§ 3.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Speaker
I have to report to the House that I have this day received a letter from our petitioner, which is in the following terms:
§ The Committee of Privileges having now reported on the Petition which I submitted to the House of Commons on 29th November last I ask that the House will allow me to be admitted and heard, on the subject of that Report.
§ I am, Sir,
§ Your most obedient servant,
§ Anthony Wedgwood Benn."
§ 3.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Gaitskell (Leeds, South)
I beg to move,That Mr. Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn be admitted in and heard.In proposing this Motion I should like to make it quite clear that I am not in any way concerned with the questions arising out of the Report of the Committee of Privileges and the Motions and Amendments on that subject which are on the Order Paper, and which we shall discuss later. My purpose in rising is simply to support the proposition that Mr. Benn should be allowed to speak.
If hon. Members are influenced by precedents in this matter there will be no doubt at all about their assent to the Motion. As far as I have been able to ascertain, there is no single case in the history of the House of Commons where a Member whose right to sit has been in dispute, and who has asked leave to address the House, has been refused. Mr. Benn's right to sit here is in dispute. It is the subject, of course, of the Petition which was referred to the Committee of Privileges, whose Report we are to debate later.
Such requests from Members in the history of our House have not only been acceded to, but have been acceded to without a Division. I hope that hon. Members will bear that in mind when they decide their attitude on this question. I am not stating all the precedents, but I propose to mention three.
The first, and perhaps most famous of all, is that of Daniel O'Connell. He was returned as Member of Parliament 500 for Clare in 1828, before even the first Reform Bill. In the early months of 1829 the Government of the day put through a Bill to allow Catholics to sit and to take a special oath. But that Bill applied only to persons who were elected after its passing, and, of course, Daniel O'Connell had been elected before it was passed.
On 15th May, 1829, Daniel O'Connell came to the Table of the House and then refused to take the Oath of Supremacy, because, of course, he was a Catholic. He was then asked by Mr. Speaker to withdraw, and did so. Upon his doing so, Mr. Brougham moved that he be heard, and after some discussion the debate on the Motion, which is comparable to that which I now move, was adjourned for three days.
On the resumption of the debate, Mr. Secretary Peel supported the proposal, but argued that Mr. O'Connell should be heard not at the Table, as originally proposed by Mr. Brougham, but at the Bar, and the Motion was then carried in these terms:That the Member for Clare be heard at the Bar by himself, his Counsel or his agents with reference to his claim to sit and vote in the House of Commons without taking the Oath of Supremacy.Daniel O'Connell then addressed the House. After having done so, he withdrew and a debate followed. In the Division which took place at the end of the debate, his case was defeated and the House decided, as was, I think, to be expected because of the prevailing state of the law, that he should not be allowed to become a Member of the House and take his seat without taking the Oath of Supremacy.
I mention that more especially because it might have been regarded by hon. Members as a not very serious case. After all, the Bill which was to change the whole situation of Catholics and to remove the necessity for taking the Oath of Supremacy had, in fact, already been passed and it might have been said on this occasion, "We cannot allow you to speak on this occasion, but, another election, and you will be allowed to take your place in the ordinary way"; or it might have been said, and was said in the course of the debate, that since the law was to be changed even Catholics might have been prepared as a matter of form—as some 501 of them did—to take the Oath of Supremacy.
My point is that this might have been regarded as frivolous, but that was not in any way the attitude of the House of Commons at the time who, without much hesitation and without a Division, agreed that he should be heard, and he was heard.
The second case is that of Charles Bradlaugh. He was elected as one of the Members for Northampton in 1880. As a militant atheist he asked to be allowed to affirm instead of taking the oath. His request was referred by the House to a Select Committee, which reported against his right to affirm. He then asked whether, notwithstanding that he was a militant atheist, he might be allowed to take the oath. That question, again, was referred to another Select Committee, which reported that he should not be allowed even to take the oath, but added a rider contrary to the decision of the earlier Committee—that he might be allowed to affirm.
On 21st June, 1880, a debate took place on the Motion that he could neither affirm nor take the oath, and that Motion was carried. Notwithstanding that, in other words, notwithstanding that the matter had been settled by the House of Commons, two days later, on 23rd June, Mr. Bradlaugh was allowed to speak, and, again, there was no Division on the Motion that he be allowed to speak.
In 1881, 1882 and 1883, Mr. Bradlaugh was allowed to present his case again, on each occasion during a debate as to whether he should be allowed to affirm or take the oath. Precisely the same Motion was put to the House and in each case was carried, but not before Mr. Bradlaugh had made his speech and again there was no Division—not in 1881, 1882 nor 1883.
All that happened was that Mr. Speaker took the pleasure of the House as to whether Mr. Bradlaugh should speak, and the House was pleased to allow him to speak. He lost on each of those occasions the point of substance—the Motion which debarred him from either affirming or taking the oath being carried.
The third case is more recent. It is the case of the Reverend J. G. MacManaway, who was a priest and, as 502 far as I know, still is, of the Church of Ireland.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I am sorry, I did not know.
He was elected for Belfast, West in 1950. At first, he did not take his seat because he was informed that there was some doubt about whether he was entitled to do so. The matter was raised by another Member for Northern Ireland and a little later, I think at the end of March, 1950, a Select Committee was appointed. Although the Clerk of the House at the time advised the Committee that in his opinion Mr. MacManaway was not entitled to take his seat, nevertheless the Committee did not take a firm view on the matter. Instead, it recommended that the question should be referred to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
Meanwhile, Mr. MacManaway took his seat and was permitted so to do by the Speaker of the day. Indeed, he not only took his seat, but actually voted and took part in the proceedings of the House, although there was a very narrow majority on the Government side at the time and although he had been warned by the then Leader of the House that he should not do so.
In October, 1950, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council reported, and its Report was considered by the House of Commons. The Report came down quite clearly against the right of Mr. MacManaway to take his seat. In the debate which followed, the question of whether Mr. MacManaway was allowed, the Report having been made, to remain in the House and to speak was raised with Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker said that he was entitled to be there and speak, but that he must then withdraw. Accordingly, he made his statement of his position in the course of the debate, speaking as a Member of the House, and then withdrew.
As the result of the Judicial Committee's Report, the decision of the House was that he could not be a Member and a new election took place. I add that the Labour Government of the time not only allowed him to sit and remain, but also passed a Bill, on their own initiative, indemnifying him against the very serious penalties he might 503 otherwise have incurred, amounting to £500 per day from the time he took his seat. I think that it will be agreed that the then Government behaved in a very reasonable and generous manner in his case, and that none of us would have wished otherwise.
The question arises as to whether there is any difference between the precedents I have quoted—and I can assure hon. Members that to the best of my knowledge there is none to the contrary—and the case of Mr. Benn. I do not myself see that there is. This afternoon we are to debate the Report of the Committee of Privileges set up to consider his petition, which hon. Members will have read, regarding his right to sit in the House of Commons. As far as the House of Commons is concerned, this matter is clearly sub judice in precisely the same way as the election of Mr. Daniel O'Connell, Mr. Bradlaugh, or Mr. MacManaway was sub judice until the House of Commons had pronounced upon it.
It may be said that, after all, Mr. Benn has given his evidence before the Committee of Privileges. That is true, but so did Mr. Bradlaugh give his evidence before both the Select Committees appointed at that time. Moreover, although Mr. Benn has given evidence before the Committee of Privileges, he has not had an opportunity of commenting upon the Committee's Report. One does not overlook the fact that one of the things which he asked the Committee to consider was affording him such relief as it thought proper. Therefore, it was not only on the legal aspects of the matter that he petitioned the Committee.
In deciding our attitude in this matter, I ask hon. Members to bear in mind two other considerations. Whatever his views on the merits of the case, I do not think that anybody would for one moment question Mr. Benn's passionate sincerity in this matter. Nor can it be said that he has not made every possible effort to get the House of Commons—and for that matter the House of Lords—to attend to this issue some time ago.
One recalls not only the Bill which was introduced into the House of Lords by Lord Stansgate, his father, but also the Ten Minutes Bill introduced by my 504 hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), the petitions from the City Council of Bristol, and the various memoranda which Mr. Benn submitted to the authorities of the House. No one can say that Mr. Benn treats this matter lightly, or that there is anything frivolous about his attitude. The fact that his suggestions and his case are bound to raise wider issues, as we know, should not be allowed to debar him from giving his opinion on this matter before us today.
The second thing I want to say is that the precedents unquestionably are all in favour of the Motion, but, in addition, I urge hon. Members that their natural sense of fair play and their desire, which we all share, to be courteous to an old colleague, who was no mean Parliamentarian when he was with us, a man who genuinely loves this House, should lead us to allow him in and to address us, to say to us a few final words on this important matter, of very great importance to him, before the House reaches its decision on his case.
I could have wished that the Leader of the House had moved this Motion. I do not think that it should be looked on in any way—indeed, it would be absurd to do so—as a party issue. It is a question of what it is fair and right for us to do. It is a matter for the House of Commons as a whole, but, since the right hon. Gentleman was not able to do this, I do at least urge him to support this Motion, because, as I say, it is not a party issue. It is a matter where both common sense and common justice can lead us to only one conclusion.
§ Mr. Grant-Ferris (Nantwich)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask for your guidance? During the debate, is it in order for us to refer to the petitioner by the name he held when he was a Member of the House, or are we to be allowed to commit a breach of Privilege of another place by not giving him his proper title?
§ Mr. Speaker
I ruled about this the other day. The name of this gentleman for the purpose of these proceedings is the name of our petitioner.
§ 4.11 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. R. A. Butler)
Mr. Speaker, you have ruled that the question 505 whether Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn should be heard at the Bar of the House must be decided by the House itself on a Motion. We accept that Ruling, and the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell) has moved the Motion. It is for me to answer his points and give the view of my right hon. and hon. Friends on this matter.
Since the outcome of our deliberations today will closely affect the personal position of one who has had the honour to serve as a Member of the House for about ten years, it is clearly a matter which deserves the very serious consideration of the House. I would not like to use any words which would take away anything from the tribute paid by the right hon. Gentleman to the sincerity, and, indeed, the intensity, with which the hon. petitioner has pursued his case. Nor are we affected in any way by personal considerations, and if there are any personal considerations they should bias one in favour of helping the petitioner.
I must make it quite clear that I have made the most careful examination, but, for reasons which I now propose to give as shortly as I can—because the right hon. Gentleman kept his speech short and I will do the same, because the substantive Motion is to follow—we cannot accept the Motion. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] The right hon. Gentleman quoted precedents, and I have been into these precedents very closely. I propose to consider them, as it is my duty as Leader of the House to do, very carefully according to the traditions of the House, and I hope that it will be found, when I have sat down, that my reasons are not factious. They are based on precedents. They are based on the traditions of the House. They are based on considerable research, and, in my view, they should prevail.
The first question I will take is whether the petitioner should be heard at the Bar of the House. Then I will consider the cases raised by the right hon. Gentleman, and, lastly, I will consider whether we should hear Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn as a peer. In each case, I will give my answer to the best of my ability.
On the first question of petitioners being heard at the Bar, it should not become the normal practice for petitioners to be heard at the Bar of the 506 House. In this case, the petitioner has been heard by a Committee of the House and has had every opportunity of putting his views before that Committee. We must take that into account in considering that there is much less strength, therefore, in his case for appearing at the Bar of the House. The evidence, including the direct evidence of the petitioner, has been carefully considered by the Committee, and the evidence and opinion of the Committee are available. The House should not, in my view, take upon itself the function of rehearing part of the evidence.
It is now many years since a petitioner was heard at the Bar of the House, and this, combined with the fact that this particular petitioner has been heard by a Committee, provides the first and most important reason why we should not accept this Motion.
I have examined the precedents for a petitioner being heard at the Bar, and the House will bear with me if I give the precedents for this. Prior to the Reform Act, 1832, petitioners were quite frequently heard at the Bar. The pressure of public business resulting from the Reform Act, 1832, may have contributed to the death of this practice. However that may be, I have been unable to find a single instance of a petitioner being heard at the Bar since 1837, and on that occasion, on 14th June, 1837, in the case of the East India Maritime Officers Bill, counsel on behalf of the East India Company were called in in opposition to the Bill.
In 1849, an ex-Member of the House whose seat had been vacated on his conviction for high treason petitioned to be heard at the Bar, but the Motion to allow that was rejected.
In 1923, comparatively recently, your predecessor, Mr. Speaker, gave a Ruling, the gist of which was that petitioners have no right to be heard at the Bar, and pointed out the dangers to the progress of public business which might follow if such a right were conceded.
That is the general position of petitioners, and I come now to this special case.
The right hon. Gentleman indicated that we should make a special case here. I notice that the hon. Member for Leeds, 507 West (Mr. C. Pannell), in an article in a newspaper, used the expression:Never before has the House of Commons denied a hearing to a Member whose seat was in jeopardy.The right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Leeds, South used the expression "whose seat is in dispute", but the arguments are the same. This theme has been taken up by the right hon. Gentleman and I am ready to explain shortly why I do not think that this case resembles others which have been quoted, or may be quoted, but before that I want to take up the question whether Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn's seat is in jeopardy.
The truth is that Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn ceased to be a Member of this House on the death of his father on 17th November, 1960. However much we would like to treat him with consideration as a fellow Member for the last ten years, we must respect what the Committee of Privileges found to be settled law, and, what is important, settled law which the House established in 1895 and which has never been questioned. It is undoubtedly the case that that is the settled law which has never been questioned. It is not, therefore, a case of Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn's seat being in danger. He is no longer a Member of Parliament.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
We have not yet pronounced on the Report on the Committee of Privileges on the law in this matter. It is, therefore, precisely because of that that we think he should be heard.
§ Mr. Butler
I claim that the law as established by the House of Commons in 1895 has not been questioned and that that substantiates the case I have made.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
If there is no question, what was referred to the Committee of Priviliges? If it was quite clear to the House what the position was and what the law was—and this is what puzzles me—why was the Committee of Privileges ever asked to consider this matter?
§ Mr. Butler
If the hon. Gentleman reads the Petition of the petitioner he will see that there were four main questions put to the Committee of Privileges—the question of renunciation, the 508 question of privilege, the question of the Disqualification Act, and so on. They were all put in the Petition of the petitioner and these matters were referred to the Committee of Privileges. The Committee has come forward with the fact that since 1895 it has been settled law that one cannot renounce a peerage. Therefore, it is not a case of Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn's seat being in danger. He is, in fact, no longer a Member of Parliament.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
A few minutes ago the right hon. Gentleman said, "We must accept the opinion of the Committee of Privileges". Will he tell us why we must accept it?
§ Mr. Butler
I do not know whether or not hon. Members wish to accept the opinion of the Committee of Privileges, but the fact is that it has been settled law since 1895, and on the death of his father Mr. Wedgwood Benn succeeded to the peerage.
§ Sir Lynn Ungoed-Thomas (Leicester, North-East)
Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that he is begging the very question which the House has to decide? He is making an assumption as to what the House will decide the law to be, which it can do only at the end of the debate.
§ Mr. Butler
Whether he likes it or not, the House decided in 1895 that this was the settled law. That was the decision taken in 1895.
§ Mr. Speaker
I am sorry, but the hon. Lady cannot do it in that way. The right hon. Gentleman did not give way. I called the hon. Lady because I was being addressed myself.
§ Miss Lee
Will the Home Secretary bear in mind the fact that the father of Mr. Wedgwood Benn was a very distinguished Member of this House? It was during the last war that he became a Member of the House of Lords. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to influence the House he must not quote previous decisions when we are now trying to deal with a situation in which the son of a very distinguished and patriotic person—who became a Member of the House of Lords—wants to remain in the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Butler
I do not go back on what I said. The House of Commons decided what was settled law in 1895. The whole question of this case will come up on the debate on the substantive Motion that I shall be moving later. For the purposes of this debate I must accept the law as it stands and, as I have said, the position I have stated was accepted by the Members of the Committee of Privileges.
§ Mr. George Brown (Belper) rose—
§ Mr. Brown
May I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that he is not doing himself credit? The next Motion that we have to debate is whether or not the Report of the Select Committee—of which I had the privilege to be a Member for the first time—should be agreed to by the House. It is the Report of that Select Committee which bears on the question whether the settled law is as it was thought to be in 1895. How can the right hon. Gentleman insist that the settled law is as it was found to be in 1895 before we have debated the following Motion and have decided whether or not we agree with the Report of the Select Committee? Until we have received it and agreed with it, the question of what is settled law is in doubt. Therefore, 510 until that point is reached, Mr. Benn's seat is in jeopardy or in dispute.
§ Mr. Butler
I come now to the cases referred to by the right hon. Gentleman—that of Mr. O'Connell, in 1829; of Mr. Bradlaugh, in 1882, and of Mr. MacManaway, recently. None is on all fours with Mr. Benn's case, since they were all Members of Parliament, and Mr. Benn is not a Member of Parliament. I do not differ from the description of the cases given by the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Butler
Mr. O'Connell refused the Oath of Supremacy, but he had been elected as a Member of Parliament; Mr. Bradlaugh was validly elected a Member of Parliament, but had not taken the oath. There was no question that his election was not valid; he had simply not taken the oath. Mr. MacManaway was also elected as the Member for Belfast, West. His case differs fundamentally from Mr. Benn's case in that the law was not settled.
A Motion was moved by this House by reason of the factthat having been ordained a priest according to the use of the Church of Ireland Mr. MacManaway had received episcopal ordination.Mr. MacManaway was heard in his place, and not at the Bar of the House, immediately after the mover of the Motion had spoken, and he then withdrew. In his case the law was not decided until he had spoken, and the House then declared it. In Mr. Wedgwood Benn's case the law was declared in 1895. I therefore claim that the petitioner, according to the precedents, has no case for being called to the Bar of the House.
I now want to consider the wider questions. It may be said that if, under settled law, Mr. Benn is a peer, why should not he appear before us as a peer? The first reason is that, presumably, he does not acknowledge himself to be a peer, and he may not wish to appear before us in that capacity. The House may then say, "Could not we hear him as a peer?" Let us, first establish that Mr. Benn is not a peer of Parliament, because he has not received the Writ of Summons; he is merely a peer. 511 Looking back on the records, the case which provides a precedent for this Motion is that of Lord Melville, in 1805. He wrote requesting to be heard after a Select Committee had reported adversely on his conduct at the Admiralty. A Motion was approved that Lord Melville be admitted and heard, but his case differs in two vital respects from that of Mr. Benn. First, he was a peer of Parliament, and, secondly, he had not been heard by a Select Committee.
I can trace only a few other cases—very early; the last in 1701—of peers appearing at the Bar of the House. As for peers not peers of Parliament, there are very few precedents, but in every case it is clear that peers not peers of Parliament have been admitted to the Bar only if summoned, and not at their own request. In every case in which they have been summoned they have been summoned to give evidence, whereas Mr. Benn has already given his evidence to the Committee of Privileges in detail, and has been heard.
I may be asked what would happen if we had a Motion summoning Mr. Wedgwood Benn as a pear not a peer of Parliament. On consideration, I should say that our answer should be the same, namely, that Mr. Benn's case has been heard by a Committee, that it is wrong for petitioners who have been heard by a Committee to be heard again at the Bar, and that there is no case for summoning Mr. Wedgwood Benn as a peer not a peer of Parliament.
It has been my duty to put before the House the precedents, first, that for well over one hundred years the practice of hearing petitioners at the Bar of the House has been discontinued; secondly, that Mr. Benn is not a Member of Parliament, and his case is not on all fours with previous cases, in some of which the petitioners were heard in their places in this House—which is impossible for Mr. Benn—and, thirdly, that there is no valid case for summoning Mr. Benn, if he wished to be so summoned, as a peer.
§ Mr. Frank Bowles (Nuneaton)
Before the right hon. Gentleman sits down, may I ask him a question? Does not he recall that many times since 1945 various journalists, editors and others spoke in their own defence at the Bar of this 512 House? [HON. MEMBERS: "They were summoned."] That is true. But if a person has been condemned by the Committee of Privileges is he to be put in a worse position than a person who is not condemned?
§ Mr. Butler
I am not dealing with the cases of certain journalists, one of which I can remember, who came to the Bar of the House as a result of a Report of the Committee of Privileges. I am dealing with the case of a petitioner according to the precedents of this House and with the case of peers not peers of Parliament. Those are the only two categories in which the case of Mr. Benn could fall.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
It seems that yesterday the Russians let loose a man into outer space. Today, we propose to cast an ex-colleague into the "world of outer darkness" of another place.
I am sorry to follow the Leader of the House. It is a fact that time has already gone by since this debate started which we could have used to perform a gracious act to one who has been our colleague in this place. The Leader of the House has spoken this afternoon not as the Leader of the House, but as the led man of the 1922 Committee. This afternoon he has betrayed the fact that hon. Members opposite are very sensitive about the Establishment and this is merely the normal reaction of the other side of the House to any action which affects the Establishment, and reveals the sycophancy which surrounds the Court and another place.
That is what we are up against. I suppose that if we take the comparison between what happened in space yesterday and what has happened here today it would represent the gulf between this side of the House and hon. Members opposite. It represents what happened in the past, because these people are rooted in the past—
§ Mr. Pannell
On a previous occasion I remember Mr. Speaker saying that he could not hear what I was saying. Can you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, hear what I am saying?
§ Mr. Pannell
That is all right then, but I can hardly hear myself.
I regret that it was necessary for me to make a speech at all on this matter. When I first approached the subject, and sought the guidance of Mr. Speaker about what could be done, and of the Leader of the House, I assumed that we could have a dignified departure for an old colleague after the Committee of Privileges had ruled that Mr. Wedgwood Benn had left us to become Lord Stansgate. I thought that we could have said goodbye to him with a pleasant ceremony. I did not run into any particular opposition until after the 1922 Committee had met and I am surprised at the degree of feeling which has been evidenced here this afternoon.
As I understand the constitutional position, Mr. Wedgwood Benn is no longer between "death" and "burial" in another place. He is not even between sentence and execution. The verdict on this matter is not taken until ten o'clock tonight and the whole thing is sub judice. There is no question at all about that. I think that the Leader of the House was highly selective in his choice of precedents. I will not refer to the sentimental claims which this gentleman himself has on the House, but there is another precedent which has not been mentioned and which could be mentioned to show how sensitive was the House in the past.
I refer to the precedent of 1814, when Lord Cochrane was found guilty of fraud and imprisoned. The House insisted that he should be brought from there to address the House from the Bar and the then Speaker said these words:The House would not, however, act, till they heard the members, if present, or had cause to know that they were absent by their own fault. One of the members was in the House. The course of proceeding would be this: the noble lord would state what he had to say in his defence; after being heard, he would then withdraw, and the House, with the record and defence of the noble lord, would come to the decision of the question.It is rather remarkable that in all these old cases which were referred to by my right hon. Friend the unanimity rule prevailed. Any single hon. Member of the House could have objected. 514 Take the case of Bradlaugh. No one can read the accounts of that case without a deep sense of shame about the conduct of this House. It is the fact that when he was on his death bed this House expunged the record because of the deep sense of shame it felt about Bradlaugh. There is one thing at least, I think, which would touch any who read about the case. Bradlaugh addressed this House at the Bar on no less than four occasions. Hon. Members could have stopped him, but no one objected. At the same time, there were hon. Members who were attempting to bankrupt him, trying to get him involved in litigation, but there was one level below which they did not fall but below which hon. Members have fallen today—they never denied his voice in Parliament.
This is a black day in Parliamentary history, and all the precedents have nothing to do with it. The Leader of the House, in the sychophantic way to which I have referred, has slipped over all the facts and been highly selective in his choice of precedents. He has done that because he knows what is behind him. As a matter of fact, he had a taste of it on Monday from those behind him who believed in birching and caning little boys, and who would have given a good "caning" to the Leader of the House had he given way on this point.
It is the fact that Bradlaugh was never stopped on any occasion, but references to Bradlaugh have nothing to do with this case. The Leader of the House referred to what has happened since the Reform Bill, but the whole character of this House changed in 1832; it was the beginning of democracy and the whole character of the House and the representation of boroughs and cities was altogether different. If we consult the ancient precedents, we find that no peer was ever refused permission to come to the Bar of the House if his interests were threatened. There are still precedents in the Library which, so far as I know, have never been annulled, that when a peer comes to the Bar a stool is provided for him, and if a person not of that rank comes to the Bar, he stands behind it.
Throughout this whole business one is conscious of the fact—I have spent a long time looking through all the precedents—that in the whole mighty canvas 515 of Parliamentary life, in the whole rolling panorama of history, no man so circumstanced as is Wedgwood Benn at the moment has been refused the right to stand at that Bar.
It is no use saying that the case of Wedgwood Benn is not similar to any other case. There is no case in the whole of history which is similar to another. The precedent on which I rely is the general fairness of the House, which was not evident in the speech of the Leader of the House. It is that upon which I rely, the basis of equity. There is a prevailing line which runs through all religions, that we should do to others as we should wish them to do to us. I can only hope that, should their Parliamentary seats be in jeopardy, hon. Members opposite will not be treated in the way in which we are to treat a person here this afternoon.
There is another point about this matter. Regarding all the people who have come before Parliament, Wilkes, O'Connell, Cochrane or Bradlaugh, in the main there was a question of morality involved. No one will say that in 1882 hon. Members who then sat opposite did not feel more passionately about religion and militant atheism, or that in 1829 they did not feel as passionately about Catholic emancipation than they do today. Of course they felt deeply about those things but, deeply as they felt, fundamentally they felt that in this place and before making a decision as we shall at ten o'clock tonight, a man has the right to be heard in his own cause.
It would have been far better, instead of wasting time listening to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, if we had given ten minutes to hear Mr. Benn. This will cause an outrage in the country tomorrow. People outside will know what to think and to say about it. I would be out of order if I started arguing on the Motion which we shall come to later, but we should not let the MacManaway case go by the board. The Labour Government were almost quixotically generous in that case.
The Leader of the House did not bring this out. When it was known that that matter would be referred to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, the Labour Government promised an indemnity to the 29th June, 1950, and the Member continued to sit and to vote. 516 We had a majority of only six and two of my hon. Friends died through having to go through the Lobbies in Divisions. MacManaway's vote might have caused a constitutional crisis but, on the advice of the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), he continued to sit and to vote. The right hon. Member for Woodford offered that legal advice.
At the time I disagreed with the Ruling of Mr. Speaker. I thought that the precedent would have been better observed if MacManaway had addressed the House from the Bar. Yet he was allowed to address us from his place after he had voted and nearly caused a constitutional crisis. He voted on steel denationalisation and such things on 19th September, 1950. The indemnity was carried further until 19th October, 1950, so that he was indemnified up to the hilt. He had appeared before a Select Committee, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, and his case had been heard. There is not an instance in which Bradlaugh or any of these people had not previously had their case heard before a Select Committee. This spurious argument was not put forward then.
What sort of doctrine is it that simply because a Committee meets a rule like this shall be laid down? The Leader of the House did not say that in the case of the Committee on the Strauss case. The House turned down the Strauss Committee. In any case, this matter will not be resolved until ten o'clock tonight. There has been a question about it, for otherwise it would not have been referred to the Committee of Privileges. Mr. Speaker had given his Ruling in advance of the Ruling he gave this afternoon, that the petitioner's name is Anthony Wedgwood Benn, and we must assume that whether he is a Member of this House or not is in doubt until ten o'clock tonight. There is no question about that, otherwise Mr. Speaker would have ruled in an entirely different way. It is no use arguing—
§ Sir Peter Agnew (Worcestershire, South)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. As the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) has expressed dubiety as to whether Lord Stansgate is, in fact, a Member of this House of Commons—[HON. MEMBERS: "He is not Lord Stansgate."]—I shall continue to speak of him as Lord Stansgate until I 517 am stopped. The hon. Member has expressed doubt whether Lord Stansgate is a Member of the Commons House of Parliament. Could an inquiry be made now of the Officers of the House of Commons to ascertain whether or not the said noble Lord is at present being paid as a Member of the House of Commons?
§ Mr. Pannell
The hon. Member knows full well that he cannot raise these points with Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but has to raise them with Mr. Speaker. This matter has been raised twice by hon. Members opposite and on each occasion Mr. Speaker has ruled that we must refer to the petitioner in the name of Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn. Mr. Speaker did so today and on other occasions. Consequently, the question referred to the Committee of Privileges is not finally resolved and will not be until we vote on it at ten o'clock tonight. There is an Amendment which the House will consider later.
I hope that even now that sort of Elementary justice which has characterised the House of Commons will prevail. When I think of the intolerance of hon. Members opposite and of how they wish to stop an old colleague from addressing this House for ten minutes, I almost sniff the smell of fire and think that we are in the Reichstag. These are the intolerant sort of people who talk about members of my trade union exiling a man and sending him to Coventry. They are always speaking about the mob pursuing a man. What about the case of Wedgwood Benn? These are the "little men" which hon. Members opposite are always wishing to defend.
