HL Deb 10 December 1957 vol 206 cc977-1020

3.38 p.m.

THE EARL OF SWINTON rose to move to resolve, That this House would welcome the adoption of the conclusions relating to the delivery of Writs of Summons contained in paragraph 15, and the conclusions relating to Leave of Absence contained in paragraphs 29 to 39, of the Report of the Select Commit- tee on the Powers of the House in relation to the Attendance of its Members; and that a Select Committee be appointed to frame and propose to the House Standing Orders for giving effect to the conclusions relating to Leave of Absence. The noble Earl said: My Lords, the object of the Motion which stands in my name on the Order Paper is to invite the House to make effective the conclusions of the Select Committee which the House appointed to report on the attendance of Members of this House. Your Lordships will recall that it was a Committee consisting of representatives of all three Parties, with a learned leaven of Law Lords—and, I am glad to say, a distinguished Cross Bencher (I am not referring to the journalist but to a Member on our Cross Benches) as well. And this representative Committee was unanimous in all its conclusions.

The Report has already been considered to a considerable extent in this House, and on three occasions at least it has had a very favourable reception: in February of last year, when the Report was formally considered by the House; during the debate initiated by my noble friend Lord Teynham on the reform of the House of Lords, and again only last week, in our debate on the Second Reading of the Life Peerages Bill. I would particularly welcome the commendation of my noble friend the Leader of the House on that last occasion, because I think he was expressing not only what I know is the view of the Government but also what. I think was the feeling in the minds of all who sat on that Committee. He said [OFFICIAL REPORT. Vol. 206, (No. 13), col. 612]: … I believe that, should we take advantage of the recommendations of the Committee, some hundreds of Peers would avail themselves of this leave of absence, and that, once they had accepted the conditions, the Peers concerned would keep the bargain. That would give us the opportunity, over the next few years, of watching in action a House which would consist in the main of regularly attending and working Peers. That experiment may well assist us to decide whether further action defining the limits of membership more formally is necessary or wise.

I think that our Committee can take a modest pride in having produced a plan on which the present Leader of the House and the former Leader of the House are in complete agreement. My noble friend Lord Salisbury, while he would naturally prefer to have his own plan embodied in the Bill, in our debate last week described the Committee's plan as a most valuable proposal which he hoped would be carried into effect. I should like to add this. I believe that if your Lordships adopt these proposals, we shall make it easier for the Government to deal more liberally with the indemnification or remuneration of Members, upon which so much stress was laid in recent debates.

As your Lordships are familiar with the Report and almost without exception appear favourable to it, I need not speak at any great length. I would only remind you of the most salient passages on which action is required. After full discussion, the Committee found that the House has no power to exclude a Member and that every Peer has a right to receive a Writ of Summons. On that finding, we had to reject the proposals to which the late Lord Exeter had devoted so much time and research. But the Committee stress that this right to be summoned also, and equally, entails the duty to attend, unless a Peer is excused attendance by this House; and, moreover, that if a Peer is unable or unwilling to attend, he is under a duty to apply for leave of absence. As the Committee say, there is no doubt that some Peers are obviously unfamiliar with the mandatory terms of the Writ, and I am sure that many more are unaware of the duty to apply for absence of leave.

Until some time early in the last century Writs were delivered personally to Peers. There was an officer of the Lord Chancellor who toured the country and delivered them. Some time in the last century, either for the motive of economy or for some other reason, this practice was discontinued, and Writs were not even sent by post. As your Lordships know, the Writs remain in the Crown Office in the Palace of Westminster for Peers to come and collect them. The Committee advise that it is within the power of your Lordships' House to request the Lord Chancellor in future to send the Writ or a copy of the Writ to every Peer. I think we should all agree with the Committee that a Royal Summons, so urgent and stringent in its terms, ought at least to be delivered to the Peer to whom it is addressed. Therefore, the first proposal in my Motion is to request the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor to adopt the proposed procedure and send a copy of the Writ to every Peer.

While your Lordships' House has no power to exclude, without any doubt it has the right to compel attendance and to grant leave of absence. As the Committee point out, the House can use this dual power to meet the present situation, which is well known to all of us, in which a number of Peers do not mean to attend or cannot attend, and meet it in a manner which would conform to the rights and duties of Peers under the Writ. Your Lordships' House has always, or ever since the 16th or 17th century, when the right passed from the Crown to the House, had the right to grant leave of absence. A Standing Order provided for the grant of leave of absence. Paragraph 33 of the Report sets out how this Standing Order could be brought up to date. As that paragraph contains the essence of the proposals which I am asking your Lordships to approve, I would ask leave to read it in full. It is not long and I think it is very clear.

It reads as follows: It would, for example, be well within the powers of the House to arrange, as suggested above, that his Writ or a copy of his Writ should be sent to every Peer, together with a copy of any new Standing Orders on leave of absence. These Standing Orders might provide in substance—

  1. (a) that it is the duty of Members of the House to attend regularly or as often as they reasonably can or else to apply for leave of absence;
  2. (b) that a communication be addressed to all Members of the House at the beginning of every Parliament, stating that if they desire to be relieved of the obligation of attendance they should apply for leave of absence; either for the duration of the Parliament or for any shorter period, and further that they should state in reply to such communication whether they do or do not desire to apply for leave of absence;
  3. (c) that any Member of the House who fails to reply to such a communication should be regarded has having applied for leave of absence, unless he attends to take the Oath within one month of the beginning of a Parliament;
  4. (d) that Members of the House are expected, if they have been granted leave of absence, not to attend until their leave of absence has been terminated by their giving such notice as may be prescribed by Standing Order."

I think that these provisions are clear and I do not think they need comment or elaboration, but I would draw your Lordships' attention to the words in subparagraph (a), that it is the duty of Members of the House to attend regularly or as often as they reasonably can. We all know that there are some Peers who by reason of other duties cannot attend regularly. They can come occasionally and are most valuable when they can attend. I think that none of us would wish to deprive them of the right to attend when they can. Your Lordships' House would be the loser by that. Therefore, under this proposal, if your Lordships adopt it and so instruct the Select Committee which I am proposing the House should set up, we should be able to make that provision. For example, we should be able to have the attendance of my noble friend Lord Lovat, who made such an agreeable speech to your Lordships the other day, whenever he is able to emerge from his Black Forest.

The Report is based on the assumption that the Standing Orders would apply at the beginning of a Parliament. But in paragraph 35 the Committee point out that it would be equally competent for the House to make the procedure apply at the beginning of any Session or during a Session, and I think that probably the House would wish the Standing Orders to be so drafted as to enable that to be done.

Lastly, I come to the question of sanctions. The Committee considered whether the Standing Orders should contain sanctions. There might be some difficulty in framing art appropriate sanction, but the Committee based their findings against sanctions on a much broader consideration than that. We felt that the imposition of sanctions was not only unnecessary but repugnant to the spirit of the House. The House undoubtedly has a power to punish either for contempt or for a breach of its Standing Orders; but that power, though it has existed for centuries, has never been exercised over Standing Orders. We are, I think, a fairly orderly body; we make our own Standing Orders, and we keep them—I was going to say with one possible exception, namely, the one about the reading of speeches; but I have found, on inquiry, that the provision about reading speeches is not in a Standing Order, but was a Resolution of the House, and more admonitory than minatory in its character, So the Committee were against any special sanctions. I think the House will agree with that view, and I would therefore ask your Lordships to approve of paragraph 37 and reject the idea of sanctions

There is one other matter that I think I should place on record, because it is important. The Committee, which, as I say, included eminent Law Lords, report that the proposals for the Standing Orders which I have outlined to the House would in no way affect the Royal Prerogative. If the House approves of this Report and these proposals, I think that the convenient course will be to appoint a Select Committee to draft those Orders and present them to the House. I may say that I discussed this matter with the late Lord Drogheda, hoping that he would probably be the Chairman of the Committee, if the House approved of such an appointment, and he said that he was quite sure that that was the right way of proceeding. Therefore, I beg to move that the conclusions of the Committee on the delivery of Writs and Leave of Absence be approved, and that a Select Committee be appointed to frame and propose to the House the Standing Orders to give effect thereto.

Moved to resolve, That this House would welcome the adoption of the conclusions relating to the delivery of Writs of Summons contained in paragraph 15, and the conclusions relating to Leave of Absence contained in paragraphs 29 to 39, of the Report of the Select Committee on the Powers of the House in relation to the Attendance of its Members; and that a Select Committee be appointed to frame and propose to the House Standing Orders for giving effect to the conclusions relating to Leave of Absence.—(The Earl of Swinton.)

