§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 2.26 p.m.
§ The Lord Advocate (Mr. Norman Wylie)
I have it in command from the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Bill, has consented to place Her Prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.
§ 2.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Dick Leonard (Romford)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for the Home Department for his courtesy in obtaining the Queen's consent for the Bill to be debated this afternoon and to the Lord Advocate for attending the House to signify that consent.
When I introduced the Bill just over a month ago on 31st January, I set out the case for it in what I hope was a clear and lucid manner. I do not think it is necessary for me to go over the same ground again.
The Bill as now printed is an extremely straightforward and simple measure. It has only two clauses, the second being the Short Title of the Bill. Clause 1(1) provides thatPersons upon whom life peerages are conferred shall not be entitled to rank as barons or to use the style of baron …In plain words, that means that they will be known as Mr., Mrs. or Miss and that their spouses will not be entitled to any special designation. In the same way as hon. Members distinguish themselves by using the letters MP after their names, it will be open to life peers to use the letters LP.
Clause 1(2) provides that existing life peers shall cease to rank as barons from 1st January 1974. That should provide for a short transitional period during which existing life peers and their spouses can inform their friends and associates of their impending reversal to the status of commoners.
Clause 1(3) of the Bill declaresthat nothing in this Act shall prejudice the right of life peers to receive writs of 1914 summons to attend the House of Lords and and sit and vote therein.I hope that the House will agree to give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ 2.30 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Lane)
It may be convenient if I intervene briefly at this point because, in fairness to the House, I should first explain the circumstances in which the Government thought it right to tender advice to Her Majesty to place her Prerogative, so far as it is affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purpose of the Bill, and the significance of Her Majesty's consent.
When a Bill is introduced in the House which affects the Royal Prerogative, the Queen's consent must be signified; and this would be done at a very early stage —at the beginning of the Second Reading —where the Bill was mainly concerned, as is the present one, with matters affecting the Royal Prerogative, otherwise—I am sure that this would not have been the wish of the House—the Bill cannot be debated.
Therefore, the Government advised Her Majesty to place her Prerogative, so far as it is affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament so as to allow the debate on Second Reading to take place. I stress now that this in no way implies that the Crown, through its advisers, approves of the provisions of the Bill. It means that the Crown simply does not intend that lack of consent should debar Parliament from debating the Bill's provisions. Nor does it mean that Ministers accept the purport of the Bill, or that there is any inconsistency in Ministers advising the House, as I am bound to advise the House this afternoon, not to give the Bill a Second Reading.
The hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Leonard) was commendably brief in advocating the Bill to the House. I heard his speech on 31st January, when he sought leave to introduce the Bill and spoke at greater length, as he acknowledged today.
We should not proceed further in discussing the admittedly narrow purpose of the Bill without placing on record—I am a little disappointed that the hon. Gentleman did not do this—our appreciation of 1915 what the life peers have already contributed, if we may say so without presumption, in another place. I have been looking back at the debate in the House almost exactly 15 years ago, on 12th February 1958, when the then Home Secretary, now Lord Butler, moved the Second Reading of the Life Peerages Bill. He said:… we all know that in another place—whether we criticise it or not, and whether we are against its existence or not—the debates are very often of an exceptionally high quality and are contributed to by experts from a great many sections of our public life."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th February 1958; Vol. 582, c. 411.]That was Lord Butler's tribute to the House of Lords as it then was on its hereditary basis.
I hope that all of us in the House will agree how much truer it is today. Those of us who have listened to any debates there or who have read reports of debates in the House of Lords realise fully the great and growing contribution that has been made already in a relatively short period by the life peers, raising still further the quality of the debates and the value they have in our total parliamentary activities. I hope that it will not be thought to be presumptuous if I say that at the beginning of what I have to say.
However, returning to the narrow subject that we are now considering, the Bill—the "Call me Mr." Bill, or whatever label the hon. Member chooses to give it—provides that persons on whom life peerages are conferred shall cease to be entitled to the rank and style of barons, as from 1st January next year. Under the Bill, people who already enjoy that rank and style shall cease to enjoy it as from the same day, notwithstanding the letters patent by which it has been conferred. As the hon. Gentleman stressed, it is declared in the Bill thatnothing in this Act shall prejudice the right of life peers to receive writs of summons to attend the House of Lords and sit and vote therein.On 31st January, when the hon. Gentleman sought leave to introduce his Bill, he said:… the purpose of creating life peers … is not to elevate certain individuals above their fellows. … It …isto recruit men and women … who would serve Parliament and in another place, in a 1916 similar fashion though with a more restricted role, to the way in which hon. Members of this House seek to serve those we represent."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st January 1973; Vol. 849, c. 1362.]I do not think that that is an absolutely full and accurate statement of the intentions of the Life Peerages Act 1958, but I will not go further into that broader territory now.
The Government see two important kinds of objections to what the hon. Gentleman proposes in the Bill. The first sets of objection I can perhaps call legal constitutional objections and the second objections of policy.
In other countries which possess a second chamber in their legislature but which do not base membership of that second chamber on a system of peerage as we do—all of us can think of examples of this—it is possible to avoid the use of titles to describe the members of that second chamber other than some generic description such as "senator".
In this country the position is different, because the House of Lords consists of the lords spiritual and temporal and it is important to comply with the customs of Parliament and with the constitutional, historical and legal assumptions on which membership of the House of Lords is based. Any attempt, as it were, to dabble by legislation in the very complex web of those underlying assumptions I have mentioned is not something we should undertake lightly in a House which is not exactly packed to capacity this afternoon.
Hitherto, the object of legislation on the subject of life peers has been to slot life peers into the appropriate rank of the peerage. To deprive them of any rank, as the Bill purports to do, is a novel idea which could lead to complications and oddities. As the Queen's Prerogative as the fountain of honour is still retained despite the Bill, the Bill, as I understand it, would not prohibit the Queen by letters patent from conferring another rank and style on an existing life peer.
