§ 3.43 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF YORK
My Lords, I should like to associate myself with the two speakers in this debate who have offered their good wishes to the new Ministers, and especially to say how glad we are that the noble Marquess who leads the House with such brilliancy will still continue as our Leader. I rise to support, with a certain amount of reservation, the appeal which has been made by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, that an all-Party Conference should be held on the subject of the reform of the House of Lords. I say "with a certain amount of reservation," for I feel that such a Conference will be useless unless those who are members of it are prepared to make, on one side or the other or on both sides, some advance on the conclusions which they reached on the last occasion. If they go into this Conference with the same opinions, the Conference will end in the same deadlock and will then be a waste of time; it will cause a good deal of irritation, and will deepen that fatalistic pessimism with which so many now approach any question of the reform of the House of Lords.
I, myself, feel that it would be wise at the present time to separate (I know how difficult it will be) the questions of the constitution, the composition and the powers of the House of Lords. In principle, I agree with those who feel that the House of Lords should have more power than it has at the present time. I should be glad to see something which would strengthen the House of Lords in checking any hasty legislation which may possibly be imposed in the future. But I feel that it is outside the realm of practical politics at the moment to strengthen the powers of the House of Lords. I cannot find anywhere any enthusiasm for this course. I find no great enthusiasm for it among the rank and file of Conservatives, so far as I know them; they give a formal assent, but there is no enthusiasm. Undoubtedly, any attempt to strengthen the powers of the House of Lords would meet with strenuous opposition from various quarters. Once again there would be a long, difficulty controversy, and again that controversy would probably end in a deadlock. It would 540 be impossible to increase the powers of the House of Lords without general agreement. Otherwise, if one Party in power carried through a proposal for increasing the powers of this House, probably when another Party came into power there would be introduced a Bill to reverse that decision. Therefore, I feel it would be far wiser to concentrate on the composition of the House of Lords, on which already there is a large amount of agreement.
I feel that I may claim to be a House of Lords man. I have been a member of this House for something like thirty years—a long time for a Bishop. I used to be a regular attendant, and should still attend more frequently but for the distance between York and London. During those thirty years what has impressed me most of all in this House is that when a great national or international problem is discussed it is discussed on the highest level; and this House, through those discussions, has a great influence on the country as a whole. This is partly due to the fact, as the noble and learned Earl has already pointed out, that we have in this House experts on all kinds of questions. I know that when I speak on any subject I am haunted by the thought that I shall probably be followed by some noble Lord who knows a great deal more about the matter than I do; and I am certain that many noble Lords are conscious of the fact that in the House there are many who are real experts on a number of different subjects. In the atmosphere of this House it is possible to debate these matters quietly and without much interruption. Another great quality of this House is that it will listen to any speaker, however far he is from being an orator, provided he knows his subject and exercises the quality of brevity. Therefore, this House has a great influence—a great educative influence—and helps to form opinion in the country. I believe that if the composition of the House of Lords was strengthened, that influence would be still greater than it is at the present time.
There is general agreement, I believe, on what is required to strengthen the House of Lords. It has been pointed out that our numbers are too great. It is, indeed, unfortunate that there are so many members who never attend, but it would be a disaster if all regularly 541 attended. There is general agreement that the membership of the House should be smaller than it is at present. There is general agreement, also, that the House should be more representative; that we should have women members and more members who had direct experience of the mill, the factory and the docks. Again, there is general agreement that the hereditary principle needs to be modified so that there should be a larger proportion of members in this House who are first creations or who are Life Peers.
The most frequently repeated charge against this House is that it is a House of one Party—that it is a Conservative House. Here again there is general recognition on both sides of the House that this state of affairs should be remedied. I think in honesty I should add that it is going to be a difficult matter to prevent a Second Chamber from being Conservative in its outlook, for when we are over the age of fifty we naturally become more conservative, it may be because with experience wisdom has increased, or it may be through the hardening of the intellectual arteries. I will not say which of those explanations is right. But there is, and there is bound to be, a tendency for any Second Chamber to be more Conservative than Radical in its outlook. However, it is a weakness of this House that, with whatever restraint a Conservative Party in power or in Opposition uses its majority, it is regarded as largely a House of one Party.
