§ 11.12 a.m.
§ Mr. Harold Wilson (Huyton)
I think that the whole House will agree that it is right that this debate should take place, even though we are debating a fait accompli. The fact that the debate is taking place owes nothing whatsoever to the Government. They did not offer to have it. In fact, they refused to have it, and we should not be having it now but for action in another place, because—and this is a very serious matter—under our own procedure we have no power to initiate a debate at a time such as this. It is because the House of Lords' procedure is less cramping that they, and they alone, had the means to delay the arrival of Black Rod in this House. The Government, realising this, have had to concede the right of the Commons to a debate.
903 The Leader of the House has made a business statement. It was obviously right that he should do so, because until he did the only statement of which the House was seized was the statement that the Gracious Speech opening a new Session of Parliament would be taking place next Tuesday, 29th October. At the end of July, of course, this House, after debate, had agreed that we should adjourn until today. This decision had been taken against the background that the House had been informed by the then Leader of the House that it was expected that the new Session of Parliament would be opened next Tuesday. Obviously, there was no suggestion at all that the then Leader of the House was misleading the House. He, at any rate, can be acquitted of any misleading or scornful treatment of the House.
But now we are told that because of the peculiar, indeed the unique, circumstances in which this Government has been formed, the House of Commons is to be sent packing for two-and-a-half weeks. Certainly, the House is in an extraordinary situation. I think that until yesterday we were for the first time for over sixty years under a Prime Minister who sat in the Lords. Today, for I think the first time in modern history, apart from the span of a General Election period, we have a Prime Minister who is a Member of neither House of Parliament, and for this reason, and for this reason only, the House is told that it cannot do its duty as it conceived its duty to be when we last met.
Since the Prime Minister on two television appearances on Monday was at pains to suggest that there was something strange, even discourteous, in my reference in a public speech last Saturday to this decision of the Government, I must refer for a moment to the unusual manner which the Government chose to communicate their decision to the House. The usual channels were not called in. The first that any Member knew that the Parliamentary timetable was to be changed was a statement put out by No. 10 on Saturday morning, within minutes of the Prime Minister returning from the Palace. I heard it on the B.B.C. one o'clock news, as, I imagine, did other hon. Members. I was in Manchester. 904 Immediately every newspaper approached me for the Opposition's reaction to this announcement and T thought it right to make a public statement.
An essential part of the functioning of our Parliamentary system is, of course, meetings through the usual channels and, from time to time, meetings between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. I think that the Prime Minister would probably feel, on reflection, that such meetings should take place in person before any statement is made to the Press or on the radio.
Frankly, speaking for myself, I got on very well with the noble Lord, as he then was, when he was Foreign Secretary and I was handling foreign affairs from this Dispatch Box, and I should prefer to deal with him direct rather than through P.R.O.S and newspapers, but, of course, I am quite prepared to meet his convenience in this matter. But if he tells the Press that he is going to meet me, and then tells the Press what he is going to tell me, he must expect me to be free to reply without waiting the three days it took him to invite me to see him.
Still—all right—I think that we would all agree that he was very busy and under very heavy strain. He had a lot to think about and I am sure that the House will not want to make heavy weather of this. I would not even have referred to it had he not thought it necessary on two television channels to accuse me of discourtesy.
I am not at this moment going into all the events of the past fortnight. We have seen democracy at work in the Conservative Party—Nature in the raw, "Nature, red in tooth and claw". We have been privileged to see the working of those mysterious processes of consultation as a result of which—and this is all that concerns us today—it was decided by the Conservative and Unionist and National Liberal high command that there was no Member of this House on whom the party could agree as Leader and that they had to look elsewhere.
I am not going to add today either to the estimates and assessments made in the public Press and by right hon. and hon. Members opposite of what this means to the complexion of the Government and for future policy and attitudes. All I am dealing with today is simply 905 the narrow but, for all hon. Members, the vital question of the rights and the duties of this House. Of course, we should not today really be having to debate at all whether the House is in suspension for five days or two-and-a-half weeks, because every hon. Member opposite knows that if it were not for the state of opinion in the country the Government would be doing their duty and going to the country in a General Election.
When we had a change of Government in 1955 when Sir Anthony Eden, as he then was, became Prime Minister, he announced as his reason for going to the country that there had been a change of Prime Minister. This was at a point in the life span of that Parliament when only three and a half years had passed since the last election. Now, of course, we are in the fifth year of this Parliament and I think that there was a general expectation over the past few years that the election would be held not later than October of this year.
The Government and the Conservative Press have been very honest about it. There is no suggestion that it has been postponed because of the necessity that any vital legislation or any vital negotiations must be got through. Everyone is quite frank about it. The only reason that the Government are not going to the country is that they dare not. So they cling on and wait for happier times, hoping that some of the past twelve years will be forgotten.
But, taking this as being given, by the nature of the Government that we have got, what we are debating this morning is the question why the Address in reply to the Queen's Speech is not to be debated next Tuesday. Why are we being sent away till 12th November? Two reasons have been advanced—by the Prime Minister himself. The first is that the Prime Minister wants to be here and that the procedure of getting here takes time. The second is that other Ministers apart from himself need time to familiarise themselves with the working of their Departments. I will deal with each of those reasons in turn.
First, let us take the notion that the Prime Minister should be here for the debate on the Address. May I say that it is no fault of the House of Commons that, for the first time for very many 906 years, we have a Prime Minister who is not here. This is not our fault. It is certainly not the fault of Members on this side of the House. We did not select him. Nor is it the fault of substantial numbers of right hon. and hon. Members on the other side of the House, some of whose feelings for the noble Lord fall well this side of enthusiasm. It is perhaps right that we should re-emphasise that the process of bringing him here would be impossible but for the great and successful constitutional fight of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Wedgwood Benn), whom we are glad to welcome here this morning. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I am glad that that welcome is shared with such enthusiam by so many hon. Members who not long ago trooped into the Division Lobby to deny his right to sit in this House, including the Front Bench, most if not all of whom are now glad to see the Prime Minister coming into this House on the coat-tails of my hon. Friend. [Interruption.] That is a relevant point. That is the first relevant interruption that I have ever heard from the hon. Gentleman.
Had it not been for a Labour Amendment, Sir Alec Douglas-Home could not come into this House until after the General Election. This Amendment was moved in this House, resisted by the Government and voted down by hon. Members opposite. It was an Amendment which we moved to make it possible for a noble Lord to renounce his peerage without waiting for the General Election. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker), in moving that Amendment, went so far as to say that he was aware that there was this struggle for power going on in the Conservative Party—though he put it rather more nicely than that—and we felt that all possible candidates should have a chance.
But my right hon. Friend's eloquence was not capable of overcoming the innate conservatism of hon. Members opposite and it was voted down. Fortunately, thanks to the initiative of a Labour Peer in another place, the matter was dealt with. Therefore, we are in the situation that we may expect the possible arrival in due course of Sir Alec Douglas-Home in this place. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I wish I could get some agreement among hon.
907 Members opposite so that they would all cheer at the same time when I refer to the right hon. Gentleman.
Of course, since the Conservatives have decided to make use of this facility to bring a peer into this House, if they take such a decision about the leadership of their party—in so far as hon. Members opposite took a decision—they must abide by the consequences of it. Therefore, they must meet to debate the Address without a Prime Minister, and not make matters worse by interfering with the timetable fixed for Parliament's meeting. But this is what they refuse to do—or I should say this is what he refused to do, because this was a personal, imposed decision announced on Saturday before he could have consulted his Cabinet, when he did not even have a Leader of the House to consult because there was no Cabinet and no Leader of the House to consult. It was a personal decision.
Where does this argument lead us? We are told that we can meet on 12th November because by then the Prime Minister will be able to meet with us. That is what we are told. But is there not here an assumption which is quite improper for any Parliamentary candidate to make? The Prime Minister has, in fact, been found a seat by the democratic processes of the Conservative Party, or the Unionist Party, or under whatever alias they operate in those parts. He has been found a seat, against the most formidable opposition, as the best available candidate to fight this by-election. But to become an M.P. will take two-and-a-half weeks, we are told, and then we can meet.
It is not for me to speculate on the result of the by-election. The Sunday Times has said:There can be no doubt of the ability of Lord Home to hold the safest seat in Scotland.I welcome this enthusiasm, but I do not think that it is for me to speculate on that. It is a matter for the electors in the constituency. But I do suggest that it is sheer presumption and totally contrary to our democratic system to assume that because one has been selected as a candidate, one is as good as elected, and for one then to advise the 908 drafting of a Royal Proclamation on that assumption.
This is a matter for the electors, and it is quite wrong to take their decision for granted. Suppose that he is not elected. Are we then to be sent back again? Are we then to be told that the House cannot meet till December or January, until, finally, they find him a seat in Northern Ireland? This does suggest a serious tampering with the rights and duties of this House.
The other thing that I am surprised about is that we are being told that we, all of us, experienced Members of the House of Commons, simply cannot meet except under his guidance. The headmaster is away; close the school till he returns. Hon. Members will have seen the leader in The Times of yesterday—[Interruption.] I think that hon. Members opposite have got to regard The Times as on their side. Certainly, over the last few days that newspaper has not come out with the same hostility to the new Prime Minister that certain other Conservative newspapers have done. I think that its enthusiasm for the Prime Minister could be summarised under the verdict of "Not Proven".
This is what The Times said in its leader:It would be personally awkward for him not to be able to be there, and in normal circumstances Parliament would expect him so to arrange things that he could attend. But this obligation stops well short of actually postponing the assembly of Parliament, for that is both to depress its standing and to elevate the Parliamentary standing of the Prime Minister. It implies either that the normal parliamentary calendar is adjustable to suit the convenience of the Prime Minister, or that the Government's policies cannot usefully be presented and defended at the beginning of a session without his presence; and that is to forget that the system of government here is not yet fully presidential, and that responsibility for the Government's actions and policies is the collective responsibility of the Cabinet.That is a pretty strong argument. There is a saying in Yorkshire, and, I believe, in other parts of the North, "No show baht Punch", but that particular saying is not yet included in our Standing Orders. We are perfectly capable of meeting without the Prime Minister here.
What of the other argument, that Ministers have yet to learn their jobs? 909 Perhaps we could be told which Ministers. Nine out of ten of them are the same sorry lot in the same jobs that we had before and who, therefore, bear equal responsibility with the last Prime Minister and the present one for the problems which the country faces. It was clear, before we even knew of the last Prime Minister's illness, what the game would be—I said this at Scarborough—to get rid of the Prime Minister and then start the process of "de-Stalinising" his record at which the Conservative Party is such a past master. We had it with previous Prime Ministers, with Baldwin and Sir Anthony Eden, the story that the retired or dead Prime Minister was the source of all our ills and that now we could really face, confidently, the glad morning again.
They even worked this argument on the new Leader of the House in July, 1962. The story at that time was that all our economic troubles were due to him and that, if only he could be got rid of, the Conservative Party would not be tarnished with his image. I was delighted that hon. Members gave the right hon. and learned Gentleman such a welcome this morning, because they were the same ones who cheered the Prime Minister for sacking him in the censure debate last year. At least, no one can say that they are not inconsistent.
In general, of course, the Government are substantially unchanged. I think that I am right in saying that among about 80 Ministers there is so far only one new Minister announced, and, of course, one has been recalled. May I say, since I have referred to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, that I am personally very glad that he has been reinstated on the Front Bench. I always thought that he was unjustly treated, that he was made the scapegoat for a restrictionist policy which was the collective responsibility of the Prime Minister and the entire Cabinet. I know that there will be some ungenerous folk—one cannot please everybody—who may take the view that it is wrong to reinstate him when the country is still paying the price for his policies in terms of unemployment in some areas and unemployment among school leavers.
910 For my part, I reject this approach. I welcome his return to the Front Bench. I think that it is right that we should have him here as an ever present reminder that, while Conservatives may, as we forecast years ago, whip up their usual quadrennial election boom, there is always an autumn Budget and a 7 per cent. Bank Rate to follow if they win.
But what I wonder about is whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman needs a fortnight off to familiarise himself with his job as Leader of the House. After eighteen years in the House, he is one of our most experienced Members. Are we being told that the House must go away while he sits up late swotting Standing Orders or mastering Erskine May? After all, the best familiarising that he can have would be gained by being here with the House in session. His is one of those jobs which one can learn only by swimming with the waters.
Could it be for the Foreign Secretary that the solicitude is being shown? This would really be to underrate the right hon. Gentleman. No one will say, after the new Foreign Secretary's many years of wide experience in the House that, properly briefed, he cannot make an adequate speech on any subject. The very suggestion that he needs time—it was made by the Prime Minister on television the other evening—appears almost patronising. In any case, we have suggested to the Government quite frankly that we are prepared, so far as it lies with us, to forgo a special day on foreign affairs in the debate on the Address next week.
If the Foreign Secretary needs time, we, so far as it lies with us, will be prepared to postpone an arranged foreign affairs debate—[An Hon. Member: "Like Scarborough."]—provided that we are given an assurance that we should have a foreign affairs debate in, say, a couple of weeks.
I expected that remark about Scarborough. I am grateful to the hon. Member, who is helping me along all the time. I think that it was on 8th November last year that I said that trying to explain the workings of a democratic party to hon. Members opposite is like trying to explain the principles of vegetarianism to a tribe of cannibals; and they are showing it again. They may 911 not know that, at our party conference, unlike theirs, the executive and the leadership have no control over the subjects selected for debate. Perhaps they read in the Press an account of the fact that we did have some views on certain changes in the timetable and that these were rejected by the committee appointed by the conference to settle such matters.
However, if we are to have these things mentioned, I shall in a few minutes come to a question which, I notice, was not debated at the Conservative Party conference, the question of a mixed-manned force, which appears to be highly relevant to the question whether the House should be meeting next week.
