§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.47 p.m.
§ The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Iain Macleod)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I have it, Sir, in Command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the contents of the Bill, has been generously pleased to place the interests of the Crown at the disposal of Parliament in connection therewith.
Few Bills have had such exhaustive examination in advance of Second Reading and I do not propose to spend any time taking the House through the various stages of the Wedgwood Benn-Stansgate case, the by-election, the Report of the Committee of Privileges and the attempts then made by my predecessor the Leader of the House, the First Secretary of State, and then by myself to find an agreed basis for inquiry.
Finally, the Joint Committee was set up in March, 1962, it reported in December, 1962, there were debates in both Houses at the end of March this year, a statement from myself on 15th May, and the Bill, as hon. Members will see, was printed on 30th May. To put it mildly, I do not think that anybody can claim that there has been undue delay in dealing with this important matter.
As far as implementation is concerned—and I want to say one special word about Clause 7 in a moment—the Bill will come into force on the dissolution of the present Parliament. That fulfils the pledge which I have given on a number of occasions, both in these statements and during business questions on Thursday, that we hope that the Bill will become law this Session, but, that in any event, we would, if we were supported by Parliament, see that it was in operation before the next General Election, whenever that might be.
I have spoken so often on this matter that I am sure the House will agree it is reasonable for me to speak briefly today, particularly as I have no new announcement to make, so I turn to the Bill. 462 The House will remember that the Committee of Privileges, in its Report in March, 1961, underwrote the view of the Select Committee which sat in 1895 and which, in turn, upheld the view of Mr. Speaker Onslow, in 1760, in some famous words, which were:The attendance in both Houses of Parliament is considered a service and the two services incompatible with each other.If the House agrees to the Bill, Clauses 1 to 3 will, in fact, alter that position. If these Clauses become law—as I certainly hope that they will—anybody who has succeeded to a peerage, or who, in the future, does succeed to a peerage, will have the opportunity to disclaim the peerage for his lifetime and so renounce for himself—but not, of course, for his successors—the rights and privileges of a peerage and, at the same time, remove his disqualification to sit in this House and to vote in parliamentary elections.
There is one point of nomenclature which I should mention. We have always previously used the term "surrender". The House will see that now we use the word "disclaim". The Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill says that this is for technical reasons. The thought behind it is that the word "surrender" is a technical term in real property law, and it means the merger of a lesser estate in a greater estate, and so its extinguishment. But that is not what the Commitee recommended, although some people might hold the view that it should have done.
In fact, the Committee did not do so and, therefore, the word "disclaim" is, I think, a more accurate reflection of what the Committee said, because it does not connote the extinction of the thing disclaimed. For example, a legatee may well disclaim a bequest which he does not want.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)
Does that mean that if the word "surrender" were put in the place of the word "disclaim" it would mean that they would have to hand on any entailed estate to anybody who would normally succeed them?
§ Mr. Macleod
I do not think that it would. I will ask my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General to deal with that from the purely legal point 463 of view. But I am sure that the answer is, "no". The Bill itself would still prevail, but for the reasons I have given I think that "disclaim" is a more accurate expression of the sense of the Committee.
Three separate periods of time are involved. For a future succession it is twelve months. For a peer who has succeeded before the passing of the Bill it is six months. He has had, of course, many months, in addition, to reflect on the position likely to appear. There is an even shorter period of one month—because, of course, of the necessity of not disfranchising the electorate in a particular constituency—in the case of a sitting Member of the House of Commons or a candidate in an election.
There are two small complications which I ought to mention, and which follow from two of the departures that my statement of 15th May—with acceptance from the other side of the House—indicated that it might be right to make from the recommendations of the Joint Select Committee. The Committee recommended that a candidate in an election to Parliament, by accepting nomination, should be deemed to have entered into an undertaking to surrender any peerage he might inherit before the declaration of the poll.
This is, of course, an extremely unlikely contingency. But it seems right to make some provision for it, particularly as it is not always possible to be certain straight away, in the case of a complicated succession, whether anyone has or has not succeeded. We therefore propose—I hope that the House will think it reasonable—that the election should be allowed to proceed. If the candidate does not top the poll, the question does not arise. If he does, he should have one month. That is the maximum period. If he is determined to continue with his membership of this House, should he be successful in the poll, there is nothing whatever to stop him from disclaiming straight away to remove an uncertainty, if there is one.
The second departure from, or actually in this case it is an addition to, the Joint Select Committee's recommendations, is to meet a point made by many hon. Members, I think with considerable force, during our last debate, that a 464 Member of Parliament should be allowed some latitude during the period of one month if he is ill, or there is a reason for which he cannot reasonably exercise his choice. We have tried to meet that point in Clause 2 (4) and you, Mr. Speaker, have agreed that under this subsection you would be ready to act and to certify that a Member is under such infirmity as would disable him from acting. We have also covered the case of a Member of Parliament who is abroad, perhaps on a parliamentary delegation, by providing that the time should not run, particularly during a Recess.
The third point of departure from the Joint Select Committee's recommendations is one to which I myself drew attention and I am sure that what we propose is the right thing to do. We do not propose to require a peer who has disclaimed to exhibit to the returning officer a certificate of disclaimer, so there is nothing about that in the Bill. I understand the reasons for the Joint Select Committee's recommendation, but this would put an entirely new function upon the returning officer and it would mean that he would have to screen candidates in this respect. That is a duty he does not have on any other grounds for disqualification of membership of this House. If the returning officer has this responsibility, in logic we should have to add to the number.
I do not know what description of themselves hon. Members give when they hand in their nomination forms. In the five or six elections in which I have taken part I have described myself as a journalist. So far as I know, it is no part of the duty of a returning officer to check whether I am or not—although, in fact, I am a card carrying, although an associate member, of one of the main organisations concerned.
Equally, if a woman candidate for this House describes herself as a spinster, it is not part of the duty of a returning officer to ascertain whether that is a correct description. I think that the House will agree, therefore, that this is not perhaps a duty which we ought to put on the shoulders of returning officers, and that is why there is nothing about it in the Bill.
I propose to discuss the rest of the Bill very swiftly. Clauses 4 to 6 incor- 465 porate the recommendations of the Joint Select Committee on Scottish peers, Irish peers and peeresses—I will say a separate word about that in a moment. The position so far as Clause 4 is concerned is that full rights of admission to the House of Lords are given to all peers and peeresses of Scotland and the system of representative peers is brought to an end. Peeresses in their own right are to be in the same position as hereditary peers for Parliamentary purposes and the existing restriction on peers and peeresses of Ireland in respect of membership of this House and the constituencies for which they could stand and in relation to their voting are removed.
I pointed out in an earlier debate that the effect of this would be to add 34, as a maximum, members—some of whom might not wish to play their full part in the affairs of another place—to the present maximum complement of 930. But that is less any peers who may disclaim.
I have not dealt with Committee points, although some such points will probably be raised in the debate today. I have also not dealt with the argument which, I understand from the previous debates, the Opposition may wish to put forward; that is, that a peerage should be extinguished rather than simply disclaimed for life, as is the proposal of the Joint Select Committee and as is proposed in the Bill. I have not discussed the position of the Irish peerage, although I am sure—certainly in another place and probably in this—that this question will be raised. The Government's view is that the recommendation of the Joint Select Committee in paragraphs 10 and 11 is correct in relation to this matter; although we will, of course, listen to any comments that are made.
Equally, I have not dealt with the one or two special cases, one of which has been referred to as the case of the noble Lord, Lord Long ford, who, for various reasons, could not obtain relief under the Bill as it stands. This is a Committee point to which, in due course—if the matter is raised—we would be glad to listen. The Government's view coincides with that of the Joint Select Committee and is, therefore, embodied in the Bill as it stands.
§ Mr. Dingle Foot (Ipswich)
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the Government still have an open mind on this point? Will they give sympathetic consideration to an Amendment, if one is proposed, in Committee?
§ Mr. Macleod
I would not like to go as far as that. We will listen to any comments that are made, but the connotation of "sympathetic consideration" is usually, from this Box, that one is inclined towards it. The view of the Government is that the view of the Joint Select Committee—and, therefore, of the Bill—is right; but we will listen to any arguments that are put forward.
The Bill contains no reference to courtesy titles although the Joint Select Committee recommended that they should be abolished for the relatives of peers who disclaim as well as for the peer himself and his wife. There is an important distinction here. The peer has a title and his wife has one in her own right and, therefore, the legislation we propose is necessary for that reason. But courtesy titles are, as the name implies, not really titles at all and, as they do not exist in law, we can hardly pass laws about them. It is extremely improbable, in any case, that any situation in this sphere will arise.
The sort of possibility would be that if the son of a peer who had himself disclaimed decided to stand for the House of Commons, and in respect of his father's disclaimer and his own candidature for this place, persisted in using a courtesy title. I would not have thought that this is particularly likely, although it could happen and I suppose that the House, if it wished, could deal with this question by the way it makes reference in debate to those who may hold courtesy titles.
§ Viscount Lambton (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
Will my right hon. Friend explain what the position will be under the Bill for such hon. Members as myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel)? Do we, in the sad event of succeeding to the peerage, retain our courtesy titles if we do not accept the peerage, and do our families, or do we, become commoners and renounce our courtesy titles? What is the position?
§ Mr. Macleod
As I understand it, the position is that in the unfortunate event 467 of my noble Friend succeeding through a death to a peerage to which he is the heir, he would become a peer. In this connection, I will shortly make a special reference on a fairly narrow point about this matter. He would then be a peer and, in the next Parliament, he would have one month in which to disclaim that title. If he did disclaim, it would be in accordance with the effects of the disclaimer under Clause 3, which states:The disclaimer of a peerage…shall operate…(a) to divest that person (and, if he is married, his wife) of all right or interest to or in the peerage, and all titles, rights, offices, privileges and precedence attaching thereto…Therefore, the answer to my noble Friend's question, subject to a point which I shall make in a moment, is that in the next Parliament—and if he were an hon. Member of the House of Commons then, and then succeeded—he would have a month in which to disclaim. If he did so disclaim, then from the time of that disclaimer he would have no right, for his lifetime, to the title and would, therefore, use his ordinary name without the courtesy title.
§ Mr. Macleod
No. For his lifetime my noble Friend would become a commoner. That is the position.
I said to my noble Friend that there was one particular matter to which I thought I should draw the attention of hon. Members. This concerns Clause 7.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
Does a courtesy title, either now or in the future, have any legal existence at all? [Hon. Members: "No."] In fact, cannot people call themselves anything they like?
§ Mr. Macleod
That is the position. Indeed, I said that. I said that courtesy titles are, as the name implies, not really titles at all. The hon. and learned Member is quite right. This is a matter of social convention. What a man calls himself is not our concern.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
We should try to get this matter clear, because the right hon. Gentleman tended to make the point that courtesy titles were probably not very important. Is 468 it the case that, from the point of view of the rules of this House, a person concerned in this way would be a commoner?
§ Mr. Macleod
That is exactly right. In law and otherwise they would be commoners, but what one cannot do in a Bill is to provide, shall we say, what name is written opposite a person's place if that person is attending a reception or something of that sort. They are social matters with which we are not concerned.
§ Viscount Lambton
I think that it would be more sensible, from my point of view, to know what the position is. Do I have to renounce all titles? I want to get the legal position clear. I am technically a commoner now. Is there anything to stop me continuing to call myself "Lord Lambton" and remaining a commoner in the House of Commons, through never having gone to the House of Lords?
§ Mr. Macleod
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) put the matter correctly. In law, my noble Friend would have no right to do so. If the time comes when my noble Friend becomes my hon. Friend we will go on, I hope, on precisely the same footing. The point is that, in law, he would, in those circumstances, be entirely a commoner and would be so referred to in all legal documents, but what he called himself would be a matter entirely for him.
That is why there is nothing in the Bill referring to that point. Other people, of course, could call my noble Friend what they like, but that is a tempting field into which I shall not enter. I think that what I have said to the House is accurate. My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General tells me that it is, and perhaps he will specifically deal with this point when he winds up the debate.
There is one point that I should bring to the notice of the House and of those hon. Members who, like my noble Friend, may succeed to a peerage. Subsection (2) of Clause 7 says:This Act shall come into force on the dissolution of the present Parliament.That is in accordance with everything I have said, and I think it right—I have 469 said so over and over again—but there is the point that a Member of this House might, in the unhappy event of a death, succeed to a peerage before the dissolution of this Parliament. In that case, unless the event took place within a few weeks of that date, he could not take advantage of this Measure, and could not return for the same seat—not, at any rate, without an interval.
This point arose in the drafting of the Bill, and I looked at it carefully. I do not suggest that we should make any amendment to the Bill, but it is right that hon. Members should have this point in mind. I had thought of seeing whether we could draft a formula in relation to the matter, but as the ends of the commitment would be unknown—that is to say, the date of the election and the date, if any, of a death—I have so far found that impossible.
My recommendation, therefore, would be that we should keep subsection (2) as it is, subject, of course, to the usual examination by a Committee of this House and in another place. There are eight or 10 hon. Members who, unhappily, could conceivably be affected by this provision, and I thought it right to draw attention to it.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
I think that we are on very dangerous ground now. Some of us would equally claim that the one person disadvantaged up to now is Mr. Wedgwood Benn himself. Certainly, if there is any alteration now—and I say this without offence to leaders of the party opposite—another "Hailsham amendment" would be looked on as political strategy.
§ Mr. Macleod
With respect, the hon. Gentleman has got the point entirely wrong. I was concerned only with the question of the one month, and only with present Members of the House of Commons. I make it clear that I do not suggest an alteration, but I think it only fair to those eight or 10 hon. Members, and to the House as a whole, to draw attention to the conceivable effect of this provision upon them.
I have been through the Bill; it is simple but, at the same time, of considerable importance. I think that at all stages—and there has been very close consultation, indeed—there has been a 470 surprising and growing measure of agreement. We may therefore reasonably hope that the Bill will find its way to the Statute Book at an early date, and I personally commend it to the House.
§ Sir John Langford-Holt (Shrewsbury)
Before my right hon. Friend sits down, will he tell me—because it will affect my decision whether or not to try to make a speech—whether it is intended to take the Committee stage of the Bill on the Floor of the House?
§ Viscount Lambton
Perhaps I may again try to clear up this matter, which is very vague to me. If I became a peer for a month, would my son and my other children have, or could they have, courtesy titles remaining to them after I had renounced my peerage?
§ Mr. Macleod
I am certain that the long and detailed answers I have given on this have been correct, but if I may I would ask my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General to draw the threads together at the end of the debate and to give particular attention to what my noble Friend has said.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker (Smethwick)
As one who spent long days on the Joint Select Committee, I welcome the Bill. That Committee had strictly limited terms of reference and, broadly speaking, its conclusions within those terms of reference have gone into the Bill, although in it there are some things with which I do not agree.
The wider issues were, by agreement of the House, excluded, and I merely state that I have never been persuaded of the value of a second Chamber. I certainly do not believe in an hereditary right to become a legislator although, equally, I do not believe in a hereditary bar to the right to become a legislator or to vote. But I must admit that many of the disadvantages of the second Chamber disappear if it is a chamber without power. One can only tolerate it on the assumption that it does not abuse what powers it has, and never stands in the way of this elected Chamber.
471 We did not get all that we wanted in the Joint Select Committee, but the Bill does give us a chance to put right one or two grave wrongs, and I will certainly not forgo the right to correct them just because we are not getting all we wanted.
The major wrong we are righting is that done not only to Mr. Wedgwood Benn—who was, after all, fairly elected to this House but not allowed to take his seat in it—but the more important wrong done to those who voted for him, who were themselves disfranchised. That is the great wrong that we are putting right. As my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) said on a previous occasion, that was putting the hereditary principle before the elective principle. We cannot tolerate that, and that is why there is broad agreement on the principles of this Bill.
A reference to the major principles that guided the Joint Select Committee will probably make it easier to judge the merits of particular proposals in the Bill, or not in it. The major argument in the Joint Select Committee was between two completely conflicting views. One view was that if a peer divested himself of his title, or disclaimed it—whatever the term may be—he was making a sacrifice of his own rights and positions and the rights and position of his children to come.
The opposite view, held by my hon. Friends and myself, was that to be able to disclaim a title, far from taking away a right, conferred a very great right on the peer concerned; the very great right to be a commoner, and to exercise the great privileges and status of a commoner, both to vote in the country—because a peer cannot now so vote—and to sit in this honourable Chamber. We felt that a very great right was being conferred on him.
It is extremely important that we should approach the whole matter from the point of view that we are conferring a great right upon people who have been deprived of it, and not upon the basis that we are taking away rights from them, or enabling them to take those rights from themselves or their children. That was the basic issue that at first divided the Joint Select Committee. Broadly speaking, we went on the second 472 principle, namely, that we were conferring a great right on peers by enabling them to assume the status and the rights of a commoner.
We went on to other basic principles which I think I should state in order to make it easier to judge the various issues in the Bill, or not in it. One is that we should do our utmost to avoid any danger of anyone having it both ways, of people having options about which House they sit in because they happen to be hereditary peers. We wanted to avoid any in-and-out possibility as much as possible.
The second principle was that we should give the right to become a commoner only to peers who had been involuntarily deprived of it. In other words, it should not extend to Members of the House of Lords who had gone there at full age by their own decision, not to life peers, peers of the first creation, Law Lords and people of that kind. Only those who have not gone there by pure accident but by their own decision at full age should be deprived of this right.
The Committee carried out these principles and, in effect, they are all embodied in the Bill. We cannot be wholly logical in this matter. In spite of our dislike of the hereditary principle, we find ourselves in agreement with the view that 34 peers should be added to their Lordships' House. It would create far more anomalies in applying this right to give up a peerage if we had gone on with the elective system of Scottish peers. It would have involved continuing inequality between the sexes in the other House. On the Joint Select Committee it seemed to all of us that when balancing one thing with another this would be common sense although not strictly logical.
On the point made by the noble Lord the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Viscount Lambton), we wanted to make perfectly clear that while anyone might avail himself of the right to become a commoner there will still be people, like himself, sitting in this House with a title and there might be Irish peers doing so. We felt that we could not clear up the whole of this enormous problem and that it would be right to concentrate on the major issue. The basic position is that any peer who avails himself of the right to become a 473 commoner should be assimilated as closely as possible to the status of a commoner. It is for that reason that he gives up his title for life and loses the hereditary right to go to another place. The commoner would not have that right.
