HL Deb 28 March 1963 vol 248 cc265-322

2.44 p.m.

THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD DILHORNE) rose to move to resolve, That this House takes note of the Report of the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Resolution which appears on the Order Paper in my name. The Report of the Joint Committee was published last December, and I do not doubt has been the subject of close and careful study by your Lordships. The proposals in the Report, if accepted, will involve very considerable constitutional changes, the importance of which I wish neither to exaggerate nor to minimise. For two and a half centuries there have been constitutional provisions distinguishing between the rights of the holders of Scottish Peerages and those of Peers of the United Kingdom, Great Britain and England. In the long history of this House hereditary Peeresses have not been admitted, and it has never been possible for a Peer to surrender his Peerage. I am sure your Lordships will agree that no changes should be made in the membership of either House without careful consideration, and the reason why I am moving this Motion is these terms is to enable your Lordships to express your views on these proposals and so enable Her Majesty's Government to have the benefit of knowing exactly what they are.

I am sure your Lordships would have thought it wrong if the Government had come forward now with proposals for legislation without your Lordships' first having the opportunity of expressing your views on the Joint Committee's proposals. It would be too much to expect complete unanimity among your Lordships, or, indeed, among the Members of another place, but I hope that our debates to-day in both Houses will reveal a broad measure of agreement: for this is not a subject on which one would like to see any real disagreement between the two Houses. Views in another place may differ, as no doubt they differ in your Lordships' House, but it certainly would not be, in my submission, in the public interest that this subject should become the source of conflict between the two Houses, or lead to one House seeking to impose its will upon the other, or for this subject to become the plaything of Party politics. I hope and trust that such a broad measure of agreement will be revealed that it will be possible to legislate while avoiding these dangers.

I do not propose to remind your Lord, ships in any detail of the events that led up to the appointment of the Joint Committee, but your Lordships may recollect the debate in another place with regard to the position of Mr. Wedgwood Benn. I took part in that debate, and I then urged that his case should not be considered in isolation, and that if any consideration was to be given to the surrender of Peerages the position of Scottish Peers, of Irish Peers and of hereditary Peeresses should also be considered. That the Joint Committee have done, and I should like to express my admiration for the way the Committee tackled their task. It is evident that they proceeded with that care and attention to detail which we have all long associated with the Chairman, my noble friend Lord Kilmuir. I am sure that the House will join with me in expressing thanks to him, and also to his colleagues.

Your Lordships will recollect that the events which occurred before the Joint Committee were appointed showed that there was a widespread feeling, both in Parliament and throughout the country, that a man who wished to remain a commoner and to embark upon, or to continue, a political career in the House of Commons should not be debarred from doing so by the accident of birth solely by reason of the inheritance of a Peerage. I do not suggest that this view was held by all, either then or now, but I would respectfully suggest to your Lordships that it would be entirely wrong to ignore it. and also that little advantage in relation to the discharge of the Business of your Lordships' House is to be gained from the compulsory exclusion from membership of the House of Commons of those who, rightly or wrongly, desire to pursue a political career there rather than in your Lordships' House.

The Report of the Joint Select Committee shows that, while it may be easy to say that such a change should be made, there are various ways in which it could be made, and also that any such change involves consideration of a number of consequential matters. Perhaps the most important recommendations of the Committee deal with the surrender of Peerages. If I may, I will follow the Committee in using the expression "surrender", even though some legal purists may take me to task; for the word "surrender" has a particular meaning in legal circles.

The Committee recommended, if I may remind your Lordships, first, that all hereditary Peers and Peeresses not of the first creation, other than holders of Irish Peerages, should be entitled at their sole discretion to surrender their Peerages for life. Secondly, such surrender should be subject to certain time limits: namely—one month from succession in the case of sitting Members of the House of Commons; six months from the change in the law in the case of those who have succeeded when that change takes place; and, twelve months from succession in all other cases. Thirdly, the surrender should be for life and should involve the acquisition of the status of a commoner, including eligibility for membership of the House of Commons and the right to vote at Parliamentary elections. It also involves giving up of any titles, including the courtesy titles of descendants. Fourthly, the Committee recommended that on the death of the surrendering Peer the Peerage should devolve on the next Peer in the ordinary way.

There is clearly room for differences of opinion about such matters as the period of surrender or time limits, or the loss of titles, or the applicability of the proposals to what I may call "sitting Peers"—if the use of that expression may not sound slightly unsporting to those of us who shoot. I can well imagine that on these questions many Members of this House may have preferred different solutions. But I do not propose to say too much about this at present because I want rather to hear what the House has to say than to express my own opinions.

I have referred to the recommendations on surrender as being the principal recommendations because I am sure that they will be the ones which will be of the greatest interest to the country; but there are other recommendations which will be of particular interest to this House and which I ought to mention. First, there is the recommendation that Scottish Peers should be on an equal footing with Peers of England, Great Britain and the United Kingdom in relation to membership of this House. In 1707 there were about as many Scottish as English Peers—some say the numbers were 165 to 161—so that the addition to the House of Lords of all the Peers of Scotland would have effected a most remarkable transformation. To-day, the Committee's proposals would mean that our numbers would be increased by only sixteen Peers and nine hereditary Peeresses of Scotland.

Secondly, the Committee have recommended that hereditary Peeresses should, in effect, be given the same Parliamentary status as hereditary Peers, and thus become entitled to membership of this House. Your Lordships will remember that this question has on more than one occasion been discussed in this House, and I think this House has on recent occasions expressed a decided view in favour of what the Committee have recommended. Again, the effect in terms of numbers would be small. Apart from the nine Scottish Peeresses, whom I have already mentioned, there are at present eight Peeresses of England and one Peeress of both Kingdoms who would become Members of this House. I have not forgotten the noble Baroness, Lady Ravensdale of Kedleston, who holds an hereditary Peerage and is happily among us in her capacity as a Baroness under the Life Peerages Act. To put the matter in perspective, although I am not sure it is entirely appropriate to refer to a percentage of Peers and Peeresses, the addition of the sixteen Scottish Peers and eighteen hereditary Peeresses would increase our membership by 3¾ per cent. —not a very large extension of the hereditary principle.

I ought also to refer to the recommendations affecting the Peerage of Ireland. I am aware that by recommending that the Peerage of Ireland should not be given any representation in this House the Committee will have caused great disappointment to many holders of Irish Peerages. While understanding that disappointment, I feel bound to say that, for my part, I see formidable difficulties in any other solution of the problem. This is a complicated and difficult question and I do not wish to go into it now, but I think it is clear from the Appendices to the Report that the Committee were left in no doubt about, although they did not accept, the views of those who favoured such representation and the arguments in support of their contentions.

The House will appreciate that implementation of the Committee's recommendations will involve a number of ancillary changes. We should, for example, have to devise machinery for summoning Scottish Peers to the House and to regulate their precedence here. I and my successors would need advice when it came to deciding whether a claimant to a Scottish Peerage had established his succession sufficiently clearly. Consideration also would have to be given to the question of drafting the necessary legislation in a way which would effect the minimum amount of disturbance to existing Peerage Law. We should also have to safeguard property rights which devolved on the holder of a surrender Peerage. These, and other similar questions, would have to be dealt with; but I can tell the House that a good deal of consideration has already been given to them, and there is no need for me to go into details now.

I am sure that the noble Viscount who leads the House will be pleased to answer any specific questions which may be asked in the course of this debate. But I can tell the House this: if it becomes apparent that Parliament favours the Committee's proposals, creation of the necessary machinery and the preparation of the necessary legislation will present no insuperable difficulties. Legislation will be necessary if any single one of the Committee's main recommendations is adopted. To give effect to all the Committee's recommendations, I understand that a short and fairly simple Bill of the order of six or seven clauses would be required. But the Bill, though short, may be exceedingly controversial. 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. 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. The Government therefore intend, after giving most careful consideration to the views that will be expressed today in both Houses, to put before Parliament a statement of our intentions some time between Easter and Whitsun, and this statement will cover the question of legislation.

I should like to refer in a little detail to the Committee's recommendations about Parliamentary elections, because I think they raise some difficulties. The House may remember that the Committee proposed, first, that a Peer standing for Parliament should be required to exhibit a copy of his instrument of surrender, and secondly, that nomination as a candidate should be deemed to imply an irrevocable undertaking to surrender any Peerage that the candidate might succeed to during the election.

May I deal with this second proposal first? I think it requires careful consideration. As it stands, it would mean this: that the heir to a Peerage, who stood for election at a time when it did not appear likely that he would succeed to the Peerage for many a year, would, as the result, say, of an accident causing the death of his father, be taken to have surrendered that Peerage at the time that he was nominated for Parliament, and taken to have done so without ever reaching a conclusion on that question himself. Personally, I do not think that this would be right. Surely it must be wrong. If the eldest son of a Peer should, by standing for Parliament when he has no reason to believe that he will succeed to the Peerage in the immediate future, run the risk of losing for ever the prospect of inheriting what may be a very old family honour. Surely, if his father dies suddenly, he should be given the same opportunity as anyone else to consider his position in the light of what has happened?

Again, one must remember that the candidate may be the nephew or a younger son, with little prospect of succeeding to a Peerage, but in these days a single motor accident or air crash may make an unlikely contingency turn into a reality. Is it right then, just because the accident happens during the election, that he should not have the same choice as he would have if the death occurred immediately after he had been elected? Speaking entirely for myself, I should not have thought that the Committee's proposals in this instance were entirely right. Succession to a Peerage while standing as a candidate for Parliament is not an event likely to occur frequently, but, should it happen, I do not see why it should cause any great difficulty, even within the framework of the Committee's main recommendations. For example, it would be practicable, although it might not be very convenient, to empower the returning officer to cancel the election, as is done if a candidate dies.

Alternatively, and I think this might prove a better course, the Election could proceed and the candidate, if successful, be given a short period within which to make up his mind. After all, if the chance of succession was already more than a remote possibility, he would presumably not only have decided what to do, but told the electors and his supporters in no uncertain way what course he intends to take; and if it is an unexpected event, then, as a matter of justice, I think he should be given time to decide what he is to do.

My objection to the first proposal—namely, that the candidate should be required to exhibit a copy of the instrument of surrender—is of a somewhat different character. At the present time, the returning officer, if the nomination papers are in order, has no power to reject the nomination of a candidate, even though he be ineligible for election to the House of Commons. If a candidate who is known to be a Peer presents himself to that returning officer, it may be assumed (if the proposals of the Committee are implemented) that he would not have been adopted without his supporters first satisfying themselves that he has surrendered his Peerage. But cases may occur where the candidate at the time he attends upon the returning officer has become a Peer without his knowledge and cases where the candidate does not use his title. The returning officer has no machinery for investigating whether a candidate is in fact a Peer. Indeed, such investigation can take a considerable time and there would indeed be protests if the election was delayed on this account. I mention this because I think that some further consideration will be required to be given to this piece of machinery.

Before I conclude, there is one point which I feel I ought to emphasise. The minutes of the proceedings of the Committee make it plain that, while there was a general acceptance of the proposition that a Peer succeeding to an hereditary Peerage should be enabled to surrender, there were conflicting views about the circumstances in which such a surrender should be possible and the consequences which it would entail.

I have no wish to prejudge the issue or to anticipate what may be said here or in another place, but my assessment of the position is that the recommendations of the Committee represent in substance a compromise on these difficult issues which has a reasonable chance of being acceptable as a compromise to the political Parties represented in the Committee and to both Houses. I doubt very much whether any course which involves a major departure from those recommendations would command that broad measure of support which most of us consider desirable if we are to make this change, or indeed any change, in our constitutional and Parliamentary traditions. While, therefore, I expect that a number of noble Lords will disagree with particular recommendations, I feel that we ought constantly throughout this debate to bear in mind that the main object of the Report may well not be achieved unless both noble Lords and Members of another place are prepared to make considerable concessions to those whose opinions differ from their own.

