§ 2.45 p.m.
§ Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Motion moved yesterday by Lord Teynham, That there be laid before the House Papers in regard to the proposals of Her Majesty's Government for the reform of the constitution of the House of Lords.
§ THE EARL OF GLASGOW
My Lords, again I must ask for your indulgence, as I have been ordered not to speak here unless I read what I have to say. I hope your Lordships will credit me with sincerity when I say how much I dislike finding myself in opposition to Her Majesty's Government, to whom I have on many occasions given my loyal support but opposition is often a good thing, especially if it has a clarifying effect on the issues concerned. It requires strong conviction to hold to one's opinion and not to follow the line of least resistance, especially when doing so implies disloyalty to plans conceived by one's own Party.
I heard with interest the speech made yesterday by the noble Earl the Leader of the House. As I listened to his persuasive words, I thought of the effect that they would have on those who were unaware of the fatal pitfalls there are in the plans of Her Majesty's Government, every one of which I believe to be basically unsound so far as the future welfare of this House is concerned. The noble Earl and his advisers seem obsessed with two things which are interrelated: the admission of Life Peers and the longterm aim of equalisation of the Parties. In my view these changes will, if agreed to, lower the efficiency and undermine the independence of your Lordships' House. as well as abolishing its centuries-old traditions and people in this country who have looked to debates in this House under its present composition for expert knowledge and guidance will find set up in this ancient Chamber a replica of another place, but without its powers, which will inspire little confidence and probably require a Lord Chairman to keep it in order.
The noble Earl, in his speech, discarded all alternatives and has put forward reasons which in my opinion do not 684 justify the all-embracing changes that he proposes should be made. Who is it Her Majesty's Government are trying to appease? It cannot be Conservative public opinion, for time and time again that has shown its appreciation of the efficiency with which your Lordships carry on the business of this House. Nor can it be the Left-Wing Socialists, who are unappeasable and on whom no supposedly popular changes in the composition of this House will have the slightest effect. There are in existence Conservative groups the members of which are mortally afraid of being called "reactionaries." They are continually looking over their shoulders in case anything they say may appear to their friends to be non-progressive. It may be that Ministers of the Crown come into this category after listening to the persuasive, almost mesmeric arguments for reform put forward by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury.
Whatever may be the deep-seated reason for these proposed changes, I felt that the time had come—perhaps it is now too late—to make a stand against the Left-Wing Conservatives and their Liberal supporters who, at the moment, appear to dominate your Lordships' House. I therefore put down a Motion which we should now have been discussing but which had to be withdrawn because no support for it was forthcoming: I could not even get a Teller. My Motion was as follows:That in order to strengthen the Opposition, this House considers that the creation of a small number of hereditary Peers is preferable to the creation of life peerages, which would entail the abandonment of the hereditary principle which for centuries has been the foundation of membership of this House, and, further, that the equalisation of the Parties is against the interests and the future welfare of this House.If this Motion had been agreed to it would have provided an alternative to the proposals of Her Majesty's Government, and would have had the double effect of strengthening the Opposition and retaining the status quo.
A great deal has been said about the precedent of the admission of Law Lords, but under the Act passed in 1876, four Lords of Appeal in Ordinary were created Life Peers, and since then the number has been raised to nine. This did create a precedent and was a small infringement of the hereditary principle. The noble 685 Earl the Leader of the House may therefore feel himself to be on firm ground in asking your Lordships to consent to the admission into this House of a number of individuals, including women, on a non-hereditary basis, thus abandoning the hereditary principle on which for centuries membership of your Lordships' House has been based. But the two matters—the position of the Law Lords and Life Peerages—are not comparable. The creation of Lords of Appeal in Ordinary as Life Peers was an absolute necessity, because at that time no-one in your Lordships' House, except the Lord Chancellor, had any knowledge of the processes of the law. But what the noble Earl is asking your Lordships to agree to is unnecessary, as the alternative put forward in the Motion I have read would have removed the main difficulty in the running of this House.
As your Lordships know, the chief trouble which has beset this House, and a trouble which must be met, has been the diminishing Opposition and the difficulty of getting suitable persons of Left Vying views to accept hereditary peerages and so relieve the strain on noble Lords opposite. One of the reasons for this was the obvious one; that they would not be able to afford it. Now that your Lordships are paid for attendance, a solution has been found. There has been another difficulty besides that of payment, and that is that many persons of Left Wing views are averse to hereditary titles. Some certainly may be, but now that the main obstacle has been overcome it will be possible to find eight or ten persons who would be prepared to enter this House as hereditary Peers, and give their support to the noble Lords opposite; and it might even be feasible to find suitable persons who, unfortunately for themselves, are childless, and who would thus become not only hereditary but also Life Peers.
I have gone into this point very thoroughly, and in spite of the misgivings of certain noble Lords I have been assured from the most reliable resources that now that your Lordships are paid for attendance there will be no difficulty whatever in getting persons of Left Wing views to accept hereditary peerages. My sources are very good indeed, and very reliable. I recognise that the creation of such peerages for political reasons is 686 unpalatable to some of your Lordships, but I, and I believe most of your Lordships, would like to see more eminent men of Left Wing views brought into this House. Their admission here, besides being an asset, would ensure the retention of the status quo, and maintain the traditions of this House.
I had hoped that the noble Earl the Leader of the House, would have taken the line suggested in my Motion, instead of asking your Lordships to agree to the admission of individuals on a non-hereditary basis. It is a dangerous thing to tamper with the hereditary principle in a country ruled like ours, which has no written Constitution. The ruling of this country is a lonely task, and if your Lordships, of your own act, in this place cast away the hereditary principle, that task will become still more lonely.
It is evident that the proposed admission of Life Peers is related to Clause 2 of the 1948 Conference, which suggests that the revised composition of your Lordships' House should be such as to secure, so far as practicable, equality between the political Parties, and I hope your Lordships will not be misled by the comparatively mild suggestions of the Government's present schemes. The long-term aim is the same, and there should be no compromise. I noticed that the noble Earl said very little about this long-term aim. The tactics of the Government are good. They remind me of the old Chinese proverbSoftly, softly, catchee monkey".However, with regard to this equalisation of the Parties, your Lordships will remember that the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, in the debate in 1955, used the wordsWe can all accept proposition 2. … Her Majesty's Government certainly do.This is very definite, and I find it impossible, for several reasons, to follow the noble Earl the Leader of the House along those lines.
In the first place, under the House's present composition. I can, like any other Member, give my views on any subject which comes up, whether I am in agreement or not with the Government in office. Clause 2, if agreed to, would threaten one of the greatest assets of your Lordships' House, the independence of its Members in the expression of their 687 opinions. The equalisation, or even the partial parity, of the Parties would introduce into this House the turmoil and strife of Party warfare, making it as like another place as possible. Noble Lords, nominated or otherwise, would have to vote and speak as they were told. Your Lordships have an example before your eyes. Noble Lords opposite have to obey orders. There are occasions when they are gagged and hamstrung by Party discipline, and that would be the fate of noble Lords on this side if Clause 2 were agreed to. As I have said, it threatens that independence of thought and expression which has made this House the greatest debating Chamber in the world and gained for it the respect and confidence of the country.
I may be told that I am exaggerating, and that the new House will be little different from the old and will have the same opportunities for the free expression of opinions. I ask your Lordships to visualise the situation as it certainly will be. The time will come when the two Parties will be nearly equal; there will. at times, be bitter recriminations and Party strife. Noble Lords who criticise their own Party's policies will be looked upon with disfavour, and gone will be the present atmosphere which is so necessary for unbiased and clear thinking. There will be less time and fewer opportunities for independent views and for the leisurely and careful consideration of Bills and policies, something which is so well carried out by your Lordships under the House's present composition.
I hope that the Conservative majority here will continue. It does no harm to anyone, least of all to the Socialist Party. On that point, let me remind your Lordships that the number of Government Bills that came before this House during the administration of the late Socialist Government was 409, all of which, including nationalisation Bills were passed after amendment—with one exception, which concerned your Lordships' House. This House is now a revising Chamber, doing useful work, and a deadlock between the two Chambers is extremely unlikely. I may be told that an increase of from eight to ten Peers does not go far enough, but it would, I suggest, be enough to start with. It certainly would not be sufficient to equalise the Parties, but I 688 believe that only a minority of your Lordships wish to turn this House into a bear garden. A number of noble Lords who may want it that way have come to this House after serving for years in another place, and have enriched our debates by their knowledge and political experience. They come with the light of battle in their eyes, but the debates which take place here seem to them dull and dreary, and some of them may be prepared to support any change in the composition of your Lordships' House which will give them the chance of taking part in the cut and thrust of Party warfare. They are mostly first-creation Peers and men of eminence and distinction. And the fact that we have so many of these noble Lords, who, take an active part in debates and who are in frequent attendance, demolishes the argument that this House as a whole requires to be further strengthened.
Then there are some noble Lords who may look upon the nomination of Life Peers as a good compromise, and who are probably relieved that, although old traditions may be sacrificed, they themselves may still have the hereditary right to sit. Again, there are others, especially on the Liberal Benches, who think that your Lordships' House must, in the well-worn phrase, "march with the times"; but if your Lordships go too far and too fast along that road you will stultify yourselves. This House is an anachronism. and therein lies its strength. Take away its unique political independence, remove even a part of its hereditary character, and you will be doing away with an atmosphere, something which is indefinable and intangible but which has a strength of its own, because it is part of the tradition of a great nation. I am sorry if I repeat myself, but it cannot be emphasised too often that these debates which take place in your Lordships' House, under its present composition, are necessary to the country because they are free and largely independent of votes and Party, and are carried through, by men who know what they are talking about. Consequently, there is no need for a large number of new Members, however eminent, to add to the talents your Lordships already possess in good measure.
There have been other attempts to introduce Life Peers into this House. In 1853, during the debate on the Northcote-Trevelyan Report, it was mentioned that 689 it was the hereditary quality of your Lordships' House which gave weight and steadiness to its decisions, and that if the hereditary character of this House is taken away, its independence is gone. Lord Campbell followed this up by pointing out that the House of Lords had been abolished in the 17th century and a Chamber of Life Peers might do it again. If the liquidation of this House is to be our ultimate fate, I hope we shall go down with the flag flying, as we are. In past debates, the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, has mentioned the difficulty he had of getting young men to come forward and help in the running of this House, but it may well be that the payment of your Lordships for attendance, small though it is, will prove an incentive to ambitious young Peers to take up a political career rather than go into business—I know it is small, but still it is possible. Also, if the noble Marquess was hard pressed, surely it would have been possible to find eldest sons of Peers with ability and a desire to serve the country who would accept peerages.
May I remind your Lordships that in the past this House was run by the few and not by the many. In 1774, the average attendance was thirty-five, a number which is about the percentage of the then smaller peerage as 100 is to-day, and it remained much the same throughout the reign of King George III. Taking the average attendance to-day as from 90 to 100, one finds that the comparable average then was much the same. The usual attendance in those old days seems to have been from ten to twenty, so it would appear that although trade and commerce did not take up the time of young Peers as they do to-day, leisure and the demands of a society life did. Therefore, from the point of view of getting young Peers to help, the position then cannot have been very much different from what it is now, and yet they managed. I believe that this is a small difficulty which, if the will is there, can be overcome. It may be thought that I have been laying too much emphasis on tradition, but this country has been built up on tradition in its system of government, in the law, in civil life and in the Armed Forces; and it is true to say that it is the respect of our people for tradition which has helped us as a nation to present a stable front in the world of 690 chaos which has existed for so many years.
Now let me turn to the question of women. On at least three occasions—maybe two; I am not quite sure—this House has turned down the admission of women, and nothing has happened since the last time to make your Lordships change your minds. I hope that your Lordships will not weaken now. Women do excellent work throughout the country, especially in welfare, but, excepting for a few, they are not—I should have said, in my opinion—suited to politics, for the following reasons. They are often moved by their hearts more than they are by their heads, and the emotional urge which exists in a woman's make-up does not help towards good judgment. It is said that to allow women in another place and not here is not logical; but logic is not always infallible. The main point is that many of us do not want women in this House. We do not want to sit beside them on these Benches, nor do we want to meet them in the Library. This is a House of men, a House of Lords. We do not wish it to become a House of Lords and Ladies.
There is another aspect of the general situation. If the Government decide that this House is to be modernised, such action may be considered in some quarters as the setting up of a rival Chamber to another place, and would not he tolerated. Although we know that this would not be true, it may well be considered so. Therefore, if your Lordships encourage the plans of the Government, I am of the opinion that it will be the greatest mistake that has ever been made in this House in its existence.
Finally, there is one point I should like to emphasise. It is this: if this House were to be given more powers, there might be some excuse for the acceptance of at least some of these reforms, but as there is no chance of that I cannot see what possible advantage will accrue to your Lordships' House, or to the nation at large, by changing the composition of a legislative body which, as is everywhere admitted, does its work extremely well. My Lords, we continue to see changes all around us. We see things which we had always thought sacrosanct altered beyond all recognition. But there are other things which stand like rocks in this ageless State. May your Lordships' House be one of them!
§ 3.6 p.m.
§ EARL ATTLEE
My Lords, as rather a newcomer to your Lordships' House, I have a certain diffidence in addressing your Lordships on this subject, more especially after hearing so many interesting speeches yesterday and to-day, not the least interesting being that of the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow. Yesterday we had a remarkable speech from the noble Viscount. Lord Samuel. If all Members of your Lordships' House kept as young in the eighties as he does, there would be no question about the introducing of more youth into this House. I was much impressed, if I may say so, by the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, so long a colleague in another place, who I thought made a delightful contribution.
Although I was not a Member of either Legislative Chamber, and only a rank-and-file Member of a Party then, the events of 1910 are still vivid to me. When I heard of the idea that in coming up to your Lordships' House one came into a cool atmosphere, I could not help recollecting that there was nothing cool about the atmosphere of 1910. The events of 1910 were regarded as the final service of the Liberal Party to this country in the field of political emancipation, but in our Party we always had a certain apprehension that once again the Commons might be challenged by your Lordships' House. For many years I occupied a room in the other place dedicated to the Leader of the Opposition, and over the mantelpiece was the text "Fear the Lord alway." I thought that was "Fear the Lords always." We had a certain apprehension, but, generally speaking, it was a matter of letting sleeping dogs lie—not that I would use the term "dog" abusively to this House, a very fine, ancient, pedigreed animal. We always thought that it might bite again, but actually when Labour came into power in 1945 there was no trouble. I think that was very largely due to the high statesmanship of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, and I think the country will always be indebted to him for it.
It is true that there was one matter in which we had to proceed, and that was the amendment of the Parliament Act. There was some question at a late hour yesterday about why we did that. It was suggested that it was an unprovoked assault, or words to that effect. As a matter of fact, it was what one might 692 call "intelligent anticipation." On a battlefield one occupies a particular feature of the landscape because one may apprehend attack in that place, and our intelligence was proved to be right by the event. But, broadly speaking, we accepted things as they were, because we were dealing largely with economic matters and we did not think that there was a case for going out for all-out change.
On the other hand. other Parties invited us to discuss these matters, and the Conference which was held went into full consultation and arrived at certain conclusions which we were prepared to put before our Party. We had no mandate; nor had the leaders of other Parties. Whether or not they would have been accepted by the Labour Party at the time, I do not know. I gather that there were similar doubts on the other side. But there was an opportunity which. in my view, was let slip over a quarrel on some six or eight months' delaying power of your Lordships' House. A good deal of water has passed under the bridge since then, and I do not think that at the present time it would be fruitful to renew an inter-Party conflict.
So we come to the present time. Frankly, my attitude was at one time in favour of single-Chamber Government. In the old days of 1910 we always said, "Away with the Lords!" Since then, as the result of experience, I have come to believe in a Second Chamber. One must not confuse the idea of a Second Chamber exactly with a House of Lords. I have been against anything which would in any way thwart the will of the elected representatives of the people. On the other hand, I recognise that, owing to stress of business in another place, one does need a revising Chamber. Ministers would hardly ever be able to "get away with it" if they could not from time to time say, "Well, I will see whether something can be done about it in another place." That is very different from giving power to a non-elected and non-representative Assembly to act against the will of the electors.
It is true that this House is an anomaly, It is part of our history, come down to us from the time when it was even the predominant part of the Legislature. But to-day it is, I think, mainly complementary to another place. What we are considering to-day really is how far it fulfils 693 the need of the present time. I agree that, on the whole, against all probability, it works extremely well, as things do in this country. We are very wise not to be logical. The French are a very logical nation, and they have several Governments every year. It is also true that this House has very distinguished persons in it: it can draw on all kinds of experience. What I think it comes down to is the difficulty that faces us in these days of getting what I call the hard core of full-timers. The same applies to another place. There may be people who can give a certain amount of time, while mainly occupied by other things, but there must always be a hard core of people who can devote their whole time. In the old days one could find such people, because there were people of great possessions. Nowadays the problem is more difficult, and it is particularly difficult for an Opposition Party such as the Labour Party.
I have never maintained that we wanted to have a mathematical equality between Parties in this House. All I claimed was that there should be a possibility, at some time or other, of not having the House solely the preserve of one Party with an overwhelming majority. Some of my friends defend it or the grounds that, just because its composition is so anomalous, no one will ever seek to give it more power; and that if it were made more logical, it night be a case of trying to give it more power as against another place. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, has expressly disclaimed any desire to increase the power of this House. That is very sad. But the noble Marquess may not last for ever. I do not know what would happen if the noble Lord, Lord Hailsham, succeeded. We have seen what he can do with a bell, and what he can do with a House of Lords I do not quite know. But assuming that there is no desire there to increase the power of the House, there is still a need to get a workable team on both sides.
Frankly, my Lords, I do not think that the present proposals really get over the difficulty. It is all very well for the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, to say that three guineas a day, three times a week, will tempt the rising generation front trade and industry. I beg leave to doubt it. I agree, on the other hand, with those who have said that it is in- 694 sufficient for people who are going to do a full-time job. Therefore, one has to look at the matter from the point of view of giving adequate remuneration to those who attend. I do not like the idea of "clocking in," so to speak: I do not think it is very dignified. On the other hand, the idea of a salary is almost impossible, so long as there are some 600 people or so outside who may attend—I think the noble Marquess is perfectly right in that. That is why I do not think the proposal to create a certain number of Life Peers is the real answer, though it would be of some advantage. It is often difficult for people to accept Peerages, particularly when they have a family. I have sometimes had the job of seeking to reinforce your Lordships' House. In the Labour Party, not being sterile, most people had children, and it was not always the fact that those without children were the best people to be sent up here. So I do not think you will get over that. I agree that the admission of women is right. I think it is desirable. I believe that it would be of great assistance, and might be of extreme value in our discussions. Furthermore, with the comparatively short sittings that we have in this House, it might be possible for women members to attend quite regularly, despite their other avocations.
