§ 2.57 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD DILHORNE)
My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty The Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament.
I apprehend that your Lordships will not wish me to traverse again the ground which was so fully covered when I moved, last March, a Motion that this House should take note of the Joint Select Committee's Report. On that occasion your Lordships considered the detailed recommendations of that Committee on their merits and, as my noble and learned friend the Leader of the House said on 15th May, the tenor of that debate showed that in general the Committee's recommendations would be acceptable to this House. My noble friend then undertook that the Government would introduce legislation as soon as possible to give effect to what appeared to be the wishes both of this House and of another place.
It was on 15th May that the Government were able to state their intentions and, as noble Lords are no doubt aware, this Bill was introduced in another place before the Whitsun Recess. Any changes in our constitutional law always involve difficulties of draftsmanship and unexpected complications, but I think nobody can complain that we have been slow in producing this Bill, which has already stood up to a good deal of scrutiny and come through unscathed. If, as I hope will be the case, your Lordships are able to approve it, we shall have put a useful reform on the Statute Book in a very short time.
I know that there are many noble Lords who wish to speak to-day, and I shall do not more than explain briefly the contents of the Bill, with particular reference to those points which are not covered by the Joint Select Committee's recommendations or on which the Bill departs from those recommendations in any particular. As your Lordships will 1005 see, Clauses 1 to 3 implement those recommendations of the Committee which deal with the "surrender" of Peerages. In the Bill we have used the word "disclaim", because it has been thought that this expression connotes rather more accurately what the Committee meant. This is a somewhat technical matter, but those of your Lordships who are familiar with legal terms will remember that in real property law an interest which is surrendered is extinguished; on the other hand, we speak of a legatee or a trustee in bankruptcy "disclaiming" a bequest or an interest which he does not want. Although I hope few would equate a Peerage with a damnosa hereditas, I think your Lordships will agree that, since we do not propose that renunciation should extinguish the Peerage, "disclaim" is the right word to use.
Clauses 1 and 2 prescribe the circumstances in which a Peerage may be disclaimed. I hope that the House will forgive me if I do not explain their provisions in detail, because (subject to the points which I shall refer to below) they carry out precisely the recommendations of the Committee which we have already examined. To put it shortly, anybody who succeeds to a Peerage in the future, or has succeeded in the past, will be able to disclaim that Peerage, but he will have to do so within certain strict time limits. These are six months from the coming into force of the Bill in the case of a Peer who has already succeeded; one month from succession in the case of a Peer who succeeds as a sitting Member of the House of Commons, and twelve months from succession in any other case.
There are two respects in which these clauses depart from the recommendations of the Committee. First, we have thought it right for these time limits to be capable of extension in cases of illness or other disability, particularly where the one month limit applies; this is accordingly provided for by Clause 1(4) and Clause 2(4). Secondly, for the reasons I gave to the House last March (and which were, I think, acceptable to your Lordships), we have not accepted the proposal that a person standing for election to the House of Commons should automatically be deemed to have undertaken to disclaim any Peerage to which he might succeed 1006 during the election. Such a proposal appeared to the Government to be capable of working injustice, and we have preferred to allow the election to proceed and to give the candidate, if successful, the normal one month in which to make up his mind.
Nor did we think it practicable to require a Parliamentary candidate who has disclaimed a Peerage to produce to the returning officer a copy of the instrument of disclaimer as a condition of nomination, and the Bill contains no such provision. There are a number of other points of detail affecting Parliamentary elections which arise on Clause 2, but I do not think the House will wish me to dilate on them at this stage.
Clause 3 provides for the effect of a disclaimer, and here the Bill follows the Committee's recommendations. The disclaiming Peer becomes to all intents and purposes a commoner for life, and on his death his heir succeeds to the Peerage in the normal way. I know some of your Lordships would prefer to see the Peerage extinguished: I appreciate their reasons, but after considering the very full and frank exchange of views which took place in an earlier debate, the Government have preferred to adhere to the Committee's recommendations. I will not at this stage rehearse the arguments on either side, because they are already familiar; I think it comes down in the end to this: if we were attempting in this Bill to curtail the right to membership of this House, then there would be a logical argument for extinction. But since that is not what the Bill seeks to do, it would be wrong for us to interfere with the rights of the heirs to a Peerage which has been disclaimed.
I ought, perhaps, to say something about the effect of the Bill on the use of titles. Your Lordships will see from Clause 3(1) that a Peer who disclaims loses any titles attaching to the Peerage. Your Lordships may also observe that there is nothing in the Bill either about courtesy titles or about what is to happen if the disclaiming Peer continues to use his old title. The reason is this: the fundamental rule of law is that anybody may call himself what he likes provided, of course, he does not use an assumed name for dishonest purposes. The House may readily call to mind instances of persons who have achieved some 1007 degree of fame in the world of entertainment who have described themselves as Lord This or Duke That. There is no reason why they should not; but one would expect that any Peer who disclaimed his Peerage would not choose to be known by a title he had deliberately rejected.
Secondly, as I have said, the Bill is silent about courtesy titles. Your Lordships are no doubt well aware that "courtesy title" means exactly what it says. An heir to a Peerage who, as a matter of courtesy, is known as, shall we say, Viscount Blank is not, of course, the holder of the Viscountcy of Blank, which is a title held by his father. Since he has no title it would be impossible to deprive him of one: again, what he chooses to call himself should his father disclaim or should he disclaim immediately on inheriting the title is a matter for him, and I am sure we should be very well advised not to try to interfere by legislation with courtesy titles.
I hope I may deal quite shortly with the remaining provisions of the Bill—not that they are unimportant, or, perhaps, altogether uncontroversial, but they are straightforward, and your Lordships are already familiar with the proposals which they implement. Clause 4 carries out the Committee's recommendation that all holders of Scottish Peerages should become entitled to Membership of this House. I appreciate that those who have taken part in the traditional ceremony of electing representative Peers, and particularly those who have themselves been elected to represent their fellows, may feel some regret at the passing of an historic institution—indeed, the noble Earl, Lord Perth, made this clear in our earlier debate. But I think the arguments both of principle and convenience are overwhelmingly in favour of the clause as it now stands.
I should, perhaps, make it clear that under the Bill a Scottish Peer will be in exactly the same position as an English or United Kingdom Peer as far as disclaiming is concerned. There will be nothing to stop a former Representative Peer disclaiming and standing for election to the House of Commons, provided he does so within the six months. I would also reassure noble Lords from Scotland that I have very much in mind 1008 the questions of the machinery by which Writs of Summons are to be issued to them and how, in future, succession to a Scottish Peerage is to be established to the satisfaction of whoever is to issue the Writ. I do not think these questions need cause any great difficulty.
Clause 5 removes the restrictions currently applicable to Irish Peers in relation to membership of the House of Commons and voting at Parliamentary elections. In future an Irish Peer will, if otherwise qualified, be able to represent any constituency in the United Kingdom and will be able to vote at any Parliamentary election. At present, as the House will remember, he cannot sit for a constituency in Northern Ireland or vote at an election unless he is himself a sitting Member of the House of Commons. I appreciate that the absence of any provision for the representation of Irish Peers in this House will come as a disappointment, though not as a surprise, to some noble Lords. The House will remember the discussions we had on this topic last March when my noble and learned friend Lord Kilmuir explained why the Committee had reached the conclusion that the present position should be left unchanged. I do not think I can say more than that the Government agree with the Committee's conclusion on this matter.
My Lords, if the Irish question is bound to cause, as always, some heart-burning, Clause 6 at least should be universally welcomed—unless the noble Earl, Lord Airlie, proposes to fight another rearguard action. Clause 6 confers on female holders of hereditary Peerages the right to membership of this House and, at the same time, puts them in the same Parliamentary position as men holding the same Peerages. They will have to disclaim if they wish to stand for election to the House of Commons or vote at Parliamentary elections. Your Lordships have repeatedly extended a warm, though ineffective, invitation to the hereditary Peeresses and I am sure that the House will be pleased that effect can now be given to its wishes.
Finally, my Lords, I must draw the attention of the House to Clause 7(2) which has attracted much attention in another place. In his statement to this House on May 15, my noble and learned 1009 friend Lord Hailsham stated unequivocally that the Government would introduce legislation in time for it to take effect at the next General Election. Clause 7(2) makes good that undertaking. Any Peer who wishes to stand for election then will have time to get himself adopted and to disclaim before being nominated. I do not see that there should be any difficulty about this.
On the other hand, there appear to me to be arguments, both of principle and of convenience, against making the change in the law operate before the end of this Parliament. We are altering by this measure the constitution of both Houses, and it seems only right that a Parliament which was summoned on a given basis should continue on that basis until, in the normal course of events, it comes to an end. Secondly, there would be appreciable, though admittedly not insuperable, difficulties in connection with the new status of Scottish Peers if Clause 4 were to come into force during the lifetime of this Parliament. On balance, I think it is right that we should make these important changes coincide with a new Parliament, and I hope that the House will agree. My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ 3.12 p.m.
§ EARL ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, this is yet another historic occasion in the history of Parliament in general and of this House in particular. There are those of us who have always liked to describe ourselves as people who are progressive in politics who may have thought from time to time in our long lives—some of us—that progress was very slow. Nevertheless, progress is coming. It was Lord Grey, I think, who after the famous decision in Parliament in the Reform Act, who went to the Guildhall that night and turned in the course of his speech to the audience and said:And now, let us educate our masters".It is a long time ago since it was decided to take the first step in putting the sovereignty into the hands of the people, but this House has maintained ever since then one principle at least which is not yet wiped out and which is a fundamental principle in the 1010 general outlook and policy of the Labour Party; that is, it objects to a Government Revising Chamber that is dependent so largely upon the hereditary principle. I think it only right that that should be stated at this time.
Then, my Lords, I should like to say that, of course, the words that were used by a right honourable friend elsewhere are worthy of consideration: that the passing of this Bill will confer upon Peers under the present circumstances a very great right. It is a right which enables them to do what they have been prevented from doing so far; that is, to go to the electorate and ask for their suffrage and then to have the right to appear in the honourable House of the Commons. That is a considerable right.
Some Peers may think that rights are being taken away from them, but it seems that very little in that respect is being done at the present time. We have seen a departure from the hereditary principle to some extent in the notable reform which the Government brought in and which enabled Life Peers to be appointed: a step that I think has appealed to all sections of the House since by its actual practice in the debates of the House. I think that we have been very fortunate in obtaining notable additions to the House in that respect.
On the point mentioned by the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, with regard to the maintenance of titles to the descendants of anyone who disclaims (I must get used to using that word) a title, I would say that while, of course, those of us who served upon the Joint Select Committee of both Houses were against it and most of us voted against it in the Joint Select Committee, we agreed, in all the circumstances, to sign the Report as a whole. It is true that in another place an Amendment was moved to revert to the idea that a Peerage which is disclaimed by an individual Peer in order to be able to contend for a seat in the other place ought to wipe out that Peerage altogether. Most of us on this side of the House do not depart from that view. But I think, in view of the fact that we signed the Report as a whole, and the point, properly raised in the representative House, in another place, having been discussed, 1011 we shall have to consider whether or not it is really necessary to raise the matter again in Committee on this Bill.
I think that perhaps I ought to refer to the use of titles, a point which the noble Lord dealt with so effectively; and I must say that it is such an honour to be a Commoner in the House of Commons that it would be a great pity if individuals who transfer from one place to the other were by practice pressing the right to use a title in the exercise of that privilege which is being given to them by this Bill: and I very much hope that that may not follow.
May I say just a word about the provisions with regard to Scottish Peerages? It is, of course, obvious that this means there will be quite a substantial increase in the number of Peers who will enter this House for reasons of heredity. The Bill will increase the number of hereditary Peers in this House if they all accept the idea of sitting here. Because of our views on hereditary in these matters, of course we think that it is a pity, in one way. On the other hand, we feel that the recommendation which was made in the Joint Select Committee Report is one that we cannot now in the circumstances resist. But it will not prevent us, of course, from continuing our agitation against the hereditary status of this House.
I noted the especially warm welcome which the Lord Chancellor gave (I think he used the term "affectionate") to the invitation which will now be given to female holders of hereditary titles to enter this House. I am quite sure your Lordships will agree that, by the addition of the Lady Peers to this House under the Life Peerage appointments, the general effect of our debates, especially on social questions, has been greatly improved. It may well be so, if we remember a case of an outstanding lady like the late Lady Rhondda; it would not have injured debating or the public-spiritedness of the Members of this Chamber if this privilege to female holders of titles had been given long ago in the circumstances of the hereditary basis which have continuously existed.
My Lords, I have to apologise to the House for being comparatively brief on this matter. I could say a great deal more. I confess to you that I had a longstanding 1012 engagement this afternoon which I am bound to keep and it will necessitate my leaving the Chamber somewhat early. But I could not end what I have to say to-day without paying a tribute to the noble and learned Earl, Lord Kilmuir, for the outstanding services he rendered to both Houses of Parliament by the manner in which he conducted the inquiries of the Joint Select Committee. If your Lordships were to examine the verbatim Reports of the Committee, you would find that I very rarely spoke in that august assembly. The main reason for this was that I sat next to the Chairman, Lord Kilmuir, and we often exchanged views which afterwards saved me a great deal of speaking. I must say that I look back to those discussions with very grateful memories, because of the care and fairness, and the courtesy, of the chairmanship of the noble Earl, Lord Kilmuir.
I would also say that this is a great occasion for the one who fought the fight which enabled those discussions, and the decisions which are now embodied in this Bill, to become possible; that is Anthony Wedgwood Benn. He stood alone; he stood against what were the recognised principles of the electoral laws. Yet, in spite of all that he has suffered in consequence in the meantime, he now not only gains the freedom which we all think he ought to have had before, but is the head and shoulders which have led to more privilege being given to other Members of your Lordships' House. I think we should all be grateful to him for the stand which he made.
§ 3.23 p.m.
My Lords, I should like to express my gratitude to the noble Earl who leads the Opposition for his support of me in my speech, not political support but physical support at this table and Box. I should like to join with him in his tribute to the noble and learned Earl, Lord Kilmuir, who really did lead us in that Committee with particularly great felicity. In supporting this Bill as a measure of limited scope and limited intention, I should perhaps repeat that I was a member of the Joint Select Committee, like the noble Earl who has just spoken, which was appointed to consider and report upon the matters which now come before your Lordships as the Peerage Bill. But the designation of this Select Committee was the Joint Committee 1013 on House of Lords Reform, which I think turned out to be an unfortunate misnomer, and consequently I suggest that a little clarification must now be made, and I ask the indulgence of your Lordships if I dwell for a little on this differentiation.
The Bill before us to-day is in effect an ad hoc and, I hope, only an interim measure; that is, regarded from the angle of reform of the House of Lords in its wide and generally accepted sense. The broader issue, with which this Bill is only marginally concerned, but which many of us think continues to need urgent attention, involves three cardinal principles, of which only one impinges immediately on the issues of the Peerage Bill now before your Lorsdhips' House; and to get the matter into proper perspective I should, if I may, like just to touch upon those three points. First, of course, there is the aim that the Second Chamber should be complementary to, and not a rival of, the elected House of Commons. It is consequently necessary, in my opinion and in the opinion of many others, that there should be some modification of the existing constitution of the Second Chamber and that it should not, by a system chiefly of election, or at any rate entirely by election, be put into that position of competition with another place. This point, of course, does not arise directly in this Peerage Bill, but its shadow looms across the whole conception of equal eligibility for membership of either House.
The second aim of the House of Lords reformers, readjusting the balance of Party power so that no permanent majority is assured for one Party in the Upper Chamber, is also remote from the Peerage Bill. And yet the involvement of Life Peerages as distinct from hereditary Peerages again brings that issue within what I might call audible range of this present measure. Of course, we know that the present Government, from motives of political conscience or political pressure or both, have made a notable gesture, as the noble Earl, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, said, in introducing the Life Peerage Act, ostensibly towards the beginnings of rectification of this anomaly of too much strength lying with one political Party. But criticism, I think, can hardly be too 1014 strong about the Government's implementation of this Life Peerages Act, introduced by the Conservative Leaders in each House specifically as a measure to strengthen the present Opposition. In the event, and as I think quite shamelessly, more supporters of the Conservative Party than supporters of the Opposition have been created Life Peers. The Liberal Party, incidentally, has not had a single creation of one Life Peerage. The present Peerage Bill, by bringing into this House a number of Peers and Peeresses hitherto excluded—and, I grant, unfairly excluded—will of course exaggerate this notorious imbalance still further.
