HL Deb 31 October 1945 vol 137 cc579-602

2.55 p.m.

Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Motion for the Second Reading of the Bill, moved yesterday by the Lord Chancellor.


My Lords, in rising to address your Lordships for the first time I crave the traditional indul- gence and kindness of the House, the more so as I have a responsible task to perform on behalf of His Majesty's Government in support of the Bill which is now before your Lordships. In a prison which I visit rather frequently—not, I hasten to say, in a residential capacity—I find that first offenders are known colloquially to other inmates as "stars"—that is short for "star prisoners." I do not venture to hope that to-day I shall emerge with that tribute paid to me by all your Lordships, but I hope that I shall be able to perform a task which is undoubtedly a great honour in the case of one so new to your Lordships' House.

We listened yesterday to a most absorbing speech by the noble Lord, Lord Woolton. While paying my tribute to that speech, I must say that I could not help being reminded of what used to be said of the famous philosopher Immanuel Kant—who no doubt provides bedtime reading for so many of your Lordships. It was said of him that the only thing that was wrong with him was that he started from both ends of the road at once and never happened to meet himself in the middle. I had the feeling that Lord Woolton delivered two most excellent speeches. He spoke to us as a statesman—and we all of us know what claims he has on our regard and on the regard of the whole country in that capacity—and he also spoke to us as an eminent leader of business. But may I suggest to him, with all deference, that perhaps this subject can most easily be studied if we split it up under certain headings? I would like to suggest that there is a very important and interesting social question, or rather social and economic question, and, also, a political and constitutional question. There is, further, a psychological question, with which Lord Woolton made considerable play during his speech. For a moment, I thought that he was also going- to introduce a spiritual issue when, in passing, he compared us in our philosophy to the Naitonal Socialists. But I felt that that comment had strayed into his speech as it were by accident. At any rate, he hardly seemed obsessed with its validity. He rapidly let it pass. It may have slipped in from one of his election speeches or from some other source.

But if we study, first of all, the social and economic question, we are faced with a problem that is going to affect the rights of millions here and, may be, millions overseas. Are these controls, which were so essential for winning the war, necessary during the difficult transition period that is going to lead us from war to peace? Of course, we know that many of those controls are already by way of being relaxed. The question is, can we—can any Government whatever its Party complexion—return straight away to the pre-war condition of liberty (if we may use a word that is not accepted by all as describing accurately the prewar condition of the people)? At any rate, are we going to return, and if so how soon, to those conditions? I think that there is hardly one noble Lord—unless it be Lord Brabazon of Tara—who would like us to return straight away. Certainly Lord Woolton would not wish us to do so. We are all clear in our minds that a great scarcity confronts the world, and that so long as it does confront the world we must make sure, as the Lord Chancellor has said, that first things come first.

But I cannot help suggesting to the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, that he did the Lord Chancellor a serious injustice, that he produced what was really a fantastic caricature, a most inaccurate account and interpretation of the Lord Chancellor's remarks, when he asked us whether the noble and learned Lord Chancellor was not misleading himself and perhaps us when he suggested that the people of this country want a continuation of controls. I do not think that anybody in this country, and I am sure no one in this House, is in love with control for the sake of control. None of us likes rations and none of us likes queues. While on the subject of queues, I cannot help telling your Lordships of a short experience which occurred to me when I came to Paddington in the company of a noble Lord who does not sit on this side of the House On reaching Paddington we found a taxi queue at the arrival platform. The noble Lord became somewhat irritable and said: "I cannot stand these confounded queues. Let us go to the departure platform where there are no queues." We went to the departure platform and there we spent some time scurrying backwards and forwards trying to obtain a taxi. Finally, the noble Lord were up to a policeman—he was a police inspector but the noble Lord did not notice that—and said "Constable, why on earth can't you organize a queue on this side of the station?"

That is rather the position about queues and rations and all these restrictions. We none of us like these things when they interfere with our lives. They interfere a good deal with our lives and in a way perhaps more damaging than they interfere with the lives of some other members of the community. I should say that the poorer classes of this country do not dislike rationing as much as they did. They are not fond of it but they do not dislike it. It would be making a mistake to say that the admirable system introduced to a great extent by the noble Lord himself, is violently unpopular at the present time. Nevertheless, as free Englishmen, whether rich or poor, we desire to get rid of these restrictions and, as the Lord Chancellor made plain, we look forward to the gradual relaxation of restrictions as the period of transition between war and peace comes to an end. I do not think there is any great difference between us on the social and economic question, at any rate for some time to come, some years to come.

