HC Deb 05 February 1975 vol 885 cc1396-403

4.30 p.m.

Mr. John Lee (Birmingham, Handsworth)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide (except in respect of members of the Royal Family) for the extinction of all titles attaching peerages, for the cessation on death or statutory renunciation of all hereditary rights to attend as a Member of the House of Lords, and for the appointment of Senators as Members of the House, including the conversion of present life Peers. This is a very modest measure, and it may be that some of my hon. Friends will say that it is too modest. When I sought on 11th June last year to introduce an almost identical measure, it was attacked by the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) on the spurious and irrelevant ground that it was a piece of creeping republicanism. Since any question of republicanism is an entirely separate question of great importance in itself, for the avoidance of doubt the wording of this Bill specifically excludes it from the scope of its operations. The Bill is not concerned with republicanism.

I should say straight away what else the Bill is not concerned with, because it is not concerned with the merits or demerits of the existence of a second Chamber. In past years, every time that anyone has attempted to investigate the peerage, his inquiries have been bedevilled by the overlapping but distinct question of whether there should be a second Chamber.

The object of this Bill is simply to expunge the archaic and ridiculous feudal titles which most Government supporters regard with derision if not complete indifference. In one minor respect it can be said to impinge on the question of a second Chamber, though not on the question of its existence, because it also seeks to remove the hereditary right to sit in the second Chamber so long as that second Chamber continues to exist.

No other modern society confers titles with the pretentious nomenclature of duke, marquess, earl, viscount and baron. In almost every case the creation of such titles lapsed no later than the end of the First World War. Some countries abandoned them many years before. To take a pertinent example, the French did so a long time before the 1914–18 war. What is more, in the last few days President Giscard d'Estaing has said that he intends to abolish the titles which survive from French monarchical days when they were created in large numbers, some 1,500 of which are believed to survive.

It is clear that for a number of years there has been a tacit, unexpressed understanding between our two leading political parties that no further hereditary titles should be created, at any rate outside the scope of the Royal Family. None has been created since the Resignation Honours List of Sir Alec Douglas-Home, now Lord Home of Hirsel, and none was recommended during the time that the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) was Prime Minister.

That contrasts with the situation with regard to baronetcies after 1951. The House will recollect that between 1945 and 1951 the Attlee Government, most daringly, abandoned the creation of baronetcies. When the Conservatives returned to office in 1951, they resumed the creation of these titles as well as continuing to create hereditary titles on an ever-increasing scale which reached its climax during the Macmillan years. But, that apart, the system has been falling into gradual disuse.

No non-Royal dukes have been created since 1900, and even that one was for a person marrying into the Royal Family. No marquess has been created since 1936. Even in the case of Prime Ministers and Lord Chancellors, who by tradition have been entitled on retirement to earldoms, since the Second World War there have been only two cases of each—Attlee and Eden, and Jowitt and Kilmuir. It is clear that this is a system which slowly has been dying.

The ridiculous situation is that, although the system of creating new peerages has, to all intents and purposes ceased, apart from these absurd life peerages, there are a sufficient number of them in existence to survive for many centuries. We are left with a situation where the peerage, far from becoming more democratic, year by year becomes less, and where its members are few enough in number to constitute an élite and not sufficient in number to be totally insignificant socially.

If this measure passed into law, one consequence would be that the political imbalance in the other place would be redressed quickly. As title holders died off having no rights of inheritance to pass on, the balance that we have always known in this century of one party governing the House of Lords might reasonably be expected to alter.

I hope that my choice of the word "senator", which is in many ways of even greater antiquity than that of "peer", will not deter hon. Members from supporting my Bill. Although it is of greater antiquity, it has democratic connotations by virtue of its association with a number of elected chambers. As I have said already, my Bill has nothing to do with whether we want the continuance of another Chamber. For what it is worth, I feel that there is a marginal case for a wholly consultative Chamber with no powers save that of textual revision. But that is a matter of secondary importance.

As I have also said already, the Bill is not concerned with whether the monarchy shall continue to exist, and, for the avoidance of doubt, I have incorporated words to put that on one side. If any question concerning the monarchy arises, I cannot believe that so radical a constitutional departure could be made without the full-hearted consent of Parliament and the people, just as this Government will not make any change in the British constitution with regard to the Common Market without the full-hearted consent of Parliament and the people.

Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)

Does the hon. Gentleman rise to oppose the motion?

Mr. Stokes

I do, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I do not believe that such a root and branch reform as this Bill proposes should be introduced in this way by a Private Member.

More fundamentally, the Bill is objectionable in itself in that it seeks to make a violent, almost revolutionary, change in the constitution of this ancient Kingdom. The constitution has been refined and handed down to us over the centuries. It is in part monarchic, in part aristocratic and in part democratic. I know that in the end this House usually gets its own way and that the democratic principle is finally supreme. But the checks and balances in our constitution are also important and play their part in our national life.

