HL Deb 14 May 1946 vol 141 cc150-9

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly;

(The EARL OF DROGHEDA in the Chair).

Clause 1:

Repeal of 17 & 18 Geo. 5. c. 22 and restoration of law in force before that Act.

1. The Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act, 1927 (in this Act referred to as "the Act of 1927") is hereby repealed, and, subject to the transitional provisions set out in the Schedule to this Act, every enactment and rule of law amended or otherwise affected by that Act shall, as from the commencement of this Act, have effect as if the Act of 1927 had not been passed.

2.35 p.m.

LORD MERTHYR moved, after "is," to insert "with the exception of Section four thereof and the First and Second Schedules thereto." The noble Lord said: I propose to put the arguments on the merits of this Amendment very shortly. I want to put the case in a few words for contracting in, and against contracting out. I want to say very briefly that, in my humble opinion, the practice of contracting out is unfair, is undemocratic, and is reactionary, and that will show why I am asking your Lordships to vote for and pass this Amendment. I submit that it is not right that a political party should benefit from the inertia of a mass of people, many of whom will, admittedly, have no strong views on Party political questions one way or the other, many of whom may be quite undecided as to which way they would vote if and when the time comes for them to vote.

In the Second Reading debate in your Lordships' House the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack said this: The difference between contracting in and contracting out is that you get the benefit of the inertia of those people who will not take the trouble to fill up a form. I disapprove of a political Party getting that benefit. It lays that political Party open to the suspicion—I do not put it any higher than that—that the Bill has been introduced in order to augment Party funds. I am not making any assertion on that point. But there must be that suspicion in the minds of a large number of people in this country. I want to point out that I am not myself saying this in any Party spirit.

It may be asked why I have not taken up this position with regard to other Bills which the Government have introduced into your Lordships' House. The answer is that, broadly speaking, and subject to exceptions, I have not been against those Bills, and that is why I have not taken up this position before. I hope that it will not be thought that I am in any way what is called a "diehard." I consider that this Bill exceptionally is a bad Bill, and that this Amendment ought to be passed to make it a less bad Bill than it is, and it is for those reasons that I venture to intervene this afternoon. Nor am I against trade unions. I am not altogether in favour of all the machinery under which they are governed, but I, for my part, would like to see conditions created under which trade unions should have a compulsory membership, under which it should be lawful for workers to be compelled to join a union as a condition of their employment. But how can you possibly pass any such legislation when you have contracting out, as it is proposed to have, after this Bill is passed? Surely, it would be a condition precedent for such legislation that contracting in should be restored and that the funds of a trade union should not automatically be put to the advantage of any political Party.

I think that that will be a sufficient argument on the merits of this Amendment, and I say that because I know quite well that I shall not succeed in changing the mind of any member of His Majesty's Government here this afternoon. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack said that he would have the Bill and the whole Bill, and I am not so optimistic as to assume that I shall change the minds of any of its supporters. As to the opponents of the Bill—and there are many in your Lordships' House—I need not say any thing more to reinforce their opinions about this Bill. On the merits, therefore, I have said enough. But I have this much more to say: that I am asking your Lordships to vote for this Amendment and I must put forward some reasons why I make that request. I am asking your Lordships to vote for the principle of contracting in and not to abstain from voting.

This Amendment is word for word in the same terms as an Amendment put down by the Liberal Party in another place and pressed to a Division, and I am sufficiently optimistic to assume—or at least I was—that the Liberals in your Lordships' House would rise as one man to support their colleagues in another place. It is because I have apprehensions about it that I must mention this. I suppose that the reason for the difference is that in your Lordships' House there is a serious danger that if they divided on this Amendment they might win. This position, under which one must not have a Division unless one is sure of losing, is not, in my humble opinion, a healthy situation. It is creating a Gilbertian position under which, to quote the words, if I may, of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel: We have this strange paradox: that we are a Second Chamber which has become impotent through possessing too much power.— In saying that I do not like this situation, may I be allowed to add that I represent this afternoon no political Party and no group of members or group of persons at all. Rightly or wrongly, I am doing this upon my own initiative and I do not want anybody else to be implicated against his will. I seek support, but I do not want to drag in anybody who is not willing to give me his support, and I can assure your Lordships that I am not doing it for publicity or notoriety; I am doing it because I think it is right.

