§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Debate on Second Reading resumed.
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN
My Lords, I feel that I can hardly continue the debate on the Life Peerages Bill without saying a word of sympathy for both the relatives of those injured and of those who have lost their lives in the accident, as well as for British Railways in the appalling chapter of misfortunes which occurred last night.
The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, who spoke last in the debate, raised one or two points with which I would like to deal briefly. He mentioned single-Chamber government in New Zealand. I think that those of us who have been to New Zealand would feel that conditions in New Zealand are not an exact parallel with, or guide to, conditions in this country, if only because of the difference between two million and fifty million in the respective populations. There is the further point, already touched on by my noble friend Lord Hailsham, that in considering this Bill we are not planning for or against the possible activity of any particular Government, and certainly do not have in mind planning for anything that may happen in the immediately foreseeable future. Therefore, the fact that single-Chamber government has done no harm in New Zealand does not deter us from advocating, two Chambers in this country.
The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, talked about "independent" representatives on local government bodies. I would offer an alternative definition. "Independent" members of local government bodies are people who wish to give attention to local problems and use their local knowledge and common sense, refusing to be deterred or deflected by Party ideologies from doing things in their own local bodies. Then—and this is the last point on which I wish to follow him—as I listened to the noble Earl I felt that his idea of the future composition of your Lordships' House would not be unlike the composition of the consumer councils which were so popular at the time the coal and other industries were being nationalised. No one knew whom they represented and what their responsibilities were, but they did not look bad in the shop window.
871 In his speech opening the debate my noble friend Lord Hailsham took a certain amount of credit for Her Majesty's Government as being the first Government since 1910 to deal with this problem. I do not disagree with him, but I think that it might have been worth while looking a little further to see why it became possible for the present Government to take this action now, when other Governments were unable to do so before. I think that it is partly due to the general state of affairs. Every sort of social, technical and scientific development has taken place; and while, on the one hand, we wish to preserve our own traditions, our own way of life and our own way of doing things, on the other hand, we find that, if we mean to adhere to these principles, we need to change the practices. After all, the problem of the continuance of your Lordships' House is in some ways not very different from the problem of the continuance of local government organisations in this country. If it is not true that the "penny has dropped" so far in places like Church House and Transport House, that is not to say that the same problems do not exist over there. Unless I am much mistaken, these problems will have to be tackled, if we are not to fail in harnessing our old traditions to the needs of the modern world. I think that that is really what we are trying to do in this Bill.
We want to see that our practices, whatever they may be, are modern enough to meet the needs of the present day yet at the same time continue the principles on which we have gone in the past. If it were asked, "What are these principles?" I, for one, would reply that the principle involved here is that of two-Chamber government. I am glad that the noble Earl came out so clearly with his views on crypto-unicameralism. The reason why we want an efficient and properly constituted Second Chamber surely is that we wish to see two-Chamber government carried on properly. As my noble friend Lord Hailsham said—and I am sure that he never spoke a truer word of all the words he has spoken—we cannot afford to be without either two-Chamber government or a written Constitution. If we have neither of them, it is fair to prophesy that, perhaps not to-morrow, and perhaps not the next day, 872 but sooner or later, we shall wake up one morning and find that some bulwark of the Constitution has been knocked away by a snap Division in another place in a thin House at five o'clock in the morning; and whatever anybody says from the Benches opposite, I do not think that is a prospect we should wish to contemplate. Furthermore, I believe my noble friend Lord St. Oswald was absolutely right, when he spoke the day before yesterday and said that, in his opinion, some of his Left Wing friends in the South of Yorkshire, whatever they might say, knew that just as well as he did.
So, my Lords, we come to the question that we have all been asking for the last two days: whether the hereditary system is sufficient as it is to carry on the work of this House, even with the powers as they are, and no more. I am quite sure that the answer to that is "No". After all, we have heard a great deal said against the hereditary principle, and we shall hear a great deal more. We had this Bill described just now by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, as "an invasion of the hereditary principle"; and for that reason, I take it, he supports it. I myself, as I have already said, feel that a great many more people would support the hereditary principle than care to say so in public or to write in public, but that it is more fun to tilt at the windmills of privilege, especially if the tilters forget that privilege, as is the case in this House, is a question not only of enjoying certain rights but also of performing certain duties. And that is a point which most of the tilters at privilege seem not always to remember.
Anybody, of course, can make a perfectly good case in saying that the hereditary principle is illogical. So it is. But the question is not whether or not it is logical, but whether it supplies something of which this House is in need. The answer to that, I think, is "Yes"; and I believe that that answer would be given by anybody who had been long enough in this House to know how it works, what sort of things have to be done and what sort of people you want to do them. In all the time that I have been in this House—twenty-two years; and many noble Lords have been here much longer—it has always struck me that there is a great deal of what can only be described as "donkey work". There are Committees upstairs, the Whips' jobs, the Committee 873 stages on Bills, supporting Motions and this and that; and although you may get ex-tycoons and elder statesmen to learn the job, the people who do that job, or have done it in my experience, are the younger hereditary Peers, who are not too proud to take on the smaller jobs, and most of whom, indeed, enjoy doing them, at any rate for a time.
Whether this House has large powers or small, the business of the House will have to be carried on; and if Bills are to be revised, the details of the Bills will have to be worked out, discussed outside the House and spoken to. That was why I was glad to hear some remarks which fell two days ago from the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Buxton, and from the noble Lord, Lord Darwen. As they spoke, there came into my mind that story of Rudyard Kipling's, An Habitation Enforced; and it struck me that, although they had not been particularly pleased, from some points of view, to come here, they had found a job to do when they got here and were enjoying doing it. So much the better. That, my Lords, should go for any, except the very old men, who succeed to Peerages in this House.
That is not to say—and I am certainly not one who is going to say it—that because the hereditary system has worked up now, we do not want Life Peers. We certainly do. I am not going to repeat All the arguments used two days ago about the need to reinforce the Opposition Benches, not because I do not agree with them wholeheartedly but because I have nothing more to say on top of what was said then. I am certain it is right, just as I am certain that this Bill is a very good thing. But it does raise the question as to whether or not, in practice, hereditary creations will continue. I think there is a risk that they will stop altogether unless it is possible for those who succeed to hereditary Peerages, and who for some good reason or other find that they cannot fulfil their obligations, to be excused, and for those people who are in another place, or want to be there, to be allowed to stay there or to go there, and not to be forcibly removed or prevented, as some have been. In this respect, this Bill certainly does not meet all requirements. I do not think it meets all requirements even if it is taken together with which I may call the "Swinton proposals," which are to be debated by the House next Tuesday. I 874 think the Swinton proposals will need to be gone into in more detail, in order to make the arrangements for obtaining leave of absence more realistic than perhaps, on the bare information we have now, they are at the moment. But I certainly do not want to anticipate what ought to be said on Tuesday rather than now. I would simply say that I agree absolutely and wholeheartedly with everything that has been said by my noble friend Lord Salisbury and by others on the need to select the hereditary Peers.
I am not afraid, in practice, of "Backwoodsmen," because in all my time in this House I have never seen that often-threatened descent of hordes of "Backwoodsmen." On the two or three occasions when "Backwoodsmen" might have been expected to appear—the Abdication; the debates on the Parliament Bill, 1949, and on the Steel Bill—the number of "Backwoodsmen" who did appear, that is to say, the numbers who I knew had never come at any other time to take part in the Business of the House, were very small indeed; they were only fractional or marginal, as one might say. And the unlikelihood of the arrival of "Backwoodsmen" is, I think, immensely fortified by the practice that was set during the time of office of the last Government by my noble friend Lord Salisbury, when he advised those of us who supported him that if this or that measure was in the proposals placed before the country by a political Party at an Election, and legislation came up here which was in line with the proposals, it was no part of our business to vote against the principle. It was voting against a principle which caused the arrival of the "Backwoodsmen" in 1910, so far as I know. Nevertheless, although I do not think the "Backwoodsmen" are a real danger, I do think that they are a ghost. They are prayed in aid on every occasion by people who do not like the hereditary system; and there is a certain amount to be said for it. Like all other ghosts, I should think that they ought to be properly exorcised, by a process of selection. What that process of selection should be I feel that we might leave to a later stage, because it is not a matter included in the Bill, and we are supposed to be discussing what is in the Bill.
875 If noble Lords will cast their minds back to a debate initiated by my noble friend Lord Reading a few days ago on tribunals, they will remember that the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack said a good deal about the care he so rightly takes in scrutinising the antecedents of candidates for the magistrates' bench, for tribunals and so forth. I am sure everybody will agree that that was absolutely right. But one could think—and I certainly do—that there is something faintly absurd in that careful scrutiny for these relatively minor offices, whereas at the same time people, by the process of heredity and technical processes in the Crown Office, could arrive in this House, although they could not possibly have survived for a moment the eagle eye of my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack had they been candidates for a magistrates' court or a land tribunal. I should like to leave that reflection with your Lordships as a possible argument at a future stage in support of some system of selection which will produce, by and large, the same result in respect of your Lordships' House. I think that that is a stage to which we shall have to come.
I would say only one word about women. I am one of those people who feel that the proposals are absolutely justified. I am not quite sure that if this debate had taken place in 1910, as I think it should have done, I should have said the same thing. I feel that I might have had a good deal more sympathy then with my noble friend Lord Airlie or even with my noble friend Lord Ferrers. In other words, I should not have wished to have associated myself with a system of providing Mrs. Pankhurst with any early laurels. But we are not in 1910 now, and we all know quite well what has been said many times—that it has become accepted practice that women should take part in all our assemblies and in all our professions, except for the High Court bench and the Churches, where other arguments of a religious and not a political nature come in and, therefore, where this proposal may not apply. So I feel that, whatever we might have done in 1910, this is no time of day to take up an attitude which I think arises not from looking forward in any way to what we should do, but from looking to the rear.
876 I should like to say one word on some remarks which fell from my noble friend Lord Hailsham when he was talking about the Rhondda judgment. I certainly should not attempt any legal argument with him—I am entirely unqualified to do that—but I should like to read the words which come from the Swinton Report at the top of page 5. It says:There is no doubt that the House could reconsider the issues raised in these cases and come to a different conclusion.Therefore, if we think it is right that hereditary Peeresses should take their seats in the House, I certainly do not think we could accept any suggestion that the Rhondda judgment can stand for ever and for all time. If it is right, we should take it up at the first opportunity and exercise the powers which, according to the Swinton Report, this House seems to have.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, I think my noble friend would have to agree that that could arise only on a petition from the lady in question. The Rhondda judgment was in response, I think, to a petition for the right to sit in this House, and it was a decision through the Committee for Privileges. What I understood the Report of my noble friend to say was that these matters should be reconsidered, but only on the proper procedure in the proper way.
§ THE EARL OF SWINTON
My Lords, I am not quite sure about that. I think they could be reconsidered without a petition from the Peeress in question. But I think we were driven to consider—although we were rather doubtful what were the principles which decided the Rhondda judgment—whether a Select Committee, sitting again, would be satisfied that, in accordance with law and custom, the decision taken in the Rhondda case was wrong, and in fact that the finding of the first Committee was wrong and the finding of the second Committee was right.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
My Lords, the material point appears to be this: we are dealing with new legislation, and not with existing law. I should like to ask the noble and learned Viscount whether there is anything in the Report of the noble Earl's Committee which would stop this House from moving an 877 Amendment to reverse the Rhondda judgment and admit women Peeresses in their own right.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I think that that was the very point with which my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack was dealing—if I apprehend aright the question the noble Viscount is asking.
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN
My Lords, I will certainly not dispute what my noble friend Lord Hailsham has said—I am sure that must be right. Surely, then, the position is this. If any noble Lady wishes to make an appeal in the way that Lady Rhondda did in the old days, I hope the House will use all the powers it has to accede to it. If no noble Lady chooses to put forward a petition, then I would agree that there would be no need for the House to take the initiative.
I do not wish to detain the House much longer. I feel—and I am bound to say this—that this Bill represents a much more piecemeal approach to this problem than perhaps was necessary. I was reminded when I thought of that of the words which a Victorian novelist wrote in the preface to his book, Vice Versa, where he contented himself merely with the entreaty that his little fish might be spared the rebuke that it was not a whale. I would not rebuke this Bill for not being a whale. I mean to vote for it, if necessary, for what it is worth. But I would do that only in the hope that we can consider this Bill, not in isolation, but as part of a more grand design for the proper and satisfactory reform of this House.
I certainly would never take the view—though it is a matter for technicians and legalists—that we can do everything we want over the whole reform of your Lordships' House by one single Bill. It is perfectly clear that certain things will have to be done by a Parliamentary Bill which can be introduced in this House. It is also clear to me that certain things, like financial provisions, and the question of standing at Parliamentary elections, may be much better dealt with or initiated, at any rate, in another place. Likewise, we all know now from the Report of the Select Committee headed by my noble friend Lord Swinton that certain things are within the competence of the House itself. But all those things which produce a satisfactory reform of the House of Lords must be different 878 parts of one plan, and I cannot help feeling that it would have been better if this Bill had been presented, not so much as something in itself but as part of the bigger plan which I think is necessary. I am sure that many who feel as I do will wish to pursue such a plan at the earliest possible moment, until some of the things which have been advocated by my noble friends and which I have tried to advocate myself can be brought to fruition.
Having said that, I will conclude by saying this. All those points, although they are points of major detail, are none the less points of detail. The main thing is that it has been found possible, after forty-seven years, to take a constructive step in the reform of this House. There is no need to go into the past, as the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, did, and think why we have not done it before. We are doing it now, and that, in itself, is a great achievement and the first step in what I hope is the grand design.
§ 4.9 p.m.
§ LORD MORAN
My Lords, it is not the English way, I think, to set up a brand new Chamber when the Chamber already in existence is effective, or can be made effective. So the question arises: Is your Lordships' House effective or not? I think the answer comes from the Leaders of the Opposition, and is most reassuring. May I remind your Lordships of what they said? The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, said thatagainst all probability this House works extremely well, as things in England do, and that we should be unwise to be too logical.The noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, said thatthe influence and prestige of this House were considerable.The noble Viscount who leads the Opposition said that the standard of debate is such that it is the admiration of people all over the world.
You may wonder why, in these circumstances, we are sitting here debating the reform of this House. I suppose the answer is that those who were responsible for these proposals now before the House were anxious to reduce the vulnerability of the House to attack, and that they had in mind in particular public opinion and public criticism of this House in the past. If your Lordships would allow me, I may perhaps say one word on 879 the connection of public opinion and proposals that come, or may come, before this House for its reformation. It is extremely difficult to gauge public opinion. Newspapers with vast circulations are often completely wrong when they set out to predict the result of a General Election.
I am impressed with what the noble Earl, Lord Woolton said, with all his opportunities, about the respect in which this House is held throughout the country. For three months every year I wander round the country doing a certain job; I have many opportunities of talking to all sorts of people, and my opinion, for what it is worth, entirely corroborates that of Lord Elton and Lord Woolton about the opinion held of this House. Of course, we may be wrong. It may be that the caricature of this House which has appeared since 1911 has had some effect. The picture that has been drawn of this House is a mere travesty of the facts.
I remember in this connection the Secretary of State in America, Mr. Dean Acheson, saying to me that one of the great dangers of the modern world was the suggestibility of people; they will believe almost anything. When I spoke of the travesty of facts, I had in mind in particular the hereditary principle. A quarter of the peerage at the present time are first creations, and more than half of those who regularly attend the House are also new creations. The hereditary element is already in a minority in the proceedings of the House. I am not saying this because I am against that hereditary element; I am simply trying to expose that these pictures that are drawn of your Lordships' House are only a caricature.
Unfortunately, they are never really answered. Not only are we not, as it were, encouraged to answer in defence of the House, but sometimes I think we are even discouraged to make plans which might possibly increase the effectiveness of the House. If the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack will forgive me, and I am sure he will, I question his advice given the other day, when he said that we ought to weigh (I think that was the word he used) very carefully any plan for increasing the prestige and influence of the House because it might stir up Party feeling. But if we set out to increase the effectiveness of this House 880 and at the same time we refrain from anything that might increase its influence and prestige—well you cannot have it both ways.
