§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD ROCKLEY
My Lords, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill I should like to express an earnest wish, which may or may not be fulfilled, that the Government would take up this whole subject as a Government task. I do not know precisely what they are going to do. So far as it is a large task it seems to me to be a Government task, but so far as we confine ourselves to the subject matter of this Bill—which I have purposely limited very closely—I think it may not be above the capacities of a private member of your Lordships' House to endeavour to do something towards advancing the task. It seems to be opportune, because the Government have quite clearly said, on the very interesting Bill which my noble friend Lord Salisbury introduced last year, that they would not proceed further this Parliament with 578 this subject or with any subject connected with it, as far as they personally were concerned.
It therefore falls to the duty, as I think, of a private member to do what he can. For that reason I think the moment is opportune. It is my own independent action, and I think that this question needs to be kept in the foreground. My noble friend Lord Rankeillour has given notice of another Bill next week in connection with the amendment of the Parliament Act. I want to say at once that these Bills are in no way intended to overlap. They stand on somewhat different ground, and I do not propose to discuss the other question. This debate is entirely to be confined, as far as I am concerned, to the matter of Life Peers. It is a simple Bill and does not want much elucidating. It is quite easily read, it is perfectly plain, I think, in its language, and, as it seems to me, it should command widespread approval and sympathy on its own merits. It does not pretend to deal with the whole Constitution of this Kingdom—far from it—nor does it pretend to be a Party Bill. It is essentially a non-Party Bill, and I have very carefully worded one or two phrases in it in order to show that this is the fact.
Again, in asking that your Lordships should pass it I am not addressing any members—if there are any—who think that no Second Chamber ought to exist, however constituted. It is no use appealing to views of that kind. I remember once a well-known Labour Member in the House of Commons, Mr. Hudson, who represented—I think—Newcastle, saying to Lord Bryce in my presence that he had never found a satisfactory Second Chamber. Lord Bryce replied that he had never found a satisfactory First Chamber, except possibly in the Orange Free State and in Switzerland. Whatever Chamber you constitute, and in the case of this one, whether there are Life Peerages or not, I do not suppose that any Chamber will ever be perfect. But your Lordships' House has real use. We had an illustration of this fact the other day when the noble Lord, Lord Arnold, put down a Motion about imprisonment for debt and, as it appeared to me, we had a very practicable and, I hope, useful debate, from which something may ensue. He could put that Motion down and have it discussed on short notice, which, as all members of this House 579 who have been in another place know quite well, it is impossible to do there.
One thing more. I am not trying to make this House stronger than the House of Commons; not at all. The broad purpose underlying this Bill is not to thwart the First Chamber, but to help towards ensuring that the will of the people should be really carried out. I do not want to go at great length into the history of the matter; it is not as if this were a new and original subject. Your Lordships have often heard the history at greater or lesser length, and I would very briefly recapitulate it. I shall not go further back than the Wensleydale case of 1856. There have been a good many attempts to deal with the subject since then. Earl Russell, in 1869, brought the matter conspicuously forward. In 1876 the Act for instituting Law Lords was passed, and in 1884 Lord Rosebery moved in the matter. In 1888 Lord Dunraven brought in a very elaborate Bill, dealing not only with the question of the Life Peerage, but also with a great deal else. In the same year the late Lord Salisbury brought in a Life Peers Bill, on the groundwork of which the present Bill is largely planned, with certain variations which deal with changed conditions. In 1907–8 there was the Rosebery Select Committee; in 1917–18 there was Lord Bryce's Conference, of which I had the honour to be a member. In 1927—to miss out one or two other cases—the noble Viscount, Lord FitzAlan, brought forward a Motion which my noble friend who is moving an Amendment this afternoon quotes verbatim. In 1928 Lord Clarendon put forward a reform scheme. in 1929 my noble friend Lord Elibank brought forward a Life Peers Bill and sketched out in some detail the history of this Chamber.
As recently as last month, Lord Merrivale published a pamphlet setting out the whole history and position of these debates throughout many years, a very useful little pamphlet in which he urges that it is quite time that something was done. That is very much my own humble view. It is quite time that we should do something, but it seems extraordinarily difficult to get anything like a unanimous opinion of your Lordships generally. In this Bill I am endeavouring to focus the question as much as ever possible upon a simple issue, that of Life 580 Peers; which, after all, gives it a far greater chance of arriving at some attempt to come to an agreement. After all, also, it seems to me very unsatisfactory that in General Election after General Election it should be said that some reform of this House is to take place or some alteration is to be made, and yet nothing is ever done. If we try to do this much, to pass a Bill of this kind, and send it down to the House of Commons, then, if the Bill gets blocked there, we at any rate can say that we have done our best to do something with the constitution of this House, and it is not our fault in those circumstances if nothing comes off.
That is sufficient as far as the history of the Bill is concerned. I should like to draw attention to one or two of its provisions, simple as they are. There are limitations in the Bill, as your Lordships will be aware. More particularly there is the limitation in Clause 1, that not more than five persons shall be appointed Life Peers in one calendar year. I am not wedded to the figure five. It seems to me that that is largely a Committee point. So long as we pass the provision that some Life Peers may be appointed in a given year, and there is a maximum number, I am content to listen to any arguments that may be put forward to change that figure. Perhaps, more or less, the same applies to the limitation in Clause 4, that at no one time is the number of Life Peers under this Bill to exceed fifty. There again, if alteration is to be made, it seems to me a matter for the Committee. In fact, the figures are the same as in Lord Salisbury's Bill of 1888. The population changes, circumstances change, and even the machinery of the Constitution changes, and therefore I do not bind myself absolutely to those figures. But I cannot help being rather amused when some of my friends come forward and say: "You are limiting it much too closely, you ought to enlarge it considerably"; while, on the other side, it is said: "If you enlarge it very much, you will be so enormously adding to the numbers of this House that the whole place will be quite unbearable." I will refer to that matter later.
The other clause to which I want to call attention is Clause 2, where there is a careful definition of what I may call 581 the pre-eminence entitling anyone to be considered for life-membership of this House. It is very difficult to draw definitions which cover every conceivable case—I was painfully conscious of that in trying to word this clause—but it is intended to go a very long way to make eligible those who have done well for their country. If holes can be found in it, there again the matter can be considered in Committee. One reason why I put a definition in is that you have also got to look at the matter from another side. You have got to make an effort to regulate what I may call the idiosyncrasies or vagaries of any particular Prime Minister who may have to advise His Majesty. It is not as if we had not had some experience in that direction. I took the trouble to look up only this morning a debate in this House on June 29, 1922, when where was a matter before this House as regards Sir Joseph Robinson of Wynberg, South Africa, who had been gazetted a Peer two or three weeks previously. A letter was then read in which he ultimately declined. On the same day them was an apologetic speech by another newly-created member of this House explaining his position to your Lordships. If there is any danger of future Prime Ministers making recommendations to His Majesty which can be challenged to that extent, I think it, is very desirable to have some definition which more closely makes clear what the qualifications of Life Peers are to be. That is the reason why Clause 2 is framed in that form, and it is a matter for this House to consider further.
