§ 2.37 p.m.
VISCOUNT SAMUEL rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they favour the proposals for the reform of the House of Lords which the representatives of the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Parties in both Houses unanimously agreed, at the Conference of 1948, might have been the basis for further consideration in detail, with a view to their submission to their respective Parties, had it been possible to achieve general agreement over the whole field of powers and composition; those proposals being as follows:—
(1) The Second Chamber should be complementary to, and not a rival to, the Lower House, and, with this end in view, the reform of the House of Lords should be based on a modification of its existing constitution as opposed to the establishment of a Second
Chamber of a completely new type based on some system of election.
(2) The revised constitution of the House of Lords should be such as to secure as far as practicable that a permanent majority is not assured for any one political party.
(3) 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.
(4) Members of the Second Chamber should be styled "Lords of Parliament" and would be appointed on grounds of personal distinction or public service. They might be drawn either from hereditary Peers, or from commoners who would be created life Peers.
(5) Women should be capable of being appointed Lords of Parliament in like manner as men.
(6) Provision should be made for the inclusion in the Second Chamber of certain descendants of the Sovereign, certain Lords Spiritual and the Law Lords.
(7) In order hat persons without private means should not be excluded, some remuneration would be payable to members of the Second Chamber.
(8) 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.
(9) Some provision should be made for the disqualification of a member of the Second Chamber who neglects, or becomes no longer able or fitted, to perform his duties as such: (Cmd. 7380);
and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, it is an old practice of your Lordships' House that Members who are Privy Counsellors but not in the Government should have the privilege, if they so desire, of speaking from this Box. I desire to-day to avail myself of the amenities of this position, instead of the unsupported isolation of the Front Bench by the Woolsack. My temporary neighbours will not fall into the error of thinking that anything is implied by my present location, in the way of any weakening or shifting of my customary political associations, which have now lasted for quite a long time.
§ On this question of the reform of the constitution of this House we had a short preliminary discussion a few weeks ago, on January 25, when I put down a Question to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they proposed to take any steps on this matter. The Leader of the House, the noble Marquess. Lord Salisbury, chided me gently for the form in which I had phrased my Question. He said: why should I feel any doubt that the Government were going to take steps, and why 827 should I ask whether they were going to take steps. If anything, he said, I ought to have asked: when and what steps? And the noble Marquess added that, "of course", the answer to my Question was "Yes"—he implied that there could be no doubt about it.
§ He went on to say that the Government were already engaged in labouring at perfecting the details of a scheme of reform, and he invited me to put down another Question, or Resolution, if I should desire further information. He spoke of this enormously complicated inquiry on which the Government are now engaged. When I ventured to ejaculate the monosyllable "When?" he advised me to "Wait and see." On February 8, in another place, a similar Question was put to the Prime Minister and he referred to, and quoted, the observations made here by the noble Marquess, and said that the Government were actively examining it and would continue to labour at perfecting the details of a scheme of reform.
§ When someone in the other House put a supplementary question to ask when the Prime Minister anticipated being in a position to make a statement, Sir Winston Churchill said: "The future is veiled in obscurity." That is an observation which no one would challenge, and, in fact, many people have had the same idea for quite a long time now. As a general proposition it is sound; but this particular obscurity, this particular veil, is within the province of the Government themselves. Are they going to remove the veil, or are they going to leave the obscurity as it is and the picture still veiled—as sometimes one would wish that portrait paintings could be.
§ I do not wish to press the Government to make any premature disclosure of details when they are not ready with their preparations, but I have put down this Motion principally in the hope that it will provide an opportunity for the expression of the Government's views, but also for noble Lords in all parts of the House, and of all opinions, to express their views in order that the Government may be apprised of them when they proceed further to crystallise the proposals they have in view.
From the beginning we on the Liberal Benches have been anxious that whatever is done should be done by general
agreement. In my observations the other day I ventured to say that I thought all were of opinion that great constitutional changes in this country should be arrived at, if possible, not after prolonged and bitter controversies, such as we had before the Parliament Act was passed in the year 1911, but, if it can be achieved, with a large measure of agreement and after deliberate and painstaking discussion. On that occasion in January the noble and learned Earl who leads the Opposition, Lord Jowitt, said the same thing. He said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 190 (No. 12), col. 712–3]:
I feel sure that the noble Marquess who leads this House would, in a matter of this sort, concerning something which is of such importance to us, desire to get the largest possible measure of agreement, or at any rate to reduce the area of disagreement so far as he possibly can.
The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, took the same view. And this is of great importance because, if there is a general atmosphere of agreement in your Lordships' House, it may be that something effective can be done. The noble Marquess said [Vol. 190 (No. 12), col. 717]:
But clearly it would be very much better, if there is to be a reform of this House, that it should be by agreement. We should all agree that any great constitutional change, or modified constitutional change, is better done with inter-Party agreement than without, and I still hope that that may prove possible.
Therefore, in considering what should be the form of Motion to-day, I thought it better, after consultation with my colleagues, to put down a formal Motion for Papers, but setting out the agreed recommendations—or rather conclusions, I had better call them, of the all-Party Conference that sat seven years ago. I have put down this formal Motion. I do not even propose to press it to a Division, for the sole purpose of this debate is exploratory, and it would be unfair to the House if I were to put down a long and complicated Motion and ask your Lordships to record your opinions for or against it without having had an opportunity of considering it in detail and at leisure. On former occasions, years ago, schemes of reform were put before your Lordships' House from time to time by many statesmen of distinction, and the approval of the House was invited, if necessary in the Division Lobbies. I do not propose to do that to-day. I propose to move my Motion for Papers and then, at the
conclusion of the debate, with your Lordships' permission, to withdraw it.
§ Your Lordships will observe that there is nothing in this Motion, and nothing in the conclusions arrived at by the Conference, which deals with the powers of your Lordships' House. That matter is passed over in silence—and deliberately; because I have no proposal to make, or even to ask your Lordships to consider, with regard to the powers of the House. I think that no Party, and no section of any Party, would regard it as a matter of practical politics to propose any change in the present powers of the House of Lords. It is obvious that, if we are seeking general agreement, it would not be possible to achieve it unless the question of the powers of the House of Lords were left out of the discussion.
§ Nor did the Conference of seven years ago find itself able to arrive at any conclusion on the question of powers. The difference between the two sides—the Labour Government of the day and the Conservative Party—was exceedingly small. The ultimate point in debate was reached on a compromise that I, as a member of the Conference, had suggested, which reduced the issue merely to a question of three months in the period of delay which would be allowed before a Bill could be passed under the Parliament Act by the House of Commons over the heads of your Lordships' House. But both the other Parties considered that that raised a question of principle. The procedure that might be adopted in the fourth Session of some future Parliament was brought into the discussion, and both Parties declared that they could come to no agreement on that matter. I suggest to-day that that question should not be regarded as essential for any solution of the problem of the reform of the House of Lords constitution at the present time, We should be content to leave it as it stands, as the only means of securing a general measure of reform, and also as a recognition of the realities of the situation, because no Government, I think, in existing circumstances, in view of the general attitude of the country, could possibly raise so highly controversial a question as the restoration of some of the earlier powers of your Lordships' House.
§ To-day, I have no doubt, various Members will speak on particular points which were raised in the terms of this 830 Resolution embodying the conclusions of the Three-Party Conference; and no doubt they will attract a good deal of attention, and possibly controversy. I do not propose to touch upon any of these points. I think it would be premature to attempt to arrive at any conclusions at this stage: we are still in a very preliminary state of things. My observations to-day will be devoted almost entirely to the point which I feel is uppermost in the minds of a large proportion of your Lordships' House, namely, should anything be done at all—or, as many would wish to put it: why not leave well alone? That is the attitude which is embodied in the Motion on the Order Paper to-day in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, on which he will speak—although I understand that he will not actually move his Motion—and it will, I am sure, receive the support of a considerable number of your Lordships.
§ The case I wish to put before your Lordships is a frank statement of the present situation in this House. The membership of the House today numbers 853. In the last twenty years 256 new Peerages have been created, and in that time 33 have become extinct. At the present rate of increase which was inaugurated at the time of the First World War and has continued ever since, your Lordships' House will soon reach a membership of 1,000, a number almost unheard of in any Legislature in the world. As to attendances, the Clerks of the House maintain lists of all the individual attendances for every day for necessary purposes, and those figures show that last Session, that for 1953–54 (excluding merely formal Sittings which are held from time to time to receive Bills from the other House, or for any such purposes), the daily average attendance was 97. And having obtained the figures for a number of previous years since 1948, I find that that figure was maintained almost exactly, with just a few over or a few under 100 out of 850. But at any one time of the day not all that number are present: Members come and go, or they may come only for a short time; and for the ordinary purposes of debate, those of us who attend your Lordships' House regularly are accustomed to see that, as a rule, some 60 or sometimes 80 Members are present at any one time in the House. To-day, of course, we are privileged to have a much larger attendance.831
§ The reason why only this small proportion of about 10 per cent. of the whole body are regular attenders is well known. Many of your Lordships are engaged in county business; many of you are the mainstays of the local government of your own district, and regard that as having a prior claim. A great number of noble Lords belong to professions or businesses and, out of duty to their colleagues and to their own interests, are prevented from being present, except rarely, in your Lordships' House. It is true that in any particular debate those Members of this House who have expert knowledge are accustomed to attend, if that is at all possible. Therefore, the debates on such occasions, although the attendance may be small, are cogent and influential.
§ But as a flatter of fact, the great majority of those experts (I hope I may be forgiven for pointing this out) are first creations. The Generals, Admirals and Air Marshals; the former civil servants, diplomats and many other experts; and the representatives of the law, industry and commerce who take part in the debates are, by a great majority, Members who have been nominated and do not sit by hereditary right. There are many brilliant and illustrious exceptions, but that is the general picture that one gets on surveying the House on any particular day. This argument about the value of this House as a centre for experts to express their views is in support of, and not against, the recommendation that was made by the Three Party Conference, that nomination, rather than heredity, should be the principal basis of membership.
§ In addition, it is right to say that a great deal of Committee work is done by Members of your Lordships' House, who devote much time, attention and skill to dealing with Private Bills and other matters of that kind. On the other hand, I remember the days when each year there used to be in this House and in the other House the appointment of Select Committees for the careful examination of important questions of immediate interest. Select Committees of the House of Commons or the House of Lords, or Joint Select Committees, used every year to be appointed to do the work now done either by Royal Commissions or Departmental Committees. I remember that when I was in the House of Commons 832 and a Minister there, I frequently took a hand in the appointment of such Committees to deal with important questions. I served on some of those Committees, and had the honour of being chairman on one or two occasions.
§ I have asked the Clerks to give me a list of the matters dealt with in recent years in the period between the two wars, some of them by Joint Committees and some by Committees of your Lordships' House, and they include such questions as the government of India, legislation by Special Orders, nationality of married women, Union of East Africa, protection of birds, damage by rabbits and the prevention of road accidents—the latter a Committee of your Lordships' House presided over by the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, which carried great weight in the development of that issue. But in more recent years, since the end of the Second World War, the list shows that there have been four Joint Committees of the two Houses on particular Bills—simply on a Bill that was referred to a Select Committee—and three of your Lordships' House on Standing Orders; and when I asked for a return of the Committees since the war on general topics, the answer was that there had been no such Committees. So there is an important activity that did much public service in former days which has now fallen completely into desuetude.
§ Some Members of your Lordships' House may say—many of those who never attend and probably the majority who come at most once, twice or perhaps three times in the year—that they feel under no special obligation to attend the House. They are not here of their own choice; many of them take no special interest in public affairs, and we no longer have a leisured class which can afford the time to devote themselves for regular hours, week by week throughout the year, for purposes of legislation. Therefore, when the noble Lord, Lord Elton, says, as he said in his speech the other day, that the composition of your Lordships' House is indefensible in theory but works excellently in practice, many of us cannot agree.
Among those who do not agree is the Leader of the House who, in his own person and his own name and lineage, is a living reminder of some of the greatest days and some of the greatest men in the
history of this House. He said, quoting me, that I was convinced of the necessity for some reform of the composition of the House, and he went on to say [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 190 (No. 12), col. 715]:
… that is at any rate satisfactory to most of us.
The noble Marquess said of me:
He suggests, too, as I understand it, that if nothing is done to bring any new life to this House it will gradually die, as an effective element in the Constitution. With that, I personally, and I expect mast of us, would agree.
I pause to emphasise that pronouncement from a leading Member of the Conservative Party and the Leader of your Lordships' House—that if we take no action this House will prove to be moribund.
§ Those who speak with satisfaction of the present composition leave out of mention the fact that we here, by virtue of our sex, are representative, after all, of only one half of the population, and the other half of the population is wholly unrepresented. In 1918 a great measure was passed by general agreement clearing up many of the outstanding questions with regard to the representation of the people, and that Statute introduced women's suffrage. It did not make women eligible for the House of Commons and, as it happened, it fell to me, sitting then on the Front Opposition Bench, to move a Resolution in the House to make women eligible. That was carried without difficulty, and immediately afterwards a Bill was brought in and that reform was carried into effect. But, coming into this House, I find that here the same issue arises. Bills or Resolutions are brought in from time to time that Peeresses in their own right—of whom I think there are twelve, mostly the incumbents of very ancient peerages—should be admitted to your Lordships' House. The Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act was passed in 1919, and all the professions for which women are physically fit are open to them; all the local authorities are open to them; the House of Commons is open to them; a Queen may sit upon the Throne; but still your Lordships' House closes its doors to women.
It would not settle the question if those twelve ladies were admitted to your Lordships' House. In the first place, it is by no means certain that they would be the particular ladies whom the womanhood of the country would desire to see here, and secondly, it would introduce great difficulty with regard to all future
Peerages. When a new Peer is introduced, we are accustomed to hear read his Patent from the Crown, saying that his Peerage shall descend to the
heirs male or his body lawfully begotten or to be begotten";
but if we abolish the distinction and say that the principle of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act shall be applied, in what form are all future Patents to be? Could that provision in regard to heirs male be maintained? Should we apply the line of succession as in the case of the Crown? That would raise very difficult questions. Far simpler to make this change part of a general reform under which these questions would not arise.
§ There is also an opposite grievance. While the ladies are clamouring to be let in and appealing to acknowledged principles of justice in their favour, there are in the House of Commons heirs to Peerages who indignantly resent being conscribed and sent to compulsory service, so to speak, in a House to which they do not wish to belong, involving their retirement from the House of which they are already Members and in which they wish to remain. That question has been raised several times. I remember years ago when Lord Curzon and Lord Wolmer, who afterwards became Lord Selborne, and Mr. Brodrick, who became Lord Midleton, raised an agitation to enable heirs to Peerages to decline to avail themselves of their rights of succession. The noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, has also expressed that view. I see him here to-day, and perhaps he will be speaking on that matter.
§ There is at this moment a very able young Member of the House of Commons who has there a promising career of useful public service and who is the heir to one of our most esteemed. Members, Lord Stansgate, an incisive and highly charged controversialist but always good-humoured and one of our best beloved colleagues, whom may God long preserve! But the moment when the inevitable day comes and his career in the House of Lords ends, that same moment ends the career also of his son in the House of Commons. His son is not an alien, he is not under age, a lunatic, a bankrupt, or a felon. He is not disqualified in any way from continuing his membership. The House of Commons have passed no Resolution to release him from membership; his constituents in Bristol and the 835 Mayor and Corporation are proposing to appeal to the House of Commons to take some step which will allow them not to be deprived of a Member in whom they have confidence. No Act of Parliament obliges him to leave the House of Commons; it is an antiquated provision in the Common Law of the Constitution, and it seems to me a gross infringement of the liberties of the individual subject. It is an infringement of the rights of the electorate, and it is an infringement of the dignity and the privileges of the Representative Chamber.
