§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.48 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department and Lord Privy Seal (Mr. R. A. Butler)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I have it, Sir, in Command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the contents of the Bill, has been graciously pleased to place the interests of the Crown at the disposal of Parliament in connection therewith.
This is a short Measure to enable life peers, who may include women, to be created with the right to sit and vote in the House of Lords. It was on 12th February, 1857, that the House of Lords, in the Wensleydale case, took a decision relating to life peers which this Bill will reverse, and I can best put the Bill in its right historical perspective by recalling the circumstances of that case very shortly. A century ago, in contrast to the present time, the Lords were weak in judicial power. Sombre pictures were painted at the time of the then Lord Chancellor sitting alone on the Woolsack, in the dark.
To strengthen their judicial powers there was a move to confer a peerage on a judicial officer of high standing who then enjoyed the title "Baron of the Exchequer". The Sovereign was not prepared to confer on this gentleman an hereditary peerage, but Letters Patent were issued to create him a real baron —not a mere Baron of the Exchequer—for life.
When the writ was presented in the House of Lords, however, their Lordships took strong objection and set up a Select Committee to consider whether the Crown had power to create life peers. The conclusion was that no life peerage had been conferred for 400 years and that the prerogative power had fallen into desuetude. While, therefore, the new Lord Wensleydale enjoyed the title and dignity of a peer, he was debarred from sitting in their Lordships' House. In bringing this Bill before the House after such a lapse of time, Her Majesty's 403 Government cannot, at any rate, be accused of acting with indecent haste.
Before I deal with the Bill itself, may I make one or two general observations upon which, I hope, there may be substantial agreement. Her Majesty's Government are convinced—and in this, I think, we are supported by the overwhelming majority of people—that in the highly complicated society in which we live we must have a second Chamber. We in this House surely realise, in all modesty, that our work, however properly done, is better if it can be revised by another Chamber complementary to ourselves.
This was expressed very lucidly by the late Lord Jowitt, on the Second Reading of the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Bill of 1946, in a reference to the Commons proceedings. He referred to an error in the Bill. Speaking of it in another place on 21st January, 1947, he said that itshows, if any one of us were inclined to deny it, what great value and merit there is in having a revising Chamber, and that, even on a matter dealing with the constitution of the House of Commons, the Members there failed to observe something which I point out to your Lordships and which we shall have to put right for them."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 21st January, 1947.]That has frequently been done and, through inadvertence, it may frequently have to be done again.
That is a testimony, from a source which no doubt right hon. and hon. Members opposite will regard as impeccable, to the effect that there is very often need for a revision of the Bills which we send forward. This is due partly to the pressure under which we work, and I think it is valuable, in those circumstances, to have our legislation revised with care and thoroughness in another place. This, I think, fully justifies the House of Lords as part of the Parliamentary machine.
If it be agreed that there is need for an Upper House, there are two broad issues which we do well to consider from time to time. The first is what the extent of its powers should be and the second is, how ought it to be constituted? In this Bill we are not concerned with powers. The powers of the House of Lords were modified by the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949 and the Government do not propose any further adjustment. We are 404 concerned in the Bill solely with the constitution of the House of Lords.
In approaching this difficult question of the membership of the House of Lords, I want to correct a common mistake. It is not true, of course, either as a matter of history or in the circumstances of today, to think of the House of Lords as a body all of whom owe their seats to the accident of birth. The House of Lords has never been a body so composed. Looking back in history, up to the time of the dissolution of the monasteries, in the sixteenth century, the bishops and abbots normally outnumbered the hereditary peers.
In the past 500 years there has been a continual reinforcement of the Upper House by the creation of new peerages, and though these peerages were descendable to male heirs, the effect has been that at all times in its history there have been in the House, in varying numbers, men prominent in its work who were present because of their own merits and not because of those of their ancestors. Today, for example, there are some 170 peers of the first creation, many of whom are prominent in the work of this House.
In 1876, an addition to the nonhereditary element was made when a number of Lords of Appeal were authorised by Statute. Originally, they were to sit so long as they held the office of Law Lord, but shortly afterwards the position was altered and they sat for life.
When looking at this problem, therefore, we are not concerned with a House of Lords of which the composition has been static, or with a House of Lords to which, as may once have been the case, entry depends not only on public service, but on the possession of wealth or property. The membership of the Upper House has changed with the passage of the years. Lack of means is no longer a bar to entry. Peerages have been conferred and are conferred on grounds of public service and almost all interests in the life of the nation have spokesmen in the Upper House.
We now propose to empower the Crown to create life peers. This may not be a very big change, but I think that hon. Members wish me to examine it in support of our belief that this change will be a considerable improvement on the present situation.
405 Some have argued, and will argue, that there is a case for a reform of the House of Lords more radical and comprehensive than that which the Bill proposes. I should like to make this submission to the House: any comprehensive change should be one based on agreement between the two parties, and no such agreement has hitherto proved possible. Since 1911, attempts to reach agreement on reform, all of them unsuccessful, have frequently been made. It is true that most of the discussions have embraced the contentious question of powers as well as the question of membership, and the area of controversy has, therefore, been wide. On the other hand, I do not think that it has been as wide as the exaggerated terms of the Amendment put down by the Opposition on the Order Paper today.
I remember, for example, the talks of February-April, 1948, an account of which was published in Cmd. 7380. This is certainly not the occasion to review these talks, but they were conducted in an atmosphere of reason and calm, not the somewhat hysterical terms of the Amendment on the Order Paper. The proposals to which both sides were ready to give further consideration, as set out in that Command Paper, certainly do not give the impression that anyone thought of an Upper House which wouldfrustrate and obstruct the will of the elected representatives of the people.Nor does the record of the Upper House in recent times bear this out at all. [HON. MEMBERS: "The nationalisation of steel."] The Opposition sometimes say that they do not trust another place when they themselves are in power. Let us look at what happened in the Parliament of 1945–50.
In view of the radical alteration, as a result of the 1945 Election, of the normal position of a Government majority in both Houses, Lord Salisbury, then Viscount Cranborne, laid down the principles which should guide the House of Lords in the new situation in terms which I think are worth reading, because they remind us of what happened at that time. Speaking of the Labour Government of that day, he said:The Government may, therefore, I think, fairly claim that they have a mandate to introduce these proposals.That was their programme of the Election of 1945. 406I believe that it would be constitutionally wrong, when the country has so recently expressed its view, for this House"—that is, the Upper House—to oppose proposals which have been definitely put before the electorate. … Let them have a fair trial. If there is one thing that has struck me in the short time that I have been in your Lordships' House it is this—whatever it may have been in the past it is now no mere party Assembly but rather a Council of State. This is an occasion, if ever there was one, to show statesmanship."—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, House of Lords, 16th August, 1945; Vol. 137. c. 47–8.]As a result, the House will remember, in the years which followed no fewer than six nationalisation Bills were passed by the Upper House, and if right hon. and hon. Members opposite feel that that is not their view, then I will quote the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) who, in November, 1946, said:… we have seen the remarkable and characteristically British spectacle of a Chamber with a large Right wing majority passing one nationalisation Bill after another.He went on to say:The rarity of a conflict between the Lords and the Commons is nowadays so great that most people take the smooth working of the two Houses for granted.That does not sound as if the terms of the Amendment are appropriate to the present situation.
I could go on to quote a variety of statements in support of that view, for example, that by Sir Stafford Cripps almost a year later when, on the Second Reading of the Companies Bill [Lords] on 6th June, 1947, he drew attention to the fact that about 360 Amendments had been made and said:I believe that those modifications will be found to be improvements, but the fundamental recommendations of the Committee very largely remain in the Bill as it now is."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th June, 1947; Vol. 438, c. 587.]That is a reference to the Cohen Committee. There is an example of the Upper House doing its work conscientiously and carrying it through as a revising Chamber.
Dealing with the Bill to nationalise the coal industry which could not but be regarded at that time as a highly controversial Measure—with a mandate behind it—Lord Jowitt, speaking in another place, paid this tribute:… I have had your Lordships' collaboration, whether you agree with the policy of this Bill 407 or not in trying to make this a workable Measure."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 4th July, 1946; Vol. 142, c. 133.]There is absolutely no doubt that the Upper House at that time when, as has been said, it was the first occasion for some time when there was not a Government majority in both Houses, acted with statesmanship and quite contrary to the imaginary language in the Opposition's Amendment today.
I will now deal with the detail of the Bill itself. If we cannot get agreement between the parties on any radical scheme of reform of the House of Lords, what is the need for this Measure? I will describe it. It is simply to make possible the strengthening of the House of Lords by the creation of life peers who will be able and prepared to attend regularly to contribute to the discharge of that work which is vital to the working of our constitution. For a variety of reasons we all know, many people are reluctant today to accept hereditary peerages. It may be for personal reasons, it may be because they do not want their sons to become peers, or it may be for reasons which make them feel that they want to remain ordinary commoners.
We cannot rely solely on the creation of hereditary peerages to provide an adequate field of recruitment for the House of Lords in future. What we want to do, quite simply, by this Bill is to enlarge that field and make it possible to offer life peerages to people of distinction in the public service, people who could represent some aspect of the nation's life with particular authority, or who could take part in an adequate way in the Parliamentary life of the country.
In the many schemes of reform which have been suggested in the past there has been one common element of agreement, that there should be an increase in the non-hereditary element in the House of Lords. That is why we have decided to recommend to the House, following discussions in another place, the simple Bill which we have put before the House this afternoon. The Government have been encouraged by the favourable reception of the Bill in another place, and outside, to believe that our proposals command a wide measure of agreement.
We commend this Measure as a practical one designed to meet the circum- 408 stances of the time. It is a very short Bill and it proposes the creation of life peers who may include women. It places no limit on the number of life peers who may be created. Life peers will be appointed by the Crown on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. That is the constitutional and proper course and, obviously, nothing I may say today can bind the present or future Prime Ministers to exercise their constitutional duty at any given time in any particular way. Any Prime Minister may and must be free to make whatever recommendations he thinks right in the circumstances of the time when he makes that decision.
It may assist the House if I give some indication of the way in which we think this matter will be dealt with. What we want to achieve is the addition to the House of Lords of men and women of distinction from all the main sectors of our national life, men and women who will strengthen it by their knowledge of affairs and their experience and widely varied interests, political, scientific, economic, cultural and religious. By this means we may hope to ensure that in carrying out its important duties of revising or initiating legislation, and of debating the great issues of public policy which continually arise, the House of Lords will adequately and accurately reflect the life and thought of the nation.
Some of those men and women—and this will no doubt interest us here, as politicians—will be recommended for appointment primarily on political grounds. Before making such recommendations of members of an opposition party, I would expect any Prime Minister informally to consult the leader of that party. The responsibility constitutionally will and must be the Prime Minister's, whoever is the Prime Minister of the day, but it would be reasonable and right for him to consult the Leader of the Opposition to ascertain the views of the Opposition on any particular recommendation; and I think that that is how the proposal will work out.
It will also be the duty of the Prime Minister, of course, to recommend men and women who, though not actively associated with any political party, are qualified by their eminence in other spheres to make a constructive contribution to the work of Parliament. In doing so, the Prime Minister of the day 409 will doubtless take soundings in many quarters with the object of ensuring that those whose experience best fits them to give this service and who are able and willing to give it are selected.
The House of Lords, as I have already shown, includes many eminent men without strong party ties but covering a wide range of subjects, as the debates in another place on many important issues make clear. There is no doubt that the valuable non-party element now contained in the Upper House can and should be strengthened and that the availability of life peers will make it possible to include in that element outstanding men and women who do not at present feel able to accept a hereditary title. Political parties are not the sole repositories of experience of life and the affairs of men, and we shall want men and women in all political groups and of none.
It may be asked whether, even if the case for life peers is established, a limit ought not to be put on their number. The Government have taken the view that that is unnecessary and that the number of peerages to be recommended from time to time should be left to the good sense of the Prime Minister of the day. In our view, it would be illogical and contrary to our normal evolution to limit, by Statute, the number of life peers in the House of Lords when no such restriction is proposed in the case of hereditary peers; and there are also practical arguments against any such limitation.
In the absence of agreement between the parties on any radical reform of the House of Lords, the Bill proposes to leave the hereditary element in the House unchanged. However, hon. Members will be aware that the House of Lords is considering the adoption of Standing Orders which will enable leave of absence to be granted to those peers who are unable to take any active share in the business of the House. The adoption of Standing Orders, at the discretion of another place, and the Bill, taken together, will mean that, in practice, the House of Lords should in future—as is true to a large extent today—increasingly consist of those peers, whether they hold life or hereditary titles, who are in a position to contribute positively to the business which the Upper House has to conduct.
410 During the course of our two-day debate there may be questions about various omissions from the Bill. There is also the criticism that it empowers the Crown to confer life peerages on women. That is a provision which the Government entirely support. I do not think that any argument of mine is necessary in support of it—but I think it will be quite interesting to see who is chosen.
There are various other rather controversial matters, which are covered by the general omnibus argument that we are not putting forward a Bill for a comprehensive reform, or a comprehensive reform of the hereditary element. The questions asked in this connection are: why cannot hereditary peeresses, in their own right, sit in the House of Lords? Why cannot hereditary peers who do not want to give up their right to stand for the House of Commons renounce their right to sit in the House of Lords? Why cannot Scottish peers not elected as representative peers vote at Parliamentary Elections, or stand for election to, and sit in, this House? These are matters which are not included in the Bill and which, in our view, could be suitably discussed, entertained or inserted in the Bill only if it were a comprehensive Bill for the reform of the hereditary element.
That is not the purpose of the Bill, and the Government have taken the view that it is wiser to limit the present operation to the injection of new blood which will help to keep the Upper House in a condition to discharge its functions effectively.
I have tried to explain our main reasons for introducing this short but important Measure. I would sum up the position in this way. The Bill is strictly limited in scope, but it is a major Measure, designed to facilitate the work of the Upper House. I think that we are all agreed that, in our Constitution, the Upper House must not be a rival to this House. For that reason, I think that no Government would contemplate a second Chamber elected on the same lines as the House of Commons. But if the second Chamber is to do its work effectively it must be assured of continuing vitality and experience.
We know—and I have described earlier —the part that the Upper House plays in perfecting and revising legislation and the 411 opportunity that it gives for discussing matters of vital importance to the nation, and we all know that in another place—whether we criticise it or not, and whether we are against its existence or not—the debates are very often of an exceptionally high quality and are contributed to by experts from a great many sections of our public life.
§ Mr. Butler
Not always in this House, either. The average level of debate in another place is as high as in any Chamber.
The Government's proposals are designed to make it possible for the service at present given by members of all parties, and of no party, in the House of Lords, to be shared with others—those who have distinguished themselves in politics, or in the many fields of our national life in which experience of value in the discussion of our affairs can be gained. They will include women as well as men.
In recommending the Bill to the House, we base our case on the line that in our Constitution, failing agreement, it is often better to take a small step and to make a gradual move—moving by evolution and not suddenly and overnight by revolutionary methods. In the Bill we simply propose to take a step in the evolution of Parliament in order to fit it to discharge its responsibilities in the constantly changing era in which we live. I therefore recommend the Bill to the House as practical and necessary. Limited in scope, and short though it is, it will take its place in the evolution of our unmatched Constitution.
§ 4.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Gaitskell (Leeds, South)
I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which leaves the House of Lords overwhelmingly hereditary in character and with unimpaired powers to frustrate and obstruct the will of the elected representatives of the people.In the course of his remarks the Lord Privy Seal described the Opposition's Amendment as hysterical. I can only say that, compared with the language used about the House of Lords in 412 the past—notably by the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill)—the amendment is in phrases of studied moderation. But I can well understand the feelings of the right hon. Gentleman. He is a member of the Conservative Party—and the Conservative Party has never had to face any frustration or obstruction from the House of Lords. He finds it difficult to understand why anybody should feel in the least excited about the problem, because there never has been a problem for the right hon. Gentleman and his party. I will return later to some of the other things which the right hon. Gentleman said.
As he mentioned, this is a short Bill, and it may be said, in a sense, to be technically very limited. It merely enables Her Majesty to create life peers of either sex, and enables them to be summoned to sit in the House of Lords. I say at once that if we take, on their own, the two principles of life peerages compared with hereditary peerages, and no discrimination between men and women in the membership of the House of Lords, there is obviously much to commend them, although I would note, in passing, that the Government's sudden enthusiasm for non-discrimination between men and women does not extend to hereditary peeresses.
But here we are not merely discussing two principles in the abstract; we are dealing with a proposed change in the Constitution, and I submit that we can judge whether it is or is not a desirable change only by comparing very carefully what the House of Lords is today—before the Bill is through—with what it is to be like after the change. We are in some difficulty, because this is an enabling Bill, and we do not know exactly what the consequences will be. Even the right hon. Gentleman's remarks as to what he thought Prime Ministers might or might not do do not carry us very far forward. We do not know how many life peerages will be created; we do not know how far the Standing Orders of the House of Lords will be changed. and we do not know how far the present position will be affected.
In those circumstances the best thing that we can do, in order to try to understand what lies behind the Government's intentions in this matter, is to examine 413 the reasons given for introducing the Bill. I am bound to say that the more that I have examined those reasons, as they have been put forward by Government spokesmen in another place and in a much more limited fashion by the right hon. Gentleman today, the more slender the arguments for the Bill appear to be. There is no demand from public opinion for a constitutional change of this kind. The public is interested in many other things—foreign affairs, the cost of living and the Rent Act—but it has not shown any great demand to change the constitution of the House of Lords.
What, then, are the arguments that are put forward? Oddly enough, the reasons given by the Leader of the House of Lords are quite different from those given by the Leader of this House. The Leader of this House has said that the Government are putting forward the Measure because they could not reach agreement upon a wider Measure, and that it was not necessary to have agreement on a limited Measure of this kind. He will not deny that that was what he said.
But the noble Lord, Lord Home, moving the Second Reading of the Bill in another place, referred at the beginning of his speech to an earlier speech in which he had said—I am here quoting, as I may, because he is a Minister:… that it was desirable, if at all possible, that when we concerned ourselves with changes in the powers or the composition or the practice of Parliament we should proceed by agreement between the main political parties.He went on to say that, of course, the Government must have the last word. We would not dispute either of those two propositions. He then went on to say, having underlined that the Government must have the last word:… I would suggest that before embarking on an exercise of that kind, there is an obligation on the Government of the day to discover how far towards their objectives they can go by common consent.His last argument was, as he put it, thatfor the first time for many years, it seems to us,"—he was referring to this Bill—we can detect an area of agreement—and a significant area of agreement."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 3rd December, 1957; Vol. 206, c. 609–10.]On which leg do the Government stand in this? Are they saying to us, "We are putting this forward because it is not agreed, it is only limited", or are they 414 putting it forward because this is what is agreed? Those are two totally different propositions put forward in the two Houses of Parliament.
I submit that it is perfectly clear that Lord Home was wholly in the wrong when he suggested that there was a large measure of agreement about this Bill. In point of fact, of course, there has been no discussion whatever between the two parties on this constitutional change. No attempt has been made, in respect of this Bill, to find out whether or not there could be agreement. My noble Friend Viscount Alexander of Hillsborough made plain in the House of Lords that we certainly could not view this Bill al a favourable light at all.
I realise that Lord Home may have been referring to a different sort of agreement. He may have been thinking in terms of agreement within the House of Lords or within the Tory Party— which is rather the same thing—and indicating that, of course, there were other measures of reform on which no agreement could be reached within their party; but this was something which they could take, at any rate, as a common minimum. Whether that be so or not, it is irrelevant. We are here concerned with whether there has been any agreement between the parties and, plainly, the answer is, "No."
The second argument put forward which, oddly enough, the right hon. Gentleman did not refer to—though it was repeatedly mentioned in the debates in another place—is that this Bill will assist the Labour Party, the Opposition, in the House of Lords. It is not very easy for us to believe, or to take seriously, the idea that the Government are anxious in any way to assist the Labour Party. If this really is put forward as a serious proposition, it seems to me very odd indeed that the Labour Party, which was to benefit so much, was not even consulted about whether it wanted the Bill.
The Government might have come to us and asked if we had difficulties in the House of Lords. They might have asked what these difficulties were, and said, "Do you think it would help if life peerages were created and life peers able to sit in the House of Lords? Do you think it would help you to strengthen your position?". None of these things was done. We were not asked. This is 415 a Bill which has been imposed by the Government on the Opposition without consultation.
I must say that there lies behind this what I can only describe as a rather unpleasantly patronising attitude to the Labour Party. The implication of this sort of approach—I am speaking of what has been said in another place; I agree that the right hon. Gentleman made no reference to it—is that we in the Labour Party have conscientious scruples—some of us do—about the acceptance of hereditary peerages; that the Tories have no such scruples, and, therefore, they are prepared to help us out of our little conscientious difficulties by making it easier for members of the Labour Party to sit in the House of Lords. And when we received this offer without any enthusiasm, Lord Hailsham described our attitude as ungenerous.
I find this expressed fairly well also by Lord Home, later in the same speech, when he said:We on this side of the House, believing as we do that the hereditary peerage has a part to play in the Upper House of Parliament, have willingly modified the hereditary principle by the introduction of life peers so as to enable the Socialist point of view to be put more effectively from the other side of the House. We have been willing to make that modification and that compromise; and if noble Lords opposite in the years to come (I am not asking them to do so today), after the passage of this Bill, will show a similar spirit of compromise, and be willing to include in a reformed House an element of hereditary peers, then we can arrive without much difficulty at the kind of scheme which is outlined by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, at the present time …" —[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 3rd December, 1957; Vol. 206, c. 615–6.]I must say to the Government that we are not accepting this offer and that we find this sort of approach most unsatisfactory and unpleasant. Let me tell them that although, of course, it is true that some members of our party do not like the idea of accepting hereditary peerages, and some of them have done so unwillingly in order to serve the party and the nation in the House of Lords, nevertheless the Government miss the whole point of our objection to the present House of Lords if they think that it can be overcome by a Measure of this sort.
What we are objecting to is not the conscientious difficulties in which we are 416 supposed to be placed, but the fact that the composition of the House of Lords as a whole is totally wrong in being overwhelmingly hereditary. We should regard it as still hopelessly wrong even though, in this generous fashion, they offered us a few life peerages so that we might strengthen our ranks.
In any case, as the right hon. Gentleman knows very well, if there are difficulties in manning our benches in the House of Lords, it is, at the moment, for a rather different reason. It is simply that we find it difficult— I freely confess this—to have enough people there who can put in practically the whole of their time in the House of Lords and can give up their business, profession or job, and on the basis of the allowances only recently introduced, devote, as I say, their whole time to the day-to-day work in the House of Lords which is so necessary in a revising Chamber. Therefore, the major problem—we may as well face this—is not that it is difficult to get people to accept hereditary titles; the major problem is to find people who can spare the time; the major problem is, in fact, the problem of pay in the House of Lords, about which this Bill proposes to do nothing.
The third argument which is advanced —this was advanced by the right hon. Gentleman—is that they wish to make the House of Lords work better, they wish to strengthen it. So far as that concerns Labour peers, I have already given my answer. So far as it applies to non-Labour peers, these considerations seem to me to arise. For what reason is it believed that it will be easier to get distinguished persons to spend a lot of time in the House of Lords—which, again, is the real problem—because they are offered life peerages instead of hereditary peerages? Why should one assume that they will be more assiduous in their work than the hereditary peers? Why, indeed, should the "distinguished" people—and the right hon. Gentleman used the word twice—be those people who would have the time to do the work in the House of Lords?
I should like, next, to ask this question. Is it really the case, as the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends make out, that a number of Tories, or Liberals for that matter, have conscientious scruples about accepting hereditary peerages, and that, as a result, there is to be 417 a clear widening of range of opportunity, or, rather, of recruitment? I can only say that I know of no single case where a Conservative or Liberal, who has refused a hereditary peerage, would have accepted a life peerage.
