§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 12.44 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Roy Jenkins)
I have it in Command from the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.
§ 12.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I am very glad that the House has received with gratitude that statement by the Home Secretary.
This Bill has had a rather chequered history. I introduced it in the last Conservative Parliament, and the then Home Secretary went on strike. I was aware that this would require the Queen's Recommendation and I went through the usual motions of obtaining it. I approached the then Home Secretary, who is now in another place, to obtain the Queen's Consent. He went on strike; he did not go to the Palace. I am very glad to say that the present Leader of the House and the present Government are far more enlightened, and that I am now able to move the Second Reading of the Bill.
I notice, too, that the official Opposition have gone on strike. I presume that this means that I have the unanimous assent of the Opposition and that they are no longer opposed to the Bill. I presume that, having decided to live up to the image of a modern party which is not anxious to defend obsolete and mediaeval titles, they have decided to go on a sit-down strike and not oppose my Bill. Perhaps they are now sitting down somewhere in the region of the London School of Economics.
§ Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)
The Opposition have now arrived, in the person of the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall).
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
I am quite sure that when the Bill is debated in another place there will not be empty benches. 883 There will be a very large number of titled ladies and gentlemen, anxious to defend their titles and privileges, and that the House of Lords will be better attended than it has been since the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Bill was debated there.
The question of titles has been under consideration for a considerable time. When I first became interested in politics there was a raging controversy between the then Liberal Party and the Tory Party. Very strong words were spoken on the question of titles. Sir Winston Churchill was then in the Liberal Government. He described the House of Lords as a "Punch and Judy show" which he thought should have disappeared into history. Mr. Lloyd George was less complimentary. He referred to various titled gentlemen as the "last of the litter".
Now, however, the attitude towards titles has changed. It has changed largely as a result of the abandonment of the sinking ship by many leaders of the Conservative Party. When Lord Butler introduced a Bill to create life peers, as a result of the energetic action of my right hon. Friend the present Minister of Technology, he argued that the time had come when hereditary titles no longer had any real place in the modern world, and suggested that the occasion was right for the creation of life peers.
Since then, the House of Lords has been a rather mixed lot. It is now composed of people who received their titles in years gone by, in some cases centuries ago, and by people who have been made life peers under Lord Butler's Act. The consequence is that there is in the House of Lords a system of apartheid. We have the "lifers" and the hereditary peers. The hereditary peers may look down their noses on the lifers and say, "My son and grandson may be in this place during the next 50 years, but yours definitely will not."
Even in the House of Lords, therefore, there is a feeling against titles. When my Bill comes to be piloted through the House of Lords, there will be no more suitable sponsor for it that Lord Butler, and I hope that he will put his services at my disposal to complete the work which he began.
The new attitude towards titles has been publicly expressed in other ways. 884 In the editorial column of the Observer, one of our influential newspapers, this was said three years ago:It would be far better for this nation, including its upper-class families, if titles were to be abolished. They encourage unrealistic thinking and living and they add needlessly to confusion. Although the House of Lords has had its value over the centuries, there is no sense in a hereditary Second Chamber today, and the Monarchy, which still has a genuine political value in limiting political ambitions and acting as a symbol of communal unity, can get along perfectly well without an aristocracy, as is shown in Scandinavia and the Netherlands.In Scandinavia and the Netherlands, legislation of the kind I am now advocating has been the law for generations. Sometimes, when Parliamentary delegations from this country go to other countries with Members of the House of Lords, the titled members of the delegation, the lords or dukes who happen to be there, are looked upon as a sort of aristocratic curiosity—as, indeed, they are.
The main purpose of the Bill, therefore, is to abolish hereditary titles and to bring us into line with most other countries of Europe and the world. There are no hereditary titles, such as we have here, in the United States or in the U.S.S.R. We are a nation which still continues with hereditary titled personalities, with the dukes, marquesses and earls whose titles have descended through hundreds of years.
I believe that I am fulfilling a useful function through the Bill in giving the impression to the world that Britain is really going modern in the true sense of the word and that we shall end these anachronistic and medieval titles, throwing over the principle of heredity so far as it affects certain personalities other than the Crown.
I do not propose abolition of the hereditary title of the Monarch. This could not be done on a Friday afternoon in this way. My hope is that Her Majesty will continue to live to be a centenarian, longer than Queen Victoria, at which time it will be a problem not for me but, perhaps, for my hon. Friend the newly-elected Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield), who, I understand, is now 24 years old and who, if he lives as long as my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), may be here in about 2026.
885 The Bill, as I say, is not for the abolition of the Monarchy. It is not even for the abolition of the House of Lords. It is not even a Bill to deal with the powers of the House of Lords. I understand that a Bill to that effect, in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton), is to come later in the list on today's Order Paper.
What is the case against hereditary titles? First, it does not follow that, because the original holder of a title has certain qualities, his sons, grandsons, great-grandsons and their sons will necessarily have the same qualities. No doubt, the ancient medieval dukes and marquesses performed certain services to the monarch of their day, and they received the honours of the day for rendering such service. Accompanying the titles, they received large gifts of land. I do not propose to take away the land as well as the titles. I leave that to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his death duties.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Or the Land Commission Act.
It will be seen that I am not in any sense penalising these ladies and gentlemen. It is not a punitive Bill. It does not take the titles away from the present holders. Its effect is simply that, on their demise, the heirs will not succeed to the titles. It is a painless operation, a humane killer, and this is why there can be so little objection to it.
It has been obvious that the son or grandson of the recipient of a title does not necessarily follow in the same line as the original holder of it. There are many instances of honours being given where the successor to the title has in some ways proved very different from his predecessor. I have in mind the case of Earl Baldwin, who received his title because he was an ex-Prime Minister. But he had a son who was not a Conservative. I think that he became Viscount Corvedale. He was elected as a Socialist Member for Paisley. After sending Earl Baldwin to the House of Lords the Conservatives discovered in a very short time that they had sent a Socialist peer there.
886 This applies both ways; it applies also to Socialist peers. For example, one of my old friends in my early days on the Clyde was David Kirkwood, who was what I would call a rumbustious Scottish nationalist and a demagogue. He used to denounce the House of Lords. Nobody in those days, when the Clyde group of Members arrived here with David Kirkwood, one of its most obstreperous Members, thought that he would end up in the House of Lords. But he received a title, which nearly killed "Willie" Gallacher.
The day the news appeared in Scotland that David Kirkwood had been given a title, and had gone to the House of Lords, they said, "Oh Lord!" Look at what has happened to his son. I understand that he has become a Conservative. These incredible things happen in politics so that if political honours are given for service to either the Conservative Party or to the Socialist Party the results in the next generation turn out differently from what was intended.
§ Mr. John Hall
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that his examples show that these things balance out very well, and that the net result in the next generation is exactly the same as in the previous generation?
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
That may be an interesting theory, but my argument would produce a safe result for the political parties. If peerages are given because a father has done conspicuous service to one party it does not follow that his son, grandson, great-grandson, and so on, will necessarily show those qualities.
I occasionally go to the House of Lords. I never find there the person whom I consider to be its most distinguished member. He takes no notice of his title. I refer to Earl Russell. Everyone knows of Bertrand Russell, but a large number of people know nothing about Earl Russell because he has not thrown away his title but has just ignored it.
