HL Deb 28 March 1963 vol 248 cc322-47

Debate resumed.

6.13 p.m.


My Lords, when the Business of the House was interrupted I was just saying that in these, memoranda to the Joint Committee, dated May 25, the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, said that if Peers from Northern Ireland were wanted in the House of Lords the correct method of getting them there would be to confer upon them United Kingdom Peerages. If this represents, or possibly will represent, Government policy, I hope that the noble Viscount, when he comes to reply, will be able to say something about it. I feel that if this could be done, then United Kingdom Peerages should be given to Irish Peers resident in the United Kingdom, with preference to those resident in Northern Ireland. But I should also like to see one or two from among the main body of Irish Peers, not now represented at all, given United Kingdom Peerages. If this suggestion, which was put forward by the noble Viscount in his memorandum, could possibly be implemented, it would, I think, go some way towards overcoming the great disappointment of the Irish Peers with the conclusions of the Joint Committee.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I wonder whether I could apologise to him for giving him an incorrect answer to a question he put to me at the end of my speech. He asked me a question about my title of Silchester, and I said that Silchester was the problem; but there I was of course at fault. It is not my hereditary title which seems likely to be a difficulty but the title of Pakenham, which I accepted from the present Lord Attlee, or, rather, from the Crown on the recommendation of Lord Attlee. I say this merely to put the record right.


My Lords, on that point, may I say that if the noble Earl has two United Kingdom Peerages, one which he obtained by reason of creation and the other to which he succeeded, then I believe he sits in this House as Lord Pakenham. Could he not arrange to sit as Lord Silchester, in which case he could presumably surrender the Peerage of Silchester and be available for membership of the House of Commons?


My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Lord's offer of help. This would seem to be another occasion when the South of Ireland has every reason to be indebted to the North.

6.15 p.m.


My Lords, I feel that this is a good Report, and I hope that both Houses will be disposed to approve it en bloc, without too much fiddling around over matters which can be improved upon in the Committee stage of the legislation which will stem from this debate.

When this House first came into being it was obviously expedient that the hereditary principle should be untarnished in any respect. Peers in the late Middle Ages possessed a great deal of land and they were also capable of putting a great many soldiers in the field. It was obviously a good thing—to put it mildly—that they should meet from time to time and co-ordinate their actions in order not to put soldiers in the field for conflicting purposes. However, few of your Lordships now have very broad acres, and none, I think, exercises the right (I doubt whether many have it) of putting soldiers in the field. The abso- lute necessity of knowing, therefore, who was the son of whom, and what powers and rights devolved upon the eldest son of a sitting Peer, appears less absolute than it did in the days when this House was one of the main centres of power in the country. Lands and soldiers can with certainty be transmitted from father to son. Wisdom cannot. Some Members of our House are, in my view, extremely wise, and some of us are less wise. It is a piece of good luck that the wiser among us normally finish up on the Front Benches. We cannot be certain that it will continue like this. There is a continuing risk in this respect.

Of the innumerable Committees which have reported on the question of hereditary Peerages and whether it is possible to get out of them and stand for election to the House of Commons, I notice that the Committee of Privileges in 1961, reporting on the Wedgwood Benn case, quoted for its first authority the first of many opinions on what is a Peerage, a judgment of a seventeenth century judge called Doddridge who, in 1626, said of a Peerage: It is a personal dignity annexed to the posterity and fixed in the blood. At that time, this necessity of transmitting lands and military power from father to son expressed itself in the belief that the actual physical substance of blood carried rights, carried duties and carried responsibilities. We now see the phenomenon of heredity as something rather different. There are few among us who see a picture in our subconscious mind of each one of the twenty-four paternal chromosomes wearing little coronets, matching each one of the twenty-four maternal chromosomes which do not have little coronets except in rather rare and special Peerages.




I thank the noble Lord for his correction, and remember his Christmas card, which said twenty-four, making 48 all told, and which aroused some interest at the time in genetic circles. I think there is little opinion in the country and little in Parliament which believes that at this moment in this Parliament we should tackle the whole question of heredity as a basis of political power. I hope that it will be so tackled in future. But, for the moment, let us get on with this very reasonable partial measure proposed by the Joint Committee.

I do not share the reservations of my noble friend Lord St. Davids about hereditary Peeresses. I think it is far less important to keep people out of this House than to enable those who want to get out of it and go back to another place to do so. In point of fact, there is a lot to be said for tidying up both illogicalities which presented themselves to the Committee when they commenced their deliberations: first, the little ways in which the hereditary principle was not applied. Until we can reform the House completely, let us have a uniform standard of logical application of hereditary principles. Let us have my noble friend's mother and three cousins in—and I hope they will sit on this side, like him—but let us allow Mr. Wedgwood Benn, and anybody else who wants, out and let them stand for Parliament.

