HL Deb 17 May 1950 vol 167 cc327-79

2.39 p.m.

VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD rose to move to resolve, That the growing power of the Cabinet is a danger to the democratic constitution of the country. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I rise to move the Motion standing in my name. It is a common observation that we are living in a time of crisis. The changes in the systems of government of the States of Europe during my lifetime have been, I should think, greater than any which have ever taken place in a similar period. Fifty years ago the dominant form of government in Europe was monarchical. Now, kings are a rarity, and absolute kings no longer exist. The immediate consequence of that change was at first an increase in the number and power of Parliaments, but most of them failed to give effective administration to those countries which were accustomed to centralised institutions. They were accordingly succeeded by tyrannical oligarchies, developing into the totalitarian Governments of which we hear so much.

In this country we have moved slowly in the same direction, and the two European wars greatly increased the tendency here. For the purpose of fighting a life-and-death struggle, it was obviously necessary greatly to increase the powers of the central Government. But it was recognised that such a system was a danger to those liberties for which we have fought throughout our history and which were protected—this is the point of what I am saying now—by our constitutional democracy, the greatest of our safeguards against revolution and tyranny in this country. It is true that in other countries the conception of democracy—government of the people, by the people, for the people—has very largely perished. If some forms of elections are maintained, it is only on the terms that the voters vote as the Government direct. These precedents are important to us, not because they hind us in any way but because it has often been the case that what happens on the other side of the Channel is followed, generally no doubt with considerable modifications, by a similar course of events in this country. We move in the same direction, but not so fast nor so far as Continental Europe.

I think it is true to say that there has been here a growing tendency to undervalue personal freedom and to substitute the group for the individual. For example, in our industrial development we have moved from the old idea of individual employer and workman, first to limited companies and from them to great amalgamations or cartels; and to meet these groups we see great trade unions organised on the same lines. This has brought a diminution, as I think, of the sense of personal responsibility What is everybody's business is nobody's business; and, further—this is a little by the side of what I am saying—the spirit of the craftsman directed by the artist has almost disappeared. The de-humanising process will necessarily be increased by nationalisation. The idea that the profits of an industry ought to belong to the whole body of citizens may be attractive; but the actual working out of a nationalisation system, operated by committees which are only indirectly and inconspicuously representative of the public, really does not give the worker so much interest in the work as he had before. Surely, the great object of industrial life should have been to build up the status of the worker so that he should feel interest and responsibility for the outcome of his exertions; and, of course, to impress upon the employer the truth that in the end the success of any enterprise depends upon the good will of the worker.

It is, however, in politics that the tendency to which I have been referring seems to me to have gone still further and with still less satisfactory results. I readily admit that the great changes and reforms that were made during the nineteenth century, following the Reform Bills of 1832, 1867 and 1884, were on the whole beneficial. It was right to free Members of Parliament and others from the system under which the Government of the country could he carried on only with the help of bribery and intimidation. And it was an immense advantage to make them and their electors more or less independent—I cannot put it higher than that—of these motives.

One of the chief gains was in the House of Commons itself as an institution. It was, I believe, never more powerful or admirable than in the middle of the nineteenth century. For the most part, its Members were genuinely representative of those by whom they were elected; they were entrusted by the electors with the power and the duty to represent not only the interests of their constituency but also the interests of the State as a whole. They discharged that duty generally with a great sense of responsibility and a full appreciation of the importance of the work in which they were engaged. But as the number of the electorate grew, it became inevitable that the organisation of voters should also be improved. I can well remember some of the stages by which political orgarnisations were developed. The old idea of candidates going round and personally canvassing the voters—that is to say, asking the electors to vote for them—became impracticable with the increase in the number of electors; and instead of that process, in every district, every village, and every industry, committees sprang up whose business it was to bring the voters to the poll. This system developed into what was their called the "caucus" system—alleged to be an imitation of the American practice—which was adopted first by one Party and then by another, until it became essential to political life and spread over the entire country. And so it has happened, as we saw in the last Election, that the individuality of all candidates was submerged in their membership of one Party or another, and we reached the position in the last Election that no one who was not a member of a Party had the least chance of election. The caucus reigned supreme.

Some of my friends were pleased because the result of the Election was fatal particularly to those with Communist sympathies. I beg them to look a little more closely at the matter, however. It is true that no Communist had a chance of election, and that was a result in itself to he approved; but it has been at the cost of seriously lessening the importance and independence of membership of the House of Commons. I see that Mr. Fothergill, who I understand is one of the heads of the Liberal organisation, recently deplored this result. I venture to read a few words from what he is reported to have said, which seem to me to put, with great clearness and force, the point which I am trying to submit to your Lordships. He says: … the quality of candidates and the influence of the individual Member of Parliament counts for less and less as the threat to democracy grows increasingly severs.…. He goes on to say: The major decisions of State are made outside the House of Commons—in the Cabinet Room … in the Government Departments, in the Party meeting, in Transport House, anywhere but in Parliament, Parliament"— by which he means the House of Commons— is rapidly becoming mere y the official means by which decisions made by these bodies or by individual Ministers receive automatic endorsement. That is undoubtedly one result of political organisation. As we know, it has excluded from this Parliament all independent Members.

It is perhaps worth a glance backwards to see what might have happened if such a system had been in operation in times past. A good many distinguished persons would have been excluded from the House of Commons. That would have been true, for instance, in the case of Disraeli, of Gladstone, of Peel, of the Lord Derby of the Reform Bill (who afterwards became a great leader), of the Lord Derby of my youth (who also was a great figure), of my father, of Lord Hartington, of Mr. Chamberlain and of Mr. Winston Churchill. And no doubt there are others of whom it would have been equally true. All those men at some time or another voted against their Party, which is the chief political sin of the present day. I do not say that the loss of those men would have been fatal to the prosperity of the country, but I do say that it is a serious consideration, a warning of what may happen in the future.

It seems to me that if this state of things goes on, we are bound to have an increasing concentration of power in the hands of the Administration—that is to say, the Cabinet—which will tend more and more to be an oligarchy consisting of individuals who, by political docility, have earned the approval of those who have control of the Party organisation. I know that any argument of the kind I have tried to present to your Lordships is always answered by saying that, after all, the Members of the House of Commons represent the electorate, and if the electorate disapprove of them and of their subservience to the Government they can be rejected. But is that proposition true? In practice, the electorate cannot just choose anyone; they must choose a candidate put forward by some organisation. Moreover, if they dislike the behaviour of their Member, they can do nothing until there is another General Election. The truth is that, under our present Constitution, when the Cabinet is once in power there is no way of effectively controlling it.

Let me give an instance of what I mean. By the Parliament Act of 1911, the life of Parliament is limited to five years, and it is impressively said in that Act that no alteration to that limit is to take place by the procedure under that Act—which means, I presume, without the consent of this House. True; but we have established in the last Parliament a procedure which makes nonsense of that and all other similar precautions. By the Act of 1911 no Bill could be passed without the consent of this House unless it had been passed three times by the House of Commons at stated intervals. But all that was disregarded. Three was reduced to two and the intervals correspondingly altered. Not only that: by a particularly regrettable provision the new periods were applied to the Steel Bill, in spite of the fact that it had not been introduced till after the last Parliament had begun. That was really revolutionary. It was ex post facto legislation of the most blatant kind.

The Act of 1911 had received the express support of the electors at a special General Election before it became law. No alteration should have been made in it behind their backs. It is no doubt technically true that no Parliament can bind a future Parliament, and it was that fact which made the Steel Bill device practicable. It is also true, however, that our Constitution is workable only because general understandings of reasonable fairness are accepted by all Parties. I say deliberately that the Steel Bill proceedings, even though they failed, constituted a definite breach of such an understanding and created a precedent by which single-Chamber Government could be established and made permanent in this country without any recourse to the electorate. All the precautions on which we were bidden to rely in 1911 have been, in effect, swept away and have followed into oblivion the solemn promise that this House would be reformed and its powers reconsidered.

I was reading the other day a new history of France in which M. Maurois, the author, describes among other things the outbreak of the French Revolution. He insists that no one in France believed that a revolution was in progress until it had actually occurred and the Paris mob, led by the Jacobins, had established the reign of terror. Such an event seems incredible in our country, but I ask the House to consider carefully where we are. The executive power is vested in the Cabinet. Not only has it the control of the ordinary functions of the Government Departments, including of course the Armed Forces and the London Police, but year by year new activities are entrusted to it. The other day we were debating the working of the Town and Country Planning Act and the exercise of arbitrary powers by an official body without any appeal. Only a week or two ago my noble friend Lord Simon was protesting against a Bill to give the Government far-reaching control over diplomatic immunities. Every Session fresh powers are given to the executive Government, usually without any appeal and, moreover, there are the various nationalisation Acts which, under cover of handing over some of our greatest industries to the nation, really put them under the authority of different committees appointed by the Government.

So the position really is this. The Cabinet, appointed by the Prime Minister, have dictatorial powers over the whole administrative functions of the Government, and the Prime Minister is answerable only to the majority of the House of Commons. Further, the membership of that majority owe their position to the political organisation of the Party of which the Prime Minister is the chief. If they show any disposition to take an independent line, intimation is conveyed to them that they will not be the Party candidates at the next Election. Even if any of them is supported by the local organisation which originally chose him, experience shows that that support will disappear under pressure from London. Your Lordships may say that, after all, there remains the control of the House of Lords, limited though it is. Until the power of that House is still further reduced it can impose delay, if no more, on revolutionary legislative proposals—though even that power, as I have argued, is at the mercy of a Party majority in the House of Commons, under what I have called the Steel Bill procedure. Further, under our Constitution the ultimate sovereignty rests, and ought to rest, not with Parliament but with the people, and under its present Constitution the House of Lords cannot claim direct authority from the democracy. Its authority is indirect.

I am sure that that constitutes a very great danger. Does anyone think that the House of Lords, as at present constituted, would have in itself sufficient authority to withstand a direct attack by the House of Commons? I am sure it would not have any such power. It is not that I undervalue your Lordships' House. It has a great history behind it and great traditions. We have among our members representatives of almost all aspects of our national life. They are completely independent, able to speak and act upon their own judgment of what the people require; and even now, in all matters of discussion, and even of administration, their opinion carries very great weight. I know it is said that these members of the House can be overwhelmed by what it is the fashion to call the "backwoodsmen." Well, I am not so hostile to backwoodsmen as sonic people are. Indeed, they seem to me to have very much the same value as the jury have in a court of law. I think their existence constitutes a test of the value of the arguments put forward on any public question.

