§ 4.8 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD GARDINER)
My Lords, the last occasion on which I spoke in your Lordships' House on this subject was in November when the Motion approving the White Paper was carried by the massive vote of 251 to 56. I must admit that I little dreamt at that time of the course of events that has since followed. I do not think we should disguise from ourselves the fact that the Statement by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place on April 17 means that the Parliament (No. 2) Bill has, in effect, gone into a siding from which it is unlikely to emerge in this Session. Your Lordships will have noticed that my right honourable friend, at the conclusion of his Statement, promised another place that the House would be kept informed about the Government's further intentions in relation to the Bill. The noble Lord the Leader of the House repeated that pledge in this House. But it is not my wish to speak this afternoon about the future of the Bill. The House is well 1290 aware of the tradition of silence in relation to legislation for a coming Session. And yet the Parliament (No. 2) Bill is a good Bill. It was, of course, as the House knows, based on a consensus, by which I mean that both in the White Paper and in the Bill we adhered strictly to the proposals which had been hammered out in the Inter-Party Conference.
My Lords, given the fact that the White Paper stemmed from the inter-Party talks and that the proposals were the result, as the noble Lord, Lord Byers, has said, of a great deal of work an I also of give and take between those who took part at the Conference, I must confess that I am deeply sorry that the result did not appeal to many of our opposite numbers in another place. It is also a matter of regret to me that the Opposition Front Bench in another place did not do more to support the proposals of which they were themselves in part the author. In saying this I do not wish to imply that there had been any formal agreement between the two sides in the matter—there had not. The situation was this. At the tine of your Lordships' vote on the Southern Rhodesia Order last June, the draft Report of the Inter-Party Conference had been prepared for consideration by the Conference. Following the breaking off of the talks in the circumstances to which the noble Lord, Lord Byers, has spoken, the proposals which it contained were adopted by the Government and the resultant White Paper was shown in confidence to the Opposition and Liberal Leaders so that they could make sure that we had not altered the proposals in any material way. Given these facts, I must put on record my sense of disappointment at the attitude adopted by right honourable gentlemen opposite in another place in the consideration of the Bill there.
My Lords in the recent months in the Press and in Hansard we have seen much concerning the progress of the Parliament Bill and criticism of the proposals, of the Government's handling of the Bill, of the intentions of the Government in bringing forward the proposals and indeed of the role of the Opposition Front Bench as joint authors of these proposals.
I should like to try to explain to the House the reasons for my regret at this lost opportunity. Many of your Lordships may have felt a certain relief that things should go on as they were; old 1291 ways are pleasant and few of us can remain for long unmoved by the particular atmosphere of your Lordships' House and of the civilised and tolerant way in which we conduct our business. This was indeed charmingly expressed by the right honourable gentleman the Member for Kinross in his notable speech on the Second Reading of the Bill in another place. He, of course, has had the experience of having been a leading Member of both Houses. Of course we can all sympathise with this liking for the present House and its ways, a liking which we are now likely to savour for some time. But I do not think that when we really consider the matter, we can accept that the present situation is satisfactory. I think that if we sit back with relief at the postponement of the Parliament Bill we commit the error of imagining that this problem can be satisfactorily shelved in this way. I do not think it can, for the reasons which I gave to the House in my speech on the White Paper.
I may remind your Lordships that notable speeches had been made from all sides of both Houses, not only by my colleagues in the Government but from the Front Benches opposite and speeches such as those from the noble Lord, Lord Harlech, the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, the noble Lord, Lord Byers and, in another place, from Mr. Maudling, Mr. Macleod and Sir Alec Douglas-Home. They have all expressed the view that it is really impossible any longer to defend the hereditary Chamber. According to the White Paper, some 736 out of 1,062 Peers hold their Parliamentary rights by right of succession—that is three out of every four potential Members of this House. Of course in fact, as we all know, much of the day to day work is done by those who have been themselves created Peers. But when it comes to the exercise of the vote we must accept that it is the hereditary Peers who can decide the great issues which come before this House and this fact is known to the public and, I would submit to your Lordships, does not find favour with them.
In support of this proposition I would remind your Lordships of the public reaction to the vote in the Rhodesia debate. Almost nothing was said about the merits of the case in the Press at all; it was quickly blown up into a 1292 Constitutional crisis complete with concomitant caricatures of Peers, coroneted and ermine-robed, locked in combat with the representatives of the people. I would remind the House of what Bagehot called the importance of the "myth" always in the British Constitution; or, if I might use somewhat similar contemporary jargon, I should say the importance of the "image".
Can your Lordships really say that it is generally accepted by those you meet that it is right that a majority of this House should sit here and serve as legislators by right of descent alone? In the past, for social and economic reasons, it seemed quite appropriate that the Upper Chamber should represent the great landed interests which dominated our society; this has long ceased to be the case. Even a century ago it was accepted that in comparison with 100 or even 50 years before, to this dethronement of our erstwhile "natural leaders" the immense economic changes of the industrial revolution had served as the handmaid. Further, we have experienced, if I may quote Bagehot again,the tendency of our modern society to raise the average and to lower—comparatively and perhaps absolutely—the summit".This fact was recognised in the remarkable speech by Sir Alec Douglas-Home to which I have already referred and which I would respectfully commend to your Lordships' House. I would further remind the House of the impossibility of justifying a Chamber which has such a large permanent majority for one Party. I say no more about this because I believe this to be so generally agreed.
But, my Lords, it is not only in the field of composition in which we have stood in need of reform—it is also in powers. I think the House would accept that it is no longer proper for us to be in a position to veto subordinate legislation in opposition to the will of the elected Chamber and without any machinery at all to give that Chamber the right to insist on its view or even to insist that we should think again. For these reasons—the totally unsatisfactory nature of the powers and composition of the House—I do not think that we shall be able for long to leave the matter as it stands. I think we shall be forced to reconsider it, perhaps to go through the same arguments that we have discussed at 1293 such length during this last Session. To take one example, I regret that we shall probably have to consider again the question of unicameralism, and I know that a good deal of the sincere opposition to the proposals in the Parliament Bill came from those who were dedicated unicameralists. To them I can only repeat that I simply do not believe that the legislative process can be adequately performed by one House. As evidence for this view I would instance the experience of every other Western democracy with a population comparable to our own. I think, too, that in the future we shall see a return to the arguments about a completely re-fashioned Second Chamber, whether with or without the noble and learned Lords of Appeal and the right reverend Prelates, possibly allied with some form of election, conceivably connected in some way with proposals for greater participation by the countries and regions of the United Kingdom in the democratic processes, conceivably with some kind of federal institution.
I must confess that I groan when I consider the arguments which are likely to plague our successors on this, because at the end of it all I find it difficult to imagine that the House of Commons would ever agree to such a reform. Despite the logical appeal of much that may be said in favour of a regionally or federally based institution, I continue to believe, as we stated in the White Paper, and as the noble Lord, Lord Byers, has just suggested, that an Upper House constituted on a regional basis would be open to the danger arising from the probability of rivalry between the Houses. One of the most painful reflections for those who have worked so hard for this reform has been the absence of any alternative proposal by those who have opposed us; or, rather, the absence of proposals which either they or anyone else believe to be viable.
We have heard in recent months many criticisms of our proposals and I should like very shortly to answer the principal ones. The first has been that of the argument of patronage; and in particular the appalling increase in patronage that the Prime Minister of the day would have. I believe this to be absolute rubbish. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Alport, that in fact our scheme would have restricted and regularised it. I would invite those who have talked about patronage 1294 to consider three simple facts. The first is that the patronage would haw been approximately the same as it is today. Since my right honourable friend the Prime Minister assumed office, 151 Peerages have been created—that is, about 35 a year. Under our proposals the number of new Peers would have been roughly the same. Secondly, the proposed patronage was not to be for my right honourable friend the Prime Minister alone: it would be shared with the other Party Leaders in accordance with the proposed ratios set out in paragraph 48 of the White Paper. This power would have been shared, in other words, by men all of whom are responsible to their Parties in a thoroughly democratic way, and any misuse of the powers would have been visited with tribulation by the proposed patronage committee, which would have had the right to report publicly to Parliament.
Nor do I think that when we look at the way in which patronage has in fact been used in recent years, in particular since the passing of the Life Peerage Act 1958, we can say that the House of Lords has not been immeasurably enriched by the infusion of new blood, men and women following all kinds of careers, many of whom would not have been considered for hereditary Peerages in the old days. Thirdly, there was the great safeguard provided by the fact that Peers were to be created for life. As I told your Lordships at the time, we had considered, only to reject, the proposal that Peers should be made for the length of a Parliament. Such a proposal would have immeasurably strengthened the power of the Whips. I put it to the House that it is not the case that those who have been nominated by a particular man to office for life are prone to feel under an obligation to back their patron's policies, and we have in the rich varieties of our House to-day many examples of noble Lords who have shown an extreme independence after coming here, sometimes abandoning the Parties whose Leader has nominated them to the Peerage. We would not wish it to be otherwise, nor would it have been otherwise in the reformed House.
Another strong point of criticism, particularly in another place, was of the paragraph in the White Paper on remuneration. This, as the House knows, led the Government to decide to postpone, 1295 at least until after the next General Election, any proposal for implementing this. Here my own view is quite simple. Peers should be paid a proper rate for a proper job, like other members of the community. I do not think it appropriate that those who do not have private means should be prevented from playing a full part, and I remain convinced that it would have been proper for the working members of the reformed House to have been paid in the long run, after an appropriate independent inquiry and after the House of Commons had been convinced that the reformed House was working in such a way that it warranted remuneration. I have heard it suggested that remuneration was not referred to in the Bill for some kind of improper reason. I can assure your Lordships that this is not so. It would never have been possible to include remuneration in the Bill. The remuneration of Members of another place and our own payment for expenses have never been the subject of legislation, but of Resolution by either House.
