|Considered in Committee.|
|[Major MILNER in the Chair]|
|The CHAIRMAN pursuant to the Order of the House this day, put forthwith the Question, "That the Chairman do report the Bill, without Amendment, to the House."|
|The Committee divided: Ayes, 286; Noes, 117.|
|Division No. 282.]||AYES||[5.58 p.m.|
|Acland, Sir Richard||Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel)||Lewis, J. (Bolton)|
|Albu, A. H.||Ewart, R.||Lindgren, G. S.|
|Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)||Fairhurst, F.||Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.|
|Alpass, J. H.||Farthing, W. J.||Logan, D. G.|
|Anderson, A. (Motherwell)||Fernyhough, E.||Longden, F.|
|Attewell, H. C.||Field, Capt. W. J.||Lyne, A. W.|
|Austin, H. Lewis||Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E.)||McAdam, W.|
|Awbery, S. S.||Follick, M.||McAllister, G.|
|Ayles, W. H.||Foot, M. M.||McEntee, V. La. T.|
|Ayrton Gould, Mrs. S.||Forman, J. C.||McGhee, H. G.|
|Bacon, Miss A.||Fraser, T. (Hamilton)||McGovern, J.|
|Balfour, A.||Freeman, J. (Watford)||McKay, J. (Wallsend)|
|Barton, C.||Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.||Mackay, R. W. G. (Hull, N. W.)|
|Battley, J. R.||Ganley, Mrs. C. S.||McLeavy, F.|
|Bechervaise, A. E.||Gibson, C. W.||MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles)|
|Berry, H.||Glanville, J. E. (Consell)||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)|
|Beswick, F.||Gooch, E. G.||Mainwaring, W. H.|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Goodrich, H. E.||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)|
|Bevin, Rt. Hon. E. (Wandsworth, C.)||Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood)||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield)|
|Bing, G. H. C.||Grenfell, D. R.||Mann, Mrs. J.|
|Binns, J.||Grey, C. F.||Manning, C. (Camberwell, N.)|
|Blackburn, A. R.||Grierson, E.||Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)|
|Blyton, W. R.||Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.|
|Bowden, H. W.||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J. (Llanelly)||Mathers, Rt. Hon. George|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'pl. Exch'ge)||Guest, Dr. L. Haden||Mayhew, C. P.|
|Braddock, T. (Mitcham)||Gunter, R. J.||Mellish, R. J.|
|Bramall, E. A.||Guy, W. H.||Messer, F.|
|Brook, D. (Halifax)||Hale, Leslie||Middleton, Mrs. L.|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil||Mikardo, Ian|
|Brown, George (Belper)||Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R.||Millington, Wing-Comdr. E. R.|
|Brown, T. J. (Ince)||Hardman, D. R.||Mitchison, G. R.|
|Bruce, Maj. D. W. T.||Hardy, E. A.||Monslow, W.|
|Burke, W. A.||Harrison, J.||Moody, A. S.|
|Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.)||Haworth, J.||Morgan, Dr. H. B.|
|Byers, Frank||Hewitson, Capt. M.||Morley, R.|
|Callaghan, James||Hicks, G.||Morris, Lt.-Col. H. (Sheffield, C.)|
|Champion, A. J.||Holman, P.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, E.)|
|Chater, D.||Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)||Moyle, A.|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||Houghton, Douglas||Murray, J. D.|
|Cluse, W. S.||Hoy, J.||Nally, W.|
|Cobb, F. A.||Hubbard, T.||Naylor, T. E.|
|Cocks, F. S.||Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.)||Neal, H. (Claycross)|
|Collindridge, F.||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.)|
|Colman, Miss G. M.||Hughes, H. D. (W'Iverh'pton, W.)||Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)|
|Corlett, Dr. J.||Hutchinson, H. L. (Rusholme)||Noel-Baker, Capt. F. E. (Brentford)|
|Cove, W. G.||Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)||Noel-Buxton, Lady|
|Crawley, A.||Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Oliver, G. H.|
|Crossman, R. H. S.||Irvine, A. J. (Liverpool)||Orbach, M.|
|Daines, P.||Irving, W. J. (Tottenham. N.)||Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)|
|Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Pannell, T. C.|
|Davies, Rt. Hn. Clement (Montgomery)||Janner, B.||Pargiter, G. A.|
|Davies, Edward (Burslem)||Jay, D. P. T.||Parker, J.|
|Davies, Ernest (Enfield)||Jeger, G. (Winchester)||Parkin, B. T.|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Jeger, Dr. S. W. (St. Pancras, S. E.)||Paton, Mrs. F. (Rushcliffe)|
|Davies, Haydn (St. Pancras, S. W.)||Jenkins, R. H.||Paton, J. (Norwich)|
|Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)||Johnston, Douglas||Pearson, A.|
|Deer, G.||Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool)||Platts-Mills, J. F. F.|
|de Freitas, Geoffrey||Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin)||Poole, Cecil (Lichfield)|
|Delargy, H. J.||Keenan, W.||Popplewell, E.|
|Dodds, N. N.||Kenyon, C.||Porter, E. (Warrington)|
|Donovan, T.||Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. E.||Porter, G. (Leeds)|
|Driberg, T. E. N.||Kinley, J.||Proctor, W. T.|
|Dugdale, J. (W. Bromwich)||Lang, G.||Pryde, D. J.|
|Dumpleton, C. W.||Lavers, S.||Pursey, Comdr. H.|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Lee, Miss J. (Cannock)||Randall, H. E.|
|Edelman, M.||Leonard, W.||Ranger, J.|
|Edwards, John (Blackburn)||Leslie, J. R.||Reeves, J.|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. N. (Caerphilly)||Lewis, A. W. J. (Upton)||Reid, T. (Swindon)|
|Ridealgh, Mrs. M.||Stubbs, A. E.||West, D. G.|
|Roberts, Emrys (Merioneth)||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. Edith||Wheatley, Rt. Hn. John (Edinb'gh, E.)|
|Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)||Swingler, S.||White, H. (Derbyshire, N. E.)|
|Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)||Sylvester, G. O.||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.|
|Rogers, G. H. R.||Symonds, A. L.||Wigg, George|
|Ross, William (Kilmarnock)||Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)||Wilcock, Group-Capt. C. A. B.|
|Royle, C.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Sargood, R.||Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)||Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)|
|Scollan, T.||Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)||Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)|
|Scott-Elliot, W.||Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)||Williams, D. J. (Neath)|
|Segal, Dr. S.||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)||Williams, Ronald (Wigan)|
|Shackleton, E. A. A.||Thurtle, Ernest||Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)|
|Sharp, Granville||Tiffany, S.||Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)|
|Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (St. Helens)||Timmons, J.||Williams, W. R. (Heston)|
|Shurmer, P.||Tolley, L.||Willis, E.|
|Silverman, J. (Erdington)||Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G.||Wills, Mrs. E. A.|
|Silverman, S. S. (Nelson)||Turner-Samuels, M.||Wilson, Rt. Hon. J. H.|
|Simmons, C. J.||Usborne, Henry||Wise, Major F. J.|
|Skeffington-Lodge, T. C.||Vernon, Maj. W. F.||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Skinnard, F. W.||Viant, S. P.||Woods, G. S.|
|Smith, C. (Colchester)||Walkden, E.||Wyatt, W.|
|Smith, S. H. (Hull, S. W.)||Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)||Yates, V. F.|
|Snow, J. W.||Wallace H. W. (Walthamstow, E.)||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Solley, L. J.||Warbey, W. N.||Younger, Hon. Kenneth|
|Sorensen, R. W.||Watkins, T. E.|
|Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank||Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Sparks, J. A.||Weitzman, D.||Mr. Hannan and|
|Steele, T.||Wells, P. L. (Faversham)||Mr. Richard Adams.|
|Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.||Wells, W. T. (Walsall)|
|Agnew, Cmdr. P. G.||Harvey, Air-Comdre. A. V.||Orr-Ewing, I. L.|
|Amory, D. Heathcoat||Head, Brig. A. H.||Peake, Rt. Hon. O.|
|Baxter, A. B.||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Peto, Brig. C. H. M.|
|Beamish, Maj. T. V. H.||Hogg, Hon. Q.||Pickthorn, K.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.||Hope, Lord J.||Pitman, I. J.|
|Bracken, Rt. Hon. Brendan||Hurd, A.||Poole, O. B. S. (Oswestry)|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W.||Hutchison, Lt.-Cm. Clark (E'b'rgh, W.)||Prescott, Stanley|
|Brown, W. J. (Rugby)||Hutchison, Col. J. R. (Glasgow, C.)||Price-White, D.|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Jeffreys, General Sir G.||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O.|
|Butcher, H. W.||Jennings, R.||Ramsay, Maj. S.|
|Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (S'ffr'n W'ld'n)||Keeling, E. H.||Roberts, P. G. (Ecclesall)|
|Carson, E.||Lambert, Hon. G.||Robinson, Roland (Blackpool, S.)|
|Challen, C.||Langford-Holt, J.||Ropner, Col. L.|
|Clarke, Col. R. S.||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Ross, Sir R. D. (Londonderry)|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Lindsay, M. (Solihull)||Sanderson, Sir F.|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Linstead, H. N.||Scott, Lord W.|
|Crowder, Capt. John E.||Lipson, D. L.||Shepherd, W. S. (Bucklow)|
|Cuthbert, W. N.||Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)||Spearman, A. C. M.|
|De la Bère, R.||Low, A. R. W.||Spence, H. R.|
|Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir H.||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.|
|Drayson, G. B.||MacAndrew, Col. Sir C.||Strauss, Henry (English Universities)|
|Drewe, C.||Macdonald, Sir P. (I. of Wight)||Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray)|
|Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond)||McFarlane, C. S.||Studholme, H. G.|
|Eccles, D. M.||Mackeson, Brig. H. R.||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (P'dd't'n, S.)|
|Eden, Rt. Hon. A.||McKie, J. H. (Galloway)||Teeling, William|
|Elliot, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Walter||Maclean, F. H. R. (Lancaster)||Thomas, Ivor (Keighley)|
|Erroll, F. J.||Macpherson, N. (Dumfries)||Thorneycroft, G. E. P. (Monmouth)|
|Fleming, Sqn.-Ldr. E. L.||Maitland, Comdr. J. W.||Thorp, Brigadier R. A. F.|
|Fletcher, W. (Bury)||Manningham-Buller, R. E.||Touche, G. C.|
|Foster, J. G. (Northwich)||Marlowe, A. A. H.||Turton, R. H.|
|Fox, Sir G.||Marshall, D. (Bodmin)||Wakefield, Sir W. W.|
|Fraser, H. C. P. (Stone)||Marshall, S. H. (Sutton)||Walker-Smith, D.|
|Fraser, Sir I. (Lomsdale)||Mellor, Sir J.||Webbe, Sir H. (Abbey)|
|Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir D. P. M.||Morris-Jones, Sir H.||Wheatley, Colonel M. J. (Dorset, E.)|
|Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead)||Mullan, Lt. C. H.||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Gomme-Duncan, Col. A.||Neill, W. F. (Belfast, N.)||York, C.|
|Harmon, Sir P. (Moseley)||Neven-Spence, Sir B.||Young, Sir A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Harden, J. R. E.||Nicholson, G.|
|Harris, F. W. (Croydon, N.)||Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Harris, H. Wilson (Cambridge Univ.)||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir H.||Major Conant and|
|Mr. Wingfield Digby.|
§ Bill reported without Amendment.1741
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."—[Mr. Ede.]
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Major Sir David Maxwell Fyfe (Liverpool, West Derby)
I am not surprised that the Home Secretary has run out of arguments in favour of this Bill. He has produced very few arguments in favour of the Bill over the last two years, and the paucity which he has displayed on earlier occasions is well reflected in his silence tonight. Therefore I must examine with a little particularity the would-be arguments which the Home Secretary advanced when last he addressed this House, and I regret that the limitations of a Third Reading Debate prevent my examining at length the main argument on which the right hon. Gentleman and the Lord President relied on Second Reading.
That main argument was that the Opposition Front Bench, with the exception of myself, had varied the attack on the Bill; whereas the Government Front Bench have left it—except for a short and very superficial examination of the history of 40 years back by the Prime Minister two years ago—to the Lord President and the Home Secretary. Frankly, I have been puzzled by the attempted force of this argument. I should have thought that it demonstrated one point only, that the Government up to today, with the exceptions I have mentioned, had only been able to find two Ministers who have the audacity, or shall I say the effrontery to support this Bill before the House. I cannot say that that fact strikes me with surprise, although the attempt to rely on it has its surprising aspects.
Fortunately, as it is the Third Reading, the contents of the Bill are themselves sufficient to indicate and illustrate the line of cleavage between hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite and ourselves. The difference between our two parties is crystallised in the period of one year from the first Second Reading to the second Third Reading, which the Government wish to insert. We say—and we retract nothing of the force with which we say it—that that period does not allow sufficient time for public opinion to form and express itself, and we reiterate that it is in the dynamic expression of an educated public opinion that we on this side 1742 of the House are interested as the kernel of our political life. Our Second Chamber, if it exists, must use that public opinion as its criterion and guide.
The Government say—and it is this argument on the contents of the Bill which I wish to examine—that this Bill allows time for the Lords to perform their function of revising, in that it ensures that their objections if not agreed to will, at any rate be considered. Secondly, they say that it is not for a Second Chamber to interpret public opinion. Thirdly, they say that Conservatives are trying to maintain a privileged and irresponsible body. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am much obliged. I am glad that I have got correctly the arguments which I shall proceed to demolish. Fourthly, the Government say that they are trying to wreck the fourth and fifth Sessions of Parliament when a Labour Government is in power. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am so glad that hon. Gentlemen opposite do me the justice of saying that I have quoted correctly the few arguments which have been advanced in favour of the Bill.
I want to make it quite clear that the reply to the argument that the Government's proposal permits sufficient time for a Second Chamber to perform their function is one that has been made repeatedly and never answered. It is that a revising Chamber must be in a position not only to deal with points of correction and clarification of unimportant detail but to deal with points of secondary policy. That is, when the principle of the Bill is accepted—as the House of Lords have accepted, for reasons which my noble Friend Lord Salisbury has stated, certain of the nationalisation Bills—they have yet disagreed as to the method in which that principle is to be put into effect. When they have disagreed and when they have suggested alterations, the Amendments have been accepted and Members of the Government have been the first to say that the action of the House of Lords has improved the Bill.
The point that we make is that unless a Second Chamber has a substantial power of delay, its suggestions on points of secondary policy, which have admittedly proved so valuable to the Government, will not be considered by an overweening Government for an instant. That point has been made every 1743 time when this Bill has come up and we have looked in vain for any answer from the Government benches to our reply to their criticism. We have now dealt with this Bill six times, apart from Committee stages and the like, and that point has never been answered.
The next point that is sought to be raised is that it is not for a Second Chamber to interpret public opinion. I put it to hon. Members opposite that they should face up to the position which even their own Bill contemplates, and that is that the Second Chamber is to have some power of delay. As soon as a Second Chamber is given some power of delay, one postulates that that Second Chamber will use its discretion and initiative to act when it thinks proper. The Government cannot get back to the old dilemma of the refined sophists at the time of the French Revolution that "If our second Chamber disagrees with the first Chamber it is mischievous, and if it does not disagree it is superfluous." That dilemma is an absurdity.
Therefore, one must postulate that if one gives any power at all—if a Second Chamber is placed in the constitution—that Second Chamber will choose for itself the time when it will act. We ask what is the correct criterion for a Second Chamber to choose, and we say—and again we stand by what we have said—that the correct criterion and guide is its view of public opinion considered and found to the best of its ability. That is the inevitable answer to the suggestion that a Second Chamber cannot or must not interpret public opinion.
The alternative argument, slightly contradictory but requiring attention nevertheless, is that, in any case, there is enough time for it to perform the function of delay. That, of course, means that sufficient time in the view of those who advance this argument is the holiday months of August and September and perhaps October as well. I think that even hon. Gentlemen opposite, if they consider the ordinary occasion apart from times of international crisis and the like to which we are so used, would agree that that is putting an undue strain on the powers of holiday making of the people of this island.
