§ [Nos. 1–8]
§ Clause 1, page 1, line 7, leave out ("1967 and")
§ Clause 1, page 1, line 8, leave out ("1968") and insert ("1971")
§ Clause 1, page 1, line 9, leave out ("1968") and insert ("1971")
§ Clause 1, page 1, line 11, leave out from ("1963") to end of line 12 and insert ("after the words 'three years' there shall be inserted the words 'except as hereafter provided in this subsection', and after '1967'there shall be inserted the words 'in the year 1971' ")
§ Clause 1, page 1, line 13, leave out subsection (2).
§ Clause 1, page 1, line 20, leave out ("1967")
§ Clause 1, page 1, line 22, leave out ("1968")
§ Clause 1, page 1, line 24, leave out subsection (4).
§ The Commons disagreed to these Amendments for the following Reason:
§ Because they would result in an undesirable delay in providing for the holding in different years of .separate elections to the Greater London Council and to the London borough councils
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I beg to move that this House doth not insist on Amend- 416 ments Nos. 1 to 8 to which the Commons have disagreed. This is not the first occasion on which we have had to consider a Commons Message in regard to Amendments that this House has passed. When the other place have been able to accept our Amendments, we have taken note of that with satisfaction in most cases; when they have rejected them we have assumed an air of resignation, though regret. I think this is due to the fact that over very many years, certainly longer than I can remember, your Lordships' House has accepted the proposition that the will of the elected Chamber should prevail—although there are some noble Lords opposite who believe there is some qualification or proviso to this general rule. In any case, those who take that view recognise that where there is a qualification or proviso it should apply only on a very major national issue. This Bill, like its predecessor, the London Government Act 1963, has proved a fairly controversial one. Although it has not taken as much time as the 1963 Act, it has engendered a great deal of heat; but I think those who participated in the debates on Committee stage and Second Reading rather enjoyed themselves.
My Lords, I have been conscious during the past few days that there have been outside pressures on your Lordships' House that seek to persuade you, or your Lordships' House, to depart from previous practices. It is easy for those outside to put pen to paper and to make recommendations. We in this House are conscious not only of what we are called upon to do but also of the need to take into account the role which we have to play and the role which we should like to adopt in the years to come. I was therefore very happy and content when I heard this morning on the radio what was attributed to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington: that he intended to advise his colleagues not to vote to-day. My Lords, I hope that will be the case because I do not believe that there is a great deal that divides us.
§ SEVERAL NOBLE LORDS: Oh!
§ LORD SHEPHERD
No, my Lords; noble Lords must not jump too quickly to what I now intend to say. They are in some strength on the Benches opposite this afternoon but they should wait patiently. I do not believe that there is 417 a great deal that divides us on this issue. Certainly in 1963 we had a fundamental clash between the two Front Benches, the two Parties, as to the best way of conducting the local government elections in London. Noble Lords opposite took the view that in the long term it would be better for the Greater London Council elections and the London borough elections to be held on one day. That was the view of the Royal Commission. But there were many, including my noble friend the late Lord Morrison of Lambeth (who perhaps knew more about London and its people than anyone else in your Lordships' House) who took the contrary view.
As the House will remember, we divided on Report to seek to do what we are trying to do in this Bill: that is, to provide that the elections for the Greater London Council and for the Councils of the London boroughs should be taken in separate years. I explained on Second Reading and in Committee the problems arising from these elections. There is the size of the boroughs and the very different issues involved. I thought that there was general agreement that what we sought to devise was a method by which the issues would not be blurred and the London electorate would have a proper basis, a proper method and opportunity to have elections, so that their views could be represented properly on the Greater London Council and on the councils of the London boroughs.
The Conservative Party now accepts—and this is why there is little that divides us—that combined elections would not be in the public interest or in the interests of the London electorate. Noble Lords opposite have gone even further. By their Amendments to the Bill they accept that to hold the Greater London Council elections in April, and the borough elections in May, would be contrary to public interest and the interests of the electorate in London. That is why there is so little that divides us. What really divides us to-day is the principle whether, if something is contrary to the public interest, you should set it right as quickly as possible. None of us underestimates the importance of these elections and the need for them to be conducted properly and for the issues to be clearly understood, so that the whole campaign may be fought properly. Therefore, if it is 418 the right principle that they should not be conducted within 30 days of each other, as would have been the case in 1967 but for this Bill, surely we are correct in saying that if we can put this matter in order and can see that these elections are conducted in the proper atmosphere, with the issues clearly understood, we should do so.
My Lords, the Government, who are responsible for this legislation, have received representations, most proper representations, from the Greater London Council and the London boroughs. I do not know whether I convinced the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor—I am sorry if I did not, but I tried to convince the noble Lord—that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has exercised his responsibilities properly; that he has not in any way responded to narrow political interests in arriving at this decision but has taken a very considerable time in making up his mind. I am convinced that what we have proposed to Parliament and what the House of Commons, by its vote (not only on Second Reading, Committee stage and Third Reading in another place, but on the Amendments moved in your Lordships' House), has taken note of, is right and in the interest of London. Your Lordships' House having given an opportunity to another place to take account of what you think of the situation, and having performed your duty, I invite you to be content to agree not to insist on your Amendments. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ Moved, That this House doth not insist on its Amendments Nos. 1 to 8 to which the Commons have disagreed.—(Lord Shepherd.)
