§ 5.7 p.m.
§ LORD WILLIS rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what plans they have, if any, for the reform of the House of Lords. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in one respect this Question is simply a straightforward request for information. Quite simply, I should like to know whether the Government have any plans at this particular time. On another level, it is an expression of my concern and I happen to know, because of the conversations I have had in your Lordships' House and outside of it since 1074 this Motion was put down that that concern is shared by a great many noble Lords; and I am encouraged by the number of Lords who have put down their names to speak. I am unhappy about the present position. I find it unsatisfactory, and I should like something done about it. I am well aware that the Government have some much more urgent problems than the future of your Lordships' House on their agenda at the moment. Nevertheless, I hope that in the midst of the work that they have to do they will not overlook the fact that reform of your Lordships' House has been under discussion since 1911, and that apart from the Life Peerages Act 1958 we still have not moved forward one single inch.
§ As your Lordships all know, it is difficult to describe the constitution of the House of Lords. It is like trying to describe cricket to an Abyssinian through a Greek interpreter. We explain that some Peers inherit their present title; that some Peers are appointed, but not elected, and that they are here for life; and that, irrespective of any Election results, there is a built-in Conservative majority. By that time you have lost them. But when all this has been admitted, we usually turn around and say,"Never mind—it works." That is the main thing about it. It may be an anachronism, but it works. My Lords, I would be the last to deny this. I know that it works, and there is a great deal of evidence to support this. There is the work on Government Bills which leads to useful Amendments; the idea that we are a Chamber of second thoughts; and the fact that we are very often a test bench for new ideas and new legislation. The classic example, of course, was the reform of the abortion law, where we began here the great public debate and, in essence, initiated the eventual reform. There are other areas, obviously, in which our work is useful—not all of it done in this Chamber.
§ My Lords, that is not the question. If we are honest we have to ask ourselves, can we work better? Can we make a greater contribution to the Parliamentary process? To go further, we ought to ask ourselves more fundamental questions: whether, for example, the work we do could not be done better by some other kind of Chamber or Committee, or, even, whether we are strictly necessary? We 1075 ought to ask ourselves whether the world would stop for one second in its cosmic flight if this place were abolished tomorrow and some other second Chamber put in its place, or nothing at all?
My Lords, it is difficult for anybody who has sat here, as I have for ten years, to answer such questions objectively. If one has the privilege of being a Member of this House one is a Member of what has been described as the best club in the world. It is true that one would have to look hard to find a place with a more congenial, pleasant and seductive atmosphere. I remember a Labour Minister way back in 1964, flushed with victory at the Election, meeting me in our guest room for a drink. He looked around the guest room and said:"We could do with this space. You don't really need it. We will take it over ". That Labour Minister is now a respected Member of this House and I am sure that he would be the first one on the barricades if there were to be any attempt by the other place to take over our accommodation. That is what happens in this House. In some ways it is a kind of lotus land, where even the most rebellious heart becomes softened. In fact, when I first came here I remember listening to a noble Lord who unhappily has now gone to that bourne from which no traveller returns. He was carrying on at some length and I was reminded of the phrase from Tennyson's poem:
In the afternoon they came unto a land in which it seemed always afternoon.
Here the rough edges are smoothed, all is sweetness, courtesy and light. Here the rebel lies down with the reactionary, the pleb. with the professor and the Bishop with the business man—all in perfect harmony. As the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Montgomery, said once:
We are all decent chaps here.
§ It is in this atmosphere that the danger lies. It can and does create complacency, a resistance to change and even illusions of grandeur, the greatest danger of all. Why alter something that is so good, so comfortable and that works in its creaking kind of way. Why stir things up? Why not let sleeping Peers lie? I believe that we have to resist these feelings and that we must be on our guard against self-delusion. If we do 1076 this, we shall see that there is a great deal in our present situation which is wrong and which ought to be changed. Because we are not talking about a club, we are talking about an arm of the Parliamentary process, a second Chamber which is paid for by taxpayers' money.
§ Since 1968 there has been a deadly silence on this issue of reform. A curtain has descended on it. I do not intend to go into all the details of the reform proposals put forward that year. They are all available to your Lordships. But two things happened that year: first, proposals for reform were agreed between all parties in your Lordships' House after a great deal of discussion; and secondly, when the Government were defeated here—I think on an issue about Rhodesia—they threw out our proposals and introduced their own Bill to reform this House. That Bill was killed off by a strange alliance; a political pincer-movement with Enoch Powell at one arm and Michael Foot at the other—two eminent Parliamentarians. Both opposed the Bill for different reasons: Enoch Powell did not want to see any fundamental change here, preferring to leave matters as they were. That is a simplification of his argument, but basically that was it. Michael Foot opposed change because he is fundamentally an abolitionist. He felt that the Bill might lead to a stronger and more viable House of Lords, and he was against that, he just wanted to get rid of us. Since the withdrawal of that Bill we have heard nothing. Reform has become a dead issue and our situation seems, in some respects, to have worsened.
§ I am concerned, for example, at the present Government's attitude to your Lordships' House. I want to stress that there is nothing personal in the remarks I am about to make. I respect and admire the job being done by the Leader of the House and by my noble friends on the Front Bench. But Government policy seems to me to be to treat this House as a rather unimportant junior school to be run by rather junior masters. Let us consider the facts: when the Prime Minister was creating this Government after the last election, he showed scant concern or respect or gave little time to your Lordships' House. When the Government-making was finished we emerged with the meagre total of nine 1077 Ministers out of a total of almost 90. If one excludes the Leader of the House and the Lord Chancellor, because they are obligatory and you cannot get rid of them, we are left with seven Ministers of middle and junior rank. Together with six Whips they have to cover the whole range of Government policy.
§ We had an example this afternoon when the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, who occupies a busy desk at the Home Office, had to cross the road and take on the heavy assignment of the Prices Bill. That, to me, is quite unworkable and wrong. He did a brilliant job, but it is not fair to load a man down in that way. The incredible fact is that our Ministers do so well. But is it fair or reasonable to place them in this position? Is it fair or reasonable to place this House in the position when we are, to some extent, at the mercy of the briefs that are given out by the Civil Service? Is it right that this House should have no direct Ministerial contact with many key Departments, such as Prices, Environment, Housing, and so forth. I think it is shameful, it is a snub to your Lordships' House and something should be said about it if only from the Back-Benches. The Prime Minister can hardly argue that the talent is not available to take up additional Ministerial posts because after all he has been responsible since 1964 for sending about 150 people here and he must have thought, presumably, that they had some quality, otherwise he would not have nominated them.
§ I believe that the Government's attitude to the House of Lords is symptomatic of a fairly general feeling in the House of Commons. We ought to face the fact that there is no doubt—and this applies particularly to the Labour Benches there—that there is a legacy of suspicion and distrust of a non-elected House which has a permanent Conservative majority and powers of delay. I do not think that we shall make any progress at all until that distrust has been removed and it can only be removed by reform.
§ We could work better and could carry a greater share of the Parliamentary load, provided the problems that appear to divide us from the other place were resolved. It is important in a wider context. We all know that there is among 1078 ordinary people, a certain cynicism about Parliamentary institutions and that cynicism is not relieved by a situation in which obvious and civilised reforms to Parliament are simply put on one side. I do not want this place to go on as it is. I do not want the privilege of being a member of an exclusive club. I do not want to be a Peer in a gilded cage. I want the talents of this House to play as great a part as possible in Parliament and in the Parliamentary process. On a personal note, may I say that like many other noble Lords I was asked to come here in 1963 to help strengthen the Benches on this side of the House when we were down to about thirty Labour Peers. I have done my best to make a contribution in those ten years—not as great as I should have liked perhaps, because like many other noble Lords I still have to earn a living. I do not want to make too much of this, but it ought to be remembered sometimes, that I, together with a number of other noble Lords gave up my vote, gave up my opportunity to stand for the other place. Every time a number of noble Lords attend here they make a considerable financial sacrifice and in doing so indirectly subsidise the business of Government. We are entitled to be treated with respect and we are entitled to ask that reasonable reforms shall be put in motion.
§ There was talk, as I said, of reform back in 1911 and apart from the Life Peers Act, we have scarcely moved forward since that time. I believe that the House of Lords should seize the initiative in this matter. I believe that our Front Bench, which I regret to see is so sparsely represented by senior Ministers to-day, should not allow the situation to drift on. We simply cannot allow ourselves to stand still. Few institutions can have been so constantly and convincingly criticised than your Lordships House; few can be more self-evidently undemocratic; yet few have lasted for so long. This suggests to me that there must be something which is basically good and useful at the heart of this place, and it is because I want that to be preserved and made more effective that I beg leave to ask this Question.
§ 5.21 p.m.
§ LORD DENHAM
My Lords, many years ago I was asked by a friend to 1079 attempt one of those mathematical problems which appeals to a certain type of childish mentality such as mine. By the time I was ready to give up and ask for the answer, I had forgotten who had asked me the original question. The problem was this: On one side of the road you have three houses and on the other side you have a gasworks, a waterworks and a power station. Each of the three houses must be connected to each of the three services, and none of the nine lines thus drawn must cross one another. Often when I have a spare moment with pencil and paper I go quietly mad trying to work out the answer. The first eight lines are easy but the ninth always has to cross somewhere. I believe the solution to be impossible, but I still go on trying to find it. The problem posed by the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Willis, falls into much the same category. We are told that we ought not to have the present composition of the House (which we know works) because it is undemocratic. We must not have an elected Second Chamber (which works in other countries) because another place would not like it. Any other solution is acceptable, provided it does not involve patronage. Obviously, here, too, the lines must cross somewhere.
I do not propose to say very much about the present composition of your Lordships' House. In principle it is hard to defend and in practice it does not need defending. However, there are two widely believed myths that ought to be dispelled. The first is that there is a large body of"backwoodsmen"who never normally come to the House, but who are ready to drop everything and stream into the Palace of Westminster to"chivvy"the Labour Party at the crack of a Tory Whip. My Lords, these people simply do not exist. As a Whip, I sometimes wish that they did but as an ardent upholder of your Lordships' House, I am more often very glad that they do not! Some noble Lords come to this House once or twice a week; others, owing to the distance from their homes and their involvement with local commitments, come less frequently, varying from twice a month to possibly as little as twice a year. When a subject of particular interest or irritation comes before your Lordships, the attendances of the rarer 1080 Members of this House are inclined to coincide. On the days when just the odd unfamiliar face is seen, nobody notices; but when a number appear together the myth of the"backwoodsmen"gains strength. These less frequent attenders, by the very fact that they do spend so much time engaged in their particular occupation, are among the most valuable Members of the House when they do attend. They are also no more likely sheepishly to follow the Conservative Front Bench into the Division Lobbies than are your Lordships who come every day.
