HL Deb 24 November 1949 vol 165 cc957-68

Clause 11, page 10, line 21, leave out ("May") and insert ("July")

Clause 11, page 10,line 22, leave out ("fifty") and insert ("fifty-one")

Clause 11, page 10,line 23, leave out ("passing") and insert ("coming into force")

Clause 11, page 10,page 11, line It, leave out ("May") and insert ("July")

Clause 11, page 10,line 12, leave out ("fifty") and insert ("fifty-one").

Clause 60, page 62, line 10, at end insert— ("() This Act shall come into force on the first day of October, nineteen hundred and fifty.")

The Commons insist on their disagreement with the above Amendments but propose the following Amendments in lieu thereof—

Clause 1, page 2, line 8, at end, insert—

("(3) The Minister shall not appoint any member of the Corporation before the first day of October, nineteen hundred and fifty.").

Clause 11, page 10, line 21, leave out from ("of") to ("as") in line 24, and insert ("January, nineteen hundred and fifty-one, or such date later, but not more than twelve months later, than the date aforesaid");

Clause 11, page 11, line 11, leave out ("May, nineteen hundred and fifty") and insert ("January, nineteen hundred and fifty-one.").

Fifth Schedule, page 69, line 10, leave out from ("appointed.") to end of line 14, and insert ("not later than two months before the date of transfer.").


My Lords, in moving that this House do agree with the Commons in the Amendments proposed by them in lieu of certain Amendments on which the Lords have insisted, I would ask your Lordships to allow me to deal with the Amendments as a whole. I think that would be more convenient, as they all relate to the same topic—namely, to the date on which the Act should come into operation and the date subsequently on which the securities should vest in the new Corporation. It is a fact, and the Government authorise me to say that they recognise that fact, that it would not now be possible to bring the Bill, even if it were on the Statute Book, into effective operation by May I next year. Some time next year—say in the first half of the year, or thereabouts—there will be a General Election. If the result of that General Election is that the Labour Party are still in power, then will he desirable to proceed with the Bill, and I do not anticipate that your Lordships will further object. On the other hand, if the Party opposite change places in this House—well, whatever they desire here or elsewhere it will he the better for them to determine. I think this discussion might proceed on the recognition of that governing fact.

Your Lordships' Amendments provided that the Bill should not come into operation until October 1, 1950. If it then arose that the present Government—or the present Party, at any rate—were still in power (because according to the law the General Election will have taken place before that date) it would be clearly desirable, on my assumption, that the Minister should be to liberty to make such anticipatory arrangements as might seem necessary. But in order to make it clear that the Government have no desire or intention to go behind the obvious fact that the Bill cannot come into effective operation until there is a new Parliament, my right honourable friend the Minister of Supply gave this assurance in another place: The Government halve … decided not to make any approaches, formal or informal, inviting individuals to become members of the Corporation, until we have emerged into the calmer atmosphere that gill follow the election of the new Parliament"— that is, until after a General Election. After that time, if the Minister is still there and wishes to take steps, plainly it will be desirable that he should be able to do so. But in order to ensure that the Bill shall not come into effective operation until October 1, 1950, we would ask your Lordships to agree to amend your Amendment by accepting the Amendment in lieu passed in another place, providing that the Minister shall not appoint any member of the Corporation before October 1, 1950.

Then there is that other matter, connected with that business. Your Lordships insisted with an Amendment to the effect that the vesting date shall not be until July 1, 1951. However, on the assumption that the General Election will result in the Labour Party remaining in power, that date would clearly involve an undue delay, which would be inconvenient to the industry and all concerned with it. Therefore, the other place have suggested a further Amendment in lieu of your Lordships' Amendment, the effect of which is that the vesting day, instead of being in July, 1951, shall be January, 1951, or such date later, but not more than twelve months later, as may be appointed. That would bring forward the possibility of the vesting date to January, 1951.

These Amendments, I think, accord with the main contention of your Lordships, and they present a workable arrangement in the eventuality that I have been considering. I feel they are a reasonable approach to what your Lordships insisted upon, and they are in accordance with the realities of the situation. I therefore trust that your Lordships will agree to this Motion. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House do agree with the Commons in the said Amendments in lieu of certain Amendments on which the Lords have insisted.—(Viscount Addison.)

3.44 p.m.


My Lords, let me say at once that we do not intend to reject the Amendments to our Amendments which the noble Viscount the Leader of the House has recommended to your Lordships. Indeed, why should we? They give us, in effect, everything for which we have asked. There is, of course, a slight difference over the vesting day, but that is all; and it is entirely satisfactory to us. Much though we dislike this Bill—and I would emphasise that we still regard it as thoroughly pernicious, and likely to be disastrous to one of our greatest and most prosperous industries—we have not throughout these discussions, as noble Lords opposite know, regarded it as our function to reject the Bill. If we had wished to do that, we should have voted against the Second Reading. And that we did not do. On the contrary, we went to considerable pains to amend and improve the Bill as best we could. But we did regard it as vital, and we have said so from the start, that the British people should be given another opportunity of looking at this measure—which, I would remind the Government, is, in fact, quite different and far wider than that envisaged at the last General Election—and of expressing a considered opinion upon this new proposal.

