HL Deb 04 February 1953 vol 180 cc226-55

4.7 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, the Bill of my noble friend Lord Simon had a fairly rough handling yesterday in your Lordships' House, and now it stands under sentence of death or a period of preventive detention. Although yesterday the Bill was given a little attention in the matter of merits claimed for it, it has had none to-day, and the debate has resolved itself into a debate on Command Paper 7380. Whatever may be the fate of my noble friend's Bill, if it is to be martyred on the altar of constitutional procedure, it will, I think, always stand out that it was the Bill which caused this debate, as the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, has just said. I feel that this debate has been one of very great importance. After all, if it had not been for this Bill, what one may call the ordinary rank and file of your Lordships' House would never have expressed in debate any opinion on their re-constitution, and I suppose it is only natural that they have some anxiety about it. Some of us may be wondering whether, when the selection of Peers who are to become Lords of Parliament is made, existing Members of your Lordships' House will be divided into the sheep and the goats—the goats to be sacrificed and the sheep to remain—or whether there is to be some form of Coronation ballot to decide who at some future date is to be removed from your Lordships' precincts.

I feel that there has been a great deal of value in the debate, even to the Leaders of our three Parties in the House, in the contributions from those whom they are going to lead; and I feel that when they do meet they will be in no sense disadvantaged by what has been said in the debate to-day. We have not only been able to give them our views but we have been able, almost for the first time, to obtain the sense of each other's thoughts on this very important subject. I am sure that we wish those three Leaders, for whom we have such respect—and perhaps more than respect—success in the work which they are going to do for this House, work which is so very important.

As one who has had no Parliamentary training, other than my fifteen years in your Lordships'House—during which time I have gained a certain amount of wisdom from others—I have great hesitation in stepping into the deep waters of constitutional reform. There is, however, one suggestion that I wish to make to-day and for which, in all humility. I would ask your Lordships' kind indulgence. What do we all want our House to be? We want it, of course, to remain what it is—a great administrative body of the utmost value to our national life. But surely we should also like it to he a great advisory body to the nation as a whole on all great issues. That, to my mind, would go even further to fulfil our Parliamentary function than anything that has been proposed. We all know—it has been expressed in this House by many eloquent speeches during this debate—the value of our administrative work in this House and of the system of working, and also the splendid way in which we are led by our Front Benches. We know that we have made good use of our powers, such as they are, and that we have been able to use our powers of delay in a manner which has been to the great advantage of the nation and has enabled the elector to obtain a more balanced view of many difficult problems.

And yet, if one were to ask the average citizen in this country what he thought about the House of Lords, we all know what he would probably answer. He would probably say. "Well, you work very well but you vote very badly. We know, long before your ship, loaded with its Bill, comes above the horizon, exactly what course it is going to steer. You are too partisan." Command Paper 7380 has done its best to correct that view, but it is not clear to me, from that Paper, what steps are proposed. Is it possible so to construct this House that it will be more representative of the electorate as a whole than it is at the present time? If we could do that, then we might hope that, whatever majority decisions are given in this House, they would be decisions that would be endorsed by the electorate. The proposals in Command Paper, however, do not seem to me to venture so far. As far as they go, they seem to be very good: the principle behind them is good. I share the hope of the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, that we shall have in our future House a fair proportion of hereditary Peers, for, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has said, I believe that there is something in heredity. I have found in many walks of life that when a family has continued to follow one profession it has profited by it, and that the profession also has profited by it. I believe that our hereditary Peers have made the House what it is; and one cannot but feel that not only have they produced great Parliamentarians but that in their early lives they must have been deeply impressed by the responsibilities which might ultimately come to them.

There does not seem to be the slightest doubt that the Command Paper fore shadows that a Peer, before his father dies, may do any work he likes or may enter the House of Commons if he can, and remain there, if he can, for the rest of his life; but that, if he does not do this, he is eligible with others to he selected as a Lord of Parliament. That seems to me the best way. But if, as the Command Paper says, the Parties in your Lordships' House are to be as nearly as possible equalised in number, what is going to happen, one wonders, when we go into the Division Lobbies? I presume that something is proposed to fill that gap, but I do not find any explanation of what it may be. Presumably it is assumed that there will be a large number of distinguished people who will be Lords of Parliament but who will not belong to any particular Party. Otherwise, every new Peer created will merely add to relative Party strength—which would be quite useless. So it seems to me that it must be contemplated that we should have in this House some centre Party which will have some influence on the Divisions among the three equal groups of Party Peers. I do not know whether that is so; perhaps that is only because of my ignorance or my lamentable misreading of the Command Paper. But at any rate I have not seen anything about this point.

Assuming that something of that kind is intended, I would call your Lordships' attention to this fact. I think that what the House lacks in representation is what I would call a fourth political Party in the State. I am thinking of those men and women, particularly women, voters, who may be what are sometimes described as "wobblers" or just highly patriotic citizens—people who think before they vote on each occasion; who vote differently at nearly every Election, and who represent an incalculable element which cannot be represented in the House of Commons, because no Independent candidate, since he has no Party backing, has any chance to-day in any constituency. The existence of this fourth political group seems to me to be the reason for the tremendous turn over of votes which one sometimes sees at a General Election, a turnover which on previous occasions has been quite un expected but which certainly has not been due to there having been a change by Party supporters of their Party allegiance or Party feeling. If that by no means unimportant central Party, who might well look to this House for guidance and who are not directly represented in another place, came into being, and if our Chamber were composed not only with less partisanship but also more like the electorate in principle, so as to include such a Party in our organisation, then I feel that we should represent the country and the electorate far more closely than does the other place. I believe that it would have an immense effect upon the electorate if women Life Peers had a place in your Lordships' House, because, after all, the women's vote is as great as the men's, or nearly so. It would be appreciated in the country that this House had a sufficient number of the other sex able to represent the women in that fourth Party, who I am sure are quite considerable in numbers.

