HL Deb 18 July 1963 vol 252 cc302-12

3.15 p.m.

Report of Amendments received (according to Order).

Clause 1 [Disclaimer of certain hereditary peerages]:

THE DUKE OF ATHOLL moved, in subsection (2), to leave out "twenty-one" and insert "twenty-five". The noble Duke said: My Lords, before getting down to the gist of this Amendment, I should like to apologise to my noble friend Lord St. Aldwyn because when I raised this matter on Committee stage I gave to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, the credit for putting forward a similar Amendment in the Select Committee. On re-reading the Report of the Select Committee I discover that it was in fact my noble friend who moved this particular Amendment and not Lord Silkin, although Lord Silkin supported it. As my noble friend probably will not remember the Committee stage of this Bill with great happiness, I wish to give him this slight consolation and at least give him credit where credit is due. I should also like to apologise for bringing this matter up at this late stage, although I did mention it on Committee stage.

I want to explain exactly what my Amendments will mean if they are accepted by your Lordships. Clause 1, subsection (2), if amended as proposed, would read: Any instrument of disclaimer to be delivered under this section in respect of a peerage shall be delivered within the period of twelve months beginning with the day on which the person disclaiming succeeds to that peerage or, if he is under the age of twenty-five when he so succeeds, the period of five years beginning with the day on which he attains or attained the age of twenty-one". This would mean—at least I hope that it would mean—that anyone who succeeded to a Peerage under the age of 25 would have until he was 26 to decide whether he wished to disclaim or to remain in your Lordships' House. But if he had succeeded to the Peerage before 21 he could disclaim at any time after 21 (as provided in the Bill at the moment), or if he asked for a Writ of Summons to your Lordships' House he would, of course, henceforward be ineligible to disclaim. My main difficulty about convincing your Lordships of the merit of this Amendment is the fact that the Select Committee were entirely unconvinced, and I frankly admit it. On an identical Amendment the voting in the Select Committee was 14 to 5, but I think that there were special reasons why the Select Committee were unconvinced about the merits of this Amendment. I will try to explain them.

First, out of the 14 who voted against this Amendment on the Select Committee, 6 were Members of another place. And we all know that most Members of another place regard coming here rather as entering a peculiar form of gilded prison. Therefore, I think they were in no doubt that any sensible person would want to disclaim as soon as possible. So I feel that we ought not to count the six people in another place who voted against this Amendment on the Select Committee. That leaves eight Members of this House who also voted against it. I have consulted that excellent reference book. Dod's Parliamentary Companion, and, subject to the accuracy of that and the accuracy of my edition, the average age of the Members of your Lordships' House who voted against this on Select Committee is about two months over 70. These are people who must find it difficult—I find it hard enough myself—to remember what it was like to be 21. People who were 21 fifty years ago must find it peculiarly difficult to know what it is like to be as young as 21 and have to take a decision that is going to last one the whole of one's life, a decision which may have a very important effect upon one's life. The youngest Member of those who voted against the Amendment in the Select Committee was born in 1900—to be exact, in May of that year. Therefore, he would have had to take a decision in 1921. Well, that is so long ago that things have changed very radically since then, and whereas he might have felt that in 1921 he would have had no particular difficulty in taking the decision, I feel that it is an extremely difficult decision to make at such a young age.

I should also like to point out to your Lordships that the three noble Lords who voted for this Amendment on the Select Committee were the two youngest Members on it plus the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, whose spirit and appearance certainly belie his birth certificate. Their age was only 51 and 8 months or so. So I think that, if one had drawn a line between the under fifties, who might possibly remember what it was like to be in their early twenties, and the over fifties, who I think would have had even more difficulty in remembering, the Select Committee would have been on my side. I hope, therefore, that I have satisfactorily convinced your Lordships that the people who really mattered on this particular point were all on my side.

Although I think this is a bad Bill, as it does not go to what I regard as the root of the matter—and that is that someone who has made his career, and made a great mark in politics, in your Lordships' House will still not under this Bill be able to lead his Party or take a very high office of State—I do not think at the moment that this is an unfair Bill. But I really do think that it would be grossly unfair to certain people if it went through unamended in this respect, as I think it is extremely unfair to ask anyone to take a decision, which cannot be altered for the whole of his life, before he is 22.

