HC Deb 07 December 1976 vol 922 cc236-57

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That, at this day's sitting, when the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill has been reported from the Committee on the Bill, no order for Third Reading shall be made; at the conclusion of the proceedings on the suggested Amendments to the Bill or after the interruption of business under Standing Order No. 1, whichever is the earlier, a Minister of the Crown may move, That the Bill be now read the third time; and the Third Reading of the Bill may be proceeded with, though opposed, until Twelve o'clock.—[Mr. Coleman.]

3.35 p.m.

Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)

I do not believe that the House should allow the Lord President to have this motion without a rapid and, I hope, mild protest. Once again, business of the House is being truncated. Once again, the Bill concerned is being rammed through on a timetable motion, irrespective of the rights of Parliament.

I wonder whether the Government feel that they have the moral authority to put down the motion to force the Bill through the whole of its remaining stages so that business on it is concluded by midnight. I wonder whether the Prime Minister really feels that he has his heart and soul in this particular project sufficiently to thwart Parliament of its rights to discuss the Bill in Committee and on Third Reading.

The Bill has been before the House for some time, but this is a new Session. Today at Question Time the Prime Minister admitted, first, that his party is penetrated from the Left, that many of the constituencies have been overtaken by Trotskyites and others and that the propaganda put out by the Government in their recent party political broadcast was not to his liking. He has a majority of one in this House. Indeed, last night he had to rely on the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) to bail him out in the Division Lobbies. On whom will he rely tonight on this Bill? He will not find it easy to get support from the right hon. Member for Down, South again, on a measure such as this.

Does the Prime Minister realise that he has forfeited the confidence of the people of Britain, that he has no mandate any longer, that he has no right to go on insisting on this Bill or to truncate the right of the House to debate it, and that he has no authority left whatsoever, either in the country or in his own party? I know that he is a clinger and that he thinks that if he sits there long enough the problems will go away. But the problems will not go away, because the basic fact is that his Government and he himself have lost the confidence of the people.

I do not blame the Prime Minister for leaving the Chamber now. He has every right to seek to avoid hearing what I have to say. He is welcome to go. When he has gone, I shall vent the same views upon the Lord President, who is the architect of the motion—he who in the past years has so often masqueraded as the champion of Parliament.

Perhaps my right hon. and hon. Friends have grown so used to starting each day's debate with a guillotine motion on the Order Paper that they cannot feel quite as strongly as I do that we should once again be asked to limit our debate before we start. It is a sorry state to which the Lord President has reduced Parliament, that state in which before each debate starts he puts down a motion limiting the extent of the debate and trying to curtail a free expression of opinion, all in his unseemly rush to get the Bill through.

Although I do not believe that the time of the House should be wasted by dividing on the motion, in view of the acute shortness of time that the Lord President has allowed, I hope that some nights, when the right hon. Gentleman goes home, he feels a twinge of conscience. I hope that the Government will eventually begin to realise that the will of the people will prevail despite the Government's attempt to suppress parliamentary debate.

3.40 p.m.

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)

I wish to draw the attention of the House to what I regard as a thoroughly regrettable practice to which we have become accustomed since the Lord President of the Council became Leader of the House. It is that when motions of this kind appear on the Order Paper they are moved on the nod by the Leader of the House without his doing us the courtesy of explaining why the Government think that it is desirable to curtail debate on a Bill which in the Government's own view is of fundamental importance for the future of Britain and of our industry.

I believe that for the Government Front Bench simply to put a motion of this kind on the Order Paper and then to invite the House to agree to it without any justification from the Leader of the House is just another sign of that arrogance of the Executive to which my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) referred.

I find myself, very unusually, in respectful disagreement with my hon. Friend, to this extent: I think it is time that the House asserted its contempt of and resistance to the increasing practice of the Government Front Bench of tabling motions of this kind and inviting the House to agree to them without debate. I hope that my hon. Friends will register their objection to this practice, particularly when it comes from the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot). If he had been sitting, as shortly he will be, on this side of the House and one of my right hon Friends had introduced a motion of this kind, there would have been no more fervent critic of that motion than the right hon. Gentleman. In a few months' time when my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury and I will be sitting on the Government side of the House, if one of our right hon. Friends who is then Leader of the House should persist in moving motions of this kind I hope that my hon. Friend and I will make exactly the same protest as we are making today.