I would say, in conclusion, that it is obvious that anyone elevated to the Peerage will have a Party leaning. It is quite impossible to say to any man, whether he is a distinguished scientist, an Admiral of the Fleet or anybody else—"Admiral of the Fleet" came naturally to my thoughts; I am sorry—"Would you like to be made a Peer, a Lord of Parliament? What are your politics?" You cannot say that to him.

Nor can you say, "We want to make you a Lord of Parliament. Will you become an Independent?" You cannot do that, of course, and you can no more select your centre Party in this House in that way than you can fly. But what you can do is to make it quite clear to that person that he need have no Party affiliations; that just because he happens to be made a Peer when the Conservative Party are in power he need not owe allegiance to the Conservative Party—or vice versa if the Labour Party are in power. If that can be done, there is no reason why your Lordships' House should not consist of a very desirable body of people, of great experience and authority, who would balance the political Parties and enable decisions to be made very much in accord with what the electorate would wish if the matter went to the country. With this other composition of the House, more nearly representing in principle the voting power of the country even than another place, this House could give a lead to the electorate. We should be trusted as a great advisory body, and the country would never wish to lessen our powers or our responsibilities.

4.23 p.m.


My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Winster, does not feel sufficiently strong to address your Lordships on this subject. I should very much have liked to hear him. I do not propose to say a great deal on the Bill before your Lordships, but I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, that, if anything is to be done, it should be done by the Government themselves and not by any private Member. I agree also with my noble friend that it would be a mistake to introduce Peeresses as Life Peeresses in this House. I should like to ask the Government for this information. I do not think that if the talks that are to take place should fail, the Bill now before us should take precedence over other equally desirable alterations in the constitution of your Lordships' House. It seems to me wrong that any particular suggestions should, by the fact of their being adjourned, take precedence over a proper and full consideration of this whole subject.


Perhaps I may relieve the noble Lord's mind at once. I had hoped that I had made it quite clear yesterday that the Government very much hope that the Conference will not only meet but will succeed in producing an agreed solution. If so, well and good. But, if it fails to agree or, still worse, if it fails to meet, the Government must have time to consider their whole position and what, if any, proposals they will wish to make. It was to meet every possible contingency that the Government felt that this Bill ought to go into cold storage, at any rate for the time being, so that it should not take precedence over a more comprehensive measure of any kind.


I am much obliged to the noble Viscount. There is one small suggestion that I should like to make which is less drastic than the very difficult one made by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, about voting. I think it would be easy for your Lordships' House to pass a Standing Order that, after the first ten days of the Session, not more than ten Peers should take the oath on any one day. That would prevent what I do not believe to be a great danger: it would prevent the House from being swamped by people coming here only on an occasion of excitement. If there was anybody who specially wanted to attend, we could always put aside Standing Orders for the time being.

I should like now to turn for a moment to what the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said. He made a very interesting speech which I followed most carefully and with much pleasure, because it gave me the feeling that he was really thinking aloud of the kind of House that he is aiming at and would like to have. I k now he will not mind if I put it very shortly and say that he seemed to me to wish for a House composed of "Yes-men" of superlative ability. I think that was pretty well the point at which he arrived. I can understand the need for "superlative ability," because their task should be to put into proper workable shape the measures that a Socialist Government might introduce into your Lordships' House. In that case, I would ask him to cast an eye over his shoulder and see whether this House between the years 1945 and 1950 did not make a creditable effort to approach his ideals. But, apart from that, what I think really comes out of what he said, and I fancy most noble Lords opposite come out pretty well in the same place, is that the more one thinks of it and the more one considers all the difficulties, the more one realises that it is most difficult to reform this House in any very material respect. I am conscious that almost any change, even a small change, in any body often makes a great difference in its tone and temper. Having said that, I will add that I am perfectly ready to embrace and support any measures that I honestly think will be for the strengthening of this House in its influence and reputation. So I think there we are nearly all agreed.

But, before I sit down, I want to challenge something that came up in the debate yesterday. I am sorry that the noble and learned Viscount who is in charge of this Bill is not here to hear what I have to say. He said yesterday (OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 180, Col. 137): It is suggested in some quarters that this watering down of the hereditary element in the House in some way brings into question the hereditary character of the Monarchy… It is not only in the character of this House but in other matters. The law of heritable succession in Scotland, for example, follows the line of devolution of the Crown. I have already approached this Government on that matter to say that I thought it would be a pity radically to alter the law of heritable succession in Scotland, because I did not like leaving in isolation the heritable right of the Crown to the Throne. I think it has some bearing here.

The noble and learned Viscount goes on to say: The hereditary character of the Crown persists and is everywhere accepted because the Sovereign acts on the advice of her Ministers. He then goes on to suggest that the hereditary character of the Crown is dependent on the fact that the Crown acts on the advice of the Ministers. My Lords, I desire to challenge that here and now. I challenge absolutely that doctrine. I say that the hereditary right and title of the Crown is absolute. I do not believe that this House has ever held the contrary. I believe that the circumstances of the Revolution bear that out. I cannot in my own mind understand any qualified loyalty. It is a matter which is of great importance, because at some time in our history the unchallenged, absolute, hereditary right of the Crown might become most important. Suppose an atom bomb fell in the Central Lobby and wiped out the Government and both Houses of Parliament: it might be absolutely necessary that whoever was Monarch at the time should take back the old powers and exercise them for the safety of the country. When King Haakon of Norway was chased the length and breadth of the land he was the father and shepherd of his people, without any question of acting on the advice of his Ministers or not. I therefore desire to challenge the noble and learned Viscount's doctrine of the conditional hereditary right of the Crown. I think that that doctrine should be challenged, and the hereditary right acknowledged to be absolute.

4.33 p.m.


