§ The King's Speech reported by the LORD CHANCELLOR.
§ 2.46 p.m.
§ LORD DUKESTON
My Lords, I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty as followeth—
"Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."
I feel it is a great honour to be asked to move this Resolution. I understand that, by long custom, one is expected to be as little controversial as possible in discharging that duty, and in the light of existing circumstances, the times in which we are living and the problems which confront your Lordships' House, I will do my best 6 to conform to that custom. But I confess that there are many difficulties in the way of preserving that attitude.
I want to deal for a few moments with what I regard as the most important item in the gracious Speech read from the Throne by His Majesty. In the third paragraph it is stated:The first aim of my Ministers will be to redress the adverse balance of payments particularly by expanding exports. This will demand increased production and the sale abroad of a larger share of output.I understand that our adverse balance at the present time is somewhere in the neighbourhood of £450,000,000. Unless we can so increase production as to bridge that gap, then, quite obviously, we are heading for insolvency. It is good that Parliament and, I hope, the people generally, are placing that problem in the forefront of their minds. I am pleased to read in the Press that plans have already been drawn, that they have been jointly considered by representatives of industry and that the industries will know, either now or in a very short time, what is really expected of them.
We are little more than two years beyond the end of the war. We have talked a great deal about planning. The impression created on my mind has been that planning at the highest possible level has been considered and proceeded with but does not appear to have percolated down to the levels working it out in practice where alone that planning can become effective. I believe what is needed in this country at the present moment is that everyone should play his part in arousing the nation to a greater effort and the will to expand production. I find it a little difficult to believe that it is impossible to bridge that gap by methods of production and that we must resort, as I have heard suggested in certain quarters, to the imposition of further restraints and economies in our already low standard of life by withdrawing subsidies or in some such way. I believe that is a profound mistake. I cannot accept the view that it is impossible to secure the 8 to 10 per cent. overall increase of production to bridge the adverse balance, which is the greatest task before the country at the present moment.
We have heard a lot about rising spirals, wages chasing prices, and so on. My fear is lest we should get into a descending spiral and should apply economies in a way that would tend to 7 destroy the will to greater effort in the field of production. I care not how well the plans may be drawn at the top; if we go into this matter half-heartedly we shall not succeed. Everyone engaged in industry must face this crisis with a realization that, just as in the war we fought to protect life and property, today we are fighting to restore the economy of our country and to retain our place in the world as one of the leading industrial nations. That, to me, is the problem of statesmanship; it is the problem of leadership, and particularly of leadership in industry. No matter how cleverly we may draft our measures, Acts of Parliament do not dig coal or puddle iron or build houses. The will has got to be created at the lowest possible level, otherwise I fear that in the obligation which now confronts us there will be a tendency to effect the balance of our overseas payments by making inroads in directions which are likely to prove a deterrent to greater productivity.
I have heard it said that in this attempt to increase exports, we might have to consider even the export of capital plant and equipment. I hope that will be approached with the greatest possible caution. We may get through this crisis, this monetary crisis, or dollar crisis, by all kinds of economies, and we may, under the great pressure now placed upon us to accomplish that objective, so affect our capital plant and equipment that when we do emerge we shall find ourselves in a competitive world where we are very seriously handicapped in the fight to maintain our status as a great industrial nation. Therefore I place the greatest possible emphasis upon securing this balance by placing squarely on the shoulders of industry the obligation to give effect to plans and by creating the opinion throughout industry that these plans are not to be taken merely as orders, merely as something to be fulfilled and then for further instructions to be awaited. Industry cannot be run that way. Let us tell industry what we expect and then seek to establish that form of co-operation, leaving industry to exercise its initiative and will. Providing industry conforms to overall planning, the less interference there is from outside the better the possibility of results.
I want now to come to another great difficulty inherent in the existing circumstances of the partial dispersal of our 8 man-power and the transference of industrial activity from the less essential industries to those whose products are at the moment in greatest demand, and in demand particularly with an eye to establishing the balance of our overseas trade. We know that on both sides of industry the Control of Engagement Order has been accepted. The Order means, in effect, that employment of persons so displaced will be sanctioned only by the authorities at the employment exchanges operating under instructions as to the industries to which labour shall be directed. That may sound very simple, but we have to look at our industries as a growth over a century and a half, very largely devoid of planning, and we may find that some unessential industries are so located as to involve the transference of labour. That, again, is not a very simple thing to accomplish in existing circumstances. We know the housing difficulties, for example, and we know that if there is a pattern at all in the country it is one that during the war was built very largely upon the flight of the secondary industries away from the localities where the primary industries grew up. So in your great coal belts, in your great textile areas, and in fact wherever there are primary basic industries, you find in the main a lack of the secondary industries to balance the basic industries of the country. I hope that this matter will be handled with great care, and that we shall know where labour is to be placed not after but before the date of the transference becomes operative. We must have an eye on the handling of this very great and intricate problem, and appreciate the probable effects upon the domestic lives of the people concerned.
It is stated that labour controls and direction have been reimposed. I am sure we all regret the necessity for that having to be done. In a democratic country the one thing that we would avoid, and, notwithstanding our knowledge of the economic difficulties as they have existed, we have in fact tried to avoid, is the necessity of registration and direction. But one is bound to confess that appeals to those people who contribute very little towards the economic well-being of the country apparently have no effect. They may be greater in number than I believe; it is exceedingly difficult to say. It does mean, in my opinion, that one may do a 9 great injustice unless some form of registration is undertaken so that we shall know where these people are who apparently get their living—and a very good living—at distances considerably detached from any real production. I think they have got to be brought in if only to appease the minds of those upon whose back we have placed the heaviest burden—there I make no single exception, and in the main it applies to the basic industries of the country—and to assure them that, whilst we are using every possible pressure to ensure maximum production, we are also not allowing young, virile people capable of making a valuable contribution in the present crisis to obtain their livelihood by means and methods which contribute nothing towards the general well-being of the country.
As one who has spent the major portion of his life in industry, I know that to-day there exists a greater measure of good will, and certainly fax more machinery of consultation, than ever existed before. I think it would do no harm to say in your Lordships' House how much we appreciate the approach that has been made to this problem. Particularly in the postwar years we have achieved a measure of consultation over a wide field of industry, with regard to which we had the greatest possible difficulty at the end of the First World War. I played some part in the struggle for what were then termed "managerial functions." I think we have outgrown that to-day. I believe that the enlightened business people of our country, and employers in general, have come to understand that men who invest their lives in industry, equally with those who invest their money, claim as a right some influence in moulding the policy of the industry.
I note with a considerable degree of pleasure that it is intended to nationalize the gas industry. For my own part, I could have wished that that had been done at an earlier date. I am convinced that we shall not secure the fuel economy which is necessary until these three industries of hard and soft fuels, electrical generation and gas production have been co-ordinated; until overlapping has been cut out, and a policy built upon the idea that those three industries provide not competitive but complementary services. Not until the fuel power policy has been 10 completed shall we know the benefits which will accrue from that general policy.
It is also with considerable pleasure that I read of the intention to design and promote the expansion of production of all kinds within the Empire. I have just returned from Canada. It was not my first visit, and I am not speaking with the first flush of enthusiasm of one who has only seen the country once. There, amongst all sections of the community—and I think I covered a very wide range, social groups, trade union conventions, conferences, and so on—I found that the good will towards the Mother Country was almost embarrassing. They put one question: How can we help? I know that that charitable expression is mainly in the direction of helping by personal contributions of food, and so on, and in that direction they are doing wonderful work. But the business men to whom I spoke said this: "We want British goods because we know their quality, and providing they can be secured at the right price, commensurate with our population there is no greater market for British quality products." As I took my good wife with me I had to visit a few stores, and there one experienced some degree of aggravation. If you turned up a carpet that you would have been glad to have in your own house, or looked at a cup and saucer—indeed, whatever it was, if it was a quality product—there was the stamp: "Made in Great Britain." And that, of course, is a symbol which one can appreciate even in such circumstances.
I think we ought also to make some reference to that very generous gesture which has been made recently in South Africa. That is the kind of tiling which make the phraseology a reality when we refer to the Mother Country and the Empire. The same applies to Australia and New Zealand. Sometimes I wonder whether we are pushing the light button. It seems to me that there is a fund of good will and a desire to work together and help each other which so far we have not made the most of, and I sincerely hope that it is the intention, as outlined in the gracious Speech from the Throne, that some special measures will be undertaken to get the Empire representatives together to see whether some greater contribution, some brighter prospect of a greater co-ordination of 11 Empire interests, cannot be built up. I am sure that that is not only the mind of the Dominions and the rest of the Empire, but also that of our people at home.
I conclude by saying that we are all painfully aware that we have reached a period in our history in which we have to create something in the nature of a great revival in order to persuade our people that we can no longer get out of this rut by one group believing that they can win some advantage to themselves whilst other people mark time. It really cannot be done in that way. The bedrock of our economic system is such that the moment you move with one Section 1ts influence upon other groups is automatic. Let us say to our people frankly and courageously: "The choice before the country to-day is between an increased effort to secure a 10 per cent. increase in our production and the prospect of a lowering of the standard of life of our people." If it is put to them straightforwardly in that manner I have every confidence that the workpeople, the employers and all other sections of the community will rise to a sense of their responsibility and that we shall win through this crisis to emerge a better nation for the experience through which we have passed. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty as followeth—
§ "Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."—(Lord Dukeston.)
§ 3.15 p.m.
§ LORD QUIBELL
My Lords, I beg leave to second the Motion which has been so ably moved by my noble friend, and in doing so I too feel conscious of the honour that has been done me in being privileged to second the Motion to-day. May I say first of all that I am very pleased at the reference in paragraph 2 in the gracious Speech. Paragraph 2 says:—I am confident that in these times of hardship My people will demonstrate once again to the world their qualities of resolu- 12 tion and energy. With sustained effort this nation will continue to play its full part in leading the world back to prosperity and freedom.One of the most important points in the gracious Speech is contained in paragraphs 4, 5 and 6, which refer principally to agriculture. I am myself pleased—as I have no doubt your Lordships are pleased—that so far as the Government are concerned they have decided to ask this great industry to make a still greater contribution in order to earn dollars for this country. I believe, as I know many of your Lordships believe, that great as has been the contribution that agriculture has made to this country in the past, it has never had so great a contribution to make, and has never been called upon to make so great a contribution in peace time as it is called upon to make now. I am perfectly certain that those engaged in the industry will respond, but they can only do so if we provide the tools to enable them to do the job.
Now where are they? In the past housing has been sadly neglected. During the last two years priorities have been given in certain instances for housing. But what has happened? In the main, the rural councils have so far failed, except in very few cases, to give priority to agricultural labourers. Difficult though it is in rural England to find proper accommodation for agricultural labourers and recruits in this great industry, it is going to be infinitely more difficult to solve this great problem in six or eight months' time, when the German prisoners of war, who have been doing good work on our land in recent months, go back in accelerated numbers.
I am fully aware that the circumstances in which we live are very grave. There are very few of us who do not realize that. We know perfectly well that in some cases great savings have to be made in capital expenditure. But if we are to succeed in fulfilling the policy laid down in the gracious Speech, we cannot afford to economize in the amount of money to be spent in rehousing our people in the countryside. Indeed, we must accelerate housing, even at the expense of some of the larger schemes in some of the industrial cities and towns of this country. Whatever you may say about mechanization—and we want mechanization there—the human element still counts, and 13 always will count, in this great basic industry of agriculture.
I do not know whether my noble friend who has just moved this Motion is present at my "trial," but that at any rate he will be present somewhere in the Court, I have no doubt. This policy of putting price levels into agricultural products was one which was accepted by scarcely anyone. What we are aiming at, as announced by the Minister himself, is to put a higher price level on to wheat, so encouraging and increasing the wheat acreage, by giving a better price, encouraging an increase in the growth of barley, and thereby encouraging the farmer to grow wheat and barley. We aim at developing this industry by laying down the principle that 20 per cent. of the increase in these two vital products shall be left with the farmers themselves, in order that they may build up the pig population and build up feeding stuffs for the other cattle. I was never able to understand the attitude of mind in the past. It reminds me of a man who has a garden but does not grow anything in it; instead, he sends his wife to buy at the greengrocer's shop the cabbages and potatoes he could have produced at his own back door. In the same manner we neglected British agriculture because we could buy cheap food from other countries. I believe myself that the day when we can do that has gone. I hope that so far as the future is concerned the policy now announced will give encouragement to the agricultural community. They will reach their target if only we will give them the tools and allow them to do the job.
As a countryman I am pleased that it is proposed to introduce a Bill to try to clean up the beautiful streams and little rivers of this country, some of which are at present a disgrace. I sat in Committee on a Bill in the other place some time ago, when we delivered speeches congratulating the Minister on passing a Bill through the House, almost without any opposition, providing for steps to be taken to clean up these streams and rivers and in many cases providing for the cattle a water supply fit to drink. The worst feature of this matter, I am sorry to say, is that the people who have the responsibility for cleaning up the streams and rivers and administering this Act—the local authorities themselves—have been the greatest sinners in polluting them. I 14 am delighted that in the gracious Speech the Government have indicated that they intend to pass a Bill to provide for the prevention of this pollution.
There is another proposal in the gracious Speech that will give pleasure to those of us who have had any experience of public life and administration on local authorities, and that is an amendment of the machinery for rating and valuation. During the course of a fairly long experience—it is nearly forty years since I first served on a local authority—I have come to realize that if there is anything that really does need reform it is the present system of rating. I can picture two men working in the same industry, having the same family responsibilities; one of them likes to go to the dogs (in more senses than one), to spend his money as he goes along, and to enjoy it to the full. His neighbour is a man who thinks that he would like to do seme-thing for his family; perhaps to put a bathroom, and perhaps an additional bedroom, in his house and make his home a real home for his family. Perhaps he has saved his money all his life in order to be able to do so. What happens? A man comes over when he has put in his bathroom and bedroom and says, "Jones, what have you been doing here?" Jones answers: "I have put in a bathroom and a bedroom for my family and I have been saving my money for twenty years to do it." "My word," says the official, "if only you had spent your money on going to the dogs or the pictures or racing or gambling or whatever it is, I should not have had to come here to see you. I am required by the local authority to impose a perpetual fine of £2 a year on you for what you have done." That is precisely what operates in the rating system to-day. I could mention other instances. I remember a man who built four houses, and the overseers came along to look at them. All the houses looked exactly alike, but one of the overseers noticed that one of the houses had a letter box on the door. He said "This is a different type of house." Such was the system that the rateable value of that house was increased £1 because there was a fifteen-penny letter box on the door! I think there should be a revaluation.
There are other kinds of cases. There is the case of the man who goes to live five miles out of a town and enjoys all 15 the services provided. There should be an amendment of rating so that such a man pays for the services he enjoys. I hope that the proposals will end some of the anomalies, dozens of which I could mention. Some agricultural labourers pay more in drainage and land rates than some of the people living in the bigger houses in some of the agricultural districts of this country.