I certainly intend, provided that I can find one of my hon. Friends to act as a Teller, to divide the House against the motion upon the sole principle that it is time that the House asserted its supremacy over an increasingly arrogant and dictatorial Executive.

3.43 p.m.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch and Lymington)

I support my hon. Friends the Members for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) and for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), in spite of the jeers of Labour Members. This motion is an insult not only to Parliament but to Her Majesty the Queen, whose speech was recently read and approved reluctantly by the House of Commons. That speech referred to the reintroduction of the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill. It is unthinkable that the House of Commons is capable of dealing adequately with that item of the Gracious Speech in the way proposed by the Lord President.

We are dealing with a Business Motion which relates to the first Order of the day. The paraphrase of the Business Motion is that there should be no order for Third Reading at the end of our debate but that there should be a Third Reading at 12 o'clock. In other words, no matter how far we have proceeded with the Bill, at 12 o'clock the debate will end. That is my reading of the motion.

There are important suggested amendments in the names of a number of my right hon. and hon. Friends, but there is nothing on the Order Paper to indicate which of those amendments you have selected for debate, Mr. Speaker, and whether the timetable motion will apply to all or any of them.

Therefore, Mr. Speaker, I hope that I am in order in drawing your attention briefly to two points. The first refers to Item No. 4—the suggested amendment with reference to warships and to Item No. 5—the suggested amendment with reference to guided weapons.

At Prime Minister's Questions just now the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) called for the withdrawal of NATO forces from Germany. It is clear that there is a faction within the Labour Party that takes a diametrically opposed view of our defence commitments to that which was ennunciated by the Prime Minister earlier and which will be affected by this Bill as it deals with our capacity to build warships and guided weapons.

Are we to have adequate time to debate these matters today? Are we to have adequate time to debate Item No. 6, the first suggested amendment in which states: all employees have the right to participate in decisions taken by the nationalised aircraft and shipbuilding companies?

It would be inappropriate to debate this issue at this moment, but I should appreciate your guidance, Mr. Speaker, on whether we are to have time today to discuss this issue which vitally affects the individual rights and freedom of hundreds, nay thousands, of workers; or whether the rights of the House of Commons and of those individuals are to be trampled upon tonight.

3.46 p.m.

Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Kinross and West Perthshire)

I am disturbed about the principle raised by the motion—[Laughter.] I am disturbed about this principle which I do not think that Labour Members, in the present state of their party, should be too quick to laugh about. The principle is whether the House remains an instrument of democracy or whether it has become merely the imprimatur of authoritarianism.

Mr. J. W. Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

What about the conscience clause?

Mr. Fairbairn

Such frivolous remarks coming from frivolous Members who remain seated on their frivolous bottoms are not impressive.

It is important to remember that Parliament is a serious legislative body which promotes the laws of the land which each of us is presumed to know and to understand. Yet the Lord President probably does not know what the Bill does and has no intention of reading it but is determined to ensure that he gets the Reichstag votes, his attitude being "Get the Bill through. Discussion is irrelevant. Amendment is irrelevant. Just get it through."

Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrewshire, West)

The hon. and learned Member is irrelevant.

Mr. Fairbairn

That is exactly what I am saying. I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman said that, even though he did not have the courtesy, because I do not suppose he has manners, to stand and say it. Labour Members regard free discussion and the widely held opinion of democracy as irrelevant. For many years the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) pretended that he cared about the right of people to say what they wanted to say whether or not he agreed with it and in the democratic process. He does not care about that now. All lie cares about is that the increase in the authoritarian machine shall be advanced by whatever process.

According to the right hon. Gentleman's view, one can wound, cut, destroy the House—that matters not, as long as it can be used to destroy the democratic process. That is what the right hon. Gentleman is doing successfully, as is demonstrated by the contemptuous remarks of Labour Members. They are not interested in genuinely held opinion. They want to destroy everything that stands in their path.

