House Of Commons
Tuesday, 11th November, 1947
The House met at Half past Two o'clock
[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]
For the Burgh of Edinburgh (East Division), in the room of the Right Honourable George Reid Thomson, K.C. (His Majesty's Justice Clerk and President of the Second Division of the Court of Session in Scotland).—[ Mr. Whiteley.]
Oral Answers To Questions
Town And Country Planning
Central Land Board (Appointment)
asked the Minister of Town and Country Planning whether he will make a statement about the establishment of a Central Land Board.
The Minister for Town and Country Planning (Mr. Silkin)
The Secretary of State and I have appointed a Board. As we desire to give the House full information I will with permission circulate a statement in the OFFICIAL REPORT. In the meantime, it may be for the convenience of the House if I anticipate this statement to the extent of saying that, with the concurrence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Secretary of State for Scotland and I have invited the chairman and members of the War Damage Commission to accept appointment also as members of the Central Land Board. Two of the members have been unable to take on the new appointment, but I am glad to say that the Chairman, Sir Malcolm Eve, and the other members have accepted
Mr. Derek Walker-Smith
Does the statement to be circulated give any indication of when the appointed day under the Act will come into force?
No, it does not.
What is the numerical representation of Scotland on this Board?
I could not say without notice, but I think it is a more than adequate representation.
As the Minister does not know what the numbers are, how can he say whether the representation is adequate or otherwise?
Following is the statement:
The Secretary of State for Scotland and I are required to appoint a Central Land Board for the purposes of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, and the corresponding Scottish Act. The main provisions of the Acts do not come into operation until an appointed day which will not be earlier than 1st April next; but as a good deal of preliminary work has to be done it is necessary to appoint the Central Land Board straightaway.
The Government are naturally anxious, particularly at the present time, to make the minimum demands on manpower and accommodation and, with the concurrence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Secretary of State and I invited the chairman and the members of the War Damage Commission to accept appointment also as members of the Central Land Board. This course commended itself to us for two reasons. First, it enables us to utilise the ability and experience of the War Damage Commissioners themselves, and in particular of their capable and energetic chairman, Sir Malcolm Eve. Second, the Central Land Board will be able to draw on the resources of staff and accommodation of the War Damage Commission both at headquarters and at the Regional Offices, and thus limit very considerably the demands on resources which would otherwise have had to be made. I feel sure that on both grounds, this course will commend itself to the House.
One member of the Commission, Sir John Morison, had felt unable to accept the additional appointment. Another member, Mr. W. P. Allen, is also unable to take up membership of the Central Land Board in view of his appointment to the Railway Executive of the British Transport Commission. The Secretary of State and I have accordingly made the following appointments:
Sir Malcolm Eve to be chairman of the Central Land Board; and the following to be members:
- Miss Myra Curtis, C.B.E.,
- Sir George Etherton, O.B.E.,
- Sir Basil Gibson, J.P.,
- Mr. H. W. Guthrie, K.C.,
- Mr. A. Macdonald,
- Mr. J. R. Rutherford, C.B.E., J.P.
The appointments are for the period ending 31st March, 1948. The existing appointments as War Damage Commissioners of the individuals concerned expire on that date, and later on we will consider whether the arrangements should continue or whether other arrangements should be made.
There is one point to which the Secretary of State for Scotland has asked me to draw the attention of the House; namely, that in fulfilment of the undertaking given by his predecessor in office and in order that full account may be taken of Scottish conditions, including the distinctive form of Scottish land tenure, we have arranged to have two Scottish members on the Board, namely, Mr. H. W. Guthrie, K.C., who has been newly appointed to the War Damage Commission, and Mr. J. R. Rutherford. Arrangements have also been made to strengthen the organisation of the Scottish Office of the Board in Edinburgh.
I should like to take this opportunity of saying publicly how grateful the Secretary of State and I are to the members of the Board for accepting appointment and helping us in the task of bringing these new Planning Acts into operation. Especially in the case of the Chairman, Sir Malcolm Eve, it has meant asking him to add to other burdens he already carries. Not only is he chairman of the War Damage Commission, he is also chairman of the Local Government Boundary Commission and heavily engaged at the present time in work connected with it. I am asked by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health to make it clear that Sir Malcolm Eve will remain as chairman of the Boundary Commission until the Commission have completed the report on which they are at present engaged.
I want to make it clear that the starting date for the work of the Central Land Board in relation to the public is not the date of the appointment of the Board but the appointed day under the Act, which as I have explained cannot be before 1st April. The Board will not be in a position to deal with correspondence or inquiries for some time to come, and the Secretary of State and I will arrange for a further public announcement to be made when they are open for business.
Development Corporations (Appointment)
2 and 3.
asked the Minister of Town and Country Planning (1) what appointments have been made by the Harlow Development Corporation, specifying the rates and remuneration and the duties of officials and employees so appointed;(2) what appointments have been made by the Stevenage Development Corporation, specifying the rates of remuneration and the duties of officials and employees so appointed.
asked the Minister of Town and Country Planning what appointments have been made by the Hemel Hempstead Development Corporation; and what are the salaries and duties of officials so appointed.
I have arranged with the Corporations that the creation of higher posts should have my prior approval and I am circulating in the OFFICIAL REPORT a list of the posts that have been filled. I cannot give the corresponding information in relation to junior appointments. While these are subject to general budgetary control, they do not require my prior approval, since it is not my policy to seek to control the detailed or day-to-day activities of the Corporations.
Is the appointment of officials and employees by these Development Corporations being confined to the necessary works which are being carried out, in the light of the speech of the Minister for Economic Affairs on 23rd October?
The Corporations have been requested so to do.
Following is the list:
|Chief finance officer|
|Social development officer||£1,200||7|
|Chief architect and planner||£2,000|
|Social development officer|
|Administrative and legal officer||£1,750|
|Public relations officer||£1,200||7|
Ennerdale Forest Road
Mr. Granville Sharp
asked the Minister of Town and Country Planning whether his agreement with the proposals of the Forestry Commission over the 9 feet wide Ennerdale Forest Road included the wide levelling of the ground on either side; and whether it was necessary so to detract from the natural simplicity of the surroundings.
The proposals to which I agreed included the provision, for engineering reasons, of a three-foot grass verge on either side of the carriageway.
What is the point of going ahead with this cul-de-sac at this time, in view of the fact that no tree in Ennerdale State Forest will be fit to leave it before 1953? In these days of shortage of materials and manpower, it seems ridiculous to proceed with this scheme at all.
The hon. Gentleman is giving me information. I should be very glad to consider what action to take in the light of the information he has given.
Industrial Work (Unsuitable Employees)
asked the Minister of National Insurance whether he will introduce legislation to amend Section 13 (2) (a) of the National Insurance Act, 1946, in such a way as to prevent employees who are found unsuitable for certain types of industrial work from being branded as having committed misconduct.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of National Insurance (Mr. Steele)
No, Sir. The terms of this disqualification have been re-enacted substantially without change after careful consideration by Parliament on a number of occasions since 1911. Its application in the individual case rests with independent statutory authorities. The body of case law built up by the Umpire's decisions makes it clear that the term "misconduct" is used in its industrial sense, and that mere unsuitability for employment does not constitute misconduct. I think the position is generally well understood by all concerned.
Is the Minister quite satisfied that this very conservative attitude which was right in 1911 is right today? Is he aware that young women who are regarded as unsuitable for certain types of industrial work now have to carry the stigma of having committed misconduct?
I am rather surprised that the hon. Gentleman wishes to change more Acts passed in 1911, but the facts are that many Ministers have looked at this, and, in fact, it was also the subject of investigation by the Royal Commission on Unemployment Insurance in 1932, and it was found at that time—and it is still found—that no more suitable expression could be used. Regarding the particular case to which the hon. Gentleman refers, at the moment that is not actually finalised, but is going to the Umpire for his decision.
Miners (Nystagmus And Dermatitis)
Mr. D. J. Williams
asked the Minister of National Insurance if he will give particulars of the number of coal miners certified as disabled by nystagmus and dermatitis in 1938 and 1946, respectively.
Separate particulars for coal miners are not available, but for mining generally the number of certificates of disablement given by examining surgeons under the Workmen's Compensation Act for miners' nystagmus was 1,224 in 1938 and 1,297 in 1946. The corresponding figures for the scheduled disease dermatitis produced by dust or liquids are 254 and 1,702 respectively.
asked the Minister of National Insurance whether mothers of small children who have been forced to leave their employment through the raising of their local authority's day nursery charges to 25s. per week per child, and who have been refused benefit on the ground that they are still able to work, are entitled to a refund of their unemployment insurance contributions.
There are no circumstances in which a refund can be made of contributions properly paid under the Unemployment Insurance Acts, but I have no knowledge of any case where a woman has been disqualified for the receipt of benefit for leaving employment in the circumstances described. If my hon. Friend will send me particulars of the case he has in mind, I will have further inquiries made.
Since such disqualification has actually been made, and is due entirely to an action of the local authority, which has forced these women out of industry, which still requires their ser vices—and they are not mobile women—is it not an injustice to refuse the return of these contributions?
Of course, the Question has regard to unemployment payments, and I would be happy if the hon. Gentleman would send me these particulars so that I may have them investigated. I quite appreciate, of course, so far as concerns the statements made by my hon. Friend that it is not the fault of the women in these cases that they are out of industry.
European Volunteer Workers
Mr. Sidney Shephard
asked the Minister of Labour under what conditions European Volunteer Workers can leave the employment to which they have been directed.
The Minister of Labour (Mr. Isaacs)
A condition of the recruitment of European Volunteer Workers is that they take only employment approved by the Ministry of Labour and change their employment only with the consent of a Ministry of Labour local office.
Is it not a fact that very often these people undertake work which they afterwards find they do not like, and, in those circumstances is leave freely given for them to change their employment?
It is not exclusively a question of work which they do not like, but of work for which they may be unsuitable for various reasons, and every opportunity is taken to place them in work which is suitable for them in every other way.
asked the Minister of Labour whether he will make a statement on the progress of the scheme "Westward Ho," stating the original monthly target and the number of persons who have reached this country.
Under the scheme, approximately 28,000 European volunteer workers, of whom nearly 20,000 are men, have so far come to this country. The latest available figures show that employment in essential industries and services had been found for 24,300, a further 1,700 were under submission, and vacancies were in prospect for the remainder. The original aim of 4,000 arrivals per week was, as indicated in the reply given on 29th April last to the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Major Beamish), dependent upon the rate at which suitable volunteers could be absorbed into employment and provided with suitable accommodation, particularly in the areas of employment. The rats of arrival has varied from time to time in accordance with these factors, the lack of accommodation being the chief difficulty.
Will the Minister say, first, what numbers he expects to arrive in the near future; secondly, what are the essential industries to which he referred, and, thirdly, whether he can give the House any idea of the cost of administering this scheme per worker who arrives in this country?
The industries mainly concerned are agriculture and textiles. None of these workers is going into mining, but we have been very successful indeed in getting them into agriculture and textiles, and I may say that everybody who has taken them is very pleased with them. As to the number they are likely to take, that will depend on how many are suitable. We are now bringing in these people at the rate of about 1,000 a week, but how long we can continue at that rate, I do not know. We are only bringing in as many as we can properly place.
Recruitment Of Women
Mr. S. Shephard
asked the Minister of Labour if he will make a statement outlining the results of the Government's campaign for the recruitment of women into industry.
This campaign was conducted in 69 districts in which the shortage of female labour was most pronounced, and, since 1st June last, when the campaign was launched, until 30th September, 14,187 women have volunteered their services to the local offices of my Department. In addition more than 17,000 women are known to have obtained employment direct. This latter figure is incomplete and may in fact be considerably higher. I will circulate the figures showing the results in each region in the OFFICIAL REPORT.
What steps is the Minister taking with regard to young unmarried women without any responsibilities, who ought to be doing a job of work?
I think that, perhaps, the hon. Gentleman will find that this matter will be dealt with in answer to a Question which comes later on the Order Paper.
Following are the figures:
|Region||Volunteers Registered at L. O.||Volunteers Direct approach to Employers.|
|East and West Ridings.||1,332||3,853|
Vocational Training Scheme
Mr. S. Shephard
asked the Minister of Labour if he will give an assurance that men released from the Forces who are untrained and unequipped for any civilian occupation will be given facilities to undertake a Vocational Training Course, and will not be directed into employment either before undergoing such training or for a period of at least eight weeks after completion of such training
The facilities for training under the Vocational Training Scheme are still available to men released from the Forces provided that they apply for training during the period of their release leave. On completion of training, such men will have brought to their notice vacancies on essential work in the trade for which they have been trained. I can give no guarantee that, in the unlikely event of a man refusing to be submitted for suitable essential work, he will not be subject to direction.
Is not the Minister aware that very often these men have to wait a very long time before they can undergo a course of vocational training? Will the Minister give an assurance that their right to find their own jobs is not prejudiced in that case?
They have plenty of time to exercise their right to choose their own jobs before they undertake training, but if they undertake training at the expense of the State, it is only reasonable that they should accept work in the trade for which they have been trained.
Transport Industry (Manning Scales)
asked the Minister of Labour how many men are entitled to receive grab money because of the introduction of labour-saving machinery and by which men are paid a full week's wage though compelled to be idle; which trades unions insist upon this system; and in view of the labour shortage, if he will take steps to have it abolished.
I understand that the hon. Member is referring to an arrangement between the two sides of the transport industry in regard to the manning scales at certain stages of the unloading of a particular type of cargo by a particular kind of machinery. The trade union side party to the arrangements consists of representatives of the Transport and General Workers' Union, the National Union of General and Municipal Workers, the National Amalgamated Stevedores and Dockers and the Scottish Transport and General Workers' Union. I have no information as to the number of workers affected, but I understand that it is extremely unlikely that an appreciable number of men could under this arrangement be kept idle for so long a period as a week at a time. I would add that the two sides have set up a joint committee under an independent chairman to examine the industrial arrangements of the industry, including this question of manning scales. This joint committee was appointed by the council and will report to it. I cannot intervene in the manner suggested in the last part of the Question.