For the purposes, therefore, of discussion and suggestion the present House seems to me admirably constituted. But for the purpose of controlling revolutionary legislation it has not sufficient democratic authority to resist extreme proposals—or, rather, to insist on their reference to the people before they become law. I do not myself therefore desire to see any far-reaching change in the membership of the House, apart from the question of sex qualification, which is a separate matter. But I do feel that for legislative duties we ought to insist on the fulfilment of the pledges given to us in the Parliament Act of 1911 and repeatedly recognised. We ought to demand a reform of the constitution of the House and a reconsideration of its powers as promised in the Preamble to that Act; and we ought to concede that in legislative matters only those Peers with clear authority from the electorate should have power to vote. That, and that alone, will give some security against revolutionary change behind the backs of the people. I am sure that in this grave matter vie have no right to let things drift, hoping for the best.

I know that those who advocate such a course contend that the arrangement made in 1911 lasted for thirty-six years, and that there is no reason why the new system should not last a comparable time. Surely such an argument ignores what in fact happened. After the passage of the 1911 Act, we were almost immediately plunged into the First World War. That lasted, with its immediate consequences, until about 1920. Meanwhile, the Liberal Party had been disrupted, and until the Second World War broke out the country was governed by Conservative forces. During that period naturally no conflict between the two Houses occurred, or was likely to occur, and unfortunately there seemed no urgency to take action. But immediately a Left Government came into power in 1945 the attack on this House was resumed, and if a still more Left Ministry is formed in the future it will doubtless be pressed home. Moreover, we must never forget the present international situation. We see Eastern Europe driven along by a party of fanatics comparable to the Jacobin Club in the French Revolution, proclaiming their devotion to the disastrous doctrine of dialectical materialism. And we have a Constitution here which, if by some chance extremists were to gain office, would enable them to carry out almost any policy which they desired. It is of no use to point to the moderation of the present Prime Minister. It was just such an attitude that destroyed France. Do not let us make the same mistake. I believe that nothing would do more to restore the political morale of this country, indeed of Europe, than the establishment of such a reformed Second Chamber as we were promised in 1911. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That the growing power of the Cabinet is a danger to the democratic Constitution of the country.—(Viscount Cecil of Chelwood.)

3.7 p.m.


My Lords, I am speaking at this early stage for a reason which I think the noble Viscount who has moved this Motion knows. May I start by making a personal apology, that I have to speak at this stage and that I shall not be able to be present during the debate? The noble Viscount knows that there is nobody in this House to whom I would be less ready to appear guilty of any discourtesy than to himself, and I know he will acquit me of that. My Lords, there is no member of our House to whom we more readily listen than to the noble Viscount who has just spoken. From a wealth of experience and from a deep sincerity he can speak to us in a way in which perhaps no other member of this House can; and it goes without saying that it would be a foolish man who would discard or treat as matters of no moment matters which the noble Viscount thought it necessary to bring to our attention. At the same time, the Motion which the noble Lord has on the Paper before us is in these terms: To move to resolve, That the growing power of the Cabinet is a danger to the democratic Constitution of this country. I confess that I thought that we were going to have something like Mr. Dunning's famous Motion of, I think, 1780: That the power of the Crown has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished. The notable exception is that the noble Viscount has substituted the word "Cabinet" for the word "Crown."

The noble Viscount has indulged, very naturally and inevitably, in certain historical considerations. I want to start, if I may, by doing the same thing, because I feel that we are all too ready to take the present state of affairs for granted. A few days ago I came across the Romanes Lecture delivered by Professor Trevelyan at Oxford in the year 1926, and I would commend a study of that lecture to any of your Lordships. He points out that until the Marlborough wars against the Grand Monarch, the idea that you could possibly combine safety and power on the one hand with liberty on the other would have seemed absolutely impossible. To the contemporaries of Hobbes, it would have seemed that you could choose either safety and power, if you wanted that; or you could choose liberty, if you wanted that; but you could not possibly have both. The genius of the English race has since that time shown that it is possible to combine efficiency with freedom. And to what was that due? Professor Trevelyan says that it was due to the development of the Party tie after the Revolution of 1688; a Party tie which made for efficient government and for loyal public service at the same time. And the principle of unity amongst Cabinet Ministers took the place of the old conception of mere individual obedience to the King's orders.

For that reason, says Professor Trevelyan, Party, with all it implies, is the real secret of the step upwards from Cabal to Cabinet. Otherwise, if you have no Party tie holding Ministers together, history has shown that individual Ministers will always intrigue against each other as was the case with the Cabal of Charles It is The Party bond which gives to Members of Parliament a public motive other than that of mere opposition to the Government of the day— that Serbonian bog in which the energies and prestige of so many popularly elected chambers have been sunk. He points out that there was a period of our history, beginning roughly in the few years at the end of the reign of William III and finishing with the early years of the reign of George III, after the loss of the American colonies, when we had no system of Party and no system of Party discipline. He considers that amongst the greatest services which the Younger Pitt rendered to this country was the restoration of the Tory Party as a Parliamentary Party, owing their allegiance to their Parliamentary Leader rather than the King. That I believe to be true, and I venture humbly to suggest to the noble Viscount that although, of course, I realise there is substance in what he said, yet he seems to me to have lost sight of the greatest danger of all which confronts democracy, certainly in the conditions of today—that you may be lost in discussion, paralysed by uncertainty and unable to take quick decisions. I believe that it is thanks to the Cabinet system that we are able to offer effective action in a complex and complicated world.

As to the Cabinet itself, the Motion of the noble Viscount suggests that the power of the Cabinet is increasing. I am bound to say, after considerable experience of public life, that it seems to me that the power of the Cabinet has been pretty effective as long as I have lived. It was in 1872 that Bagehot wrote these words: No doubt by the traditional theory, as it exists in all the books, the goodness of our institution consists in the entire separation of the legislative and executive authorities, but in truth its merit consists in their singular approximation. The connecting link is the Cabinet. and he describes the Cabinet as: a hyphen which joins, a buckle which fastens, the legislative part of the state to the executive part of the state. In 1894 Gladstone said that: in the public mind, and in ordinary practice the Cabinet is viewed as the seat of ultimate responsibility. Bryce writing about the same time said: The power of the Cabinet against the House of Commons has grown steadily and rapidly. Dicey, about the early part of this century said the same thing. He, like the noble Viscount, noted the decline in the influence of the private Member, and he considered that legislation had become almost entirely the business of the Cabinet. I stress this point. This was stated more than fifty or sixty years ago.

Dicey further said this: The plain truth is that the power which has fallen into the hands of the Cabinet may be all but necessary for the conduct of popular government under our existing Constitution. If that was true fifty or sixty years ago, it is certainly true to-day. Professor Lawrence Lowell, in 1908, referred co the Cabinet as: the keystone of the political arch. He added: To say that at present the Cabinet legislates with the advice and consent of Parliament would hardly be al exaggeration. Lord Salisbury—I cannot refer to him as the great Lord Salisbury because we have had two great Salisburys since his time; I mean the Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury—always used to insist upon matters being referred to the Cabinet. Lord Palmerston, I need hardly tell your Lordships, had been very irregular in that respect; Lord Salisbury was orthodoxy itself. He used to say—I take this from a hook written by his daughter—that whereas unity of aim might be assumed in a Cabinet drawn from one Party, unity of opinion was impossible for a body of responsible men, and that unity of decision was what you secured by reason of the Cabinet. Divided counsels with the delay and ultimately the paralysis which they entail upon action are the worst diseases from which a Cabinet can suffer. He refers to the experience of Disraeli's Government in 1877 and 1878 and the paralysis of Gladstone's Government in regard to Egypt in the '80s.

As I conceive it, a democracy must provide the most adequate opportunities for discussion and for criticism, unlike an autocracy under which laws are imposed without the people being given a chance to discuss them. But if a democracy is going to mean mere discussion, if this House or the other place is to become a mere talking shop, then that would be one of the greatest dangers with which we could be confronted. Is it true that the Cabinet's powers have increased in the last fifty or sixty years? Of course, the doctrine of Cabinet solidarity has been established. In the old days, my distinguished predecessor, Lord Thurlow, used to get up from this seat and criticise vigorously the legislation put forward by the Government of which he was a member. As Lord Asquith used to say, it was not until the Duke of Wellington's Government in 1828 that the doctrine of Cabinet solidarity was finally established. We all remember the story of Lord Melbourne at the Cabinet which decided to impose a duty on corn. At the conclusion of the Cabinet meeting he put himself in front of the door and asked "Now, is it to lower the price of corn or isn't it? It does not much matter which we say, but mind we must all say the same."

We have now also, as a result of the First World War, what we had not before, a Cabinet Secretariat; and all Ministers now know what conclusions the Cabinet have come to on any matter. We must remember, however, that the influence which the Cabinet has over the Legislature to-day depends largely on the prestige which in their opinion a Cabinet possesses. That a bad rider produces a restive horse is a commonplace. If the House gives its confidence and trust to the Cabinet, then by that very measure the control which the Cabinet exercise is greater than it otherwise would be. What a remarkably flexible instrument this Cabinet of ours is! It is a small body of some seventeen or eighteen persons, but it can and does summon before it those Ministers who have problems which have to be considered—and that happens frequently. I remember the time not so long ago, when the Executive of the Labour Party were taking a line about the visit of Mr. Attlee to Berlin, Mr. Churchill referred to the Executive "in its dim conclave" ordering the Cabinet about. He was horrified at the idea of a second King in Brentford who might in some way control the existing "King"—the Cabinet. I think Mr. Churchill's views were ill-conceived. Had there been any substance in his suggestion—I do not think there was—it would certainly have been a serious matter.