On these matters there is general agreement, and the proposals which are put forth are practical proposals. If they could be accepted without tying them up with an increase of our powers, I believe that the educative and moral influence of the House of Lords throughout the country would be greatly increased. That is why stress should be laid on the composition of the House of Lords rather than on its powers. Then I hope that eventually the powers of the House of Lords may be increased. Here I differ from the noble and learned Earl who leads the Opposition. I believe that if the House of Lords was more representative and was strengthened in various ways, in time, through its impartiality and its wisdom, it would so win the confidence of the country that its powers might be increased. I hope, therefore, that a Conference may be held, but before it is held I hope that, through the usual 542 channels—whatever that term may mean—some attempt will be made to discover whether there is any likelihood of success. If there is no likelihood of success, the holding of such a Conference will postpone, rather than help forward, our wishes for reform of the composition of this House.
§ 3.53 p.m.
My Lords, I am one of the few of your Lordships who was present in the House when this matter was debated in 1925, and I spent an hour reading with interest, and not without amusement, what was then said. Lord Birkenhead said that it was quite impossible that the House could continue as it was then. That was twenty-seven years ago, and I am still here. Then there was Lord Buckmaster. He gave as one of his reasons for wishing that the composition of the House should be changed that it was necessary for the Labour Party to be represented in this House. He said that no member of the Labour Party would ever accept an hereditary Peerage. We are all very glad that that little difficulty has been overcome. Every member of the Conservative Party who took part in that debate gave as a condition for altering the composition of the House that it should be given increased powers. That, I believe, is the opinion of the Conservative Party to-day. I do not think any members of the Conservative Party, or very few of them, would willingly see its composition altered unless it was given increased powers. To abolish the House of Lords and create a Senate would not, I think, commend itself to the Conservative Party. Of course, I am not speaking for the Front Bench. The noble Viscount compared the Conservative Party to a saurian. If it is a saurian, it differs from other saurians in that the brains are not confined to the head. Whether the head is willing to alter the composition of the House without giving it increased powers, I do not know. But the main body of the Party is, I am sure, opposed to it.
The representative of the Labour Party on that occasion was Lord Haldane. As usual, he made an excellent speech, in which he said much the same as the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, has said to-day. I do not know whether the noble Earl has read Lord Haldane's speech, but it is remarkable how he agrees 543 with that very distinguished man, both in his view that the House of Lords might well be left as it is to-day, and also in his expression of opinion that, whatever the composition of the House, the Labour Party will not consent to any increase in its powers. Lord Haldane said that most emphatically, as the noble Earl has said it to-day. We seem to have reached this point; that it is impossible to make any alteration in the constitution of your Lordships' House unless one of the great political Parties abandons its principles. That being the case, it seems to me that the sensible thing to do is to leave it alone.
§ 3.57 p.m.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, my principal reason for intervening to-day is that I am able to bring to a discussion of this kind an attitude I have gathered from many years' experience over the country as an election worker, and because, since becoming a member of your Lordships' House, I have made it my business to become acquainted with the everyday business of the Assembly, and I know something of its trials and something of its problems. May I say one word on my earlier life, which I hope will not be taken as too much of a challenge, because I think that in these days a challenge would be quite out of place in discussing a very important subject such as this? At a General Election nowadays there are three Parties and three Party leaders. Each of the Parties and each of the leaders appeals to the people of the country for five years of power, and almost every speaker who takes part in the Election, whether he is a Member of the Commons or of your Lordships' House, also asks for a period of five years of power for his Party or leader. Early on I came to the conclusion that, although the people might be willing to give five years of office and five years of power to a particular Party, there was only one Party to whom they could guarantee five years of power—and that is the Conservative Party. They could guarantee to give years of power to the Conservative Party because that Party already has a majority in your Lordships' House. But if they elect a Labour Government, based upon the majority in the Commons, then the authority of that Government has to be shared with the majority Party in this House.
544 Speaking as an old election agent, as a man who believes in the value of "one man, one vote," and "one vote, one value," I would say that elections carried on under those conditions are not good for a democratic community; and if I may be guided at this time by that one point alone, I should say that the sooner we can have a Conference the better; and the sooner we can reach a conclusion the better, because then the sooner shall we free the electorate so that it has a chance of voting Liberal, Labour or Conservative, as the case may be, and of making quite sure that in so doing five years of power for that Party would result. I need not dwell on that point. I think I have said sufficient to indicate that in this House we should not strive for further power, because that would take us further away from democracy. What I do think we should strive to obtain is authority. Authority is very important, because it can be based on real values; and if we can bring that kind of authority into this House, then it seems to me that we shall have surmounted the difficulties that confront us at the moment.