There are certain cases of people refusing peerages, of course, because they wish to stay in this House, but has anybody any illustrations to give us showing that there is this large body of distinguished men waiting to go to the House of Lords, if only their sons do not have to go, too; I mean from the Conservative and Liberal Parties? It is very difficult to think that this is a serious proposition. Why, after all, should the Conservatives, who believe in the hereditary principle, object to hereditary peerages? In any case, are the Conservatives in the House of Lords short of members? Do they really want to strengthen their ranks?
The final argument—and I think that this is the real argument—is that this change will, it is believed, enhance the prestige of the House of Lords, and that it will make it less vulnerable to attack. I readily agree that the Government spokesmen have recently been rather cautious in the language they have used, but other Members of the House of Lords, whom I may not quote, have been far from cautious in this matter. For instance, I refer to the interesting speech of Lord Balfour of Burleigh. If hon. Members will look at it they will see that that certainly is the reason why he was prepared to support this Bill.
If this is seriously put forward, one must ask the question: why, and for what purpose, is it desirable to enhance the prestige of the House of Lords? Can it have any other significance except to increase its authority? The right hon. Gentleman must pardon us if we believe that this is what lies behind the mind of the Government. We have had a good deal of trouble over a long period of time with the House of Lords. We know that there are proposals for reform being bandied about on their side, and we know that the main motive behind these proposals is to preserve the authority and enhance the prestige of the House of Lords.
Our suspicions, I am afraid, are inevitably somewhat increased in this 418 matter when we appreciate some of the things that have been said in another place. Here I refer in particular to something which the Lord Chancellor said, not in the recent debates but in the preliminary debate on 31st October. This is what he said:But I do wish to say this to Lord Salisbury, Lord Swinton and Lord Winterton, who asked me on this paint. I believe, and the Government believe, that the British Constitution is an organic and a dynamic thing, and when we have made this change in the composition of the House, if we reach that position, the Government must—I repeat, must —consider the effect of the change, and whether and when the time has come for a further change."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords. 31st October, 1957; Vol. 205, c. 772.]Remembering that it is in reply to those noble Lords, this seems very different from the kind of further change which we would like to see in the direction of reducing the powers of the House of Lords, but, on the contrary, it is far more likely to be in the direction of increasing its prestige and authority.
That brings me to the general question of powers. The right hon. Gentleman made great play with the fact that the House of Lords had been very reasonable with the Labour Government. That was in 1946; it did not dare be anything else. It was not so reasonable when that Government came towards the end of their term of office. This sort of argument that, after all, the House of Lords has been very nice, is not making very much impression on us, because we question the right of the House of Lords even to make decisions on this matter at all.
It may be said, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that, at any rate, in this Measure we do not go further than that. There was no proposal to adjust the powers, but he cannot pledge the future here, nor can he give any assurance that the idea of altering the powers was completely absent for all time from the mind of the Government. In any case, I must make it plain that, in our opinion, even the present powers are excessive, and that, if, in consequence of this Bill, the prestige of the House of Lords is enhanced, we believe that the House of Lords may very well seek to use its existing powers far more intensively and far more frequently.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
Before my right hon. Friend leaves the point about the behaviour of the House of Lords, will he bear in mind that the argument has so far 419 concerned the behaviour of the House of Lords in matters where the Government are concerned? There was a recent example where the opinion of the House of Commons, on a free vote, without the Whips on, was overwhelmed—I am not talking about the merits of the matter—and where the House of Lords succeeded in frustrating the declared will of the House of Commons by making a conspiracy with the Government?
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I think that my hon. Friend has certainly made a very valid point there. I was coming to matters of that kind a little later, but I entirely agree with what he says.
I was saying that if the prestige of the House of Lords were greater, even the present powers might very well be used more intensively. The powers of delay which exist even under the 1949 Parliament Act are still considerable. It is still possible for the House of Lords, in the case of a short Bill, to delay its passage, as the Lord Chancellor admitted, by about nine months. The noble Lord gave five months as the time for a longer Bill. It may very well be that a future Labour Government may wish to pass rapidly a short Bill of great importance, for which it has a complete mandate, through both Houses of Parliament, and might then have to face obstruction of this kind.
The amount of delay alone might be very dangerous, and if this were to happen towards the end of the Government's period of office, it would, in fact, prevent that Government from carrying that Bill at all.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)
The right hon. Gentleman has already admitted earlier in his speech that the House of Lords should have a constitutional right of revision. What sort of period of time does he think necessary for such revision? Does he think five months too much?
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I do not think that I actually said that, but I agree that if we need to have a second Chamber the case for it is as a revising second Chamber. I see no reason why, if the House of Lords makes revisions, they should not be immediately considered by the House of Commons. If, for instance, the revision took the form of the rejection of 420 a Bill, I personally believe that the House of Commons should be entitled to pass the Bill, in what we might call a Fourth Reading, after which the Bill becomes law. But these are matters which I was not proposing at the moment to go into —not at the moment.
There is no doubt that there is that delaying power, and that it can be serious. There is also the power to reject Statutory Rules and Orders. I know that the House of Lords has not used these powers, but how are we to be sure that it will never use them? It could be extremely dangerous. I am not even sure that we could overcome the difficulty by the Parliament Act, but that is a legal point, which some of my right hon. and hon. Friends may take up.
We in the Labour Party do not accept for a moment the argument put forward in another place, not only by Lord Balfour of Burleigh, but also by the Lord President of the Council, that, unless, in the opinion of the House of Lords, a Labour Government has a mandate for a particular Measure, the House of Lords is entitled to use its veto. I do not accept the phrase used by the Lord President of the Council to the effect that if there were no delaying power in the House of Lords, this House would be an elected dictatorship. I should think that all Members of the House of Commons would resent and object to language of that kind.
The truth is, however, and I do not deny it, that there is a real difference between the parties on this point. Government supporters have always believed in a House of Lords as a Tory machine to delay the passage of Socialist legislation. The plain fact is that this power has never been used against a Tory Government. I would refer hon. Members, in particular, to the interesting and impressive speech of Lord Moran, in the House of Lords debate. I cannot quote from it, but I will paraphrase it. He said that the whole assumption of the Bill and the arguments behind it were that if Conservative Measures were coming to the House of Lords they were all right, and there was no need to have delaying legislation, but that if they were Socialist Measures they had to be delayed. The noble Lord was good enough to say that he regarded that position as totally unfair.
421 Nor can we accept the view which the Lord Chancellor has adduced that all this anxiety of ours about powers was unnecessary because, in the 1948 talks, it was agreed that no party should be guaranteed a majority. We are not dealing with that situation at all, but with a change in the Bill which leaves the overwhelming Conservative majority utterly unimpaired. I put this point to hon. Gentlemen opposite: suppose we were to have a reform in which the House of Lords retained certain delaying powers but the party balance was such that the Government in power could not be sure of a majority either way. Suppose, for instance, that in the last few years there had been a Labour majority in the House of Lords and that that Labour majority had thrown out the Rent Bill. Suppose it had delayed the passage of that Bill. Would Government supporters be so enthusiastic about the delaying powers of the House of Lords?
The hollowness of the case for the Bill becomes, in my view, even more apparent, owing to the refusal of the Government to make at least one small change on which I believe there could have been agreement, and that is to make it possible for the sons of peers to renounce their right to a seat in the House of Lords, and. in consequence, to retain their right to a seat in the House of Commons. When my right hon. and hon. Friends in another place moved Amendments to that effect they were rejected by the Government.
I can bring in here a question arising out of that. The Lord Chancellor, in rejecting those Amendments, suggested that this was a matter for the House of Commons. I will not argue about that, but if it is it ought to be settled during this debate. I would like to know the Government's intentions. Are they proposing to put forward an Amendment which would cover the point, or are they prepared to accept Amendments put forward from this side of the House? What is their intention? The Lord Chancellor has said, in. effect. "The ball is now with the House of Commons". Let us hear from the Government how they think it should be played.
It is reasonable that hon. Members should ask the Opposition spokesmen what real reform, if they do not like the Bill, they would like to see. There is, first, the question whether or not there 422 should be a second Chamber. There may be differences of opinion on that subject; do not imagine that they need necessarily be all on one side of the House. There is one distinguished member of the Conservative Party who had rather definite views on this matter some years ago. The right hon. Member for Wood-ford, speaking in 1909, had this to say—[Laughter.] I think that hon. Members will enjoy this:As democracy becomes more numerous and educated, more varied, more complex and more powerful, it is necessary that the House of Lords should recede and retire. It is necessary that it should count less and less. Most men expected that gradually as things happen in our country the House of Lords would pass peacefully and painlessly away. That would have been a natural evolution, much better for us and much better for them.Do not point an accusing finger solely against those who are in favour on this side of the House of a second Chamber.
However, assuming that there is to be a second Chamber—and it is an open question—the first condition of any adequate reform is to get rid of the situation in which there is a permanent Tory majority who can obstruct the will of the House of Commons. This is the basic aim which any reform must have to be worth while at all. There are various ways in which such a reform can be carried out and I ventured, in the course of my speech during the debate on the Address, to mention three principles.
They were that the second Chamber should not be separately elected, as it were, parallel with the House of Commons. The second was that it should not be hereditary in character, and the third that it should not have power to overrule or obstruct the House of Commons. If there were a question of real reform we would certainly think it right, if those general propositions were acceptable and particularly the point about powers, that there should be an attempt, at reaching an agreement among the parties. We should have to give much more thought to detail of this kind, and so would Government supporters. There would be no purpose in having those talks unless there were a prospect of agreement. These are the sort of principles on which we should go. I would not think it wise to go into further detail at this point.
423 I will mention just one other thing that has been referred to in another place, on which I would like to make our position plain. We have stated these principles. The impression that we are in any way committed, in consequence of those principles, to a Chamber wholly nominated by the party leaders as the only possible alternative method, is not correct. I have never said that but it is, of course, one proposition which has been put forward from time to time and which is, in a sense, implicit to some extent in this very Bill. I believe that there are alternatives which could be considered, both to the idea of a separate electorate and to a hereditary Chamber, which would not involve this wholesale nomination by party leaders.
Be that as it may, the Bill is not really a reform Bill, as we see it. It leaves the Conservative majority in its overwhelming character. It leaves the present powers of the House of Lords unchanged and it gives, conveniently, an apparently slightly more respectable appearance to the House of Lords. We are opposed to a cloak of respectability put upon a person when the reality is quite unchanged. We do not see any case for enhancing the prestige of the House of Lords, so long as it is in all major respects the same as it is now. On those grounds, we submit the Amendment which I have moved.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir (Aberdeen, South)
The tenor of the speech of the Leader of the Opposition and, indeed, of the Amendment show the trend of Opposition thought, in that the Opposition has not really made up its mind whether it wants a second Chamber at all. It is quite true that the words of the Amendment do not include the word "abolition," but they do refer to the:unimpaired powers to frustrate and obstruct the will of the elected representatives of the people.This Bill does not, of course, deal with the powers, only the composition, of the Upper House, but I should like first to tackle the question of its powers, because that is fundamental to the whole of our discussions. I wish briefly to say that I support the limited Bill we have before us, although, as I ventured to say in the debate on the Address, I do not think it 424 goes nearly far enough. I can think of a great many other reforms we could usefully have.
The present powers of the Upper House have been whittled down to the extent that it gives a clear four-year run to legislation in a five-year Parliament. I suggest that the real question which troubles hon. Members opposite is whether the second Chamber should have any powers at all. The powers are not to veto but to delay; to give the public and the Commons time for second thoughts and for a breathing space in certain legislation. This is very important. The Upper House does not seek to frustrate the will of this House, as the Amendment says, but tries to ensure that the will of the people shall prevail. Everybody knows that political parties are elected on broad general programmes and a great many details of necessity cannot be put to the people at the hustings. Even from the earliest days of an elected Parliament fresh situations arise for which new Measures are needed which have never been put before the people at an Election. That is understood.
It is said that Parliament must lead, but I suggest to the House that one of the most far-reaching heresies is to say that all laws are necessarily good. Do let us take ourselves with a pinch of salt, because people do not think about politics and Parliament all the time. After all, we are elected for a five-year term. On the whole, most busy people let us get on with our work, and the newspapers do not really enlighten them as to what we are up to. If we claim here to represent the will of the people, is it right that an eager Government should press on with some cherished object which is not in the mandate which is far ahead of public opinion, apparently anxious to avoid any revulsion against their action until it is too late? This applies to all Parliaments, particularly in the remaining stages of a five-year Parliament. Hon. Members might say that this applies particularly to us on this side of the House. Therefore, I say this argument will be more powerful coming from the Government side than from the benches opposite. Surely the will of the people is the will of the people when they were last consulted. Obviously, as we get towards the end of the Parliament, and even after the first 425 year in the lifetime of the Parliament, the will of the people will not be exactly the same as it was.
§ Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)
Would the noble Lady be prepared to apply that philosophy to the Rent Act, which was passed by her Government?
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
Certainly. My argument has been devoted to showing why it is necessary to have powers in the Upper House to delay legislation passed by a majority Government of either party, particularly when there is a clear four-year run of legislation under the present powers and it is in the last year that difficulty begins.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams (Manchester, Openshaw)
Can the noble Lady tell us how and when the other place ascertained the views of this country on the Rent Act, or on any other matter of public interest?
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
I am coming to the whole question of the composition of the House of Lords. In reference to an interjection made by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) about the Criminal Justice Act, it is quite true that the House of Commons expressed its view on that matter and that view was rejected by another place, but I think it has been shown that general public opinion about the death penalty is, in fact, more in accord with that of the Upper House than that of the Lower House.
§ Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
I was rather interested in the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Openshaw (Mr. W. R. Williams) and to find out how the House of Lords managed to discover that it was not necessary to delay the Rent Act because the people were enthusiastic that it should be passed.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
I thought the hon. Member for Openshaw (Mr. W. R. Williams) asked whether I would be prepared to have the Rent Act thrown out by the House of Lords. As to how another place would have ascertained public opinion regarding the Rent Act, all I can say is that there are a large number holding views which are quite contrary to those of the party opposite, to the effect that in the long run the Rent Act will be of benefit, and for that reason it was 426 passed. For different reasons the Upper House passed nationalisation Measures.
Let us think about ourselves for a moment. If we claim to represent the will of the people, we cannot therefore claim to be perfect, because if we were perfect it would not be necessary to have a second Chamber at all. I submit that every Government needs the check and balance of a constitution, and we need it as a deterrent to arbitrary power. We all know perfectly well that the real power lies here in the House of Commons, and nothing can ever alter that. The Opposition denies any desire to make the Lords more effective or, as the Leader of the Opposition said, to strengthen its prestige and authority. That drives one to the conclusion that the Opposition does not want a second Chamber. The Opposition does not want the Lords to use the powers so recently agreed, in 1949, and if it does use them there are immediate threats of abolition.
The Opposition gives the overwhelming impression—although I am sure it does not wish to do se—that it wants the shadow of the second Chamber without the substance. These powers would be very much better accepted by everyone if Parliament were considered as a whole. Surely it is the essence of an unwritten constitution that the second Chamber should be complementary to and not competing with the Lower House. There should be interdependence of both Chambers, a word much used today.
I come now to the question of the composition of the other House. If we want the other House to be different in composition—not an elected Chamber—from the Lower House, we want it also to look at our problems from a different angle. In the Commons, we have a lot of eager party politicians and a lot of lively debates, but in another place, while it is true that probably the majority of the peers owe allegiance to one party or the other, a great many have far looser party political alignments, and peers are not in the thick of the party controversy all the time.
If one goes up the corridor one is struck by the difference in their debates. To me, they seem very calm, rather cool; in fact, very polite. Sometimes after our debates here I rather wonder if the general public does not think we need reform rather than the Lords. Because 427 Members of another place draw their experience primarily not from politics but from industry, the land, the professions or the Services, they bring, I suggest, another attitude of mind to political affairs. One of the arguments, of course, for having women in public life is that our affairs affect both men and women. I suggest that we need both men and women to look at our affairs differently, but, I hope, with complementary minds.
I shall be interested to know if there is anyone who does not think that we need a second Chamber for the purpose of revision and for certain debates. The two tasks are very different. For the first, technical and Parliamentary experience is needed, and, for the second, present as well as past experience in many fields. I must say that I entirely agree with the Leader of the Opposition on one thing, and that is that I do not think the creation of a few life peers of either sex is going to meet the problem of non-attendance with only an expense allowance.
It is said that when Members of this House are elevated to another place it is the start of a new career. That reminds me of Henry Labouchere, who was a Member of this House and who was elevated to another place. A friend of his met him one day and said, "I saw your father in the House of Lords the other day." Labouchere replied, "Oh did you? How interesting. He died ten years ago. I always wondered where he went to."
Members of this House who receive a peerage, and even if they have outside jobs, are surely going to notice a difference between £1,750 taxable income and a maximum of £300 expenses. It seems to me that until payment of peers is agreed, the Bill is going to make very little difference unless the hours of sitting are altered to the working day. If that happened, it would mean that the House of Lords would sit, roughly, about the same time in the evenings as the House of Commons, and would sit about the same length of time as it does at present. I have often heard Government speakers in another place apologising for keeping their Lordships until the late hour of five or six.
It is said that one cannot pay peers while so many of them cannot attend. That is why I welcome the proposal that 428 Standing Orders should allow for leave of absence. I suggest that, as a temporary measure, that would meet a large part of the objection that the House of Lords is overwhelmingly hereditary in character.
I very much regret that a great chance has been lost through not trying to tackle a far bigger question of reform. I would most certainly have supported something on the lines of Lord Salisbury's second suggestion which, I feel, incorporated much of what was best in the 1948 discussions. I would just say on that—I do not intend to discuss it in detail—that where peers are not selected to serve in the Upper House, they should be allowed to stand for election to this House and should also have the right to vote.
I was interested in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, and I have examined the terms of the Opposition's Amendment very carefully. I think I am right in saying that hon. Members opposite do not think that heredity in itself is a disqualification for the right of membership of another place. Although I do not think that it can be defended in logic, I wish to put the following considerations before the House.
In the view of a great many people, another place is considered to be the finest second Chamber in the world today. It follows, therefore, that as its reputation was won at a time when its membership was, and still is, predominantly hereditary, there must be something good in the system. I submit that an element of heredity in Government not only enables the political experience of some families for generations to be drawn upon, but gives the continuity of service in public affairs that is heedless of honours and position. Unless there is a proportion of hereditary peers, I do not see how the younger ones, aged from 21 to 40, could ever enter another place, because it is going to be very difficult for Prime Ministers to take the chance of recommending a life peerage to anyone below, say, the age of 40.
We have also to remember that the overwhelming majority of people in the country accepts the hereditary principle in monarchy just because it is above faction and dispute. We also accept without dispute the hereditary handing down 429 of property. Where such power is abused and hits the public interest we seek our checks and balances just as we do in Government. I submit that in all these things it is the wise exercise of power that counts.
I will not go further into the matter of the exercise of power in the Upper House during the time of the Labour Government in this House and a Conservative Opposition in another place, except to say that no one has mentioned the Conservative Measures which were also thrown out or drastically amended. They included the Aliens Bill, the Inventions and Designs Bill, the Shops Bill, many Regulations on the Road Transport Bill and one or two minor Bills, including the Protection of Birds Bill on which there was practically a constitutional crisis in the two Houses over the moorhen and the little owl.
I appreciate the feeling that there might be a permanent majority of one party or the other in another place, but, as my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal said this afternoon, there is no limit to the creation of life peerages, and the consequence of that is, of course, self-evident.
I will only say one word on the intrusion of women into another place. In war, the country expects women to carry out every task, and it seems to me that it is time that in peace they should be asked to share the life of the Government of the country which, in war, they helped to preserve. I said something in the debate on the Address about hereditary peeresses, and I would only add that, as far as I understand it, a petition should be submitted by an hereditary peeress to the Committee of Privileges that the Rhondda judgment should be reversed. That, of course, is something that does not affect this Bill.
In conclusion, I hope that in all this the Government will try again to seek all-party agreement. I believe that the country recognises the need for a second Chamber. The main reason is that we in Britain need, perhaps more than any other country, the check and balance to our unwritten constitution. We have no other safeguards against an extreme majority passing an enabling Act to push through any legislation it likes at a speed so swift that the public has no idea of what is being done in its name. Because 430 most of us here have only too vividly in mind the lessons of history in arbitrary power, surely we can agree to curb ourselves while yet we may.
§ 5.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
I agree with the hon. Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) that it would be wholly desirable to have a further conference to consider what other steps are needed for the reform of the House of Lords. While the hon. Lady feels the necessity for further reform, I think she supports the Bill and finds some virtue in it. Speaking for myself, I can find no virtue in it; I think it is a pretence. While pretending to bring in a reform of the second Chamber, all it proposes to do is to add an unknown number of men and women to the already extraordinary number of hereditary peers. I believe that the number of hereditary peers today is 875. I listened carefully to what the Leader of the House had to say about the numbers of life peers that may be created. He said there should be no limit; but I gather there is no intention whatsoever of creating a number equal to, still less exceeding, the number of hereditary peers existing today.
So in truth and in fact the power will still remain with the hereditary peers. So far as I can see, the real purpose of the Bill, to use a phrase employed by the Leader of the Opposition, is, while making the House of Lords look a little more respectable than it does today as a second Chamber, to bolster up some kind of case for maintaining the hereditary principle as a qualification for membership.
It is said that Bill will bring about some very much needed changes. Let us consider what those are. I think it is admitted that a second Chamber should have, if not parity, something approaching parity, and that it would work very much better if the parties were somewhat equally divided. But for generations the overwhelming majority in the House of Lords has been Conservative, and it is proposed to maintain that position. The overwhelming majority in the second Chamber have belonged to the Conservative Party and have exercised their power even though the Conservative Party has been in a minority both in this House and in the country. So far as one can see, that situation will still be maintained 431 when the Bill becomes law and new life peers are created. The Bill will not in any way affect the present position, that of there being an overwhelming majority maintained by one party over the other.
The Leader of the House said that it is necessary to inject new blood to enable the House of Lords to discharge its duties, the implication being that today it does not fully discharge its duties as it should do. Therefore, it is considered necessary that the House should be strengthened by admitting men and women who today are not prepared to undertake the burden of a hereditary peerage, persons of distinction in professions, in industry, in education, in public service or in public experience, and that will strengthen the second Chamber in so far as there will be better advice and better guidance. To whom will that better advice and better guidance be addressed? Not to men and women of similar calibre but to those who, apparently, in the words of the Leader of the House, are not able today to discharge duties which are required of a second Chamber. Even if they listen to the advice which is tendered to them or the guidance which is suggested to them, they need not nay any attention to it but can reject it overwhelmingly.
There was a third point to which the Leader of the Opposition referred. We all realise the tremendous burden which is today being put upon the Labour Opposition in the House of Lords. It is suggested that its position will be eased and that more persons can be induced to undertake the burden of attending and taking part in debates in the second Chamber if they are offered a life peerage as against a hereditary peerage. What is the inducement to all these people, whether the peerage is being offered to them on political grounds or whether their qualification is that they have obtained distinction in a profession, industry or public service? What inducement is there for them to devote the time required to undertake duties in another place when all they get are their bare expenses, just £3 a day? Can one imagine any member of the Labour Party, whom we will assume to be a working man, giving up what he is earning today —because he cannot possibly carry on his work and be ready to take up a life peer- 432 age—for a remuneration of £3 a day to meet his expenses?