§ These are all examples of imperfections, or flaws in the perfection, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, would have it, in the present constitution of this House. The Conference of 1948 did not agree that nothing need be done. On the contrary, it was unanimously of opinion that there ought to be reform, and it prepared a series of proposals, not in any way binding the Parties who were there represented but representing the personal opinions of the accredited representatives of the three Parties, which they would be prepared to submit to their respective Parties if only agreement could be reached with regard to powers. No such agreement was reached with regard to powers, and the whole of the proceedings of the Conference came to an end.
As I said, I do not propose to go into details with regard to them, but I should like to remind your Lordships of the first three of those propositions which embody the essence of the whole matter, the rest being only an application of those principles. They were:
(1) The Second Chamber should be complementary to, and not a rival to, the Lower House, and, with this end in view, the reform of the House of Lords should be based on a modification of its existing constitution as opposed to the establishment of a Second Chamber of a completely new type based on some system of election.
(2) The revised constitution of the House of Lords should be such as to secure as far as practicable that a permanent majority is not assured for any one political Party.
(3) 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 members of that Conference were the accredited leaders of the three Parties. I will remind your Lordships who they were: for the Conservative Party, the present Leader of the House and Lord
President, Lord Salisbury; the present Lord Chancellor, who was then in the House of Commons as Sir David Maxwell Fyfe; Mr. Anthony Eden (as he then was); and the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton; for the Labour Party, the then Prime Minister, Mr. Attlee; the then Lord Chancellor, the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, who now is the Leader of the Opposition; the then Lord President of the Council (I think he was at that time also the Leader of the House of Commons), Mr. Herbert Morrison; and the Chief Whip, Mr. Whiteley; for the Liberals, Mr. Clement Davies and myself. I submit to your Lordships that proposals which, after several sittings and close deliberation, were approved by all these members are not lightly to be brushed aside as unworthy of your Lordships' consideration.
§ At this point, I would ask: what are the arguments against that scheme? No doubt, we shall be told that in the course of debate. Some noble Lords—and some people outside, though I think not many—consider that the abolition of heredity as the main principle for admission to your Lordships' House would leave the Monarchy isolated as the only hereditary institution, and that that might bring it into peril; and, since the Monarchy is an institution that commands the confidence, the respect and the affection of the whole nation, that would be a serious argument against any change in the system of appointment here.
§ But much the same argument was heard when the great reforms took place in the early part of last century, establishing a democratic State: that it would necessarily lead to republicanism. But that has not proved to be so. On the contrary, as, stage by stage, our Constitution has brought the democratic idea to its full completion, the Throne has become more stable and at this day is probably more secure in the confidence and good will of the people than at any previous time. But that is because it has become a constitutional Monarchy. Absolute power does not pass by inheritance. The old metaphysical doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings is obsolete. While it endured, it was for centuries a source of war and revolution in many lands. Now, the monarchies that remain in Europe are secure because they are constitutional, are parliamentary. Our Crown passes 837 according to Statute and is for that reason the more stable. The point I would put to your Lordships is that by changes here we can make the Constitution as a whole more acceptable to the nation as a whole; it will become more stable, less liable to upheaval; and thereby the Crown, which is an essential part of that Constitution, will become not less but more secure.
§ This principle of heredity may be left unique with the Crown because the case is quite exceptional, but who would apply it in any other walk of life? Who would choose, by heredity, his doctor, his lawyer? Who would appoint a judge, a bishop, an engineer or any leader in any profession on that basis? Why, then, should this be the principle on which to choose legislators, to give seats in Parliament to the most responsible, and perhaps the most difficult, of all those many varied occupations?
Then we come to the main argument in opposition, that which was eloquently put forward in his brief speech a few weeks ago by the noble Lord, Lord Elton; that is, antiquity, the appeal to tradition—antiquity for its own sake. Dean Inge, who often said wise, shrewd and pithy things, once wrote:
There are two kinds of fools. One says 'This is old; therefore, it is good' The other says 'This is new; therefore, it is better.'
I do not adopt his rather contumelious language—he is responsible for that, not myself—but it is the case. There are those two tendencies. One is the addiction of the aged, the second is the addiction of the very young. Some hold the view that what is old is good for its own sake and it may be (I have no special knowledge of the fact) that some may be found among the Right Wing of the Conservative Party, while those who hold the opposite view may perhaps be found among the Left Wing of the Labour Party. I hope there are none to be found among the Liberals, although of either kind there may be, here and there, perhaps one or two. However that may be, I submit to your Lordships that while this love of antiquity for its own sake—what the noble Lord, Lord Elton, calls the "ancientry" of this House: rather a good word; it is different from "antiquity"; the patina, so to speak, of the House of Lords—might be worth preserving for its own sake if there were no reasons to the contrary, I
think I have been able to give reasons to the contrary.
§ However, if there is to be this great change, I think we all would wish that, so far as we can, we should ease the transition from the old system to the new. No one has raised the point of any change in our hereditary titles—that is a matter of the prerogative of the Crown and would not be interfered with. The Members who no longer attended your Lordships' House or were no longer summoned to the House would maintain whatever privileges and rights were otherwise conferred by their Patents. It is intended that the procedure, the forms and ceremonies and the name of this House should continue, and further, that all its present Members who are qualified by service in any branch of life should also be summoned as Lords of Parliament. They already have the qualifications which it is proposed to seek in the new membership, and no doubt—I have no authority to speak—when we came to the actual setting up of the new Chamber, any of your Lordships who are Peers of first creation, and have therefore been appointed already on the ground of personal service and distinction, would, as a matter of course, be summoned as Lords of Parliament.
§ Furthermore, I think that everyone recognises that one of the great drawbacks of our Chamber, such as it is now, is that it may tend, as years go by, to consist of older and older men. The positions would be held for life; they would often have been conferred upon those who had already had a distinguished career, and therefore one might find the House full of septuagenarians, or even those who have reached the extreme senility of the octogenarian. Therefore, in constituting the new House every effort should be made to cater for younger members of your Lordships' House who are rendering valuable service and are making their names here, and who are expected to be able to render good service in later life. Furthermore, pains should be taken in the new appointments to counteract, so far as possible, this tendency towards increasing age.
§ There is another kind of appointment which might be made and which would be of extreme value to the State. In February, the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, opened a debate in your Lordships' House on the Colonies. It was then said 839 that one of the great difficulties that now face the Commonwealth, and which will grow, is the difficulty of maintaining a link between the self-governing territories in Africa, Asia or wherever they may be, and Westminster. Various suggestions have been made, none of which is fully satisfactory. We have had here some representatives of the great Dominions—Lord Bennett, a former Prime Minister of Canada, and Viscount Bruce of Melbourne, whom I see in his place, from Australia. There was Lord Sinha, from India, who was appointed and who became Under-Secretary of State for a short time; and there have been other examples. But there are none, except Lord Sinha, who belonged to races other than of the white peoples. Surely it might be extremely advantageous for a considerable proportion, not a mere handful, of our Members to be representative of both the white and the coloured territories of the whole Commonwealth, serving as a link with their own peoples. The new House would have immense prestige, and it would be a crowning of their careers for these statesmen from other continents and races to become Members of your Lordships' House. Air travel makes it possible for attendance here without their necessarily breaking their connection with their own countries. In all these ways the new House might be a great advance upon the old.
§ I come now to one other point, and that is that your Lordships' House as at present constituted belongs overwhelmingly to one Party in the State. At the moment Party controversy is largely in abeyance and that does not greatly matter, but the second paragraph in the Agreed Conclusions emphasised that the new Parliament should be so constituted as not to give a permanent majority to any one Party. At present I do not know how the figures would work out, but I imagine that on no occasion would a Conservative Government or a Conservative Opposition, whenever they wished to exercise their political influence, have any difficulty in obtaining a majority of two to one in your Lordships' House over all other Parties and Independents. I speak now as a member of the Liberal Party. We have a great grievance in that regard, for since 1935—in the last twenty years—out of 256 new Peerages only 6 840 have been conferred upon Liberals, although we represent, we believe, a considerable element, and not the least valuable element, in the country at large.
§ Great pains will have to be taken in the constitution of the first Parliament after the reform, if any reform comes into existence. And since we hope that it will be established by an agreed Statute, similarly it should be started on its way by agreement, and every effort should be taken to ease the transition. Formal appointments would be by the Crown, and the Crown must be advised by the Government of the day. But there could still be a gentleman's agreement with regard to its composition, and (I am only forecasting what may possibly come about in the future) it might be thought advantageous for a Committee of the Privy Council to be specially nominated to supervise the first appointments. I have always held the view that the Privy Council might well be used more than it is. It is one of the most ancient parts of our Constitution and it might be put to good use in many ways, of which this is an example.
These proposals were not in the Conference resolutions and wore not considered at the Conference, but I throw them out for future consideration. In the main it would be advisable not to specify these matters too closely. I should deprecate drawing up a list of qualifications for membership in categories. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, said the other day that he thought that we might be presented with an official ready-made paper reform on the model of the French Revolution. I have no ambition to be cast for the part of the Abbé Sieyès, Who made so many paper constitutions; on the contrary, I am one who has always held that this country is greatly blessed in having, in the main, an unwritten Constitution, and in drafting the Bill I hope that the Government will limit the statutory provisions to a minimum and not attempt to clamp upon posterity the ideas of to-day. You must not seek to fetter the future. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, said in the recent debate—I am in the happy position of being able to make my own speech largely out of quotations from his because I can then invoke his authority, which is so much
greater—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 190 (No. 12); col. 717]—that unless single Chamber Government was in view
it is surely better to make the Second Chamber as efficient in its composition as it possibly can be made. I believe that no one in this House would dispute that—indeed, it is really common sense.
Yet it is just that which is disputed, and I invite the noble Lord, Lord Elton, to say whether he accepts that dictum of the noble Marquess and, if so, how he reconciles it with his present attitude.
§ I am one of those who believe that it is essential, as a matter of urgent necessity, to take steps that will help to make democracy efficient and successful, and to take those steps now, in a quiet time, not when the Constitution is under strain, as it may be in some crisis in the not distant future. All of us in our lifetimes, especially all who are old enough to remember the world before the First World War, must have been greatly impressed by the strange and wholly unexpected collapse of the democratic principle over almost the whole of Central, Southern and Eastern Europe during the earlier years of the present century. That was due very largely to the faults of the democrats themselves. It was due to the failure of the Party system. Though I do not very often agree with Disraeli I agree with him wholeheartedly in his view that "Without Party, parliamentary government is impossible." But there are many who think that the Party system, though necessary, is becoming too rigid and too all-pervasive. The collapse of democracy in those various countries was mainly due to the continued intransigence of the rank-and-file of the Parties and the incompetence of the leaders, so that Parliaments lost the respect and admiration of the peoples and were easily tumbled over by some ambitious dictator.
§ To-day, for the first time in living memory, there is not in the House of Commons one single Independent Member. Let the House of Lords offer a compensating element in our society. At the moment the influence of this House in the country is really very small, although sometimes we flatter ourselves it is considerable. The nation is hardly aware of the existence of the House of Lords except in times of political crisis; and the popular Press—those newspapers which circulate in millions—report our debates only fitfully and occasionally, 842 with a few lines here and there perhaps two or three times a month. My Lords, this House is dying of inanition before our eyes. Leave to the representative House the last word and all the substance of power, with the making and unmaking of Governments. But in the nation there are, worth hearing, the voices of many men and women who are unfitted or unwilling to face the strain and turmoil of elections in vast constituencies and the fatigues of Parliamentary life. I believe most firmly that a democracy must create within itself an aristocracy or it will perish—an aristocracy not of wealth or of lineage, but of talent, wisdom and virtue. It would be manifest in both Houses of Parliament and diffused among the people. If your Lordships and your successors within these walls can present to the people a House of Parliament of that character, ennobled by those qualities, then, and only then, will it revive in the modern world its former glories and become again the breeding-ground of great statesmen, fitted and worthy to be the leaders of a great nation. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.36 p.m.
§ EARL JOWITT
My Lords, the noble Viscount has succeeded once again in securing the interest of noble Lords in all parts of the House, and we are all indebted to him for his most interesting and closely reasoned speech. I could not emulate him, even if I tried—as I have so often learned; but today I am not going to try, because I feel that I can best assist your Lordships' deliberations by giving simply, and I hope shortly, my impressions, from soundings which I have taken since our last debate, of the attitude which my Party would be likely to adopt if this question were once again to become a live political issue. They can only be impressions, for any question of bringing about a change in the composition of this House is clearly a matter which would call for a major decision on policy by all the Parties.
I cannot say with any degree of certainty what would happen if, in present circumstances, my Party were to be called upon to take such a decision. It is true enough that in 1948 some of the Party leaders, of whom I was one, agreed to put forward ad referendum certain proposals now embodied in the Motion of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, for the 843 consideration of their Parties. I believe that the noble Viscount overstates the matter in saying as he did in the course of his speech, that these were agreed solutions. They were not agreed solutions but ideas which were to be brought forward for consideration by the respective Parties. These ideas were put forward in an endeavour to secure an agreed passage for the Parliament Bill then under consideration. Those negotiations broke down on the question of powers. That scheme might or might not have proved acceptable to my Party then, but I feel obliged to point out that it is another and wholly different question whether it would be acceptable to my Party today. I ought not to conceal my belief that the present is not a propitious time to put it to the test—that is, if a favourable answer is thought to be a matter of importance.
The problems of the day concerning H-Bombs, European defence and Far Eastern dangers are so clamant and imperative, and there is so little evidence of any public demand for an alteration in the composition of this House, that even those who might be well-disposed would think it better to postpone a decision until we reach (as I hope and pray we shall reach) a calmer atmosphere and more spacious days. Moreover, I feel tolerably certain that my Party, if called upon to pronounce on this topic to-day, would attach more importance to powers than to composition.
With respect, I would say to the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, that one does not begin to deal with this difficulty simply by saying, "Let us leave powers as they stand," for there are those—perhaps unduly suspicious—who would regard an alteration in the composition of this House as a mere curtain-raiser to a subsequent extension of its powers. That is not to say that they would doubt the good faith of the Leader of this House were he to assert that there was no intention of increasing powers. They would rather say that, under our Constitution, no Government—or indeed, Parliament—can bind its successors; and that if we had a House so constituted as to command a wide measure of support it might easily be thought natural by some later Government, or by Parliament, to restore to it those powers of which it had been shorn by successive Parliament Acts. 844 Indeed, an alteration in composition—or perhaps even a canvassing of such an alteration—might throw into relief certain questions concerning powers which have hitherto remained quiescent.
May I give an example to your Lordships of what I have in mind? Under modern conditions, every Government must pass a large amount of subordinate legislation depending on Orders in Council, and on the passing of Orders in Council it is, I think, broadly true to say that this House and another place have equal and co-ordinate jurisdictions. If this House were to use its powers unwisely, and were to refuse to pass Orders in Council, the tenure of the Government of the day would become impossible. It has not happened, because this House has used its powers sparingly and with great discretion. But if some new House, differently composed and perhaps not following our traditions, were to be formed, is it not only too possible that these problems would become a lively source of controversy?