It cannot be for the Foreign Secretary that we must postpone the meeting of the House. The idea that individual Ministers must be sheltered, like shorn lambs, from the harsh winds of Parliamentary debate is a very new doctrine. Under the previous Prime Minister, as we all remember, Ministers took part in debate a couple of days or so after their appointment. It has always happened. No one would ever have talked of this new doctrine or insulted either the House or Ministers with it but for the peculiar circumstances in which the Conservative Party now finds itself.
I know that cynics may suggest that the Government cannot agree on the Queen's Speech, or that the change of Government has led to a dynamic new break-through requiring new legislation on some important subject, perhaps the revision of the game laws. Personally, I discount this view. I believe that the Queen's Speech is ready. I believe that, as soon as the Government had the result of the Stratford by-election, which was expected to give the green light for an autumn General Election, but which showed that the signal was still very much at red, there was a rapid rummage through the pigeon-holes and a dusting off of cobwebs and a Queen's Speech was hastily thrown together.
I think that we may expect the Queen's Speech to contain, in addition to the cobwebbed legislation, a Police Bill, a Kenya Independence Bill, something about redundancy and severance pay, and, perhaps, even the anti-Rachmannism legislation which the Minister 912 of Housing and Local Government told us was not needed.
This being a continuing Government, I should expect to find that there was no disagreement about what should be in the Queen's Speech. Of course, if there had been a complete change of Government, following a General Election, any new Government, Conservative or Labour, would require time to prepare a Queen's Speech. We did in 1945, and the Conservatives did in 1951. But this is a continuing Government. Substantially, they are the same, so, obviously, this cannot be the reason for the postponement. The reason is that the Prime Minister wants to be here and cannot.
I come now to the question why the House ought to meet at the time arranged. It ought not to be necessary to tell the House why. The Bill of Rights provides thatfor Redress of all Grievances, and for the amending, strengthening and preserving of the Laws, Parliaments ought to be held frequently".In the seventeenth-century context, of course, that meant that the House of Commons should not be prevented by the whim of the Monarch from doing its duty. That battle was won nearly three centuries ago. But now we are told, with an arrogance which I find stupefying, that the House can be prevented from doing its job to suit the convenience of an individual who, although Prime Minister, is not a Member of this House or of the other House and who should not be giving orders to this House.
I must say that we find this intolerable. Obviously, there is important and urgent work to be done. There are vital debates to be held. At home, there is the business of housing, rents, the growing paralysis of land supply, education costs, the new Report on secondary-modern schools, the higher education Report—a valuable, highly important document, which we ought to be debating—the problem of poverty, of finding employment for school leavers, the unemployment areas still left high and dry by the slowly rising tide of the election boom and concern about injustice arising from the conduct of the police in recent trials and charges.
913 Abroad, quite apart from foreign affairs, there is the whole question of Africa, the humiliation that this country suffered in the United Nations by the use of the veto, the position of Central Africa and the steps which must be taken by the Government now that they have, belatedly and with too many qualifications, accepted our demand for an embargo on arms to South Africa. We are glad that the Government have done this, but we would like to know how they will carry it out. We cannot debate these matters.
Let me give just one example from the home front. Yesterday, there was published an important and historic report—the Robbins Report—looking far into the future but, at the same time, making it clear that the Government have entirely failed to provide the university places necessary for the few years immediately ahead of us. Whatever else the Government could not have foreseen, they could have foreseen the number of boys and girls reaching the age of 18 in the mid-1960s, because it was a fairly simple calculation from the birthrate figures of eighteen years earlier.
The House is not now to be permitted to debate this important Report for several weeks, and yet we were told on the radio this morning that the Prime Minister is to make a statement from Downing Street tonight. Why cannot that statement be made here in this House? If not today, why could it not have been made in the debate on the Queen's Speech next week, when it would have been subject to other views than those which the Government will put up? All we shall get from the Government statement will be the great image of modernisation which they are trying to present after twelve years of the reverse process, whereas in addition to agreeing the need for modernisation—we take the Robbins Report as a valuable confirmation of what we have been saying for a long time—we should want to point out the responsibility of the Government for the present state of affairs.
But no. For another two and a half weeks, government is to be carried on on the basis of Government announcements to radio, television and the Press. On the very day we are debating that 914 Parliament is not to meet next week, we find the Prime Minister giving exclusive interviews, or nearly exclusive interviews, to the Tory Press with no possibility for a more balanced view to be presented. Therefore, we say that these matters should be subject to the scrutiny of this House and not put out unilaterally in this manner.
It may be said that two weeks, or 10 parliamentary days, do not matter, but I wonder whether right hon. and hon. Members have thought what it means for the tabling of Questions, which every one of us, in all parts of the House, believes lies at the very centre of our system of parliamentary democracy. No Question can now be tabled to any Minister for oral answer before 18th November. On the rota which is in force for the present Session, this means, for example, the probability that we shall have no Oral Answers on any Questions to the Minister of Transport until the end of January.
The right hon. Gentleman may be glad about that—I do not know—but it means six months in which the Minister of Transport, at a time of acute concern about his Department, with all the railway closures which are going on, cannot be brought to face the scrutiny of this House at the Despatch Box. [Interruption.] It is not an answer to the denial of our constitutional rights concerning Questions to be told that we can raise the matter on the Adjournment—if we are lucky in the Ballot.
Take the Colonial Office. There, Oral Questions were last reached on, I think, 9th July. Now, because of the new change in business, Colonial Office Questions are unlikely to be reached until the last week before Christmas. Between now and the end of January, there will be only one day for Foreign Office Questions, one day for Treasury Questions and one day for the Board of Trade—in other words, one day of Oral Questions in six months—and this in a Government whose Prime Minister on his appointment, in his very first promise to the people, said that he would tell the people more about the conduct of affairs.
The Government, or, at least, the Prime Minister himself, has taken this decision. The Proclamation has been drawn up on the advice of—[Interruption.] I am quite prepared to leave the 915 problems of Scotland to my hon. Friends, who have never been backward in pressing them.
§ Mr. Wilson
I might say to my hon. Friends that when I looked through the rota last night I found that there will be an opportunity of asking Scottish Questions. It is the success of my hon. Friends in taking so much time on Scottish Questions that makes me doubtful whether some of the other Departments will be reached. As I say, the decision has been taken on the advice of the Prime Minister, who bears responsibility and who, although not here, is accountable to this House.
I will make only two short, final points. First, the House must recognise that there is a defect in our procedure in that, as we have learnt this week, there is no machinery open to us to raise this matter at such a time except by the good will of the Government, which we did not get, or what we have got today by the exercise of force majeure through actions in another place. I, for one, am not happy that we have had to turn to another place for the means of debating the liberties of this House.
It is clear that when we are faced with a situation such as we face today, our rules prevent the exercise of a right which is essential to House of Commons privileges—the right to move and to present an humble Address to Her Majesty relating to the ministerial advice given to Her in the exercise of Her Prerogative. It became clear to us this week that there were no means open to us to do this in this House before that Prerogative was exercised. I hope that the Leader of the House will agree that this is a defect in our rules affecting all parties, whichever Government is in power, which must be looked at by the machinery available for looking at these things.
Secondly, as the Leader of the House embarks on his new duties, with our good wishes—because he is responsible not only to one party, but to the whole House as Leader of the House—he had better take this from us. After, in our view, wantonly and frivolously throwing away 10 days of parliamentary time, he must 916 not expect us, or hon. Members in any part of the House, to be disposed to accept any suggestion Thursday by Thursday that he cannot find the time for this or that important debate. He will not now dare to come to the Dispatch Box with any suggestions for imposing a guillotine on any of the legislation which the Government may consider desirable and which we are ready to start debating two weeks, and not four weeks, hence.
I hope that the Leader of the House will be quite clear about this and I hope, equally, that he will make quite clear to his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, to whom he will, no doubt, report, that the mood of this House after this first earnest of the Prime Minister's intentions is that he must show a proper respect for the House and that we are not going to be treated as an awkward or refractory tenantry. We are the House of Commons.
§ 11.48 a.m.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd)
I should like to thank the Leader of the Opposition for his personal remarks about myself. As he said, he and I have been crossing swords in this place for the last eighteen years or so. We understand one another tolerably well and I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman said. I was not quite certain how he was putting it, whether he was regarding it as virtue being rewarded or as the continuity and consistency of Conservative policy being demonstrated.
As to my general approach to my responsibilities as Leader of the House, I realise that I am the servant of the whole House and not just of one party in it. I will try so to conduct myself. It is right, therefore, that I should intervene early in this debate to put to the House the considerations which have influenced the Government.
I should like to kill at once the canard that this was decided on Saturday morning by a statement from No. 10. The question asked was whether it was possible for the meeting of the House to be delayed, and the answer to that was "Yes", but the decision was not then taken. [Interruption.] Let there be no doubt about that.
The Leader of the Opposition did not approach the debate today on a personal 917 basis and. we all welcome that fact. He did not resist a "crack" or two about the Conservative methods of choosing their leader, but I have a whole sheaf of comments from members of his own party about their methods of choosing their leaders.
Then he said: why not have an immediate General Election? Well, I can assure him that we on this side of the House are ready for it when the time comes.
What, however, I think was the outstanding feature of the right hon. Gentleman's speech was his extraordinary modesty about the results of the legislation which the Opposition supported and the Amendment which they supported and which was ultimately accepted. I had thought that he would have been claiming a great deal of credit for this. I noticed that on the other side of the House hon. Members were a little diffident about the cheers they gave to the second hon. Member to be introduced this morning. I did not understand this modesty.
But the fact is that this situation has arisen because of the sudden illness of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan). I think that there will be other opportunities of paying tribute to him, but I also think that we must all, on both sides of the House, feel deep sympathy with him in the fact of the suddenness of his illness. That was the situation which led to this.
It is not unreasonable to suggest that the Government should meet Parliament three weeks after a new Prime Minister has been appointed [Hon. Members: "Why?"] The main argument for that—I will give it—is that the new Prime Minister considers it better that he should be in his place when the new Government meets Parliament. [Hon. Members: "Why?"] So far from showing disrespect to the House of Commons I think that it shows respect. This is the last Session of this Parliament; the Queen's Speech is one of great importance; the debate on the Address is one of great importance; and I think that it would be wrong to downgrade that debate. I think that the approach of the new Prime Minister is of great importance and of great interest; and it does not 918 involve at all the acceptance of the presidential system to say that the Prime Minister should be here for the great debate of the second half of 1963.
It has been suggested that as we have experienced Ministers on the Front Bench the presence of the Prime Minister is not really necessary here. Of course, the logical conclusion of that argument is to have the Prime Minister in the House of Lords—according to the Opposition's view.
That is the main argument, and I think that, upon reflection, everybody, considering the interests of the House of Commons as a whole, will realise that it is a necessity to the House of Commons that the Prime Minister should be here.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
I did not want to interrupt, but I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and would thank him to remember that some years after the present Prime Minister left the House of Commons the law of elections was altered. Is not what he is saying now exercising an undue influence on the electors in the by-election, who are being told that they must return him or Parliament cannot sit? If a Petition is presented on this ground what will be the position of the Prime Minister and of his party itself?
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd
I did not say he had to be here but that it would be better if he were. I will leave the hon. Member to pursue that line himself and not take up our time with it.
So far as the supporting argument is concerned, the question about the other changes in the Government, I think that it is reasonable that the new Government—because it is a new Government—should have some time to consider.—[Hon. Members: "Why?"] There is a new Foreign Secretary. I think that the right hon. Gentleman interpolated at Scarborough a point about a day for foreign affairs. There is a new Secretary of State for Industry, Trade and Regional Development. There is a new Minister of Labour, and there are four other new members of the Cabinet. I think that it is reasonable to give them time to reconsider the Queen's Speech in the light of their new responsibilities, or to consider it for the first time, as the right hon. Gentleman said, in one case.
919 But really, I agree, the main argument is the presence of the Prime Minister here, although I think that there is a great deal in the supporting arguments.
The other arguments put forward were about the frivolous throwing away of Parliamentary time. I saw it stated in one newspaper that important and pressing legislation is being pushed further back and that there is likely to be a cut at the other end. I think that that can be discussed through the usual channels. There are obvious possibilities whereby one can make up this time which the right hon. Gentleman says is being thrown away.
Then another suggestion which has been put forward is that we ought to adjourn and have some debates whilst we are awaiting the Queen's Speech. That is a matter for judgment. I do not think that it would be a very good thing; I do not think that the House would wish this, while the major issues would have to wait and those involving legislation could not be discussed. I do not think that it enhances the prestige of the House of Commons to have that kind of debate in the interim period.
One point put to me is about the difficulty of the recall during Prorogation. There is no difficulty about that. The House can be recalled if need be by Proclamation. Indeed, it is easier to recall by Proclamation than under Standing Order No. 117.
Then the right hon. Gentleman said a good deal about Questions. I quite admit that it does delay the public questioning of Ministers, but private means are available; and on the point about certain Ministers not being questioned for a very long time, we are willing to consider through the usual channels, a rearrangement of the rota for Questions to try to meet that point.
§ Mr. H. Wilson
Of course, talks can take place, but they cannot give us back our 10 days. Would the right hon. and learned Gentlemen say, since he has referred to private means, what he means by the questioning of Ministers by private means—television or something?
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd
It is quite possible for hon. Members to put forward to Ministers grievances of constituents, 920 and local matters, in the ordinary way. I said earlier that I accepted the fact that this does mean a postponement, but if we can discuss these matters, to see that certain Ministers do not have a very long absence from the answering of Questions, that we will willingly discuss.
Then the right hon. Gentleman mentioned the point about the Robbins Report. He said that it was wrong that no statement would be made to the House today. I think that everybody knows that that Report is a very complicated matter. The statement which will be issued later today is a statement of the Government's approach to the Report. It is a longish statement. I doubt whether supplementary questions upon it would have been useful, but my right hon. Friend is to see that the statement is issued as a White Paper—[Hon. Members: "When?"] As soon as possible, so that hon. Members will be able to consider it in relation to the Report. I think myself that a good deal of time is needed for consideration of what is a very complicated Report.