The next matter which I wish to mention is that of the revising powers of the House, because it is here, I think, that we have more to gain than in any other direction. Under the Parliament Act, 1949, this House has power to delay the passage of a Bill for a period of time. That is quite an unimportant matter, but it can be very irritating to a Party in office if they have not a majority in your Lordships' House. It is important that in this House the revising powers of the Chamber should mean the same thing all the time; they should not mean one thing under Labour and another thing when the Conservative Party are in office. The powers should be equally distributed to prove acceptable. I want to bring this question of revising powers before your Lordships in a concrete way, and I ask the noble Marquess who is to reply to this debate to give further thought to the views that he himself has expressed from time to time.
My noble and learned Leader, Lord Jowitt, has already made reference to the debate that took place on the Licensed Premises in New Towns Bill, and has expressed the view that on that occasion we were not treated as we have a right to expect, for the reason that the Bill had been delayed in another place and 545 came to us only at the last minute. Even though there had been a desire in this House for full consideration, that full consideration was denied us because of the delay in another place. From February until July that Bill was hung up and received no attention in that Chamber. When we took the Third Reading of the Bill we made our complaint, and asked for information on what were the revising powers of this Chamber and what were the rights of those who desired to make a change. The noble Marquess who is to reply to-day said (OFFICIAL, REPORT, Vol. 178, Col. 1009):Every Amendment which any noble Lord puts forward in this House, in whatever part of the House he may happen to sit, has a perfect right to be considered on its merits,"—So far, so good. The noble Marquess then went on:and with a genuine desire to see whether it is what may be called a constructive Amendment; and it is the right of any Government to decide whether, in their view, at any rate, such Amendments are constructive or merely wrecking.Well, my Lords, I should like to know what is meant by a constructive Amendment. Is it one which strengthens a Bill or diminishes its force? Does it add something to the Bill or does it take something away? Has it for its purpose delayed action, pending a General Election, or is it concerned merely with dots and commas, phrasing or drafting? It is important that we should realise what a constructive Amendment is, if that is to be our guide, because it is only (and I agree with my noble friend on this) by establishing a body of practice in this House that we shall build up the good will that eventually will allow us mutually to settle our problems. But as long as we are guided by phrases of that kind, without distinction or meaning, we shall find ourselves in constant difficulty.
I want now to refer to the discussions on another Bill, the Iron and Steel Bill, when it was before this House. On that occasion the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, said (OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 163. Col. 553):… I say again that I believe this House might well have felt justified in rejecting this measure en Second Reading and, in doing so, they might fairly have claimed that they had 546 the majority of the people behind them. If I did advise that course to your Lordships it was because I have always believed that it is the function of your Lordships' House not so much to interpret the will of the people as to give the people an opportunity of expressing their own views …The question I should like to put to the noble Marquess is this. Is that Amendment, which delayed the coming into life of the Steel Bill until an Election had been fought, a constructive Amendment or a wrecking Amendment? I venture to say that if we of the Labour Party had had responsibility for that Amendment it would have been described by noble Lords opposite as a wrecking Amendment. I mention those two points because it seems that if this House is going to carry through its function of revision, and if both sides are to work together, and not in opposition to one another, there should be agreement as to the main basis upon which that work is performed. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, in that debate made a speech similar to that made by the noble Marquess, to which I have just referred. He agreed that the House would be right in refusing that Bill a Second Reading, but advised noble Lords instead that the Bill should be held up, pending a General Election.