The complexity of modem life demands inevitably that more and more must the Government of the day interfere with the individual. The year 1840, I suppose, was the heyday of individualism. In that year, De Tocqueville wrote: The State everywhere interferes more than it did. It regulates more undertakings, and undertakings of a lesser kind, and it gains a firmer footing every day about around and above all private persons to assist, to advise and to coerce them. In every country this has gone on, and in the complexity of life as it exists to-day it is inevitable that it should go on. The Cabinet is not cut off from contact with current opinion. Indeed, it is of the essence of the whole conception that the Cabinet should listen to what the House of Commons and the Members of the House of Commons are thinking and saying, and should listen to what the electorate are thinking and saying. It listens and it learns. In very truth, I may apply to such a body Carlyle's witty saying: I am the leader, therefore I must follow. Consider what control Parliament has in making its opinion felt. It has the admirable system of Parliamentary Questions. I am told that there are something like 15,000 to 16.000 Questions every year. There is the Adjournment debate, and there is the possibility of Motions on the Adjournment. It is quite unreal to suppose that the Cabinet shut themselves off from the current or prevalent opinions of the day. I suppose it is common knowledge that one of the most frequent visitors to the Cabinet in this and in all other Governments has been the Chief Whip, in order of course that the Cabinet and the House of Commons may be closely enmeshed. Sir David Maxwell Fyfe wrote an interesting and thoughtful article in the New English Review in March of last year, and on this topic of the extent of control which the House of Commons exercises he points out that although at that date the Government had lost only one by-election, twenty-three Ministers had come and gone. Historically, it is a fact that since 1895 no Government with a majority have been overthrown, and in 1895 the Government were suffering from internal dissensions to such an extent that they made their more or less accidental defeat in the House of Commons an excuse for going out.

I believe that the real danger to our system of democracy and freedom lies to-day in the possibility that it may not be prompt and swift in action. By all means let us provide in every way we can the fullest and most adequate discussion but—and I humbly venture to warn your Lordships of this—if we find that we have developed a system which is all talk and no action, which is not ripe for prompt action, then the minds of men will turn to some other system which does give them prompt action. The problem before democracy is to combine these two things. I believe that the secret of the successful working of our Constitution—and, after all, we have withstood immense perils and still preserved our liberties—consists in the steady confidence which is reposed by Parliament in the Cabinet. If that confidence were withdrawn, we should have a series of short and unstable Governments until we might find that we had prepared the ground for some kind of despotism.

Of course I agree that the danger which the noble Viscount pointed out is a real one. Yet I would not agree with him in putting the period of the utmost liberty of Members of Parliament as late as 1850; I should prefer to put it farther back, before the Reform Bill. I believe that you would find it at its greatest height in the days of the Rotten Boroughs. If a Member of Parliament in those days had obtained, by the appropriate means, the support of a few voters he could do what he liked; and we gained much from the fact that he could do what he liked. But it is no good crying for those days. We now have vast electorates—and rightly so. We now have the broadcast appeal—and I suppose those who have taken part in Elections will realise more and more what a large part is played by the broadcast appeals by eminent leaders at the time of the Election. If a man sitting in his own house can listen to the spellbinders he becomes reluctant to go to meetings to hear his own candidate. In my view that is one of the reasons why the personal appeal of the candidate has lessened to-day. I regret it, but I feel that it is inevitable. But do not blame that on the Cabinet. That would he a wrong diagnosis, because it is merely a regrettable consequence of present conditions and it does not follow that you must in some way control or weaken the power of the Cabinet.

If we are realists about this, we shall agree that it is the fact, certainly in my lifetime, that the Cabinet has always occupied substantially the position which it occupies to-day. I do not believe that you would render a useful service to democracy by trying to deprive the Cabinet of some of the powers which it has to-day and has had for many years past. I believe, on the other hand, while conceding that the dangers which the noble Viscount has pointed out do exist, that a still greater danger to democracy in the days of frightful peril in which we are living would be to restrict the Cabinet's power to take prompt and effective action. Whilst fully recognising, therefore, the substance and weight of what the noble Viscount has said, I venture most respectfully to say to him that I do not think he has paid sufficient regard to the great perils which confront us to-day. I do not believe that you can meet this problem by a reformed House of Lords. By a reformed House of Lords you might or might not provide better and more adequate facilities for discussion; and you might or you might not have better debates—I doubt whether they would be better. But I do not believe that by any reform of the House of Lords you can bring about a machine which would ensure prompt action in the thousand and one problems which crowd in upon us to-day and which require prompt decision. Therefore, for my part, I should not be prepared to accept the Motion which the noble Viscount has moved.

3.34 p.m.


My Lords, everybody who has been here this afternoon will agree that we have listened to two deeply interesting speeches, in each case based on historical considerations and applied to a judgment of the present situation. If I may be allowed to say so at once, the feeling I have about the Lord Chancellor's speech is that he appears to me to a considerable extent to have been addressing, his remarks to the wrong point. I do not imagine that there is any difference of opinion between us as to the importance of Cabinet solidarity, of the unity of Cabinet action, or of the necessity of a member of the Cabinet or a member of a Ministry who finds himself differing withdrawing from the Cabinet or being dismissed by the Prime Minister.

I do not suppose that any of us will dispute that the development of Party in the way that it was explained and justified by Professor Trevelyan in his famous Romanes Lecture at Oxford in 1926 is completely justified. But, as it seems to me, that is not really the point that my noble friend Lord Cecil has raised. To my mind, the question is not one of Cabinet solidarity, or of the necessity of unity of decision in a Cabinet; it is a question of the extent to which in recent times a Cabinet once in office has felt sure that it can do what it likes without effective challenge; and it is a question as to whether there is not increased submissiveness in the ordinary Member of Parliament to those who are his leaders, with the result that in fact Ministers possess a greatly increased power compared with what they used to have. That, to my mind, is the relevant historical question.

I was a little surprised that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, in his most powerful and carefully reasoned speech, had not a word to say on one aspect of the matter which I should have thought was quite beyond dispute—namely, the enormously increased power in recent years of Ministers and Departments to regulate our affairs by the making of regulations authorised by a general Act. I cannot bring myself to believe that in times past Members of Parliament, or the great men some of whose names have already been mentioned, would ever have tolerated or contemplated the extent to which delegated legislation now prevails. The reason why it prevails, I suppose, is that it is natural for a Cabinet and for Ministers to wish to have extensive powers of regulation—and some of these powers are necessary and inevitable. If they can completely rely, however far they go, on the automatic support of the Act which authorises such wide regulations, Ministers have a power vastly in excess of anything known in previous Parliamentary democratic government—a power, in effect, to make laws for this country without further effective reference to Parliament at all.

There are many ways in which this most interesting topic might be approached. Both my noble friends Lord Cecil and the Lord Chancellor have approached it historically, with a wealth of reference for which we are grateful. I should like briefly to present the question to the House from a rather different point of view. I wonder whether there is not a development—in my view, an exaggerated and distorted development—of the doctrine of electoral mandate. There is nothing we hear so frequently nowadays as: "You may not like this, but the Government have a mandate from the electors to do it." Subject to those who know more about our electoral history than I do (this is not a comment on one Party or another; it applies to all of us), I do not think the practice into which we have fallen of having at the beginning of every General Election an elaborate electoral programme, covering all sorts of topical subjects designed to attract the votes of different sections of the electorate—town and country, service people, officials, the poor voter, everybody—is of very ancient date. It is a comparative novelty.

There was an occasion which I am old enough to remember, though only as a schoolboy, when there was issued the unauthorised programme of Mr. Joseph Chamberlain as an unrepentant Radical. It was frowned upon as being of a nature which was unfamiliar and was thought undesirable, leading, indeed, as I think my noble friend said just now, to something approaching a caucus. There was, of course, the Newcastle Programme, and an earlier famous case which was called the Tamworth manifesto, when Sir Robert Peel issued a rather elaborate declaration of what he proposed to do and what he invited others to accept. But, as a matter of history, I think I am right in saying that this elaborate, complicated electoral manifesto, in which you try to tuck in all sorts of attractive items so as to secure that you have covered this section and that section of the population, is a fairly modern development in this country.

The doctrine is now current—and it has been maintained again and again by some speakers, notably, I think, by Mr. Herbert Morrison—that once a Government is installed in power after a General Election, the Government has an absolute unquestioned authority in all circumstances to carry out by legislation every item in that listed programme, however casually it may appear in the manifesto. The instance which was mentioned just now of the Iron and Steel Bill is a perfectly good instance. It appears to me that there is a great deal of force in the view that the Labour Party manifesto of 1945 plainly announced the intention to nationalise a number of industries, and then also mentioned though in much vaguer terms at the end—the case of iron and steel. If the earlier applications of nationalisation were disappointing and did not produce the greater prosperity, cheapness or happiness which I have no doubt those who promoted that manifesto and their supporters thought would be produced, it does not appear to me to follow from that that at the end of five years there is authority to nationalise iron and steel without regard to the experience which has already been met with in the meantime. I think it is a mistake to treat the electorate, the sovereign power in this country, as though they acted on the day of a General Election in putting a particular Government into power, and that they then went to sleep until there is another General Election, when they suddenly wake up and, as often as not, reverse the decision they gave before.

I submit to your Lordships, with great respect, that that is not a proper analysis of our constitutional arrangements. I submit that the true view is that the electorate is sovereign all the time and, like other people, is influenced in its judgment from time to time by experience, reflection and argument, and, it may be, greater wisdom. While it is perfectly true that, owing to our vast population and according to our traditional system, we have Members of Parliament elected who are much more than mere delegates—as Burke said they are really there to give the whole service of their minds and judgment to their constituents and the country—it is not the case that, on the true view, the electorate has put into power a Government which is authorised beyond all question to operate as it pleases until the next General Election comes along. That, to my mind, is the real question which is involved in what we are now discussing. If I am not right, and if the other view is correct that a General Election simply provides the necessary number of individuals in the House of Commons who will always say "Yes" whenever the Government which they favour takes any course it chooses, then a Member of Parliament does not require to be equipped with any special degree of intelligence or judgment. "Their's not to reason why." That was ridiculed long ago by Gilbert and Sullivan, when the soldier in Old Palace yard sings his song and points out that they have only to "vote as their leaders tell them to," and goes on to make the reflection which your Lordships all remember: But then the prospect of a lot Of dull M.P.'s in close proximity, All thinking for themselves is what No man can face with equanimity. That was satire, but I am quite sure that in earlier days, and in days within my own Parliamentary recollection in another place, there was in fact a much greater tendency for the private Member to consider how he ought to vote—whether it was an occasion when he could support his leaders, and, if not, what he ought to do. I think the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, will bear me out in that, because we were in the House of Commons together for many years. He and I could easily quote examples where people who were counted good Party men nevertheless, convinced that something was being done which was not justified, resolutely spoke, and not only spoke but voted, in the opposite sense, against the Government which they ordinarily supported. It cannot be disputed that that is very unusual now, not only because, for the moment, the two main Parties in another place are so equally divided, but because there is undoubtedly a greatly increased practice of regarding the individual, to whatever Party he may belong, as being an automaton who, if he attends, wall obey the call, and will, therefore, from time to time authorise the Cabinet to do what the Cabinet wants, whatever it is.

