§ 3.33 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
THE LORD BISHOP OF RIPON
My Lords, I rise to present a Petition to this House as follows: To the Right Honourable the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, the Humble Petition of the Lord Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses of the City and County of Bristol.
"Sheweth, that the Letters Patent creating the Viscounty of Stansgate provide inter alia that the heir lawfully begotten shall succeed to the Title on the demise of the present Viscount,
"That the Heir Male Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn is one of their Members of Parliament
"And that if the said Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn succeeds to the said title the Burgesses of Bristol will then be deprived of one of their representatives freely elected according to law:
"Wherefore your Petitioners most humbly pray that provision may be made by Act of Parliament enabling their Member the aforesaid Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn to renounce irrevocably the Name State Degree Style Dignity Title and Honour of Viscount Stansgate and all the Rights Privileges Pre-eminences Immunities and Advantages that would otherwise descend to him by virtue of the Letters Patent, so that he may be enabled to continue to serve Her Majesty's Loyal Subjects the Burgesses of Bristol as a Commoner in the Commons House of Parliament for so long as he may be elected as one of their representatives according to law.
"And your Petitioners will ever pray et cetera."
The Petition is signed by Gilbert G. Adams, Lord Mayor, and A. Pickard, Town Clerk, and affixed to it is the seal of the Lord Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses of the City of Bristol.
I also have permission to read a statement from the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Bristol, as follows: 562My Lords, I trust that I may have your Lordships' indulgence in making this brief statement in connection with the Petition from the Lord Mayor and Burgesses of Bristol in support of Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn's plea to be allowed to resign his claim to the succession to his father's Peerage.I have signed the petition, and I should have wished to speak personally if it had been possible for me to be present in your Lordships' House to-day. With the permission of the Lord Chancellor, I am asking the Lord Bishop of Ripon to make the statement on my behalf.On the legal questions arising from Mr. Wedgwood Benn's plea I should not venture to express an opinion. But I hope I may be allowed to say that from personal knowledge I am entirely satisfied as to the motives which have actuated him in making it. And I may add that I believe that it carries with it the support of many of the citizens of Bristol who know his work in his constituency.
My Lords, may I ask whether we are debating whether this Petition be received? It appears to me to be most improper to receive a political Petition from the Mayor and Corporation of one of our cities.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE DUCHY OF LANCASTER (VISCOUNT WOOLTON)
My Lords, I am advised that the Petition is quite in order, but, if I may say so, it was a little unusual for a speech to be made by deputy, as the Lord Bishop of Bristol apparently has done in the latter part of the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Ripon. Otherwise I am advised that the presentation of the Petition is quite in order.
My Lords, I beg the noble Viscount's pardon, but he has not answered my question. My question was whether it was in order to receive a Petition. A Petition may be presented, but are we obliged to receive it?
§ EARL JOWITT
My Lords, it is the very foundation of our law that any subject of the Crown has the right to petition. I think that that is an immemorial right. We do not debate whether the Petition be received or not: we debate whether we will act upon it.
§ VISCOUNT WOOLTON
My Lords, I do not think we shall further the Business of the House by dealing with this question. We have a difficult and contentious issue to face, and it may be for the convenience of the House if we go on with that part of the business.
§ Ordered, That the Petition lie on the Table.563
§ 3.36 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
My Lords, on one point, as it has suddenly arisen, may I say that I altered the date of this Bill especially to suit the convenience of the House. If the original date had been adhered to, the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Bristol would have been here. I should like to express my indebtedness to him for taking this opportunity of expressing his opinion through the agency of the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Ripon, who is perfectly in order in presenting the Petition. This is an unusual experience for me. It is the first time I have appeared in this House under episcopal auspices. In obedience to the practice of the House, I disclose at once my personal interest in this Bill. Everything I say and every argument I advance must be assessed in the light of my relationship to the Petitioner. On the other hand, if your Lordships seem to detect a feeling of father for son, that is, of course, a fortification of that hereditary principle on which so much of the foundation of this House depends.
Perhaps your Lordships will allow me—I will do it briefly, but I am compelled to do it—to give the personal narrative which lies behind this Petition. In 1941, I was informed by the Prime Minister's Deputy that the Prime Minister wished me to say whether I would consent to the putting forward of my name for the honour of a Peerage. I was very proud. I thought it was a very great distinction and I intimated the same. When the Patent actually was published, it was accompanied by an unusual document which said it was not an honour or distinction—that is quite natural and I accept that—but it was a measure of State policy. I think one can detect the authorship of that fine phrase. I understood the statement to mean that I was sent here to do a certain job of work, which was, I understood, to strengthen and stimulate the elements of the Opposition in this House. Well, I have done my best. And, if your Lordships will permit me, I must say that in my judgment I have not always received the applause which my efforts deserved. The acceptance of that offer has given me thirteen years of happy friendship, courtesy and tolerance, which will always warm my heart.
564 I had three sons. The eldest boy, Michael, I consulted. He informed me that he intended to attempt to obtain Holy Orders, and he was not interested in the House of Commons. In any case, the Peerage and the priesthood would be a double bar. When he knew, he was as proud as I was about it, and he willingly accepted. The second son, the present Petitioner, was a schoolboy, rather a chatterbox, and I did not consider it necessary to consult him at all. I now wonder very much whether I was right or wrong. But it was difficult, and I did not consult him. I can remember that when the announcement was made in The Times, he was very angry and abused me. But in point of fact our minds were on something quite different; and that was the war. Both of these boys were thinking of one thing, and that was how they could manage to get into the Air Force, as volunteers, before they were called up. They both succeeded and became pilots. Unfortunately, and unhappily for me, my eldest son was killed.
There is nothing unusual about that story; it must be a story that could be told of many families in your Lordships' House and in the country. But it had this result. It heaped on to the unwilling shoulders of this young man honours which were going to debar him from all the ambitions of his life. He wanted to enter Parliament, and he had most extraordinary good fortune, because when Sir Stafford Cripps resigned the Bristol constituency invited him to be their candidate. Bristol is a famous constituency—it has had connections with Burke and Cripps. The Petitioner was adopted and elected; he has twice been elected for Bristol and is now to present himself for a third time at the polls. His borough, as we have heard from the right reverend Prelate, to whom I tender my sincere thanks, is anxious to retain his services. What he wants to know is this: is there any way in which your Lordships' House can permit him to continue to render that public service? That is the sole purpose of this Bill.
There were three methods open to him. He is a Member of Parliament, and he could have presented a Bill in the Commons House. I have the honour of being a Member of your Lordships' House, and I could have presented a Bill in your Lordships' House. But 565 he took a third course and presented a Petition to Parliament, like the Petition that the right reverend Prelate presented a moment ago, which is the right of every Member and of all lieges of Her Majesty—and I was somewhat surprised to see that right challenged to-day in debate. He took the course open to any one of Her Majesty's lieges and presented a Petition to this House.
