§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Order of the Day read for the Consideration of Commons Amendments in lieu of certain Lords Amendments and Commons Reasons for disagreeing to Lords Amendments.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR COMMONWEALTH RELATIONS (VISCOUNT ADDISON)
My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons Amendments be now considered.
§ Moved, That the Commons Amendments in lieu of certain Lords Amendments and Commons Reasons for disagreeing to certain Lords Amendments be now considered.—(Viscount Addison.)
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, before we proceed to the examination in detail of the Reasons advanced by His Majesty's Government for rejecting practically all the Amendments which were sent down by your Lordships for further consideration in another place, I feel it may be proper that I, who have the privilege of leading the Opposition here, should say a few words of regret, and indeed of modified but most sincere whole-hearted protest, at the course which they have seen fit to adopt. As the House and, I think, the country know, your Lordships have devoted immense time and trouble to this Bill. We are fortunate to include among our ranks a number of Peers who have long personal experience of all aspects of transport and it has throughout been the object of these noble Lords in particular, and indeed of the House as a whole, to examine the provisions of the Bill, not with the object of destroying the measure, but with the object of amending and improving it and making it a more workable proposition.
It should not be forgotten that this Bill came to us in a singularly undigested form. There were various clauses—a great many of them—which had not received what we consider proper consideration in another place, and there were quite a number which had received no consideration at all and had not even been discussed. They had been passed often without debate by the ruthless use of the guillotine. It was, therefore, a Bill which clearly needed considerable alteration to make it an efficient operative measure. Indeed, as your Lordships will 672 remember, a considerable number of Amendments were introduced by the Government themselves, and there were many others which were adopted by general agreement in all parts of the House. There remain, however, a residue, a relatively small number, upon which it had been found impossible to obtain agreement between the Government and the Opposition. There was the Amendment relating to the appointment of Executives; there was the Amendment relating to the radius of operation of small-range hauliers who should be exempted from the scope of the Bill, and there was the Amendment which placed the onus of proof as to whether an operator was to be taken over under a scheme upon the Government and not upon the operator himself. There were one or two others, and there were a few consequential Amendments on those main propositions.
I do not for a moment suggest that these Amendments were not Amendments of substance; of course they were. They raised many important principles, but no one could say they were intended to wreck the Bill. Indeed, on several occasions we studiously avoided wrecking Amendments. Moreover, the House made no attempt to modify the compensation provisions—though we all felt that they were thoroughly inequitable—as we regarded this part of the Bill as a matter, perhaps, of Privilege under the Parliament Act. I think, therefore, it will be agreed by all—equally by noble Lords opposite—that we could not have acted with more moderation than we have, in the circumstances in which we were placed. The noble Viscount, the Leader of the House himself, on the occasion of the Third Reading, was good enough to pay a tribute to the spirit in which your Lordships tackled your task.
And, indeed, there was a wide measure of approval outside Parliament for the particular Amendments which have now received such cavalier treatment in another place. The Times, in a leading article on Wednesday of last week—and The Times has not been universally in favour of the Opposition—said:It is greatly to be regretted that the Minister proposes—with possibly a few minor exceptions—to reject all the Amendments which were not immediately accepted by the Government during the Lords' proceedings.673 And the article added:Several of the changes would almost certainly improve the measure, either by making for a more coherent administrative organization or by establishing better principles of democratic control.Clearly, therefore, these Amendments were not frivolous and not offensive They were serious and well-intentioned. And one had hoped that they would at least have been given the sympathetic attention which was clearly their due, even though all were not accepted.
But it seems that the Government recommended that practically all of them should be rejected root and branch; and no discretion was in fact given to the Government majority in the other place to consider these Amendments on their merits at all. Therefore many of us on these Benches cannot help being driven to the conclusion that the course was adopted merely because the Amendments came from this House; that it was part of a deliberate policy on the part of the Government to reject any Amendment from the Second Chamber; and that the same policy is only too likely to be adopted with other Bills as they come before the other place. This conclusion is, I am afraid, fortified by recent speeches of Ministers, and notably the Minister of Health, who spoke, if he will allow me to say so, in a rather undignified manner, to the effect that he hoped your Lordships would "behave like good boys" He talked of the necessity of giving us "toys to play with," and so forth. That really is hardly the way to speak of a body which contains some of the greatest experts in the country, men of lifelong eminence and discretion, men who have worked for many days and nights in order to improve this Bill, without any financial reward and entirely in the interests of the country. That is not the way to speak of this House, and I am bound to register a protest.
