HC Deb 26 June 1968 vol 767 cc466-78

4.14 p.m.

Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to abolish the House of Lords. Some of my best friends are in the other place. Nevertheless, few of us would deny that the present House of Lords is an indefensible anachronism as to both composition and powers. It has, as we all know, a theoretical membership of 1,000 or more. I think that it is the only institution in the world which can function only by mass absenteeism. Yet, with a membership of over 1,000, a quorum is three.

All the researches which I have been able to make show that there are over 10 nonagenarians and over 60 who are more than 80 years of age. Therefore, it could happen that three peers over 90 years of age, with ear trumpets and all, could be deciding the destinies of the nation. Only last week, an 80-year-old peer made his maiden speech. I suppose that he could be called a late developer —or perhaps a late inheritor. It is a fact that the hereditary Tory peer still dominates. As a method of ensuring quality, the hereditary principle is rather less selective than the methods adopted on a stud farm.

It is not surprising, therefore, that there is all-party agreement on the abolition of the right of peers to sit in Parliament solely by virtue of their titles. But if that is accepted, a lot of questions flow from it. What is to replace them? What are the functions of a different chamber to be? What are its powers to be? How is it to be elected or selected? What are the emoluments to be? What is to be the nature of the political party representation?

For months, the cardinals of the three political parties have been sitting in secret conclave while we, the poor, ignorant, inarticulate masses, are kept in suspense waiting for the puff of white smoke signifying that a new monster has been born and approved. It is this kind of secret consensus politics which is driving millions of people crazy with anger and frustration. Fortunately, by their irresponsible and unprecedented behaviour in rejecting the Rhodesian Order, their Lordships have delivered us, albeit narrowly, from that particular evil.

This House does not know how near to final agreement those talks came, but there was certain disturbing rumours or leaks reported in the Press, and if any of them is even remotely accurate it would be strongly opposed by many of us on this side of the House. In any event, it is the strongly-held view of many hon. Members on this side that the contents of any agreement reached so far should be published so that we might judge how and in what way the Government's proposals differ from them.

In asking leave to introduce my Bill, I hope that no accusation will be made against me or any of my supporters that we are Communists or even fellow-travellers. On the contrary, the abolition solution has been urged over the years by some of the most illustrious figures in British political history—from the Duke of Wellington, Joseph Chamberlain, Winston Churchill, up to my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot). It is daunting company, but no one could say that it was Communist.

It is well to remember that the now Lord President of the Council, writing in The Guardian on 8th February, 1963, stated: Traditionally, the Labour Party is pledged to total abolition and single chamber government"— But he went on to say: Practically, we have known for years that this will not happen … He continued: The House of Lords should be reconstituted on the basis of life appointments and a decision to create no more hereditary titles. Unfortunately, it is painfully clear that since those heady abolition days, the Labour Party has become more respectable, and respectful. Some would say far too much so.

It might be, and it has been said, that unicameral government means a stride towards totalitarianism. But other countries have adopted it. The Tory Government of New Zealand abolished their second chamber. They now have single chamber government. There is single chamber government in Denmark and Finland. There is no evidence of any march towards dictatorship in those countries, so far as I can gather.

Moreover, for nearly 60 years we have had unicameral government in the whole area of finance, taxation and supply. Money Bills can neither be amended nor delayed by the Lords. But no one has suggested that we should go back to the pre-1911 days. Furthermore, we have effectively single chamber government whenever we have a Tory Government. This was admitted by Lord Alport in the debate in the House of Lords on 12th April, 1967, when he said, in effect, that, whether we like it or not, whether the Lords admit it or not, when there is a Conservative Government there is single chamber government.

Perhaps I might quote one or two examples. First, the Labour Government's Iron and Steel Bill of 1949, for which there was a clear mandate in 1945. The House of Lords spread 55 hours of debate over six months on that Bill. They did not vote against it, but it was delayed in its operation. Comparing that with 1953, when a denationalisation Measure was introduced, that was over in less than 20 hours of debate spread over five weeks. Taking the Third Readings of those two Bills, in 1949 the Third Reading took 4 hours 20 minutes. In 1953, the Third Reading took 25 minutes. Yet the Conservative majority in the House of Commons at that time was very small. In fact, at the 1951 election the Labour Party had more votes in aggregate over the country than had the Tory Party.