We come back to the main point, that it is much more seemly, it is better, more in the national interest, that the Prime Minister should be in his place when the major debate of this part of 1963 takes place. We have considered the arguments advanced against what we are going to do, but, on balance, I think that the weight lies overwhelmingly on the side of the decision of the Government, and I recommend the House to accept it.
§ 11.59 a.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I should like to add my congratulations to the right hon and learned Gentleman the Leader of the House on his return to the Front Bench. He started his speech by saying that he was not sure whether this was a reward for virtue or a sign of the continuation of Conservative policy. Personally, I have no doubt about which of these alternatives it is. It is a clear sign of the continuation of Conservative policy, and indeed with policies with which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has been associated.
While, on personal grounds, I welcome the right hon. and learned Gentleman's return to the Government, I cannot 921 congratulate him on the case he has put for the action the Government have taken. It has been said that this is a House of Commons matter, and so it is, and it is not a matter concerned, as far as I am aware, with personalities.
I congratulate the new Prime Minister—I have the highest regard for his personal qualities—but I also congratulate the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) upon enabling Sir Alec Douglas-Home to become Prime Minister at all. There is only one matter I would like to raise in that connection.
The hon. Member for Bristol, South-East was put to some considerable trouble and expense and a small fund was raised to assist him. I speak subject to correction, but I do not think that we got a subscription from the Earl of Home. I am sure, however, that he would agree that it is not too late and that a small donation from Sir Alec Douglas-Home would be a very gracious recognition of the services of the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East.
We are, indeed, in a peculiar situation—one that is, I believe, of considerable importance to everyone in this House. It has been said by the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the fact that we are denied the opportunity of questioning Ministers can be met, to some extent, by the fact that questions can be put to them privately. I think that this House should protest very strongly against that attitude.
It is quite possible to run a system by which controversy is carried on in private. It is the way in which it is carried on in all dictatorial States. It is essential to democracy, as we understand it in this country, that it should be carried on in public. I regard Question Time as one of the hallmarks of the British system. The reason that it is a hallmark is that Ministers have to speak up for themselves in public, and, valuable though it may be to be able to put points to them in private, that is no substitute for the right to question them in public.
Then we have the curious position in which the Prime Minister is taking part in a by-election and at the same time, of course, is constantly making statements. We are told that he is to continue to 922 make statements on television and radio. I do not want to make too much of this point, but that seems to me to make difficulties in connection with the Representation of the People Act. He is a candidate in a by-election and there are rules, which we have all accepted, for the conduct of debate during by-elections and the use of television and broadcasting.
Then we are told that one of the main reasons for postponing the new Session is that there has been a change of Government and that the new Government require time to find out where they are. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman is well aware—no one is better aware—there was a very considerable change of Government one summer. Indeed, it was a far bigger change than has just taken place. But I do not remember that Parliament went into recess while the new Cabinet discovered what they were going to do. I notice, also, that the Prime Minister is reported last night—it may be untrue—to be going to spend the next two weeks in Scotland. He is not going to spend that time learning about his new office in Whitehall, but fighting a by-election.
I am not convinced by the arguments advanced by the right hon. and learned Member. But I am influenced, though not convinced, by the argument that it is proper for the Prime Minister to be in the House of Commons when the Queen's Speech is read. That is a reasonable point. As has been said, it is not our fault that he is not here. A deputy was appointed by the last Prime Minister. He is a very distinguished man and much respected by the House ofCommons—at least on this side. He is perfectly capable of carrying on Government business.
However, there is some force in the argument that the Prime Minister wishes to be a Member of the House of Commons, which is traditionally correct for a Prime Minister after all, and to be here to outline the policies of the new Government. But what is the argument against continuing the present Session? The right hon. and learned Gentleman says that it would be improper to have to put aside major subjects for debate. I agree that it is the custom that we should not anticipate legislation in the Queen's Speech, but what is to prevent us 923 discussing, for instance, the Denning Report? Presumably, that will not appear in the Queen's Speech. It is an event which has already taken place. No one would say that it was a minor event. It is a major event that this House would do well to debate.
When are we to debate the reasons for and against the proposed N.A.T.O. mixed-manned force? The House and the country have not been informed of the reasons for this very important American proposal. Here is an opportunity for such an explanation. Is it not true that week after week, year after year, every Thursday hon. Members ask for time to discuss certain matters, but are told that there is not sufficient time? Now the Government have this wonderful opportunity to give 10 days in which matters of great importance to private Members can be discussed.
There is grave anxiety, particularly on the benches opposite, about loss of control by the House of Commons over finance and Government expenditure. I myself would not grudge a few minutes discussing the repair work on Downing Street and the Treasury, which has cost over £3 million whereas the original estimate was for £750,000.
We could discuss procedure. As the Leader of the Opposition has said, these very matters which bring us here today are vital matters of procedure. It is wrong that we should have to rely on the procedure of the House of Lords to enable us to have this debate. Again, we could discuss such a matter without impinging on the Queen's Speech.
There are suggestions for meeting the threat of unemployment in the coming winter and for devolving certain powers from London to the regions. Would it really be a waste of time for the Government to listen to the views of the House on these matters?
The Prime Minister, in his opening broadcast, said that he intended to eschew gimmicks and take the people into his confidence. That was an important statement and a good one. It marks a fundamental departure, if correct, from the methods of his predecessor. Here is an opportunity if he wants to take people into his confidence. He has 10 days available. Let him 924 continue the old Session, in which he could see his Government in the House of Commons explain to the people many things which very little attempt has been made to explain up to now.
These are not unimportant matters. He could also strike a blow against this continuing denigration of the House of Commons; this tendency to deal with important matters either through Royal Commissions or over the air; this tendency to elevate the Government while giving us no democratic control at all over the selection of the Government.
If the usual processes—as they are called—of the Tory Party are to continue, the people must be informed as to exactly what they are and where the power lies. If we are to elevate the party system and the Cabinet and ultimately, above all, the Prime Minister, and free them for weeks on end from any control of this House, then this is a constitutional development which should be fully considered and debated, and personally I am against it. I do not think the country realises the changes which are coming over the whole system of Government—unexplained, undiscussed and deleterious to proper democracy.
Lastly, there is, I believe, today a growing need to get away from one tradition of English democracy—and I emphasise "English"—which is that the people at large have noconcern with the appointment of the Chief Executive, or with the selection of those appointed. No one believed on the last occasion that the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) would supersede the present Foreign Secretary. No one on this occasion dreamed, outside the Conservative Party, that the Earl of Home, excellent as he might be, was to be Prime Minister.
I believe that the people should demand more information about the governing processes. I believe that they will demand that there should be some opportunity for more people to take part in the decision-forming processes of the Government. Above all, I do not think that they will accept indefinitely the selection of the chief executive of the Government by unknown methods adopted by only a small section of the minority party.
§ 12.10 p.m.
§ Sir Richard Nugent (Guildford)
I shall not follow the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) in his comments about the selection of the new Prime Minister. All that I would say to him is that in the Conservative Party today the degree of consultation which takes place before the new leader is chosen goes very far indeed, not only in the realms of Parliament but throughout the constituencies, and that my party throughout the country is well satisfied with the leader we have chosen.
The point that I wish briefly to put to the House is that it is, of course, a serious matter to lose two weeks of Parliamentary time and that as a strong supporter of the institutions of the House I feel as strongly about this as anybody, but what we have to face are the consequences of what would have happened if the line pressed by the right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) had been followed and a new Session of Parliament had opened next week without the Prime Minister being present and the House had conducted its business without him.
If I might follow the line started by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, it seems to me that it would be a serious matter if the new Session started without the Prime Minister being here to take responsibility for the programmed legislation that he is to put before the House and to expound its merits to the House and to the country. It could give the impression that the new Prime Minister lacked the strength to prosecute his own policies and that he was sheltering behind other Ministers,
The remarks made by the right hon. Member for Huyton and by Lord Attlee, the previous Leader of the Labour Party, show how readily a campaign of this kind can start. I should like to remind the House of what Lord Attlee said on this subject. He said:It is doubtful if Lord Home will stand up to Labour's tough guys in the House of Commons. He is not the man to stand up to the rough and tumble.This is just the kind of suggestion which would have been pursued.
§ Dr. Jeremy Bray (Middlesbrough, West)
On a point of order. Is it in 926 order for the right hon. Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) to misquote a noble Lord? Is it not a fact that Lord Attlee said "those tough guys"?
§ Mr. Speaker
I cannot on a point of order rule about what was or was not said in another place. It does not raise a point of order. There may be other methods of correcting some error.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
Mr. Speaker, whilst it may not be within your province to comment on the accuracy of statements, is it not within your province to act when a right hon. Member quotes what was said by a noble Lord in another place, or are your strictures reserved for hon. Members on this side of the House?
§ Sir R. Nugent
I think that the quotation I have given is substantially correct. Perhaps I might relieve the anxiety of the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) by saying that the quotation is not from a statement made in another place but from a statement made by Lord Attlee at London Airport.
The Leader of the Opposition has called my right hon. Friend the new Prime Minister "a scion of an effete establishment and an elegant anachronism." [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members opposite are helping me to make my point. It is obvious that this campaign of denigration of the new Prime Minister's capacity was poised "to go", and if Parliament had met next week without my right hon. Friend being present there is no doubt the charge would have been made that my right hon. Friend did not have the capacity to lead his party and the Government.
§ Mr. Richard Marsh (Greenwich)
Does not the right hon. Member think that he is making a rather dangerous point if he is suggesting that this House can be kept in Recess to protect the Prime Minister from charges which affect him as a person?
§ Sir R. Nugent
Perhaps the hon. Member will allow me to complete my point. Of course this is important to the Prime Minister, and it is also important to my party, which is not unimportant to 927 me. I believe that this is not only a party matter. This is of importance to the prestige of this country. It is enormously damaging to this country that the impression should be given not only here but in foreign countries that the leadership of the Government of Great Britain is weak and ineffective.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker (Smethwick)
Is the right hon. Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) saying that it is wrong, improper and treasonable to criticise the Prime Minister of the day? Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that one must not criticise the Prime Minister, and that Parliament must be suppressed so that he cannot be criticised?
§ Sir R. Nugent
I am not saying anything of the kind. I am saying that, in the interests of the country, the Prime Minister and the Government would be very unwise indeed to give grounds for saying it, and as those grounds had been manufacture red by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite before this issue arose, it shows how wise my right hon. Friend has been in deciding that, in the interests of the country, he should postpone the start of the new Session of Parliament. This alternative must be looked at, and I am sure that this is in the interest not only of my right hon. Friend and the Government, but of the country as well, and I consider that he is paying respect to the House by waiting until he can be here rather than that the House should start its deliberations without him.
If Lord Attlee's tough guys opposite feel impatient for the fray, I advise them to spend the interval taking a bit of practice, because I think that they may be glad of it, as I consider that my right hon. Friend will give them quite a good tumble if they like to try a fall with him.
I conclude by saying that if the House looks fairly at the alternative it will see that this is not just a personal matter. They will realise that it would be very damaging to the country to start the new Session of Parliament without the Prime Minister being here, and that the course which has been chosen is in the true interests of the House and of the country.
§ 12.18 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
The right hon. Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) must not seek to intimidate us. The suggestion that we might find ourselves in peril if we seek to criticise the Prime Minister is amusing. What is even more amusing is the suggestion that it is improper to denigrate the present Prime Minister, although not long ago hon. Gentlemen opposite did their best to denigrate the old Prime Minister, and indeed many of them sought his dismissal.
I shall not indulge in any restraint about the Prime Minister. The idea that if we denigrate or criticise the Prime Minister it will disturb our prestige throughout the world is nonsense.
§ Sir R. Nugent
That is not the point I was making. I was making the point that if my right hon. Friend was absent from the House when the new Session of Parliament was opened he would be giving grounds for a charge of that kind which I am sure hon. Gentlemen opposite would quickly follow up.
§ Mr. Shinwell
No such impression would be created. I shall not trouble myself about the way in which the present Prime Minister was appointed. I know that he got the better of the Butlerites and the Hailshamites. I see one of them over there, looking very disconsolate.
§ Sir Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)
That is quite wrong. I am not disconsolate. I accept that Her Majesty exercised the Royal Prerogative, after all suitable consultation had taken place within the governing party—and that is the proper recourse.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman should have brought Her Majesty into this discussion. Anyway, we have the Hailshamites, the Maudlingites, the Butlerites and the Homeites, but the Prime Minister is absent from our proceedings, and he intends to be absent for some time to come. We are entitled to ask a question about this, even if we get a silly answer from the Government.
I should like to know whether, during the election campaign in Kinross and West Perthshire, the Prime Minister is going to embark upon a dissertation of 929 Government policy. Will he make pronouncements? Will he say anything about the Robbins Report? Will he say anything about the decision of the Government, announced in the Press without any consultation with this side or the other side of the House, about the £17½ million shipping loan at 4½ per cent.? Are any of these matters to be discussed in Kinross? I deny the right of the Prime Minister, whoever he is, to initiate any kind of debate, during a by-election, on matters that have not come before this House, and debate subjects which may precede what is contained in the Queen's Speech.
I am not very much concerned about the way in which he was appointed. There he is, and we must put up with him—but not for long.
What suggestions are now being made? The right hon. Member for Guildford suggested that it would be a denigration of this country—the right hon. Gentleman talks about "this country" and not only Parliament—if we sought to criticise the Prime Minister unnecessarily and unjustifiably. Let us not forget that for a considerable time, in the newspapers, on the B.B.C., in this House and abroad, there has been talk about the denigration of Parliament and about Parliament no longer counting. That is what people have been saying. But this shameful episode—this decision not to recall the House in order to enable it to participate in important debates—has done more damage to the reputation of Parliament than anything that has happened in the past 25 years. I have been in the House for rather more than 40 years—off and on, it is true. I am not a baby in this House. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir G. Nabarro) regards himself as such he can. I have never known anything quite so bad as this. This is the most shameful episode of all.
