§ 3.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Wade (Huddersfield, West)
I beg to move, in page 1, line 11, to leave out "for his life".
§ The Chairman
It will be possible for the Committee also to discuss, at the same time, the Amendments in Clause 3, page 3, line 33, after "person", add "his heirs and descendants"; in line 33, after "wife", add "and his heirs"; in line 37, after "him", add "and his heirs"; in page 3, leave out lines 41 and 42 and insert:and(c) to extinguish that peerage".and in the Title, line 1, leave out "for life".
§ Mr. Wade
Two of the Amendments which you have named, Sir William, in page 3, line 33, after "wife" add "and his heirs" and in line 37, after "him", add "and his heirs" are consequential and I will discuss these three Amendments together. As you have indicated, there are other Amendments on the Notice Paper which may also be considered in the debate.
The effect of the Amendment which I am moving is to provide that where there is a disclaimer it will be not only for life, but for all time, that is to say, the person disclaiming will disclaim not only for himself, but for his heirs. I should like to make clear that I am primarily concerned with the composition of the Legislature. The question whether there should be hereditary titles is another matter.
It is true that Clause 3 indirectly deals with the retention of hereditary titles, but I am concerned about Parliament and who should have the right to sit in Parliament. I intend to direct my attention to the right, or some might call it the duty, to accept a seat in the Upper House and what should happen if an 1664 individual disclaims, as he will have the power to do under the Bill.
I am expressing my personal opinion, and it is in line with the views which I expressed in the Select Committee. Perhaps I may be allowed to say a few words by way of preface. I hope that I shall not be ruled out of order in so doing, because I think that it has a bearing on the Amendment.
On Second Reading, the hon. and learned Member for Ipswich (Mr. D. Foot) argued the case for a second Chamber. I thought that he did so very convincingly. There is a strong case for a second Chamber, although opinions may differ on how it should be composed and whether the principle of selection or election should be applied. It may be said that the present House of Lords is already endeavouring to perform the functions of a second Chamber, although, obviously, it is working under considerable difficulties.
Walter Bagehot said, in "The English Constitution":A severe though not unfriendly critic of our institutions said that the cure for admiring the House of Lords was to go and look at it.I do not know that that is altogether fair today, although, I hasten to add, I am referring to proceedings in the other place and not to appearances on television.
I have some sympathy for those who work in the other place, especially when they are dealing with the London Government Bill. But this adds point to the case for a radical reform of the House of Lords. It seems to me that the need for some radical reform is increasingly apparent, and this Bill in no way meets that need.
Sooner or later, there will have to be reform. I hope that, when it comes, the method of replenishment will be fairer and more representative than it is now. Whatever the nature of the reform may be, whatever the future constitution of a second Chamber may be, whatever new ideas are adopted, it is inconceivable that any new constitution would include a provision whereby a very limited number of families—and we are dealing with a very limited number—would have the exceptional privilege, generation by generation, of being entitled to choose whether the heir should take his seat as of right in the Upper 1665 House or disclaim and stand for election to the House of Commons.
I myself find it impossible to justify a system whereby anyone has a right to a seat in the Legislature solely by reason of birth. But, putting that on one side for the moment, I think it most unlikely that, if reform were to take place, any new constitution would incorporate the idea of being in or out generation by generation. This is a factor to be borne in mind in our consideration of the Bill.
I am anxious that we should study the Bill carefully and have it in the right perspective. The object of the Amendment is to provide that, where a peer or one succeeding to a peerage disclaims, this should be not merely for life but for his heirs. But only a very small minority of persons will be affected. To all intents and purposes, this is a Wedgwood Benn enabling Bill, and the question is whether Mr. Wedgwood Benn and others should disclaim for themselves and their heirs or retain for future heirs the right to go back to the House of Lords.
In seeking an answer, one must try to find some principles. There are people who believe quite sincerely that someone succeeding to a peerage does not acquire a privilege, but accepts a responsibility, a duty, which should not be turned down. I recognise that, although I must point out that there are some peers who do not take that duty and responsibility very seriously.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
Is the hon. Gentleman enunciating that it really is the practical policy of the Liberal Party that the whole 1,100, in performance of their duty, should pack the barracks in another place and proceed to legislate in a mass "Committee of 1,100".
§ Mr. Wade
If the hon. Gentleman will be patient and listen, he will understand that I am advocating precisely the opposite.
I am trying to be fair and I am saying that I recognise that there are some who take the view that it is a responsibility, not a privilege. However, those who take this view are not justified in opposing the Amendment. Anyone who takes the view that an heir to a peerage has a duty must not shirk opposing the 1666 Bill as a whole. It is not for me to say what hon. Members should do, but the logical course would be to object to any form of disclaimer. I feel that that particular line of argument is irrelevant to the issue which I am raising by the Amendment.
There is a less serious argument which I have encountered. I do not think that it was raised in the Select Committee, but I have heard it since and, perhaps, it is only right to mention it. It is sometimes said that, if the proposal in the Amendment were accepted, and if there were a right to disclaim not only for oneself but for one's heirs, there might be peers who, not because they wished to stand for the House of Commons but merely in order to "do down" their heirs, because of personal antipathy towards their heirs or because of some family differences, might disclaim.
I do not know whether that is really likely to arise, but, surely, the answer is that, if an heir is, in fact, worthy of a seat in Parliament, we should be able to devise a system whereby he will have a reasonable chance of finding his way either into the Upper House or into the Lower House on merit, not because of birth. I do not think that we need pursue that argument about doing down one's heirs.
I suppose that there is the reverse argument, that some individual might accept a peerage solely to ensure that his eldest son would become a peer, while, at the same time, making sure that he was penniless and, therefore, embarrassed by the title. Again, this is not a very serious line of argument.
§ Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
That cannot arise in this context, because the Bill does not apply to peers of first creation.
§ Mr. Wade
No, it does not apply to peers of first creation, but it could happen in the future.
The points I have made so far lead me to a proposition which has an important bearing on the Amendment. It is certainly something which has carried great weight with me in coming to a conclusion. When an individual accepts a hereditary peerage—I am not talking about a life peerage—he acts for himself and his descendants. Perhaps he will 1667 have the chance of consulting his eldest son. Conceivably, he might consult his grandson. But it is clear that he acts on behalf of himself and his future heirs, and that, with the possible exception of a son, he accepts the peerage and commits his heirs without their being consulted.
There is nothing illogical in applying the same principle to a disclaimer. For this reason, I think it preferable that, where there is a disclaimer, the peerage should be extinguished and the disclaimer should not apply only for life.
In the Second Reading debate reference was made to the need for preserving the hereditary principle. The hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls) spoke in those terms. It all depends on what is meant by the hereditary principle. Many characteristics are inherited, and there are occasions when a sense of public duty is inherited, but it does not necessarily follow that it is inherited by the eldest son, the younger brother or the cousin, as the case may be. I would like to see a revival of the idea of winning one's spurs, and to see the elder son showing an interest in public life and following in the footsteps of his father, but I do not see why he should automatically inherit a seat in Parliament.
That is the consideration which applies here. It is for those reasons that I have come to the conclusion that if there is to be a disclaimer it should be for all time. If the Amendment is defeated I shall not vote against the Bill. I supported Mr. Wedgwood Benn in his plea, and I wish to see him enabled to stand again for this House if he wishes to do so. But in weighing up the argument, which I have done very carefully, on balance I have come to the conclusion that it is definitely in favour of a disclaimer for all time.
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)
I cannot agree with the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade) in his interpretation of the effect of the Amendment. It seems to me that if these words were left out the Amendment would have the effect of providing that a peer who disclaimed was at that moment disinherited, so that the whole peerage would pass to his heir at the 1668 moment he disinherited himself. That is the sense in which my hon. Friends who have put their names to the Amendment understood would be the effect.
§ Mr. Wade
At the outset of my argument I said that the Amendment ought to be considered together with certain Amendments to Clause 3. If they are read together they will have the effect—at least it is intended that they shall—of disclaiming for all time. I do not think that they will have the effect which the hon. Member has just mentioned.
§ Mr. Ridley
That may be so, but it is quite fair to argue that the other possible interpretation is the right one. I believe that an hereditary peerage is not a thing which belongs to the person—something which can be taken up and dropped, or killed in this way. For whatever it may be worth, it seems to me that it is an institution of which the holder is only a tenant for his lifetime. If he is not able to fulfil the obligations and responsibilities, and to enjoy the privileges, of that institution—because, for instance, he may wish to come to this House—he should be able to disclaim it and pass it on to his next heir at the moment.
Although these responsibilities are vestigial, and these advantages are probably very small, in some cases they are real, and it would be a pity simply to take the point of view that a peerage can lapse or be killed for ever. I am, therefore, against both the sense of the Bill and of the Amendment. I would prefer to see it provided that on the disclaimer of an individual the peerage should pass immediately to the next heir.
We have a very sound parallel in the case of the monarchy. We know that if a monarch, for any reason, wishes not to accept the position, upon his abdication the monarchy immediately passes to the nearest heir. That seems to me to be the right principle to follow in this case. It is unthinkable that the monarchy should cease to exist during the lifetime of somebody who inherits it, or, equally, that somebody who inherits it can drown it for his lifetime.
§ Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)
Does not the hon. Member agree that there is no possible parallel between the two cases? A peerage is something which can become extinguished. The monarchy 1669 is in a totally different category. The two institutions are not analogous.
§ Mr. Ridley
I do not agree with that line of thought. In recent times peerages have often been allowed to lapse and become extinct, but that does not mean that they all become extinct. It is possible for other people to inherit those peerages, or to be given peerages which have become extinct.
I am sure that this is the right principle. My only complaint against the Bill is that it seems to treat hereditary peerage as though it were of little importance, and as though it could be immediately waved aside by an individual who could opt to keep it for his heirs although he would not have to exercise the responsibilities himself.
§ Mr. Ridley
I do not intend to go back into history of that sort, but I still believe that this is the right principle to follow. For that reason, although I cannot support the Amendment, I agree with my hon. Friends whose later Amendment to Clause 3, page 3, to leave out lines 41 and 42 and to insert:and the succession shall take effect as though he had died on the completion of his disclaimer",ties up with this one.
§ Lady Megan Lloyd George (Carmarthen)
Not surprisingly, I do not find myself in agreement with the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley). I support the Amendment. I also welcome the Bill, restricted though it is in scope. I do so because it will enable Anthony Wedgwood Benn to stand again for election to this House, and also gives us the prospect of bringing back the noble Lord, Lord Hailsham, to add to the gaiety of the House and to the troubles of his party.
Unlike the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury, I support the Amendment because it carries the gradual liquidation of the hereditary 1670 principle one stage further. I should like to see this process accelerated to a diminishing point, and to see it done not in easy stages but at one fell swoop. I hope that the Government will accept this very modest Amendment.
During the Second Reading debate there was some discussion about the question of titles. Many noble Lords were a little anxious what the position would be in this respect. I agree with the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade) that it does not matter what these people call themselves, or what anybody else calls them, within reason. To a certain extent, all prefixes are courtesy titles. The titles of "Mr.", "Mrs.", "Miss", "Esquire" and all other prefixes of that kind are courtesy titles when reduced to rational considerations. There is no reason for any noble Lord in this House who wishes to perpetuate those titles to be worried. The Dukes of Omnium and Plaza-Toro can continue to be so called.
What I do think important—this is the nub of the whole matter—is the consideration that once a peerage is disclaimed or renounced the heir should not be able to claim the hereditary right to legislate and sit in the House of Lords. This seems to me a really important and vital matter with which the Amendment is concerned. To me, it is a wholly unjustified claim that, by accident of birth, a man—or now a woman—can take part in the legislature of the country as a sort of divine right. To me, that seems wholly indefensible.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield, West spoke about the succession and the fact that the first-born should automatically assume these responsibilities and duties, the first-born, or, as a right hon. Member once said in this House, "the first of the litter". It seems to me that hereditary principle is an archaic survival, as archaic, indeed, as the rotten boroughs were in an earlier century. It has absolutely no place whatever in modern life. It is said sometimes that it does not matter now, it is not really very important, now that the teeth and the claws of the House of Lords have been extracted and that their Lordships have been deprived of most of their powers and, therefore, it is not a matter of great concern.
But I put it to hon. Members that, although we realise that these powers 1671 have been diminished, their Lordships still have the authority of a second Chamber. They have the prestige of a second Chamber. They have the authority of a revising Chamber and, of course, they have a national platform, which is very important. They still provide for hon. Members of the party opposite an overwhelming permanent majority in one part of the Legislature, and they still have the veto. However, many arguments may be used against it, the veto is still there and can be operated decisively, possibly at a critical moment in the life of a Government. That is a very important consideration.
In his book on this matter, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) says that the fact that there has been no repetition of what he calls the peers 1909 behaviour owes more to a change of political climate than to the legal provisions of the Parliament Act. That change of climate arises from the fact, as he points out, that they singed and burned their fingers over the Finance Bill of 1909—
§ The Chairman
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lady. But I hope that she will bear in mind that in relation to the Amendments which we are discussing, the Question is whether the words "for his life" shall stand part of the Clause. It does not go wider.
§ Lady Megan Lloyd George
I bow to your Ruling, Sir William. I am sorry that I strayed. Perhaps it was my hereditary prejudices which carried me away.
I conclude by saying that I support the Bill wholeheartedly because I believe that any Measure, however restrictive, which undermines the hereditary principle on which the House of Lords is still based is much to be commended.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Hale
I understand that we are discussing together two Clauses, both designed for the same purpose, one perhaps being more effective than the other. If, therefore, it were understood that if I say anything by way of approbation it relates to the Clause in the name—[Hon. Members: "The Amendment."]—the Amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend, and if I say anything in the 1672 way of disapprobation it applies to the Amendment in the name of hon. Members of the Liberal Party, it would save a good deal of adverse interruption.
§ The Chairman
Order. May I ask the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) to tell me exactly to which Amendment he is speaking?
§ Mr. Hale
I was referring to the Amendment to Clause 3, in the name of the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) and the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), who are sitting on the Opposition Front Bench, diligently listening to the debate. I was informed that that was also being considered.
§ Mr. Hale
I had not intended to follow the argument advanced by the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr.Ridley). I heard him say that he did not think that the Amendment meant it. Assuming the possibility—although hon. Members may think it an improbability—of an hon. Member opposite being right, I am convinced that the Amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend does mean it, so I give it my modest, cautious and almost reluctant blessing. My reluctance does not arise from the Amendment. I had the privilege of being a member of that remarkable Select Committee. It was a pleasant Committee on which to serve and I learned a great deal from the distinguished Members who constituted it. We worked together very happily.
It should be remembered by hon. Members—I wish that the House of Commons would remember it sometimes—that a Select Committee works rather on the principle of a sausage machine. First, the 1673 shape of the sausage is dictated by the Committee's terms of reference. It does not matter what people may have in mind on the subject. If the terms of reference are limited, the size of the sausage which comes out is completely constricted by those terms of reference.
Secondly, and much more unhappily, the cutter and sewer drops regularly at intervals. One cannot vote on a full Clause; one votes on half a Clause. One votes on the proposition that someone shall have the right to surrender something and one is tied by that before deciding how much he can surrender and how much he cannot, and on that one is voted down. The procedure is a little inhibiting to those of us who have views which we regard as serious on any subject, and views on the hereditary peerage principle which involves the acceptance of biological principles which have no known validity.
A curious mythology which permeates the thinking of people, the idea that peerages are based on old families, is nonsense. I think that it was Disraeli who said that since the Battle of Tewkesbury, or at that battle, a Norman baron was as rare in England as a wolf.
Since then we have had a great deal happening. One of the peculiarities of George III was the lucidity of his intervals. It is said that one of the most distinguished names in nobility is that of Percy, but the family has been extinct since 1742. It was said that the title continued because of a statutory direction for its transmission to someone of another and much less noble name. When the Earl of Northumberland, on his knees before George III, was asking for and being refused the Garter, he said that it was the first time that a Northumberland had been refused the Garter. King George III replied that it was the first time the Garter had been asked for by a smith's son.
George III showed his own appreciation of the importance of the peerage and its value to the community when he told an applicant that he could not give him permission to use Horse Guards Parade. The place was fully already, and it had always been a privilege to use Horse Guards Parade. But if he liked, and to save the fellow from being annoyed by his refusal, he would make him an Irish peer.
1674 That is the position and it is rather a question whether these are the apt qualifications for a legislator. However, I know that if I pursued that subject very far you, Sir William, would say that I was getting a little beyond the immediate ambit of one or other of the six Amendments which we are discussing, and to keep in order is difficult when one is not sure which all the six are.
My trouble about the Bill is this. I want to support my right hon. Friends. I want to abide by such agreements as we made, although we did not agree anything. We were voted down on precisely the proposition which we are now discussing, and on other matters. I was voted down on one matter, too. But it is as well that the country and the House should know two things. The first is that this report is called the Report of the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform. I objected strongly to that title and wrote to the Chancellor asking him not to use it, because we were not discussing House of Lords reform.
I personally wished that we had been. The terms of reference did not permit us to discuss House of Lords reform. They permitted us to discuss virtually the single question of renunciation of a peerage and its consequences and to whom it should be applied and one of two consequent references to Scottish peeresses. I do not particularly want to see the hereditary peeresses in the House of Lords, but as one who has always believed in sex equality I could not resist that; there was no argument to make against it.
We were, therefore, limited to the question of renunciation, and we are now dealing with a Bill which gives immense new privileges to the House of Lords. I have in mind a picture of my old Parliamentary friend, "Charlie" White, who used to fight the Duke of Devonshire or his nominees in the West Derbyshire election, not only on principle, but with a deep-seated and basic antipathy to the power of dukes. That was not in any way associated with the present noble holder of the title, but he always regarded himself as something of a Hampden tilting at the powers of Devonshire.
We are considering a Bill under which any Duke of Devonshire can resign his title, fight West Derbyshire, a large part of which he owns anyhow, and pass the 1675 title by transmission to his eldest son. Speaking as a solicitor, if he used the period for simultaneous transmission of the estate, it would make the problems of dealing with Estate Duty and Income Tax a little easier and qualify His Grace later, when we have introduced our reforms, for a House of Lords pension for his services in legislation.
