§ 3.57 p.m.
§ The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Iain Macleod)
I beg to move.That it is expedient that a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament be appointed to consider whether any, and if so what, changes should be made in the rights of Peers of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain or of the United Kingdom, and of Peeresses in their own right, to sit in either House of Parliament, or to vote at Parliamentary elections, and whether, and if so under what conditions, a Peer should be enabled to surrender a peerage permanently or for his lifetime or for any less period having regard to the effects and consequences thereof.Reading through the different debates and discussions that this House has had, 1364 particularly since 1948, on the question of House of Lords reform, I find one name cropping up over and over again, that of Clement Davies. He was the last remaining Member of the House who took part in the 1948 Conference. He was a member of the Committee of Privilege last Session Which considered the Wedgwood Benn case. He spoke on 13th April, 1961, and surely if he had been alive today he would have taken part in this debate.
In all the notices and obituaries that I nave read about Clement Davies, the same phrase keeps recurring, that he was a kind man, and it is the phrase that I would use. He was kind and generous; he was always both kind and generous 1365 to me from the first day that I met him as a very new Member. I am sure that his great heart must have been cheered in his last days by the splendid victory that the party to which he gave so much secured. I think that we are poorer as a House and poorer as individual Members for his passing.
There is, of course, a good deal of history to the Motion which I have moved. The House will remember that following the debate on 13th April last year my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who was then Leader of the House, gave notice on 26th April of the terms of reference for a Joint Select Committee. The terms of reference which I now put before the House differ in two respects, one major and one minor, from my right hon. Friend's proposals.
The less important point is that I do not now propose that we should include consideration of the principle of remuneration for Members of the House of Lords. The previous statement was made before my right hon. Friend the Chancellor's statement in July last year, but I would not wish to argue a special pre-pause commitment on this occasion. [HON. MEMBERS: "Two and a half per cent."] I cannot work out 2½ per cent. of three guineas quickly enough—but it is an interesting idea. It would be inappropriate to put forward this part of the original terms of reference now, although no doubt it is a matter that ought to be considered at some time. The important point in respect of which my Motion differs from that of my predecessor is in relation to what was paragraph (a) of his Motion—the composition of the House of Lords.
In the debate that centred upon the case of Lord Stansgate, or Mr. Wedgwood Benn—as one pleases—the Government indicated that there were matters beyond the question of renunciation which they would wish to study. These matters are enshrined in today's Motion. But we are not now suggesting that there should also be a review of the general composition of the House of Lords. If hon. Members will refer to the discussion in this House which followed the statement of 26th April last, they will see at once that the question of powers 1366 was raised in this context, and also the question of the abolition of the hereditary principle.
The Government did not feel that there would be any profit in embarking upon a discussion of these matters, or that there would be any hope of agreement. They felt that there might not even have been agreement to proceed to set up a Joint Select Committee. Accordingly, we have decided not to put forward this wide and general point as part of the Motion. It has become clear that to do so would lead to a frustration of the whole case, and I believe that by proceeding in the way that is now proposed we have the best chance of a reasonable advance in this matter.
Before I come to the matters that are covered by the Motion it is right that I should make some reference to one point which, in my view—although it will be for the Joint Select Committee to construe its terms of reference—is not so covered. I refer to the possibility of Ministers in another place being entitled to address this House. The House will be aware that this suggestion was recently canvassed in The Times of 14th March. There are precedents in other legislatures for similar arrangements. Section 52 of the South Africa Act, 1909, provided for this. [An HON. MEMBER: "We do not want it."] I wish to argue the case whether this point is or is not within the terms of reference. I am giving my opinion that it is not. It is an important matter, on which I would wish to speak for a moment or two. Section 18 of the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, followed the precedent and reproduced the wording of the South Africa Act.
As hon. Members know, we, as Members of the House of Commons, have over centuries exercised the very strictest control in the matter of allowing strangers to address us in this Chamber. The occasions upon which peers have been invited to do so fall into three categories, as far as I can discover. The first is when the Lords ask leave to address the Commons for the purpose of thanking them for favours offered; the second is when they ask leave to address the Commons in connection with legal proceedings; and the third is when they are invited to give evidence on a subject which the Commons are investigating.
1367 Apart from these special cases—and the last instance I can find of this is of the Duke of Wellington addressing this House in 1814—theme is no precedent since 1558. I have a quotation relating to what took place then, which is as follows:The Lord Chancellor, the Lord Treasurer and several Lords came into the House, sitting where the Queen's Privy Council used to sit, and the Lord Chancellor, by his oration, declared that a subsidy must be had.It is not recorded what were the observations of the Commons to the Lord Chancellor's observation, but I doubt whether it went with much of a swing.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
I am surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman quote these precedents, which were very much in my mind and also in the mind of the Leader of the House when we discussed the Wedgwood Benn issue. On that occasion the right hon. Member solemnity voted against the disputed peer coming to the Bar of the House. Why does he quote these precedents now?
§ Mr. Macleod
Because the case that we discussed a year ago does not fall within any of the categories that I have mentioned. It is clear from what I have said that there is no valid precedent for a Member of the House of Lords, in his capacity as a Minister of the Crown, addressing the Commons in their Chamber. My view, as a Minister whose name is put to the Motion, is that such a proposal would not be within the terms of reference that I am putting before the House. I leave that matter there.
The terms of reference that I propose are intended to cover questions of the surrender of peerages and the consequences thereof, and certain anomalies in the position of hereditary peeresses and Scottish and Irish peers. When we consider the question of the surrender of peerages I suppose that we think mostly in terms of a person being eligible to vote at parliamentary elections and to sit in this House. But behind these issues there lie many questions which the Joint Select Committee will be examining—questions of extinction or renunciation in favour of heirs, of certain privileges and exemptions, such as the right of individual access to the Sovereign which it attached to the 1368 peerage, and questions about property that devolves, by Statute, upon the peers.
There are the questions—although they may be secondary questions—of which peers or classes of peers should be able to surrender their peerages; whose permission, if anyone's, they need; in what circumstances this right should be exercised, and for how long it should be held.
The Committee will also wish to consider, under the terms of the Motion, certain special problems that affect peers of Scotland—such as the question Whether non-representative Scottish peers should be entitled to sit in either House, to vote at parliamentary elections, or, in certain circumstances, to surrender their peerages. Similar points, which I need not itemise, affect peers of Ireland. In particular, there is the question whether they should be eligible for election to this House as Members for Northern Ireland constituencies as well as other constituencies.
Thirdly, there is the question of hereditary peeresses of England, Great Britain and the United Kingdom. It would be necessary to consider whether female holders either of baronies by right or hereditary peerages by grant should be entitled to sit in another place, perhaps despite an express prohibition in the grant—or should be entitled to sit in this House, or enabled to surrender their peerages.
This is a complicated field for the Committee's consideration, and I hope that the House will agree that we could not enter it without reference to the Upper House. This was explicitly recognised in the majority Report of the Committee of Privileges on the Wedgwood Benn Petition, and in the Amendments moved to it. That makes almost inevitable the use of the sort of machinery that I am suggesting—a Joint Select Committee. We cannot bind the Joint Select Committee as to its procedure before it is appointed; that would be unconstitutional. But some time ago we put in hand the preparation of the material that the Committee might require for its discussion, and this will be ready for it.
§ Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
My right hon. Friend mentioned the question of the non-representative Scottish peers and also the Irish peers. Would 1369 he say whether the terms of reference as they are now drawn would permit the Joint Select Committee to go into the whole question of the possibility of English representative peers and non-representative English peers being eligible for membership of this House?
§ Mr. Macleod
The position about that is that it is for the Joint Select Committee itself to construe its terms of reference. I will ask the Attorney-General, who hopes to reply to the debate, to deal again with this point after considering it. My rather "off the cuff" view would be that the terms of reference I propose would not cover that specific point.
Freedom of decision on the action that a Government takes is, naturally, something that the Government must ensure and reserve for itself. Of course, I cannot be taken as binding the Government to introduce legislation to implement any recommendations that the Committee may make. When one considers matters relating to constitutional change it is always, if one can do it, highly desirable to move with at least some measure of all-party agreement and with the general consent of both Houses.
This is a particularly difficult subject and one where considerable divergence of view is to be expected. Nevertheless, I believe that the Motion I am putting forward, which concentrates on the question of surrender and its implications and also a considerable number of anomalies that I believe a Joint Select Committee could profitably examine, represents the most hopeful approach to this subject.
I hope therefore that, after debate, the Motion will command the support of the House.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Gaitskell (Leeds, South)
The Leader of the House began his speech with a graceful and well-expressed reference to the death of Mr. Clement Davies. I should like to associate myself and my right hon. and hon. Friends with what he said about our late colleague. He was a kind man. He was a friendly man. I think that all of us had an affection for him. He was also a very staunch parliamentarian. He loved this House and he was devoted to it. Perhaps that was expressed most 1370 clearly by his efforts to improve the remuneration and conditions under which hon. Members work here. We pay this tribute to his memory and express our sympathy with his widow and his family.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I find myself in the rather unusual position this afternoon of supporting a Motion which has been moved by the Leader of the House.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
It will, perhaps, be no surprise to the noble Lord or other hon. Members to hear that the wording of the Motion has been substantially agreed beforehand. I see that the noble Lord is disappointed about the battle that he otherwise could have had with this side of the House, but when it comes to constitutional questions there is a case for trying to reach agreement, at least as far as we can go. The implication of the fact that we are supporting the Motion is, of course, that if the Motion is approved by the House we will agree to take part in the Joint Select Committee.
I do not pretend that this Motion will produce automatically the result, the change, that we desire. Nor can it be ignored that it comes a year later than we had originally hoped, but it is an important and, I believe, a decisive step towards a minor change in the House of Lords which is, nevertheless, extremely desirable.
The Committee of Privileges which considered the question of Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn was chiefly concerned with the existing law. I do not propose to say anything about that this afternoon, but even at that stage some of us who were members of that Committee believed that if, so to speak, we were wrong about the law—if, in fact, the law made it plain, as was subsequently confirmed by this House, that Mr. Wedgwood Benn could not retain his seat here—then there ought to be a change in the law to make such a thing possible.
§ Amendments were moved by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) and my right 1371 hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) which expressed the view of the Opposition on this matter. I do not think that I need read those Amendments—they are probably within the recollection of the House—but we believed that a change in the law was desirable for very simple reasons. It amounted to this, that a man should be free, if he so desired, to rid himself of what he might regard as a disability, such as being unable to sit in the House of Commons and being obliged to sit in the House of Lords.
§ I do not think that in the House as a whole there is very much doubt or disagreement on this point. I think that we all agree and realise that it is an anomaly that a person who inherits a peerage should be debarred from sitting in the House of Commons.
§ There has been discussion about what should be done about it, but, looking through the previous debates on the subject, I certainly could not find a single speech in favour of the principle that a man who inherits a peerage should be obliged to give up his seat in the House of Commons and be debarred from either voting or being a Member of this House. The arguments at that time were of a limited character. They were as to whether a change was at that moment desirable, as to what consequences it might have, and so on. What we are principally concerned with now is to put right an anomaly, to get rid of an injustice, something which is unfair to a small number of persons, but, nevertheless, unfair for all that.
§ There are, as the Leader of the House said, some other minor problems which I agree should be discussed and considered by the Select Committee at the same time. It certainly is an anomalous position that if one happens to be a Scottish peer, but is not elected by one's fellow peers as a Member of the House of Lords, one should be debarred from being a Member of the House of Commons. It is, I think, an anomaly that if one is an Irish peer, other than a representative Irish peer, of whom I believe five remain—
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I am told that it is only one. It is an anomaly that if one 1372 is an Irish peer, other than a representative Irish peer, one should be allowed to be a Member of the House of Commons and that Scottish peers if not elected to the House of Lords may sit in neither House.
Equally, I do not think that one can accept the present position of hereditary peeresses. It seems to me that either they should be allowed to sit in the House of Lords, or they should be allowed to sit in the House of Commons. To be debarred from both is to deprive them of a right which every other citizen enjoys.
If one looks at the terms of reference one is driven to the conclusion that they leave open—and I may be wrong about this—the possibility of a Member of the House of Lords or, at any rate, of a peer sitting in the House of Commons. I noticed that the Leader of the House made it plain that he was not in favour of a Member of the House of Lords making a speech in the House of Commons, and, personally, I wholly agree with him, on that, but as I read the terms of reference which instruct the Joint Committee to consider whether changes should be made in the rights of peers to sit in either House of Parliament I am not quite sure that it rules out entirely the possibility of their sitting in both Houses of Parliament.
That is a point which perhaps the Government could clear up, but, whether it be within the terms of reference or not, I am certainly wholly against the idea that a Member of the House of Lords should be enabled to sit in the House of Commons, and I hope that if that cannot be ruled out by the Attorney-General, at any rate it will not be proceeded with.
There is the further possibility, to which I made reference, of a peer giving up the House of Lords, retaining his peerage, but nevertheless sitting in the House of Commons. I do not much favour that, either. It is a different point; he gives up his right to sit in the House of Lords and sits in the House of Commons as a peer, but the very terminology suggests that there is something a bit queer about that, and I think that it would be most undesirable, irrespective of whether it is within the terms of reference.
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
As the right hon. Gentleman made it clear to the House that he was consulted to some extent on the drafting of the Motion, will he say whether he agrees with the answer which my right hon. Friend gave to the question I put about the possibility of a representative peer for England being considered by the Committee?
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
If that be so, will the right hon. Gentleman please explain why he agrees with that, while, at the same time, he condemns as anomalous the position of non-representative Scottish peers?
§ Mr. Gaitskell
When one is talking about the terms of reference of this Committee, that is one thing, but what one's own views are is another thing. I think that the terms of reference should be reasonably wide because I do not want to dictate to the Committee; it is not our business to dictate to the Joint Committee, but one is entitled to express one's views and one's hopes on the conclusions which the Committee will reach. There is a legitimate distinction between those two points.
§ Mr. Macleod
Partly in response to the Leader of the Opposition and partly in response to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke), may I say that I am not quite certain that my "off-the-cuff" interpretation was right? I should like to ask the Attorney-General to deal with the point. As the Leader of the Opposition said, and as I stressed, it is for the Joint Select Committee to construe its terms of reference, but I have a feeling on this point, if anybody wishes to pursue it—I have heard no particular case for it—that the question of English representative peers may be within the terms of reference. But I want to leave that to the Attorney-General.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
There are one or two points of obscurity, I must admit, about the terms of reference. I accept my responsibility for this, although perhaps the Leader of the House took the initiative in it. It is unfortunate that there is this obscurity, but, nevertheless, mere is a very big distinction between the terms 1374 of reference, on the one side, and what one hopes will emerge from the Committee's deliberations.
There are two other points of substantial importance which the Committee will have to consider. One is the period of renunciation. There are obviously a number of possibilities here. At one extreme one could say that the renunciation should be absolute, not only for the lifetime of the holder of the peerage but also for all his progeny and their descendants. That happens to be the view of most of us on this side of the House, and I know that it was also the view taken by the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) and, I think, by the hon. Member for Windsor (Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe), in the debate which took place last year.
There is the opposite extreme in which they are given the right to opt out of membership of the House of Lords and given the privilege of sitting in the House of Commons for a period even within their lifetime. I do not think that that would be acceptable to many of us. We cannot have a position where people can change their minds continually and opt between the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
There is the other possibility that a person in this position decides to renounce the peerage as far as he is concerned but this does not deprive his descendants of the chance of accepting it at a later stage when he dies. I do not much like that, although I believe that it has been recommended by some hon. Members and has been suggested in the newspapers. My own feeling, for what it is worth, is that if renunciation is to take place it should be absolute and should bring to an end a peerage as far as that person and his family are concerned.
The second question which the Committee will have to consider is to whom the right of renunciation should apply. Should it apply only to those who are not yet created peers, who have not yet inherited peerages? Should it apply to those who legally, if that is the right word, are hereditary peers but have not yet taken their seats? Mr. Wedgwood Benn is in that position. Or should it apply to all peers whether they inherit in the future or are already Members of the House of Lords?
1375 My view, frankly, is that if this is a freedom to which those who inherit peerages in the future or who have not yet taken their seats in the House of Lords, although they have already inherited a peerage, are entitled, then it is a freedom which we cannot deny to those who happen already to be peers and who have taken their seats in the House of Lords. I do not think that it is fair to say to them, "By some bad luck there was no legislation in your time and you have not the right to change". I think that they should have the right to change, although that is my own personal view, on this question as it is on the other.
On the last occasion on which this matter was discussed the Government argued that we could not consider this narrow reform of the House of Lords on its own. They argued that we must consider the composition of the House of Lords and the remuneration and that these two things should be considered together with the problem of renunciation. The Leader of the House has explained why he does not think it appropriate that we should deal with the problem of remuneration. His explanation, I think, was a trifle disingenuous. He was able to rely, as so many people can, on the pay pause as an explanation of not doing the right thing, but for my part I think that it was right to leave this matter out of the Motion. I do not think that one should consider the question of the remuneration of the House of Lords in connection with a change of this kind, and I must frankly say to the right hon. Gentleman that if the issue of the remuneration of the Members of the House of Lords is to arise, many of us feel that the remuneration of- the House of Commons should also be considered.
In any case, since all that the Members of the House of Lords are paid at the moment is expenses, and remuneration is presumably not expenses, then an increase of 2½ per cent. on nothing is nothing and it would not help them very much.
We were opposed to the Government at this stage for the simple reason that we would not agree, and, I think, could not agree, to a discussion in the Select Committee of the composition of the House of Lords without bringing in what 1376 is clearly relevant to the problem of the composition, namely, the issue of powers. I am glad that the Government have dropped their idea of including the composition in it, because this is the point which has made it possible for us to take part in the discussions. Either, we thought, the terms of reference should be narrow, and on what is essentially the problem of renunciation, or they should be much wider. The Government have decided, I think wisely, in favour of the narrower interpretation.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
Can the right hon. Gentleman explain to the House why he thinks that the issue of powers is engaged only when the composition is changed by a system of election, and not in the way which he has been suggesting himself—by means of renunciation?