Certain comments have been made about this Bill in other directions. Sometimes I have been told that there is a danger that recommendations by Prime Ministers will be entirely of men of their own political Party. Possibly! After all, the Law Lords are not so appointed. Is it quite impossible to enlarge the numbers of the Law Lords so as to contain other professions, and other important aspects of political or public thought? After all, when a new Speaker is appointed, it is more or less a Party matter, but nobody in these days disputes that every Speaker, at any rate for many years past, Las been of a very impartial opinion. I should be glad if, in this connection, representatives of our overseas Dominions could be qualified. 582 That would help to cement and link the Empire. It could not do any great harm, and it might do much good. Another comment which is made is that this Bill is enlarging a House which is already quite large enough. We are very large with a membership of 750 or so. As your Lordships know, about 100 members of the House come here regularly. It may be that a separate Bill might well be brought in to limit the attendance or membership of such noble Lords as do not regularly attend, but I hardly think that it is the task of a private member to endeavour to do that in present conditions, seeing what has happened last year and recently. At any rate I do not think a Bill of this character can properly be subjected to this criticism.
Just look at it from this point of view. If you have a certain number of Life Peers, say fifty in all, at one time, you are in practice much more limiting the numbers of this House than you are if you leave it open for a number of Hereditary Peers to be appointed in perpetuity. Had the plan of appointing Hereditary Peers been curtailed, as it was in the day of Mr. Gladstone, who was very particular, there would not have been so great a number, for whereas Mr. Gladstone appointed three or four on occasions, and quite often none, in the Honours List, during the last six years there has been an average of ten per year appointed, and that is not counting the Law Lords—the Lords of Appeal. Therefore, whatever may be said of this Bill, and however partially it deals with the subject, at any rate I am not proposing to enlarge this House more than it would get enlarged if this system of appointing Hereditary Peers twice a year continues. The whole matter may want overhauling, but I do not think this Bill should be attacked on the ground that it would seriously increase our numbers. Life Peers can be alternatives to Hereditary Peers. Possibly they would attend more regularly and their counsels would be useful, so that we should not be any the worse off but probably a good deal better.
I think I had better come now to the Amendment that my noble friend Lord Midleton has put down. He quotes the words of the Motion proposed by the noble Viscount, Lord FitzAlan, on 583 June 20, 1927. My noble friend, in speaking of my Motion on March 7 for getting His Majesty's leave to discuss this subject, told me I was most embarrassing, that this was a backward step instead of a forward step, and that it could not possibly affect the main arguments for the reform of the House of Lords. I confess I was astonished. I do not see the application of his arguments at all. It appears to me that the Amendment that he has put down now is a mere sidetracking of the issue. Just look at the Amendment. It practically challenges me on the ground that this Bill does not attempt to limit or define the membership of this House. No, the Bill does not, but there is nothing on earth in it to prevent my noble friend from bringing in a Bill of that kind if he wants to. I do not see what cause of complaint he has against my Bill because it does not do something else that he wants done.
But he tells me that I have taken a backward step instead of a forward step. I cannot see that. I should have thought this was sensibly advancing the question, and advancing it along the only channel that at this moment seems to be practicable and one upon which many people might agree. He complains that this Bill does not define membership of this House. There is nothing to prevent his bringing in a Bill to define membership of this House. That, again, ought not to be a complaint against my Bill. Thirdly, he complains that this Bill does not deal with the long-standing declaration of Ministers about the reform of the Second Chamber. It does not go very far. Purposely it does not go very far, but again there is nothing to prevent him from bringing in a. Bill of that sort himself and making himself responsible for it. After all, he has not been very successful in getting anything done for many years past.
He postulates that the House would welcome a reasonable measure for doing all these things. Why, we know from many years' experience that this House violently disagrees upon what a "reasonable measure" means. What is "reasonable"? Does he suppose that we shall get a Bill through easily when there are intense disputes on all these subjects? I see, looking back, that when the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank, on February 28, 1929, moved a Motion about Life Peerages, Lord Midleton moved an 584 Amendment, which was to leave out all the words after "That" and to insert:this House, while welcoming proposals for broadening the constitution of the House, declines to proceed with any measure which does not deal with the general question of reform.Well, that is a very dogmatic Motion. I hope my noble friend will not be annoyed with me if I say that his position seems to me to be rather that of a spoilt child, who, because he cannot get the whole cake, will not take a small part of it. Nothing has been done in all these years while these stern Resolutions and Bills have been put forward. Because this is a modest Bill trying to move along lines with which most of us agree he will do nothing for it. It is really like running one's head against a brick wall. I prefer myself to try diplomatically to climb over the wall step by step, and I do hope that the path which the Bill indicates as one along which we may wisely proceed will not be blocked by any obstinate resistance.
I had better now just summarise the situation. I am not asking for much. Your Lordships will be well aware of that. I think if I did ask for much I should not get it under present circumstances. The glory of the British Constitution has been its gradual, almost imperceptible development. Cannot that continue? The Bill does not involve tearing down the Constitution, or even re-planning and re-fashioning it; it merely enables the Crown to exercise the Royal Prerogative by two different methods, Life Peerages and Hereditary Peerages; and, as I submit, the system of Law Lords is a good beacon for us to follow in part. The Bill avoids the almost interminable controversy of what form of election is best for a Second Chamber, if a form of election or selection be adopted. Those of us who have studied the question know well that that is one of the greatest stumbling blocks in all these discussions, and no agreement has yet been arrived at upon it.
Once more, the Bill makes possible the appointment of members of any political Party, or of no political Party, to a Life Peerage. Appointments would be made on grounds of knowledge, stability of character and independence. The Bill would be very useful if for any reason a proposed recipient does not desire an Hereditary Peerage at all. There are such persons—quite a number of them. 585 We have had a recent instance which I can quote, the late Speaker, Mr. J. H. Whitley. It is public knowledge that he refused a Peerage. He was a man of much experience, he may be said to have originated the Whitley Councils, which are so useful in industrial disputes, and I think this House was the poorer for not having had the advantage of his experience in its debates. There are also other persons of whom I know, who feel that to take an Hereditary Peerage would handicap their sons in their future careers in the professions which they have selected. It may seem strange to say so, but there are such cases. There again the Bill would enable us to get those members without risking the damage they fear to their sons. All these arguments appear to me to make it plain that the passing of this Bill would be a practical gain to the British Constitution, for it would enable His Majesty to reinforce your Lordships' House by eminent men whose fortunes may be inadequate to support an Hereditary Peerage, but, whose abilities might enhance the usefulness of a Second Chamber. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Rockley.)
§ THE EARL OF MIDLETON had given Notice that on the Motion for the Second Reading, he would move to resolve, That having regard to the Resolution passed on the 20th June, I927, by a very large majority, that "this House would welcome a reasonable measure limiting and defining membership of this House and dealing with the defects which are inherent in certain of the provisions of the Parliament Act," this House declines to proceed with a measure which makes no provision for dealing with the long standing declaration of Ministers that reform of the Second Chamber is of urgent importance to the public service.
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, my noble friend has made a very moderate speech in appealing to your Lordships to pass what he described as a very small measure of reform. He has shown such an acquaintenance with what has taken place in this House during past years that I am almost astonished he has not been more impressed by it. Having regard to the fact that he is one of eight members of the illustrious house of which Lord Salisbury is head who have seats 586 in this House, I do not know whether I must put it down to his becoming modesty, but he has endeavoured within a few months of Lord Salisbury's proposals to feed us with a few crumbs from the much more bountiful table with which the head of his house provided us. Although I take his proposals in all seriousness, the plea on which he occupied a considerable portion of the time during which he was commending his measure to us was really that old plea of the housemaid that it was "only a little one" and that we need not be unduly disturbed. We think there is every reason for grave disturbance if we do pass this, as I think, inadequate and, I am afraid I must also say, ill-timed measure.