§ 3.37 p.m.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
My Lords, I rise, not in the main to speak on the merits of this Amendment but primarily to say a few words about the position of your Lordships' House and the course which I would advise those noble Lords who sit on these Benches to follow. In recent weeks and months there have been a number of issues on which your Lordships have felt very strongly—Rhodesia and Torbay, to name but two—and it is inevitable in a House where, though Party and Party discipline is much less rigid, great issues of principle 419 divide us. This would occasion no difficulty if the Party balance in your Lordships' House reflected that in another place. Indeed, for those of us who are Conservatives it would be a great deal easier in many ways, since we could then vote according to our inclinations, our strongly held opinions and, in some cases, our consciences; and there would be no constitutional significance in our actions other than to put on record our opinions and our feelings.
It is often said that the Conservative majority in the House of Lords is a great handicap to any Labour Government and is grossly unfair. My Lords, I believe the truth to be the exact opposite. It is highly convenient to the Labour Party and the Government. If anything goes wrong, your Lordships can be used as the whipping boys. The composition of your Lordships' House can be held up to ridicule and, however good the merits of the issue on which conflict may take place, they can always be obscured by talk of the "unelected House overruling the will of the people" and the convenient slogan of "Lords versus the People" can once more be invoked.
Over the last two and a half years we on this side of the House, for reasons which we have thought proper, have conducted ourselves with restraint and moderation and have allowed a lot of legislation to go through to which we were bitterly opposed and about the effect of which on this country we had the gravest misgivings. We have done it for the reason that we believe that this House, the unelected Chamber, should not, except in the last resort and in quite exceptional circumstances, override the opinion of the House of Commons which has been elected by the people of this country. If we did not adopt such a course it would be impossible for any Labour Government to govern, since obviously much of the legislation which is introduced is bitterly opposed by those of us in the Conservative Party. It would really not be possible for a two-Chamber system of Government to operate, nor would it be a justifiable position for the unelected Chamber to control the timing of the Government's legislative programme by using its delaying powers.
The question then arises—and it is a perfectly fair question—if the House of 420 Lords does not, except in the rarest possible cases, use its remaining delaying powers, what then is it for? During the time we have been in Opposition I have, on a number of occasions, tried to answer that question, and I do so again to-day because I think it is important that I should make clear to those of my Party outside this House who feel so strongly about this Bill exactly what, in my view, is the role of the House of Lords.
There are, I think, three roles. First, there is the revisionary role: and no one would deny the usefulness of this House in that connection. We have only to look at the improvements on that dreadful Land Commission Bill and the Companies Bill which we have made in recent weeks. I do not think that Amendments such as the Government have accepted would have found their way into these Bills if this House did not exist—and if it did not exist, something else would have to be put in its place. Secondly, I think that we provide an excellent forum for discussions of importance and urgency which, as a result of our composition, are often better done here and because of our rather looser rules of order can sometimes only be done here. These debates can and should help to form public opinion on the issues of the day, and I have no doubt that among informed people there is a growing interest in the role of your Lordships' House in this direction. It will increase as time goes on.
These are the two straightforward roles, but there is a third role. There could arise a matter of great constitutional and national importance, on which there was known to be a deep division of opinion in the country or perhaps on which the people's opinion was not known. In a case of this kind, it seems to me that the House of Lords has a right, and perhaps a duty, to use its powers, not to make a decision, but to afford the people of this country and Members of the House of Commons a period for reflection and time for views to be expressed.
Therefore, although we have on occasion felt frustrated at our inability to express our point of view by voting, we have felt that in the interests of the preservation of the second Chamber and, as I believe, of its usefulness, we should conduct ourselves with moderation and 421 restraint. I do not think that noble Lords opposite can deny that since they came into office we have acted with forbearance.
We have tried over the past years to lay down certain guide lines as to how the Conservative Party will act in this House when in Opposition. There is, first, the convention of the mandate—that is to say, if a Bill appeared in the programme that the Labour Party presented at the General Election, then it should be assumed that the proposal had been approved by the electorate. Of course, as the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, pointed out on the Second Reading of the Steel Bill, it is a far from perfect way of judging whether or not an individual item is approved in what might be a very long manifesto, but it would not be possible to carry on Parliamentary Government with these two Chambers unless some sort of convention of this kind were observed.
We have, however, always maintained that we can, and should, express our opinion, by Division if necessary, on certain Amendments to that class of Bill. For example, it seems to me quite proper—and here I must disagree completely with what the noble Lord, Lord Champion, said the other day—for your Lordships to divide upon an Amendment to enable the House of Commons to have another look at a matter and perhaps to reflect upon some new arguments which may have been advanced in this House. No constitutional crisis arises as a result of this. It is a perfectly proper and constitutional action on your Lordships' part. A clash between the two Houses would arise only if your Lordships insisted upon an Amendment.