Perhaps it is really the constitutional or political issue which is worrying some of your Lordships more acutely. On that subject we are sure to hear a great deal from the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, who has made a life-time study of these matters and has made sacrifices in the course of his life for his view of the liberty of the subject. I do not suppose that since the time of Edmund Burke, that lifelong Whig, that the Tory Party have chained to their chariot so eminent a master of the liberal tongue as the noble Viscount, Lord Simon. Of course, my Lords, this House should subject these exceptional interferences to the most minute scrutiny. None of us on this side wish to make any complaint of that. Because we in this House have lost the power of wielding the rubber truncheon, there is no reason why we should resign ourselves to handling the rubber stamp. In this House we have much to teach the public about the past; the past can never be irrelevant. Without us, the other House is rather like a cyclist without a rear lamp. Without them, I am afraid we should be like a cyclist without a front lamp, but it is not for me to say at the moment which is the more valuable article on a dark night. We have, however, important lessons which we can teach the public with our accumulated knowledge and experience of the past constitutional history of this country.

I am sure that the noble Viscount will be the first to agree, as all authorities on the British Constitution agree, that the special beauty of our Constitution compared with other Constitutions, past and present, is its flexibility. That means simply that in dealing with unprecedented situations we are not prohibited from using unprecedented devices. The situation is unprecedented, or to put it more accurately, it is a situation which when it has occurred in the past has not been recognized for what it was—a prolonged state of emergency. There have often been periods after wars in which-we have failed to cope adequately with our legislation. Some exceptional measures are necessary. That does not mean that we can overthrow all public and private rights; it means that we have got to be very careful, very careful indeed.

The Lord Chancellor explained yesterday in a way which impressed everyone in this House, whatever was the starting point he was giving to an examination of the question, why, it was impossible to bring this Bill before the House for annual renewal after a period of two years and why it was necessary that the Bill should run for five years. May I add a point on that subject, one which I have some hesitation in introducing to your Lordships—namely, that in Clause 4 of this Bill there are various novel methods of Parliamentary control of which your Lordships may, on some occasion, care to make use? I do that with a certain diffidence because I am afraid that I may be putting ideas into your Lordships' heads. Far be it from me to do that. I will pass it over somewhat rapidly while commending Clause 4 to your Lordships, even if it leads you to become what is called in some places "bloody-minded." There are new and unprecedented forms of control introduced in Clause 4 of this Bill.

Let us look finally at the psychological issue. There, up to a point, I side very strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Woolton as against the noble, and if I may say so, the most witty Marquess, Lord Reading. I side with Lord Woolton because it seems to me that he realized- the full effect on public psychology of the words that went out from this House yesterday and may go out to-day. He does realize that this will matter to the people, to the psychology of the business people, and of all the people in this country. I suggest, however, that Lord Woolton, although having far higher claims than I have to be regarded as an authority on public psychology, has for once misunderstood the temper of the people. Lord Woolton said: The people thought they were going into a brave new world, and then the Government come along to them and say: 'No, no, friends, not a brave new world for five years. Our problems are going to be so grave that we cannot possibly see the end of the picture.' The noble Lord, Lord Woolton, condemned us for using language of that kind to the public. It is said we are doing it by putting five years in the Bill. Although those words were not actually uttered by His Majesty's Government, I count it to us for righteousness if we face the public fairly and squarely with the facts.

The noble Lord, Lord Woolton, objects to our going to the public and telling the public what they do not want to hear. He would prefer that we told the public the kind of thing that would cheer them up. He would prefer us to give them a dose of soothing syrup. I would say it is more important to tell the public the truth as we see it at the present time, more important perhaps than it has ever been before in our history. Perhaps your Lordships will allow me to speak as a member of a younger generation than most of your Lordships, and as one who was in contact for a number of years with a still younger generation than my own in my capacity of university teacher. If there is one thing which the young people of this country hold against the statesmen—not the statesmen of one Party only—who ran the affairs of this country before the war, it is the failure of most of those statesmen to tell the public the truth. I know that during the war the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, has been a shining example in telling the public the truth as he saw it. His great public reputation is largely based on that besides his administrative capacity. But I would say with great respect to your Lordships that we should be setting a very bad example to the people if, on the first occasion that we are asked by the public to send out a message as to how we see the times ahead of us, we sent out a message which is more optimistic than the facts warrant.

We all know that this country, through no fault of the present Government—indeed, through no fault of any Government that has been in power for the last six years—is going to have a very difficult time. We believe that the public desire us to tell them the full extent of the difficulties as we see them. With that in our minds we commend this Bill to your Lordships, feeling sure that you will give it your closest attention that you will bring to it an inflexible practicality, and that whatever views you may form will be Formed in a spirit of patriotism that is no monopoly of any one quarter of your Lordships' House.

