of itself entitle a man to sit in the House of Lords. Certainly they did that, but at that time they were under a threat to their powers such as exists today. That is why they did it then, and that is why they are interested in reform today. When they carried that Motion in 1910 their object was not to create an impartial Second Chamber, but to modify the hereditary principle without destroying the Conservative majority and make the other House equally useful from their point of view but more defensible in the eyes of the country.
That has been the principle which has lain behind all Conservative schemes for reform of the House of Lords over the past 40 years. Even so, during the long period of Conservative power which intervened between the two wars—when the House of Lords felt itself temporarily safe—no concrete scheme emerged and 592 was carried into law. Therefore, I think we on this side of the House, especially in view of the breakdown of the constitutional conference, must be forgiven if we prefer to deal not with an idealised House of Lords which may exist in the mind of the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby, but with a House of Lords as it exists today and as we know it today.
It is not enough, in talking about reform of the House of Lords, to convince us that this Bill is quite unnecessary. Members opposite would have to show that it was reasonable that Conservative Governments, without a fresh appeal to the electorate, should have five years of unrestricted power and that it was reasonable that Labour should have three years of such power but wrong, unconstitutional and undemocratic that Labour Governments should be able to make the same use of their fourth and fifth Sessions as Conservative Governments, in exactly similar circumstances, can always do.
The right hon. and learned Member for West Derby talked a good deal of the importance of the delaying power of the House of Lords. He would say that the object was not to render sterile the last two years of the Labour Government's period of office, that if this happened it was merely coincidental. The important thing was that the House of Lords should have the right to hold up for two years any Measure on which it considered that the country had not fully made up its mind. But this period of delay, I take it, is founded on the belief that the period of two years, whether or not an election intervenes, is necessary to enable people to consider the full implications of the Measure, and to make their disapprobation felt through various organs of public opinion should they so wish.
Do Members opposite really believe this theory? Do they think the other place was actuated by this motive when they chose to reject the Measures—admittedly few—which they did reject following the passing of the Parliament Act, 1911? Do they believe that the Measures which the other place selected for rejection—the Irish Home Rule Bill, the Welsh Church Disestablishment Bill and this Bill—were Measures on which people had least made up their minds, on which it was necessary that people should have further time for reflection? 593 It is much more the case that these were the three Measures which their Lordships most disliked and rejected for this reason, and not for any thought of how fully they had been considered.
What response from the people has there been to the attempts by the other place to give time for reflection? The great argument of the party opposite is that this Bill has aroused no great public interest. That may be so. There is no strong agitation in favour of its being carried, but it is equally or more true that there is nothing approaching a flicker of agitation against it. Do their Lordships imagine that if they decide, as they may well do, to hold this Bill up for another year a great agitation against this Parliament will develop? Of course not. We all know perfectly well, as do their Lordships, that if this Bill is rejected no agitation at all will develop against it outside during the period until it is introduced again. Their Lordships will reject this Bill as they rejected other Bills, not because they want to give people more time to think about them, but because they are Bills which they dislike and which afford an opportunity for embarrassing the Government.
I cannot follow the argument put forward by hon. Members opposite that the Government would in some curious way have been behaving more honourably had they waited for the other Chamber to misbehave itself before they introduced this Measure. Hon. Members opposite complain a great deal that this Measure is closely connected with the Bill to nationalise the steel industry. Surely, if we had waited for the House of Lords to throw out some such Measure as a Bill for nationalising the steel industry, if it is brought forward, then the two issues would be far more closely intermingled. It is better that we should decide this constitutional question in a detached way without getting it mixed up with one particular Measure for nationalisation or a Measure for some other purpose with the result that the whole thing would be hopelessly intermingled, and one could not tell whether one were discussing the rights or wrongs of steel nationalisation or the rights or wrongs of this Measure.
I believe that this is a good and useful Bill, and I believe, too, that this is an entirely opportune time to bring it in. 594 I am, of course, aware, as anybody must be aware, that the situation in Berlin, the situation in Malaya and our balance of payments position are all at the moment very much more important than the question of the relations between the two Houses. However, those are not matters which we in this House can solve by legislation. Therefore, we are well entitled to deal with a situation which can be solved by legislation. This Bill shows a way in which we can do this, and with it we take another step forward on the road upon which a step was previously taken in 1911. It is a modest step, but a step which is well in keeping with the needs of the times.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Maclay (Montrose Burghs)
At various stages this afternoon I found myself getting fairly worked up at some of the things which were said, but I am in the difficulty at the moment that those hon. Members who said those things are now mostly absent from the Chamber. If I had been certain that I was going to be called I would have written a lot of notes and sent them to those hon. Members so that I could say what I have to say in their presence. But as they are not here I am afraid I will have to deal with the matters as if those hon. Members were here.
The hon. Member for Central Southwark (Mr. Jenkins) fell into the same mistake as earlier did the hon. Member for Cannock (Miss Lee). I do not know what either of them meant when they said that the merits of this discussion were on whether a Tory Government should have five years rule and a Labour Government three years unless they knew that there was no intention on the part of anybody on the Government side of the House to implement the proposals which appear in the Agreed Statement. That is the only assumption I can come to, because one of the most striking things about this whole discussion is that it has been running on two lines, one of which is that nearly everybody has spoken about the past and the other that it has been assumed there is no validity in what appeared in the Agreed Statement.
§ Mr. Jenkins
If I might be allowed to say one word of explanation, both the hon. Member for Cannock and I said 595 in the first place that we very much doubted whether with the best will in the world it was possible to find agreement on a Second Chamber which would be impartial between Left and Right; and, secondly, in discussing this Bill we are perfectly entitled to do so in terms of the other place as it exists at the moment and not in hypothetical terms.
§ Mr. Maclay
While thanking the hon. Member for his statement, I should like to refer to his last remark when he said that hon. Members opposite were entitled to discuss the House of Lords as it is today. I would point out that the reason why we are having this Debate in its present form and the reason why this Bill is being introduced in its present form is because of the Government's action in throwing away the opportunity that was presented of getting a reform of the other place. I do not agree with some things which were said by the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) and the noble Lady the Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd George), but on one thing I agree with them and that is that I regret that this great opportunity has been missed. I disagree, however, profoundly with both of them in their apportioning of the blame between the two main parties for the opportunity that has been missed.
There is one other thing 1 should like to say before I develop my main argument. I have been extremely interested to hear from practically everyone on the other side of the House as to how the case in regard to this Bill has been and will be presented to the country. We have heard a great deal about hereditary peers, for that theme has been running through most of the speeches and we have heard all about what happened in 1910 and also previous to that. What we are trying to discuss today is the Bill before us and what might have been before us if the Government had been prepared to face the implementation of real reform of the Upper House and to meet the arguments of the Opposition in regard to the powers of delay.
What is the situation we have got before us or might have had before us had there been agreement on the delaying powers? I hope the country will realise and that hon. Members 596 opposite will see that their constituents realise that there is no disagreement between the political parties in this country on the hereditary principle. Hon. Members should make that clear in the country, because in the speeches which have gone before, particularly in that of the noble Lady the Member for Anglesey, concentration has been on the hereditary principle from which -hon. Members opposite seem unable to get away. We are all agreed that that principle must go. The sole issue which has created the situation which has brought this Bill into the House in its present form is the disagreement on the powers of delay of the Second Chamber. That is a very different story from what we have heard from the hon. Member for Cannock, and I see the subtlety of the argument of the hon. Member for Cannock and the hon. Member for Central Southwark because they did not think that the agreement would be implemented.
I do not see why they should take that view, and I wonder if the representatives of the Labour Party in the discussions that took place, held the view that it was impossible to implement the nine heads of the agreement. If one looks at the nine heads, one will agree that they represent a remarkable piece of constitutional progress even in their general terms. The first three are a big move forward. The first is that the Second Chamber is to be complementary to and not a rival to the Lower House, the second is designed to ensuring that no party shall have a permanent majority, and the third deals with the hereditary principle. Anybody who has studied the difficulties which other countries and particularly the Dominions have had in arriving at an ideal constitution for their Second Chamber will appreciate the progress that was made. These three points taken with the rest of the nine points in the agreement give us a workable constitution for a Second Chamber which reflects the very remarkable political maturity of this country.
Two things, I would suggest, have produced that maturity. One is our national character, which makes us look for effective compromise. The other is that we have an unwritten Constitution. I make no apology for repeating at this stage of the Debate that the very fact that we have an unwritten Constitution means 597 that we must be extraordinarily careful in case we do anything which would allow any Government of any complexion to run away from its mandate and from the feeling of the people. I suggest also that there is a good deal of evidence that the present Government do not fully understand what it is that a lot of people who voted for them at the last General Election are now thinking about them. I see that the hon. and learned Member for Llandaff and Barry (Mr. Ungoed-Thomas) shakes his head. I am referring to what is the real purpose of this Bill, on which there is not even agreement between the hon. and learned Member and his own Front Bench as to its meaning. He holds one view and his Front Bench hold another.
§ Mr. Maclay
I shall watch this matter with interest. If I hear things said by a right hon. Gentleman, even from the Government Front Bench, and said with sufficient intensity and enthusiasm, I am inclined to think that he must be telling the truth. I also have the difficulty, when reading newspapers, of believing that all newspapers tell the truth. I am fighting against both those tendencies very hard. Perhaps I should not develop that point any further, as the Lord President of the Council is not here at the moment.
What is the agreement we have at the moment? What was the position at the end of the all-party Conference? There was general agreement on the reform of the House of Lords. There was agreement that there should be no permanent majority for any one political party. I admit the difficulty of achieving that objective, but responsible people had got together and had put down in writing a statement to that effect. One must assume that they thought there was a reasonable chance of working out something effective.
The result of implementing the heads of agreement would have been that we should have an Upper House composed of men and women of wisdom and experience, lack of means being no bar and, what is more, one in which no political party would have been assured of a permanent majority. If we could have achieved that Upper House—and it was worth working for—we should 598 have achieved something quite remarkable in constitutional reform which I think has not been achieved in any other nation in the world. That they should have got agreement on the nine headings should have led everybody on all sides to do everything humanly possible not to let the agreement break down. What do we find? We find the Government absolutely refusing to give way on the question of delaying power. I need not go over that matter again. I accept that it is not a question of three months. The immensely important issue is whether the Upper House should delay in the fourth and fifth Sessions. The only thing with which I agreed in the speech of the hon. Member for Cannock was when she said that this is an important Bill. It is, and I hope the country will realise just how important it is.
Surely there is enough evidence all over the world of the need for a stabilising influence in politics. I should have thought that even members of the Government would realise that within their own ranks in the Labour Party there is a need for some stabilising influence, there are so many deviations and variations wandering about there to cause trouble. We take grave risks if we so concentrate power in the Lower House that it can act without some stabilising influence. Nevertheless, it is clear that if we had created an Upper Chamber with which the Government were satisfied under the nine heads of agreement, still the Government would not allow that House the proper two years' delaying power under the Parliament Act. If so, we have to look for the reason.