I did not challenge the right of anybody to present a Petition. I said that it was a question of whether the House would receive that Petition.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
I do not want to revive that matter. I shall follow what the noble Viscount, the Deputy Leader of the House, said, and I think it is better now to leave that issue. However, the Petitioner took the course of petitioning the House. That was, first of all, the most respectful course that he could take. But it had another advantage, because it meant that this issue was brought before your Lordships' House, and it is an important constitutional principle that questions affecting, the Peerage should be dealt with primarily in this House. Such a Bill could not have been offered in another House, and he put it before a Committee for examination. The Committee was set up, and it consisted of six distinguished members of your Lordships' House, including the Lord Chairman of Committees and three noble and learned Lords. They devoted a whole morning to a careful hearing and cross-examination of the Petitioner.
Let me remind your Lordships of what the Petition was. It was not a Petition for the reform of your Lordships' House. It had nothing whatever to do with the reform of your Lordships' House. It was a personal Petition that he, Anthony Wedgwood Benn, should have permission to continue in his career as a Member of the Lower House. That is all it was. He was not interested in the question of the reform of your Lordships' House and did not touch upon it. I shall revert to this point more than once in the few remarks I have to make, but I emphasise now that this had nothing to do with the reform of your Lordships' House. The Committee reported briefly—I myself could have wished that they had gone into more detail. But what did they say? They said, not that the Petition was bad, 566 or that they disagreed with it, but that "This is a matter which touches a larger issue, and therefore you must bring it in as a Public Bill." That was their Report, and the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simonds, quoted a famous declaration made by Lord Shaftesbury in the case of the Purbeck Viscounty in the seventeenth century. This is what Lord Shaftesbury said:It is a dangerous doctrine to say that such legislation is only your concern"—he was addressing the Petitioner—and not the interest and concern of the whole nation.On that same point, the Lord Chairman of Committees, Lord Drogheda, said:… but are there reasons why it should not be presented as a Public Bill in the House of Lords?Guided by that authoritative advice, the Petitioner decided to abandon his Personal Bill—although many of the features are the same—and to introduce that element of generality which appeared to be the desire of the Committee and the guidance of Lord Shaftesbury; and the Bill is now a Public Bill. Your Lordships will find in the preamble of the Bill, on the second page, the sense of Lord Shaftesbury's dictum, which declares that a matter of this kind is a matter of public interest.
What objections can there possibly be to this Bill? The first objection—and it would be very powerful indeed—would be this: "Here is a young man who finds himself unexpectedly called to high estate with great responsibilities—and that often happens in your Lordships' House. It is his duty to bear the burden and he has no right to attempt to shift it. This is the organisation of the State, and it is his duty to carry the load." But in this instance the very reverse is the case. This young man is carrying the burden of public duty; he is serving the public. Everyone knows that, first of all, a young man like that could not afford to come here; and secondly, there is not the scope. He wants to go on serving his constituents. Parliament has rather changed even in my time. A Member of Parliament occupies a dignified and important position in his constituency. I do not want to say that he is a sort of welfare officer, but he is a sort of counsellor of good to his constituents. It has nothing to do with Party opinion: once a man has been elected he is the ser- 567 vant of all constituents, whatever their Party may be. I imagine that the relationship of a Member of Parliament to his constituents to-day is something like the best tradition of paternal interest which existed in this country before the days of the Industrial Revolution. Therefore, to base yourselves on noblesse oblige does not support the case at all, because the public duty is presently being discharged.
The second argument that might be produced against the Bill is this: "It is a general principle and it must await the general reform of your Lordships' House." I have tried to point out that there is nothing whatever in this Bill that affects the Constitution of your Lordships' House. The Petitioner does not ask that later on he should be Lord Stansgate, M.P. That request has been made before. It was made sixty years ago by that famous trio of Lord Curzon, Lord Selborne and Lord Midleton, and that did involve the structure of the House; and complaint was made recently on the same lines in regard to the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham. But that is not what this Petitioner asks. He asks that he should be allowed to remain a commoner. He is not of noble blood; he is a commoner and he wants to remain a commoner. That is what the whole Bill is about.
The Committee said: "This is a general principle and you must permit other people in the same state to have the same redress." I admit that. But are there any other people in the same state? I have never heard of any Peer or son of a Peer coming forward and pleading that he should be allowed to renounce the whole thing and remain a commoner. If such a thing occurred, I think it would have to be dealt with on these lines. In fact, the Titles (Deprivations) Bill—although that is the other side of the case; we were then dealing with enemies of the State—would probably be the model on which we should work. But there is no sign whatever that the concession of this Bill would expose your Lordships to a flood of renouncers. If that is so, are you going to grant the permission for this young man to remain for life "Mr. Benn"—I hope "M.P."?
Just one final word. There is a great deal of talk about the position of the House of Lords at this time. There is 568 some legitimate criticism. We have great disadvantages. There is the disadvantage of the large number of Members of your Lordships' House who, for reasons that are quite intelligible and, honourable, cannot give their attendance in this House. That is a handicap, because whenever anyone wishes to criticise this House the absentee Members are always mentioned. But why add to a difficulty that you cannot get rid of? Why add a further injustice by so pressing the hereditary principle that you wish to snatch from public service in another place somebody who is unwilling to come? To put it quite simply, I would say: "I plead that you should adapt the great traditions of this House, or be able to adapt them, in such a way as to satisfy the needs of personal justice." Or, if I put it in another sense, I should say: "I am pleading for fair play, and I have never heard in this House a plea for fair play which has not been listened to."
That is all I have to say. I have only one witness to call, but he is a powerful witness. At the beginning of this business the Petitioner, who was well aware from the published works of the then Prime Minister how he felt about this matter—there was a telegram published in one of the War Books on the subject—wrote to the then Prime Minister and asked for his support. The Prime Minister said, quite naturally, that as Prime Minister it was impossible for him to come forward and support the plea, however right, of an individual Member of Parliament. But as soon as Sir Winston Churchill had vacated his office the Petitioner, who is a rather persistent fellow, returned to the charge and wrote again to the ex-Prime Minister. I will read in its full context the reply which he received. It is as follows:
§ Chartwell, Westerham, Kent.
§ 9 April, 1955.
§ My dear Wedgwood Benn,
§ As I wrote to you confidentially in September, 1953, I certainly feel yours is a very hard case, and I am personally strongly in favour of sons having the right to renounce irrevocably the peerages they inherit from their fathers. This would not of course prevent them from accepting another peerage, if they were offered one, later on.
§ Yours sincerely,
§ Winston S. Churchill."
§ I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Viscount Stansgate.)569
§ 3.53 p.m.