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I should have thought that the problem of powers was intimately related to the problem of composition. I did not say that the question of powers should not be considered on its own, but that is not what we were offered. What we were offered was the problem of composition being considered on its own. I should have thought that if we were to consider whether the composition of the House of Lords should be changed, we must also consider the question of what powers it should have, and it was on this particular point that we were unable to agree to the original Motion which was proposed by the Government.
I am not against the further consideration of the reform of the House of Lords—indeed, there are anomalies in the present situation—but there is no denying, as the Leader of the House himself agreed, that there might well be long delay in any considerations of this kind. If it is desirable, as I believe it is, that constitutional changes of this character should be made, by agreement if possible, there is no denying that there are many different points of view as to exactly what major reforms should be made in the composition and powers of the House of Lords. Therefore, had this question been included in the terms of reference, we might very well have had very long deliberations by the Joint Select Committee, without any real hope of agreement at the end of the day.
1377 That itself would not have been a sufficient justification for holding up the comparatively minor reform—and it is a minor reform—which is envisaged in the terms of reference which are now proposed. After all, as I said earlier, almost all of us are agreed on the anomalous position regarding hereditary peers, and almost all of us agree that they should, in certain circumstances, be free to renounce those peerages. The fact that we all agree about this seems to me a reason for going ahead with this minor reform, and not getting ourselves entangled or held up in the wider issues on which it is very doubtful whether we should reach agreement.
For my part, I am very glad that the Government have changed their minds on this matter. I appreciate that this has always been the point of view of a number of members of the party opposite. For instance, I recall, particularly, the support given in the earlier debate on 13th April last year, and also in the later debate of 8th May, by the noble Lord who sits for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Viscount Lambton) to the idea of distinguishing between what is known as the Benn case and the wider issue of reform of the House of Lords. I am glad that the Government accepted that point of view.
Let me say, as has been said before, though it perhaps would do no harm to repeat it, that we have never looked upon this as a problem of how to enable Mr. Benn to take his seat here again. It is true that his particular case sparked off a train of thought and discussion which led to the debate today, but at no time have we suggested that special legislation should be passed to enable Mr. Benn to remain a Member of the House of Commons. It was always a question whether the law should be changed so as to make the renunciation of peerages under certain conditions possible.
I conclude by hoping that the Joint Select Committee will speedily reach an agreed conclusion on this matter, and that, in consequence of its conclusions, new legislation may be passed through both Houses of Parliament so that we may remedy the injustices and remove anomalies, and in that way satisfy ourselves that at last some advance towards a more rational constitutional position will be achieved.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Sir Charles Mott-Radclyffe (Windsor)
This is a matter on which hon. Members on both sides of the House hold differing views, and in a debate of this kind this House is found to be at its best on an issue which outs right across party lines.
There are some hon. Gentlemen on the benches opposite who, quite openly, do not like a Second Chamber, and who would seek to remove it at the earliest possible moment. There are others who would not go as far as that, but who are always anxious to seize every opportunity gradually to erode and whittle down its powers. There are also former members of the party opposite, whom we all remember and whom we hold in great affection, who, in their younger days, no doubt gained a great many votes at election campaigns by making disparaging speeches about the House of Lords, and who are now happily adorning Opposition seats in another place and enriching its deliberations.
As both the Leader of the Opposition and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House have said, many attempts have been made in past years to agree about some kind of reform of the House of Lords on an all-party basis, and there is no other basis on which it can successfully be carried out, but almost every attempt foundered, not so much on composition as on powers. I agree absolutely with what has been said—that when we come to try to discuss between the Government and the Opposition the question of the powers of another place, we are almost bound to get violent disagreement.
There are certain obvious anomalies referred to in the Motion which clearly ought to be discussed, because nothing in this life is static, and neither we in this House nor noble Lords in another place are removed, so to speak, from the process of evolution. Clearly, it is quite anomalous that hereditary peeresses should neither be able to sit in the House of Lords nor to stand for election in the House of Commons, whereas life peeresses, whom we have created, sit in the House of Lords. Equally, there is the anomaly, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, of the non-representative peers for Scotland, who are out on both counts, whereas Irish peers, 1379 though they cannot sit in the House of Lords, can stand for election here. This is clearly an absurd anomaly, and it is quite time that this matter should be discussed in order to see whether there cannot be some satisfactory solution.
As the Leader of the Opposition said, these issues are comparatively small ones. Though they are important small anomalies, they are not the real issue. The real issue we are discussing, and the real issue which lies behind the Motion before the House, is the issue of the Stansgate case. This is the crux of the problem. I have said before in a previous debate and other hon. Members have said it, we all have very considerable sympathy for the plight, the bad luck—if that is the right phrase—of the present Lord Stansgate.
§ Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe
I am coming to that in a minute. He was anxious to remain in this House, and was balked from his desire by the law. The law was quite firm on the subject, and, happily, the electoral law cannot be altered by ballyhoo. At first sight, it may seem unreasonable that the eldest son of a peer—
§ Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)
Is my hon. Friend's reference to "ballyhoo" a reference to my speech which followed his own in the last debate? I strongly supported reform of the electoral roll. I regard it as a most impertinent remark.
§ Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe
I was not referring to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) though, if I had thought of it in time, I might have done. In fact, I was referring to certain aspects and elements in the election campaign of the present Lord Stansgate.
Although, at first sight, it may seem entirely unreasonable, and, as my right hon. Friend said, unjust, that the eldest son of a peer on succession to the peerage cannot remain a Member of this House if he wants to, none the less, I think that we have to be a little careful about this, and be certain that in the 1380 process of solving one problem we do not create a large number of other problems. If we are proposing to pass legislation by which the eldest son of a peer on succession to the peerage can renounce his peerage and stay a Member of this House, or alternaitvely, stand for election to this House, we are bestowing on that individual a new privilege which is not enjoyed by anybody else.
We are saying that the eldest son of a peer on succession to his father's peerage may opt or choose whether to sit in the House of Commons or in the House of Lords. It may be a perfectly fair choice to make. I am simply making the point that this is conferring on that person a fresh privilege which is not at the moment enjoyed by any other Parliamentarian.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
My hon. Friend is entirely wrong. Everyone who is approached with a view to becoming a peer, whether a Member of the House of Commons or otherwise, has precisely that choice.
§ Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe
Of course, a person can refuse to have a peerage conferred upon him. But this is a question which arises because, on his father's death, the eldest son of a peer automatically inherits his father's obligations.
Secondly, there is the very difficult problem, which was referred to by the Leader of the Opposition, as to whether heirs to peerages should renounce on succession their peerage for life in order to stay in the Commons, or whether they should be allowed, so to speak, to "scrub out" the peerage for all time. If they are to be allowed simply to renounce a peerage for life, we get the position to which the Leader of the Opposition referred in a slightly different context—the rather strange position—of successive generations opting in and out like jacks-in-the-box in respect of certain hereditary obligations. The second Viscount Stansgate wishes to renounce his peerage and stay in the Commons. The third Viscount Stansgate de jure may opt to go to the House of Lords; I do not know. The fourth Viscount may well wish to do neither.
1381 I am not at all certain it is right that we should, as it were, allow an individual, whether peer or otherwise—because this could affect a much wider category of hereditary factors—to opt in or out in successive generations in relation to certain obligations. On the other hand, as the Leader of the Opposition suggested, there is the view that in order to stay in the Commons a peer should renounce his peerage not only for his lifetime, but for all time, that is, completely obliterating that peerage. This might create a very difficult position.
I wish to put this point to the House. Can we confine the right to renounce once and for all a peerage solely to those with political ambitions? If it is proposed to confer upon this category this right, we must, in all reason, admit that there may be other reasons for renouncing a peerage which are just as valid, but which have nothing to do with politics. This creates a very dangerous situation. We should have to guard against the possibility of the holder of an old title who has no son, and whose heir is a very distant cousin of whom he may strongly disapprove for various reasons, saying, purely out of spite, "I do not want so-and-so to inherit my title on my death, so I am going to scrub it out." This would be a dangerous thing to allow. This problem has far wider implications than satisfying one man's ambition in a long and honourable family history.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I agree with what the hon. Gentleman has said about the difficulties of renouncing for one life only. I do not follow him in this difficulty. There is no intention of driving anyone into the House of Lords. Some people want to vote and consider that their vote is of importance. At present, a peer cannot vote. Surely he should be allowed to if he wishes to do so.
§ Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe
The point I was seeking to make was that if a Joint Select Committee recommended altering the present law we should have to choose between allowing a peer on succession to renounce his peerage for his lifetime, or scrubbing out the peerage for all time, as it were, so that the peerage would be completely obliterated. This is a very difficult dilemma and one which any 1382 Committee set up would have to consider carefully. In my view, both courses—to renounce for life or for "keeps"—are fraught with all sorts of difficulties and dangers. The implications are much wider than some would appear to think.
My second objection to altering the existing law is this. If any peer on succession with ability or political ambition is, so to speak, to be encouraged to confine his political activities to this House rather than to go to another place, we shall be left with a second Chamber composed largely of life peers, plus a few hereditary peers of not very marked ability—[Laughter.] My noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) would be sitting in this Chamber.
I have always taken the view that one of the problems with which we are confronted in the second half of the twentieth century is the need to ease the burden imposed by the machinery of government on certain overworked Ministers. I hold the view—I am making no party point about this—that it would be extremely beneficial if, for the sake of argument, the Foreign Secretary were nearly always in the House of Lords. It was overwork at the Foreign Office plus the work in the House of Commons which killed Mr. Bevin, and the Labour Party could ill afford to lose him. It was overwork at the Foreign Office and in this House which led to the illness of Lord Avon, when he was Sir Anthony Eden, and there are other examples which may be recalled. One, less applicable in this context, which comes to my mind is that of the late Sir Stafford Cripps, because he was in a different category as Chancellor of the Exchequer. It was simply overwork which killed him—
§ Mr. C. Pannell
A seat in the Lords would not have helped him. It would have killed him straight away.
§ Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe
I should judge any findings or recommendations of a Joint Committee by one yardstick only—would it strengthen or weaken the vigour and the reputation of the House of Lords as a second Chamber? I believe that to be the only yardstick by which any recommendation or change ought to be judged.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Dick Taverne (Lincoln)
As this is the first occasion on which I rise to address the House, I ask hon. Members for the usual indulgence. There is only one circumstance for which I am profoundly thankful in facing this ordeal, namely, that no accident of birth has made me face it in another place and that, unlike other people, I am not prevented from speaking here. My task is made no easier by the fact that I succeed a previous Member of Parliament for the Lincoln constituency who, I understand, was held in as high regard in the House as he was by his constituents. If I can only partly maintain the high standard that he set, I shall be fully satisfied.
It may seem somewhat curious that I launch forth on my maiden voyage in a debate in which essentially domestic Parliamentary matters are being discussed, and ones of considerable constitutional complexity. I do so for two reasons. First, I was one of those who gave evidence before the Committee of Privileges which considered the case of the former Member for Bristol, South-East, so the matter is not entirely strange to me. Secondly, I have always been a student of the British Constitution and have always been a particular admirer of its flexibility, the way in which, over the centuries, it has adapted itself to meet the changing demands of different times. This is one of the occasions when its flexibility is being put to the test.
At least three problems arise when considering the question of renunciation of peerages. The first concerns the electors of Bristol, South-East and their interests. In 1955, the Bristol City Council petitioned both Houses of Parliament that Mr. Wedgwood Benn should be allowed to renounce his title. The Petition was refused. About a year ago the electors in Bristol, South-East showed overwhelmingly that they wished to retain their previous Member. The Conservative vote dropped by about 50 per cent., which would make even Orpington look like a victory by comparison.
Personally, I hope that Mr. Wedgwood Benn will continue to fight in Bristol, unless or until the law is changed. The electors there want him as their Member and they should be free to choose 1384 the Member of their choice. I am sure that a way can be found to solve this problem. In the interests of the electors in Bristol, South-East, it should be done before the General Election.
The second problem concerns the personal issues. Some hon. Members opposite may have engaged in a certain amount of heart-searching about the possible implications. It has been suggested that any change in the law should not be retrospective and should not benefit anyone who has already succeeded to a peerage. But Mr. Wedgwood Benn executed an instrument of renunciation of his peerage at the first opportunity. He was the first person in history, as far as I can remember, with the possible exception of Robert Villiers, in the seventeenth century, who was prepared not only to renounce his title, but to extinguish it for all posterity.
Mr. Wedgwood Benn has not taken his seat in another place. Therefore, any change in the law which would allow him to take his place here on being elected would not require to be retrospective. There is no reason why a simple law should not be passed saying that anyone who has not taken his seat in the House of Lords should be free to take his place in the House of Commons on election. I am not concerned with whether the renunciation which this would involve should be for life or should be permanent.
But, in any case, why should not there be retrospective legislation for others? It is one thing to pass laws which retrospectively take away people's rights. Surely there cannot be the same objection to a law which retrospectively confers rights. In any event, it would be an irony if the person whose battles have led to the setting up of this Joint Committee, namely, Mr. Wedgwood Benn, should not be allowed to benefit from any result it might produce. The Joint Committee should have enough ingenuity to set a suitable price. The price should be set so high that anyone who wishes to renounce his peerage to sit in this House should be prepared to make a sacrifice to pay it.
The third and by far the most important issue raised is one of the widest possible principle. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said, we are not seeking to change the 1385 law to benefit one man. After all, the disqualification on Catholics was not removed to benefit solely Mr. O'Connell. Nor that on Jews to benefit Rothschild. Nor that on atheists just to benefit Charles Bradlaugh.
The glaring fact, surely, is that our constitutional laws must once again be adapted to meet a new challenge. Our peerage laws are out of date. To most of the younger generation our peerage laws seem absurd. Previous debates have shown that to many of the younger and more progressive hon. Members opposite our present peerage laws seem out of date.
§ Mr. Taverne
The hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) has signified his agreement. When the Report of the Committee of Privileges was being debated here I sat under the Gallery and heard a number of speeches by hon. Members opposite with which I agreed, including that of the hon. Member for Kidderminster. He said that he spoke for the young and progressive element in his party.
Perhaps I may quote the principle which was laid down or confirmed in the leading case, namely, the Norfolk peerage case of 1907, which finally established that peerages could not be renounced. These are the much quoted words of Lord Davey, who, after saying that a man cannot alienate a title of honour, went on to say:… the reason is this, that it is a personal dignity which descends to his posterity and is fixed in the blood.So a seat in another place and one of the disqualifications from sitting in this House depends on, and is determined by, the doctrine of adignity… fixed in the blood.When stripped of this rather elegant phraseology, this surely amounts to no more, basically, than a doctrine of tribalism. I do not wish to seem unduly disrespectful to another House in my maiden speech. Therefore, I say at once that it is quite the most dignified and elegant form of tribalism there could possibly be.
However, the fact remains that in the 1960s, when the problems of government of this island are becoming increasingly complex, when the future of this country 1386 becomes increasingly uncertain, when Russians and Americans have advanced sufficiently in their scientific knowledge to send their men circling the globe in space, the present laws of our Constitution say that the question of who can sit in the Upper House and play a part in government and who is disqualified from sitting here and playing a part in government is determined by blood.
As I said earlier, to most of the younger generation this is laughably absurd. I campaigned in my election at Lincoln to a large extent on the theme that there are far too many things in Britain which are out of date. This is perhaps one of the most distressing examples of the way in which we are not facing the problems of our times. How can we hope that people will respect and maintain a respect for our Parliamentary institutions when they have this element of tribalism built into them?
We are hoping that our form of Parliamentary institution will be copied elsewhere. The number of Parliaments is decreasing. News has just come of a military coup in Syria and there is similar news from the Argentine. How can we hope that our Parliamentary institutions will be adopted by new countries if our model continues to contain as many anomalies as it does? I hope that a future Labour Government will erase the anomalies from the Constitution in a way which would be far more fundamental than the terms of reference for this Committee.
The matter has now been under discussion for some time. It was first raised in 1955, and since then on a number of occasions the Government have rather sidestepped the issue. When life peerages were created, they refused to consider the renunciation of peerages. When the Committee of Privileges reported, again nothing was done. Now at last something is being done and there is no reason whatever why there should be any long delay. When the Life Peerages Bill came forward, it was not considered necessary even to set up a Select Committee. I welcome the fact that a Joint Committee is to be set up, but I hope that there will be no delay and that the Report of the Committee will be debated in the House before the Summer Recess.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)
I think that the whole House will agree that we have had one of the most refreshing, enjoyable and able maiden speeches in recent experience. Having just been the guest of the predecessor of the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Taverne), in Ghana, and still owing him a bread-and-butter letter, I shall take the opportunity of telling him what a distinguished performance his successor has put up. We have heard of the hon. Member before for has notable contributions in the Wedgwood Benn discussions and for the ability with which he conducted his part in the proceedings upstairs. I am sure that the House is looking forward with anticipation and expectation to being able to indulge in controversy with him when next he intervenes to take part in our debates.
I rise for only a short time and chiefly for the reason that I find it extremely distasteful, being deeply involved in this issue, to have to represent feelings of any kind to the House and the public. I suppose that I am of a different nature from Mr. Wedgwood Benn.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
Perhaps when I have finished what I have to say the House will not be in the same mind as I am myself at this moment.
I should like to ask my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General to take an early opportunity of rising in the debate to put something straight which has gone slightly wrong. I am sure that by leave of the House he could then make his valued contribution later. The question which my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) raised was answered equivocally by the Leader of the House. If the question of English representative peers is to be made the subject of discussion by the Joint Select Committee, that is to raise the whole issue of the composition of the Chamber, upon which the Labour Party has declined to associate itself, having refused to allow the words relevant to it to appear in the Motion.