3.14. p.m.


My Lords, my first words must be to congratulate with real sincerity the noble Lord who has just spoken on his most successful and attractive intervention in this, the first debate in which he has taken part in your Lordships' House. I do it, I feel sure, with the general assent of the House. It is no easy matter, in either House, to enter for the first time on the business of debate, and the noble Lord, of course, was quite right when he said that he felt has responsibility, and I suppose his difficulty, all the more because he was speaking from the Front Bench on behalf of, and in the name of, the Government. We do unreservedly congratulate him and I am sure we all hope that we may hear his contributions to debate from time to time. I am not sure that I also ought not to crave your indulgence, which is always accorded to a man who takes an un-accustomed position, for the truth is that the is the first time for fourteen years that I have made a Parliamentary speech from the Opposition side. I hope, therefore, that I may have the indulgence which the House always gives to a man who is attempting to do what he can in a position which is not normal to him.

The speech just made by the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, admirably presented and arranged as it was, seemed to me to contain one enormous omission. We are here in Parliament discussing a measure which the Government hope to car y through Parliament into law, and while it is no doubt quite right to con- sider social and economic and psychological effects, the first thing which Members of Parliament in either House may be expected to ask themselves and seriously to consider is the manner in which this measure affects the powers and duties of Parliament. My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, in his opening speech yesterday, began by giving us an account of the nature of the legislation which preceded this present Bill, with a view no doubt of acknowledging, as he did later on, the contrast between this Bill and earlier measures. Of course, as you would expect, the noble and learned Lord's legal history was extremely accurate. Nobody would wish to contradict his account of these earlier measures. If, however, I might venture on one friendly criticism, it is that I do not think at that stage of his discourse he emphasized as fully as I think ought to have been emphasized, the fact that every preceding measure in which Parliament, even in the pinch of war, has conferred quite exceptional powers of legislation on the Executive, has invariably contained a provision similar to that which appeared in the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act, 1939.

Here are the words: …this Act shall continue in force for the period of one year beginning with the date of the passing of this Act, and shall then expire: Provided that, if at any time while this Act is in force, an Address is presented to His Majesty by each House of Parliament praying that this Act should be continued in force for a further period of one year from the time at which it would otherwise expire, His Majesty may by Order in Council direct that this Act shall continue in force for that further period. Nobody will dispute for a moment that measures passed in the pinch of war, containing such a provision as that, were a very grave departure from our Parliamentary system and meant for the time being an immense invasion of the normal duty of Parliament and its members in both Houses, to offer criticisms and suggestions and objections, as anyone who understands our Parliamentary system, and nobody more than my noble and learned friend who is going to wind up the debate—


Not learned.


No, but gallant. Just observe how constantly that has been done. The Defence Act came to an end in twelve months and had to be renewed by the process we know. It was, in fact, renewed year after year by the process we know. The same thing is true about such an Act, for example, as the Expiring Laws Continuance Act. The same thing is true of any proposal to extend the life of Parliament. It has never entered the head of any serious Parliamentary constitutionalist that you should ask Parliament to go to the length of making this immense invasion on the duties and rights of members of Parliament for a clean period of five years.

And observe the difference. I certainly do not differ from the noble Lord who has just spoken when he says that we cannot do without all controls at present. Indeed, that has been said over and over again, and said by responsible people of all Parties before the Election, and certainly most clearly said by my noble friend Lord Woolton. That was what he called the social and economic side. But -do observe the difference. If you have a Bill promoted by a Government which is going to take away normal Parliamentary powers for a year after you have put a particular regulation on the Table and it has lain there for forty days, that is no doubt going a very long way; but, after all, the thing comes to an end in a year. I can quite understand—we all understand—that in so difficult a time as the pinch of war it may be necessary to say to Parliament: "The Government must have these powers for a whole year. We ask you, first of all, within the next forty days to say whether you will tolerate that; and if you do, you must accept it that the Government may exercise those powers without challenge, without interference or Parliamentary control for the rest of the twelve months." I think myself that is a very strong thing to do, but it was a necessary thing to do, and we all of us agree that it should be done.

But please observe what is the nature of the power left to the Government, even when the regulation is only for one year. It is true you can move a negative Resolution to annul, but that is all you can do. You cannot under this system, and you cannot under this Bill, by vote of either House, say: "Well, that regulation is all right at present, but we wish to amend it by saying it shall last only for a year." You cannot do that. You cannot, indeed, amend the regulation in any particular. I would ask the special attention of my noble friend opposite to this point. He may possibly remember—


Of course I do.


