§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call the Prime Minister to move the Second Reading of the Bill, I should like to make two observations. First, I have not selected any of the three Amendments on the Order Paper:
The first in the name of the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot):That this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which leaves a reconstituted and unrepresentative House of Lords with substantial power to frustrate the will of the elected representatives of the people.The second in the name of the right hon. Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch):That the Bill be read a Second time upon this day six months.The third in the name of the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English):That this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which, while altering the powers and composition of the House of Lords, makes no provision for altering the law of peerage generally.Members will be able to deploy their reasons for declining to give the Bill a Second Reading.
Secondly, an immense number of right hon. and hon. Members wish to take part in this very important debate. I hope that those who are called will be reasonably brief in their speeches.
§ Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)
On a point of order. May I respectfully submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that the House should know a little more about why you found yourself unable to select the Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) and associates, some of whose names appeared to the Amendment on Friday and some today, thus adding to an already considerable number of hon. Members.
We are about to debate a constitutional reform of considerable importance. My hon. Friend's Amendment constitutes a 44 reasoned case why a view different from that of the Government and of the Official Opposition should be taken by the House. Surely the most sensible and realistic debate which could arise on this important subject would be between the two Front Benches who want this reform and have agreed on it, which, to say the least, puts the House in a very difficult situation if it wishes to express a different point of view, namely, that this is the wrong kind of reform.
While it might be argued that when economic policy is being debated it would be difficult on an Amendment to do justice to a clear expression of opinion, here is a classic case where only by calling my hon. Friend's Amendment can there be a clear-cut decision on an historic matter which shows to everyone in the country and to posterity what view the majority of the House took.
§ Mr. Speaker
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's interest in posterity. But posterity will be interested in the fact that there are various reasons for voting against the Second Reading of the Bill. It may or may not be true that the Front Benches have one opinion about the Bill. From my observations, it is certainly true that there are all sorts of hon. Members who have other reasons for differing about whether the Bill should be given a Second Reading. My job is to ensure, as far as possible, that the variety of reasons for supporting and opposing the Bill are expressed in the debate. I cannot choose between Amendments.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)
In view of the unanimous view of the two Front Benches, would it not be better, and for the convenience of the House, if one speech were made from the Government Front Bench and one from the Opposition Front Bench, which would save a great deal of time?
§ Mr. Speaker
That is a most interesting suggestion of which posterity, I hope, will also take notice.
§ 4.5 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I have it in Command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House 45 that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Bill, has consented to place Her interest so far as it is affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.
It is in accordance with precedent, Mr. Speaker, that any major legislative proposals involving major constitutional change, reform of our Parliamentary system, the constitution and powers of another place, should be presented to the House by the Prime Minister of the day. That this is a major constitutional measure will hardly be gainsaid. In terms of the powers of another place, it continues the reforms of the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949, with the major new provision designed to end the Lords' power to veto absolutely subordinate legislation. But it also, unlike those two Measures, provides for very major changes in the composition of the House of Lords.
In one sense—and here I am sure that I shall carry the whole House with me—I do not need to follow some of the precedents handed down from earlier constitutional debates by occupying the time of the House for an undue length of time.
This Measure does not, as in 1832 or 1911, result from prolonged and bitter controversy, riots and demonstrations. Few, if any, of its supporters or its opponents have characterised it with the term "revolution". Modernisation—overdue modernisation—would perhaps be a more appropriate phrase. Unlike some of the bitterly contested Measures of the past, its origin lay in the discussions of the all-party conference which began about 15 months ago, following the reference to House of Lords reform in the Gracious Speech of 1967.
That is not to say that it enjoys the full assent or agreement of all hon. Members. It has its opponents on both sides of the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I do not think that I should be misrepresenting the attitude of most of those of my hon. Friends who are opposed to it if I say that their attitude is more one of boredom than of active hostility—and that those who will, during the course of the debate, summon up more enthusiasm in their attacks on the Bill may be divided between 46 those who, on the one hand, would prefer a simple abolition of the House, and those, on the other, who would rather leave things as they are, perhaps not because the present state of things is defensible but because they derive more satisfaction from continuing to contemplate the indefensible.
On the other side of the House, again the debate last November has indicated the main lines of criticism. There are those hon. Gentlemen who regret the proposals to end the hereditary domination of the other House, though, here again, there will be few who will voice the fears that once echoed through this House that such a measure will lay Britain wide open to Jacobins and sans culottes, and hardly any more who will feel that it marks the destruction of our constitution, and of British liberty.
§ Mr. Mendelson rose—
§ The Prime Minister
May I deal with this part of my speech first? Perhaps I shall even anticipate my hon. Friend's point.
Others—and this, I know, goes for critics on both sides of the House—will be concerned with a more sophisticated form of argument. This argument relates to the measures proposed for ensuring that the composition of another place will in future broadly reflect the composition of the elected Chamber. These measures, they feel, will confer what to them will be an unacceptable degree of power on the party leaders in terms of what will no doubt again be called "patronage". This point was very fully dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary when he wound up the debate on the White Paper.
§ Mr. Mendelson
When my right hon. Friend talks about those who simply wanted the abolition of the House of Lords, he left out an important sector of opinion on this side of the House, at any rate, namely, the adherents of the view, with which he himself had been largely credited after the Rhodesia Order, about taking away the remaining power of the House of Lords. It is a matter of regret to those who believe this rumour to be correct that he has not stuck to his opinion.
§ The Prime Minister
My hon. Friend will find, when I go through the Bill in detail, that the point concerning subordinate legislation which I stressed at that time is fully dealt with. I said so a moment or two ago, in an earlier part of my speech.
I do not feel that the House would wish me to go over all the arguments which were expressed in the two days' debate of last November, when the Measure was very fully explained to the House by my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Social Services, the Home Secretary and the Attorney-General. Other right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen also played a full part in doing so.
It might be more convenient if I take the House through the main provisions of the Bill and relate them to the objectives which the Government set themselves from the outset.
In the debate on the Gracious Speech, I summarised these objectives in these terms:First, the hereditary basis for membership should be eliminated; secondly, no one party should possess a permanent majority; thirdly, in normal circumstances the Government of the day should be able to secure a reasonable working majority; fourthly, the powers in the House of Lords to delay legislation should be restricted; and, fifthly, its absolute power to withhold consent to subordinate legislation against the will of the Commons should be abolished."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th October, 1968; Vol. 772, c. 34.]I believe that this Bill gives reality to those objectives.
I should perhaps make it clear that it makes only those changes in the law which are necessary to implement the White Paper proposals. It does not include provisions on matters which can be dealt with in other ways, for example by the exercise of the prerogative or by action by the two Houses themselves. In particular, it does not seek to regulate the exercise of the Royal prerogative in respect of the creation of new peers and, therefore, it contains no provisions specically related to the proposals about the total number of peers to be comprised in the new House, or in the voting nucleus, or the balance within that nucleus between the peers supporting the 48 Government, peers supporting other parties and cross-bench peers.
Similarly, there are no provisions designed specifically to secure the inclusion of a suitable number of peers with knowledge of, and experience in, matters which are of special concern to the various parts and regions of the United Kingdom.
These requirements, which are, of course, quite cardinal to the working of the scheme, are, however, referred to in the Preamble to the Bill, and by these means they will receive statutory recognition. As the House realises, a Preamble is no longer usual in a Public Bill, though it is still customary for a Bill which, like this one, is of great constitutional importance.
The Preamble also summarises the main purposes which the Bill will achieve: the exclusion of future peers by succession; the establishment of a two-tier structure consisting of voting and non-voting peers; the reduction in the number of bishops; the alteration in powers related to Public Bills and the reduction in the powers of the House of Lords in relation to subordinate legislation.
The Bill does not in any way affect the judicial functions of the House or the wider aspects of peerage law, since these questions are outside the scope of a reform which is concerned with the position of the House of Lords as the second chamber of our Parliament. It does, however, remove certain minor anomalies which were not mentioned in the White Paper.
I am sure that it will be generally convenient if I do not take up time in seeking to explain the Bill Clause by Clause, but comment briefly on the five parts of the Bill, which deal respectively with the composition of the House of Lords, its legislative powers, its new powers of subordinate legislation, changes in Parliamentary franchise and qualification, and, fifthly, a supplementary part dealing with interpretation, commencement, title, and so on.
The first part, Clauses 1 to 7, deals with composition. The Bill excludes from the reformed House all hereditary peers who will succeed to peerages in 49 the future, but allows to those existing members of the House of Lords, and those who are entitled to be members, the right to attend the House for the rest of their lives.
In the future, the House is to be divided into a two-tier structure comprising voting peers, who must be peers of first creation, and other non-voting peers. Those who wish and are eligible to be voting peers must deposit a voting declaration, which normally covers the lifetime of a Parliament; and they must attend not less than one-third of the total sittings of the House.
The Bill provides that, in the future, no created peer who has reached the age of 72 before the dissolution of the previous Parliament will be able to make a voting declaration, but in order to give flexibility in the early stages of the reform this provision will not be introduced immediately but will be effected by Order in Council at a later stage.
Ministers and the holders of high judicial office will be exempted from the retirement rule and the attendance requirement. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] All created peers who are unable to fulfil the attendance requirement, or who are over the retirement age—when it is introduced—together with existing peers by succession who do not receive life peerages, will, under the Bill, be eligible to sit in the reformed House; but they will not be able to vote on any question in the House itself or in a Committee for the consideration of legislation—including subordinate legislation. They will, however, be able to take part in every other way in the work of the House and will be entitled to ask Questions and move Motions, including Amendments to Bills.
The number of bishops is to be progressively reduced from 26 to 16, but the two archbishops and the Bishops of London, Durham and Winchester will retain their right to sit and vote ex officio.
The second part of the Bill, Clauses 8 to 12, deals with powers on public legislation, and replaces Section 2 of the Parliament Act 1911, as amended by the Parliament Act, 1949. The Bill does not affect the provisions relating to money Bills which are contained in Section 1 of the Act of 1911, and which remain as before.
50 Similarly, any Bill containing a provision to extend the maximum duration of a Parliament is exempted from the ambit of this legislation as it was previously from the earlier Parliament Acts.
§ Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Macclesfield)
Is there to be an age limit for the bishops sitting in the House of Lords?
§ The Prime Minister
I should like to look into that question. I will ask my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to give the hon. Gentleman an answer. I agree that it is a very important question, and that the hon. Gentleman is entitled to an answer.
In the case of public legislation generally, however, it is proposed that, after a period of six months' delay, a Bill which has been disagreed to by the House of Lords may be presented for Royal Assent merely on a Resolution of the House of Commons.
The concept of disagreement between the Houses is a new one, as a statutory concept, and it is defined by the Bill as a situation in which a Bill sent up from this House is either rejected by the Lords at any stage of its progress or where the Lords insist on Amendments which are not acceptable to this House.
A Bill could also be treated as disagreed if, after 60 Parliamentary days from its introduction in the Lords, the Lords were to reject a Motion necessary for its progress, or, in the last resort, if this House were to resolve that the Bill should be so treated.
The period of six months' delay lasts either from the date of disagreement, or, if the Bill is disagreed to after the 60 parliamentary days, from the last of those days.
This would mean that, if the Lords were to take a very long time for the consideration of a Bill, any excess period over the 60 Parliamentary days which have been allowed would be subtracted from the proposed six months' period of delay.
The period of delay, and the right of this House to pass a Resolution that a disagreed Bill be submitted for the Royal Assent, would extend over both a prorogation and even a dissolution of Parliament, but in that event the Resolution 51 would have to be passed within a month of the expiry of the period of delay.
During the period of delay either House will continue to have the right to seek agreement on a disagreed Bill, so that there can be no question of an initiative towards compromise being prevented for procedural reasons during the period of delay.
§ Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
Would that apply if the dissolution were brought about because the Government of the day were defeated on the Resolution about the Bill—because that would probably be the reason for the General Election?
§ The Prime Minister
Then, of course, depending on the result of the General Election, we should know whether this House was likely to proceed with the Bill.
If the Government who had been defeated went to the country on that issue and won, then the next Parliament would have the right to press for the Bill on a second vote. If the Government were defeated, then it is most likely, though not absolutely certain, that the Government who replaced them would not wish to replace that Bill. The hon. Member may wish to raise that point in greater detail in Committee, but I think that he will probably agree that that would be the practical effect of the situation which he has in mind.
This House will be enabled to include in the Bill as presented for Royal Assent such Amendments as may be specified in the Resolution passed after the end of the period of delay. The need for such a provision could arise if, for example, a Bill were to be rejected by another place on Third Reading. I think that this new procedure, based on the new concept of a statutorily defined disagreement between the two Houses, is more logical and more flexible than the old procedure.
The third part of the Bill, Clauses 13, 14 and 15, breaks new ground in dealing with subordinate legislation. The general intention underlying these Clauses is stated in Clause 13, which says thatin cases where each House of Parliament has power … to control the making … of an instrument … a decision of the House of Lords may be overruled by the House of Commons.52 With regard to the negative Resolution procedure, a Prayer passed by the Lords shall be of no effect if the House of Commons rejects a corresponding Motion or approves the instrument or draft by Resolution of this House within a stated period.
With regard to the affirmative Resolution procedure, the Bill will allow this House to overrule a rejection by the Lords of any Order, but in this case the instrument or draft would have had to be approved by this House before its rejection by another place and it would be necessary to reaffirm our approval of the Order in question. In the case where an Order would cease to have effect unless approved by both Houses within a specified period—the very matter with which we are familiar—there is provision to extend that period if the Resolution for approval is rejected by the Lords towards the end of that period.
As was explained in the debate on the White Paper, and, I think, largely accepted by most hon. Members, these three Clauses are a necessary element in reform, since, in the modern age, irrespective of the party complexion of the Government in office, a great part of the law-making process must inevitably involve Statutory Instruments made under general powers conferred by an Act of Parliament.
It would be intolerable that the non-elected Chamber should have power to frustrate the decisions of Parliament by vetoing delegated legislation required to implement such an Act. As we learned in the case which led to acute controversy last June, ill-considered action by another place could put an elected Government in a position where they were unable to implement an important international commitment.
The fourth part, Clauses 16 and 17, deals with the Parliamentary franchise and qualification, giving to all peers and lords spiritual, whether Members of the reformed House or not, the right to vote in General Elections. It also gives to those peers who will not in future be Members of the House of Lords the right to stand for election to this House, on the same basis as other citizens.
The fifth part of the Bill defines the expressions used in the Bill and provides that it will come into force at the end of 53 the Session in which it is passed. This raises the question of timing, which was the one issue on which the inter-party conference was not in agreement, and I will come back to this in a moment.
This part also provides that, for the purposes of the Bill, the remaining Sessions of the present Parliament shall be treated as a separate Parliament, and will allow the necessary arrangements to be made for the immediate introduction of the two-tier scheme.
The Schedule to the Bill lists the enactments repealed.
Before I conclude it might be helpful to refer to two issues which were the subject of considerable concern in the debate on the White Paper. The first relates to the problem of the remuneration of Members of the reformed Upper House. No one will wish to deny to the Members of a reformed, hardworking House, with a vital and necessary part to play in our constitution, the means necessary to enable them to play their full part in that work. No one will want to create or connive at a situation in which active membership of the House will tend to devolve increasingly upon people with private means.
The House should know the difficulties which any Prime Minister has in recommending the appointment of life peers, particularly when—I think we should all agree with these objectives—he desires to make the peerage as fully representative as he can of all parts of the country and of the younger and more active members of the community. An unpaid House means that, apart from those who make only an infrequent contribution, however distinguished, to the Lords debates, the majority of its working Members must be either retired persons or younger, more active persons based largely on London and the areas near London.
It is right that we should have in the Upper House active industrialists, active trade unionists, practising architects, dons, lawyers, people engaged in the arts and sciences, but unless they are, in fact, either in possession of private means, or are based in London, it is almost impossible to ask them to contribute effectively to the work of the Upper House. They gravely penalise themselves in their remuneration in their own practice or 54 profession or career. Indeed, I know only too well, and I know that my predecessors did, that the scales are heavily burdened against the Edinburgh lawyer the Glasgow architect, the Newcastle engineer, and the Swansea scientist except on a very part-time basis which an active House can hardly afford.
Unpaid or substantially unpaid men or women of this kind can be recommended for appointment to the Upper House only on the basis that either they will have to give up their careers or follow them only part-time, or they will be able to attend in the Lords only on a very part-time basis. Refusal to face this issue, therefore, means that the objective of ensuring that the second Chamber is truly representative of all regions, of all sectors of our public life, and of a wide range of age groups, will be most difficult to realise.
Against this, however, there is another consideration very much in the minds of hon. Members of this House. I recognise the anxieties of those hon. Members who have linked this question of remuneration with their fears about patronage, which I have already referred to, and I can understand the point of view that some hon. Members have expressed that a voting peer, once appointed, may expect to have until the age of 72 or thereabouts, or even later, a safe seat, free of constiuency duties, free of anxieties about the security of tenure which are inherent in an elected Chamber.
In the light of these considerations, which I think ought to have more thought given to them, the Government have decided not to pursue the White Paper proposal about payment. The existing system of tax-free expenses will, therefore, continue, but there will be no salary, and, equally, there will be no examination, such as we originally suggested, to take place by an independent committee, such as the Lawrence Committee which investigated House of Commons remuneration, and this will, therefore, not take place at this stage.
This will enable us to see how the reformed House works in practice, to see what form of remuneration is best fitted to enable voting peers to give the necessary time to the work of the reformed House, and to form a considered view of the broader issues involved, including 55 those which I have just mentioned. This does not mean that we have decided that voting Members should not be paid at some time in the future, or that they should. It simply means that we are preserving an open mind so that the matter can be considered in the light of experience at a more suitable time in the future.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)
If my right hon. Friend eventually decides to remunerate certain peers would they be precluded from holding offices of profit under the Crown?
§ The Prime Minister
This is an extremely important subject which should be considered, All I am saying this afternoon is that so far as their Lordships' House is concerned the proposal in the White Paper for payment and for investigation based on a committee of the Lawrence Committee type is not being proceeded with for the time being. This is, so far, a hypothetical question, but if there were to be payment the possibility of considering the holding of offices of profit under the Crown might become a very real one. So many of the statutes provide for the payment of the chairmen of boards, and so on, provide that only Members of the House of Commons should be disqualified, not Members of another place.
§ Sir Robert Cary (Manchester, Withington)
In the discussions on the White Paper, both here and elsewhere, it was generally agreed that the Lawrence Committee should look at this matter. I put it to the Prime Minister that at the end of five years following the original setting up of the Lawrence Committee it would be as well if that Committee were to review the whole method of payment in Parliament.
§ The Prime Minister
That is going wider than the Bill. There is a feeling in some parts of the House of Commons that there should be this review, but I do not think that it arises on this Bill so far as the question of payments in the 56 reformed Upper House is concerned. It is our view that this should wait for some time before we decide how this matter should be handled.
The second issue relates to timing. I have just said that the Bill as at present drafted would come into effect at the end of this Session. Despite the persuasive case put forward by the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod), the Government have not altered their view that, on balance, it would be best to bring this reform into effect during this Parliament. For us, this is a matter which will fall to be dealt with in our later consideration of the Bill. We have not changed our view; though it would be right to say to right hon. Gentlemen that if, after due consideration, they remain unsatisfied with the reasons we have given, and will give again today, for our attitude, we should, of course, be willing to consider any suggestions which may be put forward.
The right hon. Member for Enfield, West, has himself put forward a number of interesting suggestions, which, as far as I know—I was not a Member—have not been considered at the inter-party conference, for separating the introduction of those parts of the Bill which refer to powers from those which refer to composition. He will forgive me if I say that the ideas which he put forward were not finally developed, for reasons we all understand, and are perhaps not entirely clear to the House. No doubt he, or one of his right hon. Friends, may wish today to go further into this question.
It is right that I should remind right hon. Gentlemen that, though we are very willing to consider any arguments or suggestions on this point, we are naturally anxious—and I think that the House would feel that we had the right—to safeguard our legislative programme during the last year and more of this Parliament, including the right, or as we would consider it the duty, to carry out the clear intentions with regard to the powers of another place for which we have more than once sought and obtained a mandate. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, or one of his colleagues, will carry forward the arguments which he used in the White Paper debate; though these are matters which can then be more fully discussed in Committee.
57 The House must decide its attitude to the Motion which I have commended to the House. My submission is that the House, once asked to approve or reject the Bill, cannot reject the objectives which I have outlined: first, that the hereditary basis of membership must be eliminated; second, that no one party should possess a permanent majority; third, that in normal circumstances the Government of the day should be able to secure a reasonable working majority; fourth, that the powers now adhering in the House of Lords to delay legislation should be restricted; and, fifth, that its absolute power to withhold consent to delegated legislation against the wish of the Commons should be ended.
I believe that most hon. Members, if this is put to them, will accept these objectives. But, if they accept the objectives, it is equally my submission that they cannot reject the means to achieve these objectives which the Bill represents. If, while accepting these objectives, any hon. Member on either side feels that they could be better realised by modifications of the Bill, then I submit that the hon. Member's duty is to vote for the Bill but to seek to strengthen it, or otherwise to amend it, in Committee.
What the House is being asked to decide, however, is not merely the Bill, it is part of a much wider process. This is a modernising Parliament in a modernising age. [HON. MEMBERS: 'Oh."] Whatever controversies we may have—and I gather, to my surprise, that there are still controversies here—I believe that there will be general recognition that during the period of less than three years since this Parliament first met, we have carried through modernisation, legislative and extra-legislative measures of which all of us have the right to be proud.
To the long record of modernisation which I set out in the debate on the Gracious Speech only three months ago, we now have the Government's proposals for the most comprehensive reorganisation of the social services since Beveridge. We have the proposals in the White Paper on industrial relations which, whatever controversy may have been aroused, represents the greatest step forward in industrial relations for 60 years. Before long we shall have the Reports of the 58 Redcliffe-Maud Commission, which will make possible the first major reform of English local government for over 70 years.
While, like every other hon. Member, I am waiting to see what that Commission recommends—and the Wheatley Commission's Report which will follow not very long after—in common with every other hon. Member, too, I am looking to those Reports to point the way by which all of us can move rapidly and with sureness of step to a degree of regionalisation—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I thought that hon. Members supported the principle of regionalisation—decentralisation, and participation of all our people in the democratic process at national, regional and local level.
The Commission on the Constitution is in the course of being established, and I hope shortly to be able to make a further announcement about it. We in this House have recently applied ourselves to the task of modernising our Parliamentary procedure within the House of Commons.
I submit that, in a reforming age—
§ The Prime Minister
If it is a choice between a morning sitting and sitting all through the night to listen to the hon. and learned Member for Antrim, South, I think that I would plump for the morning sitting.
§ Sir Knox Cunningham
With respect to the Prime Minister, while thanking him for his courtesy, I would prefer to listen to the dynamic Prime Minister.
§ The Prime Minister
That is very interesting; I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman and I always disagree about what "dynamic" is.
I submit that, in a reforming age—and I think that all hon. Members will agree with this, whatever our disagreements—when the temper of the people is not to restrain the process of modernisation but rather to express impatience with any slackening of the pace of change—it would be unthinkable that, in our Legislature and in the relations between the two Houses of that Legislature, we should decide, for whatever reason, to withhold this instrument of modernisation.
59 So far as the House of Lords is concerned, so far as the relations of our two Houses are concerned, so far as the possibility of a co-ordinated and, indeed, of an integrated Parliamentary structure is concerned, and, therefore, so far as Parliament itself is concerned, the Bill which I have commended to the House is a desirable, necessary, step in the long overdue modernisation of the institutions of our democracy.
§ 4.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Reginald Maudling (Barnet)
The Prime Minister has certainly obeyed Mr. Speaker's adjuration to be brief. I will try to do the same, although the Prime Minister's brevity owed a good deal to his velocity and to his having put forward no arguments at all in support of the merits of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman devoted his entire time to an analysis of the content of the Bill, subsequently dealing with one or two minor matters, particularly with pay, on which the Government have undergone a most remarkable change of view from that contained in the speech made by the right hon. Gentleman in introducing the debate on the White Paper.
I hope that the Prime Minister will forgive me if I take a little time to talk about the merits of the Bill and the reasons these proposals, in my view, should be accepted. On this side of the House there will be a free vote on the Bill. I think that this is right since, during the inter-party discussions, no commitment was implied. All we were committed to was, if we agreed with the proposals, to recommend them to Parliament. Therefore, we are not in any sense committing our colleagues on these matters. If there had been a commitment, it would, of course, have been destroyed by the Prime Minister's action, by the little huff he went into at that time, when he broke off the talks, subsequently to introduce what could have been introduced, had he not done so, at an earlier stage.
While there is no commitment in that sense, there is a clear commitment upon all of us to consider these proposals solely against the background of the interests of Parliament and of the country, and to study the arguments for and against reform in principle, and this reform in detail, on that basis alone. I 60 am sure that we should not be led by the Prime Minister's action to change views we previously held on the merits of particular proposals. If they were right and sensible a year ago, they surely still are right and sensible today.
