§ Mr. Sheldon
I beg to move Amendment No. 7, in page 2, line 26, leave out paragraph (b).
Some hon. Members will have seen that, earlier, I introduced a new Bill, the Parliament (No. 3) Bill, which I should have thought would have got us out of the impasse which we face by going through the simple reform of removing the delaying powers of the House of Lords after the first three years of any Parliament, thereby leaving to the electorate the final responsibility of judging an Act of Parliament recently enacted by the House of Commons.
I am concerned here to draw a distinction between those peers of succession who apply for the writ following the enactment of the Bill and those who do so before it is enacted. This Amendment and all others to which I have added my name are not intended as wrecking Amendments. I have always tried throughout to improve the Bill. Of course, I, like many other hon. Members, would like vast chunks of the Bill to be removed, but knowing that it is likely to continue in the form in which it was introduced I have tried to make modest improvements all along the line.
This follows the pattern which hon. Members will know who have taken part in this kind of exercise. One hopes for a considerable change by means of Amendments which will reflect one's view more nearly. As one is defeated in the greater changes, so one prepares to man the barricades somewhat further back and concedes certain ground in the hope of still bringing about some improvement in the Bill. Of course, one is driven back again and again by the votes of the majority of the Committee, so that one is eventually manning barricades which are not so crucial as those which had to be conceded earlier. But this is not to say that one should necessarily concede all because one cannot obtain the big changes.
In this Amendment, I seek to draw the distinction between those peers of succession who, before the Act, take their places or were willing to do so in the House of Lords, and those who, possibly through lack of interest or because of 222 other commitments which they preferred to indulge in, or for other reasons which may come to light during this debate, do not choose to join in the debates, arguments and decisions in the House of Lords.
As to the claims that some of these Amendments have been wrecking Amendments, I would quote what my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) said in Committee last week. On an Amendment of mine, he said:It does not meet our general attitude to the Bill, but it would have a satisfactory result. If we were to pass the Amendment, moved so peremptorily by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon), we would upset the package and the reception of the Bill in the other place would be slightly less enthusiastic, and it is even conceivable that there might be a few recruits to our side.My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services, in the debate, referred to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale in this way:He told us willingly what he was up to—he was having good fun—and he said that he did not believe in reforming the other place and he therefore asked all hon. Members to join him in supporting what he consciously described as a wrecking Amendment. It was a very nice speech."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th February, 1969; Vol. 777, c. 1404–7.]I, too, thought that it was a very nice speech. The view of my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale is not necessarily the view of those who supported the Amendment, not even of those who spoke for or against the Amendment. This was all part of the process of trying to improve the Bill in whatever way may be open to us.
Even if we are not able to make the great changes that I hoped to make by introducing my Parliament (No. 3) Bill earlier this afternoon, we can make some changes of benefit to the Bill. It may be that small improvements in a Bill of major constitutional importance are more worthy of the time of the House of Commons as a whole than major contributions on lesser Bills. We should not apologise or seek to excuse ourselves for trying to make small corrections or small alterations.
The Bill is of enormous importance; it will have consequences for generations, perhaps because of factors which 223 my right hon. Friends have been unable to foresee but on which other people have come to certain conclusions, and these small changes may come to occupy a high place in the way in which the business of the House of Commons and of the other place is conducted. That is my case for trying to amend the Bill in any way in which I and perhaps hon. Members opposite may be able to devise.
The Amendment draws a distinction between those Members of the House of Lords who were prepared to take their seats and those who have shown evidence of a lack of enthusiasm for the House of Lords by not taking their seats. I am trying to create a black and white out of varying shades of grey, so as to sharpen the distinction and also to show subsequently the varying results which may come from the Amendment.
I seek to sharpen the distinction between the unenthusiastic and uninterested sons of peers, who might be called the languid, bored sons of the aristocracy, and those who have tried to make a contribution to the other place because of a family or traditional interest or because, being interested in politics, and being denied the opportunity to enter the House of Commons, they have tried to satisfy their political interest by working in the other place. If we must have an aristocracy—and here I am manning the barricades further down the line—we should try to improve it.
Since at present there may be advancement in the peerage, it is a pity that there cannot also be demotions so that, in accordance with the latest current thinking of management organisation, we could reward competence and success and punish incompetence and failure. This is hoping for far too much in the way of change for a very old machine, so we must take the action which is more open to us.
In replying to the first Amendment which was moved last week, the Secretary of State for Social Services was very brief. I hope that this will not become the pattern of replies to speeches dealing with Amendments that may have incalculable consequences. It may be that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services did not deal with the Amendment thoroughly because he has 224 inhibitions about defending arguments which he may not fully support. This is no insult to my right hon. Friend; in fact, it is the highest praise that I can bestow on him. It may be that the package deal with which he was involved was of such a kind that, to reach a settlement, he had to accept some absurdities.
