§ THE MARQUESS OF READING rose to move to resolve, That in the opinion of this House steps should now be taken to obtain leave to introduce legislation to confer upon such women Peers as, under existing conditions, are not qualified to take their seats in this House the same rights, duties and privileges as are enjoyed by hereditary Peers having seat, place and voice in this House. The noble Marquess said: My Lords, the language of the Resolution standing in my name is, as your Lordships may have remarked, somewhat unusual, but you will appreciate that the reason is that the subject matter of the Resolution is one which closely involves the Royal Prerogative, and that no effect could be given to it without the Sovereign's consent. I make no pretensions to novelty for this subject; indeed the language of the Resolution to-day follows very closely the material parts of a similar Resolution moved by me in your Lordships' House in 1949 and adopted in a perhaps not very densely populated Chamber by a majority of 45 to 27. Although on balance the opinion of the House was then favourable, the opinion of the Government was not and no action ensued.
§ In the interval the whole situation has surely been transformed by the passing into law last year of the Life Peerages Act and the entry into this House of women Life Peers, and if the House was, by a majority, prepared nearly nine years ago to support the principle which I am advocating to-day, how incomparably stronger under present conditions is the claim of the Peeresses in their own right for admittance to this House! I do not at 613 this stage know what will be the views of the Government or of the House, but I think I am entitled to assume that on a matter of this kind affecting the composition of your Lordships' House it will be left to a free vote of the Members of this House and that the Government Whips will not be called upon to exercise their arduous functions this afternoon.
§ I have tried to analyse the motives which impelled the minority of the House into the "Not-Content" Lobby on the previous occasion and I am led to the conclusion that those 27 noble but errant Lords fell into two sharply incongruous groups, the one consisting of those who upheld the hereditary principle but objected to the admittance of women, the other which upheld the admittance of women but was opposed to the hereditary principle. That was, I think, the then situation. But surely to-day the argument as to whether women should or should not be admissible is both out of date and beside the point, for the principle of their eligibility has been recognised, and, indeed, instigated, by the Government in the Life Peerages Act and has happily already been put into operation. I cannot believe that even those of your Lordships who were most vehemently hostile to the arrival of women in this House have found, once you had survived the first shock, that the presence of these ladies has had any notably shattering effect upon your quiet enjoyment of the normal amenities of the House.
§ My sole purpose to-day is to endeavour to enlist the support of your Lordships in persuading the Government to set in train the necessary action to remove a disability from a small group of Peeresses in their own right, some twenty in number. I do not anticipate that even if admittance were extended to them the House would on every day be adorned by the presence of twenty extra ladies. Indeed, if the proportion of your Lordships' attendance were maintained it would be something in the nature not of 20 but of 2½, and even the half might be eliminated by the fact that a number of the ladies with whom I am concerned are the holders of Scottish Peerages and would presumably not be eligible for a seat in your Lordships' House except on the same terms—that is, as Representative Scottish Peers—as 614 their male colleagues. Contrary to the view expressed by some newspapers when I first put this Motion down last autumn, I am not seeking to fling open the doors of this Chamber to the wives and mothers of all your Lordships, but merely to promote the removal of a disability which at present rests upon a small group of holders of hereditary Peerages for no more compelling reason than that they happen to be women.
§ No doubt legislation would be necessary, although I think it is proper to say that many people consider that before the Committee for Privileges in Lady Rhondda's case pronounced, with somewhat laboured ingenuity, the contrary view, the terms of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, 1919, were sufficiently comprehensive to bring these ladies within its ambit. Admittedly, the drafting of a Bill of this kind might be a difficult task, but, as the late noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, said as Lord Chancellor on two separate occasions in this context, the Parliamentary draftsmen are competent and resourceful people, and my own considerable experience of their activities and abilities goes far to endorse that judgment. If the House desired that a Bill for this purpose should be drafted, it could, in Lord Jowitt's view, be done, and I should be surprised if the noble and learned Viscount who now sits upon the Woolsack were disposed to dispute his predecessor's pronouncement in that regard.
§ The question, therefore, for your Lordship is whether you desire that the necessary steps should be taken to initiate this legislation, always assuming that the Government, if they are opposed to my Motion, would at least be disposed to pay some attention to the will of the House. On the previous occasion the argument was strongly urged upon me that a change of this kind ought not to take place in isolation but only as part of a general scheme of reform of your Lordships' House such as was at that time, as the result of the three-Party Conference of 1947, still in somewhat sceptical contemplation. That argument, again, surely has no application to-day, though at that time I was forced to concede that it had force. But to-day, so far as I know, unless the noble and learned Viscount the Lord President is going to spring some startling surprise 615 in the course of his reply, the Government have no plans for the enlargement of the somewhat limited provisions included in the Life Peerages Act of last year.
§ For my own part, I regret that the Government did not take advantage of the occasion offered by that Act to bring these ladies into the House, though at the same time I can understand that they were reluctant to face the additional complication and delay in the passage of that measure, dealing, as it did, with Life Peerages, which might have sprung from the injection into it of a topic concerning hereditary Peers—perhaps all the more so because the opponents and adherents of the hereditary system had already spent four days in vigorous disputation on the subject on the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ I am aware that the argument which weighs with quite a number of noble Lords is that this is an extension of the hereditary principle and that such an extension is not at this stage desirable. I have always believed that that is an entirely fallacious argument, for the whole point is that these ladies are already hereditary Peers. It is true that, anyhow for many hundreds of years, no Writ of Summons has ever been issued to a woman, but if steps were now taken to provide for the issue of such a Writ, it would not, in my submission, be an extension of the hereditary principle but would be simply a more just and a slightly more generous application of it.
§ If any of your Lordships does not accept that argument, then I would say, "Let us have some sense of proportion in this matter." Rightly or wrongly, today this House is almost exclusively based upon the hereditary system, and so long as that situation obtains surely the exclusion of women holders of hereditary titles is a blatant anomaly. There may come a time when there will be in office a Government who have the power and the will to dilute or to eliminate the hereditary system. If that time comes, the fact that we have remedied a long-standing injustice by admitting into this House some twenty women Peers, in addition to the 850 male Peers of which the House is already composed, will not make the task of that Government in any slightest degree more difficult. That surely is the 616 position. An injustice does not become less of an injustice because it has gone on for a long time or because it affects only a limited number of people.