If sensitiveness to public opinion was one of the real reasons behind these proposals, the immediate reason was the statement that there will soon not be enough Opposition Peers to carry out the work of the House. A statement of that kind merits rather closer scrutiny. We are to suppose that the Opposition is suffering from a wasting disease and that it might presently die on its feet. Certain investigations that I made in Hansard of the figures in the Divisions fifty years ago entirely fail to support those fears. The numbers were very much the same as now. In 1867 Bagehot said that we were in danger not so much of abolition as of falling into a decline; that the reason was atrophy. You will see, my Lords, that the malady which the Opposition is supposed to be suffering from is a very chronic malady, because, going further back, to June, 1833, Macaulay, writing from the Smoking Room of the House of Commons to his sister said,The institution of the peerage is evidently dying a natural death"—that was a century and a quarter ago.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, it is a very interesting point. I think the noble Lord is forgetting that Bagehot pointed out that the thing which was killing attendance at that time was the institution of proxies, which was shortly afterwards abolished, and thereafter the attendance rose again.
§ LORD MORAN
I should like to deal with the noble Viscount's remarks in a moment, because I rather differed from him when he quoted Bagehot at great length the other day. Let that stand for one moment. Let us support my thesis by a few figures. I would remind you that the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, created 86 new peerages. I should have thought that there would be enough to carry on the work of the House on the Opposition side, but I think many of them might find, as I do myself, that they are not particularly adapted or equipped for this work of revision and it is moreover not to us particularly attractive. We hear a great deal of the two or three members of the Opposition who do such valuable 881 work, but so far as numbers are concerned there are surely enough to reinforce them if it were not that they feel, as I do, that we are not very good at the job.
All old houses have a ghost story and our ghost is this question of the malady of the Opposition. The trouble is that the Government appear to believe in this particular ghost. In the words of the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, we acted in order to recruit numbers sufficient to carry on the work of the House, a day-to-day quorum. It is for that reason that he wants Life Peers. But, as many of your Lordships have pointed out, that is not really the whole story. If we are to strengthen the Opposition, if we are to create Life Peers who will give up nearly all their erne to the work of the House, they must be paid adequately, and whatever the arguments of the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Hailsham, it is really a question of whether the proposal before the House will work; and if you do not pay them adequately it will not work. That means the consent of another place, and since we cannot pay 872 Peers adequately it means a reduction in the numbers and not an addition to them, and that again means getting the consent of another place.
So I come to this: that though the consent of another place is not the same thing as agreement with the Labour Party, nevertheless the more you ponder this problem the more convinced you become that nothing worth while can be done without an agreement with the Labour Party. How can we get that agreement? The Opposition are quite clear in their own minds that they are not prepared for any measure or step which will increase the effectiveness of the House by making it more rational, by increasing its influence and prestige, while that power may be used to hold up Labour legislation. That is true, and it was made abundantly clear that it is true by the Leader of the Opposition; I think he used the words "this cannot continue," referring to the power of delay.
So I come to the power of delay. Here I feel very diffident in saying anything at all. I came late in life into this House and my remarks on a matter of this kind like the power of delay may well, with my inadequate experience, be considered impertinence. Yet I feel that 882 what I want to say should be said. It is the more difficult to say since the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, has made a reference to it, so that I may appear to be supporting one side of the House. But I am sure that your Lordships' tolerance is such that, in spite of what has been said from the Opposition Benches, you will listen to what I say, though you may not agree with it.
I believe that the power of delay means, in practice, that when the Labour Party are in power their legislation may be so hasty, so ill-considered and so full of ill-judgment that we ought to have the power to say "Think again"; but that when a Conservative Government holds office, so reasonable and so sensible is it that it is not necessary to say, "Think again." Broadly speaking, in spite of what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, I believe that is true, and if it is true it seems to some of us not quite fair. If it is not fair, what are the consequences? If there is anything which is acting always to the detriment of one Party, that must in time affect the public conscience and its feeling of fair play and must undermine our moral authority.
After all, if we were to give up this power we should not be discarding anything that matters. The present Government, when in Opposition, said that a year's delay was no real safeguard. Then why retain it? Only once in forty-six years has this power been exercised. No doubt we could retain it for a few more years as a threat, a deterrent; but would that be wise? One of our younger Peers recently prayed the House to act before action was forced upon us, and speaker after speaker has got up and said that the present proposals do not go far enough. They feel quite certain that it is not worldly wisdom to leave the position as it is. I would liken the proposals before the House, which are quite innocuous in themselves, to what is called, in the jargon of my profession, a "tranquilliser." The proposals put off the future of this House, perhaps leaving it to another Government and giving it to less sympathetic and less understanding hands.
Suppose your Lordships did decide to give up the delaying power, what is left? There is, first, the function of revision which, as the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack has said, is of supreme 883 importance. Incidentally, this revising power reconciles to a Second Chamber many who might be deaf to broader constitutional arguments. Then we come to the second and what I believe to be the most important function of this House at the present time: that of an Assembly which debates all the great questions that vex the nation and does so with a panel of experts. Whatever the debate before the House, we know we shall, before it ends, have heard three or four of the leading authorities in the country on the particular issue before us. This was what Bagehot had in mind when he pleaded for a panel of experts and wanted Life Peers. He wanted a more critical Assembly and proposed to get it by the introduction into the House of Lords of his time of thirty or forty of the choice intellects of that day, beginning with Macaulay.
I think the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Hailsham, was a little misleading, if he will forgive my saying so, when he quoted Bagehot in support of life peerages without fully explaining to your Lordships why Bagehot wanted them and why he failed to get them. He wanted them, not for revision, but to produce a panel of experts. He failed to get them from the hereditary Peerage, because, in the words of the Duke of Argyll in 1856, the House had till then held that it was incongruous to bestow an hereditary Peerage on anyone who could not support it by a private fortune. Bagehot failed to get life peerages because opinion was not then ripe to introduce into the House of Lords the leaders of industry and of the professions.
In the fifty years before Bagehot's time there were 189 new peerages. In the corresponding fifty years before 1955 there were 672 new peerages—four times as many. But it is not a matter of numbers. It is a fact that among that 672 were many who had been chosen because they were leaders in some branch of the national life. Since the Boer War, in my working lifetime, this House has had nearly 700 new peerages, and that has largely changed its whole aspect. It has become in high debate a panel of experts, as I have said; and I would remind your Lordships of the dictum of Lord Bryce on what he considered an ideal Second Chamber: 884It need not have extensive legal powers so long as it possesses moral authorityBy "moral authority" he meant:The influence exerted on the mind of the nation which comes from the intellectual authority of the persons who compose the Chamber, from their experience, from their record in public life and from the respect which their character and their experience inspires.Is not that a picture of this Chamber when it is engaged in high debate on great issues of the day?
I have been trying to suggest that the composition of this House affects the quality of debate. Might I, for a moment, touch on the business that may most profitably come before such an Assembly? The noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, said that if the two Parties were made equal to-morrow, in six months' time they would be unequal, such is human nature. From that, the noble Lord deduced that your Lordships must always be rather biased in legislation, and from that, that the more we avoid politics, the stronger we are. I have read two or three times the speeches of noble Lords in the recent debate, to try to isolate the theme of each speaker and to get, if I could, the common denominator to the whole debate. What struck me was the sense of the urgent need in the political life of our time for more independence of thought, which is so very important. And the more changes we make in this House the more political we shall become. I believe that that would be an absolute disaster. In asking that the, other place, because of its want of time, perhaps because of the operation of Party discipline, can never deliberate in a manner so calm as in your Lordships' House.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, is the noble Lord arguing that the possession of a life peerage or membership by the female sex will necessarily make us more political? If so, I am not quite sure that I have understood why.
§ LORD MORAN
My Lords, I believe we shall become more political for the simple reason that those who are to choose additions to this House will be the Leaders of the Parties. There are many who sit on these Benches who do not really take part in any of these proposals. I do not know whether they were even asked to sit on the Committee of the noble Earl, Lord Swinton.
§ LORD MORAN
I did not bring in women at all. That is an irrelevant matter in my argument at the moment.
My Lords, it must have struck some of you that at the present time many of those who guide our destinies are largely living in the past. Our Generals in the last war could not get out of their minds the massacres of the Somme and Passchendaele; the representatives of the great trade unions live always under the shadow of the years of unemployment, and those who are thinking of the reform of this House are obsessed by 1911. For example, the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, had to go back nearly fifty years to illustrate the sins of this House. He spoke more in sorrow than in anger. But, my Lords, when the historian comes to measure the contribution of this House and of another place to the political thought of our time and the political life of our times he can say of us that in 1911, by our want of judgment and lack of gumption, we stripped ourselves of most of our powers and put the whole future of our House in jeopardy. But what will be say of the other place? He must say that in the years immediately before the war, by the blindness to reality of all Parties, they put the security of the whole country at a risk. If we have sinned, it is not for anyone in the other place to throw stones.
I dwell on this living in the past. Why? Because it generates a mood of pessimism which is entirely wrong in considering the future of your Lordships' House. Our functions are plainly changing, but if we accept the alteration in emphasis on those functions then I have no fear of the future. Perhaps your Lordships will allow me to clothe my conception of that future in the very eloquent words of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel. He thought that these changes would enable the House to recover its past position as the home of oratory and high debate, a breeding ground for statesmen, an Assembly that will exalt its influence and 886 prestige and the dignity of the State and the fame of the Commonwealth.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
May I ask the noble Lord a question, before he sits down? The noble Lord has advocated the dropping of our power of delay. Does the noble Lord really feel that this House could adequately carry out its duty of revision without power of delay?
§ LORD MORAN
My Lords, I am not competent to answer that question, because to do so would require an experience which I do not possess. What I really had in mind—and this point was made on Tuesday—was that our functions of revision and deliberation are so supremely important, and we do them so supremely well, that I did not wish them to be sacrificed for a power which we never exercise. That is the real point. It is not that I want to give up the power of delay; it is a choice of evils. I believe that what I suggest is the lesser of the two.
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ LORD BRAND
My Lords, I shall detain your Lordships for only a short time as I am not a politician, and the speeches made to-day have been mainly by very eminent politicians who can judge these problems much better than I can. I was greatly interested to hear the speech we have just listened to from the noble Lord, Lord Moran. Nevertheless, I was not quite sure what final judgment he arrived at. As I understood him, it was that we should give up our power of delay and rely on our great powers of debate, and the wisdom of all that we said, which would influence the country very greatly in our favour. But supposing that the country never reads what we say—which is more or less the case. Twenty million people take papers, I suppose, who never, unless there is some scandal in this House, refer at all to our debates.
I am struck by the fact that television seems, anyhow among our younger people, to lead to the reading of no books or of hardly any books. It may be that they learn now, through their eyes, more from television than they do from books. Nevertheless, I do not think the way the modern generation is growing up will mean that they will study the pages of Hansard very thoroughly; and, 887 therefore, I rather doubt whether we shall have a great influence. No doubt we shall be innocuous if we are not political at all, and if we never cause any trouble at all to another place. But shall we be very fruitful? I would think it not advisable that this House should give up all questions of politics and not take a political line about anything.
As for the power of delay, I shall no doubt be regarded as prejudiced, but nearly all Upper Chambers, Upper Houses, are Conservative. They are meant to be Conservative. They are there not to initiate great radical reforms but to express perhaps another, a second, opinion, and possibly to lead to some delay. I think it is natural that a Labour Party should be enormously more radical than a Conservative Party. They are there for that purpose—certainly they are at this moment. One may expect, therefore, I think with reason, that this House, being naturally Conservative, will perform its functions by some delay, if necessary, as well as by some power of revision. I think that we should lead, according to the noble Lord, Lord Moran, a rather beautiful life of expressing words of wisdom, but I doubt whether anyone would read them.
I am certainly in favour of the Bill now before the House, because, as a matter of practical politics, I think we must proceed by degrees in strengthening and modernising your Lordships' House. The Bill is vague, but it has the definite project of the creation of Life Peers. I feel sure that we cannot rely now entirely on the hereditary principle. I have no wish to disparage that principle, and I think in some ways it leads to very good results. One very good result, I think, is that we get quite young Peers in this House who express, with ability, the views that they hold. Whether with Life Peers you would get young Peers I very much doubt; because Life Peers, though I hope they would not be old, would be of some "ripeness", I would say, and therefore we shall lose that quality.
Nevertheless, we have to recognise that the hereditary principle derives from a feudal society and from a land-owning class with great properties and great political powers. It was because of their great political power that the House of 888 Lords held the position it had. But only relics are left of such a society, and the monstrous taxation to which we are subject, and death duties, will shortly complete the work that has been going on for some centuries, or for a century or two. A brother of mine who sits in this House (he is now 89 years of age) told me the other day that he had found a letter from a great great grandfather of his and mine, Lord Dacre, which was written to his brother in 1826. In this letter our great great grandfather advised his brother who was going to succeed him—and who did succeed him—not to live in the big house that he lived in because it was too expensive and because:the days of landed splendour are over".If the days of landed splendour were over in 1826 what about 1957! And what about 2007? What will they be then? I feel sure, therefore, that we are right to proceed to the creation of Life Peers. The Bill, however, is silent as to the number of Life Peers, and about how they are to be created. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, two days ago, in what I thought was a remarkable speech, made a suggestion that the Privy Council should recommend the appointment of those Peers to the Sovereign. I think that may be a very good suggestion. But I have no idea what is in the minds of the Government about this matter.
Nevertheless, I feel sure that we cannot regard—I certainly do not—this present proposal as a minor one. If it is generally accepted by both Parties, it will in my view gradually—or, if the figures of the noble Lord, Lord Moran, about the creation of Peers prove to be right, pretty quickly—transform your Lordships' House. I do not think we should deceive ourselves about that. And if the Labour Party accept this proposal for Life Peers, I think it follows that no hereditary Peers will be created, or be recommended for creation, by any Labour Prime Minister. Therefore, if there is another "Lord Attlee" as Prime Minister for a similar period he will create 86 Life Peers in that time. And if the Labour Party create nothing but Life Peers it seems to me that it will be very difficult for a Conservative Prime Minister to recommend nothing but hereditary Peers. In fact, I think it almost follows that new 889 hereditary Peers will not be created. For that reason I feel that this is a radical measure. I think that the composition of the House is likely to alter quite quickly. Whether a future House so constituted will be as good as this House, is something which I believe no one can say. It depends on how the choice is made, and what sort of men are created Life Peers. And who can say what they will be?
The other question which has been discussed to-day relates to a problem to which I think no one has found a solution. It is the question of remuneration. In my view, with taxation as it is, and the state of Society as it is going to develop, it will be necessary for Members of your Lordships' House to be remunerated. A great many of the hereditary Peers may not want to take remuneration, and perhaps it will have to be a matter of choice. But I think that remuneration will have to be offered to Life Peers if the right type of man is to be attracted to work in this House. So it seems to me that we are setting out—rightly I think—on a road which will lead to very great changes if this Bill is agreed to, and if my noble friend Lord Swinton can produce a satisfactory method, through the grant of leave of absence, of ensuring that the large number of Peers who do not at present attend this House will never come here. Then I think this might be quite a satisfactory House, and we might gradually transform ourselves into something which no one could criticise.
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ LORD LOVAT
My Lords, on Tuesday three speakers. I believe, said that the debate was already starting to run a trifle threadbare. I notice with surprise and alarm that I am, I think, the thirty-fifth man in. With thirty-four wickets down, there is not a great deal that can be added to this debate. But I stand before your Lordships as an unrepentant "Backwoodsman"—and "Backwoodsman" is probably the right word, because I grow trees for my living, and I come from the backwoods of the Highlands of Inverness-shire. This entails a round trip of 1,200 miles; the journey takes fifteen hours each way, and a paternal Government has seen fit to allow British Railways to charge £18 for the return ticket and sleeper accommodation. 890 May I say, in passing, how grateful we "Backwoodsmen" are to Her Majesty's Government for granting us a £3 a day allowance. "Any port in a storm"—even non-vintage variety!
I stand, I think, before your Lordships as a very typical hereditary Peer who has many fellows in this; House. In early manhood we served in the Forces, and when our fathers pass on we take up the duties of running our properties. The noble Lord, Lord Brand, took, I thought, a rather gloomy view of the message exchanged between two of his ancestors to the effect that it was impossible to live in the homes of our fathers. He is right, however, when he says that the crippling burden of taxation and death duties makes it increasingly difficult to run a big estate. But I think it can be done. Certainly I try to do that to the best of my ability. It means, probably, working from ten to twelve hours every day, and I think that is the reason why "Backwoodsmen" do not attend this House as often as they would like to do. I suggest, however—though I am a most unworthy spokesman for my colleagues in the backwoods—that when they do come down, taking trouble and giving up their time and all the things that go with work on the land and the seasons, they do speak and contribute their few, albeit important, remarks to your Lordships' deliberations. And I should like your Lordships to know how very proud we are to be allowed to share in your Lordships' business.
