Orders of the Day — Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 19th October 1945.

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Photo of Mr Oliver Lyttelton Mr Oliver Lyttelton , Aldershot 12:00 am, 19th October 1945

I will be as brief as I can on a matter of this importance. It would be ungrateful, I think, if I did not thank the Home Secretary for those concessions which he has been able to make, however meagre they are, to the representations made from this side of the House. They have undoubtedly improved the Bill, although they have not met the main charges which we have leveled against it. I was much amused and not a little annoyed to read in an organ of the Left Wing the other day a headline which said, "The Home Secretary gets tough when the Tories obstruct." It is not obstruction to try to elicit information from Ministers. It is not a loss of time which can be laid to the charge of the Opposition when they do not get the information which is asked for, and it is not obstruction to seek to preserve the rights of discussion which we hold dear and to bring Measures so far reaching as this under the further control and discussion of Parliament.

No argument of substance—a few sophistries and specious arguments, but no argument of substance—has been advanced to support the period of five years. I propose in the few words which I will offer to the House to turn aside from the many unsatisfactory replies and evasions on points of detail with which we have been met during these discussions, but this is part and parcel of an attempt to stifle Parliamentary discussion of vital Measures. Just as in the Vote of Credit sums were asked for which will preclude us from raising financial points on a Vote of Credit until next March—a practice departing greatly from that which the Coalition Government pursued during the war—here is another attempt to stifle and to limit the powers of Parliamentary discussion. Hon. Members opposite are very fond of saying their little piece about a mandate from the people. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I see that the keenness is still there. Let me remind them that the first mandate which a constituency gives to its Member is to be a Member of Parliament, and it is his duty to try to protect the individual citizen from unlimited incursions by the Executive. I do not often indulge in prophecy, because I like to be of honour in my own country, but I will be so bold as to make one prophecy. There will be many hon. Members who support the Government who will live to regret this derogation from their powers which they are now giving to the Government.

Powers are sought for the first time of almost limitless extent—powers which are far beyond, and this is in the admission of the Government, those that were needed during the greatest war in which this country has ever been engaged. They are sought for a period of five years, which is a period just beyond the life of this Parliament. No reply of an effective nature, not even a crack of the whip such as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade treated us to this morning, has been advanced against the argument of my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden).

Let me remind the House what the principal argument was. It was that in war time the Coalition Government came to this House year by year, in those times of great national crisis, to renew these powers. Now, in times of peace, we are told that these powers must be extended beyond the life of the present Parliament. Great parties are not founded upon Parliamentary tactics of that kind. Policies cannot mature into full fruitfulness for the benefit of the people unless they are ripened in the light and sunshine of public opinion. If nothing is to be done, except by negative Resolutions, for five years, then, I say, we have witnessed, in my opinion, a sorry Parliamentary display in the alacrity of hon. Members opposite, in going into the Lobby and using the honoured rights of this ancient House to support such a proposal. I would remind hon. Members opposite that an analysis of the votes of the country would show that votes given in the General Election for those who voted against the Government the other day exceed the votes in the General Election for those who voted for it.

We agree, to sum the whole matter up, that powers of this nature, but not to this extent, are necessary to counter discontent from which we shall admittedly suffer during the next three months and longer. This is a time when the whole world is in a very fluid condition, and no man can predict with accuracy what conditions will supervene in six months' time. But while we agree that powers of this nature, but not to this extent, are necessary to the Government we condemn, out of hand, the duration of the Bill and the duration of the powers which they seek. The attitude of the Government is calculated to widen as far as possible cleavages in opinion. That sometimes cannot be avoided, but the Government are widening them unnecessarily at this moment, at a time, when I say with every sincerity, it is our duty to try to narrow them as far as possible, so that we may be able to achieve some degree of national unity in facing the great problems of the restoration of our people and our prosperity, which now confront us. For no substantial reasons, these cleavages are being widened, and the Government show an instinct, if not a policy, for placing ideological and partisan doctrines against the right of discussion that will lower our position outside this country. We can look back over a long line of those who spent their lives, and sometimes lost their lives, in defence of Parliamentary institutions and who, if they could see these powers which the Government now seek, would turn in their graves.