I find the motion abhorrent. It is an example of the authoritarian process to which the country is being subjected.

3.50 p.m.

Mr. Marcus Lipton (Lambeth, Central)

Conservative Members who have spoken on the motion are being rather stupid. They are denying to the House an opportunity of discussing the Bill of which many of my hon. Friends wish to take advantage. Conservative Members are taking away valuable time which would be better devoted to discussing the Bill than to listening to this high-falutin' nonsense about democracy.

Mr. Fairbairn

Let me be clear what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Is he saying that a person who has only 10 hours before he is to die at the gallows is depriving himself of the right to die quicker by taking up two hours to say that he is innocent?

Mr. Lipton

Without going into all the horrible details, my view is that the hon. and learned Gentleman has totally misconceived the position. All I am saying is that the House should be given the opportunity to debate the Bill. That opportunity is being denied to us because of the filibustering tactics of Conservative Members. I hope that we shall get on with the business, because many of my hon. Friends wish to discuss the Bill.

3.51 p.m.

Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)

Not during all the years I have been in the House has any Bill had so much time devoted to it as the Bill we are discussing again today. It holds the record.

It is significant that the hon. Members who have taken part in this early discussion about the motion are compara- tively new Members. They are pretending that this is the most fundamental Bill ever discussed by the House. Any hon. Member who has been here for any length of time knows that, if the same amount of time had been allocated to the European Communities Bill by the Conservative Government, we on this side of the House would have been very happy, but clause after clause went through the House without any opportunity for a word of discussion.

The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) is the only hon. Member who was here at that time. He was prepared to railroad through that fundamental Bill which completely changed 300 years of history. He did not say a word to the leaders of the steamrollers who represented him. He did not mind the lack of democracy. He did not mind gagging people and shoving the Bill through irrespective of what people thought about it. It is nonsense, humbug and hypocrisy to criticise the Government when the House has had the opportunity to discuss every detail, every clause and every sentence of this Bill for far longer than we were able to discuss the European Communities Bill.

Mr. Fairbairn rose

Mr. Fernyhough

I shall give way in a moment. I am a tolerant, compassionate and patient man. I fear for my health. I wonder how much humbug it is possible for an ordinary individual to put up with before suffering as a consequence an injurious effect upon his health. It puts a great strain on me to have to listen to undiluted humbug from men who did not mind when the whole of the British constitution was being changed and when our power to make law and to control our people was being given away. They uttered not a word of criticism. They went through the Lobbies marshalled as tightly as guardsmen. There were few protestors, no rebels then.

Mr. Fairbairn rose

Mr. Fernyhough

I am a patient man and if the hon. and learned Gentleman will also have that virtue I shall give way to him. I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will read his piece tomorrow and compare it with the speeches of his predecessor, who was a great crusader and did not want any delay. He wanted us to get into Europe as quickly as we could to solve our unemployment, economic and trade problems. We did get into Europe, quickly, and I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman knows with what result. If we could have had the time on that great constitutional measure which we have given to Conservative Members on this Bill, we would not have complained.

Mr. Fairbairn

I am most impressed by the right hon. Gentleman's principles. He is saying "You did wrong, and that entitles us to do wrong". I cannot think of a more evil and wrong argument than that. If the Conservatives were wrong, the right hon. Gentleman should be the first to say "You were wrong and we shall not be wrong". He should not say "You sinned and, therefore, we are entitled to sin".

Mr. Fernyhough

The hon. and learned Gentleman is a typical lawyer. [Interruption.] He said that we did wrong and that they did wrong. But we did wrong once and they did wrong twice. We remember what happened to the Industial Relations Bill. [Interruption.] The more the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) interrupts, the less will the people of Macclesfield think of him.

Mr. Adley rose

Mr. Fernyhough

Let me answer one intervention at a time. I am not a ventriloquist; it would be easier if I were. If I could answer two interventions at once I should not have to take up so much time. I shall let the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) have his turn, as I did last week. My motto is to keep open the doors so that all those who want to be saved may enter.