You need not interrupt. I hope I shall be corrected if necessary. He may possibly remember that in the pinch of carrying the first Defence of the Realm Regulation to which I have just referred, he himself moved an amendment to secure that Parliament should not he left simply with a "Yes" or "No" as to the regulation, but that it should be at liberty to mould it, to alter it or to amend it. That was my noble friend's attitude.


What year was that?


That was the year 1939. I think I can give you the reference, if you would like it. I have several.


I would not trouble the noble Viscount.


I like to satisfy my noble friend. It was on the opening day of the war. The date therefore would be, I think, the third day of September, 1939. I read it half an hour ago. I think it is volume 135 of the House of Commons debate. But do not trouble, because there are plenty more. There is nobody to whom I would more willingly listen, when this debate comes to an end, as to preserving the rights of Parliament, than the noble Viscount. There was nobody, in my long experience of the House of Commons, who ever made such powerful, persuasive, emphatic, resolute speeches on the subject in those earlier days when the Lord Chancellor, the noble Viscount and I all belonged to the same Liberal Party.

I want to get back to what I conceive to be a really important point. I want, if the House will kindly allow me, to return to a point which is a serious point and must be appreciated. It makes all the difference to the character of your legislation and to the justification for it if this opportunity of challenging the regulation in the first forty days of its life is in connexion with something which cannot last, in any case, for longer than a year, as compared with one that is going to last for five years. If you are asked for the latter, since your Parliamentary intervention cannot modify it or a Act it, ante-date it or make it come to an end sooner but it is a pure case of "Yes" or "No," once you have answered "Yes" the fact is that you are pouting into the hands of the Executive immense powers to legislate for the whole life of the Parliament.

I wish respectfully to pay a merited tribute to the noble Lord who has just spoken, because he recognized in his speech that this is in fact, or may well be found hereafter to be, a deeply significant change. He has argued that this is what people really like. He has argued that this; is the way in which it may develop, and he is quite right to think it is a really serous matter. This is a new method of creating the law by which the country shall be governed, and I submit to the House and to the noble Viscount opposite who is going to reply, that anybody who retains a belief in Parliamentary sovereignty and in the duty of Members of Parliament to exercise their Parliamentary rights and duties, will be a bold man if he says, quite consistently with those principles, "I see no objection at all to a Bill which will provide, once the ferny days have passed, that nothing that Parliament can do will alter the fact that it is the Government that Will make the laws, and not Parliament, to the full extent of these regulations."

How wide these regulations are it is probably difficult to appreciate by merely looking at the language of the Statute, but they really are astonishingly wide. I think the language used by the Lord Chancellor was that these are immense powers. They are immense powers. Consider what it means if you say to the Executive in a five-year Parliament: "Once you have run this forty days' period you may make any regulation that comes within this provision—to regulate supplies and services, 'to facilitate the readjustment of industry and commerce to the requirements of the community in time of peace'." Just consider that. Who is to judge of the requirements of the community in time of peace? The Government? Supposing it happens that there were Members of Parliament, again a minority, but perhaps a majority, who took a different view of the requirements of the community in time of peace: who is to decide the point? The Government?

Take this one: they actually want power for five years to make regulations to facilitate demobilization. My goodness, there is a change. The noble Lord who has just spoken was quite right when he said we ought not to be too optimistic. I did not -hear anything at the General Election from the spokesmen of the Socialist Party which informed anxious relatives that demobilization might take five years. The scene has changed now. We must not be too optimistic, but very careful not to mislead people into thinking that things are easier than they are. The way to do that is to say to them: "Now that you have put us in power, we have no further use even for our own supporters in debates of this importance. We are now, by our proposals, going to be in the saddle, and legislate."

Let me point out a distinction which will be obvious, I think, to us all, but which I should not like to be overlooked at this stage, in view of the later discussion. I am not one of those who imagine that you could do without regulations and supplementary orders. Not at all. I think that some of the criticism on this subject has gone too far. It is quite obvious that if you carry, let us say, a great Education Bill, you cannot put into the language of the sections of the Bill everything which will have to be provided under the Bill. You must, of course, have regulations issued by the Board of Education. And so with many Bills which themselves express a Parliamentary decision on some great point of policy. All that is perfectly right. But this Bill is of a totally different character. It does not express Parliamentary opinion on any great concrete question of policy. It is simply put forward by the Government to say: "You leave it to us, and that being done, we will, at our own judgment, make regulations about all these things which are listed here." That, my Lords, is a fundamental change. It has never happened in our Parliamentary history before, and I think the noble Lord, who has just spoken so charmingly and persuasively, is perfectly right when he refers to it as a rather important point.