A further point of criticism in another place has been the role of the Cross-Benches. I was glad to hear what both noble Lords have already said about that. To those of us who know them and value the great part the distinguished Members of these Benches play in this House, such arguments seem difficult to understand. But, for myself, I stand by every word we wrote in paragraph 14 of the White Paper, dealing with Cross-Benchers, and I am proud of the fact that our scheme was going to give to the Members on the Cross-Benches the role explained in the scheme. It grieves me to reflect how greatly mistaken many comments have been on this feature of our proposals. Then I have heard it suggested that our proposals were too elaborate. There is nothing in the Bill which subsequent events have led me to think it would have been better to omit. For tactical reasons there might have been wisdom in having a shorter Bill, but I do not think that there would have been any actual improvement in the proposals if we had shortened them—for example, if we had left out Clauses 16 and 17, dealing with Parliamentary franchise and with qualification.
It will be obvious to your Lordships from what I have said that I have substantially agreed with the greater part 1296 of what has been said by the noble Lords, Lord Alport and Lord Byers. Nevertheless, I thought that as I was the Chairman of the All-Party Conference, I should express my own views. I cannot conclude without reminding the House of the opportunities which would have presented themselves for the reform of the functions and procedures of this House, and indeed of Parliament, if the main reform had been carried into law. I had looked forward with eagerness to the fundamental examination of the possible changes in these fields which it was proposed should be undertaken by the two Houses once the main reform was on the Statute Book. Like my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Services, I saw this as one of the most positive reasons for the reform, by giving the chance of reorganising Parliament and thus reducing pressure on Back-Bench Members in another place and giving us the possibility of achieving adequate Parliamentary control of delegated legislation, the expansion of the proper consideration of non-Party controversial legislation, and, I should have thought, an increase of the control of Parliament over the Executive as a whole.
The possibilities were many and varied but, like my right honourable friend, I felt that we should put ourselves in a position to consider radically the procedures and functions of both Houses, and it is with deep regret that we must accept that such a wide-ranging inquiry cannot be undertaken in the present circumstances. The possibilities would have included the more equal spread of legislation between the two Houses and sharing in the consideration of legislation, more Joint Committee work, better control and possibly amendment of delegated legislation, further inquiry into the field of Private Bill legislation.
In ending on this melancholy note, I would say one word of comfort for those who are interested in these procedural and functional matters. I noted with great interest some of the suggestions made by the Select Committee on Procedure of another place in its Reports on the Session 1966–67. These Reports were made before the firm intention for the reform of this place had been announced, and I hope it may be possible to pursue on an inter-House basis some of the suggestions then made, despite the failure of the main reform.
1297 My Lords, I venture to predict that both the great Parties of the State will live to regret the demise of the Parliament Bill for differing but nevertheless compelling reasons. I also think that it would not be wise for the Members of this House to do other than to recognise here and now that the failure to proceed for the moment with our reform is an ill day, not only for your Lordships' House but also for Parliament.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
My Lords, for some considerable time my noble friend Lord Alport has taken a great interest in the reform of your Lordships' House. We have had a number of debates on Motions which he has initiated and we have listened with great interest to what he has had to say this afternoon. May I at the outset say how glad I am that he has withdrawn the Parliament (No. 6) Bill. Whatever we may have felt about the merits or demerits of that Bill—and it is, of course, exactly the same as the Parliament (No. 2) Bill—I do not think it would have been very wise to have moved the Second Reading; and certainly if it had been carried it would have meant the House spending and wasting a large part of the summer discussing a measure which had no prospect of proceeding any further. For, whatever else may be uncertain about the reform of your Lordships' House, one thing is absolutely certain: that the Government do not intend to proceed with this Bill in the lifetime of this Parliament—and the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack as good as said so in the first stages of his speech.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
It might be the same thing, as the noble Lord, Lord Byers, has said. Facts are facts, and I do not intend to waste time flying in the face of reality. In the very few remarks that I shall make this afternoon I do not intend to discuss the disadvantages or the advantages of the scheme which was put forward as a White Paper and debated in this House in November of last year; and 1298 I earnestly hope that your Lordships will not either. I hope your Lordships will not follow the example of the three previous speakers, interesting as their recapitulation was, because in November we had three days' debate, and 103 noble Lords took part; and I do not suppose that any of us has changed his views, or that anything that may be said here this afternoon will change them. This, so far as I am concerned, is water under the bridge. My own views are well known, and I have not changed them. But I do not think it profitable to rake over the ashes.
I want to say only one thing. Whether or not we agree with the scheme, I do not think there is anybody in this House who will not sympathise with the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. I suppose that he put more work into it than anyone else. The noble Lord, as well as being the Leader of the Labour Party in this House, is the custodian of the rights of this House, and nobody, in my experience, has stood up for them better both inside and outside this Chamber, than has the noble Lord. He has protected our interests against the predatory raids from another place, and he has called us to order with the greatest possible courtesy when, even in the permissive society of your Lordships, we go a little too far. We know that any proposal which comes from him about the reform of the House comes because he is genuinely attached to the principle of a Second Chamber and the traditions and behaviour of this House.
We are asked by my noble friend's Motion to take note of the position. Well, I take note of it. The position is that we are back where we started. Efforts at agreed reform have failed, and we have to think again. For my pact, I think it too soon for any of us to make up our minds what the next step should be. We are far too close to the breakdown of the previous efforts and the disagreements which those efforts inevitably brought, and I think a period for reflection and thought would be wise before any of us jumps to conclusions or makes further proposals.
There are, of course, a number of alternatives. For example, the whole matter might be referred to the Constitutional Commission—though some of us might feel that, even though the 1299 Chairman is a Member of your Lordships' House and a most respected and well-qualified man, the membership of that body would not be wholly appropriate to the task of remoulding this House. It would be possible to set up a separate body to deal with the whole of Parliament—not only your Lordships' House, but the powers, the composition and the relationship of both Houses. Or it might be possible to have another and rather more differently constituted committee consisting of Members of both Houses. My Lords, I do not know. Let us all think about it. But, as I ventured to say once before to the Government, I very much hope that they will do nothing about it for the moment, and that they do not intend to bring in any legislation to remove the powers of this House and not deal with the whole problem. They would, in my view, be very unwise to do so. Such a course might well have the opposite effect of that intended, and no doubt this has occurred to them.
But this leaves your Lordships in exactly the same position and difficulties as we have experienced in the last four years of Labour Government. We on this side will continue to judge the issues which come before us on their merits and by the same criteria as have guided us hitherto. We will take into account the circumstances in each case. And I hope that we shall not hear too much from Members of the Party opposite about the will of the people. I think it would be difficult to argue that Her Majesty's Government represent much more than themselves at the present time. They certainly do not represent the will of the people expressed in by-elections, in local elections or in opinion polls. But, as I say, we will continue to behave as responsibly as I believe we have in these last four years.
My Lords, so ends a chapter, but not I think a discreditable chapter, in the history of Parliamentary reform. Those who proposed the reform did so with honourable motives, and out of deep conviction that a Second Chamber, with power, and whose composition was acceptable to the broad mass of voters, was essential. Those who opposed it—certainly those in this House—did so for exactly the same motives: because they felt that our proposals were not the 1300 answer. Well, my Lords, we must all try again, and it may be that, however remote the possibility may seem at the present time, we may find it possible in the future, by general agreement, to preserve all that is best in this House, remove the anomalies and strengthen its very real virtues and its usefulness.
§ 4.38 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF CHESTER
My Lords, I am confident that I am expressing the views of those who sit on these Benches in regretting that still another attempt to reform your Lordships' House appears to have foundered. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has asked that there should be further thought on this matter, and many of us hope that the failure to go forward with reform is only temporary. We feel that it would be a matter of great regret if the hard and constructive work of the Conference were to go by default, and if the most promising scheme yet devised, commanding agreement in the Conference and a widespread measure of support elsewhere, as was illustrated by the voting in your Lordships' House on November 19, should suffer the fate of so many of its predecessors. Appendix I of the White Paper, which recounts the previous attempts to reform this House, makes melancholy reading, and it is a sad thing that we have to add to it a further paragraph recording another story of failure.
I am sure the House will agree with what the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack has said about the value of a bicameral system of government; but it is essential that both Houses should command the respect of the people they serve. If either House should be seen not to measure up to the standards which any reasonable person would regard as desirable, then that House is wide open to criticism and attack, not only by anarchists and revolutionaries but also by men of moderate views and temper. And such is the situation which confronts your Lordships' House.
Those of us who sit in this House and take part in its work know that much of the criticism made of us is ill-informed and unjustified. Indeed, as a result of the reforms which have been made in the Constitution of this House in recent years—and let us not forget 1301 that they have been very considerable—the effectiveness and usefulness of the Upper House has been increased in a remarkable way. But so long as the hereditary principle continues to operate, and so long as one political Party has a built-in majority, this House will not command the respect which it ought to have, and it will continue to be wide open to the denigration of those who seek its abolition.
I confess that I shall watch with some nostalgic regret the gradual extinction of the hereditary system, for I think there can be few who do not admire and value the contribution which has been made to our national life by the service of the great political families. But against that sentiment must be set the illogicality of a situation in which a person possesses the right to a voice in Parliament solely by virtue of birth, and the fact that a great many hereditary Peers have no interest in politics and no desire to take part in Government. One can only hope that when there is reform the process that is suggested in paragraph 38 of the White Paper will be implemented, that those hereditary Peers who have shown a readiness and ability will be given an opportunity to serve in this House, and that the great names will not disappear from its membership.
