HL Deb 24 October 1963 vol 252 cc1255-95

11.5 a.m.

EARL ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH rose to move to resolve, That this House considers that in the public interest Parliament should not be prorogued this day, and that Her Majesty's Government should advise The Queen to this effect. The noble Earl said: My Lords, we meet this morning after a curious period in our national political history. The first thing I want to do this morning, in moving, as I do move now, the Motion in my name on the Order Paper, is to make reference to some statements which have been made from time to time with regard to the position of our gracious Monarch. I want to say at once that we feel that Her Majesty, in the position in which she was placed, has acted absolutely constitutionally as a constitutional Monarch on the advice of Her Majesty's Ministers, and I hope that nothing further need be said on that point.

The political situation in the country came to a head as an emergency owing to the serious illness of Mr. Harold Macmillan, who was Prime Minister until only a few days ago. I should like to say on behalf of the Opposition how much we regret his illness. I have already communicated to his wife our feelings in the matter. We hope that the medical reports which have been published, which are so promising, will continue to forecast his complete recovery.

The Motion which is on the Order Paper on behalf of this side of the House was, in our view, necessary because the present position seems to us to be an extremely important and constitutional matter. I want first of all to draw attention to the fact that we adjourned at the beginning of August with plans firmly made, and they were subsequently revised following the news that Her Majesty would not be attending in person at the opening of the new Session; the dates were renewed. The practice which has arisen under the constitutional rights of Parliament really has been, by interpretation and use, that the date fixed for Prorogation of the Session has usually fallen upon a Thursday, with due expectation of the reopening of Parliament for the new Session and the Speech from the Throne on or about the following Tuesday.

Now we are in a somewhat different position. Our Motion would not have been necessary today but for the fact that, after the Party struggle at the place called Blackpool, which was rather prolonged, it seems, and sometimes rather squalid, I think, a new Prime Minister was appointed. I would say first of all, personally, that the right honourable gentleman—I now have to be careful what I call him, but he is still our friend, as he was when the Earl of Home—is a man who endeared himself to this House. He has shown great ability in all the matters he has handled in this House, as when he was occupying the position of Leader of the House, which he did with very great success. I am sure the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, with all his long experience as Leader of the House, would be one of the first to pay tribute to that. I have not said one word about the appointment of the right honourable gentleman who is now the Prime Minister.

But the constitutional practice which has grown up, I submit, within the rights of Parliament as a whole as to the ending of a Session and the beginning of a new one has been gravely interfered with by the fact that the Prime Minister felt it necessary to alter the dates, not after a wide consultation with Leaders of Parliament in all Parties in both Houses but without any consultation about it whatsoever. We feel more than ever justified in the action we had actually decided to take by the fact that the London Times newspaper, in a leading article yesterday, which was headed by the words "Unwelcome Delay", emphasised a number of points that no doubt will come out in the debate. I do not want to delay the House by going into the detail of it, but it seemed to me to prove the case that we are submitting to the House: that the delay is an injury to the practice that we have arranged to grow up under the Constitution and in Parliament, and that practice has been put into jeopardy.

The position of my Party in this matter is this. Noble Lords are always called upon, when summoned to meet together in Parliament, to deal with "urgent and arduous duties". We were all expecting to be called to the "urgent and arduous duties" next Tuesday. Now that apparently is not to happen. Why? The Opposition feel that there were many matters which were both urgent and arduous. I think that my Party as a whole has acted in the right manner. Through its Leader it asked, immediately after the Denning Report was published, that Parliament should be recalled to deal at that time with that and certain other matters. However, the illness of the then Prime Minister occurred; and at once the Labour Party said that, in view of the Prime Minister's illness at that time, we would not proceed with our pressure for the recalling of Parliament.

Now we come to a situation in which there is a new Prime Minister, and it is apparently argued that it is essential not only for the Prime Minister, but for other Ministers—although they are nearly the same as held office before—to have time to settle down and, from their point of view, to be in a position to address major speeches to Parliament when it reassembles. I myself can see nothing that could justify that in relation to the contents of the Monarch's Speech which will be delivered by Commission in Her absence. Certainly the whole policy was there before the Conservative Party went to Blackpool. The whole, or almost the whole, of its policy was debated in an ordered agenda; the facts are known, and the policy was settled. There was no need, from that point of view, in order to get time for purposes of the Party and for the person of the new Prime Minister, for Parliament to be denied its right to assemble on Tuesday next, as it had already been summoned to do.

I feel that it would be wrong and unwise for the House today to bring in a great many side issues in this matter and to prolong a debate upon a highly political Party basis, but I am bound to say that the position in which we find ourselves is most serious from the point of view of the rights of Parliament. That is the point we dwell upon. We have put down a Motion in which we say that we feel that it is not in the public interest that Parliament should be prorogued in the circumstances today. It is impossible, in view of what is taking place, to see any other way, unless the Government immediately changed their policy upon delaying the recall of Parliament for a new Session. We see no prospect of that now. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to see that the Session which is still existing, until Prorogation, should be prolonged until the usual period will have been reached of the notice given of the new Session and the summons to us to attend to our urgent and arduous duties.

I think that is a perfectly plain case. I do not think that it needs a great deal of elaboration. I feel that, whilst we, as Members of this House of Peers, on a personal basis send every good wish to our former colleague here, and hope that he will do well, it is fundamental for us to begin on a right basis. The House of Lords has been described in the London Times by one of our cleverest political correspondents as being something in the nature of lawless, rather putting a shadow over our practice of being able to do such things as I am doing this morning. I think that it should not be overlooked that this is a revising Chamber. It has important duties. One thing that has rather astonished me in the last eight years of my leading the Opposition is the extent to which we so often get independent support from all Benches in the House. The Government Chief Whip no doubt has some insistent memories of a few occasions on which, with the help of Members on all sides of the House, we have defeated the Government in this House—something which has never occurred in this Parliament in the other place. So that we have here a practice which is worthy of admiration and not criticism. Although the learned Lord the Lord Chancellor sitting on the Woolsack, whoever he may be for the time being, has not the rights of the Speaker in the House of Commons, who is prevented there from taking part in debate, he has the enormous power of stepping aside from his official seat and delivering powerful and legally backed orations for the guidance of the House on any subject whatsoever. So when you look at the practice of the House as a whole, I think we can afford to treat rather lightly those clever observations of the political correspondent which I have been quoting.

I am going to leave it to some of my colleagues to support me in what I have said. I do not want this necessarily to be a very prolonged debate, but I feel convinced in my own mind that on this occasion the matter is of such importance that I cannot possibly withdraw the Motion—


Hear, hear!


—unless the Government see the rightness of the claim we are making, that this Session should be continued until the usual period before the Government's submission of the Monarch's Speech to the House to be debated as their policy. We should go on until at least the end of the week, or towards the end of the week, before the date at present fixed by the Prime Minister for the beginning of the new Session, November 12. That is an absolutely reasonable request. In the case of Members of the House of Commons, as my Leader in the other place said the other night on television, the delay on matters of urgency which the representatives of the people in that place, the elected representatives, want to put down on the Paper for Oral Answer will mean that they will have to abstain from doing so until the debates on the Loyal Address from the Throne are finished. So urgent matters which are in the minds and the hopes of the elected representatives of the people will be unduly delayed, and this perhaps will do a great deal of harm. I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That this House considers that in the public interest Parliament should not be prorogued this day, and that Her Majesty's Government should advise The Queen to this effect.—(Earl Alexander of Hills borough).

11.22 a.m.


My Lords, I have no difficulty in endorsing fully many of the points made by the noble Earl who leads the Opposition, but, I must say at once, perhaps not all of them and not in full strength. First of all, I should like to say that I am sure we all agree that Her Majesty the Queen has behaved with every sort of monarchical propriety, and we are proud that things have gone as they have in the precincts of Buckingham Palace. Secondly, I am sure that every one of us wishes to send our sympathy to the late Prime Minister and his wife, and to sympathise with him in the blow that struck him down.