§ EARL JOWITT
My Lords, I am going to speak for only a moment or two. I have one fact to add to the facts which the noble Viscount has stated. He is, as your Lordships heard when he made his speech just now, full of vigour and energy, but I believe I am right in saying that he is within a fortnight of his seventy-eighth birthday. I hope he will be with us for many years but, of course, life being what it is, we cannot gamble on that. If he should die before some remedial Bill is passed, then I fear it would be for ever too late to give this boy the relief for which he asks. I do not regard this matter as in any shape or form a Party question. So far as I know, my Party have not pronounced upon it at all. I believe it is a question upon which we can each use our own judgment and our own discretion. I would echo the words of the noble Viscount who has just spoken, and say to your Lordships: My Lords, why can we not give this young man what he is asking for? What great principle is infringed? Believing, as I do, that no great principle is infringed, I would most humbly ask your Lordships to give this Bill your support.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ EARL WINTERTON
My Lords, my excuse for my temerity, as a comparatively new Member of your Lordships' House, in speaking on this Bill, which does raise questions of high constitutional principle, is that I feel very strongly on this subject, and I warmly support the Bill. If I may commence on a personal note, may I say that it is a pleasure to me, after forty years of friendship and mutual regard for the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate (which has not prevented us from attacking each other, both in this House and in another place, on almost every occasion on which we have spoken), to be on his side. It is perhaps as well that we are not often in concert in your Lordships' House, because we might be a considerable nuisance to your Lordships if we were, since neither of us minds treading on people's toes—and there are a great number of people in this country who deserve to have their toes trodden upon.
I agree with the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, that there is little that need be said on this Bill. In fact, I associate myself not only with what the mover of the Bill has said but also with what the 570 noble and learned Earl has said. The main support for the Bill rests on one point; and I would, with all courtesy, invite my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, and anyone else who is going to speak against this Bill, to answer this question, which is the question which really arises: why should a Member of another place be compelled to vacate his seat and become a Member of this House because he succeeds to a Peerage? And why should he do so when his desire to renounce that right is supported by the influential support which comes in the present case from the ancient city of Bristol? I would further ask opponents of the Bill to answer this specific question: what common sense, fairness or logic is there in asking a Member of another place, who has been elected to that House and who is anxious to remain there, compulsorily to become a Member of your Lordships' House? Where is the logic? Where is the common sense? Where is the fairness? That is a question which should be answered.
We are not living in mediaeligval England or pre-1914 Austria, with its sixteen quarterings and its strict demarcation between those who have titles and those who have not. We belong to a modern State, and your Lordships' House is supposed to be the Second Chamber of a modern State. That is its function—whether it performs it or not is not a question which we need discuss on this occasion. It is the Senate—it is the Second Chamber—of a modern State. If I may say so with the deepest respect, it should behave as a Senate. It should not say, "We cannot do this because of precedent of 300 or 400 years ago; because of people long dead and forgotten; because some constitutional expert says that it cannot be done." It ought to say, "In accordance with the greatness of our position, and with the greatness of the country of whose Constitution we are an integral part, we should do the fair and common-sense thing where a clear opportunity to do so is presented, as it is in the case of this Bill."
I hope that those questions will be answered and I hope the Bill will pass. At the risk of offending sonic of your Lordships, I should like to point out what will happen if it does not. Any intelligent observer will say, "On a Tuesday afternoon, in a House representing some 4 per cent. or 5 per cent. of those who might 571 sit in that House but who do not, and many of whom never will, the House of Lords, supposed to be the Second Chamber of the head of a Great Commonwealth, refused to do something merely on the ground that it might cause an awkward precedent." I hope that that will not occur and that, if the Bill is not passed this afternoon, the noble Viscount will revert to the matter in another Parliament, because, although, as he most truly said, it is not, and should not be, concerned with the general question of the reform of your Lordships' House, it raises a very important principle.
In conclusion, I must say this—again at the risk of offending some. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, in one of the most impressive speeches I have ever heard in fifty years of public life in either House of Parliament, addressed your Lordships' House the other day on the subject of the reform of the composition of this House. May I say to all the noble Lords on this side of the House that I hope they will have regard to his words, which were received without a murmur of disapproval. Lord Samuel said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 191 (No. 31), col. 842]:My Lords, this House is dying of inanition before our eyes.I would add that, if your Lordships' House appeared to be living in an age of armour and broadswords, instead of in a modern State, it could kill itself, for even in this country ridicule can kill; and if any British institution does anything that is foolish it suffers thereby in the opinion of the people who really count—that is, the great mass of the population.
§ 4.2 p.m.
§ LORD HASTINGS
My Lords, with your permission, I should be glad of the opportunity to make a few comments on this most interesting Bill. The noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, has, I think, tried to use two arguments to prove the same thing. He stressed in the earlier part of his speech that this was a Bill affecting an individual: that the only person who would be concerned was his own son; and he gave powerful arguments why this House should permit his son that privilege which he asks for him. On the other hand, he also made reference to the fact, and inferentially still makes reference to the fact, that it is impossible to legislate for an individual: 572 that the effect of passing this Bill would be very wide. Here in this Bill, in Clause 3, the noble Viscount says that the Bill shall be taken as the prototype (if I may use that word) of the action that should be taken in the future by any noble Lord like-minded with himself. That implies that either now or in the future there may be other noble Lords placed somewhat in the same position as is the noble Viscount who would also desire that this exceptional privilege—because such it is—should be accorded to their sons.
Therefore, it appears to me that this is not an individual Bill at all; indeed, it is a Bill which affects the Constitution of this House in a very material manner. It proposes to introduce into our constitutional practice something quite new. It proposes also to open the door to something very much wider, to which I will refer in a few moments—and not entirely with disapprobation. I have great sympathy with the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, in his particular plea, but it is the inference of what he proposes to do and its effect upon the present and the future which I think is so vastly more important than the actual subject, his own son, which he brings to your Lordships' notice. The very fact and the mere fact that the Lord Mayor and Aldermen of the City of Bristol, through the mouth of the Bishop of their diocese, should be of the opinion that Mr. Benn should be permitted to continue to be a Member of the House of Commons, representing them for so long as the electors choose to vote for him—and, after all, it is always possible that Mr. Benn may be sacrificing the substance for the shadow; one cannot be sure—
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
I should like to make a point here. Of course, by this Bill, his renunciation is irrevocable. It has nothing whatever to do with whether or not he remains a Member of Parliament.
§ LORD HASTINGS
Quite true. The noble Viscount was perfectly justified in interrupting me. He may have misunderstood me. When I said "the substance," I meant his seat in another place. He may be sacrificing the substance, a place in one of the Houses of the Legislature, for the shadow—in fact, for the electoral hazards. But that is by the way; that is his own business and nobody else's. I can, 573 of course, imagine certain cities in England where, if their Lord Mayor, aldermen and burgesses were to petition the House of Lords in favour of a member of a certain political Party, there would be a howl of execration. It has not happened in the city of Bristol, and so all is well. It does not affect the issue one way or the other. I do not think that this Petition is very relevant, but what is relevant is the effect that the passage of this Bill would have upon the future Constitution of your Lordships' House.