We have had more difficulty on Statutory Orders because, as they were a comparatively novel way of legislating and very seldom used when the original Parliament Act was passed, they do not come within the scope of that Act, and therefore, if your Lordships decide to divide against an Order and carry the day, that Order lapses for good and all. It can, of course, be reintroduced in exactly the same terms by the Government, but we can throw it out again and again and it can never become operative, since the House of Lords cannot be overruled. Though I can visualise occasions when 422 your Lordships would wish to vote against an Order, I should have thought that they would be rare indeed.
We then come to the kind of issue we are discussing this afternoon, on which none of these guide lines apply. I must say frankly that I have found this the most difficult decision to make since I have been the Leader of the Conservative Party in this House. There are sound and powerful reasons which can be advanced for your Lordships standing firm on these Amendments. This Bill has no mandate from the electorate. It deprives the electorate of their right to vote. It is a nasty piece of political jiggery-pokery. Quite legitimately the question will be asked: if you do not stand firm on this Amendment, when will the House of Lords ever assert itself? I cannot deny that my noble friends and I find ourselves in great difficulty.
There are, I know, those, whose opinions I respect who take the view that this is an issue of such importance that we should face the consequences of a firm stand. Yet I think that there are equally powerful arguments to the contrary. We have always maintained that should the House reject a Bill or insist upon an Amendment, the delay afforded would be to enable the House of Commons to think again and to allow the electorate a period of reflection. But in this case, owing to the timing of the Bill, this would not happen. Insistence on this Amendment would mean that the purpose of the Bill would be frustrated for good. In other words, your Lordships' House would take the final decision as to the future of this Bill.
I do not think that any of us has ever argued that the unelected Chamber should in the end have the final say as to what legislation does or does not get on to the Statute Book. Secondly, it has always been my view that the House of Lords will only be able to use its delaying powers once. Members of the Party opposite in another place will, I am sure, make certain either that this House is abolished or that its remaining powers are removed, if there is a direct confrontation of this kind between the two Houses. Therefore, it seems to me that we should be completely and utterly convinced that the issue on which we are staking the future of this House should be one of such importance and of 423 such national significance as to leave no doubt, not only in our own minds, but also in the minds of the ordinary men and women whose interests we must safeguard.
My Lords, after much thought, I have come to the conclusion that this is not such an issue, not because it is not important but because it is not of such national significance and constitutional gravity as to fit the criteria I have outlined. It is, of course, rather difficult to describe London as a local issue, but in national terms it is. What happens under the provisions of this Bill would not concern the great majority of our fellow countrymen. It must also be said that this House, composed as it is by nomination or, by heredity, must be particularly careful when matters concerning elections and the electorate are at stake.
Now I hope that no one will read into this counsel of restraint and the advice I have felt obliged to give to your Lordships a sign of weakness or lack of principle. I believe it rather to be the realisation of the role and powers of the second Chamber as it is now constituted. I have been a Member of this House for over twenty years. I have a profound respect for its Members and for this House as a useful part of the Constitution. This would not influence me at all if I considered that the national interest demanded action, and I should not hesitate, regardless of the consequences, political or constitutional. But on balance I do not think that this is of sufficient national importance.
This is not to say that this is not a particularly disreputable Bill. All your Lordships who listened to the earlier stages of the Bill, to the speeches which were made by my noble friends, and in particular by my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor, will have absolutely no doubt as to the reasons for its introduction and its purpose. It is a mean and shabby little piece of gerrymandering of which any Government should be profoundly ashamed; and I must say frankly that I am surprised that noble Lords opposite, who are honourable men, do not dissociate themselves from it. It was noticeable during the speech of my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor in the Second Reading debate how uncomfortable noble Lords opposite looked, and, indeed, one Member opposite, the noble 424 Baroness, Lady Stocks, to her eternal credit, got up and said so; she told us that she could not support the Bill, and told us what its purpose was. I notice that the noble Baroness is not in her place this afternoon.
I have no doubt that when Members of the Front Bench opposite look back on their distinguished careers in this House, they will look back on this occasion and be ashamed of the part they have played. The Government can make a plausible excuse for what they are doing, and hide behind that plausible excuse; but they deceive no-one, least of all themselves. The truth of the matter—and we all know it—is that the Conservatives are likely to make considerable gains at the local government elections this year. This, of course, would be undesirable from a Socialist point of view, since, for example, there are educational schemes which most people agree are extremely doubtful and which would be interrupted by the advent of a Conservative Council. And so they have changed the date of the elections.