I support, though with some reluctance, the general principle enunciated by the noble Earl. I think that there is no single Member of your Lordships' House who would not put himself to individual convenience to do a personal favour, if he could, to the former noble Earl who has now become Prime Minister and who, as a Member of this House, had our respect and in many cases our personal friendship. But, my Lords, this Motion does not deal with individual emotions or with personal inclinations. It would be a very different matter if it did. It deals, of course, with the responsibility of all Parties in both Houses of Parliament to ensure that the business of the State is not interrupted or delayed by some procedural difficulty. In principle I support that argument, but I think matters have gone so far and are so unusual that I do not really feel prepared to support the noble Earl in his Motion this morning.

The procedural difficulty arises, in my opinion, from the fact that the Peerage Act, which recently passed through your Lordships' House, completely failed to seize the opportunity of reforming the House of Lords—an urgency which, I know, is agreed upon by the leaders of all Parties in both Houses. All it did was to tinker with one comparatively minor aspect of reform which was raised by the matter of the Stansgate Peerage and such similar circumstances which of course might, and do, follow it.

Accordingly, I do not feel that difficulties arising almost entirely from the very limited scope of the Peerage Act should be allowed, as the noble Earl said, to impede in principle the procedure of the government of this country by both Houses. Incidentally, I have always advocated, and still advocate, that our Parliamentary calendar is much to blame: that Parliament ought to rise at the end of June and reassemble in late September, or even early October. The objections to this, I am told, are that our national fiscal year starts and ends, arbitrarily, if not whimsically, in April. If this be the reason for our Parliamentary exhaustion in July and our Parliamentary impatience in October, I would again urge Her Majesty's Government most seriously to consider a rationalisation of the Budget so that it closes, as those of most competent organisations do, on December 31 and opens on January 1. I believe that the advantages would be immense and that it would save a great deal of worry—as in the present most unusual circumstances—and probably even evasions and all sorts of Party calculations. But, of course, this is a point only incidental to the general Motion which we are discussing.

It is in this connection that I want to make my sole and, I hope, relevant argument. It is by recent tradition alone, and not by any constitutional restriction, that the Prime Minister should always be a Member of the House of Commons. As a Liberal and a radical and a democrat I support the thesis that the head of the State should be in, and be seen to be in, the elected Chamber. But, my Lords, there are particular circumstances where that is sometimes difficult, and I suggest in all seriousness that when those particular circumstances arise, as they have now arisen—and I do not suggest we should go back on this now—the Prime Minister, who up to yesterday happened to be a Member of your Lordships' House, should continue in that capacity as Prime Minister and, until the situation can be resolved in a week or two, or even a month or two, as a Member of your Lordships' House. That is, of course, until the situation can be regularised according to what has now become current practice—and, I think, good current practice—by his entry in due course, and as soon as convenient, into the House of Commons in accordance with the provisions of the recent Peerage Act.

I do not want to go into the present circumstances, because I think that things have gone too far to be undone. But what possible harm could be done by such a procedure? What more loyal and competent senior Cabinet Ministers in his own Conservative Party could our present Prime Minister have than those who could hold the fort for him there until he was ready to go into the other place? What responsibility as Prime Minister can he possibly evade by sitting temporarily at this end of the Palace of Westminster instead of at the other end? I therefore seriously suggest that it is proper that the work of Parliament should not be interrupted, as the noble Earl has said, entirely on the basis of a notional and temporary objection. I do not press this matter too far, but I ask for it to be borne in mind. While I have very much sympathy with the principles enunciated by the noble Earl, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, I do not feel that I can follow him quite as far as he would like the rest of the House to do.

11.29 a.m.


My Lords, if you had been told a week ago that I should be standing here on the day Parliament was to be prorogued making a speech as Leader in your Lordships' House you would have been startled and surprised. I assure you that I am much more startled and surprised. But it has happened. And the reason should give everyone in this House cause for sadness, since in one step we shall have lost from the Government Front Bench, or we seem likely to lose from the Government Front Bench, its two most distinguished members. Whatever may have been said in some quarters about the Prime Minister, there is no need whatever for me to stand up in this House and defend his reputation, his record, or his fitness for the task with which he has been entrusted.


Hear, hear!


I well remember, on another occasion, the noble Earl, the Leader of the Opposition, making some very generous observations about Lord Home, as he then was, at the time when his appointment as Foreign Secretary was being heavily criticised. I have noted with satisfaction, and I know that all my noble friends on this side will have noted, too, that he has been as courteous and as kindly to-day, as indeed has the noble Lord the Leader of the Liberal Party, and I know that all your Lordships, irrespective of Party, wherever you may sit in the House, will wish him well.

As for the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, I am sorry for two reasons that he is not here to-day as Leader: first, because he was an outstanding Leader of the House, and I served under him with admiration and loyalty: secondly, because there can be very few people in public life in this country to-day who can match his intellectual gifts and his mastery of complex subjects. His absence from the leadership of this House will make it a poorer place; certainly, we shall all of us miss his ebullience, his oratory and his kindness.

In the eighteen years (it sounds rather a long time) that I have been a Member of your Lordships' House I have known four Leaders. First of all, there was the late noble Viscount, Lord Addison, who led the House most wisely and gently during the period of the Labour Government; and I remember very well his kindness to the younger Members of the House, of whatever Party. Then there was my noble friend Lord Salisbury, about whom I find it very difficult to say anything because he was, so to speak, if he will forgive my saying so, my guide and my political tutor—a Leader of the House and a Leader of the Opposition whom everybody remembers for his remarkable attainments. Then there was the Prime Minister, and Lord Hailsham, of whom I have spoken. After that galaxy of talent I feel both humble and uncertain at the honour which has befallen me and I only hope that I shall discharge the duties which the Leader of the House has to perform one half as well as any of my predecessors. I can at least assure your Lordships that I will serve you all, and your Lordships' House, to the best of my ability.

I cannot pretend that I would have chosen this particular occasion to make my first speech as Leader of the House. It would, to my mind, have been more agreeable if there had been some rather less controversial topic on which I could have been launched down the slipway. Your Lordships will remember, having seen ships being launched, that usually they start to move slowly and then gather momentum. I have started very fast and I only hope that at the end I shall float. But there it is. I have to answer the Motion which the noble Earl has put down upon the Order Paper, and I must say at the outset, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, that I shall not be able to accept it.

Perhaps the best thing that I can do, and do shortly, is to tell your Lordships exactly for what reasons the Prime Minister decided to advise the Queen to postpone the opening of Parliament until November 12. It was only on October 8 that it became known that Mr. Macmillan was ill. This came as a great shock to the country and perhaps more particularly to the Conservative Party, who were at that time assembled in Blackpool for their annual conference. No one had anticipated that the Prime Minister would not be there to speak as Leader of the Conservative Party, and to make his policy statement at the end of the conference. This is not the occasion to pay any tribute to Mr. Macmillan. Indeed, one of the most agreeable parts of the whole story is the excellent recovery which he is making. I join with the expressions which the noble Earl, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, and the noble Lord, Lord Rea, have made about the affectionate good wishes which we send him for a speedy recovery.

Nevertheless, as I say, it is no secret that it came as a great shock that Mr. Macmillan was ill and found himself unable to carry on as Prime Minister. This was a very short time ago. In the circumstances some little time was bound to elapse before a successor could take office. I do not intend this morning to discuss in this House whether or not the way in which the Conservative Party choose their leader is good or bad, and I suggest very respectfully to the noble Lords opposite that they should also deny themselves that pleasure, since that is our business and not theirs. The only point that I am trying to make at this stage is that Mr. Macmillan's illness was entirely unexpected, his resignation was unexpected and, as I have said, time was bound to elapse before another Government could be formed. This, as your Lordships know, has only just been accomplished; in fact, one or two names to fill junior posts have not yet been announced.

