§ Question again proposed.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Grosvenor
I had reached the point in my remarks when I was going to refer to the recommendations of the Joint Committee relating to the future—or the Committee's considered future—of the Irish peers. Paragraph 10 states that the Joint Committee…considered, however, that Peers of Ireland should be accorded the same status as commoners with regard to the House of Commons of the United Kingdom".That was very good of the Joint Committee, but it is the status quo ante, because they already can be elected and take their seats in this House. The Committee went on to make three small recommendations, the most important of which, I suppose, is to the effect that an Irish peer who desires to be a Member of Parliament can stand for a constituency in the north of Ireland instead of having to travel by air or boat to represent a constituency in England. I do not think that that is a great concession to these gentlemen who wish to become Members of Parliament.
Why should Irish peers find themselves, under these proposals—and I am not going to argue wider than this—in a position inferior to the English peers and the proposed situation of the Scottish peers? If this goes through in a form fairly similar to that proposed it will mean that Irish peers cannot have the same option as English and Scottish peers. They can come to the House of Commons but they can have no representation in the House of Lords. I know of no good reason why the members of the Irish peerage should be put in that position, tucked away and not given the opportunity to resign their titles, or whatever one might like, and can come here only, but cannot go to another place. This is scandalously unfair, because I am sure that, as peers, they are just as good as any other peers.
I hope that my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General will consider these matters favourably when the Bill is being drafted. I consider that those Irish peers who are domiciled within the United Kingdom should have the same rights and privileges as English and Scottish peers. 1593 I further propose that those Irish peers who are domiciled without the United Kingdom should send four representatives to the House of Lords. Four is a very small number and when one compares it with the 16—the Scottish peers who may come down from Scotland to London—it is not very much to ask. I hope, therefore, that my hon. and learned Friend will consider this favourably and will, thereby, rectify a very obvious injustice to these 70-odd peers of the peerage of Ireland.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
I do not propose to follow the hon. and gallant Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Lieut.-Colonel Grosvenor) into his inquiries into Irish history, despite the fascination which that subject undoubtedly has.
He said that Irish peers lived all over the world. That reminded me of the reply once made by H. G. Wells to Hilaire Belloc in the controversy they had. Hilaire Belloc was accusing Wells of being "a little provincial, born in Kent", to which Wells replied, "Yes, I was born in Kent, as opposed to Mr. Belloc who, apparently, was born all over Europe." It seemed to me while the hon. Member was speaking that the Irish peers have the same facility for moving around. I regret that I cannot give the hon. Member any satisfaction, except to say that while he is complaining that the Irish peers under these proposals are being treated scandalously, if it is any satisfaction to him if I had my way—which I rarely have—I would treat the English and Scottish peers as scandalously as he thinks the Irish peers are being treated. Then there would be a proper equality of treatment.
The proposal made by the Government has been said by some hon. Members to be "a little pruning Measure" and my right hon. Friend the Member for Helper (Mr. G. Brown) has remarked that the temperature of today's debate is very low. I agree that it is a modest little Measure but, whatever anyone may think of it, it is rather remarkable to consider what a gigantic amount of Parliamentary time, money and energy has been expended over the years in order to bring this modest little Measure before the House; and even yet we have not really got it before us, so we cannot say that we have finished the job.
1594 If the House of Commons cannot deal with some other matters more expeditiously than we have dealt with this one, we cannot claim to be dealing with the problems facing the nation in a proper manner. Whatever else may be said about the proposal, does deal with one palpable injustice; the injustice to which Mr. Wedgwood Benn has drawn attention, the injustice to himself and the injustice to the constituents whom he has every right to represent in the House if they want him to be their representative.
We ought to take note of the fact that this is a day which, whatever else it may be, is a tremendous triumph for him, because in the announcement made from the Government Front Bench and in its acceptance by the official Opposition, it is now established that Mr. Wedgwood Benn has won his fight. Whatever view one takes of the House of Lords, the greatest possible credit is due to Wedgwood Benn for the diligence, the energy and the imagination with which he has fought this fight. Even the Government pay tribute to him.
We should, however, remember some of the things that happened. I do not want to rub any salt in the wounds, or upset the Government in any way when we have got them this far, but on 13th April, 1961, an Opposition Amendment calling for precisely this kind of legislation, or part of it, was not only defeated after a furious debate but Mr. Wedgwood Benn was denied the right to speak at the Bar of the House. I do not know whether any hon. Member who then voted for that proposition would justify it today. Perhaps if we had listened to Mr. Wedgwood Benn then instead of rejecting his right to put his case—and putting on the Whips to make sure that the Government got their way—we might have reached this conclusion a good deal earlier and so saved a good deal of time and trouble. Therefore, the Government should have a little humility in the way they present this proposition.
Moreover, stories were told, though I cannot entirely vouch for them, when the proposition was originally made by Mr. Wedgwood Benn, and others in recent years, that a peer should be enabled to renounce his title, that: it would threaten the whole hereditary system. Many of us, of course, wish that it would. We were even informed, though I cannot vouch for the truth of the information, that at 1595 a meeting of the 1922 Committee—and I do not know whether that Committee has another meeting on at the present time—the First Secretary, who at that time was in charge of business—the Home Secretary—had told the members of the Committee that if this step were taken of allowing peers to renounce their titles the Monarchy itself would be in danger. That was only two or three years ago—
§ Sir K. Pickthorn
The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) began by saying that we were told something or other, adding "I don't know whether it's true." The next part of his argument began" That happened only so many years ago "—one or two. The first was a piece of hypothetical gossip, and the second was an assumption that it was fact.
§ Mr. Foot
I am sorry if I did not get the statement as pedantically correct as the hon. Gentleman would wish, but I was saying that the report that these statements had been made by the then Home Secretary to a meeting of the 1922 Committee was made some years ago. If I did not state it accurately, I thank the hon. Member for correcting me, though it does not seem a matter of tremendous substance. As far as I understand it, it was the case that wild prophecies were made about what would occur if this simple measure were adopted, and only two or three years ago very fierce debates took place. I am not sure how the hon. Member for Carlton (Sir K. Pickthorn) voted then, but I have a suspicion that he voted against a proposal that he will be prepared to accept at the end of this debate.
There has been a movement forward in this respect but, even so, what is suggested is a most clumsy way of doing it, because even if we adopt this measure we find it surrounded by reservations and qualifications concerned with the refusal of the idea that a peerage should be extinguished if the holder of the title chooses to come back to this House, or chooses to stand for this House. I think that such anomalies could be swept away at the same time. Even so, as a modest measure aimed at remedying this one disease, it has some value, because it does remove the gross injustice that has been done to Mr. Wedgwood Benn and could be done to some other hon. Members, and a gross injustice that has certainly been 1596 done to the great mass of the electors in Bristol, South-East who have been denied the right to have the Member of their choice. In that sense, it is a day of triumph, and a day of triumph for Mr. Wedgwood Benn in particular.
Many hon. Members have argued that there are dangers in dealing with the matter in the way suggested. Previously, it was part of the Government's argument that the whole edifice of the House of Lords was so rickety that if we removed one little part—the right of a peer to renounce his peerage—the whole thing would collapse. Therefore, they would not do it. That was the Government's argument a few years ago, and some of my hon. Friends have argued, I understand, that if we remove this particular anomaly we give sufficient credit to the House of Lords to enable it to survive for a good deal longer. Therefore, they do not like it.
I think that this is still such a modest little measure that it will not achieve that result, but we should make it clear today that we do not regard this proposal as a reform proposal for the House of Lords at all. It is not. It does not deal with the situation in any radical manner. There is a tremendous amount to be said for the argument that if we are to deal with the House of Lords at all we must have a radical reform. These questions do not become so urgent, so apparently urgent, when we have a Conservative Government. Nobody worries about the House of Lords when there is a Conservative Government in power—the place does not really operate. When we get a Labour Government, the House of Lords does not immediately proceed to take action, but it does so after a period.
The other place did that last time. People say that not for years, perhaps not for 20 or 30 years, has the House of Lords done anything effective to interfere with the will of the House of Commons. But that is not so. It interfered with the introduction of the Steel Bill in 1950, and it has interfered on a number of other questions. It is, therefore, a very serious matter, because we could within a very short time have a real clash between the House of Commons and the House of Lords—a clash that, I hope, would lead to the full radical reform that is really desirable.
1597 The hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade), the spokesman for the Liberal Party, said that in the Select Committee he had made suggestions for widening the terms of reference in order to secure this result. With some of his comments today I agree, but there is a tremendous danger, which has been illustrated partly by what was said by the right hon. Member for Belper. He said that we cannot have an elected House of Lords—presumably because it would interfere or clash with the powers of the House of Commons. He also said, and I agree with him, that we must do away with the hereditary principle, because I do not think that it can any longer be defended. There are certainly very few hon. Members on this side of the House who would wish to defend it.
If we rule out election and if we rule out the hereditary principle, we are left, apparently, with a third proposition, which is a House of Lords established by appointment—the principle introduced, of course, in the Life Peerages Act, and which some now want to see extended. In some respects, I regard that as the most dangerous principle of all. Who is to do the appointing? Everyone knows that the appointments will be made by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition—advised, no doubt, by the Whips department but, whoever gives the advice, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have the power —possibly the Leader of the Liberal Party may have a few appointments in his disposition—when that arrangement is made.
It is bad enough when we have the system operating for life peers, but if we are to have a situation in which two people in this House—the Prime Minister who already has sufficient power to use and exert his influence over the whole House of Commons, and the Leader of the Opposition, whoever he may behave within their grasp enormous capacities of patronage, and if, in addition, peers are to be paid, which, no doubt, will soon be the case if this proposal goes forward, we will then have a situation in which the two most powerful figures, in one sense, in the House of Commons, will have tremendous power to influence not merely the people who are to be in the House of Lords but this House as well.
1598 We could have this House of Commons, and not merely the House of Lords, being a very bad place if the House of Lords were composed by appointment, because the very fact that leaders in this House were able to hand out political pensions—and that is all that these appointments would be—could corrupt the House of Commons as well. It was once said by Walter Bagehot, when there was an argument about the alleged virtues of the House of Lords and it was said that the people in the House of Lords were independent, that they were above corruption because they were the corrupters. That was true. He said that they did not accept social bribes because they were the people who dished them out. That is what used to happen. People in the House of Lords used to own the constituencies and own Members of Parliament. They had tremendous powers and they exercised them. The independence of Members of this House was corrupted by the power of the House of Lords.
If anyone thinks that, maintaining a second Chamber, to do away with the hereditary principle and to constitute the House of Lords by appointment is an advance, I would answer that it is an even more retrograde step. No sane person can defend the hereditary principle in another place, and the proposition that for the purposes of drafting and revising and giving independent advice to the nation the people who happen to be the sons of their fathers are the best possible people is a proposition that I think nobody in other parts of the world would dream of defending. We therefore have to find another solution which, above all, does not injure the House of Commons. This should be the first test. It should be a solution which, so far from injuring it, strengthens the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
The hon. Member has dealt adequately with the constitution of another place by nomination, but could he amplify his objection to the principle of election and say whether it is not possible for another place to have more restriction on its powers if it is elected and not nominated?
