§ 2.30 p.m.
§ Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Motion for Second Reading, moved on Tuesday by the Earl of Home.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, before your Lordships proceed to further discussion on the Life Peerages Bill, I should like, with your permission, to correct an apparent inaccuracy in my remarks to your Lordships on Tuesday. I said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 206, (No. 13), col. 642]:I presume that this new category of Peers,"—that is, Life Peers—like hereditary Peers, will, under the Government's proposals receive three guineas a day on each day that they attend the House.It has been pointed out to me that that gives the impression that the three guineas a day would be remuneration for attendance. Of course, that is not the case. It does not represent any additional remuneration; it is merely repayment for expenditure which has already been incurred by noble Lords in the performance of their duties. I thought that I ought to make that clear. As a matter of fact, it rather reinforces the argument I was putting to your Lordships.
§ 2.32 p.m.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THEN COUNCIL (VISCOUNT HAILSHAM)
My Lords, I well remember the first political meeting that I was ever privileged to attend. It was in the autumn of 1921, and the meeting was one of an unusual kind, peculiar, I think, to our own country and to my own Party, and of a kind which has long since gone into honourable retirement: it was a drawing room meeting, and, as such, was more than usually select. The meeting was addressed by the 844 Parliamentary candidate for the Borough of St. Marylebone, who had invited me to be present. He spoke with considerable skill and eloquence. I remember only one of his remarks, which was that no time should be lost in reforming your Lordships' House, and if the electors would be good enough to return him to Parliament he would take the earliest opportunity of impressing this upon Members of another place. Within a year that candidate had been returned as Member and was sitting on the Front Bench of another place. Years passed and he continued to sit on the Front Benches of both Houses of Parliament, but it remains for his son, nearly forty years afterwards, to redeem the pledge which was given by the Parliamentary candidate for the Borough of St. Marylebone in the autumn of 1921—which I hope lends much to the reassurance of the public on the validity of Parliamentary pledges.
This is the earliest opportunity, because so far as I know this is the only Bill introduced in the intervening period which has had any prospect of success. In supporting it, I cannot appear here in the kind of white sheet which was proposed by the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition, nor can I even assume the dingy grey sheet which was prepared for our wear by my noble friend Lord Salisbury. We have laboured long to achieve this result, but the reason, I think, was neither that the labourers were few nor that they were lazy. The truth is that previous proposals have foundered partly on their intrinsic intricacy, and partly upon divergency of counsel, because there is no subject upon which each individual enjoys more the prerogative of the Englishman to hold his individual views to a greater and more significant extent than the reform of the Second Chamber.
For that reason, I would utter a word of reproach to my noble friend Lord Salisbury for what I thought to be his somewhat ungenerous treatment of the noble Earl, the Leader of the House, in this matter. The noble Marquess has laboured long in this field. He has fished this stretch of water for many years. Indeed, for him it is almost an hereditary river. During all that period, while Conservative Administration has succeeded Conservative Administration, the noble Marquess has been sincere in his endeavours, but he has caught nothing. He did not even get a bite. He never 845 produced to your Lordships, nor was there produced to another place during his period of office, a single Bill which had the support of his colleagues or which was recommended to Parliament.
That was very unfortunate. It may have been that he was fishing with the wrong fly. But when my noble friend Lord Home comes to your Lordships' House, having hooked at any rate a sizeable trout and played it into shallow water, and we are running along with a landing net ready to land the fish, it ill becomes my noble friend Lord Salisbury to run along the bank shouting, "Stinking fish!", or "This is a rotten little tiddler; throw it back!" One sympathises with the noble Marquess in this respect. One realises, of course, that he has a greater admiration for the fish that got away—the fish that got away is always bigger than the fish that is caught. Perhaps that is why it got away. But I do not feel that the success which my noble friend Lord Home has achieved in securing some result, when so many of his distinguished predecessors had failed, is a subject for reproach; rather is it one for congratulation.
The noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition regaled us with a speech of characteristic vigour, but, with respect, the position of the Labour Party is somewhat less reputable. They have had chance after chance of dealing with this subject. They could have dealt with it on many occasions and they deliberately chose not to do so. If Mr. Morrison is to be believed, they deliberately chose not to do so, for reasons of which I reminded your Lordships in our previous debate—not very creditable reasons. I would say, with due respect to the noble Viscount, that it ill becomes those who have deliberately decided to do nothing to taunt those who have decided to do something on the ground that what they have decided to do is too little.
