Orders of the Day — Parliament Bill

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

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Photo of Mr William Wells Mr William Wells , Walsall 12:00 am, 10th December 1947

For two years, we on this side of the House have been accustomed to hearing criticisms of the Government on the score that they have undertaken too much legislation. From today onwards, they appear to be criticised from a different angle, that they are not undertaking enough legislation. In the middle of an economic crisis of quite unparalleled gravity, so we are told, the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) today proposes a Measure of fundamental and far-reaching constitutional importance to be agreed between the two parties, no doubt by means of a series of constitutional conferences on the lines proposed by the right hon. Gentleman the senior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter) in his speech on the Committee stage.

I cannot conceive a more inopportune moment than this for such a Measure as is proposed by the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden, who has, indeed, a great and justified reputation as the architect of reform in the educational world; but; because the particular technique which he and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary employed was found useful on that Measure, that is no argument for saying that the same method should be applied when we find ourselves confronted, as we do today, with a situation in which the whole of the remainder of the Government's programme may be—and one must emphasise the word "may"—prejudiced by the action of another place.

The right hon. Gentleman produced some very happy and amusing metaphors, as we should expect from him, about the attitude of hon. Members on this side of the House towards another place. I think that, whatever some of us may have said in our youth, in our sober old age today it would be hard indeed to find anything but bouquets which we have presented to another place, and, indeed, most hon. Gentlemen opposite who spoke on Second Reading prefaced their speeches with quotations from speeches on this side of the House about the admirable work which another place is doing. I think that the history of this case, and the history of our programme and the way it has been put into force, shows that the House of Lords has been quite reasonable and sensible, and has accorded the proper constitutional treatment to Bills sent from this House, and that these facts are a sufficient refutation in themselves of any suggestion that we on this side of the House are actuated by some hostility, or actuated by spite, as the right hon. Gentleman suggested.

As to the charge of tinkering, there was a very significant sentence in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman when he said that any constitutional changes brought about by Measures such as this would not last I can only speak for myself, but I should imagine that the last thing which anybody on this side of the House would desire would be that it should last. On the face of it, it is merely a temporary expedient to deal with a temporary situation.