That applies to distinguished ex-Prime Ministers. Sir Winston Churchill resolutely refused to take an earldom. He sat here for many years and I sat opposite him and used to admire the old man because he was still in the House of Commons when he could have gone to the House of Lords. But he refused to 887 be buried in the mausoleum on the other side of the building. He showed a certain amount of disrespect for titles which has continued.
For example, Mr. Harold Macmillan has not taken a political title. He is neither a "Sir" nor an earl. He lives in retirement as a respected citizen and one who has shown his disregard for a hereditary title. What is the Opposition's attitude? When Mr. Macmillan retired they looked around the House of Commons for a leader, but they could not find one, so they went to the House of Lords. There they discovered Lord Home, with a very old title, who took advantage of Mr. Butler's Act to give up his title after it had been in his family for 14 generations. By doing that he threw away the title. He thought that to serve in politics was more important than a title.
When he came here he was not such a success as they imagined he would be and lost the election. After the election he was still the Leader of the Conservative Party, which said, "We must get rid of him, because he still has the aroma of a title". The image was all wrong because the idea of the Conservative Party was not modern, but was still in antiquity. The Conservatives therefore got rid of the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home). Now the Conservative Party's problem about a title is not to bring anybody else in from the House of Lords but when and how they shall send their present Leader there. Titles are not regarded as a political asset by the Conservative Party any more and they should not be so regarded on this side of the House. I therefore see no reason why I should not have unanimous support for this innocuous Measure, which, I think, is about to be passed unanimously by the House of Commons.
I have referred to the old titled nobility. There is no case for continuing their titles. They have had their day and should now cease to be. They have had a long run for our money. There are the dukes and lords who have owned land for a long time. The time has come when they should no longer hang on to their titles.
There is a member of the House who is an earl. I informed him that I would 888 make this speech and told him, "I shall refer to you, although I shall not make an unchivalrous attack on you." He said, "That is all right," so he is not even here to defend his title. In due time he will become a duke, which would be a calamity for this House. I believe that the noble Lord who represents Edinburgh, North (Earl of Dalkeith) would make a good Leader of the Conservative Party if he were allowed to remain here. If my Bill comes into operation the title will disappear on the demise of the Duke of Buccleuch and we shall have the benefit here of the noble Lord who represents Edinburgh, North. I am therefore really doing a service to the Conservative Party.
It is not only a former Prime Minister who threw away his title. There was the ex-Viscount Hailsham, the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg). I told him that I would make a complimentary reference to him and he said, "That is all right, old boy." So he is not here to defend his title, either. If all those gentleman are not here to defend their titles there is obviously no case for them.
On those grounds, we should pass my Bill. By doing so we shall show that we are in the modern age. I can say a lot more for the Bill but I believe I have said enough to get a Second Reading. When the Bill reaches its Committee stage I will, of course, be very pleased to consider any Amendments which are likely to strengthen it.
§ Mr. John Hall
Surely, the hon. Member will not conclude his speech without referring in rather more detail to the position of life peers. He has said a good deal about hereditary peers and how hereditary peerages should be brought to an end. Would he not admit that there is, perhaps, value in life peerages? Perhaps the hon. Member would like to let the House know whether he thinks that life peerages should be brought to an end.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Life peerages and titles end with the death of the holder. If the hon. Member wants me to expound further, I would say this about life peers. A number of members of the Labour Party have gone to the House of Lords. They have been prepared, most of them, to sacrifice themselves out of a sense of 889 duty. For example, when Earl Attlee went to the House of Lords, he took the attitude that if the House of Lords was to last for a few years longer the Labour Party should be there and he was prepared to make a supreme sacrifice and go to the House of Lords as an earl. That is the position of most Labour Party members.
There may be life peers in the House of Lords who are there for prestige, but I once discussed the question of life peers with the late Earl Alexander of Hillsborough. I said to him one day in the Tea Room, "I am in favour of abolishing the House of Lords." He replied, "All right, old boy. As soon as the Labour Party decides to abolish the House of Lords, we will vote for the abolition of the House of Lords." All that he was worried about was the pay. I am quite sure that members of the Labour Party who go to the House of Lords as life peers go there, not for the titles, but to perform a service to the community as long as that House exists.
There is a point about to be made on why life peers should continue, and I will explain. The time may come when this House will have to realise that in spite of the fact that it has become a very respectable debating society, the House of Lords might interfere with the will of this House. It is true that it is not doing so at present. Although Lords Amendments are sent to us, no attempt is made by the Lords to destroy major Bills, such as, for example, the Iron and Steel Bill. Although the House of Lords rejected the Iron and Steel Bill in the previous Parliament, it has accepted it today because it realises that if it obstructs the will of this House in the early days of a Labour Government, it may be signing its own death warrant.
Therefore, I am in favour of life peers until the time comes when it is decided that that kind of Second Chamber must be considered. Indeed, I am in favour of my own constituents becoming life peers in case of necessity—
§ Mr. Reginald Eyre (Birmingham, Hall Green)
Is not the hon. Member contradicting his own Bill, which requires all titles to be abolished? Is he not making things very difficult for the Prime Minister with regard to the Minister of Agriculture and the President of the Board of Trade? 890 When they rebel against the Prime Minister's policy of going into the Common Market, if he cannot kick them upstairs where will the Prime Minister kick them?
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
I will come to that.
In the fierce controversy between the Lords and the Commons in 1910, there was a serious constitutional crisis. The House of Lords refused to yield to the House of Commons. How were the Government to overcome that difficulty? Mr. Asquith decided to go to His Majesty and say that if the House of Lords refused to pass his legislation he would have to create a number of peers. When His Majesty King George V said, "Yes, I will create a number of peers", the House of Lords gave in.
The same thing might happen again. In its third or fourth year of office, a Labour Government might find that the House of Lords was obstructing because we were getting nearer to the dissolution of the Parliament. If necessary, the Prime Minister of the day would have to create, or threaten to create, more life peers to deal with that constitutional crisis. So the question of titles will come in. If necessary, I am quite prepared to get 500 miners in my constituency to become life peers and to pay their bus fares for the day to come down and secure the necessary majority to achieve the will of the people.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Eyre) asked about the Prime Minister. The hon. Member has not been reading the recent speeches of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister made a speech in which he said that it was permissible to have one bite, but that if people had more than one bite, their licence would be abolished. He was not referring at all to the Members of the House of Commons, but was referring to the House of Lords. [Laughter.] That is the best explanation that the Prime Minister could possibly find of what he said. It is far better than any I have seen, and I present it to him. He did not specifically mention the House of Lords, but that was in his sub-conscious mind. My hon. Friend the Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton), beside me, remarks that he is similarly convinced.
891 I do not know whether any hon. Member opposite wants me to make any further explanations of the Bill. It is, I believe, a Bill that will be acceptable to the overwhelming number of people. I hope that it will get swift progress through both Houses of Parliament, and that it will be a little step towards making a more democratic and egalitarian society.
§ 1.18 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Roy Jenkins)
It might be for the convenience of the House if I intervene briefly at this stage. The House will, perhaps, understand that in my position I am not able to approach this weighty subject in quite the engagingly light-hearted manner in which my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) has done.
I should like to explain the circumstances in which I thought it right to tender advice to the Queen to place her Prerogative, so far as it is affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill and the significance of Her Majesty's consent.