Nothing of this sort happened in the days of Bonar Law, Baldwin, MacDonald and Neville Chamberlain. No Prime Minister or Leader of the House has ever come along with this lame argument about Ministers requiring time to understand why they were appointed. I have observed that when a Prime Minister—even back to the days of Bonar Law and the others—appointed 930 somebody to be a member of a Cabinet or to occupy an honourable position in the Government, the very next day that person would be on the Front Bench, answering questions. Whether or not his answers were satisfactory is beside the point. Those who are prepared to accept appointments in the Government must be prepared, on the basis of the knowledge they possess, to face their critics in the House of Commons.
I am sorry for the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I am sorry that he has been pitchforked into this honourable position of Leader of the House. He has had a bad time. I wonder what he thinks about the old Prime Minister. He apparently thinks a lot of the present one, but he had better watch his step. One never knows what may happen. If he does not make a good job of this he will be out in a year, or Jess. [Interruption.] Never mind about my experience. At any rate, my experience justifies me in saying that this is a disgraceful episode, for which the Government arc responsible.
I now want to say something about the character of the present Prime Minister. Whatever anybody else may think, I regard him as an arrogant aristocrat. What is more, the worst type of aristocrat is a Scottish aristocrat. I have known them for a long time. This is all made plain in Tom Johnston's "Our Noble Families". One can find where they came from, and all about their ancestors. The Prime Minister need not be too proud about them. True I have an ancestor—Moses—and I am very proud of him. Anyway, he was responsible for some achievements, which have been handed down to posterity. Scottish aristocrats are a domineering lot.
The right hon. Member for Guildford said that we should be careful, and referred to Lord Attlee's description of the present Prime Minister as a "tough guy". In the Press this morning there is a report from which I gather that Lady Home, speaking about the character of her husband, said that he is a stubborn person and very tough—tougher than he appears. That is precisely what is alleged to have been said by Lord Attlee. Then let this tough guy come along, and take what is coming to him.
§ Mr. Shinwell
The hon. Member for Kidderminster says that he will. I did not think that the hon. Member was on the side of the present Prime Minister. I thought that he was on the side of Mr. Hailsham, or Lord Hailsham—or Mr. Hogg. In fact, he was certain that Lord Hailsham would become Prime Minister, and I am terribly disappointed that the hon. Member has not been made a member of the Government. I was waiting last night in eager expectancy, in the hope that at least one of the last two junior posts to be filled would go to the hon. Member. But he can make a speech in support of Lord Home—or Mr. Home. One never knows; he may find himself in the Government.
§ Mr. Shinwell
He only wants a little encouragement. This sort of thing will not satisfy the democratic section of this House of Commons——
§ Mr. Shinwell
We believe that this House is a worth-while assembly. We believe that it is essential, in the interests of the principles of democracy, and we believe that hon. Members opposite have sought by their manœuvres, machinations and intrigues in the past few weeks to destroy the prestige of this House. This situation would never have emerged if it had not been for the manœuvres and intrigues at Blackpool. Now, where do hon. Members opposite stand? Are they to be divided up, and sectionalised on the benches opposite, with the Maudlingites below the Gangway, further down, the Butlerites just below the Gangway——
§ Mr. Shinwell
The less we say about the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) the better. Presumably the Homeites will be on the Front Bench, with the Hailshamites behind them.
It is true that—apart from the brilliant speech of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and the excellent speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal Party—the only manner in which this 932 debate can be conducted is to make a farce of it, because the Government have made a farce of this House. I resent it, as we all should. I remember how Lord Boothby—then Mr. Robert Boothby—said in 1945, when in opposition, that he was going to harry the Labour Government. This Government will also be harried. They will be harried by my hon. Friends on this side of the House but, still more, when it comes to the General Election. I challenge the Government—give us a General Election now. Why wait? What is the Government afraid of? Do they want to give the present Prime Minister a run? The best way to give him a run, to test democratic opinion, to sound the opinion of the electors, would be to give us a General Election now and let the Government take what is coming to them.
§ 12.32 p.m.
§ Sir Hamilton Kerr (Cambridge)
The right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) told my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) that he must not intimidate Her Majesty's Opposition. My hon. Friend, like myself, belongs to the cohort of knights and baronets—oh those baronets! how they plague us. But the right hon. Member for Easington must not be intimidated by us. We are neither so horrible nor so powerful as people would like to think.
I congratulate the Leader of the Opposition on the moderation of his speech. The right hon. Gentleman is an accomplished Parliamentary fencer, and I for one always enjoy listening to him. It is the right hon. Gentleman's job to make a row. Like the witch doctor he must put on the fiercest mask which he can find and beat as many tom-toms as possible in order to scare away devils, either real or imaginary. But the right hon. Gentleman was extraordinarily moderate. There was only one reference to de-Stalinisation and not one reference—which I had expected—to "another Etonian Prime Minister". As an old Etonian myself——
§ Sir H. Kerr
—I have never recovered from that hideous drawback.
933 Except for a brief period in the Caretaker Government, I have spent twenty-eight years in well merited obscurity on the back benches. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition referred to the importance of equality and I maintain that in the interests of equality all old Etonians must be given their chance to rise in the world.
The right hon. Gentleman, in his reference to the Bill of Rights, referred to——
§ Mr. H. Wilson
Before the hon. Gentleman comes to the Bill of Rights perhaps he would represent fairly what I said on the question of equality. I also said that it was desirable that Etonians should have as fair and equal chance as everyone else, but no more. Since there are 40,000 grammar schools and schools of secondary education in this country—in which Eton is only one—would the hon. Gentleman explain why it is that the Conservative Party always seems to choose successive Prime Ministers from that one school out of 40,000 and why nearly half of the Members of the Tory Government come from that school?
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
And the Labour Party choose the Leader of the Opposition from Oxford.
§ Sir H. Kerr
I, for one, am passionately wedded to the principle of the career open to the talents. I do not mind whether a man be duke or dustman. But I have no special feeling against Etonians.
The right hon. Member for Easington talked of Moses as one of his ancestors. I claim even more respectable ancestry. On the one side, there are generations of sheep stealers from the Scottish border and, on the other, inhabitants of the Irish bog. It is true that these may have been given a certain respectability in later years when they moved to the United States, and they joined the fringes of the industrial plutocracy. But that defect may be balanced by more sheep stealing ancestors.
I do not propose to touch on the constitutional point of the Bill of Rights. I had a terrible object lesson in the days of the Labour Government, when I tried to put down an Amendment to the 934 Finance Bill which would have resulted in works of art being exempted from Estate Duty if they were given to the nation. The Parliamentary draftsmen said of my three-line Amendment, "This will never do" and they drafted an Amendment which covered two-thirds of a sheet of the Notice Paper. My mental limitations therefore frighten- me from discussing the constitutional issue.
I wish to deal with a point which the right hon. Gentleman raised, that it is the job of Parliament to serve the nation. I repeat that it is the duty of Parliament to serve the nation. Are we doing a disservice to the nation by retarding the calling of Parliament by 10 days? The right hon. Gentleman said that we cannot get those 10 days back. Like him, I am most anxious for Parliament to reassemble. I long to debate issues arising from the Robbins Report. Having on occasions in this House blown a little trumpet—perhaps ineffectively outside the walls of Jericho—in the cause of art, I long to do a little more tooting on this great issue. But are we doing a disservice to the nation by not recalling Parliament?
I have never willingly agreed to the cutting down of Parliamentary Recesses. So often one thinks of the happiness of past holidays as one drags weary feet through the Division Lobbies, recalling the Park of Rest and Culture, in Moscow, where one may get an answer in four minutes to any problem of the day. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has used his vacation periods to visit Russia, Washington and Belgrade. He would suffer as much as we would if the Christmas Recess were curtailed a little to catch up with the10 days that we have lost. As an old and battered baronet, a bit of "Lobby fodder" I should hate it. But the right hon. Gentleman should enjoy it.
We are told that the right hon. Gentleman will cut the new Prime Minister to pieces——
§ Sir H. Kerr
The right hon. Gentleman's supporters said so—[Hon. Members: "No."] Well, we shall have to wait and see. I enjoy a good Parliamentary performance and the right hon. Gentleman must not cheat us of this 935 delightful expectation. But let me give him a warning. Like the Prime Minister, the right hon. Gentleman has addressed the Press Club in Washington. In 1960, Sir Harold Caccia told me—I think that the right hon. Gentleman will know that the Press Club provides the toughest of audiences—that a very tough reporter came up to him and said of the present Prime Minister, "Gee, that guy ain't no cookie". That being translated into our language means, "That guy has his eye very much on the ball". I suggest that these 10 days could be caught up if necessary during the Christmas Recess and the right hon. Gentleman be given a chance to show his Parliamentary talent.
On the question of the need for the Prime Minister to be present, I think it essential to have the captain on the bridge when a new Session starts and that this shows not a disrespect but an increased respect for Parliament. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite have always pressed that the Lords should be released from their horrible prison. We must not discourage their Lordships, but give them every chance to return to this House. We are told by the popular Press that the House of Lords is composed of bald, grey-haired senile men, cackling clichés to a half-empty Chamber. We must give their Lordships a chance to escape, and give the Prime Minister and others the opportunity to return from the "chamber of horrors" we call the House of Lords.
A long time ago, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) was the Member for Epping, he referred to the late Lord Snowden being translated to the House of Lords. My right hon. Friend said that in order not to be personal, he would refer to Lord Snowden as the "late financial administration". He said that the "late financial administration" had "retired to those dim splendours at the end of the corridor which are the goal of all rising demagogues". Now the current is reversed, the demagogues escape to the Commons.
The three reasons why I claim that no disservice will be done to the nation if Parliament is not now recalled are: the 10 days can be recovered; it is vital 936 to have the Prime Minister present out of respect to the House, and we must be kind to those poor Lords.
§ 12.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East)
It would be quite wrong for me to ask for the indulgence of the House today, as I have been elected three times to this Parliament and I have sat in this House before. But I hope that the House will permit me to pay tribute to my constituents, without whose loyalty I would not be in this House today—quite unaided by the serried ranks opposite. If it were not for our constituents' interests we should not have been having this debate today. Without our constituents we should be nothing and without us they would be powerless.
We are not debating today whether Sir Alexander Douglas-Home is a "tough guy" or a "real cookie", or whether 10 days can be adjusted and taken out of the Christmas Recess. We are discussing something much more fundamental, the imbalance which has entered the relationship between the Crown and its prerogatives and the other place and this House, not just in this respect but over a period which stretches much farther back.
It is very difficult to discuss our constitution partly because it is unwritten and partly because the reality of power is the opposite of the appearance of pomp. If one goes down the corridor one gets one appearance of power but the reality is the exact opposite. The Crown appears to rule still but every one of the real prerogatives has passed to Ministers. The Upper House appears to be superior to us, yet now all power flows from this Chamber. When we get a disturbance of the balance between the Crown and the Lords and Commons it is of legitimate concern. I suggest that what we are discussing here is a culmination of a series of developments going back over some years, of which this is the natural consequence.
First, the whole question of whether peerages should be renounced. Secondly, the appointment of the present Prime Minister and, thirdly, the matter we are immediately debating—the decision not to call Parliament back on Tuesday next. I want to try to formulate three charges against the Government. The first is 937 that they have consistently attempted to use the prerogative of the Crown and the monarchy itself for their own party purposes. Secondly, they have always in every one of these issues sought to maintain the hereditary privileges of the House of Lords at all costs. Thirdly, in the process they have seen this House—and allowed it to be—demeaned and denigrated so that in consequence we now cannot meet to discuss the urgent affairs of the State.
Taking, first, the question of renunciation of peerages, it is quite shocking to see hon. Members opposite cheering the appointment of Sir Alexander Douglas-Home. I sat, locked out of the House, and heard them declaring time and time again that hereditary service in the House of Lords should take precedence over elected service in the House of Commons. That was the whole of their argument. That, of course, was because they believed that their mainstay in Britain lies in the maintenance of the hereditary system. If we look at the speeches which were made then we find that time and again that hon. Members opposite tried to use the Crown, or used arguments about the Crown, to defend what they were doing.
I have quotation after quotation from hon. Members opposite. I shall read one from the hon. Member for Hitchin (Mr. Maddan), speaking to a Conservative Association in 1961:In tampering with the hereditary principle we must beware that we do not set on foot a process which would end with the abolition of the monarchy itself.The hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls) said:The report of the Select Committee may well in some way affect the position of the constitutional monarchy itself."—[Official Report, 26th April, 1961; Vol. 639, c. 421.]This may appear to be a defence of the Crown, but they were using the Crown to prop up the House of Lords because if they could argue that any change was likely to weaken the Crown, the Crown would be brought in aid of the House of Lords, where they have a 10 to 1 majority. Having lost that battle and introduced the Peerage Act, what they wanted more than anything was to retain the rights of the children of those who disclaim their hereditary titles. Edward VIII had to give up for himself and his descendants the Crown of England, but when hon. Members oppo- 938 site began to frame the law to meet this need they said that, above all, they must retain the right of the children to go back to the peerage. That is the second charge, that wherever possible they have tried to maintain this privilege.
In the appointment of the Prime Minister we come to the misuse of the Royal Prerogative. The Royal Prerogative can be used only on the advice of elected Ministers—with one exception according to the party opposite—that is, on the appointment of a Prime Minister. Hon. Members on this side of the House do not agree that the Crown should choose a Labour Prime Minister. If a Labour Prime Minister were knocked down by a bus and there were consultations the Crown would be advised that there must be no summons to form a Government until the party had elected its new leader. That is absolutely right.
If we look at the statements made—no doubt this will be confirmed by lawyer-Members opposite—their party maintain that in the one case of the appointment of a Prime Minister the Royal Prerogative is to be an unfettered personal choice. Indeed, Lord Home himself, when being interviewed on television at the time of the Blackpool conference, said that they must maintain the Prerogative of the Crown in choosing a Prime Minister. In the circumstances of the Blackpool conference this put the Palace and the Crown in a very embarrassing position because, constitutionally they wished to have no part in the bitter infighting in the Conservative Party.