Noble Lords opposite, obeying their three-line Whip, will no doubt be proud that they have come here to-day to vote on such a high principle. I must warn noble Lords opposite that we shall be looking very carefully at any further moves of this kind. It has been suggested in certain quarters that they intend to delay the implementation of the Boundary Commission Report. The Boundary Commission is an independent body whose duty it is to redress the electoral unfairness caused by the changes of population. It favours neither side. I very much hope that the Government will not be tempted to interfere in this respect. We might all begin to lose a little too much confidence in their integrity. Perhaps noble Lords opposite are pleased with themselves and this Bill, but I say this to them before I sit down. This is a grubby, political manœuvre, and in the end the dirt will wash off on their hands and not only stain them but tarnish their reputation.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (THE EARL OF LONGFORD)
My Lords, I am not going to make a speech; I did not come here prepared to make a speech. But many years ago, a Leader of the Conservative Party, Mr. Balfour, in another 425 place made a speech which drew from the Leader of the Liberal Party, the then Prime Minister, Mr. Campbell-Bannerman, the comment:Quit this fooling.I would suggest to the noble Lord that he would do well to adopt that, and "quit this fooling". Of course, it was all play-acting. He does not believe a word of it—not a word of it. It is laid on in order to placate his extreme followers. It was a manœuvre, if I am allowed to use that expression. It was pretty heavy-handed and leaden-footed and, if I may say so, infinitely tedious and somewhat repulsive.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
My Lords, I have sat in this House for eighteen years or so with the noble Lord opposite, and I have noticed that the only time he ever gets white with anger is when he is on a very bad wicket.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
If we are going to descend to personalities, I can only say that the noble Lord looks positively yellow at this time.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
Perhaps I may be allowed to ascend to an even higher plane of argument than that adopted by the noble Lord.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
I am afraid I do not follow the relevance of that comment. The noble Lord made some contemptible slurs on my colleagues. I reply to them only by saying that in the ordinary way he would not indulge in that sort of language. But he is in an exceptional position. He has a lot of very wild people sitting all round him, and he has to show that he is a real live man; and he has, I think, shown this. But we love him just as much as ever, although we hope that he will not talk that sort of nonsense too often, as we should be unhappy for him. The noble Lord, behind all that palaver, really took a statesmanlike line. We understand that clearly. He was calling on his supporters to retreat. Therefore we applaud him for his wisdom and 426 prudence. We forget the words, and pay tribute to the actual course that he adopted.
The only reason why I rose, apart from the desire to put the record level in terms of Parliamentary outspokenness, was simply to say one thing about the three functions which the noble Lord assigned to the House of Lords. I am speaking without any premeditation; I have not consulted colleagues, and this is not a considered pronouncement from the Government. But equally, as Leader of the House, and particularly speaking for myself after a good many years here, I must say one thing about these functions.
The first function, of revision, we all accept. On the second function, to use this House as a forum for debates, I am glad the noble Lord could say what he did say about the standard here. We echo what he said with regard to both of those functions. But he said also, that, as he understood it, in certain grave circumstances this House had a right to resist, at any rate for a time, the will of the House of Commons. For myself, I could never accept that this was part of the duty of the House of Lords. Legally they could do it within the terms of the Parliament Act. I am not going to offer any opinion as to what would happen if they did; I have not come here prepared to enter into that sort of discussion. I can only say, as someone who loves this House as much as the noble Lord does, and as much as anybody here does, that in my opinion it would be a bad day if the House of Lords ever sought to exercise that right. I hope that it never will, and I look to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, to make sure that it never does.
§ 3.59 p.m.
§ LORD OGMORE
My Lords, if I may bring the House back to the more normal pattern of the debate, I was somewhat surprised at the intervention of the noble Earl the Leader of the House, who is usually most courteous and restrained, and for whom we have a great affection. I was rather surprised at his outburst to-day.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
If I caused the noble Lord surprise, I must explain why I found it necessary to speak 427 rather strongly. We were described rather as pickpockets by the noble Lord opposite.
§ LORD OGMORE
I have no doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, would say that you are pickpockets. I thought the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, put the case extremely clearly and fairly, and with 95 per cent. of the case he put I should entirely agree. But there are one or two points that I should like to mention from these Benches. We have considered the matter carefully to-day, as we have on previous occasions, and there are one or two points that my noble friends would like me to put.
First of all, what reason would justify the postponement of an election'? Normally, only very grave reasons. We know that a national Election was postponed in 1940 because no one could contemplate a General Election when the country was expecting imminent invasion. Very rarely, in my experience, has there been a postponement of a local government election at all. Offhand, I cannot think of an occasion. But there must be a very grave reason before the electorate has its rights taken away from it.
It is all very well to talk about the difficulties of Parties, the difficulties of returning officers and the difficulties of political groups. The people who matter are the electorate, the voters, and there has been very little talk about them. The reasons advanced in this case, as I understand them, are not reasons of any difficulty on the part of the elector; they are political and administrative matters—matters of convenience only. There are difficulties, it is felt, in having an Election a month later: difficulties for the political Parties and for the local government officials. As one of a political Party, I would say that we must put up with them. If that is the fact, if there are difficulties, we must meet them: it is our responsibility to do so.