On this point of the extension of the hereditary principle, I think it is worth while referring back to a debate which took place in your Lordships' House in 1946 on a widely-framed Motion standing in the name of the late noble and learned Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood. In addition, there was on the Order Paper a Motion standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Mansfield on exactly the aspect of the matter with which I am dealing to-day. That debate proved, in the end, inconclusive, and my noble friend did not in fact move his Motion. But the then Leader of the House, the late noble Viscount, Lord Addison, in dealing with this point with which I am concerned now, in anticipation that Lord Mansfield's Motion would be moved, said something which I should like to commend to the House, and perhaps particularly to the noble Viscount who to-day leads the Opposition. In dealing with this particular aspect, the admission of Peeresses in their own right, the late noble Viscount said this [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 139, COI. 1031]:
On this particular matter, which we regard as a question merely of sex disqualification, our view is that we should leave it to your Lordships to decide. It is not a question of the constitution of the House of Peers; it is a question of whether a woman should have this remaining disqualification attached to her because she is a woman. Frankly, my view is that she ought not. I am only speaking now for myself. I am only saying that, so far as the Government is concerned, if your Lordships desire to adopt the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield's Resolution to remove sex disqualification in this particular case, we suggest that it should be left freely to the vote of the House, and if the House says it wants the change made, the Government is prepared to take it into consideration, given facilities for the necessary procedures.
In that statement by the then Leader of the House there is not a reference of any kind to this baleful project to extend the hereditary system to women.
§ Then on the next page of Volume 139 of the OFFICIAL REPORT, not for the first or for the last time in your Lordships' House, the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, not known as a fervent devotee of the hereditary principle, once more expressed in a few words the pith of the problem.617
In the course of his speech he used these words [col. 1036]:
For my own part I should draw a distinction, as the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, has indeed done, with regard to that Resolution which relates to the Peeresses in their own right. There the change that would be made in the composition of the House is so small that it would make no appreciable political difference, and the inequality is so obvious that plainly this is an injustice that ought to be remedied.
§ I commend to the House those two expressions of opinion, one by the then Leader of the Socialist Party, the other by the then Leader of the Liberal Party; and I trust that the present Acting Leader in this House of the Conservative Party will not show himself less progressive than those two other noble Lords.
§ I have heard the argument advanced that the right way to deal with this problem is for the Prime Minister to recommend to Her Majesty that Life Peerages should be conferred upon those women holders of hereditary Peerages whose public service entitles them to receive such a distinction. Incidentally, the case of ore noble Lady who is in the dual position of being a Peeress in her own right and a Life Peeress (and who I know is prevented only by unfortunate indisposition from being present this afternoon) is, I would submit, not in any way a precedent but a case purely by itself, and does not help or hinder the argument on the general proposition one way or the other But if that contention were advanced this afternoon my reply would be that I would accept it when, but only when, a similar test is imposed upon male Peers succeeding to hereditary titles before they are allowed to take their seats in this House. Until that happens I can see no merit in substituting one obnoxious discrimination for another.
§ That, my Lords, is my case. I trust that the majority of your Lordships will approve it and that you will, if necessary, record your votes in favour of the removal of an obsolete, anomalous and unjust discrimination, out of step with the march of events in the world today. I beg lo move.
§ Moved to resolve, That in the opinion of this House steps should now be taken to obtain leave to introduce legislation to confer upon such women Peers as, under existing conditions, are not quail- 618 fled to take their seats in this House the same rights, duties and privileges as are enjoyed by hereditary Peers having seat, place and voice in this House.—(The Marquess of Reading.)
§ 3.4 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, I am sure we shall all agree that the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, has addressed your Lordships' House to-day with a consideration and a brilliance of language and fact that makes us welcome him back to what I will call the speaking arena, which he occupied so happily when a Minister, especially as we find him giving us the advantage of the full qualities of his advocacy, for which we on this side admire him, much more so than when he had to state a tied case for Her Majesty's Government, for the Foreign Office.
It is obvious to anyone who listened to the noble Marquess to-day that he has studied this question very carefully and that he has a good deal of common sense upon his side of the argument and is able to make devastating quotations from past utterances on the whole subject. But I think that what we have to deal with to-day is the present situation of your Lordships' House and the question of whether, in all the political and national circumstances, it is wise to accede to the request in his Motion. What are the facts from that point of view?
First of all, I must concede that probably in all Parties in the Slate there are Members of Parliament, in both Houses, who would very much like to see what they consider to be an immediate act of justice done to certain individual Peeresses in their own right. But one has to consider, in relation to that, what has become the Parliamentary position as a result of events since 1946 and since the debate of nine years ago. Recently there has been no obstacle put in the way of the noble Marquess and his friends such as there was nine years ago, because of the lack of any comprehensive scheme of House of Lords reform; but we certainly have a changed circumstance which the noble Marquess seeks to draw into support of his argument this afternoon—that is, the Life Peerages Act, and the fact that under that Act there have been elected to this House, under Royal Prerogative, some Peeresses.
§ Viscount ALEXANDER of HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, I should have said welcomed, not elected. I hasten to try to correct that. When I thought of "elected" I said that it must be under the Royal Prerogative. I hope that I have put that matter right. At any rate, do not let my trend be disturbed by that quite merited interruption.
I feel that the general argument of the noble Marquess, powerfully put as it was, falls a good deal because of the appointment of Life Peeresses and the fact that it is open to any Government of the day to recommend the Crown to appoint as Life Peeresses any of those who are under the present disability of which he complains. The noble Marquess has quoted the case (perhaps I may mention the name, for I am sure he does not mind) of the noble Baroness, Lady Ravensdale of Kedleston, as being a Peeress in her own right; and the fact that the noble Lady has been chosen for recommendation, and that her recommendation has been approved by the Crown for appointment as a Life Peeress, shows that there is now nothing of real disability in the way of the admission to this House of a Peeress or of any other woman who may be recommended to the Crown on those grounds.
I suggest, therefore, that it is not logical, certainly from my point of view, to suggest that a grave injustice remains. I listened with great interest to the quotation which the noble Marquess made from a speech made in 1946 by my late noble friend—a very dear person in the memory of this House—Lord Addison. I had not looked it up. I have recollections of 1946 when I was in another place, however, and whilst, of course, the Resolution of the House that was then being talked about in this House may have been the subject of the consideration of the Government later, there certainly was not, in; my memory, any actual consideration given to adopting that process; nor can I say with honesty that the majority of my colleagues in 1946 would have been in favour of extending thereby the hereditary principle.
The Party to which I have the honour to belong, and for which I speak in this House, are certainly quite fixed about that. We are against any process of extending the hereditary principle. I state 620 I that, notwithstanding the opinion of my noble friend Lord Pethick-Lawrence, who I am sure will give his views later on in the debate. He is, of course, free to do so—anyone can state his views in this House. His work in general for the equality of women with men in all respects, so far as possible, in the State no one can deny, and all of us, on this side of the House, at any rate, pay eternal tribute to it. We know that he really suffered at the hands of the law and Parliament for doing his best to get certain measures adopted. I am bound to say, however, that when it comes to arguing whether or not we are in favour of extending the hereditary principle then I must state, whatever may be the feeling of the noble Marquess in the matter, that we should regard the extension of the hereditary principle in this matter as a fundamental one and we should have to oppose it if this Motion went to a Division. There would be no inquests if any member of my Party with strong views went the other way, but the official view of the Labour Party on this matter is as I have just stated it to be.