When a Bill is introduced in this House which mainly or very largely concerns matters affecting the Royal Prerogative, the Queen's consent must be signified at the earliest stage of the debate—that is, at the beginning of Second Reading. If it is not so signified, the Bill cannot be debated. The Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire clearly comes within this category. Whatever views right hon. and hon. Members on all sides may have about the contents of the Bill, they will, I think, mostly agree that it would have been undesirable to put any impediment in the way of its being debated.
It was solely to allow the Bill to be debated that I tendered advice to Her Majesty to place her Prerogative, so far as it is affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament. But I must make it clear that the fact that the Crown signifies its consent to a Bill or places its interests at the disposal of Parliament is not to be taken as meaning that the Crown, through its advisers, approves of the provisions of the Bill. It means no more than that the Crown does not intend that the lack of its consent should debar Parliament from debating such provisions. It is also recognised doctrine.
892 It is stated on page 617 of the seventeenth edition of Erskine May that Ministers cannot… be discharged with inconsistency for speaking and voting against a bill in the case of which they had recommended the signification of the royal consent or that placing of the interests of the Crown at the disposal of Parliament.I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend's remarks about the Bill being allowed to be debated will not be unduly contradicted if I say that I am bound to advise the House not to support the Second Reading. Judging by what my hon. Friend has made abundantly clear—certainly, in his speech when he sought leave to introduce the Bill in November and, I think, in this speech today, although, unfortunately, I had to miss a few minutes of it—he is aware of the full effects of the Bill, but perhaps it might be convenient if I make clear what they would be.
The Bill provides that all existing titles shall cease with the death of the present holders and that no new titles whatever shall be conferred. The effect of this would be to extinguish, but extinguish slowly, within a generation, the Second Chamber. During the period of this gradual extinction, it would become an increasingly small and increasingly senile Second Chamber, for not only would the Bill put an end to hereditary peerages, but also—and I am not sure where my hon. Friend stands on this—it would prevent the creation of any more life peerages.
As I say, the effect, therefore, would be to make a change of very great magnitude in our whole system of Parliamentary government. Whatever the views of right hon. and hon. Members on either side of the House may be about the hereditary principle, the Bill would undoubtedly go very far indeed beyond changing it.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
I did explain that I am prepared to accept reasonable Amendments to the Bill provided that it goes to Committee. If the Government chose, in Committee, to move an Amendment to continue life peerages, I should have an open mind on the subject and would consider whether this was a reasonable Amendment that I could accept.
§ Mr. Jenkins
It would certainly be an Amendment that would go to the 893 heart of the Bill. It would wholly change its content, because the Bill does not deal with hereditary titles alone. It specifically deals as well with the creation of new titles and would, therefore, have a very widespread constitutional and parliamentary effect. My hon. Friend himself said that he was not proposing the abolition of the hereditary monarchy on a Friday afternoon and it could be argued that one should certainly not make a change of the constitutional magnitude proposed in the Bill, or even contemplate it, upon a Friday afternoon, either.
A secondary effect of the Bill would be to lop the head off the present Honours List by prohibiting the granting of honours down to and including knighthoods. A more significant effect on the Second Chamber would be the gradual extinction not merely of the hereditary element, but of the Chamber itself as a whole in a long-drawn-out process, with an increasingly senile composition of that Chamber.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
I am prepared to meet this point in Committee. I have thought about this. If the Government wish to make an Amendment that titles should be extinguished in five or 10 years, I would regard that as a reasonable Amendment.
§ Mr. Jenkins
I do not think that there would be much left of my hon. Friend's Bill if he accepted in Committee all the Amendments he says he is willing to accept.
While, clearly, views are held strongly in different parts of the House about the use and value of the hereditary principle, I must, so far as the membership of the House of Lords is concerned, advise the House not to give a Second Reading to a Bill whose effects would be very much wider and very much more far-reaching than contemplated.
§ Mr. Jenkins
That was no part of my case. I was endeavouring to point out that the constitutional effects of the Bill would probably be more far-reaching than my hon. Friend's speech indicated.
§ 1.25 p.m.
§ Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
I apologise to the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) for not being here for all of his speech but I am sure, judging by his usual performances, that it was fascinating. The hon. Gentleman is surely the kindest revolutionary who has ever sat on any legislative bench in any country. I suppose that I must declare an interest, although I do not think that the Bill would actually apply to me for my title dies with me.
I do not think, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman is trying to deprive me of the small honour done to me. But he does want it to disappear and surely much more of a revolutionary attitude would have been to take me out to Tower Hill and get rid of me quickly and permanently. [HON. MEMBERS: "Do not give us any ideas."] Perhaps I should not put these ideas into the minds of hon. Members opposite, because someone else in the not very far distant future may bring in another Ten Minutes Rule Bill to apply to me only.
Although I understand the arguments of the hon. Member, I do not think that he carries the nation with him nearly as strongly as he thinks. Perhaps I may cite the case of my own honour. When Her Majesty was pleased to honour me with the order of knighthood, I had just come back from Australia. My wife said to me, "You are not going to accept it, are you?" I said, "Certainly." She replied, "In our house?"
My wife and I were considerably embarrassed by this title for a considerable time. I found that people one would have thought would have been hostile to it took to it far more quickly than we did personally. We have a maid who has been a friend of our family for 34 years. She was calling my wife "My Lady" within half an hour. For the next two years my wife was very embarrassed when anyone referred to her in that way. In the nation there are many people who like this system and it is certainly far the cheapest way of honouring a person ever invented. So I hope that the hon. Gentleman will realise that there is not a unanimous vote in the country that titles should be done away with.
895 The much more important question is that of the other place. There is, of course, a great deal of illogicality, in this day and age, in its situation. On the other hand, I think that history shows that people in that Chamber, because they are not at the mercy of the electorate, are very much more inclined to express views that many of us would like to express but are not prepared to express because we know they are contrary to the views of our own electorates.
Very often, new ideas and new thought on various social problems and international affairs get their first airing in the House of Lords because its members are not concerned with immediate political popularity. We are being unfair to the House of Lords if we do not acknowledge that. In that alone it carries out a far more important rôle than a great many of us in this House are prepared to give it. This arises from the fact that, as I have said, its members are not subjected to all the pressures that M.P.s, on whichever side of the House we sit, are subjected to. They can therefore take the unpopular line. They can take the long-term view. They can begin to mould the thinking of people to the acceptance of a change in social or foreign policy—
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
I am not questioning the ability of these people at debating, but does the hon. Member say that they should have the power to override decisions of the House of Commons?
§ Sir D. Glover
If the hon. Member will allow me I shall refer to that point shortly.
There is no argument about the fact that the Upper House carries out a valuable rôle, in that it is an independent forum not subject to the pressures to which Members of the House are subject in their day-to-day activities with their constituencies.
Should the other place have power to override decisions taken by this House? Since the threat of Asquith to appoint 500 or 600 peers and, as a result of the Parliament Act, reduce the powers of the House of Lords, which were further reduced by the Attlee Government, the delaying powers of the House of Lords have been very limited. Should they ever 896 use those delaying powers? In my opinion they should, but on very rare occasions.
