The Undersecretary has met what I thank is an unparalleled Parliamentary situation with his usual agility and his usual air of sweet reason, but the attitude which the Government propose to adopt places a great many of their most ardent supporters in a position of very considerable difficulty. We had a prolonged Debate on the Report stage of the Clause as it was then proposed, and I pointed out a number of difficulties that must arise. I also said that a great many of us desired that this question of blind alley occupation should be dealt with adequately and in a national way, which was possible, in order to ensure that we should have some uniformity throughout the country. After Chat prolonged Debate and after certain pledges had been given by the Home Secretary, added to by the Under-Secretary, the House thought fit to reject the Amendment. I made an appeal to the Noble Lady who moved the Amendment, pointing out that she was placing those who believed in this proposal, in principle, in a position of great difficulty, because we should have to vote against an Amendment when we were in favour of its principle. We had to survive that difficulty and we did so, and now we have been placed in another.
We are now placed in a situation in which this, apparently, is to happen. We are to be invited to pass legislation which is to take its place on the Statute Book of this Realm and we are to be told at the same time that it means nothing, is never going to be enforced and that nothing is to be done about it. I do not care what Government is in office, I protest against this House being dealt with in such a manner. I believe that if the Government's pledge, which I accepted before and which I am ready and willing to accept now, were given again the fear that the people in the constituencies will not understand what the National Government are doing and will, apparently, be minded to support another place instead of supporting the National Government, would not be worthy of our consideration. To add to the legislation that we are passing something which stultifies that legislation and to have at the same time a pledge from a responsible Member of the Government that no attempt at all will be made to implement that legislation and to make it effective, is merely to place those of us who come here with a desire to grapple with the problems of the country in a position of considerable difficulty and even to place us in a position of complete nonentity. Such a proposal I should think has rarely if ever been submitted to this House. I believe that if the Government made a plain statement on this matter with the same courage that it shows when it refuses to act about some things we desire them to act about, there would be no misunderstanding in the country and no misunderstanding in the constituencies.
When this matter was raised on the Report stage we had another example of Front Bench agility. This time it came from the Home Secretary on the 12th May. In page 265, col. 2150 of the OFFICIAL REPORT, he explained why it was that the Government felt that they could not deal with the matter in this Bill and at this time. He pointed out that the Measure was introduced as a non-controversial Measure. So far as I am
concerned this topic is not a matter of controversy. I was interested to hear from the right hon. Gentleman that, apparently, it was a matter that might be a topic of controversy. He went on to say that:
The Bill went through Second Reading with universal approval. No opposition was raised on this ground.
That is, on the ground that this topic was going to be dealt with.
Suppose we now say, Very well, now that we have got through the Second Reading, in Committee or on the Report stage we will put in this controversial matter, would that be dealing fairly with the House or with the interests outside that had objected to this provision?
I am not much concerned with interests outside, but I am pointing out what the right hon. Gentleman said as the reason for the attitude which the Government then adopted:
I think the provision is a good one, but there are others who object. Suppose some hon. Member, of a suspicious nature, had risen on Second Reading and said, 'There are some hon. Members who desire to have in the Bill a Clause to which we object. The Government have introduced this Measure without that Clause, and have said this is going to be a non-controversial Bill. If I allow the Second Reading to go through without opposition, of course you will not afterwards come forward and say, "We are very sorry, but we find it necessary to introduce this controversial Clause." 'If any such assurance had been asked for, a representative of the Government would have given that assurance. We could not at one and the same time say, 'This is a non-controversial Bill, pass it on that basis, but later on, after it has passed through one or two stages without being obstructed, we may—'
An hon. Member asked whether that was a hypothetical question or was that assurance given. The right hon. Gentleman continued:
No, there was not an hon. Member who would have thought it possible.
The hon. Member then said: "It is hypothetical," and the right hon. Gentleman replied:
Quite. No such assurance was given, because no such request was made.
The matter was dealt with at very considerable length, and a full explanation was given. A little later in the Debate my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary again referred to it. He said:
In moving the Second Reading I gave the reasons why we had omitted it, and it was in those circumstances that those who are not particularly interested in the rest of
the Bill and who would have been violently opposed to such a provisions as this, took none of the steps which are open to the Opposition to any particular proposal and did not oppose the Second Reading."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th May, 1932; cols. 2150–2151, 2195, Vol. 265.]
I want to make it plain to the House that I am not one of those who was opposed in principle to this proposal and I cannot help feeling that as we were warned on that occasion by the right hon. Gentleman that some opposition had been lulled to sleep by virtue of the form that the Bill took, we as private Members ought not now, although we may believe in this particular proposal, as a principle, to take any part in committing what I believe would be a breach of faith with those persons whose opposition was lulled to sleep on the basis that this was non-controversial and that this controversial thing to them would not be included. Speaking for myself, I suggest to the Government that to invite us now, in face of what two representatives of the Government said on the Report stage, to go back on all that and accept a Clause which was riddled with criticism at the time, and has been riddled by the most powerful criticism of the Undersecretary of State in the course of the last few moments, to ask us to do this practically without debate and without any real opportunity of welding this legislation into something like a useful shape, is to invite us to stultify ourselves and the whole proceedings of this House.
I regret extremely the attitude which the Government have adopted. They are straining the loyalty of people who have been brought here with a desire to support them to the last degree in everything they do, and I ask them to consider whether it is not possible, instead of passing legislation with a stay of execution upon it in order to prevent the Lords being misunderstood in the constituencies, to take the obvious and proper course, to disagree with the Amendment and consider the introduction of legislation which would be acceptable to all and which would really grapple with a problem which this House ought to have grappled with long ago.