In view of the fact that the dockers now have a guaranteed week, what moral justification is there for paying men for being idle week after week, merely because some machine has been installed?
I would ask the hon. Gentleman what moral justification there is for him to assert that men are idle week after week, when my information is to the contrary, and, secondly, when the industry itself is investigating the position, and when it will be much more likely to reach a happy result if we do not intervene in the matter?
asked the Minister of Labour what is the result of his negotiations with the Amalgamated Engineering Union regarding the employment of Poles; and if any obstacles of any sort still exist regarding such employment.
My discussions with the Union on this subject are still proceeding, and in these circumstances I would ask to be excused from making any statement at the present time.
Does the Minister have to admit that, after four months, it is the trade unions and not the Government who are deciding who shall work?
I am not admitting that at all. We have very recently been in direct contact with the organisations in an effort to remove the difficulties that existed. After all, we want these men in the works, but if there are difficulties, and if one man walks in and 20 walk out, that does not help us. This is the kind of difficulty we are trying to overcome. I am negotiating with the union, and I do not want to say something here this afternoon which will make this task more difficult.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in my own constituency, engineering firms are crying out for labour of all classes, and how does he expect to get the industrial output which we require unless every sort of labour is brought into use?
That is a point on which I am trying to negotiate.
Regarding the supplementary questions which have been put about my union, the Amalgamated Engineering Union, may I say that no body of men has made greater sacrifices in order to help to take our country out of its present difficulties and during the War.
Mr. D. J. Williams
asked the Minister of Labour how many Poles are now being trained for coalmining employment in South Wales; and how many have been placed in employment in the collieries.
One hundred and ten Poles were in training at the Oakdale training centre in South Wales on 10th November. Up to the week ending 7th November, 1,019 Poles had been placed in collieries in the South Wales district.
Can the Minister say what factors govern the allocation of these Poles to the various collieries and whether in every case every effort is made to place them in the most productive pits?
My Department having pro vided these Poles for the use of the mining industry, their training, allocation to pits, and so on, is left to the National Coal Board.
Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison
Can the Minister say whether the views of the union and the Government now coincide in the matter, or are they still poles apart?
No, Sir, they are not poles apart; they are poles in close proximity to each other.
Mr. D. J. Williams
asked the Minister of Labour how many Poles are employed in tinplate mills in South Wales; at which mills are they employed; and what living accommodation is provided for them.
Thirty-two Poles are at present employed in tinplate mills in South Wales. Twenty-two are employed at Baglan Bay Works, Britton Ferry, eight at Old Town Forge, Pontypool, and two at Melingriffith Works, Cardiff. Accommodation is provided partly in hostels and partly in private lodgings.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that there has been considerable delay in finding employment for these Poles in the tinplate mills because of lack of suitable living accommodation; and further, is he satisfied that the accommodation now available is adequate to meet the demand for Polish labour in these mills?
No, Sir, not at the moment. Every step is being taken to get more accommodation and to make the available accommodation suitable, but I am sure the House will be interested to know that there is now a greater willingness among ordinary people to accept the Poles into their houses in private billets.
Mr. Heathcoat Amory
asked the Minister of Labour what is the present strength of the Polish Resettlement Corps; and what are the reasons for the continued delay in absorbing the men concerned into productive industry.
I would refer the hon. Member to the reply given to his two similar questions on Thursday, 6th November.
Does not the right hon. Gentleman feel that the total of 43,000 represents a melancholy position two and a half years after the end of the German war, and does not he think that it shows a deplorable lack of drive and determination in dealing with this matter from the beginning?
In my opinion, it does not show any lack of determination or drive; it shows a lack of assistance from the other side.
I am sorry if that could be misunderstood. I mean the other side, the people with whom we are negotiating—not the A.E.U., but the Poles themselves.
King's Roll Scheme
Lord Willoughby de Eresby
asked the Minister of Labour the total number of 1914–18 disabled ex-Service men now employed under the King's Roll Scheme; the numbers employed by Government Departments, by the local authorities, by the L.C.C., by private employers, respectively; and whether regular action is taken by his Department to ensure the full observance of obligations under this scheme.
I regret that the statistical information referred to in the first two parts of this Question is not available. In regard to the third part, regular action to secure observance of obligations under the King's Roll Scheme was discontinued during the war and has not been resumed because of the wider obligations under the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act, which gives special recognition to disabled pensioners from the 1914–18 war.
Lord Willoughby de Eresby
Can the Minister give any general information as to whether the various categories of employers are fulfilling their statutory obligations?
If the noble Lord is referring to the employers and the 3 per cent. quota generally, I can say that, in the main, it is being very properly honoured. Of course, there are some instances where little difficulties occur, but we are getting over them by personal contact rather than by direct action.
German Textile Workers
asked the Minister of Labour whether he is aware that there are in Germany large numbers of skilled textile workers unable to follow their employment because of shortages of factories, machinery and material; and whether he will now sanction their employment in this country to assist the export drive and to meet the shortages of goods for the civilian population.
My information is that there is no surplus of skilled textile workers in the British zone of Germany available for employment in this country.
Manpower Distribution (Estimates)
asked the Minister of Labour whether, in view of the changed circumstances since the publication of the Economic Survey for 1947, he will give revised estimates of the distribution of manpower necessary to achieve the Government's objectives, particularly in respect of the expansion of the numbers employed in the coalmining, agricultural and textile industries.
I would refer my hon. Friend to my reply of 30th October to his previous Question on this subject, to which I have nothing at present to add.
In view of the fact that the figures given in the Economic Survey are entirely out of date and that another Economic Survey is not expected until next January, does not my right hon. Friend think that the House is entitled to have some statement from the Government on this question?
The answer I gave previously was to the effect that the preparation of an Economic Survey for 1948 is under consideration, and I can tell my hon. Friend that we are now getting on with that.
Scientific Manpower (Inquiry Form)
Sir Waldron Smithers
asked the Minister of Labour why he sent out Form J. 152–79194/8198–200 M.9/47 D. & S.B. containing 14 paragraphs and nearly 100 questions together with a covering letter dated 27th October, 1947; why the pen ultimate paragraph was marked with a large black asterisk; how many copies were sent out; and what was the weight of paper used and the total cost involved.
This inquiry has been undertaken at the request of the Advisory Council on Scientific Policy set up by the Lord President. Its purpose is to obtain information about the country's scientific manpower. The marking against the pen ultimate paragraph is to draw special attention to the undertaking it contains. Approximately 160,000 copies were printed, weighing about 16 cwt. and costing £88.
Sir W. Smithers
In view of the shortage of paper, can the right hon. Gentleman say why there should be this ridiculous waste for the purpose of asking questions which can have no useful results, and, further, is he aware that it is part of a dictator's technique—
The hon. Gentleman might read page 336 of the Rules about Questions. He is not complying with one of them.
Sir W. Smithers
I wish to give notice that, in view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I propose to raise this matter on the Adjournment.
Non-Essential Occupations (Registration Order)
asked the Minister of Labour whether he is now in a position to announce the measures which he proposes to take to deal with the problem of persons making no contribution to the national wellbeing.
I have today made an Order under Defence Regulation 58A, as extended by the Supplies and Services (Extended Purposes) Act, 1947. The Order will give power to require the registration of persons who are unoccupied or who are following certain occupations. The age limits will be the same as those imposed by the Control of Engagement Order, 1947. The occupations at present in mind are employment in betting and gambling, including football pools and amusement arcades, night clubs and street trading in urban areas.There will be two methods of registration. Under one method individuals will be called upon to register personally; under the other method employers will be called upon to register particulars of their employees. After registration the persons registered will be called to the employment exchange for interview and dealt within exactly the same way as persons seeking employment under the control of engagement procedure. This means that in appropriate cases they will then be offered employment on essential work and, if necessary, formally directed to it.
Mr. Quintin Hogg
Having regard to the extremely serious nature of this announcement, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether he intends to send people to prison for refusing to register, if they refuse to do so on conscientious grounds?
The question of conscientious grounds is a very difficult one, and I would beg to be excused from entering into it at the moment.
The hon. Gentleman has asked the question; he might know the answer, and say exactly what is in my mind. So far as sending people to prison is concerned, there is no desire to send anybody to prison, but in these days anybody who wants to eat and live ought to perform some useful service.
Has my right hon. Friend any estimate of the numbers involved in these categories?
Not until the registration details are known. As has been clearly indicated in the House on several occasions, there is a certain percentage of people in this country who do not appear in our records. What the number is—whether it is half a million, or above or below that number—is not quite clear, but I have every confidence that a great number of these people will willingly come forward and offer themselves.
Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew
Does this Order require an Affirmative Resolution of the House?
No, Sir. It is similar to the Order we had last week. Copies of the Order will, I hope, be in the Library this evening, or certainly tomorrow morning, and will be ready for distribution next week.
Mr. Hector Hughes
In order to rope in those persons who are not in the Ministry's records, will my right hon. Friend seek the assistance of the police, and will he also indicate what sanctions he will apply to spivs and drones?
I will say at once that we have no desire to seek the assistance of the police in this matter. We shall see whether this scheme of calling upon people to come forward and do their duty for the country meets with any response. Should we have to take other steps, we would not hesitate to do so.
Having regard to the way in which this Question is framed, would it not be appropriate if in the list were included the names of most of the present Cabinet?
As these regulations do not appear to have any effect on those who live on unearned income, and make no contribution to the national economy, is my right hon. Friend considering introducing some regulation to deal with such people?
I have of necessity made my answer as brief as possible, in order to convey to the House my intention to make the Order. If any of my hon. Friends will look at the Order later on and will tell me how I can tighten it up, I shall be delighted to hear from them.
While nobody will disagree with the right hon. Gentleman's contention that it is the duty of people to work nowadays, does he not realise that compulsory registration of people in time of peace is, in the view of many people, a further step towards the re-introduction of chattel slavery into this country?
The hon. Member should read page 336 of the Rules about Questions.
On a point of Order. Having regard to the extremely serious nature of these replies, I beg to give notice that I propose to raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest possible moment.
Retail Prices Index (Inquiries)
asked the Minister of Labour for what purpose officials of his Department call at retail shops to inquire into the prices of articles whose prices are fixed by the Ministry of Food.
The inquiries are made for the purpose of compiling the index of retail prices, which is based on prices actually charged. The Ministry of Food orders specify maximum prices, and it is found that such prices are not invariably charged. Inquiries are, however, dispensed with for a number of foodstuffs for which the price is known to be uniform over the whole of the country.
Can the right hon. Gentleman say how many men and women are employed on this important task?
I dare say I could if the hon. Gentleman would put a Question on the Order Paper.
Seaweed Research (Reports)
Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether any report of the Seaweed Research Association is now available; and whether any commercial production has resulted.
The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Woodburn)
I am sending the hon. and gallant Member copies of the reports issued by the Scottish Seaweed Research Association for the years 1945 and 1946. The collection of seaweed by crofters and its sale for commercial purposes are being organised by the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society as well as by a private company. A provisional board is examining further possibilities of commercial developments.
Has this already resulted in any commercial exploitation?
Yes, Sir. The crofters have been gathering the seaweed for the last three years. The quantity is not as great as we might have hoped, but we are hoping that further research will make the whole scheme appear more lucrative and attractive to those engaged in it.
Shop Tenancies (Committee's Report)
Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he expects the report from the Committee of Inquiry set up by his predecessor to inquire into the pressure being brought to bear on sitting tenants in Glasgow to purchase their business premises or to vacate them.
I understand that the Committee of Inquiry into the tenure of shop premises in Scotland are now completing the preparation of their report, which I expect to receive at an early date.
Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that his answer is very similar to that which I got from his predecessor a long while ago. Is he further aware that the matter is urgent and that we asked for an interim report, which we never got?
I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman would agree that it would be inadvisable for me to dictate to the Committee when it should meet and complete its report, but it is doing so in a few days.
Mr. Hector Hughes
Having regard to the terms of the Question, does not my right hon. Friend realise that the problem extends far beyond Glasgow, and will he include other cities and towns in Scotland in the report?
My hon. and learned Friend will observe that my answer refers to "shop premises in Scotland," which includes quite a number of places.
Will my right hon. Friend represent to the Committee that this is the time of the year when missives are issued by factors, and that it is essential that these people should know the position before the end of the year?
Will the Minister agree to a standstill order pending the issue of the report?
Nationalised Industries (Councils)
Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland how many official Scottish Advisory Councils in connection with nationalised industries or services now exist; and what are the industries or services with which such Councils are connected.
There is a Scottish Advisory Council for Civil Aviation and a Scottish Advisory Council for the B.B.C. In addition, the Transport Act, 1947, provides for the setting up of a Transport Users' Consultative Committee for Scotland, and there is provision in the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act, 1946, for Regional Industrial and Domestic Coal Consumers' Councils. Under the Electricity Act, 1947, consultative councils are to be set up for the North of Scotland district and the South-West and South-East areas of Scotland. The National Health Service (Scotland) Act, 1947, provides for the setting up of a Scottish Health Services Council, and Standing Advisory Committees on particular services.
Sir T. Moore
Would it be in Order to ask how many times the advice of these Councils has been sought, and how many times it has been accepted?
I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman must have confidence in the ability of Scotsmen to make their advice felt when they give it.
Sir T. Moore
No, not at all.
Planning Scheme, Glasgow (Schools)
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether, in view of the fact that the allotted acreage for primary and secondary school premises in the Milton planning area of Glasgow is considerably less than that recommended by his Department, he will ensure that the Milton allocation will not be used as a standard for subsequent schemes.
