§ 2.45 p.m.
§ LORD ALPORT rose to move, That a Select Committee be appointed to consider how, whether by changes in its procedures or by other means lying within the limits of its own powers of decision, this House can make a more substantial contribution to the efficient working of Parliamentary Government in contemporary Britain. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to move the Motion which stands in my name on the Order Paper. You will be aware that a large number of your Lordships have indicated your intention of taking part in this debate. It is therefore, I think, incumbent on me, at any rate, in opening it, to speak as briefly as is possible and to outline in general terms the reasons which caused me to put this Motion on the Order Paper.
§ I took the precaution, in the shape of an earlier Motion, of setting out some of the details of the proposals which it seemed to me might well be considered by a Select Committee if it were appointed, and thus writing this into the record will, I hope, enable me to treat the subject rather more briefly than otherwise would be the case. I will at the same time, in a few minutes, try to show the relationship between that previous Motion and the one which I am now asking your Lordships to consider.
§ I should indeed be lacking in a proper sense of obligation if I did not start by acknowledging that in moving this Motion I am treading in the footsteps of others who have had a very much longer experience than I have of the working of your Lordships' House; my noble friends Lord Salisbury and Lord Swinton and the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, among others, at different times and from different points of view have 855 brought their judgments to bear upon the problem of reform of this House. It is true that I make a slightly different approach from theirs, a more prosaic one with less imagination, but I think I am in a similar case with them in attempting to do what my noble friend Lord Conesford said in the recent Television debate, which is to try to ensure to the best of our ability the survival and efficiency of Parliamentary Government; and I think that at this present time we should take this for granted only at our peril.
§ Regardless of the accident of birth or death or of personal or political fortune which opened for each of us respectively the historic privilege of membership of your Lordships' House, it is our duty, as I conceive it, to do what we can to ensure that we conduct our affairs in the best possible way to serve this country and, in particular, the cause of Parliamentary Government. Some of your Lordships argue, and will no doubt do so this afternoon, that with our present methods of procedure and the present methods by which we apply ourselves to our duties we already achieve this. If that is the case, then that view will be reinforced by a careful investigation by a Select Committeee such as the one which I propose. But there are many of us, of whom I am one, who believe that this House could, as a result of changes procured by its own initiative, serve the institution of Parliament and hence the people of this country to far greater effect.
§ We should not, I think, be under any illusions as to the extent to which Parliament to-day has lost standing among important sections of our community. This is certainly true of the House of Commons; and our own knowledge of the value of our own proceedings should not blind us to the extent to which our House is the object of disparagement and criticism. All of us are aware of the vulnerability of the House of Lords, so far as the logic of representative government is concerned; but I do not think that the composition of this House is necessarily the kernel of our problem.
§ My Motion does not include the question of composition; nor have I any wish to see reproduced here the opportunities which exist elsewhere to exploit procedure in the interests of an individual or 856 a section of the membership of our House. I do not want to see this House vie with the House of Commons in providing a forum for the public clash of personalities or Party platforms; and, indeed, from our knowledge of the character of the membership of this House I am sure there is little danger of that happening. As it is, some people outside here would too often consider that we provide merely a thin echo at the end of a long corridor of the controversies and confusion of another place. That is not a conception of the position which our House represents in the institutions of this country which I think we could accept for one moment; and it is one which we should do everything we can to prevent becoming more widespread.
§ There never was a time when this House possessed more abundant resources of experience and wisdom, drawn from every field of national life and from every social grouping, than it does to-day. Our critics may say that we have our share of inherited prejudice and long-descended error; but we also possess, to a degree unparalleled among Parliamentary institutions, a right to individual, independent judgment on public policy. In my view, it is our independence and objectivity which are the basis of our continuing reputation among thinking people.
§ I, as much as any Member of your Lordships' House, have been actively involved in the past in Party politics. I value the honourable ties of Party affiliation. But, rightly or wrongly, I believe that during the last eight years or more there has been a fundamental change in the climate and pattern of British politics. I think that, to some extent, the reason why Parliament has lost its standing, and some of its authority, is that neither House of Parliament has fully adjusted itself—in its methods of working, and in the atmosphere in which it conducts its proceedings—to the changes which have taken place outside the walls of this ancient Palace.
§ It is not our duty, and it is certainly not mine, to suggest to the House of Commons that they require to reform themselves. But it is our duty, as I conceive it, and it is certainly within our own powers in this House, assuming that the change in the atmosphere of politics in Britain that I have described has in fact taken place, that we should do everything we can to ensure that this House 857 is of service in the national interest, and with the knowledge that at this particular time it can perhaps render a more important service than at any other time in its history.
§ I am sure that your Lordships will accept that I am not seeking to promote any sense of competition between this House and another place. Power, in the stark sense, does and must continue always to lie with the elected House. I think it could be argued that the residual powers over legislation left to this House by the various Parliament Acts are a source of weakness to us rather than strength. I think that was borne out by the vicissitudes of the Burmah Oil Bill which was passed in the last Parliament. One might do well to consider whether this should be so, and whether any more effective means lies within our power of ensuring that legislation which reaches the Statute Book is framed and drafted appropriately.
§ The Motion which I am asking this House to approve is expressed briefly and in general terms. As I have already said, it replaces a much longer Motion which set out a number of detailed proposals for changes in the manner in which this House conducts its business. One of these—the televising of our proceedings—has already been accepted; others have been considered by the Procedure Committee, and in certain details have not been found agreeable to them. I orginally submitted such ideas as were contained in the previous Motion to the Procedure Committee, but I was informed, quite rightly, that it was outside their terms of reference. Indeed, to accomplish the sort of thing which I have in mind, I think we should do well to follow the precedent set already by the House of Commons of establishing a particular, special Select Committee for that purpose.
§ My original Motion was intended to summarise various proposals put forward by speakers in last year's debate on procedure, and in subsequent debates in this House. We have decided already that the important question of television should be remitted to a Select Committee, and I think it equally important that, if we are to go forward in detail with other aspects of our methods of procedure here, the same body or a similar body should be established for 858 that purpose. In the course of, this debate, and during what would be the careful and objective proceedings of a Select Committee, other and perhaps more important ideas would be advanced and considered. No-one who supports this Motion is in any way committed to the detailed proposals set out in my previous Motion, and if a Select Committee is established no-one is precluded from inviting that Committee to consider alternative or contrary proposals, provided that they are within the general framework of the Motion now before the House. What is more, as your Lordships are aware, the Report of any such Committee would in due course be the subject of further detailed consideration by this House.
§ A most experienced Member of this House has said to me that he thought that if important changes were proposed by a Select Committee, it would take something like ten years before they came into full operation. I should hope that the tempo would be somewhat quicker than that. But the fact is that we are not concerned with a revolutionary process. Although it is certain that during the course of a debate such as this the House will receive ample and proper warning of the difficulties and complications of this process of reform, I frankly cannot conceive that any noble Lord would wish to oppose the Motion by his vote.
§ I have not been able to consult more than a fraction of the membership of this House, but I have a clear impression that there is strong support for it, particularly among those who have been elevated by creation or inheritance during the recent past. Those whose long membership and dedicated service to this House causes them to cherish things as they are, will not, I am sure, wish to stand in the way of those who, though later arrivals on the scene, also seek to make their own contribution to the reputation and effectiveness of your Lordships' House. I therefore invite your Lordships to approve the appointment of a Select Committee in the terms set out in this Motion. In politics the most important factor of all is always that of timing, and I believe that this is the right time for your Lordships to act in this respect. It would enable us to keep the question of reform in our own hands; 859 otherwise I am quite certain that it will almost certainly pass into other hands, rougher and perhaps much less sympathetic hands than those of a Select Committee of your Lordships' House.
§ If that Committee is established as a result of the acceptance of this Motion, there are clearly a number of extremely important points which it should investigate. How can we make better use of the ample resources of authority and experience which are available to us here? What should be the relations in the future between this House and the Executive? What is our proper role in the legislative process? Can we make a more useful contribution to national discussion of public policy? In what respects are our working methods time-consuming and inappropriate? Do we need greater control over the conduct of our proceedings, particularly if they are to be televised? How can we assist the House of Commons more effectively to discharge its increasing burden of work? Have we any special responsibility, other than that which we exercise at the present time, for safeguarding the civil rights of the individual? These are some of the questions which should be asked, and, if possible, answered.
Personally, I am convinced that the technique of Parliamentary Government to-day needs overhauling. In this House this is something that we can and should do for ourselves. Edmund Burke, whose universal genius has enriched equally the Conservative and the Radical traditions of British politics, once wrote:
There ever is within Parliament itself a power of renovating its principles and effecting a self-reformation which no other place of government has ever contained … Public troubles have often called upon this country to look into its constitution. It has ever been bettered by such a revision.
At this juncture in the affairs of our nation; at this time when so many Parliaments overseas have failed to produce the promise which they had at the beginning; at a time when the institutions of politics here and elsewhere are under criticism and observation by critical minds, it would, I think, be an honourable thing if this House, which has a long and distinguished history behind it, composed as it is at present, were able to carry out, as a result of its own volition and decision, a reformation
which, as Burke has said, would always be for the better conduct of our affairs and a service which we can perform to our country. It is in these general terms, and in that spirit, that I appeal to your Lordships to support this Motion if, as I hope will not in fact happen, it comes to a question of a vote.
§ Moved, That a Select Committee be appointed to consider how, whether by changes in its procedures or by other means lying within the limits of its own powers of decision, this House can make a more substantial contribution to the efficient working of Parliamentary Government in contemporary Britain.—(Lord Alport.)
§ 3.5 p.m.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
My Lords, since he has been a Member of this House my noble friend Lord Alport has shown a great deal of interest in both its functions and its procedures. We are once again indebted to him for giving your Lordships another chance of discussing whether or not it is possible to make the House more efficient and more capable of carrying out its role in these changing times. But I must say that I think that we should be careful. We have had rather a lot of these domestic and introspective debates in the last few months. It could be argued—and I know my noble friend will not take this amiss—that we might more profitably be discussing Vietnam this afternoon, or even perhaps the present difficulties of the prices and incomes policy of the Government.
On the last occasion on which we debated this issue I suggested that it was necessary, before deciding whether or not reforms were necessary, to have quite clear in one's mind what the role of the House was, and I said that I thought it was threefold. First, to act as a revisionary Chamber, a particularly important role in present circumstances when so much legislation is passing through another place which, by its very nature and complication, cannot be fully discussed in the time available. Secondly, to act as a forum to air the great topics of the day and to discuss them in an atmosphere less passionate and less Party political than can be found in the House of Commons. Thirdly, although I realise that noble Lords opposite do not agree, I suggested that in certain very rare 861 circumstances it might be the duty of this House to impose a delay on controversial legislation brought forward by a Government which had not a mandate for it and upon which the views of the electorate were not known. These—if I am right—are the roles of this House. Are our procedures, then, adequate to enable us to carry them out efficiently?
Before he placed on the Order Paper the Motion which we are debating this afternoon, my noble friend, as he has reminded us, had on the Paper for some time another Motion which was very explicit in outlining the reforms which he felt necessary. I am glad that he has taken it off the Order Paper, because, although I am not an advocate of systematic control of the length of speeches, I might be persuaded to be in favour of the systematic control of the length of Motions. Nevertheless, the Motion did enable the House to have a preview of what is in my noble friend's mind, and I should like to comment briefly on the proposals he has made. As things are at this stage, it does not seem to me right for this House to register an opinion that the procedures of another place require substantial reform and, if we are going to do it at all, we should devote ourselves to worrying about our own affairs, leaving the other place to look after itself.
I can therefore go straight on to item (iii) of the noble Lord's original Motion, in which he said that reforms should seek to enable the House of Lords to shoulder more of the routine examination and revision of Bills, particularly when they are of a general or non-character. It is, of course, essential for all legislation to pass through both Houses of Parliament. Every Member of this House has an absolute right to speak and to move Amendments on any legislation which comes before your Lordships' House.
There are, as my noble friend suggests, a considerable number of Bills which are of a routine nature and do not excite the interest of many Members. Such Bills go through this House with a minimum of fuss, though there are always some of your Lordships from each Front Bench, and usually also from other quarters of the House, who examine very carefully the language and purpose of a Bill on its way through to the Royal 862 Assent. If the Bill has been introduced into the Commons and has had an uneventful passage, there is much less reason for us to devote a great deal of time to it here. I think the reverse is true, too. It may well be, therefore, that the Government could introduce more of the non-controversial legislation into this House, which always has for a few weeks at the beginning of each Session, before the controversial legislation comes up from the Commons, a certain amount of time to spare.
Nevertheless, there are difficulties about this, not least the fact that, even if a Bill is non-contentious, it does not necessarily follow that the Minister and the Department in charge of it are not inordinately proud of it; and where this is the case they are usually determined that the Minister should extract the utmost credit for the Department and for himself by introducing it in the Commons, where the Minister himself unveils it to the public gaze; whereas if it were introduced in this House only his Parliamentary Secretary, or perhaps even a Lord in Waiting, would gain a good deal of the credit which might or might not be due to the Minister himself. However, within the limits of this difficulty I think it might be possible for Governments to start more legislation in this House, and thereby ease the congestion in the Commons and carry into effect some of the purposes of what my noble friend has in mind.
Other than that, I am not exactly sure what my noble friend is proposing, or, indeed, what could be done without altering fundamentally the way in which we legislate in Parliament. It may be that he is suggesting Standing Committees. As he knows, at his instigation this matter was discussed by the Committee on Procedure which, while pointing out the difficulties, which I think are real, said that an experiment might prove possible, and, indeed, suggested that one might be made.
My noble friend then went on to suggest, in his original Motion, that we should:provide a more effective public forum for the constructive discussion of national issues without regard to the inevitable limitations imposed by the Party system".I confess that I do not understand this at all. I should have thought that we provided an excellent forum for public 863 discussion; and though perhaps we are rather inclined to say that our debates are very good, I think that some of them are very good. I do not myself see how, unless the composition of the House is altered, and even more distinguished and even more fluent and even more public-spirited people were to become Members of it, we could conceivably do any better. But I have a suspicion that my noble friend is really saying that we should have no Party politics in the House of Lords, and that he would like to see some sort of non-political Senate. Even if this were desirable, how could it be achieved?
As a general rule, and if the Liberal Party will forgive me for saying so, there are two points of view about the great issues of the day. Some people hold one point of view and some another, and more often than not the views of one lot of people coincide with the views of one Party; and vice versa. Is it really possible to prevent the views of Parties from being aired in the House? And if it were possible, would it not be absolutely ludicrous to do so? After all, we in this House are part of the Legislature. We have Ministers in the House, and Shadow Ministers in the House. The Government must defend the policies which they propose, and the Opposition must examine very carefully the Government's proposals. I must honestly say to your Lordships that the prospect of a non-political "talking shop" does not appeal to me. Nor do I understand what my noble friend means when he talks aboutthe inevitable limitations imposed by the Party systemHe went on to suggest that the reform should enable the House to:supplement the machinery for remedying administrative injusticeand here, again, I am a little uncertain as to what he has in mind. I should have thought that the House was quite capable of doing that as things now stand. But if he is suggesting that the House of Lords should be a substitute for the Ombudsman of the Government's proposals, then I must say that I foresee very grave difficulties.
My noble friend then went on to suggest a number of other proposals. I think, though I may be wrong—I hope 864 I am not doing him an injustice—that in what he has to say about the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, he is really pursuing the suggestion made a year or so ago that we should in this House have a Speaker. I must say that I am unalterably and implacably opposed to such an idea. It has always seemed to me that the courtesy and civilised conduct of the debates in this House have largely been due to the fact that there is not a Speaker.
If we know that it is only by our restraint that it is possible for us to carry on at all as a debating chamber, if we realise that it is up to all of us to be responsible for the proper conduct of our proceedings, then there is a compelling need to behave well. But if we place upon one man the duty of seeing that we behave ourselves, the temptation, I suspect, will be to let restraint go to the winds, to try to circumvent the Rules of Procedure and the Rules of Order, and to go to the very limit of what is written in Erskine May, or the compendious new book of rules which it will be necessary to devise for this House—which does not have any—and, in general, we shall seek to take advantage of the Speaker rather than to help him. And even if it were possible to find a Speaker and a team of full-time Peers who would be prepared to help him—and I must say I think that is very doubtful—it would be disastrous for this House. The whole atmosphere would be changed very much for the worse. As for the suggestion that there should be an extension of the use of Select Committees, I think we might look into that, though I suspect that Select Committees have already been used for some of the roles which my noble friend suggests they should be tried.
He then went on to suggest:that the arrangement of business should be in the hands of a Business Committee representative of independent peers as well as of the Front Benches".I do not understand how one can have a representative of an independent Peer. I should have thought that the whole point about an independent Peer was that he represented nobody but himself, otherwise he would hardly be independent. We shall soon get to the point where we have a leader of the independent Peers and a Whip for the independent Peers. What would the Business 865 Committee do? The Government have to get their Business through, and they must have control of the timetable, and the official Opposition and the Liberal Party have a right and a duty both to oppose that legislation when they see fit, and to initiate debates and Motions calling into question and attacking the policies of the Government.
But, of course, noble Lords who are independent and do not belong to any of the three Parties have a perfect right—the same right as anybody else—to put down Motions and to ask Questions and Unstarred Questions, and to use every other device which any other Member of your Lordships' House has. There is a perfectly good system by which certain days are set aside for Motions by Cross-Bench Members of the House. But overriding all this, there is the need for the Government to get their Business through, and I would not have thought that a Business Committee of the kind suggested by my noble friend was really very desirable.
