§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Speaker
I have a statement to make to the House.
I have been informed in the ordinary way that Mr. Wedgwood Benn desires to take his seat. My task is correctly to discharge the duty of the Chair as the servant of the House. The Resolution of the House of 13th April is binding upon on me and means, in my judgment, that I cannot, as the servant of the House, allow Mr. Benn to be admitted to the Chamber unless the House otherwise orders. The directions which I have given to the Serjeant at Arms are in accordance with that view of my duty.
I have received a letter from Mr. Benn in the following terms:
§ "8th May, 1961."
§ Dear Mr. Speaker,
§ On Friday last, in Bristol, the Returning Officer, acting in pursuance of an Order of this House for a fresh election, made a Statutory Declaration that I had been duly elected to represent the constituency of Bristol, South-East in the present Parliament.
§ Just after Prayers this afternoon, on my way to the Bar of the House, I was stopped at the door and informed that you, Mr. Speaker, had given instructions that physical force should, if necessary, be used to prevent my entering.
§ As a duly elected Member of Parliament I request you to countermand that order for which I can find no parallel in Parliamentary history.
§ I ask to be heard at the Bar as to why I should be permitted to take the Oath following my election by an overwhelming majority of the people of Bristol, South-East, whose servant I am.
§ Yours sincerely,
§ Anthony Wedgwood Benn."
§ Whether or no Mr. Benn should be heard at the Bar is a matter for the decision of the House and not for me.
It is probably convenient that I should say something else. I have been informed that an election petition has been presented. The issue before the Election Court will be, I suppose—I have not seen the petition and I wish to reserve my view—
… whether the member whose election or return is complained of, or any and what other person, was duly returned or elected or whether the election was void …
I quote from Section 124 (1) of the Representation of the People Act, 1949.
§ Our rule is that matters awaiting the adjudication of a court of law should not be brought forward in debate. It would seem to me virtually impossible to discuss the matters arising in this case if the rule be strictly adhered to. The object of the rule is to prevent prejudice. [Interruption.] I hope that the House will listen. As the Court will consist of judges and will, I suppose, be concerned almost exclusively with matters of law, it seems very difficult to see how any prejudice can arise to any party from a discussion of these matters in the House, and my suggestion to the House would be that, since this is a matter relating solely to our constitution, we should by common consent waive the application of the rule to this day's debate relating to Mr. Benn's case.
§ 3.35 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. R. A. Butler)
I am sure that we are all very much obliged to you for your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, and that we accept that you have given it as the servant of the House, as you say. We are all grateful to you for saying that we should not be out of order in discussing matters later this afternoon without prejudice and without regarding the matter before us as necessarily as being sub judice, to use the classic phrase. I think that that will help our later debate. We are very much obliged to you.
You have stated, Mr. Speaker that Mr. Benn's being heard at the Bar is a matter for the decision of the House. As Leader of the House, I should, therefore, like, with your permission, to attempt to give the House the following guidance. There are two issues: first, whether Mr. Benn should be heard; and, secondly, a substantive Motion, which I wish to move, as Leader of the House, relating to the eligibilty of Mr. Benn and the major issue to which you yourself have referred. I understand that the Opposition wish to debate the major issue. I also understand, from notice which I have received from him, that the Leader of the Opposition wishes to move an immediate Motion that Mr. Benn be heard.
This may lead to some duplication in debate, but, nevertheless, it would be 36 much better that both questions should be separated, and I will most willingly give way to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition to permit him to move a Motion in any terms he may feel inclined in relation to the hearing of Mr. Benn. I suggest, for the convenience of the House, that we might dispose of that, I hope within a reasonable time, and then come to the major subject upon which, I am sure, the House wishes to express an opinion and upon which, with your permission, I shall move a substantive Motion. With that understanding, I give way to the Leader of the Opposition.
§ 3.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Gaitskell (Leeds, South)
Mr. Speaker, I am glad that you have decided that, despite the petition to the Election Court, we may nevertheless discuss this matter. The Leader of the House having given notice of a Motion which he will move, I had better give notice that, if that Motion is in the terms which I rather suspect it will be, we shall be moving an Amendment to it.
Meanwhile, I accept the invitation of the Leader of the House and I beg to move,That Mr. Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn be admitted in and heard.I regret, Mr. Speaker, that you felt it necessary to make the Ruling that you gave about Mr. Benn taking his seat, and that on the basis of the same argument you felt obliged to give instructions that Mr. Benn should be stopped from entering the Chamber, for it is this decision of yours which makes it necessary for me to move the Motion which I have just moved.
I could have wished—and I say this without disrespect at all and recognising to the full the great care which you have given to this question—that you had followed the example of Mr. Speaker Peel who, after Mr. Bradlaugh's fourth election as Member for Northampton, said:I know nothing of the Resolutions of the past. They have lapsed, they are void, they are of no effect in reference to this case. It is the right, the legal statutable obligation, of Members, when returned to this House, to come to this Table and take the Oath prescribed by Statute. I have no authority, I have no right, original or delegated, to interfere between an hon. Member and his taking of the Oath.37 Those were Mr. Speaker Peel's words on another famous occasion.
Nevertheless, you have ruled, Sir, and, of course, we must accept that Ruling, though I add at once Chat I was glad that you made it perfectly plain that your Ruling applied only so long as the Resolution of 13th April held good, and that it was for the House to decide whether it wished to change its opinion; and, of course, that will be the subject of the later debate this afternoon.
What I am now arguing is that before the House takes this important decision, before it debates the substantive Motion which the Government are to move and the Amendment which we shall move, Mr. Wedgwood Benn should be allowed to come to the Bar and make his case.
It is not necessary for me to argue at any length on his behalf that he should be allowed here, because I think that the case for permitting him to do so is an overwhelming one. On this side of the House, whatever view hon. Gentlemen may take on the major issue, we feel that it is utterly wrong to prevent a person in Mr. Benn's position from having the opportunity of telling us why he believes that he should be allowed to take the oath.
On 13th April, on a similar Motion, I argued that all the precedents were in favour of allowing Mr. Benn to speak, and I quoted then the case of Daniel O'Connell, in 1829, who, having been returned as the Member of Parliament for Clare, came to this House and was unwilling to take the oath of supremacy which was at that time required. He was not allowed to take his seat because he refused to take the oath of supremacy, but he was allowed to come to the Bar and address the House, and his speech, so we are told, made a very deep impression.
Charles Bradlaugh in 1880, in 1881, in 1882 and in 1883 came to this House as the elected Member for Northampton and was not allowed on the first three occasions to take his seat, but he was allowed to address the House from the Bar. Indeed, nobody suggested that he should be restrained from doing so. There was unanimity on this issue, and I cannot understand why the Leader of the House and his hon. Friends refuse even this very limited courtesy to Mr. Benn.
38 There is another case which is extremely relevant to our discussion this afternoon, the case of Mr. MacManaway who was returned in 1950 as the Member for Belfast, West. His right to sit here was challenged. It was referred to a Select Committee. It was referred to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, but, while that reference was made, and while the Judicial Committee was considering it, Mr. MacManaway was not merely allowed to come into the House and address it; he was allowed to take his seat and speak as an ordinary Member. [HON. MEMBERS: "And to vote."] Yes, as my hon. Friends say, he was allowed to vote as well.
That case, I venture to say, is particularly relevant because of the petition which we understand has been submitted to the Election Court. In precisely the same way as Mr. MacManaway's case may have been said to be sub judice when it was being considered by the highest court in the land, the Privy Council, so Mr. Benn's case is now to be considered by the courts. It is sub judice. If it was right and proper that pending a judicial decision of this kind Mr. MacManaway should be allowed to take his seat here, then it is right that Mr. Benn should be allowed to take his seat.
It would have been possible at that time, in fact quite easy, for the Labour Government to have taken a different line and to have moved a Motion preventing Mr. MacManaway from taking his seat. They would have had certain advantages in doing so, because the majority which they had was a very narrow one and it was a moment when the difference between victory and defeat was a matter of two or three votes. The majority was, I think, six originally, but, nevertheless, the Labour Government did not do so. They allowed Mr. MacManaway to take his seat. I suggest that the Government today should follow our example in 1950.
It may be argued, and probably will, by the right hon. Gentleman that the House decided on 13th April that Mr. Benn should not be admitted and heard, and that, therefore, there is nothing new for Mr. Benn to argue on his own behalf. If that is the view of the right hon. Gentleman, he seems to me to be forgetting that a rather important event 39 has happened since then. Mr. Wedgwood Benn has been elected as the Member for Bristol, South-East, with a majority of over 13,000, more than double the majority he had at the General Election, and his opponent's vote has been halved. Are the Government telling us that that is of no significance whatever?
Mr. Benn holds today, as his letter to you makes clear, a statutory declaration of the Returning Officer saying that he is elected to serve as a Member of Parliament. It would be absolutely wrong for the House of Commons to neglect this very important change. Have not the electors of Bristol, South-East made their view of the situation overwhelmingly clear, and are the Government really going to say to us after this that they will not even allow Mr. Benn to come to the Bar and make his case?
Of course, it may be that the Government take the view that the result of the by-election in Bristol, South-East has a different significance. Perhaps they believe that it was not the result of Mr. Benn's desire to renounce his peerage which led the electors to give him such an overwhelming majority. It may well be that the Government suppose that this is something quite different and that it reflects the sincere opinions of the electorate about the Tory Government as a whole, but, if that is the case, right hon. Gentlemen opposite have no right at all to be sitting there, much less to prevent Mr. Benn from coming into the House. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite must make up their minds. They can have it either way. Either the electorate returned Mr. Benn because they wanted him to be their Member and they totally disagree with the obstruction which the Government are putting in their way, or they returned him because they want to get rid of the Government altogether.
In these last days many people have been asking themselves how it is that the Government have adopted the attitude they do adopt. There has been much speculation, and there is a very revealing article, by Mr. Douglas Clark, in this morning's Daily Express, part of which I should like to read to the House. Mr. Clark says:When Mr. Wedgwood Benn, conquering hero of the Bristol by-election, knocks on the door of the House of Commons today you 40 may be sure he will find the Government standing firmly by its dog-in-the-manger slogan: 'He shall not pass!'Why so? What accounts for the stubbornness of Ministers? They must know by now that public opinion overwhelmingly favours changing the law to enable peers to sit in the Commons if they so wish. They know, too, that with Government steam behind it this single reform could be put on the Statute Book in weeks. So why the insistence on delay?After a little further consideration, Mr. Clark says:And some of them think they have found it—in the able, brilliantly attractive, roly-poly figure of Lord Hailsham, Lord President of the Council. They are asking: Could it be Hailsham, rather than Benn, whom the Government is seeking to suppress?I wish to make it plain that I am not suggesting that Lord Hailsham should take his seat in the Commons this afternoon, or that he should even speak at the Bar of the House this afternoon. The Government need not fear that terrifying prospect; all that we are asking is that MR. Benn should be allowed to speak at the Bar.
There has been another change which we must take into account. On the last occasion when the House considered a similar Motion I am glad to say that a number of hon. Members opposite supported us in the Lobby. Most of them could be said to come from what one would describe as the Left of the Conservative Party. [Laughter.] I said that "most of them" could be said to come from the Left. I dare say that a few of those who were good enough to vote with us on that occasion would be a little upset if such an epithet were applied to them. If so, I did not mean them; I meant the others.
Be that as it may, there is now a powerful reinforcement for the point of view which those hon. Members supported. No less a person than the Marquess of Salisbury has spoken out. He has said:I think there is a case for exceptional treatment of a peer with a career in the Commons behind him.I must admit that the thought crossed my mind that Lord Salisbury's attitude in this matter might have been influenced by his feelings about one of his colleagues, with whom he has lately been in some controversy—the noble Lord to whom I have just referred—and that in the back of his mind was the 41 idea that if the law were changed Lord Hailsham might, after all, come back to the House of Commons and not remain in the House of Lords. In any event, the Marquess of Salisbury is moving in the right direction.
The Marquess of Salisbury has made another very interesting comment, which is most relevant to our debate this afternoon. He has said, referring to the Select Committee which the Government are setting up to advise on a reform of the Lords, that if the Labour Party refuses to sit on it the Government might prefer to drop the idea and tackle the immediate difficulty on their own. I welcome the noble Marquess as an ally to that extent, at any rate.
Are the Government frightened of what Mr. Benn might say if he speaks at the Bar of the House? I yield to no one in my regard for the talents, as a Parliamentarian, of my one-time hon. Friend, now Mr. Benn, but I do not think that even he could add or need add much to the evidence given by the votes cast in the by-election at Bristol, South-East. The point is that he has a case—a case which he himself should be allowed to argue—and to refuse to allow him to do this is, in our opinion, an arbitrary use of a majority power.
I end with this appeal to the right hon. Gentleman. The Government know very well that they are in an impossible position in this matter. They are defending the indefensible by arguments which, when not obscure, are obscurantist. Public opinion is overwhelmingly against them. The right hon. Gentleman should give up playing the part of King Canute. It is not a character which he is well suited to play. It is time he began to retreat. Let him start now, with a concession that may be no more than courtesy but is, none the less, important for that. Let him start by giving a hearing to a man who has fought hard to rid himself of what he regards as an unfair disability simply because of the affection and esteem in which he holds this House of Commons.
I ask the Leader of the House to remove the gag and to allow Mr Benn to present his own case. The requirements of common justice and fair play, backed overwhelmingly by public opinion, support this. I ask the right 42 hon. Gentleman to have the grace to give way.
§ 3.57 p.m.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler
I do not think that anyone would be in doubt about the concluding words of the Leader of the Opposition. The esteem in which the Housse of Commons is held by past, present and future Members is not doubted. I have no doubt whatever that behind the debate that is taking place on whether Mr. Benn should be heard there is deep and sensitive feeling about the House of Commons, and I would hasten to add that there will be nothing personal whatever in any of the remarks that I propose to make in my speech in which I shall say that I think it undesirable that Mr. Benn should be heard—for constitutional reasons which I shall put forward. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] The right hon. Gentleman was heard quietly.
Many of the right hon. Gentleman's arguments were relevant to the main debate which is to follow this one. I shall be dealing with all his references to the future in my next speech. Following up his words, I shall be able to show that it is the record of the Conservative Party, and of my right hon. and hon. Friends, to be ever ready to reform the House of Lords, and that if there has been any holding back it has been on the part of the Socialist Party. I would give as a typical example, in relation to the article which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, written by Mr. Douglas Clark, that if Mr. Attlee—as he then was—had given a favourable response to Lord Hailsham we might have had him here now. I can tell Mr. Clark that nobody would have been happier than we would to have had Lord Hailsham with us in the House at the present time.
The major part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech was related to the major issues, with which I propose to deal in the Motion which, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, I propose to move later. I shall show that we are looking to the future, and that the possibility of a change in the law to which the right hon. Gentleman referred is not at all excluded. There is every possibility that there may be a change in the law, but it is not just a matter of weeks, as Mr. Clark says. It may take a certain time. The law must be revised by both Houses, 43 and it must be carefully considered, and the necessary Bill will have to go through all its stages. Subject to that, the speech I shall make after this will show that we on this side are looking to the future in a more sensible and practical way than right hon. and hon. Members opposite.
The simple issue before us now, although an important issue, is whether Mr. Benn should be heard. I use the courtesy title, Mr. Benn, following upon your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, although he is, in fact, Lord Stansgate.
We have already discussed once, on 13th April, the question whether Mr. Benn should be heard at the Bar, and the House decided that he should not be heard. The reasons for his not being heard then were valid and convincing. They were, first, that he had been heard before the Committee of Privileges. He was heard at great length. His own witnesses and friends were heard by the Committee of Privileges on purpose. The whole of his case is recorded in the Committee of Privileges Report.
I went to speak in the South-East Bristol by-election. [Laughter.] I believe in taking part in the conflict and not being frightened of doing so. I explained to the electors of South-East Bristol, who seemed to be rather stunned by my speech, the number of pages in the Select Committee's Report—which I have here—which are occupied with the evidence given by Mr. Benn, by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. D. Foot) and by Mr. Dick Taverne. I was able to explain the position without unduly stunning the electors—as I would have done if I had read the whole lot, since it occupies over one-third of the Report. Mr. Benn's evidence is recorded and published in the Report, and to that extent Mr. Benn has been heard.
I made it clear on 13th April that there was no precedent for affording him the facility of addressing the House from the Bar in a case of this sort. I shall review again shortly—as I do not want this debate to keep us too long from the major debate—the precedents quoted by the right hon. Gentleman. The Opposition, through the right hon. Gentleman, have formally renewed their request that Mr. Benn should be heard now that he has topped the poll in the South-East Bristol by-election. Before 44 I say any more, I should like to examine the constitutional position. It is true that Mr. Benn obtained the majority of votes for South-East Bristol, but that fact does not operate to remove any disqualification he may have as an M.P.
The House will remember two recent occasions in recent years—in 1955, to be exact—when Irish Members were elected Members of this House, but the fact of their election did not make them qualified to sit. It is true that they had less reputable disqualifications than Mr. Benn. His disqualification, judging from the Report of the Committee, is that he is a peer, and that on becoming a peer he ceases to be a Member of this House. Not only have we the Report of the Committee of Privileges; we also have the Resolution of this House on 13th April upon which you, Mr. Speaker, have ruled, and on which we think that you have rightly ruled, and we certainly accept your Ruling.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to new facts which have emerged since that date. Only two new facts have emerged since that date. First, the election result; and, secondly, that an election petition has been presented. My answer to that is that if Mr. Benn was a peer on 13th April, and if, on 18th April—I hope that the House will note this.—the Opposition Chief Whip moved that a new Writ should be issued for the election of someone in Mr. Benn's room, inviting us to enter into an election to elect someone in his place, so far as I can see nothing has happened since then not to make him a peer. In fact, a peer he is. You, Mr. Speaker, have rightly ruled that he cannot take his place following upon the Resolution of 13th April, and I hope, shortly, to move a Motion in support of the Ruling which you have given.
§ Mr. Frank Bowles (Nuneaton)
If the Election Court comes to a different conclusion from the House of Commons, what happens then?
§ Mr. Butler
I am coming to that. In the next Motion I am purposely inserting words to reserve the position of the House until we hear what the Court decides. I think that that is an essential constitutional practice.
The question now arises whether the House should give Mr. Benn permission 45 to speak from the Bar. The real question at issue, upon which he must wish to speak, is the validity of his election. In 1868, Parliament, by Statute, removed from the House of Commons the determination of disputed elections and made provision for these to be heard by High Court judges. The House of Commons then, and, I think, for good reasons, voluntarily divested itself of jurisdiction to hear and decide on these petitions. Since then it is not accurate to say, as I saw in a leading newspaper, on Friday, that the House exercises concurrent jurisdiction with the Courts on election petitions.
The judges of the Election Court have to report to you, Mr. Speaker, and it may then be for this House to decide—this is in answer to the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles)—what action, if any, should be taken in the light of its report. This is all set out on page 184 of Erskine May, which refers to the political intrigues and confusions which existed before that date. Erskine May rightly draws attention to the fact that the House has taken its decision, and, therefore, I think that it would be quite improper and, so far as I can find, entirely without precedent for this House to seek to exercise, or to appear to exercise, jurisdiction in respect of matters which are the subject of an election petition while it is before the Court.
I mention these matters, Mr. Speaker, for they are relevant to the question now before the House. On what issue would Mr. Benn, if he were given permission, wish to address the House? The only relevant issue, so far as I can see, would be as to his capacity to sit in this House, and that is the very matter before the Election Court. I do not therefore think that it would be suitable to concede this on this occasion.
References have been made by the right hon. Gentleman to the case of Bradlaugh and O'Connell, in 1829, and to the case of MacManaway. Two of the cases are quite easy to dispose of. In the cases of Bradlaugh and O'Connell, neither of them was disqualified on account of status at the time of his election. Their cases bear nothing in common with the case of Mr. Benn, who is, in our view, and in the view of the House, as stated on 13th April, and in the view of the Committee of Privileges, 46 disqualified because he is a peer. The case of MacManaway was in some respects the nearest to these, but there is a vital difference in the case of MacManaway and the case of Mr. Benn. Mr. MacManaway took his seat and took part in the affairs of the House. I have no occasion to dispute or criticise the attitude of the then Government in regard to Mr. MacManaway.
The right hon. Gentleman made claims on their part. There is this vital difference that the disqualification of Mr. MacManaway was not established until later and after he had taken his seat. When it was established by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, Mr. MacManaway withdrew and was no longer heard. Mr. Benn's case was decided by the Committee of Privileges and then by Resolution of the House on 13th April. There is, therefore, a vital difference between the disqualification of Mr. MacManaway and the disqualification of Mr. Benn.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that while Mr. MacManaway's right to sit was challenged, and was being considered, not only did he appear in the House but he also voted in the House, and the right to vote at that time was challenged.
§ Mr. Butler
I fully understand the position. In fact, the disqualification was not established at that time; it was only established later. Mr. Benn's disqualification has been established by Resolution of the House and is now the subject of discussion before the Election Court.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
While we are on the MacManaway case, does the Leader of the House recall that in June of that year it was referred to the Privy Council? The then Leader of the House promised Mr. MacManaway an indemnity only up to that day. However, Mr. MacManaway remained as a Member until October, voting on the Steel Bill, and other Measures, on the advice of the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill). He went on during all that period, and the indemnity was extended. There was a lively apprehension that he would be unseated. It was only the attitude and generosity of the Government of the day that saved him from a great deal of expense.
§ Mr. Butler
There is a vital difference between the two cases. In the case of Mr. Benn, the House has passed a Resolution, on which Mr. Speaker has ruled today, establishing the disqualification. The matter is now before the Election Court. That has been decided by the House. Mr. MacManaway's disqualification was not established until the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council came down in favour of his disqualification. It was not established for certain while he was sitting in the House.
That indicates that the precedents used by the Leader of the Opposition are not valid on this occasion. All that is valid on this occasion is that the House has reached the conclusion that Mr. Benn is a peer, and that, for that reason, he has ceased to be a Member. I realise that some of my right hon. and hon. Friends had different views on the last occasion, but on this occasion I am sure that they should have no doubt that we should not hear Mr. Benn. Parliament has decided and it is the law that election petitions should go before a court. That is the proper place, not the House, for Mr. Benn to say what he wants to say.
In my next speech I will deal with the future. Meanwhile, the Government hope that for the reasons I have given it will be supported by the House respecting the constitutional position as it exists and in resisting the Motion.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)
The Leader of the House told us earlier that jurisdiction over disputed elections had been removed from the House to a court. He is right about that. Mr. Benn's case is still before a court and has not been decided by that court. How, then, can the right hon. Gentleman say that this case has been decided? Mr. Benn is in the same position as Mr. MacManaway, whose case was not decided but was before the court. While his case was before the court, Mr. MacManaway was allowed to sit in the House.
§ Mr. Butler
The House decided on 13th April that Mr. Benn is disqualified. Mr. Benn has since stood at a by-election and been returned at the head of the poll. The question of his eligibility to sit is now before the Election Court. That does not take away from the decision of the House on 13th April, and 48 your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, that we can speak freely on these matters removes me from any guilt of offending the sub judice rule on this occasion.
§ 4.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
I notice that today, in rebutting the Motion that Mr. Wedgwood Benn should come to the Bar, the Leader of the House used different precedents from those he used last time. The precedents the right hon. Gentleman used last time were completely bogus. I will address the House on that a little later in the debate.
I want to refer to one or two matters with which the right hon. Gentleman dealt this afternoon. The case of Lord Hailsham is hardly a debating point at all. Lord Hailsham did not wish to give up his peerage. He wished to retain his peerage and retain his seat in the House of Commons. All Lord Hailsham did was to write a couple of very rude letters to Mr. Attlee, as he then was, in terms that no Prime Minister would be prepared to stand for. Lord Hailsham made all sorts of unwarranted assumptions and then proceeded on towards the other place.
The Leader of the House referred to the Irish Members in 1955. His arguments on the Irish Members were hagridden, both his speech this afternoon and the one he made on the previous occasion. These people were tried and convicted felons, according to the law. It is a trifle insulting, to say the least, to make any sort of suggestion that Mr. Benn's case is similar to their case. It has nothing to do with it.
The Leader of the House then said that Mr. Benn's case had gone to a High Court judge. My hon. Friends and I find great difficulty in differentiating between Mr. Benn's case and Mr. MacManaway's case. Although much legal opinion was expressed to the effect that Mr. MacManaway was illegally sitting, he continued to sit while the Labour Party had a majority of only six. He was even indemnified beyond the point of June. The right hon. Gentleman said that he had no complaint to make against the Labour Government, but he did not have the decency to say that we acted generously to Mr. MacManaway—far more generously, even in monetary terms than he is acting in spirit towards Mr. Benn.
49 I am struck by the mean-mindedness of the Leader of the House. When I got rather angry on 13th April, I was attacked in subsequent speeches by the hon. Members for Bebington (Sir H. Oakshott), Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) and The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates). Though the hon. Member for The Wrekin made some unkind remarks about me, he went into the Lobby with me that night. Therefore, I do not know what his attack was about.
§ Mr. William Yates (The Wrekin)
The hon. Member at that time imputed that hon. Members on this side of the House were not as interested in the traditions of the House as he was. We are all interested in the traditions of the House and we will express our opinions as we like and vote as we like.
§ Mr. Pannell
By his vote, the hon. Member showed that he was sensitive to the traditions of the House. That is more than can be said of the other hon. Gentlemen.
On that occasion precedents were advanced by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. They were the precedents of Wilkes, O'Connell and Bradlaugh. I agreed at the time that no two precedents are quite the same.
What are the precedents the Leader of the House employed? He used the precedents of 1923 and 1849. When, previous to our debate on 13th April, I searched for precedents, these precedents never occurred to me. I suggest, and I hope to prove, that they are completely bogus to this issue. I wonder why the right hon. Gentleman employed them.
This is what the Leader of the House said about the one in 1923:In 1923, comparatively recently, your predecessor, Mr. Speaker, gave a Ruling, the gist of which was that petitioners have no right to be heard at the Bar, and pointed out the dangers to the progress of public business which might follow if such a right were conceded."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th April, 1961; Vol. 638, c. 506.]The impression to be gained from that is that it had something to do with a Member of the House approaching the Bar in 1923. It did not. It had nothing to do with an individual case. It was concerned with a matter which I should hardly have thought any Conservative would have claimed as a precedent. It was a matter on which the then Attor- 50 ney General, Sir Douglas Hogg, badly advised the Government, and 110 Anglo-Irish subjects were deported to Ireland. That was rejected on a petition in the High Court and in the House of Lords. It was held that they had been falsely imprisoned. Then the Government had to bring in a Bill to indemnify Sir Douglas Hogg.
What happened was that 110 English citizens on the English electoral roll asked, through their Members of Parliament, that they should be heard at the Bar. That was what Mr. Speaker was saying, that we could not have 110 petitioners at the Bar. The right hon. Gentleman shot that "off the cuff" and relied on the probability that we had not done our homework as probably he had not done his. Otherwise, he would not have used that precedent at all. It was a "phoney" argument, cooked up with no relevance to the subject.
The other precedent was from 1849, when an ex-Member was tried for high treason and a Motion to allow an appearance at the Bar was rejected. As a matter of fact, he did not ask permission to petition at the Bar personally. The Member was in prison and merely asked to be heard through his counsel. The Attorney-General at the time argued the case not on the ground of whether he was a Member of the House. I am referring to the case of Smith O'Brien. The Attorney-General argued that as he was convicted and was in prison he was an outlaw and, therefore, could not be heard at the Bar.
That was not a case like this. It was concerned with a subsequent Bill which would have allowed the law to be changed from death to transportation. That person wanted to appeal against transportation, but it was nothing to do with this case. It was another of those bogus cases which have been cooked up. As one who has spent a lot of time looking into this matter, I was angry about these things being raised. Members take responsibility for what they say and they are supposed to speak the truth. I am not suggesting that the Leader of the House ever speaks falsely, but he ought to check his facts before he lays down a dictum.
We should not confuse Mr. Wedgwood Benn with traitors, or with the sort of people with whom he has been confused. 51 There are certain considerations we have to bear in mind. Since 13th April, when he was last refused an opportunity to speak at the Bar, Mr. Benn has been back to Bristol. The whole Conservative Party machine was set out to encompass his defeat, but this is the defeat for the Conservative Party. The Gallup poll said that when it canvassed in the constituency it found that many Conservative voters, two to one, would back Mr. Benn. The Government have not got public opinion behind them. What is the use of talking about democracy when we have this sort of thing?