§ I should like your Lordships to take the common ground on which all those who have dealt with the reform of the House of Lords in recent years have moved. I would ask the House whether my noble friend's proposal meets in any sense any one of the strong arguments which have been put forward for a general scheme of reform. Take first the question of the numbers in this House. This House has grown in recent years to the number of 750. Already it is overflowing, and it is common ground with all the reformers that by some principle to be adopted the number should be reduced from the number who may appear at any moment to something like the working power which is employed here, not every day, but on all occasions of importance.
§ I do not know whether anybody present really realises what the effect is on this House of these enormous numbers who have not got the feeling of responsibility that they must attend. Many years ago, long before I was a member of this House, I remember I compiled some statistics, when standing as a bystander on the steps of the Throne, of the members who did attend, and I can assure your Lordships that at that time, when the numbers in this House were between 300 and 400 less than they are at the present moment, the attendance at every class of debate was infinitely greater. On a great occasion the numbers polled were greater, on a moderate occasion there were far more noble Lords in attendance, and even on an evening when there was little to do there were more than there are now. We have only to look round your Lordships' 587 House to see if this is a proposal which, if Lord Rockley is to be believed, will exert a very considerable and mollifying influence, and we find a very modest attendance. Is it wise, when we all know that the difficulty is to find out how this House can preserve its identity and yet be reduced within moderate limits, that we should proceed as the first measure to appoint a body of thirty, forty, or fifty Life Peers who can only swell the number which we have taken no step to reduce?
§ I feel very deeply that we are losing some of the very best elements in this House by that want of sense of responsibility. Take what occurred the other day. A challenge was given to a noble Lord to come down here and answer some speech which had been made. Lord Rothermere took his seat. Now, Lord Rothermere is not only a great leader of public opinion in this country, but he was not an undistinguished member of this House when he first joined. He had a seat on this Front Bench as a Minister of the Crown, and I remember his taking part in important discussions. Lord Rothermere was raised in the Peerage sixteen years ago, and for sixteen years he felt, with all his interests in political life and with all the very strong interest which he has in the future of the country, which he has shown, that this House was not the place where it was worth spending the time which is so valuable to him in coming to advise us, no matter what the discussion might be. And that is the case, not of Lord Rothermere alone, but of about 400 Peers who have the right to come here, from time to time, if they so desire but who, as a matter of fact, hardly appear once in a single Session. I cannot help feeling that is a state of things which is not only unjustifiable but cannot possibly continue indefinitely, and I have the strongest fear that if the people of this country ever find themselves in a mysterious manner thwarted in their desires by any action of this House they will give very short shrift to a system by which more than half the members of this House take no part whatever in its deliberations. I say the first point of objection to this Bill is that it does not attempt to deal with the great question of numbers but, if anything, accentuates 588 the difficulty by the addition of a new set of Peers.
§ The second point is this. There must be, I am sure, in this House itself a feeling that the immense disparity of Parties is an impossible thing to defend. I do not have to make public speeches on platforms perhaps as much as I did in past years, but nobody can get up before a body of his fellow countrymen and say that a House in which there are some 600 members of one point of view, and between twelve and twenty of a point of view which returns a very large number of members to the House of Commons, can be considered a fair, decisive tribunal when a difference arises. I do not want to labour the point, but, personally, I think that while on the one hand it is essential to preserve the character and traditions of this House, it is absolutely necessary that a large and definite change should be made in the distribution of Parties. That is the second point on which there has been up to now no agreement.
§ There is another. If I may say so with great respect to my noble friend, he has not sat very long in this House, but he sat and had a long and distinguished career in the House of Commons. I have sat, I think, on nearly every Committee which has gone into this question, and I have sat with a good many members of the House of Commons. I have never known members of the House of Commons who were content to sit with Parties so substantially unrepresentative as they are here, or who would be content to sit with Life Peers if this Bill passes. Consider what a life membership means. A man may have earned his spurs well before the age of forty, and he may be made a Life Peer at an early age. Will anybody assert that any one sitting in this House who had been appointed, say, in 1905—that is, thirty years ago—would be representative of the modern trend of opinion which is represented on those Benches? From the point of view of those who want the House to be really in touch with the country, a Life Peerage is very little different from an Hereditary Peerage. I shall listen with interest to what the noble Lord who represents the Opposition will say when he gets up to speak upon this Bill, and to hear his opinions of the qualifications set out in Clause 2. I can hardly think that he, or any noble Lord opposite, will consider that the appointment of a 589 few Major-Generals and Air Vice-Marshals and other gentlemen who have distinguished themselves for long periods in the public service would bring us into close touch with that electorate which may, at some not very distant date, be predominant in the House of Commons. I do put it to your Lordships that we cannot make a greater mistake than to begin the question of reform of this House by ignoring the distribution of political power in the House, and by including in the House men who will not be in anything like immediate touch with the electorate whose opinions we are bound to study.
§ That is why I think this step which my noble friend suggests is a backward step and not a forward one. It is not a question between the noble Lord and myself, or between the noble Lord and any other individual in this House. Look at the mass of evidence that the view which I have endeavoured to put forward is shared by almost every body of persons which has had to consider it. You have had the Bryce Conference and the Rosebery Committee, and you have had the FitzAlan and the Clarendon Motions adopted by very large majorities in this House. You can go even beyond that. You have had the declaration of a Prime Minister who is still alive that the reform of this House would be dealt with by his Government before the end of that Government. And it has not been touched, With all that in front of us, my noble friend asks us to-day to put everything aside, and to add to the difficulties. When you come to recast this House, one of the greatest difficulties is how to preserve the best of the existing elements, and if you are to have a House of 300 instead of 750, and if, of that House of 300, a considerable proportion is to be brought. in from outside for the object which I have endeavoured to point out, then the existence of your fifty Life Peers will be one of the greatest barriers to free discussion and to free dealing with the large body of Hereditary Peers who, I might say in passing, would alone be quite sufficient to man the House of 300. You have, therefore, to cut down the number in order to bring in others from outside. I urge your Lordships not to add to that difficulty by putting in some fifty Life Peers who will stand on a different level from the other members of the House 590 when attempts are being made to redress grievances.
§ I can only appeal to my noble friend not to press this Bill. I cannot believe that it is required in any quarter whatever. If it is passed in this House that will be done against the opinion of every Committee which has sat upon the question in living memory, and it will be done against the express convictions of every Leader of the House, so far as I know, who has sat since the late Lord Salisbury, including the Duke of Devonshire, Lord Rosebery, Lord Lansdowne, Lord Curzon and my noble friend the present Marquess of Salisbury. With that weight of authority against him, I urge my noble friend not to proceed with this Bill. He belongs to a family who are not only experts in politics but of very high public spirit, and I ask him not to put us in the position in which we shall be put if we give this Bill a Second Reading. In his appeal to us a few minutes ago he said that if we are blocked by the House of Commons, we will have done our best. This is not our best. I do not think it can be taken that we have done our best if we agree to this, which I regard as a wholly insufficient proposal. I, therefore, ask your Lordships to accept the Amendment which I now move to the Motion for the Second Reading of the Bill.