I come next to the suggestion that has been put forward that we on these 1744 benches desire the maintenance of an irresponsible body. I ask hon. Members to look at what we are doing by this Bill. It is:A Bill to Amend the Parliament Act, 1911and the first words are:The Parliament Act, 1911, shall have effect, and shall be deemed to have had effect from the beginning of the session in which the Bill for this Act originated"—and then certain Amendments are made. I substitute for the words:… from the beginning of the session in which the Bill for this Act originated…the date "October, 1947," so that we have the time in mind. Certain Amendments are made, but the first enacting words of this Bill are to reinforce the Parliament Act, 1911. One cannot re-enact and reinforce the Parliament Act, 1911, without re-enacting and reinforcing and making one's action dependent on the Preamble which conditions that Act. I venture to remind the House how that Preamble runs:And whereas it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis, but such substitution cannot be immediately brought into operation;There may well have been some arguments—I do not see them, but I acknowledge my limitations—for not proceeding with that Preamble which was being reenacted and reinforced in November, 1947, but today we are in November, 1949. The Government have had two years to put into operation what they have piously reinforced by re-enacting that Preamble. They have had two more years to put before us a new design for a Second Chamber, and not one serious thought or real intention have they given to that point. My hon. Friends and I have urged again and again their desire for a reform in composition in accordance with that Preamble.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
On a point of Order. May I ask for your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, on whether, on the Third Reading of this Bill, we shall be in order to discuss reform of the House of Lords?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Bowles)
I have not got the Act before me, but I know that the Preamble does refer to it. Therefore, I think it is in Order. Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman will make a submission?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
The point with which I am dealing is that the form of this Bill is that the Parliament Act, 1911, shall have effect and shall be deemed to have effect from October, 1947, and that that method of legislating by giving effect to a previous Act must introduce the Preamble by which that provision is conditioned. My point is limited to the effect of that Preamble and to the fact that it is mentioned and is not excluded from the Bill.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I put the point that the Government have done nothing, and I reinforce that by stating that we on this side of the House have urged again and again our desire for a reform in composition which will not give any one party a guaranteed majority in the Second Chamber. No doubt some hon. Members have heard my speeches, and others can read them if they so desire, but they will find that, on behalf of the Conservative Party I have said that with the utmost clarity on each occasion when I have had the honour of addressing the House. In addition, there is for the first time in the history of this troubled problem, a great measure of agreement—provisional agreement—as to the composition—
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
If the hon. Lady had been listening, she would have noticed that I corrected myself by saying "provisional agreement," and she knows what I mean by provisional agreement. It is an agreement arrived at with the leaders subject to consultation with the parties.
§ Miss Lee
This is a very important point and should be made clear. It must be understood that, so far as I am concerned as a member of this party, if I had these provisions put before me, I most certainly would reject them. I am entitled to say that I think a great majority of the Labour Party would also reject them.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I am sorry that the hon. Lady disagrees very much with one of her leaders, because the Lord President of the Council, in addressing the House only a fortnight ago, made it clear that he would have done his utmost, 1746 and I think he said that, in his view, they would have reached or obtained agreement from most of his supporters.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I am not going to give way. I must answer the hon. Lady, and then I will give way, if the hon. Gentleman wishes. I think he will agree that it is very difficult to give answers to two points at once, and I am trying to answer the hon. Lady because she has raised a very important point which she was anxious to raise a fortnight ago, as we are all aware, but did not have the chance of doing it. Therefore, I am glad she has made it on this occasion.
What I say is that the point was mentioned by the Lord President, who said that he would have to meet his friends, and that he would have got agreement. May I quote his words on the point raised? He said:Rather, I should say we were prepared to recommend it. It is not fair for me to commit the Labour Party"—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Well, let me read the rest. The hon. Member for East Islington (Mr. E. Fletcher) is in such a state of jumps tonight that it is very difficult for people who have interests in other aspects to get over his jitterbugism. I hope he will restrain it for a moment until we deal with this point. I was quoting the Lord President, who went on to say:to those conclusions because we have not yet met our friends."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 31st October. 1949; Vol. 469, c. 160.]The Lord President, when he says agreement, means agreement with me. I have known the right hon. Gentleman a long time, and, on the point of agreement with the Lord President, although I have a great admiration and respect for the hon. Member for Cannock (Miss Lee), after 15 years in this House with the Lord President, and despite her qualities, I should take the Lord President against her. Does the hon. Member for East Islington wish me to give way again?
§ Mr. E. Fletcher
I was only going to make a further quotation which seems to bear out what the hon. Lady has said.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
If the hon. Member for East Islington thinks that the Lord President was going to abandon that point of view and adopt that of the hon. 1747 Lady, he is entitled to all the innocence which a beneficent Deity has given him. I do not regret the interruption at all, but, if I may proceed with the argument, I repeat that we had made these suggestions and reached the stage where the possibility of implementing the intentions of the Preamble was greater than it had been before, and because, for the first time, we had got this provisional agreement which gave us a chance to make an advance.
The point I make is that the only reasonable inference which we can make on the conduct of the Government is that, having reinforced the Preamble two years ago and taken no advantage of the provisional agreement on composition, it is the party opposite—and let us get down to the truth—which does not want an alteration in composition. They want a grievance, and they want to be able to talk about the hereditary chamber. All I say to them is this: "Have the grievance, if you like, but do not pretend, do not be hypercritical about the matter, and, when you want agreement, deliberately refuse to deal with composition, and then blame the present composition of the House of Lords. "Hon. Members can have it one way or the other, but they cannot have it both ways.
I come now to the last of these arguments which hon. Members opposite have put forward about wrecking the fourth Session. There, again, I ask the House to follow the argument because it is rather important and related entirely to the contents of the Bill. With regard to the inter-party talks, the Lord President on the last occasion said:The issue on which these discussions broke down was that the Conservative Opposition in both Houses was determined to have power to wreck the fourth Session of Parliament as well as the fifth.He went on to say:Therefore, we determined to introduce this Bill to take care of the fourth and last Session of this and future Parliaments.He had already made clear what was the provision of this Bill to which he was referring because he said earlier in the speech:Legislation must be passed under the new Act in two Sessions and that a period of not less than 12 months from the first Second Reading to the second Third Reading must have elapsed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 31st October, 1949; Vol. 469, c. 160–1.]1748 I compare that—because I want to do full justice to the great twin brethren of the Government on this Bill—with what the Home Secretary said on the same occasion. He said:The representatives of the party opposite were prepared to agree to one year from the first Third Reading. … We were bound to reject the Conservative proposal because that would still involve us in the wrecking of the fourth Session of Parliament if controversial legislation were introduced during that time."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 31st October, 1949; Vol. 469, c. 45.]May I make it quite clear that it is only the fourth Session which comes into it because this Bill or any period of delay must affect the fifth Session. Therefore, that is a conceded point. I ask the House to consider this point because it is the kernel of the argument of the two right hon. Gentlemen. Let us compare the suggestions which they mentioned, namely, the one in the Bill of 12 months from Second Reading and the one which they said was the feature of the construction of the Bill, namely, the suggestion of the 12 months from the first Third Reading.
With regard to the 12 months from Third Reading, let us take, first of all, a Parliament elected in November. It is quite an ordinary time for an election; in fact, it is the time at which everyone except right hon. and hon. Members opposite would have liked an election to take place this year. Therefore, I am supposing that, in accordance with our wishes, we had a General Election in November, 1949, and the first Session started. In that case, the fourth Session would start in October, 1952. I am taking the ordinary procedure which we have adopted of starting the Session in the autumn.
We will suppose that a major and complicated Bill gets its first Second Reading in November, 1952. That is the hypothesis we must take in order to examine it. In May, 1953—roughly six months later—it gets its Third Reading. I am therefore allowing a long time for a complicated Bill. In June, 1954, that Bill would become law under the proposal which the Government rejected—12 months from the Third Reading. I am allowing the extra month because of the month which has to elapse before the Lords are deemed to have rejected it.
Having done that, we get a period of six months of freedom of manoeuvre in 1749 the fifth Session. That is an ample period of freedom of manoeuvre for any Government that want to go into their fifth Session. Many Governments of all political flavours do not; many have preferred to go to the country at the end of their fourth year, or thereabouts. If they do, they cannot complain about the position in the fifth Session. But the suggestion which the Home Secretary threw on one side and said was a justification for the terms of the Bill, not only would not interfere with the fourth Session, but would give the Government six months of freedom of manoeuvre in the fifth Session.
I have taken the other example—instead of the happy thought of an election in November, 1949, the rather more gloomy thought of an election in June. 1950.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
Yes, gloomy for hon. Members opposite. If hon. Members opposite think it can give any pleasure to those of us on these benches to contemplate their continuance in this House for another six months, then they have over-emphasised my charity and my good feelings. I ask them to consider the other suggestion.
If we have a summer election, it is quite true that we then have to have a short Session at some time or other. The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that must be so in order to get the Session started at the proper time in the autumn. A short Session would be started after Whitsuntide—in July—and the major Bill would be got through by September. In that case, it would become law in January, 1955, which would again give five to six months of freedom of manoeuvre in the fifth year. Therefore, that point which after all, apart from prejudice, was the only serious point put forward by the Home Secretary, is completely accepted by anyone who examines the Parliamentary time-table. It can be worked out. I have taken the two obvious examples, and the position applies to both of them.
On the general point, as to giving a reasonable time for opinion to form, I was criticised by the Lord President for not paying sufficient attention to antiquated quotations with regard to the 1750 struggles of 38 years ago. As I am always willing to try to fit in with the views of the Lord President when he endeavours to make my speeches for me in advance, I looked up a quotation of Mr. Asquith. We had from the right hon. and learned Attorney-General an hour or two ago a glowing testimony to Mr. Asquith. Therefore, he is a particularly suitable person to quote. Mr. Asquith said:A delay of three Sessions or of two years when the suspensory veto of the House of Lords is interposed precludes the possibility—and I will say this with assurance—of covertly or arbitrarily smuggling into law Measures which are condemned by popular opinion.We were prepared, as the Home Secretary said, to compromise on that period in order to try to reach agreement. But what is absolutely certain is that the principle still stands, that we still stand by that principle, and that the arguments that have been made against it by right hon. Gentlemen opposite have fallen as flat as arguments can possibly fall.
I want to deal with the other aspects of the Bill, namely, the retroactive provisions in constitutional matters. I am glad the hon. Member for East Islington is here, because he has told us that there are precedents for these retroactive provisions. The only answer I can make is in the forbidding words of a great judge before whom I used to appear; when one put forward a doubtful argument he used to look at one severely and say, "I hear you say so." I have heard the hon. Member for East Islington say that there were precedents for these retroactive provisions; I have tried to find them. He once referred to the Septennial Act, and apart from the fact that the Septennial Act was not retroactive and is not otherwise a precedent for this position, I am sure it has a great relevance which I have missed. That is the only precedent which has been given.
We are dealing with retroactive provisions in constitutional matters—not with the ordinary regrettable but necessary retroactive provision that one gets after a Chancellor of the Exchequer has warned incipient tax dodgers that if they pursue a certain line of country he will introduce retroactive legislation. That is done after warning, to meet a specific evil which has been discussed. But for a precedent of retroactive legislation in constitutional matters I defy any consti- 1751 tutional lawyer to search our Statute Book with success. The Home Secretary was much more forthright in the matter. He said he did not care whether there were precedents or not, and that is really the attitude with which we have to meet the point.
Our objection here is really deep-rooted. We have in this country a constitution under which Parliament is omnicompetent. That is, under our constitution, unlike many democratic constitutions, there is the same machinery for changes in the constitution as for any other public Bill. We have made this work in this country for one reason only; there has always been up to now the deep-seated agreement which our common experience, the suffering of war, the tradition of victory and our way of life have produced—an agreement which is much deeper and which unites us far more than political differences have divided us. Whether we are right or wrong, that is the kernel of the creed which my hon. Friends and I hold. Because that is our creed and because we believe in that unity, we are completely unable even to understand phrases which come from hon. Gentlemen opposite like "We are going to see that the right people squeal now," or "Anyone who does not pay the political levy does not matter a tinker's cuss," or even the phrase of the Attorney-General, "We are the masters now." That does not mean anything to us. [Laughter.] Really it does not.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
The hon. Gentleman does not see that the unity of which I have spoken, that British quality, is much more important than the class strife which remarks like that are designed to rouse.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman apply the same unity and the same feeling of "Britishness" towards something called "general jobbers"—propaganda which is being put round by the Tory Party?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
If the hon. Gentleman cannot see the point I am sorry for him; I have done my best to enlighten him. I want to show him the 1752 relevance of this point. It has been that feeling which everyone except those who think like the hon. Gentleman have hitherto accepted in this country. It has been that feeling which has made our Constitution work. If hon. Members opposite substitute for that an ability only to take a sectional view and to alter the rules of the game for his advantage while the game is being played, if they are prepared to withdraw from the ordinary man the stability and the certainty that the Constitutional basis will stay—if hon. Members opposite withdraw the idea of common agreement and adopt the idea of sectional hate, then they may be able to get a temporary advantage. I do not deny that.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
The hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) may be able to make a few speeches from the appropriate tub, which will sound louder, and may even have a much more increased popularity as his vocal powers decrease. Fundamentally hon. Members have made a Constitution, which has been the envy of every other country, cease to work because this fundamental agreement has been withdrawn. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Kilmarnock may get a chance to speak. These turgid semi-sotto voce interjections do not help forward debate. Perhaps we shall have an opportunity of hearing his considered view; somehow I doubt it.
I have dealt on other occasions with the facts of this situation. This afternoon I have tried to deal in order and fully with the fancied objections which the imaginations of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite have tried to conjure up. The facts are on our side; the fancies are as baseless as their authorship. For all these reasons it gives me great pleasure, having moved this or cognate Amendments three times before, to move, to leave out "now," and to add, "this day three months."
§ 6.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
I feel that I should say a few words before this Bill is read the Third time. Whatever is said or done by the Second Chamber, this Bill will inevitably become law. In view of the reception it has had on two previous occasions, one cannot 1753 have much doubt as to what the result of the vote will be tonight.
It is almost impossible to imagine anyone today—even the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe)—able to defend the Upper Chamber as it is at present constituted and the continued maintenance of its present powers. In the course of his speech, even the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not attempt to defend that. Certainly no Liberal could ever defend the House of Lords as it is at present constituted. After all these years—nearly 40 years—we have still a vivid recollection of the way in which Liberal Measures passed by this House were mutilated by the Upper Chamber, or were not even discussed by them but were thrown out after a conclave had been held in Lansdowne House. When this House had spent not only weeks but months in discussing a Measure for which the public had voted, that Measure had only to leave here on its way to another place for a meeting to be held at Lansdowne House that night and a decision taken there, in secret, that it should be thrown out without even a Debate.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that his party were guided by a deep-seated principle. That deep-seated principle was this: that however the people voted, whatever the representation in this House, they, the Conservative Party, were the true interpreters of public opinion. Hon. Members on the Conservative benches continued to hold that view even after the Act of 1911. Until the 1911 Act was passed, it mattered not how the public voted, it mattered not what majority there might be against the Conservatives—the Conservatives still claimed that they should have complete power of deciding what legislation should be passed. Under the Parliament Act three years were taken away from them, but even now they claim that immediately those three years are over they shall decide what shall be passed or not passed by using the extraordinary powers which they possess in their enormous majority in the Upper House. Through their power in the Upper House they can also decide whether this House shall continue or whether it shall go to the country at a General Election. In fact, they have in their hands complete authority over the whole Constitution.
1754 The right hon. and learned Gentleman spoke with pride—and rightly—of the tradition of this country and the way in which the Constitution has been built up, and how it has been adapted from time to time to meet the increasing needs of the people. But may I point out that this has been done in spite of the Conservative Party, because on every occasion when suggestions for reforms were made they fought every one of them. It does not, therefore, lie in the mouth of any Liberal to defend the attitude taken up by a section of the public in accusing others also of representing only a section.
When this Bill was introduced in the autumn of 1947, I not only deprecated its introduction but actually voted against its Second Reading. I spoke and voted against it for two reasons. First, I thought the Bill was unnecessary in this Parliament. I pointed out that one does not know how long a power must remain in quiescence and not be used before one can say that it can no longer be used. For example, we know that the Royal Veto has not been used for over 250 years and we know, therefore, that it has fallen so much into disuse that it cannot be raised again. I therefore felt that as the power which was given to the Upper Chamber under the 1911 Act had not been used by them since 1914, I did not know how long must pass before it could be said that, under our unwritten Constitution, it could no longer be used.
I thought that by this Bill we were rather reviving the power and were informing the Upper House that the power was still with them. I therefore suggested that the Bill was unnecessary. Apparently others thought that it might be necessary, in view of the fact that another Bill was about to be brought before this House. They thought that it might be necessary in order that the other Bill should become law in a shorter period than that permitted under the 1911 Act. I do not know whether I need withdraw the word "unnecessary," for, if rumours are true, we shall, I hope, hear more about this tomorrow. It may be that this Bill will not be necessary in order to bring the Steel Bill into effect. It may be that I was right on that point.
My second reason was that the Bill was untimely. If you recall it, Mr. Speaker, we had just been informed by 1755 the Government of the serious economic situation and the cuts which would have to be made. I was at that time making an appeal that all thought and all action should be concentrated upon dealing with the economic situation, and I said that the only way in which I could protest against proceeding with what I regarded as a small Measure was to vote against it and to ask my colleagues also to vote against it. My vote was a protest at that time.