It seems to me that the main argument for the adoption of the recommendation of the Committee has received singularly little attention in the national debate at the moment—that is, quite simply, the wish of the electors, whether they are in Bristol or anywhere else. They choose the man they want and everything goes swimmingly for a few years; then, in the course of nature, his father dies and they can no longer have the man they want. What restrictions should we admit on the right of the electors to choose precisely the man they want for the House of Commons and no other? I find it difficult to think of any restriction. If a man is a criminal, a traitor, an undischarged bankrupt or a minor, it seems to me that the electors can well be left to make up their own minds, and, generally speaking, they do not elect such candidates. If he is a Peer, they are not allowed to make up their own minds. I am sometimes surprised that we do not regard it as a derogation from our cherished dignities to be bracketed with undischarged bankrupts, traitors and the others, in being disbarred from the choice of the electorate.

Either we are a democracy or we are not. We are talking about a very small matter—about three or four or six men who would like to stand for the House of Commons. I submit to your Lordships that it is distasteful that we should take Our stand so firmly on this principle of a freely elected, democratic Parliament and should go to such lengths to defend it against suggested inroads from the Right or the from the Left, and yet, century after century, we should so blandly tolerate this small infringement of it. It is a small infringement, but it is an infringement. If we are a democracy, let us be so even in the corners.

I was very heartened to hear the opening speech from the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack. It seemed to me that he spoke like a man who means business, and I hope he spoke on behalf of a Government which means business in this matter. It is always good when we hear the little anomalies seriously discussed. It is an auspice and an indication that Government action is coming. I thought that the noble and learned Lord made a good case about the unfortunate lot of the elder son of a Peer whose father was struck by a thunderbolt during an election campaign.

I think that other things could be cleared up in any Bill which may come out of this Committee's Report. On this side, we may have one or two things of comparative weight and importance to clear up on Committee stage. But, with these reservations, I hope that both Houses of Parliament will accept this as a compromise, which has been worked out by the representatives of all Parties for that very purpose, and that we shall act swiftly, without prejudicing the chances of a more fundamental reform in the next Parliament.

6.25 p.m.


My Lords, may I add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Windlesham upon his magnificent maiden speech to your Lordships this afternoon? Whatever may be said about the hereditary system, there is no doubt that if it did not exist, no Second Chamber in the world, let alone your Lordships' House, would have the advantage of hearing such speeches from a newly joined hereditary member. I hope that in future we shall hear words of knowledge and wisdom from my noble friend on those subjects on which he is an expert.

I welcome the findings of this Committee. For a change, I am entirely in agreement with the noble Lord opposite, Lord Kennet. I think that we can both congratulate ourselves because, after hearing so many magnificent speeches this evening, the noble Lord and I are the first to mention the wishes of the electorate. I am glad that the Committee have seen fit to press Parliament and the Government to take note of the wishes of the electorate in one constituency. That happens seldom enough in these days. I wish the electorate of Bristol, South-East and Mr. Wedgwood Benn the best of good fortune in the future. This is a new constituency, but in the past both my father and my mother represented some part of it in another place.

I am glad that in future, if these proposals are adopted, no other candidate will have to suffer the embarrassment that the Member for Bristol South-East has had to suffer. There can be no worse feeling than to sit in the House of Commons, with all the great responsibilities that that entails, knowing that there is a 32,000 majority against one's views. I think that one of the greatest services of the Committee has been to recommend removal of that embarrassment.

I am also glad that the Committee have seen fit to argue that a title should not be extinguished should a Peer take the course that Mr. Wedgwood Benn has decided to take. It would be a great tragedy if a name that is a synonym of tradition of service to the country should be struck off the Roll of Parliament for good. I hope I may be spared long enough to see another Lord Stansgate sitting on the Benches opposite in your Lordships' House, or possibly on the Cross Benches, or even, possibly—who can tell?—upon these Benches. I would take it as a great honour if I were able to tell a grandson of the late Lord Stansgate how much your Lordships loved and revered his grandfather. He was a wonderful man. We shall always remember those sallies between him and my noble friend Lord Salisbury. There could have been no kinder or wiser adviser to a young man in your Lordships' House than he, and we shall not forget his great heroism in the First World War, when he was one of the first to fight from an aeroplane in action. It is a great privilege to be able to remember such a fine Member of your Lordships' House.

Finally, I am glad that this Report is an agreed Report. I think it is great credit to the members of the Committee who sit on the Benches opposite, and to their colleagues in another place, that they have seen fit to issue this Report of the Joint Committee under the chairmanship of my noble and learned friend Lord Kilmuir. I am pleased that they did not decide to tinker with the corn-position of the House or with its powers. Should there have been any tinkering with that, there could only have been some anew form of Peers of Parliament, call them what you will—no doubt it would have been logical and tidy—and had that been done, had there been any restriction upon the membership of your Lordships' House, it could only have meant that some Peers of the Realm would have forgone the right to come into your Lordships' House and to address your Lordships on whatever matter they might wish. Had that right been forgone, I believe that a serious blow should have been struck against the freedom and liberty, and the protection, too, of Her Majesty's subjects. I welcome the Committee's Report, and I wish its proposals Godspeed through both Houses of Parliament and on to the Statute Book.