I believe that these proposals should receive a Second Reading for reasons which I will briefly outline to the House, but there is one point to which the Prime Minister referred on which we disagreed and on which there was a clear reservation in the discussions, and that is the timing of the introduction of this new scheme if passed by Parliament. This is a matter to which we attach great importance. I was interested in what the Prime Minister said this afternoon about possible rethinking on the part of the Government. At the moment, we are totally opposed to the concept of introducing the new scheme during the lifetime of the present Parliament, and during the later stages of the Bill we shall, if necessary, vote as a party against it.
The Prime Minister introduced a new factor. On the basis of the Bill, we do not believe that it should be made effective in the lifetime of the present Parliament, but in later discussions on the Bill ideas such as those referred to by the Prime Minister and by my right hon. Friend can be examined.
Perhaps I might briefly tell the House why I think the Bill should be given a Second Reading. First, there is an enormous advantage in making constitutional changes by agreement. The alternatives to that are, first, to have party battles at election times on features of the constitution. Secondly, to set up a constitution from time to time based not on agreement, but on the interests of the party in power at the time. Thirdly, in the long run, to have an unhealthy constitution for our democracy.
Any reform that is based on agreement between the parties is surely far more likely to endure, and we want to ensure that when change comes that change is made effective and enduring. It does not mean that one must accept any price that has to be paid for agreement, but it is worth paying some price, and I suggest to my hon. Friends that to get a real and lasting agreement it would be worth paying a considerable price, by both sides of the House, by sacrificing particulars of original points of view.
61 I think that there are four alternatives to passing the Bill. First, to say that no change is desirable. Secondly, to say that no change is desirable now. Thirdly, to say that if there is to be a change it should be on a party basis. Fourthly, to say that there should be a renewed attempt to get inter-party agreement on a better solution than the one already put forward?
Perhaps I might now deal with each of those four points. First, I doubt whether many people now argue that there is no case for reforming the present composition of the Upper House. Indeed, as long ago as 1948 distinguished representatives of my party accepted the view that a permanent inbuilt majority for one party in the Upper House was not a healthy solution, and that the right to attend and vote based solely on heredity should not, by itself, constitute a qualification for admission to a reformed second Chamber. That was said 20 years ago, but it is still true, and it has been borne out in practice.
I draw the attention of my hon. Friends to the experience of those now in the Upper Chamber, and to that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home), who say quite categorically that the present composition of the House of Lords inhibits its proper functioning by reason of the inbuilt majority.
Because of the composition of the Upper Chamber, it is far more difficult for it to act as an effective second Chamber. It is far more difficult for it to express a view contrary to that of the Government of the day, because, in present circumstances, if that is done, immediately a constitutional crisis arises, and the merits of the issue in dispute are lost in the constitutional argument that takes place.
§ Mr. Mendelson
Is the right hon. Gentleman arguing that if the House accepts this reform the power of the second Chamber to destroy the Government's policies will be effectively increased?
§ Mr. Maudling
I intend to come to that, and to remarks made by some Ministers about that aspect of the matter.
I do not believe that there is any argument for saying that no change is desirable 62 in the present arrangements for the Upper Chamber. Nor do I accept the second argument that this is not the time to make a change. It is always easy to put this argument forward, and added edge is given to it by the setting up by the Government of the Commission on the Constitution. I think that we need a far more satisfactory explanation than we have had so far on how these two things work together. I think that the Government said that it would be wrong to have a regional Chamber before the Commission had reported. How can it be right to have a non-regional Chamber before that Commission has reported? The Government seem to be in a dilemma of their own creation. How can they argue about reforming the Upper Chamber now when they do not know what the Constitutional Commission will recommend?
§ Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)
Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is equally illogical to say that we are passionately in favour of voting for a Measure provided that it is not implemented?
§ Mr. Maudling
Provided that it is not implemented at the wrong moment. There is now a chance to get a revised and reformed second Chamber by means of agreement between the parties, and I urge my hon. Friends to realise that this opportunity is not likely to recur for a long while. It may be that the House will decide that the opportunity is not worth it, that the details, the principles, and the objectives of the scheme are not good enough, but there is no real argument for saying that this is not the right time to carry out this reform, because here we have an opportunity which, if turned down, is unlikely to recur within a short time.
Some hon. Members argue against the change on an agreed basis because, they say, they are not confident that any reliance can be placed on such an agreement. I must comment on this view, because it is strongly felt, and I do not think that it has been dispelled by some things said earlier, or by the nature of the Bill. I shall not go into examples of what happened on constitutional matters during the last two years under this Government, but I was disturbed when, during the debate on the White Paper, 63 Government spokesmen appeared to assume that if the revised Upper Chamber voted against the Government on more than one occasion, or frequently, it would be necessary to look again at the constitution. This was not the view of the main Government spokesmen, but it was that view of the Home Secretary and of the Attorney-General.
We must be quite clear about this. It would be a complete swindle—if that is a parliamentary word—if the scheme were to be instituted on the basis that the new Upper Chamber will be entitled to use its powers, but if it uses them, the party opposite, if it has the opportunity, will seek to make an automatic new reform and introduce new curbs on the Upper Chamber. The reform must be on the basis that when the Upper House has its new composition it will be able to use the powers which Parliament as a whole will have agreed to give it. Any other assumption is intolerable.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. James Callaghan)
The right hon. Gentleman is not putting my position fairly. I was asked whether I thought Members of the Upper House would use their powers. I said that I thought they would be very chary about using them, and would use them very sparingly, because no Government—Labour or Conservative—would tolerate an unelected Chamber consistently overturning their legislation. That is why, in my view, an Upper Chamber will be very chary about using its powers. It is not that it will not be able to use them. It will be sparing and chary in using them.
§ Mr. Maudling
That is an extremely serious statement. The basis of the proposals is that there should be an Upper Chamber of such a character as to be capable of voting down a Government proposal, and that, in practice, the power to do this should rest in the hands of people of no party allegiance, but of great distinction. The right hon. Gentleman is saying that these people of no party allegiance, but with great experience, may be in the position of frequently voting down Government proposals—in which case I imagine they will be bad proposals. If that is the argument, it puts the whole matter in a different light.
64 If the new reformed Chamber is not to be entitled to use its powers except on the sufferance of the Government majority in the House of Commons, then we will have to look at this again. It is a major point on which I was challenged in the debate on the White Paper and which I answered in precise terms. My view on this has not changed and I think that the Government view on it may not have changed, but it remains intensely muddled and we are worried about it.
§ Mr. Callaghan
Is it the right hon. Gentleman's view that the House of Lords should be able consistently and continually to overturn Government legislation?
§ Mr. Maudling
No. That is exactly the point I am discussing. If the Home Secretary cannot see that, then I ask him to think again about the matter. He is saying, in effect, that the new reformed Upper Chamber will not be allowed to use its powers—
§ Mr. Callaghan indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Maudling
—in such a way consistently to embarrass the Government. There is, therefore, a limitation on the powers, a limitation on the Upper Chamber, which is not in the White Paper or in the Bill. This is a matter to which the Committee which will consider the Bill further must revert with close attention, because it raises a new point of great importance.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
It appears that the right hon. Gentleman's declaration is the new one. He is suggesting that these powers would be used quite frequently, whereas his right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod), who was a member of the Committee, spoke in the debate on the White Paper and said that he agreed with the Secretary of State. He said:I think that these powers will be used very, very rarely indeed … "—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th November, 1968; Vol. 773, c. 1329.]Thus, the right hon. Member for Enfield, West agrees with the Home Secretary on this subject.
We are interested to have had that declaration from the right hon. Member for Barnet because, for a number of my hon. Friends, that is part of our case against the Bill.
§ Mr. Maudling
The hon. Gentleman must not try to put words into my mouth in such a childish fashion. I am too old for that one. We are not discussing whether the Upper Chamber will probably often vote against the Government, but whether there shall be any limitation on its powers to do so if it so desires.
This point adds weight to the argument that many things are not included in the Bill, things which are of crucial importance to the scheme as a whole. The Prime Minister referred, rather perfunctorily, to these points and tried to give the reasons for their omission. But the House is entitled to a thorough and complete explanation of why they are not included.
The Prime Minister used the odd phrase, "Statutory recognition of conventions". That seems a new one and we would like it to be explained by the Attorney-General. Is the inclusion of these words in the Preamble to the Bill designed to give convention the force of Statute? I was brought up to believe that there was a difference between Statute and convention. What does "Statutory recognition of conventions" mean, if anything? If it means what I have described, how will it work? I believe that the Attorney-General is to intervene later. Perhaps he will explain the matter clearly.
§ The Prime Minister
I did not say that they had statutory force. I referred to the long-standing practice on major Bills of having a Preamble and said that many of the things in the White Paper would have to be done by Statute, but in other ways; for example, in connection with recommendations made by party leaders through the Prime Minister of the day to Her Majesty in respect of appointments.
The point about putting them in a Preamble—and this is in accordance with every precedent in these matters—is not to make them obligatory, but to draw attention, within the Statute, to what will be the practice in the operation of the Bill for all concerned. This has a long history. It adds something to such points if they are put in the Preamble to a Measure, although they cannot be dealt with by legislation.
§ Mr. Maudling
It would be advantageous to the House if we had a clearer 66 explanation of the legal force of the inclusion of these words in the Preamble. Perhaps the Attorney-General will do that at the appropriate moment.
As I was saying, many things are excluded. We are told that the Reviewing Committee is to report from time to time. Can we be told more about that? What is to be the size of the new Upper Chamber? What is to be the political balance and regional representation? None of these matters, which are the heart and essence of the whole scheme, are included. Perhaps, for technical reasons, they cannot be included in the Bill, but the House is entitled to be told clearly why they cannot be included and how, in their absence, we can be sure that, in practice, they will be respected.
The fourth alternative to proceeding with this Measure is to say that there should be another attempt at reaching all-party agreement. I do not believe that this would be likely to be fruitful. I think that the alternatives are either another elected House or a non-elected House of the type proposed. I cannot see how an elected House would fit into our constitutional framework. Either it would be a rubber stamp for the majority in the House of Commons, which would be pointless, or it would be the opposite, in which case we would constantly have friction between the two elected bodies.
One is, therefore, driven to having a non-elected House, and one which, on the basis on which we are working, would provide neither a permanent majority for one party nor an automatic majority for the Government in power holding the majority in the House of Commons. The only way in which I can see how a second Chamber can, in practice, make an effective check—a temporary check, but an effective one—on the House of Commons is by having a situation in which the majority in the Upper Chamber can be mustered against the party in power, but will not normally be mustered solely on the basis of the votes of political opponents. This is the logic of the scheme put forward in the Bill which emerged, by and large, from our discussions. I have yet to see any argument which suggests that a further continuation of all-party discussions would be likely to produce a more fruitful solution.
To sum up on the merits of the Bill, I believe that the advantages are, first, 67 that the Measure provides for the continuation of the second Chamber—and I attach importance to that because I believe that to move to a uni-cameral system would be entirely foreign to the needs of the country; secondly, that it provides for the new reformed Chamber to have power—power which can be exercised—to impose a delay on legislation, which, on average, I believe would not be likely to be any shorter than is exercised now; and, thirdly, that the composition reflects as closely as possible the only way of giving to a non-elected House some form of check over the elected House of Commons.
There are, of course, many disadvantages, some of them practical ones. For example, there is the difficulty of ensuring that young peers will come forward, as they are doing now, to play an outstanding part, as they are playing now, in the work of the Upper Chamber.
There is also the important point of the patronage of the Prime Minister. I do not personally regard this as severely as do some of my hon. Friends. The simple fact is that the Prime Minister of the day now has an unlimited power of nominating new members of the Upper Chamber. This new proposal merely adds a new, though rather more limiting convention to the powers which he already possesses. I believe this to be the legal position, and that it should not be obscured.
I must refer to the question of timing. I stress that we do not believe that it is right to make this Measure effective in the lifetime of the current Parliament. There is no urgency compared with the many other urgent tasks facing the Government. The setting up of the Constitutional Commission also argues strongly against immediate implementation.
The strongest point is that the new Chamber, if established, will reflect a composition of the parties. It is, I believe, wrong that the composition of the initial new reformed Upper House should reflect the political situation of 1966. It should reflect the contemporary political situation if it is to be real at all, apart from the strong constitutional arguments about withdrawing the Writ of Summons from those to whom it has been issued.
68 If this scheme is to come into effect, it should be introduced at the beginning of a new Parliament and be based on the changed political realities at that time. It is primarily for that reason, as I said earlier, that my hon. Friends and I are not at present disposed in any way to accepting the Government's proposals on the timing of the introduction of the Bill.
§ Mr. W. Howie (Luton)
Is the right hon. Gentleman arguing that the Upper Chamber should reflect the contemporary political situation? From that am I to gather that he means the Upper Chamber should change with the Gallup poll throughout the life of a Parliament?
§ Mr. Maudling
If the hon. Member reads the speech I made in the debate on the White Paper he will know what I am talking about. A contemporary political situation is better known after a General Election than before.
I have tried to give the reasons why the Bill should be given a Second Reading. We have a number of reservations and on this side of the House we are to have a free vote. We have a definite reservation on the point of timing. The remarks of the Home Secretary this afternoon have given rise to new doubts in my mind on which I shall want more explanation during our further debates on the Bill, but I hope that the House will be prepared to give a Second Reading to the Bill this evening.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ Mr. George Darling (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
I do not wish to detain the House for very long. I want to follow the observations made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in making a plea for modernisation of our parliamentary system, to offer some general comments out of my experience in dealing with legislation, and to pass a critical word or two about Clause 6.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling) that we must have a two-Chamber system. That we must have a second Chamber is, I think, borne out generally from experience; a Chamber which in a free and unprejudiced way would examine, and maybe revise, legislation which goes through this House. We could all give examples from recent years of the good work that has been done by the other place in revising legislation which perhaps went too 69 quickly through this House. We can also produce appropriate examples from the past where new laws, Bills, regulations and so on were blocked by another place for purely reactionary reasons.
I agree that in recent years the Lords have behaved far more reasonably. Perhaps the creation of life peers has been responsible for this. I do not doubt that if we leave the House of Lords as it is this era of sweet reasonableness may well continue, but I share the doubts of some hon. Friends about what may happen if we reform—if that is the word to use in relation to this Bill, and I am not sure that it is the right word—another place on the lines of this Bill.
If we are to be serious about House of Lords reforms I suggest that we begin with the proposition, which I think the majority of us accept, that there should be a second Chamber primarily to examine and if need be to revise legislation that comes from this House. I do not know whether we need a second Chamber to do anything more than that, but I shall not quarrel with anyone who wants a second Chamber which will also debate freely and independently subjects of major public importance. I think that we are agreed that the main task of a second Chamber is that of legislation revision. This is the main argument for it and it should be the starting point for any House of Lords reform.
We should, therefore, consider what is the best, the most efficient, the most satisfactory, the most acceptable revising Chamber in terms of composition, powers, authority and procedure that we can devise. The Prime Minister has spoke about modernisation. I agree with him. Let us have a modern revising Chamber. I am quite sure that if we approach the problem of House of Lords reform in this manner, without party prejudice or any regard for historical precedent or vested interest, but concerned only with the public interest and the efficient working of the second Chamber, it will be difficult not to come to the conclusion that the House of Lords, even as amended by the Bill, should go and a very different kind of second Chamber, more in keeping with the needs and opinions of today, should be set up in its place.
70 In recent debates both in this House and outside about Parliamentary and political affairs much has been said about the cynical attitude to politics that many sections of public opinion have, about the denigration of Parliament. Of course politics, politicians and Parliament have always been fair game for public attacks, but I think that in some respects we deserve, if we do not invite, much of the criticism which is now levelled against us, against politics, politicians and Parliament. It seems that we do not pay sufficient attention to what the needs of the people are in relation to the rules which govern their daily lives and their own affairs.
There are many things which need to be put right and many things which ordinary citizens are constantly asking for. Whether they are asking for the right things, or in the right way, certainly their demands and ideas should be properly examined. More often than not when public pressure mounts to demand reforms the answer we give is that we cannot find time, that the Parliamentary agenda is too full, that it is already too crowded and that we cannot put anything else into the programme. It does not matter how desirable and necessary some of these reforms are—I will not go through the list, for hon. Members all have their own ideas—this is the answer we constantly give: we cannot find time. This is an evasion.
It is not that the agenda is overcrowded. It is our Parliamentary system which is at fault. Unless a right hon. Gentleman on either side of the House can convince me that I am wrong I shall go on believing that this Bill, rather than expediting Parliamentary business, may well delay the passing of necessary legislation, will possibly delay the passing of bills I should like to see enacted, and be even more time-consuming with less result.
In the mind of the public—I am quite sure I am right about this—we appear to spend far too much time on out-dated ceremonial, on flummery, on ritual and not enough on the work we are elected to do here. The right hon. Member for Barnet said, in effect, that we should make constitutional changes slowly and by agreement. I quite agree that if we can get agreement so much the better, because the reforms that then come along 71 are enduring, firmly embedded in the constitution and not likely to be changed by changes in government.
But the trouble about this is that we go on talking and talking about reforms, and when, eventually, we reach agreement on changes, they are made long after public opinion, informed opinion in particular, and the needs of Parliament have made those changes essential. We are always lagging behind. We cannot go on lagging behind public opinion and the needs of a proper parliamentary system much longer.
§ Mr. George Younger (Ayr)
The right hon. Gentleman has been saying that we spend too much time on ritual, ceremonial and flummery. How does he justify that statement when we spend less than half of 1 per cent. of our time in that way?
§ Mr. Darling
I could spend much time on the detail, but I do not want to delay the debate. I hope that opportunity for further discussion of this matter may arise some other time. I am also considering the ritual and flummery in another place.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I was interested in my right hon. Friend's point about the Bill possibly delaying the passage of Bills even more than at present. I should be glad if he would give his reasons for thinking that. I was hoping that he would do so.
§ Mr. Darling
Let me give one example. I was largely responsible in Standing Committee for an important Bill which went on to the Statute Book a year or so ago. It is now the Companies Act, which started in the Lords, for convenience, as a somewhat limited Bill dealing with the disclosure of information in company accounts. When the Bill came to this House we found it necessary—there was agreement on both sides—to add to it a whole part designed to put insurance companies under greater and stricter control.
We also added some generally acceptable Amendments to the Moneylenders Act to deal with a legal difficulty which had arisen in connection with finance houses. This House added to the Bill 24 Clauses and made 192 Amendments to it. We persuaded their Lordships, 72 when the Bill returned to them, to pass all the new Clauses and Amendments in four hours. I remind the House that it was their Bill.
I do not think that this is the right way to deal with legislation. There were very good reasons why the Lords agreed to proceed so quickly. They were persuaded to do so by very reasonable arguments. If the power proposed in the Bill is given to the Lords, I do not think that that situation will arise again. The Lords will not agree to rush legislation through to get it on to the Statute Book before the Summer Recess. I could cite other examples where their Lordships have been amenable and helpful in getting legislation through.
I will skip quickly over what I believe the composition, powers and procedure of a properly reformed second Chamber should be. I will content myself with suggesting one change. It follows from the example I have given. This is an indication of what I think should be done and of how legislation could be expedited. This House goes through a rather lengthy legislative process. Nowadays, we usually start the process of major legislation by debating a White Paper. We then proceed to the Second Reading of a Bill. Then the Committee stage, Report and Third Reading follow. I do not suggest any alteration there, because I think that this procedure is good, although lengthy.
However, I cannot see why the second Chamber needs to go through it all over again. If the job of the other place is revision, why cannot it start revising right away? Returning to the example I gave, we had three Bills in one. This is common now. That Bill was divided into three clear parts—one part dealing with the disclosure of information in company accounts, another dealing with insurance companies, and another dealing with the Moneylenders Act.
Why must we wait until this House has reached the final stages of legislation before sending what we have done in terms of legislation to an examining committee in the Lords? Let us have then-views on a Bill, part by part, before we take the Report stage here. I do not suggest that the views of the Lords should necessarily be accepted. I merely say that from my experience we should 73 achieve better supervision of legislation if something like this were done.
But these matters have never been considered. All that the Committee that produced the White Paper considered was how to reform the Lords. It did not consider what was the desirable form of a revising Chamber. It did not consider how such a revising Chamber should set about doing its job. If we are to modernise our Parliamentary procedure, which is what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spoke about, we should start by considering the modern revising Chamber which this Parliamentary system needs.
I come now to Clause 6. If we are to modernise the second Chamber, one obviously drastic change is needed. That concerns the bishops. If we do not have a reformed House, but leave it as it is, I would not go to the trouble about arguing whether the bishops should be there, but would challenge their right to a place of privilege in a reformed second Chamber. I was brought up in a Nonconformist household which was given to discussing both politics and religion rather heatedly and at great length. I became something of a radical in both politics and religion. The opinions I developed then have not changed much during the course of my life.
I will not expand my views on disestabishment. In any event, I hope that the union of Churches will do something to put that old controversy on one side. However, I challenge the presence of the bishops in the kind of second Chamber of which I have spoken. To me, they do not fit in. If there is a case for special representation of religious communities—I am doubtful about that—all of them should be represented, not just one Church. Unless we have a representative second Chamber, either elected or appointed, to represent the various social, regional and economic groups in the community—I will not go through the list; my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister gave an excerpt from the longer list that I could quote—one specially favoured group should not have a prescriptive right about all others to be represented there.
I do not believe, as one prelate argued in the debate on the White Paper in the Lords, that the bishops there have 74 a special contribution—something of tremendous value that others do not have—to offer to debates in the Lords. In my view, they certainly have little to offer to the essential task of examining legislation, because this will require a great deal of detailed work and I am not sure that they would have the time. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) suggested in the debate on the White Paper, the bishops are there to sustain the Establishment. They are there to maintain the authority of the Anglican Church.
As a good radical reformer, the last thing I want to do is to perpetuate the establishment in any form. I have been an active member of the Labour Party and a convinced Socialist for the last 40 years. I believe now as fervently as I did in my youth that we must create a truly egalitarian society. We are progressing along that road, not as quickly as I would wish, but for the life of me I cannot fit the bishops in the House of Lords into the egalitarian society that I wish to establish. I therefore hope that Clause 6 will be struck from the Bill.
Better still, let us drop the whole Bill and, as I have sought to argue, let us sit down and consider the best form of second Chamber that will fit into our present needs. In other words, let us carry through a satisfactory job of modernisation. I am sure that if we do this we shall produce a vastly better Bill, one more in keeping with modern and responsible opinion and one more suited to a modern parliamentary system.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)
I hope that the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) will not think me discourteous if I make only four comments on his speech. The first is that although I disagree with his conclusions, they were clearly based on the democratic principle that we should provide a forum which commended itself to the electorate as a whole.
My second comment is that questions about the division of business between the two Houses are the sort of things which, whether the Bill is passed or not, can easily be discussed. Indeed, that was envisaged in Appendix II of the White Paper. Thirdly, the right hon. Member's criticisms about the Companies Act 75 seemed to me to be not so much a criticism of the other place as of the crass stupidity of the Government managers in their handling of the Bill, of which Government the right hon. Member happened then to be a member.
§ Mr. Darling
Obviously, the right hon. Gentleman did not follow the proceedings on the Companies Bill, and one can understand that. There was a Liberal on the Committee who spent one hour there in the course of 25 sittings. The point was that we came to an agreement that the Bill should go on the Statute Book before the Summer Recess, and we came to an agreement that the main discussion of the Bill should go on in this place but keeping contact with their Lordships who were interested in the Bill, to make sure that their views found expression as we went along. That is the right way of doing business.
§ Mr. Thorpe
I make only two comments on what the right hon. Gentleman has said. I am grateful for his complimentary remarks to my Liberal colleague for following the feeling of most right hon. and hon. Members that speeches and contributions should be kept short. I am delighted that he did that. The second point is that it does not in any way derogate from what I have said that the arrangement between the two Houses is a matter which can be discussed, and which, I believe, is more likely to be discussed effectively in a reformed second Chamber when the delaying powers are reduced.
As to the right hon. Gentleman's point about bishops, I take his view that the question of disestablishment is a matter for discussion. Clearly, if there were disestablishment of the established Church, the situation would be radically changed and there would be a case for the representatives of all the various Churches or of none to be represented in another place. Whilst, however, we have the strange position of having an established Church dependent very much upon this House, and dependent upon certain statutory restrictions, which may or may not be right, it is only logical that it should be accorded some form of Parliamentary representation. Paragraph 64 of the White Paper indicated the arguments why this position should obtain.
76 I give the right hon. Gentleman some cause for hope and, possibly, the Home Secretary may be able to help us. It may be that my interpretation as a retired lawyer of the terms of the Bill is inaccurate, but Clause 6(1) states that provision is to be made for 16 bishops and in Clause 6(2) there is provision for five ex officio and ten to be appointed. It therefore seems that 16 bishops are intended in one subsection and 15 in the next, so it may well be that one is being kept in reserve for some other Church. The right hon. Gentleman might be able to recommend an appointment there.