When the scheme for the Milton area was approved, it was made clear to the corporation that the standard of educational site provision there adopted could not be considered as complying with the standards generally regarded as desirable, and was not to be taken as a precedent.
Will my right hon. Friend place on record the exact acreage allocated for school purposes? Is it not a fact that the long-haired Bohemians have got hold of the Education Department and are taking more land for schools than for housing?
The amount of land required for this purpose depends on the number of children; and needless to say, that must be taken into account in deciding the amount of land allocated.
District Councils (Association)
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he has considered the memorial from the proposed District Councils Association, which calls for the right of district councils to contribute towards the maintenance of such an association, which would be responsible for calling and regulating conferences to discuss district council matters; and what decision he has arrived at.
I have received a memorial from a committee appointed at a conference of district councils held in Glasgow regarding the proposed formation of a District Councils Association. I have considered this memorial carefully in consultation with the Lord Advocate. I am advised, however, that district councils have no power to contribute from their funds towards the expenses of a District Councils Association.
Is not the Minister aware that that is just the point? The district councils have the right to send delegates to a conference of district councils, but nobody has the power to call such a conference at which they may assert their rights. Will the Minister arrange for such power to exist, because it is no use giving district councils the right to send delegates to conferences if no power exists to call a conference?
I sympathise with my hon. Friend's point, but that suggestion requires legislation. I am looking into it, but that is where the matter must stand at the moment.
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he is aware of the unsatisfactory condition of the huts on the Market Muir, Huntly, which have been let by his Department for human occupation and for which he is charging a rent; and whether, in the light of these unsatisfactory conditions, he will give an assurance that priority will be given to the erection of further permanent houses in Huntly in the near future.
The town council of Huntly, who manage the huts on my behalf were recently authorised to carry out repairs to improve their condition as temporary houses. I cannot give Huntly preferential treatment over other districts in the approval of new contracts, but I shall be ready to consider proposals by the town council when the housing schemes, now proceeding in the burgh, are nearing completion.
In view of the Minister's reply, which indicates a fairly long-term occupation of these huts, will he consider authorising further repairs to make these huts watertight before the winter, because there is hardly a dry place in which to put a bed at the moment?
Authorisation has been given to carry out repairs, but if the hon. Gentleman will advise me of any deficiencies which still exist, I will look into them.
Mr. Emrys Hughes
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he is aware that in the village of Mossblown, Ayrshire, in a house now owned by the National Coal Board 15 people are living in two rooms; and if he will consult with the National Coal Board in this case with a view to securing a re-allocation of the housing accommodation available.
I am informed by the National Coal Board that a two-apartment house owned by them in the village of Mossblown is occupied by a family of 13, but that the Board have no more suitable house available in the locality. I have brought the case to the notice of the county council, and understand that they will be prepared to give consideration to the needs of this family when a suitable house becomes available.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the National Coal Board have refused to co-operate with the county council? Will he take steps to remedy that?
My understanding of the position is that houses that are available from the National Coal Board are quite unsuitable for a family of 15, that there is no point in overcrowding a new house, and that it is far better to wait for what may become available shortly, I hope—a house with five rooms, which will be suitable for this family.
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he is aware that a dwelling house at 38, Bellevue Road, Edinburgh, has recently stood empty for over nine months; and whether he will ensure that the requisitioning powers possessed by the local authorities are fully used to prevent such occurrences.
I authorised the Corporation to take possession of this house on 31st October, and I understand that a formal notice was served on the owners on 3rd November. I have just been informed, however, that the house was sold some weeks ago and is now understood to be occupied by the purchaser. Difficulties sometimes arise, especially in large centres of population, in tracing houses which are being held vacant by owners, but local authorities generally are alive to the importance in present circumstances of making use of all available housing accommodation.
Agricultural Labour And Machinery
Mr. Emrys Hughes
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he is aware of the shortage of labour on the land, the difficulties that are likely to arise when German prisoners are withdrawn, and the need for an adequate supply of agricultural implements and machinery; and what steps are being taken to ensure that adequate research is being carried on to secure new agricultural machinery which will assist the farmers to reach their target of production.
I am not aware of any shortage of labour on the land at present in Scotland, and I am hopeful that any deficiencies created by the repatriation of prisoners of war will be made good. The Government are doing everything possible to accelerate the production and delivery of agricultural machinery, and have doubled the allocation of steel for that purpose. Research into the development and use of agricultural machinery is being urgently pursued.
Is it proposed to carry on research into the development of agricultural machinery in Scotland?
Does the hon. Member mean at the mechanical engineering station?
They are dealing there with a rather different type of machinery.
What steps is the right hon. Gentleman taking to provide the prime essential for increased agricultural production—houses? Will he say what number he intends to provide?
Yes. We are proposing to provide 5,000 for the agricultural population in Scotland. As the hon. and gallant Gentleman knows, miners and agricultural workers are getting preference in the construction of new houses.
Does the right hon. Gentleman think that doubling the amount of steel for agricultural machinery will be sufficient, in view of the fact that exports have been put up 400 per cent.?
The two things have not much connection. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] The amount of steel to be allocated to the agricultural engineers depends on their capacity to make use of it, and that is certainly as much as they can use at the present time.
Will the right hon. Gentleman remember that he will never solve the long-term problem of the shortage of labour on the land until the Government depart from their present narrow policy with regard to the tied cottage?
Economic Survey For 1948
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he proposes to prepare an Economic Survey of Scotland for 1948 and if it will include an import and export balance sheet for Scotland.
I am considering whether it is desirable to supplement in a separate publication about Scotland the Economic Survey for 1948 which, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Economic Affairs has indicated, it is hoped to publish not later than January. I am afraid that it would not be possible to compile a balance sheet of the kind referred to in the last part of the Question.
While thanking my right hon. Friend for that answer, may I ask will he not consider as a supplement to the Economic Survey the publication of a balance sheet of this nature?
The point is that England and Scotland have become rather like Siamese twins; and it is just as difficult to cut them apart as it is to cut living people apart.
If the right hon. Gentleman decides to issue such a survey, will he see that time is given on the Floor of the House to debate it?
That is not a question for me.
It cannot be a balance sheet because the sides do not balance.
Homeless Children (Committee)
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what progress has been made in the appointment of an advisory committee for the care of homeless children.
I hope to announce the appointment of such a committee at an early date.
Pensioners (Temporary Incapacity Allowance)
Lord Willoughby de Eresby
asked the Minister of Pensions if he will relax the ruling that pensioners must be unable to resume work for at least three months following their discharge from hospital or treatment to qualify for a temporary incapacity allowance; and whether he is prepared substantially to improve the present allowance of 9s. per week for temporary incapacity in cases where the pensioner is not entitled to draw National Health Insurance benefit.
The Minister of Pensions (Mr. Buchanan)
I have these matters under consideration, and I hope shortly to be in a position to make a statement on the subject.
Requisitioned Houses, Chelsea
asked the Secretary of State for War how many A.T.S. personnel are accommodated in each of the houses now held by his Department in Sloane Court, S.W.3; and how many of these are employed on Provost duties.
The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Shinwell)
I will, with permission, circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT the information asked for in the first part of the Question. The answer to the second part is 22.
Does not the Secretary of State think that the time has come when these personnel might be accommodated in Army barracks in London, and these houses released for the purposes for which they were designed—for people to live in?
I certainly agree, if I can find alternative accommodation. I am directing my attention to that.
Following is the information:
|A.T.S. ACCOMMODATED IN SLOANE COURT, S.W.3|
Number of House.
* These houses are used in addition as temporary accommodation for auxiliaries attending courses.
Proposed Training Area, Aylesford
asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware of the widespread resentment caused by a proposal to use a sandpit adjoining the 13th century parish church at Aylesford, Kent, as an explosives area; and whether, as there are several pits outside the village equally suitable for the purpose, he will intervene so as to change the location of this particular military exercise.
A proposal to establish a training area in this neighbourhood was considered, but has been abandoned.
Requisitioned Land (Acreage)
Mr. John Morrison
asked the Secretary of State for War what is the total acreage of land in the British Isles held by the War Office, and the total acreage still under requisition; what acreage of this it is proposed to cultivate, in view of the need for food production in the present emergency; and what area of land is to be derequisitioned.
The War Department owns some 330,000 acres of land in the British Isles. On 31st October, 1947, some 300,000 acres were under requisition under Defence Regulation 51, including areas containing buildings. The maximum agricultural use is made of this land consistent with military requirements. I am unable to give figures for the amount of land that is to be derequisitioned, since the total acreage required for training purposes is under consideration by the Government. Of the land at present under requisition some 20,000 acres are being held pending clearance of unexploded missiles, and further acreages are held so that various kinds of rehabilitation can be carried out.
Will the right hon. Gentleman set a good example for the encouragement of food production by making sure that all land that the War Office own or still retain under requisition which it is possible to cultivate will be cultivated; and will he release as soon as possible land that is not wanted by the Army?
I am very anxious to avoid using agricultural land, but in some instances it is inevitable.
Mr. J. Morrison
asked the Secretary of State for War what acreage of the County of Wiltshire is War Office property, and what acreage is still under requisition; what acreage it is proposed to de-requisition and to hand back in view of the need for growing food at the present time; and what area of War Department land is to be cultivated.
The War Department owns 92,800 acres of land in Wiltshire, of which 17,720 acres are under cultivation and about 50,000 acres are let for grazing. There are some 5,200 acres under requisition of which about 4,000 acres are being grazed. I am not yet able to say what area can be derequisitioned. The maximum amount of land is, however, being cultivated, so far as this is possible, having regard to the military requirements for which it is in use.
Why is it necessary to keep on requisition any land in Wiltshire, having regard to the fact that the Wax Office have already in their own possession 92,000 acres?
We require this type of land for the purposes of training, and I am afraid I cannot avoid that.
Does this land that is under requisition come under the powers of the county war agricultural executive committees?
I am afraid I should re quire notice of that question.
Mr. A. R. W. Low
asked the Secretary of State for War whether he still plans that the Regular Army should consist of 220,000 volunteers.
The regular strength of the Army has not yet been finally decided.
Will the right hon. Gentleman say what it is that prevents His Majesty's Government from reaching a decision on this important point?
This is not a matter that can be settled just like that.
Mr. Emrys Hughes
In a speech in Glasgow on 30th October, Field-Marshal Montgomery has already made a public pronouncement on the strength of the Army. Does my right hon. Friend say that that public pronouncement has not the support of His Majesty's Government?
The statement made by the Chief of the Imperial General Staff will arise in a later Question.
If it is a fact, as the Minister says, that the size of the Regular Army by voluntary enlistment has not yet been decided, how was it possible for His Majesty's Government to present to this House a Bill for national service, in view of the fact that His Majesty's Government cannot possibly have known how many men would be required from national service?
There is really nothing inconsistent in that.
Prisoners Of War (Payment)
asked the Secretary of State for War what was the total expense, including payment for work done, of German prisoners of war in this country for the last recorded period; and what was the income received from those who employed them.
I would refer the hon. Member to the reply given to my hon. Friend the Member for West Leyton (Mr. Sorensen) on 10th June last.
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether, on balance, there is a financial profit or loss to the Exchequer?
It is not easy to strike a balance sheet in this matter. While it would appear, superficially, that the War Office gains a profit, I am not quite certain that it is actually a profit, because the surplus is required for certain purposes.
If there is any profit, ought it not to be used to increase the allowances made to German prisoners of war?
This question of an increase in the pay and emoluments of the prisoners of war is constantly under review, but I am not yet in a position to make a statement.
How can the figures given in June be relevant today, in view of the thousands of prisoners who have been sent home since that date?
The statement made by my predecessor on 10th June applies to the last recorded impression of the position.
Has not there been any record since?
Is it not the fact that my right hon. Friend's predecessor told the House that the cost of keeping these men was 23s. a week. As they get only 9s. a week, does that not leave a balance of £3, which goes to the Exchequer?
It cannot fall entirely into the pockets of the Exchequer, because a proportion has to be used for certain purposes, the maintenance of hostels, and so on.
asked the Minister for Economic Affairs which categories of users are on the Prime Minister's list for priority allocations of steel; and how many manufacturers of agricultural machinery are on this list.
The Paymaster-General (Mr. Marquand)
I have been asked to reply. The Prime Minister's list of priority uses is at present restricted to the manufacture, installation and repair of certain kinds of equipment necessary for the expansion of our fuel and power resources and for atomic energy development. The existing priority system is at present under review.
Could the Minister answer the second part of my Question, and at the same time tell the House whether every maker of agricultural machinery is now getting, and will in the immediate future get, all the steel he needs to meet the export target as well as the needs of the home market?
I have already explained that the priority system is under review. A specific answer to the last part of the Question would be that no manufacturers are on the priority list; only industries and services are on the priority list. The priority system is now under review, and the whole object of that review is to see how to take care of the agricultural machinery question.
The hon. Gentleman says the matter is under review, but surely the Government have already announced that the highest priority is being given to agricultural machinery? Are their previous statements untrue?
I have no record of the statement, and I certainly did not make it.
But the hon. Gentleman is a member of the Government.
Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that the Lord President of the Council said in a broadcast recently that it would be top priority?
I think that if hon. Members will await the review, which I hope to be able to announce at the very latest this time next week, they will be satisfied.
It is not a question of review. The Government said this was receiving top priority. Maybe the hon. Gentleman did not say it, but the Government as a whole have said it. Is that true or not true?
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman is repeating the statement of which, as I have said, I have no particular knowledge. All I can say is that at present agricultural machinery is not on the Prime Minister's list, but the list is being reviewed.
If the hon. Gentleman has not got the knowledge, why on earth is he answering Questions?
Mr. Granville Sharp
asked the Minister for Economic Affairs what were the reasons for the over-allocation of steel.
I have been asked to reply. Over-allocations of steel arose partly because in the period of reconversion Departments had to operate on the basis of insufficient knowledge of the real needs of the consumers, and partly because in certain periods supplies of steel fell below expectations.