What is the defence suggested for depriving Parliament of those powers for which so many people have eloquently contended in times past? I do not quite agree, with all respect to the noble Lord, with the correction, the slight reproach which he delivered to the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, when he referred to the Lord Chancellor as having treated the subject of continuing these controls in this way as something which was most warmly supported at the General Election. I had better read the Lord Chancellor's speech again. It seems to me that what he said was that, from his own experience—which he very modestly underestimated—by taking an active part in the recent General Election, what he found, above all things, was that this question of control was a thing which excited the people. I wonder whether, in the course of his Election tour, he happened to address any meeting of business men, business men, perhaps, endeavouring to do a little trade; business men who before they could enter into a transaction had to visit I do not know how many different offices in Whitehall, and out of Whitehall, and, before they were allowed to do this or that, had to get the leave of a wilderness of different authorities.

I do not say—and it is not my present purpose to say—that such things may not be necessary in time of war, but I am sure my noble and learned friend, the Lord Chancellor, when he reflects on his recent tour, is not going to maintain that business men leapt up in enthusiasm and demanded "Give us more controls." I remember, in my youth, when I learned a poem written, I think, by Matthew Arnold, which contains the following lines: Calm, calm me more, Nor let me die before I begin to live. It is certainly not the case among the business people of this country that they say, "Control me more in order that I can export." It may be quite right to have a regulation which will secure that in matters of trade our resources are not used on mere matters of luxury, or in ways that do not promote what is essential. But I say it is a grotesque travesty of the facts to say that the people of this country are really enthusiastic for more control. That is exactly where it seems to me, with great respect, the Government have really gone wrong.

Many people have tried to stamp on Parliament and to say they knew better than Parliament, but, in the end, it is Parliament which has stamped on them. There are two ways of doing these things. One way is, with your greater knowledge, experience and advice, to put forward what you believe to be the proper regulation, and, if your arguments are good, and the instance is proper, you will find both Houses of Parliament will accept it. The other method is to say: "I do not care what Members of Parliament say"—as I think was said in the course of the debate in the House of Commons—"Why should the Government supporters talk? There is too much criticism." Is there? Is that the political philosophy of my old friend whom I see opposite, and to whom I have listened with such pleasure for so many years? Does he take that view? Of course he does not, and everybody knows that, as a matter of fact, the only way in which you can get public support for these things in this country is by telling the people the reason why you want them, arguing strongly for what you believe to be right and relying upon that power which, in the end, is the sanest power in the whole world—the judgment and good sense of your fellow-countrymen. But that is not the Government's method. Their method is to say: "They are good now, but how long will they be good? We had better get these powers signed and sealed now, for five years, and then we can snap our fingers at everybody."

It is quite true that among the great body of opinion that supports the Government, there are two kinds of people. There are a vast number of people who, basing themselves on a carefully thought out philosophy, really want to produce a revolution by running the country on wholly socialistic lines. There is another body of people—and, I hope, the majority in the Cabinet—who say: "Those are whirling words, but, of course, when it comes to business, we will do these things with moderation and good sense." That is why the Cabinet, at this moment, says: "This is the time to get our people committed, and after that it does not matter what they say." Let me point out, in confirmation of what the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, said just now, the reasons why, as it seems to me, this new departure is really serious. There are two possible contrasted forms of democratic government. We have hitherto lived under the form of Parliamentary democracy, it which the Houses of Parliament do, in the end, have their full part to play. But there is another theory. I do not abuse it, but I would point out the difference, and I hope that I may do so without offence because I am not, of course, attributing to noble Lords and friends of mine on the other side of the House anything but the purest attachment to democratic liberty. This other form must be called flu totalitarian method. It is a form of democracy; it consists in having an Election and in calling the members who have been elected together—on the whole it is better for them to belong to one Party rather than another, but that is by the way—and, having done that, the Executive do not disregard them, but merely come before them and say: "We wan from you powers for five years. Thank you; now you can go."

Is not there a real danger here that we are moving into a line of country—I am sure without the full intention of many noble Lords opposite—which really may lead to that? Let me give three quotations, and we shall see whether they have any resemblance to this Bill. Is it permitted for a moment to quote Professor Laski? I hope so. He is not yet a member of your Lordships' House, but who knows? He would certainly contribute a great deal to our proceedings. In hi; book Democracy in Crisis, the present Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Labour Party makes it quite clear that Parliamentary democracy—that sort of democracy—is not to be an obstacle to the realization of Socialism. Referring to the Socialist Government then to be, he says: "A Socialist Government would take vast powers"—the Lord Chancellor ha; bettered the phrase by saying "immense powers "—" and legislate under them by ordinance and decree."