I understand that there are two schools of thought about the elimination or selection of hereditary Peers. As your Lordships may well understand, I myself hope that you will agree to the Resolution of the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, which is down for debate next Tuesday. I cannot agree with the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, who has suggested that some form of Selection Committee should screen the individuals whose names go forward for nomination. I feel that, in fairness to those Peers who regularly attend this House, they would be given priority—and maybe rightly so.
I do not subscribe to the view which has been put forward, that some of your Lordships come here because they have nothing better to do. I still feel that my noble friend Lord Salisbury, if he were choosing a cricket eleven, runs the risk 891 of overlooking the "coats" and those who are training on. My noble friend Lord Hailsham, in a sporting comparison, said that the noble Marquess was using the wrong fly and mishandling the landing net. I know that the noble Marquess is familiar with the grouse moors of Scotland, as well as having a remarkably fine pheasant shoot of his own. It is considered by good keepers that old birds often become vermin. They are inclined to drive out healthy young stock; and young stock is as necessary in your Lordships' House, as a cross-section of public opinion, as it is on the grouse moor. My Lords, that is all I have to say in supporting this Bill. I am grateful to Her Majesty's Government for retaining the position that noble Lords in our situation, of Peers who cannot appear too often, are accepted on the hereditary principle, and I hope that we may continue to take part in the debates of this House.
§ 4.52 p.m.
LORD SAYE AND SELE
My Lords, speaking from these Benches, I wish to make my personal opinion perfectly clear. As a soldier I was taught to look after my line of retreat. On this occasion I propose to nail my flag to the mast. I am deeply convinced of the advantages which the country gains from the hereditary principle and I should vote against any attempt whatever to water it down. Your Lordships' House was quite effectively reformed in 1911, and we should do best now to leave it well alone. I agree that women should be eligible to accept an hereditary peerage, and it then becomes reasonable that Peeresses in their own right should also be admitted. Surely, to accept a life barony—for the Bill safeguards all other estates from dilution—is to accept only half the responsibility of a peerage. The full responsibility includes, God willing, the provision of heirs to maintain the reputation of your Lordships' House as free from interference by vote or by Party machine, yet always open to the views of other ordinary people.
In considering this attempt at reform, your Lordships must think not of the present or of a few years on, but of the effect twenty-five years forward, when the true results will begin to show. Do we want to see the Opposition Benches filled at the back with the children of those 892 distinguished men who are now before us, while the Front Bench is crowded with the remainder of twenty-five years of old "war horse" life barons. Through such a fog youth would be served only with the greatest difficulty. Can this be any improvement on the present system, which builds up a seed-bed of young unfettered opinion, balanced by the mature views of distinguished men of first creation? That youth is lacking on the present Opposition Benches is partly due to the fact that the Labour Party has not yet had time to establish itself. A generation is some twenty-five years, and a generation in the Labour Party has scarcely passed. As this begins to happen in the course of time, I believe that the Labour Benches will attain the new look of the Tory Front Bench, or even the youth and freshness of the Liberal.
This Bill is a gesture of impatience, of impatience with time, and in this respect will do the greatest harm. We have not been told how a Life Baron is to be selected, and may therefore reasonably presume that the system will be as at present. In the past, Prime Ministers have hesitated to create Peers to force a Bill through your Lordships' House, and your Lordships have compromised rather than drive them to it. In this respect have your Lordships considered the temptation latent in the power to make Life Peers with short expectation of existence, whose vote may be here to-day, but conveniently "gone to Heaven" tomorrow? Such a plan might become a political manœuvre which would stultify your Lordships' vote. I have no sympathy whatever with the theory that heredity is hard on the son who is doing well in another place. We need that man here, where indeed he may find that hem can serve his country and himself better than in another place. In any case, he has a duty which is now inescapable and which, in my opinion, should remain inescapable. I believe that there is no wish in the country for the suggested change.
"Backwoodsmen" are now better understood than they used to be—whether because they are seen on the television or not, I do not know. Moreover, they belong to all Parties. All that is asked by the ordinary man and woman is that the obviously unsuitable Member of your Lordships' House should be ruled out. The country is proud to possess this 893 unique Second Chamber and your Lordships know, in your inmost hearts, that wherever you move as individuals you form a centre of interest and influence because you are Members of the House of Lords. The practical crux of the whole matter lies in finance. If the Government can devise a method of payment for those willing to do the work, with expense allowances for those who come on occasions to the House, then our problems will be solved.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
My Lords, the noble Viscount. Lord Samuel, in his delightful speech last Tuesday coined a new English word, by describing a letter in The Times by a Labour Member about the reform of this House as "blurtmanship". I think the attitude of all political Parties in this country towards the reform of the House of Lords, which was said in 1911 by the Leader of the Liberal Party to "brook no delay", might perhaps be described as "brookmanship"; and after listening to this debate, I am doubtful whether there is any more agreement on the subject now than there was in 1911.
The Bill which is now before us, if it goes through to the Statute Book, will have to be approved not only by your Lordships, but also by the other place, where the Government have a majority of fifty or sixty; and, in drafting this Bill, the Government had to consider what is likely to be acceptable in the other place. If the Conservative Back-Benchers in another place are presented with a measure of constitutional reform which they do not particularly like and which they think is likely to lose votes in their constituencies, they will undoubtedly go to the Chief Whip and tell him that the Bill must be dropped. That is more or less what happened exactly thirty years ago, in 1927. The Government then did not actually go to the length of producing a Bill, but the late Lord Salisbury, who was then Leader of this House, and Lord Birkenhead, who was Secretary of State for India, announced that a comprehensive measure of reform was going to be introduced in that Session. At that time the Conservative Party had a majority in the House of Commons, not of 50, as now, but of 200; but when the proposals which had been adumbrated were put to them the Conservative Back-Benchers disliked them so much that they 894 had to be abandoned, and they were killed, not by the Labour Opposition, but by Conservative opposition in the other place.
I have always been told that the late Lard Salisbury took the view that we ought not to agree to a partial measure; that we ought to have comprehensive reform, or nothing. We have had nothing all this time, and that is the reason why I feel strongly that it is true to say about this Bill that half a loaf is better than no bread. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, suggested on Tuesday that half a loaf was totally insufficient for us to live on. If that is so, it surely follows that we shall die much sooner if we get nothing to eat at all.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
I entirely sympathise with the desire of the noble Marquess to have more, but I feel that the Government have done the right thing in confining themselves to a measure which can be put on the Statute Book without serious difficulty in the present Session of this Parliament.
Your Lordships have listened with great interest to the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and I think that many of us will have read with equal interest the couple of articles on the subject of the reform of this House which the noble Earl contributed not long ago to The Times. In those articles the noble Earl said that the chance of getting Party agreement about the reform of this House had been finally lost in 1948; and, without going into any of the merits of the question, I think it is true to say, as the noble Earl said, that the chance of Party agreement was then lost, at least for the time being, although I hope not permanently.
When this Bill was introduced I expected that the Labour Party, after a long period of discussion and disagreement among themselves, would probably end up by opposing it; and I do not yet know whether that is going to happen. However, I do not think it matters in the least if it does happen on this Bill, because the only argument on which opposition to this Bill could be based is that a considerable section of the Labour Party want to abolish this House, and they are fearful that if anything is done to improve 895 this House in any way it will then become a little more difficult to abolish; and that is not an argument which will ever have the slightest appeal to the electors in the constituencies. It is too paradoxical; and no Conservative Back Bencher in the other place need have the slightest fear that he is endangering his seat by supporting this Bill. If the Government had brought forward the more comprehensive proposals which are very much desired by some of your Lordships the position would then have been a very different one. I think the opposition of the Labour Party, instead of being divided and uncertain, as it is now, would have been strong and unanimous, and the misgivings on the part of the Conservative Back Bench Members in the other place would have been correspondingly deep. I think the argument which we should then have had to face would have been this: that to restrict membership of this House to a small number of Peers, either by self-election, or by selection, or nomination, is very much less democratic than unselected hereditary right.
Some noble Lords, on both sides of the House, have stated in this debate that the hereditary principle is indefensible. But I do not think they really meant that. I think what they really meant was that the right to legislate by birth is less democratic than the right to legislate by popular election. That is not at all the same thing as saying that it is indefensible. The theory of the British Constitution has always been that power, whoever it is held by, and however it is acquired, is always likely to be abused; and that our liberties and freedom in this country will be most effectively safeguarded by a balanced, mixed Constitution in which we shall have one Legislative Chamber which has the preponderating and final legislative power, and which is elected by the people; and another Legislative Chamber, which has less power but which is not elected by the people, and whose Members are therefore always able to say exactly what they think is right without the slightest fear that anything they say in Parliament may prejudice their chances of continuing to be a Member of Parliament.
I think that if one compares our own country with other Western democracies in any part of the world, either in America or in Western Europe, it can be 896 claimed that human liberty and civil rights are more carefully regarded and more effectively upheld in our own country than in any other. In my own belief, the ability of some Members of Parliament, who are not elected, to speak in Parliament without any regard to the effect of their words on some excitable constituency organisation, or on some monolithic Party machine, or on any Prime Minister or any political "Big Wig" of any kind, even although it is not accompanied by a great deal of legislative power, is one of the most precious safeguards of our freedom in this country.
Of course, the right to legislate by the accident of birth is less democratic than the right to legislate by the accident of popular approval. But it is not entirely undemocratic. After all, birth is one of the most democratic things in the world, and the accident of birth is an accident which happens to everybody at one time or another. It is not an accident which requires any great intellectual attainments—or, at least, not on behalf of the person who is born. Neither does it require any great intellectual attainments to be elected to the House of Commons. I have been elected to the House of Commons twice and I have been born once; and I do not remember any particular difficulty about either operation.
The result is that in this House, whose membership depends partly on birth and partly on creation, the average level of intelligence is only slightly higher than the average level of intelligence in the House of Commons. But if you were to restrict membership of this House to a small number of Peers who were nominated by the "head boys" of the Party system, or anything of that kind, this House would then become an "Assembly of Superior Persons". That is a thing which the British public hates, because it really is undemocratic; and the House of Commons hate it, too. I do not think the Government would have much chance of getting such a scheme through a democratically elected House of Commons, even if their majority were to be increased to 200, which is not in accordance with the expectations of every political prophet.
The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, suggested that there was no more reason why a man should be born a legislator than be born a major-general. I would rather have an hereditary legislator than a 897 non-hereditary major-general to conduct my affairs. There was a time in history when this country was governed by major-generals under Oliver Cromwell. The whole country was divided up into districts, each one governed by a major-general. These major-generals abolished Parliament, including the hereditary legislators—with the most unhappy effects on the liberties of this country for the time being. I would rather entrust my own liberty to a man whose right to legislate depends upon his birth than to any major-general, either born or created.
I have paid particular attention to what has been said by noble Lords opposite, because I do not think we ought to abandon the hope of having in this House a constitution which is fundamentally approved by all Parties in the State. It seems to me that the main argument of noble Lords opposite has been that it is very unfair that, when there is a Conservative Government, they always have a large majority in this House, and when there is a Labour Government they always have a small minority. I entirely understand that argument, and I can entirely understand the feelings of noble Lords opposite about it. All that I could say in reply is that it would not worry me in the slightest if the Conservative Party were in a permanent minority in this House. The House of Lords would not be able to hold up important Conservative legislation for longer than six months, and I think it would be a good thing if a Conservative Government were subjected to a much wider volume of criticism, and perhaps even antagonism, in the Second Chamber than is usually the case.
I think this Bill is capable of doing an enormous amount of good, not only to this House but to our Parliamentary life as a whole. Whether it will in fact do a great deal of good will, of course, depend partly on the people to whom life peerages are offered, partly on whether they have any prejudice against accepting them, and partly on the question of expense, on which I do not propose to take up any time now. I think your Lordships will agree that it is an extremely important question, especially for the reason that in the House of Commons it is becoming much more difficult to have people who are not professional politicians. I think it is a remarkable thing, considering the tremendous 898 intolerable burden of work which the House of Commons has to carry out, how many people there still are in that House who are not professional politicians. But it is very difficult to be a non-professional in the House of Commons unless you have large private means; and that is a great pity. Fifty years ago, a man like Cincinnatus could have sat in the House of Commons. Now I do not think he could. He would not have enough time to attend to his plough. But in the House of Lords Cincinnatus can serve a highly useful purpose, and can do a real service for his country.
I was interested in what the noble Earl. Lord Woolton, said the other day about the sittings of this House. He suggested that we should have them at a different time, but he did not say when. I was not quite sure whether he meant we should sit before breakfast or after dinner, but I did ask him this afternoon, and he said that he meant about four o'clock. I am sure that we should always be ready to do whatever might be desirable to help Back Bench members of any Party who are able to come here as often as they can, who are not professional politicians and who get only their expenses paid, but who have to earn their ordinary living apart from their Parliamentary work. We want a great deal more of them in both Houses. The fact that there must, of necessity, be fewer in the other House is all the more reason for having more of them here. Therefore, I think this Bill will do a great deal of good, and I congratulate the Government upon it.
A question was asked before the debate began about red deer, which put into my mind a parallel in relation to this Bill. I think the Government are rather like a deer-stalker who is not a very good shot, and who comes in sight of two stags, one a magnificent beast, at the extreme range of 250 yards, with a fine head, moving about and fidgeting, and difficult to hit, and the other one a smaller beast standing perfectly still at a potty range of 100 yards. If the stalker is not a "dead-eye Dick" I do not think you could accuse him of being unsporting if he decides not to fire at the more difficult target but takes the shot that is easy. I hope that the Government now have their eye along the sights and their finger on the trigger.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
I hope my noble friend is not proposing to use a tommy-gun, because I think that really would be a bit unsporting. But I hope his finger is on the trigger, and I hope that nothing will happen now to make the Government miss this very easy target.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ LORD GREENHILL
My Lords, after hearing on Tuesday the opinion of the noble Earl the Leader of this House about the large measure of agreement on this Bill, it was interesting, and even amusing, to hear the friendly interchange of views between the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, and the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury. One rather feels that perhaps this Bill is not quite the acceptable measure, even to Members on the other side, that we were led to believe on Tuesday. It seems to me that, instead of the degree of agreement about which we heard, such comment as there is is about the paradoxical situation of a Conservative Government—whose aim presumably is to conserve—seeking change in our composition, whereas my noble friends on this side of the House, usually regarded mainly as wanting change, are questioning the wisdom, if not resisting the attempt, to support this measure.
Speaking for myself—and being independent in outlook is, I think, one of the most valuable aspects of membership of your Lordships' House—I am not in favour of any present change, because I regard this measure as being not only ill-timed but, in spite of the considerable amount of interesting information that we have heard, not adequately considered. It is ill-timed, I feel, for a number of reasons. I think that noble Lords in all parts of the House will agree that at no time within living memory has the reputation of your Lordships' House in the estimation of the people of this country been as high as it is to-day, and I ask myself what has prompted the Government at this time to put forward this measure.
Further, at a time when independent self-governing Commonwealth Legislatures are striving to build up their Parliamentary buildings on the pattern estab- 900 lished by the Mother of Parliaments, it can only have a disturbing effect when they observe that in your Lordships' House there is all this doubt and questioning about the adequacy of its present composition. And, thirdly, at a time when Russia and China, temporarily enjoying a tremendous influence in the world's populations, appear to be operating successfully with a legislative system different from, and in many respects opposed to, our own democratically based system, it seems to me quite inopportune to proceed with this tinkering or tampering Bill.
It has, I feel, been inadequately considered because, as we have been told, the ostensible reason for its introduction is to strengthen the Opposition. Is the inference that the volume of argument influences Government decisions? Is the assumption that logic determines the outcome of our debates? Is it not obvious that all come here with their own deep-rooted prejudices which no argument can shake, and that what we strive for is such measure of consensus of opinion as is possible? If numerical strength is the criterion of effectiveness, the present difficulty could surely be remedied by giving a kind of statistical weighting to each minority vote in keeping with the strength of representation throughout the country.