Nobody can say this with complete assurance, but it may be that because of certain pressures which have grown up a Government, for some time after an election, will do things for which they have no mandate and which are contrary to the constitutional development of our society. The other Chamber must view a decision to vote against or delay a Government Bill almost as a death sentence upon itself. In my opinion, however, if the situation to which I have referred should arise, it would be the bounden duty of Members in the other place to seek to delay a Government Bill, even if they knew that it might mean the end of their existence as an independent Chamber—simply because they are the one authority which can delay action taken by this elected Chamber which, at the time it is taken, may be contrary to the overwhelming opinion of the nation and for which the Government of the day have not the title of a mandate from the electorate as a result of a prior election.
§ Mr. Raymond Fletcher (Ilkeston)
Is the hon. Member arguing that these necessary qualities of the persons occupying the Upper Chamber must always be derived from hereditary rather than other qualifications?
§ Mr. Ben Whitaker (Hampstead)
On the same point, can the hon. Member think of a single other society or country which still has a partly hereditary Legislature? Is it not true that every new State in Africa regards this as a system too primitive to be allowed to continue?
§ Sir D. Glover
I know that it is difficult in logic to argue against the case that is put up, but this country has never been very logical. I am convinced that our present House of Lords, with all its illogicalities and in spite of all the arguments put forward by its opponents, serves a more useful purpose than most other second Chambers which are, by their nature, not as independent as our House of Lords.
In Australia or in the African countries, wherever there are bicameral legislatures, the Senate or Upper House is in some form elected. Because it is elected it is subject to the same pressures 897 as those to which Members of this House are subject. The only Chamber that is not so subject is the other place at the end of the passage. Its illogicality may be its greatest virtue. If it were done away with, and we had an Upper House or Senate appointed, perhaps, by corporations or by some other means at indirect elections, the fact that Members were appointed by county and county borough councils, and so on, would mean that they would be in the political stream and therefore subject, to a greater or lesser degree, to the same pressures and difficulties as we are.
§ Sir D. Glover
To a degree, although the American system—which is contrary to most second Chambers, with its partly elected representation on a six-year basis, with a third of its members having to stand again for election after two years—tries to do what our Upper House does, namely, to remove the pressures that I have talked about from individual senators. But even in America, in any given four-year or six-year period, the Lower House and the Senate are subject to the same harsh political realities as those to which we are subject.
It is far more difficult for the Senate of the United States to begin to evolve, to express and talk about new social or foreign affairs policies, because they are still suffering from the harsh crunch of elections. It is difficult for them to be objective.
Our Upper House is the one Chamber in the world where a person can say, "I am going to state my honest opinion, with no feeling that I have to trim my wings to the political climate of the day". I know that the hon. Member for South Ayrshire does it very ably in this House, and I am not saying that every Member is subject to these pressures. There are always some great independents. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) will also speak his mind, whatever the climate of the day. But the great bulk of the thinking of an elected Chamber is conditioned—to a far greater extent than any of us would privately admit—by the pressures of the existing political climate.
§ Mr. Michael McGuire (Ince)
Is the hon. Member advancing the argument that the only people with this privilege should be life peers and hereditary peers? Would not he do better to argue that we want a better selection of ordinary people?
§ Sir D. Glover
I am dealing with the Bill, which is deliberately designed to get rid of the other place in a very short time. I do not blame the hon. Member for doing so, but that is the intention. I am not arguing whether, under a different system, another piece of machinery could be produced with the same virtues and the same vices. I am saying that the effect of the Bill would be, over a matter of a very few years, to remove the second Chamber which, when it comes to expressing personal views, is probably the most independent in the world.
§ Mr. Ivor Richard (Barons Court)
I understand that the hon. Member's argument is that we should not accept the Bill because in its present form the House of Lords has an independence which gives it its uniqueness and importance. How does that independence arise when there is a Conservative Government and an overwhelming majority in the House of Lords?
§ Sir D. Glover
Does the hon. Gentleman honestly believe that the Conservative Party have any control over 90 per cent. of the so-called Conservative peers in the House of Commons, over whom we have not one iota of sanction?
§ Mr. George Wallace (Norwich, North)
But is it not a fact that the Conservative peers have great influence over the Conservative Members of the House of Commons?
§ Sir D. Glover
I have been a Member of the House for a good number of years and during the whole of that time I do not think that I have ever been spoken to by a so-called Conservative peer seeking to influence my view on a particular subject. If I went on to the red-carpeted part of the premises I should very quickly get lost. I know my way about the green-carpeted part of the premises. I am certainly not in the pocket of any form of noble Lord. I am sure that anybody who understands the Conservative Party will realise that, with the exception of perhaps 20 peers who run the machine, who are 899 there to answer Questions or to put Questions, the Conservative Party do not stand in a close party relationship with so-called Conservative peers. An hon. Member suggests that this is the magic circle. I refer not to a magic circle. I refer to the 20 or so wheel horses of politics who are there to make speeechs and to reply, for example, to Second Reading debates. Those people may have what I would call some connection with the Conservative Party machine. The remaining 100 attending the Upper House who are so-called Conservatives are as independent as anyone who sits on the cross-benches, and when a debate starts we have no idea whether they will support the Conservative Party line or oppose it. They are entirely independent, and that, I believe, is the virtue of the Upper Chamber. If they think that the Conservative line is wrong, then probably half-a-dozen of them will rise and say so.
§ Mr. Raymond Fletcher (Ilkeston)rose—
§ Sir D. Glover
I would rather not give way again. I have given way quite often and prefer not to do so again unless the hon. Member wants to encourage me to speak until 4 p.m., which certainly I do not wish to do, as many other hon. Members wish to take part in the debate.
I see that the hon. Member for South Ayrshire has left the Chamber. At least I have had a tactical victory in driving him from the Chamber. Perhaps he has gone to find out what is going on in the other place so that he can return with his arguments buttressed.
This is not a Bill which a private Member should try to get through the House. It deals with a great constitutional problem. There are views on all sides of the House which perhaps would not discourage change, but this is not the way to deal with it, by an hon. Member such as the hon. Member for South Ayrshire bringing in a Bill on a Friday afternoon. I was pleased to hear the Home Secretary say that the Government could not give the Bill any support or recommend that we should accept it. Indeed, if we gave the Bill a Second Reading we should be a very foolish House of Commons and would show that we needed a second Chamber to control us.
§ 1.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Raymond Fletcher (Ilkeston)
I am always interested in the remarks of the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover), but he tends to mistake where the real innovating Chamber happens to be in this Palace. It is not in the House of Lords. It is in the Smoking Room. On many occasions we have participated together as friends and not as honourable enemies in this process of innovating thoughts which we hope will eventually percolate to this Chamber. I am glad to see that he agrees with me.
The hon. Member's speech was an eloquent defence of the Upper Chamber as it now is, with all its illogicalities. But that has nothing to do with the Bill. This is a very modest Bill, with a very modest aim, and it was moved by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) in unusually moderate terms. If my hon. Friend made the same kind of moderate speech in defence debates, some of us would be very happy. There was not the faintest suggestion in the Bill of a guillotine, either in terms of legislative procedure, or in terms of the system used in France, to liquidate certain sections of the aristocracy. My hon. Friend made a very humane and moderate speech in support of a very limited and very moderate Bill.