Moved to resolve, That this House takes note of the Report of the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform. —(The Lord Chancellor.)

3.8 p.m.


My Lords, I have first to apologise to the House for the absence of my noble leader, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, who has been taken ill and is therefore unable to be present. I had not intended to follow the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. That would have been the task of my noble leader. And I have been called in to speak at rather short notice.

I should like to express my own personal gratitude to the Lord Chancellor for the manner in which he has introduced this Report. I had hoped that he would have given us a rather stronger lead in this matter than he has done. I fully understand that he is desirous of collecting the views of Members of your Lordships' House (and, incidentally, the views of another place are being taken at the same time), but it would probably have been helpful if he had given a stronger lead in showing what are the views of the Government on the matter, while being prepared to listen to any representations. But I regard this as being largely a matter of emphasis, because I think that in fact the noble and learned Lord has expressed the view that if it should be the wish of this House and of another place that the Report should be implemented broadly as it stands, the Government would find no difficulty, other than the technical ones to which he has referred, in implementing them.

I would join with the noble and learned Lord in the tribute he has paid to the Chairman of the Joint Committee. He was, I would say, a perfect Chairman, in the sense that everybody who had a view to express was able to express it. He was himself perfectly objective, and I think that he collected the views of the Committee in the most efficient way. Modesty forbids me to accept the tribute that he paid to the Joint Committee, because I was a member of it; but I can say that it was one of the best Committees of which I have ever been a member. Every member of that Joint Committee had a contribution to make, and not necessarily the same contribution. We had our differences, of course, but these were resolved after the fullest discussion and in the friendliest possible way.

The Report before the House to-day is a strictly limited one. There are, of course, varying views about the House of Lords. There are some—I believe a declining number—who think that there is no need for a Second Chamber. There are many more who think that there should be a Second Chamber, but that the composition of this Chamber is quite anomalous and that the hereditary system ought to go. There are those who think that the existence of what is in fact, though not in theory, a permanent majority of one Party is undesirable, and that some means should be found of ensuring that all Parties are adequately represented. This is not the case at present, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Rea, will agree. Certainly one of the Parties is not adequately represented; and I think that my own Party also is not.

There are many other difficulties which we might find in the composition, and even in the powers, of the House of Lords. But to-day we are not discussing that. We are discussing now a very limited aspect of the matter, and I hope that the House will be able broadly to come to an understanding of what should be done: because, whatever our views may be, I think that no Party desires to make the Constitution a constant issue. If we can settle this question in the near future, I hope that it will be settled for a long time to come. To have constant revisions of the powers and composition of the House of Lords is undesirable, and it is therefore essential that, whatever differences there may be among us, there should be a good deal of give and take in order to get the reforms which we need.

I do not want to go into the details of the recommendations of the Committee to any considerable extent, but I feel bound to refer to a number of them. First, there was complete agreement, I think, as to the desirability of enabling Peers who, for one reason or another, inherit a Peerage, and who are not willing to serve in the House of Lords, to renounce. I believe that on that point there was virtually no difference of opinion at all. The desire for renunciation, I understand, is mainly among those who would wish to have a Parliamentary career in another place. But that may not be the only reason; there are others, as we well know. After all, the normal attendance in this House (and to-day we have a somewhat abnormal attendance) is certainly not more than 100, or 150 at the most, out of a total membership of over 900.

There are many Peers who have never taken their seats in this House, and who do not intend to do so; and we have had, as a face-saving device, to establish the machinery of giving Peers the right to leave of absence. There are many Peers who are resident abroad, and whose interests are in the Commonwealth or in other places. It may be that Peers such as those would be anxious to renounce their Peerage if they had the opportunity, well knowing that they are not in a position to serve their country in the House of Lords. So it is not correct to say that this Report is concerned solely with Peers who wish to make a career in another place.

There was, however, a substantial difference of opinion as to the basis on which renunciation should take place. There were some who took the view that a Peerage, once renounced, should be a renunciation for all time. The majority took the view that it should be a renunciation for the lifetime of the particular Peer who renounced it. If I may express a purely personal view, it is that the difference is to some extent academic; because each Peer, as he succeeds, will have the right to renounce, and, therefore, if it should be the desire of future generations of Peers to renounce their Peerage, they would have no difficulty in doing so, provided that they did it within the terms of the provisions that were made. It seemed to me that it would be somewhat unfair for a Peer to be able to renounce and completely extinguish a Peerage which had been in existence for possibly hundreds of years. But it is only right to say that a different view was held by a substantial number of members of the Committee. The Committee, however, decided by a majority that it should be a life renunciation.

There was also some difference of opinion as to whether a Peer renouncing a Peerage should still be able to retain his title. The majority of the Committee took the view that if a Peerage was renounced, and particularly on the ground that the person renouncing wished to have a political career in another place, it would be wrong to give him such psychological advantages as may exist in elections, in his appearances before the public, and generally, by the retention of his title. After all, for what it is worth, a title does mean something to a great number of people in this country, and it would be thought to be of some advantage if a candidate appeared as Lord "So-and-So", rather than as plain Mr. "So-and-So". Of course, there is nothing in law to prevent such a person calling himself "Lord So-and-So", even though he will have no legal right to do so. However, the majority of the Committee took the view that if a man renounced his Peerage he should not have the legal right to use the title and honours of the Peerage, and that this should extend also to his wife and children.

We spent a good deal of time discussing the position of Scottish and Irish Peers, and I am glad to say that there was no difference of opinion between us: we were able to agree unanimously upon that. The same applied (and I was particularly glad about this) with regard to Peeresses. It was felt that they should have the right to sit in this House. This was particularly welcome, because we had already accepted the principle in the case of Life Peerages, and we all felt that the House had benefited considerably from the presence of women here. These are broadly the main recommendations, and I do not think it is necessary for me to develop them. I am sure that every noble Lord who is interested in this subject will have read them.

I should like now to say a few words about the position of my own Party in this matter. It is well known that the majority of my noble friends are opposed to the hereditary system, and would desire to go very much further than this recommendation. Nevertheless, we are prepared broadly to accept these recommendations. Obviously, there may have to be some further consideration of the machinery, and particularly of the point (which I thought a valid one), made by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack as to the machinery in respect of candidates submitting themselves for election. There may be other points of that kind, and we should have to reserve our position and move Amendments when the legislation came. But we are prepared here and now to say that we would accept a measure broadly on the lines of this Report, provided that it was introduced early, and certainly within the lifetime of the present Parliament. What that lifetime is, I do not know, but the noble and learned Lord has given us some indication as to what it is likely to be. As I understand him (I do not know whether he intended us to accept that), it looks very much as if there will not be an Election before October. There are some who believe that it might be the case that there will be an Election before October. I would say this to the noble and learned Lord quite seriously. No one can really foresee when the Election might come. If it is going to be a date chosen by the Prime Minister, he may think that circumstances would justify a rather earlier Election than the noble and learned Lord forecast.

It seems to me that there should be no insuperable difficulty about introducing a Bill in the present Session of Parliament. The noble and learned Lord has himself explained that, although there may be some difficulties in drafting, considerable progress has been made in anticipation. As he said, there has been a good deal of consideration and preparation. The Bill itself, as he explained, would be a matter of six or seven clauses, although admittedly they might be difficult clauses. But it seems to me that, having regard to all that, if the Government could speed up their decision on the matter so that we had it immediately after we come back at Whitsun, and a Bill as soon after then as possible, I can promise the Government, on behalf of my noble friends, that we would 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.

May I say, in conclusion, that it would be very welcome and most desirable that, when we consider changes in our Constitution, they should be carried out in the most harmonious manner possible? I share entirely on that point the sentiments of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. Here we have a great opportunity of achieving a substantial measure of justice and reform by substantial agreement, and I hope that the Government will take full advantage of it at the earliest possible moment.

3.26 p.m.


My Lords, if I may, I would start my comments with three personal matters. First, I should like to thank the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for the most objective and clear way in which he has introduced this interesting Motion. Secondly, may I express the regret of the whole House that the noble Earl, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, is not with us to-day, and hope he will soon be restored to health; and, thirdly, I would welcome our excellent Chairman of that Joint Committee on which I also had the honour to sit, the noble and learned Earl, Lord Kilmuir, who is with us to-day, and who could not have been more clear and helpful in the way he took the Chair at the meetings of that Committee.

I think it rather important that in discussing this Report we should be clear that the title of the Joint Committee is really very misleading. Indeed, I will go much further, if I may do so without impropriety, and say that rather a serious mistake has been made in having allowed the words "House of Lords Reform" to be used in describing the objective of this Committee. The Committee, as your Lordships know, was directed to inquire into certain disabilities of the Peerage virtually in one direction only, and to suggest possible alterations in this direction only, with comments, of course, upon the actual or possible results of such alteration. It was not charged with making recommendations for the reformation or reconstitution of the House of Lords, either as regards its powers or as regards its basis of composition, except in a very limited degree.

As your Lordships know, for the last hundred years or so there have been various proposals for reform of the Second Chamber, and I would submit that, as a result of these proposals, the phrase "House of Lords reform" has really come to mean to all of us a comprehensive, basic and thorough project to investigate all aspects of the Second Chamber, and thereafter to alter such powers, privileges, disabilities and procedures as may be agreed and decided upon. But this Joint Committee had, of course, no such task. It was concerned, as I say, with one simple matter: to investigate certain restrictions of Peers and Peeresses in the present relationship between this House and another place, including, of course, the status of those Peers and Peeresses who do not sit in either Chamber; and to point out the implications of any recommended changes in that aspect alone. But this is not reform of the House of Lords; it is surely quite simply a matter of adaptation of a few matters of procedure and tradition; and your Lordships may, I hope, agree that we are this afternoon probably in some danger of going over ground which really is not covered by this Report.

May I try briefly to dismiss the wide general subject of House of Lords reform in its broad and accepted sense by reminding your Lordships that in that wider field we have not progressed beyond the findings of that very important conference of Party leaders, called by the Speaker at the end of 1947, and which reported in 1948 in Command Paper 7380? Your Lordships may remember that that has been referred to in most discussions on reform of the Lords. Paragraph 5 of that interesting statement summarised nine points on which agreement was reached by all Parties in respect of the composition of your Lordships' House. It was on one detailed question of powers, and not of composition, that the Conference broke down; and we on these Benches, the Liberal Party, maintain as part of our political programme our strong support of all those nine points of composition, and we continue to wish to see them implemented. Probably the most controversial of them at the time was that which proposed to abolish the right to attend and vote in this House based solely and by itself on heredity. But I think as the years have passed, most Members of all Parties would now accept that abolition, and we on these Benches really rather fail to understand why there is such an impasse and on what pretext or justification both the larger Parties fail to make any move whatever towards the long overdue reform of the Second Chamber.

One has to be careful of course. A great deal of emphasis is now given to youthful opinion. Those who do not like it call it hysterical and iconoclastic, and those who do like it call it satirical and vital, but, of course, we must always remember that if we are going to change it and take something away, we should have something ready to put in its place; and I think that just to abolish the House without thinking very carefully of what is going to take the place of the Second Chamber, which all of us seem to think desirable, must be very carefully considered. We should, therefore, be getting on with some form of House of Lords reform measure.

