HC Deb 02 November 1966 vol 735 cc467-9
Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to abolish certain titles in Great Britain. Older Members of the House may recall that I was given leave to introduce a similar Bill during the last months of the last Conservative Government. My proposed Bill is short and it seeks to ensure that all titles bestowed by Her Majesty or her predecessors shall cease with the deaths of the present holders; and that Her Majesty shall not bestow any titles as from the passing of the Bill.

A week ago we were told that the Prices and Incomes Bill was a blunt instrument. This is not a blunt instrument; it is a humane killer. It would do no injustice or cruelty to the holder of any title, but would provide that the title shall cease with the death of the holder.

The House agreed to the introduction of my other proposed Bill. When it came to the announcement for the Second Reading, I discovered that the formality of the Queen's permission was required. I was informed through reliable channels that this permission should be given by the Home Secretary who, at a certain time, would nod. I made the necessary representations, and the Home Secretary refused to nod. My Bill was sabotaged even before it got a Second Reading. What became of the Home Secretary, Mr. Henry Brooke? The last time that I saw him he was nodding in the House of Lords. Therefore, I look with great expectation to the new Home Secretary, who, I believe, has progressive and enlightened views, to nod at the appropriate moment.

I believe that there is a general feeling in the country that the time has come for a radical alteration of hereditary titles. It was expressed in an influential newspaper, the Observer, on 27th October, previous to my last Bill. It said: It would be far better for this nation, including its upper class families, if titles were to be abolished. They encourage unrealistic thinking and living and they add needlessly to confusion. Although the House of Lords has had its value over the centuries, there is no sense in a hereditary second chamber today and the monarchy, which still has a genuine political value in limiting political ambitions and acting as a symbol of communal unity, can get along perfectly well without an aristocracy as is shown in Scandinavia and the Midlands "——

Hon. Members


Mr. Hughes

—"and the Netherlands". There is general agreement in the country that our whole hereditary system needs to be changed and that there is no purpose in having in the House of Lords titled gentlemen who are descended from, say, one of the 19 illegitimate children of a king. Neither is there any sense these days in having in the House of Lords descendants of people who were bandits and gangsters compared with whom the train robbers are respectable gentlemen.

I shall not go into the history of this matter. I suggest that my Bill is reasonable and deserves consideration. It is meant to help the Opposition and the Government.

When my previous Bill was introduced, the Conservative Party was in difficulty about getting a leader. It looked round the House of Commons, but could not find one and, therefore, sent to the House of Lords. The House of Lords provided a leader, and the right hon. Gentleman who came here gave up his title. Other right hon. Gentlemen gave up their titles. Therefore, the whole attitude towards titles is changing. When the Opposition discover that they still need a leader, or that they want a new leader, they may have to go to the House of Lords again. Therefore, the passing of my Bill would help them to bring a new leader from the House of Lords.

I am not satisfied with the Prime Minister's statement on the honours system. I want to abolish titles altogether, and that includes titles given to Labour people and trade union leaders. I do not see how any Prime Minister can give titles to one side or another, so I want to help the Prime Minister by taking away this power of recommending people for titles. It will remove some suspicions from the trade union movement.

I absolve the Prime Minister of any favouritism in this respect, but there are inevitably trade union leaders who want to know why other trade union leaders have titles and they have not. They look at the block votes commanded by certain leaders at the Labour Party conference and say, "Old Sir Bill", or "Old Sir Tom" has his title because at a certain moment he could dispose of half a million votes. The trade union leader I know will never get a title. The trade union leader who has done great service for my constituents, Mr. Abe Moffat, leader of the Scottish miners, retired after many years' service to the miners of Scotland. He did not get a title. He was a Communist. He probably would have refused to take a title.

I do not understand the argument that the Prime Minister is being fair to leaders on both sides of industry. If honours are to be continued, I should like to see the Prime Minister send to the House of Lords a dozen miners who have just retired from the coal face after 50 years' service and who could well do with the £4 10s. a day allowance and a first-class ticket to London.

I therefore think that the Prime Minister will be grateful to me for proposing that this power should be taken out of his hands. Prime Ministers have too much power, too much patronage. I am sure that the present Prime Minister will be grateful to me for seeking to introduce this Bill.

I could say a lot more. I am prepared to be conciliatory, as usual, when it comes to the Committee stage. If the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) thinks that I am being too conservative, I shall be quite prepared to consider any constructive Amendments which he may propose. I commend the Motion to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Emrys Hughes, Mr. Sydney Silverman, Mr. Manuel, Mr. William Hamilton, Mr. Michael Foot, Mr. Baxter, Mr. Gwynfor Evans, Mr. Lipton, Mr. Buchan, Mr. Mikardo and Mr. Frank Allaun.