But I do not accept that the ostensible reason is the true reason. I regard this Bill as inadequately considered because the underlying assumption seems to be that, given a logical structure, assuming that to be possible, we should get logical functioning. One has only to think of other Legislatures—that of France, for example. France has a logical structure and is said to have a logical people. But would anyone say that it had logical functioning? Have the French discovered how to achieve stable government? Or consider the United States. They have a carefuly constructed Constitution, with its checks and balances to maintain an even keel. Is it making for world security, now that she is one of the two great Powers of the world, with the weakened physique of one good man, her President, weakened because of the unbearable burden loaded upon his shoulders; is it making for world security. I ask, that at this critical juncture a N.A.T.O. Conference, affecting literally the survival of millions, should be weakened in its 901 decisions by the absence of this one man? Can any mere deputy act as an equivalent to his voice? Is their Constitution flexible enough to meet such situations'? Or, consider the recent bank debate in Australia, It seemed to me, my Lords, inhuman that a dangerously ill member, recently operated on, should have been carried into the Parliament there in order to record his vote, endangering his life. Is it beyond the ingenuity of man to devise a system whereby his opinion could be adequately recorded, without that cruelty? Are not such logical contrivances the antithesis of logical, rational functioning?
Your Lordships' House, it is said, suffers from many anomalies, and of course we all admit there are many anomalies. But who suffers or what suffers? We say that the hereditary system is anomalous, and, in spite of what has been said by many noble Lords here, I think we shall all agree that it is in present circumstances an anomalous system. But we are not considering the introduction of a hereditary system: it is here. The question before us is whether there is anything we should do about that hereditary system at the moment, either to improve it or to abolish it. We are not, however, at the moment considering the introduction of this anomaly.
There are in your Lordships' House five distinct groupings. There is the Government grouping there is the official Opposition grouping; there is the Liberal grouping; there are the Bishops, and there are what I sometimes think are the most valuable part of your Lordships' House, the Cross-Benchers. Would anyone say that there was any logic in this particular composition of groups which constitutes your Lordships' House? Yet, at the same time, would anyone say that any one of those groups is not contributing valuable opinions, valuable information, for the benefit of the House as a whole? One does not wish to be impolite, but is not the Woolsack itself an anomaly? Do we not sympathise greatly with the noble and learned Viscount who has to sit on that inconvenient structure?
Is not this beautiful House itself, in a -sense, an anomaly? Do we require this beautiful Chamber for purposes of our deliberations? Would it not be very much more convenient to have that small room in which we conducted our deliberations before the House of Commons 902 deserted this place—that kindly, intimate atmosphere in which each one of us felt that he was talking to other noble Lords individually instead of addressing a huge audience? Is it not an anomaly that nowadays we should regard debating as being the most suitable method of arriving at agreed decisions? Is riot the whole idea of debate merely to bring out all the facts you know in favour of your case—ignoring, if you like, the facts which are against your case—and, by a mere show of hands or otherwise, arrive at a decision though not necessarily the best decision? Finally, my Lords, is not hand reporting of our deliberations here an anomaly, in an age in which almost every house has a tape recorder, when not merely the words but the very intonations of one's voice are adequately recorded, instead of the dry and, very occasionally, incorrect reporting we get? Is the remedy to remove these anomalies? And if we remove them, what then? Shall we get rid of the other anomalies? Is it the structure of the building or is it the behaviour of Members within the building that determines the value of our function?
In this Bill, two remedies have been suggested. One is the creation of life peerages and the other the inclusion of women as Peeresses. On the question of life peerages, I do not think there is much that can be objected to in principle; but, in spite of the suggestion of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, the other day, one sees a great many practical difficulties. We are surely realists enough to recognise that patronage cannot be completely overcome; that—thank goodness!—there is in our country a tremendous demand for what is regarded as an honour—membership of this House. One wonders what kind of qualification would be sought in the selection or choice of the particular Members who are to become Life Peers. We are told that the solution is to aim at getting the right man. But is not that begging the whole question? Who is the right man? And who is to select him? What are the qualities of the right man? Would be differ very much in his qualities from those of us who are called first creations? So that in the case of Life Peers, while I can see no objection in principle, it seems to me that your Lordships are being faced 903 with the same kind of difficulties in selecting Life Peers as you would have in choosing any representative to come into your Lordships' House.
When we speak of the creation of women Members of your Lordships' House, I have an awful suspicion that probably I stand quite alone. It seems to me that the present atmosphere and spirit of your Lordships' House is the outcome of many generations, many centuries, of influence brought to bear by philosophers, by lawyers and, more recently, by politicians; and if there is one inadequacy in the composition of your Lordships' House in these days, it is that although we have some, we have not nearly enough, men with what, for want of a better term, is called the "scientific outlook," the outlook which is not concerned about the rightness or wrongness of a particular theory but is very much concerned with the facts of a situation. I know that a great many noble Lords have expressed in private a view which they have not so far expressed in public: that is, that for reasons which they appear to be unable to express they would rather not have women as Members of your Lordships' House. I have tried to find out what it is that accounts for this objection, and whether there is not some acceptable scientific point of view.
I want to submit to your Lordships that of the many studies which scientists cover, there is one which is nowadays free from its original philosophic connection and is sufficiently accepted as a science as to have its findings regarded as true facts. I refer to the science of the study of behaviour—animal, human, normal, abnormal, individual or group behaviour; and your Lordships will observe that I have tried so far to avoid the word "psychology". I have done so because, again, I have a feeling that among numbers of Members in your Lordships' House the mere word "psychology" and, what is worse, the word "psychiatrist", have a horrible and unpopular connotation. I believe the time will come—and is coming rapidly—when we shall pay more attention to what the psychologist has discovered as a result of his scientific procedure and not as a result of his philosophic introspections.
904 If we do that, I am inclined to take this view. It cannot be gainsaid that intellectually, intelligently and in physical strength, men and women are, on the whole, more or less equal, always remembering, of course, constitutional factors which make for differences within each group. If your Lordships accept that view and ask, "What is the objection to the inclusion of women in this Chamber?", the answer is that in considering a problem in which all that is necessary is its careful intellectual consideration, it appears that, whether we have men or women considering that problem, we shall arrive at more or less the same kind of answer. But when, as in a deliberative Chamber, we are dealing with issues which arouse all the emotion, passion, hates and fears which are inseparable from some of the problems that are discussed, then it seems to me that there is an instance of that kind of difference, sometimes conscious, sometimes unconscious, which separates those basic qualities in the sexes, and where, therefore, the objective arrival at a solution is, to that extent, distorted.
I do not know whether I have made my views clear to your Lordships, but I feel that if that line of thought were pursued a little more closely it might be found to contain more than a mere grain of truth. I am very reluctant to take up your Lordships' time any longer with my own kind of deliberations, but should say that in reading the series of contributions in that publication called The Future of the House of Lords, which many of your Lordships will have seen. I was impressed by the views of two of the contributors, writing on the delaying powers. One view was that of the right honourable Walter Elliot, and the other the view of the right honourable Patrick Gordon Walker, both Members of another place. If your Lordships will permit me, I should like to read some part of the conclusions arrived at by Mr. Gordon Walker. They are these:Just as the Crown has evolved into a constitutional monarchy that is very different indeed from the original purpose or function of monarchy, so the House of Lords has evolved into something new but extremely useful. Both illustrate the wisdom of leaving the Constitution alone as much as possible.A little later he says:… I want to keep it"—905 that is the Second Chamber—as it is, because it is now perfectly fitted to the job that a Second Chamber should do in a parliamentary democracy. Admittedly no one could ever have deliberately designed such a Chamber of set purpose; but things that grow are often better than things that are built.And finally, may I give you this somewhat longer quotation:This is a conservative attitude for a member of the Labour Party to adopt. But only in appearance. My real purpose is to retain the sovereignty of the House of Commons. If any changes were made in the House of Lords, it would begin to be a more effective conservative body. And further changes would result that would upset the whole functioning of our parliamentary constitution and raise the sort of problem that led to the abolition of the Upper Chamber in New Zealand and Queensland. So I say: Leave the Lords alone. They do their job very well. If any changes are to be made, then I would go the whole way and abolish the House of Lords. But I do not want to do that. I am quite happy to leave things as they are.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SOULBURY
My Lords, were it not for what I think is a very important and, in fact, overriding consideration., a good case could be made for leaving the composition of this House precisely as it is. If public opinion is a criterion—and, indeed, it is the most important criterion of the need for reform—it is very hard to find any worthwhile evidence of a desire on the part of the general public for the reform of the composition of this House, let alone its powers. So far as I am aware, the reform of this House has not, since the war, been an issue at any General Election or, indeed, by-election. It is true that the powers of this House suffered further curtailment in 1948, but that was not the result of any popular mandate. As regards the period prior to the last war, I can speak from a certain amount of personal experience, because I was myself a candidate in five General Elections, and, with one exception, I do not think I ever had to open my mouth to the electors on the subject of this House, either its corn-position or its powers. The one exception was at the second General Election in 1910, when, for very obvious reasons, I had to devote a good deal of time to the subject.
is legitimate to say that, in the light of more than forty years of history, it is reasonable to infer, first, that there is not—and there has not been—any noticeable 906 desire on the part of the electorate for the reform of this House, either its composition or its powers. I think it is equally legitimate to infer from that history that the country is not dissatisfied with your Lordships' conduct of the business in this place. In fact, there are many people. I think, who would be perfectly willing to say that, on the whole, as a result of the quality of your Lordships' debates, this House has acquired more authority in the country during the last decade than it has had for some time and has definitely enhanced its prestige. Incidentally, I may have misunderstood him, but the noble Viscount, the Leader of the Opposition, I think, took the view that an attempt by this House as a largely hereditary Chamber to enhance its prestige was slightly reprehensible. But I should have thought it was the duty not only of this House but of the other place also to have that as one of its chief aims.
If I am right in thinking the electorate are not feeling any particular anxiety to disturb the present situation of the powers of your Lordships' House, I should imagine it is for the reason that the British public, with their innate good sense, common sense and dislike of logic, do not wish to disturb or to alter an institution which, on the whole, works, and works pretty well. But the public will soon have to take account of the important consideration to which I have briefly referred—namely, that if things go on as at present, then at no very distant time this House will not work well—in fact, if it goes on as at present it will not work at all.
The reason is this. We are all well aware—we can see it, and see it with admiration—that the Opposition are largely sustained by the efforts, the remarkable efforts, and the assiduity and diligence of a small handful of noble Lords. In fact (I hope I am not saying anything that will upset noble Lords opposite) the successful conduct of their Opposition has depended, and is dependent, largely on the work of those noble Lords; and I am sure we all wish them the utmost good health and long lives. I do, not only because of the personal regard I have for them, but also in order to enable the Opposition to carry on the normal functions of an Opposition. And, my Lords, a debating Chamber without an Opposition is a negation of parliamentary government. Therefore, it occurs 907 to me, and, I am sure, to other noble Lords, that something must be done, and done fairly quickly, to relieve the stress and the strain placed upon those members of the Front Bench. Alas! they are not immortal. If they were, it might not be necessary to produce this Bill. But they are not.
The noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition, if I understood him rightly, and the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, just now, indicated there might be a possibility of amending or postponing this Bill. I have some sympathy in that regard—and for this reason. I should like to make the object of this Bill more obvious, and I would suggest, as an alternative Title, "The Socialist Opposition Reinforcement Bill." That, my Lords, in my view, is really the main, if not the sole, justification for the Bill we are now discussing. The question then arises: how are we to get these reinforcements? Will it be possible, and what should be their number and their qualifications? In the first place, of course, the peerages to be offered to them, and, indeed, the only ones they are likely to accept, must be life peerages. There are sound and intelligible reasons for assuming that they would otherwise be unacceptable—
May I ask the noble Viscount one question? Since so many noble Lords of the Labour Party have accepted hereditary peerages since the war, why does he think it will be impossible to obtain such people in the future? Or does he think the present lot are such a poor crowd that he hopes to get very much better people?
§ VISCOUNT SOULBURY
I am not aware of all their financial circumstances, but I should have thought that the heavier taxation which has been enforced in recent times would have been felt by them, as by other people, and would make it difficult for them to give up their time to come here.
Then, my Lords, we come to the question of numbers. I should like to see the numbers on the Front Benches opposite doubled. And preference, I think, should be given—indeed, would have to be given—to those who share the views of the noble Lords sitting opposite, for clearly there is no point in reinforcing the Benches on this side of the House when, 908 in my view, the object of this Bill is to reinforce the Benches opposite.
§ LORD MILNER OF LEEDS
My Lords, I think that the noble Viscount ought to appreciate that this Bill has not been asked for by this side of the House. He is quite in error in putting it forward that we on this side are asking for it as a benefit to ourselves.
§ VISCOUNT SOULBURY
I propose to deal with that point a little later, but perhaps I may say now that, even if the noble Lord has not asked for it, it is good for him. I think I ought also to mention that we cannot guarantee that the recruits, the reinforcing troops, will man indefinitely the trenches to which they are summoned. Some of them may possibly desert to the enemy; some may even go so far as to entrench themselves in no man's land.
As regards the qualifications, I imagine that those appointed would be men of distinction in the realms of politics, industry, science, the social services, the Arts and so forth. But I think we are assuming rather light-heartedly that it is going to be easy to find these recruits, to discover suitable people to become Life Peers and, having discovered them, to attract them to this House. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, referred—very appositely, I thought—to some lines of Shakespeare. They are so apposite that I am going to quote them again, because the noble Earl the Leader of the House seems to me in some ways to resemble Glendower as portrayed in Shakespeare's Henry IV. Noble Lords will remember his claim:I can call spirits from the vasty deep,and Hotspur's reply:Why so can I, and so can any man.But will they come when you do call for them?At the present moment I think the more likely answer would be:By no means—at £315 per annum.I do not think that answer would apply to women—certainly not to married women, for in their case there is a reason able expectation that, if they happen to share their husbands' political views, they can expect a moderate subvention for their activities.
The question then arises: if it is possible to have increased remuneration, where should we get the recruits from? 909 I presume that we should get them from the ranks of a number of elderly politicians who are rather tired of the rough and tumble of the House of Commons, of late hours, and of the strain that their constituencies put upon them. They might certainly be useful recruits, but what we want, I am sure—and what the Opposition also want—are the younger men. And that presents a very serious problem. If they are young men of political talent, clearly they will wish to display that talent in another place. If they are young men making their way, and building their reputations in science and industry and so forth, they will be at about the age when they would be least likely to wish to abandon their careers, or even to jeopardise them, by part-time occupation here.
As has been pointed out, the hereditary principle avoids that difficulty, because on this side the Benches are constantly reinforced by young, able men—as we have clear examples from time to time. But if the Party opposite are not reinforced by younger men, who will there be to do their Committee work, both on the Floor of the House and upstairs? So my conclusion is that the reinforcement of the Party opposite is going to be a difficult affair and rather expensive. But it must be attempted, and I shall certainly vote for this Bill. If I were in favour of single-Chamber government I should vote against this or any other Bill which set out to improve or strengthen the composition of this House, for the simple reason than, if things are left alone, in a few years' time this House will die, and there will not be the necessity of bringing forward legislation on the subject with all the political controversy and bitterness which that would mean. One last word as regards women. I do not wish to be thought ungallant if I prophesy that their arrival here will not be received with any wholehearted acclamation. On the other hand, I cannot find any argument to justly my opposing it. Such arguments as I have heard do not amount to much more than the sentiment expressed in the old couplet:I do not love thee, Doctor FellThe reason why I cannot tell.
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ LORD ELLENBOROUGH
My Lords, it is perhaps inevitable, when one finds oneself placed about fortieth in the list of speakers in a debate of this kind, that 910 a great deal of what one was going to say should already have been said. Certainly a great deal of what I was proposing to say has been said very much better than I could say it. I welcome the proposals in this Bill for the creation of life peerages; but I fear that the Government have lost a great chance (I hope it wilt not be their last chance) in not doing something more realistic to meet the needs of the House in regard to its composition. Clearly, if the Government are going to wait until they get all-Party agreement they will have to wait for ever. They have not even got it on this small measure which is before us to-day.
I think it is generally agreed, on the whole, that if this House is open to criticism on any account it is because of the principle of the hereditary composition of the House. In the last few years, I have from time to time spoken at a number of meetings here and there in the country, and I have formed an impression which is somewhat different from that which I think is held by the noble Viscount, Lord Soulbury. I realise that he speaks with a great many more years of experience than I have.