§ Mr. Foot
I would do away with all the powers which peers have to interfere with this place anyhow. But it 1599 might be said that we may have to return after all to the idea of a House of Lords elected by some other system. It has been seen in the development of the history of many other lands that we can never tell what will be the future prestige of a body elected by alternative methods. It will be seen from a study of constitutions established in other countries that in some cases the second Chamber has become much more powerful than people originally intended, and when two Chambers are elected by different methods the prestige of one Chamber, unforeseen by the constitution makers, becomes more powerful than that of the other. These are the dangers.
There is a better solution—abolition of the House of Lords and full reform of the House of Commons, and if we are to reform the House of Commons properly we need some system for revising our legislation. But I think that the matters which the House of Commons was talking about in the debate on procedure the other day should be discussed at the same time as we decide to remove altogether this hereditary anachronism and put in its place some body of experts which this House will tell what to do in revising legislation.
The whole existing proportion is complete rubbish. We have had an instance today. It is an insult to the House of Commons that we should have Black Rod trooping in here to tell us where we should go. It is an absurd piece of flummery. Is it a tradition which people want to defend? Surely traditions worth defending must have some purpose and meaning. This is not a tradition that has meaning.
We know the real reason why it is defended and why the Government and the Conservative Party have always fought to maintain it. It is not because they are fools. They are occasionally, but they are not in this respect. The real reason why they want to maintain the House of Lords is that they know that it still has a great deal of power and they know that the power there is secure in their hands. It was therefore very childish when an hon. Member opposite complained that my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper was alleged to have used blackmail because he dropped the hint that when the Labour Party came into power we should 1600 want to reform the House of Lords, though it would not be the reform that I would suggest. It was feared that when we have the majority of the people voting for us we might lay our rough hands on the House of Lords and do something to alter the position of those who accupy it and the power they exercise.
This is regarded as offensive by the party opposite, and this comes from the people who through the centuries have had the power in the other place which they can use whenever they want for their partisan purposes. We should make up our minds and put the case to the country of the difficulties involved in anything other than total abolition of the House of Lords. A few years ago it might have been sufficient to say that the thing was fading away anyhow. There was no need to assassinate it, because it was atrophying anyway. But let us now do the job in good clean fashion. Let us cut its throat. Let us make up our minds to have no further bother from it in the future.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ Mr. M. A. J. St. Clair (Bristol, South-East)
I hope that the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) will forgive me for not following his remarks too closely in my speech, but I should like to have an answer from the Opposition Front Bench on whether right hon. Gentlemen opposite agree with all the hon. Member's proposals or whether they do not wish to go so far. The hon. Member's remarks may meet with success in the Chamber, but I am not sure that the other place is held in such low regard in the country as some hon. Members may think.
I have been closely involved in this question of House of Lords reform ever since I came to the House two years ago, and perhaps before that time. I might say that I am involved, as it were, on both sides of the penny. I should like to congratulate Mr. Wedgwood Benn on achieving his object. He adopted methods which I do not approve, and I made no secret of my disapproval at the time. One should not involve 59,000 citizens in the by-election merely to decide whether the House of Lords should be reformed. That is not a fair question to ask the electors. However, Mr. Wedgwood Benn asked them and they gave him an overwhelming success.
§ Mr. Richard Marsh (Greenwich)
The electorate, having been presented with the question, gave the answer. Does the hon. Member object to the answer?
§ Mr. St. Clair
Not at all. I was coming to that. It is a fairly open secret that I have always been in favour of some sort of reform of the House of Lords, and I will go into that in greater detail in a moment.
The gentleman concerned complains that he has been harshly treated. I think that four days of Parliamentary time have been devoted to his case, and I was a little surprised when the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) said that the Government had been obtuse. It brought to mind the case of my noble Friend the Minister for Science. He made a precisely similar request to the then Prime Minister, Earl Attlee, and, as far as I can remember, he got a pretty sharp brush-off. There was no prospect then, despite what hon. Members opposite may say now, of any reform of the House of Lords. Therefore, I do not think that Mr. Wedgwood Benn can complain of the treatment which he has received. Indeed, I am very glad that this proposal should be before the House now.
I wish to address myself to two points in particular. One is the question of Scottish peers. As most hon. Members know, Scottish peers are in a much worse position than that of any other peers of the United Kingdom. They cannot go to the House of Lords unless they are representative peers, and if they are not representatives in another place they can neither vote nor come here. I know that there are not many of them—there has been no Scottish peerage created since the Act of Union—but those few are in a much worse case than the case of an English peer who did not want to go to another place because he at least had the option to go there while the Scottish peer had nowhere to go at all. He was suspended between heaven and hell. Whichever may be the one or the other, that was his position. In addition, he was not allowed to cast a vote at any Parliamentary election.
One really cannot draw an analogy between Irish peers and Scottish peers. Here, I take issue with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for 1602 Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Lieut.-Colonel Grosvenor). He said that geography did not come into it. As far as I know, the Republic of Ireland is no longer a part of the United Kingdom. If one is a peer of the United Kingdom, of Scotland or of Ireland, one's raison d'àtre is that one is a peer of State of the particular country. If geography does not come into it, as my hon. and gallant Friend said, then, as a sequitur, certain French noblemen ought to have the right to come to another place because at one time the Monarch had possessions in France. If it its suggested that we should allow Irish peers to come to another place because Ireland was once part of the United Kingdom, we should allow in certain Roman and French noblemen. I do not think that anyone in this House or in another place would suggest that that should happen.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Grosvenor
My hon. Friend accuses me of getting my geography muddled. Under Article 4 of the Act of Union, it rests with the House of Lords here to decide how Irish peerages should be arranged, and it is not a question of whether they come from one part of the country or another. The decisions still rest with the House of Lords under an Act which has not been repealed. I think that that should clear up the point.
§ Mr. St. Clair
With respect, the Act of Union was passed while Ireland was still part of the United Kingdom, but since 1922 this has not been so, and it follows, therefore, that their position must have altered radically.
§ Mr. St. Clair
There I must beg to differ from my hon. and gallant Friend.
If I criticise this Report, I criticise it for omission rather than commission. On 13th April, 1961, my right hon. Friend who is now the First Secretary of State said that he wished to advance reform of another place on a wide canvas. One could not call this reform a reform on a very wide canvas. However, with due deference to my right hon. Friend, the reason why it is not on a wide canvas is that right hon. and hon. Members opposite declined to take part in any Joint Committee unless it worked on a narrow 1603 canvas. Again, I cannot help feeling that the right hon. Member for Belper wants to have it both ways; he complains that the canvas is too narrow, but he was not prepared to agree, or the then Leader of the Opposition was not prepared to agree, to enter into discussions on a wider canvas.
I radically disagree with the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale. I believe in two-Chamber government. What would be the consequence of putting his theories into practice? A Government such as the Conservative Government before the war, with a majority of 150 or so, could, without a second Chamber, more or less steamroller through anything they wished. The Labour Government of 1945 was in this sort of position. There would be no revising Chamber except a lot of civil servants. The right hon. Gentleman may criticise the House of Lords, but it got the Labour Government out of an awful mess. As far as I remember, there was at that time a Bill to abolish hanging passed by this House, much against the wish of the Labour Government. A certain criminal, by the skin of his teeth, avoided being executed at that time. However, the House of Lords returned that particular piece of legislation, and then the Labour Government were able to put the Whips on and have their will so that the Bill to abolish hanging was thrown out. That is a smallish example, but one can well envisage a Government with a very large majority being able to push through anything without brake on its legislative power. If for no other reason, I think that the Second Chamber, however composed, is a very valuable asset.
I agree with the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale when he says that these proposals do not go nearly far enough. I should have liked the whole question of the composition of the other place—and of pay, too—to have been gone into and recommendations made. One can only call the proposed amendments tinkering amendments. We have been tinkering with the House of Lords now for 70 years. By tinkering with it all one does is to weaken it, and I do not want to see the Second Chamber weakened, however it may be composed.
I should like to see some really widespread improvements or reforms made 1604 in the other place. Mr. Asquith and Mr. Lloyd George were, I think, the first people to suggest this, and their views were expressed before I was born; yet we are again only tinkering and knocking on the outside.
Nevertheless, I welcome the Report. It is as good as we are likely to get in present circumstances. I hope that the Measure adopting its recommendations will be expedited as quickly as possible. There is, however, one question I must put to my right hon. Friend. If he has now decided that this change should be made, could it not have been done two years ago to save all the trouble and the expense it has caused the country in by-elections, court cases and the rest? Could not my right hon. Friend have consulted his friends in another place and hon. and right hon. Members opposite? If he can do it now, he surely could have done it two years ago.
§ 6.47 p.m.
§ Mr. W. A. Wilkins (Bristol, South)
The hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. St. Clair) fails to understand that there are times when principles have to be fought for. If he had realised that he would not have made his last observation.
§ Mr. Wilkins
The hon. Gentleman spoke of a constituency and the country being put to the expense and trouble involved in the fighting of a by-election. I shall come to why that election was fought in that way, but before I do that I wish to comment on the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot). My hon. Friend's speech was, of course, very illuminating and very forthright. I always enjoy his speeches, but I thought that he was today travelling a rather wider field than we are concerned with now. We are concerned with the rather narrow question of the right of individuals to stand for election to the House of Commons.
§ Viscount Lambton
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that he does not agree with the policy expressed by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, that if we do not have the Measure foreshadowed in the Report there should be a radical reform of the second Chamber?
§ Mr. Wilkins
No; I was not expressing any disbelief or disagreement about that. That is a matter for another time. As I understood it from the speech of the Leader of the House, we are concerned now solely with the recommendation of the Joint Committee foreshadowing legislation, which we hope will be brought in, to make it possible for certain noble Lords to renounce their peerages and stand for election to this House. I thought that we were dealing with that specific, narrow point today.
§ Mr. Marsh
This is an important point. As I understand it, what we are discussing is the Report of a Select Committee set up by this House to discuss what changesshould be made in the rights of Peers of England. Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain or of the United Kingdom, and of Peeresses in their own right, to sit in either House of Parliament..I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale, with whom I agree all too infrequently, made a valid point which was based on the fact that these people did not, or should not, have these rights. It is a much bigger question than whether one man should sit in this Chamber.
§ Mr. Wilkins
It is easy to be misunderstood when trying to speak on a point like this. I hope my hon. Friend does not want to draw me into saying whether I agree with the view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale, because I have strong feelings about the functions of the House of Lords, which I should wish to express on what I would consider to be a more appropriate occasion.
May I come to the principal point raised by the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East? I understood him to say that it was not fair to ask the electorate—that is the electorate of Bristol, South-East—to decide on the reform of the House of Lords. I took an active part in the Bristol, South-East by-election. I happened to be a constituent and naturally I was anxious that the Labour candidate should be returned to this House. I had what was at the time the privilege of sharing the platform at the first meeting held in that by-election with the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Viscount Lambton). I am sure that he will corroborate that it was made 1606 abundantly clear at that first meeting that the point at issue in this by-election was the right of any individual in the land, irrespective of who he was, to stand for election to this honourable House, provided he was otherwise qualified to do so. Throughout that by-election campaign this issue was always in the forefront. Indeed, politics entered into the matter to a very small degree.
