HL Deb 18 December 1957 vol 206 cc1284-311

2.43 p.m.

House again in Committee (according to Order).

[The LORD BLACKFORD in the Chair]

VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH moved, after Clause 1, to insert the following new clause:

Power of holder of life peerage to renounce writ of summons, to be eligible to vote in parliamentary elections and for election to House of Commons

(".—(1) Any person on whom a life peerage has been conferred whether by the provisions of section one of this Act or by section (Holder of hereditary peerage may apply to amend the letters patent of his peerage to a life peerage) of this Act, may in such form as may be prescribed at any time renounce his right to receive a writ of summons to attend the House of Lords and such renunciation shall be irrevocable.

(2) Any peer who has renounced his right to a writ of summons under subsection (1) of this section shall be eligible to vote at parliamentary elections and for election to the Commons' House of Parliament.")

The noble Viscount said: We have some absentees for the moment on both sides of the House: I expect they have been meeting at a common source of pleasure and I hope they have enjoyed it. The task I have is to take the place of my noble friend Lord Silkin in moving Amendment No. 10. As was clearly accepted by both sides of the Committee yesterday, this Amendment impinges upon Amendment No. 9, which was yesterday defeated in Committee. There may be some who think that, in view of that particular Amendment having been defeated yesterday, we ought not to have gone on to move this Amendment. But I want to submit that it does contain a certain factor or two which are not common to the other Amendment, and if those factors appeal to your Lordships sufficiently for us to get this Amendment carried, then we might, with real purpose and strength, revert to the other issue on the later stages of the Bill. Therefore I make no apology for proceeding to move this Amendment.

If we could have secured acceptance of the Amendment which we moved yesterday, then, in conjunction with the present new clause which I am moving, it would have been a tremendous factor in bringing relief to those who are already in the House, through no fault of their own but because their fathers were hereditary Peers, and who do not want to be here. It will enable them to find a way out of their difficulty. But that is by no means the only reason why this clause should be included. There is the reason that if there is now to be a steady series of appointments of Life Peers, an anomalous position may in a number of instances be created. There may be cases where Life Peers do not wish to continue their life peerages. Why should they not be allowed to renounce the life peerage? There may be cases where a Life Peer—who is, after all, as I understand it. to be selected for elevation to the life peerage solely to strengthen the personnel who do the chores of the House and to bring expert wisdom and experience to that task—becomes, through physical disability or something of that kind, quite unfitted to continue the task. What sense is there then in retaining the life peerage at such a stage as that, especially if the holder of the life peerage desires to renounce it?

Even on those grounds alone I think it would be worth while to adopt this Amendment, although we should have to go to the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor for help and advice to get the wording of the middle of subsection (1) of the proposed new clause right at a later stage in the Bill. I feel that we ought to make provision for those possibilities to take place. If there is still any doubt in the mind of the Lord Chancellor as to our general motives behind the moving of these two Amendments, the first of which was defeated yesterday, I would ask him to believe that we have never for one moment contemplated a factor which still seemed to linger in his mind yesterday: that people might make use of this kind of procedure to chop and change from one House to another and from one function to another. That is clearly not our intention at all. One hopes that the words at the end of the first subsection to the new clause are fastened in the minds of your Lordships. The subsection says that a person … may in such form as may be prescribed at any time renounce his right to receive a writ of summons to attend the House of Lords and such renunciation shall be irrevocable. There will be no possibility of chopping and changing to one form or another. That, I think, is a reasonable basis upon which to submit the case to the Committee this afternoon.

It would be idle for me to repeat the general arguments used by my noble friend Lord Silkin yesterday in support of the other clause, in so far as they apply to this Amendment. The ideal thing would be to get both clauses into the Bill. But this is something less than that; something which would make the Bill more tidy in respect of the separate appointments and tenure of the holding of a life peerage. I hope, therefore, that after due consideration the Committee may see their way to pass this clause. I do not wish for one moment to hide from the members of the Committee the fact that, if they pass this clause as we desire it, we shall certainly return to the reconsideration at least of the matter in the clause which was voted down yesterday in Committee. We shall certainly return to the subject matter at a later stage in the Bill and try to get it into adjustment with this clause to-day. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— After Clause 1 insert the said new clause.—(Viscount Alexander of Hillsborough.)


I should like to ask the noble Viscount who has moved this Amendment precisely what is meant by the words, "and such renunciation shall be irrevocable". A gentleman may receive a life peerage as "the Lord X," and he may subsequently renounce it. So long as the power to create Life Peers exists, cannot he be made "the Lord Y"? Is that the same thing? Does it really attach particularly to the person. I do not know what the words, "such renunciation shall be irrevocable" mean. They seem to me to be vague.


Perhaps I should explain to the noble Lord (I may have been imperfect in my presentation of the Amendment) that we felt that the question of our motives regarding irrevocability still seemed to be rather occupying the mind of the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor yesterday. Naturally, it was in our minds in regard to our previous Amendment that there should not be chopping and changing between the hereditary membership of this House and the right to seek election and to sit and vote in the other House of Parliament. That is the only thing we wish to make quite clear. All that could be adjusted if I could persuade your Lordships to come to some collective view this afternoon which would enable us to deal with the real hardship which now exists upon those who, by force and practice, have been compelled to come up here instead of remaining in another place.


I do not know whether I missed some of the noble Viscount's points, but I still fail to understand why the Life Peer should have this particular privilege which will be denied to other Peers if they so wish to have it. I wonder whether the noble Viscount would expand on that a little further.


I thought we explained all that yesterday on the other Amendment. We are most anxious that any Peer, on presentation of a loyal Address, should obtain a similar relief. If I can persuade our friends above the gangway to agree with us wholeheartedly on the whole matter, we shall be delighted, and I think we might get something at a later stage of the Bill.