It is not that anyone challenges the constitutional proposition of Cabinet unity. It is not that anybody seeks to deny the essential rule that the Cabinet must act together and stand together. That is elementary. The question is: To what extent can this united body act without any serious consideration of what critics may say, because they think: "We are dead safe; we have enough people here to vote for us." Their supporters may not have heard a word of the argument; they may not them- selves think the Cabinet is right, but, after all, "They vote for us, every vote counts, and that is all that matters." I do not know whether the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, agrees, but to my mind that is the serious consideration.

Let me point out that if that is right, and it really cannot be disputed—I do not think the Leader of the House, with knowledge of both Houses, will dispute it—that the extent of the power of the Cabinet to get legislation which authorises government by mere making of regulations has increased enormously. Even in the war, the Emergency Powers Act was enacted to operate for only twelve months and it was necessary to get Parliament to renew that Act if it was to continue for another period. One of the first things that happened when this Government came in—I am not attacking them but merely pointing out the tendency—was to abolish that one-year requirement. I think I am right in saying that at present, under the authority of the Cabinet supported by its majority, the emergency period goes on for ever. How, in common sense, you can say that an emergency lasts forever, is difficult to understand. But the Emergency Powers Act goes on until someone is found who will stop it.

Of course, there are many other examples. The noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, was good enough to refer to a Bill with which I had been dealing yesterday. He was quite right when he said that, as that Bill appeared in this House, sent here from another place with the authority of the Government, it would have conferred on the Government, by Order in Council, powers far wider than could possibly be justified. I am very glad we have reduced those powers; I think that that will be agreed to have been a reasonable thing to do.

Many of us have been brought up to follow the language of Professor Dicey and rejoice that we live under "the rule of law". A great many more people use that phrase than perhaps are precisely instructed what really is implied by it. But that was the doctrine which I learned as a student long ago from Professor Dicey himself. We lived in a country where "the rule of law" prevails, where the judges are able to determine what are the limits within which the citizen is to be coerced. Therefore, our system was far better than the system which Dicey also describes, the system in France, the droit administratif, under which any action by an official is outside the purview of the ordinary law courts and has to be dealt with under another and very elaborate system.

What has really happened here?—I am not making any Party point in these remarks. While we go on prating about the rule of law, to a very large extent the rule of law has disappeared. Cases in which the judges cannot interfere, however gross the application of a regulation appears to be, are innumerable. The reason for this is that the Department which draws up these things does not leave any question for judges to decide but lays down that a thing shall be the right thing to do if the Minister deems it so. Quite properly, the judges say, "We cannot determine what it is that the Minister deems: we must assume, and do assume, that he is acting perfectly honestly and has been doing so, however hardly this regulation may appear to be bearing, and we cannot undertake in any way to limit or reduce its operation." The rule of law in that sense has very largely ceased to protect the citizens of this country over a wide range of rights and liabilities. We have not got in its place the administrative system adopted in France which some people think is very much better in its working than some of us, when we were young, were taught to believe.

The last point I wish to make is this. None of us wants to turn this into a Party debate, for I think we are considering very important constitutional questions; I hope that noble Lords opposite will realise that I am not saying these things with any desire to be partisan at all. But I do take the view that this development, which I think is dangerous and may go on increasing, is not altogether unconnected with the theory—of which I speak with all respect—of Socialism. Anybody who remembers the way in which the Socialist philosophy was developed some years ago would find it very difficult to deny that. I take some interest in this matter, and I venture to put two or three quotations before your Lordships. In 1933, a book called Problems of a Socialist Government was published. Mr. Attlee and Sir Stafford Cripps contributed to it. In the next year, another book was published. Its title was Where Stands Socialism To-day?, and Sir Stafford Cripps was responsible for it, Now, I am not saying that in the light of the experience which those gentlemen have since gained, they do not see the wisdom of modifying their views or, at any rate, their practice. But I think that the theory of Socialism has contributed to the situation about which Lord Cecil has been speaking. Here is one quotation. Mr. Attlee in this book, published in 1933, said: The important thing is not to do things with the most scrupulous regard to the theories of democracy or exact constitutional propriety, but to get on with the job … He goes on: It may be said that this is rather like the Russian plan of Commissars and Communist Party members. I am not afraid of the comparison. We have to take the strong points of the Russian system and apply them to this country. That may be right or wrong, but it is unquestionably Socialist theory; and I have not heard that it has been, repudiated.

Here is a quotation from Sir Stafford Cripps. The Government's first step"— he is assuming that the Socialist Party would win the Election— would be to call Parliament together at the earliest moment and place before it an Emergency Powers Bill to be passed through all its stages on the first day. This Bill will be wide enough in its terms to allow all that will be immediately necessary to be done by Ministerial orders. These orders must be incapable of challenge in the courts, or in any way except in the House of Commons. That is very good Socialist doctrine. Is it repudiated to-day? Sir Stafford Cripps goes on: The devising of the detailed administrative methods for the working out of the Socialist plan are not matters with which the House of Commons need concern itself. Ministers with the advice of their administrative staffs and experts should handle the detailed work. Full powers to that end should be delegated to them. That appears to me to be entirely consistent with Socialist theory; and while I am very willing to believe that exponents of this point of view now speak in a much milder manner—some are the mildest-mannered men who ever scuttled a ship—still, may it not be that what they are gaining in moderation they are losing in Socialist logic?

I have not, by any means, used up the mass of quotations which I have, and there is one more which I will venture to give. Sir Stafford Cripps says in the same book: It would probably he better and more conducive to the general peace and welfare of the country for the Socialist Government to make itself temporarily into a dictatorship until the matter could again be put to the test at the polls. That is not my understanding of democracy. It seems to me simply exploiting the situation to say that if you win an Election and go into power with sufficient support, you can do what you please in the House of Commons, and that the Ministers will be able to govern the country as they dictate. I think we are running a great risk if we do not see where we are going. He goes on: It will be best, as soon as Parliament has conferred on the Government the necessary powers, for it to meet only as often as it is needed for some clearly practical purpose, leaving the Socialist administrators to carry on with the minimum of day-to-day interference. There will be no time for superfluous debating while we are busy building the Socialist commonwealth. Is this democracy? Is there not something in the proposition that, if you really embrace the theory of Socialism, it leads not to democracy but dangerously near to a form of dictatorship? I am the first to admit that those who represent the Government in this House are not bloody-minded men, for there could not be a more reasonable set of people. But the point is, are we not in fact drifting into a position in which the Cabinet not only is a solid Cabinet of people who act together, as of course they always must do, but can count on a mechanical majority which in no circumstances will desert them whatever be the extravagance to which they propose to go? What really happened in earlier days, I venture to think is not, as the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor seemed to think, the same as is happening now, because it was not often that a Cabinet with a majority was overthrown. I cannot help feeling that in earlier days the private Member in fact had much more influence behind the scenes, as well as in the voting Lobby than the private Member has to-day.

I have ventured to say these things because this is a subject which has deeply interested me for many years. I do not at all deny that we must see developments, and it may be that in some ways the developments are good and necessary. There are a great many things which must, because of their nature, be governed by regulation, and which cannot be made the subject of express statutory enactment and amendment. The real question is: Have we not tended to drift into a situation in which the increasing subservience of the private Members of the House of Commons in effect threatens to turn our constitutional system into a system in which the Government feel no restraint at all upon what they propose to do? I do not think that any of us who has studied the life of Mr. Gladstone would doubt that he was constantly concerned to inform himself of and to appreciate the way in which proposals and suggestions were influencing the minds of those who were his normal followers. The greatest of statesmen has often done that in the past. It is the loss of that which seems to me to be the risk which we are now running and, whatever the solution may be—I offer no comments on Lord Cecil of Chelwood's proposals about the House of Lords—is it not better that we should face it frankly and recognise that this is what is happening? The great purpose which this House now serves is from time to time to call attention to these tendencies, not necessarily because we can produce a remedy but because the fundamental good sense of the British people will, when roused to the danger, in the end find a way in which we shall preserve the realities of democracy.

4.4 p.m.


My Lords, if I may venture to offer a few remarks on the Motion which has been brought forward by the noble Viscount this afternoon, I will start by craving the indulgence that is customarily extended to those who are rash enough to address your Lordships for the first time. If I had known that I should be speaking immediately after two Lord Chancellors, with all their vast authority and experience, I should probably have lacked the courage to take the plunge at all.

Politics in the technical sense are not my business. With your Lordships' permission, I wish to speak for a few minutes on the subject on rather wider lines. That, I know, is a rather dangerous opening. Some eminent physicists have claimed that their formulæ and their equations would still remain true even if the universe did not exist, which suggestion supports the doubt whether their theories can in fact be related intimately to the working universe. I have felt at times that something of the same sort may be said about certain forms of constitutional theorising. All the same, there are some wider considerations which have to be taken into account in considering the Motion which has been brought before your Lordships' House. Attention has been directed this afternoon to certain new tendencies and developments and, to say the least, extensions of traditional practice in the government and the administration of this country which cannot but cause grave apprehension and misgiving to all considering citizens, including, one must suppose, Ministers themselves.

As both the noble and learned Viscounts who have just spoken have said, there are real dancers inherent in the whole situation which confronts us. But, with all respect, I do not believe that the real problem lies in the constitutional powers of the Cabinet; it concerns something wider in the tendency of the times. No serious person would now argue that a merely neutral conception of government or laissez faire policy could or should ever return; and a merely negative approach to the question of government in terms of modern industrialised democracy is never likely to get very far. Moreover, Continental experience seems to suggest that democratic institutions may fall through having Governments that are too weak to govern. It seems to be clear that, in the complexity of modern life, and considering the dangers with which democratic freedom everywhere is faced, we must envisage always a strict and effective control of the situation. But the question is how a strong Government can avoid overwhelming the liberties which it is trying to defend, or demoralising the community which it is seeking, to serve.

Therefore, as I say, I do not think that it is a question of the power of the Cabinet. It is rather a question of the ever growing power of the State itself and its mounting claim to omniscience or infallibility. To put the same thing in another way, the real danger seems to be the current tendency to turn everything into politics—always to be feeding the insatiable appetite of the State at the expense of the community on which it rests. Perhaps the real problem that democracy has to solve is how to maintain a strong and effective Government in being and at the same time try to preserve the critical independence, virility and initiative of the total community on which it rests. During the war an American writer used a rather striking phrase. He said: By a certain splendid paradox the democratic State is fighting now with all the power it has got to establish the principle that it may not have more. That stuck in my mind as a rather pregnant sentence. If a great deal of power had not been vested in the central Government, the democratic State would never have been able to vindicate that principle at all; and yet how can it restrain its own power within the moral and constitutional limits which the democratic State is, by its nature, under obligation to acknowledge?