The noble Lord then suggested:that there should be systematic control over the length of speeches".It may be that we shall come to this if the numbers in the House increase much more, but at the present time I should be loath to see this done. There are Members of this House with very great experience of particular subjects, and I do not think it would be helpful, in the role which we have to play in discussing great national issues, if these eminent men were to be restricted to ten minutes or fifteen minutes; nor do I think it would be the wish of the House to see them so restricted. But I absolutely agree that speeches are too long, and I do wish that all of us exercised a little more self-discipline. As I said once before, we all pay lip-service (if that is the mot juste) to the statement that all speeches are too long, but under our breath we add, "except mine, which are both vital and brilliant as well".
Lastly, my noble friend suggested that we should have six Starred Questions a day instead of four. That is a comparatively minor point. But in point of fact I did some research and, in the last 22 sittings of this House, on only 12 occasions were four Starred Questions asked. On one day no Questions at all were asked; on two days there was only one; on four 866 days only two, and on three days only three. The House ought to be reminded that there was a time when we had some difficulty about Questions in this House. There were a number of complaints, from Members of another place, that constituency questions were being asked in this House; and I think it has been the general rule that a question of this kind is much better left to the Member of Parliament concerned than to be asked in this House. Though I do not think this is a very important point, I should have thought that experience had shown that nobody really has to wait more than a day or two before he can get a Question down on the Order Paper.
My noble friend proposed that all these matters, and others, should be the subject of an inquiry by a Select Committee of this House. I am not opposed to change. If I felt that improvements could be made to our procedure I certainly should not, and will not, oppose them. But there have been a very great number of changes in this House in the past few years, and lately we have had an influx of new Peers. It will take time for us to digest them and for them to get used to us. I must say, therefore, that I am extremely lukewarm about this proposal, and, indeed, am not at all in favour of some of the proposals that were made in the original Motion on the Order Paper. Some of them have already been discussed by a Committee of your Lordships' House especially set up for that purpose, which unanimously turned them down and the Report of which is now before this House. Even though I was a member of this Committee, perhaps I might be allowed to say that it would not be very courteous merely to ignore the Report of that Committee and to set up another one in the hope that it might report differently.
My Lords, I hope that we shall not rush into change because change is in the air or because we want to be "with it". I am a Conservative, which is to say that I believe in conserving what is best, and building for the future on all that is best in our past—and, as in politics, so in this House. Let us be careful in what we do, lest, by changing for the sake of change, we lose for ever some of the important, and useful, and necessary traditions and procedures which have served this House so well.
§ 3.21 p.m.
My Lords, I rise to give the support of my noble friend and myself to this Motion. However, I should say at the outset that, if it had appeared to-day as in its original version, we should not have felt so keen to support it. Nor, indeed, should we have felt the same if the words in the Motion, "or by other means" had been left out. The noble Lord who moved this Motion, and the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition, have concentrated rather particularly on procedure, but it seems to me that these words, "or by other means", open a far wider field. As I see our debate this afternoon, it is clearly directed to and limited to the question of either setting up or not setting up a Select Committee, although I expect the debate will indeed spill over into some detailed examinations of individual points which that proposed Committee should or should not examine.
For myself, I shall try not to digress too much into such detail, for it seems obvious for everybody to see that the matters which would inevitably fall to be examined by that Committee have been set out and agreed and analysed in much detail, and on a broad canvas, year after year and time after time. Therefore, I think there is no need to-day to reiterate them when they refer to the powers of the House, to the composition of the House or even to the desirability of the continuation of a Second Chamber at all. But, as I am totally in favour of retaining a Second Chamber, I base my whole case for the support of this particular Motion on the agreed results of the Speaker's Conference of 1948 (Cmd. 7380). I am afraid that is rather vieux jeu—some of your Lordships have heard a lot about it before—but I hope to be forgiven if I reiterate a little of it.
May I remind your Lordships briefly that this Conference was a conference of leaders of all the political Parties who conferred, admittedly without specific power to commit their followers but obviously representing the views of their various Parties. It is a very striking fact that full and unanimous agreement was reached with regard to a new composition of this House, and that it was on only one small detail, in respect of powers—that is, the delay of legislation, and even thereon a matter of only three 868 months, I believe—that the whole Conference most unfortunately foundered. There is, therefore—and this is what I have risen to say—existing and ready-made a comprehensive agenda for a new Committee to work upon.
If your Lordships will forgive me, I should like just to recall to your Lordships the names of the ten members of the Speaker's Conference who found such near unanimity. They were: Mr. Attlee, Mr. Herbert Morrison, Lord Jowitt, Mr. Ernest Bevin, Mr. Anthony Eden, Lord Salisbury, Lord Swinton, Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, Lord Samuel and Mr. Clement Davies. You could not have had a more representative body of the leaders of the three Parties. Their unanimous agreement on the composition of a new House of Lords was set out in nine quite separate points, some of which have been overtaken by subsequent legislation; but I should like, with your Lordships' permission, to draw attention to just five of these, very shortly, and to underline that these points were, rather surprisingly but very notably, endorsed and supported by all the members, from every Party, whose names I have just enumerated.
Their first proposal is that the Second Chamber should be complementary, not a rival, to the Lower House; and with this end in view the reform of the House of Lords should be based on a modification of its existing constitution, as opposed to the establishment of a Second Chamber of a completely new type based on some system of election. I think we are all aware that there is a body of opinion which would prefer this House to be an elected Chamber, but for myself I fully endorse the recommendation made in this first proposal, and I note with gratification that the Socialist members of the Conference were also wholly in support of it; I had not expected them to be. The second proposal is that the revised constitution of the House of Lords should be such as to secure so far as practicable that a permanent majority is not assured for any one political Party. In this case my gratitude, of course, is to the Conservatives for agreeing to this.
The third proposal is that the present right to attend and vote based solely on heredity should not by itself constitute a qualification for admission to a reformed Second Chamber. My Lords, it was with surprise and admiration that I noted the 869 support which this suggestion had from all three Parties, particularly the four eminent Conservatives on that Conference. The issue of the hereditary principle and its modification has always been a cardinal point, as your Lordships know, for both the Liberal and the Labour Parties. To be joined by the Tories is very pleasant and very remarkable. Of course, this does carry with it a great responsibility to ensure that the Second Chamber, if not elected, does not become merely a meritocracy (I believe that is the word), because if a man is to be awarded a Peerage for work that he has done in the past, we are likely to have Peers of a rather high—far too high—average age. If I might digress for a moment, when I was new to this House my eminent predecessor, the late Lord Samuel, introduced me to his friend saying, "This is Rea, a new Member here. He is one of our youngest Members. His grandchildren are still at school".
The seventh proposalis that, in order that persons without private means should not be excluded, some remuneration should he payable. Now this all-Party proposal has never been implemented, but it is quite widely, though quite erroneously, thought now that Peers are paid 4½guineas a day for their attendance. As your Lordships know, but I think it desirable to record it once more, this is not so. The expenses allowance, as your Lordships know, is merely a refund, with a maximum of 4½ guineas a day, of legitimate expenses which a Peer has already expended out of his own pocket. If he has expended more, he is at a loss; if he has expended less, he will claim a lower sum. This payment or remuneration, therefore, remains merely a proposal, and I think it certainly merits attention by the proposed new Committee. The ninth and last proposal—a very ordinary one—provides for the disqualification of a Peer on the grounds of neglect or inability or unfitness to perform his duties. I do not think there is much controversy about that.
I have selected these five points as providing what I think is ample justification for further examination by a Committee such as the noble Lord proposes to-day. There are, of course, many further matters which would also engage the attention of the proposed Select Committee, 870 and that is why I and many others would like to see this long-overdue grasping of the nettle taken in hand without further delay, for it is eighteen years since these conclusions were arrived at by all three Parties. I am grateful to the noble Lord for having reduced the scope of his Motion to the simple question of setting up a Committee, rather than putting before the whole House a series of controversial and difficult points which his earlier Motion included. It is for this reason that I and my friends are glad to support him to-day. It may be that our existing Procedure Committee could, on its own initiative, or at the direction of the House, have taken up the decisions of that Speaker's Conference and thereafter put its findings to the House as a whole. Perhaps it has not the power to do that, or there may be good reasons for not doing it. But there is an added necessity, I think, to put the whole issue into motion through a Select Committee, as the noble Lord suggests.
Finally, my Lords, I should like to touch upon an aspect of our Second Chamber which is imponderable, difficult of analysis, and indeed delicate—and the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has touched on it already in a very delicate way. It is that because the elected Chamber, the House of Commons, very rightly, has the attention of the people to a far greater extent than the House of Lords, it is often felt, particularly by those who have had intimate contact with that other place, that there is some magical perfection, or near-perfection, in the actual procedure and traditions of the House of Commons—dating, of course, from hundreds of years ago. These things they feel the House of Lords is in error, or worse, in not copying or emulating. But, my Lords, we are a completely different Assembly from the other House, and what is sauce for the goose can be a cup of cold poison for the gander. We all have great admiration for the other place, but if we are to exist on the excellent principle that we should be complementary to, and not a rival of, the House of Commons, it is obvious that we must go our separate ways in matters of detail, while maintaining the high standards of modern democracy in both Chambers.
Neither Chamber is in any way perfect; and, parallel with the reform of 871 the House of Lords (and I think the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, merely touched on this), I think I am not mistaken in hearing quite loud and unmistakable shouts for the reform of another body which it would be improper for me to mention. The delicate point is that elected bodies can be sometimes less representative than non-elected bodies. Motes and beams are not profitable subjects for discussion, but if we are to stand back and look at ourselves, as this Motion proposes, I hope that the proposed Committee will include, among others, some of your Lordships who have been converted from a general disapproval of the Peerage, though accepting their position in this House, to an appreciation of many of its overriding good points, which come to be appreciated only after a period of apprenticeship in your Lordships' House.
I hope that this does not sound too smug, because I am not a very old Member of this House. I know that some Members have not been so converted: the process is apt to be a little sluggish after service in another place. But some arrive most happily as "instant Peers", if I may use the jargon of the day. Therefore, my Lords, although the imperfections of the House of Lords are by no means totally absent, to put it at its very lowest (and I would put it a good deal higher than that), I support the aim of this Motion, which is to move towards a more substantial contribution to Parliamentary Government which I am sure is the desire of every Member in every quarter of your Lordships' House.
§ 3.32 p.m.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, before I go any further I should just like to say that, as one who took part in the inter-Party discussions on House of Lords Reform in 1947, I must not be taken as accepting everything that the noble Lord, Lord Rea, has said. My account would be a rather different one, which I shall be happy to give your Lordships on another occasion. But even with our very wide rules of order this is not, in my view, the occasion for discussing the whole question of the reform of the House. I therefore propose, if the noble Lord, Lord Rea, will forgive me, to return at once to what has 872 been said by the noble Lord, Lord Alport.
My Lords, there is an old British proverb and, I think, a good one: A new broom sweeps clean. I could not help thinking this when I read Lord Alport's original Motion which, although going into more detail, in effect, if I understand him correctly, with one exception covers much the same ground as the one he has actually moved to-day. The noble Lord looks at our affairs still with a comparatively fresh eye, and he has apparently seen a number of dark and dusty corners which he feels badly need tidying-up. Those of us who can look back over many years here should not object to that.
A fresh eye is always a useful thing, and we, who are so used to the House in its present state, with a procedure which has grown up over so many centuries, may well fail to see (or may even have come to like) much that he finds dusty and outdated.
But if that is true, there is something I feel that new brooms must consider. It is that if they sweep too roughly, it is not merely the dust that may go but much of the patina which results from antiquity and gives to a Chamber of this kind a great deal not only of its beauty but of its value. The test we must apply, in my view, to any proposals to modernise the procedure of this House, must, therefore, at any rate as I see it, be this: are they really going to make so great a difference to the efficiency of this House as to justify our drastically altering a procedure which has grown up over so many years? If so, it would no doubt be wrong of us, merely because we are conservative, with a small "c"—and there are many of that type on all sides of the House—to oppose the noble Lord's proposal for a Select Committee. But I would ask this question: is the present procedure of the House as ineffective and as time-wasting as he thinks? Does it really result in the House being unable to get through the business that it has to do? In other words, are the changes he suggests really necessary, or is he—to return to my original metaphor—mistaking for dust what is, in fact, the patina of old age and which is part of all that this House stands for? It is that, I must confess, that worries me.
To explain what I mean, I should like if I may, very briefly, to look at some of 873 these proposals as expounded in his Motion in its original form—for I gather from his speech, if I may say so again, that though the second Motion is more general it covers much of the same ground. He starts with one broad general assumption: that unless the procedures of Parliament are drastically reformed, the confidence of the British people in Parliamentary democracy will be completely undermined. That may or may not be true; but I will not elaborate on that topic this afternoon. For what is certain is that the survival of Parliamentary democracy will certainly not depend on the kind of reforms in procedure which he has put forward in his speech to-day. Nor will I say much about his view that any reform should be carried out by the House of Lords itself. I say this not because I disagree with his sentiment; in fact I agree with it very strongly; but he seems to assume that some fairly drastic reform of our procedure is necessary to give effect to the purposes he has in mind, and personally, as I hope to show, I am not certain that they are.
We all, of course, want our business to be carried through with rapidity and efficiency; but it has not been my experience during the years I have been in this House that there has ever been any real difficulty in the House getting through with expedition and efficiency the deliberative and legislative work that comes before it. One notable exception I do remember. It is of a Bill that really did take a very long time. It was the London Government Bill, which came before this House a year or two ago. But this was mainly due to the deep feelings held on the subject by the late Lord Morrison of Lambeth, who had the affection and admiration of all in the House. He loved—and all credit to him—the constitution of London as it had been before the Bill. He therefore fought the Bill fiercely and tenaciously clause by clause. No one will complain of that; but it was, in fact, a very exceptional case. I cannot think myself of any other like it. But except for that one Bill, I should have thought that our examination of legislation which is sent up to us from the other place has always, as I have said, been both expeditious and efficient.
Nor do I know any case where discussions on topics of national impor- 874 tance have been prevented through lack of time. I realise indeed that this is only my own view, which the noble Lord, Lord Alport, and possibly others, may not share. But if there have been cases where there has been serious delay in considering matters of national importance, I feel it is for them to show by practical example where this House has failed in that respect.
The noble Lord, Lord Alport, I gather, feels there should be more constructive discussion on national issues without regard to the inevitable limitations imposed by the Party system. This is one of the main points he made. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has already referred to this point, but I have a few further words that I should like to add. I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Alport, that in this House we should always aim at objective discussion of the great issues that come before us, without undue Party bias; indeed, so far as possible, without any Party bias at all. But I should have thought that we were already a model of this compared with other Assemblies. There was a time, a fairly long time ago now—I think that it was in the 1945 Parliament—when we used to refer to ourselves, perhaps rather smugly, as a "Council of State". I hope, with the noble Lord, Lord Alport, that we shall continue to regard ourselves in something of that light.
But, my Lords, obviously (and here I agree strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Carrington), in a country where the whole Constitution is based on the Party system; where the very Chambers in which we sit, with a division down the middle and the Benches facing each other on each side, are a recognition of that fact; in such a country one cannot possibly do away with the limitations of a Party system altogether. I do not believe, personally—and I have had some experience—that one could run this House, or the country, on that basis. We can only try to ensure that our Party loyalties do not entirely swamp our individual views. That I hope, and think, we shall always try to do. My Lords, we even provide Cross Benches for those who cannot agree with any Party. I do not know of any other Assembly which does that, and I do not see that we can do much more.
875 Nor, I am sure, should we quarrel with the view of the noble Lord, Lord Alport, that it is the duty of Parliament to supplement the machinery for remedying administrative injustice by the State in its relation with the individual citizen. I have always understood that it has been the main function of Parliament, from Magna Carta onwards, to do just that thing, and it is, I believe, a tradition that we in this House have always tried to maintain. There was quite lately a very good example of this. It concerned the case, as your Lordships will remember (I do not want to go into it in any detail), of a naval officer who some of us considered was wrongly convicted of an offence. The Leaders of all the great Parties were convinced that there had been no miscarriage of justice; but the opportunity was afforded to those of us on the Back Benches who felt differently to raise the matter no fewer than three times. The noble Lord, Lord Alport, may feel that yet more is needed. I doubt, however, very much that his aim—and it is an excellent aim—can be achieved by mere alterations in the procedure in your Lordships' House. I should have thought it much more a matter for reforms in the law. However, I am sure that all of us will wish to consider what he has said about the aims and purposes of Parliament.
And now, my Lords, may I come for a short moment to his actual proposals? I do not think I need say much, for many of them, as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said, have already been examined by the Procedure Committee; and the Procedure Committee, my Lords, as you all know, is an all-Party Committee, containing not only senior members of the Conservative and Liberal Parties but some of the most respected members of the Labour Party, including the noble Lord, Lord Champion, the Deputy Leader of the House, and the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, the Chief Government Whip.
This very authoritative Committee produced a unanimous Report, which is at present before the House, though the House has not yet considered it. The Committee dealt in detail with a number of the suggestions made by the noble Lord, Lord Alport. They considered his proposal regarding the appointment of a 876 Deputy Speaker: and what did they say about that? They did not recommend any change in the procedure or practice as at present carried on; and I gathered from his speech that the noble Lord, Lord Alport, has accepted that.
Then, the Committee considered the proposal that the arrangements for business should be in the hands of a Business Committee; and what did they say about that? They said that there was no need for any change in the present arrangements for discussing and settling subjects for future debate in the House: and I gathered from the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Alport, that he has accepted that. The Committee also considered his proposal for limiting the length of speeches; and they did not favour the employment of any mechanical device for achieving this result. It must, they said, be left to individual Peers. Lastly, they considered the noble Lord's proposal to permit six Starred Questions instead of four; but they were of opinion that there was no need for change in the present limitation to four.