§ Mr. Frederick Gough (Horsham) rose—
§ Mr. Pannell
The hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Gough) is not notable for his contributions on constitutional matters.
§ Mr. Gough rose—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
If the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) does not give way, the hon. 518 Member for Horsham (Mr. Gough) must sit down.
§ Mr. Pannell
If the hon. Member for Horsham is going into the Lobby against Wedgwood Benn being heard in his own cause, nothing I can say about him is bad enough.
§ Mr. Pannell
It would not matter. The hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. David James) made that stupid mistake the other day when he said that if Wedgwood Benn came to the Bar he would walk out. I have seen him about it and he is in the Chamber now. He said that if Wedgwood Benn were allowed to come to the Bar, why should we not allow Lord Alanbrooke or Lord Montgomery also to come to the Bar? Strictly speaking, there is nothing to stop them coming in. We could pass a Resolution to allow them to do so.
The answer to the hon. Member for Horsham is that in a strictly House of Commons sense we have not yet resolved the position of Wedgwood Benn, and will not do so until ten o'clock tonight. His seat has not been declared vacant. If there had not been any doubt about it, a Writ would have been moved between last November and now. The matter has been referred to a Select Committee for the question to be decided.
Leaving all that on one side, I am quite prepared to argue on the basis of precedent, because I am fond of this place. I am quite prepared to argue on the rights of hon. Members, but more 519 than anything because I revere the corporate spirit of this House. Do not let anyone opposite say anything more about being "a House of Commons man", because the spirit of the Leader of the House cannot rise above the 1922 Committee. Neither can any of the hon. Members opposite rise above the 1922 Committee. I shall apologise to each and every one of them if they go through the Lobby on the basis of equity, fairness and justice to Wedgwood Benn.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Sir Hendrie Oakshott (Bebington)
In the course of his opening speech, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said, I think rightly, that this is not a party matter. I hope that the House will accept my assurance—and I know that I speak for many hon. Members in saying this—that there is no question here of any personal animus whatever.
§ Sir H. Oakshott
That makes me regret all the more the speech of the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell). He has a well-earned and justified reputation, in my view, for careful research into and wide knowledge of the constitutional problems affecting this House, but the tone of his speech today by no means measured up to the excellent reputation which he has enjoyed in the past.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House dealt completely, I think, with the question of the precedents which had been quoted by the right hon. Gentleman and also by the hon. Member for Leeds, West in the article in the Daily Herald today. It was kind of him to give us an advance view of his speech. But there is a cardinal difference between the cases there quoted, and quoted by the right hon. Gentleman, and the case of the present petitioner. It is certainly the fact that in the cases of Mr. O'Connell and Mr. Bradlaugh they were not at the relevant moment disqualified persons, whereas in my view the present petitioner undoubtedly is a disqualified person. The right hon. Gentleman said that the seat was in dispute and the hon. Member for Leeds, West talked about a seat being in jeopardy. If that is so, why have the 520 Opposition thought it necessary to put an Amendment on the Order Paper asking for a change in the law so that renunciation, which, by implication, they agree is not possible under the law of the moment, should be made possible?
§ Sir H. Oakshott
I wish to intervene in this debate for a very few moments only and the next point which I wish to make, which has been mentioned, is, I think, of some importance. I felt that I ought to try to satisfy myself on one point in particular before I spoke in the debate: if the petitioner's request to address the House at the Bar is refused, shall we be denying him justice and shall we be denying him an opportunity which in fairness he ought to have?
§ Sir H. Oakshott
I hope that the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), who intervenes in a sitting position, will at least give me the credit of believing that what I am saying is being said in sincerity.
I felt that I must satisfy myself on this point. I invite hon. Members to look again at the proceedings of the Select Committee. The petitioner made a very full statement before that Committee. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House have both paid a tribute to him, and I should like to add my view that his statement was remarkable for its lucidity and that his bearing had such a degree of courtesy, dignity and sincerity that it was bound to evoke feelings of personal sympathy for him.
§ Sir H. Oakshott
Following his statement, he was questioned at great length, and in answering these questions he was able to elaborate and to enlarge upon the arguments in favour of the cause which he had at heart. He was followed by two expert and eminent supporters. The hon. and learned Member for Ipswich (Mr. D. Foot) made a very long and detailed statement. He, too, was questioned at length and was able to enlarge upon and elaborate the argument. 521 Finally, he was supported by Mr. Taverne, a constitutional expert with a high reputation, who submitted a very long memorandum to the Committee. He amplified this with a verbal statement before the Committee, he was examined at length and, again, was able to enlarge upon these arguments. I do not think that the petitioner's case could have been presented more fully or argued and enlarged upon in greater detail.
In the light of these circumstances, I do not think that it can be said that he has suffered any injustice or denial of justice. I believe, on the contrary, that he has had the fullest possible opportunity to present and to argue his case with the help of very eminent and powerful support before what is, after all, the senior Committee of the House.
Lastly, I come back indirectly to the precedents already quoted in which certain people in the past were allowed to address the House. I must confess that I am not persuaded that it was a good thing that those requests were granted. In this place we have our own rules and traditions, but, above all, we are a debating chamber, and I ask hon. Members to reflect upon whether it is desirable to allow strangers to appear at the Bar of the House, to address us and to make statements which cannot be directly challenged in debate. It seems to me that such a practice might well conflict with and cut right across the whole atmosphere of this House and its accepted procedure.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
On a point of order. The hon. Member has said that no matter raised from the Bar can be questioned in debate. Of course it can be questioned in debate.
§ Mr. Pannell
There is no question about this. It is a fact, and I suggest that the hon. Member sticks to the facts.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
Further to that point of order. Surely the question of what is the proper practice of the House must be a point of order. The question involved here is this: if Mr. Wedgwood Benn were allowed to speak at the Bar 522 of the House, would what he said be debatable? If that is not a point of order, what in the world is?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
That is not the point as I understood it. Obviously, if a debate follows it will be debatable.
§ Sir H. Oakshott
I am sorry if I have accidentally misled the House. What I said—and I thought that it was clear—was that a statement made from the Bar cannot be directly challenged in debate; the person at the Bar cannot be challenged.
I do not believe that it would be right to accede to the petitioner's request to be heard, and if I may respectfully say so, I think that the House would be unwise to grant a privilege of this sort which is so very unusual and out of the ordinary.
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
It seems to me that the House is adopting the attitude, "This man is obviously guilty. Let us proceed to sentence him. He is not worth hearing." That is a strange attitude for an English judicial body—and today we are an English judicial body.
We are deciding the questions which are put to us. On those questions we have the advice of the Committee of Privileges, but it is only their advice. The Petition of Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn is not to the Committee of Privileges; it is to this House. It is this House which decides upon that Petition. The Committee of Privileges has no function other than to give us advice. We are the judges, and it is for us to decide. If we look at the Petition for a moment, we can see what we are being asked to decide. In the second paragraph of the Petition we read:That the practice under which peers of the Realm by inheritance have been held to be disqualified…has never been laid down by Statute nor has it been judicially determined.That is the question of disqualification. He may be right or he may be wrong. That is a matter to be decided, but if it is challenged we are the judges.
Later on, in the fifth paragraph, he raises the point that the House of Commons Disqualification Act, 1957, has, inter alia, conferred a statutory right on Members of the House of Commons to refuse to accept places which would 523 disqualify them from sitting in the House of Commons. Again, he may be right about that or he may be wrong. The Committee of Privileges thinks that he is wrong, but it is not their decision; it is our decision.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
If my hon. and learned Friend refers to the evidence of Mr. Wedgwood Benn, he will see that the Attorney-General, I think properly, took the rather academic point that the Committee of Privileges did not even know that his father was dead and it was necessary for him to produce documentary evidence from independent sources as well as certificates establishing the death of his father and brother, on the grounds, I think quite correctly, that the only information which the Committee had, and the only information which the House had, was that Mr. Benn is an elected Member of this House who has taken his seat and has voted consistently since his election.
§ Mr. Paget
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend, although I was coming to that point. The point which I am seeking to establish at the moment is quite simply that we are here as judges. These questions submitted by Mr. Wedgwood Benn are questions which are submitted not to a Committee of the House but to the House as a whole. We are here as the judges; it is for us to decide.
The next question which he submits to us is that the Writ of Summons to attend the House of Peers from the Crown addressed to Mr. Benn raises prima facie a question of privilege, and then he raises the final point that he remains a Member of this House until that Writ is in fact issued, and it has not been issued. These are the questions, and they are questions for us to decide.
§ Mr. Peter Rawlinson (Epsom)
The hon. and learned Gentleman has referred to various matters set out in the Petition, but surely he has observed that what the petitioner humbly prays is that a Select Committee should be appointed to examine the matter and report? That was what he prayed that this House should do. Is it not a fact that that has happened and that the Committee has reported?
§ Mr. Paget
It has reported for us to judge. That is the procedure here. The 524 Committee reports to us, and we are the judges, taking into account its advice and no more than that. That is simply advice, and we are the judges. In the case of the report on the Strauss case, we rejected that advice. That has happened on a number of occasions, and it will today.
§ Mr. Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)
If the hon. and learned Gentleman says that we are to be the judges of the matter which was before the Committee, will he deal with the point whether we should call to the Bar of the House all the other witnesses who appeared before the Select Committee?
§ Mr. Paget
We are entitled to call before that Bar anyone we choose, and we can do that at any time. It is among our essential and most ancient privileges.
This is our guide. We may if we choose take into account the printed evidence as given to the Committee. We may if we choose take the evidence in that form. Again, we may if we choose summon anyone to the Bar of the House. That, therefore, is the position, and that is the point that I wanted to establish and have established. We are here as judges, and the question as far as we are concerned is open. It will not be decided until we have voted, and, indeed, if one looks up the Report of the Committee of Privileges, that is accepted by it.
I now turn from paragraph 7, to which I have particularly referred, and I do not want to do so again, to paragraph 9 (3), where it is set out that until the Writ of Summons to another place be issued the seat is not formally vacated because the matter might be in doubt at that point.
I now come to the second point, which is that which my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale), raised a moment ago, and which I feel was established for us before the Committee of Privileges by the learned Attorney-General. So far as we are concerned, Mr. Benn is a Member of this House until the contrary be established. That was established as a fact before the Committee, and in my submission, without any doubt at all, that is the position.
§ Sir P. Agnew
I am sure it is a fact, which has not been contradicted, though it has been stated publicly, that the petitioner is not being paid as a Member of Parliament. If that is so, he is not being paid because there is no authority to pay him.
§ Mr. Paget
Let me make this quite clear. Membership of this House is an honourable office and it does not depend upon payment, and I hope it never will depend upon it.
The position is that we as the House of Commons do not even know that Lord Stansgate is dead. We do not know that Mr. Benn is the son of the late Lord Stansgate. None of these things is established to us here. They can be established only if we accept—and we are the judges—the evidence which was put before the Committee, and which the Attorney-General made plain was necessary for the Committee before these very things could be done.
§ Mr. Rawlinson
If the matters to which the hon. and learned Gentleman has referred are true, why is not Mr. Benn in his seat?
§ Mr. Paget
Because he has not chosen to sit here. That is the position. Before the Committee of Privileges, the Attorney-General made it quite clear that the fact of this peerage must be established. As I have already made plain, nothing is established before the Committee of Privileges. That Committee only reports to us, the judges, and it is for us to decide whether we accept the evidence. Until the evidence has come before us and has been accepted by us, Mr. Benn is a Member of this House. The only other point that arises here is that normally, so far as we are concerned, the evidence which we accept is the Writ of Summons to another place, and the seat which has been occupied by one who succeeds to a peerage is not declared vacant until the heir to the peerage receives the Writ of Summons. Mr. Benn, in these circumstances, has not received that Writ.
§ Sir P. Agnew
The hon. and learned Gentleman is being very good in allowing interruptions, and I hope he will not take this one amiss. In the case of a Scottish peer or of a gentleman succeeding to a Scottish peerage, he never does receive a Writ of Summons, unless he 526 happens to be one of the Scottish peers subsequently elected by his fellows.
§ Mr. Paget
No. The position with regard to a Scottish peer is this. He does not receive a Writ of Summons to another place. He receives a different form of Writ which puts him in a position either to be elected or, by a process of seniority, to become one of the representative peers of Scotland. There is a Writ which establishes his peerage for the purposes of the House of Commons. The seat is not declared vacant and a new Writ is not issued here until that has happened.
That being the position, what about hearing Mr. Benn? We have the right to hear him. Neither the Leader of the House nor the Attorney-General disputes that for one moment. We are judges in his cause. Neither the Leader of the House nor the Attorney-General nor anybody else disputes that. Are we not rather odd judges? We are to judge a man's cause. He is here and wants to address us. We have the right to hear him. We have the opportunity to hear him, but we prefer to judge without hearing him. That is not a procedure which I wish to see adopted by the House of Commons.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
The position of those who seek to oppose someone having the right to be heard is naturally a disagreeable one, and I do not welcome having to take on that rôle. The hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) is not present in his seat at the moment, but he attacked us so much that I think I am entitled to refer to him. He was very unfair in his reference to those who are opposed to the Motion. He suggested that we were lacking in a sense of fair play and in a sense almost of honour as Members of the House. That is a very unfair thing to say.
I invite the House to look at the realities of the position and to get away from some of the legal artifices which have been argued.
§ Mr. Bell
I hope that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) will continue to say "Hear, hear" as I develop my argument. It is beyond question that the House has the right to allow a petitioner to appear at the Bar 527 and address us or give evidence. It is also within the certain knowledge of every hon. Member present today that this is a Chamber in which visitors are very rarely heard. In modern times they are usually brought to the Bar only to be admonished by Mr. Speaker. I think—this is only an opinion, but I express it confidently—that there is no hon. Member on either side of the House who would like to see the practice of admitting visitors to address the House grow and become frequent.
§ Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Itchen)
Does not the hon. Member agree that if the House were passing sentence on a person, as is the case here, it would be right to hear him in his own defence?
§ Mr. Bell
I wonder if the hon. Gentleman will allow me to develop my argument. I do not say that from any sense of resentment, but up to now it has rather been debate by interruption. Inasmuch as this is a matter which we have to decide on our own as a House of Commons, it would be better if hon. Members could develop the line of their thought.
I was saying that we have the undoubted right to call someone to the Bar, but it has not been our practice to do so. If that is so, the question before us today is whether, in the special circumstances of this case, as a matter of general judgment and common sense we should do so. I cannot see that there is any other matter before us. All this business about something or other not being decided until ten o'clock and the position of Mr. Bradlaugh is not of any relevance to us, except in so far as it is a rather remote guide to our own judgment as a matter of common sense.
The hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) said that we were going to condemn a former Member of the House and that he should be heard in his own defence. That argument has been advanced by a number of other hon. Members. We are not going to do anything of the kind. No judgment or penalty will be passed upon the former Member for Bristol, South-East. He will not be in any way disadvantaged if he does not address the House today. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I say that advisedly. I am talking now as a 528 matter of common sense. We all know that the fact that he is now Lord Stansgate is not really in dispute in the House today. We all know full well that the reason why we are debating this is that Mr. Wedgwood Benn is now Viscount Stansgate and does not want to be. That is what it is all about.
§ Mr. Bell
The hon. and learned Member says that it is not conclusive, but he again is taking this niggling point of law. Is there anyone in the House, except perhaps one or two hon. Gentlemen, who thinks that Mr. Benn is not in fact already Viscount Stansgate? It is not only the Select Committee which was unanimous on this point. There was no difference about that in the Select Committee. There was no difference in the Select Committee that, having become Viscount Stansgate, he was disqualified from membership of the House of Commons. Anyone can see that from the Report, the Amendments which were moved and the Divisions. The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) moved an Amendment beginningThere is therefore at present no member of Parliament for the constituency of Bristol, South-East…That Amendment was supported on a Division by all the members of the Committee who sit on the opposite side of the House.
Everyone agrees as a matter of commonsense that there is no Member for Bristol, South-East at the present moment. The form of the Amendment on the Order Paper shows that that issue is not before the House today, because if the Amendment should be passed and become the substantive Motion of the House the position will still not be challenged. There will have been added to the Government Motion a request that the Government should introduce legislation to make a change in that position.
We all know full well that the issue before the House today is whether something should be done to prevent this happening in future and, if it is, whether it should cover the case of our former colleague the erstwhile Member for Bristol, South-East. We all know as a matter of common sense that that is the only issue before us today.
§ Mr. A. J. Irvine (Liverpool, Edge Hill)
I follow the force of this part of the hon. Gentleman's argument, but does he carry it to the length of saying that it is not open to the House to determine that it disagrees with the conclusion of the Select Committee that Mr. Wedgwood Benn was disqualified from membership of the House of Commons on 17th November, 1960.
§ Mr. Bell
It is perfectly open for the House to disagree with the Report of the Select Committee—to set it aside, and to welcome Mr. Wedgwood Benn back into this House as a Member. That is perfectly open to it, but my point is that petitioners are not entitled to be here as a matter of right. We have the right to summon them. In modern times it has never been our practice to do so. Whether or not we do so on this occasion is a matter of common sense, and we decide it by looking at the case and seeing what is being discussed—
§ Mr. A. J. Irvine rose—
§ Mr. Bell
The hon. and learned Gentleman may not agree with that, but can he leave it that we disagree on the point?
I have given my reasons. They are that the Motion on the Order Paper and the Amendment to it do not raise the issue of whether Mr. Wedgwood Benn is still a Member of this House or not. That will not be the result of today's debate, whether or not the Opposition Amendment is passed—
§ Mr. A. E. Cooper (Ilford, South)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I hesitate to interrupt my hon. Friend, but in reply to an interjection from the other side, he gave an answer which I think is quite contrary to the facts and to the legal position—
§ Mr. Cooper
With great respect, this is probably one of the most important debates that we have had for a long time—
§ Mr. Bell
If I do not give way more frequently, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, it is because I think that the debate is being 530 rather spoiled by interruptions. I do not want to take too much time, but I have a few points to put, and I shall probably help the House better if I put them and allow those hon. Members who disagree with me to express their disagreement in their speeches later on rather than by interventions.
To return to my theme, I say that on this occasion it is a matter of practical judgment. We all know perfectly well that what we shall decide on the main Question is whether or not legislation shall be introduced to effect a change and, if so, what sort of change it should be—the kind of change suggested in the Opposition Amendment, or some other kind.
I ask hon. Members: why should the noble Lord, Lord Stansgate, be allowed to come to the Bar of the House and address us on the subject? I cannot see why he should. He is, of course, greatly affected by this, but so are many other people. Is my noble Friend, Lord Hailsham, if he feels so disposed, to be allowed to come to the Bar of this House and address us on a subject about which he no doubt has strong views—
§ Mr. Bell
The hon. Lady does me an injustice. I am always glad to have allies in that worthy cause.
The fact that someone outside is particularly interested in legislation in this House cannot confer on him even a moral right to come to the Bar and urge on us his views on the matter. What else could Lord Stansgate address us on? Is he to deny that he is the lawfully begotten eldest surviving son of the late Lord Stansgate? We have the evidence that he put before the Select Committee saying that he is. It is clearly stated there. He does not deny that he has inherited whatever honours he is unwillingly forced to inherit from his father. We all know that whether or not he has had a Writ of Summons to attend in another place, he is disqualified to attend in this place.
531 These are not matters that can be disputed from the Bar of the House, and we shall be creating a deplorable precedent for our future proceedings if we invite noble Lords from another place, or distinguished strangers of any character to address us here, either upon legislation or upon Motions calling on the Government to introduce legislation—
§ Mr. Bowles
I am very interested in this question of precedent. This House will decide at ten o'clock—or whatever time it may be—whether or not Mr. Benn comes to the Bar of the House. But if the precedent is set by Whips on the Government supporters, will that be a very good precedent? Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House whether the Whips are on tonight?
§ Mr. Bell
The hon. Member knows perfectly well that the Whips are on because the Leader of the House has said so. That makes not the slightest difference to me, I see no difficulty in it, because I shall speak and vote quite regardless of that fact, and the hon. Gentleman cannot suggest that I have any record of servility in this House.
I am glad that the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) brought us to the question of precedents. Three precedents have been cited, all of which seem to me to be highly irrelevant because they related either to men who were admittedly at the time Members of the House, though not entitled to take their seats—
§ Mr. Bell
We have had two people about whom there was a real doubt as to whether or not they were Members. Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, as he then was, advised the Reverend James MacManaway that he was still a Member, and the Attorney-General of the day—it was a Labour Government then—also advised that he was still a Member. They were both found to be wrong, but the whole point is that a Labour Attorney-General advised Mr. MacManaway that he was still a Member, as did the leaders of his own party. That was one of the difficult marginal cases. Legally, it was extraordinary. It was a case in which, 532 obviously, the hon. Member was entitled to go on sitting until it was finally decided in this House that he could not.
There is not an absence of precedents, however, but an abundance of them for not allowing this. Every case in which an heir has succeeded to a title and has left this House without protest or fuss is a precedent against our granting this privilege today—
§ Mr. Bell
There has been no case where it has been asked for. Through all these years, for centuries past, those people have not asked to address this House from the Bar after succeeding to the peerage, so they could not be refused. This is a process that goes on year by year, and has done for generations, and nobody can point to a single case where such a person has been allowed to come back to plead his cause from the Bar of the House. Is not that enough to suggest that it should not be allowed except in a very special and remarkable case, where the House, looking at the realities of the dispute, says, "We should hear this man."?
If the noble Lord, Lord Stansgate—
§ Mr. Bell
—wanted to come here and say, "I dispute that I am the heir, I dispute that I am the eldest surviving son"—or some question of particular fact like that, that had been canvassed before the Select Committee which had decided against him, and the House wanted, perhaps, to revise that decision, that might be a special case in which we could ask him to speak to us. But, as we all know, no such fact arises here.
I believe that that disposes of the matter. We should be very wrong to allow the noble Lord to come to the Bar of the House just because he badly wants to, and because some hon. Members feel that it is rather hard to refuse an old colleague a privilege that he very badly wants. That is a point of view with which I sympathise, and, as a lawyer, I want to give the other man a chance to be heard. Nevertheless, I am quite sure that this would create a deplorable precedent in our proceedings.
I believe that those of us who resist the Opposition Amendment tonight are 533 entirely clear of any charge of injustice, unfairness or lack of a sense of honour as members of this House. I believe that what we do is done entirely in the interests of the House, its procedure and its future and that we can throw back at the hon. Member for Leeds, West his unworthy charges as being the immoderate language of a man who has not properly considered what is really quite a simple matter.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I found parts of the speech of the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) quite extraordinary. He seemed at one time to be arguing that we all knew, of course, that the matter was settled. The Committee of Privileges had deal with it. It was now a mere matter of form. The coming debate was a matter of form. We all knew, he seemed to suggest, that the substantive question was entirely settled; Lord Stansgate was Lord Stansgate, and there was nothing we need worry about. For this to come from an English lawyer seemed quite extraordinary. Many of us, including myself, have attended court and conducted cases in which it seemed that all the evidence pointed one way, but no one said, "Do not bother about having a trial. Just sentence the chap behind the scenes and, without wasting time, get on with the next business."
The hon. Gentleman said that he did not want to discuss the matter on legal grounds, but he certainly appeared to make a good deal of use of legal grounds in his argument. As I understand it, while the Committee of Privileges cannot alter the law, one finding on the law by one sitting of the Committee of Privileges is not binding on other sittings of the Committee of Privileges and, as has been said again and again, the reports of the Committee of Privileges are reports to this House upon which the House has the right to make up its mind.
The Leader of the House at one time appeared to be saying that the precedents before 1832 hardly counted. This also seems to be a strange doctrine, and again it is not a doctrine which appealed to the Committee of Privileges. The precedents go far beyond 1832. The right hon. Gentleman justified his argument by 534 saying that, since 1832, it has been very inconvenient to hear people at the Bar because it would have held up public business. Is the House really seriously to be influenced by this argument? Are we to suppose that there will be so many petitions of the sort before the House today that the public business of the House will be impeded while we hear people in the position of Mr. Wedgwood Benn? I think that that was a trivial argument for the Leader of the House to put forward on an occasion like this.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler
It was the argument of Mr. Speaker Whitley in 1923, so perhaps the hon. Member will address himself to him. It was a Ruling of Mr. Speaker.
§ Mr. Grimond
I should have some difficulty in doing that because I do not know where he is. I am addressing myself to the Leader of the House. I know where he is. I understand that he adopts Mr. Speaker Whitley's argument, and I think it is a bad argument.
Further, as regards precedent, the House has seldom, if ever, refused a request by someone to address it at the Bar. I return to the point made by the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South. This does not seem to me to be, fundamentally, a legal matter. I greatly regret the advice given by the Leader of the House. I think it showed a lack of generosity. It will do the reputation of the House no good whatever to refuse a request from a Member of the House, or a man whose membership is in jeopardy, to address it. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] All right; it is in jeopardy. No one can say that the matter is concluded.
We have referred the matter to the Committee of Privileges. In the second paragraph of his petition Mr. Wedgwood Benn asks the Committee to considerthe practice under which Peers of the Realm by inheritance have been held to be disqualifiedand he says that that has never been laid down by Statute or been judicially determined. Indeed, in its summary of conclusions, the Committee of Privileges in its first conclusion said thatMr. Wedgwood Benn was disqualified from membership of the House of Commons on the 17th November, 1960 by succession to the Viscountancy of Stansgate.535 That is the first matter. That is a matter which the Committee has considered. Why did we refer it to the Committee of Privileges if we were absolutely certain about the answer? Either we have been wasting the Committee's time, or we referred the matter to it because we wanted advice upon it, and, therefore, it has not yet been determined.
I return to my point that, fundamentally, it is not a legal matter. No one denies that, whether Mr. Wedgwood Benn is a peer or is not, we have a perfect right to hear him at the Bar of the House. No one denies that, until now, very few people, if any, in his position have ever been refused the privilege.
§ Mr. Grimond
Countless people have asked and have been heard on countless subjects at the Bar of the House. They have asked, and they have been summoned. The precedents have been cited.
Is it really in the interests of the House that it should go out from here that we refuse the request because of some fear about the danger of creating a precedent? The Times in its leading article said that the House would do itself some damage if it refused this sort of request. Many times, I have heard Members of the House say, and say rightly, that the House does itself no good if it stands on its privileges, if it guards itself against the public, if it says, "Let us not hear this man because it would be opening the flood-gates to hundreds of petitions". We are competent to make up our minds which petitioners should be heard and which should not. I do not believe that we should be faced with a great flood of irrelevant petitions. This kind of case will not happen very often, and I think that we should do our reputation great good by hearing Mr. Wedgwood Benn.
I am not a member of the present Government party or of the Opposition party, but to me, there is a very curious distinction between the treatment of Mr. Wedgwood Benn and the treatment of Mr. MacManaway. It has been said that politics do not enter into this question, but I very much wonder whether, if Mr. MacManaway had been a member of the Labour Party, he would have received quite the treatment which he did receive. I may be wrong about that. 536 He was heard and indemnified, and he spoke from his place. Now, it is to go out from the House of Commons that, for some niggling reason, we refuse to hear a man whose case is still under discussion and has not been decided, a man who, for ten years, has been a Member of the House and who, by common consent, has raised a very important point. It may in a sense be counted as a new point. It may well be that, in 1960, our views on this sort of matter have changed a good deal from what they may have been thirty or fifty years ago. This is the sort of point to which the House should address its mind today.
Is it fair on someone who, by the accident of being the son of a peer, is moved to another place that, when he wants to speak here, he should be refused? Is that a reasonable decision? On a matter of this importance, I should have thought that it would be reasonable and generous, setting no undesirable precedent, that we should conform with what has in fact been the much more reasonable tradition of the House, its tradition of generosity, and hear Mr. Wedgwood Benn if he wishes to address us at the Bar.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ Mr. William Yates (The Wrekin)
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) in what he says about the generosity and courtesy of the House, not only, of course, to its Members here, but to those who sometimes have been called before it for misdemeanours or hon. Members who have been called back to address the House before taking their place.
I have thought a great deal about the position of Mr. Wedgwood Benn, the petitioner, now Lord Stansgate. I feel that the House ought to try to adopt a much wider view of the problem because it is one which, obviously, will involve considerable constitutional difficulties. Since it is a matter of immense constitutional importance and of great public interest, I cannot see what value it is to the House to exclude, on grounds of tradition—the Leader of the House told us that it is by tradition—a man who wishes to present his case to us, the final arbiters after the Committee of Privileges has presented its Report.