This then is a new Government, for only on Sunday were Cabinet Ministers appointed to serve in new and important posts. For example, my own chief at the Foreign Office, Mr. Butler, is new to that great office and many important and difficult problems face him; Mr. Heath, who has become the Secretary of State for Industry, Trade and Regional Development and President of the Board of Trade, is new to his office; an ex-colleague of mine at the War Office, Mr. Godber, has moved to the Ministry of Labour, and there are other examples. All these Ministers are in new positions. I think it only reasonable that there should be time for the new Ministry to settle down before Parliament meets; and, indeed, the proposals which the Government have made involve a loss of only ten working days.

Lastly, my Lords, there is the Prime Minister's own personal position. A good deal of play has been made by those who claim how wrong it is that Parliament should await the Prime Minister's alleged convenience. But many of the critics of the decision to advise the Queen to postpone the opening of Parliament would doubtless be the first to complain of the absence of the Prime Minister during a debate on the Address in another place. How wrong, it would be said, that the new Prime Minister is not present when the new Government are introducing their policy and their programme for the next year; how wrong that the Leader of the Government should fail to take responsibility for that policy as Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury! One cannot have it both ways. It cannot be right to postpone and wrong to postpone. I should have thought that the people of this country would welcome the Prime Minister's desire to play his full part on that occasion.

At this point, if your Lordships will allow me, I should like to deal with one further argument which has been advanced. This is that if Parliament were to be prorogued today it would be difficult to reassemble before the reopening should some unforeseen crisis make this desirable. I know that your Lordships will not have expected me to become an expert in these matters overnight—indeed, my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack will at the end of the debate be dealing with this and other points—but I do not think that this argument is sound. When Parliament stands prorogued to a certain day, the Queen has power under Statute to issue a Proclamation giving notice of her intention that Parliament shall meet for the despatch of business on any day after the date of the Proclamation. So, despite Prorogation, there would really be no difficulty about the recall of Parliament at very short notice should this be necessary; in fact, from one day to the next.

If I may sum up, there are three reasons which seem to me to lead inescapably to the decision which the Prime Minister has taken to advise the Queen to postpone the sitting: the sudden illness of Mr. Macmillan; the formation of a new Administration with important new posts; and the belief of the Prime Minister himself that it is his duty to be in another place from the very start of the Session. I do not believe that most people will think that there is anything strange or derogatory to Parliament in what the Government are proposing to do. Indeed, I think it shows a great regard and respect for Parliament, and an accurate assessment of what is right in circumstances which are certainly without precedent. My Lords, I think that the great majority of the people of this country will feel that this is the sensible thing to do.

11.40 a.m.


My Lords, I begin with the very pleasant duty of congratulating the noble Lord who has just spoken, on his appointment as Leader. He spoke with great modesty of his own attainments and capacity, and compared himself with his predecessors; but I think I may prophesy that when the time comes for him to relinquish his office—and I hope that it will not be too long—he will stand up in favourable comparison with those who have served in that office before him. We have all listened to him with great admiration, though not always with agreement, on the various occasions on which he has addressed the House. I am sure he will continue to lead the House with the utmost efficiency and courtesy, and I hope that our relationship will be as friendly with him as it has been with his predecessors.

I cannot help thinking that the task with which the noble Lord has been entrusted today is not altogether congenial to him, not only for the reason that he himself gave—that he is plunged into a battlefield, although he used a nautical term—but because it is not a case which I think he would have wished to make had he been left to his own resources. I think he used the expression that the Prime Minister decided to advise Her Majesty to postpone the Opening of Parliament. I think that is probably quite true; and that it is the decision of the Prime Minister, and of the Prime Minister alone, that has brought this about. The noble Lord gave us the reasons for it—and, of course, we knew the reasons: they were set out in the article in The Times of yesterday. I cannot help thinking that those reasons are wholly inadequate.

Take, first of all, the sudden illness of Mr. Macmillan, which we all regret. Supposing that Mr. Macmillan had found himself able to continue in office in spite of his illness, that would not have been regarded as a reason for postponing the opening of the new Session of Parliament. Parliaments have met in the absence of Prime Ministers before, and they will no doubt be able to do so again; and the mere absence of the Prime Minister on the occasion of the gracious Speech is not by itself a reason for the postponement of the Session.

The noble Lord told us that new Ministers must have a chance of settling in; and he gave us, I think, the names of three or four Ministers who have changed their offices. But the great majority of the Ministers remain in their present positions. There has been very little change indeed, relatively speaking. I recognise that it might be convenient, in order to give Mr. Butler a chance to settle in, not to have a discussion on Foreign Affairs in the course of the debate on the Address. That would be quite understandable; and the same might be comprehensible in the case of trade. But, by and large, Ministers remain the same; and if I might venture a guess as to the subjects which will be discussed in the gracious Speech, I should think that the vast majority of them will be those matters where the Ministers concerned are just as they were before.

The noble Lord did not suggest that it would be necessary to alter the terms of the gracious Speech. I imagine that they were settled before the crisis arose; and, in any case, if one may venture a guess, I think we pretty well know, because at Blackpool a good many Ministers told us about the legislation they intend to introduce. I think that, with a little care, I could myself write out the gracious Speech from the speeches that were made at Blackpool, and the promises that were then made. So there need be no delay upon that ground. I am quite sure that the House, listening objectively to the words of the noble Leader, will agree that a case has not been made out for postponement.

On the other hand, there is a strong case for meeting as we had originally intended. As the House knows, every year we have to complain—and I have had to do it myself on many occasions—about the congestion of business. We just do not get through our business with efficiency. We are rushed at the last minute, and we are not able to deal with all the matters with which we want to deal. We certainly are pressed very hard. In fact, last Session we were meeting on five days a week, which was quite unprecedented for this House—and even then we were not able satisfactorily to deal with our business. To lose two precious weeks is a very big sacrifice, and it is a big sacrifice to the public as a whole. It is the public who are going to suffer as a result of Parliament's not being able to discharge its obligations.

I imagine that a number of the measures that will be introduced in the coming Session will be controversial, and some of them far-reaching. Unless we are going to deal with these in a very cursory manner—and it is quite possible that the Session itself will be curtailed at its end—we are bound to suffer very much by this curtailment of the length of our Session. I feel that the noble Lord has not made his case for the shortening of the Session by this period, and I feel that we ought to press the Resolution which my noble friend has moved.

11.46 a.m.


My Lords, before I come to the substance of our debate, I should like, as an old Leader of the House, to add one word of very warm welcome to what has already been said to Lord Carrington who is now to lead this House. The noble Lord has already, as we know, by his combined skill and courtesy, endeared himself to your Lordships, and I have no doubt at all that he will be an outstanding success in this most important post. I am equally sure that we shall all of us agree, in whatever part of the House we sit, that he has made a very good start by the speech he has made this morning.

My Lords, if I may, I should now like to turn for a very few moments to the substance of our discussions. We have certainly had a most interesting debate already on a topic which, in my fairly long experience in this House, is entirely new: whether, as a result of certain unprecedented events in the political sphere—for which, I may mention, the Labour Party are largely responsible—Parliament should be adjourned or prorogued for this length of time to enable the new Prime Minister to be in his place in the House of Commons at the beginning of the new Session. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has explained very clearly the reasons which have led the Government to abide by the earlier decision to advise Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament today, and the noble Earl, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, has, if I may say so, explained equally clearly the reasons which have led the Opposition to regret that decision. They have, as we all know, taken the unusual step of moving an Amendment to the Motion that Parliament be prorogued, proposing that it should be adjourned instead; and, I understand from the speech of the noble Earl, they propose to press this matter to a Division.