That it captured the public's imagination is to be found in the fact that all sorts of people of different political opinions took part in this by-election and, indeed, helped us in every conceivable way to try to sustain once and for all what we believed to be the right of an individual. That is why I say that this was an election fought, rightly in my judgment, on a principle. I believe that the figures which were revealed as a result of that by-election amply justify our belief that the people thought that it was time that this anachronism was removed. There was no dispute about the verdict of the people in the clear knowledge that this was what they were voting for. This is a reflection of the general attitude of mind of the people of this country, particularly of the young people, to disqualification from sitting in this House and to the assertion of the rights of individuals to stand for Parliament.
I wish to express my thanks to the Leader of the House for the statement which he made this afternoon foreshadowing legislation intended to rectify this situation. I was naturally very pleased to hear of this proposed legislation. For too long I, as a voter in the Bristol, South-East by-election, have been deprived of the services of one of the most brilliant young politicians this generation has thrown up. I hope that the time is not far distant before this House has the benefit of his valuable services again.
The Leader of the House said that there were matters on which the Government would like to hear hon. Members' views before they came to their final decision about the kind of legislation which might be brought forward, such as about the concept of the surrender of a peerage for life, the period for which option should be exercised, and so on. He expressed certain doubts in the matter. He said that progress of the Bill might be impeded if the Opposition 1607 suggested too many Amendments which encouraged hon. Members opposite to table other highly controversial Amendments. He thought that if that were to happen the possibility of getting the legislation through in reasonable time might be jeopardised. I hope that the House will respond to the appeal of the Leader of the House that we should restrain our views, feelings or desires for wider reform of the House of Lords than that which is foreshadowed and that we will make it possible for the Bill to pass quickly through the House.
I propose to say only one other thing because the ground has been fairly substantially covered. I believe that it would be the wish of the people of Bristol, South-East, among whom I have lived for about forty years—perhaps it is longer than that, but I had better not say too much about that—that I should express appreciation of what the Government are proposing. I believe that the day that the Government lay this Bill on the Table for our consideration will be one of great joy for the people of Bristol, South-East who feel deeply and keenly about the fact that they have been denied the services of Anthony Wedgwood Benn in this House. Therefore, I for one express the hope that the proposed legislation will not be long delayed and that when the Bill is before us every effort will be made to ensure its rapid passage so that when the General Election comes along—and it may not be too far distant —Anthony Wedgwood Benn will be able to take his seat in the House.
I am sure that the House would have taken a stand if the present Lord Hail-sham had had the same courage to resist that Anthony Wedgwood Benn has shown. As I say, we object to this in principle and therefore it would be not have mattered from what part of the House objection came. I hope that the Bill will soon be forthcoming and will soon pass into law.
§ 6.59 p.m.
§ Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith (Glasgow, Hillhead)
I do not know whether I can extend such a cordial welcome to this Report as most hon. Members have extended to it. I think that there is, perhaps, a tendency to look at the problem of surrendering peerages from the point of view of fairness to reluctant peers rather than from the point of view 1608 of any effect that it may have on the efficiency of Parliament.
There is a natural tendency to feel that it is not right that a Member should give up his seat here and go to another place against his will just because somebody has died. This is a very understandable attitude with which it is easy to sympathise, but hard cases make bad laws, and, as well as trying to be fair to individuals, we here have a duty also to consider where the public advantage lies.
If the proposals in the Report are implemented, it seems to me that young men who succeed to a peerage and who wish to serve the public in a political capacity may well decide to opt for the Commons rather than the Lords. If the choice did not exist, the vast majority would, I believe, be happy to serve in the Lords, as they have done for generations. But when the choice is available many may choose the Commons rather than the Lords, because in the public mind a greater aura of glamour and drama attaches to this House than to another place.
I often wonder what choice present Ministers in another place would have made had it been possible for them to surrender their peerages when they succeeded to them. I calculate that, excluding Whips, there are 15 Ministers in another place, three of whom succeeded to their peerages while they were Members of this House and while they were still in their forties, which is a comparatively early age for politicians. Had it been possible for them to opt to stay here, it is quite likely that some of them would have decided to do so. We in this House would undoubtedly have benefited from this, but it would also have been a loss to the other place.
In considering this problem, we have to be careful to remember that this House and another place are not in competition with each other. We are both parts of Parliament. We are both important in our different ways and, therefore, we should try to resolve the problem in a manner which will benefit Parliament as a whole. Something that weakens the other place cannot be good for us here.
Of the 12 other Ministers in another place, six are still in their forties. Most of these six succeeded in their early 1609 thirties, which is just about the age when people with political leanings are thinking of trying to get into Parliament. Again, therefore, had the option existed, it is quite possible that some of these peers would also have chosen to seek election to this House rather than go to another place.
If that sort of process is to continue for long, it could not fail to be harmful, because although there are plenty of people of wide experience and great ability in the Lords, young people of ability are inevitably scarcer there and yet these are the very people who are needed to carry out much of the routine work of legislation. It therefore seems to me that if the Report is implemented, there is a distinct danger that the effect will be to weaken the Lords where it tends to be weak and to strengthen the Commons where it is already sufficiently strong.
§ Mr. Wilkins
This is the second time that this theory has been put before the House. It was advanced by the hon. Member for Windsor (Sir C. Mott-Radclyfle). On what sort of evidence is the suggestion based that if we allow people to renounce their peerages, they would probably prefer to stand for the House of Commons and that this would weaken the House of Lords by depriving it of young people? Every time I have gone to the other place, I have been rather interested in the number of old people there. From what I have seen, the present young hereditary peers do not put in an appearance at all.
§ Mr. Galbraith
The hon. Member cannot have been listening to my speech. I said that six of the 15 Ministers in another place are in their forties, which for a political career is a comparatively early age. Thus, there seems to be a kind of clash between what Parliament needs, which is a constant source of supply of young recruits in the Lords, and what is fair for the individual, which is to have freedom of choice.
I wonder, however, whether that clash of interest is in practice as great as at first sight appears. The picture which we have of reluctant peers is of bright young men torn from their adoring constituents, forced to abandon a brilliant career here and to undertake a dull and rather useless life in another place. The right hon. 1610 Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) used the phrase "burying himself in another place".
That is the picture which exists in the public mind, but to what extent is it true? I am sure that the constituency angle is overdone. There may well be some personal feelings, but generally it is the party nomination that counts and it is rare indeed for anyone who lacks the party nomination to be elected on a purely personal vote. If we are all honest with ourselves, we would admit this to be true.
It is true that the Commons appears a more lively place than the Lords and, therefore, perhaps more attractive to young people, but this very liveliness can be a possible disadvantage, for it may make it harder to concentrate on longterm problems here than in the relative calm of another place. At least, it is noticeable that many who make the journey find the other place more congenial than they expected when they were serving this House.
As to the career angle, now that it has been shown that even a Foreign Secretary can sit in another place, the possibility of attaining such high office should be sufficient to satisfy even the ablest and most ambitious of politicians.
§ Viscount Lambton
My hon. Friend's argument appears to be based upon the necessity for having young men in the House of Lords. As the Government now have the opportunity of making as many young men as they want life peers, why should a very small number of people be selected to be barred from this House?
§ Mr. Galbraith
The answer is that a life peerage is a form of honour which normally comes to people only after considerable years of service.
To continue with my argument, it seems to me, therefore, that apart from any possible doctrinaire dislike which hon. Members opposite may have of having anything to do with a partly hereditary Chamber, there are just as satisfactory opportunities of public service at the highest levels in the other place as exist here. The only disadvantage that I see—I admit that it is a serious one—is that politicians in the Commons are paid an annual salary whilst those in the Lords are not.
That is where a great deal of the unfairness lies, because it is obviously unfair 1611 that somebody who wishes to devote his life to politics should be paid for doing so as long as he is a Member of the House of Commons but that when he is compulsorily transferred to the House of Lords, he gets nothing. Indeed, the lack of a salary on succeeding to a peerage can easily mean the end of a political career. This is something which I do not consider to be right. If this financial difficulty could be overcome, however, I do not believe that it is unfair to ask those who succeed to peerages to serve Parliament in the Lords rather than in the Commons.
Of course, it would be wrong for all peers to be paid a salary merely because they were Members of another place. Payment would have to depend upon whether their service was full-time or part-time. The full-time peer, of whom, I imagine there would be a couple of hundred or so, could be chosen partly by an election from among themselves and partly by appointment from an all-party Committee under the chairmanship of the Lord Chancellor. The whole-time peers would be paid on the same scale as we are paid in this House and the part-time peers would be paid on a daily basis proportionate to the annual salary. In this way, the financial disadvantages of membership of another place could be removed. For the whole-time politician who is anxious to do a useful job of work, the financial aspect is quite as important as the particular House in which he happens to perform his public duties. At least, I think that a financial adjustment on the lines which I have suggested should be tried out first before we commit ourselves to the more radical changes proposed by the Joint Committee, because if these changes are implemented, they are bound to draw away from another place young peers whose absence it could ill afford.
If, however, the change recommended in the Report takes place, there are two minor suggestions that I should like to make on points on which the Leader of the House asked for the views of the House. In the first place, I think it would be better for a peer who surrenders his peerage to be called by whatever name he had before succeeding. For example, if the former Member of Parliament for Dorset, South had surrendered his 1612 peerage on succeeding to the Earldom of Sandwich, I think it would have been quite ridiculous for him to be called Mr. Montagu instead of Viscount Hinching-brooke, under which name he had been known in this House for over a generation. Therefore, I think that the old name, the name at the date of succession, should be retained.
The other suggestion that I have to make is perhaps rather more important. It concerns the time limit for surrendering a peerage. For older people the period laid down may be perfectly satisfactory, but to expect minors without any experience of life to make a wise decision when they reach 21 is not, I suggest, very sensible.
If it is finally decided that peers should be able to sit in the Commons, I would have preferred the method to have been based on the Irish model; that is, those who are not full-time members of the Lords could stand for election to the Commons. Alternatively, there is something to be said for the Lord President's proposal that decisions should not be irrevocable but should be only for a reasonably foreseeable period of years. Another alternative is my own idea. Since the Report proposes that existing peers, in spite of having sat in another place, should come to join us here, I do not see why those who succeed to peerages in the future should not also be able to come to the Commons even after having sat in the Lords. They would then be choosing after some experience of Parliament. It is just possible that this might reduce the drain of young men away from the Lords which may occur if they are forced to make a choice at a very early age.
At any rate, whatever we do, we want to try to be fair to individuals, and I believe that the financial adjustments which I have suggested would largely secure this. At the same time we want to be fair to Parliament and not to damage the institution either by undue softness for reluctant peers or by undue harshness which forces an irrevocable decision too early in life for fear of conferring the advantage of what I believe is called "having it both ways" upon a small number of peers. I think that in this matter we want to be neither too soft to individuals nor too harsh, and that our guide all the time should 1613 be what is in the public interest, whether that happens to be absolutely logical or not.
The Report's proposals, I know, seem slight and at first sight obviously fair, but in the long run this modest change might well have the most damaging effect upon the vitality of another place and upon the effectiveness of Parliament as a whole. This possibility, rather than fairness to individuals, is to my mind the real issue before the House, and I hope that the Government will consider this aspect of the matter very carefully before embarking on changes the outcome of which none can foretell.