Up to now, as this House knows, the Government have felt unable to agree to this. That was the cause of the unhappy difference that arose between us. Yet now, under the Government's present proposal, as I understand it, the Iron and Steel Board will not begin to function, and the nationalisation scheme will not become effective, nor, as I understand from a statement made in another place, I think by the Minister of Supply, will any approach be made to individuals in regard to the membership of the Steel Board, until after the whole of this nationalisation scheme has been examined by the electors at a General Election. That is all we have asked for and, in my view, all we were entitled to ask. We have, in fact, been successful in performing our allotted duty under the Constitution.

I do not regard this—nor do I think the majority of your Lordships—as a victory for the House of Lords. That is quite a wrong way to look at it. It is, in our view, a victory for constitutional procedure and, I believe, a complete justification of the existence of a Second Chamber. Indeed, I should have been inclined to welcome it as a triumph of common sense, had it not been for the arguments with which the Minister of Supply and the Lord President of the Council sought to recommend it to their supporters in another place. I must say I read their words with growing bewilderment, and I am glad the noble Viscount the Leader of the House did not repeat some of them to-day. The two Ministers to whom I have referred told Parliament and the British people that the only reason why the Government were introducing this Amendment was owing—and here I use the Lord President's own words— to obstruction and interference in another place"— and in this connection he used the word "intolerable." if by that the right honourable gentleman meant that in no circumstances should a Second Chamber ever disagree with the House of Commons, then why have a Second Chamber at all? The only real justification for this House, as we have often heard it said here before, is that under the Constitution there should be some body that can provide a measure of protection to the British people against hasty and ill-considered legislation by a Government with a temporary majority in the elected Chamber, on questions about which the view of the electorate is in fact doubtful.

I have always understood that the Government took the same view. Even in the new Parliament Bill, which we are going to discuss next week, they make provision for dealing with the case of a difference of view between the two Houses. In that Bill, in the event of disagreement, they provide a period of one year from the Second Reading in the House of Commons before a Bill actually becomes law. As your Lordships know, that, in our view, is not a sufficient period of delay to allow public opinion to crystallise on difficult issues but I take it that the provision is inserted for the purpose of affording, at any rate, a brief period for reflection. In this particular case of the Iron and Steel Bill, as your Lordships will remember, that period has not been exceeded—the year is not up. If we are told by the Lord President and others that the action of the House of Lords has been intolerable, the only explanation is that the Government do not consider that a Second Chamber should disagree with the House of Commons in any circumstances. That means, in plain words, that what they want is single-Chamber government. The sooner the country knows that, the better.

Certainly there has been no obstruction by this House in the ordinary sense of the word. I am glad that the Leader of the House, who is always fair in these matters, agrees with that, but it is not what has been said in another place, and for that reason I feel bound to give the dates in order to make our position abundantly clear. The Steel Bill reached your Lordships' House for the First Reading on May 10 of this year. It received its Second Reading on May 24. It was dealt with—and I am sure noble Lords opposite will assent to this—with the utmost efficiency and despatch. The whole of the Committee stage of this long and complicated measure was completed by July 4. It received its Third Reading on July 20. We sent down to another place eleven Amendments—I think that is the right number—and when the other place rejected all those Amendments we dropped all but two, one which dealt with the date of the coming into force of the Act and an ancillary Amendment dealing with the vesting date.

Those were sent back to another place on July 28, and from that moment the Bill was out of our hands: the ball lay with the Government, They could have accepted those two Amendments or they could have rejected them and thrown the responsibility for further delay on your Lordships. But in fact they did neither. They did not submit those Amendments at that period to the House of Commons at all. What they did was to go away on their holidays. The Lord President, who is now adopting so shocked a tone, went, I understand, to the south of France. The Minister of Health, who is equally interested, went to the north of Italy. I do not quite know where the Minister of Supply went—whether he also sought refreshment in a foreign spa, or whether he preferred taking his holidays at home At any rate, he and his colleagues all left the Parliamentary scene.

