§ 2.51 p.m.
§ LORD TEYNHAM rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will now make known their proposals for the reform of the constitution of the House of Lords; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, although I have served some. twenty-one years in your Lordships' House, both as a Front Bencher and as a Back Bencher, I feel that there are many other noble Lords far more fitted than myself to move the Motion which I have on the Order Paper to-day, and for that reason I claim your Lordships' indulgence to-day.
§ I would remind your Lordships that the last occasion on which we fully debated the reform of the constitution of tits Chamber was on the late Lord Simon's Bill, in 1953, for the introduction of Life Peers. On that occasion many anti varied ideas were put forward. Some would have meant a radical reform of the House while others envisaged a limited one, but on the whole, I think, the House generally accepted the principle of Life Peers. Many proposals were for a reduction in the number of hereditary Peers, either by election or by selection, but it was pointed out that by either method we might lose the services of the young men who would be unable to win their spurs in the House and therefore could not become known for election or selection. There is no doubt that the real work of the House, the Committee work, the careful scrutiny of all legislation, and so on, cannot, with all due respect, be done by old gentlemen, and we must have the services of the young men.
§ The late noble Marquess, Lord Exeter, was, as many of your Lordships will remember, strongly of the opinion that considerable reform could be carried out in your Lordships' House by means of Standing Orders and the reversal of the Wensleydale case for Life Peers. Since then, and largely as the outcome of the noble Marquess's inquiries and investigations into the past, Her Majesty's Government decided to set up recently a Select Committee to investigate the powers of the House in relation to the attendance of its Members, and the findings of this Select Committee must, of course, have a great bearing on any reform of this Chamber. Your Lordships 582 will recall that the Chairman of that Committee, the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, clearly stated in the debate on the Report that the Committee were charged to report what the House could do and not to recommend what the House should do. It is in the light of this Report that I now propose to put forward some suggestions as to what the House should do.
§ There is no doubt from this Report that the House is the sole judge of its own powers and is certainly not bound to follow its own precedents; otherwise, of course, no new precedents could ever be created, and Parliament has evolved from precedent to precedent. I have no doubt that this Report has in it the nucleus of reform which might, in fact, go a long way towards strengthening the Chamber, and perhaps remove the "backwoodsmen" gibe which has from time to time been levelled at your Lordships' House.
§ Your Lordships will recollect that the Report of the Select Committee stated that it would be well within the power of the House to make Standing Orders relating to leave of absence. It was suggested that a communication should be addressed to all Members of the House informing them that it was their duty to attend regularly or as often as they reasonably could, or else to apply for leave of absence. The Report further suggested that at the commencement of every Parliament Members should be asked whether they desired to be relieved of the obligation of attendance, and, if so, they should apply for leave of absence either for the duration of the Parliament or for any shorter period. Lastly, your Lordships will remember, the Report recommended that Members should be advised that if they had been granted leave of absence they would be expected not to attend until the leave of absence had been terminated by giving such notice as might be prescribed Standing Orders.
§ It can be argued that this would not deprive the "backwoodsmen" of the right to sit and vote in the Chamber, because, of course, nothing in Standing Orders can prevent any determined Peer from coming to the House at any time. But I think it is very unlikely that noble Lords would disobey Standing Orders. As your Lordships are aware, we have never in the past had any trouble about obedience to Standing Orders. I 583 believe that if Standing Orders were introduced on the lines in the Report, we might establish in quite a short time a known working body of Peers, and the latent fear of "backwoodsmen" would further diminish and perhaps even be made non-existent. May I suggest to Her Majesty's Government that Standing Orders should be introduced more or less on the lines of the Report as soon as possible? It is, of course, only a voluntary limitation of the right to sit and vote in the House, but I feel sure that it will receive general acceptance by your Lordships. Surely this voluntary limitation is well worth a try, and if it does not prove satisfactory some further scheme of limitation can perhaps be considered in the future.
I should like to turn for a few minutes to the important question of Life Peers, which, as you know, is referred to in the Report. The Report stated:
There is no doubt that the House could reconsider the issues raised in the Wensleydale Case of 1856, which established the principle that the Crown cannot create Life Peers, and now come to a different conclusion.
But it added a rider, which I think it is important to note, that
the House should have due regard to what it considers to be the true constitutional position.
§ There is no doubt that a considerable difference of opinion existed at the time of the Wensleydale Case, and it was quite clear that even in those days. when one might have expected a strong aversion to Life Peers, there was a considerable body of opinion in favour of them. I am certainly not one of those who feel that there is nothing to be gained by the continuation of the hereditary principle—on the contrary. I would say that what is good for racehorses is often good for statesmen—but I feel that a little more blood from industry, commerce, the professions and the arts would be of great service to our House. There are certainly a number of people who would give great service to this House and who might be willing to accept a life peerage but might be somewhat diffident about accepting an hereditary one. I also feel that, if life peerages are brought into our constitution, it would be quite wrong that the creation of hereditary Peers should cease. I think there is need for both, and I would say that, by and large, in the House to-day there are few Peers who would not be 584 prepared to accept Life Peers in the Chamber.
§ Although I would say that it is somewhat tempting to suggest that the Wensleydale Case should be reopened, I would suggest that from the constitutional position it might be wiser to deal with the matter by legislation, and I hope Her Majesty's Government will in fact consider the establishment of a limited number of Life Peers with a view to strengthening the House. I strongly emphasise "a limited number" of Life Peers, especially at any one time or within one year, because I feel that a large influx would have the effect of stimulating a great number of speeches, Motions, and Private Bills, with the consequent difficulty of regulating them under the present system. In fact, I would say that to provide for a large number of Life Peers the whole character of the House would have to be changed and. further, the effect of a large number of Life Peers anxious to justify their existence might even have important repercussions in another place, leading to a demand for the dissolution of this House. Perhaps we should have a limit of, say, ten Life Peers a year—something on the lines of the late Viscount Simon's Bill: I do not know.
§ I think that we should not forget the lessons of history, and should remember what happened in Cromwell's day. In 1649 the House of Lords was abolished by a Resolution passed by another place. But in 1657 the House was reinstated because Cromwell found that a single Chamber would not work. When the House of Lords was reinstated it appears to have been more or less with the idea that the House should consist of a small number of hereditary Peers and a large number of Life Peers, and in fact the House was more or less reconstituted on that basis. Those of your Lordships who have looked into the past will remember that so much dissension arose over the new composition of the House that the new Parliament lasted only a fortnight, and the House was then again reconstituted on the old hereditary lines. The whole trouble had arisen over the general influx of Life Peers. I earnestly hope that Her Majesty's Government are not contemplating the creation of a large body of Life Peers at any one time, which I am sure would be disastrous to your Lord, ships' House.585
§ Since Cromwell's day there have been many proposals for the reform of the constitution of this Chamber and I certainly do not propose to weary your Lordships by recounting the details of them. But it certainly can never be said that this House has not been anxious to reform itself—in fact, most of the difficulties have come from another place. It has been said sometimes that we must reform the House because the Opposition might fade away, like old soldiers. I do not think that that is likely to happen. But I have thought that perhaps one of the easiest, simplest and most effective ways of reforming your Lordships' House would be to alter the seating of the Chamber, so that it would be formed into a half circle, like many Commonwealth Parliaments. Then we should have all the opposition required in all parts of the House, and the fear of facing empty Benches across the floor of the House would never arise.
§ As regards the various proposals for reform I would, however, say this: that almost all the proposals envisaged a radical reform, and for this reason agreement was found to be impossible except in the case of the proposals discussed by the Leaders of all Parties just previous to the Parliament Bill in 1947. But I think it must be remembered that the proposals which were, in fact, agreed by the Leaders had riot been put before your Lordships as a whole, and I have very much doubt whether they would have been accepted.
§ As your Lordships know, the great family of Cecils have for many years been in favour of a radical reform of the House, and no doubt we may have a most interesting speech to-day from the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury. More recently we have had outbursts from the noble Viscount. Lord Hailsham, who now adorns the Front Bench; but perhaps he has modified his views and will not ring his bell to-day. From time to time we have heard the views of the noble Viscount. Lord Samuel, who many of your Lordships are aware was actually a member of the Liberal Cabinet which passed the 1911 Parliament Act, and I am sure we shall all listen to his views to-day with the greatest interest and respect. I am certain we shall also like to hear the views of the noble Earl, Lord Winterton" who, I believe, took an active part in another place during the Parliament Bill, 1911.586
§ My Lords, I cannot help feeling that in any reform it would be better to move by easy stages. It has always been my view that the reform of the House should come step by step, because any radical reform might well be a mistake which would alter the whole character of the House without in any way improving it. I suggest that the present character of the House is its strength and its wisdom, and that its Members should very jealously guard it. It is true that the Parliament Act. 1911, envisaged an early reform of this Chamber. But why has this not taken place over this long period of forty years? Apart from the difficulties of agreement, I would say that since that date the work and prestige of the House has grown enormously, and therefore the demand for reform has not been so strong over the years.
§ It has been suggested in some quarters that Peeresses in their own right and Life Peeresses should be eligible to sit in the House. Personally, I am not much in favour of their inclusion, because again I feel it would alter the character of the House. I would again suggest that it would be better for reform to come step by step, and I hope that Her Majesty's Government will, in the first place, agree to the creation of a limited number of Life Peers and the amendment of Standing Orders, as has been suggested by the Select Committee. It may well he that at a later date further reform may be found to be necessary but let us begin on small beginnings and ensure that the character of the House is maintained as much as possible.
§ Perhaps it will not be out of place to remind your Lordships that this House is descended from the Great Council of the Nation in the distant past, to which a House of Commons was attached in the 13th century, and it is perhaps one of the oldest and most venerable institutions in the country. It reaches far back beyond the Roman Conquest and beyond King Alfred into the shadowy regions of antiquity, and has adapted itself to many changes in our Constitution throughout the centuries. I suggest to your Lordships that it would be a sorry day for this country if the value of this great institution were impaired by a too radical reform which might alter the whole character of the House without improving 587 it and perhaps even destroy what I still think is the finest Second Chamber in the world. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.9 p.m.
THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR COMMONWEALTH RELATIONS (THE EARL OF HOME)
My Lords, the Navy, as we know, is indomitable and indefatigable, and the noble Lord. Lord Teynham has piloted us through the currents and the cross-currents of the reform of the House of Lords with a skill which would challenge any navigator. If he has not brought his ship into harbour, at least he has kept it off the rocks. Since 1911, experience and intelligence have sought a scheme of reform of the Upper House. In that year of 1911 it seemed that the House of Lords was condemned to early extinction, but in fact we have survived two world wars and a social revolution in this country and as my noble friend has reminded us, we are still here as an essential, and. I believe, respected part of the British Constitution. I do not know what lesson we should learn from 1911 and the debates that have followed, except possibly that prophecy in the preamble to an Act of Parliament is politically unwise and I think, certainly in a world that becomes daily more unstable we should take ever greater care to guard our political institutions in this country.
That leads me to invite your Lordships to consider one or two general considerations as a background to any particular measures that I or any other noble Lord might propose. As my noble friend says, our Constitution has been built up over many centuries and continuity in the structure and conduct of our political institutions has been one of its most valued features and if. in our familiarity with our Parliamentary and democratic processes in this country, we are apt to forget that fact. then certainly if one goes abroad one is quickly cured of one's forgetfulness because the continuity in our political institutions is, I am certain—and I have had a good deal of experience of this—a characteristic that is most admired, and even envied, in other countries.
The process has been one of adaptation rather than revolution. This, after all, reflects the character and outlook of the 588 British people, who are not interested in change unless they can be assured that change is going to bring a demonstrable advantage over what has gone before. And therefore, although in theory, and even in logic, it is perhaps difficult to justify a Parliamentary system which includes the hereditary principle, nevertheless it works: and, by and large, that is the test which the British public apply, As my noble friend has reminded us, since at least 1657 this House has served the public well and if my analysis is correct. I believe that we shall be in tune with public opinion in this country if we see that any changes we make are closely related to the practical needs of to-day.
The second general consideration to which I would invite your Lordships' attention is this: I believe that the great majority of people in this country are convinced that in this complex society there must be a Second Chamber. No one wishes to have an elected rival to another place, but there is daily proof that another place could not do without a complementary Chamber responsible for revising legislation. In these days, the House of Commons is hard pressed, and the long list of Amendments which we are able to insert into Bills, and which are gratefully accepted by another place, is a complete vindication of the existence of the Second Chamber and of the value to the public of this House of Lords. It is certain that the public would not be served so well if this House were not part of the Parliamentary machinery. Nor, I believe, would the people be wise to scrap a Second Chamber which allows time for second thoughts. There are from time to time matters of national controversy; they very often emerge from another place overcharged and overheated. Then, when they are passed through the cooling process of your Lordships' debates, they can be seen by everybody in a better perspective.
There are two more general considerations. I think there are two matters which, in the debate over these two days, we can probably agree to by-pass. The first is any alteration in the powers of this House, and the second is the abolition or reduction of the right of hereditary Peers to legislate. I do not propose to argue the merits or drawbacks of either of those matters, or to forecast what the future may hold, but it does not seem to Her Majesty's Government that there is 589 at present sufficient agreement either between the main political Parties, or even within the main political Parties, for these questions to be pursued now with any profit to any of us.
There are, however, certain measures which can bring this House abreast of the reeds of to-day and add to its efficiency, and which I believe will command a wide measure of agreement. The first is the reinforcement of the House of Lords by Life Peers. The second is the inclusion of Life Peerages for women. The third, which we began in the summer of this year, is the payment of expenses, so as to make it possible for a Peer to pursue his Parliamentary duties without personal financial hardship to himself.
The first proposal which Her Majesty's Government put before your Lordships for your consideration is that there should be the admission of Life Peers. This seems to us to recognise the undoubted fact that there are persons of distinction and eminence who would brine added authority and influence to our discussions but who do not feel able, in the changed social conditions of today, to accept an hereditary peerage. If that is the position—and I believe that all of us must agree that that is certainly so—it would seem to be common sense to meet that situation. My noble friend Lord Teynham has told us that various schemes have been put forward in the pest for the admission of Life Peers. That is true, and I do not at all visualise that there would be very large numbers of life peerages created quickly which would transform the character of this House.
The picture of cohorts of frustrated talent waiting at the Bar is a quite unrealistic one. It seems to me much more likely that the difficulty will be to find sufficient people who are able to give their time, and so I anticipate that Life Peers would be selected with the same scrupulous care as Peers of first creation are selected now. But there would be, this great advantage, that the Prime Minister of the day would have discretion. He could offer a life peerage or an hereditary peerage. He could offer a life peerage (and in these suggestions I am in no way trying to limit the categories) to people of distinction in the public service, to those who could represent some aspect of the nation's life with 590 a peculiar authority, or to persons who could assist Government or Opposition Parties in the conduct of Parliamentary business. And therefore it would seem to me that there is a strong and almost unanswerable case under present conditions for the appointment of Life Peers.
As to whether or not there should be a limit on numbers—either a total limit or a limit to the number who might be appointed in one year—I shall be interested to hear the views of your Lordships. I would merely add that limits are apt to become targets. It might be that we should want more Life Peers in the early years and considerably fewer in the later years of this experiment; and there would seem to be a great deal to be said for flexibility. I know that people always see Prime Ministers in the wings who may flood the House of Lords or swamp the House of Lords. I am not so much impressed by that bogy, I am bound to say, If ever a Prime Minister wished to swamp the House of Lords or abolish it, he could find many ways of doing it without creating great additional numbers of Life Peers.
That brings me to the admission of women. This I would represent to your Lordships as being a recognition of the place which women have commanded for themselves as of right in modern society, and I do not think the House of Lords could be behind the times in admitting women to its membership. I understand that there are some noble Lords who are totally opposed to this idea. Of course one must admit the facts of history. Most of the troubles of the modern world date from the time when women were given the vote. But I am willing to treat that as coincidence rather than consequence. I think, if I may put it this way, that the noble Lord Lord Teynham did not seem too keen on women in the precincts of Parliament. In these days one must not be demonstrative; emotions, I am told, must be strictly controlled. Therefore, no content of gallantry or chivalry must enter into anything I have to say. But I would suggest to Lord Teynham that taking women into a Parliamentary embrace would seem to be only a modest extension of the normal functions and privileges of a Peer.
If, as the Government hope, there is general support for these changes, there 591 remains the question whether we should attempt by legislation to limit the number of hereditary Peers; whether, for instance, by some device we should achieve a House consisting half of hereditary Peers and half of Life Peers. The case for limiting the number of hereditary Peers can be argued—it has been argued many times. I wonder whether it is either urgent or wise, In theory, some 900 hereditary Peers could attend this House at once. In practice, nothing like that ever happens. A Peer uses Parliament when he has some first-hand knowledge to contribute to our debates, and as he is not under the necessity of proving to his constituents at regular intervals that he is in fact alive, he does not have to come here and assert himself at regular intervals. But he does come and use the House of Lords for the proper purpose of contributing first-hand knowledge to our debates. and we profit from that exceedingly, and particularly, if I may say so, from the contributions of backwoodsmen; people who come from the country, people who do not live in London, and who know intimately the conditions of the country people among whom they do live.
We profit, too, from those people who live in the Colonies or Commonwealth countries and who come among us from time to time. They may well be Commonwealth citizens, and I should like to see more of them in this House. Time and again we realise in our debates what we owe to these people, who come here occasionally and who, when they do come, make a decisive contribution to our discussions and to our thought. I have not yet seen any scheme of limitation involving election or selection which does not run the risk of cutting us off from the advice of these people who serve us and. through us, the nation. With regard to any scheme involving election or selection there is another weighty consideration. How, by a process of selection or election, do you find the young men who at present serve their political apprenticeships in this House and through experience of the cut-and-thrust of debate gain experience of Government and administration?
I yield to no one in my respect for the value to this House of retired Admirals and Generals, civil servants 592 and politicians. They add dignity, distinction, eminence and lustre to our debates. But they have reached a point of no return when it comes to the chores of politics. Put an Admiral in charge of a fiat fish Bill—I beg your Lordships' pardon, I mean a white fish Bill—or a senior economist in charge of a Treasury Brief, and I would not myself answer for the results. The piloting of Bills through long, detailed, tedious Committee and Report stages is of the very essence of government. And, in addition, if we are properly to interpret the people's will we must have a significant percentage of young Members in this House. There might be an alternative way of finding young men. But I still have to see a scheme which would not deprive us of those recruits whose political form has not been exposed and whom we should therefore find extremely difficult to assess.
So, although we may come to a comprehensive reform which will limit the numbers of hereditary Peers in some way, I think there are two things which we have to prove to ourselves before we can do it. The first is that there is a great measure of agreement between the Parties. I do not believe it would be possible to carry a comprehensive measure of reform without that. Secondly it has to be proved that the scheme offers us a better future than our present system. I personally have seen no scheme which does that. As my noble friend has reminded us, the late Lord Exeter always held that the great proportion of what I may call non-attending Peers could best be dealt with by Standing Orders of the House. The noble Earl, Lord Swinton, and his Committee have confirmed that, although, short of legislation, there can be no absolute bar which can be imposed upon a Peer to keep him from attending, nevertheless on request he might be given leave of absence for a period. I agree with my noble friend that if we adopted that system—and it is for your Lordships' House and no one else to decide—if a Peer asked for leave of absence he would not break that Standing Order once it was established. That is not the way we work in this House. I am certain that that would work. It is for your Lordships to decide if you consider that such a scheme is desirable and should be tried.