Leave out all words after ("That") and insert: ("having regard to the Resolution passed on the 20th June, 1927, by a very large majority, that 'this House would welcome a reasonable measure limiting and defining membership of this House and dealing with the defects which are inherent in certain of the provisions of the Parliament Act,' this House declines to proceed with a measure which makes no provision for dealing with the long standing declaration of Ministers that reform of the Second Chamber is of urgent importance to the public service."—(The Earl of Midleton.)
§ LORD SNELL
My Lords, in taking part in this debate those of us on this side of the House feel almost as if we were guilty of impoliteness in entering into a family quarrel on the other side. This discussion so far proves once again that upon this question there is no possibility of agreement, and that even a small measure like this gives rise to the most pronounced differences. I feel some hesitation, too, as a comparatively new member of your Lordships' 591 House in trying to state the opinions on this matter of the Party to which I belong, and I am only consoled by the fact that the mover of this Bill is an even more recent member than myself. When the noble Lord announced this measure our first thought was that the creation of Life Peerages might be a comfortable way of getting rid of a tedious and very difficult question. We all of us know men who by their services, their character and capacity would add weight and dignity to any assembly, however distinguished, in this country. We know, too, that many possessing those qualities would be glad to give their services to the nation, but would not contemplate the possibility of accepting Hereditary Peerages. We can also concede that there might be some convenience to your Lordships' House in manning some of the specialised Committees to have more men of special qualifications available for that purpose. So it is possible, my Lords, for us to sympathise with the idea behind the Bill without agreeing at all with the provisions of the Bill, the scope of it, or indeed its general proposals.
When notice was given of this Bill our interest on this side was immediately aroused, and we permitted ourselves to indulge in visions of an increased number of people to help us in our work in your Lordships' House. We said to ourselves that at last, moved by a sense of political justice and perhaps of sympathy for the miserable loneliness and numerical ineffectiveness of my noble friends and myself, some one was prepared to do something to add to our numbers. This Bill illustrates the insight and wisdom of the man who said "Happy is he who expecteth nothing for he shall not be disappointed." This Bill scarcely touches a matter which must be as unsatisfactory to most of your Lordships as it is to the unfortunate minority in your Lordships' House. It does not specifically mention the question of an increased number of Labour Peers. Even if the whole of the Peers to be created were Labour it would still leave us as hopeless prisoners in the hands of a numerous and hostile majority on the other side of the House.
Then again the Bill does not say that no more Hereditary Peerages shall be created. If it is true, as the noble Lord 592 has suggested, that on an average for the last six years ten hereditary Peers a year have been created, then, supposing half of them were Life Peers, it would leave proportions in your Lordships' House precisely what they are to-day. And remember that it is not inconceivable that there might be a Prime Minister who had—I think the word used by the noble Lord was "idiosyncrasy." Suppose a Labour Prime Minister had an idiosyncrasy for appointing only Labour Peers and that that went on for ten years—and your Lordships may contemplate that as a possibility. If you had only Labour Peers created each year for ten years, you would not get any of those distinguished persons which the noble Lord has in mind, nor would you in the end greatly relieve the numerical disadvantage on this side of the House.
I do not propose to discuss the problem of Clause 1. That seems to raise constitutional difficulties concerning which I imagine lawyers in your Lordships' House will enjoy themselves immensely. To a mere layman it would appear that it would reduce the powers of your Lordships' House and increase the Prerogatives of the Crown. It is with Clause 2 that I desire to deal this afternoon. So far as I understand the Bill, five Life Peers are to be created annually from specially selected categories—law, diplomacy, Admirals, Generals, ex-Governors, and representatives of science, art, literature, commerce, and so on. The qualifications for which people in those categories are admired are not those that are most urgently required in the service of your Lordships' House. We have already distinguished representatives of all those categories except, perhaps, commerce, literature, and "industrial work," whatever that may mean. To duplicate them is merely to increase the numbers in your Lordships' House without increasing its debating or its deliberative strength.
I do not suggest for a moment that they would ruin your Lordships' House, but they certainly would not redeem it. The proportion of Parties would not be seriously altered and there would be little addition to the kind of experience which in my judgment your Lordships would find most valuable. The one thing that would strengthen the deliberative 593 quality of your Lordships' House would be an increase in the number of those who as industrial organisers and as the leaders of friendly societies, trade unions and the working-class movement generally, could take part in your work. As I read the Bill, the only chance for people of that kind would be through the House of Commons and there they must give twenty years of service.
§ LORD ROCKLEY
May I interrupt the noble Lord to say that the words "social and industrial work" in Clause 2 exactly define the people to whom he is referring?
§ LORD SNELL
I said whatever the words "industrial work" may mean. How, if this Bill were passed, would it affect the House as a whole? There are, as I calculate it, 733 members of the existing House excluding Princes of the Blood Royal and minors. Of those we on this side number a round dozen. I do not try to separate the Liberal members from the general majority, because I do not know the number that rightly belong to the Liberal Party. But they, too, have a claim that should be considered. The Liberals never give us anything except advice and that is often given in the tones of the heavy father reproving a wayward son. I have, however, some affection for the quarry-whence I was hewn, and I feel that they, too, have a certain claim.
What may Labour hope for from the Bill that is before your Lordships' House? I think your Lordships can contemplate that, whether you like it or not, Labour is going to be a permanent factor as a political organisation in this country. It may happen that at the next Election a quite surprising number of people will vote for what you consider the heresies which we specially represent. Now we can only judge of what is intended, not merely by this Bill, but by other Bills presented to your Lordships' House. The Bill. presented last year by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, proposed to reduce the number of those Labour members who sit in your Lordships' House to about two and a half. We were promised that we should be reserved in proportion to our numbers, and that came out at about two and a half. That Bill was apparently modelled on the principle that: 594Whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosoever bath not, from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have.The House accepted that Bill and thus revealed its outlook.
In this Bill, if it does not reduce, it unsatisfactorily increases Labour representation. Even if all the Life Peerages were Labour, it would make us some 60 as against 650 on the other side. My Lords, with the best will in the world you can scarcely expect us to be wildly enthusiastic about the Bill which is before you. But our opposition to it is not because it continues a designed and controlled discrimination against a minority. It is because it patches up an institution which, in its present form, shows signs of wear and which does not play an essential part in the service of the nation. It perpetuates the hereditary principle; it continues, without serious modification, the anomaly of a non-representative and therefore irresponsible Assembly; and it perpetuates this House as an honourable retreat for a selected number of men who may have deserved well of their country, rather than as a workshop for those who, with unexhausted powers, are willing to give to the nation the best that they have. It is due to your Lordships to say that we cannot agree to a Bill, with whatever motive—and I am sure it was a kindly motive—it was introduced, which merely touches the problem without in any way solving it.
Our views on this matter are, I think, well known. They are that, because of its constitution and its one-sided composition, because of its tradition and our own experience of its attitude, we should prefer that, as now constituted, this House should come to an end. Then, if that were determined upon, the question of a Second Chamber could be considered on its merits. The questions of its constitution, its scope, its function, the method of its appointment, the authority to which it should be responsible, could then be examined. But this Bill does not sensibly remedy any weakness that may exist in the constitution and purpose of your Lordships' House, and because it provides no adequate proposals for its reform, we much regret that we can give the Bill no assistance.