I will not follow the noble Viscount into his disquisition on the Death Penalty Bill, which to him has assumed almost the proportions of King Charles's head, but I must say that I disagreed with every word that he spoke. There was no constitutional crisis over the Death Penalty Bill. Your Lordships' House rejected a Bill which had come from another place, as we are well entitled to do under the Parliament Act. There 846 was no question of interfering with Government business or with something on which the people had decided or had even been consulted. Your Lordships' House returned it to another place, which had the perfect right, had it so decided, to pass the Bill again over the heads of your Lordships under the Parliament Act; but instead, under the guidance of the Government, another place decided to send up to us a compromise measure, which we passed. I cannot see the smallest constitutional question or impropriety in that matter, from beginning to end. On the contrary, it seems to me that the Constitution, whether a good one or a bad one, was working perfectly.
My Lords, I come to the provisions of the Bill. The noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition asked us what was the purpose of the Bill. I will answer him in words not markedly different from those I previously employed. It is a Bill designed to deal with a concrete difficulty: one which is not so much the problem raised by the large number of persons who might come to this House but do not (though my noble friend Lord Swinton has a proposal, which I hope may be accepted at some time, for dealing with that—I can say, "I hope may be accepted" because I had the honour of serving with my noble friend on the Committee which recommended it), as the concrete and practical one of having too few people to carry out our daily business. And not the least of those who find themselves in that difficulty are the Party opposite, who have been so ungenerous in their reception of this Bill.
What do we do? Where the difficulty is lack of manpower, the obvious thing to do is to widen the field of recruiting, and the first thing I should like to say is this: that obviously, when we wish to get more Members of this House, it is little short of idiotic if we continue to exclude from our membership, by reason of their sex, rather more than one half of the adult population of this island. That seems to me by far the most important practical factor in the consideration of this measure. It is true, as my noble friend Lord Woolton reminded us, that women are admitted into the House of Commons, and that we enjoy the graciousness of a Royal Sovereign who is 847 herself a woman. There is no reason in principle that I can think of why an Upper Chamber of the Legislature, admittedly now the subordinate one, should not also have a proportion of women in its numbers. But when it is also seen that the primary practical difficulty from which that Chamber suffers is a shortage of manpower, then to continue to exclude women would seem to me the height of foolishness and folly.
There is one other argument that I would add to that, because I think the great majority of your Lordships would heartily endorse the proposal that women should be included among our numbers. I have been curious enough to look up the case which prevents us from having women amongst our numbers now; that was the Rhondda case, decided by the House at the end of 1922. My noble friend Lord Swinton had something to say about the political implications of that case at the time, but I. being a professional lawyer, am concerned only with the legal implications of it. That judgment of the first Earl of Birkenhead, remarkable for the quality of its prose and the ingenuity of its argument, proceeded only upon a single basis. He was arguing against the suggestion, made on behalf of Lady Rhondda, that the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act of 1919 entitled women to sit in the House of Lords.
The whole basis of the argument which then fell from the first Earl of Birkenhead was that the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act was not applicable, because inherent in a hereditary right of peerage there never had been a hereditament capable of passing to a woman which gave the right to sit in the House of Lords. That argument was ingenious—some people would say ingenious to the point of being sophistical. But there is one certain logical conclusion that emerges from that argument, and it is that it can have no application whatever to a life peerage, because a life peerage will be ex hypothesi a creature of Statute and nothing else. If then we were to exclude women, either expressly or by implication, from the provisions of this Bill, we should be introducing a new sex disqualification which at law has been found never to have existed before. In other words, we should be introducing a retrograde measure, at a time when the status 848 of women is, I should have thought, universally acknowledged; and I should have thought we should be committing an act showing grave want of judgment.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Does the noble Viscount propose to say anything about the hereditary Peeresses? Does he accept the Earl of Birkenhead's dictum or not?
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I was not myself proposing to say very much about the hereditary Peeresses, because I had already expressed what I had to say in my previous speech and I was seeking to cut short my remarks. I may say that I agree with one of my noble friends (for the moment I forget who it was) who said that he did not agree with the noble Marquess about this matter. I do not myself think that the rules of co-parceny and abeyance are so logical or so universally understood that they ought to be held to convey the right to a Lordship in Parliament. Whether or not one accepts the principle of hereditary inheritance as it is generally understood, I should have thought that, whatever may be said about the Rhondda judgment—and I confess that there was strong legal opposition to it at the time—after it had stood for a period of thirty-five years, there was something to be said against including it in this Bill. But that is, again, a matter which could perhaps better be discussed in Committee, or at a later stage, or by other speakers.
I was about to say a few words in regard to male Life Peers. That is, again, a question of widening the field of recruitment. We know that there are certain people who would otherwise be suitable who, for one reason or another, none of which is intrinsically dishonourable, do not wish to accept, or would not feel able to accept, a hereditary peerage. Most of us could think of examples in the course of our own experience. But in my submission it would be quite wrong, when the constitutional position was as originally doubtful as it was in 1855, as we discussed last time, to debar that class of man from joining your Lordships' House, unless he happened to be childless.