It seemed that we ought to go further in one particular. This is a matter to which we attach very great importance. It is that any peer who avails himself of this very great right to become a commoner should drown and extinguish his title, not just suspend it for his lifetime. The argument for this is simple. If he is becoming a commoner he should be a commoner. A commoner does not carry in his loins the capacity to send his eldest son to the House of Lords.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
Or to the Commons.
A peer who comes to the House of Commons should be a commoner and be deprived of this right because, if he is to become a commoner, he should become a commoner and should have the full rights of a commoner, but not have the privileges which do not inhere in a commoner. That is why, not merely because we are against the hereditary principle but because we feel so strongly about this, we must make a peer who becomes a commoner, a commoner.
That is the logic of the whole thing and why, quite apart from our general view of principle here, talking merely within the logic of what the Committee tried and the Bill tries to do, it seems that this is the conclusion which ought to be drawn. It is sometimes said that we would then be asking a peer to forgo rights which inhere in children, but this never carried weight with me. No one said in the past that someone who became a hereditary peer was depriving his children and his children's children of the right to become a commoner. That was a far greater deprivation, a greater taking-away, of rights from successors than this would be in giving them the right for ever to be commoners. This is something to which we attach very great importance and we shall seek to amend the Bill on this issue.
474 We are not—at least I am not—completely satisfied about the courtesy titles, although I do not think that this is of great importance. Equally, a commoner cannot confer courtesy titles, whatever their status. If a peer becomes a commoner he should not have rights which are not those of a commoner.
§ Viscount Lambton
Since we are very much in the dark about what all this means, will the right hon. Member say whether when my noble Friend the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel), my noble Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North (The Earl of Dalkeith) or I succeed on the decease of our fathers we could become peers?
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
Yes, the noble Lord and his noble Friends would become peers, but, if they use the provisions of the Bill they do not apply for a Writ of Summons, as I think it is called. They therefore, at that point, divest themselves of the right to become a peer.
§ Viscount Lambton
The next point is that, although technically they become peers, technically do their children have the right to the privileges of sons and daughters of peers?
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
No, only the elder son has the right to succeed to the Lords on the death of his father.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
That, I think, is in the Bill, but I am not conducting the debate entirely to satisfy the hon. Member. I advise him to read the Bill with a little more care. If he reads the Bill and the Report of the Committee with his usual intelligence and application, I think that he will find that these things are either clearly in the Bill or clearly implied in the Bill. At any rate, I think that his own private matters would be better dealt with in Committee.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
They are matters of public importance, but they are answered in the Bill. Whether or not that is so can be easily ascertained in Committee when we deal with the Clauses.
475 Although courtesy titles are not known to the law, certainly the law is capable of dealing with them. If we wish we can make a Statute. Either by the way suggested by the Leader of the House when he referred to our speeches here, or by the way in which the Bill is drafted or redrafted in Committee, we should make quite clear that in the view of the House or of Parliament it would be wrong for courtesy titles to be used when a peer had availed himself of rights under the Bill.
§ Mr. A. Bourne-Arton (Darlington)
I may be wrong, but I thought that these titles were real titles held by the father who holds the peerage and the courtesy consists in the son or grandson, being by convention and courtesy allowed to use one of his father's titles. Surely if he succeeds he suceeds to the earldom and barony, all the lot?
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
I am getting into a social level which is a little above me. I do not understand all these things. I understand that sons and daughters could be called "Honourable" and that such titles were included in the general category of courtesy titles. It was primarily to those that I was referring. I understand that if the eldest son of a peer sits in this House his is a courtesy title, too.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order, I think that we would make much better progress if there were fewer interventions.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
I am very flattered to be already treated as if I were speaking for the Government, but that is not the case. It is still true that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is primarily responsible for interpreting all the idiosyncrasies and corners of the Bill.
Although we did our best to think of every conceivable circumstance and situation in Committee, I do not think that we considered the case of a person who had become a life peer because—or might claim that he had become a life peer because—he was to succeed later to an hereditary peerage. I never thought of it and it was never raised 476 in my hearing. I have some sympathy with the point, although I do not think that it is a major point, and certainly not one on which there will be any sort of party division.
I come to the question of the sitting peers having a six months' right to avail themselves of the advantages of the Bill. First, this seems to me to be a just provision; if we are giving this right to peers who succeed in the future, we should not refuse to give it to peers who have succeeded under the previous law and who might have availed themselves of this provision if it had then been operative. It should be a once-for-all right which runs for only six months from the coming into operation of the Bill. It would be wrong if it were a continuing right.
It seems to me to be just to give this right, but it was carried in the Committee by only one vote, and, had it not been for the solid support of the Labour Members there, this just provision would not have been in the Report or the Bill. This shows that we are not concerned simply with what might be thought to be the Labour interest in connection with the Wedgwood Benn aspect. We are also concerned with the justice of the proposition, because this might be called the Hailsham amendment if the other might be called the Wedgwood Benn amendment, although we should not personalise and particularise.
Secondly, I do not agree with the proposal that the Bill should come into operation on the dissolution of Parliament. This does not seem to me to carry out the promise which the right hon. Gentleman gave, as reported in column 1549 of the Official Report of 28th March, when he said:But if such legislation were desirable, we would bring it forward in this Parliament so that it might be in operation for the coming General Election."—[Official Report, 28th March, 1963; Vol. 674, c. 1549.]The Bill carries out only the words of the promise and not the spirit. If we wait until the dissolution of Parliament it is very difficult for anyone in the short period between the dissolution and the election to avail himself of this right. It is, of course, possible that someone has a seat all lined up—that someone has had a seat kept vacant for him. But 477 it is difficult. There may be quite a number of people involved. I am not thinking only of Mr. Wedgwood Benn or Lord Hailsham. There may be many others who want to avail themselves of this right.
There is also the point that one of the rights which would be conferred on peers is not only the right to sit in the House of Commons, but the right to vote as electors. There may be sitting peers who simply want to divest themselves of their peerage in order to vote. The earlier we give them this right the more chance they have of getting on the electoral register. In general justice, we should give this right as early as possible. I do not see why Clause 7 cannot be amended simply to say, "This Bill will come into operation on the Royal Assent being given." This gives the maximum time and carries out the intent and spirit of the right hon. Gentleman's promise as we understood it.
I cannot deal with this matter without considering the problems of the leadership of parties, because the date at which the Bill, when it is an Act, comes into operation might affect these matters. We do not want to interfere in the slightest way with the difficulties or problems of the Conservative Party, but it seems to me in justice that it would be to the general public advantage that as wide a choice as possible were available to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite for the leadership of their party. If this Bill came into operation on the Royal Assent being given, it would widen the field in an effective way. It makes absolutely no difference to us who becomes leader of the Conservative Party. We are prepared to take them all on, and the sooner the better.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is an additional point in his argument? It appears that there are eight or 10 Members of the House who might succeed to a peerage by reason of death at any time in the next two or three months. They would be disfranchised until the dissolution of Parliament.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
I quite agree. Mr. Wedgwood Benn would be in some difficulty about fighting an election. If one intends to fight a seat one needs time in which to fight it. If the right 478 is given only on dissolution, this makes things very difficult.
I agree with the hon. Member. It seems to me that whichever way we look at it—from the point of view of the rights of individuals or of the rights of the Conservative Party to have a free choice of possible leaders—there is a good case for amending the Bill to make it come into operation on the Royal Assent being given.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
When dealing with the question of leadership we should be fair to both sides of the House. Ought we not to make it possible for Lord Morrison of Lambeth to come back? He might well be needed.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
Of course, this would apply all round, but Lord Morrison of Lambeth is a life peer. There are some hereditary Labour peers who might be interested. I think that the point about a life peer is settled on a different principle. Of course, Lord Morrison might be made an hereditary peer in the meantime, and then it would be possible for him to do this. I am afraid that at the moment we cannot get Lord Morrison under the cover of the Bill, and I think that the case of Lord Hailsham is a touch more actual.
There are, therefore, two important Amendments which we want to propose. One concerns the drowning or extinction, or whatever is the technical term, of the the title, rather than its suspension for life. The second is to make the Bill come into operation on the Royal Assent and not on the dissolution of the House. There are one or two other matters, and possibly my hon. Friends may wish to raise one or two smaller points.
I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we do not want to delay the Bill. We want it to come into operation as soon as possible. If the right hon. Gentleman is asking, as he is, that the Bill should be facilitated and should come into operation as quickly as possible, why is he delaying its operation to the dissolution? The only argument for speed is that it should come into operation quickly. We could get the Bill to the Royal Assent in three weeks, with a little co-operation.
I assure the right hon. Gentleman that as long as we have the right to argue the points in which we greatly believe, par- 479 ticularly that about extinguishing the title, it is our firm intention—and I give a firm undertaking—to facilitate the passage of the Bill. We do not want to hold it up. We want it on the Statute Book, but we want it there so that it may come into operation.
The right hon. Gentleman wants the Bill speedily on the Statute Book so that it shall not come into operation until some time in the future. My position is rather more logical than his and, whatever he says about other Amendments which we put forward, I hope that he will give careful consideration to the Amendment about the timing of the Bill in order to provide that it will come into operation on the Royal Assent. We welcome the Bill and we shall facilitate its passage.
§ 4.39 p.m.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)
I have only one point to make and at first sight it seems to be in line with a point made by the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker), although I do not think that it is. I want my right hon. Friend to bear in mind what I think would be a considerable objection to the words of the Explanatory Memorandum, which reads:The peer who disclaims is divested of the peerage itself and all legal incidents belonging to if, including disqualification for membership of the House of Commons, but the succession to the peerage on his death is not affected…Disclaimer of a peerage does not affect rights of property.I am strongly in support of people being allowed to stand for the House of Commons if they wish to do so, and I think that the impediment of being an hereditary peer should be removed if that is a man's wish. But I do not go with the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion that the hereditary system has no value at all. As long as we have the system of the monarchy, I think that the hereditary system is very important, even outside the realms of the monarchy itself. As long as we believe in the monarchical system, we cannot have that standing in isolation as the only hereditary system that exists in the country. I therefore believe that to preserve that we must preserve the hereditary system in a more general way.
I am not with the right hon. Gentleman in suggesting the permanent ending 480 of the hereditary principle but I cannot bring myself to believe that the Bill as it now stands will do anything more than create many more problems and anachronisms unless we go a little further than the Bill now suggests, I believe that the Bill should do this. If anyone entitled to succeed as a peer does not wish to do so in order to have all the benefits of a commoner as explained by the right hon. Gentleman, I believe that he should be allowed to divest himself of it, under similar terms as set out in the Bill, but I believe that he himself alone should go; and, in addition, he should give up all the rights to any entailed property that go with it and I believe that, just like the monarchy, whoever is next in line of succession to the peerage should take over at once. If the next in line is a son, he should take over at once, including property. If a brother, the brother should take over the peerage; he should take over the property that goes with it and the brother's successors should keep the line moving.
If it is done in any other way, we get very near to the point that the right hon. Gentleman made when he said that he thought that the peerage ought to be "drowned". He said that a person ought not merely to disclaim it for the period of one generation, but that it ought to be "drowned"; it ought to go for ever. I think that that would be bad. It would weaken the hereditary system. I believe that the anachronism by which a man ceases to become a peer, but still enjoys all the legal rights that go with the property and the things which are part of the peerage, even under law, creates problems which are unnecessary. If he does not wish to continue with the peerage, if his son is next in line of succession, his son should take on the peerage and should be legally entitled to all the entail that goes with it. If his brother is next in line, he should take it on. If his cousin is next in line, he should take it on.
This would mean that the person would be contracting out of something he did not want to have. He would not be retaining any of the advantages that go with that from which he was contracting out in the sense of possession of the property and control of anything that goes 481 with it. It would mean that he was going half way to killing the hereditary system, such as is the case now.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman understands the logic of his remarks. I lived with this problem for a long time. What the hon. Gentleman is advocating is that if a man renounces the title for his lifetime he completely disfranchises his branch of the family. That is a form of drowning.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has followed my point. If a man divests himself of the right to become a peer under my suggestion, he drowns his own right only.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
No. The hon. Gentleman has not followed me. If a man divests himself of the right to become a peer, the peerage automatically goes to his son at that minute. The title is then in being and the entailed estate that goes with it goes to the son.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir John Hobson)
I think that the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) is right in certain circumstances, because if at the time of disclaimer the peer is unmarried and has a brother who succeeds the disclaimed peer may subsequently, have a son who would not be able to succeed because the peerage would have gone to the brother and gone on a different line.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
I was coming to that point. That is the one risk in my suggestion, that a man may be divesting an unborn son of the right to succeed. I claim as against that risk that the anachronism of leaving it as it is would be much more damaging to the nation, if one believes in the hereditary system, than divesting an unborn son of the right to succeed.
I believe that we want to preserve the hereditary principle, because I believe that if it is taken away we are likely to weaken the system of the monarchy. I do not believe that the peerage ought to be in a different position from that of the monarchy itself. If a king abdicates, the Crown automatically goes to the next in line of succession and the line flowing from that successor is the one which prevails. That is the position of the 482 monarchy. It ought to be the position with the peerage. If they go together, they are more likely to be able to strengthen each other.
§ Mr. Donald Wade (Huddersfield, West)
Is not the hon. Gentleman, in effect, suggesting the creation of a new form of privilege? The heir to a peerage, or at the moment when the Bill comes into force an existing peer other than life peer or a peer of first creation, would be able to say to his brother or his son, "I will stand for the House of Commons, and you can take my place in the other place." Surely that would be rather unreasonable and would, in fact, be a new kind of privilege.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Dingle Foot (Ipswich)
The speech to which we have just listened from the hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmer Nicholls) reminded me rather of a remark which was made by Adam Oak-apple in the third act of "Ruddigore", that if a man cannot disinherit his own unborn son whose unborn son can he disinherit?
The hon. Gentleman's speech illustrated the tremendous gulf there is on these matters between the two sides of the House. The hon. Gentleman argued that, because we have a hereditary monarchy, we must therefore preserve a hereditary peerage. Very few Members on this side of the House would propose to get rid of the hereditary monarchy, but all of us would get rid of the hereditary principle if we could, and I hope that in due course we shall.
The Bill is a much more modest affair. I, for one, support the Bill simply as a humanitarian measure, in much the same way that I would support a Bill to prohibit the hunting of carted stags. This is a measure for the assistance and relief of those who, through no fault of their own, are condemned to a death worse than fate. From time to time, like many hon. Members, I wander along the corridor to the other place and I see there those of my friends whom I knew in this House sitting with an air of supreme hopelessness on their red benches.
On these occasions I always feel rather like Odysseus, when he paid a brief visit to Hades. The House will remember how he greeted the dead Achilles as a 483 king among the shades and the terms of Achilles' reply. I quote from Pope's translation of the Odyssey:Talk not of ruling in this dolorous gloom,Nor think vain words, he cried, can case my doom,Rather I'd choose laboriously to bear,A weight of woes, and breathe the vital air,A slave to some poor hind that toils for bread,Than reign the sceptred monarch of the dead.This is a Measure of resurrection. Speaking for myself, I hope that before very long we shall see my old friend Quintin Hogg losing his temper on the benches opposite. He will, I imagine, choose to return from hell, and Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn from the purgatory in which he has been living for the last two or three years. I express the hope that another old friend of mine, Frank Pakenham, will also be able to make his exit from among the shades.
This is only a stop-gap measure. It does not deal with what I would call the real problem of the House of Lords. The Tory Party is always trying in one way or another to patch up the other place. A year or two ago we had the Measure for the admission of women to the House of Lords and for the creation of life peerages. All this really defies the scriptural adjuration against pouring new wine into old bottles. It avoids the two fundamental questions which, sooner or later, all political parties in this country have to consider.
The two questions are these. First, do we need a second Chamber? Secondly, if so, what sort of second Chamber should it be? The answer to the first question is, I believe emphatically, "Yes". In my view, the case for having an effective second Chamber is stronger than it has ever been. That is why I would support the abolition of the present House of Lords. I think that it was just 320 years ago that the Long Parliament, in its wisdom, passed this Resolution:That the House of Lords is a useless and dangerous institution and ought to be abolished.I would certainly vote for that Resolution if it were proposed again today. I think that the House of Lords is useless and dangerous for this reason: it deprives us of a really useful second 484 Chamber. We cannot have a really useful or effective second Chamber if it is based on the hereditary system.
Here may I say, speaking only for myself, I have found that whenever it has been proposed to reform the House of Lords or to substitute something else in its place, the objection is always taken that we must not give too much prestige or authority to the other place, because then it might possibly rival or come into conflict with the House of Commons. That is always advanced as if it were a conclusive argument. It does not seem so to me.
I have now sat in this House, with broken periods, for nearly twenty years, and I take as much pride as any other hon. Member in being here. But do not let us assume that the House of Commons is perfect. It seems to me that the House of Commons as it exists today has three weaknesses. First, the supremacy of our Chamber rests upon the fact that we represent the people, but we do not always represent the majority of the people. It has happened on several occasions that a Government with a majority of seats, sometimes a substantial majority, has represented only a minority of the electors. There is no guarantee that that will not happen again.
It is something which is very liable to happen as long as we have the system of single-member constituencies. I do not think that that system is likely to be changed, at any rate in my lifetime. I have always been a believer in proportional representation, but I think that it is more or less a lost cause. But if I am right, there is always the danger, under our present system, of a Government which represents only a minority of the people carrying through a particular policy which is against the wishes, which may have been the wishes expressed at a General Election, of the majority of the electors.
Secondly, there is a further difficulty with which we in this House have to contend. That is, as I have tried once or twice to point out before, that we are here the slaves of the timetable. We try to reform our procedure from time to time, but we are always up against the difficulty that we have not enough time for all the matters that we ought to debate. It is perfectly true that matters 485 of great urgency and public importance are generally discussed.
When a Minister confesses a falsehood, or is detected in suppressing the truth, there is almost always an immediate debate. But there are a great many subjects of considerable importance which go for a very long period undiscussed in this House. We have had, for example, reports of Royal Commissions and Departmental Committees dealing with matters of great public importance and sometimes one, two or three years elapse before they become the subject for debate. This is a situation which grows constantly worse.