3.53 p.m.


My Lords, the House will be doubly grateful to my noble friend Lord Swinton: first, because he guided the Select Committee on the Powers of this House in relation to attendance, and they were able to produce this instructive Report on which they did much research and for which indeed we are all exceedingly grateful; and secondly, because he has initiated this debate on the suggestions which are in that Report and which concern the attendance of Members of your Lordships' House. The few remarks I shall make this afternoon I shall make as Leader of the House, rather than as a Minister in the Government, because, of course, this is a matter for your Lordships' House and your Lordships' House alone. From the point of view of your Lordships' House, there is no doubt that the question of Peers who do not attend at all, or who attend only intermittently, does present us with a problem. They do attract some measure of public condemnation on themselves and some discredit on this House. At the same time, those of us who have watched the working of this House from the inside would not wish to exaggerate the problem. However, there is this problem, and therefore it is right that we should take notice of it.

I should have thought that the proposals which are being put forward—and my noble friend has mentioned them, particularly those in paragraph 33 of the Report—would have several advantages. They would enable Peers who do not attend, but who know that they have a duty to do so, to regularise their position with the assent of their fellow Peers. The House would benefit too, I think, in the eyes of the public if the inactive or near-inactive Peers were, so to speak, taken off the strength for so long as they felt unable to perform their duties. Then again—and this is a sort of bull point in any scheme—I think it would work; and it would work without sanctions or penalties. Odd as it may seem in these modern days, we manage in this House to work by "gentlemen's agreement," rather than by rigid Standing Orders enforced by a Speaker of the House.

As my noble friend has reminded me, I said on the occasion of the last debate (and I am looking at it now, perhaps, for the first time, from the Government's point of view) that the Committee's proposal fits quite well into the modified scheme for the reform of your Lordships' House, which we hope to introduce, and it would allow us to see a House of regular working members in action. Therefore, for those reasons I should have thought that your Lordships might well feel that this scheme was well worth the experiment. My noble friend to-day is only asking that we shall set up a Select Committee to advise us on the best ways and means—


I am asking the House to-day to approve the Report and then to set up a Select Committee to do the technical work of drafting the Standing Orders to give effect to it.


I am grateful to my noble friend. He is asking the House to approve the Report and to set up a Select Committee to advise us as to the best ways and means of implementing the proposals. I am sure that that is the right and sensible thing to do. There will be a number of questions which will occur to all your Lordships, including, of course, who is to send out to all the Peers the letter accompanying the Writ; whether it will be the Lord Chancellor or the Clerk of the House. As I say, a number of questions will come up which ought to be answered, and I think a Select Committee is the right body to find the answers and to advise your Lordships both on the delivery of the Writ and on the mechanics of granting the leave of absence. Therefore, without wasting more of your Lordships' time, or indeed any more words, I feel that both from the point of view of your Lordships' House and certainly from the point of view of the Government I should like to support this proposal made by my noble friend.

4.0 p.m.


My Lords, I think I had better say at the outset that any remarks I make from this Dispatch Box will be given as my personal opinion, and I do not in any way tie any noble Lord who sits behind me to agree with those views. I have held from the first that the debates which we have upon the working of your Lordships' House are occasions on which any noble Lord in any part of the House is entitled to speak his own mind.

I do not think my noble friends will dissent very greatly from what I intend to say. I support the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, because his scheme and his excellent Report, if he will permit me to say so, goes a little way—I am sorry only a little way—along the road that I myself would tread. I hold the view that, first of all, the number of hereditary Peers who sit as legislative Peers in your Lordships' House should be reduced. I am fearful—and I say this without any equivocation—that the proposals of the Government contained in the Bill which was debated in your Lordships' House last week will not work. I agree with the noble Earl the Leader of the House that this scheme does stand a chance of working, if only because of one thing which the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, mentioned earlier. If we can reduce the working numbers in this House and cut out the dead wood—not so much the back wood, but the dead wood—we stand a chance of solving the great problem of your Lordships' House. That prob. le:-n is not life peerages versus hereditary peerages. The great problem of how to make your Lordships' House work is one of pure common or garden economics. You will never have a real working House while this Chamber is based upon voluntary and charitable effort.

I have said this upon many occasions. The only qualification I have for speaking is the fact that I have played some part in the working of your Lordships' House for twelve years. I have listened with great embarrassment to the compliments that have been paid in all parts of the House to those who have borne the heat and burden of Opposition on these Benches, in which I have played some small part. Until you have done it, you do not know the strain. It is a strain which no-one should be allowed to carry for very long. As my noble friend Lord Silkin said—I think it was on the debate on the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Tevnham—it means the neglect of one's home, one's wife, one's family, one's health, and a very large cost to one's pocket. You cannot expect anybody to do it.

How are you going to enlarge these numbers? You will not do that by creating life peerages until you pay the "rate for the job". You can hedge this around, and you can side-track it; but, as the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, said, every Peer who spoke in the debate, with one exception—and that was one of the Government speakers, and only one of the Government speakers—emphasised that you will never succeed until you realise that in modern conditions you must pay the sort of emolument which will attract people to do the job. The noble Lord, Lord Mills, is sitting opposite. He knows what he has had to do. One of his greatest difficulties was in getting first-class brains to sit upon the numerous boards he had to set up under the Electricity Act. He could not compete with industry for brains because of the "chicken-feed" remunerations he was forced to pay. He admitted it. Does that not hold good also for the work of your Lordships' House? The only thing I am afraid of—and I hope that it will not happen—is that if the noble Earl's scheme does fructify, the greater the emolument given, the less chance there may be that noble Lords will apply for leave of absence. It might work that way, although, of course, it might not. But at least I am prepared to try the experiment, because experiment it can be. I think that is one of the sensible things that we do in this country; we move a little bit at a time by trial and error.

Although the Bill which was debated in your Lordships' House last week moves a little bit, I hold the opinion that there is more error than trial in it. I should apologise to your Lordships, because I had intended to speak last Thursday, but I was marooned in the fog, sixty miles from your Lordships' House. I am going to resist the temptation of making my speech this afternoon, but I shall make some of it on Tuesday next. I read every word of the Report of the debate, and I noted one thing that was emphasised; that is—I am sorry to be so mundane or material but I have been brought up in a material world—that, just as we in this country have found that we cannot to-day get much on the cheap, so this country must give up trying to get first-class legislation and legislative powers in the House of Lords on the cheap. It has had it for too long.

I would go still further. As I have told your Lordships, I read every word of the debate last week, in which speaker after speaker said that he was against the hereditary principle. I wish noble Lords who use that term in future would qualify it and say precisely what they mean. Are they against the hereditary principle as such, or are they against the hereditary principle only as applied to legislators? They are two different things entirely. I find myself in the position of being unable logically to accept that there is ipso facto a right for an hereditary Peer to sit in Parliament and be a legislator; yet I would not do away with the hereditary peerage. I am unashamedly an advocate of honours. I am unashamedly a supporter of the hereditary system of honours. I would not do away with the hereditary peerages—for one very good reason that appeals to me, and I hope that I am not overstating it. Once you start tampering with hereditary peerages you are tampering with something that is at the very root and bedrock of the British way of life. And that is the Monarchy. Once you start doing away with hereditary honours or Peers, you are getting very near the Throne and the Crown. Anybody anywhere, whether here in your Lordships' House or elsewhere, who starts tampering with that principle will have to answer not to your Lordships, or to your Lordships' friends, but to the common people of this country, who are the greatest Royalists and loyalists of them all.

My Lords, that is my simple position. If Lord Swinton's exercise will gradually eliminate the hereditary principle from legislative Peers then I support it. I was always a supporter of Lord Salisbury's thought—perhaps I am going too far in describing it as "Lord Salisbury's thought." At any rate, at the all-Party Conference which took place it was suggested that we should start off (I think my memory is correct) with a House of Lords of about 250, comprising, first, all the Peers of first creation, all the Privy Counsellors and ex-Ministers. These, it was thought, would form a nucleus of about 250. I was always sorry that that did not happen. I believe that in time we shall all be Peers of Parliament, and perhaps some hereditary Peers can also be Peers of Parliament during their lifetime. But I will not attempt to go into the matter any further. I have already, perhaps, gone a little away from the Motion. My noble friend says "Hear hear!" but I read the forty-two speeches made last week—the same forty-two that the noble Lord listened to—and in only one did I find very much reference to the Bill then before your Lordships' House. So I err in good company.