The hon. and learned Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Fairbairn) seemed to think that the only Bill we discussed when the Conservatives were in office was the European Communities Bill and that, even though the Conservatives tried to stifle democracy and were not prepared to listen to criticism of that Bill, they are fully justified in saying to us that we are mean and contemptible and destroying democracy, and a lot of other silly nonsense.

We have been far more liberal and generous on this Bill than the Tories ever were on the EEC Bill which I should have thought was a far more important than this Bill because of the powers it contained. The hon. and learned Member complained that his party had done it only once. That is the tragedy of being young. He cannot look back because he has been here only a little time. Of course the hon. and learned Gentleman has some time in which to learn and when he has been here as long as I have he will never make a speech of that kind. It was not only the debate on the EEC Bill which the Tories decided to strangle it was also the debate on the Industrial Relations Bill.

I do not mind telling some of the inner secrets of our party meetings. I was the man who proposed at our party meetings that we should oppose every dot, line and comma of that Bill. I was the man who said that if we had to go through the Lobby until 11 or 12 o'clock the next day, we should do it because the trades unions were being hanged, drawn and quartered by men who did not understand the consequences of their acts.

I can take some comfort from a speech made by the Leader of the Opposition 10 days ago when she said that they would "never, never" repeat that performance. I did not take this from the Press. I have had sent to me a copy of the tape recording of the speech. I do not know whether tape recorders can be manipulated better than the Press. It was sent to me, and I know what the right hon. Lady said. I know that the right hon. Lady, who trooped through the Lobby to stop every argument, every minute of discussion, on the Industrial Relations Bill, has now changed her tune. She says that never again will she act in the future as she acted in the past. We know that she is never likely to be given the opportunity again to act in the future as she has acted in the past.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

I will take a fiver on that.

Mr. Fernyhough

The hon. Member had better save his money. He should go to Ladbroke's.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The right hon. Gentleman must come back to the motion. The point about the right hon. Lady's opinions on something else is not likely to affect our attitude on this Question.

Mr. Fernyhough

With every respect to you, Mr. Speaker, if I have in any way strayed from the motion, every speech made from the Opposition Benches was equally straying from the motion.

Mr. Speaker

I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman. I have been listening very carefully. I am only asking the right hon. Gentleman to come to the motion before the House.

Mr. Fernyhough

I am quite prepared to come to it. But there are some hon. Members who want to interrupt me. Far be it from me to be so lacking in compassion as not to give way. I know that we have roughly until midnight to talk sense or nonsense. So far I have been listening to nonsense. But if people at a party decide to talk nonsense, I am not so stupid as to pretend that I cannot join in with them. That is precisely what I am doing, because the Bill means more to me than to any other Member of this House.

I have seen the filibustering, the attempt to throttle, thwart and crucify this Bill. When I listen to the nonsense which has been spoken by the first two or three speakers from the Tory Benches I am not prepared to let that go on without having my share of the time. We have between now and midnight to discuss it and that is all I am doing.

Mr. Adley

May I take the right hon. Gentleman back to his point about the timetable motion on the European Communities Bill and the procedures adopted then which he has related to the present motion? The votes cast for the Labour Party which is supporting the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill were about 11 million, while the votes cast for all the parties represented on the Opposition side of the Chamber, who are opposed to the Bill, were about 17 million. Does the right hon. Gentleman not accept, therefore, that this is relevant to the discussion of this Bill? Furthermore, since he is advocating that we follow the procedure which was used for the EEC Bill, is he now recommending to the House that we have a referendum to see whether the people want this Bill?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not respond to the hon. Member because we are discussing a timetable motion.

Mr. Fernyhough

Out of respect for our very long friendship over very many years, Mr. Speaker, I would be the last person in the world to put up a barrier to our friendship at this stage in my life. If you feel that I ought not to answer the stupid silly questions put to me, of course I shall save the time of the House and bow to your ruling on this matter.

