I beg to move;
That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty as follows:
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.
On many occasions I have listened with interest to those who have had the honour of moving the Motion for the Address to his Most Gracious Majesty. I admired their self-possession and their flow of oratory. I am no orator, but I desire to put before the House what I want to say in plain matter-of-fact language, and I hope the House will bear with me in the ordeal.
First of all, I consider it an honour to the constituency that I have been privileged to represent since 1935. The Sedgefield Division is a large county constituency with numerous villages and varied industries, including agriculture, mining, shipbuilding and the great I.C.I. works at Billingham, and now, many light industries. When I first toured the constituency in 1935 it was heartbreaking to see once prosperous villages lying derelict, the young people away in search of work and the old folk left to eke out a meagre existence on public assistance. When the war came the youths rushed to the colours. They did not wait to be conscripted. Those left behind who had not had a job for upwards of ten years found work in essential industries, including the great munition factories at Aycliffe, now to become an industrial town under a town and country planning scheme.
Since the war, what a change has come over the district, no longer a distressed area! Factories have sprung up employing thousands, especially women, who in pre-war days had to leave home for domestic service in big towns and cities. Agriculture has entered on a new lease of life. Hitherto Britain had been viewed as a purely manufacturing country, but two wars brought home the folly of relying so much on countries overseas for our food supplies. Britain has an excellent food market within a short distance of most farms. We produce good livestock and grow vegetables and fruits of the best kind. The bounties of Nature should be utilised for the good of humanity. With guaranteed prices and assured markets, the farming community in my constituency has confidence in the future, and this they assured me when I toured the agricultural villages during the Recess.
It is now universally acknowledged that coal is the life-blood of industry, but it required a war for the miner to come into his own. Too long the miner risked his life for a sweated wage. The miners in my constituency are giving of their best in increased production, and absenteeism is infinitesimal. In the past the extraction of oil and by-products has been neglected. I had an opportunity of visiting the greatest research station in the world and was shown what could be produced from coal—salts, dyes, soaps, perfumes, plastics—and one scientist showed us a beautiful pair of opera glasses made entirely from coal—
This side of the coal industry will, I hope, be utilised to the full. In one of his greatest speeches delivered during the war, the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) paid a well deserved tribute to the workers which I
think is worth quoting. Here is what he said:
The spontaneous, sustained goodwill of the labouring masses of the country is the sole foundation upon which we can escape from our present difficulties.
This is a truth worth remembering. What was true during the war is equally true today in the present economic situation. Tees-side is now a flourishing hive of industry. The great I.C.I. works, with extensions, will employ thousands. The Haverton Hill shipyard has orders on hand to keep the yard busy for the next three years.
Right hon. and hon. Members may know the interest which I have taken in shop life reform, and I want to crave the indulgence of the House for a moment to mention this subject briefly. The question of shops legislation has been very fruitful of commissions of inquiry—no fewer than seven—and the evidence has been overwhelming of the injurious effect of long hours, especially upon women and children. The two wars brought about many changes and not the least was the change in the shopping habits of the public. Traders rightly viewed late closing as a wicked waste of fuel and light, and the same applies today. The Report of the Gower Committee, like the curate's egg, is good and bad in parts. The findings of the Committee on certain aspects are good, but on early closing they are against the views of traders and shop workers alike. Here is an occupation, which is purely domestic, where shorter hours are possible without inconvenience to the shop-ping public. There is no foreign competition and no international complications. Prior to the war 47 and 48 hours operated in quite a number of foreign countries, and, therefore, why should Britain lag behind? I am sure that the whole House sympathises with the Home Secretary in his multifarious duties. He certainly had a very harassing time during the last Session. I hope that the coming Sessions will he easier for him and that time will be found to deal with the Gower Report.
The only Measure proposed in the Gracious Speech is the very moderate Bill to limit the power of veto of the Lords to one year instead of two. The issue before the House was well discussed in November and December of last year. Vetoes, as we have seen in foreign affairs, are a source of irritation and, what is worse, a handicap to progressive ideas. In the Debate on 10th November last I ventured to say that the 1911 Act was a bitter disappointment to those who saw no need for a hereditary Chamber, and that a non-elected Chamber should not have power to reject Measures passed by an elected House of Commons. The demonstrations of that period certainly showed clearly what public opinion thought. The Bill, however, does not propose to alter the composition of the second Chamber, although it is true that many great statesmen of all parties in the past denounced the hereditary Chamber.
In my lifetime I have seen many changes, some considered to be of a constitutional character, changes which in other countries might have led to a revolution. Happily our people are not of mercurial temperament, and British politicians are proverbially inclined to compromises without resorting to the outrageous conduct so frequent in some other Parliaments. I cannot see why there should be any bitter recriminations in debating such a moderate Measure, and therefore I hope that sweet reason will prevail. I know that many hon. Members on this side would have preferred the Government to go further, but one step is enough for the time being. Much will depend on how the Bill fares in the other House. In all these matters the will of the people must prevail—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—I am glad that that remark meets with universal approval—and therefore it is essential that this Bill should become law in order to ensure that Parliament in the future will be able to carry out the programmes placed before the people without the danger of interference from a non-elected second Chamber.
In conclusion, in the words of Abraham Lincoln:
With malice towards none, with charity towards all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we have in hand.
I beg to second the Motion which was so ably moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Leslie).
My hon. Friend has spent many years in this House; I came here comparatively recently, and I crave that sympathy and good will which, in my time here, I have always known the House to extend to every Member faithfully endeavouring to carry out the task assigned to him. In being called upon to discharge this high duty, I deeply appreciate the honour conferred, through me, on my constituency, the ancient borough of Cambridge, a town eminently deserving of honour. Many a person on hearing the word "Cambridge" thinks first, perhaps, of what is normally the leading craft in a gay procession along the Thames once a year, or else of railway posters with pictures of King's College Chapel; but Cambridge is not only the setting of the best university in the world. The ancient borough has a life and a history of its own, extending far back into the Middle Ages and continuing very vigorously into the present.