One mellows in one's attitude towards the Upper Chamber with years in this Chamber. I have developed a considerable affection for the other place. It is the only place in this Palace where I can attend a Communist meeting, as I did recently, when the main speaker was Mr. Kosygin. I thoroughly enjoyed the speech and I thoroughly enjoyed the meeting. Since I understand that the only Communist in the building is a member of the Upper House, that is the only place where one is likely to listen to Communist speeches, and since the only speeches to which I listen with more than the slightest degree of interest are those with which I violently disagree, I should hate to be deprived of this limited privilege.
I was also present in the House of Lords when their Lordships were discussing a Bill which dealt with fisheries. I listened for three hours to a series of highly instructive discourses on the mating habits of salmon. I have never 901 before received so much education in so brief a space of time, and so beautifully delivered.
Whatever its legislative significance, there is something about the Upper House which charms us all. If we could export this charm in some way, we should break export records, because, as is well known, and as those who travel in Eastern Europe will confirm, nobody loves a peer so much as does a Communist in Eastern Europe. This has been proved time and time again. I have no hostility whatever to the Upper House, nor do I have any conscious feeling of detestation for the Members of the Upper House. I am on friendly drinking terms with very many of them—because they tend to come to the plebeian end of the Palace, because I think that the beer is rather cheaper here. I therefore have no animosity whatever towards the aristocracy as it now is, towards the Upper House as it now functions, or towards the precise braking powers which the Upper House now enjoys.
Like my hon. Friend, I wish that they were exercised by 500 ex-miners—and since there are so many pit closures, this might be a solution to the redundancy problem—instead of by 500 of the sort of people who exercise them now.
§ Sir D. Glover
But would not this create a long fight with the Transport and General Workers' Union?
§ Mr. Fletcher
It is one of the glories of politics that the unions are now fighting. If they fought each other through this Chamber, this might add a piquancy to our proceedings and enliven our otherwise dull poltical life. The only life in politics at the moment is contributed by the internecine warfare on these benches. I speak more as a journalist than as an hon. Member.
I would remind my hon. Friend that I have been praising his studied moderation and this very limited Bill. I wish to add one word about the aristocracy, for which I have considerable affection. Every week I have an appointment, with millions of other television viewers, with Clarence, 9th Earl of Emsworth, who is fond of pigs and dedicatedly opposed to British entry of the Common Market. I have sympathy and admiration for him. If all aristocrats were like that, I would 902 promote a Private Member's Bill to increase their privileges and even their emoluments.
But they are not, and I must dismiss from the argument my sentimental affection for the House of Lords and my interest in the rather esoteric debates which take place in that Chamber, where one may learn about things which had never been heard about before.
The point of the Bill is that the hereditary principle must go. It has already been abandoned in practice by successive Conservative leaders, as my hon. Friend pointed out, and has no relevance in any significant sphere of our national life. The Chairman of I.C.I, does not pass on that position to his son. The Chairman of the National Coal Board, I hope and trust, will not pass on that position to his son—
§ Mr. Fletcher
There is a strain running through the discussion which might be applied to Lord Melchett and others, but I would not like to pursue that, because it might put me in a position of antagonism with my hon. Friend, and I am determined to be friendly to him, at least this afternoon, and support this limited Bill.
The hereditary principle applies nowhere else. We no longer inherit our seats, although some people might think, looking at me, that I inherited mine. We no longer accept that the tenth transmitter of a foolish face should have the rights and privileges which once accrued to the originator of that face. The Bill is merely trying to remove an obsolete principle from our national life which does not apply anywhere that effective decisions are made or the effective life of the nation is carried on.
My hon. Friend will be surprised at some of my remarks, because he possibly never knew that I believed that he was essentially a moderate at heart. With his characteristic moderation, he has said that he wants to be a humane killer. He does not wish to liquidate existing aristocrats, but only to let them die off painlessly and let the hereditary aristocracy erode. If my hon. Friend is a revolutionary, he is the most humane one 903 since the well-known French revolutionary who used to sign the warrants for the guillotine but could not bear to be present when the executions were carried out, because he could not stand the sight of blood.
My hon. Friend is a very humane man. He is trying to bring the Upper House—this mausoleum, this museum, this place for which I have considerable affection and which I visit in much the same way as I do the Victoria and Albert Museum—to the state in which its legislative functions shall not be encumbered any longer by people whose right to sit in that place derives only from the exploits and feats, military or sexual, of their ancestors, male or female. This is a very modest demand and a modest Bill and I shall have pleasure in voting for it if I am enabled to do so.
§ 1.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)
The House will be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Raymond Fletcher) for drawing our attention back to the purpose of the Bill, which is to abolish certain titles, rather than to reform the other place. The spirited opposition of the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) on behalf of that varying body really related to the powers of another place rather than to the Bill's purposes. Although the House of Commons is a strange place, I never thought that, in the absence of a Conservative Opposition—when even the Tory whips have to be brought in to speak for their rights—a Labour Member of Parliament would have to defend the aristocracy.
Although they have very little ancient families—they have their 14th Earl; we have our 14th Wilson—and can trace them back over centuries, perhaps they wish that they could not. We, who cannot trace our families back as far as we might, wish that we could.
Yet I oppose the Bill, although it has certain attractions to us egalitarians on both sides of the House. I cannot speak for the Liberals, because none is present. At least the Bill has brevity and clarity and the support of the Scots, the Welsh and the English—not the Irish, unfortunately, but perhaps my hon. Friend could tell us at some stage whether it will apply to the six counties of Ulster.
904 The Bill's intentions may be admirable. As my hon. Friend said when he introduced it on 2nd November:It would do no injustice or cruelty to the holder of any title, but would provide that the title shall cease with the death of the holder."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd November, 1966; Vol. 734, c. 467.]He described it as "a kind Bill." He had a terrific write-up in The Guardian on 3rd November, which, under the heading "Mr. Hughes' first-rate script ", said:It was one of the jolliest moments of the session when Mr. Emrys Hughes was given permission yesterday to introduce his Titles (Abolition) Bill into the Commons. There was not a single opposing voice.This ought to have struck a chill into the hearts of those who really believe in the abolition of titles, or at least want to encourage the Prime Minister to push his reforms further than he has shown much sign of doing yet. For the merriment and unanimity between them guaranteed that Mr. Hughes' aims have about as much chance of being achieved as an act at the Palladium has of becoming an Act of Parliament. … There was little republican passion in his voice when he explained how reluctant he was to bow before the … descendants of kings and how many members of the House of Lords were descended from notable … gangsters … Next time the Emrys Hughes Show comes on the Westminster channel, he should play it dead straight. That would shake them.It would also ensure that the benches opposite were full, and there would be no chance of the Bill getting a Second Reading.
This issue has not been restricted to hon. Members. The correspondence columns of The Times on 10th and 11th of this month carried letters from someone very close to the House, the wife of the Clerk of the House. I have spoken to the learned gentleman and he has said that he has no objection to my quoting these letters, they will not embarrass him. On 10th March in a letter entitled. "Call Me Mister", Lady Cocks wrote:I wonder whether your brave new newspaper would agree with me that the time has now come to drop the use of ' esquire' "—We all receive letters addressing us as "Esquire" or "Mr.". Nobody seems to know the correct way to address us. The writer stated:It has never been easy to decide whether the man you are addressing is a gentleman by birth, occupation or education, and I notice that both the Inland Revenue or the Electricity Boards take the kindly view that all their clients fulfil the conditions of an esquire. Would not "mister" do just as well?905 That letter was taken up the following day by a correspondent who wrote:Lady Cocks suggests … that the time is now ripe to drop the use of esquire. How splendid if she would now abandon her title, and we could both call ourselves Mrs.That letter was from a Mrs. Macdonald of Poole in Dorset. She would not, I think, be satisfied with the terms of this Bill, because the title of the Clerk of the House is an earned title and not an hereditary one. I have no doubt that the wife of the Clerk played as much part in earning the title for her husband as anyone else—and earned titles are not included in the Bill.