It may be said that even this widening of our range of recruitment problem will not be solved without additional remuneration, or, rather (and I accept the noble Marquess's correction of his 849 speech), some degree of additional indemnification against expenses. On that subject I would make only one comment. I cannot for the moment remember whether the actual figure which was announced was one for which the noble Marquess was responsible as Minister, and I do not know that it matters much whether he was or was not responsible. But, clearly, this Government, having just introduced for the first time the principle of some remuneration, and carried it through your Lordships' House and another place, cannot be expected, in the course of a month or two after the announcement, either to alter the basis of remuneration or, in the present economic context, radically to alter the amount.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
But the noble Viscount has just said that it is not remuneration, but the repayment of expenses. The point I made was that you could not possibly expect the large number of people who would be desirable as Life. Peers to come unless they received some additional assistance from the financial point of view.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I was following the noble Marquess's point and, with respect, I thought there was something in it. But what I said, I thought, was also undeniably correct. As I said, I cannot remember whether the particular figure was one for which the noble Marquess was, in the technical sense, responsible; but it is not reasonable, with respect, after an announcement has been made and carried by this House and another place, for—I will not say the remuneration, but the indemnification, of Peers at a particular amount, to ask the Government, in a matter of weeks or months, to alter the figure or the basis. I can claim to speak with a little experience of this matter. I think I am probably the only Member of your Lordships' House who gave evidence to the Select Committee on the remuneration of Members in another place in 1946. The evidence I then gave was that it might be a good thing or a bad thing to remunerate or indemnify Members of one House or the other, and my own view was that it was a good thing, and then recommended £1,500 a year for Members of another place by way of remuneration.
850 But one thing that is lamentable—and I ask your Lordships to take me seriously about this, because it is a subject that we have lived with for over ten years—is to have to come to Parliament again and again to ask for increases in figures arrived at just after they are announced and passed. The Government approved these previous figures of remuneration for Ministers, and an indemnification for attendance of the non-ministerial Members of this House, but they have received a large number of complaints from the country that it has been done. We did it because we thought it was right. But one thing that I am certain is wrong, and will not add to the dignity of this House or of Parliament, is that we should come again and again with fresh proposals for additional payments of one kind or another, either by way of remuneration or indemnification. Therefore, although I agree with the noble Marquess (and I hope he does not think I am criticising the substance of what he has said) that this is not a large payment, and it may not in the end be enough, I must ask the House not to attach to this Bill, which has merits of its own, demands for fresh payments at a time so recently after a payment was allowed.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, the noble Viscount is not addressing himself—I know he means to—to the point at issue. This is not a question of an increase of an amount that has been agreed upon. We are now seeking to attract a new type of person to come here. That new person will not be attracted merely by the reimbursement of expenses that he has actually incurred. That is the point.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, with respect I think it is the noble Lord who is not facing the point in this matter. I think it would be wholly unacceptable, at any rate at present, to make two classes of Peer in this House: to make a differential rate of payment as between two classes. It therefore follows that if the Government were to give effect to the proposal which is made, it would have to apply to everybody, including those who are already members of this House, and not merely to the new class. I should have thought that every word I have said was in direct relevance to that point.
Now I turn to the complaint of the noble Marquess and the rather different 851 but not unrelated, complaint of the noble Viscount opposite, that we have failed to deal in any way with the hereditary principle. I should have thought that the course of this debate had abundantly justified my noble friend the Leader of the House. It is true that the noble Viscount cheered, with enthusiasm, every remark from this side which said that the Bill did not go far enough. I think he even cheered the noble Marquess. But the truth of the matter is that the noble Viscount wishes to abolish the hereditary principle, and the noble Marquess wishes to support it. Whatever may be said about these two propositions, they are not consistent. They do not even move different distances in the same direction. They are divergent proposals, and if Parliament were at this time to spend the time, effort and emotion in discussing the details of either of them, I have no doubt whatever that it would lose the opportunity of dealing with far more important matters and probably fail to achieve this modest advance in legislation which it has so far failed to achieve for fifty years. For the truth of the matter is, I believe, that it is precisely the insistence by the noble Marquess upon his desire to support or reform the hereditary principle which has been the main factor in failing to get any progress over this immense length of time. It is, in fact, the wrong fly with which he was fishing, and it is precisely because this fly has not been used on the rod at the present time that we have some prospect of success.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
My Lords, what the noble Marquess is saying is that the Government would not dare to touch the hereditary principle because they are afraid of absent friends.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I believe the noble Viscount is still, like so many distinguished Peers of his age, rather pre-occupied—and I think the noble Marquess was to some extent—with the quarrels of 1910. The truth of the matter, as I see it, is this. The noble Marquess said we should be responsible if some Labour Government came and abolished the House of Lords, or did away with the hereditary principle altogether. He said that we were failing to grasp the nettle and were carried on an air of optimism. I can assure the noble Marquess that no 852 such air of optimism exists in our minds. It seems to me that the whole of his argument rests on a simple fallacy. This House, whether reformed as we propose to do it, or reformed as the noble Marquess would wish to do it, or totally unreformed as my noble friend Lord Elton would prefer, is still as vulnerable and as capable of abolition or destruction by a radical majority element or by the people with that in their programme, whichever of those three alternatives you choose.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
The whole point of the people who agree with me is that it would not be so vulnerable. It would be a stronger House, and it would have more authority and prestige in the country. It may well be the view of the noble Viscount or the Government that it would be just as vulnerable, but we do not accept that.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I know the noble Marquess does not accept it, but I am bound to give him my reason for not agreeing with him, which I should have thought I was entitled to do. The noble Marquess suggests that a reformed House of Lords, in accordance with his principle, would be less vulnerable. Now legally, manifestly that is not the case. The legal and constitutional position is plain—that a radical majority could pass through the abolition of such a House as easily from the point of view of law and as constitutionally from the point of view of law as it could the abolition of this House or any other House. That is possible under the Parliament Act, and under the Constitution.