Another proposal in this gracious Speech that appeals to us, I think, is the abolition of the Poor Law as we know it. I myself have always thought this should be done. Many times I have spoken rather harshly to relieving officers. As regards the relief they gave when I was a boy, an old man came round and gave us half-a-crown each; he did not give us less because it was not possible. How much is given depends where you go; it depends on the type of man and also on the type of authority that he is serving. If he is serving some of the authorities that I know, they look upon him as being a wonderfully efficient man if he can deprive anybody whom he goes to relieve. Every one of us will be pleased to see recognition of the fact that the present system is dead and gone, and this realization is embodied in the new system that the Government have spoken of in the gracious Speech.
Reference has also been made in the gracious Speech to the Paris Conference and to the United Nations. I really hope that something good comes out of these conferences. I have attended so many in my life, and we have had so many since the war, that one has almost got mixed up with the number of conferences of one kind and another that have been held; and yet we have not got very far with things up to now. I wonder why it is. I cannot quite understand why, though the whole of Europe is being bled almost white, yet at the present time there seems as little confidence between one nation and another as there was before this last great conflict took place. I sometimes wonder whether the only thing that will put this world right is illustrated well in a little story to which I hope the right reverend Prelate will listen for a moment. It concerns a couple who had a mischievous little boy. The mother had enough of him in the day time, so, when father came home at night, she thought she would go 16 to the pictures and leave little Willie with his father, so that he should know the kind of boy he was. She left him at home, and the boy kept saying, "Dad this" and "Dad that." The father said to himself: "I am fed up with him," and he looked over to the window. He saw in the window a map of the world. He took this map of the world, tore it into almost a thousand pieces, and threw it on the floor. "Now, piece that together, Billy" he said. It seemed to be only about ten minutes before Willie said, "I've done it, dad." "Oh," said the father: "that lad again!" He said to the boy: "However have you done that?" "Well, dad," said the boy, "there is a map of the world on one side but there is a photo of a man on the other side, and I knew that if I had the man right I should have the world right." How true that really is! In 1910 I was one of Philip Snowden's colleagues, addressing meetings in this country—anti-militarist meetings in 1910. I have always profoundly believed that war was the enemy of mankind, and that unless society itself destroys war, then war itself will destroy society, and all that our present civilization stands for.
Yet here we are, faced with the position that we have to-day. Some people say it is because human nature is so bad. Human nature is not bad. It is only bad when you appeal to the selfishness, if you like to the mercenary instincts of a man, bargaining with him. There are occasions when that selfishness disappears—as, for example, when he goes down a mine, or when there is life to save at sea. If only we can harness that wonderful spirit which he then displays to this Conference in Paris, and with our other neighbours in Europe, if we can harness that good will that is shown at the bottom of a mine where you can see the best of human nature, if we can harness that spirit and have a different world and a different Europe, I believe that human nature will not break down. If it does, the foundations upon which the Christian religion is built—and Christianity itself—must fail, as must my ideal of Socialism. But human nature will not break down, for the faith upon which it is founded is the faith that has been founded upon a rock. I believe that under healthier and happier conditions humanity may rise to heights undreamed of now. The most exquisite Utopias that have been pictured by our 17 poets and our idealists will to our children seem but dim and broken lights compared with that great day. All that we need is strength and courage, prudence and faith—faith, above all, which dares to believe that justice and love are not impossible and that more than the best that men can dream of shall one day be realized by men. I beg to second the Motion.
§ 3.37 p.m.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, before I proceed to discuss the humble Address in answer to the gracious Speech from the Throne, I should like, if I may, to pay a tribute to the notable and eloquent way in which the proposer and the seconder have performed their task. It is never an easy task, especially in the days of Party Government. They have to be, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Dukeston, himself said, so far as possible non-controversial on extremely controversial subjects. I thought, and I am sure that all your Lordships will agree, that they both of them acquitted themselves extremely well, though I noticed that they both of them assiduously avoided the largest fence.
The noble Lord, Lord Dukeston, is a comparative newcomer to this House, but he has already made a name for himself by his sincere and thoughtful speeches. The speech to which we have listened this afternoon was certainly no exception to that rale. He knows industrial labour, I suppose, as well as anybody in this country, and he will always be listened to here. I should like to congratulate him. I thought he made a very good job of what was inevitably a difficult task, and I know how much we shall look forward to further contributions from him.
I should like also to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Quibell, who has seconded the Address and who has just sat down. Lord Quibell is already becoming a very old friend to noble Lords in all parts of the House. He is the kind of Englishman, if I may say so with all deference to him, whom we all admire—bluff, forthright and independent-minded. Indeed, I often wonder how he ever got into the Party to which he belongs! I have wondered even more, as I have listened to his speeches, why he stays there or why they keep him! Sometimes I have almost seemed to feel, I might say, his astral body sitting by my side. To-day, 18 on the whole, I thought the noble Lord was on his good behaviour, and I should think his colleagues must have heaved a sigh of relief at getting off so easily, though, even so, they must have had some anxious moments. At any rate, there is one thing of which I am quite sure, and that is that noble Lords in all parts of the House enjoyed every minute of his speech, and I should like to congratulate him on adding to the already considerable reputation that he enjoys here.
Now, my Lords, I would like to turn to the business of the day, to the gracious Speech, and I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I detain thorn for rather longer than I usually do. The canvas is a rather large one and there is a great deal to be said, especially on this particular occasion. As your Lordships know, the debate on the Address fulfils a most valuable function in the Parliamentary year. It provides an opportunity both for a review of the events of the past and for examining the proposals of the Government as to the future, and it gives to Parliament a chance to survey the national scene as a whole, in a way that is not possible at any other time; and this year I suggest that such a survey is more than ever desirable. It is now just over two years since the present Government came into power. At that time, your Lordships will remember—and it is not unnatural—a note of great optimism was sounded by the spokesmen of the Labour Party. Not only was the war over, but, for the first time in British history, a Socialist Government had been returned to power by a great majority. Things had been said at the General Election which must, I am afraid, make rather painful reading to noble Lords opposite, if they can steel their courage to face the past.
I would like to give one or two quotations, because we are bound to forget these things. There was a speech by Mr. Greenwood, whom we had hoped to see in this House: unfortunately, that has been postponed, although I hope we shall one day see him with us. He said at that time:You want a home. Tories are making promises. Labour will do the job. It did it in the past.Then there is Sir Stafford Cripps, who now occupies almost the most important position in the Government. He said: 19Nationalization after the war will ensure that goods are available at 'decent prices' for everybody.He also said on another occasion:The Labour Party does not propose to infringe on liberties for which we have been fighting for the last fifty years.The mover and the seconder of the Address were discreetly silent on all these questions: but, in fact, where are those homes, where are those goods and where are those liberties?
Most of us in this House, I must confess, were always rather sceptical about those rosy prognostications, even at that time. Your Lordships are a very old and experienced body, and we do not believe in panaceas for human ills. They tend to be in the nature of those "quack" remedies, the contents of which hardly ever live up to the promises on the outside of the box. We had no reason to suppose that this panacea was any different from the others. It had not succeeded in other countries where it had been tried, and we deeply regretted that it should be tried here. We felt that the Government would have been much wiser to eschew ideological changes, and to concentrate on stimulating individual initiative, and on helping traders and industrialists to help themselves, with a view to expanding the volume of production which, as the noble Lord, Lord Dukeston, himself emphasized, is far the most important thing at the present time. Indeed I agreed, and I expect everybody on this side of the House agreed, with almost everything that the noble Lord said in that portion of his speech. But we were quite prepared, and I think the Government will give us credit for this, to give them a fair chance to try out their ideas. I said in the debate on the Address when Parliament met first, after the Election—the House will forgive me for quoting my own words:The Labour Party have pledged themselves to these measures. We believe them to be economically and politically unsound… How are we to prove to the British people that our philosophy and not the Socialist philosophy is right? I do not believe it is to be done by attempting to prevent a fair trial of the Labour proposals. I believe it is to be done only by allowing a fair trial of them to be made. No one can say that the opportunity does not exist for such a trial. The Labour Party are in power … Let them show what they can do".20 I think that was a very fair interpretation of the views of noble Lords on this side of the House and, I have no doubt, on the Liberal Benches at that time.
They have been in power for two years. They have had their chance. They have made the most of it and they certainly entered on their task of socializing the country with very commendable enthusiasm. They have introduced an unrivalled volume of legislation. They have driven it through the House of Commons by every device known to Parliamentary procedure. They have used the guillotine and the closure to an extent never employed before. Indeed, such was the missionary zeal of the Socialist majority and such was their confidence in the omniscience of their Ministers that they hardly found it necessary to discuss large parts of the Bills at all. Nor, my Lords, were those Bills held up in your Lordships' House. It is true that we have tried desperately to amend Bills to improve them and make them more workable, but we have never tried to obstruct; and I am sure that noble Lords opposite will agree and will give us credit for the fact that we have entirely played the game in this respect. That, I think, is borne out by the tributes that we have had from the responsible Ministers themselves.
As a result the country has at last had the chance of experiencing the blessings of Socialism as applied in practice. The Bank of England has been nationalized, the coal industry has been nationalized, the civil aviation industry has been nationalized, road and rail transport have been nationalized, controls have been put on almost everything, and things that are not yet controlled are rapidly being brought under control. A vast army of State servants has been enlisted, capital has been directed, and now labour is to be directed, and, so far as I could make out from Lord Dukeston's speech, is shortly to be conscripted. Therefore, from the point of view of the good honest Socialist things ought to be going swimmingly. If we are not in heaven itself we ought to be at least at the gates. At any rate there ought to be a new spirit of optimism and prosperity apparent throughout the country. And yet, surprisingly enough, what do we find? To this I am sure that noble Lords opposite will be bound to agree. This 21 country has never been more depressed, it has never been more disillusioned, it has never been more frustrated than it is today. The outlook has never been bleaker.
It is perfectly true—and they can quite fairly claim for this—that money wages have risen throughout the country. But these wages are very largely valueless, for, after all, the only value of wages is to enable one to increase the comforts and amenities of life, and these things are almost unobtainable and are getting scarcer with every morning that passes. And we have been warned by Ministers that they will get even scarcer. When they can be found, they can too often be bought only with official licences, and those licences are almost impossible to get, so how can the ordinary citizen buy what he wants? He can only buy what he is given. That variety which was the great delight and merit of free enterprise has entirely gone. And inflation, the danger of which only a few months ago the Chancellor of the Exchequer said was happily past, is already an accomplished fact. Taxation is at a fantastic height and it shows no signs of any reduction; and every morning the discouraged citizens when they open their paper read new statements by Ministers, each more gloomy than the last.
Now, my Lords, what is the conclusion that the ordinary man must draw from these events? It is this: that however good the intentions may be—and I fully grant that the Government and their supporters have very good intentions—the result of Socialist theory as applied in practice is, or at any rate in our experience it has been, that everybody gets a little less of everything, from liberty to the smallest necessities and amenities of life. And what they can get they only get with the greatest difficulty, partially, at any rate, through over-elaboration of the State machine. I believe that I speak not only for a great many Conservatives but also for many people who used to be called at the last election "doubtfuls," but who are becoming perhaps rather less doubtful than they were—when I say that it is really impossible to run a great country on that basis. The complication and expense, the demands on man-power are too great. It is officialdom run mad. Noble Lords opposite will forgive me if I speak with some bitterness, but I feel that it is a tragic 22 sight to see one's country brought so low by the activities and nostrums of political doctrinaires.
Nor is the performance of the Government in the wider sphere of international affairs very much happier. At the end of the war, I suppose, the name of Britain stood higher than it has ever stood before in our history. Other countries had seen our great and lonely fight against such a World Power as had never been known before. They had seen our exhibition of endurance and our ultimate victory. But what is our position now? We are on very poor terms with Russia, with whom we were told at the Election a Labour Government alone could establish close and cordial relations. If noble Lords opposite want me to do so I can give them relevant quotations for statements to this effect made by several very distinguished members of the Government. We seem bent on discouraging our best friends in the United States. By a really remarkable stroke of foreign policy, we have managed to antagonize both the Jews and the Arabs in the Middle East. We have abandoned India, which had enjoyed nearly 100 years of peace under British administration, prematurely, with the result that there has been bloodshed on a vast scale. We are retiring, as the Paymaster-General said the other day—with, I thought, obvious satisfaction—"all along the line." Both at home and abroad there has been a deplorable deterioration in our position in the past two years.
I know that we shall be told by Government spokesmen that this is not all their fault, that it is the result of world conditions; and of course there is a very great measure of truth in this. The world is undoubtedly out of joint. The elaborate machinery for the exchange of goods has been thrown completely out of gear by the shocks of war. I do not want to argue unfairly in that respect. Any Government that had been in power during this period, I do not care of what Party, would have had a difficult and delicate task in redressing the balance. But surely that is all the more reason for not causing further dislocation by gratuitous experiments in the domestic field. No one could have expected this Government to abandon their Socialist principles. No one expected it or desired them to do so if they sincerely held those principles. But surely the only 23 wise course would have been to exercise some discretion in applying them. That, as your Lordships know, was the course that was adopted by the Socialist Government in Belgium; and Belgium to-day, after four years of enemy occupation, is in a far happier situation now and is—at least this is what people who have been there tell me—rapidly approaching normal. That was the course adopted by Holland and other Western European countries. Any visitor to those countries, certainly any visitor to Holland and Belgium—that is anyone who can get permission to visit them and the means to do so, which is not quite so easy at the present time—will tell you that the spirit in those countries is entirely different from what it is in this country.
And now we are experiencing the inevitable fruits of this sincere but mistaken and reckless policy. The Government have largely taken the control of the delicate business of trading out of the hands of those who were accustomed to operate it. They have removed the natural incentives from the private employers, and therefore they have to take over more and more the direction of their efforts. They have removed natural incentives from the workmen, what was called by the Economist the carrot or the stick, and now they have to direct labour. Ministers are becoming—and this applies both to the nationalized and unnationalized industries—the real arbiters of industrial policy. It is a task for which they are not in the least fitted. They have neither the training nor the experience. In short, no doubt with the best will in the world, the Government have over-estimated their capacity. As I think the Prime Minister himself suggested in a recent speech, they have tried to do too much in too short a time. As a result, the country is in the position of a man who has had a serious illness and has not waited for the healing process of convalescence but has rushed immediately into strenuous work. Of course, as we all know, such a man is likely to overstrain his powers and have a serious relapse. That is exactly what has happened to us. The burden put upon the State machine has been too great. That vast machine which the Government have created is tottering and almost collapsing under its own weight.
24 Nor indeed—and I say this with great deference in the presence of Lord Duke-ston—in practice is the Socialist State quite master in its own house. If it has a plan it cannot impose it. Behind the Government stand, as we all know, the great trade unions who impose their will on it. I said this a year and a half ago and it was denied hotly at that time by the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, the Leader of the House. But it has proved to be more and more true since then that the unions do impose their will. And many of the leaders of those trade unions are not—I do not say it is true of all of them, of course—actuated either by business principles or by a broad national outlook. They are mainly concerned—it is quite natural, for that is their function—to serve the interests of the particular section of the community which they represent. That, it is clear from their speeches, is the outlook of such men as Mr. Horner or even Mr. Shinwell. They regard themselves—certainly Mr. Horner regards himself—as the representative of the miners and he thinks of nothing but the interests of the miners. Very likely he mistakes the interests of the miners—but at any rate he does not attempt to take a wider view.