So it was decided that the retiring Prime Minister was to be the only one whose advice was to be received—which was exactly what the former Prime Minister wanted. He was then able to get in his own candidate to succeed him and when that was done he could shield behind the Royal Prerogative of an unfettered choice by the Crown. But was Lord Home, as he then was, the choice of the party opposite? We do not know. No figures were given; there was no election.
Only two men had access to the full range of findings, the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) and the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod), for he was the chairman of the party organisation. He had access to the findings of the party organisation 939 for he was chairman of the party organisation. He was also Leader of the House of Commons, and, therefore, he had access to the findings of the Chief Whip. He was a member of the Cabinet, and, therefore, knew what the cabinet view was. Although the right hon. Member for Enfield, West has not expressed himself, his silence is more eloquent than any speech we have heard today. Having had access to identically the same soundings as the former Prime Minister, he has refused to serve under Sir Alexander Douglas-Home. This House would be a poorer place if there were not men who were prepared to stand up for their beliefs in that way.
We still do not know whether Sir Alexander Douglas-Home commands a majority in this House. He is not a Member of this House, but is now engaged in seeking election to it. It was quite improper for the retiring Prime Minister to make use of the Prerogative to open the way for a successor of his choice quite apart from it being an abuse of the House of Commons that he was not a Member of it.
I come to the third charge, the delay in the opening of the new Session. Once the former Prime Minister had recommended that Sir Alexander Douglas-Home should succeed by using the power of advising the Sovereign on the exercise of the Prerogative the power of advice passed to a man who is not in any way accountable to us. He closes down Parliament for his election and not only does that but does it in such a way that even you, Mr. Speaker, cannot recall us in the event of an emergency.
Under the Adjournment procedure, Mr. Speaker, by taking advice, can call Parliament back, but once we are prorogued by Royal Proclamation we can be brought back only by Royal Proclamation. That would mean that people would have to go to Kinross, find a Parliamentary candidate and ask him to bring back Parliament to discuss an emergency which might arise.
I am afraid that the new Prime Minister has got it exactly the wrong way round. He thinks that Parliament cannot act without a Prime Minister, but our constitution says that a Prime Minister has no authority without the House of Commons.
940 The next question which arises is: why is the Prime Minister not in this House? Was it necessary for him to delay the disclaimer? The Peerage Act came into force on 31st July. If Sir Alexander Douglas-Home wished to stand for the House of Commons, he could then have disclaimed. A vacancy would have been created for him in accordance with the usual principles of the Conservative Party, and he could have been introduced this day into the House as a Member of Parliament. The reason that he did not disclaim was that Sir Alexander Douglas-Home has never shown the slightest indication of a preference for an elected Chamber over an hereditary Chamber, save only when entry into an elected Chamber carried with it the key to No. 10 Downing Street.
He did not even disclaim when the Queen invited him to form a Government. He waited until he had succeeded in forming a Government. He waited until he had kissed hands on appointment before giving this information to the Press—his normal channel of communication with "the people". He then said that he thought that it would be necessary for him to disclaim. And let us hear no more about his sacrifice. First, it is an insult to the House that anybody should believe that there is any honour greater than serving here. The fount of our honour is the ballot box, and that is enough for us.
Secondly, it is well known that a retiring Prime Minister can be made an earl immediately. It would have to be a life earl, but he could be made a life marquis. If Sir Alexander resigns tomorrow, or when the public dismiss him in six months' time, he can go straight back to another place with an earldom or a life barony. Let us hear no more of this business of his liking this place for its own sake.
I do not say this without some authority, for I have here the views of none other than that mysterious man whose membership of another House is in question—the noble Lord, Lord Hailsham. I suppose that I may refer to him, because he has announced his intention of disclaiming, and it cannot be a breach of privilege to do so. He has not done it yet, but that is for him—and I doubt whether anyone is deeply interested.
941 In March, on the subject of House of Lords reform, he said:Although I have never asked my noble Friend the Foreign Secretary what he would have done, had these proposals been in force when he succeeded to the Earldom and the English or United Kingdom title by which he sits here, I have myself no doubt that he would be here just the same."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 28th March, 1963; c. 341].That is Lord Hailsham's view on the Prime Minister's attitude to the two Houses.
I cannot for a moment accept the justification for this place simply as a stepping stone to the Premiership. After all, one may say about anybody who wishes to enter the House of Commons that he is just joining in the marathon, but if one wants a deep cynicism about Parliament to spread, then let that become the conception of why we come here.
I have two final observations to make. One has to do with Black Rod. I was brought up as a child to believe that the banging of the doors in the face of Black Rod was a symbol of the House of Commons' independence of the Executive. I find from your Ruling of last December, Mr. Speaker, that this is just a formality over which you have no effective control. When a new Parliament meets, when Sir Alexander Douglas-Home sits on the Government Front Bench, when the Queen's Speech is read in another place, and when you read it to us, Mr. Speaker, the very next thing which the Clerk will do is to read out the Outlawries Bill. This is supposed to be another example of our independence of the Executive and of the fact that we have a right to debate our own business before we get on with the Queen's business. But this is a mockery if, in practice, the Commons has no effective control.
I listened to the speech of the Leader of the House, and for the first time I understood what the Prime Minister had meant when he said, a year ago, that a new stage in the campaign required new commanders. I must say that the Leader of the House made a powerful case by his own speech for two weeks working-in before the House resumes. But this does not necessarily apply to everyone. There are other Ministers who are at once able to carry on, and are carrying on, in their own Departments.
942 I do not believe that this debate is a dry, procedural wrangle, or merely a party demonstration. I believe that it bears on the character and purpose of the House. There are people outside the House who look upon us as the instrument of change, who see that the only hope of realising their dreams is for this country to have a modern, effective, lively, vital Parliament. They know very well that privilege and backwardness are inextricably bound up one with another, and when they see the Government pursuing through each of these stages a policy dictated by the desire to use the Prerogative to help themselves, to maintain the privileges of the other House, they will lose confidence in the ability of this House to do the job which has to be done.
This is not an attack upon tradition, for tradition is not the Beefeaters and Mr. Speaker's whig and silver buckles. The true tradition of this country is the ingenuity of its people, the creativeness, the inventiveness, the innovating skill of the people, represented at the best periods in our history by the same sort of leadership given in this House. If we are now to slip back into practices long since past, from the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, we must not be surprised if the British public lose faith in this Parliament as an instrument by which they can participate in the future of their own country.
§ 12.57 p.m.
§ Sir Spencer Summers (Aylesbury)
The hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Wedgwood Benn) said in his opening remarks that he did not ask for any indulgence from the House because he had been elected to it three times. He made it clear that he did not regard his speech as a maiden speech, because few speeches could have been more controversial than that to which we have just listened. It would, however, be churlish on my part if I did not offer him the congratulations of, I believe, many of us in the House on finding himself back on those benches largely by his own efforts.
Having said that, I want to say in quite plain language that in view of his particular position vis-à-vis the Prime Minister, it ill behoves him to lecture the Prime Minister and the Tory Party in the way they go about their business. 943 The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) apparently prefers to interrupt sitting down. Apparently he wants to know what I am talking about.
§ Mr. Wigg rose——
§ Sir S. Summers
I will say it for the hon. Gentleman. He said "What are you talking about?" I will make quite plain what I am talking about. The hon. Member for Bristol, South-East sought to lecture us on the manner in which the leader of our party is chosen. We are not impressed by advice from that side of the House as to how the leader of this party is chosen.
When I first heard of the suggestion that the Queen's Speech would be postponed, I was rather doubtful of its wisdom because I felt that it would lead to a row in the House when far more important things required to be dealt with than the timing to within a fortnight of the Queen's Speech. On reflection, it appeared to me quite inevitable that whatever be the arguments in favour of postponement, the Opposition would take exception to it. This is what one must expect.
I do not complain at all that they have protested at the postponement of the date of the Queen's Speech because, unless the time is made up—technically it can be, but I doubt very much whether in practice it will be—it is inevitable that some opportunities for criticism will be lost. Because it is the duty of the Opposition to criticise, it is inevitable that when that situation arises they will complain.
But we have had the most extravagant language used today by the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), who talked about damaging the reputation of Parliament and who said he knew so much about the subject, having been here for forty years. The synthetic indication and extravagance in his speech did far more to damage the reputation of Parliament than did any decision which the Government have taken in this matter.
§ Sir S. Summers
The right hon. Gentleman keeps on interrupting. He said that we cannot do anything about it. It is the Opposition who cannot do anything about the decision taken by the Government, which we are now debating.
§ Sir S. Summers
The hon. Gentleman is very impatient. He must learn to contain himself.
I was quoting what the Leader of the Opposition said earlier, that we are debating a fait accompli. It is obvious from the speeches we have heard from hon. Members opposite that there has been a complete loss of a sense of proportion. We are debating—this is the essence of it—whether it is right for Parliament to debate the Queen's Speech next Tuesday or two weeks later. That is all we are debating. To blow up this debate into a question of damaging the reputation of Parliament is completely to lose any sense of proportion.
The argument against postponement seems to assume that the rô1e of Parliament is solely to criticise the Executive. No adequate mention has yet been made of the rôle of Parliament in the context of the Queen's Speech, of putting before the country the Government's policy in the forthcoming Session. It is not a question, as has flippantly been suggested, of Ministers newly appointed having to get used to their new Departments. It is the whole policy of the Government; it is a Cabinet decision jointly entered into, for which they are jointly responsible. It is that which has to be reaffirmed after a new Cabinet has been chosen, more particularly if the Prime Minister, who plays such a leading part in these matters, is to be given an opportunity to exercise his rôle.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
He will be in Scotland all the time. What part will he play in London when he is tramping round Kinross?
§ Sir S. Summers
The hon. Gentleman is becoming extremely impatient again. He says that the Prime Minister will be in Scotland all the time. We always thought that Scotland was a different 945 country, but I do not see why it makes all that difference whether the Prime Minister is tramping round Scotland. The hon. Gentleman is impatient to learn what is to happen. He must contain himself and have more patience and forbearance. He will not have to wait for more than a fortnight.
§ Sir S. Summers
It is clear from the interruptions which are now being made in my speech, from the speeches we have just heard, and from all the previous speeches, that the Opposition do not like the Prime Minister the country is to have. They feel sore that the leader of our party, who will be such a formidable figure as Prime Minister, has been given this opportunity.
The Leader of the Liberal Party gave some weight to the view that without the Prime Minister the Queen's Speech is not effectively debated, but he asked why we could not prolong this Session and talk about other things. This is just what I would expect from the Leader of the Liberal Party. It is on a par with the question which is frequently asked as to why we do not have more free votes in the House of Commons. The country is not interested in the use of this Chamber solely as a debating Chamber divorced from the power which is exercised through the Executive. If it became simply an opportunity for people to say what they would like to happen if the Government view were known, it would be completely different from its proper use.
§ Mr. Hale
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will remember that there are nine or ten social service Bills on the Order Paper today, every one of which will be killed when Black Rod arrives to announce the Prorogation. An extension such as that suggested by the Leader of the Liberal Party would enable those matters to be discussed. Some of us want to know what the Minister of "Lower" Education will deal with.
Some of us want to know whether it is really true that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is to receive the salary of the Chancellor of the Duchy,—Her Majesty being the Duke of Lan- 946 caster—and be the full-time Chairman of the Conservative Party Organisation, as has been announced in the Press. Are not all these matters useful things on which we could get information if we could prolong the Session?
§ Sir S. Summers
The giving of information cannot be done effectively and convincingly without knowledge of the Government's policy on the subject in question. Until the Cabinet has formulated its policy, the information referred to cannot be forthcoming.
§ Mr. Grimond
Is the hon. Gentleman really saying that without a Prime Minister there is no Government and that there is no Government policy until after the Kinross by-election? This would reduce government to a farce.
§ Sir S. Summers
I am not saying anything of the kind. I am saying that, until a new Government has had time to formulate their policy on leading topics of the day, it is an ineffective exercise for the House to debate them in isolation from the Government.
§ Mrs. Harriet Slater (Stoke-on-Trent, North) rose——
§ Sir S. Summers
I am sorry. I have not referred to the hon. Lady in this debate. I do not want to take up an unreasonable amount of time, so I will not give way.
I can only describe the general approach of the Liberal Party to these matters as cotton wool. It is ridiculous to suggest that we can usefully go on debating irrespective of what the Government of the day think.
People here who properly pay attention to the rights of Parliament have in many respects an exaggerated idea of what the country thinks of the way Parliament works. The country is far more concerned to find out what is the policy of the Government under the new Prime Minister. This cannot be known immediately. I believe that they will show by their actions over the months ahead that they believe that a wise decision has been taken and one which I thoroughly endorse.
§ 1.7 p.m.
§ Miss Jennie Lee (Cannock)
It is now after one o'clock. At 2.30 Black Rod will approach the Chamber. There will 947 be no means in the power of the elected Members of the House of Commons to carry on the debate that we are now engaged in. At 2.30 there may well be an atmosphere of indignation on these benches but, as far as I know, we have no constitutional power whatsoever to continue the debate of this Chamber until after a gentleman who at the moment is not a Member of either House either becomes or does not become a Member of this House.
The Tory Party has taken good care not to expose the Prime Minister to a dangerous or difficult by-election. The Tories hope that they have selected for him an area in which the motto is accepted that we are all estate workers nowadays. They hope that they have wrapped him round with sufficient protection that there cannot possibly be defeat for him at the end of his by-election campaign. I shall be very proud indeed if my fellow countrymen and countrywomen could be so possessed of what is at stake that even those who would normally vote Conservative will, in the deep interests of the country and its constitution, register a protest vote or not vote at all.
We on these benches do not take this occasion lightly. It is clear that hon. Members opposite want this to be a ragged, inconsequential debate. Can the Leader of the House tell us why the Foreign Secretary has not honoured us with his presence this morning?
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd
Because he has gone to The Hague to attend a conference of the Western European Union.