Inevitably, the history of Cambridge has been closely linked with that of the university, and there have been times when the borough has resented being assigned the rôle of handmaiden to the university. There is a long history of the clash, Town versus Gown. Those days, fortunately, have long since passed, and a most cordial relationship subsists. At the moment, for example, the town's first citizen is one of the University Members on the borough council. Both university and town recognise how much each depends on the other, and neither tries to dominate. I am very proud that I myself am a son of the town, and received my education first in Cambridge schools and then at a Cambridge college. Like many another, I have a footing in both camps, so to speak, and rejoice that there is no conflict of loyalties.
I have said that the town, as distinct from the university, has a life of its own, but it has not had its unique heritage marred or over-shadowed by such excessive industrialisation as has led its counterpart at Oxford to be described as the Latin Quarter of Cowley. How vigorous the town's life is can be instanced by its war record. While in the university, at the Cavendish Laboratory, research into the secrets of atomic energy was going on, in the industries of the town there was research into radar, and the production of radar, and radio equipment, and of precision instruments of all kinds on a very large scale, as well as numerous other contributions to the war effort.
Cambridge gave freely of its sons during the war. They served in every branch of the Services, but perhaps the town's saddest yet proudest memory is of its soldiers in the Cambridgeshire Regiment. It was their fate to be engulfed in the fall of Singapore. They endured long years of captivity and suffering but their spirit was never broken, and it was a proud day for Cambridge when it conferred its freedom on the regiment and on the gallant band who survived to come home.
Fortunate in escaping much physical damage from bombing, Cambridge was able to offer refuge to evacuees of all kind, from London children to the London School of Economics. Into the colleges, almost empty of students, came training wings of the R.A.F. and, not least in numbers, Government departments, for Cambridge became a regional centre of Government. It became a centre of another kind too, the leave centre of the Eighth United States Army Air Force. The flat lands surrounding Cambridge were, and are, studded with airfields, and into Cambridge when off duty came the airmen of the R.A.F. and of our Allies. After the war was over, the borough was happy to confer its freedom on the Eighth United States Army Air Force, thus, as their own Commanding-General put it, giving formal recognition to what was already an accomplished fact, because they had taken it long before.
Cambridge truly played its part in the war. There is one fact which I might mention and which is not widely known. It is that it was in a building in Cambridge that a large part of the planning for D-day was carried out by high officers of the combined planning staffs. In recent weeks we have seen some of our American friends about again. Cambridge has been glad to renew war-time friendships, but when it thinks of that plot of land on Madingley Hill overlooking the town, dedicated so recently as the burial ground of thousands of American Servicemen, it prays that the present storm-clouds will pass and that the world will return to ways of sanity.
The fact that Cambridge has its roots very deeply in the past can be exemplified by reference to the history of its representation in this House. There is a list of the Burgesses in Parliament, as we are called, dating back without a break to 1295, in the reign of Edward I. The methods of selecting Members were, of course, very different in those days from what they are today. The gradual changes which have been made through the centuries well illustrate the progress of our people step by step on the path towards a fuller democracy. It has been a gradual process, varying in pace from time to time, a process which is not even yet completed. The Measure described in the Gracious Speech can be regarded as one more step along that path.
In 1295, Cambridge elected its first Members, John de Cambridge and Benedict Godsone, by a very limited method of indirect election which continued up to the 17th century. In its most complicated form the Mayor and Commonalty each nominated one man. These two nominated eight burgesses, who in turn, nominated the two Members for the borough. Our procedures generally seem very different today, but some of them which might seem recent in origin have their parallels a long way back in history. We consider, for example, the extra expenditure involved in our having to live in London as a modern problem, but in 1426, when John Bush and Stephen Barbour attended the Parliament which sat at Leicester for 71 days, they received between them £7 2s. from the borough treasurer—not, by the way, from the National Exchequer—for their expenses, at the rate of 12d. per day. In 1424, when Parliament sat at Westminster, Henry Topcliffe and Richard Andrewe had received 2s. a day. Free travel for Members between London and their constituencies is nothing new either, because in 1585 the borough treasurer paid one of the Members, Roger Slegge, gentleman, the sum of 15s. 4d. for horse-hire.
From nomination by a handful of prominent citizens the method of choosing a Member has gradually changed to one of election by the free vote of all adult citizens, both male and female, irrespective of wealth or status, and the electors of Cambridge are now some 56.000 as against the handful of the 13th century onwards. Many of these extensions of the franchise are very recent indeed, and the major ones date back no further than the 19th century. It was only 20 years ago that women were put on the same basis as men, and only in the last Session of this present Parliament that all representation in this House was made roughly equal and on the same territorial basis.
Progress has been made a step at a time, and one such step is the Measure mentioned in the Gracious Speech. We have now adopted the practice of five year Parliaments and, within the limits of such a period, the Government of the day has to go to the country to seek a renewal of its Mandate. With that five year period normally divided into five Sessions, a government should be able to expect the first four to be available for legislation, and the fifth for consolidation and tidying up. All peace-time governments with majorities, since the 1911 Parliament Act was passed until now, have been able to plan the distribution of their programme of legislation over their whole period of office, because the effective majority in another place has always, until now, been of the same political complexion as the effective majority here.
As I see it, a Labour Government have the same right to a useful and effective fourth Session as a Conservative Government, and no outside body should have the right of veto in favour of one side. That, as I see it, is the purpose of and justification for the Measure mentioned in the Gracious Speech. The problem which confronts the Government is not in essence a new one. Lord Rosebery, in a letter to Queen Victoria in 1894, wrote:
When the Conservative Party is in power there is no House of Lords, it takes whatever the Conservative Government brings it from the House of Commons without question or dispute; but the moment a Liberal Government is formed, this harmless body assumes an active life, and its activity is entirely exercised in opposition to the Government.