The noble Marquess referred in his speech to the debates which took place here and in another place on the Life Peerages Bill; and he explained the circumstances which led, to his regret, to the fact that the admission of Life Peeresses on the hereditary side was not covered in that Bill. I should think that there must have been some people in the Conservative Party who would have been rather glad to include that provision in the Bill; but I have little doubt in my own mind that the reason why it was not included was that if it had been so included, instead of dealing with quite a decent Amendment for the benefit of this House for getting in people of ability at once, we should have had a fierce attack on the Bill in both Houses and a division which would have gone right through the country on this question—I repeat, right through the country. Therefore, it was omitted. I do not know what were the inner counsels of Her Majesty's Government, but I should say that that is as near as I could describe the possible facts of the situation. I should like to make it clear, therefore, that if Her Majesty's Government were to weaken on this point to-day they would be lending themselves perhaps to raising 621 just that kind of strong Parliamentary Party aid national division on this question which we have all sought to avoid.
§ 3.13 p.m.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I rise to say a word, a very brief word but a most sincere word, in favour of the Motion that has been moved by the noble Marquess, Lord Reading. I understand that it has been suggested in some quarters—it is possibly a view that may be expressed by the Lord President in his reply—that it is rather early days to raise this topic after the so recent passage of the Bill legalising Life Peerages. But, my Lords, I do not think that that is so. After all, that is quite a different topic. Indeed, we were not even allowed to discuss it during the passage of the Life Peerages Bill. We were told quite firmly that that measure was concerned with Life Peerages and not with hereditary Peerages; and therefore I think there can be no valid objection to our raising it now.
Alternatively, those who oppose the raising of the question to-day suggest that those who favour putting forward a plea for hereditary Peeresses in their own right henceforward to sit in this House are advocating something new and revolutionary. That, I think, was rather the view which was expressed just now by the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough. But I am afraid that I disagree with his view in too, and I thought, as I listened to him, that he had a certain amount of difficulty in maintaining it himself, for in fact the very opposite is the case.
What, my Lords, is the position regarding the attendance of male Peers who are the holders of hereditary Peerages? It was laid down authoritatively only a few years ago, in the Report of the Swinton Committee on the attendance of Members of this House. Noble Lords will find it, if they wish to look up the reference, in paragraph 12 of that Report. It says:Without going too deeply into Peerage Law, the Committee think it right to state that there is no question that a Peer has a right to receive his Writ.The Report goes on to quote a case in the seventeenth century where the Crown tried to discourage certain Peers from attending and failed; and the paragraph concludes with these words:…from that time it has been an acknowledged article of Peerage Law and of the privi- 622 lege of the House that the Writ cannot be withheld from a Peer.That, my Lords, I believe to be crystal clear. It is an absolutely unequivocal statement. Why, then, has the Writ been withheld in the past from hereditary Peeresses? There is no doubt of the validity of their title: they hold their Peerages by just as much an unquestioned right as male Peers do. So that cannot be the reason. They have been debarred, as I understand it, purely and simply because of a sex disqualification: women could not receive Writs of Summons to this House. That was the constitutional position and it was universally accepted. But now the Government themselves, as the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, pointed out, by the passage of the Life Peerages Act, have altered that constitutional position. They have said that women may sit in your Lordships' House. On what grounds, then, are we still to continue the disqualification of hereditary Peeresses in their own right who, but for their sex, would always have received the Writ? Why should we still penalise them alone?
My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor gave an explanation in a debate in this House on October 31, 1957. He said that it "would increase pro tanto the powers conferred by heredity." My Lords, I thought at the time, if he will forgive my saying so, that that was a rather thin argument. If the Government had been preparing to restrict the numbers of hereditary Peers sitting in this House, as some of us very much wanted to do, there would have been some validity in his argument. But whatever the views of the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, may be, that was certainly not the position of the Government. On the contrary, even since the passage of the Life Peerages Act they have recommended to Her Majesty's Government the creation of two entirely new hereditary Peerages: one to Sir William Rootes; one to Sir James Turner. I do not want in any way to criticise the conferment of Peerages on these two gentlemen: I am sure that they are most admirable choices. But what inevitably the fact of their creation does, to use the Lord Chancellor's own words, is to "increase pro tanto the powers conferred by heredity." Does it not drive a cart and horses through the whole case 623 which the noble and learned Viscount made on October 31, 1957? Of course it does. And yet that is the only case the Government have.
The truth is, my Lords, that in 1957 the Government came, as even Governments sometimes do, to a wrong decision—a decision actuated, no doubt, by thoroughly respectable motives, but a decision impossible to defend on any grounds of logic or good sense, and they now feel obliged to stick to that decision. I plead with them, if I may, to reconsider it. We are, I repeat, asking for no revolutionary change. If there has been any revolutionary change, the Government themselves have made it by introducing legislation to make it possible for women to sit in this House. All we ask now is for a regularisation of the position and the removal of a patent anomaly and injustice. If the Government were to grant that, they would not be showing weakness. They would, on the contrary, I am sure, be doing the right thing, and would enhance their reputation in this House and, I believe, throughout the country. I do beg of them, most sincerely, to swallow their pride and to take that course.
§ 3.21 p.m.
§ LORD AMULREE
My Lords, I want, very briefly indeed, to give what support I can to the noble Marquess who has put down this Motion. There is not a great deal that I can add to what has been already said by both the noble Marquess who moved it and by the noble Marquess who has just spoken. I should have thought that if there were any Members present in your Lordships' House to-day who were among the twenty-seven in 1949, they would be converted by what has been said to-day.
Personally, I am not extremely attached to the hereditary principle, but it is the principle under which this House is run at the present time. What I am extremely attached to is the principle of equality of opportunity, equality of work, and equality of pay, for members of the two sexes. So far as I can see, that is the only difference that this Motion, if it is accepted, will make. It will make that equality rather more than it was before. We are, I think (although here I speak subject to correction), one of the few Legislative Chambers which, until the 624 other day, certainly, allowed no women to come in; we are now pleased and proud to have our Life Peeresses, and I see no reason at all why they should not be joined by their colleagues.
What is rather foolish about the present situation is this: that if one of these hereditary Peeresses has a son (I am not sure if this applies to them all, but certainly it applies to a number), that son, when his mother dies, will be able to take his place in your Lordships' House, along with the other hereditary Peers. Therefore, I see here no extension of the hereditary principle at all, but merely a putting right of a long-standing injustice—for that is what it seems for these unfortunate women who lie in the shadow of their title, with no substance behind it. They take the name but none of the responsibilities, and I cannot see that that is a very proper or justifiable thing to occur at the present time. I should very much like to give my support to the noble Marquess, and I shall certainly follow him into the Division Lobby if he carries his Motion to a Division.
§ 3.24 p.m.