There is, unfortunately, in this Bill a clause which I think must make it wholly unacceptable. It is to the effect that, whereas the heir to the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, is asking to be permitted to renounce the Peerage (I hope that it will be a long time before he succeeds to it), Lord Stansgate is asking that the next heir should be allowed to come back into the House of Lords if he so wishes. I do not think anybody could tolerate that. You cannot make a Peerage a convertible commodity; you cannot do that. You cannot create a family, so to speak, which with one generation is in the House of Lords, and with the other is in the House of Commons, and with the next generation is in the House of Lords and with the next is not even in either House. I think that would be unconstitutional beyond belief. What would happen? I do not want to turn this serious subject into ridicule, but the appropriate supporter for the coat of arms for a Peerage of that kind would be a Jack-in-the-Box. I do not think such a thing could possibly be permitted.
If the noble Viscount were endeavouring to convert his hereditary Peerage into a Life Peerage, then, not that we wish the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, to be exterminated—very far from it—he would have a vastly stronger case than he has now by suggesting in his Bill that it is going to be the will of that particular family to sit either in this House or in another place. You cannot do that. Let Mr. Benn renounce his inheritance if he pleases, with the permission of your Lordships' House; but let that be final. That must be the end, not only for himself but also for his family. Somebody—I think it was the noble Earl, Lord Winterton—said that that would not debar him from accepting another Peerage if it were offered to him. That would be piling 574 Pelion on Ossa. You cannot do that. It would reduce the whole thing to ridicule.
I beg the noble Viscount to see it from the point of view from which I am looking at it, which is not unsympathetic to him in any way. I want to look at it from the standpoint of its effect on this House. If that particular clause which enables, or would enable, the family of Benn to revive its Peerage at will were eliminated from this Bill, then it would be open to any noble Lord who had accepted an hereditary Peerage to move in a Bill of this character that his heir should not be encumbered with that Peerage. It is not very many weeks since, more or less on the initiative of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, we were having a most interesting debate in which, as my noble friend Lord Winterton mentioned, the noble Viscount made a remarkable speech—so remarkable that I believe I could quote a great deal of it word for word: it made so great an impression upon my mind. But during that debate it became perfectly clear that there was a consensus of opinion on all sides of the House that the creation of Life Peerages would be of immense advantage. There may have been some who disagreed, but I think the general consensus of opinion was in that direction.
My Lords, here we have what one might call the foundation of a Bill which would enable that proposal to be put into effect. Let us imagine this Bill without what, to me, is its objectionable feature—namely, the re-creation or the recrudescence, the rising up from the ashes, of the Wedgwood Benn of the third generation. Eliminating that, it would then be possible for a man of distinction, on any side of the House, who was anxious to take his part in legislation and to pull his weight in managing the affairs of this country, but whose other considerations made it difficult for him to accept the Peerage, to accept the Peerage that was offered to him with the certain knowledge that all he had to do would be to introduce into Parliament a Bill founded upon this precedent inviting the House to excuse his heir from succeeding to the Peerage. Thereby, without in any way contravening the Royal Prerogative, he would have converted his hereditary Peerage into a Life Peerage. The Crown would continue to create hereditary Peerages as before, and it 575 would be within the volition of the individual recipient of the Peerage to determine whether he wished to take advantage of the hereditary principle conferred by the Crown upon his Peerage or to abrogate it by introducing a Bill of this character, thereby turning his own Peerage into a Life Peerage.
There is immense value in this Bill from that point of view; but, with all respect to the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, I do not think that any Member of this House can, on reflection, really permit a Peerage to go under and to come up, and again to go down and to come up—the choice must be final. If the noble Viscount wants to say, "Well, I have to make up my mind to this, difficult though it is; my son does not wish to inherit my Peerage," very well: his son's son must not inherit it either. This must be a Life Peerage. That, apparently, would be acceptable to the noble Viscount's heir who, I understand, has a son of his own, though he is at present only a baby and therefore cannot be consulted. If there were three generations of age they might be consulted. In this case I do not think it is necessary. I do not know whether the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, intends to take this matter to a Division, but I could not vote for him because of that particular clause.
May I remind him of just one other matter that may not have occurred to him—namely, that if his son is permitted by Act of Parliament to renounce his succession to the Peerage he has no nobility to hand on to his son (I think that is constitutional law, though I am not sure—I am not a constitutional lawyer) because he would not have inherited his Peerage. I would remind your Lordships why I say that. I hope the noble Viscount will forgive me. I have had the great privilege of sitting in your Lordships' House for fifty years. In the course of that long time I have often been concerned in questions of successions to Peerages, although not exactly of this kind. I often had to consult Sir Claud Schuster, when he was Clerk to the Crown, in matters of that kind; so I am not unfamiliar with them. Where an heir to a Peerage has omitted to claim the right of succession and has never taken his seat, the difficulty of establishing that right in that man's heir is almost 576 insuperable. I would suggest to the noble Viscount that in fact that repudiation of inheritance constitutes an abrogation of nobility and that he would have no nobility to pass on to his own son. I think I am right in saying that, though I stand subject to correction.
I will not weary the House any longer. I hope that the noble Viscount will realise that I am in no sense unsympathetic to his particular view; on the contrary, I think there is a great deal in it. But I am afraid of its effect upon the future. I should hope that if this Bill happens not to meet with the general approval of the House, or if it does not go to a Division, another Bill might be introduced in a new Parliament. I hope that such a Bill would be redrafted to give the noble Viscount exactly what he wants and, at the same time, would be widened in its effect, so as to make it perfectly clear that it would be open to any Peer, or to any person who might be offered a Peerage, that he could accept it without fear that it would have to descend to his own heir. All he would have to do would be to introduce a Bill of this character and thereby renounce the Peerage on behalf of his heir. Such a Bill would be of immense advantage to many people.
I do not for a moment suppose that the noble Viscount has this in mind, but he would make a great mistake if he thought that membership of the House of Commons is the only reason why Members of another place or persons of distinction are chary of accepting a Peerage. There are many other more potent and enduring reasons than that. Electoral hazards sometimes govern these cases. When I suggested that the noble Viscount's son was sacrificing substance for a shadow, that is what I meant; he is, of course, subject to electoral hazards. Even the Lord Mayor of Bristol cannot ensure his return to the House of Commons. There are other cases which are dependent not upon electoral hazards but upon more far reaching things, and it is to them that I should like to give the opportunity which Lord Stansgate here seeks for his son.
