HL Deb 04 December 1952 vol 179 cc749-54

VISCOUNT SIMON rose to move to resolve that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that Her Majesty may be graciously pleased to allow that her undoubted Prerogative may not stand in the way of the consideration by Parliament, during the present Session, of any measure providing for the creation of Life Peerages that may be introduced. The noble and learned Viscount said: My Lords, I rise to move the Motion which is on the Order Paper in my name. Perhaps I may be permitted to explain, in two or three sentences, why I put this Motion down. I have it in mind to introduce into this House a Bill which would authorise the creation by Her Majesty of a limited number of Life Peerages, not more than ten in any calendar year. Any legislative proposal of that sort, as I understand, by the practice of the House is proper only if at some suitable stage the permission of the Crown is given to the consideration of such a Bill. What I am now doing is purely preliminary to that. This Motion does not raise the merits of the issue in any way but, on looking into the precedents, your Lordships will find them in Hansard for the year 1935.

It appears that, when the late Lord Rockley introduced his Bill for something of the same kind, he moved that an Address be presented to His Majesty in terms closely corresponding to those of my Motion. In moving that the Address be made, he referred to the remarks of the late Lord Lansdowne, who had said in 1911: Any Bill dealing with the constitution of this House necessarily touches the Royal Prerogative…. Any Bill of which that can be said ought not to be introduced into either House of Parliament without the previous sanction of the Crown….It is in accordance with the practice of Parliament and with the respect which we owe to the Crown that that preliminary concurrence should be obtained. Two days later he is reported as having said: We therefore draw the conclusion that if a Bill affecting the Royal Prerogative is brought forward… it is indispensable that the Royal Assent should be signified before the Bill has been actually introduced. That view prevailed and was generally accepted in your Lordships' House.

At that time the Leader of the House was Lord Hailsham. There was a short debate before the humble Address was agreed to, and I venture to quote one or two sentences from Lord Hailsham's observations as Leader of the House. He said: Therefore, although in no way committing the Government or any member of the Government to any opinion upon the actual merits of the proposal, which so far has only been indicated in outline, we propose to offer no sort of opposition to the suggestion that an Address be passed which will ask His Majesty to permit a discussion of the Bill; and if your Lordships see fit to pass such an Address we shall deem it our duty to tender to His Majesty the advice that the Address be acceded to. That, I think, is again in accordance with precedent. Lord Hailsham was followed by the late Lord Salisbury, the father of my noble friend who now leads the House and who was recognised by all of us as a great authority on House of Lords procedure. Lord Salisbury said this: Therefore, we may now look upon it as a settled order in a matter dealing with the constitution of your Lordships' House—the personnel at any rate of your Lordships'House—that it cannot be dealt with except following upon a Motion addressed to the Crown,"— and he added: but that Motion may be made at any time during the passage of the Bill through Parliament. I think those added words may be explained by the fact that the speaker himself had introduced a Bill and had obtained the Royal permission, not before he introduced it but before a later stage of the Bill.

I desire only to follow the precedent, and I hope that it may be followed in all respects. I am not raising to-day any question on the merits of my proposal. Indeed, I do not think the proposal can be considered as before the House in any form until the Bill is introduced, given a First Reading, printed and circulated. Then, on Second Reading your Lordships will, of course, be able to consider its terms. I move this Motion not only in accordance with precedent but out of the respect I feel for your Lordships' House, and with a desire to be in every way courteous to Her Majesty. Moreover, I should suppose that discussion on the merits of the proposal would not be in order on this occasion. I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that Her Majesty may be graciously pleased to allow that her undoubted Prerogative may not stand in the way of the consideration by Parliament, during the present Session, of any measure providing for the creation of Life Peerages that may be introduced.—(Viscount Simon.)

2.43 p.m.