I find this particular Amendment extremely puzzling, because in what way is anybody forced to accept a life peerage? The noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition spoke of a person being forced to accept a position against his will. But surely it will be voluntary whether he accepts the life peerage or not. The next matter which puzzles me is this. The noble Viscount dealt with the sort of case which clearly might arise: that a Life Peer might, through sickness or loss of some of his abilities, become unsuited to sit in this House. In that case, of course. he would be able, just as much as any other Peer, to seek leave of absence. What I find particularly puzzling is the final point. The noble Viscount seems to think that, when a Life Peer has lost capacity and suitability to sit in this House, he thereupon ought to be able to be elected to the other place. That seems to me to be the most paradoxical of all his views. For those reasons I shall be surprised if the Government recommend acceptance of this Amendment.

2.57 p.m.


I am glad to begin by saying that I am not going to surprise my noble friend Lord Conesford, although I say that with some reluctance because of the charming and conciliatory way in which the noble Viscount moved this Amendment. But, even so, I must ask the House to reject it. I would just mention again the complete frankness with which the noble Viscount who leads the Opposition said that this Amendment was still, in the minds of himself and his noble friends, connected with that which was rejected yesterday. But it would be an ill-service to the House if I were to repeat the arguments which I deployed against yesterday's Amendment, and I am going to take these as being in the minds of your Lordships.

May I take the present Amendment in two parts? The first part, which gives the right to renounce, if it stood without the second part would really be unnecessary and, I think, undesirable. There is no limitation on the number of Life Peers and, therefore, it is not necessary, that being the state of the Bill, to make an opening for a new Life Peer to come in, as it would be had there been a limitation. As my noble friend Lord Conesford has already pointed out, if the Life Peer is overcome by illness, or for some other reason finds himself unable to carry out his duties, he can apply for leave of absence. I should have thought that that was a more suitable and dignified way of dealing with that sort of position.

I think that, technically, my noble friend Lord Saltoun was right when he said that the framing of the present Amendment, and the words "and such renunciation shall be irrevocable", would still permit the creation of another peerage. But I am not arguing the case on that basis, because an alteration in the words could enable a Peer to hold any further peerage of any kind. If Parliament expressed that will, it would be the law. I mention that only out of courtesy to my noble friend Lord Saltoun who was perfectly right to draw attention to the wording as it exists.

Then one comes to the second part of the clause, the giving of the right to the Life Peer in question to sit in the House of Commons. So far as I could understand the noble Viscount's argument (and if I have not done so it is entirely my own fault, because I think he made it perfectly clear), I understood that one of the possibilities he had in mind was that a Life Peer might be given junior office in this House and might then renounce his life peerage under subsection (1), then stand for the House of Commons, and be given senior office in the House of Commons. I hope I am not wrong, but that was what I understood was implied in the noble Viscount's arguments. That, of course, does involve one chop and change, and although I am quite as great a lover of Captain Marryat as the noble Viscount (and I remember very well the excuse the housemaid gave for the baby) if there is to be one chop and change, it does raise that question. I submit to your Lordships that it is undesirable that there should be that chop and change; that when someone has elected to come to your Lordships' House he should lie on the bed which he has chosen to make.

There is another point to which I feel I should draw your Lordships' attention. Although this Bill affects both Houses (for it cannot be said, and I do not seek to argue it on the basis that it affects the House of Commons alone), when a proposal affects both Houses, then one has to look and see which House is substantially, in the main, affected. My Lords, the provision in subsection (2) of this new clause is an infringement of the declared position of another place, because it has been the attitude of the House of Commons to keep out anyone who is or has been entitled to sit in your Lordships' House. The noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, has referred to the point, and it might be interesting if I drew your Lordships' attention, in that it is relevant to this point, to the Resolution of the House of Commons following the attempt by Lord Wolmer, as he then was, the father of my noble friend Lord Selborne, in 1895—I am reading from page 194 of Erskine May: In 1895, however, Lord Wolmer, the member for West Edinburgh, on succeeding to the Earldom of Selborne, contended that a peer of the United Kingdom was not disqualified as such, and that until he received a writ of summons as a Lord of Parliament, he might sit in the House of Commons; but the House, upon receiving a report from a select committee that Lord Wolmer had succeeded to a peerage of the United Kingdom, at once directed that a new writ should be issued. A select committee, appointed in 1894, to inquire into the vacating of seats, reported that the House usually awaited for proof of succession to a peerage by one of its Members, such proof being furnished by the issue of the writ, but that if there was any delay in applying for the writ the House could ascertain the fact and act on such evidence as it thought sufficient. I do not see my noble friend Lord Mansfield in his place to-day, but it is interesting to note that, in regard to the conjoint holding of peerages of England and Wales, on February 21, 1840, a new writ was issued for Perthshire in the room of Viscount Stormont now Earl of Mansfield, and Viscount Stormont in the Kingdom of Scotland although it was allowed on all hands that no writ of summons had then been issued to his Lordship in respect of his English peerage. That was only carrying out what I understand has beer the practice of the House of Commons and the law of Parliament for hundreds of years. I think that a change of this kind which would permit Members of this House, of their own volition, to renounce their position and stand for another place should be, as I said, according to the comity of Parliamentary procedure, dealt with by the House that will be substantially affected and whose procedure will be substantially changed.


May I ask the noble and learned Viscount a question? When I moved a Bill to this effect he told me that it was a matter for a general Bill, and he mentioned this comity of the Houses. Is he alleging as a constitutional doctrine that qualifications for candidature of the House of Commons must originate in a Bill in the House of Commons, and that the House of Commons' view—I will not say must prevail, but should have predominance?