If the two years' delaying power was a good working proposition for 37 years with the present composition of the House of Lords—I admit everything that has been said earlier in the Debate about relative strengths—and everybody admits that it has worked well, then right hon. Gentlemen opposite cannot change—
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Ede)
It has never worked when there has been a Conservative majority in this House.
§ Mr. Maclay
That may be an argument, and that is the kind of thing that is going to be said all over the country, 599 although it is misleading and distorting. The system that has worked is that, with the present political composition of the Upper Chamber, there has been no major clash with the Commons. I grant, up to a point, the validity of the right hon. Gentleman's statement, but why does he expect that a House of Lords reformed along the lines of the agreed statement, would function badly? If the system has worked for 37 years in this form, and if the Upper Chamber were reformed so as to achieve the objectives of the nine points of agreement, why should it not be able to act responsibly with two years' delaying power?
That is what ought to be put to the country, and not the concentration upon the fourth and fifth years with the present composition. I am sorry to have to emphasise this point, but it is the whole guts of the Debate. How is this thing to be put over to the country? It could easily be put over as a battle between the hereditary Peers and the Commons of this country, but it is not. It is that, if we create a Second Chamber so balanced that the Chamber will command the complete confidence of the country, the Government will not be able to accuse the Second Chamber of being an unbalanced body to which they are not prepared to give delaying powers of two years.
Why? I just do not believe all the nonsense about iron and steel not being related to the Bill. To say that they are not related seems a childish waste of time. It might be that the Government had a Bill which could be brought in for changing the constitution of the Upper House. It is highly probable that they had, but it came in extraordinarily conveniently when the steel difficulty arose. I do not know why hon. Members opposite should argue about it. It is so obvious. What is difficult to believe about it? If it is correct, then the Government are simply using a device, but why they should dissemble about it I do not know. It is a device we should attack, and properly so.
If it means anything it means that at least certain elements in the Government would accept Single Chamber Government, as was made plain from the remarks of the hon. Member for Cannock. Is that the ultimate objective of some 600 Members who support the Government? The only other possible objective is to push through a Bill which they know extremely well, as do many of their supporters in the country, should not be put through. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Hon. Members disagree. I have moved about the country. One talks to people and one meets people too. There is growing evidence that people do not believe that an iron and steel nationalisation Bill at the moment is relevant to an industry which is producing better than it has ever produced in its history and better than any other major industry in the country.
It is clear that what we are facing tonight is not the question of three months or anything like that, or of delaying in the fourth or fifth year. It is not that issue that we are debating. I wish my Liberal friends were here. I should like them to hear what I am going to say now. If that were the issue, I could understand their attitude, but we are not dealing with the merits of constitutional reform. It is a question whether this House is going to approve of a British Government altering the Constitution because of the doctrinaire theories or even the personal ambitions and desires of certain Members of that Government. That is why the Constitution is being tampered with. If it were a genuine attempt to reform we should take a different line, but it is impossible to get any evidence that that is so. The thing is being rushed through. It is much too convenient that it comes at a time when the steel Bill is in sight, I am convinced that anybody who believes that we have to watch the constitutional safety of our country and the guarding of our democratic system of Government must vote for the Amendment.
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Ivor Owen Thomas (The Wrekin)
The hon. Member for Montrose Burghs (Mr. Maclay) has ridiculed the contention put forward on behalf of the Government that this Measure seriously proposes effectively to impair the powers of the Second Chamber as at present constituted; in other words, that the delaying period is not the essential issue which divided the parties in their consultations. However, it cannot be denied that, as reported in the official White Paper, the negotiations ultimately broke down upon the 601 fundamental point of the period of delaying power. Before dealing with the question of the period of delaying power of the Second Chamber, it would be advisable and useful to deal with a few of the points raised by the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe). His speech reminded me of a quite useful large-sized old tramp steamer going from port to port loaded with ballast. There was nothing in his speech which seriously dealt with the case put forward by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House.
The history of the two Chambers in this country, which is a long one, has been one of complete co-operation between the two Houses during periods when we have had Tory Governments, with a total lack of any major difference of policy or action. Only when there has been either a Liberal Government or a Labour Government in power has this fundamental difference between the two Houses come to the surface. I have been reading the Debates on the Parliament Bill of 1910. On looking back to those Debates, the Leader of the Opposition must feel very glad that circumstances have arisen which make it necessary and convenient for him to be absent from the House during this Debate, because any hon. Member speaking from these Benches need go no further than the columns of HANSARD reporting the speeches of the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) in that Parliament of 1910 to seek absolute justification for the case put forward for the Government today. For instance, on 12th April, 1910, the Home Secretary, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford was then, speaking on the relations between the two Houses, said:We are presenting the House of Lords not with one year's provisions, but with two. We are providing them with the means of delaying a measure which they do not like for two whole years and three successive Sessions.That is the present position. He went on to say:I agree entirely with the right hon. Gentleman that that is giving the House of Lords enormous powers, and all this nonsensical talk which has been so loudly put forward by so many of those who agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we are in fact setting up a Single-Chamber system can now be relegated to the limbo of worthless and exploded political arguments.602 I quote that statement by the Leader of the Opposition to establish the argument which has been put forward from these Benches this afternoon that the present effective delaying power of the House of Lords is two years and that the sole purpose of the Measure now before this Chamber is to reduce that effective delaying power from two years to one year.
It was suggested by the hon. Member for Montrose Burghs that the whole series of agreements, or tentative agreements, reached in the consultations between the leaders of the three parties in the period February-April last should have been accepted by the Government and that they should not have been disposed of in the way they were merely on the question of time limit or the period for delaying legislation still to be left in the hands of the Second Chamber. The quotation emphasises the fact that the amendment put forward and ultimately established at that time allowed the Second Chamber an effective delaying period of two years. It was also put forward that, unless that delaying period was reduced effectively, the Government could not agree to the major changes also proposed.
But this is not the end of the story. We are dealing at the present juncture not with the ultimate revision or reform of the Second Chamber, but with its existing powers under existing circumstances. This Government was elected to power on a definite programme, clearly put before the electorate of this country in 1945. Major items in that programme have still to be introduced and placed upon the statute book. Has it been denied by the chief spokesman for the Opposition today that that two years' delaying period is still there, and has any guarantee been given that it will not be utilised to the fullest possible extent to prevent Measures such as a steel Bill, which will certainly be introduced during the coming Session—
§ Mr. Maclay
May I ask the hon. Member equally whether there is any guarantee that the one year delaying period will remain if it suits the Government on some other occasion to take that away?
§ Mr. Thomas
I can answer that question by quoting again from the speech of the right hon. Member for Woodford 603 in the Parliament of 1910. The hon. Gentleman has asked for it and he is going to get it.
§ Mr. Thomas
The right hon. Member for Woodford said in the same speech from which I have just quoted:We are all united in making such interference impossible in the future. We are all united in securing the supremacy of the House of Commons in the State, and we are all united in securing its predominance in legislation. We are all united upon the great seriousness of the Veto Resolutions. We are all united in condemning the existing character of the House of Lords, and if some of us go further, and wish, after the Veto has been abolished "—Hon. Members should note carefully what follows:to see the House of Lords as at present constituted swept away entirely, while others would stop short at the simple abolition of the Veto, that may be a real difference, but its not a difference upon which the party opposite will be well advised to build;"—I repeat those words as advice to hon. Members sitting opposite this evening.nor is it a difference which will in any way impair the full vigour and efficiency of democratic action."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th April, 1910; Vol. 16, c. 1132 and 1134.]Now what does all this issue boil down to? We have not had that frankness and honesty and straightforward analysis of the issue from His Majesty's Opposition this afternoon that we are entitled to expect. Because if it is correct that His Majesty's Opposition, through their representatives in the Conference of Party Leaders, could go so far as to agree upon fundamental changes in the constitution of the Second Chamber which are tabulated in this report, why is it that they hesitated over this period of legislative delay? What is the answer to that? Do they expect that a modern democratic State and a modern democratic representative assembly, popularly elected on a definite programme put forward at a General Election, can tolerate the delay in its legislative programme during the last two years of its period of power? Because that is the sole issue before this House today.
604 However, I think it has been made perfectly clear by the Lord President of the Council this afternoon that this is not to be the end of the tale, though it is absolutely essential for the purposes of this present Parliament, and for this Government to carry through the programme upon which it was elected by the people in 1945, that the existing powers of the Second Chamber have to be seriously curtailéd. Not only that but, when the opportunity arises, as I am confident it will arise, after the next General Election, to get down not only to the period of delay by the Second Chamber but to the whole constitution of that Second Chamber, we shall not hestitate to deal with it seriously, to remove the features that have been connected with that Second Chamber and which have made it merely the mouthpiece and representative of Tory reaction in this country.
Hon. Members opposite, the representatives of His Majesty's Opposition, appear now to be quite agreeable to the reform of the constitution of the Second Chamber. If they are so keen at this stage, why have they not answered the question put to them so often during these last few months and in the years between the two wars: why, when they had the power to do it, did they not amend the status, the powers, and the representation of the Second Chamber instead of allowing it to continue to exist in its antiquated form, just serving the purposes of successive Conservative Governments during that period? There is only one answer, and it is plain for anybody to see. As long as that Second Chamber has existed in its present form, it has been merely the tool and handmaiden of successive Tory Governments. It was only when the Liberal Governments were elected by the people of this country from 1906 onwards, and when a Labour Government was elected in 1945, and exercised the power reposed in it by the people of this country, that the Tories, not only on the Front Bench but on the Back Benches and throughout the country, have been amenable apparently to the idea of some change in the makeup of the Second Chamber.
It is all moonshine, so far as we on these benches are concerned, for the Opposition to come forward and seriously suggest that, all this time, they have been agreeable to fundamental reforms of the Second Chamber, because, if they had 605 been so keen upon that reform in all the years that have gone, they could have achieved it along the lines which they are even now putting forward, but which they say are now being delayed and sidetracked by the Labour Government for what the Opposition suggests is the secondary issue of the period of delay.
Finally, I say that this Bill is achieving only part of the purpose in the necessary amendment of the existing powers and status of the Second Chamber. It is the beginning of a very important step in the legislative constitutional reform of the Second Chamber, which, after all, should not have the power of delaying legislation passed by the popularly elected Chamber of this country to such an extent as to render that legislation null and void. When we come to the question of the status and composition of that Second Chamber, the necessary reforms that will have to be brought forward for this limitation of their delaying powers will form the first steps in building that new constitutional structure.
I am confident that the people of this country will not again give political power to our political opponents, now the Opposition, to play about with the power of the House of Lords in order to defeat the purposes of the people in the achievement of that new world of which this Government is steadily and surely laying the foundations. I am confident that, after the next General Election, we shall be given a further period of power to go forward with the great programme of social legislation and the necessary constitutional reforms that will have to be undertaken in connection with the existing Second Chamber.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Wilson Harris (Cambridge University)
Let me assure the House before I go further that I shall not quote one single line of HANSARD. Like the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Maclay) I regret the absence from the House of several hon. Members to whose speeches I should have liked to refer, but unlike him I shall in the main cut my losses in the interest of brevity. I particularly regret the absence of the noble Lady the Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd George), to whom I listened with both delight and dissent, and I rejoice that she discounted her arguments to a very large extent by providing in her own 606 person so admirable an example of the working of the hereditary principle at its best.