6.31 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to follow the noble Earl, Lord Bathurst, in welcoming this Report I may say that I have certain reservations about some of the details, but I think it is a step in the right direction, and possibly we cannot expect everything at once. This is a measure which has a general application. In Parliament it is not usual to legislate for individuals. We all have in mind the special case of Mr. Wedgwood Benn, as I believe he likes to be known. I have the pleasure of knowing him personally, and I know what a great asset he was to the other place and what a great loss he is to this House. Still, he feels strongly about the matter, and I think we are all glad that he will be enabled, as one hopes, to represent his electors again in the other place after this long period of retirement. I wish to apologise to the House for not having been able to come earlier to this debate, and particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, who, I understand, made such an excellent maiden speech, which I shall look forward with pleasure to reading in the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow.

One of the contradictions in this Report, in my view, is the question of hereditary Peeresses. We on this side of the House cannot accept any extension of the hereditary principle. We accept that, like many things in this country, it may be indefensible in theory but it works in practice; but the fact is that as we move further and further into the twentieth century it becomes less and less defensible, although I realise that it has certain advantages. Therefore, we cannot accept the extension of the hereditary Peerages to include Peerages which are held by ladies. But if we are going to allow the hereditary Peeresses to sit in Parliament, I feel that the whole question of the co-heirs should be examined. Possibly it has been examined, and the noble Viscount who leads the House will have something to say about it in his reply.

I should like to declare an interest here, because I am the holder of a Peerage by Writ and have two nieces who are co-heiresses. I hasten to say that I do not approve, in general, of the admission of hereditary Peeresses. But in these days of the equality of the sexes there is surely no justification for continuing this idea which debars the elder of two sisters, if there is no son, from succeeding to a Peerage and puts the title into abeyance for some while. If you are going to allow the hereditary Peeresses to sit, why not let the eldest daughter succeed to a title that is in abeyance? In this way one could at least say that one was treating the sexes fairly, and so showing the spirit of equality which women are enjoying, and fully deserve, in every walk of life.

But, more important than this, I have a greater objection, and that is to the question of the surrender of a title for life. I think there has been far too much concentration in this Report on the use of titles. It is not really the question of titles or hereditary titles that is important; it is the matter of a hereditary title combined with the right to sit in Parliament and to legislate. The whole question of the hereditary Peerage will no doubt he tackled in the years to come, but this is a private matter for each individual. Some Peers use their titles all the time; some do not use them professionally, but use them in private life; and others choose not to use them at all. It seems to me, if I may say so with respect, to be unnecessarily petty to say to a Peer: "If you want to sit in the other place you have to give up your title for life." This seems to be quite unnecessary. He need not use it if he does not wish to, like Lord Stansgate, who prefers to be known as Mr. Wedgwood Benn. I think one of the effects will be that some Peers who might wish to sit in the other place will decide not to do so, because they may have an old and distinguished title of which they are particularly proud, and they may feel that they will be letting down their family if they give it up. For my part, I think this clause in the Report is quite unnecessary.

It is often said—I think it has been said in many debates that we have had in this House—that it is necessary to have an hereditary Peerage as a support to the Crown. I think that this does a great disservice to the Monarchy. The Crown, in the person of our gracious Sovereign, is sufficiently loved by all her subjects not to need the prop of an hereditary Peerage, which does not have the same reverence that it had, and I think it is perfectly possible to have an hereditary Monarchy without an hereditary Peerage to support it: in fact, any suggestion which says that an hereditary Peerage is necessary to support the Monarchy I would regard as a gross impertinence.

To conclude, I would say that we as a Party welcome this Report. We regard it as a good Report in itself, except for these small reservations that I have personally, and a step in the right direction. We realise that we cannot have everything at once, but there will have to come a time when the hereditary Peerage is no longer permitted to sit in a Legislative Chamber. It obviously has less and less justification in these democratic times. But that time, maybe, will come. For the moment, however, these proposals will enable people who do not wish to sit in this House but to go to the other place to make their own choice in the matter. On this side of the House we consider that on a long-term basis an hereditary Peerage has no justification, and for my part I think it would be perfectly possible to have a workable House of Lords composed of Peers of the first creation and Life Peers who could possibly be found from some of the existing hereditary Peers. In that way, when you have a sufficient number of Life Peers and Peers of the first creation, you have a working House, and it would then be possible to extinguish the hereditary Peerage altogether.

6.41 p.m.


My Lords, we have had a very good debate on the Report of the Joint Committee on the Reform of the House of Lords. I expected that there might be some disagreements; but substantially speaking there has been little disagreement among the various noble Lords who have spoken. We were glad that the Lord Chancellor, in opening the debate, gave a general blessing to the Report, though quite rightly leaving the door open on some matters, in case the Government met unexpected trouble, either within or without. That is not unreasonable. The noble and learned Lord was followed by my noble friend Lord Silkin, who gave an able exposition of the problem and made beneficent reference to the Report which registered the support of noble Lords who sit on this side.

We were glad that the noble and learned Earl, Lord Kilmuir, spoke. He was a very good Chairman of the Joint Committee, and every member felt indebted for the great ability and patience with which he presided over our proceedings. The other speeches which followed have generally blessed the Report. My noble friend Lord Silkin referred to the fact that there were 900 Peers eligible to attend the House of Lords, and, quite rightly, was grateful for the fact that most of them do not come. That is very true. But we have had a very good attendance to-day, which I must say frightened me a little at the beginning, in case any mischief was meant by this rather abnormally large attendance. But it has turned out all right.

