Orders of the Day — Clause 3. — (Numbers of Holders of Ministerial Offices in House of Commons.)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 10th December 1964.

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Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale 12:00 am, 10th December 1964

I hope that if I were indulging in direct abuse of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, which is often very tempting, I would call him something more apt than merely a silly old lawyer. I did not call him a silly old lawyer. I said that it was a silly old lawyer's trick, which is a very different matter. It applies to all lawyers. William Hazlitt, the greatest journalist ever to sit in the Press Gallery of the House, said that the one thing that gave him respect for the House of Commons was its contempt for lawyers here. The right hon. and learned Gentleman's intervention fortifies me in that view.

Everyone knows that one of the main reasons why the Government had to go ahead with this Measure was because, as the practice operated—I do not care about the language or which Statute it happened to be in—it insisted that a certain number or proportion of members of the Government had to be in the House of Lords. That was the practical effect of the Measure which is being partly altered by the Bill.

If right hon. Members opposite had had the slightest interest in genuinely protecting the rights of the House of Commons, they would at least have welcomed that part of the Bill. Therefore, their opposition on this Clause is as hypocritical as was their opposition on the previous Clauses. It may be a sad disillusionment to them that they can expect no support in the Division Lobby from me in this matter. They must make much a better case than they have done so far to win such a prize as that. I hope that this relieves their minds, because we all know that the last thing they want is a General Election. I have, therefore, put them out of their misery by the same stroke as I put the Government out of theirs. I have delighted the whole Committee.

I hope, however, that despite the utterly frivolous and incompetent manner in which hon. Members opposite have conducted their opposition to the Bill, despite their blundering from one mare's nest to another, despite their utterly contemptible attacks upon my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who yesterday put the case brilliantly and skilfully and who gave right hon. Members opposite exactly the retorts they deserved—despite all this, I hope the Government will not be distracted from listening to the still, small voice of reason which urges them to understand that the enlargement of the numbers of the Government is something which they should watch carefully and that, as soon as they have been able to put our balance of payments crisis in order and deal with all the other disasters that were left on their doorstep, they will turn their minds to this matter, look up the speech which I am now making, remove the parts of it which I had to interpolate to squash the Opposition, but recognise the wisdom of what I say.