My Lords, I shall not detain your Lordships long, but I have been most interested in this debate. In my opinion as a Back Bencher, its great value is that we have been collecting the views of this House in order to ascertain what are our real feelings towards the Bill introduced by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon. In that one sense alone, however distinguished a Back Bencher may be (and Lord Simon is a very distinguished "Front-Back" Bencher) it is unique that the rules of this House permit him to introduce a Bill to change the constitution of the House of Lords. That is what it amounts to. When it was announced in the Press that he was going to introduce the Bill, I as a layman, wondered whether he had first obtained the permission of the Sovereign. I seem to remember that there was a fairly long delay before he introduced his Bill, and I fancy some traditionalist, with a small "c" for "conservative," like myself, must have reminded him that he could not do it with out the permission of the Sovereign. He duly got that permission and introduced his Bill to create in a year ten Life Peers, who may be women—a sort of infiltration over a course of many years which, we have been reminded, in about thirty years would produce 300 Life Peers.

On the merits of the Bill itself, I cannot disagree with that principle. If your Lordships will allow me to introduce a personal note, I may say that I have been a Member of this House now for seven and a half years. I have enjoyed every minute of my membership here because of the friendliness of the House. But I happen to have a son who is not so radical in his outlook as myself, but who objects to the hereditary principle. I shall go home to the north and tell him that he need have no fear: that there is perhaps little chance of his taking his seat when. unfortunately, I depart—an eventuality which I hope will be long deferred.

There has been some minor criticism even from the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, and a similar minor criticism from Lord Samuel, that there has been some procrastination in not implementing the preamble of the Parliament Act, 1911. That implied criticism of my own old leader of forty years ago, Mr. Asquith. In fairness to the name and also the services of that great Prime Minister, I would ask all noble Lords to bear in mind what happened after 1911. Soon afterwards there was a war and then, when Mr. Lloyd George, afterwards Earl Lloyd-George, destroyed the Liberal Party, neither the Liberal nor the Labour Party had much chance to bring in or to implement the preamble. If there is any procrastination, I would say gently to Lord Simon that he himself is a sort of Rip Van Winkle who has just awakened and introduced his Bill. As we can impute only the best of motives, I am wondering why he has awakened from his complacency and his long silence. It happens that he was His Majesty's Solicitor-General when the Parliament Act, 1911, was framed, and I have a shrewd idea that, together with the Attorney-General, Lord Simon had something to do with the drafting of that Parliament Act. I had something to do with that Act in a small way. I remember that when in 1910, Mr. Asquith advised His Majesty to hold a second Election, there was great indignation in the country, especially amongst the younger men. I had to quell a rebellion in the northern counties of young men, nearly all of them under the age of thirty-five, because they thought that after Mr. Asquith had obtained his mandate he should have gone on to insist that your Lordships be compelled to pass the Budget, and that there should be no more Lansdowne House meetings.

Lord Balfour of Burleigh suggests that the Parliament Act was an agreed measure. But I remember vividly that the late Master of Elibank (as he then was), the Liberal Whip, used to go and down the Lobby with a long list of names, and if any poor Tory happened to say that he would have nothing to do with anything the Liberals might do, he simply pulled it out and said, "I have here the names of three hundred persons whom His Majesty has agreed to make Peers of Parliament." Then Mr. Asquith decided that there should be a General Election, and in a very small way I was able to convince my own brethren that they should not be rebels; that we had one of the finest Prime Ministers that we had had for a long time—which he was; I pay him that tribute with great sincerity—andthat we must support him. We did so, and we won the Election. But that is by the way.

Nowadays I address very few political meetings. I am supposed to be an elder politician. I do not think I could ever graduate as a statesman unless I took to wearing a butterfly collar instead of a soft collar. But I may tell your Lordships, if you will bear with me, that it has been my lot to address meetings which are rather unusual in character, and one of my great sources of inspiration has been some of our great public schools. I suppose I have been to nearly forty of them altogether, and I often found that when those concerned had developed confidence in me I was asked to address the sixth form. But instead of addressing or lecturing the sixth form, I asked the young fellows to lecture me, and I found that those citizens of the future gave me a great inspiration and also a conviction that there was not much wrong with the country so far as they were concerned. I was nearly always asked questions, and a great many of the questions related to the House of Lords. I was asked whether I believed in the hereditary principle and so on and so forth.

Another type of audience altogether was that which I addressed from time to time through the courtesy of the Prison Commissioners—I mean, of course, the inmates of prisons. I remember, on one occasion, when the chapel at a particular prison was filled with more than 500 of my fellow citizens who were unable to get out at the time, that great interest was shown in questions relating to your Lordships' House. More recently I have been further questioned and quizzed on the same subject. In general, my replies have amounted to this. I have expressed the view that in the old days, when your Lordships' House was not famous but notorious for rejecting Bills, introduced in those times by the Liberal Party, then the stock of this House fell. When the Labour Party was returned with a. majority in 1945 we had a definite programme, and so far as the rank and tile were concerned—and I believe the same is true of sonic of my leaders—a certain amount of trepidation was felt. They did not know what line your Lordships would take with regard to some of the Bills we had promised to introduce, This is what I have told my friends—and at some of the places I have mentioned they do not by any means share my own political opinions. I do not know, of course, what are the politics of the people in gaol. But when some of the people in those great schools and in military detention camps have asked me about the House of Lords, that is what I have said, and I have gone on to declare that the House of Lords has reformed itself. Its stock, according to my reading, is higher now than at any time in its history; and that has come about simply because of the way it received the Labour Government's Bills.

I have pointed out that the great majority of the Members of this House hold opinions contrary to the principles of those Bills but, nevertheless, the measures were most carefully examined and in many respects were amended because of the wisdom of this House. I told them that I found that I had to talk a little differently from the way I was accustomed to speak in another place on such occasions. I could not put out as much propaganda: I had to he as factual as possible. And I have paid tribute, for what it is worth from a Back Bencher, to the Members of this House who, in my view, excelled themselves at that time in applying their brains to the problems which came to them from another place. I can see a great sphere of usefulness for this House in the future, whether Life Peers are created or not. More and more, I feel, the Government of the day will he able to use this House, as it has done in regard to such measures as the one affecting magistrates, to introduce Bills, thus saving the time of the House of Commons.