This Government have not been anything like as harshly critical of the other place as was Lord Rosebery. This Government have acknowledged, and do acknowledge, that in this Parliament the other place has done good work as a revising Chamber, but to acknowledge that, is a far different thing from acknowledging any right of the Opposition in
another place to decide what Measures the Government of the day, with their majority in this House, shall or shall not pass into law. As to which House is more closely in touch with the will of the people, I cannot see how a House which is not responsible to the electorate, and never has to face the electorate, can claim to be better acquainted with the people than the people's chosen representatives who are responsible to them and in regular and close contact with them.
These last few remarks of mine, I appreciate, might in some quarters be considered as controversial, though to me I confess they seem statements of simple fact, but as it is not for me at this stage, and discharging this duty, to venture too far into matters of controversy, I will say this; it is just about 300 years since we had a revolution in this country, a revolution in which a man who, twice in that period, sat for the borough of Cambridge played a leading part. He was Oliver Cromwell. Since that time, revolutions have taken place at some time or other, sometimes very frequently, in most countries of the world but we have remained free from them. We have had, of course, acute political disagreements and struggles, but the democratic tradition we have slowly but surely built up ensures that once a political decision is taken, it is recognised by both sides and stands unless and until amended or superseded by a later decision arrived at by the democratic method.
I can perhaps emphasise this aspect of our political life best by reminding the House of the story of the reactions of a Greek in Athens in 1945 when the result of the General Election here was passed on to him by a British officer. The comment of the Greek was, "I suppose Churchill has taken to the hills?" Well, just as the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) did not take to the hills, so we all know quite well that as and when this new Parliament Bill becomes law and takes effect, none of their Lordships will be seen scrambling up the slopes of the Pennines except perhaps for exercise. For a time rumblings and murmurings may be heard from the direction of the Carlton Club, but this Measure, once it is on the Statute Book, will, I believe, be accepted as an inevitable, logical, sensible and necessary step on the path which we, in our British way of life, have so successfully been travelling towards a fuller and more real democracy.
It is the usual routine that the Member speaking from these Benches should congratulate the Mover and Seconder of the Address. I should like at this time to differ a little from precedent because, at the same time as I offer the two hon. Members my congratulations, I should like also to offer them my sympathies.
I have now listened to some 50 speeches by Movers and Seconders. I may say that of this number, 49 have performed their task with varying excellence—modesty prevents me from saying 50—but all of those other 50 had something to discuss. In fact, the almost constant practice for the Speech from the Throne to have something in it, was, I believe, the reason why you, Mr. Speaker, and your predecessors, first adopted a practice which you have followed today as a matter of routine but certainly not as a matter of necessity, that is, of obtaining a copy. The two hon. Members certainly laboured under a grave disadvantage. With the amount of straw that has been given to them, one could not have expected even the Secretary of State for War to drop bricks.
Indeed, when, through the usual courtesy of His Majesty's Government, I was provided last night with a copy of the Speech, I wondered how hon. Members would be able to undertake what in the past had been the general practice, which was that two of them should meet together and divide between them the substance of the Speech. I could see, of course, that whoever, either by the possession of seniority in this House or of a double-headed coin, had the first choice, would be able to take paragraph 1. He would have the plum or, perhaps, gastronomically speaking, he would have at least the red herring. But what would be left for the seconder? Only this sentence:
It is not proposed to bring any other business before you in the present Session.
Not much of a peg, that. Not a great deal of facing the future about that sentence.
I must congratulate most sincerely the two hon. Members on the ingenuity with which they have filled this gap. The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Leslie), an old and respected Member and a friend for many years of many of us in this House, had his recipe. His was a mixture. The first ingredient was the speech which in the past few weeks he has been delivering in his constituency, and which, after this brief interruption, he will be able to continue to deliver. The next was a glowing, though perhaps belated, tribute to the enterprise, skill and success of private enterprise in his area. The third was a description, and indeed a support, of no doubt a useful piece of legislation, but one which does not happen to be included in the programme before us today.
Fourthly, in a spirit clearly perfunctory, he made a brief reference to the Bill to amend the Parliament Act. I was struck by one of his phrases. He referred to the demonstrations of 1911 which so clearly showed what public opinion was then. He did not say much about the demonstrations of 1948. I expected to hear an account of torchlight processions thronging those villages he described so graphically, burning effigies of the Peers in their robes and lauding to the skies the great reformers of the Government—but there was no mention at all of that. He did, however, perform a difficult task with his innate courtesy and tact and all of us, I am sure, would like to congratulate him upon it.
The hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Symonds), who seconded the Motion in an able and witty speech, adopted a different technique. He devoted a large part of his speech to his own constituency. I am not sure I quite agree with one thing he said; I think it should correctly read that when somebody hears of Cambridge he first thinks of Oxford. The hon. Member went on from that to a well-deserved eulogy of the ancient city which he now represents. He told me certainly a great deal about its history about which I was ignorant. I must say that I think that of all the gallant actions Cambridge has performed in the course of her long history, I give the palm to her courage during the war in receiving the refugees from the London School of Economics. Surely no other city can have voluntarily assumed the burden of looking after so many children needing care and attention.
After he had come to the end of the bit which he obviously felt, he, too, referred perfunctorily to the sole subject matter of the Gracious Speech. It is only fair to say that while discussing the history of Cambridge he had never quoted an authority more recent than 1426, but when he came to the Parliament Act, he advanced as far as 1894. I do not think the simile he chose—the revolution 300 years ago—was, from his point of view, a particularly happy one. I would remind him that whereas his predecessor in the representation of Cambridge in 1648 imposed upon the people of this country a revolution by force, a few years later that revolution was in its turn reversed by an outbreak of popular opinion.