I think that there is definite evidence that the Government are beginning to realize the dangers of the situation into which they may have stumbled. They are becoming conscious that they have moved too fast, and they are making considerable efforts to slow down the pace. In the gracious Speech to which we listened this morning there was far less talk of Socialism and far more talk of production. If that had been the tone of the gracious Speech three years ago, our situation might be very different to-day. Indeed, if I may say so, in many ways—with one rather startling exception, to which I intend to advert in a few minutes—I do not think that the gracious Speech this year is nearly so harmful as its predecessors during the two previous years. For one thing, there is not the same tumultuous spate of legislation and the legislation mentioned is not quite so far-reaching. For instance, I notice that the iron and steel industry is not to be nationalized this year, as had been foreshadowed in some quarters. I do not want to sound a paean of triumph over this. I recognize that praise by the Opposition is not an 25 unmixed blessing for any Government and if, for once, they have done the right thing I do not want unnecessarily to embarrass them. Moreover I quite appreciate that if they have decided to postpone this—we have it on the authority of the Minister of Health that it is only postponed—it is not because they are weakening in their enthusiasm for Socialism. I wish I could believe that. It is only because iron and steel is the most delicate of all industries. It has the widest ramifications and it has the most direct repercussions upon the export trade. In addition, the Government may well feel that the practical application of the nationalization schemes which have already been passed into law is quite sufficient to occupy their energies during the coming year. But even that is, after all, a welcome sign of restraint and wisdom, on which we, on this side of the House, are bound to commend them.
On the other hand—and here I find myself at issue with the noble Lord, Lord Dukeston—I am bound to regret that it has been found necessary to nationalize the gas industry. I know that very strong arguments can be adduced in favour of this course, but as Lord Dukeston knows and as we all know, the gas industry has for long been one of the best-managed private industries, one of the industries which has been noted for its consideration of the interests of its workmen, an industry which has in many cases taken them into partnership in management and in profits. I cannot but feel that to nationalize this above all other industries must: be counted a retrograde move. On the other hand, we shall all warmly welcome the reassurances with regard to agriculture. "All possible help" is a far-reaching phrase. But, like the noble Lord, Lord Quibell, I would say it is not merely promises and assurances that are needed. There must be performance, and we shall watch very carefully in this House, where we have a great many experts, to see how these assurances and pledges are carried out.
I now come to what I think is a notable omission. There is nothing about housing in the gracious Speech. This is, perhaps, one of the greatest problems this country has to face. There may be nothing very good to say about housing, but surely it is a subject that might have been mentioned. I hope that the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, when he 26 speaks at the end of the day's debate, will be able to give some explanation of this omission. Perhaps it was forgotten. Anyway, we shall be very interested to hear what he has to say on this very important question.
In the field of Imperial policy, the broad statement of policy enunciated in the gracious Speech will, I suppose, receive the approval of everybody in all paris of the House. There are no Little Englanders in this country nowadays. After the experiences of the last two great wars, I suppose that all Parties alike recognize that close and cordial co-operation between members of the British Commonwealth is vital to the very survival of civilization; and anything the Government can do to strengthen that co-operation will, I am sure, receive the warm support of noble Lords in all Parties. During recent weeks I have heard some rather sinister rumours in the Press about the future of Imperial Preference. There is no mention of this in the gracious Speech. But I would remind the noble Lords opposite that the Government gave some very firm pledges on this subject at the time of the debates on the American loan, and I hope there will be no question at all of their departing from those pledges. I should like, if I may, to ask the noble and learned Viscount for an assurance that if there is anything of the truth in these rumours—of course there may not be—an opportunity will be taken to discuss these proposals frankly with Parliament before any binding commitments are entered into. In view of the pledges already given, this seems absolutely essential.
Now I would come to foreign policy (I am sorry to take so long but I have a very wide field to cover), about which the noble Lord, Lord Quibell, in the closing passages of his speech made such very moving references. Here again, with the broad statement of principle in the gracious Speech I do not suppose any of your Lordships would disagree. Of course we all want good relations with other countries. Of course we all found our policy on a strong and effective United Nations Organization. That is common ground among every Party in the State. But we must face the fact that the United Nations Organization is at present neither strong nor is it united. It is rent by deep divisions, between Russia and her followers on one side and the rest of the 27 world on the other, particularly as is exemplified in the use of the veto on the Security Council. What is to be our position in face of this very unhappy development? I have never been in favour of quarrelling with Russia. I have always believed in close and cordial relations with that country, whatever her political system is, if that is in any way possible. But if I had to choose between being in disagreement with Russia and allowing the United Nations to die, I have no doubt at all which course I should take.
We in this country believe that it is only on a basis of justice and good faith and in a spirit of give and take that international peace can be preserved. Let us beware lest, in our anxiety to maintain the universality of the machine which has been set up for this purpose, we destroy the very foundation on which enduring peace can alone rest. It is a real danger. And let us beware lest this veto, which has been given, it now appears, I am afraid, mistakenly, to five great Powers actuated by different and in many cases fluctuating principles, should grow into a disease which will kill the whole organization. If that is true, that disease, that weakness, that cancer, should be cut out as soon as possible, whatever the risks. Let Russia come forward with the rest of the world on a basis of good faith and give and take and we shall all welcome her. But if she will not, I submit that the rest of the world must go on without her. The progress of the world to peace and to a basis on which peace can rest must not be held up by one nation, however great it may be. I recognize the delicacy of this question and know that the Government are trying to find an agreed solution to this thorny and complex problem. I do not want to press them for an answer to-day. I do not want to press them to say anything, if they do not want to say it. But I feel that I must express the views sincerely held by so many of us. If we once abandon the principles for which we stand we are as good as lost.
Finally, I come to the most interesting and in many ways the most surprising item in the gracious Speech—the proposal to amend the Parliament Act of 1911. That rather cryptic phrase presumably relates to the powers of your Lordships' House, not to the membership 28 of your Lordships' House, for it is with powers that the Parliament Act was alone concerned. It may, of course, mean that the Government have decided to increase the powers of your Lordships. But that, I fear, is improbable. We must therefore assume that it is the aim of the Government further to reduce them. It will be difficult for the ordinary man, now known as the common man, to understand why this proposal is being put forward exactly at this juncture. Our country, as we all know, is on the brink of an acute economic crisis which must involve, if means are not found of meeting it, a catastrophic fall in the standard of living of every man and woman in it. One would have thought that any responsible Government would devote the whole time of Parliament to measures for meeting that perilous situation. As I have tried to explain earlier, the main charge against them already is that they have diverted the attention of Parliament from the immediate needs of the country to ideological experiments in State ownership which could not possibly ameliorate the position and might easily make the general economic situation worse. But, at any rate, now that the crisis is definitely on us, it might have been expected that extraneous matters would have been excluded from the programme.
To choose this moment to introduce an extremely contentious measure, with no possible bearing on our present necessities, is surely the counsel of madness. It is not as if your Lordships' House by obstructive action has opposed, or even delayed, any measure which the Government have thought fit to bring in. We have passed all those on which the Government obtained a mandate at the General Election, although often we disliked them very much. It is true that we have found it necessary in a number of cases to introduce Amendments, to improve Bills and to make them more workable. But, after all, that is our function; that is our constitutional duty; and, if I may say so without blowing our own trumpet too much, I think we have performed it with skill and moderation. We have, at any rate, received the thanks of the Ministers concerned. When only a few weeks ago, just before Parliament rose for the Summer Recess, the Government asked for new and very far-reaching powers to deal with the economic position, your Lordships will remember 29 that this House gave them those powers without Amendment and without limitation.
What then is the reason (I would ask this of the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, and any other spokesman who is going to reply for the Government) for suddenly coming forward with these proposals, which are quite unnecessary, and which are liable to lead to a bitter constitutional struggle at the very moment when the Government themselves say national unity was never more necessary? I am going to hazard a guess. The only conclusion that I can come to is that it is the result of a rather shabby, shady, political deal. It is an open secret that there have been differences in the Cabinet on the question of the nationalization of iron and steel between some older and more statesmanlike members of the Government and a group of rather younger and more irresponsible Ministers. It seems that on this particular issue the older and more statesmanlike gained the day. But they had to give their pound of flesh, and the pound of flesh which the irresponsibles demanded was a further reduction in the powers of the Second Chamber. I believe that is the explanation, and it is for that reason that the present proposal is put forward. It is, if I may say so, a pretty disreputable procedure. That the whole of the proud and ancient fabric of this House should be cut about to consummate a dingy political deal is not something of which any member of the Labour Party can be very proud.
The excuse which has apparently been put forward in the Socialist Press (which I read on Sunday to my usual advantage) was that a mandate was given by the Preamble of the Parliament Act of 1911. I have looked at the Preamble which, curiously enough, is numbered thirteen in the Public General Acts of that year. I find it reads as follows:And whereas it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis, but such substitution cannot be immediately brought into operation:And whereas provision will require hereafter to be made by Parliament, in a measure effecting such substitution for limiting and defining the powers of the new Second Chamber, but it is expedient to make such provision as in this Act appears for restricting the existing powers of the House of Lords:30 and so on. Your Lordships and the country will note that the purpose at that time (and this can be confirmed, I think, by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, who was then a member of the Government, or by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, who was his colleague at that time) was to create a Chamber on a popular and not a hereditary basis, and any provision to alter the powers of the Second Chamber was linked to that proposal and dependent on it.
Moreover, I think it is clear that the Preamble conferred of itself no mandate further to reduce the powers of the Second Chamber. The words used are "limit and define", which is an entirely different thing. It is evident that the power of any new Chamber could not be limitless or undefined. But what are to be those limits? There is no word of this in the Preamble. In any case, how can the Government claim, as a mandate, the Preamble of a Bill which was passed thirty-six years ago by a Government and Parliament of an entirely different character and complexion, and in entirely different circumstances? Or if, as I see the Daily Herald said this morning, the Government claim that a mandate is to be found in their Election programme, that is equally untrue, so far as I can see, if they will allow me to say so. There is only one sentence in this Election manifesto Let us Face the Future which deals with the House of Lords at all. This is what it says:We give clear notice that we wit not tolerate obstruction of the people's will by the House of Lords.As I have explained earlier, there has in fact been no obstruction of the people's will by your Lordships' House. I challenge the Lord Chancellor to produce one single example of our having obstructed the policy of the Government.
This is borne out by a very generous remark made by the acting Leader of the House, the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, on September 9 last. In the speech which he made on that occasion the noble Viscount said:I freely and gladly acknowledge, not only on my own behalf, but on behalf of His Majesty's Government, that noble Lords opposite have hitherto used their majority here in a moderate and statesmanlike way, and in a manner which has given us on this side of the House no real or reasonable ground for complaint.31 In reference to the word "hitherto," which no doubt the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, will take up, the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, went on to urge your Lordships not to press the Motion on the economic situation which had been put on the Paper. We did not press it; we withdrew it at once without any debate. That seems to demolish entirely the very specious argument which was put forward in the Daily Herald, and may be put forward in other quarters.
Let me quite unequivocally state that, in our view, the Government have no mandate for constitutional reform. It is clearly a matter for further reference to the electorate, and we are quite prepared to take the view of the electorate on it. If the proposition of the Government were merely that the membership of your Lordships' House should be reformed, I believe there to be very considerable sympathy with that view in the ranks of your Lordships. It is an illusion of supporters of the Government that Peers are hanging on desperately to their rights and privileges. There is no foundation at all for any such suggestion. The question of the reform of the membership of this House has been frequently discussed during the years before the war, and I can say—and I think the Lord Chancellor himself knows this—that such Conservative leaders as my father, who was a Leader of the House for many years, were always in favour of bringing new elements into this House and seeing a reform of the membership: and that, I think, would apply to the very great majority of the Conservative Peers on this side of the House. In any case, the position of present members of your Lordships' House is not an unmixed blessing; and this is a thing which should be said. They have to work very long hours, often at the expense of their own private duties. Moreover, we may proudly say that we are the only section of the community to-day who are not actuated by the profit motive. I should have thought that that ought to have endeared us to the Government.
My Lords, a sensible, practical scheme of reform of the membership of this House would, I believe, be welcomed by noble Lords in all parts of the House. But a mere reduction of powers—that is quite a different thing. Were the period of the veto to be further reduced—I do not know 32 if that is the proposal, but that is what it looks likely to be—that would mean in effect the introduction into this country of single-chamber government, with all the dangers involved. It is no good your Lordships or the country blinking this fact. It would remove the last protection of the British people against extreme action by a Government with a temporary majority. I am not throwing stones at the present Government. But we may have other Governments in the future, and that is the danger to which it lays the people of this country open. To single-chamber government I believe the vast majority of the British people are unalterably opposed. Yet no doubt that is exactly what men like the present Minister of Health want. He is quite ready—and I understand his point of view entirely—to postpone temporarily the nationalization of the iron and steel industry. If he can make the Second Chamber impotent, the way is open to nationalize iron or steel or take any more extreme measures he wants at any time he wants to take them. The next step of him and his friends will be to get rid of their present leaders and assume power themselves. I cannot understand why moderate men like those who occupy the Government Front Bench in your Lordships' House have agreed to this proposal. I should have thought they would have far sooner resigned. It is not a question of the prestige or authority of your Lordships' House which is at stake; it is a question of the welfare of the whole of these islands.
And what about the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House? He has been absent through all these vital discussions. He is still away from this country, and yet he is vitally concerned. Has he been consulted and has he agreed to this very important amendment of the Constitution? We have not yet seen the Bill. When it reaches your Lordships' House we shall, as always, consider it objectively. We do not want to pre-judge the issue; we want to see in black and white what the Government intend. But we shall not be deterred from doing what we conceive to be our duty by any threats, however horrific, or by any soap-box sneers by the Minister of Health or anybody else. I can only say that I bitterly regret—as I think we all do on this side of the House—that the Government have introduced this new element of discord at this 33 particular juncture. I believe that history will find it hard to forgive them.
And now I come to the last thing that I want to say, for I am afraid I have kept your Lordships far too long already. I suppose that in saying what I have this afternoon I shall be accused in certain quarters of not showing the Dunkirk spirit and of rocking the boat. But we are facing—and we all know it—a desperate emergency in this country, an emergency social, economic and political. Are we really to be told that if the boat is approaching the rapids, while some of the crew are engaged in scuttling the vessel and the rest in admiring the distant view, the passengers are to sit quiet in respectful and appreciative silence? One of the most alarming features of the present time is the growing intolerance of members and supporters of the Government to any form of criticism. That is the road to dictatorship. I noticed a speech the other day by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, in which he said that unless Mr. Churchill ceased attacking the leaders of the Government he ought to have his cigars cut off, as a man has his licence removed when he drives to the public danger. I thought that over very carefully and I have come to the conclusion that it was a joke.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
But it is a very slight exaggeration of what is said quite seriously by a great many of the noble Lord's colleagues. I do beg them to remember Hitler, who reached a point where he really believed that everything became morally right by the very fact that he did it. The attitude of mind of some members of the Government is not so very far removed from that. We in the Opposition sincerely wish to help the country out of its present mess, but the only method open to us is to point out what we believe to have been done wrongly and to suggest alternatives which we think would make things better. That, after all, is the very essence of free institutions.