§ 7.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Marsh (Greenwich)
I think that many listening to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) must have felt a tinge of nostalgia, because my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) had suggested earlier, in a moment of optimism, that there could be no one left in the twentieth century to make that sort of speech. The hon. Member seemed quite incapable of drawing any distinction between the rights to govern of those who are elected and the rights to govern of those who are ennobled. He talked as if the Lords and the Commons were very similar to each other and as if we should treat them equally.
This is where I disagreed with an hon. Friend of mine who spoke earlier. I do not think that the debate has anything to do with whether one man has a right to come into the Chamber or not. It is not a question of whether any one person has been badly treated or not. In company with all my hon. Friends and many hon. Gentlemen opposite, I felt a great deal of sympathy for the appalling and quite inexcusable position with which Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn was faced on the death of his father. His personal difficulties were very real. But a debate on this issue goes much wider than this. What was wrong about the position of Anthony Wedgwood Benn was not that any one man was treated badly but that the declared will of the electorate was deliberately flouted.
What is fundamentally wrong in the present position is not that Anthony Wedgwood Benn is precluded from entering this Chamber. That is something 1614 which I myself think is wrong so far as he is concerned, but it is a personal misfortune and one which we all hope will be remedied. But what is obnoxious in a democracy is that a man who has placed himself before the electors of a constituency and has been overwhelmingly rejected by them is still, by Governmental action, able to come into the House and speak from the benches opposite. As a democrat, I find that indefensible.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke
As one of the other hon. Members representing Bristol, might I point out that the reason why Mr. St. Clair sits for a Bristol constituency is that Lord Stansgate stood as a disqualified person and the seat went by default to Mr. St. Clair, who has no real wish to be here and is in a very embarrassing situation?
§ Mr. Marsh
Any hon. Member who has no wish to be here need not come here. Any Member who is in the Chamber is here because he decided that he would attempt to get here. The hon. Gentleman still misses the point. To me it is that in a democracy the will of the electorate must be supreme. The electorate has a right, overriding ties of blood, to choose to represent them whomsoever they wish. The electorate of Bristol, South-East had two candidates nominated. One of them polled 23,275 votes and the other 10,231, and the one polling a minority of more than 13,000 was the one who was elected.
§ Mr. Galbraith
The hon. Gentleman is differing rather from my opinion. I have great admiration for Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn or Lord Stansgate. However, does not the hon. Gentleman think that in the election what really counted was the fact that Mr. Wedgwood Benn had the party nomination and that if he had stood as an Independent he would not have been elected?
§ Mr. Marsh
I seem still not to be getting the point across. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the electoral power of Members of Parliament or candidates is very marginal, but this a different argument. If one believes in democracy, and if the declared will of the people is for a certain person to be their representative, no matter for what reason, to argue that an accident of birth can override that is precisely the Herrenvolk argument put forward by Hitler. It is the argument 1615 which claims that the blood and the birth of some gives them rights over others even against the declared will of their fellows. That is indefensible. I do not care for what reason the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. St. Clair) was defeated; to me, the important thing as a democrat is that he was defeated.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way and I shall not interrupt him again. But will he not agree that when Lord Stansgate stood at the election, he knew that he could not be elected and sit in this House for that constituency, he knew he was a disqualified person, and, as such, could not represent it, and he knew that Mr. St. Clair was bound to end up as the constituency's representative in this Chamber?
§ Mr. Marsh
I am sorry to pursue this point. Mr. Benn, in company with another candidate, was nominated for the seat. That nomination was accepted as valid by the returning officer, and an election took place. Only one thing prevents Mr. Benn from sitting in the House instead of the hon. Member opposite, and that is a belief that in some circumstances a man's birth takes precedence over the declared will of the electorate.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
The hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) has missed the point. This was not put beyond peradventure until the Electoral Court had decided after the election. Neither the hon. Memer for Bristol, West nor the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) could say with certainty beforehand what the result was going to be.
§ Mr. Marsh
I was about to make that point, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support. The purpose of the court action was to determine whether this was a valid contest. We seem to be moving in circles. I come back to the fundamental point. To me, as a democrat, the people are entitled, for whatever reasons they wish, to choose whomsoever they wish to represent them, and no one for no reason should have the right to prevent them from making their choice.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Grosvenor
I only intervene because I was concerned in a simi- 1616 lar case. My opponent at the election in question was a convicted felon and therefore the law held that he was not able to come here. I cannot follow the hon. Gentleman's argument that because a constituency votes for a man knowing that he is ineligible by law he should therefore be allowed to take his place here. We would have to change the law first. The law cannot be changed by a constituency at an election.
The hon. Gentleman has also mentioned the nomination of Mr. Benn. But the returning officer has only to receive the candidate's name supported by twelve electors. He can only accept the papers. He cannot refuse them.
§ Mr. Marsh
There is a fundamental distinction between a man rendered ineligible by an offence for which he is tried in the courts before the election and a man who stands for election with no obvious drawback other than the fact that he is his father's son. That is the thing to which I object and why I feel that we cannot deal with this debate merely in terms of one individual. But there is obviously a fundamental disagreement between me and hon. Members opposite. I am not surprised. Indeed, I am rather reassured by it, and it convinces me that I am right.
We have tended to talk as if the problem is that people are forced into another place when they would rather be here, and that in doing so we cut them off from their avenues of advancement. But the reason why Mr. Benn should be permitted to sit in this Chamber is not so that he can join the line of potential Prime Ministers and stand more chance of advancement. It is because Parliament is entitled to have anybody in this place whom it thinks it should have and the electorate is entitled to place anyone here whom it thinks it should have here.
It is wrong to look at this as a charitable move on behalf of an individual rather than a measure—a very inadequate one—,to remedy an injustice not to one man but to a whole constituency which declared its view and was promptly thwarted. The purpose of membership of this place is that the electorate can be represented and not merely that people can come here if there is any advantage to them. Mr. Benn would probably stand far more 1617 chance in the House of Lords, particularly under a Labour Government, of Ministerial office. But that is not the issue. That is not what we fought for. I fought in his campaign, as many of my hon. Friends did. What he was fighting for was not the chance of personal advancement but something which many of us on this side regard as a fundamental principle.
I do not know the reasons for it, and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) will tell me, but I cannot understand why the Report of the Joint Committee was so narrow in its recommendations. The terms of reference were that it should… consider … what changes should be made in the rights of Peers of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain or of the United Kingdom, and of Peeresses in their own right, to sit in either House of Parliament …I do not think that it is possible to discuss this particular case except in the context of the House of Lords as it is.
I was attracted by some of the remarks the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead made about the House of Lords. One of my hon. Friends reminded me of the Biblical referenceThere the wicked cease from troubling; and there the weary be at rest.
§ Mr. Marsh
I think that its capacity for trouble is limited, and one might talk of the reform of the House of Lords without talking also of whether its capacity for trouble should be circumscribed or not.
I make no bones about this. I hope that it is apparent that I am completely opposed to the hereditary principle in any way, shape or form. I do not see how the Labour Party can support it for the House of Lords or for anywhere else. It is an argument which can be pursued only on the ground that some people, purely because of birth, have privileges which are denied to others.
I am not an egalitarian. I accept that there are bound to be gradations of society and of power in Parliament. But I do not see how one can justify, in the second half of the 20th century, a situation where a man's right to govern and to participate in govern- 1618 ment, in this place or in any other place, can be argued solely on the basis that he is the son of his father or the grandson of his grandfather. It is, I repeat, exactly the argument pursued by other people internationally before the last war. It is the argument that some people are by birth superior to others. It is not only obnoxious to democrats, but it makes for exceedingly bad Government.
The case has been made that we must not tamper too much with the House of Lords because if we do we shall weaken its strength and therefore lose some of the great assistance it gives to this Chamber. There is perhaps a case for a second Chamber composed of people who have considerable experience of various activities in our public life—former trade unionists, former statesmen, former bankers, former industrialists and others. But that is a case more for a sort of human correspondence column than for a second Chamber with power.
There is a good case for a second Chamber or a forum which meets to discuss what Parliament is doing and to express a point of view from which the electorate can make up its mind. There is no case at all for a situation where those who represent no one other than themselves—apart from some Scottish peers who represent other Scottish peers who represent no one but themselves—have authority over the deliberations of this House.
I am pleased that we have at last produced a measure, or what seems to be likely to produce a measure, which will enable us to remedy this one injustice. I do not agree that we should be particularly grateful to the Government for it.
Instead of expecting our gratitude, the Government ought to apologise for the way in which they have deprived an entire constituency of the man it wanted. It looks as though we will be able to get over that and that it will be possible to welcome Wedgwood Benn back here after the next election in Bristol, South-East. That is a good thing. But more important, we will have established, or at least begun to establish, that this House has the prior call over any other House. I hope that that will be only the first step in waking up to the fact that in the twentieth century we cannot justify a 1619 form of Parliamentary representation which was getting out of date 300 years ago.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Viscount Lambton (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
We have had an interesting debate with every point of view put forward and with a surprising unanimity which was not present among hon. Members on this side of the House a year or two ago, when it was not agreed that there should be a considerable measure of reform.
I suppose that it is always right to declare one's interest. I have one interest which is rather obvious and one which is rather peculiar. I am now being sued for libel because of my actions about the House of Lords. I wrote a paragraph about Irish peers and said that it was a pity that one of them wrote like a lawyer. Apparently, that is libel. I was always brought up to believe that the law was by necessity respectable, but that peers were not always so; but apparently it is libellous to liken peers to lawyers.
§ Viscount Lambton
I am sorry that I have unwittingly offended against the rules, Mr. Speaker.
I should like very much to welcome the Bill which I hope that the Government are to bring forward. Some hon. Members opposite have said that this is not enough, but surely it meets the basic case which was brought about by the absence from this House of Mr. Wedgwood Benn. Before my hon. Friends go against the Government in this matter and say that any reform would be wrong, it would be wise to see what the position is.
A very able Member of the House was disqualified by birth from sitting here. He was not only an able but a very active Member and there is no doubt that at the next election he would have made this a very considerable issue. Whether we like it or not, the Conservative Party, without reform, has no choice but to make him a martyr at the next election. Nothing would be sillier than that, and that is why I think that not only from the national advantages of allowing 1620 Members to sit in the House of Commons, but from party and tactical advantages, it would be almost suicide for the Conservative Party to deny him entrance to the House of Commons.
Whether the proposed Bill goes far enough at the moment is very much a matter of opinion. I am not sure whether hon. Members opposite who condemn the hereditary system with such great spirit are not making a mistake in some senses. I think that it was Bernard Shaw who argued that the House of Lords was the most democratic system in the world because it was sheer luck who was there. Everybody was born the same, and the very oddest sort of people found themselves in the House of Lords.
In these days, when there is such a very large centralisation of power, when there is such great authority and an overwhelming number of professional politicians and so little individuality, to have a second Chamber containing a number of totally disinterested politicians—except on certain occasional issues when they can come up from the country and vote—is of distinct advantage. Hon. Members opposite will not agree with me about that, but I think it is so.
I conclude by congratulating the Government, if somewhat belatedly, on proposing to put forward a Bill. I hope that it will get universal blessing for a speedy introduction from both sides of the House.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
I am in the unfortunate position of not agreeing with any speech which has been made in the course of the debate. I regret it very much because this is a matter of great importance to the House of Commons and because it gives one cause to raise a lone voice against what seems to be the otherwise unanimous view of the House of Commons. Naturally, I will not carry my opposition very far. Indeed, there is no reason why I should, because we are not being asked to decide anything tonight. We are being asked only to take note of the very important Report of a very important Select Committee, and of course we must take note of it.