Yes, I certainly agree that it should have predominance. I would not say that it must prevail, because this House can act of its own volition. But it would be very undesirable. There are many things that are possible but not desirable, and it would be undesirable, in a matter which either wholly or primarily affects another place, that the legislation should be initiated here. It would lead to comment—and more than comment, I think: it would lead to difficulties, between the two Houses.


May I point out to the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor that he is introducing something that has never been heard of in the story of the reform of the House of Lords? Lord Birkenhead, for example, proposed that a Minister should speak in both Houses. It has never been alleged that this was a matter which was so predominantly a matter for the House of Commons that it is not permissible and that in fact a Government can rule out an Amendment in this House for this purpose.


The noble Viscount is misquoting me, I am sure not deliberately. I did not say that it was not permissible. I expressly said that it was not desirable. Believe me, the British Constitution, which largely works on conventions, is based on desirability; and one of the conventions on which it does work is keeping a reasonable and proper comity between the two Houses. That is the basis of my point.


I am all for keeping the most friendly and sound arrangement between the two Houses—of course I am. But just before the noble and learned Viscount started to quote from Erskine May, he referred to the practice that has grown up in respect of any one who is or has been a Peer—"is or has been." That mixture of tenses in that governing verb seemed to me to be rather important. If, for example, the Government had been willing to accept our Amendment yesterday, there could have been a statutory approach to the matter of a Peer renouncing his hereditary peerage and so becoming a commoner. What is there in the practice of the House, in the law of the land, in the view of the elector, to say that at any time somebody who becomes a commoner is not eligible to sit in the Commons House of Parliament?


By using that term, the noble Viscount is really, in my respectful submission, avoiding the issue, because the issue is whether someone who is sitting or has sat in this House should then be able to stand for the House of Commons. That has never happened before and that, I think, is a serious change in the position which I believe, according to the principle of comity for which I am pleading, should not be initiated by this House.


Could I put another hypothetical case?


I will give way with pleasure; then I should like just three minutes to develop my argument.


I thank the noble Viscount very much. But I am thinking of all kinds of circumstances which might arise in view of the duality of tense in the verb that the Lord Chancellor used. Suppose there was a Peer who had sat in this House—somebody who had received the Writ of Summons—but then he is displaced because of some legal procedure, perhaps because he is found not to have been the true heir. He goes, and is a commoner again. Is he then prohibited?


The noble Viscount is quite right. I should not like to be held to this statement exactly, because some of those who make researches may be able to find another, but I know of only one case where it has happened since 1296; that related to the Berkeley peerage case, which is a well-known case. But, as I say, so far as my researches go, that is the only occasion of which I know. As I say, I hope noble Lords will not hold me to that statement, because someone will probably be able to find some medieval example where it can be argued.

But, of course, that is quite a different position because, as the noble Viscount will appreciate, that man never was a Peer—he believed himself to be a Peer, but he never was. The case we are discussing is on the hypothesis that the man was a Peer, was rightly a member of this House, and then chose to renounce his peerage and stand for the House of Commons. As I say—and I do not think that anyone can really argue to the contrary—that is a matter which affects the House of Commons infinitely more seriously than it affects this House, because, as has been pointed out, without this Amendment the Peer who does not want to sit can ask for leave of absence and take that point.

I am sorry that the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate thinks that I am being evasive on this point. That was why I did yesterday what no Minister should do—I gave my personal view. I do not want the noble Viscount seriously to think I am evasive, although as I say, no adjective of his would ever really irritate me. But I do want to make this clear; that whatever view one takes—whether one takes the noble Viscount's view or my view, as an individual—if the House of Commons expressed a view, saying, "We desire this; having considered it we think that the rights of peerage or the exercise of the rights of peerage should not be a bar to the House", that would be a matter to which I am sure both the noble Viscount and I would give the greatest consideration, because if the House of Commons expresses a view as to its own composition, anyone who takes political life seriously would pay great attention to it.

But what I am arguing here is that there are two things wrong with the Amendment. The first is the undesirability of even one chop and change; the second is the undesirability, for reasons of the comity of the working of the two Houses, of our making a provision which would substantially alter the composition of the House of Commons, in that it would admit persons who had sat, rightly, in your Lordships' House. For those two reasons, apart from the one which the noble Viscount has indicated, that this is a stepping stone to another Amendment which I have deliberately not dealt with to-day, I must ask the Committee to reject this Amendment.


Perhaps I might remind your Lordships that there already exists an ancient procedure by which a noble Lord can be freed from his peerage. It sometimes proceeded from the House of Commons and sometimes from your Lordships' House, and it is by way of an Act of Attainder. A member of my own family lost his peerage, as is well known in history, through an Act of Attainder. This sometimes carries penalties—in fact, in the past it always has carried penalties. But see no reason why an Act of Attainder, properly introduced, should carry penalties. Supposing a noble Lord was the subject of an Act of Attainder, that would free him from his peerage in quite a statutory fashion. In history, your Lordships will remember that the Earl of Danby was impeached by the House of Commons. The Attainder of the Earl of Danby was not passed. I mention that point, only because it was the occasion of what I think was the finest speech ever made in your Lordships' 'House by the Earl of Carnarvon, some time in the reign of Charles II. An Act of Attainder is an established method of depriving any noble Lord of his peerage.