What I find interesting about the debate is the first two speeches. The Prime Minister gave lukewarm backing to the proposition that we should vote for the Bill, rather as if he had been converted to it on the thesis that "'Tis a poor thing but 'tis mine own." The Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling), gave enthusiastic backing to the Second Reading of the Bill provided that it does not have to come into operation straight away, rather on the basis of "Convert me from sin, but not yet, O Lord."
I wish to deal presently with the right hon. Gentleman's argument about the necessity of voting in favour of the Bill but delaying its implementation, because I believe that the Conservative Opposition are on extremely weak ground. Having been a member of the conference, without disclosing the confidences of what took place, I think that the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) gave the game away on this particular argument.
I was a little cynical about the exchanges between the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and the Home Secretary. I rather felt as if the Home Secretary felt that he had established a new bolt-hole to which he might be able to retreat if the occasion demanded.
§ Mr. Thorpe
The hon. Member should listen to what I am about to say, because I say straight away that I intend to vote for the Second Reading of the Bill. That does not mean that I do not have reservations, but I intend to vote for it.
§ Mr. Thorpe
Those who vote in favour of Bills are not those who seek boltholes. If the hon. Member does not know that, he is not as adroit a Parliamentary hand and tactician as I thought.
The Guardian admirably summed it up in its leading article on the occasion of our last debate, when it said that the good points of these ideas outweighed the bad. Clearly, whatever the view of any reformer—and I do not want to go over the arguments used in the debate on the White Paper—with the exception of those who wish to keep another place as it is, there are certain definite advantages.
Whether those advantages outweigh the defects is a matter for each right hon. and hon. Member to decide for himself, but I do not think that anyone, unless he is of the most reactionary hue, would deny that there is an enormous advantage in abolishing the hereditary principle. The right hon. Member for Barnet properly mentioned that this was a matter which was agreed as far back as 1948.
Secondly, I agree that it is clearly time that the delaying powers of another House should be reduced. That, again, is happening in the Bill. Thirdly, I believe it to be right that the dominance of one party should be done away with. No one can speak with more feeling on that than the representative of a party which has suffered from the dominance of one party and which has seen greater frustration than any other Administration on the matters on which it was returned to rule by the electorate.
Fourthly, the power to defeat subordinate legislation is to go for good. Fifthly, the threat to the Government in the latter stages of their life is also being removed and, finally, there is a possibility of setting up useful machinery between the two Houses to dispatch Government business. To me, those are in all cases except the last a certainty. In the latter, it is a possibility.
Having said that, I want to do what has not yet been done and deal briefly with the specific criticisms which have been made of the White Paper—
§ Mr. Thorpe
—rather of the Bill, and of the White Paper on which it is based, 78 and indicate why I think that in the long run, and, indeed, in the short term., those criticisms are unfounded.
First, there are those who are in favour of total abolition of a second Chamber and who believe in the unicameral system of government. They are entitled to take that view, and paragraph 19 of the White Paper set out the arguments against. Provided that a second Chamber is not a threat to the elected Chamber, I believe that he would be a rash man who would say that single-chamber government in this country would be so perfectly devised that it would never need the benefit of a revising Chamber. I reject the unicameral argument.
Then there are those who say that the second Chamber should be elected, and with them I am in agreement. I believe, however, that the White Paper is correct in saying that an elected form of second Chamber is consistent with a federal system of government, and, indeed, could probably only follow a federal system of government. I believe that a federal system of government in this country is quite inevitable. I believe that it will come.
§ Mrs. Winifred Ewing (Hamilton)
Will the right hon. Gentleman be good enough to explain whether, by his definition of federal government, the respective nations would have equality of voting?
§ Mr. Thorpe
Certainly. Obviously, a federal system depends upon a carefully worked-out constitution. It would depend upon domestic governments for the constituent parts of the Kingdom. It would have to be clearly defined. It would depend upon limited powers, clearly defined, being given to a federal Parliament, of which this would be the pre-eminent Chamber. If I may say so, I belong to a party which has studied this matter very much longer than the party to which the hon. Lady has belonged for a few years. There would also be the requirement that certain matters were purely within the sovereign rights of the domestic Parliaments. It would depend also on a second Chamber which was not able on non-federal matters to out-vote any of the constituent Kingdoms of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Younger rose—79
§ Mr. Thorpe
May I finish this point? It is important. I do not consider that the question to which the hon. Lady has addressed her mind is so difficult of solution. There are other countries—Canada, Australia, Germany, the United States and others—which have worked out a federal solution. The definition and division of powers is a matter for negotiation.
I believe the federal system to be the best, and I believe it to be the inevitable system in this country. Whether it comes soon depends upon whether the predominantly English electorate concedes to logic what they will otherwise have to concede at a later date to violence. I hope that they will concede it to logic.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
Is not the right hon. Gentleman's argument very much a retreat from the 1911 Act and Liberal principles at that time, which argued not for a federal system but for a second Chamber popularly elected? The question of federation and the federal system never entered into it at that time. Is not the right hon. Gentleman now arguing a retreat from Liberal principles in 1911?
§ Mr. Thorpe
Not at all. As the hon. Gentleman knows—we had an exchange about it during the last debate—the Preamble to the 1911 Act stated that it was a temporary measure and that it would ultimately lead to an elected House. At that stage, the Liberal Party was still in favour of a federal system. It is true—I do not wish to digress—that its efforts at that time were exclusively directed towards Ireland, but as long ago as the end of the last century we were on record as in favour of a federal system; we wished to see an elected second Chamber, and we wished to see a federal system in Britain. I still wish to see both, and I think that both will come. However, the position as it will be under the Bill is an advance on the unrepresentative House which we have had hitherto. I believe that we shall have an elective system, and it is more consistent with a federal system than the system which we have now.
§ Mr. Younger
The hon. Lady the Member for Hamilton (Mrs. Ewing) asked the right hon. Gentleman whether, in his conception of a federal system, there would be equal voting rights for 80 each constituent country. His answer was, "Certainly". Does he mean that?
§ Mr. Thorpe
Yes. It ill becomes parties which have opposed any form of devolution to any part of the United Kingdom until about a year ago to cross-examine on precise details those who have recognised the problem for years. I am not giving evidence before a Conservative Commission, whether set up under the guidance of a High Court judge or not. I say merely that, obviously, if a federal system is to remain in being, the constituent parts must feel that on certain issues they have a blocking vote. I say "Certainly" to that. Certainly, the powers which are exercised in a federal system must be clearly defined, and certainly the powers which certain domestic Parliaments, in Scotland, Wales, England and Ireland, have must be clearly defined.
There is nothing revolutionary about it. It has worked well in the United States for about 200 years and in Australia for about 80 years. I am glad to see the hon. Gentleman's interest. I am glad to note this new-found interest in the Conservative Party. If he is interested, the hon. Gentleman might well look at the organisation in other countries which have operated the system for years. It is not revolutionary. There will not be blood in the gutters. People will probably still live at peace.
The next argument is directed against the two-tier system. At first sight, I agree that this is as anomalous as the way in which we in this country run our affairs generally, but I regard it as a sort of humane killer. It enables those who have hereditary peerages to be phased out. The alternative is to say, "Out tomorrow morning". Logically, I suppose, one could do that; but it seems to me that there is nothing very wrong in saying to existing hereditary peers, "We shall reform the House of Lords. An hereditary peer will have no right to sit there, but at least for your lifetime we shall allow you to remain." It is also a way in which people who have reached the age limit are enabled to turn up and make a contribution instead of having to be told that at 72, after the next election they are out for good.
Perhaps we are too humane, but it is a civilised way of proceeding, and it is another way by which those who cannot turn up regularly—men of the calibre of 81 Lord Franks and one or two others one can think of in that category—may give us the advantage of an occasional contribution, though not influencing decisions by their vote. Again, perhaps we are too humane. It is possible to say that we want no independents, no people turning up to make an occasional contribution, no people there once their age limit has been reached, and no hereditary peers as from this moment, or after the next election. As I say, perhaps we are too humane, but if that it as fault, it is a fault on the right side.
The next argument is about patronage, a serious argument which must be examined carefully. The system of patronage assumes that Prime Ministers will not abuse their position by putting in place-men for their own party, that they will, by the same token, recognise the rights of the Opposition, whether the main Opposition or the minor Opposition party or parties, that they will make good appointments, and that they will put in men of independent mind as cross-benchers who might be highly critical of the Government.
I think that the patronage system has been abused. If he will forgive my saying so, I think that the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) and his predecessor, Mr. Macmillan, abused their position of patronage as regards one minority party, my own. The Life Peerages Act was designed to strengthen the Opposition parties, but it was clearly made known that a party having 2 million or 3 million votes would not have a single appointment. They abused their position in not undertaking to safeguard the rights of minorities. Perhaps I should declare an interest here inasmuch as the present Prime Minister has recognised the existence of minorities. On that ground, and on wider grounds, he has been scrupulous in his exercise of patronage in regard to another place.
The power of patronage will be seriously circumscribed. It will be subject to the, conventions of the committee set up under paragraph 31 of the White Paper. The right hon. Member for Barnet asks what is the force of convention. In fact, it is very great. It is only a convention that there is an Honours Scrutiny Committee, which many of us feel prevents, so far as it is possible, abuse 82 in the bestowal of honours. That is only a convention. There is the paragraph 48 procedure which indicates the sort of balance which should be maintained not only between parties but between regions.
In my view, therefore, the power of patronage, if it is there, will be seriously circumscribed and controlled by the conventions set out in the White Paper. My only hope is that, instead of providing, as in paragraph 38, that its report will be made to the Minister or to Parliament, we shall lay down that, without question, it shall be made to Parliament.
Until we have elections to the second Chamber, party leaders will inevitably have some patronage. It is inevitable, for example—I take it at random—that the membership of the Shadow Cabinet should be at the appointment of the Leader of the Opposition. By the same token, the Leader of the Opposition has power to remove any member of the Shadow Cabinet. These are not matters which can be put to the vote. But it follows that if the party leader makes the wrong appointments, if the appointments are out of sympathy with the feeling in his party and, indirectly, the country, he comes under immediate pressure—at least, so I am informed. If we are to have patronage, I should much rather have the watch-dog committee which can make a report on the balance. There is the convention as to what the balance should be. The matter should be publicised, and it should be subject to debate in Parliament.
Next, it is argued that the scheme should be rejected because it has been the subject of an agreement between the representatives of the three parties at the inter-party conference. I suppose that that is a logical argument, but it is a cynical one as well. I agree with the right hon. Member for Barnet that if it is possible to reach agreement on great constitutional issues, albeit on a compromise, that is an advantage. It is because it has been impossible to reach compromise in the past that we have waited 60 years for reform. This has been the major cause of delay. I know that when my colleagues argued in Mr. Speaker's Conference the necessity for reforming the electoral system the Conservative and Labour Parties always joined hands to say, "We both agree that 83 the present electoral system is perfect and cannot be improved, and we must be right because we are in a majority." It is odd that this is now used as an argument for cynicism in regard to this agreement.
We come to the Opposition's last argument, that we must delay until after the next General Election. I regard that as one of the most cynical arguments that the Opposition put forward. If they believe that the machinery for readjusting the proportions between the members of the parties in another place is correct, and that the present allocation is correct, it seems to me a very strange reason for not putting the machinery into operation now. If it is merely a question of the right hon. Member for Enfield, West, thinking that the Liberal Party might have one or two too many peers after the next Election—and that is really the only argument that has consumed him—it does not seem to me a particularly profound intellectual argument on which to base the whole of the Opposition's reform. If his argument is that it should be left to the electorate to decide on this, it is the first time that the future of their Lordships has been left to the electorate to decide.
The Conservative argument is pretty cynical. If they said that they are awaiting the report on local government and the report of the Constitutional Commission, which they do not put forward as an argument for delay, at least that would be logical. I am very cynical about their wish for delay. Is it because they think that after the next election they might want to change some of the conventions or machinery, and would prefer, if in power, to have the right to do it? I am not impressed by that argument.
I have one or two minor criticisms. I do not wish to see their Lordships' House having a right to reject a Private Member's Bill passed by this elected House. I do not see why a private Member should be in any worse position, having obtained a majority of Members to support a Measure, than the Government, who also have a majority. Therefore, that is wrong.
I very much doubt whether we have sufficiently guaranteed the spirit of the Union with Scotland Act, 1706 in regard to Scottish members. I know that this is 84 a matter that can be left to Committee, but it is important.
Basically, the Bill is a move. In my view, it is a temporary Measure. It is inevitable that with the change in the system of government from our present monolithic, centralised government to a federal system, which is bound to come, this House and another place will be radically changed. In so far as the Bill meets some of the objections I mentioned in opening, I think that it is a move in the right direction and, therefore, I propose to support it.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
I shall come in a moment to the speech of the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe), but I should like to begin by commenting on a remark of the right hon. Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling). He said at the beginning and end of his speech that on his side of the House there would be a free vote. I should like to announce that there will be a free vote on this side of the House as well. I recognise that it is not the custom for these announcements to be made from where I am standing, but we have great experience in these matters and wish to make it clear that that is the position. We hope that everyone will take it fully into account. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister says, we are a modernising House in a modernising generation. This is an innovation which I hope will be greatly extended in future.
The right hon. Member for Barnet also said—and in my opinion this is one of the central features of the whole debate—that great constitutional reforms are better made by agreement between the two Front Benches and the parties. I was somewhat surprised to hear the Leader of the Liberal Party accept that view. I do not think that it would have been shared by Mr. Gladstone, at any rate in his later years, or by Lord Grey at the height of his fame.
If the right hon. Gentleman looks back at the extremely illuminating history of his great party, he will see that most of the major constitutional innnovations for which the Liberal Party was responsible were introduced in the teeth of opposition from the other side of the House, and many of them lasted for a very long time. It was particularly strange that the right hon. Gentleman should say that he hoped 85 that this reform, in particular, would be temporary. If I agreed that it would be, I should not have such strong feelings against the Bill, but I recall that the Parliament Act, 1911 was introduced as a temporary Measure. If the present Bill passes through the House, as I trust that it will not, it will have the same possibility of survival as the ill-fated 1911 Act.
The theory of the right hon. Member for Barnet that it is better for constitutional reforms to be introduced on the basis of compromise is not one that I would accept at all. Major constitutional measures which affect the whole balance of power in the State, the balance of power between different interests in the country, are matters that are resolved only by party Governments who know their own minds and are determined to carry through their leading reforms without conceding to the Oppositions of the day the requirements they may press. The whole history of this great country supports my view rather than that of the right hon. Member for Barnet.
§ Mr. Thorpe
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that historically he is incorrect, whether it was Mr. Gladstone on Ireland or Mr. Asquith or Mr. Attlee on the reform of another place? All three tried first to get all-party support. I am not responsible for the stupidity of the Tory Party on that occasion, or for its spirit of co-operation now.
§ Mr. Foot
I am not talking about the speeches made, but about the history that was made. Anyone who looks at the history of our country can see that great constitutional reforms have not been put through this House by compromise between the parties, but by great leaders Mr. Gladstone among them, who fought for their views against the blast of bitter opposition and eventually got them on the Statute Book. That is what a Labour Government should have done in this instance.
I wish, first, to look at the bargain reached between the parties, on which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary spoke most strongly when he wound up the debate on the White Paper. He asked what was wrong with a bargain. In a bargain, both sides must make some contribution. Nobody could deny that, but we are entitled to see exactly who 86 made the bargain and who contributed most towards it. If I were discourteous, I might ask, "Who fooled whom?" But I do not. Instead I ask, "Who got the better of the bargain?"
My right hon. Friends, including the Prime Minister again today, have listed the advantages which they think a Labour Government obtains from the bargain. I do not say that those advantages can be dismissed, but they must be weighed carefully against the claims made by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite and others who are party to the bargain. In his speech on the White Paper, the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) showed himself much more agile and skilful in these matters than the right hon. Member for Barnet, who fell off the tightrope altogether. There was no safety net under him until I came along and tried to help him. He fell off altogether.
The right hon. Gentleman said, "Of course, we shall use these powers, which will be of great advantage to the other place. They will be used frequently". But, of course, the right hon. Member for Enfield, West is far more skilful. I listened to his speech on the White Paper with great delight and have read it again since. It was a masterpiece of delicacy. He had to be sufficiently forthright to show that there was a case for the Bill, but not too eager in case he aroused the suspicions of hon. Members on this side of the House.
The right hon. Gentleman steered his speech very carefully indeed. He said that these powers would hardly be used at all. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes. I can quote the right hon. Gentleman. It will be no good the right hon. Member for Barnet running away from it. The right hon. Member for Enfield, West agreed with my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, who had been most open and definite in saying that these powers would be rarely used. The right hon. Member for Enfield, West said:… I believe that these powers will be used very rarely … "—[OFFICIAL RFPORT, 20th November, 1968; Vol 773, c. 1330.]He went on to give his reasons. Of course, he understood that this was the way to get the proposal through the House of Commons.
87 But I agree that the right hon. Member for Barnet—not for the first time—has given the game away. He comes here and blurts out the truth. If hon. Members study what was said in another place on these matters, they will see that this is so. Members of another place may not be very expert on other things, but they are experts about themselves. I recommend hon. Members, before they vote tonight, that they could do nothing more profitable—it would even be more profitable than listening to me—than reading what was said by the experts in the House of Lords about how the Bill will work.
The main division between myself and the Government is because, in my view the Opposition have got the better of the bargain. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Enfield, West understands better than do my right hon. Friends what will be the nature of the assembly to be established by the Bill. The House need not take it from me. I know that, on constitutional matters, the House may not wish to do that. But perhaps right hon. and hon. Members will take it from any of a whole long list of Members of another place, giving expert opinions on the subject.
I do not think that it is an exaggeration to say that the overwhelming majority of opinion in the House of Lords is that the powers are to be retained pretty well as they are, but that the possibility of using them will be greatly enhanced because the place will have been made much more respectable. Theoretically, the powers have been somewhat reduced but, practically, they are to be greatly increased, and such powers will be able to be used in circumstances in which they have been unable to be used during the last 30 years—increasingly so in the last five or 10 years. This is the great constitutional prize to be grabbed. This is what they said there, in another place.
I recommend right hon. and hon. Members to read the speech by Lord Butler in another place. Nothing has disturbed me more about this Bill than the bubbling bonhomie with which it was received by him. He could hardly contain himself. I cannot quote him, but I can tell the House the gist of what he said.
88 Lord Butler told his fellow peers, "Boys and girls, this is marvellous, absolutely marvellous. Look at what we are getting. This is the finest thing we have been offered for many a long year and if you do not seize it you will be even bigger fools than you look to me at the moment". Lord Butler said all that from the cross-benches, mark you. He went on, "Do not worry about composition, by the way, or about nomination by the Prime Minister. It is all to be done through the usual channels". That is what Lord Butler said. I have it all here. He said that the usual channels would fix up the composition of the other place.
Think of it! A second Chamber selected by the Whips. A seraglio of eunuchs. That is roughly what Lord Butler said about it. Then he went on to deal in detail with the question of the cross-benchers. We must deal with that again. Not so much has been said about it on this occasion as on previous occasions. But it is a fact that the whole point of this extraordinary constitutional pyramid which we have the wrong way up in the Bill fixes on the question of the cross-benchers and how they are to be selected and how they are to behave.
In another place, their Lordships had a lot to say about that. One noble Lord put the question, "What are we to do about crypto cross-benchers?". He never got an answer. The question is still echoing round these empty corridors. No one knows exactly how the cross-benchers are to be selected. We had excuses given by the right hon. Member for Enfield, West, who gave a few names of those he thinks are cross-benchers. He said that it was hard that these gentlemen should have strictures passed upon them, and so it is. I am not presuming to judge their private lives. I am concerned with their public appearances.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned Lord Bridges and Lord Caccia, for example. He did not mention Lord Cromer, but I am sure that every ex-Governor of the Bank of England becomes a cross-bencher—whether crypto or not, I do not care. All the ex-Governors of the Bank of England with whom my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary quarrelled so fiercely when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer will be 89 up there judging his policy as cross-benchers. This is not a fanciful situation. It is reality.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that ex-Governors of the Bank of England are likely to give full time to the House of Lords?
§ Mr. Foot
I do not know. However, they might be more innocently engaged there than at the Bank of England. Perhaps that is the finest argument for the whole contraption we have been offered. If it provided innocent employment for ex-Governors of the Bank of England, it would be quite an achievement.
However, that is not my main point. It is no good arguing about the fact, since one can see it standing out in the speech of my noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor and no one can deny it, that, in the end, if a crisis comes and if a vote arrives on a major matter of principle, it is on the votes of these cross-benchers in another place that all eyes will be fixed.
We could have a national crisis with fierce controversy in the House of Commons. The matter is then referred to the other place. Momentous issues may be at stake. We may have a situation, where, just as in the Suez and Munich crises, parties and, indeed, families are deeply divided. At that stage, everyone is waiting to see what is to be the verdict of the House of Lords.
But the House of Lords may not only settle the issue temporarily. It is no good the Government saying that the House of Lords could settle it only for six months. A matter of a few weeks may be involved. There have been many important legislative Measures which Governments of all kinds have required to get through Parliament within days, even within a single day. Could not such a Measure be settled, in effect, permanently by the cross-benchers in the House of Lords? So, in the midst of a great national crisis, with the country aflame, with everyone having forgotten who these cross-benchers are, what would we hear as the final verdict on such great issues of national policy? We would hear a falsetto chorus from these political castrati. They would be the final arbiters of our destiny in our new constitution.
What an extraordinary arrangement to propose. I say nothing about other extraordinary 90 features, such as the cash question. Listening to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, it seemed to me that this was at least partially disposed of, although I am not sure that I heard him aright. I thought that he referred to the future and said that he was keeping an open mind. Perhaps it was "open hand". I am not sure. It may be that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services, who is really the father of this proposal, as we know, has dealt with this matter in another of his proposals and that by 1992 they will all be getting half pay anyway.
Nobody can seriously think that these proposals are a proper constitutional device for dealing with the problems which we face. We cannot talk about modernisation when what we are offered is a Heath Robinson House of Lords, a contraption which will fall to pieces in any crisis, which will be laughed out of court on such an occasion and which it would be better for us to laugh out of court now. That would be the best way to deal with it.
The Government may say, as they have said to me so powerfully on some occasions, "If that is your view, what is your alternative? Why do you not put forward an alternative? Why do you not suggest something to put in its place?" I will make a suggestion if the Government think that it will help. I hope that it is not introducing too jarring a note, but why do the Government not carry out what they put in their party election manifesto about it? They said that they would take away the powers of the House of Lords. Settle that first and then we could deal with the question—and I agree that there are many differences between us about it—of what to put in its place.
I am a fervent abolitionist. The notion that we cannot do away with the House of Lords because of the revising requirements is quite wrong. We could remodel the life of Parliament itself so as to deal with these problems. It might take a little time to do that, but it could be done, and in the meantime, particularly if the Government are worried about the next two years and particularly because they do not even appear to have got the accommodation out of the bargain which they had hoped for 91 in the first place, they could revert to the party programme.
When in trouble, that is always a good thing to do. Why do they not do that? It would cause much more enthusiasm in the country and it would be a much more expeditious way of dealing with the matter. It would also save a great deal of Parliamentary time. If we are to be presented with this Bill, many of us will think that it is our constitutional duty to argue every Clause, and in that respect, if in no other, this is a Bill which offers wide opportunities.
The proposal which I am making to the Government is perfectly serious. They may ask, "Why did you not tell us earlier?" But we did tell them. We have been telling them for weeks, for months, for years. We have been telling them ever since this proposal came forward. Indeed, this was another of the jokes which Lord Butler enjoyed so much in the House of Lords.
Lord Butler said, "This little Bill, which is to do us"—that is, the Tories— "so much good, and which will set up the Tory Party for the next 30 years or so, is a true lineal descendant of the Life Peerage Bill which I introduced in 1957 and which was then bitterly opposed by Labour Members, who voted against the whole Measure. I told them then that if only we could get in that thin end of the wedge we would get the rest of the wedge in later"—he did not put it quite in these words. "Here is the rest of the wedge. Now let us use it as fast as we can to make sure that we establish in this country"—and here, again, I am not using his exact words—" a new kind of assembly, a new kind of second Chamber. We will make it respectable, sedate to the point of stuffy; torpid; quick to prevent any removal of injustice, but longanimous in the toleration of mischief; a perpetual encumbrance across the path of everyone wishing to act boldly; a standing incitement to those who do not wish to act at all."
I therefore say that we should kill the Bill now if we can; that, if we cannot kill it now, we should kill it in Committee; but that, at any rate, we should prevent the country from being burdened in this modernising age by such an anachronistic and absurd institution as is 92 proposed, not surprisingly, by the collusion between the two Front Benches.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Birch (Flint, West)
I shall be very happy to go into the Lobby tonight with the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot). I agreed with many of his arguments, although not, of course, with all of them.
I should like, first, to dispose of one or two minor points. The idea that because an agreement has been reached, it is therefore something good, depends on what the agreement is about. I have no doubt that, given a little good will on both sides, the two Front Benches would be able to agree the statement that the earth was flat but it would not necessarily be a good agreement.