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd
My right hon. Friend is going to a meeting at which all the Foreign Ministers of the other countries will be present, so I am told.
§ Miss Lee
The Foreign Secretary is to meet other Foreign Secretaries in presumably a political vacuum. We have no Prime Minister here, but we have a Cabinet. Does the Leader of the House say that we cannot carry on here at the House of Commons until after the 948 Scottish by-election, but that the Foreign Secretary has been briefed and that he can meet the leading representatives of other countries and speak to them with authority and make decisions, presumably on behalf of the House of Commons as well as the Government? I am not convinced, but I noted that the Foreign Secretary was not in his place.
The Leader of the House has made clear to us that he wishes to sustain that most honourable position. I should like to ask him, therefore, whether he is happy about the present situation? Did the right hon. and learned Gentleman try to put to his party and his colleagues that by treating the House of Commons in this way they are doing no service to themselves as well as the House of Commons? How can the Leader of the House expect to be given the full co-operation and the courtesy which this House would wish to extend to him when he begins his duties in this atmosphere?
The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that he had a rough ride and a sticky end as Chancellor of the Exchequer. We have been reminded of it may times, but in being reminded we are all aware of the doctrine of collective responsibility. We are perfectly aware that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was the "fall guy" not for an individual decision, but for collective Cabinet decisions, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman is now exposed to the fact that he has to take up his duties as Leader of the House in an atmosphere in which he cannot possibly hope for the co-operation which otherwise he might have been given.
We have had no satisfactory answer at all on the fact that there is important legislation which we could have been discussing. At 2.30 today we shall be denied the right to discuss it. No answer has been given to the point that if it is said that the House cannot meet without the presence of the Prime Minister we shall demand his presence and the Prime Minister may find that the tax on his strength will be greater than otherwise we would have wanted to impose upon him.
We cannot have it both ways. We are told that we cannot carry on the business of the House without the presence of the Prime Minister who, in our constitution, is supposed to be one among 949 equals. We do not have to agree with their conclusions in order to accept that there are members of the Cabinet of long-standing experience in their various Departments who know the House of Commons. Yet in a few weeks' time we shall be debating in this Chamber in an atmosphere in which the Government have forfeited every right to the cordial co-operation of hon. Members on these benches.
This is a disservice to the Leader of the House as well as to the House. I should have much preferred it if the right hon. and learned Gentleman on an occasion like this had said, for instance, that he had insisted upon our having an opportunity to discuss our own conditions of work in this Chamber. This is not a minor matter. The behaviour of the other place in recent months, its relations with this House and its relations with the Crown, may prove once again a disservice to some of the things which many hon. Members opposite hold precious.
I wish to abolish the other Chamber. I think that it is a historical hang-over. My friend and colleague the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Wedgwood Benn) in coming back here has shown a proper sense of priorities. It is nonsense that we should be waiting until 2.30 p.m. for Black Rod in these circumstances and that we should be played around with by means of an absurd constitutional device, including the device that we can have a Member giving up his so-called peerage when we know that it has been made perfectly clear that after he has spent a short time on the benches opposite his family can go back to the peerage. This is making nonsense of the British constitution.
I hope that hon. Members will not think that I speak with arrogance when I say that I hold that collectively, on all sides of the House, we should be ashamed of ourselves because of the conditions under which we work. We are making a protest today, which I feel most strongly, that the House has been treated with discourtesy and that the balance of our constitution between Cabinet, Commons, the Lords and the Crown, has been upset in an undesirable way.
We are living day by day in our working Sessions in circumstances in which 950 the other place occupies more than half the accommodation of the Houses of Parliament while doing less than one-tenth of the work done by this House and one-tenth of the work which in my judgment could be done, with constitutional amendments, in this place. It is a fantastic situation. I object most strongly to the money which is to be spent in building extra accommodation for Members of this House in the outer realms of empire, on the periphery, in an area to which we do not want to go.
I have been a privileged Member of the House in having been able until the last few weeks to make arrangements to have my secretarial work clone comfortably outside the precincts of Westminster. I have to work here during the coming Session. What could be more ridiculous than the reply given to my secretary that there was not even a desk which she could occupy in the whole Parliament of Westminster? This is but a small indication of the way in which the British House of Commons has been pushed around.
I hope that a decade in which apparently it has been in the interests of some people in this country to denigrate the House of Commons has come to an end. I hope that we have come to the culmination point of a period in which there has been a cynical disregard of the House of Commons and a deep desire to denigrate its status. In all parts of the House we share responsibility for not sustaining the House as we ought to do.
I hope that the Leader of the House will make it one of his first duties to cancel the expenditure we have entered into for extra buildings and accommodation where most of us do not want to go. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will take a real look not only at the spirit of this Chamber but at the working apparatus which is at our disposal, because I can assure him of the mood of hon. Members on this matter. Hon. Members will be spending a great many days and quite a few nights in the Chamber. If the going is to be tough—and we have heard the word "tough" used in relation to the Prime Minister—I think that I am correctly interpreting the mood of my party and of our supporters in 951 the country in saying that it may not be a long Parliament in front of us but it will be tough for all of us.
§ 1.20 p.m.
§ Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
If I may say so to the hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee), I admire her spirit enormously. Her indignation is always impressive. I only wish to say to her that over and over again in my own life the more extraordinary a decision has appeared to be, the more I have found there was a good reason for it in the end. [Interruption.] I know that the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Wedgwood Benn) finds it difficult to remain silent, whether standing or seated. I shall come to him in a moment.
I think that all of us opened our eyes fairly widely when we heard the decision announced, and we were all awaiting with some expectation and interest what the Leader of the House would say today. I certainly think that I can claim, after eighteen years in this place, that I am anxious that the rights of hon. Members should not be unduly restricted. I think that I have taken as much opportunity as anybody to use what powers I have to express my points of view, even if they have disagreed with people with whom I wish they did not disagree.
I would say, also, to the hon. Lady that if this decision were permanent—I think this is also an answer to the Leader of the Liberal Party—and if the Government, regardless of whether or not the Prime Minister were in either House of Parliament, were able to conduct the business of the nation without Parliament ever again being able to consider it during the lifetime of that Government, there would be an immense amount to agree with on her side. But this is not the proposition that is put before us. The Leader of the Liberal Party said that if we prorogue today, Parliament's rights are being gravely infringed, that the Government can do all sorts of things in the intervening period and that Parliament can do nothing about it. This is absolute, arrant nonsense.
To follow that argument to the logical conclusion—and I think the hon. Lady's argument leads us in this direction, too 952 —if there is any resentment at the Foreign Secretary being in The Hague today, or if there is any resentment at decisions being taken abroad by the Government of the day in the name of this country, we are nearly getting to the point where we have to say that all government should cease the moment the House goes into recess. This is really preposterous. The whole position of the Executive has been that the Queen's Government has been carried on whether Parliament is sitting or not.
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
Even during an election, as my hon. Friend says.
The important thing to remember in all our anxieties about this extra fortnight's delay is that when we come back we shall have ample opportunity of questioning anything that the Government will have done in the intervening period. I think that this fact has been overlooked by practically every speaker on the opposite benches in this debate. Certainly, I would say that many things may happen which we shall want to question.
§ Mr. Arthur Holt (Bolton, West)
The hon. Gentleman has referred to some of the alleged remarks of the Leader of the Liberal Party. May I ask the hon. Gentleman to turn to the substantial point as to what good reason there is that this Parliament should not continue for another week and discuss matters which he has often advocated?
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
The hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Holt) is anticipating what I was going to say. I was about to turn to the arguments used by the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the Liberal Party, and to examine whether those arguments are valid. The hon. Member for Bolton, West is right in saying that the Leader of his party made a strong case for Parliament to sit and not to prorogue today regardless of when the opening of the next Session would be. That is an entirely different argument from the one used by the Leader of the Labour Party. He argued that it was monstrous that the opening of Parliament should be delayed. The Leader of the Liberal 953 Party argued that it is wrong for us to prorogue today, whatever the date of the opening.
There is one thing which we all too often forget and which certainly we should not forget at this moment, namely, that the more irrelevant and unimportant the matters which Parliament discusses at moments of great interest in public, affairs, the more ridiculous this House is apt to make itself.
In answer to the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale), who intervened earlier, the fact that there is a number of Bills on the Order Paper today which will die when Black Rod summons us to another place does not necessarily mean that it is a bad thing. They may be very good Bills in themselves. They may meet special needs for certain groups of the population. But would this House enhance its reputation in the public mind if we were to discuss such issues at a time when, as the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the Liberal Party have said, we have issues such as the mixed-manned force to discuss?
Is this really the moment to embark on a four-day exercise rather like a series of Adjournment debates? I do not believe that it is. If I did I would say so. I am all for these matters being considered, but at the appropriate moment, and I think that the country would think Parliament, and the House of Commons in particular, absolutely ridiculous if it concentrated on these things now.
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
I think that the hon. Member has anticipated what I was going to say. It could well be argued that this is a matter of such importance that it ought to be debated as quickly as possible, but does it make sense that we should debate an issue like this without having the Prime Minister here to intervene? [Hon. Members: "Yes."] I do not think that it does. Here is a Foreign Secretary who is steeped in this matter, who becomes Prime Minister. Is it desirable that we should have a debate on an 954 issue of policy of that importance without the Prime Minister being here?
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
The hon. Member may think so, but I do not. That is one of the reasons that I support this decision. I should have thought the country would expect the Opposition at least to recognise that a subject of this importance, in which the former Foreign Secretary, now Prime Minister, is such an expert ought only to be debated when the new Prime Minister can be here.
§ Mr. W. Hamilton
Whatever may be the strength of the argument vis-à-vis the mixed-manned force, the same argument cannot apply to a debate on the Denning Report because the presence of the Prime Minister would not be of any importance; he was not in any way involved. As the Leader of the Liberal Party said, this is a very important subject. Does not the hon. Gentleman agree?
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
We must take one thing at a time. I was dealing with the issue of the mixed-manned force. The Denning Report was raised by the Leader of the Liberal Party. If hon. Members want to debate Denning because it is not an important Report I can understand them not worrying whether the Prime Minister is here or not. But one of the issues raised in connection with the Denning Report is that of security. Is that not important? I should have thought it was important enough to demand the Prime Minister's presence here. In any case, considering the country as a whole, I very much doubt that we should be entirely wise to assume that the majority of people want us to debate Denning at all. I think that the country is fed up to the teeth with it, and perfectly naturally.
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
No, not by any means. Even the newspapers are "fed up" with it now. Perhaps there are certain parts of the Denning Report which will have to be debated, but, if they have to be, they certainly ought to be debated with the Prime Minister on ready call to come to the House to answer certain questions in regard to which he has direct responsibility.
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
The hon. Member is already starting to debate Denning. Of course, the Prime Minister has responsibility. How far that responsibility goes, to what extent the Prime Minister can hand everything over to the Home Secretary, and so forth, are questions which all form part of the matter covered by the Denning Report. Perhaps we may have to debate them, but, if we do, surely it would be much better to have the Prime Minister here to answer some of the questions which we shall want to put, since, as I still believe, there are very important responsibilities for the Prime Minister in that context.
In this debate, it would, I think, be wrong to go deeply into the mechanics of the various issues which might be raised, but there is a clear distinction between the case made by the Liberal Party and the case made by the Labour Party. The official Opposition object to the date for the opening of Parliament. The Liberal Party complains at our rising today and not going on sitting. They would rise as late as possible before the actual date chosen for the new Session.
In my view, there are good reasons for adopting neither of those courses. I am convinced that the decision taken is the best and most sensible answer to the country and the most courteous answer to the House because I do not believe that Parliament can sit for four or five days without an issue arising on which it would expect to have the Prime Minister available to make his comments. Why do we have the Prime Minister answering Questions twice a week otherwise? Is it not that we find it very hard to get through one week without the Prime Minister being called upon to say something? It seems to me, therefore, that, if Parliament is to have relevance in the public mind, it is just as well that it should have available to it the Prime Minister of the day.
I come now to what was said by the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East. I join with my hon. Friend the Member 956 for Aylesbury (Sir S. Summers) in congratulating the hon. Gentleman. I knew, when the hon. Gentleman rose, that he would not ask for the indulgence of the House because he did not even ask for it in his first maiden speech several years ago. He brings a gaiety and enthusiasm to politics which I find thoroughly refreshing, and I welcome him back most sincerely, however deeply I disagree with a great many of his political theories.
The hon. Gentleman tried to make this a big constitutional issue, and I suspect that one of the things which led him to do this is a misconception in his own mind about the election of the Leader of the Tory Party. He has forgotten that, for very nearly a year after my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) became Prime Minister during the war, after the Norway affair, Mr. Neville Chamberlain remained Leader of the Tory Party. It does not necessarily follow—though it is essential to the hon. Gentleman's argument that it should—that the Leader of the Tory Party is the only person the Tory Party would have on its own side as Prime Minister, or vice versa.
In other words, so far as the choosing of a Prime Minister is concerned, there is something to be said for leaving the Prerogative of the Crown as unfettered as possible, without having to persuade the Crown in advance that the person chosen is the right one because the party has already elected him as leader. There is a case for it—I grant that it is a nicely calculated case of less or more—but I think that it is totally wrong to assume, as the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East assumed in his speech, that the Tory Party, if it is in power, will always want its leader to be Prime Minister.
This is by no means so, and I myself should hate it if it were. It is good to have freedom of manoeuvre even in that context. During the war years, of course, it was inevitable, since, eventually, the position became impossible, that my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford should become Leader of the Tory Party as well as being Prime Minister, but, as I say, it may sometimes serve a useful purpose to have the two positions separate from each other and not automatically co-determinate.
957 As regards the rest of his argument, the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East overstates the case. If I may say so, he is just as guilty in that as a great many hon. Members on both sides. Just so long as we in this House flatly refuse to approach the bicameral problem and the question of having two Chambers from the point of view of deciding just what is necessary in order to carry out legislation today and keep a general check on the Executive and, instead, we continue to fiddle about with bits and pieces of our Constitution and the membership of either House, just so long shall we never have as good Government in this country as we could possibly have. There is a need for fundamental rethinking by all parties on this issue.