That alters the character of the situation completely. If the Joint Select Committee is to be allowed to discuss the composition of the House of Lords, 1388 not as changed by the rather simple process which the Leader of the House described with regard to eldest sons and peeresses and arbitrary renunciations and things of that kind, but wholesale by discussion of the representative English peerage system, that will widen the terms of the debate. Hon. Members who may have come prepared with some schemes to impart to their colleagues on the elective principle and the formation of an electoral college, and so on, such as one can find raised in the Select Committee on the Lords which sat under Lord Rosebery in 1908, will be enabled to allude to them in the debate, knowing that the Committee will have power to consider them. I hope that at an early stage my right hon. and learned Friend will make clear what the situation is.
This is another example of what is becoming all too common today—the disposition of the Government to secure the assent of the Opposition before they proceed to legislate. What might have been a magnificent performance of the Joint Select Committee and what might have engaged the full and excited interest of the country, after an unnecessary delay of twelve months—twelve months since the Wedgwood Benn Report and eight months since the debate on the original Motion—has become, by leave of the Opposition, as with so many other things, including the capital gains tax, this relatively slender issue.
It was news to me that the Labour Party had solidified itself on this question of the renunciation of peerages. It was only one of the pleadings of its disciple and devotee, Mr. Wedgwood Benn. The other pleading was that the substance of the issue—the writ of summons—should be a major factor in determining proceedings. I will come to that before I conclude.
I hope that we can turn the Labour Party from the view that the surrender of peerages is the right way of making these changes. If we can widen the terms of the debate, there is a great deal to be said for an elective process with a college of the peerage. I am amazed to read the detail into which the Select Committee of Lord Rosebery went—the numbers of those who would be first generation peers, the number of those who would be elected peers and the 1389 question whether peers should be made from proconsuls, High Commissioners, and so on, from abroad. All these questions were gone into as long ago as that time, and the Report is well worth reading today if we are to admit the possibility of this sort of change.
I am entirely against the idea of the renunciation of peerages and I am rather surprised to hear that some of my hon. Friends have taken to this principle. I would be the last to want to give up, either for myself or for my entire family, the association with what I regard as an honoured and distinguished name which has come down a certain distance through history. It seems to me to make no difference at all as to whether it has a handle to it. To give up my name at the moment and that to which I trust I am heir to, and to become plain Mr. So-and-So, would mean that I was changing my name.
There are hon. Members here who might look back to some very distinguished names in their own ancestry from which they are directly descended, or with which they are associated, and they might wonder whether they would like to be put in the same circumstance of breaking the link with those distinguished names and become somebody quite different. I should have thought that there were other ways in which the composition of the House of Lords could be changed than by taking people out of it by the renunciation of their titles.
I have no desire whatever to enter the House of Lords. I think of it as inverting Lord Baldwin's famous dictum and being a place of responsibility without power. It is weighed down by responsibility. It carries with it a sort of dead weight of history. I rather agree with the feelings which the hon. Member for Lincoln so well expressed. It is over-encrusted with ancient pageantry and is becoming a sort of museum piece. People flock to see it as they would flock to see the mansion of some duke or earl in the countryside. I met a lady coming away from the Lords Chamber the other day who turned eagerly to her companion and said, "What a pity it was that we did not see them with their cornets on". The House of Lords is weighed down with effete 1390 responsibility and it has practically no power.
It is natural justice that the House of Lords has no power. It committed the grievous political error, which all history has judged as fatally demeaning, of exhibiting rank cowardice. It was rankly cowardly in 1910. Instead of standing up for its principles and taking the consequences it ran away. Incidentally, the consequences would have been very agreeable and we would have had a very large assembly of most distinguished Liberals in the House of Lords today and perhaps a few of the early Labour men, turned Tories by this time, and it would not have been necessary to indulge in these rather petty devices of making Socialists life peers in order to carry on the debate.
It ran away from its responsibilities in 1945. The last thing that this country really wanted to see was the implementation of Socialism in our time. The electorate voted in 1945 to get out of the war, and voting for the Labour Party was the best way of doing it. They did not want to see the immediate implementation of the nationalisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange. The House of Lords ought to have realised that and stood up against it. It was frightened and it ran away. It is weaker today as a result of the Labour Party's manœuvres against it than it was in 1945. This is what comes to institutions in history when they show no courage and no enterprise and do not stand up for their beliefs. I have no desire whatever to go there and I hope-that I shall be long spared from that painful duty.
May I conclude by referring to what was the other plea of Wedgwood Benn, to which no attention has been given so far in the debate today. This is the issue of the writ of summons. These documents have been quoted before and I have no intention of inflicting them on the House. They are very lengthy and ancient in their verbiage. This is Mr. George Nathaniel Curzon talking in a Memorandum to the Select Committee on the Law and Practice of Parliament in reference to the vacating of seats in the House of Commons 1895. This memorandum was, of course, referred to by those in the Select Committee on the Wedgwood Benn case.
1391 I would read just three or four paragraphs very briefly to the House, because they contain the issue:Whether a peer can or cannot continue to sit and vote in the House of Commons upon his succession to a peerage, his seat in that House cannot be vacated, and a writ for a new election cannot be issued upon the grounds of such succession, until the House of Commons is possessed of conclusive evidence that he has become a peer.Such evidence the House of Commons has never hitherto procured and has no existing means of procuring for itself. It is furnished, and is furnished only, by the issue of the writ of summons to the House of Lords.…The writ of summons to the House of Lords is only issued upon certain information given and certain evidence of succession supplied, either by the peer himself or by some other person, acting upon his behalf, to the Lord Chancellor.…It appears accordingly that the disqualification of a peer from continuing to vote in the House of Commons, if he be already a Member of that House, arises not from his succession to the titles and dignity of a peerage, but from his summons to the House of Lords, i.e., not from his inherited status as a Peer of the Realm, but from his acquired status as a Lord of Parliament, this being a familiar distinction in the law and practice of the constitution. In other words, disqualification is not inherited, but a parliamentary disqualification, and is based, not upon ennoblement of blood."—how I agree with that phrase used by the hon. Member for Lincoln—but upon incompatability of double service.I think that we are all united in believing it right that an individual should not have the right to be in both Houses at once. It goes on:It ensues, therefore, that a peer, in the interval between his succession and his summons, if already a Member of the House of Commons, continues to be so; and further that, until or unless he applies for the writ of summons, he will so continue.How about a short Bill of one Clause—"Any man or woman being of the age of 21 and being a person eligible to sit in the Upper House of Parliament who has not received or has not accepted a writ of summons to sit in the Upper House shall be eligible to stand for, sit, and vote in the House of Commons."?
That would be the beginning and end of the Bill. It would have satisfied the Wedgwood Benn case. It would satisfy all other like cases, and it would deal with the situation because it is rooted in history, as I believe these 1392 quotations show and as the evidence in the Wedgwood Benn case showed.
I hope that the Joint Select Committee, whose appointment, even at this belated time I warmly welcome, will, if it finds itself debarred from considering the wider issues of reform on the elective principle, devote its mind to this particular and most important change.
§ 5.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Wade (Huddersfield, West)
At the outset of the debate the Leader of the House, in a few very well-chosen words, referred to my beloved former colleague, Clement Davies. In the absence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) and some of my other colleagues, who are today attending the funeral in Wales, may I add a few words myself?
It is never easy to find suitable words with which to pay a fitting tribute to a distinguished statesman who has been a Member of this House for a number of years, and I think that it is all the more difficult when he is a close friend. Although Clement Davies was very much older than myself, I cherished his friendship greatly as well as appreciating his good counsel. He was passionately concerned about social justice, and also, as the Leader of the Opposition has said, he was a staunch Parliamentarian.
Whenever issues arose affecting Parliament, Clement Davies always based his decision upon what appeared to be the best interests of Parliament and the best traditions of our Parliamentary life. That was so not only in our debates here, but in the more intimate discussions of our Parliamentary party. "Clem" sacrificed much for his political beliefs. To those outside who are all too ready to decry politics and politicians I would say that he is one who set an example, one who, in public life, always put principles before self-advancement.
Now, if I may turn to the Motion, I should like to say that I find no serious criticisms to make of the Motion itself except the uncertainty as to what the terms of reference may be intended to cover. The Motion ends with these words:… having regard to the effects and consequences thereof.1393 I shall refer to those words again in a few moments. I hope that these words will be given a wide interpretation, but if the task of the proposed committee is limited to renunciation and to the implications of the Wedgwood Benn case, then I fear that it will only be tinkering with the problem. I hope, therefore, that the outcome of its deliberations will be something much more radical than is suggested by the terms of the Motion.
But on the specific issue, namely, as to whether an heir to a peerage should be entitled to choose to stand for election to or to remain in this House, or as to whether a peer should have the right to renounce, I have no doubt in my mind at all. I do not think that anyone should be compelled to sit in the other place against his own will, whether he be the oldest son or whatever he may be. I do not think that anyone should be compelled merely by virtue of birth to be a Member of the Legislature.
It seems extraordinary that this reform has not been carried out long ago. In the final debate in the Lords on the Reform Bill of 1832 the Tory Earl of Winchelsea said, "I suffer a pain of mind greater than I can express in thinking I have lived to this age to witness the downfall of my country. This night will close the first act of the final tragedy." There was no such final tragedy and Parliament continued to develop into a considerably more democratic body than it was before 1832.
It is strange how long the country put up with rotten boroughs prior to 1832. I do not want to press this analogy too far, but I think the day will come when we shall look back and wonder how we put up so long with the illogical and undemocratic constitution of the House of Lords and the fact that a Member of this House should be compelled unwillingly to lose his seat here and be called to sit in the other place against his will merely because of the chance of birth.
It is especially surprising when one considers some of the indirect consequences—for example, the fact that it might well have happened that the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) would have been unable to fulfil his rôle of Prime Minister during the dark days of the war because he might have been a Member of the other place.
1394 If, however, we are to limit our consideration to this particular reform arising out of the Wedgwood Benn case, we have to consider how the right of surrender is to operate. Here, I would make a distinction—I do not know whether the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) would agree with me—between hereditary titles and the hereditary right to a seat in the Legislature. I am not unduly concerned with hereditary titles, although I think that it is a little difficult to justify them, but I cannot see any justification for the hereditary right to a seat in any part of the Legislature. My view is that I would abolish that altogether.
However, assuming that this is not to happen, assuming that there is to be some compromise that there is to be some limited reform, then the Select Committee will have to decide whether renunciation is to be permanent or for life or for a less period. I would rule out at once a less period. I do not see how one can allow any individual to stand for membership of this House for a limited period of years, retaining the right to return to the other House when he so wishes. That is really out of the question. The choice is between renunciation permanently or for life. In other words, the choice is between renunciation for oneself alone, and renunciation for oneself and one's heirs.
I start with the assumption that no one should have the right to a place in the House of Lords by birth. But, putting that on one side, I think that one has to ask whether any particular family should have the right to move from one House to the other generation by generation. I do not think that that right should be granted, and it is for that reason that I come down on the side of permanent renunciation. Here, I am only expressing my personal opinion and no doubt this will have to be considered by the Select Committee.
I now turn to the effects and consequences, because I do not think that we should be facing this subject realistically if we did not give some thought to the effects and consequences of a number of Members of the other place choosing to sit in this House or to stand for election and give up their seats in the House of Lords. This raises a 1395 very difficult and practical question of manning the House of Lords. I know that some would say that the solution is to abolish the other place.
I found amongst some of the papers of my late father a photograph taken in 1911. It depicts a motor car which, if it had been kept till today, would be quite a valuable possession. On one side is Sir Hastings Duncan, who was re-elected Liberal Member for the Otley Division of Yorkshire. On the other side is my father. On the bonnet of the car is a mascot which I think is intended to be a caricature of a Member of the House of Lords, and over it is a slogan, "End 'em—not referendum." There was another slogan at that time. "End 'em, not mend 'em."
When one recollects how obstructive the House of Lords was at that time, when one thinks of the important social legislation that was held up, I think that that attitude towards the House of Lords was quite understandable.
§ Mr. Wade
No. However, much has happened since then and it is not now quite the same live issue. The powers of the House of Lords have been greatly curtailed. I think that there is a case for some form of Second Chamber. If this right of renunciation is granted. I think that something must be done to ensure that the work is carried on satisfactorily.
I do not intend to deride those who devote a lot of time to work in the House of Lords. That would be rather too like a parson who devotes his sermon to chiding his congregation for the failings of those who do not attend church. But if we are to have a Second Chamber we must ensure that it is capable of functioning satisfactorily, and if there is to be this right of choice for heirs to a peerage and for those who already sit in the House of Lords to renounce their peerage and to stand for election to the House of Commons, some thought must be given to replacing them. We shall then have to judge between election or appointment.
When this major issue was under discussion some years ago my party was 1396 prepared to agree to a compromise based on the principles which were agreed between the three parties in 1948. If I may, I will refer to them briefly, because they have a bearing on the Motion. I will pick out three which are important. The first is that the Second Chamber should be complementary to and not a rival to the Lower House; secondly, that Members of the Second Chamber should be styled "Lords of Parliament" and should be appointed on the ground of personal distinction or public service; and, thirdly, that peers who are 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. We were prepared to abide by that as a compromise solution and it implies appointment and not election.
I am not very happy with the way in which the Life Peerages Act has worked out. I do not think that it has operated in accordance with the intentions expressed at the time that the Bill was passing through the House. I do not think that it has created that better balance that was intended.
I was in the Gallery of the House of Lords recently, watching a ceremony when a distinguished person took his seat. The Leader of the House was there at the same time and I am sure that he will recollect the occasion. I will not describe the very interesting pageantry. That has been done by others. I noticed how strikingly one-sided and unbalanced the House was. I thought it fortunate that I had no one with me from overseas or the Commonwealth. If I had had I should have found it very difficult to explain how the other place was part of our democratic Parliamentary system.
I was so struck by this lack of balance that I asked for some statistics as to how the Life Peerages Act worked. Has it really done much to achieve a greater balance? I found that the answer was as follows. The appointments that have been made are: Conservatives 10; cross-benchers 9, of whom several are supporters of the Government; Labour 16; Liberals 0. I do not think one could say that that fairly reflects, or even roughly reflects, the political alignment in the country, and I do not think that it does much to redress the imbalance in the House of Lords.
1397 I am mentioning this because we are concerned with the Legislature. As long as there is a House of Lords it is part of the Legislature. I agree that we must see that this matter is kept in the right perspective. It is not a burning issue in the country at present. But the operation of the Life Peerages Act has not passed unnoticed by those genuinely concerned with the evolution of our Parliamentary system, and if the power of appointment is to be retained and if it is to be used, and I think that will have to be used more than in the past if there is to be this right of renunciation—
§ Mr. Christopher Chataway (Lewisham, North)
Is there really not an imbalance to be redressed against the Liberal Party still in the House of Lords? Are there not an enormous number of Liberals still alive, and this being so, would they not come last in the list for the creation of life peerages?
§ Mr. Wade
That is not so at all. I could, if he wishes, give the hon. Gentleman facts and figures. The simple reason is that with the passage of time Members of both Houses, and this affects the other House in particular, become older. I think that there are five or six, or perhaps eight or ten, able to attend regularly, which number, I think the hon. Gentleman would agree, is not sufficient to carry on the duties of a Second Chamber.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Clapham)
Is the hon. Gentleman's only objection to the life peerage system per se that, according to him, his party has not its fair share?
§ Mr. Wade
That would be a matter for objection, but I think that it is far more serious than that.
One has to consider, if there are to be replacements, whether that is to be done by election or by appointment. If it is to be by appointment, then whoever is responsible must exercise very great care and a sense of equity. That is the point I am making. Otherwise, sooner or later, the country will say, "We will abolish the whole thing." People will demand either an elected system or no Second Chamber at all.
I think that there are some advantages in having a Second Chamber. I can see the difficulties about election for 1398 the reason that the House of Lords might, in time, claim equal power with the House of Commons. I see that objection to election. But if it is to be by appointment it must be done with very great care. I do not object to the setting up of the Select Committee. I hope that it will lead to a removal of the anomaly which was shown up so clearly in the Wedgwood Benn case, but I also hope that in the course of its deliberations it will be entitled to consider some of these wider matters to which I have referred.
§ 5.36 p.m.
§ Mr. F. M. Bennett (Torquay)
I am sure that my right hon. Friend will have taken note of the implied request of the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade) for further Liberal inclusions in future lists of life peerages, which the hon. Gentleman took the opportunity to stress. I would warn him, however, perhaps a little light-heartedly, that if adopted this would not guard against what has happened in the Upper House, and that is that the sons of former Liberal peers have in time seen the light and become members of the Conservative Party. He would have to address his mind to what kind of constitutional devices would prevent that.
§ Mr. Bennett
I must say that it is a novel objection that a method which allows sons of Liberal peers to forsake their father's original political allegiances should be a ground for constitutional repeal.
The Leader of the Opposition spoke with some force of the need to keep the issues narrow in this matter in order to prevent undue delay in coming to a conclusion. I think that that is a very pertinent consideration today because judging from the speeches, all of which I have listened to, and the many more which doubtless will be made, it seems that there will be a great many problems to be considered. The thought that a Committee of this sort could consider all these points and reach a rapid conclusion even within its terms of reference 1399 seems to me highly unlikely even though it should sit for longer sessions than any other committee has ever sat.
Since I came here a few years ago I have discovered among my colleagues and in myself that, though we all have doubts about our abilities in certain directions, we all think that we would make the best Foreign Secretaries, and also that our own individual scheme for reforming the House of Lords is best. I do not think there are more experts in any other field. Like other hon. Members, I too have my own reflections on this point.
So, because there are so many considerations before us, it seems to me that the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition have agreed on the wisest course. Indeed, I cannot think of any other method than that a Joint Committee of both Houses could deal with these problems.