Every back bencher in this House—and, I would think, every Minister,too—must be conscious of the increasing congestion on the Order Paper, especially at Question Time. We may have a matter which ought urgently to be raised in the House, but unless it is so urgent that we can bring it within the rules governing a Private Notice Question, it cannot be raised—it may be for a matter of weeks—until the turn of a particular Minister comes round. That is a situation from which we in this House have thought of no way of escape. That is another reason why I believe that we need a second Chamber with greater leisure than we have, and a second Chamber which is not in the same way the slave of its own time table.
Thirdly, there is one other defect of this House, and that is excessive party discipline. Because the House of Commons can in extreme circumstances make and unmake Governments, it follows that a certain degree of party discipline is unavoidable. A Government, in normal circumstances, have to be reasonably certain of their majority—it is the foundation for it—but I believe that party discipline has been tremendously overdone on both sides of the House during the past thirty years.
I think that it is, as we know it today, one of the evil legacies of 1931 when mere subservience to the Executive was regarded as being a political virtue. It seems to me that for all these reasons there is a great deal to be said for having a second Chamber whose Members are not subject to the same pressures, as the Members of the House 486 of Commons, and who are not so much at the mercy of their own timetable.
I would also say—some of my hon. Friends may not agree with me—that there may be a good deal to be said for having a second Chamber when, as now, we are reaching the later stages of a Parliament and when the Government have quite clearly lost the confidence of the electorate. The present Administration are in a very similar position to that of Mr. Balfour's, in 1904. No one had very much doubt what would happen to them when they had to face the electorate.
But the Government today, like the Government then, has apparently resolved to drag on its miserable broken-backed existence to the very last moment. They are supported by a large number of hon. Members opposite who know that their chances of survival at the polls are microscopic. When we have circumstances like that, we are not dealing with a newly elected House of Commons, which, as Bagehot said, has always been the ultimate authority in the British Constitution, we are dealing with an ageing House of Commons, and I believe that there would be virtue in having an effective second Chamber.
What sort of second Chamber ought it to be? There are only two alternatives. It can be elected, or it can be nominated. The only system of election which I think has ever been worked out was that worked out in the Bryce Report, in 1917. It is a remarkable thing, when we reflect on all the controversy that there has been over the House of Lords and its powers, that the only authoritative Commission which has ever considered the constitution of the second Chamber was the Bryce Commission, all those years ago.
It proposed, in effect, that the House of Lords should be made up elected Members and nominated Members. The elected Members would be elected on a geographical basis by Members of the House of Commons, but they would be elected for a fixed term in each case of twelve years. They would be elected to represent the particular districts or areas, Members for the West Country, or East Anglia, or Wales, or Scotland, each meeting at certain intervals to 487 make their election, and it was also suggested that there should be 81 Members who should be chosen—nominated in a sense—by a standing commission of both Houses. That would have been a rational basis on which to form a kind of senate in this country. The alternative was proposed in 1948 at a conference of the leaders of all three parties.
Though they could not agree on the powers of the House of Lords they agreed on what they thought should be its composition. As John Bright said:The worst of these great thinkers is that they so often think wrong.They certainly thought wrong on that occasion, because they proposed that there should be a wholly nominated Chamber and that the nominees should take their place in that Chamber and should receive some kind of remuneration. I do not think that they themselves mentioned a figure, but the figure canvassed at that time was a salary of £1,000 a year. That seems to me to be open to every possible objection, because it would bring back patronage in this country to an extent unknown here since the eighteenth century.
No doubt the figure of £1,000 would now be higher and it would mean that each party machine would have in its gift a large number of paid appointments which could be treated by their holders either as part-time jobs or as sinecures. I say this not only to the Government, but to my right hon. Friends. I hope that in these circumstances, whatever reform is proposed, we shall never return to the proposals of 1948. Therefore, for this reason, taking advantage of the Second Reading of this Bill, I strongly urge the appointment of another high-powered commission, rather similar to the Bryce Commission of forty-six years ago. I would urge these considerations on hon. and right hon. Members on both Front Benches.
I have been complaining here not of what the Bill includes, but of what it does not, because in Committee on the Bill we shall not be able to canvass these wider principles which I have endeavoured to mention. Like every other hon. Member I welcome the Bill, such as it is. It is a modest Measure, but it will redress considerable injustice both to individuals and to electors.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ Sir William Teeling (Brighton, Pavilion)
The hon. and learned Member for Ipswich (Mr. D. Foot) has covered a very wide range on a Bill which, as far as I can see, has a much narrower object. It is also, I suppose, inevitable that the tendency here today is to speak mainly on the subject of Members of this House deciding whether they should go to the House of Lords or stay here. At the same time the Bill has two or three other sides to it, such as allowing peeresses to take their seats and Scottish peers to become no longer representatives but actually to hold United Kingdom peerages.
I think that a very grave injustice is being done to one other body of people, namely, the Irish peers, and I hope that before we come to a final decision on the Bill the Attorney-General and others will look into the constitutional question, although I know that it has been raised already in Committee before we received the Bill. On the arguments used by Lord Hailsham in another place, it seems to me that the Government have been wrong on many points with regard to the original Act of Union and the position of the Irish peers. When this matter was raised in this House many hon. Members interrupted my hon. and noble Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Lord Robert Grosvenor), and they seemed to think that these people represented the Irish, being members of one country, but in fact the claim is that they represent the peerage of Ireland.
Lord Hailsham said that that was not true and that they represented Ireland. Later he was written to by the present Recorder of Hastings, who is an Irish peer, and it was pointed out to him where he was wrong. I understand that Lord Hailsham has replied, unfortunately in private, admitting that he was wrong but so far he has not admitted it publicly. I hope that when this Bill goes to the House of Lords he will take steps to correct the mistakes he made. The Union with Ireland Act, 1800, does not state in Sections 39 and 40 exactly what the Irish representative peers represent, but by Article IV of that English Act it is provided that an…Act shall be passed in the Parliament of Ireland previous to the Union to regulate the mode by which the Lords spiritual and temporal and the Commons, to serve in the 489 Parliament of the United Kingdom on the part of Ireland, shall be summoned and returned to the said Parliament, shall be considered as forming part of the Treaty of Union, and shall be incorporated in the Acts of the respective Parliaments by which the said Union shall be ratified and established.In the Irish Act of 1800, to which I have referred, and which had to come before this Act, it is expressly stated in Article IV that the 28 lords temporal are to be electedto represent the peerage of Ireland in the Parliament of the United Kingdomand not the Irish people as such.
If any further authority is needed for that, it can be found in the article on "Parliament" in Halsbury's Laws of England, third edition, volume 28, of which I believe Lord Kilmuir was the chief author. It reads:So long as any representative peer for Ireland remains in the House of Lords, he has a seat in the House of Lords as a representative neither of the Republic of Ireland nor of Northern Ireland, but of the peerage of Ireland.This is what the Irish peers are claiming today.
At one period it was said that most of them lived in Southern Ireland, which is now an independent country, but the figures have been looked into and it has been found that of the 69 Irish peers involved, 46 live in the United Kingdom, four of these being in Ulster. Only 17 live in Eire and four others live overseas and, as my noble Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone has added, two have been "mislaid ". This means that there are 69 who today have no means to go to the House of Lords. They have a legal right but, as we all know, that has gone wrong because when in 1922 Southern Ireland became a member of the Commonwealth but not yet independent it was decided that there should be no Lord Chancellor in Ireland, and part of the arrangement under the Act had been that whenever an Irish representative peerage became vacant the Lord Chancellor of the United Kingdom should write to the Lord Chancellor of Ireland and ask him to call together the Irish peers and they would elect someone to the vacant life peerage. This, of course, could no longer be done, with the net result that bit by bit, as they died, no one has been replacing them.
490 At the same time they have a perfect constitutional right to be represented and if anything goes wrong they have also, according to the original Act of Union an arrangement for arbitration in the event of any dispute. This is provided for in Article IV of the English Act of George III, Sections 39 and 40, col. 67, which says that…questions attaching to the rotation or election of Lords spiritual and temporal of Ireland to sit in the Parliament of the United Kingdom shall be decided by the House of Lords thereof…It shall not be decided by a Committee of both Houses, as is being done now, and I understand that the Irish peers are about to get together and try to test this case, or at least petition the Queen about it.
In 1922 it was quite obvious that there had been a slip-up about the Lord Chancellorship, but at that time, as hon. Gentlemen will remember, there was a good deal of bitterness about Ireland; things were going very badly and there was practically civil war; and it was not felt to be a moment when it would be a very popular move to try to do anything about having Irish peers in the House of Lords. Because of that, this injustice has gone on from that date to this. Nothing was actually done.
There are, I believe, something like 140 Irish peers in existence. Of those, many have United Kingdom peerages or other peerages, and therefore the number immediately affected is only69 who are at present without a place. To refer back again for a moment to that period, as 28 was the number allowed to represent the number of people concerned in 1800, it may be said that the number would be less now. I think everybody would agree to that.
As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) said, it will make things much easier it we allow the Scottish peers to become United Kingdom peers than have them elected each Parliament. So I think that something ought to be done for the Irish peers on those lines. I do not say that the whole 69 should be found places in the House of Lords. It was suggested in our last debate that the number should be only four. I think that would be rather unfair. It is in the power of Her Majesty the Queen to appoint life peers, and I feel, and it has been 491 suggested in another place, that it could be put to Her Majesty by the Prime Minister, or whoever will be responsible for it, that a certain number of representatives of those Irish peers should be made life peers. I do not think that that would be unfair.
After all, they practically all of them have extremely good British records. As I say, the vast majority of them are living in the United Kingdom. Their peerages were given them in days long ago for a variety of reasons which were gone into in the last debate and there is no point in going into them again now, but I would point out a small detail of interest.
We have been talking so much about courtesy titles and whether peers who disclaim will be able to retain them or not. There are many Irish peers in the House of Lords with higher titles than their United Kingdom ones. Two just occur to me, the Marquess of Ely and the Marquess of Headfort. Both of them have Irish marques sates but sit as United Kingdom barons, by virtue of United Kingdom baronies which they obtained during the last century. They inherit their marques sates and they come in also for the United Kingdom baronies. Suppose before their fathers died they were Members of this House, or wanted to sit in this House: they could do so after this Bill has been passed, and they presumably would lose their United Kingdom baronies—they would not be allowed to retain them during their lives. But what would happen to their marques sates? They would presumably be allowed to keep them, and their higher rank for their children and their families.
That would be an anomaly separate to the Irish alone. The Irish peers themselves claim something should be made clear about this and if something is not done about it to clear the matter up we shall be left in the position, as mentioned by Lord Kilmuir in a debate in another place, that the Irish peers will be left as they were before. They will be the only people, a complete anomaly, left in that position. The original constitutional position under the original Act of 1800 will have been broken, but they will be left as an entirely separate entity and body under the Queen. If subsequently the Labour Party or others 492 decided to abolish peerage, they would not be able to touch the Irish peers, for they would be completely separate and beyond that control. The Irish peers do not want to be in that position; they want the link and the control of the link, and the only reason why there were the representative peers was that there should be that link. I hope that this possibility and danger may be carefully studied both in Committee on the Bill and again in the House of Lords.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr, Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
I do not want to follow the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Sir W. Teeling) into this discussion of the rights of Irish peers except just to remark that if the proposals before us now are accepted we shall, I believe, be adding some 34 peers to the 930 who are already entitled to sit in another place, and if his ideas which he has suggested were accepted we should increase the total to something over 1,000, which I do not think myself would be a good thing.
I want first of all to say that this is, I think, Mr. Wedgwood Benn's day, and I myself have always been full of admiration for the long and gallant fight he has put up. It is a rather sad reflection on the conduct of affairs in this country that it should have needed the determined and courageous efforts of this one man to focus attention on a problem which has been with us for so many years.
It is true, as the hon. and learned Member for Ipswich (Mr. D. Foot) said, that reform of the House of Lords has been very slow. It has been proceeding on leaden feet through the decades and centuries. In the days of the great struggle between the Liberal Party and the House of Lords, in the days before the First World War, it must have seemed to many people as though abolition of peerage was both inevitable and imminent. It was brought about, of course, by the peers' continuing obstruction of the progressive legislation which the Government of the day were introducing. Yet here we are, 50 years after the passing of the great Parliament Act, solemnly considering the comparatively insignificant question of whether we should permit succeeding heirs to renounce for their lifetime their peerages—for their lifetime, be it noted, because under these 493 proposals the same choice would be available to every succeeding generation.
On the Motion to take note of the Report of the Joint Committee on so-called House of Lords reform—which, of course, it was not—the Leader of the House threatened that if anybody tried to modify the recommendations of the Joint Committee other than in very minor aspects the reactionaries would retaliate by returning to the attack with their own solutions which, he implied, they had been persuaded not to press because of the concessions made by those favouring more drastic reforms.
All the same, I think it should be put on record that we in the Liberal Party are extremely dissastisfied—as my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade), who was a member of the Joint Committee, said—with the method of suspending peerages for the lifetime of persons who disclaim. My hon. Friend made it quite clear that he was opposed to the hereditary principle as such and he did not consider that anybody should be entitled to sit in the Legislature purely by virtue of his birth. I do not see that that is a proposition with which any sane man could possibly disagree, but my hon. Friend, I believe, would have been prepared to compromise on this for the time being, without, of course, committing any future Liberal Government to being quite so restrained, and I think he would have been prepared to make a compromise for the sake of reaching agreement. In the Joint Committee he moved an amendment which would have considerably widened the scope of this inquiry and would have brought in matters such as the hereditary principle itself, and whether the composition of the second Chamber should be determined by selection or election.
But on the more limited question of whether renunciation, as I prefer to call it, should be made temporary or permanent, I think I should warn the Leader of the House that we are not prepared to compromise at all, and in passing I remark that in spite of the play which is made with the use of the word "disclaim "the dictionary tells us that it is a synonym for "renounce ". So I do not think that it would be necessary to do as we wish, to alter the word "disclaim "wherever it occurs in the Bill.
494 It is quite instructive to look at the voting on this question in the Joint Committee. Naturally, as one would expect, out of the nine peers who voted eight were in favour of making renunciation effective for a person's lifetime only. Of the commoners there were five in favour of making renunciation permanent and four in favour of it for life only. One of these was the hon. Member for Windsor (SirC. Mott-Radclyffe), who seemed to contradict what he said in the debate on 28th March, 1962, that, if one allowed people to renounce for a lifetime only, we should reachthe rather strange position of successive generations opting in and out like jacks-in-the-box in respect of certain hereditary obligations."—[Official Report, 28th March, 1962; Vol. 656, c. 1380.]He seems to have changed his mind during the last year.
The fact that the voting was on those lines shows that a different view of the matter might be taken if the decision were in the hands of this House alone I am quite certain that this would be true if it were put to the people as a whole; they might see it as a comparatively simple way of thinning out, over a long period of years, the swollen ranks of the hereditary peerage. This would fall a long way short of the radical changes which some of us would like to see, but it would at least be a small breach in the edifice of privilege.
In either case, no one will be naive enough to believe that the granting of the rights proposed in the Bill will lead to a wholesale exodus from another place. The ostensible advantages of being a peer are quite negligible, but everyone will agree that, in a class-based society such as, unfortunately, we still have in this country even after the upheaval of the last war, the holder of a peerage can exploit his position to give himself tangible advantages. He can, for example, write articles for magazines or newspapers even if he is practically illiterate. He is invited to undertake this work. He is welcomed on to the boards of large companies which are quite happy to pay him substantial fees merely for the privilege of allowing his name to appear on the letter heading.
In the circumstances, it is obvious that the only persons who have any incentive to disclaim a peerage to which they might be entitled are those who know they can 495 obtain, or, if they are already Members of this House, retain, a safe seat in the House of Commons. The hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir G. Nabarro), who speaks much more sensibly on this subject than on some others, has estimated that the maximum number of peers who might offer themselves for election at any one General Election would be 12. In fact, he put the number at between6 and 12, but his top figure was 12. I should be very surprised if that number were ever reached, unless hon. Members can produce evidence to show that I am wrong. By comparing that figure with the total number entitled to sit in another place, we can put the matter in perspective. It is 12 out of 930, which amounts to only a little more than 1 per cent. of the Members of another place who would, or might, desert at a General Election every five years—hardly enough to warrant the amount of Parliamentary time which is being given to such a minor reform.
With the hon. and learned Member for Ipswich, I hope that one of the outcomes of our debates will be the initiation of reform on a very much wider front. As he said, there seems to be widespread agreement that we need some kind of second Chamber, but I should not exclude from the terms of reference of the Commission which he proposed the question whether we need a second Chamber at all. No doubt we could ascertain whether it would be practically possible for the remainder of the functions of the House of Lords to be handed over to this House and what changes in our procedure here would be necessary to bring that about. But if this is not thought desirable, we ought at least to consider the composition of the second Chamber as a whole and not merely the right of a few people to decline or accept membership of it.
It is to me unthinkable that, if the House of Lords did not exist today and it were being set up for the first time, we should decide to base membership of it on the hereditary principle. We should certainly have elections to the second Chamber just as every other democratic country I can think of has now.
The arguments in favour of the hereditary principle are summarised in the Report of the Joint Committee in a memorandum submitted by the Garter Prin- 496 cipal King of Arms. If one studies it, one sees that, although those arguments might have been thought valid in the eighteenth century, they make absolutely no sense today. For example, the genetic argument is manifestly untenable when one considers the unstable behaviour of some noble Lords which is reported almost daily in the national Press.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)
Before he leaves that point, will the hon. Gentleman say how he suggests we should get any really young people as Members of the other House unless we stuck to the hereditary principle?
§ Mr. Lubbock
These are matters which could be referred to a Commission of the type suggested by the hon. and learned Member for Ipswich. The fact that membership of this House is based on election and not on hereditary principle does not mean that we have no younger Members here. The hon. Gentleman himself is an example.
I turn now to two memoranda submitted to the Joint Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Hailsham. His memoranda contain what I regard as rather stale and vapid thoughts with which it would not be worth while troubling the House were it not for the fact that they seem to represent a fairly wide body of opinion within the Tory Party. The noble Lord, of course, is an upholder of the hereditary principle where it suits him. He advances the contention thatmost peers regard their position as involving responsibilities and duties and not simply privileges".In my view, the late Lord Samuel was nearer the truth when he remarked that the House of Lords is the only institution in the world which is kept going by the persistent absenteeism of the great majority of its Members.
Lord Hailsham in his memoranda gives his reasons for objecting to the complete extinction of a title at the choice, as he puts it, of its "temporary holder", He says that many of these titlesare links with a famous past and justly regarded as a part of the national heritage".