I know that I am going to be told that people have to take a lot of other major decisions at 21. I personally cannot think of any—but apparently one does have to take decisions at 21—other than what sort of career one is going into; that would arise somewhere between 21 and 23. Having left one's university, one then has to make the horrible decision of whether one is going to be a bank clerk or a bookmaker. I feel that you want to take this decision unencumbered by other considerations, such as whether you are eventually going to wish to make your career in the House of Commons or in this House. I think that is not a reason for making people take their decision between the ages of 21 and 22, but a reason for allowing them to postpone it for another five years. I hope your Lordships will agree with me over this. Also, I do not think that any other decision has quite the same finality. In addition, of course, in the year from 21 to 22 one is extremely busy trying to pass one's Finals at a university, or is very likely to be extremely busy trying to pass one's Finals at a university, always presuming that one has had sufficient intelligence to get into a university. So I feel that the less worries one has outside that particular context, the better.

I think that there would be one of two effects from forcing a decision on this particular point at too tender an age. The first effect is that many people would disclaim and regret it afterwards because they would find they did not want to pursue politics with quite such avidity as members in another place pursue them—possibly they would not like sitting up till 2 o'clock in the morning everyday, while we do that only when we have such things as the London Government Bill to keep us occupied. Possibly they would find that there was no constituency prepared to adopt them, or, if they were like the noble Lords who sit opposite—and I must admit that their Party was the only Party which voted together and undivided on the Select Committee—they might find that there was no constituency for which they could actually be elected.

The other effect is that many people who wanted to enter another place later on in life would then find that they were not able to do so so because they had not disclaimed before they were 22. I think it would be a pity if either of these things occurred. Therefore, my Lords, I think it is unfair to ask anyone to make such a vital decision, on which one's whole future career might depend, before he or (under this new Bill) she was 22. I hope therefore that your Lordships will give all these Amendment of mine—and they all hang together—your serious and best consideration. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 16, leave out ("twenty-one") and insert ("twenty-five").—(The Duke of Atholl.)


My Lords, I listened to the noble Duke very carefully, because I remembered the arguments in the Joint Select Committee. I listened with an open mind, to see whether he could convince me that we had been wrong in the Joint Select Committee. But the more he went on, the less convinced I was, and the less relevant I found his speech to the question before us. When I was very young I used to be "ticked off" by my Socialist elders, and I replied by saying that brains were not synonymous with whiskers. I would say to the noble Duke that brains are not synonymous with youth, either, and I agree with Mr. Butler that a combination of age and youth is a good thing in public administration. It really will not do to say that a young man of 21 is unfitted to make up his mind as to whether or not he wants to be a Peer of the Realm and sit in this House. It has nothing necessarily to do with his wishing to sit in the House of Commons. He may not want to sit in either place—many people do not. Therefore that is not conclusive.

Then the noble Duke says, "Well, they may be studying for their finals at a university." I must say that, reading the newspapers, I find that young men at universities, even at the age of 21, seem to find plenty of time to do other things besides pursuing their studies—some of them good and some not so good. Therefore I think that that point is irrelevant. Moreover, the noble Duke has forgotten that people can get married under the age of 21; indeed, we have read of cases where people have married at 16. If ever there was a serious decision in life, with less certain results than coming into this House or another place, it surely is about getting married. Therefore I think that this is an unwise Amendment. I believe that it is reasonable to say that, if a young man becomes of age and has a chance to be a Peer, he is quite fit to make up his mind with his eyes open and with his mind clear on the matter. I hope therefore that the Amendment will not be accepted.

3.27 p.m.


My Lords, I listened with interest to the speech made by the noble Duke in moving this Amendment, and particularly to his ingenious efforts to discount the decision arrived at by the Select Committee. He began by discounting the views expressed by the Members of another place, on the assumption that they thought everyone would want to disclaim a Peerage at the earliest possible moment. I do not know what grounds there are for that assumption. But what was interesting to me was that, having referred to the age of your Lordships who sat upon that Committee, and having animadverted upon the question of whether they could remember what they had done or not done when they were 21, he did not—no doubt out of a sense of delicacy—submit the Members of another place to the same kind of meticulous examination.

My Lords, views may differ upon a question such as this, as indeed they did in the Select Committee. I have no doubt that the matter was fully considered by that Select Committee, with the result, as the noble Duke has told us, that the Amendment that he is now proposing was rejected by a decisive majority. I think I am right in saying that when this Bill came before another place, no Amendment was moved to the Bill dealing with this particular point, and the Bill has come to your Lordships' House dealing with that point in the same form as that in which it was introduced in another place.