So much for the noble Lord's original proposals. The Procedure Committee did not, as I understand it, consider one proposal of the noble Lord, that a Joint Select Committee of both Houses should be set up to consider whether the present Parliamentary treatment of financial legislation is appropriate. That is indeed something quite new; but I should very much doubt, my Lords, whether the House of Commons would welcome any intrusion by your Lordships into the realms of finance. I should think that they would certainly give it a very frosty reception.
To-day, the noble Lord has made one other most intriguing proposal (if I have understood it right, for it is new to me): that a Select Committee should be appointed for the examination of certain reforms in your Lordships' House of the most far-reaching kind. But that might well, I should have thought, impinge on the balance between the two Houses, and might, indeed, affect the whole future character of the Constitution. This is new, and, to say the least of it, it is interesting. But, my Lords, it surely requires far more study than we, in the nature of things, could possibly give it this afternoon. It is a proposal which, I must confess, like the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, I do not myself yet fully 877 understand, even after having heard the explanation by the noble Lord, Lord Alport. I should have to read his speech with a great deal more care before I could make any considered pronouncement of views, at any rate in the Lobby.
But may I make this suggestion? If it be the wish of the House, my Lords, by all means let us give further consideration to what the noble Lord, Lord Alport, has said, and then let us discuss it here again, when we have had an opportunity to master his proposals. I do, however, appeal to the noble Lord not to press his Motion to set up a new Select Committee, here and now, to consider proposals which the House has had no previous opportunity at all of examining and digesting. To do so would indeed be asking us to rush our fences. Let us have a proper look at these new proposals, and then, I repeat, let us have another debate. Then, if it is the wish of the House, we can decide what further action we wish to take regarding them. I hope that the noble Lord will agree to this course and withdraw his Motion. Otherwise, I am afraid that, with great regret, I shall have to go into the Lobby against him.
§ 3.49 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Alport, in introducing his Motion, put his case quite moderately, and I feel, with great respect to the noble Earl and to the noble Marquess, that the interpretation of the Motion has been somewhat exaggerated. I did not understand the noble Lord, Lord Alport, to say that this House was inefficient; that it was not capable of doing its job, and that we needed a Select Committee set up in order to make it an efficient body. I thought his case was that we could improve upon the present position; and he gave us a number of examples of how it would be possible to improve our procedure. Many of us have put these suggestions forward in the past.
In the last debate we had, in April, 1965, I, and other noble Lords, put forward a number of proposals which we thought would have the effect of increasing the efficiency of this House. If it came to a vote, and we were voting in that spirit—not on the basis that this House was inefficient, but that we were trying to make it more efficient—I think that, on the whole, but, frankly without great enthusiasm, I should support the 878 noble Lord, Lord Alport. I say "without great enthusiasm", because I believe that there are far greater changes taking place in the composition of this House, which will have to be taken into account if we are considering once more our standing orders and our procedure. And these changes I find by no means at an end. I refer particularly, of course, to the creation of Life Peers; and I can see, year by year, the nature of this House changing.
Life Peers are of two types. There are, first of all, those Life Peers who have had a long experience in another place, and who come here, at the end of, in many cases, distinguished careers in another place, with vast experience and knowledge, and capable of making a great contribution to our affairs. We welcome them and we are very glad indeed to have them. There is the other type of Life Peers who have been introduced into this House—the specialists: persons who have made a great success in particular walks of life and who, it is felt, have a contribution to make in this House in respect more particularly of their specialised knowledge. These noble Lords are influencing very much the character of this House and, indirectly, of its proceedings.
But there is another change (and I hope that the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, will not mind my referring to it); that is, the character of the hereditary Peers who are coming into this House. We are witnessing the entry of an entirely new type of hereditary Peer. Certainly I have seen this in the last sixteen years since I have been in the Chamber. Many of them come here by no means following on the policies and ideas of their predecessors. Many of them are of a quite different type from their parents and grandparents. Most of them are in the fortunate, or unfortunate, position of having to earn their livelihood outside, and therefore have an outside experience which is valuable to the House.
Broadly, I would say that most new Peers that I have seen introduced into this House in the last sixteen years have had a broader and a freer outlook than their predecessors. That means that we are evolving, creating, a new type of body which, in my judgment, will require a much more careful consideration of our procedure. But we have not come to 879 the end. We were told at the last Election that there would be further changes in our House. What these changes will be, I do not know, but it may well be that we shall find ourselves a very different type of Chamber.
I myself, in the debate we had some seven or eight years ago, forecast the possibility, to which I look forward, that this House would one day consist entirely of Life Peers. If ever that came about—and it is at least a possibility—then I would submit that our Standing Orders and our procedure would be very different from what they are to-day, and it might well be that we should then have to adopt proposals similar to those rejected unanimously by the Procedure Committee last time.
I would say this to the noble Lord, Lord Alport. By all means let him press his Motion, and let the House see whether we can improve our procedure, even though many of the proposals have already been considered by the Procedure Committee. But let him be under no illusion. I entirely agree with the noble Marquess that none of these proposals will make a fundamental change in the work of this House. We may sometimes rise a little earlier, if we cut down the length of speeches. If we take it in the aggregate, we might sometimes get home an hour earlier than we otherwise should.
There is one matter which perhaps I might just mention—not that I regard it as of vital importance. A week or two ago, there was some controversy as to the right of a noble Lord to speak in a debate on an Unstarred Question after the Minister had replied to the Question. The reply was that any noble Lord has a right to speak in this House at any time, in any circumstances—and presumably to say what he likes. But it seemed to me at that time quite illogical that, a Question having been put, sometimes at some length, and the reply having been given, it should then be possible for a noble Lord to prolong the discussion. Be that as it may. That is one of the matters that might perhaps be considered, but I do not put it very high, nor do I regard it as a revolutionary action to reform the procedure of this House.
I would say to the noble Lord at this moment that the proposals he makes 880 would really constitute an academic exercise. They are very interesting and amusing, but I doubt very much whether they would have a great effect in improving the efficiency of the House. Nevertheless, if one has to vote one way or the other, I shall vote in the Lobby with the noble Lord, but on the understanding that I am not expecting very much from the result of the deliberations of such a Committee.
§ 3.58 p.m.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Alport, in moving this Motion, quoted something that I had said in another debate on my interest in the cause of Parliamentary Government. I have that interest very deeply and, if I thought that his Motion would further that cause, I should support it. I am deeply convinced that it would injure that cause. I shall try to say why I am against this Motion and why I shall certainly vote against it, and I hope that those in all Parties who think that there is something in what I say will do the same.
To-day's debate is a sequel to the debate which we had on Lord Alport's Motion on April 29 last year. The noble Earl the Leader of the House, in replying to that debate, said that the questions raised should be considered by the Committee of the House of Lords on the Procedure of the House. That admirable suggestion has been carried out. That has now been done. Although there is no mention in the Motion of this document, what ought to be in the mind of every noble Lord before he proceeds to the Division at the end of the debate are the contents of this White Paper.
I would remind the House that this Committee on the Procedure of the House—which I can freely commend because I am not myself a member—contains not only the leading representatives of the Conservative, the Government and the Liberal Benches, but also most distinguished Members of the Cross Benches. It contains two Law Lords, the noble and learned Lords, Lord Morton of Henryton and Lord Wilberforce; and, also from the Cross Benches, it contains two of its most generally respected Members in the noble Lords, Lord Saltoun and Lord Strang. It would be difficult to find a stronger Committee of this House.
881 I have found—and I think this has been the general experience—that when Committees of your Lordships' House consider these matters, they do it with great care, they exercise wisdom and take immense trouble; and in this case they set up a sub-committee to consider these matters in detail, and then adopted the Report of the sub-committee. Surely we should not throw all this aside as though it had never been. That Committee on Procedure recommended against the proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Alport, that they considered. It may be that the noble Lord, Lord Alport, has now a completely new set of notions that he would like somebody to consider. If so, I should like that Committee on Procedure to consider the new proposals. What I should not like is that a Committee of this House containing representatives of all Parties and the Cross Benches, having come to a unanimous conclusion, should have that conclusion wholly disregarded as though it had never been.
I have found in conversation that most noble Lords had no idea of the existence of this White Paper, until I and others brought it to their attention. The Printed Paper Office has collected all copies still available and in print, but I think they are not enough to arm every one of your Lordships present in this House. But I hope that nobody will vote in favour of the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Alport, until he has read the Report of this Committee.
This Committee's Report would have long since received the approval of this House, on the Motion of the Lord Chairman of Committees, but for the fact that the Committee, with great courtesy to the noble Lord, Lord Alport (and needless to say, of that courtesy I do not complain), did not bring it before the House, in order not to prejudice anything that the noble Lord wished to put forward. But now that he has come forward with these proposals, we are really asked to say which we prefer: the noble Lord's proposals already rejected by this Committee, or the unanimous conclusion of a Committee of this House, consisting of Members of all Parties and the Cross Benches, which has reported on certain of these matters. In so far as there are new matters, of course there will be consideration of them, either by this House, 882 or, as I suggest, by the Committee on Procedure. What I am objecting to is the setting up of a wholly new Committee.
§ LORD ALPORT
My Lords, I am sure my noble friend would not like to give the impression that the Committee on Procedure considered all the points in my original Motion. But I should like to say—because I think it is the duty of a Private Member to say so—that we are not in this House debating the Motion that I took off the Order Paper a week ago. We are debating a short Motion concerned with the establishment of a Select Committee, and not with the merits or demerits of any Motion that I put on the Order Paper and withdrew a week ago.
§ LORD CONESFORD
That I find very interesting indeed. In so far as the proposals which the noble Lord wishes to put before a Select Committee are proposals already dealt with by our Committee on Procedure, they have, as I have already mentioned, been condemned. But if he has new proposals which have not been considered by the Committee on Procedure, then I am at a loss to understand why the Committee on Procedure is so incompetent that it ought not to consider them.
My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, looks at the Order Paper he will see that the Motion says:procedures or by other means.The matter is one that is rather wider than he is suggesting.
§ LORD CONESFORD
I am certainly coming to the noble Lord, Lord Rea, who made the most astonishing speech yet contributed to this debate, on a different point. I have said that this House has not yet been invited to agree with the Report of the Committee on Procedure, which it certainly would do. But now I ask the House to consider what would happen if my noble friend Lord Alport's Motion were carried this afternoon. Then the unanimous Report of the Committee on Procedure would, I gather, never come before this House for approval. A new Committee would be set up to consider all these matters afresh. It would be a different Committee, and presumably would not contain any of the 883 noble Lords who have already given their opinion on some of these matters. But I have no idea what Committee will consider this matter should the House proceed to approve this Motion.
§ THE EARL OF SWINTON
My Lords, my noble friend will forgive me for interrupting for one moment, I hope, because I am a member of the Procedure Committee. What happened was that the Procedure Committee reported to the House, and their Report is before the House. They refrained from asking the House to approve their Report only because they thought it right to await this debate. But I assume that, whatever happens as a result of this debate, the Report of the Committee on Procedure will have to come before the House and be voted upon, and presumably will be approved.
§ LORD CONESFORD
I am obliged to my noble friend for that intervention, and I am delighted to hear it. I think it would be a very odd result if, before we had adopted the unanimous Report of one of our strongest Committees, we adopted a Motion which seems to negative a good deal of the conclusions of that Committee.
Now I come to the noble Lord, Lord Rea, the Leader of the Liberal Party. He read this Motion—and this was the whole basis of his speech—as meaning that, should the Select Committee for which the noble Lord, Lord Alport, asks be set up, they would be able to consider and report on, and this House would then be in a position to adopt, the proposals, even if they went so far as the conclusions of the Conference to which he referred. May I suggest to the noble Lord, with all respect, that that is a complete misreading of the Motion that is before the House. What the Motion before us seeks is that a Select Committee should considerwhether by changes in its procedures or by other means lying within the limits of its own powers of decision this House can make a more substantial contribution …without legislation. Of course, nothing could be clearer than that those conclusions which the noble Lord, Lord Rea, read out would require legislation. Does he really think that the House of Commons would swallow all that on the ipse dixit of this House? Of course 884 he does not suggest anything so ridiculous. If he leads his Party into the Lobby in support of this Motion, on the basis that that will be in order before the Select Committee, he is the victim of a generous illusion.
The Motion before the House desires thatthis House should make a more substantial contribution to the efficient working of Parliamentary Government …And it is suggested: Can there be anything wrong with that? Those of us who oppose the Motion are met with this sort of question: Do you think this House incapable of improvement? Of course this House is capable of improvement. It would obviously be a better House if we were all wiser and better men. That would make it a better House. One of the few things that is almost certainly right about the House is its Rules of Procedure, which enables the House, when it is wise, to record any result which it wishes by its vote. One of my objections to this constant attempt that we should look at ourselves and try to improve our image and be generally introspective, is that it prevents this House (and I believe in the ability of noble Lords in every section of this House) from getting on with those matters that really count; from debating matters that really would interest the House and concern public affairs instead of this introspection and concern with our own image. I hesitate to say so, but when I see these complaints about our Rules of Procedure, it reminds me of an old proverb about workmen quarrelling with their tools. It was not the best workmen who quarrelled with their tools.
There is another suggestion about this whole proposal that I personally do not like—the suggestion which my noble Leader and others dealt with—and that is this veiled disapproval of Party politics. I am in favour of independence—that may not astonish people very much—and I believe that independence is a question of character, and does not depend upon whether you belong to a Party or not. I believe there are independent Conservatives; I believe there are independent Socialists; I believe there are independent Liberals, and I believe there are independents on the Cross Benches. If I may say so, the independents on the Cross Benches are no more independent 885 because they belong to no Party than any other Member of independent character in this House, whether he sits on the Socialist Benches, the Conservative Benches or the Liberal Benches.
Once I got in at a by-election for the Universities saying that I was a Tory, and I had recently proved my independence by resigning on a point of principle from Winston Churchill's war-time Government. I was opposed, I think, by three or four candidates, all calling themselves independents, and when I reached the House of Commons I was told that the Socialists had an enormous majority against me. In answer to this suggestion, I ventured to say that if anyone thought that independence meant that you did not belong to a Party, he should ask himself four simple questions. Do you desire as your representative somebody who has never thought about politics at all; secondly, do you desire as your representative somebody who has thought about politics but has been unable to make up his mind where he stands; thirdly, do you want somebody who has thought about politics, has made up his mind where he stands, but has never discovered other men who agreed with him; and finally, do you want somebody who has thought about politics, has made up his mind where he stands, has found a number of men who agree with him, but who prefers not to tell you who they are?
So much for independence and Party. I shall not give my views on the House of Lords, because I did that in the debate on December 5, 1957. I have no desire for more powers for this House. I have no desire that this House should rival the Commons, and I have never advocated anything in this House, and do not do so now, which I did not believe to be in the interests of Parliament as a whole, including the House of Commons. I am entirely unmoved by the suggestion that, if we do not do this that or the other, we are threatened with extinction or with being abolished. My Lords, we have always been so threatened. The Communists have always been in favour of the abolition of this House. They have concealed the fact that the House of Commons would shortly follow this House if they succeeded in abolishing it. And those who are not prepared to have any quarrel 886 with the Communists are equally bent on abolition. Years ago, I prophesied that, if this House were abolished, either the House of Commons would shortly follow, or we should be restored in due course on the petition of the Commons. Historians among your Lordships will remember that this has happened before.
In my work in this House—and I hope that I have not entirely wasted the last eleven years—I thought that I was furthering worthy causes. I thought that this could be done by Question, by intervening in Motions for Papers, and even by moving Amendments to Bills. A valuable feature of this House is that the Government can never be certain of a majority. I have defeated the Government equally when it has been Government by my own Party and when it has been Government by Members opposite. You cannot, of course, defeat the Government unless your proposition commends itself to a considerable section of this House. May I mention a few cases where this House has had some effect? I happen to have gone into politics largely because of my interest in such matters as architecture, town planning, and preservation of rural and urban England, and so on—what are often classed as "amenities". With the help of noble Lords opposite—I think on many occasions of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin—I managed to effect some changes.
I remember, in the year 1956, in Amendments to the Road Traffic Bill then before the House, doing something to prevent the use of footpaths and bridle-paths for motor trials. I remember in 1960, in the Public Health Bill then before the House, defeating the proposal that a local authority should be able to take an acre, or one-eighth of a park or playground, to provide parking places to relieve traffice congestion. Of course, on these occasions our friends in the Commons welcomed the success in the Lords, but the success was possible in the Lords because they are an independent-minded body of men, and they vote on the merits. On the Transport Bill in 1962, they may remember that I beat the Government which, on the whole, I supported, by 59 to 39 on an Amendment dealing with office building in London.
All those things are possible. But we cannot have a restricted role for this House. If this House is to be effective, 887 it is not by having some new or restricted role; it is by being in every sense a House of Parliament. Of course, ultimately the view of the Commons must prevail. The War Damage Bill has been mentioned. I must say that that was the most difficult decision I have ever had to come to, but I think we were right both to send it back to the Commons with an Amendment, and ultimately, to yield to the Commons when they rejected our Amendment. May I remind noble Lords of one other debate, the most interesting in either House in which I have ever taken part? I wound up for my noble friend the late Lord Birkett on the Manchester Corporation Bill when, for the time being at any rate, we saved Ullswater.
My Lords, this House is not an ineffective Chamber, dying on its feet. It is an extremely effective Chamber, and those who wish to use it will not find themselves restrained by its procedure. If I may quote a familiar line of Terence, "Homo sum; humani nil a me alienum puto"—"I am a man: I count nothing human indifferent". If I may apply something similar to this House, we are a House of Parliament; we can discuss anything under the sun.