I have a very simple proposition to put before your Lordships and it is this: that it is the duty of every member of every legislative body or assembly to vote for a Motion if he thinks it is right and against it if he thinks it is wrong, and to abstain from voting if, and only if, he has no opinion as to the merits of it. That is what I consider the duty of a democratic organization or assembly. The country has the House of Lords which it deserves. It chooses, through its elected representatives in another place, to retain the principle of a second Chamber which is largely manned by the hereditary element. I am not saying that that is wrong, but I am saying that if it so chooses it must accept the consequences of that choice whatever those consequences may be, and I am perfectly aware of the full force of the possible consequences. Until the country chooses to effect a reform, I submit that the functions of your Lordships' House should be allowed to continue as they were intended to continue and, so far as I know, still are intended to continue, and that therefore the members of your Lordships' House should vote upon the merits of the question irrespective of the consequences and not in accordance with popular clamour.

I apprehend that it may possibly be said, or at any rate thought, that your Lordships must pass this Bill and must reject this Amendment because there was at the last General Election a mandate for this Bill. To clear the air, let me admit at once that I think there was a mandate for this Bill. But since when has it been part of the Constitution that the House of Lords must pass a Bill for which there is a popular mandate, or must reject legislation if it goes against the popular mandate? Had the House a mandate for passing the 1927 Act? I was not aware of it, and I am still not aware that such a mandate is necessary. If it is, if there has been a change in the Constitution, may we be told the authority for that change? I ask this with the deepest respect: Is this House really merely an assembly for dotting the i's and crossing the t's and dropping the h's out of Acts of Parliament, or is it something more? Again I say, if a change has been made in the Constitution, let us be told when it was made and what it amounts to.

Obviously no change will be made in the structure of your Lordships' House by the present Government so long as the House passes into law every Bill which the Government introduces. One could not expect it. And may I be allowed to say, at this stage, that before the war I had the greatest respect and the greatest sympathy for the small group of members who formed the Labour Opposition in your Lordships' House. I still have the greatest respect for them, but I have not the same sympathy for them. They do not require the sympathy now, because they can pass through your Lordships' House anything they want to. I hope that the position will be clarified so that we may know whether that is really so. I understand it to be the case that since the last General Election there has been only one Division in your Lordships' House. Again I say I do not think that that is a position with which we ought to be satisfied. I do not think it is a democratic way of governing the country, and I must be allowed personally to express my disapproval and disquiet at this position.

I have asked myself upon many occasions during the past few days whether I should be really right in tabling this Amendment and pressing it to a Division if I could find a Teller to support me—and I frankly confess that up to the moment I cannot do that. The answer, I think, is that it is right. I am doing this because I feel that I, like every other member of your Lordships' House, have a certain responsibility in this matter. We have a responsibility which we cannot avoid by staying away or by sitting in the House and saying nothing. If I go to the other end of the earth and bury myself I am still responsible for the passage into law of this Act and every other Act that is passed, and for the rejection of this Amendment if it is rejected. Your Lordships have an office—you do not need to be told that really. I believe it is the only office in the world which cannot be abdicated or resigned. As we have seen in the papers during the last day or two, even monarchs can abdicate, but not your Lordships. We cannot give up this responsibility however much we desire to do so, and even the humblest member of the House must be allowed to share this responsibility and to feel it, and to feel the difficulty about abdicating it.

I can only add that in moving this Amendment I have no ulterior motive. There is no subtlety about it. I do not wish in any way at all to bring this House into disrepute in the country or elsewhere. I feel uneasy and disturbed about the present situation and I genuinely desire to rectify it. I feel that it is time some of these things were said by somebody. I regret that no one else has got up to say them and that apparently no one else shares this view, but I still feel, rightly or wrongly, that they should be said, and I still hope that I shall receive some support. I beg to move the Amendment which stands in my name.