Like the monarchy, the House of Lords provides for continuity in British politics. With its roots in the distant past, it gives a much needed stability to our constitution. In an age where we have far too many changes, the Lords themselves, by their very presence, represent something abiding and unchanging.

There is a further problem in the Bill. Our present system of two-Chamber government works—and works so well as to be the envy of the world, and that is so, however much a few hon. Members opposite may laugh. Thousands of people come every year to see it at work. The Bill proposes the appointment of senators. The difficulties entailed in such a proposal were fully explored in 1968, when the matter was last debated at large in the House.

I believe that the strength of the Lords is due in part to the very illogicality of their selection—due perhaps to the workings of an inscrutable Providence, which produces a level of competence among hereditary peers which is quite as high as, and is often higher than, in this place, where we all arrive by a somewhat different route.

The Bill would have the effect of further isolating the monarchy, and in this connection I deplore the fact that since 1964 no further hereditary peerages have been created. Whatever the hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr Lee) may have said, this realm is not a republic and the hereditary peers support the hereditary monarchy. We must not make the mistake in this House of thinking that we are the only popular people. The English people love a lord and have a great love for the other place.

The great virtue of the other place—or at least of those who entered it because their fathers were there before them—is that they were trained for the position for an early age. They were born to it, and they bear its responsibilities gladly,

both in peace and in war, where their record is second to none. They never have to play to the gallery but can speak their minds fully—and that is important in what is otherwise an almost wholly democratic society, dominated by the media and obsessed with the trivial, the trendy and the so-callecl progressive.

I believe that the ordinary people whom we in this House claim to represent still look up to the aristocracy of this nation and consider them a vital part of our constitution. I believe that the age of chivalry is not dead. The Lords are considered honest, brave and true, and many ordinary people would prefer to be ruled by a 14th earl than by a 14th Mr. So-and-so. There is no feeling whatever of Watergate about the Lords. They provide colour and pageantry, and remind us of our glorious past in this somewhat drab epoch. Their close association is with the land, and people like to see estates passing from father to son.

It is said that we live in the age of the common man, and those who hear this debate may feel like echoing that. The Bill would make us commoner still. The strength of this country lies in our traditions and in our high standards, and even hon. Members opposite, who may laugh now, if they by some extraordinary turn of fortune's wheel are moved to the other place, quickly develop a mellowness and independence which go hand in hand with their new status and privileges.

Finally, I believe that this Bill would upset the balance of the constitution, would deprive the nation of the unstinted services of a valuable section of our society, and would make a sudden change which is neither necessary nor desired. I hope, therefore, that the House will deny leave for the Bill to be brought in.

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

The House divided: Ayes 150, Noes 168.