That is a vast additional privilege, and if I have quoted an unlikely instance—I hope that it is unlikely—may I say that I am surprised that in reference to recent events, the name of the distinguished noble Lord who led the Conservative peers in the Committee of which I was a member has not been mentioned. Suppose that the Marquess of Salisbury, with his great ability and, I think, great sincerity—I have a high regard for him from the limited acquantance that I had with him during the Committee's deliberations—opted for the opportunity of resigning his title, coming here and becoming Conservative Prime Minister—the electoral processes make this a little less likely—and then, when he concluded his stint, he advised Her Majesty to make him Marquess of Salisbury again. [Interruption.] We have not reached that stage. We are discussing this Amendment and five others. It may be that the Bill says that he cannot become Marquess of Salisbury again, but the Bill is not passed yet. After all, if he is in that job he can introduce another Bill.
As I say, these are vast privileges and Bagehot, who, heaven knows, was an authority, said that the great dukes were a great power in their own country on their estates but were only washpots in the politics of Westminster and that a humble Parliamentary Secretary had more power at Westminster than the great landed gentry. Of course, even the present "Minister of Football, Myxomatosis and the North-East" takes precedence as Lord President over every Duke.
I am reminded of the late Queen Victoria, who was very concerned with matters of precedent rather than etiquette. When she saw the Duke of Hamilton coming in before Lord Granville, who was Lord President of the Council, she summonded Lord Granville to her and said, "Why did you permit the premier duke to take pre- 1676 cedence over you in my presence?", and he said simply, "Ma'm, because I cannot run like a lamplighter".
Since I have introduced the problem of the Duke of Hamilton, may I refer to a second important point. The Duke of Hamilton, a very noble title indeed, is also the Duke of Brandon in England and the Duke of Chatelherault in France, three premier titles. The title of Duke of Chatelherault was reconferred by Louis Napoleon when he became emperor and purported to renew a title conferred in 1459, although I cannot guarantee the accuracy of the date.
It was said that the title of the Duke of Hamilton would have to be abandoned, but that the French dukedom would not have to be surrendered. Although a constitutional authority of the day said that the then present Duke of Hamilton, not being a direct descendant as heir male or "heir female" had no more right to the 1459 title than he had to the throne of China, the title was conferred and has been transmitted. A Duke of Hamilton's son sat with distinction in the House of Commons comparatively recently.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
Since the hon. Member was a member of the Committee, I wonder whether he can help me. Am I right in thinking that Lord Salisbury, apart from his hereditary title, is also a peer of the first creation? If so, he would not be entitled, would he, to renounce his peerage and, therefore, is not one of the contenders for the leadership of the Conservative Party in the House? Am I right about that?
§ Mr. Hale
I am not sure about the title of the Marquess of Salisbury. The amount of time that I have devoted to studying titles is comparatively limited and I speak with hesitation.
I was recalling that one holder of the ducal title of Hamilton used to sign himself with an abbreviation of all three titles. It is recorded by no less an authority than G. W. E. Russell that the Duke who received a reply from the local grocer addressed to Messrs. Ham, Chat and Bran, "Dear Sirs", was nearly afflicted by apoplexy. If my old friend Tom Macpherson is still in the wholesale grocery business, the present Duke can buy his groceries from a peer without any fear of errors of title, taste, precedence, and so on, being committed.
1677 We are discussing a Bill which permits a peer to have it both ways. He can sit in the House of Lords and he can—we see it going on at this moment—negotiate for a seat in the House of Commons while he sits in the Lords. I know that there will be a limit on the time of surrender, which is a wise provision, and I am glad that that was recommended, but for the moment this is the situation. He can then stand for election to the Commons. He can have the great privilege of being a Member of the House of Commons—and it is a great privilege—and can hold in reserve for his eldest son or his heir all the privileges and titles which remain in abeyance.
I agree with my right hon. Friends that that is going too far, and I hope that at some time today we will be given the opportunity of registering our views on this issue in the Division Lobby.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
I would not have intervened but for the speech to which we have just listened. I hesitate to correct the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) on his historical knowledge, but as, in his speech, probably without knowing it, he happened to refer to an ancestor of mine, perhaps I had better try quickly to put the record correct.
The gentleman to whom the hon. Member referred on Horse Guards Parade was an ancestor of my mother's. The myth has grown up that he asked for an ivory pass to go through Horse Guards Arch, not to go on the Parade, and was told by, I believe, Mr. Pitt that he could not do that and that it would be easier to give him an Irish peerage than an ivory pass.
The reason for that was that Horse Guards Arch was one of the entrances from the private park of the King—St. James's Park—into the Royal Palace of Whitehall and there were then three gateways: one at what is now Horse Guards Avenue, another across Whitehall and the other leading into the King's private park. It was a Royal Palace and the gate of the Palace was guarded. That was why one had to have an ivory pass to use it.
§ Mr. Hale
There are two separate accounts. One is found in Russell and another, I think, in Walpole, and there 1678 is one in the Ancient Manuscripts Commission. It is a story which still has an element of dubiety about the precise details, although it seems to have considerable validity in its general factual content.
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
I suppose that we can say that however erudite the source, sometimes even the most erudite can make mistakes based on gossip. A good deal of that was probably based on the sort of tittle-tattle in which the House of Commons sometimes indulges from time to time. So much for the historical side.
I make only one comment on the Amendment. I agree with the hon. Member for Oldham, West that the Report certainly did not deal with the reform of the House of Lords in the true sense of the term. My feeling is that until the House of Commons one day agrees that we should consider what powers a second Chamber should have, we shall never make sense on this matter. My approach will always be: what powers are necessary to enable a bicameral system to work effectively and who should have those powers? Until we appreciate the matter in this way, we shall go on having these pathetic fiddlings with the structure without getting down to the root of the matter, which is how to make Parliament work efficiently.
I know that some are unicameralists, but I am a bicameralist and I should like to see both Houses working as effectively as possible. The hon. Member for Oldham, West is right in saying that we are here conferring a privilege. I grant that some people consider the privilege not to be a divine right, as the noble Lady the Member for Carmarthen (Lady Megan Lloyd George) said, but as something utterly hellish. Some people would be delighted to exercise the privilege of getting rid of what they find so unpleasant in prospect, if not in practice.
The effect of the Amendment would be to extend the privilege even wider, and that is a very good reason for opposing the Amendment.
§ Miss Jennie Lee (Cannock)
There is an irresistible comic opera element in debates of this kind and I would be 1679 the last Member of the House of Commons to object to it. Every other argument having gone, I think that, finally, the other place will simply be laughed out of existence by the common sense of the people if we in the House of Commons do not begin to act as contemporaries.
I support both Amendments and, in doing so, I should like to give a friendly word of warning to any Members of the other place who contemplate joining us. It is only fair for them to be alerted to the fact that the Labour and Liberal benches in this House feel strongly about the absurdity of the limitations placed upon our debates today. We will keep within those limitations, but there can be no doubt that it is only a matter of a year or two at most before there will be further legislation before the House of Commons. It is quite inconceivable, if the House of Commons is to do its duty in a contemporary fashion, that we will not stop playing around with the absurdity of a Member of the other place being able to surrender a title for a period of his lifetime, or even shorter, and for that title once again to go back to his heirs.
In making that point, I am not talking in terms of personal spleen. There are heirs to great peerages who are young men, or even older men, of great personal distinction and with a training in public service. There are, however, many young men and older men whose background is not a noble house, but is another kind of noble house and have been brought up in a farm worker's or a miner's cottage, or in a lawyer's or a teacher's home. If one goes from top to bottom of the structure of our society, one finds that there are those people who add lustre to the nation. Therefore, I would be the last to decry the principle of noblesse oblige.
I merely say that we should stop the pretence that there is a special section of the community which inherits that kind of attitude either to public affairs or to anything else. If the historians, for instance, want to make a realistic estimate of the noble houses in the year 1963, they would get an enormous amount of information by studying the proceedings in our divorce courts. I 1680 would much rather leave it to the wit and agility of my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale).
I should hate to embarrass the House of Commons with any indelicate references, but you and I, Sir William, have Scottish antecedents and I was brought up on Tom Johnston's "Our Noble Families". We are very well informed as to the origins of many of our Scottish houses. We know just how they ascended and how far they have descended. We know that some of them have made praiseworthy efforts to refresh their stock by marrying in very different spheres.
I am not, however, making any general indictment about any group in society, whatever its background. I am only saying that we should start being grown-up and sensible. Let us start making it more and more possible for the élite, in the best sense of the word, among our younger men and women to do public service in this House or elsewhere, but let us stop pretending that there is even one reason left why, because a young man or, in these days, a young woman is the son or daughter of his or her father, they should have any special preference.
There is another matter which we must consider. At Question Time today we were asking for information about the facilities of our own House. I shall not go out of order, Sir William; my reference is only slight. It is simply to say that before we in the House of Commons engage on considerable future expense that will not add to the beauty of this building, we ought to make a serious survey of the possibilities of getting rid of the other place and so giving us room in which to do our work. I know that I am now out of order and I will say no more about that.
§ The Chairman
I must remind the hon. Lady—I know that she is well aware of it—that it is impossible to proceed on her argument when dealing with this group of Amendments, on which the Question is whether the words "for his life" should stand part of the Clause.
