§ 3.22 p.m.
§ Debate further resumed on the Motion moved on Tuesday last by the Lord Chancellor (on behalf of the Lord Shackleton); namely, That this House gives general approval to the proposals for the Reform of the House of Lords as set out in the White Paper, House of Lords Reform (Cmnd. 3799).
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
My Lords, I suppose that in a long debate of this kind we all have to accept a self-denying ordinance, and I thought I could perhaps best do this, and at the same time be most useful to the House in its consideration of the White Paper, if I confined my remarks to those matters in the White Paper that affect the responsibilities with which I have been charged by your Lordships.
I should like first to comment on the proposal in paragraph 70 of the White Paper that there should bea review of the functions and procedures of the two Houses… once the main reform had come into effect".This review, of course, would be undertaken by a Joint Select Committee of both Houses. I welcome this proposal because I believe that such a comprehensive review is long overdue, and could produce results which would be of real value to the efficiency of Parliament. It should be remembered that the procedures of both Houses have grown up piecemeal, in response—often a fairly tardy response —to the exigencies of the moment, and that as a rule they have developed along parallel rather than complementary lines. It will be essential, therefore, to look at them in their entirety, and from the point of view of the duties of Parliament as a whole. This would enable both Houses to adapt their procedures to meet the demands made on a limited amount of Parliamentary time by the increasing 1038 volume of public legislation, and by the need for constant vigilance over the actions of the Executive.
The Government state in paragraph 8 of the White Paper that thepossibility of developing the functions of Parliament as a wholeisthe most positive ground for reform.It is therefore rather surprising, I think, how little the White Paper has to say about the scope and purpose of such a review. It seems that more careful thought has been given to the reform of this House than to the purpose which this reform is intended to serve; namely, to increase the efficiency of Parliament. It is natural, of course, that noble Lords should be more interested in the reform of this House than in the reform of Parliament—and, indeed, that is the course this debate has taken. But, of course, the test of reform here will be the contribution it makes to the eighth century in the evolution of the Mother of Parliaments.
We find in Appendix II of the White Paper some examples of subjects that a Joint Select Committee might be expected to consider. I was very glad that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack drew our attention to some of these in his speech, when he gave us a tantalising, if cursory, glimpse of what the future might hold. They are mainly questions of finding better procedural methods for discharging existing Parliamentary functions. It is of course pointed out, with much force, that improved procedures could effect a large saving in Parliamentary time, and a better distribution of work between the two Houses. I do not think it can be doubted, in view of the increasing volume of work Parliament has to do, that these aims are both highly desirable, but they require for their achievement much closer co-operation, and more deliberate co-ordination between the two Houses, in appropriate areas of legislation, than we have been accustomed to in the past. I very much hope that this proposal for a review of the functions and procedures of both Noises will he acceptable to noble Lords in all Parties and, indeed, in whatever part of the House they may sit.
My Lords, I should like to conclude by drawing attention to a point affecting 1039 Private Bill legislation. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack referred to this matter in his opening speech. I agree with him that it might be useful for both Houses to review their present procedure for dealing with Private Bills. But the point I am on is much more limited. Paragraph 73(h) of the White Paper states:Non-voting peers would be able to ask questions and move motions and also to serve in committee; but not to vote on the floor of the House or in any committee for the consideration of legislation…".If I have interpreted the word "legislation" correctly in this context as including Private Bills, as well as Public Bills, it is clear that the right of Peers by succession to vote in Select Committees on Private Bills is not to be preserved. It would be undesirable, I think, to invite non-voting Peers to serve as members of Private Bill Select Committees as, although, of course, not disqualified from serving, they could not exercise a vote in cases of disagreement. The parties concerned would have a legitimate grievance if Select Committees were composed of certain members with voting powers and others without.
The reform proposed will therefore have the effect of limiting to voting Peers the field of Private Legislation during the Committees. Quite apart from thus narrowing the field of choice, there is no guarantee that Peers granted the right to vote will include Peers by succession with experience of Select Committees. I am therefore putting forward for consideration a plea that Peers by succession should be allowed to vote in Select Committees on Private Bills. I was glad to note that this view had already been expressed by two noble Lords with much experience of this kind—the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, and the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell—and I entirely agreed with what they said.
Paragraph 46 of the White Paper, which deals with the size of the voting House, envisages at first a voting House of about 230 Peers, and states that this number should be sufficient for the business of the House, at least for the remainder of this Parliament. My Lords, I have some misgivings about this statement so far as Private Bills are concerned, and for the following reasons. Since the Peerage Act 1958 was passed 96 Peers 1040 who are alive to-day have served on Select Committees on Private Bills, and of these 73 are Peers by succession. The majority of Chairmen of Committees on Private Bills have also been drawn from these 73 Peers. I am in no way intending to diminish the valuable contribution made by created Peers to the scrutiny of Private Bills in Committee, but the fact is that at the moment the majority of Peers experienced in Select Committee work are Peers by succession. Should Peers by succession be allowed to vote in Select Committees they would not, of course, be able to vote in the House on any other stage or proceedings on a Private Bill. This would ensure that there would be no departure from the principle set out in the White Paper that ultimate control of all legislation is in the hands of voting Peers.
I would add that, in my opinion, the above arguments apply equally to Joint Select Committees on Opposed Special Procedure Orders. I will not go into detail about the procedure in connection with these Orders, but it is true to say that the type of inquiry carried out by such Committees is analogous to that into an Opposed Private Bill. The number of Special Procedure Orders is increasing, and, correspondingly, the call on Members of the House to serve on such Committees. Since the Peerage Act 1958. 43 Peers have served on these Committees (which are, of course, Joint Committees with Members of another place) of whom 26 are Peers by succession.
The number of Peers by succession as a component of the House will, under the terms of the White Paper, be steadily reduced until they are finally extinguished. But it would be a loss to the House if it were to be deprived of their services in tthe field of Private Legislation during the interim period. The proposal I am making, my Lords, would be of great assistance in the selection of Peers to sit on Select Committees, and would ensure that the high standard of such Committees is maintained. This matter could be put right in the Bill without abandoning any of the principles on which the White Paper is based.
§ 3.34 p.m.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, listening to the 1041 debate for many hours, and conscientiously reading the speeches made at hours when I was not present, I have found myself reminded of the words of an old hymn, a hymn not very often sung nowadays, which contains the lines:There is room for fresh creations In that upper home of bliss".Without arrogating to ourselves the claim that we are a "home of bliss", we have been spending three days discussing how fresh creations can best be made and how undesirable modes of creation may be eliminated. Listening to this debate has for me confirmed my own initial suspicions. They are three suspicions: first, that reform along the lines of an elected Chamber is no road; second, that a nominated Chamber, despite all the dangers attaching to nomination, is the best way; and, third, that the two-tier system proposed does give a chance of conserving some of the present values of the House of Lords as a Chamber and of carrying those values over into the new reformed régime.
First as to the possibilities of reform along the lines of an elected Chamber. I believe that to look that way is really to ask for the moon and that there is no possibility of agreement as to how an elected Chamber would be elected, even if it were true that an elected Chamber or Senate were the desirable course. I believe that to dream of an elected Chamber is probably to postpone the reform of our House indefinitely.
Second, I think that facts adduced during this debate have made it clear that the proposals of the White Paper would not involve any considerable increase in patronage and would, indeed, introduce certain restraints and restrictions on patronage. That being so, I believe that the bogey of enlarged patronage of the Prime Minister ought not to deter us from looking favourably at these proposals. But in the discussions that we have had it is very clear that the Cross-Bench Members of the House, the primarily non-political Members of the House, are going to have an important role, not as politicians in disguise but as persons representing many aspects of skill and knowledge of value to the country.
As Her Majesty's Government regard this debate as an opportunity for the collecting of opinions and advice, it 1042 might be worth while saying that the Prime Minister, or any Prime Minister, is likely to need a good deal of advice, possibly of advice that he does not normally get, in the appointment of Cross-Bench and non-political Peers. A Prime Minister inevitably knows a great deal about politicians and who are good politicians to pick; but a Prime Minister does not necessarily know about the qualifications of scientists, men of letters, educationalists, industrialists or those in many, many walks of life whose wisdom is valuable to us already and is going to be still more valuable in a reformed Chamber. The modes of advice collected by the Prime Minister in that field seem to me to need very important consideration.
Thirdly, I come to the matter of two tiers. I think it has been unfair to liken the proposed two tiers to two classes, a first class and a second class, because in considering the categories of Members of our House we have to consider the categories of our debates. This House, as at present constituted, has influence and authority through the variety of the character of debate which it conducts. There are the legislative debates which commonly include a good deal of voting; there are also the debates on big social issues and issues of public concern, commonly on a Wednesday, which generally include no voting at all. We have been told that if we were indiscreet enough to press for a vote on a Wednesday debate on a Motion for Papers nobody would know in the issue what Papers would need to be moved from where to where in fulfilment of the vote that was conducted.
It seems to me important that the influence of this House, both as a legislative Chamber and as a Chamber concerned with debates on big issues—nonvoting debates, but nevertheless very authoritative—should be carried into a reformed Chamber. It seems that the two-tier system proposed will facilitate that; and in that way it will be a good thing. Furthermore, I believe that the two-tier proposals will facilitate something about which strong desires have been expressed again and again in this debate; namely, the recruiting to the House of Lords of a good many younger Members. Many of us feel that to he of the very first importance. If a young I man is deeply politically inclined, his 1043 thoughts are likely to go first towards another place. If a young man is not deeply politically inclined—and, indeed, if he is—he is likely to be heavily employed earning his living, and the possibility of his qualifying to be a voting Member by a one-third attendance is rather precarious. Therefore I believe that the two-tier proposal will enable, or could enable, a good many more younger Members to be brought into this House for its great good and with the advantage to all of us of listening to younger Members, able to speak with knowledge and authority but possibly unable to give enough time to qualify as voters without jeopardy to their professions and careers.
Again, as the purpose of this debate is not only to make a decision but also to enable the Prime Minister to collect advice, let Her Majesty's Ministers take note of the advice given a good many times in this debate about the desire to see younger Members in this Chamber. It is no use saying that the two-tier system will facilitate that unless the powers-that-be act upon it and see that that is so. On those three counts, my Lords—dismissing the possibility of an elected Chamber as asking for the moon; seeing on balance the disadvantages of an elected Chamber and also seeing the advantages of the two-tier proposal—I greatly hope that the White Paper will be approved and that legislation will follow which I believe will give us a more effective and more authoritative House of Lords than we have at present.
The House will forgive me for adding a few words about the position of Bishops in your Lordships' House. My words need only be very few, because my right reverend friend the Bishop of Chester dealt with that subject very fully in his speech on the first day of the debate. I want to say how greatly I appreciate the consideration given to the Bishops' Bench by the members of the Inter-Party Conference in considering our role within the House of Lords; the great sympathy and understanding with which they listened to our views and also their understanding of our position as Spiritual Peers within your Lordships' House. In the course of the debate the preoccupation with the central issues has been so large that only a few references have been made to the role of the 1044 Bishops within a reformed Chamber. The noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, made some kind remarks about the Episcopal Bench. I want to thank him for those remarks which I appreciate greatly, coming as they did from a distinguished layman of a Church other than my own.
The noble Lord, Lord Reith—if we may round a little in the ecclesiastical spectrum—in a very brief intervention, asked why should not the Established Church of Scotland be represented in a reformed Chamber. I do not spy the noble Lord, Lord Reith, in his usual place, but let me say to my noble friend and neighbour and tenant that his remarks pose a dilemma. If representation of the Church of Scotland means ministers of the Church of Scotland in virtue of their ministerial office having a seat in the House of Lords, that may raise awkward questions for him, concerning the mode of nomination of those ministers to their office. On the other hand, if he desires, not the representation of the Church of Scotland through Ministers holding positions ex officio but through the exercise of nomination to Life Peerages, then I would say that I most heartily welcome the nomination to Life Peerages of members of other Churches than mine—of the Church of Scotland and of Churches in England as well—to play their part in this House.