The second myth is that if only the House of Lords could get rid of its hereditary Peers, the Press, the public and another place would pay very much more respect to what it said and did. I do not believe that the country at large, apart from a vociferous minority, objects to hereditary titles, even if they carry with them an hereditary seat in Parliament. It is true that the"undemocratic hereditary content"is used as one of the slurs for discrediting the Second Chamber by its detractors. But it is only one of many. The House of Lords is also accused of being an eventide home for superannuated politicians; a place where unpopular or intractable Members of Parliament can be kicked upstairs; where aspiring politicians, consistently unsuccessful in elections, are found an easy political berth; and a repository for patronage.
And, my Lords, if you are talking about democracy, what could be more undemocratic than for a candidate who has offered himself for a Parliamentary seat for a period of five years and been accepted by his constituents in good faith, to hand over both it and them to a senior colleague who has already been rejected by the electors of another constituency, in exchange for a Peerage? If you deny critics the opportunity to object to the Lords on hereditary grounds, these other grounds for complaint will still remain and, indeed, come to the fore; and they are not all without some foundation in fact. The noble Lord, Lord Willis, has suggested that perhaps a Second Chamber is not necessary at all. All I can say is that if he would like to see all the major Bills go on to the Statute Book in the state in which they reach us from another place, I would not!
1081 When the all-Party Committee met some years ago to discuss methods of reform, they did not even consider the possibility of an elected Second Chamber. It is generally accepted that this would be a non-starter in the eyes of Members of another place. It would mean that they would always be looking nervously over their shoulders in the fear that an elected Upper House might gain as much power and even more influence than themselves. And I think that fear might be justified. Nevertheless, I believe that an elected Second Chamber is the only workable alternative to your Lordships' present House. If and when financial circumstances make it no longer possible for your Lordships to continue to work long hours on an expenses-only basis, or if and when the continual sniping by uninformed detractors, the ignoring by the Press and the treatment meted out to this House by successive Governments cause your Lordships to wonder why you should bother, it is an elected Second Chamber that will be the only answer.
Although the noble Lord, Lord Willis, regrets the still-birth of the most recent reform proposals, I believe that had the Parliament (No. 2) Bill been enacted, it would have been an unmitigated disaster. I had the strongest possible doubts about it at the time but since then, as a Whip in Government and in Opposition, I have been considering, as they occurred, how the reformed House would have weathered the stresses of the last few years. I think that it would have ground to a halt before now and that already a new and more drastic reform would have become essential.
Your Lordships' present House is, and any reformed House, if it is to be of any use at all, must be complementary to, and not a pale imitation of, another place. Another place, by its very nature is overwhelmingly concerned with the Party-politically contentious _ parts of Bills, and the guillotine procedure leaves vast tracts of less controversial clauses unexamined for your Lordships to deal with. And this your Lordships' House is admirably suited to do. We are, broadly speaking, not over-concerned with Party issues, for the very reason of the extreme imbalance between the two sides. For the Labour Party. there is no point in playing a game which they can never win 1082 and, for the Conservative Party, one which they are unlikely to lose.
But you really could not reform this House without making the numbers on each side more fairly balanced. That of itself would bring back the emphasis to Party politics. Members would be chosen by virtue of the fact that they belonged to a particular political Party or to none. The Whips on each side would have a strong moral control over their Back-Benchers in that they could reasonably argue that it would be unfair to use one of the strictly rationed Party votes to vote against their Front Bench, or even to abstain. And whereas Members of another place owe their seats (and therefore their ultimate allegiance) to their constituents, Members of your Lordships' reformed House would owe their seats (and therefore, it is to be feared, their ultimate allegiance) to their Party leaders. Instead of, and at the expense of, examining and improving the less controversial parts of legislation that need it, your Lordships would tend to re-fight the Party battles already decided in another place. I would ask your Lordships to consider what chances the Party managers would have of getting a really controversial programme of legislation through such a House and what improvements would be achieved to Bills in the process.
The second way in which your Lordships' House is complementary to another place is in its"amateur"status. Members of another place are, or should be, politicians first, although they may have secondary occupations as well. Members of your Lordships' House may have their main interests outside, and therefore can bring a different viewpoint to Parliament. With a more equally balanced and Party-conscious House, this. too, must end. Both Government and Opposition Parties would expect their voting Members to be present and available to vote whenever and for however long they were needed. Who, then, would be these full voting Members of a reformed house such as the noble Lord. Lord Willis, has suggested? Not the distinguished men who are active in many fields and whose practical and up-to-date knowledge is made available to Parliament through your Lordships' present House. The very occupations that make them so valuable to your Lordships would 1083 make it impossible for them to come here often enough to vote. Not the retired Members of another place who bring political wisdom and experience to your Lordships' House, and who, after 15 or 20 years down the corridor, are prepared to serve on, in an easier political life, free from being at the beck and call of their Party Whips. An easier political life is what they would not get; free from the Whips they would not be. I doubt whether these noble Lords would either want, or would indeed be able, to put in the long and late hours that an active part in a reformed Second Chamber would involve.
My Lords, it is true that both these categories of noble Lords could be included in some form of amateur, nonvoting, second tier, so that they could still take part in what are known as the general interest debates on Wednesday afternoons. Although there is a school of thought which maintains that these debates are the most important contribution your Lordships' House makes to politics, I sometimes wonder to whom in fact they are of general interest. They certainly do not seem to interest the noble Lords who take part in them, as many of them are out of the Chamber much of the time when they themselves are not actually speaking. They do not interest the newspapers, nor through them the general public, because they have usually gone to press long before the debates are finished. As for the Government Departments concerned, the speeches are too detailed, too wide-ranging, and, in most cases, too long for the Minister and the officials in the Box to be able to do more than pick out a couple of points from each to answer at the, winding-up. The bulk of each debate, first-class though it may be, goes into mothballs to be preserved for posterity in the bound volumes of Hansard.
The voting Members of your Lordships' reformed House would have to be a new type of Peer, young enough and uncommitted enough to work the same hours and to give the same priority in their lives to Parliament, as do Members of another place. I cannot help feeling that a man who wants to live that sort of political life would be a pretty moderate chap if he were prepared to opt for a safe and easy berth in your Lordships' House, rather than taking his chance of 1084 getting into another place where the political action will still be. But perhaps the worst aspect of this Party-politically-orientated semi-professional second class Second Chamber, is that its Members would have to be paid, and paid fairly well. An unexacting job, which must be given to a relatively young man, salaried, with Parliamentary holidays, with security for life, or at least for the rest of his working life, and a title, too. What an unprecedented opportunity for patronage to put into the hands of future Party leaders.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ THE LORD BISHOP OF ROCHESTER
My Lords, in previous debates on this subject in recent years my colleague the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of London has voiced from these Benches the desire of the Bishops to support the kind of reform of the House of Lords embodied in the 1968 White Paper which was seen, I believe, as a contribution to the evolution of a modern Parliament for Britain. In his absence to-day, I rise to reiterate our continuing interest in this matter, and our readiness to co-operate, if and when the time comes. in the prepartion of any new proposals for forwarding the reform of this House, which is something that I would venture to suggest is in fact going on all the time in a manner very typical of this country.
I was not a Member of your Lordships' House at the time of the 1968 discussions when the major proposals under consideration were the reduction in the size of the voting House and the existence of non-voting Peers alongside those entrusted with a vote. It was perhaps inevitable that proposals that were intended to reduce the total number of each category of Peers should not have included any suggestion for adding to the House representatives of some of those important groupings in society hitherto without adequate representation. But I confess that I was surprised at the time, and I have continued to be so since sitting on these Benches, that the 1968 White Paper made no reference whatever to the representation in your Lordships' House of the Leaders of the other religious bodies besides those of the Church of England.
It may well be that it was thought best not to raise this matter until the Report of the Chadwick Commission on the Church and State had been published and their proposals debated. But this was the 1085 fifth Commission on this subject in this century, and there is no certainty whatever that their findings will prove any more acceptable to either of the parties concerned than previous efforts of this kind. But one of the unanimous recommendations of the Chadwick Commission on the Church and State was that others beside Bishops of the Church of England should be chosen for membership of the House of Lords. In developing this argument, the Commission state that while being content with an ex officio system, they would not be averse to the choice of the particular persons rather than of particular office holders. There would have to be a retiring age, such as now effectively operates for Bishops, if religious leaders in this House were to be those still actively involved in the leadership of the Churches.
As one who was associated for over twenty years with the British Council of Churches, I know from first-hand experience what a distinguished pair of leaders were elected every two years from the Churches of the British Isles to serve that Council as Vice-Presidents. Several of them would have added great distinction to this House. I am thinking of such men as Principal John Baillie, a former Moderator in the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and another Moderator of that Church, Professor James Pitt-Watson whom your Lordships will remember presented the Bible to the Queen at her Coronation. And in the English Free Churches, men like Dr. Hugh Marten and Dr. Leslie Cooke—to mention only names of those no longer with us—would both have been forceful and gracious Members of this House, as would leading dignitaries of the Roman Catholic Church, past and present.
I have seen it suggested in an article in the journal Parliamentary Affairs on"Prelates in Parliament"that it is possible to calculate a grand total of no less than 58 spiritual representatives from all the regions and traditions of the British Isles, but this is unrealistic and perhaps only serves to show the over-representation of one Church at the present time, and to lose sight of the fact that the Churches are not only represented by their ordained members, but also by many active lay members as well.
The Chadwick Report on the Church and the State has of course raised again 1086 the question of the manner in which Church of England Bishops are appointed. They were not agreed on their recommendations, and two sets of proposals are at present under discussion. If either of these were to be enacted with the agreement of all the three political Parties, the delicate system of checks and balances that goes to make up the present Church and State relationship in England would inevitably come under review, including the representation of the English Diocesan Bishops in this House. That might well provide the moment for widening rather than reducing the representation of religious leaders in this House.
Some of us who sit on these Benches are immensely proud to be the present holders of Bishoprics that have provided this House with Lords Spiritual for several centuries. Nothing that I have said is intended to suggest that we are not ready and willing to continue to play our part in the Government of this country, to lead your Lordships in prayer each day and to continue to enjoy the friendship and companionship of the Lords Temporal.
It is of course easier for some of us than others to attend, and there may well be a case for allowing a Bishop to opt out in favour of a colleague. I was appointed a Bishop at the age of 46 and waited nine years before becoming a Member of your Lordships' House. A Bishop appointed at the age of 60 sometimes has only a very short tenure of office here. Perhaps this is another argument for some system of selection, rather than for representation ex officio. But whether or not the manner of our appointment is changed, whether or not our numbers here continue as at present or are reduced, many of us hope that at some time when the opportunity occurs some of those of other traditions with whom we are now working so closely up and down the country may be summoned to sit here with some of us who are privileged at present, not to be Peers but to be Lords Spiritual in your Lordships' House.