But that does not get over the difficulty that was pointed out, if a number of Lila Peers is to be added to our present numbers, our numbers will go on increasing and increasing. Therefore, I do think, if this matter is going to be dealt with seriously, it is necessary to consider somehow the cutting down of numbers. I do not think the device of giving leave of absence is very satisfactory. After all, it does not remove something which on our side we regard as a potential menace. I am bound to say that perhaps our members tend to think of the 400 or 500 who do not attend. They feel that most of these Members hold views somewhat similar to those of the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow—or more extreme. I expect we are quite wrong, but there is that potential menace. Therefore, I think if we are going in for reform here we have got to deal with the hereditary principle.
It has been suggested that we might make a distinction between Peers of Parliament and other Peers; that by issuing Writs for each Parliament to a limited 695 number of Peers it might result in a smaller House. I do not quite know who is going to advise on that—presumably the Party Leaders. Here we come to the deep-laid suspicion that many noble Lords have of Party Leaders and Parties, and the great pride in independence. With regard to independents, I agree with the great Conservative, the Earl of Beaconsfield. who said:Independents are people you cannot depend on.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (VISCOUNT HAILSHAM)
I believe it was the fourteenth Earl of Derby who said that.
§ EARL ATTLEE
Far be it from me to take the credit from anybody else, but it is the case with almost all good sayings on the Conservative side that they are put down either to the Earl of Beaconsfield or to Sir Winston Churchill. But whoever said it, there is a lot of truth in it. The fact is that you have to realise that the working of our Constitution does depend on the Party system. If you want to see how you cannot work democracy without a proper Party system, you have only to look across the Channel. It may be difficult, but it is the one way out.
I feel that the Government, while they were about it, might have dealt with some other anomalies. There is that brought up in regard to the Scottish Peers by the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun. Then there is the question which I should have thought would have been in the forefront—namely, the right to refuse to come to this House. That was put admirably and temperately by Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn quite recently, and it was put somewhat violently by the noble and learned Viscount Lord Hailsham. The greatest "slating" I ever had was in a letter to The Times from Lord Hailsham on account of my refusal to summon Parliament to meet in the middle of September to deal with his particular case. It showed the importance of the subject to the noble and learned Viscount. I am surprised that, with his position of eminence in his Party, these proposals should come forward without that essential. Undoubtedly it is hard, and, of course, it is one of the things that prevent some people from coming to your Lordships' House: they have a hopeful boy who might do great things in the Commons and the hopeful 696 boy tells his father that he does not want to come here. Unless they are fortunate in having a very long-lived father, such as we all hope the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate will be—be is only a young man of eighty or so now—they are in danger of having a promising career nipped in the bud. If proposals were to be put forward, I should have thought that was one which would have been included.
I have one last point to make. The right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Chichester put forward a proposal for adding representatives of the other Churches to your Lordships' House. Frankly, I am against that idea. I think that, historically, the Bishops came here not through their spirituality but through their temporality, because they were Barons and fighting men. I think it was Stalin who asked how many divisions the Pope could put into the field. In old times it was often asked how many men-at-arms the noble Bishops could provide. I do not think representatives of other religious bodies would add to the efficiency of this House, because in this House we get quite a number of laymen who are fully qualified to speak to the House on these matters. In any event, I think the presence of the Bishops here is taking them away from their proper work. What will be the fate of these proposals, I do not know. I have watched this question for forty-seven years, and all that time it has been one that did not brook delay. Well the brook may go on—I do not know.
§ 3.24 p.m.
My Lords, at this stage in the debate, twenty-four hours after the noble Lord. Lord Teynham, put his inspired Question, and almost half a century after the matter first became urgent. I have no intention of pursuing academical arguments, or indeed of making the speech which I had intended to make, because I have had the great gratification of hearing that speech from every quarter of the House during the last twenty-four hours. But I think perhaps it is suitable that I should put before your Lordships the attitude of the Party for which I speak, if indeed it is necessary to say more than that we have not deviated, as a Party, from the conclusions to which we came forty-six years ago; that some improvement in the composition or the powers, or both, was necessary 697 in regard to your Lordships' House. In this respect I follow the line taken by the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence: that this matter has ceased to be a Party issue and is one of individual political conscience. Just as he and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, deviated from the rigid neutrality of their Leader, so I think I must claim some indulgence for any noble Lords on these Benches who may not unreservedly accept our Party line of welcoming these present proposals, with the reservation that we look upon them as an earnest of something better and rather wider in the way of reform yet to come.
Without going into detail, it would seem quite obvious that the whole principle of some reconstitution of the Second Chamber, which I think obviously now has the support of the majority of your Lordships, stems perfectly plainly from the fact that the hereditary system, whatever may be said for it or against it, has in some way got a little out of focus in relation to the function of a Second Chamber in our democratic State. It does, I think, call for some rearrangement and some tidying up: partly, perhaps, by the creation of Life Peers; partly, perhaps, by the inclusion of women, and partly, perhaps, by some other measure that we have not yet found. But basically the unbalance of this House, upon which I think we almost all agree, is connected (and at this stage I would not go further than saying "connected") with the development of the hereditary system in this House. Yet that is the basic one thing which the Government have side-stepped and are not proposing to tackle at the moment. That I regret.
Will the creation of ten Life Peers a year, of which we approve, have any appreciable effect on a House of some 870 Members? Is the inclusion of women anything more than a side issue, undertaken as a belated gesture of consistency and justice? These two issues taken in isolation from any attempt to solve the real, main difficulty of the present composition of the House seem to me to present a lopsided attempt at a solution, in which I suggest the Government have been, so to speak, artistically most inept. Speaking artistically, the artist, of course, is always at a disadvantage vis-à-vis the Almighty, since he is striving all the time to reproduce in two dimensions what the 698 Almighty does so much better in three. That, I suggest, is what is happening in the present situation.
At this stage I do not propose to make any new suggestions, but, while paying tribute to the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury for his advocacy of these reforms, I may add that t am rather unimpressed by his argument that the hereditary Peers cannot follow the example of the Scottish elected Peers because they do not know each other well enough. In an ordinary Parliamentary election to the other House the electorate numbers about 70,000, of whom I suspect that at least 50,000 or 60,000 have never dined with, do not know and have not even seen or heard the candidate for whom they propose to vote. If 600 or 700 so-called "backwoods Peers" of the reasonably high capacity which the noble Marquess quite justifiably attributed to them are unable to select 200 or 300 of their own number, then things do look rather grim. In my opinion, it is such a selection of hereditary Peers among themselves which would most easily, at least for the present, ensure that continuance of that youthful element in your Lordships' House, whose existence seems to me of absolutely vital importance.
From the Government's proposals I turn to the Opposition's lack of proposals. For two generations, if not three, the Labour Party have denounced the House of Lords. The proletariat has been taught to denounce the House of Lords, and I have no doubt that that part of the proletariat which still supports the Labour Party expects its leaders either to abolish or to reform the House of Lords. But are they being misled'? Of course, to-day there is a different part of the proletariat who join with many of the non-proletariat in wishing to goodness that we could get rid of this Tory Government, while hoping to goodness at the same time that we shall not get a Labour one. But that is a point I shall not pursue at the moment.
How comes it that the feet of the Socialist Party continue to be so cold, time after time, that in this matter they neither advance nor retire? What do they want to do? It may be that they realise that the electorate is not so much in love with one-Chamber government as it used to be. Or perhaps they are hoping that time may do their work for them, and 699 if they hang back from their previously declared convictions and let the matter go, this House may die of inanition. If that is their line, I think it is politically unworthy. I have in mind a much stronger word than "unworthy", but I will let it go at that.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord a question? The Liberal Party declared forty years ago that this matter "brooked no delay". What proposals have the Liberal Party put forward for the reform of the House of Lords?
The Liberal Party, so far as I know, is the only one of the three Parties who have consistently supported some measure towards the reform of the House of Lords.
If the noble Viscount will refer to the All-Leaders Conference in 1948, at which a large measure of agreement was achieved, and also to the Parliamentary records, he will find that the Liberal Party supported the Liberal leader, who took that line.
From the Front Labour Bench in recent times my Party, the Liberal Party, has been accused of becoming more and more reactionary.
§ SEVERAL NOBLE LORDS: Hear, hear!
I am very glad to hear those cheers, for it shows that I have not misquoted anybody. Perhaps it means that our constant effort, particularly through the noble Viscount. Lord Samuel, to modify the non-representational part of the British Parliament—despite every lack of co-operation from the Labour Party—is retrogressive or feudal. I do not think that that can be maintained. Does it mean, perhaps, that on occasions when we join the Labour Party in the Division Lobby in one of their more liberal moods, against what we consider to be a reactionary Government measure, we are then considered to be progressive? That frequently happens. But when we support the present Government on a point where we consider that the Labour view in this 700 House is old-fashioned, partisan, doctrinaire, conservative, damaging to the majority of the workers and inimical to the welfare of a progressive State, as in the present instance, then they call us reactionary.
There is one more point which has, I think, been touched upon only by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and that is the position of those who are destined to be Members of your Lordships' House and who would like to be free to pursue a Parliamentary political career in another place. We are all looking forward to hearing the Lord President intervene in this debate, and if his personal modesty should prevent him from touching upon this particular subject perhaps we might look to the Lord Chancellor to enlighten us as far as possible. The noble Viscount. Lord Hailsham, as the pillar, if not the pediment, of the Conservative Party, last week-end—and admittedly in a different context—used these rather remarkable words:I will not have things different than they are.
I do not expect the noble Viscount to take that line in this debate, but should be do so I must warn him that I, for one, shall differ "than" him. I submit that the great changeover in the opinion of Members of this Chamber regarding the necessity for putting our House in order is a welcome and encouraging sign. I am content to go slowly—but not too slowly—and we here on these Benches, representing, as I say, the only Party that has consistently supported measures of this sort, congratulate the Government on bringing them forward.
§ 3.35 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords. I was originally drafted into this position by my colleagues at a time when the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, was still looking for his Teller and before it was known that one could not be found. I had had some doubts, I confess, as to whether it was appropriate at all for a third member of the Government Front Bench to intervene, because I think there has been a very wide measure of agreement in what has been an agreeable debate.
Like my noble friend the Marquess of Salisbury, I personally have lived with 701 this problem for a considerable time: ever since, thirty years ago, my father rather coyly confided to me that he had been invited to occupy the Woolsack, and that an inevitable consequence of this was that he would have to accept an hereditary peerage. Although he, with characteristic generosity, consulted his potential heir in the matter, I regret to say that he did not follow his advice. Since that time, over a period of more than ten years I have taken part in almost every debate on the subject of the Second Chamber in either House of Parliament, and I have a number of convictions which are recorded against me. They are sincerely held convictions; and I certainly would not, in anything I say to-day, desire to depart from the substance of anything that I have said at any time about them.
I certainly remember my exchange with the noble Earl opposite. If I may offer him a gentle reproach, it would be that lie is quite mistaken, and if he will look up the record he will find that he is mistaken in thinking that I was demanding either the special return of Parliament or the individual and separate treatment of my own affairs. What I was asking for was the kind of general reform of the law which he was this afternoon regretting that the Government had not introduced. If I did subject him to some criticism, I should hardly have thought that it was to be dignified by the term "slating." It was because I thought then, as I think now, that there was a slight uneasiness of conscience on his part which led him to misrepresent the real nature of my request.
But it is clearly my duty this afternoon, quite humbly and dispassionately as the servant of this House, to offer what objective advice I can as to the attitude the House should take about the proposals which fell from my noble friend yesterday. Viewing the matter as dispassionately as I can—and your Lord- ships know I never have the brand of emotion to enter into what the noble Lord referred to as his "make-up"—I am in absolutely no doubt as to what that advice should be. It is that we are right to act; that we act late rather than too soon; and that the measures which have been proposed by my noble friend are intrinsically desirable measures which ought to be adopted, although, as anyone would expect from a person like myself who has expressed strong convic- 702 tions on this subject in the past, I do not pretend that these measures are adequate or a final reform. Nor would I seek to do so: it would be wholly inconsistent with everything I have said in the past, and everything I believe now. But it would be none the less my unequivocal advice that, at the juncture at which we now are, an attempt to load into the Government programme much more than is already there would cause these proposals in their turn to founder, as previous proposals have foundered in the past, for multiplicity of counsel and divergent opinions.
I sincerely think, notwithstanding the fact that I should like to see a great deal more in them—and here I speak as one who has interested himself in this matter for nearly thirty years—that if we put more into the proposals now, we should lose them for want of sufficient basis of agreement to carry them through both Houses of Parliament. I thought myself, with the greatest respect in the world, that my noble friend Lord Salisbury was a little less than generous to the Leader of the House when he described the proposals as "half a loaf being better than no bread." My own conviction is that we should be unable to secure, except perhaps with a disproportionate expenditure of Parliamentary time, effort and emotion, agreement for a wider measure than they represent, which leads me to ask the House to be content, in substance at any rate, with the proposals which we have put forward.
Now I address myself to the three questions which we really have to ask ourselves. Ought we to act? There has, I think, been a wide measure of agreement in all quarters of the House that we ought to act. There has been a surprisingly wide agreement about the nature of the problem about which we ought to act. We are all agreed in principle that a problem exists with regard to those who have a right to come here and perhaps ought not to possess that right. If one looked in the Lobby to-day one would see a whole sheaf of Writs which have not been claimed, at any rate this Session. That in itself constitutes a problem. But, none the less. the primary problem, the thing which makes it imperative to treat this matter as a fairly urgent necessity, is not so much the right to attend of those from whom 703 it might legitimately be withheld, as the necessity of procuring, as the noble Earl opposite has said, the day-to-day attendance of suitable Members when it is difficult to obtain a quorum. Here I would warn those of us who quite rightly, for reasons wholly laudable, do not find it possible to attend regularly, not to be misled by the appearance of the House this afternoon. In the latter stages of the Committee stage of the Shops Bill it did not look quite like this.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
If my noble friend will forgive my saying so, the attendance should not bear a direct proportion to the goodness or badness of the measure. Indeed, if noble Lords opposite were to be listened to, one would suppose that attendance would go in inverse proportion to the goodness of the measure. That is part of their complaint.
My conviction is that we must act in order to recruit adequate numbers to do the ordinary work of the House. I think it has been established beyond doubt that there are people who, for very good reasons, would be glad to accept a Life Barony or a Life Peerage but who would find difficulty, for various reasons which are perfectly honourable to themselves, in accepting an hereditary Peerage. We heard yesterday the noble Lord, Lord Mathers, whose speech we enjoyed, confess that it would have been difficult for him, if he had had an heir, to accept an hereditary Peerage. If he had had an heir, we should therefore have been deprived of his valuable counsel. The late Mr. Leopold Amery told me that similar considerations in a life-long Conservative afflicted him. One has heard many other names and knows many other instances and considerations which might affect them.
Now my noble friend Lord Glasgow asks, whom are we trying to appease? The answer is that we are not trying to appease anybody: we are trying to do what we sincerely regard as our duty. In order to comfort my noble friend Lord Glasgow a little in his grief that we should be undermining the hereditary principle to which he attaches so much importance, I would remind him of what Walter Bagehot said nearly a hundred years ago, in 1867, about Life 704 Peerages. Your Lordships will forgive me if I refer at some length to Walter Bagehot, and forgive me also if I say that of all the writers there have ever been upon the British Constitution I still think he shows the most insight. This is what he said, and I quote it at some length because it is exactly on the point we are discussing to-day. This is what he wrote nearly a hundred years ago, referring to difficulties in our composition:These grave defects would have been at once lessened, and in the course of years nearly effaced, if the House of Lords had not resisted the proposal of Lord Palmerston's first Government to create Peers for life. The expedient was almost perfect.This is what causes the noble Earl so much discomfort to-day.The difficulty of reforming an old institution like the House of Lords is necessarily great; its possibility rests on continuous caste and ancient deference. And if you begin to agitate about it, to bawl at meetings about it. that deference is gone, its peculiar charm lost, its reserved sanctity gone. But, by an odd fatality, there was in the recesses of the Constitution an old prerogative which would have rendered agitation needless—which would have effected, without agitation, all that agitation could have effected. Lord Palmerston was—now that he is dead, and his memory can be calmly viewed—as firm a friend to an aristocracy, as thorough an aristocrat, as any in England; yet he proposed to use that power.I gather that the noble Earl regards me as a Left Wing Conservative with a Liberal supporter. But now hark to this would the noble Earl not regard the late Duke of Wellington as a Conservative?If the House of Lords had still been under the rule of the Duke of Wellington, perhaps they would have acquiesced. The Duke would not indeed have reflected on all the considerations which a philosophic statesman would have set out before him; but he would have been brought right by one of his peculiarities. He disliked, above all things, to oppose the Crown.Then there is a reference to this:He never was comfortable in opposing a conspicuous act of the Crown. It is very likely that, if the Duke had still been the President of the House of Lords, they would have permitted the Crown to prevail in its well chosen scheme. But the Duke was dead, and his authority—or some of it—had fallen to a very different person. Lord Lyndhurst had many great qualities: he had a splendid intellect—as great a faculty of finding truth as any one in his generation; but he had no love of truth. With this great faculty of finding truth, he was a believer in error—in what his own Party now admit to be error—all his life through. He could have found the truth as a stateman just as he found it when a Judge; but he never did find it. He never looked for it. He was a great partisan, and 705 he applied a capacity of argument, and a faculty of intellectual argument rarely equalled, to support the tenets of his party. The proposal to create Life Peers was proposed by the antagonistic Party—was at the moment likely to injure his own Party. To him this was a great opportunity. The speech he delivered on that occasion lives in the memory of those who heard it. His eyes did not at that time let him read, so he repeated by memory, and quite accurately, all the black-letter authorities bearing on the question. So great an intellectual effort has rarely been seen in an English assembly, But the result was deplorable…. The House of Lords rejected the inestimable, the unprecedented opportunity of being tacitly reformed. Such a chance does not come twice. The Life-Peers who would have been introduced would have been among the first men in the country. Lord Macaulay was to have been among the first. Lord Wensleydale—the most learned and the least logical of our lawyers—to be the very first. Thirty or forty such men, added judiciously and sparingly as years went on, would have given to the House of Lords the very element which, as a criticising Chamber, it needs so much. It would have given it critics. The most accomplished men in each department might then, without irrelevant considerations of family and fortune, have been added to the Chamber of Review. The very element which was wanted to the House of Lords was, as it were, by a constitutional providence, offered to the House of Lords, and they refused it. By what species of effort that error can be repaired I cannot tell; but, unless it is repaired, the intellectual capacity can never be what it would have been, will never be what it ought to be, will never be sufficient for its work.My Lords, if, in face of this opinion, written by the acknowledged expert on the British Constitution nearly one hundred years ago, the noble Earl still thinks that this is the project of a Left-Wing Conservative with a Liberal supporter, all I can say is that he needs a great deal of convincing. The truth is that we have paid a melancholy price for Lord Lyndhurst's Indian Summer, and as Lord Ridley reminded us yesterday, owing to his great-grandfather's unfortunate attack of gout.