This is a very complicated area of our constitutional life—not without doubt—and again I do not want to go more widely into it this afternoon, except to assure the House that on the best advice I have been able to get the whole position would be thrown into considerable uncertainty if we were to pass the Bill.
§ Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)
I did not have the advantage of hearing what the hon. Gentleman said on 31st January, and his speech today was brief. Therefore, I am not too sure about his arguments. Would not the Bill introduce a kind of discrimination, in that the life peers would be designated "Mr." and yet the hereditary peers would keep their peerages? This would create a discrimination in the other place. We should not approve of this.
§ Mr. Lane
That is an interesting aspect. It could be called a kind of discrimination. That certainly would be the effect of the Bill, as the hon. Gentleman put it both on 31st January and earlier today. It is a point that my hon. Friend will, if he catches the eye of the Chair, no doubt wish to develop.
§ Mr. Leonard
Is not the House of Lords, above all legislative bodies, one in which there is a vast amount of discrimination already in that it is composed of various ranks of the peerage? Therefore, it is not an argument against the Bill that it will introduce discrimination into another place.
§ Mr. Lane
Reverting to the Bill, we must consider in deciding whether to give it a Second Reading, whether it is permissible to create a life peer without incidents that relate to the dignity, or rank and style of the life peer. There is a long history behind the question of life peers. Much of it stems from a famous case of the 1850s known as the Wensleydale case.
At that time the Queen had conferred a life peerage on a judicial officer of high standing to strengthen the judicial powers in the House of Lords, but she was not prepared to confer a hereditary peerage on him. When the writ was presented, the House of Lords took exception to this and set up a Select Committee to consider whether the Crown had power to create life peers.
The debates then ranged around four main questions: first, the "locus" of the House to question Baron Parke's patent; second, the legality of the patent and the effect of the writ; third, whether the issue of such a patent, even if legal, was in accordance with constitutional prin- 1918 ciples; and, fourth, the general expediency of creating life peers.
I do not need to go further into the detail over this. I just summarise for the House that the question of the legality of the patent was not finally settled at that time. It was admitted that life peers had been created, but the precedents were not conclusive. Some life peerages had been given to aliens, who could not, for that reason, sit in the House. Some had been given to peers who already had seats. Some had been created in Parliament, and in the case of some others there was no evidence whether they had or had not taken their seats—a position of even greater uncertainty, I put to the House, that we could find ourselves in if we pass the Bill today. But it was also admitted that no life peerage had been conferred on a male person for 400 years and it was on the argument of desuetude that the question whether this particular use of the Prerogative was or was not constitutional was discussed.
The result of all those debates on these issues and the finding thatneither the Letters Patent nor the said Letters Patent with the usual Writ of Summons issued in pursuance thereof can entitle the grantee therein named to sit and vote in Parliamenthave led to the position that, whether the decision was right or wrong, life peerages with a seat in the House could be created only by legislation.
That was the established position soon after the middle of the last century. The next development was the passage of the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876. Section 6 of that Act provided for the appointment of lords of appeal in ordinary by the Queen. It provided thatevery Lord of Appeal in Ordinary, unless he is otherwise entitled to sit as a member of the House of Lords, shall by virtue and according to the date of his appointment, be entitled during his life to rank as a baron by such style as Her Majesty may be pleased to appoint, and shall … be entitled to a writ of summons to attend, and to sit and vote in the House of Lords; his dignity as a Lord of Parliament shall not descend to his heirs".In that Act the decision was taken to equate, apart from the question of hereditability—the passing on of the title—the lords of appeal in ordinary to the rank of baron, that being one of the ranks of peers known to the law and mentioned in the House of Lords Precedence Act 1539. It was the lowest of those ranks.
1919 The House will be relieved that I do not propose to go into detail on the precedence in the House of Lords Act 1539, but I have the Act here and I draw the attention of the House to Section 7, dealing with the ranks of seniority of the nobility, from dukes onwards. It is Section 7 which is relevant to the argument I am putting to the House.
§ Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)
Before leaving this interesting aspect, will my hon. Friend discuss the position of bishops? That would be very helpful to the House in fully understanding the position of a bishop sitting in the House of Lords.
§ Mr. Lane
I do not want to get drawn into the territory of bishops this afternoon. That is something for those more expert than me, and I do not wish to be led astray that far.
Coming back to nearer the present time and to the start of this debate today, the passage of the Life Peerages Act 1958 followed the precedent of the 1876 Act in conferring the rank and style of baron on life peers. That was deliberately done so that life peers—again, apart from the question of hereditability —equated with one of the existing ranks of peers. An attempt to remove from life peerages any references to style and rank must create doubts as to what the precedence of life peers is. That is why I have reminded the House of the 16th century Act and of the question whether there has been full compliance with the customs of Parliament about the persons entitled to be summoned as Lords of Parliament.
I go to the 19th century Act as well as the more recent one. There was a deliberate effort made when the question of life peerages came up in 1876 and in 1958 to avoid touching on wider issues of peerage law, which is an exceedingly complicated subject. A further aspect has been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. John Page) about bishops. As to equating the life peer to one existing dignity of the peerage, my point is that if one tries partially to unscramble or to disturb this very complicated position, as the Bill does, one is left in considerable uncertainty as to what remains. That is the difference in the complex com- 1920 position of the other place in this country compared with second chambers in other countries, which makes it unwise to give the Bill a Second Reading today.
So much for the legal, constitutional aspects, as I see them. I should like to go from there on to more political ground and matters of policy, reminding the House again that the policy of the 1958 Act was, in the absence of agreement between the parties on a more radical reform of another place, to strengthen the House of Lords by creating life peers who would be able to attend that House regularly and take part in debates.
As was recognised then—it may be still more true today—many people are reluctant, for a variety of reasons, to accept hereditary peerages. The aim was to enlarge the field of choice and make it possible to offer life peerages to people of distinction in the public service and to people who could represent some aspect or other of the nation's life with authority, or people who could assist the parties in the conduct of parliamentary business.