On the whole I feel that perhaps rather more interest is taken in this House than some noble Lords who have spoken appear to think, judging by what they have said in this debate. I think that whilst many people in the country appreciate our difficulties, they believe that we do a difficult job well, and that we have undoubtedly a useful part to play in the working of the (Constitution. Nevertheless, I do not think that they are prepared to take us 100 per cent. seriously so long as the composition of the House remains 100 per cent. hereditary; and if this House is to have even the very limited powers which it has to-day it must be able to use them. I think the general feeling is that there must be broader representation in the House than there is at the moment. I myself, whilst I am very much in favour of the hereditary principle, feel that all the many points in favour of that principle fade into the utmost insignificance if the public have not the necessary confidence and respect for it as virtually the sole basis of the composition of your Lordships' House. From my limited experience, I think that that is the position to-day.
I think I am right in saying that some half a century ago your Lordships' House 911 passed a famous Resolution to the effect that a peerage should no longer of itself give the right to sit and vote in your Lordships' House. Things have certainly changed since then. The matter may not have been so urgent fifty years ago, but since then the whole structure of our social life has totally changed. Even after this Bill has been passed, I think that the position will be exactly the same. Now that the Government at last have proposed something, it seems to me a great pity that all they have done is to give the patient a jab with the needle, a blood transfusion, rather than undertake a firmer measure, which I believe would have more support in the country than the Government appear to think. As it is, I fear the Government may have done a dangerous thing. They have opened the breach t they have thrown the matter wide open to the winds of hitter Party controversy, and without achieving a sufficiently worthwhile measure of reform.
As I see it, there well may be grave dangers, assuming that nothing more be done during the lifetime of this Government, which I should have thought would be very unlikely. In a year or so, I think it is likely, without being unduly pessimistic, we shall be faced by a period of Socialist administration. If that is the case, one of two things will happen. Either nothing will happen, in which case your Lordships' House will increasingly become, in the words of some members of the Socialist Party, not much more than an ancient monument or a historic hangover. Or (though I hope it will not be the case), there may be a clash of wills between your Lordships' House and another place and something so drastic may happen that we may find ourselves overtaken by a measure of so-called reform the result of which will be that your Lordships' House will no longer exist in the form in which we know it to-day. At best, we should have a nominated assembly of Party hacks, nominated through the Prime Minister and thereby, to all intents and purposes, we should have single-Chamber government. I believe that that would be a great disaster.
It has always been our proud achievement in the past that we have shown great ability and powers for slowly adapting and adjusting through the ages our Parliamentary institutions, which 912 have long been the envy of the world, according to our changing needs and circumstances. I feel that what is required now is another chapter, and not just a foreword. I am convinced that there would not be any support for your Lordships' House which overnight, or in a matter of a few months or years, changed beyond all recognition. Such a thing would be against all our past traditions. What I believe is required, and required now, before it is too late, and what I believe would receive as general a measure of support in the country as anything, is a firm yet reasonable and moderate measure of reform, incorporating the best of the old with the best that can be found new.
The House I envisage would consist partly of Life Peers and partly of hereditary Peers, but the hereditary Peers would be limited to, say, 250 or some such number, on the basis of selection by a House of Lords Committee. I believe that that is the kind of proposal which the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, has in mind. I feel that a reformed composition of your Lordships' House on these lines would have two main advantages. First of all, it would get rid of the "Backwoodsmen" bogy, which still does untold harm to the respect and prestige of your Lordships' House and is a most serious defect in its constitution. I do not think that it is any good saying that we ourselves know that the "Backwoodsmen" Peers will not turn up. Of course, they will not; but the people of the country are not convinced of that. Whilst I should certainly give my support next week to what are now known as the Swinton Committee proposals, I do not think they go far enough. I do not think that the country will completely understand them. The position seems to me to be that a noble Lord will be locking himself out of the House yet still keeping the key in his pocket.
Another advantage of limiting the number of hereditary Members to about 250 is that we should be able to make certain not only to include those who make regular appearances but also all those other Peers who come at one time or another, and who, when they do come, have a valuable contribution to make. In the course of time I believe also that some limitation would lead to the sort of House which would not have a permanent huge majority for one political 913 Party. I believe that a reformed House on these lines would be able to look the public straight in the eye and, if it came to the acid test, would be able to use its limited powers to restrain either Left or Right. If your Lordships' House is unable to do that, then, as I have said, we might as well be done with it and have single-Chamber government.
I hope that the Government will not rest content with this measure, which is only a start. I do not think that there is the slightest chance that they will get agreement to do any more, because they have not full agreement on this Bill. But I am confident that, faced with the alternative of an imaginative scheme of reform, on the one hand, or abolition or decay, on the other, the Government can have faith that it will be the former alternative that will be chosen and supported by the people of this country.
Before I sit down, may I make one point on a different matter? I should like to give my support to a suggestion, expressed much more ably than I can hope to do by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, in the debate last Session. The noble Viscount said that he hoped advantage would be taken of the creation of Life Peers to appoint substantially more Members from Commonwealth countries. I hope that the Government will give urgent consideration to that when they come to create the first Life Peers. I am sure that Members from Commonwealth countries will be of much more use to your Lordships' House than a bevy of ladies. I hope that they will try to bring in not just one or two but several Commonwealth Life Peers, not only from the older Dominions but also from the new Commonwealth countries in Asia and Africa. Such a course, I hope, would be acceptable to most of the Commonwealth countries. Only this autumn I had the privilege of addressing one or two meetings in Canada on the subject of your Lordships' House, and I was both surprised and impressed at the interest and enthusiasm shown in the subject—probably a greater enthusiasm, indeed, than is shown within this country. I am sure that if we could get more Commonwealth Members in your Lordships' House, a fine and splendid link between the Commonwealth and its centre would be opened. It would not only give your Lordships' House an enhanced prestige and dignity 914 but, above all, would render incalculable service to the Commonwealth as a whole.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ LORD LAYTON
My Lords, I shall not detain the House for many moments. I think I am forty-first in the batting order, and when you get to number forty-one you can overdo a matter of this sort, and the sooner the batsman gets out the better. Indeed, I have only one point to make. My noble friend Lord Rea referred on Tuesday to the contradictory ideas that prevail as to the effects of this Bill. I do not desire to add to the confusion. My general view is the view taken by many others: that this is an inadequate measure. But I also take the view that it does start a new chapter; it diverts the course of evolution in a new direction, and for a reason which was referred to (I think it is the only reference that has been made to the point in this debate) by the noble Lord, Lord Brand. I hope and believe, with him, that if this Bill passes, the creation of new hereditary peerages will quickly cease altogether or will take place only in the rarest of cases.
The Labour Party would obviously take advantage of the new provision for life peerages to readjust the balance in this House. Speaking with no authority whatever as to what they are going to do, but simply as an outside observer. I believe it is highly improbable that the Labour Party will create hereditary peerages, except in the most exceptional circumstances. This means that when a Labour Government next comes into power—and it may be quite soon, or perhaps later—the hereditary principle will be in abeyance during the period of office of that Government. Will the principle be revived by some future Government? I rather doubt it. It seems to me unlikely that, say, in the next twenty years there will be alternate periods of four or five years when the Labour Party are in office, with no new creations, and other periods of some years when the creation of hereditary peerages will start up again, only to cease once more. As I say, I cannot picture that kind or thing happening over a period of years; it is not the sort of thing that does happen. It seems to me that it would be contrary to the climate of opinion, not merely in the Labour Party but in the country generally, in a country where life 915 peerages are being created to replace and refill this House as a matter of course. If, by any chance, some certain small number of peerages of a hereditary kind are created, I do not believe that they will, as it were, come into the same grouping or carry any political significance in relation to the membership of this House.
If I am right in this view, it seems to me that this Bill will initiate a change in our social structure comparable to the dying out of the hereditary fortune—for that is dying out as a result of taxation and the reassessment of wealth which it is causing. It seems to me that those two things are going to run in parallel lines, because I cannot see the creation of a series of hereditary peerages in a world where this great change is taking place on the economic plane. I believe that history will regard the cessation of the creation of hereditary peerages as one of those changes that Britain has a genius for carrying out with the minimum of disturbance and fuss.
The cessation of new hereditary creations will not, however, solve all the problems of House of Lords reform. It is true that over a period of years it will bring about a considerable slimming of the hereditary element in this House. The rate at which that will happen is likely to be a good deal faster than some of us may suppose. I have made some inquiries in the statistical office in the. Library of your Lordships' House, and I am told that since 1900 to date 326 peerages have become extinct. Those figures exclude Life Peers, but include peerages that have become dormant. Moreover, in the next period of equivalent length the number will certainly be much larger, for several reasons, including the fact that the starting figure is now much greater, and also because there is such a high percentage of first creation Peers in the House at the present time as a result of what has taken place over the last fifty years. The rate of extinction in that group is, of course, much higher. Therefore, the figures will certainly be more than 400. It would be easy for a Government actuary with a slide rule to make a very good forecast, and I think the House would be astonished by that forecast.
Nevertheless, the process would be a prolonged one over a period of years, 916 and I am one of those who think that the House needs to be brought into a better balance much more quickly than that sort of process will bring about. The ways of doing that, so far as Lords of Parliament are concerned, have been enumerated in the course of this debate and I am not concerned to discuss their relative merits. There are also problems of the method of selection, including that suggested by my noble friend Lord Samuel from the Box the other day, which are of the greatest importance. But I would venture to say that many of these problems which seem at this moment to be extremely difficult will be rendered much easier when the House begins to be in a state of change and flux through the steady appointment of Life Peers and the contrary process of the beginning of the gradual shrinkage of the hereditary element.
The creation of Life Peers and the falling into disuse of the practice of creating hereditary Peers will produce greater elasticity in the composition of the House. It seems to me that this change will, at the same time, make it easier to effect other changes, which can be done possibly without any amendment of Statute. And not only will it make it easier, but it will make it more necessary to react to the state of opinion, which, certainly in the Labour Party, but also, as I believe, right through the country, is that the right way to deal with this matter is by gradually but completely replacing the hereditary principle by the creation of Life Peers. Although I believe this Bill itself is inadequate, I think it is the beginning of a process which will inevitably lead, through the common sense of public opinion, to the more complete reform which most of us seem to think is necessary.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ LORD FORBES
My Lords, when we consider any alterations in the composition or powers of this House there is one fact, and one fact above all others, that we should keep in mind and that is that our British Constitution, of which this House forms part, having stood the test for so many years, is still admired, even envied, by many other countries, whether those countries be backward or the most progressive. That is a fact of which I think we should never lose sight. It is perhaps unfortunate that we take our 917 Constitution for granted, and this perhaps is a great danger, for this House could almost die or be ruined by regrettable reform before we ourselves realise its true value.
I have two main criticisms about this Bill. The first concerns what is in the Bill, and the second what is not in the Bill and what I consider should be in it. I believe that the idea of giving life peerages to women is not one which the country desires, or even expected. I myself do not hold the view that a few women will add much, if anything, to the debates and the day-to-day working of your Lordships' House, because no sooner do you get two women in a Chamber together than voices get raised and argument or debate becomes heated and out of perspective. We already have this situation in another place. Surely that is enough. Surely the great value of this Chamber lies in its complete difference from the other Chamber. This House is built up on freedom—freedom of thought, freedom of speech, freedom of voting and freedom of attendance. It should, I am certain, always be our aim to maintain that freedom. For a number of years now, our country has been aware that this House will be reformed, and I think we ourselves are of that opinion. But if this House is to play its part in the future it must be properly reformed. This Bill falls short of proper reform. If you have a car that has run for a great many miles and has done extremely well, you do not take it to the garage to be tinkered with; you take it to have a complete overhaul. Unless Her Majesty's Government are prepared to introduce almost immediately other measures of reform, I think they can be justifiably accused of tinkering with the problem.
There are many other points that a great many people would like to see included in this Bill. I will touch upon only one of these—it is one which relates to what I believe is an indisputable injustice: that of the Scottish Peers who are not Representative Peers. There are not many of them, but that is quite beside the point. 'They are at present complete outcasts. They are denied a vote for the government of their country; they cannot sit in this House, and they cannot sit in another place. Surely, Scottish Peers who do not wish to seek election 918 should at least be given the chance to vote for the government of their country, and possibly they might be allowed to stand for election to another place.
I am sure that we shall all welcome more noble Lords on the Benches opposite, so that they can add many more impartial and varied views in debates in this House. One only hopes that the new Members will be mindful of the fact that we are all here to prevent extremist legislation, by either the Right or the Left, and to do this we ourselves must be free from extremes of Party feeling. Party politics are becoming the scourge of to-day. Nearly all our forms of government are riddled, not, as many people would like to think, with the woodworm from the "Backwoodsmen," but with Party politics. Party politics are not confined only to another place; they are fast engulfing county councils and district councils. Let us have one Chamber, and let that one Chamber be this Chamber, where a man can speak his own mind without having to toe the Party line.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, we are reaching the end of what is virtually the fourth clay of a long debate, because we first had the debate of October 30 and 31, and then the debate on Tuesday of this week. I shall try riot to repeat the arguments that have been put forward so often. I want, if I can, to make it quite clear why I support this Bill, but why I differ from many things said or assumed both by opponents and supporters. In the earlier debate I did not seek myself to speak, because I felt I had scarcely been in the House long enough to express a view on so important a topic concerning the future of this House. But there was another reason that rendered it quite unnecessary, and that was the excellence of the speeches in which so many of the comments which I should have sought to make were expressed. If I may mention two which I think commanded the admiration of the whole House, it would be that remarkable speech of the noble Viscount. Lord Samuel, and the remarkable speech of the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence. They showed, in my opinion, so much statesmanship that I confess I found on Tuesday of this week the speech of the noble Viscount who leads the Opposition rather sterile and 919 disappointing. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, won the further gratitude of the House by the speech that he made on Tuesday.
I want first to explain my own approach to this problem. I speak as an admirer and defender of Parliamentary government. Parliamentary government has a long and splendid history, but today it is exposed to many dangers. I served some twenty years in the House of Commons. Here I have been for less than three years. I have loved and sought to serve both Houses, and I think I know something of the merits and the defects of each. I find it quite impossible to regard the interests of the two Houses as opposed. Let me assure every noble Lord that, however much he may differ from me in the things that I shall say. I would claim nothing for this House which I did not believe would help Parliamentary government as a whole, and nothing, therefore, that would be against the interests of the House of Commons.
Now, my Lords, the working House of Lords contains three main elements, all of them important and all contributing to its usefulness and efficiency. First, there are those Peers who are the first of a creation: secondly, there are those who owe their seats to hereditary succession, and finally there are Life Peers. This Bill enables the Crown to create more Life Peers. I support it because I believe that the proposal is wise in itself and that without it the choice of persons will be unduly restricted, and here I am not thinking of one Party alone. I do not believe, however, as some noble Lords have stated, that the present House is dying on its feet. I agreed very much with the noble Lord. Lord Moran, who delighted us with a characteristic speech, that there is no evidence at all that the House is dying on its feet. But we all know that some Peers are greatly overworked and deserve some young reinforcements.
There is another matter in which I differ from many noble Lords who have spoken. I do not believe that this House cannot be defended in the country. I do not believe that it is so illogical that any man who knows this House and knows what it does and can do would have any difficulty in defending it in the country. I 920 was a little struck by the fact that nearly all those who took the view that this House was indefensible in the country were either noble Lords who had never had any experience of the hustings at all or were noble Lords who sat in another place for a safe Conservative seat. I have never sat in a safe seat, but I can say with perfect truth to this House that, during my twenty years in the House of Commons, neither the composition nor the conduct of this House has ever caused me the least difficulty on a popular platform.
I remember indeed—and it may amuse the House to hear it—the only occasion in those twenty years when I was vigorously heckled by a Socialist on the conduct of this Chamber. He asked why this House, which contained so many reasonable men, had not thrown out a Socialist nationalisation Bill of which he heartily disapproved. I tried to explain to him that, while I had some sympathy with his view of the Bill in question, it was neither the practice nor the purpose of this House to reverse the decisions of the electorate. I hope I satisfied him; at any rate we remained on very good terms.
I was a little reminded of that Socialist heckler the other day when the Manchester Guardian said that this House was past praying for because it had not thrown out the Shops Bill. I happen to share the view of the Shops Bill held by the Manchester Guardian, but again I thought, as I explained to the House at the time, that we were perfectly right to pass that Bill in this House. because it was a case in which I am certain that this House would have been content to follow the House of Commons, and I ascertained from the noble and learned Viscount. Lord Hailsham, who was in charge of the Bill, that if we carried the Amendment which would have destroyed the main controversial clause the House of Commons would never see the Bill at all.
