§ Lords Amendment: In page 3, line 25, leave out "Machinery of Government" and insert "Ministers of the Crown."
§ 10.54 p.m.
§ The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Douglas Houghton)
I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.
The hour is late, and Christmas is too near to make a quarrel with another place a worth-while undertaking. It is possible that, by changing the short title of the Bill from the Machinery of Government Bill to the Ministers of the Crown Bill, the noble Lords in another place are registering a mild rebuke to this House for having got the short title wrong. I prefer to think that their Lordships are teasing this House in making one Amendment to the Bill, and one only, that of the short title of the Bill. This new short title, Ministers of the Crown Bill, was of course thought of by the Government before the Bill was introduced, but it was rejected as an appropriate title to the Bill; we believed that this was fundamentally a machinery of government Bill, because it dealt with the machinery of government.
We believed that "machinery" was written all over the Bill and occurred right through it, and that the Bill was erecting the framework of new Departments, providing for their creation, and also for the payment of salaries of Ministers. I notice that, in the course of the debate in another place, the noble Lord, 1194 Lord Dilhorne, at one point suggested that it was not perhaps appropriate to discuss the functions of one of the proposed new Ministers, as that was scarcely within the framework of the Bill. I was very interested to read that remark, because I spent twelve hours in this House trying to convince hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite that to discuss the functions of the proposed new Ministers was not within the scope of the Bill. I notice that, in another place, the argument was so convincing that it passed without comment or rebuttal, which vindicates, if I may say so, all that I said in the course of that long night's sitting.
So, although it is more a machinery of government Bill than it is a Ministers of the Crown Bill, I think that this House would be disposed to agree with the Lords in this Amendment. After all, it is the substance of the Bill which counts, and not the title, and we have the substance of the Bill. The noble Lords moved to strike, but feared to amend—except the short title of the Bill. That, if I may say so with all due respect, is just the sort of behaviour which we expect from the noble Lords.
§ Mr. Quintin Hogg (St. Marylebone)
The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is really incorrigible. We have tried to persuade him that the way in which to get his business through quickly is not to make provocative speeches, even when there is only one member—and in this case, there are two—on the Opposition Front Bench. This inevitably provokes them to reply, and replies, even the best replies, take time. This will not take a very long time.
We have, as the right hon. Gentleman says, the substance of the Bill—that is to say, three unnecessary Ministers and the suspension of a salutary constitutional rule, which we have maintained, in order to preserve the independence of this House, for 250 years. Why this should be described as the Machinery of Government Bill rather than the Ministers of the Crown Bill, he did not explain. As he has now given way on one point at least—and under pressure from another place—I do not suppose that we ought to do other than to describe this, in him, as a certain measure of conciliation, although in most other people it would have been regarded as a highly provocative statement of a contentious case.
1195 However, the right hon. Gentleman, inspired by the approach of Christmas, only insulted another place twice. Although I have a natural and benevolent affection for that other place—which of course does not override my loyalty to this one but which still affords it an affectionate place in my memory—I think that we ought to account this to him for a measure of grace, and perhaps we can give him his Bill without any more fuss.
§ Question put and agreed to.