I now come to the much narrower issue of the Report which we are discussing to-day. As a member of the Joint Committee, I subscribe in general to its findings, and I hope that your Lordships to-day, as the Lord Chancellor has asked, will take note of the Report in a favourable way. I should like, however, to record one or two small reservations and to comment upon what I call a few crosscurrents which were apparent to me during the sittings of this Committee. I make so bold as to warn your Lordships, with respect, of the danger of confusing the limited task of the Committee with the much broader question of House of Lords reform in general; and that difficulty or danger showed itself to be present in the earliest stages of the Committee's deliberations.

Your Lordships who have read the Report will have noticed that the very first division arose from an amendment moved by Mr. Donald Wade, to the effect, if I may paraphrase his wording, that the Committee were put in an impossible position in proceeding with the limited Order of Reference unless they were allowed also to examine the whole great question of a comprehensive reform of the composition of the Second Chamber, on which, of course, the Order of Reference impinges but does not intrude. I think that many of us have a great sympathy with the view that it is difficult to pursue a part without taking some note of the whole, and it has much to commend it. And I would suggest that the Committee, indeed Parliament, is indebted to Mr. Wade for bringing up this difficulty so early and so clearly. But it was rejected very thoroughly by the Committee; and so, by implication, the Committee established two principles: first, that it must proceed within its limited brief and not on the wider field; and, secondly, that opinions, prejudices and beliefs relating to aspects of this House, other than those laid down in the directive, would of course be out of order and should not enter into the Committee's deliberations.

I am sorry to say that, in my opinion, this principle, which was achieved by the rejection of Mr. Wade's amendment at the start of our proceedings, was not strictly adhered to in the later stages, and that political opinions about your Lordships' House, particularly of course the hereditary question, which I do not think were within the real ambit of this Committee, were at times expressed in contexts where perhaps their absence would have been more desirable. It is understandable that if a man has a burning desire to abolish the hereditary principle it is very difficult not to slip it in and impinge it upon other matters where it is really not applicable.

I have in mind particularly the general matter of hereditary succession which, of course, until it is tackled by some specific Measure—as many of us hope it may be—nevertheless remains part of our existing Constitution until it is replaced or modified. This hereditary system is with us now as part of our Parliamentary system, and it was not, I submit, the function of this particular Committee to throw its weight either way in that general field. Where this feeling arose particularly, I think, was in the matter of whether a Peerage should be surrendered for life or extinguished, and those who cannot bear the thought of hereditary Peerages find it difficult not to argue in favour of extinction. The Committee, however, settled the other way. And similarly in the case of the Scottish Peers and Peeresses who do not sit in this House and may be joining us. The constitutional position is that they are Peers suffering a disability and an unfairness, and although I am no supporter of the hereditary system in principle, I would allow 120 Scottish peers, if there were such a number, to come into this House rather than that they should continue to suffer a disability, whereas the number in question, as your Lordships know, is a small one of some twenty.

Then there is a small point about paragraph (o), on page 9, which, as it stands, and as passed by the Committee, lays it down that a person who has surrendered his Peerage may, at a later stage in his career, have conferred upon him a new Life Peerage, but not a new hereditary Peerage. As I say, I am no advocate of the hereditary system as such, but while that system obtains, as it does to-day, it seems to me improper and unfair that a Peer who has elected to become a commoner should be debarred from one sort of honour or recognition which is open to every other commoner in the country. That is a selective disability which I think draws an unfair distinction between an ordinary commoner and a commoner who is stigmatised through no fault of his own as having at one time inherited and surrendered a Peerage.

If I might give an illustration, let us imagine a young man, let us say of 23, who has inherited a Peerage, and he decides that he would prefer to pursue a career in the House of Commons and so surrenders his Peerage. That particular hypothetical young man does remarkably well and becomes Prime Minister of his country. When he gives up the reins of office, a tired but successful man, it may be that Her Majesty would wish to confer upon him an Earldom, a Viscountcy, some hereditary Peerage. But this clause says that she may not do so, but can give him only a Life Peerage. Apart from the iniquity of singling out an ex-Peer for that particular disability, it seems to me improper that Parliament should dictate to the Monarch whom she can and whom she cannot make a Peer, and I personally would regard such a limitation as an affront to the Royal Prerogative.

There are two more points in the Report upon which I should like to touch briefly. One is in paragraph (i), which says that, in order to overcome possible difficulties in cases of disputed succession—whatever that may mean—a person who decides that he might be the successor to a Peerage can, so to speak, surrender that Peerage in advance, even during the lifetime of the current holder of the Peerage. This seems to me to have several disadvantages. In the first place it opens the door to spurious claimants, who may be actuated by motives purely of self-advertisement or exhibitionism, and thus it might well multiply, instead of overcome, the difficulties in cases of disputed succession.

Secondly, an heir to a Peerage might well have immature views as a young man which he might desire to change when actually faced with the position of taking up his Peerage; and as it is his later views which represent his final decision, I suggest that he should be protected and prevented from committing himself in advance to a course which he might regret. Thirdly, there seems to be an element of what I might call almost indecency, in disposing publically of an inheritance which is not yet, and may never be, in the hands of the claimant; and, additionally, during the life of a Peer who may for various reasons value the existence of his Peerage.

My third and last criticism relates to Irish Peers and Peeresses. Under the recommendations of this Committee, all Peers and Peeresses, except Irish Peers, will be required to surrender their titles before their nomination as candidates for election to the House of Commons. It seems to me curious that the Irish Peers and Peeresses should be exempted from this. Why should they have this exemption? We are, of course, well aware that up to now Irish Peers have sat in the House of Commons while retaining their titles. But I consider that under these new proposals they should be aligned pari passu with all other Peers and Peeresses who enter the other House and should not continue their special privilege, which under these recommendations becomes obsolete. I have no antagonism whatever against the Irish Peerage, who are very pleasant people, but the matter is really rather out of balance and deserves attention.

Finally, my Lords, I would only say that these are comparatively small points, but I would remind your Lordships once more, if I may, that the matter with which we are dealing to-day is also comparatively small, although, of course, very important. We are not dealing with Reform of the House of Lords: we are dealing only with methods to enable certain people, hitherto disqualified, to sit in the House of Commons. I hope that your Lordships will approve this Report as a sound basis on which to build a new Act of Parliament; and I hope that if in due course such a Bill comes before Parliament, we shall modify it in several ways, including those which I have indicated to-day.

3.40 p.m.


My Lords, may I first express my gratitude for the kind things that have been said about my chairmanship of this Committee. I really, sincerely feel it ought to be the other way, because the Committee showed an attention to their work, an open-mindedness of approach and a kindness to myself which was, I think, exemplary. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rea, that we are considering relatively minor aspects of a great problem. But I do say that it is a rare thing to find that decisions on even fringe points connected with the reform of your Lordships' House are eventually agreed without a Division, as these were; and it is remarkable and hopeful, if I may use those adjectives, that the Report should have had the response from the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, on behalf of the Labour Party, which we have heard to-day.

I thought that it would be most useful if I took what appeared to me the principal aspects of the Report and very briefly gave the reasons that influenced myself in coming to the conclusions. The first question which I think is a primary question in most of your Lordships' minds is whether there should be the right to surrender at all. I want to be quite frank with the House. I started with the viewpoint that there should not be. I have a natural inclination to people carrying out their duty where they are placed, and I also considered the potential loss to the House. But I changed that view. I came to the conclusion that it would be beneath the dignity of your Lordships' House to insist on unwilling conscripts being Members of the House. I also, as other speakers have indicated, felt that it was my duty to consider carefully the views which were so strongly held by my juniors.

There was another point which has not been mentioned but has its interest, and that is that the resignation of Peerages, although in each individual case you have to go into the facts in order to discover the reasons, is, of course, well known to the Peerage Law of Scotland before 1707. In fact, it is not without interest (if your Lordships will allow me one reference) that on page 52 of the Report, in the middle of the memorandum of my very learned friend, that great Scottish character the Lord Lyon King of Arms, he refers to the Winton Peerage case, and says: This is a case of a reigning peer denuding himself of his peerage in favour of his next brother, and shows how the principle of resignation in favorem without any re-grant (making the peer himself the first taker under the charter of resignation) was capable of being made the machinery for denuding the peer himself in favour of his next collatoral relative. Such a procedure is what might appeal to e.g. Lord Stansgate. Those are the words of the Lord Lyon King of Arms, and I think it is worth bearing in mind that resignation is not something new but something which has an old, historical background.

Having come to the conclusion that there should be a right to surrender, I think that the next question which one has to consider is whether that should mean the extinction of the Peerage or surrender for life. I feel that it would be absolutely wrong for it to involve the extinction of the Peerage. The Peerage may well be part of the historical tradition of the country. It is certainly an honourable name, which in many cases has been held for generations, and I do not think that a tenant for life should have the power either to extinguish part of our historical heritage or to extinguish for ever the name which is honoured by a family. Indeed, there is the other view, which anyone who has studied Peerage cases will see has to be taken into account, and that is that this might well be done out of spite or for the next person into the title. I think life surrender is the right way to deal with it. It means that there is complete freedom of action for each generation; the person who wants to may give it up, but he transmits the Peerage and leaves it to his successor to make up his mind in turn.

The next question which one has to consider is whether there should be a right to surrender only the Parliamentary status. That has the logical attraction that all it would mean would he that the Peer would not apply for the Writ and would not sit and vote, but he would maintain all the other concomitants of his Peerage; and it avoids the difficulty of changes of name, which might provide sonic difficulties locally, and it prevents any possibility of misunderstanding. I considered all those points, and again I came to the other conclusion. I came to the conclusion that, unless the titles and trappings are surrendered as well as the Parliamentary status, there will be a general feeling that the Peer in those circumstances is trying to have the best of both worlds.


My Lords, I wonder whether I might ask my noble and learned friend one point on that. Does that mean that anybody exercising this option would then have to give up all his subsidiary titles, baronetcies, Irish titles, and so forth?


If the Report is adopted, he would have the power to surrender only English, Great Britain, United Kingdom and Scottish Peerages. I hope that answers my friend's point. To continue the point on which I was arguing, I had already said that I feel to retain the titles would mean that he was getting the best of both worlds. I think, equally, to put it the other way, that if he is to become a statutory commoner and be given a new right to enter the House of Commons, then he should do so as a commoner in the full sense.

A number of my colleagues were worried about the question of the change of name in giving up the Peerage. I would remind your Lordships that the question of a change of name the other way is, of course, a commonplace. I need only look towards a noble Lord whom we all knew and admired for so long as Lord Pakenham, and have had no difficulty in knowing and admiring as Lord Longford. But, if I might give two examples from the holders of the office of Prime Minister, Lord Liverpool was known for years as Lord Hawkesbury; and Lord Salisbury, who was Prime Minister, was in the House of Commons both as Lord Robert Cecil and as Lord Cranborne before he succeeded and became Lord Salisbury. There are many other examples of the changes in that direction. In fact I am sure that your Lordships have been brought up on exactly the same good old, and often told, stories that have resulted from that in instances of which we are well aware.

The next question to which we must apply our minds is whether the right to surrender should apply to Peers who have applied for, and accepted, the Writ. My noble and learned friend the Leader of the House was kind enough to give us a memorandum on this point, and I accept the logic and force of what he said. But what worried me on this point (I am stating my own views quite openly to the House) was that in the case of someone who had not only adhered to your Lordships' House by applying for the Writ, but had become part of the House—perhaps by leading it, or by holding high office within it—there seemed a difference about his surrendering his position. However, the majority of my colleagues thought that equity and fairness demanded that a person who had applied for the Writ at a time when he could not surrender his Peerage should not be put in a more difficult position. I am quite ready to accept that position, and I do not wish to push further the views that I hold.

