§ Debate resumed.
§ 4.11 p.m.
My Lords, may I now turn back to the matter immediately in front of your Lordships this afternoon—a very much narrower matter? My noble colleagues on these Benches and I, of course, support this Motion, as it has been supported in another place, and I gather will probably be supported on all sides in your Lordships' House. 393 But I must admit that at one point some of us felt some doubt about it; that the manner in which we are discussing the Commons Resolution is in rather limited terms, and is only tinkering with this great problem, which has been before us for so many years; and that we might be getting the worst of both worlds by going into the matter on a scale which is inadequate to the problem which the subject really presents.
The problems posed in the Commons Resolution have the merit of being, as a matter convenience, limited in number and in scope; of being topical and of some urgency in present Parliamentary practice. Therefore, it is particularly appropriate that the matter should be dealt with by a Committee who will consider the matter; and that that Committee should be a Joint Committee is, of course, only right and proper. I rather wish that the noble Viscount the Leader of the House could have given us a little indication of the size and constitution of the Committee. I do not expect him, nor do I ask him, to give any detail. but I suppose we can assume that it will be largely composed of the parties who, for one reason or another, have not been able to support for some years the reform of the House of Lords.
I am not quite convinced that this matter is very well described under the heading of "House of Lords Reform". The narrow issue appears to me to be far more closely connected with certain disqualifications and obstacles, both in regard to, and imposed by, the other place; and I see no particular reform in either the power or the constitution of this Chamber if, as a result of action taken by the Committee, noble Lords may be allowed to vote in Parliamentary Elections, or may include membership of another place as a legitimate extra-mural occupation. The word "reform" can mean either "improving" or "reshaping"; and because the potential outcome of this Motion may well be primarily the reshaping of the machinery of election and of the elected Chamber—I do riot presume to say whether or not it will be an improvement—I should have considered the words "Reform of the House of Commons", or "Reform of Parliament", to be rather more appropriate than "Reform of the House of Lords". Indeed, if I may say so without impropriety, 394 I think it is to be hoped that the other Chamber may, in the result, look to the anomaly and dangers of an elected but unrepresentative House, if there should ever be such a thing. But that is a matter which I certainly would not propose to develop now.
I think it is accepted that the position of the noble Viscount. Lord Stansgate, the second son of a much-loved Member of this House, has in general, but of course in considerable measure, as the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition said, led to this Resolution now formulated in another place. My Lords, there is a not altogether dissimilar position in the case of the gentleman whose name is Mr. Eric Lubbock, the newly-elected Member for Orpington, who will also have to vacate his seat if anything untoward should happen to our colleague. Lord Avebury, to whom, of course, we wish safety, long-life, and freedom from all the perils of land, sea, air, disease, traffic, and legislation.
In the former case, the Stansgate case, a constituency is deprived of being represented as it would wish to be represented; and in the latter case (should it arise), a strenuously-fought by-election would count for nothing, and the electors of Orpington would once again, through no fault of their own, be without a Member. In such matters (leaving aside, for the moment, the question of Scottish and Irish Peers, and Peeresses in their own right), I think the initiative properly rests with the Commons; and as it has been properly taken by the Commons in sending us this Resolution to appoint a Joint Select Committee, in that case it would seem best, in one way, that to-day we should really merely assent to the Commons' proposals, without taking up individual or Party positions before the Joint Committee has done its work and before we have heard what the Committee has to say on the one aspect which is urgent—the Stansgate-Lubbock type of situation.
That we should merely assent would be a counsel of perfection; but I happen to know that that view is held by my noble friend Lord Samuel, who much regrets he is unable to be in his place to-day. But, in the words of to-day's Motion, we are invited to give consideration to the matter, and I think your Lordships will agree that consideration in this Chamber is not habitually silent.
395 The only time when accord—real accord, I think—on the reform of your Lordships' House was nearly reached was, as your Lordships will recall and as was mentioned by the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, at the Party Leaders' Conference of 1948, whose proceedings are recorded in Command 7380. That was fourteen years ago, and yet I think it remains by far the most important milestone in this context. The Party leaders were acting only ad referendum to their respective Parties; they had not absolute powers of decision. If I may just recall to your Lordships who they were, I think your Lordships will agree that it was a meeting of some authority. Meeting during the Labour Administration, the Government were represented by the Prime Minister, the Lord President of the Council, the Lord Privy Seal, the Lord Chancellor, and the Chief Whip. The Official Opposition were represented by Mr. Anthony Eden, the Marquess of Salisbury, Viscount Swinton, and Sir David Maxwell Fyfe (as he then was). The Liberals were represented by Viscount Samuel and Mr. Clement Davies. I think your Lordships will agree that that meeting was extremely representative of the Parties concerned. Nevertheless, this Conference came to a general agreement over certain proposals for the new composition of your Lordships' House. But your Lordships know that, because of a narrow margin of disagreement between the Conservative and the Labour Parties, in respect, I think, only to powers of delaying legislation, the whole outcome of the Conference was abortive. Although this particular disagreement has never been resolved, it would seem that neither the Conservative nor the Labour Party has really felt able to follow up the virtually agreed proposals on the composition of your Lordships' House.
My Lords, the Liberal Party alone, I think, has adopted the nine conclusions in toto as its official policy in regard to the reform of the House of Lords, and it is because we are to-day in sight of tackling some of these points that I consider it relevant, and very desirable, to have them clearly before us once again after this lapse of fourteen years. Therefore, with your Lordships' indulgence, I should like for the sake of the record to recapitulate these nine points, 396 which are quite short points, and three or four of which are particularly germane to to-day's Motion. They will not take me long to recite.
The first point was this. The Second Chamber—your Lordships' Chamber—should be complementary to, and not a rival to, the Lower House; and, with this end in view, the reform of the House of Lords should be based on a modification of its existing constitution, as opposed to the establishment of a Second Chamber of a completely new type based on some system of election. I think it is notable that both the Labour Party and the Liberal Party want to avoid some system of election, in order that this House may not be a rival to the Lower House, and, further than that, that they use its present constitution to develop it.
The second point is that the revised constitution of the House of Lords should be such as to secure, so far as practicable, that a permanent majority is not assured for any one political Party. This point has been made clearly and very sincerely by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, on several occasions and I am sure is accepted by everybody. The third point is probably the most important to noble Lords who sit on these Benches. The present right to attend and vote in the Chamber based solely on heredity should not by itself constitute a qualification for admission to a reformed Second Chamber. This is an absolutely key-point to noble Lords who sit with me on these Benches.
The fourth point is that Members of the Second Chamber should be styled "Lords of Parliament" and should be appointed on grounds of personal distinction or public service. They might be drawn either from hereditary Peers or from commoners who would be created Life Peers. My main ground here is that if we try to make a House composed entirely of Life Peers, it will obviously be a rather elderly House, and we shall miss tremendously the younger element whose contribution to the debates would be so valuable.
The fifth point is that women should be capable of being appointed Lords of Parliament in like manner as men. That view has been largely overtaken by the Life Peerages Act, which has given us 397 the pleasure of seeing noble Baronesses sitting among us. Since that has happened, I cannot see any logical reason for refusing to allow Peeresses in their own right to sit in this Chamber. We owe a great deal to the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, who started an interesting debate on this subject, but I believe that the whole situation has changed since then and from both logicality and fairness we should reverse the decision then arrived at.
The sixth point is that provision should be made for the inclusion in a Second Chamber of certain descendants of the Sovereign, certain Lords Spiritual and the Law Lords. The seventh is that, in order that persons without private means should not be excluded, some remuneration should be payable to members of the Second Chamber. I am not going to debate this point now, but it seems to me that the new Select Committee will have great difficulty in avoiding discussion of this particular point, which I should have thought is bound to come into their general deliberations in some way.
The eighth point is that Peers who are not Lords of Parliament should be entitled to stand for election to the House of Commons, and also to vote at elections in the same manner as other citizens. That point was agreed by the Conservative Party, Labour Party and Liberal Party, through their representatives at that: Conference, so it is nothing new. Finally, some provision should be made for the disqualification of a member of the Second Chamber who neglects, or becomes no longer able or fitted, to perform his duties as such.
My Lords, those are the nine points which we on these Benches support, and I hope that I shall be excused for reciting them again, because it is desirable that they should appear on the Record of this debate on the subject to-day.
Since the Conference of 1948, we have had the Life Peerages Act, implementing points 4 and 5. I do not know whether I am expected to be particularly enthusiastic over that rather grudging little reform, which is about the only one we have had since the Liberal Party made its famous remark about "Brooks". Neither of the other Parties seemed particularly enthusiastic about it, any more than we on these Benches are. 398 I cannot help recalling that the Life Peerage Act was brought in by the Leader of the Conservative Party in each Chamber with the avowed and clear intention of increasing the strength of the Opposition in your Lordships' House. I do not want to go into details, but I think that your Lordships will know that approximately 20 life peerages have been given to the Labour Opposition and approximately 20 to those who do not support the Opposition. I think that I had better say nothing about the complete neglect to give any life peerages to the only Party which I think is gaining, not losing, support throughout the country. The only epithet which can apply is an asterisk, and possibly a note of exclamation.
The Commons Resolution which we are discussing to-day does not directly apply to life peerages as such, but I think that in the scope of the Committee's deliberations the question of life peerages is bound to arise; and in that connection I, for one, consider that if a Peer is permitted to surrender his hereditary peerage in order to go into another place, he should certainly not he debarred from later accepting, as a reward, for good work in that place, a life peerage and so returning to your Lordships' House. If he were refused that right, he would be placed in a position worse than that of any other commoner.
As regards the surrender of an hereditary peerage, of course, this is a matter for individual consideration. The levelling out of equality of opportunity over the last 40 years has produced its good and its bad side-effects—mostly, I think, good ones. But on the debit side there can be no question that a philosophy of equality by force, if I may so call it, rather than of equality by emancipation, has arisen, and has brought with it a fashion for sheer iconoclasm which even our Left-wing Parties find a little embarrassing when it is no longer restricted to the very young or very inexperienced or stupid.
On these Benches we oppose the principle of the hereditary principle constituting by itself a right to attend and vote in this Chamber. But until we decide how the present system is to be replaced, as it should quickly be replaced, I should be rather chary of 399 taking a virtually irrevocable step, which might have extremely difficult repercussions in regard to future action when we come to the remodelling of this House on the lines suggested at the 1948 Conference. I should feel particularly worried if such a step were basically founded upon the fashion of discontent which to-day shows itself rather too clearly, sadly and unproductively in many ways.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he could amplify or elucidate that dark saying about "the fashion of discontent"?
My Lords, my answer to that is that the reform of this House should not be done purely in an iconoclastic, damaging and destructive way, because I believe very much in the existence of a Second Chamber; and it should be reformed in a constructive and, at the same time, democratic way.
My Lords, Lloyd George went a long way from the Liberal Party before he finished up.
While I should oppose the conditional sort of surrender of a peerage for a period of less than a lifetime, for reasons which I think are too obvious to need analysis, I should support the right of any Peer to divest himself during his own lifetime of a circumstance which he found intolerable, and therefore I would approve the renunciation of a peerage for the lifetime of the holder of that peerage. Nevertheless, speaking for myself, I think that we should be unwise if we were suddenly to enact, without, of course, the thought and consideration of any generation other than our own, that a man who held the passing honour of a hereditary peerage should speak for all his ancestors, none of whom he can consult, and for all his heirs, only one or two of whom he can consult.
An hereditary peerage is a mantle of Royal honour, whether it temporarily clothes a sage or a saint, a mountebank or a moron—I am glad to think that the former category is the more usual in 400 your Lordships' House. But the man himself is not his peerage; nor should the actual word, "Peer", equal Member of Parliament or Lord of Parliament. Therefore I should be inclined to support the complete extinction of a peerage only after a long period of consideration by both interested and disinterested parties. I would suggest that, in the same way as a Bill in dispute between the two Houses of Parliament must pass the other place in three successive Sessions before it can succeed, the extinction of a peerage should require the approval of Parliament over three successive Parliaments. The procedure, of course, would be slow, but the evolution of the peerage has been even slower. Perhaps courtesy alone might demand that what has been evolved over a thousand years needs more than a couple of afternoons for its destruction at the hands of one passing generation, which is tempted to think it knows all and is even prepared, by the H-bomb, to blot out mankind for ever on its own responsibility in this decade.
As a Liberal, I cannot support the hereditary system as a yardstick of right to rule over others; but as a Liberal I cherish the culture, the statesmanship and the learning which the democratic environment of heredity has often produced among the liberal arts. Such qualities can come, and often do, from sources other than likely sources. But although we draw much of our benefit from ridiculous traditions and dear anomalies, I would hesitate to do away completely with this unjustifiable situation so long as democratic safeguards are jealously upheld.
§ VISCOUNT STUART OF FINDHORN
My Lords, the noble Lord will forgive me for interrupting. Is it not a fact that in 1910 the Liberal Government said that they would make 400 Liberal Peers? Is he, therefore, opposed to the hereditary system?
I have been trying to explain that I am not opposed to the hereditary system in the sense that the Speaker's Conference of 1948 wished to build a new House of Lords drawn upon that system. Nor am I immediately concerned about what was decided in 1910. I believe, though with feelings of considerable frustration about what is being done and how little is being done, that I 401 should support this Resolution. I do so in the conviction that the Joint Select Committee will, nevertheless, have support and help from all quarters of your Lordships' House.