Will you give the date of that?


It is in his book ca led Democracy in Crisis. My belief (though I am not sure) that it was published within the last ten years.


In 1933. I looked it up yesterday!


Is that an effective retort? Are we to understand that people who say that they know what to do for five years cannot say in 1933 what is to be done now? Professor Laski wrote: "A Socialist Government would take—" not "should take" but "would take"; that is a peculiarity of his diction—"vast powers and legislate under them by ordinance and decree." In order to make his meaning perfectly plain, he goes on to say "and they would suspend the classical formulae of normal opposition." We must consider what that means. My noble friend opposite is amused, but I can imagine that when he was in the other House he would not have been amused but very indignant at any proposal to "suspend the classical formulae of normal opposition." Surely that means that what is contemplated by this gentleman is a considerable change, not by any means limited to this Bill.

Let me take somebody else—Mr. G. D. H. Cole, unquestionably one of the philosophers of the theories which prevail opposite. I notice that he says in The Need for a Socialist Programme, page 38: We shall have to put into our Acts of Parliament only general principles and enabling powers— I do not see any general principles in this Bill, except "Leave it to me," but there is no doubt about the general powers— and leave the details to be filled in by Orders and Regualtions made by the Government itself under the authority conferred by these general Acts. I think we shall agree, and I think that noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite will agree, that if those really are the designs behind this sort of legislation, it is a serious matter and is worth considering. It has something to do with Parliamentary democracy; I do not ask for more to be conceded than that. It is not possible to dispose of it by a laugh.

I can go further, because everybody knows the declaration of Sir Stafford Cripps. Is he to be laughed out of court? I do not think that loud laughter will get rid of Sir Stafford Cripps. He said that the Socialist Government's first step would be to place before Parliament an Emergency Powers Bill. This is, I think, the first Bill that we have received. To be quite accurate, I ought to add that he went a little further by saying that it was to be passed through all its stages on the first day. We have had a little watering down of the true gospel.


May I ask what year that was?


I cannot give you the exact date, but it is well within my recollection, and I should have thought was in that of noble Lords opposite. Mr. Attlee was another contributor to the volume, Can Socialism Come by Constitutional Methods? Let me read the quotation: The Socialist Government's first step will be to call Parliament together at the earliest moment and place before it an Emergency Powers Bill. This is the description of the Bill: This Bill will be wide enough in its terms to allow what will be immediately necessary to be done by Ministerial Orders. These Orders must be incapable of challenge in the Courts"— I shall say a word about that in a moment— or in any way except in the House of Commons. Then he goes on to say: Unless during the first five years so great a degree of change has been accomplished as to deprive capitalism of its power, it is unlikely that a Socialist Party will be able to maintain its position of control without adopting some exceptional means, such as a prolongation of the life of Parliament for a further term without an election. I thought that I detected, in the speech made by Lord Pakenham just now, that he was not at all of the opinion that five years would see the end of it.

We are entering on what is possibly a new system, and all that I am saying is that these seem to me to be very serious considerations. I think that I have shown—at least, I hope that I have shown—to the satisfaction of most of your Lordships, that this is a completely new departure. It is really a claim to substitute the Executive Government for Parliament over a vast range of subjects. As for challenge in the Courts, much care has been taken to see that this Bill is wide enough to prevent that. There is a provision at the end of Clause 2 (1) that certain Orders are to be regarded as valid—."whether or not such regulations are necessary or expedient for the purposes specified in the said subsection (1)." If you make your powers wide enough, I may perhaps presume to say that the Law Courts will not be able to stop their exercise.

All that I am anxious to do is to call the serious attention of the House, and I hope of the noble Lords opposite, to the fact that this really is an indication of a serious departure. Whether or not it is possible to promote our export trade by controlling it, and whether it is really the case that at the end of five years women will be clamouring for more queues, is another matter. I do not know that I have any great reason to weep because the Government take this course, for I am completely convinced that, if they persist in it, when the General Election comes, as come it will in five years, they will have some reason to know what is the real opinion of the country.


Hear, hear.


