HL Deb 16 July 1963 vol 252 cc117-51

2.51 p.m.

Order of the Day for the House to be again in Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD MERTHYR in the Chair.]

LORD SALTOUN moved, after Clause 6 to insert the following new clause:

Establishing succession

"For the purposes of this Act the day on which any person who is over the age of 21 succeeds to a peerage shall be—

  1. (a) the day on which he is known to have succeeded or
  2. (b) the day on which any competent authority establishes a fact of which one of the consequences is that such person succeed."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Amendment is not the same as, but not very different from, the Amendment which I moved at an earlier stage of the Bill. On that occasion, your Lordships will remember, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor admitted the validity of the point I had raised, but said that it would very seldom occur, and he disclaimed, with extreme modesty, his own capacity as Lord Chancellor to decide the point. I did not altogether share his own modest opinion, but, I will not counter it on this occasion.

On the question whether it is possible or frequent for a person to inherit a Peerage without knowing it, I think I can make it clear that it is not so uncommon as the noble and learned Lord Chancellor seems to imagine. If your Lordships will go into the Prince's Chamber and then go 43 yards into the Royal Gallery you will there see three books which contain the names of those noble Lords and Officers of the House and their relatives who are put down as having been killed in the last two wars. Those names are put down as having been killed, but it is by no means certain that they were killed. We believe, and have good reason to believe, that the bearers of those names are all dead, but a great many of them have merely disappeared from the human canon.

I could give your Lordships many instances from the recent war, but to do so would raise feelings which I am not anxious to raise. It is almost equally true that in the First World War a great many people disappeared and were shown as killed, though nobody really knew. To give one example, my old friend the late Duke of Atholl broke his heart, I think—it certainly affected the course of his life—in his passionate efforts to find out what had become of his brother Geordie, who was the heir to the title. I do not think any mortal man has ever known for certain what became of George Stewart-Murray. We all believed him to be dead and he has never reappeared, but that is all that is known. There are other noble Lords whom I could instance from that war. I look up their names in Burke, I find against their names the date on which they died, but I am quite certain that there is no man who really knew that that was so. I therefore point out that this is not so uncommon as is believed, and it is quite possible for people to inherit peerages and to possess them for a long time without knowing they have done so.

To turn to another side of this matter, this Bill, a statesmanlike measure, has two objects, as I see it. In the first place, I do not think that any social system has a right to keep anybody in prison. It was for that reason that I voted against Lord Boothby's Amendment at the commencement of the Committee stage on this Bill, because I thought that it would operate unequally as between Members of your Lordships' House. However, I will leave that matter there.

There is an ancillary object which is equally important, and which can be attained by this Bill. It has long been considered a blot on the English Constitution that there should exist what I would call the William Pitt dilemma. Your Lordships will recall the fact that in the midst of the Napoleonic Wars the position of William Pitt as Prime Minister and Leader of the House of Commons was threatened by the serious illness of his brother, Lord Chatham. For a long time it was thought that he would have to leave that position, and that he would succeed and come to your Lordships' House. We all know how inefficiently William Pitt was succeeded by the following Government, and I daresay that many of your Lordships remember the rhyme in connection with that. As a matter of fact, Lord Chatham recovered and I believe outlived his brother, but that was a very serious dilemma. At that time we were fighting for our lives and we were in danger of losing irrevocably the pilot who weathered the storm.

That is not the only time that we have been fighting for our lives. We have been fighting for our lives on two occasions since. I remind your Lordships that on the second occasion the pilot who weathered the storm was Mr. Winston Churchill. I have not calculated the number, but your Lordships will realise that, by a certain number of deftly planted bombs, Hitler might have taken away from us Mr. Winston Churchill and presented us with a perfectly good Duke of Marlborough. I do not know what would have happened if that had happened. I do not know whether his friends could have restrained him from following his ancestor, Corporal John, and leading our troops in the field. But it would have been a very awkward juncture for us in the middle of the war.

I ask your Lordships to consider the matter a little further. Let me put a suppositious case to you which will take a very short time. Let us suppose that a Peer has three sons and that each of those sons has one son. The son of the elder line succeeds to the Peerage, the son of the second line becomes a soldier, and the son of the third line goes into politics and actually becomes Prime Minister at the time of a great war. The son of the elder line dies and the Peerage lapses; the son of the second line disappears at the front and nobody can tell what has happened to him. Now it is suggested that that would not matter; that the Prime Minister could execute an anticipatory deed of disclaimer under this Bill. That might have very great difficulties. He will be heartening his relatives, his cousins, trying to keep their courage up and trying to keep their hopes alive. Yet if there is no anxiety shown in public as to his position, they will know that he must have entered into a deed of disclaimer secretly and not told them. It sems to me very much better to have the position put perfectly clearly in the Bill that we have before us to-day. I do not insist on the virtue of my wording. If Her Majesty's Government will accept the point and put their own words in at a later stage, that will perfectly content me. But I think this matter ought to be cleared up.

There is one small point which I will add; it is only a small point but I think it is worth considering. I do not think that under the Bill as it stands at present, a deed of disclaimer entered into by a Peer who had not succeeded, but who anticipated that he might succeed, would be irrevocable; and it is one of the purposes of this Bill to make such deeds completely irrevocable. I think that point might be considered, too. It is a very small point, and I only just put it in like a grocer puts in a little extra when you make a purchase. With those few words, I beg to move.

Amendment moved— After Clause 6 insert the said new clause.—(Lord Saltoun.)

3.4 p.m.


The little bit that the grocer puts in extra was certainly not asked for by the customer, and certainly, so far as I can see, has little connection with the Amendment now under discussion. The noble Lord, in moving this Amendment, was quite frank about its purport: that it is really to reopen a discussion that took place in the earlier Committee proceedings. I must say that I wondered, as I listened to him really replying to what I said on that occasion, whether he was not getting into possible danger with regard to the Standing Orders, which provide that an Amendment to a Bill must not be inconsistent with a previous decision given on the same stage of the Bill. But, however, that may be, I will deal with the Amendment moved by the noble Lord and I must advise your Lordships not to accept it.

The noble Lord, in moving it, said very little indeed about the actual Amendment, but it is open to many criticisms and I will put them quite shortly. Your Lordships will see that it provides for two alternative dates in paragraphs (a) and (b). Of course, a Peer in fact succeeds on the day of the death of the previous holder of the Peerage. The next matter is to establish proof of succession, and the proposal in this Amendment is that For the purposes of this Act the day on which any person who is over the age of 21 succeeds to a Peerage shall be— (a) the day on which he is known to have succeeded". Known to whom? The Amendment does not provide the answer. Known publicly? Known to the heir himself, to the Lord Chancellor, to the House of Lords? There is simply no such day, unless one specifies a particular person. The only person who can in fact be specified is the heir himself, and that is what the noble Lord's earlier Amendment did.