My Lords, that is all I have to say, because the whole conception and nature of the debate has changed owing to the announcement made by the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton. I hope that the chief Labour Whip in the House of Commons will be consulted, so that he, in his turn, can consult his "constituents," who represent 14,000,000 voters and who assemble in Room 14 once or twice a week. I say that because, unless there is some sort of mandate, it will be foolish for the Labour Party to enter into negotiations if there is a great danger of their failing. I wish the Conference well, though, as I said in 1948, it seems that, as far as I am concerned, I shall receive my cards. But that cannot be prevented, and I shall bear it with fortitude and philosophy. Personally, I am thankful to the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, for introducing his Bill in order that some of us—about twenty-five, believe, all told—Front and Back Bench Members, have been able to express our varying opinions with, I hope, moderation and some degree of statesmanship.

4.47 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure your Lordships will agree that there is nothing worse than a good party which has been allowed to drag on too long. We all know the moment when the guests begin to go, and then we are aware that it is time to pack up. I sense that moment coming near at hand, and therefore it is with considerable hesitation, in spite of many flattering references made in the course of the debate to the younger Members of your Lordships' House, that I rise to speak. I rise only because of two points which concern me personally, and in which I have an interest of which I think I should tell your Lordships. The first is a matter of history. This concept of Life Peers is not a new one. One of my forbears was made a Life Peer, the reason being that in Scotland, in the 17th Century, when a commoner married a peeress in her own right, he was made a Life Peer to make him equal in rank to his wife. These Life Peers could and did sit in the Scots Parliament. But that is by the way.

My second interest is a more vital one, because these proposals in the Bill, should they come about as the result of the Conference, or as the result of the Bill, will affect my generation considerably more than the generations of a great many of your Lordships here present. It is in twenty years' time, say, that the effects will begin to be felt. Then it is we who will have to share the bed with these strange new bed-fellows that are the result of Lord Simon's conception—or should I say his delivery: that is, I think, the term he used. Either we shall have to share the bed with them or, I strongly suspect, we may find ourselves being kicked right out of bed by them.

It is not only because of public opinion towards the hereditary principle that we have to face up to this question of revising the composition of the House. As several noble Lords have said, it is increasingly difficult for members of the Peerage to find the time to come to attend this House. I speak from my own experience. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, made this very point, but he is more fortunate in that his practice is within this City. Mine happens to be 400 miles away, and it is extremely difficult to find the time to come and play any sort of part in the work of this House. It is interesting to note that in the last fifty years the number of hereditary Peerages has increased by over 200, yet I doubt whether attendance in the House to-day is as high as it was fifty years ago.

Whilst it is clear that we have to introduce some form of Life Peerage as a reform, I think it is only right to point out that that step will bring certain difficult problems in its train. Appointments to Life Peerages can be made only by the Government of the day advising the Sovereign, and if they are made by the Government of the day they are bound to be in the nature of the fruits of political patronage—using the word "patronage" in no derogatory sense. But the fruits of political patronage, however well meant the patronage may be, will inevitably tend to go in the main to those who are nearest the source of patronage, those most in contact with, and in the eyes of, the leaders. That will lead to two results, both of which will be somewhat deplorable. Your Lordships' House contains a fairly large number of members who can be relied upon to express a completely independent opinion, regardless of Party; and if the appointment of Life Peers is made in this way I think the number of Members who will express independent opinions will be reduced.

Secondly, one of the great attractions of this House at present is that it includes in its membership Peers from every part of the country. No matter what local question comes up for discussion, be it, as we have recently had, the University of St. Andrews Bill, or the Great Ouse Catchment Board Order, or the Bill to which we gave a Second Reading earlier this afternoon, the Great Northern London Cemetery (Crematorium) Bill, there will always be a Peer who has an intimate knowledge of the district and the local problems concerned. That situation has been maintained largely by the hereditary system, and when Life Peer ages become the fruits of political patronage, that general territorial spread of the House will be in danger.

As a Scottish Representative Peer I must stress that if there is any alteration in the nature of the appointment of Members to the House it will be watched in a very critical spirit by the public in Scotland, who I am sure are jealous to maintain an adequate Scottish representation in the House. I should like to think that in the past Scotland has been well represented, not only in numbers but also in quality, both by its Representative Peers and by those Peers who have risen by their distinction to be created Peers of the United Kingdom, by virtue of which they take their seats in the House. Scotland is proud that she has given the country three Prime Ministers who started as Representative Peers. If a system of Life Peer ages is introduced, it is essential that a certain number of nominations should be made by some body or council in Scotland, and not merely by the headquarters of the Party that is the Government of the day. I heartily endorse the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, that the House should include representatives of other Churches besides the Established Church of England, and particularly of the Church of Scotland. When these inter-Party talks take place, as I hope they will, I hope the Government will see that at least one member is a Scotsman who can speak on the problems which affect Scotland.

To conclude, I think we should be extremely grateful to the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, for having introduced this Bill. However inopportune other noble Lords may have considered it, the Bill has, as the noble Lord, Lord Calverley, said, given the House an opportunity to express its own opinion about these reforms, instead of their merely being considered in camera by a Committee which would announce their conclusions as an accepted fact. We must also wish the Government every success in the venture on which they have embarked and which we hope will bring a solution to this extremely difficult but essential problem.

4.55 p.m.


My Lords, when a young and new Member of the House speaks in this debate, he is rather like a spectator at a big football match who can shout all sorts of well-meant advice to the First Division players, well knowing that his more rash indiscretions are not likely to upset their play. I listened to most of the debate on the 1947 Parliament Bill from the steps of the Throne, and I have always been puzzled by the dominance in the minds of the Leaders of the two main Parties of the powers of delay of the House—twelve months or fifteen months—the more so in that the House had then just passed what I suppose was the most momentous Bill of the century, the India Act, 1947, when the majority Party might well have considered attempting to impose a two years' delay; but, in their wisdom, they did not attempt to do so. Therefore, I conclude, as the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, argued yesterday, that the authority of the House depends upon the consent of the people and their recognition of the value of the work of the House.