It has been suggested that perhaps in these discussions which took place in 1947—that is, before this measure came on to the Statute Book—we came very near to a settlement. I wish that I could believe that. It is true that in certain respects there was agreement; but on the main point, whether this House should have power to refuse a Second Reading to a Bill sent up by the House of Commons, there was no agreement at all. Perhaps I might put it more plainly if I were to quote the then Leader of this House, the late Lord Addison. He put the matter very clearly indeed—so clearly that I am sure it is worth repetition. He said (OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 163, Col. 566):We have taken the view, and we stand unalterably upon it, that we will not accept that this unrepresentative House, completely unelected, shall be able to demand a second mandate of the people."—That is quite clear and distinct. I am sure that my Party would never agree to it, and that Lord Addison, when he spoke, expressed that view for all of us. 547 He went on:and shall refuse to give authority to Bills introduced in the fourth Session of a Parliament by a Government with a large majority in the representative Chamber. We refuse absolutely to accept that position. I say to your Lordships that the Labour Party will never accept it, and it will be a very undesirable thing if this House insists upon it.I have started in a way which would seem to suggest that we are unsympathetic to a further Conference, or that we are not anxious to bring about a better state of affairs. That, I think, would be a quite wrong conclusion to reach of the purpose of my speech. So far as the first part is concerned, I am content to point out the stark nakedness of the actual position. This, however, is what I myself would suggest—my noble friend has already mentioned it. In this House, when the Party to which I belong were in office, it was the common practice for the members of the Conservative Party to lay upon the Table a large number of Amendments to Bills of a Government character. Sometimes before the Committee stage, more frequently between the Committee stage and the Report stage, often between the Report stage and Third Reading—and, indeed, on Third Reading—discussions took place between the Parties. Sometimes agreement was reached; sometimes no agreement was reached and the Amendments were dropped. Sometimes the Conservative Party took the House to a Division to force their views forward. Those discussions meant, on the part of the Conservative Party, a departure from their past. They meant a reluctance to deal with the Labour Party's Bills as they had dealt with the Liberal Party's Bills between 1906 and 1910. For that we can be thankful. It was a step in the right direction.
In the present House, the Labour Opposition work on a plan that we will not divide the House against a First Reading, a Second Reading or a Third Reading of Bills, for, in effect, a vote given against the Reading of those Bills would tend towards the veto which used to be the property of your Lordships' House. We now concentrate on the Committee stage and Report stage of Bills, and we bring our Amendments forward, not because we are anxious to obstruct the Bills but because we desire that in another place a further opportunity 548 should be given to consider the issues involved. Then, when the other place has considered those Amendments, of which we may have been fortunate enough to secure approval, we in this House shall accept the verdict of the other place. That is another step in the right direction. But I think we can go even further than that. I believe that, if the noble Marquess and his colleagues, and my noble and learned Leader and his colleagues on this Bench, who from time to time find differences existing between them, met to consider them, we should then be on the right road. But I am convinced of this. In the settlement that is to come, it will not be so much the Labour Party giving way, because the Labour Party has little or nothing to give away. Let us face it. It will mean a sacrifice on the part of the Conservative Party, because they have the power; they can now decide. It will be for them to give way, so that there may be an approximation to co-operation in the House. If that is done, I am sure of this. It would not be wise to press for an early Conference to consider either the composition or the powers of the House. Let us get away from doctrine if we can. Let us establish a body of practice, and when we have established that body of practice, in the good old British way, then I think we shall find the other problems concerning us much easier to solve.
§ 4.15 p.m.
My Lords, as one of those privileged to be elected to sit in your Lordships' House by virtue of the Act of Union of 1707, and having been lucky in the last election, I should like to say how cordially I agree with the closing remarks in the speeches of the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, and the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, that the matter should be left where it is. I cordially endorse the views of the two noble Lords. If I may, I would venture again to make a plea for life peerages for those in the scientific and technological fields. We all know how vitally important it is to apply the lessons of science and technology. It would be of immense value to your Lordships' House if people who lead in these and allied fields could be appointed Life Peers. I suggested such a practice some time ago, but apparently there is some difficulty. But since the most reverend Primate, His Grace the Archbishop of 549 York, has mentioned the matter, I venture, as an engineer, again to submit that point to your Lordships. I hope that the other matter under discussion will be left to rest.
§ 4.17 p.m.
My Lords, may I, as a young hereditary Peer who has always had encouragement to speak, make one point impromptu? I believe it is a corollary of the scheme proposed by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, that hereditary Peers should be allowed to continue to sit and speak in your Lordships' House and to exercise all rights—for instance, the right of writing to Ministers—but not to vote.