Then this Amendment goes on to provide an alternative: (b) the day on which any competent authority establishes a fact of which one of the consequences is that such person succeed. What is "any competent authority" within the meaning of that paragraph? Does it, for example, include a Committee of Privileges of the House of Commons, or the Lord Chancellor, neither of whom is competent to adjudicate finally on this issue? If it does not include a Committee of Privileges, a sitting Member of Parliament who succeeded to a Peerage could, without disclaiming, defer indefinitely his disqualification as a Peer: all he would have to do would be to avoid making any claim to the succession.

Secondly, proof of succession may depend upon the establishment of a whole series of facts. Paragraph (b) of the Amendment appears to have the effect that if a "competent authority" establishes one link in the chain, time begins to run forthwith, notwithstanding that the other links may not be established until later. Then, again, one assumes it is possible for paragraph (a) to be satisfied and also for paragraph (b) to be satisfied; they are expressed to be in the alternative. And if that did occur, one would not know from which date the relevant periods ran.

These defects, and defects about the drafting, are sufficiently serious to justify my asking your Lordships to reject this new clause. But they really only reflect a fundamental objection to the noble Lord's thesis, which arises from the fact that succession to a Peerage is not established by any formal or public step, unless the successor has on his own initiative set the appropriate machinery in motion. To make disqualification for the House of Commons depend on the successor's initiative would be a simple and to some an attractive solution to the whole problem, but it was not the solution adopted by the Select Committee, nor is it the solution proposed in the Bill. It is for those reasons that I invite your Lordships to reject this Amendment


I should have greatly preferred it if the noble and learned Lord had argued this matter on the merits, because I think the merits are outstanding. I do not particularly hold with the wording. I quite admit everything that the noble and learned Lord said against this Amendment. I say that such an Amendment as this could, and should, be drawn and put into the Bill. If your Lordships will support me and put this Amendment into the Bill, we can be quite certain that the Government will move it out at the next stage and will put in an Amendment satisfactory to themselves covering the point. I therefore feel that I should like to ask your Lordships to support me in this Amendment. I admit that it may not be right in form, but I do not think I have been answered one word on the merits.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

3.11 p.m.

LORD CLITHEROE moved, to insert the following new clause:

Degrees of life peerage

"Life peerages may be created in any degree of the Peerage."

The noble Lord said: I shall keep your Lordships only a very short time over this Amendment. It may be that the noble Lord the Lord Chancellor will tell me that the words of the proposed new clause are not appropriate to do what I want to do, but I think they are at any rate sufficiently clear for noble Lords to understand my intentions. It may be that the Lord Chancellor will tell us that this clause is unnecessary, and he may say—and I think there are grounds for saying—that the Crown already has the right to create Life Peerages in a higher degree than that of Baron. There have been 27 creations of Life Peerages in degrees above that of Baron, starting with that of Huntingdon in 1377 and going down to that of Brandon in 1758; so there have already been 27 Life Peerages created as Earldoms. There is therefore nothing very new about the proposal, but I must admit that it has not been done very recently, and the Life Peerages Bill, which created Life Peerages, provided that these Life Peerages should be Baronies.

It seems to me that, particularly in the light of the rejection by the Government of the Amendment to exclude Clause 3(2) of this Bill, there is great merit in the proposal I am putting forward. In the first case, I do not see why there is the slightest difficulty in having a Life Peer in any degree of the Peerage; secondly, it might be very convenient on some occasions for that to be the case. Suppose the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, had not wished to undertake the responsibilities of an hereditary Peerage. He could, if this clause had bean law at that time, have become a Life Earl, which would have been extremely appropriate for an ex-Prime Minister. Furthermore, it may be that some noble Lord who goes from this House to the House of Commons and becomes Prime Minister there might, in the fullness of time, be retiring from his Prime Ministership and might want to enter the House of Lords. He would then be able to enter only as a Life Baron, and I do not see any reason at all why we should not make it possible for him to enter this House as a Life Earl. I cannot see any very great objection to this proposal, and it seems to have certain advantages and certain conveniences. Therefore, I have every confidence in commending it to your Lordships. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— After Clause 6, insert the said new clause.—(Lord Clitheroe.)


I listened very carefully to what my noble friend said about this Amendment, and my answer to it falls really into two parts. So far as the actual creation of Life Peerages is concerned—and I can elaborate on this in a moment or two—it is, I think, clearly the law as it stands that it is possible for Her Majesty to create a Life Peerage in any degree of the Peerage; but that does not mean that any of those Life Peerages would carry membership of your Lordships' House. The point that my noble friend touched upon at the end of his speech was, as I followed the argument, that he thought that a Life Peerage of a higher rank should enable the holder of that Life Peerage to sit in this House. The Amendment would not, in fact, be effective to do that, and I would remind your Lordships that Parliament deliberately decided in 1958 that Life Peerages carrying membership of the House of Lords should rank as Baronies only. I do not think it would be right to use this Bill as a vehicle for amending the Life Peerages Act in that respect.

I can deal with the law as it stands at present quite shortly, I think. In the Wensleydale Peerage case in 1856 it was established, as my noble friend will remember, that a Life Peerage under the Prerogative carries no right to a seat or a voice in the House of Lords, and Lord Campbell, who rejected Lord Wensleydale's claim to a Writ of Summons, said there was no doubt but that the Crown could create a Peer for life; and Lord Brougham expressly disclaimed any intention of denying that the Crown had such powers. In Anson's Law and Customs of the Constitution, 5th Edition, Vol. 1, at page 225, it is stated: The rule of law seems clear. The Croon can confer such dignities and with such limitations as it may please, but a Lord of Parliament must be an hereditary Peer, except in the special cases of the Bishops and the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary. That, of course, was written before the passage of the Life Peerages Act.

Now during the Committee stage of the Life Peerages Bill the noble Earl, Lord Kilmuir, expressed the view that this right of the Crown remained unimpaired, and that, I think, is borne out by the wording of the patent for a Life Peer under the Life Peerages Act. My noble friend referred to a number of cases in which Life Peerages were granted. He said there were some 27 of ranks higher than that of Baron. In fact, I think he put the figure a little low. I am told that there were some 30 cases between 1377 and 1758 of subjects being granted Life Peerages, including 10 Dukedoms, 1 Marquessate, 20 Earldoms, 3 Viscountcies and 10 Baronies, and in some cases the same grantee received several Peerages of different degrees. But no Life Peerage under the Prerogative alone has been conferred on a man since 1606, when Sir James Hay, later made Earl of Carlisle, was created a Baron for life without a seat in the House of Lords. All subsequent Life Peerages under the Prerogative were conferred on women. That, of course, was before the passage of the Life Peerages Act.

I would just say this in answer to a further point in the argument advanced by my noble friend: that if the Crown wished to ennoble a retiring Prime Minister who had previously disclaimed, he could, under the law as it stands and under this Bill, be made a Life Peer under the Act of 1958, and have conferred on him a higher rank for life under the Prerogative without offending against Clause 3, subsection (2). No doubt he would rank as a Baron in this House, but, in the same way as a Scottish or Irish Peer who sits under an inferior title, he would be addressed and referred to by his superior title. For those reasons, I do not think this Amendment is necessary or desirable, and in the light of what I have said I hope my noble friend will think fit to withdraw it.