§ Miss Lee
I accept that correction, Sir William, but it is only fair to point out that in the very near future we will be dealing not only with "for his life" in the strict sense of referring to an 1681 individual peer. I am profoundly convinced that it will be for "for his life" involving the whole of the other place. If there are many of us in the House of Commons who take that view, we should be looking forward as well as backward and trying to assess how we can build up both the physical and every other aspect of our surroundings here to make a representative chamber to do the job that contemporary society needs doing.
I support both Amendments. I support the Bill reluctantly. I should be very glad indeed to see my friend Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn back in this House. I doubt whether we should see many more members of another place back here, because I think that most of them, even those who are most politically conscious, are well aware of the validity of what I am saying—that if they do come into this House, they will find, having given up their peerages for their lifetime, that the spirit of the age will see to it that they are not permitted to play fast and loose with our Constitution and the common sense of our people.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
The hon. Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) and the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) complained about the limitation of our discussion. I cannot refrain from pointing out that it is through no fault of ours, because my hon. Friend on the Joint Committee which studied the so-called House of Lords reform moved an Amendment which would very much have widened the discussion, and we might then have been considering a Measure which went a long way to meet some of the points which the hon. Member for Cannock has made.
The hon. Member for the Isle of Ely spoke of "pathetic fiddling". That is really all that one can say about the Bill. But we have to make the best of it and discuss it as it stands. We, for our part, are trying to improve it wherever possible, and we believe that our Amendment is a very distinct improvement. We have said all along that we do not agree with the idea of hereditary peerages, and although this goes only a very small way towards doing away with them, it is at least a step in the right direction.
1682 I must, in passing, say that it gave me a shock when I noticed that three Conservative names were attached to our Amendment. For a ghastly moment, I thought we had made a mistake in the wording which meant that our Amendment was in a very different sense from what we had intended. But we understand the position now. We appreciate the reasons why the names were attached to the Amendment. They have been explained to us by the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley). The hon. Member did us a service in making quite clear the distinction between the two points of view on this question.
I want to add only a few words on this. My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade) touched on the reasoning behind our Amendment and dealt with it very thoroughly. The distinction is between those of us who wish to see the hereditary principle weakened, as we are seeking to do in the Amendment, and those on the other hand who are cunningly trying to strengthen the hereditary principle under the guise of reform. Let us make no mistake about it; the hereditary principle would be strengthened if we accepted the proposals in the Bill as it stands—that is, if we decided that, whatever other concessions we are to make to a reluctant peer, we shall not allow him to divest himself of the nobility which some hon. Members opposite think he carries in his blood.
The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury made this clear, saying that a peerage is not something which belongs to a person but is an institution of which a person is only the tenant for his lifetime. That means that it is something supernatural with which we mere mortals are never entitled to interfere in the slightest degree. If one accepted his argument, one would have the hereditary system for ever more—
§ Mr. Ridley
Surely that is a very strange argument. Would the hon. Gentleman say that a house was something supernatural? There can be a tenant for a house or anything else. The point that I was making was that the peerage comes back to somebody.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Lubbock
A house does not last for ever, and it has not a seat in the 1683 Legislature. Also, there is not a supernatural mark which distinguishes one house from all the rest.
What the hon. Member is saying is that there is some supernatural mark which distinguishes certain members of our community who happen to be the possessors or heirs of hereditary peerages. That is the difference between us. We would not make any bones about this. This difference will, I hope, be on non-party lines. I do not think that this is a party political question, although it is, of course, a political one.
I hope that when we come to the vote on the Amendment, it will be entirely free and no pressure will be exercised on hon. Members opposite to persuade them to oppose the Amendment. Considering that we have had a number of Conservative names attached to our Amendment and that hon. Members opposite have spoken in favour of it—from different motives, I agree—I think that we might succeed in passing the Amendment, although I do not know what would happen if the later Amendments tabled by ourselves and hon. Members opposite were rejected, for we should then have deleted the words "for his life" from Clause 1, but retained other words in Clause 3 which would conflict with that.
I said when we discussed this on Second Reading that I believed that if it were put to a free vote of the House our proposals would be carried and that I was even more certain that if we were able to put the question to the electorate in general the result would be even more overwhelmingly in favour of extinguishing a peerage entirely when the temporary holder renounced it. Since then, I have been able to obtain some small confirmation of the opinion I expressed. I have had a small public opinion poll carried out in my constituency, and I think that the results of it may be of some interest to the Committee.
A total of 215 people were questioned. I agree that it is a small sample, but it is at least some evidence in favour of the truth of what I said on Second Reading. Of those questioned, 122 were in favour of abolishing hereditary titles altogether, and that is a bare majority of those questioned. But on the more limited 1684 question now before us—whether a person renouncing a peerage should do so merely for his lifetime or should for the succeeding heirs as well—the number in favour of total extinction of the peerage was 142 and the number in favour of renouncing for life only was 73. The Committee will see that the majority of the 215 persons questioned favoured total extinction—a proportion of nearly 2:1.
It has been objected by hon. Members opposite—not on this occasion, but on Second Reading—and also in some of the representations made to the Joint Committee, that our proposals would involve some injustice to the heirs and descendants of the temporary holder who decided to renounce. In fact, Lord Hailsham put forward what I think is a rather curious argument, that, while it may be reasonable for a person to renounce as far as his own descendants are concerned, it would be quite unfair to allow him to do so for the more remote heirs as well.
I cannot see very much difference between the two cases, but I think that the second illustrates even more clearly how fatuous the reasoning is, because the succession of a remote relation who may not even realise before he succeeds that he will become the heir to a peerage reveals quite distinctly the capriciousness of the whole system.
I am reminded of Lord Lucky who…by a curious flukeBecame a most important duke.He rose in less than half an hourTo riches, dignity and power.Belloc fans will remember that he achieved this rise to eminence through the sudden and violent deaths of several of the intervening heirs, one of whom was executed. The unfair treatment of potential heirs is, as far as I have been able to ascertain, about the only serious argument which has been advanced in favour of leaving things as they stand in the Bill.
On the other hand, as already explained, we have taken our stand on the question of principle as to whether or not we should make some breach in the hereditary system, albeit a minor breach. Sooner or later, as the hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) has said, we shall have to undertake a much more radical consideration of the composition of the Upper House. I believe that, if 1685 the Amendment is accepted, it will be of the greatest assistance in that difficult task.
§ Mr. F. M. Bennett (Torquay)
If I rise, it is only for a few moments and not to make any remarks on this Amendment at all.
§ The Chairman
Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot speak unless his remarks are to be directed towards the Amendment.
§ Mr. Bennett
I apologise for that unfortunate lead-in, Sir William. Perhaps I might phrase my words more happily. While I am addressing myself to this Amendment, my thoughts will probably be on another one which comes a little later. I hope that that brings me within the bounds of order.
I think that I can speak here both for myself and for my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls) and my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury (Sir J. Langford-Holt), whose names appear on the Amendment with mine. Our support for the Amendment is actually contingent on quite another part of the Bill. It is only fair to say that I, for one, could not support an Amendment which, as it stands, would drown a peerage altogether. That is the opposite of what I want.
§ Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)
On a point of order, Sir William. The hon. Gentleman is apparently opposed to an Amendment which bears his name. Is he in order in showing opposition to that which he has put before the Committee?
§ The Chairman
On reading the Amendment, I see that the name of the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. F. M. Bennett) is attached to it, and I understand that he is explaining how he views the situation of his name in connection with the Amendment. I do not think that is out of order.
§ Mr. Mitchison
Further to that point of order, Sir William. The hon. Gentleman has put his name to an Amendment. Is he allowed to vote against it?
§ The Chairman
I think that the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) is carrying the point of order 1686 too far. This Amendment has been debated considerably, and it may well be that, in the light of the debate, an hon. Member's opinion may have been changed.
§ Mr. Mitchison
Therefore, the position is that, if an hon. Member changes his opinion in the course of debate, he can vote against an Amendment he himself supported on the Notice Paper?
§ Mr. Bennett
Thank you, Sir William, for coming to my aid and putting the case much more effectively than I could.
I was trying to point out, within the narrow rules of order, that one is in difficulty with a Bill of this nature, where a particular Amendment may well be contingent upon another Amendment which has not yet been discussed. I am sure that the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) has often found himself in precisely the same predicament.
I want the words "for his life" left out because I believe that rather than drown the peerage it should go to the next heir at once in line. That is why, within the rules of order, I make that point clear, though I hope to take it further when we reach a later Amendment.
§ Mr. Lubbock
Will the hon. Gentleman explain whether he intends to vote in favour of the Amendment?
§ Mr. Bennett
I propose to take the advice of the Chair, which is to listen to the rest of the debate and make up my mind then.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I want to make clear as briefly as I can where we on this side of the Committee—I think all of us—stand on this matter. This is a limited Bill. It is limited because of the terms of reference of the Select Committee. Those terms were limited because of the negotiations that went on, I think in public, across the Floor of the House. It is quite clear that we on this side are not prepared to consider a reform of the House of Lords, or a reform of its composition, unless we can also and, at the same time, consider the question of its powers.