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ LORD SHINWELL
My Lords, with the utmost respect to the right reverend Prelate, I cannot imagine how the addition of those associated with denominations other than the Church of England 1087 could in any form resemble what is meant by"reform of the House of Lords ". Nevertheless, I make no complaint because, strange as it may seem this is in one sense a democratic Assembly. By that I mean that every Member of your Lordships' House has a right to express his opinions. Therefore I make no complaint.
I must congratulate my noble friend Lord Willis on the Question he has posed—a very important one. Perhaps I may remind your Lordships what that Question is. He desires to ascertain from the Government what their plans are about the future of this Assembly. The answer is simple: they have no plans, and for a very good reason. They are concerned at the present time, indeed they have been concerned for quite a long time, and will be concerned for some time ahead, about future General Elections. That lust for power. That is what it is all about. The idea that the present Government—I add not simply because they happen to be in a minority—should concern themselves with the future of the House of Lords; have we not enough trouble?—a mere matter of inflation; concern about a deficit in the balance of payments; uncertainty as to our future in the E.E.C! May I in a digression direct the attention of Members of your Lordships' House to a leading article in the Financial Times where, strangely enough, they have put (if I may use a somewhat vulgar expression) a kibosh on the whole of this conception of a European Community. Yes, the Government have quite enough to handle, quite enough on their plate.
This controversy about reform of the House of Lords is by no means original. It was debated at the time of the Reform Movement, a long time ago, and even before that. The Chartists were very much concerned about it. They made no mistake about what they wanted: they wanted abolition the idea of reform never occurred to them. They wanted the vote, but not the House of Lords. What is to be done about it? Never has there been a piece of proposed legislation concerning what is called the reform of the House of Lords which has contained definite ideas as to how reform was to be achieved. If by reform we mean vesting your Lordships' House with authority, even to the extent of defying the Mem- 1088 bers of another place, of turning down their proposals when they emerge, never has such a scheme been proposed. What is the position at present? Let us take a cool, hard look at ourselves. We are just a convenience for the other place. It is true they permit your Lordships' House to initiate legislation. But what do we do with it? We debate it; we seek to amend it, well knowing that, unless what we do is agreeable to the Members of another place, it will be rejected with contempt. That is the situation. Let us face the realities.
What about the position of the Labour Party? It is quite clear. It has been clear for a long time. Occasionally they pass a resolution at their annual conference. At one time there were many resolutions on the subject; in recent years, only one. It comes from some remote constituency, demanding the abolition of the House of Lords. Nobody pays any attention to it. It is not even remitted to the National Executive, as are some other resolutions. It is dismissed with contempt. There is complete silence on that subject, and for a very good reason. There are many members of the Labour Party who do not want any reform of the House of Lords. They are not going to give up a grievance of this kind as readily as some people imagine. If anything goes wrong, blame the House of Lords! Do we want to make it even worse than that by transforming Members of your Lordships' House, after an election, into senators vested with authority, defying the other place? They will never accept that. They prefer that the grievance should remain. That was the fundamental reason why when the relevant Bill came before the other place some years ago, largely the product of the fertile brain of the late Mr. Crossman, they rejected it almost with contempt, although there had been some understanding between the two Front Benches.The usual channels were operating, but to no effect.
So what is to be done about it? There are some modifications that could be acceptable to Members of your Lordships' House. The noble Lord, Lord Denham, made what I consider to be an excellent speech, except that I have one criticism to make. It is a criticism I make of many speeches. I do not complain about the content of the speeches, not at all. Who am I to object to the 1089 content of other people's speeches? They have much more expertise than I possess. What I object to is the reading of speeches. Too many briefs are available. Too many speech writers are available. I have never been able to employ one myself. It would be some modification of our present situation if Members of your Lordships' House just rose in their places and addressed the House with words that flowed. If they do not flow it is just too bad as long as they have ideas to express. It is the ventilation of ideas that matters. Indeed, that is the charm and value of this Assembly.
When we talk about reform, what do we really mean? Does"reform"mean an elected Assembly? Is that what it means, because if that is what it means it is out. We can dismiss it at once. It would never be accepted by the other place. Even if the two Front Benches came to an agreement on that topic, it would not be acceptable. I doubt whether it would be acceptable to the general public.
§ LORD WILLIS
My Lords, will the noble Lord give way? In answer to the noble Lord's question, I think"reform"means two things: first, it means the proposal which was set out in the 1968 Agreement between the two Front Benches and the three Parties; secondly, it means giving this House adequate representation in the Ministries so that our work can be more directive.
§ LORD SHINWELL
My Lords, if it means representation in the Ministries, that is a horse of another colour and there I would agree with my noble friend. But the 1968 proposals were quite different. Let me mention one of them. I am bound to recall it, because it affected me personally. One of the proposals was that nobody over the age of 72 should be permitted to vote. If the reform had been accepted, all those under 72 would have been allowed to vote. There was some suggestion also that those under 72—not a vast number—nominated for the most part, should receive a salary. Those over the age of 72 should receive nothing at all. That was one reason for my objection! I could have managed without the salary. I could have managed very well without coming to your Lordships' House. In fact, I had to manage in the other place for well over 40 years. Probably I could have remained there longer. 1090 Indeed, if I had known that the Members in another place were going to receive these high salaries, with secretaries, all the amenities, and trips abroad, I doubt whether I would have resigned.
Let us come down to brass tacks about this matter. The noble Lord, Lord Denham, made one very useful proposal. It was that our numbers are phenomenal, almost 800 or 900, including the backwoodsmen who never come here and who have no intention of coming here. The first thing we ought to do is ask them whether they ever intend to come here. If not, rule them out. There is no reason why they should take the Oath of Allegiance if they do not intend to come. There are many who ask for absence without leave. All right, they can come if they wish. I would reduce the numbers. Naturally, it would have to be the hereditary Peers because, as the noble Lord. Lord Denham, rightly said, they have the power at any time to turn the Labour Opposition down. It happened in the past over the Industrial Relations Bill, over the E.E.C., over a number of other items of legislation and Motions, and so on. It is all wrong. If we had an electoral system and it was understood that anybody could allow himself to be nominated no matter what his age, that would be another matter. Again, we come hard up against the fact that neither the electors nor the other place would ever find it agreeable that your Lordships' House should be vested with authority.
I shall tell Members of your Lordships' House what I have thought about this matter. My noble friend Lord Willis suggested that we were inclined to conform—even mavericks like myself—after a long period of turbulence in the other place. When they come to this Assembly it gets them down, somehow. Everyone was certain that I would conform, but I have done nothing of the sort. Perhaps I intervene too often, but what am I to do? Why do I come here? I have nowhere else to go. Only yesterday I was at a function and somebody asked me whether I was enjoying the House of Lords. I said that the term"enjoyment"was hardly appropriate, but I found it intensely interesting so long as I was allowed to express myself. That is the crux of the whole matter. It is a forum where Members can express themselves. One thing can be said about it, with 1091 truth and in complete honesty. There is high quality so far as speeches are concerned, as high a quality as is to be found in another place. There is expertise, vast knowledge and fundamental understanding on a variety of topics. The speeches are worth listening to. Indeed, it is sometimes more enjoyable to listen than to speak. I am not suggesting anything improper to other Members of your Lordships' House.
Therefore, I regard this as a place to be retained. I do not ask that we should rid ourselves of the hereditary principle, and I shall give a reason why. It is not because I like the hereditary principle; I think it is an anachronism, it is outmoded. But there arc some very able people indeed among the aristocracy, strange as it may seem. I hope that I shall not be expelled from the Labour Party for saying that! But we ought to hear what they have to say. As for Life Peers, I agree that they are a mixed bag. There are some good, some bad and some indifferent. I hope they will not mind my saying that, but it happens to be true.
That is the best illustration I can give of why this forum should be retained, with certain modifications as I have suggested—fewer hereditary Peers, and people who come here should express their opinions but think about them before they express them. I would no more abandon the House of Lords than I would think of abandoning the Changing of the Guard, or abolishing the pigeons in Trafalgar Square, or the Tower of London or Trooping of the Colour. We need a place like this. Of course we have no authority—do not let us deceive ourselves—but we can talk, we can argue, we can meet people, and we can be friendly. This is the most friendly institution that I have ever been in; certainly more friendly than the other place. There is the fact that in the Dining Room you have a long table and you all sit together; whereas in the other place they are not so democratic, they all sit at different tables. They cannot agree with each other. We are much more objective than they are. They are always quarrelling. We do not quarrel very much. Of course, that could be corrected very readily if necessary.
So I beg your Lordships not to trouble unduly about the reform of the House of 1092 Lords. We have so many other topics on our plate. Let us address ourselves to the economic issues which concern us. Let us occasionally have a consensus of opinion, occasionally a little bickering, a little argument, a dialogue, a discussion. That is all very well. But a consensus of opinion in one Assembly in this country of ours, at least a place where we can talk freely and democratically even if we are not democratically elected, where we can talk freely expressing our opinions, unafraid to express ourselves—that is the essence of democracy. It is not merely a Parliamentary institution; it is behaviour in political life that matters, not the mechanism. Let us retain the machinery.
So I venture in those few words—not so few as they ought perhaps to be—to express my opinion. Here we are. Let us make the best of it, let us try to modify our procedure, let us try to improve it, let us try to make it better. All that can be done by a dialogue among ourselves. We do not require the assistance of anybody else to help us in this respect. Let us remain where we are. I see nothing wrong with that. Nobody can come along with a foolproof concept of how to reform this Assembly. My noble friend did his best but, if I may so so with respect, he failed, as indeed the noble Lord, Lord Denham, failed, and as indeed we shall all fail if we seek to reform this House of Lords. It cannot be done. Of course we can be logical and abolish it, but what shall we gain by that? Nothing at all. So let us remain where we are.
§ 6.1 p.m.
§ LORD PLATT
My Lords, I come next on the list because the noble Lord, Lord Alport, has had to withdraw his name, and after listening to the wonderfully interesting and entertaining speech of the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, I almost feel that I, too, should withdraw. One thing I think we all learned from him—although there were many others—is that if a retiring age is to be proposed for this House it should not be less than 100.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Willis, for the charming way in which he opened this debate, and I have also listened to the other speakers, with whom I have mostly agreed. I shall have to repeat one or two of the things that have already been said, some of them rather obvious, because I cannot develop a little 1093 argument which I want to put before your Lordships without doing so. Considering first what is said to be wrong with the House of Lords, people who come here are always impressed with the House of Lords. They do not go away and say that it should be abolished; they are usually impressed with our standard of debate, they are very impressed (if they stay long enough) with our expertise and the number of experts we can summon on almost any subject one likes to name, and they are impressed with our manners—and I think that is a matter of some importance in the world at the present time. It is usually acknowledged that our revision of legislation is better and more thorough than in the Commons and our initiation of new legislation in the form of Private Members' Bills is of course easier in this House than in another place. Our powers have (I think rightly) been curtailed from time to time but I still think our influence is considerable, not only within but also outside the House.