Of course, I shall, before I sit down, withdraw this Amendment, since the noble Lord the Lord Chancellor has told me the wording does not do what I want to do, but I should like to say I am very grateful to him for his careful answer to this question. I think that the answer which he has given satisfies me in that it would be possible for a Prime Minister coming to this House in the rank of Baron to be given an Earldom, although that Earldom would not carry with it the right to a seat in this House, and would not be hereditary. I am sorry if my calculation of 27 was wrong. I am prepared to discuss that with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor at a later date. There may be a certain amount of dubiety about one or two of the cases. I still think 27 is about right. I am very sorry that the House of Lords came to the conclusion that it did in the Wensleydale case. I do not know if it is against the Rules of your Lordships' House to comment on decisions made by the House of Lords so long ago, but I am bound to say that I think most people now think that that was an extremely bad decision and had unfortunate consequences. I now have pleasure in withdrawing this Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 7 [Short title, commencement and repeals]:

3.21 p.m.

LORD SILKIN moved to leave out subsection (2). The noble Lord said: I beg to move the Amendment standing in my name and those of my noble friends. The noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack having found fault with the wording of the two previous Amendments, I hope he will not rule me out on that ground; at any rate, I want to make the purpose of the Amendment quite clear. It is to raise the issue as to whether this Bill is to come into effect on the giving of the Royal Assent or whether it is to come into effect at the end of this Parliament. A similar Amendment was moved in another place in the same terms and, so far as I can gather from the records, no fault was found with it there. But I am hoping for the best.

The position, as noble Lords are well aware, is that a Bill normally comes into effect when it is given the Royal Assent. I have looked into all the Bills that were passed last Session and I can assure the Committee that the vast majority of them came into effect either wholly or partly on the giving of the Royal Assent. It is only when there are good reasons for the contrary, or where it is not practicable for the whole or part of a Bill to take effect on the giving of the Royal Assent, that some later date is given; and there are numerous Bills of which various parts come into effect at various dates. In this case I want to submit that there is no reason why this Bill should not come into operation on the giving of the Royal Assent.

So far as I know—and I have discussed this with a number of members of the Joint Select Committee—none of us ever suspected that this Bill was not going to come into operation immediately. Let me say at once—and this point was made in another place—that the Government have stated that this Bill would be passed and come into operation at the end of the present Parliament. They have stated that. But certainly my interpretation of that was not that it might be passed this Session and that it would hang over until the end of Parliament. I understood it to mean that there was some doubt as to whether, in view of the congestion of Business, we could get this Bill through this Session; but in any case, whether we did or not, it would come in at the end of the present Parliament. If it were the intention to pass the Bill in this Session and hold it over until the end of Parliament, then I think there was an obligation on the Government to make it perfectly clear that that was their intention. They never did.

Let me deal with some of the effects if we were to pass this Bill and it did not operate until the end of Parliament. We may, of course, have an Election in October, and there will then be no special effect at all; but, on the other hand, we have been assured—I do not know how far we can accept these assurances—that there will be no Election this year. If we accept that assurance it means therefore that there will be an Election in either May or October of next year. Assuming the longer period, that means fifteen months from now. I submit that this may involve hardship on a number of persons which I should hope we would want to avoid.

First of all, let me be quite frank and say that it would involve hardship on Mr. Wedgwood Benn, who is virtually the father of this Bill. He will be unable to take a seat in the House of Commons; though every one of us now accepts the fact that he ought to be entitled to take a seat. If this Bill came into operation in this Session, I understand that he has an assurance from the present Member of Parliament for Bristol that he would resign and enable a by-election to take place. I think it is right that that should be so, and I think it honourable on the part of the present Member, because he knows he is not representing the constituency and is not the person they wish; he was defeated by a very large majority. So this would enable the hardship to Mr. Wedgwood Benn to be removed and he would be enabled to fight a by-election and, if he won, to take his seat.

But there are other hardships: for instance, where the son of a Peer is at present in the House of Commons. If his father were to die within a very short time he may wish to renounce his Peerage and continue in his seat; but he would not be able to do so. He would have to give up his seat; somebody else would step in and fight at the by-election and obviously, assuming the other candidate won, the person who would wish to renounce the Peerage would have lost his opportunity. It may be a constituency with which he had been associated for a number of years; he may have very special reasons for desiring to represent that constituency; but his chance would have gone. I do not know whether there would be many such cases. I hope, for the health of this House, that there will be none at all: but one never knows.

There is another type of case. There are some noble Lords who may be contemplating renouncing their Peerage when this Bill comes into effect with a view to going into the House of Commons. I know that it has been stated that there is nothing to stop them from going round as Peers and announcing their intention, when this Bill comes into operation, of renouncing their Peerage; but it is a very undignified way of doing things and it is asking a lot to expect a noble Lord to say, "I am still a Peer, but will you adopt me as your candidate? When the time comes I undertake to give up the Peerage". It is putting him at a very definite disadvantage with the proposed constituency, and they would have to be very keen on having him to accept him on those terms. If there are Peers here to-day who intend to give up their Peerage then I think it is unfair to put them in that position.

What are the reasons that have been given up to now for not allowing this Bill to come into operation at once? It has been vaguely suggested that it would be more convenient (it has not been put higher than that), from a constitutional point of view, if the changes took place at the end of the present Parliament. I am no authority on the Constitution. But the noble Viscount the Leader of the House is a constitutional lawyer, and this is what he said on this point [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 251 (No. 107), col. 1083]: 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. There we have it. If the noble Viscount who leads the House does not think that there is any profound constitutional necessity for doing it one way or the other, and, as he goes on to say, that we should do what is to "the balance of public advantage", then I submit that it is to the balance of public advantage that the normal course be taken and that this Bill should take effect at once.

I do not know whether I need elaborate this point, but the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, who spoke on Second Reading, referred to three important constitutional measures vitally affecting this House which were introduced and took effect in between Parliaments. The Life Peerages Act, about which we have just been talking, took effect between two Parliaments and in practice it made a more substantial change in the constitution of this House than I imagine this Bill is likely to do. And the two Parliament Acts also took effect in the same way. So I cannot think that there is a particular constitutional reason for it. Then there was something said, both here and in another place, about the difficulty in relation to Scottish Peers. But Mr. MacLeod said that these difficulties could be overcome. In any case, even if they were insurmountable, which they are not, it would be possible to have a specially appointed day for Clause 4, which deals with Scottish Peers. I imagine that if we decided that we could get over the difficulty, we should not need to have a specially appointed day, but I am directing my attention to the specific question of the disclaimer of Peers of this House.

