Government Policy

Part of Orders of the Day — King's Speech – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 29th October 1947.

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Photo of Miss Megan Lloyd George Miss Megan Lloyd George , Anglesey 12:00 am, 29th October 1947

I am glad to hear that, but they are all absolutely essential to agriculture. I am only anxious to find out whether these people who are essential to the working of this great plan which is put forward by the Government are to be given houses. These are really not trivial details. All these things make the difference between the failure or success of this vital policy for the cutting down of imports. After all, we are dealing with the most effective way of saving dollar imports.

I should like to say a word about the proposal of the Government with regard to the House of Lords. Great indignation has been expressed in many quarters that the Government should choose this moment to amend the Parliament Act of 1911. It is said that it is not necessary, I think the Leader of the Opposition called it an act of social aggression. If I may so so, that description would be far more justly applied to the proposals of 1911 of which the right hon. Gentleman himself was a sponsor. This is a milk and water, an anaemic proposal by the Government, and I should have thought its very tameness would have been shocking to such a full-blooded revolutionary as was the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. The truth is that the right hon. Gentleman is looking at this question from the other side of the barricades this time, and his judgment is naturally influenced by that. We have been asked why do this thing now? There has been no conflict for 30 years. There has been no cause for a conflict. With the exception of two short periods and the Coalition Governments of the two wars, there have been Conservative Governments in this country, and the House of Lords has only been asked to pass Conservative legislation. There was no virtue in that. The truth is that for 30 years we have had in this country two Houses with a single reactionary purpose. That is the real truth of the matter.

But hon. and right hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway say, "Look how exemplary has been the behaviour of the House of Lords in the last two trying years; they have passed the Transport Bill and the Coal Nationalisation Bill with hardly a groan. Of course, because they knew perfectly well that whatever they did, those two Bills would become law by the automatic working of the Parliament Act and their only power, therefore, was to delay the operation of those two Acts over two sessions. But what is going to happen next year when their veto becomes operative? That is the question. What guarantee has the Government that they will not use their veto? Of course nobody can guarantee such immunity, not even the Leader of the Opposition. I believe myself that no Government, placed as the present Government are placed, would be wise to take that risk. If the good behaviour of the Lords is going to continue as hon. and right hon. Gentlemen have implied, why then this opposition to the extension of the Parliament Act? Why stir up all this trouble? Why foster disunity if the Lords are going to behave in the exemplary manner they have already done? To me—and I may say that this is not an hereditary view although it would be all the better if it were—it is not a question of whether one agrees with the nationalisation of iron and steel. To my mind that has nothing to do with it. The issue today is the same as the issue was in 1911, whether a totally unrepresentative Chamber is going to be permitted to frustrate the will of the elected representatives of the people.

Finally there are some who say that this is a political irrelevancy at this time. Perhaps in this connection I may be permitted to make one quotation from a speech made in 1911 by the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the day. He was referring to the Liberal Government, but it applies equally in my mind to a Socialist Government. He said: If the peers rejected their Measures or mutilated them, they were not fighting the Liberal Party, they were making a mockery of free institutions. I believe that that is equally true today, and I believe that such a thing cannot be called political irrelevancy at any time in a democratic country. If I may say so, there is a very much deeper and more potent cause of disunity in this country, and that is the class antagonism which sometimes unfortunately is fostered by members on both sides of the House, and particularly unfortunately by some Ministers. The worst of the offenders has now been confined to barracks. Yesterday it was clear that war had been declared also from the benches above the Gangway. Yesterday Marlborough went to war—the party war—and although the Leader of the Opposition ended up with a stirring appeal for national unity, yet he spent the greater part of his speech in beating the Tory drum as only he can beat the drum. I think that here are far more potent causes of national disunity. I regret it, because I myself believe that the people of this country, exhausted though they are by six years of war, discouraged by rationing and by the prospect of long austerity, if they are united, can show the world that they are still capable of doing what they did during the war, and of showing that endurance and that courage that alone will bring us through the economic crisis.