This, my Lords, leads me to the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Sorensen. He said the most kind and appreciative things about us and our performance, but then went on to ask, "But why must we have these Bishops in our House at all?" My Lords, I am ready to discuss why we have these Bishops in our House at all if, at the same time, we can discuss such maters as the nomination of Bishops to their Sees by the Crown; the role of Parliament in relation to Church legislation and the whole complex of balanced factors that constitute our Church and State relationship. I should be very glad indeed to discuss that matter at any time, and it is my belief that considerable changes in the form of Church and State relationship are desirable. But it is obviously impossible to deal with those matters in the context of these proposals concerning the reform of the House of Lords.
In that context it is only reasonable that in a reformed House diminished in 1045 number, the number of Bishops who are Members should be diminished. But I will end by saying that, diminished in number, whether as speakers or as voters, we shall still want, within the Constitution, to go on giving our service to the House, sharing that desire, I believe, with many noble Lords; and that we shall all give our service to the House with greater effectiveness within the general pattern of reform that the White Paper has set out.
§ 3.49 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT DILHORNE
My Lords, this is not the first occasion on which I have had the pleasure of following the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury in debate. In the course of my speech I shall have to disagree with him on certain of his general observations, but I do not intend to follow him in relation to the remarks which he made about Bishops and Scottish Ministers and matters of that sort; although, of course, I recognise that what he has said on the general matters will bring great comfort to the Government Front Bench and to my noble friend Lord Carrington.
My Lords, may I say at the outset that T should be very sorry indeed if the Bishops were no longer Members of this House. They contribute a very great deal, and not just colour, to our Assembly. Indeed, I regret that if these proposals go through, we shall see less of them in the future than we have done in the past. The two Archbishops and the Bishops of London, Durham and Winchester are very busy men and naturally we see them here only when they are particularly interested in debates or in particular Bills—and I will not embarrass the most reverend Primate by reminding him of the Bills which attracted his particular interest in recent Sessions. But I regret that it will mean a smaller attendance on the Bishops' Benches, and I also regret that after the powerful plea we have just heard for having younger men in this House, this new system would seem to me to eliminate the younger Bishops and confine us to the older and more senior members of the Bishops' Benches. That I think is a pity and a little inconsistent with the theme advanced by the most reverend Primate.
1046 I cannot hope, at this stage of this long and extremely important debate, to put forward any new arguments or to make any points that have not already been made, but I would ask your Lordships to allow me to give the reasons why I do not find it possible to give general approval to the proposals contained in this White Paper. My noble friend Lord Butler of Saffron Walden said yesterday that it would provide a "good, practical and working Upper House". I wish that I could take that view. I wish that I could agree with him. But my consideration of the White Paper has led me to a contrary conclusion. Except in relation to subordinate legislation, about which I shall say a few words later, I do not think that a case has yet been made out for changing our present powers at this time. We can no longer effectively reject legislation. We can delay its passage. We are told that the, will of the elected Chamber must prevail. That sounds nice, but in these day; that really means that the will of the Government must prevail.
As the powers of this House have diminished over the years, so have the powers of the Executive, the Government, increased. And I think that it is true to say that the House of Commons is no longer as effective a check on the Executive as it should be. There are a number of reasons for that and I shall not go into them, but one is that the influence and power of the Government Whips have increased over the years and with this the independence and freedom of action of Government supporters have been restricted. It was not so many years ago when Government supporters in another place were free to move and press Amendments to Bills, and if they carried them the Government did nor fall unless the matter had been declared to be one of confidence. But now it has become a regular thing for the Government to deny a free vote to their supporters. This occurred most regrettably last night, and we had another instance of it in another place this week. This is a debate which I should have thought is pre-eminently one in which the vote should be entirely free in this House and in another place.
If I understand these proposals correctly, the reality of them is to increase the power of the Government in this 1047 House. And when we have a Government who do not enjoy the confidence of the majority of the electorate—and I think few would dispute that that is the position to-day—it is surely even more important that our Constitution should provide an effective check on their activities. For if there is no such check, the road is open to the end of democracy. It is because these proposals, as I see them, in reality restrict our powers to provide a check that I am opposed to them.
I do not mind the proposal that the period of delay should run from the date of disagreement between the two Houses because I think that that is an improvement on the Parliament Act, but I do not think that six months is long enough. It is argued that a longer period might prevent the passage of a Government Bill introduced in the fourth year of a Parliament. I think that the argument really runs the other way—that there should be power to delay the passage of a highly controversial measure introduced by a Government whose time is running out and which is unpopular until after the electorate have had an opportunity of expressing their views upon it. It is the existence of the powers to impose some delay that is important. It must be a real power and I doubt if the proposed power is real.
No one can say—and I do not think that in the course of this long debate anyone has said—that this House, composed as it is, has abused its power to delay legislation. It has exercised it only once since 1914. I do not myself believe that if this House is reformed as is now proposed, it will be possible or right to use this delaying power more frequently in future than it has been used in the past. I know that the White Paper says that the reformed House must possess a real if limited power of delay whose use should not, as it would be with the present composition of the House, risk precipitating a constitutional crisis. I think that that is the sugar on the pill. I do not think that it has any reality, because directly that power is used we shall be accused of a breach of the principle stated in paragraph 4(a) of the White Paper. We shall be accused of rivalling the House of Commons. If the power of delaying legislation is used more fre- 1048 quently than it has been in the past, in my opinion this House will not enjoy that power very long.
I think it is an error for the White Paper to state that the failure to use that power in the past has been due to the composition of this House. The reason—and I would say the valid reason—for not using it more frequently is that its use brings this House directly into conflict with the other place. I desire to make it clear that I do not think that this power should be used more frequently in future. I do not think that these proposals will make it more easy to exercise that power, and I do not think it will be exercised more frequently. Every time it is used, there is a risk—and I think a very real risk —of a constitutional crisis, and that will be so no matter how this House is composed.
In my opinion, far more important than the power to delay legislation is the power to amend it during its passage through this House. There should be real and not just nominal power to do that. The White Paper recognises that this is one of our main functions, but it is singularly silent as to the way in which we are to be able to exercise this. My noble friend Lord Jellicoe, in his very able and persuasive speech in favour of these proposals, said that if they are accepted this House would be viable. I do not quite know what he meant by that—I suppose you could describe an amoeba as viable. But one thing of which I am certain is this. If this House is not able to carry an Amendment to a Bill in the face of Government opposition it will in future be a shadow of its present self. I believe that even the Front Bench opposite will admit that the Opposition did a very good job on the Transport Bill. Amendments were carried, despite Government opposition; and, as has been said, some of these Amendments, or variations of them, were ultimately accepted.
I would ask your Lordships to consider whether in the reformed House it would be possible for similar action to be taken. I do not think it would. To carry an Amendment against the Government, the Liberals and the Tories would have to agree—and that does not happen perhaps as often as it should. But that of 1049 itself would not suffice: they would then have to persuade a majority of Cross-Bench Peers to vote with them. And, as the Home Secretary said in another place last night in relation to Cross-Bench Peers (I do not think it was very complimentary) they tend to break evenly both ways. That sounds a curious operation to me.
My noble friend Lord Salisbury has already referred to the Cross-Benchers in this House. Many of them are extremely distinguished, and some of them, until they accepted various offices, have been extremely active Party politicians. Now they sit on the Cross-Benches, because to do otherwise would be inconsistent with the tenure of those offices. But I do not think they have changed their political views. Others of them have taken no part in politics, and I find it difficult to believe that they will be ready to take so much interest in the details of legislation in the future. But it is only if the Liberals and the Tories unite, and sufficient of the Cross-Benchers support them, that the Government majority will be overcome and an Amendment carried against the Government. And, my Lords, if the Cross-Benchers vote too often against the Government, they have been warned—they were warned last night—about what is likely to happen.
The Attorney General was asked this question about the Cross-Benchers:Supposing that some of them did not remain independent, how would they be dealt with?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, 20/11/68 col. 1131]His answer was:They would be dealt with very courteously, I am sure. If Party political loyalties were suddenly manifested by a sufficiently large number of Cross-Benchers at any moment"—and that means if they voted with the Tories and the Liberals—to defeat the broad intention that the Government of the day should have a majority in another place, the Review Committee would no doubt so advise, and appropriate steps would be taken.That same point was taken up by the Home Secretary in his speech at the conclusion of the debate last night in another place. When the point was being dealt with by him, he said:The Cross-Benchers' position is one which will clearly need very careful and continuous review."—[Col. 1424.]So something will happen to the Cross- 1050 Benchers if they vote too frequently with the Opposition.
It is proposed that in normal circumstances the Government should be able to secure a reasonable working majority. This, it seems to me, can only mean that the power—and it is a salutory power—to carry Amendments against the Government will be restricted. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, takes a contrary view. She spoke of the procedure whereby we carry Amendments against the Goverment, they go to another place, where they are rejected, and then we partake in what she called the "ritual dance" and give way to the other place. But, seriously, my Lords, does not that procedure have great importance? I think it has. There have been cases, not only on the Transport Bill, where we have carried in this House Amendments against the Government and changes have taken place. I hope that he noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will not mind my saying that I have found him on occasions extremely obstinate. I can remember one occasion on which a Division was called, and the majority of this House expressed a view contrary to that of the Government. And it was very effective: it led without any further controversy between the two Houses, or anything of that sort, to a compromise which I think has generally been regarded as highly satisfactory. One could quote other instances.
I regard this power to carry Amendments as one of the most important powers that this House has, because it gives the other Chamber and the Government time for reflection and reconsideration. I do not mind a bit if a great many of these Amendments come back to this House and we then do not insist on them. But we ought to have the power to say to the Government: "You really must look again at this and reconsider it." Are the Government likely to be so receptive if they command a reasonable working majority in this House? If there is a disagreement here on a particular matter they will win it on a Division, and that will be the end of that. It is because this power of this House in that limited but most important field will, as I see it, be so severely restricted that I venture to say that if these proposals go through this House will be a vestige of its former self. I feel 1051 most strongly that this is the most important proposal contained in this White Paper. It is because I simply cannot agree with that, that I myself cannot give general approval to this White Paper.
My Lords, I think it is not without significance that in this very skilfully written White Paper little, if anything, is said about this, although a good deal is said about the delaying powers. I would go further and say (and I say this irrespective of which Party are in power) that in this Second Chamber, under our Constitution, the Government, whatever their colour, should not be in the majority, but in fact should be in the minority; and that is where I think the fundamental fallacy lies in the approach to this subject. That should be the case, in my view, whatever Party are in power. It must have been extremely frustrating for the Party opposite, when they were in Opposition, to know that they could not carry any Amendment without securing the support of Tory Peers—and that sometimes happened. I admired the way they fought then. They put up a great fight over the Greater London Bill.
This House has not—and I am glad of it—such strong Party affiliations as another place. Peers and Bishops are very independent, and it is a good thing. If this House is, and remains, a responsible body, composed largely of elder Statesmen and distinguished people, I do not think that the power to carry Amendments against the Government is one that will be exercised frivolously; and I do not think it has been in the past.
§ BARONESS WOOTTON OF ABINGER
My Lords, would the noble and learned Viscount be prepared to estimate how many Amendments unacceptable to the Government have been carried in this House and passed into law?
§ VISCOUNT DILHORNE
There have been quite a considerable number that proved acceptable in due course. It has happened more than once that the Government have resisted an Amendment, and have then changed their minds. I should like to encourage them to do so more in the future. It happened when my Party were in power, and it has happened since the Labour Party have been in power.