I remember the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) saying at the Opposition Dispatch Box, in 1949, that there was Parliamentary democracy before the Labour Party was born and the late Aneurin Bevan replying that there was not, that there was a Parliament but not a democracy. "Your people were here", he said, "mine were not." That is where the minds of hon. Members opposite still are. They want to get back to the days before the Reform Bill was brought in. They are still trying to confirm the hereditary principle. How did they conduct their campaign in Bristol, South-East?
The ex-Attorney-General, the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald), went down there and gave them constitutional law.
§ Mr. Pannell
I beg your pardon, Mr. Speaker. The right hon. and learned Member went to Bristol. He stunned an audience with constitutional law. There was a story circulating, which is too good to be apocryphal, that that night he got a question, "How is it that a king can renounce his throne, but Benn cannot renounce his peerage?" He replied, "Of course, in the first case a by-election is not involved." I went to Bristol and saw that cosy, good-humoured, intelligent Bristol audience. I did not speak nonsense of that sort to them. I said that the House of Lords is not the sort of place to which to send a bright young man like Mr. Benn, and that he should not be forced to go there.
52 The point we have to decide is not whether Mr. Benn comes to the Bar of the House, but whether the duly elected Member for Bristol, South-East should do so. The insult is not to Mr. Benn, but to the good people who have the right to say whom they should elect as their Member.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)
The Chief Whip of the Socialist Party put up a bogus figure for the election, one who was ineligible to stand for election.
§ Mr. Pannell
The noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) cannot have read The Times. Otherwise, he would know that the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey said that undoubtedly Mr. Benn could stand. I happen to know that the returning officer had some doubt whether he could accept the nomination, but when he read the letter from the right hon. and learned Member in The Times that resolved his doubts. He got counsel's opinion for nothing. If a High Court judge says to him, "Where did you get this from?" he will be able to answer, "It is straight from the horse's nosebag."
The electors of Bristol. South-East, knowing that all this stuff had been put about, returned Mr. Benn with a resounding majority. They not only had constitutional law from the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey, but they had something more. They had bogus legal documents circulating in the constituency. They had imitation legal documents plastered over the polling stations. Everyone flogged the line, "You are wasting a vote". However, they refused to take the say-so of the right hon. and learned Member. They confirmed the British electorate's right to elect whom they wish. If the election was nothing more, it was a protest against all for which the noble Lord stands.
When this election started, I expected it to be far more of a circus than it was. There could have been debates on T.V. and the radio. Why did the Conservative candidate not go on there? It was because the Conservative Central Office 53 wanted to play the election down and to say that it was a waste of time. In spite of that, the electors returned Mr. Benn with an overwhelming majority. We on this side of the House are asking that the House should call to us a new Member. There is no question that the House is perfectly entitled, by Resolution, to seat the bon. Member this afternoon. If anyone doubts that, he should turn to column 529 of the OFFICIAL REPORT for 13th April, 1961.
§ Mr. Speaker
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but we must try to keep these two questions distinct. I follow the relevance of what he is now saying and I think that it would be more appropriate to the Motion which the Leader of the House has indicated that he proposes to move later. I cannot see that it has relevance to this Motion. We must keep the distinction.
§ Mr. Pannell
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I appreciate your difficulty.
I am sure that after listening to the Leader of the House you appreciate my difficulty. He rambled a great deal and quoted quite "phoney" precedents. He has overlaid this subject with a lot of sanctimonious nonsense. He always poses as the great liberalising Home Secretary. He is none of these sort of things, but merely the defender of privilege and of the hereditary principle. This confirms what we have known for a long time. The right hon. Gentleman's public protestations never tie up with his public practice.
I hope that the House will assert the principle that a man has a right to be heard in his own cause and that many hon. Members opposite will go into the Lobby with us to ensure that Mr. Benn shall be heard at the Bar this afternoon. The House will be consulting its dignity if it does so. If it does not, there will be a time when future Members will be looking at the records of this House, and when they read the report of this debate they will wonder how, in 1961, anybody could make a speech such as that which the Leader of the House made this afternoon. That day will probably be at a time by which the innocence of the late Timothy Evans has been established. In both those cases the Home Secretary will be a greatly discredited figure.
§ 4.31 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I wish to speak only shortly, and my speech arises out of what was said by the Leader of the House. Whatever may be the legal rights or wrongs of the Government's attitude in this matter, there is no doubt at all that to the public it seems to be nonsense. There is no doubt at all that, whether they are legally right or wrong, in the public view they are offending against common sense and against what the public want—and the House of Commons exists to serve the public and not solely to give effect to totally out-of-date law.
That being the dilemma, what can we do about it? The Leader of the House said that he and his party were always keen to reform the House of Lords. Let us take them at their word. There was nothing to prevent them either from introducing a Bill of their own saying that Members of the House of Commons who inherit peerages——
§ Mr. Grimond
What I am saying, Sir, arises specifically from a point made by the Leader of the House and I think that it should be answered now and not left until later.
In my view, if the Government were prepared to take this action, then this debate and the next would become unnecessary. If the Government had been prepared to introduce a short Bill to the effect that Members of the House of Commons Who became peers could renounce their peerages, or to accept the Bill which has already been introduced, then we should have been carrying out what the public want and we should have saved an immense amount of time of this House and probably of the electors of Bristol.
Are the Government prepared to say so now? We can leave all the other questions, which the Government wish to refer to a Committee about the reform of the House of Lords to be considered at greater length, but are they prepared to say that they will introduce such a Bill, which no doubt would be given every facility for a quick passage through the House, which would have no opposition here, and which would certainly not be opposed by the Marquess of Salisbury in the House of 55 Lords or, indeed, by Lord Hailsham? If they are prepared to say that, then a great deal of time and trouble will be saved. If the Leader of the House is prepared to say that he will give facilities for such a Bill to be introduced, or for the existing Bill, I will gladly give way for him to say so now. There is no answer from him.
The Leader of the Opposition expressed the hope that the Leader of the House would not behave like King Canute. I wish that he would behave like King Canute. It was King Canute's courtiers who tried to push back the tide, and it is those courtiers he emulates as he sits there making benign and ambivalent noises but doing nothing to give effect to the wishes of the people or the wishes of this House. At least, let him say that he is prepared to hear Mr. Benn. I said in the previous debate on this subject that I am comparatively unprejudiced between the Conservative Party and the Labour Party, but to a comparatively unprejudiced observer the difference between the treatment of Mr. Benn and that of Mr. MacManaway is a very queer contrast indeed.
§ Mr. Grimond
I do not deny the case of Lord Hailsham, but it may be that if he had pressed harder something would have been done about it. There has been some reference in the Press to Lord Hailsham, but I think that he is probably not the main reason why the Government are against any possibility of having peers in this House. After all, it might be suggested that the change in the attitude of the noble Marquess may be due to reluctance to have certain hon. Members translated to the Lords. One can well believe that some might be slightly embarrassing to the Tories in the House of Lords.
In spite of precedents, the Government have refused even to hear Mr. Benn at the Bar of the House on the ground that he is a peer. Equally, they have refused to introduce a Measure which I believe 80 per cent. of the people of the country would welcome and which the vast majority of hon. Members would welcome—a Measure enabling him to shed has peerage. The Government cannot have it all ways. The fact is that 56 they do not want Mr. Benn either to address the House or to come into it, and they are not prepared to make any concession to either public or Parliamentary opinion.
§ 4.36 p.m.
§ Mr. William Yates (The Wrekin)
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) and to carry on the line of argument which I took in the previous debate. The hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) need not be unduly anxious in case we leave our consciences with the Whips and cannot make up our minds. I thank him very much, but we can manage quite well when it comes to matters concerning the House.
The problem is that Mr. Wedgwood Benn, as he was formerly, and Viscount Stansgate, as he is, without a doubt, stood at the election as a candidate and stood by his right under the electoral law, otherwise the returning officer would not have accepted his name. He stood by right, I understand, because of the Act of 1949. We are, therefore, asked today to decide whether, in view of the conflict of law, we will hear him at the Bar of the House, which, to my mind, is the High Court of Parliament. We are advised that by constitutional precedent we should not do so. This is a great regret to many people, and, in particular, to the electors of Bristol who have returned him. Although those in Bristol who returned him do not belong to the same party as myself, I assure them that I am convinced that the principle for which they stand will eventually be carried in this House and that it is only a matter of time.
In dealing with a constitutional situation of this nature it would have been neither undignified nor wrong, nor contrary to precedent, to hear the petitioner at the Bar on 13th April; nor, in view of the conflict of electoral law and the will of the people of Bristol, would it be wrong to hear him at the Bar of the House today. I am sorry, therefore, that the Leader of the House, to whom I have written, as well as to the Chief Whip, have decided otherwise. I wish that I had had some influence when I tried to tell the Government one or two things on some occasions in the past, not only about Suez and Cyprus, but also about other matters.
57 In my opinion, to have allowed Mr. Beam to appear here at the Bar on 13th April to state his case is the least which we could have done as hon. Members. I would again have invited him here this afternoon, with all the dignity of the High Court of Parliament assembled, to hear him present his case again. If I were so convinced by the decision of the people of Bristol, South-East I should have tried to move a Motion of indemnity to allow the Member to take his seat until such time as the Joint Committee which is investigating this matter had reached its decision. That is the way in which I, as a younger Member of the House, and the overwhelming majority of younger people to whom I have spoken in my constituency, feel.
I warn the Government Front Bench now that if they mistake this feeling going through the country they do it at their peril. I have warned the Front Bench before and I warn them again that they are making a public mistake in this matter with the younger generation. For a short time only they are in charge of the affairs of the Conservative Party. They are the trustees. Let them remember the future, and let them remember that the younger people in this country, although they have a deep respect for heritage and tradition and everything which both Houses, both the Commons and the Lords, stand for, at least expect a man to be allowed to plead his case and at least expect us to come up to date and to adopt principles of democracy both here and throughout the land.
Although the legal arguments are overwhelmingly in favour of excluding Mr. Benn, and although Mr. Speaker has been put in an intolerable position, we ought to take the necessary steps to pass an indemnity Motion to allow Mr. Benn to take his place until this matter has been thrashed out. I hope that the Government Front Bench have taken good note of what I have said. I give them a thorough warning here and now.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Mr. W. A. Wilkins (Bristol, South)
I do not want, at this stage, Mr. Speaker, to prejudice my opportunity of taking part in what I understand is to be the major debate, but if you were in the Chamber at the time you probably noticed that I tried to interrupt the Home 58 Secretary. I wanted them to ask him a question which I propose to ask him now, genuinely seeking information which I hope will be useful to us in the subsequent major debate.
I do not know whether the Home Secretary saw it, but on Friday evening there was a television programme in which many prominent people were interrogated. One of them was, I believe, a professor of constitutional law at, I think, Durham University. He was asked whether there was any Statute that prevented a Member of Parliament taking his seat, whether he be a peer or anyone else. The answer was that there was no Act of Parliament that barred a man from taking the oath and taking his seat in the House; that this was done only by custom and tradition.
I should like the Home Secretary to tell us whether that is so. If it is so, on what grounds do we debar the duly-elected Member of Parliament—my own Member of Parliament, I am proud to say—from entering this Chamber and representing the people of Bristol, South-East, in which constituency I have the honour to reside? I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give us an answer. I am sure that it will help us enormously in the debate that follows this one.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ Sir Lynn Ungoed-Thomas (Leicester, North-East)
The Leader of the House rather put the question of what Mr. Benn would have to say if he addressed us from the Bar of the House. He suggested that there was only one thing on which Mr. Benn could speak, and that was whether he was qualified to stand or not. Will the Speaker allow Mr. Benn to come to the Bar so that he can speak for himself on what he wishes to speak on? Let Mr. Benn himself indicate what he wishes to speak on.
The matter that was referred to the Committee of Privileges was not merely disqualification. There was also the question whether or not there should be any legislation, or any action taken by this House to remove disqualification if it existed. This is the prime matter considered in the Bristol, South-East election. The electors of Bristol South-East do not have any control over 59 whether Mr. Benn is qualified or disqualified, but what they have is a powerful——
§ Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)
Assuming that the same rules of order apply to anyone speaking from the Bar as apply to those speaking in the Chamber itself, the question of what the legislation in the future may or may not be, or should or should not be, is completely out of order in considering whether this gentleman should take his seat today.
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
No, it would be relevant to the question whether the House should come to the conclusion that Mr. Benn should take his place, or whether there were other methods by which the issue could be dealt with. It is, of course, relevant to that issue.
To return to what I was saying when I was interrupted, the electors of Bristol, South-East have been considering primarily this very issue. They have not been considering what the law is: they are not a collection of judges to decide what the law is or what it is not. But they are the people of this country, speaking for the people of this country, saying that the silly law—if it is what hon. Members say it is—should be changed.
That is what they are entitled to say, that is what they have said unmistakably, and if the Leader of the House and those behind him who back him up are not prepared to hear Mr. Benn in his own right on the question of his disqualification, as they did last time, will they say now that they will deny the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East to speak for Bristol, South-East upon this issue, which will eventually, in one form or another, have to be decided, not in the courts but here in the House of Commons?
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House quoted a great number of precedents. I have a precedent, too, and one that completely covers his case. The last time that we considered the Benn case, my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) and I spoke about the parallel with trade unions. We then said that if this were a matter being dealt with by a trade union as it was being dealt with by this House on 60 the last occasion, there would be a complete outcry from the party opposite.
The precedent I have is a trade union one. It comes from a film which hon. Members opposite may have seen—a very instructive film called "I'm All Right Jack." Hon. Members may have seen that film, and may remember that a question arose about dissociating from, or sending to Coventry, a character in the film named Stanley Windrush. The trade union committee at the works heard Stanley Windrush and considered his case—in the same way as the Committee of Privileges considered the case of Mr. Benn. It had no power to expel Stanley Windrush, or to pass sentence on him—any more than had the Committee of Privileges. It had to refer the case to another body, which was the deciding body—just as the Committee of Privilege had to refer the Benn case to this House for this House to come to a decision.
Stanley Windrush was not heard by the deciding body—any more than Mr. Benn was heard by the deciding body here. The shop steward, a character called Fred Kite, played by Peter Sellers, had to indicate the decision of this body to Stanley Windrush. This is how the conversation in the film went, and this is what happend in the cinema when I was there.
Fred Kite's part was taken here by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition—[HON. MEMBERS: "Of the House."]—I am anticipating, that is all. Fred Kite, announcing the decision to Stanley Windrush, says, pompously, that the decision was democratically arrived at. Windrush remarks—as Benn might have remarked about this House, "But I wasn't there." Kite replies, as the right hon. Gentleman replied, "It was totally unnecessary when we were in possession of the facts"—greeted with loud laughter in the cinema.
What the right hon. Gentleman has done is to put this House on a par with a funny figure in a funny picture. The parallel is exact. Of course, when repeated to the electors of Bristol, South-East, the answers of the right hon. Gentleman were treated with the same derision as was Fred Kite's observation in the film I have mentioned. This laughter is going on—a loud guffaw in the country—and if the right hon. Gentleman is to persist in this course he will 61 eventually—as his hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates) has indicated very clearly—be driven out and laughed out of office.
At some stage or other this matter will have to be dealt with here, in the House of Commons. I repeat what was asked by the Leader of the Liberal Party: if this matter will have to be dealt with in the House of Commons—as, eventually, it must be dealt with—why not deal with it straight away? Why not deal with it now, by legislation? Why not pay heed to the tremendous victory which has been given to the anti-hereditary principle by this by-election? All we ask is that the elected Member for Bristol, South-East should be able to come to the Bar of the House to tell us, fresh from his election, what is thought by the people of the country.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Gilbert Longden (Hertfordshire, South-West)
I was one of those hon. Members who, on 13th April, voted in favour of allowing Mr. Benn to come to the Bar to put his case because I thought it could do no harm and that it would be fair to allow him to do so. I am inclined to believe that the reasons which led me to do that then, though today less compelling, will result in my voting the same way today. But I am drawn to my feet primarily by a remark made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) which somewhat disturbed me, because, if I understood the hon. Gentleman correctly, he said that the people did not care what the law was; they expected the House of Commons to do the right thing. I also believe that in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates) the same implication was made.
§ Mr. Longden
I am glad to hear that explanation. In my view, there is little doubt that the people of this country do think that the law which prevents Mr. Benn, and others like him, from remaining in the House of Commons is antiquated and in need of reform, but I am quite sure that they expect this House to uphold the law while it exists.
There is no doubt, in my view, that the law today is as it was last November 62 when, on the death of his father, Mr. Benn became a peer, and that nothing he could do thereafter could get him out of that status. In that status, of course, he is not able to sit in this House and it is because I should like to hear what Mr. Benn has to say against those arguments that I should like to allow him to address the House from the Bar today.
§ Mr. Grimond
Surely it will be clear that I was making a simple, but valid point—that Parliament exists to change the law when the law is an ass. In this case, the public—who, after all, are our employers—think that the law is an ass and they expect us to change it. The Government have had ample opportunity to change the law in this respect. They have not taken that opportunity, and they have not said that they will.
§ Mr. Longden
I now appreciate the point made by the hon. Member, and I so far agree with him in that, as he may recall, I backed the Bill which was presented by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Leicester, North-East (Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas). My point is that that Bill has not yet been passed into an Act, and that therefore the law remains as it was before.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
While we all appreciate the speech which has just been made by the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Longden), one thing is evident: whatever we are discussing, we are not discussing the law. No one proposes, or even suggests, that we are debating a legal issue in this part of the proceedings. No one has contested the fact that the House of Commons, if it wishes, can decide in a few minutes' time to hear Mr. Benn—and that is the simple issue on which we have to make up our minds.
It is a rather extraordinary occurrence that in discussing this subject, which is pre-eminently a House of Commons matter, there has been only one speech—that of the Leader of the House—that has opposed the proposition that Mr. Benn should be heard. We have had several speeches from hon. Members on this side of the House and two powerful speeches from hon. Members on the Government side urging that he should be heard. No one listening to this debate will say that the weight of the argument rests with the Government.
63 Precisely because this is pre-eminently a House of Commons matter, it might be argued that there might be a case for having the Whips on the substantive Motion. Although I would not admit that, it would be absolutely intolerable if the question whether Mr. Benn should or should not be heard at the Bar of the House should be decided partly because of thoughts of political party advantage. Therefore, if hon. Members are here to discuss this as a House of Commons matter, they should be prepared to vote on that basis.
I thank the hon. Gentleman the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates) for his speech. As all hon. Members realise, it was an honest speech, but it was also a brave one. I do not know why it should be brave to speak honestly on a matter such as this. When the Leader of the House is appealed to in this matter to think again and to change his mind, he should not be supercilious about it, because he has changed his mind since we debated this subject on the last occasion. Whatever the Leader of the House may have said, or may think, about the proposition—and he may think that his arguments today are exactly the same as those he made on the last occasion—I do not think anyone will accept that view. He changed his mind following the last debate and he may change his mind following this one.
This may be one of the gratifications we may have from this situation. It may be said of the Leader of the House that once he has come to a decision, we can be sure that that decision is firm and irrevocable. It may be said that once he has made up his mind, no power will make him alter it; but, since he has already changed his mind, perhaps he will change it about this issue also.
The Leader of the House appeared to present two main arguments—the only arguments expressed today that we Should not hear Mr. Benn at the Bar of the House. His first argument was that hearing Mr. Benn might not be practical, in the sense that the Leader of the House said that he went to Bristol and took with him a copy of the Report of the Committee of Privileges, which he showed to the electors there. That Report contained the large contribution 64 that Mr. Benn had already made to the Committee of Privileges.
As we have seen, the electors were not very impressed, and we cannot be certain that the case that Mr. Benn wishes to present today is necessarily the same as that which he presented to the Committee of Privileges. We do not know what further elaborations of the argument he put to that Committee Mr. Benn would make if he were allowed to speak. Therefore, that argument—the so-called practical one, that Mr. Benn has already been allowed to state his case—falls.
The only other argument adduced by the Leader of the House was that of precedent, and the right hon. Gentleman said that none of the precedents apply. That is true, in one sense. There is no exact precedent. This is a novel situation. It is, therefore, impossible to have an exact precedent and, as a result, Mr. Benn should be allowed to address the House.
If hon. Members study all the precedents quoted from either side of the House, there is one common feature of them all. Whether quoted for or against hearing Mr. Benn, they all show that the case for hearing a suspected or supposed hon. Member arose because of a dispute between the majority of this House and a section of the electorate. In each case—whether it be that of MacManaway, Daniel O'Connor, Charles Bradlaugh or Wilkes—there arose the situation in which there was a dispute between the majority in this House and a section of the electorate.
These disputes are very difficult to settle. Indeed, it may be that the precedent that was quoted by the Leader of the House about the decision of the House of Commons in the 1880s to refer disputed questions to the High Court arose precisely because the House of Commons said that difficulties arose when a majority of this House decided what was to happen when a section of the electorate outside disputed it. Of course, these matters are difficult to decide, because if we gave all power to this House we would override the electorate, and if we gave all power to the electorate outside we might interfere with legal precedent.
But, surely, if we look at all those precedents, they say that when there is 65 a dispute—and obviously a big dispute, a serious dispute raising some fundamental principles between an apparent majority of this House and a large section of the electorate outside—in all those cases where that has been a feature of the precedent it has been accepted that the person elected should be heard at the Bar of the House. I should have thought that was a common-sense conclusion to draw from the state of affairs.
Therefore, the Leader of the House is left with no argument on grounds of practicality or of precedent, and, as has been admitted by everybody on this issue, there is no argument about law whatsoever. It is purely a question of what hon. Members think to be fair, honourable and decent. That is solely the question.
It used to be said in pride about the House of Commons that the power of the House of Commons was like the trunk of an elephant, that it could fell an oak or pick up a pin, that it could adapt itself to many different circumstances. Yet here we are being told by the Leader of the House that when we have such a strong vote by a section of the electorate outside, when we have such a large body of Members inside this House who are disturbed by the situation, and when in addition we have large numbers of Members on the other side of the House disturbed by the situation—indeed, the only back bench Members of the Tory Party who were allowed to speak are disturbed—the House of Commons cannot solve that situation and do the honourable and fair thing of letting Mr. Benn speak for himself.
I cannot believe that the House of Commons has ever put itself in such a mean and ungenerous mood as the Leader of the House sought to put it when he spoke. Therefore, I hope that even now he will do the fair thing. After all, if we are to have debates in this House which affect it—and the Whips should certainly not be on—the Leader of the House should withdraw now. He should say that having listened to the argument, he realises that there has been an apparent movement of opinion; and, as not a single speaker in the debate has supported him, he should have the grace to say it. If he did that, his stature as Leader of the House would go up.
66 People outside, including the people of Bristol, have their rights. They, at any rate, would have the feeling that they had had a slightly fairer deal. But the Leader of the House in this whole matter becomes stubborn and bending by turns. He comes to the Dispatch Box each time so stubborn. He says he is not going to yield. Then, when he thinks about it a bit later, he yields. He will have to yield again. This time, if he had any grace and generosity in the matter, he could feel here and now that he would not be losing his main argument. He could still present his main argument to the House, but he could also say that the House of Commons is a reasonable body which has a sense of fairness sufficiently to realise that it must respect not only Mr. Benn's rights but the rights of the electors of Bristol, South-East who have changed the situation since we discussed this on the last occasion by expressing their views so forthrightly and clearly.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller)
There is only one thing which the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) has said with which I agree, and that is that we are not on this Motion discussing the law. I must say, having heard most of the speeches this afternoon, that a good many of them—perhaps it was almost inevitable—began to touch on the law. I feel—and I hope the House will agree with me—that we might with advantage soon proceed—and the sooner the better—to discussing the main and substantial question which the House has to consider, the question which will be raised by the Motion of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House which he intends to move, and also, I gather, by the Amendment which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition intends to move to that Motion.
The hon. Member made an appeal that Mr. Benn should be allowed to speak for himself. I am not going to repeat the cogent arguments advanced by my right hon. Friend in dealing with this matter. I certainly could do so, but I do not wish to take up the time of the House in so doing. I would merely say that the House, as my right hon. Friend said, in 1868 transferred the jurisdiction for dealing with election petitions to the Court. That 67 is the place for letting Mr. Benn speak for himself on the issues raised in an election petition. We should, whether it be Mr. Benn or anyone else, be very careful not to seek to take back that jurisdiction which was transferred by Parliament. The only issue, as I see it, on which Mr. Benn could address the House today is the question of his capacity to sit in this House, which is the very matter which must come before that Election Court.
It is all very well to say that if my right hon. Friend took a certain course his stature would go up, but if my right hon. Friend took the wrong course on a constitutional matter like this, in the minds of sensible people his stature would go down. In my view—and I say this to the House with great respect—it would be quite wrong to let anyone come here to the Bar of the House to address the House on the very issues which are now, by operation of the law and by a statute to which this House is a party, transferred to the jurisdiction of the Court. It is for that reason—and that is the only reason that I am going to advance—that I am going to vote against this Motion, and it is exactly the same reason as my right hon. Friend advanced.
I merely conclude these observations by expressing the hope that now that the matter has been very fully ventilated we can reach a decision upon this issue.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
May I ask one question? Was the Government's decision taken before or after an election petition was put down?
§ The Attorney-General
The Government's decision on this Motion was taken after due consideration of the problem involved. May I make this point to the hon. and learned Gentleman? He must—at least, I hope he does—appreciate that if it be the case that Mr. Wedgwood Benn was disqualified on succession to a peerage, and if it be the case that the Motion moved by the Opposition Chief Whip was well founded for the election of someone in the room of Mr. Wedgwood Benn, then it really is somewhat anomalous to expect Mr. Wedgwood Benn to address us in this House.
§ Mr. Paget
My question was surely a simple one. The right hon. and learned 68 Gentleman said that his decision was taken solely because an election petition was put down. I asked him—and he has dodged the answer—whether that Government decision was taken before or after the election petition was put down.
§ The Attorney-General
I did not dodge the answer at all. It is a wholly irrelevant question, for this reason: it was reported in the Press weeks ago, or certainly a week ago, that an election petition would be put down. It was obviously right for the Government to consider the matter having regard to all possibilities. Whatever be the Government's decision on that, whenever it may have been arrived at, it has no bearing on this issue, that, once an election petition is presented, it is wrong, in my submission, for the House to enter into consideration of the very same issues as will come before the Court.
§ Mr. George Brown (Belper)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman relies on that argument, but may I put this to him? Other Members who have been petitioned against have sat in the House while the petitions were down. Let us suppose that Mr. Wedgwood Benn wishes to address us to suggest that he should act in the same way as other Members who have sat in the House while there were petitions against them. [Interruption.] It is difficult for the Attorney-General to hear the question if there are these interruptions. I assure hon. Members that there are precedents. Why should we say that the setting up of the Election Court prevents Mr. Benn arguing that he should sit here, as other Members have sat here, while a petition is down?
§ The Attorney-General
I can reply quite shortly to that. The MacManaway case was no precedent for this because there was no petition in the MacManaway case. Secondly, this case is without a completely close precedent, as my right hon. Friend indicated and as I hope the right hon. Gentleman will accept. Let us not get heated about it.
§ The Attorney-General
I am certainly trying to avoid getting heated. The point here is that the House decided on 13th April that Mr. Benn was disqualified. I 69 submit to the House that, if he did in fact appear, it would not be right to hear him at the present time.
Mr. Brown: I wish to press the right hon. and learned Gentleman again about this. He is now shifting his ground. He said earlier that it would be improper for the House to hear Mr. Benn, for the very powerful reason, he said, which his right hon. Friend had advanced, that by law in 1868 we had transferred the function to the Election Court. I put it to the Attorney-General that there are precedents—I did not mention the MacManaway case—for hon. Members petitioned against and whose petitions had gone to the Election Court sitting here while the Election Court was sitting. If Mr. Wedgwood Benn wished to address us on why he should have the same right, why does the Attorney-General say that it would be improper in this case whereas it happened in the other cases?
§ The Attorney-General
In one sentence, the answer is that, so far as I am aware, there is no precedent for the House being addressed by a person whom the House had so recently declared——
§ The Attorney-General
I am putting it on a different ground, in answer to the right hon. Gentleman.