I venture to say to your Lordships that the really effective bulwark against centralised power is the vigour and the jealous independence of all those many subordinate societies—clubs, associations of all kinds, professional guilds, trade organisations, cultural foundations, and above all the primary group, the family—which make up the total community on which the State depends. These nonpolitical, natural or cultural voluntary associations are surely the very lifeblood of democracy. The essence of totalitarian philosophy is the claim that they all derive from the State, and in fact owe to the State their right to existence at all. The democratic philosophy, on the other hand, knows that the State in fact grows out of them, and therefore, inevitably, the stronger the government becomes the more conscientiously and the more intelligently will any democratic State that really knows its own business take every step it can to stimulate and strengthen these subordinate communities —not forgetting, if I may say so, the traditional independence of local government.

My Lords, there is one further consideration which may perhaps be offered from this Bench. The House is discussing the constitutional machinery as applied to the existing power and authority of the State. Whatever may be the constitutional limits, in the tradition of Western Europe there has always been an inherent moral limitation. The noble and learned Viscounts, Lord Simon and the Lord Chancellor, spoke about the reign of law. The whole Christian Philosophy of politics on which Western Europe has been founded has always taken for granted that the State is itself under the law, answerable to a higher law which no State made and which no State may presume to alter. Some jurists have called that the law of nature; some theologians have called it the law of God. But the whole philosophical tradition of Western Europe has taken for granted that the State has no unconditional prerogative; that it is answerable to a higher law. Therefore, in according a relative measure of divine right to govern, it has always set a drastic limit to its authority. The modern State tends more and more to claim that it is itself a source and a creator of law, rather than its guardian and its interpreter. It seems to me that that is a most dangerous new doctrine which needs very critical vigilance.

Such considerations are taking us quite beyond the sphere of politics proper. I would end by saying that, after all, the real question in politics is not a question about politics; it is a question about men and wornen—what are they and what is their status in the scheme? I believe it is true to say that here is the real issue in the conflict that is being fought out between the free institution and the slave State. It is obvious that the attitude which anybody takes towards the prerogative or limitation of the State must depend upon the answer to that question about men and women—what they are; why they are. Freedom, in our tradition and our inheritance, has always been bound up with and is dependent upon what I can call only a religious valuation of men and women. It remains to he seen whether freedom can survive in any but a quite formal sense on any other basis than that.

4.18 p.m.


My Lords, in rising to intervene in this debate, I should like to congratulate the Lord Bishop of Southwell on the excellent address with which he has favoured us. I think anyone who has so distinguished himself as the Lord Bishop has in the various services with which he has been connected, cannot fail to interest whenever he rises to address the House, and I hope that we may often have the pleasure of hearing him speak.

I should like to thank my veteran friend the noble Viscount for bringing forward this Motion this afternoon. We have listened to some very interesting historical and informative addresses from the three noble Viscounts who have spoken, but your Lordships will perhaps forgive me if I take a more modern outlook on the question of the Cabinet, and even offer some little criticism. The occasion affords me some opportunity of saying that many of us in Scotland have been for a long time gravely concerned with what might be called long-distance control of the Cabinet in our Scottish domestic affairs. I quite agree that a Cabinet is essential as a coping stone to our system of democratic government in this country, and I recognise that, as we have it today, the Cabinet has grown up from the experience of centuries. But that does not mean that we find at the present time that it would not be possible to introduce any form of improvement with regard to its working. When we have regard to the vast changes which have taken place in the political situation in this country, with the tremendous increase of social welfare legislation and the new experience which has been gained under nationalisation, it will perhaps be agreed that there is opportunity to consider changes which might improve the working of the Cabinet.

This matter of long-distance control in Scottish affairs is causing us great concern. In Scotland, we are very strongly opposed to it. When it is borne in mind that we have only one Secretary of State in the Cabinet, I think this will help to an appreciation of our attitude. I believe the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack said that there were seventeen Cabinet Ministers. I always thought that there were twenty-one. But let us take a figure between those two and say eighteen. We have only one Minister in the Cabinet representing the whole of Scotland—not representing any one Party but all Parties. One in the midst of eighteen ! Rightly or wrongly, we feel that often his voice is "a voice crying in the wilderness." It seems to us that he is vastly out-numbered when many of our Scottish questions are dealt with. That we do not like. I do not think any noble Lord in this House would care to find himself constantly faced with the task of taking charge of and having responsibility for twenty different Departments. That is the number with which our Scottish Secretary of State has to deal. The result is that he spends a vast amount of his time travelling between Edinburgh and London to consult his superiors in the Cabinet. In consequence, when he returns North, he indulges in the issuing of a large number of orders, either directly himself or through his Departments. And the number of orders is increasing.

Some years ago, I listened in your Lordships' House to a very learned Lord Chancellor—I believe it was Viscount Sumner—speaking on this very question of issuing orders, and I have a note that I made at the time. My note says that the Lord Chancellor thought there was a danger in what appeared to be a growing habit among Cabinet Ministers of issuing departmental or directive orders. He quoted figures for three years—and they were remarkable figures—showing how greatly the number of departmental orders had been recently increased. He said that the position required very careful watching, for a number of these orders possessed great powers, even of punishment, and he doubted very much whether the exercise of all those powers had Parliamentary authority. That is the danger which we see. We are subject to very many of these orders, and we doubt whether they really have at their back Parliamentary authority.

To live under a system of dictation like that in time of war, as we have had to do, is quite tolerable. But to live under a system of departmental dictation and direction in days of peace we feel is very objectionable indeed. The system has a most unfortunate way of stultifying progress in our domestic policy. Take housing: we are a long way behind in our housing programme; we cannot get on as we think we ought to be able to do. Take catering: we feel convinced that if we could deal with that ourselves in a House of our own, we could take effective steps which would settle existing problems and encourage tourism. Take Air: we feel that we could get on much better if we, ourselves, dealt with our Air policy. We want to push on with that policy and develop aerodromes all over Scotland. Take transport: that, again, we wish to develop ourselves. But progress in all these matters is delayed by reason of the necessity of waiting for Cabinet decisions in London. It seems to us that our Secretary of State, being only one in a Cabinet of eighteen, has not the freedom he should have to legislate right away, finally, financially and fully, on his own responsibility. And that we do not like. Indeed, we are very much opposed to such a situation.

This frustration is just fanning the flames of that movement which to-day is called the Covenant. It is a remarkable movement, and it has grown up within six months. Already, 1,250,000 signatures are attached to the Covenant, and they have been appended by members of all sections of the community. It is a serious movement and it has a serious cause. It represents the upsurge of the spirit of educated people. In days gone by a Cabinet or a group of intelligent people could push about poor, illiterate people. That is no longer the case; those days are past. When you have a gathering of educated people, you cannot be surprised if there is an upsurge of spirit which flows into an effort to try to remedy a state of affairs which they feel is damaging to their country and to their interests.

When I was approached as a leader of this Covenant movement, I said: "This is a national movement which transcends all Party divisions; therefore we will not take any part in the General Election." And we did not take any part in the Election as an organised group. Of course, I cannot say what will happen at the next Election. What we ask for now is the appointment by the Cabinet of a Commission such as was appointed in the days of Mr. Speaker Lowther. In 1920, a Commission was appointed to see whether devolution of business was possible and feasible. What we want now is the appointment of a similar Commission to consider this question. There is a very strong feeling that there should be a Commission to see whether devolution is desirable and to gather the facts. I feel confident that whichever Party put the appointment of such a Commission in their programme for the next Election would get all the votes there are in Scotland.

4.30 p.m.


My Lords we owe a debt of gratitude to the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, for initiating this debate and for pointing out, first, that modern techniques have made possible an intensity of Governmental control never before achieved and, second, the effects thereof. This possibility has been exploited to the full in totalitarian States. The spread of the power of these aggressors over the world has resulted in those countries where some degree of liberty survived becoming fewer and, within those few, liberty becoming ever more restricted. The effects of this growing control by Government over the individual produces a condition under which the energetic are driven to despair, and those who might become energetic in a more hopeful environment, to listlessness. Such a condition, which strains natural instinct too severely, produces either listlessness or destructiveness. Listlessness is disastrous to vigorous life. The centralisation of power so evident to-day constitutes a grave danger in that it leads to the greatest evil of to-day, the enslave ment of intellect. This tendency grows apace. I feel your Lordships owe a debt of gratitude to the noble Viscount for introducing this Motion so that so vital a matter may be discussed in your Lordships' House.

4.33 p.m.


My Lords, I think it will be generally agreed that this has been a distinguished debate which has done credit to your Lordships' House. One daily newspaper, which foreshadowed this week's Business in the House, to my great surprise described the Motion which we are debating to-day as likely to be "academic." That is rather an odd epithet to use in this context. Surely the debate is academic only in so far as we make it so. If we or the newspapers, or anybody else, do that, I feel that we shall be very much to blame, for, as will be apparent from the speeches which your Lordships have already heard, the issue raised by the Motion of my noble relative, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, is of transcendental importance to every one of us in his own practical life. The Motion is not aimed, as the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor seemed to suppose, at the existence of the Cabinet or at the existence of the Party system. I am certain that that was not the noble Viscount's intention. It is aimed at the possible abuse of these institutions. As he showed in the powerful speech with which he opened the debate, the noble Viscount believes that such an abuse appears to be growing, and I think many of us would agree with him. Therefore he felt it right to ask where we were going in this country and what did the future hold for us.

Are there indeed certain trends in modern political thought and practice which are inconsistent with those free institutions on which we have always claimed that our form of civilisation is based? In saying that, I do not want to overstate the case for individual liberty. We all know that in the modern, highly-organised State it is not possible for every individual citizen to do exactly what he likes. By the very fact that he regards himself as a member of the community, he recognises that he must accept the decisions of the majority of that community. He enjoys advantages which are conferred by his membership of the community, and he must also accept the obligations which that membership imposes. That, I imagine, is common ground among us, in whatever part of the House we sit. And I imagine we all equally recognise, as the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor said in his speech, that the more complex the nature of the society in which we live, the more the community is bound to intervene in the affairs of the individual. But surely that does not mean that individual citizens must surrender to the Executive of the community to which they belong the entire conduct of their lives. That would be the absolute negation of those essential rights and liberties which differentiate free men from slaves.