Can the Minister say exactly who is now in charge of the allocation of steel; and further, what action has been taken to ensure that those now in charge of such allocations are fully conversant with the needs of industry?
My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Economic Affairs is responsible for the allocations of steel. Under his authority I discharge the detailed work involved.
American Loan (Drawings)
Mr. De la Bère
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whether, with a view to clarifying the whole position he will now issue a comprehensive statement showing the use to which the drawings on the American Loan have been put; and the total amount of the Loan which has been utilised for convertibility from sterling to dollars.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Dalton)
I would refer the hon. Member to the statement which I made in the House on Friday, 24th October.
Mr. De la Bère
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us why this Government, which professes to be democratic, continually refuses to disclose information which the public is fully entitled to have; and is he aware that his statement did not give us all the information which we are entitled to expect to have on this all-important question?
I think the statement, together with certain questions that I have answered since that time, gives the hon. Gentleman all the information for which he is asking here.
Mr. De la Bère
Will not the right hon. Gentleman reconsider that? Because we are supposed to be democratic, and it really is not democratic to refuse this information when it is asked for. It is undemocratic.
Tourists (Foreign Exchange)
Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what arrangements he is making for facilitating exchange of tourists and visitors between France and this country, in such a way as to involve no demands upon foreign exchange.
I cannot at present hold out any hope that arrangements of this sort can be made.
In view of the fact that the Question presupposes that no loss of foreign exchange will come about under the system, what can be the reason for refusing intercourse which can only be of benefit to the two nations, unless it is just a determination to restrict the freedom of the individual?
I said that I could not hold out any hope at present, but equally if we can find suitable administrative safeguards for schemes such as the hon. and gallant Member has in mind, we would look upon them, certainly, sympathetically; but it is difficult to get administrative safeguards, as I think the hon. and gallant Member will appreciate.
Mr. C. S. Taylor
Are we short of francs in this country? What harm will it do us if people go abroad and spend some of the francs we have got?
It is not quite as simple as that.
What else are we to spend the francs on?
Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that countries like Switzerland will continue to buy from us as many goods as they did before this Regulation came into force?
Marshall Plan (Expenditure Items)
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he has considered the advisability of including tobacco among the expenditure items in the Marshall Plan; and will he make a statement on its comparative importance with cooking fats, feedingstuffs, and wheat.
Tobacco was included in the Paris report. The answer to the second part of the question is, "No, Sir."
Has the right hon. Gentleman any discretion; and when the Marshall Plan is brought into being, will he remember that cooking fats are more important for the housewife than tobacco?
I think that is a very hypothetical question.
It is not.
White Spirit (Taxation)
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what is the present yield from the taxation of white spirit; and to what extent does this tax raise the price of goods for export which are manufactured with white spirit.
About £1½ million. A drawback is allowed on exports, the prices of which are not, therefore, raised by the tax.
As regards internal consumption, is there by any chance any hope of the tax being reviewed?
That is another question.
Sterling (Exchange Rate)
Mr. E. P. Smith
asked the Chancellor of' the Exchequer whether he is aware that the free market value of the £ in the U.S.A. varies from $2.25 to $2.60; and if he will abandon the fictitious official rate of exchange of $4.03 and free the exchange market from Treasury control, thus allowing the £ to find its natural level.
No, Sir. As I explained on 8th July last to the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom), these rates refer to the price of sterling notes, and not to the price of sterling on bank accounts, in which the vast majority of accounts are settled. The price of sterling notes abroad is usually below the official rate, because, except for the £5 allowed to travellers, these notes may not legally leave or enter the United Kingdom.
Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that his days of playing economic charades are nearly over?
Is my right hon. Friend not aware that what is called a "natural level" ought to be a very unnatural level?
Sir Frank Sanderson
Does not the Chancellor consider that if he made arrangements whereby pound notes were drawn in and new notes issued he would save hundreds of millions of pounds?
That is a rather different question.
Foreign Countries (Parliamentary Delegations)
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if, in view of the financial ban upon foreign travel imposed upon the public, he will limit the number of delegations of hon. Members of this House to foreign countries, other than official Government delegations, where such delegations involve the spending of British currency which would not be permitted to private individuals.
I hope that, now the Parliamentary Recess is over, there will be a natural decline in the number of these delegations.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that since the war there has been an immense increase compared with prewar days of unofficial delegations, deputations and missions by hon. Members of this House; that a great number of people outside this House are questioning the value of these visits at a time when nobody else is going abroad, and in the language of the vernacular, are saying, "These blokes are going to get a free ride and the run of their teeth, and that is all they are out for"?
I have already said, now that the Parliamentary Recess is over and the Sittings of Parliament have resumed, I naturally expect that there will be a decline in the number of these delegations, because hon. Members will no doubt wish to be here rather than touring.
Yes, but why should hon. Members of this House be given a privilege which is not given to people outside? Why should they be allowed to travel in this way when nobody else is allowed to?
There are two things which I would say in reply to that. First of all, it is not the case that no persons other than hon. Members of this House travel abroad at present; there are considerable facilities for people to travel abroad on business and for other purposes. In the second place, it does not rest primarily with me to decide the details of these delegations. Many of them are arranged at the suggestion of the Foreign Office or other Departments concerned.
Could the Chancellor say how much the taxpayer has had to pay to enable these people to travel round the world?
I could not say, but the Tory Party has had its whack of it anyway.
Export Goods (Purchase Tax)
Mr. Anthony Greenwood
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he will make clear to retail traders that Purchase Tax is not chargeable upon goods bought for export.
Goods in retail stock have already borne tax on purchase from the registered supplier; and I do not think the extent to which they are resold for export is such as to justify the elaborate machinery which would be necessary to enable the tax to be refunded in those cases. But retailers can usually arrange for an overseas buyer to obtain goods for export free of tax if he is willing to forgo their use while in this country.
Mr. Frank Byers
Does that not snow that the Government really do not understand this export drive? Is it not extremely important that we should persuade Americans and others to buy goods in this country and to use them, or in other words to do everything we can to get dollars?
I am not sure that the hon. Member understood the latter part of the answer. Any person normally resident outside this country can buy goods inside this country, and if they are subject to Purchase Tax, can get exemption of the tax, provided it is clear that the goods are despatched by post to an address outside this country, or to a ship. It is quite impossible to administer a scheme whereby a person walks into a shop and says, "I am shortly going to the United States. Please sell me this and the other thing; but do not put on the Purchase Tax."
Orders Of The Day
Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment to Question [10 th November], "That the Bill be now read a Second time."—[ Mr. H. Morrison.]
Which Amendment was, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:
"this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which, without mandate, justification or public demand, seeks to destroy the constitutional safeguards embodied in the Parliament Act, 1911, when no complaint has been put forward of the use by the House of Lords of its existing powers; when no attempt has been made to deal with the composition of the Second Chamber which that Act laid down as an essential condition of further reform; and at a time when the immediate consequence can only be to distract attention from the economic perils with which the country is confronted."—[Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe.]
Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
Mr. Churchill (Woodford)
Yesterday, after several courtesies which I acknowledge, the Leader of the House and Lord President of the Council cited me as a witness in this case. Therefore, I thought it my duty to come here and testify, although I must admit under some protest from my medical adviser. I frankly admit that I like this old controversy. I like to feel that what I thought right 36 years ago, the great party which I now lead, and the famous party which I then served, and also as I well believe, the mass of the nation, think right now. It is in the evening of life that these are gratifying sensations. I am glad to look back upon the days when I used to address the fathers and grandfathers of those who sit opposite and who fell away from the Liberal and Radical theme and lolloped into the slatternly trough of collectivism. Therefore, I in no way resent the references which the Lord President has made to my previous convictions, speeches and records, and I am particularly obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for the quotation which he made from my explanation of the Parliament Act 36 years ago. I am sorry I could not hear him, but I read the report, and for greater security I have a copy with me. He said:
Well, Sir, I had forgotten this speech. When this Debate was advertised, I asked that my past speeches should be looked up, and I intended to read them all; but there were about 30, so I did not find the time to do it. But this speech exactly represents where we stand today, and what the Parliament Act was intended to establish. In these confused and baffling times, it is right to recur to broad general principles. The spirit of the Parliament Act, and the purpose of that Act, were to secure the intimate, effective and continuous influence of the will of the people upon the conduct and progress of their affairs. That was the purpose—not the will of the governors or the governesses of the people, but the will of the people. The right hon. Gentleman, after quoting this passage, which I must say was an odd selection on his part—a little act of personal friendship, I think, because nothing can be more helpful to me—said that he doubted whether even in my Liberal days I was a very good democrat. I certainly spoke for a united Government and party, of which Mr. Lloyd George and I were supposed to be the Radical spear-point, and I spoke at a time when political controversy was very keen—more sharply followed by the mass of the people from day to day than it is now, when newspapers were able to report every word, and every word was minutely scanned by friend as well as foe. I am sure that if I had diverged at that time from the general line of the Liberal Radical Party, and had, so to speak, made what the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) would call "a diversionary error," it would most cer- tainly have been pointed out. In those days Ministers left office because of some slight diversion, not too serious a diversion, from what was the settled, clean-cut policy of the party. Therefore, I think that I was speaking with full authority. I do not feel that the Leader of the House has any right to suggest that I was not a good democrat in those days, and not a good democrat now, How does the right hon. Gentleman conceive democracy? Just let me explain it to him, Mr. Speaker, or explain some of the more rudimentary elements of it to him. Democracy is not a caucus, obtaining a fixed term of office by promises, and then doing what it likes with the people. We hold that there ought to be a constant relationship between the rulers and the people. "Government of the people, by the people, for the people," still remains the sovereign definition of democracy. There is no correspondence between this broad conception and the outlook of His Majesty's Government. Democracy, I must explain to the Lord President, does not mean, "We have got our majority, never mind how, and we have our lease of office for five years, so what are you going to do about it?" That is not democracy, that is only small party patter, which will not go down with the mass of the people of this country. Presently, we shall convince the party opposite that the will of the people will prevail. We accept that tribunal, and all their plans will be to shirk it. The right hon. Gentleman has an obvious, unconcealable, well-known relish for petty dictatorship. He has many good qualities, but he should always be on guard against his propensity and love to "cat and mouse" people from morning until night. Look at all the power he is enjoying today. No Government in time of peace has ever had such arbitrary power over the lives and actions of the British people, and no Government has ever failed more completely to meet their daily practical needs. Yet the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues are avid for more power. No Government has ever combined so passionate a lust for power with such incurable impotence in its exercise. The whole history of this country shows a British instinct—and, I think I may say, a genius—for the division of power. The American Constitution, with its checks and counterchecks, combined with its frequent appeals to the people, embodied much of the ancient wisdom of this island. Of course, there must be proper executive power to any Government, but our British, our English idea, in a special sense, has always been a system of balanced rights and divided authority, with many other persons and organised bodies having to be considered besides the Government of the day and the officials they employ. This essential British wisdom is expressed in many foreign Constitutions which followed our Parliamentary system, outside the totalitarian zone, but never was it so necessary as in a country which has no written Constitution. The right hon. Gentleman spoke about Parliament, about the rights of Parliament, which I shall certainly not fail to defend. But it is not Parliament that should rule; it is the people who should rule through Parliament. That is the mistake he made, an important omission. All this was comprehended by those who shaped the Parliament Act and the settlement which developed upon that Act, so that it was never mentioned again for 36 years until now. That is what the Government are seeking to mutilate, if not to destroy. The object of the Parliament Act, and the spirit of that Act, were to give effect, not to spasmodic emotions of the electorate, but to the settled, persistent will of the people. What they wanted to do they could do, and what they did not want to do they could stop. All this idea of a handful of men getting hold of the State machine, having the right to make the people do what suits their party and personal interests or doctrines, is completely contrary to every conception of surviving Western democracy."The present Leader of the Opposition, in the 1910 Debates which led up to the consideration of the Parliament Bill, which became the Parliament Act, 1911, expounded what he conceived at that time to be the policy underlying the proposals which were passed into law in the Parliament Act, 1911. He assumed that Parliaments would on the average last for about four years, and he said that in the first two years of a Parliament the controversial questions upon which the Election had been fought would normally have been disposed of. Then, the argument continues, in the second two years of the Parliament there would be two classes of Bills—Bills upon which there was a broad measure of agreement between parties, and fresh controversial measures, which the Government might bring forward, but which, if rejected by the House of Lords, would await what he called 'the ratification of a new decision of the electorate'."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th November, 1947; Vol. 444, c. 39.]