§ 4.32 p.m.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, cannot, I think, but create a measure of bewilderment in the minds of some of us as to what is to be the exact scope of the inquiries of the Committee that your Lordships are asked to-day to set up. According to the Leader of the House, as I understood him, it would be within the terms of reference of the Committee to range fairly wide; but according to the Leader of the Opposition, on the contrary, the discussion would have to be strictly confined within very narrow limits. I hope that we shall know a little more about this when we hear the winding-up speech from the noble and learned Viscount the Leader of the House, so that we may be able to understand in what we are involving ourselves by our decision to-day. But in the meantime, I hope the House will forgive me if I follow the Leader of the House on the rather wider issues he raised in the brilliant speech that he delivered to us this afternoon. For these wider issues must, in my view, affect the deliberations of the Joint Select Committee, even if the conclusions to which they come are confined to the more limited aspects of the problem.
In rising to support this Motion, I would, if I may, approach the question of the reform of your Lordships' House from a rather different angle from that of most of those who have addressed themselves to the subject in another place, and from that from which I think, in his heart of hearts, the Leader of the House himself approaches it. In nearly all the speeches to which I have referred, this question has been looked at from the point of view of the individual Peer, or mainly so. What is fair to the individual Peer?—that is the first question that speakers seem to ask themselves. Ought he, by the accident that he has succeeded to a hereditary peerage, be denied the chance of a possibly brilliant career in the House of Commons? Should he have the right to repudiate the right of a peerage for himself during 402 his own lifetime; or should reform go even further and open up for him the possibility permanently to divest himself—and not only himself but his descendants as well—of obligations which were undertaken by his forbears, but which he personally finds a distinct encumbrance? That is the kind of question that has been asked; and one cannot help feeling sorry for young men who, whether for reasons of personal and very natural ambition or for other causes, find a hereditary peerage a burden and wish to rid themselves of it, and so save themselves from the dreadful fate of permanent incarceration in your Lordships' House.
But I feel, perhaps because I have had the privilege of membership of this House now for a great number of years, and have a steadily increasing respect for it, that there is something more important even than the hardships of these individual Peers, however acutely they may feel them; and that is: what is the right course for all of us to pursue, from the point of view of your Lordships' House as a whole? What is likely to make it the best body that can be devised for the performance of the functions that lie upon it under the Constitution? That, and not the position of these individual Peers is to me what really matters. We may, indeed, be able to find reforms which will help the Peers to whom I have referred what the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Hailsham, called the "reluctant Peers"—and which will not impair, and may even benefit, the efficiency of the House. No doubt we shall all be delighted if that is so. But the most important thing, I repeat, for us to consider is the House and not the individuals who compose it.
That brings me directly to the question: what are the essential requirements of the House of Lords in an unrestricted democracy? First, as I see it, it must be capable, as the noble Viscount has already said, of revising legislation that comes to it from another place. It must be competent to act as a second sieve through which such legislation has to pass. For that purpose, I would suggest, with great diffidence (and this is what I may call my second requirement), that it must contain some younger men. For distinguished men of retiring age—soldiers, diplomats, 403 trade union leaders, whoever they may be, who have been made Peers not so much for their future work as for their past services—will be reluctant to concern themselves, in the evening of their lives, with what I may call the donkey work of the House, the making of Amendments on Committee stages and so on. The House of Lords, I believe, just like the House of Commons, must have younger members. That, I suggest, Is one essential feature that we ought to keep in mind.
Thirdly, I think the House must be well equipped, by the quality of its membership, to discuss in the spirit of a Council of State the great topics of the day. That, I hope it will be agreed, the present House of Lords, especially, if I may say so, since the inclusion of Life Peers, most certainly is. And, then, fourthly, there is a function which the House fortunately is only rarely called upon to perform, but which could be the most important of all. It is this. In the event of extremely controversial legislation being sent up from another place by a Government either of the Left or of the Right—legislation which has never been before the electorate at a General Election—the House of Lords ought to enjoy sufficient authority to impose the brief delay which the Constitution allows to enable the views of the British people to crystallise, in one direction or another, on such legislation, before it actually passes into law. And that, of course, connotes that this House must not, in a political or any other sense, be just a replica of the House of Commons. My grandfather once said, when discussing this topic, that if you put two locks on a door, you do not want so to construct them that they can both be opened by the same key. The House of Lords, in fact, must be an independent entity, with an identity and character of its own.
Finally (and this I suggest, though the last, is the most important requirement of all) the House of Lords must not be a rival of the House of Commons; I was delighted to hear the noble and learned Viscount the Leader of the House make that point with great force.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
The noble Marquess is making a most interesting speech, but I should like to get the facts right. I would gather, for example, that when the Conservative Opposition made it impossible for us to carry without another Election the Iron and Steel Bill, they overlooked the fact that we had put the iron and steel nationalisation project before the country at a General Election in 1945. At any rate, the present Government have not hesitated to bring in the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill without any submission to the country at all.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
If the noble Viscount will remember, the reason why we put our Amendment into the Iron and Steel Bill at that time was because the legislation introduced by the Labour Government went beyond what was on their programme at the General Election. Not only that, but the Labour Government accepted the Amendment. If I remember rightly, it was not voted on; it was accepted by the Labour Party. I do not therefore honestly think there is much validity in the point the noble Viscount made.
May I go on? In this country the House of Commons, which is elected, as we all know, by the suffrages of practically the whole adult population, must always be the senior partner; and in the event of a conflict between the two Houses, the will of the House of Commons, after the delay prescribed by the Constitution—and nowadays it is a very short delay—must always prevail. About that there will not, I imagine, be any dispute in any quarter of this House.
Such, I suggest, are some of the main requirements of a Second Chamber—which is what our House is—in a Constitution based on an unrestricted democracy, such as we have in this country to-day. To what conclusions does that lead us? I suggest, very diffidently, one, which may seem extremely odd to some of your Lordships. It is this. In spite of the introduction of Life Peers, which has increased, as we all know, so greatly the value and vitality of this House, there are good reasons, I believe, why 405 it should continue to be based predominantly on the hereditary principle.
I will give your Lordships two reasons for that view. The first is this. It is only in this way, short of an elected House—which I would dismiss for other reasons which I will mention later—that we can hope to obtain the services of the young men who, I believe, are so essential to the successful working of the House. Broadly speaking, even Life Peers tend to be elderly. They are men and women, usually, who have already succeeded in some other walk of life or in another place. But hereditary Peers can be, and frequently are, quite young. There is, too, a second reason which makes the retention of the hereditary principle, I believe, so important. It is only in this way that one can ensure that the House of Lords will always be the junior partner of the House of Commons. If, for instance, we were to replace the hereditary principle by any system of election, by whatever form of electorate, by the very fact that it was elected to represent certain views and interests it would always tend to become a rival of the House of Commons.
There are those, indeed, who still feel that the very fact that your Lordships' House has a suspensory veto, however short that may be, in a sense makes this House a rival to another place. But if that were ever true—and I suppose it was many years ago—I do not believe it is true to-day. For though the suspensory veto is nominally for a period of one year from the first introduction of a Bill in the House of Commons, yet, in practice, we all know—those of us who have been in both Houses—hotly contested Bills take upwards of nine months to pass through both Houses. Therefore, there is likely to be only three months between the arising of a conflict between the two Houses and the end of our suspensory veto. You cannot have anything very much shorter than that. Moreover, with the introduction of life peerages, it will always be possible for any Government with a majority in the House of Commons to ask the Crown to create a sufficient number of such Peers to give it a majority in both Houses. For that reason, I believe that the fear which is still sometimes expressed that your Lordships' House could, if it wished, 406 clog the wheels of progress, is nowadays completely unfounded. On the contrary, I believe that the retention of the hereditary system is by far the best method of ensuring that the House of Commons shall remain the stronger Chamber of the two. And that, in an unrestricted democracy, is surely right.
The composition of your Lordships' House, resting mainly on the hereditary principle, is indeed difficult, if not impossible, to defend logically in the modern world in which we live. It owes its hereditary basis, as we all know, to circumstances which have long passed away. But, like so many British institutions, though illogical, it works. And that, after all, is the most important thing. I suggest, therefore, that however hardly the hereditary system may appear to press upon individual Peers such as Mr. Wedgwood Benn, we ought to think twice before, in our anxiety to avoid hardship to individuals, we do anything likely to impair it, much less to strike at the roots of it.
Having said this, however, and though hereditary Peers have had, as we know, ever since the seventeenth century, the right to a writ of summons if they want it, I believe there is no reason why the Crown should not, on the advice of both Houses of Parliament, take steps to limit the number of Peers who take an active legislative part in your Lordships' House, if that is in the interests of the House itself and if this House approves such action. I make just those two provisos. After all, we really must take account of the changed position that exists to-day; and the position is changing further with every year that passes. It is only within comparatively recent times that the numerical membership of this House has reached the stupendous level at which it stands to-day.
In the Middle Ages, the Great Council of the Realm, which was the ancestor of this House, was a small executive body of powerful, territorial magnates; and those who received writs of summons to it were very few. But, since then, peerages, as we know, have been granted more and more, for honorific rather than functional reasons and with this change the number of hereditary Peers has steadily grown. Indeed, it is not at all impossible that with the 407 advent of Life Peers the membership of this House will soon exceed the figure of 1,000. Of these, only a comparatively small proportion normally come, and quite a number never come at all. That, clearly, as has been recognised now for many years, is not a satisfactory position and is, I think, damaging to the reputation of your Lordships' House.
I understand that this particular aspect may well come within the purview of the Committee the setting up of which the Government are asking your Lordships to approve to-day. If I may say so, I am personally very glad to hear this, for, as some of your Lordships know, I have long hoped that something could be done to bring the active membership of this House within reasonable proportions. I believe, moreover, that such action would be welcomed by numbers of Peers who cannot, for various reasons—many of them extremely good—attend to their duties here, and to whom the inability to fulfil their constitutional obligations is the cause of serious embarrassment.
There is also another reason—a very practical one—which has not been mentioned to-day, why I believe a limitation of the active membership of this House to those who actually mean to attend would be desirable. The time, I am certain, will come, must come, although it is certainly not within the terms of reference of this Committee—and here I entirely agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough—when Peers will have to be paid. At present, as we all know, they receive no salary. They get only £3 3s. a day in repayment of expenses incurred in attending your Lordships' House. That is a maximum of £300 a year if a Peer attends every single meeting of the House. It is less than the minimum wage which is paid to almost any manual worker to-day, and no younger Peer could hope to keep a wife and growing family on such a pittance as that. Moreover, my Lords, even this maximum figure of £300 a year which I have mentioned is not an additional income. It is merely repayment of expenses which have already been incurred.
I am sure that, in these days of crippling taxation, this absence of any salary is one of the factors which prevents many noble Lords on both sides 408 of the House from attending fully to their duties. They have to earn their own living elsewhere. There seems to be an old fashioned idea, which is still prevalent, that all Peers are rich. I only wish it were true, but it is not. At the same time, the country clearly cannot pay a salary to Peers unless there can be some certainty that they will be able and willing to attend to their Parliamentary duties. For that reason I believe it will be desirable and, indeed, essential, to limit the number of Peers to those who really intend to be active Members of this House. I do not propose to-day to discuss how that should be done. There have, as your Lordships know, been various schemes put forward in recent years, all of which, no doubt, have their advantages and disadvantages. I saw that yet another was advanced by the noble Viscount, Lord Hinchingbrooke, in another place last week. It was a new proposal which seems to have obtained some support. It will be the task of the Committee to examine all these proposals—if its terms of reference permit—and I do not propose to prejudge its conclusions to-day.
It will also, I understand—though perhaps the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, would not agree with this—be within the terms of reference of the Committee to define the status of those who, under any scheme of reform, are not selected as Members of this House. Will they rank as commoners and be eligible to be elected to the House of Commons; or, once Peers, must they always be Peers, whether they sit or not? I must leave that also to the Committee.
One thing, however, I should like to stress yet once more. In my opinion, for what it is worth, what ought to influence us most in the final decision we take is not the situation of those individual Peers—who have received so much publicity—and their grievances, however acutely these may be felt; it is the prestige, the authority and the efficient working of this House. If the Committee makes, if we all make that our guiding principle in considering these matters, we shall not go far wrong.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, I would echo what the noble Marquess has just said, that we should concern 409 ourselves in this debate with the authority, the prestige and efficient working of this House, and I would also say of Parliament itself. My noble Leader, I hope inadvertently, indicated during his speech that he was unaware of the fact that I was going to take part in the debate. The noble Marquess, on the other hand, made it perfectly clear that in his view I should not even have come to your Lordships' House at all, because he said the qualifications of a Life Peer or Peeress were that he or she should be both distinguished and of retiring age and, of course, I am neither. Indeed, I would remind the noble Marquess that although all my colleagues who are Life Peers are distinguished, most of them have not yet reached retiring age. To that extent, although I agree with a very great deal—in fact, a surprising amount—of what he said, I do not think that his arguments in favour of a predominantly hereditary House of Lords are valid in so far as the qualifications which he suggested for Life Peers are invalid.
I was somewhat surprised, but by no means dismayed, to find when I looked at the list of speakers that, of the sixteen, I was apparently the only Life Peer on this side who had decided to speak. However, I am very glad to notice that there is one on the other side; and no doubt the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, is mainly intervening for the same reason as I am myself, namely, that I, at least, feel it may be possible for us who are not hereditary Peers—and, so far as I am concerned, have no wish to be so—to say things in this debate which those who are hereditary Peers might have some difficulty in saying. My other reason for intervening is that, like the noble and learned Viscount who opened this debate. I, too, love the Commons. I would put it rather broader than that, and say that I love Westminster; I love Parliament.
Indeed, I have now spent about an equal time in this Chamber as I did in the other Chamber, and I never imagined when I was a Member of the Commons that I would ever agree to go to another place, or ever be happy in a place other than the Commons. I had not reached retiring age; I had a seat about a fourpenny bus ride from the House, which I could not possibly lose, and I think your Lordships 410 will realise I came here with some reluctance and only out of what I was convinced, or became over-persuaded, was a sense of duty. It is for all those reasons and because of my love for Parliament and my service in both Houses that I feel I can speak on these matters with reasonable freedom from bias. I now propose to destroy the illusion which I hope I have created of freedom from bias by saying that after four years in your Lordships' House, I cannot imagine any set of circumstances which would ever make me desire to go back to another place.