I agree that Mr. Wedgwood Benn and his advisers presented his case extremely 537 well to the Committee of Privileges. But when these Motions were tabled, and when the Leader of the House made his speech on the legal position, or on the position as he saw it constitutionally and for the benefit of hon. Members, and when the Leader of the Opposition made his speech, I thought that Mr. Benn would then have had some extra things which he would have liked to submit to us before we decide at ten o'clock what will or will not happen to this Report.
The hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) made a most unfortunate speech. He must try to accept the fact that many of us on this side of the House are just as anxious to protect the rights of hon. Members as he is. I am sorry that he is not in his place. He did not do a service to himself or to the House by some of the things that he said. He is a friend of Mr. Wedgwood Benn. I, too, am a friend of Mr. Wedgwood Benn. I think that he was a friend of the House in general.
What will the public think about this matter? Here we have a man who at the last moment asked whether he could speak to the House of Commons from the Bar of the House. What do we quote against his doing so? Something that happened in 1860, in 1829, in 1840, and something about a noble peer being given a chair which he was not allowed to sit on at the Bar. I do not think the public will stand for that sort of thing. They will expect us to give consideration to this specific case and to decide whether we as Members of the House of Commons, considering a major constitutional issue, will or will not hear someone who has been a Member of the House and who asks us to extend to him one small privilege so that he shall be heard. If we think that this privilege will set such a shocking and terrible precedent, then we must now allow it. But I submit to the House that on this one specific constitutional problem the petitioner should at least be allowed to be heard from the Bar of the House.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Miss Jennie Lee (Cannock)
I consider that this is pre-eminently a House of Commons issue. I regret that party Whips will usher members of the party opposite into the Lobby on the issue of whether Mr. Wedgwood Benn should be heard, and at ten o'clock, on the wider 538 issue, as to whether he should remain a Member of this House.
It is not by an historical accident that we have a flexible and not a rigid Constitution. The meaning of our flexible Constitution is that, when new circumstances arise, Members of the House of Commons should feel free to discuss issues on their merits. Today, we are discussing a new situation. Members of this House have been accused of treachery. Members of this House have fought religious battles in times of very strong religious feeling. A profound liberal undercurrent in Great Britain has insisted that, even when a member represented a minority view, he should at least be heard.
To my profound regret this House of Commons is discussing whether a Member of this House, who was not a traitor but a good Member, should be heard at the Bar of this House because he prefers to remain a Member of the House of Commons rather than become a Member of the other place. I do not propose to argue with the lawyers as to whether he is a Member of the House of Lords or of the House of Commons. That is rather irrelevant. What is not irrelevant is the vote that we shall cast on this issue at ten o'clock.
I know very well—when right hon. Members on my own Front Bench have finished their discussions, I will continue. As I said, this is a House of Commons matter, and I do not assume that I shall have support on this side nor that I shall have total opposition from the benches opposite, but I ask that what I have to say should be heard.
If the hon. Member were allowed to speak at the Bar, I am certain that one of the things that he would say is that his father, the late Lord Stansgate, was a great Liberal, a great patriot, and a great House of Commons man. I think that he was honoured on both sides of the House. Those of us who knew him realise that he regretted profoundly that, because he was a member of another place, his son might not be able to continue to serve here.
The House ought to take into consideration the fact that the late Lord Stansgate was made a Member of the House of Lords during the war for patriotic reasons. I do not think that he was the type who would have been 539 vulgar enough to become a life peer. [Laughter.] I will repeat that. I knew him well enough to know that he would not have become a life peer. But he was a great Liberal and a great patriot. During the emergencies of war time he was prevailed upon by the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill)—we know him better as our great Sir Winston—to go to another place. The House of Commons is not tuned to the times in which we are living if it does not realise that the son of a great gentleman, a great Liberal and a great patriot who believed profoundly in the House of Commons, wants to remain in the House of Commons.
I was sad when the Home Secretary quoted instances from 1904 and 1905. I have considerable sympathy for the Home Secretary. I know that, to a certain extent, he is a prisoner of his party and that if he would let his own instincts get the better of him he might sometimes make better decisions. It is not only now that the Home Secretary is a prisoner of his party. My first sharp remembrance of dealing with him was when he was at the Foreign Office, at the time of the Spanish Civil War. I do not want to elaborate on that. I do not believe that the Home Secretary was a Franco man, but I know that he was a prisoner then and that he is a prisoner now. I do not think that it does justice to the House of Commons for the speaker from the Government Front Bench to quote instances from 1904 and 1905 to deal with a situation which simply is that a son of the House of Commons wants to come back to the House of Commons.
We are discussing this issue at a moment when, not only in Soviet Russia, but in many parts of the world the flags are flying and celebrations are being held because the Communist world, led by Soviet Russia, has put the first man into space. It is better to feed men on earth than to send them into space. I am not a terrific "fan" in favour of setting aside an enormous amount of the wealth of any country for spectacular scientific experiments, but that is only my personal opinion.
I am talking about how world opinion is affected. The world is impressed by the fact that the Communist world has 540 sent a man into space. At this point of time, our House of Commons is saying that an energetic and effective Member of this House who thinks that it is more important to be a Member of an effective representative assembly than a Member of the Upper Chamber shall be denied his right to be heard. I believe that the House of Commons can be the representative body, bringing Great Britain into the new age. I do not believe that the House of Lords can do so, and—
§ Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
Would not the hon. Lady reconsider her reference to the man in space and agree that our problem here is that a young man thinks himself in space when he really is not?
§ Miss Lee
Any hon. Member of this House who considers that somebody who prefers to belong to the House of Commons rather than to the House of Lords is in space, ought not to be in this House. The hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) should belong to the House of Lords.
I despair of the vote in this House. The Whips are on. The Whips have decided that Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn will not be heard. They have decided that he will not be a Member of this House. We shall go on talking until ten o'clock. We shall be defeated on both votes, but the argument will go on. It is a sad day for Great Britain and the House of Commons when hon. Members opposite are trying to bolster up an effete House of Lords which belongs to the past and, in trying to bolster up the House of Lords, are destroying or denigrating their own House of Commons, which, if it were allowed to be properly representative, could help Great Britain to belong to the modern age and to the future.
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ Sir Peter Agnew (Worcestershire, South)
I think that when the hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) reads her speech in HANSARD, she will wish to reconsider one sentence in it. The hon. Lady said that the action which the Government were taking today in their attitude to the Motion, and to the one which follows it, would be bolstering up the House of Lords and depriving this House. On the other hand, this action will reinforce the House 541 of Lords—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—with a gentleman who has gained great experience here and he will have that priceless experience when he takes his seat, as, I believe, one day he will, in another place.
It is common knowledge that with notable exceptions, the most useful peers are those who before they went to another place had the opportunity of learning the rough and tumble and having the corners rubbed off in the Commons House of Parliament. Therefore, the hon. Lady need not worry about that aspect of it.
The precedents, in so far as they are properly cited, are undoubtedly against the House this afternoon taking a decision to admit Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn, now Lord Stansgate, to the Bar of the House to put his case. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House made a telling point when he said that the case that the noble Lord would like to put if he came to the Bar has received the fullest possible publicity, in that the Report from the Committee of Privileges is in the hands of hon. Members and of the public, is on sale, has been reported in the newspapers and the evidence is all printed out. There is, therefore, no case to rest on precedents and nothing could usefully be added.
The reason why so many of the noble Lord's former colleagues on the other side of the House hope that he may be heard at the Bar of the House is a personal one. It is a feeling of sympathy with him, a feeling engendered by the loss from their counsels of a valued colleague and, if I may be allowed to say so, because he is considerably younger than myself, a young man of promise and ability.
I want to examine the aspect of sympathy. I am far from being without sympathy for the Stansgate family, but I should like to relate the question back to the time when the late Lord Stansgate, who in his day was a great House of Commons man, took the decision, albeit for patriotic reasons, to accept a peerage in the only known form in which peerages could be conferred in the days when he accepted it. When he took that decision, for better or for worse, he did so knowingly and with the full knowledge of his family.
542 Now, I come to the real point, when sympathy should go out. As is known, both of the sons of the late Lord Stansgate gave honourable war service. The tragedy occurred when the eldest son was killed fighting for his country, as many others were. That is the point when our sympathy goes out to the Stansgate family. The question of the acceptance of the peerage is, however, a family matter. Therefore, the clock cannot be put back because of feelings like that. The facts have to be accepted as they have undoubtedly been established.
§ Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)
Is my hon. Friend suggesting—he is arguing mostly on the main Motion—that these matters are immutable and may never be changed? If he does not accept that proposition, would he not reply at once that, at some time in the future, a majority of the House of Commons might decide that they were not immutable and decide to change them?
§ Sir P. Agnew
I recognise the force of my hon. Friend's submission, which, perhaps, he will be able to deploy when we reach the debate on the Government Motion. I am saying, however, that feelings of sympathy, which may be widely shared, with the Stansgate family at what has occurred, and the fact that a member of that family finds himself the bearer of a dignity which restricts his activities in public life, are not in themselves reasons for creating a special exception and hearing him at the Bar of this House. As I have said, all the known and properly-cited precedents are against that course and not in favour of it
§ Sir P. Agnew
I have not made independent researches, but I have read through the Report from the Committee of Privileges and there is no known case of a son who has succeeded to his father's peerage applying to be heard at the Bar of this House and being accorded that facility by the House. I make that assertion firmly and confidently.
A complaint has been voiced on the benches opposite, and there is even slight complaint in one or two quarters on this side, that the Government Whips will be on. There is a reason, based on commonsense, why no other course could 543 be taken by any responsible Government charged with the handling of a matter of this kind. The reason is that, quite apart from the personal outcome for Lord Stansgate himself, whichever way it goes, the question raises deep-rooted constitutional issues that may have effects upon many others besides himself. In circumstances such as these, a British Government that rests solely for its existence on commanding a majority of the Government party sitting behind it in the House of Commons is entitled—indeed, it is its duty—to invoke the support of that party in a cause as great and as important as this one.
For all these reasons I believe that the House will be taking a wrong course this evening, whatever sympathies there may be, in according Anthony Wedgwood Benn, Lord Stansgate, the facility to appear at the Bar of the House to state his own case.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Sir Lynn Ungoed-Thomas (Leicester, North-East) rose—
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
Perhaps the hon. Member wishes to hear his own speech on the main Motion. In the meantime, will he tolerate mine on this issue?
§ Mr. Nabarro
I am grateful to the hon. and learned Member. I do not want to hear my speech on the main Motion, but it is an indisputable fact that a great majority of the points which have been made in the last half hour are addressed to the main Motion and not to the issue whether or not Mr. Wedgwood Benn be heard.
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
His first observation is quite out of character on the part of the hon. Member, but as to the remarks made in the last half hour I agree with him and I shall try to confine myself as far as possible to the present issue.
First, I should like to deal with the House of Commons point to which 544 reference has been made. I fully appreciate that, of course, there are many hon. Members opposite as well as on this side of the House who are deeply concerned about the exclusion of Mr. Wedgwood Benn from being heard this afternoon. I have no doubt at all that, and I know that there are many hon. Members opposite who regard this as a House of Commons matter. But when the Leader of the House says that "we" cannot accept the Motion moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell) for whom is the right hon. Gentleman speaking? In what capacity is he speaking? Is he speaking as the Leader of the House on a House of Commons matter, or is he the mouthpiece of the Conservative Party?
We know perfectly well that there is a three-line Whip both on this Motion and the Motion that follows. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Well, a two-line Whip. Hon. Members may pair, but they have to vote just the same. The Whips are on and, therefore, it is utter humbug for hon. Members opposite to spill out their sympathy with Mr. Wedgwood Benn and make speeches saying that this is a House of Commons matter, and that they have great sympathy with the man, when, nevertheless, they will all vote against the Motion.
§ Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
The hon. and learned Member ought to be a little kinder to my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro). If he reads the Order Paper he will see that my hon. Friend's name is already down to the Amendment calling for legislation forthwith in the name of the Leader of the Opposition and others.
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
The hon. Member for Kidderminster is a very honourable exception to a great deal in the Conservative Party.
§ Mr. Nabarro
The significance of my name to the Amendment set down on the Order Paper by the Leader of the Opposition is that I represent a body of opinion within the Conservative Party. I hope that the hon. and learned Member will not alienate that body of opinion by the interference of his remarks.
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
I hope that the hon. Member and his hon. Friends are sufficiently well-founded to go into 545 the Lobby with us whatever my remarks may be. I hope to have their convictions on the subject. I cannot imagine the hon. Member for Kidderminster being swayed by anything except his own opinion.
I want to deal with the question of whether or not Mr. Wedgwood Benn's membership is in dispute or in jeopardy. Of course it is. The whole point of the operation is to have this extremely difficult matter investigated. When the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) refers to Mr. Wedgwood Benn as a visitor, and he bases his whole speech on that footing in line with the Leader of the House, they are both prejudging the very matter which the House has to decide today.
§ Mr. Cooper
If the matter is in dispute now, why was it not in dispute when Lord Hailsham was transferred to another place during the period of office of Lord Attlee?
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
Because Lord Hailsham is not such a good disputant as Mr. Wedgwood Benn. He did not pursue the matter in the same way. It depends entirely on the different degree of persistence of the two gentlemen.
The Amendment is based, on the supposition that there must be an amendment to the law if the matter is to be dealt with, and because of that it is presumed by some that the law is adverse to Mr. Wedgwood Benn, but it is nothing of the kind. If hon. Members have really read the Report of the Committee of Privileges carefully they will have found that the one thing that comes out of it absolutely clearly is how abstruse the law is on this matter, how vague it is, and how Mr. Wedgwood Benn brought before the Committee of Privileges considerations about the law which were not before the House in 1895 when it made a ruling on which the Leader of the House has relied.
The House, of course, is not bound by a recommendation of the Committee of Privileges, and neither the House nor that Committee is bound by what happened in 1895. We are entitled to take into consideration matters which were not then considered. We as the House of Commons have complete control of the composition of the membership of the House and we can decide 546 today in a way opposite to that of the House of Commons in 1895, subject, of course, to statutory obligation.
Vice-Admiral John Hughes Hallett (Croydon, North-East)
Is it the hon. and learned Member's contention that the House by a simple vote can decide the succession to the peerage?
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
Certainly not decide the succession to the peerage, but whether or not Mr. Wedgwood Benn can sit in this House. If the hon. and gallant Member had read carefully what was said by the Clerk of the House he would see that the House should have control of the membership of the House, that the Clerk of the House is rightly jealous about the House keeping control of its composition, and that we are not bound by the decision of 1895.
Now we come to the question whether or not we should hear Mr. Wedgwood Benn. The Leader of the House indicated that it was utterly unnecessary to hear him because, the right hon. Gentleman said, we did not want any rehearing of part of the evidence. But that is not the object of Mr. Wedgwood Benn's coming here to address the House. I am certain that he would be the last person to go into questions of evidence that have already been dealt with by the Committee of Privileges. What he wants to talk about and make observations upon, and what we are entitled to hear him on, is the Committee's Report itself.
This Report by the Committee of Privileges is not a decisive document. It does not decide the Wedgwood Benn issue. All that the Report constitutes is a Report by a Committee of the House of an investigation made as a matter of convenience to be accessible to the House in readily digestible form so that the House, taking the Report into consideration among other things, should come to a conclusion.
We are the deciding body. It is this House of Commons which is the deciding body, and not the Committee of Privileges. It is, therefore, irrelevant to say that Mr. Benn has been heard before the Committee on points of law and evidence. He would be the last person to wish to repeat those points before us. But he does wish to be heard upon the Report itself, and we on this side of the 547 House, at any rate, and other hon. Members opposite, I am glad to say, also wish to hear him.
§ Mr. Cooper
The hon. and learned Member was Solicitor-General in the Labour Government. He should take cognisance of paragraph 6 of the Committee's Report, which is a complete rebuttal of what he is saying.
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
Does the hon. Member wish to hold up the House in order to consider paragraph 6?
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
Yes, it is utterly irrelevant.
The hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Cooper) is referring to what the Committee itself says, but that is only the Committee's opinion, and nothing else. If he had done me the courtesy of following my observations, he would have recognised that the opinion of the Committee is not decisive but is merely part of the material to be taken into consideration by the House in coming to a conclusion.
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
It is not a question of whether or not I dispute it, but of whether the House, having this information before it and having, as it should have, the observations of Mr. Benn upon this Report, comes to a certain conclusion. We should hear Mr. Benn upon this. This House is the deciding body and we are entitled to hear him.
I want to hear his observations before I cast my vote. The party opposite is preventing us from hearing him. Why? This is not merely a question of law, or of the facts contained in the Report. We are concerned with the action which the House of Commons should take in the exercise of its discretion as the House 548 of Commons. Some of us on both sides of the House want to hear what Mr. Benn has to say for himself, as the man personally involved.
In this case, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) has said, we are acting as a judicial body. We are the judicial body, not the Committee of Privileges. Mr. Benn's position is involved and in jeopardy. It is on the decision of this House that his fate as a Member depends. If we are to deal with this judicially, then it is the most elementary rule of natural justice that we should hear what he has to say.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), said, if such a matter were dealt with by a trade union, being referred first to a committee and then considered by the general body of the union, which then refused to hear the person involved, the newspapers would be full of condemnation.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
And I may say that hon. Members opposite would be prepared to finance an appeal and to lend legal gentlemen to assist the man.
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
Why, then, are Members opposite taking this course? Some are deeply disturbed about this. I know that many who will vote on the party Whip will be deeply disturbed. Why, then, are they taking this course? It is because, as the hon. Member for Worcestershire South (Sir P. Agnew), said, it involves a constitutional issue upon which the Conservative Party has deeply entrenched views.
§ Mr. G. B. H. Currie (Down, North)
Is the hon. and learned Gentleman suggesting that this House, by its own action, can deprive the other place of the services of Mr. Benn?
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
I do not want to go back over that again. I have already referred to it and it will be a matter for discussion on the Motion to be debated later.
We on this side of the House, the country and the newspapers, are puzzled to know why Members opposite are taking this appalling course and excluding Mr. Benn from being heard. They themselves are sitting in judgment upon him, and, with the decisions in their own hands, 549 they are refusing to hear him. Why? Because they are defending a deeply entrenched hereditary principle for which the Conservative Party stands.
That is why this has been made a party issue. That is why party considerations have overridden House of Commons considerations and the scruples of a large number of Members opposite. That is why they are muzzling the man involved. This is a most despicable and mean act on their part, and I hope that the many hon. Members opposite who feel, quite rightly, uncomfortable about this, will stand up, as members of their party and ours have stood up in the past, against their own party discipline and vote against casting shame upon the House of Commons.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller)
I am sorry to find myself in disagreement with many of the statements made by the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, North-East (Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas). I want to preface my remarks by saying that I have always regarded it as my duty to give the frankest advice I can on any legal matter that comes before the House, and to do so without fear or favour. I make no claim of infallibility. I do not think that any lawyer ever does, certainly not a wise lawyer. But I do claim always to have given frank and fearless advice to the House of Commons, even though that advice may have been unpalatable and unpopular in some quarters. I believe that to be the duty of the Law Officers of any Government at all times, and I believe it to be a long tradition to which my predecessors have always adhered and to which I myself always wish to adhere.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) said that this was not, fundamentally, a legal matter. I am sorry to find myself in disagreement with him. Of course it is not fundamentally a legal matter whether this Motion is carried or not, but the question of whether Mr. Benn—I call him that because I understand that that is the name by which he would like to be called—is or is not a Member of this House at the present time is fundamentally a legal matter.
I know that we are not, at the moment, discussing the Motion on that 550 matter which is to be moved later; though a great deal has been said about it, and the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, North-East referred to the fact that Mr. Benn's membership is in jeopardy. The sooner we get on to that Motion the better, but as the hon. and learned Gentleman preceded his remarks by some references to the matter, I hope that the House will bear with me. I will endeavour to do so myself without trying to be in the least controversial.
It is clear, as the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) said, that it is up to the House not to accept the Report of the Committee of Privileges. It is up to the House at any time to reject the report of any Committee. It may be within the recollection of hon. Members that it was not so long ago that I took a fairly active part in endeavouring to secure the rejection of a Report of the Committee of Privileges. That is entirely within our function and no one could complain of that.
But I say that in considering the Report of a Committee of Privileges on questions of law we are not acting in a judicial or even quasi-judicial capacity. Sometimes, when considering a Report of the Committee of Privileges, when it has been investigating an individual's conduct, we act in a quasi-judicial capacity, but in this case there is not the slightest aspersion cast on the conduct of Mr. Wedgwood Benn. That should be made absolutely clear. The question which was referred to the Committee of Privileges was his Petition, which raised a very substantial question of law.
§ The Attorney-General
I do not think that when we consider the Report of the Committee of Privileges we are acting in any judicial capacity. I draw a distinction between this and cases of our acting in a judicial capacity in relation to someone who is thought in any way to be on trial, because that does not arise here and it is right to make it absolutely clear. The question here is whether we accept the Report of the Committee on the 551 claims of Mr. Wedgwood Benn which are contained in his petition.
I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Northampton that when we come to consider those claims we should consider them, as the Committee of Privileges did, without any party angle and impartially and as fairly as we can, investigating them as closely as we can.
§ Miss Lee rose—
§ The Attorney-General
I do not want to take too long, because the sooner we get to the substantive Motion the better. It is a Motion which we should consider seriously.
Having said that, I must follow it with something which will be unpalatable to some hon. Members opposite. I always have and always shall endeavour to state the law frankly. If the House rejects the Report of the Committee of Privileges as to what the law is, that does not alter the law. If Mr. Wedgwood Benn is, by the law of the land, disqualified on succession to the peerage, the rejection of the Report of the Committee of Privileges will not alter that. I have expressed the view—it may be right or wrong—that by operation of the law, on the death of his father, he succeeded to the peerage.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
On a point of order. Earlier speakers kept very much away from the merits of the Motion which is to follow this, but it seems that the Attorney-General is now arguing the merits of the proposal of the Select Committee's Report, which we are to discuss later. I do not know how narrowly you wish to rule on this matter, Mr. Speaker.
§ Mr. Speaker
I would like the House to bear in mind that what we are now deciding is something which I might call a procedural matter, and that it is highly desirable that the debate should be confined to that. But I have not heard quite enough of this to know to what extent it is related to the procedural matter.
§ The Attorney-General
I was saying that the question of Mr. Wedgwood Benn's status relates to and bears upon the question whether he should be summoned to address us at the Bar of the House. The only point I was making—the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) may challenge it later—is 552 that I am at least in good company with the hon. and learned Member for Ipswich (Mr. D. Foot), who, in his evidence, before the Committee of Privileges, accepted the position that Mr. Wedgwood Benn had become a peer on the death of his father.
If that is right, then the question we have to consider is whether, in those circumstances, we should be right to summon Mr. Wedgwood Benn to address us from the Bar of the House. I can well see that many hon. Members on both sides of the House feel that that would be at least a nice thing to do, putting it at its very lowest.
§ The Attorney-General
I am putting it at its very lowest by saying that it would be considered to be a nice thing to do. But I ask hon. Members to consider that we should be a little careful about introducing changes into our procedure, for they sometimes lead to changes which are not altogether desirable.
It is important that we should bear in mind that for at least a hundred years there has not been any precedent for summoning a peer to address us at the Bar of the House. Of course, it is well within our competence to decide to invite one if we wish, but we ought to have some regard to precedents. If we create a new precedent, we ought to do it for motives which are not based on sympathy and on a sense that Mr. Wedgwood Benn is on trial, or on a sense that perhaps his position is in peril. The question referred to the Committee of Privileges was divisible into two sections. One was what was the law upon the subject—was he disqualified on succession, or was he entitled to renounce his peerage, which were questions of law—and the other was if he was disqualified and if he could not renounce his peerage, what should happen.
There is in no sense a claim or trial to be conducted by the House at the present. We may consider the legal matters and what should happen in the light of the legal position, but I cannot see that evidence would be admissible from a witness as to the construction of the law and what should happen in the future. I feel that Mr. Wedgwood Benn 553 —and I am sure that he would be the first to admit it—had every possible opportunity of putting forward all his views about what should happen in the event of the Committee deciding that he was a peer and had not succeeded in renouncing his peerage.
§ Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)
Is not this a circular argument? What the right hon. and learned Gentleman is saying, and what the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House said, is that there is no doubt about the fact that Mr. Wedgwood Benn is a lord and that we ought not to allow him to address us. That is the very question upon which, rightly or wrongly, he wishes to address us. Surely we are not entitled to assume that there is nothing more to be said when we as a House, whatever the Committee may have done, have not heard him. Anyone is allowed to put an argument in his own case, as a general rule, and even a convicted man is usually allowed to address the jury.
§ The Attorney-General
I do not know what it is that Mr. Wedgwood Benn would wish to say if he had the opportunity of saying it. I repeat that if he be a peer, as the evidence, in my view, clearly established that he is, it is open to the House to summon him to the Bar to say something, but over and above that question of whether he is a peer there is a further question. That is what should happen in the event of the Report of the Committee of Privileges on the legal question being right. That is a very important and big question and it warrants close examination and careful debate.
I have risen now not to cast any oil on the flames of this debate, but in the hope that, rather than being called to order by the hon. Member for Leeds, West in what I have said on this Motion, we could soon proceed to discuss the substantive Motion which affects many more people, or may affect many more people, than Mr. Wedgwood Benn.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. George Brown (Belper)
There may be something in what the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General said, that it would be a good thing now to proceed to the substantive Motion, because the more we 554 discuss this Motion the more we are involved in the issues of the substantive Motion.
I am bound to say I have rarely heard a debate in which there has been so little convincing, or even half-convincing, arguments adduced for the course the Government are inviting the House to take. The issue to which the Attorney-General did not address himself at all—except incidentally, when the question of whether he was in order was raised—is whether the gentleman concerned, our colleague, Anthony Wedgwood Benn, should be allowed, in response to his request, to speak to the House before the House makes up its mind.
That is the only issue we are now debating. With very great respect to the right hon. and hon. Members opposite who have spoken, to say that the precedents are against that seems to be standing all our history upon its head. The precedents, in fact, are in favour of it. What the Government side of the House are doing today, for reasons which seem good to them, is to insist that Mr. Wedgwood Benn should not be heard, although in all exactly similar cases his predecessors have always been heard.
It has been repeatedly said—I think that the Leader of the House began it, the Attorney-General has now repeated it and various other hon. Members have referred to it in between those speeches—that there is no precedent for this case for the last hundred years. One of the things which has impressed me in this debate is the refusal of hon. Members opposite to take account of the MacManaway case. Mr. MacManaway, it is true, was a priest and not a peer. It is true that Mr. MacManaway insisted upon sitting in this House when his right to sit was in dispute instead of staying out of this House while that right was settled.
Apart from that, there is no difference. He was a gentleman whom some held to be disqualified, whose right to sit here was in dispute, whose case was referred to a Select Committee, who was himself heard by the Select Committee, whose case then went to a Judicial Committee and yet, when the law had been found by the Judicial Committee to be what it said it was and the House was invited to accept that decision, 555 nevertheless had the right to address this House.
I want the Leader of the House to understand that the only difference that we are being asked to draw from this is that because that man did not withdraw, because a Conservative leader advised that man to go on sitting here in the hope that his vote might bring down a Government with a narrow majority, that man went on sitting here despite the dubiety. He sat here after the law was stated by the Judicial Committee, and because he acted in that degree of defiance there was a case for him to address us before we considered it, whereas, it is said, there is no case for Mr. Benn to address us.
§ Mr. Hale
I may remind my right hon. Friend that either the case of Mr. MacManaway was a precedent or it was not. The Attorney-General was trying to argue that the MacManaway case was not a precedent because it was different, and then went on to argue that the case of Mr. Wedgwood Benn would provide a precedent although it is of an exceptional nature.
§ Mr. Brown
My hon. Friend is perfectly right.
I want to drive home what right hon. and hon. Members opposite are claiming. They are claiming that so long as we defy this precedent and defy all the questions which are involved, so long as one is a Conservative—that, also, is important—one may address the House. It is no use the Leader of the House shaking his head. One of the things I am also getting tired of is the constant repetition about being in favour of all the good and decent things and no practice about it. This is the comparison between the MacManaway and the Wedgwood Benn cases.
§ The Attorney-General
There is a very important difference between the MacManaway case and this case. It is a tricky one, but it is very important.
§ The Attorney-General
I am not trying to use any controversial word, or to engage in controversy. Mr. MacManaway was a Member of this House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Question."] Mr. MacManaway was elected a Member of this 556 House and a question arose which was more difficult than this one, the question of disqualification. That went to the Judicial Committee, which expressed advice. He did not become, and could not become, disqualified until that advice had been accepted by the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is the same here."] It is not the same here. The argument I advanced before, and which I submit to the House is right, is that this case differs from the MacManaway case, because by the operation of the law, Mr. Wedgwood Benn was disqualified on 17th November, 1960.