Certainly it is quite clear that my right hon. Friend could not hope to deal with each and every point raised in the course of a debate lasting only half a day, let alone one lasting several days. I suppose that all hon. Members have their own ideas about what they wish to be borne in mind as the overriding principle in this matter. I say at once that mine is the need to maintain a strong and effective Second Chamber. I do not want anything to be done to weaken or damage the chances of maintaining and improving a strong and effective Second Chamber in this country. All over the world, we are witnessing too great a concentration of executive power at the centre and one democracy after another is disappearing. The lesson from all this is that need for checks and balances is greater than ever before in the modern world. I have recently spent a good deal of time at Lancaster House advising one of the parties to the Kenya Conference, and have learned there that Her Majesty's Government, whatever we may think about them ourselves, are spending quite a lot of time in suggesting to overseas territories that they should have Second Chambers precisely to prevent a drift towards the over-centralisation of power. It would be a paradox if we now in this country did something to weaken the force of the lesson we are trying to bring home to others.
1400 This very factor, oddly enough, is one which should surely cause us to look favourably at the desire for the change which is clearly envisaged in the setting up of this Select Committee. For I do not believe that it enhances the dignity, status or respect in which the Upper House is held that we should by some sort of dragooning try to keep people in it. It should be a place to which people aspire to go because of the job which they can do there, not a place to which they should be driven or which they should be prevented from leaving. Although I have no right whatever to speak for them, I imagine that the Members of the other place would find something a little distasteful in a system which implies that some of their Members dearly wanted to be somewhere else. It seems to me, therefore, that the corollary, if we do not want a system which prevents someone from leaving the other House, must be that we ought not to have a system which in due course prevents him from coming to this House. The two things hang together.
Much has been said about the extent to which we ought to go in our consideration of the problem, whether we should keep the issues narrow or think in terms of composition and powers over a wide range. It has been made clear that at this stage there is no basis for agreement between the parties which would go very far beyond what has been agreed in the House today. Therefore, I suppose, the question is to some extent academic. I am one of those who believe that in these constitutional matters it is essential to carry with one a good deal more than just the Government side if one wishes to enter upon extensive constitutional change. However, even though in this instance the question may be academic, I hope that it is understood that there are some of us at least who see strong arguments for going a good deal further in the future rather than always dealing with the matter piecemeal as each issue arises.
There are, I know, good arguments for leaving the structure as it is on the ground that it is British and that it works well, however illogical it may be. But there are those in our midst—on the benches opposite—who, I am convinced, want to leave the House of Lords without any substantial measure of reform because they do not want a second 1401 Chamber to have any greater powers and, so long as they can keep it in some sort of anachronistic form, they have a good argument for preventing any further redistribution of powers between the two Houses. This is a factor which we ought to bear in mind in deciding, if not now then in the future, whether we ought to tackle not only isolated issues as they crop up but the wider question of the composition of the other House generally and, at the same time, talk about powers. There should be a quid pro quo from the Opposition in this. If we are again and again to meet the point of view that the other House should be made more democratic and structurally more acceptable in modern times, powers also should be reviewed and revised at the same time.
Since 1911, all the movement has been on one side. There has been a reduction in the power of the House of Lords to delay legislation, and there have been successive changes up to the present day. At the same time, there has been a considerable measure of modernisation or democratic change in the Upper House, and today yet another change is envisaged. Although no one has yet mentioned it today, there was the scheme introduced by Lord Salisbury a little time ago by which a large number of peers voluntarily said that they would not attend the House or exercise their functions. The hereditary element in the Upper House has been reduced considerably. Secondly, and much more important, there has been the appointment of life peers in which the Government and the Opposition have consulted one another. Presumably, this is a precedent which will be accepted for the future.
If we think always in electoral terms, it may be said that appointment is not strictly democratic. However, provided that Government and Opposition are reasonable and play the game in using the power of appointment, it will almost amount to indirect election by this House to the Upper House in order to keep it more nearly in line with the way political thinking is going in the country. It is noticeable that overseas there are countries which would be deeply offended if they were told that they were less democratic in their practice than we are. Canada, for instance, has an Upper House which is filled wholly by appointment. The system is much less demo- 1402 cratic than ours in the sense that the Government of the day here can always, if necessary, appoint sufficient peers to redress the balance, whereas in Canada the Senate has a ceiling figure, a maximum of 102 Senators, beyond which no more can be appointed, with the result that, once a Government have appointed the Senators, there is no possible means by which the constitution of the Senate can be changed except by death. Yet no one in Canada would readily suggest that Canadian ideas on these matters are more reactionary than ours.
In looking at the matter for the future, we should not be blinded, I suggest, by a consideration only of the electoral principle. We should consider seriously the advantages of a wider extension of the appointment system, with due regard to the various parties and the feelings in the country.
I began by saying that each of us, no doubt, had his hobby horse to ride and his views about what should be accomplished within this narrow compass. I was greatly attracted by what my noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) said. I wish I could believe that the matter was as simple as he suggested. He always speaks with great charm and force, and I found myself almost believing at one stage that, perhaps, there was no need for a Committee and that a one-Clause Bill could solve the problem for us. However, in view of all that has been said by hon. Members on both sides, I feel that the matter is not as simple as that.
Since everyone has staked his claim to one particular aspect of the matter in which he is interested, I shall content myself with saying that I do not much like the word "renunciation" in regard to the possible surrender of peerages. Since we have in this country long traditions, I feel that we ought to be guided so far as possible by precedent. There are plenty of precedents for us in an even loftier sphere, in the monarchy. I suggest that we should look at the matter by analogy with abdication. A monarch who abdicates loses his own rights permanently and his heir at the time takes over at once. This seems to me to some extent to strike the middle of the road between those who say that it is a pity that a peerage should be given up by a 1403 family once and for all and those who claim that renunciation should be for life, the peerage being held in abeyance. In my view, when a man reaches the age of 21, or when he inherits the peerage, he should then be in a position to abdicate if he wishes, and the peerage could forthwith pass to the next in line. It is certainly insupportable to most hon. Members that an hon. Member could play Box and Cox regarding his going from one House to the other, but I suggest that, whatever system we adopt, we must think of a very curious paradox which, so far as I know, cannot be met by any of the plans put forward or mooted here or elsewhere.
Let us assume that a peer, by one method or another, ceases to have the right to sit in the Upper House and, instead, comes here. What will we do if, at a later stage, he decides, as so many hon. Members opposite do, that after a youth of fiery observations against the Upper House he, in his turn, would like to start his own new line and go to the House of Lords? This is another of those matters which it seems will have to be considered by the Committee.
So it is that the speeches I have heard so far—and my own remarks—convince me that in setting up this Committee, however reluctant one may be to mess about piecemeal with the other place, we have probably done all we can at this stage, and I cannot see any other method by which we can make progress on a subject on which there seems such a limited degree of agreement.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Miss Jennie Lee (Cannock)
I am sorry that later tonight I shall not be given an opportunity of voting against the terms of the Motion. Fair from considering these terms of reference narrow, I consider them dangerously wide. I would have been delighted to have supported a Motion and to have voted for a Bill which said, quite simply, that if any peers or peeresses wished to renounce their title they would be free to do so, but, having renounced it, that would be a permanent renunciation and would not take place in a hide-and-seek fashion whereby a future generation could once more resume the title.
1404 Since we are told that the starting point for today's debate has been Mr. Wedgwood Benn's dilemma, why could we not have had a Motion, or be considering a Bill, which would have dealt, as we all agree, not with Mr. Benn's position alone, but with all peers and peeresses with the same problem? I am broadminded enough even to include any life peers and peeresses who may have seen the folly of their ways. When I say that I would have preferred a Motion in those terms, I know perfectly well that it might mean for the Conservative Party in this House a considerable refreshment. The duller and older peers would never dream of renouncing their peerages, but quite a few up and coming young men and women might prefer to come into this House. A few sociological sports among them might come to this side, but the majority would land on the benches opposite.
Electorally, hon. Members opposite are in need of a few shots in the arm. I do not begrudge them that stimulant. I most certainly would not grudge them any advantage in the personnel of candidates who would come their way from the sort of proposition I have made. But we are dealing not only with the matter which, we all agree, started this discussion and which was so excellently put by my new hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. Taverne), that is, that the time came when Catholics, Jews and rationalists were freed from their constitutional disabilities. Now peers and peeresses should be liberated. After all, they did not choose their fathers and mothers. It was not a deliberate act on their part but an accident of birth, so we should welcome them, if they win their way into this House, and allow them to play their full part in the Government of this country; assuming, of course, that they agree to renounce their peerages for all time.
We are not today discussing a Motion of that kind. The Motion before us is asking… what changes should be made in the rights of Peers of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain or of the United Kingdom, and of Peeresses in their own right …".Time and again in this debate we have heard references to the elective system. I have a great respect for Lord Salisbury and I know how hard and consistently he has worked through the years for 1405 the principles in which he believes. He believes passionately in the House of Lords. He wants to protect it and prepare for the future enlargement of its powers by grooming it in such a way that the most obvious absurdities of its present composition are removed.
We have been told that the Committee to be set up would not deal with the powers or composition of the Upper House. I beg to differ. If we accept the Motion, then most certainly its composition will be discussed. Of course, the Committee will look into the position of the English, Irish and Scottish peers. No doubt it will discuss what has been so often discussed before; that an hon. Member should go to another place but that those who are not selected—by peers, remember, and not by the ordinary electorate of Great Britain—should be free to stand for the House of Commons.
This can all be discussed under the terms of reference we axe proposing to give to this Committee. I do not know why the Leader of the House, in his opening remarks, discussed the possibility of a Government hon. Member of the House of Lords coming to address us in this House. What was he doing? Was he kite-flying or giving a sop to some of the hon. Members behind him who would very much like to see that kind of arrangement? I hope that the reactions of some of my hon. Friends, tepid though they may be in these matters, gave sufficient light to convince the Leader of the House that that dog, at least, will not run.
I have said that I have a great deal of respect for Lord Salisbury and that I understand what he is trying to do. I certainly understand what the Leader of the House was attempting when he said that we could not get all our own way but that the Motion represented at least a resonable advance. I must ask myself: "Reasonable advance" for whom? It is not a reasonable advance for me, and I repeat that I would like to support a Bill which would enable any peer or peeress to renounce his or her title and to stand for election to become hon. Members of this House.
But when they go to market hon. Members opposite have a more realistic sense of how to strike a bargain, I am sorry to say, than some of my hon. Friends.
§ Miss Lee
Of course, being a good trader, the hon. Member would always say "No". He would never admit that he had got a bargain. What has in fact happened is that instead of opposing the quite unnecessary additions that appear in the Motion we are, as an official Opposition, supporting them. I think that the Government are exacting too high a price for carrying out a constitutional change which reasonable people in all parties agree is necessary.
What will follow? We shall have a situation not unlike that on the Life Peers Bill. At least on the Second Reading of that Bill we said officially that we were against it. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice), speaking officially for the Opposition, said that he regarded that Bill as one of evil presage. In spite of all my experience in this House, I remain a simpleton, because I still do not understand how one can vote against the Second Reading of a Bill like the Life Peerages Bill and denounce it in such wholehearted terms, which means that one is against the principle of the Bill, and then later co-operate in the appointment of life peers. I should have thought that if one opposed the principle and Second Reading of a Bill, one was saying, in effect, "If you go ahead with this Measure, you can do so, but do not pretend that you do so after agreement on all sides."
We are not making the stand tonight which we made on the Second Reading of that Bill. We are agreeing to this straightaway. What we could have done today was what I have said we should have done, namely, deal specifically with the issues raised by people in the position of Anthony Wedgwood Benn, whatever may be their party. Instead of that, we are giving moral support to the Government's proposal to set up a committee of inquiry which will now go into the question of whether we can trim down the membership of the House of Lords and make it appear to be a little more rational. Before we know where we are, we shall find that the Conservatives hedged forward just a little in their defence of the House of Lords.
I have more reason to despair than the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke). He was 1407 grieved because too many concessions were being made. I wish to cheer him up—although I may be doing it in an oblique fashion—because I assure him that the concessions are being made from this side of the House. Just how far they are carried is a matter of power politics. If there should, by a miracle, be a reinvigoration of the Conservative Party at and following the next General Election—whoopee! Its members have terms of reference here to bring forward all sorts of recommendations running completely counter to what a modern democracy should be seeking to achieve.
I want to be exempted from wishing to be personally offensive when I say that, whatever may be our views of ourselves as individuals—we may be humble or we may be arrogant—collectively the British people are finding us a bore. They are not taking much interest in the House of Commons. No longer do the conflicts take place on the Floor of the House of Commons. The people are bored with the secret society atmosphere which is being generated. I consider it an insult to a modern electorate that they should not hear on the Floor of the House not only the conclusions reached by the different parties but the arguments which have led to those conclusions. That is why I make no apology for voicing a minority point of view.
There are those who regard the House of Lords as a tame old pussy cat, settling down cosily at the other end of the Palace of Westminster. I would not call it exactly a tiger, but it is strong and powerful. The balance between the two Houses is influenced by the successive steps we take. It is no good saying that we are discussing a small matter. Anyone with a sense of history considering a matter which can alter the balance of power between the two Houses has to think not only of yesterday but of a hundred years ago, and not only of tomorrow but of a hundred years hence.
One of the most distinguished Socialist teachers, the late Mr. Tawney, said that the Labour Government of 1929–31 collapsed not because it was too arrogant in its Socialism or too thrusting but because it retreated. He said, in retrospect, "You can peel an onion leaf by leaf, but you cannot fight a tiger claw by claw". Hon. Members opposite can reform the House 1408 of Lords claw by claw, but I do not think that we on this side of the House of Commons can reduce the powers of the House of Lords any further in that fashion. Whether it is an old tabby cat or whether it becomes a jungle beast with a taste for blood depends on how power politics develop in the future.
One hon. Member opposite said what a mistake it was that the House of Lords did not stand up to Labour Government after the 1945 General Election. He wondered why it did not oppose Socialist Measures. There is only one reason why the House of Lords does not oppose Socialist Measures and that is if it thinks it will not get away with it. If I may seem to pour a little iodine into the wounds of my own party, I do it to heal and cleanse, not to destroy. What we are working for is a vigorous Socialist Government. That, we know, will meet sharp opposition from the House of Lords. As a democratic and elected Chamber, we should not be at the caprice of a non-elected Chamber. It is bad enough for a back bench hon. Member in the House of Lords to presume to legislate, to vote and to govern the country, but it is worse for any Government member who has not been elected by the people and who has not had to go before the people of the country to have his right renewed to represent others.
I take the strongest possible exception to the practice of having either life peers or hereditary peers interfering in government. They can change their party, even their sex, these days. That may sound a little odd, but strange things happen in this modern world. Certainly quite a few of them have changed their party. They may be old or young, sick or well, effective or ineffective, but, whether life peers or hereditary peers, once in the Lords we have absolutely no power to remove them.
I am, therefore, very sorry that we on this side have not been more purposive and clear-cut today and have not insisted that if we want an agreed Measure it should be on the genuine narrower field of agreement that anyone in the Upper House, or anyone under threat of being sent to the Upper House who has the right sense of values and prefers to join the Commons, should be enabled to do so and warmly welcomed.
§ 6.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)
I am always pleased to be engaged in controversy with the hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) at general elections, on television, on the radio, on public platforms, or in the House of Commons. Today, I find myself largely in disagreement with what she has said. I could not understand why she said that she could not vote this evening. Of course, she can vote. She can be the first Teller and the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) can be the second. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would jump at that opportunity with alacrity. Both he and the hon. Lady are abolitionists in the context of the House of Lords, judging by what they have said on past occasions.
I respect their views, but I do not think that the majority of the House of Commons are abolitionists. I believe that the great majority of Members of the House of Commons believe in a Second and revising Chamber of one kind or another.
Because we have an institution upstairs which serves some useful purposes and has functioned tolerably satisfactorily for several centuries, it would be a bad mistake to try to dispense altogether with its services.
For my part, I want to see the House of Lords reformed. I confess at once that although in many matters I find myself far out on the Right wing of the Conservative Party, this is an issue on which I am well to the left of the centre of my party and much closer to the thoughts of many Members of the Opposition, as I made perfectly clear on 13th April, 1961, when winding up my speech with these words:I represent the young and progressive element m the Conservative Party.[Laughter.] I am sorry to note the derision of my noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke).I believe the Amendment set down today on the Order Paper by the Leader of the Opposition is the closest to my own desires in this matter. I shall, therefore, vote for that Amendment in the Lobby tonight and urge the other Members of the younger and progressive element in the Conservative Party to vote with me."—OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th April, 1961; Vol. 638, c. 603.]1410 My hon. Friends who voted with me on that occasion are strewn around the benches tonight. I am not ashamed to be with them here, or ashamed at the position in which I find myself today, because I have done about ten years' work on this problem.
Although I readily concede to the hon. Lady the Member for Cannock that the Wedgwood Benn case may have sparked matters off in the last couple of years, it certainly gave me in the Conservative Party the right peg on which to hang my hat, and I hung it there. I tried to bring pressure to bear upon my right hon. Friends, including the former Leader of the House, who is now Home Secretary, and the present Leader of the House. After the business statement on Thursday afternoons, I have asked on countless occasions when this Motion or the previous one of the last Session, would be brought to the House for debate so that we could get a Committee with the highest common factor of agreement between the two principal parties in this House as to the bounddaries of the measure of Lords reform which we thought it desirable to achieve.