Meanwhile, before we have had the advantage of hearing your Lordships' 593 opinions, the Government feel that we should not embark on a scheme of comprehensive reform until there is a wide degree of agreement among the Parties, because on these matters which touch our precious Constitution responsibility should be shared by the Parties; and secondly, because no comprehensive scheme which we have seen yet seems to be an improvement on our present state, This debate will be of great value to help us to assess whether in the main we have correctly interpreted the majority view. And I would sum up this first stage in our two-day discussion in this way: that the Government believe that the addition of life Peers and the admission of women to this House would be a significant advance on the present; that the reimbursement of expenses, which enables a Peer to come to this House and do his duty without financial loss, is an important addition; and that the three measures taken together represent a sensible and practical stage in the evolution of Parliament.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, I make no complaint about the manner in which the noble Earl the Leader of the House, in opening the debate, stated his case. I think- we must give some recognition to the fact that he has sought to meet a difficult situation in a frame of mind and by a touch of humour which bring happiness into the debate, and we have enjoyed listening to a Parliamentary speech which has been of some distinction, On the other hand. I must say that the Opposition have a legitimate ground for complaint about the circumstances in which this debate is staged. Certainly we had no intimation through the usual channels before the House adjourned for the Recess that this debate was likely to obtain, and when we came, quite late, to discussions through the usual channels about what was to be the Business for this week there was no suggestion that we were to have a debate of this kind on these two final days of this Parliamentary Session, which falls to be prorogued this week. I think that we have a genuine basis of complaint in this matter.
In view of the fact that it has been widely forecast in the Press that the Government have in mind fairly fixed proposals on how far they propose to go 594 with House of Lords reform, I suggest that it would have been much more calculated to ascertain the true feeling of Parliament as a whole on the matter, as well as obtaining the views of your Lordships, if a Government Motion on the matter bad been brought before both Houses of Parliament simultaneously for discussion in the current Session. Therefore it falls for me to say, speaking on behalf of my Party as a whole, that, the matter having been brought: before your Lordships' House in this rather extraordinary way, on the submission of a private Member, I could not possibly commit my Party on the suggestions which have been put fairly categorically by the noble Earl the Leader of the House in his speech this afternoon. I hasten to say. in fairness, as we have made it clear recently that my Party do not feel at all in the position of entering into discussions upon this matter, that if the Government have fixed intentions in their mind with regard to the reform of the House of Lords, they would have to bring their suggestions before Parliament some time or the other. I only regret that this was not done simultaneously in both Houses.
As I have said, I cannot commit my Party in any respect whatsoever in regard to the categorical submissions which the noble Earl has made this afternoon—not because there is nothing attractive to be found in any of the suggestions, but because directly we begin to get down to full discussion and full drafting of the proposals for the reform of this Chamber we are up against considerable volumes of opinion in Parliament, and in interested circles outside, on whether suggestions of the kind that have been made by the noble Earl this afternoon go far enough to meet the situation. Take, for example, the first major proposal—that there should be a limit to the number of Life Peers. I took great note of the anxiety of the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, about the fundamental importance of limiting the number of Peers, and as I listened to the noble Earl afterwards. it seemed to me that he had spotted the bogy in the mind of his noble friend Lord Teynham—the fear that. perhaps some wicked Socialist Government might be inclined to use this method of the appointment of Peers to rectify any gross abuse which they might think had arisen in the handling of matters in this House.
595 As soon as we put before another place the question of now, at once, proceeding to amend the constitution of your Lordships' House by the addition of Life Peers it will inevitably raise at the same time all the other questions which have bewitched this matter over the whole of the forty-six years during which attempts have been made to find a solution of the kind referred to in the Preamble to the original Act. Speaking for myself, I am not nearly so anxious as some people for the reform of the House of Lords on some of the bases which have been suggested. I believe that there is a case for strengthening the actual practical use of the House in discussion day by day by the addition of Life Peers, but I think that it is fundamental to a Chamber of this kind to remember, whether members of the Conservative Party like it or not, that the Party, of which I am proud to be a member and which I represent this afternoon, have come into their present constitutional position to stop. We are here, and we are not going to recede: we are far more likely to expand.
The noble Earl the Leader of the House himself has said that the House of Lords has so far survived during what he terms "a social revolution". That social revolution has been largely due to the careful, prolonged and devoted propaganda and political education of the people by the Party which I am proud to represent. That being so, as long as the present position continues, when we have a Labour Government in a majority producing, as we see it. the progressive legislation urgently required, then the kind of function of this House which seemed to be suggested this afternoon as urgently required to allow the feelings, the ideas, the hopes and everything else in another place, in the elected Chamber that represents the people, to be cooled down in some way or another, might hold up fundamentally the ascertained collective wish of the sovereign people. That is something which must be retained in our minds as a fundamental consideration when we come to discuss matters of this kind.
I think that the noble Earl has been very wise in his choice of words in regard to the appointment of Life Peers. Of course, I should like an opportunity of seeing his speech on paper and studying it carefully upon that particular point. 596 But even in respect of this particular section of his suggestions I cannot possibly commit my Party to agreement this afternoon. I turn to the second suggestion contained in his speech this afternoon, the appointment of a number of women Peers. Certainly, in principle, the admission of women's right to sit in this House, if they are qualified to sit here by ability, public service or other attainment, is something which I accept entirely, On that question, although again I do not wish to commit my Party at all formally this afternoon. I feel quite certain that the majority of the members of my Party—if not the unanimity of my Party—would support the admission of women when it comes to appointing Life Peers. I do not think I need press that point any further.
Then we come to another question which was referred to by the noble Lord, and that is the question of possibly limiting, by one means or another, the attendance at the House of hereditary Peers. That is a point which was made with some stress by the noble Lord, Lord Teynham. I speak now for myself first of all, but I feel confident that I speak also for my Party, when I say that if there is to be fundamental reform of the House of Lords we shall be against the maintenance of the hereditary principle. That is my view, and I think there is no doubt at all that the great Party that we have gathered in the country as a whole will be against it.
So far as actual resolutions of Party conference are concerned, the resolutions (the last of which was formally passed in 1934, it is true) are not for even fundamental reform of the House of Lords: they are for the abolition of the House of Lords in regard to the actual consideration of and judgment upon Parliamentary legislation. That should be made perfectly clear, and until the annual conference of the Labour Party, which makes the policy, passes it, and does not leave it to a group afterwards to settle what the policy arrived at really was—until that is done at the Party conference there can be no actual recession from that, Again, therefore. I am unable to commit my Party by one iota in respect of that reform.
Of course, it was very charming to hear a noble Lord of great breadth in experience of life, on land and on sea, as is the 597 noble Lord, Lord Teynham, bring forward for the support of his argument for the hereditary principle the famous example of the racehorses and their offspring. I agree that when one is running a racing stud there is a pretty rigid inspection and a very severe observation of the offspring, for even the most tender-hearted man towards animals certainly does not want to keep in a racing stable a dud which is going to bring no return. But I really fail to follow the argument when it is brought to a consideration of what should be the composition of this Chamber. I fail to see why it should be said that because racehorses often produce good offspring we ought to adopt the hereditary principle for the peerage of this country. It is rather nice for it to have been said. I can imagine it being chewed round with relish in a great many Labour Party gatherings and trade union lodges. They will not easily forget that one!
As to whether there should or should not be a special use of the Standing Orders of the House, or decision under the Standing Orders of the House, to grant long leaves of absence, I think that should be a matter for separate discussion in the Chamber. It should be properly tabled and discussed. It might first of all be considered by a Committee of the House in detail, because that. obviously, would be a matter within the judgment of the House of Lords itself, within its constitution and Standing Orders; so I need not express further opinion on that.
Let me say this: nobody has a greater respect than I have for a great number of the services which are rendered in the House of Lords. There is a high quality of debate here, based upon experience, which is one thing the noble Leader left out of his appreciation of the classes of people from which selection might be made. Experience is rather fundamental, as one realises when one thinks of all the ex-officers, as well as ex-politicians, of whom the House is often made up in its working attendances. There is such a standard of debate in this House that it has become the admiration of people all over the world. It has earned great appreciation from those in the country who hear debates conducted upon technical mild professional matters at a level probably not to be found in any other 598 debating Chamber, simply because of the qualification and experience of many of the people who happen to sit in the House of Lords.
It is, however, fundamental, in this age in which democracy is marching on and will inevitably march on, that toe will of the people, uttered at the poll, must be made to function. All the history of our country teaches us that. I would refer to the position such as we had over the Bill for the abolition of capital punishment when a decision was arrived at in another place, with the support of the majority of all the Parties in that House; we then threw it out, and the Government, without taking it back, introduced a new and compromise measure. That is not the sort of thing which will bring confidence to those who believe in the working of a great democratic principle in this country.
I would say, in conclusion, that it is quite impossible, of course, to bind any of the individual Members on the Benches this side, who do whatever they may think proper in expressing in this House, in free debate, their own personal opinions. But I want to stress, particularly because of what the noble Earl the Leader of the House said in regard to the necessity of having major agreement between the main Parties of the State before there is any really fundamental reform, that it is impossible for us to accept the propositions which have been put up to-day until they have been further considered by my Party as a whole and before the full view of my Party in another place has there been ascertained. In this matter it is of no use for the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, to say that this House is the judge of its own powers. That may apply to the working of the Standing Orders of the House as they apply at present; but in formulating methods of amendment to the Constitution of the House we are not the judge of our own power.
If I may interrupt, may I say that I certainly never suggested that we had the sole right to alter the powers of the House.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
I am much obliged. I shall read the text carefully tomorrow so as to be quite sure that I have not misunderstood what was said. But in this matter we must obtain agreement for any major 599 reform from both Houses of Parliament and from all the main Parties. On that point I am in agreement with the noble Earl the Leader of the House. I suggest, therefore, that for this matter to be the subject of a kind of Resolution to be put to the House of Lords to-morrow night, as if we are going to approve what has been laid before the House now, would be quite inappropriate. The Government have stated their views on the matter, but we, as a Party, are not in that position. Nor do I believe that the other Party in opposition have had the chance to go into this matter in the circumstances that the Party opposite have, with a full meeting last night, I understand, and able to know what was going to be discussed to-day. We are not in that position; we have not had that opportunity. To have a Resolution committing us in this way would, I feel, be wholly inappropriate, and I beg the noble Earl the Leader of the House not to proceed with the matter in that style.
§ 3.51 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
My Lords, I think we should thank the Government for the procedure that they have adopted on this occasion. It is very much to the convenience of the House that we should have a preliminary discussion of their proposals before they put them into final shape and before they crystallise them and are ready to move that they be passed into law. It is true. as the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, was good enough to say, that I come before your Lordships today as the only survivor in your Lordships' House of the Cabinet that was concerned with the Parliament Bill of 1911—very much to my own surprise I find myself surviving, more or less, well after the central point of the 20th century. But it is not on that ground that I would wish to occupy your Lordships' attention. I am not concerned to vindicate the past; I am not animated by pious memory of Mr. Asquith in a desire to fulfil the promise or the threat in the Preamble of the Parliament Act, 1911: I am not, in fact, interested at all in 1911, but much more interested in 1957, and more still, perhaps, in trying to foresee and provide for the requirements of 1967, although I shall not live to see that day.
I have been anxious to-day to make a non-controversial speech, although I 600 find it difficult to remain in that frame of mind after some observations of the noble Earl the Leader of the House. I agree that in matters of constitutional change, as in matters of foreign policy, it is very desirable for this country to act, whenever possible, by general agreement rather than after violent controversies. But when the noble Earl quietly remarked that he thought—and he seemed to take it as a matter of course—that the House of Lords had served the country well since 1657 (I think I remember correctly his words): when I go back to those years that have been gently recalled of 1907 to 1916; when I remember how your Lordships' predecessors in this House threw out almost all the main Bills of a Government that had been sent to the House of Commons with a majority larger than any since the Great Reform Bill; when I remember that their Lordships of those days threw out the Budget of the year, in defiance of the long-established practice of the Constitution; when I remember that they forced two General Elections on that one issue, and then only surrendered by a small majority of seventeen votes in a critical Division, then I have some doubts whether the House of Lords has always served the country quite so well. I know that Sir Austen Chamberlain, who was one of the leaders of the diehards, wrote afterwards in his memoirs that he supposed, after all, that their policy had been a mistake, and he left it at that. Well. I leave it at that, also.
The question of House of Lords reform has not been a very lively or exciting issue for many years past. About every five or ten years I have proposed a Resolution with regard to it, and there have been discussions and debates and even a conference of the three Parties, But it is rather like a slow-motion film of perhaps a prima ballerina: it is not marked by agility or grace but, on the contrary, by a languid exhibition of almost elephantine deliberation. So it has been with the House of Lords question. I think the Government have been both courageous and foresighted in bringing up this question, although at the present time it cannot be called an especially live issue. All Governments of all Parties at all times are very much tempted, whenever they are confronted with some difficult and troublesome problem, to say, if the issue is quiescent 601 and nobody saying much about it, that it is not necessary to do anything at all; and if, in the opposite case, the subject is highly controversial and people are very excited, that obviously it is not possible to get any agreement and it is not the moment to proceed. As a consequence, changes that are obviously desirable are postponed decade after decade and even, as in this case, generation after generation. But now the Government, stirred, I think, by the wisdom and energy of the late Lord President and Leader of the House, Lord Salisbury, have taken their courage in both hands and are putting forward proposals; and I, for one, cordially welcome the fact that they have.
The chief reason why I am interested in this subject is not partisan or, indeed, political, in the narrow sense, but it touches fundamental questions relating to principles and practice in political matters. I can give that reason in a single sentence. I believe that a democracy can succeed only if it provides itself with good leadership in all the activities of the national life: that it must seek out its ablest and best in order to influence opinions, to spread sound ideas and to guide the nation. The House of Lords has in bygone days played a great part in this sphere, although I do not think it does so to the same degree now, certainly not adequately.
We often hear it said that it is inevitable that leadership should not be forthcoming in what is called the century of the common man. It is taken for granted that the domination of the common man means the domination of the average: the lowly ought to be brought up to the average, but the higher ought to be brought down to it. We are to accept average standards everywhere—in education, manners, books. newspapers, radio, commercial television, in all the arts, in our homes and cities and in Parliament and the Government. Gone is the possibility, in the modern world, of an age of greatness. We are making certain of an age of mediocrity. I think that that is a misreading of the true character and potentialities of democracy. There must be equality of rights before the law. There must be sharing by all of ultimate authority. There must be equality of opportunity, but it must be the equal opportunity to display unequal merit, for there is no such thing as equality of talent 602 of character or of usefulness to the community. That does not exist, and a community which seeks to impose such an equality is certain to come to decadence and to ruin.
Now that is the standpoint from which I approach all these problems. The great change in our democratic Constitution in the latter part of the 19th and the first part of the 20th century has not come about, in my view, from the gradual establishment of universal suffrage, and it has not come about owing to the conflict, and its result, between the Commons and the Lords, but it has come about through the rapid and almost complete domination of the Party system. I am myself a Party man and for many years have spent my political life in Party warfare. Parties are necessary in a democracy, to organise and to give stability both to the electorate and to the Legislature. But when it goes so far as to crush out independent minds, then it does enormous mischief, and it is quite certain that under our present regime, with the almost equality in Parliament of two Parties and a strict Parliamentary discipline, the disappearance of university Members and other changes, there has been a considerable crushing out of the independent mind. There is no doubt that in the nation at large, in all classes and in all parts of the country, there are men and women who might be of the greatest value to the community, but who have not the time or the temperament or the willingness to face the turmoil, the strains and the preoccupations of strenuous Parliamentary life and who can never hope to appear in the forefront of affairs; and, for the great part, large numbers of them never wish to do so.
Now here is my main point to-day. The reason why I am addressing your Lordships is to urge that we should, without doubt, now, at long last, take steps to recruit and, indeed, to a great extent, change the character of your Lordships' House, which might play an immense part in giving leadership to the nation and to public opinion, not only in matters of politics but in all the great questions that vex the public mind. Not a Second Chamber which should rival the House of Commons: not one which would have power to levy taxes without representation: not to overrule the elected representatives of the people, but to use the ancient status, traditions and prestige of 603 your Lordships' House which should make it a privilege to enter it, and which provide a platform and a sounding board through which even a whisper can reach the whole nation.
Now the House of Lords does, to some extent, fulfil that part, but, to my mind, only dimly and occasionally. Hundreds and hundreds of its Members who sit here by solely hereditary right have none of the qualifications which I have said it is essential to evoke. The only ones who have personal qualifications by virtue of which they are 'members of a Parliament in the Second Chamber—many of them may, indeed, have high personal capacities—are the Law Lords, the Bishops, the Scottish Peers in so far as direct selection is concerned, and the first creations. This great bulk of hereditary Peers is continually being renewed faster than hereditaries become extinct. It has been suggested that the matter might be changed by inviting voluntary withdrawals, in accordance with the Report of the Swinton Committee, of which I had the honour to be a member. No harm can be done in trying that and sending out such an invitation, but whether it would result in any considerable change I. for my part, am inclined to doubt.
When I first came into your Lordships' House just twenty years ago it numbered 772 Peers. To-day, with the addition of the noble Lord who has just taken his seat, the number is 872—in other words, precisely 100 additional peerages have been created, on balance, in the period of twenty years. If that noble Lord sees the House again twenty years hence, as he has every reason to expect to do, he will find, if the growth goes on in the same ratio, that it will have reached a membership of 1,000. In a swollen membership of that kind, is there room for any large addition of new elements? That is the question we have to consider to-day.
The All-Party conference of 1948, consisting of almost all the principal leaders' of all three Parties in both Houses, unanimously included in their conclusions this paragraph. They all agreed as a matter of principle, apart from the question of whether it could be applied—and I quote the words of the conclusion of the Conference:The present right to attend and vote based solely on heredity should not by itself constitute a qualification for admission to a reformed Second Chamber.604 Why have the Government so easily abandoned that principle? The noble Earl, the Leader of the House, said very quietly that he proposed to by-pass that question and, I think. another—I forget at the moment which it was—of the most thorny questions that face him, and possibly to reserve what he has to say until the matter comes to be debated again. He was not proposing to argue the case in any degree. It was an instance in this matter of "heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter." I shall await his speech on the second occasion, but meantime I would enter a strong protest against the suggestion that he can, with a wave of the hand. by-pass the most difficult and perhaps the most important question that is now before the House and the country. How can we find place in a Chamber which will soon have a thousand members for any large element which might be of the greatest influence and the greatest value?
As to the Government's specific proposals, of course I cordially accept the proposal to create Life Peers. The noble Earl asked whether we should wish to see a limit imposed. On the whole. personally—and I speak for myself: my noble friend, Lord Rea, will be speaking tomorrow for the Liberal Peers—I think it would be advisable not to have any limit. It would not be feasible to put a limit on new Life Peers and not limit the hereditary Peers. If you put a limit on hereditary Peers. it would have a most important constitutional effect, because the creation of Peers is the only way in which this branch of the Constitution can be controlled if the country desires it to be controlled. The Crown is subject to disabilities and restraint. The House of Commons may have a General Election forced upon it, but unless, as in the time of Queen Anne and again in the time of 1911, there remains the power to create Peers without limit, then the House of Lords would be given an absolute authority which is contrary to the whole principle of a free Constitution.
