HL Deb 22 July 1963 vol 252 cc450-6

2.48 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time. I do not think your Lordships would wish me to support this Motion with a speech which refers in any detail to the contents of the Bill, or indeed with a speech of any length. After all, we debated the contents of the Report containing the Joint Select Committee's conclusions on March 28, and we had a further debate on Second Reading and several interesting debates in Committee. Your Lordships may indeed feel that further debate is unnecessary. None the less, I hope your Lordships will bear with me when I say how glad I am to see this Bill in its final stages. For me, it has a long history, for I was a member of the Committee of Privileges in another place which considered Mr. Wedgwood Benn's case; and in the debate on the Report of that Committee in another place, so long ago as April 13, 1961, I expressed the personal view that if the law was changed it would be unfair that those who had taken their seats in this House should be denied the power to renounce their seats.

I also drew attention then to the position of Scottish Peers who were not elected as Representative Peers, to Irish Peers who were not entitled to vote though they could not sit in this House, and to the position of hereditary Peeresses. All the problems I drew attention to then are dealt with, and dealt with satisfactorily, in this Bill, and we owe a great debt to the members of the Joint Select Committee for the work they did. I am very glad now to move that this Bill be read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(The Lord Chancellor.)


My Lords, I think there are Members in all parts of your Lordships' House who are glad that the Bill has reached this stage. There seemed to be a little difficulty upon the Report stage, and I hope the noble and learned Lord Chancellor who sits on the Woolsack, and who stoutly resisted an Amendment from our side, will allow me to say how much we appreciate the broadmindedness of the great majority of the Members of this House present on that occasion. I do not know whether the Government are to-day going to make any statement, which it has been whispered has already been decided, that the Amendment so passed by your Lordships' House will be incorporated in the final measure. I can only express my great wish that that will be so; and I think that it will also be the wish of the great majority of the Members of your Lordships' House. I felt that this was a rather unique Parliamentary occasion when, on what was obviously a pure question of justice to anybody who might be affected by the particular subsection of the Bill, the great majority did their best on the whole matter. I am grateful to the House for that, and I hope that the Amendment will be finally enacted.


My Lords, I will keep your Lordships only a few moments, because I know that there is to follow major Business which has been set down for this day. I should like just to state, fairly shortly, that I believe there are two serious disabilities to this Bill, and that it will eventually and inevitably require amendment. The first is the invidious position of all disclaiming Peers. I should like to give two examples. Lord X, a Marquess, disclaims his Peerage to become Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer or Home Secretary. He has spent all his life in the Lords, but such is the deadlock of personalities in the Commons that he alone can fill the bill. Besides his family name he has three titles, one of which is borne by his son and another by his grandson. In accordance with the Peerage Act this honourable man and his family abandon all their titles. He soon finds—and his relations with him—that nobody, except the Speaker of the House of Commons himself, follows his lead. The Press abroad and at home, the shops, his friends, his correspondents, works of reference, family lawyers, all make no change at all in the nomenclature by which he has always been known. This splendid man is deeply offended and grieved, and he causes inquiries to be made. Before long testamentary proof of an Irish Peerage, co-equal and co-extensive with his United Kingdom Peerage, is forthcoming. Honour is thereby saved. My Lords, this example is not so far-fetched as it might seem to be. There are 44 United Kingdom Peers who sit in this House and who could disclaim and sit in the Commons with Irish titles, 7 of them with the same rank and with the same name.

The second example I should like to give your Lordships is of a young Member of Parliament whose name is a household word. He succeeds to a Peerage. He disclaims. The section of opinion that I have just referred to will have none of it. They insist on calling him by his title. Puritanical for the law, he campaigns for the acceptance of his surname and fails in his campaign. His career is thoroughly inhibited. The examples can be worked precisely the other way round—in that case with disaster to the Peer and triumph for the commoner. But what the world says about it, my Lords, is that the law is an ass upon the subject.

The second disability which I should like to explain to your Lordships affects you all as a whole. The occasion for the exercise of the choice of disclaimer is a dynamic occasion for a Peer on attaining the age of 21, and an heir on succeeding. Each has a chance in his own time to make that choice. With your Lordships as a whole, however, the choice is static; it is now and for twelve months from now, and not after that. About 700 noble Lords, I presume, have not been here, some hundreds of noble Lords may not have heard of this debate at all, and quite a comparative number, let us suggest, are away abroad, scaling the highest mountains and penetrating the deepest jungles—we do not know where they are. Ten years ago the names of those Peers who might be going to disclaim would have been very different from the names to-day. Half a dozen have been suggested; perhaps rather fewer. Ten years ago they would have been completely different people, in completely different circumstances; and ten years from now the group of names of people willing to disclaim, if it were law, would be utterly different. But from next week twelve-month half a dozen of such potential electees will be debarred by this Statute from making that choice. I really think that this, as time flows on, will become a fatal disability.