§ LORD PETHICK-LAWRENCE
My Lords, by the courtesy of my noble friends sitting behind me I am permitted to speak from this Box, but I am hound to say that it is on the understanding that I made it perfectly clear that I am speaking only for myself and not for my Party. When I have finished my speech, your Lordships will see that there is no need for that statement, because I am going to disagree fundamentally with the noble Viscount whose orders I generally carry out most faithfully and to the letter.
I cannot help feeling that a logical case for the change which the noble Marquess proposes has been fully and completely made out. The fact, surely, is this: that in spite of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, which professed to remove all disqualifications against women, the noble Earl, Lord Birkenhead—who, during his earlier incarnation as F. E. Smith, had vigorously opposed the enfranchisement of women, and had been defeated on that—succeeded in keeping them out of this House by what I believe most Members of the House to-day regard as an incorrect decision of the Committee for Privileges. He held that, in spite of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, there 625 was something peculiar about this particular House, the House of Lords, which made the Act not operative in its case. Whatever substance there was in that contention, it has been flatly contradicted by the recent decision to admit women to Life Peerages and to a seat in this House. Therefore, to maintain that that decision reached by the Committee for Privileges all those years ago is still valid seems to me quite contrary not only to justice, not only to logic, but also to common sense; and if this House adheres to that view it seems to me that it will be taking up a position that is not only wrong but absurd and foolish.
During my life I have been connected with a great number of desired reforms, and I have seen that the correct way of preventing a reform from coming about is, first, to ignore it—and that is successful tip to a point—and then, when that method of attack ceases, to apply ridicule. That continues for a time, but at last justice—and, above all, common sense—prevails, and the reform is carried into effect. I have seen that particularly in the case of the advancement of the status of women. Now, if women were regarded in this country to-day as they were fifty or sixty (and, still more, seventy or eighty) years ago, as second-class citizens, then it would, of course, be a natural thing that they should be denied the vote, that they should be denied, as they were seventy or eighty years ago, the control of their own property, and that they should have all sorts of other disqualifications, including unequal pay. But to-day, when most of those disqualifications have been removed, it is just foolish to try to fight a rearguard action against the complete equality of one sex with the other.
En connection with that, I should like to tell the House this true story of what Mr. Asquith once said to a person in private conversation. He was asked by a friend: "Why do you continue to oppose the introduction of women to the Parliamentary vote? Don't you think it just? Don't you think they are sure to gel it?" He replied: "Yes, I agree that it is just, and I feel certain they will get it; but, please God, not in my time". That, I think, is the position of a great many people who are fighting a rearguard action in this matter of the admission into this House of those women who are Peeresses in their own right.
626 I should like to say a few words more, especially to my noble friends sitting on these benches. I do not believe that there is any substance in the view that this Motion, if carried, and if put into effect, is an enlargement of the hereditary principle. I want to put this case. Suppose that there was a man who was a lost heir to an existing hereditary Peerage, and suppose that he came to the court claiming that his title as heir to the Peerage was valid. Would anybody venture to suggest for a single moment that if the court decided in his favour, and declared that he was the veritable heir and was entitled to have a seat in this House, that would be an extension of the hereditary principle of the Peerage? It would merely be giving justice to an individual who had a perfect right, if he could establish his hereditary claim, to get the position which he claimed. That is what it is proposed to do with regard to this score or so of women who, through a wrong decision in the past, have been kept out of a right which had been theirs ever since the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act was carried into law.
For this reason, my Lords, I am entirely unable to see the force of the view that, if this Motion is carried, we shall be condoning an extension of the hereditary principle. I do not see it to be anything of the kind whatever. There may be certain noble Lords who take that view. I am afraid that I cannot see it now. It seems, therefore, that the logical case for carrying this Motion has been fully made out. I see no logical argument against it, though I know as well as other Members of your Lordships' House that the British are not a logical people, and that few of us, in the last resort, are motivated by entirely logical considerations. But there are two things which are characteristic of the British people, and I suggest that the denial of this Motion is a flat contradiction of both of them.
The first is the principle of justice. I believe that this continued exclusion of women, one by one, from the position to which they are entitled by right is a denial of justice, and E do not believe that the British people will stand indefinitely for the continuation of that injustice. And if there is one thing more which I believe to be an attribute of the British people, it is common sense. And 627 to my thinking the opposition to this proposal lacks common sense, because it is clear that, having admitted that women can be Members of this House, that women hold their titles perfectly correctly under the existing law, and having agreed that there is a Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act which abolishes discriminations against a person on the ground of sex, to continue this old-fashioned, out-of-date principle is unworthy of the common sense of the British people.
I think that those who continue to oppose the principle contained in this Motion are in the position of a certain lady who used to be known as Mrs. Partington, who tried to keep out the incoming tide with the help of a mop. They may push back a certain number of the waves; they may delay for a time a small heap of sand being covered by the tide; but in the long run they and their mop will be overwhelmed by the oncoming tide. I hope that your Lordships, and particularly my noble friend who leads my Party, and those behind me, will forgive me if I say that opposition to this Motion is just silly. It seems to me that it is trying to go back to a position that has already been abandoned and lost. If this Motion is lost to-day, and if this reform is not brought into early effect, I feel certain, from my experience of the years in which reforms that have been persistently opposed have been carried into effect long after common sense demanded that they should be made, that in the early foreseeable future this reform will come about and those who have opposed it will be remembered for the action they took in the vain attempt to delay a reform that was logical, common sense and just.
§ 3.35 p.m.
§ LORD EBURY
My Lords, I have not taken part in recent debates on the composition of your Lordships' House and perhaps I should apologise for coming in at this late stage. I am a little intimidated for the moment, having just listened to the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, and I am certain that he is going to consider me silly, if not reactionary. I would say that on the face of it there is a very strong case for the admission of Peeresses. I am not going to enter into a re-discussion of the merits of the hereditary system, although I may 628 perhaps quote Bagehot on the English Constitution:The order of Nobility is of great use, too, in what it prevents. It prevents the rule of wealth, the religion of gold.It is interesting to note that family continuity in this House is sometimes overrated: of 524 Barons in 1951 only 65 were creations prior to 1800.
It appears that once the principle has been conceded that women should sit in this House, it is analogous that Peeresses in their own right should be entitled to sit and vote. Indeed it is difficult to see why this has been delayed so long in view of the fact that the Ruling House has admitted the female line since 1553. It must be remembered that the hereditary rights of your Lordships are very closely connected with the hereditary Monarchy, and I have heard few objections to the latter principle. So if the value of the hereditary principle be conceded—and remember that those who contest it are striking very closely at the fountain head of our State—there seems to be no earthly reason why the Motion should not be agreed to.