I, like the noble Lord, Lord Rea, support this Motion, but very much regret that the issue we are discussing is so narrow; that the mountain of talk, as it were, has brought forth such a comparative mouse of a Motion. But if now the Select Committee feel that they are free to discuss all the matters which the noble Marquess has mentioned, it may well be that we shall have a most exciting and, indeed, revolutionary report. But I think, in any case, it would have been much more to the credit of the great political Parties if they had got down to the job of deciding whether or not they want a Second Chamber, and, if so, the method of selecting those who are to sit in it. I would submit that until that is done there is no possibility of giving, as the noble Marquess suggested, a Second Chamber any powers to defer the passage of legislation. If and when a Second Chamber is selected on a different basis, then it might be a very necessary part of its powers, but it would seem to me impossible to justify that on the present position. I would say also that, until the two great Parties get together and decide about the future of your Lordships' House, we are entitled to demand the end of the unworthy sniping and sneering at this House which comes from those who are willing to wound but afraid to strike.
Meanwhile, I would submit that there surely can be no question but that a Peer should have the right to surrender his peerage in his lifetime, and, if elected, to sit in the Commons. I hope that the Joint Committee will take that view and that my—I was going to say my honourable friend, but I am probably more correct in saying my noble friend, Anthony Wedgwood Benn, will soon be 411 back in the place in which he has already rendered such outstanding service. Indeed, once there, I hope he will perhaps modify the descriptions of your Lordships' House, which have been attributed to him, as "a haven for the worn out" and "the outer Mongolia for retired politicians."
I do not agree—and here, perhaps, I am expressing a view contrary to that of a majority on these Benches—that Mr. Benn or any other Peer should have the right to decide this matter for his heirs. Every peerage, as I see it—and this is implicit in the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham—with the rights and duties pertaining to it, was created for what appeared to be a good and sufficient reason at the time, and if the hereditary right of Peers to sit in Parliament is to be abolished, then it should be abolished by Parliament and not by individuals. If we support, as I do, the freedom of an individual to decide for himself, we must surely oppose granting to that individual the right to deny freedom of choice to others. It seems to me that the two things must go together and I cannot honestly see how it can be argued otherwise. I believe that Peers who wish to become commoners should do so completely for their lifetime, but that their peerages and titles should remain in abeyance and that their heirs should have the right to revive them or remain commoners.
In my view, this would in no way affect subsequent consideration of the reform of the House of Lords or the method of selection of those who are to sit here. The continuance of a peerage—and here I think this entirely agrees with the view put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Rea—ought not to be directly related to the right to sit in the House of Lords. I am bound to confess, however, that although the present right to sit, whether by inheritance or appointment, is indefensible, paradoxically the thing does work; In fact, once you have got over the indefensible method of selection for your Lordships' House, it is, in my view, in its operation, the most democratic assembly of which I have any knowledge. There is no place, no assembly, where speech, and indeed to a large extent action, are more truly free than here. We had a 412 most welcome example of that only yesterday.
The other point about the present system (and I attach great value to this) is that it retains for your Lordships' House the services of those with specialised knowledge of certain subjects who come here perhaps only two, three or four times a year, but every time make a contribution of great value. Some, I know, sit on the Cross Benches; most of those indeed who sit on the Cross Benches are of that kind; and there are many on both sides of the House, who cannot come and do not wish to come even every week, certainly not every day of every week; but it would be a great loss not only to this House but to the country if they had no opportunity of speaking in this Assembly again.
In my opinion, if the right of surrender is granted, very few Peers will exercise it, and I think that the number would be smaller still if this House did not suffer from the false image created by selective Press reporting. It is understandable, of course, that in their domestic occasions Peers, like parsons should be fair game. If they get drunk, divorced, or do foolish things it is very properly headlined, but the publicity inevitably colours the public image of the whole Peerage. This, of course, cannot be helped, but it is deplorable that a large section of the Press should pursue the same selective reporting of the proceedings of this House, with the result that people who read only the mass circulation dailies could be forgiven if they thought that most of our time was spent on discussions concerned with sex, sadism, sensation or stupidity. Quite sober adults are often surprised to learn that all Bills have to pass through the House of Lords and through all stages. I would submit that this false image has a very considerable effect on the views of those who may be called upon to take a seat in your Lordships' House. I confess that it had a very great effect on my own views before I came here.
Let me quote a typical example of the kind of thing I have in mind. Last month the periodical Time and Tide published a so-called work study of the House of Lords by a Mr. Kaufman. It was called, "Lazy Lords", and was 413 described as a piece of research. It was one of those researches where you first decide the answer and then work backwards. Mr. Kaufman's final answer was this, that:instead of attempting every few years to reform the Lords we should abolish it outright and start again.Here are some of the instances of the objective way in which this researcher reached his final conclusion. He says, for example, that last year the Lords asked only 398 Questions and added:The Commons ask that number almost every five days.This ignored the not unimportant fact that we have a maximum of four Questions per day in your Lordships' House, whereas in the Commons the only limit is the number which can be answered in an hour. It also ignores the fact that on any given day in the Commons one Minister may answer all the Questions and that, apart from constituency points, it is rare for more than four basically different Questions to be asked in the afternoon.
This researcher also declares that our day-to-day proceedings would be impossible without the hard core of Members who, he says, number only 62. But, by his reckoning, to qualify for the hard core one must have made at least ten speeches in a Session. Well, by this test the Lords hard core is a very much larger hard core than the Commons hard core.
But then Mr. Kaufman generously concedes that:A wholly subjective analysis of Lords proceedings would lead to an unfair verdict.So he examined Press coverage to see what was felt to be generally interesting. But first he eliminated from our work all the work on Bills, and then he excluded the reports of the three quality newspapers, The Times, the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph for the somewhat odd reason that they do report our proceedings. Your Lordships can read it all here: this is not exaggeration; this is what this distinguished researcher did.
Then, declaring that the five popular dailies are competent judges of what their readers regard as important, he revealed that, out of our 63 debates, only 41 were reported on their merits. The other day we had a Foreign Affairs 414 debate, and the Foreign Secretary made a very important speech. Earlier that same afternoon my noble friend Lady Summerskill asked a Question relative to the brutality, as she alleged, of boxing. These competent judges of what their readers regard as important, these five daily newspapers, gave more space to my noble friend's Question than they did to the Foreign Secretary.
§ LORD STONHAM
I should prefer at the moment not to comment. I would say only that if my noble friend Lady Summerskill ever became Foreign Secretary she would expect that her speeches would be given more space and prominence than would my Question if I asked something about patent medicine or something of that kind.
§ BARONESS SUMMERSKILL
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he does not realise that my Question was fundamentally important, that if we abolished aggression from the world, Foreign Secretaries would not be necessary?
§ LORD STONHAM
I heard the Foreign Secretary's speech, and I thought, and other noble Lords in the House seemed to agree, that that, too, was fundamentally to do with the abolition of aggression and methods to achieve that. And it did just seem to me (I admit that I may be biased in this) that the Foreign Secretary was dealing momentarily with a larger and more important canvas than that dealt with by my noble friend. Obviously, my noble friend does not agree with me; she is quite sure that the popular papers are night. But I would point out that it is on such objective criteria that this researcher reached the conclusion that we should be abolished. Unfortunately, by applying exactly the same criteria one could make out a much stronger case for the abolition of the House of Commons. The name of the author escapes me, but I think the appropriate doggerel for this, as I remember it, is:One cannot hope to bribe or twist,Thank God! The British journalist,But, seeing what the man will doUnbribed, There's no occasion to.415 As I have said before, my personal views are of small import, but for the benefit of those who will have to make a decision about their political future, I would say that in my experience your Lordships' House is unique. I love Parliament. I love the Commons and I love this place. But having been to both, and having had a reasonable experience of both, I would say, first, that anyone now here who has had experience of both Houses and wants to go back to the other place—unless, of course, he has ambitions to be, and has the qualifications for, Prime Minister—should see a psychiatrist. Secondly, that any Peer with no Commons experience who yearns to go there should first spend two solid weeks in the Peers' Gallery of the Commons, and if that does not make him think twice about his decision he should be given every encouragement to leave us: he obviously lacks the mental equipment required in your Lordships' House. My Lords, I support the Resolution.
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF SWINTON
My Lords, I think that anyone who has listened to this debate would say that it has been of the highest order. May I say to my noble friend who introduced it that, after a great many years in this House, I do not think I ever heard a better speech delivered from any quarter than that of the Leader of the House this afternoon? But anybody who has heard this debate without having read the Motion would, I think, be under the impression that the Motion was of the widest possible character, inviting us to consider whether the House of Lords should be abolished, whether it should be reformed; how it should be reformed, and what its powers should be. As a matter of fact, if your Lordships will come back to the terms of the Motion you will see that it really is a narrow Motion. It is not whether we should exist, or how we should be constituted; it is a narrow Motion as to whether we should agree to appoint a Joint Select Committee, and whether we are satisfied with the terms of reference which are set out.
I would also add that, as we have experienced already to-day, while in this House nothing is out of Order, except gross abuse (and that can be dealt with 416 only by moving that the noble Lord concerned "be not heard") I should venture to think that it is perhaps inappropriate that we should tell the Committee today exactly what they are to do and how they are to report. The noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition began, I thought, most effectively, by saying that, and then proceeded to tell the Committee what they should do. My noble friend and colleague the former Leader, Lord Salisbury, did much the same thing.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
No, I did not. If I may say so, I went out of my way to say that there were many schemes that would be before the Committee, but that I did not propose to go into any of them.
§ THE EARL OF SWINTON
My Lords, I think my noble friend did himself less than justice. Of course, the art which conceals art is the highest art of all. When you have eliminated a large number of alternatives as being wrong, immoral, or unconscionable, and there remains only one, you may not in terms commend that one, but you are left with a certain impression, whether or not it was my noble friend's intention to convey it.
I shall be quite brief. I hope that the House will concur in this Resolution. If changes are to be made, certainly any changes requiring legislation, it is most desirable that they should be agreed to by Parliament as a whole, and the best way of getting that done is to appoint a Joint Select Committee. I venture to think that the questions which are submitted to the Committee are important, but they are limited in scope. Of those questions, the second, the surrender of a peerage, is certainly the most important. Of course this is not at all a new question, as more than one speaker has reminded the House. The attempt to surrender a peerage has been made on a number of occasions. Sixty or seventy years ago the fathers of various Members now sitting in this House did their best to get out of coming here.
Going on through the years, the attempt has been constantly made. But on every single occasion when that was done it was always said in this House, and I think in another place—certainly 417 it was said by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. to my noble friend the Leader of the House: "You cannot decide these things on a personal case. This is a great question of principle, and whatever is decided about it must be decided as a question of principle, and it must be the subject of general legislation." This has been said over the past sixty or seventy years, but we have not had any general legislation. I suppose that, like other matters, it was one of those questions which "brooked no delay ". However, it is right and proper that it should now be considered, and in the first instance by a Joint Select Committee. I think it is also right that the various alternatives in regard to surrender should be put: whether there should be an absolute surrender, if at all; whether there should be a surrender for life; or whether there should be a surrender for a lesser period.
The Motion rightly adds that the Committee will have to consider all the consequences which might flow from any one of those solutions. If that is being done, then obviously it is right and convenient that we should consider the anomalies of the Irish and Scottish Peers. I once had a delightful Parliamentary Private Secretary who sat in the House of Commons and was an Irish Peer. I have never been able to see why, if an Irish Peer could do that, a Scottish Peer who did not get himself elected, or did not want to be elected by his fellow Peers, should not have the same right.
Perhaps I am transgressing in saying what the Committee should find. It is very hard not to do so. I am also going to transgress a little further. I am glad that Peeresses in their own right are not to be excluded from this consideration. Quite frankly, I have always had a sneaking regard for Peeresses in their own right—these poor ladies who victoriously surmounted a Select Committee of this House, who thought that the portals had been thrown open to them and that they were going to line the Benches on both sides of the House, only to find that another Select Committee incontinently liquidated them and banged the door in their faces. I do not suppose I shall sit on the Committee, and far be it from me to say, if I did sit upon it, how I should vote on that one, but I really would feel bound to 418 give the Peeresses in their own right an unbiased consideration.
My Lords, I would add only one thing. I think we have it on the authority of the Attorney General—and I am not sure the Leader of the House did not confirm it to-day; but I expect he will agree with it and I think from my own experience of this House that it is inherent in the rights of a Select Committee—that it would be for the Joint Select Committee, if we agree to it, to interpret its own terms of reference. Presumably, they would interpret those terms of reference with some regard to the normal meaning of the language employed. After hearing some of the speeches in both Houses, I am not quite sure I am right about that, but I would think so. Of course, they would not interpret in the same way that the Court of Chancery has to interpret a deed, simply by looking at the language of the instrument and nothing else. On the contrary, they would have the right, and indeed the duty, to consider all the circumstances; to consider what lawyers would call the intention of the parties; to consider the past history of this matter.
We must remember that there was another Resolution which sat on the Order Paper of another place for quite a while, and it surely will be relevant for the Committee, in interpreting their terms of reference, to look at the Resolution which was put down in the other place and then to look at the Resolution before us to-day in order to see where they differ. Just to take one example, it is particularly noticeable on the question of composition, which has been mentioned positively and certainly frequently to-day by inference, that in the Resolution that was tabled in the other place last year composition was included. The Resolution read:To consider, having regard among other things to the need to maintain an efficient Second Chamber (a) the composition of the House of Lords …".I imagine that considerable exception was taken to that in some quarters and that it has been deliberately struck out—it cannot be just a slip—of the Resolution which is before us to-day.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
Obviously, because you could not discuss the composition with- 419 out discussing the powers of this Chamber. That was the opinion at least of my Party, the Labour Party.