The third very necessary major reform of the House of Lords, and the one which I think has the most widespread support, not only in the two Opposition Parties, is the abolition of heredity as the sole—1 repeat, sole—qualification for membership as a legislator in the Upper Chamber of the British Parliament. I am not going to develop these arguments about the reform of the House of Lords because they are, or should be, largely irrelevant to the Peerage Bill. But they are by no means totally irrelevant. It is because of the existence of these important matters that one member of the Select Committee had the courage and the sincerity to enter, by way of protest, an extremely broad amendment, which was to precede all other business in the Committee and to be dealt with first, and one which at any rate many or most of the Committee felt was expressing a widely felt doubt.
If I may paraphrase that amendment, it was in effect that the task of the Joint Select Committee was virtually impossible without taking into account all the difficulties and problems and anomalies wrapped up in the present constitution and composition of your Lordships' House. It asked, virtually for power to take into account the whole question of House of Lords reform during the exercise of the Committee's functions. The Committee decided, however, that despite its title of a Committee on House of Lords Reform, its assignment was meant to be something much more limited, as I think we would agree. It really had to deal only with the situation arising originally from the case of the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate (for that is his name at 1015 the moment), and those of a similar mind now or in the future.
I think this decision of the Committee to reject that amendment was a right one. By rejecting this amendment by Mr. Wade on the Committee, the first Amendment in the Report (it will be seen on page 13 of the Report), I think it should have been established once and for all that the general views and criticisms of the constitution, of the hereditary system, of the function of the second Chamber were outside the ambit of the Select Committee. But, unfortunately, this was not the case. It was not so accepted in spirit, and there were continual overt and covert attacks on these facets. Safeguards against any individual dividing his time at his own choice between one House and another had, of course, to be made. And I think the Bill has provided very adequately for this. You cannot go from one House to another at will any time.
But, of course, this Bill is not a vessel for the accepted need to reform the constitution of this House. The hereditary system, as it applies to your Lordships' House, is part of the Constitution. Some may like it; some may not like it; but it is part of the Constitution. I, and I think a majority of people in this country, want to see this abolished in so far as it gives a right to be a legislator without any other qualification. I earnestly hope that a Bill to this effect and of general reform of this House may be brought in. But this is not that Bill. This is not the great Bill for the reform of the Second Chamber which so many of us want to see. This is a limited Bill. I suggest that this Bill would be more accurately described as the House of Commons Freedom from Limitations Bill, or, if you like, the Wedgwood Benn Enabling Bill.
I respectfully suggest that your Lordships should take warning from the severe disclosures of hostility to your Lordships' House—even on unsound and prejudiced grounds, and of course from unadmitted jealously—which this Bill has disclosed rather sharply both in the Select Committee and in another place. The work of your Lordships' House is in many quarters denigrated, through ignorance and through uninformed impatience; but I would say that a good cure for criticism of the House of Lords 1016 would be to see it at work—at work, for instance, on the Shops Bill and the Weights and Measures Bill, and on the London Government Bill, all of which, incidentally, owe far more of their improvement to their liberal and constructive handling by all Parties in the House of Lords than to any process which they have been through in other places.
I hold no brief for the present composition of the House of Lords, traditional though it be—and, as a Liberal, I rather like tradition as a stepping-stone to development; but I hold a strong belief in a Second Chamber, and I, for one, will not accept this Peerage Bill as a sort of curtain raiser to the decline and fall of the House of Lords. It has no such function. Other and greater change may come—as I hope it will—but it should not come under this measure. For that reason, I am opposed to any suggestion, as was rather hinted at by the noble Earl the Leader of the Opposition, that there might be an amendment to this Bill, because the matter to which he referred seemed to me one of complete irrelevancy to the Bill—namely, that individuals should be empowered by this Bill to extinguish the hereditary titles of which they happen to hold a life tenancy, which applies in the case of almost all of your Lordships. Nor is it reasonable that in this Bill, dealing with eligibility for membership of the House of Commons, their heirs should be deprived of their lawful expectations as a result of this comparatively small measure which should properly be concerned only with the personal position, and of course the appropriate control, of those who desire a change in their own individual status during their own lives. I was encouraged by the support for this given in Committee by, among others, the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the noble Lord, Lord Silkin.
The detail of the Bill appears to be acceptable and properly in line with the recommendations of the Select Committee, as the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has said, and for this reason I support it. I am glad to note that one recommendation has been dropped. I may have misunderstood the recommendation, but I think it was, shortly, that any individual who purported to have a possible expectation, 1017 however remote, of succeeding to a Peerage, could at any time sign away his potential right of succession. The motives behind this proposal were not, to me, either clear or convincing; and its principle appears to me to be both wrong and dangerous, for obvious reasons. However averse from becoming a Peer a man may be, surely the time to make a binding renunciation is when the possibility becomes an actuality, and not before.
Although I am not at ease about Clause 5, which, as the Lord Chancellor told us, allows Irish Peers to sit in the Commons—it allows them to do that without giving up their titles as their English and Scottish colleagues have to do—I admit I found little support for this perhaps rather unkind view, and I do not propose to pursue it. At the same time, it is curious that this great privilege, as the noble Earl, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough said, to be given to English and Scottish Peers of dropping their titles and, in the words of certain members of the Labour Party, becoming "fully fledged commoners", is to be denied to the Irish, whose titles in any case are emptier than most of your Lordships', since these Peers cannot sit in the House of Lords. My own sympathies are rather more with the new English and Scottish "Misters" than with the Irish "Lords-Commoners".
But there is one proposal in the Bill to which I do object. It is not a Party point. It may not be a major point, but it seems one of equity. It concerns Clause 3(2), by which a Peer who becomes a commoner in order to serve in another place—a most laudable attitude—is debarred from the eligibility of every other commoner in the land to become later in his life an Earl or to be made any sort of hereditary Peer, although hereditary Peerages are at present, as I say, still part of the Constitution and are not illegal. This is surely discrimination indeed against a man in one small class of commoner, who, through no fault of his own, happened to be at one stage in his life the heir to a Peerage.
What sort of a criminal is he that, after holding high office—perhaps becoming Prime Minister—and giving long and good service in the Commons—he may not enjoy the sort of honour which was accorded to Mr. Anthony Eden, Mr. Attlee, to Mr. Baldwin and 1018 to Mr. Lloyd George, and which perhaps may be accorded to Mr. Macmillan in due course, whatever that may mean? Until hereditary Peerages are abolished—as perhaps they should be—this is a gross injustice to anyone who has, by renouncing his Peerage, achieved the great dignity and honour, as we are told, of being a full-fledged commoner. He is not a full-fledged commoner; he will have one disability which no other commoner has. Not only is this inequitable, until the whole matter of hereditary Peerages is altered; it is, to my mind, an impertinence towards the Crown to enact that the Monarch shall be debarred by Parliament from conferring an Hereditary Peerage on one certain class of citizen. It seems to me invidious, and I should have thought it raised serious questions of Prerogative.
With these observations, I support the Bill—not as the first step, or as any step, to reform the Second Chamber, but as a necessary remedy of a current injustice whereby Members of the House of Commons may, and do, become Members of the House of Lords, but Members of the House of Lords have been debarred hitherto from ever serving as Members of the House of Commons.
§ 3.38 p.m.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I, like the noble Earl, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, and also the noble Lord, Lord Rea, who has just spoken, was a member of the Joint Select Committee which produced the Report on which the Bill before the House was based; and I should like, briefly and without going into any great detail, to support the Second Reading of the Bill. I agree with Lord Rea that this is not a very important Bill. I do not pretend that it goes nearly so far in the way of reforming this House as some of us would have liked.
As at any rate some of your Lordships know, I personally have long favoured a much more drastic reform of this House which would cut out the deadwood of those who never attend. I believe that a far-reaching reform of that character would make the House a more valuable part of the Constitution than it at present is. But, after all, as Lord Rea said, the Select Committee was originally set up not to consider 1019 the whole question of the reform of this House, but merely to deal with the important but limited issue of whether a man who succeeds to an hereditary Peerage should be able to choose in which House of Parliament he should serve his country—the issue raised, as we all know, in a most acute form by the present Lord Stansgate.
On that issue the Report comes to a most definite conclusion: that a Peer in such a position should have that option, under certain conditions, for his lifetime, and that his decision should not bind his son or his other future successors, who will have the same option when, in due course, they succeed to their titles. With that I, as, I imagine, are your Lordships, am in full agreement.
It is quite true that there is one condition which many of us, even after what my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor has said, regard as rather petty and peevish. It is this. If he opts for the House of Commons, a Peer will be required, at any rate legally, to give up his present title, which is in law and in fact his name. To take a simple example—and, if he is here, I hope he will forgive me—if my noble relative the Duke of Devonshire opted for the House of Commons he would have to sit as Mr. Cavendish. He would, as it were, be punished by his laudable, if mistaken, desire to serve his country in another place; and not only he, but his wife, his children, his ox, and his ass and all that is his will fall under this punitive ban.
If, on the other hand, the noble Duke decided not to take advantage of the facilities in this Bill—and I have not a notion what he intends to do—and preferred to remain in your Lordships' House, it would then be possible for his son to sit in the House of Commons as the Marquess of Hartington, just as before. This Bill penalises only those who wish to serve their country in the House of Commons, and I must confess that that provision seems to me so silly as to be almost childish. One can imagine the complications, financial, legal, and social to which it might lead.
The Lord Chancellor, if I understood him aright, said that it did not really mean much in practice. A Peer, he said, 1020 could continue to call himself what he likes without infringing the law. If that is so, why make this very foolish change? I did not like this proposal in Committee, and said so, and nothing has happened since to make me change my view, but I acquiesced in it because it seemed to me that, apart from this single provision, the conclusions of the Committee, as a whole, represented a fair compromise between widely differing views. In particular they do not infringe—nor does this Bill infringe—the broad basis of the hereditary system. That will seem, I am sure, to many people, not only in this House but outside, a consideration of first-rate importance. Indeed, I should like to put in a plea this afternoon—especially in view of what was said by the Leader of the Opposition—for that much opposed principle, for I believe that, even in these modern times, this House, based on an hereditary system, has certain merits enjoyed by no other Second Chamber in the world.
For one thing it is completely independent. Of course, on the great issues of the State we all incline one way or the other in politics, and nothing will alter that. But many the time in the old days, when I was more closely connected with the management of the affairs of this House than I am nowadays, I found my supporters quite unwilling to back up the line their leaders recommended, just because they did not agree with it. That was extremely tiresome at the time: but I still believe that in a political world which is all too heavily whipped it has very great virtue indeed.
Secondly, it makes it possible to have young Members of the House, and I do not believe that could be achieved in a Second Chamber in any other way. The great civil servants, the great diplomats, the ex-Cabinet Ministers, the trade union leaders, all those distinguished persons who so adorn our debates, are most valuable and add enormously to the prestige and authority of this House. But we need also younger men to help with the ordinary day-to-day work of the House, and also, I believe, to keep us up to date. For this purpose alone, the hereditary system is of the first importance.
There is yet a third merit of the hereditary system which may be regarded as the most vital of all. Unless this 1021 country does away with a Second Chamber altogether—as I know many members of the Party opposite would like to do—a Second Chamber based on an hereditary system, even from the point of view of the Labour Party itself, may well be the best Second Chamber for an unrestricted democracy. I say this for one particular reason which I have not yet mentioned but which, to my mind, overrides all others. It is that it ensures that the Second Chamber shall always be the junior partner under the Constitution; and that, I am sure is right. For a House of Commons which is based broadly on a very extensive electorate must always ultimately prevail. Indeed, I have never really understood why the Party of noble Lords opposite dislike the hereditary system. It seems to me that it ought to be, to use a vernacular phrase which I hope will not be regarded as frivolous, exactly "up their street", for not only does it provide them with a whipping-boy—I was almost going to say, an Aunt Sally—to which they can always turn when they wish to divert public interest from more embarrassing topics, but it also ensures that the final decision should rest with the elected House.
What would be the position if this present House of Lords were replaced by an elected House, on whatever basis it might be elected? It would become, in a sense, a rival of the House of Commons. The members would always be able to say, "We, too, have been elected—though perhaps by a somewhat different electorate—and our electors will expect us to use our own judgment in matters that come before us." We might then get an extremely embarrassing constitutional conflict between these two electorates. But an hereditary House can never say that, because it is never elected.
It is often said—and probably thought at this moment by many noble Lords opposite—that this House tends to favour the Right in politics rather than the Left.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I am afraid that is true of any elderly House—and Second Chambers always tend to be elderly. Indeed, I am sometimes tempted to suspect that even many noble Lords who sit on the Benches opposite are not so wildly and enthusiastically 1022 Leftist as they used to be in their younger days. Moreover, in any case it will not, I am sure, be suggested, whatever our natural political bias may be, that, for instance, after the 1945 Election this House behaved in any manner of which the Labour Government could legitimately complain. On the contrary, except for the Iron and Steel Bill, we passed all the nationalisation Bills, of which we cordially disapproved, on Second Reading, and did our best to improve them on Committee stage. Therefore I suggest that, from their point of view just as much as ours, any future Labour Government (if any such Government gets into power) will be wise to think very carefully before they interfere with the hereditary system. They would only be exchanging King Log for King Stork.
Having said that, and having taken this opportunity to put in a plea for the hereditary system which is so often under attack, I will say once more that I do not think it is widely breached by the present Bill. I see no great harm in an individual Peer opting for himself so long as the option is limited to his lifetime. The other important and limited reforms, such as those with regard to Scottish Peers, Peeresses in their own right, and the two variations from the recommendations of the Committee to which the Lord Chancellor referred—all these, I believe, are eminently sensible.
There is one Amendment which should like to see put into the Bill, and I hope it will be before it leaves this House. It relates to the date when the Bill is brought into force. I have read most carefully the debates on the Bill both on Second Reading and on the Committee stage in another place, and even after listening to the extremely able exposition of the Lord Chancellor, I still find the Government's attitude extremely difficult to understand. What is all the special pleading which we had in another place, about the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act, 1918, and the Representation of the People (Women) Act, 1918? What is the importance of that, when we have before us the two Parliament Acts which fundamentally altered the balance of power between the two Houses; and, more recently, the Life Peerages Act which altered the composition of this House far more than this Bill would ever do? And those three Acts to which I have referred came into force, 1023 I believe, immediately after the Royal Assent was given.
What will be the position if the Government stick to their present attitude should a Member of the House of Commons succeed to a Peerage between the enactment of the Bill—that is to say, after it receives the Royal Assent—and its coming into operation at the dissolution of Parliament? The spokesman for the Opposition in another place put it very clearly, I thought, during the Committee stage of the Bill. I am going to quote his words because, as he was the spokesman of the Opposition, I believe it is legitimate for me to do so:There would have to be a by-election, the seat having been vacated, and the by-election would have to be fought and contested, even though the law had bean changed by Parliament, by both Houses, and had had the Royal Assent. Although the law had been changed, we should have to go on pretending it had not been changed.Surely, my Lords, that really is rather an absurd position.
§ LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Marquess, but this is a question of precedent. I am not being troublesome about it, but is he sure that he is entitled to quote a private Member, a Back-Bench Member, of another place and not a Minister, in the same Session?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I stand to be corrected, but I have always understood the position to be that, if a Member of another place is speaking for his Party, he can be quoted.
§ LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH
If I may interrupt the noble Marquess, I think he will find the only exception is a Minister. Otherwise they cannot be quoted in the same Session of Parliament.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
If the noble Lord likes I will repeat it in oratio obliqua. But perhaps he will allow it to stand just on this occasion, and I will stand rebuked. But I hope, therefore, that when the Leader of the House comes to reply to this debate he will be able to announce that the Government have changed their mind with tregard to this provision. Then we shall be able to go ahead in complete harmony. If not, I must say that I hope that an 1024 Amendment will be tabled and will be voted on. That, however, though a very important Committee point, is still a Committee point. On the general issues raised by the Bill I believe, as I said before, that it represents a fair compromise between widely differing views, and, if it comes to a Division, I will personally support it in the Lobby.
§ 3.53 p.m.