Another example is the Rent Act. There was no mandate for the Rent Bill in 1957. It was never mentioned in the Tory Party's election manifesto. But it was all over in four sittings in the House of Lords totalling 19 hours.

Taking the overall period of Conservative Government from 1951 to 1964, the average number of Government defeats in the Lords was between one and two per session. Recently, in 1964-65, for instance, there were nine defeats of the Labour Government, including one, which the House will recall, on the War Damage Bill, when the Burmah Oil Company was claiming so many millions of pounds for having its assets destroyed. In that case, 143 peers voted against the Government. Anyone wanting the figures can get them from a speech that I made on that occasion when I put on record that those 143 peers had between them 415 directorships, and 38 were Burmah Oil shareholders.

Taking the calendar years in 1965 one finds that there were 10 Government defeats; in 1966, there were 14; in 1967, there were 25; and this year, to date, there have been 24, with a lot more to come. The most outrageous of these defeats was that on the Rhodesian Order. This was an attempt by the Tory Party leadership to use the House of Lords for their own party ends. They overlooked the fact that the bishops happened to be in town that day. I have looked up the figures. I am informed that 141 of the 193 who voted on it were hereditary peers and, in addition, that 36 were hereditary peers of the first creation. Of that total, 80 had neither spoken nor voted before in this Session and 41 had neither spoken nor voted in the previous Session.

If one takes the three dukes who voted against the Government in that instance, the Duke of Westminster took his seat in June, 1957 and was never seen again until the Rhodesian Order. The Duke of Atholl has been fairly active. Between 1955 and 1968 he has spoken on a variety of subjects: salmon, the game laws, birds' eggs, litter, Scottish sewerage, grey squirrels, venison—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I must remind the hon. Member that he is introducing a Bill under the 10-Minute Rule.

Mr. Hamilton

I am coming to the end, Mr. Speaker.

I want to refer to the alternatives facing the House and the country today. First, we can agree that the status quo is all right. However, I do not think that many would accept that. Secondly, we can agree to some kind of reform of the second chamber. If we do that, we cannot separate from it the problem of functions and powers.

An elected Second Chamber, however elected, on a regional or any other basis, would be opposed because there would inevitably be a clash concerning the respective powers of the two Houses. A nominated second chamber would be even more vehemently opposed because the patronage of government, and of the Prime Minister in particular, is a corrupting influence, corrupting both of the dispenser and of the recipient. If a second chamber were both nominated and salaried, the possibilities of corruption and increased patronage would be immeasurably greater. The more one considers this matter the more one is driven to the conclusion that abolition is the only solution.

Meanwhile, I urge the Government, as an immediate step, to abolish the delaying powers of the House of Lords and then set about the hereditary element.

4.27 p.m.

Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas (Chelmsford)

I hope that the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) will not take it amiss if I say that I think the only case that he has made out has been for the abolition of the Ten Minute Rule Bill procedure. The hon. Gentleman has laid about him with a plethora of gestures and metaphors, including a very involved parallel between the Vatican and the Conservative Party. I can only say, at the conclusion of that, that in the hon. Member for Fife, West, Habemus Papem.

It is certainly true that, apart from Lord Salisbury, the hon. Member for Fife, West has the record for the number of times that he has spoken and written about the reform of the Upper House. Unhappily, I cannot associate the Prime Minister with that qualified tribute. The hon. Member for Fife, West has the courage of his convictions. I do not question the Prime Minister's courage, but I am dubious about his convictions. We do not know—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member must speak to the Bill.

Mr. J. J. Mendelson (Penistone)

The hon. Gentleman ought to be ashamed of himself.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The hon. Member for Fife, West is at least clear about what he wants. He wants to sweep away the whole Upper House—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. We have listened to a statement for the case in silence. We must similarly hear the case against.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The hon. Member for Fife, West wishes to sweep away the whole Upper House—dukes, bishops, coronets, ermine, Baroness Wootton and all—and cast them on the scrap heap.