§ Mr. Lubbock
I note that that meets with approval on the benches opposite. One might, perhaps, agree with it if one could guarantee that all successors were worthy upholders of the famous names which they bore, but, in practice, the degrading conduct of some of the descendants of some of our greatest men of the past is an insult to our national heritage. Even if this were not so, it is, in my view, time that we stopped living on our past glories. The existence of a system of titles does not help us to export any more atomic power stations or improve our balance of payments.
Lord Hailsham points also to the unfairness which complete extinction of titles might inflict on remote heirs who might wish to inherit when their turn came. But no one has hitherto successfully objected until this date to the unfairness involved in forcing a person to accept a title which he does not wish to hold since, I believe, the fourteen century, as the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Taverne) remarked in a previous debate on this subject.
But the noble Lord, Lord Hailsham, accepts the concept of renunciation. In fact, he holds to it even more strongly now than when he first succeeded, possibly because he thinks in his own case that it will enable him ultimately to grasp the mantle of leadership which is slipping from the moribund hands of the Prime Minister. It is extraordinary that, after the events of the last few months and the startling revelations of the Prime Minister's total incompetence at the beginning of this week, he is still in his office. There is one possible explanation for the way that he clings to his office, and that is that the inner circles of the Tory Party may already have decided in their inimitably undemocratic way that Lord Hailsham will replace him. If that is the case, the resignation of the Prime Minister would have to be delayed until this Bill has taken effect. If that happens, we can give an even more literal meaning to the words of Collingbourne which already apply so aptly to this wretched Administration:The cat, the rat, and Lovell our dog,Do rule all England under a hog.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Sir Kenneth Pickthorn (Carlton)
I have several disqualifications for addressing the House today—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I thought that there would be somebody below the Gangway clever enough to see that one. I have several disqualifications for addressing the House on this topic. Once upon a time I had a little learning in the prehistory of this matter. I have now forgotten all that, and the worst minds to bring to these topics are those which think that they are informed when really they are no more than forgetful.
Secondly, I sat on the Committee of Privileges by the sad accident for this House, although, I hope, glorious for him, of the departure of one of my colleagues to the House of Lords. So I came in on the middle of it.
Thirdly, I sat on the Joint Select Committee, and there, I am afraid, I betrayed and let down the House, because, although I was present at all the informal discussions—and those who have sat on Select Committees know that the thoughts in the heads of the people discussing emerge at the informal discussions, but always with provisos and caveats, and so on—about not being committed—I sat through that stage, but when it came to the formal and voting stages I was removed by act of God or some other superhuman authority from almost all the rest of the proceedings. Therefore, I am not in any sense a good authority on this; nor have I prepared a systematic dissertation for the House.
One or two things have been said which perhaps I might be allowed to comment upon. I should like to comment first on references to the hereditary system, or the hereditary principle. I do not want today to defend a hereditary system or hereditary principle: I am not sure what the words can be taken to mean. On the other hand, we had a warning from the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker)—perhaps he could bear to listen to me for a moment at the cost of not listening to his colleague next to him—that in these matters one must not stick too closely to logic, especially to verbal logic. He indicated—and I entirely agree—that there is a certain amount of feeling and common sense which necessarily comes into it.
499 I think that that is true about what I will call—and I think it is an uncontroversial and anodyne word—the hereditary factor in life. There is nobody who does not believe in it, and that is the honest truth. I do not know how many trade unionists opposite would deny that in trade union affairs and in matters of wage-earning employment, and so on, it is sometimes of very great advantage to belong to a certain family, to be in the business, to have been in the business, and so on. That has been true since Old Testament times, and I suppose that it always will be true.
What is rather striking is that in this matter Mr. Wedgwood Benn showed some signs of believing in the hereditary factor, and so did three or four of his more Leftish supporters on the benches opposite. I will not weary the House with quotations, but Mr. Wedgwood Benn, when he was before the House of Lords in his first attempt and when precedent was quoted against him, used as an argument against unfavourable precedent that both his grandfather and father had sat in this House. The right hon. Member for South Shields(Mr. Ede) and the hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) spoke more than once about how Mr. Wedgwood Benn's case should be very carefully considered and how strong his claims were because of the distinction of his family, because of their Liberalism, patriotism, effectiveness in and devotion to the House of Commons.
Therefore, in spite of all this stuff about, "Do not be mediaeval, old boy, remember that this is the twentieth century", which some of us may even come to regret—anyway, I have never found it possible to forget it—all this kind of stuff will not do. The hereditary factor is a real thing, and the agitation and this Bill and what led up to it, and as was observed by those on the benches opposite, especially by the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell)—I could quote from him—whatever came out of this Committee it was bound to be something which, I think the hon. Member said, would affront, or perhaps it was damage, the hereditary factor. Perhaps he said that it would diminish it. I think that the hon. Gentleman was right.
Whether this is the best moment to 500 diminish still further the recognition of that factor which already has been diminished very much I do not feel sure. Nor do I feel sure that it is in the interests of the democrats opposite, who always use democracy nowadays as though it were a synonym for all that is good and who might well remember as part of this common sense which the right hon. Gentleman indicated about the hereditary wisdom of ordinary people in their ordinary conversations and actions in this country that when we absolutely complete a process we have begun the opposite. The people in this country are deeply saturated with that superstition, and it is a very true one. It is not necessarily the fact that what may seem to be logically more democratic is in fact conducive to the continuance and aggrandisement of that democratic arrangement which we have arrived at in this country.
I do not want to go on at length about the hereditary factor, but I did not want the matter-of-course damning to go by default. There is the habitual assumption that what is unfashionable is, and always has been, absolutely dead and meaningless, which is the most nonsensical assumption in the world. I did not think that that should go by without some very slight comment.
The hon. and learned Member for Ipswich (Mr. D. Foot), whose long and varied experience of politics has made him quick and clever enough to be out of the Chamber for most of the last speech but who came back just before the end of it and now has been clever and quick enough to go out again, will not mind if I now remind him that if he wants to be dragged into the twentieth century he might begin by remembering that glass—I know that there is nothing like leather—glass is not at all like leather. It has superseded leather for the purpose of storing wine and therefore the sense in which the hon. and learned Member quoted Holy Writ, namely, in warning against putting new wine into old bottles, was really of opposite effect to what he meant it to be.
I want to say a word which will please my listeners on the benches opposite, as perhaps I have failed to do hitherto. As at present advised, I agree with the hon. and learned Member and I refrained 501 from voting—it was almost the only vote for which I was present in the Select Committee—because I then was not quite sure. On the whole, I agree with him on the principle that if anything like what is suggested is to be done, it ought to be done by drowning the peerage and not by putting it to sleep ready to wake up when it might choose.
Anybody who has inherited, so to speak, a whole hereditary package of things which, in his judgment, are good things and bad things, should accept his father's assets and also accept his father's debits. That is why I am dubious about the whole principle, although I am prepared to acquiesce in it and do not think we need spend a lot of time discussing it, as everybody else is prepared to acquiesce in the principle of the Bill.
It is obviously true that if one accepts the hereditary factors sufficiently to say that it has been proper hitherto and still will continue to be proper, with certain reservations and modifications, for a single member of a single generation by his action to make sure that his descendants, if any, 50 or 500 years later will have a peerage—if that is proper, it seems to me impossible to deny the propriety when the decision made by the single member of a single generation is that the family should not be able to claim back the peerage. So that, as at present advised on this point, I agree with hon. and right hon. Members opposite on that.
Those are, I think, most of the things which, I felt, should be said. We ought not now to go back on to the things about Mr. Wedgwood Benn's case and how good or how bad it was. We have had a little too much today about how good he was and how remarkable it is that we should have had to await for this Bill, his nobility and ability. I have not a word to say against those things, but to put the argument upon him personally is an invitation to somebody to put what considerations there may be on the other side—and there are some considerations on the other side.
We have had complaints today, for instance, about the disfranchisement of the electors of Bristol. I wish that the hon. Member from wherever it is, Colne and Nelson or somewhere, if he must 502 always talk when he is sitting in the House, would do it not quite so loudly.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
On a point of order. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to make a reference to anybody, would it not be better if he made it clear to whom he is referring and what he is objecting to, or is he saying that when he speaks, let no dog bark?
§ Sir K. Pickthorn
No, he was not really saying so, nor was he ennobling anybody with the title of "dog". What he was saying was what he did say, that he wished the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), when he sits in the House conversing, would not converse quite so loudly.
§ Mr. Silverman
On a point of order. I must appeal to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to be protected from these insults. I will accept it from you if you so rule, but I am not accepting from the hon. Member that Members of the House sitting in their seats are not allowed to converse with one another while the hon. Gentleman is speaking. Such a suggestion is nonsense.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir William Anstruther-Gray)
It was no Ruling of mine. Certainly, there is no reason why an hon. Member who is making a speech should not refer to the fact that other hon. Members do not appear to be paying so much attention to his words as he might have wished. That is perfectly in order.
§ Sir K. Pickthorn
I am one who speaks unwillingly and not very often and who finds it much more difficult to speak and who speaks much worse if loud conversations are continued. In my judgment, it is not a fair way of debating that that should be done, and that is what I was referring to.
In continuation of what I was saying when I interrupted myself, another thing that is worth remembering is that it was the Opposition Whips who moved for a Writ to fill the room of Mr. Wedgwood Benn. That made it rather difficult to do what, in any case, was impossibly difficult, although it was attempted by the hon. and learned Member for Ipswich, to accept and further the final Wedgwood Benn case, the case that was put before the Committee of Privileges and which was quite different from the 503 case which was put at the time of the Private Bill in the House of Lords.
I do not want to pursue these things any further. I only want to make it plain that upon this matter of the relationship of the Bill, which is a Bill of considerable constitutional importance—the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) described it, I think, as being of tremendous constitutional importance and the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) has said something of the same sort—we ought to be slow to assume that the source and origin of it and its whole justification have been the strength of the personal claims of the person primarily concerned.
§ 5.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Roy Jenkins (Birmingham, Stechford)
Although, in general, sympathetic to a paradoxical argument—which, I took it, was what the hon. Member for Carlton (Sir K. Pickthorn) was trying to deploy about the hereditary principle—I found it a little difficult to follow the case which he was putting in the earlier part of his speech.
As I understood it, however, one of the points that the hon. Member was trying to make was that one should not be too sceptical about an hereditary peerage, because some form of hereditary activity or behaviour was applied in a great number of directions and many parents tried to pass on advantages to their children and many children derived advantages from their parents. That may well be the case, but that is hardly an argument for enshrining such a matter as a principle of law and of the constitution.
In a way the hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls) deployed the hereditary case in extreme form and even more cogently than did the hon. Member for Carlton. I was surprised how far the hon. Baronet—I hope that he was not too influenced by his new hereditary title—went in his defence of the hereditary principle. He or anyone else who tries to tie up the fate and the strength of the monarchy with the position and powers of an hereditary peerage is behaving foolishly and doing great disservice to the monarchy.
The last sovereign who showed any sign of being worried about this was King 504 Edward VII at the time when the first disputes leading up to the Parliament Act came about. He expressed doubt about what the position of the monarchy would be if the buttress of a powerful hereditary peerage was removed. He was firmly assured by the Prime Minister of the day that it was most unwise to link the fate of the monarchy in that way with a reactionary and unrepresentative House of Lords. The question has wisely not been raised by any sovereign since then.
The detailed proposition put forward by the hon. Baronet was a curious one. What it amounted to was that instead of the present provisions in the Bill by which a peerage can be put into abeyance for a generation, there should automatically be a succession so that a peerage could never not be in a position of being actively held, if that is the right phrase, even though this, of course, might, from the point of view of those who believe in the value and importance of the peerage, involve some injustice subsequently to the son of the peer renouncing his rights.
The hon. Member's point can have force only in so far as he takes the view that nothing must be done to reduce the number of peers at any one time, because otherwise there would be a serious derogation from the position of the peerage and the service it is entitled to render to the country.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
I did not mean that. If it is the considered policy of the nation and Parliament that the number of hereditary peers should be reduced, let it be through the front door as a matter of constructive policy and not through the side door.
§ Mr. Jenkins
But this is a side-door Bill which no one pretends even touches the fringe of the problem of the House of Lords. It deals only with certain anomalies and injustices to a very limited number of individuals. I am glad that we have the Bill because those injustices were intolerable. The Bill is great tribute to the determination and skill in putting his case of Mr. Wedgwood Benn, for without him we would not have had it. But there is no doubt that the Measure does not really grasp the nettle of the problem of an hereditary peerage or second Chamber.
I am surprised that the hon. Member 505 took the view that one cannot afford to have a peerage in abeyance for a limited period. I would not have thought anyone would be particularly concerned about there being an insufficient number of peerages. The forces working on the peerage for a long time have been inflationary. Surely no one could object to a little deflationary pressure to counter the persistent inflationary pressure which has been going on for the last forty years.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
I want to make my position clear. I rested my case largely on the fact that I do not think that a man who has divested himself of a peerage ought to have all the advantages of being an owner, as it was put by the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker), and should still hang on to the moneybags—the entailed estates. I think that the entailed estates should be kept alive to go to the next in succession.
§ Mr. Jenkins
If that were done, all sorts of questions ranging very widely over the law of property generally would be involved. Here we are dealing exclusively with the right of a man and his heirs either to sit in another place or in this Chamber. I would have thought that a little deflationary pressure on the size of the peerage would not be a bad thing.
I remind the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), who is a Liberal, when he says that he does not think that anyone could possibly want the size of the peerage to rise to over 1,000, that the only person I know of who was in favour as long ago as fifty years of a peerage of the size of 1,000 was the right hon. Member for Wood ford (Sir W. Churchill), sitting then as a Liberal Minister.
The right hon. Gentleman expressed this view at the time of the controversy leading up to the passage of the Parliament Act, 1911. As the House will recall, there was a great controversy as to whether or not it would be necessary to make a mass creation of peers in order to get the Measure through. The general line taken by almost everyone in the Liberal Party, and certainly by everybody outside, was that, while the threat might have to be used, it was highly desirable that it should not be put into effect—that it should be a threat but nothing more.
506 The right hon. Gentleman had occasion to write a remarkable letter to Mr. Asquith, the Prime Minister, in which he said that he dissented entirely. He thought that it would be a good thing to create 500 peers since the country could well afford 1,000 notables in its then state of wealth, and that their creation would lead to a great increase in the influence of the Liberal Party throughout the country.
The right hon. Gentleman, with his inimitable gift for phrase-making, concluded by saying:Therefore, let us go forward clanking coronets in our scabbards.Apart from the right hon. Gentleman I am not aware of anyone who has advocated the advantages of a House of Peers of 1,000 or more Members.
I am sorry to see that the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Sir W. Teeling) has left the Chamber. He spoke of unfair treatment of Irish peers. I do not think that it was so much unfair treatment under this Bill as the fact that the opportunity of the Bill was not being taken to give them fairer treatment than they have had in the last forty years that he was complaining about. But I find it very difficult to attach much conviction to the argument he deployed that there was extremely unfair treatment of these 67 gentlemen.
The argument as to whether they should represent the peerage of Ireland or Ireland itself is an extraordinarily sophistical one. The representation was set up as part of the bargain of the Act of Union in 1800 and it is inconceivable that it would have existed had an Act of Union between the two countries not been created then. We could not have had a representation of the peerage of a non-existent country.
Considering the circumstances in which that Act of Union ceased to exist forty years ago, to go back and recreate special representation of this category of peers would be farcical. It would be as though one had created a peerage of the thirteen colonies in the eighteenth century and claimed that now we should have representative peers of the United States sitting in the House of Lords.
In fact, the Irish peers have been in a very favourable position. They have 507 been in exactly the position to some extent which has been almost universally agreed, in the discussions leading up to this Bill, that people should not be allowed to be in. It is the position of having an option. Lord Curzon, for instance, although as far as I know he had nothing to do with Ireland, when he became Viceroy of India in about 1899 and had to accept a peerage because it was thought then to be the natural accompaniment of viceroyaity, chose to accept an Irish peerage in order to give himself the right, as he was a relatively young man, to return to this House if he wished to do so.
When he came back, rather under a cloud, he did not find it so easy to come back into the full stream of unionist politics, and he chose at that stage to be elected a representative peer of Ireland. Ironically enough, however, in 1922 it was thought that this peerage excluded him from the Premiership. This was although he had since accumulated higher peerages.
There is no particular injustice to these 67 gentlemen. The suggestion that they should have life peerages specially conferred upon them is a most extraordinary idea. They are certainly eligible for life peerages if anything they have done suggests that they would be particularly useful members of another place, but the idea that they should be given life peerages merely because of an anomalous position seems very far fetched.
§ Lord Robert Grosvenor (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)
The hon. Member has rested his argument on the Act of Union, 1800, when, as we all know, many Irish peerages were created. But many were created before that and it would not be fair to base the entire argument on the Act of Union when many Irish peerages were in existence long before 1800.
§ Mr. Jenkins
Yes, but the idea of representation in the United Kingdom Parliament of the Irish peerage as a class was something which arose from the Act of Union of 1800. The Irish peerage at no time in itself conferred the right to sit in the House of Lords of the United Kingdom. It did confer the right to sit in the Upper Chamber of the Irish Parliament.
When that Parliament was abolished, 508 as part of the arrangements for the Act of Union, arrangements for limited representation in the United Kingdom House of Lords were made. That Act of Union no longer exists. What basis is there now for special representation along the lines of the arrangements made on the Act of Union and made then for no other reason, made for reasons having nothing to do with the fact that peerages not giving and not intended to give the right to sit in the United Kingdom Upper Chamber were conferred before 1800?
§ Lord Robert Grosvenor
I agree that that is part of the case, but the contention by the peers of Ireland is that the Scottish peers are treated in a certain way and are made equal with the English peers while the Irish peers are not.
§ Mr. Jenkins
So far as I am aware, there is still a United Kingdom between England and Scotland, which seems to make the matter rather different. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion is not here. He deployed this argument himself and I can only place on record the fact that I found it a singularly unconvincing argument, not merely because of the way he deployed it, not at all because of that, but because of the inherent nature of the case.