Some people may take the view—and I have heard it expressed—that people should not be able to vote until they are 25. Other people particularly disagree with that. The law as it now stands is that one comes of age when one is 21, and from that time onwards one has power to make irrevocable decisions. The noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, referred to the decision, which one hopes will be irrevocable at the time one makes it, to enter into matrimony. But there are many other irrevocable decisions which may have to be arrived at soon after attaining the age of 21—decisions with regard to legal arrangements, settlements and all kinds of things; and it would be a departure from the ordinary rule of law to assume that in this particular connection a person of the age of 21 and up to the age of 22 is not competent to decide irrevocably a matter of this sort. Whether that argument appeals to your Lordships or not, or whether it does or does not appeal to some, I submit it to your Lordships as an argument which cannot and should not be disregarded; and we should not, I suggest, make an exception from the general principle M. this one particular.

However that may be, I must ask your Lordships to reject this Amendment, if the noble Duke thinks fit to press it, for the reason that this, again, is part of the package (I hope that I can say that word without arousing the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich: I am not using the word "deal", but am saying merely part of the package") which was signed in the Joint Select Committee's Report as the highest common factor between all the members of the Committee with regard to the changes to be brought about by this legislation. I hope that the noble Duke will not expect me to reply at any greater length to his arguments. I thought he put the case for change as attractively and as persuasively as it could be put; but, for the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, and those which I have put before the House, I ask your Lordships to reject the Amendment if the noble Duke does not think fit to withdraw it.


My Lords, I should not have intervened in this discussion but for the fact that my name has been referred to in such charming terms by the noble Duke. I support this provision, and I still have great sympathy with what the noble Duke has put forward. I am bound to say, however, that the view which the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, and I, and others, put forward to the Committee was not accepted, and I feel that I must accept the views of the Committee because we have all agreed, by and large, with minor exceptions, to accept the findings of the Committee in order to get this legislation through. I feel that it would be unwise for the noble Duke to press this Amendment and that he should help us to ensure that the deal does go through in the form in which we all of us intended.


My Lords, I should like to thank everyone for this little discussion. I was fairly confident what the result would be before I started. I should just like to say to my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor that I never said—at least, I hope I never said—that I did not think people between the age of 21 and 22 were competent to decide whether or not they wished to disclaim. All I wished to say was that I thought they might regret the decision afterwards. After all, many of us have made many decisions for which we are extremely competent but which we regret enormously afterwards. With those few words, I beg leave to withdraw this Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.34 p.m.

THE EARL OF SWINTON moved, in subsection (3)(a), to leave out "six" and insert "twelve".

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I can move this Amendment quite shortly, and, unlike my noble friend the Duke of Atholl, I shall assume that simple English is intelligible even to those of your Lordships who are over 70 years of age. I must say that I resent a little the reflection upon those of us who have reached that splendid prime of life, and I would remind my noble friend of a saying by Monsieur Clemenceau who, having seen an extremely pretty girl, said, "Oh, to be seventy again!" My Lords, this is the same Amendment, but in appropriate language (for which I have to thank my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor and the Parliamentary draftsmen), that I moved on the Committee stage. The result of making the Amendment is perfectly simple: we should leave those Members of Parliament who are sitting in another place with one month within which to decide; we should leave Peers who succeed to this House and who are not now sitting with twelve months in which to decide whether to disclaim or not, which is what the Select Committee recommended; but we should give to Peers who are now sitting in this House the same time within which to make up their minds as that which we give to Peers who succeed.

I admit that that is a variation from the recommendation of the Select Committee, but I think I shall be within the memory of members of that Select Committee I say that I do not think we considered particularly why we should differentiate between those two classes of people. I remember very well that we said that this was a very important decision, and that a man who succeeded ought to have a reasonable time (which we said was twelve months) within which to make up his mind. I think I am right in saying that we had before us the whole question of those people who should succeed hereafter to this House, and that we took that decision first and decided that they should have the right to disclaim, and should have twelve months in which to decide whether or not to do it. Then, later on, we came on to consider a very important paper —indeed, two papers—put in by the noble Viscount the Leader of the House about the rights of Peers who are now sitting here to disclaim. We considered that very carefully, and we came to the conclusion, by a narrow majority—but we all stood by it—that a Peer who is now sitting here should have the right to disclaim. We gave him—and, again, I do not know quite why—six months in which to do it. We said that he ought to do it within a stated time, and we gave him six months within which to make up his mind.