I mentioned variety in the wider composition of the House of Lords, the different ranks of nobility, the bishops and others, who are already members of it. But there is also the increasing variety we recognise within the ranks of the life peers who have brought their experience and special knowledge to the House of Lords from a great many other areas of our national life.
But the proposal in 1958 was that the life peerages and the incidents attaching to them should be on exactly the same footing as hereditary peerages with the exception of hereditability. An amendment was rejected during the passage of the Bill through Parliament in 1958. That amendment would have deleted Clause 1(ii)(a) of the Bill and was intended to secure that life peers should not have the style of baron. That simple sentence in the 1958 Act entitled someone when created as a life peerto rank as a baron under such style as may be appointed by Letters Patent.It was the deletion of those words which was suggested in Committee in the 1958 debates and which the House rejected at that time, I believe rightly.
The philosophy of the 1958 Act was, frankly, to achieve its purpose of 1921 strengthening the second Chamber with the minimum of change. As I have said, there had not been at that time all-party agreement on the lines of change. In other words, it was evolutionary and not revolutionary. Life peers were placed on the same footing as hereditary barons, except for the hereditability. We believe that this equality of treatment as between members of the second Chamber is more desirable, and leads to a better relationship in practice, than what many people would regard as the inverted snobbery of the hon. Member's proposals in the Bill. As a practical matter, that is quite separate from the legal and constitutional difficulties that I have tried to state.
By long-established custom, the responsibility for advising the sovereign on the creation of peerages rests with the Prime Minister. The Home Office has no knowledge of the principles on which his advice is given either generally or in a particular case. Nearly 200 distinguished men and women who have been created life peers and peeresses are serving in the other place. There is no reason to think that on the whole persons on whom a life peerage is conferred do not receive the honour with a degree of pride, and that their families are not pleased to share in it, if for no other reason than as an acknowledgement of the contribution the life peer has made and is continuing to make to public life.
There is considerable value, particularly in the way in which we develop and improve our parliamentary institutions, in tradition and continuity. We continue our traditions, but at the same time we are continually changing them.
There is a value, too, in sharing in the growth and development of an institution with a long history and with an important role to play in the modern world, as we have recognised this afternoon.
If we accept honours at all, if we accept that there should be a distinctive second chamber, with its own distinctive method of recruitment, there is much to be said for not disturbing arrangements that are generally understood and accepted and on the whole work well.
For all those reasons, I advise the House not to give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ 2.52 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)
The Minister's greatest achievement in the course of that mini-filibuster was to keep a straight face. We have never seen a Friday like this. We had a speech of 54 minutes from the Minister who spoke on the previous Bill and now we have had a 22-minute speech from the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. I wonder what the Government are trying to stop.
About half an hour ago I saw the Minister going through his brief in the Tea Room, getting ready for an hour's speech. I should very much like a copy of his full brief. I hope he will be good enough to send me a copy, especially of the bits he missed out. That would save me a great deal of trouble, because I am doing a little homework on the matter.
I was very interested to hear that the Queen had placed her Prerogative at the Government's disposal. I wonder what would have happened if she had not.
Some years ago the late Emrys Hughes introduced a Bill to abolish the honours system, and I think it received a Second Reading. I have reason to believe that the present Monarch indicated that she wished to have it defeated, and it went no further, not for that reason but because of the procedural difficulties of which my hon. Friend the Member for Rom-ford (Mr. Leonard) has had some display today. He has heard of the tremendous constitutional difficulties in calling a plain life peer "Mr.".
The sooner we get round to abolishing the other place the better. That is the answer to my hon. Friend's problem, and it is my target. It has been my target since I came here, though I have had a singular lack of success so far because—the Minister is right—there are so many people whose vanity is such that they like to be called Lord this, Lord Muck or Lady whatever. It would be a great shame in some ways to deprive them of that innocent pleasure. But it is part of the fabric of snobbery, vanity, humbug and class that we are bedevilled with.
If we are to have titles and honours, there is much to be said for what Lloyd George did, for selling the damned things. Let us make an export market of it. It would be a major growth industry.
§ Mr. Lane
To help us weigh up his arguments, will the hon. Gentleman tell us how many times in the past few weeks he has listened to debates in the other place? I think, for example, of the debates on the National Health Service Reorganisation Bill and debates that I have heard about the immigration rules, which have been exceedingly helpful in raising or underlining a number of points that were not made here. What are the hon. Gentleman's credentials for arguing for abolition as he has done?
§ Mr. Hamilton
The hon. Gentleman's questions do not constitute an argument against the Bill. If the second chamber continued with those in it called plain Mr. and Mrs., the quality of the debates would not be altered. [Interruption.] That was the point the Minister was arguing; part of his argument was linked to it, and not to the proposition that I put.
It is commonly asserted that the quality of the debates along the corridor is invariably better than the quality of debate here. But that is not the case. It may be true in certain instances, but in others I have witnessed pretty desultory debates there.
We are the only legislature with a second chamber that is hereditary and non-elected. It is time we got rid of it.
§ Mr. Ernle Money (Ipswich)
The hon. Gentleman has put forward a sweeping proposition about the other chamber. Will he bear in mind that it has been able to initiate debates on some of the subjects that we have been anxious to debate on Fridays and have been prevented from debating because the other day the hon. Gentleman decided pell-mell to object to every Bill? I say that as one who is, I think, as regular a Friday attendant as is the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Hamilton
That was at four o'clock, when in any case the Bills could not be debated. There could have been more debates today if the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment had not spoken for 54 minutes on the previous Bill, deliberately to prevent certain other Bills on the Order Paper from being reached.
§ Mr. Leonard
Does my hon. Friend agree that the logic of interruptions by Conservative Members is that debates in 1924 this chamber would be infinitely more effective if we all saddled ourselves with ludicrous mediæval appendages to our names?
§ Mr. Money
I cite to the hon. Gentleman particularly the Football Betting Levy Board Bill, to which he objected not because he had any inherent objection to it, I understand, but because he was in a mood to object to every other Bill. There have been debates on that subject in the other place but not here, because the hon. Gentleman used his power to object to it.