The noble Earl the Leader of the House asked what is to be said with regard to the value of the House of Lords as a panel of experts. There are 800 or 1,000 Members and it may be found in any particular debate that ten 605 or twelve of them know more than anybody else outside in the country. I agree, there is great force in this theory of the panel. But it can be carried too far. Very often such persons could be brought in as Life Peers, and very often many of the hereditary Peers are of no value to any panel. As for the young men, there again they could be brought in as Life Peers. I certainly hope that the new entries will not be aged people of sixty or seventy or even touching the extreme senility of the octogenarian. Further, on that point of the young man, care should be taken that it should be dealt with, though, as recent experience has shown, I think, it is a mistake to suppose that every young Peer is gifted with good sense or even with good manners. I think that expenses should be provided, but that would go only a little way towards meeting the case, because the question at the most of £200 or £300 a year could not make the difference between people of the kind we have in mind coming into the House or staying out. Still, no doubt it should be done.
I was delighted to hear the uncompromising views of the Government in favour of the admission of women at long last. The House of Lords now is. I believe, the Only institution in this country, apart from the ecclesiastical organisations, which excludes women on the ground of principle. Local authorities, professional and industrial organisations, even what would have been thought impossible a hundred years ago, the Army. Navy and Air Force, and now, Civil Defence, eagerly recruit women and are most grateful for their services. This exclusion on our part is directly contrary to the principle of the Sex Disqualification Removal Act, which was passed into law by your Lordships' House forty years ago, and which your Lordships ever since have refused to obey. No such exclusion, fortunately, bars the Throne, and for that reason this country has known the reigns of three Queens which have been illustrious in its history, and because there is no such exclusion to-slay we have the blessing of a Sovereign who is as devoted and as well loved as any who have sat upon the Throne in all the long centuries of English history.
I trust that when these new Peers are appointed and when the women are in 606 cluded among them there may be perhaps one or two of the hereditary Peeresses who are Peeresses in their own right but who have been excluded from sitting. I do not say that necessarily they ought all to be brought in—that would be a surrender again to the hereditary principle but there may be some who might well be brought in with advantage to the nation and to end what they regard as the injustice of their long exclusion.
One further point. There have been two great changes in our politics: one, the predominance of the Party and the transfer of the seat of power really to Party organisations, the other the change of our military Empire by the peaceable evolution to something much better, a free association of independent nations, and this might have a special bearing on our discussion of to-day. The question arises, what is the best link to be created between the Commonwealth and its centre? The ancient monarchy is the best link. The Privy Council served it to some extent, but no longer. It is often felt that there ought to be some personal link with Westminster. When the question arose lately in a concrete form with regard to Malta, the House of Commons appointed a Select Committee and, to my great surprise, unanimously recommended that three Maltese should be elected by Malta to sit in the House of Commons itself. That seems to me entirely wrong in principle. It is to pretend that the Maltese are citizens of Great Britain when they are not citizens of Great Britain. It would lend itself politically to log-roiling of the worst kind.
The right solution of that question, to my mind, is that among the Life Peers there should be not one or two but a considerable number of Canadians, Australians and South Africans. We have already enjoyed the advantage of the presence of more than one from those Dominions, and one from India in Lord Sinha. That principle should be extended to African and Asian Commonwealth members in general. In this way the House of Lords might add to its ancient traditions a new, great service to what used to be the Empire and is now the Commonwealth. I was glad to hear the noble Earl say he would like to see more such on our Benches. I trust that that will be made an object of policy, if it is acceptable to Canada, Australia and the rest. There is no element of subjection in 607 this House; there is no question of exercising power over the British people or of submitting to power in the Dominions or Colonies; but if that is agreed on their part it should, to my mind, he done as one of the present changes that are in store.
All these changes. I hope, will exalt the influence and the value of leadership without enlarging the legal powers of this House, so that it may revive in greater degree its place as the home of oratory and high debate and a breeding ground of statesmen. We, who are the trustees in these latter days of these traditions, should, I think, scorn the part that has been assigned to us by some speakers in the debates a few years ago that this House should exist simply to supply the House of Commons with an additional Parliamentary Committee to save them the time and the trouble necessary to deal with the details of complicated and technical Bills. Let that be done—it is a very useful scheme—but it is not an adequate proposal for the reform of this House. Indeed, if noble Lords were to surrender their views and revert to such a pettifogging Second Chamber as that they would be doing far less than their duty in this contingency. So the prospect now mooted by the Government proposals, which I trust that the House will accept and mould into legislative form, without any harm to the nation's liberties, will, I hope, help to exalt the dignity of the State and the fame of the Commonwealth.
§ 4.22 p.m.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I have hesitated very much as to whether to take part in this debate. For your Lordships have heard so many speeches from me during the last fifteen years on the subject of the reform of this House that I was reluctant to inflict yet another upon you. especially as the subject was likely to be amply covered by other speakers—and, indeed, it has been very well covered by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, in the most remarkable speech which he has just delivered. But, my Lords. I have lived so long with this problem—for the greater part of my life—that I felt I could not be entirely silent when, at long last, it looked as if something was actually going to be done.
I should like to say at the very outset of my remarks that I personally shall cer- 608 tainly support the Government's proposals, which the Leader of the House has recommended to your Lordships with such charm and such persuasive power. Indeed, I feel, like, I think, the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel. that the Government are greatly to be congratulated on their courage in making an attempt to grasp a nettle which has frightened off successive Governments, of every political colour, for the last forty years. They have recognised that something needed to be done if the House of Lords was to continue to be able to perform the vital constitutional functions that fall upon it; and having recognised that fact, unlike their predecessors, they have decided to act—in sharp contradistinction, if I may say so, to what I am afraid I thought was the very sterile attitude of the Leader of the Opposition who, so far as I could see, made it clear that his Party was likely to be against any change whatever, even in the direction of improvement.
My Lords, for what they have done in this respect I think the Government deserve our thanks; and I am sure they will receive them. Moreover, the value of the main step which I understand they are recommending to the House—that is, the legislation of life peerages—should not. I feel, in any way be underestimated. As the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel. has just said. it should make it possible to recruit to the service of this House large numbers of men—and, I personally was very glad to hear, women—who could not, for various reasons, accept hereditary peerages, yet whose experiences and abilities in many walks of our national life would well fit them for membership of what has often been described as a "Council of State." The legalisation of life peerages is, I believe, a step which has been long overdue, and I am sure it cannot but be for the benefit both of this House and of the country at large. I therefore warmly welcome the Government's proposals—so far as they go.
But, having said that, I must add—and here I am afraid that I find myself at issue with the Leader of the House—that I wish they had gone very much further: and I wish, in particular, that they had dealt with the problem of those absentee hereditary Peers who have come to be known as "backwoodsmen". I thought the Leader of the House treated that problem too lightly. I would assure noble 609 Lords that I am not going to be so impertinent as to point the finger of scorn, or even of criticism, at the backwoodsmen. The last thing I desire to do is to lend any support to the picture so often presented to the public, and regarded apparently by journalists and caricaturists as so excruciatingly funny, of futile old men tottering and doddering through the rooms of vast and remote country mansions. No doubt there are in every walk of life old men who, by reason of age, totter and dodder. That may be regarded as the Act of God. But it certainly is not an accurate picture of the average backwoodsman.
The great majority of noble Lords who do not attend the sittings of this House—the membership of which, I would remind your Lordships (indeed, we all know it) is unpaid—do not do so only because, like the rest of their fellow citizens in these days of extremely heavy taxation, their lives are fully occupied by the primary task of earning enough money to maintain their homes, their wives and their families. Some are to be found working in various capacities in the great industries of this country. Others are engaged in agriculture, or in the personal management of their estates. Yet more devote their lives to local administration, which they can combine with their other work; and not a few are to be found in the City of London. Those are the ways in which the great majority of the backwoodsmen spend their lives—and I say: all credit to them! But the fact remains that, for whatever reason, they do not attend the sittings of this House.
There is, I know, a comfortable doctrine, which I was rather sorry to hear advanced by the Leader of the House this afternoon, that they are only waiting until subjects on which they are experts come up for discussion, and then they all appear and make impressive contributions. My Lords, there are indeed cases of that kind—we all know them; but there are far more cases of absentees who never turn up, whatever subjects are under discussion.
THE EARL OF HOME
Perhaps I may intervene for a moment. I do not think I have really treated this matter lightly. What I suggested, I think, was, that if we could not, without arriving in the field of controversy, deal with this particular question of the backwoodsmen by legis 610 lation, then, if the House wished to do so, we might try the Swinton Committee proposal.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
All the same, I think that the noble Earl did treat it a little lightly—he passed over it. And yet the fact that they' do not turn up, and yet constitutionally could, is, I believe, the most serious defect to the present constitution of the House in the eyes of the general public. For it gives a specious substance to the charge that the House can always be swamped by a sudden inrush of reactionary forces which are concerned only to defend their own personal interests. I have said that is a specious charge, because I do not personally believe that there is any real substance in it. I sat, as did a great many others of your Lordships, all through those three debates in this House which since the war have attracted the greatest attendance of your Lordships—the debate on the Parliament Bill in 1948 and, more recently, the debates on television and capital punishment; and even in the case of the Parliament Bill, which directly affected the future both of this House and of its Members, I saw very few unknown faces. The vast majority of those who were here were at least fairly regular attenders at the House. But I submit that it is entirely wrong that anybody should be in a position to suggest that decisions of this House, on issues of the first importance, could be swayed by a sudden inrush of normally absentee Peers. And that is not only my own view, which might be said to count for very little: it has been the convinced view of many of the most eminent leaders of opinion in this House for many years past. Indeed. it has been the main purpose of almost every scheme of reform put forward in this House since 1911 to remove that particular reproach.
I do not pretend to the noble Leader of the House that it is going to be easy to devise a scheme for that purpose which will be generally acceptable. Let us look at the last two proposals which have been seriously considered. There was first the proposal of 1947–48. It is quite true that the inter-Party talks of 1947 broke down on the question of powers, and not on the question of composition, but I have since been convinced, as I believe Parliament too is convinced, than our proposals with regard to composition (which, I 611 would say to the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, were not agreed between the Parties) were also open to serious objection.
The essence of those proposals, as the House will remember, is that only those hereditary Peers who were also Privy Counsellors should automatically become members of the new reformed House. But my Lords, Privy Counsellors are nearly always elderly people and, therefore, younger Peers would have been largely excluded under that proposal. Looking back, that appears to me (and here I strongly agree with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Teynham) to have been a fatal blemish in our proposals. For the House of Lords, just as much as another place, needs a fair proportion of young men to do the humdrum day-to-day work of the House, the drafting and moving of Amendments on the Committee stage of Bills and so on. Such work will never be done by heads of universities, ex-ambassadors or great trade union leaders, and so on, who will presumably form the greater part of am reformed House. They have neither the time nor the training for it. To my mind, therefore, a lack of provision for younger men rules out that, or indeed any other, scheme which is based purely on the possession of a Privy Counsellorship as a necessary qualification for membership of a reformed Upper House.
Nor were those who concern themselves with these matters any more successful with an alternative scheme, based on extending the system of election of Peers by Peers which, as your Lordships will know, has applied in the case of Scottish Peers ever since the Act of Union. It was suggested that this plan, which had been so successful with regard to Scottish Peers, should be extended to the whole of the United Kingdom. At first sight, that proposal, appeared to many of us to be very attractive. But here again, as noble Lords will remember, serious difficulties emerged on further examination. Scotland—in area, though of course in no other way—is a fairly small country. Broadly speaking, everybody knows everybody else or can find out about him, and it was therefore fairly easy for Scottish Peers to select the best list of representatives to serve in this House. But 612 England and Wales are together far larger. The electoral body would presumably have to be the whole body of United Kingdom Peers. Yet there are numbers of those who never attend this House. How would they know for whom to vote, or what was needed in a Representative Peer? How could they be depended upon to pick the best list of 100 or 200, whatever the number was, for this purpose? In view of the force of this criticism, it proved necessary to discard that particular scheme also.
But, my Lords, the fact that these two schemes have not been found feasible does not seem to me an adequate reason for confessing ourselves defeated and retaining as Members of this House a very large number of Peers who never have attended our sittings, and never mean to, especially as, in my belief, other lines of approach exist which have never yet been put before the House and the country. On this point I find myself this afternoon in a position of some considerable difficulty. As the noble Leader of the House knows, I had sponsored a scheme which I believed would surmount most of the difficulties which he and others have raised, and I was quite prepared to expound it to the House to-day. But I decided not to put it forward, because I did not want to cause division among your Lordships, some of whom I know would agree with me, rather than with the noble Leader of the House. Yet now, in his speech, the noble Earl practically challenges me and others to produce an effective scheme, if it exists, which he says he does not believe. In spite of what the noble Leader of the House has said, I do not intend to alter my position, for I have made up my mind to support Her Majesty's Government on their present proposals as being at any rate better than nothing; and, as has been well said in an old adage. "Too many cooks spoil the broth."
I will therefore merely re-emphasise that, while life peerages must clearly be an element in any scheme of reform, they are only one element—and not necessarily the most important. It is, of course, possible that Her Majesty's Government are relying, to deal with the "backwoodsmen" on the most valuable proposal of the Swinton Committee that the House should itself take powers to grant leave of absence to Peers applying for it. Every 613 one of us welcomes the reference by the noble Earl the Leader of the House to that particular proposal, which, I believe. had the support of the representatives of all Parties on the Swinton Committee—I would point that out particularly to the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, who seemed to be ignorant of this—and, personally, I hope that it will be put into effect. But I am sure that the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, himself would agree that this proposal was, in a sense. faute de mieux. It is not meant, and never has been meant, to take the place of a comprehensive scheme of reform which I believe, he, like myself, would much have preferred.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
My Lords, may I ask the noble Marquess whether it is not possible for noble Lords who are vastly interested in what he has said in some way to secure particulars of the scheme that he has in mind?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I will think whether that can be done; but in politics one always has to make up one's mind what is the right thing to do, and not necessarily to press one's own view. And the last thing I want to do is to cause embarrassment to Her Majesty's Government who I believe are themselves trying to do the right thing. Moreover, the noble Earl, Lord Home, rightly stressed—and personally I thank Heaven for it—that we live in an evolutionary country, and that means that we must very often be content to proceed by stages. To any evolutionary—and I am a confirmed one—half a loaf is always better than no bread; and I personally should infinitely prefer to have what is now offered by Her Majesty's Government rather than to get nothing at all as a result of opposition raised in this House.
I am therefore, I repeat, prepared to accept the broad principles underlying the proposals which have been put forward by the noble Leader of the House, although, like everyone else, I shall want to look at the details when they come forward in a Bill. But I say, quite frankly, that I regard this as only a first stage in the process of reform, and it is only as such that I can accept it at all. I believe profoundly that the legalisation of life peerages is not enough in itself, and that a further stage of reform of the composition of the House will ultimately prove necessary if it is to meet the needs 614 of the difficult times through which we are now moving. I believe, too—like the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel—that the financial assistance which the Government are offering to Peers under the recent announcement is not sufficient to enable those without any financial resources of their own to accept membership of this House: yet I do not see how that difficulty can be rectified, while there are an unlimited number of hereditary Peers with no obligation to attend at all. Therefore (and this is the last thing I want to say), I hope most sincerely that the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor, who is, I understand, to reply to the debate, will be able to make it clear that the Government do not rule out the possibility of taking further steps in the direction of a more radical reform of the composition of the House, should that prove necessary in the light of their experience of the measures on which they are now embarking.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT INGLEBY
My Lords, in speaking here to-day for the first time—and briefly, I can assure you, if only on account of the prevailing laryngitis—I am sure that I shall have the indulgence and the sympathy of your Lordships in having to follow two such wise, trusted and well-beloved counsellors as my noble friend Lord Salisbury and the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, whose prematurely written life story—so far as it goes—now decorates my bookshelves. It is nearly two years since I found myself—a little unexpectedly—one of your Lordships, and in mitigation of the delay in making my maiden speech I can only say, first, that I desired and needed a longish period for acclimatisation, to get myself used to the standards of courtesy and understatement which are the hallmark of your Lordships debates; secondly, that throughout the unhappy events of 1956 any speech of mine could only have been critical of my former colleagues, and unhelpful in its effects; and lastly, that this is the first occasion on which I feel I can give the Government wholehearted support and possibly make a suggestion which I believe could enhance the value of their proposals.
As a newcomer to your Lordships' House, I have felt bound to ask myself the question: what is wrong with the House of Lords? And the answer is, I 615 think, clear beyond argument. It is the lack of balance in numbers, and consequently in debating power, between the Parties on either side of the Chamber. There are too few of noble Lords opposite, and, what is perhaps even more important, many of the most eminent Socialist leaders, men who have held high office, men whose names are household words, remain in the House of Commons—where they constitute, I imagine, an embarrassment to the more youthful Party leaders—when their proper place, by virtue of their distinction and their public services, lies in this Chamber.
For my part, I would join in the tribute which the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, the Leader of the Opposition, paid to his supporters in the debate here on July 8 on the expenses allowances, when he expressed gratitudeto a number of noble Lords of my own small Party for the sacrifices they have made—year after year—in order to attend and make she business of the House as real as possible.The proposal for the creation of life peerages is to me entirely welcome. It will enable, or it could enable, the lack of balance in numbers to which I have referred to be gradually rectified. Those who have been kept away by dislike of the hereditary principle will be able to come here without regret and without remorse. But there is another obstacle to be tackled before the road is opened for all those distinguished ex-Ministers who should be here. It is a practical issue which I think must be faced: it is the question of finance.
There is little opportunity—indeed, I think, no opportunity—on the salary of a Member of Parliament, in the other place, for any saving. The salary of a Member of Parliament has never been a generous one, and translation to this place would, for many, involve virtually total loss of income. One of these gentlemen I have in mind, when I met him casually not long ago, remarked upon my change of status, and I said to him: "You ought to be there, too." He replied, "I would come like a shot if they paid the rate for the job". In the House of Commons the new rate since July is £1,750 a year—that is, salary £1,000, with an additional £750 for what are considered to be an average of necessary expenses involved. But what is a Member 616 of Parliament's lot on retirement or defeat? If his means are negligible—and only if his means are negligible—he can apply—f he has put in the minimum of ten years' service—to the House of Commons Members' Fund. Now the House of Commons Members' Fund helps only where need can be established. A means test is applied. In my view, this system is wholly out of date, and a change-over to a pension as of right, commensurate with length of service should be introduced.
I would suggest, using what is a popular phrase nowadays, half-pay on retirement, after twenty-five years' service in another place, with, of course, a smaller pension proportionate to shorter service. Why should this not be acceptable? All other salaried employments to-day carry a pension with them. Indeed, something like 40 per cent, of weekly wage-earners are now included in vocational pension schemes. This change should, in my opinion, have been made years ago. It should now be made quickly, and it should be made with early effect. We are all conscious of the cost in doing something of this kind of dealing with the "old cases" as they are called. That is always a trouble when a new pension scheme is introduced. But I do not think we can wait till the year 2000 A.D. for a system of this kind for which I am arguing to become effective. The House of Commons Members' Fund now gives a maximum of £500 a year where need is established, and £300 to a Member's widow. The trustees—eminent Members of another place—hate the discharge of these duties which are thrust upon them. I would suggest that a pension as of right of £500 a year for twenty-five years' service should be given—that is, about half that element of Member of Parliament's pay which is regarded as being truly salary. One must also recall—and here I speak with some authority—that as from July next year National Insurance pension of about £150 to £200 a year will be available to all persons who have ten years' contributions to their credit.