I have spoken long enough. Because of what I have said, I should oppose this Bill, but I should like to see a somewhat similar Bill introduced in the next Parliament, when we can deal with the subject 577 on an altogether wider footing. The noble Marquess the Leader of the House has already proposed to this House that a Committee should be set up to inquire into Standing Orders and other matters. I hope that before too long that Committee will be set up. I am hoping that its terms of reference will be sufficiently wide to make its recommendations or its Report of real use to this House, to see exactly what we can or cannot do. Nobody is more anxious than I not only to ensure regular attendance to the business of this House, but to ensure that all Parties are properly and equitably represented in it. That is what we want in a Legislature. I believe that the creation of Life Peerages, or, rather, the conversion of hereditary Peerages into Life Peerages, might be the solution of the whole subject. I am greatly obliged to your Lordships for having listened to me for so long. I apologise for having delayed this debate for longer than perhaps I ought to have done.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ LORD ELTON
My Lords, we have heard the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, so often and so gallantly pleading forlorn and dubious causes on behalf of strangers (ranging from Communist scouts upwards, or downwards) that I am sure that on personal grounds, and particularly after listening to what one can only call the deeply moving speech of the noble Viscount, now that he has picked a horse from his own stable we should all wish to see it placed. But I am sorry to say that the noble Viscount has on this occasion entered it for the wrong race. For I hold strongly that this is not the time or the manner in which to debate this particular subject. There is very little to be said for what the Romans used to call a privilegium, the private law passed on behalf of an individual, however deserving the individual. Very naturally, almost everything that was said by the first three speakers emphasised the hardship on the individual, rather than the public interest. It seems to me that if the thesis that the heir of a Peer should be permitted, if he so wishes, to contract out of his privileges and duties, should ever commend itself to the majority of your Lordships' House, then it ought to be embodied in legislation of much wider scope than this.
578 If the Conservative Party should be victorious in the forthcoming Election we all know (and I for one am sorry to know it) that Her Majesty's next Government is likely to be in gestation with a scheme for an operation of some kind—major or minor—on the body of your Lordships' House, Then, if ever, would be the time to debate whether or not it is in the public interest for any Peer's son, and not only Mr. Wedgwood Benn, to be permitted to renounce his heritage. Even then, and even if the issue should be in that way suitably widened, I hope Her Majesty's Government, or a majority of your Lordships, would dissent from the thesis embodied in this Bill. For I believe it is the fact that this House is known to be a synthesis of heredity Peers with newcomers which goes very far to account not only for its high prestige here and overseas, but for the character and quality of its debates. But once your Lordships admit the principle of contracting out, it becomes dangerously easy for the tradition to grow up that the progressive, the forward-looking, the high-spirited course for a man to take (and I am deliberately selecting the hackneyed phrases which would probably be used), is to run away from the situation into which he has been born.
I do not want to use offensive words, and needless to say I am not thinking of the Petitioner when I use them; I am thinking rather of all those to whom this principle must extend once it is accepted. I am remembering, first, what noble Lords know only too well: that there are still many duties and opportunities outside Parliament out of which a man would be contracting if he renounced his succession. I am also remembering (and I think that up to a point this is a real analogy) how, a generation ago, it was the habit of Bernard Shaw and others to represent the young man who found his family irksome and his relations unresponsive, and ran off to join some more congenial coterie elsewhere, as having acted courageously by breaking out of the restricted atmosphere of the home circle and forcing his way into the wider freedoms of the great world outside. But it was G. K. Chesterton who pointed out that, on the contrary, the home circle, with its psychological conflicts and its potential dead-ends, was nevertheless the real world, the given world with which 579 Providence had confronted that young man; and that by running off into some selected backwater of the like-minded he was in fact turning his back upon the reality and taking refuge in an artificial, selected world of his own. That is far from being a complete analogy but it has a very real relevance. After all, if we consider this question purely from the angle of public interest, no one can overlook the fact that there are many millions of men and women on whom another place can draw for its membership. It is very unlikely to be starved of able Members if some hundreds of men continue, in the familiar words of the Catechism,to do their duty in that state of life into which it shall please God to call them.
§ LORD GRANTCHESTER
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, has said precisely, though in much more eloquent phrases, what I should have liked to say on this matter. I need not repeat what he has said, but I would appeal to the noble Viscount to withdraw this Bill and to introduce on another occasion a Bill along the lines indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Hastings.
§ 4.28 p.m.
My Lords, I am bound to say that I am a little surprised. I remember that when the noble Marquess the Leader of the House discussed some measure for reforming the Constitution of this House, while the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, was always ready to co-operate, noble Lords opposite steadfastly refused, and the noble Marquess has had to go forward without their support. Yet to-day, if my guess is right, we have the noble Lords opposite resolutely supporting a reform of the House for the sake of only one person. My noble friends, Lord Hastings and Lord Elton, have pointed out that this is a very bad example of a privilegium, a constitutional law passed for the benefit of one person. Until the noble and learned Earl who leads the Opposition spoke, I had always understood that every lawyer, and everybody who was practised in the Constitution, was resolutely opposed to a privilegium. I am not going to say that in the past your Lordships' House has never countenanced privilegia, because of course it has. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries an Act of Parliament was the only method 580 of procuring a divorce. As everybody who knows his Bible is aware, the law of Moses says,… let him write her a bill of divorcement.But that was a definite class of privilegium, well understood and running along general lines, although it had to be passed for a particular instance. The particular Bill proposed to your Lordships this afternoon is not only a privilegium which breaks new ground but it is, I believe, unique among privilegia in that it is introduced by the parties for whose benefit it is to be procured. I do not know; but that is what it seems to me to be.
There is only one other thing I should like to say upon this matter, and I say it with a great deal of sympathy. I have a great deal of sympathy with the feelings that inspired this Bill—the more so because I was in precisely the same position myself. I wanted to stand for a constituency which I think there is very little doubt that, unless I had behaved very badly, I should have won. But I was told that I could not stand because of my father's age, which deprived me of that opportunity. My remedy, too, might have been to go to my father, but I am sorry to say that I think my father would have told me that I had no grounds for thinking that my presence in another place was so important to the country that special measures should be taken to enable me to enter it. I thought then that it was possible (your Lordships will appreciate that there have been so many in respect of my own country that I am naturally familiar with the process) that a Bill of Attainder, without any escheat, might have served the purpose. But I certainly think my father would have snubbed me very severely. I frankly admit that I was not a Member of another place. I had not the great career and record that inspired the present Bill. But, at the same time, I was in that situation, and I felt it very much at the time. However, I had to "bite the bullet," as P. G. Wodehouse said, and I think that is probably the answer in this particular case.
§ 4.33 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
My Lords, as frequently happens in your Lordships' House when we consider new proposals, we have to take into account not only 581 their strict merits, not only the principle that is being raised, but also the procedure that has been adopted and the timeliness of the particular proposal. All these aspects have been dwelt upon in connection with the Bill which is now before your Lordships' House. The noble Viscount who introduced it disclaimed any intention of raising the wider issue of the reform of the Constitution of your Lordships' House, and I shall follow him in that respect, though this question which we are now debating must have some bearing upon the other and wider issue. Indeed, that that was so, I found when I was speaking on the previous occasion.