The purpose of the constitution of every free country, as the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Southwell said in the remarkable maiden speech which he delivered to your Lordships this afternoon, is so to adjust the relationship 'between the State and the individual as to ensure that, on the one hand, the welfare of the community as a whole is not impaired and, on the other, that the rights of the individual citizens are not entirely swept away. If the proper balance is disturbed and too much licence is given to individual citizens at the expense of the community, the ultimate result will be anarchy, or some variety of anarchy. On the other hand, if too much power is given to the Executive at the expense of the individual citizens, we shall get the result of despotism; it might be mass despotism, but it would be no less despotism for that. As the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, and other speakers have pointed out, it appears to us that the balance in this country is at present 'beginning to swing over rather too far on that side.

In the past our ancestors have built up over a long period of history an elaborate system under which, through the operation of Parliament and the Law Courts, the essential rights and liberties of individuals are safeguarded and preserved. There was first of all the House of Commons, whose Members had the duty of looking after the rights of their electors and checking any invasion of these by Governments, of whatever complexion—not only of the Left, but either of the Right or of the Left—who were over-avid of power. Then there was the House of Lords who had a similar duty to the people as a whole if the Commons failed to do their duty. Finally there were the courts of justice, who were independent of politics and whose task it was to see that the law was not administered in an unreasonable or oppressive manner. That was the elaborate system of checks and counter-checks which has preserved the British people against any excesses of the Executive or the bureaucracy. It has on the whole succeeded in maintaining a pretty effective balance between anarchy and despotism, and the result has been that system of ordered freedom which I suppose is our greatest contribution to the world.

That was the position which we were proud to think existed in this country until quite lately. I agree with my noble relative that there appear to be certain distinct signs that these checks are either becoming ineffective or are being bypassed altogether. The House of Commons no longer has quite the authority or the prestige that it used to have. I believe there is a good reason for that. In spite of what the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor said to us this afternoon, I feel that a good many of us would still maintain that in the old days a private Member had a position of comparative independence. He was expected to use his own brains, to some extent at any rate, and to act according to his personal convictions, and he had days in the House of Commons which were allotted to him to introduce Bills and to raise debates. Many of those rights have to a great extent become obsolete. Owing to the intensification of the Whipping system in that House, for which all Parties alike are to blame (I am not making an attack on the Government in this respect), private Members during recent years have been driven more and more into the Party Lobby, irrespective of their personal views.

That applies not only to great questions of policy, where no doubt (and here I agree entirely with the Lord Chancellor) there are certain obligations on the private Member either to agree with the broad Party view or to resign, but also at present even to small Committee points, where no great issues are raised and where it would be far better that he should express his personal view by his speech and by his vote. As a result of this harsh treatment, if I may so call it, private Members, by reason of the action of the executives of various Parties, and not of one Party alone, have come to be regarded (and this is the view of the general public) no longer as truly independent entities but far more as rubber stamps to endorse the decisions of the Executive. Independence is no longer counted in another place, if I may say so with all deference, as a matter for congratulation, but as a matter for censure; and a Member who insisted on taking a line of his own on every occasion would soon find himself excluded from Parliament altogether. This has led to the inevitable result—the important and, as I suggest, lamentable result—that real power is passing ever more rapidly from the hands of the elected representatives of the people into the hands of Ministers and civil servants.

The noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor said that so far as he could see there had been no material increase of power to Cabinet Ministers in recent years—or words to that effect; I do not want to misrepresent him. With all deference to him, I do not agree. Only too often since the last war we have seen blanket Bills introduced, empowering Ministers to administer by Order in Council, and after that neither the House of Commons nor your Lordships' House has had very much say in the matter. That, as I think my noble and learned friend Lord Simon said, is something that really is new. The outstanding example of this evil tendency, if I may say so, is Section I (1) (c) of the Supplies and Services Act, 1947, which, as your Lordships will remember, stated that the powers of the Supplies and Services Act, 1945, were to be extended —I will quote the words: generally for ensuring that the whole resources of the community are available for use, and are used, in a manner best calculated to serve the interests of the community. What those words mean is that the section gives the Government power to do practically anything they want to do without any further legislation whatever. Your Lordships remember that we felt so strongly on this point that we came back in the middle of September to prevent anything fearful being accomplished. We got into great trouble over it, but I think we showed a greater constitutional sense than the Government who introduced the Bill.

Such tremendous powers as that might be justified in time of war, when, in the interests of national security, steps may have to be taken at a moment's notice, but I submit that they are entirely indefensible in a free country in time of peace. Yet, my Lords, Mr. Herbert Morrison, the Lord President of the Council, said quite unequivocally at the Annual Conference of the Labour Party at Blackpool last year: The Executive and Government have no intention that the Supply and Services Act of 1945"— and presumably of 1947, too— shall come to an end. It is an essential basis for the organisation of economic planning and control, and we shall therefore place a revised and permanent version of that Act on the Statute Book if we are returned to power. If I may say so, that only shows the contempt in which the right honourable gentleman and some of his colleagues hold Parliament, which used to be the master of Governments, but which is now expected to become practically their slave. I was surprised not to see this important measure mentioned in the gracious Speech—but perhaps the Government regard themselves as having been returned to office though not, strictly speaking, to power.

Possibly the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, who I understand is to reply to this debate, will point out to your Lordships that even under delegated legislation the formal approval of Parliament is sought to administrative orders by affirmative or, more often, by negative Resolution. Of course, that is usually so. But, as the House knows to its cost, these are often so framed that any awkward and controversial point is included in a Resolution which is otherwise completely blameless—we have had many examples of that. As Parliament under its existing procedure cannot amend but can only approve or reject such resolutions, they are in fact nearly always passed under protest. We had a case of that kind, your.Lordships will remember, only about a week ago on a Resolution arising out of the Coal Act—and we have had many others of a similar kind. No doubt this procedure has obvious advantages both to Ministers and officials, but I submit that the effect is still further to curtail the authority and powers of Parliament. I would beg the noble Viscount the Leader of the House (I do not expect an answer from him to-day) to consider with his colleagues the urgent necessity of altering the procedure with regard to these Resolutions to allow them to be amended like other legislation that comes before Parliament.

Possibly the noble Viscount will tell us that it is impossible in this modern world to govern without delegated legislation; that the machinery of administration is now so complex that Parliament could never get through the work involved without devices of this kind. Again I would agree that there is considerable truth in that: it is clearly impossible in the days in which we live to do altogether without delegated legislation. But that does not mean that it is in itself good. I suggest that it should be regarded as an unpleasant necessity, to be restricted so far as possible. Yet, so far from that being the case, as the House knows, it is steadily growing in scope. I looked up some figures, and this is what I found. In the nineties of the last century, when I understand this procedure first became a regular practice, there were about a thousand such Regulations laid each year. Between the wars there were about 1,500. By 1948—which was a peace year, not a war year—they had risen to 2,858; and since then they have fallen only very little. I suggest that that is a wholly bad tendency, and it is one to which I hope both this Government and every other Government will give their most earnest attention.

Moreover, if the House of Commons has lost in power and prestige in recent decades, the same I think is true of your Lordships' House. It is perfectly true that this House has in no sense become a rubber stamp to endorse the decisions of the Executive. The House of Lords is often criticised by certain sections of the population. It is said—and your Lordships will have heard it—that it is out of date; that it is not in harmony with modern times, and that it is, as it were, a mere collection of genuine antiques. But perhaps I may be allowed to point out that to connoisseurs, at any rate, genuine antiques have a value denied to merely utility furniture; and in the case of your Lordships' House I suggest that the value is that it remains independent.

Anyone who, like myself and the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, has bad the privilege of acting as Leader of the House or Leader of the Opposition, will realise this: that your Lordships can be guided; you certainly cannot be driven. Often during these years, and especially when I was in charge of Government business during the war, I had to bow to the will of the House on matters upon which private noble Lords felt strongly. It was impossible—and rightly so, I think—to force one's supporters into the Lobby under the Government whip, as is often done in another place. I do not complain of that. On the contrary, I think it is quite admirable. It is one of the reasons why perhaps our prestige has not fallen quite so much as the prestige of the other place during recent years.

But our independence is the one thing which the Lord President, the Minister of Health and many of their colleagues most dislike. They would have no real complaint against us on the basis of the hereditary system as such, if we always obeyed the crack of the Government whip. It is our independence which they find so troublesome and even, as I understand it, so shocking. If the object of our independence at any time is only to ensure that the electorate have an opportunity of expressing their own views on issues where those views are not yet known, even then these Ministers are in no way mollified. Any check upon the absolute authority of the Executive is abhorrent to them. They have, as my noble friend Lord Simon said, "received a mandate", and they interpret that mandate as meaning that they have received a blank cheque. That is the reason why last year the Government, as I understand it, introduced the Parliament Act, to curb our powers. That Act—and I believe that it was so regarded in the country—was not an individual Act; it was part of a general policy the purpose of which was to transfer the real power from Parliament and the people to the Cabinet and the Civil Service. That is a very dangerous tendency indeed.

Now I do not propose at this time to go in any detail into the question of the reform of this House with a view to restoring the balance and its responsibilities, which are now so gravely threatened. That question was mentioned in a little more detail by my noble relative, Lord Cecil. No doubt there are alternative methods of reform to achieve this object, each of which has its adherents. I hope that all will be considered again at no distant time, not with a view, if I may say so to the Leader of the House, to securing the advantage of any individual Party, but with a view, as I am sure he will believe, to the welfare of the country as a whole. What seems to me vital is that the authority both of the House of Commons and of the House of Lords should be maintained vis-à-vis the Cabinet and the Executive machine, if a balance of liberty and authority, which is the basis of ordered freedom, is to survive. That seems to me the one vital point.

Now I should like to pass to another sphere of our national administration where it seems to me that the same tendency is apparent, and that is local government. What is the true function of local government? I saw it very well described in a lecture which was delivered last year by Mr. J. H. Warren, the General Secretary of the National Association of Local Government Officers. He said: A true conception of democracy must accord not merely a high value but an indispensable rôle to local representative institutions exercising a free responsibility for appro- priate sectors of governance, public welfare and social provision, and "— I would ask your Lordships to note these words: must envisage these institutions as agencies of local self-government and not merely decentralised agents of the State machine. As I understand it, that is exactly right it is extremely well described. But what is, in fact, happening? Local government and local authorities are becoming more and more mere branch offices, with no real authority, to carry out the instructions of Government offices in London. Your Lordships all know that to be true. All the power, or the greater part of the power, is vested in the Minister, and local authorities are used merely to carry out the instructions of hire, and his officials. They were not even allowed, as we heard the other day, to choose their own auditors—the Minister was to do that for them—though on that point I am glad to say the new Minister eventually gave way.

The noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, speaking just now, referred to special difficulties which arise in Scotland as regards local government. I was not at first absolutely clear what he had in mind, because he spoke of eighteen Ministers who were concerned with the affairs of England, and one Minister who was concerned with the affairs of Scotland. He obtained those figures from the Lord Chancellor. Well, I imagine that the Lord Chancellor included such Ministers as the Foreign Secretary and the Service Ministers in that eighteen, and I do not imagine that the noble Duke would intend to have a separate foreign policy and a separate set of Armed Forces for Scotland. But if he was making a plea, as I understood him, for greater devolution of local affairs for Scotland, I should most strongly agree with him on that point, as I think should a great many of us. I believe that increased devolution in local affairs would be better for all of us, whether in Scotland or in England.

Finally, perhaps your Lordships would allow me to say one won about the position of the Law Courts. These, thank heavens, are still, in this country at any rate, entirely independent of political influences. It would be a very bad day for us indeed if that were ever altered and the Courts of Justice became, as they have become in some Continental countries, mere parts of the governmental machine. But even here, as indeed my noble friend Lord Simon pointed out, there has been a change, and the change is that the area of the jurisdiction of the courts is being constantly reduced. Again and again in these post-war years, in connection with nationalisation and other Bills, attempts have been made in this House by noble Lords in the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party to secure an appeal to the High Court for persons who consider themselves aggrieved under the new schemes.

In almost every case this was contested by the Government, and ultimately no appeal to the Courts of Justice was included in the measure. Sometimes we were allowed a tribunal which was to be set up by the Minister and to be responsible to him. Sometimes, as in the case of assessments by the Central Land Board for development charges under the Town and Country Planning Act, there was no appeal at all and, so far as I know, no appeal exists now. All that the aggrieved person can do in that particular case is to protest. In a number of cases, as my noble friend Lord Llewellin has shown your Lordships in recent debates, these protests have led to considerable and, in some instances, remarkable reductions in the charge levied. But that only shows how far out the original assessment was. Yet there is no appeal to an independent body; there is no fettering of the absolute power of the Minister. Such are some of the evil tendencies of the times in which we live. The noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor indicated that in his view we are exaggerating the dangers, and the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, when he gets up, will no doubt say very much the same thing. I am far from saying that either of these two noble Lords would themselves be in favour of a further extension of the practices to which this debate has been devoted, but I would beg them, and noble Lords who sit behind them, not to conceal from themselves the steady encroachment of the Executive, in all spheres of our national life, on the rights and liberties of individual citizens, or the injustices to which those encroachments lead.

I should like before I conclude to give one or two examples, because it is no good saying these things in general without giving practical examples. These are examples of a type of—I was going to say injustice, but certainly of hardship, to which this reign of rules and regulations gives rise. One was the case of a railwayman, an ordinary working railwayman, who had invested all his savings before the war in a plot of land, in the hope that when the day of his retirement arrived he would have a valuable asset which he could realise and so provide himself with something for his old age. He would have been able to do so, but along came the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947; and although I understand that, from a practical aspect, this land could be regarded as building land in the fullest sense of the word, under the provisions of the Act the value was reduced to the existing use of pasturage, which was in fact about £300. That would have been bad enough. But this unhappy man's situation was far worse. Although the value of the land was reduced in this way the owner still remained liable for a share of the road charges, which amounted to £860. He was therefore actually £560 out of pocket, with all his savings gone—and that was the result of years of thrift and foresight. Yet I am informed that under present regulations the man has no right of appeal to an independent body. That seems to me mostly terribly hard.

I will take another case. In this instance the man had some land which a Government Department desired for a camp. Under the existing regulations, apparently, they had a perfect right to requisition this land. But they did not even take the trouble to inform the owner, and he found out what was impending only in a casual conversation with one of the workmen engaged to do the job. Apparently there was no appeal that he could make to any independent body for the purpose of getting reconsideration or putting his point of view, or for any other purpose. Those are only two examples, and I am quite certain that they could be multiplied by practically any noble Lord in this House.

The Lord President of the Council may describe the present tendency of government (I do not of course, mean his Government) euphemistically as "organisation, economic planning and control." But in fact what it means is the concentration of autocratic power in the hands of a few individuals at the centre—Ministers and officials—to the detriment, I suggest, of the basic rights and liberties of the individual citizens of this country. And that is very much akin to dictatorship, that dictatorship which was envisaged by Sir Stafford Cripps in the book from which the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, has quoted this afternoon. No doubt, noble Lords opposite would say that if it is dictatorship it is a very modified and benevolent form of dictatorship. But I submit to your Lordships that that really does not make the case any better, for, as John Stuart Mill pointed out nearly a hundred years ago: Evil for evil, a good dictatorship, in a country at all advanced in civilisation, is more noxious than a bad one; for it is far more relaxing and enervating to the thoughts, feelings and energies of the people. The despotism of Augustus prepared the Romans for Tiberius. If the whole tone of their character had not first been prostrated by nearly two generations of that mild slavery, they would probably have had spirit enough to rebel against the more odious one. That is the danger to which the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil himself draws attention. The fact that it is a danger which is not at present apparent to many casual observers makes it none the less dangerous—and perhaps makes it even more so. I most sincerely hope, therefore, that not only the Government and their more moderate supporters but the general public also will give due attention to what has been said in your Lordships' House to-day. If the result of this debate is to open the eyes of the ordinary citizen to the perils towards which we are drifting I am certain that the noble Viscount himself will feel that he has been amply repaid for raising this important subject.

5.7 p.m.


My Lords, we are happy in having had, as everyone of us who knows this House expected, a most interesting debate. Having listened to it as dispassionately and as interestedly as I can, I cannot say that it has been altogether as non-partisan as the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon—after reading certain quotations from some of my Ministerial colleagues—wished. However, I put that on one side. The noble Marquess concluded his speech by giving some very hard cases. They do, indeed, sound hard, acid I accept them straight away. The noble Marquess himself has a wide knowledge of departmental administration, and he will realise that all I can say is that I shall be exceedingly grateful to him if he will send me details of the cases. I will certainly have them investigated, but of course I cannot express any further opinion about them.

I would remind the noble Marquess—and, indeed, I remind myself, for I am trying to deal with this subject fairly, and I am not going to make any Party points—that hard cases of that kind are not new. We have had them many times in our history. The noble Viscount, Lord Cecil indicated that he looked upon the, middle of the last century as the ideal period of Parliamentary responsibility and government. Very well. Let me refer to the middle of the nineteenth century—the period of the "Hungry 'Forties" which marked the struggle for an industrial organisation by large numbers of people who felt that their liberty was being imposed upon by the laws and powers of the time—as it was. That was why we had the "Hungry 'Forties" marches. That was why we had the beginning of trade unionism. It is true that it was organisation; that it did mean the subordination of the individual to the interests of a group. But I suggest that that is inevitable, and it is not something to be deplored. It was something which grew out of the fact that the liberties of masses of people were not being safeguarded by the laws of the times.


What the noble Viscount says is true about trade unionism, but the trade unions were recognised by the Conservative Government of that day.


Not of that day.


But about 1840-something. The point that we are impressing upon the Government is that there are hardships now which are not being dealt with.




Is it not the case that the "Hungry 'Forties" had nothing to do with trade unionism?




I thought they had to do with Free Trade and Protection.


They were due to hunger. They were one of the large number of manifestations of that period, a period to which the noble Viscount wishes us to look with approval. That is the point I am making. There were shoals of manifestations of a form of rebellion against the established system of the day. They were not all well directed, and later on, as the noble Marquess fairly says, the justice of the case was recognised. But the point I want to make—and noble Lords opposite cannot get away from it—is that the existence of hard cases is not a new phenomenon; it is something that has been with us for a very long time. The fact that there are hard cases, as adduced by the noble Marquess to-day, is to be regretted. If there are hard cases, as I expect there are, it is greatly to be deplored. It is impossible to conclude from that, however, that the Cabinet government of to-day is imperilling the liberties of the people—because that is the proposition before us. One would not have concluded that in the days of the middle of the last century, because, as a matter of fact, there was a very ineffective Cabinet system which was gradually growing up. It is not related to the Cabinet system as such. However, I will come now a little closer to the topic.

The noble Viscount quite rightly says: "You have all these State organisations; you have these orders, these regulations and so on, all gradually increasing the power of the State over certain liberties of action of the individual." That is true, but it is an inevitable concomitant of the development of the industrial society in which we live. Not so long ago we had powerful industrial cartels. They showed no mercy on the trader or the individual who did not obey their dictates. That was another form of dictatorship. At the present time, however, the power of the State, which is indicated in a large number of ways, is subject to minute criticism, to questioning every day. Let us think of yesterday—I need go no further back than yesterday. We had two excellent debates in this House. In the first, for which the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, was largely responsible, we had a substantial amendment of conditions in certain proposals of the Executive—


Why did not the House of Commons deal with it?


That is begging the point. It is no good the noble Viscount in one breath pretending that the Executive is emancipated from criticism and in another rejoicing in the fact that they yielded to his. It will not fit; it will not do. Let us be fair about it. Only yesterday in this House proposals of the Executive were modified as a result of comments in this House.


Under pressure.


That is all very well. The noble Marquess is trying to be disinterested, but he is causing suspicion of that attempt by that kind of interjection. That is what happened yesterday. But something else happened yesterday. The noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, referred to some cases with regard to non-payment of post-war credits. He may well have a good case —I do not express an opinion, because I am not sufficiently acquainted with the legal technicalities. But if he has, the matter will certainly be looked into, and the existing position may well be modified. Your Lordships will remember that only last Session the noble and gallant Field-Marshall, Lord Wavell, and other noble Lords who were interested in the matter, raised the case of certain officers who had lost their occupations because India was granted independence and who were not covered by the conditions under which those who left the Indian Civil Service were safeguarded. It was of their own volition that they were not. They themselves agreed not to be.

In the result, it turned out that there were some hard cases. What happened? As the result of remonstrances outside Parliament, and in another place and in your Lordships' House, the Executive took notice of the reasoned case that was put before it. We even went so far—as a matter of fact, I myself drew up the agreement—as to remit the doubtful cases to the noble and gallant Field-Marshal and his friends. We said: "We will take your decision upon it." That was democracy in action, if you like. That happened. It is not ancient history. It has happened in this House quite recently. So the contention I am putting before your Lordships is: Do not let us imagine a world that does not really exist. There is not a tyrannical Executive, independent of Parliamentary opinion and taking no notice of it. It just is not a reality. Nobody knows that better than a number of most able and experienced Lords to whom I am now speaking.