Further, I am confident that what is called the expenses allowance for which Members of your Lordships' House can now qualify must be substantially raised. I believe that with these three sources of income—the expenses allowance, the pension as of right for long service in 617 another place, and the National Insurance pension—one might attain an income figure which would overcome the financial obstacle which is preventing these gentlemen from joining your Lordships' House. In this way we can avoid the necessity of embarking on a complex and artificial scheme of creating a class of professional legislator, which would be the inevitable consequence of providing regular salaries for those Peers who attend here. Of course, my proposal would not enable a youthful Peer without any other means to devote himself entirely and exclusively to the service of your Lordships' House, but for my part—and here I think I differ from my noble friend Lord Salisbury—I should doubt the wisdom of making such a life possible, and I should be confident that public opinion could never be brought to accept it.
As I have said, I believe that there are ways now opened by the Government proposal for life peerages of attracting here those whose names are household words; who are powerful advocates of the causes in which they believe, and whose presence here would be of the utmost value. Some loss of present income to them would be involved, and I have no doubt would be accepted—because life here is not altogether without its pleasures and its advantages. One of them is the freedom from constituents Which one gains by the change. If I may give your Lordships just one example of that, it was with indescribable satisfaction that I received the other day a letter from a former constituent, who was unaware of what had occurred to me.Dear Mr. Peake,"—the letter said—I and my wife and our Edith all voted for you last time. Now our rent has gone up by 3s. 2d., and we are never going to vote for you again.I forwarded that letter to my successor with my compliments and with the greatest possible satisfaction.
My Lords, I trust that I have made my point clear. We shall be told that my proposal for giving pension as of right, instead of on the basis of need, would cost a lot of money; that the House of Commons Members' Fund, with£80,000 invested at the present time, is actuarially bankrupt; and, as we are always told, that the time is not ripe for a scheme for improving the pensions of Members of 618 Parliament. I hope that the Government will take courage. They could carry through this reform at the same time as the promised review of war, insurance and other pensions, which has been referred to by Ministers from time to time, and I am sure that this proposal would be generally welcomed. I have observed that perorations here are generally out of place. I conclude, therefore, by saying that the reform announced to-day by my noble friend Lord Home, if followed by the action I venture to suggest, can do much to maintain and enhance the high reputation of your Lordships' House; and it is on trial reputation that the influence and power of this House must ultimately depend.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, it is in the tradition of your Lordships' House that I should afford myself the pleasure of congratulating the noble Viscount who has just spoken upon the quality of his speech, and of expressing the hope that we shall hear him upon many occasions in future. I trust the noble Viscount will not think that, traditional though these words be, they lack anything in sincerity. Maiden speeches are supposed to be non-controversial: I find the noble Viscount's speech eminently non-controversial. Being one of what the Press now habitually call the "aged and ageing" Members of Her Majesty's Opposition Front Bench in your Lordships' House, I confess that the prospect of a pension stirs a ready response in my heart, and I hope that the noble Viscount will continue to press the eloquent plea he has made. May I also say this to him? I hope that he will not follow the example of many of his predecessors, who seem to have looked at the great honour of elevation to your Lordship's House as the crown on their past careers and never even attend. I hope that he will look upon it, as we should have liked the others to look upon it, as the beginning of another career and that your Lordships will have the benefit of his counsel for many years to come.
I had better preface my contribution to this debate by saying that I speak for myself, and for myself alone. Though I think that I could claim that a number of my colleagues would agree with me, I have no authority to speak on their behalf. My remarks have been shortened by the speech that we heard with great interest 619 from the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury. I find myself in almost complete agreement with what he said. I find it easy to accept the principle of Life Peerages but, with the noble Marquess, I would ask the Government seriously to consider whether that is enough, even as a preliminary step. I regret very much that the Government have run away from what I have always considered to be the principle which is most acceptable to the British people, that hereditary birth does not constitute an automatic right to sit in a Legislative Chamber. However, I can leave that point, as I can leave other points, to noble Lords who are more versed in the Constitution than I can pretend to be.
But, my Lords, I hold the view that the prime—or if not the prime, then almost the prime—function of your Lordships' House in a two-Chamber Constitution is that of a Revising Chamber. That is the function which, since I have been here, I have always been told is paramount; and with the rush of legislation of modern times it is, and has been, patent to us all that without a second. Revising Chamber legislation would find its way on to the Statute Book that would do little credit to this country. I want to ask the Government whether they think that the creation of Life Peers alone will really satisfy the dire need of your Lordships' House. The dire need of your Lordships' House is a stronger Opposition. In a democracy we carry legislation through after argument. I speak as one who has borne some of the burden on the Opposition Front Bench—and I can assure you, my Lords, that at times it is an intolerable burden—with my colleagues, of trying to do a public duty, in opposing Bills with meticulous care; not light-heartedly, and not with opposition for opposition's sake. To think out hundreds and hundreds of Amendments, to sit on this Bench from half past two until nearly nine or ten o'clock at night without being able to move off—that is the lot of an Opposition in your Lordships' House that tries to do the job properly. That means that there must always be a hard core who are prepared to give their whole time to that one particular task.
With regard to Life Peers, you may, as the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, said, bring into this Chamber all the ex-vice-chancellors of all the universities of 620 this country, and all the past presidents of all the learned societies of this country; you may bring here all the eminent folk of whom you can think: they will not do that job—the chores, the un-relenting chores, of Parliamentary opposition. After you have worked yourself to death, your only epitaph is one line in The Times, that such-and-such a Bill that was passed through the Commons "was considered on Committee". That is your epilogue. It is humorous now, but it is not at the time. Will the advent of Life Peers of the calibre and the quality I have just mentioned, all adding only to the aged, solve the problem of your Lordships' House? As two or three speakers have said, what we want is youth. We do not want the older men. Frankly, they have not the ability; they are tired, and they have not the inclination either. What is wanted in your Lordships' House to do the job which I have just described—and I speak from many years' experience now—is men in the forties and fifties.
How are we to get them into this House in the prime of their life, in the prime of their earning capacity in industry? I agree with the noble Viscount who made his maiden speech. While the present expense allowance is a help surely Her Majesty's Opposition cannot be allowed to rest upon a few folk who, by the grace of God, happen to be economically well endowed; and, of course, the number of those folk is getting increasingly smaller. When noble Lords on the Government side of your Lordships' House take our place, which they assuredly will, they will be up against the same difficulties. So, my Lords, I think the noble Leader of the House has got to revise his ideas upon this matter.
For myself, and again I speak only for myself. I have never been entirely convinced that the handicap, or the supposed handicap, of the hereditary principle is a deterrent to elevation on this side of the House. There are examples to contradict me. The outstanding examples, of course, are families in which there is a long line of political tradition and political ambition. If the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, happened to be in his place, I could say, after all his exposition of the disadvantages of the hereditary principle in his family, that he has not 621 done too badly. But that, to my mind, is not the deterrent factor. The deterrent factor is the hard factor of economics. Dodge it if you will, but you will never get a young and virile Opposition, a young and virile Front Bench on the Opposition side, until you match the economic remuneration for them with that which you have on the Government Front Bench. If you had the same economic status on the Government Front Bench as on the Opposition Front Bench you would be just as hard put as we are. This, to my mind, comes above all the trimmings of whether you have life peerages, whether you carry hereditary peerages, or whether you accept the "Swinton scheme" Whatever you do, you will sooner or later come up against the hard economic facts, and they will grow.
So I find it very easy to accept the principle of life peerages. With my noble leader, I can also accept the principle of females in your Lordships' House—and view the prospect with unmitigated horror. But that may be prejudice. I do not know what one would call the House. But perhaps the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack will tell us—the "House of Lords and Ladies"? It cannot remain the "House of Lords," can it? They are Peeresses, surely. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, who had one racing stable simile to offer, can also find an answer to that one. I ask the Government to look at this problem, including the economics. I hope the, noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor will give us the answer to it, if he can make this calculation, because, as the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, said, if you are going to increase the hereditary peerage content of this House by about a hundred a year and are not going to have any kind of limitation on the number of Life Peers, I hope I shall not he accused of being facetious when I say that it will not be many years before your Lordships will have to move either to the Albert Hall or to Harringay Arena, because you will be hopelessly overcrowded. Any increase, any reimbursement, even of expenses, is quite out of the question unless something is done to limit the numbers. That is the simple point upon which I wish to focus attention. I think we shall find it difficult, but I do not think we should find it any more difficult to augment Her Majesty's 622 Opposition in this House by Hereditary Peerages than by Life Peerages.
On the question of numbers, there is one other point that I would ask the noble Earl the Leader of the House and the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack to consider. It has always been supposed to be one of the underlying ideas of any reform of this House that you would in some way equate, or nearly equate, the strength of the Parties. Noble Lords on the other side of the House have never had the experience which noble Lords on this side of the House have had of arguing and arguing and doing their best to oppose, knowing from the word. "Go" that they do not stand a dog's chance of ever winning: knowing, all the time, that the Division bell will ring and the unshackled hordes will teem into the Division Lobby against them. That has been a matter of protest, from these Benches on many occasions. Fortunately, there are times when the reverse operates, and I have happy memories of finding the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack in charge of a Bill when conciliation could not go very much further. But that is not always the case. Whatever happens, if any limitation is put on life peerages, we on this side, shall always be in that dilemma. It is a serious dilemma. I ask for nothing that is not fair, but I think that at some time the Government of the day will have to try to devise a method of equating the numbers in your Lordships' House; they must be a trifle more equal than they are, or seem likely to be. I will not go so far as to say that we should reflect the Opposition and the Government sides in another place, but the House is ill-balanced at the present time, and it is a most disheartening experience for anyone but the toughest individual to stand up and argue a case from this side.
That is all I have to say. I have spoken purely for myself. I welcome the Government's proposal, so far as it goes, although I do not think it goes far enough. I hope that we may think of it, when it does come, as only one step. I agree with the noble Earl the Leader of the House, with the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, and the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, that to try to revise this House radically at one swoop would be heading for disaster. I think we must be patient. However, I feel that the noble Earl might dip at least his other toe into the water 623 and go a little further than he has gone this afternoon, and if he did, so far as I am concerned, he would have my support.
§ 5.16 p.m.
§ LORD BALFOUR of BURLEIGH
My Lords, at the outset I should like to add my congratulations to those which fell from the noble Lord who has just sat down to my noble friend Lord Ingleby. I am sure we all hope that he will not wait another two years before addressing your Lordships again. On the question which is before the House, I want to say at once that I approach it as a convinced and unrepentant supporter of the hereditary principle. I call to witness in support of that belief the qualities of your Lordships' House, because I believe it will be generally agreed that your Lordships' House as a Second Chamber in our Constitution possesses great qualities. I understood the noble Viscount who leads the Opposition to say that his Party was more interested in abolishing the House of Lords than in reforming it: but, in spite of that, he went on, as I thought, to pay a generous and hearty tribute to the qualities of your Lordships' House. I did not think that the two parts of the speech quite held together, but as the noble Viscount has had to leave the House I will not pursue that further.
Then may I refer to the extraordinarily interesting speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel? He, too, I thought, after being slightly overcome by bitterness in his recollection of what happened in 1911, paid a real tribute to the qualities of your Lordships' House. Let me say at once that the events from 1907 to 1911 to which the noble Viscount referred included many things which were mistakes made by your Lordships' House; but I do not suppose there is any institution in the world which has not made mistakes. However, that is all past history, and I think that now, particularly over the last twenty years, this House has performed a most valuable service in the part it has to play in our constitutional affairs. If that is so, it is a tribute to the quality of the hereditary system. It is the hereditary system which has produced a great deal of what this House is; and I add to that, of course, that the House could not have been what it is without a valuable flow of first creations.
624 The fact that there is difficulty in recruiting first creations because of the hereditary principle is the justification for the proposals which the noble Earl the Leader of the House has put before us I was surprised to hear the noble Lord. Lord Lucas of Chilworth, say that he did not think the hereditary element in the Peerage was a deterrent, and I can only say that that is not the impression I have gained. But while I differ from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, on that point, I thoroughly agree with what he said about the economic side of it. When the noble Earl the Leader of the House mentioned remuneration. I ventured to tell your Lordships that I thought it did not go far enough, and I entirely agree that that is an clement in the matter which has to be looked at again.
There is only one other point I wish to comment upon with regard to the constructive proposal, and that is the proposal to include women. I was delighted to hear the noble Earl say that that was the intention, and I only hope that it will extend also to Peeresses in their own right. It seems to me entirely illogical to exclude them, and the addition to the hereditary element would be so small as to be negligible. As to nomenclature, I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, need worry. Ladies can be Lords of Parliament, just as much as they can be chairmen of a county council or chairmen of any other body. "Madam Chairman" is a common term.
§ A NOBLE LORD: Or mayor of a city.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
Yes, why not? I hope and assume that, in addition to Life Peers, there will continue to be a creation of hereditary Peers, but to a very much less extent, because I differ from those who think that the existence of a large number of hereditary Peers who never come is something which does not matter. I think it is a reproach to the hereditary principle, and therefore I feel most strongly that a necessary concomitant of the creation of Life Peers is some system, such as was outlined by my noble friend Lord Salisbury, for a reduction of the hereditary element.
I should like to say to my noble friends on this side of the House who dislike this proposal—and I know there are 625 some—that I am certain that they and I have the same object at heart. We wish to maintain and buttress the authority of your Lordships' House. I think there is nothing which undermines more the authority of this House than the existence of some hundreds of noble Lords who have not even taken the trouble to take the Oath, and the existence of further hundreds who, having taken the Oath, seldom or never assist your Lordships' House. I believe that. far from weakening the hereditary principle, such a weeding-out and selection of the fittest, by whatever method it is done, would do a great deal to strengthen the hereditary principle in which believe, and also to foster the authority of your Lordships' House. I absolutely agree with what the noble Earl the Leader of the House said about the necessity of ha \ Mg young men in the House. That. I think, is something which could be combined with such a proposal as I have mentioned.
I therefore sum up. I am entirely in favour of the creation of Life Peers, but I hope that the Government will not close their eyes to a further scheme on the lines suggested by my noble friend Lord Salisbury, to reduce the number of hereditary Peers who have the right to attend your Lordships' House as Lords of Parliament.
§ 5.24 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF CHICHESTER
My Lords, I should like to say at the beginning that I am in favour of the proposals outlined by the Leader of the House as a first stage to reform the House of Lords. I find myself in sympathy with the proposals of the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, about pensions and also with the restriction on then.amber of hereditary Peers in view of the service or lack of service which many render.
I wish to speak particularly of that small group of Spiritual Peers who, in the words of the noble Viscount. Lord Samuel, constitute one of the independent categories of the Members of this Chamber. The Spiritual Peers are part of the oldest portion of Parliament, and this historical connection with the origins of the Second Chamber is of considerable importance, but if that were the only grounds for their retention in the House 626 of Lords I would fully appreciate the force of the argument which claims that Bishops have no place in the House of Lords to-day. But conditions have been revolutionised so far as the Spiritual Peers are concerned, not only since the Middle Ages but since the earlier years of the 19th century. Thus, besides representing a tradition, the Spiritual Peers now fulfil a special function in your Lordships' House for which the actual work they do and the actual experience they possess in modern conditions of English life peculiarly fits them.
I will refer briefly to the historical facts in order the better to emphasise the changed character of the present rôle of Archbishops and Bishops, and the great change which has come about in their relation to Governments and to political Parties. In the Middle Ages the Spiritual Peers owed their presence in the Great Council of the Nation to the fact that they were magnates owning land, and often Bishops and Abbots outnumbered the Temporal Peers. As J. R. Green says in his Short History of England, their character as independent Spiritual Peers tended more and more to merge into their position as Barons. Later Archbishops of Canterbury and York, and Bishops, became the occupants of very important positions in the State, such as that of the Chancellor and other high offices, and they assisted the King in a powerful way in his government of the nation.
At the time of the Reformation. the Bishops were closely involved in the Government—less strongly, perhaps, but some of them, to put it mildly, were too much in the service of the Monarch. In the 18th century Bishops generally considered themselves under an obligation to the Party at whose hands, when in power, they had received their Bishoprics. Bishops were supposed to be particularly subservient to the Ministry and to the House of Lords, and Party members would often make gibes at their expense. In his book King George III and the Politicians, Mr. Richard Pares remarks thus:The Bishops were almost a laughing stock for their subservience. They could not even stay away without exciting comment. When only seven of the twenty-six appeared in Parliament during the ticklish Regency crisis of 1788, Lord Bulkely remarked that it was a proof that crows soon smell powder.627 George IV, in 1827, gave Canning a written authority to ensure that the Bishops behaved properly in the House of Lords, and the record of the Bishops led by the Archbishop of Canterbury in the debates on the Reform Bill of 1831–32—a whole phalanx of Bishops with I think only two Bishops in opposition, the Bishop of Norwich and the Bishop of Chichester—formed one of the most melancholy chapters of the post-Reformation history of the Established Church. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, has drawn attention to the size of the House to-day, 872. It is worth observing that in all those 350 years since 1600 the number of Bishops has remained the same—26—although the number of dioceses has increased. While 350 years ago the Second Chamber consisted of 80 persons with 26 Bishops, to-day, in a body of 872, the Bishops make a very tiny minority indeed.
But, having given your Lordships this gloomy account of the past careers and policies of the Bishops. I am thankful to say that during the last hundred years the whole position of the Bishops has altered and there has been, it is not too much to say, a revolution in their relation to the House of Lords and to the Parties or Ministries. The Bishops no longer have town houses which keep them from their dioceses in order that they may vote in the Second Chamber. There is no longer any question of a solid phalanx of Bishops marching up from their palaces to vote for a particular Government. The Bishops now take their places not as magnates or as Party politicians but as Christian leaders in close touch with people of all classes in their dioceses and concerned with the well-being of the nation as a whole, irrespective of Party.
The pressure of immediate diocesan duties claims by far the greater part of a Bishop's time, and we find it very difficult to attend as often as many of the members of this Bench would wish. But, from time to time, not a few of the Bishops who are Members of this House offer contributions when some special experience or special knowledge qualifies them to speak on special subjects. These are not only ecclesiastical or domestic subjects like church schools, or Sunday observance,, or marriage and divorce, but social questions like housing 628 and industry, or aspects of education, capital punishment and the like.
One of the most authoritative recent Archbishops of Canterbury, Archbishop Davidson, put the position in very effective words when he said:The Bishops, in short, are entrusted, as I believe, with a place in the Legislature, not only for what are called technical ecclesiastical questions but for whatever things directly concern the moral life and social well-being of the English people "—I would add, the moral life and social well-being of the English people in relation to the Commonwealth and also in relation to questions of racial discrimination, persecution of religion, and justice in issues of national or international government and of peace and war. Many of your Lordships will remember the remarkable speeches made on this and similar subjects in this House by, to mention only those no longer living. Archbishop Lang. Bishop Henson, Archbishop Temple and, not least. Archbishop Garbett.
My Lords, the Church of England contributes these twenty-six spiritual Peers because it is the national church. But since the Middle Ages other churches have arisen, playing an important part in the life of the country. It would, in my opinion, be a great gain to debates in this House and to the statement of religious opinion on the problems of to-day if leaders of other Communions could be given a place here as Life Peers. I think particularly of the Church of Scotland and the Roman Catholic Church and the Free Churches, but I myself see no reason why another religion, provided it has strength in the country, such as the Jewish religion, should not find a representative spokesman in your Lordships' House. I make these remarks, I hope with humility, not with any wish to increase the number of ecclesiastical representatives. The representatives of other Faiths may be a few only, and possibly there might be a slight reduction in the number of Church of England Bishops sitting in this House. Ways and means would no doubt have to be considered. But some of these people could surely be appointed Lords of Parliament for life on the nomination of the Prime Minister to the Crown after consultation with the bodies concerned.