I did not say that the noble Viscount said it. I said that some people have put it forward as a corollary of his proposals and, as one who ardently wishes a reform of your Lordships' House and who believes it a complete anachronism that a young and junior officer like myself should have a right to vote, I believe that this suggestion does meet some of the difficulties. I think it meets the objections of those who are against any change. It meets the difficulty put, forward by the noble and learned Earl the Leader of the Opposition, who said that there might be someone with a great, expert knowledge of growing potatoes in Peru (as there are others in this House who have a variety of knowledge on different matters), and if an hereditary Peer could continue to sit and speak, we could still have the benefit of that knowledge. It meets the difficulty also of those of us who are in the fighting Services and in other Government services, who naturally spend a great deal of our service time abroad and who can be stationed in this country only occasionally.
Under any plan to create Life Peers as Lords of Parliament, those people will inevitably be people who have risen to the top of their profession; they will be older people; so this proposal enables the younger people, who are usually hereditary Peers, still to sit and speak, but not to vote. The noble Viscount in his plan said that the hereditary Peers who were not made Lords of Parliament should then have the right to vote and 550 stand for election in another place. One could not have it both ways. If one, as an hereditary Peer, had once exercised a vote at an election, then for the duration of that particular Parliament one would not be able to sit and speak in this House. One could perhaps choose between these two alternatives.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, before I come to the substance of this debate, perhaps you will allow me to give my grateful thanks to the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, and to the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, for the all too kind things that they have said about me personally. In some ways this is for me a very sad day. The Commonwealth Relations Office is a great office. As the main link between Her Majesty's Government in this country and the other members of the Commonwealth, it is now, I profoundly believe, one of the highest and most important offices in the State. I must confess that I have been both intensely proud and extremely happy in that office. On the other hand, I have been fortunate in being privileged to take over another great position, one, I suppose, at least equally distinguished, and for that I am equally grateful. I can assure the noble Viscount that so far as the scientific side of my new activities is concerned shall do my best. I cannot pretend to have the equipment which my grandfather had. As the noble Viscount will know, he was a distinguished chemist, which I certainly am not; but, however haltingly, I shall do my best to follow in his footsteps. Above all, it is, as I am sure you will believe, an intense happiness to me to feel that I shall be continuing to lead your Lordships' House. It has been my good fortune to occupy the position of a leader, either in office or in Opposition, for a good many years now, and I think it is a sign of the tolerance which is one of your Lordships' most noted virtues that you have stood me for so long. If you will bear with me just a little longer, I assure you that I will do my best to serve the interests both of your Lordships and of the House.
Now I will turn to the subject of debate. I am sure no one in this House will complain that the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, has raised again a subject so near to his heart and, indeed, as he will know, to my own. Of course, he has a far longer experience of the subject than 551 I have; I think he has an experience which goes back for over forty years. In his young days he wanted to prune this House of the powers that it had till then exercised. It is certainly not my purpose to-day to argue that the powers possessed by your Lordships' House before 1911 should now be restored. I do not think that any responsible person would argue that that would be a good cause, for, after all, whether the House of Lords exercised those powers well or ill (on the whole, I do not think they did quite so badly as is sometimes thought) times have greatly changed since then, and no one would suggest nowadays that, so far as the power to deal with legislation is concerned, the House of Lords should be anything more than a junior partner to the House of Commons. I think that is common ground in all Parties.
If I have harked back as far as 1911, it is to stress the remarkable fact that the noble Viscount, who was hitherto anxious to reduce the powers of the House and who certainly would not be called by anyone who knows him a friend of reaction, now feels that perhaps the pendulum is swinging almost too far. As I understand his argument, he is pressing for a reform of one kind or another. I do not propose to follow him to-day and embark upon a discussion of what is the correct type of reform, but he is pressing for some reform to enable this House to perform its proper function under the Constitution; and, as I understand it, that is the reason why he has put down this Motion to-day. Of course, there is nothing illogical in what may appear to be a change in his attitude. In any bicameral Constitution there must be a proper balance between the two Houses. It is just as dangerous that the balance should be overset one way as the other. Indeed, I submit—and I hope it may not be regarded as very conservative to say this—that it may well be even more dangerous to overset the balance in the direction of giving a Second Chamber too little power than it is to give it too much. At the same time, I would fully agree with the noble Lords opposite that both would be wrong.