I was also surprised that my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling) should have been so indignant about the Bill being brought into action during this Parliament. What could he have supposed that the Prime Minister was about? The Prime Minister wants to get his paid patronage in this Parliament. If my right hon. Friend did not think that that was to happen, he must have been using a spoon only one-twentieth of the regulation length spoon required when supping with the Prime Minister,
It was Asquith who said, in 1911, that reform of the composition of the House of Lords brooked no delay, and that was 58 years ago. The Liberal Party, for reasons which I imagine seemed good to it at the time, did nothing whatever about it, and it would have been perfectly reasonable to have reformed the House of Lords during any of those 57 years. The least propitious moment of all is now, when we are setting up a Constitutional Commission. I imagine that in private the Prime Minister's answer to that would be that the Commission is intended to be only a procrastinating device. That, of course, is why the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands have been included. Many months could be profitably spent discussing the powers of La Dame de Sark.
But other things are going on. The summary of the White Paper says that after the change has been carried out we shall have to consider what the functions and what the procedures of the new body should be. It has often been said 93 that man is a tool-making animal and here we are devising a tool without knowing what to do with it. When our ancestors devised a tool, they wanted to pull down a bunch of bananas, or something of that sort. If they had pursued the policy of the Government, of making a tool and then trying to think what to do about it next, we should not have got so many jumps ahead of our fellow apes and man might not be so easy to distinguish from them.
It is obligatory on anyone speaking in this debate to declare what he would like to be done. I agree entirely with what was said by the right hon. and learned Member for Ipswich (Sir Dingle Foot) in the last debate on the subject. I agree with the Bryce Commission's recommendation or some variation of it. That is to say, there should be an indirect election for the Upper House by Members of the House of Commons sitting regionally, with some added Members.
I have recently studied the composition of all the second Chambers in Western Europe. The idea that we could not get on with a second Chamber which was indirectly or directly elected is nonsense. All the second Chambers in Western Europe are partially or wholly directly or indirectly elected. There is no trouble and they work perfectly well. A second Chamber will never function properly without power, and it can have power only if it is anointed with a drop of democratic oil; and that can be done only if there is some process of direct or indirect election.
That is what we ought to have. If we do not have that, as many hon. Members have said, there is something to be said for leaving things as they are. Another great advantage of an elected second Chamber would be that we would get away from calling everybody there "Lord". The Prime Minister, of course, has made an enormous number of creations and from the overflowing generosity of his heart he has even started to make the other place a widows' home. In this process the titles of nobility are suffering very badly from inflation—almost as badly as the price of War Loan, or the quality of dons in provincial universities. We should get away from this wholesale creation of Lords, this wholly unpleasant feeling that we cannot 94 stand a few more years of the House of Lords as it is now, until we get the Constitutional Commission or some other idea. I know of no other institution which does a great deal of really useful work for practically nothing. If anyone can show me an institution like it, I will support it. It is not really without power. Take the Stansted Order. I do not believe that the Government would have run from Stansted if they had not known that the Lords would throw the Order out.
It has one power of immense importance left under the 1911 Act, and that is to stop a Government prolonging their own life. That power is secure in the present House, but it would not be in the reformed House, because the number of peers that would have to be created to get such a Measure through is very small indeed. I believe that a very large part of our constitutional safeguard would go.
What about this present plan? I do not know why my right hon. Friends agreed to it. It might have been the argument, which I hope was not used, that if they did not agree they might get something worse. The argument from fear is a very bad one. Nothing would be more beneficial to the electoral interests of the Tory Party than a really violent anti-second Chamber Measure from this Government. The other thing I think they thought was that the new second Chamber might be more effective. The Home Secretary has disposed of that this afternoon. How could it be? The present second Chamber is prescriptive, and it has a reputation, rather popular with some. Looking at this new Chamber, and here I come to what the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale said, its power depends on the plenary inspiration of the archbishops—of a small evensong, if that is the correct collective noun—of other bishops and the "Don't knows." Alas, we do not know what our "swinging" bishops will do next. I do not think that they can claim plenary inspiration for their actions in the House of Lords. That leaves us with the "Don't knows".
A great deal of praise has been lavished on the cross-benchers. There are some very distinguished men, generals, air marshals, admirals, retired diplomats, civil servants, ex-Governors 95 of the Bank of England, holders of offices of profit under the Crown, who would not be allowed to sit in this House anyway. There are people like the Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, or the head of the Women's Voluntary Service. But these people sit on the cross-benches because they are mostly fairly old, mostly not experienced in politics—[Interruption.] Not the Master of Trinity. Most of them think it a bit late in the day to take up party politics. Are these distinguished men of a certain age likely to be voting cross-benchers? Are they really likely to turn up three times a week to vote? I cannot believe it.
What I think will happen is that they will become part-time Members, and what one will be left with on the cross-benches are the genuine "Don't knows"—the people who cannot make up their minds, the people who cannot make a choice. I do not want to put my country at the mercy of such people. I am sure that such a learned man as the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale has read Dante's "Inferno." He will remember that at the beginning of the third canto people who cannot make up their mind are described. They were people considered too hopeless even to be in Hell. They were condemned to run up and down the vestibule to Hell, being perpetually stung by hornets and wasps. These are the people to whom we want to entrust our future!
If ever they did make up their minds they are specifically threatened in the White Paper with unspecified punishment from the Reviewing Committee. What would happen if they did anything would be that the Government would create a lot more voting peers to douse them. I do not put much confidence in the type of cross-bencher we are likely to get. What about the present Members who take the Whip, and still more, those who are to come in and take the Whip? It seems that they are under a considerable moral obligation to vote the straight ticket, whether they think they are voting for something which is in accordance with their principles or not. We would then have a House largely composed of people who cannot afford, and are not allowed, to change their minds, and another body which is not allowed to 96 make up its minds. I cannot think that this will very much impress the country.
That brings me to pay. We will not get people to clock in and clock out without being paid. The Prime Minister took an extraordinary attitude on pay. He first rehearsed all the arguments in favour, which are very powerful. The main argument in favour was that we cannot get a poor man to the House of Lords unless we pay him. That was the argument made by Ministers during the debate, and in the White Paper. Does one really suppose that the Prime Minister will put only his rich friends in the Upper House? Of course not.
The right hon. Gentleman will bring in pay, and it is the easiest thing in the world to do. All he needs is a simple resolution. It can be done before one can say, "Nibmar". Any dark Friday morning the payroll vote can get it through. If we do that we are giving to any Prime Minister unlimited pay patronage. It is all very well to talk about conventions, there is no limitation whatever in the Bill about the number of creations that can be made. I am not talking about the Preamble; it has no legal force.
How Walpole would have envied the Prime Minister. He was the greatest practitioner of political corruption in our history. He had the Clerks of the Pells, the Keepers of the King's Tennis Court, the Grooms of the Bedchamber and many more paid offices, men paid for past services and even more for future services. But they were not unlimited in number. If Walpole had gone to the House of Commons in his day and said, "I want the power to create an unlimited number of offices of profit under the Crown" they would have thrown him out. They would not have looked at it, yet that is what we are being asked to do. Let us have no doubt about it. We are being asked to give the Prime Minister the power to create unlimited numbers of offices of profit under the Crown. That is what is utterly intolerable in this Bill.
The right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) said that the House of Commons is not always in very good repute. It never is, if one reads political history. It is always sinking. 97 The reason is that most people are, consciously or subconsciously, rather jealous of Members of Parliament. It makes them feel better to abuse us. We perform a therapeutic task. It is the function of Members of Parliament, of politicians, to receive blows as well as to deal them. I do net think that the House is really too bad. As far as back benchers go, the speaking and the general level of ability is a good deal higher than when I first came in. The criticism of people being too much under the Whips can be overdone.
After all, we cannot go back to the loose organisation of the middle 19th century and to times when the main business of Parliament might be the disestablishment of the Irish Church, or something like that. In those days, Members were not trying to get through a coherent programme of legislation which we, for good or ill, are supposed to do. There must be some discipline, and we must have Whips, if we are to do that.
But this Bill is not like that sort of legislative programme at all. It is something which should concern the consciences of every hon. Member. It is not part of a great programme. Everybody is free to vote on it, because it does not carry out the White Paper. My right hon. Friends who negotiated the agreement are not being presented with their scheme; they are being presented with only part of it. Those who voted for the White Paper are under no obligation to vote for the Bill, for the same reason; it does not carry out the provisions of the White Paper.
It is true that the people have not shown much interest in the Bill. Had they realised the opportunities of unlimited patronage which it provided, they would have shown more interest. The other reason they have not been interested in the Bill is that they do not believe that nowadays Members will stand up for their principles, that they will vote against their Government, or that they will endure the frowns of the great. The people imagine that the Bill will go through, although they know that everyone dislikes it and that the vast majority of the House are against it. They think, "It will be the usual thing: the Bill will go through".
98 But suppose that we do not let the Bill through. Suppose we say to the Front Benches, "Take the Bill away and tear the damn thing up". The effect might be electrifying. People would say, "They are alive after all". I feel in every fibre of my being that this is the moment for back benchers to stand up. We know that this is a bad Bill. We know that it will lead to evil. We know that if we agree to it we shall lower our reputations and that if we do not agree to it we shall raise the position of Parliament and of democracy.
It is by playing the great game on the Floor of the House, by great debates on great issues, with people voting in accordance with their conscience, that democracy is kept alive. If we accept the Bill, we shall incur hatred, ridicule and contempt. Hatred we do not deserve. Ridicule we shall deserve and, by God, contempt we shall deserve.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)
I realise that most back-bench Members who wish to speak belong to the anti-groups. Although I do not fear the result of the vote tonight, I hope that it will be a little comfort to the Government to hear a speech which gives a measure of support to the Bill. We all enjoyed the speech of the right hon. Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch)—not that it takes us much further, but it merely confirms what we already knew, that, like the parson and sin, he is against it.
The other place shows the genius of the British people for making an anachronism work. In spite of the incredible system of government by right of birth, we must admit that some good, valuable and useful work has been done by the other Chamber. I hope that it is not taken from what I have said that I agree with those who say that nothing should be done. I think that the time is opportune for a measure of reform to take place to make an anachronism a little less anachronistic.
I thought that my hon. Friends would not have had much difficulty in supporting a Bill which does away with the hereditary principle, which reduces the period of delay, and which is likely to produce a House a little more representative of the composition of this place. I was obviously 99 wrong. I should have thought that they would have little difficulty in voting for the principle of the Bill. Certain matters will perhaps arise in Committee, but I shall have little difficulty in supporting the general principle. I only wish that all votes were as simple as this one.
With 630 individualists in the House, it is obvious, in spite of what my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) said, that any suggestion for reform will have to be a compromise. My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale is the individualist par excellence. We must get together and arrive at an agreement on matters of this kind.
I should like to deal with some of the arguments about the Bill which have been brought to my attention. First, there are those who say, "Leave the other place alone". I have heard it said, "Leave it alone and let it die a natural death". It just will not die a natural death. The choice is between the other place as it is now and a reform more or less on the lines of the Bill.
The second argument has been brought forward by the Opposition Front Bench about the date when the Bill will be put into operation. Perhaps we can understand the Opposition's attitude. For some reason, they have the idea that they will be the Government after the next election, and I suppose that they will want to start with a clean sheet then. But, in any case, this is merely a Committee point. Surely it is not sufficient ground for voting against the Bill on Second Reading.
There are those who are very much in favour of single chamber government. I do not think that they have carried to its logical conclusion the effect which that would have on this Chamber. If there were not a second Chamber, one or two more stages would have to be introduced here for every Bill. A good many hon. Members are already carrying a very heavy burden of Committee work. If it is added to greatly, it will be the last straw which breaks the camel's back. Not only would extra stages have to be introducted for bills which start in this House. Certain Public Bills start in the Lords and every year there is a long list of Private Bills. Every Session they are divided between those which start 100 their progress in the other place and those which start here.
I ask hon. Members to cast their minds back to last Tuesday, when we were given a lengthy list of Private Bills which were to start in this place. If we add to those the Bills which will be starting their journey in another place, we realise the very heavy burden which will be placed on hon. Members. If we have single-chamber government, there will be a considerable reduction in the legislation passed by this Chamber. That might be an advantage, to some extent.
Not only must we consider the additional burden which will be placed on this Chamber by having single-chamber government, but we must take into account what is happening now. There are numerous Committees almost every day—area groups, subject groups and all-party groups. Hon. Members are continually asking for more and more Specialist Committees. For us, therefore, I think that single-chamber government is ruled out.
There are some hon. Members who favour a second Chamber, but say that it should be elected. If we are to have an elected second Chamber, it is not much use talking about reducing the powers of the second Chamber. An elected second Chamber would want more powers than the second Chamber now has. The question of pay would certainly come into it. It would want more pay than is given to the Members of this House because of representing much wider areas.
Then there are those who also want a second Chamber, but who object to its suggested composition. Patronage comes into it here. It has been suggested that various organisations should put forward nominations for a second Chamber. I can think of nothing to which I should object more. It has been suggested that the main local government organisations should nominate some of their people to come and sit in a second Chamber, but those people are elected for administrative purposes and not to spend their time as legislators here. I cannot see that there is much wrong with the suggestion which is put forward by the Government.
Will there really be much more patronage than there is at present? I doubt whether the Prime Minister has as much patronage in his control as some of 101 the other Ministers. Surely, whoever nominates to the second Chamber will, in the main, nominate people capable of carrying out the work that is entrusted to them. There would, of course, be one or two others who slipped through for different reasons, but we are not unaccustomed to that happening in this Chamber. I have not yet heard any better suggestion for the composition of the other House which would do away with its present built-in Conservative majority and which, the Opposition themselves agree, is not a healthy position to be continued for ever.
A further argument which I have heard brought forward is that people are not prepared to support a second Chamber because they object to titles and titles are to be perpetuated. We on this side tend to make too much fuss about titles. In all the years I have been here, I have never known any great reluctance on the part of Members of Parliament to be made Right Honourable. Surely, that is a title like any other title. Former Conservative Ministers specialised in creating knights. The present Prime Minister specialises in making people Right Honourable. I cannot see a great difference in it. In any event, this is not the only country which has its Honours List. I cannot see a great deal of difference between the Order of Lenin and the O.B.E.
Nor can I see a great difference why a member of a second Chamber should be called a Senator rather than a Lord. They are all titles. In any case, in a number of Parliaments throughout the world the members of the National Assembly are generally referred to as "The Honourable". Therefore, I do not care a tinker's cuss whether the title is Comrade, Honourable, Right Honourable, Sir, Senator, Lord, or plain Mr. It is not the title but the man that matters. I cannot get excited and say that I must oppose a Bill of this kind because it will perpetuate life peers.
The last argument which has been brought to my attention concerns pay. There is a great deal of argument about the Lords being paid. Today, however, the Prime Minister has taken that argument away, because we are going back—[An HON. MEMBER: "For how long?"] We do not know for how long, but we are going back to the payment of 102 expenses. I cannot see a great difference between the principle of paying expenses and that of paying a salary. The only thing is that Income Tax is payable on salary.
Therefore, having looked into the matter and all the arguments against the Bill—and there are probably a great many more which hon. Members could put forward—I say that it can be done only by agreement, by compromise. We cannot all have our own way on everything. I am reminded of the time when I was actively concerned in local government reform. Everybody had an entirely different idea. If the whole 630 of us made our suggestions for a second Chamber, we should all be different. Therefore, I can find little difficulty in supporting the general principle of the Bill.
There are, however, two points in the Bill to which I should like to call the attention of the Government. The first is with regard to disagreement by the other place on Second Reading of a Bill. No provision has been made for further consideration. I believe that an Amendment must be brought forward to provide for a further Committee stage in this Chamber if the other place disagrees on Second Reading. It is not a question of delaying for six months or for some other period. It is a case of further consideration.
How often have we heard someone on the Government Front Bench, on the Report stage of a Bill, say that he has great sympathy with an Amendment which has been moved, but that its wording does not meet the case and that if a more suitable form of words can be found, an Amendment will be brought forward in another place to meet the wishes of the House. It is important, therefore, that we should have a stage for further consideration of a Bill after it has had its Third Reading here if the other place objects on Second Reading.
The right hon. Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling) misunderstood my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary about the extent of disagreement that would take place. I agree with my right hon. Friend. I do not think that there will be much disagreement. I agree with my right hon. Friend, however, that if the other place continually tries to frustrate the will 103 of this House, action would have to be taken.
My other point on the Bill concerns Amendments which are passed by the other place. The other place should have the right to pass any Amendments that it likes, but when they come back to this House that should be the end of the matter. When this House has decided either for or against Lords Amendments, that should be the end of the Bill and it should then go for Royal Assent.
It has always seemed to me to be a farce that when we have disagreed with Lords Amendments we appoint a Committee to draw up a Report to the other place to say why we disagree with them. I have never been a member of such a Committee, so I simply do not know what is said on such an occasion. All I can imagine that such a Committee says is, "We have looked at your Amendments. We have not liked them, and the House of Commons has decided to be master in its own House." Why go back to the other place? I suggest to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that an Amendment should be introduced to ensure that, when this House has discussed a Lords Amendment, whatever decision we take is the final decision.
I hope that the Bill will be given an overwhelming Second Reading. I would like to think that it will be given a Second Reading without a Division. There are a number of points which might well be considered in Committee, but I have no difficulty in supporting the principle of the Bill and I hope that it will be passed by a large majority.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) in his concluding words resolved the drama which has been developing in the minds of hon. Members on both sides of the House as to which side he was actually going to come down on. As I understand it, he is the first person from a back bench to speak in this debate in favour of the Bill. Those who listened to the hon. Gentleman, as I did, will, I think, agree that it is not being unfair to him to suggest that his enthusiasm for doing so was a trifle tepid. 104 Reviewing all the possible alternative methods, he rejected all the others and came down for that rather uninspiring reason in favour of the Bill. I find myself with those who so far have spoken, apart from the hon. Member.
The Motion before the House is, "That this Bill be now read a Second time", and it is with the word "now" that I should like to begin by quarrelling. My right hon. Friend the Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling) said, perfectly fairly, that there is always a good objection to doing any particular thing at any particular time. As a general proposition I would not quarrel with that, but it must be unique in the experience of my right hon. Friend, as of the House, to have a Government announce in the same Speech from the Throne the appointment of a Royal Commission on the Constitution and legislation to make what the Prime Minister himself described this afternoon as a major constitutional change. Another place is a part, and an important part, of the constitution.
What do the Government propose to do if the Royal Commission which they are appointing, rather curiously under the chairmanship of a member of another place, comes out with a recommendation for a second Chamber on wholly different lines, or even, as is possible, for a second Chamber rather like the present? What are the Government going to do if their own Royal Commission recommends that? Are they going then to say, "This was a mistake which we put forward in February, 1969, and we must make another"—in the Prime Minister's phrase—"major constitutional change" a year or two later? Surely it would have been better, once the Government had decided to have a Royal Commission on the constitution, to have left this matter to be looked at in the light of the recommendations of the Royal Commission. I have the utmost respect for right hon. Gentlemen opposite and my right hon. Friends who carried out those conversations, but does not the House think, with all respect to them, that when there is a Royal Commission on the job, taking evidence, going into the matter in depth, there is at least a possibility that the Commission will produce something better than is produced in a series of inevitably rather hurried meetings between inevitably very busy men over a limited period of time?
105 My right hon. Friend attached great importance to the solution of the problem of another place by inter-party agreement. No one would quarrel with that, but is not that inter-party agreement likely to be more soundly based if it takes place after and in the light of investigation by the Royal Commission and not in advance of its decisions? This really is a classical case of verdict before evidence, and I suggest that this argument cannot be countered by a suggestion that there is any great urgency about the matter. It is not going to solve the problem of the balance of payments or of the national economy. It has waited for a number of years, since 1911. What justification can there be for setting up a Royal Commission which covers this subject, which will certainly report on it, whose ideas for regionalism will certainly be relevant, and at the same time completely recasting the existing House?
I must quarrel, too, with the extraordinary manoeuvre which the Prime Minister adopted this afternoon with respect to remuneration. Up to the moment the Prime Minister rose this afternoon the official position of the Government had been that if we are to set up a body of this sort with noble Lords punching the clock punctually at least once in three we shall have to pay them. The White Paper says this flat-footedly and it was said in the debate on the White Paper. Now the Prime Minister says, "Oh, well, we will not do that for the time being. We will go on paying them expenses and see how we get on".
Everybody knows the reason for this. Everybody knows that on that side of the House, as on this, there has been very strong back bench reaction against those enormous proposed increases in patronage. The Prime Minister knew he would have some difficulty in getting through a Bill with that provision in, so he says "We will cut this out for the moment. We will get the Bill, we will set up the system, and then we shall be able to demonstrate"—because it is true—"that we cannot operate the system without paying remuneration to the people who are to be asked to do all this work and, therefore, we shall be able to persuade the House, having set up the system, that obviously it cannot work without remuneration".
106 This is a manoeuvre characteristic, as many of us know, of the Prime Minister. I think—I say this with all respect—that he has somewhat underrated the intelligence and the alertness of his hon. friends if he thinks they will be taken in by a trick of this sort—for a trick it is. It is a trick to try to set up a whole number, some hundreds, of appointments and in the Bill which sets them up to try to fluff the question of remuneration, to try to suggest that they may have remuneration or they may not. Will the Home Secretary be prepared to test the sincerity of the Government by accepting an Amendment to the Bill forbidding the payment of these people for—shall we say—10 years? Or will he refuse it because he knows that once the Bill is on the Statute Book, and after a few months have gone by for decency's sake, salaries for the members of another place, salaries equivalent to those which have been talked about in the Press, will be provided?
It is, of course, the composition of the other place which is the radical change, and that is where I thought the Leader of the House was very unfair to this House last Thursday when he sought to excuse allowing only one day—and one day less half an hour—for a debate of this importance on the ground that it was the same amount of time as was allowed in 1949. Those hon. Members who were here at that time may know that the 1949 Measure affected fairly drastically the powers but hardly touched the composition of another place. This Bill does both, and it is, of course, the question of the composition which is so extremely difficult.
Our membership and that of another place have been different since the days of James I, whose admirable observation was, "I can make a lord, but only the Almighty can make a gentleman." It is true that, since then the composition of two Houses has improved—I would not offensively suggest, in any different degree—but what this Bill seeks to do is to deprive the Members of another place of what has been their greatest strength, their independence, the fact that they were answerable to nobody. They are to be replaced by people selected by the parties in order to meet precise predetermined proportions of political party membership so as to give the 107 Government of the day a 10 per cent. majority over the other two parties.
Who is likely to be selected for such appointments by, as the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) pointed out, the usual channels? Obviously, the safe party men who will turn up regularly and vote the ticket; obviously, the people who can be relied on as safe party men—not the Ebbw Vales, not, perhaps, the Streathams, but safe men. And then, of course, they will be paid, and, instead of independent peers, we shall have a set of plaid place-men. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in a most amusing book on the 1911 crisis referred to another place as "Mr. Balfour's Poodle". But it will now be composed of two packs of pet rabbits—supplied with their daily lettuce. It will be a collection of people selected for their loyalty and obedience to the party machines, and this will mean an immense loss of the real quality in another place which counted for something, its independence.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Barnet dealt with the argument about the increase in the Prime Minister's patronage by saying that the Prime Minister can do it already. It is true that the Prime Minister can propose to Her Majtsty unlimited appointments to another place, but the essence is that now they are not paid. These are not offices of profit. These are not at the moment paid places, and the objection, which is an objection inherent to the scheme, is that these people will have to be paid if the scheme is to work. The Prime Minister has, therefore, placed himself in the position in which he will have to increase the patronage of the Prime Minister, and, of course, of the Leader of the Opposition. I can well understand why in the present situation the present Prime Minister is anxious to provide a Leader of the Opposition with an adequate measure of patronage. This is the evil of it.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch) referred to one very dangerous aspect, and that is the erosion of what has been in all previous Measures the great constitutional safeguard, the function of another place to prevent a majority in this House from perpetuating itself by extending the life of a Parliament. I know that safeguard 108 is formally preserved in Clause 8(1), but all that is preserved there is the power of another place to resist Measures coming from this House. If that House is composed, as that House will be, with a Government majority over all other parties, with the cross-bench peers to whom my right hon. Friend referred appointed by the Prime Minister, it will not be necessary for a majority here desiring to perpetuate itself to override another place. The great constitutional fortress which was supposed to guard the citadel of the constitution will be of little value if the invaders' mercenary troops are already on the battlements. The portcullis which should clang against such a proposal would simply be opened from within by a posse of pay clerks. That is a danger to which no one has referred apart from the right hon. Member for Flint, West. This safeguard, one of the vital functions of another place, the prevention of a majority here, who were unpopular, seeking to do what this Government did in respect of the London boroughs only a year or two ago and postpone elections, is virtually taken away. No one can deny that with an obedient band of place-men on the Government side, with a majority over other parties and some 30 cross-bench peers appointed by the Government and not, inevitably, from the most distinguished of those since they could not possibly comply with the one-third voting requirement, this safeguard has gone. I hope that it will be realised outside that what has been regarded as safely protected almost since the beginning of our constitution will, if the Bill becomes law, be left wide open to any Government which desires to act in this way in future.