§ LORD MILFORD
My Lords, I have been warned that in a maiden speech one should never be controversial; but I find myself disagreeing with so much of what the noble Marquess has just said, that I do not know how not to be. I greatly admire the long fight that the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, has waged to initiate such a Bill as this, and I have every sympathy for him and those others who want to get this Bill passed, so that they can get to another place and carry on a more active political career. At the same time I wish to emphasise very strongly that I can never support any measure whatever which helps in any way to perpetuate this Chamber.
This Bill is just such a measure. Although it has underlined the whole extraordinary system of hereditary Peerage and hereditary legislators, as other noble Lords have said, this Bill is a very minor unimportant reform Bill of a Tory Government; a Bill, in fact, to give this Chamber a new look, to make it more acceptable as an apparently democratic institution in the eyes of the people, in the hope of damping down demands for its complete abolition as an anachronism. It does nothing, really, to alter this Chamber in any way. Any reforms of this Chamber that have been wrung from Tory Goverments have gone through only because the Tories see them as a step to perpetuate this House of Lords. Alas! this Bill does not touch on the fundamental questions and problems of this House at all. In spite of the creation of some Life Peers, what is the basic composition of this House? Membership is based on the hereditary principle, and there is no pretence whatever of representing the interests of the British people.
My Lords, what, in fact, are we supposed to inherit? Is it some special ability or talent which enables us to 1025 function as legislators? No. What we inherit is wealth and privilege based on wealth—a principle which cuts right across every conception of democracy. To-day this Chamber also consists of representatives of the more recently acquired wealth, such as bankers, steel magnates, newspaper proprietors and industrialists of all sorts. It represents, in fact, a more formidable concentration of wealth than that other place has ever done since the working people had a vote. The presence in this Chamber of individuals of high integrity, great abilities and intelligence does not alter the basic character and function of this House; for it is overwhelmingly Tory in composition and will always remain so. Thus as long as it lasts, its functions will be, as they always have been, to stem the advance of democracy, to protect wealth and privilege.
It is interesting to note that this Bill before us is being rushed through by a Tory Government on the eve of a General Election, from which it is quite probable that a Labour Government will be returned. Such measures as are now put forward in this Bill have been opposed by Tories for years and years. The reason for their about-turn is not their concern for democracy, but that they are seeking every means possible to hide the basic reactionary nature of this Chamber, to strengthen it before Labour comes to power, and at the same time to bolster up their completely discredited leadership in another place. In fact, my Lords, because there are a vast number of hereditary Peers on the Tory Benches, compared to the very few hereditary Peers on the Benches of Labour, this Bill would have far more effect in helping the Tory Party than any Party based on the working class. Britain is the only industrial country in which the hereditary principle of choosing legislators still survives; a principle which belongs to the age of the Divine Right of Kings, and which is entirely out of place in this age of automation, space flights, sweeping technological changes; the age of the advance of socialism, the democratic rights of the common people and the national liberation of the colonial people.
It is said that a Second Chamber is necessary to prevent the Government of the day rushing through legislation harmful to the welfare of the electorate. But did it throw out the Government's Tory 1026 Rent Act, which put hundreds of millions of pounds into the pockets of landlords and speculators and put the security, happiness and health of millions of the electorate in jeopardy? Of course not. It sacrified the welfare of the electorate to increase the welfare of the property owners. What part can a Chamber so constituted play, loaded as it is on the side of the past and reaction, and fighting against the rise of a new society, in solving the problems now facing the British people? In fact, only obstruction.
This House of Lords can play only the part of a constitutional obstacle to progressive legislation; a barrier to progress, as its history has shown. The tragic history of Ireland's fight for independence, the story of the British coalminers, the struggle for social insurance in the days of the great Liberals, are but a few of the many possible examples of the rôle this Chamber has played. To take more modern times, in 1931 this Chamber blocked the proposal to raise the school-leaving age to fifteen, as it did the Agricultural Land Utilisation Bill, which was to give the Ministry powers to experiment in large-scale farming. It fought for the continuation of plural voting, so that property owners and businessmen could have more votes than one. Most of us can remember how this Chamber vetoed the suspension of capital punishment in 1948; and, of course, how it fought to the last ditch to prevent its powers of obstruction from being reduced by the Labour Government from two years to one year.
It is natural that, during the last twelve years of Tory rule, this Chamber has found no reason to try to hold up Government measures. Tory Bills are suited to the majority of this Chamber, and designed to protect its interests. And yet in 1956 your Lordships threw out the Abolition of the Death Penalty Bill, which had been carried by a free vote in another place. The Bill before us does not attempt to alter the nature of this House, and for this reason is of no great value to me or my Party.
§ SEVERAL NOBLE LORDS: Which is that?
§ LORD MILFORD
If this Bill becomes law, the fact that one or two noble Lords from the Tory Front Bench depart to another place in order to strengthen 1027 the wavering ranks there will not in any way alter the reactionary outlook of the large majority of this House.
§ SEVERAL NOBLE LORDS: No—it is a maiden speech!
§ LORD MILFORD
The noble Tory Lords here will leave this Chamber knowing that there are hundreds more remaining who will continue to obstruct anything dangerous to their interests and privileges. For these reasons, I and my Party are for the complete abolition of this Chamber—
§ LORD MILFORD
—which is such a bulwark against progress. We are also convinced that no second Chamber of any kind is, in fact, necessary to revise the findings and proceedings of a democratically elected, sovereign Commons. We are not alone in these demands. Because of the inevitable rôle of a Chamber constituted such as this one is, the abolition of this House of Lords has very wide support among the people of this country, and also from many persons occupying Labour Benches in another place. After all, not so very long ago the abolition of this Chamber was in the Labour Party programme. The world is moving fast towards a new social system; a system of socialism. It is in the very bones of the British property-owners to strive to maintain the system of capitalism on which their wealth was built up, and which to-day is not only an outdated system but a barrier to the welfare of the British people and to Britain's future.
In its attempts to hold back advancing socialism, the Tory majority in this House will always be in favour of the cold war, always for keeping it hot; always in support of more and more money being spent on armaments, and of this country remaining a forward base of America and so certain of total destruction if war breaks out. I and my Party, along with other progressive people, aim to open up a future of democratic social advance unhampered by the survivals of the past; a future in which, once again, Britain will be playing a 1028 leading part among the advancing nations of the world. That future can be based only on a socialist society in Britain where all the commanding heights of the economy will be controlled by the ordinary British people who have, by their skill, made the wealth of this country. They will also have complete political power, and their House of Commons, with elected representatives elected by themselves, will be the sole national authority.
This institution will 'always attempt to act against such a new society arising. No amount of reforms, such as this Bill before us, will change that fact. And this House will do all it can to obstruct any progressive measures introduced by a Labour or Socialist Government based on the will and interests of the majority of the people of this country to pass into socialism. Such essential measures for the people as the abolition of the Tory Rent Act will cut at the very heart of the landlords' interests of many sitting in this Chamber. Any form of nationalisation is against the personal, private interests of many of those who now constitute this House. Any threat to landlordism will always rally the Benches opposite.
From time to time Members of this House have put forward that a Second Chamber, not relying on popular franchise, can be important as a steadying influence on hasty decisions of the House of Commons. Fairly recently I read of a noble Peer of famous historic title who claimed that Peers have the tradition of knowing what is the true, considered judgment of the people—a claim which, in practice, means that the rôle of this Chamber would always be to obstruct any legislation which did not come from the Party of conservatism, the Tory Party. Any Bill to bring about a real change in the vital interests of the great majority of British people is sure to be thought by the majority opposite to be "hasty", and therefore to be obstructed by the House in its rôle as "a steadying influence". No one can pretend that this House of Lords has any connection whatever with democracy. It is in direct conflict with the democratic will of the people expressed in the electoral system; which, whatever its shortcomings, has been won by the people in a long struggle against precisely those forces which have always been represented in 1029 the House of Lords. What we need in this country to-day is not a brake on democratic decisions and legislation, but an accelerator; a movement of people which, together with their elected representatives in the House of Commons, will take off the brakes and let democracy play its full part in driving Britain forward.
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ EARL ATTLEE
My Lords, it falls to me to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Milford, on his maiden speech in the hope that we may hear him again. Of course, this afternoon we are not dealing with the major reform of the House of Lords; we are removing certain anomalies. There are many anomalies in this country. One curious one is that the voice of the Communist Party can be heard only in this House. That is the advantage of hereditary representation.
This is an interesting little Bill. It does tardy justice. I am sorry that this was not done a long time ago. I look back to 1947 when I presided over a joint meeting of the Leaders of all three Parties and we tried hard to obtain agreement. In fact we did get a very large measure of agreement, Unfortunately, it was rejected by the Conservative Party on the ground that they objected to any restriction on the rights of delay on the part of this House. It was rather shortsighted. We did all in our power to carry that particular provision—which we duly did—but finally lost what was of greater value: a more widely-based reform. It is interesting to look back now and wonder exactly what would have happened if we had carried our proposals in 1947 which would have affected not only this House but the whole of British politics. The noble Viscount might by that time have been in the House of Commons all the time. Who knows? He might have been Prime Minister—to the great advantage of this country. It is possible that the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, might have taken advantage of the change then; he might have been Prime Minister. Now we are trying to regularise this matter.
I think it is very creditable to the Government to have introduced this, because they are removing one of the chief gambles in our public life, the gamble of personalities. It is very interesting to look back and see what 1030 might have happened through the operation of the hereditary principle. Take the case of Sir Winston Churchill. The mere accident of a provision for the heir of the Dukedom of Marlborough enabled Sir Winston Churchill to be in the House of Commons at a critical time. But for a mere accident he might have been in this House for many years. It is interesting to speculate what would have happened in the war; or what would have happened in this House. What would Sir Winston Churchill have done? He might have stuck to the Army and become a General; he might have stayed in this House. In that case, I am pretty sure that before very long, he would have "bust the show". One can look back over history and see the play of chance in heredity. There was the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, and the Marquess's grandfather, who had a long distinguished career in the House of Commons, Lord Robert Cecil. But for succeeding to a Peerage, he might have been a great Prime Minister in the House of Commons; perhaps then not so distinguished as the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
On looking back, it appears as a great gamble. To-day we are removing one of the great gambling points. It is surprising, really, with a Government that has actually provoked every form of gambling from Bottomley bonds to bingo and betting shops, that it is much more a certainty now that those with ability, whether it arises in this House or elsewhere, will have the opportunity of giving full service to the country. I am rather inclined to agree with what the noble Marquess said about the position of someone who has abandoned his Peerage and served with great distinction in the House of Commons and then wants to come here. It is a point that affects all Parliamentarians that one has either to stay on in the House of Commons when one is perhaps a nuisance, or not of much use, or to give up constant connection with public affairs and with old friends in both Houses. One of the advantages enjoyed by the old men like me is that we are at one end of the passage; we can still keep in contact with affairs at the House of Commons and sometimes, possibly—not on this occasion—contribute something of value to this House. I am inclined to think that the noble Marquess is right on that.
1031 The other point on which I so strongly agreed with him is that this change ought to be brought in at once and not wait for a General Election. It does create a position of great difficulty, first of all for noble Lords. How are they to stand for election? They have to leave it all practically to the last moment. Secondly, I think it is a great difficulty for the constituents who will want to select their candidate, and I think they will find it difficult to select someone during the interim period; they will probably have to leave it to the last moment. It may also prejudice a noble Lord who wants to return to the House of Commons, because they will say, "We cannot tell what this chap will do". I think there is an injustice to noble Lords, such as, probably, the noble Viscount, who intend to return to the other place. I cannot see why this cannot be brought in straight away.
In regard to the other provisions of this Bill, I think they are very reasonable. It is true that we are increasing the hereditary element by introducing more Scotsmen and some more noble Ladies; but it does not necessarily mean that the Benches will be overcrowded. It is one of the most remarkable things that the Hereditary Peerage may be regarded either as a privilege or as a burden or obstruction. To some it is a denial of the right to sit in the House of Commons; to others, the privilege of sitting in the House of Lords. The remarkable thing is that the majority of noble Lords do not regard it as a privilege—at least they do not turn up. I think we are restoring a proper right of citizenship which should be open to everybody: the right of standing to represent your fellow citizens.
However, I do regret that we did not take rather bolder action in 1947. I believe an opportunity was lost there. I and my old friend, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, were both on that assembly with Lord Addison. I hope that the matter might be settled, because I am not doctrinaire on the matter of the composition of the House of Lords. I agree that it is entirely wrong to have another elected Chamber, with a separate mandate. I do not believe much in a Chamber composed only of old people, who have given great and distinguished service to their country, because the 1032 tendency always is for the aged to get a bit conservative, and I think the Chamber would be over-weighted there and would not give the young men a chance.
I have never been doctrinaire, because I regard this Chamber largely from a practical point of view, from how it works. There was a strong case for its abolition in 1910, because it did not work; it was simply a thwarting of the popular will and a very unwise action right through. Sometimes, I contrast 1906 and 1945, and the treatment accorded to Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman and his Government by the Conservatives of that day and the treatment accorded to the Labour Government in 1945. People sometimes ask me, "Why did you not deal with the House of Lords?" I tell them that, as a Government, we had a great deal on our plate". There was the ending of the war to deal with and all the difficulties left over after the war, and there were many pressing economic matters. We should have been extremely stupid to have gone out of our way to deal with a political issue of that kind—so long as the two Houses worked. They did work from 1945 to 1951.
We do have Members from the country, sonic of them very picturesque, some of them practical. The real issue is: does the thing work? At the present time, this House, and its relation with the other House, does work—sometimes not too well, I agree; but so long as this House has respect for the will of the people, expressed at General Elections, there is not very much trouble. As the noble Marquess pointed out, it worked that way in the period 1945 to 1951. I regret to say that there has been a serious friction recently in the introduction of a Bill entirely opposed by the mass of the people and with no demand whatever for it—that is, the London Government Bill. I regret that. It is a falling away from the standard set by the noble Marquess in the years 1945 to 1951.
Generally speaking, I think that this Peerage Bill is a useful little measure and will certainly remove some of the personal disabilities which are causing a great deal of hardship.
§ 4.23 p.m.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
My Lords, may I speak to your Lordships for two brief minutes? I like this Bill. It seems 1033 to be practical and wise. If there are indeed Members of your Lordships' House who feel (to use my noble cousin's phrase) that they can serve their country better in another place, then let them go into it. We wish them well. But I should not like it to be felt throughout the country that there are great numbers of Peers who are impatient and eager to be gone. I do not believe that this is so. Indeed, would say that very many of us—though, of course, this particularly applies to this side of the House—are content and proud to sit where our fathers sat, and to try to do the things which they thought, and we think to-day, right. We Back Benchers know our limitations. We do not aspire to high office. We do not carry Prime Ministerial batons in our knapsacks. What we do is simply to speak and vote as we think, again, as our fathers did before us, and as we hope our sons will be allowed to do when we are dead. Indeed, my great regret is that I shall not be there to hear my own son's maiden speech.
There is nothing dishonourable, and much that is splendid in membership of your Lordships' House. Whatever the noble Earl has just said, it is, at any rate to me, a privilege to be in it. I know that nowadays it is the fashion to decry the House of Lords as a primitive, illogical and defunct body. I do not believe it. I believe that even we hereditary Peers have a job to do and a duty to perform. The tradition is strongly implanted in us and I, for one, am glad to have been given this great chance. I believe that, far from wishing to go elsewhere, most of us will be content to remain where we are and to be proud and grateful for our heritage.
§ 4.26 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, I am very glad to follow the noble Earl, Lord Arran, if only because his very existence and personality tend to refute one of my convictions—which is that there is no justification whatever for an hereditary element in this House. The noble Earl has brought remarkable qualities here. He has initiated debates, for example, on leisure, on the Press and, above all, on Christian unity, and it is very doubtful whether those debates would have been initiated in another place. Certainly he has earned his position here. I should like to refer to my 1034 noble friends Lord Attlee and Lord Alexander of Hillsborough. I would also say how interested I was to hear my old friend Lord Milford in spate. He is not with us, I think, at the moment, but I was of some help in assisting him to become Labour candidate for South Oxfordshire before the war, when I was candidate for Oxford City, and many a time we fought shoulder to shoulder in those old days. Since then, he has changed his Party and I have changed my Church, but here we are. It seems to me, looking at him, that he has been leading a more healthy life than I have. I do not know where he has been—not to Siberia, I fancy—but he looks extremely well preserved, and I am very glad to listen to him again.