The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, has often, and rightly so, pointed out in this House—true it is not a matter to which he gave so much attention to-day, but I have heard him argue it—that we in this 552 country have an unwritten Constitution and it is possible for the whole edifice of the State to be overturned by a single vote in the First Chamber, quite possibly entirely against the will of the people, unless there exists some power of delay to enable the British people, the electorate or whatever you may care to call them, to understand the issues involved and to make their views clear upon them. As I see it, that is the main function of a Second Chamber, and certainly it is the main constitutional function of your Lordships' House. Ultimately, it is far more important than any of these other functions of revising or of discussing great topics, to which reference has been made this afternoon; for it should ensure, not necessarily by an Election but by their declaring their views in no uncertain manner, that the people will finally decide the destiny of their country. Therefore, as I see it, the function of this House is not to contravert, to thwart or to flout the will of the people—certainly not that—nor even to interpret it, but to allow time for the people to form and to express their own view.
That, as I understand, is the broad principle which the noble Viscount intended to enunciate to-day in the light of a long political life, and that is the broad principle which I should have thought nearly all of us must support, to whatever Party we belong. No doubt there will be varying views as to the nature of the reform that may be needed. While it is inevitable that we should not all see eye to eye on a difficult technical question of this kind, there is no reason why we should regard difficulties of that nature as insurmountable. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, I think, said that complete agreement was reached four years ago on composition. I should like to think that that was quite true, but the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, will probably agree with me in saying that the noble Viscount went a little too far.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Well, to the best of my recollection there was no final agreement reached on composition or even on the principles. The discussions started with composition and 553 then they moved to powers. So far as I can remember, no final agreement was reached on composition.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
It is a pity that there should be any Misunderstanding about that. The Conference definitely resolved that if they had been able to come to agreement on powers they would have submitted these nine points to their Parties as the principles on which a settlement could be reached with regard to composition.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Yes, but no detailed scheme as to composition was accepted, and my impression was that same small gap—perhaps not a very large one—still existed.
§ EARL JOWITT
May I intervene? As the noble Marquess may remember, we promised to submit proposals if we got full agreement, so that the necessary details could be worked out.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
So what I said was, broadly speaking, correct. The reason why no final agreement was reached is a matter of opinion. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, permitted himself a mild gibe on the subject. He said that the heads of the Labour and Conservative Parties were wagged by long and unmanageable tails. I cannot speak for the Party of noble Lords opposite; I do not know what their motive was. But I can assure the noble Viscount that that was not the reason which actuated the Party to which I belong. If I may be allowed a very mild joke on my own side, I could not help thinking, as I listened, that whatever may have been true about us, this wagging of long and unmanageable tails is an uncomfortable experience which is not likely to afflict the head of the Liberal Party. But what the noble Viscount in his humorous metaphor did not mention was the body. He mentioned "head" and "tail," but he never mentioned the "body." I can hardly believe that he meant to suggest that the heads of political Parties, in any circumstances, can afford to ignore the opinion of the main bodies of their Parties. To that extent any decision which was reached by the Leaders in those discussions in which we all took part four years ago was bound, as the noble Earl, Lord Jowitt, said, to be ad referendum. 554 All we could do was to get as near as we could to agreement. Then it had to be referred by the Leaders of each of the Parties to their supporters.
I should like at this point to say a word with regard to the suggestion made by the most reverend Primate in the very wise and moderate speech which he delivered to your Lordships this afternoon. He suggested the desirability in any further discussions which might take place of separating—at least this is what I understood him to suggest—theaspect of composition from the aspect of power, and concentrating upon composition. I think, at first sight, that that is a very attractive idea. I can assure him, speaking for my own Party, that that suggestion, like all others, will be carefully considered when the time comes. But I should not like him or the House to ignore the fact that even then there are considerable difficulties over such a course. After all, when one is trying to decide what powers the House ought to have, one is bound to take into account who are the people who are going to exercise those powers. One is bound to bear in mind that powers which a House of one type of composition might be perfectly fitted to exercise would not be at all suitable for a House of different composition. Therefore I assure the most reverend Primate that, as we all found in 1948, it is very difficult to separate entirely these two aspects.
Having said that, I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, that we did find an unexpected measure of agreement four years ago. And I do not see any good reason why the same should not be true again, if the will to agree is really there. I should like to think that that will is there, but I am bound to say that such reactions as we have had up to now from the Opposition are not very encouraging. I hope that on further thought they will become more forthcoming. When the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, raised this subject—I think it was about six months ago, in May, 1952—the noble Earl, Lord Jowitt, really did his best on behalf of his Party to bang the door on any discussion. He has not been much more forthcoming to-day—he has been rather more forthcoming, but not much.