That is not the policy of the Labour Party. I do not say that as a reproach to the hon. Gentleman. I say it purely as a statement of fact. Indeed, the fact that a Measure is not the policy of the Government is for me prima facie evidence in its favour. It will be interesting to see what hon. Gentlemen opposite do. Will they embrace the right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. Harold Wilson), or will they cling to the hon. Member for Fife, West? It is an unenviable dilemma in which to be placed.

Having decided that the Upper House is to be destroyed, the immediate question to be answered is: what do we put in its place? The principal argument for retaining the House of Lords is precisely that, whatever defects it has, the schemes proposed to replace the present House of Lords are open to much graver objections.

First, the present Upper House is much better than a vacuum, which is what I gather the hon. Gentleman was suggesting. If a vacuum is created by abolishing the Upper House and putting nothing in its place one does not need prophetic gifts to see what will happen. The House of Commons will be even more overburdened than it is. We will get very much worse legislation than that which we have at the moment. The Executive will pass even further beyond control and the powers of party and the powers of Whips will be increased. I cannot believe that the hon. Gentleman, despite his recently acquired place in the Labour Establishment, wants to see the power of party increased.

The hon. Gentleman made much of ear trumpets and the like in the House of Lords, which we may all have to use when we come to the ear trumpet stage. Where are we to go at that point? It is better to wave ear trumpets in the other place than wave them on the pavement.

If there is not to be a vacuum, there will have to be a new second chamber, and the difficulties of constructing a new second chamber are almost equally great. No other country has succeeded in establishing a theoretically satisfactory second chamber. If it is suggested as some have, that there should be salaried life peers who will be appointed by the Prime Minister of the day, a situation will be created in which the Prime Minister will have more powers of patronage than any Prime Minister since Walpole. If it is suggested that there should be an elected second chamber, it will have to be given real and extensive powers, and there will then be a clash between the Commons and the other place such as there is in the United States today between the Senate and the House of Representatives.

By no merit or skill of our own, but by an accident of history we have a second chamber which, while I agree is indefensible in theory, works reasonably well in practice. I do not cite as a particular of that universal the recent rejection of the Rhodesian Order, which was referred to by the hon. Gentleman, but if one looks at the Land Commission Act, for example, surely the improvements in that Act justified the existence of the other place? The House of Lords works because there is a combination of two principles which look contradictory, but are in fact complimentary, the hereditary principle, and the principle of life peerages. To use a contemporary fashionable phrase, the House of Lords has evolved.

There is one simple solution which will solve all the problems, and that is to limit the voting power of the hereditary members of the House of Lords, but not abolish it altogether. In place of the rash and revolutionary suggestion put forward by the hon. Gentleman, I put that forward as my own moderate and modest contribution.

The House of Commons, it has been said—it will surprise no one to know that it was said by Walter Bagehot— has more wisdom than anyone in it. I hope it will show this by rejecting the hon. Member's Motion. After all, we have not been so successful in reforming our own procedures that we can afford to lord it over the other place.

I hope, also, that it will be taken as a signal to the Prime Minister to resume after his provoked tit-for-tat—I say provoked, not justified—the talks on the reform of the House of Lords which were about to bear fruit. After all, in the long run it is not the Prime Minister, nor the Leader of the Opposition, nor myself nor the hon. Member for Fife, West, who is important. It is Parliament that matters. Parties rise and fall, but it is Parliament that remains and abides, and Parliament consists not of one House but of two. I hope, therefore, that this House will strike a blow for Parliament today by rejecting this immoderate and ill-considered Bill.

Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North) rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot have a third speech in a debate under the Ten Minute Rule.

Mr. Hector Hughes

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) put down an early day Motion relating to the abolition of the House of Lords

That this House believes the time is now ripe for the abolition of the House of Lords.

I support my hon. Friend's proposal, but not in toto, and I therefore tabled an

Amendment to it, in line 1, to leave out from first "House" to the end and to add instead thereof: 'congratulates the Crown and the Government on those recent appointments to the House of Lords of men and women who have earned distinction in British life; and believes that the time is now ripe for the abolition of the hereditary principle and for making the House of Lords, as a Second Chamber, truly representative of the scientific, cultural, artistic and business life of the British nation '.

In those circumstances, surely I should be allowed to say a few words?