What then is the complaint? It is really that we are here either through heredity or through patronage. If there were to be a reform, I certainly would not want it to be all one and not the other. I believe there are now about 220 Life Peers and although of course we do not come every day, very often I suppose up to nearly one half of those attending will be Life Peers. Whether we are Life Peers or not we all stand for whichever Party we please; we are not under the same compulsion to vote as they are in another place and on sensitive issues like abortion, contraception, animal experiment or organ transplantation we can talk without fear of upsetting our constituents. As has so often been said, the hereditary principle brings us young men as well as older men, coming from families with generations of people who have served the country well, both at home and in many cases abroad. It is said that our Constitution is illogical. So, my Lords, is nature. Nature, like the House of Lords, works through evolution and on the whole, as has already been said, it works well. I would far rather be here through patronage or heredity than by the election of a majority of pretty ignorant people such as one finds 1094 in some of the constituencies in this country, despite universal education.
Leaving the House of Lords temporarily on one side, what is wrong with the country at the present time? Surely we must agree that standards have sadly deteriorated: standards of decency, standards of behaviour, standards of honesty. Hooligans from Britain visit countries abroad, terrify the townspeople and wreck their football pitches. Vandals destroy works of art and railway carriages. Students, who used to be proud of their universities, seem only to be interested in demonstrations and are not very sure exactly what they are demonstrating about, and in doing so they deny free speech to others. What would a neutral observer from some imaginary planet say if he landed here and watched us all at work in Britain? Would he say that there was too little democracy or would he say that there was too much democracy? Democracy is fine if it means freedom, but if it does not mean freedom and it merely allows the riff-rail to take over and terrorise the rest, then we have to think twice of what our democratic ideals—and I believe we all have them—really mean to us. Recent events, the virtual failure (as I see it) of the last two Governments and the results of the General Election have shown that this country is divided. In the two-Party system there is no room for real democracy in the sense that the voice of all sections is heard. We must vote black or white and, to put it bluntly, a large number of the voters do not want the Leader of either of the two main Parties. The House which needs reforming, my Lords—and urgently—is the House of Commons. As a start I think we must bring in proportional representation.
I should like to end now with two quotations—from myself. First:If democracy is the best safeguard against other and worse forms of Government—despotism, tyranny and dictatorship—then perhaps the House of Lords is the best safeguard against the excesses of democracy.The other quotation is:If everything were put to the vote we should have football, we should have boxing and we should probably have public executions but we should have no chamber music.Finally, my Lords, whatever you do with our House, for God's sake do not make it another elected Chamber! One has already proved too much.
§ 6.9 p.m.
§ LORD FERRIER
My Lords, as is obvious from the speeches so far we are all obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Willis, for introducing this Question on a most penetrating and thought-provoking speech. I think the same words could be applied to my noble friend Lord Denham, in his approach to the subject. Obviously both speeches were based on a careful study and long knowledge of the problems. Indeed, in regard to the noble Lord, Lord Willis, I often regret that, as he said, his own affairs press upon him so hard that we hear so little of him in our day-to-day business. I, like everybody else, look forward to the Minister's reply; but like the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, I have a shrewd suspicion that I know what it is going to be. It is going to be:"We are going to do nothing because nothing can be done ". However, as one of the dwindling number of original Life Peers I feel I have a small contribution to make to this most interesting debate. Like others, I greatly enjoyed the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, and I only wish that I had more of his gifts though, of course, if you have not got his gifts and you try to speak without notes you are inclined to be repetitive and to speak for too long.
My Lords, I am not altogether happy about how the Life Peerages Act 1958 has worked out. I feel that perhaps the title has been treated too much as an honour for past services. For instance, I think it is a pity that Life Peerages are included in the Birthday and New Year Honours. Of course it is a great honour and a privilege to be a Life Peer; but to accept it, as I saw it and as I see it, means to undertake an unenforceable obligation to serve Parliament and the State for a number of years. But I think it stands in a different category from the honour pure and simple, to serve, not just as Lobby-fodder, but in the creative, living process of Parliamentary Government. In other words, I am at one with the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, in saying that we can express our feelings here, in fact it is the duty of Life Peers to do so. Admittedly, separate lists of Life Peerages are published but why are any names included in the normal Honours Lists?
When I came here I felt that the hereditary principle was on the way out, but 1096 I did not take long to become converted to a belief in it. I am most interested that not only has the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, said so, but my mind goes back to another eminent Parliamentarian who came to this House and who became converted as well. I refer to the late Lord Morrison of Lambeth. After all, it is an important part of the basis for a Second Chamber which has very limited powers. Also hereditary Peers have a spread which in a measure covers the demand, which is reasonable, that a Second Chamber should have regional connotations amongst its membership.
As other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Platt, have said, I think that it would be a mistake for membership of a revisory chamber with limited powers to be elective, and as already pointed out by others speakers that would mix ill with the other place. The hereditary system seems the only way of enriching a House such as this with young blood without any overwhelming additive of Party political leanings. I hail the Cross-Benchers; I hail the young hereditary Peer, the Socialist son of a Conservative father and grandson of a Liberal who scooped the driven grouse section of the clay pigeon shoot the other day. Let us have more like that. I cannot understand why the Tory leadership has followed the Socialist lead in ceasing to create the occasional hereditary Peer to make up the number, which must diminish as time goes on. If you allow it to diminish too far you find a quite unwanted, unnecessary and undesirable increasing cachet attached to an hereditary title. My Lords, it also seems curious to me that the Socialist Left, who want to abolish this House altogether, are the very people who most use the words"working class ". To-day, these words seem to be the spring from which class consciousness flows. That class consciousness, I am sure, does not flow from the Tories, nor from your Lordships' House, despite what I think the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, described as"a gilded cage ".
Although I may be a little unhappy about the way the Life Peerage Act has worked, it has undoubtedly been a wise, a major and on the whole a successful reform. The only change that I suggest, therefore, is a resumption of the creation of hereditary Peers should there be any individual who would accept such under 1097 present conditions, remembering, of course, that it is now open to their heirs to renounce the title if they choose. What I am going to say may well help to demolish one of the myths to which my noble friend Lord Denham referred. Scions do not necessarily follow their fathers' political allegiance. We have Conservative Peers whose fathers were Socialist or Liberal. Socialist and Cross-Bench Peers whose fathers were Conservative; but for this proposal in regard to the hereditary system, like the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, I feel we should let things alone; and I imagine that is what the noble Lord. Lord Strabolgi, will say in his reply, and I look forward to it.
§ LORD FERRIER
My Lords, that is fascinating, and I look foward all the more to the reply though I imagine that Government have a good deal too much on their plate to take a bite at this now.
Listening to this debate one other thing crossed my mind. The noble Lord, Lord Willis, said,"We must do something. What shall we do? Is it possible that, with the ever-increasing influence so many of us have, we can persuade the media, not only in the Press but also in broadcasts, to give more coverage to what goes on in this House. It may go into mothballs, as my noble friend Lord Denham said, but a good deal of it could very well be conveyed to the people. Talking of Scotland, with the newspapers going to Press at seven o'clock, I notice that the Scottish papers did not contain one single word about the debate on Scottish transport, which contained some remarkable material and which took place in this House yesterday.
As for the abolition of the House, of course the full-blooded members of what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone. called the"the wholly-owned subsidiary of the Trade Union Congress" which tinged with red, would like to see any Second Chamber abolished. This the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, said. Alas! before that is even likely, or indeed possible, it may be that this noble House will find itself standing, as it has stood before, between a dictatorship either from the Right or from the Left, and the People.
1098 Before I sit down I should like to refer to the speech of the right reverend Prelate and his thoughts about the representation of other religious bodies in the Second Chamber. I shall certainly see that Hansard reaches the proper quarters in the Church of Scotland. I know that thought had been given to this at the time I was made a Life Peer. The real problem with the Church of Scotland is that only one body can appoint a representative, and that probably from year to year. I will not weary your Lordships in that respect. I would repeat my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Willis. for introducing this debate. I am grateful for the interesting speeches that have been made, and I look forward to the Minister's reply.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ LORD HALE
My Lords, if there were an immediate refutation of the case made by the noble Lord, Lord Willis, it would be the conduct of this debate which has produced a number of outstanding speeches, and an extraordinary variety of views. For once, I find myself largely in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, although it is a fairly rare experience despite my personal admiration for him. But I am grateful to him because I am 72 next month, and I would then have an immediate interest to declare in the proceedings of 1968.
Whatever wild oats I have sown verbally about this House in the past were under the inspiration of the future Earl Lloyd-George of Dwyfor. For a long time now I have been a consistent advocate of a second Chamber. Those of us who have sat on Committees, even on the Nationalisation of Coal Committee, under the guidance of my noble friend, would know that in those major matters of legislation problems arise from day to day which need a revising Chamber. I recall that it is nearly twenty years since I addressed the Oldham Fabian Society on this subject with so much fervour. I defended so strongly those Members of the Labour Party who accepted a position in this House that they were flattering enough to express apprehension that I was about to depart there myself.
On the following day, as my number is not in the book, a representative of the News of the World came for the 1099 first time to express interest in one of my constituency speeches. I was immensely flattered, until he put his solitary question, which was whether it was true that I had been interrupted by a parrot in the course of my speech. I said I was not aware of the fact, but it appears to have been true, because in the next room there was an exceedingly gifted parrot who was entertaining the back row of my audience without my knowledge. If I may, I want at once to quarrel violently with one statement made by the noble Lord, Lord Willis. If the noble Lord calls this House"the best club in the world ", in the sense of the provision it makes for its Members, I profoundly disagree. If he says it is one of the finest clubs in the world because of the excellence of the Members, because of their courtesy and friendliness, then I would not dissent.
§ LORD HALE
That was before my time; £400 was in my noble friend's time, and with virtually no other privileges—no secretarial assistance, nowhere to put a secretary if you paid one yourself. The one facility we had was a locker. I do not really have a locker here, although I ought to confess I have a tin box in the bowels of the earth, with a noisy lock (it does not contain a shelf) full of the dust of ages which I ought to clean if I came in suitable dungarees. I never had a guaranteed chair to sit on anywhere. One noble Lord offered me the use of a drawer in his room in which to pile up papers, but he was tipped out of the room in a few weeks, although not because of my intrusion. The facilities are appalling.