Further, the Bill would not achieve the aims of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire. One cannot legislate to control the very human folly—or should I say "frailty"—of snobbery. We are a nation of snobs, but not the only one. As is often said, "Everybody loves a Lord". The noble Lord, Lord Arran, is particularly popular on television and in the Evening News. There is a certain mystique, an attraction, about Lords and there is certainly a commercial value in their titles.
Titles have been of ancient interest to our people, as Dryden wrote a long time ago:A successive title, long and dark, drawn from the mould rolls of Noah's Ark".And Congreve stated:… fellows that the flood could not wash away ".In Act II of "Ruddigore" we hear:Oh a baronet's rank is exceedingly nice. But the title's exceedingly dear at the price ".Snobbery is not confined to these islands, for Goldsmith, speaking of Continental customs, complained:Such is their passion for a long list of splendid titles that I have known a German Prince with more titles than subjects and a Spanish nobleman with more names than shirts ".When continental monarchies have been replaced by republics, titles have endured We still have a recollection here of the French Revolution, and perhaps a little of it washed off on to our shores. We hear talk of the Comte de Paris and the Due D'orleans. We have an alliance between members or nationals of the Polish Communist Republic and of the 906 Republic of the United States of America. The newspapers and gossip columns refer to Princess Radziwill.
Italian monarchies go and are replaced by Italian republics. But we have the gossip columns written by one of the best known name-droppers in the business, a lady who describes herself as "Jennifer's Diary" in Queen and who, in a busy day, tells her readers:Arrived back to find my hostess waiting for some Italians, friends of friends, cruising on the Italian ship Rafaello, who had been told to look her up. Shortly afterwards the Marchese Alessandro di Montezemolo arrived with the Duchesse Marine Lante della Rovere and another Italian friend, and we all drove out to Lyford Cay where we met the Marchese's two brothers the Marchese Vittorio Corinna di Montezemolo who is Italian Consul General in New York and his wife—they were also on the cruise—and their youngest brother the Marchese Cesare di Montezemolo who was staying in Nassau …".That was said of a republic, but the titles still remain. What can we do about it, remembering that we have The Times Court Circular and the Sunday Express gossip columns telling of the adventures of various titled personages?
I have given enough information to suggest that a change from a monarchy to a republic does not mean the abolition of titles. Nor would the passage of this Bill. Should we follow the German system under which people are called "Herr Doktor", "Herr Professor", or "Herr Engineer"? But they are earned titles and would not come within the scope of the Bill.
This leads me to a suggestion which may be of assistance to my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire. Should we have a "new creation", not a new Genesis, as Asquith once threatened, and have titles for all? I do not believe that there would be too many administrative difficulties. We already have an electoral register and a College of Arms and Heralds which would provide sufficient information so that anybody asking for a title could have their applications thoroughly considered without debasing the coinage, because I am opposed to devaluation. As Robby Burns said:The title is only the stamp on the coin. The man is the gold".I therefore put forward a proposal which I have derived from an impeccable source, "The Complete Guide to 907 Heraldry" by A. C. Fox-Davies, a Welshman, and this suggestion might commend itself to my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire. On page XI of that document, attention is drawn to the fact that in England nobody is compelled to bear arms—although that does not refer to conscription but to heraldic arms. It states:But our desire to do so until the end of 1944 required a payment of one or two guineas annually, according to the method of usuage, and from this source the yearly revenue exceeded £70,000.This provides us with the germ of an idea. From this impeccable source perhaps we could develop the practice of not abolishing titles but of taxing them. Let us licence them, like making sure that people have television and other licences.
§ Mr. Ogden
In a similar way.
I am informed by the Library that we have four peers of the blood Royal. It would, I suggest, be reasonable to exclude the holders of those offices. We have two archbishops, and it would be reasonable to exclude them as well. We have 25 dukes. I suggest that we charge them an annual licence fee of £1,000 each, which would bring in £25,000. As we have 30 marquesses we could perhaps charge them £750 each, which would bring in £22,500. The 164 earls and countesses, coming down the scale, could be charged an annual licence fee of £600, which would bring in £98,400. The 110 viscounts could pay £500 each, which would produce £55,000.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Is not my hon. Friend confusing my Bill with the National Sweepstakes Bill which will shortly be coming before the House?
§ Mr. Ogden
I have noticed that the proposer of that Bill is in his place on the benches opposite, and has been showing considerable interest in this discussion. Perhaps there is a possibility of linking the two Measures.
We have 24 bishops, but perhaps they have a right to exemption. Of the 678 barons and baronesses, 124 are life peers—and have, therefore, earned their titles—leaving 554 whom we could charge £400 each, which would give us £221,600.
908 In addition, there are about 1,000 baronets and we could perhaps charge them £250 each, which would provide £250,000. This would give us a grand total of £672,500. One must, I suppose, make provision to allow some of them to contract out—this is a democracy, after all—but we would be left with an annual grand total of about £½ million.
§ Mr. Ogden
I am trying to assist my hon. Friend. It is for Scottish hon. Members to consider that point. I am merely saying that we could, by this means, obtain valuable additional revenue, particularly from companies who use titled personages to adorn their boards of directors. It might be difficult, however, to persuade newspapers and magazines to refrain from title-dropping, but perhaps we could issue D notices to cover that eventuality.
There are other proposals which my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire might care to consider in Committee, if his Bill gets that far. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for indicating why he tendered certain advice to Her Majesty and I am grateful to Her Majesty for having accepted that advice. As Oscar Wilde wrote:You should study the peerage, Gerald! It's the best thing in fiction the English have ever done.
§ 2.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Reginald Eyre (Birmingham, Hall Green)
The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) moved the Second Reading of his Bill in very interesting and amusing terms, but he was to a serious degree confused. He did not appreciate that the full consequence of the Bill would not only be to abolish hereditary titles, but to deprive the Prime Minister of the power to appoint members of the present Administration to life peerages; and that could be an unfortunate drawback for the Prime Minister.
The Bill attacks not only the hereditary system, but the system of life peerages and the bestowal of other titles that are limited to the life time of the recipient. I thought that the first leg of that attack was very ably met by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden), and also the argument on that score was effectively answered by the Home 909 Secretary, who said, in effect, that he could not contemplate the damage that would be done to the other place if the Bill's intention were carried out. I am, therefore, content to leave the defence of the hereditary system to the Home Secretary and to the hon. Member.
I want to defend on merit titles awarded for life. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire said there was no system of tities in the United States of America. That is true, but when one looks at the American social structure there is no doubt that social distinction is based chiefly on wealth, and that has certain unpleasant features which, to some extent, we avoid here. In any event, the American system is not as interesting as ours, and it does not provide as much copy for the gossip writers.