Then we come to our position as a House. Have we a right to insist upon our Amendments? In answer, we say, "Yes; we have that right if we believe that a vital constitutional principle is at stake." Is a vital principle at stake here? It certainly is: the right of the elector to vote. Should we therefore be deterred from insisting upon our Amendments to- 428 day? Certainly not because of any threats applied from noble Lords opposite or from noble Lords elsewhere—certainly not. If it is necessary, in other words, for us to establish a principle, we must go through with it, whatever may be the consequences.
But, my Lords—and this is the one reason why I would dissociate myself from the noble Lord, Lord Carrington—we feel in this case that if we exercised our right we should in fact not be exercising delaying powers but directly and finally overruling the Commons. I think that is the issue which is really before the House. As the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said, quite rightly, in the normal way if we insisted on our Amendments they would go back to the Commons, and the Commons would have an opportunity of considering the matter again; and it would come back to us. The Parliament Act would apply. Owing to the peculiar circumstances in this case, the timing of the Election, if we now insist upon our Amendments the Elections cannot take place and therefore we shall in fact not be exercising our delaying powers but directly and finally overruling the Commons.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord to say so, he is not dissociating himself from me. I made exactly the same point.
§ LORD OGMORE
I am going on to say why I dissociate myself from the noble Lord. It is not because he did not make that point, but because he did not make it the main point. That is perfectly reasonable on our part. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, put the case on our right to disagree with the Commons on the general issue. That is the case he put, and he said this was not an important enough issue. Those were the words he used. He said that it was a local matter, not a national matter.
I say that this issue is important enough, and I and my colleagues would be quite prepared to vote to keep the Amendments if it were not for this peculiar circumstance, that by doing so we should not be delaying, so to speak, but should be finally overriding the Commons. It is not perhaps a very great difference, but there is some difference between our points of view, and I believe that I am quite entitled to point out that 429 difference. That was why I said I dissociated myself from the noble Lord. I was 95 per cent. with him, but not 100 per cent. I do not think he can complain about that. Five per cent. is a reasonable discount. However, my Lords, those are the reasons which the Liberal Party feel they should put before your Lordships to-day, and we hope that they will commend themselves to your Lordships.
§ 4.4 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT DILHORNE
My Lords, I should like to say a word or two, if I may, in case the noble Earl, Lord Longford, is under any impression that anything he said put the record level. No one will be convinced by his defence, and I fear that if he really were on trial he would have no chance of an acquittal at the hands of an impartial jury. Let us examine what he was saying, and consider for a moment what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. He said in the course of his speech to-day—indeed, it was his main argument—that we must put the law right. Of course, it is what they tried to make the law in 1963.
But putting the law right now can be done, as we know, in two ways; and one way means depriving the electors of their rights. Surely when they decided to put the law right they must have known that that would be the consequence. They must have known it meant that Labour councillors would have another year in office to carry out Socialist policies. They must have known that it would have been avoiding an election and prolonging their term of office. If they did know that, then the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Longford, are so disingenuous as to be wholly unacceptable. If they say they did not know that—and I am perfectly prepared myself, in view of what the noble Earl, Lord Longford, says, to accept the proposition that they had not the least idea of the consequence of doing what they did—I am perfectly prepared to be persuaded by him that that is the case. But, of course, Governments, like human beings, are presumed to intend the natural consequences of their acts, and if the natural consequences of their acts were to confer such benefits on the Labour Party, one must presume that they were intended. But the noble Earl, Lord Longford, seeks to imply that they were not intended at all.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, may I interrupt? I do not know whether the noble and learned Viscount was here when I was speaking, but I did not address myself to these topics at all.
§ VISCOUNT DILHORNE
My Lords, I was here throughout the noble Earl's speech. His speech is understandable only on the basis that the Party to which he belongs did not understand what they were doing. If they did not understand what they were doing, then of course it is a very clear admission of their gross incompetence, which we have always suspected; but this time it has come out into the open. The Government on this issue cannot have it both ways. Either they realised what they were doing and did it for Party advantages in that particular way, when they could have done it in another way, or they did not realise what they were doing and did it inadvertently, and inadvertently secured for themselves great political advantages. It is one of the two, and therefore the noble Earl's defence does not result in a verdict of acquittal, but, if successful, in a verdict of the grossest incompetence in their dealing with matters relating to the electorate.
There is another matter on which I would touch. I entirely agree with everything that my noble friend Lord Carrington said about the way the House ought to consider these matters when they arise. I would say this to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, who challenged one proposition advanced by my noble friend. I would say to him that I hope the time will not come when this House becomes again involved in a conflict with another place and has to dissent, and stand firm upon its dissent. But if the time did come when this House should take that course, not in the interests of a Party but in the interests of the nation, then I think it would be the right, and indeed the duty, of this House to take that course in the interests of the nation, come what may.
