HL Deb 03 April 1935 vol 96 cc564-7

LORD MOUNT TEMPLE had given Notice that he would draw attention to the Ministry of Transport Circular No. 419 (Roads); ask His Majesty's Government why in that Circular His Majesty's Government is referred to as "the National Government"; and move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to ask the Question which appears on the Order Paper to-day in my name. I am not going to suggest that this departure from traditional practice is going to wreck our Constitution. I am not going to say that it has been done on purpose, but I think it is of sufficient importance to bring before your Lordships' House, so that what I consider a bad innovation may be scotched at its Very inception. The Prime Minister, poor man, is not the origin of this practice, as most people seem to think, but the chief villain of the piece is the Minister of Transport. Now the Minister of Transport, in the Circular which I quote in my Question, dated the 5th February of this year, is quoted as saying that the "National Government" had decided on a five-year plan. That he was quite entitled to do, if he had been using that phrase at a political meeting outside Parliament and not in an official Paper. In the same Paper, however, which is signed by the chief permanent head of the Ministry of Transport, this is written: Sir, I am directed by the Minister of Transport"— so the Minister of Transport is responsible and is the directing person behind it— to acquaint you, for the information of your council, that he has had under consideration representations made by the County Councils' Association…With the object of meeting these representations, the National Government has decided"— to do so and so.

What I take strong exception to are the words "the National Government has decided" to do something, in an official document. I submit, my Lords, that, in accordance with practice and with courtesy to the Crown, the phrase ought to have been "His Majesty's Government" and nothing else. Then, led away by this bad example, the Prime Minister does the same thing in his White Paper dated the 11th March, which was issued when the discussion took place on the increase in His Majesty's defensive forces. In that document he twice used the words "National Government." On page 4 the words "National Government" are used, and on page 10 they are used again. That Paper is signed "March 1st, 1935; J. R. M." So we have, not once but twice in the last three months, an official document issued by His Majesty's Government ceasing to call the Government "His Majesty's Government" and substituting for its name "the National Government." It follows that if this is not stopped the next Government, whether a Socialist or Conservative Government, will cease to use the expression "His Majesty's Government" any more, but we shall learn that "the Socialist Government" or "the Conservative Government" decided so and so. I submit that this is against all precedent and ought to be stopped, and I hope that the noble Earl who answers for the Government will stand in a white sheet and say "Peccavi, I will not do it again." But in all seriousness, this matter has a certain constitutional importance. After all, His Majesty the King appoints Ministers, he receives their resignations, and in case of a crisis no doubt he could use his Prerogative to dismiss them. Therefore what has been done is not only bad taste and against tradition, but it is also historically wrong, and in my submission it is not the way in which the Crown ought to be treated by this or any other Government. I beg to move.


My Lords, perhaps I might save the noble Earl the trouble of replying by giving an answer to the noble Lord. That sort of error would not have occurred while he was at the Ministry of Transport, and I am sure would not have occurred whilst I was at the Ministry of Transport. The noble Lord will remember the almost incomparable genius for publicity which is possessed by the present Minister of Transport, and he therefore thought it as well to kill two birds with one stone—not only to regulate the traffic, but also try to give as much publicity as possible to the present Government. I entirely agree with what the noble Lord said, but I am afraid we shall not correct them—they are incorrigible.


My Lords, the object of the Motion is to call attention to Circular No. 419, issued by the Minister of Transport on May 5 last, wherein the words "National Government" were inserted instead of the words "His Majesty's Government," which, of course, should have been used. The Circular of that date follows the language of, and makes quotations from, the Minister's speech at Birmingham, in which he announced that the National Government had decided on a five-year plan for the roads. My honourable friend the Minister of Transport will, however, take note of the points raised by my noble friend, and there is, of course, no intention of employing the phrase to which exception has been taken.


My Lords, I ask the leave of the House to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.