I do not wish to echo all that has been said by way of tribute to Mr. Anthony Benn—if that is the correct way of referring to him, because he has been variously referred to. Although others, like the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, have taken part in the fight, this Bill is the heroic achievement of one man, as I think the noble Viscount may be inclined to agree. As one still, so to speak, remaining in confinement, the last thing I should wish to do would be to retard those who are escaping over the wall. I am quite ready to let them do so by standing on my shoulders, if I can be of any service in that way.
It is known to the House that an Amendment which covered my case and also that of the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, to whom I must apologise for not including him in our little category when this matter was discussed, was rejected. In the circumstances, I certainly have no desire to see such an Amendment reconsidered here. It is true that for me, and perhaps for the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, and the noble Lord, Lord Trevethin and Oaksey, it would have been somewhat more flattering if your Lordships' House had turned down this proposal—if, so to speak, your Lordships had insisted on keeping us, instead of the House of Commons insisting on keeping us out: as if your Lordships had said, "We cannot bear to lose you", instead of the House of Commons saying, "Not at any price!". It might have massaged our egos more agreeably, if things had taken that course. But still; there 1035 it is. As my noble friend Lord Attlee once said about an unpleasant newspaper article: "That's the way is goes". That is the way it has gone, so far as I am concerned. I can only console myself by reflecting, with the poet, and speaking to new Members of this House, including the noble Lord, Lord Milford:Grow old along with me,The best is yet to be.That is perhaps the only consolation to be derived from it.
I do not wish to speak at any great length—though, like other noble Lords, I have many views on this matter—but there is one point which has not been alluded to in these discussions and which I think should be placed on the table in order to avoid misconception. People sometimes suppose that any noble Lord who wants to leave this House regards himself as a suitable or likely Prime Minister, or, at the worst, as a Chancellor of the Exchequer. I do not think everybody treasures such extravagant claims or aspirations. But the fact about this House is that, in the nature of things, there are hardly any department Ministers here. People say that the noble Earl, Lord Home, the Foreign Secretary, is here and draw conclusions from that; and they say—I think rightly, if I may respectfully say so—that he is an example of how one can be an extremely effective Foreign Secretary in this House. But it is inconceivable that there could be a Labour Party Foreign Secretary, or, for that matter, a Liberal Party—I see they have disappeared again. Oh! I apologise abjectly to the noble Lord; they are not badly represented at all. I was about to say that it is inconceivable that a Party in a permanent minority in this House could appoint one of its number Foreign Secretary. One has only to consider what would occur. The position would then be that the Conservatives, in an overwhelming majority (and here I agree with all that was said by the noble Lord, Lord Milford, about this overwhelming majority) would have only to pass a vote of censure and in the eyes of the world the position of the Foreign Secretary would be impossible.
I remember that when I was a minor Minister in this House back in 1947, in an economic debate, there was a kind 1036 of vote of censure passed on us. But one could, as a minor Minister in an economic debate, snap one's fingers at it; and that is what the Government did. I think the noble Earl, Lord Home, would agree that if, just as he was departing on some foreign mission, a Vote of Censure were passed in this House, his position would become impossible. In slightly less degree, that position, in my opinion, makes it most unlikely that any appreciable number of departmental Ministers will ever be appointed in this House.
If we take the position at the end of the Labour Government, we find that there were three Members of the Cabinet then in this House, but no departmental Ministers. To-day, with great respect to the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, he is not a full-time departmental Minister, and I think the argument is not in any way diminished by the fact that he has acquired, and no doubt rightly so, a whole number of variegated responsibilities. But this fact makes it very unlikely that an ordinary young man going in for politics can have a very substantial opportunity in this House, because there simply will never be the departmental posts here; and that is particularly true of any Party permanently in a minority. That. I think, should be clearly said, and the question ought not to be confused with dreams of political domination which are sometimes attributed to those who wish to leave this place.
I would make only one other point about the nature of the House—and some interesting things have been said about it to-day. It seems to me that we could be divided into three categories. We are professional politicians; some who have reached what in any other career might be regarded as retiring age, but, at any rate, some senior figures, some in middle life and some quite young: but we are professional politicians. We are specialists in various fields, and we are hereditary Peers. There is some overlapping, but not a great deal, between those three categories.
I would say that if you take our personnel (I have not had the honour of reaching the House of Commons, and never shall; but I venture to make this comparison) and compare our membership to-day with that of the House of Commons—we cannot, perhaps, compare 1037 all our 900 with their membership, but if you take our best 100, however selected, and their best 100—you find that we are indeed more eminent; we have more people with independent national stature and reputation. Our IQs, however you like to test them, would be higher, with people like the noble Lord, Lord Adrian, and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, giving us a sort of unfair advantage at the extreme top. And we are, for good or ill, older, which may or may not be an advantage. On the other hand, we are part-timers; and in another place they are, if not full-timers, nearly full-timers.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
My Lords, would the noble Earl not agree that the House of Lords is the most brilliant debating chamber in the world?
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
I have never been allowed to enter into any other debating chamber, except the Oxford City Council, and we are certainly better than they are.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL AND MINISTER FOR SCIENCE (VISCOUNT HAILSHAM)
I remember the noble Earl making a most brilliant speech at the Oxford Union.
§ VISCOUNT STUART OF FINDHORN
The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland is the most brilliant debating chamber in the world.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
In spite of the tribute the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, has just paid me, I doubt whether I shall ever be elected to that body. However, I must not detain your Lordships in this mood. All I will say is that I feel we have a great capacity for discussion.
At the risk of detaining the House, I should like to make one other point, which I have not seen made elsewhere, about Life Peers, or the great change that has come over this House since the coming of Life Peers. I do not think it makes much difference whether they are Life Peers, in the sense of what their titles are or are not based on: that is not what has made the change. In my opinion, the great 1038 change has come about because a number of people have been brought to this House on the understanding that they will perform future services—that is the real change—as compared with people who were rewarded for past services.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
Some came for their own, and some for somebody else's. But here we have, for the first time, people in the expectation of future service. The discussions here are of a high quality, as one would expect from what I have said about the personnel. But the voting (I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Milford) is a farce. Those of us who have sat through the discussions on the London Government Bill will not dissent from that. The only solution, in my opinion, is the plan proposed more than once (it was not my invention, but I support it) under which those who receive titles would be able to come here and speak and vote, as now, and those who had inherited titles, unless they were specially given for this purpose, would come here, as now, contribute to the discussions, but not be allowed to vote. That, in my view, is by far the best plan that has been suggested.
I do not want to detain the House further. I remember other words from that same poem that I quoted earlier:Trust God, see all, nor be afraid.I have seen, if not all, a great deal of the House of Lords in the last seventeen years. I am not afraid of the House of Lords, and I do not think they have any reason to be afraid of me. But I do feel that the House of Lords, even with all its ghastly limitations, with its fundamentally wrong structure and its imminent need for reform, draws out the best we are capable of when we come here for a number of years. For that reason, I never like to denigrate the House of Lords, but I think it ought to be fundamentally changed.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF PERTH
My Lords, before I turn to the main point I want to make in my speech, I want to say that, speaking personally and selfishly, I am very glad that in another place the 1039 Amendment which would have allowed the noble Earl, Lord Longford, to leave us was defeated, because we should have been that much poorer. We had a debate on this subject three months ago, and since then there has been a debate in another place on the Bill, and we have had the discussion this afternoon. Much as I have thought, and much as I have listened, nothing changes my opinion that this is a wrong Bill, a bad Bill, and I am opposed to it. What have we got? We have a sledgehammer, if I may put it that way, to crack a very small nut. When the nut is cracked and we look at the kernel inside, I personally find that it is almost all bad. I say "almost all bad" because I think the provision which allows Ladies to come here is a right one. But that is the only part with which I find myself in agreement.
I want to go back a little to look, as it were, at the origin of this Bill. There was the Joint Committee on the House of Lords Reform and there is this Blue Book with the Report, together with the proceedings of the Committee and appendices. Anybody who does not know the background here, when they hear something like this has been produced would say: "Well, this must be something pretty important; it must be that the House of Lords has not been working well. Clearly, something must be done to reform it." My Lords, in my opinion, that is not the case at all. I think that in these last years the House of Lords has been working very well—all the better for having Life Peers mixed up with those who have the right to be here under the hereditary principle. I will only say, in that connection, that I fully support the reasons the noble Marquess gave for the continuation of the hereditary principle, both because it ensures our having the benefit of some young Peers, and also because it enables us to have the benefit of those who are independent and knowledgeable.
Be that as it may, we have in front of us to-day this Bill to consider. It is divided into four parts, and the most important part is that of the disclaimer. That is why we have this Bill at all—it suits the convenience of one noble Viscount who wants to be in the Commons. I know this is not the first time that one of your Lordships has wanted to be in 1040 the Commons. With pertinacity, and carrying on with his point, Mr. Wedgwood Benn—or Lord Stansgate, as I prefer to think of him—has succeeded in gaining his point. I have not the good fortune of knowing the noble Lord, but I remember well his father. I know all your Lordships remember what a brilliant part he played in this House, what a great debater he was, and his readiness to champion any cause when he believed that the rights of human beings were at stake, and when the human being was suffering. I wonder myself whether he would have thought that this was a cause in which the suffering of the individual, the suffering of the human being, was such that it warranted this great change—not a great change, but this change in struture. I personally am all for the individual if he is really being hurt.
Is your Lordships' House such a torture chamber? Perhaps it has been recently, when we had the Whips keeping us up till four o'clock in the morning. But ordinarily I think we manage without having to consider ourselves as a place in which it is unpleasant to be and from which, for the sake of the individual, we must be allowed to get out. If your Lordships' House is not such an unpleasant place, if it is not such a real wrong to find yourselves here—personally I think it is a great privilege—then I think you have to weigh up the wish of one individual against the general good or bad to this House and to our whole Parliamentary constitution.
I am quite clear that this Bill will inevitably weaken your Lordships' House. I know the noble Marquess said that he did not think it would make much difference. I can only say that I personally believe—and I will try to give the reason why I think so—that it will make a serious difference. What is going to happen as a result? Those who have considerable aptitude in the political sphere will not wish to come here when they are young. Indeed, as we have already been told, two or three of the last leaders of this House might well not have been here. What is the sequel to not having the advantage of those people being with us? Surely, it must be that we shall no longer be 1041 given a number of high offices which we enjoy in this House to-day. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, made that very point. He confirmed my fear that when under a Labour Government it would be very rare to find high office held by members of the Government in this House. What is the sequel? The sequel is inevitably the decline in the stature and the influence of this House in the country. With that decline will go a falling off in the attendance, and generally we are going to be the worse off.
Enough of the general grounds for my opposition to this Bill. Let me turn briefly to the particular points that arise. The first one is this question of a disclaimer. So far as I am concerned, I can find no adequate word to describe what is proposed except a "fiddle"—and that is what it is. It is a "fiddle" with the hereditary principle. I am not blaming the Committee for this proposal—I do not see what else they could have done, with these terms of reference—but I am blaming the Government for having introduced these terms of reference, or having allowed them to go forward. Given these terms of reference, I do not see what else the Committee could have done except to produce this "fiddle". It is a "fiddle" which means that the hereditary principle is rather like the traffic lights: sometimes they are on, sometimes they are off, and sometimes on again, according to the wishes of the individual. In the long run this must strike at, or do damage to, the hereditary principle in which so many of us believe.
I can understand the logic of saying that if a noble Lord chooses to go back to the Commons—and I personally wish that that should not be possible—then that is for all time. That I can understand as something which has logic behind it. Just like one who has served his country well, and has perhaps the honour or the opportunity of being raised to the Peerage—and he, after all, pledges himself for all his descendants, that they shall have the similar honour—so one could conceive a situation when equally an individual could say "No" to it all. But this "on and off" method to me is defensible neither in logic nor in practice.
What a mess it makes of everything! We have heard many of your Lordships this afternoon discussing the question of 1042 names: are we to be called this, or are we to be called that? The noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, I thought used a rather unfortunate analogy when he talked about how in the entertainment world a man might call himself Duke So-and-so or Lord Somebody else. Are we to think of the Peerage in terms of the entertainment world? I hope not. Then we heard the noble Marquess talking about all various relatives, and he finished up with "his ox and his ass". I feel very much the same way. Perhaps Humpty Dumpty is the best. He would be at home in this world of "You can call it anything you choose or anything you like". I need not say more. So much for the disclaimer.
Then we get Clause 4, which is the question of the Peers of Scotland who are all, under this Bill, to be allowed to be Peers of the United Kingdom. I am not going to talk about this to-day in your Lordships' House, because I have in mind to move an Amendment that this clause should be omitted in the Bill and I should wish to see, as a substitute, a provision that we should raise the number we elect from sixteen to twenty of our number, this change being due to the fact that we should have a number, seven or eight, of additional Peeresses in the House of Lords coming in from the Scottish side. At this moment I would just say that the reason why I oppose Clause 4 as it is in the Bill is that I do do not believe it will work in your Lordships' House to the benefit of Scotland. I need not say more on it at this moment. So far as the clause on the Peeresses is concerned, I have already said how welcome it.
Then there is the last point on disqualification of certain of the Irish Peers who have disabilities. I can only say on that that if there is a real injustice to the Irish Peers I think it should be removed. I think one or two other noble Lords pointed out that we could get some rather curious results. If, for example, the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, decided that he was going to opt out of this Chamber—and I do hope that he will not—then he could stand for election and go into the House of Commons. What would be his name in the House of Commons? He would still be Lord Carrington. And why? Because he is an Irish Peer and can keep 1043 his title. The anomalies and absurdities we shall get are unending.
I thought of moving the rejection of this Bill but I came to the conclusion that it was hopeless. In the first debate I found that only my noble friend, Lord Esher, was also opposing it, which he did in far more eloquent terms that I am able to do. This time, again, I have found very little support, although I thought that, with a little pushing, the noble Lord, Lord Rea, and all his Party would be with me. Then when I had absolutely despaired, I heard the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Milford, and said to myself that I might get him as a Teller for quite different reasons, and that he and I might go in good company. But I am afraid that might not be sufficient.
So there we are; I can end only with a warning, and it is a warning which was echoed by the noble Earl, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, when he made his speech at the beginning of the debate to-day. This is seemingly a minor Bill, a Bill of not very great importance, but I believe it is the start down the slippery slope, and at the end of that slope I think the hereditary principle is in great danger; and I, for one, believe that the hereditary principle is one of the main constituents of this House—not the sole one but one of them—so to that extent I regret it.
I also believe that the House as we know it is going to go into decline, and I know that many of the Members in another place welcome this Bill for precisely that reason. They see this as an opportunity to end a Second Chamber and to leave them alone and in control, to the country's misfortune. This Bill must inevitably weaken membership of your Lordships' House, and that, in its turn, will lead to fewer Government posts of importance in this House; and that, as I have already said, means a decline in our status, and our chance to serve our country will be less; and I, for one, am sad.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF SANDWICH
My Lords, while I do not agree with my noble friend Lord Perth that this Bill is going to weaken your Lordships' House—indeed, it is going to result in a large 1044 number of accessions and a diminution of only a number of Peers whom one could perhaps count on the fingers of one hand—nevertheless, I am grateful to my noble friend for having introduced a somewhat more sombre atmosphere into this debate, which compared with the light-hearted speech by the Lord Chancellor, followed in the same vein by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and the noble Earl, Lord Longford.
I regard this Bill, I am afraid to tell your Lordships, as mean, jejune and unimaginative, except for its provision for Scottish Peers and Peeresses in their own right, for whom justice is done. I differ again from my noble friend Lord Perth in that, so far from excluding Scotsmen as he would like to do, I should like to include Irishmen. I can see no reason why in modern days the Irish Peers should not be brought into this House at the same time as Scottish Peers. I am told that more land is owned in Ireland—if it is possible to own land at all; the Government ensure that you have very little—by English and United Kingdom Peers than is owned by Irish Peers. A great number of Irish Peers have dwelt in this country for a very long time and owned English property, and there is no reason why they should not come into this House.
§ LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Earl, but would he kindly tell us how, then, he would get over the problem of the fact that Eire is not part of the United Kingdom? Yet the noble Lord would have Peers of that territory sitting in ithe United Kingdom Parliament. I should think it would be difficult.