Perhaps your Lordships will allow me this personal word. For the last ten years, whether as Lord Chancellor or as Leader of the Opposition, I have been proud to work in your Lordships' House, and I have given to our deliberations the best that is in me. I confess that I have come to regard this House with real affection. I certainly believe—and here I speak for myself alone—that some Second Chamber is desirable. No doubt New Zealand is getting along very well without one, but we have a long history and tradition, and, in my opinion, the pace and pressure of events in this country make some Second Chamber with powers of revision almost inevitable.
But even if this view be accepted—and it is by no means universally accepted—the question remains what that Second Chamber should be and how it should be constituted. In trying to collect views on this matter, I have been reminded of the old saying, quot homines tot sententiae—for there are, in fact, as many cures as there are doctors who may be called in. Of those who desire a Second Chamber at all, some would favour a Second Chamber broadly on the lines of the Norwegian model. That is a system under which a newly elected House of Commons appoints the Second Chamber, so that the Second Chamber tends to reflect the 845 opinion of the first Chamber, which itself is elected by the people; and in this way the risk of having a permanent majority against the Parties of the Left is avoided. Moreover, any problem or difficulty about powers is also avoided.
Others (I am giving the result of my soundings) would leave things as they are, whilst exercising a careful vigilance on the powers of the Second Chamber, and the use that it makes of those powers. Others would prefer a system which the late Lord Simon advocated—that is, the appointment of Life Peers. But this system, unless accompanied by other measures, would add still further to our already swollen numbers. These Life Peers would presumably be appointed once and for all, and, having been appointed, would remain with us as long as they lived—and, be it remembered, we cannot all hope to emulate the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, and combine the enthusiasm of youth with the wisdom of age to the very end of our days. Still others would be content with more moderate reforms. They would remove from us the discredit of being the only Assembly which has no women Members, and would remove the obvious anomaly of forcing Members of the House of Commons, sons of Peers, to come up to this House, whether they want to or whether they do not, on the deaths of their fathers. I must say that on that topic I agree with the observations made by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel.
The inquiries I have made confirm me in the view I expressed in a recent debate—that it is quite certain that my Party would not be willing to enter into a preliminary conference on this topic at the present time. If the Government are resolved to bring in proposals for changing the composition of this House, we shall, as becomes an Opposition, reserve our right to subject those proposals to the most searching criticism, and, if we are not satisfied with them, to the most determined opposition. I am sorry if I seem to be unhelpful. I hope that at least, in giving your Lordships frankly my impression of the state of mind which prevails in the Labour Party, I shall not be thought to be ungracious.
§ 3.48 p.m.
§ LORD ELTON had given notice of his intention to move to resolve, That it is undesirable to take further steps to alter 846 the composition of this House, seeing that it is discharging its duties effectively, and that there is no public demand for a change. The noble Lord said: My Lords, you will have seen the Motion in my name on the Order Paper, but under the rules of your Lordships' House it is, of course, not possible for there to be two Motions on the Paper at the same time. So what I find myself doing now is speaking in a negative sense to Lord Samuel's Motion. Those of us who believe that your Lordships' House, as at present constituted, is not only the most ancient but also, all things considered, the most efficient Second Chamber in the world can only regret that this debate had to take place. With every respect, it was the Party Leaders who wished it on us. For when a Party in power includes some impracticable proposal in its programme, it is common form for the Leader of the Opposition to administer from time to time an unwelcome nudge of reminder. On this occasion, however, it is the Leader of the Liberal Party, in which length of memory serves to compensate to some degree for shortness of numbers, who has constituted himself Official Remembrancer. I gather from the remarks made by the noble and learned Earl who leads the Opposition that he would have been content to let sleeping dogs lie.
§ But now that the Parties have, half un-intentionally, involved themselves in these dangerous and sterile exchanges, they find themselves compelled half reluctantly to keep them intermittently alive. I say "dangerous" because discussions such as this are capable of reviving among an ill-instructed minority of the public political passions long quiescent and now almost forgotten. And I say "sterile" because discussions of this kind are foredoomed to failure; and for the very same reason which over many decades has rendered nugatory every attempt to reform the composition of your Lordships' House by agreement—the simple reason that those who can be found to agree upon some brand new planned Senate have never been able to agree upon its powers. And that seems to be the case this afternoon.
§ The noble Marquess the Leader of the House is certainly prepared to take a first step towards a brand new planned Senate, but we all understand that it is in the hope that at some time, if not immediately, more extensive powers will be 847 conferred on it. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, is prepared for a new, rationalised, Senate. In fact, in his speech this afternoon he has gone a good deal beyond the nine agreed principles which the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, surprised us a little later by declaring were not agreed at all. As for the noble and learned Earl who leads the Labour Party, he made it quite clear that he will have nothing whatever to do with an extension of powers for your Lordships' House, and I think it would not be far wide of the mark if I said that he would be well content to let sleeping dogs lie. And discussions of this sort are bound to be nugatory for another and deeper reason. For any additional powers which could conceivably be enacted either for your Lordships' present House or for any variant on it would inevitably prove a mere pasteboard defence against a genuinely revolutionary House of Commons, the only eventuality against which, we are told, such powers are really needed. My Motion is concerned only with the composition of the House. But I should like to say, in passing, that I have no objection whatever to one of the proposals contained in Lord Samuel's programme. I think that the remuneration of Members of the House may well be necessary, and not least if the Opposition Benches are to be recruited, as I hope they will be, by future Labour Governments.
I have felt bound to refer to the question of powers only because it was this question of the powers of the House which originally prompted the discussions of its composition; and still, like an unacknowledged skeleton at the feast, it contrives to impart to all discussions of this subject a macabre note of fantasy such as is rarely, if ever, otherwise to be encountered in your Lordships' debates. On this question, as on no other, the wisest have down the years committed themselves to the most resounding prophecies and pronouncements, which have invariably been refuted by the event. It was in a debate thirty years ago that the late Lord Birkenhead said that it was impossible for the House of Lords to continue unaltered any longer; and it was in the same debate that the late Lord Buckmaster prophesied that no member of the Labour Party would ever be persuaded to accept a hereditary Peerage. And with the deepest respect, I
cannot help feeling that there was a certain suggestion of Alice Through the Looking Glass about the exchanges between the Party Leaders the other day which has led us into the present debate.
Of course you agree to have a battle,' said Tweedledum.
'I suppose so,' the other sulkily replied as he crawled out of the umbrella ….
So the two brothers went off hand in hand into the wood and returned in a minute with their arms full of things—such as bolsters, blankets, hearth-rugs, tablecloths, dish-covers and coalscuttles.
And they all had to be pinned on to the fraternal combatants, down even to the proposal for women Members of your Lordships' House.
Much of the unreality of the case advanced by those who are anxious to be allowed to plan a new Senate has derived from their persistence in putting up as an Aunt Sally not your Lordships' actual House, but a potential House on which no human being, alive or dead, has ever set eyes. This afternoon the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, referred more than once to a House of Lords of more than 850 members. In an earlier debate he actually used the words:
A House of 880, of whom three quarters sit by hereditary right.
Now, with all respect, that is little more than a figment of the iconoclast's imagination. Who has ever actually set eyes on a House of 880 Peers, hereditary or otherwise? Your Lordships' House is that characteristic British phenomenon, an institution which, while totally indefensible on paper, works to admiration in practice. It was of the House of Lords that Erskine May wrote these significant words:
Nothing in the history of our Constitution is more remarkable than the permanence of every institution … while undergoing continual, and often extraordinary, changes in its powers, privileges and influence.
Still with specific reference, to your Lordships' House, and writing—mark you, my Lords!—in 1861, when any gulf which there may be between the House of Lords and the nation was surely much wider than it is to-day, Erskine May went on, in words which are still, every one of them, abundantly true to-day:
The changes which it has undergone have served to bring this great institution into harmony with other parts of the Constitution and with the social condition of the people, upon which time has worked equal mutations.
But the changes of which Erskine May was speaking were the changes of natural organic growth, and not what we are discussing this afternoon, the first instalment of an artificial rationalisation of this ancient House.
§ We all know, and we are reminded when we read Erskine May, that a substantial proportion, and sometimes a majority, of the working Members of your Lordships' House will be found to consist of Peers of the first creation who are not here by hereditary right; and we know also that of the Peers who have inherited the right to sit here very many would have qualified, by public service of various kinds, for membership of any brand new planned Senate which might be devised, although they might not be so ready to devote their time to a new Chamber which might easily lack the prestige of your Lordships' House, tine most ancient Parliamentary assembly in the world.
§ May we consider for a moment the House in its working reality, as distinct from this bogy of 880 hereditary backwoodsmen, which is so constantly invoked yet has never yet materialised. Consider for a moment its independence, to which the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, referred. At a time when elsewhere independence of the Party machine is becoming more and more impossible, and when, as the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, reminded us, the last independent Member has been extruded from another place, your Lordships' House is both courageously independent of the Party machines and also contains a substantial number of independent Peers.
§ Then consider the experience of this House. At a time when elsewhere politics are rapidly becoming an affair of whole-time professional politicians, increasingly deprived by their very addiction to politics of contact with the life and work of the country, your Lordships' House contains a rich variety of experience—of industry, both from the managerial and the trade union angle, of commerce and agriculture, of the Navy, Army and Law, of the Church and the universities. I need not pause to remind your Lordships of the minor merits of this House: of the courtesy of debates in the only Parliamentary Assembly in which there has never been a Chairman with disciplinary powers, to keep it in order; of the quality of debates, in which 850 nobody feels compelled to speak in order to prove to his constituents that he is still alive; and of the efficiency of debates in which, for example, in the years 1946 and 1947 this House carried 1,222 major Amendments to Government Bills, of which only 50 were rejected in another place.
§ May I say, in passing, that I was more than surprised to hear the noble Marquess the leader of the House let fall the other day that one of the objects of the changes which he is revolving was to be the restoration of greater life to this House. I am not quite sure whether that meant greater life to the debates, or an infusion of new young membership; but in either case the statement is surprising. Certainly, when I first had the undeserved honour of becoming a Member of your Lordships' House, in 1934, it was rare to see more than three Members on the Labour Opposition Benches; and it is the serried ranks which we see there to-day which have made, not the only but a large contribution to what seems to me to have been the greatly increased vitality—in either sense of the word "vitality"—of your Lordships' House during the last twenty-one years.
§ I come now to the third, which I believe to be the greatest, of the merits of your Lordships' House, a merit which, like the first two, its independence and experience, would be in the gravest jeopardy if anything remotely like the proposals which we seem to be discussing were ever to be introduced. The very constitution of this House, the fact of which we are constantly being reminded, that it does, potentially and theoretically, consist of a very large number of Members, makes it a great reservoir of experts. Were this House to consist, as every other Parliamentary Assembly in the world does, and as this House would under the proposed changes, of a definite and limited number of Members, there would be many Peers who would feel unable to accept membership of a body which would be bound to expect fairly regular attendance and would consequently compel them to abandon the activities which they were carrying on elsewhere in the country. But just because it is a tradition of your Lord ships' House to draw upon this reservoir of intermittent attendance, it comes about that, whatever subject is under discussion, 851 persons of authoritative experience and outstanding distinction are found to give us the benefit of their special knowledge—whether it be an Admiral of the Fleet or the chairman of a county council, or the man who knows how potatoes are grown in Peru, of whom the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, was talking the other day. All these are great merits.
§ The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, apparently believes that this House is not much respected in the country. I can only say that I believe that the merits which I have described are widely recognised as such. In an earlier debate on this subject, the noble and learned Earl who leads the Labour Party told us that in his travels abroad he had found it to be generally the opinion that this House compares very favourably with any other Second Chamber whatever. This is to compare small things with great—magnis componere parva—but I cannot help recalling that during the late war I found myself frequently discussing controversial political questions, including the House of Lords, before popular audiences of Service men and others, and I never once found a single audience that showed the slightest desire for the reform of your Lordships' House.
§ Here, then, are three great merits—I think that we might say unique merits—each of which would be gravely prejudiced by the proposals before us: the relative independence of your Lordships' House; its rich and varied experience, deriving from the fact that its membership is not required to devote anything like whole-time attendance here; and the fact that its indeterminate numbers make it an unparalleled pool of experts. All these great characteristic virtues would be in the gravest jeopardy if anything like the proposals we are discussing were introduced. Lords of Parliament—a euphonious title—would be appointed by some process not yet divulged, but which is to ensure that there will be something like a fair balance between the Parties. Any such process directed to any such purpose must make Party allegiance and Party service a major, if not the paramount, consideration. In doing this, we should be taking a long step towards assimilating this House to another place, and the rule of the Party machine.852
§ Again, the House would become more political in another sense. Members appointed to this smaller planned Senate would undoubtedly be expected to attend more regularly, so that its Members would gradually cease to be able, as your Lordships are still able, to play an active part in the life and work of the country. Therefore, you would have destroyed your pool of experts: and not merely because the new planned rationalised senate would consist of a limited, determined and definite number, but also because the chairman of a county council, or the man who has grown potatoes in Peru (and is probably now growing them much more successfully in Norfolk), though ready enough to attend your Lordships' House occasionally, when his own special subject was under consideration, might well be reluctant to say farewell to his local interests and his local influence and commit himself to something like permanent, whole-time attendance at a brand new planned Senate. All these characteristic and ancient virtues are to be jeopardised in order to achieve one great result, a more equitable balance of Parties. But I believe that it would be a precarious and temporary balance, and that in any case a balance of Parties is not of sovereign importance in a Chamber which rarely initiates important legislation, and which has lately proved beyond all cavil that as a revising Chamber it does not abuse its powers.
§ I am conscious that I may have seemed to speak as though the hereditary principle was in itself an evil. If that is so, it is only because I have temporarily, and for convenience, adopted one of the major premises of the self-styled reformers. For in fact I profoundly believe that it is this unique combination of those who have inherited a seat here and those who have found their own way here that gives your Lordships' House its characteristic virtue. In all ages, and in all times, men have venerated the hereditary principle and have sought to found their civilisations upon it. What does British history not owe to the men who have followed hereditary callings, generation after generation manning the lifeboats or the mines, or serving in the Army or the Navy or the Church? It is as though one lifetime were not sufficient for the mastery of such exacting pursuits and, following his forbears into a traditional calling, a man might count on 853 drawing upon the accumulated aptitudes of past generations. It is said, I know not with what truth, that it takes four or five generations to make a diamond cutter. With the illustrious examples of the present Prime Minister and the present Leader of your Lordships' House before us, we may perhaps wonder whether it may not take five generations to make a statesman.
§ There is an old story that when the Barbarians sacked Rome, and the leading invader burst into the Senate House, he paused for a long minute, awe-struck at the dignity of the silent white-bearded ranks of Senators. White beards are out of fashion now, and the leading invader this afternoon, so far from being a barbarian, is a cultured and deeply respected elder statesman. But before he initiates his massacre of the Senate to-day, let him reflect, and let us all reflect, what great figures have marched upon this stage and what splendid scenes it has witnessed. Above all, let us reflect that from our remotest past, unplanned and unrationalised, but in the natural process of organic growth, this ancient House has adapted itself to the needs of successive generations; and past doubt is still capable of doing so.
