(One of a series of weekday posts about the life of Winston S. Churchill.)
During a bombing raid in May, 1941 much of the House of Commons was destroyed. Thereafter, the Commons sat in the House of Lords until the Commons could be rebuilt.
How to rebuild the Commons?
The question got a lot of attention while the war continued; and much more once the war ended and rebuilding could actually begin.
Some people saw the rebuilding as the perfect opportunity to improve the Commons. The “old Commons” didn’t even have room for all member to sit on the benches at the same time. Let's change that. And why not, some people suggested, make the "new Commons" big enough so that each member could have a desk, the way the American’s do in their legislative chambers.
Churchill was having none of that. He didn’t see how you could “improve” something that was already perfect. If every member showed up at a certain time for a critical vote, yes, some would have to stand in the aisles. But that would, he argued, only emphasize the seriousness of the occasion.
Although he was not Prime Minister at the time, his arguments carried the day. The Commons was reconstructed as nearly like it was before it was bombed. It remains that way to this day.
In October, 1955 with rebuilding complete, the Commons sat once again in its own House. Prime Minister Clement Atlee, Churchill’s Deputy in the wartime unity government Churchill led, spoke about on the significance of the occasion.
Then Churchill, as Leader of the Opposition, rose. He reminded members he’d first entered Commons as a member more than a half-century ago. He was, he said, “a child of the House of Commons" and added :
The Prime Minister said – and said quite truly – that the House of Commons was the workshop of democracy.Churchill’s biographer, Martin Gilbert, tells us:
But it has other claims, too. It is the champion of the people against executive oppression. I am not making a Party point; that is quite unfitting on such an occasion. But the House of Commons has ever been the controller and, if need be, the changer of the rulers of the day and of the Ministers appointed by the Crown. It stands forever against oligarchy and one-man power…
The House of Commons stands for freedom and law."
Churchill was touched that Attlee decided to name an un-bombed arch in the Commons the "Churchill Arch."You can see here a photo of the bombed Member’s Lobby and part of the Commons’ chamber beyond an archway.
I hope you all have a nice early Summer weekend.
Martin Gilbert, Churchill: A Life. (pgs. 892-893)