My Lords, I think that, if there is any Member of either House of Parliament who imagines that the general public is more worried about this House than it is about the House of Commons, that person is the victim of illusion. May I try to say in a few words why I believe in this House and think it valuable? No one I think, leaves the, House of Commons for this House without casting a "longing, 921 ling'ring look behind." But once in this Chamber, he learns some of the things that this House can do and that it can do extremely well. He learns something of its corporate character, of its generosity and of its willingness to listen to a speech with which it disagrees. This is almost the last home of free speech.
Much has been said in the course of this debate about the work that this House does in the exercise of the function of revision. Some very just remarks on this subject have been made by my noble and learned friend upon the Woolsack, but I agree very strongly with the noble Viscount. Lord Samuel, that this House has even greater functions than revision. Though I do not differ at all from what the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor said about that function, may I mention one of these matters: our ability to debate great topics worthily with a wealth, very often, of expert knowledge. This House is far richer than the other in scientific attainments, in medical knowledge and in many other matters. Many have referred to the wealth of expert opinion and views that is available; but it is not only expert views that are available. It is not the custom of this House, when a great subject is before it, that the debate should be confined to experts. The debates are enriched by ordinary men with a variety of views who are not primarily politicians at all. Those great subjects may be introduced, generally on a Motion for Papers, by a Peer of any Party. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, has in recent years deserved very well of the House for the subjects which he has chosen to introduce. The House will bear in mind the debate we had as recently as yesterday.
Nor do I agree with those who say that our debates are without result, or that they lead to a foregone conclusion. I could give many examples to the contrary, even of what has happened during the brief period in which I have had the honour to be a Member of your Lordships' House. I think of the debate on the banning of heroin, a debate introduced by the noble and learned Earl, the late Lord Jowitt, and supported from these Benches and, indeed, from all Benches. I know that a Minister said then that it had not been thought wise on that occasion to send out a Whip. I am not surprised, because there was nobody on these 922 Benches who was not aware that a Whip would not have made the slightest difference; and the only effect of sending out a Whip would have been that the Government of the day would have had a resounding defeat.
I think of the debate, again introduced by a noble Lord opposite, the present Deputy Leader of the Opposition, on Sir William Holford's brilliant plan for the surroundings of St. Paul's. I believe that that was a debate which was not without effect. I also remember some Amendments on the very important provisions in the Road Traffic Bill, now the Road Traffic Act, which vitally affected amenities. I happen to have been very much concerned in some of those causes. So were the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and many others. It is not true that our deliberations had no effect. In my opinion they had more effect than anything I have known in attempts to alter at all vitally any Government Bill in another place.
Finally, I come to the one characteristic of this House which I believe to be the most valuable of all. It is that everyone who speaks says what he really thinks. Of all the deliberative assemblies in the world it is most true of this House that a speaker is not even tempted not to be honest. Of course, we do not sit here as representatives. If we did we should not be a complement to the House of Commons but a rival—which no sensible person desires. Perhaps I might remind your Lordships of a witty saying of Mr. Birrell, for which. I regret, I cannot give chapter and verse. He said:The Lords represent nobody but themselves and have the entire confidence of their constituents.In the debate of October 30 my noble friend Lord Salisbury spoke of [OFFICIAL REPORT. Vol. 205, (No. 102), col. 611]:heads of universities, ex-ambassadors or great trade union leaders, and so on, who will presumably form the greater part of any reformed House.Heaven forbid! I have friends in all those three categories but I say that a House which was mainly composed of those three categories would be far inferior to the House that we know.
I expect that somebody will say to me, "If you do not change this House more than that, you will be abolished." Perhaps we shall be abolished, but I would 923 ask those who would abolish us to consider the company in which they find themselves. There is one political Party in this country unanimously in favour of abolishing this House—that is the Communist Party. But the Communist Party are also the ruthless enemies and suppressors of Parliamentary government everywhere. They certainly hate this House and say so. They also hate the House of Commons but, on the whole, have the tact, for the moment, not to say so. I venture to make this prophesy: if this House is abolished, then within a short time one of two things will happen—either the House of Commons will be abolished too, or this House will be restored, probably on the Petition of the Commons. It is a thing that has happened before.
Even the ancients had discovered that single-Chamber government had weaknesses against which it was necessary to guard. May I remind your Lordships of a short passage in the First Book of Herodotus, dealing with the customs of the Persians:It is also their general practice to deliberate upon affairs of weight when they are drunk; and then on the morrow, when they are sober, the decision to which they came the night before is put before them by the master of the house in which it was made; and if it is then approved of, they act on it; if not, they set it aside. Sometimes however they are sober at their first deliberation, but in this case they always reconsider the matter under the influence of wine.In effect the debate could start in either House. A similar custom is reported by Tacitus in his Germania, but the Germans apparently always first debated in their cups and subsequently when they were sober. This gave them the real advantages of both states.They debate, while incapable of deceit, and decide when they cannot be misled.The noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, whose work in this House I have so often admired and enjoyed, is to follow me. In the debate of October 31 he put forward some interesting suggestions for a possible reform of procedure in the House. I have not been able to study them with the care which I feel they deserve, and therefore I shall say nothing about them tonight. I confess that the brilliant extempore reply upon them by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor rather persuaded me at the moment, because my 924 own reaction was not dissimilar; but a matter to which, as I know, the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, has devoted a good deal of thought deserves far more consideration than I have yet been able to give it.
In that speech the noble Lord astonished me by certain things which he said. The first was this: he thought that there must be something hopelessly wrong about the hereditary principle in our House, because no other country had an hereditary element in its Second Chamber. Is that really evidence against our wisdom? Is it not possible that our parliamentary institutions, which have a longer and more glorious history than most, may contain things which, though unique, yet may be of value? If the noble Lord is so much struck by this unique feature, ought he not at least to go on to ask himself certain other questions? Let me give him two. How does this Second Chamber with that (in his opinion) unique feature compare in merit with other Second Chambers of the world? Does he think it greatly inferior in debating power, in fame, in merit and reputation to some at home or abroad?
The second question is this. When he talks of other Second Chambers. I wonder whether he can think of any other Second Chamber with such small legal powers as this Chamber. Let me make it perfectly clear that I would not enlarge those powers: I do not seek to enlarge the powers of this House. But the question I have put to him may be very material when we are considering on what the composition of this House should be based. The noble Lord, in that speech, suggested three possible grounds on which Conservatives on these Benches might defend the hereditary principle. My Lords, I defend the hereditary principle; I defend it more heartily than even my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham defended it in opening the debate this afternoon. But I do not defend it on any of the three grounds that occurred to the noble Lord. Lord Pakenham. I defend the hereditary principle on the clear, simple ground that it is better for this House than any of the alternatives hitherto suggested.
It is really absurd to ask, in the abstract: "How do you justify the hereditary principle?" If we are to consider whether it is the right or the wrong 925 principle, we have surely to compare it with other principles which might be suggested. Of course, the normal alternative for most Second Chambers is some form of election. But the very people who reject the hereditary principle are even more emphatic in rejecting election. The Leader of the Opposition in another place, in his speech on the Address at the opening of the present Session, put at the very forefront of his principles for dealing with the House of Lords the objection to election—he put it even in front of his objection to the hereditary principle. And I think he was right, because any form of election would lead irresistibly to increased powers and to a real rivalry with the Commons.
Another possible alternative—and this looks as if it is for the moment commending: itself to the Socialist Party, though I think that Party contains many men too intelligent to persist with something which is, I think, so offensive and so foolish—is that the Government of the day should simply nominate a number of Peers for the duration of a particular Parliament and thus ensure that this House loses both its independence and its usefulness. Finally, my Lords, although this alternative has, not been suggested, there is a possible further alternative. You might choose an assembly by lot. This is not dissimilar in all ways from the way in which we select our juries. The Athenian democracy (if I might remind the House of that piece of history) substituted choosing by lot for election, in 487 B.C., for certain offices, as a democratic advance.
My Lords, I say that the hereditary principle, not as the sole element in this Chamber, because I have declared my support of the measure now before the House, but as the principle which provides a large element of this honourable House, has proved itself by the efficiency with which it has worked; and I believe that it is also better, in theory as well as in practice, than any of the alternatives yet suggested.
§ 6.55 p.m.
My Lords, we have had an elevated and, at the same time, frankly-spoken debate. I never expected to hear the word "verminous" applied by a rising young Conservative to some of the most revered leaders of his Party, but obviously in the Labour 926 Party, in our rough and untutored way, we do not know the niceties of the language. When one of our members some years ago was understood, in a moment of excitement, to refer to his opponents as "vermin" it was counted against him by many people for years. But now, apparently, the phrase can be thrown out in the happiest possible fashion about men who are respected throughout this country and, I would say, the world.
But that apart, I have been very, much interested by all the speeches, not the least by that of the noble Lord, Lord Conesford. He was very kind about me and I must not, therefore, flatter him in reply or it is liable to be called "collusion". However, I did appreciate his clear statement of principles; and this I can say—and here, I suppose, I am at one with the noble Lord. Lord Balfour of Burleigh, if not on other questions: I am someone who knows no other Parliamentary life except the life of the House of Lords. I am told that I have missed a great deal. I was deprived of my chance by the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, in 1945. But I know Parliament only through this House.
Having said that, I cannot accept his account that it is almost the last place where one may speak freely in this country. I do not know whether the House of Commons was allowed to count as one of the remaining institutions of freedom. But I do think that we must draw the lice somewhere in our self-praise, because in massaging ourselves in our collective ego we may make ourselves ridiculous; and I do feel that, in our deference to ourselves, that particular point was slightly overdone.
§ LORD CONESFORD
I thank the noble Lord for yielding. I appreciate and love the House of Commons, but I am sorry to say that in recent years, as any noble Lord can find out by simply sitting in the Gallery, on exciting occasions when there is a time limit, speakers saying something disapproved of by the other side are sometimes not allowed to be heard at all or are interrupted by bogus points of order. I deplore that, and I hope it is only a temporary thing in another place. But in this House it does not happen at all.
I understand that in the good old days Mr. Asquith 927 was howled down by the noble Lord's Party so I do not know that things have changed as much as all that; but I shall perhaps be straying away from the subject if I go on to speak about the House of Commons. I used to teach at Oxford what was called "Political Institutions'', and we were told in the early 1930's that freedom was dead in the House of Commons. Since then we have seen an independent line taken by Sir Winston Churchill, and by Mr. Aneurin Bevan and others who resigned from the Labour Government, and it appears that what I and others taught in the 1930's was wrong. I am glad to say that the noble Lord exemplified this when he resigned over the Yalta Agreement, to his great honour, whatever one may think of the facts in that case.
I felt a good deal of sympathy with the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, in some of his contentions in particular. We are all agreed that we want to attract people who may not at present feel able to come here. I was very much impressed by what he said about the niggardly reimbursement that is going to be offered. He said, with regard to the sum that it appeared was going to be offered by way of indemnification, or whatever one likes to call it—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 206 (No. 13) col. 642]:Noble Lords opposite can say better than I can whether that is likely to attract young and energetic recruits to their ranks. In my view, it will not attract anybody on either side of the House.There I am inclined to agree with him. And he added:It would not by itself attract the lowest paid labourer in this country at the present time.I hope that what the noble Marquess has said will be carefully noted. If so much deference is going to be paid to our opinions and if, as Lord Soulbury indicated, we are to be treated as a kind of sparring partner—something rather lower than a rival in the ring, and something a little higher than a punch ball—I think you must remunerate the poor old hack. I remember that many years ago (it was before my time) a famous boxing champion, Jack Johnson, fought a man named Tommy Burns, who was a good many stones lighter than he was. Though Johnson could have knocked out the other man easily, for various reasons, which I 928 need not go into at the moment, he did not do so right away. He held him up and, at intervals, socked him on the chin, not hard enough to knock him out, and from time to time when doing so he said, "Kiss me, Tommy".
While the noble Viscount, Lord Soul-bury, was speaking (I know he will forgive my saying this, he is an old Parliamentarian and a most kindly man) some of us on this side were more than a little irritated by what we thought was the patronising tone—the noble Viscount really meant well, I know—which he adopted towards our unfortunate plight. We do not regard ourselves as a "down and out" Party. Speaking a shade more seriously—and I hope the noble Viscount will not mistake my meaning—I can say that a number of us in the Labour Party in this House have had the same education as most noble Lords opposite. But some have not. I think everyone agrees that one of the things that has worked most successfully (and among the people who must be given the credit for this, the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, stands foremost) is that while certain members of our Party may have come from another environment, they have been made to feel thoroughly at home here. May I repeat that the kind of speech which Lord Soul-bury made seemed to me, and to others on this side, a little patronising with regard not only to the quantity but also to the quality of the fight which we put up from this side of the House. I hope the noble Viscount will forgive my saying this but I feel that I should be doing rather less than my duty if I were to say less.
§ VISCOUNT SOULBURY
I am very sorry if what I said created such an impression, for it was not intended. Looking ahead, I did see certain dangers in the course of time to the noble Lord's Party which do not exist at present, but which may develop unless something is done to render the Party less dependent upon a comparatively small number of individuals.
I am sure that the noble Viscount will not mind my saying what I have said. I know that his great concern for our welfare is well-intentioned. But in fact when Members of the Labour Party have been approached in the past to become Peers, 929 they have, to the best of my knowledge, usually accepted the call of duty, and I see no reason to think that they would fail in the future to answer that call.
To resume the thread of my speech, I hope that the Government have not said the last word about remuneration or reimbursement if you like so to call it. I came clown to the House to-day thinking that this point was still fairly open. I think many of us who are most interested in strengthening the House must have been very much disquieted by the nature of the reply which was given earlier to-day by the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham. I suppose it would hardly be in accordance with Parliamentary practice for the Lord Chancellor to correct an impression which has been given by a Minister who has made what, I presume, was a Government statement. But if the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor can say anything which makes the matter a little less definite he will certainly alter the attitude of a number of us. We understood from the noble Viscount who spoke earlier that it was impossible to do more for the Life Peers than is now offered to the existing Peers, and that the question of pay has been settled for the time being in what we consider to be this very niggardly fashion. That is the impression which most of us received. I am bound to say that think the Bill—which is small enough in any case—will fail totally if that is really going to be the position. I hope that something more encouraging can be said now or later.
I also agree with what was said by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, when he doubted the measure of agreement within the House. The noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor was, I thought, a little optimistic at the end of the last debate. I do not know that anything very much has happened since to alter his view but he was certainly rather optimistic when he said how encouraged he was. These were his words [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 205 (No. 103), Col. 772]:For so encouraged do I feel by the course of this great debate that I believe for the first time in my political life we may succeed in approaching this vital issue without Party preconceptions or feelings, and with a true desire to make this House—always a great instrument of good law-giving in our country—have a greater place ….That is, in effect, very much what the noble Earl the Leader of the House said 930 on the same point in this debate. He also said that there had been an advance; that he thought we had come together in some respects. He mentioned certain relatively small aspects, as it seemed to me, and also, I think, to the noble Marquess. I confess that I do not find any wide measure of agreement in the House, in the country or anywhere, that cuts across the gulf of Party.
THE EARL OF HOME
May I say that I was claiming only that there was a measure of agreement on Life Peers and on the introduction of women. That was the area of agreement I found.
I apologise to the noble Earl—I know that those were broad points referred to by him. But, as I say, I, and I think also the noble Marquess, got the impression that a wider area of agreement was being claimed. I accept it in the terms which the noble Earl has just used. I feel that this question of the hereditary principle does divide us. None of us in this debate has sought to abolish the Second Chamber. So that particular issue of whether there should be one or two Chambers does not arise. But the question of whether there should be an hereditary element at all seems to me to divide us completely. The noble Earl seems to take a sanguine view—no doubt he feels that it is his duty. He seems to feel that, when we have tried everything else, we are bound to come to this and that those of us who now disagree will later adopt a less intransigent attitude. That is putting it briefly—one cannot develop such points at a moment like this.
Other possibilities have been touched upon. The noble Lord, Lord Conesford, gave us the impression that in his view nothing else would work, and that we should find, after exploring the possibilities, that nothing else would work. Here is where the argument with regard to other countries comes in. There are other systems, and they do work. I am not going to stop to argue whether Second Chambers in other countries work better or worse than ours, but they do work. So one cannot dismiss other alternatives in favour of this one particular alternative which is unique to our country. There is here, in my view, a complete difference of 931 opinion. We on the Labour side of the House cannot voluntarily accept any hereditary element in the Second Chamber. Of course we are constitutional people, and if that is part of the Constitution at that time, we try to work tat particular part. Only one new point for the defence has been made for the hereditary principle—perhaps that is not quite fair, for Lord Conesford also developed a special defence which certainly should have attention. I would Say that there have been two such defences of the hereditary principle, one put up earlier by the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, and one put up just now by the noble Lord. Lord Conesford.