I beg all hon. Members who have objected to this timetable motion to remember that at least 90 per cent. of the men in industry, for most of my life, have wanted a measure of this kind introduced. I met a few score of them last weekend—I do not want to put the figure any higher because I do not wish to exaggerate—in a club in Jarrow. The men were terribly upset at what had happened, particularly to the ship repairing yards. There must be at least 30 clubs in my constituency. There are three Labour clubs and ex-Service men's Clubs. I spoke in an ex-Service men's club last Saturday, in the bar. I do not know whether that pleases hon. Members opposite, but I am acceptable in every club in Jarrow, except the Tory club, and I have never tried to get in there so I do not know whether I would be kicked out.

The men who have devoted their working lives to this industry, those who are still working there and those young people who still hope that a career may be found for them there, all believe that this Bill is necessary. I could have brought cuttings from the local Press reporting that management is as disturbed as the men about the uncertainty of the future. They do not know what will happen. The men know what a terrible position the ship repairing and shipbuilding industry is in at present—irrespective of whether it is nationalised or privately owned—because of the substantial reduction in demand due to over-capacity throughout the world. It is very natural for people, whether they are top managers or just ordinary casual workers in the yard, to be concerned about their future.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

I can follow the right hon. Gentleman's argument in favour of the motion, but I remind him that Opposition Members also have constituency interests. Several hundred Hawker Siddeley Aviation workers living in my constituency are deeply concerned about the present problems of the industry and do not necessarily share the right hon. Gentleman's view that nationalisation will solve those problems. But, taking his argument a stage further and basing it on what happened with the EEC, is he suggesting that the next Conservative Government should hold a referendum to ascertain whether people have agreed with what the Government are about to do?

Mr. Fernyhough

Of course I do not. I can appreciate the natural concern of workers in the aircraft industry living in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. But if we had been satisfied merely to nationalise the aircraft and shipbuilding industries, we should not have heard a word from him this afternoon. He was prepared to let them go.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

I was not.

Mr. Fernyhough

The hon. Gentleman's party was, and so was the other place. The workers in his constituency would eventually have been part of a nationalised undertaking. If he wishes to have a nice public debate, I am prepared to debate with him in Macclesfield, and he can debate with me in Jarrow. The workers in our respective constituencies can then decide whose case is stronger and better in relation to the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way again. I remind him of my other question. He will recall what happened in regard to the EEC. His Government proposed that a referendum be held. This was carried through, and in the referendum the people of this country gave an overwhelming "Yes". I remind the right hon. Gentleman that my constituency had the biggest turnout in Cheshire and contributed to the very big "Yes" vote in that area. Does he suggest that we should do the same thing in regard to the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill?

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are all grateful to receive that information but it has nothing to do with the timetable motion before the House.

Mr. Fernyhough

I am quite sure that if we had a referendum among the people who are directly affected by the Bill—

Mr. Adley

The taxpayer.

Mr. Fernyhough

Do not aircraft workers pay tax? Do not shipbuilding workers pay tax? Do not ship repairing workers pay tax? I am prepared to have not a national referendum but a referendum among the workers, the technicians, the designers and the bosses in the industries concerned—the people who are most vitally affected. I would gladly be prepared to give to the workers and the management in the industries covered by the Bill the right to demand a referendum, and I have no doubt at all that the answer would not be what the hon. Member for Macclesfield would like.

I have tried your patience, Mr. Speaker. I did not come here to speak. I was prompted by the unnecessary remarks of hon. Members who seem to forget that history did not start today. There was history yesterday and history the day before. That is what made me feel that I ought to remind them of their inconsistency.

This Bill is really wanted. It is wanted by the workers in the industry. It is wanted by the vast majority of the employers in the industry. It is necessary for the nation. For these reasons I hope that we shall get this Bill by midnight.

4.15 p.m.

Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

I have no doubt that the right hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) most sincerely wants the Bill, but it is clear that the majority of the people in this country do not want it. It is at least very doubtful by any constitutional practice whether it is right for a minority Government, with a majority of only one in this House—and that from an area which is perhaps not deeply concerned with these matters—to force it through.

