HC Deb 19 June 1968 vol 766 cc1104-8
Mr. William Hamilton (by Private Notice)

asked the Lord Privy Seal when he will make a statement on the implications of the decision made by the House of Lords yesterday on the Order relating to United Nations mandatory sanctions against Rhodesia.

The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Fred Peart)

The existing Order remains in force until early July. The Government will bring a new Order before both Houses as soon as possible.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister hopes to make a further statement in the House tomorrow on the constitutional issues involved.

Mr. Hamilton

In view of what was said in the other place yesterday, can my right hon. Friend say whether it will be possible for the Government to introduce the identical Order again?

Secondly, in view of the obvious intention of Her Majesty's Opposition to use the House of Lords as a ready-made instrument for bare-knuckle party politics, will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that he will take up the challenge and, as a first step, at least suspend forthwith the all-party talks on House of Lords reform?

Mr. Peart

In reply to my hon. Friend's first question, my right hon. Friend, and, indeed, the Commonwealth Secretary, are taking legal advice. I understand that there may have to be changes of a technical nature, but I do not think that the preparation of a new Order will present any new difficulty.

In reply to the second matter raised by my hon. Friend, he should await the statement tomorrow by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

Mr. Thorpe

May I ask the Leader of the House two questions? First, in view of the fact that Monday's vote in this House sought to repeal certain existing Statutory Instruments in favour of the new one, will the Prime Minister be mentioning the legal consequences or can we have a statement from the Attorney-General?

Secondly, as the vote last night sought to dishonour obligations which this country has entered into with the United Nations, and as of the 194 votes against the Order 119 were from Peers who sit in the other House on an hereditary basis, does not this prove beyond per-adventure the necessity of abolishing for all time the hereditary principle of the House of Lords?

Mr. Peart

In reply to the second point raised by the Leader of the Liberal Party, I hope that he will await the statement of my right hon. Friend tomorrow. I take note of what has been said.

In reply to the first point, the Order is still in force.

Mr. Park

Will my right hon. Friend convey to the Prime Minister the views of many of us on this side that this deliberate flouting of the will of the elected Chamber by a non-representative and archaic Upper House creates an overwhelming case not only for the abolition of the hereditary element in the other place, but for the total abrogation of its delaying powers as well?

Mr. Peart

I note what my hon. Friend has said, but he should await the statement by my right hon. Friend tomorrow.

Sir Knox Cunningham

Might not the best way of ascertaining the wishes of the people concerning the position of the House of Lords be by consulting them at a General Election and not by paying attention to the views of hon. Members who are supporting an utterly unrepresentative and discredited Government?

Mr. Peart

I am never surprised at the asinine remarks of the hon. and learned Member.

Sir Knox Cunningham

The Leader of the House does well himself.

Mr. Peart

I believe that the hon. and learned Member does no credit even to his own party. I will only say that he should await my right hon. Friend's statement.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Between now and tomorrow, will my right hon. Friend advise the Prime Minister to reread what the late Sir Winston Churchill "said at the time of one of the last constitutional crises, when he referred to the House of Lords as a Punch and Judy show? If that is the case, and the House of Lords is living up to its reputation, is it not time to abolish that Punch and Judy show?

Mr. Peart

I know the views of my hon. Friend, but I pay tribute to Peers who supported the Government in the Lords.

Mr. Ronald Bell

Can the Leader of the House say whether the House of Lords works on a system of dog licences, like the Government side of this House?

Mr. John Hynd

In making his statement tomorrow, will the Prime Minister make a statement on the constitutional implications of the fact that the majority in the House of Lords were clearly carrying out a direct mandate given to them by a Government who are in rebellion against the Crown?

Mr. Peart

I will convey that view to my right hon. Friend, although he is well aware of it.

Mr. Hastings

Will the right hon. Gentleman recognise that yesterday's decision by the House of Lords was consistent, courageous and correct, and that for the Government, operating as they are without any mandate whatever from the British people, to start tampering with the constitution at this time would be most dangerous?

Mr. Peart

I think that yesterday's action was extremely dangerous. Therefore, my right hon. Friend will make a statement tomorrow on the constitutional issues involved.

Mr. Shinwell

Equally, when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister makes his statement tomorrow, will he have regard to the inescapable, well-known fact that according to the Press—all reputable organs of the Press particularly— the hereditary section of the House of Lords was instructed by the Leader of the Opposition to take the right hon. Gentleman's view?

Mr. Peart

My right hon. Friend is well aware of that.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

With regard to the constitutional position of the House of Lords, will the Leader of the House advise the Prime Minister, before making his statement tomorrow, that the House of Lords performs a valuable function by registering a vote which is exactly in conformity with what the man in the street thinks on the topics of today?

Mr. Peart

I cannot accept the reasoning of the hon. Member, but I will always give sound advice, which may not be the advice that the hon. Member would give.

Mr. Winnick

Is it not the fact that the Tory Peers who voted against the Rhodesian Order did so at the express wish of two parties: first, as has already been mentioned, the Front Bench opposite, but, secondly, Ian Smith, who sent a special message to the Peers through the Evening Standard last night? Is the Leader of the House aware that regardless of the Tory Peers who voted against the Order, many of them with substantial business interests in Rhodesia, their action, far from changing our minds—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Questions even from the hon. Member must be brief.

Mr. Winnick

—far from changing our minds, we will fight all the more effectively against the illegal Rhodesian Front régime in Salisbury?

Mr. Peart

I am well aware of that. My right hon. Friend is, also.

Mr. Brooks

Will my right hon. Friend recall that it was once said on, I think, good authority that a majority of one vote was enough? Would he not agree that a majority of nine votes is more than enough to concentrate our minds on the future of the situation when unwholesome instructions can be carried out by an unrepresentative assembly in support of an alien and thoroughly undemocratic régime?

Mr. Peart

I am well aware of those views and I will, of course, take note of them.

Mr. Cronin

Is it not time that the influence of heraldic monsters should be eliminated from the political scene and that if a Second Chamber proves to be necessary it should be established on modern lines, compatible with the good opinion of people in this country and in countries abroad?

Mr. Peart

This is a very wide issue, on which my right hon. Friend will be making his statement tomorrow.

Mr. Whitaker

Is my right hon. Friend aware that four million Rhodesian Africans who have grown out of the system of tribal chiefs will be watching with interest tomorrow to see whether we grow out of our tribal hereditary system?

Mr. Peart

My hon. Friend has raised a very interesting point, and I will bear it in mind.

Sir Knox Cunningham

On a point of order. Owing to the unsatisfactory nature of the Leader of the House, I will raise the matter again.