About the question of the title and the possible drowning of the Peerage, I take this view of it. I am sorry, but I do not wholly agree with my noble friend Lord Strabolgi. If a man succeeding to a Peerage decides that he does not wish to accept the Peerage in the sense of sitting in this House of Parliament, I want him to take this decision very seriously. I do not want it to be easy for him not to sit here and to be able to walk about with the title and the trappings, if I may so refer to them, of a Peerage. It is not desirable to make it too easy. It is not desirable in the interests of this House as part of the Legislature, and he ought to think seriously about it before he takes that step. Therefore, it would be anomalous if a Peer succeeded to a Peerage but declined to take it, and was then able to go about using the title of that Peerage. I think it is anomalous because he would not be a Member of the House of Lords. He would not be eligible to sit, having made the declaration repudiating the Peerage, and it would be something in the nature of an alias for him not to sit here but to go about with the title as if he did.


That was not the point I was on. I agree that he should not go about with the title of the Peerage he has surrendered. If the Duke of Buccleuch does not want to be the Duke of Buccleuch, obviously he must not call himself that. My point is that for 20 years he sat in the House of Commons as Lord Dalkeith, which is merely a courtesy title, one of his father's titles. It seems to be to be rather silly to tell him that in future, instead of calling himself Lord Dalkeith, which everybody has called him as a Member of the House of Commons, he is to call himself Mr. Scott.


If, when he sat in the Commons, that was his proper name as a commoner—which I presume from the noble Earl was the case—then I do not know that I would quarrel about it. The noble Earl has raised a fair point, which I must say had not occurred to me. But if he succeeds to a Peerage and then repudiates his noble status, if I may so put it, then I think he must do without the title.


I quite agree.


The other point is the drowning, on which we were not able to agree. My noble friends and I took the point—again on the same argument—that if a man is going to give up his succession to a Peerage, the consequences ought to be sufficiently serious to make him think twice or three times whether he does it. We thought that when he set the Peerage aside it must be dropped for all time, for his descendants as well as for himself. The Committee did not agree with us about that. I am not disposed to make it a "die in the last ditch" issue as to whether or not we should accept the Report, though personally I think it right that if a Peer drops the title he must drop it for his descendants as well. Because, apart from the fact that it affects the dignity of this House, I do not like the principle of people coming in and out of the Chamber—not the same man. The inheritor of the title might refuse to come in, reject the title, and reject the Parliamentary status and what goes with it. His son might come in, and some other son might go out. I do not think that would be good for the dignity of the Chamber. But it is not a point on which we should necessarily part company.

The noble Lord, Lord Rea, questioned the title of this Report, "House of Lords Reform." I agree with him. This is quite a limited point, and it is not worthy of the name of reform. I am not complaining about this, but it is such a limited area that to call it reform almost tempts one to recall the Liberal Government of 1910, which brought in the great Parliament Act of that year, and, in a Preamble declared that it would reform the Second Chamber—and the jolly old Second Chamber has been going strong ever since, except by further amendment of the Parliament Act, which the Labour Government introduced in 1949. So that promise has not been kept. If the Liberal Government had been able to go on with reform, I think it would have been reform of substance. But it is a mistake to call this a reform.

The noble and learned Earl, Lord Kilmuir, made a useful speech. I must say that the noble Viscount, Lord Esher (whom we are glad to see after some time of absence), made a witty and humorous speech which we all thoroughly enjoyed, at any rate until the last five minutes. It was a very good speech, and very enjoyable, and cheered the House up no end. I was glad that the most reverend Primate the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury supported in general the proposals in the Report, and it was a comfort and blessing to know that he was on the side of the recommendations in the Report. I also join with those who have congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, on his maiden speech, which we enjoyed.

My noble friend Lord Longford made a very interesting speech, during which he stated with great clarity, and almost persuasively, the case of his own position, with which I have a great deal of sympathy. I will not say any more about it, except to congratulate him on the ability with which he stated the case, which I am sure will have been noted by noble Lords and probably considered in the right quarter. But I always think that if my noble friend Lord Longford states a case he does so with great ability, and if sometimes it is a bit of a difficult case he states it with more ability than usual, as he did on this occasion. It was a pleasure to listen to him. However, I am not going to get in his way. If he can get away with this proposition, good luck to him! I promise not to obstruct his efforts.

The noble Lord, Lord Rathcavan, who I well know comes from Northern Ireland, raised the point of the Scots and the Irish, which was quite reasonable because in Northern Ireland there are Scots as well as Irish. But he pointed out that the Scots were possibly going to get all the Scottish Peers admitted as Members of the House of Lords. I opposed this in the Committee on the principle that I do not want more hereditary Peers admitted to this House. Indeed, I put down an amendment to the Report, but unfortunately on the day the amendment came up I had a cold and my wife flatly refused to let me get out of bed, so I could not move it. As nobody else moved it for me, it "went West." But I do not like the idea of additional hereditary Peers being made.