This is not a great Bill. One cannot become very enthusiastic about it, or become exhilarated if it is passed or depressed if it is thrown out. What happened afterwards, however, again changed the situation. To some extent I can certainly say that my party had something to do with bringing about the conference which followed. I believe we were responsible for Initiating it. All three parties were represented. True, we were only, at the most, authorised to try to see whether we could reach provisional agreement—no more than that—but it was amazing how near we came to agreement and how desirable we all felt it was to have this continuity in our Constitution. I quite realise that the representatives of the Government would possibly have been face to face with quite considerable difficulties with Members of their own party if we had ultimately reached that agreement. I quite realise that many of their own Members would have thought the Government had gone too far.
However, that search for an agreement broke down on one small point. It was a small point so far as time for the Conservative Party was concerned, but a vital point so far as this Government or any Liberal Government were concerned—namely, that we should have four clear Sessions. If there is a Conservative Government in power, five clear Sessions are allowed. They can run the full time and can use every moment of it, but if they object to any legislation introduced by a Socialist or a Liberal Government, then at the most those Governments can utilise to the full only three Sessions. All that we were then asking was that we should have the full use of four Sessions, and upon that the Labour Members and the Liberal Members were in entire agreement. The Conservatives objected to a 1756 matter of three months and three months only, and broke up the conference.
The right hon. Gentleman stood at that Box and said that no suggestion had been made by the Government with regard to the alteration of the membership of the Upper House. They were parties in bringing forward the proposed new reformed membership of the House of Lords—that peers should be appointed only for life, that women should be admitted on the same terms as men, and so on. I should not be in Order if I were to go into the details. Upon those grounds we would all agree that we should have a newly-constituted and far better working Upper Chamber than we have today. The Upper Chamber since 1911 has worked extraordinarily well. That is because at all ordinary times its Debates are confined to fewer than 100 Members; but if perchance they are called upon by the Conservative Party, something in the neighbourhood of 600 or 700 Conservatives, who never take part in the ordinary Debates there, would go to vote down not only the Government but this House itself.
So we were within an ace of getting an agreement, and that was thrown on one side for reasons of their own—which, I believe, were purely political—by the Conservative Party. That being so, when this matter came up a second time I and my colleagues said that our protest with regard to it on the first occasion had been made and we would now vote for it, because we realised that the Conservative Party wanted still to continue the Upper Chamber and to give it the full power over this House which they would like it to exercise at all times. That being so; I and my colleagues voted for the Second Reading, and we shall vote for the Third Reading tonight.
§ Mr. Henry Strauss (Combined English Universities)
May I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman a question before he sits down? Can he say why, if that is the attitude of the Liberal Party to the Bill, last year 21 Liberal Lords voted against it and not one for it?
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Donovan (Leicester, East)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) said earlier that there was 1757 nothing in this Bill to get worked up about, but I and my hon. Friends here have been delighted to hear the most vigorous indictment of the Conservative Party in this matter that we have heard in the course of these discussions. The right hon. and learned Gentleman also said that this was not a great Bill. I think it is an important Bill, and I do not think the right hon. and learned Gentleman meant to say anything else. Because it is an important Bill I should like to try to answer one or two of the arguments which have been put against it in the course of our Debates.
One of them was mentioned in passing by the right hon. and learned Gentleman just now. He said that originally he thought that this Bill was unnecessary. And, others have said that it is unnecessary because the House of Lords throughout this Parliament has behaved with perfect propriety, and that there was no ground for believing that it would behave in any other way. If that is the argument, then, of course, it is not an argument in favour of the two-year veto; it is an argument against any veto at all; and does not help anyone to make up his mind whether if there is to be a veto two years or one year is the right time. I therefore say no more about it.
It has also been objected that we ought not to pass this Bill in advance of a Bill for the general reform of the Second Chamber. Like the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis) who spoke on Second Reading, I have no objection to reform by instalments. In fact, that seems to be the general pattern of reforms, and he who objects to reform by degrees lays himself open to suspicion that he is opposed to any reform at all. In this particular matter, where general reform bristles with so many difficulties and dilemmas that every attempt to reach agreement on it has so far foundered, it seems to me this Bill cannot be condemned out of hand because the reform it effects is piecemeal and not wholesale.
One argument which does come to close grips with the Bill is the argument that one year's delay is not enough, and that was advanced in some detail by—and, I think, only by—the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) on the last Debate 1758 on the Bill. By instancing the dates when a Bill is passed by this House, and rejected by the other—if that is its fate—he showed that five months' was at the most available for public opinion to be "formed, expressed, and crystallised" on the issue, and he said that that was inadequate. That argument proceeds on the view that public opinion begins to get really interested only when there is a clash between this House and the other place.
Most Bills which are thrown out will be Bills upon major issues, and I disagree with the premise upon which the right hon. and learned Gentleman based his argument, because on these matters public opinion will begin to be educated, as some would say, or poisoned, as others would say, long before we ever give the Bill a Second Reading in this House. If anybody doubts that he has only to look at any sugar packet today. Nor does the instance of the death penalty help the argument. I have to be careful here because this is not a Debate on the death penalty, and I use the matter purely as one of illustration, but if I do exceed the bounds of Order I hope, Sir, you will give me no rope.
It has been observed that the action of the House of Lords in that matter accorded with the great majority of public opinion. I must say in parenthesis that I think it a little presumptuous to talk like that before public opinion has been properly tested, which, so far, it has not. But, granting the truth of that observation, merely for the purpose of the argument, namely, that the House of Lords correctly interpreted public opinion when it threw out the Clause suspending the death penalty, then it took the House of Lords and public opinion exactly six weeks to coincide, which compares with the five months which, on the most pesimistic view, will be available if this Bill becomes law.
The argument for the Bill, which, I think, must appeal to all fair-minded people is, that the present political situation is one-sided; and the hon. Member for Devizes, speaking from the benches opposite, admitted that that was so. The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) did not admit it, although I hasten to say that by that remark I am not insinuating that he is not fair-minded. He has said that there 1759 is nothing in this argument that a Government of the Left is frustrated in its fourth year by the veto of a Conservative House of Lords, because, he says, the ban lies only upon a doomed Government, and, in fact, there is not a ban at all if the Government goes to the country and is returned at the ensuing General Election.
What does that argument come to as a matter of practical politics? A Bill goes to the House of Lords in the fourth year of a non-Conservative Government. The other place considers it and dislikes it. It then has to say, "Now, is this Government a doomed Government?" Is its answer likely to be the same if the Government which sent up the Bill is a Conservative Government instead of a Labour Government? Because otherwise the position is still one-sided. And whatever the answer to that question, is it likely to be of the same weight, for example, as the answer of the electorate which, by returning one Member after another in support of this doomed Government in a series of unexampled by-election victories, has made it quite clear what public opinion is upon this matter?
As regards the contention that the Government can always pass a rejected Measure if it be returned at the ensuing Election, I think that wherever we sit in this House we ought to be a little careful about acknowledging the right of another place to dissolve Parliament, because that, in fact, is what it comes to. The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames knows quite well that a particular Measure, whose rejection has caused an election in the way he suggests, might quite well commend itself to the majority of the electorate, and yet, for general reasons, power may change hands. It may even happen that a majority of votes are cast for the party in power at the time, and, therefore, by implication, for the rejected Measure; and yet their opponents be returned to power on a minority vote. I therefore find the argument of the hon. Member on this point to be completely invalid; and the one-sidedness admitted by the hon. Member for Devizes remains. It is true that we are not entirely removing it by this Bill. We are, however, going half-way, which shows how reasonable we are, and is an answer to the charge that we are seeking a one-Chamber Government.
1760 It has been engaging to listen to the arguments proceeding from both sides of the House on this Bill on the footing that we have one House of Lords. That is not true. We have three. The first is the House of Lords sitting in its judicial capacity as the supreme tribunal of this country and consisting of the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary. That House of Lords, if I may say so without presumption, commands the respect of everyone in this country and of many people outside it. The second is the House of Lords doing its daily round of work, to which, again, tribute has been paid on all sides of this House. That work is done very largely by peers of recent creation, although I freely acknowledge that the tradition of certain families for distinguished public service there is still maintained.
The third is the House of Lords reinforced, or one might almost say engulfed, by large numbers of peers summoned specially for the occasion from the hills and woods by the call that freedom and progress are once more on the march, and the defences of die-hard Conservatism have once more to be manned. It is against that House of Lords that this Bill is primarily directed. It is certainly that House of Lords which the public has in mind—at least I think so—whenever there is a clash between the two Houses.
I feel certain that the public has no objection whatever to a reasonable curtailment of the veto period so far as it concerns that House of Lords. It is significant that no one on the other side gets up and says that if their party is returned to power they will restore the two-year period. What they do say is that they will give a reformed second Chamber powers no greater than those in the Parliament Act, 1911; a pledge which can be quite well-fulfilled by leaving the veto at one year. Hon. Members opposite, therefore, must not be surprised if some of us suspect that their more progressive elements would actually be disappointed if this Bill were to fail to be passed tonight on Third Reading. They can be reassured.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ General Sir George Jeffreys (Petersfield)
When this Bill was first introduced in November, 1947, it was a time of economic crisis, and both the Government 1761 and the nation were beginning to realise the seriousness of the situation. "The Times" newspaper of that time, in a leading article, used the following words:The country calls for rescue from the imminent menace of distress and decline. More than ever before except in wartime the partnership of all groups in the community will be indispensable. Yet this moment is chosen by Mr. Attlee and his colleagues to incite bitter constitutional argument without need or reason.If that was the case in 1947, how very much more is it the case today having regard to both the Prime Minister's and the Chancellor of the Exchequer's recent statements. Surely, it is madness at such a time to pass this most contentious Measure, which, far from uniting all groups in the community, must inevitably accentuate the differences.
Are the Government in fact trying by means of this Bill—one might almost have thought so had the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) been made from the other side—to use the Peers v. People controversy to distract attention from the national crisis? That might almost appear to be the case.
The Bill contains a retroactive Clause which is a most unusual feature. I think that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. H. Strauss) described it as a most unconstitutional feature, or words to that effect, especially in a Measure of such importance, and, affecting as it does, very seriously the constitution of the country. It seems that this can only be intended as a means of securing the passage of a certain Bill during the life-time of the present Parliament. If it is not intended for that purpose, what is the object of including it in the Bill? Why the Government should seek to tinker with the British Constitution—because that is what they are doing—at such a time, and for such a cause, is very hard indeed to understand.
It is all the harder to understand because the third successive Session necessary in the 1911 Act need not be in the same Parliament, and if the Government should be returned to power at the General Election, any Bill which has been passed and twice rejected, in the 1950 Parliament may be passed over the heads of another place. The Committee stage was omitted. That has been the subject of Debate today, and I do not intend to 1762 labour the point, but it seems to me to have been a mistake to have omitted the Committee stage.
Many Government Bills have been very much improved in Committee at other times and on other subjects, and might not this Bill have been improved if it had been considered in Committee, and one or two of these points, particularly the retroactive question, considered afresh? Is it in fact because the Government are not sure of returning to power—not sure what the people will say—that they are so anxious to pass this Bill now? The Home Secretary, in the Second Reading Debate, spoke of the last word being with the House of Commons. The House of Commons has the last word at present, although that last word is deferred for some time longer than is now proposed in the present Bill. What is more important is this: On Bills brought in during the last two years of Parliament, the people of the country—and they are the most important of all—can under present conditions have the last word. The right hon. Gentleman also spoke of there being no opposition to this Bill. However that may be, there is certainly no demand for it, and very little support for it in the country.
The Lord President himself has on various occasions paid tribute to the work of the House of Lords in this Parliament. Not only have they not rejected Government Bills, but they have performed invaluable service in revising, amending and improving Bills which have often been inadequately discussed in this House and sometimes very indifferently drafted by Government draftsmen. They have rejected no Bill except this one, and in cases of difference they have almost invariably deferred to the opinion of the House of Commons. The Government argument is that for five years after a General Election everything passed by the House of Commons must be taken to be the will of the people expressed at the last election, even though it may have been little, if at all, mentioned at that election, and even though it be passed in the closing years of the Parliament.
The hon. and learned Member for East Leicester (Mr. Donovan) has referred to the death penalty controversy. I also do not wish to transcend the bounds of Order in this Debate, but I would say that, 1763 whatever the hon. and learned Gentleman may think, the country had no doubt that on that occasion the House of Lords did express the will of the people. Incidentally, it helped the Home Secretary out of a very difficult situation.
If this Bill goes through it seems to me to be a very long step towards the abolition of the House of Lords and eventual single chamber Government. On Second Reading there could be no mistaking, I think, the attitude of some if not a good many, hon. Members opposite who appeared to be in favour, not of mending the House of Lords but of ending it. It appears to me that with single chamber Government an extremist Government—and there are some extremists, and I put it mildly when I say "some," amongst the Government supporters—
§ Sir G. Jeffreys
—might resolve that Parliament should go on sitting without any appeal to the country, being in fact indissoluble. That has happened in certain Parliaments abroad. It has happened once in the history of this country, and, whether some people are proud of what happened at that time or not, there is no doubt that at the end of the Long Parliament—for that was the Parliament concerned—there was universal rejoicing at the end of that régime which led, as single chamber Government almost invariably does lead, to a dictatorship. In my submission, that would be the end of British liberty, and it is not entirely impossible in this country.
The right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery is like the Bourbons who learned nothing and forgot nothing. He is living apparently in the age of 40 years ago, when there was only one appreciable enemy for his party, when his party was strong and when they knew of only one enemy. Things are very different now, and I think that the polemics in which he indulged would be hard to find reflected in many Liberals even in these days.
In the spring of 1948, as we were reminded by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, the party leaders came very near to agreement on the future composition of the House of Lords. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for the West Derby Division of Liverpool 1764 (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) said that we, the Conservative Party, should stick to the offers we made at that time. This is a very late hour in the history of this Bill, but I feel that it ought to be possible to confer again on the same lines as in 1948; it ought to be possible, as it should have been possible then, to arrange for a reformed rather than an emasculated second Chamber; and at the same time, as regards our Constitution to have at least something of that unity which is so desirable, and which is constantly being appealed for by both the Prime Minister and other Members at this time. Is it not out of accord with our constitutional usage that one party, for no adequate reason—for no adequate reason has been adduced today or at any time during these Debates—should seek to emasculate the Upper House and pave the way, as it appears to me, for single chamber Government with all its perils? I hope that even now, at this very late hour, wiser counsels may prevail with the Government.
§ 7.27 p.m.
§ Miss Jennie Lee (Cannock)
After the many hours that we have discussed this subject I begin to feel that perhaps I am the truest friend that the House of Lords has in this Chamber. I believe in the value of a continuing tradition. The other day, in another Debate, we heard the right hon. and learned Member for the West Derby Division of Liverpool (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) say that he, for one, was a traditionalist. Perhaps it would be better when we use those sort of words, if we defined our terms and told the House just what traditions we were talking about. In the course of these Debates it has become quite clear that hon. Members opposite are, I should say, unanimous in wishing for a reformed House of Lords on the basis, broadly, of salaried life peers. It has become equally obvious that there are divisions on this side of the House.
Two years ago, when this Measure was first before us, the general feeling of the Labour movement of this country was that the Government were proposing a very practical and wise compromise. We did not ask for equality of opportunity with hon. Members opposite, but in our traditional British way, although the majority party in this House, and although with power to decide otherwise, decided to continue to carry a handicap. Hon. 1765 Members opposite, though the minority party, are still permitted to enjoy a substantial advantage.
No one would dispute that not only the present House of Lords, but any conceivable reformed House of Lords would still be essentially Conservative, essentially for hon. Members opposite, and opposed to those vigorous new adjustments of our social and economic values which I believe are necessary for this country's survival. So, when I say I am a traditionalist I mean it in the following sense: I, too, inherit from my forebears certain values, certain prejudices if you like, and it would be extremely easy for me to say "Why waste so much of our precious time discussing a Second Chamber?" Why not simply abolish it?
It would be very easy for me to take that point of view, and that is still the official point of view of the Labour Party, but I, like so many more of my fellow countrymen and women, can see at times the value of compromise. Surely we have arrived at a wonderful compromise here in being able to offer to the House of Lords a position of honour and security in which to carry out its judicial functions and the many other useful jobs it has to do. It can become as far removed from sharp party controversy as the Royal Family, the Crown itself.
It would have been possible for us at many stages in British history when passions were aroused to have abolished the Royal Family, but we all congratulate ourselves on having come through the fierce stages of the Stuart and Cromwellian phases, even the dubious early days of the reign of Queen Victoria, and arrived at a relationship in which the Royal Family is universally honoured and respected and is recognised as doing a very valuable job for all of us. But the condition of its security and of its universal respect is that it has been removed from the arena of party politics.