Assuming, therefore, that we have to act, and that life peerages are desirable, can we, on any rational basis, exclude women? Again, the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, says that we should—women are so emotional in their make-up. The noble Earl, of course, with his calm and dispassionate temperament which he displayed so clearly to us this afternoon, was s moved by only one logical and totally intellectual consideration: he did not wish to sit beside women or to meet them in the Library. I can understand the intellectual character of his argu- 706 ment. I fully concede that it has nothing whatever to do with his emotional prejudices. None the less, there are some of us who think that there could be no justification whatever for excluding women once the principle of life peerages is accepted. I have been asked in the course of the debate "what about Peeresses in their own right?" I do not suppose that on either side of the House many of us would go to the stake for the inclusion of Peeresses in their own right on our Benches.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I hardly think that is the same as going to the stake. I daresay that if your Lordships displayed a strong predeliction in one direction or the other the Government would not resist either course. If I may express, in a sentence, a personal opinion, it is that I am not in favour at the present time of an extension of the hereditary principle. The actual method of descent by which a peerage descends to a Peeress in her own right is so difficult, so complicated and so anomalous that I doubt whether many of your Lordships could accurately describe them; and certainly not one in a million of the public knows that they exist. The law of co-parceny and abeyance seems to me to be so anomalous that to extend the hereditary principle by including it in your Lordships' composition in 1957 would be a doubtful proposition. And, as I said before, I personally do not attach great importance either to the acceptance or rejection of this proposal.
May I ask the noble Viscount, if that is his sole objection, whether he would consider the case of Scotland, where the method of descent is perfectly simple and clear?
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords. certainly I will consider anything to do with Scotland; but I am not sure that I know enough about the subject, upon which my noble friend is an acknowledged master, to give him an answer which has not had some degree of deliberation.
The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, suggested that we should have dealt with the anomaly and injustice of the heir who does not wish to succeed to his father's 707 peerage. I must say that it ill becomes him to rebuke me for not dealing with it; of all the people in the world, I should have thought that he was the least entitled to make that reproach to me. I would simply say this: that I do not regard the question of the acceptance of a peerage by an heir as one which can easily be isolated from more general questions affecting the Peerage.
If the noble Earl had been good enough to inquire what I had in mind in 1950 I should have let him into the secret that I had a draft Bill on the subject. That draft Bill, which still reposes, forgotten and unloved, in the files of the Lord Chancellor's Department, and which, like my noble friend Lord Salisbury, I will not now develop further, did in fact make general proposals affecting the character of the House of Lords. I do not believe it is easy—I do not say that it is impossible, only that it is not easy—to isolate this issue; and although I myself do not attempt to disguise my belief that it results in injustice, and even in inconvenience, I do not believe that we should be wise to include it in the modest measure which we have in mind for immediate legislation.
§ EARL ATTLEE
May I ask the noble Viscount whether this Bill of his was put into the Lord Chancellor's Office by him in the time of his father?
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, I shall be very happy to tell the noble Earl one day, but I think that I should follow the noble Marquess's example and not lead the House into the pleasant meadows of individual schemes which are unlikely to go through. But I shall, should be ever again have influence in the governing Party of this state, and should that Party attempt to legislate it, put all my facilities at its disposal.
That brings me to the question of the hereditary principle, with which it is very much allied. A great number of noble Lords have said, in one tone of voice or another, that the Government should not have let this opportunity slip without dealing with this thorny subject. I have already indicated what, to my mind, the answer to this question is. For forty-seven years each successive proposal has foundered for diversity of counsel in the matter. I do not believe that if we were to introduce a measure to deal with this 708 there would be a greater measure of agreement now than there has been in the past. I think that noble Lords who have criticised us have, on the whole, been less than generous to a Government which, for the first time, has shown a clear determination to legislate on a definite part of the matter. I would ask them to support us in pressing this modest reform through, in the sure knowledge that of course this does not deal with a highly contended and contentious matter, but in the certain belief that if we attempted so to deal we should probably lose the modest measure which we propose.
My Lords, there are those who do not believe in an hereditary principle at all. There are those who would like to see a Scottish system of selection. There are those who, like the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, have an alternative principle of selected numbers. I would respectfully agree with my noble friend that those who would alter the hereditary principle without abolishing it would have to justify first some principle of selection which was satisfactory not merely to your Lordships but to another place. What we have to deal with, to my mind, is the much more fundamental and difficult question of the limitation of the overall numbers of this House, with which it is very closely allied. I would agree with the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition that the latter is very dangerous ground indeed if one wished to acquire any degree of general agreement among the Parties on this subject.
That, my Lords, really concludes my argument in this matter. I can only say, with a clear conscience. that every word which fell from the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, yesterday I could have repeated to-day, because he was really saying—and if I may humbly say so, saying far better and more succinctly—exactly what I have been trying to put before your Lordships to-day. This I must say: I do not personally regard this as a Party matter. Certainly the noble Lord. Lord Pethick-Lawrence, did not treat it as a Party matter; and, except for a certain amount of spirited and reasonable defence of his own Party, I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Rea, treated it as a Party matter, either.
I would make this plea to the Party opposite. We have debated this matter 709 for a long time and it has frequently been asked why no further progress has been made. There was a fine opportunity to deal with this matter in a comprehensive way in 1948. The chance of agreement between the Parties was lost, and I am not going to assign any blame for that; but I cannot altogether omit to state that there has been, at any rate on the part of some members of the Party opposite, an attitude towards this problem in which I would associate myself with the epithet used by the noble Lord. Lord Rea. That attitude is best summed up in the words of Mr. Herbert Morrison, quoted yesterday by my noble friend Lord Gage: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 believe that is fundamentally a disreputable attitude to take. I believe, on the contrary, that one should endeavour to reform abuse wherever one finds it: and if the result of reforming it is not to produce a House to which greater legal powers are added (for as the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, said yesterday that is not at all in question at the present time) but to produce a House with a higher degree of moral standing—nothing more—then one should not shrink from the higher status which such a House would enjoy. I would implore noble Lords opposite, when they come to take counsel with one another and with those of their membership who perhaps may not share this view, to beg them to approach this matter on its merits and not from the point of view of Party advantage.
If it were the case that a further invitation was extended, an invitation of the kind which the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, declined in 1953, much to my regret, I should hope that they would induce their colleagues to accept it. Then we could look forward to a more comprehensive reform of Parliament; and I can assure them that I should seek to take no unfair advantage of them if they entered into those discussions in good faith.
§ 4.4 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
My Lords, my only claim to speak is that I have seen this issue debated from the very beginning. I belong to the small class of octogenarians who have seen every phase of the argument, and if I found any satisfaction in to-day's debate it would be the satisfaction of an extremist, because what has been decided by the Government is in my opinion putting an end to the powers of this House. There have been three phases. There was, first of all, the phase of 1910, referred to by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel. Then, Mr. Asquith issued the terrible threat "Wait and see", which was executed; and the Parliament Act left this House bereft of all its major powers. That was one result of neglecting the warning given by the Liberal Party. The second phase was when Lord Salisbury, the father of the noble Marquess, and other noble Lords devoted themselves to the question of whether something might be reconstructed from what was left. There were many proposals for modifications of one kind and another, every one of them involving modification of the hereditary system.
That is the key of the whole issue. Are we going to abolish or modify the hereditary basis of this House?—because it is the hereditary basis of this House which is the main source of its weakness. Yesterday we went right back, behind what the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, had been suggesting, to the same kind of attitude on the part of Her Majesty's Government and their supporters as we had to face in 1910 when the first Parliament Bill was proposed. Then the argument was "Stop!" I suppose that no phrase will do more harm to this House or to the Conservative Party in the country than the reference by the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, to the racing stable. If he wishes to substitute for Debrett's Peerage, Ruffs Guide to the Turf that will do nothing to assist the authority of the House of Lords.
The speech of the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, in which he said that the great purpose of his policy was to keep out of the House of Lords what he called Left-Wingers, especially Left-Wing Conservatives, illustrates the same point. It is a great advantage for those who thoroughly disbelieve in the hereditary principle—as I do myself—that the case 711 should be clearly put. So, just as when there was the first real battle, when Mr. Asquith vanquished the House of Lords, and the second time, when eminent people like the father of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, and others were trying to reconstruct something which would be acceptable to the Conservative Party. now we have the third phase, where we have gone right back in history and have had produced the same arguments as were produced in 1909 and 1910 when we campaigned on this issue; which means that there is now only one thing left for this House. I suppose nobody will do anything.
The noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, spent a lot of time explaining about life peerages, and read various extracts and said a few words about women being admitted but does anyone really suppose that the admission of ten Life Peers will make any difference? People want to limit their number. That is the most astounding thing. We are not going to be overweighted by people who are elected on merit. There is to be a limit to their number. In his Bill the noble and learned Viscount. Lord Simon, proposed ten, Does anyone suppose that the election of ten Life Peers to this House is going to make the faintest difference? That may at times improve the quality of debate and the knowledge available, but is it going to change the structure of the House?
As regards women, I now belong to the octogenarian class, and I remember, as does the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, many things of a long time ago. I have noticed that the question of women is being debated in this House in exactly the same way as it used to be treated in the House of Commons in the old days. Every reference has been a facetious reference, whereas the real advantage of the admission of women to the House of Lords is that that is itself an admission by the oldest House of Parliament of the equality of the sexes. That is the real point involved.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
If the noble Viscount will allow me, may I say that I think it is unfair to the House to say that every reference made to the question of the admission of women Members has been facetious. That is not the case at all. The matter has been taken quite 712 seriously by the House, and there has been an extraordinary unanimity of agreement in favour of the proposal.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
That is a matter of opinion. I have listened to the debate, and no doubt the noble Viscount himself treated this subject with the dignity which it deserves. Speaking from my own long recollection. I say that a facetious note has repeatedly been introduced into discussions on this issue, and there has been the same sort of Stone Age attitude as marked the reference to the reconstruction of the House itself. Neither of these things is particularly important, however. What is important is this. We have now reached a stage when the idea of the alteration of the hereditary basis of this House is rejected. What will happen now will be nothing until this House should, if it is unwise enough, get into conflict with a Socialist House of Commons—and a Socialist House of Commons cannot be long delayed. In that case nothing can happen except the "high jump." It will be the last stage of the power of this House. There will be no more talk of reform. Therefore, the four phases have been progressively diminishing the power of this House. That, to my mind, is clear. I only want to say that in a general way because I have seen the debates from the beginning.
I was a humble member of the Government in which the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, was in the Cabinet, when this matter was first proposed in 1911. If the Members of the Front Bench opposite have so much fear of their Back-Benchers that they dare not tamper with the hereditary principle, let us see, as The Times said in a recent article, what can be done in a minor way. I was frankly disappointed with what the noble Viscount said about running repairs—repairs to holes in the roof and the like. Two matters I particularly mention. One is that brought up by Lord Saltoun yesterday—the question of the disenfranchisement, the de-citizenising, of the Scottish Peers. They can sit neither in this House nor in the other. I have sat twice for Scottish seats in the other place. I do not know very much about the practical side, but I know enough to know that the matter of which Lord Saltoun spoke is frankly an injustice. Is it impossible that an issue of that kind, which does not deal with any 713 general point, does not in the least affect the standstill policy of the Government, should be dealt with in some way in the Bill?
The second point relates to a matter in which I must declare a passionate and paternal interest. It is the case of certain people, of whom the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, is one. I must admit that as we are to secure such a rich prize in this pursuit of the Sabine women, it seems rather graceless to criticise. But can any one justify what happens? You have 200 or 300 Peers who will not come here, and you will not take away from them their right to come. On the other hand, you have able young men, like the noble Viscount himself, and like certain Members of the Opposition, who take every possible step while still Commoners to rid themselves of this incubus. And you refuse to deal with the case. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, said some time ago that the fact that the injustice is an injustice only to a few does not make it any less an injustice and an evil in the State.
I would say that in some way it must be possible to deal with this matter at this particular moment. When it was brought forward, I remember among other cases those of Lord Selborne and Lord Astor; and later on, of course. as I have said, there was that of Lord Hailsham. They all left it rather late. Lord Hailsham left it rather late. He had become eligible to receive the Writ of Summons, and therefore the Prime Minister, by some Rule—do not know whether it is a sound Rule or not—excluded him from the House of Commons. Of the other Peers, I recollect that Lord Selborne, in particular, insisted on sitting in the House of Commons. Someone "spied strangers," and in that way the matter was brought to issue. In this particular case with which I am personally concerned—and I apologise for troubling your Lordships with it—everything had been thought out. The young man who was a Commoner came to this House and said: "Please divest me of this prospective burden. I have been elected a Member of Parliament for a constituency. I am serving that constituency. The Writ of Summons says I am to go and serve in the Lords. I have been elected to serve in the House of Commons. My borough wants me. Twice they have elected me and they have petitioned Parliament that 714 I may still remain." As I say, I was very disappointed in what the noble Viscount. Lord Hailsham, said.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
The noble Viscount must be fair. With the general argument which he has just put forward, I agree. Indeed, it was the argument which I put to the noble Earl who is now sitting on the Front Benches opposite in the seat next to that of the noble Viscount. It was expressly rejected by the noble Earl when the Labour Party were in power.
§ EARL ATTLEE
There was no question of rejection. The noble Viscount left the matter very late. He could have taken the matter up with his own Government. Suddenly, he asked me to recall Parliament in the middle of September, which of course I was not prepared to do.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I never asked the noble Earl to recall Parliament at all, whether in September or at any other time. As I was saying just now, the general argument put forward by the noble Viscount. Lord Stansgate, I accept, because it is an argument which I put to his noble friend. But the particular argument that an individual Peer, an individual heir, could ask for special legislation for himself is not one that I myself have ever accepted.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
It is useless to bring in the question of the interchange of letters between the noble Viscount and the noble Earl. That is irrelevant. The relevance here is this. Here is a man, not of noble blood, who has taken every precaution, before disaster happens, to clear himself of this incubus. He has come to this House under Standing Orders and has put his case. He has been told that it is a just case, and he has been sympathetically heard. It is said that this matter could go into a General Bill. Here is a General Bill. But now, apparently, the noble Viscount refuses to put in it a clause to the effect which is sought.
Therefore, in these two cases, the Scottish case and the particular personal case which I have mentioned—I apologise for it—it was only the accident of war that brought this unhappy young man into this servitude. I would ask the noble Viscount, when he drafts the Bill, will he make the Long Title comprehensive enough to permit Amendments to be 715 moved dealing both with the Scottish case and with the case of forced succession and take the opinion of the House and accept it on the general issues. I think I need say no more. There are two specific matters which can be dealt with.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I think the noble Viscount is quite right in asking these questions. But I would ask him to leave the matter to the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack to deal with when he replies. I know that he will take note of these matters.
§ 4.19 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF SWINTON
My Lords, the speech which the noble Viscount has just delivered was rather characteristic. It was a medley of practical suggestions and a good deal of academic matter. He suggested in the main part of his speech that the only thing that really mattered was to get rid of the hereditary principle. I should have thought the thing that really matters to-day on the issue we are discussing is whether or not by what is proposed we are going to get a more useful, a more practical and a better working Chamber. There are many things on which we disagree in these matters, but I should have thought that there was one thing which we could agree about—that is that the proposal put forward by the Government is indeed a modest proposal. I do not think that it is necessarily the worse for that. In constitutional reform it is very desirable to get agreement between Parties, if we can. I regret that we did not come to an agreement when we had our Conference, and I regret equally that the invitation to the Conference which we proposed in 1953 was not accepted. But if we cannot get agreement between Parties, we had certainly better have agreement within our own Party so far as we can, if we are going to bring forward legislation.
The introduction of Life Peerages, which is the main proposal brought before us, has figured in every proposal for reform that has ever been made to this House. Indeed, if the Wensleydale case had been decided the other way, or if the ancestor of my noble friend Lord Ridley had suffered less from the gout, probably we should have had Life Peers in this House for the last 100 years. It is interesting to note that although a great 716 many legal arguments were used in the Wensleydale case, that case was decided net by the lawyers sitting as a Select Committee, but by the Whole House, and I am certain that what carried weight with this House in those days, the bulk of whose Members would not have understood the legal arguments, from Blackstone and before, which were produced, any more than I should to-day, was the rotund attack which Lord Lyndhurst made on the introduction of Life Peers as a terrible danger to the Constitution and his picture of the awful degradation that would attend us in this House if they were introduced. I could not help feeling that the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, sounded rather like an echo of those debates of a hundred years ago.
I should have thought that Life Peers were something which, with very few exceptions—perhaps only one exception—the whole House would be prepared to accept. But is that enough? The real test to me is not some academic question, but whether the introduction of Life Peers will give what both sides want in this matter. I should have thought that by itself it would not do so. I am sure that it is right to introduce Life Peers. I am sure that, provided we could induce them to come, there are a number of people who could be brought here. I do not mean by that the distinguished elderly people who will go on getting older, and I hope that when the Bill comes before us there may be the possibility that if people are appointed Life Peers they will be allowed to retire if they so desire, particularly if the number is to be limited, and not sit here or somewhere else until they are ninety years old or more.
Are we really going to get, by this method alone, the number of day-to-day working people required? Frankly I think that we have to face up to the question of payment. I was greatly interested in what my noble friend Lord Ingleby said yesterday about another place. I think that if people are to do the job here, then at any rate they have not to be hopelessly out of pocket. We have to offer them for their day-to-day work something that is not derisorily inferior to what they could get in any other walk of life. I should like to know what is in the Government's mind about that. Frankly I am left in doubt.