§ THE EARL OF SANDWICH
We are about to allow to come into this House a certain Baroness De Ros who possesses the most ancient Peerage of all, of Norman descent, I understand, and there are a large number of Peers in this House to-day who derive their titles from lands and languages far removed from the present workaday world of the United Kingdom. Frankly, I would regard Irish Peers in exactly the same light and admit them to your Lordships' House. To test that situation I propose when we come to the Committee stage to move an Amendment to Clause 4 to add the 1045 words "Peerage of Ireland", and another to delete Clause 5.
On the Second Reading, in the Commons the Government equivocated on what disclaiming Peers were entitled to call themselves, and today we heard from the Lord Chancellor what his views were. They are not strictly in line with the views which were given by Mr. Macleod (in column 466 of the Commons Hansard of June 19; and I will not weary your Lordships with the actual words delivered), nor are they in line with the sentiments expressed by the Attorney General (in column 551 of the same date). Several questions were asked by Members of another place and the Government did not give entirely satisfactory replies. I take it from what the Lord Chancellor said to-day that it would be unpopular and wrong if the "Earl of Potamus", on descending to another place, called himself " The Earl of Potamus, Esquire". But it would be quite right and in order if he took the name, "Lord Lucky".
§ SEVERAL NOBLE LORDS: Who was he?
§ THE EARL OF SANDWICH
Very little, I think, can be done about the main fulcrum of this Bill as it has emerged from another place and from a Joint Select Committee of both Houses, but I do hope that, in Committee, your Lordships will attempt to amend it in some particulars. I would rather, if I may, speak in terms of regret on what has not been done—the sins of omission.
First of all, there was the failure to get wider terms of reference for the Select Committee. My noble friend the Leader of the House on 10 April, 1962, referred to this and also expressed regret. He said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 239, col, 456]:… the truth is that … there has been a great contrast between the width of the debate which we have had …"—that was in your Lordships' House—and the relative narrowness of the proposal which is before the House—that is to say, the terms of reference of the Joint Select Committee.1046 He went on [col. 457]: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"—that was a reference to a previous speaker in the debate whose name I have not checked—was that the terms of this Motion have been negotiated between the Parties.Here is an admission of a sinister theme in this matter to which I wish to return at a later stage. Finally, the noble Viscount said: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.My Lords, as the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, said in referring to the Party Conference of Leaders in 1948, we have failed to take up the theme that was engendered then. If I might briefly remind your Lordships of who was connected with that Conference, there were Lord Attlee, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, to whom we are to have the privilege of listening later; the late Lord Addison, the Lord Chancellor of that time and the Chief Whip; and, on our side of politics, the Earl of Avon (Mr. Anthony Eden, as he is here described), the Marquess of Salisbury, the Earl of Swinton (as he is now) and the Earl of Kilmuir (Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe, as he then was); and the Liberals were represented by the late Lord Samuel and the late Mr. Clement Davies. Their recommendations, which I will not go into in great detail, because a number of them have been accepted already, enshrined at least four to which little attention has been paid. For example:Members of the Second Chamber should be styled 'Lords of Parliament' and would 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.Provision should be made for the inclusion in the Second Chamber of certain descendants of the Sovereign, certain Lords Spiritual and the Law Lords.In order that persons without private means should not be excluded, some remuneration would be payable to members of the Second Chamber.Your Lordships will note the words, "some remuneration", as distinct from 1047 the repayment of expenses which is now given. Finally:Peers who were not Lords of Parliament"—the second use of this phrase "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.These recommendations failed to gain acceptance, owing to a dispute about powers; but, of course, powers are no longer in dispute to-day, because the Labour Party altered the powers. There is no controversy to-day about that aspect. I think it is a great pity that the Government of the day have not gone back to that White Paper, reconstituted the Conference and seen that some of these clearly-thought-out and hopefully expressed sentiments were caught up in current legislation.
There is a great deal of confusion about the position between the Lordship of Parliament and the hereditary principle. I think this differentiation, which has to be made in achieving a right judgment in these matters, comes out most clearly in a Memorandum (I am not going to quote the full extent of it) which was delivered by Lord Curzon to the Select Committee which sat on Vacating of Seats in 1895. This particular Select Committee is referred to in the Report of the Select Committee on the Wedgwood Benn case, but they do not take out this quotation. This Memorandum is chiefly concerned with the way of differentiating between hereditary Peers and Lords of Parliament by means of the Writ of Summons, and as I am going to make that the burden of what I have to say in the next three or four minutes I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I read out from this Memorandum:The Writ of Summons to the House of Lords is only issued upon certain information given and certain evidence of succession supplied, either by the peer himself or by some other person, acting on his behalf, to the Lord Chancellor.In default of such evidence there is no precedent for any writ of summons to the House of Lords having been issued by the Crown.It appears accordingly that the disqualification of a peer from continuing to vote in the House of Commons, if he be already a Member of that House, arises not from his succession to the titles and dignity of a peerage, but from his summons to the House of Lords, 1048 i.e. not from his inherited status as a Peer of the Realm, but from his acquired status as a Lord of Parliament, this being a familiar distinction in the law and practice of the constitution. In other words, the disqualification is not an inherited but a Parliamentary disqualification, and is based, not upon ennoblement of blood, but upon incompatibility of double service.That is magnificent language and it speaks truth to me; whether it does to your Lordships I do not know.
This absurd and ancient doctrine of the ennoblement of blood, which some families on the Continent still respect, I understand, has never been part of the law and understanding of England or the practice of the Constitution. It ought not to be thought that when a Peer dies immediately some spirit is transubstantiated from him and the duty of his heir lies in another place altogether. It is for him to decide or for others to select him, not for any automation.
The Throne and the ancient Peerage are upheld by the hereditary principle, but the House of Lords is not. There are 13 Lords of Appeal and Lords Chief Justices; 24 Bishops; 33 Life Peers and Peeresses; and there are approximately 550 Peers who do not come to your Lordships' House at all. That is to say, 620 out of the full complement of 920 who are entitled to come here do not support the hereditary principle in this House, leaving only 32 per cent. of the total number which does. Incidentally, the comparable figure in the Commons for those who support the hereditary principle—that is to say, Baronets and heirs to Peerages—is 30, or just under 5 per cent. The House of Commons, therefore, is no more devoid of the hereditary principle than the House of Lords is devoted to it. What divides this House from the Commons is not heredity but incompatibility of double service, and the machinery for enforcing it should not be a matter of titles but of selection, either by elective or nominative methods or by individual preferment. This, I think, is where the Joint Select Committee have gone wrong.
The elective method is unfortunately ruled out by the terms of reference of the Select Committee, though many Peers, going right back in the distant past or coming forward to 1908 when Lord Rosebery and his colleagues put up a very strong memorandum on this, 1049 through the 'twenties and 'thirties, when the late Lord Salisbury and Lord Simon put up similar proposals, have advanced suggestions on these lines, but the principle has never been applied.
The other method is the nominative method, and that we have already by exercise of the Royal Prerogative, for the creation both of hereditary Peers and of Life Peers. The method of individual preferment is best effected by the acceptance or refusal of a Writ of Summons. I had thought at one time that the honour and etiquette surrounding the Sovereign were in question here. I had thought that if one vacated one's seat in the Commons, or, if one was not in the Commons at all and one's father died, some Message was sent requiring attendance in your Lordships' House. Not a bit of it! I waited six months and nothing happened. I then had, cautiously, tactfully and most carefully, to make inquiries as to the means by which one came; and I soon found that one had to make a positive application for a Writ of Summons. That is as it should be, and I welcome it. If only the reform could lie in this field, we have the machinery already.
The Writ of Summons procedure was introduced into the Select Committee by my noble friend Lord Salisbury, and it was supported by my noble friend the Leader of the House in a Memorandum. It was turned down by the Joint Select Committee by 15 votes to 4. That turning down appears on page 16 of the Report, and I maintain that November 27, 1962, was just another bad day for the Conservative Party. The Conservative Peers, Lord Swinton, Lord Kilmuir and Lord Colville of Culross voted against the proposal of my noble friend Lord Salisbury. Why did they do so? Were they lazy? Were they aware of a cut-and-dried Party bargain behind the scenes, and told that the Committee was a cover organisation to lend verisimilitude? Why had they not the wit and imagination to turn your Lordships' House into a constitutionally respectable and working Senate by means of a Writ of Summons renewable every Parliament by those who had previously received it? This would have caught up the spirit and purpose of the 1948 Leaders' Conference, solved the problem of the Backwoods Peers and created Lords of Parliament, and enabled them to be paid. 1050 Alas! Nothing was done. This, I think, is what comes of laissez-faire methods in government.
I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth is not in his place at the moment. I remember well that when he was the Leader of the House of Commons in 1945 he set up a Select Committee to consider the Procedure of the House. He sent it a rough, tough Memorandum and, by the majority on that Committee he forced through the requirements, as he thought they were, in that day and age, of Socialism. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, is sitting in his place; he must remember that occasion well. This Committee, which would have liked to deliberate at large and to discuss this and that, was powerless. The Conservatives on it were in a minority. We were obliged to come to heel and do what we were told by Lord Morrison of Lambeth, with his large majority in the House of Commons. In the end, not a bad scheme was prepared—indeed, there have recently been some modifications in a more positive sense. Why could not the Government have sent the Joint Select Committee a memorandum of requirements and got them to debate something within a proper context and obliged them to put it through? What happens to our society if one Party uses methods like this and the other does not? It seems to me that inevitably we recede into collectivism. I think the Conservatives on that Committee ought to be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. They framed a Wedgwood Benn enabling Bill and disabled everyone else in like circumstances.
I give one final quotation from a speech made by the Leader of the House, which was rightly acclaimed as one of the noblest efforts in this Parliament. He said on April 10, 1962 [OFFICIAL REPORT, col. 380]:… we all loved our fathers and are proud of the stock from which we came. … This is no snobbery; it is shared by all classes in every age. It is not foolish pride. It is common piety that we honour our fathers and our mothers, that we praise famous men, and the fathers who begat us.My Lords, while this miserable Act is in operation it will force an intolerable choice on people, perhaps many people, between holding to a name of honour in history and being a Member of the most famous Parliament House in the 1051 modern world—a House which at this moment is being actively reproduced all over the world, even in the most primitive societies. The Committee has indulged in a disgraceful balancing Act. It has accepted a sordid Parity compromise. It has established a ridiculous partition between tradition and opportunity. It has equated inverted snobbery with power, and impotence with preferment. No job could have been worse done. I think it is all too typical of the "double-think" that is carrying this country far down the road to degradation and shame. If only I could gather some of my noble friends now present in the Chamber, who I know will all have gone before we reach the end of our proceedings, I would take them with me into the Lobby in opposition to this measure.
§ THE EARL OF SANDWICH
My Lords, the noble Earl has already rejected him, and I am not going to do what he did not do. Moreover, I understand that the noble Lord has gone.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ LORD AUCKLAND
My Lords, we have just heard a fighting speech from my noble friend Lord Sandwich. I do not propose to follow him in the points that he has made. No item of legislation on a matter of this kind can reasonably be expected to command the full support of either House of Parliament, or indeed full support among the Parties themselves. But I think that, with certain reservations, this Bill is in many ways a courageous Bill. After all, for many years people have been asking that a Bill to reform the House of Lords in some way or other should be brought forward. Whether or not this is the ideal Bill by which to do it, I have not been in your Lordships' House long enough to be able to presume to answer.
My main reason for taking part in these proceedings is that I am still fairly young, and the provisions of this Bill will most affect those of my generation who have to carry on the great traditions which the British Parliament has always had. Therefore, I should like first to say a word on the hereditary system of 1052 this House. I am not a fanatical supporter of the hereditary system, and I feel that perhaps the rules on Leave of Absence could be tightened up. Perhaps it is a pity that the Select Committee did not go further into this problem. I should like at this juncture to pay my tribute to my noble and learned friend Lord Kilmuir, and to the select Committee of both Houses of Parliament and all Parties who worked hard to reach the decisions which have been reached, irrespective of whether they be the right decisions or not. They did not have a great deal of time. The terms of reference were fairly wide, having regard to the time allowed, but, with all its shortcomings, we at least have something to "chew" upon.
It used to be said that hereditary Peers were all rabid supporters of the Tory Party. Well, I think the last few weeks have seen one or two deviations from that principle, and I have to declare a small interest in a recent incident which took place on the London Government Bill. Indeed, only yesterday, on the Weights and Measures Bill, another such incident took place. This has met with the criticism that some Tories in an unelected House have rebelled against the Government. I think that certainly the younger Members on these Benches are, on the whole, clear-thinking people, and all of us think carefully on the merits of a case and do not necessarily always follow what we are told to do by our commanding officers. I believe that, for that reason alone, an hereditary system is reasonably justifiable.
If, as has been suggested by a number of people, the House of Lords consisted merely of Life Peers and ecclesiastical Members we should be faced with the danger of a professional House of Lords, with very little of what one might call impartial thinking being done. Surely the main justification for an Upper House is to have at least a nucleus of independent thought. I think that many of the hereditary Members of your Lordships House on all sides abide by those conditions. Reference was made by the noble Lord, Lord Milford, in his very interesting and unusual maiden speech, to the effect that we are all men of wealth. At the risk of being out-ruled for disagreeing with a maiden speech, I 1053 cannot myself share that view, because as for myself and indeed for many of us, we make considerable financial sacrifices in order to take part in the deliberations of Parliament. I make no complaint about that; it is something which we have to accept; but I think it is something which the general public at large should realise.
May I say a word about renunciation? It has been said that the terms put forward in this Bill are unreasonable. I am not sure that that is true, always provided that this House can be equipped with reasonable powers and that there is an opportunity for the younger ones among us to be given office if we deserve it. It would be quite intolerable to have a kind of shuttle service between this House and another place; otherwise we should get into a situation where there would be an enormous free fight for a seat, and if the seat were lost and the loser were entitled to come back here as often as he liked there would be considerable difficulties. Therefore, the terms of renunciation, although they may seem hard, are in fact justifiable, because it is an honour to serve in this House and we have a good deal of influence over affairs of State. But it is, of course, completely right that the House of Commons, as the elected body, should have the final say. There are very few people, even the most ardent supporters of your Lordships' House, who would dissent from that view.
This is a Bill which is bound to cause a lot of deep feeling. As to the provision regarding Peeresses in their own right, they are completely admirable. As the noble Earl who leads the Opposition said, the noble Ladies who sit in this House, on all sides, have done sterling work. As one on these Benches who from time to time takes part in debates on social legislation, I would certainly bear that out. I hope that this Bill reaches the Statute Book soon, but I also hope that its provisions will be carefully watched, and if, in fact, shortcomings manifest themselves, I hope the Government will not hesitate in putting them right.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ LORD ARCHIBALD
My Lords, I feel that I should start by saying that the first obvious thing in this debate is that there is a large degree of disunity on both sides of the House, and I have a 1054 feeling that the remarks I am going to make will be as little popular with my Front Bench as the remarks of the noble Earls, Lord Perth and Lord Sandwich, will be with their own Front Bench, but for quite different reasons. I should also like to say how grateful I am to the noble Lord, Lord Milford, for his "non-controversial" maiden speech, which was so wide ranging that, the House having extended the usual courtesy to him, I think it would now be quite impossible for any subsequent speaker to be out of order.
I approached this Bill with very little enthusiasm, but I found that my support for the Bill was considerably increased by the speech made by the noble Earl, Lord Perth. I found that practically every reason he gave for regretting the Bill increased my fervour for its passage. The Bill itself has certain limitations. I particularly regret that the provision for disclaimer of a Peerage does not involve the final and total extinction of that Peerage. I believe that when in due course my son comes to succeed me, he will probably disclaim. I am not committing him to that, but I think it is likely that he will. I feel that it is right and proper that if he does so, that should be the end of the Peerage. I recognise that there is bound to be a different feeling on this among those who are the holders of Peerages which may have been in existence even for centuries. But at least for the Peers of first creation, I think that it would be quite a minor alteration to this Bill, and a useful one, that their sons if they wished to disclaim should have the right not merely to disclaim but to extinguish.