I am not complaining in any way that Ministers should have gone away on their holidays. They had had a gruelling session and no doubt they badly needed a rest—as if I think we mil did—after that very heavy summer. But, in view of what has been said in another place, I am bound to point out that it is not the fault of the House of Lords that our Amendments were not dealt with at that stage. The responsibility is the Government's and the Government's alone. Then, quite unexpectedly, out of the blue, another opportunity presented itself for dealing with these Amendments. Parliament, as your Lordships will remember, was called together at the end of September to discuss the situation arising from the devaluation of the pound. There was a heaven-sent opportunity to deal with the Lords' Amendments on the Steel Bill. It would have taken only a very few hours, and probably hardly more than a few minutes. But did the Government take advantage of it? Not a bit of it. They dealt with the devaluation of the pound—or they had their debate upon it anyway—and off they went on their holidays again; and they never gave Parliament an opportunity of discussing your Lordships' Amendments until last week, in the very middle of November. Now the Lord President and others have the audacity to charge your Lordships' House with obstruction! I must say that I never heard anything so hare-faced in my life.

What is the reason for this strange delay I, of course, do not know. Neither do I know what finally induced the Government to change their minds. We in this House, as we frequently tell your Lordships, do not seek to interpret the mind of the electorate, and much less do we aspire to fathom the tortuous mental processes of the Government. The Daily Herald, with its usual genius for getting hold of the wrong end of the stick, said in a leading article on November 17: The House of Lords has made lavish use of its powers to hold up the Government's Steel Bill. These powers to interfere with decisions of the people's elected representatives will be drastically curtailed henceforth by the new Parliament Bill which is about to become law. That implies, if it implies anything, that the machinery of the 1911 Act, with its two years' delay, was still in operation with regard to this Bill. If that had been true that might have been an explanation of the Government's anxiety to get a quick settlement. But in fact it is not true, as your Lordships know. Owing to the inclusion of the retrospective clause in the new Parliament Bill, the Steel Bill would have been dealt with under the machinery of the new measure and not of the Act of 1911. If, therefore, the Government had stood pat in their original position, which they adopted up to the end of July, they would have lost at the most two months and probably less. They would have got their Bill probably some time in February, or at the latest by the beginning of March.

That cannot be the explanation of what must inevitably have been, for them, a rather painful volte face. It may be that the Lord President (who, whatever his other merits or demerits, is certainly a political tactician of no mean order) sensed subconsciously—we know he did not do it consciously, because he has told us so—that it might be necessary to reach a compromise with your Lordships' House in order to clear the ground for an early Election. We shall know more about that perhaps in two months' time. If an Election does take place very early in the coming year, it will be an example, very interesting to psychologists, of a case where the subconscious has operated almost as second sight.

Or there may be another explanation. As the Leader of the House seemed to indicate in the remarks he made to us this afternoon, it may merely be that the Government have come to realise, too late, that even if they forced this Bill through now under the new Parliament Act, they might be placed in the absurd position of having denied the people a chance of declaring on it, and yet not being able to make the technical arrangements necessary to bring the scheme into operation before the General Election. That may be the answer. I do not know what is the right explanation or the right combination of explanations, and on the whole I do not very much care and I do not suppose any of us does. What is important is that the people are now able to declare their view on this Bill before it comes into operation. It is for this we have pressed, and it is this which has now been achieved. There remains, therefore, nothing for me to do but to urge your Lordships to accept the Amendments which, as I explained earlier, give us in effect all that the Government felt unable to grant us in the earlier stages of the Bill.

3.58 p.m.


My Lords, we on these Benches supported the Amendment the substance of which has now been accepted by the Government. But in agreeing—as I hope my noble friends on these Benches will—with the proposed modifications, we wish to make it abundantly clear that the Bill which will now shortly become an Act remains a bad Bill, an unjust. Bill, and one which, if it were ever carried into force, in my view at any rate (and I think it is a view which is shared by most of your Lordships on this side of the House) would produce administrative chaos in one of the most prosperous and important industries in the country, by comparison with which the chaos in certain other national corporations would seem like a small blot on the table. The vice of the Bill does not lie in the date upon which it is to come into force; it lies in the fact that no proper machinery has been provided to carry into effect what the Government themselves wish to see done. I would not have anybody, here or elsewhere, believe that in supporting these Amendments we depart one iota from the opinion which we held—and which I in particular held—that this is a wholly unworkable proposition.

In the four years which have elapsed since the first of these nationalisation schemes were introduced into Parliament, there has come, at least in my case, a sad and increasing disillusionment about what His Majesty's Government have been trying to do. If we compare the experience which we have already had of the national corporations which have recently been brought into existence, with our experience of the several national corporations which had previously been brought into existence and which worked with great efficiency and credit to everybody concerned—I refer, in particular, to examples such as the Port of London Authority, the London Passenger Transport Board (as it was), and even the B.B.C.—little further argument is required to show clearly why we on these Benches oppose, though not always or necessarily the objects of nationalisation measures, the method that has been adopted to carry them into effect.