What the noble Marquess is really trying to tell us is this: that his reformed House of Lords is in itself going to be so admirable, so absent from any element of criticism, that it could not be attacked politically. Now it is precisely that point on which I differ from the noble Marquess. Of course, if it were only a matter of the absentees that would be so. If the only scandal were the absentees or the rare cases of unsuitability or unworthiness, that would of course be so. A reformed House of Lords, according to the view of the noble Marquess, would be politically invulnerable to attack because that scandal would cease to exist. I, for my part, would accept that great advances in the public relations of this 853 House will be achieved if the scheme of my noble friend Lord Swinton is carried into effect. The noble Marquess and I can speculate amongst ourselves as to what the Labour Party would do if the country were foolish enough to elect it to power, but the decision would be with the then Labour Party, and not with us as to what it would do.
I think the noble Marquess must accept, because they have said so again and again, and they have said now over a period of a quarter of a century, that what they object to in the principle of the composition of this House is not the scandal of the absentees or the scandal of the unworthy; these were King Charles's heads raised about the time of the 1909 Budget. What they object to, rightly or wrongly, is the hereditary principle itself. I am not attacking the hereditary principle itself; but so long as it is an intrinsic part of your Lordships' composition, as it would remain under the noble Marquess's scheme, it would inevitably follow that those who attacked the hereditary principle itself would be just as likely to attack it after as before. Therefore, it may be that the noble Marquess and I cannot agree with one another on this point.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I would say only that it would be just as easy for those who dislike the hereditary principle to attack it, and it would be much more difficult for us to defend it.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
The question which we have to consider is what would be the position if a Party elected to power with a dislike of the hereditary principle put that into their programme. One cannot postulate the abolition of a House of this antiquity unless the proposal had been honestly discussed at a General Election. I myself do not believe that the abolition of the scandal of the absentees or of the rare cases of unworthiness would in itself alter, "Aye" or "No", the pros or cons of the hereditary principle as such. I will not go on to tell the noble Marquess the reasons why I do not think that such a proposal would be in the public interest or within any foreseeable time would become so.
But let not the noble Marquess accuse us of timidity or of failing to grasp the nettle, or of proceeding on proverbial law. 854 The difference is one, I should have said, of quality of judgment on this matter. It may be that he is right, or it may be that we are right. But it is not any want of courage which moves us to think as we do. It is simply that we do not think that any advantage can be gained in the current situation by doing as he proposes. Even from the narrow point of view of preserving the hereditary principle, I do not believe it would make at any rate more than a very slight, if any, difference,
I wish to close, because I have taken up far too much of your Lordships' time on this subject, with a general reflection of my own. I crave your Lordships' indulgence for doing so because perhaps a small Bill of this kind, historic as it may be, is not a suitable occasion to do it; but I feel I must do it because a discussion of this subject would be incomplete without it. My Lords, in this country we have no written Constitution. Of our unwritten Constitution the fundamental axiom is the omnipotence of Parliament. An ancient legal writer said that Parliament could do anything in this country save make a woman a man or make a man a woman. A later writer, with less humour than legal acumen, said even that was a doubtful exception.