The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, took a very bleak view. He said, without frills and furbelows, and quite frankly, that if 555 these negotiations—at least, so I understood him to say—are to be successful, it must be the Conservative Party that must make all the concessions. The Labour Party, he said, had nothing to give away. We made most of the concessions last time—and we were happy to do so—to try to get agreement. But, really, to start negotiation on the basis that you have nothing to give away is not likely to lead either to a very friendly or a very fruitful discussion. The noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, as I understood, said, without any prejudice to the question whether it would be right to raise this matter at the proper time, that he did not think the present moment was entirely and in all respects appropriate. That argument about inappropriateness of time is becoming a sort of theme song for the Opposition. We heard it voiced, I remember, over the question of Seretse Khama, and then over the question of Central African Federation—
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
Does the noble Marquess remember assuring the House that as soon as it was clear that Seretse Khama was not going back the tribe would choose a new chief? But they did not do it.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
The noble Viscount, as usual, is rather too impatient. Things are not going so badly as he thinks—or not so well as he hopes—I do not know which. We have heard this argument used on many other subjects, and now we hear these melodious notes of procrastination sounded again on this subject. As I think I have said before, if you are a responsible Government you cannot always pigeonhole every important issue on those grounds. If you are to wait in politics till the moment is entirely appropriate you will never do I anything at all. I hope, with the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, that it will not be necessary to wait till then, though I agree with the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, that there must be priorities of urgency. Clearly that must be so. But I do not think that you can wait till the ideal moment, because the ideal moment seldom comes.
The noble and learned Earl said, or implied, that in his view the system is not too unsatisfactory as it is, and that he really did not see any urgent reason 556 for change. It is very agreeable for us on this side of your Lordships' House to know that the noble Earl and those who support him are so thoroughly happy about the present composition and direction of your Lordships' House. They have indeed, voiced certain criticisms of the conduct of business in recent weeks, and, in particular, the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, and the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, complained as I understood them, of lack of Parliamentary time and of the facilities for consultation given in the case of a particular Bill not many weeks ago. I realise that the noble Earl, Lord Jowitt, gave that as an instance. He made it clear that he was not making a serious complaint. I do not want to make too heavy weather of it, but it would be a pity if a wrong impression should go out to the public. Therefore. I should like to say that so far as Parliamentary time is concerned, I am sure that Lord Shepherd will agree that this was no last minute arrangement. The timetable for this Bill was arranged through the usual channels as far back as July, before we went away, and there were no complaints about it then. I agree that the time was short, but, as the noble Lord has very fairly said, the reason it was not longer was not our fault; it was due to delay in another place. But the timetable, I understand, was arranged through the usual channels.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, I quite agree, but when arrangements were being made it was impressed upon me that, owing to the delay that had already taken place elsewhere and the requirements of the timetable of Business in this House, we should have to take the measure through all its stages very quickly indeed.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
That is perfectly true, but I think the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, rather gave the impression that the House had been hustled at the last moment, and I should not like that impression to remain.
§ EARL JOWITT
And I thought so. The fact that we had Report and Third Reading on the same day is to my mind conclusive proof that that was so. I know that the noble Marquess did his best, and I know that we had to get the Bill back to another place in time to obtain the Royal Assent; but I think that 557 whenever we get Report and Third Reading on the same day this House is quite unable to do its work properly.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I agree with the noble Earl. Broadly speaking, it is an undesirable procedure. But the point is that it was not rushed upon the House when the House came back after the Summer Recess. The time-table of the House was put to noble Lords opposite before we went into Recess, and it would have been perfectly open to the noble Earl to come to me then, but he did not do so.
May I now say a word about consultation? We were told that there were no facilities for consultation. Consultation was not asked for. There were other Bills, not mentioned in the speeches this afternoon—the Dentists Bill and others—where consultation was requested; and we had consultation. I can only yet once again assure noble Lords opposite that it will be my object, so long as I am leading this House, to ensure that all possible facilities are given to the Opposition. If they think that the facilities are not adequate, I beg them to come to me and I will do my best to put things right. I do not say that I shall always succeed, but I shall do my very utmost. I hope that in the passage of time we shall workout arrangements to enable the House to have as full co-operation as possible, now that we are in office and no longer in Opposition. I cannot do more than that. I do not say that every arrangement will work. I do not say that there will not be, on occasion, complaints from the Opposition, which they may have every right to make; but we shall do our best to work together as we should.