The whole thing is absurd. As I have said, the reason underlying all this is the maintenance of the hereditary principle as a qualification for membership, whereas in truth and fact the hereditary principle today is a complete anachronism. In a debate in another place last Session before the introduction of the Bill, Lord Home said that it is difficult to justify in theory or in logic a Parliamentary system which includes the hereditary principle. It will be noticed that he did not say "which is based upon the hereditary principle." Yet it is proposed—that is the whole object of the Bill—to continue the hereditary principle and to make it a qualification for membership of the House of Lords. I do not see that it can be justified in any way to an enlightened people, all of whom today, if they are over 21, are in a position to choose whom they would wish to represent them in the House of Commons.
Some in the other place found it possible not only to favour the Bill but to vote for it, and they did so because for the first time it is proposed to admit women and life peers. What in the name of reason would they think it was possible to do about reforming the House of Lords unless one created life peers and admitted women or had an elected Chamber? It seemed to me that all that they saw in this was a necessity, and that they turned that necessity into a virtue.
The Parliament of Britain has always claimed the proud position of being the Mother of Parliaments. I think one can claim a prouder position for it. For generations now it has been the pattern of Parliaments, and I think it should still be the pattern of Parliaments. Yet in no other country in the world is the hereditary qualification admitted as entitling anyone to membership of a Parliament. I would particularly emphasise that point at this moment, for democracy as we understand it is today on trial for its very life. It has been threatened by another system which would overwhelm it. How can it possibly be suggested that democracy as we have preached it and taught it to the rest of the world can be defended by persons whose only qualification is that they are sons of peers of another generation? In those circumstances it is a farce and an impossibility 433 to put up the case that one would otherwise put up against those who would challenge the very position of this House.
Of course the House of Lords needs reform. That is admitted by everyone. But if we are to reform it, let it be a true reform and not the mere sham that this Bill is. I believe now that a second Chamber has some value, but I will admit at once that I thought otherwise in those early days when one witnessed the debates that took place in this House. The majority elected in 1906 was bigger than any majority returned for any party since 1832—a majority not even exceeded by that of the Labour Party's majority in 1945. This House spent week after week upon a Bill which was then sent to another place, only to find that even if that Bill was kept alive it was mauled out of all recognition. In two cases this House spent weeks and weeks on Bills, but they were voted out without debate in another place.
I agree that, in those days, when asked whether the House of Lords should be mended or ended, I as a young man said "end it". But it may be that one sees usefulness in it today, so I have changed my mind in that regard, but if we are to reform it and continue to have a second Chamber, let is be a second Chamber that will command respect and confidence and one in which one knows that the men and women in it are there because they deserve to be and not merely by accident. How can one respect the present second Chamber or defend it to other countries when we have to admit that today over half of the present 875 members have not even set foot inside the building? What justification can there be for continuing such a system?
I would remind hon. Members that this House has been responsible for the creation of several Parliaments throughout the Commonwealth. In not one of them was it ever suggested that the example of the House of Lords and its hereditary system should be followed. What I should really like now to ask the House is: Why have the Conservative Party and the Government abandoned the principles to which they agreed in April, 1948? It is right that the House should have its attention directed to that. I had the privilege of attending the whole of that conference. The representatives of the Conservative Party at that time were Sir 434 Anthony Eden and, if he were absent, Mr. Oliver Stanley; the Marquess of Salisbury, Viscount Swinton and the present Lord Chancellor. I do not think anyone would suggest that they were the left wing of the Conservative Party, if such a thing as a left wing there be.
The discussion did not take long. It was amazing how quickly agreement was reached. There were two matters to be discussed—the composition of the reformed House of Lords and its powers. Even with regard to the powers we were in complete agreement, except on the one point of the extent of the power of delay. Ultimately, the discussions broke down on a question of a mere three months, but there was complete agreement that the hereditary system should go once for all.
Here it is just as well that one should recall paragraph 5 of Cmd. 7380 of 1948. It reads:Proposals relating to reform of the Composition of the House of Lords were discussed first. If it had been possible to achieve general agreement over the whole field of Powers and Composition, the Party representatives would have been prepared to give the following proposals further consideration, so as to see whether the necessary details could be worked out, and, if so, to submit them, as part of such an agreement, to their respective Parties.The proposals are then set out as follows:(1) The Second Chamber should be complementary to"—everybody agrees that today, even in another place:and not a rival to the Lower House, and, with this end in view, the reform of the House of Lords should be based on a modification of its existing constitution as opposed to the establishment of a Second Chamber of a completely new type based on some system of election.We agree that if it were elected it might challenge this Chamber, claiming equal rights because it had been elected just as this one is.
The second proposal reads:The revised constitution of the House of Lords should be such as to secure as far as practicable that a permanent majority is not assured for any one political Party.What is the position in regard to that today? It is proposed to create a few life peers, something that will not in the slightest degree affect the overwhelming Conservative majority in another place.
435 The third proposal is:The present right to attend and vote based solely on heredity should not by itself constitute a qualification for admission to a reformed Second Chamber.The Marquess of Salisbury, Viscount Swinton, Sir Anthony Eden, Mr. Oliver Stanley and Lord Kilmuir all agreed—
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
Surely all they agreed to was that the points that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has just read out might be further considered and referred to their respective parties. That is very different from agreeing them.
§ Mr. Davies
I have said so, but they were the leaders chosen by the Conservative Opposition to attend the conference, just as I was chosen, with Lord Samuel, to represent the Liberals, and there were others representing the then Government. The sole reason that it was not taken further was that discussions broke down on the question of a mere three months.
The fourth proposal reads:Members of the Second Chamber should be styled 'Lords of Parliament' and would be appointed on grounds of personal distinction or public service.That means, not a few of them, but all of them:They might be drawn either from Hereditary peers, or from commoners who would be created Life Peers.(5) Women should be capable of being appointed Lords of Parliament in like manner as men. …(7) In order that persons without private means should not be excluded, some remuneration would be payable to members of the Second Chamber.We took a far broader view of the duties we expected them to perform than do the Government today in merely offering them their expenses of £3 a day.
The next proposal reads:Peers who were not Lords of Parliament should be entitled to stand for election"—the very point made by the noble Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir)—to the House of Commons, and also to vote at elections in the same manner as other citizens.(9) Some provision should be made for the disqualification of a member of the Second Chamber who neglects, or becomes no longer able or fitted, to perform his duties as such.436 What happened? As I say, there was an agreement on the formation of that second Chamber and on what its powers of revision should be. There was disagreement only as to the extent of its power of delay of legislation passed in this House. Even that three months was done away with within a few weeks because of the new Bill that had already left this House and was awaiting the decision of the second Chamber, which shortened the time of the 1911 Act from two years to one year. Therefore, there really was no difference at all between the leaders of the respective parties.
I want to end on just this note. I have already referred to the fact that, in the past, this House has been a pattern of other Parliaments. It is still revered by other Parliaments, as was seen last August and September when the Inter-Parliamentary Union met here. Representatives of fifty-one Parliaments then attended and discussed matters of real interest to Parliaments. Supposing, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that this question had been asked of them: "If you have a second Chamber, how should it be constituted?". Is there anybody on the other side who would have stood up before the fifty-one Parliaments represented there and said, "We have the finest of all; ours is the one most respected, and we ask you to follow that example"?
The whole position is too absurd. Yet that is the position which is still maintained by the Conservative Party and the Government. It is one of such absurdity that I certainly cannot support it.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Wolverhampton, South-West)
I believe that the House will make a mistake if it passes the Bill into law.
There is no possibility of arguing that the present composition of the House of Lords can be justified either by logic or by reference to any preconceived constitutional theory. It is the result of a long, even a tortuous, process of historical evolution. Its authority rests upon the acceptance of the result, handed down to our time, of that historical process. It is the authority of acceptance, the authority of what Burke called "prescription".
The House of Lords shares that characteristic with many of our most cherished 437 and important institutions. Trial by jury, for example, is not to be justified in logic; it does not rest upon statute; it came to us by a strange historical evolution out of the sworn witnesses of a neighbourhood. Neither logic nor statute nor theory is a basis of that other hereditary institution by which it comes about that a young woman holds sway over countless millions. The authority of this House itself does not, in the last resort, rest upon any logic in the principles upon which we are formed or elected: it rests upon the acceptance by the nation of an institution the history of which cannot be divorced or torn out of the context of the history of the nation itself.
I am far from saying that one should never alter or interfere with an institution of this kind. There are many instances in which such interference has taken place. There are many cases where a change has, in fact, resulted in preserving, and even enhancing, the institution in question. If one looked for it, one could find such an example in the history of the House of Lords itself, where, probably, the device of transferring from other honours to barony itself the notion of conferring a dignity by patent—the creation, in fact, of barons of patent—has been the means of preserving the House of Lords as we have had it through the last four or five centuries.
But, although it is not possible to say that one should never reform, alter, or interfere with prescriptive institutions, I do say that, such is their nature and the nature of the authority they enjoy, we should not undertake that interference except of necessity, for the avoidance of an evil which is clear and imminent, and in such a way that the result will evidently be to remove the evil.
It is because I believe that the Bill is a serious interference with a prescriptive institution and that the reasons which have been given for that interference are not such as to justify it—not such as to show that only by this change can evident and imminent difficulties be avoided—that I find myself obliged to condemn it.
That this is a serious change which is proposed is not, I think, open to dispute. It was certainly admitted very candidly by those who supported and proposed the Bill in another place. The noble Earl, Lord Home said—and the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition 438 quoted his words today—that it modifies the hereditary principle. The Lord Chancellor went farther still and said:I am not one of those who would admit for one moment that the introduction of the principle of life peerages is a mere tinkering operation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 5th December, 1957; Vol. 206, c. 936.]Indeed, it is not; for here is an institution of which, ever since it has been recognisable as the House of Lords, no temporal Lord has been a member except by virtue of a heritable dignity, and that basis it is proposed to alter.
There is no analogy with the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary, which we have had since 1876, with the originally four, and now nine salaried, specialist Lords created to discharge a specific purpose and created—this is where the exception indeed proves the rule—because their addition to the House of Lords was the only way in which the loss of its appellate jurisdiction could be avoided; for the House will recall that the appellate jurisdiction had already, by statute, passed from the House of Lords and was recovered for it only by means of the Act of 1876.
That apart, there is really no basis for arguing that this is not a fundamental change. I know that it is argued—it was argued in the Wensleydale case—that the Crown had, five centuries ago, possessed the right to introduce Members into the House of Lords in virtue of a dignity limited to their lives. For my part, I assert that there is no valid case to be adduced in support of that proposition. But be it so, the resuscitation of a prerogative which has not been exercised for 500 years is, in effect, indubitably a constitutional innovation.
Here, then, by common consent, we are faced with a proposal which represents a substantial and basic alteration in the character of a prescriptive institution; and we have to ask ourselves whether the reasons which are alleged to be compelling—and compelling they must be for this change—are adequate. Two reasons have been given over and over again in the other place and given this afternoon by my right hon. Friend. The first is—I will in both cases quote the words of the noble Earl, Lord Home—to enable the Socialist points of view to be put more effectively from the other side of the House of Lords.439 The second isto give the Prime Minister a wider range of persons from whom to draw those who can contribute to Parliament from their expert knowledge of this or that aspect of our national life."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 3rd December, 1957; Vol. 206, c. 610 and 615.]We have to ask whether those two reasons are necessary and compelling reasons for the institution of a system of life peerages.
First, the Government wish to strengthen Socialist representation in the House of Lords. Is it essential for that purpose that the present hereditary basis of that House should—to use Lord Home's word—be "modified"? When the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, was Prime Minister, he succeeded in prevailing, according to our Parliamentary Companion, Dod, upon no fewer than 86 persons to accept hereditary dignities. On the calculations of the Lord Chancellor given to another place, 54 of those were political creations. So the party opposite, when in power, found the necessity of conferring a hereditary peerage no insuperable obstacle to what it regarded as the necessary manning-up, in quantity and quality, of the then Government Bench in the House of Lords.
It may be said that the same ease and advantage would not be enjoyed by my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Treasury, that he, unlike the noble Earl, would find insuperable difficulties in manning up the Socialist Opposition in the House of Lords with anything but life peers. Here I was afraid that I might have to ask an indelicate question, but I have, fortunately, been saved from the necessity of doing so by the candour of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. In another place, the Lord Chancellor said:… when the Prime Minister is looking for those who might be able to help the Opposition, he would desire to seek the advice of the Leader of the Opposition, in regard to the time and any other aspect of the matter as is appropriate. In cases like that it would seem prima facie appropriate, when the object is to find people who will help the Labour Party, that the Prime Minister would consult the Leader of the Opposition".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 5th December, 1957; Vol. 206, c. 941.]I had it in mind to inquire whether, before deciding that life peerages were indispensably necessary in order to help him, a Conservative Prime Minister, to 440 strengthen the Socialist Opposition in the House of Lords, my right hon. Friend had taken the precaution of making a few inquiries to see whether on the present basis he could not obtain the necessary reinforcement, and whether, in the course of those inquiries, he had gone to a quite natural source, the Leader of the Opposition. The indelicate question was already answered by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, who told the House, quite candidly, that there had been no inquiry made whatsoever before this proposal was made, that from the first beginnings until the present moment, so far as he knew—he was in a fairly good position to know—no attempt had been made upon the present basis to induce persons of Labour Party sympathies to become members of the Upper House. It is really very difficult for us to decide that this constitutional change is indispensably necessary when we know that not even preliminary inquiries as to the attainability of the object under the present system had been made.
But I believe that all this is to misconceive the true function of the House of Lords and the true functioning of the House of Lords when it is at its best. We make a great mistake when we figure to ourselves another place as a kind of replica of what we are here. I do not believe that the House of Lords is at its most useful or most effective when it is dividing and debating upon party lines. In a relatively short experience, I have known many instances when great influence was exercised upon a Government—much more than by the opinions of hon. Members opposite in this House or that—by the known opinions of noble Lords behind the Government and on the Cross-Benches in another place. So the whole notion of enabling another place to operate as a kind of replica of the party system as we have it here is misconceived.
I now come to the second alleged indispensable necessity for this constitutional change, namely, that on the present basis the House of Lords cannot be made, or be kept, representative of all aspects of the national life. I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) made a most effective reply to that when she referred—and how rightly—to the immense variety, the almost inexhaustible 441 variety, of experience of every kind which is represented in the House of Lords as it exists at the moment. I invite any hon. Member to take a list of the creations since the end of the war and look down it to see the variety, the width and the scope of the interests which those creations cover—science and the arts, the professions, medicine, the law, agriculture, the Press, the trade unions, the Services, both fighting and civil, industry, trade and commerce in every branch. Is it possible, in view of that recent experience before our eyes, to conclude that only if we abandon the present basis of membership of another place can we preserve there a wide and representative selection and presentation of every aspect of the national life?
What I have said upon these two points—the manning up of the Socialist Opposition and the representation of the various national interests—disposes altogether of the allegation that it is necessary to have a new basis because there are—and here I quote the words of the Lord President of the Council—… too few to carry out our daily business." —"OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 5th December, 1957; Vol. 206, c. 846.]If that be the case, clearly on the evidence of our own recent experience that lack, if it exists, can be filled without this change. I remind the House that there is no greater guarantee of regular attendance in the recipient of a life dignity than of a hereditary dignity. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition was right when he separated, poles apart, the issue as between hereditary and life peerages, on the one hand, and the issue of the payment of peers on the other.
To conclude, we are being asked to make a serious constitutional change and to make it without evidence of grave necessity. It is admitted that this is a substantial change. The case to show that it is necessary is not proven. The constitution of Parliament, in both its parts, is a matter which concerns this House just as much as it concerns another place. It is a matter upon which this House has the right to make up its mind as maturely as another place; and I find that, as a matter of interest, this is the first occasion for 31 years on which this House has debated either the composition or the reform of the House of Lords, upon a substantive Motion.
442 This Bill is one which clearly is not desired by the parties opposite. I believe that it is not desired by many of my hon. Friends on this side of the House. I suspect—it would not be right for me to say more than suspect—that it is not greatly welcomed by many Members of the Government. In that case, the best thing is not to pass it.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Bowles (Nuneaton)
The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) has already given the Government two shocks this year. I hope that tomorrow, when we vote, he will give them a third shock by voting against this Bill. He is a man for whom we have very great respect. He is a very learned man and also a great historian. I hope that he will allow me to put my point of view about the position of the House of Lords. I agree with him. We on this side oppose this Bill, but for completely different reasons.
On the whole, five grounds are usually advanced on which the House of Lords is required. Four of them are set out in a letter summing up the results of the Bryce Conference, 1918, and they were these:The examination and revision of Bills brought from the House of Commons, a function which has become more needed since, on many occasions, during the last thirty years, the House of Commons has been obliged to act under special rules limiting debate.Hence the revision which has been mentioned again today by the Leader of the House.
The second is:The initiation of Bills dealing with subjects of a practically non-controversial character which may have an easier passage through the House of Commons if they have been fully discussed and put into a well-considered shape before being submitted to it.The third is:The interposition of so much delay (and no more) in the passing of a Bill into law as may be needed to enable the opinion of the nation to be adequately expressed upon it.The fourth is:Full and free discussion of large and important questions, such as those of foreign policy, at moments when the House of Commons may happen to be so much occupied that it cannot find sufficient time for them.A fifth reason, which is given by supporters of the House of Lords, is that we should not break from tradition.
443 Let me answer the last point first. The whole history of our people has been breaking with the past. We have had long constitutional and historical struggles with the Crown and, later, with the Lords, and unless there are many other good reasons I see no reason, on the ground of not breaking with tradition, why we should continue to have a House of Lords at all.
I believe that Lord Bryce's first point about revision is a quite false and unreal argument. Let me give the House some figures concerning revision. In case there is ambiguity about it, revision means that when the House of Commons has passed a Bill on Third Reading it goes to the House of Lords and, there, their Lordships examine whether it is legally watertight and carrying out the intentions of the Government. That is what revision means. It does not mean changing the law. It means to put it in a form and shape of words which carries out the Government's intention.
Let me take the case of the Rent Bill, last year. It is always under discussion nowadays. The House of Commons Standing Committee, of which I had the honour of being Chairman, sat for 75 hours. Then, the House of Commons Report stage lasted for 13 hours 43 minutes. That is a total of over 88 hours. When the Rent Bill went to the House of Lords for the purpose of revision, the Committee stage there lasted 8 hours 34 minutes, instead of our 75 hours. Secondly, the Report stage, instead of our two days, lasted 2 hours 37 minutes.
There was no proper revision. This is proved by the fact that there are repeatedly contradictory judgments from learned county court judges on some of the matters that the Minister of Housing and Local Government thought were of great importance and covered in the Bill. Hon. Members who follow law reports will notice that last week there was an appeal to the High Court.
In other words, I say quite seriously that the House of Lords' use of revisory powers is derisory. Let the final revision —this is a new proposal which I am putting forward—come after we have finished with the Report stage of our Bills. Let us have one final stage, which 444 I might call the revisionary stage, between the Report stage and Third Reading. Let the Minister, his draftsmen and Members appointed by, perhaps, a Committee of Selection, sit on a body to examine a Bill in its final form before it goes to the House of Commons for the final Third Reading.
That, I believe, would cover the whole aim and object of hon. Members who desire to retain the House of Lords as a revisory body and it would save any necessity for a continuation of their Lordships' existence. Therefore, I suggest that that would be the best way of ensuring that our legislation was as watertight legally and verbally as possible.
I was reading the other day about the position of this country in the 1930s, when, as everybody will remember, there were large areas of unemployment. A Bill which was passed in 1934 was first called the Distressed Areas Bill. Their Lordships' only contribution to revising it was to substitute the word "Special" for "Distressed". I came across this in a book by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), whose comment is worth remembering:This indeed was a pail of lordly whitewash on a sepulchre.Lord Bryce's second point is initiation, which is sometimes argued as an invaluable reason for retaining the House of Lords. In other words, while we are having Bills introduced and dealt with in this House, their Lordships at the other end of the corridor can have Bills introduced and debated there; and as the Session is half-way through, their Lordships' Bills come to us and our Bills go up to their Lordships' House and each House, as it must, has to examine the Bills of the other House. As we know, every Bill has to pass both Houses of Parliament.
I am certain that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, who is a great mathematician, among other things, would agree that there is no saving of time by having Bills introduced in the House of Lords and coming here later and by ours being introduced here and going to the House of Lords later. In other words, I firmly deny the argument that initiation of legislation in the House of Lords is any reason for pretending that it saves time. It 445 is complete nonsense, and I am certain that anybody who is anxious to find really good reasons for retaining the House of Lords would not rely on that as one of them.
Lord Bryce's third point was the famous one, which we have debated some time already, of delay. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, in his speech this afternoon, referred to the delay that would hold up legislation only from a Labour or Socialist Government in the House of Commons.
I also hear people say from time to time that it is desirable that matters should not be rushed through this House which have not been adequately discussed by the public. I have been in the Labour Party for thirty-five years and I have never known any matter which has not been adequately discussed year after year —at the hustings, at street corners, in pamphlets, in the Press, at conferences, and so on. It is absurd to suggest that we are ever likely to pass, or could pass, a matter so quickly that it has never been discussed by the public. This is, as usual, a false argument for retaining an anachronism. I notice that their Lordships never prevent a Tory Government from going too fast. That has been brought out well this afternoon and I simply refer to it again.
As the House will remember, the Rent Act was referred to as a possibility by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) during the last General Election. He said that if the Conservative Government got back to power, they would introduce a Bill—which they did—along the lines which he suggested and which they have now done. That was denied by the Tory Central Office in an official issue and yet, when the next year arrived, the Government introduced the Rent Bill. There was no suggestion that it should be held up by the House of Lords because the Government had not put it before the people. I suggest that the Rent Act is an extreme piece of legislation, and to pretend that extreme legislation can come only from the Socialist side of the House seems to be a funny way of arguing.
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
What about the abolition of the university seats by the hon. Member's own party?
§ Mr. Bowles
I have argued for the abolition of the university seats over and over again, ever since I saw a university Member of Parliament.
§ Mr. Bowles
The fact is that their Lordships never delay executive action, either. It may be understandable, but I remember two things in the past year which have shocked me and which went by quite easily. There was the sell-out of the Trinidad Oil Company. It is true that there were some hon. Members opposite who had the decency to resent the transaction, but the House of Lords did not stop it going through. The other thing, which occurred about fifteen months ago, was the tragedy of Suez. Did the House of Lords stop that shocking behaviour on the part of the Government? These things are sometimes much more important in their effects than legislation. Let it never be forgotten that administrative and executive action can be most serious.
On the matter of delay, I was reading the other day what is referred to as a "long remembered phrase" of Mr. Balfour, which he used soon after the General Election in 1906, when he said:Whether in power or in opposition, the Unionist Party would continue to control the destinies of this empire.These are the people who want to be in control of our destinies for as long as they possibly can, whether they have won an Election or not, and the sure way of doing it is to have a Tory House of Lords.
The Minister of Education, who, I gather, is to reply to this debate, will perhaps deal with that. It is a matter which we have argued for years. We always used to say that the House of Lords was a hindrance to a Labour Government in power, and that when there was a Tory Government it was purely a sub-committee of the Tory Party. That opinion must be as old as the Minister of Education.
An old friend of mine, and a respected former Member of this House, Mr. Lees-Smith, who was once Member for Keighley, and whom some hon. Members may remember, in a book, "Second 447 Chambers in Theory and Practice", wrote, in page 48:A second Chamber which never refuses passage to measures from the Lower House when its own party is in office, and takes every opportunity to obstruct the measures of the opposing party, will increase rather than correct the distortion of the public will.In page 136 he wrote:This leads us to the fundamental conclusion that a second Chamber is an unsuitable instrument for ensuring that a lower House will keep in touch with public opinion and attempts to use it for this purpose should be abandoned.The fourth reason given by Lord Bryce's Conference is that the Upper House is supposed to be a useful forum for their Lordships to discuss matters of importance. Why their Lordships? Who are they? Why should not the scientists or any body of men get together to discuss the matters of the day? They do, of course. The chairman of a public company spends quite a lot of the taxpayers' money on his annual speech for the annual general meeting of the company which he publishes in the Press. I see no reason at all why Members of the House of Lords, like anybody else, should not use the columns of the local newspapers, or The Times, or the daily Press generally to discuss these matters.