§ 4.9 p.m.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, I wish to add only a very few words. I was astonished by the outburst of the noble Earl the Leader of the House. That may be, of course, because I am a "wild man". That may be his view. I 431 can only say that I have for many years regarded him, in this House and outside, with both respect and affection; and his words distressed me very much. I do not think they were characteristic. I believe they were words which, when he looks at them tomorrow, he will regret. Whether I am right or wrong about that, I should like, if I may, to refute the answer he made. He said, on his own behalf and without consultation, that there was one point about the three functions of this House mentioned by my noble Leader with which he disagreed. That was the right, in certain circumstances, for this House to delay matters. My Lords, he can be proved wrong in his view of the Constitution by a simple consideration. The only important power which this House has to interfere at all in legislation is the power of delay, and that power exists under the Parliament Acts, the last Parliament Act, which fixed the power of delay at one year, being a Socialist Act. Therefore, in the Socialists' own view this House has a power of delay which, presumably, in some circumstances it has the right to use.
My noble Leader gave his view of the circumstances in which the House should exercise that power, but the proposition of the noble Earl the Leader of the House was that that could never arise. In that case, there is no explanation whatever of the Socialist Act which recognised that right of delay.
The other matter I should like to mention is this. When the proceedings of this House are discussed outside I think there ought to be a limit to the amount of nonsensical falsehood that is said about this House. It is not always possible to reply to nonsense by a Member of another place, if it is uttered in another place, but, when the Member of another place chooses to utter his nonsense in the columns of The Times, then the position is rather different. Some of you may have seen the letter in The Times yesterday from Mr. Eric Lubbock. He purported to describe the actions of the Conservative Party on this London Government Bill in both Houses. This is what he said about it, and I shall trouble your Lordships with only one sentence:Yet in spite of several midnight filibusters in both Houses, the public reaction has been negligible".432 "Several midnight filibusters in both Houses".
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, "Hear, hear!" says the Government Chief Whip. Let me remind him that if we take the four days in which this House discussed the matter—Second Reading, Committee, Report and Third Reading—the latest hour at which we discussed this matter was on Second Reading and then we concluded our debate before 5.30 p.m. The description of this as "several midnight filibusters" seems to me to pass the limit of idiocy, even from Orpington Man.
I have some sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, whom we always hear with so much respect and affection in this House. When it was pointed out in another place to Mr. Lubbock that his Party in this House had followed the lead of the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, and that Lord Ogmore had spoken in favour of the Amendments that were being considered, and that the Liberal Lords had voted with the Conservatives in the same Lobby, at that stage the honourable Member for Orpington said this was lamentably true but Lord Ogmore—
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, I am not quoting the actual words; I am paraphrasing. I am not going to offend against the Rule of this House. Mr. Lubbock explained that this was lamentably true, but all this would not have happened, if only Lord Ogmore had had the advantage of reading what Mr. Lubbock had said on previous occasions. I can only say, having regard to Mr. Lubbock's standard of accuracy, that I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, would, either on this or on any future occasion, find it necessary to study what Mr. Lubbock said in another place. As I read that letter in The Times I could not help being reminded of those famous words of Dryden:The rest to some faint meaning make pretenceBut Shadwell never deviates into sense.
§ 4.16 p.m.
§ LORD CITRINE
My Lords, I rise to support the Motion that we do not insist 433 on our Amendments to the London Government Bill. I do so because once again we are faced both with the question of principle, and with the question of the powers of this House. I had to deal with this matter in the course of debate on a former occasion, when I saw clearly that the insistence of the will of the majority of this House must sooner or later lead to a direct clash between this House and the House of Commons. I refer to the "other place", which we do not seem to be able to identify by specific reference.
At least two-thirds of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, was up to his usual high and fair-minded standard. I have long respected the noble Lord, and I think he is quite aware of that in the references to him that I have made in this House. Like many others, I suppose, I was full of admiration for the concise, precise and, I thought, logical way in which he dealt with this subject for at least three-parts of his speech.
The noble Lord was made aware of my attitude of mind on this matter when another supposed question of principle was before this House in regard to retrospective legislation, and on the passing of the Bill concerning that issue. This would have meant that several million pounds of the taxpayers' money would have been handed over to the Burmah Oil Company and its associates. I said then that, in my opinion, on a question of high principle, this House had no right to thwart the will of the elected House. Not at that precise moment, but at some little time later the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, asked me whether my reasoning applied to any right of the House of Lords to amend a measure which came to us from the House of Commons. I said, "No". But in respect of matters of clearly announced principle, and high principle, I was quite convinced that it was utterly wrong for this House, composed as it is predominantly of an hereditary element—and let us remember that there is always a threat in this House, however sparsely the Benches on the opposite side may be people in the course of normal debates, of a horde of people who have never taken the slightest interest in the doings of this House being marshalled in support of a policy, which in all probability they had not a glimmer of—
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? I have been in this House now for 25 years, and I have never known a case where that happened. Can the noble Lord quote a case? It is purely a bogey put up by the Labour Party.
§ LORD CITRINE
My Lords, I have seen an unexpectedly larger attendance on the Benches opposite when any of these matters have been raised.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
My Lords, may I interrupt? I thought I saw an unexpectedly full attendance on the opposite Benches this afternoon.