But my Lords, there is no other country in the free world which has such a flexible Constitution, which confers so much power on its Legislature. Other countries restrain the power of the Legislature by a supreme court, others by written document or charter or special procedure, others with a Second Chamber with equal or even rival powers with the first. We have none of these safeguards. Of course both sides make deference to the sovereign people; but what power has the sovereign people to control the elected House of Commons? Once every five years at the most, three years on the average, the elector is allowed to choose between two or three candidates, sometimes between four. Each of those candidates has a whole range of proposals covering the entire width of policy: foreign policy, social policy, economic policy. In the candidate of his choice he may have approved two-thirds of what the candidate proffers; he may heartily detest the other third. But he has no means of saying that. He has to choose between these prefabricated 855 alternatives and he is not allowed to select amongst the various proposals contained in them.
Of course he is told by the candidates and by the Government when it is elected that there is ample opportunity for discussion in Parliament. But there is not ample opportunity for discussion in another place. Anyone who has served for any length of time in that other place knows that the whole problem is the inadequate time to deal with the volume of business. Much of the political warfare revolves round this subject. So the sovereign people has that opportunity, and that alone, of describing its preference, and until another General Election comes round Parliament is virtually, subject to the rights of the minority, subject to the rights of public discussion, an elected dictatorship. No other free country puts it in this position. Between the House of Commons and elected dictatorship exists, so far as I know, one check only: your Lordships' old rickety, anomalous and illogical House.
My Lords, the noble Viscount opposite demanded, by what right does this House claim to say anything against the House elected in the manner which I have described by the sovereign people. We have a right which we must exercise with common sense, discretion and patriotism, defined by law; defined by law revised as recently as 1948 and as recently before as 1911 by two Governments hostile to the majority Party in your Lordships' House. Obviously questions must arise as to the way in which, and the occasions on which, it is proper to exercise that right; but no person, no one of your Lordships on either side of the House, would come here at all, as men of honour, if he did not believe there was something honourable and proper for us to do when we got here.
My Lords, I venture to say this: if, by any mischance, a Socialist Government, or any other, were to destroy your Lordships' Chamber and put nothing in its place, or put in its place nothing but a creature of its own, like the nominated House proposed by the Leader of the Opposition, nominated only for the length of the Parliament—if that were to happen I feel certain that two convergent forces would 856 compel such a Government or its successor to undo what had been done, because, in the first place, this country would detest the elected dictatorship to such an extent that its oppression would become intolerable, and, in the second place, the other place itself would be compelled by the very pressure of business to create an independent body for the despatch of some of the things, perhaps the least important, which it had to do. Such an event would be a disaster; at least I believe it would be a disaster, friend as I am of the other place to which I have never forgotten my loyalty, because what would come into its place would not be your Lordships, deferential, timid, cautious and extremely responsible; what would come into its place would be a Senate with separate authority, a rival, unlimited and possibly calamitous to the whole spirit of the British Constitution.
The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, asked me to provide a defence of the hereditary principle. He knows as well as I do that in 1948 I said in another place that there was no theoretical defence of the hereditary principle. I see no reason now to revise my opinion. But I can tell him two things of which I suggest his Party ought to take cognisance. In the first place, if they had any care for the continuity of our traditions or institutions in this country they would have to retain in this House, whatever they did to it, a very large proportion of those who sit here by hereditary right. If they did not do that they would have destroyed its very essence and continuity. In the second place, if they want to guarantee that the rights of this House, defined by law, will not be used irresponsibly or contrary to the public will, or even to the requirements of a Party Government in power, they have that guarantee, as I must say they know very well, in the fact that the great majority of your Lordships' House sit here by hereditary right, a principle which could not be defended in logic and therefore would not dare exercise its powers except under the most compelling reasons of conscience or the most insistent demand of compelling public opinion.
There is the justification of the hereditary principle, and it is a justification of hereditary principle which, in essence, is the same which Mr. Morrison included 857 in his book. Whether that is a reputable or disreputable justification depends upon one's attitude to reform. If one resists reform, as Mr. Morrison proclaims that the Labour Government did, on the ground that they wished this House to be weak so that it could not exercise its powers legitimately or efficiently, then it is disreputable. It is reputable if it is advanced as a reason for continuing the status quo unless and until a practical and progressive proposal is made.
§ 3.8 p.m.
§ EARL ATTLEE
My Lords, the noble Viscount has given us a characteristically breezy speech, and he delivered his blows impartially all round the House. I should Like to comment on one matter in which he drew a terrible picture of the awful dictatorship which would occur if there were only a single Chamber. You know, just that thing was done by the Conservative Government of New Zealand a few years ago, but nothing has happened; it was done not by a wicked Labour Government but by a Conservative Government. I think the noble Viscount, in his very interesting survey of our British Constitution, has forgotten one thing, the most important of all, and that is the effect of public opinion. The noble and learned Viscount has been in Government and I have been in the Government, and I can assure him that, throughout any period of government, one always has to take account of public opinion in the country, not just derived from the Popular Press but from innumerable contacts, thinking how public opinion is moved. That is why you do not get these extravagant changes against public opinion, for it is part of the Constitution of this country that the House of Commons is amenable to, and in touch with, public opinion.