§ The Attorney-General
The right hon. Gentleman need not make a next speech. I hope that he need not have a next speech. In my speech, I touched on one main ground which I regard as valid. The right hon. Gentleman may disagree with me, as he is entitled to do. He questioned me about why Mr. Wedgwood Benn should not address the House on another issue, an issue other than his capacity to sit in the House, namely, his wish to sit in the House pending the result of the election petition. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, that is a separate question. My answer to it is that there is no precedent for anything 70 of the sort happening. The right hon. Gentleman referred to precedents, but there is no precedent for that sort of thing happening where the House has decided that someone is disqualified from Membership of the House.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
In my view, the issue is quite simple. Are we, as a great historic assembly, to show an act of courtesy to a man who has been declared by the returning officer duly elected as the Member for Bristol, South-East? In support of my suggestion that we should be courteous, I wish to quote some words used by Lord Hugh Cecil on 31st July, 1923, when Mr. Baldwin had moved:That the period of suspension from the service of the House of Mr. Maxton, Mr. Wheatley, Mr. Stephen and Mr. Buchanan do terminate this day.Lord Hugh Cecil said:This is one of the occasions on which we ought to combine to support the dignity and authority of the House. Any student of Parliamentary history must be aware that whenever the House has entered into long and embittered conflict with individuals it has never conduced either to the dignity or the authority of the House. These conflicts have occurred very frequently in the history of the House of Commons, and I think I am right in saying that in no single instance has the House of Commons come out of the conflict with individuals without discredit."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st July, 1923; Vol. 167, c. 1318.]I heard that speech delivered. I know the profound impression it made on the House at the time, when the House was very nervous of the activities of what was then called the Clydeside Group. The House unanimously came to the conclusion that it would not enter into prolonged conflict when some of the more unintelligent of the Members of the Conservative Party of the day thought that it would be a good thing to continue the exclusion of those men from the deliberations of the House.
In this case, we have a man from a family members of which for three succeeding generations have served in the 71 House with distinction and have maintained the highest reputation here. He asks merely that he shall be heard. So impressed were the electors of Bristol by the speech of the Leader of the House when he went down to speak to them that they multiplied Mr. Benn's majority by two-and-a-half times. He fought the election, and his opponent fought the election, on one issue and one issue only. He has had the support of his electorate.
As some of my hon. Friends have said, if we accept the Government's decision we shall be committing not so much an act of discourtesy to Mr. Benn, to whom none of us would wish to be discourteous, but we shall be showing great discourtesy to a great constituency. Let us not forget that we claim our right to be representatives and not delegates
§ because of a letter written by a former Member for Bristol when he was told that he must bow the knee to the authorities who proposed to impose something on his freedom of judgment. This constituency, with a history like that, has the right to think that the thing works both ways and that the House of Commons should accept its views so clearly expressed—in spite of what is said by the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) and because of the speech of the Leader of the House—on the clear issue whether it should listen to the Member who has been declared its Member by the duly appointed returning officer.
§ Question put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 177, Noes 250.75
|Division No. 161.]||AYES||[5.20 p.m.|
|Abse, Leo||Forman, J. C.||Marsh, Richard|
|Ainsley, William||Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Mathew, Robert (Honiton)|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. Hugh||Mayhew, Christopher|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||Mellish, R. J.|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Gourlay, Harry||Mendelson, J. J.|
|Baird, John||Greenwood, Anthony||Millan, Bruce|
|Baxter, William (Stirlingshire, W.)||Grey, Charles||Mitchison, G. R.|
|Bence, Cyril (Dunbartonshire, E.)||Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Monslow, Walter|
|Benson, Sir George||Griffiths, W. (Exchange)||Moody, A. S.|
|Berkeley, Humphry||Grimond, J.||Morris, John|
|Blackburn, F.||Gunter, Ray||Moyle, Arthur|
|Bowden, Herbert W. (Leics, S.W.)||Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Neal, Harold|
|Bowles, Frank||Hamilton, William (West Fife)||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip (Derby, S.)|
|Brockway, A. Fenner||Hart, Mrs. Judith||Oliver, G. H.|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Hayman, F. H.||Oswald, Thomas|
|Brown, Alan (Tottenham)||Healey, Denis||Owen, Will|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Hewitson, Capt. M.||Paget, R. T.|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Hill, J. (Midlothian)||Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)|
|Callaghan, James||Hilton, A. V.||Parker, John|
|Castle, Mrs. Barbara||Holman, Percy||Parkin, B. T.|
|Chapman, Donald||Holt, Arthur||Pavitt, Laurence|
|Chetwynd, George||Houghton, Douglas||Peart, Frederick|
|Cliffe, Michael||Howell, Charles A. (B'ham, Perry Bar)||Popplewell, Ernest|
|Collick, Percy||Howell, Denis (B'ham, Small Heath)||Prentice, R. E.|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Proctor, W. T.|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Hunter, A. E.||Randall, Harry|
|Cronin, John||Hynd, John (Attercliffe)||Rankin, John|
|Crosland, Anthony||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Redhead, E. C.|
|Crossman, R. H. S.||Irving, Sydney (Dartford)||Reid, William|
|Cullen, Mrs. Alice||Jay, Rt. Hon. Douglas||Robertson, J. (Paisley)|
|Darling, George||Jenkins, Roy (Stechford)||Ross, William|
|Davies, Rt. Hn. Clement (Montgomery)||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Royle, Charles (Salford, West)|
|Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)||Kelley, Richard||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Kenyon, Clifford||Short, Edward|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Kerby, Capt. Henry||Skeffington, Arthur|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Slater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.)|
|Deer, George||Kirk, Peter||Slater, Joseph (Sedgefield)|
|de Freitas, Geoffrey||Lee, Frederick (Newton)||Small, William|
|Delargy, Hugh||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Dempsey, James||Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.)||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Donnelly, Desmond||Longden, Gilbert||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Drayson, G. B.||Loughlin, Charles||Stewart, Michael (Fulham)|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. C.||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Stonehouse, John|
|Edelman, Maurice||McCann, John||Stones, William|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||MacColl, James||Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R. (Vauxhall)|
|Edwards, Walter (Stepney)||McInnes, James||Stross, Dr. Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C.)|
|Evans, Albert||McKay, John (Wallsend)||Swingler, Stephen|
|Fernyhough, E.||McLeavy, Frank||Sylvester, George|
|Finch, Harold||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)||Symonds, J. B.|
|Fletcher, Eric||Manuel, A. C.||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Foot, Dingle (Ipswich)||Mapp, Charles||Taylor, John (West Lothian)|
|Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.||Thornton, Ernest|
|Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn||Whitlock, William||Woof, Robert|
|Wads, Donald||Wigg, George||Wyatt, Woodrow|
|Wainwright, Edwin||Wilkins, W. A.||Yates, Victor (Ladywood)|
|Warbey, William||Willey, Frederick||Yates, William (The Wrekin)|
|Weltzman, David||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)||Zilliaous, K.|
|Wells, Percy (Faversham)||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)|
|Wells, William (Walsall, N.)||Willis, E. G. (Edinburgh, E.)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|White, Mrs. Eirene||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)||Mr. Rogers and Mr. Lawson.|
|Allason, James||Fraser, Hn. Hugh (Stafford & Stone)||Macmillan, Rt. Hn. Harold (Bromley)|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. Julian (Preston, N.)||Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)||Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)|
|Arbuthnot, John||Freeth, Denzil||Maddan, Martin|
|Ashton, Sir Hubert||Gardner, Edward||Maginnis, John E.|
|Barlow, Sir John||Goodhart, Philip||Maitland, Sir John|
|Batsford, Brian||Goodhew, Victor||Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.|
|Baxter, Sir Beverley (Southgate)||Gough, Frederick||Markham, Major Sir Frank|
|Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton||Gower, Raymond||Marples, Rt. Hon. Ernest|
|Bell, Ronald||Gresham Cooke, R.||Marshall, Douglas|
|Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)||Grimston, Sir Robert||Matthews, Gordon (Meriden)|
|Bevins, Rt. Hon. Reginald (Toxteth)||Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G.||Maudling, Rt. Hon. Reginald|
|Bingham, R. M.||Gurden, Harold||Mawby, Ray|
|Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.|
|Bishop, F. P.||Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough)||Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Hare, Rt. Hon. John||Mills, Stratton|
|Bossom, Clive||Harris, Reader (Heston)||More, Jasper (Ludlow)|
|Box, Donald||Harrison, Brian (Maldon)||Morrison, John|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. John||Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)||Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)||Nicholson, sir Godfrey|
|Brewis, John||Hastings, Stephen||Noble, Michael|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. Sir Walter||Hay, John||Nugent, Sir Richard|
|Brooman-White, R.||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel||Oakshott, Sir Hendrie|
|Buck, Antony||Henderson, John (Cathcart)||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.|
|Bullard, Denys||Henderson-Stewart, Sir James||Orr-Ewing, C. Ian|
|Bullus, Wing Commander Eric||Hiley, Joseph||Osborn, John (Hallam)|
|Burden, F. A.||Hill, Dr. Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton)||Osborne, Cyril (Louth)|
|Butcher, Sir Herbert||Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk)||Page, John (Harrow, West)|
|Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (Saffron Walden)||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Page, Graham (Crosby)|
|Campbell, Sir David (Belfast, S.)||Hirst, Geoffrey||Pannell, Norman (Kirkdale)|
|Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn)||Hobson, John||Pearson, Frank (Clitheroe)|
|Carr, Compton (Barons Court)||Hocking, Philip N.||Peel, John|
|Carr, Robert (Mitcham)||Holland, Philip||Percival, Ian|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Hollingworth, John||Pickthorn, Sir Kenneth|
|Channon, H. P. G.||Hopkins, Alan||Pike, Miss Mervyn|
|Chataway, Christopher||Hornby, R. P.||Pilkington, Sir Richard|
|Clark, Henry (Antrim, N.)||Howard, Hon. G. R. (St. Ives)||Pitt, Miss Edith|
|Clark, Willam (Nottingham, S.)||Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral John||Pott, Percivail|
|Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)||Hughes-Young, Michael||Powell, Rt. Hon. J. Enoch|
|Cleaver, Leonard||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Cole, Norman||Iremonger, T. L.||Prior, J. M. L.|
|Collard, Richard||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Prior-Palmer, Brig. Sir Otho|
|Cooke, Robert||Jackson, John||Proudfoot, Wilfred|
|Cooper-Key, Sir Neill||James, David||Pym, Francis|
|Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.||Jennings, J. C.||Quennell, Miss J. M.|
|Cordle, John||Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)||Ramsden, James|
|Corfield, F. V.||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Rawlinson, Peter|
|Costain, A. P.||Johnson Smith, Geoffrey||Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin|
|Coulson, J. M.||Jones, Rt. Hn. Aubrey (Hall Green)||Renton, David|
|Courtney, Cdr. Anthony||Joseph, Sir Keith||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Craddock, Sir Beresford||Kerans, Cdr. J. S.||Rippon, Geoffrey|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Kershaw, Anthony||Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)|
|Cunningham, Knox||Kltson, Timothy||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard|
|Curran, Charles||Langford-Holt, J.||Russell, Ronald|
|Dalkeith, Earl of||Leavey, J. A.||Sandys, Rt. Hon. Duncan|
|Dance, James||Leburn, Gilmour||Scott-Hopkins, James|
|d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry||Seymour, Leslie|
|Deedes, W. F.||Lewis Kenneth (Rutland)||Sharples, Richard|
|Digby, Simon Wingfield||Lilley F. J. P.||Shaw, M.|
|Doughty, Charles||Lindsay, Martin||Shepherd, William|
|du Cann, Edward||Litchfield, Capt. John||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir Jocelyn|
|Duthle, Sir William||Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey (Sut'nC'dfield)||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Eccles, Rt. Hon. Sir David||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)||Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'rd & Chiswick)|
|Eden, John||Longbottom, Charles||Smithers, Peter|
|Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)||Loveys, Walter H.||Soames, Rt. Hon. Christopher|
|Emery, Peter||Low, Rt. Hon. Sir Toby||Spearman, Sir Alexander|
|Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Speir, Rupert|
|Errington, Sir Eric||McAdden, Stephen||Stanley, Hon. Richard|
|Erroll, Rt. Hon. F. J.||McLaren, Martin||Steward, Harold (Stookport, S.)|
|Farr, John||McLaughlin, Mrs. Patricia||Storey, Sir Samuel|
|Finlay, Graeme||Maclay, Rt. Hon. John||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Fisher, Nigel||Maclean, SirFitzroy (Bute & N. Ayrs.)||Sumner, Donald (Orpington)|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield, W.)||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Forrest, George||McMaster, Stanley R.||Taylor, W. J. (Bradford, N.)|
|Temple, John M.||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)||Walder, David||Wise, A. R.|
|Thomas, Peter (Conway)||Walker, Peter||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hon. Sir Derek||Woodhouse, C. M.|
|Thorneycroft, Rt. Hon. Peter||Ward, Dame Irene||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Tilney, John (Wavertree)||Watkinson, Rt. Hon. Harold.||Woollam, John|
|Turner, Colin||Watts, James||Worsley, Marcus|
|Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.||Webster, David|
|van Straubenzee, W. R.||Wells, John (Maidstone)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Vane, W. M. F.||Whitelaw, William||Mr. Gibson-Watt and|
|Vickers, Miss Joan||Williams, Dudley (Exeter)||Mr. Chichester-Clark|
|Vosper, Rt. Hon. Dennis||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)|
§ 5.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Bowles
On a point of order. I have not seen any printed notice of the Motion that the right hon. Gentleman proposes to move. It is not on the Order Paper. I should like to have your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, on how it is possible for an oral or manuscript Motion to be moved at this time.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Gordon Touche)
It is a Privilege Motion and is entitled to be moved without notice.
§ Mr. Bowles
Further to that point of order. In his earlier speech the right hon. Gentleman said that he would deal with the point that I raised in the, question that I put to him. I have not had a chance to see whether the Motion covers the point that I raised. Could not this Motion be postponed for a day? Surely it should have been put on the Order Paper.
§ Mr. Butler
I beg to move,That this House, taking note that Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn ceased to be a Member of this House on succession to the Viscounty of Stansgate on 17th November, 1960, and that a new Writ was issued for the electing of a Member in the room of the said Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn, orders that the said Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn, otherwise Viscount Stansgate, be not permitted to enter the Chamber unless the House otherwise orders.I will do my best to cover the various parts of this Motion in the remarks which I am about to make. I would say first to the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) that this is a question of Privilege, or, rather, a question of emergency. That is to say, it would be impossible to foresee the possibility of putting down a Motion in the same way as the Government are not aware of the details, although they have a suspicion of the terms, of the Amendment which will be moved shortly by the
§ Opposition. Therefore, both sides of the House are in the same position. I am moving this Motion to deal with the present position and I understand that the Opposition propose to move an Amendment to my Motion.
§ Mr. Bowles
On a point of order. How do the Opposition know what Motion is to be moved by the right hon. Gentleman when the House does not know? How can they decide upon an Amendment to it?
§ Mr. Bowles
It is putting the House in an awkward position. We do not know what the Government are moving. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Butler
As the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) has said, hon. Members will make up their minds as we go along. No doubt, having heard the terms of my Motion, the Opposition will not have much doubt of the terms of their Amendment. Indeed, there is already on the Order Paper a notice of Motion for which no day has been fixed. That gives one a fairly clear idea of how their minds are working. I do not know what the Opposition's Amendment will be, but that gives one a fairly clear idea about it.
I want to deal with the present position and to say something about the future. That will take up what I said earlier to the hon. Member for Nuneaton, because I shall bring all that into the remarks that I propose to make. It is not the object of the Motion to prejudge the issue before the Election Court. Its object is to maintain the status quo pending the decision of that Court. Therefore, it is up to me, according to Mr. Speaker's Ruling, to prove the various propositions in the Motion and then to hope that it will be carried by the House. [An HON. MEMBER: "With a three-line Whip."]
77 The first proposition in the Motion is that Mr. Wedgwood Benn succeeded to the Viscounty of Stansgate on 17th November, 1960. This has already been accepted by the House, but I think that I should use further arguments to substantiate that first part of my Motion on this occasion.
At the request of the Committee of Privileges, Mr. Benn produced the evidence which clearly showed that he had succeeded and it was established that he had become a peer. If hon. Members examine the Report of the Committee of Privileges, they will find this set out in paragraph 2, on page iii of the Report of the Committee of Privileges, which runs as follows:At the request of your Committee Mr. Wedgwood Benn produced the Letters Patent of the Viscounty of Stansgate, the marriage and death certificates of the late Viscount Stansgate, the birth and death certificates of his elder brother and a birth certificate bearing his name. He also produced an affidavit sworn by Margaret, Viscountess Stansgate, wherein she deposed that her elder son died unmarried and that the birth certificate bearing Mr. Wedgwood Benn's name in fact related to him.Indeed, this fact was accepted not only by Mr. Benn, but by the hon. and learned Member for Ipswich (Mr. D. Foot), who gave evidence on behalf of Mr. Benn. The hon. and learned Member took great care to give us full evidence on his behalf and in Question 218 of the Questions added to the Report, my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General said to the hon. and learned Member for Ipswich:You said in your answer to Mr. Davies that you accepted the position (leaving the question of the effect of the instrument of renunciation on one side) that Mr. Benn became a peer on the death of his father?The hon. and learned Member answeredYes.Then follows Question 219:That is to say, you accept he was heir to the viscounty?—Yes.220. And as such entitled to claim his Writ of Summons if he wanted to?—Yes.So far, I think that I have substantiated the early part of the Motion that I have moved.
The Committee of Privileges found, and its view was accepted by the House on 13th April, that Mr. Benn was disqualified from membership of this House by reason of the fact that he had become a peer.
78 The hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins) asked me a question which I thought I would answer in the course of this speech—as, indeed, the hon. Member asked me to do: what is the position under the law? If the hon. Member turns to paragraph 16 of the Report of the Committee of Privileges on the question of the disqualification of a peer, he will see that it reads as follows:In the opinion of Your Committee it is the law that the fact of succession to a peerage disqualifies from membership of the House of Commons, and this disqualification does not, where there is succession, depend on receipt of a Writ of Summons to sit in the House of Lords.Further, in paragraph 6, contesting the validity of this, the Committee said—and this is the direct answer to the hon. Member for Bristol, South—thatIn their opinion it is settled law and not open to dispute.The hon. Member referred to the television appearance of a constitutional lawyer, and so I go on to say this, which will be found in paragraph 6 of the Report of the Committee of Privileges:It is not to be found in any statute nor in decisions of the Courts of law. It is, nevertheless, agreed by legal authorities to be part of the common law of England, and as such binding on Your Committee and on each House of Parliament.This is the important part that I want to speak about later in my opening speech on the Motion. The Committee said:It can be altered only by an Act of Parliament, and not by the resolution of either House nor by the decision of a Committee of either House.That is vital to our proceedings today, because if, as I understand, the Opposition wish to move a Motion to effect that Mr. Benn should take his seat by a Resolution of this House, that has already been answered by the Committee of Privileges in stating:It can be altered only by an Act of Parliament, and not by the resolution of either House nor by the decision of a Committee of either House.That is vital to the whole consideration of this matter, and I shall show that the Government are not taking up a wholly negative attitude to this question. We have proposals under which it may or may not be possible to alter the law of the land, but if the law of the land is to be altered, it cannot be altered by Resolution of this House alone. It has to be altered by Statute which passes 79 through both Houses, receives the Queen's consent and is the result of a Bill. That makes our task very much easier today in deciding the issues that are at stake, because I do not want in my speech to prejudge or to destroy the future.
The next point raised by Mr. Benn in his submissions to us, together, with the non. and learned Member for Ipswich, was that he had renounced the peerage. The Committee of Privileges examined this carefully and after quoting every legal authority right up to the Rhondda Case in this century, came to the conclusion, in paragraph 24 of its Report, thatno legal authority either before or after 1626 has been cited in support of the proposition that the law permits the surrender of peerages.The House will therefore see that the law as settled law is clear, both as regards the disqualification of a peer to enter this House as a Member and, secondly, as regards the renunciation of peerages. That, again, makes my task easier in moving this Motion today.
I should like to say to right hon. and hon. Members opposite, especially to those who served on the Select Committee, that I do not think they differed in general apart from forms of expression as to the conclusion about settled law. No doubt, the right hon. Gentle-man who succeeds me can express his opinion. As Chairman of Committee of Privileges, I was of the impression that the differences arose mainly on action to be taken in the future and not as regards settled law. I am sure that the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), on the Liberal benches, a prominent Member of the House, would agree with that conclusion.
Having dealt with the question of the state of the law in relation to Mr. Benn, the question now is whether, pending the decision of the Election Court, this House should change the decision it has already made on 13th April. I confess I see no reason why we should. The verdict of the electors of Bristol, South-East, however much we all should and must respect the verdict of the electors, does not make Mr. Wedgwood Benn any less a peer, if he was a peer when the election started. Nor can it make the renunciation of his peerage legally 80 effective. For this House to change the decision reached on 13th April and now to admit Mr. Benn to the Chamber would, therefore, be unjustified.
The right course for the House is to preserve the status quo till the report of the Election Court is received. That is the answer to the hon. Member for Nuneaton. If he is held by the Election Court to be legally qualified to sit, then the reason for the words at the end of my Motionunless the House otherwise orderswill be understood, because the House will be able to reconsider the matter. I am in fact moving a Motion which to some extent must depend upon the verdict of the Election Court, and so we should maintain the status quo till the report is received.
In the course of our debate on the previous Motion there was raised the question of nomination and the question of eligibility to sit in this House. Some may be under the impression that the acceptance of Mr. Benn's nomination meant that he was eligible to sit. But that is not the case. The returning officer is only given power by Statute to reject or refuse a nomination paper on two grounds, namely, that the particulars of the candidate or the persons subscribing the paper are not as required by law, and that the paper is not subscribed as required by law. This comes in paragraph 13 (2) of the Second Schedule to the Representation of the People Act. 1949. It is quite easy to be nominated, and there is a vast difference between the strictness of the law in relation to nomination and the strictness of the law in relation to eligibility to sit in Parliament. The question of eligibility to sit in Parliament is quite another matter from the question of nomination. The law on eligibility is far stricter than the law on nomination. I do not want to repeat myself, but the law on the qualification of a peer to sit is made clear in paragraphs 6 to 10 of the Select Committee's Report, and on the question of renunciation of peerage, and this Report is subscribed by prominent Members of this House and approved by the House on 13th April, and it is perfectly clear from that that a peer cannot in law renounce his peerage.
I fully understand how strong the views of the House may be and also 81 views in the country, and I fully accept the strictures of the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell) and others who have spoken in this debate. One expects criticism and one expects to have difficulty on a personal occasion of this sort, but what I am quite satisfied is true is this. What my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General said when he intervened, that all we on this side were trying to do was to respect the law, is perfectly true, and while we may not be taking the popular course I would rather fulfil my duties as Leader of the House in observing and maintaining the law as it stands than break the law or make any precedent which I thought undesirable. That is the main issue of this debate, and the more we stand on that issue the better we shall be.
Some people try to represent that it is just the Government keeping Mr. Benn out of the House of Commons. That is not the case.
§ Mr. Butler
I shall come to the question of a Bill in a moment.
As I say, that is not the case. Mr. Benn is disqualified by law for membership of the House, and the Government would be failing in their duty if they did not seek to secure the observance of the law.
It is obvious—in answer to the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr Loughlin)—that the law can be changed, and the first step that should be taken before a change in a matter of this sort is made is consultation with the House of Lords. If hon. Members will examine carefully the Select Committee's Report, paragraphs 28 and 29, and the Amendments moved by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) and the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), they will see that there was no difference of opinion between Members on either side of the House who were in the Committee of Privileges—the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery on the Liberal benches nods his head—there was no difference of opinion at all that, if we were to go forward from here, it must be in consultation with the House of Lords. The Amendment moved by the right hon. Member for South Shields purposely 82 mentioned consultation with the House of Lords and the hon. and learned Member for Kettering's Amendment also mentioned consultation with the House of Lords. That was recognised by the Leader of the Opposition and his colleagues on the Committee of Privileges, in the Amendments they moved and the Amendments they voted on and supported, as shown in the Report of the Select Committee.
That consultation will take place if the Motion which the Government have tabled on the appointment of a Joint Select Committee—which we are not discussing today—is accepted. Legislation is necessary to change the law on this, and legislation could be introduced after the report of the Joint Select Committee which we suggest. I hope naturally that hon. and right hon. Members opposite will join in that work, but I think it would be quite wrong to press that matter in the debate today.
§ Sir Kenneth Pickthorn (Carlton)
My right hon. Friend said just now that legislation is necessary to change the law in this regard. I do not wish at all to indicate whether my desire is that the law should or should not be changed in this regard, but I take it that my right hon. Friend's words do not mean to assume that here and now the law ought to be changed in this regard?
§ Mr. Butler
I am obliged to my hon. Friend. The position is that no decision can be taken for changing the law till there has been an examination by a Joint Committee, and if my wording was inaccurate it has been corrected.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
I wonder if the right hon. Gentleman would help me and, no doubt, other hon. Members to follow his argument. I understood him to say earlier that there is a petition to the Election Court. Let us assume that the Election Court decides that Mr. Benn's position is legalised; that is to say, that as a result of the election and his majority he is entitled to be a Member of this House. Is it necessary then to proceed further? Or will there be a conflict between the decision of the Election Court and the Government's decision to refer the matter to a Select Committee?
§ Mr. Butler
No. As I understand the position from consultation before taking 83 part in this debate, the position would be that the determination of the Election Court, under the Representation of the People Act, 1949—Section 124—would be final.
§ Mr. Shinwell
This, of course, is a very interesting point; a very interesting point indeed. We assume that the decision of the Election Court will come very shortly. Therefore, it would seem that it would be better to wait in order to have the decision of the Election Court before the Government make up their mind, one, that there must be consultation with the House of Lords, and two, that a Bill is required in order to legalise Mr. Benn's position.
§ Mr. Butler
Yes. I am only saying that the position about a Bill would arise in the event of the Election Court's deciding that Mr. Benn's eligibility was not legal, and if it decides that it is legal, then the wisdom of inserting those words at the end of my Motion—unless the House otherwise orders"—becomes apparent, as I said to the hon. Member for Nuneaton. That is another reason for our taking care about consultation with the right hon. Gentleman opposite and hon. Members on both sides of the House before we take the further step in relation to the setting up of the Joint Select Committee.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Do I understand that if the Election Court so decided about the eligibility of Mr. Benn there can be no question of the House disagreeing with that decision?
§ Mr. Butler
I have Section 124 of the Representation of the People Act, 1949, before me, which I had already looked up before speaking. It states:… the determination so certified shall be final to all intents and purposes …It is always inadvisable for this House as the High Court of Parliament to quarrel with the courts, and if the court came to such a decision I am afraid that the House would be wrong to quarrel with that decision.
§ Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is 84 not suggesting that the proposed Joint Committee with wide terms of reference is a compliance with what I asked for in the Amendment which I moved in the Committee of Privileges. What we asked for in that Amendment was simply on the question of renunciation and its effect. We did not ask for any general reform of the House of Lords, and we should not have considered it relevant.
§ Mr. Butler
No words of mine were intended to prove that the hon. and learned Member or the right hon. Member for South Shields attempted otherwise in their Amendments than to suggest that this particular case, namely, the question of the renunciation of a peerage and so forth, should be dealt with other than by concert with the House of Lords, which is legally and absolutely correct. I accept that they never went further.
As to the future, and in reply to the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), supposing in the event that the Election Court decided against the eligibility of Mr. Benn, it may be necessary to look to the future for the steps to be taken to deal with the situation. I maintain what I said on 13th April in debate and in my further statement on 26th April, that it is impossible to envisage such legislation as being simple. Even on the issue of renunciation of a peerage, there are a great variety of possibilities, for example whether it should be for life or for ever, about which there is a lot of controversy both here and in another place.
Moreover, there are other methods by which peers could be rendered eligible to sit in the House. I have in mind the White Paper issued in August 1948. The proposal there is subparagraph (8) on page 3 was to the effect that peers who were not Lords of Parliament should be entitled to stand for election to the House of Commons and also to vote at elections in the same manner as other citizens. There are a great variety of possibilities. Lord Hall at the time paid tribute to the Opposition, namely the Conservative Party, for the constructive part it took in these suggestions.
The House, therefore, would be extremely wrong to think that there is a possibility of settling this matter by one simple Bill—which was referred to in a previous debate—brought in at a week's notice and passed through the House and 85 another place without consideration. It would simply be wrong in relation to the complexity of the problem and of our normal way of doing things under the British constitution. Much the same difficulties were raised in 1948 under the Labour Government as are before us now and there is the problem of other cases which are absolutely analogous of that of Mr. Benn.
I am certain that my colleagues on the Committee of Privileges would agree that there was no lack of courtesy to Mr. Benn. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why should there be."] No, certainly there should not be, but I believe that there is a strong feeling that his personal case should not be considered alone. There are a great number of analogous cases not only of peeresses but of Scottish and Irish peers and others who would wish their cases to be looked into just as much as Mr. Benn's at present.
§ Mr. Donald Chapman (Birmingham, Northfield)
In earlier speeches referring to Mr. Benn and others, the right hon. Gentleman has said that none of this legislation could be retrospective. He kept saying "Never retrospective". What does the right hon. Gentleman mean by that? Will he say that it is quite open for the law to be changed so that existing peerages can be renounced?