With great courage, if I may say so, and some trepidation, I rise to put a controversial point to the noble and learned Viscount. I must say that I share the view of the noble Viscount opposite. The attitude which the Lord Chancellor has taken is a complete surprise to me. I have for many years been interested in this question—the general question which, of course, we cannot discuss on this Amendment—of the renouncement of peerages, and I have made several speeches on the subject both in another place and in your Lordships' House. This is the first time I have heard from any member of any Government that the question of the renouncement of a peerage, which would enable the person who had so renounced the peerage to sit in the House of Commons, should not be first discussed in your Lordships' House; that it is undesirable that it should be so discussed that it is a matter for another place. On the ground of common sense, I cannot see how it can be solely a matter for the other place. When a man renounces his peerage he then becomes a commoner. What, then, is the logic of saying that the matter should be first considered by the other place?

But I want to point out to your Lordships the seriousness of the situation which has arisen from the speech of the Lord Chancellor. It means, does it not, that if any of us—as we certainly shall—return to this general question of the right to renounce a peerage, in order that a person succeeding to a title can sit in another place, we may be met with the same argument: that it is undesirable to do it in this House, and that it should be done in another place? Surely Members of another place would take exactly the opposite view. They would say, "The proper place to initiate this is in the House of Lords; it is they who are profoundly concerned."

The only other point I want to make is this. I hope that the Lord Chancellor will answer the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate. Surely what was said by Lord Birkenhead was directly contrary to what the Lord Chancellor said to-day, because when he spoke—it is true on another matter—he suggested that it was a matter for your Lordships' House. But if I heard the Lord Chancellor aright (and I believe that for a man of my age my hearing is quite good) he said one very interesting thing: that if this question of the renouncement of a peerage, in either general or particular circumstances, was raised in another place—and I gathered that he meant if there was support for it, either in the form of a Resolution or a Bill—Her Majesty's Government would give serious consideration to the matter. If that be so, that advances us a very considerable stage, because Members of another place might pass a Bill, despite what I have just said, on the granting of the right of renouncement. May we take it, from what has been said by the noble and learned Viscount, that in such circumstances Her Majestys Government would give favourable consideration to a Bill?


Following what my noble friend has said, may I make a suggestion which might reconcile us in what is a genuine difficulty of the relationship between the two Houses, as to which is the right House to deal with different aspects of this matter?—because, as I see it, there are two quite separate aspects here. First, there is the question of whether a Peer should have the right to renounce his peerage; and that seems to me to be certainly primarily, and possibly even entirely, a matter for this House. I quite agree with what the noble and learned Viscount has said; that if legislation to that effect were carried—and obviously it must be done by legislation—that Peer would become a commoner and would automatically have the right to stand for the House of Commons; and that is a matter which concerns the House of Commons. But surely that House would then have the Bill before it and would be perfectly entitled to say (for it is primarily a matter for them) that although a Peer had renounced his peerage he should not have the right to stand for the House of Commons.

It seems to me that if that were the process, this House, if it so pleased, would be dealing with what primarily concerns it and would leave the House of Commons perfectly free to deal with the right of an "ex"-Peer to stand for Parliament. The Amendment which was moved yesterday, in the opinion of the House—and I think quite rightly—went too far because it dealt with a man's successors. This House would obviously be very unwilling to give a Peer a right to bar his future successors, however many of his successors might consent—and, of course, one does not know who is going to succeed. On the other hand, it seems a little hard that a man should not have the right to do as he wishes with his own during his own lifetime. I should be all against his jobbing in and out and saying, "I will have a shot at standing for Parliament, and if I fail to do that I should like to have the best of both worlds and come back to the House of Lords."

We cannot go back on what has been done in Committee, and I suppose that if this Bill passes without amendment there will be no separate Report stage. There is, however, the Third Reading, when Amendments can be moved. Would it not be a solution of this genuine difficulty—and I see the difficulties of the noble and learned Viscount—for somebody to move an Amendment on the Third Reading merely to say that a Peer shall have the right to renounce his peerage for the duration of his own life? The Bill, with that Amendment, would then go to another place. We should have dealt, if the House so wished—and I am not prejudging the issue—with what primarily concerns us here. It would then be perfectly open to another place to say that, although the Peer had renounced his peerage, they did not wish him to stand for election to that House. I do not believe that they would do any such thing. They would probably say, "Let him take his chance like anybody else." I believe that, if that were done, each House would have a full opportunity of deciding on the merits of what primarily concerned it and that there would be no conflict between the two Houses.


I am very anxious to deal with the points that have been put to me and I do not know whether my noble friend Lord Swinton appreciated the argument that I was putting forward, which I believe is in entire accord with his own conclusions. I was saying that where the interests of both Houses are concerned, one must look at the House that is primarily affected. I understood the noble Earl to say that your Lordships' House is mainly concerned in the first part of this Amendment, while the House of Commons is mainly concerned in the second part. The argument I was putting to the Committee was that Part I, as it stands, was of little importance, and that, taking the Amendment as a whole, the dominant and substantial part of it was Part 11, and that affected the House of Commons.


May I point out to the noble and learned Viscount that I do not think he has grasped my suggestion. I am suggesting that this Amendment should be defeated or should go by the board—I am not supporting it, and if it is put I will vote against it—and that when we come to Third Reading an entirely different Amendment should be put down, dealing merely with the right of a Peer, whether a Life Peer or an hereditary Peer, to renounce his peerage for the duration of his life. I would not go any further than that, but would then leave it to the House of Commons. If they left the Amendment as it stood, then I imagine that automatically that man would have the right to stand for Parliament, having become a commoner. But the House of Commons could perfectly well say, if they were so minded, that, even so, he shall not stand for the Commons, and might carry an Amendment to that effect. When that came back to your Lordships' House it would then be our duty, or at any rate the reasonable thing for us to do, to say that we accepted the Commons' view as to who should stand for election to that House.