Better still, why should they not, if they really have points of view to offer, do what is always done by Members on this side of this House—I am not sure about Members on the other side of this House—go to street corners and stand on soapboxes to express their points of view? I am sure that a noble duke speaking at a meeting in "Spouters' Corner", in Hyde Park, would draw a large number of people. I am sure that there is no reason whatever why their Lordships should be regarded as in a position of any superiority over any other body of people, other than those of us who are elected Members of Parliament in this House.
I am a simple person and I find it very difficult to keep to a line if I leave my basic principles. I am sure that that would be true of a certain number of hon. Members on the other side of the House, especially if they try to trim. Then they have had it. One cannot trim. My first principle is that in this House we are democrats. We believe in government by the people, and for the 448 last 125 years, since the Reform Bill, we have striven, stage by stage, to bring about Parliamentary democracy and this democratically elected House of Commons, as we know it is today.
§ Mr. Bowles
I hope the hon. and gallant Member's electors in the Isle of Ely will realise that one of the persons who has behaved badly and thrown money about this place and disgraced the honourable position of a Member of Parliament is the hon. and gallant Member himself. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I hope that his constituents will remember that at the next Election.
Let us see what we have done. In these 125 years we have arranged that every man and woman at the age of 21 shall be entitled to a vote, and only one vote. That he should have only one vote is one of the last steps we have taken to bring about this properly democratically elected House of Commons. We have also been at great pains to see that the constituencies are more or less of the same size. We all represent, as nearly as possible, 66,000 electors each. Sometimes it is inconvenient, because there may be a big area like the constituency of Caithness and Sutherland for an hon. Member to represent, and then it is, perhaps, proper that his electorate should be less than 66,000.
Only yesterday we were debating a Bill relating to the Boundary Commission. We have a Boundary Commission set up permanently to see that our representation is as fair as possible and that each one of us in this House is equal, that we represent an equal given number of the electorate in constituencies of almost equal size. We do all these things in order that this House shall be supreme as the democratically elected body.
Each of us is elected to serve five years in Parliament, though it is seldom that the life of a Parliament lasts five years, unless there is an emergency. We can say that, in practice, on the average every four years we have to go back to our constituents to seek re-election. They have the right to chuck us out or to reelect us. The sanction over our behaviour, our votes and speeches, is in the hands and care of our constituents every 449 four years. If that is not democracy I do not know what is.
On this question of constituency control, Walter Bagehot, writing in the middle of last century, pointed out that the fear of an Election in the near future is in itself an effective check on the House of Commons. He said:The dangers arising from a party spirit in Parliament exceeding that of the nation and of a selfishness in Parliament contradicting the true interest of the nation, are not great dangers in the country where the mind of the nation is steadily political, and where its control over its representatives is constant. A steady opposition, to a formed public opinion is hardly possible in our House of Commons, so incessant is the national attention to politics, and so keen the fear in the mind of each member that he may lose his valued seat.Since that was written politicians appear and political matters are discussed on the B.B.C. and television and there is a great listening and viewing audience. I have no idea what its numbers are, but it is quite clear that week by week our constituents are watching what we are doing individually and collectively, in parties or in Government. To suggest for a second that we need to be watched by unelected people at the other end of the corridor seems to me to show a sense of a considerable inferiority complex.
Whoever they are they cannot have any sense of responsibility, for they are not responsible to any electors. They are never called upon to justify their actions or their votes. I do not feel that we have to have a "Big Brother" at the other end of this building, whoever he may be. Whatever their brains, whatever their background and experience, they should have no control over this House. Whether they choose their fathers carefully or are the creatures of party leaders, whether for life or otherwise, they should not exist to say us nay. They should not exist at all. I have heard no valid argument for any second Chamber in this country. We cannot tolerate a hybrid Parliament. We alone, subject to the electors, must be supreme.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Mr. C. W. Armstrong (Armagh)
I think that it has already emerged from the debate that the real difference between the two sides of the House is whether there should or should not be a second Chamber at all. I think that every speech from the other side has 450 implied that a second Chamber is completely superfluous in this country.
Most constitutions, modern and ancient, have been devised with second Chambers, and if there is ever an argument for a second Chamber surely there is an argument for it when the constitution is unwritten and when one Chamber has complete power, unchecked by any written provision in the constitution. Of course, if there is a second Chamber it is liable to interfere more with a party of radical reform than with a party which is conservative by its very nature, whatever its constitution, unless it is the exact replica of the Lower House. For instance, the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) raised the question of the abolition of capital punishment. Surely, any second Chamber, merely by virtue of being drawn from rather older age-groups, at that stage would have acted in the same way.
It is my contention, and, I fancy, that of most of my hon. Friends, that a second Chamber is a valuable part of our institutions. But, having got so far, there is surely a dilemma in all second Chambers. It is that if a second Chamber has substantial powers and is independent, sooner or later it will find itself in conflict with the Lower House and machinery has to be devised, which never works very satisfactorily, for resolving that conflict.
On the other hand, if its powers are insignificant and it is still expected to do the dull and unrewarding work of revision it then becomes extremely difficult for people of ability, energy and distinction to be members of it. I understand that the House of Lords is already having difficulty in manning its committees; and it is one of the purposes of the Bill to remedy that difficulty.
On the whole, however, I should have thought that, so far, the House of Lords has managed to avoid that dilemma because, although its powers are very seriously limited, it has still managed to maintain a very considerable prestige as a second Chamber. It is perhaps worth wondering what are the reasons. It seems to me that the first reason is the size of its membership, which creates a reservoir of talent so that, whatever subject is under discussion, expert opinion is available to be brought to bear upon it.
451 The second reason is, I believe, the social and historic prestige of the House of Lords itself, which goes some way, at any rate, to compensate for the limitation of its powers. The historical justification for a hereditary legislature in England presumably arises from primogeniture relating to land, whereby the eldest son had imposed upon him certain rights and obligations. In the case of very large and important estates it was not unreasonable that those rights and obligations should affect his position in the constitution. Nowadays, of course, those rights and obligations have practically disappeared, and it would be manifestly wrong that the hereditary principle should prevail in any Chamber which had overriding authority. But in a Chamber which has very limited powers there is still very practical value in the hereditary principle.
Prestige is clearly a valuable adjunct of any second Chamber. Illogical and unreasonable as it may seem, there is prestige attaching to the ancient hereditary peerages in this country. If hon. Members like it put that way, it is equivalent only to the prestige which attaches to antique furniture or old silver, but that does not make it any less real, and in a sense it makes it more permanent. The prestige of the House of Lords no doubt depends largely on peers of new creation, with their distinguished public service, on the bishops and on the judges, but surely it also depends upon these peerages of ancient origin.
If it is important that we keep a second Chamber and that we avoid the dilemma of, on one hand, significant powers and fighting with the other House and, on the other, insignificant powers and no public esteem, it seems to me that we should exploit all the natural advantages which history has given us. It seems to me that one of those advantages is the hereditary peerage and that we should be sacrificing quite unnecessarily one of those advantages if we abolished it.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ Lady Megan Lloyd George (Carmarthen)
If anyone felt that backwoodsmen were figures of a dim and distant past, the speeches which we have heard from the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) and the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. Armstrong) would have disabused them 452 of the illusion. We have heard their authentic voices in those two speeches. The interesting thing is that both hon. Members not only believe in the House of Lords as constituted today, but they say so.
I find myself immediately in conflict with both hon. Members. I do not believe in the hereditary principle, although I have hereditary views on the matter. My family motto, as far as the House of Lords is concerned, has been, "End and not mend", although it was not always expressed in such moderate terms. It was generally expressed in what the Leader of the House would no doubt have called hysterical terms.
We are told that this is a minor Measure, and it certainly has all the appearance of a modest, innocuous Bill. The Leader of the House said that its main object was to facilitate the work of the House of the Lords. That was not quite the way it was put when the Bill was first introduced in another place. We were then told that one of its main objects was to assist the Labour Opposition in the House of Lords, but perhaps that did not ring quite true. Indeed, it was too good to be true. The Greeks were overloading us with gifts. We could hardly expect them to offer us kind hearts as well as coronets.
Nobody could really believe that hon. Members opposite could no longer bear to see a small band of Socialist peers in the House of Lords carrying such a heavy load. Such attentions, of course, were very touching, but so very sudden. After all, they have been able to bear this sight with fortitude for a long period. At any time in the long years during which the party opposite was in power before the war, when there were far fewer Labour peers than there are today, the party opposite could have come to their rescue.
In those days there was only a handful of Opposition peers. Today, there are, at any rate, 55. But now, suddenly, this has become a matter of great urgency. It is so urgent that the party opposite tells us that the machinery of the House of Lords is in danger of breaking down. It is very difficult to follow the logic of the arguments of hon. Members opposite. When they are arguing against the radical reform of the House of Lords they tell us that it has never 453 worked better, or more smoothly, and has never carried out its function of revision better than it has done it in recent times. They cannot have it both ways in this matter.
I suggest to the House that there are other reasons for this Bill about which we have not heard one word today. The House of Lords, as constituted today, has become, in one sense, rather an embarrassment to the Conservative Party. It is too much of a Tory thing. It is composed of over 500 Conservative peers, representing 55 per cent. of the membership. It is true that 32 per cent. of other Members do not take the Tory Whip, but everybody knows that, when the acid test comes, the majority of them will be found in the Tory Lobby.
Therefore, such a majority is not really necessary any more. It is too blatant. It is almost shy-making. A smaller majority would serve the purpose of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite just as well. So many of them have come to the conclusion that they wish that this too solid majority would melt a little. They have thought of various ways of reducing the number of hereditary peers. Lord Salisbury brought forward his scheme. Lord Swinton and his Committee evolved another, whereby the House of Lords could grant a peer leave of absence, and if a peer did not ask for this within a suitable time he might be deemed to have so applied.
Those proposals were not taken up. In fact, there was a great danger that if they were taken up other and larger issues might have been raised. The door might have been opened wide for a challenge to be made to the whole constitution of the House of Lords. So the Government have decided on this simple, ingenious, and disingenuous expedient of giving the House of Lords a new look without altering its character, its power, or its function. This Bill is the result.
No doubt the recruitment of eminent men and women from various spheres of activity will strengthen the other place Every recruit of distinction will help to make it more respectable and, therefore, more dangerous and less vulnerable to attack. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am delighted to hear hon. Gentlemen opposite cheer. Now the truth is really coming out. Now the cat is being let 454 out of the bag. Of course they will make it more respectable, and, therefore, more dangerous and less vulnerable. In that respect, I would say that even Lord Attlee made it more dangerous.
This Bill will, for all its modest, quiet, unassuming appearance, give the House of Lords greater authority and will strengthen it in every way. This Bill is what members of the party opposite want because they know that they are not likely to get anything more. What they want before the next Election is a House of Lords less unbalanced, with a greater number of regularly attending, working peers. It will look better, and in all essentials it will be exactly the same. In fact, the party opposite gains everything by this Bill and gives practically nothing away. All the substance is retained—the hereditary principle, the permanent majority and the delaying power; all the features which are so objectionable and which are, indeed, completely indefensible in a democracy.
It has been said this afternoon that the House of Lords has behaved so admirably that there is no more need to reform it; that a little Measure of this kind will do, that there is no need to reform the House of Lords because it has reformed itself. It is not that the House of Lords has changed: it is the instinct of self-preservation that has made it cautious, canny, careful.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite know that that is true. They have had some very rude shocks in recent years. [An HON. MEMBERS: "Tomorrow."] And tonight. When the Lords threw out the Budget, in 1909, they asked for trouble, and got it in full measure in the Parliament Act of 1911. In 1949, they brought more trouble upon themselves and their powers were still further curtailed. So it is not virtue that has kept the House of Lords in order so far, but fear—fear of the consequences of that action.
One other curious argument has been raised in the course of this debate, to which I would like to refer. It is said that if the House of Commons gets out of touch with the electorate, and when it exceeds its mandate, at that precise moment, whenever it may be, Members of the House of Lords, representing nobody but themselves, with some infallible sixth sense, with the kind of sensitive antennae which obviously belong 455 only to hereditary peers, are able to judge to a nicety, as Members of the House of Commons are not able to do, what is the feeling in the country.
The interesting thing is that this remarkable instinct is never called into play when a Conservative Government are in office. There has not been a single instance—and I challenge hon. Gentlemen opposite to refute this—when the House of Lords has come to the conclusion that a Conservative Government have exceeded their mandate. I will gladly give way to the noble Lady if she wishes to interrupt.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
I am sorry to interrupt, but the hon. Lady has asked whether there were any Conservative Measures which had been challenged by the Upper House. There were the Aliens Bill, the Inventions and Designs Bill, large parts of the Copyright Bill, a large part of the Shops Bill, and a large part of the Regulations made under the Road Traffic Act. Those are quite enough justifications for its existence.
§ Lady Megan Lloyd George
There was also another important Measure which the noble Lady forgot to mention, which had something to do with wild birds. Of course, those were all very important matters, but I hardly think that they affect the constitutional position. I still say that there has not been a single instance where a Conservative Government, in the judgment of the House of Lords, have exceeded their mandate.
§ Mr. Farey-Jones (Watford)
Will not the hon. Lady agree that, indirectly at any rate, over the Criminal Justice Bill, the House of Lords did the very thing that she said it had not done?
§ Lady Megan Lloyd George
I would have said that it did the very reverse. I would have said that there was an occasion when the House of Commons, on a free vote, clearly came to a decision and the House of Lords reversed that decision—
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Lady Megan Lloyd George
I am deeply grateful to hon. Members for 456 their interruptions, for they have assisted me greatly in making my point.
I repeat that there has never been a moment when the other place has thought it necessary to ask a Conservative House of Commons to have second thoughts about a major Bill. There has been no question at all of the House of Lords asking the House of Commons to think again about the Rent Act, an Act so unpopular that even some hon. Members opposite have shied away from it, and when by-election after by-election makes clear the reaction of the people against it. There was not a squeak from the House of Lords, not a warning note, not even a peal from the famous bell.
What right, therefore, has the House of Lords to decide when and if the mandate from the people has been exceeded? It has none at all. I quote again famous words by a famous man who has already been quoted today:They are representative of nobody. They are inaccessible to argument. When you hear it said that all the House of Lords wish to do is to ascertain the will of the people, do not be deceived by that.Those words were used not by the Leader of the Opposition, but by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill). It is a melancholy reflection that, while some people change for the better, others change for the worse.
Tomorrow, we shall vote against this Bill because, modest though it looks, it will, in effect, strengthen the other place. We believe that any Measure for the reform of the House of Lords must be based on two principles: first the abolition of the hereditary principle, and secondly, if there is to be a second Chamber at all, it must not be able to overrule, but must be subordinate to this elected House of Commons.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Simon Wingfield Digby (Dorset, West)
The hon. Lady the Member for Carmarthen (Lady Megan Lloyd George) has given us a lurid picture of the evils of a House of Lords. She has even spoken about hereditary peers having specially sensitive antennae. I am not sure whether they transmit them to their daughters or not. I was much more concerned to try to discover whether the hon. Lady was in favour of replacing the House of Lords with another second 457 Chamber or whether she was against the whole idea of a second Chamber altogether.
When we were listening to the Leader of the Opposition I noticed that he was very careful not to commit himself as to whether or not he really believed in a second Chamber.
The right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) referred to the 1948 discussions between the parties when a wide measure of agreement on general principles seems to have been achieved. It is a little disappointing that we do not seem to have progressed much in inter-party agreement since those days. Indeed, we had very little indication from hon. Members opposite as to whether they were today even willing to enter into conversations, if they were so asked, with a view to the reform of the second House. They seem to me rather to be trying to avoid coming down either way on this issue.
My chief reason for intervening is that I believe in the importance of a second Chamber, and it seems to me that there is a danger that we should be gradually drifting away from the conception of a second Chamber by failing to introduce any measure completely to reform the House of Lords. Let me say at this juncture that I give a welcome—not a very enthusiastic one, it is true—to the Bill. It is simple and will probably do some good. Frankly, however, I believe that it would have been better to tackle the question completely and, if possible, by agreement between the parties.
The Bill is obviously in the nature of a blood transfusion to enable the other place to go on functioning satisfactorily for a term of years, but I disagree with the hon. Lady when she says that it will in the long run strengthen the House of Lords, for I cannot believe that will be the case.
In effect, the Bill extends the principle of nomination, which is one of the many remedies discussed by the Bryce Committee and other people who have examined the problem. Most of them have come down against the idea of nomination. Indeed, in recent years it has been rather discredited in second Chambers in other parts of the world. I believe that the principle of nomination has serious disadvantages, including the very disadvantage pointed out by the 458 Bryce Committee, that there is a danger that it will mean that appointments will become much too much a party matter: that they will degenerate into a subject for party reward, in the words used by the Bryce Committee.
For that reason, I was very glad when the Leader of the House indicated that there will be an attempt in respect of life peerages to cast the net rather wide and not seek nominations on a purely party basis. I believe that, as the powers of another place have been very much restricted and must remain restricted, it is not so important that the parties should be fully represented there as that there should be a number of people who are not particularly tied to any one party and who can bring their minds to bear on debates on general issues, which, I think, all agree represents one of the most important features of that House.
Its other important feature is that of revision. I was a little surprised to hear the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) say that, although there are now five different occasions on which we discuss Bills—it is true that one stage is formal—he would like to add a sixth. My view is—I think that many of us feel this—that we see rather more than we want of many of the Bills that come before the House, and to introduce yet another stage in the life of a Bill would, in the great majority of cases, be rather an imposition on the House. I, for one, am thankful that there is another place to which Bills can go to receive proper revision.
I am very much in favour of the principle of a second Chamber. Many pundits have discussed this matter in the past, including such curiously selected people as Lord Milner and Oliver Cromwell, and they have, one and all, come to the conclusion that a second Chamber is a very useful place.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
Will the hon. Member explain to the House just what powers the first Chamber, the House of Commons, had in the days of Cromwell?
§ Mr. Wingfield Digby
The first Chamber was the Rump Parliament. It considered itself thoroughly representative of the people of this country although it had expelled all but about 97 of its members. That is rather a good example against the case of the hon. Member.
459 There is no doubt that, in theory, there is a very strong case indeed for a second Chamber. The case for the second Chamber is much more important than the actual form it should take. I understand the views of hon. Members opposite about the hereditary principle, but I, for one, would welcome talks and agreement between the parties to achieve a reformed second Chamber, which I believe to be important because of the very fact that in this country we have a sovereign Parliament and what has virtually become a sovereign House of Commons which can do everything, including prolonging its own life almost indefinitely—as the Rump Parliament did—and which has been strengthened in very recent times by the growth of the party system which has given rise to the strongest party allegiances inside this House.
That is why it is important that we should not seek to set up any rival in reforming the House of Lords. To have a directly elected second Chamber would expose us to that danger, and I think that practically all are agreed that for that very reason we would not wish to tolerate another directly elected Chamber which could in the long run only rival ourselves. It would be equally wrong to go entirely in favour of the principle of nomination, and I was rather glad that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition also indicated that he would not be in favour of that principle being applied exclusively if any reform of the House of Lords were to be agreed.
In short, I welcome the Bill, although I do not have great hopes that it will achieve a tremendous amount. In particular, I hope that the Government will have second thoughts about the all-important question of salaries for Members of the House of Lords, because I do not see how we can attract those whom we want to have there unless we tackle that matter, and I should have thought that there was fairly general agreement about it. If that were done, the Bill could achieve very much more than will otherwise be possible. I welcome the Bill, although I am disappointed that it has not been possible to go further.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Mr. William Stones (Consett)
I do not propose to deal specifically with the arguments adduced by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who have already spoken, but 460 I shall deal with some of them in a general survey of the situation and I believe that I shall express an opinion which is widely held. I cannot support the Bill, not because of that which is contained in the Bill, but because I disagree with its basic assumptions which are that there is a need for the continuance of the House of Lords and that it needs to be strengthened.
I am against the Bill, because I am against the principle of the second Chamber in its present form—let there be no ambiguity about that. Although the Bill will proceed through its various processes and eventually become law, I look forward to the day, in the not-too-distant future I hope, when a Bill with the object of abolishing the House of Lords as we know it will be presented.
Along with other hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House, I regard the present situation in which we have the noble Lords of Britain participating in the legislative affairs of our country as an anachronism. The proposals in the Bill do little, if anything, to improve that state of affairs. We are a country rightly priding ourselves on our democratic way of life and on our democratic Government and yet we have persons who, either by hereditary rights or patronage—certainly not by election by the people of the country—are permitted to exercise power, very limited but nevertheless real, in our legislative affairs.
I draw some consolation from the fact that this is, and must be, just another stage in the development and inevitable decline in the power of the noble Lords. The ultimate ending of this form of privilege is not far distant. I used the term "privilege." Much as been said today about the history of the House of Lords, and we need to have some regard to historical facts in trying to arrive at conclusions on matters such as this. A little understanding of the long history of the House of Lords will support my point of view.
As a matter of convenience, we can take the history of the House of Lords from the year 1295. Throughout the centuries, it has retained its name and its form, although its character has substantially changed. Whatever changes have taken place, one thing is certain, that the membership of the House of Lords 461 has been a privilege throughout that long history. The lords were originally tenants in chief of the Crown, and, as such, they were entitled to receive summonses to attend Parliament. That right was hereditary and still is.
Later, lords were created by letters patent granted by the reigning monarch for one reason or another and sometimes, very often as a political expedient if my reading of history is right, there were even less desirable reasons for such creation. These persons, although not elected by the people, have wielded great power and have even gone to the extent of deposing monarchs and, at times, condoning regicide.
Our thanks are due to those who have gone before us and whose work and efforts have made it possible for us to say today that once the House of Commons has decided a course of action and is determined to pursue such a course, the House of Lords can do little more than delay the proceedings. But the House of Commons must be very determined, and it ought to be so. In other words, the real Parliamentary power is vested in the House of Commons, freely elected by the people in the various constituencies which we have the honour to represent. I express the fervent hope that that situation may never be changed. I cannot believe that there are many people who would disagree with those sentiments. It is not in the best interests of the country that the power to govern should be vested in any Tom, Dick or Harry—or in any Algernon Augustus, for that matter—by reason of patronage or the pure accident of birth.
I do not say that all the noble lineages are feeble and incompetent to govern wisely, according to their own political and ethical beliefs; indeed, it is true to say that much of our social progress is due to the efforts of some of the noble lords in the past. One name that comes to mind is that of the Earl of Shaftesbury, who, at the beginning of the last century, did so much in connection with the employment of children in the mines and drew attention to the fact that women worked in the mines right up to the point of giving birth to children.
Nor am I saying that the peers created in recent years are not competent or deserving of honour. All I am saying is that it is quite wrong to talk proudly of democracy and at the same time to 462 accept the principle of government, in however small a way, by people other than those elected by the people. We have heard the phrase "set the people free" on many occasions. If we are really to set the people free we must first give them the right to select their rulers.
My opinion of the Bill is that athough it goes so far as to make it possible for life peerages to be created, expiring upon the death of the person upon whom the peerage has been conferred, and provides for such peerages to be conferred upon women, it does not go far enough. I would have welcomed the Bill if it had proposed the abolition of the House of Lords as we now know it, together with all the privileges inherent in it. I have no objection to the creation of women peers and their right to sit in the House of Lords, so long as it exists. Women should have the same rights as men, for equality of the sexes is the order of the day, but I deny women, as I deny men, the right to govern other than when they have been elected to do so.