§ 4.14 p.m.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY)
My Lords, on the last occasion upon which we discussed the reform of your Lordships' House, the House will remember, or may remember, that I made so bold as to describe the question which had been asked by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel as an hors-d'œuvre. I had expected that on the next occasion we might reach what I believe is now described as the "main dish." It seems that we are not quite there even now, and the latest production of the noble Viscount might, I think, more accurately be described as an entrée. In his new Motion the noble Viscount quotes from the communiqué which was issued at the end of the inter-Party talks in 1948. He quotes from that communiqué a list of certain broad principles, and he asks whether Her Majesty's Government favour those. I felt, in spite of what the noble Viscount said, that there was a certain implication in his Motion—whether it was an intentional one or not, I do not know—that the Conservative and other Party leaders in 854 effect accepted all those principles in 1948, and that therefore it was perfectly legitimate for him to ask the Conservative leaders, at any rate—who now comprise the membership of the Government in this House—to confirm whether that was still their view. Indeed, he talked of the "conclusions" of this Conference and also mentioned "the proposals which have been approved." Actually—and here I agree with what was said by the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt—any such assumption as that would go further than the facts actually warranted.
I would remind the House that the wording of the communiqué was a very cautious wording. Paragraph 5—the paragraph in question—reads as follows:If it had been possible to achieve general agreement over the whole field of powers and composition, the Party representatives would have been prepared to give the following proposals further consideration, so as to see whether the necessary details could be worked out, and, if so, to submit them, as part of such an agreement, to their respective Parties.I think it would be almost impossible to imagine anything more carefully guarded than those words. First, there had to be agreement, not only over composition but over powers; and, as we know, there was at the time of the communiqué—and all who had taken part in that Conference knew it—no agreement on powers. Even if there was that measure of unanimity among the leaders, all they agreed to was to give further consideration to the proposals in detail, with a view to submission to their respective Parties.
What all those engaged in those inter-Party talks did in fact do, as I understand it, was to formulate certain propositions as a basis for a further examination of the problem. I do not say that that was not valuable; I think it was extremely valuable. I consider the work which was done represented a considerable advance. But I think it would be entirely wrong to suggest—and, indeed, I am sure the noble Viscount did not mean to suggest—that any Party or even the leaders of any Party must regard themselves as committed as to future policy by the terms of that communiqué. Moreover, I have always taken the view—I think I have said it in this House—that while the most strenuous efforts were made in those talks to get agreement on something positive, and though all concerned no doubt went as far as they felt 855 they properly could to get that agreement, yet once those talks had failed—if I may use such an expression in this House—"all bets were off," and in any new negotiations we had to start again with a clean slate.
That, I am certain, is right, for, after all, any attempt to adapt the exacting conditions of 1948 to the new and in some ways entirely differing conditions of 1955 would, I think, have been doomed to failure. At the same time, I entirely agree with the noble Viscount that paragraph 5 of the communiqué of 1948 does provide us with a valuable jumping-off place for further consideration of the subject. And as he has asked for the views of Her Majesty's Government on the various propositions which are set forth in that paragraph, I will do my very best to give him an answer so far as that is possible at the present stage.
First, I should like to say a word about the powers of the House of Lords, a matter which the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, very properly emphasised in his speech. Her Majesty's Government would certainly not wish now, any more than in 1948, to tie themselves to the proposition that in no circumstances should any House of Lords, however constituted, have any more powers than your Lordships' House has to to-day. That would be a matter for Parliament and the British people to decide, should such a proposition ever be put before them. But I am in a position to say, on behalf of the Government, that Her Majesty's Government consider that it is more immediately necessary to deal with the reform of the composition than with any question of powers of the House, and that any measure which they may have at present in contemplation would, therefore, be limited entirely to composition. That is a question to which I know the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, and others attach considerable importance. I am glad without more ado to give them that answer.
I should like now to come to the nine propositions which were enumerated in the communiqué of 1948 and which are repeated in the Motion of the noble Viscount. I propose to deal with these singly and, so far as I can, to indicate the attitude of the Government to each 856 of them. I begin with the first proposition, which states that:The Second Chamber should be complementary to, and not a rival to, the Lower House.I take it that that particular proposition is now universally accepted in all Parties. Certainly, I personally, in the many speeches with which I have wearied your Lordships in this House on this particular subject, have never claimed that this House should be a rival of the House of Commons, which is, after all, elected by the people of this country. Nor, so far as I know, has that claim been made by anyone else from these or any other Benches in recent times. The most we have ever suggested is that the House should, at need, provide a breathing space to enable public opinion to crystallise on matters which had not been before them at the previous General Election. That, I should have thought, was a very necessary safeguard in any democratic constitution. For it is a profound mistake—and I think all constitutional experts would share this view—to suppose that the House of Commons always at every stage in its life certainly represents the views of the electorate. It is a great mistake to suppose that.
The proposal to abolish the death penalty, which passed through the House of Commons in 1948 and which the late Government afterwards had to drop, is a case in point. That particular experience, I should have thought, was a conclusive example to the contrary. The acceptance of the view that the House of Lords is not a rival to the House of Commons seems to me, on the face of it, to rule out any form of popular election to this House, although it would not rule out, I imagine, the election of representative hereditary Peers by their fellows, as is the practice now in the case of Scottish Peers under the Act of Union. So much for proposition (1). I do not think there is any more I need say about that.
Now I come to proposition (2). Here, too, I imagine that there is no real difference of principle between any of the main political Parties. So far as I know, it never has been the policy of the Conservative or of any other Party to make it the basis of any reformed House that there should be a permanent majority of any political Party. We should all regard that as quite 857 an impossible position to take up. Indeed, if that had been our aim we on these Benches should presumably be fighting to the death to-day against any reform at all of this House; and that certainly is not our position. No doubt, in practice, as we all know, these things are not entirely under anybody's control. Elderly and distinguished persons always tend to be conservative, with a small if not necessarily with a big "C." Possibly, that may be regarded as a sign of maturity. At the same time, as a general principle, I imagine that, whatever Party we may happen to belong to, we can all accept proposition (2). Her Majesty's Government certainly do.
Now I come to propositions (3) and (4), which raise between them, I think, the main issues in connection with the composition of this House or of any Second Chamber in this country—the question whether it should be hereditary or nonhereditary, or whether it should be a mixture of the two. For that reason, I suggest that I might properly, in examining these proposals, take them together. Over the question of whether the membership should include non-hereditary Peers (as we all know, they are often referred to, generically, as Life Peers, though they need not necessarily be appointed for the full period of their lives), I do not imagine that we should in any part of the House greatly disagree, with the exception perhaps of the noble Lord, Lord Elton. I do not know what his view would be.
There were, of course, large numbers of people who used to oppose the idea, but I think it is now evident to most of us that under modern conditions many men who would be most valuable members of a Second Chamber can neither afford to take hereditary Peerages themselves nor wish to impose such Peerages on their successors. That is especially true of the members of the Party of noble Lords opposite, but I suppose there may be examples in every Party. If all these useful and most valuable people are not to be lost to the Second Chamber, the only way out, clearly, is to legalise the creation of non-hereditary Peerages—Lordships of Parliament, as they have been described—who would presumably, if popular election is ruled out, have to be nominated in one way or another. Over this matter, as I say, I do not believe that we should find much division of opinion between us.
858 It is over the hereditary right to legislate that the main differences arise. Is there to be any hereditary right at all for membership of your Lordships' House? If so, should that right be absolute or should it be qualified; and, if it is to be qualified, what should be the qualification? That is the main issue raised by any question of the reform of the composition of this House. It was over that question that the main discussions, if I remember aright, ranged in 1948. It is over that, I believe, that the main differences, such as they are, exist between the Parties to-day. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, devoted, very naturally, considerable attention to this particular aspect in his speech this afternoon. Here, for the first time. I find myself, if I may say so, differing fairly strongly, but with all deference, from what he said.
I could not help feeling, as I listened to him, that he remains curiously blind to certain valuable qualities which hereditary Peers, above all, possess. He had a good word for the first creation Peers. He is perhaps the most distinguished example of these, and his attitude may be regarded as what I might term trade union feeling; but, with all deference to the noble Viscount, and with full appreciation of the great distinction of first generation Peers, it is the hereditary Peers, in the fullest sense of the word, I believe, and not the first creation Peers, who give the House that special quality to which the noble Viscount himself referred and which is. I believe, its chief merit. Whether it is possible to defend the hereditary right to legislate on purely logical grounds I do not know, but I am certain—and in saying so I believe that I represent a great many people, not merely those in the Conservative Party—that the retention of the hereditary principle in some form or other is essential if the House is to keep that independent character which is its main merit in the eyes of the world. To my mind, it is far more important than any individual examples of personal or intellectual brilliance.
This House, in that particular sense, in the sense that it is independent-minded, stands. I believe, alone among all the Second Chambers of the world, wherever they may be. We may fairly claim that we are extremely independent, as we saw only the other day in the debate on the 859 Committee stage of the Road Traffic Bill. On that Bill, the Party Whip which I thoughtfully sent out to my supporters undoubtedly brought many of them to your Lordships' House, but it certainly did not govern their actions when they got here. Very much the contrary. No doubt Peers in all Parties have a general loyalty to the Party to which they belong, and on the great political issues of the day that loyalty will usually govern their decisions. But that loyalty never entirely overrides the sense that they have of personal responsibility to come to their own decisions on the merits of the case. That particular quality is, I admit, often inconvenient for the Leader of the House, but it is one the value of which I feel should not be underestimated.
Moreover, there is another matter upon which I did not quite agree with the noble Viscount. He compared the intellectual attainments of the hereditary Peers very unfavourably with those of first creation Peers. I would remind him, however, that there are a great many cases where men occupying similar positions have been recruited equally from the ranks of the hereditary Peers and Peers of first creation. As an example, I think that during the war the heads of the five banks were all Peers, and that of those, two or three were hereditary Peers and the others were the opposite. Lord Linlithgow, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, Lord Harlech and Lord Aldenham were all hereditary Peers—none of them was a Peer of first creation. Yet they were picked by these great business concerns to be chairmen of the banks. I do not say that they are better than Peers of first creation. All I say is that I do not think they got their full due from the speech of the noble Viscount.
I would therefore make it clear that in the view of Her Majesty's Government it is essential that the hereditary principle should, in some form or another, find a place in any reformed House. But that does not necessarily mean (here I would agree with the noble Viscount) that there should be no limitation at all of this hereditary principle. It does not mean that every single man who inherits a Peerage should always, in all circumstances, by that fact alone, retain a right to legislate (that is my personal view), although the man in question may, over a period of years, never have paid any 860 attention to the Writ of Summons he has received, may have no interest in politics, or may never attend the House at all. I should have thought that was an impossible proposition to defend; yet that is the position of a great many Peers at the present time. I do not say that to imply that these Peers, in the vast majority of cases, are merely doing nothing or enjoying themselves. On the contrary, as we all know, most of them are extremely hard-worked men, either in their own part of the country on local work, or maybe, in business or in other spheres. But they do not and cannot attend to their constitutional duties, and in my view, it would be far better—indeed, I believe a great many would infinitely prefer it—that they should not have duties which they are not in a position to perform. Indeed, it would be far better for the reputation of the hereditary Peerage itself that its representation should be limited to those who really can attend their duties.
My Lords, in 1948 the idea which found most favour was that of a House composed partly of hereditary Peers and partly of non-hereditary Peers. There was, the House will remember, a suggestion at that time that hereditary Peers should continue automatically to retain their membership only if they possessed also a second qualification—to take a very simple example, if they were also Privy Counsellors or something of that kind. That is indeed one feasible method of limiting the numbers of hereditary Peers. Personally, however, the more I think of this frightfully difficult and thorny problem, the more I become convinced that that is by no means an ideal method. It has two serious, I might almost say vital, weaknesses.
First, it makes no provision for bringing younger men into the House. I believe, after twelve years' experience as Leader either of the House or of the Opposition, that it is absolutely necessary, as in the House of Commons so in this House, that there should be young Back-Bench Members to do the detailed work of Parliament—to deal with Amendments to Bills and so on, and all that day-to-day humdrum business on which Parliament depends for its very existence. That will never be done by such distinguished persons as retired Field-Marshals, ex-Ambassadors, trade union leaders and so on. I should add, however, that in a House that was partly hereditary and 861 partly non-hereditary, young hereditary Peers who did not qualify in the first Category—that is, as possessing the dual qualification—could presumably be selected from among the Life Peers, if they could be identified without previous experience of their work here in this House. That, of course, would be the difficulty, and it might be an insuperable difficulty.
Then, my Lords, there is a second disadvantage to that scheme which we rather liked in 1948. A test like a Privy Counsellorship, though admirable in itself—it is the one unsullied fount of honour, and, I should have thought, the most unsullied fount of honour which could be found—could give no certainty that hereditary Peers would be geographically representative of the country as a whole. For instance, one might find 75 per cent. of Privy Counsellors living in the Home Counties, and large parts of England and Wales and Scotland would be entirely unrepresented. Yet if, to get over this difficulty, we adopted a more elaborate scheme—so many representative of the county councils, so many scientists, so many members of the medical profession, so many with past experience of the House of Commons, and so on—the sort of schemes which people have played about with in the past, I believe that we should never get any agreement at all as to what categories should be represented and what numbers should come from which category. Every single Member of this House would have his own preference and the result would be absolute Babel—at least, that is my view.
There are, of course, numerous possible alternatives to that scheme which I have just tried to discuss. There is, for instance, the extension to the whole of the United Kingdom of the system of Representative Peers elected by their fellow Peers, which already applies to Scottish Peers under the Act of Union. That, at any rate, would give the hereditary Peers an assurance that even if many of them could not sit themselves they could choose certain members of their own order to represent them. I think that a great many of the Members of this House would appreciate a plan on those particular lines. Alternatively, one might adopt—Lord Elton mentioned this—something in the nature of what has come to be known as the Simon scheme, which leaves the hereditary 862 Peerage where it is and merely supplements it with the non-hereditary Peerage. No doubt noble Lords may be able to suggest other alternatives.
Finally, there is the idea which has already been discussed in this House, and which originally emanated, I believe, from the noble Marquess, Lord Exeter. The gist of his proposal was that the House should itself take some steps to put its affairs in order, especially in relation to the attendance of Peers, by an amendment of our Standing Orders. I know there are very high authorities who take the view that it would not be within the competence of this House to take action of that character, but there are impressive precedents that have been adduced in its favour. The proposal has obvious attractions from its extreme simplicity. If it is the view of the House that this particular matter should be pursued further, I am in a position to say that Her Majesty's Government would be very happy to propose the setting up of a Select Committee of this House to examine, not, of course, any particular scheme, but whether the competence of the House extends to action of that character. I should much welcome the views of noble Lords who are going to speak this afternoon as to whether they would welcome such a Committee. It would at any rate be valuable, if only because it would clear up what is at present quite an obscure and uncertain position.
It is not for me to-day to come down firmly in favour of any of these schemes—indeed, as the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, anticipated, I am not yet in a position to do so. I would therefore merely state, quite briefly, that Her Majesty's Government are still in favour of a House composed partly of hereditary and partly of non-hereditary Peers. The only proviso I would make with regard to propositions (3) and (4), which I have been discussing is that, for reasons which I hope I have already fully explained, we do not think that the House should be composed merely of old and distinguished persons. It will need a younger element, too, which might well be chosen in one of the ways which I have suggested.
I feel that it is not necessary for me to say very much on the remainder of the noble Viscount's propositions. The question of whether women should be admitted to a reformed House, which I 863 agree is an important one, would be a matter to be discussed when the time came. My own views are already known to your Lordships' House. Proposition (6) deals with membership of Royal Dukes, Bishops and Law Lords, and I imagine would be universally acceptable. Proposition (7) deals with the question of remuneration of Peers. At present, as noble Lords know only too well, Members of this House, by the terms of their Writ, are expected to attend to their duties when Parliament is sitting. They receive not one penny in return in respect of their expenses, apart from the bare ticket from their home to London and back. If they happen to travel by road they do not even get that. So far as I know, this is true of no other legislative body in the world; and in these days, when taxation is so much higher than it was in the past, I do not believe that the present position could possibly continue for long without grave injury to the work of the House. That is true of all noble Lords in all parts of the House.