I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East for what I may call the "Benn boomerang Bill". It is very nice to have him back with us and, what is more, he has made possible something which I had been hoping for for a very long time but which I feared might never be possible. I am delighted that it has now happened in the person of the new Prime Minister who will be enabled to be with us very soon. But the hon. Gentleman's Bill was not really the way to tackle the problem.
What we ought to decide, first, is whether we want one or two Chambers. I think that the hon. Lady the Member for Cannock would have one. I am not a monocameralist. I am a bicameralist, and I want to see the best bicameral system which we can possibly have. We have not got the best we could have now, and I am certain that we could do a good deal about it. But what we must first decide is what are the necessary powers to enable the bicameral system to work really efficiently in this modern age, and, having decided that, who are fit to have those powers. Until we approach the problem from that point of view, all the constitutional issues which the hon. Member tried to bring into his speech are really so much playing about with the question instead of getting down to the root. I hope that he will turn himself into a constitutional radical and do his best rapidly to get to grips with the fundamentals of the problem. I shall do my best to help him if he does.
I sincerely hope that the House will, in the end, act with constitutional pro- 958 priety today when Black Rod arrives. I should not have hoped so if I had felt that what was being done today was wrong. I hope that I have shown that, welcoming back to the Front Bench, as I do, the new Leader of the House, and welcoming, as I do, the appointment of our Prime Minister, which rejoices my heart, I am certain that the Leader of the House would have been less than courteous to the House if he had allowed it to do something which it would live to regret, namely, to meet without the Prime Minister on ready call while it was sitting.
§ 1.40 p.m.
§ Mr. G. M. Thomson (Dundee, East)
The hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) is a good and loyal soldier and he has bravely leapt into the breach when his party has obviously been rather stuck for supporters for the case put by the Leader of the House at the beginning of the debate. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not take it amiss if I say that we on this side have been struck by the lack of strong support enjoyed by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. The ex-Ministers who sit on the third bench below the Gangway and who normally rally to the Government support in times of crisis have been notable by their absence during all this debate. Some of them stayed only for the speech of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and made their departure before the Leader of the House had been able to make his case.
The hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke), who always speaks frankly and honestly to the House, admitted that he was disturbed by the decision to postpone the opening of Parliament, but said that he felt it was all right once he had reassured himself that it would be only for a brief period and that Parliament was not to be put in indefinite cold storage while these matters were being resolved.
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke indicated assent.
§ Mr. Thomson
I am glad to have the hon. Member's agreement. That remark of his would have astonished us even more if it had not been for one or two of the speeches to which we have listened from the back benches 959 opposite today. One or two of them have been quite remarkable.
One right hon. Member opposite said that he thought it was greatly to the discredit of, and very damaging to, the reputation of British democracy abroad that the new Prime Minister should be criticised in this country. That is a most remarkable doctrine.
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
The hon. Member is, I think, referring to my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent). My right hon. Friend's argument, as I understand it, was that while Parliament is designed for questions to be put to and answered by Ministers, the important thing in this instance was that it should not be entirely one-sided, with views being thrown at the Prime Minister without his being able to answer back.
§ Mr. Thomson
That is as may be. The healthiest advertisement for the vitality of British democracy in the world, however, should be that we are known to be able to criticise our Prime Minister. An hon. Member below the Gangway opposite said, in effect, that Parliament did not matter in relation to the Executive, that it was the Executive getting on with its job which mattered and whether or not Parliament was meeting was not very important. These are alarming doctrines.
The absence of numerical support for the Leader of the House on his own benches during most of this debate has been an indication that when it comes to the bit there are many on the Conservative benches who do not care about Parliamentary democracy with the kind of passion that is necessary today, who do not care about the reputation of Parliament and, above all, the House of Commons as the principal Chamber of Parliament, in the way described so eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn), whom we all very much welcome back to the House.
The main case which has been put by hon. Members opposite about the situation in which we find ourselves is that we have been presented by the new Prime Minister with a fait accompli and that it is now impossible for the Prime Minister to change his mind and allow Parliament to meet as had originally 960 been planned. Surely, there have been so many changes of mind recently in the Conservative Party that one more, even at this late stage, would not have made very much difference.
My local newspaper, the Courier and Advertiser, which circulates in the constituency where the new Prime Minister is fighting his by-election, reported only last Saturday from the Tory Party in Perth and Kinross that under no circumstances whatever would Sir Alec Douglas-Home contest the by-election. Under the splendid headlineMr. Younger won't stand down—agentthe agent for Mr. Younger, who is now, presumably, the agent for the Prime Minister, said on Saturday morning:I can assure you there will be no deviation here at all. Mr. Younger … will be nominated, and he will be the candidate—definitely …He said that the executive council of the Kinross and West Perthshire association were the governing body so far as the Tory Party was concerned in Kinross and West Perthshire. Since the Prime Minister has made the ex-candidate for West Perthshire, his agent and the whole of the Perthshire Tory Party swallow their words, there seems to be no reason why he should not swallow his own and take the sense of the House as expressed in this debate today and allow the original timetable to be adhered to. That change of mind would be greatly in the interest of Parliamentary democracy, which is cherished by all people, on all sides of the House. It is Parliamentary democracy that is damaged by this decision to put Parliament into cold storage to save the embarrassments of the majority party and to suit the personal convenience of a new Prime Minister.
I believe that our Parliamentary democracy, by which I mean, above all, the kind of work that is done in the House of Commons, is in many ways the country's most precious possession and in many ways the most valuable contribution that we make politically to the world as a whole. Parliamentary democracy is a rare enough plant in the world today, and it needs very careful nurturing. To trample on it does harm to this country and damage to the cause of democracy throughout the world as a whole.
961 If any of us let our democracy in this Parliament down—and all of us, I suppose, do so in one way or another from time to time—it harms the whole of Parliament. If the Government behave in the peremptory way in which they are behaving, they may well add ammunition to the Opposition's case, but what is much more serious and important is that it does great hurt to Parliamentary democracy as a whole.
The gravest charge that can be made against the outgoing Administration is that it leaves Parliament with its democracy enjoying a less good reputation than when the Administration originally took office. For Prime Ministers to be changed without the new Prime Minister seeking an early recourse to a general election for a fresh mandate was as much a blow against democracy in 1957 when the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) became Prime Minister as it is again in 1963 when Sir Alec Douglas-Home has become Prime Minister, obviously without any intention of going to the people at a general election in the near future.
I very much support the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East that the actual method of selecting as Prime Minister a Member of the House of Lords is itself a blow against Parliamentary democracy. In making that comment, I am not making any sort of personal reflection on Sir Alexander Douglas-Home. For what little we know of him, he seems a man of integrity and of great personal directness and we shall have opportunity to make our own assessments of him if he finally persuades the electors in West Perthshire to bring him back into the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
The hon. Member keeps talking about our reverence for Parliamentary democracy, with which we all agree, but Parliament includes both the House of Lords and the House of Commons and, surely, a Member of the House of Lords is just as entitled to be Prime Minister.
§ Mr. Thomson
The hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) can, perhaps, be excused for not following closely what I have said, but I made it clear that when talking about Parliamentary democracy I regarded the House of Commons as the real heart of Parliamentary democracy in this country.
I was going on to say that nobody would hold it against Sir Alec Douglas-Home that he left the House of Lords to become a Member of the House of Commons. Clearly, the fact that one has been born the fourteenth earl should not be held against one any more than any other sort of disability with which one is born. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East made clear, the truth is that Sir Alexander Douglas-Home has left the House of Lords, not to become a Member of the House of Commons, but solely to become Prime Minister. This is something which derogates from the authority and reputation of the House of Commons in the country as a whole.
It is for this reason that I think the processes of selecting a Prime Minister from the House of Lords are damaging to the credit of Parliamentary democracy in the country.
But, of course, there are many urgent practical reasons as well as the more general reasons which I have been advancing for not delaying the resumption of Parliament. During the three months we have been closed down questions have piled up which can only be resolved by Parliament. I mention only a few which are within my own direct field of interest. We have an acute unemployment problem in Scotland. During the Recess the Secretary of State for Scotland has been visiting America seeking new industry for Scotland. What have been the results? I for one would want to cross-examine him in the House of Commons about that. There is nowhere else where it can be done so effectively. Then there is a report crucial to the future of Scottish air services on which in many ways the prosperity of my own constituency depends. It was published during the Recess. We want action by the Government on it, and we can only get it by pressing Ministers in the House. We are 963 now being frustrated by the Government's delays in this respect.
Or take Commonwealth affairs. The Colonial Secretary has broken pledges which he himself made about the Kenya constitution at the recent constitutional conference. I do not argue now whether the original pledges which he has broken were unwise at the time or whether he may be justified in the changes he is proposing, but grave issues involving the honour of the Government are at stake here. The Colonial Secretary should have a chance to defend his actions before Parliament. There is little time. Independence at the moment is fixed for Kenya for 12th December. According to the present timetable for Parliamentary Questions, the Colonial Secretary will not be reached for Questions till the independence date has been achieved. I would have thought that gravely harmful to the general position of Parliament and its responsibilities not only to this country but to peoples overseas.
What about Aden? The life of the Parliament in Aden has already been extended by the United Kingdom Government for a year beyond its normal legal term. I hope, incidentally, that this idea will not percolate to Sir Alexander Douglas-Home in the recesses of Kinross and West Perthshire, for it might give him ideas. But the Government here are pledged to hold the postponed elections in Aden before the end of this year. There is little time left for them to keep this pledge. There are many signs that they are going to break it. We are going to have almost no time at all before the Christmas Recess to deal with it.
What about the many complex and difficult questions of Central Africa with regard to the dissolution of the Federation? The Federation is to disappear on 31st December. We are going to have no time at all to do justice to those problems, no time at all to carry out in this House our responsibility to the many civil servants and other Government employees in the Central African area whose rights ought to be looked after before dissolution actually takes place.
I think that the Government really ought to think again about this quite 964 disgraceful proposal. I commend to the absent Prime Minister the description of the ending of the premiership of the right hon. Gentleman the member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), a description which I came across last night, in the works of the late Harry Boardman, the distinguished Parliamentary correspondent of the Guardian. Reporting the last appearance of the right hon. Member for Woodford as Prime Minister in this House, he used these words:He trusted the House of Commons as no one else! These words, used of the heroic Sir John Eliot who withstood Charles I, can be applied with strict appropriateness to Sir Winston Churchill. … His trust in the Commons has been absolute. But he has done more than trust it. He has had reverence and affection for it … This reverence and affection have been deep and genuine. The reverence has been for this supreme creation of the British political genius; his love has been for the theatre of party conflict in which the claims of tolerance (the innate British characteristic) are operative, and differences of opinion do not exclude friendly personal relations, even the best of fellowship.I think that if the new Prime Minister has any hope of earning at the end of his Premiership any sort of similar epitaph this was the stage above all at which he might have trusted the House of Commons—not trusted the House of Commons to be kind to him, to be nice to him, to be polite to him, but trusted the House of Commons to be true to itself and to the nation which it serves. He should have second thoughts still, even now while he is engaged in electioneering up in Scotland trying to persuade the electors to give him back a place in this honourable House.
§ 1.55 p.m.
§ Sir Lionel Heald (Chertsey)
I intend to address the House for only a few moments, but I should not like to disappoint the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) who was good enough very courteously to indicate by his gestures and remarks that he regretted that I had not so far taken part in the debate. I had two reasons, may I mention, why I did not do so. The first was one which I hope will have some sympathy in all parts of the House. The first five speakers in this debate were Privy Councillors. I thought that perhaps it was time someone else should speak, other than a Privy Councillor. I thought that not a bad principle. Secondly, I felt that the arguments on 965 this matter were very well and tactfully put by the Leader of the Opposition, and very well answered by my right hon. and learned Friend, and I did not see myself what more there was to be said about it.
Quite frankly, I do not see any constitutional issues involved in this at all. I can quite understand that it is a decision whch caused some surprise and possibly some annoyance to the Leader of the Opposition and his friends, because human nature is such that no one could quite have resisted the temptation. There must be scores of hon. Members opposite who would have welcomed it in their speeches on the Address in reply to the Queen's Speech if it had been possible to refer to the incredible position that while matters of the greatest moment were going forward the Prime Minister was not in his place. Of course they would, and indeed the very fact that that would have been a powerful argument reinforces the point of view which my right hon. and learned Friend expressed, and it seems to me to be a vital one.
In my humble opinion, what has happened here is one of the inevitable results of the particular circumstances of the Bill which we passed into law to deal with peerage. It is an inevitable result of what the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Wedgwood Benn) did. We should join with others in acknowledging the courage and determination which he has shown and in the result he has got, but he really cannot, and the Leader of the Opposition really cannot, have it both ways. If we are to have a system which would clearly have worked, and clearly may work, to the benefit of the Labour Party they cannot complain if it should also work otherwise. Though there may be some who do not agree with it for other reasons, how many people have said, "There is a future Prime Minister who has come down from the House of Lords eventually to lead the nation." So one must look at the other side of the medal. Imagine for a moment that the situation had been different, and that circumstances had been such, as indeed some hon. Members opposite, some publicists, have suggested should have been the case, that there had been a change of Government, and not only a change of Government but a change of 966 party in Government, and the circumstances had been such that the hon. Member—Mr. Wedgwood Benn as he then was—had not been able to get back into Parliament.
Does it strike hon. Members opposite as dreadful that they would have then said, "We should like our new Prime Minister to meet Parliament and therefore we ask for a postponement of the Session for 10 days." Is it really suggested that they would not have done that? Or would they have said, "No". Although Benn is preferred to Wilson by democratic vote of the party, Wilson shall open the proceedings in Parliament and not the Prime Minister". Let us have a sense of reality about this.