Amendment moved— Page 1 line 6, after ("is") insert ("with the exception of section four thereof and the First and Second Schedules thereto")—(Lord Merthyr.)


I would like, if I may, immediately to address a word or two to your Lordships on this Amendment. While very diverse views on the merits of this Bill were expressed in the two days debate on its Second Reading, I think there was practical unanimity in all quarters of the House on what was the right and constitutional attitude which this House should adopt towards it. Anyone who has listened to the noble Lord who has just spoken will appreciate the sincerity which has impelled him to speak, but at the same time I think everyone who has considered his Amendment and, still more, anyone who has heard his speech, will agree that this is an Amendment which goes to the whole structure of the Bill and which therefore, as indeed the noble Lord himself has said, raises the whole constitutional position with regard to it. However ill-advised many of us may consider this measure (and I made no concealment, nor did anyone else speaking from this Bench, that I thought this was a bad Bill) yet as my noble and learned friend Viscount Simon said in speaking immediately after the Lord Chancellor, the Government can fairly contend that they have constantly advocated the repeal of the 1927 Act, and, having been returned to power after an Election in which this was indeed an issue, have something in the nature of a mandate to pass the Bill.

In moving this Amendment the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, did not in any way challenge that; indeed he said in terms "I admit that the Government have got a perfectly clear mandate from the country to propose this Bill to Parliament." He then went on to express a view of the functions of a second Chamber which I think few members in any quarter of the House could accept. Although we have no written constitution, I will say that not only is it not a wise view to express of the functions of a second Chamber in this century, but it is certainly not the constitutional view to take of the functions of this Chamber.

The fact that there is a mandate for this Bill does not relieve this House, as was well said on the Second Reading, of its right and its duty to debate the Bill thoroughly. Indeed the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, himself said "I should like to join the noble Viscount who has just spoken" that was myself—" in his tribute to the value and character of this debate. I agree with him that it is fully worthy of the traditions that this House has established and maintained". If I may say so with respect, I think that in the two days' debate on the Second Reading your Lordships discharged what was your constitutional right and duty in an exemplary manner, but I submit to your Lordships that it is equally clear—indeed it follows from the views expressed in the earlier debate, even by the Bill's sternest critics—that we should be exceeding our proper constitutional functions if we amended this Bill in a manner which struck at its fundamental provisions. I think that by its history, its structure and its provisions this Bill necessarily stands or falls as a whole.

Perhaps I may be permitted to repeat what I said on the Second Reading, because I know that in what I said then I was expressing the view of everybody on these Benches and, I think, the view held very generally in the House. I think the Government have got authority to do this thing if they think it right to take the responsibility for doing it. I go further, and say that this Bill, which is either a good Bill or a bad Bill, is not a Bill which is susceptible of amendment, unless it were desired—and that would be the responsibility of the Government—to produce the kind of amendment to Clause 1 which would substitute for the uncertainty that is going to be created a new certainty. But, as I say, I do not think that this Bill is really susceptible of amendment in this House. I know I speak on both these points for all my colleagues on these Benches, and that is why I think it is so important that we should consider this Bill fully on the Second Reading". I would only add that when I made that speech I had not only had the opportunity of a great deal of consultation with all my colleagues on this side who were here, but I had also—and I am sure the House would wish to know this—had the benefit of discussing it very fully with the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, who we all regret is as yet unable to take his place as the Leader of the Opposition, but who, I hope, will be here after Whitsuntide. He has asked me to say that he most fully concurs in the advice which others and I ventured to tender to the House. Those views are, I know, shared by the great majority on tins side of the House and I therefore commend this course with confidence to your Lordships.