I must confess that I think there is—though, curiously enough, the noble Earl did not mention it at all, or put any stress on it—one point of substance in favour of the course which he has proposed. It may well be argued, I think, that it is not right for the country to have to spend two or three weeks without a Parliament in session, even if it is not actually meeting—a Parliament which could be called together at any moment in the event of a sudden emergency. I quite agree that no such emergency is at present in sight, but, as we all know, clouds do sometimes blow up very suddenly, and often these are the most dangerous of all. It might, I quite see, on the face of it, be inconvenient and even embarrassing to the country to have to go through all the traditional ritual which inaugurates a new Session of Parliament in this country, with a Speech from the Throne and a debate on it, before getting on to the real crisis which might have arisen. I can quite see that view, though I think it has in fact already been answered pretty clearly by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and therefore I do not stress it.

But the other reason which was stressed by the noble Earl, and to which he devoted the main part of his speech—that it is wrong for Parliament not to meet and begin its labours on the day originally proposed—must seem to many of us as something not to be taken too seriously. After all, my Lords, Parliament has been away since the end of July and there has not been a squeak of protest from the Opposition. There has been no suggestion that "urgent and arduous affairs" require the immediate attention of Parliament.


My Lords, I cannot accept that. I have already said that we asked for a recall of Parliament during October and, out of courtesy due to the illness of the then Prime Minister, we did not press it at the time.


But, my Lords, Parliament has not met; no crisis has occurred and I cannot believe that a further prolongation of two or three weeks will justify the very dark picture that the noble Earl and the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, have painted. There is no new issue, so far as I can see, either at home or in the foreign field, of such extreme urgency as to make it vital for Parliament to meet and to deal with it immediately. There is no national disaster threatening which necessitates immediate debate. Indeed, I think the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said he hazarded a guess that when the debate on the gracious Speech did come it would be on the same old topics, even with the same old Ministers as before.

In these circumstances there must be many others besides myself in your Lordships' House and outside who must have concluded that the pressure brought by the Leader of the Opposition for the immediate meeting of Parliament is actuated not so much by zeal for the public welfare as by considerations of Party tactics. He wants to put the Tories in a situation of embarrassment, and this seems to him a very good way to do it. I am not going to tell the noble Lords opposite, and their Party, what their tactics ought to be; that is their affair and not mine. I should not have thought that a step of this kind, in the way it has been taken, would endear them to the great majority of the British public. Everybody in this country knows that the new Prime Minister, whom we shall miss so much in this House, has, by a very public-spirited decision on his part to go back to the Commons, put himself in a position of great temporary difficulty.

It is quite absurd, as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has already said, that Parliament should meet without the Prime Minister. It already appears likely that the main line which will be taken by the Opposition—and this is quite a legitimate line—in the debate when Parliament meets will be concerned with the steps that have been taken to choose the new Prime Minister; the general behaviour of the Tory Party; and criticism of the choice of a Prime Minister from the House of Lords. All that is going to be a large part of the substance of the debate when Parliament does meet. Surely it is right and proper in such circumstances as that that he should be in his place to reply to criticisms of that kind. That, I should have thought, and I should have expected the Opposition to think, would be in accordance with all the traditions of courtesy hitherto governing British public life.

While, therefore, I believe that it might be argued that there are some good reasons in favour of Parliament's being adjourned instead of prorogued, I believe there is no good argument in favour of Parliament's beginning to sit until the Prime Minister is himself able to appear in the House of Commons. Therefore, my Lords, I will personally—and I hope many other people will, also—support the Government if the matter is pressed to a Division.

11.55 a.m.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Alexander of Hillsborough made no Party point at all. The partisan point has been entirely due to the noble Marquess. My noble friend stuck to the rights of Parliament. I want to point out a certain fallacy in the idea that everything must wait until the Prime Minister is present at the opening of Parliament. I had an experience in 1945 when Parliament had to meet and I had immediately to go off to Potsdam and be away for a conference there. I had to take my Foreign Secretary, and my Ministers were all new. We did not find it difficult. My noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth was perfectly capable of carrying on. This idea that nothing can happen unless the Prime Minister is there is one of these things that have grown up recently in an endeavour to make the position of the Prime Minister the equivalent of that of the President of the United States. I think it is quite wrong. Our tradition is that the Prime Minister should be primus inter pares, but his colleagues are perfectly capable of carrying on in his absence.

I think that in the present Government the Ministers are much the same as before; they are not likely to do any better than they have done before; they may even do worse. The idea is put out now that there is nothing for Parliament to do. If we follow the noble Marquess, we shall be going back a long way to the times when Parliament was called only when there was a crisis. We have not quite got back to that. One imagines that if Parliament were summoned in the ordinary way there would be some ordinary work for it to do. The noble Marquess seems to think that it must wait until there is a crisis—by which time it may be too late. But one must anticipate a crisis.


My Lords, surely the noble Earl does not wish to misrepresent me. I never said that at all. I said that there was no crisis which required the immediate calling of Parliament. I did not say that Parliament should be called only in the event of a crisis. I put forward the argument that the absence of the Prime Minister created an unusual situation and justified a certain delay.


My Lords, the noble Marquess did say that he looked around and there was no trouble anywhere, that everything was all right. But how does he know? These things blow up suddenly. I should have said that the foreign situation is by no means clear. There is danger in North Africa, there is danger in the East. The whole situation wants to be kept under observation. Furthermore, there is work at home; there are quite a lot of big problems coming; and the House of Commons or the House of Lords have the right to be called together. And if there was work for them when this time was originally fixed, then there is work for them now. I entirely support my noble friend. I do not quite understand the position of the Liberal Party. I do not know whether they are sitting on the fence or not. In any case, the Labour Party takes the view that this is an insult to Parliament; a disregard of the rights of Parliament for the convenience of the Conservative Party.

11.59 a.m.


My Lords, as a comparatively new Member of your Lordships' House, I do not think that it would be fitting for me to dwell for very long on the records and attainments in this House of the two Peers, one of whom has in fact left us and the other who is expected to be leaving us. From the point of view of this House, of course, their passing is a regret to everybody here. This has been so well said by my noble friend the Leader of the House. I should just like to say a word of congratulation to the new Leader of the House on his most becoming speech today and to wish him very well in future months, as I am sure all your Lordships do.

The noble Earl, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, the Leader of the Opposition, seemed to think that the House of Lords, as a revising Chamber, should remain in session at this time of year. I should very much like to know, if we are to have a reply from that side of the House, what it is to revise. The Denning Report can be discussed; it cannot be revised. It is a State document and it deals with the past. So far as I know, there is no legislation which has run over into this end of this Session of the House and which has to be brought forward. If so, the Labour Party have never made a song and dance about it and asked for it to be taken in hand. I think we are all agreed that there is no stuff on its way to the Statute Book, no debates, as my noble friend Lord Salisbury just said, of hot interest which must be brought before your Lordships' House, and absolutely nothing to revise.


My Lords, may I just point out—I am sure that the noble Earl will do me the justice of carefully reading what I did say with regard to the position of a revising Chamber—that I was only answering points made by a political correspondent in the London Times this morning about what was called "the lawless position" of the House of Lords? I think that when the noble Earl reads it, he may well regret what he is now tacking on to me.


Not long ago I had a dispute with the noble Earl on another matter and I do not wish to carry it further today. I hope he does not bear me any rancour for that last occasion. The last thing I should want to do is to excite him to that mood. I referred to the single adjective "revising" only in order to say what I thought proper to say on this matter.

The noble Lord, Lord Rea, who leads the Liberal Party, has said that the Prime Minister should have remained here just a few weeks—I hope I am not misquoting him—and then, in his own time, he should leave this Chamber and become Prime Minister in another place. But that is not the situation. He has to go to a by-election to get into another place. And what better time than the present for a by-election? Is it proposed that he should remain here until Christmas and fight a by-election in the New Year, with Parliament by then resumed and all the business of Second Readings and new Bills and debates on Estimates taking place, to say nothing of some overseas foreign affairs crisis which might have intervened by that time? No, my Lords, surely the right time is the time of laxity and comparative peace in political affairs at this moment, when even we in this House cannot find enough to discuss. In fact, your Lordships may think I am doing a little bit of log-rolling.