They will have reason to know the real opinion of the country on these very subjects. I am very well prepared to wait until that time, and all I ask for the present is that it should be appreciated that as a matter of fact this is a very significant and very impressive first attempt. I wish I could rid my mind of the thought that it really pleases the present Government to do these things. It has never pleased us, during the war, to pass regulations which disabled Parliament and substituted Government decree, because, in our opinion, that was substituting, for the time being, a decree of despotism for a decree of Parliamentary liberty. I wish I could be sure that it does not please the Government to carry legislation of this sort. My nature is subdued To what it works in, like the dyer's hand. And if it really is part of the conception of the present Government that legislation of this sort is legislation which ought to create no objection and no offence and is a model of what good legislation should be, then we may indeed be approaching a situation which it will need another General Election to correct.

3.52 p.m.


My Lords, in yesterday's debate my noble friend the Marquess of Reading stated the views of noble Lords sitting on these Benches, and speaking on behalf of the Liberal Party—departed fragments of which, as we have just heard, are now to be seen in eminent positions in all quarters of this House—it would hardly be necessary for me to add anything to what he said. But since the debate has proceeded to another day, and as it deals with two matters of first importance, perhaps the House will give me leave to add some observations. The first matter of importance is the merits or demerits of the proposal in this Bill to confer upon the Government these wide powers for a period of five years. That matter ha been fully discussed from both points of view. The second matter arises from the fact that this is the first occasion in the life of this new Parliament upon which there has arisen an evident difference of view between the majorities of We two Houses, and the course taken to-day will be regarded as, to some extent, a test of the policy which this House intends to pursue.

With regard to the first point, we are almost all agreed that many of the controls that have been exercised in war-time must be continued; at all events for the time being. But there is a difference between the situation now and the situation which existed when the Statute which we have been discussing was first enacted in the days immediately following the outbreak of the war. There is, indeed, a very great difference. Then it was essential for the safety of the country to confer upon the Executive complete powers to direct all the activities of the nation, military and civil, and it shows foe strength of our democracy that a free Parliament was willing immediately to confer those powers. Then the burden of proof rested on those who might wish to deny or restrict those powers. But in time of peace there is no such grave and urgent necessity of that character, and the burden of proof, I venture to submit, rather rests upon those who wish to maintain and preserve these exceptional powers. If it is intended that they should be preserved and maintained, proof ought to be offered on behalf of the Government at reasonable periods that necessity for them still continues.

Now the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham—who made a maiden speech that so greatly pleased the House, and to whom we offer a cordial welcome—has made a lifelong study of political matters both in theory and in practice that will make him a valued member of this assembly. He praised the useful flexibility of the Constitution. Yes, but the step now being taken is unparalleled. The Constitution is flexible indeed, but it should not be so flexible that we should simply fold it up and put it away. Five years is a very long period for the Government to be given continuing powers, and public opinion is, I am convinced, very sensitive upon this matter, partly for the reason which has been so fully explained by the noble Viscount who has just addressed you—namely, that this is an avowedly Socialist Government. At times, members of the Government put their Socialism very high and explain to certain audiences that they are a genuinely Socialist body, who intend to take at least the first steps with the deliberate intention of bringing about a Socialist State, in which the profit motive in industry and commerce will yield place to the motive of social utility. At other times, and to other audiences, they put their Socialism low and explain very carefully that, in reality, they recognize the inevitability of gradualness and propose merely to take first tentative steps, each one based on conclusive merits of its own, and proceed possibly, or possibly not, to further measures later on. It is a case of sing high, sing low.

The fact remains that they proclaim to this country and to the world that they are a Socialist Government. For that, I venture to submit, they have not got a mandate from the nation. In the first place, let us recall what were the figures of the votes cast at the General Election. A total of 25,000,000 votes was cast. For the candidates who supported the Government the number cast was almost exactly 12,000,000—that is to say, a little less than half of the total. If you wish to introduce a system of Socialism you must secure much more than less than half of the whole body of the citizens who vote in this country. Secondly, it is quite certain that not nearly all of the 12,000,000 who gave a mandate to the present Government were convinced and well-informed Socialists; many millions no doubt were—probably more to-day than at any previous time, particularly among the younger generation—but very many millions were not. They cast their votes as a consequence of the current discontents—shortage of supplies, queues, housing and slowness of demobilization. Many more were less pro-Socialist than anti-Conservative, if I may say so with all respect to my noble friends sitting on the other side of the gangway. The argument with many people was: "Let us give Labour a chance and see what they will do." But now there is in the minds of many people great concern lest this Government, after all, under the influence of their intellectuals—I will not mention the name that comes at once to our minds—may be tempted to stretch a mandate too far. On merits, therefore, it appears to me that this five-year proposal is wrong and that the Government in putting it forward have somewhat alarmed public opinion. If I may respectfully say so as an onlooker not unversed in politics, there they have made their first mistake in political strategy.