The Lord President opened this Debate with a remarkable speech. It was remarkable in this respect, that, having proved to his own satisfaction, indeed, to his own visible satisfaction, that there was no connection between the Bill before the House and the question of iron and steel, he devoted the greater part of his speech, it seemed to me—perhaps the utterance dragged a little at this point—to the subject of iron and steel, thereby reaching a high water mark of irrelevance. Even so, the right hon. Gentleman left it uncertain in my mind whether the House of Lords was going to pass the Bill because Lord Salisbury said so or reject it because the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) said so. Events will no doubt prove in due course which of these contingencies is the right one.
There is one point which has been touched upon earlier in the Debate which deserves further emphasis. It is one of the disadvantages of having an unwritten Constitution that we have to have Measures involving a substantial alteration of the Constitution decided on the strength of a mere party vote. That is rather a serious situation. It may be argued, of course, that there was a mandate for such action as the Government is now taking. Let it be remembered in 1910 two General Elections were fought on the principles of the Parliament Act before that Act was carried through the House. It will no doubt be said that in "Let Us Face the Future" it was stated that the Labour Party would not tolerate obstruction of the people's will by the House of Lords. That, of course, is a very heroic and definite affirmation, but do not hon. Members know, in their retrospective moments—they are very retrospective nowadays, not to say retroactive—that it is completely superfluous. There has not been a trace since 1945 of obstruction by the House of Lords. Not only have their Lordships been astonished at their own moderation, but everybody else as well. They have had before them Measures from this House of which they profoundly and genuinely disapprove. They might have held them up for the statutory period, and there must have been a great temptation to do it. Nothing of the kind has happened; 607 there has been no delay, no obstruction of any kind.
§ Mr. Harris
The hon. Member is better informed on their Lordships' motives than I am. I am only concerned with the facts, and the fact is that this obstruction did not take place. But I do not want to pursue this argument, because I agree with the hon. Member for Montrose that we ought to be giving far more attention today to the very remarkable achievements of the all-party conference in the spring of this year. I am not sure that the House has fully recognised, and I am quite sure that the country has not fully recognised, what immense credit is due to the members of all parties who took part in that conference. I do not think any reproach could be directed against hon. Members opposite or against hon. Members above the Gangway. They did their best to reach agreement, and they reached a most remarkable measure of agreement. If anyone who had followed the course of the relations between the two Houses over the last 30 years had predicted that, in 10 or 12 weeks, the leaders of both parties would agree upon a new constitution for the House of Lords and only differ to the extent of three months as to its powers, the prediction would have been laughed out of court.
Those negotiations have substantially and fundamentally altered the whole situation, and I should regret it profoundly if we regarded that discussion as finally closed and that failure is finally accepted. It is an immense thing to have rejected the idea of the hereditary system with the assent of people who were themselves hereditary Peers. It is an immense thing to have laid down in this White Paper that:The revised constitution of the House of Lords should be such as to secure as far as practicable that a permanent majority is not assured for any one political party.If that proposal were carried into effect, it would dispose completely of half the arguments we have heard in the House today, and, particularly, of the argument that we had an Upper House with a permanent majority prejudiced in one direction. We should think of an Upper 608 House carefully chosen and so constituted that it would never provide a majority for any particular party, and predisposed neither against Bills brought in by hon. Members opposite nor those on this side of the House.
We have been asked by the hon. Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) how the constitution of a House of this kind could possibly be guaranteed. Since it would be composed to a large extent of life Peers appointed by the Crown on the advice of the Prime Minister, it is quite clear that for the present, at any rate, the matter would be largely in the hand of the present Prime Minister. Speaking as one who does not suffer the disability of belonging to any political party, I can only say that if the hon. Lady would not be satisfied with the selections of the present Prime Minister, I should be completely satisfied with them, and I believe we should get, as far as he was in charge of the appointments, a House which did answer to this description, a House which should so far as practicable contain no permanent majority for any particular party.
It is true that the Conference failed on this question of three months. To say that it failed merely on the question of three months is not perhaps to state the whole truth, but at a time like this are we to lay so much stress on those fatal three months? Is there a gulf there which all the good will and the wisdom of all the politicians cannot reach? Can they not go back to those three months and see if, after all, something cannot be done with them? Is it not better for hon. Members above the Gangway to have 12 months and national unity than to have nine months and national disunity? Is it not better for hon. Members opposite to have nine months and national unity rather than 12 months and national disunity?
I said earlier that there was a particular factor which altered our present situation profoundly. But there are other factors which have altered it radically, comprehensively and ominously. If ever there was a moment when it was the imperative duty of the Government and the Opposition to endeavour to build a bridge over this gulf and present to the world the face of a united nation, that moment is now. Most of us were in this House last week when the Lord President made 609 that grave statement about the present situation and about the needs of national defence. At this very moment, as we know, conversations of the utmost seriousness are going on in Paris between our Foreign Minister and the Foreign Ministers of other countries. On Wednesday the Foreign Secretary will come back and will make here what must be a statement of the utmost gravity. Some hon. Members have spoken this afternoon of Malaya, Palestine and so on. It is not a question of Malaya and Palestine. It is a question of Moscow, Berlin and ourselves. Is this the moment for us to indulge in what, by comparison, are petty domestic controversies which will give delight to all our enemies and dismay to all our friends?
We listen to speeches daily urging agreement between employers and men. Is it not possible to reach some agreement on this issue between politicians on both sides of the House? I am not asking merely for the cessation of controversy, though that would be a great thing. There is an opportunity here for something far more positive. There is an opportunity for a great constructive act such as has no parallel in recent politics in this country and which would profoundly impress watchers all over the world. It is immensely to our credit, and it is not forgotten outside this country, that in the course of each of two great wars we have put on the statute book two great social Measures—the Education Act associated with the name of Mr. Fisher, and the Education Act associated with the name of the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler).
We have had it suggested today that, after all, we cannot concern ourselves with the situation in the world because no legislative Measures which we may discuss here can affect it. No, not legislative Measures, but there are other steps which can be taken, and the party conference foreshadowed them and pointed the way to them. It is entirely wrong for hon. Members to taunt the Government with having failed to reach agreement. It is equally wrong to taunt hon. Members above the Gangway with failure to reach agreement. There was a perfectly sincere discussion. Each side felt then that it had gone as far as it genuinely could, and no reproach lies against either side. But even in those few months how the situation has 610 changed. What a different world we are living in. What new perils overshadow us. Do we realise—I am sure we must realise it if we reflect on it—with what eager hope Moscow is watching for any sign of controversy and disunity here, and with what dismay sees any signs of rapprochement and the cementing of unity.
Are His Majesty's Government and the Opposition bent on giving to Mr. Molotov at this juncture the satisfaction and gratification that he so eagerly desires? I cannot believe that this narrowed gulf cannot be spanned. I cannot believe that hon. Members on both Front Benches will not make one last endeavour to reach agreement in the face of the world situation as we see it. I do not agree with the noble Lady the Member for South Aberdeen (Lady Tweedsmuir) that the Government need be called on to withdraw this Measure. We are not yet quite at the eleventh hour. This Bill can be passed in this House and rejected in the other House. There will be plenty of time then for renewal of the Spring discussions before it is presented a third time in this House in the course of the Autumn. I believe that the verdict of history on both His Majesty's Government and His Majesty's Opposition will be stern, and justly stern, if at such a juncture in the affairs of humanity they deliberately let pass this golden and irrevocable opportunity.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Carmichael (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
I should like to point out at the outset that while the junior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Wilson Harris) may claim to be in the happy position of being an independent Member, one must accept from the speeches which he has delivered, including the speech which he has just made, that he has a very strong Conservative background.
§ Mr. Wilson Harris
I have not much of a background of any kind, and no shadow or part of it is Conservative.
§ Mr. Carmichael
All I can say is that that is my opinion of him, and his attitude in the House is definite evidence of a Conservative background even if he himself is quite unaware of it. I think it was very wrong of him to drag in the question of what Mr. Molotov might say and what might happen in Berlin, rather 611 leaving the impression that those who are anxious to put this Measure through this House are quite indifferent to their international responsibilities. It is necessary in Parliamentary government—and I should not require to stress this while watching and paying close attention to our international responsibilities, to remember that we have very important domestic responsibilities.
This Measure, the importance of which no one will deny, is brought here with a due recognition of the claims made upon the Labour movement by the people of this country in 1945. The people elected a Labour Government in 1945. It has been argued here today that many Members are in with minority votes. Surely that is not a new thing in Parliamentary government. The only Conservative who has been successful against a Labour candidate in a recent by-election in a seat formerly held by Labour is in this House now with a minority vote, and I have no doubt he exercises all the powers of the Division Lobby to support the Conservative Party. It may even be argued with some justification that the constitution of this House and the general Parliamentary setup is not as satisfactory as we would like it to be, and that it should be amended.
It is my personal opinion that on many occasions the Executive of this House has far too much power. It may well be that on other occasions they have not sufficient power for their very important job. But we are not dealing at this stage with the House of Commons and the machinery associated with the House of Commons; we are dealing with the House of Lords, and who will argue that the House of Lords is not a very privileged place with very great powers and no responsibility? The strongest case made today was, first, that the House of Lords must always be there to protect and give expression to public opinion and secondly that, while watching public opinion, it will never exercise its power against this Chamber unfairly. What is public opinion? I heard it discussed earlier today. It is amazing how certain people can become authorities on public opinion.
§ Mr. Carmichael
Including the hon. Member for Flint (Mr. Birch). It always 612 reminds me of the person who talks authoritatively about the opinion of the man in the street. How do Members of the House of Lords measure public opinion? To tell Members of the Labour Government who, weekly, are in close association with the people of the country, that they are liable to misunderstand public opinion and must be protected by the noble Lords of another place, is something I am not prepared to accept. It is something I cannot accept because, in the first place, a programme was very clearly laid down before the electors of this country. The great fault of this Government so far, apparently, has been that they have attempted to carry out their pledges to the people.
It has been said that in the first three years of this Government the House of Lords has been reasonable and tolerant towards all Measures sent to it. Why? Because under the Parliament Act of 1911 this House ultimately could have forced through any Measure presented in the first three years. We are now coming to the last two years and no Government have a right to remain in office for those two years unless they can carry out the tasks for which they are responsible to the people of this country. The Government therefore face up to those tasks.