§ Mr. Hamilton
The hon. Gentleman must understand the procedures of this House. If we have rules so absurd as to allow any Member, very often unidentified, to block a Bill at four o'clock, I shall use them. It will happen again today. The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment undertook that task a short time ago. The hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Money) knows very well that the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment spoke for 54 minutes deliberately to prevent us from reaching certain other very important Bills because at that point there was not one Tory backbench Member to support him.
The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department has made very heavy weather of this Bill. He talked about constitutional matters. It was a lot of balderdash. If we made people members of the other place and called them Mr. or Mrs. it would make no difference to their quality. It would get rid of some of the snobbery about which my hon. Friend the Member for Romford spoke when he sought leave to introduce the Bill. Many of our colleagues in the other place feel embarrassed by this kind of flummery. They come into the Tea Room and invariably say, especially if they have been members of this House, "Call me Joe" or "Call me Bill. For goodness' sake do not call me Lord". That is the penalty which they pay for going along to the other place, sitting and snoozing and drawing £8 or £10 a day. That is the sacrifice which they make.
I should much prefer it if we were to get rid of the other place, but we shall not achieve that. Therefore, I sponsored this Bill because I thought that it was a teeny weeny step in the right direction. 1925 It does not matter a hoot what those along The Mall say. If the Government want to do it, they will do it.
§ 3.1 p.m.
§ Mr. John Tilney (Liverpool, Wavertree)
The hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) and I have been on certainly one delegation together. I appreciate his views on certain aspects of life in this country. I think that they are wrong, but I do not object to his speaking about them and propagating them. However, his argument was a little odd when he referred to the Minister preparing an hour's speech and then complained that he had spoken for only 22 minutes.
We know that the wish of the hon. Gentleman—he has expressed it many times—is to see a republic in this country. I object to that very strongly. The object of this Bill is to put one small nail—no more—into what the hon. Gentleman thinks is the coffin of heredity and, ultimately, of the monarchy in this country. That is why he supports this Bill.
§ Mr. Leonard
If the hon. Gentleman is so solicitous about the maintenance of the monarchy, will he bear in mind that those European countries which ceased to dish out ludicrous titles to the nobility in the last century are largely monarchies today but those countries which continued to manufacture mediaeval titles have done away with the institution of the monarchy? If the hon. Gentleman is concerned about the monarchy, he should welcome and not oppose the Bill.
§ Mr. Tilney
I think that the position and duty of those in the other place who serve the Crown are more important than the question of what they are called. But I do not accept the views of the hon. Members for Fife, West and Romford (Mr. Leonard) in wishing to do away with the history and background of Britain.
The hon. Member for Fife, West referred to the snobbery and vanity existing in this country. Does he want to change human nature? In every century and in every age there have been and will be snobbish and vain people. It is part of the human set-up. It does not much matter whether people are called life peers, senators or what the hon. Gentleman wants to call them. He wishes to abolish the other place, and he has said 1926 so, and that despite all the evidence that the other place is a most valuable amending piece of our constitution in the way of legislation, and also a valuable means of bringing into being new ideas.
Now I refer to what the hon. Gentleman the Member for Romford first said in his very brief speech. He urged that new life peers should be called Mr. or Mrs. or Miss. Again, he entirely forgets the history of this country, and human nature. I happen to believe that the British people are fiercely conservative, and, indeed, the result of yesterday's by-elections to some extent, I think, shows that. They dislike extremes in every way.
§ Mr. Tilney
I quite accept that we are a nation of snobs, but that is part of our make-up, and I do not think we are any the worse for it.
Now I would like to comment on what the Minister said about the quality of the debates in the House of Lords and the value of having a second Chamber. It happens to be a tradition of this country that there are titles. In Canada and America, people are elected as senators. Senators have a position of power. Do not let us change the whole feeling of the British race for what we have inherited from the past. It may be said that many of the lords temporal are endowed with spirit and that lords spiritual are only temporary. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. John Page), who was in the Chamber a short time ago, asked a question about the bishops, who are, of course, peers for only a limited space of time.
I want to refer to that shortly, but before doing so I would say that the Minister is right in referring to what has happened to legislation in the last century—the Wensleydale case, letters patent only by legislation in the middle of the last century, and the legislation and history of lords of appeal in ordinary—by an Act of as long ago as 1539. It may seem absurd that we go back to those distant centuries. Nobody wishes more to be modern than I, but we had a debate earlier today about the conservation and protection of wrecks. I see the hon. Member for Romford laughs, but nobody can say that those 1927 in the other place are wrecks in any way. The range and quality of their debates is just as high as that of those in this House. The Minister was right in believing that the way we do things is evolutionary and not revolutionary and in referring to this Bill as inverted snobbery.
§ Mr. Money
Would my hon. Friend deal with one matter? There is frequent complaint in this Chamber that the legal affairs of Scotland are not given sufficient emphasis or are not dealt with as often or as much as are the legal affairs of this part of the Kingdom. I wonder if my hon. Friend would agree that one of the reasons for that might be that, whereas a very large number of the English judges sit automatically in the other place as a result of being lords of appeal in ordinary, the senators of the College of Justice in Scotland do not enter in the same way.
§ Mr. Tilney
This is an interesting intervention by my hon. Friend. Unfortunately, I know almost nothing about Scottish law and I am not qualified to comment on it.
I have one or two suggestions about what should be done in any future reform of the House of Lords——
§ Mr. Leonard
On a point of order. I should like your ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, on the relevance of some of the speeches we have heard on the contents of the Bill. In introducing the Bill I restricted myself entirely to its contents, which concern the rank and style of life peers and have nothing to do with the powers of the other place.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. E. L. Malta-lieu)
It is customary to allow a fairly wide range on a Bill of this nature.
§ Mr. Tilney
Thank you for your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
The Minister referred to the history of the award of honours. I remind the House that man does not live by bread alone. He likes honours of many kinds. If the British Commonwealth is not to go the way of the Holy Roman Empire, as I fear it may, I am in favour of a Commonwealth medal or Commonwealth honours given on the advice of the Presidents and Prime Ministers of the Com- 1928 monwealth by the Head of the Commonwealth. There is no doubt that people like honours.