I fully share the views expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West about the parliamentary situation with which we are faced. There is no doubt that the majority of hon. Members who are not on the two front benches do not want this. They do not see the necessity to move now. They do not agree that, if changes are to be made, these are the right changes. They do not think that this Bill, the result of hasty agreement between a limited number of busy men, is the right way to deal with an institution which, if I may borrow the words of the late Mr. Gaitskell, has a thousand years of history 109 behind it. Another place goes back into the mists of our early history. It has served the country with immense distinction over a great many years. Its membership is able and, in many cases, devoted to duty. To sweep away that institution as the result simply of a few limited talks between a number of distinguished people, without the proper, detailed thrashing out demanded by such a constitutional change, not merely in this House but before a Royal Commission where evidence can be taken and examined, is terribly wrong. It is a wrong against the constitution, a wrong against the way in which we like to do things. I am certain that if this House—and this is not a party controversy; it is a matter on which feeling has been expressed as vigorously from the other side of the House as from this—were just to say to right hon. Members on both front benches that we will not do this but will await the Royal Commission, it would give a stimulus and revival to the public life of this country which we sorely need and which it lies in our hands to give tonight.
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Sheldon (Ashton-under-Lyne)
I would like to join with the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) in opposing the Bill. The Government had a simple issue on which to decide at about this time in the life of this Parliament, the problem of how a Labour Government, in the last year of their life, could obtain the passage of legislation through the House of Lords.
This could have been a simple reform, even a single-line Bill abolishing the delaying power of the House of Lords, and no more. This would have been a simple proposition which the Government could have carried quite easily. It would have been a party political controversy, but none the worse for that. The Government have made the mistake of attempting to dodge this simple issue, and have tried to satisfy the demands of the Opposition and of the other place in creating the juggernaut which is now before us.
The Leader of the Liberal Party, who is not here at the moment, made a great mistake in thinking that this was a temporary Measure which could from time to time be changed. I believe that the 110 Lord President of the Council made a similar point during the debate on the White Paper. These matters, rightly and justifiably, arouse great emotion. It is right that we should be deeply involved with processes at the very heart of the democratic life of the country, but it must be understood that such momentous Measures as this cannot easily be changed. The problems we face, and will have to face if the Bill is carried in Committee, will not readily be solved by future Governments. Our problems with the Bill today will be a warning to those who seek to bring about changes in the future. The Bill will act as a deterrent to those who wish to make changes or improvements as a result of the mistakes that we may make.
One of the first things for which I looked in the Bill was this question of salary, and here we find a fundamental difference between the Bill and the White Paper. The proposal to pay salaries has been dropped, obviously to meet the objections of those who felt that it would lead to an increase in the power of patronage and in the power of the Executive. One thing that is clear from the so-called reforms in the Bill and those in the White Paper is that they are integrated. They have to be taken together because, they were devised together. The White Paper stands as a whole. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is nothing if not logical. He worked out fully the implications of the White Paper. They interact one with the other.
Although it is now suggested—and it is no more than a suggestion—that there should be no payment, we know that the House of Lords is, in effect, being given a great increase in its powers. It is no use quibbling about whether the power is to be increased or decreased. The theoretical power of the other place is great, but it is similar to the nuclear bomb. Those who have the nuclear bomb and nothing else often wish they could exchange it for a range of artillery which they could use more frequently and more realistically. What we are doing is taking away from the other place powers which eventually would have destroyed it if the Members there had dared to use those powers vigorously to oppose a Labour Government and make their work impossible. We are talking away powers which the other place dare 111 not use, and giving it powers which it can, and will, use.
My right hon. Friend the then leader of the House accepted that these powers would be used. He said:If we institute a reformed House it is ridiculous not to recognise that it will use the powers given to it, and have the authority to do so, and, therefore, it should be given no power which it is not prepared to use."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th November, 1968; Vol. 773, c. 1134.]That is true. That is why the House of Lords readily accepted the proposal.
Once we accept that the House of Lords will be given an accretion of genuine power, we must realise that the Government of the day will be vitally concerned with how that real, effective power is employed. We shall, therefore, see the Government concerning themselves with the use of that power. We shall see the Whips in attendance, and we shall see the patronage which must go hand in hand with the use of any real power. We shall see the Whips playing a part, the pay finally being granted, and then we shall see the patronage which will result from that.
The White Paper says, on page 33:… it might be necessary, in order to obtain full advantage from an improved flow of legislation from one House to the other, to increase the number of Cabinet and other Ministers in the House of Lords. At present there are in the House only two Cabinet Ministers and 13 other Ministers …".I take the view that as soon as we increase the power of the other place the Lords themselves will fight to expand their rôle. They will try to expand it by having more Ministers, and by having joint Standing Committees—not a Committee of Members of this House, elected as we are, but one including Members in the other place.
The White Paper says, on page 34:A further possibility would be to commit to a joint committee private members' bills on controversial social subjects after they have received a second reading in either House.That followed the statement thatA convention might be established that certain classes of Bills should start in one House and then receive detailed examination by a joint committee.This is all of a piece. Increasing the powers of the other place will lead to patronage, and to the creation of an 112 aldermanic bench which the House does not need, and has no right to accept. As this was devised as an integrated whole, we shall be unable to chop off the limbs of the monster. We shall have to accept it altogether, or throw it out altogether.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) told the House how this matter should have been approached. He said that we should have started by considering how we could reform Parliament. We should have considered not what we should do with the House of Lords, but what we wanted the Houses of Parliament to do. Having considered that, we should have decided what was required, and then fitted in the House of Lords. What we did was to arrive at a solution, and then find that the problem was still with us.
I now want to say something about cross-bench peers and their importance. At the moment, the House of Lords has none of the general powers which it will have under these proposals. A number of cross-benchers enjoy the confidence of the House of Lords, and enjoy some standing there. They are able to speak freely, to speak their minds, to be objective, and to look at things from a neutral point of view.
As soon as they are given these powers, those peers will be corrupted by them, just as such powers corrupt everybody. It is easy to stay neutral when one has no power. As soon as these peers are required to make important decisions, interested parties will apply pressure on them. Such pressure will be continuous, from the Government, from the Opposition, and from any other body which has an interest in the way they act. The element of detachment which they have at present will be one of the first casualties following the introduction of this Measure. The academic detachment on which the whole White Paper was built will be the first thing to crumble. A person cannot enjoy academic detachment if he is involved in using power. That detachment will go, and with it will go the whole basis of the White Paper.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said that he thought the House of 113 Lords would be very chary about using its powers. I do not agree. Members of the other place may use these powers in unpredictable ways. We cannot, therefore, satisfy ourselves that they will act in the kind of neutral responsible way that is hoped for.
My main concern is about the effect of these changes on the House of Lords itself. It seems to me that the powers of the House of Commons will be diminished. We know that the power of this House has been diminishing for a long time. We know, too, that one of the factors responsible for this is the ability of the Government to speak almost directly to the people of the country, rather than speak to them through their intermediaries, their Members of Parliament. Public opinion polls give an indication of what people are thinking, and the Government attach more importance to them than they do to Members who represent those people, and who may be assumed to have some knowledge of how people in different parts of the country are likely to react.
We know that our power is not dissimilar to that of the existing power of the House of Lords. It, too, is like a nuclear bomb which we dare not use. It is too powerful, and we would willingly change it for a range of armaments at a lower level. We have the power to turn a Government out at a moment's notice, but it is so dreadful and awe-inspiring a power that it has not been used for many years.
We must not only make this House more powerful—that is by no means the end of the story—but we must make the Commons play a bigger part in checking the actions of the Executive, in examining their decisions and in making sure that we are fully up to scratch in representing the views of the country. I suggest, therefore, that we need the amount of reform which my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough has in mind.
We do not want to see joint committees having views about the House of Commons which result in our views being watered down by those elder statesmen, often former hon. Members of this House, who, while they command a great deal of respect, are not immediately in touch with the day-to-day life of the country as we are and as we represent it.
There are those brave reformers in this House who had hoped to increase the 114 power of the Commons. They should be reluctant to see the power which the Commons at present holds diminished by the use of patronage. I am not a purist in this matter of patronage and I accept that a certain amount of it is required to run the machine properly. Nevertheless, there are few arguments in favour of increasing patronage today.
We can argue whether we have too much or too little patronage. I might be prepared to accept a slight increase in it, but nobody is talking about that. We are talking about the need for a massive increase in patronage and when we think of the level of that patronage, we must remember what is involved. Consider what it means to an hon. Member who has spent 20 years in the House of Commons and is then offered perhaps 15 years in the other place, with powers very nearly equal to ours, a salary which is not far different, certainty of tenure and without the constituency problems—mail, "surgery", and so on—which we have. It is an attractive proposition and, because of that, we must be extremely careful about it. Many hon. Members take the view that they represent the people and are, therefore, in the Commons because of the important task which they can perform. If we reduce the importance of that task we will obviously be increasing patronage still further.
The Bill fundamentally weakens the House of Commons. Perhaps the most pitiful aspect would be to see it mutilated without a stuggle. We should struggle and struggle violently to uphold the powers of the Commons. That should be the concern of every one of us.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Sir Frank Pearson (Clitheroe)
Many hon. Members wish to speak and I propose to be very brief indeed. I wish at the outset to set at rest the mind of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) by telling him that I entirely support the Bill and propose to vote for it tonight.
My resolve in this matter was somewhat weakened as I listened to the Prime Minister's speech. The word "modernisation" was repeated by the right hon. Gentleman about a dozen times and it 115 began to get on my nerves. I was also worried by the intervention of the Home Secretary, when he gave his view of how the reformed House proposed to use its powers. Despite those interventions, I still believe that, in essence, the Bill is a good one and should be supported.
Much of the criticism of the Bill has come from a fear of the way in which its principles and framework will be operated in practice. The difficulty, therefore, is not the Bill, but the suspicions of some hon. Members about the way in which its proposals may ultimately be implemented.
One central principle runs through the Bill and is entirely basic to it. It is that after the Bill is passed there shall no longer be a second Chamber based on the hereditary principle. I am prepared to accept that. I do not believe that in a modern urban and industrialised society it is possible for a second Chamber to speak with any authority unless it has a wider basis than that of mere heredity—although the Members of the House of Lords have done, and are still doing, great service.
We are right to accept the principle of the abolition of the hereditary basis and I am glad that not only was this proposal put forward by the Government, but that it was endorsed by the enormous majority of five to one in the Upper Chamber. I believe that their Lordships took that view because they were fed up being Members of a second Chamber in which they could speak with experience but not with authority. For that reason they welcomed the reform.
If this reform is to be worth while, two things must happen. First, the inbuilt majority of one party in the Upper House must go and, secondly, the hereditary principle must go. Those are the two central principles in the Bill which I back.
With the criticisms which have been expressed—with great intellect, oratory and weight—we have heard much about waiting on the report of the Constitutional Commission. I regard this Commission with a certain amount of scepticism. Had there not been a threat at the next election due to the nationalist feelings of Wales and Scotland, this Commission 116 might never have been established. I doubt whether we will see anything coming out of it to deal with the structure of either this House or the second Chamber.
What could the Constitutional Commission recommend? I suppose that it could recommend the abolition of the second Chamber. That might please some hon. Gentlemen opposite below the Gangway, but it is unlikely to make that recommendation. It might suggest that the second Chamber should be an elected House. I doubt whether it would so recommend, and, if it did, I doubt whether this Chamber would ever give an elected second Chamber the sort of powers which such a Chamber could rightly demand.
As hon. Gentlemen opposite below the Gangway have been talking a lot today about powers, I hope that they will agree that the second Chamber could in no circumstances be an elected one. I suppose that the Commission—this is just possible—could say that the hereditary system should continue. That is doubtful. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling) pointed out, it was agreed as early as 1948 that the hereditary principle had probably served its day.
We are left with a second Chamber that is, basically, filled by nomination. As I see it, the real argument about the Bill is the circumstances in which that nomination shall take place. If a system could be evolved—I do not believe that it could be written into the Bill—whereby the patronage of the Prime Minister in appointing life peers was curbed, then a great deal of the criticism of the Bill would be removed. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch) that if it goes uncurbed we will have a system under which the patronage of the 18th century will pale by comparison.
When the Minister winds up for the Government, I hope that it will be possible for him to enlarge a little on exactly how the Prime Minister's patronage will be handled. We already have a system whereby some committee, which one does not hear very much about, makes recommendations in regard to honours. I do not believe that it would be entirely impossible to have a small commission which had the confidence of the country 117 and acted openly, whose members were known and whose function it would be to make recommendations to the Prime Minister of the day as to the creation of life peerages.
The commission could make those recommendations having taken account of all the various factors which must be involved, regional representation, representation of special professions, business interests, trades unions, and so on. If some form of commission of that sort were se; up and the custom was established that the Prime Minister of the day took the advice of that commission, I would have very little objection to formally leaving the actual patronage in the hands of the Prime Minister.
A point which was raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West will, I hope, be clarified in the reply from the Government Front Bench. What are the present powers of the Upper Chamber in preventing the Government from perpetuating themselves after the five-year period? What are the powers of the reformed Chamber to be in this regard? That is vitally important. I should not like to feel that the proposed Chamber has the right to vitiate any effort on the part of this Chamber to perpetuate itself. I hope that assurance can be given about that.
It is remarkable that a Bill has been produced which not only has the support of the Government of the day, but of the second Chamber as well. I hope that we shall not allow this opportunity to slip through our fingers. There may be a strong and very vociferous body who will oppose the Bill throughout all its stages, but I hope that, in the end, the Government will get the Bill. I shall do anything I can to help them to get it.
§ 7.23 p.m.
§ Mr. E. L. Mallalieu (Brigg)
I find myself very much in agreement with a great deal that has been said by the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Sir Frank Pearson) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn). There have been two serious speeches against the Bill and two extremely humorous speeches against it. The two humorous ones were by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) and the right hon. Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch). They were at the 118 highest level I have ever heard in this House from the point of view of entertainment, but absolutely empty from the point of view of solid content, dealing with the fears which have been aroused by the Bill and the ways of overcoming those fears—which are also in the Bill.
The other two speeches against the Bill were made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) and the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter). The latter seemed to be worried about going ahead with the Bill before the Commission on the Constitution has studied the subject and reported. I suggest that it is not at all improper to go ahead with this Bill before that Commission has reported. It is to report on a wide range of things. This is merely one aspect of the constitution with which we are here dealing, and moreover, one which has been very seriously studied, as the right hon. Gentleman admitted. He did not say "very seriously", but he said that it had been studied for a short time by very important people: and agreement has been arrived at between the parties. If agreement can be arrived at on a constitutional Measure, I am glad.
It is more likely that a solution which has been arrived at will last because it is agreed by a majority on both sides. The right hon. Gentleman was worried about patronage. He referred to a great increase in patronage—I think there will not be a great increase—because the voting peers would be paid and would, therefore, be more under the thumb of the Government than if they were not paid. I think exactly the contrary. If they are paid they are far less likely to be under the thumb of Government Whips because they will have that much more independence.
This is a good Bill, because it would retain what is good in the other place and do away with 98 per cent. of what is evil and harmful in another place. I do not believe in destroying a thing merely because it is old; but if it is old and harmful I want to destroy it. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne obviously thinks that: the other place is harmful, but I do not believe that it is all that harmful, even in its present state. To think that it is really harmful is to forget the Parliament 119 Act of 1949. That Act curtailed the powers of another place very considerably.
This Bill, so far from giving another place more powers, is curtailing its powers still further. I saw the point made by my hon. Friend about the nuclear bomb and I consider it a good illustration; but under the Bill another place would have just that amount of delaying power which is necessary for reconsideration and practically nothing else. That is certainly not a terrifying power. All the revision which it has done in the past would go on. It has no mean quality as a forum and this would be enhanced under the Bill. Its independence from the Government of the day would still be there, because the voting peers are to be there until they reach retiring age.
Some people think that the House of Lords, because it was once based upon class, still is based on class. That is an untenable proposition. We have heard of all the broad interests now represented there to which expression can be given in the other place. It does not seem possible in any way to talk about it as something to do with class.
§ Mr. John Lee (Reading)
What justification can there be for retaining in existence, although without legislative power, the whole nonsense of the hereditary peerage—the bombshell?
§ Mr. Mallalieu
I shall come to that, if my hon. Friend will allow me to make my speech in my own way.
If we want to talk about class we should come down to the Parliamentary Labour Party. There we have a first-class example of class, the trade union group which the ordinary hoi polloi, the proletarians such as myself, are not even allowed to attend and where Ministers are "put on the mat". It seems that that is where class is.
As for the title "Lord", I agree that it is not much different from "Senator", or "Hero of the Soviet Union", or "Academician", or any of the other titles which people have and which they use. It is not very different from the trade union title "Brother". I have heard trade unionists being very unbrotherly to each other, quite as much as noble Lords being ignoble. Therefore, too much attention should not be paid to these 120 outworn symbols which do no harm. If they did harm, I should want to abolish them straight away.
There are the two inherent defects of the present House of Lords which were referred to by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and by the hon. Member for Clitheroe—the hereditary system and the permanent majority for one party. Even these have mattered much less after the last Parliament Act than they mattered before; but they are obviously things which must go.
It is curious to note how, as the power of the Lords has diminished, its influence has increased. I grant that, if influence is what is meant when considering their powers, they will have more power in future as a result of the passage of the Bill. I have no objection to the House of Lords having influence if it deserves it by reason of its composition and conduct. The Bill will completely alter the composition of the Lords. At present, in practice, it is already a House of experts, because two-thirds of those who are there by heredity do not attend because they must earn their living or because they are not interested, and the rest are, at any rate theoretically, experts. The Lords will become even more a House of experts after the passage of the Bill and will have greater influence. In the House of Commons we are not all fools. If an expert body gives us its expert opinion on a plate, we examine it with great care. That is precisely what will happen after a Bill becomes an Act.
In reply to the point put to me a little while ago by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Mr. John Lee), I believe that it was very statesmanlike to allow the existing peers by heredity to continue in the Lords during their lives. It was a demonstration that this Government, at any rate, are not partisan or vindictive. What harm can the hereditary peers do if their powers are curtailed? They will be able to do abolutely nothing by way of delaying legislation. They will not be able to vote. They will be able to give their opinion if they wish to, and we shall be in a position to take it or leave it, as will the other place.
§ Mr. John Lee
Was not Asquith, 60 year ago, far more radical when he threatened to cheapen and ridicule the existence of the other place as well as destroy its permanent inbuilt majority by 121 creating a whole mass of new peers virtually overnight?
§ Mr. Mallalieu
I cannot be responsible for what Asquith did, although I was a member of his party at one time, as many other Members of the House were. If the hereditary peers remain there and attend the Lords to give the House the benefit of their opinion, what harm can they do? I submit that they can do no harm. This proposal shows a decency on which I congratulate the Government.
I know that it is hard for anyone to state that he knows what the country thinks. I do not think that any one section of the people has a monopoly of that perception which is necessary to find out what the people think about issues. If I had to say, I should say that on the whole, if cornered, the average elector would say that he did not want to abolish the Lords. He might not have much of an opinion until he was cornered on the subject; but if cornered he would probably say that he did not want to abolish it; because most people in Britain like a certain amount of continuity. I think that the general view is that it is a good idea to keep the House of Lords, to mould it, and to complete the revolution begun in 1911, and continued in 1949 after the Second World War in the powers and constitution of the Lords. The creation of life peers, the curtailment of the powers of the Lords, and so on, have been moves in the right direction and have been very effective.
I do not know of a second Chamber which is better than the Lords will be after the Bill is enacted. I am comparing like with like, not comparing second Chambers like the Senate in the United States, which is a totally different instrument for a totally different purpose. Of the second Chambers which are more or less for the same purpose that we have here, the Lords is a very good one. As to the delaying power which it is to have, it has been a remarkable feat to achieve a balance between destroying all the powers of the Lords and leaving them as they were. They are to be given just that kind of delaying power which is necessary to make the House of Commons reconsider its opinion and no more.
§ Mr. Raphael Tuck (Watford)
Does my hon. and learned Friend think that a period as long as six months is necessary 122 to enable the House of Commons to reconsider a Bill? Does he know of the lame duck sessions in the United States when nothing is done? Would not my hon. and learned Friend reduce it from six months to, say, two months? Is not a period of two months long enough to enable us to reconsider?
§ Mr. Mallalieu
I would not say that two months is the right period. I would be inclined to agree with my hon. Friend that there is a case for arguing that it should be less than six months, but I am not certain of it, because it depends how long it takes to get Bills through the Lords. Some Bills take longer than others. It could be that six months is not too long a period to leave. Even if that is so, this is an agreement which was reached by both sides and the difference between six months and two months or four months, or whatever it might be, should not be over-stressed. I would not make it a casus belli.
The Lords has been, since we dealt with it in the way that we did after the Second World War and since the introduction of life peerages, an incredibly democratic second Chamber. Agreed, it has had defects, and these have been mentioned and are to be removed. With the passage of the Bill, I believe that it will be "a far, far better thing" than it has ever been before.
§ 7.37 p.m.
§ Sir John Rodgers (Sevenoaks)
There is little doubt that in debating this Bill we are, as the Prime Minister said, debating a subject of major constitutional importance. Some hon. Members are opposed to granting a Second Reading to the Bill. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) opposes it because he prefers a single-chamber Government. Others, like myself, who are strong believers in a bicameral system, are equally opposed to the Bill.
None of us can be happy at the continuation permanently of a second Chamber which has an in-built majority in favour of one political party. None of us can be quite happy about the present composition of the Lords or about the perpetuation of the hereditary system. The hereditary system has been modified over the years; and as the years pass, without any Bill of this sort, it would have been increasingly modified because 123 no hereditary peerages are being created and each year more and more life peers are being created. So in a sense a solution lies in our own hands by just doing nothing for the time being.
The only reason that the Prime Minister advanced for introducing the Bill at this time was that he felt that his legislative proposals between now and the next election might be in jeopardy if the powers of their Lordships were left as they are. If this was the real motivation for the introduction of the Bill, it would have been much simpler to have produced a one-Clause or two-Clause Bill dealing with the powers of the House of Lords.
A great case can be made out for the present House of Lords, at least on a temporary basis, for the next few years. As the hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu) said, the Lords enjoys a great prestige both here and abroad. It has made a notable contribution to the work of Parliament, especially in the revision of Bills, and its debates are distinguished by an objectivity and an expertise which are sometimes lacking in this House. Hardly a subject is discussed there—whether it is defence, economics, education, agriculture—without one or two of Britain's greatest experts expressing their views there.
Although nobody today would dream of setting up a second Chamber on the basis of the present system, I believe that now that the Government have announced that they are setting up a Royal Commission to look into its constitution, it is only sensible to await the findings of that Commission rather than come down in favour of what I regard as a miserable Bill. It is miserable because it leaves out half the essential facts.
The Prime Minister did not say anything about the number of peers to be created, or even the size of the other House, but it is important to know what size second Chamber the Government have in mind. Is it to be small or is it to have a membership of 350, 500 or 1,000? It could even be far bigger than the present Chamber. One has a right to ask what size House the Government have in mind.
I thought that the Prime Minister was less than honest with the House when he 124 failed to say what remuneration it is proposed to pay this new creation. He went so far as to say, more or less as an aside, that expenses would probably continue as at present and that a case might be made later for the payment of some form of remuneration. Of course, the Prime Minister knows that it will be paid and that it will be fairly large if the Members of the other place are to be of the type listed by him in the debate on the White Paper. It cannot be merely a miserable £100 or £200 expenses. These men will expect to be paid.
I am opposed to the Bill mainly because of the tremendous extension of patronage by the Prime Minister. He could go on ad nauseam creating more life peers and dispensing more and more patronage than we have seen for many years in this House. A sop is given to the Leader of the Liberals and the Leader of the Opposition. They can presumably, have a few places in the other place to use from time to time. The present proposals in the Bill, however, should not be given a Second Reading.
I say that because I believe that the time has come for radically rethinking the composition and powers of a second Chamber. I see no reason for going through the farce of creating peers to make men eligible to sit in a second Chamber. I do not wish to see the abolition of hereditary titles or of the creation of life peers. The latter should be a distinction, a sign of recognition for services rendered. If, however, we are getting away from the present House of Lords, which works admirably, I should like to go one step further to an elected senate.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Clitheroe (Sir Frank Pearson) that one of the reasons why the House of Lords does not exercise to the full the powers that it could is that because of its composition it derives no authority. The same would be true of a lot of placemen created by the Prime Minister of the day. Therefore, if we are to move away from the present system, let us go the whole hog and have a senate of 350 or 400 people who would be elected, not necessarily by universal suffrage in the same way as hon. Members of this House, but, say, from regional groupings of local government elected representatives plus one or two other people.
125 My hon. Friend the Member for Clitheroe looks askance at that suggestion, but I agree with the Leader of the Liberals about this. I consider that it is far more democratic and affective to move to a senatorial system than to go on trying to transfer the prestige, glamour and history of the House of Lords to virtually a new second Chamber.