It is, I believe, the usual custom that on the first day the speaker from the Government Benches should be the Prime Minister. It is, I am sure, to the general regret of all sides of the House that he is not able today to perform that customary function. I am sure I am voicing all sections of opinion when we give him our hope for his speedy recovery. I do not think there is anyone with any imagination but must feel at all times a sense of sympathy for the Prime Minister of this country, and especially the Prime Minister at a time of crisis such as this. It does not need a great deal of imagination to realise the constant pressure of work and the even more constant harassing of the anxieties, constitutute burdens which must be almost intolerable for a man even at the height of his physical powers and which for one who is ill must be beyond bearing. We, therefore, do most earnestly hope that he will soon be restored to health and, certainly on behalf of all who sit behind me, I can assure the Prime Minister, through the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President of the Council, that none of us on our side really appreciates him as a Prime Minister until we begin to read the selections for those who may possibly succeed him.
I understand that the Prime Minister's place today is to be taken by the Lord President of the Council. I am glad to say—at least I hope I am right in assuming—that we need have no anxiety about his health. Certainly those pictures which have been widely distributed through the popular Press—pictures which give to us every opportunity for the most specific examination of his physical condition—would lead one to suppose that he is in rude health. I only trust that those pictures do not mean that the right hon. Gentleman has been put into the position occupied 100 years ago by one of the predecessors of my right hon. Friend, and that they do not mean that one of his more ambitious colleagues has caught him bathing and stolen his clothes.
The Lord President of the Council will, I am sure, attack the task which lies before him with even more than his customary vigour. Of course, he will not have an entirely easy rôle, because, short as is the memory of the right hon. Gentleman, he cannot yet quite have forgotten the Debate in which he took part a year ago. He will remember how strongly he argued then about the proposal brought forward by my right hon. Friend that the House, when it adjourned in August, should come back at the early date of 16th September—two days later than this year. That was a proposal which the right hon. Gentleman resisted most strongly. Indeed, if he will not regard it as impertinence on my part, I would say that oratorically it was almost the right hon. Gentleman's finest hour. Never have I seen the heads of his colleagues on the Front Bench nod more frequently and less drowsily. Never have I heard the cheers of the P.P.S.s coincide more consistently with the right end of the right sentence, and I am sure that all the Back Benchers who listened to him went away with a feeling that here, both in manner and in matter, was a true prophet of Socialism.
What cogent arguments he advanced against the House being called back at such an early date! He said, first, that if they were brought back as early as 16th September the Government would be ragged—as if that depended upon the accident of the calendar. He said, secondly, that our constituents would be deprived of leadership in the paths of light and learning; and thirdly, that if Members were summoned back they would have to interrupt their reading, which was so necessary to improve their minds. There were indeed mountainous difficulties; I realised, after listening to the right hon. Gentleman's speech, that it would take a man of great courage to meet them.
Well, this year, the Government have taken their courage in both hands. They have met those difficulties, and those mountains turn out, after all, to be molehills. There is the Government facing us in all its raggedness, not looking very different from what it would on 16th October or 16th November, or indeed on the 16th of any month up to the Spring of 1950. There are all our constituents left to this Stygian darkness but still, apparently almost unknowingly, carrying on their normal life. Members on all sides of the House have had to drop their books—Blue Books have been thrown away, White Papers discarded, Edgar Wallaces have been earmarked. All of us have had to do this year what last year we were told it was quite impossible for us to face. It does just show that however difficult a situation is, when a compelling necessity forces action the difficulties very often turn out to be less formidable than they first appeared.
Of course, I must in fairness admit at once that there is a great difference between the situation last year and the situation this year. Last year, after all, all that we were frightened of, all that we were seeking to safeguard ourselves against, was an economic crisis, a crisis which I think everybody in the House, except perhaps some Members of the Front Bench opposite, knew was bound to break on the country before we reassembled in the ordinary way, a crisis which we knew would have to be met by new and severe burdens, burdens which, I am afraid not in the proper democratic spirit, we thought should be imposed by Debate in this House and not by decree from Downing Street.
Of course, this year, I agree, things are different. We are concerned now not with dollars but with votes. What we have now to decide is not something connected as it was last year with national survival but merely with the success of a party manoeuvre; and so this year, with so much more at stake than they had last year, the Government have faced the difficulties which the right hon. Gentleman could not face last year, and he finds—I am sure he will find—that they really had no existence except in his imagination. It is clear from the Gracious Speech that the intention of the Government is that this House should now meet for the discussion of one thing only, the thing which to them appears to be, in the world in which we live, the most important task upon which Parliament can concentrate. There may be, of course, and I am sure that even the Government would admit that there are, minor difficulties in the world around us—the situation in Berlin, in India, in Palestine, in Malaya. All these may give cause for anxiety to some nervous people. At home the failure to close our dollar gap, the continued and continuing dependence on external aid, may again create anxiety in certain breasts. But we are not to waste our time, say the Government, in discussing matters such as that; let us stick to this one all-important question.
We shall have plenty of opportunity to discuss this one all-important topic of the House of Lords reform next week when the Measure is before us. Today, I will only say that neither the Mover nor the Seconder of the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech has found, nor, I am sure, will the right hon. Gentleman, when he comes to speak, have found, anything in the conduct of another place during the last three years which justifies the Measure which the Government are now introducing. On the contrary, numerous Members on the Front Bench opposite have reason to be grateful to the other place, for they have found there an opportunity of introducing literally hundreds of Amendments which hasty drafting by overworked draftsmen, hasty digestion by overworked Ministers and hasty legislation by an overworked Parliament had left in Bills when they left this Chamber.