§ THE EARL OF SWINTON
I take it that the noble Viscount means that he would regard it as undesirable to do so separately. It certainly would be possible to discuss composition apart from powers; it would be quite possible to discuss powers apart from composition. But what in fact has happened is that the question of composition was in the original Resolution in the other place, whereas it is not before us to-day.
That is all I have to say. I hope that the House will agree—I feel sure it will—to support unanimously this proposal for a Joint Select Committee, and I am sure that any Committee which is appointed in the spirit in which the debates have been conducted will do its very best to arrive at the right solution. And here I must agree with my noble friend Lord Salisbury when he says that what must be considered is not only what is right for the individual, but also—which is more important—what is right for the country.
§ 5.25 p.m.
My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, has made a very interesting speech to your Lordships and he has reminded us that some 70 years ago another attempt was made to renounce a peerage. I cannot help feeling that the real issue which lies behind this Motion is the so-called "Stansgate" case, and that the rest are just minor frills, although, of course, they are very important. I agree that there are certain obvious anomalies referred to in this Motion which should certainly be examined by the proposed Joint Select Committee. But it is, of course, another effort to reform this House by piecemeal legislation, and the various difficulties could be much more easily surmounted if the intention was to reform the composition of the House on the lines of the proposals put forward by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, some time ago—I think in 1948. I really cannot see, in spite of what has been said by the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, why composition and powers cannot be discussed separately. This Motion is in fact pro- 420 posing to alter the composition of the House to a very limited extent, and I regret that the Motion is not drawn more widely.
I would suggest to your Lordships that any recommendations of the proposed Joint Select Committee, when they become known, should be examined as to whether they would strengthen or weaken your Lordships' House. It is true to say that there are some Members of another place (I do not think there are many in your Lordships' House) who do not like a Second Chamber and would like to remove it at the earliest possible moment. In many parts of the world we are witnessing too great a concentration of executive power at the centre, and surely the lesson is that the need for the checks and balances of a Second Chamber is now greater than ever. On the other hand, my Lords, there are some who would not like to go so far as the extinction of the Second Chamber, but who are always ready gradually to erode and weaken this Chamber as much as possible. The noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, has said that we should be only a revising Chamber. We still have the power to hold up a Bill for a short time to enable the nation to have second thoughts on the matter, especially on a very controversial Bill. I would say that this is a very necessary power for us to have.
I cannot help feeling that the possible recommendations which may be made by the proposed Joint Select Committee would have the effect of gradually weakening this House. In the first place, vigorous young Peers with Parliamentary and ministerial ambitions would be tempted to leave this House for another place if they were permitted to renounce their seats in this House, and would perhaps never even take their seats before they go to another place. Also, we should, of course, lose those of another place who wished to stay in that Chamber and not to take up their inheritance in this House. On the other hand, a reform of the composition of this House on a much more extensive scale would undoubtedly strengthen the House and would remove the gibes which are constantly thrown at it. I agree that we must move with the times, and I suggest that we should put our House in order on a proper basis rather than tinker with 421 it as is envisaged by the Motion before your Lordships to-day. For this reason, I do not feel that I can support this Motion unless our noble Leader can assure me that the Joint Select Committee will be able to put forward recommendations for the proper reform of the composition of your Lordships' House and for the proper payment of Lords of Parliament.
§ 5.31 p.m.
§ LORD RATHCAVAN
My Lords, I agree with my noble friend Lord Teynham that it is unfortunate that these terms of reference were not more widely drawn, and that in a sense this is really only tinkering with the problem. I also agree with the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, who, in a very remarkable speech, told us what he thought would eventually be the composition of this House—namely, a much smaller body composed of Members who attended practically the whole time.
But, my Lords, my reason for intervening to-day is to deal with a matter which I think is clearly within the terms of reference, and that is the question of the Irish Peers. The Act of Union of England and Ireland in 1800 provided for the election by the Irish Peers of 28 of their number as Representative Peers to sit in your Lordships' House for life; and whenever one of those Representative Peers died another was elected in his place, thus keeping the number at 28. This system continued from 1801 till 1921—that is to say, for 120 years—but no election of Irish Representative Peers has been held since the Irish Treaty of 1921, under which what was then the Irish Free State ceased to be part of the United Kingdom—and, of course, it is now the Republic of Ireland.
The reason why no Irish Representative Peers were elected after 1921 has always been given, rather absurdly in my view, to be because a particular official in Dublin, who was known as the Clerk of Crown and Hanaper, ceased to function. As a result, it was said, no machinery existed and it was impossible to elect Representative Peers. But that, of course, is a ridiculous excuse. The real reason, obviously, was that after 1921 it was illogical that a territory which had left the United Kingdom should continue to be represented as before in the Second Chamber of the United Kingdom.
422 It is now 40 years since the Irish Treaty was signed, and in that period of time every single one of the Irish Representative Peers has died. The last one who died was Lord Kilmorey, and about a year ago he was a Northern Ireland Peer. I think the one who died before that—and, of course, his successor cannot sit in this House—was a very greatly respected Chairman of Committees in this House, Lord Drogheda. After the death of Lord Drogheda and Lord Kilmorey there remained no more Irish Representative Peers.
My Lords, so far as I can make out, there are now 70 Irish Peers who have no United Kingdom peerage, and consequently no seat in this House. Most of these, of course, are creations before the Union of 1800, but when I was looking up the dates the other day I was astonished to find that quite a number of the Irish Peers were created after 1800—I should think about a fifth of them. Your Lordships will no doubt remember the case of Lord Curzon. When Lord Curzon was going to be made Viceroy of India, and was to be made a Peer, he wanted to be able to come back to the House of Commons, so he wanted to be given an Irish peerage. I am afraid that I cannot remember whether or not he was given one—I think not.
§ LORD RATHCAVAN
That was a case of an Irish Peer being created since 1800; and, as I say, I was astonished to find, on looking up the dates, that there are quite a number of Irish Peers who have been created since 1800.
As regards the Scottish Peers, I think I am right in saying that there are 31 of them, and there I find that every single one of the Scottish Peers holds a title created before the Union of Scotland and England in 1707. When I say that, I mean Scottish Peers Who do not hold United Kingdom peerages, and, when I was refer[...]ing to Irish Peers, I meant Irish Peers who do not hold United Kingdom peerages. There are any number of Irish Peers in this House, but they sit under another name—namely, that of their United Kingdom peerage. But I 423 am not referring to them; I am referring to those who do not sit in this House, because they have no United Kingdom peerage.
My Lords, the Irish Peers have both a privilege and a disability. Their privilege is that they can stand as candidates for the British House of Commons, and can sit in the British House of Commons. When I was in the House of Commons I knew several, including my noble friend Lord Winterton, who has since received a United Kingdom peerage and sits in this House. Their disability is that they cannot vote for a candidate in an election to the House of Commons. Perhaps some Scottish Peer when he comes to speak—possibly my noble friend Lord Forbes—can answer this question about Scottish Peers. They are not, I understand, entitled to sit in the House of Commons. If not, why not? Why can an Irish Peer sit in the House of Commons and not a Scottish Peer? Can the Scottish Peers vote in a Parliamentary election? I am not sure.
§ LORD RATHCAVAN
I gather that they cannot. Then the Scottish Peers are worse off than the Irish Peers. It has always seemed to me that the complete elimination of the Irish Peers from your Lordships' House has been most unfair and quite unjustifiable—for this reason. A part of Ireland—that is to say Northern Ireland—still remains an integral part of the United Kingdom and sends twelve Members to the House of Commons at Westminster. Yet Northern Ireland is not allowed to send a single Representative Peer to this House. I would therefore suggest that it is obvious that a small number of Irish Representative Peers should be elected to represent Northern Ireland in this House. What the actual number should be I would not suggest—I really do not know; but obviously it should be something considerably less than the 28 who came here when the whole of Ireland was in the United Kingdom.
If the principle of Representative Peers is retained for Scotland, as I imagine it will be, then in my submission it cannot be denied to Northern Ireland, which, like Scotland, is in the United Kingdom. Whether the election of this smaller number of Irish Representative 424 Peers should be by the whole body of Irish Peers or by a smaller number who could be classed as Peers of Northern Ireland origin, I should not care at present to say. So far as I can make out, there are now eleven Irish Peers of what might be called Northern Ireland origin. My Lords, I hope that the appointment of this Select Committee, whose terms of reference we are debating to-day, will be the means of correcting an injustice and an anomaly which has now been in existence for 40 years.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ LORD FORBES
My Lords, any discussion affecting the future of your Lordships' House must be regarded as one of extreme importance. I am certain that this House can continue to play a great part in the legislative machinery of this country; and, having made up our minds to have a Second Chamber. I am sure that it is essential to see that this House serves a useful purpose. This House must be renowned for the part it plays in the government of our country rather than for its coronets and its ermine.
We have just heard of the plight of the Irish Peers. I can only say that the plight of the Scottish Peers is even worse, because they cannot even sit in another place. There is also the complex problem of Peeresses in their own right. When it was suggested that Peeresses should enter your Lordships' House, I voted against the proposal for the female sex to be allowed to sit here.
§ LORD FORBES
I suffered a defeat, my Lords; I hope I suffered it gracefully. However, having done so, it is quite illogical to me that Peeresses in their own right should not have a seat in your Lordships' House.
The really complex problem is this: should a Peer be able to renounce his peerage, and, if so, for how long? I think what we have to ask ourselves is, why does any Peer wish to renounce his peerage? And, so far as I can see, there are two reasons for it, at absolutely opposite ends of the pole. The first one is to obtain a better chance of becoming Prime Minister, and the second one is a desire to be relieved of responsibility. Regarding the question of becoming Prime Minister, I would say that 425 if any Peer is the most suitable person to become Prime Minister, then nothing should stand in his way. But this applies only to the post of Prime Minister. Other senior Cabinet posts can quite easily be filled by Members of your Lordships' House, such as that of Foreign Secretary. Then there is the other category, the Peer who wants to relinquish his peerage—in other words, he wants to abdicate rather than face responsibility. This is possibly understandable, because a peerage carries little other than the privilege of sitting in your Lordships' House and considerable, increased responsibility.
If there is to be any renunciation of peerages, what is to be the period of renunciation? For it to be for all time would not, I am quite certain, be right. A young Peer, or even one of more advanced age, could, in a moment of irresponsibility, renounce his peerage, a peerage which had been safely guarded by his ancestors for many generations. I could not lightly renounce my peerage responsibilities, which have been shouldered by my ancestors for over 500 years. I am equally certain that to give up a peerage for a short time, such as the duration of a Parliament, would also be utterly wrong. If a Peer could give up his peerage for the duration of a Parliament, one could conjure up a wonderful picture of, say, a Peer who had won his coronet and moved to your Lordships' House from another place being asked by the Prime Minister to go back to the other place to take up a high Cabinet post; then, having served his country diligently for a considerable time, Mr. X again being given a peerage and returning to your Lordships' House. That would make two terms in each House. No, my Lords: the leopard can change his spots only once at the very most. Ships may sail under flags of convenience, but hereditary spots are not spots of convenience: they are birth marks which cannot be lightly changed.
A strong, virile Second Chamber is necessary. This House will not decay because Peers cannot move freely from this place to another place: rather it will tend to decay through lack of opportunities for its Members. At this moment a number of Her Majesty's Ministers are in this House. In my 426 opinion, there should be more Ministers in this House. It is not humanly possible for a Minister in another place to get around the country or to spend sufficient time in the Commonwealth, as the case may be. The beauty of this House, my Lords, is that a Minister is not tied to its Benches; he can get out and about. I am cetrain that my noble friend the Foreign Secretary could not have achieved what he has achieved had he been in another place. The task of a Minister in another place has increased very greatly of late. And I believe it is now necessary to have at least one Minister for each Ministry or Office in each House. More Ministers in your Lordships' House would not only assist the legislative machinery by helping the Government of the day, but add strength to this House by giving opportunities to its Members. Therefore, my Lords, let us agree to this Motion and see that any reform that may be carried out is designed to strengthen this House and so strengthen the whole legislative machinery.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ LORD MILNE
My Lords, it is said of matrimony that it is like a hen-run: those who are inside want to get out; those who are outside want to get in. Somewhat the same applies, or seems to apply, to your Lordships' House. We have come to regard a debate such as this, variously introduced, as a regular fixture; and, like its more sporting counterparts, it is always assured of a large and expert following. But, my Lords, this Motion, although charmingly introduced by the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, is, in my opinion, something quite different. It is an invitation to concur in the formation of a Committee for a certain purpose. It leaves very little room for manœuvre: either one concurs or one does not concur; and if one does not, one appears reactionary.
Since the recommendations of that Committee could be so sponsored as to command a majority in both Houses, and since "change of rights" could well mean "loss of rights", it could be a "blank cheque". Those of you who play bridge—and Mr. Macleod, I believe, is a master—will no doubt recognise a squeeze play. It is an effective instrument when your hand is not particularly 427 strong. Rightly or wrongly, it may be resented by those who are squeezed.
I should like to make three observations, two on the substance of the Motion, and one general. If one reads carefully the wording of the Motion as it appears on the Order Paper with particular reference to "or" and "and", there appears to be some subtlety in the word "or" at the beginning of line 5. What, in my opinion, is required is that a Peer should receive the normal franchise of an adult now. If an M.P. can sit and vote, why not a Peer? On money matters he is virtually disenfranchised. In this context, it seems to me quite irrelevant in which House he sits; even a Peer cannot be in two places at the same time. If, as I suspect, the word "or" at the beginning of line 5 is alternative, then I consider that is unfair.