So, my Lords, to sum up, I hope that in any reform of the House of Lords the 629 value of the representation of the Spiritual Peers will not fail to materialise, and that, whether the number of Spiritual Peers is reduced or not, a place may be found for religious leaders of the Church of Scotland, the Roman Catholic Church and the Free Churches, and, it may be, of other religious communions, with a view to strengthening the contribution of that spiritual interest for which the present Bishops do their best to stand.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ LORD PETHICK-LAWRENCE
My Lords, I do not think I have ever listened to a more interesting debate than we have had so far on this subject to-day. The speeches to which I have listened have been full of good stuff, from every side of the House; and with a great deal of what has been said I have found myself in agreement. I do not regard this subject as one mainly of a Party character. I think it is one which we, as Members of the House of Lords and as persons who have had a good deal of experience in politics, have a right to decide on its merits, irrespective of any Party question, though of course Party cannot he kept entirely out of it. I speak to-night, therefore, as most of us do, not as representing my Party but to put forward my personal views on this subject.
First of all I ask: how far, and as to what, is there general agreement? I should have thought there was general agreement on quite a number of matters. In the first place, it is rather absurd for this House to consist of a body of persons more than half of whom have never put their feet inside the doors of this Chamber. I think that everybody, in every section of the House, agrees on the absurdity of that. In the second place, everyone who knows anything of the working of this House must recognise that there is a need for a Second Chamber, and that if there were no Second Chamber, in some shape or form, one would have to be created. The third point is that I do not think any but a very few people imagine that there is going to be any restoration of the powers of the House of Lords as against the House of Commons. The general opinion in the country has moved a long way from the idea that the House of Lords is in any sense a rival or an equal body as against the House of Commons, and I do 630 not believe that there need be any fears of that in the mind of anyone who wants to see the House of Commons predominant.
In the fourth place, I regard it, in this period, as quite ridiculous that we should be an entirely male Assembly. As I think Lord Samuel pointed out, the House of Lords has really been defying the Act which it itself carried through regarding disqualification of women; and for us to tolerate that any longer seems to me so ridiculous that I am quite certain that the great bulk of people, at any rate, will support the bringing in of women. Finally, I think it must be becoming increasingly clear, in these days of financial difficulty, that there are a great number of men and women who would be quite willing to serve in this House for a lifetime, or part of a lifetime, but who are most unwilling to pledge themselves and all their descendants, who may have quite different ideas, to be Members of this House, or even to be Peers or Peeresses of the Realm. It seems to me that with very few exceptions a great number of persons will agree with all those points.
If that be so—and I believe it is—the question arises: how are we going to view the proposals of the Government? My own view is that it is always desirable to make partial changes, provided that they are in the right direction, and provided that they do not operate to block a full measure of reform. It is with that point of view at the back of my mind that I approach the proposals of the Government and ask myself this question: does the proposal to allow the creation of Life Peers, and to include women among them, help forward the changes in the Second Chamber which I should like to see, or does it in any way prevent further change? I am bound to say, for my own part, that I find unquestionably that they are in the right direction and, so far from preventing any changes that I want, it seems to me that they help them forward.
That will be opposed on two sides. First of all, it will be opposed by the people who do not want to see any changes. These changes of the Government are regarded by them as revolutionary, disastrous and as upsetting the splendid old House of Lords and the Peerage system as it is. On the other hand, they will be opposed and are opposed, by a certain number of people 631 who want revolutionary changes with regard to the House of Lords—they want to sweep away the present House of Lords, and either substitute nothing in its place or, as the more well-informed of them would wish, to have an entirely different Chamber in its place. I personally do not share the views of either of those parties. I believe that they are not in accord with sense and that those who know best what they are talking about would prefer to have a change in the right direction, which would be one step towards a reform which is absolutely necessary.
Again, other people are opposed to these changes because they believe that. in effect, they will restore the prestige and obduracy of the House of Lords. Personally. I take the view that that is quite imaginary: I do not believe that danger to exist. It is quite true that The Times gave some colour to it in its leading article to-day. I do not mind restoring the prestige of this House, so long as it does not restore in any sense the idea that it is equal to the House of Commons and can put up a veto against the Commons' proposals. Whether the reduction of the power of veto has gone far enough. or whether it ought to go further, does not depend upon the composition of the House of Lords: it will be a matter which the country will decide on its merits. quite independently of whether we have Life Peers or whether we retain the purely hereditary principle.
I think the British people as a whole always prefer to take one step at a time. Some people regard that as foolish and misguided. I believe it is a sound instinct of the British people. I have seen other countries and other institutions where big changes have been made, and then they go back on those changes and they have a "see-saw." Here in this country, in the main, changes have been made which were partial and insufficient, but subsequently, when the British people have looked at the result, and found it good, they have gone forward to larger reforms. One illustration of that was the question of the partial enfranchisement of women in the year 1917. Some of us thought that that was all wrong and that nothing short of complete equality for men and women was desirable. The country enfranchised women to that partial degree; it looked at the results, 632 which were not disastrous, as so many people had prophesied: and after a comparatively short time the country completed the equality; and I think it will be the same with regard to this question of the House of Lords.
The question I put to myself, therefore, is this: is this power to create Life Peers a step in the right direction, or is it a step in the wrong direction? I have no hesitation whatever in answering that it is a step in the right direction. Then, is the inclusion of women Members as Life Peers alone a step in the right direction? My answer is emphatically that it is, and therefore I favour it. That does not in the least prevent me from taking the point of view that has been taken by several noble Lords in various parts of the House, that these proposals of the Government are, if they are to be regarded as the whole change, quite inadequate. There are a great many other matters which ought, at some time or other in the very early future, also to be dealt with. This proposal does nothing by itself to limit the hereditary principle. I think it is clear that a great number of Peers at the present time have no wish to be associated with this House at all, and that steps ought to be taken to deal with that position. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, in a very wise speech I thought, put forward his strong view of that fact. This creation of Life Peers does not directly do anything about that; therefore, it is inadequate. But that does not alter the fact that of itself it is something which I believe to be sound.
There are several other matters which the proposals of Her Majesty's Government do not actually touch upon—the problem of the elder sons, and the problem of the Party power of the House of Lords. Personally. I do not think that, whatever is done, one can equalise the Parties in the House of Lords, for if they were equalised to-morrow they would be unequal in a very short time. Therefore we have frankly to recognise that the House of Lords will be politically a biased Chamber, and we have to limit its powers of Party political legislation. That does not prevent my being glad to see an opportunity of having Life Peers included. I would not necessarily confine such peerages ultimately to life; it may be possible to appoint Peers for a 633 shorter period than life, and I do not think there would be any objection to that.
I believe that in future we have to get away from insisting that a man who is going to sit in the Second Chamber must clutter up his whole progeny for generations to come with something they may not want. In days gone by it was regarded as a matter of tremendous value to a man to be a Peer of the Realm. It is a great honour which all of us in this House have accepted, but it does not at all follow that we want our children, and our children's children, to have a Peerage. In many cases, as Members of your Lordships' House must be fully aware, there are descendants of Peers whose financial condition makes it very undesirable that they should have to go about with a label round their neck—something which is in itself an honour, but which may be quite a handicap to them if their financial conditions are unsuitable to carry such a burden.
There is one more thing I wish to say: a point which ought to be considered in relation to this proposal and which I do riot think has been mentioned up to now. It arises because under the Constitution there is a limit to the number of Ministers and Secretaries who can sit in the House of Commons and it is essential that certain Ministers should sit in the House of Lords. Therefore a Prime Minister who comes in after the next General Election and after future General Elections, to whichever Party he may belong, will have the responsibility of finding Peers to carry the burden of some of, the offices of State. It may well appear that there are not enough existing Peers sufficiently young and able to bear the burden. Therefore, whichever Prime Minister comes in will probably have to invite the Sovereign to create new Peers, and I believe that his choice would be very much wider if there were power to create Life Peers than if he were hound and could appoint only hereditary Peers. That is a very strong reason why we should support this proposal. Accordingly, while agreeing with many speakers, and particularly with the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, that these proposals are quite inadequate if they are to be taken as the whole. I feel that they should be supported as a useful step and a step which will on no account retard further progress towards the creation of 634 a better and more workable Second Chamber.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
My Lords, like most other noble Lords I rise briefly to support the proposals which the noble Earl, Lord Home, has put before the House. A great many of your Lordships are speaking, and naturally we are all tending to put our views in our own words. On the whole, however, there seems to be almost complete agreement on supporting these proposals. I think that even the noble Viscount. Lord Alexander of Hillsborough (though I do not want to misrepresent him) was complaining about not having had sufficient warning to consider the matter rather than definitely coming out in opposition to what the noble Earl, Lord Home, has said; whilst from the Benches opposite we have had considerable encouragement from the speeches of the noble Lords. Lord Pethick-Lawrence and Lord Lucas of Chilworth.
On the whole, we seem to be in agreement on general basic principles. No-one has suggested that we should not have a Second Chamber. As the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, has reminded us, there was only one brief period in history when we tried to do without it—during the dictatorship of Cromwell; and even he gave up the attempt. It is generally realised that without a Second Chamber a transient majority could do just what they wanted with the well-being of this country. Apart from the admitted value of the debates in your Lordships' House, and the admitted value of its revision of legislation, I believe that most of us would agree that the really important function of the Second Chamber is to be able to say, "Think again." I mention those words with some underlining, because even today far too many people talk about the House of Lords' veto. Even the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, said there was some question of whether there has been sufficient reduction in the power of veto.
Those words, if they mean anything, imply that there is such a thing. But there has not been a House of Lords' veto since 1911. Between 1911 and 1949 the House of Lords had the power to say "Think again" three times. Since 1949 it has had power to say "Think again" only 635 once. But even that has proved of some use, as was shown in the controversy over the death penalty, when this House showed that it was at least as much in touch with public opinion, if not more so, than another place. It was as a result of our once saying "Think again" that a compromise was reached which finally went through (I speak from memory and subject to correction) without a Division in either House on Second Reading.
This is a power which we are all anxious to see preserved and strengthened, because ultimately it is a power based on the moral standing of the House. That is why, when we are to-day discussing the problem of composition, we are really discussing the extent to which we have the moral standing to make use even of our existing powers. I know that the hereditary principle is criticised, and I do not want to go into that aspect to-day. The fact remains that nobody has produced an alternative, and as the noble Earl, Lord Home. has said, "No one wishes to see an elected rival of another place." There is one quite indispensable advantage of this House, which has been based primarily on the principle of heredity. It means that there is in our Constitution one House in which the Members have not to be eternally looking over their shoulders either at the voters or, as the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, reminded us, at Party machines.
We had a very good illustration from the other side of the House. We had a speech from the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, which could have been interpreted as being against the proposals, whereas Lord Pethick-Lawrence and Lord Lucas of Chilworth spoke in favour of them as a first step. That is just typical of this House. I well remember a comment made by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury (he has given me permission to quote him), when some of us were discussing whether or not a Whip should be sent out to your Lordships. Lord Salisbury said with a sad smile: "The trouble about sending out these Whips is that we can get the chaps here but we do not know what they are going to do when we have got them here".
What, in fact, is the composition of this House? Is it not really a body of experts? When you think of it, we have 636 here heads of the Church, leading minds in the legal profession, men who have come to the top of the medical profession, many of those serving in prominent positions throughout the country in local government, some of the heads of industry, leading minds in agriculture, members of the Armed Services, almost all the ex-Commanders-in-Chief, ex-Civil Servants, Governors and Governors-General. and ex-Ministers. It would be easy to devise a much more logical body than the one we have here at the present time, but I think it would be very difficult to devise a better one. It is in close touch with almost every walk of life. Your Lordships will note that I use the word "almost". If there is one great limitation, it is one to which many of your Lordships have already referred, and it is a limitation which I think Her Majesty's Government are seeking to meet. It is the weakness of Her Majesty's Opposition.
I should be sorry if that statement were taken as in any way casting a slur on a body of noble Lords who, I think, by their devotion to duty and their devotion to this House, have gained the respect and the admiration of all of us. But. frankly, I just do not know how then, have done it. We have heard something from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, on the subject. It has been a most gallant effort, and this House owes undying gratitude to noble Lords opposite for what they have done. Nevertheless, their numbers are inadequate. And not only are their numbers inadequate; as they themselves would be the first to admit, it is intensely important for any body of men like them to have a constant reinforcement of younger people from underneath. I know that Lord Lucas of Chilworth has said that the question of hereditary peerages versus life peerages is not the only point. I should be the first to agree with him. I do not believe that what has been done hitherto on the financial side has by any means solved that particular problem. But unquestionably, there are a great many—let us put it definitely and frankly—particularly among those on the Left, who are members of the Labour Party, members of trade unions, who either dislike or disapprove of the hereditary principle or have some fear of burdening their sons and heirs with hereditary peerages. At 637 any rate, there are great numbers who will not accept hereditary peerages.
Without an effective Opposition, the British Parliamentary system is unworkable. Therefore, I think we are driven inevitably to the solution put forward by the noble Earl, Lord Home: of going back—and I say "going back" advisedly—to life peerages. I agree with the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury; I wish that we could have gone further. I shall not repeat the arguments which have been put forward by him and by many other noble Lords. I agree with the noble Marquess in what he said about this bogy of the "backwoodsmen." That is to a large extent a fantasy. They never have swamped us, and I do not believe that they ever will. Nevertheless, it is an extremely damaging fantasy to a House which depends so much for its force and effectiveness on its moral standing. On the other hand, as many noble Lords have said, the British like to face their problems step by step. Also, let us face it, this question of reform of the House of Lords has been considered over a period of forty-five or forty-six years. On the whole, it has always been kept back by reason of the fact that too many people have had too many bright ideas. For that reason I, like other noble Lords who would like the Government to go further, do not wish to press this point, but will say simply that, particularly as an interim measure, I support the proposals which have been outlined to-day. I support them strongly, and I shall do so even more warmly if the noble Lord who sums up for the Government feels able to say to us that the minds of Her Majesty's Government are not closed to further steps if these particular proposals prove successful.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ LORD CHATFIELD
My Lords, I think it would be almost expected that I should open my remarks by assuring you that the condemnation of Admirals in politics by my noble friend the Leader of t he House is not strictly accurate. As a matter of fact, he says that Admirals can lead their Fleets at sea and keep them off the rocks, but when an Admiral tries to tackle something like a political document then he goes to the bottom. Actually, your Lordships have had on the Front Bench a distinguished soldier, a noble and gallant Field-Marshal, who 638 is here this evening. And I suppose that what is true of the sailor is similarly true of the soldier or of the Air Marshal. There is another Admiral of the Fleet in this House who, I believe, sat on the Front Bench in the place where the noble Lord is sitting now. He tells me that he had to take a Bill through the House, and though he had to put his helm over rather hard every now and then to avoid collision, he did manage to bring the Bill in to port. But that is only by the way. Really, I do not think that Admirals are any more stupid than those people who go to sea to try to sail yachts.
I am sure that many noble Lords who are speaking to-day must have spoken four years ago, in 1953, in the debate on a very similar Motion. It was moved by the late noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon. As this subject is strictly limited in extent, though of such vital importance, what one would like to do would be to reiterate the points one made four years ago. At any rate, so far as I am concerned, that is what I should like to do. At that time, dealing with the White Paper—Command Paper 7380—I called attention to the fact that if we were going to improve your Lordships' House constitutionally we should not forget to keep very much in mind the importance of a central body in the House. At present, there is insufficient representation of what is called "independent thought" in politics, yet the independents exist in considerable strength in this country, and at elections are influential. Some people might say that it is the independents who decide who gets in. They are unrepresented entirely in another place, but the very fact that they are independent means that they are unorganised, and inevitably they are unrecognised anywhere with any power.
Here in your Lordships' House there is a central Party whose Members, I suppose, might call themselves independent, but are usually called Cross-Benchers. They have no leader. They have no organisation. They have no Whips. They are in a way the shadow of a Party. Yet they are composed of people who have been specially raised to the Peerage for some distinguished military service, for service as the Governor of a Dominion or Colony, or whatever it may be; of people who have not dealt in politics in the past because they have not 639 had the time or the opportunity but who, in the later years of life, are interested in politics and come to your Lordships' House to speak with some authority on the subject of which they may be a master. On the previous occasion, I suggested that the Upper House should provide that representation of independent minds more completely so that they would help, especially under the new organisation that is foreshadowed, to balance decisions, as they certainly do in the country at elections. The reforms proposed in Command Paper No. 7380, which has something to do with the debate to-day, provide an opportunity to make the House more representative of the electorate as a whole in that way, and I think that the more we can represent the electorate, the better it will be for the country.
It was also proposed in the Command Paper that your Lordships' House should be complementary to another place and not a rival. Very right. But the Paper did not suggest the manner or the form in which that should be done. If your Lordships' House is to be complementary, surely it should provide something that the other Chamber lacks. That is how complement is defined in the dictionary—the complement: some addition. So I proposed last time that the way lay open to us to see that our House was not composed only of three political Parties, but also included a number of new Life Peers. who I presumed would be limited in numbers, representing so far as possible independent thought in the country.
The Command Paper also proposed—and it is relevant to-day—to have no permanent majority for any one Party. When all the Parties have been brought to approximate equality, the only way to get a decision would be for two Parties to vote against the third. If I am right—and I have no doubt that if I am not I shall be pulled up later—that seems an unsatisfactory position. It would be modified by the recognition of a small fourth Party in the centre of your Lordships' House, a central, independent-minded body which would be helpful in our debates on the affairs of the day, as well as on problems which are not political.
There is no more difficulty in selecting, or electing, an independent Peer 640 than any other Peer. So far as I can see. it is quite practicable to do it. The independent Peer does not take the Whip. Because he is made an independent Peer by a Conservative Prime Minister, he need not vote Conservative, and vice versa with any other Party. He is independent, free to give his own advice and to voice his own opinions. The value and power of another place lies in representing the mood of the country at the time of a General Election as well as it can be done, but its composition alters every few years. Your Lordships' House remains fairly permanent, and therefore it is of vital importance that its composition is sound. The main justification for your Lordships' House to-day lies in the extent to which, and in the method in which, it provides something more than the other place is able to do. I would suggest that, on the average, we provide experience and wisdom more than another place, because there many Members are elected partly by popularity and oratory in their constituencies, as opposed to being selected by merits of a general national nature. Political experience can be gained by new Peers. Some talk as if there is something magic about politics, which is to me quite out of place. How often do we offer congratulations on the maiden speech made by some young Peer who has just entered the House or made on the Motion on the Address at the opening of Parliament? There is no mystery of that kind; we all know that wisdom and experience usually develop with age, and in my opinion it is that experience, and the wisdom which comes with age, that we should try to increase further in your Lordships' House.
Can we, then, further broaden our political outlook in your Lordships' House, and balance it by bringing in new colleagues of varied experience, as has been suggested by several speakers this afternoon, not alone, as the Command Paper says, of personal distinction and public service, but other first-class brains who can afford the time, from all walks of life and of many different classes? In conclusion, my Lords, I do not forget that politics must, of course, be the basis of our work here; that we must also have great political wisdom in our Chamber, and especially in our Front Benches, or we shall accomplish nothing. But let this House be distinguished, I would suggest, 641 for its broad outlook and wisdom. Let its main spirit and aim be that of a wise adviser to the nation, not entirely political, and recognised as such by the nation. Then we should have no more clamour for, or thought of, lessening our powers and our responsibilities.