Mr. Speaker

The simple answer is that the hon. and learned Member is not allowed to speak in this debate. He must have read, or taken part in, or listened to many debates under the Ten-Minute Rule. There are only two speeches—one for and one against—and they ought to be confined to about 10 minutes each. If they extend beyond that they encroach on other valuable time of the House.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 13 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at the commencement of Public Business):—

The House divided: Ayes 132, Noes 223.

Division No. 242.] AYES [4.37 p.m.
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Ellis, John Kenyon, Clifford
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham) English, Michael Kerr, Mrs. Anno (R'ter & Chatham)
Barnett, Joel Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.) Kerr, Russell (Feltham)
Baxter, William Ewing, Mrs. Winifred Lawson, George
Bence, Cyril Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Leadbitter, Ted
Bennett, James (G'gow, Bridgeton) Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Ledger, Ron
Bidwell, Sydney Foot, Rt. Hn. Sir Dingle (Ipswich) Lee, John (Reading)
Binns, John Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale) Lestor, Miss Joan
Blenkinsop, Arthur Fraser, John (Norwood) Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.)
Booth, Albert Gardner, Tony Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Boston, Terence Garrett, W. E. Lyon, Alexander W. (York)
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth) McKay, Mrs, Margaret
Brown, Rt. Hn. George (Belper) Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen)
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Griffeths, Eddle Mackintosh, John P.
Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & F'bury) Hamilton, James (Bothwell) McMillan Tom (Glasgow, C)
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Hamilton, William (File, W.) McNamara, J. Kevin
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Hannan, William Mahon, Peter(Preston, S.)
Carter-Jones, Lewis Heffer, Eric S. Mahon, Simon (Bootle)
Coleman, Donald Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret Manuel, Archie
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Hilton, W. S. Marquand, David
Crawashaw, Richard Horner, John Maxwell, Robert
Cronin, John Howarth, Harry (Wellingborough) Mendelson J. J.
Culfen, Mrs. Alice Howie, W. Mikardo, Ian
Darling, Rt. Hn. George Huckfield, Leslie Millan, Bruce
Davies, Ednyfed Hudson (Conway) Hughes, Emrys (Ayrshire, S.) Miller, Dr. M. S.
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Milne, Edward (Blyth)
Dempsey, James Hughes, Roy (Newport) Moonman, Eric
Dewar, Donald Hunter, Adam Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)
Doig, Peter Hynd, John Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Driberg, Tom Jeger, Mrs.Lena (H'b'n&St.P'cras,S.) Moyle, Roland
Dunn, James A. Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull W.) Newens, Stan
Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th A C'b'e) Jones, Dan (Burnley) Oakes, Gordon
Eadie, Alex Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Ogden, Eric
Edelman, Maurice Judd, Frank Orme, Stanley
Edwards, William (Merioneth) Kelley, Richard Oswald, Thomas
Page, Derek (King's Lynn) Richard, Ivor Tomney, Frank
Pannel, Rt. Hn. Charles Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.) Watkins, David (Consett)
Park, Trevor Robertson, John (Paisley) Watkins, Tudor (Brecon & Radnor)
Parker, John (Dagenham) Rose, Paul Wilkins, W. A.
Parkyn, Brian (Bedford) Rowlands, E. (Cardiff, N.) Willis, Rt. Hn. George
Pavitt, Laurence Shinwell, Rt. Hn. E. Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd) Silverman, Julius Woof, Robert
Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.) Small, William
Price, Christopher (Perry Barr) Steele, Thomas (Dunbartonshire, W.) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Rankin, John Symonds, J. B. Mr. Albert Murray and
Mr. William Hamling.
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Goodhew, Victor Monro, Hector
Astor, John Gower, Raymond Montgomery, Fergus
Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n) Grant, Anthony More, Jasper
Awdry, Daniel Gresham Cooke R. Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh)
Baker, Kenneth (Acton) Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds) Morrison, Charles (Devizes)
Baker, W. H. K. (Banff) Gurden, Harold Murton, Oscar
Balniel, Lord Hall, John (Wycombe) Nabarro, Sir Gerald
Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony Hall-Davis, A G. F. Neave, Airey
Hamilton, Lord (Fermanagh) Nicholls, Sir Harmar
Batsford, Brian Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael
Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.) Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)
Bell, Ronald Harrison, Brian (Maldon) Nott, John
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay) Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Orr, Capt. L. P. S.