So, my Lords, I wish this scheme well. I shall do everything I can to make it work. I have worked in your Lordships' House now for twelve years, and if I have done anything that is satisfactory to your Lordships it is only because I have appreciated and valued very much the honour that is mine by being here at all; and not by word or deed shall I ever do anything to denigrate the prestige and honour of your Lordships' House.

4.15 p.m.


My Lords, I think we have all enjoyed the speech to which we have just listened, and very wholeheartedly we thank the noble Lord for it and for so much of the work he has done for this House. We are deeply grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, not merely for putting this Motion before us to-day but also for the work of his Committee—and indeed for the work done by his colleagues on that Committee.

I rise simply to support the Motion, and I do so warmly. It has been said to me that this scheme cannot work because it has no legal or statutory sanction. It has even been said that the very day after an application for leave of absence has been received there is nothing legal or statutory to prevent a noble Lord from coming to this House. There are two very definite replies to that suggestion. The first is that this scheme, as I read it, is based on the power of the House to make its own Standing Orders. It is true that that Standing Order could not go to the point of refusing a noble Lord admission to this House, because it would thereby be infringing the terms of the Writ and the Royal Prerogative in connection with it; but the Standing Order could, in fact, lay down a power of imposing a fine on a noble Lord for contempt.

I agree, however, with the noble Earl. Lord Swinton, and with the noble Earl the Leader of the House, that what we are really looking for is not sanctions. There is a very much better reply to what was said to me; I mean the fact that this House—I think above almost all institutions in this country—has a habit of establishing its own customs, its own traditions. I should like to remind your Lordships of a very definite precedent for what I am saying: I am not talking theory. I think it occurred in 1689, during the case connected with Titus Oates. This was, in fact, the last occasion when a lay Peer took part in a Judicial Sitting of this House. There is no legal prohibition on any of us at the present moment (I speak subject to correction by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor) to prevent us from walking into any Judicial Sitting of your Lordships' House and taking part in the proceedings. That position was challenged in 1843 in the case of The Queen v. Daniel O'Connor, and it was dealt with simply by an appeal from the noble Lord, Lord Wharncliffe, to those lay members who intervened not to do so; and there the matter ended. Therefore I hope that in this matter we shall rely mainly on tradition and right feeling.

There is one point connected with the Standing Order that I should like to make; it relates to paragraph 33 (d), in the Report, which says: that Members of the House are expected, if they have been granted leave of absence, not to attend until their leave of absence has been terminated by their giving such notice as may be prescribed by Standing Order. I think the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, would say that this is precisely the sort of point that would be considered by the Select Committee he is proposing. I would suggest for consideration that the time that must elapse before a Peer can attend after being granted leave of absence should be an appreciable one. I have heard it suggested that it should be only a month. That would mean, of course, that any noble Lord. having applied for, and been granted, leave of absence, could pick up an Order Paper and, seeing something which interested him, write straight away and put his name down to attend that debate. I feel that we ought to take this question of application for leave of absence rather more seriously. I suggest that a period of three months would be very much more appropriate. I have heard it suggested that the interval should be as long as the Session, and, no doubt, there is a great deal to be said for that. But, in any case, I should have thought three months would be a reasonable period.

My Lords, may I make one further point connected with another possible difficulty that I can foresee? We do not know how these plans are going to work out. It might be that far fewer noble Lords than we expect would apply for leave of absence, and that would really be a contradiction of the whole spirit of the scheme. I can quite see that such Peers might be influenced by a feeling that they were sacrificing not merely the right to participate in the functioning of this Chamber but also all rights and privileges connected with the House. Might I therefore again suggest to the Select Committee that they should be as generous as possible to noble Lords who have applied for leave of absence? For instance, there should be no question of their right to attend the Opening of Parliament. Then there might be noble Lords who wished to use the facilities of this House—the refreshment room, the Library, and so on. It might be that here there would be some difficulty, but I hope that it will be possible for that point to be looked at in a generous spirit, because I believe that it would help some noble Lords in their decision to apply for leave of absence. We are all speaking very briefly in this debate, and those are the only two points that I wish to make, apart from saying that I wish strongly to support the Motion.

4.21 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add my support to the Resolution now before the House. Like the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, I feel that the proposed scheme goes a little further along the road of reform. I know that in some quarters it has been suggested that the adoption of this proposed scheme, in fact, would merely produce a facade, because no Peer can be excluded from coming to your Lordships' House; but I am quite sure that no Peer would wilfully disobey the Standing Orders of the House. I feel sure that if Standing Orders are introduced we shall establish in quite a short time a known body of working Peers; and I am convinced that there are many Peers who would welcome the proposed scheme. Many noble Lords are engaged on important duties in the country and yet, I think, according to the terms of their Writ of Attendance, they are neglecting their duties if they do not come to the House. I feel sure that this proposed scheme would relieve the conscience of many. In addition, I think it is true to say that there are a number of Peers who feel that they are unsuited to Parliamentary work and also those who, for reasons of age, would benefit by leave of absence.

There will, of course, be many points for the proposed Select Committee to consider. The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, has put forward a very important point which I should like to emphasise. I would say that the period before which a Peer could come back, after he has asked for revocation of his leave of absence, should certainly be at least one month, and probably three months; because if there were a much shorter period of revocation a Peer might come back and debate the last stages of a Bill in which he had not earlier taken part.

I believe that when the working body of Peers has been established through the operation of the new proposed Standing Orders, suitable payment could possibly be made on the basis of attendance, as I suggested during the debate on the Life Peerages Bill. For instance, suppose that the emolument of Peers was to be (to give a figure) £1,500 per annum, then 25 per cent. attendance would ensure payment of £375, 50 per cent. attendance would ensure payment of £750, and so on.


My Lords, would that proposed payment be free of income tax?


My Lords, no; income tax would have to be paid upon it; but we already receive three guineas per day expenses which is not taxable. During the debate on the Life Peerages Bill, I was astonished at the way in which the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, treated the question of payment of Peers. I think that payment is absolutely necessary to get attendance, and if the noble Viscount really thinks that Life Peers are to accept nomination to this House with no remuneration except three guineas a day expenses, then he is living in Cuckoo-land, and he must think about it again. I was delighted that when the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack came to reply to the debate, he certainly dealt with the matter in a more realistic fashion. Very little can be said on this Motion because so much has already been said. I will close by saying that I hope the House will accept the Resolution.

4.26 p.m.


My Lords, in discussing this Motion, which I warmly support, your Lordships have, I think, three alternatives to consider. The first is to reject the Motion, to leave things as they are and do nothing, relying on the undoubted fact that for a long time a small percentage of noble Lords have attended this House regularly and a large percentage have been absent without leave. I was reading the other day in Emerson's English Traits and Representative Men an account of the author's second visit to this country, about a hundred years ago. This is what he said: I was surprised to observe the very small attendance usually in the House of Lords—out of 573 Peers, on ordinary days, only 20 or 30. He goes on to say that he asked a friend: With such interests at stake, how can these men afford to neglect them? His friend replied: Why should they work for themselves when everyone in England works for them and will suffer before they come to harm? A Member of your Lordships' House today who does not attend is most unlikely to put forward the second part of the reason given by Mr. Emerson's friend; and as regards the first part, I feel that the exiguous powers now enjoyed by this House might make him wonder whether by attending he is doing any work for himself.

But there is another reason and perhaps a more natural one for non-attendance (perhaps I should say, non-attendance without leave)—that is, that as things are, the recipient of a Writ (and I hope that as a result of this Report every noble Lord will get a Writ delivered) may feel that its very stringent and imperative terms, drafted, I imagine, in the Middle Ages, are no longer applicable with any such force to conditions to-day, and therefore by that consideration may salve his conscience in not attending. Nevertheless, as long as the terms of that Writ stand, I do not think a Peer's conscience can be calmed unless he takes the steps indicated to apply for leave of absence.

Another alternative might be action by Statute—an endeavour to regularise attendance here by Act of Parliament. I believe your Lordships would very much deprecate that step. Such an Act would be extremely hard to draft. It would be impossible to foresee the innumerable occasions which would justify absence. It would involve sanctions, and sanctions by Act of Parliament, which would mean pains and penalties which have been disused for a long time and which no one would wish to revive. It would also cause great resentment and might well lead to evasion. I feel that, for that reason, we should dispel the idea of dealing with this matter by Statute. That leaves a third alternative: to deal with the matter on a voluntary basis, by Standing Orders, as the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, has suggested, so that, as pointed out in paragraph 33, after a Peer receives his Writ and is asked whether he desires to have leave of absence and replies Yes", he will be expected not to appear in this House unless he applies to withdraw his request for leave of absence by giving whatever may be decided as a reasonable notice.