717 When the noble Earl the Leader of the House spoke in the debate, he said, if I understood him aright, that that was one of the three things that had to be taken into consideration. I imagine that it has been taken into consideration, and although it may not have to figure in the Bill, because I imagine that what is paid is a matter for a Vote in another place, still I think that we should be greatly assisted if the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor, when he comes to reply to-night, could tell us a little more about what is in the Government's mind. Obviously we cannot give a salary to everybody, whether he comes here or not, but I do not see why the practice which the House has already adopted and another place has voted, of paying so much a day for attendance, should not be continued and a larger sum given that would avoid all difficulty. To pay salaries to people who do not come here is something about which I should have thought—again pace the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow—there was hardly any question.
I should have thought it impossible to introduce life peerages and then say that they were not going to be given to women. I therefore welcome the inclusion of women. If so, what about the hereditary Peeresses? I did not quite like the way in which the noble Viscount. Lord Hail-sham, slid away from it in what was a little too refined a legal argument for me. However, their succession may come, they are hereditary Peeresses as much as noble Lords are hereditary Peers. As a matter of fact, the history of the Rhondda case is not a very creditable one. Like the Wensleydale case, it was decided largely on political grounds—I do not know whether I shall be rebuked for saying this. Of course, there was a great legal facade, but what in fact happened was that a Select Committee sat to decide whether Lady Rhondda was entitled to her Writ of Summons and that Committee reported that she was. The Government changed—a Government of a complexion more favourable to the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, less favourable to the ladies, came in. The question was sent back to another Committee and that Committee most obligingly reported—I am sure that there were arguments every way—that Lady Rhondda was not entitled to sit. The House readily accepted the Report of the 718 second Committee and decided that Lady Rhondda was not entitled to sit.
It seems to me a little illogical that if we are going to have women as Life Peeresses, we cannot have hereditary Peeresses in your Lordships' House. Suppose we do not put it in the Bill—and I agree that since the Rhondda case it is no good sending it back to a Committee for Privileges; if we are going to have this changed, we must change it by legislation. And suppose the Prime Minister of the day says that he thinks that it would be a good thing to appoint two or three Ladies who are Peeresses in their own right as Life Peeresses: is he enitled to do this, or are they barred? If they are barred, that means that the poor ladies are in a most unfortunate position; they are the only females out-side a lunatic asylum who are not to be entitled to sit in this House. I really do not think that we ought to leave them like that.
Of course, the main question which arises is whether the proposals go far enough. The Government at this stage leave the hereditary right and hereditary representation entirely unchanged. There have been proposals, nor before the House but certainly debated a great deal outside it, regarding election or selection, and the Government reject them all. I do not necessarily dissent from that at this stage, provided it is a stage. I should like to know, really, what the Government's view is on this matter. My noble friend Lord Salisbury has never concealed his views. What is their view about it? I mean, is it a stage? I think there is practical force in Lord Hailsham's argument that if too much is put into this Bill and there is a large legislative programme you might not get it through. Of course, that depends—noble Lords will forgive my saying so—on the priority attached to the particular measure. If it is put last on the list, a sort of "also-ran," then no doubt you will not get it through. But is this a stage or is this the last word? I most sincerely hope that the Government can go so far as to say that they feel that it is only a stage.
That brings me to this point. In the debate yesterday a great many kindly references were made to the Report of the Select Committee. The Select Committee reported that every hereditary Peer had a right to a Writ of Summons 719 and can be deprived of that right only by legislation. But, my Lords, the Committee also reported that the right to be summoned carries with it the duty to attend unless the Peer is excused attendance, and I think that that is important. The Committee concluded—and your Lordships will find this in paragraph 31—that a Peer who is unable to discharge his duty of attendance can reasonably be said to have a duty to apply to the House for leave of absence under the existing Standing Orders.
As Lord Teynham, in a model speech introducing his Motion yesterday. reminded us, the Committee reported on how the House could adapt those Standing Orders on leave of absence to meet the present situation wherein many Peers are unwilling or unable to attend. My noble friend Lord Salisbury emphasised that the Committee, which included Peers of all Parties—it included Lord Hailsham, incidentally, and powerful legal representation he fulfilled both functions, the legal and political—were unanimous in their Report, and when that Report was debated it was very favourably received in the House, as indeed it was yesterday in our debate.
I do not want to go into the details of that Report again to-day, but I should like just to remind the House of three of the Committee's findings: first of all, that if the House wished to amend its Standing Orders in the manner outlined in the Report it would be entirely competent for the House to do so by its own Resolutions and it would be a matter for this House alone; secondly, that the suggested amendment of the Standing Orders would in no way infringe the right of every Peer to receive a Writ of Summons and, thirdly—-and I think this escaped the notice of some of your Lordships. but the Committee attached a great deal of importance to it—the suggestions of the Committee took full account of the fact that some Peers can attend here only occasionally. I feel sure we all feel that a number of those who cannot attend regularly make most valuable contributions to our debates when they do come, and that this House would be much the poorer if they were not able to attend. If the suggestions of the Committee were followed, the Standing Orders would take that fully into 720 account and would enable a Peer who could attend only occasionally to satisfy the duty by saying. "I shall come when I can." and, of course, he would have genuinely to carry that out.
Bearing all this in mind, I hope that the House will accept the Report of this Select Committee as a counterpart of the Government's proposals. I gather from what has passed in the earlier debate and yesterday that that would be acceptable in almost all quarters of the House, and, as the Leader of the House said, it is entirely a matter for the House. I should be very willing, if it would be convenient to the House, as I was selected to preside over that Committee, to table a Motion early in the next Session inviting the Lord Chairman of Committees to prepare and to present to the House for their consideration the necessary Amendments to Standing Orders. In that way, by our own motion, we should be carrying it a stage further, and the House could not only consider the principle, which I think is very generally accepted, but would have an opportunity of seeing the draft of the proposed Standing Orders and could adopt them in whatever form it thought was most convenient.
As to adopting these proposals, I do not think we ought to leave the matter without at least doing that. I agree with my noble friend Lord Salisbury: I do not think them a complete alternative to dealing with the absentee Peers. But we are a very practical, if not a very logical, body, and I feel sure that if we did adopt Standing Orders in that form, the great majority of Peers would comply with them and we should find, in fact, that we had the kind of House which, I think, nearly all your Lordships wish to have, and we should preserve in this House every element that most of us value, while making the House a stronger and a more effective one.
§ 4.38 p.m.
LORD ST. OSWALD
My Lords, I rise to speak very briefly, as befits one who joined your Lordships' House extremely recently. If the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, found himself speaking with diffidence, I feel that I should be practically on my knees in addressing your Lordships in this debate. But, although the noble Lords, Lord Melchett and Lord Milne, addressed the House yesterday, I 721 believe I am right in saying that nobody else under fifty years of age has so far addressed it to-day, in this debate which will affect the life of the House for many decades to come. In that capacity I feel that I must register my respectful disappointment at the limited nature of the proposals offered by the Government at this moment. I have been a Member of your Lordships' House for only six months, but my interest in the House and the problem of reform goes back considerably further than that. As a result, I approached this debate full of hope that we should hear proposals to concentrate and strengthen the House, not to inflate and weaken it, as I feel these proposals tend to do. I had hoped that we should be invited to resolve ourselves as a House into a Corps of Regulars, if I may borrow a military term.
I feel, and I hope that it is accepted as axiomatic, that, basically, ultimately the usefulness of this House, and even its survival, must rest upon the country's confidence in its judgment and in its composition. And that confidence is bound to be linked with visible parity between the Parties. If that parity is to be achieved without reduction, and entirely through expansion, I think the whole procedure is bound to get out of hand. I have never been any good at sums, but in simple arithmetic, to provide noble Lords opposite with a voting strength to match the potential voting strength of this side is talking in very big figures indeed. After all the speeches I have heard, I remain convinced that, for effective reform, present membership must be pared down. I am in disagreement with noble Lords who think that this country has no use and no respect for the hereditary system. I claim that my ear is as close to the ground as most, and I do not believe that a purely elected House of Lords would be acceptable either to the country or to Parliament as a whole. I am certain that both its prestige and its usefulness would be enhanced by achieving approximate parity between the Parties, but to-day it seems to me that the whole process of achieving this has been presented back to front. I would favour strongly a drastic reduction in the number of sitting Members, and, consequently, a less drastic and less wholesale creation of Peerages to man the Benches opposite.
§ LORD STRABOLGI
May I ask whether the noble Lord has in mind the wholesale creation of hereditary peerages or life peerages?
LORD ST. OSWALD
I favour, as I have said, not a wholesale creation, but that necessary creation of peerages, which I personally should prefer to remain hereditary peerages. However, such cogent arguments have been put forward in favour of life peerages that I do not feel strongly enough to take a firm stand on that point. But I think the other point I make remains virtually unaffected. I must say that in this connection I have always felt prepared to find myself dispensed with. And I have to appreciate that, in the allegory of my noble friend Lord Teynham, as a racehorse I should have been shot several years ago. The selection of such a working nucleus does not present any insuperable problems. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Mathers, approached the problem most encouragingly and practically last night. In the corridor of this building two days ago I spoke to a noble Lord from the Benches opposite, with whom I seldom find myself in agreement, and I learned of the idea of a type of electoral college, to be found from within the membership of your Lordships' House. I must say that I should not find such a system in any way invidious.
Despite the trenchant arguments of my noble friend Lord Hailsham, who came nearer than I thought possible to convincing me, my feeling is still that we have not taken hold of this opportunity of reform as it deserves. I believe the impression that these proposals will give is that we in this House are not really serious about reform; that we have put up a meaningless compromise. I know that that is, in fact, utterly untrue as an intention, but I believe it is how the country will see it.
Moreover, I cannot help feeling that it is quite unrealistic to suppose that we in this House can set the pace or the, extent of this project once it is launched. We have started a process of reform; we have disturbed the status quo, as I heard it put yesterday, and in doing so we have automatically invited the country at large, and Members of another place, in particular, to give their views on reform. They will do so, and they will go on doing so until they are satisfied that real reform 723 has been achieved. They will undoubtedly raise the question of exclusion, as well as that of expansion. Some noble Lords have implied—I have not myself gauged the measure of support—that they would favour such a measure in the indefinite future. That decision and its date may well be taken out of our hands, once this whole question is publicly broached. If we are in favour of further measures, let us say that we want them, and that we want them now. That will win us more understanding and appreciation in the country and greater respect in another place.
I cannot support the objection of my noble friend Lord Glasgow, great as is my personal affection for him, because it seems to me a clean pace backwards. Nor can I admire the proposals of the Government as they stand, because they seem to be an attempt to take a pace to the side while still remaining in the same spot. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, for allowing me to delay for several minutes his far more significant words. But I must identify myself with the hope that, if these proposals go forward as they are, they will have incorporated in them a definite undertaking to carry them further forward still in time, so enabling your Lordships' House to continue as a benefit to this country, as relevant to the unseen future as it has been to the sometimes forgotten past.
§ 4.46 p.m.
My Lords. I am pleased to follow the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald. His vigorous speech reminds me that I am no longer able to count myself one of the younger Members of your Lordships' House. However, I think I can still claim to belong to the middle-aged group, and if I may, I will say a word or two from that angle, in pursuit of the interesting remarks that fell from the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, on the subject of pay. I do not think what I call the middle-aged group, those who have not yet reached retirement, are the only people by any means, and probably not the most important, to be considered in this connection. But they are a group who certainly come very much to mind when we consider the question of the "hard core" referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee.
724 We are all apt to be egotistical in this kind of thing, but that is the only way in which we can pool our collective experience. I think the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, would have had the same experience as myself. Take, as an example, someone in his middle forties, a man who is a Minister at the time a Government comes to an end, and who has a number of children to educate. Is such a person to try to play his part as a Member of the "hard core" in your Lordships' House, or is he to earn his living? I speak as one who has been faced with that situation, as has the noble Lord. Lord Ogmore, and other noble Lords. I am afraid that in a situation like that no kind of expense allowance will help. I know that there are older people to whom the expense allowance may make a difference between coming to this House and not coming, but, so far as the middle aged are concerned, it cannot affect the issue.
I therefore venture to think that some kind of salary, of the sort which Members of Parliament receive, should be considered in relation to a certain group in this House. The real trouble begins, of course (and some of my later proposals will bear on this) when it comes to considering who should receive this salary—because it cannot be given to everybody. But that is the centre of the problem, as I see it. I speak only for myself, although others probably feel the same way in saying that if, when I ceased to be First Lord of the Admiralty I had been offered the salary of a Member of the other place. I think I should have devoted my time to the work of this House for the last six years, whether that would have been a good thing or bad. This applies to a good many Ministers who fall from office and if we are talking of the hard core, we must consider that group as an important element in the problem.
I apologise for not having been present yesterday owing, to a family bereavement. If I speak to-day, it is in a strictly personal sense, after consultation, of course, with my noble Leader. He made it plain yesterday that so far as our Party is concerned, all these matters are still under consideration. Therefore, what I say is, of course, subject to subsequent decisions. But I do feel it a duty in this fluid situation, both in a Party sense and in a national sense, to throw into the common 725 pool of ideas a certain plan which has not hitherto. I think, been advocated to your Lordships, although some of what was said by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, may have started some minds moving in that direction. I must not attempt to commit the noble Earl to this particular plan.
I would suggest that when the matter is discussed, either in this House or in the country, we might divide the participants in the argument into five categories. There is, first, what I would call the status quo, brigade, of whom the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, is a champion. Secondly, there are the tinkerers—I do not use the word in any derogatory sense. Then there are the conservative reformers, among whom the noble Marquess. Lord Salisbury, is pre-eminent; and I think the noble Earl, Lord Swinton. would belong to that group also. Fourthly, there are what I would call the radical reformers, who include most of the Labour Party, perhaps; and, finally, the single-Chamber men, of whom we have not heard very much on this occasion, and with whom I will not deal now.
I make one other preliminary comment, and this, I think, would win acceptance: that it is desirable in principle that there should be as much agreement as possible about all the basic political institutions of this country. We have agreement about the Crown, the Lower House, the Judiciary, and the principles of the Civil Service, but we certainly have not got any kind of agreement about the type of Second Chamber we require. Is there any chance of reaching an agreement, to start with at any rate, as to what is wrong with the existing Second Chamber. One defect admitted by everybody it seems to me—though in my opinion it is not the most fundamental defect—is the difficulty of providing enough Opposition of Labour Peers who can attend regularly. I am not referring to quality. Noble Lords opposite will be surprised to know that we do not suffer any inferiority complex, although we recognise the enormous abilities opposite. We do not shrink away from them. But when it comes to numbers in the vote, the result is ludicrous. However well we argue, it can make very little difference when the Whips are properly laid on, and that situation has been familiar to us for many years.
Various proposals have been suggested and; speaking for myself, I welcome par- 726 ticularly the inclusion of women. But generally, I think that, so far as tinkering changes can be, these proposals are a step in the right direction—always assuming that they do not prevent still better things coming about. Again there is the proposal that the eldest son of a Peer should not be compelled to take his seat here. I strongly endorse that proposal. We should have suffered the loss of the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, and that would have been a serious failure from our point of view; but, by and large, I think it is unfair, and I believe that most people think so. I hope that the sons of Peers will be released from this particular obligation.
But I do not think that, when one has made these tinkering little changes, it will solve the problem. Although life peerages will do something, they will not do much. I have a number of friends, of all Parties, who I am sure would be pleased to accept peerages, whether they were hereditary or life peerages. But I have no one within my own personal acquaintance (though I know that such people exist) who would accept a life peerage yet would not accept an hereditary peerage. Mr. Amery was mentioned, and that may well be a sad case, because he was so great a man. Of all the people I know personally, however. I do not know anyone who would accept a life peerage but would not accept a hereditary one. However, the idea of life peerages seems to me helpful, so far as it goes.
The real question—and it has come up again and again—is whether we wish to continue a Second Chamber at all in which there is a hereditary element—in which the hereditary Peers ensure a permanent and overwhelming majority for the Conservative Party. No country in the world. I am assured, contains to-day an hereditary element in its Second Chamber. I made inquiries from a supreme expert, and for a time he thought that Nigeria might provide an example of this in their Council of Chiefs. But now I learn that the Council of Chiefs is not hereditary, so even Nigeria does not provide a parallel, and there are no parallels anywhere in the world. Certainly no one who belongs to any Left Wing Party is likely to advocate the retention of the hereditary element in this Chamber. On the other hand, the retention of an hereditary element—I put it as generally as possible—is, I think (though I have 727 no means of judging) supported by most Conservatives.
It is supported. I think, on one of three grounds. First of all, there is the purely Party point of view. In saying that, I do not impute some special cynicism to politicians. Those who believe in their Party are entitled to consider that it is likely to do more good to the country than its opponents. I do not think one throws away a Party advantage unless one is forced to do so by fresh conviction or by overwhelming circumstances. Secondly, most Conservatives, it seems to me, feel that, quite apart from purely Party questions, the Second Chamber will be a more cautious Chamber—more conservative with a small "c"—and it is felt that this function of the brake is one of the functions which a Second Chamber, quite academically speaking, is expected to perform. Thirdly, there are those—and I think the noble Lord. Lord Balfour of Burleigh, is among them—who, as they would say, believe in the hereditary principle; who would say that, apart from any calculation of Party or anything of that kind, blood is blood; and that, on the whole, those who come from families who have performed most distinguished services in the past are somewhat more likely than the average man to render signal service in the future. I hope I am not distorting it: I am putting it in the way that has appealed to many illustrious minds. There is this belief that there is some value in the hereditary principle, not in relation to some Party calculation, but in relation to the merit of the service which those who inherited these great traditions would be likely to perform.
I do not want to stop this afternoon to argue against any of these considerations, except to say that, in the form I have presented them, or, indeed, in any other form, they could not be accepted by anybody who belonged to the Labour Party. I do not think—it is a matter of opinion—they would be accepted by the majority of our people anywhere, irrespective of Party. I would say, in passing, that if one rejects the hereditary principle for the purposes of Parliament one is not rejecting it for the purposes of the Monarchy. One is not rejecting it for the purposes of inheriting property, whatever one's views about the inheritance of property. After all, there are quite a number of countries 728 which still have hereditary monarchies. Almost all countries make provision for inherited property in some form or another, but in relation to Parliament we stand alone. I feel that that fact should never be lost sight of in any discussion of this issue.
I would venture, therefore, to come to the proposal which I should like to place before your Lordships. I can place it before the House in a most general form. It is not my idea. I hasten to say. I claim no initiative genius in regard to it. It has, in fact, been composed into the form of a Bill by a non-Party expert, but it could be carried through in various ways.