There has been only one clash with another place on a matter of great importance. That was connected with the episode last Summer, when the Home Secretary for a short time abdicated his responsibilities but not his office to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). The Home Secretary certainly has every reason to be grateful to another place who in the long run were able to secure him what he wanted but what he was not able to accomplish by himself. Of course, we know quite well that the Measure we shall have to discuss next week has nothing whatever to do with anything that another place has done in the past. On this occasion, and on this occasion alone, the Government are displaying foresight; they are actually looking ahead to something that may happen in the future. In a Session not yet opened, a Bill not yet introduced may secure a passage through this House in a form not yet known, and when it leaves this House may, in another place, be subjected to a treatment not yet decided. That is the important, the pressing, necessity which has this year compelled the recalling of Parliament, whereas the dollar crisis of last year, and the cuts that had to be imposed as a result of it, were not supposed to be sufficiently important to necessitate our return.
I must admit that the Government have respectable precedents for the course upon which they have decided in relation to another place. I admit that no experienced, no well trained, no really successful burglar would ever think of waiting until after the watchdog had barked. What he would do would be to go down the day before and lay down the poisoned meat. That is what the right hon. Gentleman is doing today—taking, not for the first time, a lesson from the criminal classes. It is to carry that process through that this House has been recalled.
We on this side shall oppose the passage of this Measure; but we are glad to think that we shall have other opportunities beyond that. One may bring a horse to water, but one cannot always stop him drinking when one wants to. The right hon. Gentleman has recalled the House in order to pass this pettifogging Measure, but the House, once recalled, has the opportunity, which no doubt it will take, of discussing matters which it thinks important, even though to the Government they appear to be negligible. We shall therefore use all the Parliamentary opportunities which this recall of Parliament, this new Session, has given to discuss matters of vital importance, and in doing so to demonstrate to the country the tragic frivolity of a Government which, in the midst of all the gathering dangers at home and abroad, is intent only on solemnly playing out to the end this petty party pantomime.
May I first, on behalf of His Majesty's Government and my hon. Friends, express my thanks to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) for the kindly and sympathetic references which he made to the Prime Minister. I will certainly convey to the Prime Minister what he has said, and I know that my right hon. Friend will be appreciative of the sympathetic references which were made by the right hon. Gentleman on behalf of the Opposition. I am sure, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that my hon. Friends on this side of the House, and indeed every hon. Member, would wish to be associated with that expression of sympathy and good wishes. The Prime Minister has asked me to express to the House his deep regret that, on medical advice, he thinks he ought not to attend here at the moment. The House will be glad to know that he is making good progress, and we hope to have him among us in Parliament at no distant date. But I am sure he will appreciate the message that has been given and the kindly atmosphere of the House towards himself. Certainly, I should have been very glad if he had been here today to discharge the function which, as a consequence of his absence, has fallen to me.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the speeches of my hon. Friends the Mover and Seconder of the Address. I join with him at any rate in the more friendly part of his congratulations to them on the speeches they made. I also had made a note to say a word of sympathy to them on the sparseness of the document with which they were dealing. It was very difficult for my hon. Friends to make a speech of substance out of the actual text of the Gracious Speech, which is necessarily limited in the number of its words and lines. They have indeed had an exceptionally difficult task in moving the Address, and I think the House would wish to say to both of them that, in the circumstances of the case and on the merits of their speeches, they have done exceedingly well; and we would all congratulate them both on the excellent speeches they delivered. They covered the subject of the Gracious Speech and they made other appropriate references as well, with what I thought great capacity and great ability.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Leslie) gave us a most interesting account of the varied Durham con- stituency which he represents. We were all interested to know that things are better in his constituency—distinctly better—than they were in the years between the wars. He will be happy to know that that is by no means exceptional. That is the case with the constituencies of most hon. Members, including the constituencies of hon. Members opposite, because we have sought to do good for their constituencies as well as our own—[An HON. MEMBER: "On borrowed money."]—and we were glad to hear the encouraging report that my hon. Friend gave.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Symonds), as an educationalist himself by profession, and as representing that borough, naturally had words to say about the university. We were glad to hear about it. Of course, my hon. Friend cannot yet claim to be the actual Parliamentary representative of the University of Cambridge, but he can take comfort in this, that in all probability in the next Parliament he will be the representative of the university as well as of the borough round about it; and we were charged by his historical references. Therefore, on behalf of my hon. Friends on this side, and I hope of the House as a whole, I express our congratulations to my hon. Friends for the admirable speeches they have made.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol also deserves his measure of praise and congratulation, because I think we would all agree, irrespective of party, that he delivered a most witty and enjoyable speech. After all, one great test of the wittiness and, on the whole, of the good temper of a speech is whether the principal victim at whom it was directed, himself enjoyed it. Well, so far as direct criticism went, he criticised me more than anybody else, and I thoroughly enjoyed his speech, including the critical references to myself. Therefore, he can take it that his speech was successful. We enjoyed its wit, we enjoyed its brightness and we shall hope to read it and have further chuckles, and feel some pleasure and some relief that humour can still, now and again, emerge from the Tory breast.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the main purpose—so far as legislation is concerned, the only purpose—of the sum- moning of this present Session of Parliament, namely, the further consideration, on the second occasion, of the Parliament Bill. This is not altogether the moment for dealing fully and completely with the provisions of this Bill. The Second Reading will be moved next week and that will be a more appropriate occasion. It is, however, appropriate that I should deal with the procedure, especially of the present short Session; at the same time I should also be sorry to lose the opportunity of engaging in a little further education of the Conservative Party as to the main reasons for this Bill, which are not even yet understood by the right hon. Gentleman who has spoken from the Front Bench opposite this afternoon.