The Bill is a political expedient, calculated to pour oil on troubled waters. Time and time again when the power and influence of the House of Lords have waned or been threatened, efforts —not always unsuccessful—have been made to restore that power and influence. As the idea of democracy became more popular, suggestions were made for the democratisation of the House of Lords in order to make it more acceptable to the general public. We remember reading in the history books that the Civil War compelled the aristocrats to recognise the power and influence of the squires and burghers, and large numbers of the new ruling class were elected to the ranks of the aristocracy and made peers.
In that way the power of the House of Lords was retained, purely by way of compromise—and the Bill seems to be just another example of compromise. As a result of compromises in the past the number of Lords increased from 150 in 1642 to over 700 in the nineteenth century, and the number in the House of Lords today has been given as 875. Reference has been made to the fact that their Lordships find it very difficult to man Committees. I should have thought they ought not to find it very difficult when they have 875 Members.
463 The expansion of industry finally resulted in the emergence of two classes —the factory owners and industrialists, on the one hand, and the working classes on the other. With a greater realisation of the anomalies of the existing governmental system, efforts were again made to weaken the power of the Lords, with varying degrees of success. During the last century the Reform Bills gave power to the people by placing the representation of the people before the representation of material interests. The power of the Lords was thereby diminished.
Efforts have been made to justify the existence of the House of Lords and the augmentation of the number of its Members as provided in the Bill. During the nineteenth century justification for the House of Lords lay in its executive experience, as it was called and as it was accepted by most people. Assuredly, they, and only they, had had the experience of governing for centuries. But that is not so now. In this capacity they are now redundant. Much can be said for the utilisation of the experience of elder statesmen and other experts, but even that argument cannot sustain a proposal for the continuance of the House of Lords, because the benefit of such experience can be obtained in other ways.
In an effort to rid the House of Lords of the adjective "undemocratic" some people have suggested the democratisation of the House of Lords. The Parliament Act of 1911 has been referred to, and also the Bryce Committee, which was set up in 1917 as a result of that Act, and which considered the question of an elected House of Lords. One reads that proposals put forward on such a basis made little impression. Any attempt to democratise the House of Lords by making it subject to election has been mentioned as something that we must fear, for it could mean the setting up of a rival, if not a duplicate, of the House of Commons. The more elected and democratic the House of Lords becomes, the more it resembles the House of Commons, so why have it at all?
It has been claimed that the existence of the House of Lords and the present processes of law making are necessary to prevent the hurried passage of Bills which, upon becoming law, could be injurious and detrimental to the people.
464 Sufficient has been said about the matter to prove conclusively that that does not occur. A Bill can go from one place to another ad infinitum and one can still find anomalies existing in it. We must give the necessary amount of consideration to any legislation proposed, but it is not beyond the capacity of the House of Commons so to readjust its law-making processes as to insure against hurried and ill-considered law-making.
After much consideration, I have come to the conclusion that the Bill is intended simply to bolster up the House of Lords and to perpetuate an institution which is undemocratic, unnecessary, and an outworn relic of a despotic and tyrannical past. I hope that the House will reject it.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)
The hon. Member for Consett (Mr. Stones) has clearly expressed his detestation of the House of Lords and his determination to get rid of it. He accompanied his speech with a wealth of historical research which clearly impressed the House. I doubt whether even the French revolutionaries would have been able to go so carefully into the antecedents of the aristocrats they were executing as has the hon. Member who is driving the tumbril today. He said that the House of Lords from time immemorial—I think he got the date right, 1295—had been a place of privilege. But if he is interested in historical research—I am sure that he is, and, as time goes on will become increasingly so—he should read Appendix B of the recent Report of the Select Committee on the Powers of the House in Relation to the Attendance of its Members, where it clearly shows not only that attendance in the House of Lords was not a privilege, that it was not only not a duty, but that it was a very great burden indeed. And it is still a burden today for noble Lords.
For example, on 9th April, 1679, the Lord Chancellor hadto write to every peer absent and able to travel without danger to life to attend forthwith. House to send Serjeant to bring them in custody if they fail".On 22nd March, 1688, no Lord could go out of town without leave—the Clerk had to furnish a list of Lords absent without being excused—and on 31st October, 1690, even the House of Commons had to 465 come into the picture. The House in Committee had to consider ways of making the Lords attend.
§ Mr. Stones
I have no doubt that what the noble Lord is saying is right, and that it was an obligation to attend the House of Lords at some time. But I suggest that membership of the House of Lords is a privilege.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
Historically, the fact is that ever since the beginning of time noble Lords have found that it was extremely difficult to attend another place, and they are finding it so today. That is one of the actual facts of life about another place which will make it more easy to reform than might at first appear. I will say something about that at the end of my remarks.
I wish to offer a few remarks to the House on this slender little Bill and in support of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell). My hon. Friend made a brilliant and logical speech, and came to the conclusion that the Bill must be killed. There are many ways of killing a Bill. I do not propose to do into the Division Lobby tomorrow night with the Opposition, because I do not like the terms of the Opposition Amendment as it appears on the Order Paper. At this stage, I doubt whether I shall even go into the Lobby against the main Motion, if it is put. But there is just the possibility that during the Committee stage discussions and on Report all sorts of things may be done to the Bill. All sorts of exploratory work may be attempted. The Government may do research in a number of different particulars, and we can see whether it is possible to make anything of this Bill. "One must not kill, but need not strive officiously to keep alive." If during the Committee stage and on Report nothing whatever is forthcoming from the Government to improve this Bill, if it remains the meagre little document it is today, then on Third Reading we may give it the final coup de grace.
Several hon. Members have talked about party agreements on the matter. My right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal dwelt on that theme extensively in his opening speech. For the life of me I cannot see why it is more necessary to have party agreement about a Bill 466 changing the constitution of our country and reforming the House of Lords than upon any other matter. Surely, it should be the duty of a Government of the day of one political persuasion or another to decide according to their own policy what they conceive to be a Bill or Measure which satisfies their supporters, which satisfies the country, and to go forward with it. The Labour Party did that with nationalisation, and we certainly have not deserted that principle. We have carried out denationalisation, and in the case of road haulage and steel it may very well be that we shall be proved to have been right.
The great point to remember about this question of party legislation at a moment of time is that water flows under the bridge, and public opinion has a different comprehension of the facts in four or five years' time when another party may be in power. Although it is irrelevant to this Bill, and I must not pursue the matter, I do not find anything to suggest that, if and when hon. Members opposite do come to power, there will be the support from the country which they now think there is for doctrinaire reasons for the renationalisation of road haulage and steel. Likewise, if my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Government had the courage to put forward a comprehensive Measure reforming the House of Lords on Conservative lines, it is equally possible that were the Labour Party to come to power it would find it, shall we say, inconvenient to alter it, whatever that party might have said about the proposal heretofore. So I reject the doctrine of all-party agreement on constitutional legislation as I do on economic and financial legislation.
There is little to say in favour of the Bill. It includes a tiny little Clause allowing women to enter another place. The real issue is not whether women should enter another place, but whether they should be in public life at all. However, they having established great inroads into public life and built many powerful bridges, I cannot see why we need boggle about a little "catwalk" to another place. The two noble Ladies who have addressed the House today will, I am quite certain, despite the prejudice one of them may feel this afternoon, walk very delicately and 467 gracefully along the corridor in due course.
Why is it alleged that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite and Members of the Labour Party in general are reluctant to accept hereditary peerages? Not much has been said about the real purpose of the Bill today, but a great deal has been said about it in the past. I do not think that I am misquoting him if I say that my noble Friend Lord Salisbury has said on many occasions in another place—as have other Ministers—that it is essential to fill up the deficiency in the ranks of the Labour Party in the House of Lords. Why are right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, and Members of the Labour Party, reluctant to accept hereditary peerages? Lord Attlee, their erstwhile leader, accepted one. What is the fear? What examination has been made of the likes and dislikes of the sort of people who are being urged to come along and sit upon the Opposition benches in the House of Lords?
I do not think that any examination has been made at all. The fact that the Leader of the Opposition has not been consulted about the Bill makes it absolutely clear to me it has been framed speedily on a priori grounds without any careful behind-the-scenes examination—with the utmost discretion, certainly—of the sort of people who would be willing to sit on the Opposition benches in the House of Lords. I consider that is very hard.
Suppose that the Bill is enacted and that noble Lords of a temporal character are created—life peers—and then payment begins, what about their sons? It is alleged that they cannot take an hereditary peerage because it is very disagreeable in industry for the eldest son to feel that one day he is going to step into his father's shoes in the House of Lords. What happens when payment begins? There are certain classes of eminent Labour peers, hereditary peers, in the House of Lords who, I think, in due course, will follow their fathers into industry, commerce or anywhere else, to receive payment, because it is not going to be possible to deny the House of Lords the same sort of salaries that we have here, once reform of its composition has been made. It will be very hard on 468 the sons of life peers, who are likely to say, "Dad, why take a life peerage when Bob, round the corner, is going to succeed his father quite soon and receive £1,750 a year?" Have the Government thought of that one? I do not think they have.
What is the guarantee of opposition once the creations have been made? I think the Labour peers are doing a fine job in another place, but there is no guarantee, when we select somebody for a life peerage, that he will go on sitting on the Opposition bench day in and day out and do his duty. What is the duty? It depends on the character of the legislation and the political climate of the time. We cannot put forward puppet creatures and lay figures and guarantee that they will behave in a certain way in Parliament. The creation of life peers to constitute an opposition is a fiction.
It seems to me that there has been insufficient thought behind the Bill, and that it is misconceived. I must admit that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition was right; it is a patronising Bill, patronising to the Labour Party. Why should not hon. Members of that party, in due course, if their philosophy changes, receive hereditary peerages? I am perfectly certain that they will.
One final remark, and it is a rather serious remark. I feel it fundamentally, and it constitutes the basis of my opposition to this Measure. I believe that in many ways this rather terrible social revolution—I am not talking about the elevation of life of the masses; that is grand, that is wonderful—I mean this hysterical bitterness in public life these last 50 years, this divergence of the parties on grounds of class and privilege, rather than on grounds of ideology, is an appalling thing to contemplate. I think it has done terrible damage to our country, and that it will take a very long time to recover from it, but that we are recovering from it slowly I am quite certain.
I am certain that, as time goes forward this horizontal division between the parties on grounds of class will give way to a vertical division on grounds of political belief—free trade versus protection, State control versus freedom of the individual—whatever wide issues one may care to suggest—and that in time we will get together with a rising social 469 consciousness, a satisfactory platform of life for all, the sort of ideological division between the parties which we had until the beginning of this century.
If that is the case, the House of Lords will divide naturally on grounds of ideology. It is bound to do that. Why tamper with its constitution at the end of a social revolution? We made no proper attempt to accommodate the rising tide of radicalism at the beginning. I think the House of Lords was wrong in 1911 to admit the Budget. It ought to have stood by its principles and been swamped by radical peers. There would then have been no need for these reforms today. Why make this silly, futile experiment at the end of an era?
I hope that the House will cogitate in Committee and on Report, and see if it cannot amend the Bill. But if we cannot make a satisfactory Bill of it, for heaven's sake, let us drop it. There was an occasion when, in Charles II's time, a Measure of this sort introduced by Cromwell was done away with, for reasons which are very difficult to find out. [Interruption.] Yes, indeed, a life peerages Measure introduced by Cromwell was eliminated after the Restoration for reasons which are rather difficult to ascertain, but it was done, and there must have been sound reasons for doing it. Do not let us today introduce a Measure which we will find specious, inconvenient and inadequate, and which we may have to repeal in ten years' time.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacPherson (Stirling and Falkirk Burghs)
The speech of the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) is the second speech we have heard this evening putting forward, extremely ably in both cases, a strongly-held individual point of view which is not the point of view of either side of this House.
I thought the noble Lord wrongly assessed the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell). It was not, it seemed to me, a logical speech; that was not the dominating characteristic of it. It was a speech which was essentially mystical— with the mystique of far-back Conservatism, expressed extremely ably in logical form. When I say it was not essentially logical, I am not being disrespectful to the hon. Member. We are all like that.
470 We all think that we are being logical when the real thing that decides our point of view in the long run is not logical argument at all; it is our attitude, our beliefs and the mystique we happen to believe in.
Both the noble Lord and his hon. Friend take the same point of view, and one could sympathise with it if one started from their starting point. There is a great deal in what the noble Lord said by way of background to his main points with which I and a great many hon. Members would certainly agree. The description of his point of view as that of extreme Conservatism seems to be borne out by the noble Lord's attitude to women in public life. That, however, is an issue which I shall not pursue just now. I had assumed that, in spite of what took place in another place, the question whether this Bill was right to include women or not would hardly be raised in this House.
The issues which we have been discussing have been fairly wide, much wider than "this slim little Bill", as the noble Lord described it. It is one of the habits of the House, in putting down reasoned Amendments, to widen the field of discussion considerably. There has been a great deal of general discussion on the House of Lords itself, its qualities, its membership and its future. The question has been raised in many speeches whether there should be a second Chamber at all. My answer to that question is, "Yes." If, however, there had not been a second Chamber, I would not have supported the idea of bringing into existence this particular kind of second Chamber; but, since it is there, it seems to me that we might as well make use of it.
For what?—to take away some of the load of work which sits like a sort of Old Man of the Sea on the shoulders of this House, and has done so now for some decades. It is a load with which we have not as yet found any satisfactory way of dealing. The Chamber at the other end of the corridor—another place —does take a small part of the work which we have to do, and if it did not do that we would have to do it, and as has already been suggested, we might have to have a fourth, fifth or sixth stage in our deliberations. We should need to have an additional revising stage. 471 Where could we find time for that in our existing time-table? That, it seems to me, is the essential question in connection with the future of the House of Lords.
I do not take my stand as a unicamerist or as a bi-camerist; indeed, I would quite happily support a third Chamber if there were any practical necessity for it. I view this question in relation to the House of Commons. Our Constitution is Commons-centred and Commons-based. Our legislative processes are centred around the House of Commons. Our methods of criticising the Executive are centred in the House of Commons. The co-ordinate position once occupied by the second Chamber has ceased to be. It has become a subordinate position. That is one of the matters on which we pretty well all agree. It was expressed by many of the noble Lords who spoke in another place. I do not think anyone nowadays would want to make the second Chamber coordinate with this Chamber.
That being so, one must view the future of the House of Lords in relation to the House of Commons. Coming from a Member of this Chamber that might seem slightly arrogant, but I do not think it is: we are here only as nominees of our constituents. It is only in the interests of our constituents that we make up our minds in one way or another about the worth or the value of the two Chambers. As the House of Lords is subsidiary to the House of Commons its powers also should be subsidiary. I shall not try to follow this point out on its main lines, because it has been dealt with fully and forcefully by one or two of my colleagues.
There is no case for anything more than an amending power in the House of Lords, and the amendments should be approved by this House. Roughly, it should have the power that we give to a Standing Committee, to make Amendments and to have the Amendments confirmed when the Bill is reported back to the House of Commons. That is the kind of thing the Lords should do.
I am not one of those who say, in an unqualified way, that the House of Lords does this job or any other part of its work with very high quality or very great efficiency. Not merely should the 472 House of Lords revise; it should also have freedom to initiate Bills and to hold general debates on public matters. These things it does now, but not nearly as well as popular legend tries to make out. In the House of Lords it is certainly true that there are a number of able people, and in most of the major debates there are a number of first-rate speeches made by people of intellectual pre-eminence and in many cases of great personal experience of the subject under discussion. We also find a great deal of work that is not well done, for instance, in legislation that is initiated there.
I have looked up the histories in the House of Lords of two Measures, one of which was recently before this House and one of which will shortly come here. Both of them are, in their ways, a little outside the ordinary run of Measures. One would say of them, "The House of Commons won't take much interest in them because they are not strongly party matters, but the House of Lords, with its array of distinguished experts from all walks of life, should produce a good debate on each of them."
One of the Bills was the British Nationality Bill. It came to us from the House of Lords. Their Lordships' House spent from 4.19 p.m. to 5.10 p.m. on the Second Reading of that Bill, while the Committee and remaining stages went through on the nod. That was a Measure of great constitutional importance on which one would expect the House of Lords to produce a far better debate than we could, but it went through with hardly any debate at all.
The other Measure—I said these were a little off the ordinary beaten track—is a specialised one entitled the Solicitors (Scotland) Bill. One would not expect the House of Commons to take any tremendous interest in that, but one would expect the House of Lords to produce enough knowledgeable Members to make a good debate. The total time on Second Reading was 33 minutes and in Committee seven minutes. The remaining stages were taken on the nod. The total time given to all stages of the Bill in the House of Lords was 40 minutes.
Not only that, but a great many of the debates in the House of Lords are repetitive and platitudinous. In legislative assemblies we are bound to talk a lot of temporary stuff and sometimes 473 a certain amount of nonsense, but those who have a veneration for the House of Lords must agree that, on comparison, the House of Commons does not come out so badly.
§ The Minister of Education (Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd)
I am very interested in what the hon. Gentleman has been saying. When comparing our work with that of the House of Lords, has he paid attention to the remarks of his right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), who is a very experienced Member of this House and who went out of his way to compliment the Lords upon the quality and speed of their Committee work, the lack of unnecessary talking, and their getting down to the necessary decisions?
§ Mr. MacPherson
Yes. I agree both with my right hon. Friend and with the Minister, but I do not think that told the whole story. I started by saying that many of the speeches in the House of Lords were first-rate, but a lot of the work which we might expect them to do well because it is not essentially party work is done in far too skimpy a fashion. I do not know whether hon. Members spend very much time reading the debates in the House of Lords. If They did, they might be disappointed with the amount of repetition and platitudinousness that goes on, regarded even from the lenient point of view of our experience of this House.
I do not want to comment in any detail on the membership of the House of Lords except in relation to the new type of member that is being suggested. The hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby), expressed a great deal of dislike of the principle of nomination to the House of Lords; but the House of Lords is very largely nominated. The bishops, the Law Lords and first-creation peers are all nominated. It is very largely a nominated House, as we see when we look at its whole membership, but it is still more largely nominated proportionately when we look at the active membership. A good deal has been said about the hereditary element already and I must not use up more time.
In reading the debates in another place I see that none of the noble Lords who spoke for the Government claimed there 474 was any hereditary principle that could be defended. They have all put forward the idea of heredity in connection with the second Chamber as a matter of expediency rather than a matter of principle.
On the question with which we are dealing in the Bill, I think we run into a number of difficulties, some of which have been stated and one or two others I wish to state. The actual creation of life peers seems on balance a good thing. I can give it the same kind of tepid welcome which my noble Friend, Earl Attlee, gave it in another place. It is a small business, but the direction in which it goes is satisfactory.
What kind of people are we going to get? I am puzzled by what we are told by spokesmen of the Government. Lord Home in another place described them as:persons who can help the working of Parliament."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 3rd December, 1957; Vol. 206, c. 610.]The Leader of the House today referred to "people of distinction in all walks of life." The two do not necessarily match. It is one of the pleasant delusions which people have, particularly when planning a second Chamber, that one can get all sorts of distinguished people from all sorts of walks of life, put them into a second Chamber and have the most wonderful second Chamber on earth; but they do not always fit in that kind of place. I wonder how far the Leader of the House will get in his search for men of distinction who will not simply take a life peerage but will actually become active members of another place? I doubt very much whether more than a small proportion of those selected on that basis will stand the repetitiveness, the chores and the humdrum business of legislative and other work involved in membership of another place.
There is the major question of remuneration. I want to say only one thing about that. The main point has been stressed. It has been thumped home that we can get a good working second Chamber only if we pay the members. The membership of a second Chamber does not depend on geographical constituencies, but there is a very important geographical element. It will not do to make a payment which is adequate only for a London member, who can carry on some other job half the 475 time. We have also to allow for members coming from other parts of the country. If we do not make that allowance in other ways as well as in connection with a salary, we shall run the danger of creating something like a super London County Council. That is always one of the dangers of any body which is not based on geographical constituencies. The danger, I think, will arise more with the creation of life peers selected for the particular job than it has arisen in the past, because there has always been a handful of hereditary peers willing to undergo the difficulties that geography imposes, such as travelling long distances.
A further point, which I must make my last, because I am coming to the end of a proper time limit, is in connection with the titles of members of the House of Lords, whether they are hereditary or not. One part of the Bill seems quite superfluous. Clause 1 (2a) entitles a person:to rank as a baron under such style as may be appointed by the letters patent;all that is needed in a second Chamber is stated in subsection (b), that he shall be entitled… to receive writs of summons to attend the House of Lords and sit and vote therein accordingly.There is no point in making life peers barons with a particular style or rank beyond that of "Members of the House of Lords."
In talking about the barriers which people find to undertaking membership of the House of Lords, the actual phrase to be used for the title should not be underestimated. Titles like, "lord," "duke," "viscount" and so on nowadays are not only out of date but carry with them—I do not mean to be disrespectful to any individual—a certain touch, not only of quaintness, but perhaps something a little more reprehensible. I will not use the word I had in mind, because I do not want to get into trouble. I take off my hat to those who undertake this business of calling themselves lords, but it is a difficulty for them.
§ Mr. MacPherson
It is not a very exact expression of my meaning. I 476 should like to add to the word "quaintness" something suggesting a rather more critical attitude. I withdraw "reprehensible," but I will not say the word I had in mind because I do not want to be offensive.
§ Mr. MacPherson
No. I suppose there is a stage when one should say less or more, and I seem to have got myself in between the two. Having done that, I think I had better stay there rather than try to extricate myself. Perhaps I can put it generally. It seems to me that it takes a certain amount of strength of mind, a certain touch of moral courage, for Mr. John Smith, an ordinary, plain, everyday chap with an interest in public affairs, or with a certain distinction in some line, suddenly to find that almost of necessity he must turn himself into Lord Smith the next day. That is not altogether a happy or attractive situation to be in.
One should remember that in connection with the disincentives, as we call them nowadays, to accepting peerages. There is no need for membership of the House of Lords to carry with it any title. Membership is all that is wanted. I should have thought it would be a happy situation to have a House of non-Lords rather than a House of Lords, a second Chamber consisting of people who are Members of one House of Parliament and do not carry any rank, style or title.
I am afraid I have been somewhat discursive and have got into a little difficulty in the last point I have made, but I come down in favour of the principles enunciated by the Amendment moved by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. The hereditary principle, although I have not said much about it because it has been dealt with by my hon. Friends, is something which does not seem to have any place at all in a legislative assembly. The powers that presently exist in another place are too great for the work that that other place should be expected to do.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr)
I do not propose to comment on some of the extravagant and largely irrelevant attacks made 477 on the House of Lords and on the hereditary system generally, because most of the hon. Members who made them have left the Chamber and, therefore, could not profit much by anything I could say. I wish to make one preliminary comment. That is to say how pleased we all are to have the charming reminder of a great father and to notice that many of the little mannerisms of the noble Lady the Member for Carmarthen (Lady Megan Lloyd George)—although I do not suppose she knows it—are those to which we were accustomed to look for from him.
I do not suppose that any of us was surprised to see the Amendment on the Order Paper. Everyone knows that the Opposition do not want a continuation of the House of Lords. They do not want it to be changed because, if it were changed, the question of further and wider powers would be raised. I do not think, however, that in their hearts hon. Members opposite would like it abolished, because, if it were, that would destroy one of their favourite platform targets and deny them the unthinking guffaws of their unthinking audiences. That kind of thing falls very pleasantly on an unthinking ear.