My Lords, I am conscious that the proposals for the abolition of the hereditary principle do indirectly call into question the presence in this House of the Lords Spiritual, for though we are not present by virtue of birth we are here by virtue of our Sees, which have a kind of hereditary right to a Writ of Summons when the time comes. The Lords Spiritual established their base in the Upper House of Parliament by virtue of their literacy and their power to control the sources of finance and manpower. They no longer have a monopoly of people able to read and write, and certainly they cannot provide money and men in the manner of their medieval predecessors. It might therefore be argued that their presence here is as anachronistic as is the presence of hereditary Peers.
Yet, as I suggested to your Lordships in the debate on November 19, the status of the Bishops in your Lordships' House, and their contribution to its work, has down the centuries shown a remark- 1302 able capacity for adaptation. I hope that I do not appear to be over-ambitious for the good name of the Lords Spiritual to-day if I claim that in days when so much legislation has an obvious ethical and moral content, and when regional representation is so highly valued, those who sit on these Benches have been able to make a useful contribution to your Lordships' debates. We are certainly grateful for the consideration that was given to our position in Parliament both by the Conference and in the White Paper.
As many of your Lordships will be aware, the Church of England is at present occupied on a programme of administrative reform in which, through the Affirmative Resolutions given to a succession of Church Assembly Measures, your Lordships have had some part. We have reformed the Church Courts. Yesterday the Convocations promulged the new Code of Canons, giving the Church at long last a viable system of domestic law. We have a large measure of freedom to recast our forms of worship. The new Pastoral Measure gives wider powers to restructure the framework in which our pastoral work is to be set. Soon there will come before your Lordships the Synodical Government Measure giving wider powers to the laity to take an effective part in the government of the Church.
As part of this surge of administrative reform, as your Lordships will know (for it is mentioned in the White Paper), a Commission set up by the Archbishops is at present sitting to consider the relationships between Church and State. I am a member of that Commission and therefore cannot comment upon the likely outcome of its deliberations. But your Lordships will be aware, I am sure, that one of the vital issues which must be faced is the manner in which the Bishops of the Church of England are appointed, for there is among many Church people a restlessness with the present procedure. Should there be, when the Report of the Commission has been considered by the Church, a demand for a modification in the way the diocesan Bishops are appointed, then clearly their right to a Writ of Summons would similarly need to be re-examined.
For my part, valuing as I do the principles underlying the existence of an 1303 established Church, I earnestly hope that a place may be found for the Lords Spiritual in a reformed House of Lords, under conditions of reformed relationship between Church and State. I would add that such a place certainly should not be interpreted by the Church of England as a claim to possess a monopoly of the right to speak for the religious consciousness of the nation or, in these days of growing ecumenical understanding, to indicate a claim to spiritual superiority. So long as there is an Established Church the presence of the Bishops in the House of Lords as a separate Estate is, I hope your Lordships will agree, both a symbol and an effective expression of a truth which is deeply embedded in our history and which to-day has not, I venture to think, lost its significance.
My Lords, I hope that for the good name of its House, and its effectiveness, reform will not long be delayed. However responsibly we conduct our duties, however well the present system works in practice, the illogicalities which exist must always be a present, even though often unspoken, embarrassment. And this must of necessity lend an air of unreality in the eyes of the public to much of our work. We shall be listened to more attentively, and we shall command greater respect, if the reforms in the White Paper, modest and generous as I believe them to be, can be implemented with as little delay as possible.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF PERTH
My Lords, I want to speak on only one point; that is, the need in any reform to ensure that the Scottish Peers are in adequate number to deal with Scottish business. In the marathon debate in November, I stressed that Scotland was literally a law unto itself, and that it must have special treatment. I gave some grounds for this, one being the Act of Union, with the entrenched clause which laid down that Scotland must be adequately represented. Whatever the legal right may be with regard to the Act of Union, I have no doubt that the moral right remains one of overwhelming importance.
The second ground—and more important ground—was a practical one. Scottish law is often different from English 1304 law. This means, as your Lordships know, that we often have Scottish Bills with their own special features and their own character. It is essential in any reformed House that there should be an adequate number of Peers in touch with Scottish opinion who have knowledge of, and can criticise constructively, these Scottish Bills. To be in touch with Scottish opinion means very often that these Peers must be Scottish-based; and there then arises, of course, a problem as to how, if they are Scottish-based, they can attend the two-thirds of the meetings required if they are to enjoy the right to vote.
I and others felt that such Scottish-based Peers must have the right to vote, at any rate in the Committee stage. In that long debate I said that I myself—and I knew this applied to other Scottish Peers—should certainly vote in favour of the White Paper if we could have some assurance from the Government on this point. When the noble Lord the Leader of the House was winding up to an impatient House who wanted to get to the vote, he in fact did not cover this point in his admirable speech. I recall that with great trepidation I rose at the very end and had to ask what the position was. I obtained a reassurance, which I think I should quote. It was as follows:… I appreciate that Scotland is in a special constitutional and legal position."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21/11/68; col. 1090.]Furthermore, he said:… we should be anxious to discuss any arrangements which provided properly for the discharge of Scottish business."—[col. 1091.]The sequel to that was that we formed an all-Party working group to discuss the problem with the Leader of the House and the noble Lord, Lord Hughes. I should like to take this opportunity to thank all those, including the various officials, who took part in this work. A substantial measure of agreement was reached on what was the objective, although I must confess that the method to achieve it remained one of some complexity.
In another place in the Committee stage valiant efforts were made to achieve our aim. They were not successful, although again the Government expressed their sympathy. I think we of the working party felt quietly confident that we 1305 should succeed in getting appropriate Amendments if and when the Bill came here. But of course that was not to be. I have gone back to what is now history because this is of importance when another Bill to reform your Lordships' House comes forward, as come it will. At that time, whatever Government may introduce such a Bill, I would ask them to look up the Record of our talks and of our proposals for the amendment of the Bill that was put forward; and ask that in any future Bill there be drafted from the start—I stress, from the start—a clause appropriate to take care of the Scottish problem and provide properly for the discharge of Scottish business. My Lords, I hope that I have sufficiently waved the red flag of danger on the Scottish problem; or, better perhaps, that I have planted firmly before your Lordships' House a Scottish banner against the time of any future reform.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT DILHORNE
My Lords, whether that banner be firmly planted or not, there is no doubt at all that if any proposals for reform of this House come forward the Scottish point of view will be forcibly expressed by the noble Earl, Lord Perth. My Lords, this is to me an extremely curious debate. It was begun by my noble friend Lord Alport in a speech which could be described as a very powerful speech on the Second Reading of a Bill not before the House, and partly as justifying his introduction of a Bill which he has proceeded to withdraw this afternoon. It has indeed been an extraordinary debate, perhaps more like a memorial service than a discussion of a Motion. All the Motion asks us to do is to take note of the present position. That we can easily do: it is what it was.
There have been occasions on which I must confess that I have struck, I know, a discordant note in this House. I fear I shall do so again to-day, because the first discordant note that I propose to strike—and I think I am the first person to say it—is how much I welcome and support the Government's decision to abandon the Parliament (No. 2) Bill. I do not think there have been many occasions in the past when I have been able to give my support to the Government, but on this occasion I can, and I do so whole-heartedly. There are, I am 1306 Sure—although the impression me y not be created by the debate which has gone on so far—a very large number of your Lordships' House, and a very large number of people outside your Lordships' House who take an interest in these matters, who also welcome the Government's decision and think it was a wise one and a right one.
A great deal of this debate so far has been a resumé of some of the arguments in favour of the White Paper proposals. Indeed, it would be easy to convert this debate into another marathon debate, as indeed it would be if those who were critical of those proposals, and even more critical of the Bill itself, thought it would serve any useful purpose to express their views on this occasion. I personally do not think it would serve a useful purpose to deploy the arguments, the powerful arguments, that can be put forward in answer to the case made by my noble friend Lord Alport and others who have supported him.
Speaking for myself, I of course recognise that there are respects in which reform of this House is desirable. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor referred to one in particular: our power with regard to subordinate legislation. I agree with him that that requires to be changed. Then it is said that the hereditary principle is indefensible. I do not propose to debate that at all to-night. I dare say we can all agree that change of this House in various respects is desirable. But where we differ, and differ sincerely—it is really water off one's back for it to be said that the opponents of these reforms. engage in misrepresentation and misunderstanding—is in the view we take of the proposals contained in. the White Paper and the Bill.
I myself take the view, unlike my noble friend Lord Alport, that the proposals in that White Paper, if implemented, would not make this House stronger, but weaker; would not make this House more effective, but less effective. I think that the exercise of this House's powers at the present time is about right, and I do not believe that another place would willingly agree to an extension of our powers or to a greatly increased use of them if they were extended. I would say that, although one can attack the hereditary principle; although it may be said to be indefensible, it really is not a 1307 satisfactory reform to put in its place another system, arbitrarily devised, which appears to many of us equally indefensible. So, my Lords, while I am not opposed to reform, and many of my noble friends are not opposed to change, we are absolutely sincerely opposed to the proposals contained in the White Paper and in the Bill. May I just say this: in so far as the Bill is concerned, it did not implement to a satisfactory degree, as I thought, the proposals contained in the White Paper.
I have said something about the opposition point of view that could be expressed at great length by a number of my fellow Peers in this House if we were really going to have a debate on the White Paper again. A great deal has been said about its conduct in another place. My noble friend Lord Alport said he was appalled by the conduct of another place: the noble Lord, Lord Byers, described it as a "filibuster". I should have thought it undesirable—and I hope I shall have the noble Lord the Leader of the House with me in this—for any of us to engage in derogatory comments about the conduct of Members of another place. It can only lead to friction between the two Houses, and to say that Members of another place were engaging in a filibuster may be equally offensive to them as the suggestion that they talked mostly about other matters than the Bill.