When the hon. Gentleman said that there was no system of titles in the U.S.S.R., he displayed the great misunderstanding there is among some hon. Members opposite about the Russian system. The Soviet Union has a tremendous pay incentive system, and makes great distinction between people according to rank and status. Furthermore, there is a great use of titles. The title of "Hero of the Soviet Union" is a great distinction, and is much prized. In very recent years the Russians have recognised the quality of their spacemen with the title "Astronaut", which, again, is highly prized and a tremendous distinction—
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
But these honours in the U.S.S.R. are not hereditary. The cosmonaut's daughter or son does not inherit the title.
§ Mr. Eyre
I accept that, but at the outset I tried to make it clear that I was leaving to the Home Secretary and to the hon. Member for West Derby the defence of the hereditary system, and reserving to myself the right to defend on merit our system of awarding life titles and other recognition to operate only during the life time of the recipient.
That being so, I was saying that there is a system of awarding titles in the Soviet Union which recognises virtue, Titles are of great value, and society is tremendously benefited by being able to recognise merit and to reward it. I emphasise that human nature—
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
My Bill does not affect the award of the O.B.E. or the 910 B.E.M. or the M.B.E.—or the A.B.C.—or any of these suffixes at all.
§ Mr. Eyre
I am well aware of that. Nor does it affect the C.D.M., which is awarded by Cadbury's. But the Bill would prejudicially affect the bestowal of titles for life and, as the Home Secretary explained, it would prejudicially affect the Prime Minister's right to make awards down to knighthood, and that would include the award of a life peerage.
I am seeking to defend the system of awarding life peerages and knighthoods, which are limited to the lifetime of the recipient, on the basis that human nature requires some effective recognition of the virtue of those thousands of worthy people who have done tremendous work and performed public and other services of great value, often to the detriment of their own private lives. That these services should be effectively recognised, is a very necessary requirement inside society, and it is part of a system which I suggest this Bill would destroy.
I remember that in the City of Birmingham there was an alderman named Albert Bradbeer, a well-known Socialist leader, now deceased. As might be expected, I disagreed with him very strongly on items of policy, but I was extremely glad when, a few years ago, he was awarded a knighthood, because it was a well-deserved recognition of the tremendous public service that he had given to the city. Such recognition is extremely necessary inside society.
I suggest that the Bill is a good old-fashioned joke that we have all enjoyed. It has enabled hon Members opposite to parade some of their prejudices. A therapeutic benefit comes from this Bill, because by enabing them to parade those prejudices it has made hon. Gentlemen better able to accept the serious differences which exist between them on things that really matter.
§ 2.18 p.m.
§ Mr. George Wallace (Norwich, North)
I have a great deal of sympathy and regard for the purposes behind the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) is a lovable character—and perhaps he is also slightly mischievous—but he will recognise that were his Bill to reach the Committee stage the Opposition's indignation over 911 steel nationalisation would be as nothing in comparison.
The Opposition are a party of patronage and privilege. Their love of titles and the hereditary principle is deep seated. I had a most dramatic illustration of this not so many years ago at a county function which was visited by the present Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition. I was sitting, quite properly, in the hall where the function was being held when, suddenly, many ladies and gentlemen rose in deep respect. I thought we were having a visitation of the Almighty but, in fact, it was the then Chief Whip and Patronage Secretary of the Conservative Government.
My hon. Friend must recognise that, although it will take time to go, the hereditary principle is on the way out. There has been change already. The Prime Minister's attitude is to create life peerages and titles, but to abandon the hereditary principle. There is slight evidence that the granting of these life peerages is based on service to the community, and here lies the main point of the Bill. What my hon. Friend and many others want is a Second Chamber representative of a cross-section of the community, each member having been put there for his or her services to the community, and for no political or other reason at all. That is a point of view which we could all express.
I do not see that the passing of the Bill would create a constitutional crisis. I do not agree with the Home Secretary that the constitutional situation would be serious. Surely, if the Bill were carried into effect, the obvious thing to do would be to create a large number of life peerages for people outside this Chamber and from all kinds of public life. There is no serious obstacle, but we should not rush this too much.
I would have preferred my hon. Friend to have devoted his attention to the titles which we grant each other in this Chamber. Take the position about hon. and gallant Members. They have earned that title by tradition because they have held Her Majesty's, or His Majesty's commission in the past. An hon. Member who has served in the ranks is not entitled to that title. This is one of the most stupid anomalies. Many hon. and gallant Members have given really gallant service 912 to their country, so please do not misunderstand me. An hon. Member might have had the position of a supplies officer and done well out of the process. A man who served in the front line, might have had the V.C. He could come to this Chamber and not be entitled to be called "hon. and gallant".
§ Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)
Is it not equally absurd automatically to assume that a Queen's Counsel is learned, as we do in this House?
§ Mr. Wallace
I rather gathered that you might say that, Mr. Speaker, but it must be admitted that there is a temptation, when we are trying to set another House in order, to try to set our own House in order at the same time. We are having a useful discussion in spite of the fact that it is tempting to be a little facetious on this issue.
We need a second Chamber and to abolish it would be disastrous in the present constitutional set-up. I would be the first to admit that on many issues another place has set an example to this Chamber. But the fact remains that it is completely unbalanced in its membership and we need a leavening of opinion from outside more representative of the modern age and those whom we represent.
Mention has been made of the United States of America. There is an excellent example of a second Chamber in Canada, which I had the privilege to visit only recently. That Chamber is composed entirely of Members elected for life. All of them have rendered good service and the Chamber works quite well. Here we have the rather ridiculous situation that when there is a challenge—it may be conceivable that this would happen when this Bill got to another place—that on some issues the battalions arrive and the national Press makes a mockery of the Second Chamber.
§ Sir D. Glover
Because someone intervened in my speech, I did not make clear the difference about the Senate in the United States. The difference is that the Senate has almost as much power as the Lower House. We need to be careful, because no one advocates that in this country.
§ Mr. Wallace
I agree. The Senate in the United States is an elected body. I think that would be the most democratic solution to our problems, but we have many traditions dating from the past and we are slow to change. An elected second Chamber is the alternative. I would extend that to local government and the appointment of aldermen. I shall not continue on that line, because I would be ruled out of order.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire has done a useful service in bringing his Bill before the House so that we may discuss an issue which is of great importance in this modern age. I hope that we shall continue the debate on the lines that it has followed so far. It may be that the Bill will or will not be given a Second Reading, but something useful will have been done.
§ 2.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)
Many sinister reasons or motives have been read into the innocent little Bill which has been introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). It is a modest Bill, a molehill of a Bill, but a number of hon. Members have made a mountain of it.
It is quite clear, as my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Wallace) pointed out, that the hereditary principle is on the way out. That is a fact we have to accept. The present Prime Minister has made it almost an act of Government policy to ensure that the hereditary principle shall not be extended or buttressed so far as he has any say in the matter. It cannot be right that legislative functions should fall into the lap of certain persons simply because they are the sons of their fathers. All that this Bill seeks to do is to abolish hereditary titles.