However, there are very cogent reasons why it should not be agreed to. The doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings was discarded many centuries ago; and just as our Monarchy has become a constitutional one, so our hereditary aristocracy has become, though more recently and for different reasons, constitutional, too: that is to say, apart from the natural respect and reverence in which we hold our Monarchy, both have useful constitutional functions. I believe that the operative word here is "useful". In other words, your Lordships' House is now judged by the public for its usefulness in the constitutional complex rather than being admitted as of right to the exercise of its functions.
The recent changes in our membership were aimed at furthering this usefulness and have, I think, though it appears that some noble Lords do not agree with me, achieved that purpose. It is now incumbent upon us, I suggest, to assess whether the implications of the Motion of the noble Marquess strengthen the useful exercise of this House. I think, with respect, that this is rather a doubtful proposition. The hereditary element is well represented, some would perhaps say over-represented, in your Lordships' 629 House. The noble Marquess, Lord Reading, and the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, have said that an extension of the hereditary principle is not involved here. It is. I still think that it is an extension of the hereditary principle and that most people would regard it as such. After all, it is the electorate which chooses the Government, and the hereditary principle is only on sufferance in so far as it is useful at the moment. This may not be a majority view in your Lordships' House, but it is very well documented.
Another view is, with the greatest respect, that the average age of Members of your Lordships' House is on the high side. I believe that the average age of Peeresses in their own right of England and the United Kingdom who have attained their majority is well over seventy—seventy-three, as a matter of fact—and to admit them would not solve the problem of bringing some younger blood into the House. May I also point out, with the greatest respect, that of the official number of those who are allowed to come to this House, something under 6 per cent. are between the ages of twenty-one and thirty-five. I would submit that a revising Chamber does not necessarily have to be exclusively composed of members of very long experience, though this is obviously of great value. What I suggest this House has needed and needs is the infusion of new blood, which was so well achieved by the Life Peerages Act. This and Leave of Absence were, I think, wise steps on the part of the Government. The inclusion of Peeresses in their own right would not be a progressive step and would not sufficiently strengthen the House to make it warrantable. Though I agree that, on paper, the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, has a strong case, I think the Government would be wise to resist this Motion on the grounds that I have mentioned.
§ 3.41 p.m.
§ LORD TEVIOT
My Lords, I had not intended to say a word to-day, but there are two questions which I should like to put to my noble friend Lord Hailsham and which I hope he may be able to answer. The first is this. Is it not a fact that a hereditary Peeress has no vote.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (VISCOUNT HAILSHAM)
The 630 answer to that question is that it is not a fact; she has a vote.
§ LORD TEVIOT
The second question is this—and the first having been wrong, I hope that this may be right. Suppose that we have a young lady who succeeds to be a hereditary Peeress and who may take a great interest in politics and wish to play her part in the legislation of the country. Is it not a fact that, because she is a hereditary Peeress, she is unable to stand for Parliament?
§ 3.42 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, perhaps while they are fresh in my mind I may first deal with the two questions that my noble friend Lord Teviot has just raised. I can confidently advise the House that it is not a fact that a Peeress in her own right has no vote: she has a vote. It is, however, the better opinion that she is not able to sit in the House of Commons, and therefore I would say that she has a grievance under the present state of the law.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I think that special section relates to the vote but not to the right to sit in the House of Commons. She has a vote, but according to the better view she has not the right to sit in the House of Commons. The right to vote is certain, I think, but the latter position is something about which there could be argument. I have, however, given to the House what I believe to be the true view. Therefore I would say that I think these ladies, in common with those who are not always as keen to join your Lordships as perhaps they ought to be, have some grounds for feeling that they are ill-used when they are not allowed to sit in the House of Commons.
We have had an interesting, amusing and, I think, good-tempered debate this afternoon. One thing that has emerged from our discussion is the extraordinary variety of opinion which is held about this matter. The noble Marquess who introduced this Motion with such skill thought that the whole situation had been (and here I quote) "transformed by the passage of the Life Peerages Act". His argument was that if you admit women to membership of your Lordships' House, the principle is admitted, and as 631 a simple act of justice we must admit Peeresses in their own right. The noble Viscount who leads the Opposition took exactly the opposite view. He takes the view that the whole basis of the argument of the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, had been destroyed by the passage of the Life Peerages Act. His argument is that if a Peeress in her own right will assist your Lordships' deliberations, she can be made a Life Peeress. Here we have a complete divergence of view at the outset of our discussion.
The noble Marquess Lord Salisbury, who addressed the House, as he always does, with great authority, took the view that what was inhibiting the Government at the present time was a somewhat ignoble pride, which he begged us to swallow. On the other hand, the noble Viscount who leads the Opposition warned us (and here I quote as correctly as I can remember) of "a savage controversy" which apparently was going to split the country from top to bottom if we yielded to the blandishments of the noble Marquess, Lord Reading. Here again a complete divergence.
The noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, led us to believe that what we were invited to do was a reactionary act designed to restore or extend an old, obsolescent and thoroughly disreputable principle by admitting into the House the representatives and female heirs of some of the oldest baronies in the country. On the other hand, his noble friend Lord Pethick-Lawrence and the spokesman from the Liberal benches, the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, took the view that, so far from being reactionary, this was in the van of progress, and if we refused to do what the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, asked us to do we were, like Mrs. Partington, trying to stop the vanguard of sex equality from invading these red Benches. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, and others took an almost emotional view about the injustice involved. But my noble friend Lord Ebury, who, if he will allow me to say so, I thought made a very sensible speech, thought that this was a practical problem and the real question to which one ought to address oneself was whether much good would come out of the proposal if put into practice.
Between all these different views it is not absolutely necessary for me to 632 attempt to arbitrate, and I think it would be beyond my capacity to do so. There are, however, one or two points which I feel it is my duty to lay before the House. The noble Marquess, Lord Reading, asked us to leave this to a completely free vote—whatever in this House those magic words may mean; a difficult metaphysical proposition which I am unable wholly to elucidate.
THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, may I help the noble Viscount? What I mean by "a free vote" is that the Government Whips should not be put on as such, as Tellers.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
Even so, the metaphysical implications of this in your Lordships' House escape me, to some extent, after eight years' experience of the freedom with which your Lordships vote when the Government Whips are on. Whatever exactly the theoretical demarcation line may be, it is, I think, more difficult to understand than the noble Marquess supposes. However, I remember that I was greeted with just the same answer when we were discussing an earlier measure and the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, was leading the House, when I asked for a free vote. So I do not think the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, can complain, and he should ask his noble friend Lord Salisbury who sits beside him what exactly is meant by "a free vote," because I remember that he would not tell me.
The essence of this Motion is not an abstract adherence to the principle that Peeresses in their own right should be admitted to the House of Lords; it is a demand on the Government—and indeed, the whole burden of the noble Marquess's song was that the Government should take action. I must tell him frankly that if by "a free vote" is meant that the Government are indifferent as to what comes of it, he obviously cannot have one. If he chooses to ask the Government to take steps to ensure the passage of legislation, the Government must answer that question, when driven into a corner, either "Yes" or "No."