I should like, quite briefly, to deal with the remaining three points—because again I think your Lordships ought to know the reasons which have certainly influenced me. On the question of the Scottish Peers, my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor has already demonstrated the great change in the position from the time of the Act of Union in 1707. At that time there were roughly as many Scottish Peers as English Peers: something like 165 or 161, the figure which the Lord Chancellor gave—my noble friend Lord Wemyss said 170. Then there would have been a swamping of the English House. But the position to-day is that there are 76 Scottish Peers, 45 of them holding English or other Peerages which entitle them to sit in your Lordships' House. Of the 31 who are left, 16 must be elected under the Act of Union. So one is dealing with the remnant of 15 who at the present moment cannot sit in your Lordships' House, cannot stand for the House of Commons and cannot vote at a Parliamentary election. It seems to me that, if one studies the position, one should get rid of the anomaly by putting them in the position of being in your Lordships' House.

We studied the question of Irish Peerages most carefully and, as my noble and learned friend said, we are conscious that we must be disappointing the holders of Irish Peerages. But I think there are three undeniable facts with regard to the holders of Irish Peerages. The first is that some of them live in the Republic of Ireland; the second is that some of them are descendants of those Peers who composed the Upper House of the Irish Parliament, and, after all, in so far as what my noble friend Lord Rathcavan called the major part of Ireland, the present representative in the Republic of the old Houses of the Irish Parliament is the Dail and the Senate. The third category of Irish Peers is those who were made Irish Peers but had no connection with Ireland whatsoever; they were simply made Irish Peers because either they themselves or somebody else did not want them to sit in your Lordships' House. I want it known that we considered most carefully what my noble friend Lord Dunboyne put forward, that there should be representation of the Irish Peers as such and not as the people of Ireland, but I do not think that we can to-day ignore the fact that Ireland is a Republic, or ignore the development of history and take that step, with the possible consequences at the present day which Lord Hailsham states in his memorandum.

My noble friend Lord Rathcavan suggested rather a different approach—namely, that there should be a lesser number than the original 28 representing the Irish Peers, to represent the Peerage of the Irish Peers who come from Northern Ireland. My noble and learned friend the Leader of the House gave the answer to that in what I may term, merely in admiration, Chestertonian language, because on page 35, paragraph 9, he says: It would be weird if the title to sit in the House of Lords depended upon the location North or South of the Border of a territorial title conferred before there was a Border to be North or South of. One comes to the conclusion that the Irish Peerage is such a cluster of anomalies that no guidance really comes out from the various points to show any lines on which reform can be made, and we felt that it had to be left as it was.

I come to the last of the serious problems as they appear to me, and that is the question of Peeresses in their own right. I think here the case is almost too strong to require any argument at all. I think that the exclusion of Peeresses in their own right from this House has been something of which almost all of us have been secretly ashamed. Forty years ago it may have been true that some of your Lordships thought that the position of women should be the church, the kitchen and the nursery. Five years ago when we were dealing with Life Peers there were very few who took that view. To-day I hope that there are none.

I feel that the real difficulty was, as one understood, that the Labour Party did not desire to extend in any way the hereditary principle. We were anxious when we passed the Life Peerages Act to have as much general support as we could get. Therefore this matter was left over; but it is an absolutely unwarrantable piece of sex disqualification. I hope that to-day noble Lords in all parts of the House will feel that this minute extension of the Peerage (the figures given in the Report are eight Scottish Peeresses, eight English Peeresses, and one who is a Peeress of both countries) will not be considered as an extension of the hereditary principle but as the removal of a stupid piece of sex disqualification which should have been removed a long time ago.


My Lords, would my noble and learned friend allow me to interrupt for a moment? While I agree that it would make a very small increase in the number of Peers or Peeresses, would my noble friend not agree that originally it was a perfectly logical decision, because the objective was to continue the Peerage through the female line to later generations?


My noble friend is describing the Barony by Writ in the English Peerage. He is certainly not describing the position in the Peerage in Scotland, where, as he knows, in most of the older Earldoms there is not merely a continuance of the Peerage, but an inheritance. There has been an inheritance by females for hundreds of years. I do not see that the old position was based on anything other than the fact that up until this century it was not thought fit that females should legislate in Parliament. I am very anxious that your Lordships should give the quietus to that idea and remove the disqualification on this point.

I remind your Lordships that there was no Division in the course of our Committee, and, so far as I can remember, no feeling contrary to that which I have expressed. I regret if I have detained your Lordships too long, but I thought that it would perhaps be helpful not only to see what we have done, but to hear the reasons why we have done it.


My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, could he clarify still further the point which my noble friend Lord Gage made? Am I right in saying that if a Peer of the United Kingdom relinquishes his Peerage in order to become a Member of another place he cannot use any of his United Kingdom titles, even a baronetcy, but that he can sit in another place if he has an Irish title?


No, the baronetcy does not come into it at all; there is no question of his losing the baronetcy. As I said to my noble friend Lord Gage, the right to surrender applies to four classes of Peerage: English Peerages, Peerages of Great Britain and of the United Kingdom, and Scottish Peerages. There is no right to surrender an Irish Peerage. So that, to take my noble friend's own case—I think he has both a United Kingdom and an Irish Peerage—he could surrender his United Kingdom Peerage. He would then be enabled as an Irish Peer to stand for the House of Commons. If a person had not an Irish Peerage, he would still be enabled as a commoner. That is the position.


I am very grateful.

4.5 p.m.


My Lords, I have come all the way from the South of France to make this speech, and I am an old man. I hope your Lordships will not imagine that I am conceited enough to think the speech to be a good one, or, still less, that I have the senile illusion that it will have any effect on the situation. No one listens in this modern world to anything anybody says. It is a more interesting reason—to me, personally, at any rate—that has brought me back here, and that is that for the second time in a lifetime of 82 years I find myself having a difference of opinion with the Leader of the Liberal Party. I remember the first time very well. I could not help thinking that Mr. Gladstone was much too slow in going to the rescue of General Gordon in Khartoum. And this time I cannot help feeling that Mr. Grimond has much too low an opinion of your Lordships' House.


Hear, hear!


No doubt much of the pomp and circumstance that used to surround the aristocratic life has gone with the wind. We all know—even the noble Duke who is sitting on the Front Bench knows—that The glories of our blood and state Are shadows, not substantial things". Nevertheless, in these unromantic, hardheaded days, in these practical times when we pride ourselves on our contact with reality, we preserve many marks of distinction, many ancient badges of inequality which, I observe, the democrats are not at all reluctant to accept, and which give one a pleasant feeling of importance in our short and trivial journey through the world.

As a matter of fact, the philosophic notion that all men are equal has been having rather a bad time. First of all, it is not true; and, secondly, we do not want it to be true. Fortunately, we English are not a logical people, and we never carry our philosophies to their ultimate, uncomfortable conclusions. No doubt your Lordships cannot be logically defended. I should not care to maintain against all corners the aristocratic theory that I am the equal of the noble and learned Viscount who leads the House. I would not dare to suggest that for a moment. Because, we are wise enough to ignore the anomalies of our philosophy, no fundamental revolution has ever disturbed our national life, and no "wind of change"—to use that overburdened phrase of politicians—has ever tempted us to throw away the past. All we ever do is to tinker with our ancient institutions.

Take the new Life Peers. I thought their introduction was a very good idea and I had great expectations. But as I look around, I cannot help being reminded of an American lady who said to me: I married Tom Malcolm for his brains, and I have been sadly disappointed. I expected to observe in the Life Peers a different degree of eloquence.


But the noble Viscount is never here to hear us. He is always in the South of France.


I read every word the noble Lady says.


That is entirely different.


I expected that we poor duffers, whose only qualifications are the blind forces of heredity, would be entirely eclipsed. Surely, I thought, a riper wisdom must dignify those who have been so long in close contact with the electorate. Not at all! I have felt none of that sense of inferiority that I anticipated. Indeed, it is impossible to tell which is which. Lady Violet Bonham Carter, with that mastery of scorn which she has, once said to me: If you put up a hundred Commoners and a hundred Peers you would not be able to tell the difference between them. Surely, my Lords, that is a democratic mark favourable to your Lordships' House.

Drafting Constitutions is very great fun. Any semi-educated sixth-former, a product of our lop-sided educational system, could do it. I have drawn up a dozen or so myself; most of them have been complete failures. Political philosophers whom we so rightly distrust in this country, from Rousseau to Karl Marx, have tried their hands at it. Hitler arranged everything very nicely for a thousand years. As for those unfortunate Americans, Alexander Hamilton extracted from the glorious words of the Declaration of Independence one of the most frustrating Constitutions that has ever worried mankind.

Fortunately for us, no conceited and presumptuous politician has ever cast himself for the role of Moses and come down to us with the Tables of the Law. It is true that Cromwell came somewhere near it, and had an affinity to Moses; but how quickly we repudiated him and turned to the licentious laxity of Charles II! For our long political experience tells us that under every plan, Right or Left, inspired by God or dictated by Satan, someone is going to govern us and control. The problem is how to limit that power to a bearable minimum, to reduce the control of the politicians and of the officials who govern us, to make it ever more difficult for top people to entangle themselves with our private lives.

Because it is obvious that the House of Lords has influence without power, it is accepted by everybody who has ever examined the question, and tried to consider how to replace it, as the best Second Chamber in the world. We are fortunate to have inherited an institution which we certainly should never have had the intelligence to create. We might have been landed with something like the American Senate. And there are people who want to land us with something like the American Senate. Custom may have made us oblivious to such things, but your Lordships' House has some very ancient assets: for instance, the fact that a large proportion of Peers do not attend, which is a tremendous asset, but when they do attend they are usually experts on their own subjects; the fact that they are not paid and are therefore free to hold most of the important posts in the country; the fact that they have no power and therefore none of the obstructive qualities of the Senate of the United States. Remove these assets and nothing can replace them except a replica of the House of Commons, or a nominated nuisance insisting on having the veto.

It is easy for those, who, by good fortune, have found themselves Members of the House of Commons, to pretend that the hereditary Upper House is composed of incompetent nitwits. Any of the Life Peers who believed such rubbish must have had a considerable surprise when they got here. There are some people, too, who in addition to looking upon your Lordships as antiquated fuddy-duddies of debased intellect, assume that we are unpopular. On the contrary, during the last thirty years I have always found the possession of a Peerage to be an asset, and not in the least a handicap. If Peers were unpopular, as Communists, for instance, are unpopular, people would sheer away from them; they would be reluctant to meet them in social life; they would not want their daughters to marry men not only obviously limited in intellect but with no future, either useful or ornamental.

Everybody knows that in fact the usual interesting variety of English life is just as conspicuous on the red Benches as it is on the green, and anybody who thinks anything else is the victim of a form of inverted snobbery. Therefore, it has seemed, and still seems, absurd fundamentally to alter an institution that you have not the faintest idea how to improve. Slight amendments such as Life Peers, yes Lord Stansgate, perhaps; but to make a continuous habit of snatching away from this place long-established Members of your Lordships' House the moment they show any political ability, or because chance has for some reason made it expedient, would, in my view, be fatal to the status, the reputation and the influence of this House as the Second Chamber.