§ Mr. Butler
I have not used the word "retrospective" today. I think that we must leave it absolutely open to the Joint Committee to decide, if it wishes, that existing peers should have an option and it would be wrong to muddle the issue by using the word "retrospective" on this occasion.
§ Mr. Chapman
But the right hon. Gentleman used the word in debate on another occasion about Mr. Benn and we have not been clear about what he meant.
§ Mr. Butler
This is a very complicated matter but I think I can explain. I spoke from memory of paragraph 28 of the Report of the Committee of Privileges, where the Committee states that it did not consider that retrospective legislation relating to Mr. Benn was wise. In relation to the remit of a future Select Committee I would not like to limit the Committee in any way. It must be a matter for the Committee itself. In that case if an existing peer had an option it might 86 be regarded by some as retrospective. My use of the word "retrospective" came from paragraph 28 of that Report.
In view of what I have said, I do not think that hon. and right hon. Members opposite can think that we are holding back in any way in dealing with the future. As far as I know, the only difference between us is, as I said on 13th April in debate, that we suggested setting up a Joint Select Committee and I said that this matter must be dealt with on a broad canvas. Our idea in dealing with it on a broad canvas is not to obstruct any future reform that may be made but because we believe that there are a variety of reforms relating to the position of the Upper House which, to use the famous words of the Liberal Government of fifty years ago, "brook no delay." They have brooked no delay ever since. We have been in the van of progress in the reform of the House of Lords. In 1948, in 1950 and in 1953 and in our proposal for life peers we have always been in the van of reform.
If I thought that it would conduce to the quicker dispatch of business, I would request an interview with the Leader of the Opposition this evening and ask him whether he would wish us to move formally—and it would have to be formally because there is no suspension today—a Motion that a Joint Committee be set up. We should have no objection. If the right hon. Gentleman wished me to move that formally at a later hour tonight I would do so.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
Would the right hon. Gentleman then please alter the terms of reference as we requested?
§ Mr. Butler
That is a matter for discussion. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It is a matter for discussion because—[HON. MEMBERS: "Move the suspension."] We cannot move the suspension because we have not given notice. If we moved our Motion tonight it would have to go through without discussion. If hon. and right hon. Members opposite are not prepared to accept that Motion as it stands I would not wish to force it through this evening.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
The right hon. Gentleman said something which is quite important. He said that the question of changing the term of reference was a matter for discussion. On the last 87 occasion when that question was raised the right hon. Gentleman refused point blank to change them. Has he changed his mind?
§ Mr. Butler
No, Sir. We consider that terms of reference including the composition of the House of Lords are necessary to have a proper review. The discussions that I would have with the right hon. Gentleman, if we take the earliest opportunity of moving this Motion, would be with a view to having as much collaboration as possible. If the right hon. Gentleman would agree to a Motion in those terms I should be glad to have them.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
The right hon. Gentleman has suggested that before the end of the day he would be prepared to move a Motion to set up a Joint Select Committee of the Lords and Commons as long as it could go through without discussion. Is he aware that some of us think that such a Motion ought to be debated, because we do not think that such a cumbersome and rather antiquated machinery should be used? We feel that this is a doubtful type of machinery even if we had the will to examine the proposal.
§ Mr. Butler
That is all the more reason why there should be consideration through the usual channels about the setting up of this Committee. We consider that the consultation with the House of Lords has been blessed by the Amendments moved by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering and the right hon. Member for South Shields—I will not do any offence to the hon. and learned Gentleman's Amendment—and we think that some method of consultation with the House of Lords is necessary if we are to make progress.
We think that the argument for including a variety of cases in addition to that of Mr. Wedgwood Benn is quite unanswerable at the present time. We also think that there are other matters relating to the composition of the House of Lords which should be examined at the same time. Therefore, I adhere absolutely to the statement which I made on 13th April, that this matter should be looked at on a broad canvas and that we are much more likely to get a successful reform in that way.
To sum up what I have been saying, the House is not being asked today to 88 decide against Mr. Wedgwood Benn. it is not in a position today when it can resolve this issue. It cannot by resolution, as I have shown in my speech, remove a disqualification. The House should maintain the status quo pending the decision of the Election Court. That is what this Motion seeks to achieve, and I ask the House to carry it. Whatever the report from the Court may be. I hope hon. Members opposite will join with us and with members of the other House in considering what, if any, changes should be made in the law. As I have previously indicated, there is no desire on our part to obstruct that beneficient matter.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Mr. George Brown (Belper)
On an occasion when the House is being asked virtually to make history and to deal with a fundamental issue, I must confess that my feeling, on listening to the three Government Front Bench speeches which we have so far heard, is that of an extraordinary sense of its falling below the level there. The ground has been changed—[Laughter.] Hon. Members may speak for themselves, but laughter is no speech. The ground has been changed at every point when a Minister has spoken. Assertions have been made about the position on which right hon. Gentlemen opposite are taking their stand. Whenever they have been challenged, they have immediately in the subsequent comments moved the ground completely.
I think that this is one of the items of evidence that the Government are not dealing with this matter at all in the sense of a House of Commons occasion, but are thinking of some other business of their own. We have had a perfect example of that in the way in which the Leader of the House has just moved the Motion. He began by saying that he assumed that the Amendment which we might be moving—I shall move it shortly—would be in conflict with the Committee of Privileges. As far as I can see, his whole intention was to build up an impression in the House that the Committee of Privileges had come to certain decisions. He did not use the word "unanimous", but the constant references to the Committee carried an implication of that kind and that we had somehow to accept certain decisions.
89 What the right hon. Gentleman did not say, and what I think ought, in fairness, to have been made perfectly plain, was that some of us who were on the Committee tried repeatedly to amend the Report, not only, as the right hon. Gentleman said, in forms of expression but in forms of expression which would have fundamentally changed the Report which was issued. That was the whole purpose of trying to change the expressions. We tried repeatedly to amend the Report and we were repeatedly voted down by a majority from the opposite side, although on one occasion—admittedly, on an Amendment which was not moved by us, but it was one which fitted in with what were seeking to do—we were voted down only by the casting vote of the Chairman. Having done all that, we then voted against the Committee's Report as a whole. The right hon. Gentleman did not inform the House of that.
Therefore, there is really no conflict here, but, as I shall try to show in a moment, what I think the Home Secretary and a number of people are missing is that the holding of a by-election arising out of a series of actions by the Government has created a completely new situation. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] If hon. Members will do me the courtesy of listening to my argument, maybe they will still think that the situation has not been changed, but they will at least know why I think it has. Obviously, we cannot proceed now, after the holding of the by-election, as though we were considering the Report of the Committee of Privileges at its first meeting.
On the question of settled law and what was held to be settled law, let me make this perfectly plain to the Home Secretary. The object of the debate is to determine what future action shall be taken. It is about what the position shall be hereafter. The fact that, on the Committee of Privileges, we found that after a particular date it appeared to come to be regarded that the legal position was different from what it was before that date does not preclude this House from deciding that the position in future should be different from what it has come to be regarded as. That is the purpose of the debate, and that is what we are arguing about.
The Home Secretary said that he was against creating precedents. He then 90 added, as a bit of an afterthought, "Bad ones" or "mistaken ones". The classic answer all through history to any of our progress or development has always been that the Establishment has been against making a precedent. Precedents have, from its point of view, always been regarded as mistaken ones. That is the way in which the conflict between authority and the people has developed.
The Home Secretary said that he was including as the last few words in his Motion, "unless the House otherwise orders" to protect the position of this House, but, of course, he meant "for Mr. Benn" in the event of the Election Court finding that he is eligible to sit. It is very much a piece of our case that we ought to protect his position from hereon, from the holding of his by-election with the winning of his seat. I shall proceed to move words to that purpose.
Before I do so, we really ought to get rid of the Home Secretary's obviously very carefully prepared piece at the end, his reference to his willingness tonight to move a Motion that a Joint Select Committee be set up if my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition would agree immediately to take it without discussion. This was a very heavily prepared piece of spontaneous debate. It was not really up to the usual level. If one looks at the statement of the Leader of the House in the OFFICIAL REPORT for 26th April, the date when he introduced the idea of a Joint Select Committee, one sees just how little there is in his apparent intention to make us an offer. He was at that time answering a request by my right hon. Friend to elucidate what he had in mind.
I must make it perfectly plain that it is a rather peculiar procedure to make us an offer if only we will accept something without discussion when the offer is made without there being any consultation with us. If it had been the Government's intention to do something in the spirit in which the Home Secretary spoke today, they would obviously have consulted us before they got to this point. The right hon. Gentleman said:As to widening the terms of reference, this is the opposite to the right hon. Gentleman's opening gambit. It is not intended to deal with powers. We have examined the precedents in this matter and we consider that there will not be any fruitful result from an examination of powers. We consider that 91 the question should be restricted to the composition of the Upper House."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th April, 1961; Vol. 639, c. 426.]That was a firm declaration about what was in and what was not in the terms of reference. Subsequently, many questions were put to the right hon. Gentleman, all trying to find out whether there was any room for consultation, or for getting together on this issue. But, after my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition had again asked whether he was prepared to consider any alteration or Amendment in the terms of reference, the right hon. Gentleman added:The answer to the latter part of the right hon. Gentleman's question is 'No'. The Government have decided. I informed the right hon. Gentleman of the nature of the decision that we had taken in this respect."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th April, 1961; Vol. 639, c. 431.]After his having acted in that highhanded and arbitrary way, it is somewhat peculiar that he should come here today and try to mislead us into believing that he is making an offer. That "offer" was intended to create a little bit of atmosphere and, like his whole proposal, is quite clearly not a starter.
I beg to move, in line 1, to leave out from "that" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:the electors of South-East Bristol have returned Mr. Anthony. Neil Wedgwood Benn as their Member, resolves that, notwithstanding the Resolution of this House of 13th April last, the oath be administered to Mr. Benn and that he do take his seat.I move the Amendment because we on this side of the House believe that a completely new situation has now arisen as a result of the holding of the by-election. If I am told that our Amendment is not supported by all the precedents that can be found, or, indeed, that it is not supported by any precedents—which I do not believe is true—I would still move it, for we believe that the absence of precedents is no barrier. We are, if hon. Members wish us to put it like this, asking the House to make history and to take a decision in the light of the circumstances.
We make it clear that we believe that precedents should properly be considered by the House—should, perhaps, even influence us—but that it is an absolute negation of democracy to argue that precedents should bind us. Yet that is what 92 the Leader of the House has been arguing. He has been asking us not merely to consider precedents, but also never to go against them. But if that attitude were to rule our proceedings, the Mother of Parliaments would become a farce.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
Considering precedents from another aspect—that of Members sitting while proceedings are pending—does the right hon. Gentleman think it desirable, as a general principle, that a person should sit in this House during the week or two that the election petition is under consideration?
§ Mr. Doughty rose——
§ Mr. Brown
No, I cannot give way. I wish to develop my point. I believe that we should take that action, just as our predecessors would have done better to have seated Mr. Wilkes when he first came to the House instead of seating him after three references back to his constituents.
There is a very large measure of agreement in the country about the need for a change in the law. That agreement arises among informed opinion among the people at large. I gather than some hon. Members opposite think the same. I hope to prove one of our propositions that in no other way than by seating Mr. Benn shall we get a change in the law.
§ Mr. Brown
The right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) was not present for part of the earlier debate.
There is nothing in the history of what the Government have done so far in the Benn case that does not support the suspicion that they have done anything other than what they have been forced to do by developing events. At every stage the Leader of the House has only moved to try to cut off events as they 93 shifted away from the position which he had previously taken up. Let us look at the sequence of events.
It is true that the Report of the Committee of Privileges, as adopted by the majority of members of that Committee, noted chat the law after the sixteenth century had come to be regarded as rendering peers ineligible to sit in the House of Commons. I do not want to dispute that at the moment. I am not concerned just now with whether or not there is such a law. The Labour members on the Committee said—and this goes back to the intervention of the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey—that if that was the state of the law, then changes were required, and they moved Amendments to try to ensure that this was done. Every one of those Amendments was voted down by the majority on the Committee of Privileges.
There was no indication then—and, more important, no indication when the Committee's Report came to the House—that the Government would like to move on the matter, but thought that the House should do something different from what we suggested. The Government never said that they did not like the Amendments moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) because they thought the object could be achieved in another way. All the Government did was to block our proposals.
The matter then came to the Floor of the House. The Government put on the Whips to force through their own determination, against the view of a number of hon. Members opposite, that nothing should be done at all. Having defeated our Motion on 13th April, there was no alternative left. Whether the Government realised that they were bringing the next step about, I do not know, but that step was quite clearly for Mr. Benn to take the matter to the people, to challenge the Government before the people, and to seek the people's verdict on the Government's action. That he did.
Now we come to the next step. The campaign began to go very badly for the Government. Ministers who went to Bristol did not by any means have a very rewarding time. The Leader of the House 94 was over-generous to his colleagues, and too modest to himself, in thinking that it was only his speech that put Mr. Benn's majority up from 5,000 to 13,000.
I think that the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey, who went there very early in the campaign, had already started the process before the Home Secretary arrived. I am also bound to say that whatever the Home Secretary had left undone the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance finished completely on the eve of the poll. However, as in one case his audience barely got into double figures, it must be conceded that he probbably did not have very much to do with Mr. Benn's 13,000 majority. The Campaign went smash, and nobody who reads the papers, or was there, or who has talked to people who were there will dispute that.
At the same time, individual Members on the Government side began to rebel. They began to go to Bristol and speak, or to say that they would, or to write letters, or to make statements about Mr. Benn's case. It was only at that stage that the Home Secretary introduced his proposal for a Joint Select Committee. It was only when matters had gone through all those procedures and when the right hon. Gentleman was in some trouble.
§ Mr. Peter Tapsell (Nottingham, West)
As one of those who has pressed throughout for reform of the House of Lords on as wide a front as possible, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to accept that that proposal was put in the form of a Motion, in the names of a number of my hon. Friends, and that its spirit was accepted a considerable time before polling day?
§ [That this House, having agreed with the Committee of Privileges in their Report concerning Mr. Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn, urges Her Majesty's Government to take steps to move for the appointment of a joint committee of both Houses of Parliament with such terms of reference as would require the committee to make specific recommendations for legislation to permit in appropriate circumstances, the renunciation of peerages on inheritance]
§ Mr. Brown
I am not disputing that. I thought that I had made it clear that a number of Conservative back benchers had played a part in all this, but I said 95 that the Home Secretary, in his stonewalling manner of the 1930s, his very best performance, showed absolutely no signs of giving way to the demands for a Select Committee, or review, or anything else, until the middle of the campaign when things were getting into a mess.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler
This is an argument which the right hon. Gentleman cannot sustain. If he looks at the report of my speech on 13th April, he will find that in six different places I referred to the possibility of future reform, notably, in column 572 and column 573 where I used the expression:much broader basis".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th April, 1961; Vol. 638, c. 573.]In each of those places I referred to the possibility of constitutional reform of the House of Lords.
§ Mr. Chapman
My right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) may care to refer the right hon. Gentleman to column 570 where, after quoting the Motion of his hon. Friends, he said:The Government have decided that it is not in the interests of the body politic at the present moment to set up such a joint committee."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th April, 1961; Vol. 638, c. 570.]It was only when there were outraged protests from the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) that the tight hon. Gentleman began to give way.
§ Mr. Butler
That is the second time that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman) has been inaccurate about a document in relation to this debate. I was referring to the Amendment in the name of my hon. Friends the Members for Heywood and Royton (Mr. Leavey) and Middleton and Prestwich (Sir J. Barlow). Their Joint Select Committee was to makespecific recommendations for legislation to permit, in appropriate circumstances, the renunciation of peerages on inheritance.I said that we would not set up a Select Committee of that sort, but in the course of my speech I envisaged, particularly at column 573, that we would set up a Committee to deal with the matter on a proper basis. That was a perfectly clear answer.
§ Mr. Brown
This is all very enjoyable, but the trouble is that one loses one's 96 own best shots because they are already fired.
However, it supports my argument that there has been a shifting of ground all the way through. The Home Secretary will consult his own interests if he admits that all he said was that the Governmentdo not exclude the possiblityandsuch a possibility was not remoteanda definite responsibility".There were a number of such vague references, but the issue was whether Mr. Wedgwood Benn's case could be referred to a Joint Committee of both Houses, and on that the right hon. Gentleman said:It would be a great pity if we had any misunderstanding and any belief that we proposed to do it. It is not our intention so to do."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th April, 1961; Vol. 638, c. 570.]That could not be firmer and it was only when the campaign began to go wrong that the right hon. Gentleman came along with a proposal for a Joint Select Committee to do the very thing which he had said that it was the Government's intention not to do and about which it would be a great pity if we had any misunderstanding.
§ Mr. Butler
The right hon. Gentleman is getting excited by his own verbosity. We have made it perfectly clear from the start that the terms of reference of our Joint Select Committee should be on a broad basis, taking three heads—the composition, the question of the future possibility of renunciation of peerages of a variety of sorts, and the question of remuneration. I hope that right hon. Gentlemen opposite will agree with that.
§ Mr. Brown
The verbosity is the right hon. Gentleman's, because I am quoting his words and he must accept responsibility for them. As for getting excited, my calmness sometimes shows itself in ways different from those of the right hon. Gentleman. I have a good deal more to be excited about than he has, because he has to defend the case and I do not.
It was only after all those stages that the change was made. In our view, it was never intended and was never a starter. The right hon. Gentleman knew 97 and knows perfectly well that while a Committee to deal with the one issue involved in Mr. Wedgwood Benn's case is possible, and while a Committee to deal with all issues, including the powers of another place, may be a matter for consideration, simply the composition, specifically ruling out the powers, is not a starter. I ask hon. Members opposite, who may be sympathetic to some part of our case in some way, to bear in mind that the proposal of the Home Secretary was introduced only at a time when things were going badly and when the Government wanted to cut off matters and to have a stalling operation. The proposal meant no more than that.
§ Mr. Shinwell
It is even worse than that, because when I suggested to the right hon. Gentleman that we should consider the composition of the House of Lords with a view to abandoning the hereditary principle he said that it would be disastrous to abandon the hereditary principle.
§ Mr. Brown
I am delighted that everybody's speech should be made in the course of mine, but I hope that I do not get blamed for the time that my speech takes.
How did the campaign work out? Hon. and right hon. Members opposite cannot toss it away. The whole campaign of the party opposite was fought on the basis of trying to frighten the electors away from voting for Mr. Wedgwood Benn. That was done to the point of doing something which I have never known to be done before—although it may be that my experience is deficient. There was a scurrying around on the morning of polling day with members of the party opposite pasting up outside the polling booths, on the walls and railings, spurious legal-looking notices having all the appearance of being issued non-partywise, simply saying, in large letters, that this man was disqualified and that people should not vote for him. They carried the matter to every length possible.
§ Mr. Brown
I ask my hon. Friend not to do so in the middle of my speech.
What was the result? On a day when it rained the whole day, and when there 98 was every excuse for a low poll, in spite of all this legal mumbo-jumbo the poll fell from 80 per cent. to 56 per cent. of the electorate, but Mr. Benn's poll fell only marginally, compared with the votes he got when there was an 82 per cent. poll. He polled 23,000 votes as against 25,000 or 26,000 at the General Election. All that Ministers and the candidate of the party opposite did in their attempt to frighten electors was to keep 10,000 Conservative voters at home. Mr. St. Clair's vote was cut by half.
The telling thing was not so much that the Labour voters showed that they wished to have Mr. Benn here; not even that a large majority of the voters wished to have Mr. Benn; not even that nearly 70 per cent. of those who voted clearly wished to have him here. The telling thing for hon. Gentlemen opposite is that 10,000 of their supporters wished Mr. Benn to be here. They could not bring themselves to vote Labour, so they sat at home and showed their disgust.
I now go on with the case for our Amendment. We are now told that this is a matter for the Election Court. Before I deal with the Attorney-General. I say this with honesty and sincerity to anybody who may be advising Mr. St. Clair. I find it almost incredible that a candidate so heavily defeated by his own supporters as well as by ours should be advised to put himself in the humiliating position of coming here even for one day and going through the hideous mockery of being called the Member for Bristol, South-East. I do not blame him. I am sure that he is receiving a lot of advice. As a politician, I can only say that if I ever started under that handicap I would feel that for the rest of my life I had taken on a handicap which would be very hard to shake off.
It is rumoured that the advice he is getting includes a suggestion that he should come here for a day or two and then apply for the Chiltern Hundreds. I find that equally hard to believe. I ask the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite not to leave this young man to heap that humiliation upon himself after such a clear and heavy defeat in the by-election.
One of the things about the Election Court is the way in which the Government are trying to shift their ground. 99 Phrases have been used this afternoon suggesting—I admit the suggestion has not been put into words but the implication is there—that it would be wrong to take any decision on an Amendment such as I have moved because, in 1868, we transferred the legal authority to the Election Court. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General used this argument following what he called the cogent argument of his right hon. Friend. I asked whether he meant that it was wrong for the House to administer the oath to Mr. Benn and to seat him because of what was done by the Election Court in 1868. On three occasions he failed to answer that question. If he looks at HANSARD he will find that I asked him that question three times and on each occasion he answered a different question.
Nothing that was done in 1868 prevents this House accepting the Amendment we have tabled. It does not detract from the powers of the Election Court, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows it. It does not alter the position in law as we established it in 1868. When I put this point to the right hon. and learned Gentleman I asked him whether he was aware that Members had sat in this House when their sittings have been petitioned against and when the Election Court had been considering the petitions. Clearly, he did not know.
There was one such case in the 1959 General Election. My hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, North (Mr. G. H. R. Rogers) won his seat. One of the defeated candidates was Sir Oswald Mosley. Sir Oswald Mosley then petitioned, but my hon. Friend came here, took the oath, and sat. Nobody challenged, saying that he was here illegally or improperly. If the Election Court had found against my hon. Friend, presumably some action would have had to be taken. The action which would have been taken in the case of my hon. Friend could be taken in the case of Mr. Benn if it were necessary.
That is not the only precedent. I have not the exaggerated respect which some hon. Members have for precedents. I have, therefore, not spent a lot of time looking them up, but there was the case of Frank Gray, who sat for Oxford City as a Conservative. [An HON. MEMBER: 100 "As a Liberal."] Yes. I knew that he was not on the good side of the House. He took his seat although he was petitioned again. Although the petition was entered in January, he continued to sit and vote until April. When I raised this, the Attorney-General referred to the case of Mr. MacManaway. I did not mention Mr. MacManaway when I asked those questions earlier.
Let me now make it clear to the Attorney-General that I am referring to the Gray case and to the Rogers case. If it was possible for us to seat those Members after administering the oath and letting the Election Court take it course, knowing very well that the House could deal with the decision of the Election Court afterwards, it is clearly possible to do the same thing with Mr. Benn. I am not a lawyer, but I submit that those cases make nonsense of this attempt by the Attorney-General to persuade the House that there is a legal barrier, dependent on precedents of 1868. That is the history to date.
There are three morals to be drawn from that which I commend to hon. Gentlemen opposite. First, the Home Secretary has opposed at every stage, including using his casting vote, proposals designed to bring about a review of the existing law. Secondly, had Mr. Benn not appealed to the electors of Bristol no proposals would have come from the Government. Thirdly, this proposal, by its terms, by the fact that the Government introduced it without consultation with us, and by the references in HANSARD to which I referred, is a stall, a non-starter, to enable the Government in get over this stage in the campaign.
To those on the Government benches who may wish to see this change in the law, and to those who may be affected if the law is not changed, I say that the Government will be drawn on this issue and only be brought to the point of making a change by a consistent, deliberate, and sustained challenge at every point in the proceedings. If Mr. Benn is not supported in a deliberate and sustained challenge at every point, including today, the law will continue to be unchanged until some other hon. Member is affected and makes a challenge and sustains it to the end. We might as well do it on Mr. Benn's case as on somebody else's case.
101 Despite the Resolution of 13th April, we can decide to allow the oath to be administered to Mr. Benn and to allow him to take his seat. The House has never decided by an Act of Parliament, or by legislation of any kind, not to seat a man in such a case. Even if it had, we could overturn it and decide differently. It does not follow that because, in 1895, the mood of the country on issues like this was a good deal more reactionary and a good deal more backward than it is today, we cannot, in 1961, do something that was not done in 1895.
This is the Conservative Party going right the way back to its most reactionary past. It is our business to try to lay down a code in the atmosphere and mood that exist today. The mood and atmosphere that exist, not only in Bristol, but in the most unlikely places in the country, is that this law—if there be such—which says that a man in this position may not renounce his title and take his seat in this House, is archaic and should be changed.
Just as I am asking the House to be revolutionary and make a break with the past, I admit that if we make the break in respect of Mr. Benn it will create anomalies. When the Ministers' other reactionary case collapses they fall back on this argument and say, "Do not do it, because it will create anomalies." I admit that, but if betting is permitted I will bet anything that I can raise, against anything that anyone else wants to put up, that if we take this step and these anomalies are created the Government will move very fast to clear them up. But if we do not do anything, and anomalies are not created, the Government will move very slowly indeed.
The Government made a great mistake in tactics in forcing Mr. Benn to take the issue to the people. Had they accepted my right hon. Friend's Amendment, or the arguments of my hon. Friends in the Committee, or, when the Report of the Committee of Privileges came to the House, had they made a sensible proposal which we could have considered, they could have prevented this appeal to the people. Tactically, they made a big mistake in not doing any of those things. They forced the appeal to the people and the appeal was taken to the people. The Government staked their reputation, force and power in persuading the people that they were right and that Mr. Benn was 102 wrong. They failed, and they failed overwhelmingly and humiliatingly. On behalf of my hon. Friends I say that they should accept the outcome with the best grace that they can muster and accept the Amendment.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Sir Lionel Heald (Chertsey)
It is very tempting to try to combat what the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) has said, but I prefer to occupy the short time for which I wish to address the House in trying, in as temperate a manner as I can, to submit reasons why the House has no alternative but to accept the Motion, and why it must reject the Amendment.
It is never popular to give legal advice. It may be referred to as being bad advice. It has already been said that the "law is a ass." But in this case it should be remembered that the law which is responsible for our present position is that which was re-enacted in 1949 by the Labour Government, in the Representation of the People Act. From the moment Mr. Wedgwood Benn declined to take his seat in the House of Lords and insisted upon trying to remain a Member of this House everything that happened since was inevitable, and what happens in the future will be inevitable.
Hon. Members opposite—especially the right hon. Member for Belper—seem to be entirely ignorant of the legal position, as created by their own Act. It is true that they were only re-enacting the Act of 1911, but they did it, and at the risk of wearying the House I wish to state exactly what the position is.
I have been criticised for going to Bristol and stating what I believe the law to be. I do not consider that it is necessary to apologise for doing so. I said there, and I say again today, that that election was turned by the action of Mr. Benn—acting with his eyes open—into a bogus election. He knew before he started that he was disqualified. He knew the law. He knew the whole position, and he went into the election with his eyes open. From that moment the result was inevitable.
Mr. Benn is disqualified. That is not seriously disputed, even by the right hon. Member the Leader of the Opposition, who agreed with other members of the Committee of Privileges that that was so. 103 I do not know whether the right hon. Member for Belper agrees, but in any case it does not matter very much whether he agrees or not. The representatives of the Opposition who sat on the Committee of Privileges accepted that position.
Mr. Wedgwood Benn deliberately went into that election knowing that even if he were elected he could not take his seat in the House, as a matter of law. Mr. Benn having been returned, his opponent has no alternative under the law but to enter an election petition—otherwise, we are in an even more farcical and bogus position. Once that election petition has been lodged the matter passes out of the hands of Parliament entirely.
§ Mr. G. Brown indicated dissent.
§ Sir L. Heald
The right hon. Member for Belper shakes his head, and thereby shows the ignorance which prevails on the benches opposite.
§ Sir L. Heald
The hon. and learned Member for Crewe (Mr. Scholefield Allen) tells me to sit down, but I think that, on reflection, he will agree that if one is giving what one believes to be an accurate statement of the law one should continue to do so.
§ Mr. Brown
Will the right hon. and learned Member accept from us that what is causing difficulty is not our lack of desire to hear him courteously and quietly, but the repeated use of the word "ignorance" in his assertion of what he believes to be the truth, and in respect of which he might be wrong.
§ Sir L. Heald
I believe that every lawyer in the House will agree with what I am saying. Let them hear me first, and then they can judge.