However, the case for it was that this bother of the election of sixteen Representative Peers from Scotland, which the Scots are entitled to under the Act of Union, is a bit of a labour, and that the other Peers, the non-representative Peers, who can take part in the election of the Representative Peers although they cannot sit in this Chamber and have not got a Parliamentary vote, are not eligible to stand for election to the House of Commons. I admit that, on those grounds, the Scottish non-representative Peers were having a raw deal. I must say, nevertheless, that I do not like the idea of additional hereditary Peers being admitted, but the Committee thought it was best. As the number is about an additional fifteen, it will not be fatal, especially as it is uncertain whether they will all turn up. That we shall see.

With regard to Ireland, the noble Lord opposite has an understandable grievance about the Irish Peers from that most distressful country. But what can we do? The greater part of Ireland is Eire, the Irish Republic, and one does not know what sort of Peers these Irish Peers are if they are republicans.


There are about seventy of them.


The noble Viscount the Leader of the House says there are about seventy, which is quite a number. That would be more serious than the position of the Scots, and I do not know how you can easily draw Peers from a Republic, because I understand that Republics do not recognise Peers, or any titles; and we do not know what sort of gentlemen they are. I am afraid, although I have some sympathy with them and I think it is a bit rough for them, they are victims of the fact that Southern Ireland has become the Irish Republic. But the noble Lord himself is a distinguished citizen of Northern Ireland, for which part of the United Kingdom I have a great affection, though I wish to goodness it would vote a bit differently at Westminster Parliamentary Elections. It would be very good for Northern Ireland if they did. I have told them that over there, but it did not make much difference.

They now have a new Prime Minister. I am sorry that Lord Brookeborough has felt it necessary to resign. He and I were good friends and I like him very much. But, after all, the noble Lord, Lord Rathcavan, himself is a citizen of Northern Ireland as well as of the United Kingdom and he is here; and there is nothing to prevent the Prime Minister of to-day, or one in the future, from making United Kingdom Peers from Northern Ireland, as, indeed, he has, Lord Brookeborough and others, including, I believe, another Minister in the Northern Ireland Government, Lord Glenconner, whom I know very well.

Therefore, it does not say in this Report that there shall never be Peers from Ireland; it says only that the Irish Republic is in such a tangle that we cannot very well admit Peers who are from that part of the country, or indeed from Northern Ireland; the tangle is complicated and difficult. So while one sympathises with the noble Lord in what he said, I think it cannot be helped. Let him congratulate himself that he is here and not left outside over the other side of the Irish Sea.

My noble friend Lord Kennet hopes that this Report will be implemented, and I agree with him. He is quite right that the electors ought to be remembered in this business. The electors of South-East Bristol had a rich grievance and they played a real part in inciting the Government and the Parliament of the country to go ahead and see what they could do about the problem. Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn, having been refused permission to take his seat in another place, stood for Parliament and won by a handsome majority, and his opponent had the rather humiliating experience of being thoroughly defeated. Nevertheless, by a decision of the Electoral Court the loser took the seat instead of the one who in the ordinary way was the duly-elected candidate. So the electors of South-East Bristol have played an important part in our reaching the position which we have reached. I am glad the noble Earl, Lord Bathurst, supported the Report and gave us that help which was desirable.

I should like briefly to refer to the principles which are embodied in the Report. It is recommended that a successor to a Peerage who does not wish to succeed can, by a simple process, refuse to succeed. That makes him eligible for election to another place and gives him the vote at Parliamentary elections for the House of Commons; and surely this is reasonable. I am not in love with the hereditary principle, as your Lordships may have noticed, but I think perhaps one of the worst forms of that principle is that a son should be compelled to sit in this place when he does not want to. After all, none of us chose our own parents, and it is a bit rough if a young man, especially if he happens to be in politics, does not wish to come here but nevertheless is pitchforked here, as the saying is, because his father was a Peer. That applied to Anthony Wedgwood Benn and it applied also to the present Leader of your Lordships' House, with whom I have very great sympathy. The Government of which I was a member did not pick his case up, though the grounds on which he asked for action to be taken were a little different from those of Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn. I do not want to make too much point of that. The noble Viscount deserves sympathetic consideration; and looking back on it, I am sorry that we did not do something to help him.

I support in this Report not only the possibility that new heirs to Peerages will be able to set aside the succession, but also the retrospective aspect, to the extent that it would cover the noble and learned Viscount the Leader of the House and anybody in a similar position. It will still, I think, cover the case of Lord Sandwich, if he wished to take advantage of it. I gather from the fact that he has sat in this House that he probably does not wish to do so; but he could still do so if he wished. Therefore I wanted them both covered; I think that is both right and fair. So the position now is that this state of affairs need not go on.

I do not like the hereditary principle. I do not want to make a song and dance about it, because this is not the day to make songs and dances; we want to get this Report through. It cuts both ways. Not only do I not like the idea of a man or a woman, who may be fitted to be a legislator or not, becoming a legislator merely because he or she is the descendant of a certain person, but I equally object to the hereditary principle on the other ground that a man is forced into the House of Lords against his will merely because he is the son of his father. To that extent this Report removes and alters that situation, and the Peerage can be surrendered for life on the part of anybody who is so minded.