I know it has been said that the real purpose behind this Measure is the nationalisation of iron and steel. In his speech today the Lord President of the Council made a point that it was not necessary for the purpose of passing a steel nationalisation Bill. I think that is a clever way for a front bencher to handle a situation of this kind. Front benchers—I know it—have to be more careful in their language than ordinary back benchers. He was very careful in his language. [Interruption.] I do not think the hon. Member for Flint was present, but I am going to make no bones about it. My own opinion is, first, that we made up our minds when we went to the electorate that we would have nationalisation of the iron and steel industry in this country. I have no doubt this Measure will aid us in doing that. What is the good of denying it? I would not deny it. But what is the argument of the Opposition?
§ Mr. Carmichael
Allow me to deal with the arguments of the Opposition. They are: "If we could prevent this reform of the House of Lords we could prevent nationalisation of the iron and steel industry." If that is not so, why are they disturbed about the iron and steel industry—unless it is because we are passing this particular Measure?
It is an amazing thing that in the last 40 years we have had all kinds of reforms associated with the political life of this country with the exception of reform of the House of Lords. I shall quote no one, but I could quote the Leader of the Opposition in his statement about the House of Lords—that it was an instrument of the Conservative Party 40 years ago. Who will deny that it is an instrument of the Conservative and privileged party today? We have had all kinds of political reforms in the last 40-odd years. We had, first, the franchise for the women of this country, which brought an entirely new force into the political life of the country. That was because of the agitation of the women themselves. As a result of the first world war we were compelled to introduce a change in the political franchise to permit young men the right to vote. This extended the franchise considerably over the country.
In the same period we have reformed the electoral laws and an attempt has been made—it was first made in 1918—to reach a more just arrangement of divisions—a better adjustment of the divisions up and down the country. With our changing population I do not think we could ever reach a perfect representation, in which every constituency would have a similar number of electors, but at least an attempt was made in 1918 to get as near that as possible. With the passing of time, and with our knowledge of the changing population, in this Parliament we have again made alterations in the constituencies up and down the country. Why have we done that? It was in order to try to achieve fair representation for the people.
It is agreed that the House of Commons is the supreme, and the only, authority for the people of this country. But during the whole of that period not one single change has been made in the structure and the constitution of the House of Lords. We are told a great attempt was made by the conference of 614 the leaders of the various parties. I studied that report; I do not think it is difficult to discover why there was a breakdown. Read it carefully and it can be seen that, apart from the admission that the hereditary principle is unfair, nothing fundamental was agreed at that conference. Why? Surely all of us recognise the political responsibilities of the new party of the workers and the political responsibilities of the Tory Party? The conference broke down because the Government of the day recognises that it accepts an entirely new responsibility in legislation in this country, and that any Measure which it means to introduce while the House of Lords is in its present form, could be destroyed.
I make no apology for this: as against the present House of Lords, I believe in its abolition. I do not say it would be impossible to devise a Second Chamber, but from my own reading and my own knowledge I do not think it is possible. However, any one in politics who makes up his mind and says he is not going to change it despite the circumstances is, I think, very foolish. As things stand today, however, I feel it would be unwise for us to argue that the conference which broke down could re-assemble and that common agreement could be reached between the people on these benches and the people on the benches opposite.
It has been suggested that we on these benches might go to the country and make this an important issue. I do not think it will ever be an important issue in the country, nor do I think that it is right that it should be an important issue. It is an attempt by the people elected by the electors to put their own house in order; that is all it is. It may be that there will be very great debates and differences in the country on the nationalisation of iron and steel; I think we would be entitled to expect that, but there will be no important division on this Parliament Bill. I do not think public opinion will be seriously touched by this question. In any case, I should not like to be at a meeting of keenly interested politicians wanting to know what the Government policy had been and having to listen only to a dreary speech on the reform of the House of Lords.
The people of the country are not much concerned about the House of Lords. The House of Lords Members are not 615 very much concerned themselves about that Chamber, unless Measures are introduced in this House which they do not like. I was advised, when capital punishment was being debated in Parliament and outside, that even some of the permanent officials challenged some of the Peers as they arrived at the House of Lords because they doubted their right to enter. There will be no doubt about the vote here, or that, ultimately, the Measure will be passed. I think the Measure is important for domestic purposes, but not necessarily so far as the country is concerned. The real test of the next General Election will be, not what reforms were carried out in the machinery of government, but what the Government did to implement their pledges to the people. It is on that basis that the Election will be fought.
§ 8.41 p.m.
§ Major Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
I think the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Carmichael) has condemned the Government's introduction of the Bill by the concluding remarks of his speech, in which he said—and I think I agree with him—that this Bill has not created very great-interest in the country, and that the country at large is not wildly interested in the idea of the Bill. I think that is perfectly true. It is because it is true that it is a condemnation of the Government's introducing the Bill at this time, when we have such very serious matters to consider. We are to have a Debate on defence this week. Surely, we could also have spent on defence, and such matters, the time we have been spending on this Bill. I believe the Government have completely misjudged the gravity of the present situation in introducing the Bill at this time.
The Lord President has been at pains to try to explain that the purpose of introducing this Bill is not to facilitate the passage of the iron and steel nationalisation Bill if and when it comes. I suppose that even he would admit that this Bill will somewhat facilitate it, even if it is not purposely designed to do so, presuming that this Bill becomes part of the law of the land. I am going to try for a few minutes—I have not much time—to assume that the Lord President is perfectly sincere when he says that this Bill has not been produced for the purpose of 616 enabling iron and steel to be nationalised. I am going to try to see if, from "Let us Face the Future," we can find anything the Government may be relying upon this Bill to get done; because I think that if the Government, as they did in the previous Debate on this Bill, pretend that there is a mandate for the Bill in "Let us Face the Future"—as I shall always deny, as I did the last time—then, perhaps, they may feel they have a mandate for doing other things as well, other things which have had very small attention paid to them so far. I do not believe that the mandates exist, but if the Government are prepared to say that a mandate for this Bill exists, then they will say practically anything.
Therefore, I think it is as well to look at some of the things in" Let us Face the Future." There is, for instance, the matter of industry in general. The pamphlet says:Each industry must have applied to it the test of national service. If it serves the nation, well and good. If it is inefficient and falls down on its job the nation must see things are put right.Is that a broad mandate to do practically anything and nationalise any industry? Ministers have said some pretty startling things about what they intend to do. This programme is said to be the first step towards the socialisation of England. As the Lord President said the other day, we have to "socialise men's minds," apparently. Are we to have a Bill to do that? Is that one of the Bills the Government are to introduce and want to facilitate?
Let us look at land. In "Let us Face the Future" are some very outspoken things. It says:If the landlord cannot or will not provide proper facilities for his tenant farmers the State should take over his land on a fair valuation.Then it says:Labour believes in land nationalisation and will work towards it.[Interruption.] I hope hon. Members on this side will note the registration of glee on the other side of the House on that matter. The Agriculture Act, 1947, was introduced, we understood, because it was agreed by all parts of the industry; but the Government, in their election manifesto, have, apparently assumed, or are going to assume that they have, a man- 617 date for the nationalisation of land before this Parliament is out. I submit to the House that this Government have very carefully designed this Bill not merely to facilitate the passage of the iron and steel nationalisation Bill but other Bills as well, and that some of these Bills may be just as questionable on the matter of mandate as any of the other Bills we have had presented so far.
I believe myself that the Government know very well that some of the things they have in mind to do will quite likely provoke their lordships, and that they are determined that their lordships, if they are provoked, shall have their power curtailed. [Interruption.] It is interesting to hear hon. Members register this approval, because it merely bears out what I suspect, that the Government have allowed the "furies" to take charge. We know quite well that the Prime Minister in the past has been able to rely on the backing of the trade unionists because they have felt he is sympathetic towards them, and he has a certain number of "furies" in the Government who have relied on him to pull the trade unions with him. We know now that the "furies" have taken charge, and that the extreme Socialists are getting complete control; and we know quite well that the Government are deliberately pandering to the whims of the Minister of Health. We have had that information given to us by an hon. Member opposite and by that valuable journal, the "New Statesman." We believe the Minister of Health is not alone in this matter, and has followers with him who would gladly, out of vindictiveness or what you will, see this country become a dictatorship—I say again, gladly see this country become a dictatorship—and we know where he would like to be in it.
I should like to congratulate the Government on one thing. Some governments that seem to have had totalitarian tendencies have made a practice, when there has been internal strife, at once to create some external divergence to unite the nation. This Government has reversed the process. Because, apparently, they see difficulties abroad, they at once create a dispute at home which is quite unnecessary. It is done only from partisan motives which will rebound upon them before very long.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Ungoed-Thomas (Llandaff and Barry)
It is very entertaining to read the Amendment which was moved when this matter came before the House on the last occasion and the Amendment which is before the House today. On the last occasion, the Conservatives claimed that the Bill was brought forward without mandate. They have abandoned that now, and simply say that there is no public demand. On the last occasion, they said that the Parliament Act laid down as an essential condition that the composition of the Second Chamber should be dealt with. To anyone who has read the Parliament Act—I cannot understand how the drafting of the Amendment got past the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) it is palpably clear that no such essential condition is laid down. Not surprisingly, that suggestion has been abandoned.
The third line was that it would distract attention from the economic perils of the nation; and since last Thursday's comparatively cheerful speech by one who is not addicted to too much cheer, they have abandoned even that ground of opposition, and instead of it we find emerging from the Amendment for the first time, although it appeared in the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby on Second Reading, the suggestion that this Bill deprives the nation of sufficient time during the passage of important and controversial Bills to form and express its opinion. This is the first time that suggestion has appeared in the forefront of an Amendment before the House. It is not put forward as conviction but as an argument. I wish to consider the argument that is put forward to justify the inclusion of that statement in the Amendment.
As I understand it after reading the speech which the right hon. and learned Gentleman made on Second Reading, there are two propositions on which the Conservatives now base their opposition to the Bill. The first is to ensure time for the true expression of the people's will; the second is that 12 months or thereabouts is the adequate time required for enabling the nation to form its opinions. My submission is that if these two propositions are accepted, then there is no basis at all for the opposition to the 619 the Bill. Is it the true purpose of the Opposition to bring about the discovery of what is really the people's will? There is rather an interesting commentary on this in the speeches made on Second Reading. The hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg), in dealing with the reform of the Second Chamber, said that we must first deal with the composition of the Second Chamber before we deal with its powers. The Home Secretary virtually contradicted that, and laid it down that we must deal with the powers of the Second Chamber before we deal with its composition.
Why do we have this cleavage between the two hon. Members, representing the points of view of their parties? They represent two diametrically opposed approaches to the composition of the Second Chamber as now constituted. We start with the democratic principle that the people of the country should govern themselves through their elected representatives. On that foundation, we say that there is a place in the Constitution for the Second Chamber, but that place must be complementary and subsidiary to that of the elected representatives of the people. The Conservative approach is entirely different. The Conservative approach is that, first of all, one sees what kind of body one can form as a Second Chamber, and if one likes that body, then perhaps one would give it more power than if one dislikes it. The powers to be given to the body depend upon the degree of preference for the body which is formed.