"Some reverence for the laws ourselves have made,
We accept in the fullest sense of the word the settled and persistent will of the people. All this idea of a group of super men and super-planners, such as we see before us, "playing the angel," as the French call it, and making the masses of the people do what they think is good for them, without any check or correction, is a violation of democracy. Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time; but there is the broad feeling in our country that the people should rule, continuously rule, and that public opinion, expressed by all constitutional means, should shape, guide, and control the actions of Ministers who are their servants and not their masters. I remember, many years ago, the late John Morley talking to me about a Greek word, born in the classical cradle of democracy, meaning the wish, the will, and the determination, with special reference to the gods, or to destiny, or, as it was adapted, to the desire of the mass, the inward desire of the mass of the people. This implied, that there should be frequent recurrence, direct or indirect, to the popular will, and that the wish—the —should prevail. That is what the party opposite is afraid of, and that is what this Act is devised to prevent. [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] That is the first broad submission which I make to the House upon this important Measure. I do not expect to convert hon. Members opposite in a few minutes, but I am going to show them the language which can be used against their policy and which will be used on every platform in this country. However, it is argued that the present Second Chamber is a biased and unrepresentative body; that it does not act evenly between the two sides or parties in the State. Let me just look into that dispassionately. There is, of course, a difference between the two sides in our political life. Temperament, conditions, upbringing, fortunes, interests, environment decide for every individual in a free country which side he will take. One side claims to be the party of progress, as if progress was bound to be right, no matter in what direction. The other side emphasises stability, which is also very important in this changing world. But no one would rest content with that. This is an unreal and far too narrow a dichotomy. I heard that word 40 years ago as a debating rejoinder from Mr. Asquith. I went home and looked it up in the dictionary, and I do not think that it has been used in this House until now. Both progress and stability are needed to make a happy country. But the right hon. Gentleman complains that the present Second Chamber has, from its composition, an undue bias in favour of stability. Well, Mr. Speaker, if you have a motor car—and I believe some are still allowed—you have to have a brake. There ought to be a brake. A brake, in its essence, is one-sided; it prevents an accident through going too fast. It was not intended to prevent accidents through going too slow. For that you must look elsewhere, to another part of the vehicle; you must look to the engine and, of course, to the petrol supply. For that there is the renewed impulse. To prevent your going too slow you must look to the renewed impulse of the people's will; but it is by the force of the engine, occasionally regulated by the brake, that the steady progress of the nation and of society is maintained, and tens of millions of humble people are given steady conditions in which they can live their lives and make all their plans for their homes, their families and for bringing up their children, and have a chance of bettering themselves, and, at the same time, forwarding the cause of the whole community. [An HON. MEMBER: "Two million unemployed."] Two million unemployed under a Socialist Government. Never has that figure of two million unemployed occurred under any but a Socialist Administration. [Interruption.] It is really a matter of history and arithmetic. Never has there been a substantial rise above two million except under a Government headed by the Socialist Party.Some patient force to change them when we will."
The Prime Minister (Mr. Attlee)
I think that the right hon. Gentleman must have made a mistake in the date. The peak date for unemployment was in the Coalition Government of 1931.
It was in the Coalition Government of 1931 that reduced the unemployed from the figure of nearly three million to just above one million, and it was the right hon. Gentleman, even in these days of full employment and shortage of labour, who managed to raise unemployment to over two million at the beginning of the present year by gross mismanagement of the fuel problem. All this myth about the tragedy of unemployment between the wars—[HON. MEMBERS: "Myth?"] The myth is that it was due to the Conservative Party, yet all the peaks and heights were reached and all the most serious causes occurred during the brief terms when the Socialists were in office.I have been drawn from the general thread of my argument, which I am most anxious should be comprehended by hon. Members opposite, if not for their conversion, at least, for educative purposes. I was speaking just now about the "brake." If the Socialist Government do not like the character of this particular brake, certainly we are not defending it.
Mr. Kirkwood (Dumbarton Burghs)
What has that to do with this Bill?
Certainly we are not defending it. I must say that the Government themselves seem to be a little more reconciled to it than they used to be, judging by the number of Socialist hereditary nobles who are being created. If they do not like the character of the brake, why do they not propose the reform of the Second Chamber? We are quite ready to confer with them and to help them in such a task. As the Socialist Government now stand, they maintain the hereditary principle. The hereditary Chamber is to have one year's suspensory veto but not two. One year's suspensory veto by a hereditary assembly is the true blue of Socialist democracy; two years is class tyranny.One is astonished that the human mind can be constrained into such silly postures. But then the explanation is furnished and backed by ever-accumulating evidence that this Bill does not arise out of any consideration of general principles, or of the needs of the State, or of the practical requirements of the day, but only out of a deal between Cabinet Ministers quarrelling about the nationalisation of steel. There is no doubt however, that what His Majesty's Government seek and intend is virtually what is called single-Chamber Government. On this issue there are wide and world-famous arguments. No free country enjoying democratic institutions that I know of has adopted single-Chamber Government.
Mr. Ronald Mackay (Hull, North West)
The State of Queensland has single-Chamber Government.
It is the exception which proves the rule. No free country—
Mr. Warbey (Luton)
I think it is a mistake for hon. Gentlemen to interrupt continuously. It would be much better if each one waited and heard the arguments whether they like them or not, and then they could listen to the arguments in reply by the Home Secretary.
I am glad to be reminded because I asked this morning for a check-up to be made over the British Empire, and I was not aware that there was a single-Chamber Government in Queensland, but that State is only part of a federal system.
What about Norway?
No free country of which I have heard up to the present—I quite agree that there might be some countries throughout the world—which is enjoying democratic institutions has adopted single-Chamber Government. The United States, the Swiss, the Dutch, the Belgians, the French even in their latest constitution have a Second Chamber. Eire has created its own Senate. Our Dominions, the most democratic countries in the world, all have, with the exception of Queensland I am reminded, sought and preserved two-Chamber Government—what clever people would call bi-cameral Government. All feel that between the chance vote of an election on universal sufferage and the permanent alteration of the whole slowly built structure of the State and nation there ought to be some modifying process. Show me a powerful, successful, free democratic constitution of a great sovereign state which has adopted the principle of single-Chamber Government.
I have told the right hon. Gentleman of one.
Norway is not a very powerful State and would not have been a State at all but for our exertions. I am speaking of the general experience of the world and I say that the overwhelming majority that I know of have a Second Chamber, mostly with lesser powers than the popular assembly and with a different outlook and function. By the way, all this insistence on Norway or Queensland by the other side of the House illustrates and proves my point that it is single-Chamber Government which hon. Gentlemen opposite seek.
Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) is not in this matter at all. There are quite a lot of matters in which he takes an interest but this is not one of them.
I do not mind in the least being interrupted. It does not worry me—
I do not give way unless I think it worth while. Some of the foreign countries arrive at the two-chamber system by a proportion of members retiring every two years or every year; some by a franchise based on a higher age limit; some by the influence of local authorities standing on a different foundation; and some, like the Canadian Senate, are nominated for life and retire gradually by the effluxion of time. In some there are joint sessions where a majority decision decides in case of deadlock. I remember in 1910 we worked in the hectic interval between the two Elections of that year in conference with the Opposition but it broke down as so many other things do, on figures.But all these constitutions have the same object in view, namely, that the persistent resolve of the people shall prevail without throwing the community into convulsion and disorder by rash or violent, irreparable action and to restrain and prevent a group or sect or faction assuming dictatorial power. Single-Chamber Government, as I have said, is especially dangerous in a country which has no written Constitution and where Parliaments are elected for as long as five years. When there is an ancient community built up across the generations,
it is not right that all should be liable to be swept away by the desperate measures of a small set of discredited men."Where Freedom broadens slowly down From precedent to precedent",
"A thousand years scarce serve to form a State.
This is the argument against Second-Chamber Government, which is evidently so espoused on that side of the House. In this field the outlook of His Majesty's Ministers is marked by the same meanness of thought and spirit which characterise so much of their action and which destroys their power to help or unite and save our suffering country. They wish to keep the present Second Chamber on the hereditary basis so that they can abuse it, insult it and attack it and yet to cripple its powers, although those powers stand on 36 years of modern Parliamentary title so that, in effect, it is both vulnerable and powerless. That is their tactical method. By this artful, and insincere scheme they hope to substitute for the will of the people the decisions of the Government. This sinister intrigue will be exposed by us, without fear, to the electorate resting upon a universal suffrage. The Government say—let us look closer into the point—"We have the right to pass into law everything we mentioned or even hinted at in our election pamphlet, 'Let us Face the Future.'" It is arguable whether a Government, which is losing daily the real support of the nation, has the right to claim that such a bill must be paid even within the limits of what they call their mandate. At any rate no one should be under any delusions on this matter. There is no constitutional or legal bar upon the right of a Government possessing a majority in the House of Commons to propose any legislation they think fit whether it has figured in their pre-election promises or programmes or not. The people have no guarantee, except the suspensory power of the House of Lords or Second Chamber, nor can they be given any other guarantee that Measures never thought of at the Election and to which they object will not be imposed upon them. Look around at what is happening every day. The idea of a mandate is only a convention. A band of men who have got hold of the machine and have a Parliamentary majority undoubtedly have the power to propose anything they choose without the slightest regard to whether the people like it or not, or the slightest reference to whether or not it was included in their election literature. I will not expatiate upon the kind of laws they could pass if all is to be settled by a party majority in the House of Commons, under the discipline of the Whips and the caucus. But anyone can see for himself, and it is now frankly admitted on the opposite side of the House, that what is aimed at now is single-Chamber Government at the dictation of Ministers, without regard to the wishes of the people and without giving them any chance to express their opinion. There is, in fact, only one thing that they cannot do under the Parliament Act, 1911, and that is to prolong the life of Parliament beyond the five years' span to which we reduced it in those old days. I must say I am very glad we thought of it. As a free-born Englishman, what I hate is the sense of being at anybody's mercy or in anybody's power, be he Hitler or Attlee. We are approaching very near to dictatorship in this country, dictatorship that is to say—I will be quite candid with the House—without either its criminality or its efficiency. But let the party opposite not imagine they will rule our famous land and lead our group of Commonwealths and our Empire—or what is left of it—by party dodges and Cabinet intrigues. Lots of people have tried to break the British nation and make it do things it did not want to do. Some were British and some were foreign. They all came a cropper. Do not imagine, I say to right hon. Gentlemen opposite, that you have got this country in pawn. The British are a proud people and, more than any other country in Europe, they have known how to control their rulers. [Interruption.] You are our rulers now and we are going to show you that there are limits to your control. Let hon. Members opposite not delude themselves by supposing that by raising this issue they will draw an ancient red herring across the fundamental economic and imperial issues now at stake which involve the life of Britain as a great Power. Why are they devising dodges to keep themselves in office, and to get the last scrunch out of their freak majority and legal term? Is it not ignoble, is it not indeed most imprudent, for these incompetent Ministers, amid all the miseries they have brought upon us, to adopt the attitude, the arrogant attitude, "We have got our majority. We have got our ration of time. Let us exploit them to the utmost. To hell with the will of the people. We will teach them from our superior knowledge what they ought to want." Is it not much better to recur to the simple process of keeping in touch with the people, and of not being afraid to consult them, or even to take dismissal at their hands? Why are the Government so afraid of appealing to the people for what they tell us is their great, democratic, philanthropic policy of Socialistic progress into the brave new world? Why are they so afraid? No one has obstructed their will. They have carried all the Measures they wished. They have brought us low and they are bringing us to ruin. What more can they want? Yet—and the Bill brings it before us effectively at the moment—when the Government may be the most execrated of all Administrations, they will claim the right, against the will of the people and, if they choose, without any consultation with the people, to exercise unlimited legislative power. This is a dictatorship that we are lacing, a timid, incompetent dictatorship, but a dictatorship none the less, and one that at any time in the lifetime of this Parliament may be replaced by a deter mined, totalitarian oligarchy. Is the party opposite really to be entitled to pass laws affecting the whole character of the country in the closing years of this Parliament without any appeal to the people who have the vote and who placed them where they are? No, Sir, democracy says, "No, a thousand times No. You have no right to pass legislation in the closing phase of a Parliament which is not accepted or desired by the mass of the people." It may well be that Ministers on that Bench are going to be more hated than any Government which has held office since the franchise was extended in the great Reform Bill of 1832. It may well be that not only bankruptcy but actual starvation will come upon this island, largely from their mismanagement. How do we know that, in the next 18 months, we shall see the same feeble despots in office? They may be replaced at any time by a convulsion in this House or at Transport House, or in the complicated party structure of the Government majority, by other men, no less mischievous but more malignant, more ruthless. These may hoist themselves into power, men who have never presented themselves to the electors as leaders of the nation. Are they to have the full, unbridled authority to pass any laws they choose irrespective of the views and feelings of the whole nation regarding the Government or the Bills proposed? These are issues which are before us now on the Second Reading of the Bill on which we shall give our vote. There are, I must admit, moments when I am sorry for the Lord President of the Council, a man outpassed at the moment by his competitors, outdated even by his prejudices, scrambling along trying to regain popularity on an obsolete issue and on an ever-ebbing tide. I hope he will not mind my quoting or adapting some lines, although they are of a martial character, about his position:An hour may lay it in dust."
"Crippses to right of him, Daltons to left of him,
It must have been very harassing. Then there is another line:Bevans behind him, volleyed and thundered."
What tho' the soldiers knew
There is even one more line a little further on in the poem which may not be irrelevant:Some one had blunder'd."
"Then they came back, but not,
Not the four hundred."
Mr. Kirk wood
The wish is father to the thought.
I see that the Home Secretary is going to follow me. I am sorry for him, too. He always wears the air of injured innocence which we might expect to find on the face of a virtuous and respectable mayor or alderman who has been caught in a somewhat disreputable and compromising situation. I ask him: does he really think he can cling to office for 2½ years more until this Bill has passed into law under the workings of the Parliament Act?The last election was abnormal. There had not been one for 10 years. There had been a total cessation of ordinary party warfare, on our side at least. A large portion of our voters, our men, were abroad—several millions-and out of touch with any of the party associations with which they would have been ranged had they been at home. It was abnormal. I have no doubt that in party circles it is calculated that the majority gained at the last Election, whatever may be said about it, will be able to run on for its full legal term and make the British people drain their cup to the last dregs. No doubt it will be helpful—here I see the hand of the master craftsman, the Lord President—
The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
The right hon. Gentleman has promoted me.