My Lords, I think it may be for the general convenience of the House if I speak at once, to give the view of the Government with regard to the Motion which has just been moved by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon. There is, I imagine, no question in the mind of any of your Lordships (there certainly is none in mine) that anyone should oppose this Motion. It does not commit the Government; it does not commit any noble Lord in any part of the House, except in so far as the noble and learned Viscount himself is, I suppose, committed, or will be committed, to the provisions of his own Bill. The Motion is introduced, as the noble and learned Viscount has explained, merely to conform with precedent regarding Bills which might be thought to touch the Royal Prerogative. In effect, as I understand it, the Motion asks Her Majesty to allow the noble and learned Viscount's Bill to be discussed. That is the purpose of the Motion.

As we have already been told by the noble and learned Viscount himself, the view was expressed and adopted in this House, at the time of the introduction of a Bill by my father in 1934 and again in the case of another Bill introduced by my noble relative the late Lord Rockley in 1935, that any Bill which touched the composition of the House required the presentation of an Address to the Crown at some stage of its proceeding through Parliament. In the present case, following the precedent set by Lord Rockley in 1935, the noble and learned Viscount has chosen to precede the Bill by the Address; and I would warmly agree that this appears to be the most appropriate time. In the case of my father's Bill in 1934, for some reason or other (I am not aware exactly what it was) the Address, I believe, followed the introduction of the Bill. But in any case, I submit—and I am sure your Lordships will all agree—it is clearly right that an Address to the Crown should be moved.

I would emphasise once more, if it is necessary to do so, that the Bill itself is not yet before the House. All we know, from the terms of the Address and from the words that have been addressed to us by the noble and learned Viscount himself, is that it will be concerned with Life Peerages of Parliament. That is all we know. Clearly, in these circumstances, it would be entirely premature for any of us to attempt to discuss the provisions of a Bill which has not even been introduced for its First Reading, and of which the detailed provisions are not known. I suggest, therefore, that the proper course will be for your Lordships to treat this Motion as a merely formal constitutional preliminary to the introduction of a Bill of this character.

Of course, it will be open to your Lordships to debate this Bill on the First Reading, when that time comes, although I am afraid that even that would show a little undue impatience, and I suggest it would be better if we contained ourselves sufficiently to follow the normal course and to debate the general principles on Second Reading. However, that is a matter for noble Lords themselves when the time comes. In any event, this Motion for an Address, I would repeat, in no way implies any indication of what our views on the Bill will be when It comes along, far less does it commit us to a verdict on its provisions. It is a mere part of the machinery of our constitution. I hope, my Lords, in the light of what I have said, that it may be possible for the House without more ado, to give the Motion its approval.

2.48 p.m.


My Lords, in view of what the noble Marquess the Leader of the House has said, I can be very brief. Within the last fortnight the Leader of the House has told us that it was the intention of Her Majesty's Government to call an all-Party Conference to discuss the reform of the House of Lords, and he indicated that he would infinitely prefer to find a solution to this problem by common consent. I am not in a position to say what the attitude of my Party would be if they were requested to attend such a Conference, but I feel fairly convinced that the prospect of bringing about such a Conference would be prejudiced if the remedy were propounded before the Conference had been called. That would seem, to me at any rate, to pre-judge the whole position. As both the noble and learned Viscount and the noble Marquess have pointed out, we are not concerned to-day to discuss the merits of the proposals—indeed, they are not before us. For aught I know, they may be wholly admirable. If they are, that is all the more reason why they should be propounded at the Conference which may hereafter be arranged. I shall not, of course, oppose this Motion, but I am anxious that my reasons for not opposing it shall not be misunderstood. I think I should express my misgivings lest the course which the noble and learned Viscount is following may not imperil, or indeed defeat, the object which I feel sure he has in mind, and I would ask him to consider deferring the consideration of these proposals at the present time.


My Lords, the Leader of the Opposition has addressed to me an appeal, and has made some observations which I should not have thought were quite within the ambit sketched out by the noble Marquess the Leader of the House. I abstain from making any answer, except to say that I am glad to hear that my Motion is not opposed.

On Question, Motion agreed to: the said Address to be presented to Her Majesty by the Lords with White Staves.