I can well understand, if I may say for the first time something slightly controversial, the desire of the Minister to try to draw a red herring to divert the attention of the public from the more embarrassing aspects of the conduct of affairs by the present Administration and, in particular, from his own personal failure in the sphere of housing and health. It is not uncommon for Ministers and Governments to take a course of this kind, and especially Ministers who are ambitious and who perhaps have not produced 674 all the results which were expected of them. But if the result of these rather shady Party manoeuvres by him and other Ministers is to deprive the country of valuable improvements in legislation, I cannot help thinking that the result for the country will be very unfortunate. We in your Lordships' House need not worry. It is not our prestige which is going to be injured by this type of thing. It is the prestige of the Government majority in another place. But it does make rather a travesty of Parliamentary government as it has grown up in this country over many centuries, and it really approximates very nearly to Single-Chamber government in a rather veiled form.
Our course in your Lordships' House is perfectly clear. We shall continue to try to amend and improve legislation to the best of our ability, and we believe that by doing so we shall gain the respect and support of all the more reputable sections of the community. In the present case it is not our intention to insist on Amendments which have already been rejected in another place. That would be merely to start a sterile wrangle which would not be very dignified and which would be unlikely to lead to fruitful results. We do, however, propose to send back to the other place a limited number of Amendments in lieu, which are moderate, which have been carefully considered, and which are genuinely designed to meet objections raised in the debates in another place. We believe that these Amendments should afford a legitimate ground for compromise, and they are intended for that purpose. I am certain that if the Government can see their way to accept them they will strengthen and improve the Bill. I hope they will receive in the other place better and more courteous treatment than the earlier Amendments received.
I have done my utmost in what I have said to-day to avoid an offensive or controversial tone. I do not want to exacerbate feelings. We want to obtain results beneficial to the country. But the present attitude of the Government in the other place, and what one might describe as the unmerited abuse which has accompanied it, will not only injure the Government's own position—I do not very much mind that—but it will have the effect of impairing the authority of Parliament, and that is a matter of concern for all of us, in whatever part of the House we sit. I 675 therefore beg the Government to consider very carefully before they reject these Amendments, which cannot interfere with the underlying principle of nationalization, and which are genuinely designed to improve the working of the machine and to secure justice for the small man, for whom Parliament above all is trustee.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
My Lords, I was not aware that the noble Marquess was going to speak on this topic in this way. If so perhaps I might have fortified myself with some observations before he did so. But I cannot help thinking that he has been rather led away by some of his ill-informed advisers as to the facts. I would myself like to pay tribute to the standard of our discussions. As the noble Marquess knows, I objected to certain Amendments because in my view they were calculated to defeat the main purpose of the Bill, and where that was the case we never hid our opinion and frequently we found ourselves in a minority in the Lobby. But there were not very many cases of that kind, ten or a dozen perhaps. I was sorry to hear the noble Marquess say that he was verging on the slightly controversial; I must say that he was giving what might be called a manifestation of the "slightly controversial" which was interesting and to me unique. However, I will accept the noble Marquess' description.
He said that practically all the Amendments were rejected root and branch. What are the facts?—the facts are the important things. As your Lordships are aware—and if any noble Lord would wish to refresh his memory I would recommend him to read the speech which the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, made on the Third Reading of the Bill, in which he reviewed the Amendments in an exceedingly compact and informative review—a very large number of Amendments were the result of negotiations between the two sides. It is no secret to say that the conferences which took place in my room in trying to arrive at agreement between the two sides were both numerous and prolonged. That is a true statement. We made great efforts and succeeded, in a very large number of cases, in arriving at agreements on Amendments. Some of them were of an extremely far-reaching character. For example, there was a series of Amendments 676 relating to the limitation of the power of the Commission or the Executives to engage in manufacture; that question occupied our attention for a great many hours at different times. I was apprised of the views of the Opposition on these matters—and I would like to pay tribute to the help that I received from the noble Marquess and the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton—and we discussed them with the Ministry and the Ministry discussed them with the industry at considerable length, as a result of which a series of exceedingly complex Amendments was introduced into the Bill by agreement. They were not rejected root and branch by the other side; they were accepted
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Yes, I did. I can repeat my words. I said that there were three categories of Amendments; the Government Amendments, a large number of Amendments which were agreed by general agreement of the House, and I think I said there was "a small residue" which remained—I think those were the words which I used. I was not complaining of the consideration which the Government had given the Bill in this House, which I think was perfectly fair, but I was complaining of the fact that in another place the Government did not intend the remaining subjects of disagreement to have fair consideration at all. I am not complaining of what was done in this House. We owe to the Leader of the House a great debt for his constant courtesy.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
I thank the noble Marquess for that; I knew that that was the view between us, but I still must hark back, I am afraid, to my theme that the noble Marquess said it was "practically all rejected root and branch." I am quite sure that any person reading that in the papers or even listening to the noble Marquess's speech would receive the impression that the other place had rejected practically all our Amendments "root and branch." I exclude, of course, the Amendments that were introduced by the Government; they should be excluded in a review of this kind. But the point I am seeking to make in reply to the noble Marquess is, 677 that the number of Amendments initiated by the Opposition, sometimes withdrawn, sometimes modified, sometimes the subject of negotiation, was a very large number indeed, and none of them was rejected—I repeat, none of them was rejected.