The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, said that he went abroad at the time of Potsdam. That is true. He was the new Leader of the Labour Party and within days, I think, of the Election having taken place he replaced Sir Winston Churchill and Mr. Eden at Potsdam. If so, I think that his argument is incontrovertible. But I am not sure—perhaps the noble Earl can confirm it in a sentence—whether Parliament had actually met after the Election of May, 1945, when he went to Potsdam. If it did not meet until a fortnight or three weeks later, I am afraid that his argument falls completely to the ground. If he can assure me that he actually went off the Front Bench of another place to Potsdam, with the House remaining in session, then his argument is a formidable one. But I do not think that that is true.

The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said that he thought that the gracious Speech was going to be exactly the same. That is the burden of what want to say to your Lordships in only two or three minutes longer. I presume that the Queen's Speech is being recast. If not, I do not know what all the "kerfuffl" of the last twelve months is about. I am not suggesting that the Bills that have been pushed forward from the Civil Service for inclusion in the gracious Speech are all being pushed back into their pigeon holes. I do not think that that is likely for a moment. A whole mass of such measures are in fact worked out year after year, and have to be digested by Parliament.

I should have thought that a sea change was coming over the Tory Party and the Tory Ministry, if anything was happening at all, and that that sea change was going to result in quite a number of things being scheduled for discussion, debate and action, which had not been suggested by the previous Administration. Surely the situation does not turn entirely on the differential qualities of the outgoing and incoming Prime Ministers? We have seen that the new Ministers, with one or two exceptions, are exactly the same and I do not honestly think that the country and the Tory party are going to be satisfied with the differential qualities between the outgoing and incoming Prime Ministers alone if the Ministers remain the same and the policy remains the same.

What I am presuming is that the policy is going to be changed to something more positive, adventurous and more constructive, in a Conservative sense. For that reason, I welcome the deferment of the new Parliament for a fortnight, while the Prime Minister is fighting his by-election and while the Ministers have time—presumably they have already taken their key from the Prime Minister as to what they will do in their departments—to work out the processes of change for inclusion in the gracious Speech.

If I may take just two more minutes, I want to issue a short warning, humbly, if I may, about the course of events. It is a subject on which we shall all want to enlarge when debating the gracious Speech. It is a warning about the pace of change, the idea of hurling Britain full tilt into the 21st century, as our exotic and libertine Press would have us do. And that is well pointed out by the reception given this morning to the Robbins Report, with its proposed expenditure of over £1,000 million in a comparatively short period of time. I presume that our Election contention on this side of the House will be that Socialist enthusiasm for swift material advance is bound to crash against the rock of the balance of payments and further that the free society, which the Conservatives have themselves engendered, will, by Parliamentary action and otherwise, deny to the Party opposite the controls they must have to force their policy through. In 1945, Socialism was possible only because of the war-time controls then in operation and of the vast bureaucracy that accompanied them. These controls and their bureaucracy have largely been overthrown in the last twelve years. I want to end—I will not say more now—by pointing to the haunting dilemma which is going to confront the Government if they contemplate stealing Labour's policies with the left hand whilst demonstrating with the right that the machinery for carrying them out is wrong in political doctrine, is inequitable and socially unjust.

With that short warning, which I hope to enlarge on, in its material points, when it comes to the debate on Her Majesty's gracious Speech, I resume my seat in the conviction that it is proper and right whole-heartedly to support Her Majesty's Government in the policy they are currently pursuing about the recall of Parliament.

12.10 p.m.


My Lords, the debate, as it has proceeded, has gone somewhat wider than the area covered by my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition, notably in the speeches of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, and of the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich. Therefore, if I go a little wider, I am sure nobody will object. Indeed, it is difficult on this matter, in a debate of substance, to keep it entirely narrow as we go along. May I first of all say that I share with others regret at the illness of the former Prime Minister, Mr. Macmillan, and wish him complete and early recovery? I never forget that he was Parliamentary Secretary to me when I was Minister of Supply in Mr. Churchill's War Government, and that he served me well. I also join with others in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, on becoming Leader of the House. I hope that he has a happy and pleasant time, even if from time to time we cause him a little unhappiness and embarrassment; because, after all, that is one of the duties of an Opposition.

The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said that it was the business of the Conservative Party only as to who their Prime Minister and Leader was. Well, there is something in that. But it is also a matter of interest to the nation who the Prime Minister is, especially as the present Prime Minister said on television that he was going to feel that he was Prime Minister of the whole nation. Therefore, it is not only the Conservative Party, or the Labour Party in our turn, who are concerned with the Prime Minister. What the nation thinks about it is material.


My Lords, I do not want to interrupt, but I did not say that. I said that it was our business how we did it.


I see. But even that is the nation's business, too. I know that the noble Lord and his friends take the view, also, that how they get their finance is their business and nobody else's. Nevertheless, there are some of us who would like to know, and I think the nation would like to know, how they get it; and the next Labour Government will see that that is put right.

The noble Lord said, further, that Ministers must have time to settle down. But, as my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition said, the Government are really substantially the old Government; the changes are not all that material. Indeed, in the purge that was carried through with Stalin-like efficiency by Mr. Macmillan some time ago there were far greater changes in the composition of the Government than have taken place under the former noble Earl who is now Prime Minister. The Ministers ought to be able to take care of themselves. In a debate on the Queen's Speech they will not all be wanted. And I should imagine that the Queen's Speech was probably settled by Mr. Macmillan's Government and left ready for the new Government, and I doubt whether it will be materially altered in any particular. Therefore, they were all ready. The noble Lord then said that there is power to reconvene the House in a case of emergency, even after Prorogation; and that is true. But I remember that when I was Leader of the House of Commons and we arranged for Prorogation at the end of a Summer Recess, Sir Anthony Eden (as he then was) objected and said that it would take about three days longer to reconvene Parliament after a Prorogation. Being a reasonable Leader of the House of Commons, I thought that he was on a fair point, and I agreed that the House should adjourn and not be prorogued. Consequently, there is some point of substance in that contention.

The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, said that there has been no protest about the long Recess. If I remember rightly, there was some Back-Bench protest in another place at the time of the adjournment. There usually was under previous Conservative Governments, and under the Labour Government, too. Personally, I like a reasonable Recess; I think it refreshes everybody. But it is a preposterous argument to say that, because Parliament has been adjourned for roughly three months, therefore there is no harm in forbidding it to come back at the end of that period and making it hang about outside for another two or three weeks. That seems to be an absurd argument. The point of no crisis has been ably and competently dealt with by my noble friend Lord Attlee.

The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, said that this Motion is Party tactics. I deny that. I think anybody who listened to the speech of my noble friend Lord Alexander of Hillsborough would agree that he was concerned, and sincerely concerned, with Parliamentary rights and constitutional rectitude.


My Lords, may I say a word, as my speech has been mentioned? I feel that in the minds of those responsible for the Labour Party there have been considerations of Party tactics. There is a sort of glee about what the Labour Party now propose to do, in certain sections of that Party, which seems to me to justify that statement. I did not expect the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, to stress that aspect; nor do I expect the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, to do so.


My noble friend is an Earl, and not a Viscount. I do not think he ought to be demoted.


I beg his pardon.


The noble Marquess now says that the Labour Party as a whole have made Party politics of it. I do not think so. I thought that Mr. Harold Wilson on the television the other night was gentility itself; in fact, he was more of a gentleman than I should have been on such an occasion. He was very gentle, and I thought that he stuck to the constitutional point with which my noble friend Lord Alexander of Hillsborough has dealt.

The truth is that there was an awkward situation for the Conservative Party about their Leader and Prime Minister, and there was some nasty work done at Blackpool in the hotel corridors, in London, on the telephone and so on. It is not for me to decide how the Conservative Party should choose their Leader. I would only say that our method is a little more clear-cut, even if a little more brutal on occasion. But I think it is a marvellous way in which the Conservative Party do it: the collection of voices; finding out whom people want, and, when they are in a jam, being particularly emphatic as to whom they do not want. We know whom Mr. Macmillan did not want: he did not want Mr. Butler. If I had been a Conservative, I would have supported Mr. Butler. As a Labour man and a Socialist, I would have supported the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, because I think he would have suited us better. But all this cumbrous, behind-the-scenes and underground business went on in order that the Leader should be chosen.