Two points have arisen during the whole passage of the Bill. The first is the growing danger of each party drawing up an enormous manifesto for the General Election and then arguing that, whatever may have happened in the meantime, it must force through this House—and indeed the other House—the central parts of the manifesto. The world changes very fast and this country has to keep up with the changing world. It is often severely damaged by being saddled with propositions that may have looked all right a year or two ago but that make no sense in the present economic climate.

The second point concerns our relations with the second Chamber. I have long advocated that the second Chamber should be elected. I am no defender of the Lords with its present constitution. I do not defend the hereditary principle, nor, indeed, do I defend the principle of appointing members. This argument was dealt with very adequately in a previous debate by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee).

The growth of patronage is highly undesirable. It has been shown by the small number of Labour peers who turn up that it is not the ideal way of appointing a second Chamber. But let us remember that the House of Lords is acting under the Labour Government's Act of 1949 and not simply under an earlier Liberal Act.

If we have a second Chamber, one of its duties must be to suggest that we think again about legislation such as that which is before us—legislation which is not popular in the country and is certainly not essential to the present economic state of the country. The other House sent it back, as, indeed, it is bound to do if it thinks that a Bill is undesirable. It asks that we reconsider it. In point of fact, we have hardly reconsidered it at all. It is assumed that all the arguments that were deployed at great length during the past year are just as valid now, and that therefore this whole procedure of referring to a second Chamber is rendered absolutely futile.

There may be an argument for not having a second Chamber. I personally think on balance that we need one at present, although I shall be very much against it if we have a proper Parliament in Scotland and in Wales as well. We should then be in great danger of being severely over-governed. At the moment we have a second Chamber, and there are strong arguments for a revising Chamber, but we are making an absolute mockery of a revising Chamber by the way in which we are treating its revisions.

Mr. Fernyhough

When the right hon. Gentleman talks about a second or revising Chamber, will he explain how it is that that dead body seems to come alive only when there is either a Liberal Government, as in generations past, or when there is a post-war Labour Government?

Mr. Grimond

I have already said that I am in favour of abolishing the House of Lords and of having a different one. But I reiterate that the second Chamber in its present form was not created by the Conservatives. It was given its powers by a Labour Government—by the party of which the right hon. Gentleman is a member. It is simply exercising its powers as it is bound to do.

In justice, it must be said about any revising Chamber that it is likely, however its members are elected or appointed, to be rather more conservative than this Chamber. I do not think we can seriously object to that up to a point. But if the right hon. Gentleman is saying that if we have a second Chamber it should be entirely different I remind him once more that I have already said that and wholly agree with him in that respect.

It is wholly wrong to have a semi-hereditary and semi-appointed body of the nature that we have at present. But I reiterate that it is there as a result of Labour legislation. It is doing what it is supposed to do. Instead of considering what it has said, we are simply being asked to act as though we had no second Chamber at all.

I do not know whether, in relation to the constitutional changes which are going forward, we shall be able to debate these matters more fully, but I think that at the moment this House is not doing its reputation much good by simply pretending that it is right at all costs, when we know full well that the Government represent at most 35 per cent. of the people.

4.20 p.m.

Mr. William Craig (Belfast, East)

The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) has very largely expressed my own sentiments. There is a place in government for the use of timetable motions, but it is a very special case in which such a step can be justified, because it means the curtailment of the elected representative in the performance of his duty.

In this instance Parliament is evenly divided on a controversial proposal. I should have thought that those who wanted to uphold parliamentary democracy would in such circumstances pay extra special attention to the views of the Opposition. Parliamentary democracy will fail if the Government are totally arrogant in the face of Opposition viewpoints.

The hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) said that the Government could have got their Bill in the last Session if they had been a little more accommodating of the views expressed from the Opposition Benches, but that they chose not to be accommodating by dropping the proposals for aircraft and ship repairing.

Mr. Fernyhough

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman does not want to misrepresent what I said. I did not say that we could have got the Bill if we had been a little more accommodating to the Opposition. We could have had the Bill if we had been a little more accommodating to an unelected Chamber, and I said that I was not prepared to be accommodating to an unelected Chamber.

