Orders of the Day — Parliament Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 10th November 1947.

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Photo of Mr David Maxwell Fyfe Mr David Maxwell Fyfe , Liverpool, West Derby 12:00 am, 10th November 1947

I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words: 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. We have just listened to a learned and lengthy essay in constitutional history and practice, and' I cannot help thinking that if anyone had come into this Chamber, like Rip Van Winkle or some other person returning from a long absence, he would have had the greatest difficulty in realising that this country was in the middle of the greatest, most serious economic crisis it had ever faced in its history. Although the timing and the background of this Bill about which the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President of the Council has said so little, have probably shocked more people than its substance, I am quite prepared to take up the challenge the right hon. Gentleman has thrown down and deal with the essential demerits of the subject of the Bill which he has commended to the House.

Before I deal with these arguments it is only right to examine the proposition which we put forward, and which the right hon. Gentleman has skirted round, that this Bill has no mandate, justification or public demand. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that in another place on 9th September, Lord Hall, speaking, as he said specifically, not for himself but for the Government, that is, making a clear and considered Cabinet declaration, said Noble Lords opposite have used their majority here in a moderate and statesmanlike way, and in a manner which has given us on this side of the House no real or reasonable ground of complaint. That was the position on 9th September of this year. In addition, of the peers who are still in the Socialist Government there are a noble nine—two earls, two viscounts and five barons—who have each seriatim made statements to the same effect in almost identical words. I do not want to weary the House by going over the number of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite who have made similar statements but, in view of the right hon. Gentleman's attempt to lessen what he called the praise from various quarters that had been given to the House of Lords, I think it is only right to quote what the right hon. Gentleman said only a few months ago. He said: Members of the House of Lords co-operate to the full in respecting the wishes of the British democracy as expressed in the Lower House. So we have seen the remarkable and characteristically British spectacle of a Chamber with a large Right wing majority passing one nationalisation Bill after another. The right hon. Gentleman went on: The rarity of a conflict between the Lords and Commons is nowadays so great that most people take the smooth working of the Houses for granted. The right hon. Gentleman had no reason to deviate from the truth or to desire to deviate from the truth when he made that statement. If that statement was correct 12 months ago and Lord Hall's Cabinet pronouncement was correct on 9th September, there is nothing but the merest nonsense and misleading collection of words in saying that any occasion has arisen for the subject of this Measure or what it is going to do. It is right that we should, when we are considering this Measure not concentrate as the right hon. Gentleman tried to do by the trend of his speech, on what happened from 1906 to 1910 before the Parliament Act was passed, but consider for a few moments what has happened during the time when the right hon. Gentleman's own Government has been in office and sending Measures to the House of Lords.

I take one example, partly because it is not unfamiliar to me and partly because it is a typical example of a hotly contested Bill. I take the Transport Act, as it is now. In that case in the House of Lords the Government themselves had to make Amendments to the Bill to meet their own needs to the tune of 86; they made a further 53 Amendments to meet the Opposition's points; and they accepted no fewer than 91 Amendments from the Opposition in another place, a total of 230 Amendments being made to the Bill. That compares with the 137 which were discussed and not made. If one takes a non-controversial Bill like the Companies Act, which was introduced in the House of Lords, one finds there that, as the Minister for Economic Affairs said the other day, nearly 360 Amendments—useful and helpful Amendments—were made to that Bill in the House of Lords.