HL Deb 28 July 1949 vol 164 cc625-30

3.6 p.m.

Order of the Day read for the consideration of the Commons Amendment in lieu of one of the Lords Amendments, and the Commons Reasons for disagreeing to certain of the Lords Amendments.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons Amendment and the Commons Reasons be now considered.

Moved, That the Commons Amendment in lieu of one of the Lords Amendments, and the Commons Reasons for disagreeing to certain of the Lords Amendments be now considered.—(Viscount Addison.)


My Lords, perhaps it may be for the convenience of your Lordships' House if, on this general Motion, I take the opportunity of stating the general position of the Conservative Opposition with regard to the Amendments which were sent down by your Lordships to another place and which have now returned to us. I must confess that we have been deeply disappointed at the attitude taken in another place by the Government and their supporters with regard to these Amend- ments. One could well understand that not all of them would be found acceptable: that would have been too much to hope for. But to reject so large a proportion, including all those of real substance, shows both an innate contempt for this House and, in our view, a general irresponsibility which I feel sure will not commend itself to the country. After all, these were not frivolous Amendments. They were put forward with a due sense of responsibility, on the recommendation of noble Lords with life-long experience of the industry, and they surely deserve a better fate than they have had.

I sometimes wonder whether in fact the Labour Party, in spite of all their protestations, really believe in the Second Chamber at all. That hardly seems credible if they expect this House, with all its talent and experience, to sit long hours over Bills with the object of making them more workable and then, without even the façade of really serious consideration, reject all the more important Amendments that have been made, apparently just because they have emanated from the House of Lords. It is not as if we, from any general dislike of the underlying principles of this Bill—and we do dislike them—had tried to wreck it, or even to hold it up. We have never lent ourselves to obstructionist tactics of that kind. If I may use a phrase which is now popular in industrial circles, there has been no "go slow movement" on the part of your Lord-sips. We have dealt with this Bill, like other measures, expeditiously and efficiently; we have done our best to improve it and make it more workable. In such circumstances, I feel that we are entitled to protest against the cavalier treatment to which we have been subjected.

We have considered carefully and, I can assure the Government, with a due sense of responsibility what course we should now adopt towards these Amendments which have been rejected. We do not recede in any way from the view that all the Amendments which we inserted in the Bill were serious contributions, aimed at increasing the efficiency of the Government scheme. We are utterly unconvinced, for instance, by the arguments of Ministers against the Prices Board. We do not believe that the existing machinery in the Bill is adequate and, in our view, it is quite senseless to say that the Prices Board would not work, when in fact an exactly similar body has operated with complete success throughout the difficult war and post-war years. We believe that the real reason for the Government's opposition to this Board is that they are afraid of anything which might in any way interfere with the absolute dictatorship of the Minister. He does not want advice from experts or from anybody else. Nor are we any more impressed by the arguments adduced against the other Amendments. If, on these, we do not carry our opposition any further, it is not because we accept the Government view—and I want to make that abundantly clear.

There is, however, one Amendment on which I am afraid we must continue to insist. It is that which relates to the postponement of the bringing into operation of the whole scheme of nationalisation of the industry until after the General Election. On that we intend to stand absolutely firm. Of this particular Amendment I shall say no more at this stage, though I shall have some further comments to make when we come to discuss it. With regard to the others we accept the decision which has been reached in another place. We accept it reluctantly; we accept it under protest. We believe the excision of these Amendments to be totally unjustified and calculated only to impair the smooth working of the scheme. But we shall not carry our opposition to a Division. We have done our best to improve this Bill in these respects. If we have failed, that is not our fault; the Government must bear the responsibility.

I would now say, in conclusion, one word as to the actual procedure which we shall adopt to-day. I suggest that, in view of the fact that we are not going to vote on the earlier Amendments, it will probably be convenient that Amendments up to Clause 11, on which we do not intend to insist, should be moved en bloc—with the exception of the Amendment in lieu which the other place has offered. That no doubt will require separate treatment. When we reach Clause 11 and the group of Amendments which hangs with it, then no doubt we shall have a further debate and a Division.

3.14 p.m.


My Lords, I recognise that the procedure suggested by the noble Marquess is in accord with the general conduct of proceedings in this House, and perhaps I may make one or two observations on what the noble Marquess has said about taking the Amendments as a group. If your Lordships will study the Paper it will be seen that the suggested first group embraces the Amendments up to and including the second Amendment to page 5, line 13. The next Amendment will be the Amendment in lieu, to which the noble Marquess referred.

I should like, if I may, with perfect good faith, to make a brief comment on what the noble Marquess has said with regard to what happened in another place. I think he omitted to take note of the fact that a very considerable number of Amendments which your Lordships inserted have been accepted by the other place; and with regard to those with which they disagreed, I am quite sure the noble Marquess will not accuse noble Lords on this side of the House of any disposition to conceal our views. I think the views of the Government, including my own and those of my colleagues, were fully and adequately expressed. I assure the noble Marquess that there was no sense of irresponsibility in connection with this Bill in another place, and there was nothing to justify the noble Marquess's description "not even a facade of consideration." I would remind your Lordships that the Amendments which this House inserted in the Bill were subjected to full consideration; the discussion in the other place lasted all through one night and until mid-day the following day on the first occasion, and again for a considerable time on the second occasion.


But would the noble Viscount say what proportion of that time was taken up by the Opposition and what proportion by the Government, and what was the average length of the speeches of Ministers? They were very brief and very inadequate.


I am afraid I have not had notice of that question.


But you read the debate.


I have not turned my reading into an arithmetical calculation which would enable me to give a proper reply to the noble Marquess. I quite understand the spirit in which the noble Marquess made his interjection, but at the same time that does not alter the solid fact that the other place sat all through the night until midday the following day, and again a considerable time on the next day to consider these Amendments. I should not describe that as "not even a facade of consideration." However, I will carry the matter further, and express my appreciation of the suggestion of the noble Marquess, which is quite in accord with the procedure of this House. When we come to the Amendments to Clause 11, there will no doubt be some discussion both by the noble Marquess and others, and I myself may haw a word to say.

3.20 p.m.


Before the Motion is put I should like to say that, so far as I and noble Lords on these Benches are concerned, we also regret the decisions taken in another place on these Amendments. In the case of many of those Amendments, where your Lordships' House has done its best to improve what in my opinion is a Bill which, even with those Amendments, would be unworkable and unsatisfactory, they have found fit to say that they do not agree. I am referring especially to the Amendments in the earlier part of the Bill. The Government rather take the line that the Amendments are unnecessary because it is said (and this view has been expressed frequently by noble Lords opposite), the Minister would not do such a thing, and in any case he does not wish to be told not to do so.

The reasons for rejecting the Amendments which have been moved in this House—again I speak of the earlier ones —seem to me rather to partake of the case of the young man who says: "Perhaps I will do what you want me to do. but I am not going to be told to do it." That attitude of mind, which I find reflected in much of what was said during the debates in another place, makes the rejection of these Amendments all the more regrettable. If your Lordships do not divide on these earlier Amendments, and divide only on the issue to which the noble Marquess has referred, it will not be because we on these Benches do not consider that the Amendments would improve what is, to us, an unsatisfactory Bill. Rather do we desire to clarify the issue—namely, that so far as we are concerned this Bill, even in an amended form, would be unsatisfactory; that in the unamended form it is wholly unsatisfactory, and that the people of this country should have an opportunity of judging not only of the unsatisfactory nature of the Bill but also of the motives and the doctrine behind those who prompted and sponsored it.

On Question, Motion agreed to.


["The references are to Bill No. 93]