1687 It was because of that limitation that the terms of refence of the Committee were limited and that the Bill itself is limited. It does not, therefore, as I see it, raise any broad question of whether there should be one Chamber or two, or any broad question behind the hereditary principle. I think that I may fairly add this, since the hereditary principle is to some extent involved in the Amendment: we think that the hereditary principle is bunk.
We do not think that it has any foundation in scientific fact and that it has no merits as a principle on which to found a legislative assembly. Nor do we think in practice that it has worked for any other purpose than to ensure a Conservative majority in the House of Lords. For these reasons, I think that we are all of us on this side opposed to the hereditary principle.
As I understand it, the point that we are considering here is that if a Member of the House of Lords, being a Member within the category indicated in this Bill—that is to say, someone who succeeds to a peerage through no fault or advantage of his own but just succeeds—desires to renounce the peerage, he can do so and the question is whether the effect of this should or should not extinguish that peerage.
This identical point was raised in the Joint Committee, where it is reported on page 14. It might serve a useful purpose if I read out the Amendment which was put to the Joint Committee then, and if, at the same time, I remind right hon. and hon. Members that the majority of the Members of the House of Commons on the Joint Committee voted in favour of the Amendment, but that it was defeated, in effect, by members of the Committee who were Members of another place.
This is what the majority of Members of the House of Commons on the Joint Committee wished the Committee to adopt:They consider that a person who succeeds to a Peerage should be allowed to surrender it and that surrender should entail the extinction of the Peerage. There is no reason to maintain Peerages in a dormant State for the benefit or embarrassment"—and here I agree with the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke)— 1688of actual or prospective heirs. A person should be entitled to deal with the future status of his heirs by surrendering a hereditary Peerage just as under modern practice he can deal with their future status by accepting or refusing an offered Peerage of first creation.I voted for that Amendment and I find nothing wrong with the argument in it. I have heard no answer to that, neither today nor on any previous occasion. This is a matter of pretty ancient history. In 1626, Mr. Justice Dodderidge said of the peerage:…it is a personal dignity annexed to the posterity and fixed in the blood.Yet we have hon. Members of the House of Commons today getting up more than three centuries afterwards and saying much the same thing.
I regard statements of that sort as archaic nonsense. I should have thought that we had moved long out of that, not merely after three centuries, but after quite a short period. What were the civil wars in the seventeenth century about? To some extent, at any rate, they were to get rid of this kind of stuff. If nobody can find a better reason for opposing the Amendment than that, he ought not to oppose it at all.
There is at present no provision for a person by a voluntary act creating a state of affairs in which he himself is a commoner and yet, by virtue of his existence and his actions or omissions, his heirs have some sort of dormant right, putting the peerage in abeyance, as it were. Peerages now fall into abeyance for reasons which are rather archaic and which do not apply to all peerages and which are utterly different from anything which we have to consider here.
What the Government are seeking to do by the Bill, unless the Amendment is accepted, is to create a state of affairs which has no foundation whatever in any sort of historical views about peerages or anything else. What do we think we are doing? Are we really trying to put a peerage to bed and draw the sheets over it and hide it away until the man who has elected to renounce it dies, allowing it then suddenly to spring out of bed and come alive and kicking with another Duke of Whatdoyoucallum coming into existence? That is all arrant nonsense. I cannot see on what grounds a collection of reasonable and intelligent 1689 Members, as we believe ourselves to be, can possibly manage to reject the Amendment and produce that utterly ridiculous state of affairs.
If this is a matter of Conservative principle, then I am even more mystified than I was before about what exactly Conservative principle is. There is no principle whatever in this. This is just rubbish. If a man renounces a peerage, the peerage must disappear, and it would be a ridiculous state of affairs if that did not happen.
§ Sir John Maitland (Horncastle)
My reason for not being able to support the Government on this part of the Bill flows from a reason quite different from those I have heard while sitting in the Chamber. I have a deep and real admiration for the work of the House of Lords as it is at present. When I first came into the House, in 1945, I felt as though "M.P." had been tattooed on my forehead. That feeling wore off very quickly. I remember that I was once trying to find out more about some subject about which I knew very little—it was technological education, or something like that. I asked an old and experienced Member how I should set about studying the subject, and he told me that the House of Lords had debated it about a fortnight previously.
For the first time in my life, the House of Lords came into my consciousness as a deliberative body. I read its debate in Hansard and I may say that I have studied the debates of another place on all-important subjects ever since. I think that the debates of another place are far finer than we can have here, and that anybody who read the debate there yesterday would have great difficulty in denying that.
It is for those reasons that I do not want the House of Lords to be made a sort of dustbin of people who think that it is not good enough for them and that they must come to our House. I believe that if anybody feels a great urge to become a commoner, he should be able to do so. That is why I am not opposed to the Bill in general. Anybody should be able to disclaim his title if he desires to do so. But, if he does so in order to come to the House of Commons and not to use his abilities in the House of Lords, not to be able to raise the standard there, as we hope and perhaps believe that some of our hon. Friends who have left this 1690 place might be able to do, it seems to me a gross insult to what we ought to expect from a second Chamber in the present circumstances—and the Bill deals with present circumstances and not with those of two years' hence.
It is because I do not think that there should be any encouragement for people of ability who have the privilege of sitting in the House of Lords not so to sit that I cannot support the Government in this case
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
I want to say a few words on the precise Amendments before the Committee. I do not wish to appear to be a kind of dialectical blackleg by doing so, but I wish to say something on the precise case which has so far not been presented to us. I think that the hon. Member for Horncastle (Sir J. Maitland) is the first Member, certainly in this Committee stage and possibly in all debates that we have had on the matter, who has sought to present a case for what the Government are doing.
I did not think that the hon. Member's case was very good. It is a strange confession to say that one is dazzled by the debates in the House of Lords and that one wishes to maintain the institution absolutely immaculately as it is at present. It is a novel view, but it is a possible defence of the view which the Government are presenting in the Bill.
Apart from that, we have had no case for the proposal which the Government have inserted in the Bill. On the Second Reading debate, the Leader of the House said that he would say nothing about it then, but would reserve his speech until later. No doubt we will hear from the right hon. Gentleman what is the case for the extraordinary idea which the Government have incorporated in the Bill. We are all on tenterhooks to hear what it is, and I do not want to delay his being able to present it to us. However, so far, nobody, except the hon. Member for Horncastle, with his rather bizarre reason for supporting the Government, has attempted to defend it.
Only one other person has sought to do so—this was mentioned by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock)—the Leader of the Conservative Party in the House of Lords, Viscount Hailsham. He thinks that the Government are going too far in a radical direction. 1691 Viscount Hailsham thinks that there should be an in-and-out principle, that peers might be able not exactly to come in and out of this House and back into the House of Lords, but more frequently than is envisaged in the Bill.
In a memorandum which he sent to the Select Committee, the noble Lord said:It would, of course, be clearly intolerable for a peer to move backwards and forwards at will.That is a pretty big democratic concession.This, of course, is not because of the advantage he would gain thereby—nobody ever really gains advantage from making himself ridiculous"—another remarkable confession from the noble Lord—but because part of the ridiculousness of his conduct would be passed on to Parliament.The noble Lord concedes to us that they should not move backwards and forwards, but he said that the Government are going too far. At any rate, they have gone further than he proposed in his memorandum in allowing peers to come back to the House and revert to the House of Lords when they choose to do so. His proposition was that they should disclaim the peerage for only ten years or for the length of one Parliament. The Government have, therefore, gone somewhat further than Viscount Hailsham proposed, and in that sense, I suppose, they think that they are doing something rather daring.
In another part of his memorandum the noble Lord gave the reason why he was against the proposition for extinction of the peerage when a disclaimer was made. What he said was very interesting. This is the reason given by the greatest authority in the Conservative Party on why we are doing what the Government are asking us to do here and now:On the other hand, I would see the greatest objections to the extinction of an hereditary title at the choice of its temporary holder. Many titles are links with a famous past and justly regarded as a part of the national heritage. It may in practice be reasonable that a holder should decide the matter for his own descendants, although I personally would not agree. But older titles may descend to brothers and cousins—or even more remotely—and to allow the ambition of perhaps even the spite or caprice of an individual to extinguish a famous name would, 1692 I feel, not redound to the dignity of the institution and would inflict unmerited injustice on individuals, some of whom might well be incapable of defending themselves.As many of them are not born, that seems a reasonable proposition.
This is Lord Hailsham's case for what we are doing, and he is the expert. This is a most remarkable utterance. It has nothing to do with how we can compose a legislature to decide the laws of this country, or how this country should be governed. It has nothing to do with how we should order our affairs. It has nothing to do with how we should decide the economy of the country, or how our wealth should be determined. Viscount Hailsham is not faintly interested in the question of how the nation should be governed, or what is the proper or democratic way of doing it. He is concerned merely with maintaining this part of our national heritage—the famous names. He thinks that it is terrible to extinguish them.
I understand people taking that view. Though it is an extraordinary view to take, people can take it, but those who take it should not pretend that they are concerned with good government in this country. It is mystical nonsense, though many people believe in it. They are entitled to defend mystical nonsense, but they should not then pretend that they are concerned with the proper Government of this country. This is the sole case which has been made—and apparently there are some hon. Gentlemen opposite who agree with Viscount Hailsham—and this is what they will vote for unless the Leader of the House at the last moment, in the nick of time, comes forward to explain why the House should pass a proposition of this nature.