It seems to me that the Joint Select Committee have not envisaged this situation as they should have done, by a revolving process, every Parliament or every two Parliaments, of giving your Lordships an opportunity again to disclaim. Therefore I think that, inevitably, amending legislation will come. Once-for-all legislation is always bad, whether it is a Peerage Bill or an investment levy. Except for the provision for Peeresses and Scottish Peers I maintain again, as I did on Second Reading and on Committee, that this is one of the most unsatisfactory Bills ever to come before Parliament. I believe that amendments to it are inevitable if justice is going to be done to those who are interested.

2.58 p.m.


My Lords, I presume that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor (I will come to the noble Earl in a bit, if I can clear my mind as to what he means), before the Motion for Third Reading is put, will consider whether he should tell us what the Government's intentions are with regard to the Amendment that your Lordships carried by such a very big and satisfactory majority. Of course, it is possible that the Lord Chancellor may take the view that it is for the other place to consider whether or not they agree with the Lords in the said Amendment, and if he declines to tell us I shall understand. On the other hand, I think it is a bit rough on the Lord Chancellor that he should have taken such pains to resist that Amendment and then had to go through the humiliation of being defeated by 105 to 25, and soon after that finding that the Government are saying, through the Press, that all his labours were in vain, because they are going to accept the Amendment anyway. It is a sad experience. Either the Government have let the Lord Chancellor down, or the Lord Chancellor has let the Government down. I am not quite clear which it is: whether it is that he did not make his speech well enough to persuade the House to go the other way—not that I want to discourage the House from going against the Government from time to time. I agree with the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, that it is a very good Parliamentary experience that, now and again, this House should disagree with a Conservative Government.

But do not let the Chief Whip rejoice too soon, because it is unusual. Usually, this House is a rubber stamp for a Conservative Government; but, thank heavens!, this time it was not. It was a welcome experience to us on this side, and I gather that it was a welcome experience to some noble Lords on the other side, because otherwise the Amendment would not have been carried with such a large majority. I want to congratulate the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, and the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, on their courage, on the declaration of their bill of rights, so to speak, and on their independence, in asserting the right of this House to have a mind of its own, subject to what happens when the Amendment gets back to the other place.

The more I listened to the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, the more I came to the conclusion that the decision on the other Amendment, which was handsomely defeated—namely, in favour of the drowning of the Peerage after renunciation—was right. I thought, in view of the long disquisition he made—not overlong, but still adequate—that he overdid it. He talks of going to the other place, which I increasingly doubt because I believe he rather thinks the price would be too much if the name of the Earl of Sandwich were to be lost from current use, despite his hopes that the Press, and so on, will go on calling him what he is now called. But I must say that I thought he overdid it; and I am beginning to think that, on a balance of consideration, he would sooner have the title than go back to the House of Commons. But it is a free country and, under this Bill, he is entitled to do as he likes.

The first part of his speech dealt with an imaginary Lord who disclaimed, went back to another place and became Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer or Home Secretary. I did not know whether that was intended to be autobiographical or illustrative: whether that indicated the noble Earl's intention or not. For the rest of it, in regard to all the other matters that he mentioned, I do not see the House getting terribly excited about it. These cases will not be numerous. In fact, if we could handpick from the other side noble Lords who should disclaim, we might be very helpful in suggesting who they should be. I have a few in mind myself. But that privilege will not be accorded to us. I do not know what the intentions of the noble Earl are, but if he would like to tell me I will give way to him so that he can inform us of his intentions. But it was an extraordinary speech: partly biographical detail; partly imagining other sorts of cases; and partly other material as to the names people are going to be known by, and so on. The more I listened to him the more I became convinced that the purpose of the Amendment to drown the Peerage upon its being disclaimed was right. If the noble Earl had accepted it, it might have saved him a lot of worry that I suspect has been keeping him awake at night—and I am very sorry about that because I think it is a good thing for the House and the nation that he should sleep well.

My Lords, I think this House has done very well on this Bill; I think the House of Commons also has done very well on this Bill, and, if I may say so, I think that on this occasion the Government have done very well, too. We cordially support this Third Reading, together with an indication of sympathy to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for the unpleasant experience he went through and the humiliation which he has suffered. I would only utter this word of comfort to him: that if he has suffered, my Lords, he has suffered in a good cause.


My Lords, I feel I must say a word or two in reply to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth. I have not felt humiliated during the passage of this Bill; nor have I suffered—at least, not to the same extent as during the course of the London Government Bill. With regard to the inquiry as to what may happen in another place in relation to this Bill, all I have done is to move that this Bill be now read a Third Time; and, after my experience in your Lordships' House, it would indeed be foolish of me to predict what might or might not happen in another place to an Amendment agreed to in this House.

On Question, Bill read 3a, with the Amendments, and passed, and returned to the Commons.