Here I depart from what the noble Lord, Lord Calverley, was saying. From my experience of education in the Army, in talking to groups of men and even of officers, I know that there is not a great deal of interest in, or awareness of, the value and temper of debates in this House. Certainly our Strangers' Gallery never attracts the crowds who queue to get into another place. But all this may rapidly alter if, by the creation of Life Peers, we gain as members men and women whose names are household words in new ways. If I may put it in this way, with great respect, the public admire our great national leaders and proconsuls, but as men whose attainments they themselves cannot emulate; yet they argue and discuss round their firesides and in the pubs the men who do the things they try to do, whom they can go to watch on a Saturday afternoon—their favourite sportsmen or actors, the men who try to beat the speed records, the explorers, the men who make scientific inventions that affect their everyday lives. There are always some small men who win a vulgar summer of fame, but I believe that our people have a sure instinct to take to their hearts, as their perennial heroes, men of a modesty of nature and generosity of spirit that makes them great in themselves, apart from the excellence in their achievements. Surely these are the men we have in mind as Life Peers. For example, if it is given to an English man to be the first to scale Mount Everest, I am sure he will be a man who will recognise that his success is as one of a team mounting on the experience of a whole generation of courageous men.

Surely the aim of the reform of the House is to build up a body of independent opinion that can outweigh the members with specific Party loyalties, or, at any rate, to have enough Cross-Bench opinion to make any balance of one Party over another in doubt. I am fortified in my remarks by all that fell from the lips of the noble and gallant Admiral of the Fleet, Lord Chatfield. But then the Cross-Benches must be fully representative. Where on the Cross-Benches are the men with the experience of the factory, the pit, or the council school? Those of us in the Services have learnt of these things in trying to under stand the men we lead. But that is not the same thing. Those of your Lordships, with all respect, who have this direct experience have also your specific Party loyalties, and for the most part have ended your active life in industry. But supposing that men, still in middle life, come and speak in this House, and go directly back to their jobs at the factory bench, or in industry, then there will be a much more lively commerce between the work and life of this House and the general public.

You may say, "We come to this House to legislate. What will these men know about legislation?" Well, many of the issues in this House are moral issues, such as the issue on which this House made its most significant intervention in recent years, that of the death penalty. That is where the law must move in consonance with the general body of opinion in the land. If men of wisdom be created Life Peers, who mix with men of all estate, they surely can pronounce on these issues just as well as the practised politician. Surely we do not fear that new blood can alter the great traditions of debate in this Chamber: they will only make the public more familiar with it. Then gradually a convention may perhaps grow up, with out any statutory alteration of our powers, whereby more Bills in every Session will be first introduced in this House, thus relieving in another place the congestion of business which may continue for some time with the even balance of Parties there.

There is this further advantage: that in a controversial Bill in this House the Government and the Opposition can afford to listen to the weight of independent opinion before crystallising their views beyond the point of no return, beyond the point of compromise. A recent leading article in The Times said this: The real cause of the unwholesome rigidity in the present Party system is the strict interpretation which Party leaders have been putting on the doctrine of the mandate. The traditionally constitutional idea that the electors voted for Governments and not for policies has, since 1834, given way more and more to the quite opposite idea that the electors vote for Governments pledged to particular policies. In another place the independent Member has vanished all Members are less and less able to work at their professions outside the House, and more and more have to observe Party discipline. But perhaps in this House, by this Bill, and maybe by this Bill alone—apart from some Amendment of Standing Orders about the right to vote, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin—we may find a new vigour and vitality to show that it is people and not Party doctrines that have inspired our great days in this country.

The heirs of William Cecil and Philip Sidney grace our Front Bench. The successors of the great seamen are with us. But where are the poets who also took part in the affairs of State in the Elizabethan scene: the cobbler's son, Marlowe, the bricklayer's stepson, Ben Jonson, the page boy, Drayton, the poor scholar at Merchant Taylors', who was Secretary to the Deputy of Ireland, Edmund Spenser? These men interpreted the Court to the groundlings and the groundlings to the Court. Their plays, like the great Elizabethan plays, abound with topical political allusion and caricature—indeed, some of the dramatists went to prison once or twice for their indiscretion. I believe that, because he lived in the midst of all the political crisis of his day, Shakespeare was able to proclaim for all time in his historical plays those virtues of balance and good sense that have in part inspired the political sagacity of the British people and their devotion to the Monarchy. So may we not also hope that other men who have spent a lifetime's apprenticeship wrestling with the magic of words, and seeing into the heart of things, will come and sit amongst us and illumine our debate with their counsel?

5.8 p.m.


My Lords, I have listened with great interest to the debate of yesterday and to-day, and will, if I may, approach this matter as an engineer closely concerned with scientific research and development, and thank the noble and learned Viscount for giving those of us who believe in the appointment of Life Peers an opportunity of saying so. I have had the privilege on previous occasions of mentioning this matter in your Lordships' House. Our country becomes even more dependent on the understanding and application of the lessons of scientific and technological research. I am convinced that your Lordships' House could, assuming this measure is given the force of law, greatly increase the value of the services it renders the country. I was impressed by the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, yesterday, and two phrases in particular appealed to me. The first was (OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 180, Col. 181): … the House of Lords as a practical institution works extremely well, although it may be open to every kind of theoretical objection. A little later on he said of the various considerations that he had in mind with regard to the suggestion of reform (Col. 182): One is to leave it alone. He continued: There are many people who, in practice, are working to that end, but nobody has ventured to say so in public. I would say that I have done so quite recently in this House and, my Lords, I do so again.