Now, that approach is entirely different from the approach of those who say that the power of the Constitution must be placed in the elected representatives of the people. There may be a more efficient Chamber than the present House of Lords, and hon. Members opposite would doubtless then argue, as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition indicated in his reply during Second Reading, that in that event perhaps more powers can be given to the House of Lords. The more efficient the Second Chamber is, perhaps the greater the power it can have. But that is not an argument which is based upon any democratic foundation; that is an argument upon grounds of efficiency, which are entirely divorced from the democratic grounds 620 upon which the Opposition now seek to base their case.
What is the test? The touchstone of this dispute is: who is to interpret the will of the people? The Prime Minister laid it down perfectly clearly in his reply to the Second Reading Debate that the Second Chamber must not be able to stand forth as an interpreter of the opinion of the nation as against the House of Commons. That is one point of view, and that is the view upon which we on this side of the House firmly base our approach to the Second Chamber, to the powers of the Second Chamber, and to the composition of the Second Chamber. What is the Tory test? The Tories now seem to pose the Second Chamber as the Chamber which should in some contingencies interpret the will of the people. There appeared in the "Sunday Times" a couple of weeks ago an article by Lord Simon in the course of which he said:The proper working of our Constitution depends on recognising that the British people govern themselves, not that a majority of the House of Commons governs.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe indicated assent.
§ Mr. Ungoed-Thomas
The right hon. and learned Member for West Derby assents to that proposition. That proposition is alluring, but superficial and thoroughly pernicious. It is alluring because it utters a platitude with which everyone in this House would agree—that the British people govern themselves; it is superficial because it does not deal with the fundamental question of how the British people govern themselves; it is pernicious because it seeks to sever the connection between the people and the elected representatives of the people. The British people govern themselves; but the British people govern themselves through their own elected representatives.
When it comes to dealing with powers, if our view is correct on this, no Second Chamber can be anything except a revising Chamber, a delaying Chamber, in order to give the elected representatives of the people adequate time to consider and reconsider the propositions before them. It should not be open—and this is fundamental to the question of time, be it six months, 18 months, or any other time—to any Second Chamber to bring forward any great issue of principle. The 621 functions of the Second Chamber should be limited to revising and delaying, with time for reconsideration. Therefore, the time which is relevant runs from the Second Reading of the Bill in this House and not from an issue raised by the House of Lords.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Birch (Flint)
The hon. and learned Member for Llandaff and Barry (Mr. Ungoed-Thomas) has been talking on the subject of alluring platitudes. I do not wish to follow him in detail at this stage of my speech on his particular platitudes, but I can tell him that I hope to deal with his main argument in a few moments. My hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. M. Lindsay), who is a great authority on this subject and has written an excellent book upon it, pointed out that practically all civilised countries have a bi-cameral Constitution, and he further pointed out that in a country such as this, with an unwritten Constitution and where there is no difference whatever in the way we pass fundamental or constitutional laws and the way we pass ordinary laws, it is particularly important than we should have a second chamber.
I think this was most clearly put by de Tocqueville who, when talking about the Constitution of this country, said,The Parliament is at once a legislative and a constituent assembly.It would be perfectly possible for Parliament to pass laws, such as that we should have elected judges or no trial by jury, or a Bill to restrict the franchise or the freedom of the Press, it would be perfectly possible to have all such Measures without going through any more complicated procedure than would be required to pass a Bill in regard to the customs in the Isle of Man. Blackstone put it that Parliament in this country can do anything which is not naturally impossible.
One of the best cases for a second chamber in this country was made out by no less a man than Professor Laski in an interesting book called "Parliamentary Government in England."A disturbed Government may easily mean legislation without limit against the fundamental liberties of Englishmen. The Government has in its hands the immense new weapon of broadcasting. There is no limit to the penalties upon opinion that a government in a panic may not be capable of imposing.622 He went on to refute the argument that it could not happen here, because he added "a British Cabinet loses its head just like any other cabinet." He was speaking after this country had had two Labour Governments both of whom lost their heads, and he spoke therefore with some authority. That surely is a position that has to be guarded against.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
The hon. Member has quoted Professor Laski, but is he aware that Professor Laski has come round to the opinion that the House of Lords should be abolished?
§ Mr. Birch
I am quoting Professor Laski against himself. Although he is not held in very high esteem on this side of the House, nor is he a very wise man, these particular remarks, on their face value, make out the best case that can be made out for the Second Chamber. Dicey laid it down—and this is the point of many of the speeches of my hon. Friends—that the purpose in this country of a Second Chamber is to ensure the supremacy of the electorate where, under our Constitution, ultimate sovereignty lies. If a Second Chamber is to ensure that ultimate sovereignty it must clearly have certain powers. It must have the power of delay where the will of the people is either unknown or is clearly hostile, and it must have the power, not to force a dissolution, but certainly at the end of a Parliament to hold up measures and refer them to the electorate. If the electorate are in favour of those measures, no extra delay occurs owing to the fact that they have been referred to the electorate. What Second Chamber has to do is to say to the people, "Do you really want to abolish trial by jury; do you really want to abolish the death penalty; do you really want to nationalise iron and steel?" If the people say, "Yes, we do want these things," well and good. There is no more to be said. But if they say "No," what the Second Chamber has done is to ensure that that will is carried out, and not frustrated by a House which does not represent the will of the people. It is this power which hon. Member's opposite call undemocratic.
There have been two main objections put up by Members opposite to the powers of the House of Lords. The first is a minor objection. It is that under this Bill the powers are adequate because 623 things move quickly, people make up their minds more quickly and the Government are putting forward something which is adequate for any reasonable purposes of delay. I think this view was put best by that distinguished Socialist thinker the hon. Member for East Islington (Mr. E. Fletcher), in a sparkling epigram in our last Debate on this subject, when he said:The tempo of modern life has quickened. Just as the purchasing power of the £has decreased…."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 10th November, 1947; Vol. 444, c. 121.]It is a very interesting thought that the intelligence of the people increases in direct proportion to the destruction of their currency. We may say that in Germany in 1923, when the mark became valueless, people there were capable of making up their minds on any issue simultaneously with that issue being put to them, or perhaps even before it was put. If we reduce that to its logical conclusion it is not a very good argument, but it is an instructive example of progressive thought.
Why has it been said, and, in my opinion, rightly, for many years that the people of this country were the best educated political democracy in the world?
§ Mr. Birch
It has been said for two reasons: one is that there have been full Debates in this House, and, second, and equally important, is that those Debates have been fully reported in the newspapers. It is all very well for the Lord President to say there are more newspapers, but what reports appear in those papers? Let Members opposite cast their minds back to the Debate here last Wednesday. Supposing there had been in all the newspapers a full report of the gabble spoken by the Foreign Secretary. What there was, was a short "hand-out." Might not people have said, as Lord Chesterfield said:Statesmen and beauties are very rarely sensible of the gradations of their decay.What would the people of the country have thought if they could have read in full the grave and specific charges made against the Colonial Secretary on the subject of Malaya, and have read the one sentence in reply given us by the 624 Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster'! They would have seen where the weight of argument laid. In the old days they would have been enabled to do so; now, things are different. I have not always thought that right hon. Gentlemen opposite were very successful in their policies, but the policy involved in the restriction of newsprint has been one which has been wholly and completely successful. The present state of the papers is an argument for a longer delay and not a shorter one.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite may say that facilities may be cut down, but the capacity of the people to judge is accelerating all the time. I can imagine the Cabinet saying, "Here we are a Cabinet pre-eminent exactly in those qualities which made the century of the common man what it is. What did we do over the most serious issue we have had to face in this Parliament? That is the defence of this country in a desperate situation. How long has it taken us to make up our own minds? Just 48 hours." That master stroke of policy will be discussed next Thursday and no doubt the Minister of Defence will defend what he has done and my hon. Friend will have something to say about it. The only comment I have to make is that, however brilliant that particular stroke of policy was, the Government have not always been able to make up their minds as quickly. They have taken three years over steel, and one and a half years after the election was over it was clearly shown in the Debate on the nationalisation of steel that neither the Lord President of the Council not the then Minister of Supply had the faintest idea what they were talking about. If these wonderful men cannot clear their minds in one and a half years with the whole Civil Service behind them, it may well take other people a moment or two to make up their minds.
The second argument which hon. Gentlemen opposite have put up, and which is a more serious argument and one altogether inconsistent with this Bill is that which has just been advanced by the hon. and learned Member for Llandaff and Barry, that sovereignty resides in the elected representatives of the people. That argument was put forward in his salad days by the Chancellor of 625 the Exchequer when writing "The Problems of a Socialist Government." He said:There can never be more than one sovereign body and that must be the House of Commons.I am putting forward the argument that sovereignty in this country rests with the electorate not with the elected representatives, because the argument involved here is the argument that once a Government is elected it is free to do anything it likes. That is the argument of plebiscitary Government, the argument of Hitler and of Stalin, both of whom have always been elected with far bigger majorities than the Government opposite. Hitler's figures were never lower than 97 per cent., and Stalin's never less than 102 per cent. They were very great majorities, but how many millions of their people have expiated their weakness in handing over their sovereignty in the concentration camps of those countries?
Socialists like the plebiscitary idea, because they think their measures are the only ones any good at all, and they have a complete and absolute contempt for the intelligence of the electorate. [Interruption.] They certainly have, and I should like to quote to hon. Gentlemen opposite an authority to whom they will have to bow the knee—the feature article on this Bill in the "Daily Herald" and actually written by a member of their party executive. In the article these words appear:Clearly, if the Government of the day were to lose the General Election it might well be years before it had an opportunity to re-introduce its proposals.Why would they lose the election and why would it be years before they would get in again? The answer resides with the electorate. The electorate does not like their Measures, it does not like them and it does not like being treated with contempt. That is what we mean when we say that sovereignty resides with the electorate. It is hon. Gentlemen opposite who flaunt the will of the electorate. When the people vote for them they are progressive, but when the same people vote against them, they become Fascist cannibals, against whom sabotage is justified.
Some hon. Gentlemen opposite have argued in a tepid way in favour of a Second Chamber, but they have done so more with their mouths than with their 626 hearts. Other hon. Members opposite have come out frankly and said that they did not believe in a Second Chamber, and among them was the hon. Member for Cannock (Miss Lee), the hon. Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Webb) and the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Carmichael). They said they did not believe in a Second Chamber at all. It would be grossly unfair to suppose that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has changed the views he expressed in 1933, any more than it would be fair to think he has changed his opinion that a fundamental objective of Socialism is to liquidate the British Empire. He is, after all, a man of faith and purpose and one must not accuse him of changing his mind.
Before I leave this idea of the plebiscitary view of Government, I should like to point out how inconsistent it is of hon. Gentlemen opposite to put forward so often the argument that it is very wicked of the House of Lords not to oppose the Measures of the Tories in this House. If hon. Gentlemen represent the people's will when they are in a majority—well, so must we. Why should the Lords oppose us in those circumstances? What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
The whole position of hon. Gentlemen opposite is illogical. The whole Bill has been fought with the idea that the Peers are untrustworthy. It has been fought in the House, in the newspapers, and in Fabian pamphlets and in those put out by Transport House, with the idea that no Peer should ever be entrusted with any responsibility. If the Peers really are so despicable, why are they to be allowed one year's delay? I presume that it is upon the analogy of that triumph of Socialist intelligence, the compromise Clause on the dealth penalty. If you get one assistant to help to put your wife in the oven and roast her, that is a comparatively venial offence, but if you get two assistants you hang. That matter seems very closely parallel with this Measure.