In opening the former debate I found it necessary and useful to quote the particular case of Mr. Wedgwood Benn and the previous cases, so strongly pressed, of Lord Curzon, Lord Selborne and Lord Midleton, when they were heirs to Peerages, and the more recent one of Lord Hailsham, as examples of the unreasonableness of the principle of heredity put to its strictest purposes, as in this case, in choosing the Members of a House of Legislature. But I do not propose to proceed upon that line to-day. I think the noble Viscount was right to regard this as a case in itself, and to leave the other matter for consideration, first by the Select Committee of the House, which is about to be appointed, and afterwards by way of any proposals that may be made in either House of Parliament for a general reform.
When I spoke the other day on this particular case of Mr. Wedgwood Benn I declared in no compromising language that the present situation is, in the first place, an infringement of the rights of personal liberty of individuals; it is a denial of opportunities which are open to other persons. Secondly, it is, in my judgment, a breach of the privileges of the House of Commons, because they are deprived of one of their Members, not by the fiat of the electors, not by vote of the House itself, not by any statutory disqualification (as of aliens or felons), not by any statutory law, not by any Act of Parliament, but solely by the customs, traditions and rules laid down by your Lordships' House. Thirdly, in the same way, it is a breach of the rights of the electors, who in all other respects (apart from those statutory disqualifications) have the ancient right of picking out any person of the male sex—I say nothing 582 about the other half of the population. Any man can be chosen on his merits to stand for Parliament, and can be elected to represent them.
But, that having been done, if he is an heir to a Peerage, the moment the present incumbent of that Peerage dies—and it may be his cousin or his great-uncle—this man, duly, and perhaps repeatedly, elected by a particular constituency, ceases to represent it in another place. From the moment when his predecessor draws his last breath, he is no longer a Member of the House of Commons. If he continued to sit or to vote he would be liable to penalties—I think on the information of a common informer. That seems to me to be a quite indefensible principle, and one which cannot possibly be justified. When the noble Lord, Lord Elton, says: "After all, there are millions in the country, why make so much fuss about this one individual, or even if there were a hundred such individuals?", I ask, has it ever been a rule of the British Constitution that you are at liberty to do an injustice if only there are not too many cases; that if it is only one or ten you need not take remedial action? Surely, in a single case, or one in a century, if the principle is right, that principle ought to be observed. For these reasons, it seems to me quite indefensible that the present situation can be left as it is.
The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, made a most cogent speech. The noble Lord himself is the very incarnation of the hereditary principle; I think he is the twenty-first Baron and his Peerage dates front 1263. And he is an example of the good fruits that come from that principle now and then. When I first came into this House nearly twenty years ago, he was a very active Member, and his polished speeches were always listened to with great attention. I think his speech to-day makes us regret that in recent years he has not attended with such regularity, and that he so rarely intervenes in our debates. I hope that he will come back.
He said that because he was opposed to a particular clause of the Bill he felt it necessary to vote against the Second Reading. But surely his long experience of Parliamentary procedure should tell him that there is an alternative. If he believes that the Bill in its general purpose is right, but that it is wrong in that 583 it contains a clause allowing a Peerage to be suspended but to be called out of abeyance if, in a later generation, a member in the direct line of descent wishes to revive it, he should support the Second Reading and move an Amendment in Committee. That observation applies also to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. If the noble Lord means to go into the Division Lobby—I do not know if he will go; that is a matter of Parliamentary tactics—I can tell him that I should certainly vote for the Second Reading, reserving the right to support Amendments in Committee.
Some noble Lords are concerned about the Bill because this ancient House, centuries old, has never previously been faced with this situation in this way: it would be creating an entirely new precedent. But ought that to be the final consideration? Supposing that someone had been able to "dig out" such a case in the reign of King George II and show that such a case as this had previously arisen and had been dealt with by a Bill of this sort, everyone would have said, "Here we see the wisdom of our ancestors. They even could foresee a case like this." Everyone would have said that we should adopt the policy of the Statute of Chapter 43 of the fourteenth year of the reign of King George II. But why should not we make precedents? A precedent must begin sometime. We are all familiar with the tritest of quotations from Tennyson in which he says of freedom that it… slowly broadens downFrom precedent to precedent.But unless someone first creates a precedent, there will be nothing to broaden. So I think that we might well pass this Bill to-day and provide some ancestral wisdom for the guidance of our posterity. For these reasons, I commend the Bill to your Lordships.
There are other points that might be made in its support, and, before concluding, I should like to give one or two. With regard to precedents, a Peerage has always been regarded—and rightly so—as so great an honour and so great a privilege that, except in recent times, there has been no occasion of anyone so fortunate as to inherit a Peerage desiring to rid himself of it. The lower a Peer's own personal qualifications, the more he regarded the distinction of being a Peer as of value. Consequently the occasion has 584 never arisen in this way. But now, in days of democracy, we have the situation in which a person's whole career and ambition may lie in the House of Commons, so that a Peerage becomes no longer a privilege but an incubus. If that is so, ought he to be left without any remedy whatsoever?
The same sort of matter was raised in the different sphere of land ownership by the practice and law of entail. In order to maintain the status and wealth of the great land-owning families, there was the strange law of entail, which allowed properties to descend from father to son without any part being played by the owner for life. That law was found to be so burdensome that after a great deal of controversy, and many years of discussion, the Entail Act was passed to allow two generations, if they agreed, to break an entail. But there is no permission to break the entail of a Peerage itself. If it were right to do that with regard to land-owning, is it not also just with regard to the Peerage itself?
Another point is this. The Monarchy survives in the modern world as an example of the principle of heredity and is universally supported and working extraordinarily well. But it works well because it is not unchangeable: the principle is not absolute and unbreakable. Only recently we had the case of the incumbent of the Crown saying that his situation was intolerable and abdicating the Crown for himself and for his heirs. That has happened before in the long history of this country. But though a King may abdicate, a Peer may not. Are we to carry the principle of heredity to such an extreme that we have arising situations such as that of Anthony Wedgwood Benn? It may be that all this discussion may be superseded if the reform of your Lordships' House comes about, when this aspect might be dealt with as part of the whole question. But, meanwhile, are we to permit this personal injustice to be done to this one individual? Are we to say, "Let it be done, because it concerns only an individual"? I come back to what I said at the beginning: personal liberty is a sacred thing. We have no right to remake a man's life against his will, merely because of a status which, through no fault of his own, he chances to inherit. I support the Bill.
