HC Deb 18 December 1973 vol 866 cc1140-2
Q4. Mr. Whitehead

asked the Prime Minister if the public speech by the Lord Chancellor on 3rd December at the Junior Carlton Club about the maintenance of order represents Government policy.

Q13. Mr. Skinner

asked the Prime Minister whether the public speech by the Lord Chancellor in London on 3rd December concerning the rule of law represents the policy of Her Majesty's Government.

The Prime Minister:

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Whitehead

Is the Prime Minister aware that in that speech the noble Lord invited moderates and constituents in our constituencies to note the names of over one in four of hon. Members who were allegedly subverting the constitution? As the Government move towards the brink in their rhetoric of collision and confrontation, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there are genuine dangers to democracy in a situation in which the constitution which those of us who are moderates would support no longer rests on the consent of the governed and when the sacrifices which have to be made are clearly not being delivered with the even-handedness which is needed in the measures that the Government have announced?

The Prime Minister

My noble Friend was dealing not with a particular group of measures but with the criticism of a judge of the High Court. The hon. Gentleman is right that the constitution depends on the support of Parliament which is elected by the consent of the people. My noble Friend was saying that, with a motion on the Order Paper, a judge cannot defend himself, but he is entitled to put the facts plainly before the public, and that was what he was doing.

Mr. Norman Lamont

Are not Labour Members rather late when they complain that they have not been urging people to break the law when only a few weeks ago the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) was pleading the cause of conscientious objection to man-made law? Is not this further borne out by the letter written by the leader of the Greater London Council to the Leader of the Opposition about the Labour Party undermining our democratic law-making procedures? Whom does the Prime Minister think does more harm to the Labour Party—the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East urging people to break the law, or the Leader of the Opposition creating a spurious unity and pretending that there are no such people in his party?

The Prime Minister

It is difficult to say, Sir.

Mr. Skinner

Does the Prime Minister recall that in that speech the Lord Chancellor stressed that the Industrial Relations Act should be observed to the letter? Consistent with that, will the Prime Minister tell us whether he recalls a famous Tory in 1947 saying that the essence of democracy was based not on bare majority rule but on the question of the liberty shown to minorities that did not conform? Does the Prime Minister recall that the author of that statement was Lord Hailsham of the Quintin Hogg variety? In this ever-changing mood and policies of the Government, on which of the two statements does the Prime Minister now put his money?

The Prime Minister

The law is there to uphold the interests of minorities, and a very large minority in the trade union movement have found it to be in their interests. In any case, I do not take the hon. Gentleman as the epitome of upholding the law.

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