It is worth remembering, particularly when we have a Government so much given to the making of statutory rules and orders, that the Peers are to be left with an absolute veto on statutory rules and orders. Suppose they exercised those powers. How would petrol be coloured 627 red, or potatoes be coloured blue? How would slavery be imposed? Yet these things are the very rock of the edifice of the Socialist New Jerusalem. I wonder whether hon. Gentlemen when speaking on this matter in their constituencies, have the honesty to point out that it is they who, in the Bill, are keeping the hereditary principle. They are keeping it for a very good purpose to which I shall refer in a moment.
I should like to turn for a moment to the attitude of the Liberal Party and particularly the speech of the noble Lady the Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd George). On the first Second Reading of this Bill in this House, the Liberal Party voted against the Bill in a majority of six to two. The noble Lady and her hon. Friend who voted for the Government on that occasion are, if I am not mistaken, engaged on working their passage and hardly count as Liberals—
§ Lady Megan Lloyd George
In view of the fact that the hon. Member has made a personal reference to me, I should like to ask him whether he thinks there is anything new in this. Certainly there is not in my experience. I am glad to say that it is not only a matter of personal conviction but an inherited view.
§ Mr. Birch
All I was pointing out was that it was a three to one majority in the Liberal Party against the Bill. [An HON. MEMBER: "On a three-line Whip."] Lord Samuel in another place was most severe against the Bill when it first came out. He was very hostile and pointed out how extremely short the delay is under this Bill. Then we had the Conference and there was agreement on reforming the composition of the House of Lords. The Liberal Party thought the period of delay much too short for the wretched Lords, but when they got a really reliable House, the period must be shorter still. I do not know how one can argue that case, and I am not going to do so. All I say is that I assume that today the Liberals will vote for the Bill in the same proportion as they voted against it.
That may not be the end of the matter. Hon. Gentlemen may remember the case of the Trades Disputes Act where Liberals voted for the Second Reading and against the Third Reading. They still have a chance to 628 redeem themselves. They can vote against the Third Reading of this Bill. All these things are very puzzling to the outsider. I believe that in Liberal circles it is described as "adherence to principle."
I am very glad that my right hon. Friends went no further than they did in the Conference. They went as far in abandoning the powers of the Lords as they possibly could without giving up the fundamental position and they met with no answering concession. I am rather surprised that they went into the Conference at all. We have seen what hon. Gentlemen opposite think about an honourable engagement over the Representation of the People Bill. They have acted on the principle—a very old one "What is an obligation to an opportunity?" I believe that if my right hon. Friends had gone the whole way and agreed to the powers which right hon. Gentlemen opposite wanted, right hon. Gentlemen opposite would have been repudiated by their Back Benchers, the whole thing would have been thrown into the pool again, and right hon. Gentlemen opposite would have said, "After all, you agreed that these powers were quite all right." I had a very wise friend once, and whenever he heard of a gentleman's agreement he said, "Show me the gentleman."
No, my right hon. Friends were right not to get mixed up in this slippery deal, because the genesis of the Bill, as we all know, is the row in the Cabinet over steel. I think too much credit in this matter has been given to the Minister of Health. I wish he were here because I should like to thank him for myself, and on behalf of many of my hon. Friends, for all the selfless work he is doing for the Tory Party. I doubt if there is any parallel to it in history, and when I get depressed, as I sometimes do, I conjure up in my mind's eye the picture of that great luminous face. Then I know, not only that my case is just but that it will prosper.
As I say, I think too much credit for forcing this on the Cabinet may have been given to the Minister of Health. I believe that the pathological vanity of the Foreign Secretary has a great deal to do with it, and no doubt there are others, not wise but foolish after the event, who have taken the same view. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the Lord President of the Council?"] I dare say that 629 the Cabinet in recent years have resembled closely the recent congress of intellectuals at Breslau. Sooner or later a decision had to be come to, and the Prime Minister, I have no doubt, said of the nationalisers, "I am their leader, I must follow them." That is the reason for this Bill. The connection between the two Bills is amply proved by the retrospective provision, a provision offensive to the spirit of our Constitution and the spirit of our laws. Whatever possible reason could there be for it other than the connection between these two Bills?
Also, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) pointed out, we have had evidence from the "New Statesman" from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Arthur Greenwood), from the hon. and learned Member for Llandaff and Barry, and many others. News gets about, you know [HON. MEMBERS: "No, we do not believe it."] I should like to be fair to hon. Gentlemen opposite. I think Socialists often very much underestimate their own powers of imparting information about each other. The connection between these two Bills has been flatly denied by the Lord President of the Council and that, on the face of it, causes a certain difficulty, but the arguments used, I am bound to say, are the most fatuous ever used by a Minister of this Government, that is saying something.
First he used the argument that the Lords would not throw out the steel Bill. Then he used what he appeared to think was a more powerful argument, that they would throw it out. I do not know what is to be got out of that. It did not seem to get us much further than we were before. Afterwards he said, "We thought of reforming the House of Lords before," but I do not suppose the reform of the House of Lords has been out of the thought of politicians in the last 400 years, so there was nothing much in that. After that he said, "Supposing you said you would not oppose the steel Bill, we would still pass this Bill." It would be giving the show away, if he did not. All those arguments are so fantastically silly that I am surprised he used them. There is really no difficulty about reconciling these statements.
We have had a great deal of help from hon. Gentlemen opposite in what we 630 may describe as the higher criticism of Ministers' speeches. We had a very interesting speech the other day from the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) referring to something which had been said by the Minister of Health and which the hon. Member thought was wrong and untrue. He said, "I do not agree with that statement, but it is a statement of poetical or Socialist truth." I would add that, on this side of the House, we think that the Lord President was putting forward Socialist truth, just as the Minister of Health was telling Socialist truth about comparative figures of housing between the two wars, figures to which my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) has referred; just as the President of the Board of Trade was telling Socialist truth about the footwear of his school friends, and just as the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster tells Socialist truth every time he opens his mouth. This must be the explanation of two interesting remarks by the Lord President this week-end. He said, "Let us win with truth." He also added, "In order to do this, we have to socialise men's minds."
This Bill is not very popular, and the steel Bill will be very unpopular, and that is why the hereditary principle is being left in. The Lord President knows that the people do not want steel nationalised, and he knows that he will be in a very awkward position if it is. For what is going to happen to the unsuccessful Ministers, the Ben Smiths of the present Cabinet. The Colonial Secretary has as good qualifications as Sir Ben Smith. Lord Citrine, who is as intolerable in electricity as he was in coal, will have to be found another job. The Lord President hopes to drown the hum and roar of the steel mills by rattling rusty coronets.
I see in all this the hand of that suburban Machiavelli. Our constitution is to be perverted to patch up a discreditable row in the Cabinet and to put over a trick upon the electorate. Will the electorate be deceived? It shows an enormous contempt for the intelligence of the people to suppose that they will be deceived by a manoeuvre like that. After all, a trickster on the race course uses three cards before the quickness of the hand deceives the eye. Here, in a clumsy two-card trick, they are trying to 631 put over a bit of low cunning. The people of this country will reflect that "cunning is the dark sanctuary of incapacity," and I believe that they will reject these men who are without faith, without courage, without competence, and without honour.
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Ede)
I hope, after that interlude, we may return to the Bill. That, I think, is all the answer that is necessary to the speech to which we have just listened. The right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) very courteously answered the four questions specifically put to him by my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council. I gather that, in the view of the Opposition, as voiced by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, the only thing that is wrong with the House of Lords is its composition. If we reform the composition of the House of Lords, we may then leave the issue exactly where it now is. Between 1918 and 1945, there were 27 years, and for 24 of them the Conservative Party had an absolute majority in both Houses. They did not touch that issue during that time. The only time that reform of the House of Lords becomes a live issue is when a Government, not Tory in its composition, proposes to deal with the powers of the House of Lords.
As I said when this Bill was before the House last Session, our view is that it represents the maximum powers that should be left in the hands of any Second Chamber, reformed or unreformed. It is true that in the efforts to reach a general compromise on the matter my hon. Friends who were members of the Conference offered a modification of the exact time limit proposed. The public discussion of that was prevented by the summary rejection of the Bill of last Session on Second Reading in the House of Lords. That matter could have been ventilated, and it would have been possible to discover whether there is any method of reaching a reasonable settlement on the question of powers, but for the action of the Lords in that matter.
We believe that the doctrine which has been promulgated from the other side of the House, that all that one wants to do is to get rid of the hereditary 632 principle and introduce life Peers and in other ways make a House of Lords that can more easily be defended, is not the only issue that is involved. The hon. Member for Flint (Mr. Birch) said that he believed we had—I think he was using the word in the past tense—the best educated democracy in the world. May I say that that was the one sentence in his speech with which I agreed. The last election proved it, and the fact that since that last General Election we have not lost a seat in a by-election, is striking confirmation of it. No Government since 1832 has been able to point on anything like such a record. We believe that we have the right to be assured that the next Session of this Parliament shall be as fruitful in legislation as the previous Session of this Parliament and that the Government of the day, no matter to which side it belongs, while it retains the confidence of the House of Commons, is entitled to see its Measures placed on the Statute Book.
I want to invite the attention of right hon. Gentlemen opposite to the position as revealed by the action of the House of Lords in the Parliament that lasted from 1924 to 1929. In that Parliament there was passed one of the most controversial Measures ever placed before the House of Commons—the Trades Disputes Act, 1927. It had not been an issue at the previous General Election. [Interruption.] I know it is supposed to have originated from the General Strike, but do not let us forget that in that very Parliament Mr. Baldwin, then Prime Minister, had said that he wanted to see peace and had opposed private Members opposite who had brought forward a Measure somewhat similar in scope. The Opposition say that that Bill originated from the General Strike. Very well, let us suppose that a Labour Government in power had been faced by a general lockout—and there are some people who contend that the General Strike was the result of a lock-out. Let us suppose that we had been faced with a general lock-out and a Labour Government had introduced a Measure as hostile to employers' federations as the Trades Disputes Act was to trade unions.
§ Mr. Ede
Of course, it is nonsense to suggest that anybody would ever take 633 action against employers in such circumstances, but I ask the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) to let his imagination run riot to the extent of supposing that some such thing might have happened. Does anyone contend that the House of Lords would have been as acquiescent with regard to that Measure as they were with regard to the Trades Disputes Act?
That is the issue which presents itself to hon. Members on this side of the House when we are asked to believe that, in some way or other, the present House of Lords can be relied on to act impartially at a time when they can make their powers effective We are reaching that stage in the history of this Parliament; from now on, any legislation which is proposed in this Parliament can become effective only if the House of Lords agrees to it so long as the present Parliament Act remains on the Statute Book.