I began by saying that I considered myself to be one of the best friends the House of Lords possesses in this Chamber. I can see a useful and respected future for the House of Lords, if it will meet the needs of the contemporary generation and withdraw more and more from the sharper issues of party politics. The point was put very well by my hon. Friend the 1766 Member for East Islington (Mr. E. Fletcher), when he suggested the other day that just as the Liberals had to remove the financial powers of the House of Lords in 1911, so we should try to make a modern equation. For instance, are we not doing the wrong thing in asking the House of Lords to concern itself with major Measures of nationalisation, such as the case of iron and steel and the other such Measures to come, also Bills where there are large redistributions of national income to be considered and with those, all the social changes which follow?
I congratulate the Government on this wise and sensible Bill. Members have said it is arousing bitter controversy in the country, but I have not seen any of that. The country is completely placid, for the excellent reason that the Government are doing exactly the job which requires to be done at the present moment. I can assure hon. Members that if there should be an attempt to go beyond the reasonable compromise contained in this Bill, and it be suggested there should be a basic reform of the composition of the House of Lords on the lines of the statement made in the earlier part of 1948, the issue will become a very live one throughout the Labour movement, as well as in the Conservative Party.
We should then have real bitterness, and my prediction is that if hon. Members opposite want to end the House of Lords—[Interruption.] I am offering the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) a fair deal. If he wants to end the House of Lords, then I suggest that he campaigns for the reforms laid down in that statement, because then he will see that modern democracy will not tolerate what, in my judgment, would be a form of disguised Fascist control in Great Britain. There would be an end to the vigorous, healthy and honourable exchanges of party controversy.
I can think of many at the present moment who might be nominated to that Second Chamber who are Socialists, but I am not certain that they would be Socialists 10 years hence, although I am fairly certain that most Conservatives who were nominated would still be Conservatives 10 years from now, perhaps even more so. Let us face it, very few of us become more radical as we grow older; we come to know too much of the dangers 1767 and difficulties of life and lose some of the vaunting courage which is one of the highest attributes of youth.
I say that this is a wise and able compromise to meet the needs of the times, and if Members opposite will settle down and enjoy it we can together continue to enjoy our House of Lords in safety, for we shall have a Second Chamber which will do useful work and meet the needs of modern times. I beg Members opposite to remember, in all they say and advocate, that democratic Socialists are never in danger of going too fast or being over-hasty. Do not try to hold us back; what we need rather is an occasional prodding. Remember that the criticism offered democratic Socialists throughout the world is that it is not possible to carry out radical changes by our methods but that dictatorship is needed, that we need to abolish not only the House of Lords, but the House of Commons as well before we can win through to a new world. I do not believe that. I am vehemently opposed to such defeatism.
I believe there is something in the history, traditions and temperament of the British people that makes it possible for us to be sitting here today contemplating, with a certain amount of heat but without too much heat, a Measure that would seem strange to most countries. We on this side have the grievance, not Members opposite. If Members opposite should have the misfortune to come into power, it would be a misfortune both for them and for the country and they would have the House of Lords behind them. We accept our handicap, and we believe that in so doing we are wisely maintaining the traditional ways of Great Britain. If Members opposite will co-operate with us, they can make their beloved House of Lords as safe as the Royal Family.
§ 7.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Quintin Hogg (Oxford)
The idea of the hon. Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) becoming less radical as she grows older greatly appeals to me. As far as I am concerned, it removes the one obstacle to her charms, although I have some doubt whether she will ever become much older. I must try to explain to her why the argument she put forward with so much plausibility is wholly unacceptable to Members on this side. The fact is that there was an underlying and quite 1768 irreconcilable inconsistency between the two arms, of her argument.
The first point she made was that there remains, even if this Measure is passed, a considerable amount of power in the mutilated House of Lords. That is true, but it is inconsistent with that observation that the hon. Lady should go on to say, "Well, provided they do not exercise any powers at all the Second Chamber can look forward to a future of popularity in common with that of the Royal Family." But so far as we are concerned we want a Second Chamber not merely to have but to exercise certain limited powers. If they exercise any powers at all they will, of course, be drawn more or less into the field of controversy. It so happens that the House of Lords, as it is composed today, cannot effectively engage in controversy of any kind because its composition does not command respect.
Although we appreciate the hon. Lady's love of tradition, it therefore follows that a so-called compromise which confers powers on a body of men who will never have sufficient public opinion behind them to exercise those powers effectively, is not a compromise which can appeal to us. There comes a time when a rickety structure has to be altered fundamentally if it is to be any use at all. Our fundamental objection to the Bill is that it prejudices the whole cause of Second Chamber Government in a form in which we should like to see it while, at the same time, leaving a burden on the existing rickety structure which it is unable to maintain.
I always listen with respect to what is said by the hon. and learned Member for East Leicester (Mr. Donovan), but I thought his speech on this occasion, obviously trying to be reasonable, betrayed the same incomprehension of the attitude of Members on this side of the House that other speeches have done before—and that is the more remarkable as we are today debating this Bill for the Third time. When the hon. and learned Member says that there are three Houses of Lords—the judicial, the day-to-day and the mysterious backwoodsmen who attend for the purpose of destroying democratic Measures on some of the mythical occasions in which hon. Members opposite believe—I wholly agree with him. That is why I want to see the composition of 1769 the House of Lords reformed. But I cannot see that that is an argument in favour of a Bill which, after two years' controversy, still persistently declines to deal with the overdue question of composition and deals, instead, with the question of powers.
The hon. and learned Member says, "I have no objection to reform by instalments" and adds, largely and generously, "That is the way reform usually comes." I always distrust hon. Members opposite who try to use Conservative arguments, because they nearly always apply them in the wrong way. It is true that if desirable reform comes by instalments, as it frequently does, it is perhaps the best way for such reforms to come. But there is another kind of specious alteration in the law which is not an instalment of reform but an obstacle to further reform, and it is because we regard this Measure as an obstacle to further reform that it is quite intolerable to us.
I must answer the hon. and learned Member for East Leicester out of the mouth of his hon. Friend the Member for Cannock. Whereas the hon. and learned Member regarded the Bill as an instalment of some unspecified reform in composition which he would desire to see, the hon. Member for Cannock argued in favour of it on precisely opposite grounds—namely, that it would provide a wonderful compromise—to quote her own happy and eloquent phrase—in which the House of Lords might rest happy and secure for the centuries which no doubt await this island of ours. It is not possible to imagine two speeches delivered in support of the same Bill, within almost a quarter of an hour of one another, which take a more radically different view in support of it. There is no common ground between the hon. and learned Member and the hon. Member for Cannock on that matter at all.
In our view the questions of composition and powers are not two entirely different questions to be dealt with at different times and in different circumstances; they are inter-connected questions which have an organic relationship to one another. We cannot discuss what powers we propose to give to the Second Chamber unless we also discuss whether that Second Chamber is one which could command sufficient respect to exercise 1770 them. Nor can we consider the question of the composition of the Second Chamber in a particular context unless we also consider the powers which it is proposed to give to them. To talk of reform by instalments is not merely wounding to the feelings of the hon. Member for Cannock which I am sure the hon. and learned Member for East Leicester will, on reflection, regret; it is also basically to misunderstand the nature of the problem facing us today.
§ Mr. Donovan
In instancing disagreement between my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) and myself, does the hon. Member realise that what he is saying now is directly contrary to what was said by his hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis) on the Second Reading?
§ Mr. Hogg
I did not hear my hon. Friend's speech. I am sorry to detain the House on a question in which I have an obvious interest and an unconcealed bias, but I must say, with due humility, that I have devoted considerable thought to this subject, about which I feel deeply, and that I have as much right to express my opinion about it as any other hon. Member of the House has to express his.
The hon. and learned Member for East Leicester went on to give two remarkable examples in favour of his thesis. The first was when he referred to the question of the death penalty. I do not wish to go into detail on that matter, as it would not be in Order to pursue it at length, but I think he overlooked the character of the Debate on that occasion. The hon. and learned Member will remember that when the final Debate took place in this House the Home Secretary was able to refer to difficulties and objections in imposing Parliament Act procedure in a matter of that kind. If the sanction of that complication had not existed in that Debate I do not doubt—and every hon. Member is entitled to his own opinion—that the Home Secretary would have found it quite impossible to deal with the more recalcitrant of his own supporters.
The hon. and learned Member then went on to instance the admitted good behaviour of the present House of Lords in this Parliament as a reason why this Bill should pass. He said that the right conclusion to draw from their good 1771 behaviour was that a period of one year was not needed. I differ from the hon. and learned Gentleman as to the conclusion to be drawn from his premise. If this piece of patchwork legislation amending the Parliament Act of 1911 were to be justified, it would only be justified, in my submission, in the context of an insuperable conflict which had arisen between the two Houses. In my view, once it is conceded that there is no conflict between the two Houses, to attempt to patch the Parliament Act of 1911 cannot be justified at all, because, as we have tried to show again and again, that is a constitutional outrage.
I must record my view that under the Parliament Act of 1911, it was never contemplated that that particular procedure would be employed for the purposes of amending that Act. On the contrary, the Preamble makes it quite plain that the Act was contemplated as a temporary Measure, and when the question of reform came before this House again what would be introduced, according to the framers of that Measure, would not be some amendment of that Act, but a totally new Second Chamber altogether. The purpose of using the Parliament Act procedure for the purposes of amending the Parliament Act is wholly outside the purposes of those who framed it, and is in itself a constitutional outrage.
I return to the argument which I ventured to present to the House on a former occasion, and which, therefore, I can summarise in a very short way. In my submission, this is a fundamentally dishonest Bill. I was much impressed by the interjection of the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. McGhee) when my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) was addressing the House. The hon. Member said that what we wanted in this House was single chamber Government.
§ Mr. McGhee (Penistone)
That is quite incorrect. At that moment I was speaking to my hon. Friends, and I said that in matters of finance we have virtually single chamber Government, and that this Bill would give the Labour Government what the Tory Government have always had, single chamber Government for the first four years.
§ Mr. McGhee
Actually, the hon. Member did not hear it. It was reported to him by two other Members.
§ Mr. Hogg
I heard the remark most clearly. I entirely accept the explanation given by the hon. Gentleman, but it does not seem to me to be an explanation which differs very much from the actual form in which I quoted it, because one thing is absolutely clear—so far as this Bill is concerned it is not providing single chamber Government.
We have had the most explicit assurances from the Front Bench opposite that it does not provide single chamber Government, nor that that is intended even during the first four years of any Parliament. If it were, my case for this being a dishonest Bill would be overwhelmingly proved, having regard to the clear and explicit assurances to the contrary which we have received from Ministers. I think they were honest and truthful when they said that the Bill was not designed to produce single chamber Government. That may be the desire of some hon. Members opposite, but that is not the effect of the Bill, and I am dealing with the Bill as it is framed, as one must in the course of a Third Reading speech.
If it is not designed for a single chamber Government what is it designed to achieve? We are told that it is designed to achieve a period of one year's delay as a means of combating the backwoodsmen, who exist more in hon. Members' imagination than in fact and who come in their imaginary hordes to defeat Socialist Measures in the fourth and fifth years of a Parliament. As I pointed out on more than one occasion during these Debates if, in fact, what is feared is a misuse by the House of Lords of their powers, then this Bill does not, in fact, deal with that. This is a Bill to reduce the suspensory veto from two years to one year.
It would be perfectly possible within the ambit of the Parliament Act as it is proposed to amend it to hold up effective Government legislation for a much longer period than they can now. They can resolve against any statutory orders under the Parliament Act, and 1773 such a step is still possible to them under this amending Bill. They can hold up the Steel Bill by resolving time and time again against the regulations made under it, which would make it altogether unworkable. Hon. Members know the powers that are left with the House of Lords. Under this Bill, if they were to misuse their powers, they would be capable of bringing the whole of the Government in this country to a standstill within three months.
On the other hand, if the argument is that the House of Lords can be trusted not to misuse their powers, then it follows that the whole of this legislation is unnecessary, because the proposal, as put forward from the Benches opposite, is solely on the ground, not that the powers have, in fact, been misused, but that it is apprehended that they might be. Therefore I submit that this is a dishonest Bill, which does not honestly deal with the real difficulties which have occurred.
Before I leave that part of the case I should like to put it in this way—nothing proves the dishonesty of the Measure more clearly than the fact that, when we have been discussing, as we are, limiting the powers of the House of Lords as they exist under the Parliament Act and limiting the suspensory veto, no significant speech by hon. Members opposite in favour of the Bill has been heard which has not contained either the avowed or concealed major premise that it is the composition of the House of Lords and not the powers which is the real subject of grievance.
I see the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) in his place. I did my best to follow the extraordinary twist of reasoning whereby the leader of the Parliamentary Liberal Party tried to explain how it was that the party had voted against the Second Reading but were going to vote for the Third Reading. I was left with this conviction—there is no political section of this House which has lost a sense of political responsibility and respectability to compare with the Liberal Party. They issued three-line whips on the Steel Bill, but never had a 100 per cent. division. First they vote for a Second Reading—
§ Mr. Hogg
If I am wrong about that I gladly withdraw. It is such a rare case that I am very glad that I have brought it to light, because on Bill after Bill, since I started sitting next to the hon. Gentleman below the Gangway, they have first voted for Second Reading and then against Third Reading, or against Second Reading and for Third Reading. On more than one occasion there was a respectable minority of their not very large party voting in the opposite Lobby. When it was not so, a normal feature of their party tactics was that in the House of Lords the party did the opposite to what had been done in the Home of Commons. Really, they are the least respectable of all the parties.
§ Mr. Bing (Hornchurch)
Does the hon. Member include in his strictures of the Liberal Party, the right hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George) on his own Front Bench?
§ Mr. Hogg
I was including the whole party as a party in my strictures without attacking any individual in it. They are not politically respectable.
I conclude with a word of thanks for a particular point which was made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Derby. I was very glad that he referred to the very narrow limits which divide the omnicompetent Parliament which we have in this House from a dictatorship. Democracies take different forms. It does not follow because you have a universal system of election that you therefore have the safeguards of liberty, which is one of the essential prerequisities of democracies. Different countries have had different safeguards at different times. We of all democracies have the fewest safeguards. We have an Executive in control of a Parliamentary majority in the House of Commons which, with the other Chamber, has power to legislate on every subject, constitutional or otherwise. In that respect we are unique, or, at any rate, our pattern of democracy is unique among other patterns.
I think we must proceed with the alteration of the powers of the Second Chamber 1775 with very great caution, having regard to that particular feature of our Constitution in general. I do not believe that that caution has been shown in this case. I do not know, of course, the motives underlying the Bill. I still continue to suspect, despite the evening papers today and the morning papers yesterday and the day before, that originally, when it was conceived in the heart and brain of the Lord President of the Council, the Steel Bill had something to do with it. If it be true that the "Evening Standard" is right and the other morning papers are right, and that that motive has now been removed from the heart and breast of the right hon. Gentleman, I do wish he would strangle his little child, which was ill-begotten of unrespectable parents. He should put an end to it now once and for all, and should come forward in this Session or the next with a Bill designed to remove the real grievance concerning the composition of the House of Lords. If the Bill were at all reasonable, I should be willing to support it.
§ 8.3 p.m.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
I think that we all very much enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) but I could not entirely divest myself of the feeling that he was allowing his very keen personal interest in the problem to over-ride his more balanced judgment from the political and present constitutional point of view. It may be all right for him to consider that we should regard this problem as integrated of two parts, powers and composition, but I think he forgets that this discussion takes a very long time and that it takes a long time also to get agreement, as we can appreciate from the fact that the Tory Party have been at work on the matter for more than 80 years, and have not yet come to a final solution. All that time the present Second Chamber has continued, with its present composition and powers.
That consideration may not affect a Conservative Party fully lining these benches, but it is something that a Socialist or a Liberal Government must take into account. We cannot argue this matter in vacuo and leave out the fact that the Second Chamber still has the right and the power to prevent legislation becoming effective in the Second and 1776 Third Sessions of the present Government. Therefore the Government are quite right in placing emphasis not on composition but on powers. While I agree that we must again go into the question of composition, we have, in the Bill, given the maximum of power which can be given by the House of Commons to any Second Chamber.
Some hon. Members have claimed to examine all the processes of history and the march of democracy, but I think they have neglected the theme that runs through it all, which is the rise in power of this democratic assembly. It is all very well for the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) to clothe himself sanctimoniously with that rather nauseating principle that Conservatives, and Conservatives only, are the interpreters and upholders of all that is fine in the British tradition. I was surprised at a Scotsman accepting that point of view, particularly when speaking on a Measure dealing with the other Chamber, and with his knowledge of Burns, and the poem:A man's a man for a' that.Having studied this matter a little, I got rather furious when I reminded him of the poem "Address to The Unco Guild," which begins with the unforgettable lines:Oh ye wha are sae guid yoursel.Sae pious and sae holy.The point is that we all feel, when we examine the democratic tradition of this country, that the step which is now being taken is a step forward. The power of this responsible House against a House that no hon. Member cannot deny is particularly irresponsible, in the precise sense of that word, must be upheld. We have done the right thing in first tackling the powers of the other House. In the past when there have been Conservative Governments on this side we have had literally and effectively unicameral government. Only when we get Liberal and Labour Governments does the other Chamber awaken to its constitutional duty of being a revising and delaying Chamber. If the Government had not introduced the Bill they would have been lacking in the foresight that the people of the country expected them to show when they elected them in 1945.