The second suggestion I have to make bears on the question of the hereditary system. I will make it very briefly and it is a suggestion which does not necessarily require legislation; it could be done by agreement between the parties. It is that there should be no further creation of hereditary Peerages, but all further additions to this House as long as this House may remain should be in the form of Life Peers. Such an arrangement would involve, if not a running down of the inflated membership or inflated possible membership of this House, at least no addition to the swollen ranks of its hereditary Members.
Another point which I should like to make, and which would probably have 1055 been out of order but for the wide range that we have already covered, is that I hope that the next Government, which I take it will be a Labour Government, will have a look at the Ministers of the Crown Act and amend that Act in order that they may increase the number of Ministers who may sit in another place, and thereby reduce the need to have so many Ministers of the Crown in your Lordships' House.
What is practically my final point is that I, like many others, would have preferred to see a Bill dealing with House of Lords reform, although I recognise that this is probably not possible at this time. I should not conceal the fact that I am probably one of a tiny minority in any part of the House, and a unicameralist: I believe in single-Chamber Government. I do not believe in a Second Chamber, whether it is on a hereditary basis, an appointed basis or an elective basis.
I want to look for a moment at the chief claim that is made for the value of this House, and that is that it is a useful and important revision Chamber for legislation coming to us from another place. My impression, from fourteen years' service in your Lordships' House, is that this is a claim which cannot be substantiated. In fact it is a claim which I challenge completely. It would be a very useful exercise if someone, possibly a young political economist looking for a thesis for his Ph.D. degree, would examine the Amend-merits to Bills which have been submitted to this House, say over the past twelve years, and bring out for our information how high a proportion of the Amendments are Government Amendments, and how minute a proportion of the Amendments are Amendments from the Opposition or from any other part of the House. The London Government Bill on which we have spent a little time recently is a very good example of that. The Government used their automatic majority to steamroller Opposition Amendments regardless of their merits. I do not think in these circumstances that it can truly be argued that that Bill came in for effective revision by this House. It only provided an opportunity, in the main, for Government second thoughts, polishing by draftsmen and so on, to be given effect.
1056 In fact, probably the prelude to House of Lords reform, is reform of the procedure of another place. I should have thought that a fourth stage, or whatever it may be, in another place after a due interval of time would enable the Government of the day to have its second thoughts, to consider its half-promises to the Opposition "to look at it again", and to polish up the work of the Parliamentary draftsmen. Because that is all that was done on that Bill and on many other Bills by this House, and it could quite well have been done by an additional stage in the other place.
There is, as I argue, in fact no effective work by your Lordships' House as a revision Chamber, and if that work were taken over as it could be by another place, we should then be left with what?—broadly speaking, only with our very excellent, very valuable, very high-level Wednesday afternoon debates. And I am bound to say that I cannot see that these by themselves would constitute a really valid and sufficient reason for the continued existence of your Lordships' House. I hope therefore that this small Bill will be followed in due course by legislation which, if it does not lead to the abolition of this House, will at least lead to a recognition of its only real function, which is that of a first-class national debating society.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ LORD FERRIER
My Lords, as a Life Peer I am, of course, in a measure disinterested in this Bill from one point of view. But I am deeply concerned from another—namely, that I have tremendous faith in the House of Lords, and I am jealous regarding its place in the body politic. I had not intended to go over what I said in the debate in April last year, to which the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, has referred; but I am tempted to do so to some extent by the unusual maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Milford. And I feel that, as a Life Peer, I am competent to say things about this Bill, about the circumstances of it and about the Select Committee, which it is not so easy for an hereditary Peer to say.
First of all, my Lords, I came to Parliament—and I am approaching the end of a five-year apprenticeship in your Lordships' House—convinced that the hereditary system was an anachronism. I would say at once that it did not take 1057 me long to reverse that view and to become a supporter of the principle. I wonder whether, perhaps, five years in this House might affect the noble Lord, Lord Milford, in the same way. The system is one whereby a few dedicated young men bred to the task can take a limited part in the proceedings of Parliament if they so wish—at least, that is how I see it. The point about the availability of youth under this system has already been referred to by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury. I have deliberately used the words "limited part", because I was thinking of what the noble Earl, Lord Longford, had said when he threw out suggestions about how this Chamber might be reformed. It is fair to remember that this Chamber has already had (I think the words are) its "wings clipped" and therefore any part which any Peer takes in the proceedings is in the nature of a limited part.
The noble Lord, Lord Rea, suggested in his speech that if the hereditary system were retained, so that young men so disposed might be able to come to this House, there might perhaps be some additional qualification necessary—some sort of "super-vetting" on top of a family tree. My Lords, I venture to disagree with the noble Lord on that point, because it seems to me to be very difficult to work out in practice; and too much of our progress to-day is based on some sort of arbitrary measurement—unless, perhaps, it was an IQ measurement the noble Lord had in mind. But it remains the fact that this Bill provides for such young Peers as wish to remain indifferent to Parliamentary business or who wish to offer themselves for election to, or wish to remain in, another place. The very fact that this Bill provides an alternative course for them commends it to me. Indeed, perhaps in lighter vein, from one point of view this may occasionally be an advantage to this place. This Bill has been regarded as a measure to reform the House of Lords, and in certain respects it is; but I think it is fair to remember that it is a measure, also in some respects, to reform another place.
I must say that from my experience in Parliament—which, as I told your Lordships, is now longer than it was; and I had little or no experience of politics previously—I do feel that, in 1058 our bicameral Legislature, it is not necessarily this House which needs reform. One must remember that some people—and I am one of them—hold the view that it is not in the interests of our Parliamentary democracy that a Second Chamber should become too much of an eventide home for Members of a Lower House. That leads me on to two points. One is that I venture to disagree profoundly with the noble Lord, Lord Archibald, about the need for a Second Chamber. It seems to me, from my researches, that I am not alone in feeling that for true democracy, for the sort of democracy that suits this country and our people, a Second Chamber is an absolute condition. The second point I have to make in contending that that Second Chamber should not be an eventide home is that, in saying this, I mean no criticism whatever of any of your Lordships, on either side of the House. Indeed, I am filled with admiration for the dutiful and diligent manner in which many Peers, especially noble Lords on the opposite side of the House, contribute to our proceedings.
The noble Earl, Lord Longford, said that Life Peers came to this House on an understanding that they would take part. Be that as it may, as the only Life Peer who has spoken (and, according to the list, I am to be followed by only one more; one as experienced in these matters as I am inexperienced), I think it is fair to say that if there is an understanding—and to some extent, of course, there is—there is no obligation. There is no obligation on a Life Peer to attend, any more than there is on an hereditary Peer. I make that point, my Lords, because it seems to me to be an important one: that the character of this House should be such that there is no element of election about it; no element of obligation; no looking over the shoulder at any power that sent you here, except your own volition—and if that were to be lost then in a great measure the value of our contributions to Parliament would be impaired. I, for one, do say that I cannot understand any Peer taking part in the proceedings here if he should feel that he would rather be elsewhere—and in that respect this Bill, which I support, is a step in the right direction.
On the subject of Clause 4, I respect enormously the views of the noble Earl, Lord Perth, in so far as he referred to 1059 the tradition of the Scottish Representative Peers. Again, as a Scottish Life Peer I feel entitled to occupy a moment or two of your Lordships' time on that subject. Whatever the noble Earl's view may be (and he is supported, I know, by other Representative Peers), if indeed it is to be a sacrifice that the system of representation should be abolished—though I myself do not agree that it is a sacrifice—I believe that it is a sacrifice worth making in return for this Bill, which, despite the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, to me represents an agreed measure, a step forward without impairing the value of this House. The fact that it has been agreed and threshed out by a weighty and well-conducted Select Committee means that there can hardly be other than support from a wide range of people in both places to terms which make the surrender, the sacrifice, of the Representative Peers worth while—which sacrifice, as the noble Earl, Lord Perth, has himself said, is in a great measure reduced by the addition to our numbers of the Ladies covered by Clause 6.
My Lords, in the absence of the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, I feel safe to go on for a little longer, if your Lordships will forgive me, to refer again to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Milford. I would suggest that, when he referred to the Death Penalty (Abolition) Bill of 1956 I was not concerned with the legislation. But sitting, as I was then, on the sidelines, with no idea that I should ever be concerned with the proceedings of this House, I got the impression that your Lordships, in the action you took, were in fact representing the views of the vast majority of the people; and, curiously enough, I include in that the women of this country. I support this Bill, and I hope that it will lead to the success it deserves.
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF SWINTON
My Lords, said most of what I had to say on the Report of the Joint Select Committee, of which I was a member, and when we had the debate on that Report; and I do not want to repeat to-day what I then said. In view of one or two speeches that have been made, however, I would just add this: our terms of reference 1060 on the Select Committee were very limited indeed. I, myself, should have been as glad to go into a conference on a much wider reform of this House and to go in in company with my noble friend, Lord Salisbury, as I did in 1947. I have not always agreed with him on every subject, but I think he and I have always been agreed on practically every aspect of House of Lords reform. But that was not the field open to us on the Select Committee.
Another thing that must be borne in mind is that if you want to carry a measure of this kind you must carry it with the broad consent of both Houses That, I am sure, is necessary. That is why I think it was so wise to have had a Joint Select Committee. Although we differed on quite a number of points, we differed very amicably. We threshed out all these matters, and although we, quite rightly, expressed our opinions and, indeed, voted on them, at the end we were practically all agreed that, those opinions having been expressed, the Report represented—I would not even say the "lowest common denominator", but rather the highest common factor of what we could agree; and that, having done that, we would all join in supporting it.
There were things I did not like. I could not follow altogether Lord Sandwich's speech about noble blood and so on; but I think I understood him to challenge the nomenclature provision. As a matter of fact, as I said in the debate on the Report, I thought this baptisimal regeneration had not really much to recommend it. But I thought, and I still think, that, on the whale, it is for the other place to decide what they are going to call a man who stands for election in the House of Commons. What he gets called outside is a different matter, and I have no doubt that he will be called quite a number of things. But he will probably go on being called in the country at large, and in his own constituency, by the name by which they have hitherto known him.
I really should not have spoken to-day but for what I think I must call the change that the Bill has made in, I will not say the actual terms of the Report, but what I understood to be the intention of the Report. I think that we who sat on the Committee expected that when the Bill passed it would come into law. I 1061 must say that that was my understanding. The question of deferring the operation of the Act until a dissolution of Parliament was, so far as I can recall, never considered by the Select Committee at all. Indeed, I think it is obvious from the Report that we expected the Bill to come into force and to operate when it received the Royal Assent.
I think that is clear from the recommendations of the Select Committee about sitting Members of Parliament who succeed to a Peerage. I will quote two passages from page 8 of the Report, where the main recommendations come which I think clearly bear that out. Paragraph 6(f) says:…a Peer who surrenders should do so by executing a formal instrument to be deposited with the Lord Chancellor and, in the case of a Peer who is a Member of the House of Commons at the time of succession, notification of surrender should be given to the Speaker within a month of succession, if Parliament is not dissolved;Then if your Lordships will refer to subparagraph (m) you will see:… a person who succeeds to a Peerage while a Member of the House of Commons should immediately be disabled from taking part in any of the proceedings of that House, such disability to continue until he has executed the instrument of surrender and has duly notified the Speaker; upon surrender such a person should be entitled to resume his status as an active Member of the House of Commons without further proceedings and without breach of privilege or loss of seniority;My Lords, I think from that it is quite clear that it was the expectation and intention of the Committee that the Bill would operate in the normal way when it received the Royal Assent. As already has been said in debate to-day, it would be unreasonable and, I think, unfair both to a Member sitting in the House of Commons and to his constituency—which is not less important—if we passed this Act and if his father or relative died and he succeeded to a Peerage, for there to have to be a by-election and for him not to be able to stand at that by-election. That, it seems to me, would be quite unreasonable.
I listened very carefully to what the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack said about constitutional reasons but I did not find it very convincing. There were the counter arguments advanced by my noble friend Lord 1062 Salisbury. If we have a great change in the electoral law; if we admit a whole new class of people, as when women received the vote; if we reduce the voting age from whatever it may be—say, 25 to 21—if we abolish property qualifications; or if we have a Redistribution Bill, recasting constituencies all through the country, obviously in that kind of case we must wait for a dissolution before such a Bill comes into operation: because it must apply equally all through the country at the same time. But this measure is not going to affect all the constituencies. It is very limited in its operation. It is limited to Peers who are sitting in this House or may succeed to this House and Members of another place who may succeed to a Peerage.
There are cases where an appointed day is put into an Act of Parliament. That is done for the reason that, when Parliament has approved a Bill, a number of things may have to be done before it can become effective. New machinery has to be created or something of that sort, or Parliament wishes to give people notice about a change in the law so that they can look into their affairs and see whether they will have to adjust themselves or their businesses to a new situation. Therefore, it is reasonable to have an appointed day. But I do not think that there is any really compelling reason why that should happen in this case.
There is one recommendation in the Report of the Joint Select Committee which has been embodied in the Bill but about the wisdom of which, on reflection, I am doubtful. We recommended three different periods of time during which people who are affected by this Bill will have to make up their minds. Where a man is a sitting Member of the House of Commons, obviously we want a decision to be taken as quickly as possible, so that there will be no interruption of his career in another place, if he wishes to stay there, or so that there may be a by-election, if he does not wish to stay there. Therefore, I think it is quite reasonable that, in the case of a sitting Member of the House of Commons, his decision must be taken within one month.
Then we recommended—I do not recollect why we made this distinction; I do not think that we discussed it very much—that where somebody succeeds 1063 to a Peerage and who, after the passing of the Bill, will desire to disclaim (I think that "disclaimer" is rather a good term for it), he should have twelve months within which to make up his mind. At the same time, we also recommend that a man who has succeeded to a Peerage, and who is already sitting here under his Writ of Summons, should have six months in which to make up his mind. It was considered that it was a serious decision and that he probably wanted to look at it all round, so he ought to have a reasonable time. I seem to remember that my noble friend Lord Silkin suggested—I had some sympathy with it, though I did not vote for it—that it should be two years and not one. At any rate, we considered that one year was enough.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, I did move such an Amendment, but I meant it to apply only to young persons, to those who succeeded under the age of 25 or something of that sort.
§ THE EARL OF SWINTON
Whatever the period, the time begins to run from a man's 21st birthday, so there is nothing between us on that. What I was going to propose is this. I do not see, in logic, in equity or in reason that there is good ground for distinguishing between a Peer who is already sitting in this House and a Peer who succeeds the day after to-morrow. I do not see why the period should not be one year for all such Peers. I think that that would be not at all an unreasonable thing to do.
That does not mean that a Peer would have to sit for a year before he decided. If an Amendment to this effect is put into the Bill, he could, if he liked, disclaim it the day after the Bill became law. On the other hand, he will have a year in which to look round, consider all the aspects of the case and make up his mind. Therefore, if that were acceptable to the House—because these are matters on which we want to act by common consent—I would be prepared to put down an Amendment (or perhaps the Government would put down an Amendment; they draft better than I do) which would assimilate the two classes of Peers who are not Members of the House of Commons. I think that 1064 that would be a good thing to do. If that were done, it might be easier to accept the proposal of my noble friend Lord Salisbury, which would bring the Bill into force when it receives the Royal Assent. I believe that if we combine the two proposals—bringing the Bill into force in the normal way but giving all Peers a year in which to make up their minds—we shall have a practical measure upon which we should all agree. Therefore I should be glad to make that proposal to the House.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My Lords, as a Scottish Representative Peer, I feel bound to express my disagreement with what fell from my noble friend Lord Perth. I do so with great reluctance, because my noble friend is a very old friend and I dislike differing from him, especially as I think in the ordinary way that his opinions are worthy of great respect. But, in this matter, he is just absolutely wrong. My noble friend is going to move an Amendment on Committee stage and therefore we need not pursue it far now, but, to put it in a nutshell, it seems to me that in a position where English hereditary Peeresses and Life Peers of both sexes are Members of this House it would be absolutely unjustifiable to exclude a single Scottish Peer from admission to the House. I think that, from the Scottish point of view, that would be quite indefensible. However, we shall hear more about that in Committee.