As the noble Lord who moved this Amendment mentioned at the outset of his observations, its terms are identical with those which were moved in an Amendment in another place by the small Liberal Party there, an Amendment which was pressed by them to a Division. In the observations that I myself made on the Second Reading of this Bill, I referred to that fact and expressed the view that while I believed all or most of my noble friends here would share the same opinion, the constitutional position of this House was such that a second consideration had to be taken into account, and that on all such measures we had to think of two things, first, the merits of the particular proposal, and, secondly, whether it was desirable for this House to push àoutrance their own views as against those of the popularly elected Chamber. The noble Lord who moved this Amendment holds the view which was expressed by Lord Milner in your Lordships' House on a famous occasion when it was a question of rejecting the Budget of 1909, that we should do what is right and damn the consequences. As in that case, so in this. In all probability the consequences would be, in Shakespeare's words, "most damnable." It would immediately give rise to a constitutional crisis, bringing into the very forefront of our politics an issue which no Party at this moment desires to embark upon, and in general would be contrary to the national interest.

We have to consider not only whether this particular proposal is right, but whether it would be desirable to press it; and while we may agree that the Amendment in itself would be desirable, the consequences which would follow from pressing it would be exceedingly undesirable. The noble Lord, whose sincerity and devotion to principle we would all of us recognize, would seem to be, however, a questionable guide on this particular issue, for he has said himself that he favoured compulsory membership by the working classes of trade unions; that an Act of Parliament should be passed putting upon every working man the obligation of becoming a member of a trade union, and apparently, making himself liable to penalties if he did not do so. He did not say whether, in this matter, there would be even a conscience clause at all; and why he should object to the proposals in this Bill, as many of us do, when in another matter he would be prepared to go very much further in the infringement of individual liberty I cannot quite understand. On the issue he raises I trust my noble friends on these Benches will not support this Amendment on this occasion, and I hope that on consideration the noble Lord will revise his estimate of the comparative value of valour and discretion.


(LORD JOWITT): I ought to say something, if only out of courtesy to the noble Lord. I do not propose to argue again the merits which were gone into very fully on the Second Reading of the Bill. It is the right, nay, the duty of your Lordships' House to investigate this Bill, as all other Bills, with most careful scrutiny. I would, as a comparative new-comer to your Lordships' House, like to say this. I think it is a bad policy to estimate the value of your Lordships' House by the number of Divisions we have. We have had a very large number of discussions on all sorts of matters, and we always say that a discussion has been a most valuable one. Allowing for the usual trade discount, there can be no doubt at all that a very large number of these discussions have been of the utmost value, though they have not been followed by Divisions.

Might I just let the noble Lord into a secret of mine? I have, as Lord Chancellor, on very many occasions accepted amendments which have been pressed upon me by noble Lords opposite, and sometimes, I do not mind telling him, I have had the utmost difficulty with my colleagues in the Government to account for my conduct. But I have always tried to give way, if I can do so, to an argument which convinces me, as a matter of logic, that it is right and sound, and that, surely, is the main function of a second and revising Chamber. I very much hope that the noble Lord on consideration, not of my observations, but of the more weighty observations which have been made already, will think again and not seek to press this matter to a Division.


I have very little to add. I should like to say this, that I am a little bewildered by the suggestion—it is no doubt entirely my fault—that it is right for a Party in another place, and I am not now referring only to the Liberal Party, to seek to tear this Bill to pieces by moving amendments clause by clause and dividing on each one, but wrong in your Lordships' House to do the same thing or in any way approach it. I am a little bewildered but that, no doubt, is my fault. With regard to the question of compulsory membership which was taken up by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, I would just like to say that I did emphasize when making that suggestion that the conditions must first be created, and satisfactory and fair conditions, before any such proposition could be put into force I would like to emphasize that.

I do not propose to go any further with regard to the constitutional point, but it is, of course, of vital importance, and I would like to suggest that if there has been a change, even a gradual and slow change, in the constitutional status of your Lordships' House, perhaps we could usefully hear somewhat more about it on a proper occasion. The only other point I have to decide is whether to divide on this Amendment. I frankly say that I would have liked to divide if I could have found any support at all. I equally frankly say that I have found no support, not even anybody to act as a teller, and in those circumstances it would be in no way right for me to cause your Lordships to go to all the trouble of going through the Lobbies, even those who would do so, and would not abstain. Therefore, with your Lordships' consent, and with apologies for detaining the Committee, I beg leave to withdraw this Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Remaining clause agreed to.

3.8 p.m.