The suggestion has been made that we should have waited until a great conflict had arisen between the two Chambers, 1777 but that would be shutting our eyes to history and to the actual composition of the other House, as well as to its powers. Taking other spheres, for example, the sphere of international security, we know that present peace is no guarantee of future peace. The Government were quite right to bolster up the democratic part of our Constitution.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the West Derby division of Liverpool suggested that there would not be ample time for public opinion to crystallise and express itself and to be interpreted, seemingly infallibly, correctly by the House of Lords. In the delay we have granted there is ample time for public opinion to form and be expressed, but I do not think that the other Chamber will infallibly interpret correctly that public opinion. If they did we should be having marches on this House tonight with people protesting that we were destroying the Constitution of the country and all that was fine and noble, that the House of Lords had correctly interpreted public opinion to be that the nation did not want the Bill and that we were thrusting it down the throats of the people.
I have spoken to people here and in my constituency, and I have found people outside a little more extreme their views than even the Government have shown themselves to be on this Bill. It is even suggested that we should not bother about the other House at all but get rid of it. I do not for the moment support that, but that is one expression of public opinion. The hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter) may realise that there are polls which might have been held through the medium of a newspaper with which he is connected, which show that the people of this country are not rising in insurrection against the Bill.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter (Wood Green)
I have no connection with any newspaper I know of which is running polls, except a romantic and sentimental one, but no practical one. Perhaps I may ask the hon. Gentleman if he has heard of anybody demanding this Bill.
§ Mr. Ross
As they belong to a country which is poetically celebrated for its honesty and a county which is famed for its political intelligence, I can assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman that they understand the Bill. I congratulate the Government on their foresight and on refusing to leave this thing to drag on. If they had allowed that we should have had no guarantee that there would be no interference with the fourth and fifth Sessions of the present Parliament, and it might well be that the good behaviour of the other place has been deliberately planned good behaviour to be used as propaganda during the next month or two. Those who look on this from a traditional and historical point of view and as people upholding and maintaining the position in the Constitution of this House cannot do otherwise than support the Government tonight.
§ 8.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter (Wood Green)
The Sassenachs of the House have all enjoyed this whiff of strong air from Scotland. It is always good to hear Burns quoted. It is nice to be reminded that:A man's a man for a' thatbut it seems that in this case the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) makes one exception, so that:A man's a man for a' that—unless he happens to be a Peer. The hon. Gentleman does not grant Peers the same admiration.
I want to recall to the House the speech made earlier by the Attorney-General. One of his points was that he was distressed that so much time should be spent in the House of Commons discussing this Bill when there were so many urgent matters facing us. I was much impressed by that. There was a languorous dismay about him which is always attractive. I do not doubt his sincerity and it seems to me that he is absolutely right. The only trouble is that he seemed to be inferring that it was we who had, somehow, brought in this Bill. The Bill has been debated and debated until there is almost nothing new to be said about it, but it is not our fault; it was brought 1779 in by the Government of which the Attorney-General is such an ornament. Now the Attorney-General is criticising us for the time it has taken when the fault is that of the Government.
In my opinion this is one of the many Measures brought in by the Government in the form of irrelevancies to hide from the public their incompetence to govern. Those are harsh words, I know. They have not that urbanity or sweet reasonableness with which I like always to address hon. Members opposite. Nevertheless, whether the Government intended them as irrelevancies or not, they have proved to be irrelevancies, but I do not believe that they have hidden from the public the incapacity of this Government to govern. I know that Parliament is the great inquest of the nation and that it is the duty of Parliament to debate, but it is also the duty of Parliament to inform and inspire the nation and to give it leadership. That is something which this Parliament is not doing at present.
After such a lively and good natured Debate as we have had, it seems somewhat less than gracious to say that if this Parliament today came under the unfriendly and brusque pens of dramatic critics it would get a very bad Press. It is getting a very bad Press. Even the hon. Member for East Coventry (Mr. Cross-man) wrote the other day that this Parliament was as dead as Mr. Churchill said. What is the reason? Because we are not dealing with reality at all. I have been away for two months, and from a distance—[Interruption.] I was doing propaganda for this Government in Canada. I was doing good work; I was not loafing. I was in Canada telling the Canadians what I believe, that this country will survive. It may be that looking at Britain through a telescope from a distance one may not get a clear or accurate picture, but from a long distance one may well wonder when the nation will wake up and deal with that with which every other country sees we have to deal.
It might have been a good idea if we could have taken a gramophone record of the laughter of hon. Gentlemen opposite at serious moments during this Parliament and played it at the General Election so that the people could have heard them. I hope that will not prevent hon. Gentlemen opposite laughing if 1780 I stumble upon a good joke. However, I have heard the party opposite laugh at the most serious times—
§ Mr. Baxter
Why has this Parliament been condemned as moribund, dead, dying and decaying? The reason is that it is out of touch with realities and is not grappling with the urgent problems before it.
§ Mr. Baxter
If hon. Gentlemen opposite think that I am exaggerating on this point, when they face their constituents at the General Election and the constituents ask, "What did your party do when it went to Westminster?", which is a fair question, will they please reply, with all the enthusiasm they showed when they carried it through, that they did away with the Parliamentary representation of the universities? That was a great victory. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order."] I anticipated that I might be out of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. The Attorney-General was deploring the fact that we were not dealing with more urgent matters, and I thought I would help the right hon. and learned Gentleman by pointing out that he is absolutely right and that this Parliament has done away with such things as University Representation, the City of London representation—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman ought to help the Attorney-General too far or too much.
§ Mr. Baxter
I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and I will only say that the Government might have considered that when they repealed the Trades Disputes Act.
I want to put one or two points to hon. Gentlemen opposite. We all know that the House of Lords is archaic in composition, but this is a land of paradox, not only a land of tradition. The Upper House is maintained under an impossible hereditary system and we on this side of the House, just as strongly as the party opposite, regard it as 1781 ridiculous that under the hereditary system the favours should be given to the first pup of the litter.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food (Dr. Edith Summerskill
The first male pup.
§ Mr. Baxter
I am obliged to the right hon. Lady for supporting her sex in this matter of the litter. Nevertheless, although the Upper House is archaic in construction, the fact is that it has served this Parliament magnificently. The hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) spoke about the magnanimity with which her party was willing to accept and maintain an Upper Chamber which was politically against it. I think that is to the credit of the Socialist Party. But I am sure that in fairness the hon. Lady will agree that the Upper House when dealing with legislation to which it was opposed—by tradition, by judgment or by anything else one likes to call it—showed a splendid recognition of the fact that the House of Commons is the master, and that it brought all its resources of judgment and skill and wisdom to bear upon the Socialist legislation from this House.
Therefore I think it was a great pity that the Party opposite did not make a gesture, instead of saying, as they did by this Bill, "The Upper House behaved all right for the first three years because they knew we could deal with them, but they are not honourable men and we will not trust them any further." That is the meaning of this Bill. There is no excuse for it. Why if they were frightened did not the Government introduce this Bill in the first year of its life? I believe that the action of the party opposite was in keeping with its natural philosophy which, as I have said before here, is to put its trust too much in a sort of creeping commonsense. A writer once said that the instinct of the Left-wing parties is to build the factory and to destroy the cathedral.
Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg), who is automatically heir to a peerage which he does not want—and for that I honour him—I speak as a commoner. I am proud to be one. In this country we have been going through something of a revolution. It is to the credit of the British people that this revolution has been a bloodless one, and in many ways it has been a 1782 credit to the party opposite that they did not press their extreme views but held their wilder men in control. I find much to admire in that, but I urge the party opposite: "Do not destroy, Do not tear down, Do not apply logic as if logic is the last truth." There is no logic in a piece of ribbon for which a soldier will give his life, but the ribbon means something.
The hon. Lady the Member for Cannock said wisely that the Monarchy has survived different changes and is now in a different phase. The same is true of the House of Lords. It would have been a splendid thing if this Socialist Party, with its mighty majority in the House of Commons, had said, "We trust our colleagues in the Upper House, we trust the men who have handled our legislation there with impartiality, with justice and with wisdom." Instead of that they have brought this rather squalid quarrel into the House, because many of the speeches made during these three long Readings have not been as tolerant as they were today. For that reason, as a vote of censure in my own mind upon the party opposite, I shall certainly vote against the Third Reading of this Bill.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
Hon. Members opposite have congratulated the Government in bringing in this Bill. I cannot join in those congratulations because I believe that in persisting in carrying the Bill through at this juncture the Government have missed a great opportunity. When introducing legislation one cannot disregard the times and also the conditions under which it is being introduced, and from that point of view this Bill stands condemned. The country is facing a grave economic crisis, and it is the duty of the Government to concentrate their measures and public attention entirely on that crisis and on the steps taken to deal with it. The Government should try to help to create the atmosphere which would enable the country to solve its very difficulteconomic problems, upon which depend our whole future, the standard of life of our people and the part which this country is to play in the world. It is in that light that we ought to consider the Bill which is before us.
The Bill—and we must recognise it—is a purely party Measure. The need at 1783 this time is for a responsible Government to put first things first; and by "first things" I mean the country. That is what the Lord President of the Council said in a recent speech and I agree with him, as do, I believe, the overwhelming majority of our people. Example, however, is better than precept, and if the Government are asking—and how necessary it is that they should ask—everybody to make sacrifices of one kind or another, what a grand lead it would have been had the Government said, "In view of the economic crisis we are prepared to delay the procedure so far as this Bill is concerned."
I wish that instead of continuing with the Bill, the Government had made a proposal to reopen the all-Party Conference which met a short time ago. The conditions are such that its chances of success would be even greater today, in view of the need for national unity, than when it actually met. Even then, it was within an ace of achieving success. There was agreement on the composition of membership of the House of Lords, and only a question of three months kept the parties apart so far as its power was concerned. How much better it would have been, and how much more responsible leadership would have been shown, had the Government shown this kind of initiative.
I recognise that the Government will get their majority tonight and that the Bill will pass its Third Reading, but I want to appeal to them, even now that when they get the Bill—and perhaps it may give them something else with which to bargain—that they will consider from the national point of view whether they ought to try to summon again the all-Party Conference to see if agreement can be reached. Not only would such a step be a great action; it would be of even more importance in the kind of lead which the Government would be giving towards national unity. It is their prime responsibility to try to bring about this unity, for they are the Government, and if they were to take such a lead they might reasonably expect that the Opposition would be prepared to follow.
If the Government persist with the Bill and try to reap all the party advantages which they can from it, they will be telling the country that, "Crisis or no 1784 crisis, we go on with our party business." If that is what they say to the country, how can they expect the ordinary citizens to adapt themselves and to make the very real sacrifices which they are called upon to make to help the country out of its difficulties? Therefore, I hope that more worthy considerations will be taken into account by the Government in regard to this Bill than the purely party considerations which have been advanced.
There is no urgency about this Bill. In my view, the fears in regard to the power of the House of Lords exist in theory far more than in practice because this power, which is now so much criticised, has been exercised only three times in 40 years. It is a very different House of Lords in its outlook from that which existed even at the time when the Parliament Act was passed. I think recognition ought to be given to that and the national interest given predominance. I hope the Government will give consideration to the appeal I have made.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
A good many of us would agree with one remark of the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) when he said that the powers of the House of Lords exist more in theory than in practice. But that, in my view, is a reason which makes it more necessary that this House, on the third occasion on which it has been considering this Bill and in view of the clash which has arisen with the House of Lords, should assert its majority view and carry this Bill into law, in order to make the theory more in accordance with practice.
I wish to address myself to some of the remarks made in his speech by the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe). I do not propose again to go over the numerous arguments which he mentioned in his opening remarks, but, towards the end of his speech the right hon. and learned Gentleman developed a theme, as I thought in very unctuous and sanctimonious language, which completely shocked me and, I am sure, a great many hon. Members on this side of the House. He had the audacity to talk about national unity. He pretended that this Bill outraged the constitution and that this party were breaking the rules of the game. He referred to our fundamental unity as a nation and a fundamental 1785 agreement which was one of the sources of our national greatness. I should like to ask him, when was there any fundamental agreement that the House of Lords should have a veto?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I was dealing in that portion of my speech, as the hon. Member knows, with the introduction of retroactive provisions in a constitutional manner, which I called cheating by altering the rules of the game to your own advantage while the game was being played. I take back no word of that.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I am glad the right hon. and learned Gentleman has repeated that because it will enable me to deal with it more specifically. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is perfectly well aware that one of the fundamental rules of the game, as he calls it, is that this Parliament is omnipotent and has power to deal with all matters, great or small, constitutional, or trivial. That is one of the rules of the game; if there is a fundamental agreement, I think it is based on this, that this Parliament and our democratic constitution has always had, within itself, the means to give expression to the wishes of the electorate and not to allow the wishes of the electorate to be thwarted either by the monarchy, or the barons, or the House of Lords, or vested interests, or privilege, or anyone else.
That is the fundamental agreement which unites us; that is the law of the constitution. There has been no change in the rules of the game. It has always been fundamental in England that Parliament is supreme; that we can modify all laws, whether they deal with constitutional matters or not, and part of the law of the land is the Parliament Act. One of the supporters of the right hon. and learned Gentleman objected to the fact that the Parliament Act was being modified under the provisions of the Parliament Act itself. How else could the Parliament Act be modified? Was it ever contemplated that the House of Lords would willingly acquiesce in measures for curbing their own powers?
More remarkable is the justification which the right hon. and learned Gentleman gave for retaining the present powers of the House of Lords. He said that the House of Lords were entitled to retain some powers in order to interpret public opinion. That has been a noteworthy 1786 feature of the speeches which we have heard from the opposite side of the House. For example, the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter), who has now left, thought it was commendable on the part of the House of Lords that they had not thrown out any Bill passed by this House during the first three Sessions, and that they were honourable for not having done so. I am puzzled to know what, according to the principles of hon. Members opposite, are the duties of the House of Lords. Is it their duty, when they have a Conservative majority, to apply Conservative principles and throw out Bills to which their party is opposed, or is it not?
We know perfectly well that in practice the powers of the House of Lords have been seriously curtailed since 1910 as part of the Constitution. All that we are now doing is to carry one stage further the adaptation of our Constitution to the needs of the moment. In 1910 it was provided that as the House of Lords should have no veto power over the really important Bills of the day—no power to veto any Finance Bills, any Money Bills. That was the great constitutional change made in 1910. The so-called veto power of the House of Lords has only a residual operation and significance since then. It did not exist while the Conservatives were in power for a large number of years, and it ill becomes hon. Members opposite at this stage of our Debate to complain that this present Bill is not dealing with the composition of the House of Lords. They had abundant opportunities to deal with the composition of the House of Lords but failed to use them.
We have heard this afternoon the remarkable disclosures of the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), who was a member of the recent Conference of Party Leaders, and who ascribes to the Conservative Party all the blame for the fact that those discussions on constitutional reform broke down. In fact, it is the breakdown of those discussions which makes it no longer possible to deal with the composition of the House of Lords. We have not yet heard any hon. Member opposite say what the party opposite would approve today as regards the composition of the House of Lords if they had a majority. Speaking for myself, and in view of the fact that the right hon. 1787 Gentleman referred to it, I would say that I should not be prepared to give to the House of Lords, whether it retained its present composition or whether it was reformed in the manner suggested in those discussions, any greater power than it has under this Parliament Bill which will become operative as a result of our passing it tonight for the third time.
If it is the duty of the House of Lords to interpret public opinion in deciding whether they should or should not resist the expressed will of the House of Commons, it is pertinent to consider whether they have been attempting to interpret public opinion by having rejected on two occasions this very Bill, because this is the only Bill which they have as yet attempted to reject. If their attitude can be justified on the grounds that they have been attempting to interpret public opinion, what is the evidence of that?
The only really reliable evidence of public opinion since the date, two years ago, when this Bill first had its Second Reading in this House, is the long series of by-elections that have taken place. That is the best evidence of public opinion that has had any opportunity of expressing itself. Therefore, if the House of Lords was seriously trying to interpret public opinion, it, according to the right hon and learned Gentleman's own argument, should have passed this Bill in the Session of 1948, and should pass it in this Session, as, I hope, it still may—because, according to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, that is the only reason for having the veto power at all—that is the raison d'etre.