There seems to be a persistent idea in his mind and in the minds of his friends that the only purpose of bringing in this Bill is to ensure the passage of a certain legislative possibility which has not yet seen the light of day—one Parliamentary Bill. I can assure the House that that really is moonshine; there is no truth in that at all. This Bill was brought in for sound constitutional reasons which I shall shortly indicate, not for the first time I am afraid; it was not brought in for the purpose of safeguarding any particular legislative measure. But even if this had been the purpose, it would not necessarily have been an illegitimate thing to do.
There were wider reasons, good sound constitutional reasons, why this Bill should be brought in. In our judgment the provisions of the Parliament Act, 1911, are no longer adequate to modern conditions. It may well have been thought in 1911 that they were adequate to the circumstances then existing, as indeed was argued at the time, and was argued in the last Session of Parliament by the Leader of the Opposition—and, by the way, we all deplore the absence of the Leader of the Opposition and hope he is having as good a time in the South of France as I had—
I am glad to hear that. If that be so, I am sure he will attend the House quite soon, because I have a recollection of one Thursday afternoon when the right hon. Gentleman personally threatened me with a lot of trouble and most vigorous opposition when this short Session came about. We shall look forward with confidence to seeing him; but if not, his mantle will have to fall on others in that respect.
The Leader of the Opposition said, in the course of discussions last Session, as indeed on the occasion of the passing of the Parliament Act, 1911, that the philosophy behind the Parliament Act, 1911, was that a Government came in fresh from its electoral triumph—substantial as ours was, or narrow as some other majorities have been, or non-existent as some others have been—and when the Parliament assembled, it devoted possibly three Sessions to carrying through the Measures upon which the party had fought and won the Election, especially the controversial Measures. It then assumed there was no more controversial work to be done, so that Parliament could go jog-trotting along in an easy, steady style without concerning itself with further controversial work. If, however, further controversial Measures were brought forward in the last two Sessions, then the party in power would have the privilege of fighting the subsequent election on the issues on which they fought the previous Election, the results of which they had been prevented by the intervention of their Lordships' House from carrying through.
That was a possible doctrine in 1911, when Parliamentary legislation was leisurely, very slow, and when Parliament was not speedy and efficient in responding to the essential needs of the masses of the people of the country. As a philosophy it might be convenient and acceptable to a Conservative Party which did not want to pass a great deal of legislation. I am not saying whether they were right or wrong in adopting that view, but obviously it was convenient for them to say that they could not pass any more legislation because there was no time. I am not sure that there were not elements in other parties, too, which engaged in somewhat similar practices. That might or might not have been right for the conditions of 1911, but it is an impossible philosophy for the conduct of Parliament in the year 1948, or in the years 1945–48.
We fought the last Election on a comprehensive, social, economic and political programme. It was embodied in "Let us Face the Future." Indeed, a good many people said at the time, "You will never get that through in the lifetime of a single Parliament." I, who happened to be editor-in-chief, so to speak, of that document, was not sure myself that we could get it through in the lifetime of a single Parliament. But we tried conscientiously to make a programme which would about fit the possibilities of a full Parliament with a majority.
What is perfectly clear is that in the case of the measures indicated in "Let us Face the Future" which we believed—and we promulgated them from that point of view—were the measures calculated to further the well-being of our people and the public interest, it would be utterly unreasonable to expect that programme could be carried through in three Sessions, let alone two. It could not have been done. As it is, we have been accused, I think wrongly, of having passed legislation with too great a speed. I think there has been great exaggeration about that, although it is a point to watch. But we could not have done it in three years, much less in two years, which is all we should have had if we were to assume that the Parliament might not have lasted the full time.
The fact is that under modern economic and industrial conditions, with all the complex problems facing our country and the world at present, it is absurd to think that one can plan, or ought to plan, the work of a Parliament, on the basis that after two or three Sessions the work in its large essentials is finished. That is wrong. That is a conception of the House of Commons which this Government and the Labour Party are not willing to accept. Therefore, we took reasonable, moderate, modest, statesmanlike, precautionary measures and introduced the Parliament Bill of last Session in order to ensure that the subsequent Sessions of this Parliament should not be invalidated by the actions of another place.
Since then there has been an inter-party conference to which perhaps some further reference will be made next week. During the whole of those discussions, as I think the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) and the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) will agree, there was never a cross word, although it is true that the conference broke down. We owed that to the restraint of everyone participating and the admirable chairmanship of the Prime Minister. But we failed, and, for myself and for the Government, I am sorry we failed, because it is better to settle these constitutional arguments and disputations by agreement, if that is possible, and we all tried to do so.
The essential point on which that conference broke down was the issue of powers. What was that issue? The effect of the Parliament Bill with its period of delay from Second Reading of one year instead of two years and the two Sessions instead of three is to jeopardise the fifth and final Session of a Parliament. We did that with our eyes open. Some of my hon. Friends were not too happy about that, but we did it because we believed that a Second Chamber must have reasonable elbow room in which to discharge its tasks of revision, and that there must be reasonable time for all the exchanges to take place up and down the corridors on disputed legislation, and for the public to express its views about these things. We have thus jeopardised the fifth Session.
But what is it that their Lordships of the Conservative Party have been seeking to do? There was no hedging about it. What they were seeking to do was to jeopardise the fourth Session of Parliament, and that, too, upon the basis that their Lordships' House had a function to discharge, or a prerogative to exercise; namely, to decide when the axe should begin to fall, when the brake should be imposed upon the House of Commons, when legislation should be held up in order that the electorate, in due course, should express their views about it, or in order that that legislation should not proceed at all. Their Lordships, or the Conservative majority in their Lordships' House, claim to be able and peculiarly qualified to judge, to represent and to be the guardians of the public opinion of the masses of our people and to discharge that function.