The difference between the two sides on this Motion is not a difference in the desire to serve this House or to serve Parliament. It is not even a difference between progress and reaction, but, if those who are to follow accuse me of being a reactionary, I would just remind them of what I heard Winston Churchill say in the House of Commons on the 5th June, 1946, 20 years ago:… there are some general propositions now in vogue which deserve scrutiny. Let me state them in terms of precision: 'All oppression from the Left is progress. All resistance from the Right is reactionary. All forward steps are good, and all backward steps are bad. When you are getting into a horrible quagmire, the only remedy is to plunge in deeper and deeper'. These rules, it seems to me, from time to time require review by the intelligensia."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 423, col. 2017.]One of the greatest things about this House is that one can say unpopular things to noble Lords in all Parties, who will listen. I hope there are those in this House who will back their own Committee and will decisively reject the Motion before the House.
§ 4.21 p.m.
§ BARONESS ASQUITH OF YARNBURY
My Lords, I have never heard a stronger argument for the existence of a Speaker in this House than in the last twenty minutes of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Conesford. He seemed to me to range over an enormous expanse of country which had nothing at all to do with the matter in hand, and no noble Lords rose to pull him up, which I gather from this Report is their duty. I could only wish that I felt about anything in the world the rosy complacency which the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, feels about this House. He is evidently convinced that any conceivable change would be for the worse.
I rise with great diffidence to take part in what I imagined was going to be a procedural debate, because procedure is not my strong suit, even if I possessed one, and as a newcomer to this House and one of those described by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, as being in the process of being "digested", and trying, while that is happening, to do a little digesting of my own, I am not conversant with all the niceties that prevail here. But perhaps the very fact that I am so unfamiliar with these things—because, for me, they are neither hallowed by sentiment nor jaundiced by any sense of personal frustration—leads me to approach them, with ignorance, certainly, but also without prejudice.
As an illustration of my ignorance, when I first arrived in this House I imagined that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor was in practice and in fact, as well as in theory and in status, the Speaker of our House. I knew, of course, that we were mercifully spared the ordeal of "catching his eye" before rising to speak. And what a blessed reprieve that is! Let us count our blessings and hold them fast. Not for us, as for those luckless Members of another place, the scramble for an eye, followed by the heavy load of undelivered speech—a load which I can assure your Lordships, from experience, is one to which no physical pregnancy is comparable. Nor can we seek relief from it, even from Lord Silkin's Bill!
But I did imagine that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack would decide such things as points of order, irrelevance, leave to move an emergency 889 resolution or the Adjournment of the House. I have now been undeceived, for I read in the Report which the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, seems to think has been neglected—I read it very carefully and he will recognise these words:the preservation of order and the maintenance of Rules of debate are the collective responsibility of the House itself—that the power to call the House to order should not be vested in any one person.In other words, any noble Lord can pull another up, and there is no right of appeal to a single supreme authority. I think that is a very bad plan.
§ BARONESS ASQUITH OF YARNBURY
"Collective responsibility" is a phrase I have revered for decades, as the foundation stone of the League of Nations, of the United Nations, and of Cabinet Government itself. But it does not seem to me to be an appropriate instrument with which to deal with irrelevance. Moreover, the attention of noble Lords is sometimes apt to stray during one another's speeches. I have sometimes seen them nodding off. And who shall cast a stone at them for that? But the harsh duty of a Speaker is eternal vigilance. Therefore I want to support the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Alport, for one single authority to rule on points of order, irrelevance, insults and (of course, I must not forget it) asperity.
I have been told by an experienced Member of this House that the ultimate responsibility for such decisions rests today with my noble friend the Leader of the House, Lord Longford, and we should all trust him implicitly to discharge this function, not only with strict impartiality and fairness but also with a certain measure of generous elasticity. But we cannot blink the fact that in the dim, 890 distant future some untoward event, such as a General Election, might remove him from his present position and he might be replaced by a man of different personality who would not command the same confidence and affection. It might then quite legitimately be questioned whether it is compatible to combine the functions of the leader of a political Party in this House with the absolute neutrality which is inherent in a Speaker. Therefore I support very strongly the suggestion that we should have one single, supreme authority as Speaker to deal with the points I have mentioned.
There is another point on which I should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Alport, and that is his proposal for expert committees. I am quoting his words—for the extension of the use of expert committees to provide expert, independent, non-departmental advice".That is a proposal which is also being pressed in another place. This House contains a galaxy of brilliant experts on various subjects, whose help and guidance on such committees would be quite invaluable. And never was there a time when they were more badly needed than they are today. Because the so-called "march of science and technology" has not merely transformed the daily lives of every one of us but also, I think, in some degree changed the function of those who are engaged in politics to-day.
Politics used to be mainly a matter of great principles and great causes, and I hope that is still the case to-day. But the implementation, the translation into practice of those principles and causes, is now largely the work of technicians. In industry, in defence, in research, statesmen are more and more dependent on their experts, who arm them with new instruments and new weapons and thus with ever greater power, though not, alas!, always with ever greater understanding. And on this esoteric and specialised "know-how "may depend not only our national existence in economic terms but the survival of the world and its whole human content.
In Winston Churchill's words,The liberties of men are no longer guarded by their natural qualities but by their dodges.I think we, the laymen and lay women amongst us—and I speak as one of the layest of the lay—would be immensely 891 helped in making our decisions by the guidance and advice of our experts, who could expound to us these dodges and this black magic in simple terms. We have these brilliant men here of whom we should make every use, and if they could expound these secrets to us, these mysteries, in told-to-the-children terms, I think it would be immensely helpful to us in making our decisions, which at the present time I am well aware many of us are quite unequipped to make.
I want to make one final suggestion of my own, a suggestion which is not included in Lord Alport's proposals, I am well aware that the anatomy and the composition of your Lordships' House, though it has been frequently mentioned in this debate, is a constitutional and not a procedural matter. But I suggest that procedural action might, in one respect at least, be taken to improve our make-up, or at least to make it look a little better. This House is, as we know, an amalgam of diverse elements. Of its 1,020 Members 120 are Life Peers. Red blood and blue blood are happily and harmoniously fused in one magenta flood. But the average weekly attendance (you will see I have been doing some research on this) is, I am informed, just under 200 in a four-day week.
Among chronic absentees, I understand that though 195 non-attending Peers have applied for and been granted leave of absence, there are still some 500 to 700 Peers at large who have not done so and who might, if the spirit moved them, swoop down on this House and outvote us by an astronomical majority. Of course I agree with noble Lords, this is a remote, indeed an almost academic, possibility. But surely it is for that very reason a possibility which should not be allowed to exist or to survive. I speak as one who saw it happen, many many years ago, when this House was a citadel of power and of passion—not, as it is to-day, a temple of sweet reasonableness and tolerance. I suggest that those chronic absentees should be pressed to apply for leave of absence, and informed, with the courtesy of which your Lordships are past masters, that if they fail to do so within a stated and elastic time limit their right to speak and vote in this House will lapse automatically. (Of course it would be quite appalling if they came back, but I think this also is a 892 negligible risk which we can take in our stride.)
I know that there are some—and some of them have spoken here to-day—who think that such anachronisms, such anomalies, such absurdities are all part of our charm; that they make us all the more lovable. "Quaint and picturesque" are epithets which are frequently and affectionately applied to your Lorpships' House. I do not want this House to be either quaint or picturesque; I want it to be taken seriously. I have often heard those cosy empiricists who tell one soothingly, "I know it is quite ridiculous, illogical and indefensible; but it works". Works? Of course it does, because it has to. But the question I should like to ask your Lordships is this: Is it quite inconceivable that we, here and now to-day, might, if we really tried, make it work even better?
§ 4.35 p.m.
My Lords, it is, of course, open to the noble Lord, Lord Alport, when the Lord Chairman comes to ask your Lordships to receive this Report, to challenge it; he can develop most of his thesis at that time, and I think that would have answered practically the same purpose as a debate to-day. But as I very much regret to say that I shall not be able to wait for the Division—I have to go to Scotland—I should like to deal at the moment with one or two points on which reform, change in our procedure, has been asked for. I should certainly vote against Lord Alport, if only on the ground that the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has put before your Lordships: that if new measures concerning your Lordships' House are in preparation it would be foolish to jump in ourselves and try to occupy the ground in advance. Moreover, we have just had two very drastic Acts which have materially altered the constitution of your Lordships' House, and I think it is too soon to do more than hope that people, as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said, will settle down and will be in a better position then to decide what they really want.
But there is one point on which there has been a good deal of controversy and on which a change of procedure has been demanded, and that is that noble Lords who have an interest should declare it. That point was referred to again about 893 ten days ago in a little note in The Times by a gentleman who did not know very much about the House, and he suggested that the reason that in the old days nobody ever declared an interest was that the House was so exclusively occupied by landowners that the matter was taken for granted. That, of course, is not true within any measurable time. The House in the 'thirties was composed very differently from what it is to-day, but it was certainly not composed of landowners. There was an enormous variety of interests. And I should like to remind your Lordships that it is the special interests of many noble Lords who have come to us that have brought them to your Lordships' House.
I think the gentleman in The Times was trying to meet the point that if Peers in the past had declared an interest, it would have appeared in Hansard, and no such entry appears in Hansard. The reason is, of course, that your Lordships have always, from certainly a very long way back in history, been held to speak upon your honour. I can prove that by reminding your Lordships of an incident some 140 years ago, which you may read about in your history books. Your Lordships will remember that when Pitt engineered the union with the Parliament of Ireland, it was intended to accompany it in the year 1800 by a measure of Catholic emancipation, but he found his measure was completely blocked because George III pointed out that it was contrary to his Coronation Oath; and, in fact, it was contrary to his Coronation Oath. The Coronation Oath was a very solemn and very precise oath, taken at the most solemn period of George III's life. But all argument with Pitt was prevented because the King solved the matter by going off his head.
Time went on, and George IV came to the throne; but they did not alter the Coronation Oath. He took the Coronation Oath. Then (I think it was in 1824) they wanted to bring in a measure of Catholic emancipation. I may say that I am entirely in favour of such. My great grandfather, Henry Grattan, was most keen to get a measure of that kind carried. But George IV said, as before, that it was contrary to his Coronation Oath. In order to help him, Frederick, Duke of York, who was heir apparent and who died in 1826, from 894 these Benches made a most impassioned speech against Catholic emancipation, and he concluded by declaring that he had spoken on his sacred and solemn word of honour. That caused a great deal of amusement, because it raised the question whether the sacred and solemn word of honour of a Royal Duke was different, in essence, from the ordinary honour of an ordinary Peer. Your Lordships may remember something about it, because the poet Praed wrote a humorous skit on the matter, beginningThe Pope, that pagan full of prideFrom whom may heaven defend us".Your Lordships will find it in some anthologies. It all dates from that speech of Frederick, Duke of York. I have a great respect for him. He was called the soldiers' friend and rightly so called; but in regard to Parliamentary speech he was perhaps not quite at home. We have always spoken in your Lordships' House on our honour, and that has always been the rule of your Lordships' House. It may be that your Lordships will want to change that.
It may be, too, that some of your Lordships will point to a passage in the Companion to the Standing Orders of the House which no doubt you have read. That was a sad little piece of history. It happened to a noble Lord, whose name I shall not mention, who was retained to speak upstairs on a Private Bill. It may have been a failure of judgment on his part, but he made an impassioned speech on the Second Reading of that Bill, possibly rehearsed from what he was going to say upstairs. I heard the speech, and I heard a lot of murmuring behind me. I did not realise what had happened until afterwards, when it came up in the Procedure Committee, and that Committee realised that this was going rather far and that if you were retained for a fee you were hardly speaking on your honour. It is a matter which nobody in the House could know about unless one mentions it, and therefore, without impugning any Peer's right to speak on anything, it was decided that the best thing to do was to make a Standing Order that a financial interest of that kind should be disclosed. It has got into the Companion as a custom. That is not quite accurate, because if anybody examines them, the facts will prove the contrary.
895 Your Lordships know of some of the heated debates recently on this question of declaring an interest. The matter has been much canvassed, and it has been heatedly argued; and I take it that there is a demand that the rule should be changed. But before I come to that, I should like to say that I think that argument was carried too far. I do not know whether it was true, but when I heard that the noble Marquess who is sitting on my right had resigned a directorship in deference to the outcry which was raised, I am bound to say that I do not think it gave him half so much sorrow as it gave me because it seemed to rue like a stain on the picture of your Lordships' House which I retain as one of the great loyalties of my life.
Your Lordships ought to be quite clear about what you are doing. You either speak on your honour, which is what I prefer, and I always feel that any noble Lord, however deeply I differ from him, does it in exactly the same way and in the same sense as I do; or else you say that you must declare an interest. You cannot have it both ways. If you speak on your honour, that is one thing; if you declare an interest, by that particular declaration you say that your honour is not to be trusted in that respect. It may be that we should change the Rule. Your Lordships will remember that in England in the old days when a Peer was called to give evidence in a Court of Law, he always did so on his honour. That was abolished. I have never done it; I have never given evidence in England. It was not the rule in Scotland. But I think it was felt that the general public does not know much about honour, and probably would have thought that a Peer was going to take advantage of a rather lesser sanction where he was concerned, which of course was not true. At any rate, it was abolished. It may be that your Lordships think that that Rule should be changed in your Lordships' House. But if so, it should be a definite thing, and one should understand quite clearly what one is doing.
There are but few other things that I want to say. There is one old rule to the effect that we should never speak as representatives of any body. We speak as Peers to the House, which is to judge of what we say. I was always told, 896 "Never say, 'I have been asked by so-and-so'." You can say, "The something institution feel or think that …"; that is your information; but what you say is your own. It may be that your Lordships think that that is a debatable right and should be altered. I merely wished to bring those two points before your Lordships because, before any debate upon the declaration of an interest, I think your Lordships should consider carefully what is involved in it; and until your Lordships come to definite decision I hope that your Lordships will always speak, as I have always known your Lordships to do, upon your honour.
§ 4.47 p.m.
My Lords, my late father always used to say that when one begins a speech one should never apologise. But I am afraid I have to apologise for not being able to remain to the end of this debate; I have to go and speak at Wimbledon. I am only glad that it is not last week, because I am quite sure that nobody would have believed me. I support the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Alport, as revised, in particular the words:Or by other means lying within … its own powers of decision".I am not quite in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Rea, in his interpretation of this phrase. I take it to mean that no legislation would be involved. I am opposed to any attempt to legislate at this stage, because it will obviously arouse antagonism in the other place. Anything that strengthens this House would be regarded with some suspicion.
The other House consider themselves the representatives of the people and that we should not delay, or even revise, the Bills that come up from them. There is much to be said in their favour. As a matter of fact, if one were to set up Parliament anew, I am doubtful whether to-day two Chambers would be considered necessary. This is not a federal State, as is the United States, with two Houses, one with proportional reresentation of the electors, and the other with equal representation of States. To-day some people believe that in a unitary State, such as Britain, a Second Chamber is not necessary. For example, in the Commonwealth some of the new countries have a bicameral Constitution, like Kenya or the 897 West Indies, but many do not. New Zealand, for example, has one Chamber, as have Ceylon and Ghana. Outside the Commonwealth Israel has one Chamber, and Denmark, which had two Chambers, has abolished the Upper Chamber. In theory, there should be only one chamber, and there should be time in it for revising legislation adequately and for policy debates. If we are talking about the necessity for revision and phrasing of legislation and for adequate time for policy debates, I do not think it is a question of a reform of the House of Lords but of a reform of the House of Commons.
The House of Lords has existed for seven hundred years; it is an old House. Much of its original purpose has gone, but I think nobody now would suggest pulling it down. There is an endearing British habit of always finding another use for old buildings. The House of Lords has really not shared completely in government for two hundred years, or shall we say for at least a hundred years, and it is now really a Council of State. When we are talking about efficiency, I would deprecate removing the pageantry that decorates so much of our proceedings. For example, the opening of Parliament takes up time, the admission of new Peers takes up time, but these procedures are all delightful.
The other day one of the Members of your Lordships' House proposed to redraft the Writ of Summons. Well, the number of times we hear this read out when new Peers are created and appear is considerable when one adds it up. The drafting of the Writ of Summons is clearly done by a legal mind; everything is duplicated: "trusty and well beloved"; "arduous and urgent affairs; "faith and allegiance"; "affairs and dangers" and "safety and defence". As I read it, every time Peers were less inclined to come to the House the wording of the Writ was made more imperative. I do hope that it will not be redrafted. It is part of the pageantry of this House, just as much as the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, or at Horse Guards, which is very decorative on a dull November morning.
But for all other matters I consider that there should be revision. As an ex-Colonial civil servant, I am certainly in 898 favour of efficiency. I would leave the procedural reforms to more experienced Members; but, as a comparatively new Member, I would suggest one reform—and it is a question more of the knowledge of procedure rather than of a change of the procedure—that there should be more systematic instruction of new Members on what the procedure is. My noble friend Lord Silkin has raised this point, and has said that many new Members in your Lordships' House do not need any instruction. They are ex-Members of Parliament and they take to proceedings here as fish to water. But many Peers of first creation are not Parliamentarians. We have eminent soldiers, ambassadors, civil servants, professors, and many holders of an inherited title who come here even less prepared, such as myself. We may know the procedure theoretically, but we hesitate to participate in framing actual legislation. Sometimes we speak in policy debates on Motions, but we are diffident in asking Questions or in speaking on Bills.
I have no complaints at all. I am continually being urged by my noble friend the Leader of the House to participate, and when I do I get all possible assistance. But I do not find that it is easy for anybody who is not experienced to intervene, and I would therefore suggest that there should be somewhat more oral explanation, by Whips to new Peers, of how to go about things. The Whips, of course, are busy men, but they are all interested in making the best possible use of the potential on their own Back Benches, and I suggest that this could be done a little more systematically, by what one might call "in-service" training. It would possibly increase the number of speakers, but I cannot believe that the increase in the number of Life Peers in this House can be effected without an increase in the number of speakers.