§ Mr. Henry Strauss (Combined English Universities)
May I put this point to the right hon. Gentleman? I am sure he does not wish to mislead the House on this point. He will remember that the 1927 Statute did apply to general lock-outs exactly as it applied to general strikes and to employers' unions just as to unions of workmen.
§ Mr. Ede
I share the lack of imagination of the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames in thinking that when the Government proposed it, they ever thought it would apply to federations of employers. We are proposing in this Measure that a Bill will have to be passed in two Sessions, not necessarily in the same Parliament, before it can become the law of the land, if there is a disagreement between the two Houses. On 25th June, 1907, a Motion was proposed.That, in order to give effect to the will of the people as expressed by their elected representatives, it is necessary that the power of the other House to alter or reject Bills passed by this House should be so restricted by law as to secure that within the limits of a single Parliament the final decision of the Commons shall prevail.Among the interesting things one discovers from reading that Debate is that the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), although he was Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies at the time, was put up by the Liberal Government to support that Motion and, after complaining that he found it apparently impossible to get away from the father 634 of the present right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) who had preceded him in the Debate, he dealt with the issue which has been raised by several hon. Members from the other side in the course of this Debate: what are you to do if you get some irresponsible House of Commons, with an irresponsible Cabinet, who may be playing ducks and drakes with the Constitution? The answer of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford, which is as sound today as it was then, was— [Interruption]—yes, the House will have it:If you are to proceed on the basis that the people of this country will elect a mad House of Commons, and that the mad House of Commons will be represented by a mad Executive, the House of Lords is no guarantee against any excesses which such a House of Commons or such an Executive might have in contemplation.He went on to point out that, so far as property is concerned, property is absolutely at the mercy of this House under the existing Constitution. If we believe, as the hon. Member for Flint said, that we have the best-educated democracy in the world, I believe that the safeguard of property, the safeguard of all the decencies of civilisation and political life, rests upon the fact that the people of this country are not likely to elect, and never have yet elected, a House of Commons of which right hon. and hon. Gentlemen profess to be so afraid.
The danger to this country is, as the right hon. Member for Woodford pointed out, not that legislation may be too swift, but that the remedy of grievances may be too slow under the processes of our law. The contention that within 12 months of the Second Reading of a Measure in this House public opinion cannot formulate itself, cannot get to grips with the essential issue of a question, to my mind underrates the intelligence and the capacity of the electorate, and certainly, in any other Opposition, would underrate the intelligence and capacity of the Opposition to put their case before the country. We believe that in this controversy the proper constitutional course is to place the Government, no matter what their description may be, equally in command of the power to get their legislation through, and we have no intention of seeing the fourth Session of this Parliament placed in jeopardy by action which the other place may feel inclined to take.
635 That is the simple issue that is raised by this Bill. No Tory Government with a majority as big as ours behind it need in its fourth Session have any fear what the fate of its legislative proposals would be when they reached another place. We cannot see why a Government which is not Tory, approaching its fourth Session, should find itself in a worse position than a Tory Government. Of course, the inherent belief behind it all is this, that the people of this country are naturally Tory. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I thought so. It overlooks all the history of this country since 1832. The people of this country are not inherently Tory.
§ Mr. Ede
The curious thing is that the Tory Party of any given day is always prepared to admit that the Tory Party of 30 years before was in the wrong. There is not a single issue on which the Tory Party, in the long fight against the privileges which it has defended, has not had to admit in the end that the reformers were right and that it was wrong. The right hon. and learned Gentleman this afternoon quoted from "The Times," and one sentence of his quotation was so effective that I called for "The Times" leading article because, although I had read it this morning, I did not recollect the sentence. He quoted this:The Government apparently take the view that a party once returned to the House of Commons with a majority is thereby given a commission to legislate in the name of the people, which endures until the dissolution of Parliament becomes compulsory by law;That was in the leading article, and then we had so polished a sentence that I thought that it was too good for "The Times" leading article. I asked the right hon. and learned Gentleman where the sentence was to be found. In the end, he produced his notes, and it was his comment on that sentence. He went on to say something about its being the persistent view of the country which was to prevail. The persistent view of this country for the last 100 years has been that 636 the Tory Party has always been wrong in all the fights which it has made to maintain privilege, and that it has delayed far too long many reforms which were essential to the people of this country.
We do not believe that the people of this country have not expressed a view on the issues that are now before the House. If this iron and steel obsession of the Tory Party is to be taken as one of the grounds of their opposition to this Bill, that was in the programme which we submitted to the country in 1945. I recollect that, after a conversation with my agent, I left out a passage about the nationalisation of the Bank. He said, "I do not think that South Shield's is very much interested in the Bank of England." I said, "How about iron and steel?" He said, "We live on iron and steel; you had better put that in."
§ Mr. Ede
Nobody in South Shields has been in any doubt about my attitude to the powers of the House of Lords during the 22 years that I have been connected with the constituency. We have not proposed to this House in our major Measures anything other than the Measures which we put into the pamphlet which has been so much quoted today. For the first time, a party went to the country and said, "If you return us with a sufficient majority to ensure us five years of power, this is what we shall do." We are steadily carrying that programme through. We have not been beaten in a single by-election while we have been doing it.
We shall continue to put forward the programme. I have not heard any complaint from the opposite side that we have been putting it through too slowly. I have heard many complaints that we have been putting it through too quickly; but that programme is a connected whole, and we believe that we should have the power in the fourth Session of Parliament to complete the work to which we are pledged to our electors. That is the reason for this Bill, that and no other reason. I believe that we have a perfect right to ask this House to pass this Bill; and, what is more, that we have a right to expect the other place to accept this Measure.
637 I think it will be generally agreed that the honours of this Debate went to the three ladies who participated in it. My own difficulty about the speech of the noble Lady the Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd George) was that in a moment when everybody else had abandoned the hereditary principle she produced in her speech the best case for its defence that I have heard for a long time. She asked the question of the other side: What would they do if they were in our position? The question is not really that. The question is: What did they do when they were in our position?
Only once since 1688—which is going back a long time—has the Tory Party in office been without a majority in the House of Lords, and that was in 1711 when they were anxious to bring to an end the wars which had been conducted by the great ancestor of the right hon. Member for Woodford. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Well, if I am wrong, then I am wrong with the right hon. Gentleman himself, because I propose to quote what he said in his "Life of Marlborough." He says that Oxforddemanded from Anne a simultaneous extraordinary creation of peers, to be sure of a majority in both Houses.
She demurred, and the Whigs beat the Tories by a majority of five in the Lords on the proposal to make the Duke of Hamilton the Duke of Brandon and so enable a Scottish peer to sit in the English House of Lords.
She therefore agreed to Oxford's plan to overcome the Whigs in the Lords by making 12 additional Tory Peers at one stroke.
This is the comment of the right hon. Member for Woodford:
This memorable decision was taken, and its consequences rolled forward in our history.
§ The first of those consequences was seen in 1832, and the second in 1911. I do not believe we shall have to quote that precedent, or have the turmoil which was associated with the decisions of 1832 and 1911, because we have taken our action in sufficient time to ensure that the present constitutional resources of the country shall enable us to see that the will of the House of Commons shall prevail in these disputes between the two Houses.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 319: Noes. 192639
|Division No. 2.]||AYES.||[10.0 p.m.|
|Acland, Sir Richard||Brook, D. (Halifax)||de Freitas, Geoffrey|
|Adams, Richard (Balham)||Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell)||Delargy, H. J|
|Adams, W T. (Hammersmith, South)||Brown, George (Belper)||Diamond, J.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon, A. V.||Brown, T. J. (Ince)||Dobbie, W.|
|Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)||Bruce, Maj. D. W. T||Dodds, N. N.|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Burden, T. W.||Driberg, T. E. N.|
|Alpass, J. H.||Burke, W. A.||Dumpleton, C. W|
|Anderson, A. (Motherwell)||Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.)||Dye, S.|
|Attewell, H. C.||Byers, Frank||Ede, Rt Hon. J. C|
|Austin, H. Lewis||Callaghan, James||Edelman, M.|
|Awbery, S. S.||Carmichael, James||Edwards, John (Blackburn)|
|Ay[...]es, W. H.||Castle, Mrs B. A||Edwards, Rt. Hon. N. (Caerphilly)|
|Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B||Chamberlain, R. A||Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel)|
|Bacon, Miss A||Champion, A. J.||Evans, Albert (Islington, W.)|
|Baird, J.||Chetwynd, G. R||Evans, E. (Lowestoft)|
|Balfour, A.||Cluse, W. S||Evans, John (Ogmore)|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon A. J||Cobb, F. A||Evans, S. N (Wednesbury)|
|Barstow, P. G||Cooks, F. S.||Ewart, R.|
|Barton, C||Coldrick, W.||Fairhurst, F.|
|Battley, J. R.||Collick, P.||Farthing, W. J.|
|Bechervaise, A. E||Collindridge, F||Field, Capt. W. J|
|Belcher, J. W||Collins, V. J||Fletcher, E. G M. (Islington, E.)|
|Benson, G.||Colman, Miss G. M||Foot, M M.|
|Berry, H.||Comyns, Dr L.||Fraser, T. (Hamilton)|