In supporting the Motion today, I define again exactly what are my own boundaries. I believe that they are the boundaries of quite a number of my hon. Friends, who, of course, may speak for themselves. On 13th April last year, I said thatI wanted three simple reforms. They were all of substantial moment, but simple in character.The first was that a peer of the realm should have a vote at parliamentary elections. The second was that a peer of the realm might offer himself for election to the Commons House of Parliament. The third was that in the event of his election to the Commons House of Parliament he should renounce his peerage for himself, his successors and heirs. In other words, that peerage should be extinguished."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th April, 1961; Vol. 638, c. 596.]Many of my hon. Friends have commented on a proposition of that kind. They have used as an argument against it that, having regard to our long-established traditions and the definition of a peerage and its origins, it is wrong that we should be as drastic and arbitrary as to make a decision of that sort. Others have felt, as I feel, that it would be wholly wrong to engage in a game of shuttling between the other House and 1411 this House, even Parliament by Parliament, even generation by generation or otherwise.
I am sorry to say to my noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South that I largely disagree with his solution in this matter. I do not consider the over-simplified version that he put to the House today logical or tenable. If an adult citizen—and a peer is an adult citizen—takes the view that he should submit himself as a public duty to the hazards, and the arduous tasks, of facing the electorate at a General Election, and if he succeeds in becoming elected to the Commons, he should be prepared to give up all privileges of a hereditary character for himself and his successors in another place.
To listen to some of the speeches today, one would assume that it was an easy matter to be elected to the House of Commons. Of course, if one is fortunate, like the newly-elected hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Harper), it is easy, but very few of us are. The overwhelming majority of us have done it the hard way, which means one, two or three General Elections before election and many years of hard work. I shall not relate my own history in this context—I am much too modest to do that—but the great majority of us have been through the fire to Teach this Legislature.
If a peer of the realm really feels such an urge as to wish to go through an arduous routine of that character and secures a majority at a Parliamentary election—it is purely optional that he does so—by all means let him come here, but he must, in my view, give up in perpetuity any privilege of an hereditary character to sit in another place.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
Does my hon. Friend mean that whereas it is open to every Member of this House to accept a life peerage or a hereditary peerage, if and when offered, this privilege is not to be accorded to somebody who has previously been a peer and renounced his peerage in order to sit in this House?
§ Mr. Nabarro
I suppose that that is a contingency which might happen, but I cannot imagine that a Member of this House, kicked upstairs, with either an hereditary peerage or a life peerage, would, after a few months or years there, 1412 decide that he did not like their Lordships and that he would again offer himself for re-election to the Commons. It might happen, but not very often. It might happen once in a century—and hard cases make bad law.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
The hon. Member said something in a parenthesis which betrays a rather bad thing in this House. Last week, the Minister for Aviation attacked the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) before the hon. Member had made his maiden speech. My hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Harper) has not yet made his maiden speech. I am taking up the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract came in the easy way. Any man who comes straight from the coal face, with the esteem of his fellows, does not come the easy way.
§ Mr. Nabarro
I am sorry, my words were misinterpreted. I apologise unreservedly to the hon. Member for Pontefract. When I said that he came here the easy way, I did not mean that coal mining was the easy way. I meant that he happens to be fortunate enough, in his first run for Parliament, to have offered himself in a constituency where there is an impregnable Labour majority. There are, of course, Tory seats in the same position. [HON. MEMBERS: "Orpington."] I am sure that I have not offended the hon. Member for Pontefract, because I did not mean it in an electoral sense.
My noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South—I congratulate him on his reference—quoted the late Lord Curzon before he was ennobled. The words that he then used were:Incompatibility of double service as a reason for debarring a peer for sitting in the Commons.That, however, was not the reason given by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary when he was Leader of the House. The reason he gave was the reason related again today by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Lincoln (Mr. Taverne), and which I used in my last speech on this subject of 13th April, 1961. I am sorry to be tedious about it. It was the reason given, and derived from a judgment of Mr. Justice Dodridge in 1626, that a peerageis a personal dignity annexed to the posterity and fixed in the blood.1413 That is the most unutterable drivel that I have ever been privileged to read in the context of 1962. While I have the greatest admiration for my noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South, I do not recognise any difference between his blood and mine.
§ Mr. Nabarro
My noble Friend has given me at once the most perfect answer. He has said there is no difference in the blood. He is a peer.
§ Mr. Nabarro
Then I am sorry to have referred to him as my noble Friend. He is an heir to a peerage, and unless we change the law he will become a peer, and from the moment he becomes a peer then his style, rank, title, and dignity rest upon the words which I have just quoted, and repeated in the speech of the hon. Member for Lincoln. When he does become a peer I do not recognise any difference between his blood and mine.
I am not eroding the hereditary system by saying this. I am not eroding the power of the House of Lords by referring to it. My hon. Friends have come to me and said, "It is a very dangerous thing, Gerald, to play the game you are playing in the House of Commons over Lords reform. Just think of what will happen in the Upper House if all the good chaps, all the good Tory peers, can offer themselves before Tory constituency selection committees and thereby squeeze out genuine commoners and democrats like yourself." Really, does anybody seriously believe that a peer of the realm will go to Kidderminster and squeeze me out?
§ Mr. Nabarro
The right hon. Gentleman say, "Easily". Really! Suppose we did accept the three principles which I mentioned earlier in my speech, and which are now enshrined in a different form of words, different terminology certainly, but having the same meaning in the Motion. Suppose we did subsequently legislate in that sense. Does anybody seriously believe, as my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe) hinted, though he did 1414 not say it very precisely, that by doing so nobody would be left in the House of Lords of talent, ability or competence? That is what my hon. Friend suggested. I say to my hon. Friend with the greatest kindness and respect to him that it is nonsense.
There are 932 peers of the realm who are eligible to sit in the Upper House. I suppose that, at the very outside, if we gave them the opportunity of offering themselves for election to the Commons House of Parliament, just half a dozen at each General Election might offer themselves. Perhaps a dozen; something between half a dozen and a dozen; and if three-quarters of them were elected and we had nine former peers at a maximum sitting here in the House of Commons, would that really undermine the vitality and the strength of the House of Lords? I doubt it.
What I am very concerned with is—and this leads me on to a major point—I do not want this to be regarded as only one-way traffic. I do not want my noble Friend alone to be ennobled and to sit here as the Member for Dorset, South. There are others, my noble Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Viscount Lambton), my noble Friend the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel), my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Woodhouse), and others. Certainly I want them kept here if they wish to stay here at the propitious moment, but I also want peers of the realm seated in the House of Lords now, if we pass legislation in the sense denoted by this Motion, to be able to offer themselves for election to the House of Commons. It would be a very good thing. Perhaps, if we had here Lord Hailsham, Minister for Science, it would be a good thing.
My right hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench have never mentioned this point. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House did not mention it. I think that it was an omission.
§ Mr. Nabarro
No. I do not think my right hon. Friends are in any way reticent in matters of that sort.
There is much talent in the House of Lords and if a few peers are elected to sit in the House of Commons I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Prime 1415 Minister will kick a few commoners upstairs to redress the balance, and maintain the talent, ability and competence of the House of Lords. It will be a two-way traffic, as I understand it, and those are important considerations. Indeed, it is a perfectly reasonable suggestion that there should be a two-way traffic.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I wonder whether I may help the hon. Member for a moment. I do not want to take away any pleasure he may have in feeling mildly mutinous, but I noticed on 8th May, 1961, the Home Secretary said:I can tell Mr. Clark"—a journalist who had written on this matter—that nobody would have been happier than we would to have had Lord Hailsham with us in the House at the present time."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th May, 1961; Vol. 640, c. 42.]I am not quite sure who the other person, the other party to the "we", was. I took it to represent the Government. It may, of course, have been the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro).
§ Mr. Nabarro
Of course it was me. I must protest again about the really grave deficiencies in the hon. and learned Gentleman's conduct in this House. He rarely or never does his homework. Had he done his homework, and read my speech of 13th April, 1961, he would have seen I supported the views there expressed by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.
I want to ask the Attorney-General, when he replies, to satisfy me on a number of points about this Committee. We are to have a Committee of all parties in this House, and of peers and commoners, and it is to be on the broadest possible basis. I hope that in selecting the Conservative Members of the House of Commons who are to sit on this Committee my right hon. Friend will be very careful not to include only those Members among my hon. Friends who are known to be diehard Tories and averse and hostile to Lords reform. In other words, I hope that he will not load the Committee.
Secondly, I hope that he will not put on the Committee only Conservative representatives who are Privy Councillors. I should be very cross with him if 1416 he did that. Thirdly, I hope that he will close his mind to placing on this Committee fuddy-duddy elements in the Conservative Party.
§ Mr. Nabarro
Quite a lot will be left. I hope that the views of my hon. Friends and myself, who have worked very hard over a long period for a Motion of this kind, will be fully heard, and, I may say, much in the interests of keeping in this House my noble Friend the member for Dorset, South, my noble Friend the Member for Hertford and many more like them. I hope that our voices will be heard and that our labours over the years to secure the desirable end enshrined in this Motion will be rewarded by proper appreciation in the composition of this important constitutional Committee.
§ 6.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
The hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) who made speeches last year, to which he has referred, suggesting that he was going down to the Bristol by-election, did not, in fact, go to the Bristol by-election. We tend to think now that he has been consistent in all that he has said about this sort of thing. We welcome his help, but it was certainly not 100 per cent.
§ Mr. Nabarro
I made publicly known the reason why I did not go to the Bristol by-election. It was because I was assured by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, then the Leader of the House, that this Committee was to be established. I told Mr. Wedgwood Benn. He said at once that in those circumstances it would not be desirable for me to go to support him at the Bristol by-election. That is why I did not go.
§ Mr. Pannell
The hon. Member has not done his homework. That was not the reason at all. The fact was that the Committee which was proposed to be set up by the Home Secretary is not the Committee we are going to have today. It was a Committee with wider terms of reference which the Opposition would not have been prepared to accept. Certainly I would not have accepted those terms. This is part of the answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee). It 1417 is a fact that we have restricted the terms of reference. It may be remembered that the existing terms of reference, as laid down by the present Home Secretary, were that the Committee was to be concerned with the composition, and we said that we could not consider composition. It was to consider the payment of peers and we said that we would not consider that without considering the payment of hon. Members. It was also to consider renunciation. Our party knew what it was doing about it. The present terms of reference are in effect, the terms for which we stuck out.
Whatever comes out of this Committee must indicate some affront to the hereditary principle. In forty years in politics there is no subject on which I have ever felt more strongly. And there are other people who will say that my support has been consistent and continuous and has not been limited to speaking in the House. There is no point in making attacks on the Opposition Front Bench because we have agreed on the terms of reference. Whatever comes from the Committee the House will not be bound by it. The House will be completely free to take any action it desires. I hold the view that the only thing that would come out of this properly would be when some Government of our complexion is armed with power. For example, life peers came out of direct Government action without a Committee. It might well be that if we placed the matter before the country it might lead to some action.
It has been said that Parliament and democracy are increasingly being found to be boring, but that only happens when we in this House put up with what we did yesterday when everybody wanted to discuss the salaries of nurses and the Public Gallery was full of nurses from all over the country and the debate was held up by the Left-wing on fifth-rate points of order. Parliament is found to be a bore when we should be discussing things which go deep into the very being of our people and our procedures do not keep up with them. I find that when the Left wing lends itself to that sort of thing it suffers. Throughout the night the fight was kept up for the nurses and 1418 nobody will find much about it in the papers today. I hear that the same sort of company waited at Transport House this morning and there was a degree of brawling directed against the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader. Why did they not take it across the road to the Tory Central Office and direct it against Quintin Hogg?
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
Why was the hon. Member not here last night to join those who fought for the nurses?
§ Mr. Pannell
I am willing to bet anything on my reputation in fighting in the House for matters of social justice, and I do not talk about these subjects on television for fees. I do not necessarily question the motives or impute anything against my hon. Friend when he is not here.
§ Mr. Pannell
I want to deal particularly with a point raised by the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingibrooke). I was interested in that because I suppose that I gave as much moral support to Mr. Wedgwood Bonn as anybody, at least by listening in the courts. This is the question of writ of summons. The noble Lord suggests that we could get over these things by that means. It is noteworthy that this was the peg on which Mr. Benn hung his case. That was what the argument was about. It was an attempt to put the issue as narrowly as we could. It was argued that as long as a man did not accept a writ of summons he was not a Member of the Upper House. All Mr. Benn's efforts worked towards that end. It was not concerned with the idea of ennoblement but with the fact that a man had a double duty and he could only accept one.
If we accept that as the argument and the solution of this problem, how does the noble Lord meet the point? In a hypothetical case, does a peer who refuses a writ of summons in order to serve in this House become entitled at the next election to say that he wants to go into the other House and to accept a writ of summons? Surely the refusal of a writ of summons must be a lifetime's refusal of a peerage, or more. I happen 1419 to be of the same view as the Leader of the Opposition, that renunciation of a title should be for ever. That is what I should like, but in a rearguard action as a second-best I should be prepared to consider the question of life commoners.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
I do not think, and I am sure that on reflection the House will agree, that any peer who refuses a writ of summons and thereby sits in the House of Commons should be singled out as an individual who cannot again be offered ennoblement. If that is done he is alone in this consideration, whereas the rest of the Members of the House of Commons are eligible for a life peerage or a hereditary peerage as the case might be.
§ Mr. Pannell
With respect, I do not think that the noble Lord has treated us with his customary frankness. If he will look at the issue he will see that a man still in the service of the House ought not to take a writ of summons. It means that he is over 21 and is more likely to be over 30. He has decided to opt out for a lifetime. Does the noble Lord suggest that he should at some convenient time be able to accept a peerage if offered?
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
He ought to be absolutely on all fours with other hon. Members who would be eligible at any time to take a life peerage or a hereditary peerage if one was offered.
§ Mr. Pannell
I presume that the noble Lord means a peerage of another creation. Then there is another writ of summons. It is reasonable that if a man once refuses a writ of summons he should refuse it for the rest of his life, otherwise this would give rise to the greatest possible amount of objection.
I do not agree with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition when he says that he takes the view that a peer once he has gone to the Upper House could be brought back into this House. He seemed to think that there was some principle of freedom at stake there, but I do not think that that is a good idea at all. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) appears to be shaking his head, but I understood clearly that that was what my right hon. Friend said on 1420 this matter. Again, I would think that this would apply to anyone who had not accepted the writ of summons. This is not an issue concerning Mr. Wedgwood Benn, because, I believe, there are six or seven hon. Members opposite who might be disadvantaged in future.
It is no use trying to drag up, fifty years later, the proposals of 1908. Lord Rosebery had it in mind to bring "proconsuls", as he described them, into the service of the House of Lords, and people in the self-governing dominions. I suppose that today we should have to bring in people from local authorities, the trade unions and the shop stewards to make up a cross-section of our society. But I do not think that reviving the 1908 proposals is a runner.
Nor do I think that it was cowardice on the part of the House of Lords when it faced the facts of life in 1945. It was not, as the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South suggested, that the soldiers voted to get out of the war. Most of them voted to come back to an order of society different from that which they knew before the war. One of the most moving things I can remember was when the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), who was then Prime Minister, and Mr. Ernest Bevin went to see the troops just before they left for Europe in 1944.
The men did not call out to the Prime Minister because, with great respect to him for what he did in the war, he had an awful record in peace. Instead, they called out to Mr. Bevin, "What are you going to bring us back to, Ernie? The dole?" That was the sort of thing that was uppermost in the minds of the troops. They voted accordingly and solidly in 1945. They merely looked upon nationalisation as a means to an end. We were to bring 20 per cent. of the economy under public ownership, and they knew that, without public ownership, it would be impossible to fashion a different sort of Britain to that of the 1930s. The noble Lord has not had the experience of being in an employment exchange queue, as I have, and of knowing the sort of things that moved men in those times.
There is no doubt about this matter. There is the story told of Lord Slim. The right hon. Member for Woodford asked him in 1945 how the men were voting. Lord Slim said that 90 per cent.
1421 were voting Labour. When the right hon. Gentleman asked how the rest were voting, he was told that they were abstaining. I do not think that it was necessarily cowardice of the peers to bow to the facts of life in 1945. The House of Lords of that year was not quite the same as the House of Lords of 1911. Slow as it moves, it can move with the times to a limited extent.
I also reject, as a non-runner, the suggestion canvassed in The Times that we could somehow bring Ministers from the House of Lords to speak here in debates. One thing which this House will never accept is having men come here and addressing us without the formality of going before the electorate first. The obligation to consult the electorate and to be returned by it to this House is not something which can be brushed aside. It is no mere formality. If such hopes arise from ambiguity in drafting, then let those who support the idea get it out of their heads. However much their Lordships may raise this proposal in the Joint Committee, this is not something that the House of Commons will accept.
After hearing the hon. Member for Windsor (Sir C Mott-Radclyffe), I can understand Orpington. I went down to the Bristol, South-East by-election last year. The right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) was there speaking on the constitution. As my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. Taverne) reminded us, there was a landslide in that constituency, even more than in Orpington.
It is difficult for people of my age to understand young people, but I think that they are moved by social issues as much as they are moved by economic ones. They voted then for the idea that people should be honoured for the contribution they bring to society, and not for inherited wealth. Nor do they believe the nonsense about there being "something in the blood". I am surprised that anyone now gives credence to that nonsense of "something in the blood". That, after all, was the Hitlerian view. It is not only tribal—it smacks too much of the corporate State.
The first election which I remember was in 1906, when I was four years old. Sir John Simon was fighting Waltham-stow, where I was born. The election 1422 was on the issue of Lords versus Commons. I can just remember the following election, in 1910. This is a subject on which I feel as deeply as does any hon. Member. This is just the sort of issue in which the people know that the case for the House of Lords does not match up to the needs of today. I am not concerned with what the hon. Member for Kidderminster said about the staffing of the Joint Committee. I hope that there will be enough corporate sense on that Committee to appreciate that we are in 1962, and that the settlement of the House of Lords is not something that this country will indefinitely delay.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Humphry Berkeley (Lancaster)
In common with almost everyone who has spoken, with the sole exception, I think, of the hon. Member for Cannock (Miss Lee), I warmly welcome this Motion. I do so because it has always seemed to me, since we first started debating this subject a year ago, that the position of the "reluctant peer", and particularly that of the "reluctant peer" who wishes to remain in this House and whose electors wish him, in overwhelming numbers, to remain, creates a situation which is increasingly absurd and ridiculous.