Quite honesty, looking back, and having considered this question very carefully since, I cannot see that, either in logic or in equity, there is any real reason for distinguishing between any of your Lordships who is sitting here now and somebody, whatever his age be, who succeeds hereafter to your Lordships' House; and if twelve months is the right period for a Peer who succeeds, then I think twelve months is a reasonable time to give those of us who are concerned (I should not have the option, as things stand, but those who are not Peers of first creation) in which to make up our minds. Let me make it clear, my Lords, that this Amendment does not say that the new Peer cannot take his decision until twelve months are up. Of course, if he wished to take his decision earlier, within a month or two, there would be nothing, if my Amendment were carried, to stop him from taking the decision then; but it would give him the period of twelve months, if he so desired, within which to make up his mind.

I believe that added force is given to this Amendment by the decision which your Lordships took in Committee by such a large majority the other day, when you accepted Lord Silkin's Amendment that the Bill shall come into force when it receives the Royal Assent. I must say that I think that adds great force to my Amendment. I do not know what we on the Select Committee should have done if we had considered when the Bill should come into force—we certainly never did; but I think that decision does add force to this Amendment. I would suggest that a reasonable corollary to the Amendment which we carried the other day would be that we should give all Peers twelve months within which to make up their minds. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 10, leave out ("six") and insert ("twelve").—(The Earl of Swinton.)


My Lords, I should like to support the noble Earl in his Amendment. It is true that the Committee did not envisage this, but he has made a clear case in logic. We must remember that if this Amendment is passed it does not mean that in July, 1964, all Members of your Lordships' House who wish to disclaim will do so en bloc. This will not happen. Those who have made up their minds now will go ahead and I do not see why others should not have as long a time as those who have not yet succeeded to take the most important decision in their personal lives.


My Lords, may I add a word on another point which I raised at the Committee stage when I pointed out the discrepancy between the treatment of minors under subsection (2) and under subsection (3)(a)? One lot of minors would have twelve months and the other lot of minors would have six months. The Amendment of my noble friend Lord Swinton, which I support, removes that anomaly.


I think the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, is under a misapprehension. It is not the Amendment now under consideration that removes that anomaly. It is the next Amendment, as I understand it, in the noble Earl's name. I will confine my remarks to the Amendment now under consideration. I have done my best in debates in Committee to support the conclusions of the Joint Select Committee realising, as has been said more than once, that that was the highest common factor which could be agreed upon. I was interested to hear what the noble Earl said about the proceedings of that Committee in relation to this point. I understand that the relevant Motion was that Peers should be given the opportunity to disclaim within a reasonable time; but why the Committee chose six months as being a reasonable time and why they thought that it should be shorter than the time available for Peers who succeed after the change of law does not appear from their Report.

Earlier during the proceedings on Committee stage I put forward some suggestions as to the possible reasons for the discrepancy between the treatment of sitting Peers and those who succeeded after the Bill came into force. I take the view that really the Amendment moved by the noble Earl, if it cannot properly be described as consequential, is, at least, complementary to the Amendments which were carried by your Lordships on the last day we sat in Committee. If this Amendment were not passed as if it were consequential or complementary, the position would be this. A sitting Peer in this House would have six months within which to disclaim the Peerage from the enactment of this measure, and that period might possibly be a considerable number of months from the date of Dissolution. I would have thought it would be unfortunate to have any long gap between one event and the other.

Therefore I would advise your Lordships not to oppose this Amendment or, indeed, the Amendment to which the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, spoke, which is also, in a sense, consequential or complementary on the basis that these two Amendments follow upon, and at least to a very considerable extent, if not entirely, go with the Amendments carried by your Lordships the other day. What may happen with regard to those Amendments does not rest with us. We shall see in due course what occurs in relation to them. It seems to me that these two Amendments are closely linked with those. For these reasons I would advise your Lordships not to oppose these Amendments.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


My Lords, this is what I may call the "Conesford complementary" Amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 8, line 12, leave out ("six") and insert ("twelve").—(The Earl of Swinton.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.