In political life it often happens that absurdities have to be accepted so as to make progress, but the level of absurdity in this matter was such that once my right hon. Friend was embroiled in trying to obtain a deal that would be acceptable to Members of the House of Commons and to Members of the other place who had a mediaeval concept of the peerage, and at the same time trying to reconcile that deal with the views of my hon. Friends who wanted to see the House of Lords abolished, the gulf was so wide that it was impossible to do other than to introduce absurdities.
§ Mr. Sheldon
Yes, Mr. Irving. This is precisely what I was trying to do.
In drawing a distinction between successionist peers who enter the other place before the passing of the Bill and those who come after, we find ourselves in such an absurd situation that I must ask myself how this absurd situation arose, and I come back to the precise point which I was making. It will be seen from paragraph (b) that, if no differentiation is made between these two different kinds of peers, such an absurd situation will arise that we shall ask ourselves how it ever came to be perpetuated—
Order. I think that, if such absurdity it be, the hon. Gentleman cannot raise it on this Amendment.
§ Mr. Sheldon
Mr. Irving, the Amendment proposes the deletion of paragraph (b), and that paragraph deals with the distinction that comes from having peers who qualified before the relevant date and those who apply for a writ after it. That is all that I am discussing.
When we come to see the absurdity—
§ Mr. Sheldon
No, it is not a filibuster. This is a very important point. We are discussing the constitution of the country over the next generation, and what might be a small point in relation to a minor Bill is a major point on an important Bill of this kind.
§ Mr. Sheldon
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's agreement, but I would prefer him to phrase it in words which I would appreciate even more.
I ask myself how it happened that my right hon. Friend came to the absurd view that the two kinds of peers should be treated in the same way. I find that the answer is because of the way in which Amendments were organised, so revealing absurdities in this Clause and even greater absurdities in the remainder of the Bill.
We see a situation where the number of successionist peers in the House of Lords is about 700. We also see that, as a proportion of the population, the number is insignificant. There are those who argue that their view ought to be heard, whether they have applied for writs before the Act, or, as paragraph (b) allows, within six months of the passing of the Act, and that in either case they should have the same rights because theirs is a viewpoint which needs to be expressed. They argue, further, that, although it is conceded that that view is a smaller one, none the less those who hold it should have certain rights remaining to them. The number of peers who have not applied up to now and may not apply until the Act is passed is such as to be an insignificant proportion of the population as a whole.
We arrive at a position where, if we found it necessary to represent those peers who have not accepted the writ so far, in a population of 50 million there are about 80, and the size of Chamber necessary to find representation for even one such peer would be so vast as not to be an assembly but something more like a multitude. Because of that, it will be seen that there is little argument against the Amendment which could conceivably be accepted by my right hon. Friend, and I would argue that it could only be refuted with great difficulty by 226 hon. Gentlemen opposite from the basis of a rather different viewpoint. However, considering my right hon. Friend's background, he has no argument to refute it and, if he has, I will listen to it with great interest. At any rate, I hope that he will make it clear to me, as he failed to when we discussed the last Amendment, what are his precise objections to accepting the Amendment in the form in which it is tabled.
One of the problems facing us—and its complexity will increase as we go through the Bill—is to try to erect fresh barricades similar to that which we raised in respect of the word "demolish". Lawyers are more used to this kind of argument than I am. It is what might be called the Billy Bunter defence, "I am not guilty of eating the jam and, in any case, it didn't taste very good." One wants something, fails to get it, and has to accept something else. Those who feel that this is not a satisfactory way of organising Amendments to a Bill know that we have no alternative when we discuss this paragraph—
Order. I must ask the hon. Gentleman to come to the Amendment. I am at a loss to understand how he relates the remarks that he has just made to the Amendment.
§ Mr. Sheldon
This is why the Amendment was tabled. I would have much preferred the Amendment which I moved on Wednesday of last week, but which was defeated. I am trying to show how I am prepared to accept this Amendment, but as second best, and so counter the arguments of those who feel that this is only part of the much bigger issue which we have to face. Such is the way that we conduct our business, about which I could make many criticisms that would not be in order at this stage, that I have to deal with the small aspect of the Bill with which I am concerned at present.
The first of the main arguments which I wish to deploy is by way of a discussion of the amount of amateurism which one is likely to see in those peers of succession who have not applied for the writ so far. Those peers who have not applied for the writ need to be examined with some care if I am to make the point that they should be excluded when they 227 apply after the Act comes into force. I have gone into this point with some care to see whether it can be sustained.
What needs to be cleared up first of all is the degree of amateurism among peers who have not attended the other place. Some assessment must be made of how valuable such peers would be to the other place and whether they should be heard as much as those who have spent rather longer in the counsels of that Chamber.
This is all part of our own background as a country. I suppose that we can say that the fault of such dedication to amateurism of the kind to which I have referred is part of the same fault that we see in the country as a whole. As a country, we are still dedicated to amateurism of the kind which would be displayed by members of the other place who have not attended before and who are to be encouraged to attend assuming that they can bring something to bear which was not there before.