I applaud the change of attitude which has taken place on the part of the Government since these matters were first discussed. I think that the attitude they took a year ago, which was, broadly, one of not being able to interfere with the law as it stood, ran them into the very serious danger of making the vast majority of people feel that the House of Lords was ridiculous. Had they persisted in this attitude, I believe that it would have made the eventual abolition of the House of Lords inevitable.
The plain fact remains that we can only have a Second Chamber in this country if it is based upon principles of common sense. This has been the way in which our constitution has been successfully adapted throughout the centuries.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, on 13th April last year, said the Government's view was that they could not accept a breach in the hereditary system. But we all know that the 1423 Government themselves made a substantial breach in that system when they created life peerages. I regard this change in attitude as most laudable. Most of us on this side of the House would, I think, like to see an element of the hereditary system retained in a Second Chamber, but, the breach in absolute heredity having been made, I think that many of us find it difficult to understand exactly why the Government took so rigid a line a year ago.
I would like my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General to help us on this question of how wide the terms of reference of the Government's Motion are. I feel that they are substantial wider than either the Leader of the House or the Leader of the Opposition maintain. This is the one point on which I agree with the hon. Member for Cannock. The Motion says that the Joint Committee should consider… whether any … changes should be made in the rights of Peers … to sit in either House of Parliament …Presumably, if that is the case, the Joint Committee could decide or recommend that only life peers, or a proportion of hereditary peers, should sit in the House of Lords. The terms of reference do not appear to apply solely to the question of renunciation. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will deal with that matter, because it is of great importance. I, not being a lawyer, would judge those terms to be fairly wide, and to include the question of composition if the Committee considered that to be relevant.
I would very much prefer that a wider interpretation could be placed on the terms of reference, since I agree with my noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) that there are immense complications in the principle of renunciation. If renunciation is the only means by which we can get a sensible composition of the Upper Chamber, I am all for it, but if we can get a commonsense and acceptable composition without renunciation, I believe that we should try to do so.
One could argue for ever about whether the eleventh inheritor of a title really has the right to extinguish his peerage for good. One could argue that one should be able to renounce in one's 1424 own lifetime and place the peerage in abeyance; or, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Mr. F. M. Bennett), that one could execute an act of abdication and that the title should automatically go to the next in line. Those are all matters about which people might have feelings of varying degrees of intensity. As I say, if renunciation is the only way in which we can get agreement, I accept it, but if we can look at composition I think that it is worth considering.
I totally disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay—and, I think, with one or two other hon. Members—in his view that if the Committee is allowed to look at composition it should also look at powers. It seems to me that we either accept a position in which we have one elected Chamber and a Second Chamber that is not elected—in which case there is very little ground for manœuvring over powers—or we have two elected Chambers—elected, perhaps, on roughly the same basis—in which case one might conceivably have some justification for substantially increasing the powers of the Upper House; but I do not think that anyone is suggesting that we should merely have in another place a replica of the House of Commons. I therefore do not think that any of us will get very far if we start talking in terms of altering the powers of the Upper House at present. Therefore, quite rightly, the whole question of powers has been excluded in relation to the Upper Chamber in the Motion.
Assuming that the Committee can look at composition, the whole question of renunciation could be made quite irrelevant if we were to accept, as my noble Friend suggested, the concept of an electoral college of hereditary peers electing a certain number of their members to represent them in the Upper House. It would not matter how many of them there were—once we had the principle of elected representative hereditary peers. Those who did not wish to offer themselves for election could automatically and quite simply become eligible for membership of this House.
When one discusses these matters one is frequently asked to produce precedents, and the precedent that I should like to suggest to the Government—and 1425 to the Joint Committee when it is set up—is that of the Irish peerage. I cannot see why our present hereditary peerage could not be put on the same basis as the Irish peerage was when it operated to the full. All the hereditary Irish peers elected a proportion of their number for life to sit in the House of Lords.
For many years we had Lord Winterton in this House; in fact, he became the Father of the House. He was a peer—nobody denies that—but he was an Irish peer, and, therefore, had the option either to stand for election to the House of Lords by his fellow Irish peers or to stand for election to the House of Commons by the electors of Horsham. He chose the latter course, and had a most distinguished career in this House. I think that the precedent of the Irish peerage is an extremely valuable one, and one that could guide us to a successful conclusion in all our deliberations on this problem—
§ Captain John Litchfield (Chelsea)
How would my hon. Friend get over the difficulty, which I can see in his plan, that a party majority in the other House would tend to elect 100 per cent. members of that party?
§ Mr. Berkeley
I do not think that that would arise, as I will seek to show in now coming to my second point.
First, we would have the elected hereditary element. Secondly, we would, of course, preserve the unrestricted right of the Government of the day to create both life peerages and new hereditary peerages, so that the Government's power, as it were, to bend the will of the Upper Chamber to their way would be no less under this scheme than it was in 1947, under the Socialists, or in 1911 under the Liberals. In other words, the Government could at any time create whatever number of new peers they needed to get their legislation through.
I seriously suggest to the Government that that idea is worth considering, because, if it were within the terms of reference of the Committee to consider it—as I think it is—it would make the question of renunciation irrelevant. It would also make the question of retrospection no longer applicable because, plainly, if, let us say, as from the next Parliament we had a proportion of elected 1426 hereditary peers who would be returned to represent their colleagues, anybody who did not submit himself for election would be free to stand for election to the House of Commons without any element of retrospection arising.
People say that for some reason or other the two parties cannot agree about the composition of the Second Chamber, but I cannot help feeling that we say that rather too glibly. Why cannot the two parties agree? Is it really beyond the bounds of possibility to have such a scheme, which is not very revolutionary—particularly if powers are taken out of the discussion? Is it really so difficult to get agreement?
I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General will not think me impertinent if I say that I think that the Government's behaviour over this matter has been flexible rather than agile, but we can at any rate be grateful for the measure of flexibility they have shown. Now after all the anger and tumult has died down—and we had some controversial debates on the subject a year ago—and the dust has settled, I rejoice to find myself, if not on the side of the angels, at least on the side of the Government Whips, and that is something to be thankful for in these difficult times.
If, as I hope, the Government, in cooperation with the Opposition, agree to set up this Committee, I hope that they will do so quickly. If they then agree to act on the recommendations of the Committee and not put them in a pigeon hole, I think that we can take the matter out of the realms of party controversy. If we do that, we will give a healthier appearance to our parliamentary institutions, and preserve the unique value of a Second Chamber.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. F. J. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
I wish that the two parties in the House could agree on some compromise solution to the question of the House of Lords, but I think that the differences between us are so irreconcilable, particularly with regard to the hereditary principle, that there is no chance whatever of the Labour party in opposition agreeing with the Government.
I admired the robust speech of the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro). I wish that his point of view 1427 were echoed in the Conservative Party. I doubt very much whether it will be, because the very wording of this Motion seems to me to weight the issue in one direction. In considering why this Motion has been brought forward, hon. Gentlemen must realise that it was not merely sparked off by the Wedgwood Benn case. The Government have tabled this Motion because they know that sitting on their side of the House and supporting them there is the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. St. Clair) who was rejected by the electors of South-East Bristol.
The Government know the danger of this kind of thing spreading. It will destroy the democratic principle on which each of us is elected to membership of the House. It makes no difference whether we call ourselves Labour or Conservative. It is the individual who, with a majority of votes, is declared to be the Member of Parliament for that constituency. At the moment we have this glaring anomaly of an hon. Member sitting in the House without having received a majority of votes at an election in his constituency. It is small wonder, therefore, that the Government are asking us to consider a Motion which will mean that the individual who was democratically elected will be able to sit in the House again and vote as a Member of the House, which he is not able to do at the moment because of the peerage he inherited.
I am not satisfied with the wording of the Motion, but I do not wish to oppose it. I think that it is the only compromise that could have been agreed upon by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, because obviously he wants to get back to this House to represent the constituency which at the moment is misrepresented the individual who will support him and his party. The only way of doing this under the present system is to get the Government to move towards our point of view, which is that an individual should be entitled to stand as a candidate for Parliament and be elected by the electors. The artificial bar that has been placed in the path of Mr. Wedgwood Benn prevents him from sitting in this House and representing those electors who at the by-election, and indeed at the General Election, said, "This is our man".
1428 I do not believe that the Government will respond to the request of the hon. Member for Kidderminster and make this Joint Committee truly representative of all points of view. I suspect that the members of the Committee will be carefully hand-picked. I do not for a moment think that on the Government side there will be a Member who holds the point of view expressed by the hon. Member for Kidderminster, although I hope—and I say this in the presence of the Leader of the Opposition—that those who represent the Labour Party will be quite clear of at any rate the majority point of view, if not the point of view of the whole Labour Party, that hereditary titles must go. This has been our policy for many years. May I say in parenthesis that I am in favour of a Second Chamber, but this Second Chamber should be properly constituted. Merely to put there as part of the legislature individuals who have done nothing more than be the eldest sons of their fathers is making a mockery of democracy in 1962.
I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite, or at any rate those who have stayed to listen to the debate, will recognise that when the Report of the Committee is received we must deal with this matter completely and not merely piecemeal. I think that the reform of the House of Lords must come at some time, just as the great Reform Act of 1832 dealt with the question of those who were entitled to vote. We are moving into different times, and if we are to have a second Chamber—and I have said that I agree that we should—we must establish it in accordance with modern ideas. However estimable peers may be—and I am thinking of peers like the Foreign Secretary and Lord Salisbury—the fact remains that they owe their position to the creation of a peerage in many cases generations, or perhaps even centuries, ago.
I can see the difficulty of the noble Lord the Member for Dorset (Viscount Hinchingbrooke). I believe that the peerage which may one day come to him is an ancient one, but most of the peerages in the House of Lords are of more or less modern creation. When I say "modern" I do not mean created in this century, but perhaps in the last century.
1429 We have, therefore, moved with the times to the extent that some hereditary peerages are more or less modern, but we have to go further, and indeed the Conservative Party recognised the necessity for this because it brought in the Life Peerages Bill which became an Act. I have no objection to life peerages. I think that they are on a par with the creation of the law lords who are made peers for life only, but the difference is that the law lords are selected from among the most eminent individuals in the legal profession. If life peers were selected in a similar way, for their eminence in public life or for the contribution they could make to debates in the House of Lords, there would not be much wrong with that.
I should like to tell the House a little story about something which happened recently in my constituency when I was giving my views on the subject of peerages. One of my supporters, a miner who had been working in the industry for many years, and who is now an alderman, said, "I would not disagree, Mr. Bellenger, if some day you were made a life peer. Indeed, I would support you wholeheartedly, whatever the party said, and I would do it on this ground alone, that you had served this constituency for a good number of years and were entitled to some public recognition".
I am making no claim for a peerage. I have not the slightest doubt that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition is consulted about those hon. Members on this side of the House who should go to another place, and I am sure that it would not be difficult to see him privately about this if I wanted to, but I do not want to move. I merely tell that story to show that at any rate some miners recognise the necessity, probably the justice, of having another Chamber, just as they recognise the necessity of having aldermen who are selected, and not elected, to serve on local authorities.
I ask hon. Members to take a broad point of view and to recognise that the number of life peerages will greatly increase. That, in itself, will alter the complexion of the other place. But the face remains that among the hereditary peers there is a built-in support for the Consuervative Party which could cause trouble, if necessary, at any time when 1430 there is a Labour Government in office. In my opinion that is entirely wrong. Whatever we may say about the hereditary system, it is unfair that any Chamber should be able to frustrate the will of the electorate, even to a limited extent, when a majority one way or the other is elected to this House.
After the Joint Committee has reported I hope that my party will come down firmly in support of one principle which I hold to be absolutely essential. It is that if we are to allow heirs to peerages to renounce their hereditary right, and therefore their right to sit in another place, it shall be done once and for all. I understand that there may be difficulties about some peerages which have been created in certain ways. The Leader of the House told us that there are certain property considerations which would have to be taken into account. With his ingenuity in matters relating to the law I should have thought that the Attorney-General could deal with this point without providing that it shall be an in-an-out system; that is to say, that peers can renounce their right to sit in the House of Lords, either for the whole of their lifetime or for a limited period in order, to sit in this House, and then resume all privileges for themselves or their successors which flow from membership of another place. Many of them are substantial privileges.
§ Mr. J. A. Leavey (Heywood and Royton)
Presumably the right hon. Gentleman would not go so far as to say that one who has renounced an hereditary peerage would be disqualified from accepting a life peerage, were it offered. That would put such people at a disadvantage compared with other citizens.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I agree with the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South. Once an heir to a peerage has renounced his hereditary right he should be in the same position as other people and be eligible for a life peerage. All I am concerned about is to do away with the hereditary principle. As I said earlier, I am in agreement with the system of life peerages.
Whatever my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) may say about the illogicality of my party voting against a Second Reading of the Life Peerages Bill and then continuing to support the 1431 principle of recommending ox approving hon. Members from this side of the House to go to another place, the fact remains that we are all practical people. We know that on many occasions we may have to oppose a Second Reading of a Bill but afterwards assist in its operation when it has received a majority approval. My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) should be a little careful. I seem to remember that he opposed the principle of the I.T.V. legislation, but I do not think that has prevented him from appearing subsequently on the I.T.V. television screen, at a price. I do not object to his right to do so but I say that if we are to be consistent, as was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock, we should renounce the benefits which are likely to accrue from legislation to which we object.
I do not know whether it is possible to appeal successfully to hon. Members opposite to shed their prejudices about these matters. There is no doubt that members of the Conservative Party still have a prejudice regarding the hereditary principle. We on this side of the House hold different views. We shall not oppose this Motion. But I shall support the Motion with the qualification that if the Joint Committee recommends that peerages should be renounced for a limited period, I shall oppose its Report.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Captain John Litchfield (Chelsea)
With the exception of the hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee), nearly every hon. Member who has spoken has suggested that the terms of reference for this proposed Joint Committee are too narrow. I feel that it would be a mistake for the terms of reference to be interpreted as widely as has been suggested by the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger). It seems to me that the central issue before such a committee would not be so much the reform of the House of Lords as the reform of the membership of the House of Commons, that is to say, the anomalies which exist at present which result in the possibility of a Member of this House finding himself compulsorily removed to another place.
The whole problem of the House of Lords reform through the ages has been bedevilled by the difficulty of getting 1432 within sight of agreement on the major issues of reform. I believe it would be to our advantage to move step by step rather than to attempt to achieve too much at once. I hope that the proposed Joint Committee will not interpret its terms of reference unduly widely. Otherwise it will become involved in arguments which will block progress and at the end we shall not be much farther ahead than when we started.
I want to be brief. I am a great believer in simplicity and so I shall limit my remarks to a comparatively restricted field, and submit certain proposals. I am sure that I am not alone in thinking that no citizen of this country who would otherwise be qualified should be denied the right to offer himself for election to this House simply because of his blood; or, if elected, to take his seat in this House and to vote here as an hon. Member. I also know that some hon. Members, on this side of the House, at any rate, hope as I do that the hereditary system will not be thrown overboard altogether, as was suggested by the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw. I see no reason why both these difficulties should not be resolved by a simple act of legislation which I propose to put to the House in a moment.
There are objections against requiring a peer irrevocably to renounce, extinguish, surrender—or whatever hon. Members like to call it—his peerage, either for himself or for his family, before he can enter this House. If we could solve this problem and get rid of the anomalies which we all recognise, there are some peers who might wish to enter this House where they might have much to contribute, and it is possible that it might be in the national interest that some should become Members of this House. But they might be unwilling to renounce their birthright and thus would be debarred. I do not favour a solution on the lines of compelling a peer to take irrevocable action, either for himself or for his family, before he can come into this House.
I have a solution to submit to the House which I have already offered to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who strangely enough received it with no enthusiasm. I have little expectation that it will be received with any acclamation on either side of the House tonight, but I hope that on further 1433 consideration it will be found to have some merits by the Committee. I differ from my noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), who proposed a one-Clause Bill. My Bill would have two Clauses. I suggest the following. First, peers should be granted the same rights as other qualified persons to stand for election and, if elected, to sit and vote in this House. Secondly, I should like to see the principle that no person can be a Member of both Houses at the same time reaffirmed. I stop there. If the solution were made as simple as that and stopped where I suggest it should stop, it follows automatically that a peer would be free to resume his right to sit in the House of Lords on relinquishing his seat in the House of Commons.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
I hope that the hon. and gallant Gentleman will not continue under the illusion that his idea is original. Many people have made this suggestion, but it has always been shot down, because the House of Commons is not to be considered to be a place to which someone can get elected and then scuttle to another place when he is defeated at an election. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman's principle were adopted, I can foresee peers standing in marginal constituencies and we should not know whether they were in one House or in the other after a series of General Elections.
§ Captain Litchfield
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Anyone who claimed to be original in anything he said in this House would be in dire peril of being shot down on that score alone. The fact that the suggestion is not original does not affect my view that it is a sensible, practical and simple solution. I remind the hon. Gentleman that I began by saying that I did not think that it would be received with acclamation on either side of the House. It does not affect the merits of the suggestion, even if it is not original.
One of the merits of a solution on these lines—I claim no originality—is that it would require simple legislation. It would offend against no important constitutional principle. It would be clearly understood in the country. It would certainly do away with the anomalies from which we suffer at the moment.
§ Mr. Bellenger indicated dissent.