Apart from that, I think we all also realise, and have realised for a long time, that there is something not quite suitable to our needs in the present composition of the House of Lords. Unique though their qualities are, and held as they are in the highest regard in the country and overseas, there is something in its composition that fails to match up to the requirements of today. But I cannot believe—and I share this view with many other speakers—that the creation of life peers and peeresses as proposed in the Bill would rectify the position or save the Lords.
The words "life peers" raise grave misgivings in my mind, for two reasons. When the new creations, after this Bill has been lamentably passed, grow old and senile new creations will have to be nominated or adopted to do the work. So, one fine day a question will come up before the Lords of vital interest to the country—possibly the reintroduction of capital punishment or corporal punishment.
Then, immediately on this vital call of duty, we would have the old and senile, the young and vigorous, backed, of 478 course, by the alleged backwoodsmen, all rallying to the call. The only result of that would be or could be an adjournment to the Albert Hall. I cannot imagine that the Albert Hall is a very good place for the cut and thrust of debate. There would be no limit to the numbers. There would be no place within the Palace of Westminster that could possibly deal with the conglomeration that one day might find itself called the House of Lords.
The second misgiving is that, although undertakings were given by the Leader of the House today, and also by Government spokesmen in the other place, only those people of wide public service and of erudition and knowledge and suitable to be appointed would be made life peers. There is nothing in the Bill to show, or guarantee, that a Prime Minister or a Government of the day, when this Bill becomes law, would not be attracted by the idea of creating peers who would give them their political support. In that case, there would be ultimately a gross preponderance of one political party in the House of Lords, of which we justly complain today.
In my opinion, the Government, in bringing forward this Bill, have not displayed their usual courage. Their approach has been tremulous and timorous. It is because of a strong desire to obtain some sort of general agreement to this nibbling effort that they have produced what I can only describe as a rather cock-eyed Bill. Most of us would prefer—I certainly would—a more robust and comprehensive effort to deal with this problem, which nearly fifty years ago, "brooked no delay." We all recognise the difficulties; but as someone has said—I think it was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill); it is like him, anyhow—difficulties are created to be overcome.
What are the difficulties? The first is the existence or continuation of the hereditary system. That, as has been assumed today, is considered by a number of people to be archaic. The second difficulty is introducing the elective principle without competing with the House of Commons. The third is the advisability of having much more substantial representation of the great professions and the trade unions. Finally, there is possibly the demand which might arise of giving a 479 reformed Chamber the powers suitable to its stature.
How could these difficulties be resolved? I am reminded of the informal Committee that sat on this subject over twenty-five years ago. It was presided over by the late Lord Salisbury. I was then a very junior member of that Committee. It reached conclusions somewhat similar to those I am now seeking to put forward, and it also corresponds to the system which is working quite satisfactorily in Belguim.
Working on the basis that the active strength of the present House should be drastically reduced so as to conform both to seating and business requirements, we might fix the total at, say, 425. I will give the reason for that in a moment. Of that 425 the following distribution should be made. One hundred of the existing Members of the House of Lords should be elected by the peers themselves. That would carry on to a limited extent the hereditary principle, and, indeed, would be an adaptation of the system adopted by our Scottish peers.
The second 100 would come from the same House of Lords, but would be elected by Members of the House of Commons. Thus, democracy would be given its pound of flesh. The second 100 would be elected by those already elected by the votes of the people. The third 100 would be elected from their own numbers by the great professions—doctors, architects, lawyers, and the like—and this would ensure a wide knowledge and great experience being brought into the discussions.
The fourth 100 would be elected from their own numbers by the trade unions, thus providing what everyone knows is very essential in the House of Lords—the authentic voice of labour. Finally, for the remaining 25 I suggest that they should cover those members of the Royal House who have the right to sit there now or such others as might be chosen, such as representatives from the Commonwealth, together with leaders of the various religious communities, established and otherwise. I then suggest, in regard to that last category, that they should be nominated by the Prime Minister of the day.
§ Mr. Edward Evans (Lowestoft)
Would the hon. Gentleman tell us for how long 480 he proposes that these people should be elected?
§ Sir T. Moore
I am coming to that point. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman reminded me of it. All these categories would hold office only for the lifetime of the Parliament, but would be subject to re-election or reappointment if desirable. Thus the Chamber would be continually refreshed, continually strengthened, and continually more able and adapted to discharge whatever functions might be entrusted to it.
This, of course, raises what has been already referred to—the vexed and controversial issue of powers. What powers would the House of Commons now be prepared to concede to the House of Lords, reformed as I have suggested? I believe that even the most Left wing critics of the House of Lords would, on the whole, be prepared to grant the powers suitable to the composition of the House that I have set out.
That is the scheme as I have conceived it. That is the broad outline of the view which I have held for many years. It would require a lot of work, attention and thought. Certainly, as my noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) said, it would be far better to grasp firmly the nettle which we all know exists, and will continue to exist after the Bill is passed, and to deal with it confidently and courageously instead of by this timorous, tremulous and, no doubt, pilot scheme, which, in my opinion, will make no difference whatever to the present position in the House of Lords.
I am convinced, also, of one other thing. I believe that only when the Government, Parliament and the people face up to the problem on these lines will they create a Parliament in its broadest sense that will be worthy of the country.
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Miss Elaine Burton (Coventry, South)
I am very glad to follow the hon. Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) as he does not consider this a good Bill. I hope that it is a Bill which will not make much progress, and I should like to give my reasons for saying that.
Ever since the reform, if one can so call it, of the other place was mooted, the public has been given three reasons by the Government and by the newspapers 481 which support the Government for the necessity of this reform. The first is that there is a feeling in the country that the other place is far too large in its nominal strength. I think it is right to say that twenty years ago the membership of the other place numbered 772 and that today the number is 872. Presumably, if this rate of increase continues, perhaps in some twenty years or so the number will reach 1,000. The Bill makes no attempt to deal with that problem.
We have heard criticisms today about the size of the House of Lords, and I do not think any hon. Member would disagree when I say that nothing that the Government have put forward in this House contains any suggestion for dealing with that problem.
The second point which has been put out to the public is that in the other place there is a huge majority for one party, which means that far too much work falls on a minority. That is generally admitted, because Lord Home, speaking in another place, said:I believe that all of us have recognised that the existence of the large number of peers who seldom, if ever, attend this House but who, if they did attend, could in theory dominate a vote exposes this House to criticism,"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 3rd December, 1957; Vol. 206, c. 611–12.]That obviously is recognised, and yet the Bill makes no effort to deal with that aspect either.
The third point which has been promulgated in the Press for some time is that people who could give useful service and help to redress the balance between the parties in another place are prevented from doing so for two reasons. The first is their reluctance to accept a a peerage with a hereditary obligation; and the second is the lack of financial means to enable them to give voluntary service full-time.
I was rather amazed to hear the Lord Privy Seal—I took down his words—say that people were not debarred from the House of Lords today because of lack of payment. That was an extraordinary thing to say. It is particularly extraordinary in view of the fact that in another place the spokesman for the Opposition put forward the point that any strengthening of the Opposition in another place would be limited to a very small field of choice, because there 482 would be very few indeed who could afford to go to that place without adequate annual remuneration.
That point was strengthened when a Member on the Government side said in another place that as the House of Lords sat for only 100 days in the year, payment would amount, at the maximum, to £315 per annum. In view of that, it really was quite extraordinary for the Lord Privy Seal to make that remark this afternoon. It is quite obvious that nobody without other means could work full time for a payment of £315 a year, and yet the Bill we are discussing today makes no provision for that whatever.
Another reason for the Bill—a Government reason—which has not been put out to the public, is the belief that a little reform now, particularly if it were what I might call a somewhat liberal—with a small "I"—reform, would be likely to postpone indefinitely a bigger reform. It is because of this argument that I particularly welcome the Amendment put down today by the Opposition.
Like some of my hon. Friends who have already spoken, I am in favour of a second Chamber, but I am not in favour of a second Chamber unless the hereditary principle goes first. I would not touch anything which retained the hereditary principle, because I believe that by accepting this Bill we should be bolstering up the present system. We should be giving it a new look which is not a particularly good one, which might lead moderate opinion to think that as this reform had been put through the House of Lords can be left as it is for the present.
Presumably, if life peers are to be appointed they will have to be Labour peers for the time being, otherwise the unbalance in the Lords will become even worse than it is today. Equally, they would have to be paid for a full-time job. Coming to a different point, I would have expected most hon. Members to agree that in the world today, the hereditary principle is really and truly out of date. Although we may accuse the Lord Privy Seal of many other things, we do not usually accuse him of being out of date, but I understood him today to say that the reform introduced by the Bill was in line with the times. I do not think it is. I 483 cannot imagine that anything which maintains this hereditary and out-of-date principle is in line with the world of today, and I do not believe that a few Labour life peers and the admission of women should be used to bolster up this idea.
The proposals of the Government are very simple: the admission of life peers, the admission of women and the continuation of the payment of expenses, which has begun in the limited way that I have mentioned. When Lord Home was speaking in another place, however, he said:I do not at all visualise that there would be very large numbers of life peerages created quickly which would transform the character of this House."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 30th October, 1957; Vol. 205, c. 589.]If a large number of life peers are not to be created quickly, I cannot see how we are to make the unbalance in the House of Lords any better than it is at the moment.
We have been given various reasons why members of the other place do not attend as well as they should, and we were even told that with a roll of more than 800 members it is difficult to man committees. We have been told:A Peer uses Parliament when he has some first-hand knowledge to contribute to … debates.Lord Home went on to say that as a peeris not under the necessity of proving to his constituents at regular intervals that he is in fact alive, he does not have to come here and assert himself at regular intervals."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 30th October, 1957; Vol. 205, c. 591.]That may be all very well, but we on this side of this House do not see why people who do not of necessity have to prove themselves alive to their constituents should be given the power to vote.
A statement was made by a spokesman in another place that although we might have a comprehensive reform which would limit the number of hereditary peers, there were two conditions before it could be done. The first was a great measure of agreement between the parties. The Lord Privy Seal said today that it had not been possible to secure agreement between the two parties to any radical reform, and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said we had not been consulted in the matter. I cannot help wondering, and I should 484 think the general public would wonder, too, if we cannot secure agreement between the two parties on radical reform of the other place, whether that means we have to keep the present House of Lords for ever. I would have thought that there would have been disagreement between the two parties about reform, because I am convinced that the other side is not likely to agree with our attitude to this matter.
I should have thought there were four points of agreement in the country on this affair: first, that we should not have a Chamber consisting of a great many people who never enter it; second, that there is a necessity for a second Chamber; third, that women should be admitted; fourth, that people would he willing to serve if life peerages were introduced and if the financial question could be settled. I believe that the majority of people would agree with those four points.
Who will disagree? First we have the die-hard opinion which we have heard expressed and which we have read about in the other place, and which says there should be no change at all. We have the opinion of extremists in the country who say there should be no second Chamber at all. In between we have the moderates who say, "Let us have changes and see how they work." I believe the Opposition is doing a service to the country by saying we are in favour of some of these changes, that we are in favour of a second Chamber, but only on one condition, and that is that the hereditary principle goes first.
I would ask the Government whether they would tell us how they propose to pay a selected number of peers. Presumably, it would not be intended that a full salary should be offered to some 800 or 900 members, many of whom never go near the place at all. Secondly, how does one justify a Chamber which is not elected having voting powers? Third, how does one justify a system when there is always available in it a crushing majority for one party? My noble Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Lady Megan Lloyd George), whose speech we all enjoyed so much—I will not say she got herself into hot water, because I am certain she would never do that—raised this question which I want to put. When has the other place sent 485 back or turned down important Measures sent up to it from the Commons when there has been a Conservative Government? The noble Lady certainly made her point, that there had been nothing more exciting than a Measure about wild birds which had been produced in evidence. This question was raised in the debate in another place on 3rd December, and there was not one Government spokesman who could produce one single title of one major Measure which had been sent up to it from this Chamber during the time of a Conservative Government which the other place had turned down.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
I thought the hon. Lady was in the Chamber when I ventured to interrupt the hon. Lady the Member for Carmarthen (Lady Megan Lloyd George) and gave a list of various Bills, whose names I do not want to repeat, not only thrown out but drastically amended, quite apart from that important Measure, the Protection of Birds Act.
§ Miss Burton
I have been here a long time, and I was in the Chamber when the noble Lady made that interruption, but I did not think, I hope I may say without discourtesy, that the list she produced was really worthy of the noble Lady. I thought it would have been much better to let it go by default than to produce a list of birds. It really strengthens the argument on this side of the House.
Suggestions have been made for reducing the enormous number in the other House. It was suggested that some peers might agree not to go there, might agree not to vote. There was the very ingenious suggestion that there should be a scheme whereby the peers, whether hereditary or newly created, would be allowed to sit and speak but that only a limited number of peers would have the right to sit, speak and vote. Various suggestions have been put forward, but I hope very much that we shall be reinforced in our objection to this Bill by hon. Members on the Government benches who have spoken against it, and I hope that until the hereditary principle has disappeared we on this side of the House will continue our opposition.
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)
The hon. Lady the Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton) has asked a great many questions and I am not skilled enough to answer them all, but I will try to say something about some of them. She said there were too many peers, but she also admitted that too few attend the other place. The hon. Lady criticised the existence of what she called backwoodsmen. I would point out that proposals are afoot for getting rid of this problem. The idea of leave of absence has not been abandoned.
I think that the hon. Lady got the Lord Privy Seal wrong when she talked about the financial position of peers. What my right hon. Friend said, if I understood him aright, was that the possession of great wealth or landed possessions was not by any means the only reason why a peerage should be created at the present time. I do not believe that the present somewhat inadequate expenses allowance should necessarily bedevil this discussion, which, after all, is about another proposal, but that would not preclude the later adjustment of such matters.
I am only a very inexperienced Member of this House and I am not a lawyer, nor am I a logician. I have, however, spent a certain amount of time, I hope without neglecting my duties in this House, listening to their Lordships in another place, and I have been very impressed by what I have heard and seen. I would say this about proposed reforms of the other place. If they are needed they should, indeed, be gradual reforms. This present Measure is drawn in very narrow terms, but the Opposition's Amendment is couched, I feel, in somewhat bitter tones and has rather widened the issue. They oppose the Bill, though, if it is passed, no doubt many of them will take advantage of its provisions. We must wait and see, but I feel that that will be the position.
I should like to take up a few minutes defending the hereditary principle, about which much has been said today. Surely hon. Members would concede that they would hope to pass on such good qualities as they possess to their children. I should like the House to follow me into the realms of fantasy and imagine for a moment that every hon. Member 487 who sits in this Chamber will be succeeded by his eldest son. Is any hon. Member so doubtful about this hereditary principle that he feels that it would be a national disaster if his son succeeded him?
§ Mr. Cooke
Let us follow that in a parallel to their Lordships' House. Peers of the first creation are presumably sent there for worthy reasons. Why, therefore, should not their children be worthy persons to serve in another place? It is suggested by hon. Members opposite that many centuries could dilute the virtues of many people in the other place, but I should like to quote the case of my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel), who is the twenty-ninth of his line. I am sure that his worst enemy in the House, if he has any, would not call him a degenerate person. The popular view of the ancient peerages is clouded by the antics of the alcoholic and frivolous noble earl, Lord Littlehampton, fortunately a fictional peer. The gossip columns and cartoons which we see in the Press and the glossy magazines to some extent colour the public's imagination. People get an impression which is far from reality.
I do not believe that the other place, as now constituted, is all that unrepresentative. Some noble Lords cling to ancient homes and landed estates, but they certainly do not live a life of luxury in so doing. Many are in business, or in the professions. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) gave a catalogue of the various walks of life represented. I have made my own catalogue. Their Lordships at present include among their numbers distinguished Parliamentarians and people skilled in local government, soldiers, sailors, airmen, farmers, churchmen, doctors, lawyers, trade unionists, architects, artists, scientists, even poets, philosophers, musicians and university dons. But, far more important than any of those when it comes to the point, their numbers also include a large body of ordinary folk who express public opinion.
488 Much has been said about the fact that the other place is too large at present. The leave of absence proposals may well remove that difficulty. Many schemes for reform have been suggested. I would submit that an elected House of Lords is not the answer, and I believe that we in this House are in general agreement on that point. A House wholly nominated also would not work. Are we to have only Lords of Parliament who would cease to be Lords at the end of the life of any one Parliament? I do not favour that view, because I feel that what we would get would be something like a monstrous, popular brains trust. No doubt it would create a great deal of interest in the Press for a short time, but then we should have the surfeit of clever talk that we get over the broadcast at present.
Another problem which has not been mentioned today is the question of how to get young people into the other place. There are people who think that young men should not pursue Parliamentary careers, that they should wait until they have reached years of discretion. That is as it may be, but I think that it is generally agreed that a few young people, even if they have strange ideas, can sometimes be of value; and the only way that we can get young people into the other place is by means of the hereditary principle. We have sitting on the benches opposite a virile and provocative embryo second viscount in the person of the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn), yet he wishes not to go to the other place. He now also wishes to reform this House in various directions.
As to the question of women in another place, I do not want to get involved in undue controversy. It is surely a domestic matter for their Lordships. They had an interesting debate on the subject and decided in favour of the ladies. That is their affair. On the question of powers, surely composition and powers have always been inseparably fixed together when we have discussed the other place. Powers are outside the scope of the Bill, but they are hinted at in the Opposition Amendment. If the other place is to have a revisory function that must involve a moderate amount of delay, and that is what we experience at present. Their Lordships seek to provide time for reflection. They do not want power to frustrate the will of the people.
489 As to the qualities of the other place, their Lordships have a far less hectic procedure than we have in this House. They can have, at almost a moment's notice, a full and reasoned debate on a wide variety of current topics. They have the procedure of moving for Papers, though whether any noble Lord has ever actually received those Papers I am not quite sure. Their Questions are far fewer than Questions are in this House, and they are far more fully answered. Indeed, the object of asking them is not, as it is all too often in this House, to try to catch out the Minister or the Government. In the other place, Questions are really regarded as an opportunity to acquire information and to ventilate a matter which is current in the public eye.
I have noticed that their Lordships indulge in very healthy criticism of Government policy and that they are not unduly tied to party. If this proposed reform is carried out, it should be given time to work before any further changes are made to the House of Lords, unique among second Chambers in the Parliaments of the world.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East)
I must congratulate the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) on the ingenuity which he demonstrated in his speech, because he rested his case for supporting the Bill upon the virtues of a hereditary second chamber, and, in doing so, overlooked the fact that his own Government have now introduced a Measure which makes a breach in the very principle to which he attaches so much importance.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke
I hope that the hon. Member will not take anything that I said as being in support of the Bill. I merely discussed the Measure at large.
§ Mr. Benn
If the hon. Member admits from his own mouth that his speech was irrelevant, it is not for me to step in and perform the function of the Chair. If the hereditary principle is as good as the hon. Member believes it is, it is surprising that he will be finding himself tomorrow in the Lobby in support of a Bill which makes a breach in that principle.
This is an interesting debate, because we are concerned with something more than a second Chamber. First, Parliament is one body. As the hon. Member 490 for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) pointed out, both Chambers are Houses of one Parliament. In addition to the political aspect, we must look upon the House of Lords as a tribal assembly. There is a very strong tribal element in the peerage, and, indeed, its only effective spokesman today has been the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, who, in his honorary capacity of custodian of the tribal records, has perceived that in the Bill great damage has been done to the tribal aspects of the House of Lords in pursuit of a political aim. I hope briefly to deal with this tribal point.
Although the hon. Member for Bristol, West referred to my particular difficulty, this Bill has nothing to do with heirs to peerages who will, in due course, be translated to another place. The view I take on this point, which I stick to and which I believe is right, is that this has nothing to do with House of Lords reform. I am a Member of the House of Commons and I do not believe that peers should be allowed to sit here, even if they renounce their rights. In my view, arrangements should be made under which a peer can become a commoner for himself and his descendants, and then, automatically, he would enjoy the rights enjoyed by other commoners. Therefore, I hope that I have never confused the issue of a peerage with the issue of membership of the House of Commons. Of course I am the victim of my father's virtue. In the Letters Patent there is this phrase: "Heirs male of his body lawfully begotten." I am told that this is sometimes known as a "Special Reminder." Anyhow, the difficulty that arises comes from this curious tribal characteristic.
We are discussing today the question of the House of Lords as a political body, and it is no use trying to confuse it with the matter of the family. The reason why this Bill has been introduced is readily available. I think the best answer comes from a pamphlet published by the Conservative Political Centre in 1947. I quote from it because it is a most authoritative document. It poses the following question for young Conservatives to discuss in the early days of their discussion circles:Is a House of Lords as at present constituted just the right sort of body to exercise and to be allowed to exercise such a discretionary power against a Socialist as well as 491 a Conservative Government, and, even more important, might not its consciousness that it is not such a body restrain it from taking action in the national interest which in fact a differently constituted body would take with assurance?That is really the explanation of the Bill. If there were an Explanatory Memorandum on the front of the Bill, it ought to be that. The Conservative Party feels that the House of Lords as now constituted is so absurd a body that it would be incapable of challenging a Socialist majority in the House of Commons and carrying the public with it. What we are engaged on today, therefore, is a piece of political repair work, designed to establish for the House of Lords the respectability which it lacks.
Of course the main efforts in this direction were made by Lord Salisbury himself. He and his family have for generations laboured on the problem of creating a second Chamber that, in a storm, could stand up to a House of Commons determined to get its business through. He failed, and he failed for the simple reason that the instinct of self-preservation is very close to the hereditary instinct, and from a House of Lords to which their Lordships were not willing to come, they were not willing to be kept away. Lord Salisbury knew perfectly well that if one wanted to establish a second Chamber which was at all logical, one had to get rid of the backwoodsmen. He was unable to carry his own party with him. It is not the case that the Labour Party has held up the reform of the House of Lords. It is the case that no Conservative Cabinet has been able to persuade itself that it would or could carry a Bill through which would cut out the backwoodsmen. If I may come back to the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, why I liked his speech was that he was the authentic voice of self-preservation expressed in the House this afternoon, and it has not been expressed anywhere else in the House.
I have said that Lord Salisbury failed. Incidentally it is a curious reflection on the great argument for the House of Lords that it is a forum for the nation that Lord Salisbury's final trumpet call should have appeared in the columns of The Times. His letter in that newspaper said what he was not willing to say in the House of Lords and was a reflection on 492 the House of Lords as a forum for the nation.
And so what finally happened was that there was an alternative plan worked out in three stages and today we are only debating one of them. The first stage of the plan was plain. It was, "If you pay, the peers then will come." And indeed Labour peers do work long hours with little reward and little recognition from their own party. So pay was the first weapon in making the House of Lords effective. I have a son who, in due course, will be involved in this, Just as I am told that amongst the Earls of Glamis they kept until the 21st birthday the horrible truth of the monster from their children, so I hope to keep from my child as long as possible the knowledge that £3 a day awaits him if only he puts in an appearance in the House of Lords. I have always believed the Conservative propaganda in this respect, that the Welfare State removes initiative, and I have thought that if my child hears of this too early he may not be willing to think of a career for himself. At any rate, pay is better than a whip, and it has worked so far.
The second stage of the plan was what is called the Swinton proposal. It began with a proposal from Lord Exeter that we should somehow keep away backwoodsmen, if possible by changing Standing Orders. It was discovered that this could not be done because they would still come along and produce their writ of summons. So a new scheme has been evolved, which will shortly be brought before the House of Lords, by which if a peer does not come for some time it will be assumed that he wants to stay away. But if later he does come all the same he can only be discouraged. How fine it would be in the Commons if the same principle were applied. How fine it would be if I did not appear in the House of Commons for two weeks, not having got a pair, and the Whip said, "You did not come so I assumed that you would not come again and in future you will not need a pair."