Whether that be so or not I, for my part, should like to put on record my appreciation of, and admiration for, the fight put up in another place by those who were opposed to this measure—it may be on differing grounds, but I do not doubt in the utmost sincerity. Some of them put forward grounds which I personally could not support at all. But in those debates attention was called to a great many serious defects in the proposals, and I think we ought to express our gratitude to those Members who, out of a sense of duty to Parliament, spent so much of their time in dealing with this Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Byers (who I am sorry to see is not in his place), posed the question—and I think it is a vital question—what went wrong? I welcome and praise the efforts of all those who took part in those negotiations, but they failed. And what went wrong? I think it is 1308 worth examining that for a moment. I believe that in the first place what went wrong was an attempt to reach a quick solution after the reference to this topic in the gracious Speech. This is a subject which needs investigation in depth and at length; and while anyone would have welcomed a completely formulated scheme agreed upon by representatives of all Parties, and subjected it to the closest consideration, none of us who did not take part in those discussions has seen the background papers to which the noble Lord, Lord Byers, referred. A scheme came out.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said we have had no alternative proposals, but I do not think that that was a body which would have been ready to receive any alternative proposals. It was not so constituted that it would have been able to receive proposals. But I ask the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and the Government, to consider whether the approach should not be that which we so often follow in other fields, namely, to appoint a body—not the present constitutional Commission, for the reasons my noble friend Lord Carrington has given, but a body with the task of considering the reform not only of this House but of another place as well. I think the job will not be well done if we look first at one House and then at the other. We must look at both.
I would make another point. I believe we make a mistake if we think that all the knowledge that can be brought to bear on the subject of reform of this House is held by Members and officials of this House and Members of another place. I do not think it is. I should like to see some sort of body set up to which people could put forward their proposals for reform and which would investigate, test and consider those proposals. That might take some time, but I believe that if at the end of it a system were proposed, carefully worked out in full detail—and the White Paper was not very precise; I hoped the matter would be given greater precision in the Bill, and it was not—if that body achieved its object and came out with a report supported by the majority (if it was not unanimous), that would carry great weight in the country, great weight with your Lordships and great weight with the Government of the day. So, my Lords, in answer to the question 1309 posed by the noble Lord, Lord Byers, while I add my praise to that already given to the efforts of those who took part in the negotiations, I think that what went wrong was an attempt to do too much too quickly and not having the process of deliberation such as one gets before a Royal Commission.
I do not propose to say any mor—perhaps I have said too much already. I welcome the Government's decision because, despite all that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has said—and he has several times accused me of not understanding what was proposed, but I think I do—I myself opposed those proposals only because I could not see them operating so as to enable this House to function as effectively as it does now, far less to operate so as to enable this House to function more effectively. We have taken note of the present situation. I believe reform must come; but let it come slowly and gradually after a full and thorough investigation, and do not let us try to start and finish consideration of this subject in one Session.
§ 5.7 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, and I have been friends for perhaps fifty years and I have noticed as time has passed that a kind of very acute, not unpleasing and rather macabre sense of humour becomes ever more prominent in his make-up. It may always have been there, but it was not so recognisable in past times. Now he comes down to the House to-day and asks us, in a way that is clearly ironical, to pay some sort of tribute to the House of Commons for thwarting the wishes of this House. There are jokes, bad jokes and absurdities, and that must rank as one end of that spectrum. He says that there will be many outside and in this House who will be grateful to the Government, as he is, for this wise decision. It cannot have escaped his notice that this House not so very long ago carried the proposals embodied in the Bill by 251 to 56. If the noble Viscount wishes to interrupt me I am sure he will stand up and say so.
§ VISCOUNT DILHORNE
My Lords, as I said previously, though I fear the noble Earl cannot have been listening—he must have been thinking about what he was going to say in reply to me—I said that one of my criticisms was that the pro- 1310 posals in the White Paper were not fully embodied in the Bill.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords I am afraid none of us takes that reply very seriously. We are all aware that the noble Viscount was violently opposed to the White Paper and he has been against all these proposals, and in this last quibble I do not think lie will carry anybody along with him. No, the noble Viscount has been a strenuous opponent of the Bill and now he is delighted, of course, to see that it has been defeated by what can only be called a filibuster.
He says it is wrong to criticise the House of Commons. It does not prevent them from criticising us. I have been consulting the Companion, and of course I am under the guidance of the noble Lord who has handled all these matters so extremely well, as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, remarked: I am referring, of course, to the noble Lord the Leader of the House. But the simple fact is that this Bill was talked out in another place; it was not argued out. No one who was in favour of reform was convinced that this was the wrong proposal by some clever dialectic or weight of argument. It was simply the load of endless and ineffably boring speeches which took up so much time. That is the fact. We are all perfectly well aware of it. The opposition set themselves to talk out the Bill. If "filibuster" is an insulting word I will qualify it by calling it a "fanatical filibuster"—a filibuster with sincerity, we do not question—but filibuster it was. They simply took up so much time that for the moment it has fallen by the wayside. So it is, to put it mildly, ironical, not to say facetious, for the noble Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, to come along and thank the Government for their wisdom, and so on. He knows that is all absolute bilge. It is a good joke, but we have had it for the moment.
Let us just see the situation that we face by this endless twaddle which took up so much time—I am not referring to to any individual, I am just making a collective remark. But this is the situation in which we are placed, and very unfortunate it is. I agree entirely with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor that this is an ill day, but we have 1311 to face reality. Incidentally, in the last debate the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, was kind enough to associate me with the authorship of these proposals. It was an honour I had not claimed at that time, but now that they have become temporarily suspended perhaps I can thank him and say that I certainly stand on any share of mine in their initiation.
As I see it, looking at it quite cold-bloodedly in my retirement, I would lay down three propositions. First of all, a democracy such as ours is entitled to and requires a reasonable and defensible second Chamber. That is so general a statement that I hope it carries the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, and others who think like him. Secondly, I would say—and this is more a matter of argument, but I think that the vast majority of the House would agree—that such a Chamber could not permanently include an hereditary element. Thirdly, I would say that the particular proposals, whether in the White Paper or the Bill (and here we could get into a lot of detail), represent by far the best solution available. By that I mean that not only are they intrinsically the best, but they represent an agreement between the various Parties which one would have thought unthinkable until it was achieved. Here I follow the instructions of the noble Viscount and the noble Lord, Lord Carrington; I am not going to spend time on the details of those proposals in any way.
I would say one word on the hereditary principle. I should have thought that at this time, in 1969, the country is agreed that because someone's father sat in the Chamber there is no reason why he should sit there himself. That I should have thought was accepted as a principle. As the House knows, for years I have tried to suggest the way of easing the transition through what used to be called the two Writ plan and now the two-tier system. I will not dwell on that. I am simply saying that the idea that permanently you can have a hereditary Chamber or a Chamber with a large hereditary element in this country alone of all countries in the world is seen to be impossible.
Then we come to the question of what should be the basis of the new and re- 1312 formed Chamber. If we rule out as a permanency the hereditary principle, we are left in fact with two other wide ideas: either some sort of elective scheme or some sort of nominated scheme; or possibly, as in Ireland, for example, a combination of the two, which I will pass over now. I should have thought that, as the noble Lord the Lord Chancellor made plain, and has been made plain repeatedly, it seems almost incredible that in any future we can foresee this country will agree to an elected Second Chamber. It may be that in time, after most of us have passed on, some sort of indirectly elected Chamber will emerge, but I very much doubt it. Certainly in the foreseeable future I should think it is inconceivable. Therefore, if we are to have a reformed Chamber we are driven to what is called nominees. The Times, which has attacked these proposals from the beginning, has used this phrase as a term of abuse, as though it was describing a Chamber of nepotism. That is the way in which that phrase has been used.
If we are not to have elected Peers or Senators, and we are not to have hereditary Peers or Senators, we are forced back on some solution which takes the form of nominees. I quite agree that there are dangers, as there are bound to be in any scheme, and it could be that in some future scheme greater safeguards against abuse, if anyone can think of them, could be introduced. I do not think anybody would say that the last word has been said on that subject.
I must say frankly that if anybody, such as the noble and learned Viscount—perhaps I can arrest his attention, because I am going to say something very unpleasant which I know he will not want to evade—says that he stands for the reform of the House of Lords and is ready to agree that the hereditary principle has had its day, and is not proposing some kind of elected Chamber, which I do not imagine most people are, then they are forced back on the House of nominees or they are not genuine reformers at all. I must say that quite plainly. I must not refer to individuals in another place, so I will not do that. But in fact we have seen an alliance, some of us would say an unholy alliance, between the extreme Right and the extreme Left in another place. It cannot be thought that there was any identity 1313 of philosophy. They were both concerned for different reasons to wreck the whole idea of reform of the House of Lords. On the one hand, you had the ultra-traditionalists, who did not want to see the hereditary principle removed from this House. May I say, without any sort of Party reference, that they did not want to see the Conservative Party lose its domination here. On the Left there are people who do not want a Second Chamber, who want to abolish this House and have unilateral Government. That is a point of view, but not a point of view which I believe would ever be accepted in this country. We cannot, I am afraid, accept, as genuine reformers, either of those groups, and we cannot accept as genuine reformers anybody who is not ready to come forward and tell us in principle what he would put in the place of the proposed scheme.
May I say one word about the need for a Second Chamber. I am not going to argue that; I think this country accepts the need for a Second Chamber. I submit that if we are going to have a Second Chamber, if we believe in a Second Chamber, as most of us do, then we must surely want to see that Second Chamber a rational Second Chamber, a Second Chamber which makes a valuable contribution. And I would submit to the House that no Second Chamber will ever be allowed to make a really valuable worthwhile contribution worthy of its membership unless its composition is defensible before the public. The public are simply not going to let a Chamber composed as we are make the contribution of which we are capable. That is the case that many of us had in mind for quite a few years when we pressed for reform.