This is the scheme. All Peers, whether hereditary or created, would have the right to sit and speak in the House, but only a limited number of Peers would have the right to sit, to speak, and to vote; only a minority of the Peers would receive the right to vote as well as the right to come here and speak. The voting Writs would be distributed in a fashion calculated to secure and maintain rough parity between the various Parties over a period of years. The strength of the Parties among the voting Peers in this House would roughly reflect the strength in the House of Commons—I hope it would not reflect it to the last iota. I personally would hope that a number of Cross-Benchers, for example, would be endowed with voting Writs. I must not forget the Liberals: I certainly would not wish to show disrespect to them. I would hope that a number of Cross-Benchers would be given voting rights and special attention given to the position of the Liberals, so that we could make the results of the Divisions less of a foregone conclusion than in the House of Commons. But, by and large, the Government of the day, it seems to me, should, ordinarily, in the last resort be capable of securing a majority in the Second Chamber.
The beauty—if I may call it that—of the two-Writ plan is that it provides a solution of what seems to me otherwise an insoluble dilemma, the dilemma of, on the one hand, denying any one Party a permanent majority—and on that there appears to be a wide measure of agreement—and, on the other hand, maintaining some hereditary contribution to which the Conservatives attach so much value. No doubt even under the two-Writ scheme the Conservatives would 729 enjoy a majority among potential and actual speakers, but the voting majority would disappear and with it the main objection. I would hope, in Labour minds to giving the House of Lords the same standing on all questions as it enjoys on non-Party questions.
It seems to me that our standing and our capacity for service would be greatly improved all round. The removal of the permanent control of this House from the hands of one Party would make the whole institution much more attractive to Labour men of the highest class and also, surely, the Liberals, and I would hope also non-political notables. The emergence of our House as a genuinely impartial body would greatly strengthen the quality of our personnel. At the same time continuity would be preserved. I do not know whether I speak for all my colleagues, but maybe I speak for some when I say that to that I attach no little importance.
Would not the noble Lord's scheme involve the creation of an enormous number of Socialist Life Peers in the event of a Socialist majority in the other place? Would not the difficulty of getting people to accept life peerages in the present circumstances of non-payment be very much intensified?
I was dealing with payment at the beginning. I certainly feel that noble Lords would require payment: f hoped to make that quite plain. If the noble Lord asks me whether it would not involve the creation of Life Peers on a large scale, I would say that it would not involve the creation of peerages on the kind of scale contemplated hitherto in discussions of this sort, because you would have to obtain a majority in a much smaller body—those who possessed voting rights.
I was saying a word about continuity, In the Labour Party, for instance, we may think one particular arrangement is perfect; the Conservative Party may prefer some other arrangement. Basically it seems to me a great advantage if we can secure agreement. The institutions of our 730 country are all the stronger if there is solid support behind them. And surely it is a far more satisfactory method of natural growth that we should gradually adapt what is there than sweep away what exists and put something totally different in its place immediately. It seems to me that this scheme would be of positive advantage to some future Labour Government compared with the present position. But it builds on what is there and does not indulge in over-drastic reduction. Therefore, with much humility I put forward this plan—not my own, but one to which I have given a great deal of thought—the two-Writ plan, as a compromise which would last for many years and which might command far more general agreement than any other plan of reform of which I have heard. Respectfully, committing no one except myself. I present it to the House.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ EARL WINTERTON
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, has made a most interesting speech upon which I do not propose to comment, at any rate for the moment, though I should like to make reference to it later. No doubt when the Lord Chancellor comes to reply he will give consideration to the noble Lord's points. May I ask your Lordships' indulgence—not sympathy, but indulgence—because I am suffering from an infection of the eyes, which I hope is only temporary, and if any noble Lords wish to interrupt me, which they may do because I am always combative, would they excuse me if I do not sit down immediately, because I shall not be able to see them.
May I add a second personal note, if it is not inappropriate. As noble Lords are aware, I was for forty-seven years a Member of another place and had the honour to be the father of the House, as it is called. I was very proud of my membership there. But I would say, I hope without effrontery or effusiveness or what might be considered impertinence, that I am equally proud to be a Member of your Lordships' House. I never thought the House has stood better than in the debate which has taken place. We have had the highest quality of speeches, and we have had what is so much a part of this House, essentially fair speeches.
I would add one other matter of a personal kind, in a sense. I should like to 731 pay my tribute—and I am sure it is a tribute in which other noble Lords would like to participate—to two Members of your Lordships' House who have not only contributed, as one would have expected, most admirable speeches to this debate, but by their advocacy in the past have done so much to bring about the modest reforms which we are considering. I need hardly say that I refer to the noble Marquess. Lord Salisbury, and the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel. We have had very remarkable speeches from them in the past. and only those of us who have moved behind the scenes (as I have done, because I am one of the few Members of your Lordships' House who took part in another place in the debate on the Parliament Bill, and I have been on many Committees of my Party concerned with this matter) know how much influence Lord Salisbury and Lord Samuel have had on these high issues and how sometimes they have had to fight against different views in their own Parties. We owe a great debt of gratitude to them. While I agree entirely with them that we should be grateful to the Government, I hope that they in particular and those of us who agree with them will be very vigilant in this matter.
I was a little concerned at some portion of the trend, not of the speech of my noble friend Lord Hailsham, but of the speech of the noble Earl the Leader of the House. I am personally in some doubt whether the Government, now they have calculated the views of the House, which are obviously in favour of these modest proposals, are prepared in Her Majesty's Speech to announce that a Bill will be brought in and passed in another place. Here I find myself in some disagreement with noble Lords in all parts of the House. I do not believe you will get complete agreement between the Parties on these or any other proposals put forward. I think it is impossible, and I say that from a very long knowledge of the question. But I believe that the Government could get a Bill embodying these proposals through another place without much difficulty and possibly—I do not want to say anything wounding to the Opposition—without anything more than a formal objection by the Opposition, and I believe it would pass your Lordships' House. I hope that that is going to be done and that we shall not 732 be told, now that the House appears to be in favour of these proposals, that there is going to be another Party Conference, because in that event no legislation will be possible in this Parliament.
Now I come to the proposals themselves. I do not propose to discuss them; they have been fully discussed in other speeches. I personally regret three things. I regret, first, that the Government have not taken the opportunity of dealing with what I call the renouncement of peerages. I think it should have been dealt with and I think it could have been dealt with. I agree wholeheartedly with the point so well put forward by the noble Lord from Scotland in regard to the anomaly in the position of Scottish peerages. Though I admit that politically it is probably difficult, I am sorry that there has not been an announcement about the contemplation of a further rise in what I might call the emoluments of your Lordships' House, because I think the present amount is too small. I believe that that is the general opinion in all Parties. If I may use a vulgar phrase, I do not think that it will do the trick.
I have nothing more to say on that point, but I wish to make reference to the much bigger issue—namely, the further steps to be taken to reform the composition of your Lordships' House. May I, as an ordinary Back Bencher on the Conservative side, assure the members of the Party opposite, who do not seem quite certain on this subject, that so far as I know—-I think all my noble friends behind will agree—there is not the slightest wish on the part of anybody to increase the powers of the House. I know of no single Conservative Peer who wants it; all we are concerned with is to improve the composition. Most of us believe in the hereditary system, but a large number of us believe that that system can survive in your Lordships' House only if it is divested of the real abuses which it has at the present time. I will come in a moment to what those abuses are.
I should like to support my noble friend Lord Swinton in his admirable speech, in saying that we should have some clarification from the Lord Chancellor as to whether, at some time in the future, the Government will contemplate proceeding with the bigger question. After all, it will be a little difficult for 733 the Government to refuse to do so, because many of its members were parties to the agreement between the Parties in 1948 that the hereditary principle should not alone qualify. I do not think I am giving away a secret when I say that I was in the Conservative Shadow Cabinet at the time. So far as I know, nobody objected to that principle. Therefore, even if they are not going to do it now, the Government ought to say whether they agree with it. I say that because I rather gathered from the speech of the noble Earl the Leader of the House that he was not very favourable to the idea. He stressed very much the antiquity of your Lordships' House. Perhaps I was wrong, but I thought he gave it as a reason for being cautious about interfering more drastically than is proposed with the hereditary principle.
Incidentally, having been very idle at school and at Oxford in regard to history, I was thrilled to hear from a noble Lord about the history of your Lordships' House. I had no idea that it went back not only to Roman times but almost, as I understood the noble Lord to suggest, to pre-Roman times.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I think that was a slip of the tongue. I think he said "before the Roman Conquest." meaning the Norman Conquest.
§ EARL WINTERTON
I thought the noble Lord said "before the Roman Conquest." I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Hailsham should have deprived me of something which gave me the greatest pleasure last night. I had pictured to myself your Lordships' neolithic ancestors, clad only in skins and each with a large club by his side, sitting in opposite rows round the Woolsack. It occurred to me, if I may say so with great respect, that the reason why the Lord Chancellor does not possess the power of the Speaker of another place, or even of the President of any other Assembly or Senate in the world—that is to say, he cannot rebuke us when we indulge, as I am indulging now, in happy irrelevancies—was this antiquity of our institution, because while, no doubt, the Lord Chancellor in neolithic times was possessed of a mace, it would not be of much use against 400 club-men. But my noble friend has, unfortunately, dispelled this fine dream which I had.
734 The noble Lord, Lord Teynham, used, I thought, a somewhat equivocal argument in commending the hereditary principle to your Lordships' House. He said, quite truly, that the main classic races were won by horses having the best possible pedigree and breeding. That is perfectly true. But it is equally true, as anybody who has studied this subject of breeding knows, that you may pay for the most expensive sire and have the best dam and you may get a horse that is useful for nothing except cats' meat. I need hardly say that I am not referring to any Member of your Lordships' House when I say that. In a long experience of over seventy years, some of the most consummate blackguards, both men and women, that I have ever met have had the moss ancient and lengthy pedigrees. So I do not think that my noble friend's analogy was altogether a good one, although in other directions he made a most admirable speech.
I do not wish to detain your Lordships except for a moment or so longer. I spoke just now of the hereditary system, and I said that most of us—in fact all of us on this side of the House—favoured it. provided its abuses were got rid of. I am coming to a most delicate point and one which some noble Lords may resent, but I am sure that they will accept my complete sincerity in this matter. How can any of us before a meeting of our fellow countrymen and women, whomsoever they may be, defend this state of affairs?—and in saying this. I refer to no individual. The abdication took place because it was held by His Majesty's Government in Great Britain and by His Majesty's Governments overseas that it was not consonant with the position of a Sovereign to make the marriage which the then Sovereign contemplated. If that was not an inroad into the sacrosanct principle of the hereditary system, I do not know what is. Yet a Member of your Lordships' House, convicted of a serious crime, sent to prison for several years, can, in theory, on the day that he gets out, come here and take his seat and vote. A Member who has never attended the House, has no intention of attending the House, abuses it as an institution, and goes, as one noble Lord has done, much further and abuses the Sovereign, can, if he alters his opinion, come and take his seat.
735 And, perhaps worst of all, is this situation: a noble Lord who lives permanently abroad, as some of our order do, in order to avoid paying taxes, can, during the three weeks that one is allowed to spend in Britain if one is resident overseas, come here and take his treat and vote. How can anyone justify that? What is the use of using old clichés about what a fine debating Chamber we are—of course we are—of how we have experts on every subject and what a friendly place this is? All that is true, but one cannot defend abuse of the hereditary system. I want to see those abuses shorn away, and I believe that could be done by some system of election such as takes place in the Scottish peerage and which used to take place (as I know, having voted for Representative Irish Peers) in the Irish peerage.
I cannot follow the argument of my noble friend the Leader of the House when he says, as I understood him to say, that if we had such a system of election the younger Members of your Lordships' House who do such splendid work and would be a credit to any assembly would not be elected. Of course they would be elected if they were willing—
§ EARL WINTERTON
I do not know whether or not they would be willing, but that is largely a question of the emoluments offered and whether it would be possible for them to live on the emoluments they were given. If those emoluments were increased they might be able to do so, but I do not see that they would be less willing to serve than they are at the present time. I visualise a House of forty or fifty Life Peers. Presumably those who have been given peerages for public service would continue to have the right to sit, but only if they were prepared to attend. Here I must say that there have been bad cases—and I am sorry if I must offend personal friends from another place—of Members who, having been given peerages for public service, some of them men of the highest repute who have been Cabinet Ministers elsewhere, have never once attended your Lordships' House since they have taken their seat. That reduces the whole system to ridicule and must 736 cause the enemies of those noble Lords to suppose that the only reason why they accepted a peerage was in order to be called "My Lord."
If, in addition there were some 200 elected Peers I believe we should have a first-rate Chamber, but I do not want to press the point. All I ask, with my noble friend Lord Swinton and a number of others, is that Her Majesty's Government shall not exclude from consideration some form of further reform on those lines in the future; and I hope they will consider accepting the smaller suggestion made by the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, about the Writ of Summons.
I want to say only one other thing. I hope the proposal made by my right reverend friend the Lord Bishop of Chichester (whom we shall all miss from this House when he goes and who, though I have often disagreed with him, is an old and dear friend of mine) on the representation of other religions will also be considered. Finally, I hope that those of us on both sides of the House who are generally in favour of some system of reform—and I believe there is between us more agreement than might appear on the surface—will not cease in our efforts and, if necessary, will form some loose organisation or association in order to press forward those reforms and maintain the position and lustre of your Lordships' House.
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ LORD COLERAINE
My Lords. I have been a Member of your Lordships' House for so short a time, and I cannot claim the political experience of my noble friend to whose wise and witty speech we have just been listening, that I had many misgivings about intervening in a debate which so closely concerns the traditions of your Lordships' House. Nevertheless, it seems to me that this debate is partly in the nature of a Parliamentary reconnaisance; that Her Majesty's Government are anxious to know the opinion of Members of the House from every quarter. For that reason I will venture to put before your Lordships my own views, for what they are worth.
I support the proposals of Her Majesty's Government. I wish that they went further. I wish that they went further in the direction outlined yesterday by my noble friend Lord Salisbury. 737 And I must say that I was much impressed by what the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, said about the pressgang Peers. I was not altogether convinced, however, by the observations of my noble friend Lord Hailsham about the difficulty of getting through a Bill which was anything more than the bare proposals which have been put before us. But generally speaking I support heartily the Government's proposal—with one exception. It seems to me that the proposal to admit women Life Peers and at the same time to keep out hereditary Peeresses is utterly indefensible. We pride ourselves very often, and I believe justly, on being an illogical people. We say that we have a deeper wisdom than logic which, particularly in matters of politics, serves us well. I think that is very true. But there is another maxim which we hold dear—that it is unwise to proceed to extremes. And it seems to me that in this case Her Majesty's Government are carrying lack of logic to the extremity. They have really reached in it a kind of ultima thule of absurdity.
At the time of the Rhondda case, to which reference has been made this afternoon, the position was certainly illogical: women could go to another place but they could not come to this House. But it was at least defensible, for it could be argued that the mere fact that women had votes and, because they had votes were entitled to be represented in an elected Chamber, did not entitle them to conic to an hereditary Chamber which did rot depend upon election. But now that argument is being swept aside because Her Majesty's Government are proposing that women should be admitted to this House.
If the Government were saying "Clearly we must limit the hereditary principle; we must do away with it or confine it within very narrow limits," then there would be an argument for keeping the hereditary Peeresses out of the House. But they do not say that. They continue to accept the hereditary principle without qualification, except such qualification as your Lordships may, by Standing Order, give it. Thus we are envisaging a position in which there is a House of Lords to which women shall be admitted, in which the hereditary principle is untouched and where the only human beings who cannot get in are those who are entitled by their inheritance and are no 738 longer debarred by their sex. I would ask Her Majesty's Government to reconsider a policy that seems to me so wildly absurd that it will tend to cast ridicule upon proposals which I believe otherwise to be serious and sound.
May I say a word about the standpoint from which I approached this question of reform? I believe that an effective Second Chamber is not just a useful and convenient adjunct to Parliamentary government. I believe that it is an essential corollary to Parliamentary government. I believe that without an effective Second Chamber. Parliamentary government will eventually disappear, and will be succeeded by the dictatorship of a majority, exercised through a Party caucus. I do not believe that Parliamentary government and mass democracy are necesarily the same thing. I have had many arguments with members of the Russian Government about that. They maintain that their system is democracy, and it is not always easy to counter their arguments. What they cannot maintain is that it is Parliamentary government, or that it leads to a free society. And what we are interested in is the maintenance of a free society.
There seems to me to be one requisite, above all others, that is necessary for an effective Second Chamber. It is not, in my judgment, a question of powers. Those may or may not be important, but at any rate we are not considering them now. The most important thing, I believe, for the effectiveness of this House is that it should command the respect of the people of England. The noble Lord. Lord St. Oswald, in what struck me as a most remarkable maiden speech, if he will allow me to say so—
§ LORD COLERAINE
Well, it was a most remarkable speech. One tends, of course, to think that the best speeches are those with which one most closely agrees. Lord St. Oswald did make the same point. He pointed out, as other noble Lords have done, that the House of Lords cannot command general respect if only one point of view is represented. And there is general agreement on that. Of course, that is the whole purpose of the Government's measures, so far as they go; the whole purpose of the creation of Life Peers. But even from 739 that point of view, it seems to me, we come against this difficulty. Either we have to create such a large number of Life Peers at a stroke that it becomes almost ridiculous, or else the one-Party complexion of the House will largely continue for a very long time to come. The only way we can escape from that dilemma, it seems to me, is by some restriction upon the attendance and powers of hereditary Peers themselves. I do not believe—and here I agree with my noble friend Lord Salisbury—that this House commands the respect it ought to do when the hereditary principle is carried, in theory at any rate, to the extremes to which the noble Earl, Lord Winterton, referred a moment or two ago.
Last night. Lord Elton, in a speech which I am sorry to say I missed hearing, though I read it with great interest, contrasted the real House of Lords we know with a purely imaginary House of Lords, consisting, as he described it, of 500 or so power-drunk Tory Peers coming down here to "steamroller" things through the Lobbies. And he asked why we should bother with the imaginary House when we know what the reality is. Imagination in these matters is a very real and important thing, and if it is the fact that in the minds of the people of this country the House of Lords is as Lord Elton fancifully described his imaginary House, it seems to me that it is vital and urgent that we should disabuse people's minds of that picture. I do not for my part see how we can disabuse their minds except by qualifying the hereditary principle, by limiting it in some way. There are noble Lords here—they are few in number—who are opposed to the hereditary principle. No doubt there is a body of opinion outside which is also opposed to it, but I do not believe that the hereditary principle is unpopular in the country and that the hereditary Peerage is not greatly respected. But the danger which faces us, and which I think we have to recognise, is that when the hereditary principle is carried to its logical extreme, it does, whether we like it or not, become ridiculous. That is why I believe the Government would be well advised to go a little further than they have done in this matter.