It is therefore not necessary to do more than indicate—I hope shortly and I hope modestly—why I think the House would be ill advised to proceed further 1621 along the lines recommended by the Select Committee. In particular, I regret differing from my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) who made a powerful and eloquent analysis of the evils of the hereditary system in a second legislative Chamber, an analysis with whose every word I agreed. My difficulty is that I cannot see how the proposals which are made in the Select Committee's Report will effect any improvement of any kind.
I quite understand the position of my right hon. and hon. Friends. They were, as we all were and as I am, almost morally revolted by the notion that a young and able Member of Parliament who, like his father before him, was rendering very great service to the House of Commons, should have his career broken off so far as the House of Commons is concerned not by the fortune of birth, as has been said, but by the misfortune of death. I have more than ever sympathy—I am completely and enthusiastically with them—with all those, and I believe that they now include many hon. Members on both sides of the House, who think that that was an unfortunate situation which ought to be corrected. I have no dissent from that of any kind whatever.
The question is whether, out of the deepest and sincerest sympathy with the hardship of a particular case, or three or four cases, or half-a-dozen cases, we can make any impact on the anomalies of our legislative system. My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale and my right hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the Opposition were content to accept it not on the basis that it made any wide or deep or extensive reform, but that it was worth while to correct a particular anomaly as long as one reserved one's position to deal with the whole question when one was in a better position to do so.
No doubt that is a view which commends itself to many and which has commended itself to many. My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale made a point with which most of us would agree—whereas a few years ago the House of Lords could fairly have been called obsolescent, it had lost status and prestige and was beginning to be, if not ignored, at any rate just tolerated with indifference by the electorate, it is now no longer in that position.
1622 Is not that because during the last few years we have accepted this principle that if one cannot have a loaf, take half a loaf; if one cannot have half a loaf, take a quarter of a loaf; if one cannot get a quarter of a loaf, take a slice; if one cannot get a slice, take a crust; and if one cannot get a crust, be satisfied with any crumb which may fall from a rich man's table? In this way one lops off an anomaly here, and an inadequacy somewhere else, and so as it were lowers the impact on the public mind of the real anomaly of having a second Chamber on a hereditary principle in existence at all. It is that which caused the interruption—I hope it is no more—of Anthony Wedgwood Benn's career.
What effect do these proposals have on the hereditary principle? My hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) said that what we were really doing was to defend the right of a constituency to elect anybody it liked. We are doing nothing of the kind. All the categories of disqualified candidates remain exactly as they were. Supposing Anthony Wedgwood Benn's father had been alive and a Member, as he was, of the House of Lords, and either this constituency of Bristol, South-East, or some other constituency, had wanted to elect him to the House of Commons. Does my hon. Friend think that they should have had that right? If he does, then any peer can do it. All that is being suggested here—I am not seeking to be offensive about it, but merely realistic—is that there should be a new privileged class based on the hereditary principle. Is that helping our position with regard to the House of Lords?
§ Mr. Marsh
I should not like to be misunderstood about this. I do not think that the Select Committee in any way meets that position. I said that I thought the answer was the abolition of the hereditary principle, and it is this which is obnoxious. In one man's case—and probably in two or three men's cases—this does at least enable him to come back here, but I do not think that it solves the problem.
§ Mr. Silverman
I fully understood that, and if I said anything which might have appeared to cast doubt on it let me put it right. Of course that is what my hon. Friend is saying. That is what my right 1623 hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) was saying. That is what my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale was saying. It is what everybody who supports these proposals is saying. What I am asking is whether, to achieve that, it is wise to adopt a principle which means reaffirming the hereditary principle and creating a new privileged class based on it?
§ Mr. Silverman
Yes, a new privileged class. The exemptions which we would be making if we legislated to give effect to these proposals are limited, on one view of the matter, to those who succeed to peerages already existing. It does not apply to anybody else, and if we stand by the retrospective principle contained in the recommendations, and passed by one vote, we shall confer this new principle on the whole House of Lords. We shall give the whole of the House of Lords, whose Members have the right in any case to be Members of the Legislature, the right to choose whether they will be Members of the House of Lords or Members of the House of Commons, and we shall do that in the name of equality.
What equality? Is a Member of the House of Lords to be given the right, on the ground of hardship, to retain, if he wants, the privilege to be in the House of Lords or to choose instead to offer himself for election to the House of Commons? I suppose that if that is supported on the principle of equality, then any elected Member of the House of Commons should have the right to choose to be a Member of the House of Lords, otherwise we shall do what I said—create a new privileged class on the basis of the hereditary principle.
§ Viscount Lambton
Is the hon. Gentleman making too much of this? What we are really doing today is introducing special legislation to enable the former Member for Bristol, South-East to sit again. If at some other time the hon. Gentleman wishes to make an attack on the hereditary system let him do so, but is this the moment for it?
§ Mr. Silverman
If the noble Lord were right in that I should not be making this speech. If the Government had 1624 chosen to introduce a Wedgwood Benn enabling Bill, I should have voted for it cheerfully and enthusiastically.
§ Mr. Silverman
No. This is what the noble Lord overlooked. To bring in special legislation to do what I would truly like to do, to bring back Anthony Wedgwood Benn to the House of Commons, look at the price I have to pay. It is not only the noble Lord. There is also Lord Hailsham and Lord Home, and heaven knows how many more out of the 900 of them.
§ Mr. Silverman
I know, that, and I shall make a point about that in a moment.
I suppose it could not be contested by any serious student of politics that if it were lawful for Lord Hailsham to sit in the House of Commons he would have no difficulty in persuading his party to find him a safe seat. What the Prime Minister or the Leader of the House might think about it I do not know, but I do not think that either of the two noble Lords whom I have mentioned would be under any serious difficulty in finding some misguided Tory constituency to do what a well-advised constitutency in Bristol did for Anthony Wedgwood Benn, and I say that that is far too high a price to pay.
It is not the noble Lord alone. One might tolerate an occasional one, and perhaps one could do it in the case of the noble Lord, because, after all, if we were to put Anthony Wedgwood Benn into one scale on our side, and the noble Lord into the scale on the other side, I think that the Establishments on both sides would agree that the advantage would be with us and not with them, and therefore one might tolerate the noble Lord. But this is not a Wedgwood Benn enabling Bill, and to make it so the Select Committee had to adopt a number of principles that went far beyond that.
I come now to the question of hardship. In the individual case it is very easy to see what the hardship is, and to sympathise with it very deeply, but the hardship arises out of a question of status. I really do not understand the attitude of the Conservative Party to 1625 these proposals. What is the hereditary principle which they have always defended and which they defend now, apart from the partial exception which they are ready to make? It is the principle that there are certain members of society who are so useful, so loyal, who contribute so much to its general welfare, or have contributed so much, that they ought to form a select cadre among our citizens. They are to be given a status which not merely applies to them but to all their children through all generations unto eternity. It was not conferred upon them as a hardship. It was conferred on them as, in their view, a well-deserved tribute—a reward, an honour giving practical power to themselves and their families for ever. It is on that principle that the hereditary principle in the second Chamber has always been defended.
§ Viscount Lambton
That is not the case. The case is that Mr. Wedgwood Benn's father went to the House of Lords in order to build up the Opposition there.
§ Mr. Silverman
The noble Lord is less generous than usual. Anthony Wedgwood Benn's father was sent to the House of Lords because he was, like all others who are sent there pretend to be, a distinguished servant of a democracy. He was content to go. I do not say that he liked it. I cannot say that he enjoyed it, but it was not conferred upon him as a hardship. It was said to him that he was so valuable, so useful and could defend the Socialist cause so effectively in the House of Lords that he ought to go there.
We are not dealing only with recent creations, because in the proposals of the Select Committee the new privilege of being able to choose, subject to finding a safe constituency, does not apply to first creations, and the general principle that I have enunciated is one which I am sure no genuine Conservative would reject. It is on that basis that the whole of the hereditary principle has been defended.
What are the Conservative Party now saying? They are not saying that this is an honour, a privilege, a right arising out of status that ought to be defended to the death. They are saying that it is a hardship, that it is oppressive, that a man is being deprived of something by reason 1626 of the consequences of the status conferred upon him.
§ Mr. Silverman
If he is, the noble Lord ought to abandon the hereditary principle altogether and not create a new class of privileged people dependent on an acceptance, a confirmation and an extension of the hereditary principle.
I should have thought that, from their point of view, by doing this they were abandoning the outposts of the privileged society that they defend. They cannot, having done this, ever again defend the hereditary principle as the status which any democracy ought to retain. What I am saying is that from the point of view of my hon. and right hon. Friends they are putting new difficulties in our way and not rendering it easier to abandon them. What harm would there have been if this position had been allowed to ride for a year or two?
There will be a General Election shortly. I have no doubt that my hon. Friends will win it. I have no doubt that in the next Parliament we shall have an adequate majority and that we shall be able to pass through the House of Commons any reform that we want.
There is no doubt about the reform of abandoning the hereditary principle and perhaps the second Chamber altogether —certainly a second Chamber maintained and founded on the acceptance of the hereditary principle. There is not a member of the Labour Party who is not against that. I do not say that those who legislate for these improvements will inhibit anybody—and I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper expressly saying that it would not—proceeding to an adequate and radical tackling of this whole anomaly, which the House of Lords is.
But it seems to me that it was not worth while to give hostage to fortune in that way to bring Wedgwood Benn back to the House of Commons a year or 18 months earlier. That seems to me to be the position. That is why I think that it is a pity to play about with it, to take off an anomaly here or an inadequacy there, a contradiction somewhere else, dealing with them one by one so as to push into the background what is the real anomaly that we are against and which we should like to 1627 cure. So I should not advise the House of Commons to proceed any further with these recommendations, but to wait—we shall not have to wait very long—until we are in a position to deal with the whole matter.
§ 7.57 p.m.
§ Sir William Teeling (Brighton, Pavilion)
I do not want to be drawn into following the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) in the detailed criticism he has made of the House of Lords as such. It seems to me that today we are dealing with two or three worthwhile points which could be cleared up. Mention has been made of Mr. Wedgwood Benn's father. I remember very well when he became Lord Stansgate. I remember working under him for some time at the Air Ministry during the war. I got the impression that he went to the House of Lords because he felt it was his duty to do so in order that the Labour Party could be properly represented by a person of his standing. In those days there was no such thing as life peerages, other than life peerages for lawyers; and I am certain that if there had been that would have been what Lord Stansgate would have tried to obtain. Therefore, it seems to me very bad luck that his son should be in this position. Having obtained a peerage, Lord Stansgate did his level best for his party.
Afterwards we made the first step, admittedly, towards weakening the hereditary principle by allowing life peerages. Now we are going a step further. But there is also a little more in this Report than just dealing with the one question of elder sons and heirs being entitled to sit in this Chamber. One of my hon. Friends mentioned the question of young peers—"minors", shall we say—when they come of age getting the opportunity to make up their minds in which Chamber they will sit. I agree that one year after 21 is far too early for them to make up their minds. Most people, if they have anything to leave to their children in their wills do not want the children to benefit until some time after the age of 21, sometimes as late as 25 and 30. Certainly much later than 21.