I think if the House of Lords rejects this Bill for the third time, as, I am afraid, seems likely, it will go on record that it has not taken that step in deference to public opinion—and I think that it might have had that excuse if, in fact, the Government had suffered a series of reverses at the by-elections, which they have not suffered. It will become more plain that the House of Lords is rejecting this Bill because of the desire of the Conservative Party to retain a position of privilege in the Constitution of the country; because it is not concerned with playing the game; because it is not concerned with giving effect to the declared wishes of the electorate; and because it wishes to retain 1788 a reserve of power which would enable it, if and when it thinks it expedient to do so, to thwart and defy the wishes of the people as expressed in this elective Chamber.
All these Debates on the constitutional position have been increasingly instructive. More than one hon. Member on those benches regarded it as something of an anomaly that the House of Lords is given powers to pass Prayers against various Statutory Instruments, and it has been said that, if it thinks right, it can hold up the whole of the programme of the Government by passing Prayers against Statutory Instruments and Regulations that are made under various Acts. In truth, it has no such real power at all, but a merely theoretical power like the Royal Veto, which has already passed into desuetude.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
On a point of Order. May I inquire if it is in Order to refer to the Royal Veto as "purely theoretical?"
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Bowles)
I did not hear the hon. Gentleman say that, but I should imagine it is not in Order.
§ Mr. Fletcher
The real significance of the supposed power of the House of Lords to hold up progressive legislation by passing resolutions against Statutory Instruments, is, that they have never yet dared to exercise it. I repeat, they have never yet dared to exercise it. It is significant for this reason, that when Conservative Members of Parliament have, on a number of occasions, put down Prayers, more often than not—I say it without offence—it has been the least responsible Conservative Members who sit on the back benches, because it has been noteworthy that most of those Prayers have not been supported by the Front Bench. But there have been occasions, I concede, when Prayers have been put down, or supported by name and speech and vote, 1789 by Front Bench Members, presumably because the Conservative Party believed in the sincerity of what it was doing.
However, if Conservative Members had really been sincere, they would have had abundant opportunities to incite their friends in another place to pass a Prayer which they thought ought to be passed to annul an order; but on not one single occasion has that been attempted. I am not complaining about that. I think it is right. I am only pointing it out because it is vital in this Debate, as has been mentioned, to draw a distinction between the real, effective rights of the House of Lords and its merely theoretical powers. The right hon. and learned Gentleman at one point I think went so far as to say that the objection to reducing the power of veto from two years to one year was not because the House of Lords ought to have a veto of two years or one year or even a veto at all, but because, if they were to do their work as a revising Chamber, they could not do that work effectively unless they had a rather longer period to think about it.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I think the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood me. I said that no one would pay attention to their revising work unless the House of Lords had a substantial delaying power, and it was because they had substantial delaying power that attention was given to their revision on matters of secondary policy.
§ Mr. Fletcher
Then I misunderstood the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I will conclude with the observation that in my opinion there is no justification for giving the House of Lords a veto as distinct from a delaying power. I agree with what has been said by hon. Members on both sides that the real function of the House of Lords is to do the important constitutional work of revising and amending Measures passed in this place—a work for which I personally believe it is admirably fitted by its present composition. I doubt whether, owing to the failure of the recent Conference, it would now be possible, or in the near future, to devise a differently constituted second Chamber which would either do the work as well as the present House of Lords, or which would commend itself as much as the present House of Lords either to the Labour Party or to many members of 1790 the Conservative Party. I hope, therefore, that when this House exercises its undoubted right of saying for the third time that in a clash with another place the views of the elected representatives must predominate, we shall put an end for a long time to the constitutional difficulties which have divided us.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Marlowe (Brighton)
The contribution of the hon. Member for East Islington (Mr. E. Fletcher) would have been a little more valuable if he had accepted the challenge of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) who invited him to substantiate the claim he had made on a previous occasion that the retroactive aspect of this Bill had been employed before. It is abundantly clear that that power has never been put into such a Bill on any previous occasion, yet the hon. Gentleman asserted previously that that had been the case, and he was quite unable to substantiate the argument when invited to do so. That makes his opinions on these matters less valuable than they would otherwise have been.
The hon. Gentleman has taken up a point of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Derby on the question of the charge which was made that hon. Members opposite are attempting to change the rules in the middle of the game. The hon. Member for East Islington denied that charge, but it is useless for him to deny it because he and those associated with him do not know what are the rules of the game, which makes it difficult for them to know whether they are changing them or not.
The hon. Gentleman also said that in matters of this kind Parliament was supreme, and he referred to the fact that by that he meant the House of Commons, illustrating that he had not the faintest idea of what Parliament means. Parliament consists of two Houses and the Monarchy—[Interruption]—I am glad that hon. Gentlemen opposite reinforce my charge that they are ignorant of what they are talking about. Their jeers make it abundantly clear that they have not the faintest idea what Parliament consists of, and I have no doubt that in a very short time the people will indicate what a great mistake was made in sending them here at all. If in five years hon. Gentlemen 1791 opposite have not learned what Parliament is they certainly do not deserve to return to it again.
The hon. Member for East Islington also said it was impossible to get this Bill through with the agreement of the House of Lords because obviously the House of Lords would not agree to curb their own powers. Well, they have only been asked to do so once before, in 1911, and they did so then, so I do not know why the hon. Gentleman should deny that they will do so on this occasion. So many of the hon. Gentleman's arguments were baseless that I am hardly justified in taking up time by dealing with them, but I must make this final point on his speech. He said that in all these matters the will of the House of Commons must prevail, and that the House of Lords must have no veto of any kind. I advise him to study the policy of his own party, because in the Supplies and Services (Extended Purposes) Act, 1947, the present Government gave the House of Lords an equal power of veto concurrently with this House with regard to statutory instruments. The hon. Gentleman has obviously completely misunderstood the policy of his own party.
§ Mr. Marlowe
As my hon. Friend points out, the hon. Gentleman supported the Government on that Measure.
I wish now to deal with one or two of the more general aspects of these Debates and the various steps by which this Bill has gone through the Parliamentary machinery. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have, both today and on many occasions, quoted speeches made in the early part of the century by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. Such is the failure of hon. Gentlemen opposite to understand what they are talking about that they have taken extracts from speeches which my right hon. Friend made in favour of the Parliament Act, 1911, thinking that in doing so they are quoting him as supporting the present Bill. How could that be? If he made those observations in support of the 1911 Act, how could they support this Bill which destroys the Act of 1911? They cannot have it both ways. When my right hon. Friend was supporting the 1792 1911 Act it was for the very purpose that it should not be destroyed, as it is by this Bill in 1949.
What is my objection to this Bill as it stands? I say at once that it is wholly unnecessary, and is not desired by the people at the present time. Many times have we in this House on a Thursday afternoon, during the discussion on the Business of the House, heard hon. Members on both sides urging upon the Lord President of the Battersea Fun Fair something that they would like to debate, always to be told that there is no Parliamentary time. If there is no Parliamentary time for those far more important matters, why is it that Parliamentary time can be found for this Measure which nobody demands at the present time?
It is said that the present procedure, by which the power of a Government can be curbed in its fourth or fifth year, is undesirable. Why is it undesirable? It seems to me a very good principle that for the first three years immediately after an election, while the election issues are still fresh, the Government should have a comparatively free run; but as time gets further away from that election it is very desirable that there should be some curb on the Government to prevent the passing of Measures which were not part of the election issues.
I am expressing my opinion that it is a very good thing, particularly with such a Parliament as this, which is stale and has an incompetent majority, that it should have its powers curbed as time goes on. This is a Measure which is quite unsuited to the temper and condition of the country. I understood that there was a crisis of some kind, and perhaps that is why the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is to reply to the Debate, because we can always be sure that if he is around there is a crisis somewhere. It is fair to say that if this Bill had to be introduced when there was no crisis the Government would not have been able to introduce it at any time.
It has been claimed by those who ought to speak with a sense of responsibility that this Bill has no relation to the Iron and Steel Bill. I do not accept that. Perhaps someone will tell me, if this Bill is not designed to work in conjunction with the Iron and Steel Bill, what Bill it is intended to safeguard. I challenge any 1793 Member opposite to suggest a single Measure to which this Bill is related other than the Iron and Steel Bill. I feel fully justified in saying that it is merely part of the plot to push through the Iron and Steel Bill.
The truth was displayed by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) who, having paid his customary tribute to the House of Lords by saying that our relations with the other place continue to be friendly, went on to say that "peace at present is no guarantee of peace in the future." That is true, but it seems a very inadequate reason for declaring war. Members opposite are deliberately making an attack on the House of Lords. They want to see its powers curbed because they know it is a repository of common sense which offers British justice and prevents them putting through their ill-timed Measures. The same sort of principle was illustrated by the hon. Member for Central Bristol (Mr. Awbery), who said that his objection to the House of Lords was that it was the provider of Tory funds. That is why the hon. Member will vote for this Bill. It is not for him a question of principle, whether we should or should not have bicameral government, or if so in what form, but merely some ghost out of the past which says there is a lot of money in the House of Lords and that therefore, like everything else with money, the Socialist Government must destroy it. That is the basis on which the General Election is to be fought—look at the insurance, cement and sugar men with plenty of money; let us destroy them and get the money for ourselves.
The great quarrel I have with this Measure is that it alters the Constitution in a fundamental way and does not attempt to deal with the problem we all agree needs attention. It is merely tampering with the Constitution on grounds of expediency. It is adjusting the Constitutional sails to the winds of the Steel Bill. If we are to reform the House of Lords, we must do the job properly and not merely interfere with the Constitution in this way, which Members opposite will undoubtedly regret. The Constitution should not be tampered with as a matter of expediency, and the time will come when, having opened the doors to Communism, hon. Gentlemen opposite will regret having passed a Measure of this kind.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Awbery (Bristol, Central)
I am grateful to the hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marlowe) for doing me the honour of reading the speech I made on the Second Reading of this Bill and, more than reading it, committing it to memory. It is true that I referred to the House of Lords on that occasion as being the place from which the Tory Party obtained their finances. I have nothing to withdraw; indeed, my recent researches have confirmed me in that opinion.
I will not detain the House long, but I would remind hon. Members that looking down on this great democratic Chamber are the 16 Barons who forced King John to sign Magna Carta. If those men, who were the progressive people of their time, were articulate today they would say to the Government, "The step you are now taking is the natural corollary to what we started centuries ago." The progress of democracy must be maintained; a nation must either go backward or forward. Since this Government have been in power I believe that we have made progress which is satisfactory to our people.
While I have been sitting here I have been trying to reconcile the arguments used in our Debates on this Bill Previously, it was said that we were undemocratic because we would not allow an Amendment on the Committee stage. Now the very same people who said that are satisfied that the Bill should go to the House of Lords to be settled by an undemocratic and unelected body. The hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) described the Bill as an obstacle to further reform of the House of Lords. Not necessarily. This is not the law of the Medes and Persians, unchangeable. I can visualise the time, in a few years, when this matter will be discussed again. We are now in the final stages of this Bill. The first stage was that not two years ago but in 1911, when the Liberal Party and the Tory Party came into conflict on this question. I think that the toleration and good feeling shown today is more conspicuous than it was when the Liberals and the Tories were having their fight years ago.
If we accepted the proposal of the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) and withdrew the Bill, I am convinced that 1795 we would be basely betraying the trust of our people. We must carry on with this Bill as a step forward in the march of progress. It is not a question of a single Chamber today; it is a question of reforming or amending the composition of the House of Lords. Whenever the Bill has been discussed in this House I have been satisfied that the Tory Party have proved themselves to be the champions of reaction. They have endeavoured to buttress an obsolete and outworn system of undemocratic organisation. Well, they will have an opportunity of putting this matter before the electorate in a few months' time. I am convinced that the electorate will return this party. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members opposite can cheer. The boy who lost his courage when passing the graveyard in the night whistled to try to get back his courage. That is what the Tory Party are trying to do.
One great statesman said of the House of Lords that it was the watchdog of the Constitution. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members will agree with that, but another one said it was the obedient poodle of the Tory Party. Two statesmen said that of a reactionary bastion, the pillars of which are falling one by one. The confidence of the Tory Party, which they have tried to show in most of their speeches this evening, is only a shallow confidence. Deep down in their hearts there is no real confidence. They are like sick men, and a sick man is always more confident of recovery when he is on his death bed. That is the position of the Tory Party. The nearer hon. Members opposite approach the catastrophe of 1950, the greater will be their attempt to show how they still have courage to face the electorate. In 1945 the decision of the electorate was unexpected. The decision of 1950—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Bowles)
The hon. Member is getting very wide of the Third Reading of the Parliament Bill.
§ Mr. Awbery
Since this Bill came to this House two years ago the Tories have been conscious that they were playing on a sticky wicket. They have been digging and searching for truth, facts and figures. When they found the truth and the facts they looked at them in 1796 the face and were so astounded and amazed at what they saw that they threw most of them back. They threw back half the truth and three-quarters of the facts and figures they found. With the little bit they had left, they mixed some wishful thinking, some hope and some fear and out of that mixture, mélange or jumble they gave to the people of this country a book called "The Right Road for Britain." [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad hon. Members are cheering. They have to do something to keep up their hearts. What they have produced to fight the election upon I consider to be a bundle of negations wrapped up in a coloured handkerchief, and they will not win an election on it.
§ 9.14 p.m.
§ Captain Crookshank (Gainsborough)
After the somewhat mixed metaphors of the hon. Member for Central Bristol (Mr. Awbery) may I come back to the Bill? In doing so I should like to welcome the arrival of the Lord President of the Council. On the last occasion that this matter was before the House, he took it upon himself—I do not know why—to chip my right hon. Friends because during these Debates it was not always the same right hon. or hon. Gentleman who spoke, whereas, of course, up to that moment we had the consistent duet of himself and the Home Secretary. The classic comedy of the one and the uproarious farce of the other were always part of the show.
Today, as we have come up the straight, he thought it was no longer necessary for his guiding hand to be there, so he sent us the suavity of the Attorney-General and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster—who may be anything before he is done, for all I know. We have had this matter before us now for two years. The right hon. Gentleman says he was bored with it and that is why he was not here today. If he was bored with it, it is his own fault. Nobody asked him to introduce this Measure. At least, we certainly did not. It is at this stage that it is proper briefly—because, as the right hon. Gentleman said, this is not the first time we have discussed the matter—to sum up the arguments upon which we think decision should be come to.
I start by saying that I have not read all the Debates of 1910. I am not so well served as the Lord President of the 1797 Council in that sort of thing, and also this is an entirely different world, with different conditions. Indeed, the quotations which I have seen used in this Debate, and which, at first sight might seem to be great attacks upon the House of Lords by the Leader of the Opposition, were made against a different House of Lords in different circumstances [Interruption.] Hon. Gentlemen do not seem to realise what was the effect of the great agitation of those days and of the legislation which followed it.
The arguments which were then used by my right hon. Friend were used in order to get the Parliament Act upon the Statute Book. He was successful in helping to do that, and the situation is not the same today. Arguments which were then used cannot apply today because they were used against a House of Lords which did not have the power of veto but the power of overthrowing all Bills altogether. They have not that power at all today. They cannot overthrow any Bill if the machinery of the Parliament Act is invoked.
When hon. and right hon. Gentlemen say, foolishly, that this is the same House of Lords, I commend to them the statistical information in the reference book which lies on the Table of the House. They will see the interesting fact which I do not think has been fully appreciated that, according to the latest figures, the total membership of the House of Lords is 868, and that of that total 457 have been creations since 1908. That is to say that more than half the present House of Lords owe their titles to creations subsequent to the passage of the Parliament Act. [Interruption.] If hon. Members will take a piece of paper I will repeat the figures all over again. The total is 868, and the creations since 1908 have been 457. No fewer than 63 of those creations have taken place in this Parliament upon submissions by this Government. If we are to talk about the general aspect of things we must at least give some weight to that fact. I will put it at no more than that.
As far as the Bill is concerned, it purports to do two things: to reduce the delaying power of the House of Lords, and retrospectively to allow Bills introduced in this Parliament to benefit by the change in the Parliament Act as the result of the Bill. We said two years ago 1798 in 1947, we have said it since up to this very moment, and, for the last time, I say it from this Box, that there is no justification or demand anywhere for the Bill. Secondly, there can be no complaint on the use of their existing powers by the present House. What Bill have they rejected, except this one? Thirdly we say, and continue to say, that all this agitation and talk about constitutional problems is distracting attention from the economic perils from which we are suffering. After all, if we suffered from the whips of the Chancellor of the Duchy before, we are certainly now suffering from the scorpions of his successor, because although the 1947 crisis when the Bill was first under discussion was bad enough, the 1949 crisis seems to me to be even more serious.