§ Mr. Brown
I think that that cat caught its tail. The issue was that many people thought Mr. MacManaway was disqualified by virtue of his status, his status being a priest and the law held that he was not fitted to sit in this House. Some people hold that Mr. Wedgwood Benn is disqualified by law because of his status. The issue became settled in the case of Mr. MacManaway, says the Attorney-General, when this House adopted the Report, and not before. Then, by the same token, Mr. Wedgwood Benn's case will become settled when this House adopts the Report, and not before.
I do not want to get into the major Motion, but, if the House cares to look at page 73 of the Report, hon. Members will see some questions which I put to the Clerk of the House on this issue. The Clerk of the House made it perfectly clear that if this House held that the 1895 interpretation of the law were wrong, and declared the law to be something different, it would be perfectly entitled to do so.
I come back to the MacManaway case. Mr. MacManaway was not only accorded by a House in which the Labour Party had a majority the right to speak before we excluded him, but Mr. MacManaway was also indemnified by a House in which the Labour Party had a majority against a £500 per day penalty which he had quite deliberately risked on the advice of the Conservative Front Bench. I want the Government to understand that if it is being said that so long as a man runs the risk of a £500 per day penalty by sitting here we shall allow him to address the House they are putting an absolute premium on paying no regard 557 at all to the traditions and the ordinary behaviours in the House.
Would the Government have indemnified Wedgwood Benn? If they would have, he might have been in the same position this afternoon as was Mr. MacManaway. He could have been sitting here and, in sitting here, could have spoken from his place.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell rose—
§ Mr. Brown
No hon. Member opposite has addressed himself to this point. The hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) certainly did not.
We are being invited to have two standards of conduct here—one for a Conservative Member whose position is in dispute and an entirely opposite one for a Socialist Member in a similar position—and nobody has explained why that should be. Nobody has advanced a single argument in favour of this obvious differentiation between the rules as they apply to that side and as they apply to this side.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell
Disqualification on becoming a peer is automatic, and well established. The reason why Mr. Wedgwood Benn was not able to take his seat today was that you, Mr. Speaker, had ruled that he would not be admitted. That is the material difference in Mr. Benn's case.
§ Mr. Brown
I remember the then hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch, Mr. Geoffrey Bing, arguing vigorously in 1950 that Mr. MacManaway had no right to be sitting here, but it was then ruled that since he had declared himself free to be a candidate and had been elected, Mr. Speaker could not rule him out until the matter had gone through these hoops.
Hon. Members opposite have said, "It is well known that", and "It is clear that", and so on. What they mean is 558 that it is clear to them, and that is the end of the business.
§ Sir P. Agnew
The right hon. Gentleman is not bringing out the real point of difference. He is suggesting that because of differences in party affiliation different treatment was accorded to Mr. MacManaway. He is suggesting that if the petitioner—to use an uncontroversial word—chose to take the risk of being fined £500 a day he could be sitting on the Opposition benches this afternoon while this debate was taking place. Will the right hon. Gentleman accept it from me that he is quite wrong in saying that? He is making a false comparison. If the petitioner attempted to take his seat the Chair would order him to leave, and if he disobeyed he would be removed by the Serjeant at Arms.
§ Mr. Brown
I am not prepared to accept it—but does that matter? Is not the real issue the fact that Mr. MacManaway spoke after the Judicial Committee had found that he had no right to be here? That was the decision of the body to whom the matter had been referred.
I have spoken at length about the case of Mr. MacManaway, because it happened in my time. It is a modern case, of which we have knowledge, and it is an absolutely clear comparison. Had the then Leader of the House behaved in 1950 as the present Leader of the House is behaving today we would have been much less generous than we were to Mr. MacManaway and the Conservative Party, and we would have been quite properly attacked for being less generous. But if we would then have been open to attack for being ungenerous to our foes the majority of hon. Members opposite must accept our criticism of them, that they are according to one of our colleagues far less generous treatment than they expected us to accord to them, and, in fact, insisted upon our according to them.
The only issue here is whether we should hear Mr. Benn. As my right hon. Friend said at the beginning of the debate, until today this House has never yet spun on a sixpence, as each speaker from the Government benches has done—Ministers and back benchers alike—to find a reason to avoid hearing a man whose position in this House is at the moment the subject of debate. I came into the House with a great regard for 559 and a sense of pride in its history and traditions. Today, without a lot of consideration, we are to overturn one of the most cherished of those traditions. We can go back as long as we like; we will find that there have often been Members of this House whose right to continue to sit here, having already been here, or whose right to come here not having previously been here, has been the subject of dispute, for one reason or another, but until this afternoon we have never turned away a man who wanted to say a word on his own behalf before making our decision.
Some of these people had their position in this House in dispute on issues which raised deep passions. That is true of Mr. Bradlaugh, and it is even more true of Mr. Wilkes. The issues in their cases raised deep passions. Yet, no matter how passionate they may have been, Members of this House who wanted impassionate treatment to be given by the House never went to the point of voting, even in a minority, against hearing a petitioner in these circumstances. Today we are to vote, so we are told, for the first time in the history of the Mother of Parliaments, in all our centuries, not to hear a man upon whose case we are shortly to take a decision.
It has been said that he has no right to come here. I am not a lawyer—for which fact I daily thank God—but I have listened to minor and major lawyers this afternoon, and I heard my hon. and learned Friend put it to the Attorney-General that in a country which cherishes the right of a man not only to address the jury in his defence before the jury decides his case, but to address the judge before sentence is passed, it is outrageous for lawyers on the benches opposite to argue that Mr. Benn cannot have a right to come here.
If hon. Members opposite have made up their minds about the matter, or have had their minds made up for them, there is nothing we can do. They will proceed to vote us down with their steady, remorseless majority, and they will then proceed to deal with the case of Mr. Benn. So be it; that is how they want it. But a great breach will be made in the parliamentary traditions of this country.
560 I am not on the issue of whether, rightly or wrongly, Mr. Benn will be told that he cannot come into this place. Nor am I on the issue of whether he is a worthy man, or the son of a worthy father. Were he the most unworthy of men and the son of the most unworthy of fathers, his case would be just as strong. We are about to say that, rightly or wrongly, he cannot come here. Very well, we have the right to say that. But what hon. Members opposite are now about to do is to decide that before we say that thing we shall not listen, even for five or ten minutes, to anything Mr. Benn would like to say to us before we make up our minds.
I believe it to be incredible—well, it is not incredible; it is almost incredible, unbelievable, unfathomable—that the Government should have invited us to waste this afternoon rather than do that little thing, that simple thing, that would not have affected future conduct, but would have affected future decisions. It would have kept us in line with the traditions of the past. It would have meant that in 1961 Members of Parliament were as jealous of their honour, their traditions, their loyalty, their friendliness and their generosity as were their predecessors over many centuries and at many bitter times.
If any Conservative Member of Parliament, for whatever tiny legalistic reason, can find it in his heart to go into the Division Lobby to vote against allowing Mr. Wedgwood Benn to be heard, I wish him well with it. For my part, there will be few votes that I shall ever cast that will give me as much sense of standing up for the essential decencies of parliamentary democracy as the vote that I shall now give that Mr. Wedgwood Benn should be heard before we proceed to decide his case.
§ 6.51 p.m.
§ Mr. W. A. Wilkins (Bristol, South)
I appreciate that the House is now anxious to come to a decision and I promise that I shall speak for only a few minutes. I feel that I should like to say a word or two on behalf of one who was my own Member of Parliament. I appreciate and accept that the Attorney-General was quite sincere about what he told us and believed that the advice he offered to the House was correct. Nevertheless, there were two things 561 said by the Attorney-General and by other speakers, including the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir P. Agnew), about which I should like to comment.
The hon. Member for Worcestershire, South said that this was a matter of deep constitutional importance. I believe that every hon. Member will agree that that is one of the reasons why Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn should be allowed to give his opinion at the Bar of the House.
The other thing I wish to mention is the precedents, which have arisen so many times during our arguments. The precedents which have been quoted have been very conflicting. Because I think, quite genuinely, that there are precedents for and against agreement that Anthony Wedgwood Benn should address the House from the Bar, I ask the Leader of the House, even now, to have second thoughts about the matter.
There must be doubts in the minds of many hon. Members. In a court of law, when there is a doubt, the prisoner is usually given the benefit of it. In other words, we do not punish a man unless we are absolutely certain. In this case, I think that there is sufficient doubt to permit us to ask the Leader of the House
§ whether, even at this late hour, he will reconsider the representations he has made and the suggestions that he has made to hon. Members on his side of the House, and at least allow a free vote. Or, as I would prefer, agree that in all the circumstances we should hear Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn at the Bar of the House.
§ Precedents are created and have been created by different Parliaments throughout the centuries. In future, this circumstance may rise again. It would have arisen in the case of the present Lord Hailsham had he had the courage to fight in the way in which the former Member for Bristol, South-East has done. What is more, there is not a single hon. Member on this side of the House who would not have supported Lord Hailsham had he adopted the same attitude, because we were all extremely reluctant to see him go to the House of Lords. Therefore, I appeal to the Leader of the House to think again before we go into the Division Lobbies to vote one way or the other.
§ Question put, That Mr. Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn be admitted in and heard:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 152, Noes 221.565
|Division No. 135.]||AYES||[6.56 p.m.|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Fletcher, Eric||Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)|
|Awbery, Stan||Foot, Dingle (Ipswich)||Jones, Dan (Burnley)|
|Berkeley, Humphry||Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.|
|Blackburn, F.||Forman, J. C.||King, Dr. Horace|
|Bowden, Herbert W. (Leics, S. W.)||Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Kirk, Peter|
|Bowles, Frank||Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. Hugh||Lambton, Viscount|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M.||Galpern, Sir Myer||Lawson, George|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||George, Lady MeganLloyd(Crmrthn)||Lee, Frederick (Newton)|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Ginsburg, David||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)|
|Callaghan, James||Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.)|
|Castle, Mrs. Barbara||Grey, Charles||Longbottom, Charles|
|Chapman, Donald||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Longden, Gilbert|
|Collick, Percy||Grimond, J.||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)||MacColl, James|
|Critchley, Julian||Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Mclnnes, James|
|Crosland, Anthony||Hart, Mrs, Judith||McKay, John (Wallsend)|
|Grossman, R. H. S.||Hayman, F. H.||McLeavy, Frank|
|Cullen, Mrs. Alice||Healey, Denis||McMaster, Stanley R.|
|Darling, George||Henderson, Rt. Hn. Arthur(Rwly Regis)||MacMillan, Malcolm(Western Isles)|
|Davies, Rt. Hn. Clement (Montgomery)||Herbison, Miss Margaret||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Hilton, A. V.||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Holt, Arthur||Manuel, A. C.|
|Deer, George||Houghton, Douglas||Mapp, Charles|
|de Freitas, Geoffrey||Howell, Denis||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.|
|Dempsey, James||Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Mathew, Robert (Honiton)|
|Diamond, John||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Mendelson, J. J.|
|Dodds, Norman||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Millan, Bruce|
|Donnelly, Desmond||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Mitchison, G. R.|
|Drayson, G. B.||Hynd, John (Attercliffe)||Monslow, Walter|
|Driberg, Tom||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Montgomery, Fergus|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. C.||Irving, Sydney (Dartford)||Moody, A. S.|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Janner, Sir Barnett||Moyle, Arthur|
|Fernyhough, E.||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Oliver, G. H.|
|Fitch, Alan||Jenkins, Roy (Stechford)||Oram, A. E.|
|Oswald, Thomas||Slater, Joseph (Sedgefield)||Warbey, William|
|Owen, Will||Snow, Julian||Watkins, Tudor|
|Padley, W. E.||Sorensen, R. W.||Wells, Percy (Faversham)|
|Paget, R. T.||Spriggs, Leslie||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)||Steele, Thomas||White, Mrs. Eirene|
|Popplewell, Ernest||Stonehouse, John||Whitlock, William|
|Prentice, R. E.||Stones, William||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Proctor, W. T.||Stross, Dr. Barnett(Stoke-on-Trent, C.)||Willey, Frederick|
|Randall, Harry||Swain, Thomas||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)|
|Rankin, John||Swingler, Stephen||Willis, E. G. (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Reid, William||Sylvester, George||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)||Tapsell, Peter||Woof, Robert|
|Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)||Yates, Victor (Ladywood)|
|Robson Brown, Sir William||Taylor, John (West Lothian)||Yates, William (The Wrekin)|
|Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.||Timmons, John|
|Short, Edward||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)||Wade, Donald||Mr. Redhead and Mr. C. Howell.|
|Slater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.)||Wainwright, Edwin|
|Agnew, Sir Peter||Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D.||Marlowe, Anthony|
|Allason, James||Gammans, Lady||Marshall, Douglas|
|Ashton, Sir Hubert||Glover, Sir Douglas||Marten, Neil|
|Balniel, Lord||Goodhart, Philip||Matthews, Gordon (Meriden)|
|Barber, Anthony||Goodhew, Victor||Maudling, Rt. Hon. Reginald|
|Barlow, Sir John||Gough, Frederick||Mawby, Ray|
|Beamish. Col. Sir Tufton||Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R.||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.|
|Bell, Ronald||Green, Alan||Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.|
|Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)||Grimston, Sir Robert||Mills, Stratton|
|Bidgood, John c.||Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G.||More, Jasper (Ludlow)|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Gurden, Harold||Morgan, William|
|Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel||Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough)||Morrison, John|
|Bishop, F. P.||Harris, Reader (Heston)||Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Harrison, Brian (Maldon)||Nabarro, Gerald|
|Bossom, Clive||Harrison, CH. J. H. (Eye)||Neave, Airey|
|Bourne-Arton, A||Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf'd)||Noble, Michael|
|Box, Donald||Hastings, Stephen||Nugent, Sir Richard|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. John||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel||Oakshott, Sir Hendrie|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Heath, Rt. Hon. Edward||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. Sir Walter||Henderson-Stewart, Sir James||Orr-Ewing, C. Ian|
|Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry||Hicks Beach, Maj. W.||Osborne, Cyril (Louth)|
|Bryan, Paul||Hiley, Joseph||Page, John (Harrow, West)|
|Buck, Antony||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Page, Graham (Crosby)|
|Billiard, Denys||Hirst, Geoffrey||Panned, Norman (Kirkdale)|
|Bullus, Wing Commander Eric||Hobson, John||Partridge, E.|
|Burden, F. A.||Holland, Philip||Pearson, Frank (Clitheroe)|
|Butcher, Sir Herbert||Hollingworth, John||Peel, John|
|Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (Saffron Walden)||Hopkins, Alan||Pickthorn, Sir Kenneth|
|Campbell, Sir David (Belfast, S.)||Hornby, R. P.||Pike, Miss Mervyn|
|Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn)||Howard, Hon. G. R. (St. Ives)||Pitman, I. J.|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Howard, John (Southampton, Test)||Pitt, Miss Edith|
|Channon, H. P. G.||Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral John||Pott, Percivall|
|Chataway, Christopher||Hughes-Young, Michael||Powell, Rt. Hon. J. Enoch|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Hulbert, Sir Norman||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Clark, William (Nottingham, S.)||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Price, H. A. (Lewisham, W.)|
|Cleaver, Leonard||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye).||Prior, J. M. L.|
|Cole, Norman||James, David||Prior-Palmer, Brig, Sir Otho|
|Cooke, Robert||Jennings, J. C.||Pym, Francis|
|Cooper, A. E.||Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)||Ramsden, James|
|Cooper-Key, Sir Neill||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Rawlinson, Peter|
|Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.||Jones, Rt. Hn. Aubrey (Hall Green)||Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin|
|Corfield, F. V.||Kaberry, Sir Donald||Rees, Hugh|
|Costain, A. P.||Kerans, Cdr. J. S.||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Coulson, J. M.||Kerr, Sir Hamilton||Ridley, Hon. Nicholas|
|Crowder, F. P.||Kershaw, Anthony||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Cunningham, Knox||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)|
|Currie, G. B. H.||Leavey, J. A.||Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S)|
|Dalkeith, Earl of||Leburn, Gilmour||Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)|
|Dance, James||Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry||Roots, William|
|d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Russell, Ronald|
|du Cann, Edward||Lindsay, Martin||Scott-Hopkins, James|
|Duncan, Sir James||Linstead, Sir Hugh||Shaw, M.|
|Duthie, Sir William||Litchfield, Capt. John||Shepherd, William|
|Eden, John||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Smyth, Brig. Sir John (Norwood)|
|Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)||McLaren, Martin||Spearman, Sir Alexander|
|Elliott, R. W. (Nwcstle-upon-Tyne, N.)||McLaughlin, Mrs. Patricia||Speir, Rupert|
|Emery, Peter||Maclean,SirFitzroy(Bute&N.Ayrs.)||Stanley, Hon. Richard|
|Errington, Sir Eric||McLean, Neil (Inverness)||Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)|
|Finlay, Graeme||Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield, W.)||Storey, Sir Samuel|
|Fisher, Nigel||MacLeod, John (Ross & Cromarty)||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Macmillan, Rt. Hn. Harold(Bromley)||Sumner, Donald (Orpington)|
|Fraser, Hn. Hugh (Stafford & Stone)||Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)||Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.||Taylor, W. J. (Bradford, N.)|
|Freeth, Denzil||Markham, Major Sir Frank||Teeling, William|
|Temple, John M.||Vosper, Rt. Hon. Dennis||Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)|
|Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)||Walder, David||Wise, A. R.|
|Thompson, Richard (Croydon, S.)||Walker, Peter||Woodhouse, C. M.|
|Thornton Kemsley, Sir Colin||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hon. Sir Derek||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Tiley, Arthur (Bradford, W.)||Ward, Dame Irene||Woollam, John|
|Tilney, John (Wavertree)||Watts, James||Worsley, Marcus|
|Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.||Webster, David|
|van Straubenzee, W. R.||Wells, John (Maidstone)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Vane, W. M. F.||Whitelaw, William||Mr. Gibson-Watt and|
|Vickers, Miss Joan||Williams, Dudley (Exeter)||Mr. J. E. B. Hill.|
§ Report [14th March] from the Committee of Privileges (on the Matter of the Petition concerning Mr. Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn), to be considered forthwith.—[Mr. R. A. Butler.]
§ Report considered accordingly.
§ 7.6 p.m.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler
I beg to move,That this House takes note of the fact that Mr. Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn on succession to the Viscounty of Stansgate on 17th November, 1960, ceased to be a Member of this House, and agrees with the Committee of Privileges in their Report.Hon. Members will see that the Committee over which I had the honour to preside in the Chair went exhaustively into submissions by Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn and listened to evidence by him, by the hon. and learned Member for Ipswich (Mr. D. Foot) and by Mr. Taverne. We also heard the Clerk of the House and Mr. Squibb, Q.C., and I think it will be taken by anybody who has mastered the cross-examination, the evidence and our Report that we went not only into the doctrines that history has revealed, but also into as much of the present knowledge of this subject as we possibly could.
I should like to say in opening this debate on the major issue that I hope we may examine it in as dispassionate a way as possible. I do not think that anybody who was a member of that Committee, of which the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell), the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), the hon. and learned Member for Ipswich and others were members, could be under any doubt that we examined this matter with the greatest possible care and that we had great regard to the personal qualities of the petitioner.
It will be my duty in moving the Motion to divide my remarks into two parts. The first is in relation to the law, not so much established as confirmed by the Committee of Privileges Report, 566 and the second is the question which was the subject of the Divisions in the Committee, namely, the possible future action. If I establish the matter first of all in regard to law and then in regard to future action, I shall have divided my remarks conveniently into two parts. The question of future action was reported on pages xv to xxi of the Report relating to the meeting on Tuesday, 14th March.
I will take the legal position first. I do not think the right hon. Member for Leeds, South will disagree when I say that the Committee was in agreement generally on what has been described in our conversation as settled law, subject to a reservation as to methods of expression made by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), which will be found in the proceedings of the Committee, particularly on the day to which I have just referred when the Divisions took place. Subject to the reservation which I regard as more a matter of the expression of the law, there was general agreement on this subject.
The Committee reached four conclusions, first thatMr. Wedgwood Benn was disqualified from membership of the House of Commons on the 17th November, 1960, by succession to the Viscounty of Stansgate.The Committee devoted paragraphs 5 to 16—and I am going to be as short and concise as I can because of the time factor—to substantiating this conclusion. We dismissed the contentions advanced by Mr. Wedgwood Benn and by the hon. and learned Member for Ipswich in support of the view that it is receipt of a Writ of Summons to sit in the House of Lords which disqualifies a peer from sitting in the House of Commons. We found on examination that arguments similar to these were advanced before the Select Committee of 1895 and were rejected by that Committee.
We considered carefully certain submissions that certain persons are alleged 567 to have sat in the House of Commons, although peers, in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. In passing—and not being a constitutional lawyer—it appeared at first sight that before about 1600 there may have been more doubt about the law than there has been since, but this claim that certain persons so sat, which was put forward on behalf of the petitioner, was substantially demolished by the evidence of Mr. Squibb, which can be found in the later pages of the Report.
We came to the conclusion thatit is the law that the fact of succession to a peerage disqualifies from membership of the House of Commons, and this disqualification does not, where there is succession, depend on receipt of a Writ of Summons to sit in the House of Lords.We cited in support of our views the powerful views of Mr. Speaker Onslow, and of such people as Sir William Anson and Erskine May, and Halsbury's Laws of England.
So much for the first proposition, dealt with up to paragraph 16 of the Report. The next paragraphs deal with the instrument of renunciation. In these paragraphs, which run over several pages, the Committee set out the reasons—up to paragraph 26—why the instrument of renunciation executed by Mr. Wedgwood Benn has no legal effect. We devoted all these paragraphs to the subject, and as I think that this is the nub of the whole question, I will detain the House for a few moments by reading paragraph 24. This, I think, is the kernel of the law. It is quite short and it puts before hon. Members what is the law in this respect:The opinion of Doddridge, J., given in 1626, the Resolution of the House of Lords in the Grey de Ruthyn case in 1640, the conclusion of the Select Committee in 1895, the unanimous opinion of all the members of the Committee for Privileges in the Norfolk Earldom case in 1907, and the statement of Lord Birkenhead in the Rhondda peerage case of 1922 are all to the same effect, namely, that it is settled law that a peer cannot surrender or renounce his peerage. Against these authorities, no legal authority either before or after 1626 has been cited in support of the proposition that the law permits the surrender of peerages. Your Committee having considered all these matters have reached the conclusion that it is, as Lord Halsbury said, settled law that peerages cannot be surrendered, and that therefore the instrument of renunciation executed by Mr. Wedgwood Benn is of no legal effect.568 That paragraph seems to me the most important paragraph in the Committee's report on the question of the law, and I think that hon. Members will find it conclusive on this point.
It is perhaps worth remarking that the instrument of renunciation executed by Mr. Benn could not have affected the question of his disqualification, since it was not executed until after 17th November, 1960, when, according to this statement and our findings, he automatically became disqualified. So much for the first two main decisions of the Committee.
The third decision of the Committee, in paragraphs from 26 onwards, relates to the House of Commons Disqualification Act, 1957. The Committee took the view that this Act does not affect the position of peers, and I will not trouble to read out the paragraph, because it is clear.
The fourth of the Committee's main conclusions relates to the question of privilege which was referred to us. In passing, that was one of the main reasons why it was decided that this matter should be referred to the Committee of Privileges and not, as in 1895, to a different form of Select Committee. It was suggested by Mr. Wedgwood Benn that a writ of summons addressed to him would raise, prima facie a question of privilege in depriving him of his seat in the House of Commons. This was answered tersely by the views of the Clerk of the House, who said in evidence:The privilege is to attend upon Parliament, and if you are summoned to attend one House or the other, I do not think you can say that it was a breach of privilege.Those are the four main questions of fact upon which the Committee found. The reservations by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering on page XV of the Report, amount to a different method of stating the law. These conclusions are found, therefore, in paragraphs 29 (a) to 29 (d) of the Summary of Conclusions, and I hope that we may, without much difficulty, as a House, endorse those conclusions.
That is the first part of what I want to say about the four points in the Petition and the question of the law as it stands. If I could conclude my speech on that note, I feel that I need not enter into controversy, but I must address 569 myself to paragraph 28 and to conclusions 29 (e) and 29 (f) of the Committee of Privileges. There was disagreement on the Committee over paragraphs 28 and 29 and the matter was settled after a series of Divisions during our sitting on Tuesday, 14th March. The Government asks the House to accept the conclusion in paragraph 28:Your Committee do not recommend the introduction of a Bill to enable Mr. Wedgwood Benn to remain a member of the Commons House of Parliament.The Report claims that there is no precedent for such legislation and that it would involve retrospective legislation. We had already decided that Mr. Benn ceased by operation of law to be a Member of Parliament on 17th November, 1960. In addition to the four points which I have made, that is the first thing which we ask the House to accept.
The Report continues, in paragraph 28:…if any change in the law is to be made, so as to enable those who succeed to peerages to remain members of, and to be eligible for election to, the House of Commons, that legislation should be general and not be retrospective.That is the second conclusion of this part of what I say which I ask the House to accept.
It falls to me, therefore, to consider the last question—whether there should be general legislation. Paragraph 29 (f) summarises the Committee's conclusion, namely:The terms of the Petition referred to them do not require them to express any view on whether legislation to enable those who succeed to peerages to remain Members of, and to be eligible for election to, the House of Commons is desirable.At the end of paragraph 28 we read that in any case this could not be donewithout full consultation with the House of Lords and ascertaining the wishes of the Crown.Before I come to the Amendment which will be moved shortly by the Leader of the Opposition, I wish to refer to the Amendment in the name of my hon. Friends the Members for Heywood and Royton (Mr. Leavey) and Middleton and Prestwich (Sir J. Barlow). They wantsteps to be taken to set up a joint committee of both Houses of Parliament with such terms of reference as would require the Committee to make specific recommendations for legislation 570 to permit, in appropriate circumstances, the renunciation of peerages on inheritance.The Report, as agreed by the majority, does not exclude the possibility of such a committee. It simply says that before we make up our minds we must consult another place, and clearly that is constitutionally wise. The Government have decided that it is not in the interest of the body politic at the present moment to set up such a joint committee. That is the answer to my hon. Friends who placed the Amendment on the Order Paper. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] We have decided that, and I am stating—
§ Mr. Nabarro
I hope that my right hon. Friend does not think me discourteous if I say that I feel that a statement of that kind is somewhat arbitrary. Is he not aware that a substantial volume of opinion in the Conservative Party believes that a reform of the House of Lords is long overdue? How can we decide the form which such reform should take unless advised by an inter-Parliamentary committee with all-party participation?
§ Mr. Butler
My hon. Friend's intervention is appropriate, because I was about to deal with that question. The Government do not exclude the possibility of future reform of the House of Lords. Indeed, during debate on the Life Peerages Bill—I introduced the Second Reading—it was mentioned both here and in another place that such a possibility was not remote but was indeed a definite possibility. All we are saying here is that we do not consider that this matter of the petitioner's case should itself be referred to a joint Committee of both Houses.
We have come to that conclusion, and it is much better that I should state so frankly to my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), so that he knows the position which the Government take in this matter. It would be a great pity if we had any misunderstanding and any belief that we proposed to do it. It is not our intention so to do.
§ Viscount Lambton (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
Perhaps there is some misunderstanding of what my right hon. Friend said. Is he saying that it is not the intention of the Government in the immediate future to set up such a Committee?
§ Mr. Butler
That is what I said. It is not our intention to set up a joint committee to deal with the problem arising out of this case.
§ Mr. Nabarro
I want to be precise about this, because it dominates my future action in this case. Is it not a fact that there is a marked difference between dealing with the matter in the specialised atmosphere of the Wedgwood Benn case and the general proposition enshrined in the Amendment to be moved shortly, I hope, on reform of the House of Lords? Is it not a fact that the Conservative Party seems to be of opinion that a committee to inquire into general reform of the Upper House is what is needed?
§ Mr. Butler
This is a matter upon which I must reserve the Government's position. It is possible that we should consider that possibility. All I am dealing with here is that we cannot set up a joint committee to deal with this particular case. If that is any help to my hon. Friend, I give him that assurance.
§ Mr. Humphry Berkeley (Lancaster)
I hope that I am not being unusually obtuse, but my right hon. Friend specifically referred to an Amendment in the name of two of my hon. Friends, and that Amendment makes no reference whatever to this specific case. I understood my right hon. Friend to say that the Government were not prepared to set up a joint committee, as suggested in the Amendment. Am I correct in that assumption?