Craft is common both to skill and deceit. No doubt it will be helpful to party discipline to be able to say to an unhappy, disillusioned party, "We must hold together until we get the Parliament Bill through and thus carry our glorious nationalisation of steel which will put the country right once and for all. Hold on." It is a powerful appeal, "Hold on, boys, for another year. Let us have a full run for our money. Let us get all out of it we can." I do not think it will happen that way. If there were a General Election tomorrow the Socialist majority would vanish. If they wait another year, they themselves will vanish for a considerable period, unwept, unhonoured, and unsung—and unhung. They have paralysed and stifled the whole native life-effort of our people. Do not let them delude themselves by supposing that they will escape on the issue of "the Peers versus the People." The electors are going to vote on their mismanagement and on their partisanship in this grave crisis in our history. Their calculations will not succeed. They will not escape, even by this partial Measure, the will of the people, and the longer they try to do so, the more decisive will be the condemnation they will receive at the national hands.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Ede)
In the first place, it is my duty and my pleasure to express to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) our happiness at seeing him here today. We missed him yesterday. He has endeavoured to do the best he can to make up for our disappointment. We congratulate him on his return to health and thank him for the strain to which he must have subjected himself in preparing and delivering the speech to which we have just listened. We also desire to congratulate him upon having at last convinced the party now sitting behind him that the Parliament Act, 1911, is a constitutional safeguard. He will recall that Lord Curzon, Mr. F. E. Smith and other notabilities of the Conservative Party of 1911 promised that as soon as the Conservative Party again obtained a majority they would wipe what Lord Curzon elegantly described as "this smudge" from the Statute Book. But this afternoon, although they received his remarks with no great enthusiasm, he is at least entitled to feel that one of his major achievements in life has been to convert the Tory Party into a belief in the Parliament Act, 1911. Our view of the Constitution was well expressed by the right hon. Gentleman in a speech he delivered on the First Reading of that Bill on 22nd February, 1911. He said:
That is our belief of democracy as well as that of the right hon. Gentleman in 1911."We believe in democracy, we believe in representative institutions, we believe in democracy acting through representative institutions. We believe that Ministers should back their convictions by their offices. We believe Members of Parliament are representatives and not delegates. We believe that Governments are the guides as well as the servants of the Nation. We believe that the people should choose their representatives, that they should come to a decision between men, party and policy, judging their character and judging the circumstances of the hour; that they should choose their representatives and then trust them and give them a fair chance within the limits of their commission for a period which should not be unreasonably prolonged; then these representatives should be summoned before their constituents, who should judge them in relation to all the circumstances proper to be considered, and in relation as well to the general effects of their policy, and should either confirm them in their places as representatives or choose other men to take their place."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd February, 1911; Vol. 21, c. 2035.]
May I say that a great part of his speech was devoted to disapproving some of those propositions, as was strikingly done last night by the hon. Member the senior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn). He claimed that it was the prerogative of the House of Lords to be able to determine when and in what circumstances a General Election should take place:
We take this view of the constitutional position, that the Government is made and kept in office by the House of Commons. The moment a Government loses the confidence of the House of Commons, not necessarily to the extent of suffering defeat in the Lobbies, but in such a striking way as to make the loss of confidence quite evident and palpable, the House of Commons has the right to expect that that Government will resign and can, of course, remove it from office. It removed in that way the Chamberlain Government in 1939—… if, after two or three years of office, it appears to the House of Lords … that a Bill passed by this House is not one which public opinion really goes with, that can be held up, not for long, at the worst only for as long as it takes to win an election."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th November, 1947; Vol. 444, c. 151.]
I am sorry, 1940. The Government was not defeated, but so many of its regular supporters voted in the Opposition Lobby, so many abstained, that the Government of the day was changed.
That really does not quite do justice to Mr. Chamberlain, because the reason why he resigned was not because of any defeat in the House of Commons or that he could not gather support to continue, but because he felt that nothing short of a National Government could save the country.
The right hon. Gentleman was in the negotiations but I have been told that there was an effort to restore Mr. Chamberlain to office after that vote, before the right hon. Gentleman formed his Government.
I strongly urged Mr. Chamberlain to continue as Prime Minister.
That does not disprove what I am saying. That was in wartime. In normal times when a Prime Minister finds himself in that position, that his Government has lost the confidence of this House, he has an alternative before him: either he can recommend the King to send for someone else, or he can appeal from the decision of the House of Commons to the electorate. That is constitutional and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman, who has been in many Governments, will not disagree with that. That is the constitutional position and we say that is a position which we think is the proper one for the Government of this country. We do not accept the doctrine—
The Prime Minister has no right to demand a Dissolution—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—and the right hon. Gentleman in his great position must not be inaccurate. He can submit to the Crown a request for a Dissolution—[HON. MEMBERS: "It is the same thing."]—but if the Crown does not grant that request, the only remedy of the Prime Minister is to resign. Let us get it right.
I purposely do not want to bring into this discussion, for obvious reasons, the exact point at which the Crown can assume responsibility.
The right hon. Gentleman need not be shy about it. It is all history.
I do not think I have misstated the position. At any rate, one thing is quite certain, that the first General Election of 1910 settled that the House of Lords has no right to send the Government to the country—
The House of Lords, in rejecting Mr. Lloyd George's Budget, passed a resolution in the form that they declined to give the Bill a Second Reading until the opinion of the country had been expressed on it That position, which was the line of argument adopted by the senior Burgess for Cambridge University, who, I regret, is not in his place this afternoon, we are not prepared to accept. Neither do we accept the views that have been expressed by the right hon. Gentleman with regard to what can happen during the period of a five-year Government. He said that he did not desire to suffer under a dictatorship, be it of Hitler or Attlee. We have suffered under the dictatorships of Baldwin and Chamberlain—
That is all rubbish.
I regret that although the right hon. Gentleman said that I generally wear an air of injured innocence—
You are living up to it at the moment.
—for some reason or other I always appear to be most provocative to him in encouraging him to make replies. The position for which we ask is the position which was established by the Act of 1911 as laid down by the right hon. Gentlemen in the Debate on 7th August, 1911. We seek no privilege, we desire to obtain no handicap, we look for no facility which the Conservative Party have not already, and have not long, enjoyed. All we seek, all we ask, all we demand, all we are willing to take, is political equality for all parties in the State. We wish to be placed by the Constitution in exactly the same position as is the Conservative Party. We wish that our House of Commons shall have the same powers they have always enjoyed. We think that the millions of electors whom we represent are entitled to be admitted to as full and responsible citizenship, are just as competent to return Governments with plenary powers as the millions of electors whom we freely admit support hon. Gentlemen opposite.That is the claim, and no higher claim, that we make, and those were the words used by the right hon. Gentleman in replying to the Vote of Censure when Mr. Asquith announced that he had obtained the Royal consent to the creation of the necessary peers to carry the Parliament Act. We do not desire—let us say this quite frankly—to be mixed up in another arid controversy about the Peers versus the People. That is why we have introduced this Measure at this time, before the next appeal to the country comes. Even if the peers accept the suggestion made to them this afternoon by the right hon. Gentleman, that they should delay the passage of this Bill for two and a half years, the matter will have been settled and we shall be in a position to carry the legislation to which we are committed. I found it difficult to ascertain exactly at what point the right hon. Gentleman was dealing with the Bill, and at what part of his speech he was dealing with matters more relevant to a general Vote of Censure on the Government—
Mr. Popplewell (Newcastle-upon-Tyne. West)
In other words, clowning.
No, really, it is always good comedy when the right hon. Gentleman is speaking. Taste in comedy differs, but I always enjoy it highly and I have paid large sums of money for worse comedy than we have had this afternoon.I therefore propose to pass to the Debate which was held yesterday, and to deal with various speeches made by hon. Gentlemen opposite. The hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg), as usual, gave us a long moral lecture on the iniquity of our proceedings, and regretted that we did not take the opportunity of relieving him from passing to what I believe he called earlier in the week "the political ghetto." I cannot myself be taken as subscribing to that doctrine. He said there were three things which we ought to have done, and he put them in a certain order. He said that in the first place a democracy
and:"must choose whether it will have a system composed of one or two Chambers."
In spite of what has been said this afternoon, this Bill leaves the question of one or two Chambers exactly where it was before this Bill was introduced. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he has the order of the proceedings the wrong way round. Before one creates a new Second Chamber, or alters the power of the existing Chamber, it is essential to determine what powers the body is to exercise. We hold the view that the restricted powers which we propose in this Bill are the maximum powers which should be allowed to any Second Chamber, no matter how constituted, and so far from feeling that we are taking the thing in the wrong order, we feel that the order in which we propose to deal with the matter is the correct one. The hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith), as usual, made a speech well directed towards the point at issue, but he used a somewhat peculiar phrase, which I asked him to explain at the time. He said:"Secondly, that if it decides in favour of two Chambers, it must attempt, at any rate, to resolve the difficulties inherent in deciding the composition of the Second Chamber, assuming the first to be an elected one. … Thirdly, when it has dealt with those two preliminary questions, it must come to a conclusion on the, powers which it proposes to give to any Second Chamber which it forms."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th November, 1947; Vol. 444, c. 79.]
I do not know exactly what the last phrase means. One of the difficulties which has always confronted the party opposite has been to get an agreement about what the form of the Second Chamber should be. What the right hon. Gentleman asked for was a Second Chamber which would give the Liberal Party as good as chance of getting its legislation through as the Conservative Party had, and every scheme that was prepared by the Conservative Party in the days when he was dealing with the subject broke down because it failed to do that. I notice in this morning's "Yorkshire Post" that the hon. Member for Kings-ton-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) has a scheme for what he calls a more efficient House of Lords. Undoubtedly from his point of view it may be more efficient, because certainly it would never contain, as proposed by him, a majority of votes, or even an equality of votes, of people subscribing to the doctrines of this Government. As my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council said yesterday, any proposal that the Conservative Party wishes to put forward for a reformed Second Chamber will be considered, but it must conform to the requirements laid down by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford in 1911, so that it gives us exactly the same chance of passing our legislation as it would give to the Conservative Party. Short of that, any effort at getting a reformed House of Lords is not likely to be acceptable. This Bill, we are told, is brought forward by the Government in order to pass a Bill for the nationalisation of steel. But there are other Bills which we are bringing forward which may equally need the opportunities afforded by this Measure if they are to receive appropriate treatment from the Legislature."The Second Chamber, in my view, must not be a mere replica of the First Chamber, but should be complementary to it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th November, 1947; Vol. 444, c. 136.]
Colonel Dower (Penrith and Cockermouth)
What are they?
I am just going to deal with one of them. In my recollection, and I have taken steps to check this, on only one occasion within living memory have the House of Lords seriously embarrassed a Conservative Government in trying to get its legislation through. That was on the Children and Young Persons Act of 1933. This House deprived the justices of the power of ordering whipping for juvenile offenders. It went to the House of Lords, who reinserted that power. It came back here, and the right hon. Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley), after there had been another exchange between the two Houses, advised this House to accept that proposal, and not to lose the Bill. Now we have a Bill before Parliament this Session which makes the same proposal, it is true, in a more extended form. Have we any guarantee that, in order to enact that Measure, we may not need the powers which this Bill gives us? The idea that this Measure is required for one Bill only is one of the delusions which the Conservative Party likes to hug to itself.Among the heritages that a Home Secretary has when he goes into Office are the books in a cupboard in the Home Office. Among them I discovered when I went there that on his departure from the Home Office Sir John Simon, as he then was, had left the whole of his copies of the "Liberal Magazine" for the early years of this century. I assume that when he left the Home Office he left his Liberalism behind him.
The right hon. Gentleman might have had the decency to restore his property to him.
It is available for him if he requires it, but I am afraid he would find it rather an embarrassment at the present time. He spoke on the Parliament Bill. Those who spoke on behalf of the Conservative Party, he said, speaking in his constituency of Walthamstow in 1911, were saying that if they had an opportunity they would repeal the Parliament Bill. He promised that they in that constituency would not forget that promise. He would take every opportunity to rub it in. He thought that that statement ought to keep the Conservatives in the desert for the next two generations. They would carry the Parliament Bill, but not for its own sake. They were doing it because when they had made this rearrangement they were going to use it in order to carry reforms which they thought wise, moderate, sensible, and overdue. The House of Lords rejected their Plural Voting Bill, and they were going to carry it by means of the Parliament Bill. They did not do so. It is not for me to disclose legislation which will be introduced later this Session, but there again is a matter which may require the assistance of the Parliament Bill.
Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
Is that a promise by the Home Secretary to introduce proportional representation? We shall welcome it if he does so.
As I have said, it is not for me at this stage to disclose what we intend to do in that Measure, but it is the kind of thing that appears to me to be highly probable.The difficulty in this country has never been that the engine has had too much control, or that there has been any likelihood that we should legislate at too great a speed. On the other hand, there has been, at least ever since the Reform Act, 1832, a continual block in the legislative machine. If we are to be held up for the remaining years of this Parliament by having to pass over and over again Measures that have secured the support of this House, we feel that it will not be possible, in the term of our office, adequately to discharge the duties that fall upon us. We, therefore, ask that we shall be given the powers in this Measure in order that we may be able to ensure that the legislation which we submit to the House during the next two years shall find its place on the Statute Book before the end of this Parliament. In his speech on the First Reading of the Parliament Bill of 1911, Mr. F. E. Smith said that what it secured was, for the Liberal Party, three years' supremacy in Parliament; after that the House of Lords would be supreme, and could stop the Liberal Party from carrying its legislation. He asked the Liberal Party whether they thought it worth while to stir up the strife which they were stirring up merely to secure three years supremacy. Holding the constitutional doctrine which I enunciated at the beginning of my remarks, we believe that the proper course is for this Bill, restricting the suspensory veto of the Lords, to be given its appropriate place in the statute law of the country.
Mr. Beverley Baxter (Wood Green)
Would the right hon. Gentleman be good enough to tell us whether there is anything in his mind or in the mind of the Government as to why there should be even one year's suspensory veto, because every argument he has offered so far against two years is an argument against one year as well?