Mr. Craig

I find that argument very difficult to follow. The right hon. Gentleman is saying that he will not be accommodating to a lawfully constituted part of this Parliament whose Members are merely defending an interest which was expressed forcibly and substantially supported in this House in the Division Lobbies.

The point is that the Bill could have been law by now if the Government had been more tolerant of the views expressed by Opposition Members. Today we find ourselves being further denied the opportunity to explain our opposition to this proposal not just because of pressure of time on Government business but because the Government have decided to get this Bill through Parliament by invoking the Parliament Act. That means that they cannot accept views expressed from the Opposition Benches and that they are riding roughshod over the whole Parliamentary process. I object strongly to that.

4.23 p.m.

Mr. John Lee (Birmingham, Handsworth)

I do not want to go over with the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) the ground that I went over the other day. But there is an inevitable degree of repetition in some of the matters that we are discussing today.

I begin by reminding the right hon. Gentleman that it is only Labour and Liberal Governments who are the victims of situations of this kind, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) pointed out. However, the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland should be a little hesitant about suggesting spurious forms of reform of the second Chamber. He may find that he produces a situation that in a sense is far worse than now.

I mention as an example the recent fate of the Australian Labour Government when the elected second Chamber deliberately set out and, having that much more authority, was able to stultify completely a Government who had taken office after a period of some 23 years in opposition, thereby flying in the face of any principle of fairness that we would all recognise. I think that the right hon. Gentleman will realise that the arguments in favour of an elected second Chamber are deceptively over-simple when considered against a background of that kind.

Mr. Adley

As the hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) has been defending the views of his right hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough), perhaps he could supply another piece of information to the House. Bearing in mind that his right hon. Friend was first elected to this House following a by-election in 1947, can the hon. Gentleman say whether his right hon. Friend supported or opposed his own Government's Bill in 1949 about the other place?

Mr. Fernyhough

I shall look it up in the Library and write to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Lee

My right hon. Friend has answered the hon. Gentleman's question. I do not think that I would have given way to the hon. Gentleman if I had realised that he would be as characteristically irrelevant as he has shown himself to be so far in this debate.

Let us remind ourselves how the present situation arose. It arose because, although the House of Lords had the power to reject—up to the 1911 Act and as abridged by the 1949 Act—the convention had grown up over the years that it used its powers merely to revise and to provide opportunities for second thoughts. But now, under the guise of the use of those revising processes, a situation of constitutional impasse has been created that produces the same effect as if the House of Lords has rejected legislation that had passed through this House.

Until the Felixstowe Bill, the House of Lords had not rejected or even attempted to reject any piece of legislation since the 1949 Parliament Act. Although even that might have been regarded as objectionable, one can understand the argument for saying that a power that affected the very character of the other Chamber was about the one exception when it would have been reasonable for that Chamber to exercise its powers. But by no stretch of the imagination can this be said to be a constitutional Bill. It is a very important Bill concerned with our economic affairs.

It is worth reminding ourselves that both the major industries with which the Bill is concerned have been spoon fed by Government money and dependent on Government procurement for many years. Without Government aid there would be no aircraft industry, shipbuilding industry or, for that matter, ship-repairing industry.

The principal justification for the somewhat drastically abridged procedure which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has proposed is that, under the guise of an amending process, the House of Lords has rejected a piece of legislation, so flying in the face of the convention that it does not undertake that kind of operation.

Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)

Is not the hon. Gentleman saying that the House of Lords possesses these powers but that it should not exercise them? Is not that rather like the type of Conservative who always approves of the strike weapon but who never finds a strike of which he can approve?

Mr. Lee

In his usual charming way, the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) has introduced a false argument. There is a valid distinction between legislation in which it is reasonable for the House of Lords to intervene and use its powers and legislation in which it is not. I have already referred to one example and I shall refer to another.

One of my hon. Friends mentioned the Common Market legislation as a piece of legislation when the House of Lords might have used its powers but failed to do so. We know why, of course. It is because the Lords are so overwhelmingly Conservative that the last thing that they want to do is to embarrass Conservative Governments, however badly they govern, however unrepresentative they are, or however constitutionally outrageously they may behave.