The second matter which has raised obvious controversy is, as I have suggested, the relationship between the two Houses of Parliament. With this the noble Lord on the Woolsack dealt in a very candid fashion which I much admired. He explained quite clearly that the Government have altered the two years limit which was in the Bill prepared by the late Coalition Government, to a period of five years, for the definite reason that they thought that this House might throw out, two years hence, a similar Bill for the extension of their powers, and that this House might do that in order to defeat a programme which they considered had been authorized by the electorate but which might be distasteful to your Lordships. Therefore, they could not run the risk of having to bring in a re-enactment at the end of two years. I much admired his statement because he might have been tempted, as a newcomer to this House and representing a Party which is numerically very small—although no doubt if its members were weighted according to their representative authority each one ought properly to count as ten—to cloak what he had to say in polite euphemisms and diplomatic hints. He did not, however, do so. His speech was firm and frank and he put in a clear light the plain fact that this Bill is introduced in its present form from the fear that the House might upset the Government programme at the end of two years.

No doubt, as he has suggested, under the impetus of the late General Election your Lordships might be more ready to pass this today, and two years hence, with the General Election more remote, your Lordships might be more combative. Personally I doubt if that is likely to be so, and for one simple and indubitable reason—namely, that the farther we get from the last Election the nearer we get to the next Election! I have no doubt that nothing could please the present Government better than that when that day is drawing near any failures should be overlaid by a clear-cut issue once more of the Peers against the people. Therefore, I am inclined to think that these anticipations are not likely to prove well founded; but only events can show.

There is one point which has been proved in the discussion to be of great importance and that is the presence in the Bill of Clause 4, subsection (1). That gives power to this House alone to veto any regulations which may be brought forward under this Act by Order in Council, whether they now exist and are continued from the previous Statute, or whether they are new ones proposed afresh by the Government. That is a very important point. The noble Viscount who has just spoken said that the power to deal with any such Order or Regulation laid upon the Table is limited to a simple acceptance or rejection. If, for example, the House wished to say, "We will agree to this for one year but not for longer," it could not do so. No, but it could reject the Order in Council with the statement that if the Order were again brought forward limited to one year or to two, it would be endorsed. In effect, there is a power of such amendment.

The conjoint action of both Houses is not required. Either House can act separately. Consequently all these regulations will, even if the five years period is inserted, be within the ultimate control of your Lordships' House. That defeats to a great extent the argument of the Lord Chancellor himself, when he said that five years was essential in order to enable the Government to carry out its programme. That argument will disappear, and so similarly will the arguments advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, and the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, whose points are particularly answered by that clause. The noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, brought in the name of Kant. He wrote a good deal about Appearance and Reality. But here reality and appearance appear to me to be very different. The reality is that the House of Lords or the House of Commons will, in fact, have control over the Govern- ment's action throughout the five years whenever new regulations are being mace Or when old ones are to be re-established.


It is only with the new regulations that this House will have control.


I informally consulted a great authority and was informed that that was not so. It seems to me to somewhat obscure. Does the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, agree?


I understood that if these old regulations are to be revivified it requires an Order in Council.


It confirms whit I say, that the reality is different from the appearance. In reality it is subject to a continuous control. The appearance is no doubt directed towards satisfying the Government supporters and it arouses considerable concern and anger among their opponents, but the reality may be the other way about.


I think the noble Viscount said continuous control. It is to be decided in forty days.


I mean continuously as the Orders in Council come forward. Of course, if forty days is quite long enough to deal with a matter of this sort, that is all right. The noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, had little to say about Clause 4. He said it might put ideas into your Lordships heads and he also said he would pass away from it as rapidly as possible. He found the ice so thin that he immediately skated to safety on firm ground. The attitude now taken by the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, and presumably confirmed by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, is that in spite of all these objections this House should pas s this Bill as it now stands, in respect of the period. That is an example of the position in which the House of Lords finds itself, if I may respectfully say so, owing to its ancient constitution never having been changed. It has no forma I representative character and therefore ca mot take effective action as a second Chamber. You are chary of firing a gun if you know quite well that the recoil will knock you over. Consequently this House is taking. I think most wisely, a very cautious attitude in these matters. So we come, in conclusion, to these two questions: (1), Is the Bill right in its present form? (2) Ought the House to pass it? The answers given by the noble Lords on the Opposition Benches to these two questions are: Is the Bill right? No. Should the House pass it? Yes. With a second Chamber composed as the constitution of this House is composed, it seems to me those are the proper answers.

4.12 p.m.

House adjourned during pleasure.

House resumed.