My impression—perhaps I shall be told that I am wrong—is that Peers do not want salaries. I believe Peers would greatly dislike such an idea, as hampering their independence; but I believe they would greatly value some subsistence allowance to cover essential expenses in which they are involved in connection with their Parliamentary duties. Her Majesty's Government believe that this is a matter of great importance if the House of Lords is to function effectively under modern conditions. Proposition (8) requires no further comment from me. If Peers are not selected or do not wish to sit in the House of Lords, then it is clearly only fair that they should be able to stand for election to the House of Commons, as Irish Peers have always done in the past, though I should make the proviso that this would refer only to their own persons and would not affect the constitutional position of the Peerages which they hold. I am unlikely to find violent conflict over proposition (9), for I feel that everyone would agree that there should be a provision in any reformed House for the disqualification of Peers who have behaved in a manner unbefitting the House or who, for health or other reasons, are unable, for long 864 periods, to attend to their Parliamentary duties.
I have tried, as briefly as I could but as fully as I am able at present, to give the noble Viscount the information for which he has asked in his Motion. I hope he will agree that I have been as forthcoming as is possible in the circumstances. But I recognise that there are still some persons, both inside and outside this House, who are not really interested in the character of any reformed House, since they are firmly opposed to any change in its present composition. Noble Lords heard what I thought was a most powerful and extremely moving plea to that effect from the noble Lord, Lord Elton, this afternoon. He said, in effect, that the House works admirably, that it has a wealth of talent and experience on every subject, that its reputation is high and that its debates are distinguished. He asked, why should we alter an institution which works so admirably. In reply I would only say, if I may do so without impertinence, that while the noble Lord is a distinguished and highly respected Member of this House and is just the kind of man who ought to be in any Second Chamber, however it is con-constituted, it is possible that he does not wholly realise the full nature and urgency of the problem with which we, who run this House, are faced.
I remember an incident in an earlier debate in this House, long before I became a Member, which seems slightly relevant to what the noble Lord said this afternoon. It occurred during the debate on the Prayer Book [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 69, col. 926]. The Lord Bishop of Norwich made a speech in which he referred to himself, extremely modestly, as "a sparrow on the house-top"; whereupon the Lord Bishop of Durham observed that, while it was, of course, the great merit of the sparrow on the house-top that he could see the whole of the countryside, he was at a great disadvantage in that he was precluded from knowing what was going on in the house.
For Lord Elton, as he rightly said, Parliament is not the main occupation to which his life is devoted; he is engaged on work of the utmost national importance elsewhere. He comes to the House when he can, but his appearances are inevitably fairly sporadic. When the 865 noble Lord comes to the House he finds debates going on and speeches being made by men well qualified to speak upon the subject, and it is natural that he should wonder what reason there is for any change. But I believe the noble Lord would look at the position rather differently if he had to attend all our sittings. Yet that is what many Peers have to do if the work of the House is to go on. That is so, not merely of members of Her Majesty's Government, who are, at any rate, paid to come; it is equally true of Back-Bench Peers and members of the Opposition Front Bench, who get nothing. I feel profound admiration for the comparatively small band of Peers, both on these Benches and on the Opposition and Liberal Benches, who come day after day and, by their devotion to duty, keep going the business of the House. It is a remarkable tribute to their sense of public service; but it is a tremendous strain and cannot go on permanently. It is for that reason, above all, that I believe that the question of a reform of this House, however important or unimportant it may have been in the past, has now become a matter of very considerable urgency.
If the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, asks me when Her Majesty's Government are to produce a detailed plan, and what that will contain, I can tell him only that I am not yet in a position to give him or the House a fully considered plan. From his final words, he clearly does not expect me to do so this afternoon. Unhappily, if the reform of this House is important and urgent, that is equally true of a great many other matters with which Parliament to-day has to deal. I can only tell the noble Viscount that, like him, we fully realise that this is a problem to which neither Parliament nor the British people can afford to close their eyes. It is the intention of the present Government, fully recognising, as we all must, the immense complexity and difficulty of the subject, to try to find a solution which will command a wide measure of acceptance throughout the country. I had hoped that a plan could be devised and worked out by agreement between all the main Parties in the State.
I entirely agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, that that would be by far the best plan for a great constitutional change of this kind. The 866 speech made by the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, on behalf of the Labour Party has unhappily killed that hope, at any rate for the present. Like many other noble Lords, I was extremely sorry to hear what he had to tell the House. He really postponed any reform of the House, so far as he and his Party were concerned, to the Greek kalends. He ignored absolutely the cogent arguments which had been adduced by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, and he seemed quite prepared, in spite of his affection for it, to see the House die. That, I know, is the ardent wish of many of the supporters of his Party. I do not for a moment believe it is his own wish. But it is, I know, the ardent wish of sections of the Labour Party. The noble and learned Earl will not expect me or, indeed, the majority of your Lordships who are present to-day, to accept that view. If we cannot get the co-operation of the Labour Party we shall have to go on without them, just as they went on without us in 1948. In that unhappy event we shall greatly welcome the co-operation and counsel of the Liberal Party and, in particular, of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, himself, in a task on which, as he rightly implied in the closing passages of his speech, the whole future welfare of this country may well depend in the difficult years that lie ahead.
§ 4.51 p.m.
§ EARL STANHOPE
My Lords, I so seldom attend debates in your Lordships' House in these days that I am afraid many of your Lordships must wonder what I know about the House at all. Perhaps I may be allowed, therefore, to say that within a few weeks it will be forty-nine years since I first took my seat in your Lordships' House; and I think I may claim that for certainly more than half that time I attended the debates no less regularly than almost any other Member of this House. I have perhaps a further advantage in that, having already passed my three score years and ten, by some years, and being, unfortunately, very hard of hearing, I should not dream of trying to become a Lord of Parliament myself. Nor have I anyone to succeed me. Therefore, I can stand in an absolutely detached position in considering what might be the future constitution of this House.
867 I notice that in the proposals which Lord Samuel has brought forward, no mention is made of the thorny question of how these Lords of Parliament are to be appointed. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, suggested that they would be put forward by the Government of the day. That, I imagine, would be the procedure, and after the names had been submitted to the Sovereign they would be appointed as was deemed fitting. Lord Samuel put before us a glittering prospect of what the future House would be under these conditions. It would be composed of people with all the virtues and with knowledge of nearly every subject. I have, I think, heard criticism of appointments to the Episcopal Bench on the ground that they have been made on exactly the same principle, but apparently, from what my noble friend said, the virtues required for future Members of this House would be infinitely superior to those required for the Episcopal Bench.
I turn now to the question of what should be the period of service. Should a Lord of Parliament be elected for a period of years or for life?—because that would make a very great difference with regard to the composition of the House. I notice that in the proposals it is suggested that these Peers should be appointed "on grounds of personal distinction or public service." As the noble Marquess the Leader of the House pointed out, by the time they are recognised in that way they will certainly be past middle age, and probably getting on towards becoming old men. I see no advantage whatever in a House composed absolutely of old men. Not infrequently I read Hansard, and I sometimes read speeches made by the younger Members of this House, which appear to compare by no means unfavourably with those made by older Members. These younger Members bring forward new ideas and a modern point of view. It is true that they may sometimes be inclined to be somewhat critical of the proposals or, as they think, the lack of proposals of the Government of the day; and, perhaps, in some ways they are inclined to be somewhat rebellious. But it seems to me to be rather an advantage that the Back Bench should produce people who are somewhat rebellious—it keeps the Leaders of the various Parties on their toes—though that, I am afraid, is not 868 a sentiment which, at the present moment, is likely to appeal to the Party in opposition. It is not unusual for them to go a good deal too far.
If this House is to be composed of older men how is the Leader of a Party to find the younger men required to fill junior posts in the Government? It is all very well for Lord Samuel to say that younger Members would, of course, go on to the new House. But how would they become known? It happens over and over again that a young Peer takes his seat, listens to one or two debates, finds himself, somewhat unexpectedly, becoming interested, and then attends more regularly, and in due course takes part in the debates. He then gets known to the House, and falls under the notice of the Leader of his Party. If he shows ability, distinction and new ideas, he may well be appointed to a junior position in the Government. Numbers of Members on the Front Bench have got there in that way. And I think it is not unfair to say that a great many of the Members of your Lordships' House would never have taken up politics at all had they not come to the House, become interested, and then, realising that they had some bent towards politics, begun to sit regularly in the House and to take part in the proceedings. That is thrown away under any principle under which men are elected simply because they have made their names. Under those conditions, they cannot make their names by speaking in this House.
A further objection, which I think is almost stronger, is this. In my long experience it has often happened (I think that the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, and the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, mentioned it) that Peers who are infrequent in their attendances in the House come here and listen to some debate in which they have some special interest. They take part in the debate, and they give the House the benefit of their advice and their experience. And this has proved, over and over again, to be invaluable. It is that which has won for this House the deserved reputation that, whatever the subject may be, there is always some Member who is an expert upon it and who can give valuable information. The whole of that would be swept away under this proposal.
When this matter was under consideration by the Party Leaders I suggested 869 that all Peers should be allowed to come and sit in the House and take part in the debates, but that only Lords of Parliament should be entitled to vote. That is a measure which Lord Exeter tried to get by means of alteration of the Rules of Parliament. I was told that that suggestion was unacceptable because it would give Peers too much influence. What a confession to have to make—that when the House could have expert opinion given to it by someone who really knows his subject, it could not take advantage of that opportunity because it might be carrying too much weight! I venture to think that these are sacrifices which require a good deal of counter-weight.
If it had been possible to get some sort of agreement that this House should be given increased powers, at any rate on matters of grave constitutional concern, then I think the grave sacrifices that would be called for would be readily given. But as I see it, under these proposals this House would get no advantage, apart from getting rid of a large number of Members who, in any event, do not attend. I disagree with my noble friend the Leader of the House, who thought that this would be a disadvantage to the Peerage as a whole. I think the country fully realises that there are a large number of Peers who are not interested in politics, and that will still be true even when they are appointed because they have done public service in other directions. It does not follow that a man who has become highly distinguished in one of the Fighting Services or in diplomacy is well fitted for politics, or that he is particularly interested in them. Therefore, even under these proposals we shall not get a House such as the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, and everybody else, would like to see. I rejoice, therefore, that my noble friend the Leader of the House is advancing on this very thorny subject with due caution, because until we get some quid pro quo for what undoubtedly this House would sacrifice, I do not see much advantage in pressing forward with these proposals.
§ 5.2 p.m.
LORD SAYE AND SELE
My Lords, this is the first time that I have had the honour of addressing your Lordships' House and I ask your Lordships' indulgence, especially as I follow such 870 extremely distinquished speakers, and also because I am more accustomed to listen than to speak. I believe that this is not a Party question; it is a question far above Party and is one which should not be settled on any Party line or by any collection of Parties. I think that every Member of your Lordships' House would joyfully accept reform if—and only if—we were absolutely convinced that it was for the good of the country, not only now but in the future.
It is a most fascinating occupation, devising a new Upper Chamber. We get new people, new privileges, new powers, new influence, new ways, and new customs and traditions. But customs and traditions are not bought or got except by growth. We can plant a tradition and in the course of years bring it to fruition, but if we destroy a tradition we have to remember that the next one will not be with us for a very long time. New ways—of course; new House, new ways, as it must be. New influence depends, I will not say entirely but largely, on the powers of the House and its personality. Personality there is in your Lordships' House in very abundant measure. We have been talking about powers this afternoon and we shall have to think a great deal more about them. Privileges—what privileges have your Lordships now, except the privilege of service? And that privilege, of which we are proud, undoubtedly we shall carry on.
Finally, I turn to new people—and here we come to the question of heredity. Without any hesitation, I wish to defend the system of hereadity. None of the speakers to whom I have listened this afternoon has remarked that heredity is the only method of selecting a body of people which is completely unbiased. Any other method, except choice by lottery, which would not be suitable, must depend on somebody's opinion. The selection of Members of your Lordships' House on the hereditary principle depends on nobody's opinion—we just cannot help it. The candidates (if I may so call them) who come forward in the course of nature for the position of hereditary Peers are forewarned and are educated by promise and environment. They have knowledge of their responsibility and they have the tradition. No doubt there are black sheep, but we find the black sheep in every body, and not only among those who belong to 871 this House. There, then, are surely very good reasons for sticking to heredity. In this House we have knowledge and wisdom also in ample quantity. Of course, there are many folk outside who have equal knowledge or greater, and equal wisdom or greater. But there is not room for them all in this House, and by our present method of heredity and with the 173 Peers who have been moved up into this House because of their services, we have a sufficient body to provide all the knowledge and all the wisdom which we need.
I believe that the public does not ask for any alteration in your Lordships' House, as is suggested today. It is not for me to say, but as an ordinary Member of your Lordships' House I do not find any particular urge for this alteration. Let me remind the House that if we are going to set about forming a new House of Lords, we have had a full-dress rehearsal on which to work. Ten generations ago the representatives of the noble Marquess's family and mine had a great deal to do with the formation of the Lord Protector's Upper House. That Chamber looked to be successful for a year—no, not for so long as a year. It was chosen by a good man and a man of great ability, and he did it to the best of his ability. Just as is suggested in the Motion before the House, he chose so many Peers, so many landowners and so many representatives of the other estates of England at that time. For a very short time that House was successful; then it was thrown out because the other place did not like it. I cannot believe that any House which any body of men selected again would have any other fate than that. When the next election came along they would no longer be suitable, and down they would go. I believe that thoughtful people throughout the country ask for more authority for the House of Lords as it stands at present.
§ 5.10 p.m.
My Lords, your Lordships have just listened to a maiden speech by the noble Lord, Lord Saye and Sele, and I am sure you would wish me to congratulate him on so successful a maiden speech. It is some six years since the noble Lord became a member of your Lordships' House, and I am sure your Lordships regret, with me, that he has 872 been unable to make his maiden speech earlier. The noble Lord comes from one of the most politically distinguished families in this country, and he has referred to the times of Cromwell and the Commonwealth, when his own ancestors were so prominently involved in politics. I am sure your Lordships will wish to hear the noble Lord many times in future. I would only comment that his views as to the merits or demerits of the hereditary principle are dissimilar from those expressed by his noble Leader this afternoon. I am sure that many of your Lordships will regret that the noble Viscount, the mover of the Motion, expressed considerable dissatisfaction, if not a greater degree of opprobrium, with the working of the hereditary system. I think that is regrettable—and I feel that many of your Lordships will agree with me—owing to the great service that the hereditary Peerage has rendered to the Crown and the country over so many centuries.
It is with great diffidence that I rise to speak in this debate. This problem has exercised the best brains of Parliament and the country for more than forty years. I am not clear in my own mind that it has been very much enlightened this afternoon by the remarks of the two noble Leaders of the Parties opposite. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, said that this was a good time to review the composition of your Lordships' House—I think he was satisfied with the powers. The noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, said that this was a bad time, and one fraught with so many difficulties (and I think he joined his Party with himself in his remarks), that it was an inappropriate time to consider the whole of this problem. That makes it harder for Members of your Lordships' House to arrive at any conclusion, particularly on the proposals contained in the Motion, because they have not been blessed from any side of the House.