My second point, my Lords, is an analogous one. The Peeresses in their own right are once more to be considered. They were considered at the time of the second Life Peerages Bill, when some of the noble Ladies were entered. But, once more, nothing happened. I was among those who thought that the Peeresses in their own right were most shabbily treated at that time. If there really was a difficulty over their title, or over the extension of the hereditary principle, they could, I should have thought, so easily have been summoned as Life Peeresses. If we are determined to do what we think is right, then I think we should go on strike until justice is done. At least this time we should fight for the noble Ladies.
The last point I have to make is a general one. With terms of reference thus drawn, the Committee can range far and wide. Clearly, they will discuss Representative Peers, and I trust that they will also consider the separation of the right to speak and vote from the right to speak only. The longer one sits in your Lordships' House, the more one realises the standard and quality of the debates. Vitality of debate depends on variety of viewpoint. The real failing in your Lordships' House (if such there is) is that there are too many potential Conservative votes. Government, Opposition and Liberal Peers may be nicely labelled, and generally may be expected 428 to do as they are asked. Peers who sit regularly on these Benches are, by definition, not so amenable; and they thereby perform a certain service, especially as in another place independence is a creed unknown.
The independent Peers and the vitality of debate would, I feel, suffer by an application of a purely representative principle. But the greatest sufferers of all will be those who, for no fault of their own, cannot attend regularly, although their knowledge of their own subject may be considerable and up to date. While some might view the loss of vote with equanimity, they would, I feel, consider that loss a reasonable compromise if the right and privilege to attend and speak were preserved. I trust, my Lords, that due consideration will be given to this in the deliberations of the Committee; if not, for many it might be: "Speak now, or forever hold your peace."
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ LORD FERRIER
My Lords, in rising to support this Motion, which has been moved by the most brilliant speech that I have ever heard, either here or anywhere else, I have three points to make. They are not particularly novel—indeed, they are less novel now than they were when I drafted these notes—but they are made by a Peer who, as a Life Peer, is not intimately concerned with one important aspect of the matter, and is consequently in that measure disinterested.
But more than that, as the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said when he spoke (though, unlike him, I never had any political aspirations or ambitions, and therefore came to this place nearly four years ago with a fairly open mind), I have had the inclination and the opportunity to study Parliament from within with wide-open eyes. I find myself, in consequence, in a position to take a view of the situation from a rather independent angle; and in this respect I agree with Lord Stonham—and I thank him for the "lead in", as it were, that he has given me in several respects. I greatly enjoyed his references to the article in Time and Tide, which I also enjoyed. And might I ask him to glance at it again, through the eyes, so to speak, of a Scotsman, with a 400-mile overnight journey each way when he comes to attend?
429 With regard to my three points, my Lords, the first is that I regard the provisions of the Act of Union between Scotland and England (this has been mentioned by several noble Lords), so far as they cover Representative Peers, to be unfair, especially after the two and a half centuries that have gone by. I refer, of course, to the fact that Scottish Peers who are not elected as Representative Peers are not eligible either to vote or to stand for Parliament. I would not go so far as some noble Lords have gone in saying that the Scottish Peers are worse off than the Irish Peers, because they do have representation in terms of sixteen of their number. On the other hand, when noble Lords refer to the question of Peeresses in their own rights, they are treading on delicate ground when it comes to Scottish Peeresses, who might then have to face some sort of election at the beginning of each Parliament. I believe that any legislation arising from the proceedings of the proposed Select Committee should put this position right, certainly as regards the disenfranchisement of Scottish Peers who are not elected as Representative Peers.
My second point, my Lords, concerns the hereditary principle. I came to your Lordships' House inclined to the view that heredity, as a stepping-stone to Parliament, was an anachronism. Speaking, like the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, with the feeling that I can possibly say things which other people who are not Life Peers cannot say, I do not mind saying that it did not take me long to revise that view. I am now persuaded that Parliament should do nothing to interfere with the hereditary process. I say this because, whatever the impact of the Life Peerages Act has been, I do not see how it can ever introduce Peers who are not above middle age. In this view perhaps the noble Lord will agree with me, if he does not agree with the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, who, I think, used the word "retired".
In my view, my Lords, the younger Members of this House contribute very much more to its proceedings than Parliament or the people appreciate. I do not refer to words alone, but in vigour, if that is the right word. I think this point was also made by the noble Mar- 430 quess. It does not make sense, to my mind, to belittle the fact of heredity. It applies to a noble Lord exactly in the same way as to a commoner. Pride, or the reverse, in one's forbears, whether as encouragement or warning, permeates, or should permeate, every walk of life. As the noble Viscount the Leader of the House has said, this is no snobbery. That a few healthy and well-educated young men, some of them with independent means—and all who attend here willing and able to take part in the proceedings of this House—instinct with a tradition of public service, and probably brought up in an atmosphere of public duty, can take part in the affairs of State, as they do here, is something which Parliament should not lightly cast aside. It is curious to me that these views, reached through a short period of a life peerage, as it were, should accord so closely with that of the noble Marquess, the scion of an ancient house.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, the noble Lord will forgive me for not being present when he began to speak. He talks of a few well-educated hereditary gentlemen. But in fact there are more than 700 of these hereditary gentlemen, the vast majority of them Conservatives. Can he justify that as a feature of a democratic constitution?
§ LORD FERRIER
Yes, my Lords, what I meant was that many of these young noblemen long to attend this House, but they are prevented from doing so by the fact that they have to earn their own living or are otherwise engaged. Therefore, only a few of those who are available can appear here and take a full part in the work of the House. But they are few—that is my point. I hope that I have made that clear.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
The noble Lord has certainly been most courteous in dealing with my interruption at all.
§ LORD FERRIER
I have made myself clear, I hope. Without linking what I have said with what some other noble Lords have said—namely, that it is a pity that more do not take part in our proceedings—the fact is that more cannot.
431 I do not propose to enter into the question of remuneration, which is very difficult. But this reference to reaching this House by virtue of an hereditary system brings me to my third point—namely, that this principle brings to your Lordships' House young men who have not served an apprenticeship in another place. With all due respect to that place, and accepting its paramount authority in the conduct of the nation's affairs, my studies (and they included the treatment recommended by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham: I did not take such a heavy dose, but I spent many a weary hour in the Peers' Gallery when I first came to Parliament) do not convince me that responsibility for and dependence on a constituency, with all the inhibitions and possible exhibitionism this entails, is necessarily to the advantage of the State. Is it possible that a sense of looking over one's shoulder sometimes clings to people who are skilled in the transactions of another place? Such disadvantages, of course, are mitigated by a revisory Chamber, such as your Lordships' House as at present constituted. I would go further and suggest that respect for Parliament in the eyes of the people would suffer if ripe years or experience in the lower House were to be regarded as essential prerequisites for membership of the Second Chamber.
Before I close, may I add that my mind goes again to the curious similarity between some of what I have said and what the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, said. I should like to express my full agreement with him, again as a Life Peer, in his emphasis that it is this House, its prestige, its authority and its effectiveness (I think those were his words), not the need of individuals, which we must hold first in our consideration. I am in favour of the Resolution in the circumstances, but, subject to what I have said about Scottish Peers, I should be happy at the moment if the outcome were that matters are left as they are.
§ 6.6 p.m.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
My Lords,s may I make the briefest of interventions? I have been away for much of the afternoon, part of it sitting on a Select Committee, and maybe the two 432 points I have to make have already been made. In fact, I am fairly sure that they have been, but I think that they are important and perhaps your Lordships will bear with me if I make them again briefly. The first concerns attendance in your Lordships' House. I think that I am right in saying that the average number of Peers sitting on any one day is about 140—more than I thought—but the number of Peers entitled to sit is 918. In other words, the average daily attendance is one-eighth of the membership. I find this quite wrong. I am not suggesting, of course, that every Peer should attend every day. There would not be room and in the case of quite a number of them there are excellent reasons for staying away. They may be ill or old or abroad or working a full week in the Provinces.
However, the rest of those who never or rarely attend—and I am afraid they are mostly on our side—make a complete mockery of the House. They let down the side. They destroy whatever small justification there is for an hereditary system, and continue to call themselves Lords. I would ask those professional absentees this question: if there were a rule that you are not allowed to keep your title unless you attend the House, say, twice a month, is it just possible you might come?
My other point, which I know has been made by the noble Marquess and by my noble friend, concerns the average age of regular attenders. As has been said, this is an old House. It must of necessity be an old House, for the hereditary system means waiting until papa dies and in these days papa takes an unconscionable time to die. Instead of swilling port, he swallows antibiotics. One of my chief pleasures in coming here is that I am made to feel so young. Old as I am, by contrast with most noble Lords I am a mere stripling, a boy. There are not so many faces under 40 in your Lordships' House. I find this a great pity. Age may mean wisdom, but youth means enthusiasm and, as my noble friend said, vigour—and that is what I think this House lacks.
It so happens, however, that through the tragedy of war there are quite a few Peers who have had a premature succession. Of course, many of them come and at this moment I can think of three 433 hereditary Peers in their early twenties who might, with profit to us and to themselves, come here to speak from time to time. All three happen to be at Oxford and all three happen to be quite outstanding young men, by any standards. I hope the noble Lords concerned—the noble Marquess, Lord Dufferin and Ava, my kinsman, Lord Gowrie and Lord Sudeley—will not think me presumptuous if I suggest that they might join our deliberations, and that at an early date. Knowing your Lordships' House, I am sure that they would be warmly received. We need young men to tell us what is going on. With regard to the greater issues, which sooner or later have to be discussed, I am not going to hazard a view. Frankly, I am not experienced enough and do not know where the answer lies. I am going to say, however, quite simply, that whatever is done finally, I hone the heart will not he ripped out of this most anomalous, most inconsequent, most indefensible and most democratic of assemblies.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ LORD AUCKLAND
My Lords, the Motion which has been so very ably moved by my noble Leader Lord Hailsham to-day will he seen in its importance not only in the Houses of Parliament but in the country at large. There have been a great many scurrilous comments made about the House of Lords by certain journalists in such magazines as Time and Tide, who, one presumes, make a solitary trip to your Lordships' House and then come forward with some fantastic account of it. Much has been said to-day about the importance of youth in your Lordships' House, and in studying the list of speakers in the debate I have come to the conclusion that I am the youngest Member of the House taking part. I hope it will not be considered vain of me to say that, in my belief, the future of this House is going to depend largely on the contributions of the younger Members of it.
I have always been unconvinced by the argument that the younger people in this country care little or nothing about the House of Lords. I have in a purely non-Party spirit addressed young members of my own Party and other organisations on the House of Lords, and I have 434 been impressed by the number of questions put to me about both the constitution and the procedure of this House. Therefore, on this ground alone I think the future of this House as an administrative body is of great importance. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, in a most admirable speech, dwelt at some length on the rôle of young people in this House, and he mentioned the financial allowances. I do not think this would come within the terms of preference of this particular Committee, but I agree that the amount that is paid is the deterrent to attendance by a great many young Peers. For my own part, my place of business gives me very generous time off to attend here, but inevitably and understandably at some financial loss.
I do not think that we should have a salaried House of Lords, except for Ministers. I think that would be wrong, because one of the most important functions of this House, as I understand it, is that it can, and frequently does, discuss a matter of importance in a non-Party spirit. In the House of Commons the Whips are used with some severity, and I do not dispute the justification of that. In these days, especially, a Member of the House of Commons has to pay great attention to the views of his or her constituents, whether they be sound views or otherwise. In this House we do not have constituents whose views we have to heed and, therefore, I think it is fair to say that we can interpret what is being thought by the country at large in a much more candid manner. I must confess, for my part, that I am sorry I have not had the opportunity of fighting a Parliamentary seat. Whether I had won or lost is of little importance; I should have liked to have the experience.
I regard it as an honour to be an active Member of this House. But I hope that the Select Committee will pay particular attention to the relationship between the Peerage and the House of Commons. I do not think that in the country at large any proposal would be countenanced for a kind of shuttle service to be run between seats in this House and in another place. If a Peer is allowed to fight a seat in the House of Commons and he loses that seat, then in my view, he should not be allowed, except possibly in exceptional circumstances, to revert to this House. On the 435 other hand, I do not think it is right that the successor of a Peer should be prevented from taking a seat in this House. I think it is wrong that, just because one member of the family may wish either not to take his seat here or to remain in another place, his heir should be prevented from taking his seat here. There is a certain amount of feeling in the country that renunciation should be for all time and should apply to one's heirs as well, but I think that would be wrong.
I should like to say a word or two on the question of hereditary Peers. As has been said, there are several hundred of these Peers and, for a number of reasons, some of them attend only infrequently. It might be possible for the Select Committee to look into the question of a quota of attendances of Peers, and noble Lords who do not fulfil the quota could be prevented from attending. I agree whole-heartedly with the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, that the hereditary Peers have a vital role to play in this House. Not only do they in many cases maintain a tradition of service, but the younger ones, particularly, can gain much experience. We can gain experience from listening to our elder statesmen on all sides of the House, because possibly one day we may be elder statesmen ourselves. I think this has been a valuable debate, and I hope that the Select Committee will pay particular attention to the question of getting the younger element to attend more frequently because, as I said earlier, the future of this very valuable House depends so much on the contributions from all its Members, and very much, too, on those from its younger Members.
§ 6.20 p.m.
My Lords, one cannot speak in a debate at this point without repeating a good deal that has already been said. I therefore hope that your Lordships will bear with me if I say several things that have been said already. and said probably a good deal more ably by former speakers. I think the first point we must consider is whether or not a two-Chamber Parliament is desirable. When I say, "we must consider", I meant the Joint Committee, of which I am entirely in favour. 436 I rather gathered from the noble Viscount who leads the Opposition that he did not think that this was altogether necessary, but I am afraid I cannot agree with him. I feel that any legislation which is passed by a single Chamber lacks a certain amount by not having been looked through by an entirely unbiased and independent body.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord. We are in the recollection of the House, and I do not think my noble Leader said that he was in favour of single Chamber government. I should be much surprised if he intended to create that impression.