I have myself made complimentary references to the House of Lords, believing it to be right to do so; and, if I go on believing it, I will pay such tributes again. But I do say that, of all the institutions which could be put forward as being peculiarly fitted to judge the popular will or the general public opinion, as between this House and another place, I should have thought that it was preposterous to advance the superior claims of another place. After all, it is an hereditary Chamber, though there have been many able people added by the creation of fresh Peers. But it is no part of their duties or functions to think that they have such peculiar insight into and knowledge of public opinion as to entitle them to decide when to put the brakes on this popularly elected House.
What kind of House could have a greater interest in keeping its eye on public opinion than the popularly elected House of Commons? It may well be that the House of Commons in the past has not always seen the red light, that it made mistakes and ran itself up against public opinion to such an extent that at the next Parliamentary Election it sacrificed the majority which the governing party held. Everybody is capable of error, and all of us make mistakes. Certainly, some have made mistakes, but we are doing our best not to do so. I say that this popularly elected House, with its representative Members who meet their constituents and have correspondence with them, whose business it is, as potential candidates at the next Election, to keep their ears and eyes open as to the movement of public opinion—if it is a choice between this House and another place as to which is the better fitted to be the judge of public opinion, then that choice cannot possibly be for another place.
That was the real issue at the inter-party conference; and it really meant that, if we were to accept the Conservative demand, this House would run the risk of becoming impotent for a number of Sessions. But the accusation is really worse than that. It is said that the Labour Government are seeking to take the country on the way towards single-Chamber government. We are not. This Bill does not lead to single-Chamber government, but I say that the conduct of the Conservative majority in another place over a number of years, when the Conservative Party had a majority in this House, gave us single-Chamber government. But that is not an argument that can be urged against us. I am sorry, and the Government are sorry, that the conference broke down.
It would have been a good thing if we could have agreed, but the Conservative Party took the view—it is not fair to put it wholly on the Conservative Party in the House of Lords, because the Conservative Party in this House was represented—that there was an issue of substance in it—and I quite agree there was. Unhappily, the conference came to an end.
It is said, "Why not let this business wait until there is a clash?" That really would not do. It is far better not to get into the heat of an actual clash, but to anticipate possibilities and deal with the matter in a calm atmosphere before there is a clash; and, indeed, this Bill has been dealt with in a calm atmosphere throughout. It was asserted by hon. Gentlemen opposite that the country was most indignant and very cross that we had introduced this Bill. There are no signs of that indignation. I believe there is a general acquiescence in the country in the provisions of this Bill. Even if I am wrong about that, there is no excitement about it, and, as the Debate on it in this House proceeded, it was difficult to work up any excitement about the Bill itself.
The other argument is that we should not have called this short Session but should have let the Bill progress in the next normal Session and take its chance in the final year, which would have been a more normal course. If we had done that, we should have had the possibility of a "neck-and-neck" situation, if their Lordships were disposed to reject, or fatally to impair, any Measure which we had put up to them. [Interruption.] Yes, certainly, any Measure. I think that would have been unseemly, and that it is far better to deal with the matter as we have done. Moreover, by the procedure which we have adopted, we have avoided anything really objectionable from the point of view of retrospective legislation. Of course, we hope that there will be no difficulties with their Lordships on the rest of the legislative programme, but we thought it wise to take precautionary steps. The dilemma of the Opposition, it seems to me, is this. If this is a Bill of fundamental constitutional importance, the short Session is justified. If, in their view, it is not, and if, in the words of the right hon. Member for West Bristol, it is a pettifogging Measure, I do not think they have any need to get excited.
It is quite wrong to say, as the right hon. Gentleman did, that Parliament has been called together on the basis that nothing will be discussed other than the Parliament Bill. It is true that that is the only Measure which we propose to bring before the House in this short Session. But the Opposition knew, before the House adjourned, that we were willing to consider arrangements as to what other subjects might be debated. Indeed, it is clear that, in the Debate on the Address, it is perfectly competent for the House to discuss all other matters. It will be perfectly competent for the House—and the Government will make no difficulty about it—to discuss essential and urgent matters of public importance at this time.
The next argument by the Opposition was that there ought to be some more legislation, dealing perhaps with economic matters; for example, authorising further controls, although I do not think we need them; or further socialisation. I do not think it is likely that the Opposition would wish us to bring forward further legislation of that kind, though I have no doubt it will be discussed before the House disperses. So will the economic situation. Therefore, with great respect there is no great point in that argument—or, rather, in the assertion—that we have called the House together to discuss and deal with nothing but the Parliament Bill.
I ought to give an indication to the House on Business, and the way in which we propose to handle it. As the House is aware, we meet especially to deal with the Parliament Bill, and the Government hope that the necessary Business can be completed, with co-operation through the usual channels, by Friday, 24th September, when the Adjournment will be proposed until Monday, 25th October. It is proposed that the Debate on the Address should occupy the remainder of this week and be brought to a conclusion this Friday. The subjects for debate, whether by Amendment or otherwise, will, of course, be a matter of arrangement, under your guidance, Mr. Speaker, and an announcement will be made in the usual way.
At the beginning of Business tomorrow, we shah/ propose a Motion to take the whole time of the House for Government Business during the short Session. As the Supply for the year has been granted and we have no Estimates or taxation proposals to bring forward, we also propose to ask the House to agree not to set up the Committees of Supply and Ways and Means.
The Parliament Bill will be presented in the near future and put down for consideration during the early part of next week. We shall bring before the House a Motion for formalising the Committee stage of the Parliament Bill. This follows the precedent of the Government of Ireland Bill, the Welsh Church Bill and the Temperance (Scotland) Bill in 1913 and 1914. The Bill must, if it is to enjoy any protection from the Act of 1911, go forward to the Lords in the same form as that in which it was passed last Session.