There is one point which I think in all candour one must face. I never got as far as the House of Commons—it was not for want of trying—but deep down in the consciousness of the House of Commons, I think, is the idea that if this House becomes more influential in some way we cut into the influence of the House of Commons. I think we must pause and ask ourselves whether it is true or not. I would say it is totally false; indeed the opposite is true. Once you leave out the question of powers, the question of our challenging the House of Commons, once you agree, as I am sure we all do, that in the last resort 1314 the House of Commons is supreme, there should be no conflict between a growth in our influence in the public mind and maintenance or increase in theirs. If we think in terms not so much of our influence but the contribution we can make, we can help them in so many different ways, not only in the education of the public mind but in co-operating in carrying out and giving effect to their own decisions. Bearing that in mind, I would say that we can complement their efforts, strengthen them and help them, and expand their influence. I hope that any Member of the House of Commons who bothers to look at these words will read what I am saying now. I hope people will realise that there is not this ineluctable clash between an enhancement of our influence and of the job we do, and their influence and their job. I hope they will see that these are complementary notions.
So I would hope that this matter is not left to languish for too long. Otherwise, I fear for the future of this House and of bicameral Government in this country. I see no danger whatever, speaking as a Socialist and also a former Leader of the House with responsibilities for everyone here, and, for that matter, as a democrat, of this House becoming too powerful, of hurting anybody, of sabotaging any proposals, from whatever quarter they may occur. The real danger is that this House will become futile. That danger has always hovered over us, and I am afraid it is hovering over us more clearly and visibly at the present time than ever before.
Anyone who loves this House—I am sure that that applies to the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, as to all other speakers—must, above all, want to avoid that consummation, though I believe it would be the ultimate outcome of any failure to reform this House. As time goes on, if nothing is done I believe that the public will be less and less ready to take us seriously as a factor in legislation. We shall remain a delightful club—the best in the world, as I ventured to say before—but we shall not be regarded as possessing any real meaning in the Constitution; we shall be regarded, in fact, as a rather whimsical facade.
If we really love this House, as I am sure is true of everyone here, then it seems to me clear that we must try to 1315 improve the constitution in some way that gives us the standing in the public mind that will enable us to do our job. I hope and believe that this evil day will in fact be forgotten when proposals, possibly different from these but not, I should think, much different, are brought forward in the near future.
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ BARONESS SWANBOROUGH
My Lords, I fear that the point I want to bring forward may appear slight, but the reason I have the temerity to address your Lordships is that I have sat on these Cross-Benches for some ten years now and I have come to the conclusion that to-day the Cross-Benches do not convey to those who notice such things anything like a collection of Independent Peers, but much more an aggregation of a variety of people sitting on the Benches for a variety of reasons. Some of those sitting on the Cross-Benches to-day are temporarily out of sympathy with their own Party. Some sit on the Cross-Benches because of a special position that they hold, which again is of a temporary nature; and therefore, for one reason or another, the term "Cross-Benchers" to-day includes a number of persons who previously for considerable periods had a definite allegiance to one or other of the political Parties. I believe that if those who sit on the Cross-Benches at present were to be aligned, it would be found that there are many more sitting here for personal reasons than for individual outlook.
The fact that many Peers sit on the Cross-Benches for no reason other than disaffection with the Party to which they have always belonged, or because of a special appointment, or because they belong to a service which precludes their taking part in Party politics, does not rate them as Independents. I recognise, of course, that there must be a place where Peers who wish to discontinue support to a particular Party can sit and be able to make their contribution, and I realise how good that contribution can be. But I do think that they should not be confused with Independent Peers.
I have discovered, since I have sat on these Benches, the loneliness and yet the advantage of being an Independent Member of your Lordships' House. In saying this, I mean that I now understand to 1316 the full how difficult it is to operate without belonging to a Party which gives its members a definite understanding whether an item is important or not, and some help in the judgments that they may make. I have also learned that there are many difficulties inherent for those of us who must rely on our own judgment alone in coming to a decision when a vote in indicated. If at any time Independent Peers were to play a part of some importance in your Lordships' House, it is, I believe, abundantly clear that not only must the men and women concerned be truly, individually independent but also that they must be seen to be independent.
I hope that as and when discussions take place in regard to reform of your Lordships' House, this matter of the Cross-Benchers can be examined from the point of view of the Independent Peers. The value and the strength of such Peers should, and must, be that they cast their vote only after careful, considered, personal judgment. The problem of such Peers is that no Independent Peer can be a spokesman for another, inasmuch as each one is apart from and independent of his neighbour.
I believe I am right in saying that the term "Cross-Bencher" has been used in your Lordships' House only since the Second World War, and maybe the time has come when some new nomenclature should be considered. There is no question but that in the many discussions on Cross-Benchers the mistaken idea that "Cross-Bencher" denotes an Independent has led to much confusion. I wonder whether those who are very much more intelligent than I could ever hope to be could not find some means by which a Peer who sits on the Cross-Benches for a personal reason could be defined by a term which is different from that of a Peer who sits on the Cross-Benches because of his independent views. I recognise deeply that I speak with no authority beyond that of my own personal feelings, but I believe that this particular point of view has been largely ignored; and I beg that your Lordships will remember it when the right time comes.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ LORD AIREDALE
My Lords, I have only one point to make, and that is to draw attention to the one feature of 1317 the Parliament (No. 2) Bill which I most regretted. I do so in the hope that if any future reform is introduced this feature will not be reintroduced with it. I refer to the proposal that future Peers by succession are to be denied not only their right to vote but even their right to come and sit in this House. I object to that for two reasons. The first is that I believe that any measure of reform should do the minimum and not the maximum amount of damage to the people who are affected by it. I should have thought that to take away a Peer's vote was doing him quite enough damage, without at the same time denying him his right even to attend.
My second and perhaps better reason is that I believe that this proposal would have swept away the best means we have of bringing young Peers into this House. Consider the position of a young man who inherits a Peerage. He is progressing fast in his profession, and he is just the sort of young man who would be welcomed in this House. At present, he is able to come here whenever his professional duties allow him to attend. He can find out for himself, in his own good time, whether the work of this House is congenial to him. He can find out how much time he has available to come to this House. Supposing this Bill had gone through, that young man would have been denied the right to attend at all.
Nevertheless, he might well have been approached, I suppose, and asked: "Would you consider accepting a Life Peerage? This will require you, of course, to give a considerable amount of your time in attending at the House. You will have to attend a substantial proportion of the sittings of the House." I believe that that young man, faced with that offer, would be placed in a most cruel position. How would he know what demands his profession would be making on him in five years' time? How could be possibly say whether, in five years' time, he would have the time available to come to your Lordships' House and attend two-thirds, or whatever the proportion might be, of its sittings without doing damage to himself in his profession?
How infinitely preferable it would be that that young man should be allowed to avail himself of his hereditary Peerage 1318 to the extent of coming here (there is plenty of room on the Benches), and sitting, listening, and taking part in debates if he feels so inclined; and then, if he finds he will have the time to do it, allowing his name to be put forward as a person who would be prepared to accept a life Peerage if it was offered to him, and then becoming a voting Member of this House! My Lords, I believe it to be so important to allow young people to come into this House that I do not believe we should sweep away the best means we have of achieving this aim.
§ 5.31 p.m.
§ LORD MOLSON
My Lords, I welcome the initiative of my noble friend Lord Alport in initiating this debate. I feel that when as recently as last November your Lordships accepted by the large majority of 251 to 56 the general principles of the proposals for reform, we should not pass without comment the dropping of the Bill which was intended to give effect to those proposals. It is surely desirable that we should have an end to the fifty years of uncertainty we have been suffering about the future of this House. During that time everybody has advocated reform, but nothing has been done because everybody differed upon what changes should be made. The Socialist Party resented, and naturally, the threat of obstruction from your Lordships' House; the Tory Party considered that your Lordships' House was ineffectual as a brake upon radical legislation, and I think the Liberal Party felt bound by the dictum of their great prophet of the past that the reform of your Lordships' House "brooks no delay". That was stated in 1911, and clearly they were under an obligation to try to promote reform. I think there is general agreement that the two defects from which this House suffers are the unchangeability of the Tory majority, and the fact that that majority is based upon an hereditary system.
There has been a hoodoo on the carrying through of any reform of your Lordships' House. The first proposals were made in 1918; the second proposals were made in 1948; and the third proposals were made in 1968. If I may reminisce for one brief moment, my first experience of this controversy was when I first went into the House of Commons 1319 in 1931, when I was one of the two honorary secretaries of a committee of Conservatives of both Houses who considered what proposals might then be made. We sat under the chairmanship of the then Lord Salisbury, and I can say that, despite the continuity of Cecilian thought, the Lord Salisbury of that time did not hold entirely the same views as my noble friend. We have heard talk about the hereditary principle, and I very much welcomed what my noble friend Lord Salisbury said last November. He said:I may be told that the fact that some such check may be needed does not of itself justify anything in the nature of a hereditary system. I should entirely agree with that view; … there can be few people … who would still attempt to maintain the view that the fact that a man is the son of his father could of itself justify a claim to be a Member of this House."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19/11/68, col. 673.]It is because the Conservative Party has moved so far forward in the last thirty years or so that I very much welcomed the attempt last year to arrive at an agreed settlement of this problem. I felt no hopefulness that the hoodoo that had hung over the problem for some fifty years would be banished, but I think it is the most remarkable thing that the Leaders of the two Parties should have agreed on the proposals in the way that they did.