There may be the objection raised to that: "Yes, but with no sanction, if he applies for leave of absence and is granted it, he may change his mind overnight and come back to this House and take steps to vote or speak or anything else." That is, of course, perfectly true, but I myself—and I think most noble Lords would agree with me, in view of past history and in view of what we know of each other—think it is in the highest degree, improbable that a noble Lord would take advantage of such procedure. I can say that if a noble Lord did, although I do not believe any noble Lord would, he would incur the grave displeasure and disapproval of the House; and, speaking personally, I would sooner commit a breach of Statute than incur that. Therefore I hope your Lordships will give warm support to this measure and that it will be entirely successful.

There is one small point which has just been touched upon by a noble Lord. The point was that a Peer who has been granted leave of absence might find himself in London and wish to return here to take advantage of the Library or Dining Room facilities. I think I am right in saying, although I speak subject to correction, that he would not be contravening the Standing Orders if he did so, because, I believe, Standing Orders in this House refer only to this Chamber.

4.32 p.m.


My Lords. I shall address the House only briefly. I suppose in the absence of Lord Samuel. I am the only person present who participated in the Division in 1910. My first point is that your Lordships have not changed one little bit since then. Your powers have been cut down, and there is the Parliament Act, but the desire to do what you want to do is just as strong to-day as it was in 1910. The opinions expressed about women, and the opinions expressed about everything else—especially about the mandate to which I shall refer shortly—are exactly the arguments that we have had over and over again. I fought three elections in 1910 on this issue.

I am against the Motion of the noble Earl, Lord Swinton. I hope he will not charge me with saying that belatedly. I sat on the Committee, but many things were afoot in those days which made it better to be silent. At this moment I am against the Resolution, and I will tell you why. First of all, we have the feeling that something should be done about the reform of the House of Lords. The Opposition, we are always told, is dying on its feet, and we must pour more people on to the Opposition Benches. But that is not the way to obtain an Opposition. You must get an Opposition who believe in something and who know that sometimes, if they have a good case, they may win. So long as you have the hereditary principle as the basis of the House, the Opposition can never win and their position is therefore impossible. A few members come here and, after they have been here for a while, they get tined; the place is so comfortable and charming and everyone is so friendly that one soon gets corrupted in that way. I love it myself, but there is always the bite of conscience, and we know perfectly well that we are not upholding the principle for which we fought in 1910.

The noble Earl, Lord Home, comes along with his suggestion of Life Peers. Of course, the Life Peers will have leave of absence in the same way as anyone else: that has not been overlooked. There are going to be Life Peers, as well as women (with which we all agree), and then the noble Earl says we have reformed the House of Lords. The noble Lord who has suffered a bitter defeat is Lord Salisbury. He did have a scheme, and he is now, I suppose, sitting by a sleeping dog and munching half a loaf! But the scheme that the Government put forward is no scheme of reform at all. There is not a person who would say that the attendance of one or two Life Peers here is going to make a difference.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, with whom I venture to disagree, if he will permit me—as we always say, his speech was brilliant but I venture to disagree with it in some particulars—wants the "rate for the job". That is a good trade union slogan; but what job? He does not say what the job is. People came into Parliament in my day because they wanted to get some cause promoted. They believed, no doubt misguidedly, that Socialism was the thing, or Liberalism was the thing. We are told we should pay the rate for the job, but we are not told what the job is or how it is to be performed, or what qualifications people should have in order to do it.

I think that the only consolation in politics, when one gets older, is that one believes one is somehow following a little light; and that is impossible in this House, because we know that, even when there is reform by the presence here of a few Life Peers, we shall still meet an absolutely cast-iron barrier and shall never, never be able to get our way. Therefore, this House can never be a House with two Parties; it never will be a House with two Parties; it will be a House with one Party which will be quiescent when its own Government are in power, but will attend when our Government assume power. The purpose of Lord Swinton's proposal is to make it a little more respectable not to attend. If a noble Lord is asked, "Are you a Peer?" he will be able to reply, when it is pointed out that he has not been to the House for years, "No; but look at my ticket." Nothing I can say will prevent these gentlemen from being known as" Ticket of leave Peers."

But assume that the House is reformed and there is a working House: there might then suddenly be an election. What will happen then? We hope, and it may be so, that a Labour Government will be returned. Then where will the "ticket of leave" men be? They will be back here. They will be writing telegrams to say, "Cancel my ticket. I will attend." And then we shall have to contend with the bitter resistance—


It did not happen last time or during any of the seven years when you were in office.


I think it would be a diversion if I went into that. You are speaking about the period after the war. A number of things, including the fear in the hearts of Conservatives, who were terribly surprised to find that Mr. Churchill could be defeated in an election, conspired to enable us to pass these measures. But when something really "meaty" comes along with a new Government in power, do you suppose their Lordships will all apply for leave of absence and stay away? No, they will all be here, and in Opposition, and then the matter will have to be dealt with by removing and at once the power of delay.


And all Bills that came from the Socialist Party would be passed.


I did not hear what the noble Earl said. But that is the risk. This Resolution is merely a bucket of whitewash: it does nothing whatever. Here is an ancient structure the timbers have decayed, it is riddled with dry rot, and the Government say, "Splendid! Let us paint the front door." And when you say you cannot occupy such a structure, it is against the by-laws, then along comes Lord Swinton and suggests that there should be a change in the by-laws. That is the essence of the whole thing.

I apologise for having spoken with feeling. We have heard in all these speeches little points about going into the Library, and attending the House for a cup of tea, and that that would be all right because the Standing Orders do not apply to the Refreshment Department. All that sort of "introverted" material has been the hall-mark of this debate. Last week in our Decameron we were telling each other little stories about ourselves, when the whole world was in ruin about us. This is not the time to camouflage what is a reality. That this House is reactionary is shown by the fact that it rejected the last attempt by the greatest Conservative of our day, Lord Salisbury, to repair itself. Now we make these mock repairs—just a little bit of spit and polish.


The noble Viscount must not mislead the House, because Lord Salisbury's scheme included an hereditary element. The noble Viscount must not give the impression that there is unity behind Lord Salisbury's scheme, and that his Party would support it.


I was not putting myself forward as a supporter of Lord Salisbury's scheme at all. What I said about his scheme was that it was a logical scheme and that it dealt logically with this matter. The reason I am glad that it has been defeated (the noble Marquess is now a defeated, though submissive, member of the Conservative Party) is because it makes the final ruin of the power of this House all the more certain. If these people come back—and there is nothing to prevent them—when a Labour Government is in office, and they oppose mighty measures which will be proposed then, that will be an end of this place as a Legislative Chamber. I certainly should not mind that, because in my view it could be much more useful in an advisory capacity, and we could still meet and have real debates. Therefore I have risen to express briefly my opposition to the Resolution put forward by the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, because I think it is a sham.

4.42 p.m.


My Lords, I am a serious-minded man. I know that, since I am an hereditary Peer, any words of nine in these days will carry very little weight in your Lordships' House, but I cannot help being considerably concerned by the sort of Second Chamber that is going to emerge from the Bill that we discussed last week combined with the Resolution that has been moved this afternoon. It is clear that, without actually forbidding Members of your Lordships' House from exercising their right to attend or not to attend, the Select Committee on the Powers of the House has suggested bringing a pressure to bear on your Lordships which they will find it impossible to resist.—It is to be laid down that a Peer who is unable or unwilling to discharge his duty of attendance can reasonably be said to have a duty to apply to the House for leave of absence. Your Lordships are the sort of people who do your duty, and if it is laid down as your duty, I am afraid that only too many of your Lordships will do it.

I know that, in theory, I can reject or ignore Lord Rea's interpretation of my duty, but I doubt whether, in practice, I should ever have the courage to do so. One might be alarmed at the prospect of a hostile reception in your Lordships' House, and be reluctant to face baleful looks from the noble Lord who leads the Liberal Party. This means a purely political House of Lords, consisting of Life Peers created by the Party Leaders, and pricked hereditary Peers selected by the Party Leaders. It will, in fact, be something new and different in our Constitution—a Senate House full of politicians. I hope your Lordships will forgive me for once again venturing to defend the hereditary principle. I know that we are despised by those of your Lordships who have acquired a Peerage by service to the State, and I cannot but suppose that my inability to discover—with a few exceptions—any superiority in such of your Lordships, is pure arrogance and conceit on my part.