So we are left with only one other point, that we have had notice of this proposal from various speeches of Her Majesty's Ministers. I do not think we had noticed that it was their intention, whether we pass this Bill this Session or not, that it should be held over until the end of the present Parliament. Cer tainly none of us understood it that way. And we made matters easy for Her Majesty's Government from this side of the House by withholding a number of Amendments which we might have moved, and by accepting the broad principles set forth in the Report of the Joint Select Committee. By doing that, we have facilitated the passage of this Bill and therefore we understood—certainly we on this side did and I think that noble Lords on the other side of this committee who were on the Joint Select Committee understood the same—that this would not mean that of necessity the Bill would stand over. For these reasons and emphasising that I am asking the Committee to take the normal course and allow this Bill to come into operation when it is passed, I beg to move this Amendment.

Amendment moved— Page 5, line 3, leave out subsection (2).— (Lord Silkin.)

3.36 p.m.


As a member of the Joint Select Committee, I must in unqualified terms support from this side of the House the Amendment which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has moved. There is no Party question here, and I should have thought that the whole convenience was to do what certainly was the clear, plain understanding of the Joint Select Committee. Dealing with an Amendment I moved earlier in this debate, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said that one would require very strong arguments to overrule or vary the findings of the Joint Select Committee. Therefore we did not put into our Report, in terms, that the Bill should come into force in the normal way when it received the Royal Assent because it never occurred to us that it would do anything else.

The Government were able to put their views before the Joint Select Committee. The noble Viscount the Leader of the House put in two extremely effective memoranda, expressing, no doubt, his own personal point of view, but also, I am sure, with the general support of his colleagues. But, more than that, the noble Earl whom we invited to become Chairman of the Joint Select Committee was, until he was succeeded by the present holder of the office, Lord Chancellor, a senior member of the Government, who, but for a wind of change, would be piloting the Bill through the House now. I have not had an opportunity—he is not in the House now—of talking to my noble and learned friend, but I feel certain that he never contemplated anything else. My noble friend Lord Salisbury, whom I have had a full chance of consulting, and I are in complete agreement about this matter. Indeed, every member of the Joint Select Committee with whom I have had a chance of speaking takes exactly the same point of view. And we certainly expected that the normal course would be followed.

I need not elaborate or repeat the arguments which have been put by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and by my noble friend and myself on the Second Reading of this Bill. I leave out Mr. Benn, if he be a bone of contention; but if we are passing this Bill, let us see what could happen to anybody else. After all, people do die, however excellent their health is. I hope that no father of a Member of another place will die in the next whatever number of months it is—I do not know—but if one did, what a fantastic situation arises! How very unfair to the Peer himself! How very unfair to his constituents, who may have elected him by a colossal majority and who want nothing more than that he should continue to represent them! And the whole purpose of this Bill is to enable him to go on representing them.

That we meant this Bill to come into force at once is obvious from the provision that we made that this should operate very rapidly; that in the case of anybody sitting in another place he would have to make up his mind within a month. Of course, he would make it up much more quickly, and for the moment he would be suspended from his activities in the House; but assuming that he made his declaration in the proper statutory form and lodged it with the Speaker, then he would go back to his duties in the House of Commons. It was said, and I think said with some reason, that people ought not to job in and job out; that a man should not have the best of both worlds. But if we are going to say that in this period of limbo before the next Election he is not to have the chance, if he should succeed to a Peerage, of using the benefit of this Bill, and that he must lose his seat, that seems to me to be giving him the worst of both worlds.

I respect the arguments of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor on the constitutional side, though I did not think that he put them with great force. Perhaps he did not feel that there was great force in them. Certainly, as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said, the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, also a distinguished lawyer, said that he did not see that it matters much one way or the other from the constitutional point of view. So far as the Scottish Peers are concerned, I cannot see that there is anything in it. You could put in an Amendment to say that that clause should come into force on an appointed day. After all, if you do not, what will happen? It will not affect any Scottish Peers who have been elected to sit here by the Peers in Scotland. They just go on sitting here. All it will do will be to add half a dozen who will be able to come here. No one will have his seat taken away. Therefore, I cannot see that there is much force in the Scottish Peers argument. There is nothing concerning the Irish Peers, because they are not here at all, and their complaint is that the Select Committee did not recommend that they should come here.

What other constitutional argument is there? Reference has been made to these great Parliamentary changes, and, of course, there are the great Bills cited by my noble friend Lord Salisbury. What has been the rule in these cases, as I understand it—and it is practical convenience that dictates it—is this. Where there is some large constitutional change, or some large electoral change—perhaps involving electoral boundaries, which affects the whole country; perhaps a new franchise Bill to enfranchise women or young persons—or where there is a redistribution Bill which (I was going to say gerrymanders, but I am sure it would not do that) varies the boundaries of a number of constituencies, then obviously there must be an appointed day, and it must be on the Dissolution because it affects all the constituencies alike and all the electors alike. It must come into force after the Dissolution and when Members are being elected for a new Parliament. But surely that does not apply here. What is being done here is to give to a few Members, half a dozen or so, who are sitting in another place and may succeed to this House, and also to future Members who may succeed to this House, and to some who are sitting in this House now, an option to sit here or to disclaim their Peerage and go to another place. Surely there is no reason why that should not come into force in the normal way on the Royal Assent.

There is one other consideration. I hope the noble Earl, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, will think twice—he said he would rather like to consider the suggestion I made, because it would be varying what we on the Joint Select Committee did. But I can see that there is an argument of convenience, and indeed an argument of equity and justice in saying that a Peer who is now sitting here should have the same time to make up his mind as the Peer who succeeds. We were all agreed that the Peer who succeeds should have twelve months. I do not see why the Peer who is now sitting should not have twelve months. He would not have to wait twelve months; he could exercise his right, if my Amendment were carried (and I now have it in the proper form), to-morrow morning, or he could wait.

If we carried the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, which I am bound to say fully gives effect to the intention of the Report by the Joint Select Committee, and if on Report the House were willing to accept my suggestion that everybody should be given twelve months to make up his mind, then it seems to me that we should be doing what is fair to people in another place, and what I believe we all want; we should be acting in a reasonable way, and should be able to go forward with that full measure of agreement which characterised all the deliberations—although we had our differences—of the Joint Select Committee. I hope the Government will reconsider their position on this.


As another member of the Joint Select Committee, I should like to give my unqualified support to the Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, speaking again from these Benches, the third Party in your Lordships' House. It seems to me that the intentions of the Joint Select Committee were quite clear. The Bill has virtually passed both Houses without much altera tion; it is the will of Parliament that it should go into operation, and unless there is some peculiar tactic that I, as a member of a junior Opposition Party, do not understand, I cannot see why this delay should occur. It may be that in Party politics there is some reason why it would be more convenient for one or other of the big Parties to delay or accelerate the implementation of the Bill, but I do not think that consideration should come into account here. The Bill has virtually been passed; it has our approval, and I suggest that, like all other Bills of a similar nature, it should go into operation as soon as Parliament has approved.

3.45 p.m.