I desire to add only one word; that is, about the hereditary principle, about which we have heard a good deal this afternoon. I speak as a profound believer in the value of the hereditary principle and I welcome what my noble friend Lord Salisbury said on the matter. The only point I want to make is that I listen always with great interest to noble Lords opposite who disagree with the hereditary principle indulging in paeans of praise of your Lordships' House. My noble friend, the noble Earl, Lord Longford (I must not call him my noble friend because he sits over there, but he is my friend all the same), was at pains to say how superior 100 Members of this House—the "Top Hundred" I think he said—were over 1065 the "Top Hundred" Members of the House of Commons. I thought that was rather an invidious remark. But if that is so, surely it is in large measure due to the operation of the hereditary principle. I leave it at that, but I do sincerely believe that when we do have a proper reform of your Lordships' House—and, of course, this is not such a reform of the House—it is absolutely essential that we should preserve in some form or another, with proper safeguards, the working of the hereditary principle.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH
My Lords, we have had an interesting debate, from which it is pretty clear that this Bill will get its Second Reading without opposition. I cordially agree with two points which were made by the noble Earl, Lord Swinton One was that, if and when these questions affecting your Lordships' House are dealt with by Parliament by way of inquiry, it will be very advantageous if the Select Committee is a Joint Committee of the two Houses. I am quite sure that if there had been two Select Committees, one for the Commons and one for the Lords, it would not have been anywhere near so easy to reach the final substantial agreement in spirit which in fact we reached, although it was the case that we had quite a number of divisions and votes, and we had arguments. The Commons by themselves would have found it much more difficult not to have got heated up a bit more in a Select Committee; and as for a Lords' Select Committee, we should not have known quite what to do, because there would always be the fear of what the House of Commons was going to do about it. Inevitably in this matter the House of Commons was involved, as well as this House. Therefore, I think it was wise to have the Joint Select Committee.
I must pay my tribute, as my noble Leader did, to the ability with which the noble and learned Earl, Lord Kilmuir, the Lord Chancellor during most of the period, presided over our proceedings. He was courteous and considerate; and I must say he was so thorough that he never let us miss a single point, even to the extent of keeping us sometimes a little later than we wanted to be kept. 1066 That was the thoroughness of the noble Earl, and we were indebted to him for his help.
I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, and the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, in that I cannot see the point of holding up the operation of the Bill until Parliamentary dissolution. I did not follow the constitutional argument advanced by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor; perhaps he was being kind and making only a brief reference to it. However, we shall probably hear something about it from the noble and learned Viscount the Leader of the House when he comes to reply.
However, it is highly inconvenient and somewhat invidious for a noble Lord who intends to relinquish his Peerage and to stand for the House of Commons (in a number of cases for the first time) if he has to wait until the dissolution before he can respectably, so to speak, get a constituency. It is true it can be said that he can go to a constituency and get himself selected as Lord So-and-so, saying that at the dissolution this Bill will come into operation. But he is at some disadvantage in doing so, and I cannot see the reason why the Bill could not have been operative upon its passing. I do not understand the constitutional reasons. Then the man would be far more free to go and seek a constituency on his own feet as a commoner, and in a far better and more dignified position to do so. It may well be the case that people would be doing it.
There has been a lot of speculation about the Parliamentary future of the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham. It is not for us to interfere with his intentions or decisions, or even to ask him what his noble intentions are—except in private, which I have done. He has up to now declined to satisfy my curiosity. That is to be expected, and I do not altogether blame him. But suppose he did intend in his private, unrevealed mind to relinquish his Peerage and to stand for Parliament. He is in a difficult position in suddenly having to start moving round constituencies and asking—or getting somebody else to ask, which is more likely—for consideration. The noble Viscount would be in an undignified position; and none of us would wish him to be in any way undignified or to be in an undignified position. I 1067 think it is silly, unless we can get really convincing constitutional reasons why it should be so.
There have been a number of speeches in this debate, all of which we have enjoyed listening to. I forget whether the noble Lord, Lord Rea, the Leader of the Liberal Party, was against the hereditary principle or not; I think perhaps not.
The hereditary principle, as such, and as the only qualification for membership of the House.
§ LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH
I would agree with that, so far as it goes. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, said that you could reform this House by cutting out the dead wood. I follow the argument—namely, that if it was stipulated that there could not be more than x Hereditary Peers here, and the whole body of Hereditary Peers could collectively, say, in their classes of nobility, select them in the same way as the Scottish Peers are selected, then it could be done.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I should not like it to be thought that that was my proposal, but the effect would be the same.
§ LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH
I am sorry. I was not wishing to misrepresent the noble Marquess. Perhaps I was trying to do an essay in subediting.
§ LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH
Thank you very much. The noble Marquess agrees that it does work out somewhat in that way. There is a lot to be said for it, especially if the number of Life Peers increases. On the other hand, one of the defences of Parliamentary democracy against encroachments by this House is the fact that its composition is irrational. That is why I am against the elective principle here. It would never do for this place to be elected, because for that very reason it would become a more effective rival to the House of Commons. So, while I see the attraction of it, and it would certainly remove the greater part of the hereditary element if the noble 1068 Marquess's idea were carried out, nevertheless, it would make this place a little too respectable, perhaps at the expense of the other place. I think its power would grow, and the fact that it is irrational, and there is this big hereditary element, makes it more difficult for this House to interfere with the will of the people. But if you ask me whether I can support the hereditary principle, I confess that I cannot. One of the reasons that I support this Bill is that I cannot find a good reason for supporting that principle. But there is a case for preserving it in order that the moral authority of your Lordships' House should not become so great that it could more effectively rival the House of Commons.
§ THE EARL OF SANDWICH
I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Does he think that the American Senate is interfering with the will of the people? Is it not based upon an elective system? Are we constantly hearing of rows between the two Chambers in the United States?
§ LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH
There have been strong disagreements between the two Chambers in the United States.
§ LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH
Not necessarily. But if you ask me whether I would sooner live under our Constitution or the American Constitution, senate and all, I would much sooner live under ours. I think our Constitution works more easily than the American Constitution. But, there again, the Senate is democratically elected by States, and so is the House of Representatives by electoral districts; and the powers of the Senate are, as a consequence of that, equal to the powers of the House of Representatives, including in the important element of finance. More than one useful piece of legislation has been lost in the United States because of the equal powers of the two Chambers and there being no way of getting over the problem.
1069 Certainly, I think it suits the United States. In fact, one of the greatest tributes I would pay to the American people in the field of democracy is that they make that exceedingly difficult Constitution work. It really was not made to work, because it is more full of checks and balances than ours. But it does work, and I think that is a tribute to the Americans, including the politicians. If you asked me whether I should like it here, my answer would be "No".
The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, raised the point, as did the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, about giving up the title—a Member of this House who stands for another place, or becomes a Member of another place, being there known as "Mr." whoever he may be. I gathered from the Lord Chancellor that legally there is nothing to prevent him from calling himself what he likes. But in view of the spirit of the and, indeed, the provisions to it, people would expect him to give the title up and revert to the address of "Mr.". I think that is right. I do not think that noble Lords departing from this place ought to have it both ways. If they give up the Peerage, I think they must give up the adornments of the Peerage as well as the privileges of it.
There is a second, and not unimportant, point. I do not want to make it so easy for noble Lords to give up their Peerage and go to another place so that the numbers might become too big. Those who want to do it can take the consequences; but there ought to be some consequences. A man ought not to be able to give up his Peerage and, at the same time, carry his title about with him. Another point of objection was mentioned by some of our colleagues in the House of Commons: that in some constituencies if a man had a title and was running for the House of Commons, he might have an undue advantage over other candidates who were ordinary common-or-garden "Mr's". I think there is something in that, although it would not be the case in every constituency. It might well be the case in a constituency like Marylebone or Hampstead when it might be an advantage to the Conservative candidate to have a title.
But I think it is right that if he goes he must lose the title. For the same reason, I am in favour of the 1070 drowning of the Peerage for all time once a Peer has said that he will give it up. I think he must drop the whole Peerage. It may or may not be "rough" on his children. It may be an advantage or a disadvantage to them, depending on the circumstances. But I do not like the idea of people being able to dodge in and out of this place—one generation in, the next out, and perhaps the next in. It is not dignified for this House.
I still say that people must consider responsibly and carefully leaving the House of Lords. They ought not to take it too lightheartedly. If there are no disadvantages as well as advantages in leaving it, that is more likely to lead to an irresponsible decision. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, rather implied that the Labour Party would like an elected House here as against the hereditary principle. I hope I have not again "got him wrong". But it is not true that the Labour Party advocates an elected House.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I said some of them would not like a Second Chamber at all, and the others did not like the hereditary principle. I therefore assumed that they would prefer an elected House. Perhaps I was wrong.
§ LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH
I think the noble Marquess, except in a few cases, would be wrong on the last point, for the reason that I gave—that election would strengthen its moral authority as against the position of the House of Commons, and I think the great bulk would take that view. I admit that there are varying views in the Labour Party about the future of your Lordships' House. In fact, I never welcome their discussion of the House of Lords, because it results in a state of confusion about what to do with the place. But I imagine that up to a point there is similar confusion among the Conservative Party as well, if they come to discuss what to do with your Lordships' House. It is a difficult problem.
Of course, the hereditary principle has proved itself in one or two families, and the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, is a case in point. His family has an extraordinary history, of which I can well understand his being proud, as he is entitled to be. They started in the 1071 days of Queen Elizabeth I as great Officers of State—if not before then—and in between then and now there have been quite a number of Cecils who have played a considerable and, from their point of view, a worthy part in politics and public affairs.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My Lords, will the noble Lord forgive my interrupting? He said "one or two families". Does he really limit the benefit of the hereditary principle in this House to one or two families?
§ LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH
I was not talking about limiting it to one or two families—not at all. I can only say from my own knowledge what I think. There may be some other hereditary families who are good, and who have shown promise and goodness during the centuries, but I do not know enough about them to speak of my own knowledge and thereby sponsor them. The other family—though it is not quite analogous because the present most famous member of the family is a Commoner—are the Church ills, descended from the Duke of Marlborough. Now and again there have been some distinctly promising and active people there, and Mr. Churchill is undoubtedly a very great man, for whose leadership in the war we are all grateful. I mention this only in fairness, and to point out that sometimes the hereditary principle works. But I would say that in the main there is no evidence that it does work. You get a bit of luck now and again. On the other hand, you get a bit of bad luck, not only now and again but rather more often; and I think that must be faced.
We were interested to hear the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Milford. It broke away from tradition, as indeed it ought, in his case. It was not a peaceful, non-provocative, uncontroversial speech. But I make no point of it because the maiden speech I made in the House of Commons was anything but uncontroversial. It was deliberately made for the purpose of being controversial, provocative and, as near as possible, insulting to the Tory Party in another place. So I make no complaint about the noble Lord's speech. Indeed, the Conservative Member who followed me said: "Mr. Speaker, it is the tradition in this House 1072 that when a new Member has made his maiden speech the Member who follows him congratulates him. Sir, I do so."—finish; or, as the Americans say, "period". And I thoroughly deserved it. I did it deliberately. I meant to be controversial. I meant not to ask for indulgence, because I did not see, as a long-experienced street-corner orator, that I needed any indulgence from a place like the House of Commons, and I never got it. So I cannot complain about the noble Lord on that point.
I will not be controversial at the noble Lord's expense but will give him a little advice. I advise him, as a Communist—though I know it is done in his circles—not to use the words "democracy" or "freedom" too often, because somebody will get up and ask him, at the street corner, if not here, what sort of democracy they have in the Communist countries. He had better get ready to answer that one, if he is going to use the word "democracy" excessively, as I thought he did this afternoon. The other point is that he should not refer to colonialism and liberation, because there are some colonies in Eastern Europe which might be thrown up against him. I say no more now; but some other day, if he makes a similar speech, we will take the gloves off. I may have broken the traditions in another place, and I am trying not to break them here, at any rate this afternoon.
The noble Earl, Lord Perth, as he was entitled to be, was thoroughly reactionary and provocative from that point of view, but he has been left and deserted by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, with whose observations on that point I rather agree. But still, it is a free country and I am all in favour of Lord Perth saying what he likes. I do not think the Bill will damage the House at all. I really do not. If there are noble Lords who will be happier in another place, provided that it is not made too easy, I say, "Let them go", just as I say it would be dangerous to compel absentee noble Lords to come here. They are better where they are; and I am all in favour of their staying away. The noble Earl referred to a Left-Wing view, but I do not think that he was correctly representing it in this way.
The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, said that the original Motion setting up the 1073 Joint Select Committee was negotiated between the Parties, and that he thought that was a bad thing. I utterly disagree.
§ THE EARL OF SANDWICH
My Lords, I did not say the Motion setting up the Select Committee, but the conclusions of the Select Committee, were, I think, reached as a result of a Party bargain.
§ LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH
I will come to that. I thought the noble Earl meant the Motion setting up the Committee; but I accept his explanation. I think it was right that there should have been negotiation between the Parties about the wording of the Motion and the terms of reference, otherwise it is probable that the Committee would never have come into existence. That is the British way of doing things. If you have a tricky subject on which there are sharp differences of opinion, but which noble Lords feel it desirable in the public interest should be fairly considered with a view to doing something about it, the only way to do it is by negotiation behind the Chair, and by discussion, so that in the end you can get agreement without sacrificing the principles of either side over the arrangements.
With regard to the conclusions of the Joint Select Committee, I assure the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, that they were not the result of Party bargaining. And I think that will be confirmed by noble Lords opposite who were members of the Committee. There was no Party bargaining. There was free argument, some of it quite keen argument, and at the end of the day somebody got voted down and somebody did not. That was the result. It is true that now and again there were compromises; but, goodness me! there are compromises across the Floor of this House as well as in the other place. I have been trying for compromises on the London Government Bill—though not with much success. We have had some concession—not quite what we wanted but good enough to accept. There is nothing harmful about compromises. If you can never get a compromise in a democratic country you are heading for disaster. It is one of those things that help democracy to move and the wheels to go round.
I assure the noble Earl, who was not there on the Joint Select Committee, that there was nothing in the nature of Party bargaining; or corrupt bargaining, 1074 which, to do him justice, he did not mention. Honest opinion was voted on. Sometimes there were compromises, and at the end of the day, voting having taken place, the Report having been settled, it was for all political Parties concerned to decide, on balance, whether or not they could accept it. And on balance we all decided that we could accept it. But that is not Party bargaining. That is, again, getting as much as you can in the circumstances of the case; it is eminently proper and right, and is common practice in Parliamentary life.
The noble Lord, Lord Auckland, referred to the Peers who often vote against the Government. Conservative Peers do not often do so, but they do sometimes, and I am all for encouraging them. He gave an example of one or two things that we have achieved in Committee on the Greater London Bill where the Government have been defeated—there were not many, but we welcomed them. The sad thing (I am sorry to mention this blessed Bill to-day, because we are going to deal with it again on Monday) is that I gather most of the Conservative Peers wished they had never seen the Bill, not only because they were kept working, but because they do not like it; though such is their loyalty to the Front Bench and to the Government, which is part of their tradition, that nothing can be done about it. But I will not accept the view that the House of Lords is free and independent and that the Government cannot normally rely upon a majority. Normally, a Conservative Government can.
Most of what my noble friend Lord Archibald said would find general agreement on this side of the House. In fact, if I ever disagreed with my noble friend Lord Archibald, I should be very sorry. But I am not sure that he is right in trying to reduce the number of Ministers in this House. If anything, I am inclined to think that there are fewer than there have been in comparatively recent times, and I think it would be rough on the House if we did not have an adequate service of Ministers. Moreover, it would be rough on some of the Ministers if they had to carry too many subjects in their heads. I would not overdo it: I do not think there is a case for a material increase in the number of Ministers, but there is some case for an increase in the number of Ministers, otherwise a heavy 1075 burden is left on the others, which is to some extent a disadvantage.
The noble Lord, Lord Archibald, would abolish the House of Lords. I understand that. I cannot remember whether in my earlier days I ever urged that it be abolished, but I was soon cured of it when I became Leader of the House of Commons, because I found it a practical advantage to have two Chambers. It accelerated the passage of legislation and, moreover, it got more consideration of revision and drafting, which is so vital; because you hardly ever finish with a Bill which the draftsman can say is an absolutely perfect Statute. Accurate drafting is exceedingly difficult, and that is why, inevitably, there must be so many stages in order that Members can look again and again at the Bill; so that Opposition, Ministers, lawyers outside and Government supporters can find imperfections and put them right.