§ Mr. Raphael Tuck
Would the hon. Member's senate have equal powers with the House of Commons? If so, would he not agree that if it was of the same complexion as this House it would be superfluous and that if it was of a different complexion it would merely initiate more legislation?
§ Sir J. Rodgers
I should not, of course, wish to see a second Chamber competing with the powers of this House. I was not being detailed in what I said. There is no doubt that our electoral system of single constituency Members brings about violent fluctuations. There have been occasions in the not too distant past when parties with a fairly strong majority in this House represented only a minority of voters throughout the country.
Therefore, I wish to see a method of election that would reflect current prevailing opinion. I should like to see a senate elected for a period of 12 years, with, say, one-third retiring every four years, so that its Members would be perpetually renewing each other and reflecting back the forces at work in the body politic. I am sure that that would be democratic.
We should be grateful for what their Lordships' distinguished House has done. It is sought to get rid of the hereditary element. The hon. and learned Member for Brigg said how fine we were to let their Lordships linger there for the rest of their life, but that kind of delayed euthanasia does not appeal to me. It is far better to say that we will have a different sort of second Chamber. We can then debate its powers and the franchise from which its Members should be elected.
Whatever one's point of view, the Bill is a terrible piece of anachronistic nonsense. It is not something of which anybody can be proud. The composition of the second Chamber and its powers are matters of such constitutional importance that it is quite wrong for a few distinguished right hon. Gentlemen on the 126 Opposition Front Bench, busy as they are, to get together with a few distinguished right hon. Gentlemen, even busier perhaps, on the Government Front Bench and come to arrangements which they then present to this House, with no discussion in the party. I plead for delay so that the party can hammer out this issue and other people may express their views. The electorate has just as much right as Members of Parliament to make known its views on this matter.
The Bill is being rushed through for reasons best known to the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary. I believe that they want the patronage and that they want to create a Chamber which will be a poodle, a little dog to do as it is told and obey the orders it is given. That would relieve them in the foreseeable future of the possibility of having a second Chamber which might on occasion go against the Government of the day on a major constitutional issue. For these reasons, I hope that hon. Members, on both sides, will vote against the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)
Basically, I suppose, we are today trying to find machinery to control and restrain the Executive, and we almost automatically assume that we must have a second Chamber for that purpose. I challenge that proposition immediately. I do not believe that we necessarily need a second Chamber to do that if we reorganise the machinery within this House, the elected Chamber.
That seems to me to be the dilemma which constantly faces this House when we debate what to do with the House of Lords. We seem automatically to assume that it must somehow continue to exist. It is not surprising that until the last half hour or so we have had no speech enthusiastically and unconditionally supporting the principles of the Bill, not even from the two Front Benches. We have had three back-bench speakers with rather tepid support for the Bill, although not without qualification.
For my part, I shall accept the three-line whip of my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot). He is the best chief whip we have—understanding, generous, knowledgeable and experienced. He is giving a lead to the 127 House tonight which we all ought to follow.
§ Sir J. Rodgers
I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman refers to the three-line whip of his hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale, who, only an hour or so ago, was boasting that on his side of the House there was to be a free vote.
§ Mr. Hamilton
The hon. Gentleman does not understand the language which we use on this side. A three-line whip means as much to my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale as it means to me, as we shall show in the Lobby tonight. We shall be in strange company, though not for the first time—very objectionable company, some of it—but none the less, for the sake of the constitution, we are prepared to put up with it.
The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) said that there was no party controversy on this matter. He could not be further from the truth. We shall be going into the same Lobby, but for vastly different reasons. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the other House having a great record of progressive safeguarding of the liberty of the individual, and all that sort of gobbledygook. In fact, it has a record of black reaction over the centuries, and it has done little in the last few years to destroy that image. I well remember the Burmah Oil story, when 38 shareholders went into the Lobby in support of giving Burmah Oil millions of pounds of war compensation. That was the disinterested view of their Lordships at that time. The same attitude is still there.
I come now to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. We had two curious performances from the Front Benches. With his usual wisdom, the Prime Minister was unusually brief. His speech was as significant for what it left out as for what it contained. He brushed aside patronage saying that this had been covered in the November debate. Seeking, I thought, to disarm us on this side—here I agree with the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames—my right hon. Friend said, "Let us see how we go—tonight". He did not use the last word, but that is what he meant. Once he gets over tonight's hurdle, a salary will be introduced. Without question, there will 128 be Amendments and new Clauses put down. There is fertile ground here for amendment, and in the months while the Bill is before the House in Committee we shall see how fertile minds on this side can operate in a field of this sort.
My right hon. Friend said that there will not be remuneration but their lordships will continue with the present expenses racket. He did not use that term, but that is what it is. There are some Members of the other place who cannot afford another salary but would very much like to continue with an expenses racket, tax-free. That is preferable to the taxable salary which they might have under regulations to be introduced after the Bill has its Second Reading. In any case, even if there were not to be a salary and expenses continued, there is no assurance that those expenses would continue at 4½ guineas a day.
§ Mr. Raphael Tuck rose—
§ Mr. Hamilton
No, I shall not give way. There are other hon. Members who wish to speak, and I must curtail my remarks.
Even assuming that Members of the other place have a tax-free expense allowance per day, that plus the creation of the peerage represents a considerable measure of patronage which we ought not to tolerate. For my part, I shall never accept it for a moment.
If one accepts the need for a non-elected second Chamber, one must inevitably accept the patronage which goes with it. One cannot have the one without the other. If, on the other hand, one refuses to accept an elected second Chambe, as I do, one comes to the only alternative, which is no second Chamber at all. That is the only logical solution to the problem, as I see it.
The Prime Minister made a typically conservative overall assessment of the Bill when he said that it was no revolutionary Measure. It is one of these wretched consensus Bills. This is what is bringing politics into disrepute—this business of getting together in dark corners and in little cliques from the Front Benches and the Liberal bench, pulling something out of the bag, bringing it to us, and saying, "We have been in a dark corner. This is what we have produced." It is the very thing of which I am suspicious. I do not like that sort of business. I would 129 far rather that our own Front Bench said, "This is what we believe. This is what we put before the House and the country. It is up to the House and the country to accept or reject it—all or nothing". I do not believe in nasty little compromises.
The Prime Minister said that this subject was treated on this side of the House with a mixture of boredom and hostility. He is probably right—but more hostility than boredom, so far as I am concerned. The country may very well get bored with a House of Commons which, in these critical days, is ready to spend weeks and weeks on the Floor debating this sordid little compromise when there are so many important problems to discuss, problems about which the people are greatly concerned.
My hostility can be summed up in a few words. After the Bill is passed, the other place will still be a non-elected second Chamber. It will still have greater powers than I am prepared to give it, powers which it will use much more than the wider powers in relation to the calendar which it has now.
It is always assumed that a second non-elected Chamber has, by some divine inspiration, the power to discern at any given time more clearly than the elected Chamber the will of the public. This is a totally unacceptable argument. It assumes that if one is not elected, if one happens to be born in the right bed or one has the patronage of the Prime Minister, one is better equipped to decide what is in the public interest, but we are not. We are just elected by the ordinary people and we cannot make these assessments of what the public want, or when they want it. Only those across the way can do that. Such ideas are completely alien to the principle of democracy according to which we are supposed to work.
I come back to the point I made at the beginning. The soundest argument of those who favour a second Chamber is that there must be additional checks on the Executive. I agree on that. There must be additional checks on the Executive, but they must emanate from this House, not from a second Chamber, elected or non-elected. That is why I shall go into the Lobby tonight against the Bill. It is not a good Bill. It is a nasty, unpleasant little compromise. It 130 will make the second Chamber the laughing-stock of the world. If we do not succeed tonight, we shall seek to amend the Bill along the lines indicated by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale. I hope that if the Bill should emerge on the Statute Book it will be far better than it is now.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. George Younger (Ayr)
It is not entirely inappropriate that I should make a brief intervention in the debate as I think I am the first hon. Member to speak who can be personally affected by the Bill. I am in favour of it, but it is an eloquent commentary on the poor priorities of our modern Parliamentary system that we are devoting only one day to debating this immensely important change in the constitution. That is equivalent to what we spend on all sorts of other Measures, important enough in themselves, but not comparable to the Bill. The change that it makes compares in constitutional importance with the Reform Act of 1832 and the reforms of another place in 1911. Therefore, we should spend more time on it.
The second remarkable thing is that the Government should introduce a Bill so radically to alter the constitution when it has only just appointed a Commission to look into how the constitution is working. This is incredible. I know that the talks took place on the Bill before the Commission was set up, and I am sure that the Commission will take a long time to report, but this is a very clear example of the muddle and inefficiency which goes into the planning of events at present.
To hear some hon. Members who are against the Bill one would think that the other place now, let alone as it is proposed to be reformed, was an immensely powerful body, creating tremendous changes in the way we are governed, perpetually thwarting the will of the elected representatives of the people, changing things, preventing things going through, and almost altering the course of history. Hon. Members speak in an impassioned way about the powers of another place, when we all know that even now, let alone after the Bill is passed, the most that the other place can do to any Measure, however strongly it objects to it, is to delay it for about nine months.
131 That period is to be reduced to six months under the Bill. If the power were used frequently, the six months' delay might become a bit of an embarrassment, but we all know that there is no likelihood of that. Both Front Benches have said so. The use of the reduced power for delay is unlikely to the point of being something that we can rule out altogether. Therefore, I hope that we can maintain a sense of proportion in quietly discussing a major change in both the composition and powers of one of the Chambers in our system.
I very much appreciate the point of view of those who say that they altogether oppose having a second Chamber. The hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) is dead against any form of second Chamber. I understand that point of view. I think that it is logical, but mistaken; I believe that a second Chamber is absolutely essential for the working of our constitution. What I do not appreciate is the point of view of those who say that they are against what the Bill proposes, but in favour of some other suggestion which is not fully specified. We have had a long dialogue over many years as to how we can improve the other place, and, allowing for tht faults that there must be in these things, the Bill is a reasonable shot at improving the other place and bringing it up to date.
We need a second Chamber, and the question is what it should do and how it should be composed. It is anomalous that the second Chamber's powers cannot, in practice, be used at present. We all know that the delaying power exists, but we also know that it is almost never used, not because their Lordships do not want to use it but because they feel that if they do, expressing their genuine convictions, the immediate crisis that will result will be nothing to do with what they voted about, but be on the purely constitutional issue as to whether they should or should not have been allowed to vote against a Government Measure.
If we are to reform the powers of the other place we must do it deliberately and be prepared to allow it to use the powers we give it. That means that if we reform it as the Bill suggests, and if it uses the powers which this House gives it, we must support it in the use of those 132 powers, we must allow it to use them and to feel free to delay our decisions for up to six months, which is a modest enough provision. We should not go into a tantrum if the other place exercises those powers on occasions.
I now turn to composition, which is the part of the constitution which has been least tampered with over the past 100 years or so, and which is the part most crying out for reform. As one personally involved, I agree entirely that the hereditary principle should have no place in a modern constitution in the second Chamber. It has served us well in many ways, but it is no longer appropriate in modern conditions. However, I very much question some of the details of the proposals in the Bill. The most questionable part concerns the cross-bench peers.
I do not want to say anything to reflect adversely on what I consider to be the excellent conduct so far of the noble Lords who form the cross-bench peers. They have demonstrated no form of party bias as a group, and have succeeded in avoiding the appearance of operating as a group while keeping their existence as cross-bench peers to distinguish them from those who openly take a party allegiance.
But I question whether this remarkable status can be maintained under the proposals in the Bill. For example, what is likely to happen if a Government, never mind which, should have a problem about its membership in another place? One can imagine a less than perfect Prime Minister being pressed into appointing as cross-bench peers people that he knew supported his party. What is to prevent him appointing them? They could act as cross-bench peers for many years, and he would know that in a real crisis, when the crunch came, he would have perhaps half a dozen or more cross-bench peers that would come down on the side of his party.
I do not believe that a cross-bench peer can be defined in a sufficiently foolproof way to allow that hitherto very distinguished group the absolute "Yea" or "Nay" when the rest of the other House is equally divided. I think that it is already open to abuse in future—and I intend no reflection on the present cross-bench peers in saying that. In Committee, or possibly through discussions in the 133 next few months, we must find a better way of ensuring a correct balance in another place as it will eventually be reformed.
I do not think that it is satisfactory that there should be no specific and detailed representation as of right for the Scottish peers in a reformed House. This is not a matter of regional feelings gone mad, but one which the House should take seriously. We all have an obligation about the position of the Scottish peers. At the time of the Act of Union, Scottish peers were given an assured place in the other place. They were given the right to elect from their own number 16 who would sit here as of right, and in each Parliament the Scottish peers elected their representatives. This system was recently altered to cut out the business of indirect election. Now, of course, all the old Scottish peers have the right to sit in the other place. This may seem little different from the treatment given to peers generally now.
But, whereas at present the Scottish peers have representation as of right, even if it is a diminishing one, by the presence of the old Scottish peers who are guaranteed their places, as the proposal for reform is drawn up it is left to the Prime Minister of the day to see to it that there are Scottish peers in the reformed Upper House. I am sure that most Prime Ministers will try to do this, but we cannot rely purely on good will and trust—which, I would add, we have with those who are jointly sponsoring these ideas. I do not think that, in framing legislation for such a vital long-term matter of the constitution, we can get by with vague good will undefined. We should, therefore, ask the Government to consider putting into the Bill the definite right of a certain number or a certain proportion of Scottish resident peers to be present in the other place when it is reformed. I hope that this will be taken as a serious suggestion. I believe that it is workable and that we should all feel obliged to do it.
I cone now to the question of expenses for peers. I think that it was a little less than generous of the hon. Member for Fife, West and others to speak as if the level of expenses given to peers during the last few years is something with which they could feather their nests. I believe the hon. Gentleman said that 134 there were some peers who could not afford to earn anything else because of the tax they were paying.
§ Mr. William Hamilton
I was referring to the prospect of salary, and I said that there were some wealthy Members of another place who could not afford to take another salary.
§ Mr. Younger
I took the hon. Gentleman's point slightly wrong. I did not know that he was referring to a salary.
But is it really possible for any hon. Member, particularly on the benches opposite, to deny to people who are being asked to be present in another place and to join in the legislation of their country for at least one-third of the sittings to have no remuneration whatever? No one could regard the level of expenses as being over-generous. Many would regard it as being under-generous. Is it really right that we should let our feelings of denying other people their extra money get the better of us in this way?
Make no mistake about it. There would be only one result. Anyone who was unfortunate enough to be asked to become a life peer but had no income or means of his own would be unable to carry out his duties. If he happened to live in Lambeth, say, or the centre of London, he probably could. He could carry on an ordinary job and come in by bus and sit during the evenings in another place. But I assure the House—and I have evidence of it—that it is impossible to carry on a job in a remote part of the country, like the West Country, Wales, the North-East or Scotland and still come here and do one's duty in another place for at least one-third of the sittings without being much out of pocket. Is it really the desire of hon. Members who inveigh against salaries for peers that only rich people shall be in the reformed second Chamber? But that would be the inevitable result of a refusal to consider salaries. I hope that a little more reason can come into this question.
There is one other point which has been largely missing from most of the speeches. Only one or two hon. Members have been prepared to say, as I am, that to carry out this reform as if we were putting right an evil and bad institution is to be monstrously un-appreciative of the excellent way in which 135 the other place has functioned over many years. Where else could one find hundreds of people who would come here without any remuneration, with no sense of personal gain and with no power at the end of the day, but would give of their time, energy, skill and enthusiasm purely from a sense of public spirit? No Member of another place can gain a personal advantage from going there and giving of his wisdom to the country.
If we are to change the composition of the House of Lords—and I support a change—we should record that, with all their faults, warts and all, the Members of the other place have done a marvellous job over the past few years. We should be prepared to improve the composition, as is suggested by the Government and the Opposition Front Bench and by the majority of over five to one in the other place itself. I hope that the Bill will be carried.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Denis Coe (Middleton and Prestwich)
As the debate has so far been against the Bill in emphasis, I am glad that it has now swung back a little. I support the Bill because, with all its imperfections, I believe that it carries us a little further forward in the amending of our Parliamentary institutions. So long as we have two Chambers, it is right that changes occurring in this Chamber should be married with changes in the other. The changes proposed are long overdue, and it is fair to say that the record of the Labour Party on House of Lords reform is hardly distinguished. We have tended to run away from the problem.
We do not like the House of Lords particularly, the sight of hereditary peers, and have been afraid to change it for fear that this would mean giving it more power. We have tended to rely on the late Earl Attlee's dictum that it works quite well in practice and that it is difficult to find a substitute. The time when we must make changes has now been reached, however.
This Bill will make Parliament more effective, and it is also worth using this opportunity to counter a series of depressing assertions that the prestige of Parliament is declining. I agree with the right hon. Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch)—it was the only thing I could agree 136 about in his interesting speech—that the quality of this place is not declining, and if we carry through the sort of institutional changes we are making in this Chamber and add to them the important changes proposed in the other place, we shall be enhancing the prestige of Parliament.
One of the things which the Bill recognises is that we should have two-tier government. I have much sympathy with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) about one-chamber government. I appreciate his reasons for that view and perhaps if this Chamber were changed and amended so as to be able to carry out the functions which we should like it to carry out, we could have that form of Government. But he must recognise, as must everyone, that as Parliament is now organised it is impossible at this point in time to abolish a second Chamber. I go further and say that it will not be possible for a considerable time.
Last Session, for example, one-third of all the Government Bills were initiated in the House of Lords, many being quite important Bills. We have to remember the vast number of Amendments with which the other place deals, the private legislation which it puts through and the delegated legislation which it considers. If we had to do all those things, we should be completely bogged down in detail and unable to carry on our own job.
I have said that I propose to support the Bill. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) will say, "Here is another", but I must say that it is not my perfect answer. My hon. Friend will say that that is the case with everyone who has spoken, but the debate on the White Paper showed that all sorts of answers could be advanced as the best possible solution. We all have certain reservations about the Bill, as we do with many Bills which we support, and that also applies to my hon. Friend.
In our country any second Chamber should be a nominated Chamber. I do not believe that it would be right to have an elected Chamber as that would inevitably become a threat to this Chamber in a way a nominated Chamber never could. If I had had my way and a free 137 hand, I should have preferred no delaying power whatever and hereditary peers out completely and in that way we should have depolitised the second Chamber completely, and that would have been rather better. This was not possible and we have gone for a compromise solution, but this has meant having a Bill which provides for a two-tier system of membership.
However, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Social Services said in the earlier debate, there is virtue in saying that if we have agreement we can go forward without a constitutional crisis. Let us make no bones about it. I say to my hon. Friends that without such an agreement there would otherwise have been such a crisis. My hon. Friends have done the Government something of an injustice by not recognising that the five principles which we asked our negotiators to go into conclave about have been largely, if not completely, met. We asked them to abolish the hereditary peerage, and to all intents and purposes they have done so. We asked that there should be no permanent majority for any party, which is particularly important for the Labour Party, and we asked that normally the Government of the day should have a majority.
This they have done. We also asked that delaying legislation should be restricted and, finally, that there should be no delaying of subordinate legislation. Each of these conditions has been met largely, if not completely, and it is, therefore, only fair that we should pay some attention to that and agree that a measure of success has been achieved for these five principles in a rather novel and interesting way.
Much has been said about patronage and the personnel who will go to another place. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) is no longer with us. I thoroughly enjoyed his speech, as we all did. He referred to the sort of people who would become voting peers as a seraglio of eunuchs. That was rather unkind of him. Where are the eunuchs or prospective eunuchs in this Chamber? After two and a half years in Parliament, I do not recognise any. What is more, if my hon. Friend is right and is able to find these political pawns who will become susceptible to everything the Whips say, he cannot 138 in the same breath say that the House of Lords will constitute a great threat to this Chamber. Its personnel must be either one or the other.
Those who agree with my hon. Friend have overstated their case, and in any case not all the peers will be coming from this Chamber. Hon. Members have referred to massive patronage, but, as it was said in the debate on the White Paper, when the 80 or so peers to man the second Chamber have been appointed the amount of patronage thereafter will be very small. We are, therefore, talking about a very small number of people who will be appointed in full view of the public. We shall all be able to examine their qualifications for their posts as we do not now have the chance of examining a whole host of other examples of patronage. This objection to the Bill has been greatly overstated.
I am sorry that my right hon. Friend did not clearly say this afternoon that if we want the scheme to work we must pay the peers. Of course, we must give them a reasonable salary. To be able to do their job, supporters of my party will need a salary, unlike many hon. Members in the parties opposite. Supporters of my party will not want an expense account, but a salary.
As I have said, I should have preferred there to be no powers of delay, but I note that the Bill provides for legislation to be carried over from one Session to another, or even from one Parliament to another, which obviously makes the power to delay legislation by six months not so difficult as it might otherwise have been.
I do not understand the Opposition's attitude towards the date of the introduction of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal Party was quite right to say that there was an element of cynicism in the Conservatives' attitude. The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) was concerned that nothing should happen until the Constitutional Commission had reported. I clearly remember his fulminating against the Government—on a hypothetical case as it happens—about the introduction of new Parliamentary boundaries. He then said that there was no question of waiting for the Report of the Maud Commission on Local Government. He said 139 that that could be left on one side. He is being a trifle jejune when he uses one sort of criticism on one constitutional aspect and ignores it completely on another.
I recognise that it is perhaps too late to tackle the whole problem of the peerage through the Bill. I should like to see the Upper Chamber Members called Councillors in Parliament, or something of that nature. In other words, I want to get rid of the title "Lord". I want to get rid of the social class and all the rest of it surrounding such titles. I should also, obviously, have liked to see an extension of the way in which subordinate legislation cannot be held up by the Lords, to that of public legislation. On the basis of those five conditions, and of some of the difficulties which have had a great deal of airing in this House, this is how I view the Bill.
The crucial point, as I said earlier, is that, if one is to make changes in this Chamber as we have done, we have to marry them with those in the other place as well. Any reform which we make of the House of Lords must be seen in relation to Parliament as a whole. Traditionally, we have expected the House of Lords to be concerned with scrutiny, revision of Bills, Statutory Instruments and the like, and with debates. Once we have this position of the Lords clear, I want to see us move on from there. I am not in the least worried, as was my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon), about the joint Committees that we could have working between the two Houses.
My hon. Friend says that their Lordships are out of date. I suggest that on matters such as law reform we have a very large reservoir of information and experience, which could be effectively used for this Chamber, helping us with many of our tasks. He recognises that there is too much work in this Chamber, too much detail. By using joint Committees, using their Lordships more effectively, we should be helping this Chamber and making it more efficient. I want to see many of the subjects which in the past have gone to Royal Commissions dealt with here, by Members of both Houses. Who can suggest that if we send something to a Royal Commission that the group of people on that 140 Commission are in any way responsible or democratic?
There are a number of issues which could easily have been dealt with by joint Committees rather than Royal Commissions and this would help the procedure of Parliament. I would like to see some inter-departmental inquiries dealt with by both Houses. The many administrative procedures, our administration law, could easily be tackled by such point Committees. I therefore see a reformed House of Lords not as a major threat to this House, but acting largely as consultants, advisers and scrutineers of this House. I do not see the massive dangers put forward time and again in this debate. It can be an immense help to parliamentary reform as a whole if we go ahead with this Bill as quickly as possible.
§ 8.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)
When the White Paper was produced I had a certain amount of doubt whether it would meet the needs of the reform that the Government, and the Opposition Front Bench at any rate, were seeking to achieve. In particular, I was concerned about the suggested payment to be made to Members of the other place. The Prime Minister has today removed any doubts I had on that, because although I am quite sure that the question of payment will come up again, at least we shall have the opportunity of dealing with it and voting on it separately.
The advantage of a White Paper in advance of a Bill is that it concentrates one's mind. We have to consider, arising out of the discussion which takes place in the Press and in public, what our line will be on the subsequent Bill. I found myself asking two questions. The first was: do we want reform? and the second: is this the reform? I have no doubt that, although there is no great steam in the public mind, no great agitation to deal with the House of Lords, in the long run we cannot have changes in our society without having changes in the House of Lords, any more than we can avoid having the changes in this House, such as we have had in our procedures over the last few years.
It seemed to me that if we did not grasp this opportunity we would in due 141 course be criticised and the Conservative Party night suffer the weight of that criticism because when we became the Government we would have to justify a House of Lords which had a built-in Conservative majority.
Therefore, whatever the imperfections of the Bill—and they are imperfections which can be dealt with in Committee or at a later stage—it seems right that it should have a Second Reading and I shall vote for it.
In considering whether this is the right reform, there are a number of questions which must be put. First, is the House of Lords in favour of this reform? This House could easily put forward a reform of the Upper Chamber which led to a clash between it and the other place. In fact, the House of Lords has come out in favour of this reform, and, as we can achieve an agreed measure, not only between the parties, but between those in another place and here, there is a good deal to commend it. There is not likely to be a dogfight.
Secondly, we all know that over the last few years the House of Lords has had power without being able to use it or without being prepared to use it. It has not been prepared to use it on a number of very important issues in the last few months. That is a situation which would continue, but I do not think that its continuance is justified. The House of Lords does not inspire its own Members by constantly being put in a situation in which it is afraid to use its voting power. After the Bill is passed, if it is passed, the House of Lords will be able to vote against the Government on any issue about which it feels strongly.