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT KILMUIR)
My Lords, like all your Lordships I listened with the greatest care, and I hope sympathy, to the moving and carefully prepared speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, who moved the Second Reading of this Bill. I have also read more than once the statement which his son made to the Committee on Personal Bills, and I should like to say at once that I think that that statement is notable for its erudition, its modesty and its clarity of argument. Today we are faced with one of those difficult questions which face everyone in public affairs more frequently than we desire. On the one hand, we have the wishes of an old friend, if I may so call him, and the old friend of many of your Lordships, and the career of a young man of promise in his own chosen field: on the other hand, we have to consider the position and the status of your Lordships' House and the public advantage, questions which, I humbly and modestly submit, are interdependent. That is not an easy task.
May I give one example of the difficulty? I disagree respectfully but profoundly with Viscount Samuel's attempt to carry the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, with him on the question of the principle of the Bill; because if there is one point that is perfectly evident it is that there is a deep division in principle between the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, for the creation of a Life Peerage out of an hereditary Peerage, and the proposal in the present Bill which, by the use of the doctrine of abeyance (upon which I am not going to comment) seeks to cut out one generation, with the maintenance of full rights for succeeding generations. It would take more than even the persuasive eloquence of the noble Viscount to create a true synthesis of these points of view.
I have considered this matter and I believe that a great and serious constitutional issue is involved in this Bill. I believe that the acceptance of the principle that the heir to a Peerage can renounce his eventual right would effect a great constitutional change. I am not going to argue to-day whether your Lordships' House were right in 1678, in the case of the Viscounty of Purbeck, to which the noble Viscount referred, in finally deciding that there should not be a right in a Peer to surrender his Peerage. I say, 586 "finally deciding" because the matter had been discussed and the same conclusion arrived at several times before; but that was the last case in which the matter was raised. I am not going into that. I am only going to say that that has been an unchallenged rule of your Lordships' House and of Peerage for nearly 300 years.
The noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, quoted my predecessor, Lord Shaftesbury, in that case. With great respect, I should like to put the same thought—Lord Shaftesbury's thought—as it was stated by my noble and learned friend and predecessor, Lord Simonds, in the course of the proceedings before the Personal Bills Committee. The noble and learned Viscount said:But, on the other hand, what Lord Shaftesbury said—and it seems to me to have a good deal of force—is that the whole nation is interested in whether, not only you, but any other heir to a Peerage can surrender his Peerage.Whatever else is clear, the departure from that rule would create a new view of the responsibilities and duties which Peerage implies. I believe that that is an important point (and I shall try to develop it) for this reason. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, has spoken of the individual liberty of the one particular person involved. With the greatest respect, liberty and freedom in our land depend on the functioning of an ordered Constitution accepted throughout the land; and it is within that framework that true liberty alone can lie.
My point is not that there should be no alterations to the Constitution, but that when you are dealing with a subject of such importance and magnitude, alterations should not be made by working from an individual case, but from viewing the Constitution as a whole and seeing how it can be improved along the lines which discussion and mutual tolerance and forbearance of differences indicate. That is the question for this afternoon: should this be done in relation to a particular case, or is it a matter which requires a more general conspectus? That is the point that I want to put to your Lordships. I want to make it quite clear to the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, that it is not my purpose to-day, as it was not that of my noble friend who leads this House, Lord Salisbury, to pronounce on the wider question, that if your Lordships' House 587 is reformed in such a way that the number of hereditary Peers sitting and voting is limited, then in that case there should be some power of election in those who inherit Peerages. That is a different question, and I am sure it is one which your Lordships would want to discuss.
I would remind the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, that Paragraph (8) of the document which he put before your Lordships a short time ago, which resulted from the discussion of the Party Leaders seven years ago, in which he and I both had the honour to take part, reads:Peers who were not Lords of Parliament should be entitled to stand for election to the House of Commons, and also to vote at elections in the same manner as other citizens.As I say, I am not disposing of that point. What I am saying is that it is a point which merits the most full and complete discussion, including the questions of the time at which and the method in which the Peer would be allowed to make his election. It is obviously a matter which your Lordships would discuss with great interest and. I believe, considerable concern. Therefore, I want your Lordships to get this quite clear: that that is a matter of general application and general interest.
The Bill at present before your Lordships, however, is of its essence of particular and not of general application, and I submit to your Lordships that it is not a subject capable of being dealt with on the appeal of the individual without due consideration of the principles involved. Let me put this point, too. I am not going to make decisions on what is partly a moral question for your Lordships, but I am going to say that your Lordships will have to consider whether, if you pass this Bill, you could fairly refuse another Bill of the same kind; and you would also have to consider how far back you were going to go. My noble friend Lord Saltoun put this point of view; there are others that we know and have known all our lives. What are your Lordships going to do with regard to them? A not unreasonable test for your Lordships' House is: where does the committal in honour lead us here? I say that a consideration of that question brings us back to my general point, that this is a matter that can only be dealt with generally and not in regard to particular cases.
588 I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I make a slight excursus here, because I think it is important that in this debate we should consider, as I have tried to do as carefully as I can, the arguments which have been advanced in favour of this matter. I have tried to weigh the arguments which Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn advanced. One of them was, as I am sure the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, will remember, that this House has dealt with Peerage matters individually and not as matters of principle. As my argument is directly to the contrary, I would ask your Lordships' indulgence for a moment or two while I deal with that point, because I think it has some interest and relevance to the matter we are considering. Mr. Wedgwood Benn took the examples, first of all, of attainder and reversal of attainder. Bills of Attainder dealt with individual Peers; but attainder was based on the general principle that it was a method of dealing with treason against the Crown of the day. It was from that general method of dealing with treason (I am not going to argue its merits or demerits to-day) that its use in particular cases arose. With regard to reversal of attainder, in some cases the name was cleared; in other cases there was a change of view in the Crown and Government of the country as to what constituted treason. If I may relieve this heavy part of my argument, I would remind your Lordships of the jingle, which illustrates this:Treason doth never prosper; what's the reason?For if it prosper, none dare call it treason.That was usually the background of the reversal of Acts of Attainder, and again it depended on a general principle.
Now Mr. Wedgwood Benn also relied on what I may call the German Princes Act—and I think the noble Viscount referred to it—the Deprivation of Titles Act, 1917, which dealt with those Members of your Lordships' House who were adhering to the enemy during the 1914–18 war. Again, there was a perfectly general principle. The general principle was that it was not suitable or convenient that those adhering to the enemies of their country should be Members of your Lordships' House, and that was applied, after proof, in particular cases.