The fact that we are tinkering away with the House of Lords, first, by letting in life peers and, secondly, through the Bill allowing certain peers to opt out, inevitably brings nearer the day when we shall have to raise the whole question of the House of Lords itself. I do not find it as easy as does my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. D. Foot) to see exactly what sort of second Chamber ought to be constructed. It may be that my hon. and learned Friend started with the clear conviction that the second Chamber was of great value, but I do not go along with him in that. It may be of some limited value in certain circumstances, but it can be said against that that it is extraordinarily difficult to construct a second Chamber which is both useful and democratic and not an unjustified rival to the main seat of power, as it should be, the Lower House.
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ Mr. A. R. Wise (Rugby)
It is difficult to follow the hon. Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins), 509 with whom I basically agree in much of what he says, even on the subject of the Irish peers. There is one great distinction between them and the Scottish peers. So far as I know, Scottish peers are not allowed to offer themselves for election to this House and Irish peers always have been. Therefore, they have no complaint of any kind, because, if they have been loyal enough to remain British subjects, which some of them have not, they have every right to offer themselves for election to this House. I think that we can dismiss that argument.
I am sorry that the hon. and learned Member for Ipswich (Mr. D. Foot) is temorarily not in his place, because I wanted to agree with him, too. His views on a second Chamber and its absolute necessity are extremely sound. I suggest to him that he has a good deal of missionary work to do on his own Front Bench and I trust that he and the hon. Member for Stechford will start on that without delay. I do not think that there is much danger of the party opposite forming the Government of this country in the very near future, but, in case it does, hon. Members opposite might as well have some sound and constructive views on this matter.
The hon. and learned Member for Ipswich rather gave the show away when he was saying that he was hoping that he would be confronting his old Friend, who was then to be Mr. Hogg, on these benches, arguing, therefore, that in this way Mr. Hogg would be on this side of the Chamber; and of course he will be.
§ Mr. Wise
That is an unlikely contingency; he is a fastidious man.
I want to be perfectly clear. I dislike this Bill intensely from almost every point of view. As has been said, it is piecemeal dealing with a major problem with which I have thought we should deal ever since I was first elected to the House. In the second debate on the Address which I ever heard, I took part in an effort to secure some sort of agreement that something should be done. I point out that it was a pronouncement of my own party in the General Election of 1924 that the reform of the second Chamber was something which would brook no delay. So far, all the efforts have 510 been rightly described by hon. Members opposite as tinkering.
I am not devastatingly attached to the hereditary principle. If we look at it in action and then at ourselves, Members of another place do not seem to do much worse than we do and a great deal of it might well be left alone. I do not mind whether there is an hereditary principle or not, provided that there is an effective second Chamber.
The hon. and learned Member for Ipswich has just come back. In his absence I have suggested that he should do some tense missionary work on his own Front Bench and I sincerely trust that he will. Basically, he is a lone Liberal voice in a slightly more extreme party. Basically, the party opposite does not want a second Chamber at all.
§ Mr. Wise
An amiable monarch who had the habit of decapitating unnecessary agitators.
I have been slightly led away from my main theme. I was making the point that the basic aim of the party opposite in dealing with the second Chamber is to weaken and not to strengthen it. That is why they are supporting the Bill which will allow a certain number of intelligent and ambitious men to leave 511 the Upper Chamber and offer themselves for election here. In other words, the Bill is to produce a drain of possibly the best of the second Chamber and. therefore, unquestionably weaken it.
There are one or two points which will have to be put right in Committee—many of them were mentioned by the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker)—especially concerning the date on which the Bill will come into force. The right hon. Gentleman's argument on that was perfectly sound. It will be very difficult for persons who might wish to take advantage of the Bill to do so. They have, first, to find for themselves constituencies. They have to have time to get around and nurse those constituencies.
The purport of the Bill as it now stands would be, with one exception which I will come to later, to postpone any possibility of these persons offering themselves for election to this Parliament at the next General Election. Their one hope would be a favourable by-election, or the election after that, so it is postponing this for much too long.
I come for a moment to the question of the renunciation of titles. I think that this leads to a great deal of unnecessary complication. In spite of the fact that my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General has studied this carefully, I do not believe that the Bill will not produce a great deal of confusion. If a peer opts to come to this House if he can get in, he divests himself and his wife of all titles, rights, offices, and so on, and I cannot see how, in that case, any of the courtesy titles can continue to be used by his children. In fact, as far as I can see, that must happen under the Bill, because they are not their titles. They are titles which have been renounced. The titles have been renounced by their father, and they are therefore deprived of them.
Dr. Alan Glynn (Clapham)
The children might get their titles from the grandfather and not from the father. If the grandfather were a duke, they would automatically have courtesy titles, not through the father, but through the grandfather.
§ Mr. Wise
We are assuming that the 512 father is a Member of the House of Lords. I do not see how he could have got there if, in fact, the title was to miss one generation and go to the grandchildren. I think that we are getting into rather deep water here.
I do not think that the renunciation of courtesy titles by the father is quite fair. Certainly, Miss Mitford would point out that this would cause sinister mutterings in the hons. cupboard when the news broke. It should be enough that a peer wishing to come to this House should renounce for his lifetime the right to receive a writ of summons.
We may find a curious anomaly if we insist on implementing the provisions of the Bill, in that a perfectly good viscount may come into this place as Mr. Smith, having once been Viscount Smith. Alongside him on these benches, or possibly on the benches opposite, there maybe a number of persons who are entitled to call themselves viscounts, marquesses, and so on, but who are not. They are merely using their fathers' titles. It would not make sense to have Mr. Smith who is a real viscount sitting here as Mr. Smith while others who have courtesy titles and are not real peers continue to use their titles.
Also, this is to a certain extent removing some of the traditions of the House, and our system of address might start altering. I like our method of addressing someone as "my noble Friend", and so on, and I would be sorry to see it go. I know that hon. Gentlemen opposite have no respect for tradition and would like to see the remainder of our better traditions go, but I think that these traditions are worth maintaining.
There is only one man whom this Bill can possibly benefit. He has worked very hard and meritoriously for it. In fact, he has a constituency which is being kept warm for him. He has never been regarded by his local constituency association as being anything other than their prospective candidate.
§ Mr. Wise
He cannot be regarded as their Member; that is nonsense, but he can be, and is, regarded as their prospective candidate. He is the only person who can derive great benefit from the Bill. He is the only one in that fortunate circumstance.
513 The Bill is far too limited in its scope and deals only with trivialities and not the major problem of producing a decent second Chamber which is a thing I have always desired and always will, because I think that there must be some form of chain on any legislature, however moderate. I think that this Bill is much more rightly described as the Stansgate Relief Bill rather than the Peerage Bill, and I do not thinik that I shall find myself supporting it at any stage of its proceedings.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
Like the hon. Member for Carlton (Sir K. Pickthorn), the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Wise) has given us a string of aphorisms that spring from muddle-headedness. The hon. Gentleman has not read the Joint Select Committee's Report. He could not have done, because if he had he would not have drooled on in the way that he did about courtesy titles. I refer the hon. Gentleman to page 9 of the Report which makes this point quite clear. It says thatthe wife and descendants of a Peer who surrenders should not use the courtesy titles or enjoy the social precedence derived from such Peer, even in the cases where such wife and descendants had enjoyed these titles or precedence in the lifetime of a more remote ancestor before the surrender took place.
§ Mr. Pannell
The Report goes on to say thatthe other relatives of a Peer who surrenders should retain the use of courtesy titles and enjoy the social precedence derived from an ancestor or collateral of such Peer.I do not know whether this is the first debate on this subject which the hon. Member for Rugby has attended. Perhaps I might give the example of the Stansgate peerage. Lady Stansgate, the widow of the previous holder of the title, still remains Lady Stansgate. The other son still remains the Hon. David, but Wedgwood Benn himself is no longer Lord Stansgate. He dropped the "Honourable" and became Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn, or Anthony Wedgwood Benn, Esq., and his four children do not have the title "Honourable" at all. I should have thought that that was clear.
On a previous occasion it was suggested that I bad made a mistake in the case of Viscount Hinchingbrooke. If he comes 514 back here he becomes Mr. Montagu, but his wife, being a member of the Devonshire family, retains the courtesy title of Lady, which is derived from a more remote ancestor. I think that I have got that right. Curiously enough, that which is blazingly daylight clear to the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friend is not even dimly clear to the hon. Gentleman, but it would have been clear had he read this Report.
The same applies to the noble Lord the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Viscount Lambton). Bearing in mind that he has a vested interest in this Bill, I am surprised that he did not read the Report itself.
§ Mr. Pannell
When the Attorney-General replies he will say that what is in the Joint Committee's Report is enshrined in the language of the Bill. The right hon. and learned Gentleman can correct me now if he thinks otherwise.
§ The Attorney-General
The Bill does not deal in any shape with courtesy titles, or with the recommendations of the Joint Committee in that respect. It takes the view that courtesy titles are not a matter of law, and does not, therefore, deal with them at all.
§ Mr. Pannell
But it was still clearly understood here, because it was agreed earlier in the debate, that for the purpose of the records of the House, and for the purpose of Hansard, in respect of social occasions springing from membership of this House, including, presumably, invitations to Royal garden parties, such a person is to be "Mr." or "Mrs." as the case may be. Am I right?
§ The Attorney-General indicated assent.
§ Mr. Pannell
The right hon. and learned Gentleman agrees with me.
There are other considerations. I understand the value of a courtesy title. Anybody who has ever been the mayor of a borough and has seen the scramble for precedence on social occasions must know all about this. I am not limiting this to people who are "honourable"; questions such as whether the chairman 515 of a housing committee should take precedence over the chairman of a baths committee give rise to arguments that only people who have experience of municipal government can know. Let us not have any misunderstanding about this sort of filing.
I am sure that the Attorney-General will agree that, as far as possible, the intention of the Joint Committee is enshrined in the Bill, in effect, in that such people receive no benefit at all. Personally, I am rather sad that our former colleague, Lord Hinchingbrooke—now the Earl of Sandwich—was not prepared to stay here as Mr. Montagu. We lost something when he went from the Commons. He is not the sort of man who derives character or nobility from his ancestors; he has character and nobility in his own person.
The other day, in a most wounding speech, the right hon. Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch) said, of another unfortunate person who has come to the notice of this House this week, that the fact that he was a Privy Councillor never made him any different from what he otherwise was, and the fact that he was a Secretary of State never made him any different. It is the individual personality of a man that causes us to honour him. Fundamentally, titles do not make any difference. To suggest that a man is rather a better man if he has a title is absolute snobbery, and the sooner we end it the better.
There is great point in what my right hon. Friend said, namely, that we are conferring on any number of people a great honour in allowing them to be commoners.
§ Mr. Pannell
He probably does not; his name is a misnomer.
The curious thing is that we have had this gibe at Mr. Wedgwood Benn. I cannot repeat too often that but for him there would have been no Bill of this sort. It is an undoubted fact that this Bill would have been a Wedgwood Benn enabling Bill, but for one reason. I know that the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. F. M. Bennett) will agree with me about this. If we look at Appendix 18 in the 516 Committee's Report—the memorandum by Lord Hailsham—we find that it was a cry from the heart. In that document he puts forward the plea that people like him, who, for reasons of public duty as they saw it, accepted service in the House of Lords, should not be denied the advantages given to people who refuse the writ of summons.
That argument was carried by one vote, and immediately it was this Bill ceased to be a Wedgwood Benn enabling Bill, because it allowed Lord Hailsham to come back here, and also every other peer who has ever gone to the other place, except peers of first creation and life peers. It is, therefore, a complete travesty of the facts to suggest that this is now a Wedgwood Benn enabling Bill. There can be no argument about this.
I have just been reading the life of the late Lord Pethick-Lawrence. His biographer refers to the fact that when the fight for women's suffrage fell in, the legislation on the Floor of this House evoked hardly any interest at all; the battle had been won. The backwoodsmen of the time dared not raise their voices any more. Where are the backwoodsmen today? Even the hon. Member for Carlton (Sir K. Pickthorn) sounds reasonably progressive.
The hon. Member for Rugby suggested that Mr. Wedgwood Benn had some advantage over others, and said that he had kept his seat warm. He did not keep his seat warm; the electors of Bristol kept it warm. Those electors, not confined to the Labour Party, claim that Anthony Wedgwood Benn was their returned Member, and that he still is. Certainly, the hon. Member who was returned on a minority vote, and is not in the Chamber today, cannot be considered to be the returned Member.
I agree with those who say that the Bill merely scratches the surface. I am in favour of single-Chamber government. On the other hand, my long experience in political life—forty years—has taught me to take what I can when I can. I am always suspicious of those people who despise small advantages, won on a narrow front, having the idea that something broad is required, as though the social revolution is just round the corner. At the age of 16 I believed that it was, but I believe it no longer.
517 Another point made by the hon. Member for Carlton was that the Opposition Whips moved for the Writ for Bristol, South-East. In view of Mr. Speaker's Ruling, they could do no other. They moved for the Writ—with what result? The result was that the electors of Bristol were tested on this very point. What was their answer? It was a more resounding victory for us—or a more resounding defeat for the Government—even than Orpington. It was one of the most spectacular election results that we have had, despite the fact that the Government sent the ex-Attorney-General there to tell the people what the constitutional position was. He told them that if they voted for Wedgwood Benn they were throwing their vote away. Well, they threw their vote away—to what purpose? They take their share in the victory consummated here today. We are the most mature elected democracy in the world, and the electors of Bristol, South-East were not as silly as hon. Members opposite.
I shall vote in this House in the same way as I did on the Select Committee, by which I mean that I shall support the amendment for the drowning of peerages as against renunciation for a lifetime, surrender for a lifetime, or disclaimer for a lifetime. The argument that a man is somehow disfranchising his successors is an odd one, bearing in mind that all sorts of men can take on the liability of life peerages and condemn their sons. If a man can take on a peerage, as has been done in the past, which has been laid on his ancestor, he should be able to renounce it in the same way. I am glad that the hon. Member for Carlton came down with us on that question.
Do not let us imagine that all peerages are concerned with the wish to remain in this House. I know of a man who can go into the House of Lords, but who was told by his employer, "Make up your mind whether you want to go to that place as a peer or work in my office". He obviously could not work in that office, and he finds his peerage a social liability.
Another question concerns Lord Pakenham. I must make my position clear on this. I am against peerages, but presumably peers of first creation and life peers are not against peerages. They have accepted them for their own lifetime. If one is a member of a Select 518 Committee and is attempting to get a reasonable package deal, one enters into certain commitments—not formal, but moral and mental commitments—in order to reach an understanding of the "give-and-take" sort.
Broadly speaking, hon. Members opposite did not like the Hailsham amendment. They were defeated on it, as we were defeated on the drowning issue. We can thrash these matters out in the House. But it seems to me reasonable that any man who says, "I will go into the House of Lords", has opted for his lifetime, and I cannot be bothered with it any further.
Lord Pakenham accepted an office under the Labour Government which involved his going into the House of Lords. In effect, he got the title. He considered that inexorably the Earldom of Long ford would fall to him. On the other hand, he had taken a decision about another title. I speak as an individual from the back benches—I can speak only for myself—when I say that to take one attitude on the Select Committee and then to take another in the House would not be a sensible position for me.
The position was exactly the same when, as members of the Select Committee, we argued about the Scottish peerage. There are certain principles which I think have priority, and one for which I have struggled is the equality of women. I believe that women should have equality with men and should have the liability of sitting in the House of Lords if that is also a male liability. I believe that a society is healthy and civilised only to the extent to which it recognises in 1963 the complete equality of women, and I do not apologise for sending women even to that place.
Equally, with the Scottish peerage we have the mediaeval hang-over that certain people are elected. It seemed better to bring them all into line, bearing in mind that this Scottish creation involves no more than the number of peerages often created by a Conservative Prime Minister in one year. In any case, many of them may decide not to come.
The next point concerns the date of the application of the Bill. I always felt—perhaps the Attorney-General will seek to disabuse my mind—that the 519 reason that the Bill was drafted to defer its application until after the dissolution was that the Government did not want another by-election in Bristol, South-East. I know what will happen in Leeds tomorrow. Did hon. Members see the picture in the Daily Mail today, of four people standing on a Conservative platform, including the Minister of Health, and only two people in the audience? Despite all the publicity last week and the reference to a Minister who would bring down the Government, only two people turned up at the meeting in Leeds. I will tell hon. Members why. It is because the massive shadow of Gaitskell hangs over South Leeds.
§ Mr. Pannell
It had nothing to do with that. The massive shadow of Gaitskell hangs over South Leeds and the massive shadow of Profumo hangs over the Conservative Party—and they are very different images. Only two people were present at that meeting to hear a potential Prime Minister.
If the Bill takes effect from the date of the Royal Assent it will give the advantages about which the hon. Member for Rugby spoke, enabling people to get into seats. All seats are marginal for the Conservatives. It might even allow Lord Hailsham to be adopted for Stratford-on-Avon, although I do not know about that. But if the election is too long delayed, it will allow another by-election in Bristol, South-East. Even considering the present majority in Stratford-on-Avon. I know that in both cases the result will be very unsatisfactory for hon. Members opposite.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Mr. F. M. Bennett (Torquay)
With the exception of the last point, which I regard as a fair debating point and which, if we did not all rely on your endless wisdom, Mr. Speaker, I might have suggested was out of order in the context of the Bill, there was much in the robust remarks of the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) with which I have considerable sympathy.
I know that the hon. Member will agree with me that we have to view the Bill and the Report in the light of the maximum degree of agreement which could 520 be reached not only between two or three parties, but between a substantial number of people of widely differing views within their parties. He referred to a package deal, and I hope that he did not mean that there was any question of a package deal over the Hailsham amendment as far as I am concerned. I voted against the Hailsham amendment.
My objection to the Hailsham amendment was not on any of the grounds to which he referred. It was based rather on his own argument about Lord Pakenham. I believe, and some of my hon. Friends believe, that inheriting a peerage is an involuntary act for which it is unfair to penalise a man, but that accepting the writ and sitting in the House of Lords is a voluntary act, and that, once it has been taken, the same rule applies as to those who take a peerage in the first instance. These are the arguments which I adduced. If one says that it is hard luck to have legislation which debars them, anything which happened in the past is hard luck, and this House, generally speaking, has set its mind against retrospective legislation.
That is the only critical comment which I have to offer on what the hon. Member said. Naturally, he and I will find ourselves on different sides, as in the Committee, when we consider the question of the permanent or temporary submerging of peerages.