1052 What I was saying is that I think it is a fundamental error to suppose that the Government Party should have a majority in this Chamber as they have in another place.
§ LORD WALSTON
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Viscount for one moment? As I understand the White Paper, the Government Party will not have a majority: they will have a majority over the other two Parties, but not an overall majority in the House. Am I wrong?
§ VISCOUNT DILHORNE
Not at all. I was talking about a majority over the other two Parties. I have dealt with the alleged majority resting with the CrossBenchers, with their having the power to decide which way things will go, and I have quoted the Home Secretary as saying that "they tend to break pretty evenly both ways". I thought I had dealt with that point and passed on from it. I hope I have not failed to make myself dear. In my belief—and I put this forward in all seriousness—if a House of this kind, of elder statesmen, of distinguished people, however they are selected, is going to fulfil its role, the Government ought to be in a minority and the other Parties in the majority.
My Lords, I will pass on from that to one other matter. I am still dealing with powers. I agree that it is entirely anomalous that this House should have the power to kill subordinate legislation. But there is an increasing tendency—it has been going on for years; it is not confined to this Government but it has developed greatly under this Government—to secure the passage of an enabling Act and then legislate by subordinate legislation. That was. I remember, years ago strongly advocated by Sir Stafford Cripps as a way of getting legislation through. Many matters which in the old days would have been dealt with by Bills are nowadays dealt with by Statutory Instruments which we cannot amend. I think that as a general rule the delaying power of this House with regard to subordinate legislation should be comparable with its delaying power in relation to Bills.
But I recognise the difficulty, the practical difficulty, of distinguishing between different categories of subordinate legislation. Some, but by no means the majority, 1053 must come into force without delay. I recognise that. I am wondering—and I thought of this, and did not discuss it with my noble friend Lord St. Aldwyn—whether there could not be some machinery, say by a certificate by Mr. Speaker, as we have for a Money Bill, or by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, identifying the Instruments which have to come into force immediately they are laid and exempting those Instruments from a delaying power exercisable by this House. I see that the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, put forward that proposal. I strongly support it. Perhaps we can pursue this matter further when the Bill is introduced. Further, I would say that since the Parliament Act this House has rejected only one Order, and personally I am of the opinion that the power to do so, if it remains, should be exercised only very exceptionally, for if it were frequently exercised then again I do not think this House would long retain the power. It really is the exercise of our powers which brings us into rivalry with the Commons; not our composition.
So far I have spoken almost entirely of the powers of the House and have said little, if anything, about composition. The voting membership is, we know, to be arranged so that the Government of the day have a majority over the Opposition Parties, and we are told that computers have shown that if Elections follow speedily one upon another with frequent changes of Government that would not mean that we should have an excessive number of voting Peers. Paragraph 29 of the White Paper makes it clear that the proposed retirement rule is designed to counteract the automatic increase of voting Peers, for it is there stated:the voting House could be kept, or soon restored, to an acceptable size if the older members retired as voting Peers at the end of each Parliament".I know it is said at the end of paragraph 44 that it would be wrong for a working legislative Chamber to contain an indefinite number of Members, however distinguished, who were well beyond the normal age of retirement from active life. If that is wrong for this legislative Chamber, it is equally wrong for the Commons. That may well contain an indefinite number of Members over 72. Is it proposed, I ask, to introduce this rule in the Commons? I have no doubt there will be very 1054 great resistance in some quarters to that. Will this retirement age be included in the Bill? if so, we should try to remove it.
If that is a true principle which should be applied to both Houses, then surely it is anomalous and wrong that it should not be applied to Ministers as well as to voting Peers. But if it is applied to Ministers it will mean a restriction on the Prime Minister's Powers. He may want to retain power to have Ministers in this House—and I quote the words in the White Paper—well beyond the normal age of retirement from active life".They would he the oldest voting Members in this House. Before leaving this matter, I should like to correct one thing that was said by my noble friend Lord Conesford in an otherwise excellent speech. He said that he had been officially declared to be "ga-ga" for four years. I should like to assure hint that those of us who know him do not think that that is in the least degree a correct description.
Reform of this House is not sought on account of abuse by this House of its powers, nor on account of its failure to do its job properly, but just to restrict its powers and alter the basis of membership. Many tributes have been paid to the quality of our debates; our work on Bills has been praised. I am sure that if it were left to the public to decide what they wanted, they would say that this House has been doing, and is doing, a first-rate job. There is, in my opinion, no ground for changing the composition of this House because of inefficiency. I agree that some criticism can fairly be made of the hereditary qualification. But one thing that can be said in its favour, so it seems to me, is that it produces Peers from all walks of life and Peers who make very valuable contributions to the work of the House. The Government have not sought, and have not obtained, any mandate from the people to abolish this right; and in my view we should not abolish it unless we are satisfied that another system would produce better results.
It is said that the choice lies between nomination by the Prime Minister and election, and the most reverend Primate has come down in favour of nomination. It is said that the latter, election, is ruled 1055 out on the ground that it would mean that this House competed with the Commons and that the Commons would not stand for it. My Lords, is this really true? Is it certain that, whatever system of election you had, it must be ruled out because it would have that consequence? I rather doubt it. I am not at all sure that one could not devise an elective system which would not have that result. But I cannot take up time now in developing that point, because we are discussing now, not what might be done (and I am sure it will be said that what I am saying to-day is entirely unconstructive), but the proposals put forward for our consideration.
I hold that the proposed system of nomination by the Prime Minister—and I mean by that, any Prime Minister—is no improvement on the present system. It is said that it does not mean any extension of a Prime Minister's powers of patronage. It is even said that his present powers will be restricted. I simply cannot accept that. I agree that there is theoretically no limit to the numbers he can recommend for Peerages; theoretically the Labour Party's majority in this House could be created overnight. But that has not happened, and it will not happen. But a large increase of patronage is sanctioned if these proposals are approved. Aided by the advice of the Leaders of the Parties, he will choose which of the hereditary Peers to recommend for Life Peerages. It is said in paragraph 38 of the White Paper that these hereditary Peersinclude some of the most active and experienced members of the present House".—and some of those most active and experienced Members will no doubt in due course be eliminated by the retirement rule. Their nomination would be "after appropriate consultations", and the most reverend Primate made some reference to that. It was said yesterday, I think by the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, that the "usual channels" would be very useful in that connection. I recognise that in relation to Members who are in this House now, but when it comes to the choice of people to sit on the Cross-Benches, to hold the balance, how is that going to be done? With whom are consultations going to take place about them? 1056 I want to ask this further point—and again I want to make it clear that this question is not directed to the present Prime Minister but to the position of any Prime Minister. Supposing the Leader of one Party in opposition puts forward a name, will the Prime Minister of the day be able to give effect to his own personal likes and dislikes? Will he be able to say "Well, you have put forward that name, but it is not acceptable to me. I will not recommend him for a Peerage. You must put forward another." If a Prime Minister took that course what redress would there be? What will the position be of a member of a Party who is a thorn in the flesh of his Party? Is he likely to have his name put forward?
§ VISCOUNT DILHORNE
I do not know, my Lords, but it seems to me that the result of this nomination procedure may well be that the independence of this House will be most seriously undermined. I think these questions should be answered.
Again, as I understand the position the Prime Minister of the day will decide on the number of Peers from each of the Opposition Parties who are to be voting Members of this House. I can see great difficulties looming ahead in regard to this. We are told that, so far as possible, the distribution of seats between the Opposition Parties will be determined in relation to their representation in the House of Commons and to the number of votes cast for them in recent General Elections. That seems to me to leave a wide discretion to the Prime Minister. He can not only select those who are to have voting rights, but can also determine the respective strengths of the Opposition Parties. Supposing he thinks that less violent opposition would come from the Liberal Party than from the Tory Party, might he not then be prompted to make an undue increase in the number of Liberal Peers, or vice versa?
There is one matter that has not been dealt with, and in my opinion it should be dealt with. It is this. Supposing that I and a few others left the Conservative Party and went and sat on the Cross-Benches. There would then 1057 be the demand that the number of Conservative Peers should be brought up to the stipulated figures. Perhaps six new Peers would be created and then, possibly because of a change in Conservative policy, I might find myself back on the Conservative Benches. What then would happen to this wonderful procedure for creating new Peers? The whole thing would be a muddle, and the only thing that would make it work properly would be for me to receive an invitation to sit on the Labour Benches—but I would not accept that.
My Lords, I do not think this extensive power of patronage should be given to any Prime Minister. In my opinion The Times was not far wrong when it headed its leader "The House of Nominees"; but, bearing in mind the restriction of our powers, it would perhaps be more accurate to call it, "The Emasculated House of Nominees". In my opinion the proposed system is so bad that, despite the criticism directed against it, I prefer the retention of the hereditary system for the time being. If we are to have a Royal Commission on the Constitution this matter should be referred to that Royal Commission. They can then consider all the possibilities and we can put before them for their consideration such constructive ideas as we have.
I do not oppose the division of this House into voting and non-voting Peers. It is clear to me that the total size of voting Members of this House must be reduced. But I should be sorry to find that such a reduction had eliminated a number of Peers who cannot attend the daily working of this House but who do attend and make most valuable contributions in our general debates. Therefore on that ground I welcome the division.
There are other points that I could mention, but I have spoken for long enough. There is only one other point I wish to make at the moment. It is said that if we do not accept this chance we shall not have the opportunity again and that the consequences may be worse for us. That is not an argument that appeals to me when, in my opinion, the proposals are bad and damaging to this House; and, what is more important, damaging to our Constitution. It is the sort of argument, is it not? that the Russians no doubt advanced to Mr. 1058 Dubcek, and I hope this House will give the answer that he would have liked to give.
What is the right course to f follow? I suggest it is to refuse to give approval to these proposals now; to say to the Government, "You are appointing a Royal Commission on the Constitution. Let them consider what reforms and changes should be made to this House. After all, it is not an unimportant part of the Constitution. Do not exclude this subject from their consideration". As I have said, we cannot now formulate detailed proposals, but we could put such proposals to the Royal Commission. If the Government had the wisdom to take this course I do not think they would have any reason to fear what the Opposition of this House, under the wise leadership of the Leaders of the Liberal and Conservative Parties, and in particular my noble friend Lord Carrington, would do.
I know that my noble friend Lord Carrington and my noble friend Lord Jellicoe have worked hard on this matter at the Conference which was interrupted. But I am sorry that on this occasion I simply cannot agree with the proposals which they find acceptable. Too great a price can be paid for agreement. But when the Royal Commission have reported. it may well be that their Report, and what it recommends, will command far greater general approval than the proposals contained in the White Paper that we have been discussing. We should not be in a hurry. Change there must be, but change which radically destroys the character of this House, restricts its powers and prevents the House from fulfilling its proper functions is not a change that I can support.
§ 4.29 p.m.
§ LORD STRANG
My Lords, I hope I shall not add unduly to the flow of words that has accompanied this debate, but there are one or two points I should like to make. Let me say at once that I support the Motion now before the House. I do so because the scheme is sensible in itself, and because at long last we have a scheme which has achieved general all-Party agreement. By providing for the removal of the hereditary right to a place in your Lordships' House, and by providing against the 1059 permanent majority of one Party, the scheme lays a foundation for the future—a future which we hope will comprise a new and more productive relationship between the two Houses, on the basis of Appendix II of the White Paper.
In what I have now to say, I have one explanation to offer, two questions to ask and one regret to express. First, an explanation of the position of the Peers who sit on these Benches, the Cross-Bench Peers, to whom the scheme offers an essential role. It is very justly stated in paragraph 14 of the White Paper that the Cross-Bench Peersdo not possess any sense of corporate identity or act in any way as an organised group, and they resist any tendency for them to be regarded as such.That, my Lords, is true. Party is the life of politics, and your Lordships' House is, in one of its aspects, a political institution working on Party lines. It is true that Party controversy is here somewhat muted and that Party Whips wield less sway here than they do in another place. To that extent your Lordships' House has a greater measure of independence than another place.