Under the Representation of the People Act, first enacted in 1911 in its present form and then re-enacted in 1949, we have a remarkable situation. Once an election petition starts in circumstances of this kind we lose all power. The House of Commons is thereafter governed by the Statute. In case this is challenged the House may like to hear the actual words, because they are of some importance. Section 124 of the Act of 1949 begins by saying: 104At the conclusion of the trial of a parliamentary election petition, the election court shall determine whether the member whose election or return is complained of, or any and what other person, was duly returned or elected or whether the election was void, and shall forthwith certify in writing the determination to the Speaker, and the determination so certified shall be final to all intents and purposes.Subsection (5) says:The House of Commons, on being informed by the Speaker of a certificate and any report of an election court, shall order the certificate and report (if any) to be entered in their Journals and shall give the necessary direction for confirming or altering the return, or for issuing a writ for a new election, or for carrying the determination into execution as the circumstances may require…The result is that if, as all constitutional authorities, I think, agree, the Court decides, as it must decide, that Mr. Benn is not qualified to sit, the Court certificate will be given to this House saying that he was not rightly elected and that the rightly elected person is Mr. St. Clair. In those circumstances, the House will have no alternative but to alter its records accordingly.
There is a clear precedent in this, which I shall not weary the House with except by reference to one part of it. It arose in 1955, at the time when two Members for Northern Ireland were the subject of election petitions. What happened on that occasion—I think that this is right and I do not want to have any doubts about it—that the Government Chief Whip then moved,That the Clerk of the Crown do attend this House forthwith with the last Return forthe constituencyand amend the same by substituting the name of … the Member for the said constituency.The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), with his usual skill and eloquence, attacked it and tried to get a debate upon it. He was not very successful, but he was able, as usual, to get in quite a lot. He actually based himself on the argument that that Act, while declaring the law, nevertheless left the sovereign discretion of this assembly unaffected.
Mr. Speaker said then, in regard to the 1949 Representation of the People Act:The Act to which I have just referred is an Act of Parliament assented to by both Houses and by the Crown, and the House is bound by it … The House has no power … 105 lawfully to override an Act of Parliament. The House of Commons, I suppose, like anyone else, can break the law, but if anyone should keep the law of the land it is this House. I would personally urge upon the House that it ought to follow the law which, as recently as 1949, it enacted for these circumstances."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th October, 1955; Vol. 545, c. 41–43.]We shall have exactly the same position in this case in which, I venture to suggest, no lawyer would seriously believe that the Court could decide that Mr. Benn is qualified to sit. We shall be met with this position which has been inevitable ever since Mr. Benn insisted on trying to sit here. It is as inevitable as the law can be. I say, and I hope that the House will agree, that I certainly did not commit any breach of Privilege as was apparently suggested after one meeting by what I had done. What I had done was to state the law as it is and as, I have no doubt, other lawyers believe it to be.
§ Mr. G. Brown
I understand very clearly that the right hon. and learned Member believes it to be so and has put forward very strong arguments for assuming it to be so. Would he not accept that this would be relevant if we were today, in some form, debating a certificate which we had received from the Election Court? But we are meeting before that. In the case of one of the precedents which I gave, that of Mr. Gray, he was, in fact, unseated later, but he did sit here.
Since the Government have themselves framed their own Motion to allow for the possibility, however remote, that the Election Court may say that it is legal for Mr. Benn to sit here, does the right hon. and learned Member not think that it is a peculiar doctrine to argue that we should not do something just because the lawyers think that the consequences of that will be in a certain direction? Should not we allow today for both directions and put it right, if need be, when we receive the certificate?
§ Sir L. Heald
I quite agree that this is a matter which should be taken into account. The right hon. Gentleman appears to have overlooked the fact that there is at present a Resolution of this House based on the decision of the Committee of Privileges, in this Session, which is binding on the House unless and until 106 a substantive Motion is moved overruling it——
§ Sir L. Heald
Today's Motion does not overrule it. The reason my right hon. Friend has worded the Motion in this way is this.
§ Sir L. Heald
While preserving the Resolution of the House for the time being, pending the decision of the Court, it provides for the House being able to act in accordance with the Statute should the Court decide the other way. There is no difficulty or question about that.
§ Sir L. Heald
I cannot enter into a long discussion.
There are two alternatives. Either will be covered by the certificate and whichever the certificate tells us to do we must accept. It may be a very astonishing thing for Parliament to be told it, but that is a Labour Government's Act and, therefore, we shall be told either to let Mr. Benn come in or not. Therefore, in the interval, to jump the pistol by allowing him in now would be to precipitate—[Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman does not like this argument but perhaps he will allow me to put it—in a very important way the renewal of the conflict between the House of Commons and the judiciary, which we have been able to avoid for many years.
There is not the slightest doubt that it would be regarded by the Court as a grave affront if, when it was in the process of deciding whether or not a man should be entitled to take his seat, the House of Commons said, "Never mind about the judges. Let him come in."
§ Mr. Gordon Walker (Smethwick)
Would it not be just as much an affront to the Court if we kept Mr. Benn out? The Court has to decide whether he stays out or comes in. It would be an affront to the Court either way, according to the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
§ Sir L. Heald
That is a matter of opinion and I shall not spend time arguing it. I feel that it is right to point out what the law is. I take strong exception to those people—the right hon. Gentleman did it only indirectly—who suggested that because an hon. Member goes to a by-election and tells the people what the law is, in his considered view, there is anything wrong in doing that. I propose to go on doing it whenever I have the chance.
§ Mr. Dingle Foot (Ipswich)
There is one question which I should like to put to the right hon. and learned Member. Would he not agree that the law has always stood in this way, that when a candidate is returned at an election and an election petition is presented in an attempt to unseat him, until the petition comes before the election judges and is adjudicated upon he is entitled to sit and vote in this House? Has it not always been the practice that a successful candidate sits and votes until the Election Court decides that his election is invalid?
§ Sir L. Heald
My answer is "No." That may be so if other things are equal, but when there has been a Resolution of the House of Commons excluding him on that ground, and that Resolution stands, as it does today, there is no precedent for his being allowed to remain.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Wilkins
I hope that the House will understand me when I say that I do not feel fully competent to reply to the legal arguments which have just been deployed by the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald). However, there is one thing on which I as a layman disagree with him. That is his observation about the possibility of all lawyers agreeing with his interpretation of the legal position. I doubt this very much, because I have found that there is no profession in the wide world which disagrees among itself so much as the legal profession. I should be very surprised if there are not lawyers who will find at least points of disagreement in the observations of the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
I want to express to the House the feelings of the majority of the people in the City of Bristol, and especially in 108 the constituency of Bristol, South-East. I have resided in this constituency for over sixty years. I have worked politically in the constituency for long over thirty years. I claim to understand the people in the constituency for which Mr. Wedgwood Benn has been returned as the Member of Parliament.
I shall try to make my observations in a restrained manner. I do not want to become heated. I hope that wiser counsels will prevail and that the necessary steps will be taken to ensure the continued representation of Bristol, South-East in the House by Mr. Wedgwood Benn for whom I have had the honour to work on many occasions.
I had hoped that this afternoon it would have been my privilege, indeed honour, to escort my Member of Parliament to the Table to take the oath. Unfortunately that could not happen, at least today. What we as a House of Commons are now considering is to what extent we ought to accept the expressed will of the people in an election the purposes of which were very clearly explained and, I am certain, equally well understood. There was no doubt whatsoever in the constituency of Bristol, South-East what this was all about.
I am critical not so much of the Government as of the Conservative Party Central Office if it offered any advice to the local Conservative Party. My opinion is that, if the Conservative Party had wanted to make this issue clear, as it appears before the House, it would have been well advised to tell its candidate to permit Mr. Wedgwood Benn an unopposed return. In this regard I believe that the Conservative Party Central Office was guilty of a tactical or strategic blunder. If Chat had happened, Mr. Wedgwood Benn would have come back to the House to present himself to take the oath and take his seat without any weight of the tremendous vote which he now has behind him. Apparently the Conservative candidate was not so advised. He decided to contest the seat.
The issue was made abundantly clear over and over again during the course of the election—by the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey, by the Home Secretary, by the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance, and by hosts of other speakers who all came 109 down and told the people of the constituency, myself included, that if we supported the candidature of Mr. Wedgwood Benn by voting for him we should waste our votes.
It is an astonishing fact that speaking to people in those terms is the most certain way to ensure that the man returned to Parliament is the man who has been the subject of an attempt to prevent him entering Parliament. Our people are minded that way. They will not be told that they must vote for some-body else simply because if they support the man of their choice they will waste their votes.
The election result was a foregone conclusion. The reason I suggest to the Government that they should now bow to the will of the people of Bristol, South-East is that they allowed this to become a contest. They allowed it to become an opportunity for the people to say what they felt about the issue of the hereditary peerage and compelling a man to go to the House of Peers simply because he happens to be the son of his father. The people have given their answer to this question. In case anyone is in any doubt whether the issue was clearly put, I assure them that I lost no opportunity through the use of a loudspeaker in almost every road in the constituency to tell people that this was precisely the issue on which they were voting. Wedgwood Benn did the same.
I will tell the House of the initiation of this campaign. I am trying to state the point of view which last Friday, after the poll was declared, the people asked me to state in their behalf in the House. The campaign opened for Mr. Wedgwood Benn in a hall in the centre of the city. People of all shades of political opinion were invited to attend if they had any sympathy with the issue about which we were fighting. According to the Press statement, there were 300 to 400 people there of every political view. The meeting was tremendously enthusiastic. On the platform were people of all political complexions. It was a very good meeting. The people were very attentive. They listened to our statement of what we considered to be the issues. There was unanimous support that the campaign should be conducted. So it has gone on during the course of the election.
110 I disagree with a statement made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) about the reason for the reduction of 10,000 in the number of Conservative voters. In spite of all the threats and intimidation which were brought to bear, even up to the very last moment, such as placing a notice board outside the polling station urging the people not to vote for Wedgwood Benn because they would waste their votes, there was a tremendous vote and a tremendous majority in his favour. When people go to the polls with their eyes wide open and register a protest in the terms in which the people of Bristol, South-East have registered their protest, it is an expression of public opinion which the House cannot afford to ignore.
I referred a moment ago to the figures quoted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper. I do not believe that the whole of the 10,000 Conservatives who apparently failed to vote necessarily abstained. I have very good evidence for saying that. If I had to suggest some proportion I should say that probably there were nearer 7,000 or 8,000 abstentions, and that 2,000 or 3,000 Conservatives actually voted for Mr. Wedgwood Benn. I am fairly certain that I am not far out in that forecast. I say that because of my experience on polling day. I will give two examples to the House to show that I base this on some sort of personal understanding of what was happening in the constituency.
I was mounting a loudspeaker on my motor car last Thursday at about three o'clock in the afternoon. It was pouring with rain as it had poured all day long. There would have been a 15,000 majority but for the inclement weather; there is no doubt about that. A gentleman came to me and stood beside my car. He said to the friend who was helping me to put the loudspeaker on the car, "I should have had my photograph taken today when I was voting." My friend asked, "Why you any more than anyone else?" The gentleman was a fine military-looking man over 6 feet tall. He drew himself up and said, "I am 68 years of age and I have never voted anything but Conservative until today. I voted for Mr. Wedgwood Benn today. You surely think that was worth a photograph in the local Press?"
111 Another incident arose immediately out of the so-called semi-legal notices posted on polling stations, published in newspapers and pushed through the letterboxes of every house in the constituency with election addresses. A man rang up our office from the Kings wood area where I live. He said, "I am telling you this only as a matter of interest, but I think you will be interested. I have just been to the poll. I am a life-long Conservative and"—this is the interesting part—"until I got to the polling station and saw the notice that had been placed outside"—it was a final effort to intimidate people from expressing their own free will through the ballot box——
§ Mr. Wilkins
It certainly was intimidation. It was plugged incessantly. Shall I substitute for the word "intimidation" the phrase "frightening the electors into believing that if they voted for Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn their vote would be wasted"? [HON. MEMBERS: "It was."]
§ Mr. Wilkins
This gentleman said, that he thought that this notice posted outside the polling station was about the lowest ebb. As a result he had voted for Mr. Benn. He thought that we would be interested to know that.
That could be repeated over and over again. I do not believe that all the Conservatives who apparently did not support their candidate and had supported him in 1959 necessarily abstained. It is very significant that in an election in which the people were told that if they took the trouble to vote they would be wasting their time the candidate, Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn, received a vote which was only 2,000 short of the highest recorded vote for the late Sir Stafford Cripps in that constituency.
I have heard all sorts of reasons given why Mr. Benn should not be permitted to stay in this Chamber. The hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. McLaren) made what I thought was a unique suggestion. He said that the 112 House of Lords could do with a brilliant man with brains. I do not know how the House of Lords will take that. I thought that it was rather suggesting that there was an urgent need for greater ability in the Lords than is available there at present. Why should the people of Bristol, South-East be denied the brilliant representation we have had from this Member? We can understand why the people there want him to represent them. No one would deny that this highly intelligent, sincere gentleman would be a worthy representative in this House of the people of Bristol, South-East. I can understand quite well why they do not want to lose him as their representative here.
I hope that I have been restrained I think I have. Over the weekend we of course celebrated a little after the result was declared. I think that was quite natural. We went back to headquarters and had a most pleasant and enjoyable time for an hour or so. I am not arguing whether the law is right or whether the interpretations which have been given are right. What the people of Bristol, South-East say and know is that this Parliament is capable of amending laws, of altering them and bringing in new laws. That is what we are here for. I am sure that most hon. Members would agree, although they might take the strictly legal view and say that Mr. Benn cannot be admitted under the present law.
Our people think that this is an antiquated business and that this institution is an anachronism, whatever we here think about it. I should have thought this a wonderful opportunity to march with the times and to listen to the will of the people. I think that the will of the people, not merely of Bristol, South-East but of a cross-section of the whole electorate, has been expressed in this election.
§ Mr. Cyril Osborne (Louth)
The hon. Member is stating his case in a most persuasive and moderate way, but, if his proposal were accepted and Mr. Benn were admitted to this House, what does he propose should happen to the Stansgate peerage?
§ Mr. Wilkins
Surely Mr. Benn has answered that himself. He wants to renounce it completely and utterly.
§ Mr. Wilkins
Yes, I understand so. Please do not expect me to speak for him categorically, but I understand that he is quite prepared to renounce it. Personally, I should not subscribe to a renunciation of a peerage which was not complete and absolute. There we should find ourselves in difficulties with other people who may have a different view, but Mr. Benn believes in complete renunciation.
This one instance cannot be equated with any other. Even the felon may expiate his crime and become a reformed individual. If that is not possible I might as well give up my beliefs in Christianity. I believe that we can redeem people from the folly of their ways. At that point a former felon could offer himself as a candidate. A bankrupt may become solvent and pay off his creditors. He would then become eligible. An Anglican clergyman, if he wished, could renounce his holy orders and stand for Parliament. Even a mental defective, with all the modern science and techniques we have today, may become sane and could present himself for election as a Member of Parliament. This one individual, because he happens to be the son of a peer——
§ Mr. Wilkins
I should be glad if the hon. Member for Carlton (Sir K. Pick-thorn) will tell me about that afterwards.
§ Sir K. Pickthorn
I should have thought that there is nothing of which it is less appropriate to say "happens to be". One does not happen to be the son of one's father; it is what one is biologically.
§ Mr. Wilkins
I have no doubt the hon. Member is right from the biological point of view, but I have always been taught that it was an accident of birth.
My last observation was that the mentally defective person who in these days may be cured would be able to present himself as a candidate for Parliament. Yet in this one instance the son of a 114 peer is debarred, on his father's death, from becoming a candidate.
It is time that the House altered this. One point which dismayed me about the Home Secretary's speech this afternoon was the attitude which he adopted which suggested that it had to be all or nothing. Surely we can deal with the question of the renunciation of peerages as a quite separate question. I see no reason why there should be a great delay about it. We should deal with it quite apart from any proposals for the reform of the House of Lords.
This question of renunciation could be resolved in a week if Parliament so chose. We have passed Bills through the House—all three Readings and Committee and Report stages—in one-day sittings. If we wanted to do it again in the future or now, we could do so. We could make this law before the end of the week if we so wished. If the will is there, the House will very soon see that this beneficial legislation—beneficial not only to Anthony Wedgwood Benn but possibly to nine of the Conservative Members' own colleagues—is passed. I do not want to see these Members leave the House of Commons, except by defeat at the poll. If we defeat them at the poll, well and good, but they are colourful Members of the House and they bring gaiety and a spirit to the House. They also bring something far more valuable—independent support to the House. We do not want to see them go, except by defeat at the polls. Heaven forbid that the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinching-brooke) should go. I should be dismayed if he had to go other than through defeat at the polls.
I hope that the Solicitor-General will draw the Home Secretary's attention to my observations, which I have made in a temperate way. I have not shown any of the exuberance which my friends in Bristol, South-East showed on the night when the poll was declared, when there was the biggest attendance in memory since Walter Baker first won the seat in Bristol, East. I hope that something will be done to make it possible for Anthony Wedgwood Benn to represent the people in Bristol, South-East, myself in particular, because I think that in him I have a very good Member of Parliament.
§ 7.23 p.m.
§ Viscount Lambton (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
I will follow the remarks of the hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins) very briefly. The last time I saw him we were sitting on the same platform in Bristol, and it was with somewhat of of a sigh of relief that I returned to this side of the House, despite the accusations which have been made about my Left-wingery by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell).
I am not sure whether, in my Parliamentary career, I have ever seen the House engaged upon a greater silliness than today. We can all give our interpretation of what has happened and, with deference, I will give mine. It seems to me that hon. Members opposite desire, if anything, to do away with two-Chamber Government, whereas hon. Members on this side of the House desire to do everything they can to retain two-Chamber Government. At this moment there is a very strong desire on the opposite side of the House that a Labour Member should not become a peer, but should stay in the House of Commons. As a result of that, the whole Opposition say, on one point, that the House of Lords should be reformed.
I think that it is beyond contention that unless the House of Lords is reformed it will have no future, because it will inevitably become moribund. Yet we have hon. Members on this side of the House, who want to retain a two-Chamber Government, saying that it cannot be reformed at the moment. Was there ever a situation quite as absurd as this?
Beyond all pretence, the point of the debate and of this whole subject is that the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East, or the former hon. Member, or whatever hon. Members like to call him, should remain in this House. At least, that is argued by all hon. Members opposite and by some hon. Members on this side of the House. It is also clear that unless he remains in this House then all those hon. Members will go on pressing and pressing and confusing every issue of reform which is put forward from this side of the House. Yet we on this side say that we want permanent reform.
It is idle and almost ridiculous to pretend that the succession of Mr. Wedgwood Benn to the peerage has 116 nothing whatever to do with us this afternoon. It is entirely due to him and this extraordinary manoeuvre which he has made and will continue to make that we are debating this question this afternoon. Unless this comes to an end fairly soon it will be dragged into every debate. It will be going on and on, like Charlie Chaplin, repeating one theme.
It will mean that hon. Members on this side of the House who want to retain the House of Lords will look absurd and will not be able to bring about any agreed reform because hon. Members opposite will make this one issue the overriding issue and cast the remainder aside. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will see that this situation comes to an end.
The root of all this is that Mr. Benn cannot sit in this House. I can understand the extraordinarily difficult position which my right hon. Friend faces. Events have caught him out, as it were; events have caught the Government out. But it will be a very great mistake if the Government insist that the reform of the House of Lords and the granting of permission to Mr. Benn to sit in the House are two indivisible subjects.
I hope that after we have had the decision of the Election Court my right hon. Friend will see that the whole question of the membership for Bristol, South-East, goes into abeyance, as it were, and that it will not be definitely decided, or, if it is decided, that we in the House will make a sacrifice equivalent to that which the Labour Party is willing to make so that in the end it will come about that the basic question of a reformed House of Lords is separate from this question.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will devote all those very great talents in moving towards this end which we saw exhibited in his speech this afternoon.
§ 7.29 p.m.
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
I will come to the observations made by the noble Lord the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Viscount Lambton) in a moment but, first. I should like to pursue the course followed by the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald). I am sorry that he is not at present in the Chamber because I am sure that we could have had an amicable and, I hope, a fruitful discussion.
117 The objections that have been raised to Mr. Benn's taking his seat are two. First, it is said that this matter has been referred to the Election Court; secondly, that there is a Resolution of this House to the effect that he is disqualified from taking his seat. Those are the two points that have been made, and made, certainly, in every speech from the Government Front Bench this afternoon. I want to examine those two points.
First, there is the reference to the Election Court. It is perfectly clear from the precedents quoted by my right hon. Friend, the cases of Mr. Gray, Member for Oxford, and of my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, North (Mr. G. H. R. Rogers), that there is no objection to an hon. Member taking his seat in this House whilst an election petition seeking his disqualification is pending against him. I hope that disposes of that, and that we shall not come back to this argument, which is utterly contrary to authority and precedent——
§ Sir K. Pickthorn
The hon. and learned Gentleman wishes us to be exact about that. I do not ask him to argue; I want to know. Is he sure that he is exact when he says that there is no objection in such circumstances to the taking of the seat? The continuance to use the seat is another matter, but I am not sure whether there is not a distinction between those two points.
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
The hon. Gentleman is splitting hairs that none of us can see. [Interruption.] Certainly, because, of course, if an hon. Member is disqualified he is disqualified. He is disqualified from sitting, and it is because he is disqualified from sitting that he is disqualified from taking his seat. Let us use a little common sense—and this is ordinary common sense. The disqualification applies to his being a Member, to his having a seat. That is why he is disqualified from taking his seat.
Let us, therefore, not have any more about the Election Court—the hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Sir M. Stoddart-Scott) shakes his head. Does he wish to intervene?
§ Col. Sir Malcolm Stoddart-Scott (Ripon)
The hon. and learned Gentleman has not replied to my hon. Friend about the difference between taking a seat for the first time, and being here and 118 continuing to sit. They are two different things.
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
I have already dealt with that precise point. If the hon. and gallant Member cannot follow, I am afraid that I cannot put it in simpler language——
§ Mr. C. Pannell
A Speaker, in a Ruling quoted by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition at the beginning of the debate, made it perfectly clear that when an hon. Member comes to this House from an election he is a different man from the one who went from here. One has to consider it de novo—the election has taken place in the intervening period.
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
I will stick to the explanation that I have already given to the hon. Member for Carlton (Sir K. Pickthorn) and to the hon. and gallant Member for Ripon.
That deals with the Election Court. The second point is that there is a Resolution of the House of Commons to the effect that Mr. Benn is disqualified. What the Amendment moved by my right hon. Friend provides is that, notwithstanding that Resolution, Mr. Benn should be permitted to take his seat. A Resolution of the House of Commons is not irrevocable; it is a Resolution that can be dealt with by the House of Commons. The Clerk of the House made that absolutely clear in his evidence before the Committee of Privileges. It is not binding on the House of Commons in any way; the House of Commons can resolve otherwise. Therefore, this Amendment, if it were carried, would get over any formal difficulty such as was raised by the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey.
There is, again, no difficulty about that—none at all. The only difficulty is a question of will. Do we or do we not want Mr. Benn to take his seat? That in my view, depends entirely on whether or not we really wish to deal with this hereditary principle—in general terms, certainly, but in terms that would enable Mr. Benn to take his seat. If this House were of opinion that there should be legislation—in general terms, but in terms that would cover Mr. Benn's case—if would surely be a matter of common sense to say, "Let him take his seat meanwhile."
119 What we are deciding here—and the real nub of the difference between the two sides—is whether or not we want to deal with this hereditary principle. That is what it comes to. When we are talking in terms of letting Mr. Benn take his seat, what we are really deciding is whether or not we want him, and people in his position, to be entitled under the law—and the law to be changed for the purpose, if need be—to take his seat here——
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
Would not the hon. and learned Member agree that there is a third alternative? He might think that particular reform was desirable but only if there was a general reform of the House of Lords.
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
That is exactly the point I was about to come to, which was raised by the noble Lord the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed. The noble Lord referred to there being different views about the second Chamber. Of course there are—and, of course, there are different views about the reform of the second Chamber; different views as to whether or not there should be a second Chamber.
What Mr. Benn's case has done is to put before the House and the country, in a form that is quite inescapable, the narrow question of whether or not a person, on succeeding to the peerage, should be disqualified from sitting in the House of Commons. The case has driven us to make up our minds upon that narrow issue. I have my own convictions, and they are strong convictions, about the second Chamber, but I recognise at once that, this case having arisen, we in this House are driven inescapably to make up our minds on this case.
I agree with the noble Lord that it must be dealt with quite independently of the general second Chamber position. There are arguments both ways. For instance, the noble Lord favours the strengthening the second Chamber. I understand, but I certainly do not share, such views but I certainly agree with him that, this hereditary question having been raised in this form, it is inescapable, and we must make up our minds about it. We cannot, and never will come to a decision if we are to try to deal at the same time with other 120 matters that are highly controversial and upon which every single one of us knows there is a variety of views in the House. I think that if we are really honest with ourselves we will all agree that it would be simply adding to the difficulties. I put it no higher, of coming to a decision on the issue.
On this narrow issue of Mr. Benn's case—and of those in his position—none of us really doubts that in a free vote in this House an overwhelming majority would be in favour of reform. We have had the decision of the people in the only way in which we can take it, and that has been overwhelmingly in favour, too. Therefore, if we come to the view that we really want this reform on this narrow issue—confined to Mr. Benn's case and that of those in his position—I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) that the only way to push this forward is by voting for the Amendment now before the House.
I have indicated my own view that this must be dealt with by legislation. There is a view, of course, that this decision should be taken, in the first place at any rate, by a court of law. There is no need for this course to be taken. If the Government took the view, as so many right hon. and hon. Members opposite do, that this matter must in any event be dealt with, it could be dealt with immediately by legislation, and there would be no need to go through the expensive and long-drawn-out business of a court of law, perhaps followed by another election after that, and another election, and another election again.
Is this a matter which should be dealt with, and can it be really satisfactorily and finally solved, by a decision of a court of law? Matters of a judicial nature should be dealt with by a court of law, but political matters should be dealt with in the House of Commons. That seems an obvious proposition, but it is not so in practice.
Take, for instance, the House of Commons dealing with a question of law which has been considered by the Committee of Privileges, such as in this case, or acting judicially on a question of fact or of guilt such as is quite often referred to the Committee of Privileges. 121 My conviction, and I say this after having served on the Committee of Privileges, is that it is better that matters of a judicial nature like these should be dealt with by a court of law.
This House came to this conclusion in the case of election petitions. The House of Commons is an amazingly sensitive political body. The more successful we are as a political body, automatically, and of necessity, the less qualified are we to deal with matters judicially. Therefore, I am strongly in favour of judicial matters going to courts of law. Equally, if it is a political matter, it is highly undesirable that it should be dealt with by a court of law. Such matters should be dealt with by this House.
This particular case raises questions of law—the question whether a person in Mr. Benn's position is disqualified from sitting in this House and whether he can renounce his peerage. However, these are not purely questions of law. They are matters which certainly are charged with immense political significance. And they are matters which are, even in law, vague and obscure, although hon. Gentlemen opposite have been saying that the law in this matter is completely clear and well established.
In considering the question of disqualification, I have drawn on the contents of the Report of the Committee of Privileges. I do not pretend to have gone into all the authorities on this, and I suspect that a good many hon. Gentlemen opposite who have strongly announced their views, would make the same admission. Their view for disqualification rests largely on the view expressed by a Committee of this House in 1895. But that view itself was contrary to the advice of the Clerk of the House at that time and was based on the view expressed in conversation by a Speaker in 1760.
Hon. Members are debating this matter in the light of cases dating back to the fourteenth century. Hon. Members will know well the famous occasion when the present Lord Chancellor, who was then a Member of this House, expressed strong views on the MacManaway case, and Mr. Bing—and I say this with respect—who had no position at the bar comparable to that of the Lord Chancellor, questioned those views, and, when 122 the matter was referred to the Privy Council, Mr. Bing's views prevailed.
Should this case be referred to a court of law at all? Would a British court of law approach this matter in a way somewhat similar to that in which the Supreme Court of the United States deals with its cases? That American court deals with cases which come before it—if I may use an expression of the Leader of the House—on a broad canvas. The American Supreme Court deals with matters of principle and in effect makes political decisions in legal form. The American Supreme Court is essentially a body of vital political significance. That is why President Roosevelt attached such importance to it and was accused of "packing" the Supreme Court.