In a curious way, the reform of the House of Lords is really nothing to do with us, if one means the reform of the Legislature in terms of the Act of 1100 1868. My noble friend was probably right in saying that in the end we do what we are told. It does seem to me there is real need for reform in this House. If I may venture to interpret what my noble friend Lord Willis was saying. One of the difficulties of this place is the frustration. Many people come here hoping to do something. We who came from another place have been cured a little of this hope. I can remember my first years in Parliament when we thought we were doing something; possibly we were doing something. We thought we lived under Parliamentary Government, which has not existed now for very many years. The main alteration that has taken place since I came into the House in 1945 is that it is very open to doubt as to whether we are now living under Cabinet Government, and whether power has not passed into the hands of multinational companies. The one residual power of the House of Commons was merely to defeat the Government, and there are almost overwhelming reasons why that would never happen except in the most remarkable and unforeseeable circumstances.
One noble Lord on the other side of the House (I forget who it was) talked about the lack of interest taken by some Hereditary Peers. Far too little interest is shown by Life Peers, too. If I were suggesting practical steps, I would suggest that whoever is responsible for Life Peers should secure an undertaking that they will try to perform some of the duties incumbent on them by the acceptance of the appointment in the circumstances in which a Life Peer is created. and the purpose for which a Life Peer was created. I have not been very good myself, and I am not holding myself up as an example. I am in the happy positon to-day that I can give evidence on my own behalf. I sat up till after midnight last night studying E.E.C. papers: I came here at 10 o'clock this morning. I attended a Committee for a couple of hours, with a Test Match on television next door (a considerable deprivation) and I shall be here in the Chamber till the end of the debate tonight. I shall go home with papers in my pocket.
My Lords, not only are we cheap, but we are cheap almost to the point of demeaning ourselves. From time to time we hear that a noble Lord can claim 1101 expenses up to £8.50 per day, but we do not hear that, if he attended every day he could, in claiming for every day he would receive £800 a year at the most to pay the considerable costs involved in attending this place. With regard to the functions of this House as a revising Chamber, let me remind your Lordships it is not so long since another place declared a State of Emergency, and then hopped off home for a three-month holiday the next day, leaving this House to continue for a fortnight doing the laborious and very boring work of revising many local government Bills, and indeed submitting to defeats.
May I correct one other thing that came from the noble Lord, Lord Denham, when he said something about Whips. If that means that the final decision comes from the Cabinet, as it does in the House of Commons, then I cannot dissent; but I do not think I have ever heard from a Whip since I have been in this House, except to receive each week a little useful information about the business and except to know that there is someone there to give advice when it is needed.
My Lords, there is another thing I should like to say. I think sometimes Members come here and are shown round the House and told to sit down without a little bit of information they need. One of the things they might be told is that the Officers of the House are constantly at their service; that they can go in virtually without an appointment, find an Officer of the House available and talk about the procedure, have explained to them any difficulties, be supplied with the rules and documents and indeed have matters drafted for them. I think there is a great lack of information, a disastrous lack of information.
My noble friend Lord Shinwell referred to the supply of documents. I would not dissent from what he said. But there is another type of documentation, the kind of thing that came to us in the House of Commons in dozens: the informed document from the interested society which provides its views for the Committee stage of Bills. Those are of immense service; one does not have to follow them or to believe in them. It is extremely difficult for an individual Member without a secretary to master the details of a complex Bill and take an effective part in Committee; and it is very hard on the 1102 Members of the Front Bench to conduct a barren series of revisions, to give the same assurances and receive the same undertakings, throughout the long day, without very much support from the rest of the House.
My Lords, this House has at its disposal an astonishing wealth of talent. At this moment we have three ex-Lord Chancellors, all of whom have treated me personally with so much kindness that even if it were presumptuous I could call them friends. They devote themselves consistently to work and the amount of work that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, does on his own subjects of law reform and indeed on other subjects is very considerable.
The noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, referred to reporting in the Press. Nothing has given me greater pleasure than the fact that nobody ever reports a word of what I say; first, probably because I very rarely say anything worth reporting; and, secondly because every time I do I get landed with 15 or 16 very nice letters or very critical letters from very nice people who write on the slightest provocation, each of whom has the right to expect an answer, which I find an intolerable burden.
But there are limits to it, and we see The Times at the moment opening its columns to anxious criticism of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Bill on precisely the same grounds that were put at great length—not excessive length, but with great ability—in this House by experts. There was not anyone who listened to that discussion who did not realise that the Bill contained elements which demanded discussion and criticism and raised doubts in many minds, although we were in favour of it. It seems a little hard that we should get the criticisms when the facts and the debate and the arguments by the experts on either side never receive any publicity.
I should like to say one final word, if it is not impertinent. I think that Peers have a very rough time at the moment. I have the greatest sympathy with many hereditary Peers who take part in the affairs of this House because it is hardly possible now for a Peer to attract any publicity of any kind, if he wants to attract it, without committing a grave offence, or being kidnapped, or by adding a great auk to his private zoo—these 1103 seem to be the only grounds for a reference—while the new nobility, Miss England 1974, or Miss Namibia of 1973 or Miss Middle Wallop, can get ample publicity in most of the Press every time they change their décolleté. Times have changed, my Lords, and they will. There is one further solid point I want to make. If we remain in the Common Market there will be a very great need for the services of this House, and not only as a Revising Chamber, a considering Chamber, a debating Chamber—and I know it may be selfish of those of us who have been in the House of Commons.
Finally, I agree with the speaker who said that perhaps the admirable decorum of this House is a little excessive. The interplay and interchange of debate could at least take place between those who welcome it, and an occasional interruption, even an occasional disagreement, even something rather less than that—one or two of us who have sat in another place in rare moments of anger—might enliven the debate. These things stimulate thought and expression and I think they are valuable.
However, there is scope for Members of the House to take more advantage of the facilities which the noble Lord, Lord Willis, has so well taken advantage of to-day, and which I notice he is making a habit of doing as he is to take advantage of it again, according to the Order Paper, in about a fortnight's time. There is a job for this House to do, so remarkably exemplified in the Report on leisure which we discussed last week and the work that Members of this House do on Select Committees, and in providing expertise in the Departmental and Select Committees which play such a part in the higher echelons of political thought.
§ 6.38 p.m.
LORD DE CLIFFORD
My Lords, I rise with the greatest deference to address your Lordships on this matter. I do so only because I first took my seat in your Lordships' House 46 years ago, and I have seen considerable changes. The first of these changes which I noticed is the microphones, because in those days you really had to speak up or you just did not get heard. When I first joined your Lordships' House, I joined full of confidence and under the impression that I knew it all. It was quite a 1104 surprise to me to discover that many other noble Lords also knew it all, and in fact knew a good deal more about what I thought I knew all about. I also discovered all around me noble Lords who would discuss subjects of which I had not even heard. As a result, my education and my knowledge rapidly expanded.
I discovered something else, which I trust I learned to my betterment; the unfailing courtesy and help which all Members of your Lordships' House, and all the Officers and staff give to you, without which a newcomer would have the most extreme difficulty in getting about. But, even in those days. as the years went by one could see what was going to happen to this noble House. Due to the levelling up of the financial status of people, and also the levelling down of the financial status of people, it was becoming quite obvious that hereditary Peers would ultimately find it extremely hard to conduct the business of this House. In those days there were three things for which a young man had to have money; the first was to be in your Lordships' House, the second was to be in the Brigade of Guards, and the third was to be in a good cavalry regiment. As a result of this, a great impression was created that Members of your Lordships' House had lots of riches and were the most monumental snobs outside this House, and one tends to-day to get the impression from people outside that they still hold that opinion, however wrong it may be.
After various happenings, one of which I am glad none of your Lordships will ever have to undergo, and with the help of Hitler, there was a long gap in my attendance in your Lordships' House, and on my return I found things very different. The main thing which struck one at once was the fact that there was a tremendous revival by the Life Peerages Act. Looking back on those days, I feel that the Life Peerages Act really saved this House as an entity, and for its future. I think it was a splendid thing and, with all due deference to all noble Lords here, it injected considerable new life into the work of this House. When I look back at it, and see the noble Lords who are here. I realise that it injected into your Lordships' House a large number of people who came from completely dif- 1105 ferent strata of life, most strata of life which hereditary Peers were not in a position to attain and could never attain. It was of incredible value. I have had tremendous enjoyment out of your Lordships' House with the Life Peerages Act.
I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, is not in his place, because I have enjoyed very much indeed going into the Lobby and voting on the same side as Manny Shinwell. When I first joined your Lordships' House in my youth, the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, and the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, appeared to us who sat on the Tory side to be well-equipped with horns, hooves and pointed tails. They were the embodiment of the devil coming, with revolution in train. It is most enjoyable to sit here now and hear the noble Lord taking part in debates in your Lordships' House on many matters about which I thoroughly agree with him.
§ LORD WIGG
My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves that point, may I ask whether he agrees that one of the characteristics of the Tory Party is that in order to retain their power they have, from generation to generation, to find some human beings and give them horns and tails and all the devilish qualities of evil? The noble Lord mentioned Lord Shinwell. It was Mr. Aneurin Bevan, and the current one, of course, is Mr. Wedgwood Benn.
LORD DE CLIFFORD
My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right in a way, but I would not attach that only to the Tory Party. We get equal attitudes with the Labour Party; that the capitalist is consuming the worker on every side. But leaving that on one side for the moment, I feel that most noble Lords will agree that we must have a Second Chamber. The main advantage of this Chamber as it is, as has been pointed out by many speakers, is that all the Members can speak clearly and without hesitation on all the subjects in which they are expert and of which they have great knowledge. There is no looking over the shoulders, wondering what will happen at the next Election. They bring a great wealth of knowledge and talent.
Noble Lords complain of a built-in Tory majority. I can remember, when I first sat in your Lordships' House, a most splendid example of Tory majority. 1106 It was on a little Bill called the Rooks and Rabbits Bill, which proposed to give powers to certain gentlemen to go onto people's land to exterminate rooks and rabbits. In those days, your Lordships' House used to have an average attendance of between 70 and 90. Suddenly, the Rooks and Rabbits Bill came up for Second Reading and, instantaneously, we had something over 330. That was the built-in Tory majority of those days. You could not have it now to that extent.
I do not feel that your Lordships' House has very much chance of reform from outside—it is too touchy a matter politically—and if ever it came to the Second House being elected another place just would not stand it. But I must so agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Willis, said, that while we have this House it has to be recognised that it is here, it has to be recognised that it has to do a job, and it has to be recognised as an integral part of the legislative machine of this country. Although we do not get so much notice as another place, I feel that Governments now and in the future would be most wrong to ignore us. I hope that the appointment of Life Peers will continue. It is most interesting, as a hereditary Peer, to watch them and see what effect they have on our excellent discussions, and whether they will reclaim us or develop us. I hope, too, that as many young hereditary Peers as possible will attend your Lordships' House. The introduction of young ideas is always a good thing. however much we may disagree with them. They are there to be thrown open for discussion, and I do not care what they are—they have a right to be heard. I hope that young hereditary Peers will turn up in greater numbers.