I was a little concerned by the Home Secretary's comments when he intervened in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling). He suggested that use of the new power of the House of Lords, with its restricted majority, would not be taken kindly by him, by the present Government, or even by a future Government. It might well be that the House of Lords would not be looked on very kindly by any Government if it used its new power. But it is not right for a leader of a Government, having reformed the House, to say, "We do not like the vote you have taken. Therefore, we shall redress the situation. 142 We shall take new powers to prevent its happening again".
In future, the House of Lords might well do something which displeases the House of Commons or the Government. By voting for the Bill, I am voting to give it precisely that power. I do not imagine that a responsible Upper Chamber would use that power regularly or often. The Home Secretary said that if the House of Lords used its power on more than one or two occasions there might be problems. But the House of Lords might use its new powers twice in a month against the Government of the day. If we give it these powers, we must expect the House of Lords to use them, even if we do not like it.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I said, as I said in the debate on the White Paper, that the House of Lords would be chary in using its powers. That is where the whole argument stems. I still believe that that would be the approach of the House of Lords and that it would be chary of using its powers. If, however, the House were not chary—and it would be a decision for the House of Lords—and if the powers were used regularly, I doubt whether any Government would permit its legislation to be regularly frustrated. That seems to me a sensible proposition.
§ Mr. Lewis
The second part of that statement creates a situation on the Bill in which the Home Secretary is issuing a threat. Even a Member such as myself, who supports the Bill, forms that impression.
The Bill also has the advantage that it gets rid of the hereditary element and yet enables us to retain it in part. The Government of the day or the Opposition can appoint hereditary peers to life peerages and thus secure their services in the Upper Chamber. We thus have the best of both worlds. But what will be the situation for my right hon. Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home), my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) and the present Minister of Technology? They are in the House of Commons. They have lost their peerages. After the Bill is passed, peers will be able to stand for this House in their own right. We have three Members of this House who gave up their peerages to come to this 143 House and they will be at a disadvantage when compared with those from another place who, after the Bill has been passed, will be able to stand for this House and still retain their peerages.
There is some advantage in the proposal that there will be a restricted voting roll in the Upper Chamber, but that other peers will be able to take part in debates, although they will not be able to vote. The Bill will get rid of the inbuilt Tory majority which has been an embarrassment both to the House of Lords and to the Conservative Party. Some hon. Members opposite oppose the Bill because they want to retain that as an embarrassment to the Conservative Party, and that is a good reason why I am in favour of the Bill. Much has been said about the increase in patronage for the Prime Minister of the day. In fact, it is simply an exchange of patronage. A fair amount of patronage is available to the Leader of whichever party forms the Government. Since the introduction of life peerages, about 140 or 150 life peers have been created, which represents a fair amount of patronage over the years. Once the composition of the new House of Lords has been settled, the patronage which will afterwards flow will be rather less than that which has existed in recent years.
What are the alternatives to the Bill? First, we could do nothing and leave the situation exactly as it is. I have said that in the short run there is no steam in this issue, but in the long run I feel that neither party would get away with doing nothing about the reform of the House of Lords. We can have an elected Chamber. My hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Sir J. Rodgers) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch) suggested that we should have an elected senate of some kind, but I do not think that there would be in this House an agreement to set up in competition with this House a second Chamber. Therefore, I do not believe that that is a starter.
It may be said that there would be even greater powers of patronage for the Prime Minister if we left the Upper Chamber as it is. In this situation, in due course, there might be a Government—not this Government, but another Socialist Government—some years from 144 now, and more extreme, wanting to do away with the House of Lords altogether. Therefore, looking at the advantages which the Bill gives as against the alternatives I believe that, on balance, there is every advantage in giving the Bill a Second Reading.
The House of Lords does still a tremendous amount of work in assisting this House with its legislative programme. It may possibly do greater work on reform. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) said that he did not wish the House of Lords to assist this Chamber, or the House of Lords to participate effectively in the legislative programme, but the hon. Member knows perfectly well that there is great difficulty in getting Bills through Committee here, and that if we did not have the assistance of the House of Lords the difficulty would be greater.
Many Bills are started in the House of Lords. Many Members of this House do not sit on Committees, and refuse to do so, as the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale knows perfectly well. Presumably, he would wish for single-chamber government, but if there were no House of Lords there would be an additional load of work imposed upon Members of this House. That load might be acceptable to some, but it would mean that a limited number of hon. Members in this House would have vastly to increase their work because others are not prepared to increase the amount of Committee work which they do, on Standing Committees on Bills, on Select Committees, and the like.
For the purpose of improving the working arrangement between the House of Commons and the House of Lords for dealing with our legislative programme, which has increased in recent years, I also believe that there is an advantage in supporting the Bill.
§ 8.48 p.m.
§ Mr. W. Howie (Luton)
I intend to vote for the Second Reading of the Bill. I shall do so with very modified rapture. I shall do so without giving any assurance of good behaviour in Committee, or on Report, or, indeed, on Third Reading.
I support the Bill at this stage for one main reason. I can illustrate it by reminding the House that I came here on 145 the same day as that on which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) returned from the House of Lords. He came in at a time when his party was in considerable trouble with the electorate, and he had about a year in which to pull his party round.
§ Mr. Howie
It is to the right hon. Gentleman's credit that he very nearly succeeded. Luckily, he did not. However, I cannot help feeling that his task, difficult as it was, might have been totally impossible had he been faced with a hostile House of Lords during that crucial year, the last year of his Government. For that reason, reform of the House of Lords and removal of the Lords' veto over the legislation of the House of Commons is essential.
Temperamentally, I must admit that I am in favour of a single elected Chamber, although I realise from my period as a Parliamentary manager that a second Chamber is necessary whether or not I like it. The reason it is necessary is that this House has insufficient time to enable it properly to examine and pass legislation. The Parliamentary battle in the Chamber and in Committee is almost always a battle for time. The Opposition try to deny time to the Government in the hope of wringing concessions from them. Hence, over a large part of the Parliamentary timetable back benchers on this side of the House are expected to remain silent so as not to use up this precious commodity of time.
The function of a second Chamber is to provide more time, so that the Government can pass more legislation, provided that it is radical legislation, and so that Government as well as Opposition back benchers can have sufficient time to apply their minds and their critique to the proposals. The second Chamber must, therefore, be subordinate to this House, and its delaying powers must be very slight. I am not prepared to argue whether six months is the right time; no doubt that can be argued in Committee.
We must look at the powers and the composition of the second Chamber to see what it is supposed to do and who is supposed to do it. The job of the second Chamber is essentially to initiate certain 146 legislation, to revise our legislation and, subject to proper safeguards, to delay, but to delay only to bring the whole force of public opinion on to a controversial matter and for a short period. The new Bill will probably improve the present situation slightly, but I want to see it improved rather more than that.
I am not very happy about the composition of the second Chamber. I cannot see why we need any nobility in the second Chamber. That brings me to a point raised by the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger), who spoke of the position of the Scottish peers. I can perhaps speak more objectively on this matter than he, since I sit in this Chamber as an Englishman. I recall that the reason the Scottish peers are permitted to sit in the House is a function of heredity. Since we are abolishing the principle of heredity, the question of the special representation of the Scottish peers does not arise. In so far as Scotsmen are in the House, it is not by virtue of hereditary Scottish peerage, nor will it be.
I am not too keen about the bishops in the other place. I realise that Anglican theology is extremely wide, and probably covers most modes of thought, but I see no argument in favour of sitting Anglicans in the other House because of their religious standing while not including Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, and members of other religions, or, if it comes to that, non-religious members. Presumably an impediment to that is the fact that the Church of England is regarded as the Establishment and it is, therefore, thought that it must be represented. If we are in a sense disestablishing the hereditary peerage system, this might give us an opportunity at the same time to diestablish the Church of England, at any rate in the second Chamber.
That brings me to a matter which has been mentioned many times during the debate, namely, the power of patronage which is involved in a nominated Chamber. If we have a second Chamber, as I feel we are bound to do, it cannot, for reasons which have been mentioned, be elected directly by the electorate as a whole. The only conceivable means of election is indirect election from this House.
On the whole, I am happy with the idea of a nominated Chamber. I do not 147 think that the powers of patronage to be granted to the Prime Minister are any greater than they are now. Since 1964, about 140 life peers have been created. I think that the average rate of new creations in a reformed House will, if anything, be rather less than that, though of course one cannot be certain about the future.
It has been argued that the power of patronage is wrong because members are to be paid. I very much hope that the Members of the other House will be paid and be paid on the sound Socialist principle of the proper rate for the job. I do not see why they should be fobbed off with expenses, or anything of that kind. They are working—or at any rate let us assume they will be working—and they deserve to be paid.
In any case, the argument about payment seems to ignore the existing power to appoint people to public bodies. I read the other day that someone is to be appointed head of the Commission for Industrial Relations at a salary of £11,000 a year, and is to have two assistants, each being paid £6,000 a year. I understand that these men are either near retiring age, or have retired. That kind of patronage makes the proposed paid peerage very small beer indeed.
It is argued that the promise of patronage will make Members of Parliament pliable to the wishes of the Whips. I find this harder to believe than most would, and I am sure that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, with your experience as a Whip, will agree with me. When I first entered the House, the party opposite was on these benches, and included in its members a number of baronets and knights. There was no abstention from patronage apparent then. Nevertheless, the present Leader of the Opposition carried one part of the Resale Price Maintenance Bill by only one vote, and the baronets and knights were in the van of the revolt. It cannot be argued that hon. Members are of such poor calibre that the promise of immortality in a reformed second Chamber will make them amenable to the Whips.
There is one aspect of patronage which should be discussed, and that is that Members of this House are unable to take offices of profit under the Crown. If 148 Members of the other House are to be paid, they, too, should be excluded from offices of profit under the Crown. This would, in part, solve another problem because by removing offices of profit under the Crown many cross-benchers would be removed, too.
I have studied the Amendments on the Order Paper and, while they have not been called, I am attracted to two of them. However, there seem to be no points which have been raised which cannot be dealt with in Committee. I therefore support the Bill at this stage and hope that it will be closely scrutinised during its progress through the House.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Sir Alec Douglas-Home (Kinross and West Perthshire)
No hon. Member who has sat through the debate—like the Home Secretary, I have heard the great majority of speeches—will regret it. We have been instructed, interested, highly diverted and entertained, particularly by the speeches of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch). Few Sessions can have heard such scintillating and witty speeches.
In its early stages the debate looked like assuming the pattern of the earlier debate on the White Paper, when there were very few supporters of the proposals made by the Government. Later speakers, however, have rallied to the Bill.
When, as today, hon. Members take a highly individualistic position, using a wide variety of arguments to sustain their approaches for or against the proposals, it is more than usually difficult in winding up the debate to find a common theme; unless, perhaps, it may be the almost universal fear of patronage, a subject to which I shall return.
With the permission of hon. Members, I will do as they have done, which is to give my personal reactions to the Bill, not having been a member of the inter-party committee and having taken no part in the discussions whatever, but using as my excuse the fact that at one time I was in this House, was sent up to the other place and came back again. Having read the Bill carefully, I am not sure that I am not qualified to go up again. That is not a bid. There must surely be a limit to the punishment one can expect for one's political sins.
149 I come, first, to some of the main arguments that have been adduced against these proposals. One of the most important and univeral has been the argument that because the House of Lords as at present composed has served the nation well, a number of hon. Members have been dismayed at the prospect of change and have said, "Why not leave well alone?" There are two answers to that attitude. The first is that the composition of Parliament cannot be widely divorced from the social structure of the community. The second is that although to an outside observer the House of Lords as at present composed works, those who have guided its proceedings are acutely aware of the increasing strain on Members of the other place in fulfilling their duty as Parliamentarians.
It is true that by skilled and tactful leadership—exercised, from my experience, by both Front Benches in the House of Lords—the picture is presented to the world outside of a tolerant, efficient and, on the whole, wise and responsible Chamber. But the overwhelming built-in Conservative majority has in modern political conditions put their Lordships in real difficulty and in real frustration.
I used to marvel at the assiduity with which a very small number of Socialist hereditary peers used to fulfil the task of the Socialist Opposition in another place. Even so, to allow them to do so the Conservative Government of the day used to have to lean over backwards to make their task easier. It became so impossible that the Conservative Government had themselves to come forward with a proposal for life peers. Otherwise, the whole machinery of the Upper House would have broken down.
§ The Prime Minister
The right hon. Gentleman is probably not able to tell the whole story because of his own position, but I think it right that the House should know that when he came to this House from the other place, for the reasons he has mentioned he took the initiative in proposing to me as Leader of the Opposition that there should be additional life peers so that the other House should function. It is right that this House should know what the right hon. Gentleman did in that context.
§ Sir Alec Douglas-Home
That is true. The machinery of the House would have 150 broken down. Therefore, I made approaches to the right hon. Gentleman.
Now there is a Socialist Government the automatic Conservative majority in another place puts the Conservative Opposition under an ever greater disability. There have been a number of occasions during the last four years and a number of issues on which on the merits of the case Conservatives would have wished to defeat the Government. There was the debate, well within the recollection of hon. Members, on the Rhodesian Order. That is a vivid illustration of the constitutional absurdity which was reached. In that long, acrimonious debate hardly a word was said in their Lordships' House on the merits of the case. The whole debate turned on whether their Lordships were entitled—that is not the right word, because they could have done so—to overturn a decision of the House of Commons.
On that occasion and on other issues their Lordships, by advice given from our Front Bench, have refrained from using their powers although the overwhelming majority in the House of Lords felt that they were being asked to do something which they ought not to do in exercising that restraint. Why did they exercise that restraint? Because the cry would have been raised at once, "Peers versus people" and, to do the Prime Minister absolute justice, he would have exploited that cry to the full.
Why then, some of my hon. Friends have said, did not their Conservative Lordships challenge the Government of the day, vote against them and see what happened? Because—and I think that this is worth remembering—by their own act it was felt they might precipitate the abolition of the second Chamber altogether. They perhaps were not far wrong in this instinct, but they did not want to precipitate that because they shared the feelings of the great majority on this side of the House, and, I suspect, a considerable majority opposite, that to abolish the second Chamber would do grave damage to the stability and continuity of the constitution.
For most members of the Upper House life under threat became increasingly unacceptable—blackmail, the reality of politics, the march of time, I do not know—but desire for reform has been present in their Lordships' House for some 151 years. It is strongly reflected—this has not been given sufficient emphasis by a number of speakers in this debate—in the fact that the votes of the House of Lords itself, and they, after all, know their own business, were overwhelmingly in favour of the Bill.
Even if the need for reform is conceded, should it include the abolition of the automatic inheritance of a seat in Parliament? An objective scrutiny would, I think, allow many of the virtues claimed for the House of Lords as operated under their prescriptive right. They have no need to appease constituents. It is refreshing to find an assembly in which those who attend do so because they want to listen and only those who have something worth while to say speak.
The fact remains, however, that the House of Lords was created to fit a social structure of that day when the United Kingdom was largely agricultural and when it was a fact of life that the country was run by a landed aristocracy. The Parliamentary arrangements of those days fitted the condition of the country. But with the industrialisation and urbanisation of the United Kingdom the situation has changed out of all knowledge. That change has been reflected in this House. It has been reflected to a much lesser extent in another place.
A few years ago Lord Salisbury and I put forward a scheme for the reform of the House of Lords in which the House was to be composed half of hereditary peers elected by themselves and half of life peers nominated by the Prime Minister and the party leaders. That was not acceptable to the Socialists. The only possible conclusion—I think that we both came to this conclusion, although we may have regretted it—was that if there was to be any continuity in our Parliamentary life, and a second Chamber was to be preserved, there must be a changeover and the hereditary peerages must give way to life peerages, although the hereditary peer would be eligible for election or selection, whatever the system might be.
Which should it be? The question of patronage has given more concern than anything else to this House, both in the debate on the White Paper and very largely today. I share the wish of my right hon. Friend the Member for 152 Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) that this reform of the House of Lords could have waited for the report of the Commission on the Constitution, but I have little faith in that Royal Commission reporting within a reasonable time and still less faith that after it has reported what it reports will be acceptable to a majority in Parliament. Nor do I think that the Royal Commission is likely to be well qualified to judge the kind of matter which is before us today.
Regionalism as it develops might indicate a basis of election, direct or indirect, or perhaps a better system of selection than there is today. But that will be some time in the future.
Perhaps there is a warning light showing, because in this context a problem arises immediately for Scotland, and it was raised just now by my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger). It is essential, because we have our own system of law in Scotland, that we should have adequate voting representation in the new Upper House. It is very important, when the Committee work on Bills is done, that there should be sufficient Scottish representation to represent the Scottish point of view.
The hon. Member for Luton (Mr. Howie), touching on this point, said that we were abolishing the hereditary system, and the Scottish peers had been hereditary peers elected from among themselves. We have not abolished the distance from Scotland. It is essential—I hope that the Prime Minister takes the point—that there is a sufficient Scottish representation in the new nominated Chamber. I put down this marker now.
There are, and there always will be, great difficulties about election. It will not be easy at any time to get over the rivalry between the two Houses of Parliament. Therefore, on the whole, although I do not brush off election, indirect or direct, in the future, I prefer nomination by the Prime Minister of the day, perhaps reinforced, as my hon. Friend the Member for Clitheroe (Sir Frank Pearson) suggested, by advice.
Patronage can be dangerous, although no one here will suppose that a Member of this House will fawn on the Prime Minister for 20 years in order to be rewarded by £4 per sitting on sitting days of the House of Lords. If expenses are 153 to be substituted for pay—and the Prime Minister rather suggested this—I strongly propose that they will have to exceed the £4 a day. I rather wish that on this issue the Prime Minister had had the courage to say straight to the House that if the new second Chamber has to do a job of work, its Members must be paid the rate for the job and a proper salary. That would have been a much cleaner proposal.
Although Prime Ministers are reasonably highly political animals—I can say this because I was not one long enough to be a member of the "union"—Prime Ministers have an obligation to be trustees of the constitution. In respect of appointments to the House of Lords, the Prime Minister will be fully exposed, and I suggest that any Prime Minister who neglects this aspect of trusteeship will do it at his peril. Perhaps the Prime Minister will explore the possibilities of reinforcing himself with some advice. That might disarm some of the criticism. Whether or not he does that, however, I draw encouragement from the experience of the appointment of life peers, for whose appointment the Prime Minister and the leaders of the parties have been responsible.
On the assumption that we have to proceed with this Measure now, I believe that we can by this means create an acceptable and effective second Chamber. Ideally, the functions of the second Chamber should be taken in advance, if history had made this possible, of the composition and membership.
The second Chamber will be effective for what? Certainly for debates which help to form public opinion, certainly for the promotion of some legislation and for the review of all. For this a second Chamber is indispensable, if only for the reason—I hope that some of those who support unicameral government will take notice of this—that almost 100 per cent. of the Amendments which come back here from another place are accepted without question by this House as being improvements to the law. A reviewing Chamber is, therefore, essential. Therefore, the new House will, I think, come up to expectations in debate, in the promotion of such legislation as it is given to initiate and in review.
The last function is delay and powers essentially to allow the House of Commons 154 to think again. If the period of delay is too short, the fault lies rather more in the past than in the Bill. The truth is that the check of the second Chamber on the legislative programme of the day has for some time been more apparent than real. The process has been eroded in 1832, 1911 and 1949.
If the Bill becomes law, the powers tomorrow will be much the same as they are today. The Prime Minister is trying one of his sleights of hand, which has been detected at least by the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson). Six months from the point of disagreement in the House of Lords will not be very different from one year from the time when the Bill is introduced in the House of Commons.
As in the past, so in the future, if these proposals go through: the powers of delay will essentially be for the House of Commons to have second thoughts. Occasionally, they may disrupt the Government's timetable. But what is certain—the Home Secretary will have to acclimatise himself to it, if I may say so, with respect—is that any Government of the day, if these proposals are passed, will find no sympathy if they seek to resurrect the cry, "Peers against the people".
I give a fairly confident forecast of how the new House will work, with its new powers. The powers which are given will not be abused, but will be used. I wonder whether that is what the Home Secretary was really trying to say. A Government who, as this Government do now, solemnly confer these powers, limited as they are, on the new House cannot, if that House uses them, then pretend that it is promoting a constitutional crisis.
§ Sir Alec Douglas-Home
My right hon. and learned Friend says, "Of course they will". I hope that, when he speaks, the Home Secretary will agree with me that the powers will not be abused, but they will be used. Future Governments must expect these powers to be used.
Even with the party Whips on, the House of Lords is not a particularly amenable place. Lord Salisbury and I found—Lord Carrington had the same experience—that the harder we whipped 155 the more their Lordships listened to the arguments, and the more they listened to the arguments the more they voted against the Government.
The cross-benchers have been variously described today. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale described them as falsetto political castrati. My right hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch) described them as mindless men who, on Dante's showing, were too hopeless even to be put in Hell. As I see it, the only sin of the cross-bencher is that he has had no political label tied round his neck, and no one has been able to be sure of his political allegiance.
§ Sir Alec Douglas-Home
I think that I must pair Lord Wigg with Lady Swanborough. But the cross-benchers have decided views on national issues. They are as capable of considered judgment as anyone else, and they cannot be looked upon as lobby-fodder.
In this House we are more partisan than those in another place. That is right and natural, although I sense that the public would probably wish that we were more discriminating in our recriminations. Where the Constitution is concerned, the public expect of us that we should seek a broad consensus of agreement. We may not find it, but they want us to seek it because that is clearly in the interest of the nation.
One advantage has flowed from the inter-party talks. A majority of both parties have affirmed their belief in a second Chamber. Today, the House of Commons will not tolerate a rival—perhaps it never will—but I judge that the electors are not interested in our obsessions in this respect, with the rather rarefied manoeuvres by which we try to preserve the status and enhance the prestige of one House against the other. The real desire of the people is that both Houses do their work with expedition, and if they vie with each other it should be as guardians of the ordinary rights of ordinary people.
The House which is proposed, therefore, will, in my view, be closer to the modern structure of society. It will preserve a degree of continuity. There will be in it, for some time at any rate, existing 156 hereditary peers with the right to speak. Nominations can and will be made from members of the hereditary peerage. The new House will be able with a clear conscience to oppose the Government of the day, and will not, or should not, be accused of causing a constitutional crisis if it does. To a greater extent than previously it will be able to keep a restraining hand on the Executive in the name of the public.
As the Bill stands, we should certainly vote against the Government's insisting on bringing it into operation before a General Election, although there are possibilities that we should study—and I should like to read what the Prime Minister said—of separating the powers from the composition in time. We should be very willing to give that close, careful and sympathetic attention.
With that reservation and, I confess, some nostalgia for what has been a most civilised House of Parliament, I nevertheless come to the conclusion that a time for change and reform has come, and, therefore, on balance, although there are some features of this plan that I do not like, I shall certainly vote this evening for the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ 9.27 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. James Callaghan)
The right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) has, not for the first time, used his unique experience in both Chambers to give us his observations about the Bill. I felt that his contribution to the debate was most valuable.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman's assessment that today's debate has been very different from that on the White Paper, which was marked by the fact that almost no one spoke in favour of that plan except the Front Benches. On this occasion the debate has been much more evenly divided. If one counts the Front Benches, I believe that more people have spoken in favour of the Second Reading than against it. We shall see in the Division Lobby what the ultimate result of our persuasion is, but I think that what is becoming clear is that as the House examines both the White Paper and the Bill the advantages of the course proposed by the Government, in which the Opposition acquiesce, and give their 157 active support to a great deal of the plan, are becoming apparent. It is becoming borne in upon the House more and more that there is an opportunity here to be seized if we have the wisdom to see the value of it.
Having had the good fortune to sit on the committee of the three parties, I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman—I hope that I am not betraying any secrets—that the members of the House of Lords who sat on it were extremely zealous for reform. Is it a reason for voting against the Bill that they want to reform themselves, that they wish to be made respectable? Has that become a crime? My answer is, "No". If the other place has now decided that it is no longer defensible in its present form, there is every reason why this House should accede to that very strong desire on its part, subject to one condition. That is that the House of Commons remains pre-eminent and predominant in our legislative process, and that the position of the House of Commons and—I speak now for this side of the House—certainly of a Labour Government, is improved. There have been the difficulties to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, and from which a Labour Government has suffered in the House of Lords in the past, both machinery difficulties and difficulties caused by the opposition of the House of Lords. Therefore, it seems to me that if the House of Lords has now reached the position, as it undoubtedly has, that it wishes for reform, it would be foolish of us not to accede to that request, provided that the essential condition is maintained—and it is the view of the Government that it is maintained—that nothing is done to impair the pre-eminent position of the House of Commons. Indeed, the position is rather the reverse. I would say—and will illustrate later on—that the position of the House of Commons is being strengthened rather than weakened.