It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I reply now to the Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. May I say straight away that I can find no fault whatsoever with the drafting of this Amendment? The noble Lord began his speech by rather suggesting that the Government had not made their position clear with regard to this. If I may, I would remind the noble Lord of the fact that in the debate on the Motion to take note of the Report of the Select Committee on March 28, when opening the debate, I said this [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 248 (No. 63), col. 268]: I want to make it clear, on behalf of the Government, that we shall do our best to secure the passage of any legislation that may flow from the expressed resolve of Parliament. The House will not expect me to be precise on the question of timing, although it would clearly be difficult to fit such an important Bill into the timetable for this Session. Then I went on to say: If, however, such legislation were desirable, we would bring it forward in this Parliament so that it might be in operation for the coming General Election. That is what I said; and what is interesting, in view of the observations made by my noble friend Lord Swinton and the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, is that it was never suggested in the debate on that Motion that the Joint Select Committee had come to anything in the nature of a unanimous conclusion on this matter. That was the pledge. The only person who suggested in the course of that debate that the Bill should come into force on the date of enactment was the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. After dealing with that point, the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said (col. 277): I can promise the Government, on behalf of my noble friends, that we will put no difficulties in the way of getting an early decision on that Bill so that it could be put into operation before the House rises for the Summer Recess. While I do not expect the noble Viscount who is to reply to give me a firm decision, I hope that that suggestion will be seriously considered. If it was in fact the case, as my noble friend Lord Swinton has asserted to-day, and asserted on Second Reading, that the Joint Select Committee were unanimous in thinking that legislation should take effect immediately, it strikes me as curious that no suggestion to that effect was put forward in the course of the debate on March 28, 1963. I then outlined the particular matters on which the Government thought we should depart from the recommendations of the Joint Select Committee.


I did not speak on that occasion, but my noble friend Lord Salisbury did. That was a debate on whether we agreed with the Report of the Joint Select Committee. I thought that what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor was on at that time was the undertaking that they would find time for the Bill, so as to make sure it came into force not later than the Dissolution of Parliament. It was never an issue in that debate whether the Bill should come into force on enactment or at some other time.


I am sorry if what I said on that occasion was not said as clearly as it might have been. But the matter does not rest there, because on May 15, when the Government announced their decision in the light of that debate, my noble and learned friend the Leader of the House said—and I quote from Hansard of May 15, column 1316: …and I can therefore state that it is our intention to introduce legislation to give effect to them"— that is, the proposals— in time to take effect at the next General Election. He repeated that twice. Again, the only Member of your Lordships' House who raised any point with regard to that was the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, who suggested that the proposals ought to become law well before any General Election takes place. He did that on the ground, which he advanced again to-day, of the undignified position in which a Peer would be placed who wished to go round looking for a constituency.

Perhaps I may remind your Lordships that my noble and learned friend replied to him that there was nothing to stop a Peer who wished to disclaim from "prospecting"—that was the word my noble friend used. He went on to say (col. 1320): We wish to make it effective by the Election … Whatever may have been the position after March 28, certainly the Government's position was made perfectly clear beyond dispute on May 15. On May 15 the noble Earl the Leader of the Opposition spoke. He did not claim that the legislation should be made effective before the next General Election. Nor did Lord Rea. I do not know whether my noble friends Lord Salisbury and Lord Swinton were present, but if they were they did not intervene.


Was there any need, in view of the statement from the Government that the legislation would be introduced in time for the General Election? On the Bill as it now stands, we are arguing that there is no reasonable time for possible candidates.


That point was put on May 15, and it was made perfectly clear that my noble friend's view on that differed. I do not think one can possibly say that it was not made perfectly clear that our intention was to introduce legislation to give effect to these proposals in time to take effect at the next General Election. This cannot be construed as meaning taking effect before the next General Election.


It cannot possibly be construed in plain English as not taking effect before the Dissolution of Parliament. There is no pledge made in those statements that this Bill would come before us in final form and not to operate until the Dissolution of Parliament. I think we are playing with words.


I do not think we are playing with words, because it was said, both in this House and in another place, that it was our intention—I repeat it again—to introduce legislation to give effect to these proposals in time to take effect at the next General Election. I do not think anyone can construe those words, reading them fairly, as meaning in time to take effect, say, next September, October or November, unless there is going to be the next General Election then. That was our pledge, and I only make this point. I think it was perfectly clearly stated by the Government, and it is a pledge which we embodied in the Bill. The point I am making is that in relation to that (and I think this is also a perfectly fair point) the noble Earl did not claim then that the legislation should be made effective before the next General Election. Nor did Lord Rea. And no point was raised to suggest that the Select Committee had considered this matter and had reached a conclusion upon it. I say that because it is past history.

I put this forward as a Bill which implemented our pledge in full: that this legislation, which we were then contemplating, would be in effect before the next General Election. I make the point that that was never suggested to be a departure from the recommendations of the Joint Select Committee. I have read the Report of the Joint Committee many times. Of course I did not serve upon the Committee. My noble friend Lord Swinton did, and he has consulted some members. I have consulted some members. I can find no trace of this question having been considered by the Joint Committee. I think that is perfectly true. I do not know that they ever, as a Committee, applied their minds to it. They may have assumed one thing or another. What they were doing was working out a coherent scheme which we have done our best to embody, subject to one or two Amendments which the House in Committee has accepted, in this Bill.

I have begun by saying this in order to deal with the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, that we had not made our position plain. I do not think that is founded. You may disagree with the position, but I think it was made plain what we intended to do.


I do not wish to be offensive at all to the noble and learned Lord, but there was a complete misunderstanding as to what was the intention of the Government. I myself understood what they were saying to mean that, "We may not be able to introduce a Bill this Session because of pressure of Business, but whether we do or not we undertake that it will go through in the course of this Parliament." That is all I thought they were saying. I did not think they were saying: "Even if we introduce a Bill this Session, it will not operate until the end of the Parliament." There may have been a misunderstanding.


I accept that it is always possible to have a misunderstanding. I myself thought that, whatever may be said about the words I uttered on March 28, there was not much room for doubt about what my noble and learned friend said on May 15. I fully appreciate that there may have been a misunderstanding. What I am responding to, and trying to deal with, is the suggestion that there has been some change of practice or some failure to disclose on the part of Her Majesty's Government. There was certainly no intention of doing that. Now the Bill comes here with, as we thought, our promise implemented in it in Clause 7(2). It has come to us from another place, and in the course of its passage through that House, as the noble Lord said, an Amendment to precisely the same effect as that now under consideration was moved and rejected by a substantial majority.

So the position as it stands to-day is that your Lordships are now being asked to reject a decision arrived at on this point in another place. Of course it is open to your Lordships to do so, but for a number of reasons I hope that you will not. One reason—it is not the only one, but I want to put the reasons as clearly as I can before your Lordships—is this. We are now approaching the end of this Session. I myself should like to see this Bill enacted as soon as possible, and I think it is true to say that any Amendment made to it by your Lordships must delay that; and if it were the case that the other place did not agree to an Amendment made by your Lordships, the delay might be considerable. That is one reason, but that is not the only reason why I ask your Lordships to reject this Amendment.