Then, having gone through this unpleasant scramble, the former Prime Minister not only was determined that it should not be Mr. Butler, but was probably determined that he would come to the House of Lords for a Prime Minister. This is a constitutional point. I do not think it was in the minds of any of us, on this side, at any rate, that the Peerage Act was passed with the purpose of enabling a man to be picked out from this House to be Prime Minister forthwith and sit in the Commons.




I see that the noble Earl, Lord Kilmuir, has his doubts. But it was not mentioned in the Joint Select Committee. The whole argument was that if a man succeeding to a Peerage wanted not to accept it, he ought to be found a way out; that a man who had accepted after he has asked that legislation should be passed to enable him to refuse, should come into it, too—and that covered the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham. But it never entered our minds that it would be used for the purpose of finding a Prime Minister from this House, especially after the decision of a former Monarch when he insisted on Mr. Baldwin as against Lord Curzon, because, in his view, the time had come when nobody but a Member of the House of Commons should be Prime Minister.


My Lords, am I right in thinking that that would mean that the ex-Lord Stansgate is debarred from becoming Prime Minister?


No, my Lords. If in the course of time he rises to those heights he can become Prime Minister. But if there were a Labour Government and a noble Lord here was sent for to be Prime Minister, then I think that would be wrong and I should oppose it. I think it is bad.


My Lords, I hesitate to contradict the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, who was on the Committee, as I was, but there was quite a lengthy discussion as to whether existing Members of your Lordships' House should be able to opt to go back to the House of Commons. In fact, I think it was even the subject of a Division, and the decision was in favour of that. That is all the noble Earl, Lord Home did.


My Lords, with great respect, there is a difference with a noble Lord who has succeeded or an existing noble Lord who never wanted to be here, or one who does not want to come here, exercising his constitutional power under this Act to divest himself of the Peerage and stand for the House of Commons.


But that is not what the Act said.


I know that. I am coming to that. It is true that the Act enables it to be done, but I say that this was never contemplated, was never discussed, by the Joint Select Committee. I think it is a bit of Parliamentary smart practice that this should have been done on this occasion.


My Lords, may I ask a question?


Any more?


If this is the case, why did not the noble Lord and his Party put down an Amendment in Committee and have the whole principle debated out? They did not realise it because they did not want to do it at that time.


I admit we were at fault in that we never contemplated that even the Conservative Party would do a thing of this sort. We did not contemplate it. If we had, I think it is certain that we should have moved an Amendment. This I plead guilty to. We did move an Amendment that the Act should operate immediately. If we had left the Bill as it was, this little venture, this little subterfuge, could not have happened. I "come clean" about that, because I can see it coming back at us already, and it is best to get my blow in first. I admit that. It was moved in all good faith by my noble friend Lord Silkin, supported by all of us, and spoken for by me. Therefore, it is no good our abandoning responsibility on that point. Again, if we had guessed what was coming, perhaps we should not have moved it. But we did, and we did it because we thought that it was right that the Act should operate immediately.

The remarkable thing was that we had overwhelming support from the Conservative Party opposite, about which I am now beginning to be suspicious. I wonder whether they knew what was coming? It is extraordinary what an overwhelming mass of support we had from the Party opposite on that occasion. However, there it is, and I admit our share of the responsibility, which we took as good citizens.


My Lords, I was opposed to the proposal at first, and I was convinced by the arguments of the Labour Party.


If the noble Marquess was convinced by the arguments of the Labour Party then, I am sure he is more than ever convinced now in view of what has happened in the last ten days. It was not contemplated by the Peerage Act and, indeed, a former Monarch had ruled. He having ruled, it has stood up since that a Prime Minister must be a Member of the House of Commons, which I interpreted as meaning that he should be drawn from the House of Commons. After all, noble Lords and their friends in another place have said that their embarrassment was that they had about four Members of Parliament who were all well qualified to be Prime Ministers—Conservative Prime Ministers, naturally. They had four good men, fit and competent to be Prime Ministers. If that was so, why did they have to come here to find a Prime Minister? Now it is said that the debate on the Address, particularly in another place, is just impossible, absurd, if the Prime Minister is not there. Well, well!—and they have four potential Prime Ministers there.

My noble friend Lord Attlee has referred to the time when he had to go to Potsdam almost immediately after the formation of the Labour Government in 1945, and I was left in charge as Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the House of Commons. We survived. I am sure my noble friend will not take that as an insult. But he was quite right. We survived, and he knew what he was doing. He went to Potsdam in the national interest, confident that his colleagues would see the thing through—and we did. It was a jolly fine Government, and we did very well indeed.

This Motion which my noble friend has moved is, of course, directed to the point of the postponement of the Prorogation, which is probably the best way out. But what it really means is that Parliament should not be put into non-existence. I must say that the more I listen to the Liberal Party in this House, and sometimes in another place, the more they surprise me. The noble Lord, Lord Rea, and his colleagues cannot bring themselves to vote for this Motion, and yet the Liberal Party traditionally was the Party of democracy. They claim to be the radical, progressive Party, and now they are afraid to uphold the undoubted rights of Parliament. Indeed, he got to the point, I gather from what I heard—and this has been confirmed by a noble Lord opposite—that he thought the former Lord Home might sit here as Prime Minister during an interregnum period. Well, well! If that is not an ultra-Conservative doctrine I do not know what is.


My Lords, if the noble Viscount would like me to tell him, I will at another time.


I may get hold of the Liberal Party Leader in another place meantime and ask what he thinks about it. But it is an extraordinary doctrine. After the rule has been laid down that a Prime Minister cannot sit in this House, the Leader of the Liberal Party wants—


My Lords, can the noble Lord give any quotation where that rule is laid down?


It was laid down, I think, by King George V, in the case of Curzon versus Baldwin.


NO. no!


Yes. This is how the British Constitution works. This is the charm of having an unwritten Constitution. The King made it clear, and it was well known and publicised, that Lord Curzon was not made Prime Minister because he was a Lord, and that Mr. Baldwin was made Prime Minister because he was a commoner, among other reasons. That was clear. The procedure established then has been valid ever since, and that is how the British Constitution works, and, indeed, in part is made. It is no good anybody quibbling about that. I only register my very great surprise that the Leader of the Liberal Party should have become so reactionary in these days when his Party are trying their best to be progressive.


My Lords, on the point which the noble Lord has just raised, may I draw his attention to a letter in to-day's Times from Lord Selborne, who states there what I think had been well known to many other people: that in order to soothe Lord Curzon's feelings many people were inclined to say that this was the reason for his being passed over in favour of Mr. Baldwin. This was not the reason why he was passed over. He was passed over because his colleagues did not appreciate him quite as much as they might have done. May I add that long after that there was a time when it was quite a possibility that the Sovereign might have sent for Lord Halifax as Prime Minister. This was seriously considered, and it was never thought impossible for a Prime Minister to be in the House of Lords. Nothing was laid down to that effect.


My Lords, I remember his name being canvassed at the time Mr. Neville Chamberlain resigned as Prime Minister, but it was never taken seriously. There would have been a first-class row if that had happened at that time, in a most dangerous period in the country's history. By the way, the Leader of the Liberal Party promoted me and made me a Viscount but I am a mere Life Peer, the lowliest of your Lordships' creatures. I have read the letter from Lord Selborne in The Times, and I do not agree with him: I think he is wrong. It has been widely stated and accepted ever since that that was the case; therefore, I do not think that is true.


My Lords, I had not meant to intervene, but may I just say that my memory goes back quite a long way, since I was personally concerned at the time over the question of who should become Prime Minister? I think it is not wrong for me to say, from my personal knowledge, that the reason Lord Curzon was not chosen was not because he was a Peer but because a number of us were not ready to serve under Lord Curzon as a Prime Minister and preferred to serve under Mr. Baldwin. That I know.