I regret that the Labour Party in introducing in the last Parliament a Bill to reform the House of Lords ran away from the combined attack of the extreme Left and the extreme Right. Many of the ideas contained in the Bill were right.
The Minister said that there are nearly 200 life peers. If we are to have more and more life peers the danger is that they will become a collection of senior citizens and that there will be fewer young men, whose vigour is of so much help to the other place, although I admit that they are not elected.
I hope that the idea of temporary peers will be considered. Bishops have been mentioned—they are temporary peers. I should like the head of the TUC, the head of the CBI and the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, and the head of the free churches, to be peers of Parliament. I should also like the heads of all the nationalised industries to be temporary peers. This would allow them to be quizzed occasionally about their particular industry. I regret that the Post Office has become a corporation. It was more efficient in the days when we could ask detailed questions about it in this House. If noble Lords were able to ask the men in charge of nationalised industries about questions of detail the efficiency of those industries might be improved.
Children of life peers are entitled to be called "honourable". Some of them may not be honourable in their behaviour, but I believe that most of them are. They carry that title with pride in the actions and the service performed by their parents, whoever they may be. It would be a pity to do away with this evolution of British history.
Life peers are always barons. In the tradition of British history, I do not see why a Prime Minister should not become a life earl or why a senior minister should not be made a life viscount, as in the past they have become permanent earls and viscounts. I am fundamentally against an increased permanent hereditary peerage, although I believe there is something to be said for a younger generation coming along that possesses vigour. I hope that the House will reject the Bill.
§ 3.15 p.m.
§ Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Chigwell)
I must apologise to the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Leonard) because I did not hear the entirety of his speech, although I heard the whole of the speech he made when arguing the motion for leave to introduce this Bill. Part of the trouble today was that his speech did not go on for very long. I was in the Chamber very soon after he rose to his feet but he obviously thought it best to sit down very quickly. I believe that it would have been better had he decided to abandon this silly little Bill altogether.
Somebody, I cannot remember who, once said "No bishops, no king". I was not surprised to hear the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton), who has now abandoned us, intervene in this debate. Indeed, he is one of the Bill's sponsors. He said that he had a target, and his target was the House of Lords. I felt that that was his target for today and that he has another target—namely, the Throne.
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) said that the hon. Member for Fife, West was a republican, and the hon. Gentleman did not deny it. On the other hand, he never says it very openly, frankly or honestly to this House, to his constituents or to the country. It would be much healthier for our politics if those who are republicans said so. We have had republicans in this House before.
In Queen Victoria's reign it was often said that Queen Victoria would be the last monarch to sit on an English throne. It did not happen like that, but there were honest republicans in those days who were also respected politicians. There was Sir Charles Dilke. I very much respect his politics, particularly his Liberal imperialism, if not his personal morality. There was also Joseph Chamberlain, whom I respect very much. They were both republicans and they made no secret of it as Members of the House of Commons—although Joseph Chamberlain learned much better later and obviously saw the value of the monarchy in the Imperial and Commonwealth system.
If the Bill is a snide attack on the treasured institutions of our land, including the monarchy, it is a Bill which we must oppose, and I hope that we shall deal with it faithfully in the Division Lobby.
1930 The hon. Member for Fife, West, who has now returned to us, spoke of flummery and underlined his objection to it. I consider that this is a flummery Bill because it deals with unimportant details, constitutional minutiae. There is something obsessive about it. The hon Gentleman is a great believer in non-discrimination and he is connected with an anti-discrimination Bill. I must tell the House that this is a discrimination Bill which apparently wants to discriminate by title between different sections of the other place.
§ Mr. Leonard
If the Bill reaches Committee and the hon Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) wishes to move an amendment to take away titles from all peers. I assure him that I would look very favourably upon it.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
I might tell the hon. Member for Romford that I would have no intention of doing anything like that and that this House ought to be dealing with more important matters at this grave time in our history.
Reference was made by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department to the proposed "radical reform" of the House of Lords. I took part in those debates. I was one who opposed that Bill. It is one of the glories of the back benches of this House that we were able to defeat the consensus of the two Front Benches which put forward this so-called radical reform of the House of Lords.
I made suggestions somewhat in keeping with those mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Wavertree which were perhaps more radical. I wished the House of Lords to provide a more rational representation of the interests of the country. But I stipulated in my argument that there should be an hereditary element in the House of Lords. It is good, wise and sensible, especially having regard to the record of hereditary peers, to keep an hereditary element in the other place and to maintain constitutional continuity.
That does not mean that I want any distinction made in respect of those in the other place who are not hereditary peers. I want the hereditary principle to be maintained. I see no reason why recommendations for hereditary peerages 1931 should not be made. At the same time, the life peers do an honourable job of great importance and many of them are thoroughly congenial to Opposition Members. I see no reason why life peers should be singled out without, I imagine, consulting their wishes. Do they wish to be addressed differently?
We heard an extraordinary argument from the hon. Member for Fife, West about the way that life peers come down to the Tea Room from another place and say "Call me Bill"—or Willie. I never knew that I was supposed only to address Members of another place by their titles. I must do better in future and say "My Lord" and not address any of them by their Christian names. I have never heard such a ridiculous, trivial point made.
That is the burden of my objection to the Bill. I object very strongly and sincerely to the time of this House being taken up by this miserable little measure. Its unimportance is illustrated by the lack of interest shown by those great radical reformers who sponsor it. They are a pretty Lib-Lab lot. Where are they? They are not interested. It is unimportant.
It is utterly regrettable that at this time the House should be making itself ridiculous by having to deal with this absurd, trivial and frivolous Bill. There are great problems before the country. We heard criticism about the length of the brief supplied to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. I should have thought that at this time a Home Office Minister ought to be more concerned with the security of the Realm than with nonsense of this kind.