§ LORD CITRINE
Well, it could not have amounted to much. May I proceed with what I have to say? From my experience during the 20 years I have been in this House, noble Lords opposite have not had the experience of sitting opposite a decided majority of another Party. They have never had that experience and I can assure them that I, who have not engaged very much in polemical discussion in this House (I think I can claim this without exaggeration), have felt a sense of frustration and wondered whether it was any use my coming here, knowing there was always the power in the hands of the Conservative Party at any time, by force of numbers rather than by argument, to frustrate whatever was being dealt with in the House at least up to that stage.
My intervention on that occasion of the Burmah Oil Company was one dealing with principle, and that principle is raised again. I did not engage in the debates on this Bill in the course of the Committee or Second Reading stage beyond asking the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, whether he was dealing with this question as a question of high principle. And to his credit, without attempting to trim and qualify, as is so customary with certain politicians, he answered, Yes: it was a matter of high principle. So I followed it up by saying that what we are doing here is challenging the House of Commons on a matter of high principle, and that brings us 435 back to the issue with which we are concerned to-day.
The principles which the noble Lord, Lord Carrington put forward, as I said, in two-thirds of his speech, I felt without examining them carefully, were fair, and, I think, summed up pretty accurately what the responsibilities of a Chamber of this kind would be. Then suddenly he veered off, and I wondered why. From the high level at which that speech started, and was maintained up to this point, he went on to the kind of speech that we might have expected from a biased Party politician. I was surprised at that. I thought from what I read in the newspapers that when we were coming here we were going to have a challenge, the kind of challenge which has been threatened so often—I will not say so often, but threatened on former occasions. But suddenly I read in the newspapers that this challenge was not to be made, and I wondered why.
By a pure coincidence, there appeared in the newspapers the Gallup Poll which showed, so far as these polls can be relied upon, a decided improvement in the standing of the present Government with the British public. I wondered, in the light of that quarter of the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, whether he, too, with his colleagues, had been affected by the knowledge that the disfavour which they assumed the Government had fallen into because of its justifiable and courageous measures to deal with the economic situation, had put them in such a position that no political advantage could be taken in a Party sense by the Conservative Party. It is a very strange coincidence. The noble Lord will permit me to say, without disparagement, that his speech was read from beginning to end, quite contrary to the advice we are all given and to the Resolution of this House in the Manual of Procedure. Therefore, it was a completely meditated speech, a speech which in all probability had been drawn up in consultation with Party leaders in another place. I think that is a feasible assumption.
§ LORD CITRINE
I think it is a very high probability, and the noble Lord's 436 remark will deceive nobody. I have yet to discern on the part of Members who sit on the Opposition Benches any material difference in the policies, however hare-brained they may be, of the Party leaders in the House of Commons. I have yet to see that difference, and when I do see that difference I shall begin to believe there is some measure of independence and freedom of view expressed, not necessarily by Back-Benchers, but by those who lead the Party opposite. Therefore I am bound to come to the conclusion that, despite the high moral tone that has been taken in this debate, it is basically Party advantage that has been considered in not making this challenge to-day.
I said on a former occasion—and I stick to it—that I should be very pleased to see this challenge made. I believe that every time noble Lords opposite frustrate the will of the Government of the day, they put another nail in their coffin. I have many times tried to console my colleagues on a measure which they believe has been dealt with by this method employed on these occasions by the Party opposite; I have many times said, "Don't worry; you can take it from me they are moving nearer the day when the Constitution of this House will be very materially revised". I repeat that. I regret that I should have heard such a Party harangue in a speech which in the early part was worthy of admiration.
§ 4.26 p.m.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, this is not a debate, I think, in which anyone can feel any enthusiasm about taking part. If I have decided, after listening to a portion of it, to speak for a few moments to-day, it is merely because this is an occasion, I suppose, when anyone who has been, as I have, for a very long time, a Member of your Lordships' House, ought to try to give the House, and Members who have not been here so long, the benefit—I will not say of his wisdom, but at any rate of his experience.
I have had, it so happens, more than one experience of very much the same kind as this when I was leading the Opposition during the 1945 Parliament, twenty years ago. Then, too, we had in this country, as to-day, the curious combination of a big majority for the Labour 437 Party in the other House and a big majority for the Conservative Party in this House, and so we had constantly to weigh in our minds what was the right balance between our inclinations and what one might describe, for want of a better word, as our constitutional duty. If we had had only to consult our inclinations we should have thrown out, for instance, all the nationalisation Bills, and a great many others as well: but that would have been, in effect to bring the constitutional machine to a halt; and so we did not in fact, as your Lordships know, take that particular course. We did our best to keep the machinery of the Constitution moving as smoothly as we could, while we reserved—and I say this in particular to the noble Lord, Lord Citrine—always the right of the Second Chamber to maintain its opposition to the first Chamber should we feel that the safety and welfare of the realm was threatened. On that basis we got through the 1945 Parliament pretty well, and I do not think we did any harm. On the contrary, I believe that the prestige of your Lordships' House was sensibly raised by the moderation we displayed at that time.