The operative word in the Motion of the noble Marquess, to which he did not for a moment refer, is the word, "now". The noble Marquess is asking us to legislate now, in the ultimate or penultimate Session of an expiring Parliament, on a subject which, speaking with the full 633 authority of his Party behind him, the noble Viscount the leader of the Opposition has told us will be rigidly opposed on Party lines. The question we have to consider, as a practical proposition, is whether the Government are rightly asked, or would be acting wisely if they yielded to the advice, to legislate now on this subject in these circumstances. On that, the Government have come to the conclusion that the answer is, No—not because we have some pride in the decision arrived at in October, 1957, but because, for reasons which I will explain, we do riot think this is the right course of action to take now. In doing so, we are completely unwrung by the theory that we are acting as Mrs. Partingtons or objecting to the admission of women to the House of Lords, of which we are in fact the initiators and pioneers. The answer to that is that we do not think that we can legislate now.
If I may say so, it seemed to me that the noble Marquess completely missed the point of the passage of the Life Peerages Act less than six months ago. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, said that we were not allowed to discuss this point then. That is not quite the position as I recollect it. It was carefully explained, both in the Motion which preceded the Bill, on the Second Reading of the Bill itself, and by my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack during the course of the Committee stage, when he gave the guidance that he was so well able to give about what was in order, that the Government had, deliberately and as a matter of policy, decided not to legislate on this particular subject. The House passed the Bill knowing that this was the policy of the Government and the reasons which underlay it.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I quite accept that, but the point was that we could not have introduced an Amendment on this particular topic in that Bill.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
That I fully accept. The Bill could have been rejected, but the policy of the Government, announced and clearly explained in detail, was that we were prepared, for reasons which seemed to us to be adequate, to legislate on the subject of Life Peerages which, if the noble Viscount will allow me to say so without attempting in any way to misrepresent him, was treated with a certain amount of 634 acquiescence on the part of the Party opposite, although not support. We deliberately desisted from voting on this and on a number of other topics of not less importance precisely because, in our view, controversy upon this topic would be unprofitable and unhelpful to the country at the present time. We did that absolutely deliberately.
What the noble Marquess who introduced this Motion has nowhere explained is where that situation which was underlying our decision then has in any way changed. If it would have taken up a lot of unprofitable discussion last Session, we do not think that it would take up any less now. We think that, on the contrary, if you legislate about this topic now you will inevitably incur the charge of frivolity which was already levelled at us when we passed the Life Peerages Act. We passed that Act, as we claimed (I know noble Lords opposite did not agree, but they will remember that we claimed it), precisely because we said there was a practical necessity for it.
But even so, and even though that was our case, there were a number of noble Lords—some, but by no means all. on the Benches opposite—who said to us: "You have no business to take up the time of Parliament with matters of this kind, in view of the great number of serious public issues which require ventilation and the long queue of subjects which are waiting for urgent treatment by the legislative function of Parliament." It would be inevitable, if we were to go back on that decision now, against our better judgment, under pressure from the noble Marquess, that people would say: "Here, for two years running, with all this long queue of legislative projects, you find it necessary to legislate about the composition of the Upper House of Parliament."
The Government are entitled to be jealous of Parliamentary time. We considered many other claims. We considered the Scottish Peers, and I remember now how my noble friend Lord Saltoun most eloquently moved their case. We considered the case of what I might call the reluctant heirs, as well as Peeresses in their own right. They were all decisively rejected from our legislative programme. In my view we could not revive one of them, the Peeresses in their own right, without reviving the claims 635 of the others, with some of which I personally have a great deal more sympathy. All are in some measure controversial, either in this House or the other, and they would be great consumers of Parliamentary time. We do not think that the situation has radically changed in the last six months, and we do not think that this House would be performing its most valuable function by constantly debating its own reform. With the new Life Peers we think we are adequately equipped to discharge our function.
I would beg your Lordships not to underestimate the factor of time. If I take only the short time in which I have been in the Government, I or my noble friends have, at one time or another, had to play an extremely unpopular part in denying time to one set of proposals or another—the Lord's Day Observance laws, which most of us think are obsolete, the betting and licensing laws, the law of obscene publications, the marriage laws, the shops legislation, and many other topics. The truth is that a Government is compelled to be as jealous of Parliamentary time as it is of Government funds, and when we legislated to reform our structure by the addition of Life Peers we gave as much Parliamentary time to this subject as we thought was justified, but, even so, incurred the complaint that we were spending too much time on it.
It would be a mistake to suppose that these proposals are uncontroversial—we have seen the reason why this afternoon. The Labour Party would oppose them, and oppose them as a Party. It would complicate and embitter the relations between the Parties when, as I see it—and I hope that I speak without offence to either side—it is the duty of both Parties, as the Election approaches, to try to focus public attention on the things that really matter and to reduce to a minimum issues which do not matter, and the accusations and cross-accusations of foul play, mischievousness, irresponsibility or overbearing authority. I consider that it would be a mistake, in the light of what the noble Viscount has said this afternoon, for us to use whatever majority we may have in the other place or in this, in order to force through a reform, which even though it was justified, would be unpalatable to them. I myself 636 would not say that it is by any means true that the reform proposed would be uncontroversial, even among noble Lords of the Conservative Party.
I was much impressed by what my noble friend Lord Ebury said. Although the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, poured scorn on those who do not approve of this particular measure on its merits, I must remind him of something which struck me very forcibly. Yesterday, in the course of the moving and impressive ceremony which we passed through at the beginning of our Session, a moving tribute was paid to Lord Badeley, one of the greatest experts on the whole subject of the composition of the House of Lords, who held by a remove of two or three the Office of Clerk of the Parliaments. When this matter was debated in 1949—and it is to be read in Hansard—Lord Badeley made the most formidable attack upon the merits of this proposal, not because he was against the merits of the equality of the sexes but because, knowing what he did about the technicalities of Peerage Law, he thought that the anomalies created by the admission of this extremely unusual and anomalous class of holders of Peerage dignities would be more serious than the advantages it would give.
It may be that Lord Badeley could be mocked at as a Mrs. Partington—I do not know. It is certainly true that the noble Marquess is well entitled to say that Lord Badeley's advice was not listened to in 1949. There are some people, I have no doubt, even now in your Lordships' House who, having looked at Lord Badeley's opinion on a matter of this kind, would just as soon be wrong with Lord Badeley as right with the majority. These things must be examined therefore in relation to the technicalities of the matter and the fact that they are not uncontroversial.