The only conceivable justification I can imagine for the Bill was that suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg). He said that the only justification which could have been put up was that there was a great conflict going on with the other House; but there is not and there has not been a sign of one.
§ Captain Crookshank
Let me develop my argument. At the moment I am putting three reasons why we say that the Bill should not have been passed. What we have said ever since it started was that there was no justification, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford said, the only justification could have been that there was a great conflict, when the issue could have been raised and settled. However, there is no conflict and there is no justification. Make no mistake, this is a great constitutional change. What one has all the time to remember—apparently it is often forgotten, judging by the speeches we have heard—is that our constitution is unwritten and highly flexible.
I have not had time to check it, but I believe I am right in saying that this is the only part of the constitutional procedure which is enacted. I believe I remember reading that years ago. From the very fact that the Constitution is unwritten and from the very fact that Parliament is, to use the phrase of my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge 1799 University (Mr. Pickthorn), omnicompetent, any changes which are made in constitutional relationships between the two Houses or between the constituent parts of the Constitution should be made with very great care and with every attempt to try to find agreement and also general national approval.
That has not happened in this case, and the reason why we have to be so particular about this when it comes to dealing with legislation is a very simple one. Under our arrangements we use exactly the same legislative processes for, if I may use the words of the hymn:All things bright and beautiful,All creatures great and small.Big issues and small issues appear on the Order Paper the same day and are dealt with by exactly the same process. We give India independence by the same procedure with which we extend the boundaries of a small borough. We settle the laws of citizenship in the same way as we decide the hours of opening for night clubs or the docking and nicking of horses' tails. Look at today's Order Paper. It is proof for me. I did not realise it would be when I was thinking out yesterday what I wanted to say. Order Number 1 is, "Parliament Bill; Committee." That is the greatest constitutional question which this Parliament is internally deciding. Order Number 8 is,Charity of Walter Stanley in West Bromwich Bill.Number 17 is:Festival of Britain (Supplementary Provisions) Bill.That is the funfairs Bill.
§ Captain Crookshank
All right. It is the amusement section Bill. Number 18 is, "Pet Animals Bill." That shows the scope of the things we have to do, but the point I am trying to impress on hon. Members is that it is exactly the same procedure for dealing with pet animals, horses and so on as for altering the Constitution, and that makes it all the more important that we should be cautious in how we do it. Many other countries have special arrangements by which they alter their Constitution. To introduce something which could, and in the view of at least one hon. Member 1800 should, be done in this country—prohibition—we could do it here, were we so foolish, by means of a simple Bill. In the United States they had to do it by a tremendous constitutional process. They had to amend the Constitution to do it and, when they repealed it, they had to have another complicated amendment of the Constitution because it was a constitutional problem. Here we do it by Bill, and I say we have to be much more careful than the Government appear to be at the moment.
Now I turn to the question, why is this being done? As I remarked just now, my hon. Friend said that the justification would be if there had been a great duel between the two Houses. There has not been. So we have to turn to the authorities, and we find that in 1947 the Home Secretary said that the Bill was being introduced as a general precautionary Measure to complete the 1945 programme. If it were, I should have thought it would have been introduced much earlier to make quite certain that even the Measures which came forward in the early days of the Parliament would he amply safeguarded. Then the same day the Lord President said that the reason for it was that a good Government looks ahead. This Government! He forfeited the title "good" for this Government when he qualified it by saying that it would look ahead.
§ Captain Crookshank
The hon. Gentleman will never know another in this House, so in his pipe dreams back in Birmingham next year he can think what a lovely Government it has been and the rest of the country will have shown what they think about it. That was apparently the reason, that a good Government would foresee everything. A theory was given out a fortnight ago by the Lord President when he said that it was based on the simple principle that people, having elected a Labour majority in this House, have a right to expect that its decision will be carried out without obstruction of an improper character by another place. I will not comment on the word "improper" because I do not think it is a relevant adjective in that connection. If the simple principle is that the people, having elected a Labour Party, have a right to expect that its 1801 decision will be carried out, how much the more have they the right to expect that all the other things promised to them which do not require legislation should have been carried out long ago? I do not know what the right hon. Gentleman will say to that because that was within their own power—for example, the improvement in food rations, the standard of living, all the rest of it. That did not require any legislation.
§ Captain Crookshank
A good time for the hon. Gentleman is a glass of water, is it not? That he can have at any time excepting in droughts which also coincide with Labour Governments.
In fact, this means a Government dictatorship. It means that during the five years after the election, a Government is entitled entirely to ignore the growing and changing public opinion. It means that the Government of the day alone knows what is the will of the people all the time. After all, the Government of the day is only a small body. It may be sustained by the majority in this House of Commons during its period of office, but it is asking too much to expect everyone to believe that it and it alone is the repository of wisdom and the sole interpreter of what the people really want.
Anyhow, that is what the Labour Government thinks is right. It certainly does not coincide with the constitutional theory of this country. The theory of the country is—and I am sure it is right—that the people are the sovereign power, and not the House of Commons.
§ Captain Crookshank
The trouble, as has already been pointed out, is that hon. Members opposite, and particularly below the Gangway, know very little about this subject.
The theory has always been that the sovereignty rests in the people, not in the House of Commons, and still less in a section of the House of Commons represented by His Majesty's Ministers. It is the people who ultimately rule through their répresentatives—[Interruption.]—through their representatives, not their delegates. It naturally follows that the longer a Parliament lasts, changing trends of public opinion are bound to occur.
§ Captain Crookshank
Prior to the Parliament Act the House of Lords used to have full power of throwing out any Bill. The Parliament Act, passed about 40 years ago, changed that into delaying powers. It was done, I imagine, because the Radical element in the population—if we like so to call the Liberal Party of that time—appreciated that there must be some delaying powers somewhere. As, obviously, those powers could not reside here because what was being talked about was Bills sent from this House, and since they obviously could not reside in the Crown, the powers were left, therefore, in the Second Chamber. Ever since then the House of Lords have taken the view that what they are entitled to say is not—as some hon. Members during these long Debates have been trying to make out—that, "We know the people do not like this." The House of Lords have taken the view, "We do not think the people would like this and we will hold it up; if you want to ask them, ask them," bearing in mind—this is another point which is also very much glossed over by speakers for the Government—that the Parliament Act works in spite of a General Election; there is a carry-over provision.
Therefore, there is nothing so terrible about that proposition, for it follows that it is quite untrue to pretend that by rejecting a Bill the House of Lords would be attempting to control the date of the elections. They certainly have nothing to do with that because the Parliament Act, so far as concerns the first, second or even the third Session, can operate after a General Election has intervened. Forty years ago it was agreed that there should be delaying powers somewhere. The Government still agree, because the object of this manoeuvre is to take away the delaying powers in the fourth Session. They are still there in the fifth Session and therefore, in logic, if the Government really wanted to do away with them altogether, we should be discussing an entirely different Bill.
When we come to the public grounds outside Parliament upon which to justify the Bill, we are told that it is because at the last General Election, in their famous document, Labour said that they would not tolerate obstruction from the House of Lords. They have never had 1803 that obstruction. They cannot point to a single issue where it has arisen. Even so, words like that in a party manifesto certainly would never have brought it to the minds of anyone who read them that what was intended was to tinker with the Constitution. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Certainly not. In 1947, when the Bill first started its passage through Parliament, we were told, "Well, of course, there might be obstruction." There was still time for it to occur, but there has not been any. It is really quite unnecessary, therefore, to proceed with the Bill at all.
I agree with something which was said—I am afraid to a very small House—by my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford that it is quite an outrage to use the procedure of the Parliament Act to amend the Parliament Act, for the reason he pointed out, that the Parliament Act was merely, as the Preamble says, a temporary one leading up to a general reform. It was certainly never intended that that machinery should be used to alter it.
With all these powers which are now being more and more concentrated in the hands of the Government, there is always a risk—I will not quote it again because it is on record, but it was a quotation from Mr. Lees-Smith's book—of the minority intimidating the Government itself and that is a risk which should be avoided. It is true that in the course of this Parliament we have passed a number of Measures for which there was no kind of authority in the so-called mandate of the party opposite. I am not complaining of that, because the authority could not have been there. They were not able to foretell, for example, that in this Parliament we would have to deal with the problem of Ireland in the way we did; they might not have been able to forecast that we would have to deal with India in the way we did; and they certainly did not know that we would have to deal with devaluation. They did not tell their supporters in the country that they proposed to introduce industrial conscription. Yet all that has been done.
Therefore, to try to pretend that somehow or other the existing delaying powers of the House of Lords are hampering to a Government of the Left when it has 1804 to pass legislation is not true, first because they cannot point to a single case where that has happened and, secondly, if they are trying to carry out their so-called mandate they have had a full opportunity and Bills have been passed in another place and, when dealing with unforeseen circumstances, like Ireland, India and other matters I have mentioned, they have had no difficulty.
The final argument is that the present House of Lords is a place where the parties are very unequal. If that is so, change the composition of the House of Lords, as my right hon. and learned Friend pointed out was inherent in the original Parliament Act. I urge the House not to pass this Bill tonight. I go back to my original statement that constitutional Measures and changes like this ought to be discussed with far more care and have far more public support titan is apparent for this Bill.
On one occasion when this was being discussed, the Home Secretary said that the passage of the Bill would be a Christmas present for democracy. I do not know which of them is Santa Claus, but if it was a present I should be very careful for fear that it might turn out to be a Trojan horse in which a very big advance might be made towards a single Chamber Government and the one-party State. It is ominous that at the last stage of these discussions the Attorney-General should have been brought in with his famous dictum of, "We are the masters now." But, if it is a Trojan horse, he will be a very good-looking jockey for it.
At the end of his speech the other day the Home Secretary, echoing words used in another connection, in another place, said that this was for "the third time of asking." I presume he remembered the antecedent words—If any of you know cause, or just impediment"—to a certain action—ye are to declare it.Right through these two years of debate on this subject we have done our best to show what we consider are the "just cause" why this House should not pass this Bill tonight. We are against the growing concentration of power at the centre, of which this is but one more example. We are against upsetting the existing balance between the two Houses. 1805 We are against making constitutional changes for which there is no public demand and no justification. We are against the taking of retroactive powers for reasons undisclosed—I emphasise that—in fact we are against the Bill and so will we vote.
§ 9.40 p.m.
§ The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Dalton)
I should like to begin by thanking the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal Party for promising us tonight the support of his cohorts in the Division Lobby. We are not always sure of them but we are very happy to have them when they come. Tonight, with the aid of the Liberal Party, this Bill will be read the Third time, for the third time in two years; it will then go to the other House and either the other House will pass it or it will by-pass the other House, as they prefer, and be presented for the Royal Assent even against their will.
§ Mr. Dalton
Why not? This is quite a suitable season for the quotation from my right hon. Friend's speech regarding Christmas gifts soon to be distributed. [An HON. MEMBER: "What are they standing at to-day?"] If the hon. Gentleman has not got any, he should buy now; now is the time.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe), to whose speech I listened with great attention, as always, argued that this Bill was defective in a number of respects, and I shall refer to some of his arguments in due course. I do not think that he can deny, however, that over the two years during which this Bill has been before the country, there has not been manifested any passionate resentment or opposition to it, nor any great response to the arguments which the Opposition in this House have used against it, even the argument about its retrospective character, to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred.
So far as we can judge, this Bill has not been a leading issue in the case of the Opposition in the country, or in the Press, or in the by-elections that have taken 1806 place. They have not made very much of it as an issue, and if they have done so it has certainly not been a very effective issue in the sense of influencing public opinion and diversifying the doleful diary of defeats in by-elections which the Opposition have sustained.
As to the retrospective character which is alleged, I doubt, if I may say so with respect to a high legal authority such as the right hon. and learned Gentleman is, whether it is properly to be described as retro-active or retrospective, because clear notice was given from the beginning when the Bill was first introduced that it would operate in the manner set out in regard to Measures passed for the first time before the Royal Assent was given to this Bill. I do not judge it fair to describe that as retrospective of retro-active legislation in the objectionable sense. We would all agree that there is a sense in which retrospective legislation is objectionable; that is surely when circumstances are altered without due warning and persons have been led into misconceptions in the light of subsequent legislation. That is not so here, and that argument cannot be sustained.
However that may be, the case for this Bill is very short and very simple. I will restate it in one sentence. The Lords still, as 40 years ago, represent no one but themselves, they are still unreformed—the right hon. and learned Gentleman made a complaint on that point and I shall reply to that part of his speech in a moment—and it is not to be tolerated that, in these later days, they should still have power to twist and distort legislation passed by this House of Commons, whatever the complexion of the House of Commons may be. It is for that reason that we propose, as a further step in the British manner proceeding step by step, to abbreviate the powers still left to them under the Parliament Act, 1911. We propose simply to substitute a period of one year for a period of two years, and a period of two Sessions for a period of three Sessions. We propose putting the thing in the simplest possible way, to clip their feathers to the extent of one-half.
§ Mr. Dalton
What still remains to the Lords, as has been argued on the other side of the House, is a considerable power 1807 of delay, perhaps of very important Measures for, perhaps, a critical period of time. But we proceed stage by stage. [HON. MEMBERS: "What is the next stage?"]
Now I come to the question of reform, and to the Preamble—the famous Preamble—to the Parliament Act, 1911, which the right hon. and learned Gentleman quoted again today. There is, it is true, no reform of the House of Lords in this Bill. The famous Liberal Government, of which the present Leader of the Opposition was a very distinguished member, in 1911 put into the Parliament Bill of that time a Preamble which I will quote again because I want to comment upon the terms of it. It stated:And whereas it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis, but such substitution cannot be immediately brought into operation…Mr. Asquith, then Prime Minister, said in a phrase we all remember that this reform of the Lords "brooked no delay." [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Oh, yes; "hear, hear"; but it is rather late for hon. Members to say that on the other side of the House, because it has been delayed for nearly 40 years, including a long period between the wars. It would not have been expected in war time, but between the wars, for a long period during which an overwhelming Conservative majority sat in this House, they did nothing about it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] They did not.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
The right hon. Gentleman probably did not mean to say that. He will remember that in 1922 they put forward proposals; that in 1927 they put forward fresh proposals on which the Labour Party moved a Vote of Censure; that in 1933 they put forward proposals to which Lord Ponsonby, on behalf of the Labour Party, objected in the House of Lords.
§ Mr. Dalton
They did nothing about it by way of legislation. There were discussions; there were proposals put forward from time to time; but my point is—and it cannot be denied—that no legislative action was taken by the Conservative Government—successive Conservative Governments—which commanded majorities both here and in the 1808 other House. If, therefore, this matter has been left to lie on the table a long time, the principal blame lies on the Conservative Party, who could not, in fact, come to agreement amongst themselves as to how to implement the Preamble. That is clearly the case in the light of the history of the matter.
I will add this. There were recently discussions that have been referred to between representatives of the various parties; and we read—I hold the White Paper here—what they were provisionally agreed upon in respect of the composition, supposing it had been possible to get agreement over the whole field. I shall quote in a moment from its paragraphs; but I should like to suggest to the House that the party leaders themselves, including the Conservative Party representatives, have moved a long way from the terms of that Preamble, because the Preamble which I have just read speaks of a Second Chamber constituted on a popular—I repeat popular—instead of an hereditary basis, and I think it is Within our recollection or, at any rate, in the records which we have studied—that in 1911 and 1910, when these matters were under discussion in Parliament and the country, the notion of an elected Second Chamber was very much in the forefront of discussion, and I judge that the use of the word "popular" by the Liberal Government of that time in the Preamble was intended to signify a Chamber, at any rate partly, elected in some manner direct or indirect. That is my recollection of the run of the discussions.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
I have a very vivid recollection of those days. The right hon. Gentleman is doing the Conservative Party of those days some injustice because we constantly, between 1911 and 1914, asked the Government, including my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, when they were going to implement their pledge, and being Liberals they did not do so.
§ Mr. C. Davies
I am grateful for the interruption of the noble Lord. Does he also remember that during those years, 1911 to 1914, the Liberal Government had to pass through this House the Home Rule Bill and the Welsh Church (Dis-establishment) Bill in successive years, and on 4th August war broke out. 1809 Since then the Conservatives have been in power.
§ Mr. Dalton
We are gradually getting the history filled in. Of course, the strictures of the noble Lord on the Liberal Party of those days must fall with crushing weight upon the present Leader of the Opposition who was a very active and influential Member of that Government. After the first World War, the blame must rest—and I do not think that the hon. Gentlemen who interrupted can question this—the responsibility must rest on those parties who had the majorities in this and the other House—that is to say, the Conservative Party themselves.
The point that I was seeking to make was that in the recent discussions between the party leaders it was stated as one of the provisional terms of agreement that the Second Chamber should be complementary and not a rival to the Lower House, and that the reform of the House of Lords should be based on a modification of the existing Constitution as opposed to the establishment of a Second Chamber of a completely new type based on some system of election. That may be right or wrong. This moves a long distance from the earlier conception in the Preamble of a Second Chamber based on a popular, as distinct from a hereditary, basis. So we have all moved away from that Preamble in these days.