Nevertheless, I view with genuine alarm a plan such as that recommended to-day by the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, which will confine the membership of your Lordships' House to selected and, ultimately, remunerated politicians. The value and interest of debates in your Lordships' House is the conspicuous independence of mind shown by the debaters It is that fresh and individual point of view, that unexpected and original approach, which makes your Lordships' House so far less boring than most of the Second Chambers that fill the world with recorded speech. A healthy proportion of the speakers are not politicians, yoked to the service of a Party, and endlessly repeating the clichés of their captivity. But surely that is what the selected 200, together with the Life Peers and Peeresses, will be.


My Lords. I am sorry to interrupt, but the noble Viscount really must not mislead the House, even though he does so unintentionally. I am very proud to be mistaken for the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, but the selection process was a Salisbury process and not a Swinton process. By the Swinton process every Peer will select himself if he is prepared to do his duty.


If every Peer selects himself I do not mind so much, because I shall proceed to select myself without hesitation. But I cannot see how that is going to cause any alteration in your Lordships' House. If I may use, the simile of a pack of cards, what will happen, in practice, is that the House of Commons will retain the Aces and Kings, and will send up to your Lordships' House the Queens and the Knaves.


And the Jokers!


We know the sort of women we are likely to get under that process, and I must say that I should prefer to have ladies who are already Peeresses under the hereditary principle. And when, on the top of the Knaves discarded by the House of Commons, we get all the safe "Tens" selected by the three Leaders in your Lordships' House, then everything that makes your Lordships' House lively and interesting will have been removed.

I should like to hang my remarks round the person of the noble Earl, Lord Russell. The noble Earl is everything to which the Labour politicians in your Lordships' House are opposed and seek to remove. He is of very ancient lineage; and his ancestors have for many centuries given distinguished services to the country. That, in itself, is bad enough and deserves, in the eyes of the Labour Party, exclusion from a Second Chamber. But, in addition to heredity he is also a persistent absentee, very rarely attending the debates in your Lordships' House. Clearly this is the sort of man the politicians want to exclude; he does not understand the game they play, and his mind cannot be disciplined to play it. Under Lord Swinton's Resolution, he would never be summoned. Yet we all know that he is one of the most distinguished Englishmen alive; that he has a mind and intellect of the first quality, and that, if he walked in to-day, or any other day, we should listen with absorbed and breathless interest to what he had to say.

Surely we are unwise to make a plan which flattens out the level of our ideas, and leaves us to listen only to a constant repetition of the ordinary and the commonplace. I do not say that the new House of Lords envisaged would be a bad institution. No body of Englishmen—not even those likely to be chosen by electors—ever turns out to be thoroughly bad. But it will have two characteristics making it, to my mind, inferior to the present House of Lords. The Members will all be old. The distinguished people who will be either created Life Peers or selected as hereditary Peers by the Party Leaders in the exercise of their enormous patronage will all be old. And nothing is more dreadful than a deliberative Assembly full of old people.

In the old days, before the Liberals got at it, the House of Lords had much power, too much power, used for Conservative advantage; and there is no doubt that the House of Lords was dangerous. Now, it is proposed to make it, not dangerous but dull. If we lived in a perfect and safe society, having surmounted all our difficulties and achieved all our ambitions, it would not matter if the House of Lords sank into the dull and dead level of elected persons, and acquiesced in the invertebrate proposals of alternative Governments. But, on the contrary, we live in critical times, when we need individuals with as much character and eccentric genius as we can find. From this Liberal point of view, your Lordships' House, as reformed by the Liberal Party, has no power, but it has personality and prestige. Both are urgently required in the modern world, and I hope that serious attention will be given to the possibilities in what is called the two-Writ scheme, the papers of which I received this morning, under which the personality and prestige of the hereditary Peers would perhaps be retained. I cannot help being afraid that your Lordships' House, after the noble Earls, Lord Home and Lord Swinton, have done their worst with it, will have lost all those qualities that make it superior to the Senate of the United States.

4.53 p.m.


My Lords, in rising to take part in this debate, I must confess a degree of personal interest in the matter over and above that of the natural interest of all noble Lords in a question which closely affects the effective composition of your Lordships' House. As the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, will readily appreciate, my interest derives from the fact that the last service which my noble father performed for your Lordships' House was to sit on this Select Committee of which the noble Earl was Chairman. Indeed, the Report of that Select Committee was circulated a week after my noble father died and was the first Paper I ever received in my own right from your Lordships' House.

I have been surprised, if I may say so—it only shows my newness to this Assembly—to find with what detachment of mind and spirit most noble Lords have treated the Motion before the House, almost as though we had not had a marathon debate lasting four days, spread over six weeks, on the general reform of your Lordships' House and the narrower question of the creation of Life Peers I find it difficult to regard this matter as completely detached from what was said during the course of those debates. I must admit that I was rather pleased to find one or two allies and deviators on the opposite Benches in the persons of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, with whom I almost entirely agree., and of the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, with whom I almost entirely disagree. It gives me the opportunity of pursuing a little further one or two points which they made, which have some relevance to the Motion before us and which refer to the effective composition of your Lordships' House.

The noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, spoke as though all hereditary members of your Lordships' House are reactionary. As one who holds one of the most ancient titles in your Lordships' House, I think he is probably justified in applying that epithet to me and I am proud to acknowledge it; but as regards a large proportion of your Lordships' House I would draw his attention to the composition of the House a year ago at that final and grand debate we bad on the question of Egypt and Suez, when 186 noble Lords went through the Division Lobbies. I looked up the Hansard of that date and discovered that 60 per cent. of that total were Peers of the first and second generations—25 per cent. of the first and 25 per cent, of the second. If the Life Peerages Bill is passed, I think it will not be long before those percentages will rise to 75 or 80 per cent.—50 per cent. of the first generation and 25 to 30 per cent. of the second. I do not know whether the noble Viscount would consider that the House would still be reactionary in such an event, which is not so far oil. In fact, the reactionary element is confined to people like myself, who form an insignificant 20 per cent. of your Lordships' House.

It is interesting to note that of all those who hold ancient peerages existing before 1800, of whom there were 250 on the strength of your Lordships' House at that time and of whom only 150 are left to-day, no fewer than 50 voted at the end of that debate a year ago. To my mind, such a percentage of 33⅓ shows a remarkable degree of stamina, stability and responsibility—all three of them qualities which I suggest are very desirable in your Lordships' House and which enable us even to stand up against the noble Viscount.

Returning to the consideration of the Motion, I wish to direct attention once again to the part which refers to the cancellation of leave of absence and to the giving of notice as may be prescribed by Standing Orders. As the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, has said, the Committee came to the conclusion that the making of sanctions should be ruled out, and evidently it is the feeling of your Lordships' House that we should not indulge in any penalties of that nature. But in view of the strong feeling which has been expressed in recent debates by many Back Benchers who supported the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, in his plan. and in view of the anxiety expressed on the Benches opposite about the "backwoodsmen", those Assyrian hordes who may descend like wolves on the fold, of the possibility of whose coming the Party opposite would like to be relieved, I do not know whether it would be within the terms of the Select Committee to be appointed (because the noble Earl has actually asked us to approve the Report) to make some recommendation which has not been included in the Report or some amendment to a recommendation. In view of the strength of feeling on both sides for different reasons—many noble Lords on this side wishing a firmer line to be taken than the Government propose, for instance, in the Life Peerages Bill, and noble Lords on the other side wishing to be rid of the spectre of the "backwoodsmen" descending upon them willy-nilly—I think that something should be done to meet those views.

I hope your Lordships will forgive me for turning to the minutes of evidence for a moment. I think what occurred in the questioning of the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simonds, reported on page 58, was very interesting. The noble and learned Viscount expressed the opinion that he did not think that any noble Lord would even have to ask permission to conic back; that even though he had previously requested leave of absence, he would just be able to turn up. That rather surprised the noble Earl who was Chairman. The noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, suggested that it would be perfectly right for the House to enforce the giving of some degree of notice by noble Lords, if only to regulate the procedure of the House for its better ordering and its own convenience. The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simonds, could not quite agree even with that.