§ LORD MOLSON
The three Parties: I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Byers, and his friends. I felt, and I feel, that this was an opportunity that ought not to be missed.There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortuneAnd we must take the current when it serves, Or lose our ventures.I very much fear that we have not taken the tide at the flood, and it will be extremely difficult to go back to where we were even a short time ago.
The merits of this scheme to me are these: they are in line with the general development of our Constitution; the ancient forms are preserved and the content is changed; under these proposals your Lordships' House would have gone on appearing to be very much what 1320 it was in the past, and yet would be based upon modern Statute and be in line with the thought of our times. That is why I entirely disagree with my noble and learned friend Lord Dilhorne that longer thought or deeper study would have resulted in anything more likely to be acceptable to public opinion in this country and to effect a transition smoothly and easily from what is not a satisfactory state—because your Lordships' House is undoubtedly anomalous—to something which could preserve the merits and virtues of this House while being based upon agreement between the Parties as to what is needed for the future.
The proposal that the Government of the day should normally enjoy a majority of 10 per cent. is also, I think, in accordance with the spirit of our Constitution. In the United States of America it is possible to have an Administration struggling against a hostile majority in Congress. That is not the way we work here. We work on the assumption that whatever is the Government must carry on the Queen's Administration and, in normal circumstances, is entitled to have a majority. And that is the only way in which our Constitution, as it is, can work. Therefore I think it right and proper that normally the Government of the day should have a small majority in this House. I welcome the idea that the balance of power should rest with perhaps the Liberal Party and the Cross Benchers. I believe that in the Cross Benchers at the present time, and to an equal extent in the future, we can have people of independent judgment and long experience who should be in a position to give a final decision upon many of these matters.
My Lords, I disagree with those noble Lords on this side who argue that because noble Lords are Cross-Benchers they have no political powers of reasoning and judgment. On the contrary, I do not accept the view, Party politician as I have been, that all political wisdom is confined to those who are attached to one or other of the political Parties. If it has been said that an independent Peer is one who is not to be depended upon, that the Government of the day when it introduces new and controversial legislation should not necessarily be able to depend upon a servile majority, either in this or in the other House, that seems to 1321 me to be a great advantage. I believe that the additional power which it was intended to confer upon the Cross-Benchers was one of the great features of these proposals.
My Lords, as has been said before, it is not only the benefits to this House which are being lost by the dropping of these reforms. I believe that proposals of this kind would have gone a long way to strengthen Parliamentary government in this country at a time when it is widely being criticised. As the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has said, I believe that it would have facilitated new and improved methods of co-operation between the two Houses. I hope that these opportunities are not forever lost owing to the events that have taken place. I have taken to heart the extracts from our Companion which have been quoted by the noble Lord the Leader of the House, and so I refrain from saying that there was elsewhere a filibuster of the lunatic fringes of two Parties. That, I think, in view of the printed word, would have been improper, and I will therefore say that it was protracted criticism conducted by those whose views, no doubt sincerely held, must be regarded as rather extreme, to whichever Party the speakers may belong.
I hope that when the Conservative Government comes to power it will remember that these proposals are virtually identical with those which were freely agreed upon between the representatives of our Party and of the present Government, and I think it would be appropriate and right that that Government should then introduce a Bill almost identically upon these lines. I hope that it will have a more docile majority in another place, and will be able to carry the reforms through in a way that has not proved possible in the case of the present Government. In the meantime I would urge that these proposals should be referred to the Constitutional Commission. In that way it may still be possible to ensure that these proposals, which have commended themselves to such a large majority of your Lordships' House, and I think to many moderate people in the country who have studied them, will be preserved from complete shipwreck and loss.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ LORD FRANCIS-WILLIAMS
My Lords, I should like to begin by saying 1322 how deeply I personally regret that the noble Lord, Lord Alport, for reasons which I can understand, decided to withdraw his Bill. I think it would have been excellent if this House had had the opportunity to reaffirm, as it clearly would if it had voted according to its political conscience, by the sort of majority by which it affirmed its support for the original White Paper, its belief in a Bill of this character. It seems to me that this would have been one of those occasions on which this House might very properly have shown itself independent of another place, and that in so doing it might very well, in the end, have been able to save another place from the worst consequences of its own folly.
It may well be that if the controversy is taken out of the Industrial Relations Bill, another place could find itself with time on its hands, and might even have been glad to have restored to it a Bill of this constitutional importance supported by substantial majorities of opinion in both Houses, and been prepared to go on. But as I have said, I appreciate why the noble Lord, Lord Alport, decided to withdraw his Bill, although I had put my name down expecting to speak in a Second Reading debate, and fully prepared to vote in that debate.
Although one would not, of course, in any way wish to insult or offend another place, which would be Parliamentarily improper to an extreme degree, one must, I think, say that this eminently sensible Bill was defeated by a combination of 20th century Luddites, who have done great damage to the constitutional prospect in this country. It seems to me that they eventually became almost driven hysterical by the temptations droned around their witches' brew, to such an extent that they were deafened to all reality. I think it is the experience of most people that if one sees one or two people, who on practically every issue of importance one knows are bitterly opposed, walking down the street laughing together, one knows that sensible and honest people had better protect their valuables, even if they are temporarily being cheered on from the other side of the road by an ex-Lord Chancellor.
I think that something very valuable indeed was destroyed by this curious 1323 combination of individuals, whom I must not mention by name—and I would not dream of doing so. While not going further on that, I should like to say that it seemed to me particularly intolerable that so much should have been said, and so many allegations made, regarding the probability of future Members of your Lordships' House, under the scheme proposed, becoming a sort of subservient slaves of patronage. I think there is nothing at all in the recent, or indeed, perhaps, in the comparatively long-term, political life of this country, and certainly nothing in the recent life of your Lordships' House, to give any credence whatever to the suggestion that, merely by allowing oneself to be nominated to the pleasure and honour of membership of your Lordships' House, one therefore puts oneself in the position of touching one's forelock to every Prime Minister or Minister who beckons a little finger in one's direction. That, if I may say so, seems to me a much more intolerable affront to the dignity and honour of this House than anything which may have slipped from people's lips in references to another place during this debate.
I think the whole experience of British public life indicates that, within our system and our climate of opinion, men of very divergent political views and attitudes can be asked to undertake public duties, paid or unpaid, who will then carry out those public duties with independence and integrity. I refuse to accept for one moment the suggestion that a nominated House of Lords (which, as has been said, is the only possible alternative to an elected House of Lords, which another place would not, I think for very good reasons, wish to have) would be in any way subservient to the Executive will. On the contrary, I believe that such a House of Lords would have done, or could have done, a great deal to redress the balance between the Executive and the Legislature; and could have provided a body of independent opinion, the members of which, while of course most of them would be speaking from a Party base held out of deep sincerity and a political background, would have spoken independently and with authority, and certainly not with any regard at all for those who had nominated them, in a strict, Party, narrow sense.
1324 It seems to me that the "talk-out" of this Bill in another place by a noisy minority (many of whom, of course, are wholly sincere) has made it impossible for this country to go forward with a constitutional change of great value; and, as has already been said, this seems to me to be a very black day in Britain's political democracy. I hope that we shall not simply regard this Bill as something to be forgotten; to be put away and never looked at again. I hope that another opportunity will arise for it to be considered. When it does, I believe that this Bill will provide an essential, sensible basis and foundation for House of Lords reform; and if I may say so, I hope that all those from the Lord Chancellor downwards who are concerned with constitutional matters will do what they can to see that if this Bill has to be pigeon-holed, at least it is put in a pigeon-hole from which it may be taken at reasonable intervals and looked at again.
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ LORD SOMERS
My Lords, I must confess that I cannot pretend to be sorry at the rejection of this Bill, for to my mind it was a very bad one in every way. I am not against reform in the least—in fact, I think that reform is certainly needed in your Lordships' House—but I do not think that the methods suggested in the Bill are the way to carry it out. A great deal has been said about the fact that this Bill would have strengthened your Lordships' House. I was therefore very glad to have what had been my impression confirmed by my noble and learned friend Lord Dilhorne: that in fact the Bill would not have strengthened this House but would have weakened it. If your Lordships look at the clauses on legislative powers, Clauses 8 to 15, you will see that the other place is given power to disregard any opinion that we may express.
Another point which has been mentioned a great deal is the fact that there has been general agreement over this Bill between the two Parties. That, I think, was true to a degree over the White Paper; but the Bill and the White Paper are two very different things, and I do not think it is true to say that that is so of the Bill. The agreement, I believe, was only superficial at the best of times. A great many of us on the Back Benches 1325 felt very strongly against the Bill. The right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Chester spoke of that well-known cliché, "the built-in majority". My Lords, on paper, of course, there is a built-in majority, but it is a purely hypothetical one, for I should say that about four-fifths of that majority never come near your Lordships' House at all. The majority is really only theoretical, and very rarely—in fact, I think I can say only once in my recollection has it actually appeared inside this Chamber. The right reverend Prelate also said that the presence in your Lordships' House of the Lords Spiritual might be questioned. I sincerely hope that it will not, because I feel that their presence here is of very great value in an age when we are more and more facing the tendency to disregard spiritual values, to ignore religious teaching in the schools, and so on. I think that the presence of the Lords Spiritual here is of very great value.
My Lords, we now come to the hereditary system. I have said what I feel about the hereditary system before in your Lordships' House and I am not going to repeat it again now, but I will add one thing to it. This system has one great merit over all the others, and that is that hereditary Members of your Lordships' House have no axe to grind whatsoever. They come here as independent Members of the House. Although they may ally themselves with one Party or another, there is no doubt that they do not feel, as would an elected Member, that they are in any way obliged to reflect the feelings of their Party. I think the noble Baroness, Lady Swanborough, put the case extremely well when she spoke of the independence of the Cross-Benchers. In a sense, all we who are hereditary Members of your Lordships' House are Cross-Benchers. We all feel perfectly free to vote which way we like. I have frequently, I must confess, voted against my own Party—not, perhaps, on very fundamental points; but we all feel free to do so.