My Lords, we are getting some contributions to constitutional history and the private affairs of the Conservative Party which I did not know before; but I welcome them. I wish we could have some more revelations of the private affairs of the Conservative Party. But I must say that all the talk has been that that was the ground for the choice of Mr. Baldwin. In any case, nobody but a commoner has been Prime Minister since; indeed, if noble Lords are serious in the argument that there is no objection to a noble Lord being Prime Minister and remaining in this House, I would ask: why did not Lord Home remain in this House and be Prime Minister? I notice that there are no interruptions now; I thought that that was a convincing point for me.


Is not the noble Lord making the case for the course which Lord Home adopted? I should have thought he was arguing on the wrong side.


I am not, and for reasons which I indicated.

My noble friend the Leader of the Opposition referred to the leading article in The Times and gave its headline "Unwelcome delay". This is what it said at the beginning, and, I respectfully agree with it: Neither of the possible justifications of Lord Home's decision to postpone the opening of the new session of Parliament for a fortnight stands up to examination. It is said that more time is needed than the ten days between the forming of the new Administration and the date on which the session was to have been opened for Ministers to prepare the Queen's Speech and their contributions to the debate on the Address. That is to ignore the continuity between this Administration and the last, which is apparent in its composition as well as in the new Prime Minister's assurances". I think that is a conclusive argument; and it is a serious thing, when Parliament meets at a time which was announced before the Recess, that this should happen. Of course, it is a matter in which the House of Commons, perhaps even more than ourselves, is vitally concerned. The House of Commons is the channel of popular ventilation of grievances by questions, debate, by discussion on the Adjournment and so on. I will say this for the House of Lords: that it enabled us to raise this question to-day, under our more elastic rules of procedure, if any. We could raise it, and thereby we have compelled a discussion in this House; and that, in turn, compelled the Government to concede a debate in another place. This is one of those rare occasions when the House of Lords is an outstanding champion of the rights of the House of Commons. As my noble friend reminds me, if noble Lords vote to-day with us they will still more emphasise their championship of the popular House.

That is all I have to say. I have spoken rather longer than I intended, but your Lordships will have noticed that I was subject to quite a number of interruptions, about which I do not complain at all. I learned oratory on the street corners and in the parks of London, and I am used to interruptions. I make no complaint at all. I have enjoyed it, and I hope that noble Lords have also. I think this Motion is right. I think it is a serious matter that this step should have been taken, and I would commend the undoubted constitutional merits of this Motion to the favourable consideration of your Lordships.

12.35 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, began his speech by indicating that he would go somewhat wide of the terms of the Motion. I listened to him very carefully and it seemed to me that until his concluding observations he was so far wide of it that he was never really on that target. He discussed at some length the question of the Peerage Act. That Peerage Act was fully debated and fully considered in your Lordships' House, and it must have been apparent to anyone, without much consideration or burning of midnight oil, that if a Peer disclaimed his Peerage and went into another place he might well be called upon to fulfil any office in Her Majesty's Government. It is all very easy to talk about Parliamentary sharp practice, nasty work done, and all that kind of thing. They are easy things to say; but, really, if one wanted any confirmation of any consideration of Party politics entering into what has taken place to-day then I would submit to your Lordships that the noble Lord has substantiated any doubts anyone might feel on that question.

When I noticed that this Motion was to be moved I naturally made inquiries to find out whether in the history of this House any such step had ever previously been taken on the date of Prorogation. I found that it has taken place on one occasion, in the year 1831, and it was then intended to prorogue Parliament for the purposes of Dissolution. The Lord Chancellor took his seat upon the Woolsack and left it immediately, and the then Lord Shaftesbury sat upon the Woolsack and Lord Wharncliffe moved the Motion that there should be no Prorogation or Dissolution. The Hansard of the time describes the scene as follows [Parliamentary Debates, 3rd Series, Vol. 3, col. 1808]: The Earl of Shaftesbury resumed the Woolsack amidst cries of 'order, order! chair, chair! Order of the Day, Order of the Day! shame, shame, shame! the King, the King!' And it went on to say It is impossible to described the confusion, the noise, and impetuosity that prevailed from one end of the House to the other. The Peeresses present seemed alarmed. Some of the Peers were, as it appeared in the confusion, almost scuffling, and as if shaking their hands at each other in anger. And then, at last, the then Earl of Mansfield made a pretty lengthy speech. My Lords, that occasion ended with Parliament being prorogued by His Majesty King William IV.


My Lords, may I put it to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, that he is going somewhat wide—right back to 1831—and will he remember that when I opened my speech I said that the debate had already gone wide and that I was therefore entitled to do so?


The noble Lord may well have thought that because the debate had gone a little wide he could go a little wider. He certainly did, and I do not think my comments were unjustified. But in my view it is relevant, on occasions like this, to look back to see what the precedents are. I think it right to draw attention to that precedent, and I am going to refer to what happened on that occasion a little later. For this reason I do not think anyone can say that the debate which has taken place this morning in this House is in any respect inconsistent with the dignity and the high traditions of your Lordships' House.

I do not myself feel that it is possible to criticise the manner, however much we may disagree with the content, of the speech made by the noble Earl the Leader of the Opposition. He began his speech by the clearest recognition of the Crown's position in this matter. I was very glad that he did so. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, I think fell into an error when he said that Her Majesty had acted on the advice of the Prime Minister alone. Her Majesty acts on the advice of Her Majesty's Ministers, and it is a collective responsibility. But the form of the advice is a matter on which I need not dwell. Then I should like to join with the expressions that have come from all sides, both of sympathy with the former Prime Minister and of congratulations to my noble friend the new Leader of the House.

The noble Earl in moving his Motion put forward what I thought were somewhat odd and unwarranted statements as to the constitutional position. He asserted that it had now become a matter almost, I think he put it, of constitutional law that the date of Prorogation should be on a Thursday immediately preceding the reopening of Parliament on the following Tuesday. I cannot for one moment as a matter of law accept that there is any substance whatever in the proposition.


My Lords, I did not claim it was law. I said that, as so many other parts of our Constitution have grown, it had come to be constitutional practice and was done over and over again.


It may have been done as a matter of constitutional practice on a number of occasions. I want to quote to your Lordships the words that my predecessor said in 1831 in the course of the debate to which I have referred, where again the Motion was in some way to try to prevent Prorogation. The then Lord Chancellor (that was Lord Brougham) said: I have never yet heard that the Crown ought not to dissolve Parliament whenever it thought fit. And the same observation applies with regard to Prorogation. What is the position if Parliament is prorogued under the Meeting of Parliament Act? Parliament can reassemble before the date fixed for the reopening of Parliament on a Proclamation being made calling it together for the despatch of business. Also, as your Lordships are aware, when it is required to exercise emergency powers provision is made under various Acts for the recall of Parliament after Prorogation in order to pass the necessary Resolutions which those Acts require. The fact that Parliament has by Statute made provision for those things to happen indicates, I would submit to your Lordships, quite clearly that there is no constitutional link between Prorogation on the Thursday of one week having to be followed by the reopening of Parliament on Tuesday in the next.

The Power to recall Parliament by Proclamation was last used, so far as I can find out, in 1921. Parliament was going to meet in January and on December 7 a Proclamation was issued for the recall of Parliament on December 14. I deal with those matters merely because the fact that statutory powers exist for the recall of Parliament after Prorogation, and before the reopening of the new Session, to my mind clearly establishes that as a matter of constitutional right or law, whichever you call it, however many times as a matter of convenience the Prorogation has been closely associated with the reopening, there is no substance in that argument that was advanced.


My Lords, I think it is rather important, in considering this, that we have had to point out that this has largely been done on this occasion for the convenience of the Government. The convenience of Parliament does not seem to be considered. In this particular case it has been done largely for the purpose of safeguarding the position of the new Prime Minister who is without a seat. I do not think, therefore, that the argument the noble Lord the Lord Chancellor has made has moved me in any way from the Resolution.