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ LORD ELTON
My Lords, I shall not keep you long because I have torn up the notes with which I came into the House. I was glad to hear Lord Chatfield say a word about independent Peers, for I am an independent, and I have had no access to some of the preliminary information which I think has reached at any rate some members of the Conservative Party, and much of what I had intended to say has been said, or would not now be appropriate.
It is clear, I think, that, whether we welcome it or not, Life Peers are going to come. At least I think so; for I must admit I am a little bewildered by the debate so far as it has gone. What has bedevilled most of the previous attempts to reform the House by agreement has been the large number of competing schemes, and in the course of this debate we have heard Lord Home say that you cannot really reform the House unless you have agreement between the Parties. We have heard the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, say (if I understood him aright) that you certainly have not got, and probably will not get, agreement among the Parties. We have heard Lord Home propose three comparatively limited reforms, and then we have heard Lord Salisbury and Lord De La Warr, and I think the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, all hinting at extensive but undefined reforms which are waiting for us behind the Government's announced proposals. So whether, in fact, once again, the attempts at reform will break clown through the multiplicity of competing schemes I fancy still remains to be seen. But perhaps we may take it for granted that, whether or not we welcome it with open arms, the time has come when the experiment with Life Peers must be made.
Therefore, at this late hour of the evening, and in order to avoid saying what other Peers have said better than I can, there are just two points I want to make. And firstly. I feel that nobody hitherto in 642 this debate has been altogether fair to your Lordships' House as it is at present constituted, and I think that this is not merely a question of sentiment but that the attitude, the perhaps almost subconscious attitude, which we take up to the House as it has come down to us over the centuries, the House to which we are heirs, may to some extent determine the success with which we pass into the new era which the Government has in store for us.
Nothing which I have heard so far in this debate, or in its numerous predecessors over the months and years, has altered my opinion that your Lordships' House as at present constituted is one of those characteristically British institutions which is totally indefensible in theory but works extremely well in practice. It seems to me that it was serving the country admirably, and nobody outside this House had evinced any desire to alter its character, when the noble Marquess, who was then Leader of the House, and other noble Lords, began to adumbrate vague and, because vague, alarming schemes of reform. Then, inevitably, when so eminent a person as the noble Marquess had cried havoc, the Press let slip the dogs of war; and the quarry which the Press proceeded to hunt was, as always on these occasions, not the actual House of Lords as we know it, not the actual House we see working day in and day out, but the wholly imaginary, and totally indefensible, House which always takes shape when the general public, which has no knowledge whatever of the real working of this House, begins to discuss House of Lords reform.
The House of Lords, the real House of Lords, the working House, as we know it from day to day, contains, of course, a substantial proportion, possibly a majority, of Peers who are not here because they are sons of their fathers, Peers of the first creation; and, of the remainder. again, a substantial proportion, and perhaps a majority, although here by hereditary right, have rendered services, or held offices, which would eminently qualify them for membership of any brand new Senate, if and when some future Government takes it into its head to create one for us, as I have no doubt one day it will. The imaginary House, the House which figures in all these controversies, is a mysterious body 643 which, at one and the same time, consists of about 850 ill-qualified. fanatically class-conscious, hereditary aristocrats, and is also apparently so sparsely attended that, as we are constantly told, it is in danger of dying on its feet, and needs an urgent blood transfusion.
By way of contrast, the real House, as I have just said, does not consist of a large body of fanatically class-conscious, hereditary aristocrats; and as to this allegation that the House is so sparsely attended, particularly on the Labour Benches, that it is in danger of dying on its feet, one can only refer to one's experience and to the records. When I first became a Member of this House, twenty-three years ago, it was rare indeed to see more than three Members on the Labour Benches. And, looking further back. I recall that Erskine May records that in the age of Gladstone on several occasions an important Government Bill was lost here in a House totalling well under twenty. So, if the House is indeed dying on its feet through the difficulty of attending it and the sparseness of the attendance, one can only say that, like Charles II. it is taking an unconscionable time about doing it.
The House we know, as distinct from the House of theory, the notional House, possesses one unique merit which I think should be always in our minds and which seems to me to be rather disturbingly threatened, to judge from some of the speeches we have heard this evening, by the creation of Life Peers. I am thinking, of course, of the fact that this House commands the attendance of leading authorities on any subject under discussion; that it possesses a lien, so to speak, on the expert knowledge of many Peers who have neither the time nor the inclination to keep up anything like full-time membership of this House.
In all the Press discussion of the scheme now before us your Lordships will probably have noticed constant references to the regular attendance which is evidently expected of this new class of Senators, the new life members. Unfortunately, throughout our past discussions, and I have thought during the discussions to-day, leading Members of this House and spokesmen of the Government have shown a regrettable indifference to the transcendent value, as 644 I see it, of the ability of the House, as at present constituted, to call on the services of this great pool of expert opinion. The periphery is always seen as this potential phalanx of 500 punch-drunk Tory aristocrats, whereas it should be thought of as in part a reservoir of the experts, who can cone and advise us on occasion on their own subjects.
If I may give an example, I see the noble Viscount. Lord Stansgate, in his place and he will remember a most amusing and entertaining debate, which he initiated, about some boy scout in Bristol, and how the Chief Scout, Lord Rowallan, turned up for the occasion and gave us the benefit of his opinions. Nobody, surely, would expect that Lord Rowallan should necessarily clock in five or six times a month to a debate here in order to entitle himself to address us.
Yet the Government seem to display a most regrettable indifference to the value of this periphery of experts. Even in the latest arrangements for payment they have not taken the opportunity to correct the extraordinary anomaly that, for example (shall we say?), an ex-Ambassador or an ex-Governor General living in Cornwall may travel here to speak. because the country about which he knows more than anyone else in either House is under discussion, but cannot claim a refund of his railway ticket unless he clocks in for at least 25 per cent., and probably 331 per cent., of the sittings of the House during that month. That, surely, is a ridiculous and anomalous arrangement, and is, I suggest, symbolic of the indifference which seemed to me to peep out also from certain passages in the speech of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury. Much has been owed to this unique characteristic of our House that it can draw upon advice from persons who could not possibly find the time to take on whole-time membership of this Chamber, whether as Life or hereditary Peers.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My Lords, I hope my noble friend will forgive me for interrupting. Would he mind dealing with the fact that 25 per cent. of the Members of this House have not even bothered to take the Oath, and, therefore, cannot be regarded as a reservoir of any kind?
§ LORD ELTON
That is, of course, true, but, with great respect, it seems to me to be quite irrelevant to my argument. My point is that, as we all know, there are a considerable number of experts, such as the late Lord Keynes and the late Lord Trenchard, who attended this House when the subject on which they could especially enlighten us was under discussion.
§ LORD ELTON
I beg the House's pardon. Lord Trenchard is not a good example, because he was indeed a very regular attender. I think the best example I can quote is the example of Lord Rowallan. I hope I am not maligning him. I do not think he has attended regularly, but when he does attend he is invaluable.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
Lord Rowallan attended once for the express purpose of crushing a liberal Motion that I moved about the Boy Scouts.
§ THE EARL OF GLASGOW
My Lords, I should like to point out that Lord Rowallan attended on another occasion and made a very good speech on the veterinary service.
§ LORD ELTON
At any rate, Lord Rowallan had sufficient persuasiveness on that occasion to persuade the House not to take the Motion of the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, very seriously. I earnestly entreat the Government, in any new arrangements which they may have in preparation for us, to remember the immense value of this unique aspect of our House.
§ 6.36 p.m.
My Lords, I speak this evening with some diffidence, because I suppose I am the only speaker so far who can possibly be described as a sort of "backwoodsman". I confess that when I once before entered the Lobby behind my then noble leader Lord Salisbury in favour of the scheme which contemplated a considerable reduction in the number of hereditary Peers, I did so with rather mixed feelings, because I thought that people like myself would be displaced and our places taken by political economists, industrial sociologists and the like, and that my future connection with this House would be 646 to listen on occasion from the Strangers' Gallery to, those speeches of elevated if somewhat unrelieved informativeness that we so often associate with those who have lived lives of undiluted virtue.
But then I found that I had been reprieved by the somewhat unexpected intervention in another place of the then, Lord President of the Council. Mr. Herbert Morrison, who positively insisted that this House should remain on an hereditary basis. He subsequently explained what had happened in a book, from which I might be permitted to read the following extract:'The Labour Government was not anxious for the rational reform or democratisation of the Second Chamber for This would have strengthened its position as against the House of Commons. The very irrationality of the composition of the Lords and its quaintness are safeguards for our modern British democracy.I am not quite sure whether that is the present view of the Labour Party, and I am not quite sure that I know what it means. However, if it means that the people of this country, in contradistinction to the French, want a strong and largely unfettered Government, then I believe it would be absolutely true. We all know that the House of Commons can turn out the Government tomorrow. but we also know that that power is rarely used I think in the last forty years it has been used—only twice—whereas in France it seems to occur two or three times a year.
We have been reminded by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, that our electorate have no objection to the fact that well over 99 per cent. of the Divisions in another place are, in the result, foregone conclusions, and they do not mind the rigid Party discipline that makes this possible. The electorate do not seem to favour independent candidates and all the multiplicity of Parties which is such a common feature of Continental Parliaments: and they have accepted without demur the whittling down in recent years of the delaying powers of your Lordships' House. It seems to me that if the electorate wish, as apparently they do at the present time, to confer on the Government of the day powers of such magnitude, it would be an illusion, and a misleading illusion, to suppose that this House could be built up into any sort of safeguard against the misuse of such 647 powers. I am therefore glad that the Government have resisted the school of thought which seems to believe in trying to reduce this House to a comparatively small body of professional whole-time politicians. If that were done, as my noble friend Lord Elton has shown, the House would lose a great deal of its point, and when it came to the test it would not prove to be any safeguard at all.
But if, by common consent, both Houses of Parliament are prepared to use their emergency powers, as I might describe them, on only the rarest occasions, surely that does not mean that we are wasting the rest of our time. Surely, what it means is that for the large bulk of our time we are engaged in persuasion rather than force, and in that field it seems to me that Members of this House stand as good a chance as Members of another place. I have heard it said by noble Lords who have had experience in both Houses that a Back Bencher stands a better chance of getting an Amendment accepted in this House than does his counterpart in another place. But a great deal seems to depend upon two things: first of all, on the willingness of Peers to work here, and, secondly, the willingness of the Government to listen. These are intangible considerations for which it is almost impossible to provide in legislation. They are nearly always forgotten by outside theorists on House of Lords reform, but I think they deserve analysis.
The other day I was reading an interesting pamphlet written by a prominent member of the Labour Party, in which he suggested that the functions of the Second Chamber of this country should be performed by the Privy Council as being the sort of body with which the Labour Party would be prepared to cooperate. It was a well-written and informed pamphlet. I may be wrong, but never once did it seem to occur to the author whether the Privy Council would be ready to co-operate with the Labour Party, or, indeed, any other Party. Having looked through the list of the Privy Council, and having made the necessary deductions of those who, by the nature of theist occupations, could hardly be expected to attend here, it appeared to me that the Whips of that body might find some difficulty in managing the less glamorous Committees as, for instance, on Private 648 Bill legislation, and that the attendance at that interminable and abortive debate we had last summer on the Shops Bill might have been even worse than it was.
I understand that a trade unionist, in considering an offer of employment, is encouraged to ask two questions: first, what is the job, and, secondly, what is is the rate for the job. I think the same questions might well be asked here, because I believe they will be asked when we are seeking new recruits. What is the job of a Peer? I have been a member for forty years, and nobody has ever attempted to define my duties except, possibly, the Whips, whose views on these matters are clear and succinct but perhaps apt to be limited. We are left to interpret the Oath that we take according to our own individual ideas. I have myself, in a humble way, tried occasionally to take part in what I believe to be one of the main functions of this House—namely, the revision of legislation. In my case, it was chiefly legislation dealing with some of the more depressing, aspects of local government. I have found that in the time spent reading the Bill, discussions in Party committee, listening to evidence, receiving deputations, drafting and arguing Amendments, I may have been working here, perhaps, on rare occasions for thirty or forty hours a week.
That may seem small beer to Members who come from another place, but I believe the comparison is a fallacious one, because the motives and the general conditions in another place are entirely different from what they are here. I believe that if Peers are expected to work long hours in this House, on work which is nearly always technical and very often dull, they must, above all, be made to feel that they are doing some good by coming here. I feel that this is much more important than the question of financial reward.
My own experience in this matter has been somewhat mixed. I have on occasion received great courtesy from my own Party and, I must frankly admit, great courtesy from the Labour Government as well. But there have been occasions when I have felt that a sort of edict has gone from Whitehall, from the Ministries, that on a particular Bill no concessions whatever are to be allowed. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, is not the only Member of your Lordships' House who has had that particular feeling. Of 649 course, in the one case I found it a great encouragement, and in the other case I found it a great discouragement. I am convinced that, if that attitude became general. as well it might—if we were as a matter of course fobbed off with those glib negative answers which any civil servant can compose and will compose, given the slightest encouragment—then I believe a sort of crisis will arise in this House. We might. of course, retaliate by the use of our emergency powers, which I am glad to see the Government still propose we should retain, but I believe the consequences of that might be unpredictable. What I think is much more likely to happen is that we shall simply not turn up and that the revisionary work will simply not be done, and then we shall be in a worse position than we are to-day.
Therefore, though I entirely approve of the Government's proposals to broaden the base of this House by the admission of Life Peers and women, and although I hope that a salary equivalent to that of a part-time typist will prove sufficient to enable Peers to get over some of their difficulties in attending here, I still think that a great deal will really turn upon the attitude of successive Governments towards this House, and I am afraid that that will not be altered by any difference in composition. I am also afraid that no legislation can provide against it.
§ 6.48 p.m.
My Lords, I have spoken in your Lordships' House and I have written to your Lordships privately on this matter for a very long time now, and I do not propose to repeat anything I said or wrote then, With regard to the proposals of the Government. I gladly welcome the proposition that we should have Life Peers. I have always thought that it was competent to the Government to do that, in spite of the Wensleydale decision. With regard to the introduction of ladies, Her Majesty's Government have not said whether they propose to introduce "bearded ladies" or "bight young things," but I personally should prefer "bright young things "—though I think the effect on your Lordships' House might be more far-reaching than the advocates of that proposal at present imagine. That concludes what I have to say about that matter.
What I wish to do is to propose to your Lordships a reform which is grievously 650 needed on a point which has never been before your Lordships' House. I propose to discuss the position of the Scottish Peers. Now your Lordships had better have some idea of the size of the subject, and I will ask you to accept the fact that my figures may not be at the moment strictly accurate; they are figures of recollection. There are at the moment eighty-four Scottish Peers. As my noble friend Lord Dundee has since joined us I think there must be eighty-five. Of those eighty-five some forty-five hold United Kingdom Peerages and sit here under their United Kingdom titles. That leaves us with forty. At any one time you may reckon that eight or so are disqualified; either the peerages are in the hands of ladies, or the holders are minors or something of that kind, or abroad on the country's business, and cannot sit. That leaves thirty-two, of whom sixteen are Representative Peers. Therefore if every Scottish Peer received a United Kingdom Peerage it could only add at any one time to the numbers of your Lordships' House some sixteen Peers and of those who live at the greatest distance from this House. That gives you an idea of the size of the problem.
When the noble Marquess who addressed us this afternoon first took up this question, I wrote to him and suggested that if he wanted to deal with a homogeneous problem the best thing to do would be to make every Scottish Peer a United Kingdom Peer, and then he would have a homogeneous House to deal with. His reply to me was that it would be contrary, I think he said, to the Act of Union but of course, as your Lordships know, there was no Act of Union. Whatever he said, he meant the Articles of Union. I propose first to deal with that objection.
The Articles of Union were agreed to by both Parliaments in the year 1707, and in the year 1711 your Lordships' House was the tribunal of all others which was qualified to interpret the meaning of those Articles. Moreover, your Lordships have to remember that there were sitting in your Lordships' House at that time many of the Commissioners on both sides who had agreed them. At that time, in the year 1711, your Lordships' House passed this resolution:That the sitting of Peers of Great Britain who were Peers of Scotland before the Union 651 in this House by election is alterable by Parliament at the request of Peers of Great Britain who were Peers of Scotland before the Union without any viola ion of the Union.I do not want to interpret the meaning of that Resolution to your Lordships. It does not go the way I want to, but it does show undoubtedly that in 1711 the alteration of the terms by which Peers of Scotland sat in your Lordships' House was perfectly competent by the most expert body in the country, without violation of the Articles of Union. I would further remind your Lordships that at that time the House of Lords was distinctly hostile to any Scottish claims, as your Lordships can ascertain by the treatment of the Duke of Hamilton and Brandon, which continued for about seventy years. That shows the attitude which your Lordships' House took to any Scottish claims which were made.
The next alteration which was made in this matter occurred in or about—I regret I cannot give the exact date—the year 1791. Under the old Scottish Constitution the Masters, the eldest sons of Scottish Peers, were able to attend Parliament and sit as their fathers' proxies. I have in my own house a portrait of a Master who never succeeded, in what must be his Parliamentary robes. I think he attended in 1672. This was held by the interpretation of those days to put the Masters Intra nobilis. Therefore they were not allowed to stand for Parliament or vote in a Parliamentary election because they were disqualified by their father's peerage. That was removed. People will tell you it was removed in the Reform Act. 1832. I do not think it was. An ancestor of my own wrote a book on the matter and I have seen a letter from the Earl of Buchan of 1791 congratulating him on the reform he had been able to effect, so that removal of the disqualification was effective then. It is the first alteration in the Articles of Union as it affected a Scottish Peerage.
The next date I will come to is the year 1874. In the year 1874 your Lordships' House appointed a Committee to examine the whole question. That Committee had the assistance of the officers of the Crown and the judges, and they had before them the Articles of Union. That Committee reported that it would be only just that the number of Scottish Peers should be increased to twenty-one, and 652 the Peers who were not elected could vote and stand for Parliament ill a Parliamentary election in the same way as the Irish Peers could. The Irish Peers, as your Lordships know, have always been able to do this, and the career of our noble friend Lord Winterton is a demonstration of the fact.
Now, my Lords, it is only fair to say that there were two dissentients from that Committee's report: one was my own grandfather and the other was the father of the late Lord Elphinstone. I name him in that way because I always remember with kindness the support and encouragement in this matter which I received myself from the late Lord Elphinstone. Those two Peers dissented on the ground that, having regard to the Articles of Union and everything that had been examined by the Committee, the right of all Scottish Peers to sit in your Lordships' House was so unchallengeable that they would not put their names to anything which gave them less than that. I think, therefore, it is perfectly proper for me to say that the whop Committee was in favour of some reform of this kind. I think that is perfectly fair.
The next thing that has been done in this matter is my letter to the noble Marquess on the subject a few years ago. This is a really serious injustice. Let me take a case. I will take Lord Leven and Melville. He is not a Representative Peer. His brothers all have votes and can stand for Parliament. Lord Leven and Melville's family history is so intertwined in Scottish history that you cannot read the history of Scotland without reading his family history. The family has given generals to her armies, and in one particular case, Lord Leven in 1708, singlehanded almost, in the face of the greatest unpopularity of the Union, prevented a rising which might have cost Britain an unimaginable amount in blood; almost singlehanded he prevented that rising. Yet his descendant has less interest in the government of his country than anybody who has come from a distant country, satisfied the conditions here and obtained papers of naturalisation, and who can, even in spite of all that, still work in the service not of us but of the land of his origin. This is an injustice which is bitterly felt, although it does not often find voice. I admit frankly that it concerns only a few people.