One of the difficulties of catching your eye, Mr. Speaker, is that one almost invariably fails to catch it when one particularly wishes to follow an hon. Member. I should have liked to follow the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) a little earlier. He, with the rest of the Liberal Party, has now left the Chamber. In his challenging remark she seemed to be trying to be more radical than the ultra-radical on the benches opposite.
The hon. Member made a number of surprising statements. He complained about the number of peers there are in this country and reproved the Conservative Party for this fact. There has already been a reference to an earlier effort by the Liberal Party to increase the number of peers, and I should like to refer to a more recent example of an extremely distinguished Liberal Member who played his part in substantially increasing the number of hereditary 521 peers, for reasons other than strictly political reasons.
The hon. Member for Orpington also said that if we were to have a second Chamber it was time that we had an entirely elected Chamber, as was the practice of every democratic country throughout the world. I believe that he is a member of the Liberal International, together with members of the Liberal Party of Canada, where they have an Upper House which is completely appointed. His Liberal colleagues in the Canadian Upper House were all appointed. Moreover, there is a ceiling of 100 members and one can never rectify the balance except through death when another Government gets in. One of the efforts of the late Mackenzie King, before he vacated office, was to get no fewer than 96 Liberals appointed life members of their Upper House—a number which has only now been reduced to 82. So, the next time the hon. Member for Orpington attends a meeting of the Liberal International, I hope that he will reprove his Canadian friends for being the only other undemocratic country in the world in addition to our own.
There is only one reason of substance why I have risen to address the House today. I feel that probably on these occasions those who have been members of the Select Committee should give a chance to other hon. Members to take part. Yet I have felt justified in asking for a few minutes' tolerance today because, in the lonely company of one other member of the Committee, a Labour peer, I suggested that there was a third alternative to drowning of peerages and giving them up for life. This has been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls). I apologise for not being present when he made his speech.
I suggested that the same principles which apply over the abdication of monarchs should apply in this case. If one wants to contract out of responsibilities which go with a title one should contract out altogether. If one has sons after that it is just too bad. I regard it as just too bad in relation to a peerage as for a monarch who abdicates, and for his children after the date of abdication. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] If the muted sounds of 522 applause from my hon. Friends indicate support for what I suggested in the lonely company of one member of the Committee, I hope to have support when I seek to rectify this matter in Committee on the Bill.
There is one considerable advantage on the grounds of simplicity that all these complications about courtesy titles—people willing themselves "Mr. Earl", or "Mr. Duke"—because there is no law against calling oneself what one wishes—then disappear. We would get out of the complications about courtesy titles and all else if we said that if a man wanted to become a commoner he could do so as long as he fell out of the line of succession and after he and his subsequent sons would have to take into account his prior decision to have become a commoner. I advanced this argument at much greater length in Committee, but was not able to get it adopted. I refer to it today only because I am still an unrepentant supporter of a system which, I think, would have greater simplicity and be viewed with much more respect in this House, the country, and the other place.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacPherson (Stirling and Falkirk Burghs)
I agree very strongly with one point made by the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. F. M. Bennett). That is on the question of names, courtesy titles and so on. He did not put it as widely as I would have put it. The Bill is about our two Chambers and more about the House of Commons than another place. I shall come back to what the hon. Member said a little later. This is essentially a very minor and trifling small Bill so far as it applies to another place. Perhaps in its immediate application to us—because it is concerned with one or two, in their different ways, distinguished personalities—it is more important.
Although it is not a sort of Wedgwood Benn Bill, it is in a sense almost a Private Member's Bill, a limited Measure arising from the efforts of one individual who, as has been said by someone, pushed the side door open a little. Like one or two other hon. Members, I feel very disappointed that there has been just this small push to the side door. I strongly sympathise with those who feel that peerages ought not simply to be disclaimed for a lifetime, but 523 drowned if they are disclaimed. That seems sensible and would be no loss to our social organisation. It seems that during the course of a not very long time we shall have to tackle the question whether we are to maintain the hereditary principle in our Legislature at all. I cannot see that we can maintain it for very long.
Those on this side of the House have no sympathy for it, but perhaps it is a stronger argument than simply putting a party point of view to try to figure what the younger generation are thinking about it I cannot find any sort of sympathy at all among those who have reached maturity after the end of the war with anything which would suggest continuing hereditary qualification for membership of a second Chamber. I imagine that as the post-war generation begins to take positions of greater maturity and authority the hereditary element will be simply wiped out.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)
How would we get the younger generation into a reformed second Chamber? How could anyone under 25 go there except by the hereditary principle?
§ Mr. MacPherson
It depends on the second Chamber. If we have a second Chamber one gets into it in prescribed ways. If the prescribed ways include ways which do not insist on an age limit of 25 there is nothing to bar someone joining at a lower age. If he looks around at other second Chambers the hon. Member will find that there are some which have comparatively young members. This, in any case, seems not a particularly important element in the matter.
One caveat I put as, I suppose, a minor point. I am not altogether satisfied on the question of limiting the time. I suppose the argument is that if one does not decide to disclaim within a certain period one is making a positive decision to remain a peer in the House of Lords. I do not feel that that is altogether realistic. I should have thought the starting point should be membership of the peerage and the one positive action should be the disclaimer. I should be inclined to say that there should be the one action and that a person cannot chop and change.
524 The decision should be considered at the beginning of the period, or the operation of the Act is a passive one. If the person concerned does not do anything about it at 25, but decides at a ripe old age to drop out in October, I see no reason why we should not accept that. It would simply mean one less hereditary peer, one slightly increased breach in the body of hereditary folk in the House of Lords. The alternative argument seems a little over-logical. I do not think that this is a matter on which one can be particularly logical.
My chief criticism of the Bill is not so much on the score of its size, or its particular provisions, but on the direction of thought it seems to represent. There have been a long series of attempts to legislate on the basis simply of removing from a peer his right to sit in another place. This seems to be what we should be doing. I cannot see why the other elements matter. It does not seem that titles, names, courtesy titles and all that sort of business have any real relevance. What we are concerned about is simply what should be the qualifications for membership of this Chamber and of another place. I cannot attach any importance or significance to whether a man is called Lord So-and-so or the Honourable So-and-so, or whatever it may be.
I thought even the financial arguments adduced by the Liberal Party were a little over-played. It may be that a number of peers manage to get a few directorships because they are peers. I wonder how many get them simply because they are peers. I imagine that it would be marginal.
§ Mr. F. M. Bennett
I agree with the hon. Member. I can assure him, after a small acquaintance with the City, that companies which have peers as directors simply grade them in the graph not in accordance with repute, but lack of repute.
§ Mr. MacPherson
I am grateful for that support. But, with it or without it, I say that this must be a marginal matter. We have a large number of peers and I do not imagine that many of them, even those who have professional skill in industry, commerce and finance, earn their living in this kind of way.
525 In any case, as the hon. Member for Torquay said, a person can call himself what he likes. There are people whose peerages were "drowned"—if that be the correct trans-Channel expression—at the time of the French Revolution, but who still used their titles. There will always be people who like to call themselves by a particular name, and there is no reason why they cannot call themselves by a name which suggests a title, even if their father had no title. "Mr. Johnson" down the road may like to call himself "Lord Smith" starting from tomorrow.
I do not think that anyone can stop him from doing so. If the Attorney-General has any suggestion to make that there is some means by which he can be stopped from doing so, perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman would make the position clear. But so far as I understand it, in this country we are completely free and easy about what we call ourselves, provided that people do not use their name in order to "bilk" the tradesman.
A young friend of mine used to argue that it would be much more sensible if human beings called themselves by numbers. There might be some complication about signing cheques. But people might call themselves "No. 007"—like James Bond—or "XYZ123", or something like that. I cannot understand why this legislative body should make a fuss about that kind of thing. Surely we should be saying that what matters is whether a person has a right, that we can recognise as a proper right, and a qualification to sit in one Chamber or the other, not whether they want to call themselves this, that and the next thing. Those are trifling matters.
Even the argument that to continue them produces some snobbishness—I recognise that such an argument has some substance—becomes comparatively weaker in these days. Members of the post-war younger generation will not be "bulldozed" for very long by that kind of attitude. They will judge a man more and more on his face value and less and less upon the value of his name.
Reference has been made to the pro- 526 posals about Scottish peers and, again, this seems to me very much a marginal matter. If all the Scottish peers took their seats, the House of Lords would be increased, more or less, only by a capful of peers. I do not see that that will make any difference one way or the other. It is just as convenient to treat Scottish peers in the same way as peers of the United Kingdom are treated. What would be lost is what I might call a very picturesque ceremony which takes place at the beginning of every Parliament at the election of those who are elected Scottish peers. I always regret the disappearance of a picturesque ceremony. The number of people who have seen it is limited, I have never seen it.
I believe that its disappearance would be a trifle compared with the actual membership of the other place. I do not think that this will in any way strengthen the other place and I say that without intending any disrespect to individuals who may happen to join those in another place as a result of it. This particular little group will not make any serious difference to the second Chamber, whether we regard it as an hereditary, a legislative, a working or any other kind of Chamber.
What is needed in the Scottish peerage is a much more liberal infusion of life peers. I have had occasion just lately to note the reason for that. I promoted a Private Member's Bill, which is now in another place, and when I came to look at the number of active peers—with one or two extremely distinguished and competent people among them—Ifound that the range of choice among those from whom I could find a sponsor for my Bill was very limited. It seems to me that the infusion of additional life in the way of Scottish life peerages would be a much more useful process than this is.
The question of life peerages and hereditary peerages brings up the whole question of another second Chamber. This has been a very odd Second Reading debate in that it has, it seems to me, enabled some matters to be dealt with—I dealt with some myself—which might be considered odd matters to be discussed today. But we have managed to introduce broad considerations of policy regarding a second Chamber. I am of 527 the opinion that we cannot continue for much longer to work with one Chamber. We are the "odd country out" among the Commonwealth countries, and among other countries of our own range of population, in that respect. It seems to me that we are not in a position in which we can carry on in that way in a practical fashion.
There are three alternatives as I see it. Before I continue, may I emphasise what is the position? I refer to what I have heard because I have not myself seen the Annual Report of the Registrar General. But I am told that he forecasts that the population of this country will, in a comparatively short time, rise to 70 million or 75 million. In my view, we cannot caŕryon with one Chamber and provide the debating facilities at this level which would be needed by a population of that size.
We know that even now we cannot provide proper facilities for a population of 50 million with only one Chamber. We need one of three things. Either we should consider increasing, revising, and changing the nature of the Committee system in this Chamber as a whole, or we should develop a second Chamber. We should not necessarily give it powers. But at least it should have the facility to debate questions of public importance. Thirdly—this alternative seems to me the most attractive—we should do as other Commonwealth countries and countries of our size have done, and that is establish minor Chambers in suitable parts of the country.
There could be a Parliament for London, a Parliament for Wales—
§ Mr. Malcolm MacPherson
I accept your rebuke, Mr. Speaker. I wondered how some of the earlier substance got into the debate, but I realise that I was going fairly far a field in discussing that matter.
My point is that in this Parliament and in this nation we are not in such a situation that we can say that we will limit ourselves to one Chamber and continue in that way. We have a wonderful Chamber, but its tasks today are so numerous that we shall have to take 528 some additional steps regarding its continuing life. Although I may prefer one alternative, which I cannot discuss, I do not think that my preference is one that history is likely to follow, because it would need a new initiative. The building of a second Chamber is the kind of thing which we tend to do without starting something new. There is a second Chamber and we should be intent on building it up to what it ought to be. That, probably, is the way in which we shall go and, therefore, the future of the second Chamber, its immediate future, is of considerable importance.
I should like to see immediately—I am not now talking of the long-term ideal—two things get under way with a great deal more strength. One is the cutting out of the hereditary element by little bits or by bigger bits—preferably bigger bits and, even better, by wholesale methods—and the other is the development of the life peerage system. If we follow these two lines in respect of the second Chamber, I believe that we shall be proceeding in the right direction.
§ 6.59 p.m.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Clapham)
This Bill represents a small link in a large chain of statutory changes in the powers and composition of the House of Lords which were started in 1911. We must admit that it is primarily a Bill which removes certain disabilities to certain people. But it is a Measure into which we have managed to incorporate one or two useful alterations in the composition of the House of Lords.
This debate illustrates the fundamental difference between the two sides of this House and the approach of hon. Members to this problem. It is fair to say that the majority of Members who sit on this side of the House are in favour of; bicameral system, whereas the majority of Members on the other side would favour single-Chamber government.
I am certainly a protagonist of the bicameral system. When I look at the Bill, I ask myself; how much good or how much harm does it do to the present two-Chamber system of Government? One of the criticisms which was made in an earlier debate, to which I subscribed at the time, was that by allowing people to surrender or give up, or whatever expression we choose to use, their peerages, it 529 could tend to drain the Upper House of a certain amount of young talent.
People who had greater ambition than to remain in the Lords might tend to come here. I believe that the number of people who will, in fact, do this will be so small that it is not a factor which ought to be considered. It is a formidable thing for a man to be faced with the decision of renouncing a safe seat in another place for the possibility, however good it may be at the time, of a seat in this Chamber. I believe that many Members of the Upper Chamber would think very carefully before they surrendered a very great right in the hope of gaining admission to this Chamber.
I share the view of many other Members of Parliament that one of the disadvantages of the Bill is that perhaps it does not go far enough. I am also well aware that the contents of the Bill are the art of the possible. We have achieved the maximum that we could at this juncture. I am not against the hereditary principle. I believe that the public image of the Lords as it is at the moment, in the minds of the public, whether one likes to admit it or not, is increasing.
I hope that in years to come the reform of the other place, which is something which takes centuries and not decades, will, with that ability which we in this country have of moulding the old and the new together, take a form which I have suggested to the House before. I refer to a half-hereditary and half-elected system, the hereditary peers sitting amongst themselves and electing those whom they wish to sit in the Lords. This is perhaps a long-term dream, but I believe that we shall eventually come to this.
It is a suggestion which was made about forty years ago by Lord Salisbury and the late Earl of Clarendon. It is a solution which may command agreement between the two protagonists, one against the hereditary principle and one for it. If we could mould the two together, we might be able, as we have done in the Bill, to meet the wishes of both sides of the House and the wishes of another place.
The question whether a man should renounce for life or for ever is not of so much consequence. What we are trying to do is to remove an anomaly. As the hon. Member for Stirling and 530 Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Malcolm MacPherson) said, we are trying to achieve a Measure which allows a particular category of people to return to this House. I do not think that it is important whether they renounce for life or for ever.
The question of the Irish peers was raised earlier. I think that here the consensus of opinion would be that, unfortunate as it may be, there has been such a time lag that it would be difficult to resuscitate the connection, whether good or bad, between the Irish peerage and the House of Lords. The easiest way to do it would be by a Measure which transposed the name of Lord Chancellor of Ireland to Lord Chancellor of England so that the machinery could be started up again. I understand that a case is coming before the House of Lords, a plea for something of that nature to take place, although I am not in a position to know the details of the appeal.
I think that we have a strong second Chamber, and it is important for the country. During the debate much has been said by some hon. Members about life peers and peers of first creation. If a man is offered a peerage knowing what the consequences are for his life, it is only right that he should not be given the chance of renouncing that peerage. In one case I think that it is fair to say that the person concerned was induced to take the peerage under the guise that at a later date he would automatically inherit a hereditary peerage. I refer to the case of Lord Pakenham. This is a difficult case, but I do not think that it would be right to cater for him in the Bill.
There are a number of considerations which a Member of Parliament weighs when he accepts a peerage. There may be a hundred reasons. One reason in this case possibly was that he would at a later date, anyway, succeed to a peerage. I should have thought that this was a factor. I do not think that his case would be sufficiently strong to allow him to return to this House, otherwise we would open the gate wide for that to happen with life peers.
I welcome the inclusion in the Bill of the provision which will allow peeresses in their own right to take their seats. This is an anomaly which I have always 531 considered to be very unfair. I also welcome the provision in relation to Scottish peers.
I want to put one or two points to my right hon. and learned Friend. One of the difficulties of renunciation would be in the case of the Arundel title which is, as I understand it, the only territorial title in the country. If this title were to be renounced, it might well be that the holder in years to come could by selling the castle create a title. I believe that this is the only case in the Constitution. My right hon. and learned Friend, when he winds up the debate, may agree that this could happen, although I must admit that it is not of real importance on the Bill.
Another point I want to make was well brought out by the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk Burghs. We cannot possibly legislate for courtesy titles, even though they have been discussed in earlier debates, because there is no legislation and no legal justification for their use. I think that I am correct in saying that in legal documents Lord Tom Noddy is described as "Mr. Noddy, commonly known as Lord Tom Noddy". There is no legal justification for the title. Such titles spring from the Crown. Indeed, they can be given by the Crown at will, I understand.
In this case perhaps the right thing to do is to ask for some guidance and ruling from the originator of all honours and titles, the Sovereign. We could ask for some guidance on the rules which should be applied to anybody renouncing his title so as to enter the House of Commons. This would be the easiest way of dealing with the matter.
Much as I welcome the provisions of the Bill—not so much because of the provision relating to renunciation and the ability of former peers to come to this House as because the Bill allows Scottish peers, and peeresses in their own right, to sit—I cannot for the life of me understand why it should not come into force when the Bill receives the Royal Assent. There seems to be no logical reason.
This point has been raised by a number of hon. Members, and when my right hon. and learned Friend winds up I hope that he will give us some valid reason 532 why the Government have deliberately made it the dissolution of Parliament. It would be far fairer and wiser to allow the Bill to come into force when it receives the Royal Assent, which I hope it will. At that time let time run for these people. They can then decide what they want to do. Give them a chance before the next General Election to think about it and, as hon. Members opposite have said, to nurse their seats or anything else. We serve no valid purpose whatever by delaying the time at which this Bill will become effective.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
I want to make one reference to the speech of the hon. Member for Clapham (Dr. Alan Glyn). It is on his last point. Whether the effective operation of the Bill should commence now, as it were, or only after the dissolution of this Parliament might depend on how long its dissolution is to be deferred. I would have preferred to treat the Government's decision to make it operative only after this Parliament had been dissolved, as an earnest of their intention to give the electorate of this country an early opportunity of electing a new Parliament, but, if that is not so, and this Parliament is to drag on in this half-hearted, rather cynical way for its full legal term, then I should have thought it better, if we are to have the Bill at all, to have it as soon as it can be enacted.