Take another example which was raised: that of what were called Parliamentary Peerages and are really Bills by 589 which special limitations were attached to Peerages by Acts of Parliament, such as the Arundel Peerage Act at the beginning of the seventeenth century, and the Dukedom of Marlborough Act in 1706. Again there was a general principle. These Peerages were so deeply rooted in the history and traditions of our country that it was necessary that a special limitation should be attached to protect, maintain and secure that part of our history. That is the principle behind that class of case. Again, it was urged that the Rules winch your Lordships laid down in 1927 with regard to calling Peerages out of abeyance had to be applied to an individual case. But it was the converse that your Lordships' House was doing. What your Lordships were laying down were general rules that were to be applicable to calling out of abeyance, which would preserve the propriety and suitability of the calling out. I am sorry to have inflicted that excursus on your Lordships, but I think it is important that we should see that, at any rate according to my view of history, this House has not proceeded on individual cases: it has applied principles which are deeply rooted to individual cases. I think two individual examples were given—one the De La Warr Peerage and the other the Bedford Peerage in 1478. The first, as I understand it, dealt largely with estates and the second was a rearrangement of his thoughts and wishes by Edward IV at the end of the War of the Roses, neither of which I should say really help us on the general point, which is that your Lordships have tried in these matters to act in accordance with principle.
I turn for one moment to the speech, as forthright as one always expects, of my noble friend, Lord Winterton. The noble Earl was putting a rather different point of view. He asked the question, as I understood it, "Why in modern times should any Peer be deprived of the right of sitting in the House of Commons?" I always listen—I have at any rate for thirty-five years—with great attention and sympathy to anything Lord Winterton says, but he asked me for an answer and I shall try to give it to him. The answer that I make is that we have sometimes, with great clash and political turmoil, and at other times by quiet exercise of common sense and tolerance, worked out a Constitution, and the bicameral system is an important part of it. A bicameral 590 system depends on securing the membership of your Second Chamber. I say that you are not going to protect your Second Chamber, which I think is essential for matters of revision and good legislation, unless you deal generally and seriously with changes in the composition of that Chamber, and do not, because of the warmth of heart and sympathy which we all know the noble Earl possesses to the brim, attack that Constitution in order to obviate a difficulty in a particular case.
§ EARL WINTERTON
I am sorry to interrupt the Lord Chancellor. I did not attack the Constitution to any greater extent than he attacked it when he and others agreed, in the conference between the Parties, that there should be an alteration in the composition of the House. The Constitution of your Lordships' House is, if I may say so, under consideration, if not attack, from many quarters.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I am not arguing that point with the noble Earl. That is not where we depart. What I am saying is that if you have a Constitution you may want to alter it. I personally believe—I have never made any secret of it—that there should be an alteration in the composition of your Lordships' House. What I am saying to the noble Earl is that when you have a certain constitutional situation, even if you do not like it, you must not alter it by granting a privilege to an individual; you must alter it by facing up to what requires alteration and amendment and then doing it.
There is one further point. Politics is the most fascinating and, at the same time, the most cruel of all the occupations to which humanity devotes itself. The first lesson that we all learn is that each one of us has no claim to indispensability, in whatever office he may be holding. I have seen the excellence of Mr. Wedgwood Benn's performance in another place, and I speak with complete sincerity about that. But one must recognise that that position cannot be differentiated from that of any other heir to a Peerage who has occupied, or wishes to occupy, a seat in the House of Commons and has, like Mr. Wedgwood Benn, the great honour and privilege of generations of ancestors who have served with distinction in the House of Commons. That is what we have to face; and while we 591 sympathise with the position of any young man who has given service in the House of Commons, we believe that the remedy must be a remedy which is general in character. It must, in the view of Her Majesty's Government, be arrived at not by a side wind but by full, frank and free consideration of all its implications. It is for that reason that I cannot advise your Lordships to do anything other than reject this Bill.
§ 5.11 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
My Lords, first of all I should like to thank the noble Lords who have spoken, and particularly the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, whose valuable and enlightened examination of this Bill will bear fruit. What is the issue? It is a perfectly simple issue. I have never heard a speech which filled me with as much despair as did the speech of the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor. The simple issue is this. All he has to say is: "My Lords, this is a general question for discussion in a general way with the reform of your Lordships' House."
In 1911 I was a Whip in another place. I counted the joyous Members of Parliament who trooped through the Lobby in support of the Bill which implied that the reform of your Lordships' House would "brook no delay." This young man, according to any reasonable forecast, has to wait another forty-four years before
§ we get from the Front Bench another Delphic utterance drafted by the Chief Whip's Office. The issue is quite simple. It is the case of a young man who wants to serve and whose constituency want him to serve. The Lord Chancellor says that that cannot be dealt with as an individual case. That is what the Committee say. Provision is made in the Bill for other people in the same position. But there are not any—that is the whole point. Nobody has come forward to suggest that he would associate himself with this act of renunciation. Therefore, I say that we have met the point of the general argument. It is in the Bill. If it needs amendment, I am sure that the Lord Chancellor will help.
§ In one word I should like to say how grateful the Petitioner and myself, as his father, are for the generous, expert help of the Officers of this House in drafting this Bill. At present, as the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, said, there is an injustice. The Bill does allow for general application, if there is another case to be found. Because it is a right and fair claim, and is supported by powerful opinion, both here and in another place, I propose to carry the banner into the Lobby.
§ On Question, Whether the Bill be now read a second time?
§ Their Lordships divided:—
§ Contents, 24; Not-Contents, 52.593
|Jowitt, E.||Ripon, L. Bp.||Merthyr, L.|
|Listowel, E.||Morrison, L.|
|Lucan, E.[Teller.]||Adrian, L.||Pakenham, L.|
|Winterton, E.||Burden, L.||Pethick-Lawrence, L.|
|Haden-Guest, L.||Shepherd, L.|
|Alexander of Hillsborough, V.||Henderson, L.||Silkin, L.|
|Hall, V.||Hungarton, L.||Strabolgi, L. [Teller.]|
|Samuel, V.||Kenswood, L.||Wise, L.|
|Stansgate, V.||Lawson, L.|
|Kilmuir, V. (L. Chancellor.)||Bledisloe, V.||Elton, L.|
|Hudson, V.||Fairfax of Cameron, L.|
|Cholmondeley, M.||Monsell, V.||Fraser of North Cape, L.|
|Reading, M.||Ruffside, V.||Gifford, L.|
|Simonds, V.||Grantchester, L.|
|Beauchamp, E.||Soulbury, V.||Harvey of Tasburgh, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Woolton, V.||Hastings, L.|
|Buckinghamshire, E.||Hawke, L.|
|Clarendon, E.||Brassey of Apethorpe, L.||Hindlip, L.|
|Fortescue, E. [Teller.]||Brocket, L.||Hurcomb, L.|
|Gosford, E.||Carrington, L.||Jessel, L.|
|Home, E.||Coleraine, L.||Lloyd, L.|
|Munster, E.||Croft, L.||Mancroft, L.|
|Onslow, E. [Teller.]||De L'Isle and Dudley, L.||May, L.|
|O'Hagan, L.||Rockley, L.||Sinha, L.|
|Rathcavan, L.||Saltoun, L.||Strang, L.|
|Rea, L.||Sandhurst, L.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Ritchie of Dundee, L.||Sandys, L.||Teviot, L.|
Resolved in the negative, and Motion disagreed to accordingly.