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, the noble Lord who has introduced 595 this Bill certainly made no extravagant claim for it. He professed that it was a simple Bill, a modest reform. As I understand his observations, it is not intended as part of a plan for the general reform of this House; it is not introduced as an instalment. As I listened to him I heard that the Bill which is to be introduced by Lord Rankeillour next week is really in no sense a part of the plan which is proposed by the noble Lord, and I hope I may infer from that that the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Rankeillour, is not something which is consequent on the introduction of this Bill, with the assent of the noble Lord, the introducer of the Bill.
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
I had somewhat assumed it, because after what had been said by the noble Lord who was the introducer of the Bill, it seemed to me that it must necessarily follow. I propose to deal with the matter as it is placed before your Lordships' House, and to discuss it for the purpose of ascertaining whether or not, in my view, this Bill will to some extent—to a modest extent—alleviate some of the difficulties that surround this House when it is discussed, particularly outside your Lordships' House. I suppose there is nothing with which we are more familiar than that it is apparently not possible to arrive at agreement between the members of your Lordships' House as to what precise course should be followed by those reforming it. We have had the advantage of hearing in recent times the proposals of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, and we have discussed them. We have heard the noble Earl, who has spoken to-day, move Amendments on various occasions relating to this matter. We are familiar, if I may use the expression, with the views that both of those noble Lords have put forward. The difficulty is to find some means of agreement.
Now I desire to-day to avoid entering into these discussions for the reason that I cannot think that they help us in dealing with the present Bill as it is put forward for your Lordships' consideration. The real question, as I follow it, is whether or not we are prepared to accept the proposal of creating a number of Life Peers over a period of ten years and limited to the total 596 number of fifty at any one time. The noble Lord who has moved the Amendment has expressed himself very emphatically against the Bill and asked your Lordships to reject it because it does not deal with the general reform of this House. The noble Earl has made his position quite clear, but, with the greatest respect, I venture to put this question to him and in relation to his own argument: Is that quite a reasonable frame of mind for members of your Lordship's House to take? Knowing as we do the difficulties with which we are confronted among ourselves, realising the many attempts which have been made by some of our most distinguished members to arrive at some kind of agreement in regard to it, and appreciating as we do the views of the Party led by Lord Ponsonby, for whom the noble Lord, Lord Snell, has just spoken, and the views of those who are also associated with me, we quite understand that nothing can he done—at least nothing has hitherto been done. We do not seem to have advanced one scrap over all these years.
It is perfectly legitimate to make the observation that when the Parliament Act was introduced in 1911, and had passed your Lordships' House, it was understood that the reform of this House was a matter of urgency, and would be dealt with, and that hitherto no one has been able to find a plan which would commend itself either to this House or the country. If that is the case, are we really in this House setting ourselves to reject everything that may be put forward, either as a modest reform or, it may be, something which would deserve an adjective of a wider description? Are we to reject it simply because we cannot agree upon the general form? I hope that that will not be the view taken by this House. I cannot myself agree with the noble Earl, or with the argument which he has put forward. It seems to me that it really shuts the door to any proposal which has been brought forward which is not a general reform to which he would agree, and that is really an absolutely impossible situation, if I may say so with respect, for members of this House to take. After all, we ought to consider the proposal as it is put forward and see whether, though we can only go a small step, we shall nevertheless take that step.
597 I shall unhesitatingly vote for the Bill. I believe it to be a step in the right direction. I followed what was said by the noble Lord who spoke on behalf of the Labour representatives in this House. I quite understand the view which they put forward, and if I may say so, I sympathise with them. I hope I shall not be thought to be giving fatherly advice. I am merely expressing a view which we hold here, and not only with regard to ourselves, because vie do not suffer as members of the Labour Party do. We have sufficient numbers to enable us to put forward our views. But taking into account the representatives in the House of Commons, the elected representatives, remembering that this, after all, is a democratic country, and that we pride ourselves on our representative institutions, can any one of us assert that this House is truly representative, when we have, as at the present moment, such insignificant representation—in numbers, not in quality—of the Labour Party? It seems to me that we cannot truly say so; and I am sure there is no member of this House who has not again and again in discussion, or in thinking over the problem, wondered how it would be possible to increase the Labour representation.
I quite agree that this Bill does not go very far; but it does seem to me that it would confer this advantage. It would enable a number of men who have taken part, in various ways, either in public affairs or in arts, sciences or other work, to be represented without, at the same time, having to limit in a sense the future of a son and heir, by making him ultimately a Peer, which would, in all probability, seriously interfere with his ordinary avocation in life. I am sure your Lordships are aware of numbers of men who would like to become Peers, in order to take part in public affairs, but are unable to do so simply for the reason that they do not want their sons to follow them. They realise that whereas their public work may have entitled them to a seat in this House, and to take part in the affairs of the country and the Empire, nevertheless, their sons have done nothing to deserve it, and must wait and merit it, before getting that promotion. There are numbers of men who, for such reason, think it quite impossible to come here. Lord Snell mentioned, and I was glad he did, 598 men who have taken considerable part in the work of friendly societies and trade unions. I assert that we cannot in this House have a representative House unless we have men who can speak, and are entitled to speak, to us on the friendly societies and trade unions. This House will not suffer, but will benefit by the inclusion of such members, limited as they are.
For myself, although I do not bind my Party in any way, I would be satisfied to go further, if it were possible to carry it in this House, because I think it would be to the advantage of this House to have a more liberal representation of a Party which is very great in numbers and power in the country, and which could contribute much to our discussions. Having said that, I shall pass from the main question because really, holding the views that I hold, and that I am venturing to put before the House, I suggest that on the merits of the case, and taking the Bill as it stands, asking us to vote for a limited number of Life Peers in order to give men an opportunity of coming to this House who would be prevented from doing so if they had to take Hereditary Peerages, we are taking a step which will assist this House, raise it in the public esteem, and at least show that we are ready to consider any measure which may be proposed for the purpose of improving the character of the House and making it more general than it is.
Now, may I make a very few observations in relation to Clause 2, which was mentioned by Lord Snell, and as to which, if he will permit me to say so, I will not attempt to play the heavy father. I do not think he paid sufficient attention to the words at the end of the clause, which extends the qualification to "social and industrial work." I think those words would cover the case that was put forward by Lord Snell. In any event, when in Committee, we could make it perfectly clear that the words were wide enough without question to admit men of the character which he mentioned. The point which I would urge upon the noble Lord to consider is whether it is really worth while to have Clause 2 at all. Is it not sufficient to confer upon the Crown the Prerogative of appointing Life Peers? That is done in Clause 1, and why should we place this limitation upon that Prerogative? I agree, in 599 general, with the view put forward that these are the men whom we would like to see in this House, but I confess that I dislike the use of such a word as "pre-eminence" as one of the necessary qualifications. It leads to much discussion as to what is meant by it, and I think it should be left to those who would be responsible for making the appointments. Especially in the case of those engaged in social and industrial work it would be difficult to say what would be pre-eminence.
But these are rather criticisms for the Committee stage. I have only made these observations because I would like the noble Lord to consider whether he thinks it is necessary to proceed with Clause 2, whether he could not limit the Bill to conferring upon the Crown the Prerogative of creating Life Peers not exceeding five in any one year, and limiting the total number of Life Peers in this House to fifty. That is a perfectly simple matter. It leaves it open to those who are responsible hereafter for recommending the Crown to confer Life Peerages, to select the type of man who would be most desirable, and I very much hope that that would have the effect of giving us the benefit in this House of just the type of representative to which the noble Lord, Lord Snell, referred.