There is also the recommendation that people who decide to sit in the Commons 1628 should not take on the titles which they have inherited from their fathers. I do not see that there is any particular need for that. For many years we have had the question of the Irish peerages. Many hon. Members will recall Earl Winterton. He came to this House as Lord Turnour and succeeded to the Earldom and became Earl Winterton. He could have given up—there was no need why he should—his seat in the House of Commons and been elected an Irish representative peer in the Lords. Any Irish peer in those days could have done the same or could have sat in this House. But they did not have to give up the title of an earldom, marquisate or dukedom to which they might have succeeded. As one newspaper pointed out today, any subsidiary title which came to other members of their families in that way need not be affected.
We seem to be in quite a muddle over the whole question of the Irish peerages. I think it a little unjust that they should be treated in the way in which they are being treated at present. An Irish peerage is very different from a Scottish peerage in that the Irish peerage was started shortly after the English peerage was started, in the twelfth or thirteenth century, by the kings of England for those people who were in those days representing them and working for them in Ireland. The Scottish peerage came into the hands of the English kings—shall we say—at a much later period. The Irish peerage has been as much a gift of the kings of England as has the English peerage right from the very start.
Then we come to the time of the union with England to form the United Kingdom and X numbers of representative peers were allowed to be chosen from Ireland to continue working under the king in the United Kingdom. Many Irish peerages were given to people who had nothing whatever to do with Ireland, and this occurred not only in the nine-tenth and the twentieth centuries but also in the eighteenth century and earlier. Lord Clive is one example. People of many types and generations were given these peerages either because they were not rich enough to take on a peerage in England or in the United Kingdom, or, for one reason or another, they did not want one. In some cases the peerage was given as a form of lesser honour than having a United Kingdom peerage. 1629 There are many of the descendants of these people still living in this country whose ancestors got their reward for some reason other than that which required them to sit in the United Kingdom Parliament though they could be elected as representative peers if they chose to stand.
Why should they be barred suddenly since 1922? There were people like Lord Curzon. He became Viceroy of India and it was considered necessary that he should have a peerage when he became Viceroy. But he did not want to be debarred from coming back to the House of Commons. Later when he ceased to be Viceroy, for one reason or another he decided that he had better be in the House of Lords and he was elected a representative peer. Later on he took a United Kingdom peerage. Lord Winterton decided to remain in this House, and in the nineteenth century Lord Palmerston also remained in the Commons. But for some reason, in 1922, when the Treaty was made with Ireland the whole of this question of the election of the Irish peers was forgotten. It was not the case that it was deliberately never mentioned; it was, I understand, completely forgotten.
When one or two Irish representative peers died and it was decided once again that someone had to take their place, it was found that there was nobody who could act for the election and call the representative peers together. The person who should have done so was called the Clerk of the Crown and Hanaper. It was also a question of the Lord Chancellor of England informing the Lord Chancellor of Ireland and getting the Clerk of the Crown and Hanaper to call the Irish peers together. The Clerk of the Crown and Hanaper had ceased to exist or to be appointed. The English Lord Chancellor could have asked the Irish Lord Chancellor to find someone else to call the peers together. But within a year or so as, gradually, Ireland drifted into further independence, the Irish Lord Chancellor also ceased to exist and there was no one for the English Lord Chancellor to write to.
I understand that until only a few years ago—certainly after the war—as a matter of form the English Lord Chancellor wrote to the office of the Irish Lord Chancellor announcing that there had been a General Election and that it was time 1630 to elect Irish peers for life. The letter was returned as address unknown because nobody knew where to send it. That happened up until not so long ago. It is my personal belief that today some Irish peer should take up the case himself in the Law Courts. It would be better were this done in the Law Courts, or even through the House of Lords. There seems no reason at all why they should not, even today, elect some representatives. There has been no Act of Parliament passed to stop it and nothing has been done to make that illegal. It is only that there was no one to write to, and I should have thought it would be quite within the power of the courts of this country, or the House of Lords, to put the matter right at no very great cost.
After all, the Irish peers are in no very different position from many others. We refer to the Irish peers as being in another country and regard Ireland as an independent country and a Republic. But there are United Kingdom peerages held by foreigners living abroad. There is the Countess of Newburgh—of whom one thinks straight away—from Italy. Hon. Members will remember that after the First World War a special Act of Parliament had to be passed to deprive two peers of the United Kingdom of their peerages—the Duke of Cumberland and the Duke of Albany—because they had fought against Britain during the First World War and had therefore committed high treason. In the same way other peerages were lost for high treason all through history. There was the Irish peerage of the Earldom of Carlingford. This Parliament passed an Act in 1921 or 1922 depriving him of his earldom because he fought in the Austrian Army against the Allies.
All these peerages have been held by foreigners, and so for a foreigner in southern Ireland it would be nothing new to have a peerage. All he would have to do when he came to the House of Lords would be to take an oath and become a United Kingdom citizen. It would be interesting to know what is the position of Irish members of the House of Lords. There are several United Kingdom peers who live in southern Ireland and who are Irish citizens. When they take the oath here before sitting in the House of Lords, do they give up their Eire citizenship?
1631 One must not forget that Irish peers are peers of the whole of Ireland, including Ulster, which is a part of the United Kingdom, and there are many peers in Ulster. There are several Irish peers who live in this country. There are others who have property in southern Ireland, and some who go backwards and forwards across the border. It seems to me grossly unfair that these sixty or seventy people—if we are talking of the hereditary principle and admit that their ancestors were given these titles—for one reason or another should be deprived of their rights, whereas other people are not. I think this matter should be considered again to see whether future representative peers from the Irish peerage should not be brought back into the same position as those of the Scottish peerage.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Clapham)
As a protagonist of a bicameral system, I look upon the Report of the Select Committee in two ways. I ask myself in what way it strengthens the other place and also in what way it weakens it. I am pleased to find that the Scottish peers will have full representation, rather than being limited to 16 in number, as at the moment. I am also pleased to see that the other place will be reinforced by peeresses in their own right. That anomaly should not have been allowed to exist when life peerages were first given to women. It was a pure anachronism, and I welcome the inclusion of those peeresses in another place.
As I listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith), it occurred to me that when we consider the question of renunciation of peerages in order to enable peers to sit in this House we shall have to remember the effect that it will have on the younger Members in another place. This is a matter in which the considerations are unfortunately balanced between the needs of the other place and the popular demand which was worked up over the Stansgate case. It will be extremely difficult to resist the demand that peers placed in the position in which Mr. Wedgwood Benn was placed should not be barred from remaining in this House. This will unfortunately mean that many young men in another place may be tempted to sit in the House of Commons.
1632 I have never been able to understand the reason for choosing to sit in this House, because the scope which the other place offers to a young man who comes into a hereditary peerage is immense. He has an opportunity of serving his country as well in the other place as he could serve it here. In fact, there may be even greater advantages in the other place. Whatever may be the effect of allowing renunciation, I hope that it will not denude the other place of real talent.
I was interested in what my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Sir W. Teeling) said about the Irish peerage. From a constitutional point of view my hon. Friend has a case, but that case really has gone by default. Since 1921 there have been no new elections, and the final string was broken by the death of the last remaining Irish representative peer last year. It will be very difficult to re-establish the connection, even though these peerages were given to a great extent to English people, and theoretically they should have the same rights as Scottish peers, or peers of the United Kingdom.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House asked us for criticisms of certain points. In paragraph 6 (p) of its Report the Select Committee is being a little hard on those people who have enjoyed the privileges of courtesy titles referred to in the second part of that paragraph—in other words, privileges inherited from an ancestor. It is a little hard to say that after a person has enjoyed those privileges for ten, fifteen, or twenty years they should be taken away from him simply because his father chooses to exercise his undoubted prerogative of renouncing his peerage. We ought to look into this question before we finally draft legislation on it.
The question of name should be one for the person who renounces his peerage. Presumably he would choose the name by which he was popularly known before he came into his peerage. I would have thought that that was something which the holder of a title had the right to decide. But I would not favour the idea of his being allowed to retain his title. If he wants to renounce his peerage he should renounce his title as well. He should sit in this House as a plain Mister. I see no reason why he should have it both ways.
1633 As was pointed out by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), whether we admit it or not we are giving people a dual advantage in enabling them to choose in which House they shall sit. Nevertheless, we have no choice in the matter, because it has already been clearly shown that the people would prefer that persons like Lord Stansgate should be allowed to sit in the House of Commons.
I would have preferred it if we had taken a wider view of the matter. My solution would have been to provide that the House of Lords should be constituted as to 50 per cent. hereditary and 50 per cent. life peers, hereditary peers electing a fixed number from their own ranks, like the system which operates now in relation to the Scottish peers. That might have overcome the necessity for renunciation.
We have had a long debate, and it appears that I am the last speaker. I do not wish to detain the House any longer, but I believe it is the view of our people generally that since the war the prestige of the House of Lords has tended to increase. If, by implementing the recommendations of the Select Committee, we can further enhance that prestige we shall be doing a service to both Houses of Parliament. I hope that as time goes on the House of Lords will continue to be a strong second Chamber, which our people will increasingly tend to regard as being an important part of our Parliamentary democracy.
§ 8.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
I do not share the enthusiasm of the hon. Member for Clapham (Dr. Alan Glyn) for the election of Scottish peers. Scotland has many grievances. They crowd upon us day by day and hour by hour. But this is not a matter that is causing one citizen of Scotland from John o'Groats to Dumfries to lose one night's sleep. If this had been an injustice to Scotland these benches would have been crowded by my colleagues, anxious to protect the interests of Scotland. The majority of Scottish people regard the House of Lords as an anachronism, and would like to see it abolished, or at any rate to see it rendered harmless to arrest the will of the elected democracy.
1634 As far as I can recollect, I represent three peers in this House. First, I represent a famous shipowner, who lives in a corner of my constituency. I sometimes travel to London with him. He is greatly interested in shipping affairs, and no doubt gives the benefit of his experience to some shipping company, but I have yet to hear that he has delivered a speech in the other place. I am sure that he has not the slightest intention of spending any time in that Chamber, even on a discussion of shipping.
I also have in my constituency a hereditary landlord, whose title goes back to ancient history. One of his ancestors must have been one of the noble Lords who fought with Macbeth, or Macduff. He must have been contemporary with them. Although he is a great landlord and draws a considerable revenue in rent, I fail to see why he should go to the other place—which, fortunately, he very rarely does.
Then there is the noble Lord who is the father of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead, (Mr. Galbraith), who renders very distinguished service and is a backbone of democracy. I do not think that the House of Lords has done him any harm. When he was in the House of Commons he was a very strong supporter of private enterprise and private interests. Then he became the Chairman of the Hydro-Electric Board. Overnight he became converted to Socialism. Now he defends this nationalised industry with all his force. Personally I should like to know what he says in private about the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir G. Nabarro), who normally occupies the place now occupied by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead. I take a liberal and tolerant view of these people. In our history their ancestors may have performed some public service, but I believe that in the modern age their place is not—
§ Sir W. Teeling
Does not the hon. Gentleman think that it is a terrible thing that none of these three noble Lords is allowed even to vote for him?
§ Mr. Hughes
I cannot disclose the secrets of the ballot. I do not wish to discuss that. I do not know whether they do or not.