The second function is to keep Tory peers out of the Lobbies, because the last thing that is wanted is a Division in the House of Lords which results in a vote of 484 against a Bill and 15 for it. The function of the Whip in the Lords is to keep the backwoodsmen out so that they 493 do not demonstrate their strength. Under the new proposals the peers will not be bothered if they do not want to come, and if they do come on the day that interests them, they can be kept away.
The final stage of the ersatz Salisbury plan is this Life Peerages Bill which we are debating today. It is designed to fill in the gaps in order to get the attendance of some respectable people, if I have not misunderstood it. I look at this in another way as well, as yet a further form of honour which is available by patronage. I have looked up—I have no doubt many hon. Members have done so—the way in which patronage is already distributed in this country. I do not know whether other hon. Members feel as I do, that whenever a birthday Honours List comes out a great deal of attention is given to hon. Members opposite. They get very well treated.
I thought I had better find out whether my impression was correct, and with the help of the Library of the House I obtained the figures for the honours given by the Labour Government when we were in power and the Conservative Government while they have been in power—honours to their own Members only. It is very easy to make comparison because the Conservative Government has now lasted just about a month longer than the Labour Government did; so the periods are comparable.
During the period from 1945 to 1951, Mr. Attlee gave 23 peerages to Labour Members of Parliament and former Labour Members. Three were peerages in connection with Government reshuffles, and I think we might exclude them. I shall exclude the Conservative ones as well. Thus, 20 peerages were given. There were no baronetcies, but there were three knighthoods. These knighthoods were to three Law Officers, so I will regard them as business honours and discount them. We are thus left with 20 honours given to Labour Members of Parliament during the period of office of the Labour Government. If we take the 20 as a proportion of the Labour Members of Parliament who came to this House in 1945–393—we find that about one in twenty of the Labour Members received honours.
Now let us look at the Conservative record. It is very interesting. Twenty-seven peerages were given to Conserva- 494 tive Members of Parliament. One was a business honour, that given to the present Lord Chancellor, and if we discount it we are left with 26. There were 28 baronetcies, plus two in the latest Honours List, which makes 30. Knighthoods numbered 48; one was given to a Law Officer and should be discounted, but there was another in the last Honours List, so we remain with the figure at 48. Thus, 104 Members out of about 340 who were elected in 1951 have been honoured. We arrive at the staggering result that about one in three of the Conservative Members of Parliament who entered the House in 1951 have now been given an honour by the Conservative Government.
It is clear to me that this is the secret of discipline in the Conservative Party. Accusations are made against us in respect of the card vote and the block vote in Transport House, but in the case of the Conservative Party we have the Patronage Secretary skipping about with his cornucopia full of honours to be given to the good boys. Now I understand why the Government have come along with a Bill to provide a new lot of honours; probably those already available are not quite enough. In respect of all those honours and peerages, I do not mean to say that one cannot pick oneself up by one's own bootstraps, but one can kick oneself upstairs by getting the Patronage Secretary to pull one up by one's bootstraps. This is the method which has been used.
The question which arises for us today is whether this plan of pay, the Lord Swinton proposal and life peers is an acceptable plan to the Labour Party. The answer is that it is not. It cannot be an acceptable plan for the second Chamber because it is designed to strengthen a body whose main characteristics remain absolutely unaffected. There are 484 Conservative peers taking the Whip in the House of Lords—55 per cent.—and there are 5 per cent. of peers who take the Labour Whip, and nothing in the Bill alters that balance. There are 547 peers who in the course of an average year turn up fewer than 10 times, and they constitute the great reserve power whenever it is necessary.
The key question is that of power. It is no good saying that composition is the central problem of the House of Lords. 495 It is not. The problem is one of power. Peers who speak in these debates always say that they have the right of interpretation of the popular will. This point was dealt with brilliantly by my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Lady Megan Lloyd George), who denied that the Lords had these antennae tuned to the public will. I not only deny it, but assert that it is quite wrong and quite contrary to our Parliamentary system that we should vote on the basis of the public will. In this House we do not vote on the basis of the public will; we vote, and we ought to vote, on the basis of maintaining in power a Government which has won a General Election.
I would totally repudiate the doctrine that even if the House of Lords always accorded with the Gallup poll it would thereby acquire the right to deny an elected House of Commons its right to do the things that it thought correct. The whole principle of our Constitution, if we think about it seriously, is that we maintain the Government in power while it remains loyal to its principles. That does not mean that we do not believe that one day the party forming the Government will go out, but we maintain it in power; to think that it should be subject to the whim of public opinion every day on every issue is absolutely wrong.
Then we have the argument that the House of Lords is an excellent revisionary body. I am all for revision; but let us not deceive ourselves about the massive revisions made during the period of the Labour Government. Very often figures are given, such as 500 Amendments to the Transport Bill. What actually happened was that the Minister in the House of Commons made his promises, and then when the Bill got to the House of Lords the Labour Ministers walked around and said to the other peers, "Look here, old boy. Would you do me a favour and move these Amendments, because we should really like to get the Bill tied up?" The idea that there were 571 inspired Conservative Amendments which somehow tidied up Socialist legislation is a very attractive dream, but a dream for all that.
I do not deny the necessity—
§ Mr. Wingfield Digby
Will the hon Member say how many of the Clauses of the Transport Bill were discussed in Committee in this House?
§ Mr. Benn
The hon. Member was in the House at the time and I was not. I could hazard a guess and make up statistics, but the fact of the matter is that it does not really justify the second Chamber. The idea that this House gets overburdened is a case for looking at the procedure of this House, which we are soon to do, and not for establishing a Conservative ancillary body which does what the House of Commons is not able to do.
We are not arguing today about the need for revision, because revision is not at issue. What is at issue is what ought to be done when the Lords want to revise and the Commons do not. It is the stage after revision which is the point of the argument and here I believe that the power of the House of Commons ought to prevail.
Lord Hailsham, when still a Member of this House, wrote a book called "The Purpose of Parliament." In those early days of his pre-campanological wisdom he quoted with approval what Professor Laski said, which was that the House of Lords was a perfect second Chamber, when a Conservative Government was in power. I absolutely accept that it is a perfect body then, because it does not try to challenge the Conservative Government in the House of Commons. What can be learned from that is that the House of Lords needs no power at all to be at its best and that, in giving it this power, one precipitates these great crises about its composition.
Once the House of Commons faces up to the problem of the powers of the House of Lords, then the composition of the House of Lords is a very easy question. It is no good attacking nomination. One quarter of the membership of the House of Lords is nominated and is composed of the bishops and law lords. Of the viscounts, 35 per cent. are first creations and 23 per cent. of the barons are first creations. That all adds up to the effective membership of the House of Lords and shows that the people who do the work are the nominated members.
In that direction lies the answer to the problem. Why bother to ennoble them? What is the point of creating a new system of original honours? Here I again agree with the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West. Simply to put in the people and leave them there to help 497 us to do our job is quite sufficient. Let us take the case of a man like Lord Salisbury who is often held up as an example of the virtue of the hereditary system. However, he did not wait for his father to die before entering the House of Lords. He went in on a Writ of Acceleration which means that he ran there, getting the Writ issued to him in his courtesy title. Lord Salisbury is a classic example not of the value of the hereditary principle, but of the value of nomination. I hope that he will not dispute that, because he did sit with his father in the House of Lords.
Do not let us make the mistake of thinking that distinguished men will do the donkey work. They will not. We know from this House and from our party in this House that the donkey work is not done by the people who are likely candidates for life peerages. The donkey work in Committee is done by the people who are willing to regard Parliament and Parliamentary work as their first call.
If a lot of nominated people are to be put into the House of Lords, why need the hereditary peers be there at all? There is no need for them. It is not for me to suggest what should be done with hereditary peers. [Laughter.] There has been a discussion about A.I.D. Perhaps as honorary donors under the Health Service there may be a rôle for them so that we can all be ennobled. The noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) has paid great attention to the value and necessity of getting over the class system, and perhaps the answer lies in that way.
Seriously, I believe that it is not enough just to reject the Bill. It is incumbent upon my right hon. Friends at some stage to put forward an alternative to it. It is not sufficient always to be attacking the constitutional basis of the Lords without being willing to come forward with something else. I do not believe that that is such a very difficult thing to do. In the Amendment we have an answer to this question, which is that if we get rid of hereditary peers and take away the powers of the House of Lords, we will be left with a nominated Chamber capable of doing a very useful job.
Incidentally, I believe that the Bill provides quite a useful means of destroying the hereditary principle. Again I 498 agree with the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West. The Bill attempts to throw daylight on to the second Chamber. Once we get people there who are not sent there upon the hereditary basis, people will begin to say, "Why should those who are there on a hereditary basis continue to sit?" The Bill is the beginning of the end of the House of Lords. That is no reason why we should support it—because we do not regard it as an answer to the problem—but it is a very useful weapon for a Labour Government.
Let us not make any mistake about it. When the Leader of the House said that there was no upper limit to this process he was creating for us a weapon which I hope a future Labour Prime Minister will be ready to use. I have the right hon. Gentleman's words in my mind now, and they will be in HANSARD tomorrow. He said, "We think the discretion of a Prime Minister ought to be sufficient to decide how many life peers should be created." The weapon of swamping the House of Lords with life peers, if ever it has to be done, will be in the hands of a Labour Prime Minister
It is too late for the Bill to be dropped, but in the future, if ever we should need to use that power we shall do so. We shall never allow a situation to develop as it developed in 1910, with a special General Election intervening between our action and our capacity to carry it through. We shall use the Life Peers Bill of 1958. That does not mean that we shall not vote against it with great joy when the time comes, but I hope that the House will not ignore the real lesson, which is that when the Conservative Party loses confidence in the hereditary system we may truly say that we are turning the corner to brighter and more democratic days.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Fisher (Surbiton)
Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), I very much agreed with the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn)—who has made his usual brilliant contribution to our debate—when he implied in his peroration that this was a constitutional Bill of some importance. He is right. I do not think it is the little, unimportant Bill that some of my hon. Friends imagine.
499 Nevertheless, although I realise the implications of the Bill, I shall be rather exceptional as a Member on this side of the House in also trying to defend it. Since 1911, the only agreement that we have about what to do with the other place is an agreement to do nothing whatever. In our hearts, most of us would probably agree that, on balance, the House of Lords has worked well in the past. Many of us would also agree that the present difficulty—which is the reason for the introduction of the Bill—is that the machinery is in danger of breaking down. The Bill seeks to strengthen the composition of the other place, and in particular of the Opposition in the other place.
At the moment, a very heavy burden falls upon a very small number of working Opposition peers. They have carried this burden magnificently, but they should not be asked to carry it indefinitely. It is not quality that they lack, but numerical strength. I am sure that their burden can be eased if their numbers are reinforced, and without the introduction of life peerages it would be very difficult to obtain the right reinforcements for them. If once life peerages are accepted in principle—and I think that most of us do accept them—it should be a comparatively simple matter to help the work of the Opposition in the other place, provided—and I always make this proviso, as other hon. Members have—that the question of pay is tackled. The Bill does not do that.
§ Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)
If the Bill is being introduced in order to help the Opposition, does not the hon. Member think that the Government ought to have consulted the Opposition to see whether they wanted help?
§ Mr. Fisher
I imagine that the point of that intervention is that the hon. Member does not think we are concerned to help the Opposition. I do not say for a moment that I am concerned only with the difficulties of ennobled members of the Labour Party; I am concerned also with the constitutional issue and the future of another place. But I think it would be wrong to disregard the views—I must not quote them, because it would be out of order—of those peers of the Labour Party in another place who have 500 undergone a good deal of strain. Attention was drawn in general terms to this by Lord Lucas of Chilworth, who said the strain was intolerable and could not be realised unless one had experienced it. Lord Silkin has made similar observations. I think that those two noble Lords, and Lord Ogmore and a few others, have done a fantastic job. They have brought infinite credit to their party and to themselves and have for years literally preserved the House of Lords.
Unfortunately, these noble Lords are not immortal, and eventually they will have to be replaced. They may desire to retire. This Bill gives them their chance, perhaps the only chance they will have—certainly the first chance they have had—of hoping for a little leisure in the future. I am not solicitous only for them, but also for the future of another place. I believe, and I think most hon. Members would agree, that it cannot work properly unless there is an efficient Opposition to make it work. No democratic assembly in the world can work without a proper Opposition.
Either we must reform the House of Lords or we must leave it to die a slow death. There may be said to be four other courses of action other than reform on the lines indicated in this Bill. We might leave things as they are so that in the course of time the work of the House grinds to a slow stop through lack of Opposition Members to carry on the work of a revising Chamber. I believe that to be the course favoured by the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker). The right hon. Gentleman has said so from time to time. But that is not a final course. It leads to the next proposition, that we should have in this country single Chamber Government, which is the logical final result of his proposition.
As we have no written constitution, I feel that it would be a dangerous and mistaken decision to adopt single Chamber government in this country, and I do not think that the country as a whole would view it with much favour. The House of Commons has great power. Having elected it for five years, the people have no say whatever as to what is done during that time. Bills may be passed which were never put to the electors or, at best, were mentioned perhaps among many other proposals 501 in a patty manifesto at election time. Disraeli, that great Parliamentarian, made a comment which I think is a legitimate one. He said that the House of Commons by itself could never preserve liberty. Alone it might easily become a weapon of despotism and one against which there would be no appeal. I believe that to be quite a possibility.
The third course as suggested by the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East is a nominated Chamber, nominated presumably by the Prime Minister of the day for the duration of that particular Parliament. That would put into the hands of one man a large new area of power and of patronage, and again I do not think it would be entirely acceptable to the people of this country. At any rate, I think the party opposite should put it forward in their election programme to see what the country thinks before finally deciding on a nominated Chamber as the best second Chamber.
The fourth and last course is an elected Chamber. I do not think any of us would desire that alternative. We do not want a sort of Senate that might be or become a rival to this House. I do not think anyone, either in this House or outside, would want that. We cannot have two assemblies both deriving their authority from the people.
It may be difficult, and at this stage of the debate it has become even more obvious that it is very difficult indeed, to achieve any unanimity, any all-party agreement, on the composition of another place, but I honestly believe that it would be a hundred times more difficult to try to find all-party agreement or, indeed, any sort of agreement on an alternative type of second Chamber. That, I think, would really be an almost impossible task, and I see no great advantage in even trying to do it. The House of Lords has worked perfectly effectively in the past, and can, I believe, by this Bill be made to work efficiently in the future. If that be so, there is nothing to be gained by setting up a new Chamber, on which it would be difficult to get agreement, when the present Chamber can quite easily be made to function efficiently. I think almost every hon. Member would agree that there is a certain amount of truth in that.
I think that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite dislike this Bill 502 because many of them want to see the House of Lords abolished, and they think that if we do something by this Bill to improve the House of Lords, it may be a little more difficult for them to abolish it. I think that is the root of the objection by the party opposite to this Bill. I appreciate—and it has been often stated in the course of the debate today—that hon. and right hon. Members opposite, by and large, dislike the hereditary principle. I quite understand that, and I quite see that one cannot possibly defend the hereditary principle in theory. I think it is very difficult, at any rate, to defend it in theory, but I think that I can try to defend it in practice, which is more to the point.
I venture to defend it, therefore, on the grounds of its unique independence. I believe that because of that it is a real protection of the liberties of the people, despite the fact that that might sound an odd thing to say of an undemocratic assembly. I will explain why I say that. Members of another place are not beholden to anyone, they are not answerable to anyone, and they are not seeking votes from anyone; they really have no axe to grind. I think it would be fair to say that most of them have very little personal ambition, and that they work in the House of Lords for two principal reasons. They are interested in politics or in some aspects of politics, and/or they have a genuine sense of public duty.
If it were not thought very old-fashioned and wrong to say so, I should mention the further point that they were educated and brought up—I know that this is a terrible thing to say in the House nowadays—to play a part in public life. They were taught at school and brought up by their parents to do that, and they do so without fear and without favour. They are not influenced by angry letters from constituents. They are not influenced by uncomplimentary paragraphs in constituency newspapers, and I think that, as a result of this independence, they are respected by the public as a whole.
I think that another place enjoys— personally, I think rightly—a very high reputation in this country today. There is another aspect, to which one of my hon. Friends has referred, arising out of the hereditary principle, and that is that the House of Lords can command the 503 services of some young men of great promise and ability, and we can only get that under the hereditary principle. Most second chambers are composed of middle-aged or elderly men, and I cannot really think that that is a good thing.
The hon. Member for Bristol, South-East said that somebody had to do the donkey work, and I quite agree with him that elder statesmen, ex-pro-consuls and ex-ambassadors are not the most suitable men in the world to do the donkey work, the Committee work in the House of Lords. The truth is that on the Government side of the House of Lords, the donkey work is done by the younger hereditary peers.
§ Mr. Fisher
I am not making that point. I was saying that because of the hereditary principle we get young men into the House of Lords whereas in an ordinary elected second Chamber we would get only the elderly men.
We need not apologise for the House of Lords. It has played a distinguished and, indeed, a splendid part in our history. Lord Attlee, who himself created no less than 86 new hereditary peers, acknowledged that the other place worked very well indeed. Lord Pethick Lawrence has paid tribute to its prestige and influence. We can be proud of the quality of its work. I hope that, as a result of the Bill, this work will continue.
May I say a word about the so-called backwoodsmen? To my surprise, they have not been very much referred to. It is true that the existence of a large number of peers who do not normally attend leads to some criticism of the other place. But the proposals of Lord Swinton's Committee are worth trying. The composition of the Chamber will, I imagine, continue to be roughly what it is now, but the Swinton proposals will banish the bogey of the backwoodsmen which Members opposite continually use, I think, rather unfairly, to frighten and mislead their constituency supporters.
The backwoodsmen bogey is not really a very serious one. There has not been a backwoodsmen invasion since 1910. 504 There has not been anything like that since. The usual size of the attendance is now about 100.
§ Mr. Thomas Williams (Don Valley)
Is the hon. Member not aware that, following the General Strike of 1926, a Bill was passed through this House and went to the other place to extend the hours of working of coalminers and that all the backwoodsmen who were required were available to see that the Bill went through?
§ Mr. Fisher
I accept absolutely what the right hon. Gentleman has said. It is really a matter of degree. I said there had not been a backwoodsmen invasion since 1910, while the right hon. Gentleman says there has not been one since 1926. In any case, it is a matter of 30 or 40 years. In theory it is still possible, but in practice that bogey has ceased to exist. The proposals of Lord Swinton's Committee should be welcome. They will no doubt be effective and they are certainly worth trying.
Then there are the ladies. I am personally all for the ladies. With a gracious lady upon the Throne of England and with ladies in this Chamber, it would be illogical and unreasonable of us to deny to the third branch of the Legislature the pleasure of their company and advice. It would be unsuitable of us to do so. Another place, not without misgivings on the part of some of its Members, has agreed to welcome the ladies to its deliberations, and it would be inappropriate for us to take a contrary view.
I do not think that in practice the presence of women in the House of Lords will make very much difference one way or the other because, with great respect to hon. Ladies in this House, I do not think their presence here has made very much difference one way or another. Generally speaking, I am personally delighted that they are here, and indeed I met my wife because she was here. Most of us enjoy looking at most of them, and even working with some of them.
The exclusion of hereditary peeresses is certainly unjust and illogical if life peeresses are to be admitted, but then, the other place cannot in any case be justified in logic. If in this Bill we are modifying the hereditary principle, it 505 would be inconsistent and unsuitable at the same time to extend it by admitting hereditary peeresses for the first time.
There are two or three questions I wish to ask about the new life peers. How many will there be? How are they to be chosen? How much will they be paid? Those who are chosen ought to be people qualified and prepared to help in the work of the House of Lords. They ought to give much time to the service of the House and they ought not to be too old. I quite understand the argument—which has not been advanced today, but has been put forward in The Times newspaper by the hon. Member for Yardley (Mr. Usborne), and which was described by Viscount Samuel in another place as "blurtmanship"—that there should be somewhere for the old war-horses to be put out to grass, but that is not the object of this Bill. The life peers should be working peers.
That is the whole point of the Bill—they should be men and women young enough to play an active part in the work of the House. They should be not men who are being pensioned off, but men who are chosen purely on the grounds of their fitness and ability to serve the nation. They should be drawn not only from this House but from all walks of life. They should be people who can not only make a contribution to debate, but are also prepared to take part in Committee chores which now fall to such a small heroic band. It may be difficult to find these life peers, and they may be quite expensive, but I think the attempt should be made. I hope some of them will come from the Empire. In that way a new and important link could be made between the United Kingdom and the great self-governing countries of the Commonwealth. They could be a source of new strength and vigour, not only to the other place, but also to the Commonwealth as a whole.
Lastly, I come to the question of pay. On this point there has been complete unanimity on both sides of the House throughout this debate. If this Bill is to be of any real practical value, the question of pay has to be faced, but this Bill does not begin to face it. I think that is a most serious defect, and it is my only real criticism of the Bill. Payment of expenses of three guineas a day, or a 506 maximum of £315 a year, is only a reimbursement of out-of-pocket expenses and could not possibly attract the sort of people we want. Only those with private means will be able to accept the new life peerages under this Bill.
By failing to deal with this matter and by not enabling otherwise perfectly suitable people to become active members of the House of Lords, I think the Government have done much to destroy the main purpose of their own Bill. We cannot expect people to give their time and their earning capacity without adequate financial recompense. It is not just a question of refunding out-of-pocket expenses. They must be paid enough to replace, at least to a minor extent, the income they would otherwise be earning.
I think that pay for a peer should be roughly on the basis of our own pay. We get £1,000 as pay and £750 as out-of-pocket expenses. The peers should perhaps get £1,000, or that sort of figure, as pay, plus three guineas a day out-of-pocket expenses on the days they attend, but I think they should get the £1,000 only for maximum attendance. If they attended only on 50 per cent. of the sittings, they should be paid £500. If they attended on only 25 per cent. of the sitting days they should be paid £250. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Should that apply here?"] We have other duties in our constituencies and elsewhere. I think we should make some difference between those who work regularly in another place and those who attend infrequently. Of one thing I am quite certain; if the peers are not paid this Bill will not work. It is because I want this Bill to succeed that I beg the Government to look again at the question of remuneration.
Subject to that very important proviso, I wish the Bill well. I congratulate the Government on its birth after more than 40 barren years. I hope that it will be a sturdy child and a worth-while reinforcement to the other place and to the Constitution of our country.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)
Although I cannot agree with most of the arguments that the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher) has advanced, I concur with him in one thing, namely, that this is a significant Bill. The picture that he drew of the objective and disinterested Tory peer, solely devoted to the 507 public weal, was one that I failed to recognise. They have other interests as well.
Not only is this Bill a significant Bill; it is also a dangerous Bill. I will seek to show why. In a speech which he made in the House on Friday, 31st January, the Lord Privy Seal made this statement:That raises in my mind the fundamental issue of Parliament today … and that is we are here in a struggle for power."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st January, 1958; Vol. 581, c. 764.]He did not say that today, but he could well have done so. The point is that, however much the Government try to clothe this Bill with a cloak of sweet reasonableness, it is a vital stage in the struggle for power to which the Lord Privy Seal referred.
It is all very well to say that the creation of life peers of both sexes is a reasonable thing. In isolation, that may well appear to be so, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said when he moved the Amendment. None the less, it remains a device to fortify the other place, to give a new appearance, while leaving its basic character unchanged. After the Bill becomes law, the Upper House will remain an archaic hereditary Chamber, with an overwhelming Tory majority. For the party opposite to say that it wishes to add to the debating strength of the Labour Party in the other place while retaining the ultimate power there itself is sheer political hypocrisy. This Bill is nothing but a coat of varnish on timber which is already riddled with dry rot.
I said that the Bill is part of the struggle for power. Of course it is. Although the power of the other place was reduced in 1911 and 1948, it is still capable of frustrating the work of this House on major issues and still retains real power. That power resides in one political party.