The other trouble about abolishing your Lordships' House is that of getting any measure of agreement on what to put in its place. I guarantee that if a Labour Government introduced a Bill to abolish the House of Lords—as they might, if the House of Lords did not behave itself sufficiently well under a Labour Government—and were faced with the problem of what to put in its place, there would be one of the biggest rumpuses that the Labour Party had ever seen. Because there would be almost universal, complete disagreement and friction about what to put in its place. So I beg noble Lords not to provoke a future Labour Government so much that it will bring in legislation to abolish your Lordships' House. We tidied the place up a bit last time, in, I think, the Parliament Act, 1949, which has pretty well solved the problem. I agree with my noble friend Lord Attlee in saying what a pity it was that a matter of three months—which is what it was—at the end divided us. We had to stick to our guns because it meant the endangering of a Parliamentary Session. But it was a pity, because, apart from that, we were together on a lot of these things.
My Lords, I think there was a question of compromise, but neither the Labour Party nor the Conservative Party would compromise, and 1076 that caused the deadlock. The Liberal Party alone was prepared to accept the middle course.
§ LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH
I do not know what the middle course was, unless it was six weeks, which is a typical Liberal frame of mind. I do not remember it; and the element of bargaining becomes so narrow over three months. But, of course, really there were the last two Sessions which were involved, and I must admit that that was a point of substance, but it was a great pity it was not done.
I cannot conclude without paying my tribute to the courage, grip and persistence of Mr. Wedgwood Benn as we call him (he, in a way, is the author of this Bill), and, may I say also, the persistence of his father before him, who before he died helped his son to try to avoid the Peerage. It is a great family, the Benn family. That is another family upon which the hereditary case can be argued, if you take Sir John Benn, Wedgwood Benn—even Ernest Benn, that great individualist; and now Anthony Wedgwood Benn. But do not think I am adopting the hereditary principle; I produce three families only to give noble Lords opposite a little comfort in the circumstances of the case.
So we support the Second Reading of the Bill. We may have some points to raise on the Committee, but it will not be much, because we promised to do everything we could to facilitate the passage of this Bill; and that we will do.
§ 6.41 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, I could not help reflecting, during the course of this debate, that it is now 25 years since I first joined one House of Parliament or the other, and almost exactly half of that time has been spent as a Member of the House of Commons and almost exactly half as a Member of the House of Lords. I will not go into some of the more abstract arguments for or against the virtues of either House which have been canvassed in the debate to-day. I have enjoyed my 25 years in one House of Parliament or the other. I am perfectly sure the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, is right: that you could not work the existing Constitution of the country at 1077 all without two Chambers. If you wanted to abolish the House of Lords you would have virtually to abolish the House of Commons in its present form as well, in order to get the business done. Therefore, I am quite sure he was right about that.
Whatever be said about the hereditary principle, I am certain that the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, my noble friend Lord Salisbury and Lord Morrison of Lambeth are right: that it is, as matters stand, both something which works, to use Lord Attlee's phrase, and something which ensures that the elective principle has a predominant part in our Constitution. I would also agree with my noble friend Lord Salisbury that it ensures for this House a number of Members of at any rate moderate years, and even younger. I do not pretend to believe in it as an absolute Divine Right, any more than the noble Lords opposite do. I am half American, and when my lineal ancestor put on a pair of silver-buckled shoes to receive the English surrender at Yorktown—buckles I still possess and normally wear at Buckingham Palace only—he certainly did not do it in order to preserve the hereditary principle as such. But, at the same time, I have to admit that there is force in what is said on the conservative side, both by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and by my noble friend Lord Salisbury.
My own views about the particular topics covered by the Bill were contained in two Memoranda of evidence which I put before the Joint Select Committee. I should be less than honest if I did not admit I still think those views are correct. But if I should appear, as I am afraid I shall, to some of those who have been speaking, a little rigid in my adherence to the Government line in this matter, it is not because if left entirely to myself I should not prefer the views I then expressed, but a conviction which I have and which I expressed when the Joint Select Committee's Report was discussed the first time: that this is in the nature of a package deal—not a bargain, but a package deal—and if Parliament is going to pass legislation of this kind it had far better not try to press points of difference, because they are really infinite.
Turning to some of the speeches which have been made in this debate, I divide them into those which made what I might 1078 call true Second Reading points and those which adumbrated Committee points, none the less valuable in this debate for that. In one way, the most uncompromising speech was the maiden speech of the noble Lord who spoke from the Cross Benches. Like the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, I am glad that the hereditary principle in this case makes this House slightly more representative than the House of Commons. The Communist Party has a point of view, and, speaking for myself, I am very glad that point of view should be expressed. The noble Lord perhaps felt that he was alone in this House in supporting this view, and he certainly is alone in this House in supporting this view. I think it showed courage of mind to put it forward. I would ask him to remember that we are sufficiently regardful of our own traditions to have listened to a speech with almost every word of which I suppose most of us disagreed profoundly, in comparatively respectful silence. So there is a virtue in tradition as well as in Communism. I hope he will come to us often and get to know us perhaps a little better.
I must ask him to believe that if for a moment he were leading this House on behalf of a Conservative Government he would find it a little less subservient to the Conservative Party than he appears to think from his vantage point. My experience in the last few years has been very largely that, in debate after debate, the Opposition speaker summing-up in front of me is able to say, "This is a debate in which almost nobody has spoken up on behalf of the Government". This is very often true because very largely only those people come who want to criticise, and those who do not want to criticise very often do not come, unless they are provoked by a filibuster such as we have had on the London Government Bill but which I must not deal with to-day. I do not think the noble Lord, whose maiden speech we all were glad to hear, has made out his case.
Apart from the noble Lord, Lord Milford, by far the most uncompromising speech against the Bill was that of my noble friend Lord Perth. His case really was that the Bill would weaken this House. I was not quite able to follow all his arguments. To begin with, I do not believe in the theory of the ugly rush of young Peers to divest themselves of 1079 their titles under the provisions of the Bill. I shall not argue that, because when the Bill is translated into law we shall see which of us is right, my noble friend or I; but I do not believe in the ugly rush.
The second argument he used was not, I think, logically compulsive. I think it was an inconsistent argument. He took up something the noble Earl, Lord Longford, had said about there being, at least under a Labour Government, great difficulty in finding a sufficient range of offices to man by Ministers in this House, and the noble Earl, Lord Longford, cited the Foreign Office as one. And to that my noble friend Lord Perth said in effect, "There you are; it will weaken this House". But I do not think the conclusion follows. I am perfectly sure that if a Labour Government did come into power, which is perhaps not quite so likely as some of them seem to think at the moment, it is quite true the Foreign Secretary would be in the Commons. But the alternative to his being in the Commons—I say this respectfully to my noble friend Lord Perth—is certainly not that he would be appointed in this House out of the complement of hereditary Peers; even less that he would be appointed in this House out of the complement of hereditary Peers who will, under this Bill, divest themselves of their titles. This is neither proved nor the fact. In fact, if a Labour Government gets into power, as we know from the experience now of three Governments, they appoint Ministers of distinction from the ranks of their own Party and, where necessary, create them Peers. There have been distinguished exceptions, we all know, but in the main that is how they man the Front Bench in this House. Therefore it is not true to say the argument put forward by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, is any support at all to Lord Perth's extreme position.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, I am not quite sure whether the account that the noble Viscount has given of my view will lead to a misunderstanding. I do not think there would be any shortage of excellent candidates for the positions. I am not quite sure whether the noble Viscount is implying that the Labour Party would find it impossible to man the top positions from here.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
On the contrary, I was saying that the Labour Party would find its candidates from persons that it would advise Her Majesty to make Peers to give effect to their purpose. This, I am sure, would be true, although I hope that any noble Lords opposite would get a job in the unlikely circumstances which are now being envisaged. I do not want to suggest that they would not merit their place in the Administration. That would be hard after all their efforts.
I do not want to say much about the Scottish position, as I understand this will be discussed on Committee. But I must say that I think it is a little hard of my noble friend Lord Perth. Having got himself elected by the Peers whom he now wants to exclude from your Lordships' House I doubt, if he votes us down on Committee, that he will ever be elected again, because the only constituents he would have would be those whom he had deprived of the chance of coming here. But we shall see.
§ THE EARL OF PERTH
My Lords, I think the noble Viscount is arguing from a misunderstanding of the position. We are not elected only by those who want us to have the opportunity of a seat. There are 80 or more who have an opportunity of voting for us. I do not want to elaborate upon it, but there is a difference which I do not think the noble Viscount understands.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I do, and I now see the force of what my noble friend is trying to do. He is hoping that the majority of Scottish Peers who do sit in this House will support him in excluding the unfortunate minority who do not and who may beat him by votes at the election.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I was only saying that I thought my noble friend was being less than his usual generous self in this attitude of exclusion.
The other main critic was my noble friend Lord Sandwich, with some of whose criticisms I have a good deal of sympathy. But I really thought that they hardly supported his general conclusion that one ought to reject the 1081 Bill as a whole. So far as I understood them at all, they were, I thought, more in the nature of the kind of criticism which my noble friend Lord Salisbury put forward in his excellent speech, and were really criticisms of detail rather than an attack on principle. But I must confirm what the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, said to him. It is of course true that the terms of reference of the Committee, as I pointed out—and he quoted me to this effect—were a matter of negotiation between the Parties, and I think they were right to be so. I do not feel any sense of shame about that, and I do not think that such a negotiation deserves the epithet "sinister" which he bestowed upon it. But the findings of the Select Committee were not the result of any Party bargain. I think this ought to be expressly stated.
§ THE EARL OF SANDWICH
My Lords, may I ask a question of my noble friend? Just a few moments ago he used the phrase "package deal". I used the words "Party bargain". Would he differentiate between the two and say whether they occurred at different points of time?
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I think that when my noble friend comes to read Hansard in the morning he will find that I used the word "package" and not "package deal". Certainly that was what I intended to do. My own view about this Bill is that, if this House starts diverting too far from the findings of the majority of the Select Committee, this Bill in one way or another will fall by the wayside, not for want of support by individual Members of Parliament, but simply because, after most careful argument, this kind of package—I use the word deliberately—represents at any rate what I believe to be the highest common factor of agreement which Parliament will pass.
§ LORD BOOTHBY
My Lords, I beg my noble friend's forgiveness, but could he explain to me what is the difference between a "package" and a "package deal"? He has drawn a sharp distinction. I do not see any.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
It is the difference between buying a parcel and being given a Christmas present in a parcel.
1082 If I may turn to some of the detailed criticisms that have been levelled, I would turn first of all to the speech of my noble friend Lord Salisbury. This, with some other speeches, has of course criticised in one direction or another the provisions about the name by which a Peer would call himself if he divested himself of, or disclaimed, the Peerage. I must say that I agree with my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack about this. As I said in my Memorandum, I think that names are largely a question of taste and custom, and the less we fiddle about with legislation about them the more dignified, on the whole, we shall become. The noble Marquess knows well that I expressed this view in my Memorandum of Evidence, and I see no reason now to depart from my original opinion.
On the other hand, I would put to the House this argument in support again of what I have described as the "package". I have been surprised, after discussing this question for many years, at the kind of suspicion and dislike of titles which some people seem to have. It is no good denying that, even in this debate where the current of opinion is most favourable to the hereditary Peerage, there have been noble Lords who have said in terms that they think, for instance, that a Peerage ought to be extinguished if a Peer disclaims his title. But I myself differ from that profoundly. There might be a kind of rough justice about it if the only people he can disinherit are his own children. But in most of the ancient Peerages—and we have to deal with a great number in this House—descent is not necessarily to the children of the actual holder of the title for the time being; and although it could be justified if one disinherited one's children in order to go into the House of Commons or if in some other way one wished to disclaim one's title, it could not possibly be justified either in logic or in justice to disinherit either one's younger brother or one's cousin. Therefore, I would be against that, and I do not believe that the House would pass it.
On the other hand, I cite that as an example of the kind of suspicion and dislike in some quarters of hereditary titles. My suspicion is that if you sent back this Bill to another place claiming that a Peer could retain his right to the title by which he was known as a Peer— 1083 I do not want to enter into the elaborate and learned argument of my noble friend behind me—I believe it would be thrown out. That is another example, I believe, of the virtue of the package as a package. Although I happen to agree, I think, with almost every word that my noble friend Lord Salisbury said, I cannot do so about this particular provision. However, again, we can see.
The only other point, and the only point which I think raised any difficulty, is the provision about the date of operation. I myself do not pretend that there is any profound constitutional necessity to do it one way or the other. I would prefer to look at it from the point of view of the phrase I used in my own Memorandum of Evidence—namely, the balance of public advantage. I agree with my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack that the natural thing in a matter of this importance would seem to be to start the new Parliament with the new system.
I do not agree with either the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, or the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, who think that, pending a General Election, a Peer who would wish to stand as a candidate is under any difficulty at all in the general run of cases. On the contrary, he can perfectly well disclose his intentions, if he does not happen to be in the Government, and present himself to the selection committee on the understanding that when the Act comes into force he will immediately disclaim. Therefore I do not think there is anything in that point at all.
I must say that the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, was particularly tender about his desire to help me in some peculiar way.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I never doubted that the noble Lord was a nice chap, but I do not think he is a particularly innocent one. I am bound to say that I rather question whether his proposal was really designed to be as helpful as at first sight it might have appeared. I do not think my position would be any easier if he now caused, as he suggested he would cause, time to be running in this Parliament within which I had to make up my mind—especially if my noble friend Lord 1084 Swinton's suggestion were not accepted and I had to do it within six months. On the contrary, I can see myself being persecuted by newspapers even more than I am being persecuted by newspapers at the moment, and if I were so much as to visit a constituency in which it was possible that a selection committee might be sitting the most sinister interpretation might well be put upon my actions. I am sure that Lord Morrrison of Lambeth, having heard this personal explanation, will realise that his suggestion, whatever other merits it may have, will not cause me less embarrassment.
I apologise to him personally for not having relieved his curiosity on the more general issue, but I think that in public life, where the accident of fortune, or politics, or chance, or nature, or heredity has put one in the position of holding a Peerage, one must not consider what would be to one's own particular advantage or what would be in accordance with one's own particular liking. One must seriously consider what it is in the public interest to do. I am quite sure that in the present political situation it is not in the public interest to give the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, or anybody else, the smallest hint of my intentions.
I would say that the only really valid arguments on either side in this particular matter would be those put forward by my noble friend Lord Swinton. There is, of course, a chance of a by-election being caused in the House of Commons during the remainder of this Parliament by a Peer who would otherwise wish to disclaim. If a by-election were caused by a Peer who would not wish to disclaim, no inconvenience would be caused to anybody. The other point is that it is possible that there are people in the commonalty at large who might want to take advantage of a by-election to get into Parliament during the end of this Parliament. I think that those are two very small classes and the amount of public disadvantage disclosed by them is quite trivial. In the meantime, I would commend to the House the view put forward by the Lord Chancellor: that the more logical plan should be adhered to, at any rate for the moment. I will certainly report to my colleagues the suggestion made by the noble Earl, Lord Swinton—which was 1085 new to me—that this should be combined with a prolongation of the period within which a Peer could make up his mind. I do not know what the answer is. He has made the suggestion; I have noted it, and will pass it on.
My Lords, I think that I have covered a great number of the speeches either expressly or by implication. There is only one thing which perhaps I should say, out of courtesy to the noble Lord, Lord Rea. He felt that there were no words too strong to express his condemnation of the policy of the Government in relation to Life Peerages. He said that they had strengthened the Conservative Party in this House far more than the Opposition. I should like to correct the noble Lord there. The fact is that under the Life Peerages Act 12 Conservative Life Peers have been created, 13 Cross-Bench Life Peers have been created, and 17 Labour Life Peers have been created. I agree that the noble Lord is perfectly correct in saying that, apart from one doubtful case, no Liberal Life Peers have been created, and it may have been this which irked him more than the addition to this House of a number of Conservative Life Peers.
My Lords, I was not talking about Party members. I think my words (they will be in Hansard tomorrow) wore "supporters of the Government". I venture to suggest that a great many of the Cross-Bench Life Peers quite frequently support the Government.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
A great number of the Conservative Life Peers conscientiously and consistently vote against the Government, so that I do not think the noble Lord is right about that either. I think that, on the whole, I have covered the debate, and I am grateful to the noble Lords who have taken part in it.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.