Having expressed those views I leave further discussion until we come to the Committee stage, but I would urge with all respect upon your Lordships that we should leave the door open, that we should accept the proposal now put forward, which is truly modest in its proportions, without prejudice to the introduction hereafter of a measure of far greater general reform. Nothing in this Bill prevents it. When we have passed this Bill we are left just where we were. It will be still open to any member of your Lordships' House to make any further proposal. And I cannot for the life of me follow the argument of the noble Earl that because we have 733 members of this House we should not add to their number in this way. We know perfectly well that we are not encumbered by too great an attendance in this House. Our difficulty is rather that of getting a good attendance in order that we may have good debates and of inducing those who have the privilege of being Peers of Parliament 600 to realise that they also have an obligation to take part in the work of Parliament.
It has struck me again and again during the last ten years how few of those who, after they have been created Peers, have taken their seats, take the trouble to carry out the obligation placed upon them as Peers of Parliament, and simply' content themselves with the honour of the title. I hope these Life Peers will include those who would represent the Labour Party, which has become such a great Party in the country. I earnestly believe that if you create those men Life Peers you will have men who will attend, who will realise the obligation upon them, who will do their best to support their own Party and who will give the benefit of their views to your Lordships' House.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR AIR (THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY)
My Lords, I think perhaps that at this stage of the debate your Lordships will think it right that I should state the line which the Government take on this measure. Your Lordships will remember that when the discussion took place on the Bill introduced by the noble Marquess who sits below the Gangway (Lord Salisbury) the Government said that that was a measure which could not go forward in the present Session, and that it was impossible that a measure of that kind could be proceeded with or would have any chance of passing into law unless it were brought forward by the Government of the day. And I think your Lordships will understand that in relation to this measure, which is one of a far smaller character, the same attitude applies, and that the Government can take no part in it beyond personally expressing those opinions which we feel about it.
The noble Lord, as he would do, has introduced this measure in a very interesting speech, and it has certainly given rise to a very interesting debate. The Bill is a very small one and suggests the recruiting to your Lordships' House of not more than five Peers a year, amounting to an addition of fifty Peers in ten years. Even if it becomes law, therefore, it cannot bring a great influence to bear on your Lordships' House, and I am bound to say that I feel myself more in agreement with the noble Earl who sits behind me (Lord Midleton) in his view that in dealing 601 with what we call the reform of the House of Lords it would be much better to do so by some measure of a more comprehensive character, rather than by smaller measures which really make very little contribution to the solution of the problem, except the contribution of principle.
We have found in all this time that the difficulty which really confronts us all on the practical, and perhaps the theoretical side, is the multitude of opinions which exists as to how the change can be brought about. Noble Lords who sit opposite have made up their minds very definitely that there is no reform of your Lordships' House which can give them and the Party they represent the proper position which they feel that they should occupy, and that all measures of reform which have been brought forward have really only reduced the discrepancy between the two Parties, but have done nothing whatever to remedy the defects and difficulties with which they tell us they are confronted.
The Bill which the noble Lord, Lord Rockley, has introduced is one which initiates a new principle. Perhaps it is not altogether new, because Life Peerages are already conferred on Law Lords. But it is a new principle in that such Life Peerages would be conferred on those who otherwise would occupy exactly the same position as the Peers of Parliament who now sit in your Lordships' House. The noble Marquess opposite has suggested that there are a great many people in this country who would appreciate that privilege, and who world go further and would not feel that their sons should occupy the position after them. I do not desire to go into an argument on that point, but I am not sure that I entirely agree with the noble Marquess, and I am inclined to think that there are not so very many people who would prefer a Life Peerage rather than that the honour conferred upon them should be transmitted to their families. But that is a small issue, into which I do not wish to go.
The noble Lord, Lord Rockley, both in this House and in another place, has invariably done his best to make his contribution to the public good, and he feels that by the creation of Life Peerages he will bring into your Lordships' House a contingent of men who 602 perhaps—although I do not entirely agree with him—may be said to be more in touch with the everyday life of the country to-day than are those who occupy their position by an hereditary title. Perhaps one might say that the establishment of Life Peerages in this House is a contribution in that direction, but I would venture to say that that is not altogether necessary. It is quite true that your Lordships' House consists of considerably over 700 members, and I think we can find among the members of your Lordships' House individuals who fully represent everything that is best in public life in this country, and who, in ever-increasing number, are daily and continually in touch with modern and progressive life. I think your Lordships will also agree that whenever there is a debate in this House, though it is invidious ever to draw comparisons, it compares very favourably with any debate which takes place in another place, whatever the importance of that debate may be.
There is no need to concentrate our attention on the smallness of the number of Peers who come to the Chamber on any particular occasion. It is very regrettable, as the noble Marquess has said and as my noble friends behind me have said, that the number is not larger, but still you will find that the members who do attend are the Peers who are interested in the subject, and who in their speeches can bring very valuable contributions to bear on the matter under discussion. It really amounts to this, that whenever we are discussing a subject in your Lordships' House the Peers who attend constitute themselves into what amounts to a committee of very valuable opinion for giving expression to what they feel or to views formed from a study of subjects with which they are familiar. Your Lordships will, I think, also agree with me when I say that the debates in your Lordships' House are watched with great interest in the country. That shows that a great measure of importance is attached to the decisions which your Lordships may arrive at. The Select Committees which are appointed by your Lordships' House invariably do very useful work, and it is for this reason that I feel that though the composition of your Lordships' House is certainly susceptible to changes with which we all could agree, and which one 603 may hope will one day be brought about, and though on account of the divergencies of opinion that exist at the present moment we feel there are almost insuperable difficulties in front of us, there are, nevertheless, members in your Lordships' House who are fully capable and competent to deal with all the great subjects with which we may be confronted.
The noble Lord, in Clause 2 of his Bill, has gone so far as to specify the people on whom the honour of a Life Peerage should be conferred, and the noble Marquess dealt with that point in a very proper manner. If such a principle was enacted it is not; the older men on whom your Lordships would like to see this honour conferred. It really is the younger men one would like to see coming into this House and taking part in our debates. I always feel, in the responsible position which I may be said 'to be occupying at the present moment, in speaking on behalf of His Majesty's Government, that it is our duty to do whatever we can to encourage younger men to come and take part in these debates, and it is a matter of sincere regret that a smaller number take part than the numbers spoken of by the noble Earl behind me, although I would not say that the number is decreasing as time goes on.
I do not feel I can add anything in regard to my own personal point of view. My only duty in rising to-day was to inform your Lordships of the attitude of the Government, which is that they feel, if any measure of this description is undertaken, it should be as part of a larger reform, and that on the question of a larger reform the same remarks apply which my noble friend Lord Hailsham made on the Bill brought forward by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, when he said:I ought, however, to make it clear that it is not possible to hold out any hope that this Bill, or any Bill dealing with this subject, can pass into law during the present Session.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I am very sorry to stand between my noble and learned friend Lord Merrivale and your Lordships' House, but I shall be very brief. Allow me to say a word or two on this subject. May I begin by once more trying to convince noble Lords who represent the Labour party in this House that we who sit on 604 this side of the House are not so one-sided in our opinions as they seem to imagine? I hoped I had convinced the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and others that Conservatives really have a sense of fairness in this matter, and that we are most anxious that in any reform in your Lordships' House there shall be adequate representation of Labour, but I noticed that the old cliché of attack upon Conservatives, and myself as one of them, still found its place in the speech of my noble friend Lord Snell. I am very sorry I have not been able to persuade him. We should like to see a great many more Labour Lords here if that could be managed.