I am not going to keep your Lordships any longer because I think that everything that could be said about this Bill has been said. I therefore end by saying only that I, for one, am extremely glad that the Bill, which I consider a very bad one, has been rejected.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF CORK AND ORRERY rose—
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, the noble Lord is not out of order; but it is the usual courtesy of the House that if a noble Lord is going to get up before the next speaker whose name is shown on the list he warns that speaker. I do not say that in any sense of anger, merely of mild surprise.
§ THE EARL OF CORK AND ORRERY
My Lords, I entirely accept what the noble Lord has said. I apologise. The only excuse I can make is that I had not made up my mind to speak. I hope he will accept that. I hope that noble Lords as a whole will forgive my joining in this weird debate—weird because it has taken on the character of something between a Second Reading debate and a funeral oration, to neither of which two aspects would I have any wish to subscribe. But it might be worth while to wonder why the scheme for reform ever failed at all. I say that without any intention of speaking about what has actually happened in another place, or here this afternoon, or in the earlier debate upon the White Paper.
I believe that the inter-Party Conference went to work and probably started with certain assumptions which were either fallacious or untested. I wish to make it plain that I say that without any intention of criticising. That would be as impertinent as it would be ungenerous. If there is any wisdom in what I say, it is wisdom after the event; but, after all there is no excuse at all for not being wise after the event. I believe that the first fallacious assumption is simply the basic one: that something that has been centuries in growing into an organic whole can properly be attacked in one single act—in this case a Bill—with the object of destroying it and replacing it with something else. I think that my noble and learned friend Lord Dilhorne was right when he said that we have attempted to do too much too quickly.
1327 There are various other assumptions which I question; and the order in which I put them is more or less arbitrary. I will not argue them but will merely state them as quickly as possible. I believe that it is erroneous to suppose that you can transpose the ends that you mean to achieve and the means you use to achieve them. I think that that was done. The object of attempting to reform Parliament is to get a better Parliament. The means used to do it were in this House chiefly the elimination of the hereditary principle. That, according to the Government's Election Manifesto, was the approach they made at the beginning. But I think that in the course of the Session—as we can see by tracing the gracious Speeches from the Throne—the means and the end get turned back to front until we find that the primary object of the Bill was to get rid of the hereditary principle—for various perfectly good reasons which I accept. The reform of Parliament became the means for doing that. The end and the means got turned back to front. I have no objection to that, providing that both the ends and the means are equally reliable and respectable; that is to say, that the idea of getting rid of the hereditary principle is as widely accepted by everybody as the necessity for the reform of Parliament. But I question whether that is so.
That brings me to the third of my assumptions: the assumption that the hereditary principle is in fact anathema. I do nothing to defend the hereditary principle at this moment; but it has been attacked in rather curious ways. It is supposed by some that it is anathema to the whole country. It is anathema to the Labour Party but in so far as it is anathema to the Labour Party—or to anyone else—on the basis of prejudice rather than logic, this is not a very sound basis on which to base a project for the reform of Parliament.
§ THE EARL OF CORK AND ORRERY
My Lords, I am aware of that. I am not defending the principle, as I think I said. I am only saying that the way in which it has been approached as 1328 being anathema is something that has made it difficult for this Bill to be accepted. But perhaps I can develop that argument briefly. I understand that the principle is accepted by all Parties, but I doubt whether it is true that it is anathema to the whole country. I do not think that anyone is in a position to say, as has been said by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, and indeed by my noble leader, Lord Carrington, that the country simply will not stand it. I doubt whether the country gives a hoot one way or the other whether we have a hereditary principle in the Lords or not. I do not know; but I do not think that anybody else knows. But I think it is a shaky foundation on which to build anything. I am not talking about hereditary legislators but about the principle itself.
Next, it is doubtful, I think—and my noble friend Lord Dilhorne suggested something of the same sort—whether in fact the Leaders of the Parties are the best persons to set about the task of drafting a Bill. I say this for two reasons: first, that a very wide area of knowledge is required for this purpose (which knowledge might be derived from constitutional lawyers and historians) and, second, that rightly or wrongly—I believe wrongly—it may be seen in the end product to have been produced by Governments—either the Government of the moment or a Government of the future. Front-Benchers emerge with a scheme and find that their Back Benchers are against them. That is illogical and fallacious in itself; but it happens; and I think we saw it happen in this case in the other place. People feel that what has happened is that a Bill has been produced for the benefit of the Government—and the object of the Bill was to make the process of government in general easier. But Parliaments do not exist for the benefit of Governments. To that extent the Bill itself was suspect, as I said, rightly or wrongly; though I take no sides.
It has been said—and I believe that this also is fallacious—that there was a great deal of agreement between the Parties and that an enormous opportunity was lost. I am not certain about this. My own view is that there was very little agreement between the Parties in the 1329 end, and I venture to think that the noble Lord. Lord Francis-Williams, was wrong to think that it would have been possible to repeat on the Bill the vote that we made on the White Paper. My opinion is that we should have found a different result. If we let the impression go from this Chamber that noble Lords as a whole, or noble Lords on these Benches, would have been in favour of the Bill if only they had been allowed to say so, I think we should be giving a false impression.
That is all I have to say, my Lords, have not observed the noble Lord the Leader of the House nodding in sage agreement whenever I made a point; but I think he will accept—and that the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack will accept—that I have done something to obey the injunction of my noble Leader Lord Carrington, who recommended a period of reflection and thought. The only difference is that he was proposing it for the future and I have already tried to carry it out. I have tried to do it without any personal bias of any kind because I believe that Lords Reform—although I would rather call it Parliamentary reform—must come. I think that it ought to come; I wish to see it. If there were mistakes made in the past which we can see now but did not see then, perhaps the realisation of those mistakes may help to achieve this reform in the future.
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, I owe a deep apology for being so extremely late to-day, but I am going to atone for that by being very short. I had hoped that the noble Earl, Lord Longford, would be able to make my speech for me—
§ LORD CARRINGTON
My Lords, I do not wish to interrupt the noble Lord so soon in his speech, but I have sat in this House for 25 years and I have never known a noble Lord having heard none of the debate at all to come into the House and make a speech.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, things have taken rather an odd turn. I thought that I was more generous to Lord Carrington's noble friend than he was to mine.
§ LORD MOLSON
My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord, I would point out that my noble friend has been attending the debate whereas the noble Lord Mitchison, has only just walked into the Chamber.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, I must say that I had already used strong words to my noble friend Lord Mitchison, and had, so to speak, purged my feelings on the matter. But I think my noble friend had a good reason why he was not able to be present, and he promised to be only two minutes. if the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, had not get up, my noble friend would riot have been in the Chamber in time anyway.
My Lords, I am not employing tactics—if I dare mention this—which are more familiar in another place. I should like to start by expressing to noble Lords, and especially to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, my appreciation of their very generous remarks. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and I have certain things in common—and I know that my noble friend Lord Longford would feel exactly the same. It is a great honour to act as Leader of your Lordships' House. One is very conscious of how kind are your Lordships to Leaders who sometimes find themselves in difficult circumstances when they have quickly to look up the procedure. I am not sure that the Clerks in this House are in quite such a good position to whisper advice to us as the Clerks in another place may be to whisper to Mr. Speaker. I only hope that it is not a contempt of another place to say that. I am grateful to noble Lords, and I think that the noble Lord, Lord Alport, may be well pleased with the debate.
I am slightly nervous that, as a result of the various references which have been made, there may be a lot of Motions on the Order Paper in another place tomorrow. I made some innocent remarks and there was a Motion and then a counter-Motion. We do not go in for that sort of thing in your Lordships' House, any more than we go in very much for questions of privilege. But I am bound to say, and to repeat, that a number of very offensive remarks were made in another place and although one of the most offensive was subsequently withdrawn, it was only after representations had been made by some of my noble friends on this side of the House.
1331 Of course, this is bound to give rise to the sort of things that Erskine May warns us against. I will not quote Erskine May, but one sees how one gets into this situation. It is arguable that in another place they were debating the reform of the House of Lords and we were not debating the reform of the House of Commons. The noble Lord, Lord Alport, referred to the wide implications of the functioning of Parliament as a whole; so to that extent we may feel a little freer, but I suggest that we continue the restraint that I hope we have successfully shown to-day so far.
I was slightly depressed by the last two speeches from the noble Lord, Lord Somers, and the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery. I do not want to go over all the ground again, but there are still very fundamental misunderstandings of what the intention of the reform was. There are those who say that it was to strengthen the House of Lords; there are others who say that it was to weaken it. The basic ideas behind the reform were to strengthen Parliament as a whole. It is obviously open to argument that we have not succeeded and that the proposals were in fact counterproductive, but undoubtedly—and I am sure that noble Lords will accept it—that was the objective of those of us who took part in the discussions on this matter.
I would say to the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, that this was not something which was just "cooked up" as soon as there was an announcement in the Queen's Speech. Research had been going on for a couple of years before, and the origin of this research was the statement in the Labour Party's General Election policy. A number of noble Lords, and political scientists, particularly people like my noble friend Lord Longford—and we have heard the interesting quotation from the noble Lord, Lord Newton—have over many years been looking for the reform of this House and the improvement of Parliament in the process. My Lords, I was asked certain particular questions about the reform. I do not propose—
§ THE EARL OF CORK AND ORRERY
My Lords, before the noble Lord moves on, may I make one remark on my own behalf? I am sorry that the noble Lord was depressed by my speech. I think that I must have misled him. I hoped to 1332 make clear that in fact I was not intending any criticism of the content of the Bill. Does that make any sense to the noble Lord at all?