Now, after twenty years, much the same situation is with us again. Now, as then, there is a majority for one Party in one House and for the other Party in the other House. Now, as then, we are likely as a result—we, at any rate, who sit on this side of the House—to face very unpalatable situations, and many decisions will have to be taken, whether we decide to stand firm or not, which are bound to be awkward for all of us. That is our unhappy position, as we all know, this afternoon.
Many of us do not like this Bill. We regard it, as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has already said, as a mean piece of political gerrymandering, quite unworthy of the reputation of Parliament and this country. I do not believe, any more than he does, that there can be many noble Lords, even on the other side of the House, who are really very proud about it. Indeed, to my mind it comes near the point where we in this House should feel obliged to say, "Let us chuck it out and be damned to them all!" But somehow, having turned this matter over in my mind again and again, like many other noble Lords, I cannot feel that it quite reaches that point. Therefore I 438 entirely agree with the course which he has advised. But I cannot agree that we have not the right to throw it out should we wish. We have a right. It is a right, although limited, which was conferred upon us by the last Parliament Act. That limited right is the law of the land, and it is no good noble Lords opposite saying we have not got it. That right is there in the Statute Book.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, the noble Marquess seems to be getting a little angry, possibly with me. I never said there was not a legal right. To the best of my belief, I said there was. I said that in my view it would not be prudent to exercise it.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, the noble Lord might not agree with the right, but it is there on the Statute Book. It is one probably rarely to be exercised. We could not do it often. Perhaps it will never be exercised, at any rate in the lifetime of people as old as myself. But it is there. Otherwise, we should have single-Chamber Government, and that, I am sure, is something which the British people would never tolerate.
§ 4.32 p.m.
My Lords, I shall not detain your Lordships long, but there are some things which have happened which have induced me to speak. I think I can say that I have been in the business that we have been mainly discussing longer than anybody, because immediately after the Parliament Act of 1911 I was devilling a good deal for those noble Lords who had become Constitution-mongers. All sorts of Constitutions were brought up and discussed at that time. In the end, I formed the opinion which I have only once before given to your Lordships and which I will now venture to give you again.
It seemed to me that the Constitution prior to 1911,with two Houses of equal powers, worked well, on the whole. It seemed to me that once there was complete mastery put into the hands of one House over the other the position could never be satisfactory, even if that other House was always most temperate, most courteous and most reasonable. But, as we know, the temper of all public assemblies, I believe even of your Lordships' 439 House, is always that of the lowest common multiple. So we can never hope for such a situation.
That being so, it has always seemed to me that your Lordships' House had a great deal of apparent responsibility without any power, and I have always said to myself that that situation can never work properly. In a great measure, it is due to the great qualities exhibited by the Leaders in your Lordships' House on both sides over many years that it has worked at all. As I have said before, I think it would be much better for the country and for the Constitution if this House ceased to exist and the House of Commons had the full responsibility for all its acts. That has always been my opinion, and I have expressed it once before in your Lordships' House when we had a debate on the Constitution. What I have to say is that if ever there comes a time when it appears to me that my duty as a Member of your Lordships' House is to vote against any Government, even if the penalty is the extinction of your Lordships' House, then I shall unhesitatingly take it, and I shall take it with joy.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, it has always been one of my desires to be a hawk, but clearly this afternoon I have to be a dove. I think the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, was the one noble Lord who got closest to the subject before the House, the question of the Bill and the Amendments. I would only say to the noble Lord that I have deployed the reasons why the Government felt it right to introduce the Bill and why we resist the Amendments of your Lordships' House. At this comparatively late hour, I doubt whether I shall be able to persuade the noble Lord to a different view. Clearly, he has made up his mind.
The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, stated his view as to the constitutional position. I will not go into that. He then made an attack upon noble Lords here. Well, attacks upon honour in politics have been made from time immemorial. I still remember my noble friend the late Lord 440 Morrison of Lambeth, making in your Lordships' House a most violent attack upon the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor—Mr. Henry Brooke, as he was then—and the noble Viscount, Lord Dilhorne. When the noble Viscount left the Woolsack and we were able to get to know him, we found he was not such a villain as we had thought he was. Certainly the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, is not so bad as my late noble friend led us to believe. I am not quite sure whether this is due to the fact that his noble wife is a Member of the House and keeps a closer eye on him than perhaps was possible when he was in another place. But we have these attacks. They are made, and will no doubt continue to be made.
Having seen all the papers and having seen all those that have been involved in this matter, I am quite satisfied that there was no political pressure put upon my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. I believe the present Home Secretary will maintain the same high standards as did the noble Lord opposite. But I believe that none of us is likely to change our mind if we continue this discussion. There is an important Bill on Agriculture, which I am sure the House would wish to attend to; and I wonder whether perhaps we could now conclude our discussion, and if noble Lords wish to take up wider issues on the Constitution and the area in which your Lordships' House can operate perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, could put down an Unstarred Question, or perhaps he might lend his support to the Motion of my noble friend Lord Mitchison. But there will be opportunities to come. I hope that the House will agree that this is not an occasion on which we should continue this discussion but that we should conclude this part of our business; and my hope is that your Lordships will not insist upon your Amendments.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.