HC Deb 27 June 1963 vol 679 cc1707-12

Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. John Maclay (Renfrew, West)

Before we part from the Clause I hope that the Leader of the House will give just a little guidance on the reason for its inclusion in the Bill. I think that he will be with us in a moment, and I should like him to hear this argument.

The origin of the Clause is paragraphs 7 to 14 of the Report of the Joint Committee. Paragraph 8 of that Report gives a cogent reason for changing the practice which at present exists whereby there are elections to produce representative Scottish peers. But I think that we should have a little further explanation as to why it has been decided to go ahead with this proposal.

I do not want to make a long speech about it, but we are contemplating changing a procedure which has gone on for more than a quarter of a millenium. It has produced some very useful results in the other place, and it is a system which of itself is of some interest. I should like to be assured that very full consideration was given to the matter before deciding to change a procedure which has functioned fairly satisfactorily for a good many years.

Moreover, this proposal has not passed entirely without comment outside the House, and I believe that varying views are held on it by some of those most directly affected. It might be helpful if the Leader of the House would give some guidance, and perhaps I might briefly repeat part of my argument now that my right hon. Friend is here. The point which I want to get clear is whether the full historic significance of the existing procedure was fully appreciated when the decision was taken to make an alteration in it; whether the views of those who are most intimately concerned in this alteration have been fully sounded; and whether, in the circumstances that it is something which has worked fairly well for a very long time, it should necessarily disappear now.

6.0 p.m.

Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)

I should like to reassure the right hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay), and I do so as a member of the Select Committee. We spent a great dal of time on this matter. The primary intention of the Select Committee was to iron out the issues which arise in the early Clauses, for example, the question of disclaimers.

If the right hon. Gentleman will read all the debates in the Official Report leading up to this matter he will find that the then Leader of the Opposition strictly addressed himself to this and stressed particularly the injustice to those Scottish peers who were not selected. He thought that it was a complete anachronism—I agree—that a man who was not so selected was yet disfranchised as if he were selected. If only one of those men so disfranchised felt himself disadvantaged, that, with me, would carry greater weight than the fact that someone felt, because of a legendary or historical association of the family, sorry that an old practice had passed.

I do not want to go into the Act of Union and all that sort of thing. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to believe that I am interested in this matter. In the Select Committee we studied this subject at great length. The Select Committee, in effect, sprang from the protest of one man—Wedgwood Benn. I think that the right hon. Gentleman would concede that. We took the view that, even though there was a protest from one man in the Scottish peerage who was equally disadvantaged, it would be better to clear it up now. After all, the hardship of 1963 is of greater concern to the House of Commons than the romantic situation of bygone days.

I look on these sort of secondary considerations in exactly the same way as I consider the question of the peeresses. In that case, there is often an overriding consideration of equity, justice and principle to be borne in mind. In the one case I have never believed that there should be any disadvantage between the sexes. I do not think that any disadvantage should be suffered by some potential Wedgwood Benn.

I should like to say, at this stage, that to sit on the Select Committee was a very fascinating experience for anyone with the taste for this sort of thing. The only thing—I may as well make this point whilst I am on my feet—which we excluded from—I will not say "the package deal" but from our consideration—was the matter dealt with earlier, namely, drowning. The Labour Party reserved its position on that issue all the way through.

We are concerned wtih a number of Scottish peers. If they were considered alone, I am not in favour of increasing the number of peers. However, the number involved is just about the number which any Prime Minister might make up in one year. It does not greatly affect the main number. We are considering injustices to individuals and I beg the right hon. Gentleman, who has a long association with Scotland, to bear in mind that we on this side are also very conscious of history.

Dr. Alan Glyn (Clapham)

This is a matter of equity. Very few Scottish peers are affected by this, because there is little difference between the number of representative peers and the number of peers eligible to sit, that is, excluding those who are minors. I welcome this particularly because, whatever else it does, it irons out an anomaly which arose over the Act of Union. I am very glad that the other place will be reinforced by increased representation from Scotland. I do not think that we should be influenced by a very important constitutional point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay) on the Act of Union. Many of the points which arose on that Measure have now subsided, in view of the total number of Scottish peers eligible. I personally welcome the fact that Scotland will in future have all its peers sitting in another place.

Mr. Gordon Walker (Smethwick)

In the Select Committee we considered this point and the representations made to us very carefully. Nobody lightly suggests an Amendment to the Act of Union. Nobody on this side of the Committee lightly considers an addition to the number of hereditary peers. The simple point was that, if we were to extend to Scottish peers the right to disclaim, it would be very complicated to apply the system if the elective system operated, because, at any rate in theory one never knows which peers would be elected. It was impossible to work out a system by which the right to disclaim could be extended to Scottish peers. It was considered that this was the only way of doing it. We therefore wanted to give the same rights to Scottish peers as to others. That is why this proposal figures in the Report and in the Bill.

Mr. Iain Macleod

I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay) has raised this point on the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill". This is an important point. I am also grateful to the two members of the Select Committee—the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) and the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell)—who have provided at least two-thirds of the reply that I would make on this point. I do not think that there was any division whatever on this matter in the Select Committee, but this does not mean that it was not most carefully discussed and examined. Indeed it was. The right hon. Member for Smethwick was right in saying that it is, and is recognised to be, an important and serious matter to amend the Act of Union with Scotland and other Acts by this Clause.

One should recognise that there are some Scottish representative peers who hold the view, to which my right hon. Friend gave expression, that this is a duty which has been placed upon them of which they are very proud and that there are advantages in it. The logic of the case is clearly against them. If one adopted that argument, the argument would apply with almost equal strength to England, and a similar method of selection and representation by selection would appertain.

I am glad that my right hon. Friend has made the point and that we have had this response from two members of the Joint Select Committee. If Members of another place wish to pursue any matter by Amendment when the Bill goes to another place, that is for them. I believe that the logic of the case is with the Joint Committee and with the Bill.

Mr. Maclay

May I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply? I hasten to assure the two members of the Select Committee who have spoken that I in no way intended to cast any reflection on the amount of care and attention they would give to anything that happens north of the Border as well as anywhere else. I was anxious that this point should be ventilated, because it is a very big change to have in a matter which may not appear to be of profound importance, but one does not like to see something which has lasted for 250 years go without a full appreciation of what is happening.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 5 and 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.