I shall end by saying that I have watched your Lordships' House evolving over the years. I feel that the quickest way to reform it is by evolution, and by discussion and thought about its workings as it evolves. We can probably reform ourselves far better from the knowledge of noble Lords in this House, than from the ideas of a lot of people who do not know how we operate.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow one who, on his own account, must be just about 1107 the Father of the House. At any rate, he has been here 46 years, besides which my mere 29 years is but as yesterday; so I am particularly pleased to follow him.
Like others, I am much indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Willis, for his scintillating and, as the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, said, very penetrating speech. He said some things about this House, and he said them in the best House of Lords style—in other words constructively, and not offensively. But he implied what is undoubtedly the weakness of this House in outside eyes, this tendency to self-satisfaction, to complacency. I do not think that anybody listening to this debate would deny that complacency was in short supply to-day, but there was tremendous satisfaction with the feeling that we were the best club, and the best assembly of human beings in the best of all possible worlds. That is our danger, along with our many attractions, which, like others, I have always enjoyed.
It is often very hard for any institution to criticise itself; the House of Commons is incapable of it, the B.M.A. is not much better, and I do not know whether the C.B.I., the T.U.C., or the teachers or anybody else are capable of criticising themselves. There seems to be something in human nature which makes is impossible. We are not very good, therefore, at criticising ourselves. But I should like to take the argument from where the noble Lord, Lord Willis, felt he had said enough for the day and sat down. He put the case for reform, but did not indicate the lines of reform.
I disagree totally with the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, and one or two others who have implied that no agreed reform is possible. It is only a few years ago when agreed reform was going forward, and there was this strong consensus in favour of an agreed scheme. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, of course had a great deal to do with that, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, and myself on our side of the House, and on the other side the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe. What it is relevant to remember is that when that scheme was agreed, it was agreed not only here, it was agreed with the Leaders of both sides in the House of Commons.
1108 It happened that at that time in the House of Commons the Leader was a certain Mr. Crossman, now much lamented, who had a passionate desire to see a rational Parliament: not just a rational House of Commons or, in our case, a rational House of Lords, but a rational Parliament. I am sure that if ever this House of Lords is reformed on rational lines—there is no point in reforming it on any other—it would be because there is a desire in both Houses to have a rational Parliament of two Chambers. It happened that there was a conjunction at that moment which may not come again very quickly, but there was that agreement.
The talks started when the matter was raised in the Cabinet on the Labour side, and I think by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, among his friends at the same time, and they went on for something like three years. They were defeated because of what was called the"unholy alliance"between Michael Foot and Mr. Enoch Powell, and people who felt like they felt in the House of Commons. In this matter alone I would call myself a rationalist, and I was concerned even before I became a Leader of this House to try to find a way to a rational Second Chamber, a rational House of Lords. It had always seemed to me that the greatest difficulty—and here I was in fact proved wrong in the event—would be to bring round the Conservative Peers who had such a vested interest, and still have, in the existing system, because under the existing system, with this tremendous hereditary vote, in the last resort they can prevail. So it was thought that there would be great difficulty in bringing them along and persuading them to adopt any reasonable reform. But in the event, under the leadership of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and others, there was agreement reached, so the difficulty in the end did not lie there.
On the other hand, I had expected rather more enthusiasm than in fact was available in the Labour Party for a basic reform of the structure. There was a good deal of support, and the more people went into it the more support there was. But, as was indicated by one or two speakers earlier—and we may have got a few undertones of it to-day—there are quite a number of Labour people who 1109 do not want to see a rational House of Lords because it would be too respectable and too influential. Incidentally, I would disagree with the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, that if you have a rational House of Lords it is bound to have more authority. I think that the word"authority"is perhaps a little ambiguous. It could mean more power, which was not being suggested, or more influence. What we were concerned with was that the House of Lords should have more influence because its views were respected. If you are to produce a Chamber of that sort, it must be one placed on a rational basis, as the noble Lord, Lord Willis, said.
In the event, what really defeated reform was the attitude of the House of Commons. They did not want a rival; that is what it came to. I am not making any personal allusions of a derogatory kind, but if Mr. Crossman had still been Leader of the House of Commons when the crisis came things might not have turned out in quite that way. That was, and that always will be, a very considerable danger. There I disagree slightly with something that the noble Lord, Lord Willis, seemed to be arguing. He seemed to be saying that we would command the respect of the House of Commons if we were ourselves placed on a more rational or radical basis. Events do not suggest that, because the more reputable our basis the greater appears to be our prospect of influence. If the events of a few years ago are any guide, it is at that point that certain elements in the House of Commons are going to be very nervous.
Be that as it may, that was an agreed scheme. It was something that is not likely to be improved on, at any rate in any large measure. No doubt all sorts of details were arguable and could be altered. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Willis, will draw some encouragement from the fact that it was possible only a few years ago to reach this agreement in favour of reform. What was done then could be done again, but the circumstances were somewhat propitious, and, to say the very least, you would have to make sure that there were people in the House of Commons, leading figures, who wished to see Parliament as a whole reformed.
1110 Before I sit down, I should like to make one suggestion, because I do not expect to see reform come to-morrow by any manner of means. There is one point about our present arrangements which I think must cause a certain amount of anxiety. I do not want to pretend that anything remotely approaching a scandal has occurred but an enormous amount of patronage rests more or less in the hands of one man at any one time. I say"more or less"because various influences are brought to bear, and at any particular moment no doubt the Leader of the Opposition is listened to, as are others. But in fact I would say that when it comes to choosing the Peers—who are now all Life Peers, I am glad to say—this very arbitrary selection, as it is bound to be, depends on what is really the personal attitude towards many individuals of one particular man.
That is the suggestion. I am not criticising the present Prime Minister, the last Prime Minister, or any particular Prime Minister. If you go back a few years and take the Liberals, for a long time none of them was given a Life Peerage. I remember suggesting that Lady Bonham Carter should be made a Peeress long before she was made one. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Henley, may remember that. At any rate, I made that suggestion. Why was she not made one? Because the Prime Minister of the day did not feel like it. It was not that her merits were less when she was not quite so old as when she eventually came here; it was some arbitrary attitude. If you go back to the days of Lord Attlee—whom I admire more than any man I have had dealings with in public life in this country—eminent people (they may not appeal to all noble Lords) like Mr. Victor Gollancz and Mr. Kingsley Martin, to take two eminent Socialists, never got further than knighthoods. The best that could be done for them was to give them a knighthood. No one is going to say that in capacity they were not equal to many who, like myself, have come to this House. I do not know whether they were not regarded as clubbable, or it may be they were thought to be erratic, or that they would cause difficulty in some way, but at any rate they were not chosen.
So without coming to the present day at all, when things become invidious, I am saying that over the years—I have 1111 not been here as long as the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, but longer than most noble Lords who are now active in this House—I am well aware that there has been a very large arbitrary element of human likes and dislikes, which are the same among Prime Ministers as among ordinary mortals like ourselves.
There is a lot to be said for the way in which this matter was handled in the White Paper issued in November, 1968. May I point out that while I think it had the good will of the Opposition, it was issued by the Government of the day; in other words by the Cabinet presided over by Mr. Wilson. So whatever else one could say, one could not complain that it was criticism of our revered Prime Minister. The Labour Government of that time discussed in paragraph 31 of the White Paper the question of preventing what they called,"The abuse of patronage." I think that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, will confirm the great deal of work that has been done on this subject. They considered withdrawing from the Prime Minister the power of nominating Peers, and giving it to some form of constitutional committee. But I think, on balance, and rightly, they did not favour that conclusion.
What they suggested was that the Government,…does however see attraction in the possibility of a committee which, while possessing no power of nomination, would review periodically the composition of the reformed House and report, either to the Prime Minister or to Parliament, on any deficiencies in the balance and range of the membership of the House ".They finished that passage by saying:Its reports would enable Parliament and the country as a whole to satisfy themselves that the powers of patronage were not being abused.That was one way of doing it, and it may be that other noble Lords will think of something better.
My Lords, I am sure that even if we cannot achieve some sort of fundamental reform—and I would go along with the noble Lord, Lord Willis, although I am one of Bluebeard's earlier wives and I have seen all this in my time—hope springs eternal and if the noble Lord, Lord Willis, gets anywhere I shall be shuffling behind him. Meanwhile, in considering secondary reforms I commend 1112 to the House the one I have just indicated.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ LORD SUDELEY
My Lords, I should like to intervene for no more than five minutes to make three general points in defence of the presence of heredity in the House. My first point concerns the mode of thought in which objections to hereditary spring because this seems to me a mode of thought which is to be accepted automatically in the way many people would accept it. Everybody knows that the House works and so the objections to the hereditary element arise not so much through any practical necessity as on the grounds that the hereditary principle is irrational. Yet what is implied here, that rationality is a necessary guide to truth, does not hold water at all. Much spurious thinking is rational. It is easy enough to argue a spurious case rationally merely by selecting facts and arranging them in such a way as to suit the case you would like to preach. This is exactly what that great rationalist, Voltaire, did in his novel Candide. In his attempt to show that the omnipotent deity is not kind, Voltaire filled his novel with a series of unhappy events which succeeded one another with a rapidity which, in the ordinary course of life, would never happen.
My second point in defence of hereditary Peers is that those who deny the hereditary element in the House deny that the House as an institution can have any validity on a prescriptive basis, when it is so much in order to suppose that laws and institutions should have a prescriptive basis, particularly in England. All of our case law, and many of our institutions, apart from the House, have evolved to suit our practical needs rather than to fit in with any abstract system of thinking. In this way, as the great German legal historian Savigny showed, our laws and institutions suit us because they express the character of our people, whereas if you are like the French revolutionary who tried to reform our institutions with the idea of improving the society in which we live, you must fail, as the point at issue is the character of the men over whom the institutions are intended to govern. As we are all creatures of original sin this is something 1113 which any mere change in the form of Government cannot alter.
My third point concerns the role of heredity in the body politic at large, of which the House is but one part. So what I am about to say will be of an even more general character, although it was on this broad basis that our Garter King of Arms made his excellent defence of hereditary Peers in the current issue of Burke's Peerage. Moreover, the discredit into which hereditary has fallen in the House springs from the discredit into which hereditary has fallen in our society at large. The great rival to the hereditary principle of Government is the elective which, though it may not have obtained for so long since the fall of the Roman Empire, has obtained to an increasing extent since the 18th century.
However, as we are not yet a pure democracy, and there is still some hereditary preserved in our Constitution, it cannot be political heresy to point out one or two faults with the elective system of Government. Elected polititicians coax their voters by promoting economic growth and material progress which weaken all the old sentiments of loyalty and obedience. Elected politicians of the Left—and, it is the way of democracies to always move to the Left—promote equality of opportunity and a certain departure from moral standards. As these developments bring in their train a certain loosening of all the old ties, and introduce into our society so much movement, they put at great risk all the order and cohesion upon which the very existence of our society depends to the extent of suggesting that we have approached the end of our social reserves.