Proposals Nos. (3) and (4) have been frowned on in some quarters and only moderately blessed by the noble Marquess, the Leader of the House. Those two proposals are the basis of any new composition of your Lordships' House. I should like to say this on the question of composition. It seems to me and, I believe, to a number of your Lordships, that these two proposals, Nos. (3) and 873 (4), are not capable of satisfactory solution as an administrative problem because of the tremendous difficulties in carrying them out. Proposal No. (3) presents the great difficulty, when it comes to making up one's mind, or to a committee or a Government making up their minds, as to who should speak, exercising the hereditary right. Obviously under this proposal there would be the greatest difficulty in selecting younger men. Then there would be difficulty in selecting or excluding those Members of your Lordships' House who are serving the Crown or the country in the Armed Forces, in the Civil Service in the various Government Departments. Is such service to exclude them?—because not many of them will be in this country, but serving abroad, and they will not be able to put in those almost compulsory attendances which must, I believe, be the result of this suggested change.
I wish to emphasise the point made so eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that it is the independence of Members of your Lordships' House that is their greatest value. I do not believe it is possible under this suggested method of partly hereditary Peers and partly Lords of Parliament to preserve that independence. I believe the independence of the views of the Members of your Lordships' House to be its greatest asset. In many cases it is not your Lordships' presence in this House that is of value, but your Lordships' absence; because it is while Members of the House are absent that they are acquiring that knowledge and experience throughout the world that is their greatest recommendation to be Members of the House. For the younger Members, that experience cannot be gained in this Chamber but can be gained only by going out into the world, by learning and taking part in a profession, and then, with that acquired knowledge, contributing to the deliberations of your Lordships' House.
If the proposed composition of the House as set out in proposals Nos. (3) and (4) does not find favour, then some method must be found to make Members of your Lordships' House some other type of Peer. I believe there is a solution that would appeal to many noble Lords in the scheme and in the Bill that was read in this House and which had its origin in the proposals of the late Lord Simon. I believe that the proposal for creating a 874 number of Life Peers has great advantages and few, if any, disadvantages. I consider that if your Lordships agree to a scheme of this nature, it would be of great advantage to one, if not both, political Parties who sit on the other side of the House, because it provides a method of increasing the numbers sitting on those Benches if they cannot be provided by younger men, such as from time to time come to your Lordships' House and sit on this side. Many men who come to this House and sit on the Labour Benches have spent their lives in industry or in the learned professions and are therefore not able to come here at such an early age as some who sit on this side of the House.
I believe that the system of Life Peerages as suggested by the late Lord Simon's Bill would get over that difficulty. I do not know whether the numbers suggested by the late Lord Simon in his Bill would be sufficient. In Clause 1 of that Bill Lord Simon suggested that ten British subjects in each calendar year should be appointed by Letters Patent to be Lords of Parliament. That might be too small a number to start with, because spread, I suppose, over the three political Parties, it would amount to only a small number for each Party. Therefore it would seem desirable that any initial creation should be on a more generous scale, to make allowances for the difficulties encountered at present by both Parties on the Opposition Benches. I believe that this system has many advantages over the system suggested in propositions (3) and (4) or even (5) of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel.
Finally, I suggest—and this matter was touched upon by the noble Marquess the Leader of the House—that the expenses of attending regularly at your Lordships' House are heavy, both for those who live in London and for those who live in the country. At the present rate of taxation, the expenses are too great for many Peers, and particularly younger Peers, to bear. That is one of the reasons why, in the ordinary course of business in your Lordships' House, there are not larger attendances. I believe it is the cost of attending front the further counties in England that prevents many noble Lords front attending as regularly here as they would wish. It has always seemed to me to be extremely anomalous that, on the 875 other hand, any member of a local authority in England is able to receive considerable allowances and remuneration when attending meetings of a local authority or meetings of a committee of a local authority. In the Ministry of Housing and Local Government's latest regulations, which became operative on March 30, 1954, for an overnight absence in London a sum of £2 10s., to cover twenty-four hours, is allowed. In addition there are travelling allowances from the place of residence to London, or wherever the conference is being held, either by road or by rail; and the average mileage allowance is somewhere around 6d. a mile. I have given these figures because I thought they would be of interest to your Lordships. Furthermore, those allowances are payable, not for any given number of sittings, such as at present regulates the travelling allowances of your Lordships, but for any one attendance.
I believe that that principle might well be extended to your Lordships' House—that both travelling allowance and sufficient subsistence allowance should be payable for one sitting on some particular occasion when a noble Lord wishes to attend to give a point of view or express an opinion upon a matter of which he has some special knowledge. If a noble Lord attended one sitting, then I think he should be paid reasonable expenses. I trust that the Government will not only talk about this small financial adjustment but will act, and act fairly rapidly. I have spoken at some length, and I know there are many more speakers who wish to address your Lordships. I would say only this: that in my opinion the House of Lords can well be judged on its past record—a record exceeding 600 years. I believe it is a mistake to limit artificially, even if it can be done, the hereditary principle. I believe we should build on that principle and not limit it, and that by creating a new type of Life Peerage the proper requirements of both Parties opposite could be satisfied. At present they both are suffering from the same difficulties.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, my noble friend who has just spoken is justly celebrated as an authority upon local affairs and upon other affairs as well, and I feel certain that the remarks 876 which he has made about the remuneration given to members of local authorities for their services will be carefully studied by the Ministers who consider the results of this debate. If I should appear to be somewhat halting in the remarks that I offer this afternoon, I hope your Lordships will think that it is not from any want of respect for your Lordships' House that I speak in this way. I felt strongly that it was useless even to contemplate coming with a prepared speech of any kind until one had heard the speeches of the noble Marquess the Leader of the House and the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and, indeed, of the noble Viscount who proposed this Motion. But, feeling as I do, very strongly indeed, that the noble Marquess the Leader of this House is perfectly right in regarding some measure of House of Lords reform as of urgent public importance, I conceive it my duty to say why it is that after some period of years I have come to this conclusion.
I want to begin with two observations which may at first sight seem to have little to do with the Motion on the Paper. The first is that, as I see it, the reason the hereditary principle is not wholly satisfactory in the present context is not because it has failed the country in the past or because there is anything inherently wrong with it in a suitable social context. It was built up, lived and flourished in an age when there was a leisured class in this country with the legal and effective right of transmitting considerable amounts of property to its children; and the social custom obtained in those days, more especially amongst those whose wealth was in land, of concentrating the legal ownership in an hereditary estate upon the firstborn son, burdening it only with suitable jointures and rent charges in favour of other dependants of the family. It was a perfectly natural and legitimate feature of English social life that the upper strata of a society so formed and the holders of those great hereditary fortunes should have a seat in an hereditary Legislature.
But nowadays it is not, in practice, possible for people to look forward to that kind of future for their sons. Death duties have made a fundamental difference to our social structure. I do not now canvass the question whether it is 877 a difference for the better or a difference for the worst, but, in practice, death duties destroy the possibility of a permanently inherited estate, and have inevitably led to the social custom of the division by parents, in more or less equal proportions, of such estates as they can leave to their children, so that the eldest son (or the heir, as he used to be called) is no longer the possessor ever of such wealth as is transmitted. That renders it well-nigh impossible, in practice, for many young men to attend this House of Parliament. They are not paid, as Members of the House of Commons have had to be paid in recent years, something like a subsistence salary—and may I say that I should regard it as a disaster if any serious proposal were made (and I do not think that any serious proposal has been made this afternoon) for a salary or payment of any kind.
I think that whatever virtues we may possess depend upon our financial independence, and have always done so. It would be disastrous if one got out of that difficulty by proposing, or seriously thinking of, payment of remuneration for Peers other than recoupment of their expenses. Let us not in any way deceive ourselves about this matter. No recoupment of expenses will make it possible for young Peers to attend to this House regularly. They will have their livings to earn and their children, if they have any, to educate. It really is not possible, either in Parliament or in local authorities, for young men to take a part in public life to-day. I myself am sufficiently conservative rather to regret that, but, on the other hand, one must face facts about it. In the main; therefore, this House, in its regular service, will not, in practice, whatever we do this afternoon or in the immediate future, be able to look to young men for very great regular attendance. The number of young men with hereditary titles able to perform this service will tend, on the whole, to become progressively less, because neither of the great Parties in this country proposes to alter the burden of taxation in such a way as to restore the situation which enabled them to do it in the past.
May I here say to the Government something else which again, at first sight, has nothing to do with the composition of the House of Lords but which I think has 878 a good deal of bearing upon it. Until the war, this House, for constitutional reasons, normally met in the late afternoon. It did so because it was believed at that time that the House of Lords sitting judicially should sit as the House of Lords; and the judicial body took up the ordinary hours of court hearings—that is, between 10.30 a.m. and 4.15 p.m. Since the war, however, for various reasons, of convenience and otherwise, the House has begun and has continued to sit in the early hours of the afternoon. In practice that makes it utterly impossible for somebody who has to earn his living to come to the House in the ordinary course. In the old days he could come, because most business finished about the time when the House began to sit. But, since the war, as a matter of deliberate policy, our sittings have in the main taken place during the ordinary working hours of the day. It is no good complaining that young men do not come to the House of Lords if it sits at hours when they are working for their living.
I well remember only about eighteen months ago I got into terrible trouble with the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, who I am glad to see is here. There was a debate upon this subject and, at very great difficulty, I attended on one day. Then the same thing happened as has happened to-day: it suddenly turned into a two days' debate, with the result that as I had to be present in court on the second day I was not able to hear the Government's reply. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, "tore strips off me" because I had made a speech and then had not listened to the answer. Young men will find that difficulty if the House continues to meet in the early hours of the afternoon. I do not complain that that is so, because I am fairly sure that the Leader in this House is in an awkward dilemma, for, if he were to revert to the late hours of the afternoon, a great number of those who now take the trouble to come day by day would not be able to come at all.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR COMMONWEALTH RELATIONS (VISCOUNT SWINTON)
They all go away by five.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
With that position, the noble Leader would find that he would not necessarily gain a great body of new young men, but he would lose his existing attendance. That is a 879 real difficulty. I only put it forward to the Government as something which is seriously affecting the business of this House and must be seriously considered in the future.
I come now to the actual Motions which stand on the Order Paper. I think that, if I may say so, one of the most well expressed speeches that I have ever listened to was that of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, this afternoon. It was both eloquent and extremely carefully thought out. But, if I may venture a criticism of it, it is that he was really attacking a case which does not exist. Neither the noble Viscount who proposed this Motion nor anybody who has supported it so far has wanted to see what the noble Lord repeatedly described as a brand new, rationalised, limited Second Chamber. One of the solid facts which has emerged from forty years of discussion of this question has been that, if the House of Lords is to be reformed, the one thing which will never happen is the emergence of a Senate. The only way in which a reform of this House can be carried through, if it is to be done at all, is to do what the noble Viscount has put in his first principle—modify its existing constitution. What we shall see if these or any other proposals are brought into effect is something very like what we see this afternoon—a body of approximately the same people observing the same traditions and Rules of Order, with approximately the same power and influence, still calling itself the House of Lords and still referring to one another as noble Lords of Parliament. That is all that is proposed.
Therefore, although the attack which was launched by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, was an extremely powerful one, it was upon an entirely imaginary enemy. The question is whether this House requires any change—not whether this House ought to be abolished and another House substituted for it. For my part, I am quite satisfied that substantial changes are needed, and not always for the reasons which are most eagerly put forward. Of course, ideally speaking, I, as a Conservative, should like to see changes take place imperceptively, by evolution; but there come times when rather more definite changes have to be established than can be achieved in that way.
880 As Lord Elton said, the large composition of the House of Lords, 800 Members, is largely a bogy, partly because the 800 Members never come together and partly because the rare attendances of many of them are of real value to the House. My attendance, I am afraid, is not as frequent as I should like, for reasons that I have explained: I usually come on "off" days, because I come on days when I am unemployed, rather than on the days when there are debates which are of outstanding importance. But as I see it, the real trouble in the day-to-day business of the House is to get enough people to attend the House regularly. It is not that we have too many Members who do not come, but that we have not enough Members who do and who can come. That is no criticism of anybody, for reasons which I have been trying to explain.
I have already tried to explain why I believe the system of heredity alone cannot supply the deficiency. It is not that there is necessarily anything wrong with the system of heredity; it is that, in practice, it does not supply enough people to man the service of the House from day to day. That is why it needs to be changed. That is why I think, with respect, that the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, and indeed my noble friend who has just spoken, are right when they call for a source of supply other than the hereditary Peers—namely, Life Peers. There is no great difficulty in seeing how they would be appointed. There is an ingenious device called "Letters Patent" which came into being about 800 years ago, and Life Peers would be appointed as Peers are appointed now. The only difference, as I see it, is that the device which was invented by Lord Palmerston in 1855, when he created a Peer called Lord Wensleydale, with a life limitation, should now be held to be legal instead of illegal, as the Committee for Privileges in this House decided under the influence of Lord Lyndhurst about 100 years ago. That is all that is necessary. There is nothing very big about that. It is something which Lord Palmerston would have done had it not been for Lord Lyndhurst about a hundred years ago. That would lead, I think, to a great improvement.
I want now to say a word to members of the Labour Party. There seems to be a real reluctance on the part of members 881 of that Party (it is not confined to members of the Labour Party, because I know members of my own Party to whom it applies), people who would otherwise be most suitable as Members of the House of Lords, either in middle or late life, to accept Peerages. I know that to be so. I do not want to give instances because I have not the right to use other people's names, but I know that to be so. That means that if, in fact, there is a shortage of suitable persons ready to undertake the work of this House from day to day, which is the basic thesis that I have tried to express, it must be right to create Life Peers, if that will induce them more readily to accept Peerages. And I am sure that it would.
Just try to put yourselves in the position of a trade unionist with a position in the country or in another place (it does not matter which, because either or both might be equally suitable here) who is approached with a view to his accepting a Peerage. His son may be working at a bench in a factory. It is not that we should not welcome the son as a Peer when he succeeds—we should; he would be made welcome in this House and would probably enrich its debates. But the idea that he could come regularly, or would find it convenient or easy to be called the "Earl of something" when he was working at a factory bench, without incurring a certain amount of ridicule from his friends, is not a realistic one. One has to face the fact that a trade unionist or a member of the Labour Party is, for perfectly honourable reasons, extremely reluctant to accept a hereditary Peerage. I happen to know that in the Labour Party there is the greatest difficulty in getting members for the House of Lords, even when the Labour Party are in power. May I say this to the Government? If, as I hope, the Conservative Government are in office for a considerable period of time, I hope they will give serious attention to the possibility of approaching the Labour Party, whether they make any other reform or not, with a view to the creation of Labour Peers. I say that on the basis of there being a Conservative Government in office.
That leads me to another urgent reform which, as I see it, is required. I do not believe that a Parliamentary 882 institution can exist long without a clash of opinion following broadly the general lines of division of opinion in the country. It is the greatest pity that we do not sometimes have stronger clashes in this House, as would be the case with stronger representation of Parties other than the Conservative Party. In saying that I am not in any way suggesting that it is not true that we are an extremely independent body. There is nobody quite so independent as a Conservative Peer, but I am afraid that it is also true that there is nobody quite so conservative as an Independent Peer, and we do independently come more or less to the same sort of opinion about politics. That, if I may say so, is the greatest of pities. I say that not because I have any doubt about the superiority of my own Party, but simply because, in my view, Parliamentary institutions exist for the purpose of canalising and focusing the clash of opinions in the country. I believe that this House will not long continue vigorous if something is not done about the representation of the Labour Party here. I believe that that is intimately bound up with the question of Life Peerages.