On the question of Peeresses, there was some doubt in some quarters, I gather, whether Peeresses in their own right should be admitted. I think they should. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Kilmuir. I think we should be hopelessly out of date if they were not admitted; especially as we have now women Life Peers who have really justified themselves in this House, as have, if I may say so without undue conceit, Life Peers generally. Certainly women Life Peers have justified their existence in this House since they were created. I cannot see why in the case of this Parliamentary institution we should say we are going to be different from every other assembly in the country, local authority or otherwise, and that women are not to be admitted. That is utterly unreasonable.

I say that, as one who takes pride in the fact that I have had a hand in creating many first women of something or other: the first woman Chairman of the London County Council; the Metropolitan Water Board (a lot of males there could not understand what water had to do with women; but they drink it and cook with it); the first woman member of the Electricity Authority (and there was the same prejudice); the first woman prison governor; and the first woman stipendiary magistrate—which was not popular at the time in the profession to which the Leader of the House belongs, although I cannot say I had any trouble with him that I recall. I take pride in having taken this part in promoting women to various things. I think it would he a terrible thing if Peeresses in their own right were not admitted to this place. It will be interesting to see them if they turn up. We shall be looking to see what sort of people they are. How many will turn up we do not know.

It is pleasing that after all the troubles and adventures, the comings and goings, about this problem we should now have arrived at the situation where there appears to be substantial agreement between the various Members of this House, and I hope that another place is in the same position. I would therefore urge on the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, that he should try to persuade the Cabinet to bring in this Bill as soon as possible. Let us pass it with expedition. It does not look as if it will be troublesome. It will not be too much of a burden on the Government's legislative programme. Having reached this stage of substantial agreement in this House, which I hope will be true also of the other House—the sooner it is true the better—then the sooner it is done the better. There would be more trouble about it if it were to be left over.

I hope the Government will expeditiously legislate on this very useful Report, on which a Committee of very mixed people were able to agree. We were able to do the work together and although we did not always reach agreement, because there were votes on the Committee, we were friendly and courteous to each other. That being the spirit in which the Committee did their work and in which they have reported, it would be a tragedy if Her Majesty's Government did not carry that spirit on to the expeditious preparation of the Parliamentary Bill. Let us not talk too much about it; let us put it through. It is the way in which the British do things. The House has been sticky about all these things for a very long time, but there is one thing about it: the House sooner or later comes to the right conclusion. It is doing it to-day. I hope the legislation will be passed expeditiously, so that the world may say, as Sir Alan Herbert said in his play Big Ben (I have quoted this before): There's a lot to be said for the Lords, the Lords, There's a lot to be said for the Lords.

7.7 p.m.


My Lords, before I proceed on to the merits of this debate, I should like first of all to say how very sorry we were on this side of the House that the noble Earl, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, was unable to be with us to-day. I understand that it is only a slight indisposition which is keeping him away, but none the less we wish him a very speedy and complete recovery. I should also like to take the opportunity of congratulating my noble friend Lord Windlesham on what was one of the most successful maiden speeches which have been recently made. He is particularly welcome, both as the son of his father, whom we all remember with affection, and as a notable addition to our debating strength.

I am only too conscious that I am now speaking upon a subject upon which I have already expressed my opinions a very great number of times. I even inflicted upon the Committee whose Report we are discussing two memoranda of evidence. The House will realise, of course, that from my own personal point of view some of the recommendations were exactly in accord with my own beliefs, and others were less so. But my function this evening is not to expatiate on my own personal opinions but to try to sum up the debate. This I will try to do.

We are, of course, in this House, as the noble Viscount, Lord Esher, reminded us, a traditional institution, and in dealing with it and in altering its forms and ceremonies, compositions and powers, one has to be governed by this consideration: that a traditional institution, provided that it works effectively and does not involve injustice, is not judged probably by the same criteria as an institution which one is creating for the first time. The second thing which I think we must all bear in mind, and which leads me very much to the conclusion which I shall state, is that in really quite a long time now devoted to considering this subject I have never known any two adult human beings who hold precisely the same opinions on all the possible permutations and combinations which are open to discussion. I therefore reach the conclusion that approaching, as clearly we must be, the moment of truth in this matter, on the whole the broad principles must be passed as a package, every man conscious of the fact that the whole package will contain parts which for him, at any rate, are not wholly acceptable. I do not believe it is practicable to approach this problem in any other way. If we seek perfection we shall not achieve action.

What I think we have achieved as a result of this evening's debate is a most satisfactory measure of unanimity. Both the official speakers from the Labour Party Front Bench; the noble Lord, Lord Rea; the most reverend Primate; the noble and learned Earl, Lord Kilmuir (whose chairmanship of the Committee was universally commented upon with praise); my noble friend Lord Swinton, who spoke with his own unrivalled experience, and with the added authority of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, who could not be with us, have all in principle accepted the broad lines of the Report; and a host of speakers from every quarter of the House have done the same.