If the Leader of the House defends the idea which the Leader of the Conservative Party in the House of Lords has defended, it will be a remarkable conjunction, because we were always told that the Leader of our House, as opposed to the Leader of the House of Lords, was one of the modernisers in the Conservative Party, and that if it had not been for some other unfortunate development they were going to say to the country that they were presenting a great modern up-to-date party. This is the proposition which the right hon. Gentleman is to defend.
1693 That this House of Commons should have to meet to discuss such a piece of tomfoolery as this, whether it is proper to extinguish the titles or not, and that these great modern leaders of the Tory Party who are proposing to present a new image of an up-to-date party should defend Viscount Hailsham's proposition, is extraordinary. We know that before the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip, who has just come in, can carry out a modernisation programme they have a few other problems on their hands with which they have to deal. They have to push the "old man" overboard and get him out of the way, and that takes a little time.
§ The Chairman
Order. I think that we should devote our interests to the problems contained in the Amendment.
§ Mr. Foot
I must apologise, Sir William. Do not push him overboard; send him to the House of Lords. There is nothing in this Clause to prevent that.
It is a remarkable state of affairs that the party which is claiming that it wants to consider our government in a new style, that it wants to present a different aspect to the nation, that it wants to bring our institutions up to date, should have spent all this time producing this Bill, which includes this most inequitable proposition that someone who decides to disclaim a title should be able to retain it for his dependants. On the face of it, it looks as if the Leader of the House and his companions who have agreed to present this remarkable proposition have committed an absurdity, but I do not think that they are as foolish as they look.
I think that they have a serious purpose behind this. Everybody knows the origin of the Bill. Everybody knows the reason why the House of Commons has spent so many hours debating Wedgwood Benn's case, and eventually this Bill. We shall discuss it for some time, because we want to try to improve it. It has been brought in because of the one-man fight that Wedgwood Benn put up. Two or three years ago the Government were protesting against any idea of introducing a Bill of this nature. They were saying that the heavens might fall if they did; that the monarchy would be imperilled; and that many other dangers would inure if they injured the hereditary principle in the minute degree that they are proposing to do under the Bill generally.
1694 The Government have been shamed into introducing this Measure as a whole, but they have decided, in doing so, to hang on to every conceivable privilege that they can, and the reason why the Leader of the House is prepared to make an ass of himself defending such a proposition as this is that, being an old-fashioned Tory, perhaps not quite so clever as he was once accused of being, he is still prepared to defend the House of Lords; because what other reason could he have for defending it than that, as the Tory Party is about to lose a General Election, this is the moment when it needs the House of Lords most of all?
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)
f wish to intervene only briefly to raise one point which has not been mentioned during the debate on this Amendment. I find this debate fascinating, because, with the exception of those Members of the Tory Party who are supporting the Amendment, the Tory Party has proved itself at its most metaphysical. We are discussing the in-built inherent qualities of the nobility which, through some strange biological process, are carried on generation after generation.
The party opposite is in favour of the hereditary principle, and always has been. This Bill is the reluctant first breaching of that principle in order, as with all Tory reforms, to give the impression at the eleventh hour, usually for the wrong reasons, that at any rate it has been breached.
What is possible under this Bill is that two, three, or four generations can successively disclaim the peerage until suddenly an heir is found who decides that he would like to revive it. He can go and dig it up, as it were, from the bottom of the garden, and there it will be complete with coronet and in perfect condition. It can then be de-mummified and brought back to life as if it had been put in deep freeze. One generation will take it out as if it were a frozen grouse and say, "I do not think that it is high enough" and put it back for another generation. Then perhaps the next generation will take it out and say, "I think that it is a little too high, but my successor might like it in that condition", and so back it will go to the deep freeze.
1695 Finally, a generation is found which decides that it would like to bring the peerage back to life and because the inherent qualities of peerage are immortal and transcendent, they will have been preserved intact throughout the generations. However many disclaimers there may have been, so powerful and so valuable are these inherent qualities that it is right and proper that the possessors of them should be called to the legislature to rule our country, because, after all, on what better, more democratic, more unbiased principle can one select a legislature than by heredity?
The Leader of the House might say, "If only we could do this", but some Conservative seats are represented on that basis. I believe that one has been represented by one family through three generations. As to whether it would have been possible for the second generation to disclaim what the third generation would claim, I do not know, because the point never arose. But even the House of Lords has established the principle that after a peerage has been in abeyance for 300 years it cannot be revived. I am very fortunate that this is so, because I understand that otherwise it would be possible for me to revive a very disreputable Norman barony. That has been dead for 600 years, but all the qualities of nobility and all the inherent metaphysical qualities are still there. They are merely dormant. And one day, perhaps, if that bar is removed, they will be revived and that barony will entitle the holder automatically to sit in another place.
Therefore, I really suggest that if all that the noble Lord wanted was for the great names to be rolled out as in some Shakespearian play and to continue, let these noble Lords call themselves what they wish. Let them have all the territorial high-sounding names they wish to choose. No one will object. If that is their form of hope and contribution to our national life, they are welcome to it. But surely it is manifestly wrong that a man should be entitled to sit in the Legislature because, perhaps, after six generations and six successive disclaimers, he goes to the ice chest and brings out this sort of Piltdown Man, hacks the ice out of it, then takes out the coronet, puts it on his head and proceeds to another place.
1696 How the Tory Party with the metaphysical arguments put forward can seriously suggest that it is a party of the twentieth century—at least the second half of the twentieth century—in tune with all the feelings of the ordinary people of the twentieth century, when this ridiculous mumbo-jumbo is going to be perpetuated, I cannot think. Therefore, I hope that that graduated Bow Grouper, the Leader of the House, and one of its proudest alumni, will be able to vote for this and that all the other Conservatives who are looking into the seventies—perhaps not worrying too much about the sixties—will realise that once a peerage has been disclaimed it must be disclaimed for all time and not be subject to this ridiculous jack-in-the-box arrangement, that in one generation it pops up, in the next it is pushed down, and then, finally, the button is pushed and it pops up again. How right the hon. Gentleman opposite is. We have had the downs and now we are just about ready for the ups.
§ The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Iain Macleod)
We have spent a long time on this Amendment, and very properly, because it is perhaps the most important matter that we are discussing in the Committee stage of this Bill. As my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Mr. F. M. Bennett) pointed out, there is a somewhat misleading air of all-party support for this Amendment, because whereas the Liberal Party regard it as paving to other Amendments which would come later and some hon. Members, like the hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee), would wish it to lead to a complete abolition of the hereditary principle in another place, my hon. Friend, I think, is paying towards an Amendment which I think we shall be discussing later and which would implement the proposal made by my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls) on Second Reading, that on disclaimer the peerage should immediately devolve on the next heir. Clearly, those are very different objectives indeed.
The object of this Amendment, and also of some others that have been put down, is that a disclaimer should extinguish, drown, the peerage disclaimed instead of putting it into suspense during the lifetime of the person disclaiming. We have had some cogent—I would not 1697 deny that—and some witty—I would not deny that either—observations made in support of that thesis. I listened with fascinated attention to the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) putting his case about the Horse Guards Parade, though I should have thought that the more contemporary problem about the Horse Guards Parade was not who should have the right of way to walk across it but whether there should be a carpark under it. I was lost in the history which the hon. Gentleman put to the House.
The position was well stated by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), who referred to the Joint Committee's Report and read the proposal which the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) put then before the Committee and which was lost on a Division by 12 votes to six. It is a perfectly fair point that five out of the six were Members of this House and that only four out of the 12 were Members of this House. So a majority of five to four of the Members of this House supported something similar to this proposal in another place. I am bound to say that if the merits of the case are so overwhelming and so entirely in accordance with Liberal doctrine, tradition and practice, then it is odd to find that the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party voted for this proposal in another place and the Leader of the Liberal Party in the House of Lords voted against it. So perhaps the merits are not, so far as the Liberal Party is concerned, as conclusive as all that.
§ Mr. Macleod
No, not particularly, obviously. But what I do say is that 1698 the hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) cannot claim that this is an overwhelming matter of principle and that it is so dear to the heart of the Liberal Party if, in fact, the Liberal Party was divided on it and its Leader in another place took a contrary view.
Nobody could deny that there is cogency in the main argument, and it is the only one to which I really feel I need address myself, because it is enshrined in the words of the right hon. Member for Smethwick's challenged Amendment which was rejected by 12 votes to six. What it amounts to is the claim that because a man by accepting an hereditary peerage confers upon his posterity, who may be unborn, certain rights and also subjects them to certain disabilities, including, until the Bill is passed, the disability of not being a Member of the House of Commons, so it is equally right for a peer who disclaims his peerage in the future in accordance with the provision of this Bill to confer upon his posterity for ever the right to offer themselves for election to the House of Commons and to deprive them of the right to membership of the House of Lords.
I have said that this is a cogent argument and one that I think we should discuss and answer. But I am bound to say that we ought also to make this point. We are not here discussing, whatever the views of hon. Members may be, the question of the membership, in the full sense of the word, of another place. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) when he said that any such discussion ought to start on the basis of a consideration of powers. The hon. Lady the Member for Cannock made a similar point.