As I think I said on exactly the same occasion last year, if the Government were willing to adopt a policy—if only to see us through this present emergency—which all Parties can honestly support, they would automatically create that unity of spirit for which they themselves 34 ask. The Dunkirk spirit would become automatically an accomplished fact. But to expect national unity for a sectional and violently controversial policy is crying for the moon. I believe national policy is still possible, as it was in the war. I beg the Government to set their minds to that instead of the sort of proposals which find their place in the gracious Speech this year: not a Conservative policy, not a Liberal policy, but a National policy. Then they will soon get a response from the other Parties of this country. Let us concentrate first in getting this country on its feet. I believe, if we do that, we shall soon regain our position in the world and the future will be brighter than it has ever been. I do not ask the Government to abandon their principles. I do ask them to show just a little common sense. On that simple quality it may well be that the future and prosperity of our people will depend.
§ 4.28 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
My Lords, I do not propose to emulate the noble Marquess who has just spoken in making a survey of the whole situation, but rather to speak with brevity and to concentrate mainly on the new proposals which so surprisingly find a place in the gracious Speech to-day. The survey the noble Marquess made was on the lines customary in this House on similar occasions, but the ground is so wide that I think I had better leave to other colleagues on these Benches on other occasions the task of covering the greater part of it.
First, I must join the noble Marquess in congratulating the proposer and seconder of the Address to the King for the gracious Speech from the Throne. The noble Lord, Lord Dukeston, has already made speeches in this House, on two occasions in particular, which have deeply impressed noble Lords in all quarters, and indeed on both those occasions have greatly influenced opinion. To-day he has spoken with that moderation, good sense and statesmanship which this House highly appreciates, and his speech has increased a reputation already high. The noble Lord, Lord Quibell, we are always delighted to hear. We were a little afraid that the solemnity of this occasion might deprive us of the breezy gusto to which we were accustomed from him; but, fortunately, "Cheerfulness kept on breaking in." He has always 35 that sound judgment combined with humour, that frankness with tact, which are so welcome here. He has been accustomed to complain of the low output per man in the laying of bricks; but he does not himself follow the example of some of his leaders in the Cabinet in displaying a high output per man in dropping them! Both these speeches show how much the country gains by the fact that in the membership of both Houses of Parliament the nation is able to make use of the talent that is widespread among all parts of the community.
While speaking on personal matters, I would refer to an announcement which has lately been made, that Lord Beaver-brook has retired from public life in this country and proposes to make his home on the other side of the Atlantic, and that we are likely to see him here in the future rarely, or not at all. One of his own newspapers announced this a few days ago, observing that in praising the spirit of the British people Lord Beaverbrook had said, "The further I get away from them the more my admiration grows." I feel sure that that observation was kindly meant, and in that spirit perhaps I may say that I have no doubt that the sentiment will be mutual. But, seriously, we shall none of us forget the inestimable service which Lord Beaverbrook rendered to this country, to the Commonwealth and to the world, as Minister of Aircraft Production in 1940, in the moment of our greatest peril. It was then his finest hour, as well as the nation's. And perhaps, as I have on several occasions been the object of his sometimes sardonic animadversions in debate in this House, I may be allowed to be the spokesman of what I am sure will be the general feeling of your Lordships in offering to Lord Beaverbrook a friendly valediction.
As to the gracious Speech itself, it contains two surprises. At the very head of the list is mentioned a measure which is to to be proposed in the Session which is now opening. The paragraph is: "Legislation will be introduced to amend the Parliament Act of 1911." Further down the list we are promised a reform of the franchise and of electoral procedure. What these measures mean we do not know. Our curiosity has been whetted but has not been satisfied. I listened with close attention to the speeches of the proposer and seconder 36 to discover what they would say upon these very important and novel proposals, but I found that the subject was shrouded in complete silence. It may be that they did not know. It may even be that the Cabinet themselves do not know and have not yet made up their minds just what they will propose. But I would express the desire—I will not say the hope—that the noble Viscount on the Woolsack will give us some information on these points to-day. A Government reply on these points would give pabulum for the speeches of noble Lords who take part in to-morrow's debate that is entirely lacking for those of us speaking to-day.
There are two members still attending your Lordships' House who were members of the Cabinet of Mr. Asquith when the Parliament Act was passed; and there was a third, very much in the forefront of the fight at that time, who is still a Member of Parliament, though not of this House, but whom probably noble Lords on the Conservative side of the gangway will not expect to take the same active part in a similar fight at the present time—namely, Mr. Winston Churchill. The Preamble of the Act I was about to quote in extenso to-day, for the same purpose as the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, but as he has done so it is obviously unnecessary. As he said, there are two questions which at that time of the passing of the Act commanded, and still at this time command, the attention of those who are interested—the constitution of this House and its powers. As he has already observed, almost everyone agrees that the right of hereditary succession which now constitutes the title of the great majority of the Members of your Lordships' House to a seat in this Chamber is in itself alone very difficult to defend, and there would be a general desire for a reform. Unfortunately, there has never been, and I think there is not now, any wide measure of agreement as to what shape that reform should take.
Mr. Asquith said, in 1911, that this question of substituting for the House of Lords as it was a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of a hereditary basis was a matter that brooked no delay. Thirty-six years have gone by since then and there has been a good deal of "brooking", but there is still no agreement. From indications that have been given from quarters which have 37 proved in this matter to be accurate so far, we may be allowed to suppose that it is not the constitution of this House (about which there is general agreement that reform should be undertaken at some time that is suitable and expedient) that is engaging the attention of the Government, but rather Section 2 of the Parliament Act. This section states that a Bill which has passed the House of Commons in three successive Sessions over a period of two years, dating from the Second Reading in the House of Commons on the first occasion to its passage in the House of Commons on the third, may become law (except in the case of a Bill for extending the life of a Parliament) without the assent of your Lordships' House. The period of two years is a very important constituent of that Statute. The whole of the clauses were considered with the utmost care and consideration. The principle of the Bill had been the subject of two General Elections specifically fought upon that issue, each of them returning a majority to the House of Commons of over 100 in favour of the policy in the Bill—the passage of which would have been assured, if necessary, as your Lordships know, by the creation of Peers sufficient in number to ensure a majority here if this House had rejected it. The assent of the Crown to such creation was only given, of course, after the nation had expressed its clear opinion on those two occasions. Any attempt to amend that section could not be expected to be accepted without some similar authority to that on which the original section was based, unless it were of such a completely unobjectionable character that it would not cause serious constitutional difficulty.
The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, has given a reason which may perhaps have animated the Cabinet in inserting this paragraph in the King's Speech. He suggested that the postponement of the iron and steel nationalization Bill is to be countered by the advancing of the question of the House of Lords in order to satisfy at the same time two groups in the Cabinet holding different views. Maybe that is so; I have no notion whether that is the reason or not. But for my own part—also without any foundation on any private information—I seem to detect the first faint whiff of the atmosphere of the next General Election. Is it not possible that the Government may think that perhaps the economic 38 circumstances may get not better but worse, and, if unemployment becomes heavy and increasing, supplies scarcer, prices rising and the pound falling, that it would be very desirable to have something else to talk about in the constituencies? Thereupon they would, not unnaturally, turn to an endeavour to emulate the policy of Mr. Lloyd George and to conduct an electioneering campaign with a cry of "Down with the Lords!"
But in those days that was a real issue, not a purely artificial one. Our predecessors in that former generation had deliberately thrown out, year after year, many of the principal measures of the Government which that Government had been returned to office to promote. It culminated in taking the unprecedented course of rejecting on Second Reading the Finance Bill of the year, a Finance Bill which embodied in itself a whole social policy. But is the issue to-day in any degree so comparable that it would necessitate giving the first place in the year's programme of legislation to a Bill dealing with the Parliament Act of 1911? We await further elucidation of the matter before we put forward our considered opinion and declare the course that we shall take. Until then everything must be hypothetical. When we get the facts before us, then we shall speak with a full sense of responsibility.
The second matter which affords us some surprise but does not arouse anything like the same constitutional questions is the mention of electoral procedure and the franchise. I should be greatly interested to know whether that means a reform in our system of voting. Does it mean some change in our present over-simple system of a cross against a single name, which does not fit the political circumstances of the present time? Mr. Winston Churchill in a recent speech referred to the swollen majority of the Government in the House of Commons which was installed in office on an electoral system which to-day (these are his words) "is largely obsolete." If the Conservative Party regard this system as largely obsolete, then what measures are they proposing to take to bring it up to date?
We have now, after the last General Election of 1945, a Government in power which, on the votes cast, is in a minority, an actual minority, in the constituencies, 39 but which nevertheless has a two to one majority in the House of Commons. That Mr. Churchill condemns. I do not recall—I may have omitted to notice it—any occasion when the Conservative Party condemned it after the General Election of 1935—the previous General Election, when the Conservative Party, with just a little more than half the votes of the electorate, also had a two to one majority over all others in the House of Commons. What we of the Liberal Party have been declaring for many years past is that our system of election should be reformed in order that each voter might vote for the candidate whom he really desires to see elected, without any question coming in of splitting the anti-Socialist vote, or splitting the Progressive vote. Let the people vote for whom they like, free from all such circumstances, under the system of the single transferable vote or the alternative vote, and then let Parliament reflect the wishes of the people as so declared. Only then shall we have a truly democratic Constitution.
There is one other matter, and one other only, on this constitutional question, quite separate from those upon which I have already been speaking, to which I should like to refer. An important step has been taken during the Recess which is an example of gradual and almost imperceptible change in our Constitution such as frequently has happened in our past history; there have been changes which afterwards are seen to have been following an important, although hardly recognized, principle. In the debate in your Lordships' House in August, I ventured briefly to say that our economic difficulties were partly due to the fact that the structure of our Government is wrong and inadequate to cope with the enormous range of subjects at home and abroad, economic and political, with which the Cabinet now have to deal. I suggested that the structure of the Cabinet should be changed, and that I further elaborated in an article which some of your Lordships may have seen in The Times of a month ago, in which I put forward concrete though tentative proposals. Mr. Amery and others have written in much the same sense and have proposed various schemes.
It is essential that the Cabinet should have time to think and time to plan. Many people urge that there should be con- 40 stituted a Planning Board to deal with these economic problems. The Cabinet itself should be the Planning Board and can be the only adequate Planning Board. I suggested in my scheme that the Cabinet ought to consist of ten members, most of whom should have no departmental duties. I suggested five groups of departments, each of which should have one of the senior members of the Cabinet as its Chairman who should represent it in this smaller Cabinet. Of those five groups three have been almost unostensibly and almost accidentally created. Not long ago, the three Service Ministers were excluded from the Cabinet, and a Minister without departmental duties, the Minister of Defence, was brought into it. Recently, Sir Stafford Cripps has been appointed to a new office, that of Minister of Economic Affairs, and he will preside over a number of departmental Ministers dealing with various aspects of economics. The Foreign Secretary has been enabled to devolve a large part of his heavy burden of departmental work upon two Ministers who are not in the Cabinet, but who are of Cabinet rank—the Minister of State and the Chancellor of the Duchy. He will be presiding over what is in effect a Sub-Cabinet dealing with external affairs. When some fresh Government is formed, it will be possible to bring the scheme into existence as a comprehensive whole. It is very interesting to see that we have already gone some way under the pressure of the actual needs of the case, but only half-way towards the constitution of these Sub-Cabinets under the chairmanship of several non-departmental Ministers. The smaller Cabinet was recommended thirty years ago by the Haldane Committee and, as it usually takes about thirty years for any obviously necessary reform to be adopted in this country, it is now about ripe for completion.
Of the other measures in the long list in the gracious Speech I shall refer to none in detail, but I will only say that I rejoice to find that the Criminal Justice Bill, which was first drafted by the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, when he was Sir Samuel Hoare, is to be introduced during this Session of Parliament. That is a Bill generally desired by enlightened opinion. The Care of Children Bill, in regard to children who are deprived of normal home life, is also, we are glad to see, to be included in this Session of Parliament. That is the Bill which is 41 founded upon the invaluable Curtis Report, which has been debated in your Lordships' House, and I am sure your Lordships will be very ready to pass that Bill when it comes to our attention. Then there is the Bill dealing with the national status of married women. British women are subject to the loss of nationality if they marry foreigners, and, on the other hand, foreign women automatically acquire British nationality if they marry British subjects. These matters have given rise to a grievance very deeply felt. The case has long been recognized as overwhelming. For my own part, it is many years since, in Parliament after Parliament, I have advocated this measure, and I am glad to see that it is before Parliament this year. I hope that no circumstance will lead to its miscarriage.
I am exceedingly glad to notice that one Bill is not included, and that is the Bill for the nationalization of iron and steel. The gracious Speech makes no reference to it. Last year, in the Debate on the Address, I urged that such a Bill ought not to be introduced until the Government were able to show a case establishing the merits of nationalization in this particular instance. The present Government have repeatedly declared that they are not seeking simultaneously to nationalize everything for the sake of nationalization. They have said they recognize that the duty of the burden of proof lies upon them, and that it is for them to show in each case that this course is the right one to take. The Government must not expect Parliament to pass a measure of this character until there has been very careful study of the whole subject and until we have been enabled, through material presented to us, to form a considered judgment on the merits of the particular case—as I would suggest, by an impartial inquiry. I would suggest that, as the Government say they are not going to introduce this Bill during this Session but during the latter part of the present Parliament, they might use the interval in an impartial inquiry into the whole matter, so that Parliament may be fully seized of all the facts of the case, and may be made aware of any defects which it is thought require remedy, and also of such valuable elements which it is desirable to preserve. So far there is no reason whatsoever to say that this industry is one in any degree suitable for national ownership.
42 With regard to the other matters I do not propose to say much. On world affairs all that can be said is that it is a great disappointment that the situation is, in almost every direction, in no way improved as against what it was several months ago. As we all know, the Government are not mainly to blame for that. The chief cause is the non-co-operation of Russia, which exposes to so much danger both Russia herself and us all. However, this is not the time to discuss that matter. The question of the strength of the Forces and the national defences is to be debated in your Lordships' House next week; and, similarly, the economic situation in a two days' debate. There I do not think it is possible to acquit His Majesty's Government of many examples of mismanagement and of avoidable failure in the economic sphere. It is true that the adverse forces have been strong and are still operative, and Sir Stafford Cripps, who is bringing fresh zeal and energy into the handling of the situation, seems to me, for all his efforts, up to the present to be making very little progress. It seems rather like the case of a man in an underground railway station who has got on to the wrong escalator, and who finds himself continually going down when he wants to go up and whose utmost efforts only succeed in keeping him where he is.
The most cheerful thing we can say of the conditions of to-day, about which we are so dissatisfied, is that when they come next year to be compared with those that will be prevailing then, our present conditions may be seen in retrospect to have been much better than we think them now.