That will not be taken tomorrow; that will be next week. I was in the process of saying that there is no point in giving an opportunity to amend the Bill because the amendment of the Bill would automatically exclude it from the protection of the Parliament Act, 1911. There may also be opportunities for Debates next week, depending on the time required to pass the Parliament Bill through its different stages, and we are considering, through the usual channels, what arrangements can be made. My object in this connection was only to give the House—I hope, for the convenience of hon. Members—a general indication of the course of our proceedings.
Sir, there has been a request in various parts of the House for some interim statement to be made on defence preparations. It may be, if it is desired—I gather it may be—that we can arrange next week for time to be devoted to a Debate on the defence situation, and, if that is desired, we shall be happy to make arrangements through the usual channels. Moreover, the Foreign Secretary will be reviewing the international situation at any rate next week, but the House will have appreciated from the public Press that there is tension in many parts of the world, and that, despite all the efforts being made to reach a solution of the many problems which have arisen as a consequence of the late war, the position gives cause for anxiety. It is in these circumstances that the Prime Minister asks me, on his behalf, to make this statement to the House with regard to defence.
Since the middle of 1945, we have been operating a planned and orderly demobilisation of our war-time Forces. This was, as the House will recall, strongly demanded on all sides of the House, and was dictated by our obligations to those who were serving in the Forces and by our own economic situation. But it was clear that this plan involved certain risks. In any process of demobilisation after a great war there is bound to be a certain lack of balance owing to the rapid outflow of skilled personnel and the slow build-up of trained cadres to take their place. In the circumstances then existing the Government felt justified in accepting those risks.
Unhappily—and I wish to stress that word "unhappily" as the way in which, I am sure, we would all wish to express ourselves—the state of the world makes some change of plan inevitable, and, in the present circumstances, His Majesty's Government have no choice but to take certain precautionary measures. They have therefore decided that all National Service men due for release in the next few months who have not left their units for release by today, must be retained for a period of three months beyond the date on which, according to existing arrangements, they would have been released. There is no other method by which the Armed Forces could meet the commitments they now have; in this way alone can the loss of trained men be halted. Releases in Class B and on compassionate grounds will not be affected. The position will be kept under constant review in the light of the current international situation.
As a result of this action, the strength of the Forces at the end of this year will be about 80,000 greater than it would have been had the planned programme continued, the increase being in trained personnel who, in present circumstances, are the real need. The Government very much regret having to take this step which involves a revision of the release arrangements set out in the White Paper on Call Up to the Forces in 1947 and 1948 (Cmd. 6831 of May, 1946). It was made plain in the White Paper that unforeseen circumstances might lead to a revision of the estimates on which the arrangements were based with a consequent variation in the arrangements themselves.
The retention of National Service men with the Colours is not the only measure we are taking to strengthen our Defence Forces. The House is aware of the general plan on which we have been working. The first need is to stimulate the recruitment of our Regular Forces which are essential for carrying out immediate duties and for providing the training cadre for the Reserve and Auxiliary Forces, and for the National Service intake. Every effort will be made to accelerate the rate of recruitment.
It is also essential that the Auxiliary Forces, which are vital to our defences, should be brought up to strength as soon as possible. In the case of the Army, the need is to have in existence cadres of trained men ready to receive the men called up under the 1947 National Service Act, now consolidated, I think, in the Act of 1948, after they have completed their full-time service. The key position which the Air Defence units and fighter. squadrons hold in the defence of the country, and the importance of being able to defend our sea communications, make it no less important that we should bring the Royal Auxiliary Air Force and the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve up to strength. A special recruiting campaign for the Auxiliary Forces of all three Services is on the point of being started to enable these necessary reinforcements of our defences to be achieved. The Government count on the firm support of all who have standing and influence—not least from hon. Members of this House—to secure the success of this recruiting campaign, and the Government would ask especially for a generous response from all who are in a position to give their services, and for the fullest co-operation from employers.
The strengthening of the Armed Forces must have repercussions in the field of supply. Up to now the Forces have been relying for their current needs largely on war-time stocks. These stocks are becoming depleted, and some items are already obsolete. We must, therefore, accelerate the improvement of the equipment position, especially in the fields of air defence, armour and infantry weapons. The overhaul of stocks of wartime equipment has also been speeded up, and the Service and Supply Departments are increasing their manpower for this purpose. In regard to aircraft, we have to meet not only our own production needs but also those of other countries, including the members of Western Union, who are using British types. Extra work is required in some factories, and we are adopting measures that will nearly double the present rate of output of certain fighters. At the same time older types of fighters in store will be reconditioned.
The House will expect me to say a word on Civil Defence. In these days preparations in this field must be an integral part of our general defence arrangements. Considerable progress has already been made with plans for assisting the population, for the reorganisation of the Civil Defence services and for the preparation of any legislation that may be necessary. The House, I am sure, realises that defence policy must depend on world conditions. It must, therefore, be subject to review from time to time in the light of changing circumstances. The measures which I have announced are rendered necessary by the immediate demands on the resources of the Armed Forces. The Government will, of course, continue with their review of long-term defence policy. Whilst the measures we are taking will have some effect upon our economy, they will, we hope, not be such as to jeopardise in any way our recovery. Throughout this matter our task—and it is not always an easy task; it is inevitably a difficult one—has been to maintain a fair balance between our needs in the defence field, on the one hand, and of the broad national economy, on the other.
It was thought by the Government that that statement should be made, and, as I have said, if the House should wish facilities for discussion next week we shall be happy to co-operate to that end. That brings me to the conclusion of my speech. I am afraid that in the begin- ning we were in the controversial field. but at the end I think we were in a field in which all of us feel a natural regret about these world conditions and sorrow that such a statement should have to be made. It should not be received, of course, in any panicky spirit; still, we regret that even such a statement should have to be made.
I conclude by congratulating once more the Mover and Seconder of the Address, repeating my congratulations to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol and thanking him again for the kindly references he made to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.