I do not think he actually said he was in favour of it, but he quoted an example where it worked very efficiently.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
I think my noble friend was speaking of one Chamber government in New Zealand, in regard to the support of the Monarchy; the fact that there was no hereditary system or Second Chamber in New Zealand did not stop them giving their very loyal support to the Monarchy.
Naturally, I entirely agree with the noble Viscount there. I none the less feel that a Second Chamber is very desirable. I also agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Rea, when he said that a Second Chamber should not be a rival to the first. I feel that it should have greater power than it has at present, but power of a different kind. The two Houses should not be rivals at all; their functions should be entirely different. But if the Second Chamber is to be efficient, I agree with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, yesterday [col. 351]:I think it is very important, if this House is to be continued, preserved, that it should have the opportunity of doing its job properly. If this House is not in a position to do its job, then let it be abolished.He said later on [col. 352]:… I am a great admirer of this House and am very keen that we should do our job in the most effective way …I could not agree more wholeheartedly than I do with those words.
If that is to be the case, we must examine the House, see what its constitution is, and see whether or not it 437 really needs reforming. There are three main ways of making a Second Chamber: first, by an elected membership; secondly, by an appointed membership, and thirdly, by the way we have at the moment, chiefly an hereditary membership. To have an elected membership would merely be to make this House a rival or duplicate—a lesser duplicate, perhaps—of another place, which would be entirely undesirable. If we are to have an appointed membership the problem arises: appointed by whom? By the Government of the day? If so shall we then get the really unbiased membership which is essential for the nature of this House? I very much doubt it. I am convinced, like the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, that the hereditary system really works, but, unlike him, I do not think it is quite so illogical as it appears on the surface. After all, it is not unusual for people in all professions to have gained a great deal from their fathers' having been in the same profession, and their having been interested in it and instructed in it from their boyhood. It certainly has proved so in my own profession, and I am sure it has in many others.
Therefore, I think the hereditary principle, illogical though at first glance it may seem, has really a great deal to be said for it. For one thing, the heir to a title has the privilege of coming here and sitting on the steps of the Throne and listening to debates. He becomes familiar with the procedure of the House. Incidentally, if he wishes he can also stand as a Member of another place and gain political experience there, as many of your Lordships have done. Therefore I think that the hereditary principle is not to be scoffed at, but is to be defended. I am by no means saying that this House has not gained a great deal since the introduction of Life Peers in 1958. I have listened to some extremely interesting and brilliant speeches, particularly from the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, who I see is sitting opposite, and the noble Lord, Lord Taylor. I think they are great additions to this House. May I say also that, although I was slightly doubtful about the introduction of Life Peeresses, my doubts were within a few weeks swept away completely. We heard only last week an extremely brilliant and convincing 438 speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Swanborough. As to Peeresses in their own right, I think this matter should be given due consideration.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
Is the noble Lord under the impression that Lord Stonham is an hereditary Peer?
I am referring to Peeresses in their own right. After all, we already have one in this House, and I think all your Lordships would agree that this House has been greatly enriched by her presence. She sits as a Life Peeress, of course. I think that as we retain the hereditary system that can be proved. Since the Life Peerages Act was introduced in 1958, 35 Life Peers, including the 6 Baronesses, and 33 hereditary peerages have been created, so I do not think any shadow has been case on the hereditary system. Since we have abolished the sex bar and still retain the hereditary system, I cannot see any logical reason why Peeresses in their own right should not sit in your Lordships' House.
We come now to the question of the right of Peers to surrender their peerages. I agree with everything that has been said by other noble Lords on the question of surrender for life or permanently. It certainly should be for life only; but I think it should be for life and not for a shorter period. I do not think that any man should have the right to switch from one House to another and sit in whichever one he chooses. It is easy to imagine the case of a man standing for a by-election, perhaps losing it and, because he could not get into the other place, coming back and resuming his seat here. I think that would be all wrong. It should be for life, but I do not think it should be for longer, because, after all, one's heirs have to be considered and one must remember that one's heirs are not always one's sons. One's heirs may be, as in my case, a distant cousin. I should have to get his permission and the permission of his sons before I renounced my peerage—which, incidentally, I have no intention of doing—and therefore it would make it a very complicated procedure.
439 In any case, I wonder really whether the surrender of a peerage should be allowed. Other noble Lords have mentioned the fact that if this House is to be an efficient House of Parliament, it should have equal attraction and an equal status, if a different status, with the other place. I cannot see why equality of opportunity should not exist in this House as much as in the other place, and this could be enlarged if we were to have more Ministers in this House. That would be an extremely [...]esirable thing, because when one has the responsibility of a Ministry on one's shoulders, one does not want to be shackled by the necessity of having periodically to visit one's constituency, which may be in a distant part of the country. A Minister has all that he can be expected to do in his work at the Ministry. So I should say that the ideal place for Ministers, with the exception, possibly, of the Prime Minister, is in this House rather than in the other place.
There was a good deal of outcry at the time when my noble friend the Foreign Secretary was appointed, but I think there is no single one of your Lordships who would deny that he has lived that down to the greatest degree. He has proved, as was said by another Member of your Lordships' House, that we have never had a better Foreign Secretary, and I heartily concur with that statement. But he could not give the time to his task and get through the immense amount of work that he does if he had to consider a constituency at the same time, and also had to answer the innumerable questions during Question Time in the other place. I may say that I, too, have followed Lord Stonham's advice and have sat in the Peers' Gallery in the other place, and it has not inspired me with any desire to go there. I am sorry for any member of the Government who has to face the barrage of sometimes really rather—to put it mildly—not very intelligent questions which are fired at him.
§ LORD STRABOLGI
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord and ask him if it is in order, quite apart from being good taste, to criticise the other place?
I was not criticising the other place at all. Possibly I was criticising some Members of it, whom 440 I do not even know by name, but in any case merely hypothetically. I should not dream of criticising the other place. I think it is of the greatest possible value.
I think, then, that we really come to the conclusion that what this House wants is strengthening rather than weakening, but very much on the lines which it is at present. I believe that the hereditary system works but that we can strengthen it by more Life Peers. I think it certainly is a pity that the Opposition Benches have not been strengthened by the addition of more Life Peers. I consider also that it is important that the anomalies between the Scottish Peers who are not Representatives, and the Irish Peers, should be cleared up.
I hope that the Select Committee will realise that this House is of very great value. I may say that when I first arrived here nine years ago I had little knowledge indeed of what went on, but I was tremendously impressed; and during my time here I have heard so many brilliant speeches and met so many fascinatingly interesting people in all walks of life, such as one could never have the opportunity of meeting outside this House, that I am convinced that it is of the greatest value.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD
My Lords, I am very late in the batting order, but it is my fault because I am a surprise bat. Fortunately, I was always a very bad bat, so I shall be out extremely quickly. The more I have heard in this debate the more convinced I am that it is a great pity we did not have life peerages earlier. I am sure that the late Lord Stansgate, a most loved Member of this House, if he had been able to accept a life peerage, would have been a far happier person. It has always seemed rather inane to me that some individuals whose professed principles are against the hereditary system have had, out of a sense of duty to the nation, to accept hereditary peerages. They have had no option, of course; but now, my Lords, owing to the creation of life peerages that situation has been rectified. I should like here to pay a tribute to the Life Peers; I think they have been a great success. It has been a really good move.
441 It is rather confusing to decide how wide or how narrow are the terms of reference of this Joint Committee to be appointed, if this House agrees, as presumably it will. Of course the chief thing is to be the renunciation. If we are going to have renunciation of a peerage, of course that is going to affect the whole composition of this House. One could, if one had the time, range very far and wide on this question. As I promised your Lordships that I shall soon be out, I will forbear to do that; but it is an extremely tempting subject to speak on, because it is a subject in which I have always been interested.
Of one thing I am quite sure: that if this House ever became truly democratic—and by democratic I mean dependent on the popular vote—there would be no point in having it. Because the object of this House, as I see it, is to ensure that the nation, the public, do not get just that little bit of extra rope by which they could hang themselves. We have instances yin history where unbridled political freedom generally ends in the destruction of that freedom. I hope that this House will always retain its independent character, because I think it is extremely important for the Constitution.
Of course, logically a King is able to abdicate; therefore presumably a Peer ought to be able to abdicate for his life. But when a King abdicates he must have very good reasons. Though I am in favour of renunciation for life, I think that a Peer, before he renounces his peerage for life, ought to go before a very high-powered committee of Law Lords and Privy Counsellors. If a Peer is able to say "I opt out", that will, I think, lead to a considerable number of abuses. I am quite against "scrubbing out" a peerage, extinction, because, of course, there may be a Peer who, out of spite perhaps to his heir, a cousin, will just "scrub out" the peerage. I think that cannot be allowed. If you are going to argue on grounds of logic (always a dangerous thing in politics), a Prime Minister, when he retires, is made an Earl, if he wishes it—and I think with the exception of Sir Winston Churchill most Prime Ministers have accepted that honour—and it does seem extraordinary that, by his so doing, his son and grandson and all his heirs are 442 practically for ever debarred from being Prime Minister or Chancellor of the Exchequer. Though I quite agree they are not debarred by the Constitution, they are debarred in practice.
As several noble Lords have said, it would be very unfair if a Peer was able to scuttle in and out of this House and into another House. If you were to have renunciation for life, that ought, of course, to apply to a Peer whether he is in this House or has just inherited a peerage and has not accepted a Writ of Summons. It has to be the same rule for all Peers. I do see a danger here—I think the noble Marquess mentioned it: that of course in time renunciation is bound to weaken the calibre of the hereditary element in this House. I personally cannot see it weakening the House immediately, because after Orpington I can hardly see a large number of Tory Peers rushing to stand as candidates, and even after Stockton the same will probably apply to noble Lords on the Liberal Benches opposite. But in time it is bound to weaken the hereditary element as regards young Peers. How are you going to make up that weakness? You cannot very well make it up with Life Peers, because, as we have heard, all Life Peers have at least half of their careers behind them. It would be very difficult to find Life Peers of 25 or 30 years of age. I have heard people suggest all sorts of solutions. For instance, some defeated Parliamentary candidates, drawn from all Parties, young candidates, in proportion to the state of their Parties at the General Election could be made Members of this House for the life of the Parliament. But of course the constitutional difficulties in that idea are immense, and I should imagine that it is quite impracticable. I cannot answer that one; but of course, I am not supposed to do so—that is up to the Committee.
Before I conclude, I should like to back up my noble friend Lord Rathcavan in his remarks on Irish Peers. It is quite extraordinary that Irish Peers can stand for election to another place, for English constituencies, but cannot stand for election there for Northern Ireland constituencies. That seems really odd. I should like to support the noble Lord's suggestion that a small number of Northern Irish Peers should be elected 443 by their own Peers for membership of this House, as is done by Scottish Peers.
As one of the Members of this House who voted against the admission of Life Peeresses, I should like to say that, having had the privilege of being in the House with Life Peeresses and of hearing the contributions that they have made to our deliberations, I feel that it is an absolute and absurd anomaly not to have in this House hereditary Peeresses in their own right. After all, they are only few in number—you can count them on your hand. It seems rather an injustice that they should be excluded. Probably there is some legal reason which can be argued against their admittance, but from the fair play point of view the situation is absurd. I hope, too, that Scottish Peers who are not elected to this House by their own Peers will be allowed to stand for another place. Obviously, it is a great injustice that they cannot do so.
I also think that all Peers ought to be allowed to vote if they are not Members of this House. They can hardly expect to vote if they are Members of this House, because presumably they are permanent Members of Parliament. But if at any time this House, by its own Members, is to elect its own Members, I hope that all Peers (perhaps this is not practical, but I do not see why it should not be so) who are Members of this House, Peers of England, the United Kingdom and Great Brtain, will be able to come here and take part in debates, although not voting. I think that the average Peer is not so much worried about voting; but we have so many experts in this House who come here only occasionally, that I think it would be a great pity if they were debarred from taking part.
I should like to make a plea that as the result of their deliberations the Committee will not suggest that this House should be turned into an entirely professional place, because politics to-day appear to be becoming more and more of a rat-race and a matter of place-seeking. I think that this House has a great contribution to make in its independent character. We are always being told that it is a highly illogical House. It probably is. But, after all, our electoral system is highly illogical, and 444 there are a great many things in politics that are highly illogical. And, of course, as the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, has said, it does work. Therefore, I support this Motion, and I wish the Joint Select Committee every success in their deliberations.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, so many friendly things have been said about Life Peers that I should like to reciprocate and say to some of your hereditary Lordships that you do all right, too. I would address this remark particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Som̃ers, who was kind enough to pick on some of us. I intervene only briefly to say that I find the existence of the House of Lords wholly indefensible; but then so, in logic, do I find the democratic system. The great justification for the House of Lords is the same as the justification for having the deterrent, the atom bomb. It is simply that we have it and, since we have got it, we may as well make the best of it, especially when we consider what might be the alternative. I should be appalled to think of somebody really trying to produce a powerful, logical and effective Second Chamber. The case for a Second Chamber is a doubtful one in theory, but in practice I think, certainly in this country and in most democratic nations, it seems to be a desirable and useful thing. The fact that ours is an hereditary one is a rather peculiar state of affairs, all the more so since it is rather a nouveau hereditary one. After all, 90 per cent. of all peerages have been created since the beginning of the nineteenth century. But its great merit is that it does work in a friendly and, on the whole, rather modest way.