Speeches now are on the average about 15 minutes, and in a good debate, on a Wednesday usually, we are able in three hours to hear twelve speeches. I do not think there is much complaint as to the number or length of speeches, and I would not recommend any limitation. The Committee on Procedure has decided that no change is necessary and I consider that reasonable. It is one of the few remaining privileges 899 in your Lordships' House to be able to rise and speak. We have lost most of our privileges—for example, the trial by our Peers. And with the abolition of the death penalty for murder we have even lost the right to be hanged by a silken cord instead of by a nasty, common, ordinary hempen cord. I now find that, by voting for the abolition of the death penalty, I have voted myself out of one of my last remaining privileges.
To speak in this august Chamber is one of our most cherished rights. What good it does is another matter. But it is a privilege and I consider that, if you define a privilege as a right without a corresponding duty, we should not have this privilege unless we make good use of it. Therefore, I should welcome more debates on Motions. We sit only three afternoons a week, and we usually adjourn before dinner. Occasionally, towards the end of the legislative year, we sit on Mondays, as to-day; and very occasionally on a Friday. One cannot really say that three afternoons a week is overworking your Lordships. I am aware that some Peers earn their living, that many have other obligations, outside this House, and that it is very difficult for them to attend even three afternoons a week. Nevertheless, I would suggest for consideration by the Select Committee, if it is appointed, that we should hear more Motions on Mondays throughout the year, as to-day. If there are short debates of less than three hours it would be possible to hear two Motions on the same afternoon.
The reason why I commend this idea to your Lordships' attention is the long list of Motions awaiting with "No Day Named." Some of them, of course, are not urgent or of general interest, but many of them are. I am also aware that in the House of Commons Members have to wait very much longer before a Motion can be discussed; and they are very lucky to get it discussed at all. But part of the advantage of this House is that it is able to do what the House of Commons cannot. The House of Commons, sitting five days a week, and until very late in the evening (and now sometimes, with the Finance Bill, all night), are really hard put to it. So that four afternoons a week for your Lordships would not really be excessive.
900 Therefore, I would suggest that some of these matters should be considered. I do not wish to imply any discourtesy to the Committee of Procedure. I think they are very wise people, but I feel that there should be a second look at some of these matters on a rather broader scale as to how this House can achieve greater efficiency. If efficiency is defined as the best possible use of available resources, if you look at it systematically you may be able to find quite a number of ways in which the efficiency of this House can be improved.
I will keep off questions of House of Lords reform, such as were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Rea—its composition and its powers. Many attempts have been made in the past to reform the composition and powers of the House of Lords. My father was much involved in it, as the noble Lord, Lord Rea, has said; but little has come of it because whatever is suggested arouses great opposition. On one side the hereditary Peers oppose the change, and, on the other side, the radical Members in the other place are very much opposed to having a House of Lords at all. In the event, both oppositions cancel themselves out, and things remain as they always were. So on the question of House of Lords reform, my suggestion would be to leave well alone, because I believe that the House of Lords reform is already in process without very much conscious thought.
As a turning point I would take the year 1958. As my noble friend Lord Silkin has already pointed out, that was the year in which Life Peers were first created—a step which marked the advent of our beloved Life Baronesses. There are now 115 Life Peers, and if we add in the Bishops and the Law Lords we get a figure of about 15 per cent. of your Lordships' House; and these Members are, of course, among the most active. If we add another 100 first-generation hereditary Peers, many of whom are active, we have almost one-quarter of your Lordships' House; and those, I would say, are our meritocracy.
There has been a great change in this House. Even in the four years that I have been here it seems to have "perked up" very considerably. Somebody has still got to explain why it is that disclaiming has not caught on. I think that disclaiming has not caught on because this House is a very pleasant and a very useful place. 901 One of the advantages, as my noble friend Lord Silkin pointed out, is that we have the younger hereditary Peers, and we now have progressives on both sides of the House. The Labour Party are not creating more hereditary Peers; whether the Conservative Party will do so is a matter for them to decide. As they try to appear as the Party of the technocrats, or of those who have merit, I think it will be very difficult for them to revert to the former practice. There is a problem with Cabinet Ministers, Privy Counsellors and Prime Ministers, as to whether the tradition of creating Viscountcies and Earldoms should continue. I should have thought that could easily be solved by having Life Viscountcies and Life Earldoms, which I am told is not out of the question and would not even necessarily involve legislation.
So if, in fact, we have few hereditary additions in the future, then in the course of time they may gradually die out. Of course, I would wish all male Members of your Lordships' House many children and many grandchildren. But, unfortunately, some Peerages will die out, and, with the decline in the old hereditary peerages and the continuous creation of new Life Peers, the proportion of Life Peers could eventually go up from 15 per cent. to 20, 30, 40, 50 and, possibly, to 60 per cent. of the total numbers. I do not say that the House would be entirely composed of Life Peers, as my noble friend Lord Silkin said.
One day, perhaps, in this House there will be a majority of Life Peers, and as very often happens in such circumstances they might turn round to the hereditary Peers and ask, "What on earth are you doing here?" Of course, they would not say it so abruptly. They would "venture to doubt whether the hereditary Peers are continuing to justify their position in your Lordships' House." It would be said very politely. Then steps might be taken to limit the numbers and the powers of hereditary Peers. The result might be a body composed largely of Life Peers appointed by the Crown on the advice of successive Prime Ministers. That would still not be very democratic, but so far as I can see it would be as good a way as any, because—and here I would end—the great problem about creating an Upper Chamber is to have one that is different from a Lower Chamber. It 902 should not be identical, and, while the Chambers should not clash, there is no reason why there should not be tension between them.
So my suggestion is that the composition and powers of this House should be allowed to sort themselves out over the next 100 years. That is a comparatively short time in the history of this country and in the history of this House. None of us will be there to see it, but I think it will come about. So if it is agreed that the composition and powers of this House should be left to sort themselves out in the future, then I warmly support this Motion for the appointment of a Select Committee to consider how to increase the efficiency of your Lordships' House as at present constituted.
§ 5.6 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF SOUTHWARK
My Lords, as the noble Marquess reminded us, this matter has engaged our attention on several occasions. In fact, this subject has lived with some of us since long before we came to this House—from the days of our school debating societies, when the future of the House of Lords took its place on the agenda with fox hunting, capital punishment and the public schools.
Perhaps I am not alone in saying that I find it difficult to make up my mind on this subject. Sometimes part of me says, "Why not leave well alone?", or, in less charitable moments, "Why not leave bad alone? Time will deal with the House of Lords as it will deal with the public schools; meanwhile, let us get on with the business and let the debating societies continue to have their fling". Then another part of me at times says, "No. Let us look for the good in it and build upon it". This afternoon it is the second part of me which prompts me, on balance, to rise to support the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Alport.
May I put my cards face upwards on the table? When I was at the university I read constitutional history, and there was little in my studies which caused me to regard your Lordships' House as a weapon of adventurous social reform—quite the contrary. I came to the conclusion, and I do not think this is unfair, that Britain might very well have been a better place without it. The House of Commons was the accelerator; the 903 Lords was the brake. But since I have had the privilege of being a Member of your Lordships' House my views have changed. I admit, almost reluctantly, that we have often been the accelerator. Time and time again we have pointed the way to progress, while the other place has tended on occasion to drag its feet. I have often pondered the reasons for this. I do not know the answers, but perhaps one reason is that we say what we think from a wealth of experience, without looking over our shoulders at the electorate, and, in the case of some of us, without having even to bother about Party Whips.
What then of our future? If we are to count in the life of the country—and I hope it will not be considered discourteous if I say that rather complacent speeches have been made this afternoon, which seemed to give the impression that the country holds us in as great an esteem as we hold ourselves, while I wonder whether the country is really very interested in us—then we must be quite specific about certain things. First, I think we need to make it clear that as we are not an elected Chamber we cannot interfere with the programme of an elected Chamber. This means that we must straightforwardly surrender our delaying powers. Let us be consulted, and let the Government take into account our advice; but we must not complain if that advice is rejected.
Secondly, this House has the opportunity and the time to initiate legislation, which the Commons often has not. When this happens, the Government should provide time for our resolutions to be discussed in the Commons. If the Government do not do this, can they really expect busy men (and most of us have pressing obligations) to attend debates here? The other day the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, made this point after our debate on the Sexual Offences Bill. Whatever our views may have been on that matter, I am sure that noble Lords will agree that we had a very thorough debate and a very informed debate. We spoke, on both sides, I think, from a wealth of experience, and we made up our minds. Now it seems extraordinary that a Government can, if they so wish, let that matter just rest on the Table. I am 904 not concerned with that particular matter: it is with anything which has been discussed in this House and voted upon, and to which able men have given their minds. If the Government want us to do this, then they surely must treat our decisions with the courtesy that is demanded.
The next point is: whether or not the Government will provide the time depends upon their attitude towards the desirability of a Second Chamber, and here I think the Government—perhaps the Labour Party—is just schizophrenic about this. Does it want us, or not? If we are an anachronism and a hindrance, then let them say so and see if they can get rid of us. But if the House of Lords can be of service to the nation, then the Government must allow us to do an efficient job, and to do it well.
Then, if we are to do an efficient job, I think we must have a look at our composition. I do not think you can divorce composition from procedure, as has been suggested this afternoon. I know I am treading on delicate ground here, but I believe it is very difficult in contemporary Britain to find a place for an hereditary legislature. I am quite sure that, if not all, then many of your Lordships who are hereditary Peers and who are in the House regularly would find a place in this House on your own merits; but surely to-day it must be on merits, and not on birth. Perhaps something can be learnt from the Episcopal Bench. Whether or not we are acquisitions to your Lordships' House is scarcely for me to say, but for centuries we have been Life Peers. Our wives are not ennobled, and our sons are not even honourables. Before the Reformation, when we were celibates, there was, no doubt, good reason for it; but such it has remained. If the descendants of an Archbishop of Canterbury in the reign of Elizabeth I have no place in this House to-day, why should the descendants of the Lord Privy Seal expect to concern themselves in our affairs? Is there an hereditary magic which applies to the Lords Temporal but is denied to the Lords Spiritual? Is this some strange version of the Apostolic succession?
Fifthly, we must have a close look at our procedure. If we are to attract able men, then we must be efficient. As to our ceremonial, how can an Anglican but 905 like ceremonial, providing it does not clutter up procedure too much? Then take our mediæval methods of voting. These things are time-consuming and irritate busy men. Next take long speeches, to which reference has been made. I know, but I doubt very much whether we can do very much about that. It has been left to our good sense. Of course, in my profession one's Easter Offering somewhat depends upon the length of one's sermon. We hear Sunday by Sunday the phrase, "hang all the law and the prophets", so I thought I would go through "the law and the prophets" for the previous month. I hope that those of your Lordships who belong to the legal profession—and I see one is to follow me—will be kindly about this; it is meant in good part. I made a study of "the law and the prophets" for just over a month, and I found that we Bishops came out rather better—but, then, as I say, we are prejudiced, because if we go on too long in church we probably suffer the following Easter, whereas I believe that the longer lawyers' speeches go on, the more it is, perhaps, to their advantage. In any case, the Bishops were. I think, an example in the economy of words, whereas in the law there was not such an example of addiction to brevity.
My Lords, there is only one thing more. The noble Lord, Lord Alport, referred in his speech to a council, and expressed a certain distaste for Party politics. Here I do not follow him. I am not a great Party politician. I have been expelled from the Labour Party twice, which is probably a higher record than most Members of this House have, and I thoroughly enjoy my freedom as a member of the Episcopal Bench, owing no allegiance to anybody but myself—because, even if, not a Whip (that is not the word) but a kindly, mild breeze comes from Lambeth, it is possible to ignore it. I cherish this possession of independence. But, having said that, I would add that my experience on borough councils and in politics generally makes me realise that progress comes through the cut-and-thrust of Party debate; and surely that is true of this House. While one hopes that our traditions will always be maintained, and that there will be generosity and understanding among the different Parties and those of us who are Independents, I have no fear about the future, and I do not follow the noble Lord, Lord Alport, in his fears.
906 No, my Lords; I prefer to take my stand on the words of Pericles when he addressed the Athenians on that famous occasion. He said:We are noted for being at once most adventurous in action and most reflective beforehand.I hope that perhaps as a result of this Committee we may see our way forward, bit by bit, towards a greater efficiency, so that we can show the country that we are indeed reflective, yes, beforehand, but adventurous in action.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT DILHORNE
My Lords, I have had the misfortune, through performing some other duties, of missing, I am sure, a great many good speeches this afternoon. I was unable to hear the speech of my noble friend Lord Alport, or the speeches of those who followed him. I came into this Chamber when my noble friend Lord Conesford was addressing your Lordships, and I heard the last twenty minutes of his speech. I thought it was very interesting and very effective, and I must say that I was much astonished to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Asquith of Yarnbury, get up and say that he had been out of order for the last twenty minutes.
My Lords, the noble Lady put forward a strong plea that the Speaker of this House—who is, of course, the Lord Chancellor—should be vested with authority to control order in this House. My Lords, if the noble Lady had been vested with that authority, we should have been deprived of an excellent speech from my noble friend. But I listened with interest to the noble Lady, because it seemed to me that, if anyone had been responsible for keeping order in this House, the noble Lady would have been called to order on at least two occasions. First of all, she did not comply with the usual custom of this House. When the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, rose to his feet to put a question to her, she did not sit down.
Then, if I have my notes correct, the noble Baroness went on to talk about matters which were clearly outside the terms of this Motion. She talked about the constitution of this House. That really cannot be affected by procedure; only by legislation. And she put forward as her argument that if we had someone vested with the authority of keeping order in this House, as there is in another 907 place, we should have points of order. What a terrible prospect that would be! Those of us who have had experience of another place—which the noble Lady has often fought to have, I understand, but unfortunately has not had—would realise that there is really nothing more detrimental to good debate in another place than the custom of raising points of order—and, very often, of raising things which are not points of order as if they were. Instead of that being one of the main arguments for having in this House a Speaker such as they have in the other place, it is, I think, one of the greatest arguments against it.
The noble Baroness went on to say that if we had a Speaker here with authority we should have leave to move emergency resolutions. Our procedure has the advantage of being extremely flexible, and I do not believe that if there is a body of Peers in this House who want to debate something as a matter of urgency there is any real difficulty in seeking, with the aid of the Chief Whip and the other Whips, the opportunity of doing so. That, I think, is an invalid argument for putting on to the Lord Chancellor the responsibility for keeping order.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, may I correct the noble and learned Viscount? If somebody wishes to move an emergency Resolution he does not, in fact, need to worry about the Chief Whip. He just puts the Motion on the Order Paper.
§ VISCOUNT DILHORNE
My Lords, I am sure he does; but I think it only courteous to consult the Chief Whip first. I recollect an occasion when that was done which led to a little difficulty, which we will not go into now.
The third argument that the noble Lady put forward was that if we had a Speaker charged with those responsibilities it would lead to the preservation of order. What does she think this House is?—it is not a disorderly House. There is seldom any occasion for anyone to intervene in our debates. Of all the weak arguments in favour of this Motion that could conceivably have been put forward, I thought those were about the weakest. Then the noble Lady wanted a Departmental Committee. I could not make out for what reason, except that 908 she thought that it might be of some advantage to the Liberal Party in gaining knowledge.
My Lords, there are, of course, improvements that could be made. One of the improvements, I believe, is one that rests with ourselves. I believe that it would contribute a very great deal to the debates in the House if, instead of so many Members waiting until they had the opportunity of making their speeches and then not being seen again, we adhered much more to the custom of attending the debate so far as possible throughout its course and until its conclusion. I have been sitting here ever since I got here. I have not given the noble Lady notice that I should make these criticisms on her speech. I have not had any opportunity to do so. I had hoped, I must confess, that she would have been sitting on that Bench to hear what I had to say. I should like to say, quite seriously, as one who held the office of Lord Chancellor (though I do not know what are the views of the noble and learned Lord who now sits on the Woolsack), that I should have been very sorry to have such authority vested in me, or put on my shoulders, of preserving order and of dealing with points of order and matters of that sort. I think this House gets on very well without it.
I want to come now to the Motion. I did not hear the speech of my noble friend Lord Alport to-day, but I heard the speech he made on April 29. He is a great enthusiast for change. But I ask your Lordships to remember—and here I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, who I see is not here—that this Motion really deals with procedure and not with legislation. The question of the composition of this House therefore cannot arise. What we are concerned with is procedure.
Following the early speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Alport, we had a Sub-Committee appointed. Am I not right in thinking that the noble Lord, and all who, like the right reverend Prelate, think like him, could if they had wished—and, I have no doubt, some did—put forward their views to that Sub-Committee and their recommendations as to what changes should be made?
§ LORD ALPORT
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt my noble and learned 909 friend, but I did, in fact, submit a memorandum to that Committee. I was informed that they had not the power to consider the proposals made in my memorandum.
§ VISCOUNT DILHORNE
I dare say that that memorandum went right beyond procedure; because that Committee was set up to deal with procedural points. I am certain that the points the noble Lord made in his speeches were thoroughly considered by that Sub-Committee.
At any rate, we have now before us this Report of a Committee of this House which has gone into these matters thoroughly, and the noble Lord, without this House having debated this Report—and it must come before this House on a Motion by the Lord Chairman—is now asking us to set up another Committee to do precisely the same thing. That means that we are asked to reject, without considering them, the findings of senior Members of your Lordships' House, all of whom have given most careful consideration, I am sure, to the noble Lord's suggestions—andindeed to the memorandum that he submitted. Is this really very sensible? So many of the speakers I have heard to-day have seemed to think that this Committee we are now being asked to set up would go into matters like the composition of the House of Lords. I think the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, thought so; and so did the right reverend Prelate. But it would not. It is a matter of procedure.