May I just say one word more—it will be only a brief one—on a matter which 740 concerns not so much the Government or what the Government may propose, but the House itself? I was very much impressed, if I may say so, by the speech which the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, made last night, in which he said something about the possibility of reducing the House to a comparatively small body of professional whole-time politicians. It seems to me that any proposals for reform of this House must have that tendency. That is what has been happening in another place over the years, and it is a danger that I think we must guard against in this House. Like others who come here from another place. I find the atmosphere extremely agreeable; I find that the standard of debate is very high; I find that the hours are reasonable, and that I spend more time (though not an excessive amount) than I used to do in my bed. But what has impressed me more than anything else about this House is a certain feeling one has—a feeling of detachment on both sides. I welcome these proposals. I think they ought to go further than they do. I hope that one day they will be taken further. But I do think that we ought to keep at the back of our minds a determination that we should not lose altogether our amateur status; we should keep this feeling of detachment which I have tried to describe; and certainly we should never let the Party machine, on either side, get the control that I think it has got in another place.
§ 5.39 p.m.
My Lords. I gather that the object of this highly interesting and important debate is to enable the Government to ascertain the general views of the Members of this House on the subject of reform; and that reference will then be made to the matter in the gracious Speech next week, after which the Government will produce a Bill which they will hope to carry into law. During the debate, a large number of highly diverse proposals and opinions have been put forward, and I am very sorry to think that the Bill which the Government are likely to produce will be so circumscribed.
I should have liked to see something much bolder than what is now proposed. My own view is that the introduction of a number of Life Peers and Peeresses will not make much difference. I do not think that they will attend any better than a 741 large number of Members of this body do now—unless, of course, it is made worth their while by means of a much higher salary, or unless they feel that, combined with their salary, they are doing work which is really worth while. I have no doubt that the proposals of the Government, if they are limited to these two questions, will pass through both Houses without much difficulty, because they are so innocuous or, as the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, said, so "tinkering". I think that it is a great pity that we not take this opportunity of going much further. I imagine that the Bill will be initiated it this House. l should like to see a really broad Bill introduced here, a Bill on which we can all argue and debate, and see what result we can get out of it, and then pass it down to another place for their opinions.
In the few moments at my disposal, perhaps I may suggest one or two reforms of a minor character which appeal to me. Tile noble Earl, Lord Attlee, spoke of the alarm which his Cabinet felt at the possibility of a huge number of "backwoodsmen" suddenly coming down to your Lordships' House to vote down any measure proposed by the Labour Government in 1945. It did not happen then. and I do not think it will ever happen in the future, but I can imagine that if I were a Socialist Minister it would rather annoy me that there was a possibility of such a thing happening. A perfectly simple way of getting out of this difficulty would be to disfranchise any noble Lord who did not take the Oath at the beginning of a new Parliament within, say, a month, except for good reasons shown, such as absence abroad. He should be disfranchised for the whole of that Parliament. I would go further than that. If any noble Lord did not put in a reasonable number of attendances in this House diving a Session—let us say, just to give a figure to argue on, fifteen—then I would disfranchise him for the whole of the next Session. That seems to me a simple way of preventing one of the disadvantages under which members of the Opposition in this House at present suffer.
There is another small point that I should like to bring forward. I see no reason why Peers, like convicts and lunatics, should be deprived of a Parliamentary vote. There does not seem to me to be any fairness in that in these days. I think that Peers should be 742 allowed to vote for their Parliamentary candidate for another place, and I should like to see a clause of that sort inserted in any Bill to reform your Lordships' House. Thirdly, I agree very much with the noble Viscounts, Lord Stansgate and Lord Hailsham, in their "press-gang" fears. I see no reason why a man should be forced to join this House if he does not wish to do so, and in order to come to a decision I should like, to hear the opposite case argued by somebody taking a different point of view.
There is another disability under which Members of your Lordships' House suffer which I should like to see removed. I should like to see Members of this House enabled to stand as candidates for another place. Of course, we could not have our cake and eat it. If a noble Lord opted to stand as a candidate for another place, and was unsuccessful in his candidature, then for some agreed time—say, the whole of the next Parliament—he would be disbarred from sitting in this House. That is a matter of adjustment and agreement. I put forward this proposal for two reasons. First, there are a number of young Peers in this House, able and ambitious young Peers, not confined to one Party, by any means, who would be very glad to be allowed to stand for membership of the House of Commons. If they are here, they cannot hope to attain any of the leading Offices of State, such as those of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Foreign Secretary. And there have been several Members of your Lordships' House who, in the general opinion, would have made, we will say, excellent Foreign Secretaries or Chancellors of the Exchequer, but that has been impossible because of their membership of your Lordships' House.
Above all, it is not possible for a Prime Minister to come from this House. Shortly after I first joined another place, in 1922, Mr. Bonar Law died, and the Premiership became vacant. We all remember that the late Lord Curzon was bitterly disappointed because he was not sent for to fill the vacancy. I could never understand how a statesman of the standing of Lord Curzon, even at that time, thirty-five years ago, could have imagined that it was possible for a Prime Minister to sit in your Lordships' House. However, Lord Curzon thought otherwise. But nowadays it would be quite unthinkable for the Prime Minister to sit 743 here. Yet it is quite possible that in the years to come a very suitable man, adjudged by the country to be just the man to fill the most important Office of State, might happen to be a Member of your Lordships' House. The idea is not confined to one Party—after all, the noble Lord. Lord Pakenham, is still a young man. For that reason alone, I think that Members of this House should be permitted to stand for membership of another place.
Your Lordships may say that these are only small Committee points, but the object of my rising to-day is to ask the Government not to be circumscribed in the measure which they bring forward in the new Session. but to open the doors to a really full Bill, in which we can move to insert new clauses, as well as Amendments to existing clauses, so that the true opinion of your Lordships can be ascertained and broad proposals can be submitted for the opinion of another place.
§ 5.49 p.m.
VISCOUNT DE L'ISLE
My Lords, in the twelve years or so during which I had the privilege of sitting in your Lordships' House, I do not remember hearing a better debate. All the contributions that I have heard have been in a most moderate tone and all noble Lords who have spoken have been at one in trying to help to solve an extremely difficult constitutional problem. I do not quarrel with Her Majesty's Government for not putting forward more radical proposals. I think that there is great substance in the claim that they should try to seek the greatest measure of agreement in any proposal they make to reform your Lordships' House. I, for one, was encouraged by the remarkable speech of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, which I thought was a key speech in this debate. If I may also say so, I think it is very creditable to your Lordships' House that we should have converted the former Leader of the Socialist Party and a self-declared unicameralist to the point of view which he has now espoused.
My Lords, we have been talking chiefly about Life Peers and about women Peers: may I say straight away that I think we should be willing not only to accept but also to welcome the presence of the ladies in this House. I regret the remarks of 744 Lord Stansgate when he said that the references to them had been facetious. They have not. I also support what Lord Swinton said about hereditary Peeresses. I think it would be a very shabby deal if at this juncture they could not come amongst us. The noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, says, "Do they want to?" I think we should invite them and then we shall see.
As to Life Peers, I am not very sanguine about our solving all our problems by life peerages. I hope we shall get, at any rate on the Labour Benches, an addition of trade-union experience which we might not get otherwise, and that, I think, would be of great strength to this House and to the country at large. But I do not think we shall get a great many "worker bees" in the hive. Inevitably the Life Peers will tend to be men of very busy and fully-occupied lives who can give only a small portion of their time to the detailed work of this House, and I do not think that will revivify the Opposition or lend immensely increased authority to our deliberations. The difficulties which confront us are many and this is not really a true solution.
The first difficulty is economic, as has been so wisely pointed out. Noble Lords nowadays, or those who would become noble Lords, have not got the means to spend their time here, to take flats in London and be prepared to work late, and so on, at the expense of their livelihood, their wives and families, their children's education and so on. Lord Lucas of Chilworth, in his remarkable speech yesterday, made that perfectly plain, as one who is deeply experienced in this matter; so some form of payment will be necessary. Of course, the question is, "Whom do you pay?" That has already been pointed out.
Lord Pakenham, who I am sorry is not here, put before the House, I think very fairly, a proposition which I had heard in outline before and which merits further consideration. But I should not like myself to see this House, as my noble friend Lord Colerain said in a speech with which I was wholly in agreement, dependent on the Party machines. I say that with great respect to Lord Hailsham. I fear, as I think the noble Viscount. Lord Samuel. seemed to fear 745 in his speech last night, that the Party machines have become too powerful and, indeed, as I thought he said, all-powerful. I believe it is inevitable, with universal franchise, that opinion in the House of Commons must be directly or almost directly divided between the two great Parties in the State, and it logically follows that those who command the Party machines in the present circumstances have an immense and a growing hold over their followers. The noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, laughs. but every week we read about a potential revolt in the Socialist Party or a potential revolt in the Conservative Party, but they never occur, because, as everyone knows, the Party machines are so powerful.
I do not want to see that form of control, so to speak, leaking into your Lordships' House. I believe that a certain detachment and independence is necessary to the working of our representative institutions. How we are to maintain that here, and yet are to have a more equal balance of Parties, is something which I must confess eludes me. I very clearly see the objection moderately expressed by Lord Pakenham from the point of view of the Labour Benches that the Conservative Peers will always vote them down. But the very fact that there is a perpetual majority is in one way a source of strength to his Party. Moreover it does make for considerable detachment from close Party ties. How we are to get that sort of detachment if once again we are divided on strict Party lines I do not know.
Politics could not be managed without Parties. I should like to add that I do not see why we might not include perhaps even a larger number of Liberals. Whatever might be said on the question, there is undoubtedly still a considerable Liberal element in the country. I should also like to see here people more loosely attached to politics than those of us who call ourselves Party politicians. If we had a limited House, how is this independence to be achieved? The House has considerable power still. If ever it becomes inconvenient to the Government of the day, of whatever complexion, the inevitable tendency must be to try to rig the Upper House in order to get the acquiescence of the majority.
746 While I agree that a certain majority for one Party in this House does not make for good Parliamentary institutions, equally I submit to your Lordships, in the interest of representative government and independence of mind, there ought not to be a slavish adherence to, or a slavish following of, the Government of the day in the speeches and votes of the majority in this House. Although we are making a beginning with life peerages, we are being involved in far more problems than we are solving. If we are to look forward to a successful future for this House, we ought to try to maintain within it a very large body of opinion which, though perhaps owing allegiance to Party, is not strictly subordinated to the Party machines.
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ LORD CLITHEROE
My Lords. I feel rather hesitant in addressing your Lordships, as I have not been for very long a Member of this House. I was, however, a Member of another place for many years, and have taken the closest interest in these problems all my life I rise to say that I wish to support the. Government's proposals in general, and certainly to congratulate the Leader of the House for the able way in which he put them forward. I am bound to say that with many other noble Lords. I was disappointed that the Government's proposals were as limited as they were, but I understand the argument that one step at a time may be wise.
There has been general agreement in the House on the desirability of having a Second Chamber—with the exception of one view, expressed by the noble Lord. Lord Faringdon, with which I shall not deal because general opinion seems quite convinced of the desirability of a Second Chamber. I think there has also been fairly general agreement on its functions: the function of revision; the function of providing a platform for public discussion; and, thirdly—-by far the most important, in my view, and the point which was made by the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, last night—the function of saying to the House of Commons on certain occasions, "Think again."
The reforms we have been discussing are entirely concerned with the membership of the House. I fully apreciate that the Party opposite do riot like the hereditary system. though I think some 747 of them might recognise that there is value in hereditary membership, if only for this reason: that there ought to be some persons in Parliament specially charged to speak for the past and the future, as well as for the present. I conceive that hereditary Peers are in some ways better qualified to do that, and better suited by their training, than some others.
This House, as everyone knows, grew out of the Magnum Concilium. the great Council of the State which comprised the great men in the State whom the Crown wished to consult and whose support the Crown wished to gain. Right up to 1540, when the monasteries were dissolved, the non-hereditary element of this House was larger than the hereditary element. I would remind the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, of that point, although I know that the situation in the Scottish Parliament was different, as I believe that at that time there was a unicameral system; but so far as this House is concerned, right up to 1540 there were more nonhereditary Peers than hereditary Peers. At the present time we have under forty non-hereditary Peers, the Lords of Appeal and the Bishops (who owe their presence here, as the right reverend Prelate, the Lord Bishop of Chichester, said, in his interesting speech, not to the fact that they were members of the national Church, but to the fact that they were originally great feudatories of the Crown and, moreover. were practically the only educated people in the country at the time). I make this point about the House having had so predominently a non-hereditary element in the first part of its life because it would not, therefore, be very contrary to its traditions if the balance were to go somewhat in that direction again.
The main new proposal is to restore to the Crown the Prerogative which it undoubtedly had, and which, in my opinion, was most unfortunately challenged in the Wensleydale decision, of creating nonhereditary Lords. I applaud and support that decision, and I only hope it is fully understood that this power is not to be used for the purpose of making a large creation of non-hereditary Peers at any one time. We all understand the need for this new creation, which was so well put by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and other noble Lords, but I should like to say a word on the question 748 of limitation, on which not a great deal has been said. I feel that the question of limitation must be carefully examined. On the one hand, I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, that the unlimited right to create Peers is an important part of the Constitution, because that power is in relation to this House the counterpoise in the Crown's power to its right to dissolve the other House. I am sure the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, will agree that this Prerogative of the Crown, which of course is trust held by the Crown on behalf of the people, has less significance now, because the power of veto has been taken away from this House and has been replaced by the power of delay. Therefore, the right to create Peers is not quite so essential as it was previously. I think this is a subject which should be examined closely when we have a Bill before us, and all the debates which took place at the time of the Peerage Bill. in 1719, and at the time of the Regency Bills, when George Ill was ill, are most important and should be studied before we come to a decision.
For lack of agreement, the Government have made no proposals for legislation with regard to hereditary Peers, and that, of course, as I think all noble Lords have said, is a problem that should be tackled. I hope, however, that any change will leave in the service of the House all those hereditary Peers who might prove of value to your Lordships' House. That is the line I would draw. As a start, I am quite prepared to accept the suggestion of Lord Swinton's Select Committee. There are, of course, other possibilities to consider. The noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, put forward an interesting scheme for limiting the right for Peers to vote, though not to sit. Then there is the scheme which is in the brain of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, which we should wish to hear about one day. Then there are other proposals, many of which are new and, therefore, were not considered by the Rosebery Commission or the Bryce Report, but which I feel merit serious consideration.
I think the plan to give leave of absence to those Peers who are unable to attend, or whose abilities do not lie in the direction of legislation or taking part in Parliamentary government, is worth trying; and I think it might be considered also whether the newly created life Peers might not be permitted to resign their 749 seats when the time comes, as the Bishops can, and as the Law Lords could in the first few years of their existence. It was only after a period that the Law Lord's seat in the House of Lords was extended for life, it having previously been for the period of his service as a Law Lord. Before sitting down, I should like to say a word of congratulation to my noble friend Lord Ingleby on his valuable contribution last night. I will not pursue the point he made, which has been made by other speakers and needs a great deal of consideration. To sum up, I support the proposals of the Government, and I trust that this first step in the reform of the House will lead to further evolution of our membership in a way which will not only satisfy the traditionalists, amongst whom I number myself, but also those who do not take the same view of the hereditary Peerage that some of us on this side of the House take.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT ASTOR
My Lords, I want to speak for only a short time. I would first, congratulate the Government on having the "guts" to come forward with a scheme at all. Many criticisms of this scheme have come from former members of former Governments and Cabinets who had ample opportunity to produce schemes of their own and never had the determination to do it. That is a great point in favour of Her Majesty's Government. I hope they will not be worried by the slightly schizophrenic attitude of the Party opposite: on the one hand, recognition of the part a Second Chamber plays; and, on the other hand, the attitude we saw from Mr. Herbert Morrison. I think that what has come out of this debate is not only that we must have Life Peers, but that they must be amply paid if they are to do their work properly. I am sure there will be full support from those sitting on this side of the House for any proposal that those Peers on the other side who may need it should receive a proper living wage to do the job properly. I think there is general agreement that the Prerogative of the Crown should not be limited in the number of non-hereditary Peers it makes, any more than it is in the number of hereditary Peers.
I regret that nothing has been done to deal with the point of resignation or abandonment of a peerage, and I hope that it will be considered; and even if it is 750 not adopted, I hope that if a Peer whose son is a member of the House of Commons should die the change will not be made until the end of the Session. It is a great hardship on a constituency like my own, where, after I had been elected a few months, my father died and the unfortunate Conservative and Labour organisations had to go through the expense of a second by-election, with all the hard work that it involved. I am sure that there will be general agreement for the proposition that a Member of Parliament who succeeds should not have to change from one House to the other until the end of the current Session.
Lastly, I feel that the scheme of the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, has enormous merit. But let us, above everything, try to keep our personal independence from the rigours of Party ties which one has in another place. If we are to be like the Scottish Peers and elect a number by election, people will tend to vote the Party ticket and the hereditary Peers on the Liberal Benches and on the Socialist Benches will have less chance of being elected by the general body of the House. Nor will those Peers who may be keen Conservatives but who may take a view on a controversial subject like capital punishment or Suez, against the majority of their Party, get that support from their colleagues. The same point applies to the scheme of the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, for nicely balancing the Parties. It would be hard on those independent Cross-Benchers, from whom we get the most valuable contributions to our debate. It would equally mean that the Party leaders, drawing up their list of who would be their Party representatives, would try to take the "good boys" who always vote the straight Party line, rather than those who might have exercised a measure of personal independence.
That is the great advantage we have in this place over another place. When one is a Member of the House of Commons one has been elected by a constituency to support one's Party. The Whips are telling you that the whole time. Here we represent nothing but ourselves, and we have the independence, which most of us use, to go against our Party on matters in which our conscience is deeply concerned. That is one of the most important things in this House, and we must not lose it in any scheme of reform. Rather, I suggest, membership 751 should be by selection. There should be a selection committee, representing not only the Parties but also the Cross-Benches, the Spiritual Benches and the Law Lords. Any Peer who wants to be an elected Peer in this House should have to make an application to the selection committee, first saying that he proposes to be a reasonably regular attendant and putting his qualifications, such as that he has been a Member of Parliament; that he has taken part in local government; that he has been a justice of the peace; that he has held office of honour under the Crown in the civil, the diplomatic or the fighting services; that he takes part in the economic life of the country, trade, agriculture or industry; that he takes part in important philanthropic activities, or has important academic qualifications. Then—if I may give an analogy I would instance Chatham House—it is quite possible for a selection committee to see that the Peers who have something to contribute are able to be Members of this House. I put forward that suggestion because in any scheme we must not lose that personal independence which up till now the ridiculous hereditary principle has given us. We all agree, I think, that the abuses of the hereditary principle must be pruned; but let us not lose that personal independence.