The temptation to take this step is obvious. Your Lordships will remember how the Knights stood on the shore wailing for the birth of King Arthur. We are in a similar position, in that the Conservative Party is desperately in search of an heir. It is unfortunate that at a moment of this sort the rough waves of public life should have been so tactless, so illogical, as to have thrown up upon the shore an hereditary Peer. I am told by people that I ought not to welcome so impossible an heir as this. Yet, for centuries, Prime Ministers have sat, and have only recently ceased to sit, in your Lordships' House. I think myself that in this overcrowded, modern world it is a very good thing that Cabinet Ministers should sit in the House of Lords. It seems possible that they might actually be improved by the leisure, the time between aeroplanes, provided by your Lordships' House. Moments for reflection are good, even for Cabinet Ministers. Max Beer-bohm said somewhere that their lives are so full that they have no time for thought, the highest energy of man.

But even if the House of Commons refuses to allow this obvious improvement in our national life—and, after all, the great success of the noble Earl, Lord Home, at the Foreign Office has shown that the fears which the democrats had about it were totally unwarranted—even if I fail in what I should like to do, which is to got the Prime Minister into your Lordships' House, then there are many other ways by which, on the very rare occasions when a Peer is candidate for the position of Prime Minister (and your Lordships will remember that the last time a Peer was discarded for that reason, when Lord Curzon was not allowed to become Prime Minister because he was a Peer, the alternative was not particularly successful), it could be brought about that, for that particular post alone, the candidate could be moved into the House of Commons. I think that, whatever we do, we ought never to change fundamentally an institution which was not created by clever politicians sitting round a table but which has grown, unpremeditated and unplanned, by reason of the natural structure of our national life.

There could not be a worse moment to copy some American or other foreign Constitution. The holders of power have made such a mess of the world that it is power itself, and not rank, which is unpopular with the people: national power, with its futile and disastrous wars; commercial power, with its expensive vulgarity; Civil Service power, with its ruthless and meticulous severity; trade union power, with its wasteful and unintelligent use of the strike weapon. This affluent and educated society does not really wish to have inflicted upon it all these obsolete attributes of power. I am convinced that, as shown by the increase in the Liberal vote in every election, the various powers which are being used by the Conservative Party and which the Labour Party want to use are going to be taken away from them by this educated democracy. The House of Lords, from which we receive no form which has to be filled up, that never wants to know how many children we have, or whether we made a profit out of the sale of last year's overcoat, will remain because it is a popular institution, dignified by time and always ready to give unpaid and useful service to the community.

4.29 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that the House is very grateful to the noble Viscount for having made a very long journey in order to bring us the delight which he has brought to us by his speech. Unlike the noble Viscount, whose political enthusiasms and embarrassments go back to the second Ministry of Mr. Gladstone, I am the first to intervene in this debate who is not a member of any political Party. I am indeed one of the Members of your Lordships' House to whom the proposals in the Report could not conceivably have application; and this perhaps gives me a certain detachment.

As I wish to keep within the terms of the Motion I am going to say nothing about the wider questions concerning the composition of the House, such as, for instance, the place of the Peers Spiritual. I hope that the proposals contained in the Report will be given legislative effect; I hope that that will happen soon, and with as great an approach to unanimity as is possible. If that is so, I think it will be because in the last few years there has been in the country a very considerable change of sentiment about the two Houses of Parliament and their relation to each other. We were long familiar with the strong feeling, not confined to the Right or to the Left, that the Peers and the Commons were two estates, somewhat rigidly separated, each with its particular opportunity of Parliamentary service and each with the limitations which went with it. With very different motives there was the desire to keep each in its place.

I believe that the rapid change in sentiment over this question has been helped by several causes. One is the keen public sympathy with Members of the House of Commons who have, with reluctance, been compelled to leave that House on succession to a Peerage. Another cause is the institution of Life Peerages. Yet another, I believe, is the increase in recent years of a prestige of your Lordships' House rather different in kind from its prestige in other times. Each of these reasons has tended to remove the sense of a rigid and impassable line and to increase the wish that men and women who have been serving the State in one form of Parliamentary existence should be eligible, in accordance with their talents and the urgent needs of the State, to serve it in another. I believe this is not only a matter of the desires of individuals to serve the State in the way they most wish to; nor is it only that Governments and political Parties need and want flexibility in which they can find the men and women eligible for office and particular service. It is also, I am sure, a widespread wish in the country. The country knows how gigantic are the problems which the State has to face and how scarce, as always, are people of gigantic stature. It wants to be sure that the Constitution does not prevent any man or woman from serving anywhere where he or she is most needed and is willing to serve.

I am sure that your Lordships share my view that we should be sorry to see the disappearance from our own number of any of those who sit in this Chamber and with whose presence and contributions we are so familiar. Yet we are convinced that no such sentiments of regret, however rooted in the past history of the Constitution, should hinder what may be the urgent needs of the State in these extraordinarily difficult times.

4.34 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Salisbury has asked me to say to the House how sorry he is that he is unable to be here today. He is in Africa at the present moment. He has asked me also (and this, I feel, is rather a responsibility) to speak for him as well as for myself to-day. I think I can do it with a clear conscience however, because on this topic our views are, I believe, identical on all aspects that matter. I can be brief because the Report is clear and concise; and here I would join with the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, in his tribute to our Chairman, because the clarity and conciseness of the Report owe an enormous amount to him. I do not know whether we were indebted to him more for his clarity or for his tact. I am sure that nobody ever handled a "mixed pack"—and we were rather a "mixed pack" (and I do not refer to the Law Lords)—with more skill than he did.

The purpose of this debate is to find out whether those who did not sit on the Joint Committee accept the views which have been put before them. There have been criticisms that we did not do this and that; but, of course, our terms of reference were very limited. To describe this as a joint Select Committee on the Reform of the House of Lords is to give it a somewhat exaggerated title. As paragraph 2 of the Report shows, we had only a very limited subject referred to us. For myself—and I think my noble friend Lord Salisbury would agree—I should have been glad of a wider field, though I do not know that we should have come nearer to agreement with others than we did when we worked together on this matter in 1947.

There are only three points to which I would briefly refer, and on all of them my noble friend and I are in complete agreement. I think we all agree that a Peer who succeeds should be able to surrender his Peerage. The most reverend Primate said that the Bench of Bishops is the only body of Members of this House to whom this right cannot apply. Perhaps it would be agreeable to him if I were to say that suffragan bishops were able to surrender their bishoprics—and I hope that that might save him some disciplinary difficulties. However, my noble friend and I were clear that, though there should be a right to surrender, it should be a right to surrender for the life of the holder only. It would be utterly wrong that a Peer who succeeds and is, as it were, a "tenant for life" should be able to bar the Peerage to those who come after. A Peerage is not a chattel or a piece of real property. A Peerage is a privilege, an honour and a trust which derives from the Crown. It is conferred on the Peer and his heirs; and to enable or compel a "tenant for life" to extinguish the Peerage and bar his successors would, in our view, be entirely unjust and very wrong. Your Lordships will observe, moreover, that that is wholly unnecessary to deal with the problem before us, which is whether a man who succeeds to a Peerage should have the right to surrender it for his lifetime and continue to sit in the House of Commons.

There is the question of what the man who surrenders his Peerage and goes on sitting should call himself. The majority of the Committee thought that he ought to become a commoner in name, as well as in fact; that he should not be allowed to continue the use of the courtesy title by which he has hitherto been known. I do not know that this is a very important point. It was said that it has some logic. But, thank goodness! we are not a logical people: that is perhaps why we work democracy so much better than the French do. But, of course, he is called only by a courtesy title; it is not his title at all. It is the title of his father or his grandfather and he is called that by courtesy. He is Mr. "So-and-so", commonly known as "Lord Somebody", but it is the name everybody knows him by; "Lord Somebody" is the name under which he has sat for years in the House of Commons.

To take just one example, there is Lord Dalkeith, who sits in the House of Commons. I suppose that the returning officer returned him as "John Montagu-Douglas-Scott, commonly known as Lord Dalkeith"; but everybody has called him Lord Dalkeith. Suppose that in the fullness of time (I hope that it will not be for a very long time) when my noble friend the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry dies, full of riches and honour, and when that happens, Lord Dalkeith decides that he would like to continue to sit in the House of Commons, as he has sat for five-and twenty years, as Lord Dalkeith, is it really sensible that he should stop being called Lord Dalkeith and be called Mr. Scott? The returning officer may call him Mr. Scott, but I am perfectly certain that everybody else in Scotland will continue to call him Lord Dalkeith. I am certain that if Lord Hartington had been able to continue to sit in the House of Commons, nobody would have called him anything except Lord Hartington. Nobody would have called him Mr. Cavendish. However, I do not think that this is of any great importance. I am bound to say that, logical as it may be, it does not seem to me that there is any significant grace which attaches to this rather odd form of baptismal regeneration.

The third question that I wish to consider is of a good deal more importance—that is, whether the option to surrender a Peerage should be confined to Peers who have succeeded but have not accepted the Writ of Summons in this House, or whether it should be extended to Peers who have in fact taken the Oath and are discharging their duties in this House. During our discussions in Committee, my noble friend Lord Salisbury and I felt that this was a very evenly balanced point. We were opposed, and are still opposed, in principle, to retrospective legislation; but in a sense any legislation on this matter is retrospective.

We all agree that if legislation is passed, Lord Stansgate, who has not accepted the Writ, should be able to stand again for Parliament. But that would be retrospective; because, whatever Lord Stansgate may call himself, he is, in fact and in law, at this moment Lord Stansgate. Therefore, it is not a very substantial extension to say that a Peer who has succeeded, accepted his Writ, taken the Oath and rendered good service here, should have the right to surrender his Peerage. It would be only once. He would have to do it within a very brief time (the Report proposes six months) and there would be nothing in the nature of a continuing option. My noble friend Lord Salisbury and I discussed this point during our deliberations, and we also discussed it at some length after the Report was published. He has authorised me to say that he shares my feeling, that there is a good deal of equity in giving to a Peer already sitting in this House the opportunity to decide once and once for all. And, if that be the general view of the House, neither he nor I would wish to oppose it.

There is one other matter which perhaps, out of courtesy, I ought to mention—the question of Irish Peers, and again I speak for my noble friend Lord Salisbury, as well as for myself. We could not find—and we considered the matter very carefully—constitutionally or in history or in justice that in the circumstances of to-day, there was any case at all for reviving the principle of Representative Peers of Ireland. And the reasons for that view have been given to-day both by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and by my noble and learned friend Lord Kilmuir. We thought it right that there should not be a distinction in standing for Parliament at present, someone who is an Irish Peer cannot stand for a Northern Ireland constituency, though he can stand anywhere else. That seems an unreasonable distinction and we should like legislation to remove that.

May I point out to your Lordships that it is not as if an Irish Peer were precluded from coming to this House. If the Prime Minister of the day thinks that he would be a suitable Member—and a great deal of consultation takes place outside as to who should come—he can be appointed a Peer of the United Kingdom, as the late Lord Winterton was. He was my Under-Secretary—that was not the reason for his creation as a Peer of the United Kingdom, though it was as good a reason as a number of others. My noble friend Lord Rathcavan was also appointed a Peer of the United Kingdom. An Irish Peer can also be appointed a Life Peer. Therefore, if the Prime Minister so desires, there is nothing to prevent the appointment, to this House, of any number of Irish Peers.

I welcome most sincerely the speech—and the tone of the speech, if I may respectfully say so—by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, on behalf of the Opposition, and the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Rea, on behalf of the Liberal Party. I hope that this Report will be accepted and that the legislation will go through. Then the Liberal Party will really have borne their share in a reform which has neither brooked delay nor has, in fact, been involved in delay.

4.49 p.m.