Finally, the matter was crystallised, and purely coincidentally—I do not choose this to butter myself up, or anything like that—by some questions put by my noble father. He got Lord Simonds to admit that the House of Lords is the High Court against whose decision there is no appeal. My father then asked: Now supposing that the House did determine to act arbitrarily and that it did determine to exclude a Peer, or a group of Peers, or a certain number of Peers, for certain reasons, what remedy would that Peer or that group of Peers have? The answer of Lord Simonds was: So far as I know he or they would not have any. Then my father asked: And therefore the House could do what in your opinion it ought not to do and yet it could do it? And the answer was: I am inclined to think so, but that is a very difficult question to answer. I bring that to your Lordships' attention only because it is, I think, rather a relevant point, and it may be one which the Select Committee will wish to consider yet again. I do not wish to say anything else, except that if the Select Committee went as far as that, it would probably annoy the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, even more than if the present recommendations of the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, went through, because then the noble Viscount would be deprived entirely of the "backwoodsmen" as an "Aunt Sally", who would no longer be in a position to receive his progressive coconuts.

I will end by saying that I think it no accident, but rather a natural, logical and desirable development of your Lordships' House, that this Motion should have been proposed by a Peer of the first creation and supported by several Peers of (I think I can say) the 19th century period, and by myself, whose peerage, as I said, is one of the most reactionary of all, because it goes back into the realms of antiquity. I would only say to noble Lords opposite that I support wholeheartedly the proposal to create Life Peers, but, at the same time, I come here unashamed. My only ambition, like that of all noble Lords, I am sure, is to maintain the traditions and uphold the good reputation of your Lordships' House, and it is with that aim in view that I give such warm support to this Motion and, in particular, to the proposal to appoint a Select Committee.

5.5 p.m.


My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Hastings, for. when this Report was last before this House on February 28 last year, tributes were paid from every quarter of the House to his noble father, and to none was this more welcome than to me, as a former Member for Norwich who used to meet his distinguished father so often and have such pleasant journeys to London in his company. This has been a short but interesting debate, made not the less fascinating by the characteristic and amusing speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Esher. The House can congratulate itself on the freedom of its proceedings, which made a speech which would have been wholly relevant last week so easily delivered today, when the speech had no relevance whatsoever to the matter of the Motion before the House.

On the last occasion. I ventured to say how much I admired this Report of the Committee over which my noble friend Lord Swinton presided. It has all the requisite and relevant learning; it is extremely readable, and it occupies about twelve pages. It is in every way a model Report, and I think my noble friend made only one serious mistake. He made the mistake of persuading the Committee to be unanimous. If he had only persuaded the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, to dissent, then Lord Stansgate would have supported him to-day. The noble Viscount thinks very much as he thought in 1910, the main difference being that he is now so much younger. He prefers to try to make his conduct more or less conform to what it would have been in 1910, and wholly disregards the views of the Committee with which he agreed as recently as last year.

I think that this proposal of the Committee, put forward so persuasively by my noble friend this afternoon, has everything to commend it. It is quite impossible to say—none of us knows—how many noble Lords will avail themselves of the suggestion that they might apply for leave of absence; but I do not think that the justification of the Motion before us this afternoon in any way depends on those numbers. The obvious effect of what now being proposed is this: that the very stringent words of the Writ of Summons will be brought to the attention of every noble Lord, and a perfectly honourable way will be put before him by which, if he wishes, but only if he wishes, he can apply for leave of absence and thus avoid disrespect for the terms of the Writ without sacrificing any right of any sort. I should have thought that that was an admirable and useful suggestion, and I am at a loss to know on what ground it is opposed: in fact, I think it is not really opposed very wholeheartedly as a proposal, in itself, but simply to enable the only two noble Lords who said they were opposing it to make speeches which we all enjoyed.

My noble friend the Leader of the House said that this proposal has the advantage that it will work; and I agree that that is a great advantage. Indeed, it cannot help working, because, as I say, its success in no way depends on the numbers who avail themselves of this possibility. I congratulate my noble friend on his original Report and on the favourable reception that to-day's Motion has received. To-day's Motion, if I may say so, is clearly in the right terms, because it invites the House to record its agreement: with certain specific paragraphs in the Report and then leaves it to the Select Committee to advise on the appropriate Standing Orders to carry out the intention. Of course, the House will have a further opportunity of considering the Standing Orders before they become effective. By giving our unanimous approval this afternoon to the Motion of my noble friend, we shall be reserving every right of criticism, should we have any, of the Standing Orders when they are produced by the Select Committee. For these reasons I heartily support the Motion.

5.12 p.m.


My Lords, I rise for only a few moments because I had the honour to be a member of the Select Committee whose Report we have been debating to-day. That is the only thing I have in common in this debate with the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, because whereas I would try to look into the future, it struck me that the speech of the noble Viscount started in 1910 and, as a good boomerang should, was rapidly homing on 1910 when the noble Viscount sat down. I shall say little, because I agree entirely with what my noble friend Lord Conesford has just said. I think the House will be perfectly safe, in one way, in taking the course that it is asked to take, because, among other things, the Select Committee (as those who were members of it will testify) were at the greatest pains to claim no right or privilege for the House which could not be amply justified. We can be quite certain that everything which is recommended in the Report is fully within the powers of this House as they have been laid down through the ages.

We must not look at this particular step we are taking this afternoon in isolation, because it is part of the whole plan for reforming this House. It cannot stand by itself; nor, indeed, could the Report of the new Select Committee, if we decide to appoint it, as I hope we shall. It must depend upon the Parliamentary view, and upon any other steps that may turn out to be necessary. But it is an important step, and it is important in two ways. First of all, though one might not attach too much importance to what I am going to say, I think we should all be relieved in our minds to think that we shall no longer be in the position of receiving the most peremptory commands from the Sovereign yet unable to obey them. After all, disregard of commands in the terms of the Writ is a serious thing, and the fact that we disregard them cannot improve our regard for any other commands of the same nature. I would much rather be rid of it in the way the Select Committee have proposed, and make it possible for myself, along with other Members of this House, to apply in the proper way to be excused from obeying a command in those terms.

The other important point is that when this Select Committee is appointed, as my noble friend Lord De La Warr said, we must take great care that it works out the details in such a way that it really provides the incentive for people to do what is wanted; that is to say, those people who cannot, for different reasons, or do not want to take an active part in this House should be allowed to go, and those people who want to come should be welcomed here. There are many small points which may have a perhaps disproportionate influence on individual Members of this House in their decision whether or not to apply for leave of absence. My noble friend Lord Soulbury mentioned some of them, and I am quite sure that the success of this plan will depend to a great extent on the way in which these details are worked out, including such matters as have already been mentioned—the use of the Library, the Dining Room and so forth: and attendance at the opening of Parliament. Those are all matters for the Select Committee, and are matters of detail. I am quite sure that time spent on them will not be wasted.

The result will then be that we shall have in this House those who care for the House and are prepared to work for it. It may or may not be necessary to improve the financial considerations for attending here. I am inclined to agree with my noble friend Lord Teynham that it will, but I cannot follow the noble Viscount, Lord Esher, when he said that a certain eminent Peer, whom he named, should not be excluded from the House when in fact he is excluding himself by not giving us the benefit of his well-known wisdom.


The noble Earl, Lord Russell, has spoken several times in this House, but he must be called an absentee. Nevertheless, when he has spoken his speech has been of superlative value.


No doubt when these rules are produced, as I hope they will be, they will be produced in such a way as to encourage his speeches, and also, no doubt, his more frequent attendance. I do not wish to detain your Lordships any longer, and I will simply add my warm support to the Motion of my noble friend Lord Swinton.

5.16 p.m.


My Lords, I find myself in the rather embarrassing position of having to disagree with both my noble friends on this side of the House who have spoken on this Motion. I think my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth was much too enthusiastic about it, and my noble friend Lord Stansgate, in a most charming speech, which I think was well worth the debate, was much too condemnatory. May I, at the outset—and I hope I shall be brief, like every other speaker—say that we are not being asked to-day to approve the Report. The Report was merely an intellectual or academic exercise into what the House can do, if it wanted to do it, but not what it should do. Perhaps I can, in justification of that, read the first two sentences of paragraph 1 of the Report, headed "Scope of the Report". That says: The Committee have interpreted their terms of reference in the light of the debate which took place in the House at the time of their appointment. The House charged the Committee to advise what the House can do, not to recommend what the House should do Therefore we are in no sense approving a set of recommendations as to action. We are merely considering what the Committee suggest it is possible to do and, if we approve this, are giving encouragement to certain of their findings of fact and dealing with the question of absentee Peers.