With regard to the creation of Life Peers, I feel that that is a matter of great importance which, I submit, brooks of no delay. If, as is suggested, these reform Conferences are to proceed, a consider able time will be taken up in the process of the Conference, and again in putting into practice that which may be agreed upon. But, in the meantime, if the suggestion now before your Lordships is given force to, it will be possible at a much earlier date to bring some eminent people into your Lordships'House—I think of those leading in the scientific and technical fields. I should like to suggest that the President of the Royal Society, the leading scientific society in the world, should be consulted, together with such Governmental scientific advisory committee as may already exist. In the last few years we have seen the attempts in another place of people with great scientific knowledge to make a contribution to our national affairs. There is the case of the Secretary of the Royal Society, Professor Hill, who was a Member of another place for several years. He found that the duties falling on a Member of Parliament were such that he lost all count of his scientific work, and therefore he did not seek re-election. In such circumstances, people in the world of science and technology as Members of your Lordships' House could fill a vital need.

Some ten years ago I was moved by the idea that something along the lines so clearly set down by the noble and learned Viscount should be done, and I wrote to the Prime Minister of the day, who is the Leader of the Opposition in another place to-day, and suggested the appointment of Life Peers. I had a very nice letter in reply, from which, with your Lordships' permission, I will quote one sentence: Your suggestion would have to be considered as part of the general question of Life Peerages, and in this connection 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 that I was not at all aware of the difficulties which Mr. Gladstone experienced.


It was Lord Palmerston.


I thank the noble and learned Viscount, but I was quoting from a letter. I was, of course, not aware of the difficulties which were experienced, but apparently they arose when Queen Victoria wished to create Sir James Parke, a judge, a Life Peer. I think I am right in saying that all those difficulties were subsequently removed by the Appellate Jurisdiction Act, 1876. But, surely, this does not touch the issue to-day, and I do support with enthusiasm the Bill before your Lordships' House with regard to the creation of Life Peers. I think it would be a wise and valuable move from the scientific and technological standpoint. I hope that your Lordships will not set the matter on one side and allow it to drift on, as has, with advantage, the suggested reform of your Lordships' House.

5.14 p.m.


My Lords, as usual, the debate has ranged over a great tract of country, and I feel that noble Lords in all parts of the House should be most grateful to the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, for introducing this Bill. It may not be a large Bill as regards the extent of paper which it covers, but it is a very important matter. If nothing else has arisen, I cannot help feeling that the introduction of this Bill has had something to do with the calling of this latest Conference on House of Lords reform. We have heard this afternoon that a decision to call the Conference was taken on the Prime Minister's return from abroad, but it will be remembered that Lord Simon's Bill was first mooted some months ago. I cannot help feeling that it is a happy coincidence, at any rate, that the invitation should have been sent out on the day when this Bill was first debated in the House of Lords.

I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, who said this afternoon that he did not think anyone in this House was really in favour of the Bill. There are always black sheep in every flock, and I would prefer, whether I am regarded as a conservative with a large or a small "c" or both—certainly I have no hyphen in my political affiliations—to see this Bill go through without a general reform of the House of Lords.


That is not quite correct. I referred to the passing of the Bill to-day.


Well, perhaps I might even say that I should like to see the Bill read a second time to-day and not postponed, although I may be the only one here holding that view. I feel that, arising out of the Conference of 1948, the creation of Life Peers, and possibly the introduction of women Peers, was really one of the only universal agreements by the Conference. I feel—and I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel—that the Conference did not really break down on a matter of principle. I feel that the three months upon which the Conference broke down was certainly a matter of detail and not of principle. I also feel that the members of that Conference who were representing their Parties, and had to refer back to their Parties, realised that there were so many factors considered at that Conference to which their followers would not agree that they found these three months to be a convenient way of seeing that the Conference did not reach agreement. That may be an interpretation which I should not give as I was not a member of the Conference, but that is my feeling.

As regards the Bill before us. I feel that the creation of a certain number of Life Peers—whether it is ten, or more or less—would be an addition to this House. In spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, has said of his experience of ladies in another place, I feel that there should be women Peers in this House, and that, if the hereditary principle continues, hereditary women Peers should also be admitted. It would not be logical to create new women Life Peers and not to allow the hereditary women Peers to attend this House.

With regard to the Conference of 1948, there appear to me to be two views on this question of a hereditary principle. I personally am in favour of a hereditary principle, and Lord Hailsham, who spoke yesterday, has certainly shown us what heredity can do. He may not agree with his being in this House, but I think we should be thankful to the hereditary principle for ensuring that he comes to this House and enlivens its debates with such a speech as that which we heard yesterday. It is also interesting to note that the noble Marquess the Leader of this House—whose absence for reasons of health we all deplore—is the third generation of his family who have been interested in the reform of the House of Lords. I well remember that when my father was a Member of this House he used to tell me of the efforts which the late Lord Salisbury made for the reform of the House of Lords. And I see from the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Moran, yesterday that he recalled that in 1888 the then Lord Salisbury, the Prime Minister and grandfather of the present Marquess, made various suggestions with regard to the non-attendance of Peers in the House of Lords. To quote the noble Lord, Lord Moran, he said (OFFICIAL, REPORT, Vol. 180, Col. 164): Nevertheless, there may be support for the proposal of Lord Salisbury, who in 1888 suggested that noble Lords who were not interested in the proceedings of this House or found it difficult to attend should be released from their obligations to attend. I think that that suggestion of 1888 was a very good one, and it should certainly be considered in the deliberations of the Conference of 1953.

To get back to the principles which were enunciated as a result of the Conference of 1948, and which appeared in Command Paper 7380, this third principle appears: The present right to attend and vote, based solely on heredity, should not by itself constitute a qualification for admission to a reformed Second Chamber. The fourth principle states: Members of the Second Chamber should be styled 'Lords of Parliament' and would be appointed on grounds of personal distinction and public service. They might be drawn either front hereditary Peers or from commoners who had been created Life Peers. Now, although the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, says that we do not always appear on the same stage, I must say that I am definitely in agreement with the noble Lord in his interpretation of Command Paper 7380; and I think there is no doubt—and I have the opinion of eminent legal authorities on this matter—that if the decision of the 1948 Conference were carried out the hereditary principle would be abolished. It is put in a mild way, but it means definitely the abolition of the hereditary principle. Of that abolition I am not in favour, be cause in this country we have a hereditary Monarchy; and no one wishes that that should not continue as it is. The House of Lords is a very ancient institution; it is older even than the House of Commons. It is founded on the hereditary principle and it is undoubtedly a bastion of the hereditary Monarchy. If the hereditary principle were abolished, as the Conference of 1948 recommended, I think it would have the effect of weakening the Monarchy—and I should certainly be against that.