As economic crisis loomed over this country at the turn of the year, the author of The Times leader for December 31 put the problem in a way which was not too far removed from the form in which I stated it. The author said:One of the anxieties of the present time is that the cohesion of our society, under the impact of incessant technical change, moral disorientation and the deliberate obliteration of physical and institutional landmarks, is so far weakened, and vulnerable to revolutionary designs, that it may not be able to withstand the economic stresses about to be put on it—although the probable stresses, assessed in the perspective of history, are not all that severe.1114 The trend is a dangerous one which must be reversed. A religious revival would help. At about the turn of the year, Harold Macmillan said that there is not enough religion around. I do not think it would be too bold to suggest that a renewal of the hereditary principle would also go far towards reversing the trend. It would restore the significance historically, if the hereditary principle performed the role of ensuring all the better that we hold together.
§ LORD HALE
My Lords, will the noble Lord forgive me for intervening on that point, because it was never a principle? Professor Freeman devoted many years to proving that it was a historical accident. It was Disraeli who said that after the Battle of Tewkesbury,the Norman Baron was as rare in Britain as a wolf ".
§ LORD SUDELEY
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that intervention, and as I spoke about the prescriptive basis what he said was very much in order. I was saying that, historically, the hereditary principle, or the existence of it, and its acknowledgment, has performed exactly this role of ensuring all the better that we hold together. In the article which I mentioned for Burke's Peerage, our Garter King of Arms mooted…that the hereditary principle expressed in loyalty to dynasties, lords and kindredhas donealmost as much as belief in God and the fealty of the vassal to lord to rebuild European civilisation after the fall of the Roman Empire.If order and stability are to be re-established in our society to-day, then I think a revival of respect for the hereditary principle would go far to renew the significance of the family which, weakened though it may be by liberal laws on divorce and inheritance, has remained the most important of all the obligations out of which our society has been built. If, on the grounds that I have indicated, the smear and discredit could be removed from the acknowledgment of heredity, then I do not think that the presence of heredity in an Upper Chamber would seem so very incongruous or remote from the conditions of the present time, antiquated, any more than it did to our not too remote ancestors. Moreover, if heredity can be preserved in the House, 1115 then the House, like the Monarchy, can remain within the Constitution as a fixed point and an essential counterweight to all the movement and disintegration which has been introduced through the increasing ascendency of the elected element.
Let me conclude, therefore, by deploring the fact that the practice of creating any more hereditary Peers has been allowed surreptitiously to lapse. In seeking in this way to erode the element of heredity in the Legislature, the leaders of both Parties must be convicted of assuming a power over the Constitution such as would never have been taken for granted by any previous Minister of the Crown.
§ 7.11 p.m.
§ LORD WIGG
My Lords, this is the second Unstarred Question in the course of a few weeks on which I have attended the debate to listen to one speech and have then been provoked to speak. The previous occasion was on Northern Ireland, and when I came in at that time it was as if I was attending a private session of the Conservative Party, and I thought it was necessary, in the interests of democracy, to inject just a little common sense into the proceedings. I came this evening to listen to my noble and very genuine friend—a friend not just in the political sense but in a very real sense—Lord Shinwell; but having heard the debate, I must say I have never listened to such unmitigated nonsense as has been talked to-night. The last speaker, in a most erudite speech, elevated the hereditary principle into something almost descended from God, tied up with the fabric of the State, and so on and so forth. What is the truth? This place has existed down the centuries to preserve the privileges of a very small section of the community. It has existed to preserve the privileges and the rights of, and to give a comfortable way of life to, a very few people, irrespective of their ability.
My views about the hereditary principle were punctured by a member of the aristocracy. I was a young N.C.O. at the time, stationed in York, where there was a by-election. It was at that by-election, although my noble friend will not recollect it, that, at the Co-operative Rooms I met him for the first time. I went along and listened to a lady, I think 1116 now dead, named Lady Maureen Stanley. She was speaking on behalf of her kinsman. This was in the 'thirties, when Britain was moving into the abyss, with 2 million unemployed, great economic crises, destitution and poverty all over the land and the certainty of a European war. What was Lady Maureen Stanley's speech? It was on a Tuesday night. Why do I know it was a Tuesday night? Because the Two Thousand Guineas is run on a Wednesday, and her message was about the Two Thousand Guineas. She said:"Your Conservative candidate has been bred for politics, and, just as to-morrow a gallant three-year-old will storm up the hill to the winning post at Newmarket, bred for the job, so is your Conservative candidate here bred for politics". He got elected, and he rose to a high position in the State.
But I knew not so much about politics, perhaps, as I knew about racing. This is absolute trash. The idea that you can cross a top-class stallion with a top-class mare and that the product is going to win the Derby and the Two Thousand Guineas is rubbish. The great horses are like the great men: they have been sired or mothered on the other side of the blanket. That is what matters: it is the rough blood outside. On the question of examining genealogical tables, I find, as a matter of fact, that way back down the line I have as much claim to the glories of breeding from that angle as anybody else.
§ LORD SUDELEY
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? I just mention that if he looks at the Dictionary of National Biography he will find that the only profession in which, as a whole, the distinguished sons do not follow on their distinguished fathers is acting. This is an observation I picked up from a reading of Havelock Ellis's book on Hereditary Genius.
§ LORD WIGG
Perhaps I may be allowed to continue. I am not going to get involved in quoting from or discussing books I have not read. Ruff's Guide to the Turf is good enough for me, and 1117 the idea that a Derby winner and an Oaks winner, if crossed, will produce a classic winner I know to be nonsense. It has happened once; and, going back to the 'thirties, the period of which I have been talking, I knew Lady Maureen Stanley was talking rubbish. This is what I think, too, when I listen to speakers from all sides of the House talking about the qualities of this place. I have been here only seven years—seven years too long! If I have to listen, as I have had to listen to-night, to the House of Commons being denigrated and the electorate described as"riff-raff ", I reject it. The one thing in my life of which I am most proud—no honour can excel it; no honour conferred by the Sovereign equals it—is that of being elected to the House of Commons by people you trust, people you get to know and people you try to serve. I am very proud of the fact that on seven occasions, starting by winning a Conservative scat, I held it against all comers.
The idea is that there is some superiority about this place as against the House of Commons, and that the House of Commons has not sought to reform itself. It has—and too much. The Back-Bench Member of the House of Commons has given away power to the Executive. But this place; this contemptible institution! On the Third Reading of the European Communities Bill I made a speech. I said I had read all the spokesmen on behalf of this place, and the arguments which convinced me were that it was a delaying Chamber; it was a revising Chamber; it was a Chamber which, when great decisions were to be taken—decisions which, in the case of the Common Market, may be irrevocable—could hold the matter up so that there could he consultation with the people. I went on to say:"The arguments that are given to us are that we must get into Europe because only by getting into Europe shall we get the investment into Britain that is necessary to revivify and strengthen our industries ". I ventured to say:"This is a marvellous argument. It almost convinces me. The only thing is, I am not sure about it. Suppose that, instead of the investment flowing from the Continent into Britain, it flows from Britain to the Continent. If we have then given away out a secretary to master the details of a complex Bill and take an effective part all the humbug that has been talked from 1118 all Benches about it being a delaying Chamber—what is going to happen? "
Who was right? Was it the experts; the sophisticated, erudite, financial genii who had come down from the City; the chairmen of companies? Or was it the poor, backroom rat? I was right. When that Bill was passed, we were almost in balance with the E.E.C. The next year, our adverse balance was £500 million. Last year, it was £1,000 million. This year it will not be less than £1,600 million. And those who are responsible and are going to be held to account for it are the Members of your Lordships' House. I am in your Lordships' House for one reason and one reason only, and that is to be present on the Third Reading of a Bill which abolishes you. Because you have betrayed your trust. You could have held up that Bill. You could have said to the Government,"Yes£after you have consulted the people ". But, as always, this House, or the majority of this House, served what it thought were its class interests. Those who suffered were the people of this country. That is the truth. The fact is that there are two aspects of your Lordships' affairs. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, talked about the reform that was held up by people whom I think he regards as having a tail and horns.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, that, I thought, was one of the silliest remarks that I have heard for a long time. But I may have misheard that remark. Did the noble Lord say that I regard these people who held it up as having tails?
§ LORD WIGG
My Lords, I thought his mood was somewhat disapproving. May I put it like that? From their point of view, they did their duty as they saw it, but that was a reform associated with the power of this House. What is within your Lordships' control, next week if you desire, is to turn this place into something that is less like a debating Chamber, and something like a place that is occupied by rational men. One needs to go no further than the first Question on the Order Paper to-day, which was:To ask Her Majesty's Government how they would ensure that the British people had enough to eat if the United Kingdom left the E.E.C.1119 If Questions are asked they should have some semblance of responsibility, some reference to it. Here there is none. Any noble Lord can put on the Order Paper any collection of nonsense he desires. Not so in the other place. They are governed by Rules of Order which here we do not have, though we have a Companion. However, I notice that the application of the Companion varies according to what may be the views of the House about a particular individual. I have constantly drawn attention to the fact that it is laid down fairly strictly that there should be no reading of speeches. Heavens above!—reading of speeches. You even get Members of this House reading their supplementary questions!
Then, again, there is the question of the Business of the House. How is it arranged? It is arranged between the Whips on either side. Neither set of Whips is competent. One of the easiest reforms to institute—and, again, it could be done next week—is that the House can insist that the Business of the House is controlled by the servants of the House. I would go so far as to say that we ought to have the equivalent of Mr. Speaker. We ought to have a Chairman. We ought to have simple Rules. Even a debating society has some sort of rules and makes some attempt to keep in order. There is some degree of responsibility and relevance. Here there is none. These things could be done. I shall not detain your Lordships for a moment longer.
The only reform of the House of Lords that I want is to abolish it. It has served this country ill. It has served an undeserving upper class very well. It has served them for too long. Off with their heads! I think so much of this House that only in the last few weeks I went to the Clerk of the Parliaments to find out whether there was any way by which I could renounce my Peerage. I do not want to be here. I do not like being here. I think it is a load of nonsense. On the issue of the Common Market, this House has behaved as if it were a fifth column. It has surrendered the sovereignty of the British people to those who did not conquer it. The sovereignty of the British people has been given away, and that could not 1120 have been given away without the permission of this House. For that reason, the quicker it ends the better.
§ LORD SUDELEY
My Lords, does the noble Lord envisage that he has come to the House for the purpose of subverting it?