It is true also that, unlike another place, your Lordships' House has a substantial independent element in its composition. The main characteristic of that independent element is its variety. There are those among the Cross-Bench Peers who are genuinely non-Party, genuinely unaligned, seeing some good in the programmes of all three Parties, looking for areas of agreement rather than emphasising points of difference. Then there are those who, because of the public offices they hold now or have held in the past, and whether they have Party leanings or not, prefer to maintain an independent position and not to take any Party Whip. Then again there are some who, though they may have Party leanings, prefer not to commit themselves to the whole of a Party programme, declining to be told by any Whip how they are to vote, and who choose to come and sit on these Benches. How far some of these Peers can be counted in a reformed House as genuine non-aligned Cross-Benchers may be a question, on which I do not propose to dilate at this moment.
Hard words have been spoken about the Cross-Benchers, particularly in respect 1060 of their political non-alignment. Those are the people who have been derisively called "neuters" or "mandarins" or "political vestal virgins" or "stooges", and who have been described as neither flesh, fowl nor good red herring. Hard words break no bones. Strong Party men, naturally enough, tend to have little patience with people who will not line up behind Mr. Wilson or Mr. Heath or even Mr. Jeremy Thorpe. But they do not use these terms of abuse when appealing to the floating vote from the hustings. The non-aligned Cross-Bench Peers are the floating vote of your Lordships' House, and if they are true to their independence they will not give their vote unless they have heard and weighed the argument. The noble Baroness, Lady Swanborough, did well to emphasise this point in her speech yesterday.
It is clear that a group so composed cannot be an organised political body. It cannot have a Whip or a Leader. Its sole bond is its independence. No one knows how its members will vote. It is no one's business to try to find out. It is no one's business to try to persuade them to vote one way or another.
In fact, their voting record is interesting. It has been found, by checking the records over a period, that by and large their votes for and against the Government in Divisions have been fairly equally divided, about half for and about half against. The Home Secretary was right. The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, was right— that is the case. That, statistically speaking, is how the Cross-Benchers have behaved in the past. But, of course, within that statistical computation there have been occasions when a good many more of them have voted for the Government than against the Government, and other occasions when a good many more of them have voted against the Government than for the Government. And in spite of what the noble Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, has said, there has not in the latter case, I think, been any expression of resentment from the Government Front Bench. They have been quite happy to take the rough with the smooth so far as we are concerned. I would suppose that that is about the way the Cross-Benchers might be expected to behave in the future in a reformed House, where their responsibility might on occasion be very great.
1061 The Cross-Benchers having this character, they were not invited, and I think rightly so, to take part in the discussions held by the three Parties. Nor were they in any formal sense consulted. There was in fact no one who could speak for them. But the Leader of the House thought it right, in May last, to invite the Cross-Bench Peers to meet him so that he could give them, in confidence, an outline of the way things were shaping in the three-Party talks, and for this they were most grateful.
The fact that we on these Benches have no political cohesion does not mean that we do not help ourselves and each other in an administrative way to play a part in the life of the House. Some while ago the main body of Cross-Bench Peers invited two or three of their number to act as their agents in order to help in this way. When a new Cross-Bench Peer arrives he is helped to find his way about the House and he is inducted into the ways of the House. Notes have been prepared for the general guidance of Cross-Bench Peers. Those who wish to do so receive a weekly notice of the forthcoming Order of Business, the so-called but ill-named "no-line Whip"—ill-named because it is not a Whip at all—kindly supplied by the office of the Government Chief Whip.
Those who wish to do so attend an informal weekly meeting of Cross-Bench Peers in the room which has been placed at our disposal. At those meetings we are in no way concerned with the attitude which any of us will adopt to this or that issue which is before the House; we are concerned rather to review the forthcoming Order of Business, and, for example, to assess the relative importance of the items on the Order Paper, so that we may be the better prepared to play our part in the proceedings, whatever our individual part may be. Finally, once each month we have a talk on some topical subject by an acknowledged authority. Thus we have recently had talks on the procedure of the House, upon the process of legislation and upon the work of the Parliamentary Commissioner by Sir Edmund Compton himself. Finally, it is, I think, a convenience to the Government Chief Whip if there are one or two people whom he can consult if it is a question of finding a Cross-Bencher to serve on a Committee or on a delegation. 1062 That, my Lords, is the extent of our organisation. So far as it goes, it is administrative and not political. The Cross-Bench Peers do not form a bloc and I can see no reason why they should ever do so.
May I now come to the White Paper itself? I have two questions to ask, or indeed I had two questions until I heard the speech of the noble Earl, the Lord Chairman of Committees. My first question related to the voting rights of nonvoting Peers in Committees, in particular the question whether or not they could vote on Select Committees on Private Bills. I do not now need to ask that question. It has been clearly put by the Lord Chairman of Committees, and I thoroughly support all that he said.
My second question relates to the initial selection of Cross-Bench Peers by succession to serve as new Life Peers. It is stated in paragraph 38 that:the new Life Peers would be created on the nomination of the Prime Minister after appropriate consultations as regards both those who accept allegiance to a political Party and those who do not.It is further stated in paragraph 42:that new Peers are created by the Queen on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, who consults other Party Leaders in the case of nominations from their Parties.So far, so good. But what will be the method of appropriate consultation as regards those who do not accept allegiance to any political Party? On this point, I fully support what has been said by the most reverend Primate and, like the noble Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, I ask that question. It is one which, from the point of view of the Cross-Benchers, is extremely important.
I now come to my final point, which is an expression of regret. I remember once that Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, in his warm-hearted way, when Leader of the Opposition surveyed, with sympathy and appreciation, the young Peers whom he saw opposite him on the Government Benches. Like many another of your Lordships I should deeply regret if, as a result of the reform, this House were ultimately to come to be composed entirely of the elderly. I sincerely hope that, in the future, Prime Ministers will include in their recommendations for Life Peerages at any rate a sprinkling of promising 1063 younger men—that is, let us say, young men under 40—whether Peers by succession or not, who, if they were willing to serve, might begin as non-voting Peers, with the hope in due course of qualifying as voting Peers. Here again, I support what has been said by the most reverend Primate. I suggest that it might well be one of the duties of the Committee proposed in paragraph 31 of the White Paper to attend to this matter when reviewing periodically the composition of the reformed House and when reporting on any deficiencies in the balance and the range of the House.
My Lords, I have done. In conclusion, I should like to pay a warm tribute to the members of the Three-Party Committee for an outstanding piece of work, and to them and their advisers for the extreme care with which, by way of inquiry and research, the complex problems at issue were analysed and clarified. I think it would be a great pity if their work were now not to be brought to fruition.
§ 4.44 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT ECCLES
My Lords, I rise from a seat between my two noble friends, Lord Salisbury and Lord Dilhorne, to defend the White Paper; so your Lordships will understand that I have to be careful in what I say. My noble and learned friend Lord Dilhorne made, as we should expect of him, a strong and impressive speech on the many drawbacks in the White Paper. But I must say that he left us in an impossible position, saying that it is better to do nothing than to accept the possibility of making progress with this reform. All through the debates here, and indeed in another place, too, one sensed that the speakers were divided between those who are pessimistic about the possibility of reviving our democratic institutions and those who are optimistic; and although the way forward is not at all clear yet, with faith and hope, I believe we can still make our Parliamentary institutions work as the people wish them to work.
Having listened to the speech of my noble and learned friend, I propose to omit some of the things I was going to say and to concentrate on our relations with another place and the political realities behind the proposal to reform your Lordships' House at this time. We 1064 must surely agree that great constitutional changes test the maturity of any society. More often in our own history than in the history of any other country we have had general agreement that a particular reform was overdue. Your Lordships will have noticed a peculiarity about a fair number of these major reforms. After they had been canvassed for some time it became evident that one of the two major Parties—and that not always the more obvious—was in a much better position than the other to get the measure through Parliament.
It was Peel, the Leader of the landed interest, who took the Corn Laws off the Statute Book. It was Disraeli who did away with the £10 franchise. It was Attlee who gave independence to India. Today, there are two institutions ripe for reform: your Lordships' House and the trade unions. But I would think it already clear that your Lordships' House has to be reformed by a Labour Government and the trade unions by a Conservative Government. Indeed, the extreme likelihood that only this Labour Government can get reform of this House accepted by a majority of all Parties in another place is quite clear from the closing stages of the debate last night in another place—an important point in favour of the White Paper. Had this House to be treated like the steel industry, which was nationalised in one Parliament, denationalised in the next, and nationalised again in the follwoing one, what chance would there be to redefine our powers and to settle down to a useful job of work?
If I am right that a Labour Government offers the only prospect in sight of reform by broad agreement, then we have good reason to be in a hurry. It may be a long time before there is another Labour Government, but there will always be a Labour Opposition; and would any of your Lordships care to speculate that that Opposition would be ready to agree to any acceptable reform of this House? If there is no doubt about the answer—and I venture to think that any of your Lordships who were sitting upstairs in the Gallery of another place last night will agree that there is no doubt about that answer—then by delaying now we risk sharing the fate of the steel industry. So, unless the scheme before us is thoroughly and irretrievably bad we should think hard before 1065 we reject it. How bad is it? We can all pick holes in the details but, taken together, its provisions represent a political compromise worthy of the British genius for evolution. The negotiators might so easily have arrived at no compromise at all: and what joy that would have given to the loud abolitionists in another place!
I turn for a moment or two to the composition of a reformed House and to our relationship with the Commons. Once the Commons were elected by universal suffrage, one head one vote, male or female, empty or full, limited only by age—now 21, soon to be lowered—it could have been only a matter of time before the contrast became too great between this indiscriminate, unqualified distribution of power and the narrow hereditary base to which the majority in this House is still anchored. Unfortunately, we are not able to draw the logical conclusion from this contrast. Universal franchise for the Commons should have led, as in other countries, to a different but none the less effective system of election for a large part of this House. But this we cannot have. The Commons fear that an elected Second Chamber—and they said it over and over again in their debate—would draw from them some of the prestige which they wish to hug to themselves.
It is the belief that the two Houses must always be afraid of each other, always jealous of each other that lies behind many of the arguments of my noble and learned friend and others who really think that the other place will never allow us to be a useful, workmanlike body. I have long felt that the fears of the Commons about your Lordships were exaggerated, but having sat for twenty years in another place I know that it would take an exceptionally calm, collected and self-confident House of Commons to admit the extent to which the prestige of Parliament is anything but a fixed quantity, in the sense that the more you have in this House the less you must have in the other. As a matter of history, the prestige of Parliament has gone up and down by large margins. I doubt whether the public to-day have any deep interest in the rivalry between the Lords and the Commons: what concerns them more and more is how well the two Houses, working together, manage 1066 the nation's affairs in accordance with the traditions and wishes of the people.
Here I must refer to a view expressed yesterday (I think it was by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, but I am not quite sure) that the power of the Executive has become very great and is likely to go on increasing; and also to the parallel argument by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, that we must do nothing to weaken the power of the Executive which is, as he said, the happy result of caving no written Constitution. But, my Lords, while you would probably agree that strong government is something very much to be preferred to weak government, there is a world of difference between the strength of the Executive and the exercise of that strength in accordance with the wishes of the people.