I have listened to this debate with great interest and a good deal of sympathy. My noble friend Lord Rockley has introduced this Bill and has recommended it to your Lordships in a speech of studied moderation. There was very little in it to which anybody could object and the noble Marquess who leads the Liberal Party has strongly supported it. It is an unusual position in which I stand, but there was very little in the speech of the noble Marquess with which I did not agree. He is quite right in saying that as a matter of theoretical arrangement it would be a very good thing if, by means of Life Peerages, you could have a, larger number of Labour representatives and a better distribution of Parties in the House. The difficulty is, I am afraid, that my noble friend's Bill will not do that. But it will do something, and if there was any chance of its being a practical Bill which Parliament was going actually to pass—I shall say a word or two about that in a moment—I am not sure I should not be anxious to see something on these lines done.
It would be a good thing if you could have representatives of the trade unions and of labour organisations in this House. But the truth is there is no such chance of anything of the kind occurring. The noble Marquess who has just spoken from the Front Bench has told you in very familiar words why it is that nothing can be done. I am very much obliged to the noble Marquess. He spoke as he always does, clearly, and explained many of the qualities of your Lordships' House, which we all know and value. He said nothing can be done in the way of reform so far as the Government were concerned. 605 I was not surprised to hear him say so; I knew he would say so. What is the position then? Suppose your Lordships thought fit to carry this Bill?
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
I do not know whether I ought to correct the noble Marquess, but what I thought I had said, and what I meant to say, was "in the present Session."
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I will riot go into what possibly may happen next Session, but, at any rate so far as my noble friend's view is concerned, we only have to deal with the present Session, because by the rule of Parliament cur proceedings come completely to an end at every Prorogation. We really are not dealing with any substantial matter of reform. If I may use the phrase, this must be a purely academical discussion, admirably sustained, I agree, in the speeches which have been delivered, but it is merely an academical exercise on your Lordships' part in order to show what views you take upon the subject. Upon the academical side of it, I am largely in agreement with my noble friend and the noble Marquess. There is no measure, as far as I know, of the reform, of this House which has been proposed which does not embrace the particular feature which this Bill presents. Life Peerages in one form or another have more or less entered into almost every 'scheme that I have ever seen. Therefore, in that sense, it is a step in the right direction. But it is not going to be effective. It is not going to pass into law.
Supposing your Lordships were to carry it, what would be the result? People would say: "This is what the Lords want for the reform of their House. Here it is, fifty Life Peers in. ten years. That is their idea of reform. After all these great discussions, all these wonderful ideas of root-and-branch reform, all the questions of what is going to happen to the Parliament Act and so forth, it all conies down to fifty Life Peers in ten years." I think if that were the conclusion which the country drew, it would be a very unfortunate conclusion, and I cannot help thinking, when I say so, that I shall command almost universal assent in your Lordships' House. I believe there is hardly anybody sitting on any of the Benches in this House who would regard 606 that result as anything but a very poor and almost a contemptible result. In saying that I am not meaning anything disrespectful to the Bill. I mean that it would be considered almost a contemptible result looked at as a measure of what the reform of your Lordships' House ought to be. Therefore, personally, I should be sorry to see this Bill pass through your Lordships' House, because I think it would mislead public opinion.
If it was going to be taken up by the Government, if it was going to be given time in another place so that it might pass, then we should have to look at it from quite a different point of view. Then all the arguments which the noble-Marquess and my noble friend have put forward would become matters of very, serious consideration. We should have to think whether we ought not, upon that footing alone, to take a measure by which we might increase Labour representation to a very limited extent, and by which we might introduce one or two distinguished gentlemen of other persuasions who are unwilling to take Hereditary Peerages. I think there are many fewer of those than noble Lords seem to think. There are, of course, a certain number, especially of the Labour Party, who, for very honourable reasons, have a difficulty in accepting an Hereditary Peerage, but it is not a very common difficulty if you take all ranks of society. Most of them, I think, if they were asked, would very much prefer an Hereditary Peerage.
That being the position in which I stand, I have to ask myself what I propose to do with my own humble vote if your Lordships go to a Division. I cannot see myself voting against the Second' Reading of my noble friend's Bill, because, in principle, I think it is a good' measure; but to pass it through your Lordships' House and to give people the, impression that this is House of Lords' reform of 1935, that this is really the thing which they have come to, I think would be unfortunate; and certainly hope, whether your Lordships accord a Second Reading to my noble friend's Bill or not, that my noble friend will see, in the absence of any support from the Government, for which I do not criticise the Government for a moment, that he will be very unwise to ask us to go any further in the subsequent stages of his Bill.
§ LORD MERRIVALE
My Lords, if I may occupy your Lordships' time for a very few minutes, I should like to associate myself in principle with what the noble Earl, Lord Midleton, said, in regard to this Bill. The matter really has to be looked at as a practical question—that is how it strikes me—in view of the existing circumstances and the outstanding problems of our time. The noble Marquess on the Front Bench reminded us that this is a democratic country, and we are proud of it. In this democratic country you have at the present time a body of upwards of 700 legislators, nine-tenths of them representing the privileged classes of the community, and if you have that state of things in a democratic country, it is pregnant with danger. We have been reminded, not very long ago, of dangers which may threaten the country, because there are people who take the view that, the Parliament Act being what it is, you could, for all practical purpose, disable the House of Lords. And so you could. How you could do it has been pointed out. The question is whether, in a democratic country with an Hereditary House of between 700 and 800 members, most of them members of the privileged classes in the country, it is a judicious thing to add a new privileged class. That is what my noble friend's Bill proposes to do.
He will quite understand that I do not lightly criticise a Bill of his, but I think the substance of the matter is that he proposes to add to this House a new privileged class. Are you going to strengthen the House by that means? Are you going to reinforce it for useful purposes? Are you going to achieve any of the objects which you ought to have in view in a democratic country with a working Legislature dealing fairly as between, class and class with the great questions that arise? My noble friend says quite fairly, "Oh, we really want to introduce the principle of a Life Peerage." If this were a Bill introduced in the year 1888—when I think the noble Lord's uncle took an active interest in these matters—and there were a proposal then for sanctioning Life Peerages, it would be a different matter. But how must it appear to the masses of the people of this country if this House, when one of the great problems of the time is reform which shall adjust it to modern conditions, says: 608 "The kind of reform we will give you is to add to the 730 odd members of privileged classes the members of a new, order of merit"? As it seems to me, a proposal of that kind does not really present the views of this House in the proper light to the country at large.
If my noble friend were proposing that there should be Life Peerages I should be with him. I very greatly regret what I think was a mistake made seventy years ago or thereabouts, when it was decided that the Crown was not able to appoint Life Peers. But you cannot go back upon that by side-tracking the question as it is proposed to do. Here is one of the great questions of our time—to adjust the relationship of the House of Lords to its position in a democratic country—and the contribution which this House is asked to make is the really fanciful contribution which my noble friend proposes! I was very much struck by reading in one of the London newspapers, I think it was yesterday, an article written by a very capable writer with much experience of political questions. Discussing this matter which is now before your Lordships' House he wound up with this observation:To-day the proposals put forward by Lord Rockley are like an architect's plan for the addition of an oriel window to an ancient hall whose preservation urgently requires new foundations and a new lead roof.Taking those views, of course I cannot support my noble friend on the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ EARL PEEL
My Lords, I do not wish to detain you more than a few minutes, but my point of view is rather different from that of some noble Lords who have spoken. May I say that I was very interested in the speech of the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, particularly in his references to the Parliament Act and to the Preamble of that Act. I thought that the Liberal Party had forgotten all about the Preamble of the Parliament Act, and I am greatly relieved to know that it still lives in their consciousness. I feel—rather on the lines of the two noble Lords who spoke recently—that the real attitude of your Lordships' House on this important question, and on the relation of this House to another place, has been defined over and over again in the last few years. It has been defined, indeed, in very drastic measures of reform which in 609 certain circumstances this House is ready to accept. My noble friend Lord Rockley, recited several of the proposals and Resolutions that have been passed, but there were a good many others that he did not recite. There were, for instance, the proposals laid before your Lordships' House by Lord Cave on behalf of the Government of the day, and remember perfectly well as a member of that Government the way they were treated in another place, not by the Opposition but by our own side. There has remained in my mind the immense difficulty of dealing with a subject like this in regard to what happened in another place. That, to my mind, really governs the Whole matter, and it is to that that we ought to direct our minds.
If I may just refer to what my noble friend the Marquess of Salisbury said, I think there is a very great danger if we say that we have abandoned all those rather large schemes of reform and send down now to another place something which I agree is quite useful—I do not object to Life Peers—but which is so different in scope and in magnitude from the proposals we have dealt with in the last dozen years. I am afraid there would be a great danger of misapprehension in the country. The Parliamentary shores are, as it were, full of the wreckage of the proposals for the reform of this Chamber. Let us, if we can, recognise the basic fact of the situation. There is undoubtedly in another place—I speak of it with all respect—a feeling of corporate jealously of a great Chamber which will not agree to any reform in this place, however useful that reform may be, if it increases the power of this House and thereby necessarily diminishes the power of the other House. That is the rock on which all these proposals stumbled. We have asserted our readiness to be reformed. We have proclaimed it again and again, and to my mind there is something a little lacking in dignity in sending fresh proposals down to another place and asking it to accept them. I think we have already done enough in the way of laying our suppliant crowns before another place.
I am convinced that, the initiative has now passed to the House of Commons. If we are to have a. reform of this place—and surely the country must acquit us of any reluctance on that subject—initiative ought to conic from another place 610 and the burden, I consider, of dealing with this great constitutional question now rests on the House of Commons. That is the point of view I take of these proposals, and in closing I would only say that I was much struck by the carefully guarded phrase used by my noble friend the Marquess of Londonderry as to reform not taking place this Session. I should like to know if the inference to be drawn from that is that the members of this Government—a National Government, which must be better equipped to bring in a measure of reform than any other Government—have at last made up their minds as to the measures they are going to bring forward, and that, this Session having been devoted to reform in India, the next and last Session is to be devoted to the reform of the House of Lords.
§ LORD HUNSDON OF HUNSDON
My Lords, I have no great contribution of value to make to this debate, but I want to assure my noble friend Lord Rockley that there is one person at all events on this side of the House who agrees with him. Speakers from this side of the House have laid great stress on the necessity of a comprehensive scheme. You know perfectly well that there have been countless numbers of comprehensive schemes put before us, and I think I am right in saying there is not one Party in the State which has agreed on any one of those schemes. Now we have a National Government composed of three Parties. Is it reasonable to think, is it the least likely that a National Government composed of three Parties will agree to any of these schemes?
I am most anxious for the reform of this House, as I believe all of us are on this side. My opinion is that if we go on with these comprehensive schemes—and whether we are lacking in dignity or not by putting forward other suggestions I do not care a straw—the only way to get the reform of the House of Lords is to proceed by steps. The noble Lord behind me has indicated one step. I do not in the least say that the addition of fifty Life Peers will do very much to improve the personnel of this House, but I believe that it would make this House appear more authoritative in the minds of the people and give us a better chance of introducing further reforms. For that reason I intend to support my noble friend Lord Rockley.
§ LORD ROCKLEY
My Lords, as the introducer of the Bill, I should merely like to deal with two or three of the speeches which have been delivered. I cannot see that we have got any further in this debate than mildly to bless the principle of Life Peerages and to say that we still disagree about everything else. I indeed wish that the Government would take more active steps in this matter, and make up their minds on any similar matter connected with the reform of this House, but I fear that beyond airing the question to-day we have done very little. I should like warmly to thank the noble Marques's who sits on the Front Bench, the Marquess of Londonderry, for his kind words about the Bill, and the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, for what he said on the whole of the subject-matter of the Bill. I entirely agree with practically every word he said on that subject.
As to the suggestion which he made about Clause 2 being partially dropped, I am quite prepared to consider it if we get to Committee. I think, indeed, that I indicated in my former remarks that I felt some difficulty about a definition and that I was not sure that the definition in the clause was absolutely watertight. The reason why I endeavoured to put in a definition was, however, what I described as illustrated by the debate in this House in June, 1929. I wanted to be sure that as far as possible any choice by leading authorities should be closely circumscribed by the necessity to appoint really eminent and proper persons.
So far as Lord Snell has spoken, I am sorry that he does not go very far towards assisting the Bill, if at all. He points out a great many difficulties, and hardly recognises the effort—though he agrees that there is a kindly motive—which I made in bringing forward a side of the question which might possibly have been agreed upon more unanimously. He only said that it is patching up an institution which he does not appreciate. The noble Marquess, Lord Reading, also mentioned the question of trade unions being represented in this House—as indeed several other noble Lords have also desired. I want to make it perfectly clear that one of my objects in bringing in this Bill was to give some further representation to trade unions or 612 others—to use the words of the Bill—"in social and industrial work."
Further, I quite appreciate the kind words which my noble friend Lord Salisbury has spoken about the Bill itself, and I think I understand his attitude. I cannot, however, help feeling that this Bill was brought forward as, and still remains, a gesture indicating that we want to do something effective in this House, and as a gesture I feel that we certainly ought to give it a Second Reading; I am not prepared at the present moment to say how much further we should go. We want to show that this is a serious question with us, and I do not think the question is always answered by trying to arrive at more or less agreed, or disagreed, schemes which in the end evolve into nothing. I had some hopes that this Bill might evolve into something if the Government were prepared to give it a less cold shoulder. As it is, I see the difficulty of the situation, and I can only hope that the Government will on another occasion take a more active line.
I have not overlooked the proposals of the late Lord Cave, to which my noble friend Lord Peel referred, but I cannot quite see, either with him or with my noble friend Lord Salisbury, why the passage of this Bill into law would cause serious misapprehension in the country. I do not think it would. In view of the debate that has taken place here, I should have thought that it showed we really meant business. I know that we have often tried to mean business which has not effectually come off, but that is no reason why this debate should be so interpreted in the country. I should have thought that many of us could proclaim in the country, by speech and otherwise, that this was a serious gesture and not a farcical one. I do not think I have anything further to add. I am surprised that my noble friend Lord Merrivale considers that I am putting up a new privileged class. I do not follow his argument in the least. I should not have thought that it was in any way setting up a privileged class to put fifty new Peers into this House, and I should not have thought that at all a good reason for opposing the Bill. I think I have dealt with all the speeches that have been made, and I am much obliged to your Lordships.
§ On Question, Whether the words proposed to be left out shall stand part of the Motion?
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Bill read 2a accordingly.