So far as your Lordships' House is concerned, of course its membership does not alter with, or depend on, Parliamentary elections. Changes in its membership could be made at any time, though I must point out that, if the Bill took effect immediately upon Royal Assent, not only would there be a considerable addition to the membership of this House, but also the Representative Peers of Scotland would no longer be entitled to sit as Representative Peers of Scotland. I have never suggested that that was an insuperable difficulty, and I am not seeking to put any real weight upon it. But I felt it right in the earlier debates to draw your Lordships' attention to that point; and, indeed, to avoid the risk of their being temporarily excluded from this House it would, I think, be necessary to issue to them Writs of Summons. That could be done, although it would look a little odd, and I do not think there would be any need for any amendment of the Bill to provide for the position of the Scottish Peers should this Amendment be carried. Earlier speakers referred to the position of Scottish Peers as if I were founding an argument upon it. I am not basing any argument upon it and I have not put it forward as an insuperable objection, but I thought it right to draw your Lordships' attention to that position.

The real impact of this Amendment, as I hope your Lordships will agree, is not upon the membership of this House but lies in its effect upon the membership of the other House, and the argument has been advanced that if this Bill does not come into effect on Royal Assent, a Member of the other House who succeeds to a Peerage before the Dissolution, whenever that takes place, will not be able to avail himself of the provisions of this Bill. That, of course, is perfectly true. But that is more, I would suggest, a matter for the other place than it is for your Lordships, and, as I have said, this Amendment was rejected in the other place. I cannot refer, and I do not think it would be in order for me to do so, to how a particular Member of the other place voted in the Division List, but it might be not without interest if some of your Lordships cared to look to see how at least one of those who might succeed to a Peerage voted on that Division.

My noble friend Lord Swinton has again to-day expressed the view that the Select Committee expected the Bill to come into force and to operate when it received the Royal Assent. The last time he spoke on this matter he based his argument on two recommendations of the Royal Commission. I really do not think that much weight can be placed on the use of the present tense in their recommendations. The Select Committee, as I said, were devising a scheme, and the use of the present tense in outlining their scheme does not seem to me as consistent only with the view that the Bill should take effect on Royal Assent. I cannot see anything in the Report which shows that the Committee gave any consideration to this suggestion. If they did, and held the view that the noble Earl has expressed, then I must say that I think it is remarkable that none of the members of the Committee, if they applied their minds to this question, either on March 28 or May 15 drew attention to the fact that the Government at least were preparing to depart from the views of the Select Committee. But that was never suggested.

I want to turn to the precedents, and I hope when I do so I shall not be accused of special pleading. First, there is the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act, 1918, which made women eligible for the House of Commons. That came into force on Royal Assent. That Assent was given on November 21 and Dissolution followed on November 25. So that Act did not take effect until the Elections for the next Parliament; and that, I must say, would seem to have been the intention. The next Act was the Representation of the People Act, 1918, which, among other things, gave the vote to women. It contained a provision preventing it from affecting current Parliamentary registers, Parliamentary elections or the constitution of the House of Commons until the next Dissolution, unless in the meantime a new register should have been compiled.


Did that Bill include redistribution?


I cannot say, on memory, whether it did or did not.


It did.


In the event, the Dissolution came first before the new register was compiled. Then there was the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act, 1918. That was intended to be effective at the earliest possible moment. Two more Acts I should like to refer to are the 1948 Representation of the People Act, which abolished the University seats; but the section doing that did not come into force during the current Parliament. The last Act is, of course, the Life Peerage Act.

Views may differ as to the weight to be placed on these precedents. Reference has been made to the view expressed by my noble and learned friend, and views were expressed in another House, but there are, I think, only two precedents among those which I have cited which really have any relevance: one was the 1918 Act, which made women eligible for election to the House of Commons, and the other was the 1948 Act dealing with the University seats. They took effect only at the following Election and they both affected the composition of the House of Commons. But I would submit to your Lordships that, as a matter of principle, while it is permissible to make changes in who may vote during the lifetime of a Parliament—and that was done by two of the Acts to which I have referred—it is wrong to make changes affecting the composition of the Elected Chamber during the currency of a Parliament. That would seem to have been the view in 1918 and in 1948 when the Representation of the People Act was passed. I can find no precedents the other way. No precedent has come to my notice which supports the view that a change in the composition of another place, the Elected Chamber, should be made during the currency of a Parliament.

I have little more to say on this question. The arguments have been fully advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and my noble friend, and it seems to me that the question for decision really turns on this: whether it is right to make people eligible for election to the other House who are not eligible now, during the currency of this Parliament. This seems to me to be primarily a matter for the other House, and it is a matter on which they have reached a decision. That decision having been reached by another House, and for the reasons I have put forward, I ask your Lordships to reject this Amendment.


This so far has developed into a debate between members of the Select Committee on the one hand (not on the one side, because of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin) and the Lord Chancellor. I should just like to say a few words as one who was not a member of the Joint Select Committee but who has taken an interest in this Bill, which I regard as a matter of considerable constitutional importance. I am not very impressed by the precedents which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has put before us. There are, of course, reasons, and the Lord Chancellor enumerated some, why certain Bills have not come into operation as Acts of Parliament, for one reason or another, on Royal Assent but came in on an appointed day. But he knows very well, as a very conscientious and admirable Attorney General in another House when I was in office, that a great many Bills are negotiated through that place, and it is perfectly obvious to me why this point as to when this Bill should come into operation was perhaps overlooked. I, for one, at any rate, and I am sure many of your Lordships here, would say that it was due to the fact that one took it as a matter of course that, unless there were some outstanding reasons to the contrary, a Bill, on receiving the Royal Assent, became an Act and came into operation. That is the reason why this small point has been to some extent overlooked.

As I am sure the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, would agree, the original debate in this House on this proposal took place without the Bill being in print before us; therefore we could not read the clause. We could talk for as long as we liked but we did not have the Bill; and this all hinges on whether the operative word is "at" or "before" the Dissolution. That is the only difference. It seems to me there is no oustanding reason why this Bill should not become an Act and come into operation on the Royal Assent. I am sure many of your Lordships in all parts of the House will be with me when I wonder whether, time permitting, this was not an occasion when the usual channels might flow in rather an abnormal direction to get in touch with the channels in another place.

4.10 p.m.


As the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, said, this is certainly not a Party political matter; with that I entirely agree. It is a matter of judgment and of common sense, as we see it in the circumstances of the case. Indeed, the noble Viscount, Lord Stuart of Findhorn, has just made a further speech from that side in support of the Amendment which my noble friend Lord Silkin has moved, and we are much obliged to the noble Viscount for what he has said. What I want to do is to try to simplify the argument as it was left on the side of my noble friend Lord Silkin, and as it was left on the side of the able speech of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. He gave some precedents showing that big changes do take place at the end of a Parliament. But, if I may say so with every respect, I do not think the examples he quoted were conclusive or convincing.