I fully understand what it is sought to do: that is, to regularise the absence of Peers. That is what the noble Earl. Lord Swinton, said, and that is what the Leader of the House said. The first point was the regularisation of absence. It will not necessarily bring one single Peer to this House who would not otherwise have come, so far as I can see. Nor will it cause any Peer to stay away who would otherwise come. It will make no difference. It will simply give the absentee Peers, as my noble friend Lord Stansgate said, a ticket of leave to be away. For what it is worth, it is all right; but do not let us build too high on that. Indeed, if one judges by some of the speeches, it may not even do that, because it is contemplated that noble Lords will get as far as the Tea Room or the Library, but not venture inside the Chamber. That I find difficult to understand. I should imagine that if a noble Lord had got as far as this place he would want to come in occasionally, even if only out of curiosity. Such Peers would therefore not apply for leave of absence. Therefore, I do not suppose that that particular difficulty will arise at all.

It was also said that regularisation of absence would put ourselves in a better position in the eyes of the public. Do noble Lords really think that? I do not wish to be argumentative about this matter at all, because I feel that on the whole, it is just worth trying; but will it improve our position in the eyes of the public if it turns out that 300 noble Lords, hereditary legislators, do not want to have anything to do with the place, and ask for leave of absence? I cannot think that that would enhance the prestige of this House at all. I wonder whether it would not be better, in those circumstances, to let sleeping dogs lie, rather than to bring out into the limelight the fact that there are so many absentee Peers. From the point of view of noble Lords on this side of the House, it does not matter to us one way or the other. Even if three-quarters of noble Lords opposite took advantage of this and obtained leave of absence, instead of being outnumbered by sixteen to one we should be outnumbered by four to one. It could not matter less. It would merely de-congest the Division Lobby, but otherwise we are just as dead at four to one as we are at sixteen to one. That itself does not matter.

The other point made by the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, was that it would apparently make it easier, once we had become a working Chamber, to provide for the remuneration of those who were left. I wonder. Ft seems to me that if you want to make this a working Chamber, it is far more logical to accept the plan of the noble Marquess and select the Peers who are going to constitute that working Chamber than to leave it to the chance of those Peers who happen to reply to a letter asking them whether they are going to attend or not. The people who will reply and say they will attend will not necessarily be the best and most competent people to carry out the work of this House. They may happen to be merely those Peers who are living in London and can come occasionally, or those Peers who feel that this is an interesting place to come to and have a cup of tea in, or who wish to use the Library, or who come for a variety of other reasons. They will be such people as select themselves on purely fortuitous grounds. So it does not seem to me that this is really logical.

However, this is not a scheme about which I would die in the last ditch. If the House wants to try it out, by all means let it. My view is that it is a case of "the more this House changes, the more it is the same thing". We shall get the same faces facing us after this scheme has been put into operation as we are getting now, and noble Lords opposite will have the privilege, I hope, of looking at the same faces on this side of the House. We shall be exactly the same. Perhaps I should say, once more, that I was a member of the Committee and I very much enjoyed being a member. It was most interesting to go into the history of the privileges of this House and so on. But I hope the noble Earl will not mind my saying this: I never had a sense of reality about it at all. It was a very interesting and enjoyable academic exercise, and if we adopt the Motion that is what I believe this thing will become.

5.25 p.m.


My Lords, your Lordships will be relieved, I am sure, when I say at once that it is neither my duty nor my intention to wind up this debate. That happy task falls on the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, and I am merely speaking as Lord Chancellor to support him on the constitutional points that arise from his proposals. I should like to assure him that, first of all, with regard to paragraph 15 of his Report (which deals with the delivery of Writs) I believe it would be perfectly possible to do as the Committee propose. It would require a certain amount of research and direction, which I need not detain your Lordships with now, and which can be discussed on the Select Committee. Equally, on the question of the Standing Orders with regard to leave of absence, I myself do not see any constitutional difficulty there. Again, there are a number of quite ancillary points which will have to be decided by the Committee before the final form is evolved, but they are not of such importance that I need detain your Lordships now.

I should like to say just one word in regard to that matter, because it arises from the most fascinating speech, if he will allow me to say so, of my noble friend Lord Hastings. He quoted a piece of expert cross-examination (and after all I made a scanty living by cross-examination for thirty years; therefore I do know a little about it) by his noble father of the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simonds. But he will remember that, just after that, there is a reflective comment by my noble and learned friend, Lord Morton of Henryton, that it all depends on what is meant by the word "could". And of course, dashing though the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, was—worthy of his ancestor, Sir Jacob Astley—I can assure him that this House does not treat "could" except in accordance with the Law of Parliament and therefore within the capabilities of the House in that regard. I think that that leaves the field open to what the noble Lord. Lord Hastings, had in mind. Because so long as what we do—and I think that here the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, will agree with me—is to regulate the procedure of the House, not to prevent any Peer from exercising his rights but to let him exercise them under the regulation of the House, then we are perfectly in order in every sense of the word "could".

I was deeply moved by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, but I think he will agree that I shall have another opportunity to deal with the points that he raised in regard to other matters. To-day he is, if not among the elect, at least among the faithful, in supporting this Report; so I shall leave the other points until we reach the Committee stage of the Bill. I think my noble friend Lord De La Warr made two important points, and the first was that the problem before your Lordships is to crystallise a convention in the shortest possible time. My Lords, traditions are often of slow growth, and gain their importance from that fact. But we have got to create a convention and make an immediate tradition that noble Lords will act in accordance with Standing Orders and conform with what is the general wish of the House in that regard. That brings me to the second point of the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr. Like many of your Lordships, he stressed the question of the three months' notice. I believe that we all have that point in mind, and that we want the notice to be sufficiently long for there to be no change of mind occurring from what is to be expected on the Order Paper. I understood that that is what my noble friend had in mind, and I venture to underline it as an important point.

I shared the general enjoyment of the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate—and he knows that that is a perfectly genuine remark. There was only one thing I could not understand: that the noble Viscount shared in the general depression among certain of his colleagues in regard to the expectation of being beaten in a Division. Had anyone asked me, from friendship with the noble Viscount of some twenty-two years, what I thought was the incident in his life that he had enjoyed most, I should unhesitatingly have said when he moved a vote of censure on the Speaker in another place. I cannot believe that, despite the famous and witty lobby of Liberals who came behind him, the noble Viscount, in moving that vote of censure against the Speaker, had any real expectation of carrying it. For that reason I cannot think that that is a very serious trouble of the noble Viscount.

But, of course, he, from one aspect, and the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, tried to put us into a dilemma which they cannot pose, or, rather, cannot fairly pose. Behind the noble Viscount's criticism of us there appears the view that the only possible Second Chamber is an elected Second Chamber; but that is barred it is barred by the House of Commons, by the Labour Party and by everyone who has considered it. If the noble Lord, Lord Silk in, will forgive me for saying so, he was almost plaintively in favour of the superiority of the scheme of my noble friend Lord Salisbury. But, again, the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, frankly and forcibly pointed out that a scheme like that of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, could not be accepted by the Labour Party because of its consequences on the position of the House.


My Lords, I hope the noble and learned Viscount will allow me to observe that all I said was that I thought the scheme of the noble Marquess was more logical, in that the people were actually selected.


My Lords, I am quite prepared to accept from the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, that logic and acceptability by the Labour Party are not the same thing.

There is only one point that occurred to me in regard to the delightful speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Esher; that whatever one might say about his division of the Parliamentary pack of cards, no one in this House was left in the slightest doubt where we would find the Joker. I apologise to your Lordships for having treated such important speeches in a spirit of levity, but that is only because I feel that in our debate this afternoon there has been general agreement of the House in favour of the proposals of the noble Earl, Lord Swinton. I hope that the House will agree to his Resolution, and that, the House approving of the paragraphs that are named, the Select Committee will be appointed to frame the Standing Orders. My real purpose was to tell your Lordships that, having examined these proposals, I see no constitutional objection or mechanical difficulty from my point of view; and I repeat, in these last words, our gratitude to the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, not only for his chairmanship of the Committee but for bringing this matter before the House this afternoon.

5.35 p.m.