§ 4.55 p.m.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF YORK
My Lords, I should like to begin by associating myself with the congratulations which have been offered to the two noble Lords who opened this debate. I think that any stranger coming in here, and unaware of the various ways in which the different Parties sit, would have found it difficult to gather from the greater part of their speeches to which Party they belong. I think their speeches were an illustration of that national unity which I feel is so essential at the present time. I think that everyone in this House is fully aware of the gravity of the crisis into which we have now entered, but I am not sure if the gravity is generally realized 43 outside. I believe there are large numbers of the general public who believe that we have encountered a sudden squall which will quickly pass away, and have not realized that in front of us we have months, and possibly years, of stormy and difficult weather, and that we shall not avoid shipwreck unless there is shown great courage, great statesmanship and great unity.
I believe myself that there are three model qualities which are absolutely essential if the nation is to survive this crisis. First, there must be honest hard work on the part of every individual and of every class in the community. There must also be unselfishness—and I am thinking not merely of the unselfishness of individuals but of the unselfishness of classes and of various interests and industries. There must also be unity. Nothwithstanding what was said by the noble Viscount opposite, I want to spend a few minutes in stressing this need for national unity. Let me disarm criticism from the Benches in front of me by saying at once that there could be nothing more unfair than to appeal to one section, to one Party alone, to abstain from controversial matter and from criticism. I feel that it is deplorable and humiliating that we are entering upon one of the greatest crises this nation has ever had to encounter as a people divided, criticizing one another. The Government should have full credit for the way in which they have succeeded in reaching agreement with the unions. I think that is a remarkable achievement. I hope they have been equally successful in reaching agreement with those who manage the various industries, and I hope also that they will fully recognize that it is one thing to reach agreement with the unions and their representatives in London, and quite another to reach agreement with the various industries in different parts of the country. They look upon the questions involved very largely as local, and they are not prepared to accept orders given from above without careful local explanation and discussion.
I am mainly concerned about the political disunion which we find in the country to-day. It is very difficult to hear or to read any speech without the first part of it, at any rate, being devoted either to attacking the other Party or to a statement in self-defence. And while the leaders of the different Parties almost 44 invariably show a great deal of restraint, and speak with a sense of responsibility, the same restraint and the same sense of responsibility are not always found in the constituencies. In the constituencies, at the present time, there is being waged a controversy, a political Party controversy, with the kind of bitterness which might be found immediately before a General Election. Here I am bound to say something about the pamphlet (I have not yet read it myself, but I have seen extracts from it) issued by the Central Labour Party, I believe, and called, I understand, The A.B.C. of the Crisis. That pamphlet has in it a statement to the effect that the Opposition are trying to drive the people into starvation. That kind of statement is disgraceful in itself, and is calculated to create intense bitterness between the various Parties. I hope that I have quoted the pamphlet accurately. As I say, I have not read it myself, but I have read about it in The Times.
§ LORD WALKDEN
My Lords, I have no recollection of seeing any such bald and bare statement in the print referred to when I went through it.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF YORK
My Lords, I hope that I have not been mistaken in what I have said, but I think it is correct that The Times stated that The A.B.C. of the Crisis says that the Opposition wish to drive the workers to the point of starvation to create unemployment. I am certain that that is a statement of which no one on these Benches would approve, and I hope very much indeed that responsible members of the Government will see that a statement of that kind is withdrawn. It is bound to embitter feeling up and down the country. I must add that I could quote things emanating from the other side. I could quote bitter and unfair statements made by various speakers up and down the country against the present Government. This disunion is doing great harm. It is doing harm to the nation. The nation will not easily realize the gravity of the crisis if it finds debating points in the speeches of the various leaders. It will believe that this is again the old battle between Tweedledum and Tweedledee and that neither is going to be very much worse off in the end. It must be bad, I think, for our leaders to have to spend valuable time on these controversial issues instead of on those matters which really are of 45 first-class interest. Moreover, it does harm to the reputation of our nation abroad. I heard a broadcast the other day by a speaker who has recently, I think, been in America. He said that our speakers do not always realize how the bitter remarks which they make are exaggerated and misunderstood abroad. I myself have seen letters written by well-wishers of ours in the Dominions expressing their wonder as to whether we shall be able to survive the crisis in view of the divisions in our own ranks.
I am not, for one moment, asking that there should be a Coalition Government. I know that that is entirely out of the question. I know that the present Government, with their vast majority, would not for a moment think of forming a Coalition Government. I am perfectly certain, too, that the last thing that the Opposition want to do is to enter into a Coalition Government. I am also certain that members of the Government are conscientiously convinced that their Government will alone enable the nation to survive the crisis, and I am sure that the Opposition are equally conscientiously convinced that the crisis will not be solved satisfactorily while the present Government are in office. But is there not a middle way? We have managed to keep foreign politics out of Party controversy. We have a very fine and noble tradition in that respect. Would it not be possible to take some of these questions dealing with this economic crisis entirely out of the ordinary run of Party controversy. It would, I know, be a counsel of perfection to suggest that all controversy should cease. I am not asking for that. So long as there is an Opposition there must be criticism, and so long as there is a Government the Government must defend their position. But surely there must be some way in which the various Parties could reach agreement on the main remedies which are required in the present crisis? It would be strengthening the Government for one thing. Later on, the Government may have to make decisions which may be extremely unpopular, decisions which are absolutely essential for the economic safety of the country. The Government may hesitate to make those necessary decisions if they know they will be at once exposed to the fire of Party criticism. On the other hand, there are a large number of members of the Opposition who are anxious to take their part in 46 endeavouring to solve the problems of this crisis. There are men who have had first-class experience of business administration, and who ought to be able to make their full contribution to the nation at this time.
Therefore, I venture to suggest that the Prime Minister should ask representatives of the other Parties to confer with some of the members of his Party, to see if they cannot find common ground upon which they could meet. I know that round-table conferences have often failed in the past. But even if this round-table conference failed it would not make the position worse than it is at the present time. And it might succeed in the formulation of a united policy on the most serious matters connected with the economic crisis. I can see that there are all kinds of difficulties. The matter has not been made easier by the Government proposing to introduce a Bill amending the Parliament Act. That may mean bitter controversy up and clown the country. There are all kinds of difficulties of which a non-Party person like myself is probably totally unaware. Yet I feel that it is well worth while seeing if common agreement cannot be reached upon some of the main remedies required for the nation in this time of grave crisis. If such an agreement were reached it would hearten the nation, and it would enable our friends in other countries to see that the nation is facing this crisis with unity and courage. We should be able to look forward to the day when the nation would come out from this crisis able once again to make its full contribution to the prosperity and peace and freedom of the world.
§ 5.9 p.m.
§ LORD ELTON
My Lords, I welcome and most heartily endorse everything that the most reverend Primate, the Archbishop of York, has just said about national unity, and I hope that your Lordships will bear with me for a very few minutes, since by our standards this is a comparatively late hour, if as a member, myself, of no Party I plead a cause which is not at all popular with politicians but which possesses, I believe, an immense, inarticulate backing in the country. If the citizens of this country could wake up one fine morning and read in their newspapers the news that all the three great political Parties had consented, as the most Reverend Primate has suggested, to drop their differences 47 for the moment, and to pool their resources in a combined effort to extricate the nation from the morass into which it is sinking. I believe that something like eight out of ten of them would welcome the news with much of that elation and much of that prescient sense of coming deliverance which electrified the nation on the morrow of the victory of El Alamein.
Every great crisis in our recent history, in 1916 and 1940, has been surmounted by national unity. Without it, we could not have survived. And if any member of your Lordships' House supposes for a moment that our dangers to-day are less than they were in 1940, then I am afraid he has yet to learn the A.B.C. of the present crisis. The Press, of course, has little to say in favour of national unity just now. It seems to have written that off as for the moment no longer practical politics. But what the Press constantly does demand is just that kind and quality of action which is unobtainable without national unity. Take an example almost at random. That Left Wing journal, the New Statesman, this week writes that our chance of pulling through depends "absolutely on the skill with which the Government succeeds in mobilising popular good will and sense of personal responsibility"; and much that was said by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, in the closing passages of his speech meant little more than just that; an appeal for a sense of national unity.
But the nation-wide good will for which we are always getting these appeals is unobtainable so long as many utterances, both by the Government and by the Opposition—and I am thinking of utterances outside your Lordships' House, where a decent courtesy is preserved by Ministers and Opposition spokesmen—seem expressly designed to prolong and accentuate our disunity. Of course, one has to recognize, as the most reverend Primate the Archbishop obviously recognized, that Party warfare is formidably entrenched in every Party. From the Ministers and ex-Ministers down through members and candidates to the local chairmen and committee members, there is something like a nation-wide vested interest in Party warfare, and tens of thousands of sensible and respectable citizens are genuinely persuaded that the opposing Party is something like a personal em- 48 bodiment of evil. But behind the formidably entrenched partisans, let us try to remember that there waits the often addressed but seldom heard nation, who are now often disposed to ejaculate, "A plague o' both your houses!"
Of course, an alliance for the duration of the crisis, which the most reverend Primate has rightly said might well be a very long affair, would mean real sacrifices to all three of the historic Parties. The Labour Party, or at any rate a powerful section of the Labour Party, is still passionately convinced that this is the destined moment for the socialization of our economic structure, and of course the Labour Government has in its hands the magnificent instrument of an unprecedented majority.
It is not for an outsider to comment on the views of Socialist members, but I cannot help remembering that quite a lot of Socialist textbooks used to say that a collapsing market was the very worst possible setting in which to embark on a Socialist revolution. As to the unprecedented majority, well, the Liberals in 1916 and the Conservatives in 1940 had very effective majorities which they were doubtless reluctant to sacrifice, and any move towards unity would mean it was Labour's turn to make a sacrifice which was made in the past by both the great Parties before. On the other hand, the Conservative Party must often feel, one suspects, a half-reluctant pleasure at the spectacle of opponents who have committed themselves to apocalyptic prophecies floundering in this formidable morass. They may even sometimes be tempted to calculate that there is everything to be gained, in the Party sense, by holding aloof, at any rate for a considerable while longer. The Labour Party might have been conscious of much that sort of temptation in 1940. They resisted it and made a sacrifice characteristic of the Opposition in the cause of national unity, and it is the turn of the Conservative Party to do what was done by the Labour Party in 1940.
However we may gloze over it, the fundamental fact remains that without some greater measure of national unity, we cannot expect a national effort. The class and Party bias of much that has been said by certain Ministers is one of many causes, but still a prime cause, of our failure to bring out our full national 49 strength, and if it be said, as it can very well be said, that it is largely provoked and excused by the class and Party bias of much that has been said and written by Opposition critics, that is only one more argument for national unity.
I was very much struck the other day by some comments made by a Canadian friend of mine who has just revisited this country after several years' absence. She told me she had been staying with some very respectable elderly maiden Scottish cousins, the sort of people who in 1940 would rather have frozen to death than break one jot or tittle of the regulations with regard to fuel or food. She was astounded to see these respectable old ladies turn on the electric stove at forbidden hours, and when she spoke about it they said, "We don't give a tinker's cuss for Shinwell." Of course, they were gravely to blame. Their conduct was not even to be excused by the Party spirit of those occasions when some Minister of the Crown, instead of addressing an exhortation to the nation, which, God knows, needs encouragement and exhortation just now, prefers to deliver some irritable and rather pedantic Socialist lecture, or even go out of his way to insult and traduce the great middle class which only two years ago he and his colleagues were so passionately wooing. But that Scottish family is typical to-day of millions of all classes and Parties who are not putting forth anything like the effort which they might be devoting to overcoming the national crisis, primarily because the Government and the Opposition between them have not succeeded in treating this crisis as the no more formidable crisis of 1940 was treated.
Some sort of national unity is required and I myself would like to see nothing less than a National Government. At best or at worst some step such as the most reverend Primate has mentioned should be taken towards national unity. This would mean two things. It would mean, first, that, with the possible exception of a few crypto-Communists and fellow travellers, there would be no Opposition inevitably committed to painting the darkest imaginable picture of our present plight—and I fully sympathize with the complaints of some Government spokesmen at the effect which such criticisms have overseas. On the other hand, it would mean that the short-term remedies, 50 which are all that matter at the moment, would not be tainted, and therefore largely rendered ineffectual, by the class or Party bias of much of present Ministerial legislation. Above all, a National Government would mean a national effort. That is the long and short of the crisis: that we need national unity because we need a national effort, and we cannot get a national effort, it seems, without national unity. Sooner or later, I profoundly believe, it is bound to come. Sooner rather than later an hour will strike so sombre that we shall be compelled to unite. Every day by which we anticipate that dark moment will spare the nation unnecessary suffering.
§ 5.21 p.m.
§ LORD SCHUSTER
My Lords, it is with very great diffidence that at this hour I venture to intervene in this debate, for neither my speech nor, as your Lordships may think, my subject rises to the level of the high debate which we have heard this afternoon. Indeed, I would not have spoken but for the request of my noble friend Lord Rushcliffe, who is unfortunately, owing to domestic bereavement, unable to be hero. I am not calling attention to anything which is in but to something which is not in His Majesty's most gracious Speech; something which all those who are interested in the administration of the law have ardently desired for some years now. I mean the fulfilment of the recommendations of the Rushcliffe Report. It was published two years and six months ago; it received a cordial welcome, and we had ardently hoped that it would have received notice in His Majesty's most gracious Speech. I see at the end of His Majesty's most gracious Speech a ray of hope in that we are told that if time permits other measures may be brought before Parliament.
I want to say only one thing about the Rushcliffe Report. Time will not permit a long delay before effect is given to its provisions, or something like them. When the war came to an end all the workers who were looking after legal aid and advice in the Army were going to be scattered, but emergency arrangements were made to tide over the period until the Rushcliffe plan could come into operation. Those emergency measures cannot subsist for long. They were devised merely to fill a gap, and not to have even a shadow of permanence. I do not want 51 to go on talking about the plan; I certainly do not want to talk about the merits of it. As I understand the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, is going to reply in this debate, I want only to ask him to give a word of encouragement and hope to those who wish the plan to be put into operation. I believe that means all who have studied it.
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF HALIFAX
My Lords, it is only with some hesitation that I venture to rise to make a few observations. I think all the speeches to which your Lordships have listened, from the two notable speeches of the mover and seconder to all those who have followed them, show to what extent the deliberations of your Lordships' House both now and in the forthcoming Session are bound to be overshadowed by the conditions in which this new Session opens. On the general economic situation there will no doubt be an early opportunity of fuller debate, but meanwhile I think it is impossible to refrain from some general reference to it. The situation is, of course, plainly very grave, involving as it must appear to the layman our capacity to achieve our own recovery, to assist others to achieve their recovery, and, in short, to maintain our position as a World Power.
I think the redeeming feature of grave situations, as a rule, is that they are usually very clear. As we saw in the war, there is substantial unanimity as to what ought to be done, and everybody sets about and does it. That is all very good. In the situation in which we find ourselves to-day, although thinking people of all Parties no doubt desire to contribute to the national effort, the ordinary man outside—and here I have considerable sympathy with what was said by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York—does not see the outward signs of the same concentration of purpose as he saw, and indeed was very proud to share in, during the war. Of course, he apportions the blame for that according to his political sympathies. The supporters of the Government blame the Opposition for, as they put it, generating an atmosphere of Party strife when, in their view, all citizens ought to be giving all support to the Government, whatever their Party colour, in 52 the intolerable burden that they have to bear.