§ Captain Litchfield
That is a matter of opinion. Legislation and constitutions—one has only to think of constitutional proposals in Africa as an example—nowadays tend to become more and more complicated, until we almost need a computer to understand some of them. Therefore, I attach great importance to brevity and simplicity in whatever we do in this matter. I appreciate that this solution will be, and in fact is being, criticised as giving peers the best of both worlds. There are objections to any scheme which the Joint Committee may propose. We all owe something to chance in some way, even if it is only the luck of a selection committee in a constituency, to luck, or to birth, or some such thing. I hope that hon. Members will not dismiss my suggestion out of hand merely because it tends to give one group in the community a little of the best of both worlds or a little advantage over somebody else.
If the House means business, we should aim at a simple solution which can easily be put through. A simple Bill should be drawn up. I commend this unoriginal solution to the consideration of the Joint Committee. I hope—we are all agreed about this—that the Joint Committee will be set up as soon as possible.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)
The hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea (Captain Litchfield) favoured a simple solution, but his solution did not seem very simple to me, unless it meant that a hereditary peer would have an advantage over a commoner in that he could choose to sit in this Chamber and, if he were defeated at a General Election, could opt to go to the House of Lords.
I have a much more simple solution, but it is not the subject of this debate. My solution is that the hereditary principle should be abolished altogether. It is a complete anachronism in this day 1435 and age. If we need a Second Chamber in the British Parliament, it should be done in a modern way and its powers should be settled in an up-to-date fashion.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. Taverne), who made a magnificent maiden speech this afternoon, which we all admired, spoke of the tribalism of blood by which the Members of the House of Lords seem to get appointed. Whether we like the phrase or not, it is a kind of tribalism. I have gained the impression from the speeches of some hon. Members opposite today that the older the membership of the tribe the more revered the modern Member is.
The whole essence of democracy as we know it today is that one man is the equal of another in status in our society. There is no special privilege of blood, or of heredity, or anything else. Each of us is born with certain aptitudes and intellectual capacities. Fortunately, in our State today, any man or woman of 21, except a peer, is entitled to stand for a seat in Parliament. A few years ago the Conservative Government had to agree to a breach in the hereditary principle by conceding the principle of life peers. Today, the Conservative Government are promoting a Motion which will involve, if it is carried, another breach in the hereditary principle.
I am sure that within a few years there will be such a hurricane of change that the whole principle of heredity in the House of Lords will be blown away.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Clapham)
I do not share the views of the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman). Almost every hon. Member who has spoken today, with the exception of the hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee), has appreciated the advantage of a bicameral system in this country. This was particularly stressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Mr. F. M. Bennett), who drew attention to Parliaments in the newly developing countries where despotisms could arise, not that it could arise in this country. However, it is a protection of the democratic principle that we 1436 should have two Chambers in this country.
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
My hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Mr. F. M. Bennett) wants three Chambers, not two.
§ Dr. Glyn
My hon. Friend is entitled to an opinion on that point.
The right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) said that, if any reform is to be made, there is a danger of the Upper House being loaded against the Labour Party. It would be very difficult constitutionally to overcome such a position. It happens in America and many other countries where the two parties are different in the two chambers.
Under the terms of reference of the Committee, the constitution of the House of Lords and its powers could be considered simply by virtue of its wording, "the rights" of peers of England and peers of Great Britain, both of whom sit by virtue of their peerages. I am certain that we should adopt this wider interpretation which I would welcome, for it would be preferable to the piecemeal legislation for reform of the House of Lords which we are now attempting to introduce.
I welcome the Motion because it enables a few anomalies to be cleared up—Scottish non-representative peers and peeresses in their own right have their rights respected, and I am sure that we all accept that and give it our blessing. But the question of the surrender of a peerage is quite different. There are certain to be great legal difficulties, because many peerages are attached to land and other possessions. In the case of the Duke of Wellington, and, I think, of the Duke of Marlborough, there are special provisions passed by Parliament whereby estates and lands go with the title. It would be extraordinarily difficult for people to surrender their titles without surrendering their other rights.
There is a way out of this difficulty, and it was well brought out by my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Mr. Berkeley). The answer would be to reform the House of Lords so that it consisted of, say, 50 per cent. life peers and 50 per cent. hereditary, so that peers no longer needed to give up their peerages. The Second Chamber would be a Chamber fit—if that is the word—for them to debate in. It would be a 1437 strong Second Chamber, composed of 50 per cent. life peers and 50 per cent. hereditary peers who would be elected by the peers themselves, just as the Irish peers were elected prior to 1922.
In that way we would have a ready-made stock of Members of Parliament who would be on a hereditary basis, but whose numbers could be eventually balanced by equal numbers of life peerages. If there were no limit on the number of peerages, either hereditary or life, which could be created by the Sovereign, there would be no danger of the will of the Upper House prevailing as it did in 1910.
I am sure that it is possible, with the good will of the Opposition, to adopt the wider interpretation of the Motion. But the whole of the constitution should be studied at the same time, not only to remove the minor anomalies affecting the rights of certain peers, such as the peers of Scotland, but to provide a really strong and effective Second Chamber.
I do not want to deal with whether the powers of the House of Lords should be increased or decreased, but we do want a powerful Second Chamber which is respected throughout the world. This arrangement would be a compromise and has to be a compromise, but, as and when the Government of the day thought fit, life peers could be created. I hope that the selection of those peers would be from among people in all walks of life, so as to provide a representative section of the community. I have no hesitation in supporting the Motion.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
I shall deal in a moment with the last point make by the hon. Member for Clapham (Dr. Alan Glyn), but I should like first to add a few words in support of what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee), who expressed generally by views on the Motion and on the subject of the Second Chamber. There is a difficulty about voting directly against the Motion, which was what the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) suggested as the course that we should follow. There is some difficulty for those of us who have wished that Mr. Wedgwood Benn was able to return to the House and that others in the same predicament should be able to find some escape.
1438 One good effect of the Motion is that Mr. Wedgwood Benn and others will be able to renounce their peerages, and in that sense the Motion removes a harsh injustice which many of us have wished to see removed. In that respect, the Motion constituents a triumph for the electors of Bristol, South-East who have persistently shown that they were opposed to the hardship which was imposed upon their Member. They have fought with great gallantry and persistence to enable him to escape from the situation in which he was placed and they deserve every compliment on the stamina which they have shown in fighting this case through. The same applies with even greater force to Mr. Wedgwood Benn himself.
Unfortunately, the Motion raises other and larger implications. The hon. Member for Kidderminster said that my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock and I and some others were abolitionists. I am certainly an abolitionist in the sense that I am not in favour of continuing to have a Second Chamber, but I am not an abolitionist in the sense merely of doing away with the hereditary principle as it applies to the House of Lords.
The difficulty is whether we deal merely with the hereditary principle in the House of Lords or put something in its place that would make it a much more respectable institution than it now is. Every constitution-monger who has tried to devise a Second Chamber which does not interfere with the democratic rights of the main Chamber has come up against great difficulties. The most ingenious solution of the problem which I have heard put forward was that put forward by Mr. Geoffrey Bing when these matters were discussed in 1948. Even Lord Salisbury said that if anybody could propose a system of dealing with the built-in Conservative majority in the House of Lords, he would be only too glad to consider it. What Mr. Geoffrey Bing proposed was that at every General Election those who were elected would come to this House and those who came second would go to the House of Lords. In that way there would always be a check in the House of Lords and that would meet all the theories about checks and balances which Lord Salisbury advanced. This would provide the solution, but it is such 1439 a ludicrous solution that nobody in the House would support it.
But many of us think that the present situation is ludicrous, and neither more nor less ludicrous than that devised by Geoffrey Bing for getting out of this dilemma. I suppose that it would be beyond the terms of reference of the Committee to consider Geoffrey Bing's solution of the problem, but I offer it to the Attorney-General as the only logical way of dealing with the problem, if all the Government want to do is to ensure that if they have a Conservative majority here, there is a Labour check on it in the House of Lords. Of course, the proposition is not serious.
For that reason it is not sufficient for those who are opposed to the House of Lords as it stands merely to say that they would be satisfied with a House of Lords in which the hereditary principle had been abolished. What would have to be put in its place if it were not to be an elected Chamber of the kind I have described would be some form of appointed Chamber, or a Chamber partly appointed, as was suggested by the hon. Member for Clapham. The system of appointing people to the House of Lords tends to open new possibilities of patronage of one form or another, and that is the most dangerous aspect of the whole thing.
Leaving aside the possibility of doing away with the hereditary system in the House of Lords, which we know is not open to us under these proposals, the reason why I and others regard parts of the Motion with great suspicion and some alarm and why I have argued against thinking that it is sufficient to do away with the hereditary principle if we have to have a Second Chamber, is that I would rather have a ridiculous Second Chamber than a reformed Second Chamber. On the whole, we have a ridiculous Second Chamber. Every step which is taken to remodel it or introduce some amelioration of the more ludicrous characteristics of the House of Lords makes it slightly more respectable. Lord Salisbury and those who have carefully studied these matters understand this well. They are no longer insisting upon enlarging the powers of the House of Lords because they believe that if they can reform its outward composition, they 1440 will achieve something like the present House of Lords which still possesses considerable powers.
We know that in the days of the Labour Government the Lords held up a most important Measure—the nationalisation of the steel industry. They held it up for a considerable period. They were able to insist upon a second General Election before the Government could carry out their mandate in this respect. But it was also open to the Lords to hold up many other forms of legislation. They could take action through Orders and hold up many Measures put forward in the House of Commons.
It is wrong for people to suppose that the House of Lords does not have any powers on the present basis. It has considerable powers, delaying and disruptive powers, and if it became more useful, although its powers might not be formally increased, they could be increased in fact. That is exactly what Lord Salisbury wants. Indeed, he does not really disguise it and many hon. Members who have spoken today and in previous debates have made it clear that what they want to do is to strengthen the House of Lords, not necessarily by increasing the powers directly, but by making it a more useful place so that it lasts for the next 100 or 200 years as it has survived for several centuries. Therefore, we are extremely concerned that this peril should be warded off.
The most serious Measure that was taken to bolster up the House of Lords and which has been carried in some respects much further than some people expected at the time, was the arrangement whereby life peers were to be appointed. Many hon. Members have said that this has advanced a good deal further than many people supposed when the original Measure was introduced. It has gone very far.
The right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) welcomes this because though he denied the suggestion that he wanted to go there himself—at least not in the next batch—he did at least suggest that he thought that it was doing a great deal of good. He said that if only these life peers continue to be appointed at the rapid rate that we have seen in recent years, the composition of the House of Lords will be changed 1441 pretty rapidly. That is perfectly true. But that was not why some of us, or why the Labour Party itself, opposed the appointment of life peers.
I think that the right hon. Gentleman has described how in fact by the present rate of appointment of life peers they could carry out exactly the kind of alteration in the whole aspect of the House of Lords which the Government, and, even more, the House of Lords itself, has wanted.
I hope with the hon. Member for Kidderminster—I agree with him in this at least—that there will be some very vigilant Members on the Committee appointed to watch this aspect of the matter, to see that the proposals in the Motion are not stretched any further than they have been stretched already, and to make sure that, if possible, the whole recommendation's of the Select Committee should be confined to the question of the renunciation of the peerage by people in the same kind of position as Mr. Wedgwood Benn. If we could achieve that it would be a considerable success. We must watch very carefully, both in the Committee and when the Measures are brought back to this House, the further proposals which are made. We must make sure that they do not assist the idea of the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw of giving a blood transfusion to the enfeebled House of Lords, which will make it a little more respectable in the eyes of the public.
I am glad that the Leader of the House in his announcement did not refer to the other most sinister innovation made at the time of the Life Peerages Bill, which was for the payment of peers. That is really opening the door to patronage. I do not say that the money that they get now is very much. It is not very much. But the idea, no doubt, is to have a situation in which eventually they will be paid a living wage. I am sure that that is what the Government would like, and it would be passed, probably unanimously, in the other place. They would like it there, I am sure. They would vote for it even in the midst of a pay pause. Of course they would like it. What is the position if that is the case? We shall have the position developing—it has already started—whereby the Prime Minister 1442 and the Leader of the Opposition have in their hands enormous capacities for patronage. They already have very considerable powers.
We already have a swollen Government. If they put many more people in the Government there will be hardly any one left on the back benches. We shall be having new Ministers and Under-Secretaries all the time. It is now in operation. They have got six at the Foreign Office. In my young days, they had two. They are breeding like rabbits on the Treasury Bench. I do not like to use the word vermin. I know that it is used in another connection, but that is the way in which they are breeding Ministers.
This also applies to the Opposition. On the Opposition Front Bench the Leader of the Opposition and the Whips' department already have some powers of patronage, and this would enormously enlarge their powers of patronage and we should have a position where two men in the House of Commons, not answerable for the actions which they take in this respect, would be able to offer, dangle, suggest, or hint that good prospects could be provided for those who were obedient during their life in this place. They have already means of their own of persuading people to speak and vote as they desire, and this would enormously multiply that interest. I am not suggesting that any of the present occupants of these positions would dare to exercise these powers in a way in which any of us would disapprove, but we cannot always be sure that the same rigid standards of today will be maintained in the future.
We should very swiftly get back to the situation that we had in the eighteenth century, with huge powers of distribution of favours and offers and patronage assembled in the hands of the two—or maybe we have even three—political leaders. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite may laugh. It suited them for centuries. A great battle had to be fought in this country because at one time the Conservative Party had a great part of this patronage assembled in its hands. I know that the Whigs had their mouths in the trough as well. It suited them very well. The whole fight for democracy in the eighteenth 1443 century and the beginning of the nineteenth century was against patronage and corruption.
I know that it is not a good thing to mention this in the presence of the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke). His family played a considerable part in it. I think that it was said of one of his ancestors that from puzzling all his life over tavern bills he was called to be Chancellor of the Exchequer and he participated in the corruption of those days which was regarded as perfectly normal and proper. They were all in the same game. [Interruption.] I apologise if I have got it wrong. They were all participating in it and they thought it was a perfectly proper thing to do.
How was that atmosphere changed? It was changed only because of people like the Chartists who fought for democracy long before other people did. They fought for it outside the House; they engaged in demonstrations and marches—they did not always sit down, but they marched—outside the House. They had to fight for democracy outside the doors of this House, and eventually they fought the Conservative Party and the Whig Party and shamed them into abandoning their corrupt practices, though I do not say that they have all been abandoned yet. This was the classic fight to secure the kind of Parliament that we have today. Hon. Members may smile, but they know this to be the truth.
Therefore, we should watch extremely carefully the peril of those old practices being brought back into the House of Commons by the back door or by the respectable means of a Select Committee or by hon. Members saying "Well, you know, we paid them £3 before and the cost of living has gone up since then. Even if we give them even less than we are giving the nurses, we have got to give them an increase now." Eventually we should finish up with a situation in which not merely would the balance between the House of Commons and the House of Lords be tilted in favour of the House of Lords once more, but in which here in this House itself our operations would be greatly influenced by the huge new powers of patronage bestowed on the leaders of the political 1444 parties. I therefore hope that the House will watch the whole of this process extremely carefully.
As I said earlier, I am in favour of wiping away the whole ridiculous edifice. I do not think that it performs any useful function. I do not accept the idea that they have in the House of Lords these grand debates which are of a much higher standard than occur in the House of Commons. If we look at their record throughout the centuries, coming up to modern times, we find that almost without exception it is an appalling record of reaction and persistent idiocy. So let us not be deluded by the idea that we ought to build up that place. Even more, do not let us take action which could further injure and impair the authority of the House of Commons. I should like to see the Opposition Front Bench proposing a Measure—I know that we will not have it yet—to abolish the other place altogether. If that is not possible, at least let it die a natural death. For goodness sake, do not apply to it any form of artificial respiration.
§ 7.53 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)
I share the admiration of my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) for the Chartists. They were very good at co-operation in a common cause on one charter, to all of which, notwithstanding certain differences of opinion, they adhered.
I have listened to this debate with very great interest and I think it has been an extremely good and useful debate. It was enlivened and enriched by one of the best maiden speeches that we have heard in this place for many a day, from my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. Taverne). It was fresh and lively. It contained much of the meat of the matter, and it was not too long. I know the dangers of speaking for too long, and I am trying to avoid them at the moment.
This is a matter of considerable constitutional importance, though I regard the Motion that we are discussing as much more narrow than some of the speeches would indicate. I say that, looking not only at the terms of the Motion but at its history. It began with Amendments in the Committee of Privileges, one by my right hon. Friend the 1445 Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) and one moved by myself and for which my right hon. Friends voted. One of those was simply this—and I am referring to the relevant part. First, we pointed out that life peerages had made a difference in this matter and that they began not really with the recent Act but with the appointment of life peerages for the Law Lords in 1876.
We said:It seems at least open to question whether the doctrine, that no man may renounce an inherited peerage and that the effect of such inheritance is to debar him from rights of voting and of representation otherwise generally accorded to his fellow citizens, is consistent with the principles and practice of modern democracy.That is the way that I look at this question. I think that practically nobody today has denied that there was something in inheritance of that kind which deprived a person of rights of voting and rights of representing his fellow citizens.
We have heard a lot today about peerages as though they were an unmixed blessing. I can assure the House that I know several cases where they are very much the opposite, where they get in the way of people who want to carry on their careers as ordinary competing citizens—not with these mediaeval embellishments hanging about them. The same goes for people who want to come to this place and exercise their rights as Members and even voters.