§ Mr. Hughes
I know that they cannot vote. All I want to point out is that I frequently meet these noble constituents of mine—
§ Mr. Hughes
I do not care whether they are disfranchised or not. These three gentlemen have certainly never canvassed me on what I am going to do about the terrible iniquity, anomaly and injustice which the hon. Member for Clapham says is felt in Scotland about this matter.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn
Perhaps I did not put it clearly. I said that I was very glad that the other place is to be reinforced by increased representation from Scotland.
§ Mr. Hughes
I was provoked into entering this debate by the allegation that there was some injustice to Scotland. If there had been some injustice to Scotland, we would have seen it. I believe that this injustice is non-existent. I believe that in my constituency, even among the noble Lords there, there is no enthusiasm for this proposal. I look forward to the time when the House of Lords will not be called upon to have any kind of say in our affairs. I therefore suggest that the hon. Member for Clapham is not justified in his statement. However passionate the feeling may be about this injustice to Scottish peers in the part of London that the hon. Gentleman represents, it is not shared by the people whom I represent.
§ 8.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Wilson (Huyton)
I do not intend to speak far very long, because the House is obviously in very general agreement with the proposition before us. Only my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) has sounded a discordant note. I know that he is not unaccustomed to finding himself in a minority, and even sometimes in a minority of one.
Within the very narrow field covered by the Report of the Joint Committee—it is a very narrow field that we have been debating—there is no dissent from the view, apart from that of my hon. 1636 Friend, that the package Report is generally acceptable. My right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) stated our views this afternoon. There are parts of the Joint Report we should have preferred to see handled differently. There is particularly the question to which my right hon. Friend referred of extinction of the entire peerage when a succeeding peer renounces his right to the title. We ourselves attach great importance to the total extinction of the peerage in such circumstances. If we had been writing the Report, or if we had had a majority on the Joint Committee, I think that different conclusions would have been reached. As my right hon. Friend said, we reserve the right to table an Amendment when legislation is introduced, if, as we hope, it is soon introduced, so that we can test the feeling of the House on this issue. I want to make it quite clear that on this, as on other issues where we have reservations, we do not press, and shall not press, our opposition to the point where we would oppose, or indeed where we would fail to give the fullest possible facilities to, a Bill to give effect to the Report.
Again, we have some anxieties about the provision which allows a Member who has renounced his peerage to be ennobled by a separate creation, whether as a life peer or as an hereditary peer. I recognise the arguments for this section of the Report. As has already been argued more than once today, a person who renounces a peerage becomes a commoner and should have the same rights as a commoner, including the right of ultimate ennoblement.
Again, a Prime Minister, seeking to appoint the best man to each position, may find that he wants a particular renouncer in the other House. He might be having difficulty filling the position of, shall we say, Lord Chancellor, a position which cannot under our constitution be exercised in this House. There may be some other Ministerial position where, on the principle of horses for courses, a particular individual is the right choice but where for one reason or another it is desirable that that Minister should function in another place and not in this House.
I recognise those arguments. I think that the Joint Committee had this type of argument in mind when it made the 1637 Report it did, though as drafted it leaves a loophole open. Reference has been made to it today. There could be a situation in which one of the hereditary peers in another place renounced his peerage within a few months of the passing of the recommended legislation so as to fight a Parliamentary election, whether a General Election or a by-election. He might then fail to win. He might then get himself re-ennobled by a creation as either a life peer or an hereditary peer. I do not think I can think of any possible Prime Minister who would be likely to engage in such a fiddle.
§ Mr. H. Wilson
No. If anyone did, I think that it would be widely regarded by the whole House and by the country as something extremely undesirable. Nevertheless, that possibility does exist and it might be necessary to take account of it in the legislation and to provide some time limit, or whatever it might be.
There is the other problem whether there should ever be any ultimate right of ennoblement. This is perhaps difficult and arguable. For example, I ask hon. Members to suppose that someone like the late Lord Dalton had in fact inherited a peerage in his youth and renounced it on reaching the age of 21 if the renunciation principle had been in force then. There might be justification for someone like that, having served in this House for many years and having finally become ready to retire with honours thick about his head, to be re-ennobled and enabled to take his place in the other House. So one recognises that there is a case for this, but one must watch out for that particular abuse.
The Leader of the House referred to the recommendation that the returning officer must satisfy himself about the eligibility of a candidate—satisfy himself that he is a genuinely renounced peer—and I think that the right hon. Gentleman has a point here and that further thought should be given to the machinery in this regard before legislation is considered.
What is the general aim of the Report, assuming that legislative effect is given to it by an early Bill? It means that no man is denied, by accident of birth, the free and equal right to stand for and be elected to and—and we attach great importance to this—take his seat in this 1638 House. It means, equally, that no constituency is fettered in its democratic right of choosing a candidate of its own choice.
References have naturally been made to Anthony Wedgwood Benn and to his tremendous and, we trust, after this debate, what will turn out to have been successful fight for a constitutional principle. If this debate is followed, as it should be, by speedy legislation, it would not only be in order to offer personal congratulations to him. We would wish to go further, for this House owes him a tribute for what he has done in isolating and proclaiming a not unimportant constitutional principle and for fighting it through with great skill and ingenuity, at great risk and at great personal cost, to the point where finally the whole Establishment and the whole constitutional machinery accepts that he was right and that legislation is needed.
Equally, I would pay tribute to the voters of Bristol, South-East for their loyalty and steadfastness and for the manner in which they turned out to vote on what I understand was a pouring wet day. They were voting not only for a man in whom they had every confidence, but also for the principle on which he had fought that election. It showed when they voted not only that they wanted Anthony Wedgwood Benn to represent them, and no other; it showed not only that they were supporting the principle on which he had taken his stand, but also that they wanted to see the constitution of this country brought into the 20th century and not remain encumbered with the last relics of medievalism.
I understand that the hon. and temporary Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. St. Clair) made some reference—and I regret having missed his speech—to that by-election and suggested that the action of Anthony Wedgwood Benn in standing involved trouble and expense for the electors and others of Bristol, South-East. Personally I regret that he is even here to make that speech. It might have been more decent if we had not had to listen to him. The fact remains that Mr. Wedgwood Benn, as I said, was right to stand. It was right that the electors of Bristol, South-East were able to give the decisive majority they gave, and it was because of that that the Joint Committee of both Houses presented the Report we have before us today.
1639 Of course, this is not an Anthony Wedgwood Benn enabling Measure, although I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne suggested something of that sort. It in fact makes a minor but not important change.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I should not like to be misunderstood on this point. I said that if it had been, in my opinion, an Anthony Wedgwood Benn enabling Bill I would not have been making the speech I made and I would have voted for it with cheerfulness and enthusiasm.
§ Mr. Wilson
I am sorry that I misunderstood my hon. Friend. He got so tangled up with a noble Lord opposite that I must have misunderstood him on this point. However, I readily accept his correction. At any rate, no one has said that it is such an enabling Measure and, as I was saying, it makes a minor but not unimportant change in the conditions of admission to this House.
Because this is a constitutional change the Joint Committee decided to recommend—and I think rightly—that provision should be made not only for newly effected successors to the peerage, but also for those who have already crossed the great divide which lies between this House and another place and, of course, also for those who have never sat in this House but have taken their places as hereditary peers in another place.
So we agree with the proposal that not only new hereditary peers but those already there should have a once-and-for-all right of renunciation. I do not know how many would take advantage of this. It has been suggested that the noble Lords Hailsham and Home have been so knocked about by our noble Friends in another place that they are anxious to seek political asylum here. I do not know if that is true or what they expect to find when they get here. But whoever seeks to take advantage of this provision will have to get himself elected. Some noble Lords may not find that quite so easy as they think, but that is a matter for them and for the working of party democracy in constituency and selection conferences. At any rate, we agree that they should have the right, and we agree that this right should not be extended to life peers or to hereditary peers of the first creation.
1640 That raises one very special case—the case of my noble Friend Lord Longford. It is a difficult case, and it is right to draw attention to it. Here we have a distinguished man, not a member of this House, who had reasonable expectations of becoming an hereditary peer—not certain expectations, of course, but expectations that turned out to be well-founded in the event. There was, of course, no suggestion at the time he became Lord Pakenham of any possibility of renunciation. He was asked by the then Prime Minister to take the peerage and become a Minister—Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister responsible for German Affairs. In this, and in other Ministerial posts, he rendered very distinguished service to our party, to the Government and to the country. If the proposed Measure goes through, my noble Friend will be free to renounce the Longford peerage but will not be able to renounce the Pakenham peerage. He will still be a member of the other House, because the Pakenham peerage is a peerage of the first creation.
As I say, it is a very difficult case. It is a peerage of the first creation, but I think that it could well be argued that my noble Friend took it only because he assumed that, in any event, he would become an hereditary peer and, looking to the future, could see nothing other than ultimate ennoblement with no power of renunciation. I think that I am right in my recollection that Lord Attlee who, as we all know, disliked creating an hereditary peerage and never liked to recommend the ennoblement of a man with male heirs, had very much in mind that in sending Frank Pakenham, as he then was, to the House of Lords, he was not creating a net additional peerage but an additional one for the time being; that, at the end of the day, he was not creating an additional one. I believe that explanation was given at the time.
It is a very difficult case, and not one on which it is easy to reach a fair decision. It may be that some hon. Member, on either side—or it may happen in another place—may move an Amendment to any Bill that comes forward in order that the House can be given an opportunity of considering where justice really lies, but, certainly, on this question as on the other questions I have mentioned, no one would want to press the matter in opposition to such a Bill.
1641 I repeat: this has been a narrow debate on a narrow Report. It does not raise, and has not raised, the whole question of Lords reform on the wider front. It does not deal with the main question of either the constitution or powers of the other House, and in case there is any doubt about it, I must make it clear that a Labour Government will entirely reserve the right to propose legislation on these questions. However, these are not the questions that are the issue tonight, but the questions that will be raised in the legislation we are expecting to be introduced.
On the wider questions, may I say that Hugh Gaitskell, in the Queen's Speech debate on 5th November, 1957, which contained the first announcement of the Life Peerages Bill, set out our position quite clearly. He said that there were three conditions in relation to the second Chamber:First, it should not be an independently elected body, elected according to some other system than that of the House of Commons. That, of course, is the case with a number of second Chambers in other countries. We believe it would not be suitable for this country, nor indeed consistent with the way we run our affairs here. Secondly, we say that membership of such a second Chamber should not be based at all on the hereditary principle, Thirdly, if such a second chamber is not to be independently elected—I have already made that plain—it follows I think clearly that it must not be able to overrule this House, which is properly elected by the people."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th November, 1957; Vol. 557, c. 19.]That was the statement he made then, and that statement equally represents our position today.
On the powers of another, place, I think that the position was clearly put in words more eloquent than mine by William Schwenk Gilbert 80 years ago when, through the mouth of the Earl of Mount Ararat, he said:And while the House of peers withholds its legislative hand,And noble statesmen do not itchTo interfere in matters whichThey do not understandAs bright will shine Great Britain's raysAs in King George's golden days.I do not think that any of us could put it better.
§ Mr. Wilson
I nearly did sing it, but I thought that I had better not, and we are a little short of sopranos and contraltoes for the last two lines.