§ 6.14 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, we are now coming to the end of a most valuable debate, and in making the final speech from this side of the House I should like to pay a tribute to the large number of most excellent speeches that we have heard from all sides of the House. Indeed, I doubt whether I have ever heard more outstanding speeches than I have heard in the course of these two days. It would be invidious to mention names, but I am sure the whole House will agree with me that it is right to say how much we all enjoyed the speech of the noble Viscount. Lord Samuel. We hope that we shall hear a great many more speeches from him on subjects on which he is so well qualified to address us. Also, there was the speech of the noble Marquess which I personally enjoyed very much, possibly because I was so much in agreement with him almost for the first time since I have been in this House. And I think the whole 752 House enjoyed the speech of my noble friend Lord Attlee. It is as if this House were determined, on the eve of great changes, to show how good it can be. It certainly has been at its best.
In winding up the debate from this side of the House, I personally suffer from two handicaps. The first my noble friend Lord Alexander of Hillsborough has already explained—that neither he nor I, nor any member on this side, is in a position to speak for our Party; we can speak only for ourselves. Perhaps the debate is none the worse for that, as so many other people have done the same. But we had only just heard the proposals of the Government and, naturally, we should like to consult our political friends on them. Secondly, we have not had really detailed proposals. We are discussing this matter merely in broad principle, and we should like to have the kind of detail that we should normally get in a Bill before finally expressing our views. Nevertheless, these handicaps have to some extent been made up by the advantage of being able to speak without prejudice, and not necessarily on strict Party lines. The House will have noticed—and I am sure the noble and learned Viscount who is to reply will not take advantage of the fact—that a number of us on this side of the House, as well as on the other side, have spoken with different voices. We may even want to speak with a different voice ourselves at a later stage when this matter comes before the House.
In summing up the discussion from this side, I should like to see how far this House is in general agreement, and where we disagree, either fundamentally or in detail. I think that one can say quite definitely that the whole House is in favour of two-Chamber Government—I do not think that that needs argument—with the exception of my noble friend Lord Faringdon, who made a brilliant but, I thought, rather wrongheaded speech. Everyone accepts the principle of two-Chamber Government. It hardly needs argument, but one of the advantages, and one of the things we look for in two-Chamber Government, is independence of thought and the independent opportunity of putting right legislation which has gone through the other Chamber. It could be, of course, as my noble friend suggested, that there could 753 be revision by another committee of the other pace. But you would then be having a revision by the same people of the job which they had already done, and there is an advantage in having a revising Chamber consisting of totally different people who can look at the matter afresh, and no doubt make valuable contributions.
But there is a corollary to that, and it is one about which I have complained over and over again. It is that one looks mainly to the Opposition to apply themselves to the details of legislation—I say mainly, but not entirely—and if they do so there really is an obligation on the part of the Government to take proposals from the Opposition seriously. Now there have been Bills where that has been done, and I have not the slightest complaint about a number of them, but on other occasions I am bound to say that, having spent hours and hours drafting Amendments, considering them and discussing them with our political colleagues, we are then met with the situation that, by a ukase of the Ministry dealing with the matter, no Amendments can be accepted, however reasonable we may be, and however much we try to put our case in a moderate way. I would suggest that, if this House is going to function properly as a Revising Chamber, these Amendments must be treated seriously and given proper consideration; there must be no excuse or exception.
I realise that there have been difficulties in the past, due to the fact that Bills have come to us late in the Session, and that it would embarrass the timetable in another place if any Amendments were accepted. That is not, however, an adequate reason for not treating this House seriously, and it is highly frustrating to noble Lords who are prepared to give their time in order to improve legislation. I am not speaking against the noble and learned Viscount, because I know how reasonable and accommodating he always is. and how fairly he tries to deal with Amendments; but the fact remains that those who are for this purpose his masters are not equally accommodating.
I think that most Members of this House do recognise that some change is necessary. I do not know whether the noble Earl. Lord Glasgow, recognises that 754 some change is necessary—he shakes his head and says "Yes"—that is interesting.
§ LORD SILKIN
I do not want to cross-examine the noble Earl, but that is a valuable concession. There was another noble Lord who said that this House is illogical but it works, and I gathered from him that that also was a reason for not doing anything about this House. I agree with him that the composition of this House is illogical I do not agree with him that it works. It is to the credit of all noble Lords who attend this House that we have done our best to make it work in the most difficult circumstances, but it is not working satisfactorily, and it is going to work less and less satisfactorily in the future unless something is done. There is no need for me to make the case for some kind of change, because almost every noble Lord who has spoken has accepted that situation.
It is gratifying to feel that most noble Lords recognise the value of an Opposition, and I hope that we may claim that we have been a responsible Opposition. I was very moved by the tribute paid to the Opposition by two noble Lords in the course of their speeches, the noble Earl (I almost said, "my noble friend"—I apologise) Lord De La Warr and the noble Lord, Lord Gifford. We greatly appreciate it. Indeed, I do not know whether, under present-day conditions, it would have been possible to carry on satisfactorily without the kindness and the personal courtesy that we, as an Opposition, have generally received from Members on all sides of the House, but particularly from Members of the Government. This is not entirely a Party Question. To-day, it is this side who are in difficulties about constituting an Opposition, but to-morrow, whenever a change of Government takes place—and I will not make any prophecy to-night—the present Government will be in a similar difficulty. Frankly, I do not see the elements of a satisfactory Opposition even among noble Lords opposite. It is not entirely a matter of assisting this side of the House: we have got to face the situation as it might well be from the other side of the House as well.
755 There is general acceptance also of the view that the quickest, the immediate, remedy is the creation of a number of Life Peers. Speaking for myself, I would agree that if Her Majesty's Government are out to do something quickly, and with the least possible trouble, from their own side, as well as from ours, that is something that they can do forthwith. But I want to emphasise what nearly every previous speaker has already emphasised; that is, that simultaneously with the acceptance of powers to create Life Peers there must be adequate payment. Otherwise, Life Peers will not be induced to come at all. Some of us have been searching our minds to see who are suitable people. Of course, we can get Life Peers; so can you, quite easily—any number of them. But we do know what we want it the idea is to get suitable people who are going to help in the conduct of the Business of this House. It is not merely in dealing with Amendments and legislation; we are also a deliberative Chamber, as we are to-night; and we want people who will contribute on both sides, on both aspects, the deliberative side and the revision side. If you want suitable people who are willing to devote themselves to it, then you really will not get them unless they are adequately paid.
I am sure the House will forgive me if I make one personal statement. In common with a number of my noble friends, I have tried to give a good deal of time to this House. I can assure noble Lords that the time one spends in this House is as nothing compared with the time one has to spend at home preparing for the work of this House. I think one also ought to pay tribute to one's wife and to the people one tends to neglect for the sake of preparing for the conduct of the business of this House. It is asking a great deal of people if they are asked not only to come here and devote themselves to this work, in sacrificing their leisure and the enjoyment of life, but to do it at a financial sacrifice. Therefore, it will be useless to take these powers unless, at the same time, there is provision for adequate remuneration.
A large number of noble Lords have taken the view that the proposals of Her Majesty's Government do not go far enough. Indeed. I think almost every noble Lord who has spoken to-day took that view, as did a great many who spoke 756 yesterday. I understand that there are difficulties. All Governments seek to take the line of least resistance, and to avoid difficulties with their own friends, and therefore it is understandable that they should adopt this line, because most people will not dispute it. Nevertheless we have to ask ourselves to what extent these proposals will help solve the problem. I agree that the creation of sufficient Life Peers may, in a narrow way, help to deal with the problem of numbers and of getting an effective Opposition.
Several noble Lords have said that in the long run it is essential that this House should be held in high esteem throughout the country. There may be differences of opinion about it, but I do not think it is held in sufficient esteem at the present time. I think that there is a great deal of discontent over the fact that it is an hereditary Chamber, and that enormous numbers of Peers can come along at any time (but in fact do not come), and that nothing is done about it. I am not going to enter into recriminations as to why one Government did or did not take action, or why another did. As I have said before, all Governments are tarred with the same brush; they have big programmes of legislation and they try to take the line of least resistance. But this is a matter that must be dealt with sooner or later.
The composition of the House is an important matter, and the proposal of the noble Earl, Lord Home, whom I congratulate on the way in which he introduced it, does not deal with the fundamental question of numbers. My noble friend Lord Pethick-Lawrence, in a most admirable speech, said something with which I profoundly disagree. He said that it did not matter whether or not there was equality between the two sides. If by that he meant that it does not matter whether we on this side are in a permanent minority, and that it does not matter in the least that we can be swamped for all time by large numbers of noble Lords opposite, whether we are in Government or in Opposition, then I certainly disagree. I feel that when we are in Opposition, it may not matter very much whether we are out-voted by ten to one or fifty to one—that is quite immaterial; but it does matter, when we are a Government, that we are not in a position to carry through, according to our lights, the kind of legislation that we want 757 to carry through, and that we are always at the mercy of a House which can defeat us, as we may think, quite arbitrarily.
THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR COMMONWEALTH RELATIONS (THE EARL OF HOME)
My Lords, purely on a matter of elucidation, may I put this question to the noble Lord? He said that this was a fundamental question of numbers. From his point of view, is that really so? Is the fundamental question that of the hereditary principle or the number of hereditary Peers?
§ LORD SILKIN
Perhaps I used the word "fundamental" too easily.
Now I want to say a word about the entry of women into this House. I think most noble Lords welcome it, more or less. The noble Lord, Lord Teynham, was somewhat lukewarm in his welcome, and my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth was absolutely horrified and petrified at the idea. But, by and large, most noble Lords welcome it. I think that at the moment we are almost the only institution in this country which does not accept women. I do not know whether the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel can help me on this point, but I believe that the City of London Corporation has no women members and we have never yet had a woman Lord Mayor of London. But we have had quite a number of distinguished women Chairmen of the London County Council; and having worked with women on that body for twenty-one years. I can say that there can be no doubt whatever as to their immense value in administration. I can give the noble Lord. Lord Teynham, a guarantee, that after he has had a year or two of experience, he will wonder why he was ever lukewarm about them. The same applies to my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth. I have no difficulty whatever in accepting the principle of having women in this House.
My Lords, I do not want to take up much more time because many of the things that I thought it necessary to say have been said so often and so forcefully that it is unnecessary for me to repeat 758 them. But a number of noble Lords have put forward their ideas as to what the future House of Lords should be, and I think that I might do the same. I need hardly say that I am speaking entirely for myself. I am against the hereditary system. Even if it did work, I should still think it wrong. I think that a House of this kind should be based upon getting the best people that we can possibly find to do the work, and that the mere accident of birth should not give a person the right to sit in this Chamber. I realise that that view is not generally held on the opposite Benches, and probably that is the big difference of opinion between us.
There were two speeches made yesterday to which I would refer—I am not sure whether the noble Lords who spoke really went as far as I go. One speech was that of the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, and the other that of the noble Lord, Lord Milne. I do not know what their views are, but I rather gathered that they would have had something to say quite strongly about the hereditary system-they rather hinted at it. My own view is that we should abandon the hereditary system and convert all existing peerages into life peerages. That would give us at any rate the continuity which some noble Lords want, and it would give us the gradualness and the experience that are so desirable. Indeed, it may well be that before the last of the existing Peers ceases to be a Life Peer, we might well have fifty years. But it would be a gradual process, and I think it has a great many advantages to commend it—of course, always on the assumption that one takes the view that I do about the hereditary system. I think it might well be argued that it would be damaging to destroy this House in one fell swoop, and to convert existing peerages into life peerages would give this continuity that I think is desirable.
I am not in favour of selecting noble Lords to sit in this House. I do not know who would do the selecting; it would be a most invidious task. I think the noble Viscount, Lord Gage said yesterday that if there were some such process he might not be selected. I should like to assure him that if I had any voice in the matter he certainly would be selected, because he is one of those noble Lords who have a unique experience of local government 759 and housing, and we all value his contributions in this House. We may not always agree with them, but they are valuable. I regard him as an expert on those subjects, and he is not one of those noble Lords who comes once in two years, delivers himself of a speech and then is not seen again for another two years. He is a regular attender, and I should have thought that he is an ideal person to be here. But the case for selection is not always as clear as in the case of the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, and it would be a most invidious task to select from among our number. It is for that reason that l myself would reject any proposal of that kind.
The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury put the case in a slightly different way when he said that it would be difficult for English Peers to select Peers from amongst their number because a great many of them are not known to one another. That is only another aspect of the invidiousness of having to make a selection. But even during the lifetime of Life Peers it should be possible for a noble Lord to renounce his peerage and for him then to become eligible to sit in another place. I am not in favour of this "Box and Cox" method of giving a noble Lord leave to stand for election there and, if he fails, after a suitable period to come hack, and then, perhaps, after a time, to have another try. I believe he should make up his mind once and for all. I believe it was the noble Lord, Lord Blackford, who made that suggestion. I should not accept it. I think, however, that if a noble Lord wants to renounce his membership he should be entitled to do so and to stand for another place if he so desires. I agree with all the suggestions of the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, as to operating the Report of the Committee of which he was so distinguished a Chairman and was so humble a member.
I believe there should be facilities for noble Lords to ask for leave of absence, and I would go further and say that if noble Lords do not attend and in fact show quite clearly that they have no intention of attending, it should be possible to deprive them of their right to attend this House. In passing, I would say that there are some noble Lords who come here regularly on ceremonial occasions and on no others, and I and some 760 of my noble friends have on those occasions been crowded out by noble Lords whom we do not know and have never seen and who come here just for those occasions.
Then I believe that if we were to have this Parliament House it ought to be open to the Government of the day to create a number of Peers of Parliament for the duration of that Parliament. That would be a very useful right which would enable the Government of the day to have a majority of membership in this House. I would not disturb the inequality; it would gradually right itself. But I believe the Government of the day must have the right to ensure that it has a reasonable number of Members here—probably not a majority for that might mean appointing too many—in order to enable it to do the work of the House.
Finally, I repeat that there must be adequate remuneration for those who are doing the work. I should myself have a very high test for payment. I should require an attendance of something like 50 per cent. to 75 per cent. during the Session before any payment was made—I am not referring to expenses, but remuneration. Expenses are in a different category, and if a noble Lord comes once he ought to be reimbursed the expenses he has incurred up to three guineas a day. Payment for attendance, however, should be made only to those who come here regularly and make it at least a part time career.
Her Majesty's Government have not suffered from lack of ideas on this subject. People have spoken with considerable courage and wisdom and I hope that Her Majesty's Government will make something of it all and not entirely neglect the advice that has been given to them. Possibly the biggest volume of advice has been that Her Majesty's Government should not limit themselves to the narrow proposals that have been put forward by Her Majesty's Government in this debate. Let me, in conclusion, ask Her Majesty's Government to remember that in deciding this question they must have in mind that it is not this House alone—which incidentally has a vested interest—which is concerned. We have been talking as if we are the sole arbiters of the fate of this House; but there is a much wider public that is concerned about the composition of Parliament. We must consider the 761 views of the people as a whole. We want a Constitution which is respected and looked up to and approved by the vast majority of the intelligent people of this country, which is not subject to frequent changes from Government to Government, which the democratic peoples of the world can regard as a model and which they can look up to as the Mother of Parliaments.
§ 6.47 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT KILMUIR)
My Lords, I am sure all of your Lordships must sympathise with me in my difficulty in seeking to avoid an outworn phrase to express our thanks to my noble friend Lord Teynham for initiating this debate. We are most grateful to him. I have heard every word of all the thirty-seven speeches that have been made, and one can say that this debate has been not only useful but of the utmost value to Her Majesty's Government and to every Member of your Lordships' House who is interested in this subject. It has been a noticeable feature of this debate that there has been almost universal agreement that an addition to the membership of this House, especially on the Opposition Benches, is necessary for the continuation of the efficient functioning of the House. As the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said, there has not been much unicameralist sentiment, apart from the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon. I believe the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, admitted that he was once a heretic of this kind. But, apart from that, the necessity for bicameral Government has been generally accepted. Almost everyone started from the premise of the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, that if the Second Chamber did not exist we should have to invent one at once.
In order to get clear the actual problem with which we have to deal, I will give my conception of the functions of this House in five sentences—I promise to do so in no more. The first is subject to what is now I believe an established convention: that we do not reject Bills passed by another place that have been publicly proclaimed in the programme of the Parties behind the Government. Subject to that, we have these duties (this has been often said). There is first delay—now for a short period—so that people can think again. Then we have our two functions as a revising Chamber. 762 Here, with the greatest respect, I join issue on emphasis with the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, because I attach enormous importance to these functions. There are two revising functions. The first is in what I may call the field of secondary policy—that is, when you have passed a Bill for the second time you then give effect to the opinions in this House as to the methods by which the principle of the Bill should be applied. The second, and I say it without any doubt or hesitation, is Committee points, because that is the adjusting of Bills to the requirements of the life of ordinary people. That is a very important matter.
The third of the functions is the introduction of non-Party Bills. If I may give an example, I take various law reform Bills which I have had the honour to put before the House in the last three years. They are admirable and useful and there is not a vote in any one of them. That is a most important function of this House—to produce Bills of that kind. Finally, there is the function of which the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, has reminded us: that is, the provision of a forum for discussion by acknowledged experts of Motions on important subjects. These functions must be carried out by our House and in a way which does not make us a rival of the popular Chamber.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
May I venture to interrupt before the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor proceeds? I am afraid that I must have made myself misunderstood. I agree that the function of revision, dealing with Committee points, is of very great importance and is valuably performed now by us and should continue to be. I was protesting only against the idea that the Committee function is practically the only function of importance that is to be left to the Second Chamber.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I am grateful to the noble Viscount. I said that it was a difference of emphasis. Now I fully understand his point of view. I do say this—the noble Viscount will excuse me if I rather stress the point: it is vital to the matter that is before your Lordships—that, without prejudice to the importance of the other functions, the functions of the House as a revising Chamber are of supreme importance.