In the first place, let us get the reality right. I do not in the least desire to avoid any recognition of danger. But I do want us to get down to the realities. Let us take another point. I agree with the noble Marquess in his reference to orders, regulations and so on, and I often regret that we have to pass them in the form we do, and that they are not subject to amendment. He and I, being old Parliamentary hands, have known this subject argued many times. The point is that it is not new. It is not due to the present "dreadful Government." We did not invent this system. The noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, gave figures of many years ago. I agree that the system should be most carefully safeguarded and that we ought not to misuse it. This House very often has to pull up the Executive in connection with these orders; but this is not a new phenomenon. That is the point that I am making at the moment.


The noble Viscount seems to have misapprehended my main argument, which was that there were far more of these regulations. The matter he is dealing with is a side point to the main argument.


The first proposition I want to establish—and I have established it—is that this system is not new. The next thing that the noble Marquess says is that these regulations and orders are more numerous. I agree with him. Why? The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, referred to a pamphlet and quoted what the Prime Minister and Sir Stafford Cripps had said some very considerable time ago.


In 1933.


In 1923? Well, that is twenty-seven years ago. The noble and learned Viscount quoted bits of something that these gentlemen wrote twenty-seven years ago. They may even have been indiscreet twenty-seven years ago. The noble Viscount may have been indiscreet twenty-seven years ago. We may all have been at one time or another. But that is not the point. It was not all they said that was quoted; it was just a few words. I am old enough to be suspicious of quotations without their context. I make no further comment. But suppose that they did say that twenty-seven years ago. What in the world has that to do with this Motion? Your Lordships have had a good dose of Socialist government since then. Some noble Lords do not like it, but they cannot complain over the fact that something was said twenty-seven years ago. A Socialist Government was returned in 1945 with a large majority, and there is no ground for complaint that a Socialist Government believes in Socialism; that is why it has been elected. It may be wrong—I am not saying anything about that—hut that is its doctrine, and you cannot complain of a Socialist Government being Socialistic. That is what you would expect.

If you are going to organise certain sections of industrial or community affairs for general community purposes it means organisation. I am not saying at the moment that the nationalisation of the coal industry is good or bad; but you cannot nationalise an industry, whether it is coal, gas or electricity, without a comprehensive mass of regulations and orders, and all the rest of it, attaching to that organisation. That is inevitable. But what have they taken the place of? It was not a vacuum before. There were all sorts of orders and regulations affecting the different collieries or the different groups of collieries, or whatever they may have been. They were made by the proprietors of those collieries, and were not subject to Parliamentary discussion. Ours are. The owners of collieries in South Wales or elsewhere could close down a pit if they liked, and we could not say anything about it; but if the Coal Board close down a pit you will soon hear about it in the House of Commons. So do not let us get it into our heads that these regulations or whatever they are, which necessarily emerge from some national organisation, have simply filled a vacuum. They have not. They have replaced something of a different character that was there before. They have been carried because, in response to popular opinion, good or bad, it was felt that that was the better way of organising the industry.

Therefore, we have got to deal not with some imaginary, tyrannical Executive, but with the facts of the industrial world as they are developing. For the safeguarding of society, or for various other reasons, we have taken powers to do all sorts of things in connection with food distribution, and the rationing of scarce commodities. If you say to a person, "I am not going to allow you to buy a pound of butter this week; you can have only half a pound", that is an interference with his liberty. There is no doubt about it; we do not deny it. All we say is, that there is not enough butter for everybody to buy as much as he likes, and therefore it has to be rationed. If you share it out, you must make orders; that is inherent in the system. Do let us remember that while that order is operating it may be preventing a particular person from buying a pound of butter at the expense of somebody else, but it does mean that somebody else will be able to get at least some butter which otherwise he would not have. So, while you may be restricting the liberty of one individual, you are safeguarding the liberties of a great many more. We cannot look at these things in isolation. Of course, you may say, "You are preaching Socialist doctrine," I am; I happen to believe in it. I do not want to pretend that these kinds of orders are unnecessary. Some of them are necessary; it depends upon the circumstances of the time.

I now come a bit closer to the Motion. I suggest that the present system is not a symptom of the increasing power of the Cabinet. It is a consequence of the development of society and of our industrial system, and of the way in which the Government of the day consider these problems should be dealt with—whether by rationing, nationalisation, or whatever it is. It is not due to the increasing power of the Cabinet. I will come a little closer to the Cabinet. Many noble Lords opposite, like myself, have sat in Cabinets. Speaking frankly, I know of no more difficult body than a Cabinet. It consists of exceedingly difficult people. It is not at all easy to get your proposals through a Cabinet. I am sure noble Lords opposite know this perfectly well. A number of very critical people sit round a table, and they are not at all easy to persuade. When they have made a decision, then it is true that behind it you get Cabinet solidarity, and all that goes with it. But in most cases it is a decision which has been arrived at as a result of most meticulous discussion, perhaps with many references to Cabinet committees and all the rest of it. It is not, as a rule, something that is arrived at on the spur of the moment. These decisions are not arbitrary decisions which are sprung upon the people. For the most part, they are very carefully arrived at.

I should say—and I have watched Cabinets for a considerable period—that the Cabinets of to-day are more sensitive to public opinion than I have ever known them to be in the past. I believe that I am speaking quite fairly in saying this. Cabinets in the days to which the noble Viscount has referred—days in the middle of the last century—were far less responsive to public opinion than present-day Cabinets. The noble Viscount shakes his head. What was public opinion in those days?


That is a different matter.


No, it is not. The Cabinets were not responsive to public opinion, otherwise you would never have had the marches of the "Hungry 'Forties." They were not responsive to the opinion of agricultural labourers, otherwise you would never have had the Tolpuddle episode. It was because they were not responsive that those mistakes occurred. I go back to my contention: I honestly believe that the Cabinets of to-day are more alert and more responsive to public opinion and criticism than I have ever known them to be previously. Of course, as noble Lords well know, the responsiveness of any Cabinet depends to a great extent on the people in it—and especially on the man at the top. Occasionally there may be Cabinets in which the man at the top is a very dominant personality, and dominant personalities, so far as my experience goes, are not very readily responsive to other people's opinions; that is why they are dominant. As I say, that sort of situation may arise in any Cabinet. I have known it, and so have other noble Lords. But to-day we have the radio, the newspapers, an exceedingly alert House of Commons, and hundreds of questions being asked in Parliament every week; and really it is a fact that if Ministers were inclined to do unfair, tyran- nical or unreasonable things, they would have great difficulty in getting away with it.

Therefore, to a great extent I challenge the proposition of the noble Viscount. I do not see that the growing power of the Cabinet is a danger. I do say that we have to be very vigilant to safeguard our liberties in respect of departmental and other administrative arrangements which come into existence because of the state of affairs which I have described. Those arrangements are designed for certain purposes; it is right they should serve those purposes and it is also right that they should not be used after the purposes no longer exist. For instance, the other day, the Minister of Food did away with some ration points—I do not know the exact details—because they were no longer required, and we have done away with masses of regulations during the last twelve months. A great number of them were done away with the other day in connection with town planning and small building arrangements. Another group which was abolished was in the field of Board of Trade regulations. And it is right that this should he so. We have to be vigilant to see that these things are done away with when they are no longer required. I have great faith in British democracy and in the British people. I think the noble Viscount in calling our attention to these dangers has rendered a public service.

5.34 p.m.


My Lords, I will not detain your Lordships for more than a few moments in replying to the interesting debate which we have had. I am grateful to my noble friends who have taken this subject very seriously and have delivered most important arguments upon it. I am also gratified by the general agreement that my main propositions were right. That, perhaps, does not seem to be quite clear to the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, but he really does not disagree with me—he wishes to, but he cannot help himself. There is no doubt it is established—indeed, no question can be raised against it—that the powers of the Cabinet are dictatorial. It is not a question of whether they are amenable to public opinion in the sense that that is represented inside the Cabinet—the people in the Kremlin would no doubt say exactly the same thing about their decisions. The point is, that there is no appeal against decisions of the Cabinet in executive matters. They decide whatever they like, whether for good reasons or for bad reasons. I am ready to believe that anything which Lord Addison agrees to is an excellent proposition. He, at any rate, would think so. But that is not the point. The point, as I say, is that there is no appeal.

In executive matters, the Cabinet is absolutely supreme, and it is very nearly supreme in legislative matters also, for the reasons which I gave in my speech and which I will not repeat now. That is a bad state of things constitutionally. It means sooner or later some form of oppression of the people who come up against those powers. That is what has happened in the totalitarian countries. I do not want to go back into an elaborate discussion of what was true of this country in 1840. I want your Lordships to look at what is going on in the totalitarian countries. Every day there are instances of most scandalous tyranny and oppression. We read of shocking events. And there is no appeal; that is the point. The people responsible do not admit that they are wrong. They say: "We are right; we are doing what we are entitled to do and we are therefore not doing wrong in tyrannising over our fellow subjects."

I Will not detain your Lordships any longer except to say that I listened with the greatest attention, is I always do—I am sure that every member of your Lordships' House does the same—to the words of the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor. I was much impressed by his speech. But his argument really came to this. It is quite true, he said in effect, that the Cabinet has dictatorial powers; it always had. I do not agree with him, but that is what he said. The Cabinet, in his view, has always had dictatorial powers. And not only has it had dictatorial powers, the Lord Chancellor said, but it ought to have dictatorial powers—that was what he meant by strong government. That is what the noble and learned Viscount wants: he wants strong government. That is the whole argument of the totalitarian system in Europe, and it is against that that I most vehemently protest. There ought not to be such dictatorial power and there ought to be, sooner or later, an appeal. The only appeal that seems to me to be possible in present circumstances is an appeal to the votes of the whole of the people of the country.

I hope I have made it clear that an appeal is what I want to see secured, not only in legislative matters but in administrative matters also—though particularly in legislative matters. To show what I meant, I sketched out a system by which I thought it possible to get a definite appeal, at any rate in legislative matters. That is the whole reason why I have ventured to bring this matter to your Lordships' notice. I am very grateful for the attention which it has received, and I trust that it will be a matter for consideration not only in this House but outside also. I do not propose to ask your Lordships to divide on my Resolution. My main purpose was to call attention to evils that exist. That I have done, and I now ask leave of your Lordships to withdraw my Resolution.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.