In practical terms, our anxieties and criticsms today relate to two things. The first is the delaying powers of the other place, despite the fact that they were severely reduced after the war. The second is the right of the other place to reject Statutory Instruments. Although it has been said that this power has not been used, it is there and it is something which any democratic Government must be very worried about, because so much legislation, whether under a Labour or any other Government, requires extensive use of delegated legislation.
I must therefore make clear that our position in relation to the next election will be what it was in 1945. We set it out in Let us Face the Future when we said, having stated our programme, that we shall not allow the House of Lords to interfere with or frustrate the decisions of a democratically controlled House of Commons. That remains our position today but, as I have said, there is on the issues before us very general agreement in the House.
I have only one worry about the speeches we have heard today, and that was about one passage in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House. We found ourselves in very warm agreement with everything else that the right hon. Gentleman said. The passage which worried some of us was where the right hon. Gentleman seemed to indicate the possibility, and even the likelihood, of delay in introducing the legislation. I hope that after today's debate he will think again about that and that today's debate will give the right hon. Gentleman the courage he needs.
§ Mr. Wilson
Then perhaps we could help the right hon. Gentleman on that. I could give him a good deal of advice on how he could save time in the legislative programme. He is wasting two days on Monday and Tuesday for a start. However, that might strike a somewhat controversial note on a day when otherwise controversy has been conspicuously absent. I hope that we can 1643 expect the legislation in this Session, and early enough in the Session to ensure that it is passed into the law in the very near future. It is clear that the whole House wants it. I hope that the Government will now act upon the pretty clear view of the House. We on our part pledge the Leader of the House all possible help and facilities in getting that legislation through.
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ The Solicitor-General (Sir Peter Rawlinson)
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said at the start of his speech that there had been a wide measure of agreement in the House. He also served his notice. I am sorry that the House was prevented from hearing that notice in song, as the right hon. Gentleman thought at one moment he might present it. But, despite the measure of agreement throughout the House, a wide range of opinions have been expressed, extending from my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith), who is not in favour of any change, to the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot), who wishes to replace the House of Lords by a collection of civil servants.
Generally, however, as the Leader of the Opposition has said, there has been agreement on both sides of the House on the narrow issue presented here, and I should have thought that where one is starting or instituting any constitutional change it is obviously desirable that there should be as wide a measure of agreement as possible. After all, we are discussing the possibility of changing, perhaps for the better in the view of many people, the rules under which we conduct political controversy and political life. Although complete agreement and indeed sometimes on these occasions any agreement is rarely possible, the wide agreement expressed today is surely welcomed on both sides of the House.
I join with the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House in thanking the Joint Select Committee and the Members of the House who served on it. I think that nearly all of them have spoken today. I thank them for the Report which they have produced and for the researches which they have done. Issues which appear simple on 1644 the surface always lead to considerable complication, and to conduct research as they had to do involved them in much patient endeavour and a great deal of labour. The whole House congratulates them on the task which they have performed in the interests of the House.
The debate has illustrated the wisdom, the rightness and the propriety of the Government's action in deciding to listen to the views of all hon. Members before coming to the House with their own suggestions. Our political system is often criticised by critics and commentators of very varying weight who say that the Executive too readily imposes its will on the Legislature. This criticism cannot be made of the course which has been followed here. It would have been wrong and, indeed, unwarrantable for the Government to have presented definite views to the House without first hearing the opinions of the House on a matter which affects the very membership of it. These are matters on which there is a considerable amount of cross-opinion. Constitutional change is a subject upon which many people have views and ideas, as they have had for decades.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade) referred to the Command Paper presented in 1948 which arose from the debates on what became the Parliament Act. It is interesting to see that it was entitled an "Agreed Statement on Conclusion of Conference of Party Leaders", and it ended by saying:… the Parry representatives concluded that there did not exist between them that basis for further discussions. …Perhaps this has been the history of issues of this kind in the past.
My purpose is merely to point out the consequences of some of the matters raised by the Committee's recommendations and to remind the House of particular points of difficulty which could conceivably arise, which, of course, were well in the mind of the Committee itself. I hasten to emphasise that all the matters to which I shall refer are matters of detail, although they must be carefully considered before legislation is introduced.
The first and major point is, of course, the right to surrender. A substantial body of opinion both inside and outside the House has always felt that a peer should be permitted to rid himself of the incidence of his peerage, the privilege, 1645 rights, titles and amenities. Many who have been unwilling, and who are still unwilling, to see any grave change in our constitutional practice have, nevertheless, always thought it anomalous that while a Monarch could abdicate a peer could not. The Joint Select Committee has now recommended that surrender should be permitted.
This does not give rise to any grave legal or practical difficulties. The proposal is that there should be this power in persons who do succeed. The main point for discussion which might, perhaps, arise is the setting of a reasonable time for a Member affected to declare whether he will renounce or accept a peerage. My hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe) and the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) both mentioned this in their speeches. The period of one month suggested by the Committee might conceivably give rise to difficulty in the case of a Member who, for instance, was abroad or was suffering from some illness. But that is certainly something which could be provided for in any legislation.
Attention has been directed by the hon. Member for Leeds, West to the rights of persons to surrender, quite apart from those of politically-minded potential peers. This is brought out by the Memorandum of the Lord President of the Council, that there may be nowadays, and certainly are, some who wish to avoid the responsibilities of being a peer. They have no ambition to enter public life, but lack of means, or personal attitude, or even conviction for some offence, as is pointed out in the Memorandum, may cause a man to prefer to surrender his peerage on succession. It might be that the House would agree that that should be permissible.
With regard to the machinery for surrender, to the investigation of which the Committee gave considerable time, the recommendation is the deposit with the Lord Chancellor of a formal instrument of surrender, but it does not appear to be clear whether the Lord Chancellor should accept it only if he is satisfied that the person concerned has succeeded to a peerage. Again, strict time limits which are proposed by the Committee might make that impracticable. It might be difficult for someone to prove within a month of succession that he has, in 1646 fact, succeeded. Difficulties arise in these circumstances.
There is a considerable number of cases—about seventy in all—of persons who are entitled to writs of summons but have never bothered to prove their claim. No insuperable difficulties occur when their successors wish in turn to claim. I hope that a simple solution which might be considered when legislation is brought forward is that the surrender should be effective on the deposit with the Lord Chancellor of a formal document without more. Then if the person has succeeded the instrument will be effective. If not, the instrument will be a nullity and no harm will have been done. It is purely a matter of machinery to carry out what the Committee recommended.
One matter of difficulty to which reference has been made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition arises from the candidature of a person who might succeed between nomination and the date of the poll. I must reinforce what my right hon. Friend said about the difficulties which could arise. These cases will be extremely rare, but, as all hon. Members will appreciate, legislation has to provide for the rare and the unusual. I must advise the House that this is not altogether an easy problem to solve. I think that other Committees of this House which have been set up to examine similar problems have found that there are difficulties and complications. It is clear that this Committee gave a great deal of thought to it, and its proposal is that anyone who takes the step of accepting nomination as a Parliamentary candidate must commit himself irrevocably to renouncing any peerage to which he might succeed between nomination day and the declaration of the poll.
It seems that the Committee had in mind in this recommendation the wish that perhaps some Members have that a person embarking on a political career should have to choose at that stage which House he wishes to serve. There is also the purely practical point that there are considerable difficulties of an administrative character about any other solution. While I appreciate the principle underlying that recommendation, anomalies could arise from that system, but it seems strange that a man who opts for 1647 a Parliamentary career should be obliged permanently to renounce his succession to a peerage if he succeeds before the election campaign is completed. But he is given a choice—whether to accept or renounce—if he succeeds after the campaign is over and he has been returned to the House.
The view of the Committee, which appears to be the general view of the House, is that a sitting Member should be given one month in which to make up his mind, as recommended in the Report. There are two alternatives which may be considered. It may be that it could be provided that the law should act as though the candidate had died, although this, too, presents grave difficulty apart from the involving of expense, because the returning officer must be satisfied that the person has actually succeeded. It may be that the best or the easiest solution would be to allow the election to proceed as if nothing had happened, the candidate then being given whatever period might be appropriate—possibly a month—in which to make up his mind.
If he is unsuccessful in the election, he would have the ordinary twelve months and there would be no need for a by-election. If be is unsuccessful be would succeed to the peerage and then would have the twelve months to make up his mind. If he is successful and he becomes an elected Member, he would be given a limited time, perhaps a month, as the sitting Member to make up his mind whether to surrender. These are possible solutions, but certainly difficulties face us when we consider legislation in this matter. It is one to which the House clearly has to give considerable attention.
I made it clear when opening my reply to the right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) that these are all matters purely for consideration. They are technical matters only on the fringe, as it were, of the main recommendations which have been made by the Joint Committee. I think it right that the House should be aware of some of the legal implications of the recommendations in the Report of which we are invited to take note.
Hon. Members may not consider those legal implications to be of sufficient substance to cause supporters of the recommendation to shift their views or to alter the balance of the proposals. As has 1648 also been widely accepted, perhaps the general pattern of the solution presented to the House in the recommendations generally could be what has been described as a package deal, despite minor points of criticism.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Lieut.-Colonel Grosvenor) raised the matter of the Irish peers. It is right to remind the House that they made their representations to the Committee and the Committee rejected their arguments. Thus an Irish peer will remain eligible for election to this House. Thus an appropriately Irish situation arises that whereas an English or Scottish peer or a peer of the United Kingdom would, if legislation was introduced, renounce his peerage, become a Member of this House and he and his wife would revert to or remain plain Mr. and Mrs. Brown, acceptance of the recommendations will mean that, as is the position now, an Irish peer can be elected to this House and he and his wife will obtain all the glory of "his lordship" and "her ladyship".
§ Mr. C. Pannell
Surely, this is not such an anachronism. There is a Republic in Ireland and we could hardly bring its peerages into the same category as the United Kingdom or Scottish peerages. Surely, the position is no more than if a man used a French title. It is a matter of nomenclature. If it is not something which is represented within the compass of the United Kingdom, there always has been a general rule that people can call themselves anything they like.
§ The Solicitor-General
The hon. Member will, of course, be aware that certainly not all Ireland is a republic. Indeed, part of it is part of the United Kingdom. I merely bring that position to the attention of the House. The position of the Irish peers was emphatically laid before the House by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone. I assure him that his suggestions will be carefully studied, as will the views of all hon. Members who have spoken today.
No one, whatever his views or whether or not he seeks change, will underestimate the value of the Report. Some hon. Members have said that if carried into legislation it would have grave effects upon the lives of individuals, but above 1649 all and, perhaps, more important and preeminent are the membership and the rules for membership of this House.
I repeat what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said, that the closest consideration will be given to all the views which have been expressed. That was the purpose of the debate. But any ultimate action in this field will affect the service which both Houses can command, and will affect the conditions under which some individuals can continue to give service to the public. I think that few present will quarrel with the view that there have been many who have given great public service to the State by first serving in this House before succeeding to a peerage or being ennobled and serving in another place. Many here tonight may also think that inclination and talent for service in one House should not be prevented by the accident of succession from continuing.
This Report and the views of the two Houses which have been expressed today merit, and will most certainly receive, the urgent attention of the Government on this matter which so closely affects this House and also the service which this House is entitled to receive.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ That this House takes note of the Report of the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform.