HL Deb 04 March 1946 vol 139 cc1019-64

had given Notice that he would move to resolve, That women should be eligible to be made Peers on the same terms as men. The noble Viscount had also given Notice of the two following Resolutions—"That it is expedient to create a limited number of Life Peers to sit and vote as Peers in this House; "and" That on the Motion of a Minister of the Crown this House may permit any Minister of the Crown not being a Peer to attend and speak at a debate on any specified question." The noble Viscount said: My Lords, there are three Motions standing in my name, and I propose, if your Lordships will permit me to take that course, to say something about the common purpose which underlies them all—because my three proposals are connected with one another. Then I would move the first Resolution, and in doing so just say a word or two about the two others. In that way I hope I can save your Lordships' time and make the idea I have in mind intelligible. May I, in the first place, explain that the Motions standing in my name are not designed as a contribution to what may be called the House of Lords question The present phase of that question has its origin, as your Lordships are well aware, in the Parliament Act which was passed in 1911. There you will find that it was intended to substitute for the House of Lords a second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of a hereditary basis, to which certain legislative powers were going to be assigned. Nothing, in fact, has been done to carry out this part of the Act, although several proposals have been considered and may be considered by your Lordships' House. One proposal, I believe, reached the House of Commons, which at that time had a Conservative majority, in some form or another, and it then became clear that even in those conditions the other House was not prepared to take action on the subject. All this controversy centred round the legislative powers of this House, and the changes which should be made in its membership if it was to exercise all or any part of them.

My Motions are not intended to raise in any way this difficult and delicate subject. They are concerned not with the legislative, but the deliberative, part of our functions. There is a strange, and as I think, altogether unhistorical, opinion, that Parliamentary debates are of very little importance, the only useful business of Parliament being to pass laws and on occasion to turn out Governments. It is a cliché of a certain type of writer in the Press and elsewhere to refer to the Houses of Parliament as talking shops. I read the other day a comment on the proceedings of the United Nations Assembly which was in that case described by the same phrase. I venture to submit to your Lordships that nothing could be more ignorant or in error than this implied criticism. Parliament means etymologically, and it ought to mean, a place where its members talk, for it is by talk that questions can be elucidated, confusion can be clarified, and that fundamental agreement reached which is really the foundation of the whole of our Constitution. It is obvious that if discussion is to attain these objects, it must be free from ill-temper and extravagance, from personalities—as I think is provided by one of the Standing Orders of your Lordships' House—and, if possible, from Party spirit. If I may be allowed to say so without impertinence, I would submit that this House affords special advantages for a discussion of that kind. It contains among its members those who have great knowledge on a number of subjects—on science and art, commerce and industry, finance, law and religion—especially in their relation to public matters. We have amongst us the greatest soldiers, sailors and airmen of the day, sitting side by side with bishops and judges, diplomats and doctors, bankers and industrialists, not to speak of administrators and statesmen. It would be difficult to find a topic on which we could not receive expert advice from our members equal to any that can be found elsewhere. Thus what is sometimes thought to be a weakness is, from this point of view, a strength.

Without touching on a question which I am anxious to avoid, I think I may say without becoming controversial in any way that this House cannot turn out a Government. One result of that is that the Party ties here are much less strong than they are in the other House. No Whip here seeks to put pressure on us, whatever our opinions may be. No caucus will pass votes of censure or threaten us with political annihilation if we do not toe the Party line. That makes debates here much more open and genuine than they can be where the Party spirit is supreme. Conversely, we have the right to claim we are quite free from obstruction over smaller evils. It is rare, if I may say so without impertinence, for a Peer to speak unless he has something to say which is worth saying. We need no closure. Our rules of debate are happily quite free from technicalities. We require no absolute President to prevent us from disorderly conduct or irrelevant speech. Even the Leader of the House, who to some extent directs our debates, never goes beyond tendering advice as to what we should do on the rare occasions when some technical difficulty arises. All this makes for great freedom of speech and creates a general atmosphere in which I venture to think that the object is not so much that of demolishing our opponents as to convert them from the error of their ways. We seldom hear angry interjections and never tumultuous applause. Even the dullest of us—I speak feelingly—are heard with exemplary politeness, and if we have any novel fact or argument to communicate to the House it will always be received with careful attention.

These are some of the circumstances which make this House extremely well qualified to act as what my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition, whom I regret is prevented from being here today, called a Council of State. During the war years it did so act. It discharged duties of great importance and discharged them usefully, as has been generally admitted. We had frequent discussions on many questions. There were differences of opinion, of course, but nothing was said except with the object of assisting the Government of the country. Sometimes the debates took place on questions or resolutions, while others arose on propositions of a purely formal character. But the note sounded in them was always the same. As my noble friend Lord Woolton told us the other day, during the time he was Minister of Food he never left the House after one of the numerous food debates that we had without having received much information and many useful hints. I believe that other Departmental Ministers would say much the same thing.

It is unnecessary for me further to labour this point. Your Lordships all know the facts and I hope your Lordships will agree that, whatever may happen to other functions of your Lordships' House, it would be a thousand pities if this one ceased to be effectively discharged. We are, I believe, approaching a very difficult period in our history. We have immense responsibilities, material and moral, and most observers agree that our actual strength is not increasing. We cannot afford to disregard the opportunities which our Constitution gives us of considering with knowledge and impartiality the problems which we shall have to solve. It is a fact, I think, that in human affairs nothing ever stands still If an institution does not grow it will almost certainly deteriorate.

The Resolutions which stand in my name deal with minor points, I agree. I certainly do not put them forward as in any sense revolutionary. They are designed rather to prevent the possibility of deterioration by making three minor improvements in our practice and procedure where they seem to me capable of improvement. All that I ask is that they shall be considered from that point of view and that point of view only. As I have said, I propose, with your Lordships' permission, in moving the first of these three Motions to say a few words in respect of each of the others since they are connected with one another.

By the first Resolution I propose that the disqualification of women from sitting as Peers should be removed. I put it in perfectly general terms and without going into detail at all. No doubt if your Lordships accept that Resolution it will be necessary to pass an Act dealing with the various details which will arise. I notice that my noble friend the Earl of Mansfield suggests that Peeresses in their own right, if I understand him rightly, should be allowed to sit here forthwith without any further grant from the Crown. I will not discuss that proposal at this moment (I am very far from being opposed to it) beyond saying that I hope that it in no way conflicts with the Resolution that I am moving. If that Resolution is passed, any Bill based on it will certainly have to deal with the point he raises and provide the proper solution of it. Now that Bill to have any opportunity of success—I am merely speaking of what everybody knows—must be introduced by the Government, without whose support legislation on the subject would have little chance, at least in another place. That is the main reason why I am proceeding by Resolution and not by Bill. This is a matter which I think must be dealt with by the Government who will no doubt take full cognizance of the feeling of this House on the question.

My short reason for urging the abolition of this disqualification is quite simply this: There are women who would be admirable members of this House and who would strengthen it on its deliberative side by being able to put forward for the consideration of the members of this House a woman's point of view, especially for instance on social questions like food or housing. Without mentioning any living woman I may remind the House—it is almost unnecessary to do so—that such names as Elizabeth Fry, or Florence Nightingale, or Octavia Hill and many others will suggest themselves as justification for the broad proposal to open to women the last door in matters of civil administration which still remains closed to them. They can vote for and sit on all other administrative bodies. They can be policewomen and judges and doctors and they have shown that they can discharge the very highest functions of government with outstanding success. I venture to think that they would be equally valuable as Peers of Parliament.

I will now say a word or two about the other Resolutions. The second Resolution stands on almost exactly the same reasoning as the first. That is the Resolution in respect of the creation of a few Life Peers. There are individuals who would, I believe, be generally regarded as useful members of this House, but they are unwilling, for reasons into which it is unnecessary to enter, to accept hereditary Peerages. I know, of course, that this Life Peerage question has raised controversy on political grounds, and-that is why I propose that the number of Life Peerages should be limited. My idea is that some twenty or thirty would be quite enough to bring in those whose help would be of special value.

Thirdly and lastly, I come to an entirely different point, and one which is a little more delicate. I have reminded your Lordships of advantages which we have in discussing important public questions; but we have one disadvantage. A discussion, to be fruitful, must obviously embrace all sides to it, which means that in public affairs we must know what is the view of the department of the Government which is specially interested in it. But, owing to various reasons, some of the Departments have no representatives in this House. The result is that when a question is brought up affecting one of those unrepresented Departments the only resource has been to ask another member of the Government, often, though not always, a junior member, to give a reply. In past days I may say, if your Lordships will permit me, that I have been in that position myself, in the old days when I was a good Party man and serving in a subordinate capacity as a Minister. That position is not an agreeable one. Departments are not particularly pleased if their case is put forward by an individual who is not officially connected with them and to whom perhaps they do not give their full confidence. His only resource is to read out the views given him by the Department, and if they do not happen to deal with the points raised in debate, politely to evade an answer. I have said that it is often a junior Minister who has to do this, but we had an example the other day of a Cabinet Minister who had to take similar action and found it very unsatisfactory. You will remember that the other day the Lord Chancellor was speaking on the Austrian question, on which Lord Vansittart and the Earl of Perth had already spoken, and he said that, unlike them, he had no special knowledge of the subject; that he had been unable to consult the Secretary of State, and that therefore he was bound to rely on the Foreign Office brief, which he did, not thinking however that that was a satisfactory method of dealing with the question. I hope I have not misquoted his Lordship.

My suggestion is that in order to deal with that particular case, where a Departmen has no Peer attached to it the Government of the day should be entitled to ask this House to allow some Minister with a seat in the House of Commons to attend any special debate on that question, so that the matters raised may be dealt with adequately. You will see that I have taken some pains not to make this in any sense a general political question; my Motion is merely to deal with a practical difficulty. I notice that my noble friend the Earl of Mansfield has a Motion on it, but I think he will agree with me that it deals with a rather different point, so I will not say anything more about it at this moment.

I also notice that my noble friend Lord Chesham has put down Amendments to two of these Resolutions. I do not want to discuss those Amendments now beyond saying that they seem to urge that nothing short of a complete scheme of House of Lords reform can be, or ought to be, accepted—at least, that is what I understand the Amendments to mean. Since there is no chance that such a scheme would pass the other House, at any rate as at present constituted—or, if we look back on recent history, I think we may say in any case—it means that we are not to try for any change in this House, however beneficial it might be in itself. I should regret it if your Lordships arrived at such a conclusion as that. That is all I wish to say in opening this case, and I desire now to move the first Resolution.

Moved to resolve, That women should be eligible to be made Peers on the same terms as men.—(Viscount Cecil of Chelwood.)

4.24 p.m.


had given Notice of an amendment to the Resolution, to leave out all the words after "That" and insert "it is inexpedient to decide upon isolated proposals for changing the composition of this House." The noble Lord said: My Lords, I would like to draw your attention to the wording of the Amendment which is on the Paper in my name. In bringing this Amendment to your Lordships' attention, I do not want to enter in any way into a discussion as to the merits of the Resolutions which have been so well advocated by the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil. I do not want to raise the point whether it would be a good thing to have women Peers, or Peeresses in their own right, or to adopt the other suggestion to have Life Peers. There are several of us on this side, and I think on both sides of the House, who think that it would be a very great pity to alter the existing constitution of this Chamber. The Resolutions which are on the Paper, and one of which has been moved, do very definitely contemplate a change in the constitution and the composition of this House and therefore of the whole Parliamentary system. Not only that, but Viscount Cecil said that all that was required was for a Bill to be passed through Parliament. I venture to say, however, that very much more complicated legislation would be necessary than for one simple Bill to be brought forward by the Government or anybody else. There are all kinds of old Statutes which would have to be amended. It would be a very complicated Bill which would have to go through. Moreover, these Resolutions definitely involve the question of the Royal Prerogative. Whether that was considered or not before the Resolutions were put down, I do not know.

These are very drastic changes, and in moving this Amendment I want your Lordships to consider whether such drastic changes are really necessary. The noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, very ably, and much better than I could possibly do, drew attention to this House as it is constituted at present. Be praised it and pointed out the very important function which it was called upon to perform, and said it was performing that function very well. I think the noble Viscount's words were that we must admit that it was well qualified to act as a Council of State. Are we not carrying out that function? Are we failing in any way? I am not the oldest member of this House and a great many of your Lordships have had many more years' experience of it than I have had. I am not highly qualified to talk about matters of statesmanship, Parliamentary procedure, and so on. At the same time, I am afraid it is a good number of years since I first took my seat, and the longer I have the privilege of taking part in your Lordships' proceedings, the more impressed I am with the functions which this House is called upon to perform and the way in which it carries them out. I believe it to be very able and extremely efficient.

So far as legislation is concerned, any that is put before the House receives the greatest consideration and scrutiny. Opinions on such legislation are expressed freely and frankly, and where it is necessary to revise any proposed measure in the national interest, such revision takes place. On the debating or consultative side, I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, that the standard of debate in this House is probably as high as you will find anywhere in the world. I know it has been said that the attendance here is not perhaps as good as it should be, but I would like to call attention to the large number of members of this House who are performing most important and invaluable functions all over the world. Not only that, but a very large number of your Lordships take part in local work in your own areas, duties which are no less important to the national life of our land. Nevertheless, I think we all admit that, certainly during the last few years, the average attendance here has increased very considerably in spite of not quite adequate accommodation. We are very limited as to accommodation, and if the attendance increases very much more, as it looks like doing, your Lordships may be called upon to consider where it can be accommodated.

Are we short of new blood and new ideas? I do not think anybody can say that. The best brains and the best men in this country are being frequently introduced into this House; it is becoming almost a weekly occurrence to have introductions of people who deserve to sit in this House, who can add their quota to it, and thereby strengthen it. If I may refer to hereditary Peers, I think your Lordships will have been very pleased to have noticed the number of young Peers who have been serving their country, who are now leaving the Services, and who have shown themselves ready and willing to shoulder the obligations to which they have succeeded. I do not think we need worry about who is going to carry on the work and the traditions of this House in the future. The noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, referred to the wealth of knowledge possessed by this House. As a matter of fact, he has stolen most of my thunder, although I do not quite see eye to eye with him on the main point. In this House there are experts in every branch of knowledge; we have experts in all forms of culture and service, and in the various interests which go to make up life in this modern world. I venture to say that the reputation of this House stands as high now as it ever did, in spite of the lack of publicity and general knowledge outside, which has been inevitable owing to restrictions due to the war.

The whole of the world is at the moment in a state of flux. The last six years have dealt a blow to stability in this world such as it has never suffered before. Constitutions and Governments are having to be re-formed all round us in a terrifying number of cases. Even in this Parliament, the House of Commons as it is now constituted, with notable exceptions, is largely composed of young and inexperienced people. I am not saying this in any Party or hostile spirit; I think noble Lords opposite will be the first to agree that on all sides in the House of Commons there is not political experience in as great strength as there used to be. Many of the people experienced in Parliamentary life have come up to this House, and it is in this House that you will find Parliamentary and political experience and statesmanship. It is for those reasons that I suggest that it would be foolish to alter the composition of this House. Keep it as it is, with its wealth of knowledge and experience. It is not perfect—there is nothing perfect in this world—but I claim that it is efficient and that it is performing a function of the very greatest value to the nation and to the Empire. It is working well and therefore my advice is to leave it alone. I beg to move the Amendment which stands in my name.

Amendment moved— Leave out all words after ("That"), and insert, ("it is inexpedient to decide upon isolated proposals for changing the composition of this house.")—(Lord Chesham.)

4.37 p.m.


My Lords, I will follow the example of the noble Viscount who moved this first Resolution by making comments upon all three. I think that will be the most convenient way of dealing with the matter. As a matter of fact, I propose to refer to four. I am sure your Lordships will agree with me that it is the duty of the Government to give most careful consideration to Resolutions of this character placed on the Paper by one of the experience and high standing of the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil. It is on that account that we have given very careful consideration to them. I should like to say how cordially I agree with him and with the noble Lord opposite in what they have said to the high value of the discussions which take place in this House. So far as my experience goes, it is, I think, fair to say that notwithstanding the disadvantages from which we suffered during the war years, this House during those years discharged its deliberative functions in a way that redounded to its credit and attracted increasing attention in the country. I am rather inclined to think that the increase in attendance to which the noble Lord referred just now is partly the result of the enhanced reputation which your Lordships' House has recently acquired owing to the value and quality of its discussions and deliberations.

In considering any proposed changes in the constitution of the House, we are bound to have regard to all its functions and powers. Whilst the deliberative side of its functions was quite properly referred to by the noble Viscount, we cannot forget its legislative powers and duties as well. The first two Resolutions which the noble Viscount has on the Paper, taken by themselves, are logically unassailable. The time is past when we could contend, or anybody would seek to contend, that suitable women are not capable of discharging the highest functions. We have had women members of Parliament for a long time. We have had women Cabinet Ministers. There is one in the Cabinet at present, and she is a very distinguished and efficient Minister. As I say, we have had women Cabinet Ministers before, and it would, clearly, be illogical, taking this matter by itself, to contend that if women are suitable or appropriate to be in the Cabinet they would not be appropriate to sit in this House. The proposition that they would be appropriate is logically unassailable.

It is also true without a doubt that certain men, whom your Lordships, I am quite sure, would be glad to welcome, have not felt themselves at liberty to accept Peerages because an hereditary obligation went with them. It would, no doubt, be true that in those cases the standard of contribution which they might make to your Lordships' discussions, if they were here, would enhance the quality of debates in your Lordships' House. There, again, logically, taken by itself, I do not think you could say that that proposition was unsound. Unfortunately, we cannot shut our eyes to the fact that any one alteration would immediately give rise to a demand for others. We have given very careful consideration to the implications of any such alterations, and the Government, with regard to the three Resolutions put forward by the noble Viscount, have come to the conclusion that, so far as they are concerned, they do not wish to initiate any alterations.

We know, and, indeed, anyone who is experienced in the political life of this country must know also, that proposals of this kind would inevitably—whether we like it or not and whatever might be our original intentions—involve much wider issues, some of them of an exceedingly controversial character. So far as the Government are concerned, they have no desire to invite these controversies. As to what may happen in the future, there is of course the possibility that these issues may be forced upon us, and that they may have to be recognized. But, as I say so far as the Government are concerned, they are not desirous of raising these much wider and exceedingly controversial issues. If they are raised, they will be forced upon us, and faced accordingly. But that is not our desire as things stand, and for these reasons, and in view of many of the implications which, as every experienced member of this House knows, lie behind it, I regret that we cannot accept, so far as the Government are concerned, the noble Viscount's proposals.

With regard to the third Resolution, that which deals with the possibility of Ministers of the Crown who are not Peers speaking in this House, I would point out that anything of that kind clearly could not be one-sided. If it was conceded, obviously speakers from one House—representing Departments, of course, of a proper standing—would be entitled to speak in either House. That again raises the question of alterations in our Parliamentary procedure which, I am afraid, would have more far-reaching consequences than appear on the surface. For that reason also, as a part of the general feeling which I have expressed, the Government do not desire to raise that issue either. Therefore, in view of the matters that are already in front of us, we really, with regret, feel ourselves compelled to say that we do not find it expedient to give our support to the changes which the noble Viscount suggests, although we recognize that each one, logically, by itself, may be quite reasonable. But we recognize that they would involve much more than may appear at the moment, and for that reason we are not desirous of provoking the controversies which, in our view, would inevitably arise.

Now may I come to the Resolution of the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield. The noble Earl proposes to move to resolve that Peeresses in their own right should be eligible to sit and vote in this House. I have taken some trouble, with the assistance of the officers of the House, to acquaint myself with the history of this particular matter. It is a question not so much of the constitution of the House as of sex disqualification, which, of course, is another matter altogether. I have gone into the case of Lady Rhondda, and I must trouble your Lordships for a minute or two to consider what happened in that case. When the Viscount Rhondda was given his title it was provided that in default of an heir, the title should go to the Viscountess Rhondda. Lord Rhondda died on July 3, 1918, and Lady Rhondda petitioned for a Writ of Summons to Parliament on April 8, 1921. His Majesty's Government referred the petition to this House, and the House referred it to the Committee for Privileges. This was in 1921. The Committee for Privileges sat on March 2, 1921, and heard counsel, and, on March 6, they reported to the House that but for the disqualification existing by reason of her sex the said Viscountess Rhondda would upon succession to the said Viscounty have been entitled to receive a Writ of Summons. They they reported that: "It is desirable that this House should humbly beseech His Majesty that a Writ of Summons to Parliament should be sent to the said Viscountess Rhondda."

That was the result of the proceedings of that Committee. The Committee's Report was considered by the House on March 30, 1922. The Report was referred back, the Committee for Privileges was again constituted and again the matter was considered. This Committee, on June 27, 1922, reported to the House that Lady Rhondda was not entitled to receive a Writ of Summons. On July 4, 1922, the House took the Report of this Committee into consideration, and they finally decided to adopt the Committee's report. It was decided accordingly that Lady Rhondda was not entitled to make an application. That was how the matter stood, and it has remained there since 1922.

On this particular matter, which we regard as a question merely of sex disqualification, our view is that we should leave it to your Lordships to decide. It is not a question of the constitution of the House of Peers; it is a question of whether a woman should have this remaining disqualification attached to her because she is a woman. Frankly, my view is that she ought not. I am only speaking now for myself. I am only saying that, so far as the Government is concerned, if your Lordships desire to adopt the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield's Resolution to remove sex disqualification in this particular case, we suggest that it should be left freely to the vote of the House, and if the House says it wants the change made, the Government is prepared to take it into consideration, given facilities for the necessary procedures.


Would that be a Bill?


It would have to be a Bill. I need not explain the technicalities, but it would require a Bill, certainly.


Might I interrupt the noble Viscount for one moment? I have a fairly clear recollection of the case, and indeed I have been reading about it within the last twenty-four hours. Some people thought previously the reason why Lady Rhondda's request failed was because, on examining the terms of the Peerage granted to her father, it appeared that the form of the grant which the Crown had made was not one which gave her a seat and voice. The matter must depend, therefore, to some extent on the form of the grant made to the individual and not on some question about sex disqualification.


I quite recognize that; I quite agree, and the noble Lord will notice that in my final sentences I did not refer to this particular case. I dealt merely with the question of sex disqualification. All I am saying today, so far as the Government are concerned, is that they are wishful to leave the matter to the free vote of the House. Personally I would vote with the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield. As to the other matters, I am sorry we cannot see our way to accept the Resolutions moved by the noble Viscount, for the reasons I have indicated.

4.55 p.m.


My Lords, subject to some observations I should like to make later on the last point referred to by the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, I should like to express agreement with the course proposed by the Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, although I reached the same conclusion along a somewhat different path. The prestige of this House is to-day very high, higher I think than at any time I have known it during my political life. For the reasons so charmingly and gratifyingly stated by the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, the standards of debate here are regarded by the public at large as worthy of the great themes that are discussed. Frequently this House has been able to give useful guidance to the public at large on important matters. The business here being less congested than in the House of Commons, we are able to give consideration to topics which are not of a specially urgent character, but which may prove to be important for the future, as, for example, the subject which is before us to-day. The House of Commons, under a great and constant pressure of business, has not enough time for them, and so the functions of the two Houses seem to be divided: while the House of Commons acts, the House of Lords thinks. Consequently the rapidity with which business is necessarily passed through the first House of Parliament does necessitate exceedingly careful and detailed revision by the second Chamber and that function is unquestionably being particularly well performed here at the present time.

There is another reason, which I submit to your Lordships is perhaps the most important of all, why the attitude of the public in general towards this House has somewhat changed in recent years, and that is that in times of war and especially in the time of a Coalition Government, active political controversy is suspended, and little action needs to be taken by this House which is likely to arouse any feeling of antagonism. Those functions which this House can perform with general approval are conspicuous. Those which may on occasion give rise to dissension are out of sight. The fact remains—and it is well to pursue methods of open diplomacy, and speak frankly; we are told that that is a great advantage to mankind—that certain important powers of this House still remain in the background: the powers of amendment, of rejection, and, what may sometimes, as history has proved, be of no less importance, the powers of delay. Consequently, if and when controversy revives and opinions clash and political forces are in conflict and great issues are being fought out before the electorate, the consequences of the present constitution of the House of Lords may become manifest.

The noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, said he did not today intend to raise what is called the House of Lords question, but inevitably he would do so if these Resolutions were to be pressed. If this House were to decide to-day to insist upon passing these Resolutions and place them on record as decisions of the House, instantly a very profound political controversy would arise. For what is the present composition of the House? The Clerks at the Table have been kind enough to give me the figures at the present time. The number of Peers on the Roll is now no fewer than 842. Of these, 210 are new creations; the noble Lords are the first of their lines in those cases. There are also the Scottish and Irish representative Peers, the Law Lords and the Bishops, who number together 64. Those 210 new creations and those 64 are all members who have what may be called personal qualifications. There remain 568 whose qualifications are hereditary: that is to say, the number of hereditary Peers now entitled to sit in this House—deducting from that number a small number of minors and four who, through their misfortune or their fault are disqualified by bankruptcy—is in the proportion two to one of the new creations and those who have other personal qualifications. Of the 840, a very usual attendance of this House day by day is about eighty, or about one tenth. Many noble Lords, as has been said, are absent for absolutely legitimate and excellent reasons; they are engaged on indispensable public service at home or abroad, in one capacity or another. We regret their absence, but if all the 800 odd were to attend, I am not sure that we should not regret their presence! However, the fact remains that the attendance is about one-tenth. The position is the same here as that of the iceberg, the bulk of which is invisible, and, as with the iceberg, a vessel which should unhappily collide with it would quickly be wrecked by that part which is as a rule invisible.

What are the proposals which are now before us? Simply to add to the number of life Peers in order to bring in a larger number of members who have rendered public service and have shown their exceptional capacity in the service of the State. But surely great numbers of those are already included in the 210 new creations. They, in effect, are life Peers except for the fact that they are hereditary. The effect of the addition of a further number of life Peers without any diminution in the number of hereditary Peers would no doubt raise the prestige of the House by the personal distinction of those who were brought in, but from the political point of view, in a time of active controversy when political forces are mobilized, the effect would merely be to make the House less vulnerable while at the same time leaving its composition substantially the same as now. That is to say, it would remain predominantly hereditary and, forgive me for saying so, permanently Conservative. That attacks the very root principle of self-government.

Of the three elements of the Constitution, the Monarchy is no longer any obstacle to full self-government; the House of Commons is its embodiment; but the House of Lords, with a great majority of Peers chosen mainly from a single class and by heredity, is not consistent with the principles of democratic self-government. If the composition were changed as proposed by these Resolutions, the House would, to put it frankly, become from the democratic point of view qualitatively better but politically worse. Therefore we on these Benches do not wish to-day to enter into the merits of any particular proposals, and we agree with the Amendment that is proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Chesham. His Amendment, however, applies the same rule to two quite different proposals. Indeed, our Order Paper has a very strange appearance with this repetition three times of a Motion "That it is inexpedient to decide upon isolated proposals." It calls to my mind irresistibly an incident in the opera Peter Grimes, which some of your Lordships may have seen, the only good British opera of our time—in which a respectable elderly lady, finding herself unexpectedly in a public-house among people of a somewhat disreputable order, sings with plaintive indignation, when the proceedings become somewhat rowdy, "This is no place for me! This is no place for me! This is no place for me!" Such is the rôle on this occasion of the noble Lord, Lord Chesham. For my own part I should draw a distinction, as the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, has indeed done, with respect to that Resolution which relates to the Peeresses in their own right. There the change that would be made in the composition of the House is so small that it would make no appreciable political difference, and the inequality is so obvious that plainly this is an injustice that ought to be remedied.

In 1919 there was passed by both Houses of Parliament the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, and the operative clause is in these terms: A person shall not be disqualified by sex or marriage from the exercise of any public function or from being appointed to or holding any civil or judicial office or post. Now I presume that technically, in the eyes of the law, to hold a Peerage would not be considered to be "the exercise of any public function," and to be a member of this House would not, I presume, juridically speaking, be the holding of "any civil or judical office or post." But the spirit of this Statute would clearly forbid a person from being, for no other reason than sex or marriage, disqualified from sitting in Parliament—whether in this House or the other, from this standpoint, makes no difference. Consequently it appears to me that this particular provision ought to be passed into law. Here I speak for myself alone; I do not know whether all noble Lords on these Benches would hold the same opinion. I imagine that in various parts of the House noble Lords hold different views. But if this matter came to a vote by itself, then, with the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, I should vote for it. For the rest, however, I entirely concur in thinking that this is not a propitious moment for such a change. I am not surprised that the Government do not want this question raised; they have such an immense programme of social legislation to get through. For my part, I trust your Lordships will accept the Amendment that is now before the House.

5.7 p.m.


had given Notice that he would move to resolve "That Peeresses in their own right should be eligible to sit and vote in this House." The noble Earl said: My Lords, with your Lordships' permission I shall follow the example of the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, and deal simultaneously with the two Resolutions standing in my name. May I be permitted to express one regret to the noble Viscount? It is that he has chosen to put down the three important Resolutions standing in his name all for the same afternoon. In my view the three Resolutions, although they all deal with various aspects of the composition of your Lordships' House and its procedure, are so different that it would have been very much better to have had a separate debate upon each one of them. In view of the fact that the first Resolution standing in my name invites your Lordships to approve the suggestion that the hereditary Peeresses should sit in your Lordships' House in the same way as those of the other sex, it will probably come as a considerable surprise when I say that I have not the slightest desire to see them here at all, and, furthermore, that I have no intention of actually moving that first Resolution. The only reason that I put it upon the Order Paper was the wording of the first Resolution standing in the name of the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil: that women should be eligible to be made Peers upon the same terms as men. Had it included the words "To sit in this House on the same terms as men," I should not have put down the Resolution. In the event of your Lordships accepting—which I think is for various reasons unlikely—that first Resolution, then I should be prepared to persevere with my first Resolution because I think it would be a totally uncalled-for insult to the hereditary Peeresses that they should be debarred if other women were to be created Peeresses on the same terms as men. But unless that takes place, I shall not persist in my Resolution.

In regard to the functions of your Lordships' House, not for a moment would I seek to improve upon the wholly admirable description of them given by the noble Viscount, because I do not think anyone could improve upon it. I agree with every word that he said. I am also very substantially in agreement, strangely enough, with most of what the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, said. Where I come into direct opposition with him is in the assumption that no reform, no alteration in the composition of your Lordships' House, is either practical or desirable unless it be of a far-reaching and major character. While still a member of another place something like a dozen years ago I had the privilege of sitting upon the unofficial Salisbury Committee of, I think, some fifteen members of both Houses, which for a considerable period considered this whole question of House of Lords reform. The meetings of that Committee were completely harmonious, but at the conclusion of its proceedings I formed the very definite conclusion that no major scheme of reform could be brought forward which would be acceptable to your Lordships' House because were there to be any question of a restoration of the powers which existed before the Parliament Act, such a restoration would be accompanied undoubtedly by un alteration in the composition of the House which I think most of your Lordships would not be willing to face and with which I myself would certainly not agree.

I do, however, demur to the idea that because we are not to have this wholesale change we should not be in a position on some occasion to agree to minor modifications. The whole history of the Constitution of this country has been against a violent change. We have always proceeded by evolution rather than by revolution and I think that various small changes could easily be got through with the agreement of most members of all Parties in a way which would be quite impossible with anything of a more drastic character. I am in full agreement with the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, when he says that that which does not progress cannot stand still for long but must inevitably deteriorate or degenerate. I do not think myself that there is any danger of that happening, at any rate in the immediate future, for I think your Lordships' House is still visibly increasing its stature from day to day and year to year. But I think the time may well come when certain minor modifications might be considered and I think it would be a thousand pities to bind ourselves to the principle that we are not prepared to accept such modifications when the time comes. There are many members of the Party to which the Government belong who do not hold this House in the esteem in which they should, and which indeed it merits.

So long as there is a sex disqualification there will always be powerful pressure from various women's organizations that women shall be allowed to take part in your Lordships' deliberations. One of the main reasons why I am opposed to this happening is that I do not think the incursion of women into the arena of violent Party politics has shown that any advantage has accrued either to the Parliamentary system or to the female sex itself. It is true that we have had for a number of years some women Members of Parliament, some women Ministers—and indeed a few have been of Cabinet rank—but can it really be said that any woman has achieved real prominence in another place? I do not think so. I believe that when women, or some women at any rate, seek merely to compete on equal terms with men, they run a very great risk of losing many advantages they enjoy today. Throughout history what women have had the most influence? The whole history of the Near East was changed by Helen of Troy and there is no record that Helen was a politician. On the other hand, Boadicea and Cleopatra ruled their countries and went down to ruin with their countries. If women pull the strings from behind the throne they will find it more satisfactory to themselves as well as to us.

I would not have put down a Resolution on the Paper at all to-day had it not been for the third Resolution of the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, and here I am in complete agreement with him and regret very much the timidity shown by His Majesty's Government. A few years before the war I brought forward in your Lordships' House the self-same subject. It was rejected by the then Coalition Government with no more plausible reasons than we have had to-day. There are many reasons why facilities should be given whereby a Minister of the Crown, by invitation, should speak in the House to which he does not belong. One of the chief of them is this, that although I am far from associating myself with those who maintain that it is not possible for any member of your Lordships' House to become a Prime Minister, there is no doubt such a possibility becomes more difficult day by day. There are other Ministerial positions, as matters are at present, which it is virtually impossible for members of this House to hold.

It would surely be a very small alteration to our constitution that there should be passed at the beginning of business in this House, or in another place, a Motion somewhat on these lines: "That the Minister of Blank be invited to attend the proceedings of this House this day upon such and such a Bill." I think it would probably meet the wishes of both Houses that such a Minister should not actually introduce a Bill but that he should be in attendance and speak and answer questions upon it. I cannot see any disadvantage from the point of view of either House in this being done and I can see a great many advantages. Particularly, it would make it possible to have rather a smaller number of Ministers if members of either House were available on demand to speak in the other House. We all know how, as the number of Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries increases, the power of the Executive over the Legislature grows in an alarming and dangerous fashion. To-day it is urgent that Parliament should reassert its authority and that can best be done by reducing the numbers of those directly influenced by the Government. For that reason I think that it would be a very good thing if this Motion were adopted and I hope myself that the noble Viscount will test the opinion of your Lordships' House upon it.

It may seem strange that Liberals and Socialists alike are chary of entering upon any real reform. It goes to prove once more that it is the Benches on this side of the House that are really progressive, and I myself believe that the acceptance of the possibility of certain changes in the constitution of your Lordships' House, minor changes admittedly though they are, and in the working of the Parliamentary system, so far from affecting the prestige and honour of your Lordships' House, as the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, would appear to think, would enhance its prestige and result in its standing in the councils of the world at an even higher level than it does to-day.

5.25 p.m.


My Lords, I must apologize to your Lordships if the debate this afternoon should have too much the appearance of a family affair, but I think perhaps I might be allowed to say one or two words upon this subject because it has been of great interest to me and to many of my generation for thirty or forty years. We are convinced of two things The first thing, on which almost every speaker this afternoon is agreed, is that the work of your Lordships' House is at present very well done. The second thing is that to be a member of it is a very complicated and difficult matter. Those are the foundations upon which one has to approach this subject. I do not complain for a moment of the action of my noble relative in bringing the matter before your Lordships' House. He has every right to do so, and no one could have listened to his speech without being deeply impressed with the great respect which he has for the House to which he belongs. I am sure that his intention is of the highest kind, and I cannot help saying to your Lordships and him, if I may, that the mere ventilation of this subject at this moment will be of great use.

We are living, as has been said, in very critical times. There is no doubt that the composition of your Lordships' House is a matter which is very much in the public eye, and all those who are sitting here, whom I have the honour to address at this moment, have a duty to consider whether anything really ought to be done. Several of my noble friends who have spoken this afternoon have suggested, or seemed to suggest, that nothing need be done. I am afraid I cannot agree with them in that respect. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, said that the membership of your Lordships' House was 840, or some such figure. The work of the House of Lords, the efficiency of which, if I may say so, we are all very proud, is carried out by a very much smaller number, perhaps by 150 or at the outside 200 members. I think if your Lordships will look through the Division lists you will find how very seldom we get beyond that figure, or in fact approach that figure, in the Divisions. Considering the enormous responsibility that is thrown upon this House, that is not a satisfactory result; because, although 150 or 200 Peers do the work very well, yet we are conscious that there are behind them, in the dim distance, in the backwoods, other noble Lords who might come (who indeed ought to come), at a given moment, and whose absence gives really not a reasonable judgment of the Peerage of this country, but an uncertain and capricious judgment. I do think reform is called for. Your Lordships will not be surprised that I should say so, because I have never concealed my opinion on the subject.

I am very glad my noble relative has brought the subject forward. I hope he will be satisfied with the discussion. That can do nothing but good. However, discussion is not the same thing as decision. Your Lordships are quite ready to discuss the matter, but I very much doubt whether many of us are ready to decide the issues which he has submitted to your Lordships. Let me now turn for a moment to the specific proposals which he has made. There is the Resolution with respect to the admission of Peeresses. There is obvious uncertainty as to what the reformers of the House desire in this matter. I do not think that my noble friend the Earl of Mansfield intends to proceed with his Resolution in respect of the admission of Peeresses. His is a very different proposal from the proposal of my noble relative. The actual proposal with regard to the admission of Peeresses in their own right, that is those who exist, is really, if I may say so, a very small one.. It involves a very big principle., but it is a very small one itself. The proposal of the noble Viscount who is responsible for this Resolution is a very much wider one. There is to be complete obliteration of any distinction between the sexes in respect of the House of Lords. Logically that might carry him a great dell further. One wonders indeed whether the words "heirs male" ought to be continued in the patent, if women and men are to stand upon a precisely equal footing in these respects.

Something was said I think by my noble friend the Earl of Mansfield just now about the experience of the House of Commons on this subject of sex representation. I think it is very illuminating. There are more women electors than men at present in this country, and yet, notwithstanding that fact, how has public opinion dealt with women's actual representation in the House of Commons? One perhaps may have thought that, with a majority of women electors in this country, there would be a very considerable number of women members of Parliament; but there are not. There are only twenty-two at this moment. Is that not a very remarkable thing? What it means is that the electors of this country, men and women—more women than men—deliberately prefer male representation, so much so that the actual presence of women on the Benches of the House of Commons is insignificant. I do not mean to say that they do not have influence; that may well be, but that is a very re markable fact. If one considers the way in which British public opinion is moving at this moment, there does not seem any demand to make women legislators. If you apply the moral to this House there does not appear to be anything which we could interpret as being a decision of public opinion in favour of any change in this House in that direction. For those reasons I think it is clear that we ought not to decide that women ought to be placed on the same footing as men in this House, without very much further consideration than we have been able to give it at this moment.

Now may I turn to another of my noble relative's Resolutions, as we are allowed by the consent of the House to discuss them all. Take the question of allowing Ministers from another place to speak in this House. I have the greatest sympathy with that Resolution in many respects, for I have suffered very often from the difficulty to which my noble relative has called attention, of having to listen to a very junior member of the Government trying to explain a difficult and intricate subject of a Department of which he obviously knows nothing whatever. We are very considerate in this House; we do not make it difficult for the noble Lord who is doing his best; but we do recognize that the way in which your Lordships' House is treated in these respects is not fair.

But of course one has to think of what the result would be if Ministers from another place were allowed to come to this House and speak. It would be very convenient in all the respects to which my noble relative referred, but it might have the effect that Prime Ministers of the future, acting under great pressure from their followers, in another place, would allow another place almost to monopolize all the offices of State. If they could come and speak here, it would not matter. But when you think of the great amount of talent there is in this House, that would be very unfortunate. I think, therefore, we ought to be very careful before we adopt that plan. Then there is the corresponding proposal of my noble friend the Earl of Mansfield that Ministers in this House should be allowed to speak in another place. That might have precisely the converse effect. It might have the effect of a very large number of Ministers being taken from this House, and that, I think, would probably be extremely unpopular in another place. So that again requires very careful consideration; it cannot be decided in a hurry.

There is the remaining Resolution of my noble relative, dealing with the question of Life Peerages. For my part, I agree with him that a limited number of Life Peerages would be useful. But what limitations would there be? That raises a most difficult question. I have spent a great deal of time in trying (and I hope succeeding), to draft conditions which might govern the appointment of Life Peers, but they are very intricate and difficult, and if my noble relative were successful in placing women upon the same position as men in respect of this House, then the qualifications which a woman Life Peer would need would have to be considered. I am quite sure that my noble relative and those who agree with him are not thinking merely of helping some political Party in this country to have representation in this House; they are thinking of strengthening the House by adding very special people for life. I think if he endeavoured to define what special qualifications a woman would need in this connexion, he would find it very difficult.

Those are all reasons which make me suggest to your Lordships that you should hesitate to adopt any of these Resolutions. I think, if I may say so with great respect, that the Amendment of my noble friend Lord Chesham is the right one for the House to adopt, and I hope the House will adopt it, but I hope, still more, that the noble Viscount will not press us to come to a decision.

5.36 p.m.


My Lords, we have listened to the Nestor of this Assembly, and I am sure we have all listened with great attention. I rise, not for the purpose of making any general statement from this Bench—that will be done by the Leader of the Opposition, Lord Woolton—but for a particular purpose, where I think it is my duty to intervene. I really do not understand, in the very least, what is the meaning and effect of the statement of the Leader of the House, Lord Addison, when he said, as I understood him, that he was prepared to accept the Motion of my noble friend the Earl of Mansfield, that Peeresses in their own right should be eligible to sit and vote in this House, and that if it was supported he would see whether legislation could be so provided, while he at the same time said that he could not accept the first Resolution moved by Viscount Cecil. With the very greatest respect to Viscount Addison and those who have advised him, the two propositions are exactly the same.

Take Viscount Cecil's Motion first: "That women should be eligible to be made Peers on the same terms as men." If women are made Peers for that purpose, they become Peeresses in their own right, and Viscount Cecil's first Motion might be perfectly properly paraphrased by saying that, "Ladies who are created or who become Peeresses in their own right, may sit and vote in this House." Viscount Addison will not have anything to do with that, but at the same time he seems to be under the impression—I did send him a message, but I know he is obliged to be elsewhere for very important duties; no doubt, however, the Lord Chancellor will help us on the matter—that the Government can say that Earl Mansfield's Resolution about Peeresses in their own right being eligible to sit and vote in this House is very good, and if the majority of the House support it they will do their best to see whether that change can be made. It is, in my humble opinion, a complete fallacy to suppose that Viscount Cecil's first Resolution differs in any way from a Resolution which is confined to Peeresses in their own right.

My noble friend Viscount Samuel said just now, if I understood him—I had to be away for a moment—that he did not see much objection to Earl Mansfield's Motion because it covered a very few cases. It is true it covers a very few cases at the moment, but if the proposition is that Peeresses in their own right may sit and vole in this House, then there would be a most astounding disparity between the treatment of women in the past and women in the future. I certainly do not blame the Leader of the House because he did not give a more complete account of what is known as Lady Rhondda's case. Manifestly he was provided with some information which he conveyed to the House, but I really do not think the information was adequate. Anyone who has had occasion to study this decision, and the law of relation to it, knows quite well that the decision that was ultimately reached on the second occasion of the visit to the Committee for Privileges—the decision reached in this House which rejected Lady Rhondda's application for a Writ of Summons—was based on two grounds.

One ground was this. If you look at the Patent which created the Peerage which was conferred upon her father, the late Lord Rhondda, you see that in the event of Lord Rhondda himself having no heirs male there was what was called a special remainder to his daughter, the Viscountess Rhondda, and after that to her heirs male, but the Patent deliberately leaves out, in reference to Lady Rhondda, that she is to have a right to hold and possess a "seat, place, and voice" in the Parliaments. That was the point. I hope I will not weary your Lordship if I read the significant words of the Patent to Sir David Alfred Rhondda: … the said David Alfred Baron Rhondda and his heirs male aforesaid and in default of such issue the heirs male of the said Margaret Haig Mackworth"— that was his daughter— and every one of them successively and respectively may have hold and possess a seat place and voice in the Parliaments. … What was pointed out was that the Patent gave the right to sit in Parliament to the heirs male of Lord Rhondda and to the heirs male of his daughter, but it did not give the right to sit to Lady Rhondda. That was reinformed by the words which followed, giving her the special remainder, and which ended by saying that she was to enjoy and use—we know the words because of the way they are so admirably read by our Reading Clerk— all the singular rights privileges pre-eminences immunities and advantages to the degree of a Viscount or Viscountess in all things duly and of right belonging. It was not said that she was also to "enjoy a seat, place and voice in the Parliaments." Therefore the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Birkenhead (and a great body of about twenty people agreed with him, except Lord Haldane and Lord Wrenbury, which was by no means negligible dissent) said this lady had no right of summons because by the very terms of the Patent granted to her father she was excluded from a seat, place and voice in Parliament, whereas the heirs male mentioned were entitled by the terms of the Patent so to sit. It would therefore, with great respect, be a very difficult thing to devise legislation which would alter that.

It may be that, as far as the future is concerned you can provide that ladies are to have grants of Peerage—I assume that His Majesty will be brought into the matter at some stage—by which not only their heirs male but they themselves may sit here, but it is quite certain that it was decided in Lady Rhondda's case that the form of Patent which her father was given was not one which conferred upon her any right to sit at all. Lord Birkenhead pointed out that there were plenty of ladies in times past who were in fact made Peeresses in their own right—it was not uncommon in the time of Charles II—but that in every single case, although they were made Peeresses and enjoyed whatever privileges belonged to that rank—they were ennobled—they were not granted Peerages on the terms that they could sit in Parliament. In many cases the grant was not made first to a man and afterwards by special remainder to, as it might be, his daughter (as was, I think, the case of Earl Roberts and as it certainly was in the case of Lord Rhondda) but was made in the first instance to a woman. Perhaps I may read this single sentence from the judgment of Lord Birkenhead: Again, it must be immaterial whether the Peerage was originally created in favour of a male with special remainder to a female, or originally in favour of a female and her heirs male. It is perfectly true that there was a second ground for the decision, which was that in the view of your Lordships the Sex Disqualification Act, which did so much, could not be imagined to have done so tremendous a thing as to admit women into the House of Lords. I do not know whether that argument appeals to others or not, but it is not essential to the decision.

The only point which I have risen to make, purely for the purpose of clarity, is that I really do not understand—I am sure my noble friend the Lord Chancellor will understand I am putting this purely as a duty to the House—how the Government can possibly say that they would be in favour of or would assist a proposal that Peeresses in their own right should be eligible to sit and vote in this House, but would not be prepared to accept the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil's, first Motion, which is that Peeresses should be eligible to sit in this House. Nobody could sit in this House except in his or her own right. Nobody suggests, because a Peer is married, that therefore his wife should sit there; it is only Peeresses in their own right who have anything to do with it. Every case in which a Lady might become a member of your Lordships' House, if there were a change, would necessarily be a case in which the Lady was a Peeress in her own right. I apologise for spending a few minutes on what must be admitted to be a technical point. It is no particular pleasure to me to do so, but I do think it necessary to point out that there must be some confusion here, because I really do not understand in the least how the proposal suggested by Lord Addison squares with the first Resolution moved by my noble friend Lord Cecil.


Might I ask the noble and learned Viscount two questions, in order to elucidate a matter on which I am not clear? I understood him to say that the Resolution on the Paper in the name of Viscount Cecil, "That women should be eligible to be made Peers on the same terms as men," covered also the Earl of Mansfield's Motion, "To move to resolve, That Peeresses in their own right should be eligible to sit and vote in this House." Did I understand him rightly there?


I think the two things are exactly the same in principle, unless the noble Earl's Resolution is to be limited to those who at this moment are Peeresses in their own right, and you are to exclude any idea of creating women Peers of Parliament in the future. Every Peer must be here in his or her own right.


The Earl of Mansfield's Resolution that Peeresses in their own right should be eligible to sit and vote in this House would, if carried, bring into this House a number of Ladies who hold Peerages, some of them of very ancient standing and some comparatively modern, while Viscount Cecil's proposal that women should be eligible to be made Peers on the same terms as men seems to me to be quite a different matter. The noble Earl's proposal is not a question of ladies being made Peers, because they already are Peeresses by virtue of the Patents given to their ancestors. The only question is whether those Peeresses, who are just as much Peers as any other Peer sitting in this House, should be permitted to sit here.


I have not made myself quite plain. I do not wish to be dogmatic. I want to call attention to what I think is a real possibility of confusion. If Peeresses in their own right now are granted the right to sit in this House, the principle must be that any Peeress in her own right now or hereafter sits in this House. Surely there is going to be no special privilege now, merely because the Peerages exist, as distinct from what may happen in ten years' time. I am pointing out that once you say that Peeresses in their own right shall be eligible to sit and vote in this House, you manifestly and necessarily mean that there can in the future he created Peeresses in their own right who could equally sit here. Otherwise you draw a distinction which is perfectly meaningless.


That is a matter of the future. They might be given such a Patent or they might not. In the other case you have the actual existing fact that there are a certain number of Peers, who are of the feminine sex and therefore Peeresses, who would be sitting in this House but for the disqualification of sex. If the Earl of Mansfield's proposal were seriously meant, or were a Motion to the same effect to be carried, those Ladies could forthwith enter this House and sit here. As to the future, that depends upon the form of the Patent.

My other question is this. I understood the noble and learned Viscount who has just spoken to state that you could not modify old Patents by a new Act of Parliament. I gather he said that. If that is so, then it is purely a question of procedure. Suppose the purpose in view were admitted to be right and this House desired and the other House acquiesced. This possibly necessary change could be effected by a general Act of the Prerogative, stating that all such Patents as were made by the ancestors or predecessors of the Sovereign should be held to remain, but would otherwise be qualified.


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, I would like to make it clear that to my nonlegal mind the noble Viscount's Resolu- tion would have included only women who might become Peeresses in the future, and would have left out all the existing ones.

5.51 p.m.


My Lords, may I add something to what has fallen from the lips of my noble and learned friend Viscount Simon? I, like him, have thought fit to refresh my memory with the report of the Lady Rhondda case, and I have read the magnificent speech of the late Lord Birkenhead. I have also made a further study of the position with regard to Peers and, in particular, with regard to Peeresses, as it exists as a matter of law. One thing which I think your Lordships should bear in mind is that there are really two separate problems which relate to women. The first problem is whether they shall be Peeresses, and the second is, whether they should have now, or could have, conferred upon them the right of sitting and voting in this House. That is not, as the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House seemed to think, purely a question of sex disqualification. It was one of the main matters which had to be determined in the Rhondda case, and it was decided by a great majority of the Committee for Privileges that the fact that women possessing Peerage dignities had not previously sat in the House of Lords was not due to mere disqualification imposed on persons of the female sex, but arose because such a woman was incapable of receiving a Writ of Summons to attend and take her place by reasons of the terms of the Patent creating such a Peerage.

You have, therefore, when you are considering this—if you are considering it as a question of a proposed alteration of the law, which I suppose you must be—to consider two things. First, whether ladies who are described, somewhat improperly, perhaps, as "commoners" shall be Peeresses, and, secondly, whether those women who are made Peeresses and the women who are Peeresses in their own right, at the present time, should be allowed to vote and sit in this House. I am very loath to say anything more because I have only interposed to try to get the real legal standpoint correctly, but I should like to add that if you are considering the matter as a question of history, women have never been allowed to sit here and vote because in the old days to be a Peer or a Peeress was not considered to be an advantage. It was considered to be a burden. It involved bringing to the service of the King your own powers and those of your adherents, and fighting at his side or in any matter in which he was engaged. It was not until hundreds of years afterwards that being a Peer or Peeress came to be considered a privilege. That, I think you will find, is historically true, and you might bear it in mind in considering precisely what you will do with these various Motions.

5.55 p.m.


My Lords, it is with considerable diffidence, after listening to the debate so far, that I venture to say a very few words. In my own case, I can claim to have had a certain amount of experience in the working of this House during the past forty years, though my experience has not always been from these Benches. I feel encouraged especially by the speech of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, because I find myself so absolutely at one, if I may respectfully say so, with him in the line which he has taken. The noble Marquess's knowledge, experience and wisdom has been of avail to the country and to this House for many years past. He has addressed himself to this particular subject of the reform of your Lordships' House with an ability and with a persuasive force that, certainly many years ago, appealed very much to me.

For my part, I would say that one thing that has emerged from this debate is that if any of these proposals by the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, are carried it means that legislation is inevitable. Without dealing for more than a moment with the merits of the case, may I say that I can quite conceive that the efficiency of your Lordships' House could be improved by the admission of women? In my humble opinion, they have already proved of great service. They have proved the value of their presence both in another place and in the local administrative organizations throughout the country, because they are able to represent the point of view of women, which is of great importance, I think, in dealing with matters of practical legislation and administration. In that, I am completely at one with the noble viscount, Lord Cecil. But however strongly we may feel on this particular matter, the proposals of the noble Viscount are, I submit, matters both of detail as well as of principle. It is as matters of detail, in effect, that they are presented to the House.

I do not wish to say anything very much further with regard to the merits of these different Resolutions. I am a supporter of the Amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Chesham, and I would like to place this consideration before your Lordships' House. As I have already said, it seems clear that legislation would be necessary to implement the Resolutions that are before the House. I would ask your Lordships to consider the present position of public affairs and the work with which we are confronted in this Session. I think it will be agreed that we are offered an immense meal of legislation by His Majesty's Government. Indeed there seems every prospect that the bill of fare is going to be composed of many very indigestible items. In any case, I suggest that the process of their digestion may be and should be a very prolonged process. The items are flavoured with sauces and condiments that I believe are repugnant to the palate of the majority of the people of this country. However that may be, there can be no doubt that we are confronted with a Gargantuan meal.

If any real benefit is to be derived from this legislation, it will need most careful and thorough examination and revision by your Lordships' House, at any rate judging from that experience we have already had during this Session. The programme before us is an immense one, both as regards the principle and the importance of the proposals of His Majesty's Government, and also with regard to their complexity. Already, we have endeavoured in this House to deal with details, to elucidate the meaning, and to bring out the inwardness of many of the portions of the legislation which we are asked to agree to. I agree with my noble friend Lord Chesham that if there ever was a moment when this House should not embark upon and commit itself to an expression of opinion on such fundamental proposals, this Session is the most inappropriate. I therefore very strongly wish to support the Amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Chesham, and I hope that if the matter does go to a Division (and I hope it will not). your Lordships will support the Amendment that has been moved.

6.2 p.m.


My Lords, I will not detain your Lordships for more than a minute or two, but I would like to make a few observations, if I may, on one of the Motions down in the name of the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, with regard to the creation of a limited number of Life Peers. Looking at this matter as an engineer, and therefore one closely concerned with the sciences, it has, I suggest to your Lordships, a great deal to recommend it. In August of last year I wrote to the Prime Minister suggesting that he might see fit to give consideration to the creation of a limited number of Life Peers, the places to be filled only by those with the highest scientific attainments. The Prime Minister was good enough to give very careful consideration to this matter, and he wrote to say (and he gives me permission to quote from his letter): "Your suggestion would have to be considered as part of the general question of Life Peerages, and in this connexion I hope you will not forget the difficulties in which Mr. Gladstone found himself when he once tried to create a Life Peer." I must confess, my Lords, that I was not at all aware of the difficulties with which Mr. Gladstone found himself confronted when he tried to create a Life Peer, but your Lordships will be well aware of them, and in particular the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. The circumstance arose from the wish of Queen Victoria to create Mr. Park, a Judge, a Life Peer.

Those difficulties, my Lords, were all resolved by the Appellate Jurisdiction Act of 1876, which made it possible for a limited number of men, pre-eminent in the legal profession, to be created Peers of the United Kingdom. Would it not be possible to take a leaf out of our book in Scotland where, as your Lordships know, we have some thirteen Law Lords who are so created for their particular knowledge of Scots Law? These thirteen Law. Lords are Lords of the Court of Session, not Lords of Parliament. I would like to suggest, my Lords, that something along those lines might be done, so that the nation could, through your Lordships' House, hear the views of the most eminent scientists of the day. Such is not possible in another place. As your Lordships will remember, the late Secretary of the Royal Society, Professor A. V. Hill, sat in another place for a certain period, but he did not stand again, since he was not able to keep pace with the duties devolving on a Member of Parliament and still maintain his position as one actively pursuing a scientific career. Therefore, my Lords, I would like to support the noble Viscount's suggestion with regard to the creation of a limited number of Life Peers, purely from the angle of the sciences.

6.5 p.m.


My Lords, I do not know whether I could be of any assistance to your Lordships, but I think I might just: say this; whether we accept the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Cecil, that women should be eligible to be made Peers on the same terms as men, or whether we accept the Motion of the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, that Peeresses in their own right should be eligible to sit and vote, I feel it is quite plain that in either case legislation would be required. Therefore, if the House, on one or other of these Motions, were to indicate its desire for legislation, my noble friend, the Leader of the House, indicated that if it were the latter one, the Government would do the best they could to see that such legislation was introduced. But legislation there would have to be. As the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, pointed out, it is wrong to speak of Lady Rhondda's case as though it were merely a question of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act. According to the opinion of the majority, it was not merely a question of the removal of disqualification; it was that she never had the right conferred upon her to sit and vote in Parliament. Some of your Lordships, on the other hand, took a different view. The noble Lord, Lord Phillimore, said he paid no attention to that. Having regard to the state of the law as it was when the Patent was made in favour of her father, it could not have conferred upon her the right to sit and vote in Parliament. I think I could recall one case in which a Peerage was created for a lady recently. I think I am right in saying, though I have not checked my references, that the widow of Mr. Speaker FitzRoy was made a Viscountess, and, of course, you are made a Viscountess you must be a Viscountess in your own right; that is obvious. It would be possible (it may not be logical) to introduce legislation conferring the right upon those ladies who inherited Peerages that had been conferred upon their ancestors. That would be possible. I think the draftsman would be quite capable of doing that. As I say, the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, was stating something which would be quite feasible when he said that if the House liked to decide in favour of that legislation, under those circumstances the Government would do what they could to see that such legislation was introduced.

6.8 p.m.


My Lords, I do not wish to detain your Lordships very long, but as I think my opinion is possibly rather discordant with some that have been expressed, I think it ought to be expressed also. I very sincerely hope that your Lordships will think very, very carefully before doing anything which will admit women to your Lordships' Chamber. I expect there are many of your Lordships besides myself who have been very much interested and attracted by the works of the Frenchman, Gustav le Bon, who spent a whole life in examining the composition and the behaviour of assemblies. One of the conclusions to which he came was that a very small infusion of an alien element totally alters the character of an assembly. I will not suggest to your Lordships that you should take a Frenchman's opinion in a matter which lies within your own experience. I think, however, that your Lordships, if you examine such records as are available on assemblies which have admitted women to their councils, will find that the speeches, the arguments, and—what shows the temper of an assembly more than anything—the interjections in those assemblies are of a more emotional and less judicial type than they were before the admission of those ladies.

That may be a very useful thing in expressing the feeling of the people of the country at any given moment. But, as the noble Viscount who moved this Motion has so well said, your Lordships' functions are debate and judicial consideration of the questions that come before you, and it is for that reason that, as I know and as every one of your Lordships who goes about this country knows, your reputation in the country is daily growing stronger and stronger. Therefore I should be very sorry to see anything done in a hurry which might make your Lordships less worthy of the high regard in which you are at present held by the people of this country.

I should like to say one word more, and that is about one word, a word which fell from the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, when he desired to remove the "injustice" suffered by those who were Peeresses in their own right. I think that is a wrong word. There is no injustice. There is no financial benefit. A great many onerous duties are involved in being a member of your Lordships' House; a great deal of thought and a great deal of pains must be taken. But I really do not think that there is any injustice in continuing to withhold from somebody something that has always been withheld and has always been intended to be withheld. Therefore I support my noble friend Lord Chesham's Amendment.

6.12 p.m.


My Lords, I think we shall all be in agreement on at any rate one matter, and that is that we are greatly indebted to the noble Viscount who has brought these Resolutions before us, because they have provided us with such an excellent debate. Even your Lordships are mortal to this extent: that it is a very great pleasure to us every now and again to talk about ourselves. Today we have talked about ourselves; and quite rightly, and with becoming modesty, we have praised ourselves. I think it is a most excellent thing for the country to know in what high esteem we hold ourselves! They might very well take a leaf from our book and share our opinion. The persuasiveness with which the noble Viscount put forward his argument almost made me waver in my faith, because so many of the things he said were, if he will not think me patronising to an elder statesman, so true, and must appeal to us so strongly. There have, it is interesting to note, been many voices raised to-day but no voice has been raised to say that the constitution of the House of Lords was perfect for all time. The noble Marquess brought in, very adroitly, the backwoodsmen of the past; but no backwoods sentiments have been expressed here to-day.

Though I found myself influenced by the noble Viscount, I hope that he is not going to press this Resolution to a Division. Point by point, many of us might find it just a little difficult There is surely much wisdom in what the noble Marquess said when he remarked that discussion was a very different matter from decision. I spent some time over the week-end in looking at the debates that took place when the noble Marquess brought forward a Bill in this House in, I think 1933. Then none rose to justify the constitution of this House, but there was no agreement among the many voices that were raised as to how the constitution should be altered, and I doubt whether we are very much nearer to agreement to-day. I doubt whether noble Lords who sit opposite are indeed in any agreement among themselves as to what they would like to do with the constitution of this House. I know that some in their Party think that we are outworn and would be glad to discard us. That is an opinion which not only they would hold in the country. But the noble Lords opposite themselves, both in office and in opposition, have very much enhanced the value of the debates in this House by the knowledge that they have brought from their personal experience.

It seems to me, my Lords, that the movers of the Motions have perhaps said, "We do not want to alter the whole constitution, but is there not at any rate something that we could do now, not raising very fundamental issues? Would it not be better for us to do these things now than to leave things alone?" That is an attractive point of view, but for my part I hope you will not accept it. I take this view, and I believe I speak for noble Lords sitting behind me. This is not a matter that is going to bring any great comfort to the people of this country. We are faced in these troublous times with many problems. Everything that has been suggested by the noble Viscount would involve legislation. It seems to me that we should be lacking in wisdom if at this time, with so much legislation in front of us and so many urgent problems affecting the lives of the common people of this country, we were to devote our time to the attractive occupation of making ourselves a little more perfect. Therefore, my Lords, in view of the pressure of what I con- ceive to be matters of greater public interest I should advise any of your Lordships who are interested in my advice to support the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, rather than the attractive Motions that have come in the name of the noble Viscount.

6.19 p.m.


My Lords, I will not detain your Lordships for more than a few moments. I am trying to sum up in my own mind what has been the net result of the debate that has taken place, and I think it is rather a remarkable result. No one has said that he thinks my proposals are wrong in themselves. No single speaker has said that except my noble friend opposite, and he takes the view that no woman ought to be allowed in any assembly. I think that belongs to a previous age.


Among their own sex, yes, rather.


With the greatest respect to him, I think his doctrine that the moment you put a woman into an assembly it immediately deteriorates in its manners and its judgment, is fantastic and absurd. I know nothing whatever to justify such an opinion. Women have sat for years and years in any number of assemblies in this country, exercising very important executive duties, and continually maintaining a high measure of decorum themselves, and in my judgment by that example raising the decorum of their fellow members. However, as he is practically alone in the view he has expressed, I will not further delay your Lordships on the subject. Nothing then except that one speech has been said against these proposals in themselves. I have heard no reason expressing doubt: whether the women I mentioned (merely by illustration) would not have been a great advantage to your Lordships' powers and judgment and knowledge. Who can doubt that if Elizabeth Fry had been a member of the House of Lords she would have been able to do the magnificent work she did with even greater success? The same is true of Florence Nightingale and of Octavia Hill, and noble Lords know of many women of whom the same may be said. I think it is rather unfortunate that they should be excluded.

With regard to the other proposals I have made, everyone says that Life Peers will be an advantage. I have heard no opinions to the contrary. My noble friend behind me says that he knows as a matter of practical business that certain people are not prepared to take hereditary Peerages but could be admitted as life members to this House. As for my third Motion, the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, has explained why he is in favour of something which I do not propose, an interchange of members of the Government by which they could speak in this House or the other House as they liked. That was not my proposal. My proposal was to deal with the difficulties in this House and to deal with them in the most moderate terms. The device I used could only be used if it was proposed by the Government and accepted by this House and accepted in the other House. I still think it would have been a good change but at present we are discussing what ought to be done with regard to the first proposal, that dealing with women.

I confess that this debate has in some respects filled me with grave anxiety. The arguments against these Resolutions have been what I may call—not excluding the arguments of the Leader of the House—the old Conservative arguments, conservative in the narrowest sense. We have had trotted out in almost the same form the dictum of Lord Melbourne, "Why can't you leave it alone? This House is working very well. Why should you want to make any change?" In the same way we have had that terrible argument "This is the thin end of the wedge. If you do this you will be forced to go much further." That is a most unhistorical view of the political wisdom of the people of this country who have constantly been willing to accept the thin end of the wedge and have not gone any further because they did not think the thick end would be any good. Further, there is the argument that this needs much further consideration before we do anything. I am no longer a member of the Conservative Party, but I still have a regard for it. I still believe that its experience in some form or another is of great advantage to the country and I am convinced that if they are directed by those principles they will never, never have any more power in this country with the electorate. I am certain that a purely negative attitude on all these questions is absolutely hopeless to-day and I think that is a great pity. So I am not in any way convinced or even shaken in the debate on the views I hold, that we now have an opportunity to improve the mechanism of the House on a matter in which there is no Party spirit, no Party capital to be gained, and a matter on which we have unquestionably done very good work and can do better work in the future. Here, surely, is the opportunity, before there has become any Party whirlpool surrounding it, to do something to make it still better and stronger in the future.

I regret very much the view which has been taken and now I have to consider what course I ought to take, because to some extent I have a duty to the House and to myself as to what line I should take. I admit that I find myself in a great difficulty. Particularly is that so upon this Resolution dealing with the admission of women. There seems to be a considerable body of opinion, of which the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, was one of the exponents, that Peeresses in their own right ought to be admitted. They disliked my more general proposition that women ought not to be excluded just because they are women. I still adhere to my own view that that is the logical and right view to take, and I think it is right to take it in a broad sense because I think it will give satisfaction to the women and will be perfectly defensible on any platform. But I recognize that it is no use putting something forward in this House which the Leader of the House rejects, which the Leader of the Opposition rejects, which the Leader of the Liberal Party rejects and which other very influential Peers have also rejected. What is the use of going on with it if it is certain to be defeated, as it obviously is? I am in a difficulty. The obvious thing would be to say "I will withdraw" and possibly I may be driven to do that, but I confess that I do not like doing it because it will be a quasi admission that I was wrong to bring the matter forward. I do not think I was wrong; I think I was right. I do not know if your Lordships would accept as an alternative a Motion generally to adjourn the discussion, so that it could not be brought up again without notice, and leave it there undecided. I should greatly prefer that, if your Lordships would accept that course, and in order to do that I should like to move that the debate be now adjourned.

6.30 p.m.


My Lords, may I say a word in support of the noble Viscount which will help me in my difficulty on the Amendment standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Chesham that it is inexpedient to decide upon isolated proposals for changing the composition of this House? If that is accepted, it is a general proposition in itself with which I for one do not agree. I agree that we ought not to come to decisions today, but I do not like laying it down as a general proposition that isolated propositions should not be considered. I think it would be a good idea to bring it about by degrees and I hope that the proposal to adjourn the debate may be accepted.

6.31 p.m.


My Lords, with regard to the Resolution standing in the name of the noble Viscount that women should be eligible to be made Peers on the same terms as men, I very much hope that we do not adjourn that debate. I believe there is overwhelming opposition in your Lordships' House to that proposal, and I think the country ought to be aware of the views of your Lordships' House on that matter. It is not as if this were a new question. It has been before us for many years. We have had an example in another place of the effect of admitting women to that Assembly. Speaking, of course, entirely for myself, I think it would be unfortunate that there should be any doubt as to the opinion of your Lordships on that issue.

On the question of Life Peers, I think opinion is much more divided, but I should regret if any action of your Lordships gave the impression that we had not made up our minds with regard to the other matter, and that we thought that broad question required further discussion. I therefore find it difficult to support the proposal of the noble Viscount.

6.33 p.m.


My Lords, I was to have spoken in this debate, but there were so many speakers that I withdrew. The main point that I was going to make in the debate was that this is a most inopportune time to bring up this subject. I feel that if we were to pass Resolutions of this kind, as the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, said in his reply, it might lead to a serious political crisis in the country. At this moment I cannot conceive that, when one considers all the measures which are being sent forward, all the regulations and so on, all the serious dangers there are outside in the world, and all the domestic issues with which we have got to deal here, that this is a desirable time for even taking the risk of such a crisis or difference of opinion with the other House.

That was the main point that I intended to make in my speech. I myself in the past have been interested in the question of Life Peerages and in some of the proposals which are contained in the noble Viscount's Resolution, but I do suggest that this is not the time to raise them, and I think it would be deplorable if the noble Viscount were to continue with this Motion for an adjournment. On those grounds I make an appeal to him to withdraw his Motion, or allow it to be negatived, whichever he thinks best. I would suggest that he withdraw the Motion and enable us at some future time, when times are more propitious, to consider the whole question again.

6.35 p.m.


My Lords, while this is a matter of course for the House itself, so far as we are concerned, we are agreeable to the debate being adjourned if the House so wishes. We are, however, interested in ascertaining the views of the House on the Motion of the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, which is the sixth Motion on the Paper. With regard to what the noble Viscount now proposes, we are quite agreeable to—


May I interrupt the noble Viscount the Leader of the House? I had that in my mind, but the difficulty is this. The noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, has told us he is not prepared to move that Motion. Therefore we cannot proceed with that unless somebody else moves it in his place. I am not sure how the Rules of Order stand with regard to that matter, but I doubt whether anyone can take up a Motion which has not been moved unless the mover is willing that that should be done. I do not quite know how your Lordships can deal with that question. I thought it was desirable that that Motion should come before the House, but I do not see how it can come before the House except by adjourning the discussion at present.


I am advised that the noble Earl's Motion could be called on, even if the Motion to adjourn the debate on the noble Viscount's Motion were accepted: it would not prejudice the noble Earl's Motion being moved. So far as we are concerned, if nobody moves it, we will understand that nobody wishes to move it; thereby acquainting ourselves with the views of the House. Unfortunately I had to be called away for an important conference, so I did not hear the noble Earl. I was not aware that that was his view. At all events, so far as the Motion of the noble Viscount is concerned, on the understanding that it embraces the first five items on the Paper, we have no objection to the Motion for an Adjournment.

6.38 p.m.


My Lords, I think on this side of the House we are most anxious to meet the difficulty in which the noble Viscount finds himself. There are many of us who are in agreement with particular parts the general Resolution that he has put forward. The only thing we say is that we do not want now to occupy Parliamentary time with these issues, when, as we consider, there are more pressing things. On those grounds I hoped he would have felt not that he was being defeated, not that we have, as he himself has said, dissented from many of the things he has said; but that, as many of us on this side of the House have endeavoured to impress on him, there are many other matters of greater urgency. It was on those grounds that I ventured to hope he would feel it possible to withdraw his Motion. I am sure that would not indicate in any sense that there was any dissent on the part of members of this House to some of the things that he said.


My Lords, in the circumstances I do not think that I should be justified in asking your, Lordships to divide, because it is quite evident that the majority of the House, wrongly, as I think, is against me, and, therefore, I beg leave to withdraw.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.


As far as I understand, what has happened is this, that the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, does not propose to move his Motion, and no other member of the House proposes to move it. I therefore move that the House do now adjourn.

Moved, That the House do now adjourn.—(Viscount Addison.)


May I point out that because the Motion has been withdrawn, it must not be assumed that therefore the House is against it. There are several of us who are in favour of it, but think it ought to be discussed on its own merits on a separate occasion.


I do not know if I am in order in speaking again. I hope I am. So far as the Government are concerned, we were really sincerely desirous of ascertaining the views of the House on this matter. We were not ourselves prepared to move it, but it was hoped somebody else would. In the circumstances, however, in the absence of anyone being willing to do so, I had no option but to move that the House do now adjourn.

On question, Motion agreed to.