What is more, there are other issues—perhaps not such great ones as inflation or the security of the State—which are of considerable concern to our constituents. Hon. Members can read the Order Paper. They can see that we have still to consider the Dangerous Drugs and Disabled Children Bill and the Elderly and Disabled Persons (Warning Devices) Bill. I should have thought that those were measures which our constituents would rather have us debate than this proposed legislation. I hope that we shall hear no more of this silly little Bill.
§ 3.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)
This is an entirely unnecessary Bill. I know of no public desire for the changes it proposes. It seeks to destroy part of the fabric of our heritage and I therefore oppose it. I shall briefly mention the reasons why I believe the House should decline to give the Bill a Second Reading.
In my view, Members of this House and those of another place are clearly distinguished by their style or title. Both are Members of Parliament but it is important to distinguish between them. This is achieved by using the rank, style, title or dignity of barony in another place, whilst in this House we continue proudly to be known as Mr., Mrs. or Miss. It is also important for us to realise that during the past 10 years virtually no hereditary peerages have been created. This means that most if not all new Members of the House of Lords are now life peers. However, there is no evidence that I know of which demonstrates that life peers are in any way inferior to hereditary peers. Why, then, should they not have their rank, style, title and dignity of barony in the same way as their colleagues? I can think of no reason at all.
Then there is the historical and traditional rôle of the peerage itself, which is much admired throughout the world. It would, I believe, be threatened if the dignity of peerage were in any way reduced by depriving the life peers of the style of "baron". I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) that the House of Lords should be strengthened and should continue to thrive and that new peers should he created who can bring knowledge and expertise to its proceedings.
The acceptance of a life peerage involves a considerable commitment on the part of those concerned. It calls for considerable sacrifices in terms of time and effort. I cannot, therefore, see why such peers should be expected to serve their country whilst at the same time being known by some lesser style than that of the lowest rank of the peerage.
Then, of course, there is the position of life peeresses, who would be placed in a somewhat delicate position. Would they be known as Mrs. or Miss in another place if this peculiar Bill were enacted? I say this because surely it would 1933 create a position in which we would have just the kind of stupid discrimination which we are trying to eliminate by means of another Bill which is before the House.
Last week I listened with considerable interest to the debate in another place on education. I was struck by the tremendously high standard of the debate and by the contributions made by a number of life peers. Equally, I have shown many visitors the House of Lords. Most of them have expressed a keen interest in its traditions and in the part it plays in the life of Parliament. Part of that tradition is the rank or style of baron, which goes with life membership of the House of Lords. I think that this style or title should continue to be conferred on life peers and that they should continue to be known as barons. I therefore wish to oppose the Bill and get on with the more important business that is before us.
§ 3.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernle Money (Ipswich)
Like my hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney), for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) and for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby), I think that this is a thoroughly bad Bill. It is unnecessary, humourless, pompous, bossy and also rather sinister. I will come in a moment to the underlying constitutional motives which were present, not so much in the very brief opening speech by the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Leonard)—which unfortunately I, too, did not hear in full, although I have heard him on an earlier occasion—but when the cat jumped out of the hag during the remarks of the hon. Member who represents part of the Kingdom of Fife—the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton).
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Wavertree, I think that the present system of peerages, either hereditary or life, does no sort of harm and gives a good deal of pleasure both to the recipients of honours and also to the British public as a whole, who have always dearly loved a lord. But I think it goes further than that. A very important point was involved in the remarks of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department about the way in which our bicameral system works.
What has not been suggested by the hon. Member for Romford is what alternative method of summons will be 1934 available to bring life Members into the other place if this piddling little Bill goes through. From the point of view of sheer common sense I suggest that the system which has been evolved under the Life Peerages Act 1958 is a sensible way of dealing with the practical difficulty of getting a number of people who have distinguished themselves in public life to give service in the other place.
It seems to me that its very simplicity is its strength, and that rather than having to go through some form of complicated electoral system, rather than having to go through some form of temporary appointment or selection, rather than having to go through some form of selection the embarrassment of which we have seen recently with regard to the representation of this House at Strasbourg when people start playing politics with important constitutional matters of this kind, we should adhere to the simple process of the issue of Letters Patent, thereby making it possible, on the basis of those Letters Patent and the Writ of Summons, for someone to sit in the other place. That is the sane way to deal with the matter.
Coupled with that there is the difficulty of the basis on which a Member of the other part of the legislature is to be there. We are here, and we are proud to be here, because we are elected by our constituents. That is why it is common to refer to us not by our surnames or Christian names but as the Members for certain constituencies.
If the system envisaged in the Bill were introduced there would be two classes of persons in the other place: one, so long as the hon. Member for Fife, West does not get his way, could be the hereditary peers, and the other would be those who have been summoned to sit in the chamber. The system would not only represent discrimination of the kind that is invidious, silly and rather tiresome but would also create difficulty over just how or why those persons are there.
They would no longer be there on the basis of a Writ of Summons. They would no longer be there on the basis of their position under the 1958 Act, on the summons of Her Majesty. Instead, they would arrive there in some mysterious and neuter way and would not be referred to as Lord or Lady whatever it may be, on 1935 the basis of the Writ of Summons, but as Mr., Mrs. or Miss, which is something that is not done in this place.
From a constitutional point of view, where the system is working well and is doing no harm to anybody, except possibly to the rather soap-box attitude of one or two sponsors of the Bill, it is pointless to create a situation which will add to the complexities of our legislature, add to the difficulties of our constitution and create an entirely needless sort of mini-complexity.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Fife, West has left the Chamber because I should like now to deal with one other matter which arises out of the debate this afternoon, and that is the whole question of the way in which so often in debates of this nature we are told that by raising any point at all we are in some way acting in a hostile manner to other legislation which might be considered during the afternoon. I was surprised that the hon. Member for Romford, who immediately interjected when my hon. Friend the Member for Wavertree was speaking, made no interjection of the same sort when his hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West departed from the immediate aspects of the Bill and turned to the whole principle of the existence of the other place.