One or two unkind things have been said about another place. Those of us who have been there—I am sure the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, will feel the same—acquire a tremendous affection for it. When I lost my seat in the House of Commons, one of the few matters about which I dreamed was that I was back there. Then, one day my dream brought me back, not into the House of Commons but into the House of Lords. It was most strange; it was like moving into a sort of parallel existence. In fact, I made my maiden speech as a Peer from the same Bench as I did when I was in the Commons and 445 the Commons were here. I regret to say that all your Lordships' privileges of which I once disapproved the most, I found I enjoyed the most. I found also that the relative lack of power and the overwhelming Tory domination of this House led to results of a most unexpected kind. It was a fact that, on many occasions, on matters which were of no primary Party political interest, one could put on foot debates which would never take place in another place—matters in which occasionally we have been able to influence that most "uninfluenceable" of institutions, namely, Governments.
I hope that, seeing that we have this indefensible system, we shall not try to tamper with it too much, but make the minimum changes that are necessary to undo what I think is an injustice—namely, the inability of those hereditary Peers who wish to remain in another place to do so. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Forbes: I should relate it merely to that particular Peer, and would make it for life. If in due course he wants to come here, we can always give him a life peerage—that would seem a simple solution—but he would have to earn it.
I should be very sorry to see English Peers electing their representatives here. It would seem to me that that would be delivering the whole system into the hands of the Party machines. There would be the usual balancing of powers and deals of the kind that go on between Whips—and, admirable and honourable men though Whips are, they have a different job to do front those of us who are not Whips.
I hope, therefore, that when the Committee report they will report in a way that will allow Mr. Wedgwood Benn, if he wishes, to remain in another place. I am doubtful whether I want to see the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Hailsham, go. He used to make the Benches shake in the House of Commons, arid I think the discipline of the House of Lords has been rather good for him. It may be he would do better if he went back there, but I should be sorry to see him go. If a change is to be made, I think it must be made for the benefit of those who at the moment have lost the opportunity, and would 446 give the right to the noble and learned Viscount to go elsewhere.
That is all I have to say. It is quite clear, I think, that we shall support this Motion, and I hope that the Committee will report as most of us wish it to do, but that it will keep its recommendations for change to an absolute minimum.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF KINNOULL
My Lords, I apologise if I repeat any earlier arguments, but I have been unable to attend the whole debate. I hope that I shall compensate for it by being very brief. As a younger hereditary Member of this House, I should like to stress again, at this late stage, the position of the younger members. It would seem that the most vital decision to be taken by the Select Committee when considering the reform of the House is in regard to its composition. Hereditary Peers at present fill the useful function in the Second Chamber of Parliament of being inert, unbiased and unpaid—a unique position, and I defy anyone to replace this body on similar terms. However, this situation is not exactly attractive to any young, politically ambitious hereditary Peer, and it cannot be of great benefit to the country. It would be very difficult to find young, able Members who would be willing to sit in the House of Lords on such terms.
I would suggest, my Lords, that should hereditary Peers remain as Members after the reform of the House, they should do so willingly. Further, that should they wish to be allowed to submit themselves for membership of the House of Commons, they should be allowed to do so. As tenants of their respective titles, these Peers should not be allowed to renounce for ever their family title, but only during their lifetime. I am sure that most noble Lords here will agree with that.
Finally, I should like to support the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, when he stated that a useful Second Chamber must be both youthful and wise. Some payments must be introduced to active serving Members of the future House of Lords, and with this injection I trust that this House will continue to fulfil the vital rôle which it has held in the past with such distinction. I support the Motion.
§ 7.7 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, I am very pleased to follow the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and so many other speakers who represent the younger elements in this House. The noble Earl, Lord Arran, has temporarily left us, but he was looking very hard at me when he said that he found it very depressing because he could hardly see anybody who had ever been young, or anybody under forty—or words to that effect. I do not know what the age of the noble Earl is—he certainly looks under forty, but I very much doubt whether he is. I came here when I was under forty; delivered, so to speak, to your Lordships by the all too-successful tactics of the noble Viscount opposite. I suppose that I was one of the youngest people to be made a Peer for many years. Looking rather hastily through the lists I could not find anyone who had been made a Peer younger Oran I since the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook—I may be mistaken: I was 39 and I think he was 37. However, there may be others who have escaped me. I say this to show the younger Peers that I, too, have lived in Arcadia; I know what it is to be a younger Peer looking round at all the older Peers.
In those days no one paid any tribute to youth. This is quite a new thing. I do not know what it portends. It is rather sinister, I think. When I first arrived Peers used to boast of their age—upwards, so to speak. Now, the argument is all the other way. At least one noble Lord said that he thought he was the youngest Peer, but other Peers have leapt into the fray to prove that they are even younger. No doubt the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, is younger. I thought that unless I got to my feet there might be no end to it, and that younger and yet younger Peers would decide to impose themselves on the House. All this accent on youth is very welcome. Youth must be served, of course. But I hope the noble Earl, Lord Arran, will not go past a certain point and offer congratulations to noble Lords upon maiden speeches which they have yet to deliver! I think it is going a bit far, in the case of noble Lords who have not yet shown themselves here, to say that their contributions have been very valuable; that they have been listened to with interest, and that 448 it is much appreciated they have been able to tear themselves away from other duties to instruct your revered Lordships. That is all very agreeable, though I am sorry that the noble Earl, Lord Arran, is not here.
My Lords, the debate has ranged wider than was to be expected from the rather modest Motion on the Paper. It was initiated by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Hailsham, in a speech which was admired by all. I am sure that it will always be remembered as one of the finest speeches delivered in this House for a long time. My noble Leader, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, followed with an authoritative statement of our point of view. I have no doubt that the Committee will interpret their terms of reference in the way they think right, but, if I may repeat the opinion of the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, it was certainly not in the minds of the Leaders of our own Party that this inquiry was going to involve a fundamental reconsideration of the whole structure of the House of Lords. I think I must say that at this point. I will not pursue some of the particular topics that came up, though I should have liked to say something about the Irish Peers. I am an Irish Peer. I have inherited an English title, and I have also been given an English title. So I suppose that I can do battle on most of the relevant fronts.
I was interested to hear from the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, about the great work done by his Parliamentary Private Secretary. I was not sure whether or not he was referring to the noble Earl, Lord Winterton.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
It does him great credit that he should have been so wisely selective. There have been other Irish Peers who have not been allowed to come and sit here. Among them was Lord Dunsany. Lord Hailsham talked about floating kidneys. If we had had Lord Dunsany among us he would have floated to some purpose! I 449 regret that that was not possible. I am sure their problems will be given very careful consideration.
I do not want to say much about the, horrors of those whose whole Parliamentary life has been confined to the House of Lords. I know no other Parliamentary existence except the one that has fallen to my lot here, but I do resist the suggestion that nobody would wish to leave this House except in the hope of becoming Prime Minister. That was a suggestion that fell from somebody, and I do resist it. When, all is said and done, we here are part-time politicians. That is surely the obvious point. That is the strength of the House: that we have so many occupations which involve us in the affairs of the nation in so many different ways, and we come here and pool our knowledge. Leaving out the Ministers, and the top leaders on this side, participation in the affairs of this House is not the primary occupation of most of those who contribute to it. That, I think, is our strength. But it does, of course, distinguish us from the House of Commons.
I can well understand the attitude of somebody who feels that his main life's vocation lies in active politics. I could well understand that such a man, finding himself here, might decide to offer himself, if he were allowed, for election to the House of Commons. I feel that one should not disparage any noble Lord who decided that his duty carried him in that direction, although in this House it is much more popular to say that this is the most wonderful place in the world, and that the only people nearly as marvellous as the hereditary Peers are the Life Peers. That has been said, in one way or another, by many noble Lords this afternoon.
My Lords, this House is a peculiar institution. There was some doubt in one of our earlier debates as to whether the Nigerian House of Notables, or whatever it might be called, was simply your Lordships' House on its hereditary basis. I believe that that idea was disposed of, so I take it that we are the only Chamber in the world where the hereditary element is, in the last resort, dominant. It is true that in most of the debates the leading parts are not taken by the hereditary Peers, although there are, of course, some hereditary Peers, 450 like the noble Viscount opposite, the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, and the noble Earl, Lord Home, who are at the very summit of our life. But, by and large, most of the speaking on the biggest occasions during my time here has been done by those who have been created, which does not in any way under-value the contributions of the hereditary Peers, the people who have inherited peerages.
Perhaps what I am saying is rather stale, or will be stale to old battlers in this controversy, but I would respectfully say to some of the younger Peers, who have not so much political background, that they are making a great mistake if they suppose that in any circumstances the radical half of England would ever accept the hereditary basis of this House as satisfactory. I am now speaking as an individual whose views may or may not be of interest; but that fact, I think, must be recognised.
I would think (though I am bound to say that the noble Lord, Lord Rea, was a little ambiguous on the point), as I have understood the views of the Liberal Party, as expressed by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel—which I thought were the views held by the noble Lord, Lord Rea—the Liberal Party was also opposed to the hereditary element in the House having any power to exercise its dominant influence. If one is asked, therefore, why in England we cannot agree, and why we cannot even make any headway with any fundamental plans for reform, the answer lies simply there: that one half of the country certainly must reject any hereditary element of the kind that we see at present. Of the other half, it is not for me to speak. It may be that the Conservatives as a whole feel that there would be some grave dereliction of duty if they abandoned altogether the hereditary principle. But, as I say, it is not for me to try to offer views on their behalf. But here is a total clash of opinion in the country, as to whether hereditary Peers as such, simply through the fact of their heredity, should have any right to vote at all in a House of Parliament in a democratic age.
My Lords, I hope the noble Lord will forgive me for interrupting, but let me make my position quite clear. I did quote from the third 451 conclusion of this Conference, which says that the right to attend and vote based solely on heredity should not by itself constitute a right and qualification for admission to a reformed Second Chamber. I have given my colours to that.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, I have followed the noble Lord, and I was able to do so because he read things which were printed some years ago, and which I have in front of me. So I was not under any great disadvantage while I was following his remarks. The noble Lord went on to say that he did not want to get rid of the hereditary element altogether, because of the position of the younger Peers. That is what I understood him to say, but if I misunderstood him, then of course I withdraw.
My Lords, I said that I thought we should consider some new system before abolishing the old one. But I still maintain that heredity is not in itself a sufficient right to vote and sit in this House.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, in that harmless form I think anyone will accept the proposition. I think that few of us would want to abolish the existing system before considering a new one. So I think I am entirely with the noble Lord.
It seems to me that there is here, on the face of it, a total conflict which leaves us where we are, with a Chamber which is, in the last resort, dominated by the hereditary Peers. There are over 900 Peers, as we have heard, and I think about 200 of those are first creations. So that in the last resort the Conservative leaders—that is how it happens to be, but I am taking my stand on principle that it does happen to be so—can obtain any majority they require on an important matter. To take only one example, the Bill dealing with the abolition of capital punishment was a matter where the Parties were not entirely arrayed against each other. There the Conservative leaders took a certain view and, in the result, there were many speeches in that two-day debate which in numbers, and I should have thought in quality, were very well 452 balanced. When it came to the vote, of course, the supporters of the abolition of capital punishment were simply swept away. And so it always is, when it comes to the point.
One noble Lord said earlier that in this House one does not need to bother too much about the vote. If he had been voted down for fifteen years as I have been, he would bother more about the vote than if he was able to look at it, so to speak, from the other end of the barrel. I think one must therefore accept the fact that no Labour person in this House, whether or not he likes this House and thinks it is the finest debating Chamber in the world, could ever accept the view that the vote did not matter, whether the Labour Party was in Government or Opposition.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord a question about the capital punishment debate? He referred to the abolition of capital punishment, I thought, as the official policy of the Labour Party. But it was not the official policy of the Labour Party; it was never backed by the Labour Party of the day, so far as I know. It was put in as an Amendment from the Back Benches of the House of Commons.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, I remember the circumstances very well. I take leave to doubt whether I said it, but I can easily see in Hansard. But if I said that it was the official policy of the Labour Party, it was a slip of the tongue.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, the noble Lord quoted it as an example of where the Conservative view predominated over the Labour view; but it was, in fact, a Division in which, so far as I remember, the Labour Party never expressed an official view on the subject.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, if I said that it was the official policy of the Labour Party, I should not have said what I did not mean to say, and what I know in fact to be untrue, because I have been involved in that controversy. But I am almost certain that I did not say it.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords. I did not say that the noble Lord 453 did say it. All I said was that he quoted that debate as a case where Conservative policy dominated over the Labour policy, where numbers of noble Lords on this side of the House took the view that capital punishment should be retained, and noble Lords on the opposite side of the House took the view that capital punishment should not be retained; and that this was a good example of the domination of the Conservatives over the Labour Party.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, it may or may not be a good example—it must be, for the noble Marquess to pounce on. But I think most people are aware that the great majority of Conservatives are in favour of capital punishment, and the overwhelming majority of Labour people are against capital punishment. There was a classic example of two days of long debate, at the end of which the vote was overwhelmingly against one side as a result of the intervention of large numbers of hereditary Peers. However, I must leave it to the House and to the noble Marquess to say whether it is a well-chosen example. But that is the history which is in the minds of both of us. It was an example of a triumph of the hereditary principle, if you like, in your Lordships' House.
My Lords, I value as much as anybody the character of our debates. It is not for me, never having served elsewhere, to know whether they are better or worse than debates elsewhere; but it as certainly true that many subjects have been raised in this House (quite a number by my noble friend Lord Stonham, by my noble friend Lord Shackleton and, if I may say so, by myself) Which have been debated at great length here and which, I am sure, would not have been debated in another place—at any rate, they had not been debated in another place. I could mention several subjects which I myself have initiated here which have not been debated in the other place for years. Everybody knows what a tremendous interest is aroused by a debate of the kind initiated recently by the noble Earl, Lord Arran, who I am glad to see has returned, and about whom I spoke at some length just now in what we all feared was his permanent absence this evening. He has initiated 454 at least four debates of widespread interest, and I doubt if those subjects could have been raised in another place or could have been debated by such experts. So I hope that no one will suppose that I am in any way underestimating the value of the debates, the quality of the discussions.