Incidentally, I would say to the right reverend Prelate, whose speech I heard with great interest (I think he obviously enjoys his independence), that I was surprised to hear him say that he had no allegiance to anyone. I think "allegiance" is, perhaps, not the word he would have chosen, on reflection, to use. He went on to trail his coat, to tempt me, by saying that Prelates have something to encourage them to brevity because the offertory may suffer if they are long-winded, but that the same incentive did not apply to lawyers. That may or may not be true. But I hope the right reverend Prelate will declare his interest on all suitable occasions.
The right reverend Prelate also spoke about composition. I do not think that 910 a Committee of the kind envisaged is the right Committee to consider composition. If the question of composition comes up, there is bound to arise the question of whether it is not rather anomalous for right reverend Prelates to be Members of this House. I should be sorry indeed to see that change made; but I know there have been those who advocate it, and who continue to do so. Questions of the composition of this House and of restriction of its membership are not really relative, I think, to the Motion. The issue before the House, as I see it, is not that we should never change our procedure—though, in my view, the procedure of this House has the great advantage of being flexible and capable of adjustment to meet particular occasions. But that is not the issue. Those who vote against this Motion will not be voting against any change of our procedure, which we develop as it goes along; they will simply be saying that we have already had a Committee and a Sub-Committee considering Lord Alport's point of view. My Lords, I think it would be wrong to appoint another Committee now to do precisely the same job, and I shall therefore vote against this Motion, if it comes to a Division.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, I am a little puzzled by this Motion and by what to do about it. I am puzzled for this reason. I think there was a great deal of force in what the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, has just been saying about the overlap between the Committee on Procedure and what is proposed in this Motion. I derive that from listening to what the noble Lord, Lord Alport, himself said. He seemed to me to be taking, at any rate as instances, some of the things that the other Committee had already considered and which are yet to come before this House. When there is a Committee on Procedure that has considered at any rate part of the subject matter here, I feel rather reluctant, instead of enlarging its powers if the present Motion goes beyond them or giving it some special reference, to set up some entirely new Committee to cover this ground. But that is, after all, a rather technical point. What has caused me to hesitate much more about this 911 Motion is I regard it as fundamentally premature.
I have listened to all the speeches (I missed a little of one of them) and I believe that I am right in saying that only one speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, mentioned that in fact my Party had given an Election pledge about the matter of the House of Lords reform. I think it just as well that I should read it out:Finally, legislation will be introduced to safeguard measures approved by the House of Commons from frustration by delay or defeat in the House of Lords.That legislation, if it is introduced (and I trust my Party to carry out their Election pledges), will materially affect the functions of this House. Therefore, it seems to me, it is bound also to affect the procedure necessary to perform those functions. I think it is putting the cart before the horse to try to reform your procedure before you know what you are to be called on to do. It is not only my own Party. I do not know what you do with Preambles in Acts of Parliament—they have no effect; I suppose they are a profession of good intention; I do not know whether you can repeal them—but it was a Liberal Government, after all, that put on the Statute Book the Preamble to the 1911 Parliament Act. This is what it said—it is just as well to remember it occasionally:… whereas it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists"—revolutionary lot!—a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis, but such substitution cannot immediately be brought into operation:"—this was in 1911—And whereas provision will require hereafter to be made by Parliament in a measure effecting such substitution for limiting and defining the powers of the new Second Chamber …"—and they then went on to the text of the Act. Are they proceeding backwards? Do they stand by that profession of Liberalism under a Liberal Government of 1906? I am glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Rea, assenting. There are moments when I have a little doubt about it as regards the Liberal Party. It is good to know where one stands.
That, my Lords, is the position. When there is some doubt about what exactly is intended by this Motion; how far there is 912 an overlap between the Select Committee proposed to be set up and the Committee on Procedure already in existence, I am wondering whether it is sensible, if I may put it in this way, to start implementing this proposal at the moment. Of course, if it is intended to be by way of gingering up the Government and getting them to carry out their Election pledge quickly, I should be glad to support it, if it would be effective for that purpose, because I think this matter—the reform in general—ought to be attended to quickly, and that for this reason.
I listened carefully to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and though, of course, he and I differ fundamentally on politics, I was not sure that in his speech there was much with which I found any difference. After all, we must face the fact that this House has a built-in Tory majority. That does not depend on the number of hereditary Peers; it depends on the fact that people as they get older—retired civil servants, retired eminent men of various kinds, and so on—rather tend to be Tories. The Tory Party may consider that an advantage or it may not, but it is I think one of the facts of life. I am getting older myself, but I have not felt a move that way yet. But there it is, and it does not depend on the calling up of the "backwoodsmen" and getting fewer Peers to say that they are so sick of the place they are not coming here for a while. It does not depend on any of these things. It is just there. I do not really see that it is feasible, if we are to have a democracy, to have an elected Chamber, elected every five years or less, and to have a Chamber here which is constantly going to have one political complexion, and has, I quote from the Party Election pledge, power to frustrate by delay or defeat the measures of the other Chamber.
My feeling about this, speaking as a Parliamentary democrat, is that without the least doubt the opinion of the elected Chamber must prevail as soon as any difference of opinion appears; and we ought not to have the nonsense of, for instance, this Chamber being allowed to reject on Second Reading a Bill about oil fields in Burma or anything else. There ought to be no right of rejection; it seems utterly indefensible.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (THE EARL OF LONGFORD)
My Lords, if I may 913 interrupt my noble friend, I know that the noble Lord has the Motion constantly in mind, but could he perhaps relate his observations to the Motion a little more closely?
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, I have already done so, but I will repeat it for the benefit of my noble friend. It seems to me premature, to say the least of it, to try to consider your procedure before you consider what are your functions; and I think that one of our functions is not to act as a revising Chamber in the sense of differing from the other place where they have already expressed their opinion. To act as a revising Chamber in the sense of putting forward Amendments which in fact are from the Government or to carry out promises made at the last moment in the Commons—that kind of thing I would agree to. But I think that the question of what we should be allowed to do, and should have power to do, must depend on legislation, and must depend, when you come down to the point, on what are the intentions of the elected Chamber.
There ought to be no opportunity for us to consider, for instance, whether we should insist on Amendments and matters of that sort. That is, after all, as my noble friend will realise, a pure question of procedure: do we or do we not need to do that? I should say that we ought not to do it. I could give a number of other instances, all procedural, and all related to the fact that if you are going to have a procedure for a chamber, a committee or any other body, you must know what the chamber, committee or other body is intended to do. And in this case we have an Election promise about it.
I wish to refer now for a minute to the reason why I say I think this matter is urgent. These powers have existed, and do exist, and have been used, and the last glaring instance so far as legislation is concerned was the Iron and Steel nationalisation legislation way back in 1949–51. There was no rejection on Second Reading, but, by a process of amendment and quite a long story, the carrying into operation of that measure was postponed until there was not sufficient time to get the national Corporation that was set up going properly before the second General Election concerned in the matter. It is a complicated 914 history, but there is no doubt that on that occasion this House used its powers of amendment to delay a Government measure. We ought not to have power to do anything like that.
The second case—and this is certainly procedure, for the benefit of my noble friend—was a matter that arose the other day about ministerial Orders. The Committee on Procedure, of which we have heard so much, recommended to the House that certain Housing and Local Government Orders should not be subject to petition. This is purely a procedural matter. This House, at the instigation of the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, who I see has departed but who seemed keener on the Committee on Procedure to-day than he was then, turned down the recommendation. I do not think that this was a good thing to do; it seemed to me a very strange thing to do.
We then had an Order which had been drawn up about local government in the West Midlands. Discussion had gone on at a terrific expense and effort for seven years. It came up before this House for Affirmative approval, which it had had in another place after elaborate discussion, and the House actually divided against the Order, against the wishes of both Front Benches. That is procedural, but I very much doubt whether we ought to have that power on ministerial Orders, and I doubt even more whether, if we have it, it ought to be used in this way at the instance of a comparatively small number of noble Lords interested in one aspect of the local government question.
I could go on with this matter, but I want to say something else before I sit down. If we are going to consider procedure, I think the thing we have to consider a good deal is what should be done about Amendments in this House. I do not believe that dealing with Amendments has been so satisfactory as some noble Lords indicated. I was not here when the Greater London Council Bill was discussed, but I was here when we discussed the Protection of Consumers Bill. I thought there was an excessive number of Amendments. I thought that if there had been a power of selection many of them would not have been selected. Many of them could have been taken 915 together. And altogether the whole discussion showed the difficulties of dealing in this Chamber with a Bill involving a large number of minute and technical considerations.
I should not ask, if I had any say in the matter, for a Speaker with power to call this House to Order. That seems to me to be open to some objections. But I would ask for someone, not necessarily a Speaker, with a power to select; and I believe that this is really the most important thing that could be done by way of a change in procedure in dealing with legislation.
Lastly, I am certain that the procedure of this House over Private Bills is pretty good. It has worked without difficulty for many years parallel with the Commons—I have seen this, of course, from the Commons end—and I hope it will be left as it is. I also hope that in considering this matter and questions of procedure as well as other questions, we shall separate our deliberative functions, which seem to me to be our real functions, and our legislative functions, which I think ought to be limited on the lines of the pledge that was given at the last Election.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ BARONESS SWANBOROUGH
My Lords, I have no right a tall to speak to the House because I have inadequate learning, and therefore have mistaken the word "procedure", whose meaning seems to have been stretched and pulled and broadened and narrowed to an extraordinary extent this afternoon; and, in addition, I have little understanding of constitutional law. My only use is that I am a practical organiser, and as such I feel that this Motion does have great value in it, because I am convinced that there are many things that need to be examined and put right in order that the basis on which we build is a good and strong one.
Under Lord Salisbury's definition I would not qualify as a new broom, but I think that I could be called "a washed-out duster". During the years of my apprenticeship I have watched the House and marvelled at its strength, its' value and its ethos. The strength of the House is obviously in the variety of the specialists it has, and in the wide amount 916 of information it has at its disposal. There is no question at all that this strength is unequalled anywhere and that everyone who belongs to the House would want to preserve this so that it can serve the country.
There is no man or woman who sits in the House who is not anxious to work for the country itself, but it is a curious thing to realise that, while everyone thinks that the other does not care for his country nearly as much, nevertheless we have witnessed, during the years of my sitting here, the most wonderful work being done by many people. Even with the deep appreciation that everyone feels at being allowed to sit in your Lordships' House, I feel I should remind your Lordships that we are living in contemporary Britain, and contemporary Britain does need an examination of all working methods. Any contribution of mine must of necessity be on the basis of what can be done in regard to working methods.
I doubt whether most of your Lordships realise what a terrifying place this is in which to address people who have a courtesy which is so great that it is annihilating and emphasises to one, as one stands up, how poor is one's own equipment. I believe that the speeches we have listened to would have much more merit if noble Lords did not read them. The repetition to which your Lordships are constantly being submitted is due to the fact that noble Lords have worked so hard on their speeches that they cannot possibly cut out a piece which is a repetition at the last moment because of upsetting the balance of their speech. This is something which I believe negatives a great deal that is of value in the House itself.
I cannot help feeling that if speeches were shorter and if Members did not roam from the subject under discussion so widely as they do, we should be able to do much more work in the time that is available to us. There is one noble Lord who has made up his mind never to speak for more than a certain number of minutes. So far as I know, he has never once transgressed. I do not ask for domination or dictatorship from a Speaker, but in a House whose courtesy is recognised by everyone throughout the world, and whose atmosphere is felt to so great an extent by every new entrant among us. I believe that it would be possible to ask for this self-discipline, which 917 would make a real contribution to the life of the House. The impression of courtesy and of generosity is so tremendous that in supporting the Motion put forward by my noble friend Lord Alport I would ask for it to be left to individual discipline, which can encompass much more than any number of Orders.
§ 5.49 p.m.
§ LORD ST. HELENS
My Lords, I can assure the noble Baroness who has just spoken that my speech will not be read and that it will be short, not from any merit of mine, but simply because so much of what was to be in it has already been said this afternoon. But that will be greatly to the advantage of your Lordships. The noble Baroness, Lady Asquith of Yarnbury, referred to the burden of undelivered speeches, but there is also the cross which noble Lords have to bear when one is fairly low down on the list of speakers—thefact that previous speakers have enunciated and deployed most of the points one wished to make, and always more effectively than one would oneself have done.
I should like briefly to record the fact that I will not support my noble friend, Lord Alport, in the Division Lobby, if he brings the Motion to a Division, because I am not convinced by the arguments deployed by those who support the Motion. But I must say that I was a little amused, and perhaps cynical, that the noble Lord, Lord Alport, in his Motion advocates a departure from the Party political spirit. Yet, in spite of some rather acrimonious exchanges with the Liberal Party, I gather that they are, to a man, going to flock into the Lobby behind the noble Lord.
Speaking as a recent newcomer to your Lordships' House, I was struck by one or two points that were made by the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, when he was referring to certain customs and habits that have fallen into decay, and noble Lords do not know whether or not today they are being used. I find, as a newcomer, that it is difficult to find out the rules and procedures which govern your Lordships' House. Indeed, it seems to me that, in many respects, your Lordships' rules resemble the Constitution, in that many of them are unwritten. They are formed by custom and tradition, but, in my humble opinion, they are none the worse for that. Indeed, as I think my 918 noble friend Lord Dilhorne said, the only way to learn how the House works—and I believe this applies in another place, as well—is to sit in the House and find out by experience.
When I was thinking of making a speech on this subject, I was reminded forcibly about it last Sunday in church by a line from that Collect that we hear every week:whose service is perfect freedom.But the corollary of perfect freedom, and, indeed, the great snag of perfect freedom, is that it entails a very high degree of personal self-discipline. I must admit that in my short time in your Lordships' House I have been surprised, and pleasantly so, at the self-restraint which noble Lords exercise in speaking, and also at the authority which is exercised by the House, as a whole, over its Members.
The question that we are being asked in this Motion to-day is whether we want to change the existing situation; and should we, by so doing, enable ourselves to make a more substantial contribution. The very distinguished Procedure Committee of your Lordships' House, I think, answered that question by saying: "No; we do not"; and I, for my part, wholly agree with the findings of the Committee. I hope that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark will not accuse me of being complacent if I say that I have not really heard any arguments deployed to-day which would encourage me to vote for a Committee being set up to alter the procedure of your Lordships' House. If any new Committee were set up, I feel that we should finish up with more, and not less, procedure. I believe that we should remove the collective responsibility of the House and place it in the hands of an enforcement officer, someone of the rank of Speaker. This I believe most definitely would be a change for the worse.
I feel that people who want massive changes in your Lordships' House are subconsciously thinking of the procedure and rules which govern another place. I do not think there is any need for that here, because, as has been pointed out in other speeches this afternoon, the conditions which exist in another place are wholly different from those which exist in your Lordships' House. To take, for 919 example, one point alone, the most important commodity in another place is time: and there they have extensive rules drawn up so that time may be rationed between the Government, the Opposition, Back Benchers, Private Members' Bills and so on. That does not exist in this House. As I remember one noble Lord saying earlier on in the afternoon, none of your Lordships is ever precluded by the factor of time from speaking in a debate. We do not want extensive rules and regulations to protect our rights; we have them protected as they are. Then, in Committee (this has been mentioned already) the selection, rejection, and grouping of Amendments is, I believe, not necessary in this House. Any noble Lord can raise an Amendment at almost any stage during the passage of a Bill. This is the individual right of each of your Lordships in this House. We do not want more procedure to protect us.
I should like to make one final point, which was also made by my noble friend Lord Dilhorne, and it is that if we increase the procedure in this House we run one great danger: procedure breeds evasion. It is bound to do so, and it is quite justified. Where rules of procedure are strictly enforced it is quite justifiable to exploit these rules by means of tactics in debate, points of order and the like. If we change the procedure in your Lordships' House, we should run the danger of increasing also the means of evasion. I believe that this would be an innovation which all your Lordships would deplore.
I conclude by saying that I personally will oppose this Motion if it is taken into the Division Lobby. On the other hand, I would very much urge my noble friend Lord Alport to have second thoughts on this subject. The matter having been debated, I would ask him to withdraw the Motion, and not force those of his friends who oppose it into the Lobby against him.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ LORD OAKSHOTT
My Lords, I find myself in much the same situation as my noble friend Lord St. Helens, in that everything has really been said, and it is with some hesitancy that I venture into the debate at all. I should like to 920 assure the noble Baroness, Lady Swan borough, that I have in fact cut out a great deal of what I had intended to say. I feel a little hesitant, also, because this is a debate in which your Lordships have enjoyed the length and wealth of experience of many noble Lords who are far more qualified to speak on a topic like this than someone like myself, who has been in your Lordships' House for a matter of only two years. My excuse is that for a good many years in another place I was a very small ripple in "the usual channels", and so, naturally, came to be closely interested in procedure.
I am genuinely sorry to disagree with such an old Parliamentary friend as my noble friend Lord Alport, and I hope he knows that this does not diminish in any way my admiration for his so sincerely felt desire that Parliament should keep up to date, and should continue to hold its place in the world's esteem. That, of course, is a desire which everybody will share. But I do disagree with him, I am afraid, and I must say so.
In the few moments which I intend to keep your Lordships, I should like to confine myself narrowly to the words of the Motion—namely, that we should set up a Select Committee. I cannot think that this debate can be about either the composition or the powers of your Lordships' House. Nor do I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, that this debate is premature, because of the words my noble friend has put in his Motion:by other means lying within the limits of its own powers".On the other hand, (if I may say this in parenthesis) I support strongly something which the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, said in regard to Private Bill legislation. Having had a certain amount to do with this matter in the past, I should be reluctant for it to be made easier for any big authority to ride over, like some great juggernaut, smaller bodies and individuals and to encroach on their rights. Although it is expensive, and although it is a cumbersome process, I should not like to see it made any easier.