§ LORD ABERDARE
My Lords, if the noble Lord feels as he does there is no need to renounce his Peerage. He can apply for leave of absence. I think that after the words he has spoken, especially calling this place a"contemptible institution"he should first explain to us why he ever accepted to come here, and secondly, why he bothers to come to this House as often as he does. We like to see him on the other hand, may I assure him, and we value his views, especially on matters of the turf. We find that very entertaining and I hope he will continue to come, but I hope that he will see that we are not quite as black as he tries to paint us.
§ LORD WIGG
I used the word"contemptible"and I do not withdraw that word in relation to this House and the Common Market. Because it has been said and has been repeated so often by the leadership—particularly of the Conservative Party—that there is a need for a revising Chamber. Above all, in all the arguments about the abrogation of the power of this House it has always been argued that in the interests of freedom and democracy, there must be a delaying power. I accepted that but realised it was humbug,and when men practice humbug their action is contemptible. On the subject of why I came I have already explained. I came because Mr. Wilson asked me, and having agreed to come I do a job, and do it as best I can on the issues on which I have something to say. But my ultimate purpose is to come here only to finish it off.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ LORD STRABOLGI
My Lords, we have had a most interesting and lively debate. I expected it to be lively, but I did not think it was going to be quite so lively as the speech of my noble friend—if he calls himself my noble friend—Lord Wigg, which I may say is one of the most extraordinary and offensive speeches I have ever heard in this House.
§ LORD STRABOLGI
My Lords, we must be grateful to my noble friend Lord Willis for putting down this Question. It is probably time that we had a debate on this subject. I have listened to his speech with the greatest of interest. There is one matter, though, that is not really to do with reform, and that is when he complained about the number of Ministers here. It does not mean how this in any Government is a matter for the Prime Minister. The reform of the House of Lords in my judgment, and I think in the judgment of most people, means the composition of your Lordships' House and it means the powers of the House. It does not mean the number of Ministers here. It does not mean how much Press coverage or television coverage we get. Indeed, even the matter of the Speaker, which was put forward by my noble friend Lord Wigg, is a matter for the Procedure Committee and is nothing to do with the reform of the House.
§ LORD WILLIS
My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves that point may I ask him this question? I specifically linked the number of Ministers on the Front Bench with the lack of reform of the House. I made the point that if the Government intend to do nothing about this place, at least it could do one thing and see that we have adequate Ministerial forces to cover all the subjects and all the work. I suggested that there should be representations made to that effect. I see no inconsistency in that. If the Government intend to do nothing let us have the forces to do our work.
§ LORD STRABOLGI
My Lords, I take the point, of course, that the noble Lord has made. He also paid a tribute to the work done by the Lords in Waiting and the Whips, but he implied that there was not much rapport between them and the Departments. I should say that my noble friends spend every morning in the relevant Department of the subject for which they are responsible and they have the very closest association with the Departments.
The noble Lord also said that so far as reform is concerned he did not think that we had moved forward one inch. On the other hand, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester said that he thought that reform was going on all the time. Since I have been here I have 1122 considered it a great privilege and pleasure. I am sorry the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, thinks that seven years is too long. I have been here for twenty years and I have enjoyed it enormously. Of course that is not as long as the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, or indeed the noble Lord, Lord Denham, but during this period I have indeed, as I think has any noble Lord who has been here a good deal of time, seen a great many changes.
I should like, therefore, to pause for a moment and take the opportunity of looking back to see what improvements have been made since the Second World War. During that period, for example, there have been a number of changes in the powers and constitution of your Lordships' House. The Parliament Act 1949 reduced the period of delay which your Lordships could impose on public Bills. Then there was an important change in the constitution of this House made by the Life Peerages Act 1958, which everyone would agree has introduced into our debates a valuable new element of thought and opinion. I was very interested in what was said by the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford. I fully agree with him that the Life Peers have really saved the day. I was also glad to hear the tribute paid by my noble friend Lord Shinwell—I must say I never thought I should hear such a tribute—to the hereditary Peers. I do not think he went quite so far as the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, who believes in the hereditary Peerage as a kind of mystique; but all the same, it was an unexpected and, I am sure, not an undeserved tribute. A further change has been the opportunity for members of the hereditary Peerage to give up their titles if they preferred to remain commoners or, indeed, to become Members of another place. I think that the element of cross-fertilisation which has resulted from these two measures has significantly improved and smoothed the conduct of our public affairs.
I include in the march of events one episode which at first sight might seem to have little to show in relation to the work put in: I refer to the Government's White Paper of 1968 and the Bill which followed it. That Bill produced little or nothing in the way of immediate results, but a great deal of work lay in the 1123 too when I listen to speakers from all efforts of the inter-Party conference; and I should like to take this opportunity of paying a tribute to the noble Lords, Lord Carrington and Lord Byers, to the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and to my noble friends on this side of the House, particularly my noble friends Lord Shackle-ton and Lord Longford, who were closely involved. I have no doubt their efforts brought a greater appreciation of the issues involved, not only at the fundamental constitutional levels but also at the more practical levels of procedural reform. The Bill which would have implemented the proposals in the Government's White Paper of course made no progress—and this was referred to in the debate—probably because of the rather unexpected alliance of Michael Foot and Enoch Powell, as was so well described by my noble friend Lord Willis.
However, there have been certain other reforms since then. For example, there has been the experiment of introducing a Special Committee procedure for dealing with public Bills; and a more specific change was the introduction of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, which removes unnecessary duplication, minimises a possible source of friction and represents a real step forward in the scrutiny of delegated legislation. There was also a suggestion for the greater use of specialist committees. This resulted in the setting up of the Select Committee on Sport and Leisure, which was referred to by my noble friend Lord Hale. We have also introduced the short Wednesday debates, which I think give a further opportunity for many debates of general public interest though perhaps not considered of wide enough interest for a full debate. I suggest to your Lordships that all these developments represent very real progress.
§ LORD WIGG
My Lords, would the noble Lord give way? Does he not agree that, starting off with the Parliament Act 1949, the Life Peerages Act and so on, all these measures were imposed from outside? This House has never really seriously seized a chance even to bring its own procedures up to date in the light of common sense. The rest of it, since the Parliament Act 1911, has been imposed from outside.
§ LORD STRABOLGI
My Lords, all I can say is that this House, by a large 1124 majority, voted for the White Paper. The fact that the Bill resulting from that White Paper was not passed by the other place was not the fault of this House.
§ LORD PLATT
My Lords, may i point out to the noble Lord, who I am glad to see has just resumed his seat, that one of the procedures of this House is that you do not normally speak in a debate unless you have put your name on the list. You do not usually speak otherwise unless there is a very good reason for it.
§ LORD WIGG
My Lords, on that point, if I may say so, I will adhere to the Rules when everybody else adheres to them. I have added my name and spoken to-night only because I understand that that is the practice. That is exactly what I complain of. I am not popular here and I do not want to be popular here, but because I am not popular here an excuse is made to try to prevent my speaking. That is exactly what I complain about regarding this place.
§ LORD STRABOLGI
My Lords, whether the noble Lord has complaints or not is a question for the Procedure Committee. It has nothing to do with the reform of your Lordships' House.
§ LORD STRABOLGI
Whether the noble Lord appears at the bottom of the paper because he has not come in at the beginning of the debate, or whether he appears where he thinks he should be—rather higher up—has nothing to do with the reform of your Lordships' House.
§ LORD STRABOLGI
My Lords, the question of a chairman is also a matter for the Procedure Committee to consider and for the House as a whole to accept. Returning again to the speech of my noble friend Lord Willis, he urged us to 1125 move faster and faster. The Government's answer to that is that whatever the wider issues involved, this is not the time to look at fundamental House of Lords reform in isolation—and I say this particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier. The fact is that we are going through a period of constitutional change and review, for which no parallel can be found during some considerable time. This is taking place at all levels of our Constitution. We have just completed the most fundamental reorganisation of the country's system of local government for a century. But this is only a beginning. There are two other developments which will very materially affect the Government's judgment about when the time will be right for further Lords reform.
The first of these is the outcome of the current consultations on the Reports of the Commission on the Constitution—the majority Kilbrandon Report and the Memorandum of Dissent. We have, of course, published some alternatives for discussion on devolution within the United Kingdom, and some of these alternatives would involve changes of the greatest constitutional importance—changes in the relationship between different parts of the United Kingdom, the setting up of new regional governments and of new regional assemblies, and, of course, changes in the role of the Legislature itself at Westminster. Indeed, in one case, it may involve changes in the membership of your Lordships' House. The next step will be for the Government to decide, in the light of these consultations, what proposals to put forward. Clearly, the role of your Lordships' House will need to be considered in this context.
The second factor which, among others, will affect our judgment on the timing of reform is the outcome of the renegotiation now in progress in Brussels and, if we are to stay in Europe, the question of those who are chosen to represent the United Kingdom in the European Parliament. At present, of course, certain of your Lordships serve in that Parliament and we shall need to consider to what extent that should be a permanent feature of the arrangements. So let me return to the proposal that interim measures should be introduced to help 1126 those who work in your Lordships' House to fulfil their Parliamentary function. I recall the debate that we had on May 15 on the Motion of the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard. On that occasion my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich referred to the consultations that were taking place on the help which might be given to Opposition Parties to assist them in the performance of their Parliamentary duties.
§ LORD SHINWELL
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt. Do I understand that my noble friend is saying that this is the concept of what is meant by reform? These are pettyfogging changes which are no doubt desirable; but is this the definition of reform?
§ LORD STRABOLGI
My Lords, this is one of the reforms to which I referred. The whole question of reform—and I do not know whether my noble friend was listening; probably he was not—I thought should be dealt with not in isolation, but as part of the whole concept of devolution and of our evolving society—
§ LORD SHINWELL
My Lords, when did the Government decide on what my noble friend has just been announcing to your Lordships? Has it been decided since my noble friend Lord Willis put his Question on the Order Paper? Is my noble friend Lord Strabolgi aware that none of us—and some of us are fairly well informed—has heard a single whisper about these matters? The Government have come to no conclusion about this. The matter has never been considered at all, in the Cabinet or elsewhere.
§ LORD STRABOLGI
My Lords, I do not know whether my noble friend speaks for what goes on in the Cabinet; I certainly do not. But I should like to refer him to the White Paper on devolution within the United Kingdom and my information—and, indeed, my brief—is that this will be considered, and the whole concept of House of Lords reform will be considered alongside this White Paper when some proposals are put before Parliament on these lines. These consultations have embraced the Parties in both Houses, and so when in due course—before very long, I hope—the Government come to frame their proposals in 1127 this connection, they will be fully seized of the needs of Opposition Parties in your Lordships' House as well as in another place.
My Lords, I am sorry to have spoken at some length, but I hope that what I have said may give some indication of the Government's present attitude to this matter.
§ LORD DENHAM
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask whether he is aware that every noble Lord who has spoken in this debate is still in his place; and is this not a reform that is well overdue?