I am grateful to the noble Earl for his contribution, which, as he says, has been quite lengthy, but as it was admirably packed with meat I do not at all resent it. I only want to say to the Committee that in order to produce a connected argument any speaker should be allowed a certain number of periods of, say, five minutes each without interruption, and perhaps he can then deal with any other points. I hope that that is not an excessive demand upon your Lordships and I should like the remainder of my speech to be an approach on that basis, which I consider to be a fair one—perhaps five minutes for me, and, say, a quarter of an hour for those others who wish to speak.

Dealing with the Amendment which is before the Committee, I am relieved that my noble friend Lord Swinton will support its rejection. I would ask your Lordships to remember that I was putting my argument on two grounds. I suggested that even one chop or change, as is suggested by the noble Viscount who moved this Amendment, is objectionable. That is a view which I am commending to the Committee: that if someone has come to this House as a Life Peer (and, as my noble friend Lord Conesford has pointed out, there is no question of a life peerage coming to anyone in invitum, unlike an hereditary peerage which is inherited) then that life peerage has been accepted on the basis that that person is coming to work in this House. And I submit to your Lordships that it is objectionable that, a man having made that election, he should resign that peerage and go to another place. That is, broadly, an objectionable matter, and that was the first ground on which I asked your Lordships to reject this Amendment.

I raised a second point. I am not only interested but also worried that it should have raised doubts in the mind of my noble friend Lord Winterton who, of course, has such a vast Parliamentary experience and has always been interested in points of this kind. But I would ask him to consider whether there is not something to be said for the suggestion which I have put forward. I was not putting it forward—I hoped I had made this clear—as a mandatory matter, as a matter of "must"; I was putting it forward as a matter of what is desirable. And as I understood, certainly his conclusion, I should have thought the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, agreed with this: that in matters that primarily concern one House it is better to get the view of the House primarily concerned before the other House legislates on it. I still suggest to your Lordships that that is a matter of common sense in the working of two legislative Chambers. That is the view that I commend to your Lordships.

I will consider carefully what my noble friend Lord Winterton said, and the example he gave—I have not read the debate for some time. But when a Minister speaks in both Houses, then I should have thought that both Houses are equally concerned with that principle and it might be a matter which could be discussed in either of them. I was saying that this Amendment, as it stands, with paragraph 2, is principally a matter for the House of Commons.

I have been careful to try to argue on this Amendment on the merits and not on technical deficiencies. I always try to do that. But, of course, I ask your Lordships to note that what this Amendment suggests is that the person can renounce not his peerage, but his Writ of Summons to this House; and, therefore, on the Amendment as framed, you would be dealing with the person who kept the status of a Peer but renounced his right to sit and vote in your Lordships' House. Again, I submit that that is an undesirable state of things, and that is what we are considering. That is the reason why I suggest to your Lordships that in regard to this Amendment there is no doubt that it should be rejected.

The noble Earl, Lord Swinton, has suggested another Amendment which might be adumbrated at a later stage. I hope your Lordships will acquit me of any lack of courage when I say I should like to see that Amendment on the Order Paper before I commit myself to it, because I gathered that the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, was suggesting an Amendment which would allow hereditary Peers to abandon their peerages for life. This Bill is concerned with Life Peers and there would be a great difficulty in making that alteration in this Bill. It would be outside the scope of the Bill and not relevant to the subject matter, and, therefore, would raise other points which, as I say, we shall have to consider, because that is entirely a matter for your Lordships when the Amendment is before your Lordships. But I think that everyone is agreed that this Amendment in its present form is something that your Lordships could not possibly allow to form part of the Bill, and I ask your Lordships to reject it.


May I ask the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor whether the ineligibility of a Member of this House is in any way dealt with in the Representation of the Peoples Act?


There have been a great many Representation of the Peoples Acts and various points have arisen. For example, I think it was under a Representation of the Peoples Act, 1832, that the eldest sons of Scottish Peers were allowed to stand for the House of Commons. Under the Representation of the Peoples Act, 1918, Peeresses in their own right were given a right to vote in elections to the House of Commons. I do not think, speaking from memory—and I know that noble Lords will not hold it against me if research shows I am wrong—that the problem that we have been dealing with has been dealt with. It is, as I understand it, a matter of the common law of Parliament, with some draftings on other points, but not on this point with which we are concerned to-day.


The noble and learned Viscount would agree that if it were mentioned in one or other of the Representation of the Peoples Acts it would be of most material benefit in the interesting discussion to which we have listened?


I quite agree, but, speaking from memory, I think I am right. I have said what I remember: the general point is not.


I do not want to exceed my ration of time, but the noble and learned Viscount has certainly astounded the House of Lords by one doctrine, and that is that the status of Members of this House must first of all be considered in another place. That, I think, is amazing. There have been debates on this subject. The noble Marquess, and many others, produced a Bill touching on these points, but I have never heard that doctrine put forward before. I am a House of Commons man, pure and simple, but I have never heard the doctrine suggested that this matter must first be raised in the House of Commons.

The second point is not a surprise. I am entirely in favour of Lord Swinton's suggestion, and if that were possible I would advise (for what my advice is worth) my noble Leader to adopt that course. But what I suspected has happened: the noble and learned Viscount has warned us that, if he thinks he has not got a case on merits, he is going to apply procedure and ask us to tell the noble Earl that his Amendment is out of order, even after Third Reading. I do not ask the noble and learned Viscount to say he will favour the Amendment, but he has never yet said what the Government's view is on this Amendment. But if he would say that he will not invoke the opinion of some learned but obscure member of the Bar to support him in advising the House that this Amendment is out of order, and if he will give Lord Swinton a fair run for his money, then I think this Amendment might be withdrawn.