In the course of his remarks, the noble and learned Viscount attacked the Labour Party because, he said, they had had innumerable opportunities of dealing with the House of Lords. We certainly did not have much opportunity in the 1924 Government or in the 1929 Government—two minority Governments. It is true that in 1945 we did not proceed to deal with your Lordships' House. The country having just come out of a great war, there were a number of pressing matters, and very wisely it was decided that we should not deal with this matter until the occa- 858 sion arose. When the occasion did arise, or loomed in the distance, we took action through a small measure—one even smaller than the present Bill—and made just a slight alteration in your Lordships' powers of delay. We followed that up with something that had not been done—full discussion and consultation between the Parties on the composition of your Lordships' House.
I thought that the noble and learned Viscount was very hard on us. Let us strike home a little. The noble and learned Viscount had very dear to his heart a particular reform regarding the composition of your Lordships' House—what is now generally known as the "Anthony Penn question"—the right to refuse a summons to Parliament. I have been looking back to the time when the noble and learned Viscount was himself a Member of another place, from 1938 to 1950. It is true that for a number of those years he was occupied in fighting overseas; but I am not aware that he ever took advantage of Private Bill opportunities to introduce this desirable change, nor, I think, did he even put down a Motion upon it. In fact, he waited until the time actually came before he moved in the matter at all; so really it does not lie with the noble and learned Viscount to accuse the Labour Party of neglecting their opportunities. We have had so far a very interesting discussion. I heard part of it and have read all of it, and I should like to begin by repeating a question which was asked by my noble friend Viscount Alexander of Hillsborough as to the intentions of Her Majesty's Government.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, might I just interrupt the noble Earl in justice to myself? I very deliberately did not raise this subject during the whole of the time that I was in the House of Commons and I should like to tell the noble Earl why, though it has no bearing on the subject of this debate. My father had a very serious illness in 1936 and I thought it would be highly distasteful if I were to raise the question of my succession to the peerage as a son who had an aged and ailing father.
§ EARL ATTLEE
My Lords, I quite understand. I am afraid that I did not know that. My noble friend Lord Alexander of Hillsborough asked what 859 was the intention of Her Majesty's Government with regard to further proceedings on this Bill. It is a small Bill, very narrowly drawn, and it is the custom in your Lordships' House to postpone the Title of a Bill in order to permit Amendments. I should like to ask whether discussion of the Title will be postponed. I feel that that is important. As I understand from many speeches that this House is entirely free from anything like the pressure of Government Whips, and that it is desired to get the fullest independent opinion, I am sure that Her Majesty's Government would like to give us that chance. I gather from what has been said by the noble and learned Viscount that the matter of hereditary Peeresses could be discussed in Committee—which certainly could not be done with the existing Title—and that the course suggested will be taken.
THE EARL OF HOME
My Lords, my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor will deal with that point.
§ EARL ATTLEE
I rather hoped that the noble and learned Viscount would give us that answer. The question was asked at the beginning of the debate on Tuesday and he has been the first Government speaker to-day.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, I did explain to the noble Earl and the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition that this is a highly technical question, quite apart from the question of reservation of the Title, which will of course be done; and as it is a highly technical question, though I might consider myself competent to deal with it, others might take a different view.
§ EARL ATTLEE
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor could tell us.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, if it is for the convenience of the House I will say now what I had intended to say in my final speech. I have been asked generally by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and the noble Viscount who leads 860 the Opposition, for guidance about the Committee stage of the Bill. The noble Earl wanted to know whether the usual practice of reserving the Title would be adopted and whether it would be possible for Amendments to be moved to enable the House to discuss matters which have been mentioned in the course of this debate. I realise that this is a matter of great importance and I feel that it would be helpful to the House if I were to read the following excerpt from a Minute written in January, 1931, by Counsel to the Chairman of Committees. I have deliberately taken one from some time ago, for then no one can think it has been selected ad hoc. It is as follows:There are no Standing Orders regulating the admissibility of Amendments in the House of Lords. The House is master of its own procedure and, unlike the House of Commons, is not subject to rulings on points of order. The test usually applied in practice to the admissibility of an Amendment is whether or not it is relevant to the subject matter of the Bill, but the decision upon this point, and the action taken on that decision, can only be made by the House itself.It is possible, and often occurs, for an Amendment to be relevant to the subject matter of the Bill and yet to be outside the Long Title. In such a case the Long Title is amended and it is for this reason that the consideration of the Title at the Committee stage is always postponed to the end.That is the end of the quotation from the Opinion.