To Conservatives, and I think many others, it often seems that His Majesty's Government are at least as much concerned with demonstrating their loyalty to the letter of full Socialist doctrine, irrespective of any immediate good results, as they are with pulling the country out of the mess. The announcement which your Lordships have heard in His Majesty's most gracious Speech concerning the Parliament Act seems to me hardly to be explained on any other ground. It almost looks as if my noble friend, the Leader of the Opposition, may have proferred in his speech the right explanation. My own thought had been that it partook somewhat perhaps of the nature of the laying of a smokescreen of evil odour that was designed to conceal at a later date something else from the inquisitive eyes of the British public. It will surely be incredible to the ordinary onlooker, as my noble friend said, that they should choose this moment of all others, when appeals are being made for unity by members of His Majesty's Government, in which to throw that monkey wrench into the works. In those circumstances, it will not be surprising to find, not only on the Conservative side, a growing feeling that a Government who are prepared to spend time and to dissipate energy upon activities that can have no relevance to the immediate problem are not in fact the best custodians of our fortunes at this time. I am bound to add this, that even before this last injection of what seems to me pure partisan temper, the impartial observer might be excused for thinking that the Government were really not making co-operation very easy when they allowed the publication of the sort of pamphlets to which the most reverend Primate referred in his speech.
Is it also unfair to say that part of our present troubles is due to the different tones in which spokesmen of His Majesty's Government have in the past spoken? Sometimes they have been grave, but sometimes they have been almost gay, and repudiated the idea that we were locked in a life and death struggle for our national existence. I happened to see a speech a few weeks ago by the honourable Member for Merthyr in which, if correctly reported, he said this:These oceans of print about the crisis is the biggest joke in Merthyr for years.53 I do not know what importance he has, but the fact that he should say it at all seemed to be of interest. He may be a person of no great importance—I do not know—but that a Member of Parliament, a spokesman for the Government, should be talking that sort of stuff at this time seems to me almost incredibly shocking.
I apologize for saying so much, but there does seem to be a terrible lot for Sir Stafford Cripps to catch up, and I am afraid that homilies to miners and homilies to industrial workers have to penetrate thick layers of prejudice and bad economics that have been spread by years and years and years of Socialist propaganda and bad economics. While I am sure that is true, there must be those on both sides who are becoming increasingly anxious and concerned. Will Sir Stafford Cripps be able to reach his targets? I presume that is going to be very difficult in a world in which the purchasing power is largely limited and in which the competition of sellers is likely to become more and more intense. Even if he does, I presume that will only affect part of our problem. What happens if he does not? Quite clearly we cannot afford—and we should not wish it—to be permanent pensioners of the United States, however friendly may be our mutual relations and our dispositions. The only alternative that I can see—and I would be very happy to be shown another—if we cannot work our passage on the kind of standard of national life that we want, will be to make it with some lower standard, not what we want but what we can. Should that ever become necessary, it is not difficult to predict what may be the civil and social trouble through which you may reach it.
That being the background, it is not at all surprising to me that such thoughtful citizens for whom the most reverend Primate and the noble Lord, Lord Elton, may speak should be searching round for means of pooling the best brains and the widest experience and best counsel in our present need. On that they think—and may very rightly think—depends the answer to the question whether we are going to sink or swim over the next two or three years. As it becomes more and more to be realized by hard experience what a grim struggle we are in for, I fancy that the country will surely condemn any appearance of an attempt to set Party fortunes before national needs. 54 I should suppose that no one could find any serious difference with that. What then can be done? I am bound to say that I think it is infinitely more difficult to make any suggestion now than it was twenty-four hours ago. Like the noble Lord opposite, perhaps many would advocate or have advocated the recreation of a National Government in which all Parties might give their best. I do not believe—and here I agree with the most reverend Primate—that to be possible, and I do not believe that, past history and present circumstances being what they are, it is probably desirable.
But does that exhaust the possibilities of finding some means of co-operation closer than at present? The British are accustomed to pride themselves on having a certain fertile genius for expedients of government. I can conceive that it is not impossible, just as during the war you invented a system of having Ministers of State to handle problems that were larger than or did not fit into departmental responsibility, to apply that with a rather different implication by means of what you might perhaps call a Council of State, in which men of different Parties might sit and pool their wisdom and experience. Those who wish might pray in aid the analogy of the Committee of Imperial Defence, to which men of other Parties may be summoned at the option of the Prime Minister to deal with grave issues. Under any such system, of course, the Government would have to retain their responsibility to Parliament, and the Opposition must equally retain the right to criticize. But some such procedure might seem to hold a possibility of considerable advantage. It would surely not be of negligible value to the Government to be able to draw on the wisdom of other Parties, to explain their difficulties and their methods of dealing with them much more fully than they ever could in Parliament. It would not, perhaps, be without some advantage to the Opposition to be able to mould Government policy before it was finally set, and to have their opportunity of discussion before decisions were finally made.
Last, but by no means least, it would be, of course, an immense advantage—as I think the most reverend Primate said—to the country to receive a large measure of agreed direction, and not feel either that superfluous energy was running 55 into Party politics or that there was division of advice and counsel as to what it ought to do. Although it is quite easy to say all that sort of thing, do not let anybody under-estimate the difficulty that would be inherent in any such proposal. Of course it would be difficult. It would involve great need of restraint on both sides. It would involve the need for His Majesty's Government to restrain the desires, either of themselves or of their Party, to pursue policies, however congenial those might be to the Party, which had No 1mmediate contribution to make to the immediate necessity.
I do not think there was any passage in the speech of my noble friend Lord Salisbury which struck me more than the passage at the end when he said that if the Government were able to leave on one side issues that were not contributing to the immediate necessity, without abandonment of any of their principles, it would, I think his phrase was, "recreate the Dunkirk spirit overnight." That is a contribution that it is in the power, should they choose to do it, of the Government to make. The Opposition, on the other side, supposing any such effort were made, would of course have to work under a kind of gentleman's agreement or gentleman's understanding in regard to confidential information of which, in such meetings as they might have, they would have been the recipients. Those of course are real difficulties, and no one need tell me what fruitful soil would be cultivated there for possible future reproaches. Yet I am led to the conviction, as every one of your Lordships, I doubt not, is too, that the need, on the other side, also is very great indeed. I cannot believe that these difficulties or any others are insuperable if at this time of crisis there was a determination on all sides to put first things first and keep them there.
One other consideration, and I have done. I suppose that the broad impression of our present political situation must be as confusing to much political opinion in America as much that is going on in America, I fancy, is confusing to us. I have little doubt, however, that the judgment of the average member of Congress—I am not speaking of the Administration but of the average member of Congress—is going to be greatly affected in the future by the degree of unanimity which is exhibited by the 56 people of this country. Much as in the war, one of the most powerful things—perhaps some would say the most powerful thing—in restoring the faith in Britain of the average American citizen was the unanimity of our people in those dark days of 1940 and 1941.
Any things of the kind that I have ventured to sketch—which I frankly admit I do not think are possible or probable here and now to-day, though I have tried to sketch them in terms which might be possible—would of course involve sacrifice: sacrifice by His Majesty's Government, and sacrifice, maybe, by some of my political friends here; but I do not think that now, any more than in the war, there is any short cut or any easy way of avoidance of sacrifice if we are to be saved. Whether politician, industrial worker or housewife, everybody has to make great and possibly greater sacrifices; and the only thing that can redeem and make it all worth while is that they may perhaps strengthen and serve the nation that is greater than us all.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SIMON
My Lords, I propose to occupy your time only for the purpose of discussing a single proposition in the King's Speech, the proposition about the Parliament Act. I must be allowed, however, first to say how deeply I share the feelings which have been so finely expressed by the noble Earl, Lord Halifax, who preceded me. He takes the view that the nation is in a life and death struggle for its existence. I am most profoundly convinced that that is no overstatement at all. That we should be sending out of the country a portion of the limited, I might almost say sacred, reserve of gold is in itself a very serious fact. And there is all the difference in the world between setting high targets with great precision and ingenuity, and securing that they will be attained or that the goods which are produced under this urgency will be sold. I am therefore absolutely at one with my noble friend in thinking that to set Party fortunes against national need is an almost unforgivable sin at this time.
It is for that reason that I so much regret this sentence in the King's Speech: "Legislation will be introduced to amend the Parliament Act of 1911." I cannot think that that is consistent with the effort which I am sure the better mind of the 57 Government entertains of trying to promote that co-operation among men and women of good will which, as the noble Earl, Lord Halifax, has just said, may very well be the only way to salvation. Therefore, I confine myself to this sentence, which seems to have been spatchcocked into the Speech, and which I suspect is a very recent formula. I do hope that His Majesty's Government, who are entitled to all the respect and confidence that we honestly can give them, will think again before they persist in this particular proposal. Perhaps I have some slight qualification to talk on the subject, because, as the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, said earlier, he and I are two of the very few survivors of that Government in the House of Commons when the Parliament Act was passed. I know from my own personal experience the actual history of that time, better, I am afraid, than I know some other periods of history which I ought to command. Will your Lordships forgive me if, in a few quite simple sentences, I state what that situation really was? I invite your Lordships to contrast it with the situation as it exists to-day.
This was the situation. The Liberals, at the General Election of 1906, had swept the country. They had at last an immense majority for themselves and their programme. They formed a Government which I think is admitted on all hands to have been one of the most well-equipped and powerful Governments of this country. I can say so without any vain glory because I was only a "new boy"—I did not join the Government until I became Solicitor-General in 1910. Consider some of the names: Campbell-Bannerman, Asquith, Lloyd George, Morley, Crewe, Grey—names that are still held in the highest respect. When you add to that that the Under-Secretaries of that time were Samuel, Runciman, McKenna and Churchill, I think your Lordships must admit that the Government was one of undoubtedly adequate equipment. That Government proceeded on the basis of its great majority to endeavour to put into force a series of legislative proposals of some variety—education, licensing, Scottish land reform, all sorts of things. It is literally true to say that in the four years from 1906 to 1910 this House destroyed every one of those measures 58 with the single exception of the Trade Disputes Act, which they thought it better to leave alone.
I remember it very well because I was hot and young in that struggle. I can quote now with the greatest precision some of the favourite extracts which we used to employ. I will repeat one new, and I will guarantee its verbal accuracy. An eminent leader of the Conservative Party who had held high office in the past was supposed to reflect in public that the working of our Constitution was such that Whether the Conservatives were in office or in Opposition they would still control the policy. Then your Lordships' House added to that the unique and unparalleled enormity of rejecting the Budget of the day, which, I think, contained a super-tax of threepence Which was going to ruin the country. Those were the circumstances in which it was thought right to propose to Parliament to deal with the powers of this House.
But, my Lords, even so the Government of that day never sought to do it in the course of the same Parliament merely by announcement in the King's Speech. On the contrary, Mr. Asquith held two elections in the year 1910. I have some reason to remember it because it happened that in the interval between the two I was appointed a Law Officer, and in those days a Law Officer had to have an election of his own, so I had three elections to deal with. At each of those General Elections, this very issue of curbing the powers of the House of Lords was raised. Many people thought it was adequately raised and decided in the January election of 1910, because, mind you, this proposal was not a novel proposal, but was one that went back to some Resolution moved by Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman. Mr. Asquith insisted that rather than that there should be any doubt about where the country stood on this matter, there should be: another election in December, 1910, when a precise issue was formulated which is as near a referendum as can be: "Is the country prepared to support the Parliament Act which would thus limit the powers of the House of Lords?" That is, without any sort of varnish or elaboration, the story of what happened between the years 1906 and 1911, as I know it very well.
I wish to ask the House, with the greatest respect to the Lord Chancellor who I think is going to follow me, is 59 there any sort of resemblance between the circumstances which I have now correctly described and the circumstances which are supposed to justify this Clause 1n the King's Speech? Some of us who have come to this House rather late in life, after long experience in another place, are particularly struck by the change which has taken place in this House. I can guarantee that there are members opposite who silently agree with me. We find when we come here that, as a matter of fact, under modern conditions this House docs not set itself up as though it was entitled to overrule the deliberate decisions of the people expressed in another place. It contributes, I think, much of great value. It contributes careful revision, sometimes of clauses that have never been discussed in another place at all; and if we are to believe the very complimentary things which are said about us, His Majesty's Government must fully recognize that that is so.
The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, at the opening of the debate made one quotation. Of course, quotations are endless. I will spare the Lord Chancellor one or two of his own. Let me give just two. Mr. Herbert Morrison, who I think a fortnight ago was appealing for a greater measure of national unity and of endeavour to be made in order that we should really co-operate in this crisis, and who now takes responsibility for this clause, said:Members of the House of Lords co-operate to the full in respecting the wishes of the British democracy as expressed in the so-called Lower House. So we have seen the remarkable and characteristically British spectacle of a Chamber with a large Right Wing majority passing one nationalization Bill after another.This, of course, is perfectly true.
I would offer only one other quotation from a Labour Minister of the House. Nobody has said this more frequently than Viscount Addison. Would the House accept this one quotation?Of course, the House of Lords is not just a replica of the House of Commons. We have our Party loyalties there, as they have in the Commons. But in the Lords 'we wear our rue with a difference,' and, under Lord Cranborne's leadership, the Tory Opposition has shown hitherto a disposition to sink mere prejudice and join with us on the Government Benches in helping the House of Lords to perform its proper function as a Second Chamber, namely, that of revision and acceptable Amendment, rather than in using it as a Tory engine for the 60 frustration of the Labour Government summoned to office and to power by the nation.Is not that true? I would very respectfully address to my noble friend on the Woolsack this question: What is it that has happened during the life of this Labour Government which gives you the smallest justification for any reproach against the House of Lords at all? Do not you recognize that in fact—I think the Parliament Act had something to do with it—this House is now rendering a service, genuine, patriotic and, I think, essential which cannot reasonably be impeached and which goes very far from offering the smallest justification for this proposal?
Let me also point this out. There is no doubt about it. Legislation to amend the Parliament Act is legislation concerning the powers of this House. It is nothing to do with its composition. I happen to entertain rather strong personal views as to how the composition of the House should be changed and I have no more abstract attachment for a House largely based on the hereditary principle than many other people; but that has absolutely nothing to do with the proposal mentioned in the King's Speech. I have the Parliament Act here. It is:An Act to make provision with respect to the powers of the House of Lords in relation to those of the House of Commons, and to limit the duration of Parliament.The heading of Section 1 is:Powers of House of Lords as to Money Bills.Section 2 is headed:Restriction of the powers of the House of Lords as to Bills other than Money Bills.The Bill in its enacting sections has nothing to do with composition; and indeed it is a very difficult subject, on which people do not agree, as to how the House of Lords should be composed. This Bill—we know nothing more about it at present and I hope the Lord Chancellor may lift a little of the curtain in his speech which follows mine—has nothing to do with the composition of the House of Lords at all. It has to do with its powers. I take the view myself—and I think it is a view taken by many people interested in constitutional development—that the people of this country respect an institution because of the way in which that institution serves it. They do not qualify their respect because it may contain elements which in a theoretical sense are out of the spirit of the times.