To return to the Motion—and this point has been touched upon by other noble Lords—your Lordships already enjoy the great advantage of your Committee on Procedure. I think my noble friend Lord Alport, if I understood him 921 aright, was perhaps wrong in supposing, as I thought he did in his speech, that the Committee's terms of reference are so restricted that some of his points could not be considered by them. Even if that were true, surely those terms could be enlarged. Here, if I may say so, are a number of very public-spirited noble Lords who are willing, in the service of the House, to give their time and, what is more, to give very full and deep consideration to what I should have thought were just the sort of issues which my noble friend has in mind.
My noble friend Lord Conesford, and my noble and learned friend Lord Dilhorne, both referred to this Report, which was published, I think, only last week. Here we have an example of the work of this Committee and, if I may say so with real respect to the noble Lords who are members of this Committee, I found it wholly admirable for its clarity of expression and its conciseness. I must say, too, that I found particularly engaging the slightly sardonic humour of the wording of paragraph 2(c) about the length of speeches, and I hope that I shall not transgress in that way.
When your Lordships are served by a Committee which can produce Reports like that, what more do you want? Let any of us submit suggestions to the Committee; let them be on the lines of what my noble friend has in mind; let the right reverend Prelate, if he wishes, submit a memorandum on the mediæval system of voting; let the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, submit a memorandum to them on the question of how to deal with Amendments in so far as it is part of our procedure. All these things, we know, will be properly considered by the Committee. But I hope that we shall not appoint another Committee. I think this would lead inevitably to overlapping, to duplication and, therefore, to waste of effort.
I must also bluntly say—and my noble friend Lord Carrington just touched on this—that I think the appointment of another Committee would be a slight upon our present Committee on Procedure, and upon the valuable work that it does. I hope very much that we shall not do it. Let us rather make our own submissions to this Committee. We know that they will be considered, and we have no reason whatever to suppose that the 922 reforming zeal of the noble Lords who are members of that Committee is any less than that of my noble friend, or of anyone else.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, perhaps I might ask, for clarification, whether the noble Lord is proposing an Amendment suggesting that all these matters should be sent to the Procedure Committee?
§ LORD OAKSHOTT
No. I apologise to the noble Earl if I have not been clear. I am opposing the Motion before the House, and suggesting that many of the things which have been mentioned this afternoon, in so far as they affect our procedures, can and should be referred to the existing Committee which is already at the service of your Lordships' House.
We are not standing still. Changes will come, and some of them may be dramatic changes, on the lines, perhaps, of some of the things which my noble friend has in mind. But the Committee on Procedure is the right and best Committee to look at the proposals for change and, when it thinks fit, suggest them to the House. If its response to some of our ideas is not always favourable, we should not be discouraged. It may be that, in its wisdom, the Committee may be recalling something that G. K. Chesterton once wrote:Never pull a fence down until you know why it was put up.This may not sound quite "with it" in the radical '60s, but in certain situations it still has merit. In venturing to remind the House and my noble friend of this, I assure them that I am not just an old "square"; that I am every bit as anxious to see sensible change as he is, but that in my view we already have the machinery which could bring this about.
§ 6.6 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
My Lords, I am glad I am following the noble Lord, Lord Oakshott, because I think that part of what I have to say—which will be said very briefly indeed—is relevant to some of the matter of his speech. While I do not think it would be proper for me to express any opinion about the merits of the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Alport, there are two matters of procedure which have given rise to a difference of opinion 923 in the course of this debate and, I think, to some misunderstanding, and which I should like, if I may attempt to do so, to clarify in order that none of your Lordships may be under any misapprehension as to procedure if a vote is taken at the end of the day.
The opinion was expressed by the noble Lord that the setting up of a Select Committee would kill the Second Report of the Committee of Procedure which is now lying on the Table of the House. I can assure your Lordships that the normal course would be to present this Report for the approval of the House, and that the reason why this has not already been done is purely and simply in order not to prejudge or prejudice the Motion of the noble Lord which we are discussing this afternoon. It is my intention, as at present advised, to present this Report to the House for its approval at a convenient date.
The noble Lord, Lord Alport, suggests in his Motion that the terms of reference of a Select Committee should beto consider how, whether by changes in its procedures or by other means lying within the limits of its own powers of decision"—the House can work more efficiently. If I understood the noble Lord, Lord Alport, aright—and I am sure he will correct me if I have misunderstood him—he wishes to exclude from the terms of reference of a Select Committee all matters outside the powers of decision of the House itself. If this is the case, there is no matter which a Select Committee would be asked to consider which does not fall within the existing terms of reference of the Procedure Committee of this House.
§ 6.8 p.m.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
My Lords, it remains for us later speakers to cross a few ťs and dot a few i's and, if possible, to introduce a new thought or two. We are being asked how this House can improve or make a more substantial contribution to Parliamentary Government, and whether a Committee set up ad hoc will be able to give us that advice. So far as I am concerned, I am not very interested in the legislative functions of the House. I am afraid I am not much of a politician, although perhaps I should be. Quite clearly, however, such functions must persist, other- 924 wise we should cease to be a House of Parliament and become merely a national debating society.
My only thought on this political line is that perhaps we should be well advised not to oppose further attempts to whittle down our powers. Personally, I would rather see this House remain politically hamstrung than watch it go down gloriously in flames: for this is a great assembly, and worthy to be preserved whatever the cost. The legislative powers of this House are not my concern. What does concern me, and deeply concerns me, is the power of this House to initiate and to discuss. These, I believe, are the functions which justify our continuing in existence. These are the things that should be cherished and fostered.
But first a word, if I may be permitted, about the construction of the House. I know that we are discussing procedure mostly, but procedure entails people: we cannot proceed without people. Who are these people to be? The noble Baroness, Lady Asquith of Yarnbury, wondered. So do I. Even the most reactionary among us, if such people there he, must surely concede that the House in its present form cannot be defended. The pragmatic argument that it works is a powerful one, but who can defend it on democratic grounds? True, by the luck of the draw the hereditary system does from time to time throw up some outstanding people. But on paper, at least, it is all wrong. It is all the more wrong because 40 per cent. of the hereditary Peers do not turn up at all, ever, thus making an even bigger nonsense of the business.
Let me not mince words about this, any more than the noble Baroness, Lady Asquith of Yarnbury, minced her words. The attendance in this House is absolutely scandalous, and many Peers should be ashamed of themselves. Of course I do not mean that all Peers should come every day. Like the rest of us, they have other quite important things to do, but at least they should put in an appearance from time to time and vote—and perhaps occasionally speak—or stop being Peers. I do not for one moment accept the argument that because a Peer has great estates or local duties he cannot ever attend this House. If he can go to Deauville or St. Moritz, as many of 925 them do, why not come here? This is not a cheap gibe; I mean what I say. The distance is shorter, the fare less. Nearly all of us who do attend are working men and women; yet from time to time we turn up and make our contribution, either by voting or by speaking.
I believe that if it were decreed that a Peer would forfeit his Peerage unless he attended so many times a year, there would be an ugly rush to the House. Let us make no mistake about it, Peers like being Peers, even though many of them pretend not to. It is largely because of the silliness of these people that the House of Lords has got its reputation, among those who apparently do not know, for being an archaic, half-dead institution calling for immediate reform; and while these people are around, it is.
If a Committee is set up I suggest that its first recommendation should be to jettison the driftwood and throw over-board our sleeping passengers. What earthly use to us is the Duke of X or the Earl of Y if neither has the courtesy to attend the House? What right have they to go on being Dukes or Earls? Of course, they may turn up at the State Opening of Parliament, which they will seemingly regard as a social occasion, and bring their ladies too, so that we more regular attenders have to stand. These Peers may insist on their right place at the dinner table, or on being called "my Lord", but so far as this House is concerned they are a complete dead loss and we are better off without them. Personally I should like to see their titles taken away from them. I know what I am talking about. I go around these days quite a bit, speaking to societies and organisations of all sorts about the House of Lords. People seem friendly and interested, but always the point is made: "What about the absentees? Bring out your dead!" And, of course, there is no answer, for so far as the House is concerned they are dead and might as well be buried, escutcheons, supporters and all. Personally I hope they will be.
More constructively, a point which strikes me on these occasions when I talk about the House of Lords, and even more in the university debates, where on a division we Lords supporters almost always win nowadays, is the new affection 926 (if I may use that word) with which your Lordships' House is now regarded. Others of your Lordships may have found the same. Ten years ago this was not so, I think, but there has been a remarkable change. True, there remain the doctrinaire Socialists who must on principle be against a largely hereditary House. But even they do not huff and puff as they used to. I do not think we are even laughed at so much as we used to be for being as assembly of somnolent old fogies.
Why this change? I believe it is because the House of Lords itself has changed, partly with the infiltration of the Life Peers, but partly because we seem to have a new conception of our task. I believe we are liked because nowadays we concern ourselves less with political matters, except in a constructive way, and more with supra-political matters and with the great issues of life here and elsewhere in the world. I believe that we are liked because we so obviously say what we think and "don't give a damn". I believe we are liked because we start things and do not merely follow up what has been originated elsewhere. I believe we arc liked because we are different.
In short, my Lords, I believe that we are a new House and that, in addition to our normal legislative duties, which must of course continue, we have new things to do. Your Lordships' debates and discussions are high ornaments in the contemporary life of this country. They range far and wide. Since I have had the privilege of being in this House they have included such divergent topics as Christian Unity and Leisure on the one hand, and Lady Chatterley's Lover on the other. These debates are widely read and they make their impression, at least on the more serious members of the community. Do we get such debates in the other place? We do not; it is not for them. They have other things, better or worse, to do.
Last of all, and to me most important, this House has the power to initiate legislation. It is a power which is only beginning, to be fully used, but already it is having its effect. Without Lord Silkin's Bill on abortion, would this grave moral issue be before Parliament to-day? I am sure it would not. Would Lady Summerskill's Bill on marital homes be 927 law? Again, I am sure not. And there are other issues, equally grave, which have originated in your Lordships' House. Then there are the lesser things—lesser yet worthy of consideration and action. For instance, I think of Lord Egremont's Bill on the netting of salmon. Because of the noble Lord's initiative, he has a Bill on the Statute Book. From my heart, I envy him. In the same context, I hope with your Lordships' permission shortly to introduce a Bill for the protection of badgers, harmless and indeed useful animals, which are cruelly done by.
In this House there is the power to change things of which we do not approve, big things and small things, which the other place has no time or inclination for; things which would not get done otherwise. If a Committee is set up, will it pay special attention to this most constructive of our tasks? May we not be encouraged to do more of this sort of thing? Will the Government—any Government—not be glad that we are here to do the "washing up"? These are my thoughts. I believe the House of Lords is strong and popular in this country as never before. I think it would be stronger and more popular still if we were to rid ourselves of our dead men—and forthwith. I believe that, while continuing its legislative duties, even though restricted, the House should still further exploit the golden opportunities which lie with each one of its Members to get things changed. I believe this to be the most brilliant Assembly in the world, and that it leads the way. I believe this House will survive, with or without a Committee.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ LORD STRANGE
My Lords, I am very surprised that I should be up for a few minutes, because I thought by this time the things I wanted to say would have been said by everyone else and said very much better than I could possibly say them. But there are still just a very few points. In Lord Alport's very lucid speech he mentioned something—obviously I cannot quote till I have read Hansard—to the effect that some of the tightening up of this House, the improvements, would help it for television. That is a point I feel very strongly about, and I should like to express my view as clearly as I possibly can. I think that if 928 television was done in this House, it would ruin it forever.
I think the purpose of this House at the moment is fulfilled, in that we have, if we seek them out, the most wonderful debates. We have all the best brains speaking, and then there are people like me to give a little light relief, to talk naturally and speak about the very few things I know about. That makes an all-round picture. But I think it fails because the general public do not know of the House of Lords debates; there is no way that they get them, as the noble Earl, Lord Arran, said. Some people read Hansard; but if you have not been at the debate it is quite hard work reading Hansard. Somebody the other day made a remark about being "drunk as a Lord. "I believe people do like the House and are interested in it and want to know what goes on. I think that if they saw it on television they would be very interested, and it could be very good. But I will try to explain why I think it would be such a terrible mistake to have television in this House. There are several reasons. The first reason is this: not every Peer, not myself, curiously enough, but some noble Lords, when they were speaking with all these Brownies and lights focused on one and with a Max Factor make-up which one has to have if one is not to come out a funny colour, would think, "I am speaking to people in the kitchens all over the country, people who have stopped what they are doing to watch me."
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, I hope the noble Lord will forgive me, but we had a very interesting debate on television. This point of view was put up by more than one speaker, and in a sense it was rejected by the House, at any rate for an experimental period. So although I do not want to come between the noble Lord and the House, perhaps he could deal with some aspect other than television.
§ LORD STRANGE
I was going to say that if we do have television it should be produced by a proper producer and it should not be done in the House. The recording should be done in the House and the Peer should go and speak into the camera for the close-ups. Television is all close-ups.
929 I was reminded by the noble Baroness, Lady Swanborough, of two points that everybody always makes about reading speeches. There is a point nobody has made about it: there is an advantage in it because when you write a speech out you are writing prose. You cross out bits and you make it good and easy to read. It should read very much better in Hansard than an "ad lib." speech like mine. But it is written in prose and you are reading prose, and prose never quite sounds right when you read it out. It is very different from dialogue. It does not have the same effect on people; you are "way off it". The Victorian plays were always written in prose, and how they said the lines I cannot imagine. How you could go on one knee and say to the girl, "Miss Mabel, my heart is so and so. I offer you heart and hand in all sincerity". Nobody talks that way. Moreover prose is obviously written before the debate, so there is no use listening to it; one can read it better in Hansard the next day.
The second point is about the length of speeches. I believe honestly that nobody will agree with me, but I am going to say it. When people have a written speech, it is quite simple to put "15" or "10"against their names; they must know how long they are going to be. It would help everybody. With "ad lib." speaking you cannot do that; you do not know, but you can guess. I should be very happy if I could put a "10" against my name, or perhaps an "8", and after that "L". "L" would mean that I wanted lights. After I had been speaking for about "8" minutes, I should feel that I had made all the points I could possibly make or wanted to make. I should see the green light come on and think, "Have I anything else to say? Have I any winding up remarks? Am I going to quote Shakespeare? No"—and I should sit down.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ LORD AUCKLAND
My Lords, I rise to express the thanks of all of us to my noble friend Lord Alport for having initiated this Motion, and I can tell him that I very nearly support it, but not quite. The reason is this. The latter part of the Motion tries to say, "a more 930 substantial contribution to the efficient working of Parliamentary Government in contemporary Britain" can be achieved by the setting up of this Select Committee, and it is that that rather worries me. I think the efficient working of this House in a contemporary Britain is in the hands of noble Lords themselves, both on the Front Benches of the Government and of the Opposition and on the Back Benches on all sides. I do not think that a Select Committee, with all the wisdom which it may well have, could achieve this.
As has been said, there have already been considerable reforms of this House: the introduction of Peeresses, the introduction of Life Peers, both of which measures I fervently support, because although I am a supporter of the hereditary system I am certainly not, and never have been, a supporter of an all-hereditary House of Lords. While I think that the young—and, being just 40, I still consider myself relatively young, speaking in Parliament—should have a voice, I am still sufficiently old-fashioned to think that age brings experience, and I believe that the present constitution of this House blends very well, with youth and age. I do not believe that the setting up of another Select Committee could improve on that. I believe that the Report of the existing Committee, which we hope will result in some positive action soon, if action is needed, provides all that is necessary, and I agree very much with my noble friend Lord Oakshott when he says that the setting up of another Select Committee would in some ways cast something of a slur upon the existing Committee, which reported on May 12.
I would draw your Lordships' attention to an admirable article by Miss Diana Spearman, called "Lords in Defence of Liberty", which appeared in the Daily Telegraph last week. In this article the authoress stressed the very non-partisan points of view which noble Lords on all sides have expressed in recent years. My noble friend Lord Conesford has already spoken of his part in some of the Town and Country Planning measures. I well remember the London Government Act, as it is now, when I and a number of my noble friends divided the House against our own Party. In that case I managed to carry the day, with help 931 from noble Lords opposite, noble Lords on the Liberal Benches and quite a number of noble Lords on these Benches. I have no regrets whatever for the action which I took, because I believe that that is what a House of Lords is for. Many of us are here in a Party guise, but we have no constituencies, and, whilst we naturally broadly support our Party aims if we take a Whip, things often change between the time when a Bill is before another place and the time when it comes here. From four to six months may elapse and situations can change rapidly.
The great virtue of this House in its present form, with the blend of experience from the Life Peers, many of whom have been in another place, with the youthful but perhaps rather radical views of the hereditary Peers, is that it can often give a contemporary and objective view on matters in a way which I think could not be improved by the appointment of any further Select Committee. Had this existing Committee not been set up I would certainly support my noble friend's Motion. But I believe that if we accepted his Motion there might be something of a traffic jam, so to speak, with one Committee treading on the views of another. For those reasons, albeit reluctantly, I am bound not to support my noble friend's Motion.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ BARONESS GAITSKELL
My Lords, my excuse for intervening in this debate at this late hour is that, by an oversight, my name was omitted from the list of speakers. I shall be brief—I hope even more brief than usual. I have the greatest respect for Lord Alport for introducing this Motion, but I have too many reservations about it to support him. I hope that I shall not stray too much from the terms of this Motion, because I must confess that I have always regarded procedure in either House as a kind of freemasonry that men think up to bamboozle women, who cannot understand all the rules that they make.
First of all, I should like to make a few personal remarks. I was appointed to, and entered, this House in complete ignorance of its procedure, and with some prejudice, entirely on account of its residual delaying powers of the House of Commons legislation. I am still of the 932 opinion that any proposals for reforming the procedures of this House are academic without the fundamental reform of its constitution. I hope that my noble Leader will not pull me up for stating this. In case it might be thought that I am in league with Life Peers in a takeover bid of this House, let me hasten to add that, because I am against the hereditary right to vote, I still have an open mind about the voting rights of Life Peers; and I have some sympathy with John Grigg of the Guardian who thinks that Peers should have a voice, but not a vote.