By no means. One year is, I admit, a process of delay, but it appears to me to give the minimum of time that ought to be given to reconsideration, and the maximum that ought to be allowed to the Lords. A Bill, leaving this House and going to the Lords, and not meeting ultimately with the acceptance of their Lordships, ought to be reconsidered by this House. Let me point out to the House that the House of Lords need not reject a Bill. In fact, they did hot, I think, reject the Home Rule Bill or the Welsh Disestablishment Bill. What they did was to postpone consideration. Prorogation came, and the Bill was dead, not because the Lords had defeated it but because their House had adjourned without reaching a decision upon it.Whether the House of Lords rejects a Bill, drastically amends a Bill so that it is unacceptable to this House, or merely postpones consideration of it, we feel that while there is a Second Chamber such as the present one there should be a guarantee to them that before such a Bill is passed over their heads, this House will consider either their reasons for rejection, their reasons for drastic amendment, or the causes, if we can discover them, which led to their dilatory action, by requiring the two Sessions and the 12 months after the first Second Reading of the Bill in this House. We do not deny that the House of Lords, even as at present constituted, has certain duties and rights as a revising Chamber. We think that these are best discharged by the machinery I have just described. We think that their power of a suspensory veto is adequately met if they have 12 months instead of 24 before the Bill can be passed over their heads. I hope I have shown to the hon. Gentleman that although admittedly the delay is not as great in 12 months as it is in 24, nevertheless it is a guarantee to another place that their objections to a Measure will have to be considered on the Floor of this House, and undoubtedly those Members who share the views of the House of Lords, either in whole or in part, will have opportunities of seeing that the views of the Lords are considered before the Bill goes up to them a Second time. It is quite impossible for anyone to suggest that this is a revolutionary Measure. I can well understand the disappointment of some of my hon. Friends that this Measure is not more drastic. I feel myself that if we were to propose that the House of Lords should either be abolished or drastically reformed in its composition, that as an issue would have to be submitted to the electorate before any Government could feel they had a right to bring it forward.
Why should it be?
Because that is a fundamental change in the Constitution. No one can say that reducing the period from 24 months to 12 months is a fundamental change.
That is the right hon. Gentleman's personal opinion.
Surely, the right hon. Gentleman was expressing his personal opinion. In this free assembly, even in the presence of the right hon. Gentleman—
Everyone expresses his personal opinion, but the right hon. Gentleman, speaking for the Government, is attempting to outline their views on constitutional law, which have no foundation other than the fact that he has decided to utter them.
The right hon. Gentleman has no ground for saying that. I am making a statement on behalf of His Majesty's Government, and, as far as I know, not one of my colleagues in the Government would dissent from the views I have uttered.I do want to point out that we have our noble Friends in another place, who have, to my mind, during this Parliament discharged the duties that fell upon them of presenting and arguing for our Measures with the greatest skill, clarity and independence, and we are at least entitled to point out that we cannot expect noble Lords who are of our party to sit up there without feeling that the views for which they argue, which are supported by the majority of this House, shall be made to prevail if this House decides to continue its support for the Government. Therefore, the Government have placed this Measure before the House. We believe that it will enable a constitutional crisis not to be created but to be averted. I know of no reason why one should assume that the House of Lords will take two and a half years to pass this Measure. It seems to me to be a natural development of the Parliament Act, 1911, and I would hope that before this Session ends, this Measure will be added to the legislative achievements of the Government.
Lord Willoughby de Eresby (Rutland and Stamford)
At first I hesitated to take part in this Debate. I suppose that I cannot claim to be an entirely disinterested party on the question of the continuance and future powers of the House of Lords, though I must say that I have always tried to keep an open mind on such questions as the automatic rights of hereditary peers to a seat in the House of Lords, and also upon any suggestion or plan for a comprehensive reform. But I have no feeling of embarrassment when speaking in this Debate, because a cursory glance at this Bill shows that it is not concerned with the present composition of the House of Lords, neither does it make the least attempt to bring in any general measures of reform of the composition or powers of the other place. All that this Bill seeks to do is to render quite ineffective the delaying power granted—possibly it would be more accurate to say "left"—to the House of Lords by the Parliament Act, 1911, and then to abolish the one safeguard which every democratic and constitutional Parliament in the world; with a few exceptions already mentioned, has seen fit to put in its constitutions.When the intentions of the Government were first made known in the Gracious Speech, I and probably many people, felt at a loss to understand the reasons for this sudden, vicious and, I think, quite unprovoked attack upon the House of Lords at this moment. I describe it as a sudden attack because there was no mention that anything like this was to be done in the now notorious election manifesto of the hon. Gentlemen opposite. As far as one knew, there was no reason to assume that the House of Lords had in any way incurred the displeasure of His Majesty's Ministers or even of the Leader of the House. It appears now that he is affronted because they chose to come back during the summer Recess—whilst hon. Members of this House were away on holidays with pay, at an increased salary—to discuss the serious economic position of the country. It is quite true that the Minister of Health has issued certain warnings about the House of Lords, but one rather naturally understood his disinclination to mention, shall we say, more plebeian houses at this moment. I think that any fair-minded person would say that during the past two years the Members of the other place have not abused their power through having a large Tory majority. They have not in any way defied the will of the people. In fact, I think most people will agree that they have been helpful rather than destructive in their criticisms of and Amendments to Bills which have come before them. At first, I thought that the Government had decided on this course with an eye to an early Election and in an effort to shift public attention from economic and financial issues—where we all know their record is none too gaudy and their failure already complete—to a constitutional issue. One can only sympathise with some of them on the fact that no longer are there the bankers and coalowners to act as convenient scapegoats for a Socialist failure. There is no question but that "reactionary Tory peers" possibly formed a very good substitute on the platforms of this country. May I confirm what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) said? I think that it is extremely unsportsmanlike—or some people might even say "caddish"—to leave Tory Peers there for abuse when it suits hon. Members opposite, but then to render the House of Lords quite ineffective in regard to any part which they play under the Constitution. We should either alter their composition and leave them some power or—and I personally think it would be far better if hon. Gentlemen opposite think as they do—abolish them altogether. Those of us who thought that possibly the Government were doing this with a view to an early Election have realised, since hearing the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Arthur Greenwood), on the Address, that we were not wholly right in our conjectures and reasoning. It now appears that the Government have to introduce this Measure in order to unite a Cabinet and a party sadly split and divided amongst itself over the nationalisation of the iron and steel industry. I can only agree with the right hon. Member for Wakefield that such a party manoeuvre is a very doubtful political expedient. What right have any Government to tinker with the British Constitution which, when all is said and done, is something far more important than the future of the Socialist Party? It is something with a far longer history, and what right has the party opposite to interfere with it solely in order to maintain loyalty and unity within the party itself? I can see no reason to suppose that the House of Lords would have rejected or turned down a Bill for which the Government had the authority from the electors at the last Election. I am certain that the hon. Lady the Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning) will agree with me when I say that it is always bad policy to punish someone before they do anything wrong. I can only agree with the right hon. Member for Wakefield when he says that if we are to nationalise the iron and steel industry—which, apparently, the Prime Minister assures us is to be done during this Parliament—how much better and more statesmanlike it would have been to bring it forward and have the battle this Session, instead of introducing this Bill. I feel that if an authoritative commission had been set up to make recommendations about the reform of the House of Lords, it might have been possible to introduce an agreed Measure. There is far more agreement than some hon. Gentlemen realise between both parties in this House on the subject, and even amongst Members of the House of Lords themselves. If we cannot reach agreement amongst ourselves, then this is one of those questions which should be put to the electorate. The will of the people should be allowed to decide the issue. Certainly, the reform of the House of Lords is not a matter to be treated in the summary and piecemeal manner in which it is being treated today. It certainly is not a fit subject for political bargaining or appeasement within one particular party. I hope that no one will be taken in by the inoffensive or innocuous appearance of this Bill, the brevity of which is really no indication of the importance of the changes which it seeks to bring about. This Bill revokes the last effective power of the House of Lords over legislation passed in this House. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) showed yesterday, the period can be whittled down now to six months. I myself do not wish to argue this afternoon whether it should be two years, one and a half years or a year, because in my mind the real power of the House of Lords has always rested on the moral support in the country, rather than on any actual physical power which it may possess. I think that my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford made that point perfectly clear—that the power of the Lords is really only a power when the great weight of public opinion in the country would be behind them if they had to stand up to the Government. To my mind, what is so thoroughly offensive and objectionable about this Bill is not whether it makes the period one year or a year and a half, but the character of the Bill and its origin. Possibly, it is too much to expect any great love for the House of Lords, as it is at present constituted, among hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, though I feel that many of them who are fair-minded on these matters would agree that, in the past two years, they have carried out their duties in a responsible and conscientious manner. I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite, even if they feel no great love, as many of us do, for the House of Lords as at present constituted, at least feel some contempt for their own Government for having issued a Bill on what is a constitutional question in such a summary and piecemeal manner, with at least some shame for the extremely questionable antecedents and origin of this particular Measure. If they do feel such contempt and shame, which I think is very deserved by the Government, I hope they will support our Amendment.
Mr. Donovan (Leicester, East)
The actual proposal before the House is to reduce the suspensory veto from two years to one, and I am invited to vote against that proposal on the grounds set out in the Amendment, which grounds have been further elaborated in Debate. I want to examine those grounds as fairly and impartially as I can, because I agree with the noble Lord who has just spoken that this is a specially important Measure. The grounds which are suggested are these. First, it is said we have no mandate to do this thing. I think that is debatable, but, whether it is right or not, assuming we have no mandate to do this special thing that would not of itself persuade me that I ought not to consider the proposal on its merits, because Governments cannot be elected merely to do those things set out in their election programme and do no more. Governments are elected to govern, and I know of no general principle which will absolve me of the duty which I owe to my constituents to examine on its merits any proposal that the Government brings forward.The second reason that is suggested is that this will merely serve to distract the attention of the electorate from the economic perils which beset us. I notice no such distracting influence among my constituents. From the moment when this proposal was first mooted until now, the contents of my postbag have remained very much the same—complaints about the abolition of the basic petrol ration, fears about the adequacy of the coal ration during the coming winter, appeals to the Chancellor of the Exchequer through me, which I now pass on to the Financial Secretary who is sitting on the Front Bench, that he will not increase the tobacco tax tomorrow, and various other things like that, but not a word about the suspensory veto. The third reason is that we should not do this at this time. This is a time when there is no actual constitutional conflict with the House of Lords over the rejection of some particular Measure. It is, therefore, a time when feelings are not, or should not be, running high through such happenings; nor is it a time when judgments will be impaired by such high feelings. I feel that it is a far better time to consider proposals of this kind than would be a time when passions were inflamed by some actual conflict with the other House. Then, it is said—and this is a point which was developed with much force and eloquence by the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg)—that we ought not to embark on reform piecemeal, but that, if we are going to do anything at all, we should reform the House of Lords root and branch; in other words, we should go the whole hog. [Laughter.] I did not mean that as a pun. I disagree with that argument. If a particular Measure of reform is of value on its merits, why should we defer it until we can carry out some wider and more general reforms? To argue in that way seems to me to be like arguing that, because one cannot pull down one's house and erect a new one, one should not repair or improve it when one has the chance, and that argument does not convince me. Finally, it is said, "Look at the powers which we leave to the House of Lords. We leave them one year's suspensory veto, which means that, in the last year of the life of this Parliament, the Government will be at the mercy of the other place." I agree that we are doing that, but that seems to me to be the most effective answer to the allegations of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition this afternoon to the effect that we want a single-Chamber Government. If we were doing that, the proposal would be to abolish the veto altogether. The hon. Member for Oxford also said that we should remember the Statutory Rules and Orders, where an absolute veto is given to another place, and yet we were leaving that alone. I agree that that is an illogicality, but the remedy is not to drop this proposal, but to make the veto applicable to Statutory Rules and Orders as well. Therefore, I do not feel constrained on these general grounds to refrain even from considering this proposal on its merits, and when I proceed to do so I find that the real issue is this. What particular virtue is there in a two years' delay which is absent from one year's delay? The only speaker on the Opposition Benches whom I have heard trying to grapple with that problem was the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe), and he gave an example to the House yesterday which I will adapt, supplementing it with actual dates. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that a Bill introduced for its Second Reading in this House, let us say, in November, 1946, would have gone to the House of Lords about June, 1947. The House of Lords throws it out in July, 1947. It is introduced in the Commons again in the next Session in November, 1947, and then the Government says, "Well, we considered this before, and there is no need to go over it again," so that the Bill goes through with tearing speed and its Third Reading is in December, 1947. The right hon. and learned Gentleman says that the only delay is between July, 1947, when the House of Lords threw it out, and December, 1947, when it is read again for the First time in the House of Commons, and obviously that period is certainly less than six months. Obviously, that delay is certainly less than six months, but the delay which is contemplated by the Parliament Act is that between the first Second Reading of the Bill and the third Third Reading. If we are to compare like with like, what we have got to compare here is the period between the first Second Reading and the second Third Reading, that is to say, the period between November, 1946, on the hon. and learned Gentleman's example, and December, 1947, which is one year and one month. That is the period which the Parliament Act contemplates, and for the very good reason that the whole basis of the delay is to give the electorate sufficient time to decide whether they want the Measure, and, if they do not, to make their disapproval very clear to the Government of the day. I think we ought to test this quarrel between one year and two by taking an actual example, which I do not think any one has yet done. Supposing that a Government, without any particular mandate for the purpose, suddenly said, "We are sick and tired of all this slaughter on the roads; no Measure, so far, has stopped it. We are going to take our courage in both hands and abolish road transport in this country altogether, and we will rely once again on the horse and cart and the bicycle for getting about." Such a Measure would evoke a great deal of support because some of us think that 6,000 lives a year is a hideous blot on our way of life. Other people would oppose such a Measure on the ground that it is the price we have to pay for the convenience which motor transport affords. The country would certainly be divided into two over such a proposal, and a proposal of that kind would cut right across party lines. Let us assume that the House of Lords threw out such a Bill. Does anyone suggest that a year, between the Second Reading of the Bill and its final Third Reading in this House would be an insufficient time for the electorate to make up its mind on the proposal? There are many ways in which electorates can make their views felt by the Government of the day, however great its majority may be. There are by-elections, public meetings, the Press, petitions, the reception that Members of Parliament get when they attend meetings in their own constituencies, and, if the House likes, I will throw in local municipal elections. Therefore, I do not see why it should be necessary to give the electorate two years instead of one in order to make it quite clear to the Government of the day what the wishes of the electorate are. I am fortified in that view by what happened in this House in 1907 when, by a large majority and after a three days' Debate, it passed a Resolution in the following terms:
We are not going nearly so far as that Resolution, one of the chief speakers in support of which was the present Leader of the Opposition. The title of the book in which that Resolution is set out, is Taswell Langmead's "Constitutional History, Tenth Edition," published in 1946. The writer goes on to say:"That in order to give effect to the will of the people as expressed by their elected representatives, it is necessary that the power of the other House to alter or reject Bills passed by this House should be so restricted by law as to secure that within the limits of a single Parliament the final decision of the Commons should prevail."