What is wrong with our system of Government to-day? Why is there mounting dissatisfaction in many parts of the country? I believe it is because we have made the mistake of thinking that the Party system and Elections every five years resulting in a Government of over 100 Ministers and an Opposition ready to take their place are, by themselves, effective guarantees of a sound democracy. My Lords, they are not; they are only the apparatus of democracy. The essence of popular government, that which keeps it alive and healthy, is the accountability of those in power to the people; and this is where we are going wrong. It is not only the Scots and the Welsh who are insisting that Westminster and Whitehall should be more accountable to them, devolve more power to them, but the English also begin to feel equally frustrated, equally defrauded of that influence over what is done to them to which they consider their education and their rights as individuals entitle them; and the English, when they begin to object, can be much rougher than the Scots and the Welsh. There fore, the opportunity to reform your Lorships' House is, above everything, an opportunity to increase the accountability of Parliament to the people.
We talk a great deal about the processing of legislation being done much more efficiently when your Lordships' House is reformed. It is not more legislation that the electors want, but a greater share in the decisions which affect their daily 1067 lives. I am sorry, therefore, that, apart from the Bishops and the Law Lords, who must always be appointed, the rest of us cannot be elected. However, we must face the fact that Members of another place will not allow this, and therefore for the time being we must either continue to be suffocated by our present composition or be nominated.
Of those two evils nomination is manifestly the lesser, and I will give my reasons for this view. In the first place, if we do nothing and stay as we are, as my noble and learned friend would wish, there is no hope of a more satisfactory volume of work, no fresh scope for playing our considerable part in the revival of British Parliamentary institutions. Secondly, if we stay as we are— as has been said by many noble Lords in this debate—the Prime Minister could swamp this House with Life Peers. He and his successors have only to go on for another decade or so creating Life Peers at the rate of the past four years, and effective work in this House would be impossible. In this Chamber, in the Library, in the Dining-Room, even in the Bishops' Bar, everything would slow down to a crawl in the traffic jam of learner drivers. My Lords, it is quite essential to place a limit on the number of new Life Peers. The method of doing this proposed in the White Paper has very many drawbacks, but I agree with my noble friend Lord Butler of Saffron Walden that we cannot think of a better scheme; and if my noble friend cannot think of a more ingenious scheme, what can be expected of any of the rest of us?
Now Prime Ministers are the trouble. Prime Ministers, my Lords, may be a rum lot, but at least they have come through the most gruelling struggle open to any of us and reached the top of the tree, and that achievement is not to be despised in this cautious and colourless world. What, I confess, worries me is that I think it will be very difficult for any Prime Minister to choose inexperience against experience, political novices or independents against safe Party men and women. Even so, I have one crumb of comfort to offer those who sit on this side of the House. In this matter a Conservative Prime Minister will be at a distinct advantage. 1068 We all know that Socialists, young and middle-aged, as they advance in years quite often become Conservatives in fact, if not in name. But conversion the other way round? How many middle-aged Conservatives can your Lordships think of who have become Socialists? My noble friends may rest assured that the passage of time and the growth of experience will always add to our numbers.
As I observed earlier, the most important reason for giving the White Paper a trial is that the reform will provide an opportunity to discuss and to modify in one way or another the powers and duties of this House. It is quite true that the Bill will not define any extension to our present duties and will only contain, I suppose, the change in the delaying power. We have therefore to be content with paragraph 70 and Appendix II of the White Paper; and that is something which any old Parliamentarian knows is very inferior to a section inserted in an Act of Parliament. It is, of course, very unsatisfactory. The sensible, accepted procedure when redesigning a building or an institution is first to determine what the change of function is going to be and then to send for the architect. We cannot do this with your Lordships' House. The Commons, and I think the people at large, wish to see the composition of this House reformed before any changes in our functions are decided, other than the delaying power.
We then come to the test of whether we are pessimists or optimists about the future of British democracy. If we think that the power of the Executive must inevitably go on increasing and that the accountability of the Executive to Parliament and to the people must inevitably grow less and less, then we are moving towards a breakdown in our traditional way of governing ourselves and there is nothing your Lordships can do about it. But I do not hold that view. I remember that when it was suggested that the Board of Trade should build advance factories in development areas, opposition was raised by those who foresaw costly buildings standing empty because no one wanted to put any work in them. Much better, they said, either to make a firm bargain with a prospective tenant or not to build at all. That advice sounded 1069 like common sense, but in fact it was not. Advance factories proved a success, but it needed quite a lot of faith and courage to spend all that money with no occupiers in sight.
In the same way, in reforming the composition of your Lordships' House without really knowing what our powers are going to he, we also need faith and courage. We could easily lose heart at the prospect of such an upheaval with no certainty of adequate work being given to us. If I were afraid of the House of Commons, if I had such a low opinion of them that I thought they would never put our democratic institutions into better order, I should not bother to vote on this White Paper. But I have faith that, if the reform of the composition of your Lordships' House is made with broad agreement, the work will come and we shall see life and prestige returning to both Houses of Parliament. In that belief, I shall vote for the White Paper.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ LORD BYERS
My Lords, I must apologise to your Lordships for not being in my place for the first two days of this debate because I was overseas. However, through reading the Press and the OFFICIAL REPORT I have been able to follow and understand the many interesting contributions that have been made in the course of this very long discussion. Much of the public comment on the proposals in the White Paper have been unfavourable. As a member of the Inter-Party Conference I regret this, because I believe the proposals are workmanlike and can be made a success. But it is obvious that no practical alternatives, other than abolition or retaining the status quo, have been put forward with any confidence from any quarter.
I believe that one of the major problems of House of Lords reform stems from the widespread ignorance of what it does in fact achieve in its present condition. I say without hesitation that few members of the public or of another place really understand or appreciate the dedicated work which goes on in this House in the national interest. Having been in both Houses for some time, I realise how important a complement to the other place this House must be in the future. Like the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, I see the reform of this
1070 House being the prelude to reform of the House of Commons. I see it as the beginning of a new era of both Houses working more closely together to share the legislative load and to improve the quality of legislation and public debate.
I became intimately involved with this subject in 1948 when, as Chief Whip of the Liberal Party in another place, I was closely involved with the late Mr. Clement Davies and the late Lord Samuel who were our representatives on the Inter-Party Conference at that time. I do not think people to-day realise how close we were in 1948 to reaching all-Party agreement. Agreement was reached on composition and functions but, unfortunately and regrettably, the talks broke down on the delaying power —in fact only three months, as I recall, separated the Parties at that time and we might yet have gone forward with some form of reform. The points of agreement in 1948 were interesting. For instance, it was agreed that the Second Chamber should be complementary to, and not a rival of, the Lower Home. It was therefore agreed in 1948 that the reform of the House of Lords should be based on a modification of the existing Constitution as opposed to the establishment of a Second Chamber of a completely new type based on some system of election. Election was ruled cut in 1948.
The second point which was made was that,the revised constitution of the House of Lords should be such, as far as practicable, that a permanent majority is not assured for any one political Party.The third point agreed in 1948 was that,the right to attend and vote based solely on heredity should not, by itself, constitute a qualification for admission to a reformed Second Chamber.There were a number of other points, some of which are included in the present proposals. Those of us who were involved in the recent inter-Party discussions started with a number of assumptions or prejudicies. Some of us, myself included, changed our minds and attitudes as we thought more deeply about the subject and researched into the problem. I should like to mention a few of these points.
1071 I have been impressed with the demand in my own Party for an elected Second Chamber, so I looked at the matter afresh, bearing in mind what we agreed in 1948. There are several objections. For instance, we have no fair system of electing a House of Commons. In my view there would be a less fair representation in the Lords if we used the present electoral system which we use for the Commons. The least that would be required, if we are to have any semblance of fairness at all, would be proportional representation in the large towns and the alternative vote in the scattered county seats.
I was very interested in the proposal made by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne. This is an interesting proposal. He wants a system of election which will guarantee to produce in this House a minority for the Government. It is a proposal worth examining, but I do not know how you would set about it. But I can tell the noble and learned Viscount that nobody has better experience of electoral systems which produce minorities than the Liberal Party. If he wants any help we are at his disposal.
But what would be the result of having an elected Second Chamber? It is bound to be a rival to the Lower House. I admit that it might even come to be superior to the Lower House. This surely would be quite monstrous. The power would be transferred to the Upper Chamber and the Commons would become second-class citizens. I do not rule out some form of election for part of the House to accommodate regional representaives, but total election means, I think, the death knell of the power of the Commons, in addition to the difficulty of maintaining in this House the vital independence of Members of the Lords.
The next point which has been raised by many speakers is the nominated nature of the House. Nomination is hated by The Times, it is hated by the Left-Wing of the Labour Party, and it has caused a great deal of misgiving in some sections of the Liberal Party. But if election is ruled out, then some form of nomination is surely the only practical alternative. I believe that the system which is now 1072 proposed provides better safeguards, perhaps, than we have at the moment. First, a voting Peer will have the freehold of his voting status for life, provided that he fulfils the attendance qualification.
§ LORD BYERS
I am sorry, my Lords; I meant until retirement. I really was not looking that far forward. I have just returned from Israel, where I discovered that all their Army officers retire at 40, even the Generals. So I have an entirely different view of what constitutes a proper retirement age.
In addition, there will be a review committee charged, among other things, with reporting publicly on imbalances or on unfairnesses, and I believe that this is important. We in the Liberal Party suffered quite considerably from the moment the Life Peerages Act came in. We were totally unable to get from Mr. Harold Macmillan or the Conservative Party any nominations to Life Peerages. It was only when the Labour Government came in that this was rectified. I would hope that such a situation could not recur if there was a review committee, which could call attention to the imbalance as a result of a Party with between 2 million and 3 million votes in the country not getting any representation whatsoever from a Conservative Prime Minister.
The other major criticism, perhaps, is of the proposal of the two-tier system. I saw nothing at all sinister in this when we were looking at it in depth. To me it is absolutely essential to preserve as Members of this House eminent people who cannot attend regularly, but whose contribution to debate, particularly specialist debates, is of paramount importance, and I think this is the right way to accommodate them. Of course, the scheme will not be accepted by anyone without some reservations. I have reservations about the refusal to allow Peers to vote in Select Committees and so on, and I think this is something which ought to be discussed by the House at large in the different stages of the Bill. But I think the scheme is a workmanlike attempt to improve the working of the Parliamentary machine as a whole, and this is where I so heartily agree with what the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, has said. I believe it can be seen as an interim measure until regional 1073 government is established on a proper basis. At that point there will be a case for re-examining it, but in the meantime I say: Let us put the scheme into operation.
To me, my Lords, the logic of the matter is this. An elected Chamber would be a rival to the Commons and even, in time, might dominate it. The hereditary basis of membership is largely agreed to be unsatisfactory, and has been agreed to be unsatisfactory for over twenty years, in which case there must he some form of nomination. I doubt whether anything much better than nomination by the Prime Minister of the day, within agreed conventions and with the safeguard of a review committee, can be found. I believe it is essential to have a two-tier system which protects the people in this House who have a real contribution to make, but who cannot fulfil the attendance qualification.
So far as powers are concerned, I have had the feeling throughout my time in this House that we really have very little power under the present Constitution. I would much prefer to have some delaying capacity which could be used infrequently, and to know that when it was used it would not he the subject of resentment by the Government of the day or cause a constitutional crisis.
Finally, my Lords, on the point of timing I would make a special plea here that we should stick to the proposal to enact legislation as soon as possible, and to carry out the reform in the lifetime of this Parliament. This House has been working well since the last Election. There will be a considerable need for "give and take" in getting the new House into working order, and I am quite convinced that it can be done far better in this Parliament. T hope, therefore, that these proposals in the White Paper will be fully supported by your Lordships, and that by the end of this Parliament we shall have them working in a common-sense way.