61 Your Lordships saw that illustrated this morning when Parliament was opened by His Majesty the King. I suppose there is nobody at this time of day who talks about the "divine right of kings." The reason why the Crown has the respect and the support it has throughout the country is not because of the "divine right of kings "or any abstract respect for hereditary principles, but because for at least one hundred years we have been so splendidly served by the series of Monarchs that have sat upon the Throne. Exactly the same thing is true of this House. If it does not deserve the respect of the people it will be criticized and it may go, but, if it does act in a way which sensible citizens—I think sensible citizens in all Parties—regard as a proper and useful service, I believe it will survive criticisms based on a perfectly different and technical consideration, and, therefore, I venture to ask the Lord Chancellor—I do not want to detain your Lordships any longer than necessary—what is there in the attitude or the record of the House of Lords during the lifetime of this Government, or, indeed, going further back, which can justify the raising of this controversy at this time? Make no mistake; it is going to raise a controversy. Why, when you are faced, as the beginning of your King's Speech truly says, with a most grave economic crisis, you should want gratuitously to add a constitutional crisis as well, Heaven only knows.
My noble friend the Earl of Halifax was right when he said that, so long as this intention stands as part of the accepted programme of the Government—and I think every decent honest citizen will try to give them help and support in these terribly difficult times, and not spend the whole time in criticism—you destroy that desire to help. Side by side with the appeal that is being made, for instance by Mr. Herbert Morrison, for us to endeavour to come together for a single national effort to face the immediate danger, the Government say: "We must be permitted to introduce this particular proposal"—whatever it means. That will inevitably reopen what I myself think is a past controversy, although one which can easily flame up again if a repetition of this issue is set before the people. I would commend to the Government, with great respect, the view taken by the News Chronicle over this matter. That 62 view was stated in the leader yesterday. The paper seems to have had some wind of this.
The News Chronicle has been, on the whole, a very fair-minded paper in respect of Government proposals. I think what is said by them is plain common sense. May I be permitted to read it? It says:The people will also wonder why this particular issue should suddenly be thrust into the limelight again.Will the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, kindly oblige us by telling us what the reason is? The newspaper goes on to say:It has been clear for some time now, however, that some of the Labour leaders are anxious for reform"—that means limiting the powers of the House of Lords—less for its own sake than as a pretext to divides the country.What is the good of appealing to people to come together and to try to act as a united nation if there is an element sufficiently powerful to insert into the King's Speech something which, as the paper suggests, will have the effect of dividing the county? The News Chronicle goes on to say:They calculate that this would be resisted by the Lords and the stage thus set for that hackneyed political aria 'People versus Peers'.It is utterly treacherous, as it seems to me, at this grave time, when we are all asked to try and pull together. There is. nothing especially in the conduct and altitude of this House, as the Government and its supporters know just as well as the rest of us, which can justify such a proposal. It is distracting the attention of the country by what I remember was one of the most heated controversies of history. To engage in a dog fight of that sort is distracting the attention of the people, and that is the last thing the Government ought to seek to do, especially in view of the many assurances which have been given in this House to-day by serious-minded men not of the Government's Party, but who none the less wish to set aside reproaches about the past—if there are reproaches—because we are in a frightful difficulty. And if we do not get out of that difficulty it will not make much difference whose fault it was. With great respect therefore, and I hope with moderation, I do urge that this particular matter should be reconsidered. 63 It is not the. first time that a Government have put something into their King's speech which they have not carried out, but I feel convinced that this proposal is a quite recent innovation. I do not presume to probe or inquire or to guess how it has come about, but, with great respect, I would ask the Government to consider very carefully and very long what is likely to be the real outcome.
The appeal that is made to us is that we should work loyally and co-operatively for the salvation of the country; that we should not meet the. crisis in Party terms. Yet, my Lords, I am sorry—for I wish to suppress in me all wicked impulses and temptations—but I cannot imagine anything which is so likely to produce a controversy in every political club in the land, demonstrations beyond end, and exaggeration and high-sounding accounts to audiences not very well informed as to the sort of people your Lordships are. I can conceive nothing which is more likely to produce that result than the carrying out of this unfortunate proposal. Is it that the Government are beginning to realize, notwithstanding their very remarkable success at by-elections, that many who supported them are showing signs of losing confidence in them? Is it that a large number of people in this country are beginning to feel more deeply than they felt it before, that nationalization is not a key to plenty and to happiness? Can it be that some people are reflecting very seriously that coal nationalization produces neither coal nor dollars? I see that Professor Robins said, in a careful survey which he made the other day, "We have wasted our breathing space in a dream of cheap Utopias." I am not seeking to claim any perfect apprehension of what was the danger that was coming; but what I do say is that the one essential thing for this country now is to pull together, and the greatest crime the Government can commit is deliberately to throw down this highly-controversial constitutional challenge.
I will conclude by reading one other paragraph from this article in the News Chronicle of yesterday's date. I believe it to be profoundly true, and what the writer says is this:If the Labour leaders seriously contemplate riding into the next election on this aged battlehorse they will do their cause more harm than good. The next election will not 64 be won by political stunts of this kind. Labour will retain or lose office simply and solely on its record. No such distraction would succeed in diverting attention from this central issue.What I have endeavoured to do is to confirm what was said by my noble friend Viscount Samuel. The circumstances in which the powers of the House of Lords were reconsidered, thirty-six years ago, were utterly different from the circumstances existing to-day. There is no justification for making this proposal, and I invite the Lord Chancellor, if he will be so good as to do so, to tell us why it is that this proposal occurs in the King's Speech, and if it is calculated to lead to national unity.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT JOWITT)
My Lords, on one point we have, I think, all been agreed today—and, I believe only on one point. That is, in extending our congratulations to the mover and seconder of this Resolution on the admirable way in which they have carried out their difficult tasks. How fortunate, how very fortunate, we are to have men of the calibre of the noble Lord who moved the Resolution, to speak and to tell the country what the problem is and what we have got to do. Sir Alan Herbert has written a poem about a Lord Chancellor who:Weekly in the Sunday ChimeExplains the need for overtime,To every artisan.The trouble is, that the artisan does not take much notice of what is told him by the Lord Chancellor. But he does—at least I hope he does—take very considerable notice of what is said to him by the noble Lord, Lord Dukeston. As for my noble friend Lord Quibell, some of your Lordships were rather frightened lest the austerity of the occasion should quell his natural good humour. I never had any fear of that sort at all. The more depressing things get the more firmly he puts on the back of his head his bowler hat and the more lively is his laugh. God bless him for it!
I confess that for various reasons I am sorry that the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, Lord Addison, is not able to be with us to-day. I can say now, in his absence, what we on our side of the House, and I think I may say your Lordships on the other side of the House also, 65 owe to his sagacity, wisdom, and unfailing courtesy. We all love him dearly, and the fact that he at, I will not say a ripe, but a ripening old age, has thought fit to travel as he has done, in order to do what he can to get help and sympathy for us in these difficult times, is a very remarkable achievement. I am very glad to be able to tell your Lordships that his efforts have been amply repaid and that he has been able—as he will, I hope, have the opportunity of telling your Lordships—to do very useful work for this country.
I, too, have been away. I have been to Canada and I have been to the United States of America. I have travelled from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and I have made far more speeches than I even like to think about now. But I must tell your Lordships that I have come away immensely heartened at the great amount of good will there is towards us amongst the people of the United States. Of course, I knew that there would be amongst the people of Canada. But do not let us take everything for granted. Let us remember the wisdom of keeping our friendships in repair. I would say—and the noble Earl, Lord Halifax, knows much more about this than I do—that I think that the important thing to do at the present time is to stress to the Americans the endeavours which we are making to help ourselves. We have got to convince them that we are going to do all we can to get out of our own troubles. It would not be right and it would not be fair that we should lie back and not pull our weight, and expect them to get us out of our troubles. That is the essential lesson which I have learnt.
I think I can fairly say, too, that I have come away feeling that the Americans are much more appreciative of the efforts that the people of this country are making to help themselves than we are at home. It is a remarkable thing—if we may look at the bright side for a moment—that, notwithstanding the war and our tiredness, the quality of the food we get and the fact that our machines are so much older and in many cases out of date, our total productivity has gone up substantially, as it has, since the year 1938. And the people on the other side of the Atlantic are very much impressed also with the courageous way in which we are taxing ourselves instead of just printing money. I am quite convinced 66 that we have the good will of the American people. I am equally convinced that we have got to go on in every way we can, straining every nerve over this great task, even though at times it hurts us very badly to do so.
The noble Marquess who leads the Opposition made, as he always does, a delightful speech. He expressed great surprise that noble Lords of the independence of outlook of Lord Dukeston and Lord Quibell should find themselves on the Socialist Benches. He intimated that he thought they were naturally his companions. Is it just possible, and does the noble Marquess think, that he may, perhaps, have a wrong conception of the Labour Party and what they stand for? Is it not just possible that we encourage noble Lords to have a certain amount of independence, and does the noble Marquess notice the fact that we selected these two noble Lords to move and second the Address well knowing, as he knows, what is their outlook and what is their temperament? I ask the noble Marquess to put aside from his mind this preconceived idea of what the Labour Party stands for; that it is all drab and dull uniformity. That is not the case at all. Every day we are illustrating the maxim that truth is many-sided.
We have heard very much about the desirability of unity in our troubles, and I very largely agree. I have never been one who has in any sense at all belittled the difficulties of the day. When I, for a time, in the Coalition Government, was acting in charge of reconstruction matters, before the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, was appointed, I was once asked by a very eminent person what I saw of the prospects for the future. I said: "I cannot see how we are going to get through the first five years after the war. If we get through those five years then I am sure it will be all right." Just consider what the position was. We had sold substantially all our assets abroad in order to pay for the war and our export trade on which we depended for our imports had necessarily and inevitably been blocked up. So, at the end of the war we found ourselves with our capital abroad gone, and our export trade gone, unable to produce more than about one-third, I think it is, of our food, and practically none of our raw materials.
67 I remember that almost the first day after I became Lord Chancellor the late Lord Keynes came to see me and I remember his putting down on the table a sort of balance sheet of how the position stood. I understand nothing whatever, it is only too obvious I am afraid, about economics, and I was absolutely horrified at the figures he had to show. Those are the facts and I ask the noble Marquess, the Leader of the Opposition, is it true to say that this country has been brought low by political nostrums? I would venture to say that this is such a complete and obvious misstatement of the facts as to be unfortunate coming from one in his position. Of course you might say that things would have been better if we had not adopted this, that or the other policy. That is a very understandable point of view, which will always be a matter of legitimate Party conflict. But to say that we have been brought low by doing these things is to ignore the very obvious facts which I have pointed out to your Lordships.
We now come to the problem as to how we can get things right. Take the question of coal. It will be in the recollection of your Lordships that when the question of the nationalization of coal was debated I was careful to say that the nationalization of coal would not produce the coal. I could not guarantee that we could get the coal, but I stated. my firm conviction that unless we did nationalize we could not get the coal. If I may say so without undue heat, to attempt, after this scheme has been in force for less than a year, to say it has failed or to say it has succeeded is to my mind absolute folly. Let us by all means have our differences as to whether it is the right or wrong thing to do. I believe that, with all the difficulties which had to be encountered, and they were obviously very great, it was the right and wise thing to do and I believe we should have been in a much worse position if we had not done it.
Then the noble Marquess says we are bent on discouraging our best friends. Why? If I may take my humble self, I have laid myself out for the past six weeks to do everything I could to encourage our best friends. Is it fair, because this must be remembered in the relation to the suggestion of greater 68 national unity, to say the Government are bent on discouraging our best friends? The noble Marquess referred to the choice which a free man in a free community likes to have of buying what he wants. I am rather tired of this. Of course a free man in a free community desires to be able to buy what he wants, but look at the practical position we are in to-day. We have to export every single thing we can and that means that there will be left at home an all-over insufficiency. Are we then to share that fairly or in a way which will let the people with the largest amount of money buy what they like? If we are going to have a rationing system where goods are shared equitably, it means hordes of civil servants. I believe that bread rationing alone means ten thousand civil servants. Petrol rationing means a great many more. If we do away with rationing we can free a large staff. But is there anybody in your Lordships' House who would say that the distribution of those things in short supply should not be made equitably and fairly but simply according to the size of one's purse? It is inconceivable. I would beg your Lordships in all parts of the House not to speak as though we liked all the restrictions we have to have. We have to have them. They do not come from the fact that we desire them, but from the fact that these shortages can be dealt with in no other way.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, the noble and learned Viscount has referred several times to me. There is much I would like to say in answer. I really agree that there must be a measure of control and I said so, but when you come to State officials reaching a number of two millions out of a population of fifty millions, the anxiety to get absolutely equal distribution may reduce the amount a country may be able to distribute and intensify the evil it is desired to correct.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I realize that. If it is simply a question of how many, that can be argued in debate. I understood that the noble Marquess was criticizing the whole method of having control at all.
§ SEVERAL NOBLE LORDS: No.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I accept it, but I think he so phrased his sentence 69 that he said so. If I have given a wrong interpretation, I apologize to him.
I come to the question of criticism. I do not in the least object to criticism. I think the best thing one can say is that in a time of gravity like this everybody must realize the responsibility of critizing and so long as that is realized I do not in the slightest degree resent criticism. I think it is true that some criticism is doing us harm in America, but on the other hand I would much rather have that than have some sort of control of criticism or have our politics mealy-mouthed affairs. I think it is right. It is certainly what the Americans do. I went to a debate on the Taft-Hartley Act at which Senator Taft himself spoke and I heard somebody say, "The lesson of the Civil War has been undone. Slavery has returned to America." That, whatever you may think of the Act—and I was very careful to express no opinion—is the language of hyperbole. If it had been head-lined in the press, "Slavery Returns to America," and if our people believed it, it might have been unfortunate. Some speakers over here are regarded in America as so verbally inspired that everything they say of that sort is splashed in the American papers and the readers seem to believe it. I have no remedy for that. I certainly do not want the Leader of the Opposition, or anybody else, to be restrained in his criticism. How could he be? It would be a lamentable thing if there were any restraint. All I want is that people should learn that many things are said internally for internal consumption; they are not intended for export.
I was asked a question about housing. I must say this to the noble Marquess, that we had better face the facts. The trouble is that, unfortunately, housing demands very considerable quantities of limber. We must cut down our purchases from abroad and the limiting factor in housing is going to be timber. We are not therefore able to produce as many houses as we would have liked. But houses partially constructed and for which timber is available will go on. So far as new construction in the future is concerned, that must be governed by the amount of timber we can afford to buy, unless some other material can be made available.
70 With regard to Imperial Preference, I understand that a statement is going to be made in another place: dealing with this matter at length and the noble Marquess will forgive me if I do not deal with it in any detail here. I understand, however, that the very specific statements which were made about our attitude at the present time are not being departed from.