Having said these harsh words, I must relent and confess that from the time I was privileged to join it I have found this House a most agreeable and civilised assembly; at its best interesting, stimulating and instructive; and in its present mood I think it is distinctly more forward-looking than the House of Commons. In fact, the more I see of this House the more convinced I become of the value of a Second Chamber, especially one reformed both in its procedure and in its constitution, and then with more political as well as social reforms to deal with. I do not think that the House of Commons, even if it is an elected Chamber, has a monopoly of wisdom. So, to continue the rather cannibalistic metaphor used by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, the Leader of the Opposition, with whose speech I may say I almost wholly agreed, it looks as if one Life Peer at least has been digested.
To-day we can rationalise and justify the anomalies of our constitution by that very British standard, that it works. We pride ourselves on the evolution of our national Constitution. It produces a greater degree of tolerance than the Constitutions of some other countries. Perhaps as a result of our gradualism, our politicians have for centuries died in bed, and I think that improvements in procedure have contributed to that. But if I succumb to the charm of this House the added reason is not hard to find. The position in which this House finds itself to-day is a delicate one. In dealing with this House the Prime Minister has behaved like one partner in a marriage who threatens divorce proceedings at the slightest misdemeanour of the other, with the result that one has the spectacle 933 of the Lords clinging to its marital state with just an occasional rebellion.
We all want to improve the various functions of this House, though I think that this Chamber works pretty well. I understand Lord Alport's concern, and the desire to take action to make it, perhaps, a more businesslike Chamber. A Select Committee with a will could have little difficulty in working out improvements in procedure. There is no doubt that the Lords should be a Chamber which harvests the experience and expertise of a lifetime of many of its Members. There are, however, few institutions that could not be improved. But, unless the road block of the voting rights in this House is reformed, all roads to reform seem to me to lead to dissolution. At this moment relations between the House of Lords and the House of Commons are stable, but the possibility of a flare-up on a major issue is always there.
I will now, finally, refer to a couple of small points, one of which is the perennial matter of the length of speeches. I have said in the past that exhortation is not enough, and that a contraption of red, green and amber lights could usefully be installed in this Chamber to regulate the length of speeches. But I should always like to maintain what I consider the greatest privilege in this House; the right to put one's name down and speak. Any attempts to improve the procedure of this House will, at best, bring about only fringe benefits. A Labour Government can only view a House of Lords, as at present constituted, as a threat and, if it is made more effective, as an additional threat. In fact, it could not possibly tolerate a House of Lords which is stronger than it is art the moment. So I find that I cannot support the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Alport.
§ 6.39 p.m.
§ LORD STRABOLGI
My Lords, I should like to say a few words, having just returned from the United States. I would apologise for not having been able to get here earlier, for reasons beyond my control. While I was in Washington I had the privilege of seeing both the House of Representatives and the Senate, and I was most interested in the procedure, which, as your 934 Lordships know, follows ours in certain respects but is quite different in others.
One of the matters which particularly interested me, was the length of speeches. This point was referred to, in relation to this House, by my noble friend Lady Gaitskell. I was informed that in Congress the time for a debate is arranged by the Whips, and that a total period is allowed for it. The speakers' time is then divided up between the Whips and is allocated precisely. The more senior speakers are given a maximum of ten minutes, and the ones lower down on the list one minute. At the end of their time the Speaker hits his desk with a mallet and the member talking has to sit down. It seems to be an excellent idea, and one which no doubt could be considered by the Committee on Procedure. The knowledge that one has a limited time at one's disposal, to quote Dr. Johnson in an entirely different context, "concentrates the mind wonderfully", and I feel that it would give speakers a chance to concentrate on the points they wish to make without repetition and would be of distinct advantage. I would submit that it is a suggestion which is worthy of consideration.
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him if he knows why, in that admirable procedure, the mallet is used to hit the desk and not the speaker's head?
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, I hope that I shall be forgiven by the noble Lord, Lord Alport, who began this debate so dispassionately and well, and by the twenty speakers who have followed him in such an interesting fashion, if I do not attempt to reply to their points one by one, as one occasionally makes an effort to do. I will address myself, if I may, to the Motion before us which is in the minds of the House. In case anybody has forgotten it during the afternoon, may I repeat its content? It reads:The Lord Alport—To move, That a Select Committee be appointed to consider how, whether by changes in its procedures or by other means lying within the limits of its own powers of decision, this House can make a more substantial contribution to the efficient 935 working of Parliamentary Government in contemporary Britain.That is the Motion and, if I may say so, not a series of other propositions which were replied to by one or two speakers. I will try to follow the excellent example which the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, has set us, not for the first time to-day, both in her precept and practice regarding the brevity of speech.
I have my own views on this matter. Anybody who has been here on one Front Bench or the other for twenty years must have views. He cannot be such an intellectual eunuch as to have nothing in his own head except what somebody has handed him on a piece of paper. However, I do not feel it possible for me to set out my views to-night. I speak with the responsibility of Cabinet membership and leadership of the House. I shall not, I need hardly say, contradict my views, but I may not set them out as fully and as enjoyably as would be the case if I were speaking as an individual. But when it comes to the Division, I will vote. I shall try to be last through the Lobby so that no one could possibly be influenced by my vote in any way; but I will certainly cast a vote—in which direction I will certainly not disclose at this stage of the discussion.
I have very little to say on behalf of the Cabinet—and I hope that this will not be counted against me or the Cabinet on this matter. I think my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor would agree that, in so far as I am charged with any message, it is that questions of procedure for the House are in the ordinary sense a matter for the House, not a matter for the Government to settle one way or the other. In the course of the discussion to-day we have approached, and sometimes passed beyond, the narrow and shadowy, and, as it seems to me, very ambiguous, line which separates procedure from other matters. It is not at all clear (it is less clear to me since I have been here this afternoon than it was before) where one should properly draw the line between what you can call procedure and what is wider or more fundamental.
If I may say a word on the question of composition, it is not for me this afternoon to offer any ruling at all as to whether the right to membership of this House or to vote in this House could, 936 legally speaking, be determined by a Standing Order in the House. But I am sure nobody would mind my pointing out that questions of composition could be of concern to both Houses. That must be said, and said clearly this afternoon. Having said that, I do not propose to enmesh myself in those deeper questions.
It seems to me—and here I am speaking as an individual, but conscious of my responsibilities—that when one approaches the House of Lords, either in the narrower sense which is before us now, or in the wider sense which has been discussed in the past very often and might be discussed again, one must at least avoid three fallacies. As the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, is aware, theologians sometimes proceed by rejecting fallacies, describing them as anathema. So I would reject three fallacies without trying to come down very clearly at the end of it as to where I myself stand. But I think there are three current fallacies which are always raising their heads in different ways.
There is the fallacy of what I call perfect performance; some people would call it mutual admiration. This kind of argument—which we have not had much of this afternoon—is always rounded off by the phrase, "Well, it may be ridiculous, but it works. "It was, I think, the noble Baroness, Lady Asquith of Yarnbury, who said that, whether or not that was true, what we had to try to see to was that the House worked much better. I will not pursue that line of argument, but we have not suffered from it as much as I feared this afternoon. But a Chamber of this kind is frequently accused, as anybody knows who reads the papers, of a rather absurd self-satisfaction. I do not think anybody could really seriously argue that our arrangements are so perfect that they do not even bear looking into. I would, however, agree that in the narrower sense—and I have something to say about the wider sense—things here work pretty well, if only because we still have a good deal of time. That makes it easy in a way, because we have always got a certain amount of time in reserve. We do not usually sit on Mondays. If we wish to we then spill over into Mondays; the time may come when we have to spill over on to Fridays. But as long as we have 937 time, we can be fairly easygoing and treat things in a fairly informal way. But, by and large, I would say that in the narrower sense the procedure here seems now to work reasonably well. I hope that I am entitled to pay a tribute to the Leaders of the Opposition Parties and their Chief Whips, because undoubtedly without their co-operation our procedure could work very badly indeed. I feel that during the last two years, and indeed further back, this co-operation has been forthcoming, but in that sense it is a very precarious perfection, in so far as it is perfection at all. It depends on this co-operation between the "usual channels," which of course might break down at some point in the future.
The second fallacy which we are not likely to encounter in this House, but which, I am afraid, is sometimes encountered elsewhere, even among those who should know better, is what I call the fallacy of deliberate disrepute, the argument that the more ridiculous the House of Lords is the better, and therefore do not reform it because it might be harmful if you made it rational and respectable. We have not heard that this afternoon, but I am strongly opposed to it. Is it a most anti-social view. It is rather like denouncing some lady as a prostitute and then refusing to let her leave the streets. I would dismiss this point of view with contumely. We have not encountered it this afternoon.
Thirdly, there is the fallacy of what I would call "reform regardless". By that I mean—and, again, we have not encountered any imprudence of this sort this afternoon—the idea of: "Let the House of Lords go ahead and rationalise itself, and take all sorts of steps to improve its functioning, without any regard at all for what the House of Commons might say." That is a danger, but I honestly think that we have avoided it this afternoon.
We now come to the Motion, and I find a little difficulty, which has increased in my mind as we have proceeded, over the use of this word "procedure". If anybody asked me, after twenty years in the House (and I realise that we have heard to-day from speakers like the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, who have been here many years longer than that), what is the weakest feature of our procedure, in 938 whatever sense one uses the term, I would reply that I question to-day whether we are finding a way to give sufficient outlet to the many able and energetic people who are coming into the House every year. If I were worried about anything, that would be the question I should ask. I do not think it is enough to say that one can speak more often than one could in the House of Commons. There is a great deal of political life which is connected with the House of Commons and which does not exist here. I am always frightened, and with some reason, that some of those excellent people who are sent here as Peers and who tell me that they want to do a job of work, will sometimes find after a while that there is not enough work to do. I myself would tackle matters from that angle.
This is, perhaps, a little frivolous, but one Peer who had been very popular when he was a Member of the House of Commons, and would have been very popular here if he had continued coming for very long, decided to absent himself after a while. I asked him why he did not come—he was getting plenty of opportunities for speaking—and he said, "The trouble is that in the House of Lords there is no intrigue. "This was what worried him. Everything was so open and above board, with these discussions in the Chamber and the very agreeable social life, but there was none of the political life in the corridors or wash-places and other corners. That is putting the matter in a slightly ludicrous way, but one can see what he meant. Whether I held office or not, this would be the side of our procedure that would interest me most if I were thinking of reform. I would see whether we could give more scope to the Members of the House, and particularly to the energetic people, or those who have a good deal of time to spare, who would like more opportunities than they obtain at present.
I gather that we are likely to have to vote very shortly. The noble Lord, Lord Alport, has introduced a Motion, and it is opposed, so we must make up our minds whether we are in favour of it. There is one argument on which I hope I may cast some doubt, even from my neutral position, and that is the argument that if this Motion is carried this will be some kind of reflection on the Procedure 939 Committee. I am a member of the Procedure Committee, and I am bound to say that for my part—I cannot, of course, speak for anybody else—I should not feel reflected on if this Motion were carried. But I realise that this is a serious argument, and that it is, perhaps, weighing with a number of noble Lords.
One should notice, in the first place, that the wider aspects of the topics raised by the noble Lord, Lord Alport, were certainly not considered last year. That is within the knowledge of every member of the Procedure Committee. Nobody who looked at the Report would suppose that everything concerned with the functioning of the House—everything, that is, which does not require legislation to alter—was thoroughly examined by the Procedure Committee. That is a matter of fact. Therefore, when we were told authoritatively by the Lord Chairman that any matter raised here could go to the Procedure Committee I was, to be honest, a little surprised at that ruling. But I fully realise that we must accept it, and consider, therefore, whether, even if these matters did not go to the Procedure Committee last year, they could be more suitably dealt with by the Procedure Committee this year than by any other Committee.
As to that, it is not for me to speak too clearly at this stage, or to give any guidance. But I would just point out that the last time a fairly large change was made by a decision of the House was when we decided to introduce the Leave of Absence scheme. If one says that this Motion could go to the Procedure Committee, it is then obvious that the whole issue of the Leave of Absence scheme could have been sent to the Procedure Committee. In fact, it was not so sent. It was not regarded as suitable, I imagine, to send to the Procedure Committee.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
My Lords, the noble Earl the Leader of the House has told us on two occasions that he is not going to tell us what he himself thinks, because it is not proper. Why is it not proper for him to tell us what he thinks?
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
Because I commit the Government in my speeches. I think that is so. At any rate, that is the view I take on the matter. But if the 940 noble Lord is in any doubt, I shall show him by my vote what I feel about it.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
No. And that is not quite so amusing as one of the noble Lord's better "cracks". I am not committing the Government at all. It is a free vote. The noble Lord has been here many years and he knows what a free vote is. Any Peer can vote any way he likes.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
I could, but the noble Lord certainly would not make one in my place. I am bound to say that I shall be very surprised if he does not think, when I have finished, that I have served the same purpose. But that is another question.
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, with great respect to the noble Earl, did he not make a free speech just now when he emphasised that he was speaking as an individual? Could he not continue in that vein?
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
I can only say Et tu Brute. I think that when my own followers begin horning in on the witticisms of noble Lords opposite, that is time to draw very rapidly to a close.
I will now say just one or two words, and noble Lords must interpret them as they wish. The question now arises: should issues of this kind go to the Procedure Committee? It is certainly an arguable matter whether they should or should not. Of course, the Procedure Committee is a very old Committee. I have no prejudice against age and. as the noble Lord knows, I am never mentioned without the figure "60"after my name. In fact, I believe that my age is the exact average of the House as a whole. Therefore, I am certainly not complaining about a Committee because it is a great deal older than the average. Certainly, the Procedure Committee contains a wonderful collection of veteran wisdom, but it is possible that the House as a whole would prefer to see the various age groups represented a little more normally than they are on the Procedure 941 Committee. if I were making a free speech, of course, I should rub that in.
There is another point. The Procedure Committee is, of course, permeated—I must not say dominated—by the Leaders and ex-Leaders and Chief Whips of this House—essentially by the "management". Of course, that is not the only way of organising a Procedure Committee. I realise that it is dangerous to quote another place, but the Procedure Committee in the House of Commons is a Committee of Back-Benchers, and if one is trying to discover what the House as a whole thinks there is something to be said for letting the House as a whole form its own opinion, instead of asking the Leaders and the Chief Whips, and one or two ex-Leaders, as it were, to draw together and give a pronouncement from on high. That is a point of view which I think should be considered in a matter of this kind, and I hope that the House will hear in mind that that is one argument for appointing a Select Committee. But I repeat, that I do not think it would be right for me to argue tile matter further, and I am certainly not going to give any guidance to my followers. I now leave it to the House, and I am sure that whether these matters are discussed by a Select Committee or, as I might still hope, further by the Procedure Committee, very considerable benefit will emerge from this afternoon's discussion.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ LORD ALPORT
My Lords, in speaking last in this debate I want to begin, if I may, by acknowledging my personal debt to those noble Lords who have taken part in our deliberations this afternoon. I fully recognise that a great deal of the volume of argument which has been dispensed has been critical of my Motion. I am astonished, I must say, for two reasons. One is that the position of this House within the Parliamentary institution and in the country at large appears to me in my private capacity to be different from what it appears to be to a number of noble Lords who have spoken. I am very doubtful whether this House can ignore, as it has been argued we should, the attitude to it of public opinion outside. Secondly, I think that, because we live in the atmosphere of a great institution, we tend to become mesmerised by it.
942 I was fascinated, if I may say so with great respect, by the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell. It shows how quickly an institution of this sort can in fact attract the loyalties and affections of an individual who, I have no doubt, like many others who have come here to support both sides of the House, has been critical of it in the past. That is a view of this House which many of your Lordships hold. It is not, in my experience, a view which goes far beyond our precincts. I am concerned, I must say—perhaps I take myself over-seriously, and this House over-seriously—with the importance of the contribution which we can make to Parliament and to Government in trying and difficult times, and I do not believe for a moment that this House exercises the authority of its influence outside to the extent that it could, or makes sufficient use of the resources available.
My Lords, some tough things have been said by many speakers about those noble Lords who do not attend and take part in our deliberations. It never seems to have struck any of those who have spoken that one of the reasons why they do not do so may be that they do not regard the responsibilities which fall to your Lordships' House, or the influence which they can carry through your Lordships' House, as sufficient to warrant the time and energy that they expend on the Business here. We must realise that there is another side to the arguments which have been put in defence of this House—and so many of your Lordships have sprung to its defence with such energy and eloquence.
My Lords, if I may, and if I can find someone to act as a Teller with me in the Lobbies, I will divide this House on my Motion to-night. I shall do so not with any sense of disrespect to our own Procedure Committee. The main point that I should have liked to make with regard to that has, I think, already been made by the noble Earl the Leader of the House. It is that the Procedure Committee, by its composition and its functions, must be concerned with the day-to-day management of our procedural matters, and not with the longer-term development and evolution of procedure as a whole here in our House. I concede that, if a Select Committee were appointed, it would have an arduous job assembling 943 views from all quarters; and it might well be that, as a result of its actions, as a result of the assembling of those views and opinions, in its Report it would eventually vindicate everything the noble Lords have said to-night and throughout this afternoon in favour of maintaining the status quo.
Therefore, I think it reasonable to ask those of your Lordships who have spoken against my Motion and against the establishment of a Select Committee to put it to the test, and not to be afraid of the results. If noble Lords are so strongly convinced that all is well here, I ask them to put it to the test and see whether a Select Committee composed of Members of your Lordships' House cannot think of some improvements which, as I
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