This point has been put better than I can put it in the introduction to the 1939 edition of Dicey's book on constitutional law, which is the classic on this subject. It is there stated:There remains the threat to democratic government in an Assembly when members of one opposition party can be numbered on the fingers of one hand while in the background lies the menace of the legion of Conservative peers who might once again emerge from the backwoods to defeat a progressive Government.508 Those are the words of a great constitutional lawyer.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler
The hon. Gentleman is obviously inspired by the highest constitutional doctrine. Is he aware that the House of Lords proposed, under their Standing Orders, to look into the question of backwoodsmen?
§ Mr. Hughes
I am; but I am suspicious of what that House will do. I doubt very much whether it will deprive the Conservative Party of an adequate majority in the House of Lords.
We have heard a good deal today about the sensitivity of noble Lords to the wishes of the people. The Television Bill was one Measure for which the last Conservative Administration had no mandate at all from the electorate. When the Television Bill went to the Upper House there were distinguished leaders of the Conservative Party in the House of Lords who disapproved of that Measure and who voiced their disapproval. Among them was Lord Halifax. Yet, when that Bill came to a Division, the loyal backwoodsmen came to the rescue and saw the Bill through. They were not especially sensitive to the feelings of the electorate on that matter, although they had not been given a mandate.
§ Mr. Hughes
Certainly not, although it is not necessarily popular in Wales. But the Labour Party must use all the weapons of propaganda which are at its disposal. It is only in the same position as hon. Members opposite, who vote against an increase of salary but accept the money in due course. The Upper House still remains a source of power to the party opposite. That explains the affection for it and for the Bill by hon. Members opposite.
It is also quite unreasonable that there should be in the Upper House a number of peers who hold important offices of State and who cannot be engaged in debate or questioned in this House by the elected representatives of the people. They are the Lord Chancellor, the Lord President of the Council, the Minister of Power, the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and the First Lord of the Admiralty, and, to the chagrin of 509 the Welsh Members of this House, we now have the Minister of State for Welsh Affairs there as well.
We cannot engage those Ministers on the Floor of the House, or in Committee upstairs. The Lord Chancellor has always been out of reach. There is a wide range of subjects upon which we should like to tackle him from time to time and upon which it is right and proper that we should. Indeed, there was an important occasion last week when his presence in this House was very desirable, but we could not reach him. Is it anticipated that now that the prestige of the Upper House is to be enhanced, more Ministers will be appointed there? The House should have an assurance about this. Lord Hailsham spoke of the dictatorship of elected Members. He did not speak thus when he was struggling to keep his seat in this House. What we dislike and fear is the domination of hereditary Members.
I wish to examine the Bill from two other standpoints: first as a nonconformist; and secondly, as a Welshman. In this context, I wish to ask two questions. First, what connection has the other place with Wales? Secondly, what relevance has the Upper House to nonconformity and the Free Churches? There are not more than two or three Welsh peers who know anything about the Principality. The Scots have 16 elected peers, but the Welsh are a democratic nation and our aristocracy faded out in the sixteenth century. There are, of course, many peers who carry Welsh names, but they are no more Welsh than the Sultan of Zanzibar. As the late David Lloyd George once said of a so-called Welsh peer, the only Welsh thing about him was his rent roll. Wales, however, is affected by the behaviour of the Upper House. All this is manifestly undemocratic. Whoever else is enfranchised in the Upper House, the Principality is not.
Another anomaly is the representation of the Church of England in the other place. The Prelates of the Church of England intervene from time to time in debates on major issues, and I often agree with what some of them say. But what about the Church of Scotland? What about the nonconformist denominations? What about the Roman 510 Catholics? If we are to have ecclesiastical representation at all, let it have some relation to reality. In Wales, we disestablished the Church over thirty-five years ago, and it has been a good deal healthier and more virile since it was disestablished.
As a Welshman and a nonconformist, I say that the Bill does not touch the fringes of the real constitutional problem. There are arguments in favour of a limited revising Chamber on some nonhereditary basis, and there are strong arguments for one-Chamber government, but we shall make no real progress towards unity in this matter until the party opposite shows a willingness to abandon its attachment to the majority which the present hereditary Chamber gives it and which this unfortunate Bill does nothing at all to modify.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
I have to keep my remarks short, and I am better able to do it because I so much agree with the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher), who was the last speaker before me on this side. I think that both he and the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) made a far better assessment of the importance and significance of this Bill than did the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, who affected to find, as did many other hon. Members on the other side of the House, that the Bill would fortify the other place, clothing it with an appearance of respectability but leaving its basic character unchanged.
The hon. Member for Bristol, South-East took a very different view of the effect of this Bill, and I am sure that he was right. This is not a minor Measure. It is a most important Bill which, in effect, abandons the hereditary principle in this country for the Upper House. Let us make no mistake about that. We shall not have two kinds of peerage coexisting indefinitely. The revolutionary effect of this Bill will be much swifter in its operation than most people realise, and probably in a generation it will transform the character of the Upper House.
It is also an irrevocable step. No one can so resist the movement of the times as to set up now a new hereditary institution, and if we abolish the hereditary 511 House of Lords we can never restore it. This is something which has to be decided now permanently.
I take the view that a second Chamber is a necessity in this country. I think that probably a second Chamber improves the government of almost any country, but I am quite sure that in a country like ours, with no written constitution and no limit upon the sovereignty of Parliament, a second Chamber is essential. Therefore, the question we have to ask ourselves is: what sort of second Chamber shall it be?
Many attack the House of Lords upon the ground that it is based on the hereditary principle. There are two alternatives to that. We can either have an elected Chamber, which I think nobody wants because then we merely have two elected Chambers, or we can have a nominated Chamber. We have already in the House of Lords an important element of nomination the hon. Member referred to it—the creation of new peerages and, of course, the bishops. However, it is a far step from that to a wholly nominated Chamber. Not only would that create a vast area of patronage, as my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton rightly said, but it would deprive us of a distinctive element in British public life. I am an unrepentant believer in the value of the voice in our Legislature of people who are not normally political. One of the greatest strengths of the House of Lords is that it brings into consultation in Parliament men who are not taking part in the ordinary daily business of public affairs.
The hon. Member for Bristol, South-East would say, "So be it. Perhaps that would be a very valuable thing, but why not let 'Ernie' pick them?" I could answer that by saying that I do not think that "Ernie" would pick such a good team. I am old-fashioned enough to believe that those who come into another place, with that family training to which my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton referred, bring something valuable to it. But I am prepared to answer more simply than that. The answer surely is that the hereditary principle of the present constitution of the House of Lords is the only practical way acceptable to the country of doing just that. It is the only acceptable method 512 of bringing that voice into the centre of public affairs.
It is acceptable because it is rooted in our history, and because it is the existing, established state of affairs. If we abolish that method we cannot introduce any other which will be acceptable to the people. That is a sufficient defence of the hereditary element in the House of Lords. Surely, a well-balanced constitution should be one in which there is diversity. Here, in this Chamber, we have the elective principle very strongly and keenly established, with General Elections every four years, on the average, with constituents writing to us every day, and with an almost feverish contact with the public pulse.
If we are open to any criticism here it is surely that we tend to regard too much the fluctuations of public opinion. The hon. Member for Bristol, South-East was a little near to the truth when he said that. It is not our job to reflect exactly the movements of public opinion, but it is a temptation against which we have to be constantly on our guard. And in the second Chamber we want a diversification, some element of a different kind of person from us who are inevitably caught up in the fever of politics. Therefore, I am not at all abashed when people refer to backwoodsmen. I sometimes think that they are one of the more important and valuable elements in the House of Lords.
The House of Lords is a uniquely British institution. It is easy to mock at the hereditary principle, especially in 1958. It is fashionable to mock at such things, and it is extremely difficult to defend them without appearing to fall into naivety. I believe that the country has derived great benefit from the family pride and sense of public duty which in this country has been associated with hereditary honours. In that respect our country is unique, and by abandoning this principle we should make poorer and eventually destroy something which we should never be able to create again.
I am sorry, therefore, that the Bill proposes a change in the constitution of the House of Lords which, if enacted, will not stand still but will grow and alter the character of that body and destroy a valuable element in the British constitution. I hope that my fears are wrong, but, with the best will in the 513 world, I cannot find that they are and I hope that in due course my right hon. Friends will have second thoughts about the Bill.
§ 9.25 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller)
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) will also have second thoughts about this Bill, and that on reflection he will change his view and come to the conclusion that it is worthy of his support.
Listening to the debate today, it is clear that the actual contents of the Bill have not aroused any strong party feeling. Indeed, in seeking to justify the intention of the Opposition to vote against it, the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell) had to range far outside its scope and base the attitude of his party on a variety of grounds. His main allegation was that the chief motive for this Measure was to increase the powers and authority of the House of Lords. It is also true to say that most of the other criticisms made of this Measure have been made not of its actual contents, but because of what it does not contain or because of some defect advanced in relation to the House of Lords itself.
Before I reply to the extraneous criticisms which have been advanced, I will say something about the Bill. I regard it as an important Measure, and not one which of itself will tend to increase either the power or the authority of the House of Lords. There are bound to be in this House those who are not in favour of a second Chamber of any kind. That is to be expected. If, however, the view of the majority is that there should be a second Chamber, then surely the observation of the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) was right, namely, let it be one that commands respect and confidence. Whilst not of itself tending to increase the power and authority of the House of Lords, this Bill will help to enhance the respect and confidence in which that place is generally held.
Perhaps the most serious criticism of this Measure came from my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-East (Mr. Powell)—I think I have his words correctly—when he said that he 514 regarded the Bill as a serious interference with a prescriptive institution. My hon. Friend said that there was no basis for not regarding it as making a major change, and that really it made a substantial and basic alteration. I regard that language as somewhat exaggerated, certainly compared with some of the proposals that have been discussed today, although I say at once that I do not deny that the Bill is an important one.
My hon. Friend went on to assert, as one of the grounds for the views he expressed, that all Members of the House of Lords had always been hereditary. That never was the case. Before the dissolution of the monasteries the bishops and abbots normally outnumbered the hereditary peers. Coming to a later time, it is interesting to note that in the controversies over Catholic Emancipation and the Reform Bill it was not the hereditary element, but the bishops and the peers of the first creation who constituted the bulk of the opposition to those Measures. Nor is it by any means clear that peers of the House of Lords have always been hereditary.
There is very considerable support for the view that just as it is possible for the Sovereign to create a peerage by the issue of Letters Patent to a man and his heirs so is it possible for the Sovereign to create other men or women peers and nobles for life. That was the view of Blackstone, Coke and many other legal writers and lawyers of authority, and it was that view that fell to be considered in the Wensleydale Peerage case in 1865, a case not judicially determined by the House of Lords but referred by the House of Lords of its own motion to the Committee of Privileges of the House of Lords, after a Division, by a majority of 33, 59 proxies being cast for the Motion and 52 against. Some may perhaps regret that the facility of voting by proxy no longer exists in either House.
The question was, as my right hon. Friend has said, whether Baron Parke, who had received Letters Patent creating him a life peer, and a Writ of Summons, could sit in the House. As sometimes occurs even to this day and in this House, the Committee of Privileges was divided. It seems to have been rather a large Committee even for the House of Lords, for 92 voted in favour of the Report that he was not entitled to sit, and 57 515 members of the Committee voted against. The Report was agreed to by the House.
Frequently since then, attempts have been made to reverse that conclusion, a conclusion which appears to have been contrary to a considerable body of legal opinion. Speaking for myself, reversing the decision of a majority of the Committee of Privileges is something that on some occasions I, personally, should welcome.
That decision of the Committee of Privileges of the House of Lords was in 1865. In 1869 two Bills were introduced to permit the creation of life peers. In 1888 there were two more for the same purpose, and there were other Bills in 1907, 1929, 1935 and, most recently, 1952. Therefore, there is a considerable number of respectable precedents for the introduction of a Measure such as the present one. Whatever else can be said in favour of this Bill, I regret that the Government cannot claim the credit for any very novel idea in that respect.
I suppose that seldom have so many Bills been introduced to reverse a decision of a Committee of Privileges, but I should be surprised if, in relation to any of those Bills, any language of the character used by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West was uttered at all. Indeed, I think the only novelty in the Bill is the proposal that life peerages should be conferred on women and that these women should sit in the House of Lords. I am not sure that even that is wholly novel, for as I have said, Blackstone said that the King might create either men or women noble for life. However that may be, the fact remains that by this Bill the decision of the House of Lords in 1865 will be reversed, and life peers can be created with the right to sit in the House of Lords, and also life peeresses will be created and will also be able to sit there.
One thing at least is clear from the Motion and the debate that is taking place today, that the Socialist Party takes the view that the Bill should be rejected. That means—I hope it will be clearly understood—that the Socialist Party proposes to vote in favour of the exclusion of women from the House of Lords. That will be the effect of its vote. Unless the Bill is passed, there will be no power to appoint life peeresses. The effect of a 516 vote against the Bill will be to vote against their inclusion in the House of Lords. That course will no doubt be welcomed by those in another place who have already strongly expressed the view that the House of Lords should continue to be labelled "men only".
However, that is a reactionary course, but it is a course which, I gather, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition proposes to follow, despite the fact that he said at the opening of his speech that the principles of the Bill had much to commend them. In these days, with ladies Members of this House and with ladies playing a valuable and active part in many walks of life, most people would regard it as an anachronism that they should continue to be excluded from the House of Lords. If the Bill is not carried, that will be one consequence. I believe that they would play a very useful part in the deliberations of that House, and, as I said, to vote against the proposal can properly be stigmatised as reactionary.
Again, a vote against the Second Reading is a vote against the creation of life peers, whatever may be the reasons in justification for following that course. I must confess that I was under the impression that the party opposite was not opposed to either of the proposals contained in the Bill, and the Leader of the Opposition rather supported that view in his opening remarks. It now appears that Members opposite propose to vote against the Bill on grounds which do not appear to me at all convincing.
It is said by some of them, and by the Amendment that the Bill will leave the House of Lords overwhelmingly hereditary. Some hon. Members, including the hon. Lady the Member for Carmarthen (Lady Megan Lloyd George), said that the Bill would bolster up the hereditary principle. The answer is quite the opposite, as the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) indicated. If passed, the Bill will constitute a breach in the hereditary principle of membership of the House of Lords and no one can justly say that the creation of life peers will fortify that principle.
The right hon. Gentleman asked why this change should be made. I have already indicated one reason, but there is another and much more powerful reason. There are many people in these days who 517 would be reluctant to accept an hereditary peerage and who would much prefer, if they could, to be made a life peer. Few will dispute that the acceptance of an hereditary peerage might well prove most disadvantageous to their sons and grandsons in earning their livelihood in certain professions and occupations. The right hon. Gentleman will agree that that could be a handicap in starting in certain professions.
It is right that the House of Lords should not be deprived of the services of some individual of distinction, when all parties would agree that he would be of great value in the House of Lords, because of his reluctance, on account of his particular family circumstances, to accept an hereditary peerage. The real difference which the Bill makes in that respect is that in the case of a peer created after it is passed it will not be necessary for his son also to become a peer. The life peer and the peer who holds on the hereditary basis will be of equality; the effect of the Bill will be felt by their respective successors.
In this House we are fairly well accustomed to party discipline.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman answer the question that I put earlier on? What is the Government's attitude to the position of those who are sons of peers today and who may not wish to go to the other place?
§ The Attorney-General
The right hon. Gentleman asked whether an Amendment to deal with that matter could be put into the Bill. I think that the answer is in the negative. I do not think that the Title would permit of any such Amendment, although the Chair will rule upon that in due course. If the Bill had been on the Statute Book some years ago, however, the position which has no much affected the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East might never have arisen. The passage of the Bill will play some part in preventing that situation from arising again. In the interests of other people, therefore, I hope that the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East will give his support to the Measure.
§ The Attorney-General
I entirely agree. Although the hon. Member describes it as simple, I am not sure that it would necessarily be painless.
I believe that it was during the course of this debate that it was said that one of the mistakes that we are apt to make is to regard the other House as the replica of ours, with its keen party divisions and strict party discipline on both sides. No longer does this House contain a substantial number of Members who have no party allegiance. Some people may take the view that that is a good thing, and others may say that it is not, but it is clear that in the House of Lords party ties are not nearly so strong. There are a great many more Members in the House of Lords who are entirely independent.
I have heard it said that in the House of Lords the Conservatives cannot issue a three-line Whip. [Laughter.] No, because it is too dangerous. Although it might compel attendance, there is no knowing how the peers might vote when they reach the House. That might apply sometimes, in a lesser degree, in this House.
If we are to have a second Chamber, perhaps it should be one which is more independent of party political considerations than we are in this House; perhaps it should have more independence of mind and more freedom to express individual points of view. The passage of this Measure will make it possible to recruit to the House of Lords not only distinguished Members from both sides of this House, but men of distinction from all walks of life who, for family reasons which, in many cases, are very pressing nowadays, would not even contemplate becoming Members of the House of Lords if it meant that their sons, grandsons and great-grandsons would also succeed them as Members. For that reason, I believe that the passage of this Bill will advance considerably the reputation and standing of the other House, but will not add to its power or its authority. If the party opposite is ever again called on to form a Government, I feel sure that it will find this Measure a useful addition to the Statute Book.
I wish to examine the reasons advanced today for voting against the Bill. In the Amendment it is said that the Bill will leave the House of Lords overwhelmingly 519 hereditary in character. The Amendment does not say that the House of Lords should be abolished or that it should cease to be hereditary in character. It just says that the House of Lords will be left overwhelmingly hereditary. That depends on the use made of the Bill. There is no limit to the number of life peers which can be created. I am not suggesting that the Bill will lead to the House of Lords being swamped with life peers—it would be just as easy to swamp it with hereditary peers—but it cannot be denied that every creation of a life peerage will pro tanto reduce the hereditary character of the House.
The Socialist Party might well have taken the attitude of regretting that this Bill does not go further while not opposing its passage. It is obvious that there are many who would regret that this Bill does not go further. The trouble is, as we have seen during the debate today, that those who would like the Bill to go further and be more of a reforming Measure are not in agreement about the direction in which it should go. Sometimes their views are directly opposed. If one is tackling any reform and change in the constitution either of the House of Lords or the House of Commons, there is force in proceeding gradually, in taking those steps which there is grounds for thinking will not give rise to acute party differences and controversy.
I would remind the House of something I remember being said on more than one occasion by the right hon. and learned Member for St. Helens (Sir H. Shawcross) when he was a member of the Socialist Government and when his words carried great weight with the party opposite. He used to say "Let not the better be the enemy of the good". That may be said in relation to this Measure. There are many hon. Members on both sides of the House who would like to see a Measure involving a greater degree of change or reform in one direction or another. Few would be prepared to deny that the principles advanced in this Bill are good, sound and desirable. I say to those who wish for a larger degree of reform: let not their desire for more drastic reform lead to the rejection of what is good in this Measure.
I emphasise that this Bill deals only with the constitution and not with the powers of the House of Lords. That is quite a different question. The right hon. 520 Gentleman seemed to think there was something sinister in altering the constitution. I do not suppose that he will take it from me that there is not, but I can see nothing sinister in it. A change making possible the creation of life peers instead of hereditary peers and the admission of women to the House of Lords does not seem to me to be capable of any sinister interpretation at all.
Then, one comes to the second ground put forward in the Amendment for the rejection of this Bill. It really seems to me an illogical argument to say "We will reject this Bill, which relates to the constitution of the House of Lords, and is good so far as it goes, because it does not deal with a different subject, namely, the powers of the House." The Amendment also refers to frustration and obstruction of—… the will of the elected representatives of the people.It implies, I think clearly, that their will is and should be sovereign, but anyone familiar with the realities of Government and administration—and I must include in these words the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen whose names are attached to the Amendment—knows perfectly well that the will of the elected representatives is not generally and is indeed very seldom sovereign. No Government worthy of the name would abdicate their responsibilities for governing the country. They have to take their decisions and to act, and if those actions do not accord with the will of the elected representatives, then, of course, the Government fall, but it is not the will of the elected representatives that is sovereign in the first place.
Nor is the will of the elected representatives sovereign in another sense. One can go back—and I do not want to be engaged in controversy—to what happened in 1948 in relation to capital punishment. There was a Clause introduced by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), and the Government of the day initially opposed that Clause, which was however carried against the Government.
§ The Attorney-General
I quite agree, by a free vote, and may I say that in that case it was the will of a majority of the elected representatives of the people, using the words of this Amendment.
521 We know what happened on that occasion in the House of Lords, but the Government of the day did not persist in trying to get the Clause carried into the Bill and into the Act. They did not insist, and the will of the majority, as shown by that vote, was not carried into the Statute. I only mention these facts because it is an exaggeration to talk as if the will of the elected representatives of the people were sovereign. Of course, it is not sovereign when it goes back to the electorate, who may disagree entirely with what their representatives have done.
The right hon. Gentleman said, in the course of his speech, that the question whether there should be a second Chamber or not was an open question, and he did not, I think, give any indication of the view of his party on that matter, although the terms of the Amendment itself would seem to imply that the second Chamber should continue. What the right hon. Gentleman did say, among other things, was that if there were a second Chamber it should not have power to override or obstruct the House of Commons. I must say that I find it difficult to see why, if the will of the elected representatives is to be treated as sovereign and sacrosanct, there ought to he a second Chamber, for if the second Chamber disagrees with the first it is wrong, on that argument, and if it agrees, it is superfluous. But the right hon. Gentleman has not really expressed any view on that question.
The Amendment goes on to use the word "frustrate", and that surely is rather exaggerated language. The House of Lords cannot frustrate the will of this House. It cannot do so. It may be able to delay the passage of a Measure, but the party opposite, by the Parliament Act, 1949, prevented the House of Lords from being able to frustrate it.
Then one comes to the word "obstruct". If the function of the House of Lords is to revise, then perhaps, in some circumstances, to delay the implementation of a Measure for a further period might well be regarded by some people as obstruction. I would say that that language was somewhat exaggerated.
§ Mr. A. J. Irvine (Liverpool, Edge Hill)
Does the Attorney-General take the view that delay may not amount to frustration?
§ The Attorney-General
No, I do not, but this delay can be only for the time stipulated by the Act which the party opposite passed. If the party opposite think that the powers of the House of Lords are excessive, it is curious that they did not pass a Bill of a more restrictive character in 1949.
I find the attitude of the party opposite towards this Measure difficult to understand. If they think that there should be a second Chamber—and they have found it very useful in the 1945–51 period in passing a large number of Amendments to their Bills—it must have some powers. If they would have a second Chamber but are opposed to the hereditary principle, the Bill certainly does not assist in maintaining that principle. If they think that sons of peers should be able to renounce their rights, surely there is something to be said for life peerages where no question of renunciation by sons of peers would be involved.
The right hon. Gentleman also said that the House of Lords had always been used by the Tory Party as a machine for delaying Socialist Measures. The experience between 1945 and 1951 shows how exaggerated a statement that is. I will leave that point.
The criticism made from several quarters was that this was not a reforming Bill. It is a reforming Bill in two important respects. I do not wish in the least to minimise their importance, but I recognise, as I think all of us who have attended the debate do, that various views are held in different quarters as to the nature of other changes that may conceivably be made in time to come.
During the debate there has not been advanced any adequate ground for the rejection of a Measure which will enable the inclusion of ladies in the House of Lords and which, in my belief, will facilitate the recruitment to the House of Lords of persons of distinction who, I think we would agree apart from party prejudice, would probably be great assets in that House, whether or not they belong to any party or have done so in the past. In those circumstances, I support the Bill and trust that it will have the support of my hon. Friends.
§ Debate adjourned.—[Colonel J. H. Harrison.]
§ Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.