By an unforeseen and unfortunate chance, which I am sure that the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Wise) regrets even more than I do, I happen to agree with his whole attitude to the Bill. I apologise for not having heard all the speeches in this debate but I have heard a good many of them, and very interesting and, in some cases, fascinating speeches they have been. By tradition of the House the limits of debate on Second Reading are rather wide, and it is far from me to suggest that they ought to be narrower, so there is no question about not being in order, because all the matters that we have been discussing lie in the background of the Bill. Although not in any sense not in order, a great many of the more interesting things discussed had little, if any, reference to the contents of the Bill.
The Bill does not, as I understand it, raise at any point the question whether we should have two-Chamber or single- 533 Chamber government. No doubt this is all in our minds. No doubt this is the question, on whichever side we are, that the majority of the Members of the House of Commons would like to have decided and removed from future political controversy, either as between the parties or across the parties. This Bill does not decide that. The Bill has nothing to do with it. One can be for the Bill or against it, for this Clause or against it on Committee stage. Report and Third Reading and now on Second Reading, whatever one believes about the question whether we ought to have single-Chamber or two-Chamber government. So although the speeches were interesting, they do not do us much good.
The same is true of the other important principle involved. On the assumption that we have two Chambers, ought one of them to consist of people who are members of it by hereditary right? That is not involved here at all.
This is a little Bill—a petty Bill. I shall not vote against it because it is not worth voting against. It does not do anything that is important enough to vote for or against. I should be very glad, if I am fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, to state my views on either of those principles at a time when Parliament is ready to decide anything about them, one or the other. But at this moment to vote in the context of this Bill in the self-delusion that somehow or other we are making a contribution to the great constitutional questions of the hereditary principle or two-Chamber government—I cannot follow that at all.
I should at this stage have liked to say something to my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), who has taken so prominent and useful a part in the arguments and discussions that we have had about these matters. I, too, am just a year or two too old to be very patient of the all-or-nothing boys. One prefers all rather than some, some rather than less, no doubt. If I could persuade myself that the Bill was really a half-way house or a quarter-way house or even one solid inch along the road, I certainly would not cast cold water or a wet blanket on it merely because it did not go far enough. It seems to me that in so far as it impinges at all on either question—the question of 534 single-Chamber government or of the hereditary principle—it is not a step forward, or at least only a very small step. For what it is worth, it is a step backwards.
My hon. Friend said that this was not a Wedgwood Benn enabling Bill. I gathered from the rest of his speech that he will do his best in Committee to make it just that. Let me say at once that I have no objection. If this really were a Wedgwood Benn enabling Bill and nothing else, I think that it would be a much better Bill. It would, at any rate, do one really limited thing—remove one single unit of injustice even if it did not really affect the principle. But it does not as it stands on Second Reading. I do not know what it may be like on Third Reading, but at the moment it does not do that. Why not? First it begins by giving a statutory sanction, I think for the first time since the Act of Settlement, to the hereditary principle. It presupposes that we ought to create special privileges in order to remove, if they choose but not otherwise, disabilities which fall upon people by reason of their parenthood.
It may be asked what is wrong with that. It may be asked, "Is not that a step forward to what you want? Does it not go at any rate a little way and is it not nonsense to say that it does any harm in the opinion of those who would like to see the hereditary principle abolished or diminished?" I think not, and I invite the House to look at it and see.
If a man who has an option under the Bill to say, "No, whatever my father may have decided, or whatever obligations he might have been content to accept when my grandfather died, I for my part renounce them and renounce them for ever", then it could be fairly said that we had gone a little but a significant way towards reducing the operation of the hereditary principle. Perhaps in Committee this may be done. I doubt it, but if it is done, then to that extent the point which I am making will cease to have validity. This afternoon, however, we can consider the Bill on Second Reading only as it now stands, and as it now stands no one who has this option of privilege conferred upon him by the Bill is called upon to 535 renounce anything whatever as far as the hereditary principle is concerned.
This is why the Bill quite rightly calls it not a surrender but a disclaimer—a disclaimer for himself without prejudice to the hereditary principle, the effects of which he is disclaiming for himself. When he dies, his son, by the operation of the hereditary principle, jumping the gap of the disclaimer, becomes again a member of the second Chamber on the hereditary principle.
I cannot see that, in objecting to that, I lay myself open to the criticism which my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West offered, that I was casting away—he did not put it this way but it is the point—half a loaf because I did not get the whole. I am not. The Bill does not contain a half, a quarter, or a slice of a loaf or even a crumb as far as the hereditary principle is concerned.
It seems to me, therefore, that in order to remove a disability in the case of a very limited number of individuals, and perhaps only one, we have to prescribe once again for the first time for several hundred years in our legislation and constitution the acceptance and reaffirmation of the hereditary principle. This seems to me to be far too high a price for the only redeeming and compensatory feature of the Bill, namely, that it will enable my friend Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn to return to the House of Commons.
What does the Bill do about a second Chamber? It reaffirms that too. It is based on the assumption that a second Chamber will go on for at least two generations, for the generation of the man who disclaims for himself so that his children shall not be prejudiced or embarrassed by his choice and will enable them on his death to be members of a second hereditary Chamber of which he might have been a member but for his disclaimer. It does not seem to me, therefore, that the Bill is worth all the time and all the heavy learning and all the profound philosophical disquisitions spent on it in this debate.
Why cannot the House of Commons take its courage in its hands and face the realities of the political situation here? No one thinks that if we did it now we would be doing it for all 536 time. Somebody spoke about 1924 and statements about a belated amendment. In 1924 it was already belated by 30 years. The 1911 Parliament Act was a temporary Measure to tide over particular political difficulties. In those days life peers could not be created. Therefore, the Sovereign's consent had to be obtained in advance to intimidate the Opposition of the day by creating enough hereditary peers to enable the majority of the House of Commons, representing the majority of the people of the country, to have its way.
I hope that the House will forgive me for any apparent unseemliness, but in those days the story was told of a political hostess who when asked if she believed in a second Chamber replied, "Of course I do. My husband is a Liberal peer." That, I think, had as much relevance to the argument as all we have heard today about the limited purpose of the Bill.
Why cannot we take our courage in our hands and deal with a problem, whichever way we decide it, which by common consent has been overdue for decision for more than half a century? I know that the House is anxious, and very likely ready, to come to a decision. In view of the fact that apparently nobody, not even myself, will oppose the Bill, there is no reason why the House should not come to a decision. But there are important constitutional issues here and I hope that the House will forgive me for having kept it so long from the decision which it wants to take.
§ 7.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)
I am concerned about certain things in the Bill and I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his various arguments.
I accept the principle of one-Chamber government. I object to an hereditary institution playing a part in the legislation of the country, I recognise that all of us inherit qualities from our parents, that there is a biological inheritance running through every family, but it does not follow that if a man who has made a great contribution to society by some activity or other has a peerage conferred upon him, genera- 537 tions later someone should be able to play a part in our Legislature because his ancestor was a famous soldier, engineer, or scientist.
§ Mr. Bence
I think that this is part of the evolutionary process of a democratic society. It would be out of order to discuss the matter now, but it might well be that something would evolve out of the House of Commons, and this House needs reforming. It is urgent that in our Parliamentary institutions and in that reform we should discard the inherited second Chamber and out of our deliberations have reform, by creating either permanent committees or an institution which is part of this House for the democratic government of the country.
I am concerned about the point made by several hon. Members that a peer, or a nobleman who is the son of a peer, may sit in this Chamber for twenty years and maybe for that period a very awkward Member of the House of Commons. I believe that democracy and the Parliamentary institution is strengthened if we have in the House of Commons quite a lot of awkward Members, awkward from the point of view of the Establishment—of either side. I am not referring to my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes).
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
My hon. Friend is not proposing to punish them by sending them to another place?
§ Mr. Bence
No. I am leading up to a point which is the converse of that.
Hon. Gentlemen on the other side have talked of their wish that dynamic personalities in the other place or liable to go to the other place will be retained here. I can visualise in the present Chamber many noble gentlemen who perhaps some time will go to the other place. There are many here who would welcome the speeding of the day on which they go there and who would not wish to come back.
I have been here long enough to know the difficulties in our Parliamentary 538 system, the difficulties with the parties and the Establishment, and to know how difficult it is for those who have very strong convictions of their own, and who are dynamic personalities, and who refuse to be slavish servants of the party machines. I am not one of those people myself. I generally support the party of which I am a member. I have generally done so, although every one of us, I suppose, has his moments when he disagrees with his party.
I am convinced that the Bill, as my hon. Friend has said, is a petty little thing, because I really do not think that the Establishment—particularly that Establishment—will make it at all smooth or easier for anyone who is an individual and the son of a peer, or is in the other place, to stay or to come here through being elected for a constituency. I am absolutely certain that pressure will be put on to try to stop awkward, dynamic people from getting in here. Dynamic people are not always so welcome as some of us tend to think—not always so welcome in this institution or in many another institution.
There is one thing I do not understand. I understood that the House of Lords was abolished by Cromwell by Act of Parliament and that that Act has never been repealed. I may be wrong about that. I understand that that is why it is out of order to refer in this Chamber to the House of Lords; we must refer to it as the "other place".
§ Mr. Speaker
It is a long way beyond the scope of this debate to talk about abolition either in the past or the present of the House of Lords.
§ Mr. Bence
Well, Mr. Speaker, Clause 1(2) says:in respect of a peerage by a person who has applied for a writ of summons to attend the House of Lords…".Such a person may be a Member of this House, and maybe the heir to a peer, and liable to be called to another place. 539 When this Bill becomes law he will be able to submit himself to be nominated as a candidate in a Parliamentary constituency, and go before a selection conference in the constituency. While he is going through that nomination, even when he has been selected, he may inherit a peerage; his father may die and he inherits the peerage. He is then subject to be summoned to the House of Lords, but he continues to contest the election. If he fail she need not submit a disclaimer; he can go to the House of Lords.
As I understand the Bill, he can go to the House of Lords. If he wins the constituency seat he can make a disclaimer. This seems to me to be giving him two bites at the cherry of entering this Legislature.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
He gets two bites if his father dies while he is actually contesting the election.
§ Mr. Bence
I am saying this because I hope for an answer from the Attorney-General. It seems to me that this is the position. He need not apply for a disclaimer before he contests the seat, or before he offers himself as a candidate. He can offer himself as a candidate a month before making a disclaimer, and if he is successful he can make the disclaimer, and if he fails he need not make the disclaimer and can go to the House of Lords. I may be wrong in this, but I am explaining the Clause as I read it, and if within twelve months another seat comes up he can have another shot. It may be a point on which I am wrong but I hope for an answer from the Attorney-General.
I feel that on the first point I am very nearly correct and if I have read the Clause correctly, then I object to it very strongly indeed. I think that if a young man wants to pursue a political career in this place he should do it in the way all of us have to do it, through election, in the way of all of us to this House.
Another thing I strongly object to is that on disclaimer of the title none of the other benefits or the assets of the peerage, whatever they may be, is disclaimed. I understand that many of those who have inherited peerages have inherited not so much assets but 540 liabilities, and have not spent their lives enjoying the benefits but have spent their lives trying to overcome the disabilities which their inheritance has brought upon them. I read in a book published by a well-known member of our party, many years ago, that many of those who inherited peerages have had very hazardous lives trying to overcome the disabilities they inherited.
However, there must be some value to a peerage, to the great honour which is handed on, and if there are great liabilities they must be discharged, just as, if there are assets, they are retained. In this case, however, liabilities can be discarded, the liabilities which bar from a political career in this House; but, at the same time, the material benefits of the gift or inheritance which is handed on are retained.
Many of those who will inherit peerages and who will toy with the idea of disclaiming in order to come into this House will be reluctant to apply for disclaimer unless they can feel that by coming into this House they are stepping on to the ladder of very high office indeed. I think that this consideration will weigh very heavily on those who will be able to make disclaimers. This is one of the reasons why I agree that this is a very small Bill indeed and that very few will renounce their inheritance.
There is a great duty on anyone who inherits a great quality to cherish and develop it, but I feel that many noble gentlemen will hesitate before, as it were, discarding a gift, unless they feel that in doing so they can achieve advancement and progress for themselves through this institution. This, I feel, is undesirable; and it is for this reason I think that the Bill's proposal is undesirable, for it sounds as though it may develop some nepotism—some such relationship between peers, on the one hand, and, on the other, the establishment of whatever political party is governing the country.
Although I shall not vote against the Bill, for many reasons, I still think that it is an undesirable and very petty Measure.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)
We have heard some very interesting 541 speeches in the debate, although I agree with my two hon. Friends who have just spoken, the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) and the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), that this is a distinctly limited Bill. The House will remember that, in the discussions before the appointment of the Joint Select Committee whose Report the Bill follows, suggestions were made at one time that there should be a broader field of consideration including something about the reform of the House of Lords, questions of bicameral government, and the like, and those suggestions were turned down, as far as any possibility of agreement went, on the ground that we on this side would not go into those questions unless we could also go into the question of powers.
This is a line which has been taken for many years in my party and also, I think, in the Liberal Party. We are not prepared to discuss questions of reforming the House of Lords by agreement unless we can consider also the limitation of powers which we should think necessary in that sort of case. Accordingly, the present Bill is a much smaller matter.
I think that the House will agree that it arises out of what was really an injustice. Not for the first time had this injustice occurred. One Member of the House after another had had occasion to protest against being dragged up to another place against his will because he had succeeded to a hereditary peerage. People have felt that this was unjust, but this kind of injustice does, in fact, find a remedy when someone comes along who not only is sufficiently vehement but has some of the, shall I say, unreasonable awkwardness of the reformer, someone who takes every opportunity open to him, and some which, perhaps, are hardly open to him, to get the thing put right. This is what happened in this case. I feel that Mr. Wedgwood Benn should receive the thanks of all of us for having been unreasonable, for having got an injustice put right against the whole force of the Establishment, tradition and the rest. This is something worth doing by any Bill, by any use of die machinery of a Joint Select Committee or the like.
542 The occasion has been taken to deal with one or two other minor absurdities and injustices which called for correction. There is one matter which, though quite small from the point of view of numbers, is, I think, of real importance. By the Bill, for the first time is established the right of women who are peeresses in their own right to stand on the same footing as men. I hope that we are all sufficient feminists to regard that as a good and important change well worth making.
We have dealt with two other matters. One is the wholly absurd position of Irish peers. They have been called peers. There is no Irish representative peer now; the last one died a couple of years ago. The Irish peers are, therefore, not representative, so there cannot be representative peers. There does not seem to me to be any particular reason why there should be, and the only point is that they cannot sit in the Northern Ireland Parliament. Of all ridiculous situations, I should have thought that that was one of the most ridiculous which our history and constitution ever arrived at.
As to Scottish peers, I hesitate to say that there is any absurdity about them, but there is an almost infinite complication. If anyone wants a bit of light reading, I recommend Appendix 14 to the Report of the Joint Select Committee. In the absence of any Scottish Law Officers in the House, the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General will, I do not doubt, be only too glad to give us at some time a short summary and criticism of the memorandum of the Lord Lyon King of Arms on questions connected with Scottish peerages. Perhaps I had better say no more about it.
Those are the purposes of the Bill, and I am very glad that, although some of us would have liked a different Bill, and some have this or that point to make about it—I shall mention one or two myself—we all feel, at the end of the day, that it is right to let this vigorous and vehement young man have his way and be able to come back here. It is right not particularly for him—he was a very good instrument for the purpose—but it is right, too, for the people of Bristol, South-East. They voted for him knowing very well that there was something a bit odd about the situation—I am not using judicial language or trying to—and they made perfectly clear that he was 543 the man they wanted in the House of Commons.
I am not saying anything contentious about his opponent or about what happened. I mean simply that it is a good thing for democracy that, when this kind of event occurs, it should, if possible, have some effect ultimately. That is what has happened in this case. It is probable that, however vehement he had been, without that support from the people of Bristol, South-East, he would not have succeeded in getting us to do what I hope we shall do today.
In any consideration of whether we ought to have a second Chamber, reform of the House of Lords, or anything of that sort, there is one important fact which should be borne in mind but which nobody has mentioned today, although a good deal has at times been said about it. The House of Lords is, and seems likely to remain, the preserve of one political party. We cannot really talk sense about the question unless we bear that in mind. However, I am not here to talk about that now.
There are two important points which my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) mentioned at the beginning of the debate and which I repeat shortly now. One relates to the extinction of peerages, the drowning of peerages—whatever words are used. As the Bill stands at present, one has to produce a state of affairs which has never existed before. Artificially, one makes a dormant peerage, something which is supposed to lie about somewhere and to crop up again when a man who has renounced his peerage dies. I have never heard of that being done before.
§ Mr. Mitchison
Of course. I am well aware of that, but I have never heard of an Act of Parliament which had the deliberate intention and effect of creating dormant peerages. I see no reason for doing it. Quite simply, it seems rather absurd.
I never really know why people talk about the hereditary principle. Why is it a principle? What sort of principle is it? What does it mean? Rather like Henry Ford who said that history is "bunk", I feel that the hereditary 544 principle is rather "bunk" too. But I dare say that others take a different view. Be that as it may, whatever lies at the back of it all, this extraordinary device of tucking the peerage up in bed, telling it to go to sleep until someone dies, seems quite ridiculous.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
Does my hon. and learned Friend think that it would be far better if the Short Title of the Bill were altered? It is not really a Peerage Bill but a Bill for the creation of life commoners.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I still take the point, and I think my hon. Friend will agree, that, important though it is to deal with what might be called the Wedgwood Benn question, it is important also that the limited number of women who have been penalised compared with men, whatever we may think of the men's rights, should at least have the same rights. I am sure that we are all good enough feminists to feel that that should be done. Indeed, it should have been done long ago. When we divided in the Joint Select Committee on this matter of drowning peerages the majority of Members of this House voted for drowning. The voting was five to four. It was only members of another place who swung the balance the other way. No doubt this will be raised in Committee.
The second point is this. Why have the Government thought it necessary to make the Bill operative only from the date of the next General Election? I have been sitting here practically the whole day thinking what can be the reason for this. I have been able to evolve only one possible reason. I do not know whether it is the right one or not; it probably is not. Are the Government thinking that an ex-peer who has renounced his peerage may be adopted as the next candidate for the Bromley Division?