My Lords, it may be thought inappropriate for a newcomer to speak for the first time in your Lordships' House in a debate on the reform of an institution of which he has so little experience. But I have chosen to speak to-day in this debate for three reasons. First I, like all your Lordships, have a personal interest in the future of this House. Debates on the composition of the House, or on some aspect of it, are unique in that every Peer has an interest in the composition of the House. Therefore, I think that it will not surprise your Lordships if, for a few minutes, I speak more personally than I would do in any other circumstances.

My second reason is that, since this debate and the one going on simultaneously in another place are intended generally to sound out opinion, I think it will be agreed that it is important that these debates should include if possible an outside view, as it were, from somebody whose experience of Parliament is not coloured by any familiarity with the habits and traditions of either House.

My third reason is that I have recently had to decide whether I should apply for a Writ to come to your Lordships' House or whether I should continue as I was, hoping to secure at some time election to another place.

To-day, I calculated, it is not unreasonable to assume that quite soon Peers, or heirs to Peerages carrying the right to sit in Parliament will be allowed to surrender either the Peerage or the Parliamentary status attached to the Peerage at, or shortly after, the moment of succession, should they wish to do so. As it happens, in my own circumstances, I chose to apply for a Writ. But the important thing is that I had a choice. And the fact that I had a choice at all (as I hope many others similarly placed in the future will) is primarily due, in my opinion, to one man, Anthony Wedgwood Benn. I describe him in that way deliberately, since he has surely by his actions earned the right to be described by whichever part of his name he prefers.

I have no wish to go against tradition in a maiden speech, and stray into controversy over the methods that Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn used to make his protest. I am aware, as is the House, of the strong criticisms that have been made of his action. But I am sure your Lordships will accept from me my feeling of obligation towards Mr. Wedgwood Benn: in fact, I must say that I would find it difficult to speak in this debate without acknowledging that obligation. It is not an obligation based on friendship, or even on self-interest; it is no more than a recognition that, but for his single-mindness and determination, the sequence of events which led up to the establishment of the Joint Select Committee and the debates to-day in your Lordships' House and another place would not have taken place. Underneath all the jargon of what is or is not constitutional, I think it is worth remembering that the Constitution is really not much more than what a majority of people at any given time thought was reasonable. The result of Mr. Wedgwood Benn's actions has been to show that most people no longer regard the situation in which he found himself as reasonable, and that the law is ripe for change as a result.

The new feature of to-day's debate is that agreement now seems very near on the narrowly defined area for reform that was considered by the Joint Select Committee. It is obviously of some importance (this point has been made once or twice already) that constitutional changes should, where possible, be by agreement. The proposals of the Joint Select Committee on Scottish and Irish Peerages and on hereditary Peeresses have been generally accepted, other than, understandably, by the Irish Peers themselves; and, as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said when he opened the debate for the Opposition, these proposals did not divide the Joint Select Committee.

I do not think this is the occasion to go back over the familiar arguments on the composition of the House and the methods of selection. I am certain that to do so at this moment would be damaging to the prospects of getting a useful change on to the Statute Book, and that to pursue any of the wider schemes that have been proposed, even if those wider schemes as a consequence remove the necessity for any form of surrender, would be to jeopardise the chance of a small and modest reform. Your Lordships may remember in this connection the hard-headed proverb of 17th-century England which advised against changing a cottage in possession for a kingdom in reversion.

There are, I think, three real issues now left on which there is room for argument on the subject matter of the Report. First, should surrender be for life or a shorter period, or should it involve permanent extinction? Second, should surrender be of the Parliamentary status of the Peerage only, allowing Peers who have surrendered to retain the use of their titles? Third, should hereditary Peers who have already accepted a Writ of Summons under the law as it was at the time be allowed to surrender? The arguments on each of these three points are (and the debate so far has, I think, illustrated this) very evenly balanced. In the absence of any overwhelming evidence either way, I am in favour in each case of the proposal of the Joint Select Committee, merely because it is the proposal of the Joint Select Committee, and the proposal on which most people can agree is, at the moment, the best proposal. Therefore, in my opinion, surrender should be of all rights for life, and the option should be extended to hereditary Peers who have accepted a Writ of Summons under the law as it was at the time.

In conclusion, as the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, has remarked in connection with the 1948 Conference of Party Leaders on Lords Reform, there is a timing in these matters, and there is a tide that can be missed. What is needed now, before the tide goes out again, is Government action. This is the tercentenary year of the completion of Paradise Lost—a title which I hope will have no relevance to the present situation. It is not out of place, therefore, to look back to some lines written by Milton three centuries ago: When complaints are freely heard, deeply considered and speedily reformed, then it is the utmost bound of civil liberty attained. No one can say to-day that the arguments have not been freely heard. The Report of the Joint Select Committee is evidence that they have been deeply considered. Let us now look forward to speedy reform.

4.58 p.m.


My Lords, I am filled with joy that it should fall to me to be the first on behalf of Peers on this side of the House, and I am sure Peers on all sides, to congratulate, with far more than conventional warmth, the noble Lord who has just spoken. All those who knew his father well—and I as much as anybody—were deeply attached to him. Among his qualities were reckoned great physical and moral courage, and I am sure it would have pleased him that his son should have taken this opportunity of speaking so soon and, as he certainly did, in the most attractive way imaginable. I think I agree with everything the noble Lord said, but I should like to echo particularly his generous tribute to Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn. I think we must all know in our hearts that, without the efforts of that one man, this topic would not be before us this afternoon. I do not say that no one else has laboured for that cause, but he has been the man who brought it forward and made it a reality of the day.

As several noble Lords have said, the reform of the House of Lords is a far-reaching constitutional subject, and on that I, along with other noble Lords, have definite views which, if necessary, can be ascertained. But we are not concerned with those wider issues to-day. I agree, for example, with my noble friend Lord Silkin, but also with the particular language used by the noble Earl, Lord Kilmuir, when he said that this is a relatively minor aspect of an important question. That is what we are discussing to-day, but it does not make it less important that it is a relatively minor topic. Nothing that I say to-day, or that I might find myself saying later, will, I hope, have any effect in disturbing or delaying by an hour the passage of the legislation which is indicated as likely to eventuate. But, having said that, I should like, briefly and respectfully, but quite starkly, to raise my own case, which might be called a minimal aspect of a minor aspect of a great question, which grades it fairly low in the order of things.

We all know that no one is a good judge in his own case, but no one knows all about one's own case except oneself; therefore there is no chance of its being considered, even for a few fleeting moments, unless one chooses to lay it bare before one's friends and colleagues. The Report is chary of giving reasons for its conclusions. A good deal of its philosophy was set out more clearly by the noble and learned Earl, Lord Kilmuir, than by other speakers, but I do not think that even he gave a complete prospectus of all the Committee's reasoning. The basic conclusion appears to be that no one in future should suffer an hereditary disqualification from sitting in the House of Commons. That seems to be the basic idea of the whole thing. It seems to be also recommended—certainly I agree with it, and everyone who has spoken has agreed with it—that those who have suffered this hereditary disqualification in past years should be given a chance of liberating themselves from this disqualification, if they are still with us.

I repeat that I entirely accept these conclusions. I am delighted that the great efforts of Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benin and, may I add, the efforts of the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Hailsham—for example, in these powerful memoranda, written in a far more dispassionate way than I could have commanded in his situation—have got so near being crowned with success. My own case for liberation from these disqualifications is clearly nothing like so strong as that of Mr. Wedgwood Benn, apart from the fact that he has done all the work. My case is also distinctly less than that of the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham. Yet I venture to think that a case exists in respect of myself, and I will not say more than that. In 1945, at the age of 39, I accepted a Peerage from the then Prime Minister, Mr. Attlee. So far as I can make out, I was the youngest man to be created a Peer—I mention that fact because the situation is a little exceptional—since Lord Beaverbrook (who is always a law unto himself), and he was created a Peer when he was 37, in 1916. There was one other Peer who was, strictly speaking, created a Peer younger, but he took over a Peerage which had been offered to his father, who died before he could carry it through.

At any rate, there I was. I accepted a Peerage and came on to the Front Bench in this House in 1945. Two years ago, I inherited an Irish Earldom and a United Kingdom Barony from my brother. I leave out the Irish Earldom to avoid further complication on that point. My heart is with the Irish Peers, although I cannot pretend that I am joining them in their struggle, because I would not go out of my way to increase the number of hereditary Peers anywhere. But my heart is with them, and if they feel I have betrayed them, it will not be the first time that Irish Peers have been betrayed, and they are accustomed to taking it in good part.

When it is said that Peers who inherit titles should now be allowed to opt out, but that Peers who accept titles should not—which I think, strictly speaking, is the doctrine of the Report—one is entitled to ask: "What about Peers who are in both positions?" The Irish connection is nothing to do with this particular issue; it is not in any way be-devilled by Irish problems. So far as I can make out, the noble Lord. Lord Trevethin and Oaksey, formerly Lord Oaksey, and I, are alone in this.


No; there is Lord Salisbury.


I have never found the Chief Whip mistaken before, but he is wrong here. It gives me enormous satisfaction. May I repeat the point: I am advised (and I apologise on my knees if the Chief Whip is right and I am wrong) that strictly speaking the noble Lord, Lord Trevethin and Oaksey, who received a Peerage for much greater services than mine, and later inherited a title, and I are in the same boat. I do not see him in the House to-day and I have not wished to disturb him with this issue. I have no idea what his views may be. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, was mentioned. He and the noble Earl, Lord Ancaster, are in roughly the same position as one another. They were both raised to the Peerage in existing titles. I think it is rather an academic issue, but they are in a different position because they were raised to their Peerages while their fathers were still alive, but in existing titles. I hope the Chief Whip will allow me for once to put him right, with the utmost deference.

I am asking the Government to consider—I am not pressing anything; I certainly would not press anything at all if I thought it was going to hold up this Bill by even a few minutes—before they publish their Bill, whether it would not be reasonable to stretch the findings of the Committee or, if you like, to interpret them liberally, so as to cover this special case of mine and the noble Lord, Lord Trevethin and Oaksey, if he is also interested. There is no sign—because I was not a member of the Committee— that this double case was considered by the Committee. Certainly I did not submit any evidence before them. There are more ways than one in which a few unobtrusive words could do the trick, if inserted into the Bill.

Is it proper that this case should be covered? When I say "is it proper" I am not raising the question of right in the abstract. One might argue that in the abstract all Peers, whether of first creation or otherwise, should, during a transitional period, be given the chance of opting out. That was the submission of Garter King at Arms in Appendix 15, paragraph 3, so it is a possible point of view. I am not asking that now, because I am taking my stand on the general outlook of the Report, and the Report in fact rejects the idea that Peers of first creation should be allowed to opt out. I am asking whether my case could reasonably be covered by the general outlook of the Report. I am not going to argue it this afternoon—I think it would be rather undignified to do so—but if I did, I should start to do so along this line. I would point out, without attempting to argue the matter, of course, that the Report of the Committee is trying to get rid of a situation under which the inheritance of a title prevents a full career in the House of Commons. I say a full career, because it clearly does not prevent all career. Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn and the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, himself had already achieved distinguished careers in the House of Commons when they were cut short in mid-career. So what one objects to—I think all speakers this afternoon seemed to do so—is that careers should be cut short in that way.

Is my case in any way similar? It is not the same, but is there any similarity? When I accepted a Peerage, my brother had been married for 20 years. He had no children, and in the nature of things, assuming I survived him, it was extremely likely that I should one day find myself here. I will not now or at any time try to go on oath as to what was in my mind when I accepted the Peerage. Lord Attlee, then Mr. Attlee, asked me to accept a Peerage to play a small part in helping the Government, and I accepted it. But I am fairly certain, for various reasons, that I would never have found myself in the House of Lords in 1945 at the age of 39, without experience of the House of Commons, if I had not been in effect the heir to a Peerage. I am only asking, therefore, that that point should be considered when the general matter is decided.