§ 5.16 p.m.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
My Lords, I suppose we have had, without question, the longest debate with the most speakers that I can ever remember in a fairly long experience of this House. It is not surprising, because we are debating a subject which affects all of us; and it is not surprising that there should have been 1074 so many differences of opinion and misgivings expressed on this White Paper. As your Lordships may know, those who sit on this side of the House have no Party Whip, and there is no direction upon them by the Leaders of the Conservative Party to vote in one way rather than the other on the White Paper.
My noble friend Lord Mansfield yesterday said that I was an "ignis fatuus" —and before I finish the quotation, I may say. for the benefit of those of your Lordships who were not educated at Winchester, that an "ignis fatuus" is an idiotic or insipid light. He said that I was,An ignis Palms that bewitches. And leads Peers into pools and ditches".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20/11/68, col. 974.]
I have absolutely no wish to lead anybody anywhere, least of all into my noble friend's late 18th century last ditch. It seems to me right that on a matter of this kind, which affects every Member personally but which is also a matter of great constitutional importance, no Party pressure should be put on any member of my Party to vote other than in the way he conscientiously feels he should.
Though I have not listened to all this debate—it would have been physically impossible to do so—I have listened to a very great many speeches; and I know that many of those who have spoken against the White Paper speak not only with great sincerity, but with a great knowledge of this House. I hope they will feel that I, who disagree with them, speak with as much sincerity and with as great a respect for this House in which I have sat and taken some little part since 1945.
As your Lordships may know, my noble friend Lord Jellicoe and I were members of the Inter-Party Conference which, over a number of months. discussed the reform of this House. The proposals which are now before us are, with one single exception, the proposals on which we had reached agreement and which were to be presented to our Parties. It follows from that that I am in broad agreement with them. However, at the risk of delaying your Lordships for not very long, I should like to say one or two things about how I personally came to these conclusions.
I am a believer, as I imagine are most of your Lordships, in a bicameral system. I do not think it is a good thing or a wise 1075 thing that total power should reside in one House, and over the last decade or so the power of the Executive has been getting stronger and stronger, while the independence from it of the House of Commons has been getting less and less. I hope that it will not be considered a criticism of the other place, or, rather, of the individuals who sit there, when I say that I think it is very unlikely, save in the most exceptional circumstances, that the Government of the day is in future likely to be defeated on the Floor of that House. This gives the Executive almost unlimited power for the five years of its election—not, I think, the intention of those generations who framed our unwritten Constitution. Ever since 1911 the House of Lords has been increasingly incapable of acting as a constitutional safeguard against the domination by the Executive of the House of Commons.
My Lords, I have on many occasions before outlined to your Lordships what I believe the role of a Second Chamber to be: revision of legislation; a forum with expert membership to debate the great issues of the day; and a check on the House of Commons by making it necessary, by delaying legislation, for second thoughts to be had and to give time for public opinion to form. It is in this third role that this House has not, in my view, been fulfilling its function. It seems to me that there are two reasons for this: first, because the composition of the House is still largely hereditary; and, secondly, because that hereditary element is largely Conservative and gives the Conservative Party a permanent majority in this House.
Now I have nothing whatever against the hereditary system; and it would be odd indeed if I had since I am an hereditary Peer. Indeed, I would go further than that and say that I think the mixture of Life Peers and hereditary Peers which form your Lordships' House makes an admirable assembly; and it works well. There are positive advantages in the hereditary system. Those of us who sit here because our fathers and grandfathers did before us are beholden to nobody for our seat; we are answerable to nobody for what we do or what we say; and if we displease our political superiors they have no remedy save to remove the Party Whip from us—a 1076 punishment which might perhaps sadden us but would not, I think, totally crush us. Nobody has chosen us for our merit, because nobody has chosen us. We are here with no axe to grind; and I hope it would not be too presumptuous of me to say that there are a very large number of hereditary Peers who come to this House out of a sense of inherited duty and obligation, and not for what they expect to get out of it. I do not think that any reformed House, whether it be elected or nominated, will be any better in composition than is the present one.
My Lords, I should be happy to see the continuation of the hereditary system were it not for one thing—and it is, of course, the most important thing. It is that heredity as a basis for sitting in one of the two legislative Houses in this country is no longer acceptable to the broad mass of the people. Though the hereditary element may be composed of admirable people, most of our fellow-countrymen do not see why we should be put in the special position of being able to reverse or delay legislation from the elected House. Some months ago your Lordships decided by a small majority to reject an Order on Rhodesia which was introduced by the Government. We may have been right or we may have been wrong—there were powerful arguments on both sides—but in no comment, either in the newspapers or on the radio, on the television or in private conversation, did I ever hear any discussion of the merits of that decision. The debate centred entirely upon whether or not the unelected hereditary Chamber was entitled to reject legislation which had been passed by the elected Chamber.
On every occasion in the life of this Labour Government when it has seemed possible that we, as Conservatives opposed to a Socialist measure, might throw it out, there has been an immediate talk of a constitutional crisis, of the abolition of the House of Lords for daring to defy the Government, and of a General Election if at that particular time the Labour Party seemed to be ahead in the Gallup Poll. As a result, not only has the House not fulfilled its third function, but its reputation has been weakened by its seeming impotence to use its powers, or to be prepared to use its powers. The moderate way in which, as I hope noble Lords opposite will agree, the Opposition 1077 has behaved in the last four years has, paradoxically, called into question the purpose of a Second Chamber, for its Conservative critics say, "How useless—a House which refuses to use its powers!"; its Socialist critics say, "How monstrous that these powers exist and could be used by Tory Peers!"; and the outside world, uninitiated in the complex conventions which have grown up in this House in order that government may be continued, are baffled both by our restraint and by our powers. As a result, the House loses in reputation and prestige.
My Lords, like it or not, most people in this country do not believe that in 1968 a man should sit in the Second Chamber because his father did; nor do they think it fair that one Party should have a permanent majority over the other—and I am bound to say that I find it impossible not to agree with them. I therefore some considerable time ago—long before the Inter-Party Conference—came to the conclusion, as I am sure did many of your Lordships on all sides of the House, that some reform was essential, and that it was essential that the composition of this House be made acceptable to the people of this country.
So far as I can judge, there are only three ways in which this House can be chosen. You can do it, as now, by heredity, which I discard—sadly, but I discard it—for the reasons which I have advanced. Or you can elect it; and I suppose that might very well be the most sensible thing to do, though I think it would bring with it numerous difficulties. Many of your Lordships have said—and I agree with them——that no-one can really suppose that the House of Commons would consider for one moment a House of Lords which would be a rival to them and which inevitably, if it were elected, would ask for more power and more say in Parliamentary affairs. I must say that I thought that, in his very interesting speech, my noble and learned friend Lord Dilhorne was much too optimistic on this point. There would be few Members of Parliament of any Party who would consider an elected House of Lords; and we must, above all things, be practical in what we seek to achieve.
So we are left with the third alternative, of nomination. My Lords, of 1078 course it has its drawbacks. Attention has been drawn to them over these past three days. So far as I am concerned, it would be quite unacceptable if the nomination were not for life. Any lesser period would mean a House of place-men responsible to and compliant with the man 'who nominated them. There have been criticisms about nominated Peers in this House, but I do not think that anybody who has sat in this House would venture the opinion that Life Peers have been easily manageable by their Whips. Indeed, I suspect that some nominated Peers who have come from another place and who have been staunch Party followers may even have surprised themselves by their independence. I also feel bound to say, having listened to and read something of what was said in another place about created Peers, that any impartial observer might very well think that the nominated Peers and Peers of the first creation in this House are not noticeably less independent or less responsible or less distinguished than those who make up the membership of another place.
My Lords, of course nomination entails patronage; but not nearly so much, I think, as some of its critics have advanced. The patronage of the Prime Minister is at the moment unlimited. Under this scheme, if the conventions are followed he would be restricted to a 10 per cent. majority over the other political Parties. Certainly I think that my noble friend and I came to the conclusion that the only possible alternative to the r resent scheme was nomination. I acknowledge, too, that at first sight the scheme appears rather complicated, and there are no doubt certain aspects of it which all of us will have to go into in very much greater detail if a Bill is produced. For example, there has been criticism of the proposal to allow the Government an overall majority over the other political Parties.
But how else will you do it? It would surely be absurd to give a majority to the Government over the whole House, since you would thereby only be creating a replica of the House of Commons. With great respect to my noble and learned friend Lord Dilhorne, it would seem to be equally foolish to give the Opposition Parties a majority, since all you would be doing would be organising for future 1079 frustration. To arrange things so that if the Opposition Parties and the Cross-Benchers are all united they can and would defeat the Government, seems to me a compromise which is not unreasonable and which would I think, if it had been in operation in this House in the last four or five years, have had interesting results. Would the War Damage Act dealing with Burmah Oil have got through this House? Stansted certainly would not have. Would the Asians from Kenya have been allowed to come? Would the London Government Act, which postponed the election for a year, have got through? I wonder. I certainly do not accept the interpretation which has been put upon the words of the Attorney General and the Home Secretary about the attitude to Cross-Bench Peers. If these two right honourable gentlemen mean that if Cross-Bench Peers vote according to their consciences and by doing so defeat the Government they will be decapitated—and I hope that the Government do not mean that—I certainly would not be prepared to support this scheme when it is brought before your Lordships for Second Reading.
My Lords, no composition, good or bad, is of any significance unless the House is given adequate powers; and the proposals in the White Paper seem to me a not unhappy compromise. They enable the Government to say that they have reduced the delaying powers of the House of Lords from one year to six months. I have absolutely no objection to their saying that, since in fact they leave the powers of this House almost exactly as they are at the present time. I think that those of your Lordships who have criticised this scheme because these powers have been reduced are wrong. One year from the Second Reading in the House of Commons is much the same thing as six months from the point of disagreement in this House. For a Bill which takes a long time to go through the Commons the delaying power will he greater; for a short Bill it would probably be less. But it is, in my view, a sufficiently long period for the House to be able to disrupt the Government's time-table and to afford an opportunity for reflection.
I must say—and here I agree with much of what has been said over the last few days—that I am much less happy about 1080 the powers of the reformed House on subordinate legislation. This proved to be, as the noble Lord the Leader of the House knows, a very difficult problem; and since a great deal of subordinate legislation is urgent there must be a real effort to find some means of ensuring that the House of Lords is not circumvented by an unscrupulous Government using subordinate legislation when they should be legislating by a Public Bill. This is a matter which we must go into in great detail and certainly we on this side of the House shall insist on that.
My Lords, I said that there was one matter on which we in the Conference were not agreed. We cannot accept that this change should take place until after the next General Election. We believe that a change of this magnitude made in the dying days of a Parliament would not be right, and I hope that noble Lords opposite will see the force of this argument and will be prepared to pass the legislation but to postpone its operation until after the next Election. I must tell noble Lords opposite that we certainly attach great importance to this.
Of course, there are many other matters about which your Lordships have doubts. There is the question of the Watchdog Committee. I confess to having doubts about that myself. There is the problem of getting young people in the House, to which the most reverend Primate has referred. I think there are ways to do that, but that will to a large extent depend upon the Prime Minister of the day. There is the possibility of a two-Writ system. I agree with what was said by my noble friend Lord St. Aldwyn about that. There is the question of speaking Peers being able to vote on committees of which they are members. There are all sorts of problems that I hope we shall have the opportunity of discussing later on.
The future of this House has been in dispute for about sixty years. At various times agreement has been sought between the two Parties but no agreement has ever been found. Indeed, it has been very difficult to find any two individuals who agree about what should be done. What started out, as your Lordships will remember, as a matter so urgent that it brooked no delay became just another unsolved problem. Now, partly by chance, I think, as a result of the Inter-Party 1081 Conference, a measure of agreement has been reached between certain members of the three major Parties. It is, of course, apparent in the debates here and in the other place that on both sides there are misgivings and hesitations. On one side it was said that the House will not be able to use its powers, that it will consist of placemen; and on the other side that it will have too much power or that there should be no Second Chamber at all.