§ Mr. Butler
There is no decision of the Government tonight to accept the Amendment which is on the Order Paper. I wish to be quite frank with my hon. Friend in this matter. There is, equally, a decision of the Government that there should not be a joint committee set up to deal with this particular case. I say this deliberately after consultation with my colleagues—and I was about to come to this: It may well be that the future of the House of Lords could be considered, following upon the decision in the Life Peerages Act to introduce a minor amendment which has had a certain effect in the Upper House. It may well be the case that the Government, in consultation with my hon. and right hon. Friends, might wish to go further in the reform of the House 572 of Lords. That is definitely the position today, but we are not in a position to accept this Amendment, because I am not in a position to give a Government decision to set up a joint committee of inquiry on this subject immediately. If I were to do so, I should be deluding my hon. Friends, but if they care to consult me and the Prime Minister on this matter, their views will be taken into consideration, and I think it may well be that the future will show that there are reforms to make in another place.
§ Mr. Butler
I am speaking tonight primarily as Leader of the House, but in answer to my hon. Friends I have been speaking as a member of the Government on Government decisions. But if House of Lords reform is involved, it would not be right not to consult the Opposition on that matter; and also we should consult members of the Liberal Party, because in questions of the constitution, as has been the case in the past, it is always wise for consultation to take place on the broadest possible level. I think that if we look back to my early days when I first came into Parliament, in the 'twenties and 'thirties, we realise that it was a very unfortunate thing that more agreement was not reached between the parties in the old days on House of Lords reform. Certainly, it would be wrong—and I am glad the right hon. Member for South Shields intervened to ask me my view—to say that such a matter should be handled without the broadest base for its support.
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
This stonewalling does not carry the matter much further. The right hon. Gentleman has said that he may consider general House of Lords reform. He has also made it quite clear that he will not consider a joint committee to deal with the Wedgwood Benn case, but, of course, this Amendment deals with neither of those two propositions. What this 573 Amendment deals with is general legislation, not extending to general reform of the House of Lords, but extending to the renunciation of peerages on inheritance. Does he refuse to have a joint committee to deal with that? If so, will he for the first time give his reasons for taking this view?
§ Mr. Butler
The hon. and learned Gentleman is not quite fair. I know that it is thought a good thing to take points off the Leader of the House, and certainly a few have been taken off me today, and I am used to it. I did say to my hon. Friends, and I think they understood, that we could not accept the Amendment on the Order Paper—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"]—because it makes a specific recommendation for legislation to permit in appropriate circumstances the renunciation of peerages on inheritance. If we are to look into the matter of House of Lords reform, we must do it on a much broader basis. That is the point I want to make, and I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman and to the hon. and learned Member, because they have enabled me to make clear that if we are to envisage reform of the House of Lords we must do it on a broad canvas.
One of the objections we have to taking further positive action this evening on the lines suggested by the Amendment which will be moved by the Leader of the Opposition is that when we study the British constitution, we find that this case in fact raises fundamental issues. The debate through which we have just passed I have found one of the most disagreeable in the whole of my time in Parliament, and I am sorry that it had to take place. What I think some people on the other side of the House misunderstood was that we are facing here fundamental issues. We are facing frankly the problem of the hereditary principle in the House of Lords, and it is no good this House of Commons tonight burking that issue. I have consulted my right hon. and hon. Friends, and I have had a variety of moderate and reasonable insults from the other side, saying that I am a prisoner of my own party. I am very proud if I am a prisoner of my own party in respect of refusing to amend the constitution by pulling out a brick here and there so as to make the wall collapse without knowing what we are doing. That is 574 precisely the danger we should be in if we tried a moderate reform of the House of Lords of this type, however much we may be attached to the attractive personality of the petitioner in this case.
§ Mr. Butler
The Life Peerages Act is now a matter of history. It is past. That is, if I may say so, a reversion to the classical base of the House of Lords when, before the famous case in the middle of last century, life peerages were normal in the House of Lords and were an original part of the British constitution. In the life peerages principle, we were going back to something which had been a feature of the House of Lords in the past.
§ Mr. E. L. Mallalieu (Brigg)
The right hon. Gentleman has said that if the Government are to reform the House of Lords it ought to be on a broad canvas. Can he tell us whether they are going to do so?
§ Mr. Butler
I have just said that there are several of my hon. Friends behind me who have already indicated by their voices that they are interested in this subject—
§ Mr. Butler
—and the most vociferous of them all has just made it clear. I have no doubt that while there may be disappointment about this particular case in the House, and in the minds of some of my hon. Friends, like all these things in our public life, it may well be that one case leads to another, and it may well be that as a result of this case, we are led to a further consideration of the future of the Upper House. That may well arise, but I am not prepared to go any further with it tonight.
The Opposition Amendment is in direct contradiction to the latter part of my remarks, but I do not think that it questions the finding as to the position of settled law in the earlier part. In coming to our decision to table a Government Motion to adopt the Report of the Committee of Privileges as finally voted, the Government did not underestimate the importance of the issues involved. They are fundamental and affect the working of the Constitution. I 575 defy any hon. Members tonight to state how they would decide in detail the question of the renunciation of peerages. Would they decide it on the basis of the first generation renouncing and then a peer resuming his peerage? Would they take account of the strong feeling in another place, and indeed here, that, in the words of the ancient lawyers we quote in the Report, a peerage cannot be drowned? Would they decide these matters easily, or would they find them as difficult as the Government find them today? They are fundamental to the whole hereditary basis on which the Upper House is based. For this reason and because the issues are so big, the Government have found it necessary to make this an issue and to support our views in the usual way.
I should like to conclude my speech, having moved that we accept the Report, by saying that the Government hope that no question of personalities, despite our earlier debate, will arise. I do not think that more trouble could have been taken by the Committee of Privileges or by the House, or indeed by you, Mr. Speaker, to give every consideration to the petitioner. I hope that the debate will settle his position once and for all and will make clear the stand the Government take in this case.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I beg to move, in line I, to leave out from "the" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:Report from the Committee of Privileges and is of the opinion that legislation should be introduced forthwith to provide for the renunciation of peerages and to allow those who have renounced a peerage to vote in and to be candidates at Parliamentary elections and, if elected, to be members of the Commons House of Parliament".The Leader of the House began his speech by saying that he hoped that we would look at this question dispassionately. I do not disagree with that, but, if he really had that idea seriously in mind, I wish that he had adopted a different attitude on the Motion we discussed earlier, because it was certainly difficult for many of us to understand why the Government, with the Whips on, refused permission to our old friend, Mr. Wedgwood Benn, to appear before the House and speak.
576 The right hon. Gentleman said that he thought that those of us on this side of the House who were members of the Committee of Privileges agreed about the legal aspects of the problem, but he admitted that we did not like the way in which certain passages in the Report were expressed. That is an important exception to the notion that we accept entirely all that is in the Report. We voted against the Report as a whole. There is a considerable difference in our attitude to the legal position as expressed in the Amendment moved during the Committee proceedings by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) and supported by my right hon. Friends.
The most surprising feature of the right hon. Gentleman's speech was the cavalier way in which he dismissed the whole of the real issue which we are discussing. I was astounded that he gave no consideration whatsoever to the merits of the question put forward in the Amendment, although he implied that he would refer to it. He merely told us that the Government were against doing anything. He gave no single reason why they were against doing anything, except that if there were to be reform it would have to be on a broad base. That was his only argument. I am very disappointed that on this extremely important issue—even taken on its own, it is an important issue—we heard no argument whatsoever from the Leader of the House.
The Report of the Committee of Privileges, of which we ask the House to take note, is concerned almost wholly with what is called the legal position of Mr. Benn's claim. I do not propose to say much on this, because I want to devote most of my speech to our Amendment. However, I want to point out that when the Report speaks of "law" it does not use that term in the sense in which at any rate those of us who are laymen normally understand it. Paragraph 6, which was not accepted by the minority, but is, nevertheless, in the Report, contains these words:In their opinion it is settled law and not open to dispute. It is not to be found in any statute nor in decisions of the Courts of law. It is, nevertheless, agreed by legal authorities to be part of the common law of England…I am not a lawyer, but when listening to the discussions in the Committee I formed the opinion that there was quite 577 a difference between what is laid down in a Statute, or even in the common law in the ordinary sense of that word through judges' decisions, and the very vague conception of the law—and, as I would say, custom—of the Constitution which was put before us. Speaking on behalf of my right hon. Friend's and my hon. and learned Friend who served as members of the Committee, I tell the House that we regarded this law and custom of the Constitution as very much more obscure than the majority of the Committee did. We regarded it as something that is far less clear and settled. It was, indeed, the purpose of my hon. and learned Friend's Amendment, which was rejected by the Committee, to bring that out.
Apart from what the Committee said was the law in this sense, it gave us very little guidance on what is really at issue. I do not think that other right hon. and hon. Members who were members of the Committee will deny that it gave virtually no consideration to the request at the end of Mr. Wedgwood Benn's Petition that we shouldgrant him such other relief as it may think fit and proper.We did not really consider whether any such relief should be granted. The only conclusion reached by the Committee on this matter is against retrospective legislation to allow Mr. Benn to remain a Member, with which I agree.
The Report also says, in paragraph 28, that on the general issue the Committee does not consider that it is required to express a view. I do not agree with this part of the Report. I think that the Committee should have expressed a view on this, and I do not accept the implication of the right hon. Gentleman's speech that the sole, or, indeed, the main reason why this matter was referred to the Committee of Privileges was on the rather narrow point of an alleged breach of Privilege in the Petition. It was referred to the Committee of Privileges on the understanding that this was the senior Committee of the House and the one which could most appropriately deal with the matter. I regret that the majority of the Committee took the view that it could offer no advice.
Finally, on this part of the Report, I remind the House again that on all these vital issues, on the attitude to what is 578 law and what is custom and the way in which our views on this matter were expressed, as well as whether anything should be done or whether the House should be advised that nothing should be done, the Committee reached its decisions by a majority only. The minority did not agree on these vital points.
In any event, whether the Committee was right or wrong to go into these matters, there can be no doubt that the House of Commons must go into them. That is the purpose of our Amendment. There are three questions to which the House should address itself. First, is the present legal situation—if it is appropriate to use the word "legal"—as interpreted by the Committee tolerable? Can we defend it today? On this side of the House, we have no hesitation in saying that the present situation is out of date and unfair; that it restricts unreasonably the rights of certain individuals, and the choice of certain electors; that it is an absurd anomaly which should now be remedied, and that it cannot be justified on grounds either of public policy or of private justice.
In presenting this case, let me, first, remind the House that this matter has not hitherto been treated as a party issue, nor should it be now. Let me remind the House that some of the earliest pro-tests against the compulsion on those who inherit a peerage to leave this House and go to the House of Lords came from three distinguished Tory Members of Parliament, all of them eldest sons of peers—Lord Curzon, Lord Wolmer and Mr. Brodrick. We all know of the protest which the present Lord Hailsham subsequently made.
We are not concerned, in this Amendment, with a Labour Member. The Amendment does not mention any individual. We are not concerned with Mr. Benn, as such, although his case has produced this debate. We are concerned with the desirability of general legislation to put this matter right. Others would then be affected by such general legislation, and there are a number of hon. Members—it so happens that they are all on the Government side of the House—who are personally concerned. I believe that there are five in all.
I think that the two who are the most senior in the House are sitting together below the Gangway—the hon. Member 579 for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Viscount Lambton) and the hon. Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke). I do not know their views on this subject, but I say to them that I should regard it as regrettable if they were obliged, contrary to their will, to go to the House of Lords. I often disagree with both of them; nevertheless, they certainly add such lustre and excitement and interest to our debates that I do not see why, as long as their constituents are sufficiently misguided to re-elect them to this House, they should not be allowed to stay here.
Finally, on the question of whether it is a party issue, let me remind the House that the case for this particular reform has been supported over the years by men of all parties; Mr. Gladstone, Lord Rosebery, Lord Curzon, Lord Samuel, Lord Winterton are only some—and, the greatest name of all, the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir Winston Churchill), whose letter of support is published in the Report of the Privileges Committee.
Nor are we concerned, and let me emphasise this, with the reform of the House of Lords, as such. We could all hold different views on this and, unquestionably, if there were to be such a discussion many different opinions would be put forward. Some people do not think that a second Chamber is necessary at all, and it is quite certain that there would be disagreement about both its composition and its powers. Yet I do not see why, because we happen to disagree—as I think that we would, about House of Lords reform generally—we should refrain from agreeing, if we do, that this particular rule—or law, if that term is chosen—is absurd, and should be changed.
I have said that this arrangement is out of date, and I use that term advisedly. It might be argued that at one time the honour of a peerage and a seat in the House of Lords was such that nobody could be expected to refuse it, or would want to do so. Certainly, there was a time when the esteem and prestige attaching to the House of Lords was no less great than that attaching to the House of Commons today.
There may be some who think that that is the case today, but I do not think 580 that many of us could deny that today the supremacy rests not with the House of Lords, but with the House of Commons. It is here that both the power and the responsibility lie. Therefore, although some may still prefer the Lords, and would not take the opportunity to sit here if they were given the chance, it is clear that many would prefer to sit in the House of Commons because of its position in the nation's life.
Why should that choice be denied to them? I think that the present situation is unfair, because why should a man who is duly elected as a Member here be deprived of the chance of continuing to serve? Why should there be this restriction? Why should his constituents not be allowed, if they so desire, to continue to choose him?
We impose certain grounds of disqualification on membership of this House. We do so, in the main, because we think that those who suffer from these disqualifications would not make particularly good Members. We disqualify felons and bankrupts and lunatics—and, true, clergy of the Church of England, but we will come to them in a moment. Why should peers be classed with felons, bankrupts and lunatics? I have no very great respect for the hereditary principle myself, but I would not go so far as to place it in that category.
Moreover, at least some chance exists for these others to remove their disability. It is possible for felons to reform, and become free. It is possible for bankrupts to become solvent. It is even possible for lunatics to be cured, and become sane. And in the last resort, after all, clergymen of the Church of England may renounce Holy Orders. But a man who inherits a peerage may not renounce it. This is the least merited of all our disqualifications—and it is the only one that is quite unavoidable. It does not make any sense at all.
A man may inherit a title, but he need not use it. He may inherit wealth, and he may squander it or give it away. He may inherit land, but the law of entail has been reformed out of existence. A man may refuse a peerage—whether a life peerage or a hereditary peerage—when it is offered to him, but once he has accepted it his descendants have no 581 option. Indeed are the virtues of the fathers visited upon the children. Perhaps Lord Curzon's words were more appropriate when he said:The world supposes him to be the fortunate heir of what is called the accident of birth; he is in reality the hapless victim of the accident of death"—
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
Would the right hon. Gentleman also agree with the words used at the end of his maiden speech by Mr. Benn? He said:Moreover, it should be remembered that 'that which Parliament hath joined together, let no man put asunder'."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th February, 1951; Vol. 483, c. 1783.]
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I do not quite see the relevance of that intervention.
It cannot be said that the present law—if the Committee is correct in so interpreting it—is defensible today on the ground that it is really just a matter of service in the Lords being an alternative to service in the Commons, but that one cannot be in both places at the same time. For being deprived of a seat here does not, in fact, oblige anybody to sit in the House of Lords. The person concerned need not even apply for a Writ of Summons and, if he does so, he can apply for leave of absence indefinitely, and will be granted it.
Indeed, we have the extraordinary position that some peers can be deprived of their right to sit here and yet may not sit in the House of Lords. This applies, of course, to those Scottish peers who are not elected as representatives to the House of Lords. They may not sit here—they may not sit there. It applies, incidentally, to hereditary peeresses. I believe that there are nineteen of them, one of whom, being a life peeress, sits in the House of Lords, the others being debarred from both Houses. Does that make sense?
If someone is an Irish peer—as Lord Winterton was when he was a Member of this House—he can sit here. If someone is a Scottish peer, unless he is elected by the other Scottish peers, he may not sit in either House. If someone is an English peer, he may not sit here but he may sit in the House of Lords. Really, what conceivable sense can one make of this extraordinary confusion? The whole situation seems to be out of date, contradictory, unfair, and, I should add, indefensible.
582 The next question is: what should be done? Our Amendment is in broad terms. It calls for agreement on only two points, when one comes to consider what exactly should be done. It insists upon general legislation. We reject the idea, which has been advanced from time to time, of a specific Bill dealing with a particular individual. Secondly, it carries with it the implication that peerages must be renounced.
It rules out, therefore, the idea which, at times, has been advanced—by Lord Wolmer, in 1894, and by Lord Hailsham more recently—that people should inherit their peerages but remain Members of the House of Commons. We do not think that that is a sensible arrangement. Subject to those two basic points, we take no strong view at this stage on the details of the exact reform which might be carried through. So far as my right hon. and hon. Friends are concerned, we should be prepared to discuss these matters to see whether, in the course of discussion, agreement could be reached.
I will give my personal views on some of the questions. It has been suggested—it was suggested by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) in the Bill he introduced some years ago—that all that was necessary was to allow Members to remain in this House until they applied for a Writ of Summons to the House of Lords. I do not like that idea. That, so to speak, gives the man concerned a permanent option either to remain here or go to the House of Lords. I do not think that that is really enough.
Secondly, should the right of renunciation apply to those who are already peers as well as to those who will be peers or only to those who inherit after the new legislation has been passed? For my part, I do not see why the right of renunciation should be denied to existing peers. I do not feel very strongly on the issue, but it seems to me unfair to say that only after the change has been made will people, when they become peers, have the right to renounce.
Must it be renunciation for all time, or only for life? The Leader of the House asked that question. This is a matter for discussion. My own view is that it should be complete renunciation. If I am told that this is unfair and 583 rather hard on the heirs, I think that the reply must be that it is rather hard on the heirs sometimes when somebody takes a hereditary peerage. If there is the right to do that, there should be the right to renounce, also.
All these points can be considered if the House agrees on the broad principle. They can be considered before the Second Reading of any Bill which might be introduced, and they can be considered during the Committee stage. Nor does our Amendment lay down any special procedure. It certainly does not rule out—I say this to the hon. Member for Heywood and Royton (Mr. Leavey) and the hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Sir J. Barber), who put down the other Amendment—the idea of a joint Committee with the House of Lords. Indeed, the minority in the Committee of Privileges made precisely that proposal.
The final question to which I address myself is: what are the objections to the proposed reform? It is more difficult to list these. We may be told that not enough people are affected. It does not really matter. This is a matter of only a handful of future peers, all, as it happens, on one side of the House, so why should we go to all this fuss? All I can say is that that is the old "housemaid's baby" argument. It does not seem to me that, because something is unjust to a few, it is any less unjust. I do not regard that as any reason for not putting it right.
We are also told just the opposite, that this reform will dry up the recruitment of young peers and the House of Lords will suffer as a consequence. One hon. Member made a speech somewhat on those lines earlier today. We cannot have it both ways. If it is really a very small affair, it will not affect recruitment to the House of Lords. Of course, the fact is that it will not do so. Let us be clear about that. The number of such cases is likely to be very small. Even if we decide to allow existing peers to renounce their peerages, stand for Parliament and come back here again, we need not, I honestly believe, fear that there will be a flood.
There is, of course, the possibility which may worry the Government that Lord Hailsham will elect to come back. 584 [An HON. MEMBER: "Or Lord Salisbury."] I hear one of my hon. Friends suggest that Lord Salisbury might even consider such a move. However, I am sure that hon. Members opposite would not wish to be moved by the desire to keep out such distinguished colleagues of theirs from the House of Commons. I do not think that we need take that one seriously.
It has been said that we should not intervene on behalf of one person. We do not propose to do so. We ask for general legislation. More important is the argument of the right hon. Gentleman that we cannot and should not have piecemeal reform. I say frankly that I think this is a most disreputable argument. It is the argument put forward from a Government Front Bench who have no precise proposals to make on House of Lords reform and who know perfectly well the difficulties there are in agreeing about it. I venture to make the prophesy that, if the Amendment is defeated and nothing is done, equally nothing will be done about the reform of the House of Lords.
The fact is that it is difficult to agree on this matter. Time and time again, there have been discussions. For forty or fifty years the reform of the House of Lords has been discussed. Occasionally, we do something about it. We did something about its powers, I am glad to say, when we were in office. Really, this is the most shabby argument. Why, because one cannot carry out a major reform, should one be unwilling to do anything at all? Why, if we agree that this anomaly is as unjust as it is absurd, should not we put it right?
Then we come to the other argument. I was not surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman advance it. If, he said, we allow renunciation of peerages, this will undermine the hereditary principle. If he means by that that it undermines the hereditary principle in the House of Lords because not more than a handful of hon. Members during, perhaps, a decade, choose to take the option, that is an absurd idea. But, of course, there is a much stronger argument. The hereditary principle in the House of Lords has been undermined, undermined by the Life Peerages Act introduced by this Government. How can they seriously say that this relatively minor tidying up, 585 justified and necessary though I believe it to be, will undermine what, apparently, their Life Peerages Act has left intact? I have never heard anything so absurd.
Of course, if this argument does not refer only to the House of Lords, if it implies a vague idea that one cannot give up what is in the blood, then it surely is a piece of mystical nonsense and confusion. None of us can give up what we personally inherit physically and physiologically as individuals, nor do any of us wish to give up the emotional attachments which we enjoy as parents or children. But this has nothing whatever to do with whether a peerage may or may not be renounced.
Perhaps it is felt that the change would in some way undermine respect for the peerage. It may be said that, if we allow people to renounce peerages, this will imply that a peerage has not quite the status and significance that it used to have. All I can say is that, if this is a polite way of saying that snobbery may be undermined, then it is far better that it should be undermined. Indeed, if this is really a serious argument I should press on that account all the more strongly for the change.
I can think of only one other objection—a vague compound of "Does it really matter much? Are not these old customs quaint? Let us retain them. Is not there a danger somewhere? Well, perhaps we would like to think about it". If this is the objection, then we are dealing, not with a remotely logical case, but with a state of mind. The right hon. Gentleman will forgive me, but it seemed that that was rather his state of mind in his speech. It is a state of mind which, I believe, does us in Britain an infinite harm, with its curious mixture of complacency, nostalgia and apathy.
Yesterday, there occurred one of the most remarkable events in the history of the world—the first launching of a man into space. When the rest of the world is celebrating this astonishing achievement, how deplorable it will be if the British House of Commons marks the occasion by insisting that in this year, 1961, we must continue to abide by an archaic legal custom so that a man may still not renounce an inherited peerage which he does not want and is, in consequence, debarred from serving in the House of Commons contrary 586 to his wishes and to every dictate of common sense and natural justice.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Sir Richard Nugent (Guildford)
I listened with great interest to the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and to the moderate terms in which he deployed his case in support of the Amendment. Like him, I do not propose to address my remarks to the legal aspect of the Report of the Committee of Privileges, despite the difficulty that some of us laymen had in understanding the refinements of paragraph 6. I think that it would be true to say that, in the main, we were agreed on the legal issue. However, the main point of disagreement between us, as indeed it is in the House tonight, was on what action should be taken for the future in order to deal with the situation in which we find ourselves.
I have to concede that there are many anomalies in the present situation, and the right hon. Gentleman humorously made play with them. The world in which we live is not the world in which nobility was created, and there can be grave embarrassments, apart from the difficulty of a young man, or a youngish man, who wishes to continue to sit in this House but inherits a title and, therefore, must move up to the House of Lords. I think particularly of the anomaly of those without any means who inherit a title and may find themselves in grave embarrassment. I accept, as indeed I think that we all must accept, the anomalies.
In considering the present situation, which is enlivened by the attractive personality of the petitioner, we all feel a natural sympathy, although hon. Members opposite have doubted it. The personal interests in the case are put to us with great cogency and we feel sympathy for them. What I should like the House to do for a moment is to look at the other interests which are involved in this case, namely, the arguments for the interests of the institution of Parliament which are also involved in any change that we may contemplate.
The institution of Parliament consists of two Chambers—the House of Commons, the sovereign House, and the House of Lords. While it is perfectly true that the function and authority of the House of Lords are far less than they used to be, very few of us would contend 587 that satisfactory Parliamentary government flows from single chamber government. In the countries which have tried it, it has not, on the whole, been proved satisfactory. It has proved far less satisfactory than Parliament in countries where there are two chambers.
There is a specific function for a second Chamber as a revising chamber and as a brake in order to give public opinion time to catch up with what is happening. I think that that is something we would all accept. It is important, indeed fundamental, to the constitution of the second Chamber that its membership should be independent of the electorate. In this context, I was interested to read the words of that great House of Commons man, Herbert Morrison, now Lord Morrison, in the Daily Telegraph this morning commending this principle. The hereditary peerage supplies that particular qualification, and has done so through the ages.
Hon. Members can refer to all kinds of anomalies which may be found in the House of Lords. I shall not deal with them now. The point that I wish to make is that this is our Parliamentary system—the House of Commons and the House of Lords constituted in this way. And it works remarkably well, despite all its anomalies and all the odd features in it. Despite everything, it is the system which has achieved the finest balance of freedom and order of any system of government that the world has ever seen. We are all deeply proud of it, and we are glad to help other parts of the world, such as our own territories and parts of the Commonwealth, which wish to set up Parliament on our pattern.
This is our responsibility. This is our heritage which we must remember when we are considering, as we are now, something which will make a big change, in my view a fundamental change, in the constitution of one of the Houses. We have a responsibility in thinking about the need to adjust the anomalies that we see, or, indeed, the injustices, as the right hon. Member the Leader of the Opposition called them, that affect the peerage in this respect. We also have to be conscious of our responsibility to preserve a system of government which, despite all its faults and anomalies, is still the best that there is.
588 I would not contend for one minute that it will never change. The whole history of Parliament is one of change. The more one knows about it, the more one looks at the changes in it over the centuries. The question that we have to consider is whether this is the right time for change. In my view, the change proposed by the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman, namely, to change the law to allow for renunciation, is one which should not be made at this time. I entirely agree with what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said. It is a piecemeal change. It would be extremely difficult to know what would be the effect of allowing renunciation and what would be the effect on attendance in the House of Lords over the next five or ten years. None of us can know for sure. It would be a haphazard change merely to pull out one brick in that way.
I am far more moved by the suggestion made by the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell) in our deliberations in the Committee of Privileges that there should be a joint review of the two Houses to look at this question fundamentally. I was moved by the words of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. When the time comes to make a change, I am sure that it is right to make a fundamental change. The Leader of the Opposition castigated this idea, but I am sure that it would not be right to make a haphazard change. All kinds of other changes should come in at the same time.
Therefore, one comes to the question of when would be the right time to make a change. Like the other members of the Committee of Privileges, I have had many chances to think about the matter over the last few months as we have heard much interesting evidence on the subject of peerage. My feeling is that the hereditary principle has already been basically modified by the creation of life peers. I am certainly not one who wishes to die in the last ditch defending the hereditary principle when it is already being diluted every year by the life peers.
At a time when there may be criticism by people in many quarters, I should like to say that we have much for which to be grateful to the noble families in the service that they have given to the country over the centuries. I pay my tribute to them. I would not, 589 however, go as far as I heard a peer go at a recent dinner which I attended, when he quoted with facility the words of John J. Robert Manners:Let wealth and commerce, laws and learning die,But leave us still our old nobility.I would not go as far as that. Times have changed.
With only two or three years' experience of the life peers, we would find it difficult to know just how this new entry into the House of Lords will integrate with the hereditary peerage to make the right kind of membership that we want there to serve as an effective second Chamber to the House of Commons. Perhaps another five or ten years is needed before we can judge—long enough, at least, to see how this innovation is affecting the House of Lords, what kind of membership is coming out of it and what would be the best way of preserving the great things that the hereditary peerage has brought to Parliament and to the House of Lords, integrating it with the admirable qualities that are being brought to it by the life peers who are now entering the House of Lords.
That is the strongest possible reason for saying that we should proceed, not in a stuffy, old-fashioned manner, but in a new sense of responsibility for our great heritage of a Parliament which works supremely well despite all the oddities in it to which we can refer. We should have some sense of the 700 years which it has taken to develop it and not think that we could tell in merely two years what effect this innovation would have. Let us give it a reasonable chance so that when we make the review, we can be sure that we are building something which will be effective in the future as a second Chamber to work with the House of Commons.
It is for those reasons that I advise the House, looking at the matter objectively, to note the moderate words of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and not to accept the Amendment. If I continue to be in the House of Commons in five years' time, I should certainly expect, and I would say so, that such a review should begin and that it should be far reaching over the whole picture with a view to making a reform of the House of Lords which would be really effective.
§ 8.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
I have had the honour of being a member of the Committee of Privileges for over a generation. I have usually taken the view that we who have that honour should limit ourselves to carrying out what we have undertaken to carry out for the House of Commons: that is to report and then leave it to the Members of the House to criticise our Report. We should make our position quite clear; there ought not to be any doubt about it. If there is doubt, we are to blame. Therefore, I have always felt that we should present our Report to the House and then leave it to the House to debate it.