My Lords, it is very agreeable and gratifying to find the Report almost universally welcomed in this House—and I think that even the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, in spite of what he said to-day, rather liked it. It is comforting to the Committee, who put in a very great amount of hard work, to feel that not only were they able to report to the House with research and authority on what were its powers but that they were able also to make practical and constructive suggestions which to-day have found so much favour with your Lordships. I am particularly grateful to the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack: for having stated so clearly that we were all right in our law. I was not unduly anxious about that, because we had on the Committee a wealth of legal talent, and I thought that we were fairly safe.

I should like to deal for a moment or two with some points which were raised in the very helpful speeches that have been made. My noble friend Lord De La Warr raised two or three questions. There was the length of notice to be given before resuming attendance, with which the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor has also dealt. I agree with him in feeling that the Committee's desire, and certainly the desire of the House, would be that we should have a reasonable length of notice, a period which made it impossible for people to job in and out. I feel that that is reasonable. For, after all, what we are doing is regulating our procedure in this matter. We are not saying to a man, "You shall not come here and vote," but simply. "If you are going to come here you must decide whether you are going to discharge your duty under the Writ, within reason."

There is this point to be remembered. The noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor pointed out that no one would feel that it was right that a Peer who said "No, I am riot going to attend "should then suddenly say," There is something on the Order Paper on which I should like to come in, "and "cut in" upon it. I am sure that that would be contrary to the whole spirit of what the House wishes to do under its Standing Orders. But surely it would be entirely contrary also to what is permissible under the terms of the Writ itself. We, in the Committee, went as far as we could in saying that a Peer could say, "I will attend when I can," which would give us the advantage of having those Peers who cannot attend regularly but who sincerely come when they can and on those occasions are very valuable and entertaining. But for a Peer to say: "I am going to attend when I can, although I cannot be a regular attender," is very different from saying" I have not the faintest intention of being a regular or, indeed, an occasional attender of this House unless I see on the Order Paper some particular matter on which I want to take part." It seems to me that if that were permissible under the Standing Orders it would almost amount to giving a Standing Order sanction to what I believe is actually the bogy of the "backwoodsmen," who in practice we found never turned up.

I think the point is academic—not in the sense in which Lord Silkin called it academic, because, as my noble friend the Leader of the House said, we do work practical things in a practical way in this House. I think that the great merit of this scheme is that it will work. I do not want to prejudge what the Select Committee will say, but it will be for them to propose to the House what should be the length of notice in the Standing Order. On the matter of the Library and the Dining Room, I am inclined to agree with my noble friend Lord Soulbury (though here I speak subject to correction), that Standing Orders have in the past concerned themselves with the conduct of this Chamber only and with Members in this Chamber; and I should have thought that the regulation of the Dining. Room and the Library was a matter for the Lord Great Chamberlain and Members of the House outside, not one to be found a place in Standing Orders.

As regards the Opening of Parliament, and the point that, if they so desired. Peers should be able to attend the Opening of Parliament, even if they were not going to come at other times. I do not see a difficulty in that. The Opening of Parliament is the first matter to be dealt with in the Session, and the mere taking of the Oath—indeed, some Peers attend the Opening of Parliament without having taken the Oath—does not mean that a Peer is committing himself to attendance. If the notice goes out about the Standing Orders, the Peer would have to give in his notice applying for leave of absence after the opening of the Session. Obviously he must have a certain time in which to do it, and there- fore, if it were so desired, I do not see that attendance at the Opening of Parliament necessarily conflicts with the Standing Order that a Peer must put in a reasonable number of attendances.

I find it very difficult to deal with the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate—perhaps he did not expect me to do so. I am sorry that I corrupted him on the Committee. He seemed to be very agreeably in agreement all the time and I am bound to say that I could not for the life of me understand why he came all the way along on the Committee and then ran out to-day. He says that it has something to do with heredity, and he used the question of heredity—although he has passed on some pretty good and entertaining qualities to his descendants. But, after all, our Report has not done anything to alter the hereditary principle, or to deal with it at all. The position with regard to hereditary Peers and their rights is exactly the same to-day as when the noble Viscount signed or agreed to the Report. Therefore I might say that inconsistency is not the least of his charms.

The same might be said of the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Esher. I would not have missed his speech for anything. But, of course, it had nothing, to do with the Motion before the House: he was addressing himself entirely to the proposal of my noble friend Lord Salisbury. I think there is a great deal to be said for Lord Salisbury's proposals, but, whatever there was to be said for or against them, it would have been said more appropriately in the debate on the Second Reading of the Life Peerages Bill.


My Lords. I did not really like the Life Peerages Bill very much last week. What "killed" it for me was the production of the noble Earl's Motion to-day: the combination of the two was more than I could stand.


But I still do not understand. What the noble Viscount objected to was selection, and he said it would be the most terrible thing. There would be a Select Committee of Party leaders, or whoever they might be, to select the Peers to come here. Very well; for the purposes of this argument I shall not dissent from what is said by the noble Viscount. But why does he oppose either the Government's Bill or my Motion?—because there is not a word about selection in either the Government's Bill or in my Motion.


What pressure is going to be brought on us to send in for leave of absence? If there is to be no pressure whatever, that is different. But I have an idea, gained from some of the speeches that I have heard, that distinct reprobation will fall on us if we do not take the hint of asking for leave of absence.


Of course, I am not privy to what goes on in the meetings of the Liberal Party, and therefore I cannot say what pressure has been put on the noble Viscount by his colleagues. I do not suppose it was very effective, whatever it was. But, so far as the Bill is concerned, there is selection only in the sense that the Prime Minister of the day, I suppose, after proper consultation, will select new Members, of either sex, for recommendation to the Sovereign to make them Life Peers. But so far as the proposal which I am asking the House to debate to-day is concerned, all that is going to happen is that Peers are to be invited to carry out what the Select Committee found was their duty; and if they do not want to attend the House they ought to apply for leave of absence. But the Peer will select for himself into which class he wishes to fall. Therefore I really cannot see why either the Government or I should have incurred the noble Viscount's condemnation.

The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, if I may respectfully say so, was more realistic. I said when we were debating the Report previously what a tremendous help the great knowledge and keenness of his father had been to the Committee. He asked us, as I think his father would have liked to do (but we felt in the end we should not be justified in doing it), to carry things a little further than we did. He said, "If you have another Select Committee to deal with these Standing Orders, would it be proper for that Committee to go into this matter again? Really, what it would come to would almost be reopening what may be called the Exeter proposals and saying whether those could be carried out." Quite frankly, my answer to that is, No, I do not think it would be a useful exercise for another Select Committee because, after all, the Committee which heard all the evidence of all the experts on this matter was a fairly strong Committee. They had the whole history before them. And the findings which we gave, with the Law Lords sitting with us, were, I think, undoubtedly—and the Lord Chancellor has confirmed it to-day—correct findings.

I think it is true that this House can do anything, and no one can bring this House, or another place, to account for what they do within their own precincts, so to speak, and within their own province. Even if we, as a House, did something which was obviously wrong, not only contrary to custom but contrary almost to common decency, I do not think there is any court before which this House, as a House, could be called to account. That is one of the reasons why it behaves so reasonably. But what is the tradition of this House?—I was almost going to say "the law", because it is what has been followed for so long. It is that it does not create new privileges. It cannot. There is a Resolution of both Houses that neither should do so. I hope that that will always be very strictly adhered to in both Houses.

The House does adhere to what, I think, is called the law and custom of Parliament. Of course, it evolved that custom—indeed, the whole Parliamentary system has been one precedent broadening out into another. If we had gone further than we did, we should really have gone contrary to what is the law and custom of Parliament. I was not asking for a Committee which could go into that matter again, and I do not think it would be a wise or useful exercise for the House to do. On the other hand, I am quite definitely—let there be no mistake about it—asking the House to go to the full length of what the Committee said that the House could do with regard to leave of absence. I know that these were not recommendations; they were findings. I would put it in this way to Lord Silkin who said that they were not recommendations in fact. That is true. But the Committee, in these paragraphs which are the subject of my Motion, have told the House quite definitely what it can do; and not only that but how it should do the things it can do if it desires to do them.

What I am asking the House to do to-day—and I think the whole House wants to do it—is to say: "Thank you; we realise now that we can do these things, and we wish to do these things; we wish to do them in the way in which the Report of the Committee has shown is within our competence." Therefore, I ask the House to approve of that, and then to appoint a Select Committee in order that that Select Committee may recommend to us how we should carry out what we can do in the way which the Committee have suggested to us. My Lords, I am grateful to the House for the generous way in which this Resolution has been accepted.

On Question, Resolution agreed to.

House adjourned at six minutes before six o'clock.