As the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, has said before now, we have not opposed such nationalisation of public services as, in the development of our social economy and in the interests of efficiency, had become inevitable. We have opposed only the method adopted—until we came to the proposals to nationalise the iron and steel industry. In this case, from these Benches we opposed both the purpose and the method, because it seemed to us that the time had come to call a halt to a process which, in our view, could lead only to chaos and bad administration.

Here then, with the passage of this Bill to the Statute Book, we have come, in my view, to a parting of the ways. Those of us on these Benches who had sympathy with a great many of the social services which the Government have had in mind, find ourselves faced with the necessity of opposing the Government, because their present plans do not coincide with what in our view is the right direction for the Government of this country to take. This Bill is the first example we have had of one which we oppose in both purpose and method. We are unalterably opposed to the purpose and the goal which this Bill seeks to achieve, as we are to the method—or the lack of method—by which the Bill proposes to achieve it. I, for my part—and here I speak personally—find that the experience of these last four years in watching this proem of nationalisation and the direction in which His Majesty's present Government are going, has created in me sad disillusionment. I am sorry that we can no longer support the Government. We on these Benches had greater hopes than have been achieved; and it is with much sadness that I find myself in the position from now on of having to oppose not only the method but also the direction in which His Majesty's Government are seeking to go.

In asking my friends on these Benches to support the Amendment which is proposed, because it will give the people of this country an opportunity of reconsidering this matter. I trust that noble Lords and all who share my view will do their hest to ensure that in no circumstances will a Government tie returned who consider that the way in which we have been proceeding is the right way, or allow the supporters of the present Government that unqualified power which has been shown to lead to a greed for more power. It is in these circumstances that, although we support this Amendment, we wish it to he made abundantly clear that we remain opposed to the Bill, to its principles and to its methods. We will support the Amendment, however, for the reasons which the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition has stated.

4.5 p.m.


My Lords, before we part with this important matter, I should like to be allowed to make a few observations on the speech of the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition. In the first place, he took credit—not for the first time—for the fact that there had not been obstruction to the various stages of this Iron and Steel Bill, though he and his friends, as we know, dislike it. This is not the first time, as I say, that the noble Marquess has claimed credit for not obstructing. I happen to be an older Parliamentarian than the noble Marquess. I have had more experience of the House of Commons and of your Lordships' House; and I want to make it clear—and I do not think any experienced Parliamentarian will disagree—that obstruction in the House of Lords is not practicable. It would defeat its own ends. Any majority or determined minority in this House—even a determined handful—if they cared to obstruct could easily do so, and could completely dislocate the whole Government business. Let the noble Marquess take no further credit for not obstructing; obstruction, I say, is not practicable. Take, for instance, to-day's Order Paper. Half a dozen men who wanted to upset the business could talk on each item on this Order Paper ad infinitum they could keep this House sitting till all hours of the night and do it every day of the week. Some of us did that once when we were sitting on that side of the House; eight of us held up the House of Lords on the Official Secrets Bill all night. What we did once could be repeated again and again. No, my Lords, real obstruction is out of the question.


Then, why does the Lord President say we engage in it?


I was coming to that point. I have raised this second matter in your Lordships' House on one or two occasions on a point of order, but I do it now a little more formally. I have noticed a growing habit in this House of late of breaking the old established Parliamentary rule of not making direct attacks on members in another place, usually Ministers. It would not be allowed in the other place if attacks were made on Members of this House. It is laid down most clearly in the Rules, and has been held again and again by Mr. Speaker, that attacks on members of this House shall not be made in the House of Commons. The noble Marquess is far too courteous to make direct attacks, but reflections have been made. One word which was applied to the Lord President was "audacity." That is not Parliamentary courtesy. Another word which the noble Marquess used was "barefaced." We ought not to refer to Ministers in another place as "barefaced"—as "having the barefaced audacity" to do this or that.


The Lord President did refer to us on this side as "intolerable." I do not see very much difference.


There is all the difference in the world. He referred to the actions of this House as being "intolerable." That is quite different from attacking a person by name, as the noble Marquess did. I submit that that is against the customs and Rules of Parliament. I have taken this opportunity of denouncing this practice. I believe it to be very wrong, and it will not tend to sweeten the relations between the two Houses. Moreover, it does not really do any good.

As for the noble Lord, Lord Rennell, I was very grieved to hear that he is at the parting of the ways. He has managed to dissemble his love in the past very successfully. We are sorry—but we hope for the best.


In view of the last two speeches, I do not think it desirable that I should be drawn into any controversy. I welcome the acceptance of this Motion by the noble Marquess and the somewhat qualified acceptance by the noble Lord below the gangway. I hope that it will be agreed to. In leaving this matter, perhaps it will be convenient if I ask your Lordships to agree to these Amendments as a whole, as they all deal with the same point.

On Question, Motion agreed to.