I want, therefore, to say only a few words on the Report. On the questions that were put to us, we were unanimous. There was no dispute concerning the first question of whether Mr. Wedgwood Benn, being now the elder surviving son of his father, succeeded to the peerage on the death of his father. We were unanimously of that view. On the second question, that because he had become a peer Mr. Wedgwood Benn ceased to be a member of this House, again we were unanimously agreed. The third question was whether, before receiving the Writ of Summons to the House of Lords, he could renounce the peerage. Again, we were agreed that he could not do so.
I would have left the position in that way but for one or two matters. We had to find and report upon what the law was. When we report to the House, we have done our duty. Our Report does not become effective unless the House adopts it. Until then, the question is still open to the House. I would, however, point out that the House itself is bound by law. It cannot change the law. That can only be done by Act of Parliament, by the two Houses and the Throne. I was amazed that the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, North-East (Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas) made the statement that this House was in complete command of the question of who should or should not be here. That would mean that it was quite unnecessary to pass any Acts of Parliament dealing with Members of the House. If that power were given to the House, it could flaunt Acts of Parliament.
§ Sit L. Ungoed-Thomas
In my observations, I said that the statute law prevailed over Parliament. I directed my observations to the fact that this House is in charge of its composition. In deciding that, it must, of course, have regard to the law. In this case, what it is deciding is what the law is.
§ Mr. Davies
That was not disputed by any of us who were members of the Committee of Privileges.
Certain Amendments were proposed by some of my colleagues in the Committee, and I should like to deal shortly with them. I take the view that on a question of such vital importance as a change in constitutional law the Committee of Privileges has no authority and is not in a position even to discuss what those changes should be. They are too fundamental to the whole position of the constitution of the country and the position of the people and of Parliament for them to be discussed in private, as inevitably they would be, in the Committee of Privileges and for a vote then to be taken. The only place where constitutional changes can be put forward and discussed openly is on the Floor of this House, and nowhere else. I do not consider that it is within the province of the Committee of Privileges to make suggestions. It is here, in the House, that they must be put forward and the matter discussed.
The Leader of the Opposition has brought forward his Amendment. I agree that the position as it is today is absurd. It is completely out of date. It is unfair and unreal. The question may be asked why any change is opposed, because it is only a tiny change that is being suggested. The reason is that all the emphasis is being put upon one individual, or merely a few individuals, and the great institution is being left unchanged. If the House were to accept the Amendment, does the Opposition Front Bench propose to leave the House of Lords unchanged with 916 Members?
§ Mr. Gaitskell
The right hon. and learned Gentleman must not say that. Nothing of the kind has been said from 592 this Front Bench. We are discussing a particular question and a particular reform. May I ask whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman thinks that the piecemeal reform made by the Liberal Government in 1906 and in later years was worth while or not?
§ Mr. Davies
Here we are dealing with what the position should be, and I expected that the Amendment put down by the Opposition Front Bench at the present moment would have been much wider than this, whereby we would not only deal with the situation but in dealing with it would deal with the particular case of Mr. Wedgwood Benn, instead of dealing with the institution and yet leaving it with its present powers and somewhere between 700 and 800 Members who are there today because of the hereditary principle and because they have been able to maintain their line. Is that a proper decision for the Parliament of Britain, claiming to be a democratic country, to take today? Is all that the Opposition has to suggest this tiny, insignificant alteration?
What really happened in the old days? I am old enough, and the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) and I are perhaps the only two Members of the House who took part in those tremendous conflicts of 1909 to 1911. The cry of that time was "Mend it or end it" and the general cry that came from the then Labour Members was "End it". I as a young man, having heard of the treatment meted out to Liberal legislation between 1906 and 1910, agreed with them, but that was not the view taken by the then Liberal leaders. They brought in a Bill to cut down the powers of the Lords, who had thrown out Bill after Bill which had occupied days and even weeks in this House, and in some cases had thrown them out without any discussion whatsoever.
Then came the great crisis when they threw out the Money Bill. The result was that we introduced the Parliament Act, 1911, and cut down the powers of the Lords so that they could no longer reject a Money Bill. It was sufficient that a Bill had been certified a Money Bill by Mr. Speaker. The other place was later prevented from holding up legislation for more than two years, but there was in the Preamble of that Act a statement that it was the intention of the 593 then Liberal Government to reform the other place and that it was a matter of such importance that it would brook no delay.
I believe that that was the intention of the Liberal Government of that time, that they meant it and would have carried it out but for certain circumstances which proved too strong for them. Trouble was caused by members of the Conservative Party who at that lime were quite ready even to risk civil war rather than give Home Rule to Ireland. The 1914–18 war followed immediately afterwards.
What has happened since? Because the power of the other place had been cut down by that much, no real effort was made until 1948 to try to reform that institution. In 1948, when we were discussing the Labour Government's then Iron and Steel Bill, the question of what was the power of the other place arose, and there was the threat hanging over the then Labour Government that the power which the other place still had under the 1911 Act would be used.
A meeting was called of the leaders of the parties. I am the only surviving member of that meeting who is still a Member of this House. Unfortunately, two or three have died. Others have gone to the other place. Those who then met were much more anxious about putting this matter right than are their successors today. Lord Attlee was in the chair, supported by Lord Morrison and Lord Jowitt and the then Chief Whip.
It is interesting to note that at that time we of the three parties agreed, and Cmnd. 7380, published in February, 1948, containing an agreed statement on the conclusion of the Conference of Party Leaders, shows how necessary we felt it was to deal with the situation of Parliament.
The first matter upon which we agreed was thatThe Second Chamber should be complementary to and not a rival to the Lower House and, with this end in view, the reform of the House of Lords should be based on a modification of its existing constitution, as opposed to the establishment of a Second Chamber of a completely new type based on some system of electionWe were all agreed that it would be absolutely wrong to have a Second Chamber which had been elected.
594 The power of this Chamber ought never to be challenged. This is the elected Chamber and the one that matters. If we must have a Second Chamber let it be a nominated Chamber. We agreed that:The revised constitution of the House of Lords should be such as to secure as far as practicable that a permanent majority is not assured for any one political Party.The present right to attend and vote based solely on heredity should not by itself constitute a qualification for admission to a reformed Second Chamber.Members of the Second Chamber should be styled 'Lords of Parliament' and would be appointed on grounds of personal distinction or public service. They might be drawn either from hereditary Peers, or from commoners who would be created Life Peers.Women should be capable of being appointed Lords of Parliament in like manner as men…. Peers who were not Lords of Parliament should be entitled to stand for election to the House of Commons, and also to vote at elections in the same manner as other citizens…".That would have been a fundamental change in the institution.
If those conclusions had been carried through then, or since that time, the case of Mr. Wedgwood Benn would never have arisen, nor would that of Lord Hailsham. They could have gone to the other place only if they so desired, and even if they so desired they would not have gone if they had not been chosen. Why cannot this reform be carried out now? What happened that it was not carried out then?
Unfortunately, the parties disagreed on one matter and one only, which has since become of no importance whatsoever. The Conservatives wanted a delaying period of fifteen months. The members of the Labour Party, and Viscount Samuel and I, said that twelve months was enough, but the Conservative Party broke away on that question of three months. The rest it accepted in full.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
To get the history absolutely accurate, would not the right hon. and learned Gentleman add that the discussion between the party leaders was not one which committed the parties, and that the Parliamentary Labour Party rejected the proposition which he is describing with such adulation precisely because it thought that it would bolster up the House of Lords with tremendous, increased authority but would still leave a House that could not be justified on any democratic grounds?
§ Mr. Davies
I do not think that the hon. Member is being quite accurate about the proposition being rejected by the Labour Party Undoubtedly Labour Members were divided. Some of them were, as I have said, prepared to do away with a second Chamber altogether. That I can understand. What I cannot understand is that we should maintain a second Chamber, unaltered at the present moment, which commands the respect of no one. How can it? It has 916 members, the bulk of whom the House never sees or knows anything about but who are prepared to come along and out vote the life peers.
The Home Secretary asks why we should object to this small amendment now. I objected to the appointment of life peers for exactly the same reason. Bringing in this small amendment will leave the House in its present form, and how can one defend that in the face of the attack on democracy today? Democracy is fighting for its life today as never before. It is not being accepted in so many countries. It is not accepted in Spain or Portugal. It very nearly disappeared in Germany and Italy. What about the new countries we have established? In Pakistan and Burma and for a short while in the Sudan it has not been accepted. What about Latin America? All this is before we come to consider the Communist countries.
What defence have we for our claim that we are the Mother of Parliaments and the pattern that should be followed by other countries when we have such an institution as this burdened upon us? That is why I am opposing this small amendment It is not good enough in these days. A fundamental change is required—not mere tinkering about in this way. If a Second Chamber is to be retained, then let us make it one that will command the respect not only of this country but of other countries and show that we really have a democratic Parliament.
§ 8.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)
I do not dissent from many of the conclusions reached by the Committee of Privileges, and to define my position clearly at the outset I want to say, of the summary of conclusions listed in paragraph 29, that I agree with 596 the Committee in conclusions (a), (b), (c) (d) and (f), but disagree with conclusion (e), which reads:They do not recommend the introduction of a Bill to enable Mr. Wedgwood Benn to remain a member of the Commons House of Parliament.It will be recalled that that conclusion was the subject of a deadheat on a vote, My hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Sir K. Pickthorn) voted with the four Labour members of the Committee.
§ Sir Kenneth Pickthorn (Carlton)
They voted with me. It was upon my motion that we voted, and my reason for it was not the one which my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) would approve, but the opposite one. I wanted no reference whatever to the possibility of legislation.
§ Mr. Nabarro
I can only draw my conclusions from the printed précis of the conclusion which I quoted. I apologise to my hon. Friend for saying that he supported four Socialist Members. In fact, four Socialist Members supported him, though their arguments may have been, and evidently were, entirely different in view from his interpretation of the position.
My position on this matter has for many years been patently clear. I worked with Mr. Wedgwood Benn on this problem from the days before the Life Peerages Bill was brought to this House. I then told him, and said publicly on radio, on television and elsewhere, that I wanted three simple reforms. They were all of substantial moment, but simple in character.
The first was that a peer of the realm should have a vote at Parliamentary elections. The second was that a peer of the realm might offer himself for election to the Commons House of Parliament. The third was that in the event of his election to the Commons House of Parliament he should renounce his peerage for himself, his successors and heirs. In other words, that peerage should be extinguished.
Though I was largely in agreement with the Peerage (Renunciation) Bill, a Private Member's Measure which is still before the House and which was introduced by the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, North-East (Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas), and I was the first Conservative sponsor of that Bill and my name 597 still appears on it, during the Committee stage I would have sought to amend it, had it reached Committee upstairs, so that any renunciation of a peerage would have had to be a complete renunciation and there could not have been an arrangement whereby there was a sort of family battledore and shuttlecock, with father renouncing the peerage for his lifetime and seeking election to the House of Commons and becoming a Member, and then later, on father's death, his son, with no interest in party politics, taking the oath and sitting in the Upper House. I would find a position of that kind quite intolerable and in supporting the Bill I would have sought to make that important Amendment to it.
In the course of his interesting speech, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary referred to the year 1626, and the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) defined the position of the peerage by saying that it was settled by custom and that there was no statute law. In fact, the origins of the defined position of the peerage in the case quoted by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in the matter of the Earldom of Oxford was when Mr. Justice Dodridge, in 1626, said that a peerage…is a personal dignity annexed to the posterity and fixed in the blood.I have a certain amount of respect for the hereditary system, but it is limited. When I read drivel of that kind, written 340 years ago, it substantially weakens such little respect as I have for the hereditary system.
Would anybody dare to suggest that my blood is less luscious, less rich, less red, coursing through my veins as it is at his moment—[HON. MEMBERS: "It is blue."] On the contrary, it is very un-blue. Here appears the contradistinction between my noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) and myself. Am I, in 1961, really to subscribe to a principle that my noble Friend's title rests upon the quality of his blood and that he will succeed to the Earldom of Sandwich on account of an antiquated decision given by a long-dead judge? That kind of thing is drivel and is manifest nonsense, which I absolutely reject.
§ Mr. David Price (Eastleigh)
I support my hon. Friend, but will he point out that that learned judge gave his opinion 598 in the reign of Charles I, at a time when the divine right of kings was the popular doctrine of sovereigns, which ended up on the scaffold and the block and when the decision was taken by this House in a somewhat unconstitutional way not to support the divine right of kings?
§ Mr. Nabarro
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for his support and succour. We are evidently at one on this matter.
I am not ashamed to say that there is a substantial number of my hon. Friends, approximately of my generation and who have been here for up to fifteen years, who take the view which I am now endeavouring to express, about hereditary matters, though subscribing in part measure to the retention of hereditary peers in the Upper House.
§ Mr. Peter Kirk (Gravesend)
My hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) refers to the retention of the hereditary principle. I am the elder son of a peer and the peerage goes back to 1542. My father is dead and I did not succeed to the peerage because it was one of the original peerages, attached to the office and not to the man. All peerages in the Middle Ages were so attached. The hereditary principle is a modern abortion which was introduced in the sixteenth century—"abortion" is perhaps an unfortunate word in this connection. My hon. Friend should not say that the hereditary principle is annealed into the House of Lords.
§ Mr. Nabarro
I agree. That emphasises some of the incongruities of the peerage. It is evidently the fact—I learn this from page 6 of the Minutes of Evidence of the Committee of Privileges—that peerages were regularly surrendered prior to 1678.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition spoke of five of my hon. Friends being affected by the present arrangements and eventually, on the death of their fathers, having to go to the House of Lords. But the number is considerably larger than that. The unfortunate aspect of the case of Wedgwood Benn is that he is the second son and, due to the death in action in the last war of the elder brother, who would have succeeded to the peerage, it devolved upon the second son.
599 Taking into account both first and second sons who might possibly accede to the peerage, there are in this House my noble Friend the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel), my noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South, my noble Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Viscount Lambton), my right hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Ormsby-Gore), my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Woodhouse), my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde (Mr. Stanley), my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith), who is Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, my noble Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North (The Earl of Dalkeith), my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), and there are others.
Public support is very widespread for the views so cogently expressed by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition this afternoon. He made a magnificent speech—magnificent in that it was enthralling in its application to constitutional problems as ordinary men and women understand them today. There is no doubt that the bulk of public opinion is with the views expressed by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and the views that I am endeavouring, in a much more humble fashion, to express from these benches.
I want to quote this evening only two of these expressions of opinion. I regard the Daily Telegraph as the principal Conservative daily newspaper. In its leading article this morning it said, under the heading "Conscript Peer":It would be a pity in such matters to take any stand that smacks of formalism, and it was quite unnecessary that the Committee, by the smallest possible majority, should have advised against legislation. The argument seems to be that this case should not be dealt with apart from a general reform of the Second Chamber.I commend the following words to my right hon. Friend—Surely that excuse is a trifle hoary. It is almost exactly half a century since the Prime Minister of the day"—a Liberal Prime Minister—proclaimed that reform of the House of Lords 'brooked no delay'. Now it seems to brook nothing except delay. There has recently been a bit of tinkering about with its composition. One of the last acts of Labour in office was further to curtail its powers.600 It goes on with these significant words, in the context of the Wedgwood Benn case:But is there any reason why anybody should be compelled to accept such membership, if he does not want to? Why should an heir be able to discard any part of an inheritance except a peerage? Many may think it strange to prefer the electoral dust to the undisturbable dignity described by Lord Morrison…. But provided the choice is confined to the individual, there is no reason why it should not be free. The case has already received so much publicity"—and, as a Conservative, this rather makes me squirm—that it is surely superfluous to allow the person concerned"—Mr. Wedgwood Benn—to plead at the Bar of the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Nabarro
My hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir P. Agnew) says "Hear, hear" too soon. The leading article continues:But this is superfluous only because the arguments in his favour are already crystal clear.I hope that my hon. Friend will say "Hear, hear" again.
I now pass to an equally authoritative journal, which generally commands the attention of hon. Members in all parts of the House, namely, the Economist. On 8th April it wrote these words, under the heading "Common Peers":The Commons will be well advised, when it debates the privileges committee's report on the Wedgwood Benn petition next Thursday, to resist the temptation to indulge in a general splurge on reforming the House of Lords. Everybody has his pet scheme for that, but this is not the time to discuss it. The immediate reform that is needed is in the Commons, and it is a minor one at that. The issue affects the political career of less than half-a-dozen individuals at any time, and it should be treated on its own merits.The Economist shows less than its usual accuracy in saying that less than half a dozen individuals are affected, but the purpose is there.
My right hon. Friend talked about "pulling bricks out of the structure of the Constitution". Also, he talked about "tinkering with it". The measures of reform proposed in the Peerage (Renunciation) Bill, reinforced this afternoon by the Motion in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, are at least as substantial as the life peerage 601 innovation. Neither would this proposal weaken the House of Lords by denying a passage upstairs to many of the most illustrious Members of this House. Surely it would do the opposite. Surely what would happen is that reinforcement of the House of Lords would come inevitably from additional life peerages—and that brings me to the critical point of the reform of the Upper House.
I am now placed in the happy position of having at least something slightly more than intangible to probe my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary upon during the months ahead. He has taken a slow and faltering step in the direction of my hon. Friends and myself in suggesting that at some time in the future we might have an inter-Parliamentary committee to go into the question of the reform of the House of Lords. [Interruption.] Before my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South snorts too loudly—I am sorry; I apologise to him. He was evidently thinking.
§ Sir P. Agnew
What my hon. Friend described as a snort was the result of my recollection of the long hours spent by Members on both sides of the House in just such a Committee, which, unfortunately, foundered in its results because of a failure to achieve reforms with both sides of the House agreeing to them. I am not very optimistic that such a Committee would produce fruitful results just now.
§ Mr. Nabarro
My hon. Friend has not noted the progress in political and Parliamentary thought during the last thirteen years. He was missing from this House between 1950 and 1955. I welcome him back because he is my own Member of Parliament, and I live in his constituency. But, obviously, he has failed to observe that we have made progress in the matter of thought upon reform of the House of Lords, as witness life peerages.
I say to the House this evening that I do not want the total abolition of the hereditary system. The kind of second Chamber I have in mind would endeavour to be as representative as possible on a complementary basis and not competitive with the House of Commons. It would comprise approximately 80 hereditary peers elected in 602 each Parliament by an electoral college of 900 peers, but only 80 hereditary peers would take the oath and sit there. There would be another 80 life peers and approximately 40 bishops, judges and lords of the defence forces. There would be 40 university representatives. A total of 240 legislators in the upper House. No two men would ever agree on the exact composition, but a committee of the kind I am describing could surely achieve the highest common factor of agreement. It is that kind of representative assembly which should be aimed for, and in the months ahead I shall press my right hon. Friend for this inter-Parliamentary committee of inquiry.
The final point I wish to deal with is a practical one. It concerns the position into which the Conservative Party now puts itself by a refusal to take any action upon the Wedgwood Benn case. There is no doubt that Mr. Wedgwood Benn, Lord Stansgate—I ride both horses, as the B.B.C. has done ever since this controversy began by referring to him as Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn, Lord Stansgate—will offer himself as the Labour Party candidate for the Bristol, South-East constituency—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad to note the "Hear, hears" from my hon. Friends. I hope to call on many of them to accompany me to Bristol, South-East in support of Mr. Wedgwood Benn's case, to remain in the Commons. This is a constitutional issue of great importance. I hope that the Conservative Party will not put up a candidate against Mr. Wedgwood Benn. The Liberal Party has already said that it will not.
I know that my right hon. Friend thinks that this is really a bit much, but, of course, it is a bit much. The Liberal Party has already said it is not going to put up a candidate against Mr. Wedgwood Benn and I hope that my party will not put up a candidate. I hope that Mr. Wedgwood Benn is either returned with a huge majority over a splinter candidate—I am told that there may be an independent candidate—or that he is returned unopposed. He will come to the Bar of the House and the Government will be in the ridiculous position of being compelled to take steps to disqualify him.
§ Mr. Nabarro
I should not want to hear him because he would have been heard quite adequately in the Bristol, South-East by-election.
If he is returned again as the Member, what is then the position of the Government? Are they to have him disqualified? And suppose he offers himself again, are we to go on for months on end with no Parliamentary representative in Bristol, South-East? Is this constituency to be permanently disfranchised? All this arises because of the refusal by some hon. Members of my party to recognise that in certain circumstances a Member of this House, if he succeeds to a peerage, may renounce the privilege of sitting in the Upper House with the safeguards I have described.
I say to the Home Secretary, who enjoys the unique position of being Chairman of the Conservative Party, that not only is disrepute being brought upon the House of Commons by the inevitable course of events in the next few months, but opprobrium is being brought on the Conservative Party, to which I belong, and that is nearly as serious, in my opinion. I represent the young and progressive element in the Conservative Party. I believe the Amendment set down today on the Order Paper by the Leader of the Opposition is the closest to my own desires in this matter. I shall, therefore, vote for that Amendment in the Lobby tonight and urge the other Members of the younger and progressive element in the Conservative Party to vote with me.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Sir Lynn Ungoed-Thomas (Leicester, North-East)
I shall be brief. I merely want to deal with the Peerage (Renunciation) Bill, to which my name is attached. I entirely agree with what the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) said about that Bill.
Obviously, that Bill is open to grave objections. It is open to the grave objection that it increases the privilege of a 604 peer by enabling him to choose between the Lords and the Commons. To that extent it is extremely distasteful to me and, I am sure, to practically everybody who put his name to the Bill. Nevertheless, we were at that time faced with a Parliamentary situation in which we did not know what the parties would do. We were concerned with the gross injustice which prevails when a person succeeds to a peerage and, although he is a Member of this House, must vacate his seat here.
The best course, it seemed to us, was to have that Bill so as to get the maximum of inter-party co-operation to deal with the matter, but it is open to that grave objection. Now, I am very glad to think, it has been superseded by events. Those events are that the party opposite, under the leadership and direction of the Leader of the House, has decided to make this a party issue. Once he had decided to make this a party issue, it is seen as a deep matter of constitutional principle. The deep matter of constitutional principle involved is the one stated by the right hon. Gentleman himself, that is, the hereditary principle.
I was delighted to hear the Leader of the Opposition express his own personal view that he was in favour not of mere renunciation for life, but of total renunciation of the peerage. So am I, most strongly in favour of total renunciation. I go further than that. It seems that once this has been made a party issue and, unlike the Peerage (Renunciation) Bill, not based on inter-party co-operation, the only conceivable course for this party to take is one which demands total renunciation of the peerage if the peer is to sit in the House of Commons.
I cannot understand why a member of the peerage should not be as free to renounce a peerage as his ancestor was to accept it. All this talk which the hon. Member for Kidderminster has referred to about nobility of the blood and the rest of it consists of phrases which have been used to build up the hereditary principle, to underpin and entrench it in our system. It is a sort of mystique, a complete mumbo-jumbo utterly unworthy of consideration by an adult people.
Opposition to the Amendment moved by my right hon. Friend is based upon an attempt to preserve the hereditary 605 principle in our society. We have had this struggle going on in this country throughout the years over attempts in various forms to establish family dynasties. It has been done by the system of entailed estates. The country has been dealing with this generation after generation by ensuring that estates can be disentailed despite the efforts of family lawyers to keep them entailed and by ensuring that land shall not be inalienable. The law has prevented the accumulation of money over a period at the direction of a testator. This is part of the age-old struggle between the family dynasty and the common interest which has manifested itself many times.
One of its forms we are dealing with today. I trust that this party will have no hesitation whatever in adopting the hereditary principle as an issue on which we shall fight, as suggested by the Leader of the Opposition. If the hereditary principle in the House of Lords were abolished, I should unhesitatingly welcome it. Constitutionally, the strength of the House of Lords lies in its weakness. Unfortunately, I do not think that such a provision as this would weaken the House of Lords. The strength of that House depends not upon the hereditary principle, but upon ignoring the hereditary principle and relying to a great extent upon life peers to rejuvenate it, and, in the old days, the introduction of the law lords.
The right hon. Gentleman said that the Constitution and the House of Lords worked. It works effectively and efficiently only by recruiting people who have ability, which is not just an hereditary qualification. Those who go to another place on the hereditary principle may have something to contribute, but the life peers certainly have something to contribute. To suggest in this year of grace that heredity is a qualification for taking part in the Legislature of this country, depending upon the chance whether an ancestor managed to grab a bit of land in the Reformation, is utter nonsense. The country is sufficiently adult to make up its mind about these things, to obtain the kind of constitution which it wants and to operate it in the way in which it wants to see it operated.
I do not wish the House of Lords to be strengthened. I believe in basing the country's Constitution firmly upon representative 606 government and democracy, and, personally, I regret that while we are in opposition we are taking part in the selection of life peers, as I understand has been the case. I recognise that when one is in the Government one needs to work the Constitution and has to have people in the House of Lords.
Now that this matter has become a matter of party politics, and of the hereditary principle, I am confident of the decision which the country will take. I welcome what the hon. Member for Kidderminster said about his attitude to the election in South-Ease Bristol. I have not the slightest doubt what the country's decision will be, and I welcome this matter having been made a party matter and a constitutional issue for the country to decide.
§ 9.3 p.m.
§ Sir Charles Mott-Radclyffe (Windsor)
I have listened to all the speakers in the debate, and by far the most realistic speech from the Opposition benches was that of the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), because at least he was clear about what he wanted and why he wanted it. He did not seek to hide some of his intentions, as certain hon. Members of the Labour Party have tried to hide as to what they want to do about a Second Chamber.
I must take up the right hon. and learned Gentleman on one point. He said that he did not think that the House of Lords enjoyed any respect. I cannot accept that view from him about the House of Lords. It may be an anachronism and difficult to explain logically, but the fact remains that as a Second Chamber it not only works extremely well but is the envy of many other second Chambers in other parts of the world.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition that personalities do not enter into this question at all. All of us, irrespective of the side of the House on which we sit, have the greatest admiration, and for my part I have the greatest envy, of the abilities of Mr. Wedgwood Benn. Whether we agree with his views or not is neither here nor there. We have a great admiration for him and fully sympathise with him in his difficulty. Whatever view we 607 take on this issue, personalities do not arise.
I do not think that the Amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition is quite as simple, nor would its effects be quite as narrow, as he tried to show. In the first place, he was quite honest and said that there was no question of legislation for the one individual case of Mr. Wedgwood Bann, and we all agree about that. Any legislation—and this was another point he made—would be bound to be retrospective, and would have to deal with the case of Mr. Wedgwood Benn and all others who are similarly placed. That would seem to me to have far wider repercussions and create a far more numerous set of problems than might at first sight appear.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman says that he envisaged certain noble Lords sitting on the Conservative benches in another place coming back here. I, for one, would welcome the return here of Lord Hailsham and Lord Salisbury, although I think that their departure from another place would be a disaster, because their presence and attendance there has enriched and enlivened the debates and the standards of the Upper House. If the party opposite will forgive me saying so, I can think of certain other noble Lords, former Members of the Labour Party, who if they returned here might not return in the same colours and might well not sit on the same benches which they formerly adorned. It may be that quite an interesting procession would come back from another place in that way if such retrospective legislation were to be introduced.
Nor do I think that any such legislation could conceivably be confined purely to the eldest sons of peers, whether in this House or not, who do not wish to succeed to the peerage on the death of their fathers. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition rightly mentioned certain other anomalies, and I think that any legislation would be bound to deal with the case of those Scottish peers who have no seats in the House of Lords, and it would be equally logical that it should deal with the few peeresses in their own right who also have no seat in another place. The idea that this is quite a small and simple Amendment and a tidy little 608 piece of new legislation ostensibly to deal with Mr. Wedgwood Benn and a few others, which would not affect the issue very much either way, I do not believe to be true.
One other aspect which does not seem to me to have been considered in this debate, may at first sight seem a little strange. Supposing the Opposition Amendment were to be carried and legislation of the kind envisaged were to be introduced. It would, in fact, be conferring a new privilege upon members of another place if they wanted to renounce their peerages and stand for election in this House, for they would be allowed to choose in which House they would sit. At first sight, this proposal may seem strange, but on closer inspection, those of us who have been in this place for some time understand that whereas the party opposite has always in theory been against any privileges, and is always anxious to whittle down such privileges as do exist, in practice Socialists are only too glad to clamour for more privileges so long as those privileges affect themselves.
I thought that the right hon. and learned Gentleman trod rather more warily than did my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster, when it came to the question of the renunciation of a peerage. He at least gave his personal view—I do not know whether it commands the support of everybody on the benches opposite—that extinction of a peerage must not only be by the holder but also for his successors. I think that any other suggestions would produce a quite disastrous situation. We cannot have successive generations opting in and opting out of a whole series of hereditary obligations, and I cannot think of anything more damaging to the reputation of the Lords and to our Constitution than that that should happen. At least, I am glad that the right hon. and learned Gentleman, albeit rather warily, made the matter clear in that respect.