Among the only profound dissentients that I thought I detected was the noble Viscount, Lord Esher, from the Liberal Benches, who appears some considerable number of years ago, on his own confession, to have stood somewhat to the right of Mr. Gladstone, and to have been moving steadily in the same direction ever since, and whom only a profound and steadfast conservatism retains upon the Liberal Benches at all. I thought he was the only profound dissentient, except perhaps my noble friend Lord Perth, who, I thought, based his disagreement with the principal recommendation of the Report with regard to surrender (if, like my noble friend, I may use the word) on a false premise. He said in clear terms, I understand (I was not in the Chamber at the time, but he was reported to me as saying), that of the last three Leaders of the House, the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, my noble friend Lord Home, and myself, not one would have remained a Member of the House had these proposals been accepted. I am quite sure that he is wrong. Although I have not the authority of my noble friend Lord Swinton to speak for Lord Salisbury, I cannot conceive of his not having served in this House and taken the title, even had these proposals been accepted at the time.


My Lords, I think I can assure my noble friend that nothing would induce the noble Marquess to go back to the House of Commons.


My Lords, I have often heard the noble Marquess say that he far prefers sitting in this House to membership of the House of Commons. Although have never asked my noble friend the Foreign Secretary what he would have done, had these proposals been in force when he succeeded to the Earldom and the English or United Kingdom title by which he sits here, I have myself no doubt that he would be here just the same. What I would have done is probably well known to your Lordships.

Therefore, I think the convenient course would be perhaps to look at some of the specific recommendations of the Committee and see whether the debate has really made any dent in them. Starting, therefore, with the question of surrender, I think that with the two distinguished exceptions that I have mentioned, there has been virtual unanimity in favour of the principle. A certain amount of difference has been expressed as to whether the surrender should be for life or should involve the extinction of the Peerage. I did not hear any noble Lord support the view which I myself hold, that a distinction should be made between a Lordship of Parliament and a Peerage. Therefore, one assumes that if the package is to go through there would have to be a surrender at least for the life of the tenant.

I thought there was a substantial agreement, too, that the extinction of the whole title would be a wrong solution, although there were two or three noble Lords who spoke up in favour of it. My own view is that the arguments against it are overwhelming. There are Peerages which are part of our national heritage, and which I think most of us would be sorry to see extinguished because it happened that the tenant for the time being of that Peerage wished to pursue a political career, or for any other reason did not wish to serve in the House of Lords. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, who said that there may be several other reasons why he might not wish to do so. It was also pointed out (I think by my noble friend Lord Swinton) that it is not by any means always the immediate descendant of the present holder of the title who can succeed to the title. He might, by an act of caprice or spite, seek to defeat the claims of a brother or a cousin, or even of a remoter collateral. All these factors have to be taken into consideration in considering whether or not to extinguish a title.

Then there is the question, of course, of the name by which a Peer is called if he does exercise the option. I appreciate the force of the arguments that have been presented. I think there was a strong preponderance of opinion that the exercise of the option should involve the loss of the title. That is not, in fact, the view which I expressed. I have always thought that what you were called, or what other people called you, is a peculiarly delicate matter and is not suitable for legislation. Indeed, exactly what would happen if now a Peer should exercise the option just to call himself Lord Something or other is something that the Select Committee do not seem to have considered. But, at any rate, the opinion of the House, as of the Committee, appears to be that the title cannot be retained.

I was glad to notice that my noble friend Lord Swinton, and indeed my noble and learned friend Lord Kilmuir, and by proxy the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, had in the end declared their willingness to abide by the majority of the Committee that sitting Peers can exercise the option. I personally think again that that is a matter of a package, and the reasons which I submitted to the Select Committee I still think valid.

The noble Earl, Lord Longford, wrung our hearts with his personal and complicated story; he was as three persons in one Peer. But I will, of course, report to my colleagues what he said on the subject, because it would be an ungenerous and churlish act on my part did I not do so, especially as I was, I fear, the innocent occasion of his accepting the first of the three titles, since I beat him in the 1945 Election for the constituency of the City of Oxford; otherwise he would have sat happily in the House of Commons until he was translated here by the present law.

On the other hand, I must tell him that I see certain difficulties in the way of his case. I think it would be difficult. He did, after all, accept a Peerage in the ordinary way of accepting a first creation. He may have done so in the belief that he was the heir-presumptive, although not the heir-apparent, to a title of another kind. But he did, in fact, accept a Peerage of his own, and held high and distinguished offices in the Labour Government on the strength of it. I think it would be most difficult to differentiate between him and any other Peer of first creation, and the mere fact that he added to his lustre by the two distinguished titles which he holds in addition, I think would not make it too easy to distinguish the case.

I turn now to the Scots. My noble friends Lord Perth and Lord Sempill still desire to retain the Scottish elections, and, by implication, to exclude the non-Representative Scottish Peers. I can understand the reasons, although I do not think either of them was explained. I am told that the elections at the beginning of a Parliament to the Representative Scottish Peerage are very pleasant social occasions indeed, and that those who have attended them would never wish to forgo the repeated pleasure from time to time. I think it is fair to say that some of those who are excluded feel their absence from this House and would like to come. Indeed, I gather from some of my honourable friends, and from some of the memoranda submitted to the Committee, that that was the general wish of the Scottish Peerage. I myself thought, apart from these two distinguished exceptions, that the House would have welcomed the Report of the Select Committee on this, and, as I said in my memorandum of evidence, would endorse it.