The matter goes much further than that because Friday legislation is something which the House has every reason to guard jealously to itself. It is one of the great bulwarks that the back-bencher has. I hope that we will not reach a situation when on whatever matter is being debated —and we are of course subject, as the hon. Member for Fife, West said with great relish, to the luck of the draw and the one system, so that the hon. Gentleman can, if he feels disposed, use the system to keep out all kinds of useful legislation if he is upset by one particular matter—the proposers will say "We have brought in a Bill. It may be a thoroughly bad Bill. It may be a Bill that needs to be inspected and which shows up a shabby bit of nonsense for what it is, but no one should get up and criticise it and seek to look at its object because there may be other matters waiting in the queue."
§ Mr. Phillip Whitehead (Derby, North)
On a point of order. I respectfully sug- 1936 gest, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that these are matters which would be better raised on Business Questions to the Leader of the House than in a debate on the substance of the Bill.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
The matter was raised by the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton), so it is open to my hon. Friend to mention it. Is it not curious that the hon. Member for Fife, West says with great gusto and glee that he will use the system against Bills that he dislikes and is sanctimonious and self-righteous when he can use the system for the Bills that he happens to favour?
§ Mr. Money
Indeed, the hon. Gentleman is in and out like a yo-yo. It may be that he is preparing his list of Bills to which to object. The unfortunate thing is that what the hon. Gentleman said went far further than objecting to Bills that he disliked. He said that he would object to any Bill if he was in the mood to object to it.
We are discussing a matter which is of fundamental importance to the House. If we are to protect the system it behoves back-benchers on both sides of the House to urge Front-Benchers on both sides to maintain the rights of hon. Members to introduce legislation. The Government have a large representation on the Front Bench in comparison with the present nil representation on the Opposition Front Bench. Friday legislation and Friday debating must be maintained. It seems that some hon. Members want to be able to introduce a Bill of this sort with the briefest sort of discussion so that they can go out into a wider forum and discuss it on television or in the Sunday Press. The proper place in which 1937 to discuss a Bill, whether it is good or bad, is this House.
§ 3.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Sproat
If the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) had been here earlier he would have known that I spoke twice in a previous debate. He would be on a better wicket if he were to ask me why I was speaking again. However, it is not for me to put arguments into his mouth. I returned to the Chamber and, to my surprise, saw that this Bill was being debated. I had not expected us to get this far. Owing to the succinctness with which my hon. Friends and I presented our case on the Protection of Wrecks Bill, and owing to the even more succinct manner in which the hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. Gregor Mackenzie) propounded his very estimable Bill, the House has time to debate this Bill. I am glad that I am lucky enough to be in London to participate in this debate.
I do not share all the strictures that have been heaped upon the head of the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Leonard). The hon. Member used to appear on television as a distinguished academic and advance all sorts of interesting ideas as a psephologist in debates on election results. I was interested to hear his comments in those days, just as I was interested to hear about what he had to say earlier on the question of the House of Lords. I heard the hon. Gentleman's speech when he introduced the Bill under the Ten-Minutes Rule procedure on 31st January.
It is right that the type of intellectual discussion which the hon. Gentleman no doubt had at university—theoretical discussion on the question of the constitution—should be debated in the House. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Money) said, this is the place where these matters should be debated. Debates on these matters should not be confined to academic high tables, to television discussions, or even to the Sunday newspapers.
1938 This has been described as a petty matter. It is not altogether petty. It is important that it be discussed, and it is not petty in itself, because the House of Lords is not a petty subject. Anything which is so substantial a part of the British constitution cannot be described as petty. Whether this is the right time to raise the matter is another question. Interesting and important though the subject is, many hon. Members will doubtless feel that we should be discussing more important matters.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
Does my hon. Friend agree that there can be a petty Bill on an important matter?
§ Mr. Sproat
That is a semantic distinction which is of great value. Possibly my hon. Friend's description is exactly right.
Many people believe that such subjects as rising prices, extremism in trade unions, and the great matters which will arise on the Budget next week, could be more fruitfully discussed, apart altogether from the other matters listed on the Order Paper for today which would have been reached had it not been for this petty Bill. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman chose to raise this interesting subject at this time.
I am very sorry to see that the hon. Member for what my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich so correctly called part of the Kingdom of Fife—Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton)—is not present. I know that it is customary here to give notice of intention to mention an hon. Member, but I believe that this applies more to the intention to refer to him in a derogatory rather than in a friendly manner. I therefore hope that the hon. Member will not mind my mentioning him as I intend to do so in a friendly way.
We all know that the hon. Member is a staunch republican. We all know his views on this matter. I was very sorry not to hear them today because he usually puts them forward with some humour, even though occasionally we on this side feel that he oversteps the line. I look forward to reading in HANSARD what he said, though I am sure that anyone who cares to buy a copy of the Sunday Record will find his remarks in the weekly column he writes in that paper, in which no doubt he gets rid in 1939 print of all the things he could not say in the House of Commons. At the same time, his is a very fair column.
One reason for my objecting very strongly to this Bill is that it would so substantially alter the character of the House of Lords. Once we start referring to members there as "Mr.", or "Miss", or even, perhaps, as knights or baronets, would the hon. Gentleman allow that?
§ Mr. Leonard
If the hon. Gentleman had done the House the courtesy of reading the Bill before speaking on it he would not have found it necessary to ask that question.
§ Mr. Sproat
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman does not know that yesterday the Public Accounts Committee published its findings on North Sea oil, and I am sure that my constituents would agree with me that my time has been better spent in trying to master the contents of that document than in reading such piffling rubbish as this Bill is.
§ Mr. Money
My hon. Friend is on a valid point because part of the matters the Bill proposes to deal with is Section 6 of the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876. What could be more invidious among the hereditary peers than the position of "Mr. Justice" as, presumably, from then onwards, whoever the judges might be, they would be known. It would really be an impossible situation where one had someone appointed not on the basis of second chamber membership, because he has been made a life peer, but on the basis of "Mr. Justice Smith" or "Mr. Justice Brown"? That would create a totally false sort of embarrassment that does not exist there now.