|Beswick, F.||Corlett, Dr. J||Freeman, J. (Watford)|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Cove, W. G.||Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.|
|Bing, G. H. C||Crawley, A||Ganley, Mrs. C. S.|
|Binns, J||Daggar, G.||George, Lady M. Lloyd (Anglesey)|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Daines, P.||Gibbins, J|
|Blyton, W. R.||Dalton, Rt. Hon_ H||Gibson, C W.|
|Boardman, H.||Davies, Rt. Hn. Clement (Montgomery)||Gilzean, A.|
|Bottomley, A. G.||Davies, Edward (Burslem)||Glanville, J. E. (Consett)|
|Bowden, Flg. Offr. H. W.||Davies, Ernest (Enfield)||Gooch, E. G.|
|Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton)||Davies, Harold (Leek)||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Wakefield)|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'pl. Exch'ge)||Davies, Haydn (St. Pancras, S.W.)||Greenwood, A. W. J (Heywood)|
|Braddock, T. (Mitcham)||Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)||Grey, C. F.|
|Bramall, E. A.||Deer, G||Grierson, E|
|Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)||Mann, Mrs. J||Silverman, J. (Erdington)|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J. (Llanelly)||Manning, C. (Camberwell, N.)||Silverman, S. S. (Nelson)|
|Guest, Dr. L. Haden||Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)||Simmons, C. J.|
|Gunter, R. J.||Marquand, H. A.||Skeffington, A. M.|
|Guy, W. H.||Marshall, F. (Brightside)||Skeffington-Lodge, T C|
|Haire, John E. (Wycombe)||Mathers, Rt. Hon George||Skinnard, F. W.|
|Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil||Mayhew, C. P.||Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)|
|Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R.||Mellish, R. J,||Smith, S. H. (Hull, S.W.)|
|Hannan, W. (Maryhill)||Messer, F.||Snow, J. W.|
|Hardy, E. A.||Middleton, Mrs. L||Soskice, Rt. Hon, Sir Frank|
|Harrison, J.||Mitchison, G. R||Sparks, J. A.|
|Hastings, Dr. Somerville||Monslow, W.||Steele, T.|
|Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Kingswinford)||Moody, A. S.||Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E)|
|Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick)||Morgan, Dr. H. B||Strachey, Rt. Hon. J|
|Hewitson, Capt. M.||Morley, R.||Stross, Dr. B.|
|Hicks, G.||Morris, Lt.-Col. H. (Sheffield, C.)||Stubbs, A. E.|
|Hobson, C. R.||Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)||Summerskill, Dr. Edith|
|Holman, P.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, E.)||Swingler, S.|
|Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)||Mort, D. L||Sylvester, G. O.|
|Horabin, T. L.||Moyle, A.||Symonds, A. L.|
|Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.)||Mulvey, A.||Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)|
|Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayr)||Murray, J. D.||Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)|
|Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Nally, W.||Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)|
|Hughes, H. D. (W'Iverh'pton, W.)||Naylor, T. E.||Thomas, I. D. (Wrekin)|
|Hutchinson, H. L. (Rusholme)||Neal, H. (Claycross)||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)|
|Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)||Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.)||Think, Ernest|
|Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)||Tiffany, S.|
|Irvine, A. J. (Liverpool)||Noel-Baker, Capt. F. E. (Brentford)||Timmons, J.|
|Irving, W. J. (Tottenham, N.)||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J. (Derby)||Titterington, M. F.|
|Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||O'Brien, T.||Tolley, L.|
|Janner, B.||Oliver, G. H.||Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G|
|Jay, D. P. T.||Orbach, M.||Turner-Samuels, M.|
|Jeger, G (Winchester)||Paget, R. T.||Ungoed-Thomas, L.|
|Jeger; Dr. S. W. (St. Pancras, S.E.)||Paling, Rt. Hon. Wilfred (Wentworth)||Vernon, Maj. W. F|
|Jenkins, R. H.||Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)||Viant, S. P.|
|Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool)||Palmer, A. M. F.||Wadsworth, G.|
|Jones, Elwyn (Plaistow)||Pargiter, G. A.||Walkden, E.|
|Jones, J. H. (Bolton)||Parkin, B. T.||Walker, G. H.|
|Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin)||Paton, Mrs. F. (Rushcliffe)||Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)|
|Keenan, W.||Paton, J. (Norwich)||Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.)|
|Kenyon, C.||Pearson, A.||Warbey, W. N.|
|Key, Rt. Hon. C. W||Perrins, W.||Watkins, T. E.|
|King, E. M.||Platts-Mills, J. F. F.||Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)|
|Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. E||Porter, E. (Warrington)||Weitzman, D.|
|Kinley, J.||Porter, G. (Leeds)||Wells, P. L. (Faversham)|
|Lawson, Rt. Hon. J. J||Price, M. Philips||Wells, W. T. (Walsall)|
|Lee, F. (Hulme)||Proctor, W. T.||Wheatley, Rt. Hn. John (Edinb'gh, E.)|
|Lee, Miss J. (Cannock)||Pursey, Comdr. H||White, C. F. (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Leslie, J. R.||Randall, H. E||While, H. (Derbyshire, N..E.)|
|Lever, N. H.||Ranger, J.||Wigg, George|
|Levy, B. W.||Rankin, J.||Wilcock, Group-Capt. C. A. B|
|Lewis, A. W. J. (Upton)||Reeves, J.||Wilkes, L.|
|Lewis, J. (Bolton)||Reid, T. (Swindon)||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Lewis, T. (Southampton)||Rhodes, H.||Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)|
|Lindgren, G. S.||Richards, R.||Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)|
|Lipton, Lt.-Col. M||Ridealgh, Mrs. M||Williams, J. L (Kelvingrove)|
|Logan, D. G.||Robens, A.||Williams, R. W. (Wigan)|
|Longden, F.||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)||Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)|
|Lyne, A. W.||Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)||Williams, W. R (Heston)|
|McAdam, W.||Rogers, G. H. R.||Wills, Mrs. E. A.|
|McAllister, G.||Ross, William (Kilmarnock)||Wise, Major F. J.|
|McEntee, V. La T.||Royle, C||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A|
|McGhee, H. G.||Sargood, R||Woods, G. S|
|Mack, J. D.||Scollan, T.||Wyatt, W.|
|McKay, J. (Wallsend)||Scott-Elliott, W||Yates, V. F.|
|Mackay, R. W. G. (Hull, N.W.)||Shackleton, E. A. A||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|McLeavy, F.||Sharp, Granville|
|Macpherson, T. (Romford)||Shawcross, C. N. (Widnes)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Mainwaring, W. H.||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.||Mr. William Whiteley and|
|Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Shurmer, P.||Mr. R. J. Taylor.|
|Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield)||Silkin, Rt. Hon. L|
|Agnew, Cmdr. P. G.||Birch, Nigel||Bullock, Capt. M|
|Amory, D. Heathcoat||Boles, Lt.-Col. D C. (Welts)||Butcher, H. W.|
|Assheton, Rt. Hon. R||Boothby, R.||Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (S'ffr'n W'Id'n)|
|Astor, Hon. M.||Bossom, A. C||Carson, E.|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Bowen, R.||Challen, C.|
|Barlow, Sir J.||Bower, N.||Channon, H.|
|Baxter, A. B.||Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.||Clarke, Col. R. S.|
|Beamish, Maj. T. V H||Bracken, Rt. Hon. Brendan||Clifton-Brown, Lt.-Col. G|
|Beechman, N. A.||Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr. J. G.||Conant, Mai R. J. E.|
|Bennett, Sir P.||Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W||Cooper-Key, E. M|
|Corbet, Lieut.-Col. (Ludlow)||Keeling, E H.||Prescott, Stanley|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt Hon. H F C||Kerr, Sir J. Graham||Prior-Palmer, Brig [...]|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col O E||Kingsmill, Lt.-Col. W. H||Raikes, H. V.|
|Crowder, Capt. John E||Lambert, Hon G||Ramsay, Maj. S|
|Cuthbert, W. N.||Lancaster, Col C G||Rayner, Brig. R|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Langford-Holt, J.||Reed, Sir. S. (Aylesbury)|
|De la Bère, R||Law, Rt Hon. R. K||Renton, D.|
|Digby, S. W.||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A H||Roberts, H. (Handsworth)|
|Donner, P. W.||Lennox-Boyd, A. T.||Robertson, Sir D. (Streatham)|
|Dower, Col A. V. G (Penrith)||Lindsay, M. (Solihull)||Robinson, Roland|
|Dower, E. L G. (Caithness)||Linstead, H. N.||Ropner, Col L|
|Drayson, G B.||Lloyd, Maj. Guy (Renfrew, [...])||Ross, Sir R. D. (Londonderry)|
|Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond)||Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)||Sanderson, Sir F.|
|Duncan, Rt. Hn. Sir A. (City of Lond.)||Low, A. R. W.||Savory, Prof. D. L|
|Duthie, W. S.||Lucas, Major Sir J||Scott, Lord W.|
|Eccles, D. M.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir H.||Shephard, S. (Newark)|
|Eden, Rt. Hon A||Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. O.||Shepherd, W. S. (Bucklow)|
|Elliot, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Walter||MacAndrew, Col. Sir C.||Smiles, Lt.-Col. Sir W.|
|Erroll, F. J.||McCallum, Maj. D.||Smith, E. P. (Ashford)|
|Fleming, Sqn.-Ldr. E. L||McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S||Smithers, Sir W.|
|Fletcher, W. (Bury)||MacDonald, Sir M. (Inverness)||Snadden, W. M|
|Fox, Sir G.||Macdonald, Sir P. (I. of Wigh.)||Spearman, A. C. M|
|Fraser, H. C P. (Slone)||McFarlane, C S.||Stanley, Rt. Hon O|
|Fraser, Sir I. (Lonsdale)||Mackeson, Brig. H. R.||Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir D. P. M||McKie, J. H. (Galloway)||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.|
|Gage, C.||Maclay, Hon. J. S.||Strauss, Henry (English Universities)|
|Galbraith, Cmdr. T D||Maclean. F. H. R. (Lancaster)||Studholme, H. G.|
|Gates, Maj. E. E.||MacLeod, J.||Sutcliffe, H.|
|George, Maj. Rt. Hn G. Lloyd (P ke)||Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley)||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Glyn, Sir R.||Maitland, Comdr. J. W.||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (P'dd[...]'n, S.)|
|Gomme-Duncan, Col A||Manningham-Buller, R. E||Teeling, William|
|Gridley, Sir A.||Marples, A. E.||Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Grimston, R. V.||Marshall, D (Bodmin)||Thorneycroft, G. E. P (Monmouth)|
|Hannon, Sir P. (Moseley)||Marshall, S H. (Sutton)||Thorp, Brigadier R A. F|
|Harden, J. R. E.||Maude, J. C.||Touche, G. C.|
|Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge)||Medlicott, Brigadier F||Turton, R. H.|
|Harris, F. W. (Croydon, N.)||Mellor, Sir J||Tweedsmuir, Lady|
|Harris, H. Wilson (Cambridge Univ.)||Moore, Lt.-Col. Sir T.||Vane, W M F|
|Harvey, Air-Comdre. A. V||Morris, Hopkin (Carmarthen)||Wakefield, Sir W. W|
|Head, Brig. A. H.||Morrison, Maj. J. G. (Salisbury)||Walker-Smith, D.|
|Henderson, John (Cathcart)||Morrison., Rt. Hn. W. S (Cirencester)||Ward, Hon. G. R.|
|Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Mott-Radclyffe, C. E||Watt, Sir G. S Harvie|
|Hogg, Hon Q||Mullon, Lt. C H||Webbe, Sir H. (Abbey)|
|Hollis, M. C.||Nicholson, G||Wheatley, Colonel M. J (Dorset. E.)|
|Holmes, Sir J. Stanley (Harwich)||Nield, B (Chester)||While, Sir D. (Fareham)|
|Hope, Lord J.||Noble, Comdr. A. H P||White, J. B (Canterbury)|
|Howard, Hon. A.||Nutting, Anthony||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S (South[...]or||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir H||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Hulbert, Wing-Cdr. N J.||Osborne, C.||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Hurd, A.||Peake, Rt. Hon. O||Winterton, Rt Hon. Earl|
|Hutchison, Lt.-Cm. Clark (E'b'rgh W)||Peto, Brig. C H M||York, C.|
|Hutchison. Col. J R. (Glasgow, C)||Pickthorn, K||Young, Sir A S L. (Partick)|
|Jarvis, Sir J.||Pitman, I. J.|
|Jeffreys, General Sir G.||Ponsanby, Col. C. E.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Joynson-Hicks, Hon L W||Poole, O. B S (Oswestry)||Mr. Buchan-Hepburn and Mr. Drew.|
Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Tomorrow.