653 Some time ago I read in the Law Reports of The Times an account of a tax case from which it was quite clear that the law effected great injustice on a certain individual. As I knew of other cases in regard to which this provision was also working unjustly and inequitably, I wrote to a leading London newspaper drawing attention to the fact. The newspaper replied to me that they did not want to publish my letter because, although the injustice was grievous, it affected only a few people. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will not take that line.
I have compared these Scottish Peers to the Untouchables of India. I was told that that was a far-fetched comparison. If I am rightly informed, the Untouchables of India have certain advantages. Many of them have considerable fortunes, and I believe that Rajahs have been found among them. But there is a difference, and the comparison does not hold, for this reason: that, as your Lordships know, the Government of India is doing everything in its power to remove the disadvantages of the Untouchables in India. They are prevented by the dumb resistance of the Indian population. In this country, the situation is reversed. Nobody in this country wants to see continued this injustice to the Scottish Peers, but they are confronted by the dumb, or possibly not so dumb, resistance of Her Majesty's Government. I admit that there the comparison fails.
My Lords, this injustice could be remedied quite simply. One way, of course, would require no legislation at all—you might give to all the Peers of Scotland who have not got them United Kingdom peerages, and that would settle it. That is not the remedy that I would propose, but at least it would be just. I propose that the recommendation of the Committee of 1874 be carried out. to this extent: that if legislation was required in regard to any alteration of your Lordships' House, a short clause be inserted to the effect that those Scottish Peers who are not elected Representative Peers shall have the right to vote in Parliamentary elections and to stand for Parliament, in the same way as Irish Peers do. There might be added a proviso to the effect that it should be a condition that they should 654 not have voted in a Scottish Peer's election since the passing of the Act, or. at any rate, something of that kind. That, I admit, would traverse the Articles of Union, but it is the only thing that would. I do not mind telling your Lordships that the Articles of Union have been traversed again and again when the Administration so wanted, and nothing has been said. It is only when we propose something here that the Articles of Union are used as a trump card.
THE EARL OF HADDINGTON
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord one question? From what he says, I do not quite understand what there is to prevent this noble Lord that he has mentioned, Lord Leven, or any other Scottish noble Lord who wishes to sit in this House, from standing at an election of Scottish Representative Peers.
The noble Earl knows as well as I do that there are only sixteen places, and unless you happen to be one of the elected sixteen you are thereby out. The noble Lord, Lord Leven, might stand, but my noble friend, Lord Haddington, knows very well exactly how much chance he would have of being elected while the present sixteen are sitting. What I want to know is. what are the Government going to say to this proposition? I do not think it is something that anybody in any Party on either side of this House wants to oppose. Are they going to say "Another time"? Are they going to say that it is not expedient at this moment? I do not say that they should adopt either of the remedies I have proposed—let them find another remedy if they like—but it seems to me that if they fail to apply some remedy to this injustice which I have brought before them in the constitutional way, in your Lordships' House, when they have an opportunity, then they will have forfeited a part of their title to be called a British Government, because they will have been untrue to the character of the British people.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
My Lords, before he sits down, may I ask the noble Lord whether he would table a definite proposal, because I believe that many people sympathise with his view? Could he put something quite definite on the Order Paper, which would give Members of the 655 House an opportunity of expressing their opinion?
§ 7.7 p.m.
My Lords, I want to make a brief contribution which, although it may not be particularly useful. I feel may be of some interest. In his speech, the noble Lord who moved this Motion to-day referred to the case of Lord Wensleydale, which is the case which first raised the question of the creation of life peerages. Lord Wensleydale was my great-great-grandfather. Recently I have been going through some of his letters at home. There is a tradition in the family that he was about to take his seat before the Committee for Privileges met, but that he suffered an attack of gout and was prevented from so doing; and that by the time he recovered the Committee for Privileges were in action.
That, as I say, is the family tradition, and there are one or two references to this matter in some of the letters. There is correspondence between him. Lord Lyndhurst. Lord Campbell. Lord Brougham and Lord Cranworth, who was at that time Lord Chancellor. I will not attempt to read the letters but will refer to one or two sentences. The first one is from Lord Lyndhurst to Lord Wensleydale, when he says:I shall have great pleasure in introducing you to the House when you take your seat.The reply is to this effect:You are rightly informed as to my opinion respecting Peerage for Life.and the later correspondence says that he was agreeable to it. There is a letter from Lord Brougham offering to help him in regard to his taking his seat, but he raises a doubt in regard to the legality of life peerages entitling him to a Writ of Parliament. Then there is a letter from the Lord Chancellor of the time. Lord Cranworth, to Lord Wensleydale:Glad to hear you are better.— of gout, I assume—All the lawyers in the House are raising a most untenable objection to the validity of the Patent.Then follows a long argument on legal points. There is another letter to this effect: 656There is a Motion to refer the copy of the Patent to the Committee for Privileges.Then follows a letter from Lord Wensley-dale to Lord Brougham, saying:Proud to march into the House of Lords under the auspices of two such men as yourself and Lyndhurst, as soon as I am permitted to and have the power to walk in, at present wanting. as I am only getting better not very rapidly of a horrible fit of the gout.That is not evidence of the point at all in fact, it does not say that he was prevented. But it is interesting to speculate on the fact that it may well be that. if he had not had that misfortune, we should not have spent so much time in discussing whether or not Life Peers ought to have been created, because the Committee for Privileges might have been by-passed and a precedent created.
Then Lord Wensleydale makes an interesting argument on the general principle for and against life peerages. In one of his letters he says that his argument against the creation of life peerages is that there is a danger of corrupt Ministers swamping the House with Life Peers. On the other hand, he says—-and I think this is an amusing comment in favour of the creation of life peerages—How many people there are who deserve the reward for services but cannot have it because they have children who might become a discredit to the Peerage.Nowadays, I am sorry to say, it is the children who find a peerage, perhaps not a discredit but certainly an inconvenience to themselves. However that may be, the proposal of Her Majesty's Government to create Life Peers has I think received universal support in this House, and the fact that it was so narrowly defeated years ago shows that it cannot be so difficult a thing to bring about by legislation, after all.
On the other point, the difficulty of non-attending hereditary Members, I am one of those Back-Benchers who feel a good deal of anxiety, not about the principle of preventing from coming people who do not want to come, or about removing their names from membership, but rather about how that can be done without interfering with what is useful and practical in hereditary membership—contributions from those who live a long way away, who want to come when they can but who, because they are very busy, cannot come often. I believe that 657 if we have an hereditary system at all we must take care of those, along with those who can attend regularly, and the younger Members, who have been referred to. I now make one practical point. For those of us who live some way away, it is obviously extremely difficult. when the business is announced only four or five days before it is due to come on, and when changes are made perhaps almost a day or so before, particularly if, having arranged to attend debates and engaged accommodation, we have to change those arrangements at a day's notice. It is very discouraging and extremely difficult for many Members when that happens, and I hope that this Government, or whatever Government it may be, will bear that in mind and will do what they can in a practical way to help the attendance of Members in this House.
THE EARL OF HOME
My Lords, I do not know what will be the convenience of the House. It was suggested that we should adjourn from 7.15 until 8.30. Is it the wish of the House that we should adjourn for dinner now and resume later?
§ 7.14 p.m.
My Lords, the reason I intervene now, or at all, is because I hold an opinion which seems to be unique in your Lordships' House, although it is considerably more widely held outside. I am a Unicameralist, and I have never been able, as an enthusiastic and, indeed, passionate believer in Parliamentary democracy, to understand how anyone with those beliefs can possibly support the existence of a Second Chamber. In a Federal Constitution a Second Chamber has, of course, a special function, but in a monolithic Parliament such as our own (though it has two stones in the monolith, if one regards the Houses as being separate) and in a monolithic nation I can see no reason for a Second Chamber. We have heard advanced repeatedly to-day two arguments in favour of a Second Chamber: one, that it can act as a brake on the First Chamber. Various phrases have been used to describe this particular function, 658 but what is really meant is to prevent the elected Chamber from doing the job which the electorate has sent it to Westminster to do.
The other claim is that the Second Chamber serves as an advisory and Revising Chamber. I do not disagree with any speaker who has pointed out the remarkably useful work which your Lordships' House has done in the amendment of Bills, but I am equally convinced that if your Lordships' House did not exist the Government in another place—which would then be the only place—would be compelled either to see that its Bills were more carefully drawn and dealt with in that other place, or the procedure of that other place would have to be so reformed as to be able to supply the services which your Lordships do at the present time. The other tradition is that this House is an advisory Chamber. I should be the last of your Lordships to decry the enormous fund of wisdom and experience for which your Lordships' House can constantly rely among its various Members. It is a great honour and a great interest to come to your Lordships' House, and to hear people of great standing dealing with subjects on which they are experts. But, pleasant, instructive and beneficial as that is for me, it does not really advance the government of this country very much, because any Government of this country can have the benefit of that advice whenever it wants it—and much more.
Although we were reminded by my noble Leader that the Labour Party did pass a resolution calling for the abolition of your Lordships' House, I think that its abolition, immediately or in the near future, is not likely; and therefore we must all desire that this House should function as effectively and usefully as possible. To that end I welcome the proposals which Her Majesty's Government have made to-day. It is obvious in this day and age that it is an impossibility and an anachronism that any legislative Chamber should consist of one sex only. Moreover, speakers from both sides of the House have stressed to-day, and on other occasions, the difficulty of getting into your Lordships' House a number of persons who should be Members thereof because they are unwilling to take an hereditary Peerage either on their own account or on account of their children. The creation of Life Peers will meet this 659 difficulty, and I would go farther and make to Her Majesty's Government the suggestion that they should not limit themselves to Life Peers. There must be a considerable number of people who still would not accept a Life Peerage because that would tie them for life to your Lordships' House. I suggest that Her Majesty's Government might well consider the creation of Peers the lifetime of whose peerage would be only that of a single Parliament.
May I make one final suggestion to your Lordships? The noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, was talking of injustice to Scottish Peers, but a really serious injustice is done to all inheritors of peerages who are forced, against their will, to give up a career, maybe a most promising career, in another place, in order to come to your Lordships' House. We have heard references to young people who come to your Lordships' House and to the value set upon their presence here, but it is undoubtedly a grievous harm done to young men to have their careers cut off on account of a most unforeseen and unfortunate accident of birth and death. I would suggest to Her Majesty's Government that that is another matter which at this time, and without serious Party controversy, they might well reconsider. My Lords, I wish you be abolished, but if you cannot be abolished I should like to see your Lordships as effective as possible.
§ [The Sitting was suspended at twenty minutes past seven o'clock and resumed at half-past eight.]
§ 8.30 p.m.
My Lords, judging by the numbers in your Lordships' House at the moment, possibly one item of reform which might be considered would be the lengthening of the dinner hour. I should like to say how much I welcome the proposals expounded by our noble Leader. I welcome them particularly because I believe they are acceptable to the great majority of noble Lords in this House. and I believe that they will help to strengthen that able but small team of noble Lords on the Benches opposite. I should like to endorse the tribute paid to them by the noble Earl. Lord De La Warr, for certainly very few have been carrying a 660 very big burden. Some noble Lords may say that these proposals do not go far enough, but I believe that they go as far as we ought to go with reform at this stage. Various schemes have been mentioned—election, selection, and so forth—for limiting the number of hereditary Peers. I have been closely connected with these various proposals in the last few months, and I do not think that any scheme of which I have heard will safeguard the interests of the young Peers. Nor do I believe that it will be possible to include those known as the specialist Peers, who come here from time to time to give us most valuable speeches on specialised subjects, such as medical matters and the Armed Services.
In opening this debate the noble Lord. Lord Teynham, had the temerity to suggest that there might be something in breeding, and he likened the hereditary Peers to well-bred racehorses. For that temerity he was heartily taken to task by the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough. It may have escaped your Lordships' notice that at the time when Lord Teynham was speaking a horse called Heritiere was the first United Kingdom-bred horse to pass the post in the Cambridgeshire. It did not win, for it was beaten by an Irish horse—but that surely is irrelevant, having regard to the present set-up of your Lordships' House. Joking apart, I really believe that there is something in this hereditary principle.
This brings me to my next point. Although accepting the general principle put forward by our Leader, there are a few points, quite minor ones, with which I do not agree. Heritiere is a filly and I think that that possibly is a pointer to the fact that it would be very wrong to exclude Peeresses in their own right from this House. If we are proposing to appoint women as Life Peers it would be quite illogical to exclude the small number of hereditary Peeresses.
In the proposals put forward there is to be no limit to the total number of Life Peers or any limit to the number which may be created at any one time. Perhaps it is difficult to defend an overall limit to the number of Life Peers where there is no limit in the case of hereditary Peers, but I feel that it would be a mistake for too many Life Peers to be created at any one time. I think that we want them to arrive in comparatively 661 small numbers—I do not suggest what the correct number should be—so that they may be absorbed gradually into your Lordships' House and not alter its character too drastically. If we are going to get the right people, I think that it would in any case be almost impossible to find large numbers right away. But these are minor points.
When the House was under the leadership of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, I know that proposals were in hand which were much more drastic and I should have been prepared to support them if they had been put forward. I cannot deny that when I heard the revised proposals put forward by the noble Earl, Lord Home to-day, I had a feeling of relief that the more far-reaching proposals were not upon us just now, because I think that they would not have been by any means generally acceptable, while the noble Earl's proposals will have the widest possible support in your Lordships' House and I believe outside it as well. I will not detain your Lordships any longer, except to repeat that I welcome these proposals.
§ 8.33 p.m.
My Lords, we have listened to some remarkable speeches in this debate, and I may recall the two previous debates of considerable interest bearing on the same subject which were initiated by the late Lord Cecil of Chelwood in 1946 and by the late Lord Simon in 1953. In these two debates and at other times I have spoken strongly in favour of creating a limited number of Life Peers, perhaps analogous in number to the Lords of the Court of Session we have created at different times in Scotland.
As an engineer and one concerned with scientific development, I see the need more apparent each day for the practice of science and technology in the process and machinery of government. It is a very important matter. Your Lordships' House offers a unique opportunity for these scientific and technological possibilities to become more widely known, and at the hands of experts in both fields, who quite often are world leaders. If we are to regain and maintain our once preeminent position as designers and manufacturers of quality products second to none, then we must become better versed and trained in these technical matters.
662 The suggestion of the noble Earl the Leader of the House is urgently to be recommended and has my warm support. In the debate initiated by the late Lord Simon in February, 1953, to which I have referred and in which I was privileged to participate, the noble Viscount. Lord Hailsham, said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 180, col. 181]:… the House of Lords as a practical institution works extremely well, although it may be open to every kind of theoretical objection;A little later, the noble Viscount, discussing reform and remarking on possible action, said:One is to leave it alone.And later the noble Viscount said:There are many people who in practice are working to that end, but nobody has ventured to say so in public.The noble Viscount's views as then expressed were, and are, mine, and will, I hope, be voiced in similar vein tomorrow. May I, my Lords, say in conclusion that I, as one of the Scots representatives privileged to sit in your Lordships' House, hope that Her Majesty's Government will not interfere with the Treaty of Union as suggested by my noble friend. Lord Saltoun.
§ 8.41 p.m.
My Lords, I rise to speak in this debate as one of the younger Members of your Lordships' House, and one also who is here purely as the result of the hereditary system. It appears that not many of the younger Members are likely to take part in this debate, and it is for that reason that I have felt sufficiently intrepid to make some observations. I have little experience of the House, and I have only taken a very small part in its work during the seven years in which I have been privileged to be a Member. I will say straight away that I am in favour of reform—in fact, I believe that it is long overdue. And, listening with care to many of the speeches that have been made on previous occasions and in this debate, I believe that if the House is to continue to work satisfactorily certain steps, such as those now proposed by the Government, must be taken. Indeed, it would seem essential that some measure of reform should be introduced if the House is not to lose its influence in the course of time.
663 The detailed reasons for reform and the objects which it is generally hoped to achieve are well known. They have been stated clearly in the course of the debate this afternoon, and also on previous occasions when this subject has been under discussion in your Lordships' House. It appears to me that it is now largely a question of how to achieve these objects and how far it is desirable to go at the present time. In my opinion, the Government's proposals, as explained to us by the Leader of the House this afternoon, do not go nearly far enough. Because I myself believe that the present proposals do not go far enough. I feel I cannot bind myself to support them, in spite of the lead given by the noble Marquess. Lord Salisbury, earlier this afternoon, and the many speeches made by other noble Lords in the course of the debate.
The noble Marquess said he thought it was better to have something than nothing, to get some measure of reform, even if it does not go so far as some of us would wish. At this point of time I believe that it could be worse to accept a formula which, in the noble Leader's words, "by-passes" some of the major issues which have so long been discussed. The noble Leader throughout his speech made reference to the importance of public opinion. and in this respect I think he is right. The public and the Press will no doubt take considerable interest if the House of Lords is at long last to be reformed, and the electorate will no doubt bring their pressure to bear through their direct interest, through the medium of the other place. How then will it be possible, in these circumstances, completely to by-pass the question of the hereditary principle as the Government now propose?
The government in this country, in the final analysis, is carried on by the consent of the public at large. If the majority of people objected to the form of government or to the way in which Parliament exercised its powers, it would not be long before people would force a change. If this is true, it may be assumed that the House of Lords in its present form carries on with general consent its business and its functions as part of our Parliamentary system. I believe this to be a dangerous assumption for your Lordships or the 664 Government to make at this point of time. On the contrary, I believe that the House of Lords has continued to function in recent times largely because it is to a great extent ignored by the public. People outside your Lordships' House have very little idea about the actual part the House plays in the day-to-day affairs of the country and in enacting legislation. Our debates are scarcely reported in the daily, Press, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, pointed out in his speech earlier, except possibly on the rare occasions when we debate a matter of particular popular importance, such as capital punishment or television.
I must ask your Lordships' indulgence if you feel that I am embarking on a somewhat critical line, but I think it would be dangerous at this moment to assume that the value of the work done here, and the importance of the functions carried out by your Lordships' House, which have been expounded in detail by a number of noble Lords this afternoon, are either fully understood or appreciated by the public at large. In fact, if it is not inviting any retribution, I should say that, in a way, a slightly unfortunate theme has run through the debate this afternoon—a theme almost of self-satisfaction amongst your Lordships at the way in which the House operates and carries out its functions at the moment. I am sure that, as many noble Lords have pointed out, there are excellent reasons for this, and I make the point only because I believe that the proposals which are now put forward by the Government are going to attract a considerable interest outside this House, in public circles and in the Press.
I do not believe that the public are so satisfied with the part played by, and the constitution of, the House as maybe we are ourselves. I think that fact has escaped notice in recent years mainly because the issue has not been pressed. Now, if the Government are to come forward with actual proposals for reform, these issues will come much more in the public eye. I say this only because I firmly believe that it is important to get a sympathetic reception from the public at large. in the other place and in the Press; and I believe that to bring forward proposals which leave the hereditary system completely unmodified will invite great difficulty in getting those proposals sympathetically accepted throughout the country. It is for this reason that I am 665 seriously concerned that the Government did not feel it possible to go one stage further, as I think many noble Lords, including the noble Marquess who spoke earlier and the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, would wish. So if anything I have said is interpreted as being critical, it is only because I am convinced that it is important to get the general sympathy and support of the country in whatever proposals are now written into a Bill.