The noble Viscount has not heard the first proposition to which he referred to-day—he has certainly not heard it from me—and I hope he will, when he reads Hansard, say that I have never said that a matter concerning the composition of this House should be first discussed in the House of Commons. If he reads what I have said he will find that that is so. And I hope, to use the old phrase, that the next time he misquotes me he will misquote me correctly.

On the second point, I am sorry, and I should like to be conciliatory to the noble Viscount and to everyone else, but I can be of value to your Lordships' House only if I advise you on procedure according to what. I believe to be the practice and the procedure of your Lordships' House. I was asked to advise on this and to make a statement. I took the best advice I could, and made the best researches I could, and the results I give to your Lordships on procedure. I ask the noble Viscount to realise that when you ask a lawyer, whether he be the Lord Chancellor or the youngest member of the Bar, for his view on a legal point, it is in my profession a sin against the Holy Ghost that he should ever make his law fit his facts. He gives those who ask his advice his best opinion on the law as he knows it. I ask the noble Viscount, who, I am sure, does not want to insult a profession—he can insult me as often as he likes—


I have never done it.


—to believe me on that point, which is very dear to us as a profession.


It is the first time I have ever heard that the procedure of Parliament had anything to do with the Holy Ghost.

3.40 p.m.


If I may comment upon that last remark, it is the first time that I have ever heard the Bar mentioned with the name of the Holly Ghost in a House of Parliament. I should like to say to the Lord Chancellor that I am grateful for the great trouble which he has taken to give us his advice and his point of view. I know that we have brought to him a very difficult proposition, but we thought that there was sufficient in this clause, which was not in-eluded in the clause we lost yesterday, to justify our proceeding with it. We felt that we were going somewhat further in dealing with a problem which has worried so many people in both Houses. If we could have won the support of your Lordships on the particular clause we are moving to-day we should have had further ground for dealing with the whole matter at a later stage of the Bill.

I have been simply delighted with two of the contributions which have been made to this discussion. First, I would refer to that of my noble friend Lord Winterton. He is a very old friend indeed; we were together in another place for many years. He not only gave us the benefit of his brains and his experience but he also told us what he feels on this matter. I know he has been interested in it for very many years. What I want now is to be able to study very carefully in print, not only what has been said by him but also the most notable contribution which was made by the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, to this debate. I think that these two speeches need examining together very carefully indeed.

What horrifies me is the way in which the quick and learned brain of the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor has apparently taken from these speeches sufficient material to justify a statement that submission at a later stage of the Bill of any Amendment to secure what these noble Lords have suggested would probably be out of order. This faces me with a very difficult position. Until the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor spoke, I had made up my mind to ask for your Lordships' permission to withdraw the Amendment so that we might have time for consideration of the text of what has been said here to-day, with a view to moving further at a later stage of the Bill. In view of the fact that there will be discussion in another place, and if it is the view of the Lord Chancellor that we should be ruled out of order in moving on Third Reading, then I feel that we must divide on this Amendment. I feel that I must make that decision. I see that the Lord Chancellor nods his acquiescence. That means that we shall have to go to a Division on this Amendment. These are matters that will be followed up very closely in another place, and it is only right that I should now record the view which is now taken here.

3.45 p,m,


May I put one point to the Lord Chancellor? Of course we should all accept that a lawyer, when asked to give an opinion on a pure point of law, would give a wholly unbiased opinion. If, for example, a Law Officer is asked to do so in another place—and that is something which has been done for years and years—we should always accept, whoever was the Law Officer in question, or whatever Government was in power, that on a purely legal question the Law Officer was giving a legal opinion which the House would accept. But may I respectfully suggest this to the Lord Chancellor. The suggestion is made as to the point being bad in law. With great respect to the Lord Chancellor, I would suggest to him that it is not a question of law at all; it is a question of practice and procedure. After all, this House is the master of its own procedure. I repeat, this is not a case of law at all. Of course, Ito some extent, precedents bind us, but I should have thought that a pretty wide view could have been taken if the House desired to debate the Amendment. As we all know, procedure is often treated as being largely a matter for the convenience of the House. I should have thought that this was not a question of pure law but one of procedural practice. I hope that it will not be said that we must be bound by a rule, just as a judge in a court of first instance would be bound by a decision of your Lordships' House in a purely judicial case.


I have listened with great care to what the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, has said. This question is obviously one of great importance and interest. But as I see it, it is a little more than a matter of the procedure of this House. If a man repudiates his peerage for his lifetime, what happens to the peerage? Noble Lords opposite would no doubt say that the peerage should disappear altogether. That, I think, is not Lord Swinton's idea. His idea is that the peerage should be put into "cold storage" for the lifetime of the Peer. How exactly is that to be done? It may be possible and it may not, but I do not think that it is a matter of procedure.


The merits of the proposal are indeed tremendously important. But it is not this proposal itself that I said was a matter of procedure: it was whether an Amendment to give effect to the proposal would be in order on this Bill was a matter of procedure.


I made a statement on the Second Reading as to what I conceived to be the effect of the Rules of this House. I was asked to do so, and I made a statement. Of course, I made clear, as any of your Lordships who remember will bear me out, that your Lordships' House is the master of its own procedure. The practice of your Lordships' House is a matter which your Lordships' House in the past has always considered; and in the past your Lordships—as masters of your own procedure—have refused to accept Amendments which were not relevant to the subject matter of a Bill. I advised your Lordships that in a Bill dealing with life peerages an Amendment which dealt with hereditary peerages was not relevant to the subject matter of the Bill. Of course, your Lordships can, if you like, say that I am wrong—that is a matter for your Lordships. All I can say is that that is the opinion which I formed, and I am not going to alter that opinion, because it is an opinion that. I formed on the best inquiry concerning the precedents in this matter. Of course, your Lordships, who, I again repeat, are masters of the procedure of your Lordships' House, can reverse my view. But I am sure that what your Lordships will not do is to reverse my view merely because it is politically unacceptable to your Lordships.