Bennett, Dr. Reginald(Gos, & Fhm) Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere Osborn, John (Hallam)
Berry, Hn. Anthony Hastings, Stephen Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth)
Biggs-Davison, John Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel Page, Graham (Crosby)
Birch, Rt. Hn. Nigel Heath, Rt. Hn. Edward Page, John (Harrow, W.)
Black, Sir Cyril Heseltine, Michael Pardoe, John
Blaker, Peter Higgins, Terence L. Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe)
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.) Hiley, Joseph Peel, John
Body, Richard Hill, J. E. B. Percival, Ian
Bossom, Sir Clive Holland, Philip Peyton, John
Brewis, John Hooson, Emlyn Pike, Miss Mervyn
Brinton, Sir Tatton Hordern, Peter Pink, R. Bonner
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Hornby, Richard Pounder, Rafton
Bruce-Gardyne, J. Howell, David (Guildford) Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch
Bryan, Paul Hunt, John Price, David (Eastleigh)
Bullus, Sir Eric Hutchison, Michael Clark Prior, J. M. L.
Burden, F. A. Iremonger, T. L. Pym, Francis
Campbell, B. (Oldham W.) Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Quennell, Miss J. M.
Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn) Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford) Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James
Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter
Cary, Sir Robert Johnson, Smith, G. (E. Grinstead) Rees-Davies, W. R.
Channon, H. P. G. Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David
Chichester-Clark, R. Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.) Rhys, Williams, Sir Brandon
Clark, Henry Jopling, Michael Ridley, Hn. Nicholas
Clegg, Walter Ridsdale, Julian
Cooke, Robert Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith Rippon, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey
Cooper-Key, Sir Neill Kaberry, Sir Donald Robson Brown, Sir William
Corfield, F. V. Kerby, Capt. Henry Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Costain, A.P. Kershaw Anthony Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne) Kimball, Marcus Royle, Anthony
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Sir Oliver Kirk, Peter Russell, Sir Ronald
Crouch, David Kitson, Timothy Scott, Nicholas
Cunningham, Sir Knox Knight, Mrs. Jill Scott-Hopkins, James
Currie, G. B. H. Lancaster, Col. C. G. Sharples, Richard
Dalkeith, Earl of Langford-Holt, Sir John Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Dance, James Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Silvester, Frederick
Davidson, James (Aberdeenshire, W.) Lever, L. M. (Ardwick) Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L' mington)
d' Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry) Lewis, Kenneth (Ruthland)
Digby, Simon Wingfield Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey(Sut'nC'dfield) Smith, John (London & W'minster)
Dodds-Parker, Douglas Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone) Speed, Keith
Doughty, Charles Longden, Gilbert Stainton, Keith
Douglas-Home, Rt. Hn. Sir Alec Loveys, W. H. Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Drayson, G. B. Lubbock, Eric Stodart, Anthony
Eden, Sir John McAdden, Sir Stephen Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.(Ripon)
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) MacArthur, Ian Tapsell, Peter
Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.) Mackenzie,Alasdair(Ross & Crom'ty) Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Emery, Peter Maclean, Sir Fitzroy Teeling, Sir William
Eyre, Reginald Macleod, Rt. Hn. lain Temple, John M.
Fisher, Nigel McMaster, Stanley Tilney, John
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Maginnis, John E. Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
Fortescue, Tim Marten, Nell van Straubenzee, W. R
Foster, Sir John Maude, Angus Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John
Fraser. Rt. Hn. Hugh(St'fford & Stone) Maudling, Rt. Hn. Reginald Vickers, Dame Joan
Galbraith, Hn. T. G. Mawby, Ray Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)
Gibson-watt, David Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Walker, Peter (Worcester)
Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.) Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr, S. L. C. Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek
Glover, Sir Douglas Mills, Peter (Torrington) Wall, Patrick
Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B. Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.) Walters, Dennis
Goodhart, Philip Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Ward, Dame Irene
Weatherill, Bernard Wilton, Geoffrey (Truro) Younger, Hn. George
Webster, David Winstanley, Dr. M. P.
Wells, John (Maidstone) Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William Woodnutt, Mark Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas and
Williann, Donald (Dudley) Worsley, Marcus Mr. Cranley Onslow.
Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater) Wylie, N. R.