I cannot myself accept that this change would not involve an extension of the hereditary principle. For that reason I must, at the expense of wearying your Lordships, remind you, in as few sentences as possible, of the complicated details of this most unusual and, I would add, anomalous class of claimants to membership of your Lordships' House. Leaving aside the Scottish Peeresses, because they do not perhaps present the 637 same difficulties (although only this afternoon I was warned that their admission might involve a change in the Act of Union. and no one knows how that can be clone without offending Scottish national sentiment), and leaving aside Scottish national sentiment as something, in this connection, of relatively small account, take the case of the Peerages by special remainder. Nobody can pretend that the Peerages by special remainder were so framed as to give a woman the right to succeed in order to give equal opportunity to the sexes to sit in the House of Lords. They were given for the purpose of perpetuating the line of a particular male person; that was the purpose for which those Peerages were created. In point of fact I must tell your Lordships, since I do not think the noble Marquess really appreciated the difficulty of the situation at all, that every Peerage by special remainder (and there are seven of them, I understand) which can confer on a female person the Peerage, dignity or title which was created by the Letters Patent is so worded as to exclude from her the right to sit and vote in Parliament.
I must say that I thought both the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, and the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, were unduly scornful of the first Lord Birkenhead, who, whatever his political views, was undoubtedly a great lawyer, when they failed to point out to the House that one of the principal arguments which the first Lord Birkenhead used in the Committee for Privileges in the Rhondda case was to read out the words of the Patent, which expressly excluded, or by clear implication excluded, from Lady Rhondda the right to sit and vote in Parliament although it conferred upon her the Peerage dignity.
THE MARQUESS OF READING
May I clear my own mind? May I get this from the noble and learned Viscount on the point he is on now? Is he saying in this argument that the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, was wrong in the past when he advised the House on two occasions that if the House wanted this it was possible for a Bill to be drafted?
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I am not on that point at all. What I am pointing out to the House, and I think the House ought to know, is that in the case of one of the two most important categories 638 with which the noble Marquess is dealing, namely the Peerages by special remainder, which form seven of the Peeresses in their own right, the patents of nobility are so framed as to exclude the right to sit and vote in Parliament. What the noble Marquess is really asking us to do is something which has never been done before, although we have every right to do it and from the pure question of draftsmanship there would be no difficulty; that is, to create, in effect, named Peerages by Act of Parliament when they ought to be created by the exercise of the Royal Prerogative, and to do so when the patent does not grant but expressly excludes in that category of case the right to sit and vote in Parliament. It really is going a little far and making a mock of the Committee for Privileges of this House, which said in 1922 that what was never conferred could not be given by mere removal of disqualification, which was the basis of the Rhondda decision.
When we come to the other class, the Baronies by Writ, one is bound to make one or two observations about them. First of all, it must be said—and I want to say no word of disparagement of these Baronies, which include some of the oldest and most honoured names in your Lordships' House—that for, I think, something like 400 years in conferring new Peerages the Crown and successive Parliaments have always expressly followed another precedent in the method of descent. In other words, in regard to Peerages which have been created either in England or Scotland or in the United Kingdom for a period of, T. should have said without correction 400 years, whenever the Patent can be traced it is limited to descent to the heirs male only precisely because the consequences of descent by tail general, which is the method of descent of the Baronies by Writ, are so anomalous and so inconvenient that in actual practice it was thought desirable to discontinue them.
As regards this second and more numerous of the categories to which the noble Marquess's Motion applies, one is bound to say that he is seeking to admit to your Lordships' House the representatives of Peerages the method of descent of which was found so inconvenient even as regards the Peerage dignity, let alone the right to sit and vote in Parliament. which was never conferred on the female, 639 that it has been by universal consent allowed to lapse into complete desuetude over a period of centuries. We are not really talking now about sex equality or the rights of women. It would be possible for your Lordships' House to legislate on the basis of creating sex equality in one of two simple ways. You could, if you liked, alter the laws of descent so that the eldest child, be he male or she female, should succeed to a Peerage dignity; that would be sex equality. I very much doubt whether the noble Marquess below the gangway would like it, but that would be sex equality. You could legislate by abolishing the hereditary right of male or female to succeed to a Lordship of Parliament whilst allowing them to retain Peerage dignity. Either could be represented as progress.
What the noble Marquess is asking the House to do is to admit to your Lordships' House the holders of Peerages by special remainder in respect of which the purpose of conferring the dignity on the woman was not sex equality but the maintenance of the line of a male person whom it was desired to honour and which were so framed as to exclude the right in the female to sit and vote in Parliament; and secondly, a group of Peerages, although they belong to very ancient and honoured families, whose method of descent has been found so inconvenient that it has never been repeated for centuries. I am not saying that that is necessarily wrong, but I do say that when the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, describes those who oppose it, including Lord Badeley, as "silly", he is really being intellectually a little arrogant. When I hear the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, in a tone of emotion which I should have thought was hardly deserved by this interesting but hardly vital subject, talk of justice and swallowing our pride and things which really ought to be done in the interests of the traditions of this country, I think he really underestimates the inconvenience of that which he is proposing.
For all those reasons, the Government cannot accept the Motion. On the merits of the question I have been simply seeking to elucidate the difficulties, and if I have appeared to express a view I now expressly wish to disclaim it on the part of my noble friends and myself; but on 640 the point of policy I must say the Government's policy is not to accept this Motion, and we are prepared to vote on it.
§ 4.10 p.m.
THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, we have had a brief but I think a not uninteresting debate on this subject, and I am obliged to those noble Lords who have taken part in it. The speech of the noble Viscount who leads the Opposition caused me, I am bound to say, no particular surprise. He took what I had expected to be the line. But what was perhaps rather remarkable was that he never dealt with the not unimportant contention, I thought, which had been put forward, that this was not in fact an extension of the hereditary principle at all. He merely assumed for his own convenience that it was such an extension, and based the whole of his argument upon that understanding. He referred to the case of the noble Baroness, Lady Ravensdale. I think I have already said, and I believe it to be right, that that is a special case standing upon its own merits, and to put forward the suggestion that that is the right way to deal with others of these ladies does not in any way necessarily follow. I think I am right in saying that there has always been a power to create Peeresses, but not so far carrying with it a right to sit in this House. My recollection is that Lady Cave was created a Countess after the death of her husband as a Viscount, and that Lady Daventry was created a Viscountess after the death of Mr. Speaker FitzRoy. So that those titles can be conferred, but at present they do not carry with them the right to a seat in this House.
The noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, painted a somewhat menacing and terrifying picture of the great opposition there would be to bringing these few ladies into the House—a picture of the great dissension between the two Parties; of the whole country being almost aflame with the campaign on either side as to whether the hereditary system should be upheld in this way or whether it should be kept under proper restraint. Does anybody really believe that this is going to create such a spasm of political emotion throughout the country as the noble Viscount tried to depict—and, indeed, rather to my surprise, as the noble Viscount replying for the Government equally indicated? 641 The noble Lord, Lord Ebury, dealt largely with the hereditary system. I specifically said that I was not this afternoon concerned to discuss the rights or wrongs of the hereditary system, and I carefully kept away from any discussion of the merits or demerits—not that I have not views on the subject—of that system. But, in my contention, it is not an integral or an essential part, in any way, of the matter which your Lordships are discussing this afternoon. I made that point in the beginning, and I do not propose to repeat it.