As I have said, I do not regard this as a constitutional issue. At the time, I was one of those who accepted the principle of the Peerage Act after very considerable thought and some doubt, but I was also one of those who said that we must not be surprised if, when we passed this extraordinary Measure into law, we found that there were various awkward, illogical and difficult consequences. I warned that when the time came people should not say that they had not been warned and that they must put up with the consequences.
Far from regarding this as the disgraceful and monstrous insult to the House that so horrifies the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), I take the opposite view. I should have thought that, if there is machinery by which we can ensure that the Prime Minister will be in the House, carrying out the logical consequences of an Act of Parliament we have only recently passed with the strong approval of the Opposition, that machinery should be used. If it were not used, that might very well be regarded as an insult to the people.
§ 2.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
The right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) cannot know very much about the Labour Party, otherwise he would not have drawn that foolish parallel about my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Wedgwood Benn) in hypothetical circumstances which are never likely to happen. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I was speaking 967 in the technical sense about the way in which our party elects its leader. It does so from the elected members of the House of Commons.
It has always been a charge by Members opposite—the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) made it in 1945, when Professor Laski was Chairman of the Labour Party—that somehow our conference runs the party. But it is the Conservative Party conference which runs the Conservative Party. Of course, everyone knew, when the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) was struck down, that he was not looking for a new leader but for a man of his own choice.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) has pointed out to me that it is noteworthy that the Prime Minister has not designated a Deputy Prime Minister. He intends to keep the succession pretty well open. He is not going to designate the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) as Deputy Prime Minister again.
§ Mr. Albert Evans (Islington, South-West)
Is my hon. Friend quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman did not decline to accept the office of Deputy Prime Minister?
§ Mr. Pannell
I hope that my hon. Friend will let me waffle on in my own way. I do not consider his interruption very helpful.
It is difficult enough to know what is in the mind of the Tory Party without trying to infer other things. The right hon. Member for Saffron Walden has been Deputy Prime Minister to two other Prime Ministers, and I think that there is a great deal of sympathy for him in this House. After all, there can be no bitterness in public life greater than seeing lesser men unfairly preferred, unless it is to be betrayed in the house of one's friends—and he has suffered both.
The other argument put up is that, somehow or other, the Prime Minister's position is somewhat analogous to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East. But my hon. Friend was elected by that constituency, which continually stood by him. The Prime Minister, however, is merely using the 968 Peerage Act as a stratagem to get into this place. He does not come in as a Member of the House, but as Prime Minister.
When all is said and done, what good does this do? For the next two weeks it appears that he will be fighting a by-election in Scotland. No one can suggest that he will be able to be particularly helpful about Cabinet business. Of course he will not. This, again, is an implied contempt of the House of Commons.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that if we had the Queen's Speech next week we would have to have regard to the actions of the Prime Minister. Of course we would. But that does not necessarily suggest that it is any more meritorious that the new Session has been delayed for two weeks. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is probably one of the last people entitled to speak on this because, after all, he opened the Bristol South-East campaign on behalf of the Tory Party.
As a constitutional lawyer, he was sent there to tell the electors, "Do not do this illegal thing". They treated him with contempt and returned my hon. Friend with a bigger majority than was returned against the Government at Orpington. They did not take him seriously as a constitutional lawyer because they knew he would be defeated by the people—which he was.
§ Mr. Pannell
Of course it may have been legally right, but that which lawyers assert sensible people often despise—and they despised him on this occasion. And it became known to the Conservative Party that it could not stand against the mood of the country by refusing this change in the law. They are now cashing in on a victory won by my hon. Friend. If the Bristol, South-East by-election did anything at all it asserted that the privileges of this House were greater than those of the other place.
§ Sir L. Heald
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman wants to be fair. He should point out that what I said was that it was not right to jump the thistle over the matter, that under existing law the 969 election was invalid, and that if anything was to be done it should be by Act of Parliament, and that is what we did.
§ Mr. Pannell
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman think that there would have been an Act of Parliament but for the by-election result? Of course there would not. There had previously been many attempts to get the law altered, going right back to Lord Curzon's day, but all the time the Tory Party were entrenched in the House of Lords.
I was a member of the Select Committee which considered the situation after the by-election. Naturally, I cannot divulge what was said about this, but the hypothetical case of the Earl of Home was discussed there. The Prime Minister makes no sacrifice in coming into this place at all. When, in six months' time, the electors return another Government, he can safely go back to the House of Lords as a life peer. I think that is the meaning of the exercise of the hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod). He has really written the election off. He knows well that with this Prime Minister and in these circumstances defeat is inevitable. Perhaps then his hour will come.
§ 2.9 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
I cannot help feeling that a great many speeches by Members opposite are based on the assumption that we really ought to have a single chamber Parliament. The hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) said so quite frankly. I do not think that to be a tenable view in the situation in which we find ourselves. After all, we have a bicameral system. We are the Houses of Parliament. I do not take the view that is being put about by the party opposite that all men ate equal except Members of the House of Lords, who are really second-rate citizens and should not have the opportunity of coming into this Chamber and of becoming Prime Minister.
§ Mr. W. Hamilton
But Lord Home becomes Prime Minister and then seeks to become a Member of this House.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
We know that, in practice, the present constitutional position is that the Prime Minister is expected to be a Member of this House.
970 We congratulate the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Wedgwood Benn) on coming here and making his second maiden speech. We congratulate him also on the eloquence that he brought to bear in pressing the case which led to his Bill, because it is this Bill which gave the Tory Party the opportunity of being able to select a Prime Minister not only from this House but of having two possible candidates from the House of Lords. The hon. Gentleman's action has been taken note of on this side of the House, and his reception here this morning proved that we are very grateful for what he has done for us.
§ Mr. Lipton
All the same, the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) voted against my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
Not the second time.
Some of the speeches today have been rather rude. I did not like the speech of the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) when he called our Prime Minister an arrogant and domineering patrician.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I said that the new Prime Minister is an arrogant aristocrat, and that the worst aristocrats are the Scottish ones.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
Later in his speech the right hon. Gentleman used the word "domineering" as well.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
I think that the British public can make up their minds on this argument when they see the Prime Minister on television.
When the right hon. Gentleman talks about a domineering aristocrat, he seems to forget that the Prime Minister was a Member of this House for 16 years. The hon. Member for Cannock, took the Prime Minister to task for seeking election for a rural area, but when he was a Member of this House he represented a mining constituency, and I am sure the hon. Lady appreciates that one has to be pretty tough to represent such an industry.
I thought that the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East took rather a false 971 point about the importance of maintaining the Royal Prerogative. It is an obvious practice that the outgoing Prime Minister of the day, as happened in this case, has the opportunity of tendering advice to the Queen as to who should succeed him, but, as happened when Bonar Law was dying when no advice was tendered to King George V, he had to make a choice between two possible candidates in Lord Curzon and Mr. Baldwin, I can envisage circumstances arising again, particularly in war-time, when it is essential for a decision to be made within a few days. Therefore, in my view—and I am sure that is the view of my hon. Friends—it is of the utmost importance that we maintain the Royal Prerogative and the freedom of the Royal Prerogative in the selection of the Prime Minister.
Today's debate is really on procedure, and I cannot see why, as has been suggested, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs should be here, because the last thing that we are to talk about today is foreign affairs. The circumstances in which we meet today arise out of the illness on8th October of the former Prime Minister. It was not until the evening of that day that he was told he should have an operation. It was on 10th October that he announced his wish to retire, or to give up the Premiership when a new candidate had been selected.
Some criticism has been made in the Press of the length of time it took to select a new Prime Minister, or, rather, for the Prime Minister to select a name to put before the Queen. Actually this process of selection took nine days. When Mr. Hugh Gaitskell died it took the Labour Party 27 days to select a new leader.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
Does not the hon. Gentleman realise that we elected our leader? We did not select him.
§ Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)
Would my hon. Friend 972 also agree that hon. Gentlemen opposite demonstrated that the right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) represented only a minority of their party?
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
Taking the first point, the actual process of voting for the leadership of the Labour Party, after nominations were received, took 14 days, which is rather longer than the nine days we took, but from the death of the former Leader of the Opposition to the election of the new one took 27 days, and if that leisurely pace had been applied in our case, it would have meant that the new Prime Minister would not have been selected until 6th November.
§ Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)
As the hon. Gentleman obviously attaches the most tremendous importance to this point, does he consider that there is any difference between electing a Leader of the Opposition and electing a Prime Minister? Does he think that they are comparable?
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
They are both urgent matters.
Some publicists have criticised the Tory Party for not being quick enough. If the procedure adopted by the Labour Party had been followed by the Conservative Party, a new name would not have gone forward until 7th November, which is Thursday week, and, allowing five days for the recall of Parliament, the House would not have been recalled until 12th November. But I go further. I claim that the method adopted by the Conservative Party to select a Leader is a good deal more democratic than that adopted by the Labour Party. The Labour Party took the votes of only one section of its party. Only 250 people were asked to vote.
§ Mr. Hale
Will the hon. Gentleman tell us—he should know—whether this voting, election, or selection was conducted on a sort of self-evaluating modern Heath-Redmayne computer adjustable to personal influence, enabled to evaluate the Deputy Prime Minister as four votes, the Foreign Secretary as three votes, the Home Secretary as minus ten, and the Minister of Transport as "Go back to square one and forfeit a shake?" Or was it conducted 973 on the old pastoral Tory method of counting legs and dividing them by four on their abacus?
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
I shall demonstrate why the method adopted by the Tory Party is superior to that used by the Labour Party. Votes are taken and opinions are canvassed from Conservative Members of Parliament. Also, opinions are taken from Members of the House of Lords, in order to get the proper balance. Not only that—opinions are taken from among the prospective candidates in the Conservative Party. In addition, the views are taken of the great mass of the millions of paid-up members of the Tory Party, through the National Union.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
Can the hon. Member tell us whether that admirable system operated when the former Prime Minister succeeded Sir Anthony Eden, as he then was? That took only 21 hours.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) was duly elected the Leader of the Conservative Party through the meeeting between the National Union and Members of Parliament. The proper process was gone through. It is quite plain that our method is far more democratic than that of the so-called democratic party opposite. In addition, we respect the rights of the constitution, which means the rights of both Houses of Parliament. We do not merely take the views of elected Members of this House. We take the views of Members of both Houses.
I now turn to the procedural question whether it is right to have the opening of Parliament, the Queen's Speech, and the debate on the Queen's Speech without the Prime Minister being present. I concur with what my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House has already said. First, is it not ridiculous to contemplate—and would not the public think it ridiculous to contemplate—a procession going from this House to hear the Queen's Speech read, that procession being led not by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition but by someone else?
Then, would it not almost be an affront to the dignity of the Queen's 974 Speech if the Prime Minister were not present in the House of Lords to hear it?
§ Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)
The hon. Member is now raising an important point. Let us suppose that the former Prime Minister had decided to remain in office and had not retired because of illness, and we had reached the period of the Queen's Speech, but that he could not then be here because of sickness. Would the opening have been deferred for two or three weeks until he got better, or would some special arrangements have been made?
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
That is a hypothetical point. When the former Prime Minister was in office there was also an office of Deputy-Prime Minister.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
Let us assume that the Queen herself was reading the Speech—[Hon. Members: "She is not."]—under the full glare of television I am certain that the public would think it completely wrong if the Prime Minister were not present to hear the Speech read.
§ Mr. Thorpe
If it is possible for the Queen to have a deputy, will the hon. Member tell us why it is not possible for the Prime Minister to have a deputy?
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
We know the reason why the Queen cannot be present. But to have debates in this Chamber without the presence of the Prime Minister to answer them—debates on foreign affairs, or economic affairs—would certainly be regarded as an affront by the Opposition, particularly as he would not be able to take part in the final voting. I can imagine the right hon. Member for Easington and other hon. Members opposite using quite abusive language in such circumstances.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
I am looking forward to hearing what the right hon. Gentleman has to say in these debates. 975 He has talked about the Prime Minister being domineering and arrogant. As a humble back bencher I would point out that I have suffered under his speeches for some time. Those epithets can often be applied to his own speeches. As one of those who generally speak in favour of shorter speeches——
§ Mr. W. Hamilton rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put; but Mr. Speaker withheld his assent and declined then to put that Question.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
As one of those who press for shorter speeches, I am always alarmed when I see the right hon. Gentleman rising to his feet, because I know that we are in for a speech of either 20 or 25 minutes.
§ Mrs. Eirene White (Flint, East)
The hon. Member has been telling the House that we cannot debate these matters when the Prime Minister is not here. What is to happen about the very important Robbins Report, which Lord Robbins says should be acted upon not within a matter of months, but weeks? I understand that Lord Hailsham is to be the Minister in charge of higher education. Have we also to wait until he makes his disclaimer and faces the electorate? Do we have to wait to debate that Report until Quintin Hogg can get into this House?
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
The Report was published only last night. I do not think that hon. Members have had an opportunity of reading it yet. I am sure that we shall need ten or fourteen days to read it and digest it and the hon. Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) will have plenty of opportunity to make a speech on it, from 12th November onwards. It is a ridiculous point to raise.
§ Mrs. White
Are we to understand that the hon. Gentleman is not aware that a statement on this very Report is being issued from Downing Street this afternoon, without the House having had any opportunity of putting Questions on it to any Member of the Administration?
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
Of course I am aware of that, and I am also aware of the fact that the Government have an opportunity of reading such a Report before the House of Commons has. The Government obtain an advance copy, and they then come to their conclusions on it. I should have thought that the hon. Lady had been long enough in the House to know that. The Government have had the Robbins Report, and will make a statement on it, and when hon. Members have had an opportunity of reading it, then and then only will the proper time for a debate upon it arise, and that will be in about twelve days' time.
§ Mrs. White
Is not the hon. Member aware that it has been forecast that Lord Hailsham is to be responsible for higher education, which is the subject of the Robbins Report? Are we, therefore, to wait until he makes his disclaimer and faces the electorate before we can have the presence of the responsible Minister in this House to discuss this important matter?
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
I cannot answer on behalf of the Government. All I am trying to do is to answer the quite unfounded and rather stupid accusations of the hon. Lady——