Another point raised in connection with the hereditary principle was that it allowed the inclusion in this House of young Peers. I do not know exactly how the Peers of Parliament are to be chosen—whether it is by the Prime Minister in consultation with the Leaders of the other political Parties—and I certainly do not know how young Peers would be chosen, unless, perhaps, at the beginning of a new reformed House of Lords, for it says here that: Members of the Second Chamber should be styled 'Lords of Parliament' and would be appointed on grounds of personal distinction and public service. That seems to me to imply that Peers of Parliament would be middle-aged or elderly, and I do not know how young Peers would be chosen. Young people would not have been able to show their ability; and unless they were chosen in the same way as now—that is, by heredity—it is difficult to see how any Prime Minister or Leader of a political Party could advise the Crown to create them Life Peers.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Chatfield, put forward a very good suggestion. If I may paraphrase his words, he was suggesting that the floating voters should he represented. To do that, I think, would be almost as difficult as to choose young Peers. Perhaps it would be even more so, because it would he difficult enough to choose Lords of Parliament with Party affiliations. How representatives of the floating voters could be chosen I do not know. Perhaps the only practical suggestion which one could offer is that the principle under which some of us have been lucky and some unlucky in getting seats for the Abbey should be applied, and that is that it should be done by ballot—but front amongst whom I cannot suggest.

Now with regard to the proposed Conference. The last Conference, at which there were four representatives from the Conservative Party, four from the Labour Party, and two from the Liberal Party, almost reached agreement; but it seems to me unlikely that, however eminent those representatives were, their Parties behind them would have agreed so much as they themselves had agreed. That is the difficulty of any Conference of this kind; and that is why I should like to see the noble and learned Viscount's Bill become law. At any rate, it seems to me to be almost the lowest common denominator upon which agreement might be reached. I was glad to hear several noble Lords say that to get permanent settlement one must have agreement; and I was amused to hear the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, ask the question whether the Battle of Waterloo would fall into that category or not. I hope, therefore, that any legislation brought in by the Government will be the result of agreement between the Parties—and agreement between Back-Benchers, and not only between the leaders of the Parties who are represented in the Conference on the reform of the House of Lords.

My Lords, this debate will soon be drawing to a close, and I do not intend to stand between you and the remaining speakers for more than a few moments. I feel that there is a great deal in what several noble Lords, including the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, have said about the composition of the House of Lords. From my experience while travel ling about the country, I think that the House of Lords is held in great respect. It is held in respect because it did not try to go against the expressed will of the people during the period from 1945 to 1950. The duties of the House of Lords have altered over the centuries. It is now not so much a blocking Chamber as an advisory Chamber and a Chamber which puts forward constructive suggestions. I think it is held in greater respect that it has been for many years. When I discuss the composition of the House of Lords with people in different parts of the country I find that there is not the slightest interest as to how the House of Lords should be composed. The House of Lords, they think, should be composed of Lords—which it is. If it is going to be composed of people nominated by political Parties, in whatever proportion, I feel that the respect in which it is now held will decrease. People will say that the new Peers of Parliament are, after all, only nominated by the political Parties and that they are therefore politicians; and the term "politician" is not always regarded as a term of endearment or praise. When a man is referred to as a statesman it is regarded as a term of respect, but when people wish to revile a man they call him a "politician."

I am afraid the House will become more political than it is now if nominations are made in the manner I have suggested. It is regarded with respect now because people know that the Lords have no axe to grind or voters to sway them. The country accepts the House of Lords because its opinion is given fairly and justly and without any regard to the effect on the opinion of the electors at the next Election. I should very much regret the passing of the present composition of the House of Lords, because I am sure that the country would not regard the House with the great respect which it does now. I do not think the average person in town or country cares a bit how the House of Lords is composed so long as it is composed of Lords who have no particular axe to grind.

We are all grateful to the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, for introducing this Bill. Personally, I am sorry that the Bill could not go through, because I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Sempill, that there are many eminent people who might be brought in as Life Peers to help us in our deliberations and debates. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Moran, who pointed out that of 318 Peers who have spoken during the last few years, 147 were Peers of the first creation—in other words, almost the equivalent of Life Peers. The fact that those Peers have been created in such large numbers—there were seventy-five in the years 1945 to 1949—means that the numbers of the House of Lords are thereby swollen and made unwieldy. Had Life Peers been created since the time of Lord Palmerston (in whose house, strangely enough, I live, and in which house he died), if Life Peers had been created in considerable numbers since the Wensleydale case, we should have had fewer Peers in this House and there would not be the criticism, which is a criticism of this House, that Peers do not attend well enough. We have now 857 Peers—I have not counted up how many have not taken the Oath during this Parliament, but there is a very considerable number on the list. I feel that another suggestion which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, and which will certainly be considered, is that those people who do not attend, and even do not take the Oath, should, perhaps, after some effluxion of time, cease to have rights to be represented in this House. That is all I have to say, but I hope that those Peers who are interested in preserving the hereditary principle will not take the recommendations of the 1948 Conference as doing anything but abolishing it.

5.32 p.m.


My Lords, on behalf of by noble friend Lord Salisbury, I beg to move the Amendment to the Amendment standing in his name.

Amendment to Amendment moved—Leave out all the words after ("House") in the first line of the Amendment and add: ("resolves that the debate on the Second Reading of this Bill be adjourned pending the discussions on the reform of this House which Her Majesty's Government have suggested should take place between the Parties").—(Earl Fortescue.)

5.33 p.m.