The noble Lord also pointed out that the average age of these ladies may be high. I would suggest to him, in return, that of course the actual individuals are not constant. Peerages pass from a female holder to a male holder, and in the same way from a male holder to a female holder, on death, in such cases of peerage as descent by the female line. Therefore you cannot at one moment say, "This is a very high average age," because in the course of a year or two it may completely change and the actual individuals who would be entitled to enter your Lordships' House would at the same time change. The noble Lord, Lord Teviot, made what I think to be a valuable point in drawing attention to the fact that these ladies not only are not entitled to sit in the House of Lords, but are not entitled to attempt to obtain for themselves, by election, a seat in the other place. That is a double handicap under which they suffer and only increases what I still believe to be a real injustice upon them.
The noble and learned Viscount the Lord President of the Council gave a variety of reasons why he did not think that your Lordships should accept this Resolution. I said that any Government confronted with a demand for a reform of any kind will almost always claim that Parliamentary time does not permit of it. I had exactly the same argument brought forward when I produced a Resolution of this kind in 1949. LI have no doubt that if some noble Lord produces it in 1969, unless your Lordships take a stand on the matter here and now, he will be met with exactly the same argument—that Parliamentary time does not permit; that there are important things in the world; that there is this Bill, that Bill and the other Bill which the country is demanding, and that a little, trivial thing like this must be swept aside. I said in 642 my opening speech, and I repeat now, that an injustice is not the less an injustice because it affects only a small number of people, and if your Lordships believe it to be an injustice it does not seem to me to be right for the Government to treat it in that way and merely to say, "There is no time for it; we are not going to consider a trivial, trumpery matter of this kind."
The noble and learned Viscount gave us an interesting and erudite dissertation on the subject of Peerage Law. Into these heraldic matters I am unable and unqualified to follow him, but I still think that it is a question of importance. Does what he is arguing in relation to the nature of these Peerages and the difficulties connected with them mean that a Bill could not be drafted if your Lordships desired that to be done? The noble and learned Viscount certainly was not going to say that that could not be done if it were your Lordships' desire. So that the question whether it is a difficult matter, whether it involves intricate questions of Peerage Law or whether it does not, seems to me to be beside the point if, by a measure drafted by Parliamentary counsel, those difficulties could be got over as I believe they could and, what is much more important, as the late noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, no doubt after careful consideration and taking the most expert advice, on two occasions advised your Lordships could be done.
I think it would be a pity to dismiss this as a frivolous matter as the noble and learned Viscount seemed inclined to do. I believe that it is, although a small reform, one which requires to be dealt with by the House; and I am quite unmoved in the view which I took in the earlier stages that this is a situation which has been entirely changed by the passage into law of the Bill which conferred Life Peerages. I think it only right to say that the admission of women Life Peers into your Lordships' House made the whole difference of principle—and it was the principle which was argued about at such length in the earlier debate. That I believe to be out of the way. There remains this injustice. Having listened to the speeches, I think it would be right that on a matter not of frivolous or trivial importance but of real injustice to a certain number of hereditary Peeresses,we should disregard all these threats of 643 civil strife that have been paraded in front of us to-day as an excuse for—
THE MARQUESS OF READING
I still thought that one could pass laws by a majority of both Houses. But of course, it may be that the newer doctrine which was enunciated by the noble and learned Viscount is the right one: that it would not be possible to do that except with the assent of the Opposition.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, I said that to do what the noble Marquess was asking us to do now would be injudicious and foolish.
§ Resolved in the Affirmative, and Resolution agreed to accordingly.644
THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, if this is just, I am still of the opinion that it is not unreasonable in any way to press upon Her Majesty's Government that they should go forward with it, even if it is not acceptable to the Opposition. Otherwise I do not know what we are trying to legislate about in so many cases. On consideration, in view of the points which have been made in regard to this matter and in view of the nature of the Government's answer, I feel that it would be right that your Lordships should record your view, one way or the other, on the merits of the Resolution; and I propose to divide the House.
§ On Question, Whether the said Resolution shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 59; Not-Contents, 51.643
|Ailsa, M.||Douglas of Barloch, L.||Rea, L.|
|Ailwyn, L.||Ferrers, E.||Reading, M.|
|Airedale, L.||Gage, V.||Runciman of Doxford, V.|
|Amulree, L. [Teller.]||Gifford, L.||Russell of Liverpool, L.|
|Amwell, L.||Glyn, L.||St. Oswald, L.|
|Ashton of Hyde, L.||Gorell, L.||Salisbury, M.|
|Atholl, D.||Hampton, L.||Samuel, V.|
|Baden-Powell, L.||Hatherton, L. [Teller.]||Sandys, L.|
|Balfour of Burleigh, L.||Iddesleigh, E.||Saye and Sele, L.|
|Birdwood, L.||Killearn, L.||Stonehaven, V.|
|Buckinghamshire, E.||Layton, L.||Strang, L.|
|Carlisle, E.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.||Stratheden and Campbell, L.|
|Cholmondeley, M.||Merthyr, L.||Swanborough, Baroness.|
|Cilcennin, V.||Middleton, L.||Swansea, L.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Monckton of Brenchley, V.||Swinton, E.|
|Cottesloe, L.||Moyne, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Croft, L.||Newall, L.||Willingdon, M.|
|Derwent, L.||Normanby, M.||Winterton, E.|
|Devonshire, D.||Pethick-Lawrence, L.||Wootton of Abinger, Baroness.|
|Digby, L.||Polwarth, L.|
|Albemarle, E.||Gosford, E.||Perth, E.|
|Alexander of Hillsborough, V.||Granville-West, L.||Rathcavan, L.|
|Attlee, E.||Greenhill, L.||St. Aldwyn, E. [Teller.]|
|Balfour of Inchrye, L.||Hailsham, V. (L. President.)||St. Just, L.|
|Bathurst, E.||Hall, V.||Sandford, L.|
|Brentford, V.||Hawke, L.||Selkirk, E.|
|Chesham, L.||Jessel, L.||Shepherd, L.|
|Clitheroe, L.||Kilmuir, V. (L. Chancellor.)||Sherwood, L.|
|Conesford, L.||Lawson, L.||Silkin, L.|
|Craven, E.||Lucan, E.||Stonham, L.|
|Denham, L.||Melchett, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Dundee, E.||Merrivale, L.||Teynham, L.|
|Ebury, L.||Mills, L.||Waldegrave, E.|
|Faringdon, L.||Morrison, L.||Williams, L.|
|Ferrier, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.||Wilmot of Selmeston, L.|
|Forbes, L.||Ogmore, L.||Winster, L.|
|Freyberg, L.||Onslow, E. [Teller.]||Wise, L.|