Although I as Lord Chancellor, have no more and no less right than any other of your Lordships to pronounce on that opinion, I do give my view of it; and I believe that to be a clear and accurate statement of what I understand has for a long time past been the practice of the House. It is sometimes said that "there are no rules in this House," and this is true in the sense that the House is master of its own procedure, that it is not tied by precedent and can give a wide interpretation of its normal practice. The House has always been aware of the advantage which it derives from the elasticity of its procedure but has also been aware that abuse of this elasticity is not compatible with the dignity of its proceedings or with the proper conduct of its business.
The practice of the House has been that Amendments to a Bill must be relevant to the subject-matter. They may be outside the Long Title of the Bill, and in this case the Long Title can be 861 amended; but where they are not relevant to the subject-matter the sense of the House has made itself apparent and the mover of the Amendments in question has withdrawn them. In this case the subject-matter of the Bill is life peerages. It is for your Lordships to decide the issue of relevance. But my advice to your Lordships would be that any Amendment which goes outside the subject of life peerages is not relevant to the subject-matter of the Bill, and that the moving of any such Amendment would not be in accordance with the normal practice which your Lordships observe.
§ EARL ATTLEE
We are always obliged to the noble and learned Viscount for his opinion. It seems to rule out the suggestion of the noble Viscount that hereditary Peeresses' claims can be discussed under this Bill. I take it that this is a matter for the House itself, and no doubt the House will consider it at further stages.
My own view, looking back on the debate as a whole, is that the Bill has been generally regarded by most Members as a very minor measure, not dealing at all with the major problems in the minds of Members; and most of those who approved it wanted something more. It has, however, two merits. One is, of course, the invasion of the hereditary principle. We on this side of the House have made it perfectly clear that we are opposed to the hereditary principle. Whatever may have been the position in historic times, we do not consider that the hereditary principle to-day stands up to criticism. We think it is as much an anomaly as the hereditary principle in the State of Nepal, in which every member of the Royal Family is born a major-general. The qualities of a major-general are very great; so are the qualities for a legislator, and we do not think either of them is necessarily born. Therefore the hereditary principle is one which we consider should be abolished.
The second merit of the Bill is the assertion of sex equality. I think that is quite right. I do not much like the argument of the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, which seemed to suggest that we have a shortage of manpower and should therefore fall back on women-power. I thought that was rather 862 connected with the question of remuneration: it suggested those people who could not get men to work and found cheap female labour.
§ EARL ATTLEE
Of course, there are very grave omissions here—I do not want to elaborate them; they have been elaborated very well by the noble Marquess—with regard to a reduction of numbers, and the matter of some form of remuneration, which again depends on the reduction of numbers. As to the Bill itself, I do not think it is likely to make very much difference. I do not believe that the entrance of a certain number of Life Peers is going to change the character of your Lordships' House where there is such an overwhelming number of hereditary Peers. Nor, with all respect to them, do I think that the advent of a certain number of women Members into this House will make much difference. I do not think that it made a vast difference to the other place. What remains to be considered, I think, is that this House will remain essentially what it is—and that is a mainly Conservative body. I am only stating a fact, not attacking it at all. And when we consider what kind of a Second Chamber we want, I do not think we want a predominantly Conservative body.
In considering these reforms one wants to consider, I think, functions, powers and composition. To my mind, functions and powers are much more important than composition. I frankly stand for a Second Chamber which has not the power of overruling, or even of delaying, except for the purpose of putting forward Amendments, the popular elected Chamber. To quote a rather horrible word I suppose that I am a "crypto-unicameralist"—I hope that kind of machination to join a Greek and a Latin word will not have a very long life. I do not wish for a House with any other powers than that of making Amendments to Bills from the other place and for discussion, because we shall never constitute a body of men more fit to judge what the nation wants than the elected representatives. And that is the claim that is always made, however the Second Chamber, with power of delay, is constituted: that there are people who, by heredity, old age or 863 superior abilities, know better than the country what it wants and should be able to refer a matter back. I deny that entirely. Second Chambers all over the world, except where they are federal, are always put up to be a Conservative force. They are always for delay; never for advancement.
It is said: "Oh, you could have them as an independent body of people." In my experience, the word "independent" covers a great multitude of things. There are quite a number of local councils up and down the country that are called "independent," and when you look at them you find that they are always Conservative. If you ask a person what he means by "Independent," you generally find that he means someone with whom he agrees. I remember many years ago asking a very respected person, who was afterwards a Member of Parliament, Mr. Edmund Harvey, when we were discussing the question of whether it was possible to have arbitration in industrial disputes—where it was not a matter of interpretation of agreements, and where it became a straight question of how much a worker should have and how much the employer should have—whether it was possible to get an independent arbitrator. He said, "I could suggest several." I asked him to suggest some. He suggested three names—and they were all Liberals. That is what we do. Therefore I do not put much trust in that, and I do not really think this country does need a break.