§ Mr. Sproat
My hon. Friend very shrewdly points to a matter that had escaped my attention and which I hope the Front Benches will consider. I would also suggest that we will get into very grave difficulties in regard to law. My hon. Friend quotes English law, and I should like to know the position in Scottish law. I see my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate sitting there; possibly he himself might find that a rather tricky question to answer from the top of his head. This shows the sort of incongruities into which the hon. Member will lead us.
§ Mr. Tilney
My hon. Friend has asked about Scottish law, but it is not very clear whether the Bill would apply to Scotland, or even to Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Sproat
That is not a point for me to clarify but, again, I hope that the Front Benches will have noted it.
I would not mind the House of Lords being altered in many ways, but not in the way suggested by the hon. Member for Romford. I consider that one of the factors which makes the House of Lords so valuable is that its members are not, as we are, beholden to constituents. We are all very glad to have the value of the coming and going between the grass roots in our constituencies, the flow of information and the exchange of ideas. We are privileged to represent 70,000 or 80,000 people.
§ Mr. Sproat
More in some cases. It is very valuable that somewhere in the British constitution there should be a serious debating chamber where men and women can say what they like without giving a cuss about what people in the place where they live think about what they say.
The topicality of that was revealed last night, at 12.20 a.m., when the hon. and learned Member for Lincoln (Mr. Taverne) was re-elected after having said that he refused to be beholden to a group of constituents who thought that they could tell him what to say. Although I was sorry that the gallant efforts of the Conservative candidate came to nought, I was very glad about the reelection of the hon. and learned Member for Lincoln and I think that everyone in the House who believes in freedom of speech was very pleased that the hon. and learned Member had his principles vindicated.
§ Mr. Tilney
Does not my hon. Friend consider also that in the other place our remaining colonial Commonwealth should be represented?
§ Mr. Sproat
That is a very good point. I am not quite sure of the present situation in Australia, as the new Labour Prime Minister——
§ Mr. Sproat
No. I have been rather generous in giving way so far and I have one or two important things to say.
A further extremely important point is that we have a system whereby men and women who have served the State well are rewarded not by grants of money but by being created peers. That is a method of saying to the rest of the country "Here are people who have served the State. They have achieved a peerage, and other people ought to honour these people for what they have done." I am talking about life peers and not about hereditary peers. It is absolutely right that people who have served the State well ought to be rewarded and ought to have the satisfaction of knowing that others know they have been rewarded.
If one then, however, accepts the point made by the hon. Member for Romford and all the peers who have served the State so well and earned the right to be called Lord or Lady suddenly find themselves being called Mr. or Mrs., they will feel that their reward is no reward at all in a situation in which they are heaped with more work for no reward and have to attend the other place and take part in what are sometimes, no doubt, very onerous and tedious debates.
It would be a very sad day when we failed to reward men and women of distinction and failed to show the rest of the community that we were rewarding them and when they could no longer say with honour and pride "I have been created a Lord because I have served the State so well". It would be a great shame if we were ever to subtract that from the British constitution.
Napoleon once said that men are won with baubles. I would not say that a peerage is necessarily a bauble. But it is a form of reward which, for very good reasons, people like to have. It is an honourable award and one quite different from the systems which obtain in other countries. In certain countries—it might be invidious to mention them—the rewards of success are not to be put into 1942 the equivalent of the House of Lords to play an honourable part in the constitutional working of the country but to he given a certain job where those concerned have a certain amount of patronage and can make themselves a great deal of money. They can sail very close to the wind in matters not exactly of corruption but of what perhaps by the tighter standards of this country we should call corruption and bribery.
A distinguished servant in the United States, Judge Otto Kerner, has recently been on a charge of bribery and corruption. That sort of thing has never happened here, but it tends to happen in the United States, where the system is open for corruption, financial manipulation and speculation of one sort or another.
§ Mr. Leonard
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that it is the first time in the history of the United States that a judge of that level has been on a corruption charge, and that it has happened only once in this country, when the person concerned was a member of the House of Lords?
§ Mr. Raphael Tuck (Watford)
In 1939, a judge occupying a position similar to that of the Master of the Rolls was convicted of selling justice.
§ Mr. Sproat
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend as well. I do not wish to stray into the realms of British justice. I was pointing out that other countries are less fortunate than we in that the means by which they reward those who serve the State are possibly more open to corruption, though the opportunities are not necessarily always taken advantage of. In this country we have a pillar of the constitution in the House of Lords where people can be rewarded for honourable service to the State in a manner that gives them pride. If people like to take pride in being Lord So-and-so after 40 years in this House, that is excellent. To call them just "Mr." when they went there would remove half the glory, if not for them for their wives.
§ Mr. Pavitt
I can give the hon. Gentleman first-hand evidence. My wife says that she will divorce me if I accept a peerage.
§ Mr. Sproat
Far be it from me to come between an hon. Gentleman and his wife.
If we diminished the value of the House of Lords we should also be diminishing the value of this House. I could give many examples. Because the Bill is sponsored by Opposition Members, I shall give them the example of a Scottish Select Committee which we found very difficult to man. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House suggested that peers should help to make up the numbers. That was a very interesting idea. We all know, certainly on this side, how busy we are, particularly with Standing Committees. Hardly a week has passed when I have not had at least two or three Standing Committees to serve on. I know that that is exceptional for a Scottish back bencher, but it is a fact. To have been able to spread the load through the use of peers would have been very helpful, but the Opposition turned the idea down, and I am sorry that they did.
Another example is Strasbourg. One of the saddest things in the present Session has been the Opposition's refusal to take part in the proceedings of the European Parliament. If the House of Lords——
§ Mr. Leonard rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put; but Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER with-held his assent and declined then to put that Question.
§ Mr. Sproat
I am glad that you turned down the hon. Member's request, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I have a number of further points to make.
§ May I turn to the question of the fabric——
§ It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Friday, 6th April.