Then there is the question of foreign affairs. I also when I was out in America saw something of the United Nations Assembly and met some of the representatives. It seems to me that what is needed in foreign affairs beyond everything else is patience. It is, of course, very disappointing, but I think that we should be quite wrong to despair at the present time. Let us, at any rate, wait until November and see if then anything better is forthcoming; and let us hope that saner counsels will prevail.
The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, asked me a question about the phrase: "to reform the franchise and electoral procedure." He will not be surprised, and I hope not unduly disappointed, If I tell him that that does not mean that we propose to introduce proportional representation. It does refer to a Bill to be introduced, which will contain provisions for the electoral reform arising out of the recommendations of the Committee of Electoral Registration, the Speaker's Conference and the Committee on Electoral Law Reform. If, as I fully expect, the noble Viscount is familiar with all the proceedings in those Committees, which I am not, he will know precisely what the Bill is going to do.
I now come to the controversial matter about which a good deal has been said, the Parliament Act. We have had recollections from those who can speak with authority about 1911. I would just say this. Those two Elections of 1910 were my initiation into politics. I confess that I went up and down the country breathing fire and slaughter against the House of Lords, if I could get anybody to listen to me, which was not very often. I was for no half measures then. I confess that in my youthful enthusiasm I was for doing away with the whole thing root and branch. However, there it was, and the Parliament Act was passed. That was the year 1911, and for thirty-six years that controversy has been stilled. Do any of your Lordships imagine that you 71 can fairly say that that controversy is stilled to-day? We who know what goes on here realize what an admirable institution we are, and what a splendid membership this House has. Of course we do.Oh wad some power the giftie gie us To see oursel's as ithers see us.Believe me, it is the fact that there are those who do not think that we are such admirable people, or that this is such an admirable institution as we do ourselves. It is common knowledge that there have been those in the past who would desire to do all sorts of very hard things to us. Would it not be well—I put this to your Lordships quite frankly—if we could end this controversy for another thirty-six years by reducing the time within which you can hold up a Bill from two years to one?
I have been asked the reason why there is anxiety about this at the present time. Let me be quite frank. I have said—and I have not said it with my tongue in my cheek—that this House has performed a most useful function. Look back to some of the Bills which we have done together. Take, for instance, the Companies Bill. We had two hundred Amendments in that Bill, and we got through them all without a Division. On the Bills I have conducted myself—the Coal Bill, the Town and Country Planning Bill, the Electricity Bill, and others—we have always had a very frank discussion. The Government have used this House to introduce a very large number of Amendments themselves on second thoughts. What has happened has been that after a full and frank discussion your Lordships have generally insisted on some three or four Amendments (and, of course, if you do insist on an Amendment one of the weaknesses of the thing is that you are bound to be able to carry it) and they have gone back to the other place; the other place have sometimes met you and sometimes not, and when they have not, your Lordships have given way. That is the way the thing has been working. Working like that it works admirably, and there is absolutely nothing in our proposals to prevent it from going on working like that, where you concede and give way. But the anxiety is this. After this Session of Parliament (we may as well face the fact) when we have run three years, there is no Bill which can be put through by the other place without the consent of this 72 House. This House in the main, and a very large number of its members, support the Conservative Party.
§ VISCOUNT SIMON
The noble and learned Viscount will forgive me for interrupting. There is a provision in the Parliament Act to which he has not made reference, and which I think is not generally known. It is not in the least necessary that the three times passage of the Bill should be in the same Parliament. There is an express provision in the Bill that you can have the second or third passing in a second Parliament, after the General Election. There is, therefore, no question of losing a Bill.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I do not suggest that there is any danger of losing a Bill. It is a fact that when three years have run of the present Parliament—let us face this; I am trying to state it in a non-controversial way—the Government being a Labour Government, or if it were a Liberal Government, could not be certain of getting any Bill through in that Parliament unless they got the consent of the Conservative opposition in the House of Lords. On the other hand, when the Conservative Party is in power that same clog does not apply. That is what is said. If I am asked what will happen after the three years are up, I believe that so long as the noble Marquess who is at present leading the Opposition and the noble Viscount who is leading the Liberal Party are there they will exercise their powers sensibly and well, and from a broad point of view. But, after all, I regret to say, those two noble Lords, like the rest of us, are not immortal, and one does not know what may happen if that group of people who used to be referred to, I think, as backwoodsmen come up and take charge of the situation.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I think the noble and learned Viscount has stated his case with great skill, but that is a case in favour of altering the composition of the House and has nothing whatever to do with the powers. What the Government are saying is that this is an inefficient House, that it is ill-balanced, and that it is improper that it should have the powers which it has, but they do not alter the composition.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
At the moment I am dealing with the powers. So far as the composition is concerned. do 73 not your Lordships think that this House has done very well during the first two years? What has been wrong with it?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
What has been wrong is that the composition is wrong according to the noble and learned Viscount.
§ A NOBLE LORD: You said so.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I am not grumbling at all about that. I never grumble. Let us see where we stand. I am saying that I think this House for the last two years by universal consent has done very well. If that is agreed there is nothing the matter with the composition of this House, but if your Lordships tell me that you want to change the composition of this House, I shall be ready to listen to your proposals. If, therefore, any of your Lordships will come to me with a solution which is more or less agreed to, I will give it most favourable consideration. At the present moment, and for the last thirty-six years, nobody has been able to agree on any solution at all. Therefore, we must go on with this composition of this House which has done so extraordinarily well for the last two years.
With regard to the powers of the House, just think: now really think. Nineteen hundred and eleven is thirty-six years ago. We lived in spacious days then; they were the good old times for most of us. But what has happened since then? We have had two wars and adult suffrage. Is it really said that a remedy which was appropriate then is appropriate now? Just think. The Coal Industry Nationalisation Bill received its Second Reading in the House of Lords on January 29, 1946, and if you had been operating the two years in this House we should still be in uncertainty with regard to coal. It would not have been until January 29 of next year that we should have been able, under the Act of Parliament, to pass that Bill, and that at a time when—I warn your Lordships—we had to take quick decisions, and we had to take unpopular decisions. I say that two years is impossible.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
Might I ask the noble and learned Viscount whether the same argument would not apply to one year? Are you arguing for no delay at all?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
No, I am not arguing for no delay at all. I have argued this matter out very thoroughly. I think it is inevitable and right that there should be a Revising Chamber and a Second Chamber, and I think that a Revising Chamber must have this sanction. I think they must be able to hold up a Bill for a limited period of time with all the disadvantages. I do not think you can have a Second and Revising Chamber unless they have some sanction of that sort. In America, as the most reverend Primate knows, the President has a right to veto, to refer back, but there of course it depends on numbers. With us I think you must see that if you are going to have a Second and Revising Chamber, with the matter referred back there must be a right to impose some time limit and I suggest the reasonable time limit in those circumstances is one year.
May I remind your Lordships of this fact? When the Irish Constitution was passed—your Lordships will find it in 1921 or 1922 Statutes—as a Schedule to the Constitution, you will find that what we indicated was that if the Senate rejected a Bill passed by the Dail then 270 days after the Second Reading in the Dail that Bill should become law. We are suggesting that the period should be one year. That is a very drastic power. Two years was an exceptionally drastic power, so much so that Mr. Winston Churchill at the time when he was Home Secretary said he stood amazed and aghast at his own moderation. If he was amazed and aghast at his own moderation in 1911 when all the circumstances have altered, surely in the faster and quicker tempo of to-day one year is the appropriate time. Now is not the time to debate the Bill, and I am not sure that I have not been somewhat out of order in referring to it as I have. All I would say is this. Do consider whether it is not worth while getting rid of this controversy for another thirty-six years if you can do that by substituting one year for two.
I have concluded all I want to say except just this. The most reverend Primate, the Archbishop of York, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and the noble Earl, Lord Halifax, have spoken of the need of some common approach. One went so far as to talk about a Coalition. May I give you the benefit of my 75 experience, and the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, and the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, would perhaps confirm my view. I was intensely proud to be a member of Mr. Churchill's great Coalition for five years. But I found—and I dare say other members found, too—that there came a time when the working of that Coalition became more and more difficult. I remember very well what happened with regard to some of the matters which we had towards the end. I know that I am not stating my own point of view, or my own Party point of view, when I say that there did come a point where it was almost impossible to work.
That we are in a very grave position to-day is unquestioned; that we must put forth our very best if we are to be able in the immediate future to maintain the somewhat inadequate standard of living we have to-day, is plain. I do not believe that it is best done by a Coalition. Circumstances move so fast that the answer which I am giving to-day may prove to be quite wrong in some months to come, but I do not believe it is possible to-day. What I think is possible to-day is that, although we should not in any way spike the guns of our criticism—let us let off our best pieces of artillery by all means—let us also try to give credit not to our political opponents, but to the people of this country for what they are doing. One can so easily cheer people up by putting it in this way: "Notwithstanding the utter incompetence of this Government you people are putting up a splendid effort; you have got up your production." In that way you would put their tails in the air. This constant drip of gloom is perhaps unfortunate.
That is one solution I have and I would go further. I would say: Let us try to face up to the difficulties of to-day. Do not let us put it all down to the incompetence of a wicked Government. I think there will be plenty to criticize and I have not the shadow of a doubt that we have made a lot of mistakes. I think that, faced with the crisis we are in, if we had not made mistakes we would not have been doing anything. The man who claims never to have made a mistake in times like these is a fool. We now have a set-up which enables us to have a chance of surmounting very great difficulties. In this House I shall always 76 expect, and I am quite sure that so long as I am here I shall always receive, the kindly but firm criticism of your Lordships' House.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ LORD CALVERLEY
My Lords, I agree that my interference in the debate is somewhat of an anti-climax, coming as it does after the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor. I would like to say in a very few words that there are some aspects of the gracious Speech with which we are all agreed. The Lord Chancellor has reminded us that we could agree upon the two speeches of the mover and seconder of the Address in reply to the gracious Speech from the Throne. We should also agree that we are unanimous in thanking His Majesty for making that Speech. I suggest, too, that we can agree, as we shall do to-morrow, in congratulating her whom we like in Yorkshire to think of as Her Royal Highness Princess Elizabeth of York, on her forthcoming marriage. Whether we are young or old we shall always admire a lover and his lass.
In the debate to-day, there has not been a single mention of the fact that His Majesty's Government are going to introduce a Criminal Law Amendment Bill. Many of us who have been working on benches and in prisons for many years are glad that this Bill is going to be introduced; and I am quite certain that your Lordships will not have to refer to the Parliament Act on this occasion, because you will welcome it and once more prove that this House is a Council of State. For that reason I personally welcome this proposal of a Criminal Law Amendment Bill.
Another matter that has not been mentioned is that there is going to be a Budget. When that Budget comes to your Lordships' House we cannot reject it; but I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be ill-advised if he further increases the price of tobacco. One thing we are suffering from in these days is the lack of something that brings a certain amount of enjoyment and incentive to work; and if it is going to be made impossible for the person of moderate means to enjoy a smoke, I think that is going to have a bad psychological effect on the nation. Therefore I hope the Chancellor will not further increase the price of tobacco when he is introducing 77 his Budget. I hope also that the Chancellor will raise a forced loan of at least £300,000,000 a year by readjusting his other commitments; that he will not increase taxation but hypothecate at least £300,000,000, in order to make up for what is lacking in the weekly drive for the Silver Lining Campaign.
One reason why there is anxiety in the Labour Party is that 95 to 99 per cent. of the Press of this country has been printing, practically with one voice, what my noble friend the Lord Chancellor has described as "drips of gloom." That undoubtedly has had its bad effect in America. No responsible person in this country or in your Lordships' House or in the other place has complained about the American loan as being in itself unjust. No responsible person has stated that the Americans were behaving in a shabby way. They have not behaved in a shabby way. And this House—and may it long remain a sounding board for the nation and a Council of State—can make that abundantly clear by emphasizing that we are thankful to the United States for what they have done, but that we do wish that they would appreciate the efforts that this nation has made.
Scorn has been poured upon what has been described as the lack of planning by this Government. Yet it is over two years since Sir Stafford Cripps started his planning. Scorn has been poured upon the working parties. I want to tell your Lordships that so far as the wool and woollen textile trades are concerned there is so much good will on the part of both management and workers that they have voluntarily agreed to work longer hours. (There is a distinction between the wool and woollen textile trades. One is represented by the wool of the suit which the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, is wearing; and the "woollen textile" is wool mixed with perhaps a bit of cotton or something similar). The whole industry in the West Riding is united in backing His Majesty's Government. I was present at the meeting of the employers of labour and trade unionists. Sir Stafford Cripps, I agree, is not a man to whip them into enthusiasm like, for instance, the late Earl Lloyd George. But he carried the meeting with him; and they publicly pledged themselves to back him up in all he is doing. It is the same with the cotton trade. And so with coal. Let it be counted for righteousness that the 78 miners have increased their output of coal so much that we have 5,000,000 tons more to-day than we had at the corresponding time a year ago. No wonder the Brighton Jamboree, the Conservative Party, Conference, said they would not de-nationalize the Bank of England, mining, and transport.
I am coming to this conclusion, that the cardinal sin of the Labour Party is that we tried to implement our pledges, though we tried perhaps to implement them too quickly. I am glad that steel is not on the programme. Let me be quite frank about that—though I have so much original sin in me that when we were dared, as it were, both from the Conservative and the Liberal Benches, to put steel into the King's Speech, I was sorely tempted to do my bit of propaganda to see that it was put in. Some people complain about the Government because, they say, there has not been a "clarion call." But there is and has been willing co-operation, through leadership and not through dictation. But I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dukeston, that the; workers themselves have a long way to go before they catch the new crusading spirit.
For many years, when I used to bring children into this Chamber, which was then called the Robing Room, I used to point to those frescoes on the walls, of the five great virtues. I pointed out to the children that in this place the King put on his robes of State when he was opening Parliament, and that those pictures were there to remind the King, if he were tempted to forget it, that he is the servant of the people. The reason why we were glad to listen to His Majesty to-day is that we realize that he is the servant of the people. As some of us believe, they are no empty words when he said: "I pray that Almighty God may give His blessing to your counsels," because more and more as I live I realize that there must be a spiritual dynamic, not simply for us but for all our people. I wish our voices could reach our people so that they could realize that spiritual urge, and then we should have less talk about "stints" and this country would emerge from its present distresses.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Might I just say one thing which I meant to say when replying to the noble Lord, Lord Schuster; otherwise it would appear discourteous on my part. Lord Schuster 79 asked me a specific question which I forgot to answer about the Rushcliffe aid scheme. I confess that I am sorry I did not succeed in getting that Bill specifically mentioned. I made myself a perfect nuisance to all my colleagues about it, but we really cannot allow your Lordships to be worked in this Parliament as we were worked in the last Parliament. I have not given up hope that we shall get it in. I was able to get in my Crown Proceedings Bill and I shall do whatever a Lord Chancellor can do by "under the counter" methods to see if I cannot somehow or other get in your Rushcliffe Aid Bill. I cannot say more. I am very sorry I did not mention it.
§ Moved, that the debate be now adjourned.—(Lord Rankeillour.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly till to-morrow.