May I ask what may appear to be a stupid question? I did not hear the speech of the mover of the Amendment. I do not understand from the Bill that a life peerage is supposed to be conferred on anyone without his consent. Surely if a person does

not wish to accept the peerage he will not do so. Therefore, this Amendment appears to me to be nonsense.


I am sorry that the noble Earl was not here when the Amendment was moved. There are circumstances that arise which I suggest might cause him to alter his view. Perhaps he will read Hansard to-morrow, and he will then see that there is a case to be said for adding this clause to the Bill.

On Question, Whether the proposed new clause shall be added to the Bill?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 22; Not-Contents, 105.

Lucan, E. [Teller.] Chorley, L. Milne, L.
Darwen, L. Milner of Leeds, L.
Addison, V. Faringdon, L. Noel-Buxton, L.
Alexander of Hillsborough, V. Greenhill, L. Pakenham, L.
Hall, V. Haden-Guest, L. Shepherd, L.
Stansgate, V. Kershaw, L. Strabolgi, L.
Lawson, L. Williams, L
Burden, L. [Teller.] Mathers, L. Wise, L.
Kilmuir, V. (L. Chancellor.) Bridport, V. Ellenborough, L.
Chelmsford, V. Freyberg, L.
Hailsham, V. (L. President.) Colville of Culross, V. Gifford, L.
Crookshank, V. Gorell, L.
Wellington, D. FitzAlan of Derwent, V. Grantchester, L.
Gage, V. Gridley, L.
Lansdowne, M. Goschen, V. Hampton, L.
Reading, M. Long, V. Hastings, L.
Salisbury, M. Margesson, V. Hawke, L.
Willingdon, M. Massereene and Ferrard, V. Jessel, L.
Mersey, V. Killearn, L.
Airlie, E. Simonds, V. Kinnaird, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Soulbury, V. Lloyd, L.
Beauchamp, E. Stonehaven, V. Lovat, L.
Breadalbane and Holland, E. Templewood, V. Mancroft, L.
Carlisle, E, Merrivale, L.
Coventry, E. Abinger, L. Milverton, L.
Cranbrook, E. Amherst of Hackney, L. Monkswell, L.
De La Warr, E. Amulree, L. Moyne, L.
Dundee, E. Ashton of Hyde, L. Moynihan, L.
Fortescue E. [Teller.] Balfour of Inchrye, L. Newall, L.
Gosford, E. Barnby, L. Rathcavan, L.
Grey, E. Birdwood, L. Rea, L.
Home, E. Blackford, L. St. Oswald, L.
Limerick, E. Brand, L. Saltoun, L.
Lonsdale, E. Braye, L. Sandford, L.
Morley, E. Chesham, L. Sandys, L.
Onslow, E. [Teller.] Clitheroe, L. Sherwood, L.
Selkirk, E. Cohen, L. Somervell of Harrow, L.
Stair, E. Colwyn, L. Strang, L.
Swinton, E. Conesford, L. Strathclyde, L.
Waldegrave, E. Congleton, L. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Winterton, E. Cottesloe, L.
Craigmyle, L. Stratheden and Campbell, L.
Astor, V. Dovercourt, L. Swaythling, L.
Bledisloe, V. Dowding, L. Teynham, L.
Bridgeman, V. Ebbisham, L. Thurlow, L.
Trefgarne, L.

Resolved in the negative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.

4.0 p.m.

VISCOUNT ASTOR had given Notice of an Amendment, after Clause I to insert the following new clause: .If a member of the House of Commons succeed to a peerage his succession to the peerage shall be deemed to have taken place at the following dissolution of Parliament.

The noble Viscount said: In putting this matter before your Lordships, I shall have to take the advice of the Irish Bishop who recently exhorted his flock to tread carefully the narrow line between right and wrong, and try not to go too far outside the bounds of order. Whatever may be said against the new clause which I venture to put before your Lordships. I should like to repudiate the view that this House cannot discuss matters which affect the general public. Surely membership of another place, with all that it involves, is a matter which affects the voters, the public by whom Members are elected, as much as it affects the other place. Therefore I put down this clause for your Lordships' consideration on behalf of the rights and convenience of the ordinary elector of this country.

A Member of Parliament who has been carefully selected out of many others as a good candidate by his Party, who has had some months in which to get himself known, to meet people, not only politically but in the different organisations of the constituency, so that they have had a fair chance to judge him, and who has been able to learn about the problems, the politics and the industries of his constituency, is surely the right, the logical and the best person to represent that constituency, unless it is unavoidable that he should no longer do so, as would be the case if he should die, or if, through ill-health or something else, he had to apply for the Chiltern Hundreds. It is surely much better, if possible, that a Member of Parliament selected at a General Election should carry on and serve his constituents, rather than that somebody should come along at a by-election who may be a complete stranger to the constituency, who is hastily selected and who has not the time to get known by his constituency or to get to know the constituency. Secondly, in the modern world by-elections are a confounded nuisance.




In the old days people had more time and more money to spare, and a by-election takes a severe toll of both. It means that each Party has to get up to £1,000 for their election costs. It is hard work on those who give the money; it is even harder on those who have to collect it; and it is quite an unnecessary diversion of time and effort raising this money. Moreover, it is a great nuisance for the constituency. It means that houses have to be given up as committee rooms; voluntary workers have to leave their normal avocations and canvass constituents; and schools have to be turned upside down to hold public meetings and to be used as polling booths on by-election day. In the modern world people have neither the leisure time nor the money, and it is an unmitigated nuisance.