I feel that one would have to write a whole essay to make any impression of any kind in reply to the argument of Lord Conesford, because he was dealing with the imponderable quality of the debates here. I am a House of Lords man if only in the sense that I am nothing else, and I must say that I cannot see how this special quality of ours is associated with the hereditary principle. I cannot feel that, without it, it would be impossible to organise debates of our kind. I pay my tributes to the debates which we have here. I was very happy about the debate yesterday—not in terms of the Government's policy, but in terms of the tone and quality of the debate. But I cannot see that the hereditary element is essential to these debates. I admit that that is rather an incalculable question which would need to be pursued at length.
As regards the more political argument developed with such force by the noble Viscount. Lord Hailsham, I am afraid that I can see no force in it at all. The noble Viscount has explained that he has been obliged to leave, and that prevents my attempting to deal caustically with his remarks, and maybe being worsted if the noble Viscount were with us. I would say, in passing, that most of us feel for the noble Viscount in the heavy anxiety under which he has been labouring, and I will not attempt to argue very strongly now. But I feel that my noble friend Lord Attlee demolished his argument completely.
I hesitate to try to quote exactly, because I did not take down his words, but I understood the noble Viscount to 932 say that theoretically we should not have an hereditary element in a Second Chamber but that in practice it served a purpose that could not be served in any other way. I took him to mean that unless we have an hereditary Second Chamber, or a Second Chamber in which there is an hereditary element, we could not be sure that the other place would not turn itself into a dictatorship. If that interpretation is wrong, I hope that I shall be pulled up, but I understood him to say that an hereditary Second Chamber provided some kind of defence against dictatorship. Speaking briefly at this hour, I felt that my noble friend Lord Attlee answered that point completely.
It has been answered in various ways during the debate, but most definitely by the question my noble friend put: what happens when a Conservative Government is in power? Who then provides the defence against a dictatorship? There was no answer forthcoming to that. The noble Lord. Lord Lloyd. was able to produce a few Bills, not of the highest importance, which your Lordships' House has turned back when there was a Conservative Government in power, but he would not wish seriously to dispute that that kind of restraint does not represent the power of this House to resist a Conservative dictatorship. It is simply a one-sided mechanism of defence. Without wishing to set up as a constitution-monger—and I know that I shall get into trouble if I do that—I should regard any Constitution with a one-sided element on that scale as a scheme which was unworthy of being persevered with.
My Lords, as my name has been mentioned, I would say that it seems to me that the noble Earl. Lord Attlee, keeps changing his ground. He started off by saying that there were no cases in which your Lordships' House had ever rejected a measure put forward by a Conservative Government. I gave him four examples straight away. Now we are told that these are not very important. That is a slight change of ground. The first thing that was said was that we never do it; but we do.
My Lords, the noble Lord is entitled to his intervention if he feels that I was not being entirely fair in alluding to his point. If the noble Lord feels that by the small examples he gave, he has vindicated the likelihood that 933 your Lordships' House would resist a Conservative dictatorship, he does not show the high degree of intelligence which I and others attribute to him. But I do not think that he would use his particular point against the general proposition laid down by my noble friend. I should like to discuss it with him if there were time.
§ LORD BARNBY
My Lords, before the noble Lord passes on from trying to destroy the position of an entirely hereditary Chamber, has he considered alternative possibilities? If he looks at English-speaking countries, he will see that the Senate of the United States is the only one which can function effectively. Would the noble Lord give an indication of the ideas of the Opposition about the manner in which an alternative Chamber to a hereditary Chamber could possibly function in this country?
The noble Lord asks me a question often put to speakers: what would you do? At this late hour that gives me, in a sense, an opportunity of the wrong kind, but I can say that I am one of the few Members of your Lordships' House who in these debates has put forward a scheme. This can be read in the report of our last debate.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
MN Lords, forgive me for interrupting, but before the noble Lord goes on, I think that the real point, which he has not met, is the question of emergency. It is a question of the action of a respected Second Chamber in an emergency, in the event of dictatorial powers emerging in another place. It is no use saying that a Conservative majority would not act; I have faith that they would act, although there is no proof of whether they would or would not until the question arises. We must not get rid of the emergency apparatus.
I am, like the noble Lord, a double-Chamber man. I say only that an hereditary Second Chamber has no special claim to act as a safeguard. To return to the point made by my noble friend Lord Attlee, I will not develop the theme I developed on the last occasion. I am glad to see that the Daily Telegraph has since published an article in sympathy with the plan I mentioned, and to which the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, has already referred 934 to-day. I hope that, as time goes on, more and more attention will be paid to it. It would enable all Peers, hereditary and other, to sit and speak, so that the life of the House, to which the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, pays so much attention, and the quality of our debates, would continue as now, but voting rights would be distributed in such a way as to make sure that, in the last resort, the Government of the day could at least obtain a majority.
I hope to return to this plan again, if the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor will permit me, but in the last debate it was described as logical. I always wish to avoid arguing with a great Scots lawyer when he pours scorn on logic. I believe that his mighty predecessor, Lord Haldane, could talk anybody into a philosophical tangle. I should not have dared to "take him on" and I would not "take on" the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Kilmuir. I hope that to-day he will not criticise us for being logical. I hope that that at least will be spared us. If one is to be criticised for being illogical, that is bearable, because one can make a resolution to make amends; but when it conies to being criticised for being logical, despair enters one's soul. I hope that the noble and learned Viscount will not do that this evening. The noble and learned Viscount was kind enough to refer to me as "thoughtful." My difficulty is to be thoughtful without being logical. But I hope that I shall achieve it with these few observations.
I draw to a conclusion. We all want to hear the noble and learned Viscount. The details of this Bill have been fairly well explored. I am entirely in favour of women Life Peers. I do not believe that the provision for Life Peers will make all that much difference, but in so far as it does make a difference it will be to the good. Reference to remuneration does not come into the Bill, and perhaps could not, but it will be a failure on the part of the Government—I do not question their sincerity—if they leave that matter as it is at the present time. Finally I would ask the noble and learned Viscount this question, of which I gave him an hour or so's notice: Are the Government prepared to work for a Second Chamber in which there could be a Labour majority in the foreseeable future? If he can give us a satisfactory answer to that question, 935 then perhaps the great gulf might be diminished; but while it remains unanswered, so long must the gulf continue. It is not an intolerable burden for this country to bear while we have so many burdens more grievous, but it is a handicap to us in our struggle to make our way in the world, a struggle which is in the heart of the noble and learned Viscount as it is in the heart of every one of us.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, before attempting to reply to this debate. I desire to acquaint your Lordships as follows. I have it in command from The Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the contents of the Life Peerages Bill, has been graciously pleased to place the interests of the Crown at the disposal of Parliament in connection therewith.
I have had an interesting experience, because we are now concluding a debate which. as the noble Lord. Lord Conesford, has said, has really lasted for four full days, on an issue of high constitutional importance. As the occupant of the Woolsack, I have been privileged to listen to some eighty speeches during that time, and great statisticians of the quality of the noble Lord, Lord Layton, tell me that by doing so I have heard only some 200,000 words. But they have been pregnant words, of great interest to me and. I am sure, to the rest of the House. I want to say only a word with regard to the kind query of the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham. He will remember that my criticism on the last occasion consisted of seeing a resemblance between him and the Abbé Sieyès. And there were three qualities of the Abbé Sieyès: not only was he logical, but his constitutions were logical, they were long—and they never worked. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, to remember the third of these when he is confronted by a Scot contributing logic.
I think the general position—and I want to state it quite fairly—is that the great majority of your Lordships have welcomed the contents of this Bill, although some of your Lordships would have liked there to be an addition. It is true that some have chided the Government for lack of boldness, and others, Jeremiah-like, have warned us that we are 936 about to plunge over the precipice leading to the eventual dissolution of this ancient institution. I was glad to note that that tone of deep anxiety came from the Labour Benches and was prominent in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill. But, despite that, for my part I firmly believe that we are right in introducing this Bill, and not merely because, with very few exceptions. it has proved acceptable to your Lordships.
I am not one of those who would admit for one moment that the introduction of the principle of life peerages is a mere tinkering operation. After all, we are reversing a Rule which has stood for one hundred years; and, moreover, one hundred years in which there have been great changes in the size and the personalities, as well as the powers, of your Lordships' House. I ask your Lordships to remember that on no fewer than ten occasions during that period of one hundred years have unsuccessful attempts been made to alter the law, as is now proposed by this Bill—all unsuccessful because somebody had forgotten that the best can so often be the enemy of the good. That is a historical fact. But, apart from that, for me, as a constitutional lawyer, the change which we are now proposing to make has a profound significance, although I should want to think a great deal before I would go so far as the noble Lord, Lord Layton, in his extraordinarily interesting analysis of its possible effects.
There has been some question between the two sides of the House on the position in which they respectively stand with regard to this matter. I want to say only a few sentences on it, but I think the matter ought to be stated. In the Election Manifesto of Mr. Churchill, to which I was a party, in 1951, we stated that a Conservative Government wouldcall an all-Party conference to consider proposals for the reform of the House of LordsIn February, 1953, there was an exchange of letters between Mr. Churchill and Mr. Attlee (as they then were) and Mr. Clement Davies, and Mr. Churchill invited the Labour and Liberal Parties to take part in further discussions, following the precedent of 1948, first of an informal character, to see whether a sufficient area of agreement existed to justify the holding of a formal conference.
937 On February 18, 1953, Mr. Attlee replied to Mr. Churchill as follows:In view of the fact that the previous discussions in 1948 on this subject revealed a fundamental cleavage of opinion between the Labour and Conservative Parties on what is the proper part to be played by the House of Lords as a Second Chamber under the Constitution, we have come to the conclusion that no useful purpose would be served by our entering into such a discussion.That was pretty flat-footed; and your Lordships will remember that the late Lord Jowitt was equally unforthcoming when the matter was raised in this House a year or so after. I say no more on that, but I would say this, especially in view of what the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, has said, looking to the future and not to the past. I still believe that this four days' debate has shown us the practicalities of the position and the needs of this House. I refuse to allow the pessimism which he has just expressed to deflect me from that view, and I shall come to it again in a short time.
The noble Viscount who leads the Opposition asked us, again and again, for a definite statement of the object of the Government in bringing in this Bill. The object is, as my noble friends have said, to have more working members in the House. Her Majesty's Government are concerned to strengthen the House in its day-to-day working. We accept the view—and this has not been argued against—that there are men and women of high quality and public spirit who are deterred from taking hereditary peerages usually by concern for their sons, and if we have made it possible for such persons to enter this House, then I maintain that we shall have served the country well—that is irrespective of the other important aspect of admitting women to this House. And, incidental to that, it is to strengthen the numbers of the Opposition.
I hope the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, has no feeling that in the Government, at any rate, there is any lack of respect for the work that has been done by noble Lords in Opposition in this House. Nothing would be further from our thoughts. Your Lordships know well how on many hundreds of occasions in the last three years I have had to work on the most difficult Bills with noble Lords opposite, and I have seen the immensely high standard which noble Lords, without a secretariat behind them, have shown in dealing with very difficult subjects. In 938 one Session we had the Copyright Bill, the Road Traffic Bill and the Restrictive Practices Bill, in which literally hundreds of speeches had to be made in Committee. It is not that, but it is the point, which I venture to put, with the best feeling in the world, that it is wrong that the high standard which has been maintained should rest on such small numbers that accidents of life might well make a real difference to the consideration of legislation in this House if there were, which Heaven forbid! casualties among noble Lords who deal with certain subjects. That is the situation, and I hope that noble Lords will believe that I am speaking—because I am—with complete sincerity when I restate it in that way.
My Lords, as the Lord Chancellor has been kind enough to refer to me, may I say that I am sure all of us entirely accept what he has just said.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I am grateful to the noble Lord. May I come to another point, and try to get in perspective the question of rejection of House of Commons proposals by this House? This action we are about to take does not arise from the fact of conflict between the two Houses. I think the remarkable fact in the last twelve years is that so few measures emanating from the Commons, under any Government, have been rejected by your Lordships' House. If one takes it in time, during the Labour Administration from 1945 to 1951 there was the proposal of the Government with regard to the powers of this House in the Parliament Bill, 1948, and the proposal with regard to capital punishment. There was also the Iron and Steel Bill—I do not want to miss anything—which took rather a curious course and which ended in agreement. These two matters were the matters against which my noble friend, Lord Salisbury, marshalled his supporters. And they were the only two, because my noble friend's plan which was announced, and which I restated on the last occasion, was that this House accepted what had been placed before the people in the Socialist Party manifesto and passed by the House of Commons.
As I say, my noble friend, Lord Salisbury, never asked his supporters to vote against measures in that category. 939 That was the basis when the Labour Party was in. The question of capital punishment cuts across all Parties. Of course, the question of the powers of the House was a direct Party issue. If one takes two of the examples which were given by my noble friend, Lord Lloyd, the Patents and Designs Bill and the Heroin Regulations, one admits that they may not be on the same political scale, but they were matters of great importance in the legislative programme of the Government of the day.
I ask your Lordships to look at the question of the Capital Punishment Bill fairly and squarely. That was a case where it was clear and accepted by everyone, so far as public opinion is ascertainable at all, that something between 70 and 80 per cent. of opinion, at least, was against complete abolition. There, this House acted on two occasions, and on both occasions the House of Commons in the end chose to acquiesce with this House rather than to use the provisions of the Parliament Act. But do not let us have shadow fighting on this matter. Can anyone in their senses imagine for a moment the Labour Party, in their manifesto, putting the abolition of capital punishment before the country on the next occasion? When I see that I shall change many views.
I wish to look for a moment at the delaying powers of this House. more from the point of view which, as I understand it, my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh had in mind—namely, that unless we have delaying powers, it is impossible to carry out our revising functions. Again, what I am anxious about is that we should get things in perspective. Now what are the delaying powers? What is the only basis on which we can be said to interfere with the action of the popular Chamber? Let me remind your Lordships: a Public Bill (other than a Money Bill, which, of course, goes through, or a Bill containing provision to extend the maximum duration of Parliament) is passed if it is passed by the Commons in two successive Sessions, sent up to the Lords one month before the end of the Session, rejected by the Lords in two Sessions; but one year must elapse between the Second Reading in the first Session in the Commons and the Third Reading in the Commons in the second Session.
940 As the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, showed, with characteristic ingenuity, you can cut the size of your Sessions so that you can get the machinery to act as much in your favour as you like. We experienced that in the years of the noble Earl's Government. Therefore, that means that, practically speaking, your Lordships' House can effectively hold up the passage of a long Bill for five months, and a short Bill for nine months. If one takes Bills like the Transport Bill, on which I had the honour to lead the Opposition, that took seven months in another place, and it comes into the five months category, or it may even be less. That is our power of which complaint is made. Can anyone who wants—as I do, as the noble Lord. Lord Pakenham does, and as my noble friend, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, does—our revising powers to be properly used (that means amending Bills, and going through in detail a Bill that has taken seven months in the House of Commons) seriously say that it is an unreasonable period of delay which may arise on these rare occasions, and that that is unreasonable in order that a Bill may be revised adequately or, in these very rare cases, time may be given for public opinion to crystallise? As I say, all this is on the hypothesis that a Bill has taken seven months in the Commons.
Let us stop shadow-fighting and look at the reality, because we all know that the House of Commons is not geared—it has not the time—to get Bills into the form which any Parliament would like them to be. The British Civil Service is not geared to unicameral government, and without a Second Chamber for proper revision one vital side of the legislation is going to fail. I stress it again, and I shall go on stressing it till my political life ends. We talk of speed, and so on, but I say again that it is not enough that a Bill should typify your Party policy. Unless a Bill is put in a form that fits the ordinary life and daily round of the people of the country—I do not care what Party sponsors it—it is a bad Bill, and does nothing but harm and brings Parliament into disrespect.