I should like now, with respect—I know that here I shall offend many tender consciences—to say a word in favour of the inclusion of women in this House. From the administrative or political point of view, I am not an admirer of the female sex, but this seems to be a point in favour of giving them a chance to compete with us, rather than against it. They have not succeeded in ousting the male sex from the House of Commons, and I feel that we shall hold our own in this House if we look to this important source of recruitment and receive, as we should receive, a number of highly distinguished Members from the opposite sex. That subject, of course, is intimately bound up with the question of Life Peerages. I mean no disrespect, but the Peeresses in their own right, basing their right to sit, if there were such a right, on very old remainders, in very old Writs of Summons, are too anomalous a body to build on. If, in face, we are to have proper female representation in the House, we must have Life Peerages, because I think it would be impossible to devise a remainder for a female Peer which did not produce hereditary anomalies even worse 883 than those from which we suffer at the present time.
I believe that the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, and the noble Marquess the Leader of the House, would have managed between them to work out a perfectly satisfactory piecemeal system of reform of this House—a system which would enable it to retain its historical continuity, its independence, its reserve of experts, and, may I add, its indefinite numbers (because I regard that as of the utmost importance from the constitutional point of view)—but for one fact: the attitude of the Labour Party, which I deeply deplore. I would beg noble Lords opposite to try to bring their great influence to bear to alter the views of members of the Labour Party in another place.
The noble and learned Earl, the Leader of that Party in this House, said that he had taken soundings. I too have taken soundings in the Labour Party, and although, of course, I have not the authority of the noble and learned Earl, I believe that members of that Party sometimes express themselves more freely to me than to a man such as the noble Earl, whom they hold in such reverence. Also, although I have sometimes tried to be as publicly outspoken about their policies as I can be, I have at the same time tried to remain personally on good terms with them, so that I believe they express themselves frankly to me. Almost to a man the Labour Party are united behind the present composition of the House of Lords, because they think it is no good. That is the blunt fact, and it is no use trying to deny it. Years ago they were, to a man, united against the composition of the House of Lords because they thought it was no good: they liked to abuse it, and they considered it consistent and honest to abuse that which they thought was no good. Now they have hit upon a much more ingenious device: to keep it as it is because it is no good.
There are two reasons why they wish to keep it as it is because it is no good. There are those who want to see virtual single-Chamber government, and they believe that if we have this imaginary body of phantom Peers, numbering 846, somewhere in our rear, we shall not dare to use our powers even on a case which, on its merits, is irresistible. Indeed, the 884 existence of this phantom army is a great practical deterrent to Conservative Peers to exercise their consciences in this matter. It is felt that if we go on long enough not using our powers because of our composition then we shall effectively achieve single-Chamber government in this country without the name of it. I say bluntly that that is politically disreputable. We are a body of people charged with certain constitutional functions. We do our best conscientiously to discharge them and not to overstep the mark; but we must be protected against a situation in which we are afraid to do what we know to be our duty merely through fear of what the Labour Party will say about us in the country, though it is not true. We can do our duty only if they will honestly say that they do not like the present composition of the House of Lords. If the Labour Party are in favour of single-Chamber government, let them say so. But it is not reputable to put this House in the false position of trying to do its duty and then using this imaginary argument against it and hoping that it will die of inanition through not doing its duty. That represents the first body of opinion in the Labour Party.
The second body of opinion wants the composition of the House of Lords to remain unaltered because, although they believe that a Second Chamber is a good thing in itself, they do not want this House to have any more power than it has at the moment. They are afraid that, if a reform were made, the new House would be so excellent, and so deserving of popular support, that it would be tempted to use, or accept, or claim or obtain, greater powers than it at present has. Again, I say that that is politically disreputable. If they think that the Second Chamber, such as it is, ought not to have greater powers than it at present has, let them say so; but let them not hamstring the House of Lords by giving it a composition which they think is bad in order to achieve that result, for that is not honest.
Her Majesty's Government have, so far, and I believe very wisely, refrained from attempting to alter the present powers of this House. As the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, pointed out, those powers are rather greater than noble Lords sometimes suppose. I believe that we have an absolute veto on statutory instruments. We have never yet exercised it, 885 and I believe that in the main we can be trusted not to do so. I should be the first to complain if this House tried to abuse its powers in that respect. Similarly, in our delaying and revising powers, I believe we have, in practice, all the powers that we want, because a sufficiently authoritative expression of opinion from this House, coupled with even a slight delay and the support of public opinion, will be able to effect the maximum check which I feel at any time we could effect by any means whatever. We can never hope to challenge or arrest a revolutionary majority in the House of Commons, and I do not believe that any noble Lords seriously believe we could do so, or would desire to do so, even were we able. We can only hope to utter a word of caution, to use (if we possess it) a superior reasoning and to point out obvious mistakes. If, in addition to that, we could achieve a membership fuller than that which, from day to day, we manage to have in our midst for our daily work, I believe that we could go on as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, suggested, proud of our tradition and able to play an effective part in the Constitution of this country.
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ LORD ELLENBOROUGH
My Lords, despite the many flattering references to younger Peers that are apt to be made in a discussion of this subject, it is nevertheless with considerable hesitation that I rise to my feet amidst such a host of speakers steeped in constitutional reform and with greater knowledge of it than I can ever hope to have. I wish to make a few brief observations arising out of my experience in addressing a number of meetings and audiences in different parts of the country over the past few years. I do not want to give the impression that I have any special knowledge on the subject of the House of Lords or its reform; I speak merely as a Member of this House who has occasionally had some little time available in which to address meetings, some of which have been of a political nature and arranged by a political Party, but the audiences at which have consisted of all shades of political opinion and have therefore been fairly representative.
I found that three points of view existed. First there were the two extremes: there were those who thought that the House of Lords should remain in all circumstances exactly as it is; and 886 there were those who, if given half a chance, would try to abolish the House of Lords or to reduce it to a position of complete nullity. Between those two extremes there is, I am convinced, a substantial body of opinion which wants to feel that the House of Lords is carrying out its day-to-day duties effectively. That central body of opinion believes that this House is working at the moment under disadvantages and defects which some limited measure of reform could put right. I believe that many noble Lords overestimate the feeling that the authority of this House is gradually being whittled down over the years and will fade away unless something is done. It seems to me that those who advocate doing absolutely nothing are really playing, perhaps unwittingly, into the hands of Mr. Aneurin Bevan, who has put it on record that it is his wish to see the House of Lords "wither away like an ancient monument." I think we are all well aware that there are many in the extremist section of the Party opposite who think likewise in that connection.
I see that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, in his Motion, mentions that the House of Lords is discharging its duties effectively. In my view it is up to us to see that the House of Lords—and this is the important point—shall continue to discharge its duties effectively, if it should ever be put to the acid test. I believe that many of us underestimate the feeling that we are gravely ill-equipped to perform the latent function of this House—which is, after all, the most important function—that of curbing dictatorial tendencies of a majority in another place. We are in an unhappy position in that regard, because of our present entirely unrepresentative character. Whilst, admittedly, the risks may be slight, it seems rather ostrich-like to consider that such a contingency will never arise. Furthermore, there is a feeling in some quarters that the House carries a disability in the very enormity of its membership—that is to say, the enormity of its membership on paper. That may well act as a deterrent to many noble Lords and prevent them from attending debates. I, myself, have sometimes thought that I should like to attend a debate on some afternoon, but perhaps it is slightly inconvenient for me, and I have felt sure that at any rate someone else would turn up instead.
887 We may be aware of the many divergent factors that prevent many noble Lords from attending debates to-day, but there is almost certainly a larger number who have no wish to attend, and no special reason to attend either. The existence—or perhaps I should say the nonexistence—of the missing 500 gives rise amongst the public to mistaken notions about this House, which are not easily dispelled. It gives an ideal weapon to those who dislike, or even hate, this House and what it stands for. They are apt to brand us, sometimes, as an object of scorn, or even ridicule, or as a collection of wicked and reactionary backwoodsmen who are lurking in the shadows, waiting to pounce out at any given moment and thwart the will of the people. That feeling may be less than it was a generation or so ago, but, nevertheless, it is still there, and it is still sufficient to instil doubt and lack of confidence.
I am not one who would seek any radical measure of reform at all, but, from my limited experience in addressing a few meetings on this subject, I believe the House would be immensely strengthened by, at any rate, a limited measure of reform. I do not think it is even a matter of controversy now that it would be desirable to introduce new blood into the House by creating a number of Life Peers. Further, I am inclined to feel that there would be a case for limiting the membership to, in all, about 250 or 390, which, apart from the Life Peers, would be chosen on much the same basis as that on which the Scottish Peerage to-day elect or choose their allotted Members. This would seem to me to have the advantage of dispelling the fear which still exists to-day of the lurking backwoodsmen. Not only would it include all those who are regular in their attendance in this House, but most, if not all, of those who are able only to attend three or four times a Session, or three or four times a year, but whose counsel when they do attend we value, and whom, naturally, we should not want altogether to lose.
Further, this would seem to have the advantage that there would no longer be an overwhelming majority for one political Party. There would, as I see it, be a far more equitable distribution of Party 888 strength—not that I want to give any impression that in any reform Party considerations should be foremost. But there would be more equitable strength all round, and the result of a debate or a Division would not be a completely foregone conclusion as it is to-day. Generally speaking, the House might come to be regarded amongst the public as an assembly of impartial experts, representing all shades of opinion and points of view, and would command a far greater degree of confidence. Again, I do not wish to make out that I feel there is any clamour for reform of this House. It is not a subject which arouses the same indignant interest as the high price of tea, or the hydrogen bomb, or some other issue of that magnitude. But there is a feeling amongst thinking people to-day that something should be done before it is too late and before this House does what we all hope it will never do—"withers away like an ancient monument," as Mr. Bevan put it. At the moment, thank goodness! the House of Lords is very much more than just an ancient monument. But, just as any edifice or building, no matter how magnificent or perfect the structure, cannot for ever escape the erosion of time and the need for renovation, so this House, if it is to retain its full vigour and vitality, cannot for ever escape the need for some strengthening of its fabric.
§ 6.9 p.m.
§ LORD HADEN-GUEST
My Lords, the Motion on the Order Paper is based on a Conference held in 1948, the proposals of which have been set out by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, on the Order Paper. Since 1948 the world has changed very greatly, and in my view the need for the application of proposals for reform of the House has thereby been greatly strengthened. The House has done a great deal of very valuable work and is still doing it at the present time. The nature and scope of that work are indicated to a large extent in the wording on the Order Paper. But, since 1948, there have been great changes in the organisation of the British Commonwealth of Nations and, indeed, of the world as a whole. If noble Lords will cast their minds back over the not very lengthy period to 1948, they will realise how improved facilities of transport, increased dangers from atomic weapons and a general stirring up of other parts of the 889 world, such as we regularly read about in our morning or evening papers, have really changed the world more rapidly in this comparatively short time than has ever happened before. I believe that something more drastic is required than to carry on simply on the old lines. In my view, the House of Lords, changed as it is proposed that it should be by the Resolutions of 1948, would be in a position to make a great contribution to the stability of the Commonwealth and, in consequence, of the world.
I suggest that it would be valuable to make this change in such a way that we could have in your Lordships' House representatives of the Commonwealth overseas. At the present moment, we have three distinguished Commonwealth members, one representing Australia and two representing New Zealand; but we should have other noble Lords representing other parts of the Commonwealth and the Colonial Territories which now are working towards Commonwealth status. By their undoubted knowledge of their own areas these representatives would be able to keep the House in closer touch with the Dominions and Colonial Territories, so that in this aspect of its work the House could be representative of the Commonwealth as a whole. That would be a useful and valuable piece of organisation, which would help us to see world conditions as they are more clearly than we do at the present time. In this House we have the advantage that we have not the weight of detailed legislation that overwhelms another place, and therefore we can give more attention to the larger view of happenings in the world.
Since the end of the last war, I have had occasion to visit many places in the Commonwealth, including all the Dominions except New Zealand, and many Colonial areas including those of the Far East; and may I ask those who take the view that action at the present time is not needed whether a better security for world peace and world development could be devised than such a representation in your Lordships' House? At one time in this House we had Lord Sinha, an Indian, who held office. I think it would be admirable if that practice were extended. The making of your Lordships' House more fully representative of the Commonwealth would strengthen the United Nations. The detailed 890 organisation suggested by the 1948 Conference is set out on the Order Paper, and it would certainly be a great advantage to admit women as Lords of Parliament. Certainly it would be desirable to make some arrangement for the payment of remuneration to members of a reformed House. I believe all the questions involved should be given the closest and most careful study. I also think it desirable to make provision for a greater representation of the learned professions. The law is fully represented—indeed, I have heard it murmured, over-represented—in this House; but medicine is certainly not over-represented, though there are a number of distinguished members of the medical profession here. There are a number of distinguished educationists also. But it certainly would be a good thing to have a much fuller representation of parallel classes in other occupations.
I have asked Members of your Lordships' House and of another place what are their views of this question. Some of them staggered me by saying, "Let things drift." I do not believe that this is any time for letting things drift. We ought to take action to see that the Commonwealth plays a greater part in world affairs and that your Lordships' House makes an even greater contribution to these affairs than it does now. Let us forget about feuds and narrow political ideas and beliefs, and act. We have to make a great contribution to the building of a world civilisation which will live in the future. In that work I believe that we can play a greater part than Britain alone has played in the past, because we should be reinforced by the immense wealth and strength of the Commonwealth. I believe that if we are united with Canada, India, Pakistan, Ceylon, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and all that great range of territories still at a Colonial level, in taking up the work that lies before us, we may establish under the United Nations a world prosperous and at peace. To that the House of Lords, reformed in the way I have proposed, can make a great and worthwhile contribution, of value not only to us but to the world as a whole.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ LORD BELSTEAD
My Lords, I greatly appreciate the opportunity of saying something, not at great length, to your Lordships about the proposals which 891 are before the House to-day, but I am greatly handicapped in two respects. The first is that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and to a certain extent the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, have already said a great deal of what I wished to say, though I should not like your Lordships to think that I go the whole way with the noble Lord, Lord Elton. The other is the exceedingly bitter pill administered by the noble and learned Earl the Leader of the Opposition. It is true that it was handed out with the usual charm, that remarkable lucidity and in the very beautiful speaking voice which is the envy and admiration of all who hear it, including, I hear, a great many of the tender sex. Nevertheless, it was a bitter pill and requires a good deal of swallowing.
It seems to me rather grievous that, when these proposals are put forward, proposals which are subject to certain safeguards, which have been drawn up after full consideration and apparently having the approval of the Leaders of the Party of which I am a humble member, and which must have given my leaders a great deal of trouble and consideration, both five years ago and again today, they should be met apparently with a blank refusal on the part of the Party opposite, unless, as a condition precedent, everything that they could possibly desire is granted them without question. I said that I was gravely handicapped. I have here in my hand a sheaf of notes, but as the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, said, this is not a subject upon which a speech can easily be prepared beforehand: what one says depends very much upon what other speakers have said. Here are my notes, and therefore I am not in the position of the famous grandfather of the present Leader of the House of whom, when I was a young candidate for another place, I was told a little story—though one probably wholly unfounded upon fact. When entering your Lordships' House, he dropped his notes upon the threshold and the noble Lord who followed him picked them up. Looking at the top of the front page to see to whom the notes belonged, he saw the words:My Lords, when I entered your Lordships' House to-day, nothing was further from my mind than that I should be called upon to address your Lordships.892 I do not propose to reiterate the arguments that have been put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, as to why no change is desirable—the wonderful breadth and width of the experience of so many Members of your Lordships' House; the fact that it has stood unaltered over so many centuries and weathered so many storms. But there is one point I should like to add, upon which I think he did not touch. It is that, at any rate at General Election time, the House of Lords has generally been pointed at from time to time by both Parties opposite as an obstacle to democratic legislation. I remember, also, in those early days as a candidate, hearing a distinguished Liberal statesman say that the House of Lords had reduced the Liberal Party to ploughing the sands; and I have no doubt that the other principal Party of today would have said much the same thing had they been of the same importance and prominence at that time. I remember, also, reading at that time a prominent journalist who described this House as "a dead blank wall barring all progress." As a young candidate making his first platform speeches I was rather anxious about this, and I went to that untainted source of pure information, the Conservative Central Office Research Department. They assured me that between the years 1906 and 1910 this House had rejected four measures and had passed 210—hardly a "dead blank wall barring all progress."