I should like to reply to another point made by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. He quoted some words of mine, in which I said that it would be for the Government to decide whether an Amendment was constructive or not. He asked me what on earth I meant by that. I do not know whether "constructive" was the right word to use, but what I meant was; Does the Amendment improve the Bill, or not? That is what I meant, and that is what I feel the Government must decide, so far as it lies in our power, as the House will decide finally. I am quite sure that noble Lords opposite, if they were sitting on this side of the House, 558 would take exactly the same view as I am taking this afternoon.
The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, went on to say: Look at the Steel Bill Amendment that was introduced by your Lordships in the last Parliament in order to ensure that the Steel Bill would not come into force until a certain date which must come after the General Election. He asked, did I regard that as a constructive or a wrecking Amendment? We frankly regarded it as a purely constructive Amendment. Its purpose was perfectly simple. We felt that the people should have an opportunity of giving an opinion on that Bill, and that the Government should know that the people were behind that Bill. In the event, that did not work out, perhaps, very satisfactorily for either Party, because neither Party could have argued that the people had decided for them. The Government crept into office with a very small majority and took advantage of it to implement the Steel Bill. The Opposition had lost a great many seats so that it could not be claimed that the people favoured the policy which they were pursuing. The Amendment was a perfectly constitutional one, and to my mind a perfectly proper and constructive, one.
Broadly speaking, I would agree with what has been said by the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, this afternoon—namely, that this system in your Lordships' House does not work badly with things as they are at present; that is to say, while we have a moderate Government (I do not mean only this Government; I would apply that also to the sort of Government of which the noble Earl himself is likely to be a member), supported by a moderate majority in another place. Under these conditions, I do not think this House works badly. But there is always a danger, which we must not ignore—though it does not seem to be a very immediate one—that, as the result of one of those strange aberrations which are always possible in politics, some more extreme Government, whether of the Left or of the Right, may at some time come into power and use that power for purposes which have not in reality the support of the majority of the British people. I believe that if such an event as that were to occur it would be found that the safeguards of the Constitution in respect of the powers and authority of this House 559 would prove to have worn much thinner than the noble Lords on the other side of the House at present think. Therefore, I hope that we shall not allow ourselves to be deterred by any doubts or hesitations from embarking on the action which in our view the interests of the country seem to demand.
As the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, reminded your Lordships this afternoon, the Government made it clear at the time of the Election that they proposed to call an all-Party Conference to discuss the reform of the House of Lords. That is still our firm purpose, I would assure the noble Viscount, for if it is possible—I hope it may be possible, and I say this most sincerely—we should all infinitely prefer to obtain this reform by general agreement. The noble Viscount asked when this Conference would be called. In answer to what, I would refer him to a reply which was given by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place on November 13, when he said thatThe questioner may rest assured that we shall take steps to call the Conference to which this Question refers as soon as matters of greater urgency in the present state of national affairs have been despatched.That, I believe, was the only answer which the Prime Minister could have given, and it is the only answer I can give the noble Viscount to-day.
If it is not indelicate to mention such a matter in this Assembly, we did inherit a pretty formidable situation from our predecessors, and ever since we came in we have been wrestling with the problems which they left. It seems to us that the need to tackle the harsh realities of our economic and financial situation outweighs everything else. To-day, happily, that situation is improving. I do not say for one moment that we are out of the wood, but we are beginning to see some light through the trees, and it may be—sooner, perhaps, than the noble Viscount expects—we shall be able to take the first steps to secure a further examination of this vitally important subject. I give no promise to-day, but I hope very sincerely that that may be so. When that time comes, we shall ask for the co-operation of all in your Lordships' House, irrespective of Party, to whom the stability of this country is dear. We hope that that co-operation will be 560 fully and sincerely given, for on the continuance of a Second Chamber which conforms both in powers and composition to the needs of the time in which we live may well depend the survival of those ancient rights and liberties of the British people of which noble Lords, I know, regard your Lordships' House, now, as in the past, as most zealous guardians.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
My Lords, I thank the noble Marquess for his reply, from which I draw considerable encouragement. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.