763 I hope that your Lordships will not be too bored, but I want to remind you of two periods. One is the first two years after the war when the Labour Government were in office. I hope your Lordships will not think I make any Party point in the figures which I am about to give—that is not the intention at all. I take the Transport Bill because I myself led the opposition to it in the House of Commons. In this House, the Government put down 86 Amendments of their own and 53 to meet the Opposition's points. And the Government accepted 91 Opposition Amendments. In respect of the ten major Bills of the two years after the war, 1946 and 1947, no fewer than 1,222 Amendments put down in this House were incorporated in the Acts. I should like also to remind your Lordships of what happened last Session. The three Bills I mention (I hope your Lordships will not think it is egotistic) are Bills which I had to deal with myself—three major ones. When the Copyright Bill was in Committee, 151 Amendments were moved; on Report, 155; on Third Reading, 34. On the Road Traffic Bill, in Committee there were 135; on Report, 91; on Third Reading, 21. On the Restrictive Trade Practices Bill, in Committee there were 67; on Report, 39; on Third Reading, 7.
No one who has been in charge of a Bill of any magnitude would or could deny that consideration after the Report stage in the first House is essential, and it is essential to the second prerequisite of tolerable legislation—that is, that it should fit the ordinary life of ordinary people. We are, I suggest, apt to underestimate the importance of this. The cleverer we are, the more apt we are to think that if a Bill only fits our policy it is all right. And this task involves that the views of Back Benchers, but especially of the official Opposition, should be forcibly expressed and freely considered. I heard my noble friend Lord Gage yesterday and Lord Silkin to-day say that Governments are apt to pay too little attention. If we have, I am very sorry.
I have tried, myself, to give the fullest attention to Amendments. There are many difficulties which arise, even if we appear difficult to the Back-Benchers at times. What is vitally important is that Lord Gage, speaking for rural Sussex, if you like, and the representatives of 764 the Labour Party, speaking for all those who support them, should leave their impact on Bills and on the thought of those in charge. It has been due solely and entirely to the self-sacrifice of a small number of noble Lords that this has continued up to now. If I instance Lord Silkin and Lord Lucas of Chilworth it is because we have worked together so much in the fields which I 'have mentioned during the past few years. A great Civil Servant with whom I worked used to ask: "Whom would you appoint if the 'Treasury bus' ran over Mr. A?" I shudder to think what would have happened to the three Bills I have mentioned if that malevolent vehicle had knocked down the two noble Lords. Lord Silkin and Lord Lucas of Chilworth.
We believe that we can help to lessen the risk of that work not being properly performed by reversing the Wensleydale decision and permitting the Crown to create life peerages for men and women. I read carefully once more I read them often—the proceedings of the Wensleydale case, in case your Lordships might ask me about it. And yet—and this is a very real glory of your Lordships' House—when I came here, Lord Wensleydale's great-grandson, my noble friend Lord Ridley, was able to give me inside information on the case that even I had not known.
Over and over again in this debate it has been stated that there is a real difficulty in getting suitable people to take hereditary peerages by reason of their views or their anxiety about the position of their sons. This debate has also made clear that at the present moment this problem must, if possible, be solved without increasing or altering the powers and privileges of the hereditary element of this House and thereby stirring controversy with those who dislike that element. This is a difficult point for all of us. We have heard—and were glad to hear—individual views from noble Lords who belong to the Labour Party, but it has not been possible to get the official view. I make no corn-plaint about that, but I do say this (and I hope that after so many years of friendship I am not misinterpreting him): I feel that the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, showed how easy it would be to rouse Party feeling on a proposal of comprehensive 765 reform which, although it cut down the number of hereditary Peers who sit and vote in this House, increased the prestige and influence of the House in itself. I say to my noble friends who would like us to have gone further, and with whom I have the greatest sympathy, that they have to weigh that point.
The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Latham, showed that he felt that any improvement in the composition of the House might increase its influence, even where it was recognised that it might be, as it is to-day, an essential salvage operation if the work of the House is to continue efficiently. And your Lordships will have noticed that the noble Earl. Lord Attlee, although he indicated a number of anomalies that ought to be put right, said to-day that in 1953 he thought that the time was premature for another all-Party Conference to discuss this matter. Therefore I say to my noble friends who might have some disappointment in their minds that we have to consider that point. And it is not merely a cowardly point. In constitutional matters, if we cannot get the maximum of agreement, at any rate let us have the minimum of disagreement between the great Parties, because long after we are no more the swing and flow of Party life has to continue for the benefit of the country.
That is one side of it, and now I turn for a brief moment to the other side from which attack has come, personified in the admirable, good-humoured and winged words of my noble friend, Lord Glasgow. I would only remind him that it is well worth remembering, from his point of view, that the Wensleydale decision was limited to the prohibition of Life Peers from having the right to sit and vote. I remember my noble friend Lord Polwarth, on a previous occasion, telling us that an ancestor of his sat as a Life Peer in the Scottish Parliament jure uxoris. Actually, the Life Peer has an ancient and a respectable background. Indeed, the interesting thing is that the argument that excluded Lord Ridley's great-grandfather was not that the Crown could not create Life Peers who could sit and vote, but that the Crown had allowed the prerogative to fall into desuetude. There has always been a great clash of traditional opinion about that case and great controversy about its rightness, and there is much to be 766 said for the view of Walter Bagehot which the noble Viscount, Lord Hail-sham, quoted to-day. On the second point, on the inclusion of women as Life Peers, I think that there has been almost complete unanimity.
May I deal with some of the suggestions that have been made? I hope that I shall answer most of them, but if I do not, perhaps noble Lords would be good enough to write and remind me and I will try to deal with them again. The right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Chichester mentioned the position of various other churches. I say this simply as a matter of fact, because the subject has been raised. The Church of Scotland is in a different position from the Free Churches; it is a national established Church and its ministers are prohibited and disqualified by Statute from sitting in another place, unlike the ministers of the Free Churches in England and Scotland. Secondly, the General Assembly adopted a deliverance in 1948 advancing a claim for representation in this House, which, was noted by the Royal Commission on Scottish Affairs.
It would be possible for my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, after suitable consultation, to consider recommending for life peerages eminent members of the Church of Scotland. The right reverend Prelate who is present will appreciate the differences in the Presbyterian form of Church government, which, of course, includes laymen as well as ecclesiastics. With regard to the other churches which were mentioned, I should want to know more of their own views before I made a promise beyond consideration of the point. That I gladly give. I hope that the right reverend Prelate will think that that is a fair attitude to take up.
My noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh mentioned Peeresses in their own right, as did subsequent speakers, and my noble friend Lord Saltoun mentioned the position of the holders of Scottish peer, ages who are not elected by their fellow Peers of Scotland. The difficulty of both these arguments is that their acceptance would increase pro tanto the powers conferred by heredity. I hope that Lord Saltoun is in his place, but if he is not, I should like him to be reminded of this point. I did not hear Lord Saltoun formulate his proposals for the eight or nine 767 ladies who are holders of Scottish peerages in their own right. I should have been very interested if he had developed that point. But, fortunately, both the arguments demonstrate the flexibility of my noble friend's proposals because, again, it would be perfectly possible to consider suitable and willing examples of either category for life peerages. The noble Earl, Lord Swinton, asked me that specific question: Would they be barred from holding life peerages? The answer is No; they would not, and it would be perfectly possible.
The noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, raised the very difficult point with regard to the Peer's eldest son who is in the House of Commons. My Lords, I consider that that is essentially a House of Commons question. I do not think it is right for Members of your Lordships' House to claim to get the best of both worlds.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I must say what is necessary. But I want to put it in this way: I am not prepared to say anything derogatory to the dignity of the Peerage or the right to sit in this House. Whatever views may be taken, it is a great privilege, enjoyed, if you like, by an infinitesimal fraction of the population of this country, and I do not think that it is for us to claim, in addition to that privilege, other privileges on the Motion of this House. If the House of Commons were to indicate that (someone can introduce a Bill under the Ten Minute Rule or in any other way) there was clearly a demand in the House for this change. I should be prepared to consider it, but I think it would be most unwise of this House at this time to claim additional powers, additional facilities and additional rights. Our concentration must be on our duties—
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
The Lord Chancellor says that the claim I made was to have it both ways. That is not so. I made a perfectly simple claim to renounce the whole thing—to disclaim finally something that fell on unwilling shoulders. There is no law on this matter. The House of Commons has a practice. They say that if a man has received a Writ of Summons (and that 768 does not mean getting a Writ of Summons: it means being certified as a proper recipient) he cannot sit. It is therefore a matter for the House of Lords. If this House said: "If you renounce your claim to a Writ of Summons, it will not be issued." Then the applicant is in the clear, and the matter can then be raised in the House of Commons. I do not want to delay the noble and learned Viscount, and I only ask this question: would be undertake that, when this Bill is introduced, it is introduced in such a form that the opinions of the noble Lords can be taken clearly upon this issue?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I will certainly consider that, because the Rules of Order in your Lordships' House are very wide indeed. What I could not guarantee to the noble Viscount is that, if there is a Bill and it leaves this House, it would be in a form in which that Amendment could be moved. That is a matter which would require the most careful consideration.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
If the noble and learned Viscount will not allow me to speak, I cannot help it.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
It is a quarter past seven. I do not want to appeal for sympathy, but I have had thirty-seven long speeches, and therefore perhaps I can postpone for a little time the pleasure of hearing the noble Viscount again.
The next point with which I wanted to deal was the proposals of, if I may so term it, the Swinton Committee, which was mentioned by Lord Swinton and others. I was not on the Committee, but I am sure that the Committee were right in thinking that the Standing Orders would, in practice, be effective in all the foreseeable number of cases. This is essentially a matter for the House. It is for the House to decide whether there should be a change in its Standing Orders.
My Lords, it is rather late to deal as fully as I should have liked with the proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham. I thought it was most bold of the noble 769 Lord to put his proposals before us, and I could not help seeing hovering over his head as he put them, the ghostly figure of the Abbé Sieyes, that distinguished priest of the noble Lord's Church who was always producing constitutions. They were always long; they were always logical; and they never worked! One of the great troubles about our problem is that everyone is his own Abbé Sieyes. With regard to the reform of the House of Lords, I would say this: that on first consideration—and, of course, I have thought of it before—I see three difficulties.
First of all, the conception of a House, with us sitting here, in which all of us can speak and only some of us can vote, has something strange about it. If you apply it to a Committee stage, what is the noble Lord, Lord X, to do, having made six impassioned speeches on an Amendment, when voices are called for? Is he to keep silent? Is he breaking the rule if he says "Content"? The other point of difficulty is the selection of the voting Peers, who alone have full powers; whether that is to be done by the Prime Minister and so on. That indicates—and I hope the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, will not take me too much amiss—the difficulty in which one finds oneself. That has commended itself to the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, for whose ability I have the greatest respect, yet to me, having considered it, there seem to be fundamental difficulties. That is always an aspect of this problem that one has to remember all the time.
Before the noble and learned Viscount leaves that point, I take it that he is still ready to bring a fresher mind than after thirty-seven speeches he could reasonably be expected to possess to a consideration of this problem. Or has he exhausted not only his mind, if I may say so, but the subject?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
As the noble Lord can well see, although he is too polite to say, it is only for to-night that I have exhausted my mind, and I shall be pleased to consider and discuss it with him at any time.
The point was raised several times—and again I think it is a difficult one—of the economic aspect of this House. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, put the 770 dilemma quite clearly. He said that, on the one hand, it is difficult to legislate for payment of a salary if it could be enjoyed by the whole 872 Peers, or even if it could be enjoyed by so many of them who cared to come in in order to qualify themselves to enjoy it. That is one side of the difficulty. The other horn of the dilemma is that there is no way of reducing the numbers without dealing with the difficulties pointed out by the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, and the noble Lord, Lord Latham; which means strengthening the House and increasing the authority of a body which is largely hereditary. That is the dilemma one is in. I do hope that everyone, as I certainly shall, will give all the attention he can to finding a solution, because I agree with what has been said about the importance of this matter. I do not think our own proposals are made any the better or worse for the existence of that difficulty. But, frankly, it is one for which, so far, I have been unable to find a solution.
I now turn to the question of whether or not the number of Life Peers should be limited. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, was against the limitation of the number. My noble friend Lord Clitheroe, who as usual showed his great knowledge of this, as of so many historical subjects, was, as I understood him, doubtful about it. For those of your Lordships who are in favour of limitation (of course, I will consider all the views expressed), I would ask you to consider that we are, as I said, merely restoring to the Crown a power long enjoyed, if sparingly exercised. In my view, the danger of a large influx is to-day illusory. I say, with great respect, as a junior Member of your Lordships' House, that I believe the power of absorption of this House, in the fullest sense of the term, is very great. I have said that the Wensleydale decision is usually considered to have been a mistake in law and certainly a mistake in policy. There is admittedly no restriction on the right of the Crown to create Life Peers. The only restriction, fixed 100 years ago, was on the right to sit and vote in Parliament. All that this proposal does is to restore to the Crown a right which undoubtedly existed and was used in the two or three centuries ago. Viewed from that point, there does not seem to be any obvious reason why the 771 restoration should be qualified by the limitation on the numbers.
But if one turns to the arguments of convenience, I think they tell that way. If one grants the necessity of persuading men and women of high merit to come into the Second Chamber, it is inadvisable to tie the Prime Minister's hand by any annual limitation, because, as my noble friend the Leader of the House said, it is a varying demand: it may be necessary to have a considerable number now, and in other years many fewer. If there were such a limitation, I think it would be necessary to give the Prime Minister special powers to give life peerages to members of his own Government, including junior Ministers and ex-Ministers whom he wished to get rid of from the House of Commons. Some provision would have to be made to deal with that unfortunate necessity of public life. All these limitations would complicate the Bill. They would have to be made to fit in with our political life, and I say that a desirable flexibility would be lost. The question of "swamping" is really again shadow fighting in this field. Theoretically, to-day the old "swamping" power is still there: the Prime Minister could create sufficient hereditary Peers to abolish the House, and then, having created them, could pass a Bill in a Single Chamber taking away their Peerages. If one wanted to do it, it could be done. But I do not think that in the foreseeable future, weighing all the other measures which are open to a Prime Minister, it is something which one ought to consider seriously.
I am sorry to have taken so much of your Lordships' time. This debate has focused the attention of your Lordships and, I am sure, the attention of many outside this House on the vital issues which, as I think, are inherent in any discussion about the composition of the Second Chamber. So I venture to think that what has passed here yesterday and to-day will be pondered over, not only by the Government and by your Lordships but by all those who are interested to maintain the efficacy of our Parliamentary institutions. In listening to the debate, I have been particularly struck by two things. First, there has been an almost universally expressed sense of the great responsibility which your Lordships feel to see that the working of our Constitu- 772 tion, which so largely depends on conventions put into effect by good will, remains unimpaired. But I hope your Lordships feel that, in the words of my noble friend Lord Salisbury, we have not failed to grasp the nettle. We claim that we have here faced that truism which is so very true: that the best is often the enemy of the good. If you do not face that fact you often lose the good altogether, and we have had to face it here. No doubt there are some of your Lordships who wish that we had gone further. There are also, I think, a very small number who wish that we had let well alone.
I was struck, not only by the speech of my noble friend Lord Salisbury, but also with the speeches of Lord Melchett and Lord Milne yesterday, and to-day by that of my noble friend Lord St. Oswald, who said—politely—that we were complacent and perhaps not paying sufficient attention to public feeling. I hope that what I have said may disabuse them of that idea, because it is not ignoring public feeling; it is trying to meet it when, as I say, we try to secure the minimum amount of disagreement between the great Parties. But I do wish to say this to Lord Salisbury, Lord Swinton and Lord Winterton, who asked me on this point. I believe, and the Government believe, that the British Constitution is an organic and a dynamic thing, and when we have made this change in the composition of the House, if we reach that position, the Government must—I repeat, must—consider the effect of the change, and whether and when the time has come for a further change.
I suggest that not only must the Government do it but every noble Lord in this House must do it—and when I say that I mean noble Lords on both sides of the House. For so encouraged do I feel by the course of this great debate, that I believe for the first time in my political life we may succeed in approaching this vital issue without Party preconceptions or feelings, and with a true desire to make this House—always a great instrument of good law-giving in our country—have a greater place, not competing with the House of Commons, but doing and able to do a great task effectively in accordance with its traditions of the past and also in accordance with the new world into which we have moved.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, before the noble and learned Viscount sits down, there is one question I should like to ask him. I have listened with the greatest interest to the most important speech he has made, but I am still not clear on one point. Is it the Government's view that it would be unwise, or have they come down against any limitation of the numbers of hereditary Peers at the present time because that would increase the prestige and authority of the House, and that might be controversial?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, we have come down against including in these proposals a limitation of the number of hereditary Peers. With regard to the reason, it is, as I have tried to make clear in my speech, that I believe the extent to which we have gone will cause, as I put it, the minimum disagreement between the Parties, and will greatly improve the position of the House. But I repeat what I said—I thought I was answering the noble Marquess—that as soon as you have done that you immediately create a new situation which must be considered, first, as to its effect, and, secondly, whether it is right to go on to consider some improvement. But what we say is that the proposals put before us should get the minimum disagreement between Parties at the moment, and we desire to place these as our proposals before the House.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, at twenty-five minutes to eight I am not going to split hairs with the noble Marquess as to whether he is adjectivally exact. But I hope that I have repeated myself on this matter, and I should have thought that there was no doubt at all as to the meaning of what my noble friend the Leader of the House anti Lord Hailsham and I have said on this point.
§ 7.38 p.m.
My Lords, after what the noble and learned Viscount has said about this debate, I need hardly add that I am sure we all agree that we have had a most interesting and useful discussion on the reform of this Chamber. I am delighted to know that Her Majesty's Government are proposing to accept Life 774 Peers. I think it is true to say that the House generally, with few exceptions, accepted the proposal for Life Peers in your Lordships' House. I am sure we were all interested in the speech made by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. He appears to be in favour of more extensive reform, and I am inclined to agree with him. But I would say that we must make haste slowly, and that appears to be the view of Her Majesty's Government.
The noble Earl, Lord Winterton, has twitted me about racehorses. It is certainly difficult to breed good racehorses, and it is equally difficult to breed good Peers. Sometimes one gets a statesman in the process, but also there must be many discards. Many speakers have advocated higher emoluments for the active Peers in this House. I agree that it is absolutely necessary, and I do not feel that the scheme would work at all unless the emoluments were increased. I should like to support fully the proposal of the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, that perhaps the Lord Chairman of Committees might be asked to make a draft of Standing Orders covering leave of absence, so that they might: be debated in your Lordships' House. Her Majesty's Government will, I am sure, take careful note of all that has been said in your Lordships' House, and for that reason I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.