Further research by myself (I hope it is correct) leads me to believe that between 1910 and 1914 only two measures were rejected; that is to say, the Welsh Church Bill and the Government of Ireland Bill. From 1914 to the present day, unless I am wrong, only one measure has been rejected, and that was the Parliament Bill of 1948—and it seems to me that if your Lordships had passed that you would really have been committing hara-kiri which is something that can hardly be expected of anybody, let alone your Lordships' House. Moreover, during the time that the Party opposite were in power, this House passed at the first time of asking some six nationalisation Bills. It would therefore appear that there is nothing in the argument that an alteration—I prefer that word to "reform"—of the House of Lords is necessary in order to give the people (without a capital "P") a better chance, or 893 to enable a temporary majority in another place to have a fairer chance.
But it would appear—and I am impressed by the argument—that this august House is dying on its feet, or rather, in its seats. Under present conditions the Opposition are numerically unable to raise a solid body of opposition here in the House, while attendances on this side of the House also are not always all that they could be; and for that reason the probability is that something will now be done. If something is now to be done, it is important to be careful what is done. It is perfectly clear to me (I hope I am right) that, so far as the lack of attendance on this side of the House is concerned, it is due to three things that have already been briefly referred to: the truncated powers of the House since 1948, the expense of attending here, and the fact that the younger Members have still all to earn their living. Powers cannot, or will not, be restored; the expense is likely to increase rather than decrease; and our young of both sexes are likely to go on wishing to earn their living, especially since they have tasted independence, in some cases living away from home, earning their own money and spending it as they wish. Those difficulties are likely to get worse rather than better. Therefore, in spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said, I feel that there is a case for doing something.
I personally (I do not want too much "I", but I am putting forward something in order to give other Peers something to cut at, if they wish) should reluctantly agree to the creation of a limited number of Life Peers. Let me say, in order to give a number, that I would suggest the appointment of fifty at once, ten, twelve or a score a year until the number reaches one hundred, and then no more, the number to be kept at one hundred by replacing vacancies. I would agree, still more reluctantly, to some allowance for expenses for those Peers who felt that they ought to claim them. Further, I feel that some way should be found to excuse those Peers who have never taken the Oath and, therefore, have never attended the House or voted, from receiving a Writ of Summons. I agree with all those things, but I am inflexibly opposed to the election or selection of a smaller number of hereditary Peers by the entire body of their fellows. I think 894 there are many objections to that proposal. One objection is that I do not see how it can be done in practice. It appears to me that the absent Peers, after they had come across two or three names which appealed to them, would probably be unable to say who should be the remainder of the 200, 250 or 300 to be selected, and probably, in the result, they would either have to appeal to the Whips or to the Leaders of their Party for a list of suitable names.
Another objection that occurs to me is this. Since the war there have been a number of young Peers on the Government side who have been put upon the Front Bench and who have amply justified their promotion. I wonder whether any, or many, or all, of those would have stood the slightest chance of selection as Peers out of the whole body of Peers. In one or two cases I feel quite certain that they would not. Until they had been here two or three years, and had made their weight and their qualities known, there was nothing particular to recommend them: they were not prominent, they were not well advertised or well known, and there was no reason why an absent body of their fellow Peers should have selected them. That would have been a great loss to this House and to the country.
I do not want to labour the subject any further. I think I have made it perfectly clear that my first impulse—and I do not think I speak for myself alone—would be to support the noble Lord, Lord Elton, in his view that it is not necessary for anything to be done, and that there is no public demand for it at the present time. But if it is absolutely essential to maintain a working Opposition, and to maintain proper, dignified and suitable attendances in the House, and if it can be done in no other way, then I have put forward, I hope humbly, some suggestions that might meet the case. Beyond that I should be entirely unwilling to go, and I believe that a great many of my fellow Peers who have not yet spoken agree with me.
§ 6.30 p.m.
My Lords, I will try and be brief, because the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has expressed views which almost coincide with my own. I am sure we have all listened with the greatest sympathy and interest to the wonderful speech made by the noble Lord, Lord 895 Elton. I think he put all our feelings into words in a most moving way. If it were possible, I think we should like to say with him: "It works well; leave well alone." In moving his Motion the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, said "This House is dying on its feet." I just do not believe that is a fact. At the other end of the scale, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said, "This House is vital and alive." Although I believe that is true at the moment, there are good reasons to believe that, if nothing is done, the situation may not be as good in a few years' time as it is to-day.
I should like to congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, on a most eloquent speech, in which he said that the danger to this House is not the backwoodsmen; the danger is a lack of numbers both on these Benches and particularly on the Benches of noble Lords opposite. The reason, of course, is the increasing number of wage-earning Peers who are not their own masters and who cannot come and go to this House as they would wish. I agree with Lord Hailsham that there is no likelihood at all of an invasion of backwoodsmen, and therefore I feel that nothing whatever should be done to curtail the rights of those hereditary Peers who wish to attend to their duties in this House. As the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, said, there is no other way in which a young Peer can show his worth except by attending our deliberations and eventually speaking. I hope that nothing will be done to restrict any rights of hereditary Peers. If it is felt that some restriction is essential, I think the way in which it could be done is to withhold their right to vote until such time as they prove themselves. Even that I do not like very much and should much prefer things to remain as they are.
If one accepts the argument that the danger to this House is lack of attendance, then I think there is nothing to be said against the election of Life Peers. The numbers suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, seem to me just about the mark. Among those Life Peerages, I see no objection—in fact, I think it would be a good thing—if ladies were permitted to be appointed as well as Peeresses in their own right. As the noble Lord, Lord Haden-Guest, said, one might also recruit some eminent people from the Commonwealth. With the noble Lord, Lord 896 Belstead, I feel that something must be done; but let us not make the mistake of going too far. Paragraph 4 in the proposals of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, would effectively prevent young recruits from coming to this House, and I hope it will not be adopted in the way it is now worded. Let us try and keep as far as possible in any reformed House our independence and our reservoir of experts on the Cross-Benches who have no strict Party allegiance. If we can strengthen the numbers on our Benches, both by quantity and quality, and yet keep our traditions and general outlook, I am sure that that will be the right answer.
§ 6.35 p.m.
My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, who proposes a reform of your Lordships' House, and the noble Lords who have supported him, have set out with great care all the arguments in support of that Motion. On the other hand, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, in a speech which the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, has just told your Lordships is one of the most outstanding in his experience, has recommended no change. In declaring myself in full agreement with the suggestions of my noble friend Lord Elton, I, too, express high appreciation of the masterly way in which he has marshalled all the arguments in favour of leaving your Lordships' House as it is.
I will not detain your Lordships by covering the ground again, but I should like to repeat the words which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, used in expressing appreciation of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, when he referred to the noble Viscount as a most cultured and deeply respected elder statesman. Personally, I owe the noble Viscount a real debt of gratitude for all he has taught me about the application of science and technology to the machinery of Government. Like the noble Lord, Lord Elton, I, too, have enjoyed the high privilege of membership of your Lordships' House for some twenty-one years, as one of the elected representatives from Scotland. That is the greatest privilege to which a Scot can aspire. During that time there have been several debates on a similar subject, and my attitude has always been exactly the same as it is to-day. Several of your Lordships have suggested the desirability of Life Peers. I submitted a suggestion 897 of that nature to your Lordships some years ago as a way of bringing into the focus of events in your Lordships' House the leaders of science and technology in our country. I then suggested that a system somewhat akin to that of the Scots Law Lords might be applied in this particular case. In my own home in Scotland, just approaching 400 years old, there is a motto which greets everyone who passes through the single door which gives admission to it. It is, "Do not waken sleeping dogs"; and I think this completely applies to the situation as I would submit it to your Lordships.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ LORD CALVERLEY
My Lords, I promise that I will not detain your Lordships for long. I have been thinking of what has happened since the 1948 episode, when I had the privilege of seconding a Resolution that the Labour Party should take no further action with regard to the proposals of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel. That Resolution was carried. Sometimes I wonder why the noble Viscount did not reform the House of Lords—and it certainly needed reforming when it was rejecting first-class Bills sent up from another place—when he had the power to do so. But, instead of drawing on the past, I want to draw on my own experience since I came here in 1945. I want to say frankly that I disagree with the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, because I believe that since 1945 the House has had a greater sense of responsibility in regard to examining, amending and revising, but not rejecting, Bills which have come to it from another place. Did the noble Viscount wish to interject?
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
I was only saying to my neighbour that it is a question of cause and effect, because the noble Lord came here in 1945.
§ LORD CALVERLEY
I would not jest on such a matter as that. Without suffering from any feeling that I am a Uriah Heep or anybody such as that, I may say that since I came here I have had a sense of proportion, and if I could do as the noble Viscount has done in a greater degree, I should like to do it. I leave it at that.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
What I said was not meant seriously. The noble Lord overheard what I happened to say.
§ LORD CALVERLEY
I thought the noble Viscount wanted to interject. I am always ready to give way to interjections.
§ LORD CALVERLEY
Then I will continue. When I came here, I found that I had to pay my own railway fare. I thought that was an injustice. I also found that it would be difficult to introduce the same system of paying railway fares as is practised in the House of Commons. A scheme was thought out which has worked very well. In passing, I draw attention to what the noble Marquess the Leader of the House said with regard to proposition (7), on which the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, spoke feelingly. I agree with the noble Viscount that we do not want salaries in this House—at least, I do not. I think that, reform or no reform, the Government should seriously consider the paying of subsistence allowances, even if only on the scale adopted in the case of a Royal Commission. Such an allowance is just sufficient, and nothing else, to keep body and soul together. I hope the noble Marquess the Leader of the House will follow that point up and see whether something can be done, because all it needs is a Resolution of the House of Commons.
I liked the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, who, I believe, has gone. He belonged to the Ancient Society of Simon Pures. I would remind the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, and I hope it will be appreciated, that the only Second Chamber in the Commonwealth which has been abolished neck and crop and guillotined out of existence is the Second Chamber in New Zealand, and that was done by their Conservative Party. We do not want drastic steps like that in this country. We believe in slow and gradual evolution.
The noble Lord, Lord Elton, confirmed what is my own experience: that the House of Lords as a debating and revising Chamber has risen in the affections, not of the masses of the people but certainly of those who follow what we are trying to do. The noble Lord mentioned that he had been to various places. So have I. I have been to seven prisons. My job was to talk to the prisoners and answer their questions. Quite seriously, 899 those men held this House in high esteem. They knew that, so far as justice was concerned, they would get a "square deal." I have been privileged to speak in many sorts of schools, from approved schools to great public schools. The same thing happened there. I suppose that some sort of reform will take place. I am in no hurry for it. I am very content where I am, where the good Lord has placed me. I am content to be in my present position. But when reform does come, I hope it will not lead to a sort of nominated Chamber where the Independents—and there are a few Independents left on the Cross Benches, whom I would deeply regret to see go—will no longer sit in their places.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ LORD GRANTCHESTER
My Lords, I should like to support the line which has been taken by the noble Lords, Lord Belstead and Lord Gifford. Surely, there is one overriding question which we must put to ourselves to-day; and that is whether this House would gain in influence and prestige by any generally acceptable reform which can be suggested. As the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has said, in its present form this House derives prestige from its ancient foundation and long tradition. He referred to Erskine May. I should like to quote a letter which I received a few days ago from Sydney, Australia, which concluded with these words:There is no position comparable to membership of the British House of Lords.I wonder whether anyone in Australia would feel quite the same about a House with a "new look."
The real fear haunting those who advocate reform is that they feel uncomfortable about the hereditary principle. So should I, if hereditary influence were overwhelmingly dominant in this House; but it is not. Even reformers are ready to concede membership to a limited number of representatives of hereditary Peers. We know that selection by any method has its disadvantages. Selection by heredity has produced some significant successes, as we well know in this House, the most striking of which, if I may say so, is the record of the family of the noble Marquess who leads this House. What reformers would have to prove to convince me is that the functions of this 900 House are impeded by the method of its composition.
Following what the noble Lords, Lord Gifford and Lord Belstead, said, I should like to make an appeal to Her Majesty's present Government to effect certain changes which would go a long way to avoid the necessity for great constitutional reforms. First, when the Prime Minister is making the recommendations which he is in the habit of making to the Crown, is there any difficulty, particularly if he has the co-operation of the leaders of other Parties in upholding the Constitution and endeavouring to see that the business of this House is efficiently carried on, about his drawing for new creations upon any suitable persons without regard to their Party affiliation? A little common sense, it seems to me, in practice, could meet the point in proposal No. (2). Surely there is no objection to meeting the suggestion as to representation from Colonial members in the same way, without any reform. It needs only a little variation in the present practice. Anyone who could add to the efficient conduct of this House could be approached.
Secondly, the right to abdicate has been established by the Sovereign, and it should not be beyond the prerogative of the Sovereign to allow a Peer who inherits, if he does not wish or feel able to assume the responsibilities of membership of this House, the right of renunciation, provided that it is final. I should prefer that to creating two classes of Peerages, to creating Life Peers as a different class. Once you start on the creation of Life Peers, you will, within a very short time, have no hereditary creations. If the person nominated had the right to choose, that is one thing; but I should hesitate to make a distinction in the suggestions that are made to people who are approached to accept service in this House. If there is any restriction to be placed upon Members because they are deemed to have failed in their duties, I suggest that it is the right to vote, rather than the right to attend or to speak, which should be questioned. As a new Member of your Lordships' House, I may say that I have been greatly impressed by the way in which noble Lords speak on subjects of which they have special knowledge. I 901 should hesitate to make this impossible by exclusions.
Thirdly, it is the excessively high rate of taxation which has made it difficult for many noble Lords to give the time that they would wish to the business of this House. Whilst I think it is undesirable for Members of Parliament to give themselves special privileges which are not available to all taxpayers, expenses incurred in the performance of duties are now generally allowed as a deduction from earnings, and by a simple clause in the next Finance Bill Her Majesty's Government could provide that a reasonable sum should be allowed against the private incomes of noble Lords without, or while waiting for, any major reform.
Lastly, as one noble Lord suggested, I should like to see some steps taken by noble Lords themselves. I wonder whether it is impossible to take corporate action by the establishment of a fund built up out of voluntary contributions of, say, three or four pounds a year from each 902 member who was willing and able to subscribe to such a fund, for the purpose of helping any noble Lord who was unable to attend to his duties without some such help. Even in the Labour Party they have funds which, by taking private action, might be made available towards meeting the difficulties of those who can contribute to the efficiency of this House but are in straitened circumstances. I think that such a scheme might be worth a trial, and it would show that noble Lords, by positive action on their own initiative and at their own expense, were willing to avoid the necessity for constitutional disturbance.
§ Moved, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Lord Layton.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.
§ House adjourned at seven, minutes before seven o'clock.