Whatever hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite may say, and whatever my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster and his hon. Friends may think, this is not as small an issue as they are suggesting. It is not a small piece of legislation for which they are asking. It is not a case of a small Amendment to the Government Motion on the Order 609 Paper, because it would in fact constitute a very substantial change in the composition of the House of Lords. If that is what those who support the Amendment want, they must say so. They should not try to create the impression to hon. Members and to the public that it is quite a small inocuous reform which is long overdue and would not in any substantial degree alter the composition of another place. That is not so.
I do not believe that this is the way to reform the House of Lords. If there is to be any further reform of the House of Lords, a great deal of very careful thought and study should be devoted to it and more expert advice obtained from constitutional lawyers and historians before any such proposal as that which the party opposite suggest in rather a piecemeal fashion is considered.
§ Mr. Gilbert Longden (Hertfordshire, South-West)
As one of the supporters of the Bill now before the House, I remind my hon. Friend that its object is not to reform the House of Lords. Its object is to give freedom to a certain number of individuals who are under a legal disability to choose for themselves which House they should sit in. The major purpose of the Bill is not to reform the House of Lords.
§ Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe
If my hon. Friend will forgive me for saying so, although that may be his intention—I quite understand that that is what he thinks the effect of the Bill will be—in fact the total effect of any such Amendment as they propose and any such legislation as the Opposition suggest and which a few of my hon. Friends are prepared to support would not be as limited and as simple as my hon. Friend suggests. That is the very point I am trying to make. Its effect would be far wider, far more important and would have far greater repercussions than a great many supporters of the Amendment suppose.
I should not be in favour of any such alteration in the composition of the House of Lords or any such legislation as is proposed by the Party opposite and supported by some of my hon. Friends, for this reason. I have an open mind about what form the House of Lords should take, but I should not be prepared to accept any alteration in the membership of the House of Lords 610 which in the first place weakens the second Chamber, as I think this would, and which in the second place tends to dry up the flow of those who go from this House to another place taking with them the experience of years of service in this House. My hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) read a long list of those who were affected. It is not true to say that only a handful are affected. Thirdly, I do not wish to see any alteration in the membership of the House of Lords carried out in such a way as to discourage younger hereditary peers from taking part in the deliberations in another place on the off-chance that they might at some future date want to stand for election to the House of Commons.
For these three reasons, I do not propose to support the Opposition Amendment. I believe that to hon. Members opposite it is something of a smoke screen. They are all agreed that they do not like the second Chamber, but they are not all agreed about why they do not like it. They are in further disagreement as to the way in which they wish to amend it. So they seize on this opportunity, which is convenient for them, to table an ill-thought out Amendment, the consequences of which have not been carefully considered. It would be much better for them to come out into the open with a more definite and carefully balanced proposal for reform in another place than the one they have put forward in the Amendment.
§ 9.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Dingle Foot (Ipswich)
The hon. Member for Windsor (Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe) was concerned lest we dry up the flow of those who go from this place to the House of Lords. I believe that that danger is, in any case, very remote. That is not the issue with which we are concerned. We are concerned with those who go unwillingly from this place to the House of Lords.
Before I make one or two observations on the Report of the Committee of Privileges, I should like, as a back bencher, to record my protest against the action of the Government in putting on the Whips in a debate of this description. In this debate the Government are taking their stand on tradition. It is a great pity that they do not have more respect for the traditions of this House.
611 I myself am no friend of party discipline. I think that it is very frequently overdone. I hoped, at the beginning of this Parliament, that we would see a considerable loosening of party discipline on both sides, but, apparently, I am doomed to be disappointed. But even if we accept all the prevailing conventions under which the business of this House is carried on, I would submit that the action of the Government tonight in putting on the Whips is quite indefensible.
I am a fairly elderly Member of this House; I have not been here for a continuous period, but I have been here for a total period of over seventeen years. As far as I can recollect, both before the war and since there has been no occasion when a matter affecting the position of a Member of this House, or affecting the privileges of this House, or affecting the composition of the House, has not been decided by a free vote. The Committee of Privileges was very much concerned with ancient precedents. I suggest that the Government are setting a new and a very ominous precedent tonight.
I have rather a special interest in the Report, because I was one of those who had the temerity to give evidence before the Committee. It rejected my view. I can only say that I am quite unrepentent, because I believe that anyone who examines the material available—that is, not just the Report itself but the evidence that was before the Committee—must come to the conclusion that the law is not nearly so certain as the text of this Report makes out.
We are concerned this evening with the hereditary principle. I share with my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) a sort of hereditary right to avail myself of the sayings of Oliver Cromwell. It was Oliver Cromwell who, on one occasion, described the laws of England as a "tortuous and ungodly jumble". A good many branches of the law have been tidied up since then, but there has been no tidying up whatsoever of the law governing peerage; it remains a jumble as tortuous and ungodly as it is possible to find.
I do not intend to ask the House, at this hour, to go over the ground that was covered by the Committee, nor shall 612 I repeat the arguments that I tried to put forward, but the House will have seen that there were two principal issues which the Committee was invited to decide. The first was whether the disqualification for serving in the House of Commons arises from the ennoblement—that is to say, the inheritance of the peerage—or whether it arises from the receipt of the Writ to attend the House of Lords. The second issue was whether a peer can surrender his peerage.
On each of those issues the Committee came down in favour of what I might call the accepted view but, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has pointed out, no one ought to speak as if we were here dealing with a great body of established law built up over a long period of time. These issues upon which the Committee has pronounced have been very rarely considered in the past.
Let us take the first question—whether the disqualification arises from the peerage or from the summons. That has been considered only twice in the history of the House of Commons and, on each occasion, very widely differing views were expressed. In 1760, Mr. Speaker Onslow is reported in Hatsell's Precedents as saying in a conversation—not in this Chamber, but in conversation with a particular Member—that the disqualification arose from the day when a Member of the House of Commons inherited the peerage.
On the other hand, there is the contrary view recorded by Mr. Hatsell himself, who is generally regarded as a not inconsiderable authority. He said:It would seem that until the King, by Writ of Summons, calls him up to the House of Peers, he cannot lose his right to sit in the House of Commons.The matter was considered a second time in 1895. On that occasion, there were conflicting views. The Clerk of the House, Sir Reginald Palgrave, gave evidence in one sense. It was his view that disqualification did not arise until the summons was actually received. The Deputy Clerk of the House, Mr. Milman, gave an opinion in the contrary sense, and the Committee was divided.
Turning to the second question, whether a peerage can in any circumstances be surrendered, the Committee of Privileges of the House of Lords, in 1907, held that it could not. Yet, as a 613 matter of historical fact, before the reign of Charles I peerages were surrendered, and it never occurred to anyone, over a period of centuries, that it could not be done.
If hon. Members will turn to the evidence at page 35 of the Report from the Committee of Privileges, they will find the terms of the surrender by Roger le Bygod, in 1302. The surrender was accepted and attested by the King, by the Lord Chancellor, by some of the judges, and by officials of the Royal Household. It did not occur to anyone at that time that it was unlawful. It did not occur either to the King or to his judges that it could not be done. Yet, 603 years later, the Committee of Privileges of the House of Lords held that they were wrong. Whether or not the Norfolk decision in 1907 was good law, I suggest to the House that that is a sheer absurdity.
The fact is that peerages were freely surrendered in earlier centuries. In 1641, for reasons which we can only surmise, the House of Lords passed its Resolution saying that no peer could drown or extinguish his dignity. It may have been, as was suggested by Mr. Squibb in his evidence, that that arose, from the case which the Lords were then considering, but, for all we know, it may have been due to political reasons. After all, that was right at the beginning of the Long Parliament. It was at a time when there was acute conflict between Parliament and the Crown, at a time when Members of the other place may very well have felt that it was necessary for them to protect their order against Royal aggression. None of us can say, but that may very well have been the reason. However, that may be, the Resolution which was passed certainly altered what had hitherto been accepted as the law.
We are not dealing here with a body of case law established by judicial decisions. We are dealing simply, on any view, with certain assumptions based upon extremely doubtful historical foundations. Yet, apparently, the view of the Government is that these assumptions must be treated almost as if they are Holy Writ. The Government might take as their motto the well known lines of Hilaire Belloc: 614Oh, let us never, never, doubtWhat nobody is sure about.The question before the House is: What ought we to do? The Government, or, rather, the majority of the Committee of Privileges, had the opportunity afforded to them by the proposal put forward by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) for a conference between the two Houses. That was rejected then and it has been rejected today by the Home Secretary, although I was quite at a loss to know why. Now they reject the proposal for legislation. If their views prevail, we have to go on for an indefinite time bound by these ancient, albeit extremely uncertain, precedents. What Mr. Speaker Onslow said in a conversation with an individual Member in 1760, or what the House of Lords passed in 1641 in circumstances which we do not know, must govern the question as to who may remain a Member of this House.
Speaking for myself, I am all in favour of retaining our historical pageantry. I hope that we shall always preserve the form of the Coronation, Her Majesty's drive in her coach to open Parliament, the traditional procession, led by yourself, Mr. Speaker, to the Bar of the House of Lords, and that we shall continue, at any rate as long as I am here, to slam the door in the face of Black Rod. But that is a quite different thing from being completely in thrall to the past. It is said that we must not break with tradition. We have had a plea put forward, particularly by the hon. Member for Guild-ford (Sir R. Nugent), in favour of preserving our ancient customs.
As I listened to some of the speeches made by hon. Members opposite, I could not help but be reminded of lines which were written by Monckton Milnes, about a century ago, which were supposed to be addressed by a felon of rather Tory views standing in the dock to the judge about to sentence him. If I remember rightly, they went something like this:Oh flog me at the old cart's tail,I surely should enjoyThat fine old English punishmentI witnessed when a boy.I would not heed the mocking crowdsI would not feel the pain,If one old English custom could be brought back again.615 We are not concerned tonight, whatever sympathies we may have, with the fate of one particular individual. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary said—and I agree with him—that we are dealing with a fundamental issue, namely, whether the hereditary principle should continue to have a place in the Constitution of Parliament. Speaking for myself, I believe that it is a source both of weakness and of danger, particularly as far as this House is concerned, because it means that at any moment we in this House may, by the sheer accident of death, be deprived of services which we cannot afford to spare.
It has been said, although not in this debate, that, if there had been one or two unfortunate deaths in the Marlborough family earlier in this century, the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) might have been exiled to the other place, with disastrous consequences in the history of this country. There have been one or two references tonight to my friend Lord Hailsham. I have known him since we were undergraduates together, about thirty-five years ago. I have disagreed with him on the great majority of political issues during that time, but, nevertheless, I believe that this House is the poorer for his absence and I would have no regrets about his return, although I do not know what the Government's view would be. If the Government have their way, we will lose the services of Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn. Speaking with the greatest respect to hon. Members on both sides, may I ask whether we are quite so overwhelmingly rich in Parliamentary talent that it does not matter whom we lose?
Here, I wish to express an entirely personal view. I believe that there is another reason why we should get rid of the hereditary system. I agree with the view expressed by one hon. Member opposite—I think that it was the hon. Member for Guildford. I do not believe in unicameral government. I believe that there is a case for a second Chamber. I do not want to see it, as some people do, simply as a Chamber of glorified draftsmen employed to tidy up the odds and ends of legislation that we send to it. It has, or should have, a much more important rôle to play than that.
616 The great problem in this country, as in every other country, is how to exercise effective control over the Executive. That is something that we attempt to do, and in a measure achieve, in this House. In this House, however, we are under certain disabilities. We are the slaves of our own procedure and we are still more the slaves of the timetable. Next week, we shall have the Budget. It will be followed by the Finance Bill and we shall spend days and weeks of Parliamentary time debating the minutiæ of the Finance Bill at a time when many other far more important topics will go undiscussed in this House.
In matters of that kind, a second Chamber is at a great advantage. It is not bound by the same rules of procedure, it does not have to get through the same volume of business. I believe, therefore, that a useful rôle could be played by a second Chamber if we had it in a really effective form. But we do not have it at present, nor shall we have it as long as the hereditary system continues.
§ 9.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Humphry Berkeley (Lancaster)
Having voted against the Government in the Division earlier this evening, I am grateful for an opportunity briefly to explain my position. I am no lawyer and entirely accept the legal arguments which have been put forward both by my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General and by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary concerning the law as it stands; that is to say, I am satisfied that the act of renunciation which Mr. Wedgwood Benn purported to make was an act without validity and, consequently, is null and void.
I am equally satisfied that it would be quite wrong for this House to sponsor legislation to deal with this individual case. I do not believe that any hon. Member, or even Mr. Wedgwood Benn, would wish that to happen. Equally, however, it is right for us to note the fact when individual cases which may be hard cases expose conditions which are inherently absurd. I believe that the situation which has been exposed by the inheritance by Mr. Wedgwood Benn of his peerage has shown up a situation which is absurd and which we cannot tolerate in 1961.
617 I found the speech of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary extremely disappointing. On the one hand, he said that the proposal contained in the Labour Party's Amendment was tinkering with the Constitution. On the other hand, he agreed that there might be a case for a more comprehensive reform of the House of Lords in the future. He then went on to say that he was in no position to commit the Government to any kind of action. It is precisely because I and a number of my hon. Friends find that statement totally unsatisfactory that we propose to vote against the Government again in the Division on the Opposition Amendment.
I find the Amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Royton (Mr. Leavey) and my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Sir J. Barlow) a more acceptable one than the Opposition Amendment, but as I imagine we shall not have an opportunity of voting upon it, it will not be possible for us to record our preference.
What is obvious is that the Government have no intention of doing anything in the way of introducing House of Lords reforms unless they are convinced that there is a large section of opinion in this House, on both sides, and also a large majority of people in the country who feel that the situation is anomalous and in need of reform.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary attacked the Opposition Amendment on the ground that this introduced a breach of the hereditary principle. I do not think that this could have been quite what he meant, because I do not believe that a provision by which one can renounce a peerage introduces a breach of the hereditary principle any more than the act of abdication introduces the end of an hereditary monarchy. What I think, my right hon. Friend meant to say was that the provision for a renunciation of peerages would bring about an alteration in the hereditary composition of the Upper Chamber.
Many other speakers in the debate have said that it is most extraordinary for the Government to take this absolute line on the hereditary composition of the House of Lords when they themselves only three years ago introduced a Measure which in ten or fifteen years' time will mean 618 that the working majority of the members of the House of Lords are anyway not going to be hereditary peers. They have made that profound change, and I suggest a constitutional change quite as profound as allowing India to remain in the Commonwealth as a republic.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
Is it not a fact that 1881 was the first year in which hereditary peers had a majority in the House of Lords?
§ Mr. Berkeley
I confess that I should be somewhat surprised if that were the case.
The Home Secretary tried to indicate to us that by the introduction of a life peerage what the Government were really doing was reverting to an age-long custom in the past. It is certainly my impression that until the Life Peerages Act, 1958, no life peerages have been created, apart from that of Lord Wensleydale, for 300 years, and although life peerages were given to certain ladies of ill-repute they at no time made claim to sit in Parliament even in their most adventurous moods.
If this principle of heredity is a principle of such absolute importance it would be interesting to know why it was that when the Government in their wisdom decided to introduce peeresses into the House of Lords they did not carry the hereditary principle on and make provision for hereditary peeresses to take their seats with life peeresses. The answer is, of course, that the Government have not got this absolute view. They breached the hereditary principle quite readily three years ago. They neglected an opportunity to implement the hereditary principle, by not bringing peeresses in their own rights into the other place, and now, rightly or wrongly, they have decided that this relatively small Measure, to use the words of one of my hon. Friends, is something they cannot tolerate and therefore they tell us that the whole thing is bound up with the hereditary principle.
§ Mr. J. A. Leavey (Heywood and Royton)
Since my hon. Friend is making a point as to the significance of this proposal, which some of us support, would he find reinforcement in the fact that there have been some 54 new creations from this House since the war, 619 while only six hon. Members have been translated to the House of Lords by inheritance? This would therefore be a measure of only very limited significance.
§ Mr. Berkeley
My hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe) talked about Scottish peers and other factors which make the situation immensely complicated. A certain amount of tidying up is necessary, because, however unsatisfactory the provisions for the United Kingdom peers may be, we all know that the situation is pure "Alice-in-Wonderland" with Scottish peers and peeresses, and there may well have to be a certain amount of tidying up to be done. But I would like strongly to reinforce the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro). In this specific case, I believe that over the next few months the Government will look increasingly ridiculous.
§ Mr. Berkeley
That in itself is something which, perhaps, some of us could take with equanimity. What is more dangerous is that the absurdity of this situation will be increasingly recognised in the country, and that this will bring discredit upon the House of Lords itself as an institution.
§ Mr. Berkeley
It has not been my habit to give gratuitous advice to the Leader of the House and the Chief Patronage Secretary, but I am bound to say that I regard the putting on of the Whips on both the Motions considered today to have been a grave error of judgment. I further believe that it is just this sort of thing which is bringing the House of Commons into disrepute.
Why should any of us be surprised if, in meeting our constituents, we find that certain of them are rather cynical about our independence when, even in a matter of this kind, which cannot possibly effect 620 Government policy, the Whips are on? I regard this as being a most deplorable decision. Most of us could make up our minds without advice from the Whips, however well meaning it may be.
§ 9.43 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)
I have been wishing that we had been able to begin this discussion, which has been so interesting and illuminating, rather earlier than we did. Certainly it has been well worth while, and I hope that I shall not embarrass the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mr. Berkeley) by saying that I found practically nothing to disagree with in his speech and that I admired the lively way in which he presented a case which is, I think, substantially common to him and to me.
I agree with him in one important respect. I do not think that the Amendment either relates particularly to Mr. Benn or raises the general question of the reform of the House of Lords. I suspect that those who say that it does are looking for an excuse rather than for a reason to oppose what is really a pretty obvious and sensible Amendment.
I want to turn now to what the Committee of Privileges had to consider. We had to consider, of course, the law in the rather peculiar sense that there is a law about these matters. I would not dispute that there is a law, and, for the purpose of the Amendment at any rate, would not take time in discussing exactly what holes can be made in the certainty of that law. I think that there are some.
The Labour Members of the Committee voted against the Report as a whole, and we must not be taken to have admitted this, that or the other because we did not raise specific amendments at every possible point, but I do not think that the matter raised by this Amendment is a question of law at all.
The position seems to be that at present there is no reasonable doubt but that a peer cannot sit in this House and that a renunciation has no effect. The questions we have to consider are: Is that in itself right? If it is not right, is there any reason why a change should not be made now? And if a change is not made now, what is the likelihood of the matter being put right in the early future?
621 At the same time, the other place, as we know it, is an institution which, like other institutions, changes with the times. The introduction of life peers, which, incidentally, was by the Appellate Jurisdiction Act, 1876, and was only extended by the further introduction of life peers a year or two ago, has made, if it were needed to make it, a vital change in the character of what was originally a purely hereditary institution.
But, after all, we do not need to rest on that. We know ourselves that the substantial change in the character of the other place during recent years has been not so much a change in its composition as a change in its actual functions and in its relation to this House. The present House of Lords is a subsidiary House and this, as the Home Secretary said, is the dominant House of Parliament and always must be. If we are told that we must not interfere with the hereditary principle, I simply feel that I do not know what the hereditary principle is. I know the hereditary practice and I think little of it, but I am entirely at a loss to ascertain what the principle is supposed to be.
When one listens to some of the arguments put forward—not many of them today—in defence of leaving everything as it is, I feel exactly like the cartoon in Simplicissimus when the Hitler régime was getting under way. Simplicissimus produced an excellent cartoon the caption to which was, "To appreciate the Third Reich properly it is necessary to stand on one's head" and one was shown a row of people standing on their heads. I sometimes feel that properly to appreciate the British constitution in relation to the House of Lords it is necessary to stand on one's head and revert to the time of Mr. Justice Doderidge. One wonders whether if one cut oneself shaving before and after the conferment of a peerage upon one the blood which came out would be any different.
These notions still hang about. They affect the minds of people and they affect the reputation and efficiency of one of the Houses of Parliament and, so far as they are held here, they affect the reputation and efficiency of this House of Parliament. From the institutional point of view, I cannot see that any enormous 622 change is being required. We are simply asked to make one further step to adapt the other place to the needs of the times.
The real point of the Amendment is this. We ourselves in this House have a limited number of Members who will be taken away and forced upstairs because they are heirs to peerages. Their number is comparatively small. One of them happens to have been a persistent Member and one whom we all knew and all respected and who got into this difficulty simply because his elder brother was killed in action in the service of his country. He has put a petition to the House and has taken other action to ensure that his views and his wishes are widely known.
Having done that and having provided the occasion for it, the question which he raised seems to be not merely the technical question of what the law about the matter is, which fills so much of the Report of the Committee of Privileges, but the question that inevitably occurs to any sensible person the moment he looks at the present position—whether something ought not to be done here and now to change it.
I say that that is not a question for the Committee of Privileges, but one which can be raised in debate here. To say that that inevitably entails a widespread discussion of the reform of the House of Lords as a whole is an inconsistency Which I would not willingly have attributed to the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), who nevertheless found it possible to reconcile those two inconsistent things.
Surely no one can suggest that someone who has been elected here should be debarred from continuing to fulfil his duties simply because he has succeeded to a peerage. If it is regarded as a matter of plain common sense and as a matter of justice to the person concerned, there can be only one answer. To suggest anything else requires most elaborate and completely unconvincing arguments which have very little to do with the merits of the case.
If it were a question of accepting a new peerage, then we all know perfectly well that anyone proposed for a peerage is certainly asked about it and has to give his consent. Yet, because of this 623 mysterious hereditary principle, someone who has served the House well and truly is obliged to go away without his consent and can no longer qualify to sit here. On the face of it, the thing is a piece of sheer antiquarian nonsense and nothing else, and if we are to allow it to continue now that it has been raised, at least some good reason must be found for doing so. I have heard no reason yet.
Secondly, very few people have mentioned today a very important group of people in this connection, namely, the electorate—in this instance of a Bristol constituency, but potentially the electorate of any other constituency. Why should those people be deprived of having a certain Member whom they know and trust, and whom they have elected because they know and trust him, simply because, for some reason connected with the past, he has become a hereditary peer? What is the fairness or sense in that? How can we reconcile a difficulty and injustice of that kind with the ordinary principles of representative democracy? A man must be allowed to represent the people who elect him, unless there is some incapacity that by itself precludes him from so doing. A lunatic or a bankrupt can be discussed and considered; he does not suffer from the one thing that afflicts the holder of a hereditary peerage—that at present there is no known way of getting out of it. It is an absurd state of affairs that we should have to sit here and discuss the question whether something of that sort is right and just, either to the man himself or to the electors who sent him here.
We are told that we cannot do this unless we have a wholesale reform of the House of Lords, but that argument can be put forward in respect of anything. Surely, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said at the beginning of the debate, this is an obvious injustice. It may be an injustice to a comparatively small number of people, but the worst possible excuse for omitting to remedy an injustice is to say that it cannot be dealt with until some larger and vaguer task has been undertaken—which we do not even promise to begin and which we see little chance of ever bringing to a successful end.
624 If this is a question of the reform of the House of Lords as a whole, all kinds of other questions are involved. Hon. Members on this side of the House regard the House of Lords as an instrument of the Conservative Party, and we have not abandoned that view. Unless and until the House of Lords takes a different attitude to Conservative legislation to that which it has always adopted in the past we shall continue to be very critical even of its present functions. I need say no more about that. All I am concerned about at the moment is the subject matter of the Amendment.
I suppose we shall be told that the law must not be lightly disturbed. But the law is made by man for man. It is intended to have some element of justice in it, and this is a case where the law ought to be amended, in the light of common sense and equity. We shall be told, "The British Constitution cannot be lightly changed". But the British Constitution changes itself. If it did not it would be a very bad Constitution. It is a good one because it does change itself.
It may be that in the circumstances of this case the change has to be made by legislation, but made it should be, and if there is a question of a joint committee being set up the Amendment does not preclude it. There is no reason why the matter should not be dealt with in that way; indeed, there is a good deal to be said for it. Again, if there is a question of a choice as between a renunciation of the whole peerage, binding on the successors once and for all, on the one hand, and a personal renunciation on the other, the Amendment takes no line between the two alternatives. I believe that it would be logical to have a renunciation once and for all, for peerages nowadays are created with an acceptance, and an acceptance under present conditions involves binding future generations. Why should not a renunciation do likewise?
Therefore, on the narrow ground that this is something unjust to the people concerned—a comparatively small number are concerned, but it is still unjust—and grossly unfair to the electors, who are restricted in their choice; and also because we do not have very many people of the calibre of some of the 625 people who may be affected by this proposed alteration—there are not many people like my hon. Friend, who happens to be the person who has raised the point—I earnestly hope that the House will do what it ought to do and treat this as a House of Commons matter. Only an obscurantist and narrow-minded Government could have put the Whips on on a question of this sort.
§ 9.55 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General
To me, this has been an interesting debate and it has ranged rather widely. In my view, it raises some big issues. After listening to the speeches I do not think that there has been much dispute as to what is the law today on these matters, except perhaps by the hon. and learned Member for Ipswich (Mr. D. Foot). I will refer to what he said later. There was not very much dispute between us on the Committee of Privileges as to what the law is, although there was some diversity of opinion in the manner of the expression of our findings.
I think it true to say that it is generally accepted, and has been in this debate, that under the law of our land a peer of the United Kingdom is disqualified from and ineligible to sit in and vote in this House when he becomes a peer. In passing, I would say of my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), whose speech I heard with interest—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"] he is not here, so, in that case, I will pass on very quickly—that he put forward some rather astonishing observations about the effect of an election in Bristol, South-West if Mr. Wedgwood Benn topped the poll.
Of course, the effect of an election, I think I should make quite clear, on someone disqualified—
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Proceedings on Government business exempted, at this day's Sitting, from the provisions of Standing Order No. 1 (Sittings of the House).—[Mr. R. A. Butler.]
§ Question again proposed, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question.626
§ The Attorney-General
That will not encourage me to prolong the length of my speech, I can assure the House of that.
I was just saying that the return of a disqualified person at the top of the poll does not, of course, remove his disqualification from membership of this House. I do not think that anyone has seriously disputed that on the death of his father Mr. Benn succeeded to the peerage. Certainly not the hon. and learned Member for Ipswich. In Question 218 in the Report of the Committee of Privileges I asked him:You said in answer to Mr. Davies that you accepted the position (leaving the question of the effect of the instrument of renunciation on one side) that Mr. Benn became a peer on the death of his father?—Yes.I think it also true to say that, apart from the hon. and learned Gentleman, there has been no real dispute as to the law at present with regard to renunciation. Indeed, the Amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition and his hon. Friends recognises that; because if that is not the law, there would be no need to consider changing it.
I wish to come now to what I think is the main issue before the House. If the House accepts the legal position as stated in the Committee's Report, and the main issue is, as I see it, to use a colloquial expression, where do we go from here? Before I say that, may I point out to my hon. Friends that our Motion asks:That this House takes note of the fact that Mr. Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn on succession to the Viscounty of Stansgate…ceased to be a Member of this House.The Amendment to our Motion leaves out all those words after the first "the", and it seems to me that it would be a rather serious matter—if those words are left out now and if the House accepts the Report of the Committee of Privileges—regarding the present position of Mr. Wedgwood Benn. It would be rather a serious matter, surely, that he should be left in a position of uncertainty from now on. He might not mind, but the electors of Bristol, South-East certainly might mind. I should have thought it desirable that we should express our view on that part of this matter without any uncertainty.
627 Then there is the separate question I wish to come to which I dealt with under the colloquial expression, where do we go from here? What do we do if we change the law?
§ Mr. M. Foot
On the point which the learned Attorney-General has made, did not he, in reply to the earlier debate, say that the—
§ The Attorney-General
I think that I know what the hon. Member has in mind. I think that he is about to say that if Mr. Benn were disqualified by the law of the land what we do in our debate tonight cannot make him qualified. I think that that is the point.
§ Mr. M. Foot indicated assent.
§ The Attorney-General
Having had this Report from the Committee, this House ought to place on record its view on that particular aspect.
§ Mr. Mitchison
This is very much a lawyers' point, but the reason given for not allowing Mr. Benn to be heard at the Bar was that the law was so abundantly clear. We are now told that we ought to restate it.
§ The Attorney-General
I do not resile from the proposition that the law is absolutely clear on this; I think it is. The hon. and learned Member for Kettering apparently thinks that there is some slight doubt about it. I have never claimed to any degree of infallibility and although I am expressing that view I think that the House ought to deal with that matter, and deal with the Report of the Committee of Privileges—a Committee containing hon. Members of all parties—when it has reported back to the House.