I was not suggesting they were conclusive. I thought it right to draw your Lordships' attention to such precedents as I could find and comment upon them. The absence of precedents the other way is perhaps more significant.


I quite understand, and the noble Lord will not mind if I, in the same spirit of enlightenment, draw the attention of the House to certain other considerations in relation to the precedents he quoted, no doubt for the purpose of influencing the Committee, as he had a perfect right to do, in the direction he wished the Committee to go. Take, for example, the Representation of the People Act, 1918. I gather it was the case that it came near to an Election. That was pretty inevitable, because the First World War did not finish until 1918, and it would have taken the Government and Parliament all its time to get legislation through. If that was the case, then it would not be unnatural.

With regard to the University seats, it really would have been unjust if the Government, which happened to be a Labour Government, or the Parliament which brought in the Representation of the People Bill which proposed to abolish University seats—there was plenty of quite understandable controversy about that—had proposed to exclude university M.P.s forthwith although they had been elected to that Parliament. Therefore it was natural, it was just, that the exclusion of university M.P.s should not take place until the end of the existence of that Parliament.

As to the admission of women to the House of Commons, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor pointed out, I think quite accurately, that that Bill was not passed until almost the eve of an Election. But that, I suggest, was fortuitous; it happened that the legislation passed about the eve of an Election; and, in any case, that was a change of a different order in which it could have been argued with force—I do not say I should have agreed with it—that it should not take place until the beginning of another Parliament, although changes of the electorate could take place in the middle of a Parliament. But this is not a Bill of itself which radically changes the composition of Parliament. Up to now we know for certain of only one case which would change the composition of this House in relation to what would happen in the normal course of things and modifies the composition of the House of Commons. But it is not a Bill of very great changes.

The other argument of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor boiled down to this: the Report of the Select Committee did not say that this change should operate earlier than a General Election; and in regard to the various statements that the noble and learned Lord quoted he had the same criticism—that they did not stipulate that the proposals should operate before a General Election. But the onus is surely upon the Government to show that they themselves throughout stipulated that this Bill should not operate until the Dissolution. Then they would have a reasonable case. We approached the subject, both in the proceedings of the Joint Select Committee and in the subsequent debate in the House, on the basis that what we were anxious about was that if possible a Bill should be brought in in this Session of Parliament. The Government at first were apparently rather unwilling to bring in a Bill in this Session of Parliament, no doubt owing to the Parliamentary programme, an unwillingness which I understand; but they were pressed, and in the end they decided to bring in a Bill in the present Parliamentary Session, and we were glad about that decision.

The pressure was that this problem should be solved not later than the end of the life of the present Parliament. That was really the argument that was impressed upon the Government, and we are not bound to prove any more. But because we said it ought to be operative not later than the end of the Parliament does not mean that we did not also have in our minds that if the legislation was passed in the present Session of Parliament it should be operative forthwith, as is the normal case with legislation unless the Bill provides otherwise. The heavens will not fall, whatever happens, but I can see a great deal of inconvenience to people who are affected, and particularly to constituencies. A Member of another place may succeed to a Peerage and not be sitting there, as in the case of Bristol, where a Conservative M.P. sits although he was defeated on the vote (and, if I remember rightly, he gave a public undertaking that if the Government altered the law in this matter or acted in the way that has turned out to be the general will of Parliament he would resign, because he was not too happy himself in the position of a Member who had been defeated on the vote of the electorate). When this Bill is passed that question may arise for the honourable Member for Bristol. South-East: that he may feel he is in honour bound to resign. If so, what is going to happen? On the Bill as it stands Mr. Wedgwood Benn—I do not want to keep harping on his name as it might affect other people as well—would normally be the Labour candidate at the by-election. I gather he has been selected as the prospective Labour candidate. But he could not, unless this Bill was operative—unless he again ran the risk of being disqualified on appeal to the High Court.

Therefore, Bristol would have to choose another Labour candidate, if they were willing so to do. That candidate would have to accept it on the understanding, which could not be constitutionally binding, that he would not run at the General Election. That is rather undignified for the man who runs; he would have to say, "I am merely the caretaker pending the time when somebody else is available to run in the General Election". I suggest that the Government will lose nothing by letting the Amendment of my noble friend pass. It has been supported by influential noble Lords on both sides. The Government will lose nothing. The Constitution will not rock to its foundations. In fact the Constitution, jolly old thing, will hardly notice what has happened at all. It shows what a strong and powerful thing this unwritten Constitution is.


There is the difficulty of another place agreeing to our Amendment.


I agree about that. There were times when the noble Viscount and I could speak with greater authority for another place. But my impression is that if your Lordships were to pass this Amendment it would be readily accepted in the House of Commons, I should have thought on both sides, because, as the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, says, there is no Party view in this at all; it is a matter of good sense. Therefore it is perfectly right for the noble Viscount, Lord Stuart of Findhorn, to raise the point, but I do not apprehend any difficulty in another place especially if the Government move "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment". They have sufficient authority in another place to get it through, but I think they will get it through with general assent and general good will.

Therefore, I urge the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, who has addressed us in his usual persuasive style, to think again about this matter and, on reflection, to see that there is a substantial body in this Committee—possibly a majority—who would support this Amendment. I hope, for the sake of good feeling, and moreover for the supreme sake of settling a little constitutional difficulty by good will and agreement all round (which is a great thing if it can be achieved), the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor will be able to think again about the matter in the light of the debate, and see whether he cannot accept the Amendment that my noble friend has moved.


May I add a few considerations in support of this Amendment? On the first point, on what the Government have previously said, I hope that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor appreciates that nobody is accusing the Government of any breach of faith. The question is simply what we all understood. I think the words quoted by my noble and learned friend this afternoon in his reply just now—I think I got them down aright—were in time to take effect at the next General Election. Well, of course, they are not really conclusive either way. Speaking for myself, all I can say is that I understood the matter in the same way as did the noble Lord, Lord Silkin.

As nobody is suggesting that the Government are guilty of any breach of faith in the matter, I pass at once to the merits. When we consider the merits, I think it is the business of this House to try to see that legislation goes through in such a form as not to make Parliament ridiculous. Suppose we passed this Bill in the form in which it now stands, and thereafter, in the lifetime of this Parliament, one of those events occurred to which noble Lords who have previously spoken drew attention, and it was found that a recently passed Statute was quite inadequate to deal with the problem which then arose and which anybody could have foreseen. What would be said about Parliament and what would then be the prestige of both Houses? Since the argument on the merits seems to me to be overwhelming, it seems to me to be important that Parliament should not make a fool of itself. I thought that, in giving the precedents, my noble and learned friend laid an astonishing reliance on the 1948 Statute abolishing the University seats. It would have been a bold step, even for that Government, to pass an Act which promptly expelled from the House some dozen Members, including Sir John Anderson and Walter Elliot, not to mention Kenneth Pickthorn and myself. I doubt whether it would have paid them.