I would say to the noble Earl first of all that I have not as yet come to the part of my speech dealing with the facts of the present situation, and therefore I should not have expected his mind to be moved by any argument I have advanced in relation to that. What I have been dealing with so far is the constitutional proposition that he advanced at the beginning of his speech.


My Lords, perhaps I may put this point to the noble Lord the Lord Chancellor. It seems to me he is adumbrating a very dangerous doctrine. What would he have felt if the Government of the day had suggested that the Recess be continued for another three months?


I am not putting forward or adumbrating any particular doctrine. I am trying to tell your Lordships what is the legal position under the constitutional law and under Acts passed by this House. Before I pass from that I should also like to draw your Lordships' attention to one further Act, the Prorogation Act, 1867. Under that Act, after Parliament has been prorogued by Royal Proclamation the date of the reopening of Parliament can be postponed. That could have happened after Prorogation to the date originally fixed. But my right honourable friend the Prime Minister as a matter of courtesy consulted the Leader of the Opposition in another place.


My Lords, I do not know what is meant by consultation, if that is the noble and learned Lord's description. There was an announcement in the Press that he was going to see Mr. Wilson to let him know that Parliament was going to be postponed, and for that kind of thing to be talked of as consultation seems to me to be quite a novelty.


I am not going to follow that line of discussion any further because I do not want to occupy your Lordships' time for very long. I just want to say this with regard to the reasons for the postponement of the date of reassembly. I thought they were stated very fairly, very fully and very frankly by my noble friend the Leader of the House and by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury. I cannot see why it should be assumed on behalf of the Opposition in your Lordships' House that the draft Queen's Speech, if one was in existence at the time of the former Prime Minister's resignation, would not be and should not be modified before delivery in this House. It surely is only right with a new Prime Minister and with Ministers holding new offices, and some new Ministers in the Administration, that there should be an opportunity of reviewing the situation. I do not intend to say much more on that in addition to what has already been said.

But the noble Earl, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, will remember the complaints that have been made in days gone by when it has been said that a Minister was not in the House of Commons to answer Questions, when he has been a Member of your Lordships' House: the complaints and criticisms because he has not been there to answer Questions. Now we want to ensure, and it is right in the public interest in my opinion, that the Prime Minister should be there not only to expound and explain the policy of Her Majesty's Government in the big debate on the gracious Speech, but also to answer any criticisms and attacks that may be made upon it. It seems to me that really one cannot have it both ways. Criticism on account of the absence of the Prime Minister would, I should have thought, have been likely to arise if this course had not been taken; and I am sure that the country will think it right that the new Prime Minister and the new Government should be there when the new Session opens. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, referred to his absence in 1945 for the Potsdam meeting. I cannot help feeling that had it only been necessary to adjourn the meeting of Parliament for ten days or so to enable Lord Attlee to be there, he would have been one of the first to propose that course.

May I just remind your Lordships of the situation as it exists to-day? We are being asked to express our opinion That…Parliament should not be prorogued this day, and that Her Majesty's Government should advise The Queen to this effect. We debate that Motion in these circumstances. An Order in Council was laid last night by Her Majesty in Council, on the advice of her Ministers, ordering that Parliament should be prorogued to-day and ordering that I, as Lord Chancellor, should issue a Commission under the Great Seal in the usual way. That Commission has been issued and an Order in Council has been made requiring this House to be prorogued to-day. While I feel—I say this sincerely—that we have had an interesting debate, on a high level and fully in accordance with the dignity and traditions of this House, I feel in the circumstances, in the light of those facts, that it is somewhat inappropriate that we should now be discussing this Motion.

I heard with regret the noble Earl, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, say at the conclusion of his speech that he would not withdraw his Motion. It is for him entirely to decide; but, having made his protest, having put forward his reasons and having heard our reasons—the reasons actuating Her Majesty's Government—I should have hoped that, even at this late stage, he might, on reconsideration, having ventilated his views, have thought that it would be proper and right not to press this matter to a Division. But if he does, then I ask your Lordships who agree with the views expressed on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, to see that this Motion is rejected.

12.54 p.m.


My Lords, with regard to the concluding remarks of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, I would say at once that this has been an important debate; and I must say how grateful I am to all the Members of the House, on both sides, for the contributions they have made to the de-

bate. But what is happening to-day will be a matter for history. It could mean one of two things. It might mean that the view the Government are taking to-day in this House on this matter may be a lead-in for a Government of a different Party on the same principle to do the same to them when they are in Opposition. On the other hand, we feel that we are doing the right thing by stating our principles now with regard to the rights of Parliament and by going to a Division. That might equally be a part of the history of this day. Therefore, I am sorry to say that I cannot accede to the suggestion of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor that I should withdraw the Motion.

12.56 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Resolution shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 32; Not-Contents, 101.

Addison, V. Henley, L. Peddie, L.
Alexander of Hillsborough, E. Kennet, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Attlee, E. Kilbracken, L. Shackleton, L.
Burden, L. [Teller.] Latham, L. Shepherd, L.
Burton of Coventry, B. Lawson, L. Silkin, L.
Champion, L. Lindgren, L. Stamp, L.
Crook, L. Listowel, E. Stonham, L.
Francis-Williams, L. Longford, E. Taylor, L.
Fraser of North Cape, L. Lucan, E. [Teller.] Wilmot of Selmeston, L.
Hall, V. Milford, L. Wise, L.
Henderson, L. Morrison of Lambeth, L.
Aberdare, L. Cowley, E. Hastings, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Craigton, L. Hawke, L.
Ampthill, L. Craven, E. Hertford, M.
Ashbourne, L. Croft, L. Howard of Glossop, L.
Astor, V. Daventry, V. Jessel, L.
Atholl, D. Denham, L. Kemsley, V.
Auckland, L. Derwent, L. Kilmuir, E.
Balerno, L. Devonshire, D. Lambert, V.
Barrington, V. Dilhorne, L. (L. Chancellor.) Lansdowne, M.
Bathurst, E. Drogheda, E. Limerick, E.
Bearsted, V. Dulverton, L. Long, V.
Beatty, E. Elgin and Kincardine, E. Lothian, M.
Bessborough, E. Ellenborough, L. McCorquodale of Newton, L.
Bossom, L. Ferrers, E. Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Braye, L. Forster of Harraby, L. Melchett, L.
Brecon, L. Fortescue, E. Merrivale, L.
Bridges, L. Fraser of Lonsdale, L. Mersey, V.
Brocket, L. Furness, V. Mills, V.
Carrington, L. Gage, V. Milverton, L.
Chesham, L. Glendyne, L. Monk Bretton, L.
Clitheroe, L. Goschen, V. [Teller.] Monsell, V.
Clwyd, L. Gosford, E. Napier and Ettrick, L.
Cohen, L. Grantchester, L. Newall, L.
Colville of Culross, V. Grenfell, L. Newton, L.
Colyton, L. Hailes, L. Rathcavan, L.
Conesford, L. Hanworth, V. Remnant, L.
Rockley, L. Sandford, L. Swinton, E.
Rootes, L. Sandwich, E. Teynham, L.
St. Albans, L. Bp. Simonds, V. Vestey, L.
St. Aldwyn, E. [Teller.] Sinclair of Cleeve, L. Waldegrave, E.
St. Oswald, L. Somers, L. Waleran, L.
Salisbury, M. Strang, L. Willingdon, M.
Salter, L. Strathcarron, L. Wolverton, L.
Saltoun, L. Suffield, L.

Resolved in the negative, and Resolution disagreed to accordingly.

1.6 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this House do adjourn till 2.25 p.m.

Moved, That this House do adjourn till 2.25 p.m.—(Lord Carrington.)

On Question, Motion agreed to, and House adjourned accordingly.

2.25 p.m.

House resumed.