My Lords, after these two full days of debate, a debate which has sometimes ranged over the whole field of the report of the Conference, and after the announcement which the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, made yesterday, that the invitations to a new Conference bad gone out (though I knew nothing about that when I moved the Second Reading), I am glad to agree that the debate should be adjourned. I infer that that is the general intention. The Bill will then, I understand, as my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh pointed out, go into the list of Bills for Second Reading for which no day has been named, and will remain under the control of the Lord who introduced it.

I will occupy your Lordships' time for only a few moments, but I must express my appreciation of the support which the Bill has received from a large number of Peers—from Lord Samuel and Lord Halifax, and from my noble and gallant friend Lord Chatfield, who is beside me now and who wishes to secure in this House a representation of the "floating" population. He belongs to the "blue water school," no doubt. We have also had placed on record that the noble and learned Earl who leads the Opposition is not opposed to the creation of Life Peers and is most heartily in favour of the acceptance of the principle that women should be Members of this House. I must acknowledge, too, the eloquent support of the noble Earl, Lord Wavell, of Lord Sempill and of Lord Brocket, and I note with much interest what was said by Lord Polwarth, that in the old Parliament of Scotland there were such things as Life Peers. And we had yesterday a brilliant speech from the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, which disturbed Lord Silkin.

I must make this observation: I am not convinced that the reform of the House will be best achieved by trying to do everything at once. There is a good deal to be said, in developing an old constitution, for piecemeal amendments, just as there is in the case of old houses. I give an example. In the middle of the last century, as your Lordships may know, there was a system by which a Peer could vote in this House by proxy. He need not come, but could send his proxy as one does to a company meeting. Its abolition was one of the changes which reformers wanted to effect. They did not alter it by a great scheme of revision. The provision abolishing proxies is now a Standing Order of the House—your Lordships will find it in the book—and I am not convinced that the easiest way of getting an agreed reform is to try to do the whole thing at once. But the question of method is now unimportant, since it is agreed that there will be a Conference, or, more strictly (I wish to safeguard the position of the noble and learned Earl who leads the Opposition), that invitations have been sent, though the noble Viscount does not yet know what the answer to the invitations will be. I hope that all Parties will accept the invitation.

As regards the proposed adjournment of the debate which has just been moved by my noble friend Lord Fortescue, I had already informed Lord Salisbury and Lord Swinton, before ever the debate started, that if the announcement could be made that invitations to the Conference had been issued, I would myself propose that the debate on the Second Reading be adjourned in order to see what the Conference brought forward. Of course, it is a matter of complete in difference to me whether I propose the adjournment of the debate, or whether it is proposed from the Government Bench. I am glad to know that the Government urge this course and I hope and believe that it will be agreed to by general consent. I was, of course, very much interested to hear yesterday, for the first time, the announcement that invitations had been issued. I felt rather in the position of the father who asks a young man what are his intentions, without doubting that they are quite honourable intentions, and I am as gratified as the father would be by getting the answer, "Intentions? Why, we have fixed the date for the wedding!"

I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Swinton is not here, but I want to make the most friendly observations on his speech of yesterday. He made some play with the fact that I had been a member of previous Governments in the course of the forty-two years since 1911, which included the period of two world wars and their aftermath, and I shall make a short answer. May I, in all good temper, reply that between the wars I had the noble Viscount as a colleague, a valued Cabinet colleague, and he will therefore know the views which I then held and communicated on the reform of your Lordships' House? Then there was another criticism, last mentioned, I think, by my noble friend Lord Llewellin. He thought that a Bill which touched the revision of the composition of this House should be a Government measure. Lord Swinton was extremely positive about this, and he laid it down that the subject matter of my Bill was "far too grave and important" to be dealt with in a Private Member's Bill. His language made me feel rather like a naughty small boy who is rebuked by his governess for daring to walk upon the grass.

Lord Swinton went out of his way to assure your Lordships that what he had to say was entirely expressing the views of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury. I venture, with great respect, somewhat to doubt it, for two reasons: first, because at an earlier stage of this Bill, when Lord Salisbury was amongst us, he conceded that I had a perfect right to bring it forward; and secondly, because there was a Bill called the Parliament (Reform) Bill, which I have in my hand, which was discussed here in May, 1934, and was introduced without objection or criticism by a private Member, who was Lord Salisbury's father. So I question whether the noble Marquess who ordinarily leads the House would have thought it necessarily improper for a private Member to introduce what some of your Lordships rightly regard as a very small Bill. At any rate, I do not at all accept the claim that private Members of this House must abstain from proposals dealing with these high matters and must submit to be scolded by the governess if they venture to enter upon them. After all, this Bill has produced a certain result, over which I rejoice, and if I may send a message to Lord Swinton I would urge him most respectfully to re-read his copy of Æsop's Fables (there is in the Library a very good edition, illustrated by Arthur Rackham) and remind himself how an insignificant mouse, by gnawing away at a net, was enabled to release the King of Beasts.

Now let me say that I most warmly agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, and with the noble and learned Earl opposite when they assert that the reform of the House of Lords can best be reached by general agreement. Lord Balfour of Burleigh said this afternoon that "any settlement must be by agreement." I most warmly subscribe to that view. I join in the hope that the Conference will lead to such an agreement, and hope, at the end of this two-days' debate, that I have done nothing to deserve the reproach that I have made agreement more difficult. What is contemplated here is a constitutional change; and in my opinion constitutional changes cannot wisely be made on the terms that what is done in one Parliament is reversed in the next. That is the great reason for seeking agreement. I and, I think, all your Lordships hope that the meeting of the Conference will not be delayed. I shall presume from time to time to address a respectful Question to the Government asking for a report as to how it is getting on. I hope that the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, will be able to take part in the Conference, and I commend to the House the observation which I see in The Times this morning, where the leader writer says: Lord Simon's Bill should not be rejected on Second Reading, but kept alive by adjournment for possible revival if more comprehensive attempts at reform should be frustrated. My Lords, I accept and support the Amendment to the Amendment that has been moved by my noble friend Lord Fortes cue.

On Question, Amendment to the Amendment agreed to.

Amendment, as amended, agreed to.

Motion, as amended, agreed to, and ordered accordingly.