This was voted down at the time by the Conservative majority on the Privileges Committee. Then on 26th April the then Leader of the House, the Home Secretary, moved the appointment of a Joint Select Committee. I am going to refer to the terms of reference because they matter a good deal. The first concerned the composition of the House of Lords. That has been abandoned in the Motion today. The second one follows almost exactly the language of today's Motion:… whether any, and, if so what, changes should be made in the rights of peers and peeresses in their own right in regard to eligibility to sit in either House of Parliament and to vote at parliamentary elections.…The description of peers has been expanded a little, but there is nothing that matters in it. The last three lines have been altered a little but I can find no substantial distinction. This is in 1446 substance the second of the three headings that were put forward on 26th April. The third one—and this has been dropped too—is about remuneration.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has been called upon to take the chair at a meeting arranged for the Mayor of Berlin and it was hoped and expected that he would be able to combine that duty with being here, but he has found it impossible to do so and has asked me to make his apologies to the House. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition suggested on 26th April:I was asking whether the terms of reference could be altered so that the inquiry could be confined to what is most urgent, and to what there is most likely to be agreement about, namely, the second part of the terms of reference."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 26th April. 1961; Vol. 639, c. 425.]That request was refused at the time but it has now been met, and what we are discussing today is exactly the second part of the terms of reference in the Motion on 26th April.
Of course, it is for the Select Committee itself to consider the language of the remit—I entirely agree with that—but I imagine that the Select Committee will have in mind when considering the matter that a previous Motion proposed to the House referred deliberately first to the composition of the House of Lords and secondly to the question of remuneration. The Government pressed the matter at the time and it is only subsequently that those two points have been dropped.
It would be flouting the arrangements which have been made between the parties if there were brought in by a side-wind the two questions which have deliberately been omitted in order to secure an early decision, which is "most urgent", and an agreed decision. I cannot think that the Select Committee would wish to do that or that, if it did it, the House itself would, in view of the history of the matter, wish to construe the terms of reference in the way they have been stretched by some speakers in the debate. Therefore, I keep to what is clearly in the terms of reference, avoiding the very interesting speculations about what might be done in regard to the composition of the House of Lords or, for that matter, the remuneration of its Members.
1447 I simply say—I think I can without hesitation speak for my own party here, and not only for my own party today but for my own party over many years past—that we will not consider questions of the reform of the composition of the House of Lords unless they are coupled with an examination of its powers. Further, I say this about the powers of the House of Lords, It is not a question of whether at any given moment they are exercised. They were exercised very seriously, as one of my hon. Friends pointed out, in connection with the Iron and Steel Bill. They are there and they include not only powers to delay legislation but powers to annul a large number of Statutory Orders. These powers have never been exercised in fact. If the House of Lords chose to do so, it could upset the working of the machinery of Government very seriously and for a long time. It cannot be right that we should be dependent on the good will, timidity, or public spirit, or whatever it may be, of a non-elected assembly for dealing with matters which pertain to an elected assembly such as we are. That is the general point I make.
I come now to the question of renunciation, which is the real question in the Motion. We are here considering only the terms of reference to a Select Committee. We cannot prejudge what conclusions the Select Committee will arrive at, and we are trying to help the Committee as best we can by giving an indication of our view of these matters. It is obvious that there are considerable differences, but it is equally obvious that there is a very broad measure of agreement running through all the speeches on the subject of renunciation. This does not apply to everybody, but the weight of opinion, as I heard it today in the House, has been in favour of allowing people to renounce.
Why not? It is monstrous that people who wish to take a part in public life which nowadays can be played only in this House should be debarred from taking it because of a hereditary—I was going to say a hereditary blemish, but perhaps hereditary peerage is the better way of putting it. This is equally true, though in a much smaller way, of voting. People ought to be allowed to vote in an election. Peers may not vote. They are not the only people. There are many 1448 other disqualifications, but this is the one we are talking about today.
In my view, a person must choose. He ought not to keep half a foot in one camp and half in another, going in and out, coming to speak at the Bar or following any rather ridiculous practice of that kind inconsistent with our constitution and habits. He must renounce the whole thing, renouncing for his children and everybody else. After all is said and done, someone or other at the beginning of the story assented on behalf of large numbers of then unborn children who later found themselves becoming the Duke of Omnium or whatever it is in succession down the ages. There is no real difference between the two. That is the only logical thing to do.
It was suggested that such a person might become a peer again. I think that the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) thought that he might renounce his family title and later take a new one. To that I simply say that strawberry leaves in this respect are like roses; they smell as sweet by any name. It does not matter whether someone is called the Duke of Omnium or the Marquess of Mehitabel—that is the name of a cat, I think; but the name does not matter. We must get away from the idea that someone can keep a foot in the other camp when he has elected to disembarrass himself of it.
I am not very particular about what names people like to call themselves for their own purposes. For that reason, I consistently refer to the present Viscount Stansgate as Anthony Wedgwood Benn and write to him accordingly. It can be one way or the other in the matter of names, but when it comes to anything effective, anything in real terms, a man must renounce once and for all.
There are many other questions. One or two were mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House. I think that they are matters which we need not go into today. I think that I have stated the principle.
Who may renounce? Here, I speak for myself, not for my party. I think that they may agree, though I do not know yet. In my view, it is impossible to allow someone to renounce on the ground that he has not taken his seat.
1449 We cannot leave the door open indefinitely, but we ought to allow him the opportunity of coming back here, and it is illogical to found the decision on refusal to take a seat in the House of Lords. Therefore, for my part, I agree with what the Home Secretary said on 8th May, when he assured us thatnobody would have been happier than we would"—I think that the "we" must mean the Government, in spite of the reading which the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) gave to it—to have had Lord Hailsham with us in the House at the present time."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th May, 1961; Vol. 640, c. 42.]Therefore, if the House and the electors of Bristol are to bring back to us Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn, as we hope and believe that they will, we shall have to accept—not reluctantly from all points of view—that Lord Hailsham and others should be entitled to come.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
How far back does the hon. and learned Gentleman propose to go? He has been making a very wishy-washy, woolly sort of speech, not defining any of his terms and not being at all clear. He said that we can go back a certain distance. How far?
§ Mr. Mitchison
I am sorry if I did not make myself clear to the noble Lord. I assure him that I was trying to be as definite as I could. I will answer his question: anyone in the House of Lords today. I am not in favour of resurrecting the dead and bringing them back here. Short of that, I would give them a reasonable opportunity to come back. I should not have thought that that was so difficult a proposition for the noble Lord to follow in the first instance, but, of course, one never knows.
§ Mr. Mitchison
The noble Lord says that I did not make it clear. That was, no doubt, my fault.
This is mot an occasion for someone winding up a debate to make a long speech about the position of the House of Lords on matters of that kind. We are discussing only the terms of reference to a Select Committee. The Select Committee will have to make its report, and 1450 the report will have to be considered by the House.
I conclude on this note. The Motion is the result of an agreement which, I may say, conforms very closely with the views which we on this side of the House have previously expressed. I am glad that it does. That is a sensible agreement and the right one. It is, similarly, sensible that the Select Committee should report and that the House should consider that report.
I feel sure that both the Select Committee and the House will bear in mind what my right hon. Friend said at the beginning of the debate; in matters of high constitutional importance such as this, there is a great deal to be said for getting the consensus of opinion of both sides of the House and a measure of agreement on the changes proposed. It is very much better to do that than to try to force through some Measure which goes against the conscience and beliefs of the minority.
§ 8.11 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller)
I was delighted to hear the final observation of the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), with which I agree. But it shows a sign of conversion on his account. I remember certain occasions when we stressed the desirability of trying to get agreement with regard to electoral changes, like university seats, a practice which he now wholly supports but to which he did not then completely adhere.
The hon. and learned Gentleman began by reminding us of the history of this matter and the proceedings of those days when we were together in the Committee of Privileges and the many debates we had. He traced the quite lengthy history of the terms of the Motion now before the House. I cannot but reflect how much trouble and Parliamentary time would have been saved if his then leader, the then Prime Minister, had acceded to Lord Hailsham's request so many years ago to go into this matter and, if possible, to provide some alleviation for Lord Hailsham.
That is past and we are now dealing with the situation as it exists today. All I want to say about that is this; I think my task tonight is a little lighter than 1451 usual in that, apart from perhaps two critics, there has been really no opposition to the Motion. That is a desirable thing on a matter of this kind.
Questions have been raised about the terms of reference. As I read these terms of reference it would appear to be the case that they would not enable the Committee to consider the question of Ministers in another place coming to speak in this House. I say that for this reason. As the House will see, the Committee is being askedto consider whether any, and if so what, changes should be made in the rights of Peers … to sit in either House".That clearly means to sit as an hon. Member of either House. Of course, it is not for me to interpret the terms of this agreed Motion. It will be for the Committee to do that when it is appointed.
A number of hon. Members have asked me to express a view on whether or not consideration of a representative system for England would be within the terms of reference. I think it is perfectly clear, from what the hon. and learned Member for Kettering said, that that question was not one primarily in mind at the time of the appointment of the Committee. If the hon. and learned Gentleman likes to look back to the speech I made on 13th April, 1961, on this subject he will see that I drew attention, when the demand was being made for legislation immediately to meet the case of Lord Stansgate, to the problems which were linked with the problem of renunciation, the position of Scottish and Irish peers and hereditary peeresses.
If one is asked to consider a change of that kind—which is now put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke), and this matter was also raised by my noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinehingbrooke) and my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Mr. Berkeley) who, I am glad to see, found it possible not to be as critical as he usually is of the Government he is here to support—I do not see, on a matter of strict interpretation, that the words of this Motion would debar the Committee from doing this if it thought fit. It is entirely a matter for the Committee and 1452 is not one on which I should rule. That is really all I can say on the subject.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I quite agree. Indeed, I said that this is a matter for the Select Committee. But I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will note that the question of the composition of the House was one that appeared in the original Motion, but which has now been dropped, and that he will agree that in considering what it should do on the matter, the Select Committee should look at the fact of the omission as well as at the precise terms of what has been left.
§ The Attorney-General
I would apprehend that the Committee would do so. I was asked a specific question as to whether or not that would come within the terms of the Motion. As a matter of construction of ordinary English, I do not see that it is strictly debarred. The line between composition and changes in the right to sit may, in certain respects, be difficult to draw. At least the hon. Members of the Committee of both Houses who will be taking part will have the advantage not only of being able to look at today's debate but also at preceding debates on this subject.
§ Mr. Mitchison
Would not the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that where there is an agreed Motion and where the agreement has been reached by dropping the question of the composition of the House of Lords, it would be, to say the least, unfortunate if that question were reintroduced because, as a result of a literal interpretation, it might fall within the words of the Motion?
§ The Attorney-General
I thought I had made it clear that the Committee would have regard to the history to which the hon. and learned Gentleman referred. I thought I had explained that point. I was asked about the specific terms of this matter. I think that any Committee would have regard to the history preceding its appointment. If it had to decide on a difficult question it would certainly consider whether something was within or without its terms of reference.
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for the way in which he has answered the question I put to him. I would, however, 1453 make it clear to him and to the Government that if this issue is not considered by the Committee and if it were to make any recommendation about giving peers the right to renounce their privileges, I could not support such a recommendation if the Committee had not considered this possibility.
§ Miss Lee rose—
§ The Attorney-General
I urge my hon. Friend to see what the Committee reports before making up his mind on any of these subjects because one really cannot safely predict just what the Committee will report. It would be very unwise for any of us to reach a firm conclusion. I am coming to the task which it would have to deal with, which I think is not an easy one. I therefore suggest to my hon. Friend that it might not be very wise to commit himself too far in advance.
§ Miss Lee
In the most unlikely event of my being made a member of this Committee, I might be a very literal Scot, but I would think it extraordinary if I read my terms of reference and then said, "I am going to ignore anything to do with peeresses and Scottish, Irish and English peers. Although the wording is not such, I am going to pretend that this specifically deals only with the problem of the renunciation of peerages".
§ The Attorney-General
There would be nothing abnormal in the Committee interpreting its terms of reference a little more narrowly than has been suggested. I am sure that the Committee will endeavour to interpret its terms of reference as the House wished it to do. When one gets to the International Court, for instance, one is entitled to look at the travaux préparatoires when determining the construction of the document. We need not worry too much about that, however, because it is obvious, on looking back into history, that the Committee at any rate has to start with the proposition: what changes, if any, should be made in the rights to sit in this House?
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
This is a matter of great delicacy, because we are asking for a Joint Committee. We understand from the rumours which seep round this Palace that it is probable that 1454 a Motion in the same terms as this one will be carried in another place. I understand that that Motion will be moved by the Government. I am prepared to accept what the Attorney-General has said about his interpretation, which I assume means the Government's interpretation, of this Motion. When a Motion identical to this one is moved in another place, will it be possible for the Government spokesman to make a statement to their Lordships on the Government's view of the interpretation of this Motion? It would be deplorable, once we embarked on this, if one House took one view of the terms of reference and the other House, where noble Lords of great legal learning are apt to intervene in debates on this kind of point, took a different view.
§ The Attorney-General
If the Joint Select Committee is going to be appointed, Motions in similar terms must be carried by both Houses.
I have endeavoured to answer to the best of my ability the question put to me about interpretation—interpretation of the terms of reference if considered in isolation and interpretation if considered, as the hon. and learned Gentleman suggested they should be considered, in the light of history, contrasting those terms of reference with the more expansive terms of reference before us. I do not think it would be right for me or for anyone to say how a Committee should interpret the terms of reference which it is given, but one would naturally expect the Committee, if faced with any difficulty in that connection, to have regard to what has been said, both now and earlier, and to any wider terms of reference which have been subsequently narrowed. That is as far as I can properly and usefully go.
I am glad that it has not been sought in this debate to put the case for this Committee solely as one for the benefit of Mr. Benn. There has been no suggestion of that. I think that hon. Members on both sides realise that his case has underlined a problem which has existed and been recognised by some to exist for many years.
The problem is difficult in this sense. It is easy to say that a Member of this 1455 House should be allowed, if he wishes, to renounce a peerage and not to go to another place. But when one considers the matter in detail, what is involved? The Committee will have not only an interesting task but a somewhat difficult task. My hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe) drew attention to the question whether the renunciation should be permanent, for life or for a period of life. I do not propose tonight to express any views on matters of that sort, because it is interesting that today hon. Members have expressed different views on the questions which the Committee will have to consider when only in April, 1961, we were being pressed to introduce legislation immediately and when I drew attention to the fact that the matter was not as easy as it appeared at first sight.
My hon. Friend the Member for Windsor went on to say that his yardstick was whether the House of Lords would be strengthened or weakened. I doubt whether it really strengthens the House of Lords to maintain the law that peerages cannot be renounced. That, however, is a personal view. My hon. Friend made an interesting speech on this subject, and it is a difficult question.
My hon. Friend was followed by the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Taverne). I should like to say how one usually enjoys a maiden speech made in this House by a member of one's own profession and how, on this occasion, I certainly enjoyed the hon. Member's. There was, of course, only one thing wrong about it, which in the future the hon. Member may be able to remedy, and that is that he chose to make it from the wrong side of the House.
§ The Attorney-General
I meant the wrong side of the House at the present time.
One thing which also is clear is that one cannot limit the right to renounce, if it is recommended by the Committee, just to those who become peers while in this House. It would seem that it must extend to those who succeed to peerages who are outside this House, whether or not they have political ambitions.
1456 The question was raised by my noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South about the position regarding those who have already taken their seats in another place. To follow the example of my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), who is no longer present, I see that on 13th April, 1961, I said:I make the personal comment that I think it unfair that those who had taken their seats in the House of Lords and who had become Lords of Parliament should be denied the power to renounce their peerages just because they had taken their seats when it was not possible to renounce."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th April, 1961; Vol. 638, c. 629.]That, again, is a matter for the Committee.
Then there is the position with regard to the Scottish peers, which certainly falls for consideration if we are giving a right of renunciation to English peers, and how that will fit in with the Scottish representative system. It has been suggested here today that those who do not become representative peers should be entitled to vote for a peer to represent them and also entitled to vote for a Member of this House. That might be said to be giving, if not the best, the better part of both worlds, but that again is a problem for the Committee to consider and to which serious attention should be given. Much the same applies with regard to the position of Irish peers and peeresses in their own right. All these involve questions which require detailed consideration.
My noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South drew attention to the words written, I think, by the then Mr. Curzon in 1895, which were in a memorandum before the Select Committee with which those of us who sat on the Committee of Privileges are familiar. Of course, Mr. George Nathaniel Curzon was in a minority on that occasion. Had he triumphed, the course of history and, possibly, the names of our Prime Ministers in the past might have been different. That, again, is another way in which the result of avoiding ceasing to be a Member of this House on succession to a peerage could take place. That again, however, has certain difficulties. The hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) drew attention to some of them.
1457 Is the peer who is elected to this House after refusing a writ of summons on ceasing to be elected to have it open to him to accept a writ of summons? Is he to retain throughout the whole time, whether or not he accepts the writ of summons, all the dignities of peerage? In that case, he would have the dignities of peerage without the duties and the right either to vote or to be a Member of this House.
They are all, it seems to me, difficult questions, on which different views may be held, and on which different views have been expressed in our debate today, and that, I think, shows the importance of appointing this Joint Committee of both Houses to consider this matter. I hope, naturally, that it will complete its work very quickly. I do not think it would be right for any of us here to minimise the amount of detailed work which will be involved in the successful accomplishment of the task.
Something was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster as to the membership of this Committee. He concluded with an urgent plea that he at least, in view of his hard work, should be made a member of it. No one is more willing than I am to recognise the hard work done by my hon. Friend, but, of course, it does not rest with me to select who should be the members of the Committee. I am sure that both sides of the House will hope not only that they will be able to find their work interesting, but that they will reach a successful and, if possible, unanimous conclusion.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That it is expedient that a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament be appointed to consider whether any, and if so what, changes should be made in the rights of Peers of England. Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain or of the United Kingdom, and of Peeresses in their own right, to sit in either House of Parliament, or to vote at Parliamentary elections, and whether, and if so under what conditions, a Peer should be enabled to surrender a peerage permanently or for his lifetime or for any less period having regard to the effects and consequences thereof.
§ To be communicated to the Lords and their concurrence desired thereto.