Is that what is in their mind—one man out of another place and another man going into it? I agree that this kind of suggestion is not too serious, but what is the object of making this provision? I simply cannot see it. No doubt when the Attorney-General winds up the debate he will tell us what is the practical reason for this. There are very obvious reasons against it. It looks fishy. Whether it is fishy or not it looks it, and that is a rather good reason in a Bill of this sort. 545 Thirdly, I am rather worried about the timing in some of these cases of renunciation—or should I use the other word? Let me give one very short instance. Take a man who succeeds to his peerage the day before Parliament is dissolved. He has a month in which to disclaim. If he is a Member of Parliament, he must do that by notice to the Speaker. I am not clear that the Speaker is there for that purpose. People always say that the Speaker remains between one Parliament and another, but he does so only for limited purposes.
I assure the Attorney-General that I do not expect him to answer this sort of point this evening, but one finds on page 251 of Erskine May that by two Acts of Parliament of 1832 and 1846it is provided that, in case of a dissolution, the then Speaker shall be deemed to be the Speaker, for the purposes of those Acts, until a Speaker shall be chosen by the New Parliament.When one looks, as I have looked, at the purposes of those Acts, one finds that they are strictly limited. There happen to be certain financial purposes with which I need not trouble the House. It seems to me that if we say that the Speaker shall be deemed to continue as Speaker for certain purposes, it is very strange that he should be taken to continue for other ones. This kind of point wants looking into.
The point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East and one or two others are all Committee points, and I hope that the Government will have a look at them. May I say in the presence of the Leader of the House that I listened very carefully to what he said at the beginning of his speech. I did not quite follow him. I am sure that this is my fault and not his, but I suspect that there was another point which also needed some attention. I trust that the Government will take the opportunity to look at these matters before the Bill reaches Committee.
I have taken up too much time already on a Bill of this sort and I conclude by saying that we on this side are heartily glad that this limited Measure has been brought forward. We shall certainly support it in every possible way. We think that the two points which I mentioned, and which I will call roughly drowning and dare, are serious and important, but, just as they were not enough in the 546 proceedings of the Joint Select Committee to make us vote against the Report as a whole, so they are not enough to make us vote against the Bill as a whole.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir John Hobson)
I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) that we have had very interesting speeches during the debate. It is usual for one to say that they have been wide-ranging speeches. In the course of this debate they have been exceedingly wide ranging on a Bill which has a limited purpose. Some speeches were slightly more wide ranging than others, but I note that only one voice has been raised firmly against the Bill, and, after I have given what explanations I can about the questions which have been raised, I hope that the House will give it a Second Reading.
It is quite right, as has been said, that the Bill does not attempt to reform the House of Lords in any way. Nor does it raise the very wide issues which were touched on particularly by the hon. and learned Member for Ipswich (Mr. D. Foot) about whether there should or should not be a second Chamber and whether, if there is a second Chamber, its present composition ought to be radically reformed. Nevertheless, I submit that the Bill makes some important constitutional changes which may vitally affect the prospects, future life and usefulness of numerous individuals, and, in particular, as the hon. and learned Member for Kettering said, of peeresses, who, up to now, have not been able to have the equality between the sexes which is now almost universally accepted in this country.
The Bill affects the composition of both Houses of Parliament and, to that extent, it changes the rules of the political game. It is desirable that constitutional changes of this nature, whether we regard them as large or small or whether we regard them as more or less important, should be made with the maximum support and agreement between not only the political parties in each House of Parliament but the two Houses themselves. It is for that reason that I am grateful that there has been so much unanimity in the House today. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham 547 (Dr. Alan Glyn) that this is another example of the art of the possible, which is what politics are so often about.
While there are no doubt many details which will have to be examined in Committee, where many of the subjects which have been discussed today will be raised again, I am glad that there is fairly general agreement on the Bill's main provisions. I agree particularly with the right hon. Member for Smethwick Mr. Gordon Walker) that it is important that we should maintain the principle that there should be no "in and out" of either House. There should be a single option, and it should remain a single option throughout.
It is also important that the Bill should maintain the principle that it applies to hereditary peers only. It is very difficult to see how it is possible on that principle to make any special exception for the noble Lord, Lord Longford, whatever regrets people may have about that. While it can be discussed, it seems difficult to depart from the general principle for a particular individual's advantage.
May I deal first with one of the principal subjects of discussion, namely, whether the disclaimer provided for by the Bill should, as it is said, drown the peerage and extinguish it not only for the peer who disclaims but for his descendants, or whether, as the hon. and learned Member for Kettering said, the peerage should be made dormant or in abeyance by Statute for life. The right hon. Member for Smethwick and the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) dealt with that. I agree with the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) to the extent that it raises the question of whether the hereditary principle should continue to apply.
I am grateful for what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls) and my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Sir K. Pickthorn) about the importance of the hereditary principle as the support of the House of Lords. However one may agree or disagree with those arguments, I submit that those are matters which fall for consideration at the time, when it comes, when there should be a general review of the House of Lords and the basis upon which persons should sit there, and that it would be wrong in a Bill of 548 this nature to endeavour by a side wind to diminish the effect of the hereditary principle because one is trying to make a provision under which an individual may sit in this House if he desires to do so.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I cannot quite follow this argument. When a man accepts a peerage in the first place, he accepts it for himself and his posterity; he has no opportunity of consulting them. When he accepts it in this way and binds posterity by so doing, why is it not an equal principle that if he is allowed to disclaim it, he should disclaim it for his posterity in exactly the same way as it was created for his posterity in the first place?
§ The Attorney-General
All I am saying is that that might be the basis of a general reform for, as the hon. Member said, a diminution of the numbers in the House of Lords; but that is not what we are doing in this Bill. We are providing the opportunity for individuals to sit in this House although they would otherwise have been peers.
All I am saying is that it would be wrong, while the membership of the House of Lords generally remains based upon the hereditary principle, to use this Bill to diminish that principle and that, as long as that hereditary principle is retained as the basis of membership for the House of Lords, it would be anomalous to allow a peer by his arbitrary action to prejudice both the Sovereign's and his heirs' constitutional rights and obligations.
§ Mr. Mitchison
Is not the inevitable conclusion that in these cases we are creating a kind of dormant peerage, which has never existed before and is not supported by the hereditary or any other principle?
§ The Attorney-General
It is quite right that during the time it has been disclaimed for the life of a particular incumbent, the peerage will be in the same condition as a peerage which is dormant. This will have been achieved, it is true, by Statute, but it will not mean that the peerage itself has been extinguished or drowned. This should not happen while the hereditary basis is the foundation of the House of Lords. I quite appreciate that there are arguments on either side, and I have no doubt that 549 we shall return to them in Committee and that this will be one of the principal matters of debate that is bound to arise in Committee.
§ Mr. Bourne-Arton
Would not my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is a mistake to assume that the heir to a peerage which is in abeyance, or which has been disclaimed, is necessarily of that peer's posterity or one of his descendants? He may be no such thing. Clearly, if he is a distant relative, the opportunity for blackmail would be considerable.
§ The Attorney-General
That may be so. The converse is that by a whim, an elderly gentleman who was unlikely to live long might desire to disinherit from the peerage his relations or cousins who he knew were the next successors. Arguments of this kind always work both ways. Examples can be found both sides of the line. One must consider the general foundation of whether they try to diminish or to maintain the hereditary principle.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
I hope that we do not try to make logic out of illogical arguments. I remember an old gentleman of 81 accepting a peerage. That condemned a lot of young men who were not consulted. It is all according to whether one thinks that they are being ennobled or are struggling after a liability. We had better accept it as what it is, a tidying-up operation, and not attempt to rationalise on the larger issues.
§ The Attorney-General
That is what I was trying to say, that the Bill was to this extent a tidying-up operation and should not, therefore, diminish the hereditary principle.
I was asked by my noble Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Viscount Lambton), who made some earlier interventions and endeavoured to cross-examine without success the right horn. Member for Smethwick, to tell the House that he could not be here at this hour. He asks me to apologise to the House for his absence.
The position about titles of courtesy under the Bill is that the Bill does not deal with them at all. They are not a matter of law, except I understand—it has been mentioned to me during the 550 debate—that it may be the fact that the elder sons of Scottish peers, who are often known as the Master of somewhere, may have a title as of right and this will have to be looked into and may require an Amendment to the Bill. Apart from that example, however, courtesy titles are entirely a matter of social convention. They are not matters that carry any legal right or obligation. It was, therefore, thought right that any mention of them in a Bill which legislates should be omitted.
A person who succeeds to a peerage and who disclaims it will be a commoner. In all legal documents, official documents, invitations, books of reference and matters of that sort, he will be a commoner. It is probably well known to all hon. Members that those who come into this House bearing courtesy titles because their fathers are peers are sworn in and entered on the rolls of this House as "Mr. John Smith, commonly known as Viscount…"whatever it may be. Such a person is sworn in in his Christian name and surname, in the same way as any other commoner. The effect of a disclaimer will be that it will extinguish not only the principal peerage to which the person has succeeded, but any lesser title which normally would have been born by courtesy by his eldest son. The eldest son of a peer usually, by courtesy, bears one of the titles of his father who is the peer. Of course, it will be an obligation, before the person who holds all those peerages can sit in this House, that he should have disclaimed them and, therefore, they will be in abeyance.
§ The Attorney-General
He is not that as of right; he is it by courtesy as it is a courtesy title. The phrase "courtesy title" exactly describes the position in these matters. What the social conventions will be in the future, I do not know, but I assume that the majority of persons who wish to disclaim a peerage would not themselves desire to continue to bear any courtesy title. They are not themselves interested in con- 551 tinuing the obligations of the peerage. The majority of them, particularly those who came to sit in this House, would think it right and proper that they should sit here without any reference to the peerages which they have disclaimed.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
Would not this mean an alteration in the entry in the Official Report when a person holding a courtesy title is sworn in? I have here the entry at the beginning of this Parliament when the present Lord Sandwich was sworn in. It reads:Alexander Victor Edward Paulet Montagu, esquire"—thus ranking him as a commoner, but goes on—commonly called Viscount Hinchingbrooke, South Dorset"—[Official Report, 21st October, 1959; Vol. 612, c. 28.]Do I understand that that sort of description will continue? Earlier today I heard it suggested that if Lord Sandwich came back here—and he is a considerable loss to us while he is away—he would merely be described as Mr. Montagu. What would happen? What happens in the case where a peer has a son who dies and whose widow and children have then no title?
When I was Home Secretary I had on occasion submitted to me a document which alluded to such a case and claimed that the widow and children of the deceased man should have the social precedence that would have been theirs had he been alive and succeeded to the title. What will happen with regard to that kind of case? That was not a matter of law but of social precedence.
I understand that on certain occasions at court, and on other social occasions, some people seta great weight on this question of precedence. For instance, I often used to say that owing to some thing that happened in the eighteenth century—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Robert Grimston)
Order. I am reluctant to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman but he will realise that he has not the Floor of the House. The Attorney-General gave way.
§ The Attorney-General
The question of the name of a peer who comes back to the House is a matter for the House 552 itself and for its practice. I would suppose that such matters would be entirely within the control of the House. I do not think that any decision has been taken, but I believe that the general understanding will be that the peer will come back as "Mr. X" or whatever his surname may be. But there will be nothing whatever to prevent a man from calling himself commonly by any title he likes, or to prevent his friends, as a matter of courtesy, from calling him by his title. They need not call him by that title if they do not wish to do so.
One difficulty is that, if one were to legislate about this, one would have to say that no one was to use a courtesy title if he either had disclaimed the peerage or was the son of a man who had disclaimed it. It would be an odd sanction to devise which would provide a penalty for a person who called himself by a courtesy title even although we had passed an Act of Parliament saying that he should not be called by that name. Who would enforce it and what would the penalties be? It would be a somewhat curious situation.
We do not have an active court of chivalry in being at the moment—or at least not one that sits very much—and whereas these matters might have been dealt with there in ancient days we have to get on without it. I think that all this question of what a person will be called will be a matter of social convention. We shall have to see how the matter develops although it is plain, I should have thought, that those who have disclaimed their peerage would give up not only the title, dignity, honours, rights and obligations of the peerage but also any courtesy title as well.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn
Although we are discussing the question of courtesy titles having no legal significance, in certain cases the Sovereign grants them. Do not these courtesy titles have some official sanction?
§ The Attorney-General
I imagine that courtesy titles granted by the Sovereign will remain a matter for Her Majesty, who will be able to grant them in future if she desires. I think that answers the second point asked by the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede).
§ Sir W. Teeling
Reference has been made to the Earl of Sandwich. He was 553 famous here as Viscount Hinchingbrooke. If he stood for this House again he might well professionally—to put it that way—wish to be known as Lord Hinchingbrooke. In the same way, Mrs. Aneurin Bevan is not normally known by that name. There are other cases where people are not commonly known by their ordinary legal names.
§ The Attorney-General
We may call a peer who has become a member of this House by his courtesy title when we meet him in the Lobby or in the smoking room, but that does not affect what he is called in this Chamber, where we refer to him by his constituency. The only official terminology entering into that is whether he should be called the "noble Lord" or not. His actual name will be irrelevant to our proceedings.
The question of the traditonal Scottish peers has been raised and the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Malcolm MacPherson) was good enough to welcome this provision. I am sure that it will be generally welcomed. I understand that it will result in 15 additional Scottish peers and 10 Scottish peeresses in their own right being added to the House of Lords. While, of course, I understand that there may be regret by some people that ancient ceremonies that take place at Edinburgh at the beginning of each Parliament may become otiose and therefore abolished, I would think that on balance there is greater gain for Scotland in the provision about Scottish peers in the Bill.
I turn now to the Irish peerage. It seems to me that the claim of Irish peers to membership of the House of Lords, as put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Sir W. Teeling)—that they should sit as representing the peerage of Ireland—seems wholly to ignore the partition which has now existed in the geographical entity of Ireland over the last 40 years, to ignore the fact that Eire is a republic and not in the Commonwealth, and to ignore the historical geographical and political facts which have been in existence for 40 years.
All we are doing now by the provisions as to the Irish peerage in the present Bill is to give a legal status and reality to what has been a fact since 1921. The Bill only recognises that position, and I do not understand how it can be said that because, for the purpose of the Act 554 of Union in 1800, an Irish peerage was created, it is now necessary despite partition that there should still remain representatives of the Irish peerage in the House of Lords.
§ Sir W. Teeling
If that is the case, why have we had Irish peers right up to three years ago? Was it only because of a mistake?
§ The Attorney-General
Because Parliament has never dealt with the position that existed since 1921 in order to regularise it. From 1921 the situation was that while those already in the House of Lords continued to sit there, there was no method or system of renewing that representation.
Of course, I recognise the importance of this matter to Northern Ireland in particular. It would be impossible to divided the Irish peerage into Northern and Southern Irish elements. Each individual Irish peer has a different residence which he may change throughout his life, and particular titles are not necessarily attached to one part of Ireland or another. We all recognise that Northern Ireland is the nursery of great men. It provided most of the field marshals in the last war and I do not see why it should not provide as many peers, either hereditary or life, in the future as any other part of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
Is it not the fact that, with the suggested merging of the Scottish peerage, what we are getting is one United Kingdom peerage? Are not the rest of the Irish peers foreign peers so far as we are concerned, Southern Ireland not being within the Commonwealth? Do we not now have a United Kingdom peerage into which the Northern Irish peerage can enter?
§ The Attorney-General
That is perfectly true, but I remind the hon. Gentleman that we still have peers of England and Scottish peers and peers of Great Britain as well as peers of the United Kingdom which, one presumes, future peers will always be.
§ The Attorney-General
The other main point which was raised by a number of hon. Members was the question of the date on which the Bill will begin to operate. It is rather curious that today 555 Opposition Members have suddenly shown an active interest in the subject. The right hon. Member for Smethwick and the hon. and learned Member for Kettering raised a lot of teasing questions about this subject, but when it was discussed in March the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) confined himself to saying that all he wanted was that it ought to be brought in so that the reform would apply in time for the next General Election.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
That is what we we are saying, that it should apply in time for the next General Election; not that it should formally come into effect, but that it should apply. It came as a great shock and surprise to us to hear what was proposed. My right hon. Friend had not then read the Bill.
§ The Attorney-General
It comes as a great shock and surprise to me to hear that announcement, because my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has consistently made this announcement and there has not been one peep or murmur from hon. Members opposite who now appear to be shocked by the idea. This is the first occasion on which shock has become audible from their lips.
Let me explain what is the basis of the reason why it was decided that the Bill should operate only from the dissolution of this Parliament. The Bill affects the composition of the two Houses and the constitution. It was thought right that, as we had all been elected on one basis of the constitution for this Parliament, we ought to continue through this Parliament on that basis and that the composition of the House of Lords in particular should not be altered in this Parliament and that it would be perfectly satisfactory if the Bill came into operation for the purposes of the next Parliament.
One of the objections was that there might be noble Lords desirous of standing at the next General Election. But their position cannot be affected by whether the Bill comes into operation immediately the Royal Assent is given or upon the dissolution. They all know the terms of the Bill now and they all know that it will be possible, as soon as dissolution takes place, or the Royal Assent is given—they could all tomorrow and they could yesterday since the Bill has 556 been published—decide to disclaim and then present themselves to a constituency and say that the Bill is obviously going through Parliament, there being substantial agreement between the parties, and that they would undertake if adopted to disclaim the peerage and certainly do so in order to be that constituency's candidate at the next election.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
It is just possible that the Government will collapse before the Third Reading and this would not become law and such noble Lords would innocently mislead their supporters in their constituencies.
§ The Attorney-General
That does not affect the argument about whether the Bill should operate on the Royal Assent or otherwise, because it would not arise. I would have submitted that it was sensible and right and would not affect the interests of those who may be desirous of disclaiming their peerages and standing at the next election, because as from today they can present themselves for candidature at a constituency and no doubt put in a proviso in an undertaking to disclaim subject to the Bill's passing. I should not think many people would have much trouble about that.
A number of detailed points were raised. There was an interesting question about the Arundel estates with which I do not intend to deal at the moment but which will be carefully considered. It needs a good deal of research and I should not like to answer it without consideration. I am grateful to the hon. and learned Member for Kettering for also reserving my right to deal with another of his fast balls at a later stage and not immediately on the Floor of the House.
This has been a useful and interesting debate. The points raised will be given the fullest consideration. The Government are grateful to all right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who have drawn these matters to the attention of the House and I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Mac Arthur.]
§ Committee Tomorrow.