But then one comes to the vote—the total unfairness of this system, under which the Conservative Party have this huge majority whenever they want to exert it. The only suggestion I can make—I doubt whether it is within the province of the Committee because, as I understand it, their province is closely defined—is that I believe that one day it will be found that the best solution is the solution which I think may have been touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Milne, whose speech I unfortunately missed; and that is the two-writ plan.
Under the two-writ plan, at any rate in its simplest form, the hereditary Peers as such would be able to come here as now and speak, and they would be allowed to record their addresses, if they wished, in a book for that purpose, but they would not be able to vote. The vote would be confined, in the simplest form of the plan, at any rate, to those who had received peerages. That would be the plan in its simplest form, though no doubt it could be worked out in other ways. But even if looked at in only a crude form like that, it would have the supreme advantage that you could retain—and in the long run, through, I think, the reality of the debates, you could enhance—the quality of the debates which we value so highly, and at the same time remove this extraordinary injustice under which the Parties of the Left suffer at present, and will suffer so long as the hereditary Peers have the vote.
If I am asked about the young people, I would say that, under any plans that one can imagine for renunciation, I should hope that these young Peers would be able to stand for the House of Commons, but that if they did not wish to do so they could of course come here and take part in the debates. If they were hereditary Peers they would not, as such, be able to cast votes, though if they were of outstanding ability, under the two-writ plan they would be able to 455 vote. The noble Earl, Lord Arran, mentioned the son of an old friend of his and mine, the present Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, whose father, if I remember rightly, was a Minister in this House before he was 30. It is obvious that if you had the two-writ plan, he could receive a voting right. Then, someone who has given long service to this House, such as the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, or my noble friend Lord Faringdon, or, of course, the noble Earl, Lord Listowel—
§ LORD WOLVERTON
My Lords, would the noble Earl allow me to interrupt him for one moment? Does he think that it would be in the interests of the House if a noble Lord were allowed to come here only to speak and not to vote? Let us take as an example the important decision the House made upon the Ullswater debate. Surely, if a noble Lord felt strongly on that matter one way or the other but was allowed only to speak and not to vote, he would not be so interested in coming to this House. That is what I feel; that it would be to the detriment of the House.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
If noble Lords felt that way, I am afraid that, unless they had served sufficiently eminently to he accorded the voting right, we should lose them. But, if I may say so to the noble Lord, having come here myself for fifteen years and cast so many hopeless votes, I am afraid I do not find the voting process as interesting or as valuable as the noble Lord might imagine. Frankly, many of us regard voting in this House as a total farce (I must say that) in view of the fact that the Government can whistle up a majority whenever they wish to—at least, except on very rare instances, as apparently occurred yesterday, they can whistle up a majority. In any case, they can soon put that right, and next time, probably, in order to rub it in, they will get a majority of ten to one in order to show that they can still do their tricks. But the voting here is a total farce, and the only way to obtain equality of votes and of putting the voting right would be by something on the lines of the two-writ plan.
In conclusion, I simply go back to where my noble Leader, the noble Vis- 456 count, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, started. This is a limited scheme for some kind of renunciation, and I hope that its purpose will be achieved. I back up what has fallen from the noble Viscount; and I certainly wish all success to the Committee, and all success, if I may say so, here, there or anywhere, to the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, the noble Earl who has just resumed his seat always speaks with exquisite charm and often with great generosity and charity, even towards his oldest friends. I therefore think it would be churlish on my part to criticise his speech, which, however, was in some ways a somewhat strange utterance because he complained bitterly—and, indeed, to a point at which he said there was, I think, a complete head-on clash, or something of that kind, between two halves of the country—about the composition of your Lordships' House. The one thing which is quite certain is that the composition, as such, of your Lordships' House is outwith the terms of reference of the Joint Select Committee which is proposed. The reason it is out-with the terms of reference of the Joint Select Committee which is proposed is because his Party insisted on its exclusion.
It is therefore somewhat odd, to say the least of it, that the noble Earl should have made such a point about it; and he followed it up with a suggestion about the so-called two-writ plan which again could easily have been put within the terms of reference of the Joint Select Committee which is proposed if his Party had asked for it. But owing to their more rigid view of what is desirable—insisted upon with great force by the noble Viscount who leads the Opposition —that plan, too, will have to go unconsidered, without discussion, whether it is desirable or whether it is undesirable. Because the truth is that, as my noble friend Lord Swinton (who explained to me that he was unable to remain to the end of the debate), said in the course of his very welcome speech, there has been a great contrast between the width of the debate which we have had and the relative narrowness of the proposal which is before the 457 House—that is to say, the terms of reference of the Joint Select Committee. This is so much the case that some speakers—I think the noble Lord, Lord Rea, in particular—described the proposal as "tinkering with the constitution", and my noble friend Lord Teynham, pursuing the same line, even went so far as to say that he could not, unless he received certain assurances, support the proposal at all.
It is true, of course, that the proposal before the House is narrower, to give only one example, than the Motion which was earlier before another place and which was not ultimately debated. The reason for that, as the noble Viscount rightly said, was that the terms of this Motion have been negotiated between the Parties. I myself think with him that the advantages gained by agreement are probably greater than the advantages which have been lost by the narrower terms of reference. That, however, is something about which the House must judge. But I would repeat what I ventured to say in opening—namely, that where you have a traditional constitution, the method of reform by means of cancelling particular anomalies or injustices is one which has, in practice over a number of years, proved more capable of execution than more ambitious, and possibly more logically attractive, schemes. Therefore, I do not apologise for the terms of reference of the Joint Select Committee, although I think the narrowness of them has quite legitimately come in for a certain amount of comment and criticism.
However, I would not go quite so far as at one moment I thought the noble Viscount who leads the Opposition seemed disposed to go. In dealing in particular with one aspect of the subject matter for the Committee to discuss, he seemed almost to go as far as saying, "Agreement between the Parties is such a desirable thing that you "—he was speaking to the Benches opposite, which is to us—" must agree to what I say, otherwise you will get nothing at all ".
My Lords, I sincerely hope that within the terms of reference, such as they are, there will be a free discussion between the members of the Joint Select Committee. It was for that reason that I was very careful not to commit myself in any way to a conclusive view about any of the subjects open to discussion, and I 458 should hope very much that, when the Joint Select Committee comes to be appointed, members of the noble Viscount's Party will not, at any rate before considering some of the arguments, a few of which I have deployed this afternoon, commit themselves to a particular proposal simply in order to remedy what they conceive to be, and what has generally been conceded to be, an injustice to a member of their own Party who seeks election to another place. I should hope that the discussion would be open, and that minds would be kept uncommitted until they had found the advantage of consultation with others who serve on the Committee.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, as I said this afternoon, the point is that we have agreed to the terms which are on the Paper. They are agreed terms. I really only pointed out that the opening speech this afternoon from the noble and learned Viscount went much wider than had been the case in the other place, or in the speeches of those who opened the debate for each of the Parties in the other place. I should have thought that was a warning that we had not intended to go as widely as that. Of course, what is possible—and only the Joint Select Committee can decide what is possible within the terms of reference on the Paper—to he discussed within those terms of reference can be very freely discussed.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, I am very relieved to hear the noble Viscount say so, because at one time I understood him almost to be asserting that either a peerage must be extinguished completely or his Party would agree to nothing at all; and that certainly was a conclusive view which I personally would have deplored had he committed himself to it.
The noble Lord, Lord Rea, asked about the size of the Joint Select Committee. What we had in mind was something of the order of 24; its exact composition as between Parties and Members of the Cross Benches, and as between the two Houses, is still, I understand, under negotiation through the usual channels.
The House had the privilege of listening to a notable speech from my noble friend Lord Salisbury, who sits below the Gangway and to whom the House, 459 if I may say so, owes so much, both for his tenure of the leadership in the earlier days of this Government and for his tenure of the leadership of the Opposition during the period of Socialist Administration, and to whom in particular the House owes a great deal in respect of the Life Peerages Act, whose results have been favourably commented upon, I think, by almost every speaker this afternoon. In particular, he asked me a little more about the way in which the terms of reference ought to be construed. In answering this debate—I do not want to take up a great deal of the time of the House—I think I ought really to try to confine myself as closely as possible to the question of those terms of reference in so far as it is proper for me to do so.
The first point I would make is that, as I think my noble friend Lord Swinton said, it is quite certainly the business of the Select Committee to construe those terms of reference, which they will do in the ordinary way, presumably receiving some guidance from their Chairman, but ultimately voting upon them if they disagree. In so doing they will, again as I think my noble friend Lord Swinton said, bring ordinary common sense to bear. They will apply the ordinary meaning of words. But they will also be entitled, I would think—although it is for them, and not for me, to decide—to take into account such matters as that to which my noble friend Lord Swinton referred: for instance, that there had been on the Order Paper of the House of Commons some months before another Motion, with an obviously wider context, containing in its first limb the proposed reference of the whole question of the composition of the House of Lords, and in its third limb the whole question of the remuneration for Members of the House of Lords.
I think that probably the Select Committee would be entitled to infer from the fact that the terms of reference, obviously advisedly and after negotiation, omit that first and that third limb that it was the intention of those who devised the terms of reference that those general subjects should be excluded from them. However, again, as I say, it is primarily the duty of the Select Committee to construe its terms of reference.
460 Then, again, I think it would be entitled to take into account what a court of law certainly could not—that is to say, statements made in another place between some of the principal participants in the negotiations prior to the drafting of these particular terms, as to what was in their minds when they did so. Such an argument might not necessarily be conclusive, but at any rate it would, I think, be something which the Select Committee might well wish to take into account in determining how far it should go within the general ambit of the terms of reference. And, of course, this would have some bearing on the question whether one could, for instance, include the possibility of Representative Peers for the United Kingdom, which has been referred to in more than one speech this afternoon. My Lords, so much for that aspect of the terms of reference.
I fundamentally agree with the general approach of my noble friend Lord Salisbury, that, in determining what one does about such questions as renunciation or surrender, one is not primarily concerned (although one must, among other things, be concerned, but not primarily concerned) with the grievance to the individual. That, I think, is profoundly true, and it was—if I may say so in parenthesis to the noble Viscount opposite—precisely because I thought so at the time that I did not think it right to pursue my own protest eleven years ago to the point to which some other so-called "reluctant heirs" have in fact done. Although the injustice to the individual may be acute, I think one should never lose sight of wider issues: amongst others, the simple fact that there are other more important things for Parliament to consider, other more important injustices to be righted, and other more instant dangers to be averted.
I would also agree that more important than the rights of the individual are the interests and authority of this House, although I would add to that something which I regard as more important still—namely, the ultimate public interest in the matter. For the public interest cannot disregard either the public utility of male primogeniture or its reverse, in excluding from a large part of public life those who do not wish to be excluded, or indeed the simple question of justice or 461 injustice which, as I agree, is not the largest matter in the issue.
I would associate myself with the noble Earl, Lord Longford, in saying to my noble friend Lord Forbes that it simply is not true that those who at any period of their lives did not wish to come to your Lordships' House were consciously actuated either by a desire to evade a responsibility or a conscious desire to become Prime Minister. I once committed myself on television to saying that a man who wished to become Prime Minister was a fool. Perhaps that was going too far. At all events, as I tried to say in opening, what attracts young men to the House of Commons and the ordinary processes of democracy is not the glittering prizes—nobody but an ass would think at the age of 21 that he is likely to become Prime Minister—but the lust for political battle; the gleaming sword rather than the glittering prize. It is their wish to play a full part in the democratic processes of the House of Commons and not necessarily the desire to achieve the top. I think that this is true throughout public life.
The Prime Ministership is not the only office from which your Lordships are debarred. I have never heard of a Chancellor of the Exchequer coming from this House and I do not think that I ever shall. I doubt whether the President of the Board of Trade has ever been in this Chamber and certainly neither the Attorney General nor the Solicitor General, who are of some interest to lawyers, has ever been in your Lordships' House. Indeed, in going through the list of offices which can or cannot be held by Members of this House, quite distinct from the question of desirability, one would find a large number of Government offices excluded by tradition, by custom or by convenience for Members of this House. Therefore, I would say that one cannot altogether disregard or despise those who wish to play a full part in public life in another place.
It will be for the Committee, of course, to determine what penalty, if any, is to be attached to those who renounce, or desire to renounce. This is not something for me to pronounce upon. Some, like the noble Viscount opposite, have pronounced in favour of extinction. In my opening speech, I ventured to say 462 that I saw great difficulty in that, especially for the holders of peerages rather older than my own. Others have spoken of surrender for life. Others have said that the choice is between life peerages and no peerages at all—a sort of shuttle service between the House of Lords and the House of Commons.
I should have thought that there were a considerable number of alternative views that the Committee might conceivably take between a marriage terminable at will and a marriage "till death us do part." I should have thought that it was possible to devise a penalty not so extreme as either. However, this again is a matter for discussion. Both Irish and Scottish Peers will clearly come within the terms of reference of the proposed Select Committee and therefore I will not say anything more about that. Nor will I do more than say that the question of the hereditary principle as such, or of a two Chamber Legislature as such, is equally outside the terms of reference.
I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, for what I thought was an amusing and vigorous defence of the proceedings of this House, which came particularly well, if he will allow me to say so, from a Life Peer and a member of the Labour Party. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate and for the generally favourable reception that this proposal has had. I will not say more, except that I think that we shall have done the right thing in agreeing to the terms of reference, and that I hope, within those terms of reference, the whole discussion is open.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to and a Message ordered to be sent to the Commons to acquaint them therewith.