When you come down to figures, I had a sort of thought beforehand—it is just my general political sagacity—that this kind of point might be raised, though I did not quite think it would be raised in this exceedingly important way. However, I find this: there were 210 Amendments inserted by this House. A very large number of them, quite half, were Amendments agreed between us from the kind of process which I have described, and 173 Amendments out of the 210 have been accepted by the other place. That is the actual figure—173 out of 210. The noble Marquess is a fair-minded man and he and I have exchanged words across this Table many times. I am sure he would not wish to misrepresent the situation, but, with the greatest possible respect, I must say to him that I think he has seriously misrepresented the situation here. Of the Amendments that we sent down 173 were agreed to completely. The number disagreed to was 37, and there were 173 accepted. I must say that I think it is fair to say that to put that correctly is not to suggest that "practically all our Amendments were rejected root and branch." Certain Amendments, which we knew and which we said at the time we felt quite sure would not be accepted, were rejected, and, if the noble Marquess will really look through the list, a large number of those Amendments which figured on the List were consequential on the major Amendments and, of course, were just accepted and put into the Bill in the ordinary way. Even so, they make a modest total of only 37 out of 210; so that really I do think that the noble Marquess is not being quite fair.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I would not like that to be said by the Leader of the House. It was certainly not my intention to create that impression. If he reads what I said in Hansard, he will see that I put the position entirely fairly. I said there were a large number of Amendments moved by the Government; I said a large number were passed by agreement and I said that there was a "small residue 678 left"; it was of the "small residue left" that I was talking. That residue, which comprised, all or many of them, important Amendments, have not received the consideration which they ought to h lye received, and I still think that. If the noble Viscount thought I was misrepresenting the situation, I do not think that is so, because I say that there were a number of Amendments which mere agreed to in this House, and which m ere said by a large number of people to be a series of considerable Amendments, which have not received consideration at all.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
We shall be judged by the facts, and the noble Marquess knows perfectly well that I am the last man in the world to wish to misrepresent the situation. That is certainly the impression I gained from listening to his speech, and I think it would be the impression received by most people reading it. The facts are as I have stated them. In conclusion let us come to the other part of the proceedings. I myself have had, and so has the noble Marquess, a very long experience of observing Amendments to Bills in Parliament, both in the other place and, to some extent, though not so extensively, in this Hot se. I think it is fair to say that I cannot remember a Bill of a very controversial character (which is admitted) in which a greater number of important agreed Amendments were inserted than in this Bill. I think that is a fair statement. I pay tribute to noble Lords opposite, and to those who helped us in arriving at agreement, but there were some exceedingly important Amendments dealing with the most important character and parts of the Bill which, as a result of much negotiation and friendly interchange of comments, became agreed Amendments. They are in the body of the Bill, and not one of them has been altered. I think that tact should be borne in mind. However, I am sorry that the noble Marquess takes the view of it that he does. For my part, I think that we have got to bear in mind—and nobody bears it in mind more acutely than he does—that the position of this House is a very exceptional one--I put it no higher than that. But every one of us, I am sure, on both sides of the House, has a keen regard for the interests of our Parliamentary institutions in the test sense, and would be very loth to do anything to damage it. That is the spirit in which we tried to conduct our discussions 679 on this Bill. I am quite sure that in many vital respects it was much improved by common consent. That is a true statement, and I feel certain that that spirit will govern the rest of our deliberations.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ 5.51 p.m.