Division No. 83.] AYES [4.45 p.m.
Allaun, Frank Atkinson, Norman Bray, Dr Jeremy
Anderson, Donald Bain, Mrs Margaret Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)
Archer, Peter Bates, Alf Buchan, Norman
Ashton, Joe Bidwell, Sydney Buchanan, Richard
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Booth, Albert Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green)
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Hughes, Roy (Newport) Roderick, Caerwyn
Campbell, Ian Jackson, Miss M. (Lincoln) Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Canavan, Dennis Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Rooker, J. W.
Carmichael, Neil John, Brynmor Roper, John
Clemitson, Ivor Johnson, Walter (Derby S) Rose, Paul B.
Cocks, Michael (Bristol S) Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Jones, Alec (Rhondda) Rowlands, Ted
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Jones, Barry (East Flint) Sedgemore, Brian
Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill) Jones, Dan (Burnley) Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne)
Crawford, Douglas Judd, Frank Sillars, James
Cronin, John Kelley, Richard Silverman, Julius
Deakins, Eric Kerr, Russell Skinner, Dennis
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Kilroy-Silk, Robert Small, William
Doig, Peter Lamond, James Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Eadie, Alex Lee, John Stallard, A. W.
Edge, Geoff Lewis, Arthur (Newham N) Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE) Litterick, Tom Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) Mabon, Dr J. Dickson Stewart, Rt Hn M. (Fulham)
English, Michael McNamara, Kevin Stott, Roger
Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen) Madden, Max Strang, Gavin
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) Marks, Kenneth Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Evans, John (Newton) Marquand, David Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Ewing, Harry (Stirling) Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Ewing, Mrs Winifred (Moray) Meacher, Michael Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W) Mikardo, Ian Thompson, George
Flannery, Martin Miller, Dr M. S. (E. Kilbride) Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N) Tomlinson, John
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen) Walden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)
Forrester, John Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin) Newsns, Stanley Ward, Michael
George, Bruce Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Watkins, David
Golding, John Ovenden, John Watkinson, John
Gould, Bryan Padley, Walter Watt, Hamish
Graham, Ted Palmer, Arthur Welsh, Andrew
Grant, John (Islington C) Pardoe, John White, Frank R. (Bury)
Grocott, Bruce Park, George Wigley, Dafydd
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Pavitt, Laurie Williams, Alan (Swansea W)
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Penhaligon, David Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)
Hardy, Peter Perry, Ernest Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Hatton, Frank Phipps, Dr Colin Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Heffer, Eric S. Prescott, John Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Henderson, Douglas Price, C. (Lewisham W) Wise, Mrs Audrey
Hooson, Emlyn Price, William (Rugby) Young, David (Bolton E)
Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) Radice, Giles TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Hoyle, Douglas (Nelson) Reid, George Mr. Gwilym Roberts and
Hughes, Mark (Durham) Richardson, Miss Jo Mr. Eddie Loyden.
Adley, Robert Davies, Rt Hon J. (Knutsford) Hayhoe, Barney
Aitken, Jonathan Dean, Paul (N Somerset) Higgins, Terence L.
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Dodsworth, Geoffrey Holland, Philip
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Hordern, Peter
Baker, Kenneth Drayson, Burnaby Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Banks, Robert Durant, Tony Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Bell, Ronald Dykes, Hugh Hutchison, Michael Clark
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torboy) Eden, Rt Hon Sir John Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)
Benyon, W. Elliott, Sir William James, David
Berry, Hon Anthony Eyre, Reginald Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd & W'df'd)
Biggs-Davison, John Fairbairn, Nicholas Jessel, Toby
Boscawen, Hon Robert Fairgrieve, Russell Jones, Arthur (Daventry)
Brittan, Leon Farr, John Jopling, Michael
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Fell, Anthony Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine
Bryan, Sir Paul Finsberg, Geoffrey King, Evelyn (South Dorset)
Buchanan-Smith, Alick Fisher, Sir Nigel King, Tom (Bridgwater)
Buck, Antony Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Kitson, Sir Timothy
Budgen, Nick Fookes, Miss Janet Langford-Holt, Sir John
Bulmer, Esmond Gardiner, George (Reigate) Latham, Michael (Melton)
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Gilmour, Rt Hon Ian (Chesham) Le Marchant, Spencer
Carr, Rt Hon Robert Glyn, Dr Alan Lester, Jim (Beeston)
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Goodhart, Philip Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
Channon, Paul Goodhew, Victor Lloyd, Ian
Churchill, W. S. Gorst, John Luce, Richard
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Gow, Ian (Eastbourne) McAdden, Sir Stephen
Clegg, Walter Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry) McCrindle, Robert
Cockcroft, John Grist, Ian Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)
Cooke, Robert (Bristol W) Grylls, Michael McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)
Cope, John Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Madel, David
Cormack, Patrick Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Corrie, John Hampson, Dr Keith Marten, Neil
Costain, A. P. Hannam, John Mather, Carol
Critchley, Julian Hastings, Stephen Maude, Angus
Crouch, David Hawkins, Paul Maudling, Rt Hon Reginald
Mawby, Ray Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal) Stainton, Keith
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Rees-Davies, W. R. Stokes, John
Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove) Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex) Stradling Thomas, J.
Moate, Roger Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Molyneaux, James Ridley, Hon Nicholas Tebbit, Norman
Moore, John (Croydon C) Ridsdale, Julian Townsend, Cyril D.
More, Jasper (Ludlow) Rifkind, Malcolm Trotter, Neville
Morgan, Geraint Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW) Tugendhat, Christopher
Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Roberts, Wyn (Conway) Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Morrison, Peter (Chester) Ross, William (Londonderry) Wakeham, John
Mudd, David Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey) Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Neave, Airey Royle, Sir Anthony Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
Nelson, Anthony Sainsbury, Tim Walters, Dennis
Neubert, Michael St. John-Stevas, Norman Warren, Kenneth
Normanton, Tom Scott, Nicholas Weatherill, Bernard
Onslow, Cranley Shelton, William (Streatham) Wells, John
Page, John (Harrow West) Shepherd, Colin Wiggin, Jerry
Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby) Shersby, Michael Winterton, Nicholas
Paisley, Rev Ian Sinclair, Sir George Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Percival, Ian Skeet, T. H. H. Younger, Hon George
Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch Speed, Keith TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Rathbone, Tim Spicer, Jim (W Dorset) Mr. Ivor Stanbrook and
Rawlinson, Rt Hon Sir Peter Sproat, Iain Mr. Michael Brotherton.
Question accordingly negatived.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)

I observe that no one declared an interest in that discussion.