If the time comes when it is right to discuss the powers of another place, then the whole matter of composition is called into question. No one would deny that, but that is, with respect, not the question in front of us in this Bill. What is in front of us in the Bill is the clothing in legislative form of an agreement reached by a Joint Committee of both Houses—and in the most important decision of all reached very narrowly by11 votes to 10 1699 with a certain amount of cross-voting. But I do not think that, even taking the package argument—and that is important in this respect—this argument is the decisive one. I believe that the argument which I have summarised is itself fallacious, that is to say, the argument in comparing the privileges taken on when a man accepts a peerage with the possibility put forward in these Amendments that he may disclaim them for his posterity.
The whole point of this Bill—this is a matter to which we have to address ourselves and which was put to us by the Joint Committee—is to give each, successor in turn an opportunity of choosing for himself. We accept, and we do accept, that it is perfectly accurate to say that it was the case of Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn which has led to a change of opinion in this regard, and he is entitled to full credit for it. He will take his place in Parliamentary history. There can be no question of that, but if modern opinion is now that it is wrong for an ancestor who accepts a peerage to bind his posterity without their having any say in the matter, it is because of that that this Bill has come forward, because of that that we have had the Joint Committee's Report.
It would be anomalous in my view to amend the Bill, as is now proposed, to confer a similar power on a peer who disclaims. These Amendments—by far the most important—are not of course wrecking in the sense that those in whose names they are are ill-disposed towards the Bill. In fact, the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade) perfectly fairly said that even if these Amendments were defeated he would not vote against the Bill. But I believe they are wrecking in effect, because I cannot believe that anyone who has studied the Joint Committee's Report and seen the voting on that particular Amendment can think for a moment that these Amendments would therefore be acceptable.
We have to consider not just the logic of the case. I think there is a strong argument on both sides. I am quite prepared to concede that, but we have to consider the question whether, if these Amend- 1700 ments were accepted, the Bill would not fall. I believe it would, but I would not finally rest my case on that because if I thought the logic of the case were overwhelming I should think it right to advise the House to accept these Amendments, whatever might happen in another place. We can argue how disagreement between the two Houses can be dealt with. I do not believe the main argument, on which alone the case for the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West rests, is itself entirely sound.
That it has some validity I have freely admitted, but I believe, for the reasons I have given, that it is itself fallacious. Therefore I think the balance of logic tips, even though narrowly, against these Amendments. Because we are discussing the principle of a Bill recommended to us by the Joint Committee of both Houses and because I think absolutely essential to this proposition and to the whole Bill is agreement on this sort of subject, I do not suggest that we should accept these Amendments, and I recommend the House to reject them.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I understand the right hon. Gentleman to agree with most of us that the real object of this Bill is to decide on whether certain people can come into this House. Is it his opinion that on a matter of this sort we ought to be influenced by possible opposition in another place?
§ Mr. Macleod
No, I did not say that. What I did say was what I can put very clearly in the words of the right hon. Member the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, who said on 28th March, 1963:Therefore, the almost final words of the Leader of the House in warning us about the pitfalls of trying to get substantial changes were wise, and I hope that those who are concerned about other matters will pay attention to them."—[Official Report, 28th March, 1963; Vol. 674, c. 1560.]I have always thought this the right way to approach a difficult problem, but I would not of course suggest that hon. Members—if they think the hon. Member's proposition is right—should be deterred from that by what might happen in another place. I would not suggest that for a moment. I believe the balance of logic still tips, although I have argued narrowly against these Amendments.
§ Question put, That "for his life" stand part of the Clause.1702
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 185, Noes 134.1703
|Division No. 153.]||AYES||[5.35 p.m.|
|Aitken, Sir William||Harrison, Brian (Maldon)||Peel, John|
|Aliason, James||Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)||Percival, Ian|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf'd)||Pickthorn, Sir Kenneth|
|Barber, Anthony||Harvey, John ( Walthamstow, E.)||Pilkington, Sir Richard|
|Barter, John||Harvie Anderson, Miss||Pitman, Sir James|
|Batsford, Brian||Hay, John||Pott, Percivall|
|Baxter, Sir Beverley (Southgate)||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel||Powell, Rt. Hon. J. Enoch|
|Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton||Heath, Rt. Hon. Edward||Prior-Palmer, Brig. Sir Otho|
|Bell, Ronald||Hicks Beach, Maj. W.||Pym, Francis|
|Bennett, Dr Reginald (Gos & Fhm)||Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk)||Rawlinson, Sir Peter|
|Bevins, Rt. Hon. Reginald||Hirst, Geoffrey||Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Hobson, Rt. Hon. Sir John||Rees, Hugh (Swansea, W.)|
|Bingham, R, M.||Holland, Philip||Renton, Rt. Hon. David|
|Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel||Hollingworth, John||Ridley, Hon. Nicholas|
|Bishop, F. P.||Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hon. Dame P.||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Howard, John (Southampton, Test)||Robinson, Rt. Hn. Sir R. (B'pool,S.)|
|Bourne-Arton, A.||Hughes-Young, Michael||Roots, William|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. John||Hulbert, Sir Norman||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard|
|Boyle, Rt. Hon. Sir Edward||Iremonger, T. L.||Sandys, Rt. Hon. Duncan|
|Brewis, John||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Shaw, M.|
|Bromley-Davenport,Lt.-Col.SirWalter||James, David||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Brooman-White, R.||Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)||Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'd & Chiswick)|
|Brown, Alan (Tottenham)||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Smithers, Peter|
|Buck, Antony||Kaberry, Sir Donald||Spearman, Sir Alexander|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Kerans, Cdr. J. S.||Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)|
|Channon, H, P. G.||Kershaw, Anthony||Stodart, J. A.|
|Chataway, Christopher||Kitson, Timothy||Storey, Sir Samuel|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Clark, William (Nottingham, S.)||Leavey, J. A.||Summers, Sir Spencer|
|Cleaver, Leonard||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Cooke, Robert||Linstead, Sir Hugh||Taylor, Frank (M'ch'st'r, Moss Side)|
|Cooper, A. E.||Litchfield, Capt. John||Teeling, Sir William|
|Cooper-Key, Sir Neill||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)||Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret|
|Corfield, F, V.||Longbottom, Charles||Thomas, Sir Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Costain, A. P.||Longden, Gilbert||Thompson, Sir Kenneth (Walton)|
|Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne)||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)|
|Crawley, Aidan||McAdden, Sir Stephen||Tilney, John (Wavertree)|
|Curran, Charles||MacArthur, Ian||Touche, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon|
|Dalkeith, Earl of||McLaughlin, Mrs. Patricia||Turner, Colin|
|Deedes, Rt. Hon. W. F.||Maclay, Rt. Hon. John||Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.|
|Doughty, Charles||Maclean,Sir Fitzroy(Bute&N.Ayrs)||Tweedsmuir, Lady|
|du Cann, Edward||Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield, W.)||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Duncan, Sir James||McMaster, Stanley R.||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Eden, Sir John||Macmillan.Rt.Hn. Harold Bromley)||Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hon. Sir John|
|Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)||Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax)||Vickers, Miss Joan|
|Emery, Peter||Maddan, Martin||Vosper, Rt. Hon. Dennis|
|Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn||Mathew, Robert (Honiton)||Wakefield, Sir Wavell|
|Errington, Sir Eric||Matthews, Gordon (Meriden)||Walker-Smith, Rt, Hon. Sir Derek|
|Erroll, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Maudling, Rt. Hon. Reginald||Wall, Patrick|
|Finlay, Graeme||Mawby, Ray||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Fisher, Nigel||Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)||Mills, Stratton||Williams, Dudley (Exeter)|
|Freeth, Denzil||Montgomery, Fergus||Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)|
|Gammans, Lady||Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles||Wise, A. R.|
|Glover, Sir Douglas||Nicholson, Sir Godfrey||Woodhouse, C. M.|
|Glyn, Sir Richard (Dorset, N.)||Noble, Rt. Hon. Michael||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Goodhart, Philip||Nugent, Rt. Hon. Sir Richard||Woollam, John|
|Green, Alan||Oakshott, Sir Hendrie||Worsley, Marcus|
|Gresham Cooke, R.||Orr, Capt. L, P. S.||Yates, William (The Wrekin)|
|Grosvenor, Lord Robert||Osborn, John (Hallam)|
|Gurden, Harold||Page, Graham (Crosby)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Hall, John (Wycombe)||Page, John (Harrow, West)||Mr. Gordon Campbell|
|Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough)||Pannell, Norman (Kirkdale)||and Mr. McLaren.|
|Albu, Austen||Bray, Dr. Jeremy||Dalyell, Tam|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Brockway, A. Fenner||Dempsey, James|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crowe)||Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Diamond, John|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Dodds, Norman|
|Barnett, Guy||Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Donnelly, Desmond|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Callaghan, James||Duffy, A. E, P.|
|Bence, Cyril||Carmichael, Neil||Ede, Rt. Hon. C.|
|Benson, Sir George||Castle, Mrs. Barbara||Edwards, Robert (Bilston)|
|Bowden, Rt. Hn. H.W. (Leics, S.W.)||Chapman, Donald||Edwards, Walter, (Stepney)|
|Bowles, Frank||Collick, Percy||Evans, Albert|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M.||Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Fell, Anthony|
|Bradley, Tom||Cronin, John||Fitch, Alan|