From the point of view of the Conservative Party—and I am speaking only for myself—it seems to me that a fundamental step forward has been taken. The Labour Party, for the first time, are on record as saying that they believe in a two-Chamber system and that they believe in a Second Chamber which has considerable power and which can use it. We for our part acknowledge that, whatever its virtues may be, it is no longer possible in 1968 to defend a system whereby membership of this House is based on the hereditary principle or a composition which gives the Conservative Party a permanent majority. I must honestly say that I find it encouraging and in many ways rather remarkable, that the Inter-Party Conference agreed on these proposals; for agreement should be for all of us who sit in this House and who are interested in the Constitution a great prize. We never looked like getting it in the past. A unilateral change by one or the other Party, as my noble friend Lord Eccles has said, would mean that this House would become a political shuttlecock and would consequently lose its character, its importance and its value.
Until a few years ago such an agreement would have been impossible, and it may be that in a few months' or a few years' time it may once again be out of reach. Not one of your Lordships in this House or anybody in another place has, to my knowledge, suggested an alternative scheme—much less any scheme proposed which is supported by any two of your Lordships or any two Members of another place. What are the critics proposing? I heard, or read, in the debate in another place no constructive proposals. Some said that they wanted to abolish the House of Lords; some wanted to leave the House as it is because they thought it worked satisfactorily; others wanted to keep it because it does not 1082 work. Still another section felt that no Second Chamber could work, so that this one might as well be left as, it is. I do not think that. I am an optimist like my noble friend Lord Eccles. I believe in bicameral Government. I want to see a check on the Executive. I do not believe that the Executive should dominate the Commons and that the Commons should be totally and absolutely powerful without any Second Chamber to moderate its opinion or to make it think again.
My Lords, there will be a number of your Lordships, I know, who will vote against this scheme, who will seek to reject it. But what do they wish to see? Do they wish to see the retention of the present House with its known and acknowledged drawbacks? Is it possible, after what has happened, that it can be retained? Are not the Government committed to making some legislative change? So far as I am concerned, it is not possible this evening for me to vote as to whether or not I should like the Reuse of Lords to remain as it is, because I do not think that it should and I do not think that anybody who really believes in bicameral Government should think so either. It is not enough to reject the scheme; it is necessary to say what you should do to reform the House.
As I say, I believe that, on the whole, this is a good scheme. I think it will work, because we have a way of making what to the outsiders may seem a curious compromise work. In my view the House will be a stronger House. It will rot consist of placemen. How many of your Lordships who are nominated consider yourselves as placemen? It will be more powerful because it will have more power not because it will have more powers but because it will have the ability and the authority to use them; and it will have the backing of the Leaders of the three main Parties.
My Lords, I should be most unwilling to throw away the prize of an agreement unless I had something better to put in its place. Your Lordships are not being asked to underwrite every word of the White Paper, or to agree with every line or comma. We are asked, as I understand it, broadly to accept these proposals. No doubt, if a Bill is introduced it will he the subject of much discussion: many Amendments will be proposed, and there will be plenty of time for that, 1083 But this evening I shall vote for these proposals because I believe in reform. I believe in a Second House and I believe that these proposals are workable and fair; and I must say that I hope there will be enough of your Lordships who agree with me to carry this Motion by a big majority.
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, in the course of this very lengthy debate so many of your Lordships have found that everything you had intended to say had already been said, and have cast your speeches aside, that I hope you will accept that I am following a good example in this matter; because after the last three speeches there is little more that can be added to the case for the approval of this White Paper.
It is of course my first duty to congratulate the three noble Lords who made their maiden speeches: the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, and the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie. I think they can be satisfied, not only with their own performances but with the fact that they have taken part in a debate which has certainly been one of the most momentous that your Lordships' House has ever had. It has been momentous because, unlike so many of the great debates of the past in which the House of Lords has been engaged in acute constitutional issues, or on similar occasions, there has been a measure of unanimity and a measure of genuine understanding which has made it a very agreeable debate; and, if I may say so, an extremely constructive debate.
Many of your Lordships made points of the very greatest interest. It will not be possible for me to answer these in the course of a winding-up speech which I hope will be a very short one, but I would say to any noble Lord who has made a suggestion that it will be very carefully considered by the Government and, if necessary, there will be further consultations. At the same time, it seems to me that the main body of the proposals has come through this debate, I will not say unscathed, but pretty largely intact.
It is clear, and it has been clear to those of us who have worked on them, 1084 that the proposals are difficult for people to understand on a first reading. There seems always to be a view that anything good in life must be simple. On the whole we support our British form of Parliamentary democracy and nobody could call that anything but simple. We are now attempting to graft on to that ancient growth, the House of Lords, some mutations and variations of a kind which need the most subtle adjustment in order to make them fit on to the existing plant. That is why, inevitably, this scheme has had to be rather complex. I would not describe it simply as a package of proposals in the sense that it is a compromise package, although there are considerable areas of compromise. It is in fact a composite organic whole designed to provide the right sort of interfaces with the existing institution.
I listened to your Lordships debating at all hours of the day and night. I should like to pay tribute to the vitality of some noble Lords who were still determinedly and eloquently delivering their speeches around midnight and afterwards. It was a pity that there were not more of your Lordships present in the Chamber to listen to them. As I listened, I found myself giving marks for understanding. It was very clear to me that the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, got an alpha straight away. He not only understood the programme, but he gets an alpha plus for supporting it. Your Lordships will not be surprised when I say that those who, I think, understood it best are those with whom I happen to agree. This is perhaps a prejudice on the part of any examiner. But I must say to the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, that I am afraid he will have to sit his examination again. I must say, also, that certain noble Lords had grasped the essential outline but had none the less misconceived the purposes of certain of the proposals, and I should like to deal rather briefly with certain matters that caused concern.
My Lords, one area of concern was the two-tier system, the "fivepenny" and "fourpenny" Peers to which the noble Baroness, Lady Asquith of Yarnbury, referred. Of course,the proposal for a two-tier system is not new. It was proposed a very long time ago. King 1085 Edward VII proposed that there should be 50 Liberal voting Peers and 50 Conservative voting Peers at the time of the crisis in which the father of the noble Baroness played such a distinguished part. Actually we did not have a two-tier post then, but I Go not remember hearing it condemned in that sort of way. I want to say to the noble Baroness and to other Members of your Lordships' House, that the purpose of the two-tier system is not to create first-class and second-class citizens. It is intended to preserve to a non-elected House the services of people who cannot give their full time, or give adequate time to the very onerous tasks that this House is going to have to take on; and, above all, to preserve for us those who pass the age of retirement.
May I say something about the age of retirement. It is true, my Lords, that there is no age of retirement in the House of Commons, but the decision whether or not a Member of Parliament continues to sit there rests with the electors. We have carefully ensured in this scheme that anybody who is created a Peer is answerable only to himself. No Whip, no Prime Minister, no authority anywhere can tell him how he shall vote or what are his duties. He will, in fact, be there with a freehold which extends either until his death or until the age of retirement. Furthermore, if there is payment (this is by no means settled yet; the details have yet to be considered by a Committee) it would be quite impossible to consider paying a Peer up until any age, or indeed until his death.
There is a third reason, and I say this quite seriously to noble Lords. Anyone who has had experience of management or personnel work knows that the time comes when able men have to give way, possibly at the height of their powers, in order to make room for others. This is the purpose. My Lords, it is also an essential part of the scheme that there should be a retirement age in order that the composition of the House can vary as necessary according to changes in the Government.
There has been some reference to the mathematical studies that were carried out. Those studies indicated that, if the wrong age was chosen, the numbers of voting Peers in your Lordships' House would go right through the roof. In those studies 1086 we examined a number of variables and considered such ages as 80, 75 and 72; and 72 was indicated by those studies. It is arranged that retirement will take place at the end of a Parliament, not at the time the individual Peer reaches the agreed age. The purpose of this is to "bunch" these retirements so that, in the event of a change of Government, the Lumbers can be adjusted without too great difficulty. If the noble and learned Viscount is concerned about this, I am prepared to give him a tutorial on this one also.
I hope your Lordships will accept that this is not an anti-age measure. Anyone who is a Member of your Lordships' House cannot fail to be impressed by the quality and the youth of some of our older Members. When I first cane into your Lordships' House, there were men like Lord Beveridge, who sat on the Liberal Benches, Lord Pethick-Lawrence and Lord Samuel—men with the most beautiful and lucid minds, and a clarity and gentleness of thinking that could not fail to impress. It was in order to preserve those who are their successors today as much as for any other reason (and may I say to the noble Lord, Lord Conesford that he is one of the Members of your Lordships' House t wish to preserve) that we adopted the two-tier system. I hope that this will be understood and that there will be less talk about a division into first-class and second-class Peers. This is deliberately planned in order to ensure uniquely, and, if I may say so, adventurously, that we preserve those who in any similar Second Chamber would inevitably be lost to us.
May I also say something about the attendance requirement? It has been suggested that the attendance re quirement of 33⅓ per cent. is either too high or too low, and, furthermore, that it would be wrong to pay Peers a considerable salary (I still do not know what it will be) for attending for such a short part of the time. It was the noble Viscount, Lord Younger of Leckie, who last night raised particularly the question of how the House of Lords, in its reformed version, could hope to carry out the extra duties which we visualise for it, if Members were expected to turn up for only 33⅓ per cent. of the time. It is quite clear that if we are to fulfil the much greater duties which 1087 it is the purpose of this reform to impose on us—the extra Committee work and the strengthening of the scrutinising powers as a check on the Executive—it will be necessary for voting Peers to put in a great deal more time than even many of the most regular attenders today are able to do. This must be inherent in what I may call the contract, the declaration of intention, of any Peer who undertakes these duties.
The 33⅓ per cent. requirement is in this scheme for one purpose only. It is to provide an automatic drop-out to the Peer who for some reason or other totally fails to turn up. We rejected the idea that the Prime Minister, or the Party managers, or anyone else, should be in a position to say to a Peer, "You are not doing your job; you will lose your voting rights". It might well be that a Peer who failed to perform his duties might be pressed by his colleagues to give away his voting rights and allow somebody else to take his place, while he could carry on as a speaking Peer. But we felt it necessary to establish some criterion in order to establish the viability of the two-tier system. If we do not have this, then I would say that there is no case for a two-tier system at all. In that event it would be better to abandon it. But it would mean that we should have to have an age of retirement for all Members of the House. Therefore I ask your Lordships to consider the arguments, admittedly complicated, behind this particular proposal.
I was asked some questions about my attitude to the hereditary Peerage. The noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, asked the reason for recommendation 5(a), that the hereditary basis of the House should he eliminated. Answers have already been given to this. I have to be careful in choosing my words here; I do not wish to give offence. On the other hand, I am bound to say that, like so many people, I do not regard the hereditary basis of this House as justifiable. We have had some interesting arguments and I was particularly charmed by the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Denham, and of the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe.
The noble Lord, Lord Denham, put forward a powerful case on the ground of family tradition. I acknowledge the strength of family tradition, but I can 1088 not accept it as a rational basis in a democracy for establishing who the Members of Parliament should be. The noble Lords further argued that membership of this House provided a means of bringing "ordinary blokes" into Parliament. I suspect that hereditary Peers who believe this—and I do not think that all hereditary Peers believe this—are doing discredit to themselves. I do not believe that as a rule the general public regard them as "ordinary blokes"; and even if we do have the unique distinction—and we appreciate his presence—of having a noble Lord who was recently a bus driver, I still think that in certain respects he must have been regarded as a slightly unusual bus driver.