I must add one word, whether or not it seems to weaken any force there might lie in this appeal. I am submitting an argument on constitutional merits which applies just as much to Lord Trevethin and Oaksey as to myself, and I am submitting it without reference to the question of whether in fact I would myself take advantage of this option if it were extended. I hope that, if the option were extended, like any other Peer I should be guided by the view I formed of my respective opportunities of usefulness in the various directions that would be open to me. But, in practice, as a loyal member of the Labour Party, I should be largely governed in my attitude by that of the Leader of the Party. I have no doubt that I should also receive much wise counsel from my noble friend Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, whose absence we so much regret to-day, and from my sagacious friends on these Benches.

There it is. I am grateful to the House for listening to the egocentric observations. It may be that in the next few months or years I shall find myself fighting another Election battle with the noble Viscount opposite, like Rudolf Rassendyll's second round with Rupert of Hentzau, or, should I say, Bulldog Drummond's second round with Carl Peterson. It is not for me to say which will be which in these various dramas. I shall be very happy if that is the result of all this. It may be that I shall find myself soldiering on, whether on a Front or Back Bench in this House, where I have made so many friends and been so happy for seventeen years. Whichever way it goes, I hope that I shall abandon myself with suitable gusto to Divine Providence, or that, if I may be allowed to put it in the more secular terms of Robert Louis Stevenson: I shall salute the romance of destiny".


My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl a question on his personal position? Did he not succeed to the United Kingdom Barony of Silchester? Does he sit in this House as Lord Pakenham or as Lord Silchester? If he succeeded to the United Kingdom Barony of Silchester, could he not surrender that?


That is the title which would have to be surrendered. It is Silchester, so to speak, that presents the problem. That is perfectly true and I do not deny that this is a problem, and it is the Barony of Silchester which creates it. If the noble Lord asks me which title I sit under here, as a matter of fact I have never been quite clear.

5.13 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to support generally the proposals before the House, albeit a little sad at heart at some of the implications. But before I go on I should like, together with the noble Earl opposite, to offer my warm congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, on an excellent and brief maiden speech. I very much hope we shall hear him again.

My Lords, if any noble Lord is really idiotic enough to wish to surrender his Peerage it is difficult, I suppose, in this changing world to find sufficiently valid reasons for opposing such a quixotic notion, always provided that extinction is ruled out and that he relinquishes his Peerage for his own life only and that it remains dormant and immediately available for his heir and successor. To me it is incomprehensible that any noble Lord should contemplate for a single moment such a wayward and capricious step. Except perhaps in the one case which we have been discussing so much this afternoon, of Members of another place succeeding to a Peerage and being understandably—at least, I suppose understandably—unwilling to give up their seat in the House of Commons.

One has to accept, inevitably, I am afraid, the melancholy fact in these latter days of a gradual submergence of tradition and an apparent decline in public esteem of the status of Peerage. A certain noble Lord of first creation, who shall be nameless, went so far as to refer in a book he wrote a few years ago to the fact of his "relegation" to the Peerage. A graceless and somewhat arrogant expression, your Lordships might think, from one who had willingly accepted the honour of a first-creation Peerage. He tells us that he had (and I quote) stumbled into the House of Lords but that he had no intention whatever of being relegated to a dying House". My Lords, that was in the days of the First World War, and your Lordships House seems to be taking an unconscionable time to die.

It is difficult to conceive of any Member of your Lordships' House who has once escaped from another place—and I do not mean to be controversial—contemplating for a single moment returning to that no doubt worthy but somewhat cantankerous milieu over the way; and one derives some comfort from hearing from time to time from noble Lords and noble Ladies who have found sanctuary here that under no conditions would they ever contemplate returning to their first love. I regard that as a pretty compliment to your Lordships' House, with all its anomalies and illogicalities, and a graceful recognition of this haven of refuge.

But then I am a House of Lords' man, and for many years now have looked upon this Chamber with love and reverence—in fact, almost as my spiritual home. Never having served a sentence of what seems to me to be hard labour in the House of Commons, I am, of course, quite unqualified to compare this gentle, dignified, peaceful, perhaps a little deliciously somnolent, and altogether charming atmosphere of your Lordships' House with the restless, tough, though I am sure wholly admirable, life that appears to be led by Members of another place. But I must not be led away into comparing virtues and into what might be thought to be controversial issues as between the two Houses. We are not debating any such thing.

I strongly support the admission as Members here of all Scottish Peers. And now that the die has been cast for feminine representation in your Lord-shins' House (very rightly, I now think, although I was somewhat doubtful and sceptical about such a proposition before we saw and heard the impressive part played by noble Ladies since their arrival here), I support very strongly the proposal that Peeresses in their own right should join this Assembly. I support the proposal to exclude Irish Peers from the House of Lords, and in this con- nection I have always found it rather difficult to understand the justification for the situation in which these Irish Peers are eligible to stand for election to the House of Commons. Since this matter obviously stands outside the scope of this present debate I must not pursue it; but I am puzzled about it.

My Lords, I am afraid that my few remarks have been more in the nature of a soliloquy than a speech, pondering upon the strange and unpredictable ways of men. I can only hope that, if these proposals produce legislation to give effect to them, the number of surrendered Peerages will be infinitesimal; that there may be an end of derogatory remarks about the hereditary Chamber and criticisms of the Peerage; that a little more publicity may perhaps be given in the future to the activities of your Lordships' House, than which I believe there is no better debating Chamber in the world; that membership of your Lordships' House may be recognised as an honourable privilege, and that no more may be heard of a dying House and an outmoded anachronism.

5.20 p.m.


My Lords, I am afraid I cannot go as far as the noble Lord who has just sat down regarding the effect that possible changes may have on your Lordships' House. I think it will still remain peaceful and dignified, in spite of the changes now before us. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rea, that the title of the Joint Select Committee is really misleading, but perhaps in view of that title we shall be allowed to stray a little from their recommendations. I personally am quite prepared to accept the recommendations of the Joint Select Committee, which will certainly correct a large number of anomalies, but I much regret that the issue which we are debating is so near to us. It is, of course, a further effort to reform the House by piecemeal legislation, and I suggest that the various difficulties would be much more easily surmounted by a more thorough reform plan.

I cannot help feeling that Her Majesty's Government will be making a great mistake if they do not seize the nettle now and put forward a more drastic reform of the composition of your Lordships' House. It would, of course, have to be a measure apart from what we are considering to-day, but I hope it will not be very long delayed. I suggest that the reform might well be based on the lines proposed by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, a few years ago, but I do not propose to go into the details of that to-day. I cannot help feeling that in the long run the recommendations of the Joint Select Committee which are before us to-day will have the effect of gradually weakening the House, which I think would not be unwelcome in some quarters. On the other hand, a reform of the composition of the House on a more extensive scale would undoubtedly strengthen it, and perhaps remove the gibes which are often thrown at this House.

I mentioned the possible weakening of the House if the recommendations of the Joint Select Committee become law. In the first place, vigorous young Peers with Parliamentary and ministerial ambitions will be tempted to leave this House for another place. Also, we shall lose those of another place who wish to stay in that Chamber and not take up their inheritance in this House; I would take this opportunity of reminding your Lordships that that is a duty and not a privilege. But, on the whole, I am prepared to accept the recommendations which are before us to-day, in the hope that a more realistic reform of the composition of the House will follow before long.

I am one of those who have felt for many years that something should be done to bring the active membership of this House within reasonable proportions. I believe that with the advent of Life Peers we shall very soon reach the high figure of 1,000 Members. Apart, of course, from the Life Peers, only a comparatively small proportion attend the House from time to time. I feel sure the time must come when some form of limitation must be devised, and I only wish the terms of reference of the Joint Select Committee had been drawn so that this question could have been looked at as well.

I also feel that Peers will one day have to receive proper remuneration; and again, of course, this cannot be considered or carried out unless the composition of the House is limited to those who intend to be active Members and who are actively working in the House. There is no doubt that the absence of proper remuneration is one of the factors which prevent many Peers on both sides of the House from attending to their duties here, because they have in many cases to earn their living. Whatever we may do in the future, I am sure that we must be most careful to encourage the attendance of young men to do what I would say is the donkey work of the House, attending Committees, putting down Amendments and so on.

It is true that it is difficult to defend logically the hereditary principle in these days, but the fact is—unless, of course, we have an elected House, and I do not think any of your Lordships would want to have that—it is the only way we can obtain the services of comparatively young men. In fact, I would go so far as to say that, for this reason alone, a reformed House must be based predominantly on the hereditary system. I think it is true to say that Life Peers tend to be elderly, as they are people who have distinguished themselves in other walks of life before they come to your Lordships' House. It is only by the hereditary system that we can get these young men to come along and give us good service. I think it was the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, who said a year or two ago that in his opinion there seemed to be no reason why the Crown should not, on the advice of both Houses of Parliament, take steps to limit the number of Peers who take an active part in the House, and I hope Her Majesty's Government, in considering the adoption of the recommendations of the Joint Select Committee, will proceed further in a more radical reform of the composition of the House in the near future.

5.27 p.m.


My Lords, I have been in your Lordships' House for about ten years, and I recall that during those ten years legislation for the reform of the House has been proposed on three occasions—this being the third. Ordinarily speaking, it would seem to me that the reason for reform is that something is not working well. So far as I am concerned, the House at this present time is working very well; indeed, I should have thought it was working better to-day than for a long time. So it seems to me that it is probably a mistake to bring in yet a further reform within the ten years. It may be argued that this is only a very small reform; that it is only to meet the wishes of a few individuals. To that I would say that I do not believe the wishes of a few individuals should necessarily govern something which is far more important—namely, the good working of the House.

Let us consider for a moment what might have been the case if this legislation had existed in the ten years that I have been here. During those ten years we have had the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, as one of our Leaders. He was followed by the noble Earl, Lord Home; and now we have as Leader of the House the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham. I think it is quite probable that if the reform now urged had already been law not one of those Leaders would have been in the House. That is the sort of thing that can happen as a result of making some minor change, apparently to meet the wishes of an individual. In fact, it surely would have very seriously weakened the House. I think it very probable that in this time, none of the last three Leaders—either the present Leader or his other predecessors—would have helped us in any kind of way; and quite clearly the House would have been weaker.

Perhaps I may now turn for a moment to the question of the Scottish Representative Peers. In a sense, I am very grateful to the Select Committee for suggesting that we can do away with our elections; that we should be as everybody else. I do not want to be as everybody else. I do not want to see the abolition of the Scottish Representative Peers. I do not want it—for historical reasons, for reasons of tradition, for reasons of the ceremony that takes place every time at the general election at Holyrood, when we do not have anything such as a secret ballot but an election in which everybody knows who is for him and who is against him.

But, more seriously, I think it would be a great pity if we were to do away with this representative system, because, for me (here I speak personally), to be a Representative Peer for Scotland really means something. It means that I am representing certain of my constituents; I am representing Scotland, and I know that I had better behave properly and work for Scotland, otherwise at the next election I may be turned out. I do not want that. Therefore, what do we find? We find that the Scottish Representative Peers are a pretty weighty body in this House. They come down when there are any Scottish questions; they take part in the debates. One might almost say that there was a Scottish lobby. At all events, the fact of having these Scottish Representative Peers really means something. If we are, as it were, to become as everybody else, then I am not at all sure that something which we have been able to do for Scotland will not disappear and our value be less. That is how human nature goes.