|Fletcher, Eric||Jones, Elwyn (West Ham, S.)||Pursey, Cmdr. Harry|
|Foot, Dingle (Ipswich)||Key, Rt, Hon. C. W.||Rankin, John|
|Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)||King, Dr. Horace||Redhead, E. C.|
|Galpern, Sir Myer||Lawson, George||Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)|
|George,LadyMeganLloyd(Crmrthn)||Lee, Frederick (Newton)||Reynolds, G. W.|
|Ginsburg, David||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Rhodes, H.|
|Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||Lever, L. M. (Ardwick)||Robertson, John (Paisley)|
|Gourlay, Harry||Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.)||Rodgers, W. T. (Stockton)|
|Greenwood, Anthony||Lipton, Marcus||Rogers, G. H. R, (Kensington, N.)|
|Grey, Charles||Loughlin, Charles||Ross, William|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||McBride, N.||Skeffington, Arthur|
|Grimond, Rt. Hon. J.||McCann, John||Small, William|
|Hale, Leslie (Oldhwn, W.)||MacColl, James||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Hamilton, William (West Fife)||MacDermot, Niall||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Hannan, William||McInnes, James||Steele, Thomas|
|Harper, Joseph||McKay, John (Wallsend)||Strachey, Rt. Hon. John|
|Hart, Mn. Judith||Mackie, John (Enfield, East)||Swingler, Stephen|
|Hayman, F. H.||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Thomson,G. M. (Dundee, C.)|
|Henderson,Rt.Hn.Arthur(RwlyRegis)||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Thorpe, Jeremy|
|Herbison, Miss Margaret||Manuel, Archie||Tomney, Frank|
|Hill, J. (Midlothian)||Marsh, Riehard||Weitzman, David|
|Hilton, A. V.||Mason, Roy||White, Mrs. Eirene|
|Holman, Percy||Mendelson, J. J.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Hooson, H. E.||Millan, Bruce||Willey, Frederick|
|Houghton, Douglas||Mitchison, G. R.||Williams, Lt. (Abertillery)|
|Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Monslow, Walter||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)|
|Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Moody, A.S.||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|Hunter, A. E.||Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)||Willis, E. G. (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Hynd, John (Attercliffe)||Oram, A. E.||Yates, Victor (Ladywood)|
|Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Paget, R. T.||Zilliacus, K.|
|Irving, Sydney (Dartford)||Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)|
|Janner, Sir Barnett||Pargiter, G. A.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Jay, Rt. Hon. Douglas||Pavitt, Laurence||Mr. Wade and Mr. Lubbock.|
|Jenkins, Roy (Stechford)||Peart, Frederick|
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Dingle Foot (Ipswich)
I beg to move, in page 2, line 29, at the end to add:(6) Any person upon whom a peerage in the peerage of England, Scotland, Great Britain or the United Kingdom (not being a life peerage) has been conferred by letters patent or otherwise and who has afterwards succeeded to a peerage in the peerage of England, Scotland, Great Britain or the United Kingdom may by the same instrument of disclaimer disclaim both peerages.The purpose of this Amendment will be apparent to hon. Members on both sides of the Committee. What I am asking the Committee to do is to open the gaol gates just a little wider. We are proposing to let out of the other place Mr. Wedgwood Benn, Mr. Quintin Hogg, and Alexander Victor Edward Paulet Montague, alias Lord Hinchingbrooke. There has been nothing like it since the early days of the French Revolution, when all titles were renounced and Mirabeau became plain M. Riquetti.
I should like to add to this splended procession just one more figure, that of Frank Pakenham, known as the Earl of Longford. It seems to me unjust that he should be left alone in his gilded cage all the rest of his life. I think that the circumstances of his case are tolerably well known to all hon. Members on both sides of the Committee. It will be remembered that he was the heir to them 1704 peerage of Longford. It was at the time that he was the heir to the peerage that he himself was requested to go to the other place in order to represent in various capacities the Labour Government of those days. He was thus performing a very necessary and valuable public sevice. He became Lord Pakenham at that time in the belief that eventually he must, whether he wished it or not, become the Earl of Longford. If he had known that there was to be legislation of this character in his lifetime it might very well be that he would have come to a different decision. We are in this Bill dealing particularly with certain individuals which we all have in mind. But we are not passing this Measure, as I understand it, simply for the benefit or the relief of the individuals concerned. It has other purposes as well.
The Bill, although it is a modest Measure, will strengthen Parliamentary institutions by bringing into this House persons who wish to serve here and who are well qualified to do so. Secondly, the Bill serves to enlarge the rights of the electors in the various constituencies by extending their area of choice. Both these considerations apply to the case about which I am addressing the Committee.
When this matter was raised on Second Reading and I put a question to the right 1705 hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, he indicated that the Government were not particularly sympathetic to the point of view which I am now urging, and he relied upon the views of the Select Committee. It is perfectly true that in page 7 the Joint Select Committee said:They agreed that Peers of first creation (including Life Peers and Lords of Appeal in Ordinary) should not be so enabled. They discussed the question whether Peers who had succeeded to Peerages and had applied for and received Writs of Summons to the House of Lords should be enabled to surrender.It is very easy to understand the reasoning which underlies that conclusion. Anybody might feel that if somebody had become a peer entirely of his own volition and allowed his name to be put forward to the Sovereign and had been called up to the House of Lords by his or her choice that that should be final and it ought not to be possible afterwards to have a second choice and come back to this House. That was the principle which was laid down by the Joint Select Committee, but here we are dealing with circumstances which are entirely different, because Frank Pakenham, as he was when he accepted his title in 1945, did not have a free election between being a peer and being a commoner. As far as he could have known at that time, he had no ultimate choice. Ultimately he had to land up in the other place. It was in those circumstances that he became Lord Pakenham.
I understand—indeed this was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) on Second Reading—that this case was not considered by the Select Committee. I therefore suggest that the passage which I have just read and upon which the Leader of the House relied on Second Reading has no application here. It seems to me that if the Committee accept the Amendment we shall be strengthening the Bill, we shall be carrying out the policy which underlines the whole Measure and we shall be removing one more case of injustice.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir John Hobson)
The hon. and learned Member for Ipswich (Mr. D. Foot) has very fairly said that he has moved the Amendment to deal with the particular case of Lord Longford, although he endeavoured to place it upon grounds of general principle. The position of Lord Longford 1706 is that he holds four peerages—first, the Irish Earldom of Longford; secondly, the Irish Barony of Longford; thirdly, the United Kingdom Barony of Silchester; and finally, the United Kingdom Barony of Pakenham. He inherited the Earldom and Barony of Longford and the Barony of Silchester in 1961 from his brother. He had, however, been created Baron Pakenham in 1945, and he is therefore an hereditary peer both of first creation and by succession.
He asked that special consideration should be given to his case because he was created Baron Pakenham in circumstances in which it was virtually certain that, if he survived his elder brother, he would one day become a member of the House of Lords. Of course, his Irish titles are wholly irrelevant, and it is only the disclaimer of the Barony of Silchester which would be effective. Were he to disclaim that, he would still be left with the Barony of Pakenham, which he accepted as a Barony of first creation and which he would not be capable of disclaiming under the Bill. As a matter of fact, if the Amendment were passed there are two other peers who would be affected by it—Lord Trevethin and Oaksey and the Earl of Dundee.
I propose, however, to deal with the Amendment not on the basis of personalities but on principle. The objection to the Amendment is that in my submission it would be anomalous to make any special provision for an individual peer or a particular class of hereditary peers of first creation solely because he, or any one of them, could have had special motives for accepting the peerage of first creation. If this were done, other peers of first creation who were not members of this particular class might justifiably argue that they had had special motives for accepting their peerages and that in the light of the change of circumstances which has come about in after years, they also ought to be allowed to disclaim because special circumstances applied to them.
To do this would be contrary to the fundamental principle of the Bill—namely, that a person who has deliberately chosen to serve in the House of Lords should not be entitled to resile from that position. Putting perhaps the same argument in a different way, one might argue, why should a person upon 1707 whom an hereditary peerage has been conferred as the first creation, without at that time being in expectation of succeeding to an hereditary peerage, but who by a series of unexpected events in fact succeeds, have a second choice or chance of coming back to the House of Commons from which he had voluntarily excluded himself, whereas a peer who is an hereditary peer of the first creation and who had expected to succeed but did not, or an hereditary peer of the first creation who had no possibility whatever of succeeding because there was no peerage to which he could succeed, would not have the second choice. The person who succeeds unexpectedly would have a second choice.
I suggest that the matter was perhaps best summed up by the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) who has studied this matter so thoroughly, when he said on Second Reading,it seems to me reasonable that any man who says, 'I will go into the House of Lords', has opted for his lifetime…"—[Official Report, 19th June, 1963; Vol. 679, c. 518.]I submit that that is the right principle to apply and, however much for personal reasons it may be desirable that one or all of the three peers should be given this advantage, it would be difficult to make the exception on sound general principle.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.