If the House of Lords is open to criticism, it is surely mainly on this one issue of the hereditary principle. Whatever the pros and cons of the hereditary system may be, I firmly believe that in this day and age it is entirely unacceptable to the British public as a means of selecting legislators. I believe that the Government's proposals, so far as they go, are entirely excellent and. as I have said. I only wish that they had been able to take the whole question one stage further. But I am firmly convinced that it is necessary to restrict the right of attendance of hereditary Peers and that, as the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, told us earlier this afternoon (although I am among those who regret that lie was not able to divulge the plan which he has in mind), it is not beyond the bounds of ingenuity and possibility to find the means of selecting or electing, or in some way limiting, the automatic right of hereditary Peers to attend the House and vote. I should like to add that, in the event of hereditary Peers being excluded, I feel most strongly that they should be eligible to stand for election the other place.
I should like to sum up simply by saying that. I feel most strongly that at this stage, after there has been so much delay and deliberation over the question of reform of your Lordships' House, the plan put forward must be imaginative. It must fulfil the hopes which people have been led to expect, that something really constructive, and more acceptable to the country as a whole, will now be brought to fruition. This is not a time for half-measures or milk-and-water proposals. Much may be said in favour of reform by easy stages, but we have already waited a long time, and your Lordships are no doubt only too conscious of the increased tempo of life and the activity of the nation as a whole, particularly in these last ten years. And I feel it is essential that we should now revise this part of our 666 Parliamentary institutions to keep pace with the times.
§ 8.53 p.m.
§ LORD MILNE
My Lords, I intend to be brief in my observations. I welcome the Government's proposals as a step towards a rationalised House, which I think is desirable. Personally, I had hoped for something more. However well this House appears to work, I cannot feel that the hereditary principle is at all acceptable to-day in government. This applies even in a House which, I imagine, will in future be composed increasingly of Life Peers. Therefore, I had hoped to hear of some positive action with regard to the hereditary peerage.
I also believe that the question of payment, however distasteful, must be faced. I see no reason why Life Peers and Peeresses and, in some cases, Peers of the first creation, should not be paid for their Parliamentary duties. Finally, if positive action is to be taken with regard to the hereditary Peers, then those disenfranchised should, I think, have the vote like any other citizen, and, in certain circumstances, be permitted to sit in another place.
THE EARL OF HOME
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I would say that both he and the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, have made the same point. They say that the hereditary principle is not acceptable, but as I understand them, they go on to say that they are prepared to accept a limited number of hereditary Peers. Have I understood that aright?
§ LORD MILNE
In reply to that, I would say that on the whole I would look further. If the hereditary Peerage were curtailed meantime, I would accept it, but I should prefer to go further.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ LORD MATHERS
My Lords, I had not intended to speak to-day, but it was indicated to me that perhaps it would be easier to make a place for me to-night, in order that I might make some observations in the debate, rather than to-morrow, when things may be crowded and time may be even more limited than it is now. I speak as a very young Member of this House, although not young in years. In speaking of this House I speak of a place for which I have a great respect and regard. I consider it an honour to have 667 the privilege of serving in this House and I try to be worthy of the choice that caused me to come here. Some of my friends outside are inclined to look upon this House as inevitably a place which is a hive of snobs. I have to say most definitely that I have not come across one yet, and although I am a young Member, as I say, I have certainly been here a few years. If I do not find even one snob in six or seven years, I think the suggestion that I have heard expressed outside clearly proves entirely wrong.
I am speaking to-night entirely for myself and committing no one but myself to what I have to say. This is the attitude that prevails in my mind in thinking of Life Peerages. I find it difficult, indeed impossible, to put up a cogent argument for heredity as an entitlement to one's being a legislator, or for handing over the affairs of the country to a purely hereditary body. The general opinion in the House to-day, I think, is that the idea of Life Peerages is very widely, if not unanimously, accepted. Of course, such an idea affects only the individual recipient of the Peerage and does not debit his family, those who are to follow him, with any responsibility of maintaining the position of a Peer. I frankly confess that if I had had an heir I should not be here, for I should not have cared to debit someone following me with the responsibility of living up to an hereditary title. I cannot see that there will be any great rush when the time comes for seeking Life Peers, or for seeking further hereditary Peers as a matter of fact. I cannot see a great rush of people aspiring to come to this Chamber.
In his opening speech the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, raised the question of the limitation of numbers entitled to sit in this House. Of course, it is a fact that if all the Peers who are entitled to sit in this House were to come they would certainly not be able to sit here; there would not be anything like room for them. It is true that that statement applies to another place also, because if every Member turned up at another place at one time there would be standing room only there as well.
The noble Lord, Lord Teynham, when leading in the debate, made the suggestion that Peers should ask for leave of absence and thereby voluntarily relinquish 668 their responsibility—indeed, their duty—to come to the House and take part in its business. That might have some effect. But why not use the method used by the Scottish Peers in their system of election? I heard, and I agree with, the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun. He spoke about the anachronism of only sixteen of the Scottish Peers being allowed to sit in this House, and their having to go through a form of election in order to decide which sixteen should sit in a particular Parliament. As noble Lords know, the election takes place at the beginning of each Parliament, when holders of peerages of Scotland dating from before 1707 elect the sixteen who are to serve here.
I support the plea made by Lord Saltoun that all Scottish Peers should be given United Kingdom peerage status, but I cite the method of their election as one which could be used to reduce the total number of Peers entitled to sit in this House. It seems to me that as an initial step we could give the present hereditary Peers in this Chamber the opportunity of voting for the Peers they wish to retain. Their preference would be shown by the number of votes cast for the Peers who wished to remain Members. Those at the top of the list, those getting the greatest number of votes, would be taken into this House and given the right to sit here. The others would be for the time being disqualified from sitting here.
Of course, I agree that that would require legislation. My point about reducing the number is that the number chosen to continue as Members in this House could be limited to the number of Members elected to another place. In that way methods which will suggest themselves to noble Lords could be adopted by which to retain the Party strength—the Party strength elected to another place could be the basis for the Peers asked to sit and act in this Chamber. That is a method regularly adopted in another place at the present time in the setting up of Committees. For a number of years, I was Chairman of the Committee of Selection in another place, and we were able to give complete satisfaction—there was very little trouble about it—by choosing Committees in accordance with the Party strengths in another place, and making each Committee a microcosm of the strength of the Parties there. I think that by working on methods of that kind it 669 would be possible to arrive at a means of giving each Parliament, as decided upon by the electorate, an opportunity of having a properly balanced House here—as I say, balancing it with the membership of another place.
I have not studied the method of appointing Life Peers, or of deciding how they should be chosen, but I would hope that some democratic method would be used in bringing those Life Peerages into operation and that it would not be left simply to the whim of individuals as to who should be asked to come and join those already in this House in order to carry on the work that it is destined to do. I believe we are only at the beginning of something that might have very great consequences for the Constitution of this country, and that working along the lines of which I have given only a glimpse there is an opportunity of finding how it could be done. I hope I have given a suggestion of a kind which might be explored in order to get this working when we make the changes which it seems inevitably will be made in this House in the near future.
§ 9.7 p.m.
§ LORD LATHAM
My Lords, like other speakers from these Benches I should make it clear that I am about to express only my own personal point of view. Before addressing myself to the merits, or should I say the demerits, of the proposals of Her Majesty's Government, however, may I make one or two comments which may be thought to be somewhat discordant but which nevertheless I feel bound to make? I feel that this is a most inopportune time to introduce what are, in my submission, no more than trivial proposals for amending in the minimum degree the composition of this House.
Here we have the country faced with great problems and serious difficulties—"dangers impending" to quote the words of the Writ of Summons. We are in the midst of an economic and financial crisis which may well get worse, due, in my view, to the mismanagement of Her Majesty's Government. It will also depend very largely on any further deterioration in the economic situation in the United States. Informed opinion there is fearful that the United States is on the fringe of a recession. Even though that recession be shallow, it can 670 have very serious economic consequences for this country. It has been said that they need only to sneeze in the United States and we have double pneumonia in this country. Internationally the position is lamentable. We have the imbroglio in the Middle East, mainly as a result of the madcap adventure at Suez, and we have largely been pushed out of influence in the Middle East, while Russia has moved in.
The power and influence of this country is at a disturbingly low level at the present time, yet in the midst of all those dangers and difficulties these proposals are introduced to distract the attention of the people of this country from the situation both nationally and internationally. I feel the more entitled to make this point because the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, made a similar point, with a great show of indignant virtue, in February, 1948, when the Parliament Bill was introduced. If the situation then was serious, it is very much more serious to-day. If that criticism was sound in February, 1948, it is doubly sound now.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
May I interrupt the noble Lord for one moment? Is there not one new element? Members of the noble Lord's own Party have continuously made mention of the fact that they have the greatest difficulty in keeping their side of the work of the House going in existing circumstances. One of the reasons (I think it was inherent in the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Mathers, just now) is that it is impossible—and I quite understand this—for a great number of members of the noble Lord's Party to take hereditary peerages. Surely this reform—I agree that it does not go far enough—should be of at least as great benefit to the noble Lord's Party as to noble Lords on this side. If the House is working badly because the present system does not allow of its being properly recruited, is not that something of immediate importance to the country?
§ LORD LATHAM
My view is that the proposals will not materially help in the difficulties referred to by the noble Marquess. These proposals, in my submission, are both inadequate and incomplete. They are piecemeal, and they deal with only one aspect of the problem. The problem of reform of this House must be dealt with both from the point of 671 view of powers and from the point of view of composition. These proposals deal in a minimum way with one aspect only, and that is composition. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, has, as I thought, damned these proposals this afternoon with faint praise. A little grudgingly he said that they were better than nothing, but he was, as I gathered, of opinion that the problem should be comprehensively tackled and that powers and composition should be dealt with—as indeed I think they must be.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I never mentioned powers. My opinion with regard to powers is well known. It is that there should be no increase of the powers of the House of Lords at the present time.
§ LORD LATHAM
That does not preclude this House, and the other place as well, from considering powers in any comprehensive scheme for reform of this House—indeed I think it would be essential that powers should be considered. Powers are a very important aspect of the constitutional set-up of this country. The Leader of the House indulged in what I thought was something in the nature of a panegyric as to the virtues of this House past and present. He was mildly, gently, corrected by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel.
§ THE EARL OF SWINTON
Might I just ask the noble Lord one thing? I am sure he will not mind my putting this to him as he is giving us such a good lecture. The noble Lord asserts that it is quite wrong of the Government to introduce a piecemeal piece of legislation in which they deal with composition but not with powers, and that any legislation which any decent Government would introduce would deal with both. Might I ask him why it was that his Government introduced legislation dealing entirely with powers and leaving composition unchanged?
§ LORD LATHAM
The answer to that is that there was no alternative if the Government of this country was to govern at that time—and nobody knows it better than the noble Earl. The noble Earl the Leader of the House said that one of the virtues of this House is that it has a kind of cooling effect. The strange thing is 672 that this cooling mechanism seems to work only when there is a non-Conservative Government in office.
My Lords, the noble Lord says that the Act was introduced because the Government of this country must govern. Is it not the case that there was no question of the Government not being able to govern; it was merely what in other departments the noble Lord's own Party condemn; it merely prevented war?
§ LORD LATHAM
My Lords, I am sorry but I do not understand the point the noble Lord is seeking to make.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (VISCOUNT HAILSHAM)
My Lords, I think that my noble friend was seeking to make this point. At the time the Parliament Act was introduced, in 1948, nobody in the Labour Party, in either House, was able to suggest that the then Government had received the smallest provocation of any kind from this House. That I well remember.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords. I think that what we want to know is what the necessity was. The noble Lord keeps on saying that it was necessary, if the Government of the day were to govern, that we should submit to this apparently unprovoked Act. And he endeavours in this way to get out of the hole into which he has been put by the noble Earl, Lord Swinton. The noble Earl asked him bluntly, if powers and composition have to be dealt with together according to his theory, how he can consistently maintain this necessity in face of the record of his own Party. And that he has not explained.
§ LORD LATHAM
The Government had come to the conclusion at that time that they wished to pass a certain type of legislation, and in order so to do they found it necessary to introduce the Parliament Act. The Government had to govern, notwithstanding this House. The plain fact is that the structure of this House no longer fits into the modern circumstances, following the social, economic and political revolution to which the noble Earl the Leader of the House referred in 673 his speech this afternoon; and if the structure of the House is dealt with, then composition and powers must be dealt with together. They cannot possibly be separated. Indeed, that is what the previous Conservative Government said in this House. In February, 1953, the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, then acting as Leader of the House, opposed the Bill introduced by the late Lord Simon to provide for the creation of Life Peers. Lord Swinton put down an Amendment on Second Reading, which Amendment was carried ultimately and the Second Reading was refused by this House.
§ THE EARL OF SWINTON
My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me to intervene, as he referred to me, my recollection is this—and my noble friend Lord Salisbury and I were together in this. We thought that the whole thing ought to be dealt with comprehensively, and because there was a prospect of an all-Party Conference we thought that it would be wise for the House to hold its hand. Speaking from memory, I do not think the Second Reading was refused. I think I am right. The debate, as I remember it, was adjourned so that the House might return to this matter, if it so desired, in the light of the knowledge of whether we could get inter-Party agreement on both composition and powers. I think I am right.
§ LORD LATHAM
It was a reasoned Amendment, the effect of which was that the Bill was not read a second time in this House. If reference be made to Volume 180, column 158, my statement. I think, will be found to be correct. But perhaps we should not hurry this matter too much. This is what the noble Earl said:It is a Bill which deals with only one aspect of this matter, and in a particular way.He went on to say of life peerages:… it is quite wrong to consider them in isolation.In the same debate, the late Lord Jowitt said (col. 141) thatpowers … cannot be separated from composition. You must look at the whole position.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I must say to the noble Lord that if leaders of the Labour Party said that in 1953 they were being extremely dishonest, because they were taking exactly the opposite view some years before.
§ LORD LATHAM
And Lord Jowitt was reiterating what Lord Parmoor had said in 1929 and Lord Snell in 1935 and 1937. Moreover, the agreed statement which was issued by the Conference of Representatives of the Parties in this matter in April, 1948, said this, in paragraph 4:These two subjects"—that is powers and composition—though capable of separate consideration were to be regarded as inter-dependent.I submit, therefore, that there is abundant foundation for the proposition that, in any review of this House, powers and composition must be dealt with together.
In the course of his speech, the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, who introduced the Motion this afternoon, said that he thought that in the debate of 1953 there was a general approval of the creation of Life Peers. I must say that, having read that debate, I did not form that opinion. The noble Lord himself said in that discussion [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 180, col. 174]:I agree also with the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, that if we accepted this Bill to-day it might prejudice any reform which might be proposed in a Conference between the two political Parties"—that was the conference being organised at the time. But I make this point: that if the creation of Life Peers then would have fettered or obstructed or embarrassed the consideration of the whole problem of a Conference of political Parties, the same applies to-day.
§ THE EARL OF SWINTON
But does the noble Lord not know that his Party were asked to enter into such a Conference and refused?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT KILMUIR)
It is as well to get the proper facts when we are discussing the matter. The Second Reading of the Bill was moved by my noble and learned friend, the late Lord Simon. The reasoned Amendment was moved by the noble Earl, Lord Jowitt. Lord Swinton agreed to his speech, moved no Amendment whatsoever, and then, on the third day, my noble friend Lord Fortescue, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Salisbury, moved that the debate be adjourned generally so that the Conference, to which an invitation had been sent, announced by the 675 noble Lord, Lord Swinton, in his speech, could take place. The Labour Party refused to take part in the Conference. These are the facts.
§ LORD LATHAM
The circumstances are that at that point of time the Government opposed the Bill for the creation of Life Peers on the grounds that powers and composition must be dealt with together.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, would not the noble Lord face this fact? He has just given the House an account of the facts of the debate which my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor has shown to be misleading from beginning to end. May I not call upon him, in courtesy to the House, to apologise to the House for having misled it?
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, the noble Lord cannot get away with it to that extent. The noble Lord said that an Amendment was moved which was never moved, that an Amendment was passed which was never passed, and that the Second Reading was refused which was never refused, and complained that the two subjects of powers and composition were inextricably intertwined, that they could not be separate. Every one of those first three propositions has been disproved by what my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor has read to the House. There is no question of being technically wrong. The House has been inaccurately informed by the noble Lord on three specific points of fact. Can I not now invite him to express his regret for having so misinformed the House?
VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLS-BOROUGH
I will intervene here and say that it is about time that the noble and learned Viscount understood that we are not to be bullied and we are not going to be bullied. The noble and learned Viscount has a perfect right to-morrow to reply to the debate. In the meantime, any member of my Party has the right to make submissions to 676 this House, as he sees fit, and leave the Government to reply at their leisure.
§ LORD LATHAM
My Lords, I am bound to say that I regard these continuous interventions by the noble and learned Viscount as rather an expression of pain on his behalf. The facts are, in my submission. that the creation of Life Peers will do nothing at all to remove the corroding defect of the permanent predominance of one point of view in your Lordships' House. The basic undemocratic structure of to-day will remain indeed, it might well be strengthened by giving to it a verisimilitude of democratic respectability and a false constitutional authority. As I understood the noble Earl the Leader of the House this afternoon, he said that this proposal for the creation of Life Peers would reinforce the status of the House. In short, this proposal would be a thin veneer covering up for the uninformed the unrepresentative character of your Lordships' House.
THE EARL OF HOME
Did the noble Lord say that I said I thought there would be a thin veneer? If so, he must not attribute such words to me.
§ LORD LATHAM
The dilution by a few Life Peers could, and would in certain circumstances, no doubt, be prayed in aid as a justification for the obstruction of a non-Conservative Government, and, indeed, it might also be prayed in aid to justify the grant of further powers, including an extension of the period of delaying power. After all, the leader in The Times yesterday is a significant pointer in this respect. It is also a warning. The hereditary principle would be made to appear dignified by a limited introduction of Life Peers. If I may say so, and without any offence to the Law Lords or to anyone else, the "lifers" are to sanctify the immortals; the rabbit is to give democratic quality to the ermine. If we adopt these proposals, there is, in my submission, a danger that the consideration of a comprehensive scheme of reform of your Lordships' 677 House might well be indefinitely postponed. Few people now question the view that in the modern pattern of life in this country, and in other countries with representative institutions, this House, in its constitution, is an anachronism: it is out of joint with the times and with our pattern of government.
The Government proposals will do nothing to remedy this fundamental defect. True, they may well—and I am net questioning it—facilitate the working of the business of the House. They may resolve in some small measure the shortage of available working Members of your Lordships' House. But the cardinal defect will remain; the unrepresentative structure will remain, and may be fortified and renewed by the creation of Life Peers. For the reasons which I have indicated, how can the introduction of a relatively few Life Peers cure this defect or, indeed, materially ease its operation? It appears that the creation of Life Peers is not to be limited to the supporters of the Opposition or the independent membership in this House. If that be so, it could work out in practice that the overwhelming preponderance of on Party could in fact be increased. If this House is to be reformed, as in my view it should be, let it be done comprehensively and let both powers and composition be dealt with at the same time, for both aspects go together. They are, of course—it has been admitted on all hands,—inseparable.
§ LORD LATHAM
I am saying that you cannot consider powers in separation from composition; and it follows, it seems to me, that you cannot consider composition in separation from powers. It is no good asking me one question about one aspect of two inseparable aspects of one single problem.
§ LORD LATHAM
In my submission, the proposals will be ineffectual. They are not a contribution to the solution of the problem of bringing this House into tune with modern democratic representative conceptions. Indeed, I think, for reasons which I have sought to give, notwithstanding the interpolations, that they may well prove to be positively harmful.
§ Moved, That the debate be now adjourned.—(The Earl of Glasgow.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.