The House of Lords has been allowed to remain, in terms of its constitution, unreformed. The hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) said that its composition commanded no public respect—a statement in which many others will agree with him—and, having been left unaltered for 40 years, it follows that what this Bill does has to be judged against the background of this particular House of Lords. It is this House of Lords whose composition commands no public respect, and it is this House of Lords whose powers we propose to diminish. That is the purpose of this Bill. If an argument is to be developed against the House of Lords, it is perfectly proper to quote things said of this same House of Lords at an earlier date.
For example, one high authority said of the House of Lords, that it was "one-sided, hereditary, unpurged, unrepresentative, irresponsible, absentee." These were 1810 words which the present Leader of the Opposition used about them when speaking in this House in 1907 in support of Campbell Bannerman's famous resolution. It deserves today every one of those epithets, as it deserved them then. This is the House of Lords on which we are legislating now.
Absentees—we have had other discussions about absentees in this House and also about incentive payments. I hope that the House will remember that one of the efforts which this Government have made to diminish absenteeism in another place is by providing incentive payments for what are described as regular attenders, and it is now possible for noble Lords who attend on 25 per cent. of the days worked to be paid their travelling expenses. That is a great reform which was carried into operation when I was at the Treasury, and I hope it will not be thought to be an example of profligate expenditure. Whether it has produced very beneficial effects with regard to voluntary absenteeism in another place I have not checked up, but I have my doubts. The truth is that it is very difficult at this time in the history of our public institutions for anyone to get up and defend the House of Lords as it is still constituted.
The right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) quoted some figures regarding the dates at which new Peers had been created. It is of course true that there is a flow of new Peers into the House of Lords from time to time. The flow varies, and I think was strongest in the days of the Lloyd George-Conservative coalition; that was when the new creations were most frequent. The flow has fluctuated from time to time since then. But the relatively recent arrivals are never a majority of the whole; we still have the blend of what I might call the natural and the synthetic elements, in which the natural at any given moment always predominate; and, after a time, the synthetic elements change character as by radioactivity or chemical action and become natural elements.
For this reason, I ask the leave of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, and of the hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marlowe) who made the same point, to quote once more from an inexhaustible treasure house of inspiration 1811 and invective which I keep on my library shelves regarding the character of this still fundamentally unchanged and unrepresentative Second Chamber. This is just as apt now as it was when the present Leader of the Opposition spoke these words, not in this House but in Lancashire:The House of Lords have only been tolerated all these years because they were thought to be in a comatose condition which preceded dissolution. They have got to dissolution now. That this body, utterly unrepresentative and utterly unreformed, should come forward and claim the right"—and then he described the various claims they made at that time, and went on:is a spectacle which a year ago"—speaking in 1909—no one would have believed could happen, a spectacle which fifty years ago no Peer would have dared to suggest, and which two hundred years ago would not have been discussed in the amiable though active manner of a political campaign, but would have been settled by charges of cavalry and the steady advance of ironclad pikemen.I remember well how thrilled I was as an undergraduate at Cambridge when those speeches were made and that book came out. I have cherished it ever since, with a picture of the right hon. Gentleman, as he was 40 years ago, upon the cover, showing a very handsome and eager countenance, who at that time tackled these problems with the same ardour and attractive vigour and power of speech which he has shown on so many occasions since. Everything he said then about the Lords in his tour of Lancashire is still true of the Lords as we know them now. I will quote one more passage:We are not the aboriginal inhabitants of some newly discovered South Sea Island. We are not the children being educated at school. We are the leading civilised community in the world, and we are not going to have our affairs mismanaged, and we are not going to have our national name degraded by being tied up in the leading strings of snobbishness and antiquated usage.That is as true now as ever it was. What we are therefore asking the House to do tonight is to give a Third Reading to this Bill so warmly commended by the present Leader of the Opposition in words which are still most relevant.
§ Mr. Marlowe
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain this rather difficult point? He has referred to speeches of commendation made by the Leader of 1812 the Opposition when he was endeavouring to secure the passage of the 1911 Act. Why does he find it surprising that, having achieved that result, the Leader of the Opposition now defends the Act which he got into operation?
§ Mr. Dalton
I do not find it surprising. What I find invigorating and instructive is the language used by the Leader of the Opposition about the House of Lords which, in spite of the passage of years, remains in composition substantially the same. All these words I have quoted, which support and buttress my case, and many more, the hon. and learned Member will be happy to read if he has not already read them.
Reform of the House of Lords can wait, in our view. Many alternative possibilities may be suggested. It is said that this Bill is not urgent. Certainly the reform of a Second Chamber is not urgent. Alternative proscriptions have been offered, I remember the late Jack Jones' pungent comment—"Reform! I would give them chloroform." That is a point of view, to which we are not committed as a Government. Many other points of view may, in due course, be deployed and considered when we have a little leisure on our hands after the next Election. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am surprised to find the Opposition wishing to describe themselves as a leisured class, because I thought that even the Opposition worked hard.
As far as the reform of the House of Lords is concerned, that can wait, but as far as the reduction of their powers is concerned, that is urgent. I make these general observations about the purposes for which this Bill is to be used. It can be used in the future for any suitable purpose whenever the Lords are discovered blocking or unduly delaying any Measure passed by this House. Do not suppose it has been created with too narrow an object. The hon. Member for Oxford gave a very good illustration of a possible future use to which this Bill might be put. He suggested that some ingenious persons in the House of Lords might find a method of delaying and obstructing the Government's programme by refusing to give approval to statutory regulations, Prayers and the like. So far they have not so dared, but if they 1813 do so dare it will be necessary to take measures to stop that hole, and it will be very convenient to have this Bill to assist us in so doing.
I submit to the House that this Bill is in the direct line of British democratic advancement. It is a characteristically British Measure, gradually diminishing privilege and unjustifiable power and extending the powers and rights of the chosen representatives of the people. I ask the Opposition, in view of the many appeals we hear in these days for the cessation of party controversy and the creation of national unity, to let us have an example of that tonight. After all they lose nothing, knowing how the vote will go, as in this House of Commons it will
§ always go, on deep and fundamental questions. Would it not be a generous gesture of conciliation? Would it not be a really strong argument on their side, in support of their appeal for national unity, and to remove from our midst all needless controversy, if they would allow, despite all the speeches they have made and their deep feelings on the matter, if they would allow this Bill to have an unopposed Third Reading, and so permit the Home Secretary's Christmas present to be distributed by common consent among the people?
§ Question put, "That 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 340 Noes, 187.
|Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. E.||Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. Edith|
|Kinley, J.||Palmer, A. M. F.||Swingler, S.|
|Lang, G.||Pannell, T. C.||Sylvester, G. O.|
|Lavers, S.||Pargiter, G. A.||Symonds, A. L.|
|Lee, F. (Hulme)||Parker J.||Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)|
|Lee, Miss J. (Cannock)||Parkin, B. T.||Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)|
|Leonard, W.||Paton, Mrs. F. (Rushcliffe)||Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)|
|Leslie, J. R.||Paton, J. (Norwich)||Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)|
|Lewis, A. W. J. (Upton)||Pearson, A.||Thomas, John R. (Dover)|
|Lewis, J. (Bolton)||Peart, T. F.||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)|
|Lindgren, G. S.||Poole, Cecil (Lichfield)||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Logan, D. G.||Popplewell, E.||Tiffany, S.|
|Longden, F.||Porter, E. (Warrington)||Timmons, J.|
|Lyne, A. W.||Porter, G. (Leeds)||Tolley, L.|
|McAdam, W.||Price, M. Philips||Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G.|
|McAllister, G.||Pritt, D. N.||Turner-Samuels, M.|
|McEntee, V. La T.||Proctor, W. T.||Ungoed-Thomas, L.|
|McGhee, H. G.||Pryde, D. J.||Usborne, Henry|
|McGovern, J.||Pursey, Comdr. H.||Vernon, Maj. W. F.|
|Mack, J. D.||Randall, H. E.||Viant, S. P.|
|McKay, J. (Wallsend)||Ranger, J.||Walkden, E.|
|Mackay, R. W. G. (Hull, N. W.)||Rankin, J.||Walker, G. H.|
|McLeavy, F.||Reeves, J.||Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)|
|MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles)||Reid, T. (Swindon)||Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.)|
|MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Richards, R.||Warbey, W. N.|
|Macpherson, T. (Romford)||Ridealgh, Mrs. M.||Watkins, T. E.|
|Mainwaring, W. H.||Robens, A.||Watson, W. M.|
|Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Roberts, Emrys (Merioneth)||Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)|
|Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield)||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)||Weitzman, D.|
|Mann, Mrs. J.||Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)||Wells, P. L. (Faversham)|
|Manning, C. (Camberwell, N.)||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancres, N.)||Wells, W. T. (Walsall)|
|Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)||Rogers, G. H. R.||West, D. G.|
|Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.||Ross, William (Kilmarnock)||Wheatley, Rt. Hon. John (Edinb'gh, E.)|
|Mathers, Rt. Hon. George||Royle, C.||White, H. (Derbyshire, N. E.)|
|Mayhew, C. P.||Sargood, R.||Wigg, George|
|Medland, H. M.||Scollan, T.||Wilcock, Group-Capt. C. A. B.|
|Mellish, R. J.||Scott-Elliot, W.||Wilkes, L.|
|Middleton, Mrs. L.||Segal, Dr. S.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Mikardo, Ian||Shackleton, E. A. A.||Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)|
|Millington, Wing-Comdr. E. R.||Sharp, Granville||Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)|
|Mitchison, G. R.||Shawcross, C. N. (Widnes)||Williams, D. J. (Neath)|
|Monslow, W.||Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (St. Helens)||Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)|
|Moody, A. S.||Shurmer, P.||Williams, Ronalld (Wigan)|
|Morgan, Dr. H. B.||Silkin, Rt. Hon. L.||Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)|
|Morley, R.||Silverman, J. (Erdington)||Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)|
|Morris, Lt.-Col. H. (Sheffield, C.)||Silverman, S. S. (Nelson)||Williams, W. R. (Heston)|
|Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, E.)||Simmons, C. J.||Willis, E.|
|Moyle, A.||Skeffington-Lodge, T. C.||Wills, Mrs. E. A.|
|Murray, J. D.||Skinnard, F. W.||Wilson, Rt. Hon. J. H.|
|Nally, W.||Smith, C. (Colchester)||Wise, Major F. J.|
|Naylor, T. E.||Smith, Ellis (Stoke)||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Neal, H. (Claycross)||Smith, S. H. (Hull, S. W.)||Woods, G. S.|
|Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.)||Snow, J. W.||Wyatt, W.|
|Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)||Sorensen, R. W.||Yates, V. F.|
|Noel-Baker, Capt. F. E. (Brentford)||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J. (Derby)||Sparks, J. A.||Younger, Hon. Kenneth|
|Noel-Buxton, Lady||Steele, T.|
|O'Brien, T.||Stokes, R. R.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Oldfield, W. H.||Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.||Mr. William Whiteley and|
|Oliver, G. H.||Strauss, Rt. Hon. G. R. (Lambeth)||Mr. R. J. Taylor.|
|Orbach, M.||Stubbs, A. E.|
|Agnew, Cmdr. P. G.||Channon, H.||Eden, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Amory, D. Heathcoat||Clarke, Col. R. S.||Elliot, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Walter|
|Assheton, Rt. Hon. R.||Clifton-Brown, Lt.-Col. G.||Erroll, F. J.|
|Astor, Hon. M.||Cole, T. L.||Fleming, Sqn.-Ldr. E. L.|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Conant, Maj. R. J. E.||Fletcher, W. (Bury)|
|Barlow, Sir J.||Corbett, Lieut.-Col. U. (Ludlow)||Foster, J. G. (Northwich)|
|Baxter, A. B.||Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Fox, Sir G.|
|Beamish, Maj. T. V. H.||Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Fraser, H. C. P. (Stone)|
|Bennett, Sir P.||Crowder, Capt. John E.||Fraser, Sir I. (Lonsdale)|
|Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C. (Wells)||Cuthbert, W. N.||Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir D. P. M.|
|Boothby, R.||De la Bère, R.||Gage, C.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.||Digby, S. Wingfield||Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D. (Pollok)|
|Bracken, Rt. Hon. Brendan||Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead)|
|Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr. J. G.||Donner, P. W.||Gammans, L. D.|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W.||Dower, Col. A. V. G. (Penrith)||Gates, Maj. E. E.|
|Bullock, Capt. M.||Drayson, G. B.||Gomme-Duncan, Col. A.|
|Butcher, H. W.||Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond)||Gridley, Sir A.|
|Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (S'ffr'n W'ld'n)||Duncan, Rt. Hn. Sir A. (City of Lond.)||Grimston R. V.|
|Carson, E.||Duthie, W. S.||Hannon, Sir P. (Moseley)|
|Challen, C.||Eccles, D. M.||Harden, J. R. E.|
|Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge)||MacLeod, J.||Ross, Sir R. D. (Londonderry)|
|Harris, F. W. (Croydon, N.)||Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley)||Sanderson, Sir F.|
|Harvey, Air-Comdre. A. V.||Macpherson, N. (Dumfries)||Savory, Prof. D. L.|
|Haughton, S. G.||Maitland, Comdr. J. W.||Scott, Lord W.|
|Head, Brig. A. H.||Manningham-Buller, R. E.||Shephard, S. (Newark)|
|Henderson, John (Cathcart)||Marlowe, A. A. H.||Shepherd, W. S. (Bucklow)|
|Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Marples, A. E.||Smiles, Lt.-Col. Sir W.|
|Hogg, Hon. Q.||Marshall, D. (Bodmin)||Smith, E. P. (Ashford)|
|Hollis, M. C.||Marshall, S. H. (Sutton)||Spearman, A. C. M.|
|Holmes, Sir J. Stanley (Harwich)||Mellor, Sir J.||Spence, H. R.|
|Hope, Lord J.||Molson, A. H. E.||Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|Howard, Hon. A.||Moore, Lt.-Col. Sir T.||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.|
|Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport)||Morris-Jones, Sir H.||Strauss Henry (English Universities)|
|Hurd, A.||Morrison, Maj. J. G. (Salisbury)||Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray)|
|Hutchison, Lt.-Cm. Clark (E'b'rgh W.)||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)||Studholme, H. G.|
|Hutchison, Col. J. R. (Glasgow, C.)||Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Jeffreys, General Sir G.||Mullan, Lt. C. H.||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A (P'dd't'n, S.)|
|Jennings, R.||Neill, W. F. (Belfast, N.)||Teeling, William|
|Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W.||Neven-Spence, Sir B.||Thomas, Ivor (Keighley)|
|Keeling, E. H.||Nicholson, G.||Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Kerr, Sir J. Graham||Nield, B. (Chester)||Thorneycroft, G. E. P. (Monmouth)|
|Kingsmill, Lt.-Col. W. H.||Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.||Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.|
|Lambert, Hon. G.||Nutting, Anthony||Thorp, Brigadier R. A. F.|
|Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Odey, G. W.||Touche, G. C.|
|Langford-Holt, J.||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir H.||Turton, R. H.|
|Law, Rt. Hon. R. K.||Orr-Ewing, I. L.||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Osborne, C.||Wakefield, Sir W. W.|
|Lennox-Boyd, A. T.||Pato, Brig. C. H. M.||Walker-Smith, D.|
|Lindsay, M. (Solihull)||Pickthorn, K.||Ward, Hon. G. R.|
|Linstead, H. N.||Pitman, I. J.||Webbe, Sir H. (Abbey)|
|Lipson, D. L.||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.||Wheatley, Colonel M. J. (Dorset, E.)|
|Lloyd, Maj. Guy (Rentrew, E.)||Poole, O. B. S. (Oswestry)||White, Sir D. (Fareham)|
|Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)||Prescott, Stanley||White, J. B. (Canterbury)|
|Low, A. R. W.||Price-White, D.||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Lucas, Major Sir J.||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O.||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Lucas-Tooth, Sir H.||Raikes, H. V.||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. O.||Ramsay, Maj. S.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|MacAndrew, Col. Sir C.||Rayner, Brig. R.||York, C.|
|MacDonald, Sir M. (Inverness)||Reed, Sir S. (Aylesbury)||Young, Sir A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Macdonald, Sir P. (I. of Wight)||Renton, D.|
|McFarlane, C. S.||Roberts, H. (Handsworth)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Mackeson, Brig. H. R.||Roberts, P. G. (Ecclesall)||Mr. Buchan-Hepburn and|
|McKie, J. H. (Galloway)||Robinson, Roland (Blackpool, S.)||Mr. Drewe.|
|Maclean, F. H. R. (Lancaster)||Ropner, Col. L.|
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.