One can approach the law either in a broad, general way or from a narrow, legalistic point of view. Let us consider the position of both approaches. Suppose one deals with this purely as a matter of precedent, and one has a technically narrow approach to the law in this case. One would then be in danger of deciding this on precedent, arrived at in a different age with different requirements, utterly unsuited to modern conditions, divorced from the modern temper and utterly failing to meet modern needs. The result of doing that, and of approaching the matter in that spirit, is that the decision would be founded on conditions which simply do not prevail and which are utterly irrelevant. The ground of decision would be as irrelevant to modern needs as a decision by toss of a coin. But would any hon. Member suggest that a court in this country should approach its legal problems in the same way as the American Supreme Court? Should a British court of law provide an answer designed to meet modern needs and requirements? That would be making a political decision.
As I have said, the American Supreme Court makes political decisions in a legal form. In this country a political decision should be taken politically by a political body—by Parliament.
Assuming that the matter comes before the court and the court takes a decision; what will that decision be? The decision might take more than one 123 form. Suppose the court were to decide in favour of Mr. Benn on the ground that no writ to attend the House of Lords had been issued to him, or suppose it decided in his favour on the ground that he had not taken his seat in the House of Lords. That would not make sense politically. Would the country really accept the position that the accident that he did not receive a writ, or merely that he had not taken his seat in the Lords, was to be decisive?
Immediately the question would arise: what about those who have taken their seats in the Lords? What about not only the Mr. Benns but the Lord Hailshams of this world? This is a matter which essentially requires conscious decision by a political body. Until we get that conscious decision by a political body, this dispute about the hereditary principle and the application of that principle to those who succeed to peerages, whether they can sit here or in the house of Lords, will be going on year after year.
Time and again persons of great eminence, not only those sympathetic to the political views which we on this side of the House share but those sympathetic to the political views of Members on the benches opposite, have expressed the need for doing something about such cases as Mr. Benn's. I recall such people as Lord Curzon, Lord Samuel and Mr. Gladstone as far back as 1869, and on the other side of the House, in modern days, the noble Lord the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Viscount Lambton), and Lord Salisbury and Lord Hailsham.
Of course, something must be done about this situation. The issue which we really have to decide in this House is not one which can be palmed off on to courts of law. It is a decision which we here at some time or other will have to take, and the sooner we take that decision the better. If we are in favour of taking that decision, then the one sure way of doing so is to vote in favour of this Amendment which is ancillary to that decision. In this case, I think that we must legislate and not litigate, because it is only by legislation that we can provide a permanent and satisfactory solution to the problem with which at some time or other we must deal.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Humphry Berkeley (Lancaster)
I feel exhilarated and, I must confess, somewhat relieved that the Motion tabled by the Government is one which I can support. I do not think I shall go beyond the bounds of order if I say that, earlier, I voted against the Government and that I should like to record the fact that I deplore the lack of generosity in not allowing Mr. Wedgwood Benn to address us today.
The only other observation which I should like to make about the behaviour of the Government in this matter during recent weeks is this. It is a very great pity that the speech today by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House was so different from the speech which he made on 13th April, and I believe, too, that it is a pity that the Motion which the Government have now tabled, recommending the setting up of a Joint Select Committee, was not tabled before 13th April, because, had this happened, the recent by-election would have been totally unnecessary.
I do not believe that the Opposition Chief Whip would have moved the writ for the by-election in Bristol, South-East had the Government even made the concessions which they have made today. Of course, it would have been preferable from every point of view if this by-election had not been held. It would have been preferable for South-East Bristol to have remained temporarily unrepresented than for the situation which I fear may arise, which will cause most of us a good deal of unhappiness, namely, the possibility of a young man who was beaten by 13,000 votes being adjudged to be the duly and properly elected Member of Parliament for Bristol, South-East. This would be a most unhappy situation. This may result directly from the petition which is being made in the High Court, and it is something which all of us, particularly the Government, ought to have taken some steps to avoid. Such a decision could bring no credit upon Parliamentary institutions, either upon this House or upon the other Chamber.
However, the situation which we are discussing today differs in certain respects quite materially from the situation which we were discussing only a few weeks ago. A few weeks ago we were considering the personal wishes of 125 Mr. Wedgwood Benn who, on inheriting a peerage as a result of the decease of his father, wished to remain a Member of this House. I am bound to say that I was most sympathetic towards that personal wish, and when the matter was put to a vote I voted against the Government on that issue.
But we are today no longer dealing with the personal wish of Mr. Wedgwood Benn. We are dealing now with the recorded wishes of the overwhelming majority of the electors of Bristol-South-East, who have decided not only that they want Mr. Wedgwood Benn to represent them, but, also, that the present constitutional position is indefensible, anomalous and should be amended. That is the only interpretation that I can put upon the very sizeable electoral majority which Mr. Wedgwood Benn gained at the recent by-election.
This brings me to the Amendment to the Government Motion which has been moved by the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown). I have said enough to make it clear that I believe it is even more urgent and desirable that something should be done now, after the matter has actually been tested in a Parliamentary election, than I believed was necessary when it was purely a matter of Mr. Wedgwood Benn's understandable personal wishes. But, equally, I cannot feel it right that a matter which involves a change in constitutional law should be decided by a single Resolution of this House.
The right hon. Member for Belper referred to the case of the hon. Member for Kensington, North (Mr. G. H. R. Rodgers), who was allowed to take his seat and, as far as I know, sat and voted during a period when there was an election petition being held, a petition which I think had been presented by Sir Oswald Mosley. I freely confess that I am no lawyer, but it seems to me that there is a very material difference between the case of the hon. Member for Kensington, North, who nobody disputes for a moment is eligible to be a Member of Parliament, and Mr. Wedgwood Benn, who is generally thought to be and has been held by a number of authorities to be a peer, and, therefore, as the law stands at the moment, however unsatisfactory and foolish that law may be, is not eligible to take his seat.
§ Mr. Richard Marsh (Greenwich)
This point has been made several times. Was not the whole point of the petition the fact that, in the case of my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, North (Mr. G. H. R. Rodgers), as a result of election irregularities he had no right to represent North Kensington?
§ Mr. Berkeley
In the case of the hon. Member for Kensington, North, the petition was based on certain alleged irregularities, and it was said that he was not on that account eligible to represent Kensington, North. The whole point in Mr. Benn's case is that the petition alleges that, under the law as it now stands, Mr. Benn is not eligible to represent anywhere because he is a peer. That is judged to be the constitutional position under the present law, whereas, so far as I know, the only objections to the membership of the hon. Member for Kensington, North—which were, happily, resolved—arose out of alleged technical irregularities in the election campaign.
§ Mr. Willis
The hon. Gentleman will not forget that the Leader of the House told my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) that we do not know what the outcome may be; the Court might decide that Mr. Benn can sit in the House. Therefore, is there not some doubt about that?
§ Mr. Berkeley
As I understand it, the position generally accepted and understood is that someone who is a peer is, under the law as it stands at present, disqualified from taking a seat in the House of Commons. I believe that this is established, and, indeed, I think it was tacitly admitted by the right hon. Member for Belper who, in the course of his very able presentation of his case, said that the law ought to be changed. I entirely agree. Several of my hon. Friends and I have been doing all we can during the past few weeks to have the law changed because we believe it to be totally inadequate and unsatisfactory.
I come now to another matter which I wish to press upon my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General and, through him, the Government. I entirely endorse the observations made earlier about the proposed Joint Select 127 Committee by my noble Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Viscount Lambton). It is totally wrong to regard the case of Mr. Wedgwood Benn and the general reform of the House of Lords as indivisible. They are not indivisible. They can easily be divided, although, of course, they are closely inter-related. I believe that a general reform of the House of Lords is desirable but, equally, I think that it would be a great pity if party bickering and bitterness developed so as to make it impossible either for a general reform of the House of Lords to take place or for the situation in which Mr. Wedgwood Benn finds himself to be resolved.
I therefore ask my right hon. and learned Friend to consider investigating the possibility of the Joint Select Committee being instructed to make an early interim report on the simple question of renunciation. This would be a most desirable solution and it would, I think, help us out of certain difficulties.
The right hon. Member for Belper said that he felt that the Government had, as it were, provided a smoke-screen for inaction by suggesting the appointment of a Joint Select Committee. In the first place, I do not believe that this is so. If it were, the Government would certainly not have my support, or the support of some of my hon. Friends who have been fairly active in pressing them on this matter. I hope, also, that the Opposition will not spoil the chances of reaching some agreement merely because they feel that the widening of the terms of reference of the Joint Select Committee makes it impossible for them to come to any agreement with the Government.
Apparently, what the Opposition object to is the first heading of the terms of reference which refers to the composition of the House of Lords, They should, I think, reflect upon this. Even if they are not prepared to go beyond the simple question of the renunciation of peerages, that in itself is part of the composition of the House of Lords and would certainly come within the terms of that first heading. I very much hope that the Opposition will agree to take part in the work of this Joint Select Committee even if it means that they have to write a minority report of their 128 own which could come before the House when the main report is presented.
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
We on this side of the House appreciate very much the hon. Gentleman's attitude, but may I remind him of this? Ours is not a new objection to dealing with composition apart from powers. It is a very old bone of contention between the Conservative Party and ours, because we have always taken the view—quite correctly, in my humble view—that we should not deal with composition apart from dealing with powers. That, however, is an entirely different matter from dealing with the very narrow ground of the hereditary principle raised in the Benn case.
§ Mr. Berkeley
I am much obliged to the hon. and learned Gentleman, but I think he will concede, nevertheless, that it would be possible for the Opposition to accept the terms of reference in toto, committing themselves, if they want to, to nothing more than the renunciation of peerages, because this does, in fact, involve the composition of the House of Lords.
I myself hope that the Opposition will agree to go somewhat further than that, but, nevertheless, I believe it to be of great importance now that the parties should make an attempt to get together and find out exactly what common ground there is between them. It would be a very great pity if the Opposition refused to take part in the Joint Select Committee merely because they thought that the terms of reference were too wide. They have their own means, in the form of a minority report, to indicate their views, if they wish to do so.
I very much regret that we have got ourselves now into a state where a by-election has been held and a petition is now to be heard. I should have been very much happier if the defeated Conservative candidate could have seen his way to letting the matter rest until the constitutional position with regard to renunciation had been settled, as it must be in the course of the next few months. Nevertheless, that action was not taken, and what we have now is one of the unhappy by-products of the situation.
I speak as a convinced believer in two-Chamber Government. I do not want to increase the present powers of 129 the House of Lords. To do so, I believe, would be neither desirable nor politically possible. I think that the present powers of the House of Lords are about right, and that it is very difficult to sustain any case for having a second Chamber with fewer powers than it now has. I hope, also, that it will be possible for us to put the composition of the House of Lords on a more defensible and generally acceptable basis.
What I fear as a result of all the bickering and argument of recent weeks is that the House of Lords itself may come into disrepute. As a defender of two-Chamber Government, which I regard as infinitely more satisfactory than one-Chamber Government, this is something which I should like to avoid at all costs. For those reasons, I suggest to the Government that they could make their contribution by providing for the terms of reference of the Joint Select Committee to include a specific interim short-term report on renunciation.
For the same reasons, I suggest to the Opposition that they might think again about the terms of reference and decide that it would be worth while to co-operate on the Joint Select Committee, even if final agreement is not possible.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Mr. A. J. Irvine (Liverpool, Edge Hill)
The hon. Member for Lancaster (Mr. Berkeley) has spoken with great moderation and very persuasively in putting his point of view forward. His approach and attitude to this whole matter can be contrasted with the attitude that has been adopted by his right hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench. I have always thought that if this House was distinguished for one thing more than another, it was in its capacity, when confronted by constitutional problems and dilemmas of this kind, to approach them and deal with them in a tolerant fashion, adapting its disposition to new situations as they arose. This was the kind of approach recommended by the hon. Member.
The hon. Member mentioned, and I am inclined to think that it is an acceptable proposal, that a request might be made to the Joint Select Committee of the two Houses to prepare an interim report, giving precedence in point of time to certain of the matters with which 130 it would be concerned, and which could deal in this way, for example, with the issue of renunciation. I should have thought it very desirable, in the situation in which we find ourselves, that the Joint Committee should have the opportunity of giving comparatively early interim recommendations and expressing opinions as to how the dilemma now confronting us might be resolved.
My main charge against the Government is that their attitude stands in contrast with the approach of the hon. Member for Lancaster. It has been, to my mind, an inflexible and inelastic attitude and not at all in accordance with the traditions of the House in matters of this kind. I wish to take up certain points brought before the House by the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald). He gave his opinion upon certain matters of law which will have to be considered by the Election Court. The view I hold is that even if all the propositions which the right hon. and learned Gentleman put forward are correct, it still remains possible even in that context for the Government to adopt a much more flexible position than they have so far adopted.
Let me accept, for my part, that the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey is probably right. Let me accept the propositions of law which he put forward, namely, that Mr. Benn is disqualified, that his return for Bristol, South-East does not alter that fact, that a Resolution of this House cannot alter the law, and that this is a matter properly to be decided finally by the Election Court. Granted that all these propositions about the present state of the law are correct, there are still steps in that setting which the Government could have taken and which would have been entirely consistent with that view of the law and with precedent.
The Government could have allowed Mr. Benn to take his seat pending the decision on this matter by the Election Court. The case of my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, North (Mr. G. H. R. Rogers) has been mentioned. It provides a precedent for this case. I listened with care to the distinction which the hon. Member for Lancaster endeavoured to draw between the North Kensington case and Mr. Benn's. He drew the distinction between what he regarded as a clear disqualification by 131 way of established law, on the one hand, because there had been succession to a peerage, and, on the other, the more particular, detailed administrative defects in the conduct of an election. The hon. Member contrasted the two. I doubt whether that can be regarded as a valid point of contrast because irregularity in the conduct of an election can go to the very roots of our constitutional processes.
The hon. Member for Lancaster cannot point to one disqualification and say that for some particular reason it is a more drastic and more powerful disqualification than another. Irregularity in the conduct of an election or irregularity affecting the counting of the votes, it seems to me, goes right to the heart of our constitutional processes. Therefore, although I appreciate that from many points of view the cases are not comparable the precedent was available to the Government to say, in this instance, with magnanimity and also with correctness on a point of law, that the seat should be occupied by the newly-returned Member for Bristol, South-East pending consideration of the petition by the Election Court.
That would have been consistent with precedent, unless I misunderstand it. It would have shown that the Government were paying some account to the decision of the voters in the Bristol, South East by-election. It would have been consistent also with their earlier announcement that the time had come when these constitutional issues should be considered by the joint Committee of the two Houses on the terms of reference which they have announced.
The right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey was asked whether it was not proper in law for a returned person to sit in this Chamber whilst the Election Court was sitting and whether there were not precedents which showed that that would be in order. The right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey could not and did not deny that that was the position.
All that the right hon. and learned Member had resort to in that context was that this case was differentiated from earlier cases by the circumstance that in this case there had been the Resolution of 13th April. But that strikes me, and I think that the Attorney-General may 132 agree as to this, as a very artificial distinction to draw, because it is surely true that, without derogation from the weight to be attached to the Resolution of the House on 13th April, there can now be carried by the House another Resolution altering some of the effect of that earlier Resolution, and taking account of significant matters which have happened in the interval, namely, the by-election in Bristol, South-East and the fact that the Government have now published the terms of reference for the proposed Joint Committee of the two Houses.
That is the main criticism, the criticism of inflexibility, in this matter which I wish to bring against the Government. It was always desirable from the very beginning of this controversy that the problem should be dealt with as far as possible on a basis of co-operation between all parties in the House and that unnecessary controversy should be avoided. That could have been achieved if only the Government had shown that greater flexibility which the hon. Member for Lancaster has so well argued for during the debate. I believe that the Government could have done it easily enough.
To give one example, let us suppose that after the Report from the Committee of Privileges had been received the Government had proposed that a Joint Select Committee of the two Houses should meet, and let us also suppose that the Government had recommended that that Committee should confine its consideration within the narrowest possible terms of reference in the hope that, if it did so, the prospects of agreement and unanimity in the Committee would be enhanced.
Let us also suppose—because I think that it would have been an admirable thing to have done—that it had been recommended that it should be part of the terms of reference of the Committee that it should consider whether it was desirable to make a change in the law as to the point of time at which a disqualification should attach to anyone who succeeded to a peerage. If the Committee had applied its mind to a problem of that kind, who is to say that it might not have been able unanimously to recommend that disqualification, instead of attaching at the point of succession, should in future, by a change in the law, attach at the date of application 133 for or receipt of the writ of summons to the other place?
If that kind of recommendation had been made, and if consequential legislation had been introduced, it would have avoided the embarrassment and difficulties that arise today. It would have avoided the problems that arise out of the South-East Bristol by-election. It would have avoided a great deal of embarrassment for the Government, because it is perfectly clear that they are being driven from pillar to post on this issue as matters develop and as public opinion reveals itself. All that could have been avoided. It could have been done without prejudice to the prospect of subsequent wider reforms. What is more important, it would have been to the advantage of the State and to all of us.
No such approach or endeavour has been made, and this, I think, is basically and substantially, the criticism which we on this side of the House have of the Government's whole treatment of the matter. Contrary to what they have always regarded—just as we have always regarded—as the best traditions of the House, they have shown a disposition of inflexibility. They could very easily, and with perfect propriety, have permitted Mr. Wedgwood Benn to take his seat pending the determination of these issues by the Election Court.
However certain the law on this matter may be, and however right the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey may be, the fact still remains that there is a Court sitting to consider the point. If the thing were absolutely cast-iron, it would be contempt to require the Court to sit. It is not as cast-iron as all that, and precedents exist for persons to take their seats in this Chamber while the consideration of the issue is being pursued by the Election Court. Their position can then be regularised retrospectively. These precedents should have been applied in this instance with magnanimity. This would have been of advantage to British institutions.
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ Sir Charles Mott-Radclyffe (Windsor)
Amid the wealth of advice offered by right hon. and learned and hon. and learned Gentlemen on both sides of the House, one feels, as a layman, a little diffident about intervening. None the 134 less, in one sense this is as much a House of Commons as a legal matter, and I feel that on that score alone I may be permitted to make a few observations.
I was fascinated by what seemed to me to be the new constitutional theory put forward by the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) and his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, North-East (Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas). It seemed to me that they were, in effect, saying that we in the House of Commons need uphold the law only if it were convenient to the Opposition to do so at a given moment. As a layman, I understand the position to be that Mr. Wedgwood Benn is a peer and that peers are disqualified from sitting in the House of Commons. Whether the law makes good sense or bad sense on that issue, whether it is wise or unwise, is a matter of opinion. Whether the law ought to be altered, and, if so, to what extent and in what direction, is, again, a matter of opinion.
There is one thing about which we ought to be sure, and that is that if any legislation were to be brought in which would deal with the case of Mr. Wedgwood Benn, and which would enable him as a peer to sit in this House by one means or another, that legislation would have to be retrospective and it would have to cover every other peer who had a similar ambition to sit in this House.
On those grounds alone—and they are not legal but purely practical grounds—I cannot accept the argument put forward by Members opposite that this problem, which they say must be solved now, entails only a small concession from the Government and has none of the larger constitutional implications which most of us on this side of the House believe that it has.
My second point is brief and simple. Most of the precedents have been cited today about various other cases, including those of Mr. Gray and Mr. MacManaway, who sat in this House whilst the Election Court decided whether or not they were disqualified. I was a member of the Select Committee which dealt with the MacManaway case. Right from the start it was incredibly complicated, and to claim that there was a clear view as to whether or 135 not at the beginning Mr. MacManaway was qualified or disqualified to stand for election is not correct. I have never heard a series of arguments and counterarguments quite so complicated or interesting. The point was extremely obscure.
There is no possible analogy between that case and the case of Mr. Benn, where it is generally accepted that he is a peer in succession to his late father, and, broadly speaking, that peers are disqualified from sitting in this House. We must, therefore, ask ourselves, if we want to alter the law—and there may be good reason for doing so—whether the line adopted by Members opposite is a good one.
Their view seems to be that if one wants to alter the law, all one has to do is to stand for Parliament in a by-election, knowing that one is disqualified, win the election, present oneself here because one has secured a majority of votes, demand to be heard, and have the Opposition support, hoping that the Government will alter the law in one's favour.
That is a dangerous precedent. All sorts of other people are disqualified for various reasons. Mr. Benn is, of course, disqualified for very respectable reasons—but others might be disqualified for less respectable reasons. Are they to adopt this technique? I cannot accept the arguments put forward on that aspect.
§ Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe
I do not quite know where one draws the line. It is a very strange way of altering the law. It might have undesirable repercussions in undesirable quarters in the future if this method were adopted as a means of altering the law. Members opposite say—and I am sure that they are telling the truth—that they are absolutely sincere in their desire to help Mr. Benn. They also say that they are genuine in their opposition to taking any part in the deliberations of the Joint Select Committee——
§ Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe
Let me finish my sentence. Members opposite say that they are genuine in their opposition to taking part, so far, in the proposal to set up a Joint Select Committee, for the simple reason that the terms of reference of that Committee do not go wide enough. As the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said earlier, the Committee will not deal with powers. I accept that. I must point out, however, that Mr. Benn's case does not affect powers, but only composition. The right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice), who is to wind up the debate for the Opposition, must make up his mind which of those two arguments he wants to stand by. In logic, he cannot stand by both.
§ 8.33 p.m.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
Although the hon. Member for Windsor (Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe) found the case of Mr. MacManaway incredibly complicated, I do not think that he has the Benn case in mind. As far as I know, the Opposition leaders have not yet said that they will not take part in the Joint Select Committee. I want to say something a little later in my speech about the objections which I have to taking part in that Committee, but I can only speak in an individual capacity as a back bencher.
The hon. Gentleman surely did not mean it when he said that we on this side of the House believe that the law should be upheld only when it is convenient to the Opposition. That is what he said, and I find it difficult to understand.
§ Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe
That was the impression given to me by the speech of the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) and, in a different context, the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, North-East (Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas).
§ Mr. Pannell
Then I can only say, having studied the precedents, that precedents are respectable and are upheld only when they are convenient to Her Majesty's Government. Both in this debate and in the debate on 13th April all the precedents were on our side about Mr. Benn being allowed to proceed to the Bar of the House. We have had two days of debate and the Government would sooner go 137 through all that again than observe the practices of the House and allow the hon. Member, who was the hon. Member and I believe still is, ten minutes at the Bar. I find that incredibly complicated.
The hon. Member for Windsor said that there was no analogy between the MacManaway case and the case of Benn. Of course there is not in their causes, but there was this analogy: we are arguing that the treatment of Mr. MacManaway by the Government of the day was different from the treatment of Mr. Benn by the Government of the day. One was generous and one incredibly mean. There is no question about that.
As I said before, after being assured that no indemnity would run beyond June, one insisted on sitting and voting, against advice and against the Law Officers of the Crown, until October, while men were being dragooned through the Lobby, at least two of them dying during that time. Even then, the Labour Government generously underwrote all his indiscretion. We are not saying that the issues are the same, but we are saying that the treatment is different and that there is a difference between the treatment accorded by the gentlemanly party and by the other—and we all know which is the gentlemanly party in this context.
The hon. Member for Windsor said that all he knew today was that Mr. Benn was disqualified. He has no right to say that. There would be no point in issuing a petition to the Election Court if that were the case. The law about this matter is very difficult, as I said earlier. The ex-Attorney-General and, if my recollection is correct, the present Attorney-General both said in the House on 13th April that, of course, Mr. Benn could present himself as a candidate. He did so, to use the words of the hon. Member for Windsor, to push the Government along, and he succeeded. Do not let it be imagined for a moment that anything would have been done if Mr. Benn had not gone to Bristol.
The hon. Member then discussed the question of the Joint Select Committee and the powers and composition of the House of Lords. The Home Secretary said, and this is not in dispute, that there were discussions with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition on the question of the terms of reference and about powers and composition, but 138 the right hon. Gentleman denied those things on 13th April. I do not think that the hon. Member for Windsor can read the debates, let alone listen to them.
A point which has not been made this afternoon, and which is clear, is that in a Parliamentary sense Mr. Benn is a different man from the man whose position we debated on 13th April. Then, a Select Committee had come to a decision and the House had come to a Resolution, but when Mr. Benn presented himself for the electors of Bristol, and obtained a fresh mandate, a fresh Member came back.
If hon. Members want that proved, let us assume that Mr. Benn had not contested the seat. Let us assume that Mr. St. Clair was the Labour candidate and that during the election his relative had died and so Mr. St. Clair had inherited the peerage. Let us assume that this is a viable peerage so far as the writ of summons is concerned. The same position would have arisen, but it would have been a different man, although the barrier would have been the same.
In any case, and here I am on firm ground, that is the essence of Mr. Speaker Peel's famous Ruling, quoted by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and which, I am sure, was a Ruling which Mr. Speaker must have considered carefully before giving his Ruling today.
Speaking about what has happened in a new Parliament, which means a new election, Mr. Speaker Peel said, according to "The Life of Bradlaugh", Vol. 2:I know nothing of the Resolutions of the past. They are lapsed, they are void, they are of no effect in reference to this case.He went on:I have come clearly, and without hesitation, to the conclusion that it would neither be my duty to prohibit the hon. Gentleman from coming nor to permit a Motion to be made standing between him and his taking of the oath.He added words which would apply to Mr. Wedgwood Benn's case today, saying:The hon. Member takes that oath under whatever risks may attach to him in a court of law.That is the position.
There is no question about the Gray case. I lived in Oxford about that time. 139 There were grave allegations of corruption not, I believe, against Mr. Gray, but his agent, and he was unseated. There is a later case. If Sir Oswald Mosley had been able to sustain the case against my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, North (Mr. G. H. R. Rogers), the Election Court could have laid penalties on my hon. Friend. There is nothing to stop Mr. Benn sitting while the Election Court is considering the position.
There is the famous case of 1851, when Alderman Salamans, the Member for Greenwich, insisted on voting in three Divisions although he would not take the Christian oath because he was a Jew. The Exchequer Court fined him £500. If Mr. Benn had gone on, undoubtedly he would have taken the oath under whatever penalties might have been laid on him, but there is nothing to prevent the House allowing him to take his seat.
That is where the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) went astray. When he was talking about this, he said that the significant point was that the House had passed a Resolution on 13th April. Of course, that is significant, but not significant in the way referred to by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. The significance is that Mr. Benn has been re-elected as Member for Bristol, South East, and this creates a new situation. We are this evening considering the situation arising from Mr. Benn's re-election. We are not considering the position of Mr. Benn as Lord Stansgate.
There are other ways of dealing with this. We might have tabled a Motion to set up a Select Committee to consider the representation of Bristol, South-East, or the position which has arisen from recent events. If we had moved into action quickly, I am sure that we would have been able to consider that before the Election Court considered the petition, because we are still the masters of our procedure.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite must get this clear. We are not considering Mr. Benn as Lord Stansgate. We are considering the position which has arisen from his re-election as the Member for Bristol, South-East. That is what the Election Court has to determine. It is not for me 140 to say what it will do, but, as the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey said, there are three courses open to it. Nobody can make a prognosis of what the Election Court will do.
The Election Court considered two Irish cases in 1955. In one case it ordered a fresh election, and in the other case it awarded the seat to the defeated candidate. As my right hon. Friend said, if the position was as cast-iron as that there would be no point in referring the matter to the Election Court. Indeed, the Leader of the House has interpolated words into the Motion to make it clear that the opinion of the hon. Gentleman may be a mistake. With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I do not think that he has done his homework in this matter.
I want to deal with the sort of machinery which is envisaged, but first, we must give praise where it is due. We must give credit not only for a determined and courageous fight in what must have been a very lonely battle, but for the persistence with which Mr. Benn has fought that battle. Had he not appealed to the people of Bristol, no proposals would have come forward at all. No amount of equivocation from the Government can get over that fact.
The Attorney-General when considering the question of Mr. Benn coming to the Bar to address the House relied on the petition to the Election Court in support of his argument. This was not the argument he used on 13th April, but I do not know how the question whether a man should be allowed to address the House in his own defence can turn on that sort of casuistry.
All action on the reform of the House of Lords has been piecemeal. It has never been comprehensive, and I predict that it never will. Consider the question of life peerages. They were created because the worth-while people who might have wanted to go into the Lords did not want their sons to be ennobled. The climate is different. The hon. Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent), in our last debate, spoke of the penurious person who comes into a title. I know a clerk in an office who is second in the line of a peerage, but he does not mention it to anybody. He keeps it to himself, because he knows that it would be an embarrassment in his employment. 141 If once we put forward the argument that a man can accept a peerage for life, and that the hereditary principle can be abrogated as a matter of convenience to obtain worth-while people for the other place, as a matter of equity the average person will say that a man should be able to renounce his peerage, at least for life. I would want a complete renunciation. I say that all action on this question will be piecemeal.