There is one small but important recommendation of the Report which seems to me to be entirely natural and logical—that is, that Peeresses in their own right should be Members of this House. I would apply that as much to the Scottish Representative Peerage system as to the other. So I am afraid that I am one of the few who feel that this reform should not go forward. I think it will weaken the House, and I do not think it will be a good thing for Scotland either.

5.32 p.m.


My Lords, the matter under debate to-day has been considered on previous occasions in your Lordships' House, by Committees appointed by your Lordships to consider different aspects of this complex situation, on which much has been said, and also by the Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament, which has done vital work. It would be fair to say that every aspect has its advocates. On this occasion my noble friend Lord Hailsham, who leads your Lordships' House, has stressed the need for brevity, and so, with your Lordships' permission, I propose to confine my few remarks to those affecting Scottish Representative Peers, knowing that the various other aspects have been, or will be, fully dealt with by your Lordships.

My principal recommendation relates to support for what the noble Earl who has just spoken said about the continuation of the election of Scots Representative Peers in accordance with the Treaty of Union of 1707. Having been an elected representative for over 30 years, I may modestly claim to have some experience of the system. The Select Committee of your Lordships' House and another place has recommended that all Scots Peers should be admitted to the House in the same manner as Peers of England, Great Britain and the United Kingdom. With this I say, with respect, but most firmly, that I am in complete disagreement, though I am completely in agreement with the suggestion that the Peeresses of Scotland, at present nine in number, should be given the same rights as the Peers of Scotland under the electoral provisions of the Treaty of Union of 1707, making the number who could submit their names for election 40 instead of 31.

I would urge your Lordships most strongly, and would particularly appeal to fellow Scottish Representative Peers, to give support to this suggestion of the Select Committee regarding the Peeresses of Scotland, but otherwise and in no circumstances to allow the interesting and historic Treaty of Union to be disturbed. In form it is unique and one of the most interesting constitutional procedures in the history of Western Europe to-day. I am convinced that Scotland should strive by all means to retain this remarkable instrument.

5.35 p.m.


My Lords, I find myself in considerable agreement with the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Teynham, who said that this was a piecemeal procedure which we are now carrying out. Unfortunately, to my mind, not only is it a piecemeal procedure, but they are the wrong pieces. There is only one piece I agree with in these proposals, and that is the proposal that Members of this House should be entitled, if they wish, to leave their Peerages aside and serve in another place if the electorate calls upon them to do so. As for the rest, I cannot support it because I cannot support any increase in the hereditary principle. I have always opposed the hereditary principle; indeed, I sometimes find difficulty in seeing why I myself should sit upon these Benches. The only reason that I can find why I should sit upon these Benches is that too large a number of noble Lords sit on the Benches opposite; and if noble Lords in the same position as myself will retire from the opposite Benches I will with a shout of glee leave these Benches.

In some ways I find myself in a position of great sorrow at opposing one particular proposal—namely, that relating to the hereditary Peeresses. As your Lordships recall, there was before this House some years ago a Motion that the hereditary Peeresses should be allowed in. I opposed that Motion, admitting that I was ungallant in so doing because the ladies whose entry I was opposing included my mother and my aunt.


That seems a good reason for opposing it.


The position is now still worse in my family. My aunt having died and her three titles being scattered, I am now opposing the entry of my mother and three of my girl first cousins. I only hope that all these ladies will forgive me. Really, in these days, when heredity is universally regarded as such a poor reason for sitting in such an Assembly as this, how can we agree to extend it at all? I agree that there is apparently a sex discrimination in this matter between the men and the ladies; but I should have thought that, if the matter was to be put right, the men should be liberated to join the Commons rather than that the ladies should be elevated to join the Lords.

5.38 p.m.


My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, is not in his place at the moment, because I, too, should like to congratulate him on his superb maiden speech. I was a great personal friend of his father who, when I came to your Lordships' House, tried to persuade me to sit on the Liberal Benches with him. Unfortunately I could not comply with that wish, and I notice that his son has now come to join us on these Benches. I do not quite know what to make of that, but it seems to me a good thing.

I, too, agree with this Report, yet I also have certain misgivings, on the lines of what my noble friend Lord Perth said about ministerial representation, and particularly the leadership of this House. He put it far better than I could possibly do, so I will not repeat it.

I cannot say that I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, about heredity. How else shall we get youth in this House as it stands at present? How, too, can we get military service representation? Certainly, no Government since the war has decided to elevate any chiefs of the military staff to your Lordships' House, to help us in our debates on the subject of war in general, and the Services in particular, though I notice that the chief of staff of the Foreign Office, quite rightly, comes here pretty regularly as he retires. I commend that, and think that it is a good thing for your Lordships' House. I only wish that the Government would do the same in regard to the Services, because we are rapidly running out of Service representation.

There are two points in the actual Report which I should like to mention. The first is on the question of minors. At the moment they are given a year from the time of the cessation of their minority to make up their minds. If by the age of 22 they have not decided to relinquish their title, or have decided to succeed to their title, then at the age of 25, when they are far more likely to be in a better position to make a decision, it will be impossible for them to change their minds and go to another place. I think it is a pity the Committee turned down an Amendment which was put suggesting that, instead of the age at which a succeeding Peer should make up his mind being 21, it should be 25. The other point—which I think the noble Lord, Lord Rea, mentioned—is this: why, when a Peer has given up his Peerage, and finally, it may be, is given another Peerage to return to your Lordships' House from another place, should it be confined to a Life Peerage?

My main theme was to have been the Irish Peerage, but the real opening batsman on this subject, whom I was going to follow and upon whom I had intended to rely for my evidence, has, for some reason, decided to stay in the pavilion. Therefore, I feel rather like the chap who has come out to bat against Trueman without any pads on. I myself, as your Lordships have heard, am in possession of an Irish Peerage, and therefore feel that I ought to try to defend my colleagues who are unlucky enough not also to have an English Peerage. We are trying, it seems to me, to put a little logicality into a quite illogical proceeding, and I cannot understand the logic of the Committee (I do not know whether it was towards the end of the proceedings, and that perhaps they felt they had had enough) in doing something for everybody else, but leaving out the Irish Peers. It is only because the body which elected Irish Peers to your Lordships' House happened, as I understand it, to sit in Dublin at the time Eire became a separate Irish Republic, and not in Belfast, that there are no Irish Peers elected to come to your Lordships' House.

Had this body sat in Belfast, I am sure that there would be Irish Peers elected, possibly from the Northern Irish Peerage alone, to be here. What have they done to be excluded from your Lordships' House? If none had ever been elected to this House in the past, there would be no argument whatsoever; but Irish Peers have been elected to your Lordships' House. Why, then, are they prevented from electing those of their members whom they wish to come here? It seems completely and utterly illogical. The fact that they may be on a particular side of the Border may be a reason for saying that those Peers who live in Eire and who have become Irish citizens should not be allowed to come here. But what about those of us who live North of the Border? Why should we be excluded from your Lordships' House when in the past our predecessors have been allowed to come here?

My Lords, that is the only thing I want to say. I am afraid that I have not said it with a great deal of logic, though I have said it with some vehemence. As I said, my opening batsman failed to turn up to produce the argument for me. I would ask the Government to think again about this point.

5.45 p.m.


My Lords, I certainly approve of the proposals which have been put forward to enable hereditary Peers to surrender their Peerages for life. As the noble Earl, Lord Longford, said a short time ago, this reform, if it comes about, will be mainly due to the efforts of Lord Stansgate, formerly Anthony Wedgwood Benn. He will presumably have a place in history as having been the means of bringing about a reform of this kind. I also agree that the entry of Peeresses in their own right into this House is obviously long overdue, and any attempt to keep alive sex disqualification of that kind is obviously quite out of date.

The Joint Committee, in suggesting the abolition of Scottish Representative Peers and the admission to this House of the whole body of Scottish Peers, have certainly given to Scottish Peers all they have expected, and more. I think, therefore, that the Scottish Peers certainly have nothing to complain of in the Report of the Joint Committee. But when we come to the Irish Peers, there is a very different story to tell, and, in my view, the Joint Committee have given them a very raw deal. All they are recommended to have is the right to sit in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom for a Northern Ireland constituency—they already have the right to sit in the House of Commons for a British constituency—and the right to vote at Parliamentary elections. Several memoranda on the position of the Irish Peers were submitted to the Joint Committee, one by the noble Viscount, Lord Vaughan, on behalf of the unrepresented Irish Peers, of whom there are as many as 70, and one by Lord Dunboyne, who helped in drafting Lord Vaughan's memorandum. Both of these memoranda proceeded on the assumption that the Act of Union of 1800 had never been repealed, that the right of the Irish Peers to representation in your Lordships' House still existed in law, and that it was irrelevant that part of Ireland had gone out of the United Kingdom.

I myself also submitted a memorandum, because I felt that, whatever the strict legal position might be, one had to take a practical view of the situation and face the facts as they are to-day. After all, the Irish Peers came into the House of Lords of the United Kingdom when Ireland was united with Great Britain. Could they claim the same right when that union was dissolved? I felt that they could not. The position, however, does not rest there because Northern Ireland still remains in the United Kingdom and sends members to the United Kingdom House of Commons. I therefore put forward the suggestion in my memorandum that an obviously smaller number of Irish Peers should be enabled to sit in this House by some process of election. If Scottish Peers were to sit here, because Scotland is part of the United Kingdom, then in fairness I cannot see why some Irish Peers should not sit here when part of Ireland is in the United Kingdom. From every point of view, I cannot help feeling that that argument is very difficult to ignore.

However, as the noble Earl, Lord Kilmuir, has said this afternoon, the Joint Committee thought otherwise. The only clue in their Report to their having considered the Northern Ireland position is in the sentence which reads: It should be noted that there is no peerage of Northern Ireland as such. Frankly, I cannot quite see the relevance of this. I cannot help feeling that the real reason why the Joint Committee turned down the claim of the Irish Peers is contained in paragraph 9 of the memorandum submitted on May 25 last by the noble Viscount who is now the Leader of the House, in which he said this: I sympathise, but do not agree, with the desire of Irish peers to be again formally represented in the House of Lords. There is no Common Law right, and, on balance, I believe their presence would tend to spoil our relations with the Republic of Ireland. That idea of spoiling relations with the Republic of Ireland has been so often the cause of British policy regarding Ireland in recent years. I do not believe that in this particular case it applies at all.

I think that is also the reason why, to take another example, the ancient and great Order of Knighthood of St. Patrick has now been allowed practically to disappear. I think there is only one Knight of St. Patrick remaining, and that is His Royal Highness the Duke of Gloucester. After his time I suppose the Order will disappear—a great Order which has always been considered on a par with the Garter and the Thistle. The reason why it is disappearing, I believe, is that there is a sort of feeling that, if it were to be kept in existence, it would be not acceptable to the authorities in the Irish Republic.

I should like now, my Lords, to read the second half of this same paragraph in the memorandum of the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, which deals perhaps rather more specially with the point that I am raising. He says: I am, of course, aware that some Irish peers derive their titles from places in Northern Ireland, but it would be weird if the title to sit in the House of Lords depended upon the location north, or south of the Border of a territorial title conferred before there was a Border to be north or south of. If such peers exist aid are wanted in the House of Lords the correct method of getting them there would surely be by the conferment of an United Kingdom peerage—life, or hereditary—in the ordinary way.

House adjourned during pleasure.

House resumed.

6.0 p.m.