That was the proposal supported by the Leader of the Opposition in 1907, and, accordingly, this Measure is not some outrageous Socialist Bill. We are merely following in the footsteps of the Liberals of 1907. For those reasons, I retrain completely unconvinced, having given this matter as impartial a consideration as I can, that two years are really necessary. I see no special virtue in two years over one, and I therefore propose to vote in support of the Second Reading."No legislation was proposed at the moment, but Campbell Bannerman put forward the outlines of a scheme whereby a Bill passed by the Commons and rejected by the Lords should become law if three successive private conferences between the two Houses failed to secure agreement, the Bill having been passed by the Commons afresh as a preliminary to the second and third conferences. The scheme did not touch the composition of the House of Lords, did not contemplate a general election intervening and involved a delay which need not be much more than 12 months."
Mr. Maclay (Montrose Burghs)
This is the first time that I have had the privilege of following the hon. and learned Member for East Leicester (Mr. Donovan), and I must confess that I found his speech rather an irritation, because as he made his points—he made them very clearly; one could follow them quite easily—one wanted to deal with them because there was not one of them which stood on its own merits. While I would be delighted to do that, and while I think the hon. and learned Gentleman would welcome it, I am afraid that if I did, I should overrun the time at my disposal. I would, however, like to pick up one thing that he said about mandates. I share the view that he expressed on mandates; there has been a good deal of talk about mandates throughout this Debate. I hold that because a Government do not make something absolutely clear in their pre-election manifesto, that is no reason why they should not do it. But, equally, I do not believe that because a Government have put something into their pre-election manifesto, which events prove to be quite un suited to the country and unsuited to the times in which we are living, there is not every good reason why they should reject it. I will come back to that point shortly.It so happens that in the last two weeks certain duties took me abroad, and while I was out of the country I was extremely impressed to find the amount of intelligent interest abroad in what was going on in this country. There were two points which were steadily put to me during those two weeks, points which, apparently, were arousing great interest. I was repeatedly asked what was their significance. The first of those points, possibly quite understandably, was the result of the municipal elections. The answer to that one was very easy; it was merely to reply that they were interesting. But, may I add, the results of those elections had visibly brought heart and encouragement to many abroad who, even today, look to these islands for good sound sense and democratic inspiration. The other question was put in various forms; it was, "What is all this about the House of Lords?"
Mr. A. Edward Davies (Burslem)
Will the hon. Gentleman tell us where it was that he spent his time abroad?
It was in France, and I happened to meet people from a great many European countries and even from the other side of the Atlantic. That was the question I was asked about the House of Lords. It may interest hon. Members opposite to know precisely what was going through the minds of the people there, and I am not fooling the House when I say that they were very interested. The first thing they asked was whether it had something to do with the Iron and Steel Bill, or whether it was an attempt to divert the attention of the country from the failure of the Government. People abroad have a great admiration for the British Constitution; they know that we do not tamper with it light-heartedly.I will tell the House, quite frankly, my answer. Although I am not an admirer of the present Government and abominate the theories to which they are attached, my natural instinct when abroad is to find an excuse for what happens in this country, regardless of who is responsible for it. I found that that natural instinct prevailed, and what I did was to shrug my shoulders. After a few days in France, even a Scot in spite of himself finds that a shrug of the shoulders can become fairly expressive. When I came back here I listened to almost the whole of yesterday's Debate and I read what I did not listen to. I sought guidance because I was not clear, and I am not very clear yet, whether we are dealing with a great constitutional issue, or something to do with the iron and steel industry, or a combination of both, or what. The Home Secretary, I think—unfortunately, I did not jot down his words—towards the end of the Debate rather damped the general atmosphere, when he said that this was not a very great thing; it was a question of two years or one year. But the Lord President of the Council said:
Then later on, he did not seem to know what it was about, because he said:"Today and tomorrow we are discussing an important constitutional issue."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th November. 1947; Vol 444. c. 36.]
The Lord President devoted about half of his speech to explaining and making the best possible case he could for the Bill, and, considering the very poor grounds he had to go on, he did not do too badly. But as for the rest of his speech, it was quite clear to me that he was endeavouring to raise this matter right up into the realms of a great issue. He was trying a double-barrelled effort. He was firing one barrel to bring down, in every sense of the words, the iron and steel industry, and he was firing off the other barrel into the blue in the odd hope that something would come down which would be very useful to him at the next Election, if not before."I beg the Opposition not to get hightyflighty about this and not to get into a state of neurosis about it. There is nothing to get into a state of neurosis about. Let them not engage in any flighty tricks of eloquence."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10TH November, 1947; Vol. 444, c. 53.]
Mr. Naylor (Southwark, South-East)
Is it not a fact that in yesterday's Debate the Lord President of the Council also said that this was a question not of principle but of degree?
He may have said that, but the fact remains that during part of his speech he merely treated the matter as a piece of routine, having started by saying that it was a constitutional issue. He then tried to damp it down by talking steadily of what it would do, and then again he went off into this big business about it being a constitutional issue, and trying to work up opinion on those grounds. That was certainly the impression one got, sitting through the Debate. I think the best appreciation of the situation was given fairly late last night by the hon. and learned Member for Llandaff and Barry (Mr. Ungoed-Thomas) when he said:
The Lord President of the Council was sitting alongside him. He kept a reasonably impassive face throughout that statement, and although I am not going to assert whether he agreed or disagreed with it, he certainly did not stand up and disagree with it. It is from that aspect that we ought to be looking at this Bill. My own view is this: Whatever the original reasons were for producing the Bill, it now emerges as the clearest possible admission by the Government that whatever the position may have been in 1945, today they recognise that the great majority of the people would not, if given the chance, agree to the nationalisation of any part of the iron and steel industry. Let us look at this point carefully. I am quite convinced that this must have been running through everybody's mind, or else we would never have had this Bill at this time. It is utterly irrelevant to the present situation. If the Government are confident that the country still wants the nationalisation of the steel industry, why should they not allow the ordinary processes to continue? Why should they not allow it to reach a General Election, even if it so happens that the Lords do something about it and do not allow it through? They have not brought it forward this Session. It may come forward next Session—I do not know—but the Government appear to assume that the Lords will take a certain attitude about it. Even if that is so, why are not the Government prepared to allow this matter to go to the country again? Of course, the country has learned quite a lot since 1945. It has had some experience of nationalisation. It knows some of the consequences. It is thinking again, and thinking very hard. But even so, let us consider the attitude of the Lords to this question. I think it is fair to say that throughout this Debate it has been generally agreed that in the last-few years, and even much longer, the Lords have very carefully observed their constitutional position. I do not think anybody would deny that. I have understood that position to be that they should not use their powers to stand in the way of the wishes of the people. It is not a question of the wishes of the Government, but of the people, and the Lords have not stood in the way of the wishes of the people in the past. Why is it assumed by the Government that the House of Lords are going to take some curious act ion in relation to the iron and steel Bill if it comes forward?—because that assumption has run right through this Debate. Is it because the Government realise the Lords, in taking such action, may be acting in accordance with the wishes of the people, and the Government want to prevent it? That is the question one is bound to ask oneself. I have said what I have to say about the mandate. We are now reaching the stage where the Government should be quite frank about their mandate in connection with iron and steel, and admit what people have been left to guess—namely, that the Government are profoundly divided among themselves on the question. I do not know whether the Government can improve on their present technique of nationalisation—I do not believe it is possible—but let the Government admit that their present technique of nationalisation can only be disastrous to the steel industry which is of such vital importance to the country. Speaking for my colleagues and myself, we believe that this Bill is untimely. It is completely irrelevant to the real problems which the Government and the House of Commons should be tackling today. At best, it is a very dubious device for making more possible the passage of a Bill which experience in every direction shows should not be passed. As for the Home Secretary's remarks about the Bill not being directed only to the iron and steel Bill, they do not bear investigation because if other Bills appear which need slowing down they need slowing down. It is quite clear that the need must arise over a great issue like the iron and steel issue, and not over a series of others. Another point about the Bill is that it is designed to rouse feelings. I take up the hon. and learned Member for East Leicester there. I agree that my postbag is not full of letters on this subject at the moment, but if this Bill were exploited by either side it could rouse very violent feelings and divide the people artificially at a time when the one thing that is really needed is unity in this country. The hon. and learned Member, if he listened to the opening speech of the Lord President of the Council, must realise that this matter has dangerous possibilities of creating a real division of opinion in the country if it is exploited for that purpose. In brief, this is a bad Bill and I am not going to vote for it. Let me, however, make this clear. We on this bench do think there is a very strong case for a comprehensive study to be made of the whole question of the House of Lords. I myself would like to see it conducted, if possible, on an all-party basis. Although there seems to be some dispute today as to the constitutional position, I do feel that, whatever decision may be arrived at, if there are to be changes in the constitution of the House of Lords the country should be allowed the chance to express its views of them. I feel this very sincerely, because an unwritten Constitution has great advantages, but a country which has an unwritten Constitution has all the greater responsibility for seeing that any changes that are made are only made with the full consent of the people."The reality of this Debate—to get away from these constitutional conundrums which the Opposition are bringing forward—is whether or not the Government is to be enabled to carry the iron and steel Bill through or not. That is the reality of it, and I do not believe that there is any point either on the part of the Opposition or on the Government side of the House in concealing this reality that underlies this Bill."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th November, 1947; Vol. 444, c. 141.]
Mr. Turner-Samuels (Gloucester)
The hon. Member for Montrose Burghs (Mr. Maclay) started his speech by throwing some doubt upon the substantiality of the points which had been raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Leicester (Mr. Donovan). At all events, it struck me that the distinction between the two speeches was, that whereas what the hon. and learned Member for East Leicester said was relevant, what the hon. Member for Montrose Burghs said was completely irrelevant. The first point that the hon. Member made was that the Bill was itself irrelevant—so we carry the irrelevance a bit further. He could not understand why it was justified, and particularly, why the present moment was selected for its introduction. Does he really mean that? Are we really to believe that there is such density in this House, that hon. Members are incapable of understanding why this Chamber at this particular time should be considering this particular Measure? This Parliament has run practically half its lifetime, and we have come to a point of time now when the suspensory power of the House of Lords is not only dangerous, but dangerous to the extent of being capable of completely neutralising and destroying the whole of the rest of the legislation that is sent up to it from this House. I have not heard a single voice from the other side attempt to deny that fact. Of course, it is undeniable; not only in fact, but undeniable in law, because the Parliament Act provides that power enabling the House of Lords to secure that result.The Opposition's case is so weak, so attenuated, and requires so much commiseration, that it is being said in mitigation "Oh, well, the House of Lords has been awfully good, so why assume that after over two years of exemplary conduct, in which they have accepted the Government's legislation, they are now going to act differently?" I will tell the Opposition why I assume it. Because it is only at this point and from this point that they gain anything by acting differently. In regard to the legislation which has already transpired, whatever they may have done to reject the work which came from this House in obedience to its mandate whatever the House of Lords may have done either to mutilate that legislation or completely to reject it, the amount of time then left would still have enabled that legislation to become law in the lifetime of this Parliament. That is not the case as regards legislation for the rest of this Parliament. Therefore, for anyone to ask why the Government choose this time seems to me to be somewhat strange.
There cannot be any controversy about that. Now I come to the question which was interjected—it was just a little bit of party prejudice—about nationalisation. The hon. Member for Montrose Burghs said that people today know more about nationalisation than they did in 1945. What they do know it that they have at last got some nationalisation, and to that extent they have had an opportunity of judging the fruits of nationalisation. The first nationalisation was that of the Bank of England. I have not heard anyone suggest that that institution, which controlled the whole of the financial manipulations of this country, ought not to be in the hands of public ownership.
Does one ever hear anybody now say, "Safe as the Bank of England"?
That was the first thing that was done. Why was that? That was really a nominal operation. Up to that point, and particularly during the war, the Bank and the finances of the Bank had come under the control of the Government. So the argument cannot be made against the nationalisation of the Bank of England.The next Measure of nationalisation was that of the coal mines. Is there anybody—I do ask this of the hon. Member for Montrose Burghs, who I suppose, claims that he is a Liberal—is there any radical, progressive-minded person who believes that it was possible to do anything with the mines but nationalise them?
Yes, there were other proposals. But the hon, and learned Member should pay attention to the rest of my speech, since he is quoting it so much. I guarded myself on this very question of the time to judge the results, by saying that even on the visible technique we see that the thing is wrong. Consider the National Coal Board. Can the hon. and learned Gentleman pretend that the present structure of the Coal Board is even remotely right, or that anybody understands how to work the thing?
All I can say in reply to the hon. Gentleman, who has just allowed himself another little slice of prejudice, is that we are getting production of coal today in such proportions as we have never had before—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—and for the first time. Of course, hon. Members opposite do not like these things.
Mr. Osborne (Louth)
They are not true.
They are true, and you have to face them. What the Opposition like is to have the Leader of the Opposition get up and give to the House an absolute caricature of constitutional law, and say things about un employment which absolutely will not bear a moment's examination, and try to disguise the fact that not only was there unemployment perpetua