The hon. Member for Lancaster (Mr. Berkeley) made a very attractive speech, but was wrong in saying that if the Labour Party co-operated in forming a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons a minority report could be issued. Perhaps the Attorney-General will be able to deal with that point. It is my opinion that minority reports are not published in relation to bodies of that sort. Amendments can be moved and recorded, but I did not think that it was the practice of Select Committees to issue minority reports.
§ The Attorney-General
A minority report can be embodied in Amendments, which are rejected, in the same way as they were in the Report of the Committee of Privileges, so that one can say that the views of the minority are in the record.
§ Mr. Pannell
I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman wants to be fair about this. When the Report of the Committee of Privileges on the Benn case came out over the tape it went out in block form as the Report of the Committee. Nowhere in the Press reports on the first day was there any reference to a minority Report.
§ The Attorney-General
I cannot accept responsibility for what the Press puts out. My point is that although the view of the minority cannot be expressed in the form of a minority Report, it can be embodied in the form of an Amendment for everyone to see.
§ Mr. Ede
I was one of the minority in the Committee of Privileges. I moved two Amendments, as did my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), but not a single word of the argument between the minority and the majority appears in the report. That is the difference. In the 142 case of a Royal Commission, the arguments of the minority are set out.
§ Mr. Pannell
Officially, there is not a minority report; it is written into the Amendments. I do not want to quarrel about this, but I think that the Attorney-General will agree that if there is a minority view it cannot be expressed in a satisfactory way, in the form of a complete minority report, such as is the case with the Royal Commission.
The former Attorney-General spoke of the Act of 1949, and blamed it all on the Government of the day. As I understand it, however, the Committee of Privileges was not considering the Act of 1949; it was considering common law. I do not know what that argument has to do with the present agitation.
§ Mr. Pannell
But that is not the nub of the argument. I have attempted to follow the arguments as intelligently as I can. I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will appreciate, even as Attorney-General, that when he addresses this rather lay assembly he must use words which are sufficiently comprehensible for even us to understand him. Even as Attorney-General he must know that what is so daylight clear to him may be only dimly apparent to us—or, putting it another way, what is dimly apparent to the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey is never blazing daylight clear to me.
I want to deal with the curious precedents of Joint Committees of Lords and Commons. I think that there was one reference, when the question of Private Bills was considered a few years ago, of a Joint Committee of the Lords and Commons. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) was a member of it.
§ Mr. Pannell
The only other precedents that I could find for this peculiar piece of machinery were in 1923 and 1901. In 1923, hon. Members opposite thought that they might do away with the autumn part of the Session, that they might leave this House in July and come back in January. A Joint Committee of the Lords and Commons was set up to consider 143 whether or not this was possible. Eventually, they came to the conclusion that it was a "terrible bind" but they would have to face the idea of coming back in October or November. That cock did not fight at all; we still have to do that.
The other precedent, which lines up more with the House of Lords, was the peculiar decision of the Joint Select Committee in 1901. Students of history will know that between 1886 and 1901 the Sovereign had never been in Parliament because Queen Victoria was in her late widowhood. In 1901, with the accession of the new Monarch, he came to Parliament and appeared in the other place. Parliament had become so unused to having a Sovereign in another place that terrible things took place. A Select Committee was appointed… to consider the accommodation available in the House of Lords when the Sovereign is personally present in Parliament, and the advisability of substituting Westminster Hall on such an occasion for the House of Lords.This is how it started:The Committee began their Inquiry by examining Mr. Tritton and Sir Henry Fowler, two Members of the House of Commons, who endeavoured to follow the Speaker to the House of Lords on the occasion of opening of Parliament by the King on 14th February, last. Neither of them succeeded in attaining their object, and Mr. Tritton was severely injured owing to the overpowering rush of Members who eagerly struggled to secure the number of places available below the Bar of the House of Lords. The crush was very great notwithstanding that a considerable number of policemen were employed through the Lobbies to prevent any inconvenience to the Speaker and those who were immediately behind him.Those are the precedents. It is almost a mediaeval anachronism when considering this live issue that has arisen in Bristol. It really is the greatest nonsense. Why should the Labour Party consider this as a good piece of machinery? After all, there will be a majority of the Conservative Party on the Lords part of the Committee per ratio to membership and a majority of the Conservative Party on the Commons part of it, which will mean that if we represent about one-third we shall have no minority report; it will be merely written in the Amendments. This peculiar piece of machinery will have a very long gestation. Probably twelve months will elapse before anything comes out of it. By this time, Mr. Benn will have been conveniently forgotten or have sought 144 a job in a more lucrative place. No change in this situation will come except by the exercise of the political power of the party in power. This Government, if they want to do anything at all, will have to do it by direct action.
I will not read further from this interesting book I have in my hand. If anybody wants a guide to the people who make up the Establishment, and who should be in the House of Lords on great occasions and on the Floor of the House of Commons, he will find it in the Reports of Committees No. 8. This Volume is No. VII of 1901.
Those are the only two precedents which I can find for this curious piece of machinery. I am greatly interested in these matters, because I have a great interest in the history of the Houses of Parliament. The only time I feel ashamed of this place is when the Conservatives fall below the level of conduct we expect of them, when they keep Mr. Benn from the Bar. If there were enough agreement between the two Front Benches about the powers and duties of such a Committee, if set up, if I had the opportunity I should not mind being drafted on to it, if for no other reason than to add something to my general education in these matters.
However, it is not the sort of process I recommend to my party as likely to yield the kind of solution that we want. I strongly hold the view that no general consideration of this matter will provide the solution. We have had to bring in life peerages. We next may have to bring in life renunciations or complete renunciations. They will create other anomalies which we shall deal with from time to time. There is no agreement on certain fundamental principles in this.
How does one start considering the question of setting up a Committee of this sort? One first has to ask oneself whether one is in favour of bi-cameral government. Broadly speaking, I think that our proceedings could be so organised as to make for unicameral government. The next question is: if we have bicameral government, do we recognise the hereditary principle? These are grave matters. The Leader of the House believes in the hereditary principle—I do not—I do not believe that this is a question of an assault on the Throne, or anything of that sort. It may have been a matter of gradual erosion, but things are 145 speeding up now, largely because of Mr. Wedgwood Benn, or perhaps it is because of certain influences opposite. These questions will have to be tackled one by one. We should at least tackle the things on which are are agreed.
One of the things on which I believe that there is broad agreement in the House of Commons is the principle which the constituents of Bristol, South-East have decided with their eyes open, in face of all that was said to them by the Conservative Party. Any constituency must be able to choose its own representative and, having chosen that representative, be he a peer or a commoner—[Interruption.] In that case he would not be on the electoral register. Hon. Members should not confuse the argument like that. They might just as well talk of lunatics or felons, who are disfranchised.
My point is that constituents having, with their eyes open, elected a Member, especially having elected him with this great majority, should be allowed to say, "This is our man in the House of Commons". The voice of the people having spoken, it is not for other elected persons to stand between them and their choice.
After all, this is only a twist of the Bradlaugh argument. For four or five years the House of Commons stood between Northampton and its elected representative, with all the casuistry of the Conservative Party. This was merely because when he first came here he presented himself at the Table and asked the leave of the House to affirm, as he had done for seven years previously in the courts, instead of taking the oath. Mr. Speaker asked him to retire. He retired. Then it was decided, on the casting vote of the Chairman of a Select Committee, that he could not affirm.
Bradlaugh then said he would like to take the oath, but the Conservative Party said, "Oh dear no. Because you wanted to affirm you will not be allowed to take the oath." For four or five years it kept him out. Nothing brought this House into greater contempt. Then Mr. Speaker Peel, with his great Ruling, rescued the House. He said it was not for this House to come between a constituency and its elected Member.
Mr. Speaker Peel did that as an act of very great courage. The present 146 Speaker, with very great respect to him, did not need to have the same courage, because he did not have the same problem. After the House had made a fool of itself for five years there was a new Parliament. Mr. Speaker alone had been sworn. Before anyone else was sworn he announced to the House that the practices of the last five years would not continue and nothing would prevent the hon. Member from taking the oath. It was not for other hon. Members to examine his conscience. Up jumped the Leader of the House to protest and Mr. Speaker told him to sit down. The Leader of the House had not then been sworn.
By the way, he was the great uncle of the hon. and gallant Member for Cheltenham (Major Hicks Beach). There must be something in heredity. I know where the hon. and gallant Member will be in the Divisions tonight, or he may have paired. Looking back on the Bradlaugh business, no one can be proud of the House of Commons of those days. On Bradlaugh's death, after he had acquitted himself with distinction in this House, the House miserably and abjectly expunged from the record all its ill-treatment of him and was thoroughly ashamed. The day will come when hon. Members of the present House, particularly young hon. Members, will be rather ashamed of what this House of Commons has done today. The House will be rather ashamed of those sort of people who have tried in 1961 to meet the challenge of our time with the minds of 1881. Bradlaugh or Benn, they will get by in time.
I only say to my hon. Friend—and I will still call him that—that for the coward moral degradation and death are certain, but for the rebel there is always the hope to conquer. The capacity to resist is infinitely nobler than the faculty to succumb. I hope that he will keep on. It is a good battle for a great principle. I hope that he is really proud of himself, as we are proud of him.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Sir Frank Soskice (Newport)
In the course of this afternoon we have been discussing a subject not merely of great and poignant interest—I was going to say to the victim of the debate, Mr. Benn—but of great and transcending importance to us as a House of Commons and to democracy in this country.
147 I start with what seems to me the central and focal point of the debate. We are now confronted with a completely new situation in view of the verdict of the electors of Bristol, South-East who have said in as clear a voice as they possibly could that Mr. Benn—qualified or not qualified to sit in this House—is nevertheless the man of their choice whom they wish to send here in order that he may be able, if allowed by us, to take his seat. His majority, as has been said over and over again and I apologise for repeating it, was more than doubled. His majority was more than doubled in face of plain notice given by his opponent alleging that he was disqualified. In the face of that, the electors of Bristol, South-East have said, and presumably on future occasions will again say and go on saying, that Mr. Benn is the person they wish to represent them in this House of Commons.
That presents us with a completely new situation. It means that we are discussing this question in an atmosphere in which we were not discussing it on 13th April. If we have any regard for the principles of democracy and if we respect those principles by which we are elected to the House, then I put it to the House Chat it is our bounden duty to see whether, in the existing state of the law, there is any way in which we can, at any rate to some extent, give effect to the wishes of the electors at Bristol.
It is said that the Election Court will decide. The Election Court may or may not decide. We have been told that a petition has been presented but, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) said, if Mr. St. Clair is sent to this House as a result of Mr. Benn being disqualified by the Election Court, his position will be indeed about as humiliating as it possibly could be, and so will ours. He will be elected on a minority vote if the votes cast for Mr. Benn are thrown away. It is a small minority. I am sure that he is a man of normal sensibility and of high personal qualities. He will not be able to feel that he has the confidence of the voters of Bristol and we shall not be able to feel that he has. However he may win our esteem, he will be here in circumstances of extreme spiritual discomfort, and I should think 148 that as soon as he can leave the House he will be glad to do so.
It is in those circumstances possible—I do not know—that he may not wish to persist with this election petition. Another possibility is that the Election Court may decree a new election. Then what is to happen? I suppose that the electors of Bristol will say that they again want Mr. Benn to represent them in the House.
Faced with that situation, I repeat that if there is any way in which we can go at any rate some distance to give effect to this emphatic view of the electors of Bristol that Mr. Benn should represent them here, it is our bounden duty to do so, and we should examine the case to see whether there is any way of our so doing.
The right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) took us to task and almost questioned the sincerity of our motives by saying that in effect we were arguing against a plain state of the law. He supported that by maintaining that if the Election Court declared Mr. Benn disqualified, that disqualification would govern our decision. I dare say it will. I do not say one way or the other. But that is not the question which we are debating tonight. We are debating tonight whether, in that interim period and in the face of he existing precedents and such body of law as can be formulated from those precedents, we can, and if we can whether we should, invite Mr. Benn into the House to take the oath and to take his seat as a Member amongst us. I respectfully submit to the House that the case for so doing is plainly overwhelming if we can do it, and I shall try to put a view to the House to the effect that we can do it.
For a few moments I shall proceed to deploy the reasons for my view. I have spoken of the wishes of the electors of Bristol, and they seem to me to be by far the major feature of the situation which we contemplate. But it is not only their wishes; it is, I believe, by and large, the wishes of the people of this country. In the Press, in letters to the Press and on platforms a general wave of public feeling has been discernible which protests vigorously at the accident—because that is what it is—of an antiquated convention which lifts an 149 active young Member of this House, despite all his struggles, without his consent and against his will, in mid-career, and dumps him in an arena in which no doubt there is opportunity for public service, but public service of a type and in circumstances which are not congenial or suitable to his talents, his disposition or his years, and in which he cannot offer of his best.
In those circumstances, we should—and I do not apologise for repeating it—see whether we are confronted by a wall that we cannot possibly surmount; which completely bars our way to, at least in the interim period of which I have spoken, inviting Mr. Benn to come to this House and to take his place.
If I may apologise to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General and to those of my hon. and right hon. Friends who belong to the same profession as I, I think that I am right in saying that it is rather an open question in this House whether it is a greater ordeal to listen to us lawyers or to listen to the economists. [Laughter.] I knew that would evoke mirth, but whether we listen to lawyers or whether we listen to economists, it is regarded by some as slow death by suffocation, either in legal principle, which means nothing, or massive statistics, which mean anything.
Throughout this debate, however, throughout our debate on 13th April—indeed, throughout the reasoning in the Report of the Committee of Privileges—there runs, I think, one plain, simple, intelligible principle of law. I want to put that principle to the House because it seems to me to be crucial in our determination this evening. There is Statute law, which is binding upon us. There are the decisions of the courts interpreting those Statutes, which are binding upon us. That is the only law which is imperatively binding upon us—compulsively binding upon us—and that is the only law, as formulated in the letter of the Statutes and the decisions of the courts, which can be altered only by a fresh Act of Parliament.
It is said in the Report of the Committee of Privileges—and I have not heard it controverted in the course of this debate or that of 13th April—that the question whether peers are disqualified—and, in particular, the question whether peers who have not 150 received the writ of summons to the House of Lords are disqualified—is not laid down either by any Statute or by the decision of any court.
What then does the disqualification rest upon? The disqualification of peers, the extent of their disqualification, the time from which they are disqualified and the circumstances in which they are disqualified rest upon that vague and no doubt important system of constitutional convention—no doubt sanctioned by long usage, and of great utility in itself—to which we, in fact, by common consent conform in our constitutional arrangements and thinking. But that is not binding law—that is constitutional custom.
It may be that at some stage that constitutional custom becomes so universally recognised as to be the equivalent of law—but it is not law. The distinction between binding law, to be found in a Statute or a decision of the courts, and that broad, indefinable area of constitutional practice and convenience has been long recognised and is, in fact, in terms recognised in the Report of the Select Committee.
Here, perhaps, I may turn to paragraph 6 of that Report. To begin with, the Committee agrees that the law—or rather the principles relating to the disqualification of peers—is not… to be found in any statute nor in decisions of the Courts of law.
§ Sir F. Soskice
I am not saying that the Leader of the House did not. I hope that in quoting it again, I am being helpful because it is fundamental to a proper understanding of the question.
The Report points out that what we are talking about is neither Statute which can be altered only by Statute, nor the interpretation of Statute, which can also be altered only by Stattute. It is constitutional custom and convention. It is based on usage, and can be altered by adoption of a new usage.
The Leader of the House is mumbling. Does he wish to intervene? I was simply drawing a distinction which is of importance. Since we can alter that usage, there could not come before us a case in which there is a stronger argument for making such a change in what 151 we have hitherto adopted as our standards than the case of Mr. Benn.
Looking at the Report, one is entitled to ask: what is found by way of support for the view that peers, in general, are disqualified from membership of the House of Commons? One is further entitled to ask: what is there in support of the view that peers who have not received a writ of summons are disqualified? On seeking an answer to these questions one finds, in the Report, firstly, a private statement by Mr. Speaker Onslow to an hon. Member in 1760 and, secondly, the view expressed by the Select Committee in 1895 in the case of Viscount Wolmer.
The Report accepts that that sort of thing is not binding. I urge hon. Members to look at paragraph 21, in which the Committee, in terms, recognises that the Report of a Select Committee and the Report of a Committee of Privileges are not binding on them in the sense in which the judgment of a court of law is binding on an inferior court.
You may think, Mr. Speaker, that, equally, your Rulings and the Rulings of your predecessors do not have necessarily the same effect as the decision of a court of law. If I have correctly pointed to the only material the Committee had before it as being Mr. Speaker Onslow's statement, and the information of the Select Committee in 1895, it follows that the Committee had nothing before it which could be regarded as equivalent to binding law.
I do not dispute that Mr. Speaker Onslow's statement has been regarded, in practice, as having been fitting to the requirements of our constitutional arrangements for a considerable period of time. That applies, also, to the opinion expressed by the Select Committee in 1895. Both are entitled to respect, and I do not ask the House to set aside lightly what the distinguished persons who formed that Committee said was their opinion on this constitutional problem.
But, with respect, I put it to the House that that is simple convention. If we have before us a case, such as this, in which it is desirable to alter that convention, there is no reason why we should not do so. Further, we could do so by Resolution of this House as em- 152 bodied in the terms of our Amendment to the Government's Motion. Equally, there is no reason why we should have to introduce an Act of Parliament in order to allow Mr. Benn to enter this House and to take his seat—at least, until the Election Court has pronounced on whether or not he is disqualified.
The right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey seems to assume that it is a foregone conclusion that the Court will disqualify Mr. Benn. With due deference to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, that is hardly respectful to the Court. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am sure that the Court will listen to both sides of the argument and will take into account the cogent considerations such as those put to the Committee of Privileges by the hon. and learned Member for Ipswich (Mr. D. Foot).
§ Sir L. Heald
Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that equally it would be wrong to assume that they would decide in his favour?
§ Sir F. Soskice
I absolutely and entirely agree. They might decide one way or the other. We should not in advance, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman invited us to do, assume that they must necessarily decide one way. Still more, we should not assume that they must necessarily decide that even if a peer is disqualified he is disqualified before he receives the writ of summons requiring his attendance in another place. The question is open.
When the Home Secretary said that what he thought was appropriate was for us not to arrogate to ourselves the jurisdiction which must be vested in the Court, I accept it and I say, "Let us treat the matter as open until the Court pronounces." As we have here Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn with a 13,000 majority behind him, his nomination having been accepted and his having been elected by the electors of Bristol in the knowledge that he might be disqualified, let us not arrogate to ourselves the jurisdiction of assuming that the Court is bound to pronounce and can pronounce only one way. With great respect to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, the learning deployed by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ipswich is not to be cast lightly aside. It was not cast lightly aside by the Committee. 153 Obviously they examined it with great care and realised that they were confronted with a question of considerable difficulty which caused them a great deal of thought and reflection. Precisely those arguments will have to be reconsidered by the Election Court.
It is, so I put it to the House, a very open question indeed whether the Election Court will proceed to make what I hope I may, without disrespect, describe as the somewhat surprising jump which the Committee of Privileges makes, or rather I should say the bare majority of that Committee makes, in paragraph 6 of the Report—namely, to the conclusion that the common law is in accordance with Mr. Speaker Onslow's statement. The Committee describes it as part of the common law. I put it to the House that nothing that the Committee discloses in the Report gives any reasonable foundation for that conclusion, and that the minority—and, after all, it was a substantial minority which wanted to amend that paragraph and wanted in effect by the Amendment to stress that this was not part of the common law——
§ Mr. R. A. Butler
May I interrupt? What evidence has the right hon. and learned Gentleman for saying that it was sought to amend paragraph 6 of the Report?
§ Sir F. Soskice
I took the trouble to read this Report, and I looked at page xv. There I see:Paragraph 6 read as follows…and below it I see:Amendment proposed in line 1 to leave out from the word 'Committee' to the end of the paragraph and insert the words …I am nonplussed by the attitude of the Home Secretary, for I have read what seems to be plain English. I thought the Home Secretary might agree with me.
§ Mr. Butler
In my earlier remarks I said that in relation to the law it was more a case of expression than a case of difference of opinion. That I would regard as being the situation.
§ Sir F. Soskice
The right hon. Gentleman has already been accused of shifting his ground. Now he has started doing it again. He asked perfectly plainly where I found evidence that there was a proposal to amend paragraph 6. When I pointed to the place he sought to brush 154 that off, realising that he was possibly mistaken and a little hasty in his question, by suggesting that it was a change or a reformulation of expression. If it be reformulation, let it be so; it was an amendment just as much as reformulation.
Returning to my argument, in paragraph 6 the Committee states, by, as I say, a bare majority, that this is part of the common law, and it says that it is agreed by legal authorities to be part of the common law. The only quotations from legal authorities given, namely, from Sir William Anson and from Lord Halsbury, are set out in paragraph 12. Again, unless I have wholly misread them, neither of those quotations is to the effect that it is part of the common law. The right hon. Gentleman does not question me on that. I take it that he accepts it.
That is the central feature of the Report. The Committee assumes as part of the common law what itself describes as only constitutional custom and convention. If that is so, then, with very great deference to the right hon. Gentleman, I suggest that we can and we ought in this particular case to make the very modest change which is required to let Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn, with the majority he has behind him, enter the portals of this Chamber and take his seat.
I do not want to weary the House with lengthy citations from the law because I know how exhausting that is. We who argue in the courts sometimes invoke the aid of a mythical, ubiquitous, personage whom we describe as the reasonable man. We give him all sorts of names. Sometimes, we describe him as the ordinary man in the street. Sometimes—I know that you have done it, Mr. Speaker, if I may say so with respect, because I have heard you—we describe him as the man on the Clapham omnibus. I have myself always felt rather hurt that he is never envisaged as walking down Hampstead High Street. If we were to ask the view of the ordinary man, the reasonable man, who, it seems to me, has a particularly important rôle to play in this debate, whether we should let Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn come here, there being no binding law to prevent us and it being perfectly open to us to introduce a new practice, I am quite sure what his answer would be. It would be 155 the answer of the voters of Bristol. If it is suggested that we should cling to antiquated convention to produce a ridiculous result, we have need of the assistance of that gentleman, the man on the Clapham omnibus, who so often rescues us in the courts, and who can now rescue us in this House, from impossible conclusions reached on impeccable logic.
§ Sir L. Heald
If the reasonable man is to be consulted, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman suggest his answer to this point? If the House were to admit Mr. Wedgwood Benn tonight and then were to have to expel him after the Election Court had decided the matter, that would be of no real service to Mr. Wedgwood Benn or to the reputation of this House.
§ Sir F. Soskice
My view of the reasonable man differs widely from that of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I began my observations by saying that it was our plain duty—of this I am quite sure—to do what we can at least in the interim period until the Court decides to meet the wishes of the electors of Bristol. If we do not do that, we offer an affront to them and we offer an affront to democracy. On the Clapham omnibus or in Hampstead High Street, the reasonable man, I am sure, would take a strong view adverse to any such course.
I go further than that. I say that this is convention. Let us assume that the convention is so deeply rooted that we ought not now, in 1961, to make this very slight adjustment to it to let Mr. Wedgwood Benn, so long as he has not received a writ of summons and while he is not yet declared disqualified by the Election Court—which he may never be—come into the House. Assuming that that is something which does violence to the susceptibilities of constitutional purists, we need not, as I understand the position, even go as far as that.
I should like to remind the House of the view of the Select Committee on which the Committee of Privileges itself relies. The Committee of Privileges sets out in paragraph 9 of its Report some quotations from the views of the Select Committee in 1895. I should like to preface it by saying that the procedure of this House, what we do inside these four 156 walls, is entirely a matter for us, and ever since the famous judgment of Mr. Justice Stephens in Bradlaugh and Gossett it has been firmly established as part of our law that no court of law will seek to question the legality or propriety of any procedural step that we take within the four walls of this House.
If we chose to say to Mr. Wedgwood Benn, "Disqualified or not as you may be, a peer or not as you may be, we are going to say as a matter of procedure that we allow you to sit until the matter has been decided one way or another by the Election Court or if necessary by amending legislation", no court in the land can question our proceedings in that regard.
I said that I wanted to quote from the 1895 Committee. Paragraph 3 of that Committee's Report, as quoted in paragraph 9 of the Report of the Committee of Privileges states:… it has been the general practice of the House of Commons to abstain from declaring the seat of a Member vacant, and ordering a fresh election in his room, on the ground of succession to a Peerage entitling the holder to sit in the House of Lords until the Member has been 'called up to the House of Lords' by receiving a writ of summons from the Crown to sit in that House.That is exactly what I ask the House to do now. I ask it to follow its own procedure as recognised and formulated in that Report of 1895.
I do not know whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General will say that that rule and practice is unconstitutional. It clearly recognised the position that the House might be considering the case of a man who by common knowledge has become a peer, but nevertheless might say, "Common knowledge or not, we shall not treat the fact of his becoming a peer as established as a fact in our internal procedure until he receives the writ of summons". Surely if that is constitutional, it is constitutional for this House to ask Mr. Wedgwood Benn to come in now.
If, as these words clearly imply, the House, confronted with a situation in which a man is known to be a peer by common knowledge, can say nevertheless "Come into the House until you receive your writ of summons", if that is constitutional, what we want to do today in the case of Mr. Wedgwood Benn, which follows that practice, must equally be constitutional.
157 I ask the House to do that, and it is laid down in the clearest terms in Brad-laugh and Gossett that our decision will not be questioned in any court whatsoever. If the Election Court decides that Mr. Benn is not qualified to sit in the House we must clearly pay respect to the Court, but I emphasise that I am talking only about the interim period. It is during that interim period that I say we can give some satisfaction to the electors of Bristol, South-East.
The Attorney-General looks anxiously at the clock. I have left him twenty-five minutes and I want to bring my remarks to a close by summarising my conclusions. They are: (1) There is no binding law in the sense of a statement or decision of the court which offers any obstacle in the way of the course which I propose; (2) no doubt there is a constitutional understanding, I dare say of high authority and long usage, but constitutional understanding as it is, it is susceptible of innovation in a clear case, and this is a clear case; (3) this is the clearest possible case we could ever be confronted with in which this modest, mild, change ought to be made. I ask the House to make it.
To summarise my last two points, in view of the existing procedure of the House, which cannot be questioned and which was laid down in the 1895 precedent, we can do what we want practically in accordance with the existing procedure, stretching it ever so slightly in case Mr. Wedgwood Benn should not have his writ of summons for some time or never have it at all.
I conclude by saying that this is an overwhelmingly strong case. There is no compelling and absolute obligation which prevents us from doing what we suggest, and I strongly urge upon both sides of the House that this is the course which it is appropriate and, indeed, our bounden duty to adopt.
§ 9.36 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General
The right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) has advanced several propositions which, I must confess, I find rather astonishing. He seems to draw a distinction between binding law and law. I thought that law which was in force was binding. He seems to suggest that only statute law or case law requires amendment by Statute.
158 The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred in great detail to the Report of the Committee of Privileges. He criticised paragraph 6 of the Report, which stated the opinion, it is true, of the majority of the Committee. In the previous paragraph the Committee cited evidence given by Mr. Wedgwood Benn. What the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not refer to, and what he did not comment upon, were the terms of the Amendment which the members of the Opposition sought to insert in that Report.
I should like to draw the attention of the House to the last few lines of the Amendment on page XV, where it says:On the other hand, the House will treat such decisions"—That is, decisions of Committees—with respect and, where the 'law of Parliament' (May, 16th ed., p. 223), as Sir T. Erskine May describes it, is reasonably clear, the House has no power to alter it.Here is a further quotation:'Any change in the law of Parliament can only be effected by statute, whereas either House is free to modify its own procedure by its independent action.' (May, 16th ed., p. 223).The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows perfectly well that a great deal of the law of Parliament is embodied in neither statute law nor case law, and the quotation from May shows that to change that law of Parliament legislation is required. In the whole course of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech, he studiously avoided expressing any opinion on the general proposition as to whether or not a peer was and is disqualified from membership of this House. He must know that, in law, a peer is disqualified. It is so stated in Erskine May, and it has, so far as I know, always been accepted.
But the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not think fit to touch upon that and did not think fit to give consideration to the question whether it formed at least a part of the law of Parliament. What he asked this House to believe was that it was perfectly open to us to make a constitutional change of great significance and importance by saying that we could at our own volition admit peers to this House. I must say that I entirely disagree with him, and that I entirely disagree with him, also, in the view that to take such a step would be a purely procedural step.
159 We have tonight to decide whether to pass the Motion which my right hon. Friend has moved without amendment or to accept the Amendment. The effect of the Motion is to preserve the present status quo. It is no more and no less. No one, in the course of the debate, has suggested that it is a Motion which is intended to prejudice the position of Mr. Wedgwood Benn; but the Amendment would. I will come to that in a moment.