If we look back we realise that the world of the 20th century has largely been doing what the 19th century ought to have done. In my experience, almost every social and economic reform has come twenty, thirty, forty or fifty years too late. It has taken a great deal of time in this century to clear slums. We ought never to have had them, and in any case they ought to have been swept away earlier. Yet they were not. It is not delay that this country wants. In the changing circumstances of the present day we want adaptability and flexibility.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
Will the noble Earl forgive me for interrupting him? Will be please deal with the admittedly hypothetical case of the 864 duty of the Second Chamber under our Constitution where the elected House of Commons grossly exceeds its mandate from the sovereign people?
§ EARL ATTLEE
Who decides the mandate? The noble Lord always comes back to this body of superior persons who know better what the country is thinking and who know better what the mandate is. That is the point we deny. While a Second Chamber may frustrate, perhaps, or delay, an elected Chamber, I do not think, with all respect to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, that it is a barrier against revolution—
§ LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
I am sorry to interrupt, and I shall not interrupt again. But that really means, does it not?, that the noble Earl is saying that an elected House of Commons can do whatever it likes, throughout the whole period of its five years in Parliament, without reference to the electorate, irrespective of its mandate.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
Would the noble Earl take it a stage further and say whether, in his view, the elected House of Commons ought to have, as Parliament undoubtedly has, the power to prolong its own life?
§ EARL ATTLEE
It has at times, and it did so in the world war. It has done it several times when it thought necessary. There, again, once you get into that phase you are getting into the revolutionary stage. It has been suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, that the despotism of Hitler would have been impossible if there had been in Germany an adequate Second Chamber such as this. I think that Goering would have burnt down a House such as this as readily as a House of Commons. Revolutions, if they are coming, are not stopped by constitutional or paper safeguards. The only thing that does happen is that after a change a check occurs when a self-constituted person who is considered to be moving too fast is stopped or hindered by a non-representative Second Chamber.
A horrifying picture was drawn by the noble Viscount of practically a despotism of elected persons and his substitute is a 865 despotism of nominated persons. I could not see where that would be a great improvement from a democratic point of view.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Does the noble Earl really say that this House constitutes a despotism? I shall be very interested to hear if he does.
§ EARL ATTLEE
The noble Viscount was suggesting that action by the House of Commons without a Second Chamber to correct it amounted to a despotism. If that is the case, we have had a despotism all the time a Conservative Government has been in office, because it certainly has never had any corrective from this House. I do not take the line that the noble Viscount did, that one has to look only at constitutional provisions; I have some regard to public opinion. It is a fact that there has never been any check on a Conservative Government if it wanted to get its will through.
It is all very well to talk. Even now the suggestion is that there is no pressure. As a matter of fact, the Government gets through its measures. We can have a debate here; all the arguments on both sides of the House may be going one way and then, when an Under-Secretary, or a junior member of the Government, who is tied by his instructions, turns it down, there is always a body of faithful supporters prepared to vote for the Government. It is only different when we get—as we had not long ago—a Minister such as the noble Lord, Lord Mills, who as Minister of Power was in charge of a Bill. He was able to make concessions to the will of the House. But often Bills are in the charge of Ministers who are tied closely to their instructions. I think that we avoided that when we were in power, because Lord Addison had very wide powers. That is one of the difficulties with regard to this House: the fact there is a permanent Conservative Government majority. I have yet to learn of any major Conservative folly being turned down by this House. I will give an instance. There was a very large volume of highly respected opinion, from all sides in this House, against the institution of independent television. But the project was carried through, against all the weight of argument, by a docile Government majority. So do not let us pretend that there is in this House an independence which in fact does not exist.
866 One of the troubles with regard to this Bill is that it does nothing to correct excessive numbers. It proposes to increase the numbers. I think that Members like the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, are right in saying that it is a wholly insufficient Bill, and it is very questionable as to whether anything further will be done. The Government will say: "Well we have fulfilled our Election pledge. We said that we would introduce reforms of the House of Lords, and we have done so". They have introduced this small, minor reform, but the fact is that this House, if it is to be reformed, must be reformed on an entirely different basis. I am not going to repeat what has been better said by my noble friends—and I also made some comments in the previous debate. I believe that we need a body like your Lordships' House to get valuable work done, relieving an overloaded House of Commons; and, if I may say so, it is not entirely an unfortunate thing that this House affords what I think one noble Lord has described as a chance for an "old war horse" to be put out to grass and to graze over some of the political pastures to which he has been accustomed for many years. I think that that is not wholly wrong, but I suggest that it is indefensible to have an hereditary House, and that it is only due to great exercise of wisdom that the system has not broken down in the last ten years.