§ LORD OGMORE
May I interrupt the noble and learned Viscount? If it is so important, and I agree that it is, to have a revising Chamber to do the work the 941 Lord Chancellor has been referring to, why do the Government refuse to pay those Peers who do the work of revising?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I shall come to the question of payment. I think it would be an advantage if I took the points in, my own order, but may I ask Lord Ogmore to remind me—he has full permission to interrupt me again—if I do not deal with the point? With the wide range of the debate I shall have to be selective in the points to which I reply, but I will try to deal with what I think are the most important points.
I think the first of these is that I have been asked by the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, and various other noble Lords, in all parts of the House, about the principles to be applied in appointing Life Peers and Peeresses under this Bill—the principle on which they will be chosen, how many will be chosen, and points of that kind. My noble friend Lord Home said in his opening speech that in the selection of Life Peers the emphasis will be on the appointment of persons who can help the work of Parliament. My Lords, in discovering such persons, when the Prime Minister is looking for those who might be able to help the Opposition, he would desire to seek the advice of the Leader of the Opposition, in regard to the time and any other aspect of the matter as is appropriate. In cases like that it would seem prima facie appropriate, when the object is to find people who will help the Labour Party, that the Prime Minister would consult the Leader of the Opposition. The same would apply to any other Party. But in general I am quite sure that this will give him a wide range of persons; and that is of course especially clear in the case with regard to the inclusion of women.
I want just to say a word about the fact that the selection will be made by the Prime Minister, The constitutional position is that the Sovereign must act on the advice of Ministers; and that means, in effect, on the advice of the Prime Minister as the Leader of the Government, in this regard. I believe that it would have to be so. I do not want to put anyone in any difficulty, but I do not think anyone who has held the office of Prime Minister would dissent from that. That can be coupled with consultation by the Prime Minister as he desires. 942 If I may give your Lordships an example, the Honours Lists show that it has happened. Your Lordships will remember the Dissolution Honours 'at the change of Government, and also the Coronation Honours, where other Parties are included. Every Prime Minister that I have known has always said with a smile that he hoped that he would not have to carry the full responsibility for the names of those of other Parties who appeared in the lists. In other words, it is a well-recognised thing that there will be consultation which will produce that result.
My Lords, it is possible for consultations to take place with leaders in other spheres of national life. As I have said, the Prime Minister might consult about the selection of eminent persons connected with the Church of Scotland, although, of course, there would be no question of direct representation of that Church or anyone else. That is the way it would work. I do not see that there would be any difficulty in that regard, and I do not see myself how the responsibility can be taken away from the Prime Minister. I do not see how the fact that the Prime Minister would be responsible would mean the exclusion of non-political and the restriction to political people. I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Moran is not with us now, because Lord Moran himself was appointed on the recommendation of a Prime Minister, and we could not have a more distinguished non-political Member of the House. In fact every noble Lord on the Cross-Benches was in that position, and I see no reason why that should not continue, whatever Panty is in power. My Lords, I am not going again into "swamping", because I do not think that is a practical proposition.
May I say one word about the question of women, because ever and anon throughout the eighty speeches the voice against women has been raised. Of course the noble Earl, Lord Airlie, came, with a great skirl of pipes anti swinging of his claymore, to lead the antifeminist charge. I have listened in vain for the deployment of any serious argument, and I agree with my noble friend Lord Woolton that it is difficult to see how in these days any Government could bring in such a Bill as this and exclude women. I reject the proposition which I gather my noble friend Lord Airlie adumbrated, that women have failed in 943 public life. I was impressed by the examples given by the noble Viscount. Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, and I have known others in my own Party.
The gist of Lord Airlie's argument was what the Germans used to call the "three Ks": Kirche, Kinder and Küche: that woman's place is in church, with children and at the kitchen stove. I do not think that is really abreast of the times. For a moment Lord Airlie reminded me of the speech of my predecessor Lord Birkenhead, which began, "The world would have been no worse if Sappho had never sung". I was very glad that the noble Earl, Lord Airlie was prepared to concede that women had been of some use in the Angus County Council I do not feel that he is going quite as far. On his other point about the question of waiting a little and a little further delay, I would say this. One of my boyhood heroes was a forbear of Lord Airlie. Sir Thomas Ogilvie, who commanded Montrose's cavalry in the Inverlochy Campaign and doubled back round the mountain passes with snow up to his horse's girths. That was roughly 300 years ago. For one-sixth of that time we have been discussing the problem that the noble Earl. Lord Airlie, would like to postpone again. Surely forty-seven years is long enough for us to make up our minds.
The noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, asked why the Bill was not introduced in another place. There is no ulterior motive or subtle reason. The simple answer is that it is Parliamentarily appropriate that proposals for the introduction of a new element in your Lordships' House should be introduced here. Secondly, precedents support this course, previous Bills on life peerages having been introduced in this House. Thirdly, Her Majesty's Government recognise that the main impetus for reform has come from the House of Lords itself. I pay tribute to the long efforts of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, and the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, in this regard.
I come now to the point with which the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, asked me to deal—the question of payment—because the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, described the insufficiency of the present financial arrangements as a fatal defect in the plan of Her Majesty's Government. I cannot accept the description of "a fatal 944 defect." What has always impressed me in this argument of the noble Marquess is his proposition that no form of remuneration of Peers is a practical possibility without some limitation of numbers—I hope that I am putting quite fairly what constitutes the dilemma that the noble Marquess has had in mind. Our two debates have convinced Her Majesty's Government. as the noble Marquess knows, that we cannot go further with his plan of limiting the numbers of hereditary Peers, although we are anxious that the voluntary plan associated with the proposal of the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, should come on.
The noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, with a rapier-like manœuvre tried to put me apart from my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham on this point. It was quite fair Parliamentary play, and if he will not mind my saying so, he did an excellent botte de Jésuite; or, so that the noble Lord will not complain of my fencing metaphor, I will say coup de Jarnac. My noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham was making the clear point that we cannot have changes in remuneration, or indemnification, often and over short periods of time. But that does not mean, and I hope no one will take it to mean, that we are shutting the door or our eyes on the problem.
§ THE EARL OF SWINTON
My Lords, may I put one point to the noble and learned Viscount? Does the statement that we must wait a certain period of time apply in a case where it can be proved that the rate of remuneration is hopelessly inadequate and will fail of its purpose?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, can your Lordships not imagine a borderline case which is reductio ad absurdum? I can, of course, realise that there may be such a case, but in general that applies. In the years when I served, as a Minister, with the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, I have known him consider that we could not have rapid changes in Government decisions on a financial basis; and may I remind the noble Earl that, as when he was concerned even with the much more defensible, if less pleasant, duty of trying to cut down expenditure, it is difficult enough to make such changes very rapidly. I believe the noble and learned Viscount Lord Hailsham, was entirely 945 right in making that point. What I am saying is that I am perfectly prepared to consider the matter.
I was impressed by what was said by some of the younger Peers, and we had notable speeches from the noble Lords, Lord Melchett and Lord St. Oswald, on our side of the House; from the noble Lord, Lord Denham, and from Lord Darwen and Lord Noel-Buxton, on the other side. They referred to the difficulty of younger Peers earning their living and coming to this House. There are, therefore, two things that we have to consider. The first is to find a method. I am prepared to consider any suggestions. I hope that even the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, will not rest content with the barren position of confronting Her Majesty's Government with the dilemma but will try to find some way out.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, my comment was not at all a wrecking comment; it was a perfectly sincere comment. But I see the difficulty that Her Majesty's Government cannot pay Life Peers unless they pay hereditary Peers; and they cannot pay hereditary Peers when there is no obligation on those Peers to attend. I therefore felt that it was a perfectly fair comment that, unless a way could be found of limiting hereditary Peers to those who mean to attend fairly regularly. I did not see how Life Peers could be paid.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, my only prayer to the noble Marquess—and I mean this quite sincerely, for I know how anxious he is that it should be a success—is that he will not let the logical dilemma shut the door of his mind, any more than we are doing. I do not want to say anything at the close of a debate which might afterwards be taken as going further than I should have gone, but I do not really accept his premises or the steps of his reasoning. I do not see why we should not examine each stage, and I ask the noble Marquess to do it in that way. As we well know, it is easy to raise these difficulties and I recognise that difficulties exist; but I am not convinced that we cannot, with good will, find some way out—and I am not merely talking platitudes. But I would rather talk with the noble Marquess and the noble Lord. Lord Pakenham, or anyone else in private than bandy matters 946 about and destroy elements which might deserve further consideration. The noble Marquess knows me well enough to know that I am not trying to dodge his point.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I am quite certain that the noble and learned Viscount will give this matter most serious consideration, and I am quite ready to accept, as an amendment to my term "fatal defeat", the term "very serious defect". But I hope the fact that Her Majesty's Government do not want to have to face up to having to pay more than they may have to at the present time—and I know the difficulty—will not deter them from trying to find a really good scheme if it turns out that the present proposals will not work otherwise.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Marquess. Let us approach the matter in that spirit.
There is another aspect which I should very much like him to consider, because he has been the spearpoint in this regard. It is a point to which some of the younger noble Lords drew attention—namely, the difficulty of attending this House while carrying on an occupation. That is not a question of money; it is a question of time. I was for six years in the other House. I was on the Front Bench, I was speaking a great deal in the country and, I am told, I was carrying on one of the largest practices at the Bar. It is not impossible to work in Parliament and at a considerable occupation. But, of course, it is immensely easier if the hours of Parliament can be adjusted so that they interfere less with the earning time; and that, I think, is something that we might consider. Again, I should rather not put forward proposals. Again, it is something which we ought to discuss first and find out the way in which all noble Lords could co-operate, because it is a very serious point. I have been told—the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, told me when he was in practice at the Bar, before he was a Minister, and other noble Lords have told me—it is one's getting away early in the afternoon and taking the time off that employers have not liked. Let us consider that again.
I am sorry that I am taking so much of your Lordships' time, but I am trying to deal with the points, and I want to say only one word about the speech of my 947 noble friend, Lord Elton, who has influenza and, I am sorry to say, cannot be with us this evening. Even before he described himself, his mournful eloquence suggested the "Cassandra" which he used as his own description; and, my Lords, we reject the description of his forebodings because we believe that, unlike Cassandra, Lord Elton will be proved to be wrong. I was very much reminded by almost every phrase in Lord Elton's speech of my noble predecessor on the Woolsack, Lord Lyndhurst, when he secured the decision in Lord Wensleydale's case. Putting it quite shortly, I think the noble Lords, Lord Elton and Lord Moran, in their very interesting speeches, both underestimated the importance of the revising work in this House.
I want to say one word about the general nature of a Second Chamber, and here again I pick out the point that the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, asked me. I wonder whether Lord Pakenham has ever considered the plan of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury. Lord Pakenham put to me a question about getting a greater equality. I have just worked out, on a hypothesis that I thought would be most pleasing to Lord Pakenham, how Lord Salisbury's plan would have worked. on the assumption—as I say, I am taking this in order to please Lord Pakenham—that the Labour Party won the next General Election. On that fantastic hypothesis, the result of the scheme of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury—I am not tying it to numbers—would result, broadly, in a limitation to 200 hereditary Peers, 200 Life Peers, eventually recruited over a period, 24 neutrals, 26 Bishops and 14 Law Lords. That means that you add, over the period of years, 200 Life Peers to the House—broadly, as it operates now—because the active House numbers about 250; and on that basis, which I think the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, had in mind, for that House you would make a big recruitment campaign, to begin with, of, say, 75, and then about 15 a year. On that basis, on my fancy, at the end of eight years you might well, under Lord Salisbury's plan, of the Life Peens have 65 Conservative, 115 Labour, 10 Liberal and 10 Cross-Bench; and of hereditary Peers, 120 Conservative, 45 Labour, 20 Liberal, and 15 Cross-Bench. That is not an extreme working under Lord Salisbury's plan, so I do not think 948 anyone can say the noble Marquess has drawn his plan in order to concentrate a Conservative reserve.
And I ask the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, to consider the proposals of 1948. In 1948, the suggestion was that we should act in proportion to the votes cast at the General Election. Taking a House of about 400, there would have been on the showing then, 180 Labour Peers, 150 Conservative, 30 Liberals and 110 Privy Counsellors; and, of the Privy Counsellors, the noble Lord can take it that at least 80 would have been Conservative. So the plan works subject always to this—and this is the point made by Lord Pethick-Lawrence—that a Second Chamber is bound to consist of elderly people and. broadly, with exceptions, elderly people become more Conservative. That was Lord Pethick-Lawrence's point, and it is true in most cases.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The noble Viscount could be quoted for both views on that argument, but I shall not say any more. My Lords, that is the position and I think that must be recognised. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, would recognise that.
My Lords, I should like to study very carefully in Hansard what the noble and learned Viscount has said before I venture on any comment. But he has referred to the plan of the noble Marquess in reply to a question from me. I am not personally supporting the plan of the noble Marquess—far from it—but are we being told that the Government are likely to support that plan?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
No; I have taken the example of two plans which have been discussed in the debate. But I want to approach this question, and I want noble Lords opposite to approach it, from the point of view of the sort of Second Chamber we want. We have to consider the functions; but to perform these functions, what do we want and what are the limits? The first limit is that a Second Chamber must not be a rival to the House of Commons—that is accepted—and therefore one cannot have an elected Second Chamber. That is out, 949 and it is no good saying "Look at the American Senate". That condition is out. Now, it must have, and appear to have, as its Members, those with a real and wide experience over every field of activity, including that of legislating. My Lords" unless you get that, then you are not going to be able to do your revising work, you are not going to be able to do your initiating work, nor are you going to be able to have worth-while discussions; so that is a necessity. So we must be sure that our methods of recruitment are apt for that purpose.
Thirdly, a Second Chamber must preserve in its Members a true independence of outlook, and I am very glad that the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, referred to the question of the independence and conservatism in the course of his speech to-day. I entirely agree that there must be an element of independence in the Second Chamber, and it must be less tied to the Party Whip. If it is merely going to be another agency of the Executive as the House of Commons under the strict Party system tends to be, it is not going to fulfil its purpose. Fourthly, the Second Chamber must be adapted for the purpose which I have mentioned—that is, of fitting legislation to the ordinary round, the common task, of ordinary people. Fifthly, the Second Chamber must be constantly refreshed. On that, it is very interesting to note that your Lordships' House has been constantly refreshed in this century, as your Lordships have heard, not least by the noble Earl. Lord Attlee. One hundred and one refreshments came into your Lordships' House, and even if one excludes those soldiers and Service chiefs who came after the war, at least fifty-four were Labour Peers, put in for the purpose.
Of these qualities there is not one quality I have mentioned that anyone could seriously deny exists in your Lordships' House, and in the activities of your Lordships' House. Again, that is not a debating point; it is an assertion of cold fact. These necessary qualities exist. It follows from that—and this is something I would ask Lord Pakenham to consider—that you cannot ignore this House with its wealth of experience. In forming a Second Chamber and, more than that, in order to get an effective and working Second Chamber in this country, you have to build on the existing foundations of 950 your Lordships' House. The point I want to make to the noble Lord is this. If one does that; if we take our reform as a basis—that is, Life Peers and women—getting, as I believe we shall, an accretion to our strength of both men and women, I ask noble Lords to consider again this question: merely because there are 850 hereditary peerages (including 167 of first creation), is that a reason against this House? Is that a reason for shutting the door against going forward?
I am not tying myself or the Government to any particular plan. What I am most anxious and optimistic about—despite the words of the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham—is that after this discussion, after showing whether there are birds in the covert or not (I do not believe there are), we can go forth to make a more effective House, built up on this House; and in that way it is not at all impossible to make the balance much better. What is always impossible to change—whether the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, is right, or whether with advancing years we gain something—is my first proposition, that rightly or wrongly, Conservatism—
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The interesting thing is that in Second Chambers it does. It does just that. I am not being argumentative, I am stating a fact, which Lord Pethick-Lawrence was the first to state in our debates.
I thank your Lordships for your kindness in putting up with this speech after so many other speeches of mine. But I would draw your attention to two speeches for special consideration. One is that of my noble friend Lord Dundee, who put with great starkness the political issues. The other is the speech—to me a very striking one—of the noble Lord, Lord Strang, delivered from the Cross-Benches. Your Lordships will remember that he said we are doing three things: first, we are asserting the right of the Crown to create life peerages; secondly, we are proposing for the first time to enable women to sit in this House; thirdly, by making these alterations in the law we hope to make it easier to bring into this House, and particularly to the Opposition Benches, men and women who will improve the House and 951 add to its assets, so that it can continue to play its part in the Constitution in accordance with its great traditions of the past. I ask your Lordships to allow this Bill to have a Second Reading.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.