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, I must say that I find the speeches of the noble Lord and his reasoning somewhat—if I may so call it—involuted. I watch and listen with great interest, but—I say this with great affection—he has almost designed a new form of logic of his own. I study what he says with great interest because I appreciate that hidden in his remarks there are sometimes great truths. I look for them continuously, and I shall do so to-morrow. I appreciate the noble Lord's clarification.
My Lords, I will not go over the main issues which have been very fully put by my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack and in the excellent speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Byers, and the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, who was brief, terse and very much to the point, as always. I well understand the feelings of the noble Lord that perhaps we do not want to spend too much time over this now. None the less, something of a message has, I think, come from your Lordships' House. Certainly the majority of noble Lords who have spoken. and the majority of the weightier speeches, indicated that we should if possible try to proceed with the reform of the House of Lords as a contribution to the reform of Parliament. It is not for me to-day to say how or when this can take place, but I think that we should note it and for that reason I should like to answer certain of the points that were made so that they are on the Record.
My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Earl, Lord Perth, when he says that he believes that it would have been possible to arrive at a satisfactory agreement with regard to the position of Scotland. I repeat that the position of Scotland is quite different from that of other areas in the United Kingdom. Apart from the obligations of the Act of Union, the existence of a separate body of Scottish law required that there should be special recognition of this and we had given it some consideration, first of all by a possible amendment to the Preamble. There were technical arguments against amending the Bill. It may well be that it was a mistake to have that recognition and that it would have been 1333 necessary to make some further amendments to the Bill, particularly in relation to Committee stages. We had not reached that stage in the discussions and therefore I cannot say that the Government and noble Lords would have agreed on it. But our talks were such that I think there was a very good prospect that we should do so. Incidentally, I should remind the noble Earl and the noble Lord, Lord Airedale (who I imagine have read the White Paper, but sometimes people forget), that it was one-third attendance and not two-thirds attendance.
My Lords, I do not think that the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, who was in moderate mood to-day, will want me to answer his arguments. It is a pity that we shall not be able to cross swords as I am sure we should have done if the Bill had come to this House. It may well be that there will be further opportunities on another occasion. My noble friend Lord Longford, in his characteristically—I hesitate to use the word "brilliant" about him, as I have used it so often—scintillating speech, dealt with some of the main arguments of the noble and learned Viscount.
There was an anxious comment by the noble Baroness, Lady Swanborough. We always listen with great seriousness to anything she has to say. I find it difficult to see why it is necessary to introduce a new category of Independents into your Lordships' House. It seems to me that Cross-Benchers, defined as Peers who sit on the Cross-Benches, is as accurate, neutral and all-embracing a term as it can be. We have always known that sitting on the Cross-Benches are Peers who cover the whole spectrum of Party politics. There are some who are so far to the Right that they are almost invisible and merely sit there because perhaps they are not sure where else to sit. There are others who, but for some technical consideration, would otherwise be regular Party Members. There are a number of Members of my own Party who sit on the Cross-Benches and who, as we notice, regularly vote against the Government. Yet we recognise the noble Baroness's position and I do not think that she need fear unduly that she might be misunderstood.
May I say one thing about how this agreement was arrived at? It is always assumed to be a bad thing if people 1334 belonging to opposing political Parties agree on anything. I believe strongly in the Party system and—I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Byers, will not take it amiss if I say this—on the whole I believe strongly in the two-Party system. The noble Lord occupies a special position, as does his small Liberal cohort, in your Lordships' House. But I believe that the Party system, for all its difficulties, is fundamental to the working of democracy in this country. Maybe in the years to come a new system may be evolved. I think it is essential that Party lines should not be blurred; that Parties ought to cover a fairly wide spectrum of views, as demonstrably is the position at the moment in the Labour Party and I suspect they do the same, perhaps more quietly, in the Conservative Party. But I do not believe that it follows as a natural truth that if the Leaders of opposing political Parties happen to agree on something which in their considered opinion is of value to the country or to Parliament, this should automatically be assumed to be wrong.
We gave the most thorough examination to this subject, and the view that the Government took deliberately was that this was something much better dealt with by consensus than on straight Party lines. It was certainly my view that it was to the interests of my own Party that it should be so conducted. We believe that we got essentially what we thought was necessary in the way of reform of your Lordships' House. I believe that this was equally so from the point of view of the Conservative Party, confronted as they have been with a very difficult situation, with their hands half tied behind their backs because of their large majority.
I am not saying this offensively, but I must say I find Lord Somers's definition of independence rather an odd one. It seems to suggest that the fact that a Peer has come to your Lordships' House only once in his lifetime indicates independence. I do not think it has often happened that major Conservative measures have been rejected in this House. That is embarrassing to the Conservative Party, as they find on a number of occasions when they have to choose between whether they ought to vote against the Government or whether the consequences will be out of proportion to the intention of the 1335 Government. That has been clearly recognised by the Leaders of the Conservative Party. In the same way there were serious disadvantages to the Labour Party. So we arrived at a reform which might not have been very beautiful, which might not have had the clarity of a written constitution but which was essentially an adaptation of a living institution. We believe it preserved the best qualities of your Lordships' House and would tend (if I may use the horrible word) to maximise its use, so that alongside the other place we might be able to make a bigger contribution to Parliament.
I reiterate that my greatest regret is that this loss of the Bill means a slowing up of Parliamentary reforms. I would remind your Lordships of what my right honourable friend Mr. Crossman said:The Bill will give us not only these negative reforms but a chance of reorganising Parliament, reducing pressure on Back Bench Members and giving a better chance of achieving adequate Parliamentary control of delegated legislation".We all know that the system of control over delegated legislation is thoroughly unsatisfactory. We looked to these reforms, to Joint Committees and such like bodies, to establish a much more critical measure of control over the legislation which pours out from successive Governments.
I still hope that there are some changes it may be possible to carry through. There have been important proposals by the Select Committee on Procedure of another place. Perhaps it is early days for us to start thinking about Joint Committees. I believe that the atmosphere is a little too sour at the moment to talk about those; but I think that we ought to see whether we can develop some of these institutions. And when, in due course, once again someone makes an attempt to reform your Lordships' House, we shall then have a clearer view of how Parliament can be improved.
There is much that I could continue to say. Among the particular arguments that have been made was that of the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, who talked about the value of young hereditary Peers. I do not for one moment underrate the value of young hereditary Peers for your Lordships' House. The only thing is that there are so few of them. My noble and 1336 learned friend who sits on the Woolsack made some inquiries and found that of the hereditary Peers under 30 who turned up at least once in three times, there was only one. None the less, even one young hereditary Peer is very well worth while, and I have noted the noble Lord's point. In weighing the issues of the improvement of Parliament and of the achievement of respect for Parliament that I think the people of this country have tended recently rather to lose, I do not believe that the preserving of a few young hereditary Peers weighs the balance against the sort of reform we had in mind.
I hope that we shall have further opportunities to discuss the procedure of your Lordships' House. We shall certainly have our struggles during the remaining 18 months of this Parliament. I have noted what the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said about hasty legislation being out of place and equally what he said about the Opposition in your Lordships' House playing its usual responsible role in relation to Government legislation. I hope that we shall in fact be able to continue in this way. Meanwhile, I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Alport, that it may be that a time will come when he will be able to introduce a Parliament (No. 1) Bill.
§ 6.29 p.m.
§ LORD ALPORT
My Lords, it falls to me now, at the end of this debate, merely to wind up, very briefly, and to thank those noble Lords who have taken part in it. I do so with a great feeling of gratitude to them for turning this occasion into something which I hope your Lordships will regard as being a useful one in the interests of your Lordships' House. I realise that my noble friends on this side felt that I began this debate with a somewhat controversial speech. Had my noble friend Lord Conesford not leapt to the defence of the other place it would have been slightly more controversial than it was: more provocative perhaps, and more directly applied to certain of the issues of the last debates in the other place. But having listened to the noble Lords, Lord Byers, Lord Longford, Lord Francis-Williams and Lord Molson, I am rather consoled by the thought that anything I was prevented from saying has been said more than adequately on my behalf.
1337 I think your Lordships will have been touched, during the speech of my noble and learned friend Lord Dilhorne, at the vote of thanks which he passed to the distinguished literary critic of the Evening Standard. I can but think that had the events in the House of Commons gone differently for him, he might have been tempted to follow the rather more dangerous lines that I tried.
My Lords, many important points have been advanced during this debate, but primarily it leaves me with one conclusion. There may be many ways of reaching a solution to reform, but there is only one thing which to me seems to be important; and that is that those who are determined to bring about reform if they possibly can should continue with their efforts, despite discouragement and despite setbacks. The reform of a great institution such as this, with its origins and foundations running back into our national life and history, however important it may appear to some of us, is always slow in coming, and always requires great efforts by those who are convinced of its necessity. I am convinced of its necessity. I am as convinced as I have explained to your Lordships on more than one occasion; and, so far as I personally am concerned, I shall continue with my efforts to the best of my ability, as I hope will those noble Lords, to whichever Party they belong—or even those without Party—who feel it worth while joining to make certain that this particular reform, which should have been brought about many years ago, is accomplished without too long a period for further reflection and thought, or too long a period of waiting for investigations in depth when these, we know, are no longer relevant after the agreement in principle which has been reached between the Leaders of the various Parties and which forms the basis of the No. 2 Bill.
In those circumstances, my Lords, I would merely add that I am very grateful indeed for the consideration which your Lordships, as always, have shown to me 1338 as the initiator of this debate, and I now ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.