The real argument against the hereditary principle in this House is the degree of privilege that goes with it. I do not wish to press this point further. We shall have an opportunity to discuss it later when we come to the Bill. I know that the noble Lords concerned are well aware that I personally have an affection for them, and it is one of the difficulties that at times confuse our debates that we tend to have a rather better regard for one another than some Members of another place do. Nevertheless, there are principles to which a number of us are as strongly devoted as noble Lords opposite. I would ask them to consider that this is an ancient controversy. In 1636 two Members of your Lordships' House made certain proposals to the Colony of Massachusetts as conditions of their removing to New England. One of these conditions provided for an hereditary Upper Chamber. The New Englanders replied to the noble Lords:Hereditary honours both nature and Scripture doth acknowledge, but hereditary authority and power standeth only by the civil laws of some commonwealth.That may have been a "dusty answer" to your Lordships in those days, but I hope that the answer I have given is not too dusty, bearing in mind that there will be ample opportunity to noble Lords to move Amendments at a later stage.
So many questions of importance have been asked that it would be inappropriate for me now to attempt to answer them. I am bound, though, to deal with one point which the noble Viscount. Lord De L'Isle, asked, because lie said that 1089 it would determine his vote tonight. He asked, in effect, whether I could give a guarantee that the Government would regard this as the final, or indeed definitive reform of the House of Lords. I can only say that I personally hope that this reform will stand, will work and will remain as a feature of our Parliamentary institutions for many years. But it would be quite wrong, and indeed impossible, for me to bind any future Government. It would be impossible for me to bind any future membership of Parliament; and, indeed, it would be impossible, also, to foresee what the Commission on the Constitution will recommend. Therefore, I am sorry, but I must honestly tell the noble Viscount that all I can say is that I hope this proposed reform will be a great, enduring and indeed permanent (so far as institutions are permanent) success.
The noble Viscount also asked that Government should stop "blackmailing" the House of Lords. I find it difficult to understand quite what he means by that. It is always possible, in the interplay of Party political warfare, that one side or another may threaten the other. But what I am saying to-day is that the proposals that we now put forward we put forward on their merits. We put them forward because we believe that they will add substantially to the effectiveness of your Lordships' House and to the strengthening of Parliament.
Any of your Lordships who has been a Minister in recent years knows the extraordinary difficulty of informing Parliament of the considerations that determine policy. It cannot be done simply by debates: there has to be a good deal more work and detailed scrutiny. It is because government gets more and more complicated, and stretches its tentacles inevitably more and more into all aspects of our national life, that I believe it is essential that Parliament should be strengthened. To those who are critics of these proposals, and to the noble Marquess, I must say with all sincerity that this is the main purpose behind this reform.
I hope that your Lordships will now be able to come to a decision on the broad principles. There are reservations, I know, in a number of minds; and the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, in par- 1090 ticular, reserved his position on the date on which this reform should come into effect. This, again, is something that we shall have an opportunity to discuss. I am bound to say that I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Molson, that if this reform is approved it will be in the interests of your Lordships' House to bring it into force at the earliest possible date. But I am not pressing this now. To-day we are taking a broad decision, and I hope that the work of my colleagues on this Inter-Party Conference will not prove abortive. I am deeply grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Byers, and the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, who were my colleagues in a sub-committee. We had anything between 40 and 50 meetings; so no wonder, perhaps the proposals are a little complicated!
My Lords, I would end by expressing my thanks to a number of noble Lords who were good enough to pay tribute, not only to my colleagues but also 10 myself as Leader of your Lordships' House. It is a great honour to lead the House of Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and my noble friend Lord Longford (and, as we know, he is the father of these proposals) will know. I find it a very enjoyable, at times wearing, but certainly valuable experience to lead the House of Lords. It is because I believe that we can perform our duties even better and more effectively that I am now so convinced that this particular reform will serve the House of Lords well.
§ THE EARL OF PERTH
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him a question about Scottish Bills? Do the Government recognise that these are a special problem and will need special treatment?
§ LORD SHACKLETON
I am grateful to the noble Earl. Anxious about the length of my speech, I failed to mention —not out of Sassenach indifference—the important question of the interest of Scotland. This applies also to Wales and Northern Ireland, although I appreciate that Scotland is in a special constitutional and legal position. I would only say that in our Committee we have given anxious study to this matter, and I have no doubt that in the reformed House special provision will have to be made. 1091 So far as the Government are concerned (and I apologise, also, for not referring to the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Dundee), we should be anxious to discuss any arrangements which provide properly for the discharge of Scottish business. But I think it is difficult to be
§ specific about it now. There will be opportunities at a later stage.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Motion shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents. 251; Not-Contents, 56.1093
|Aberdare, L.||Cromartie, E.||Hylton-Foster, Bs.|
|Abinger, L.||Crook, L.||Iddesleigh, E.|
|Addison, V.||Crowther, L.||Ilford, L.|
|Albemarle, E.||De La Warr, E.||Inchyra, L.|
|Aldington, L.||De L'Isle, V.||Ingleby, V.|
|Alport, L.||Delacourt-Smith, L.||Inglewood, L.|
|Amherst of Hackney, L.||Denham, L.||Ironside, L.|
|Amory, L.||Derwent, L.||Jackson of Burnely, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Jacques, L.|
|Amulree, L.||Douglass of Cleveland, L.||Jellicoe, E.|
|Annan, L.||Drumalbyn, L.||Jessel, E.|
|Arwyn, L.||Dundee, E.||Kahn, L.|
|Ashbourne, L.||Dunrossil, V.||Kennet, L.|
|Ashton of Hyde, L.||Ebbisham, L.||Killearn, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Eccles, V.||Kinloss, Ly.|
|Audley, Bs.||Elliot of Harwood, Bs.||Kirkwood, L.|
|Balerno, L.||Emmet of Amberley, Bs.||Lansdowne, M.|
|Balfour of Inchrye, L.||Energlyn, L.||Leatherland, L.|
|Bathurst, E.||Enniskillen, E.||Leicester, L. Bp.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Essex, E.||Lindgren, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Evans of Hungershall, L.||Lindsey and Abingdon, E.|
|Berkeley, Bs.||Ferrers, E.||Listowel, E.|
|Bessborough, E.[Teller.]||Fiske, L.||Llewelyn-Davies, L.|
|Beswick, L.||Foot, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, Bs.|
|Bethell, L.||Fortescue, E.||Lloyd-George of Dwyfor, E.|
|Birk, Bs.||Francis-Williams, L.||Long, V.|
|Blackburn, L. Bp.||Fraser of Lonsdale, L.||Longford, E.|
|Blackford, L.||Freyberg, L.||Lothian, M.|
|Blyton, L.||Furness, V.||Loudoun, C.|
|Boothby, L.||Gage, V.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.|
|Boston, L.||Gardiner, (L. Chancellor.)||Lytton, E.|
|Bowden, L.||Garnsworthy, L.||McCorquodale of Newton, L.|
|Bowles, L. [Teller.]||Geddes of Epsom, L.||McLeavy, L.|
|Bradford, E.||Gisborough, L.||Mais, L.|
|Brecon, L.||Gladwyn, L.||Malmesbury, E.|
|Brooke of Cumnor, L.||Glasgow, E.||Mancroft, L.|
|Brooke of Ystradfellte, Bs.||Glendevon, L.||Mar, E.|
|Buckinghamshire, E.||Goschen, V.||Merrivale, L.|
|Buckton, L.||Gowrie, E.||Milford Haven, M.|
|Burden, L.||Granville of Eye, L.||Milner of Leeds, L.|
|Burton of Coventry, Bs.||Grenfell, L.||Mitchison, L.|
|Byers, L.||Gridley, L.||Molson, L.|
|Caccia, L.||Grimthorpe, L.||Montagu of Beaulieu, L.|
|Campbell of Eskan, L.||Hacking, L.||Moran, L.|
|Canterbury, L. Abp.||Hailes, L.||Morris of Grasmere, L.|
|Carnock, L.||Hall, V.||Morris of Kenwood, L.|
|Carrington, L.||Hankey, L.||Morrison, L.|
|Carron, L.||Hastings, L.||Mottistone, L.|
|Champion, L.||Hawke, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Chelmer, L.||Headfort, M.||Moyle, L.|
|Chester, L. Bp.||Helsby, L.||Napier and Ettrick, L.|
|Chichester, L. Bp.||Henley, L.||Nathan, L.|
|Clwyd, L.||Hertford, M.||Netherthorpe, L.|
|Cobbold, L. (L.Chamberlain.)||Heycock, L.||Noel-Buxton, L.|
|Collison, L.||Hill of Wivenhoe, L.||Norwich, L. Bp.|
|Colyton, L.||Hilton of Upton, L.||Nunburnholme, L.|
|Congleton, L.||Hindlip, L.||Oakshott, L.|
|Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.||Hirshfield, L.||Ogmore, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Holford, L.||Peddie, L.|
|Cottesloe, L.||Howe, E.||Pender, L.|
|Cranbrook, E.||Hughes, L.||Penrhyn, L.|
|Croft, L.||Hunt, L.||Perth, E.|
|Phillips, Bs.||St. Albans, L. Bp.||Strathcarron, L.|
|Piercy, L.||St. Aldwyn, E.||Summerskill, Bs.|
|Plummer, Bs.||St. Helens, L. St.||Swanborough, Bs.|
|Poole, L.||St. Just, L.||Swansea, L.|
|Popplewell, L.||Salter, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Portman, V.||Saltoun, L.||Thurlow, L.|
|Raglan, L.||Sandford, L.||Trevelyan, L.|
|Rankeillour, L.||Scarbrough, E.||Truro, L. Bp.|
|Rathcavan, L.||Serota, Bs.||Tweedsmuir, L.|
|Reading, M.||Shackleton, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Reay, L.||Shannon, E.||Wade, L.|
|Redcliffe-Maud, L.||Shepherd, L.||Walston, L.|
|Redesdale, L.||Sherfield, L.||Ward of Witley, V.|
|Ridley, V.||Silkin, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Ritchie-Calder, L.||Sorensen, L.||Williamson, L.|
|Rochdale, V.||Stamp, L.||Winterbottom, L.|
|Rochester, L.||Stonehaven, V.||Woolley, L.|
|Rothermere, V.||Stonham, L.||Wootton of Abinger, Bs|
|Royle, L.||Strabolgi, L.||Wright of Ashton under Lyne, L.|
|Runciman of Doxford, V.||Strad broke, E.|
|Ruthven of Freeland, Ly.||Strang, L.||Wynne-Jones, L.|
|Sainsbury, L.||Strange of Knokin, Bs.||Younger of Leckie, V.|
|Aberdeen and Temair, M.||Falkland, V.||Monckton of Brenchley, V.|
|Ailwyn, L.||Falmouth, V.||Monsell, V.|
|Airedale, L.||Ferrier, L.||Poltimore, L.|
|Allerton, L.||Foley, L.||Poulett, E.|
|Barnby, L.||Glendyne, L.||Ritchie of Dundee, L.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Grantchester, L.||St. Oswald, L.|
|Bledisloe, V.||Gray, L.||Salisbury, M.|
|Bourne, L.||Grimston of Westbury, L.||Sandys, L.|
|Braye, L.||Horsbrugh, Bs.||Silsoe, L.|
|Coleraine, L.||Howard of Glossop, L.||Simonds, V.|
|Conesford, L. [Teller.]||Kings Norton, L.||Sinclair of Cleeve, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||Kinnoull, E.||Spencer, E.|
|Craigmyle, L.||Lloyd, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Crawshaw, L.||Lovat, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Daventry, V.||MacAndrew, L.||Swinton, E.|
|Dilhorne, V. [Teller.]||Mansfield, E.||Terrington, L.|
|Dudley, L.||Margadale, L.||Wedgwood, L.|
|Effingham, E.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.||Wolverton, L.|
|Elton, L.||Milverton, L.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Motion agreed to accordingly.