There is a little error in drafting which I am sure my hon. Friend will be able to correct in Committee. That would satisfy almost all the niggling doubts which have been expressed today. All that needs to be done is to insert the word "hereditary" between "bestow" and "titles", in line 8. Then the Bill would say that Her Majesty shall notbestow hereditary titles as from the passing of this Act".Probably that would meet the objections, particularly if, as my hon. Friend 914 said, should the worst come to the worst he is quite prepared to put forward the names of 500 persons in his constituency who would make very good life peers in order to keep another place going. If people are distressed by the thought that the other place would disappear, we can always fall back on the very generous offer made by my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Lipton
In those circumstances, it seems that the last serious objection to the Bill disappears. I wish that the Home Secretary were here to listen to this little exchange. He conjured up a picture of the House of Lords becoming more and more senile and disappearing in due course, or in the course of a generation. All that we seek to do—this is why I have added my name to the names of supporters of the Bill—is to abolish hereditary titles. Consider how many old titles were originally conferred for the most dubious reasons by King Charles II to various people whose successors still decorate the British aristocracy, and all the peerages conferred at the time of the Coalition Government, 1918, by the then Prime Minister, Mr. Lloyd George, also for very dubious reasons. Some of them or their sons still have a real title to participate in the legislation which this House seeks to put on the Statute Book.
For all these reasons, I hope that the Bill will be accepted. It is not purely a joke, although one or two humorous remarks have been made in the debate. We are not seeking to abolish the House of Lords, nor are we seeking to abolish the Second chamber, nor are we seeking to abolish the monarchy. Without seeking to do any of those things the thought of which so terrifies some hon. Members, all we seek to do is to abolish the hereditary principle. Then, if it is thought desirable to continue the House of Lords, there are still quite a number of good citizens worthy of being made life peers who would more than adequately take the place of those whose titles would be extinguished on the death of their present holders.
§ 2.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
I apologise to the hon. Member for South 915 Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) for not being present at the beginning of the debate and hearing his speech. I very much wish that I had been able to hear it, because I am sure that he made out a reasonable and sensible case for the Bill.
However, merely to remove the hereditary principle, a course of action on which both sides of the House agree, would not be a sufficient method of reforming the House of Lords as it is constituted at present. If there were nothing but life peerages, that would be a dangerous power to put in the hands of any Government.
§ Mr. Lubbock
There are difficulties on both sides. If the hereditary principle is continued as it is now, there is a permanent built-in Conservative majority in the other place which could in certain circumstances frustrate important Government legislation. There is no need to go back far for an example. In 1909, when the Budget introduced by Mr. Lloyd George was frustrated for many years in the other place, it was almost necessary for Mr. Asquith, the then Prime Minister, to create large numbers of new peerages to ensure that the will of the elected House was supreme. The appendix to the Home Secretary's life of Asquith shows that the then Prime Minister had ready about 250 names of persons who would have been appointed as peers by His then Majesty to ensure that the will of the elected Chamber was carried through in another place.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
I volunteered to bring 500 miners from South Ayrshire who would undertake to fulfil this rôle.
§ Mr. Lubbock
I gathered from listening to the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) that the hon. Gentleman had made that useful suggestion. There are two difficulties here. If things are left as they are, with the hereditary principle in force, there is a permanent built in majority in another place which could 916 frustrate the will of a radical Government. We have seen only recently how the other place was on the point of rejecting an important piece of legislation—the London Government Bill—but fortunately the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, thought better and decided that he would not recommend his colleagues in another place to use their power on that occasion.
There may come a time when an important piece of legislation cannot go through because such power is exercised. It may be like a bee's sting, which is used only once and which then results in the death of the bee. I believe that if the other place ever decided to use these powers it would force the Government into taking some action to limit the other place to amendment on one occasion and not to delay a Bill by as much as a year, which I understand is the case at present.
Going to the other extreme, if there were nothing but life peers there would be the equal objection that a very powerful patronage was placed in the hands of the Government of the day. I do not think that any of us would wish to see that either. [Laughter.] The hon. Member for South Ayrshire may laugh, but he is sometimes as much against the Government as I am. I should have thought that this argument would appeal to him.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
The hon. Gentleman has not heard my case for the Bill. I argued it on entirely different lines. I do not want a House of life peers either.
§ Mr. Lubbock
The hon. Gentleman says in his Bill only that he wants to abolishAll titles bestowed by Her Majesty.Now he qualifies that by saying that he wants only to abolish the hereditary ones and that, if this creates some difficulty in manning another place, he is willing to nominate some of his constituents who would be willing to come and do the job.
§ Mr. Lubbock
I wonder whether the Prime Minister would be prepared to accept the hon. Gentleman's suggestion in regard to these 500 people. I am somewhat dubious about whether the Prime Minister would take the hon. Gentleman's advice. In any case, there is the 917 point, which I make quite seriously, that a Government could create large numbers of life peers and use this as a powerful instrument of patronage. They would not all be the hon. Gentleman's constituents, who would no doubt be extremely good at the job. I do not think that we could pass a Bill of this kind in its present form. We need to give more careful consideration to the future of the other place as a whole.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
The hon. Gentleman has got it wrong. I argued, as the hon. Gentleman has argued, about Mr. Asquith's going to the King and saying that if the House of Lords did not come to heel he would create 200 peers. I argued that in an emergency, with the House of Lords going contrary to the House of Commons I was prepared to get 500 miners down to do the job, not to continue as life peers.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) cannot now recapitulate a speech which the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) did not hear.
§ Mr. Lubbock
Mr. Asquith was thinking of using those powers in an emergency. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman would seriously suggest, as a permanent solution to the problem of the relationships between this House and another place, that in any case where the other place might disagree with us the hon. Gentleman's several hundred miners might be brought forward to ensure that the right solution was achieved. Surely that is not what the hon. Gentleman is suggesting.
I recommend to the hon. Gentleman that the other place should be partly elected. If the Bill had contained such a provision, I should have viewed it with greater favour than I do. Although it is satisfactory to have a number of peers nominated by the Prime Minister or by the Government of the day, there should be a greater element of democracy in the other place, which I fail to see provided for in the Bill.
I do not have any rigid ideas as to how this should be carried out, but I feel that regional representation is an important element which might be brought into a reformed second Chamber. There should be a second Chamber which re- 918 flects accurately the views of people in, say, the West Country. After the Honiton by-election result today, I feel that the views of the West Country have not been adequately represented so far, as is betokened by the large increase in the Liberal vote, about which I am delighted. If we had such representation in the other place of Welsh, Scottish, West Country and Northern opinions, the other place could be a very valuable adjunct to the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Lubbock
The hon. Gentleman is supporting my case that here in this House perhaps we do not give adequate attention sometimes to regional problems. If the other place could be reformed in such a way as to give a powerful voice to these regions, it could perform a very useful function indeed. However, I do not see that this can be done entirely by means of nominated life peers. Life peers hitherto have not been nominated by the Government for the views which they have expressed on the regions. This is done by means of recommendations by the parties.
In my experience, at any rate, looking at the composition of another place, the parties do not take into consideration the views that I have just put forward as being of very great importance. It is necessary in any reform of another place to make provision for a substantial number of elected Members, and unless we do that we are merely tinkering with the problem by introducing a Bill to abolish titles.
I can see great sense in the hon. Gentleman's case that a person should not be entitled to legislate merely because his father happened to be given a title, or because one of his remote ancestors was given a title for dubious reasons by King Charles II, as the hon. Member for Brixton said. But it is important, in sweeping away this antiquated provision in our constitution, that we do not get into even greater difficulties through having an entirely nominated second chamber. If the hon. Gentleman would take his Bill away and redraft it to incorporate the sort of provisions that I have mentioned, I shall be delighted to support him on a future occasion.
§ Question put and negatived.