But, even supposing that we were able to withdraw from the political battle and approach these matters from the judicial point of view—

Mr. Speaker

May I ask the hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) to confine himself to the timetable motion? At the same time, I give notice to the House that I shall expect any other hon. Member whom I call to speak to the motion and not to discuss the general issue of the House of Lords, or any other matter which is not in the motion.

Mr. Lee

In common with my right hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow and my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain), the one institution with which I do not argue is the Chair.

Perhaps I shall be in order if I say that what distinguishes the European Communities Act from this legislation is its irreversibility. It is open to a subsequent Government, if, unhappily, one should be so minded, to repeal this legislation. Unfortunately, it would be very difficult constitutionally to repeal the European Communities Act.

But this motion is abundantly justified both by the procedures of this House and morally. We have been over this ground again and again. What has been done has not been done because of an ostensibly solicitous attitude towards ship repairers. What has been done has been done as an act of destructive political mischief. That is why we have to go through this Bill again.

Members of the other place have played their cards very cleverly. The Government have landed themselves in this situation partly because they have not created a sufficient number of Labour peers to attend and to vote down the Conservative majority. Some of the deadbeats do not vote anyway. I suppose that we are to blame to some extent for that.

That is the justification for the motion. I hope that it will be carried by a substantial majority. I hope that the radical-minded Members on the third row below the Gangway on the Opposition side will realise not only the importance of the Bill to their country, but that, if they vote for the motion, they will be voting against a preposterous political anachronism for which they surely have no sympathy any more than we have.

4.31 p.m.

Mr. J. W. Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

I shall confine myself to the motion. I was going to say that anyway, irrespective of your earlier comment, Mr. Speaker.

The motion is that we should knock off at 12 o'clock tonight following today's proceedings. The proceedings relate almost wholly to the ship-repairing part of the Bill. My right hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) made a telling point when he said that, except for the ship-repairing part, the Bill could have been passed long ago. The Opposition and the Lords were prepared to give the Government the Bill except for ship repairing. In view of the number of times that we have discussed ship repairing, it is not unreasonable to expect that in the seven and a half hours left, if the motion is carried, we can adequately cover and repeat everything that has been said about ship repairing.

I believe that the intransigence on the part of the Opposition and the Lords—we know what will happen when the Bill goes there—

Mr. Norman Tebbit (Chingford)


Mr. Rooker

I should be out of order if I responded to that sedentary interjection.

I believe that all the wining and dining that has been done on behalf of the ship repairers is having its toll in this House and in the other House. Members of both Houses are being pressured by outside forces—no one gets up and complains about breaches of privilege; it may or may not be that money changes hands—to oppose the Government lock, stock and barrel on the issue concerning the ship-repairing industry. I believe that the arguments can be adequately covered in seven and a half hours. That is all that the Government are asking for. Must we sit and listen for seven and a half hours?

Mr. Tebbit

The hon. Gentleman should notice that there are matters other than ship repairing. We should like to discuss the position of guided weapons manufacturers, because that issue has not yet been discussed. [Interruption.] Perhaps the right hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough), who spoke for quite long enough, will restrain himself for a few moments. We have not discussed on the Floor of the House the position of guided weapons manufacturers.

Mr. Rooker

The Bill has had the longest procedure of any Bill in Parliament. It has had more than adequate time for all the issues to be raised. All that we expect is constant repetition paid for by outside forces concerned with the ship-repairing industry. I do not think that seven and a half hours is unreasonable for listening to these arguments again.

Question put and agreed to.


That, at this day's sitting, when the Aircraft and Shipbuildng Industries Bill has been reported from the Committee on the Bill, no order for Third Reading shall be made; at the conclusion of the proceedings on the suggested Amendments to the Bill or after the interruption of business under Standing Order No. 1, whichever is the earlier, a Minister of the Crown may move, That the Bill be now read the third time; and the Third Reading of the Bill may be proceeded with, though opposed, until Twelve o'clock.