I now come to the sadder case of the Irish Peers, again a body of persons for whom I have nothing but sympathy. On the other hand, I think it is quite difficult to see how the case for them can be put. I notice that one of the distinguished members of that body submitted a memorandum of evidence to the Committee in which he claimed—and I believe it is generally claimed on behalf of the Irish Peers—that they were elected to represent the Peerage of Ireland, and not to represent Ireland. Indeed, this is the way in which their claim is put, the Act of Union not having been repealed, although the machinery by which they can be elected has unfortunately lapsed—for a variety of reasons which may or may not be technical. I do not find that my copy of the Act of Union corresponds with the memorandum of evidence as submitted. Article Four of the Treaty of Union (which is embodied and ratified by Section 1 of the Act) provides that the four lords spiritual of Ireland by rotation of sessions, and twenty-eight lords temporal of Ireland elected for life by peers of Ireland, shall be the number to sit and vote on the part of Ireland in the House of Lords of the Parliament of the United Kingdom"— not as representing the Peerage of Ireland, but— on the part of Ireland". This is exactly the same phrase which is used in connection with Members of the Lower House in the United Kingdom under the same Act.

Although my noble friend Lord Rathcavan says that it would not impair our relations with the Republic if, after a long lapse of years, new elections were held for the election of 28 new representatives, I am not sure that that is the case. If they are to represent, under the terms of a Treaty and an Act of Parliament, a country the greater part of which has dissociated itself altogether from the sovereignty of the Crown and Commonwealth, I think that they might well feel this was an exercise of sovereignty over that country which they might resent. After all, if we started to re-summon the Peers of the Duchy of Normandy I imagine that it would create some comment across the Channel.

Again, I would be sympathetic with the plea that part of Ireland is still part of the United Kingdom; and this, of course, is true. As a loyal descendant of Ulstermen myself I am very proud to recognise the fact. But the Peerage was not a Peerage of Northern Ireland but a Peerage of Ireland, and there seems to me to be no justification for creating a new Peerage—that is to say for those whose titles happen to be in the North—and then electing from them Representative Peers. This is something for which the Treaty of Union never provided, and something which was not even contemplated at the time. It would be a purely historical anomaly created by Statute for the first time now.

I therefore cannot see any legal case for this proposal, although I will convey to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister my noble friend's suggestion that he endorses what I said in my memorandum that suitable citizens of Northern Ireland, or citizens of the United Kingdom resident in Northern Ireland, should from time to time be proposed to Her Majesty for the conferment of an ordinary Peerage. I think that constitutionally that would be a far superior device.

The noble Lord, Lord Rea, thought that Peers of Ireland should be compelled to opt like Peers of England. I think that that is too savage. If we are going to deny them all title to sit in this House, it would surely be anomalous and wrong for us to deprive them of the names by which they are known before they sit in the House of Commons—which they have always up to now been able to do without loss of dignity. I think they have had a fair deal. My noble friend Lord Rathcavan called the deal a raw one. If we were to impose upon them an additional disability, they would have every cause to complain.

I come now, at last, to the Peeresses. Here I thought that, on the whole, the Peeresses in their own right were welcomed by the House as potential Members—with the exception of the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, who trembled at the thought of four female relatives sitting around him in this House, a situation which, I am bound to say, would intimidate any man. I had, as the House may remember, considerable doubts at an earlier stage about this. There is a complicated and just legal argument which can be presented against them, but it is too complicated to explain, as I found when I came into conflict with my noble friend Lord Salisbury on an earlier occasion. This serious defeat for myself taught me a lesson, which I think I have learned.

The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, asked about coparceners. I do not think I can offer them any hope at all. A Peerage is not held by the eldest of the coparceners, but is held in equal and indivisible parts by them all. The choice, therefore, is not in favour of allowing one to represent the whole; it is all of them or none. The coparceners need not be sisters, but can be as many as 125 in respect of any Peerage of this kind, although they seldom reach this very large number. The prospect of large numbers of coparceners all having to speak with one voice because collectively they hold only one Peerage, and of their all descending upon your Lordships and being introduced into this House, is not one which I think I can contemplate.

I think the answer is that this House would endorse these proposals as a broad whole if, when, after Easter, the Government have considered the matter, the Government decide that legislation is the right course. I shall—I hope correctly—convey that message to my colleagues. My own feeling is that the time has come when we must make up our minds, and that the House of Lords—and we shall see from our papers to-morrow whether another place does so—endorses the proposals of the Select Committee. I should like to add my thanks to that Committee.


My Lords, before my noble friend sits down there is one point I would raise. Is there any chance of re-thinking about the son of a Peer succeeding in a minority: that he would be forced to make a choice one way or the other at 22, rather than at 26? I cannot see how at 22 he knows what he is going to do.


My Lords I am sorry I did not answer that in the course of my speech. But obviously this is a matter which will be studied with other matters which have been stated in the debate. If I may just state the trouble in a sentence, it is that he may want to stand for the House of Commons at 21, and it is difficult, if you are going to carry through an operation with this kind of option, to make the date of option different from the date at which you can vote for the House of Commons and stand for the House of Commons.

On Question, Resolution agreed to.