Surely, this is exactly the adoption of Herr Hitler's method: that you have an election only at certain times; that you do not have it tested by the temperature, the feeling, of the country.


I am interested to hear the noble Lord's rebuttal of what I have to say, but I can only put my own view, which is that a General Election is the right and sensible time for taking the temperature of a country, and a by-election, which may happen through the unexpected death of a distant relative of a Member of Parliament, has no particular value in a democracy.


I would agree that by-elections are certainly a great nuisance to the Tory Government at the moment.


I think there have have been occasions when Governments of other complexions have found by-elections to be a nuisance. But I am not talking about the convenience of Governments; I am talking about the convenience of the ordinary elector and of the constituency, who, having elected somebody, want to see him as a Member of Parliament or, if they cannot, to adopt him again the next time. They hive plenty of time to select their candidate and to make a rational choice.

That is the main ground on which I venture to put this clause forward. It is very hard on the individual concerned, who may have spent several years "working up" his constituency and getting to know the problems, if, in a short time, all that effort is wasted—perhaps through an unexpected death. The present system also makes the selection of candidates hard under the normal procedure. I know that in my own case, at my last election, my father had had a stroke, and it was hard on my constituency to say whether they would again select me, whom they knew, or whether they would ask me to stand down, through no fault of my own, after I had been working for five years to try to give them all the satisfaction I could. It puts local associations in an unfair and invidious position if they have to make such decisions in this sort of time. If this clause were included, it would deal only with a small number of cases; it would not particularly benefit one Party or the other; and it would take an irrational element out of the political life in this country. Obviously, the final word on this will have to come from another place, but I do think this House has the right to put forward this sort of mild and reasonable suggestion for consideration.


Before the noble Viscount stops, I feel that I must inform your Lordships that the proposed new clause is clearly out of order, because it has nothing whatsoever to do with Life Peers, as ex-hypothesi there could be no succession to a life peerage: and this clause can apply only to those who succeed to an hereditary peerage. For that reason, I would ask the noble Viscount riot to get us involved in the question of whether it is in order or not. I think he will agree with me that it is clearly outside the scope of a Bill dealing with life peerages. I have refrained from making this point so that all your Lordships should have the advantage of hearing the noble Viscount deploy his full argument, and I hope that fie has had every chance of doing so.

I can tell him that, apart from this Bill, the matter will receive consideration. I would ask him to note that I am not going into the stormy seas in which I had to do such stout swimming on the last Amendment, because I conceive that at the moment, as the Amendment is drafted, it would stop a Peer coming to the House of Lords when he succeeded, whether he wanted to or not, because if he applied for the Chiltern Hundreds and left the House of Commons, he would still, under the noble Viscount's clause, not be able to come to your Lordships' House. I am conceding that the Amendment does affect your Lordships' House, but I am saying that it has nothing whatever to do with life peerages. It is confined to hereditary peerages, and therefore I would ask the noble Viscount, having now made his point, not to press his Amendment.


I hope that, the Amendment having by courtesy been allowed to go so far, I may be given the courtesy of being allowed to say a word or two about it. The noble Viscount. Lord Astor, has introduced a matter which could be easily controversial, sympathetic as I am with him in his general approach to most of these matters. Certainly it will all depend upon which side of the House we were on, and a given set of Parliamentary circumstances. At the present time, when most of us think we should have had a General Election at least nine to twelve months ago, it is a little hard to agree in principle with the noble Viscount that there should be a reduction in the number of by-elections. At the same time, there is a great deal to be said in principle for what he has submitted to the House, and if it were not for the Party controversy which would be likely to arise, as I think it would, I could give him even more adequate support.

However, if I may take his speech this afternoon as an example, it is surely a tragedy that he should have been transferred from the other place to this, and not to have had the opportunity of going on serving a large and important constituency in detail day by day. I am very sorry that it has happened. I hope that, when we come to a later stage of the Bill, the mantle of his father will once more fall upon him. Although I am quite sure the noble Viscount's father wanted to stay in another place, he supplied a dynamic personality to take his place—a very old friend of members of all Parties—in the shape of the noble Viscount's mother, to whom we pay very great respect. If the noble Viscount, at a later stage of the Bill, when we have given further consideration to the splendid contributions made by members of his own Party below the gangway this afternoon, will support us, as he has on one or two previous occasions in matters of this sort, we should be most grateful.


Perhaps the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition will not try to seduce our supporters.


May I thank the noble Viscount for his kind words, and say that this Amendment is conceived in no Party spirit likely to benefit in the long run any particular Party? I should like to thank the Lord Chancellor for the very long rope he has given me—a long, elastic and generous rope. Naturally, I accept his view and shall not move the Amendment.


May we have a ruling on that point, before the noble Viscount decides not to move his Amendment? When we go into Committee the Title of the Bill is postponed. Supposing this Amendment were discussed and carried, what is there to prevent your Lordships from extending the Title of the Bill which has not yet received the confirmation of the Committee?


I explained that point, when the noble Lord, Lord Rea, raised it on the Motion to put the House into Committee. There are two stages. There are, first of all, Amendments which are not relevant to the subject matter of the Bill, and no Amendment of the Title will help on that point. Secondly, there are Amendments which may be relevant to the subject matter of the Bill but which are nevertheless outside the Long Title. It is in order to deal with the second class that we, as a House, postpone the Long Title. If the noble Lord, Lord Burden, would look at my statement of December 5, at columns 859 to 861, he will find that I went into this point.

Clause 2 agreed to.

House resumed.

Bill reported without amendment.