Now I come to the only point on which I wholly agree with my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor—namely, that this matter is principally one for another place. There, I think he is quite right. There has been a Division in that other place, but it was a Division with the Whips on. It may, I think, be improper for us to speculate on what may be the view of another place, but if we pass this Amendment, believing as we do in its merits, it will then be for the other place to decide whether it agrees with us or not. If it does not, late in the day though it is, we may have a chance to say whether or not we insist on our Amendment. If, on the other hand, the Commons agree with us, then cadit quœstio. For those reasons, I hope with the noble Lords, Lord Morrison of Lambeth and Lord Swinton, that even at this late stage the Government will find it possible to accept this Amendment.

4.25 p.m.


I am going to be brief, because I think we have heard all the arguments adduced on both sides, and I think we are all ready to come to a decision, if a decision in the Lobby is necessary. But I would appeal most earnestly to the Lord Chancellor and to the Government to think again and to accept this Amendment. As I listened to the noble and learned Lord, I felt sorry that he had to defend such a poor case as he had. He did his best, but he was really trying to defend the indefensible. I am sure we all listened to him with great interest, in the hope that he would, at long last, divulge the really powerful reasons which had led the Government to depart in this particular case from the usual procedure by which a Bill comes into force immediately after the Royal Assent. There may be arguments which convinced them in favour of the course they have adopted, but they certainly have not divulged them to us. The noble and learned Lord quoted certain rather remote precedents where the coming into force of Bills has been delayed, but I think far more important precedents have been quoted this afternoon from the other side by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin; precedents which, to my mind, easily outweigh those which were quoted by the Government.

The noble and learned Lord also reminded us of what I can only call certain rather sibylline utterances he made on May 16, which convinced him absolutely that the Government had made it clear to your Lordships that what they meant was that the Bill should not come into force until the Dissolution of Parliament. If I may say so, they may have convinced him, but I do not think they convinced a single other Member of this House. I think we all came to the conclusion that what was meant was that the time which should be given for people to make up their minds should be by the General Election, and not at the General Election. He said, that at any rate none of us here protested at that time against what he said. None of us at that time had seen the Bill, and we had no idea that the interpretation which he put upon his words was one which we might even expect to understand.

In view of all these arguments, I must say that I remain convinced that the case in favour of this Amendment is really overwhelming. By postponing the coming into force of this Bill until the General Election we shall not only be doing something which is quite contrary to the usual practice of Parliament, but also, quite gratuitously, creating all sorts of difficulties to which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, drew attention in the speech with which he moved his Amendment. The question of the coming into force of the Bill was never raised at the Select Committee, and the Amendment therefore does not in any way upset the delicate balance of compromise between widely differing views. There is one last thing I should like to say to the Lord Chancellor. One argument he used was this. I do not think it has been referred to by subsequent speakers, and perhaps I misheard him, but I understood him to say that, because this Amendment had been rejected in the House of Commons, we had absolutely got to do the same thing in this House.


I did not say that at all. I said exactly the contrary: that it was perfectly open to us to do as we wished. While I am on my feet, may I correct one other observation? I am sorry if I am so frequently

misunderstood, but in fact I did not make the announcement on May 15. The statement was made by my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham.


I, of course, withdraw if I have misunderstood what the noble and learned Lord has said. But the position is exactly the same whoever made the statement. It has been interpreted by the Lord Chancellor as meaning one thing and by the rest of us as meaning another. As for the argument about our not standing up against the House of Commons, I will read Hansard to-morrow, but the impression made on me was that we ought to be very careful before we disagreed with the House of Commons. That is an argument which, if it ever were made in this House, none of us would accept. We are unwilling to be regarded as a rubber stamp for the other House. We always take our own view, and I hope that we always shall. I would appeal to the noble and learned Lord, even now, to accept the overwhelming view of this Committee and accept the Amendment. If he cannot do that, then I am afraid that I, like a great many other noble Lords, shall have to go into the Lobby in its support.


My Lords, I am a Scots elected Representative Peer. I do not want to say more on this subject, but will confine myself to saying that, while I do not think Clause 4 of this Bill will affect my position in any way, I am ready to accept any sacrifice that it may involve in order that we may get what I think to be a perfectly proper and fair amendment of this Bill.

4.35 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 18) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 105; Not-Contents, 25.

Aberdare, L. Braye, L. Coutanche, L.
Addison, V. Brocket, L. Crathorne, L.
Ailwyn, L. Burden, L. Crook, L. [Teller.]
Airedale, L. Burton of Coventry, B. Darwen, L.
Albemarle, E. Champion, L. De La Warr, E.
Alexander of Hillsborough, E. Chorley, L. Douglas of Barloch, L.
Ampthill, L. Clitheroe, L. Ebbisham, L.
Attlee, E. Clwyd, L. Eccles, L.
Auckland, L. Cohen, L. Effingham, E.
Balfour of Burleigh, L. Colyton, L. Elliot of Harwood, B.
Barnby, L. Conesford, L. Enniskillen, E.
Forster of Harraby, L. Longford, E. Salisbury, M.
Fortescue, E. Lucan, E. Saltoun, L.
Fraser of North Cape, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L. Sandford, L.
Furness, V. Mabane, L. Saye and Sele, L.
Gosford, E. Mansfield, E. Shepherd, L.
Grantchester, L. Mar and Kellie, E. Silkin, L.
Grenfell, L. Massereene and Ferrard, V. Sinha, L.
Hailes, L. Mersey, V. Stonehaven, V.
Harvey of Tasburgh, L. Merthyr, L. Stonham, L.
Hawke, L. Meston, L. Strang, L. [Teller.]
Henderson, L. Milverton, L. Strathcarron, L.
Hereford, V. Morrison, L. Stuart of Findhorn, V.
Howard of Glossop, L. Morrison of Lambeth, L. Summerskill, B.
Iddesleigh, E. Moyne, L. Swinton, E.
Inman, L. Ogmore, L. Taylor, L.
Jessel, L. Radnor, E. Terrington, L.
Killearn, L. Rea, L. Teynham, L.
Lambert, V. Robertson of Oakridge, L. Twining, L.
Latham, L. Russell of Liverpool, L. Walston, L.
Lawson, L. Sainsbury, L. Ward of Witley, V.
Lilford, L. St. Davids, V. Williams, L.
Lindgren, L. St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich, L. Bp. Wilmot of Selmeston, L.
Listowel, E. Windlesham, L.
Lloyd, L. St. Just, L. Wise, L.
Long, V.
Atholl, D. Dundee, E. Lansdowne, M.
Carrington, L. Ferrers, E. Lothian, M.
Chelmsford, V. Fraser of Lonsdale, L. Merrivale, L.
Chesham, L. Goschen, V. [Teller.] Mills, V.
Craigton, L. Hanworth, V. Newton, L.
Denham, L. Hastings, L. St. Aldwyn, E. [Teller.]
Derwent, L. Horsbrugh, B. St. Oswald, L.
Devonshire, D. Jellicoe, E. Spens, L.
Dilhorne, L. (L. Chancellor.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.

Clause 7, as amended, agreed to.

Schedules agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with an Amendment.