It is clear that in the Committee of Privileges, although they voted against the Committee's Report as a whole, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and his colleagues accepted that Mr. Benn had become a peer, that he could not lawfully renounce his peerage, and that he had, therefore, ceased to be a Member of the House of Commons. To that extent, they agreed with the Report. From the moment of his succession on the 17th November, 1960, Mr. Benn did not sit in this House. Now, of course, he has been elected, and an election petition has been presented. The right hon. Gentleman says that all this creates a completely new situation. Those are the two new factors to which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House drew attention in moving the Motion. As I have said, all we are seeking to do is to preserve the status quo until the judges have reported, and that seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable and honourable course.
At the beginning of business you, Mr. Speaker, told the House of the course you thought it right to take as a servant of the House in the light of the Resolution passed by the House. The Leader of the Opposition thought it right, in his following remarks, to make some reference to the words of Mr. Speaker Peel, which sought to suggest that you were not always bound by Resolutions of this House. It is unfortunate, but no doubt unintentional, that the right hon. Gentleman did not read the passage a little more fully. I would like to read it now to the House.
Mr. Speaker Peel said on that occasion:It will be observed that the statements made by the right hon. Gentlemen to whom I have referred allude to proceedings in a former Parliament, and that in no case cited does the Speaker take original and independent authority 160 upon himself. It is always by the action of the House, in consequence of something that has occurred during that Parliament. We are assembled in a new Parliament. I know nothing of the Resolutions of the past. They have lapsed, they are void, they are of no effect in reference to this case.We are here concerned with a Resolution of this Parliament. No doubt inadvertently, the right hon. Gentleman did not think fit to refer to that.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is referring to a statement made by Mr. Speaker Peel. As he is not stating Mr. Speaker Peel's words correctly in their proper context, someone ought to be allowed to intervene to point that out.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. It is not for me to correct speeches. I have been at pains to make it clear that the Chair is in no sense involved in this matter, save as a servant of the House. There is no point of order in what the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) is saying.
§ The Attorney-General
I have listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), which was a fairly long one. I hope that he will allow me to conclude what I have to say in the somewhat limited time at my disposal.
Disqualification is stated by Erskine May, on page 190, to fall into three categories. It says:Certain persons are disqualified for membership of the House of Commons by some incapacity 'whether inherent, as in the case of an infant or lunatic, or acquired by profession or office, or incurred by felony, bankruptcy or corruption'".In the House of Commons Disqualification Act, 1957, we dealt with incapacity by profession or office. Incapacity which may be incurred by felony, bankruptcy or corruption remains, but, of course, the two instances given of inherent incapacity are not the only ones. The peerage is quite clearly, when one reads Erskine May and the other books, an inherent disqualification. So is lunacy. The Opposition are now contending—and let us get the contention quite clear—that someone who has been found toy the Committee of Privileges, on evidence, to be a peer, and who ceased to be a Member on that account, can and should, after re-election, 161 be admitted to sit and vote in this House.
I would like to test that contention by applying it not to the case of a peer, but to the case of a lunatic. In 1868, statutory provision was made for vacating seats of Members who became insane. It would be inconceivable that if an insane person were nominated—and he might be—a person whose seat had been vacated on grounds of insanity should sit and vote despite the House's finding of insanity. [Laughter.] The right hon. Gentleman tries to brush that on one side. I can understand his seeking to do so. He cannot appreciate an argument. He expects to be listened to in complete silence and then tries to prevent argument from being put forward to answer it.
Whatever be the grounds for disqualification, if the House has found disqualification, as it has in this case by the Motion of 13th April, and by the Motion moved by the Opposition on 18th April, asking for the issue of a new writ, it is inconceivable that the House should then admit the person elected, until it is established that he is qualified.
The right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) made great play with the question which he said he put to me in the course of his speech, but it was not the same question. No case can I find where the House has inquired into a Member's inherent capacity or incapacity to sit, having reached the conclusion that he is disqualified, but then allowing him to sit and vote in the House. But that is what we are asked to do now and before the decision of the Election Court.
The precedents have been mentioned, precedents of Members sitting and voting when petitions have been pending against them. I agree that that has happened, but those circumstances are not in point here. In this case there was a definite finding by this House of a disqualification and in none of those cases was there any disqualification at the time. It had to be established and it was not an inherent disqualification in those other cases.
The right hon. Member went on to assert the astonishing proposition, which found some support from the right hon. and learned Member for Newport, that 162 by no other way except by Mr. Benn sitting here could the Opposition get a change. That is entirely wrong. The only way to get a change in this matter is by changing the existing law, and my right hon. Friend showed what the processes would be which would have to be followed.
I am sure that anyone who considers this matter without prejudice will realise that that legislation, even if limited to the case of the sons of hereditary peers, raises problems which have to be solved one way or another. I touched on them last time I spoke on this matter. Those problems exist and it is no use suggesting airily that we can legislate today and legislate tomorrow. The problems have to be considered and the right solution found.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Mr. Berkeley) asked me to say whether the Joint Select Committee could be instructed to make an early report. I have no doubt that those who are appointed members of the Joint Committee will have regard to the debates on this subject. One would hope that their labours would not be unduly prolonged, but it would be entirely wrong to give them instructions and fetter their hands, because each of these changes might have its impact on some other problems in relation to the House of Lords and I would prefer to leave it to them entirely to decide what course they pursue.
We were accused of shifting our ground. I thought that that was very odd, coming from the right hon. Gentleman. He appeared to me never to have his feet on the ground at all. His history of this business was really a parody. He accused us of inconsistency. It certainly is inconsistent—and I hope that he will agree—to seek always to appear to the public to be in favour of reform and, in fact, to take every possible step to see that it does not come about.
In 1948, there was a publication of the White Paper. Then there was Lord Hailsham's case. He wrote to the then Prime Minister and got a very short reply. It suggested that he wanted to retain his title, and that that was why nothing could be done. I do not remember it being said, "We will legislate for you immediately if you will abandon your title".
163 It does not stop there. In 1953, my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) wrote suggesting consideration of reform. That was turned down. In 1955, Lord Jowitt was asked about it in the House of Lords. Again, that was refused. Now, in 1961, when we put forward a proposal for the appointment of a Joint Committee—'and what there can be no doubt about is that the terms put forward by my right hon. Friend cover the problem which arises in relation to persons in the position of Mr. Wedgwood Benn—that, again, is turned down.
But the inconsistency of hon. Gentlement opposite does not stop there. The right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends were on the Committee of Privileges. The Amendments tabled by them to paragraph 6, and the subsequent Amendments, show, as my right hon. Friend said—and he has never been contradicted about it—that there was real agreement as to the legal position at that time but disagreement as to what should happen about it.
A Motion was tabled in the House and carried. What was the next thing that happened? It was the moving of a Motion by the Opposition Chief Whip for the election of someone in the room of Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn. That was inviting Mr. Speaker—[HON. MEMBERS: "What ware the words?"] Those were the words used. I am not going to advise the right hon. Member for Belper.
§ The Attorney-General
That Motion was carried on the basis that Mr. Wedgwood Benn was disqualified. Having done that, and having asked the electors of Bristol to elect someone in Mr. Ream's place, what did the Opposition do? They went there, adopted him as the Official Labour candidate, and they deliberately—[Interruption.] I know that hon. Gentlemen cannot take it. They cannot take anything. This they cannot deny. Having done that, they then went on to invite the electors to vote for a man whose incapacity for membership of this House was recognised by them by that very Motion.
Now, because of the decision of the electors—which does not alter the legal position—we are asked to change the position before the Election Court has reported. In asking the House to support the Motion we are not asking for a ruling on the issues before the Election Court; we are asking that the position should remain unchanged till that Court has reported. In the light of the evidence produced by Mr. Benn, and in the light of the findings that have been considered by this House, I suggest that no other course is possible or right.
§ Question put, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 259, Noes 162.167
|Division No. 162.]||AYES||[9.57 p.m|
|Allan, Robert (Paddington, S.)||Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (Saffron Walden)||Digby, Simon Wingfield|
|Allason, James||Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn)||Drayson, G. B.|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. Julian (Preston, N.)||Carr, Compton (Barons Court)||du Cann, Edward|
|Ashton, Sir Hubert||Carr, Robert (Mitcham)||Duthie, Sir William|
|Barlow, Sir John||Cary, Sir Robert||Eccles, Rt. Hon. Sir David|
|Batsford, Brian||Channon, H. P. C.||Eden, John|
|Baxter, Sir Beverley (Southgate)||Chataway, Christopher||Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)|
|Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton||Clark, Henry (Antrim, N.)||Emery, Peter|
|Bell, Ronald||Clark, William (Nottingham, S.)||Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn|
|Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)||Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)||Errington, Sir Eric|
|Berkeley, Humphry||Cleaver, Leonard||Farr, John|
|Bevins, Rt. Hon. Reginald (Toxteth)||Cooke, Robert||Fell, Anthony|
|Bingham, R. M.||Cooper-Key, Sir Neill||Finlay, Graeme|
|Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel||Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.||Fisher, Nigel|
|Bishop, F. P.||Cordle, John||Fletcher-Cooke, Charles|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Corfield, F. V.||Forrest, George|
|Bossom, Clive||Coulson, J. M.||Fraser, Hn. Hugh (Stafford & Stone)|
|Bourne-Arton, A.||Craddock, Sir Beresford||Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)|
|Bowen, Roderic (Cardigan)||Critchley, Julian||Gammans, Lady|
|Box, Donald||Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Gardner, Edward|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. John||Crowder, F. P.||Gibson-Watt, David|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Cunningham, Knox||Goodhart, Philip|
|Brewis, John||Curran, Charles||Goodhew, Victor|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. Sir Walter||Dalkeith, Earl of||Gower, Raymond|
|Brooman-White, R.||Dance, James||Grant, Rt. Hon. William|
|Buck, Antony||Davies, Rt. Hn. Clement (Montgomery)||Gresham Cooke, R.|
|Bullard, Denys||d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Grimston, Sir Robert|
|Bullus, Wing Commander Eric||Deedes, W. F.||Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G.|
|Gurden, Harold||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard|
|Hall, John (Wycombe)||McAdden, Stephen||Russell, Ronald|
|Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough)||McLaren, Martin||Sandys, Rt. Hon. Duncan|
|Hare, Rt. Hon. John||McLaughlin, Mrs. Patricia||Scott-Hopkins, James|
|Harris, Reader (Heston)||Maclay, Rr. Hon. John||Seymour, Leslie|
|Harrison, Brian (Maldon)||Maclean, Sir Fitzroy (Bute & N. Ayrs.)||Sharples, Richard|
|Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)||McMaster, Stanley R.||Shaw, M.|
|Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)||Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)||Shepherd, William|
|Hastings, Stephen||Maddan, Martin||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir Jocelyn|
|Hay, John||Maginnis, John E.||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel||Maitland, Sir John||Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'rd & Chiswick)|
|Henderson, John (Cathcart)||Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.||Smithers, Peter|
|Henderson-Stewart, Sir James||Markham, Major Sir Frank||Spearman, Sir Alexander|
|Hendry, Forbes||Marlowe, Anthony||Speir, Rupert|
|Hiley, Joseph||Marples, Rt. Hon. Ernest||Stanley, Hon. Richard|
|Hill, Dr. Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton)||Marshall, Douglas||Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)|
|Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk)||Marten, Neil||Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm|
|Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Mathew, Robert (Honiton)||Storey, Sir Samuel|
|Hirst, Geoffrey||Matthews, Gordon (Meriden)||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Hobson, John||Maudling, Rt. Hon. Reginald||Sumner, Donald (Orpington)|
|Hocking, Philip N.||Mawby, Ray||Tapsell, Peter|
|Holland, Philip||Maxwell-Hyslop, A. J.||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Hollingworth, John||Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.||Taylor, Edwin (Bolton, E.)|
|Hopkins, Alan||Mills, Stratton||Taylor, W. J. (Bradford, N.)|
|Hornby, R. P.||More, Jasper (Ludlow)||Temple, John M.|
|Howard, Hon. G. R. (St. Ives)||Morrison, John||Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret|
|Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral John||Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles||Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Hughes-Young, Michael||Nicholson, Sir Godfrey||Thomas, Peter (Conway)|
|Hutchison, Michael Clark||Noble, Michael||Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)|
|Iremonger, T. L.||Nugent, Sir Richard||Thorneycroft, Rt. Hon. Peter|
|Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Oakshott, Sir Hendrie||Tiley, Arthur (Bradford, W.)|
|Jackson, John||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.||Turner, Colin|
|James, David||Orr-Ewing, C. Ian||Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.|
|Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Osborn, John (Hallam)||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Jennings, J. C.||Osborne, Cyril (Louth)||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)||Page, John (Harrow, West)||Vickers, Miss Joan|
|Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Page, Graham (Crosby)||Vosper, Rt. Hon. Dennis|
|Johnson Smith, Geoffrey||Pannell, Norman (Kirkdale)||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Joseph, Sir Keith||Pearson, Frank (Clitheroe)||Walder, David|
|Kaberry, Sir Donald||Percival, Ian||Walker, Peter|
|Kerans, Cdr. J. S.||Pickthorn, Sir Kenneth||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hon. Sir Derek|
|Kershaw, Anthony||Pike, Miss Mervyn||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Kirk, Peter||Pilkington, Sir Richard||Watkinson, Rt. Hon. Harold|
|Kitson, Timothy||Pitman, I. J.||Watts, James|
|Langford-Holt, J.||Pitt, Miss Edith||Webster, David|
|Leather, E. H. C.||Pott, Percivall||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Powell, Rt. Hon. J. Enoch||Whitelaw, William|
|Leavey, J. A.||Price, David (Eastleigh)||Williams, Dudley (Exeter)|
|Leburn, Gilmour||Prior, J. M. L.||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)|
|Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry||Prior-Palmer, Brig. Sir Otho||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Proudfoot, Wilfred||Wise, A. R.|
|Lilley, F. J. P.||Pym, Francis||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|Lindsay, Martin||Quennell, Miss J. M.||Woodhouse, C. M.|
|Litchfield, Capt. John||Rawlinson, Peter||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey (Sut'nC'dfield)||Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin||Woollam, John|
|Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)||Renton, David||Worsley, Marcus|
|Longbottom, Charles||Ridley, Hon. Nicholas|
|Longden, Gilbert||Ridsdale, Julian||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Loveys, Walter H.||Rippon, Geoffrey||Mr. Chichester-Clark and|
|Low, Rt. Hon. Sir Toby||Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)||Mr. Peel.|
|Abse, Leo||Cliffe, Michael||Fernyhough, E.|
|Ainsley, William||Collick, Percy||Finch, Harold|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Fletcher, Eric|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Foot, Dingle (Ipswich)|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Crosland, Anthony||Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)|
|Baird, John||Crossman, R. H. S.||Forman, J. C.|
|Baxter, William (Stirlingshire, W.)||Cullen, Mrs. Alice||Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)|
|Bence, Cyril (Dunbartonshire, E.)||Darling, George||Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. Hugh|
|Benson, Sir George||Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)||Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.|
|Blackburn, F.||Davies, Harold (Leek)||Gourlay, Harry|
|Bowden, Herbert W. (Leics, S.W.)||Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Greenwood, Anthony|
|Bowles, Frank||Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Grey, Charles|
|Brockway, A. Fenner||Deer, George||Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||de Freitas, Geoffrey||Griffiths, W. (Exchange)|
|Brown, Alan (Tottenham)||Delargy, Hugh||Gunter, Ray|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Dempsey, James||Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley)|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Donnelly, Desmond||Hamilton, William (West Fife)|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Ede, Rt. Hon. C.||Hannan, William|
|Callaghan, James||Edelman, Maurice||Hart, Mrs. Judith|
|Castle, Mrs. Barbara||Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Hayman, F. H.|
|Chapman, Donald||Edwards, Walter (Stepney)||Healey, Denis|
|Chetwynd, George||Evans, Albert||Hill, J. (Midlothian)|
|Hilton, A. V.||Mendelson, J. J.||Stonehouse, John|
|Holman, Percy||Millan, Bruce||Stones, William|
|Holt, Arthur||Mitchison, G. R.||Strauss, Rt. Hon. G. R. (Vauxhall)|
|Houghton, Douglas||Monslow, Walter||Stross, Dr.Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C.)|
|Howell, Denis (B'ham, Small Heath)||Morris, John||Swingler, Stephen|
|Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Moyle, Arthur||Sylvester, George|
|Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Neal, Harold||Symonds, J. B.|
|Hunter, A. E.||Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Hynd, John (Attercliffe)||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip (Derby, S.)||Taylor, John (West Lothian)|
|Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Oliver, G. H.||Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)|
|Irving, Sydney (Dartford)||Oram, A. E.||Thomson, G. M. (Dundee, E.)|
|Jay, Rt. Hon. Douglas||Oswald, Thomas||Thornton, Ernest|
|Jenkins, Roy (Stechford)||Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn|
|Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Parker, John||Wainwright, Edwin|
|Kelley, Richard||Parkin, B. T.||Warbey, William|
|Kenyon, Clifford||Peart, Frederick||Wells, Percy (Faversham)|
|Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Prentice, R. E.||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Lawson, George||Proctor, W. T.||White, Mrs. Eirene|
|Lee, Frederick (Newton)||Randall, Harry||Whitlock, William|
|Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Rankin, John||Wigg, George|
|Redhead, E. C.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.)||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)||Willey, Frederick|
|Loughlin, Charles||Robertson, John (Paisley)||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)|
|Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Rogers, G. H. R. (Kensington, N.)||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|MacColl, James||Ross, William||Willis, E. C. (Edinburgh, E.)|
|McInnes, James||Royle, Charles (Salford, West)||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|McKay, John (Wallsend)||Short, Edward||Woof, Robert|
|Mallalieu, J.P.W.(Huddersfield, E.)||Skeffington, Arthur||Wyatt, Woodrow|
|Manuel, A. C.||Slater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.)||Yates, Victor (Ladywood)|
|Mapp, Charles||Slater, Joseph (Sedgefield)||Zilliaous, K.|
|Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.||Small, William|
|Marsh, Richard||Soskice, Rt. Hon, Sir Frank||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Mayhew, Christopher||Spriggs, Leslie||Mr. Charles A. Howell and|
|Mellish, R. J.||Stewart, Michael (Fulham)||Mr. McCann.|
§ Main Question put:—168
§ The House divided: Ayes 254, Noes 160.171
|Division No. 163.]||AYES||[10.8 p.m.|
|Allan, Robert (Paddington, S.)||Craddock, Sir Beresford||Hastings, Stephen|
|Allason, James||Critchley, Julian||Hay, John|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. Julian (Preston, N.)||Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel|
|Ashton, Sir Hubert||Crowder, F. P.||Henderson, John (Cathcart)|
|Barlow, Sir John||Cunningham, Knox||Henderson-Stewart, Sir James|
|Batsford, Brian||Curran, Charles||Hendry, Forbes|
|Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton||Dalkeith, Earl of||Hiley, Joseph|
|Bell, Ronald||Dance, James||Hill, Dr. Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton)|
|Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)||Davies, Rt. Hn. Clement (Montgomery)||Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk)|
|Berkeley, Humphry||d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount|
|Bevins, Rt. Hon. Reginald (Toxteth)||Deedes, W. F.||Hirst, Geoffrey|
|Bingham, R. M.||Digby, Simon Wingfield||Hobson, John|
|Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel||Drayson, G. B.||Hocking, Philip N.|
|Bishop, F. P.||du Cann, Edward||Holland, Philip|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Duthie, Sir William||Hollingworth, John|
|Bossom, Clive||Eccles, Rt. Hon. Sir David||Hopkins, Alan|
|Bourne-Arton, A.||Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)||Hornby, R. P.|
|Bowen, Roderic (Cardigan)||Emery, Peter||Howard, Hon. G. R. (St. Ives)|
|Box, Donald||Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn||Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral John|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. John||Errington, Sir Eric||Hughes-Young, Michael|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Farr, John||Hutchison, Michael Clark|
|Brewis, John||Finlay, Graeme||Iremonger, T. L.|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col.SirWalter||Fisher, Nigel||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)|
|Brooman-White, R.||Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Jackson, John|
|Buck, Antony||Forrest, George||James, David|
|Bullard, Denys||Fraser, Hn. Hugh (Stafford & Stone)||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)|
|Bullus, Wing Commander Eric||Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)||Jennings, J. C.|
|Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A.(Saffron Walden)||Gammans, Lady||Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)|
|Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn)||Gardner, Edward||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)|
|Carr, Compton (Barons Court)||Goodhart, Philip||Johnson Smith Geoffrey|
|Carr, Robert (Mitcham)||Goodhew, Victor||Joseph, Sir Keith|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Gower, Raymond||Kaberry, Sir Donald|
|Channon, H. P. G.||Grant, Rt. Hon. William||Kerans, Cdr. J. S.|
|Chataway, Christopher||Gresham Cooke, R.||Kershaw, Anthony|
|Clark, Henry (Antrim, N.)||Grimston, Sir Robert||Kirk, Peter|
|Clark William (Nottingham, S.)||Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G.||Kitson, Timothy|
|Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)||Gurden, Harold||Langford-Holt, J.|
|Cleaver, Leonard||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Leather, E. H. C.|
|Cooke, Robert||Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough)||Leavey, J. A.|
|Cooper-Key, Sir Neill||Hare, Rt. Hon. John||Leburn, Gilmour|
|Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.||Harris, Reader (Heston)||Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry|
|Cordle, John||Harrison, Brian (Maldon)||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)|
|Corfield, F. V.||Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)||Lilley, F. J. P.|
|Coulson, J. M.||Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)||Lindsay, Martin|
|Litchfield, Capt. John||Page, John (Harrow, West)||Storey, Sir Samuel|
|Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey (Sut'nC'dfield)||Page, Graham (Crosby)||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)||Pannell, Norman (Kirkdale)||Sumner, Donald (Orpington)|
|Longbottom, Charles||Pearson, Frank (Clitheroe)||Tapsell, Peter|
|Longden, Gilbert||Peel, John||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Loveys, Walter H.||Percival, John||Taylor, Edwin (Bolton, E.)|
|Low, Rt. Hon. Sir Toby||Pickthorn, Sir Kenneth||Taylor, W. J. (Bradford, N.)|
|Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Pike, Miss Mervyn||Temple, John M.|
|McAdden, Stephen||Pilkington, Sir Richard||Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret|
|McLaren, Martin||Pitman, I. J.||Thomas Leslie (Canterbury)|
|McLaughlin, Mrs. Patricia||Pitt, Miss Edith||Thomas, Peter (Conway)|
|Maclay, Rt. Hon. John||Pott, Percivall||Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)|
|Maclean, Sir Fltzroy (Bute & N. Ayrs.)||Powell, Rt. Hon. J. Enoch||Thorneycroft, Rt. Hon. Peter|
|McMaster, Stanley R.||Price, David (Eastleigh)||Tiley, Arthur (Bradford, W.)|
|Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)||Prior, J. M. L.||Turner, Colin|
|Maddan, Martin||Prior-Palmer, Brig. Sir Otho||Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.|
|Maginnis, John E.||Proudfoot, Wilfred||van Straubenzee, w. R.|
|Maitland, Sir John||Pym, Francis||Vickers, Miss Joan|
|Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.||Quennell, Miss J. M.||Vosper, Rt. Hon. Dennis|
|Markham, Major Sir Frank||Rawlinson, Peter||Wade, Donald|
|Marlowe, Anthony||Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Marples, Rt. Hon. Ernest||Renton, David||Walder, David|
|Marshall, Douglas||Ridley, Hon. Nicholas||Walker, Peter|
|Marten, Neil||Rippon, Geoffrey||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hon. Sir Derek|
|Mathew, Robert (Honiton)||Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Matthews, Gordon (Meriden)||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard||Watkinson, Rt. Hon. Harold|
|Maudling, Rt. Hon. Reginald||Russell, Ronald||Watts, James|
|Mawby, Ray||Sandys, Rt. Hon. Duncan||Webster, David|
|Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.||Scott-Hopkins, James||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.||Seymour, Leslie||Whitelaw, William|
|Mills, Stratton||Sharples, Richard||Williams, Dudley (Exeter)|
|More, Jasper (Ludlow)||Shaw, M.||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Morrison, John||Shepherd, William||Wise, A. R.|
|Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir Jocelyn||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|Nicholson, Sir Godfrey||Skeet, T. H. H.||Woodhouse, C. M.|
|Noble, Michael||Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'rd & Chiswick)||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Nugent, Sir Richard||Smithers, Peter||Woollam, John|
|Oakshott, Sir Hendrie||Spearman, Sir Alexander||Worsley, Marcus|
|Orr, Capt. L. P. S.||Speir, Rupert|
|Orr-Ewing, C. Ian||Stanley, Hon. Richard||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Osborn, John (Hallam)||Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)||Mr. Gibson-Watt and|
|Osborne, Cyril (Louth)||Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm||Mr. Chichester-Clark.|
|Abse, Leo||Edwards, Walter (Stepney)||Lee, Frederick (Newton)|
|Ainsley, William||Evans, Albert||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Fernyhough, E.||Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.)|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Finch, Harold||Loughlin, Charles|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Foot, Dingle (Ipswich)||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson|
|Baird, John||Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)||MacColl, James|
|Baxter, William (Stirlingshire, W.)||Forman, J. C.||McInnes, James|
|Bence, Cyril (Dunbartonshire, E.)||Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||McKay, John (Wallsend)|
|Blackburn, F.||Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. Hugh||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)|
|Bowden, Herbert W. (Leics, S.W.)||Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||Manuel, A. C.|
|Bowles, Frank||Gourlay, Harry||Mapp, Charles|
|Brockway, A. Fenner||Greenwood, Anthony||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Grey, Charles||Marsh, Richard|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Mayhew, Christopher|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C)||Griffiths, W. (Exchange)||Mellish, R. J.|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Gunter, Ray||Mendelson, J. J.|
|Callaghan, James||Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Millan, Bruce|
|Castle, Mrs. Barbara||Hamilton, William (West Fife)||Mitchison, G. R.|
|Chapman, Donald||Hannan, William||Monslow, Walter|
|Chetwynd, George||Hart, Mrs. Judith||Morris, John|
|Cliffe, Michael||Hayman, F. H.||Moyle, Arthur|
|Collick, Percy||Healey, Denis||Neal, Harold|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Hill, J. (Midlothian)||Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Hilton, A. V.||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip (Derby, S.)|
|Crosland, Anthony||Holman, Percy||Oliver, G. H.|
|Crossman, R. H. S.||Houghton, Douglas||Oram, A. E.|
|Cullen, Mrs. Alice||Howell, Denis (B'ham, Small Heath)||Oswald, Thomas|
|Darling, George||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)|
|Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Parker, John|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Hunter, A. E.||Parkin, B. T.|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Hynd, John (Attercliffe)||Peart, Frederick|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Popplewell, Ernest|
|Deer, George||Irving, Sydney (Dartford)||Prentice, R. E.|
|de Freitas, Geoffrey||Jay, Rt. Hon. Douglas||Proctor, W. T.|
|Delargy, Hugh||Jenkins, Roy (Stechford)||Randall, Harry|
|Dempsey, James||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Rankin, John|
|Donnelly, Desmond||Kelley, Richard||Redhead, E. C.|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. C.||Kenyon, Clifford||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Edelman, Maurice||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Robertson, J. (Paisley)|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Lawson, George||Rogers, G. H. R. (Kensington, N.)|
|Ross, William||Sylvester, George||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Royle, Charles (Salford, West)||Symonds, J. B.||Willey, Frederick|
|Short, Edward||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|Skeffington, Arthur||Taylor, John (West Lothian)||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)|
|Slater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.)||Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)||Willis, E. G. (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Slater, Joseph (Sedgefield)||Thomson, G. M. (Dundee, E.)||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Small, William||Thornton, Ernest||Woof, Robert|
|Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn||Wyatt, Woodrow|
|Spriggs, Leslie||Wainwright, Edwin||Yates, Victor (Ladywood)|
|Stewart, Michael (Fulham)||Warbey, William||Zilliaous, K.|
|Stonehouse, John||Wells, Percy (Faversham)|
|Stones, William||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Strauss, Rt. Hon. G. R. (Vauxhall)||White, Mrs. Eirene||Mr. Charles A. Howell and|
|Stross, Dr.Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C.)||Whitlock, William||Mr. McCann.|
|Swingler, Stephen||Wigg, George|
That this House, taking note that Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benin ceased to be a Member of this House on succession to the Viscounty of Stansgate on 17th November, 1960, and that
a new Writ was issued for the electing of a Member in the room of the said Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn, orders that the said Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benin, otherwise Viscount Stansgate, be not permitted to enter the Chamber unless the House otherwise orders.