In passing—because we shall come to this detail in Committee—I would say that I am in favour for this reason of nomination rather than election to the House of Lords, whether direct or indirect. I believe that an elected second Chamber, whether directly or indirectly elected, is bound to become a rival, in a greater or lesser form, to the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Callaghan
The hon. Gentleman says that because he wishes it. Speaking for this side of the House, I say that we wish to ensure that the elected House of Commons is pre-eminent and predominant in Parliament. I am sorry if some hon. Members opposite do not wish to see that, too. This is, therefore, why I believe that nomination, although we have all canvassed to disadvantages, is the least of the evils, given the important first principle that the House of Commons is predominant in the country and that we and all our friends in the House should be devoted to sustaining that principle. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that nomination is the best method that we have been able to devise at present.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the possibility that a Prime Minister might abuse his powers of nomination and patronage. It is possible—anything is possible. But I believe that the standards of public life in this country have risen very substantially during the last 100 or 200 years. I believe that they have increased continually. Abuse is, of course, possible but I do not believe that it is likely. I would point out to the House what the Joint Committee said. It proposed the setting up of a committee and stated, in paragraph 71, that the committee should be established… to review periodically the composition of the reformed House and to report either to the Prime Minister or to Parliament. … A number of specific aspects of the reformed House have already been mentioned which the committee should keep under review. They include the size and the party balance of the voting House, particularly in relation to any new parties which might emerge, or to changes in the relative strength of the existing parties. … Another wholly important aspect would be the need to secure amongst the members of the House as a whole a suitable range of knowledge and experience, not only of national and international affairs but also of those matters which are of special concern to the various parts and regions of the United Kingdom.Whether these should be the terms of reference of such a committee is a matter for discussion and debate, as are its powers. The Government would not take a strong view on this. But because we on the Joint Committee were aware of the distant 159 possibility of abuse of the Prime Minister's powers, it seemed to us that a committee of this sort would, whilst functioning on these issues, be able to bring out any deficiencies which existed in the nominations which the Prime Minister of the day might make. Thus, this is a matter which could be reviewed, but there is no reason why it should divide us in trying to curb the possible prospects of improper patronage.
I come now to the question of powers. I thought that the right hon. Gentleman made a good stab at this when he said that the powers of the House of Lords will not be abused but will be used. That is a good definition, provided that the powers are used carefully and provided that the other place is cautious in the use of its powers.
I think that the best definition was given in the earlier debate:… these powers will be used very rarely and … when they are used it will be on a true case in which it is right for a Government to be asked not to back track, but just to think twice. I think the powers will be very rarely used."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th November, 1968; Vol. 773, c. 1330.]That is the view of the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod), and it is a view to which I wholly subscribe. In fact, it accords exactly with what I have been saying. The other place will obviously be cautious in the way in which it uses its powers. I believe that that is what the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire himself was saying when he said that they will not be abused.
It is part of the essence of this contract—if the word "bargain" is not liked—that the Government of the day have a majority in the House of Lords, and to have a majority means that on the whole they must expect to get their business through. It would be a very odd situation if the Government of the day could not normally rely on getting their business through. I therefore accept what the right hon. Gentleman said—that the powers will be used, but will not be abused, and I add to that that they will, therefore, be used with care, for I do not believe that the House of Lords, wishing as it does that in its new reformed status it should acquire an air of respectability, will want to destroy 160 that respectability by behaving in an irresponsible manner. That is my view about that matter.
A number of right hon. Gentlemen, including the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire, thought that we might have waited for the Constitutional Commission before introducing these proposals. The hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Sir J. Rodgers) made the same point, as did the right hon. Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling) and the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter). I think that they are on a false point. I have had something to do with the setting up of this Constitutional Commission, and it was explained by the Prime Minister in the debate on the Queen's Speech. Its major task is concerned with relations between various parts of the United Kingdom. It is concerned with the regions, with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as well as the subsidiary but very important questions of the future of the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. That was dismissed by the right hon. Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch), but I promise him that the people of those islands regard their problems as just as important as we regard ours. It is to these issues that the Commission will be primarily addressing itself.
I do not know how its work will take it, but so far as I can see, at any rate at the start, certainly based on the terms of reference, it will have only a marginal interest in the composition of the House of Lords. For example, it might suggest—I do not know; no one does—some form of regional representation. If it did so, that would be not central but peripheral to these issues. Let me assure the House that the number of people who have to be made new peers at the beginning of every Parliament is such that it would be relatively simple to assimilate any proposals which may be made by the Commission for regional representation of that sort.
Taking the view as I do that the Commission's interest is certainly not in the powers of the House of Lords and, so far as I can see from its terms of reference, only marginally concerned with composition, there seems no strong case for holding up the Bill because of the Commission. Certainly it is clear that whatever the Crowther Commission 161 recommends, it will certainly not recommend that the hereditary principle should be restored, having been destroyed.
I would also take the view—other people may take different views—that if the House of Commons, represented through the major parties, came to the conclusion together with the House of Lords on a question of the machinery of Government and the structure of the Legislature, then that is more authoritative than the work of a Royal Commission, however eminent it may be. We have reached that stage. It is simply not true to talk about a few hurried meetings between very busy Members of Parliament and Ministers who put up a scheme.
I must at least claim for my colleagues—I joined the committee only after it had started—that they put in a tremendous amount of work and effort. I doubt whether any Commission has spent longer on this issue than the seven or eight Members of Parliament and members of the other place did in their considerations. Nor could any Commission bring as much unrivalled experience as those Members did. My conclusion is that there is no strong case for saying that the Constitutional Commission would recommend something so different that we should hold up a scheme which has a majority in the House of Lords and the House of Commons.
§ Sir D. Glover
If the Constitutional Commission should introduce some federal system of Government, is the right hon. Gentleman saying that in those conditions the second Chamber would not need some blocking mechanism, which would alter completely the whole of our thinking at present? Therefore, it is wrong at this time to make these alterations.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I do not think that one can draw those conclusions from the manner in which the Commission is starting its work. If it comes up with a drastically changed proposal, that will need to be taken into account. The scheme now being put forward has the merit of agreement. There is nothing like getting agreement on a scheme. If we have agreement to attempt to put it into force it should be done. The scheme that has agreement could be adapted and changed if there were any proposals such as the hon. Gentleman envisages.
162 I turn to the question of timing. The right hon. Member for Enfield, West has been consistent in his opposition to this. In his speech on the White Paper he put forward some ideas which I have tried to understand. I am not sure that we have fully mastered them. He threw them out at the end of his speech, and I want to respond to them in the way in which he put them forward. The right hon. Member for Barnet spoke of separating powers from composition.
I see a case for this. Some of my hon. Friends believe that we should deal with powers and not composition. For different reasons I do not want to leave the hereditary principle there, but I believe that we have a secondary approach. I would be quite happy, in Committee, to consider with the House as a whole whether there should be some alterations in the nature of the scheme that has been put forward for the new composition.
As I understood the right hon. Member for Enfield, West, he was concerned that a Parliament, which is just part-way through its life, not nearly dead—we have been here less than three years yet, let me remind the House—and it is not a day too long—[Interruption.] I understand his view to be that it should be at the beginning of a new Parliament that the new Prime Minister, which of course will be my right hon. Friend again, should be empowered to look at the composition of the House of Lords in the light of a changed electoral scene. I agree that there is something in the argument.
However, we could introduce this scheme, if the House were so minded, by not filling all the vacancies in the reformed House of Lords. In other words, we could begin with a rather smaller Chamber than was proposed in the White Paper, which proposed that there should be 230 Members. It would be possible, if the House were so minded, to have a smaller House of Lords in the last two years of this Parliament in order that the vacancies might be filled at the beginning of the next Parliament. I see no reason why in principle that should be ruled out. It would be a matter for discussion between the parties. That is not a point of principle upon which the Government would feel it necessary to adhere to what is contained in the White 163 Paper if partial implementation of the changes in composition would enable us to go ahead in the way that I have suggested.
§ Mr. John Lee
Since the hereditary peerage has lost its rationale entirely, would my right hon. Friend give favourable consideration to Amendments in Committee which would abolish the hereditary peerage in toto?
§ Mr. Callaghan
I do not know whether the question of whether the hereditary peerage in principle should be abolished would be in order. Certainly the Bill is not concerned with the peerage as such. It is concerned with the composition and powers of the House of Lords. It is to that matter that I am inviting the House's attention.
I wish to say a few words in response to the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) and the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire about the position of Scotland—and, in passing, of Wales as well. I recognise that Scotland is in a special position. There is no provision for any specific representation in the body of the Bill. The Government have considered all the arguments. The provision in the Act of Union relating to the number of Scottish representative peers, namely 16, was repealed by the Peerage Act, 1963, which allowed all the members of the peerage of Scotland to sit in the House of Lords.
The Government have considered whether the Bill should include a Clause requiring a minimum number or a proportion of members of the voting House to be Scotsmen. The figure of 16 no longer has any practical significance, and, in the Government's view it would need to be larger in a House of 230 members. Therefore, it would not do Scotland justice to write in the figure of 16. If we write such a provision in the Bill, we must also consider, in all fairness, the position of other parts of the United Kingdom. It was for this reason that the Government turned their attention to the Preamble in order to state our position and wrote in, as far as we could what we believed the Prime Minister of the day should be governed by.
Paragraph (b) of the Preamble at the top of page 2 refers to 164the inclusion in that House, and in the said body of voting members, of suitable numbers of peers with knowledge of the experience in matters of special concern to the various countries, nations and regions of the United Kingdom.I hope that the House will understand and accept that not writing such a provision into the Bill was a practical matter. The intention is clear enough and is contained in the Preamble.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
Who will select the Scottish peers—the Secretary of State for Scotland or the Prime Minister?
§ Mr. Callaghan
Not the Secretary of State for Scotland. If my hon. Friend refers to the White Paper, he will see that the matter is set out in great detail. He is trying to tempt me into mischief, and I propose to refrain from being tempted.
§ Sir Derek Walker-Smith (Hertfordshire, East)
Would the right hon. Gentleman deal with the question of how far he considers the recitals in the Preamble to be an executive part of the Statute, when enacted, and what power, if any, he thinks this House will have to change any of it during the Bill's passage through Parliament?
§ Mr. Callaghan
The Prime Minister made it absolutely clear that it is not an executive part of the Bill and, therefore, it is not statutorily binding, but the conventions to which we all adhere in the House are, I believe, of such a character that the declaration of intent made in the Preamble will be regarded as binding by all the major parties. If a situation arose in which there were a major party which did not regard this as binding, I promise hon. Members opposite, with no particular joy, that much more than this would go. This would be only a minor catastrophe in a cataclysm. But as long as the major parties bind themselves to this convention, I have no doubt that it will be observed by whichever party is in power.
§ Sir Frank Pearson
Will the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is totally without the competence of this House within a Statute of this House to tie Her Majesty in the exercise of her prerogative in the creation of life peers? In the very nature of the situation it is not possible for us in a Statute in any way 165 to limit Her Majesty in the creation of life peers.
§ Mr. Callaghan
The Prime Minister made it clear at the beginning of his speech that the Queen has placed her interests, at our disposal in so far as they are affected by the Bill. As the hon. Member knows from his past experience, the Queen acts on advice from the Prime Minister in these matters. In no sense are we infringing a principle which has hitherto been sustained.
I must turn to one or two other arguments which have been deployed this afternoon. When put alongside each other, they were self-cancelling. One of the merits of the debate is that it has had the unexpected result of uniting North Wales and South Wales in the persons of the right hon. Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot). But they are united only in their disagreement. They are resolute for inaction, but for very little more, and I doubt whether either of them would walk very far with the other apart from going through the Lobby tonight.
Let us look at the arguments which were used and see how they cancel each other out. My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale, with all the skill of which he is capable, depicted—and I thought that he overdrew the picture a little—an anxious country torn by dissension, for example at the time of Suez, waiting with their ears and eyes glued to the television sets for what the House of Lords had to say about Suez. He said that the cross-benchers would carry our fate in their hands. He said that they would be decisive. Of course, they would not be decisive in any case because the Government would be decisive about what was to be done in an Executive matter.
But let us contrast that, in this newly-found unity, which I trust will last no longer than 10 p.m.—and I should like to shatter it before then—with the view of my hon. Friend's new-found partner. His new-found partner said that these self-same cross-benchers, so far from being men of action upon whom the fate of the country will depend, are characters who cannot even make up their minds. Thus, even in this agreement the two hon. Gentlemen are disagreed as to the rôle which the cross-benchers will play 166 in the great issues which will confront the country.
Another self-cancelling argument was whether the House of Lords will get more or less power from the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon), who has joined in alliance with the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) in order to go into the same Lobby, depicts occasions in which the Members of the newly-reformed House of Lords will be throwing out Bill after Bill and destroying the Government of the day. But what is the verdict of the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames? He said the new House of Lords would be so powerless that it would not even be able to prevent a Labour Government from continuing its life in perpetuity. Both cannot be right, but they are going into the same Lobby tonight—for entirely different reasons.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Has not the right hon. Gentleman himself concluded that issue by saying that if they do throw out Government Bills they will be abolished?
§ Mr. Callaghan
No. I said nothing of the sort, and the right hon. Gentleman knows that I said nothing of the sort, and I do not propose to go back over that again.
There are one or two other points I should reply to quite quickly, and I am sorry that in dealing with the general aspects of the Bill I have not dealt with them so far. The right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) asked about the number of bishops in the House of Lords. I can assure him they proved it to me, but I have not a blackboard here and I cannot prove it to him, that it is 16, not 15. It is a very careful calculation, and if he asks me for an explanation I shall refer him to my officials.
As to the age of the retirement of bishops from the House, a question which was raised during the Prime Minister's speech, I understand that since the war there has been a self-denying ordinance on their part and that they retire at the age of 70. So in normal circumstances the retiring age which the House of Lords will impose upon itself by this convention which will be introduced over a period of time will have no offsetting effects upon the bishops.
167 With respect, I do not accept the view of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) that this Bill will delay legislation more than it is delayed at the present time. It simply is not enough for him to say that we should sit down and solemnly consider what ought to be done. That is a recipe for doing nothing, and what the House must face this evening is that the alternative to this Bill is doing nothing. The House having reached the stage which it has reached, the Government cannot recommend that that would be the right course.
§ Mr. Birch
As the right hon. Gentleman is drawing towards the end of his speech, would he say something about pay? The conclusion in the White Paper and of the leading Front Bench speakers in the debate on the White Paper was that this system could not work without pay. Is pay to be granted or not? Can the right hon. Gentleman give a straight answer?
§ Mr. Callaghan
Pay is not going to be gone into in the course of this Parliament. What any future Parliament does is a matter for that Parliament, clearly; but it is not the intention of the Government to introduce the question of pay
§ into these discussions at the present time. Those in the House of Lords, and on both sides of it, who support these proposals are confident that they can be made to work on the present basis, and are recommending them on that basis. Whether anybody seeks to change that basis later is, of course, another matter. The baying some hon. Members are indulging in just betrays a lack of understanding of how Parliament works.
§ I ask permission to sum up in a last sentence quickly. I must do so quickly because I have given way a lot and time is up—all but a minute and a half. No one has seriously challenged these points: the Bill eliminates the hereditary basis; it ensures that neither the Conservative Party nor any other party has a permanent majority; it ensures that the Government will have a reasonable working majority; it ensures that the powers to delay legislation are even further restricted and that absolute power to withhold consent to subordinate legislation is abolished. It is for those reasons that I commend the Bill to the House.
§ Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time: —
§ The House divided: Ayes 285, Noes 135.171
|Division No. 56.]||AYES||[10.0 p.m.|
|Alldritt, Walter||Buck, Antony (Colchester)||Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter)|
|Anderson, Donald||Bullus, Sir Eric||Eadie, Alex|
|Archer, Peter||Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Edwards, Robert (Bilston)|
|Ashton, Joe (Bassetlaw)||Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James||Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)|
|Astor, John||Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn)||Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.)|
|Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n)||Cant, R. B.||English, Michael|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.)||Carlisle, Mark||Ensor, David|
|Awdry, Daniel||Carmichael, Nell||Evans, Ioan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley)|
|Bagier, Gordon A, T.||Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert||Faulds, Andrew|
|Balniel, Lord||Cary, Sir Robert||Fernyhough, E.|
|Baxter, William||Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara||Finch, Harold|
|Beaney, Alan||Coe, Denis||Fisher, Nigel|
|Bence, Cyril||Concannon, J. D.||Fletcher, Rt. Hn. Sir Eric (Islington, E.)|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay)||Crawshaw, Richard||Foley, Maurice|
|Bessell, Peter||Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Ford, Ben|
|Binns, John||Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard||Fowler, Gerry|
|Bishop, E. S.||Cullen, Mrs. Alice||Fraser, John (Norwood)|
|Blackburn, F.||Currie, G. B. H.||Freeson, Reginald|
|Blaker, Peter||Dalyell, Tam||Galpern, Sir Myer|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Davidson, Arthur (Accrington)||Gardner, Tony|
|Boardman, H. (Leigh)||Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)||Garrett, W. E.|
|Boston, Terence||Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford)||Ginsburg, David|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur||Davies, Harold (Leek)||Godber, Rt. Hn, J. B.|
|Boyden, James||Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth)|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M.||Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Anthony|
|Bradley, Tom||d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Gregory, Arnold|
|Braine, Bernard||de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey||Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)|
|Bray, Dr. Jeremy||Delargy, Hugh||Griffiths, Rt. Hn. James (Llanelly)|
|Brooks, Edwin||Dell, Edmund||Hall-Davis, A. G. F.|
|Brown, Rt. Hn. George (Belper)||Dempsey, James||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)|
|Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)||Dobson, Ray||Hamling, William|
|Brown, Bob (N 'c'le-upon-Tyne, W.)||Doig, Peter||Hannan, William|
|Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & F'bury)||Douglas-Home, Rt. Hn. Sir Alec||Harper, Joseph|
|Buchan, Norman||Dunnett, Jack||Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)|
|Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)||Robertson, John (Paisley)|
|Hart, Rt. Hn. Judith||McNamara, J. Kevin||Robinson, Rt. Hn. Kenneth (St. P'c'as)|
|Haseldine, Norman||MacPherson, Malcolm||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)|
|Hattersley, Roy||Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.)||Ross, Rt. Hn. William|
|Hawkins, Paul||Mahon, Simon (Bootle)||Rowlands, E.|
|Hazell, Bert||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Sharples, Richard|
|Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)||Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)|
|Heath, Rt. Hn. Edward||Marks, Kenneth||Short, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne)|
|Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret||Marsh, Rt. Hn. Richard||Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)|
|Hilton, W. S.||Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy||Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Hobden, Dennis||Maudling, Rt. Hn. Reginald||Silverman, Julius|
|Hogg, Rt. Hn. Quintin||Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Hooley, Frank||Millan, Bruce||Slater, Joseph|
|Hornby, Richard||Miller, Dr. M. S.||Small, William|
|Howarth, Robert (Bolton, E.)||Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)||Snow, Julian|
|Howell, Denis (Small Heath)||Milne, Edward (Blyth)||Steele, Thomas (Dunbartonshire, W.)|
|Howie, W.||Miscampbell, Norman||Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael|
|Hoy, James||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)||Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John|
|Huckfield, Leslie||Morgan, Etystan (Cardiganshire)||Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.|
|Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh)||Swingler, Stephen|
|Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Taverne, Dick|
|Hunter, Adam||Morris, Charles R. (Openeshaw)||Teeling, Sir William|
|Hynd, John||Morris, John (Aberavon)||Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret|
|Irvine, Sir Arthur (Edge Hill)||Moyle, Roland||Thomas, Rt. Hn. George|
|Jackson, Colin (B'h'se & Spenb'gh)||Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick||Thomson, Rt. Hn. George|
|Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Thornton, Ernest|
|Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)||Murray, Albert||Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy|
|Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)||Oakes, Gordon||Tilney, John|
|Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Ogden, Eric||Tinn, James|
|Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.)||O'Malley, Brian||Tuck, Raphael|
|Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West)||Oram, Albert E.||Urwin, T. W.|
|Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith||Orbach, Maurice||Varley, Eric G.|
|Judd, Frank||Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian||Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John|
|Kelley, Richard||Oswald, Thomas||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)|
|Kenyon, Clifford||Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Kershaw, Anthony||Owen, Will (Morpeth)||Watkins, David (Consett)|
|Kimball, Marcus||Page, Derek (King's Lynn)||Weatherill, Bernard|
|King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)||Palmer, Arthur||Wellbeloved, James|
|Lane, David||Parker, John (Dagenham)||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Lawson, George||Parkin, Ben (Paddington, N.)||Whitaker, Ben|
|Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton)||Parkyn, Brian (Bedford)||White, Mrs. Eirene|
|Lestor, Miss Joan||Pavitt, Laurence||Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William|
|Lever, Harold (Cheetham)||Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)||Whitlock, William|
|Lever, L. M. (Ardwick)||Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe)||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred||Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick|
|Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Peel, John||Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)|
|Lipton, Marcus||Pentland, Norman||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)|
|Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey (Sut'nC'dfield)||Percival, Ian||Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)|
|Lomas, Kenneth||Perry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.)||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|Loughlin, Charles||Pike, Miss Mervyn||Willis, Rt. Hn. George|
|Luard, Evan||Price, Christopher (Perry Barr)||Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)|
|Lubbock, Eric||Price, William (Rugby)||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)|
|Lyon, Alexander W. (York)||Prior, J. M. L.||Winnick, David|
|Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)||Probert, Arthur||Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard|
|Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Pursey, Cmdr. Harry||Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.|
|McBride, Neil||Pym, Francis||Woof, Robert|
|McCann, John||Randall, Harry||Wyatt, Woodrow|
|MacColl, James||Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter||Younger, Hn. George|
|MacDermot, Niall||Rees, Merlyn|
|Macdonald, A. H.||Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Mackie, John||Reynolds, Rt. Hn. G W.||Mr. Charles Grey and|
|Mackintosh, John P.||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)||Mr. Alan Fitch.|
|Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)||Bruce-Gardyne, J.||Eden, Sir John|
|Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)||Campbell, B. (Oldham, W.)||Emery, Peter|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Channon, H. P. G.||Evans, Gwynfor (C'marthen)|
|Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham)||Cooke, Robert||Ewing, Mrs. Winifred|
|Baker, W. H. K. (Banff)||Cooper-Key, Sir Neill||Farr, John|
|Barnett, Joel||Corfield, F. V.||Fletcher-Cooke, Charles|
|Bell, Ronald||Costain, A. P.||Foot, Rt. Hn. Sir Dingle (Ipswich)|
|Berry, Hn. Anthony||Craddock, Sir Beresford (Sperthorne)||Fortescue, Tim|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Crouch, David||Foster, Sir John|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Cunningham, Sir Knox||Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh (St'fford & Stone)|
|Birch, Rt. Hn. Nigel||Dalkeith, Earl of||Galbraith, Hn. T. G.|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Dance, James||Giles, Rear-Adm. Morgan|
|Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S. W.)||Dean, Paul||Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.)|
|Body, Richard||Dickens, James||Glover, Sir Douglas|
|Booth, Albert||Dodds-Parker, Douglas||Goodhart, Philip|
|Bossom, Sir Clive||Doughty, Charles||Goodhew, Victor|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John||Driberg, Tom||Grant-Ferris, R.|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. Sir Walter||du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward||Gresham Cooke, R.|
|Grimond, Rt. Hn. J.||Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.||Ryan, John|
|Gurden, Harold||Mendelson, John||Scott-Hopkins, James|
|Hall, John (Wycombe)||Mikardo, Ian||Sheldon, Robert|
|Harvie- Anderson, Miss||Mills, Peter (Torrington)||Silvester, Frederick|
|Hastings, Stephen||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)||Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)|
|Hay, John||Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles||Smith, John (London & W'minster)|
|Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel||Murton, Oscar||Speed, Keith|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Nabarro, Sir Gerald||Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.|
|Hordern, Peter||Neave, Airey||Summers, Sir Spencer|
|Hughes, Emrys (Ayrshire, S.)||Newens, Stan||Tapsell, Peter|
|Iremonger, T. L.||Onslow, Cranley||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Jackson, Peter M. (High Peak)||Orme, Stanley||Taylor, Edward M. (G'gow, Cathcart)|
|Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.||Temple, John M.|
|Jennings, J. C. (Burton)||Osborn, John (Hallam)||Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.|
|Jopling, Michael||Padley, Walter||Vickers, Dame Joan|
|Kaberry, Sir Donald||Page, Graham (Crosby)||Waddington, David|
|Kerr, Russell (Feltham)||Page, John (Harrow, W.)||Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)|
|Kirk, Peter||Park, Trevor||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek|
|Knight, Mrs. Jill||Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)||Wall, Patrick|
|Lee, John (Reading)||Peyton, John||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry||Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch||Williams, Donald (Dudley)|
|Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.)||Quennell, Miss J. M.||Winstanley, Dr. M. P.|
|MacArthur, Ian||Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Maclean, Sir Fitzroy||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon||Wright, Esmond|
|Macmillan, Maurice (Farnham)||Ridley, Hn. Nicholas|
|Manuel, Archie||Ridsdale, Julian||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Marten, Neil||Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)||Mr. Michael Foot and|
|Maude, Angus||Russell, Sir Ronald||Mr. William Hamilton.|
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. McBride.]
§ Committee Tomorrow.