Hon. Members opposite have congratulated the Government in bringing in this Bill. I cannot join in those congratulations because I believe that in persisting in carrying the Bill through at this juncture the Government have missed a great opportunity. When introducing legislation one cannot disregard the times and also the conditions under which it is being introduced, and from that point of view this Bill stands condemned. The country is facing a grave economic crisis, and it is the duty of the Government to concentrate their measures and public attention entirely on that crisis and on the steps taken to deal with it. The Government should try to help to create the atmosphere which would enable the country to solve its very difficulteconomic problems, upon which depend our whole future, the standard of life of our people and the part which this country is to play in the world. It is in that light that we ought to consider the Bill which is before us.
The Bill—and we must recognise it—is a purely party Measure. The need at this time is for a responsible Government to put first things first; and by "first things" I mean the country. That is what the Lord President of the Council said in a recent speech and I agree with him, as do, I believe, the overwhelming majority of our people. Example, however, is better than precept, and if the Government are asking—and how necessary it is that they should ask—everybody to make sacrifices of one kind or another, what a grand lead it would have been had the Government said, "In view of the economic crisis we are prepared to delay the procedure so far as this Bill is concerned."
I wish that instead of continuing with the Bill, the Government had made a proposal to reopen the all-Party Conference which met a short time ago. The conditions are such that its chances of success would be even greater today, in view of the need for national unity, than when it actually met. Even then, it was within an ace of achieving success. There was agreement on the composition of membership of the House of Lords, and only a question of three months kept the parties apart so far as its power was concerned. How much better it would have been, and how much more responsible leadership would have been shown, had the Government shown this kind of initiative.
I recognise that the Government will get their majority tonight and that the Bill will pass its Third Reading, but I want to appeal to them, even now that when they get the Bill—and perhaps it may give them something else with which to bargain—that they will consider from the national point of view whether they ought to try to summon again the all-Party Conference to see if agreement can be reached. Not only would such a step be a great action; it would be of even more importance in the kind of lead which the Government would be giving towards national unity. It is their prime responsibility to try to bring about this unity, for they are the Government, and if they were to take such a lead they might reasonably expect that the Opposition would be prepared to follow.
If the Government persist with the Bill and try to reap all the party advantages which they can from it, they will be telling the country that, "Crisis or no crisis, we go on with our party business." If that is what they say to the country, how can they expect the ordinary citizens to adapt themselves and to make the very real sacrifices which they are called upon to make to help the country out of its difficulties? Therefore, I hope that more worthy considerations will be taken into account by the Government in regard to this Bill than the purely party considerations which have been advanced.
There is no urgency about this Bill. In my view, the fears in regard to the power of the House of Lords exist in theory far more than in practice because this power, which is now so much criticised, has been exercised only three times in 40 years. It is a very different House of Lords in its outlook from that which existed even at the time when the Parliament Act was passed. I think recognition ought to be given to that and the national interest given predominance. I hope the Government will give consideration to the appeal I have made.