Now I come to what has been the main subject under discussion in the course of this debate.
§ Viscount Lambton rose—
§ Viscount Lambton
This is a matter of importance. My right hon. and learned Friend has not dealt with something which may be very germane in future. Is Mr. Wedgwood Benn—or Lord Stansgate, as my right hon. and 628 learned Friend calls him—to find it impossible to stand again as the Member of Parliament for Bristol, South-East?
§ The Attorney-General
I can answer that question, but it is not germane to any part of the matter under discussion tonight. He can stand if his nomination paper is in order, but, even if he were at the top of the poll, he would not be qualified to sit in this House. The votes for him would be thrown away as a matter of law.
I come to the second part of the matter, to discuss the general subject of discussion in this debate, namely, what should be done. Do we leave the position as it is today? Do we wish to change it and, if we wish to change it, what changes should be made? Listening to the speeches made in this debate, I have no doubt that there are a great many in this House and outside who feel a great deal of sympathy—as I do, I must confess—with any hon. Member who suddenly finds himself translated contrary to his wishes and as a result of events beyond his control.
I feel—and I should like to say it—very great sympathy for Mr. Wedgwood Benn. I call him that, because I understand that that is what he wants to be called. I felt very considerable sympathy with my noble Friend Lord Hailsham who, in the days of the Socialist Government, suddenly found himself removed from this House. At that time, I recollect, he made every attempt he could to remain a Member of this House, but I do not recollect that the party opposite treated him with very much sympathy.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
Would the Attorney-General care to say what steps the Conservative Party took to support Lord Hailsham at that time?
§ The Attorney-General
The Conservative Party was not the Government of that day. [HON. MEMBERS: Neither is Labour now."] I do not recollect the party opposite making any attempt to introduce a Bill to enable peers to renounce their peerages when they are Members of this House. I congratulate Mr. Benn on having succeeded, where Lord Hailsham failed, in convincing the party opposite and persuading it to adopt a policy that it was not prepared to adopt when it was the responsible Government.
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
Was not the position that Lord Hailsham wished to retain his peerage and to sit in this House?
§ The Attorney-General
I do not think that the recollection of the hon. and learned Member about that is right. Nor do I think it a very significant factor. [An HON. MEMBER: "He wanted both."] Some hon. Members opposite may want both; I should not be surprised.
I should like now to move to a less controversial part of my speech, because I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that we should consider dispassionately the problem of what should be done. I have been trying to think about what this proposition, which can easily be formulated, really involves. The right hon. Gentleman stressed, and rightly, that the object of the Amendment was general in character and not directed specifically to benefiting Mr. Wedgwood Benn, although, of course, he would be one of the beneficiaries. I am sure that he was right in that approach, but although it is the right approach, it seemed to detract a great deal from the arguments we heard a short time before as to the need for hearing Mr. Wedgwood Benn at the Bar of the House.
The Amendment, rightly, does not suggest that only Members of this House might be given the power to renounce their peerages. It proposes legislation to provide for the renunciation of peerages. Is that meant to extend to peers who have not taken their seats in the House of Lords and who are not Members of this House? I imagine that it is. Is it meant to extend to peers who have taken their seats in another place? The right hon. Gentleman gave his personal opinion upon that, and made some personal comments. I make the personal comment that I think it unfair that those who had taken their seats in the House of Lords and who had become Lords of Parliament should be denied the power to renounce their peerages just because they had taken their seats when it was not possible to renounce. That point has to be dealt with by legislation—that some peers who have become Lords of Parliament are to be entitled to renounce their seats.
Where are we to draw their line between the Lords of Parliament? Are 630 all Lords of Parliament to have that power and to have power to stand for the House of Commons? Views may differ in different quarters about that. Different people may think that there are different simple answers to these questions, but all these and many other questions are involved in the renunciation of peerages.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the position of Scottish peers, and surely that, too, would have to be dealt with. It would be anomalous to let English peers stand for and be Members of the House of Commons when Scottish Peers had only the right of electing other Scottish peers to be Members of the House of Lords. As the right hon. Gentleman asked, what about Irish peers? The holder of an Irish peerage is entitled to sit in the House of Commons while retaining his peerage but, curiously enough, he cannot vote in the election of a Member of Parliament.
The right hon. Gentleman went through a number of these matters, and there are many more, and in doing so he destroyed the case for his Amendment, which demands the introduction of legislation "forthwith". Hon. Members will see that the Amendment says:is of the opinion that legislation should be introduced forthwith".Yet the right hon. Gentleman accepts that all these problems arise. There is also the question of peeresses, mentioned by one of my hon. Friends.
It is easy to say "Let us have legislation to enable peers who do not want to sit in the House of Lords to renounce their peerages", but I submit that when we consider all these problems we shall find wide differences of opinion in both parties on precisely what should be done.
One thing is certain—that at this stage we cannot form an estimate of the number of peers likely to accept this opportunity of renunciation if it were given them. It might be large, it might be small; it depends upon the width of the provision. The wider it is, the bigger the character of the constitutional change which would be made. No doubt there are some, like the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, North-East (Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas), who do not want a second Chamber.
631 I remind hon. Members that after the last efforts to make some progress in this matter the view was expressed in the White Paper published in 1948, thatThe representatives of all three Parties were united in their desire to see the House of Lords continue to play its proper part in the Legislature…If the Labour Party is united in its desire—it is not united in many things—to see the House of Lords play its proper part in the future, then we ought to be careful about making constitutional changes of an extensive character without first deciding the objective which we intend to achieve in relation to the constitution of the House of Lords.
A good deal has been said about a joint Committee, but the Amendment does not demand the appointment of a joint Committee. It is no use saying that it does. The question of the appointment of a joint Committee is something quite separate from the discussion of either the Motion or the Amendment, because the Amendment demands the introduction of legislation forthwith. This is, to my mind, astonishing, and I was very surprised to see the form of the Amendment, because the Report of the Committee of Privileges shows that the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) and the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) voted in favour of including in the Report the following sentence:Your Committee are of opinion that such a constitutional change should only be undertaken after joint consideration of its wisdom, extent and detail by representatives of both Houses.As far as I know, nothing has happened yet to make it desirable or necessary to introduce legislation forthwith without anyjoint consideration of the wisdom, extent and detailof such a constitutional change.
§ Mr. Leavey
My right hon. and learned Friend is reminding us and pointing out to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite that their Amendment, as it is on the Order Paper, does not include a suggestion for joint consultation between the two Houses. Has my right hon. and 632 learned Friend noticed that the Amendment in my name does precisely that? Perhaps he would be able to invite support for my Amendment?
§ The Attorney-General
I had noticed the Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Royton (Mr. Leavey), and I have no doubt that my hon. Friends heard and paid attention to what my right hon. Friend said in moving this Motion. I will only add that the issue on which we are voting is, first, the Motion and the Amendment to it which has been selected. Whatever be the result of the Division tonight, it certainly does not mean that my right hon. Friend will not pay great attention to the views that have been expressed in this debate.
Speaking for myself, may I say that I take the view that if we are to make a major constitutional change—despite the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Mr. Berkeley) I think that this would be one in its impact—it is desirable to have talks on a wide basis to see what common measure of agreement can be obtained. I remember that in 1955 a debate took place in another place on this very subject. Then, Lord Jowitt, speaking as Leader of the Opposition, having been asked about proposals for the reform of the House of Lords, referred to the scheme which had been considered in 1948, and said this.That scheme might or might not have been acceptable to my party then, but I feel obliged to point out that it is another and wholly different question whether it would be acceptable to my party today. I ought not to conceal my belief that the present is not a propitious time to put it to the test—that is, if a favourable answer is thought to be a matter of importance.He went on to say:The problems of today concerning H-bombs, European defence and Far Eastern dangers are so claimant and imperative, and there is so little evidence of any public demand for an alteration in the composition of this House, that even those who might be well disposed would think it better to postpone a decision until we reach (as I hope and pray we shall reach) a calmer atmosphere and more spacious days. Moreover, I feel tolerably certain that my party, if called upon to pronounce on this subject today, would attach more importance to powers than to composition."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 9th March, 1955; Vol. 191, c. 843.]I do not know whether the views of the party opposite have altered upon that matter, but what I am asking the 633 House to do in a short time is to reach a decision on this Amendment and on the Government Motion, and to reject the Amendment because there is no case made out for legislation forthwith, for which the Amendment asks. The rejection of the Amendment does not shut the door to further consideration of the position of those peers who succeed to peerages and who would be therefore disqualified from membership of this House.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ 10.20 p.m.
§ Viscount Lambton (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
Mr. Speaker, I assure you that I wish to detain the House for only a short time tonight. I give that consolation especially to those who shouted "Divide" rather than hear the expression of a point of view.
All I want to say very briefly is this. I am afraid that today a death blow may have been dealt to two-Chamber Government in this country, and dealt by the enormously passive support of all those who sit behind me who think they are working in exactly the opposite direction. Two senior Ministers of the Crown have come here and justified an anachronism. We saw one come here at the beginning of the day and be very evasively polite. We saw another at the end of the day. They promised some sort of action, though at no time did they say what it will be.
As far as I can see it, the situation looks like this. There is the great anachronism of the House of Lords in that it can in this age, day and hour call people democratically elected from this Chamber and say that they have to sit in the second Chamber, which does not initiate but which does reform. They do this without any popular backing in the country.
It is my belief that it is, or may be, the intention of Mr. Wedgwood Benn, or Lord Stansgate, to challenge this point of view. If he challenges it, there is a very great danger that he will throw the House of Lords into disrepute. Settling on this one anachronism lays the House of Lords open to criticism, to which it is obviously open by the very nature of its functioning today. Therefore, this may 634 achieve something which is precisely opposite to that which is in the minds of those who support the Government in doing nothing today.
What could be more ridiculous and absurd than if Mr. Wedgwood Benn returns to Bristol, South-East, stands for Parliament and is elected by an overwhelming majority? What will happen to the House of Lords? The Government will put this test to the public and if the public completely refutes them and says that it does not want them to retain powers which the Leader of the Opposition said are ridiculous in this age, what could make the House of Lords more of an absurdity than that? There are eight of us in this House, not five, who are in the same position as Mr. Wedgwood Benn. What if we choose to take the same action? What if we choose to make these annual assaults on the House of Lords? How will it be a Second Chamber which is respected? How will it be a Second Chamber which does not become a knock-about turn? It is the function and duty of the Government to propose some legislation which will end the state of affairs which can bring the House of Lords into the arena of argument and, consequently, disrepute.
§ 10.24 p.m.
§ Mr. J. A. Leavey (Heywood and Royton)
I take the feeling of the House to be that we should divide. I am sorry to offend a number of my right hon. and hon. Friends, but I have committed myself to an Amendment which stands on the Order Paper and I feel that I should make some amplification of it. I therefore hope that I shall have the indulgence of the House for a few minutes to make half a dozen points which I will not claim will be a speech in the ordinary sense.
First, I believe that the hereditary principle must continue, and I stand second to none in paying tribute to those who have rendered great service to the nation, and I hope will continue to do so, because of their place in the House of Lords derived from the hereditary principle. As I understand it, we began to erode that principle a long time ago, when there were what might be called a substantial number of promotions to 635 the House of Lords. We breached that exclusive hereditary principle then. More recently, by the introduction of life peers, we have taken that process a stage further. I say quite plainly that I want to see a further gentle erosion of the hereditary principle, and I suggest respectfully that the terms of my Amendment would make that possible if the Government felt able to make some sort of statement that they would move forward on those lines.
I see this as an opportunity to do just that. I cannot subscribe, and I say this with regret, to the view that has been submitted to us by my right hon. Friend that one cannot do a little good until one does the greater good. This is an important constitutional matter, and I therefore think that there should be joint consultation between both Houses. It is a very important family affair for the individuals who may be concerned, and I would go so far as to say that two generations—the peer and the heir—should get an agreement on the basis of the old entail system.
I am sure that it should be a once-for-all decision, and that those who are, perhaps, to be given this opportunity
§ should not be able to opt out of the peerage and their successors enabled to opt in again—and the decision should be made only at the moment of inheritance. This clearly would mean that Mr. Wedgwood Benn would not benefit. In a sense, that would be bad luck for him, but he would not be the first person not to benefit directly from his own efforts.
§ I intervened early in the debate to suggest that the numbers involved might be small; that of fifty-four new creations since the war only six had been translated from this House to the Lords on inheritance. If it meant an increased tempo in the rate of creation of life peers, I would welcome it.
§ I very much regret that my right hon. Friend has not felt able to put down more than a somewhat noncommittal Motion on the Order Paper, and I hope that something more positive will be forthcoming in due course from the Government.
§ Question put, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 207, Noes 143.639
|Division No. 136.]||AYES||[10.28 p.m.|
|Agnew, Sir Peter||Coulson, J. M.||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel|
|Allason, James||Craddock, Sir Beresford||Heath, Rt. Hon. Edward|
|Ashton, Sir Hubert||Crowder, F. P.||Henderson-Stewart, Sir James|
|Barber, Anthony||Cunningham, Knox||Hicks Beach, Maj. W.|
|Batsford, Brian||Curran, Charles||Hiley, Joseph|
|Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton||Currie, G. B. H.||Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk)|
|Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)||Dalkeith, Earl of||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount|
|Bidgood, John c.||Dance, James||Hirst, Geoffrey|
|Biggs-Davison, John||d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Hobson, John|
|Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel||Drayson, G. B.||Holland, Philip|
|Bishop, F. P.||Duthie, Sir William||Hopkins, Alan|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Eden, John||Hornby, R. P.|
|Bossom, Clive||Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)||Howard, Hon. G. R. (St. Ives)|
|Bourne-Arton, A.||Elliott, R. W. (Nwcstle-upon-Tyne, N.)||Howard, John (Southampton, Test)|
|Bowen, Roderic (Cardigan)||Emery, Peter||Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral John|
|Box, Donald||Errington, Sir Eric||Hughes-Young, Michael|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. John||Fisher, Nigel||Hulbert, Sir Norman|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. Sir Walter||Fraser, Hn. Hugh (Stafford & Stone)||James, David|
|Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry||Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)||Jennings, J. C.|
|Bryan, Paul||Freeth, Denzil||Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)|
|Buck, Antony||Gammans, Lady||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)|
|Bullard, Denys||Gibson-Watt, David||Jones, Rt. Hn. Aubrey (Hall Green)|
|Bullus, Wing Commander Eric||Glover, Sir Douglas||Kaberry, Sir Donald|
|Butcher, Sir Herbert||Glyn, Sir Richard (Dorset, N.)||Kerans, Cdr. J. S.|
|Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (Saffron Walden)||Goodhart, Philip||Kerr, Sir Hamilton|
|Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn)||Goodhew, Victor||Kershaw, Anthony|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Gough, Frederick||Lancaster, Col. C. G.|
|Channon, H. P. G.||Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R.||Leburn, Gilmour|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Green, Alan||Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry|
|Clark, Henry (Antrim, N.)||Grimston, Sir Robert||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)|
|Clark, William (Nottingham, S.)||Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G.||Lindsay, Martin|
|Cleaver, Leonard||Gurden, Harold||Linstead, Sir Hugh|
|Cooke, Robert||Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough)||Litchfield, Capt. John|
|Cooper, A. E.||Hare, Rt. Hon. John||Longden, Gilbert|
|Cooper-Key, Sir Neill||Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf'd)||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh|
|Corfield, F. V.||Hastings, Stephen||McLaren, Martin|
|McLaughlin, Mrs. Patricia||Pilkington, Sir Richard||Taylor, W. J. (Bradford, N.)|
|McLean, Neil (Inverness)||Pitman, I. J.||Temple, John M.|
|Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield, W.)||Pitt, Miss Edith||Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret|
|MacLeod, John (Ross & Cromarty)||Pott, Percivall||Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Macmillan, Rt. Hn. Harold(Bromley)||Powell, Rt. Hon. J. Enoch||Thompson, Richard (Croydon, S.)|
|Maddan, Martin||Profumo, Rt. Hon. John||Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin|
|Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.||Pym, Francis||Tilney, John (Wavertree)|
|Markham, Major Sir Frank||Ramsden, James||Turner, Colin|
|Marlowe, Anthony||Rawlinson, Peter||Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.|
|Marshall, Douglas||Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin||van Straubenzee, w. R.|
|Marten, Neil||Rees, Hugh||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Matthews, Gordon (Meriden)||Rees-Davies, W. R.||Vickers, Miss Joan|
|Mawby, Ray||Ridley, Hon. Nicholas||Vosper, Rt. Hon. Dennis|
|Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.||Ridsdale, Julian||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.||Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)||Walder, David|
|Mills, Stratton||Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)||Walker, Peter|
|More, Jasper (Ludlow)||Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hon. Sir Derek|
|Morgan, William||Roots, William||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Morrison, John||Russell, Ronald||Watts, James|
|Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles||Scott-Hopkins, James||Webster, David|
|Neave, Airey||Sharples, Richard||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Noble, Michael||Shaw, M.||Whitelaw, William|
|Nugent, Sir Richard||Shepherd, William||Williams, Dudley (Exeter)|
|Oakshott, Sir Hendrie||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir Jocelyn||Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)|
|Orr-Ewing, C. Ian||Skeet, T. H. H.||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Osborne, Cyril (Louth)||Smyth, Brig. Sir John (Norwood)||Wise, A. R.|
|Page, John (Harrow, West)||Spearman, Sir Alexander||Woodhouse, C. M.|
|Page, Graham (Crosby)||Stanley, Hon. Richard||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Pannell, Norman (Kirkdale)||Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)||Woollam, John|
|Pearson, Frank (Clitheroe)||Storey, Sir Samuel||Worsley, Marcus|
|Peel, John||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Pickthorn, Sir Kenneth||Sumner, Donald (Orpington)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Pike, Miss Mervyn||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)||Colonel J. H. Harrison and|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Griffiths, W. (Exchange)||Mitchison, G. R.|
|Awbery, Stan||Grimond, J.||Moyle, Arthur|
|Baird, John||Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)||Nabarro, Gerald|
|Balniel, Lord||Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Oliver, G. H.|
|Berkeley, Humphry||Hamilton, William (West Fife)||Oram, A. E.|
|Blackburn, F.||Harris, Reader (Heston)||Padley, W. E.|
|Bowden, Herbert W. (Leics, S.W.)||Hart, Mrs. Judith||Paget, R. T.|
|Bowles, Frank||Hayman, F. H.||Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M.||Healey, Denis||Pavitt, Laurence|
|Brockway, A. Fenner||Henderson, Rt. Hn. Arthur(RwlyRegis)||Popplewell, Ernest|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Herbison, Miss Margaret||Prentice, R. E.|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Hollingworth, John||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Castle, Mrs. Barbara||Holt, Arthur||Prior, J. M. L.|
|Chapman, Donald||Houghton, Douglas||Proctor, W. T.|
|Chataway, Christopher||Howell, Denis||Pursey, Cmdr. Harry|
|Collick, Percy||Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Redhead, E. C.|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Reynolds, G. W.|
|Critchley, Julian||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Crossman, R. H. S,||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Cullen, Mrs. Alice||Hynd, John (Attercliffe)||Short, Edward|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Irving, Sydney (Dartford)||Slater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.)|
|Deer, George||Janner, Sir Barnett||Slater, Joseph (Sedgefield)|
|de Freitas, Geoffrey||Jay, Rt. Hon. Douglas||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Dempsey, James||Jenkins, Roy (Stechford)||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Diamond, John||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Stonehouse, John|
|Dodds, Norman||King, Dr. Horace||Stones, William|
|Donnelly, Desmond||Kirk, Peter||Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R. (Vauxhall)|
|Driberg, Tom||Lambton, Viscount||Stross, Dr. Barnett(Stoke-on-Trent, C.)|
|Dugdale, Rt. Hon. John||Lee, Frederick (Newton)||Swingler, Stephen|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. C.||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Sylvester, George|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.)||Tapsell, Peter|
|Fitch, Alan||Longbottom, Charles||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Fletcher, Eric||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Taylor, John (West Lothian)|
|Foot, Dingle (Ipswich)||MacColl, James||Teeling, William|
|Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)||Mclnnes, James||Timmons, John|
|Forman, J. C.||McKay, John (Wallsend)||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn|
|Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. Hugh||MacMillan, Malcolm (Western Isles)||Wade, Donald|
|Galpern, Sir Myer||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Wainwright, Edwin|
|George, LadyMeganLloyd(Crmrthn)||Manuel, A. C.||Warbey, William|
|Ginsburg, David||Mapp, Charles||Watkins, Tudor|
|Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Greenwood, Anthony||Mathew, Robert (Honiton)||White, Mrs. Eirene|
|Grey, Charles||Mayhew, Christopher||Whitlock, William|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Mendelson, J. J.||Wigg, George|
|Millan, Bruce||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Willey, Frederick||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)||Woof, Robert||Mr. C. Howell and Mr. Lawson.|
|Willis, E. G. (Edinburgh, E.)||Yates, Victor (Ladywood)|
§ Main Question put:—640
§ The House divided: Ayes 204, Noes 126.641
|Division No. 137.]||AYES||[10.38 p.m.|
|Agnew, Sir Peter||Grimston, Sir Robert||Pannell, Norman (Kirkdale)|
|Allason, James||Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G.||Pearson, Frank (Clitheroe)|
|Ashton, Sir Hubert||Gurden, Harold||Peel, John|
|Barber, Anthony||Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough)||Pickthorn, Sir Kenneth|
|Batsford, Brian||Hare, Rt. Hon. John||Pike, Miss Mervyn|
|Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton||Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf'd)||Pilkington, Sir Richard|
|Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)||Hastings, Stephen||Pitman, I. J.|
|Bidgood, John C.||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel||Pitt, Miss Edith|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Heath, Rt. Hon. Edward||Pott, Percivall|
|Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel||Henderson-Stewart, Sir James||Powell, Rt. Hon. J. Enoch|
|Bishop, F. P.||Hicks Beach, Maj. W.||Profumo, Rt. Hon. John|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Hiley, Joseph||Pym, Francis|
|Bossom, Clive||Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk)||Ramsden, James|
|Bourne-Arton, A||Hirst, Geoffrey||Rawlinson, Peter|
|Bowen, Roderic (Cardigan)||Hobson, John||Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin|
|Box, Donald||Holland, Philip||Rees, Hugh|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. John||Hopkins, Alan||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Hornby, R. P,||Ridley, Hon. Nicholas|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. Sir Walter||Howard, Hon. G. R. (St. Ives)||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry||Howard, John (Southampton, Test)||Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)|
|Bryan, Paul||Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral John||Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S)|
|Buck, Antony||Hughes-Young, Michael||Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)|
|Bullard, Denys||Hulbert, Sir Norman||Roots, William|
|Bullus, Wing Commander Eric||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye).||Russell, Ronald|
|Butcher, Sir Herbert||James, David||Scott-Hopkins, James|
|Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (Saffron Walden)||Jennings, J. C.||Sharples, Richard|
|Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn)||Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)||Shaw, M.|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Shepherd, William|
|Channon, H. P. G.||Jones, Rt. Hn. Aubrey (Hall Green)||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir Jocelyn|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Kaberry, Sir Donald||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Clark, Henry (Antrim, N.)||Kerans, Cdr. J. S.||Smyth, Brig, Sir John (Norwood)|
|Clark, William (Nottingham, S.)||Kerr, Sir Hamilton||Spearman, Sir Alexander|
|Cleaver, Leonard||Kershaw, Anthony||Stanley, Hon. Richard|
|Cooke, Robert||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)|
|Cooper, A. E.||Leburn, Gilmour||Storey, Sir Samuel|
|Cooper-Key, Sir Neill||Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Corfield, F. V.||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Sumner, Donald (Orpington)|
|Coulson, J. M.||Lindsay, Martin||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Craddock, Sir Beresford||Linstead, Sir Hugh||Taylor, W. J. (Bradford, N.)|
|Crowder, F. P.||Litchfield, Capt. John||Temple, John M.|
|Cunningham, Knox||Longden, Gilbert||Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret|
|Curran, Charles||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Currie, G. B. H.||McLaren, Martin||Thompson, Richard (Croydon, S.)|
|Dalkeith, Earl of||McLaughlin, Mrs. Patricia||Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin|
|Dance, James||McLean, Neil (Inverness)||Tilney, John (Wavertree)|
|d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield, W.)||Turner, Colin|
|Drayson, G. B.||Macmillan, Rt. Hn. Harold(Bromley)||Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.|
|du Cann, Edward||Maddan, Martin||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Duthie, Sir William||Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Eden, John||Markham, Major Sir Frank||Vickers, Miss Joan|
|Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)||Marshall, Douglas||Vosper, Rt. Hon. Dennis|
|Elliott, R.W.(Nwcstle-upon-Tyne,N.)||Marten, Neil||Walder, David|
|Emery, Peter||Matthews, Gordon (Meriden)||Walker, Peter|
|Errington, Sir Eric||Mawby, Ray||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hon. Sir Derek|
|Finlay, Graeme||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Fisher, Nigel||Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.||Watts, James|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Mills, Stratton||Webster, David|
|Fraser, Hn. Hugh (Stafford & Stone)||More, Jasper (Ludlow)||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)||Morgan, William||Whitelaw, William|
|Freeth, Denzil||Morrison, John||Williams, Dudley (Exeter)|
|Gammans, Lady||Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles||Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)|
|Gibson-Watt, David||Neave, Airey||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Glover, Sir Douglas||Noble, Michael||Wise, A. R.|
|Glyn, Sir Richard (Dorset, N.)||Nugent, Sir Richard||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Goodhart, Philip||Oakshott, Sir Hendrie||Woollam, John|
|Goodhew, Victor||Orr-Ewing, C. Ian||Worsley, Marcus|
|Gough, Frederick||Osborne, Cyril (Louth)|
|Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R.||Page, John (Harrow, West)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Green, Alan||Page, Graham (Crosby)||Mr. E. Wakefield and|
|Colonel J. H. Harrison.|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)|
|Awbery, Stan||Hamilton, William (West Fife)||Pavitt, Laurence|
|Baird, John||Hart, Mrs. Judith||Popplewell, Ernest|
|Blackburn, F.||Hayman, F. H.||Prentice, R. E.|
|Bowles, Frank||Healey, Denis||Proctor, W. T.|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M.||Henderson, Rt. Hn. Arthur (Rwly Regis)||Pursey, Cmdr. Harry|
|Brockway, A. Fenner||Herbison, Miss Margaret||Redhead, E. C.|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Holt, Arthur||Reynolds, G. W.|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Houghton, Douglas||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Castle, Mrs. Barbara||Howell, Denis||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Chapman, Donald||Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Short, Edward|
|Collick, Percy||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Slater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.)|
|Crossman, R. H. S.||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Slater, Joseph (Sedgefield)|
|Cullen, Mrs. Alice||Hynd, John (Attercliffe)||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Irving, Sydney (Dartford)||Stonehouse, John|
|Deer, George||Janner, Sir Barnett||Stones, William|
|de Freitas, Geoffrey||Jay, Rt. Hon. Douglas||Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R. (Vauxhall)|
|Dempsey, James||Jenkins, Roy (Stechford)||Stross, Dr. Barnett(Stoke-on-Trent, C.)|
|Diamond, John||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Sylvester, George|
|Dodds, Norman||King, Dr. Horace||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Donnelly, Desmond||Lee, Frederick (Newton)||Taylor, John (West Lothian)|
|Driberg, Tom||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Timmons, John|
|Dugdale, Rt. Hon. John||Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.)||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn.|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. C.||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Wade, Donald|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||MacColl, James||Wainwright, Edwin|
|Fitch, Alan||Mclnnes, James||Warbey, William|
|Fletcher, Eric||McKay, John (Wallsend)||Watkins, Tudor|
|Foot, Dingle (Ipswich)||MacMillan, Malcolm(Western Isles)||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)||Manuel, A, C.||White, Mrs. Eirene|
|Forman, J. C.||Mapp, Charles||Whitlock, William|
|Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. Hugh||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.||Wigg, George|
|Galpern, Sir Myer||Mayhew, Christopher||Wilkins, W. A.|
|George, Lady MeganLloyd(Crmrthn)||Mendelson, J. J.||Willey, Frederick|
|Ginsburg, David||Millan, Bruce||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)|
|Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||Mitchison, G. R.||Willis, E. G. (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Greenwood, Anthony||Moyle, Arthur||Wilson. Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Grey, Charles||Oliver, G. H.||Woof, Robert|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Oram, A. E.||Yates, Victor (Ladywood)|
|Grimond, J.||Padley, W. E.|
|Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)||Paget, R. T.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Mr. C. Howell and Mr. Lawson|
That this House takes note of the fact that Mr. Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn on succession
to the Viscounty of Stansgate on 17th November, 1960, ceased to be a Member of this House, and agrees with the Committee of Privileges in their Report.