If I was seeking a definition of "amateurism", I suppose that that would be as good a definition as most of us could think up within a matter of a few minutes. This kind of amateurism, whereby we say that these people, without any knowledge and without taking any interest in the House of Lords, should be encouraged to go there and give their opinions is something which we should not countenance, because we see far too much evidence of such amateurism at the present stage.
We see amateurism in business and in industry. The Fulton Report shows amateurism in the Civil Service. The amateurism that is so prevalent is only one aspect of what we see in the House of Lords, but it is symptomatic of what is so wrong with the whole of our institutions throughout the country. When the Fulton Committee, for example, came to think about this question—
Order. The hon. Member is straying more than he should from the precise terms of the Amendment. This is not a debate on amateurism alone. It is a debate on the exclusion of certain members of the present Upper Chamber from the new reformed Chamber.
§ Mr. Sheldon
We are discussing the removal from the House of Lords of 228 peers who have had the right to go there for perhaps the past 700 or 800 years—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] We are discussing the right of members of the House of Lords to go there—a right which has existed for many centuries. We are now deciding to abrogate that right in a certain way. If we are to abrogate that right we should, as a very minimum, see what contribution they can make to the efficient running of Parliament before we exert that right. Scholars have written tomes and tomes to prove one minor historical point about what may have been the precise position of the House of Lords in the 18th century.
Surely, Mr. Irving, I should be permitted to bring up the point about the value of these people at this time. If I can make the point that they are not so valuable, my Amendment becomes stronger. If I am not permitted to say why I consider these Members are not valuable, any point I may make is worthless, because it has not got the argumentation behind it.
Order. I have asked the hon. Member to come to the Amendment. He really is wandering. He must direct his speech to the Amendment.
§ Mr. Sheldon
I am endeavouring to do exactly that, Mr. Irving I am trying to say why these Members should be excluded. If I am not permitted to say why they should be excluded, my speech must be changed. I understood that I would be entitled to say why I believe that these Members ought to be excluded. Is this not the point, Mr. Irving? If I am allowed to speak on why these Members of the House of Lords ought to be excluded, my main point is—
Order. The hon. Member must proceed with his speech, or I must ask him to resume his seat for irrelevance and tedious repetition.
§ Mr. Sheldon
As I said, I shall have to continue.
One way in which we might find out the relevance of the House of Lords is 229 to look at the records of those peers of succession who have taken part in debates and try to make a comparison with those who have not attended. In that way we would be enabled to spot the differences between the two kinds of peers. Obviously, at the beginning, we would only get this in rough terms, but I contend that it is capable of much closer analysis and better investigation. However, this is another matter.
I contend that we can see broadly the advantages of those peers who have so far accepted the writ, and will presumably continue to accept it under the Act, and those who have not accepted the writ. If we look, as I have, at the background of those peers of succession who have not accepted the writ and, taking a sample basis, look at the backgrounds of those who have taken part in debates, we see a difference between the two kinds of peers. When I put down the Amendment I thought that it was a minor one, but I now see that it is much more important than the one I had originally.
Peers who have accepted the writ frequently have a military or naval background—a Service background—which they are able to bring to bear in their debates on defence matters on which we are not so able to bring to bear our particular experience. I contend that this is of some value. It is easy to magnify this value, but it is of some importance. The great advantage that those peers who have attended debates in the House of Lords have over those who have not accepted the writ and so have not attended debates is that they have frequently had their whole horizons broadened by being in the public swim of discussions concerning matters of crucial importance in our time.
We all know of those who, in various assemblies, including our own, come with little knowledge but with firm opinions and who improve their knowledge and change their opinions as a result of listening to the arguments conducted within the forum of the nation.
To a lesser extent, but at the same time to an important extent, those peers who have attended the House of Lords, with perhaps the same narrow outlook based on a limited experience—which the younger Members of the other place have and which I contend applies to many more—have had the enormous ad-vantage 230 vantage of having their whole experience broadened by being if not in the centre, at least not too far from the centre of where public controversy is raging. I submit that many of the peers who come within the terms of the Bill will be there with a much greater understanding of what is happening in public life than those who come later.
Let us, as an example, look at the military contribution that they make. They can broaden their whole experience by discussing what is the right kind of defence rôle, the volume of expenditure that ought to be permitted, and what our east of Suez rôle should be, if necessary. These are matters which Members of the House of Lords who have not attended are far less likely to be concerned about.
Let us consider two people with almost precisely the same backgrounds. One finds an interest in Service matters, which are fairly narrowly defined. The other, who has had the advantage of being in the House of Lords, finds a whole range of new interests and understanding. His outlook is broadened immensely, and he becomes much more aware of what is going on. Because of that he is able to make a much greater contribution to the working and the life of that House than is otherwise the case.
§ Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
Is not the hon. Gentleman rather destroying his own case? Some of the peers whom he wishes to deprive of their right to go to the other place may at this moment not have applied to be called there because they are serving in the Far East. When they return home, they will be hot off the Press, and ready to advise the House of Lords, but the hon. Gentleman would deprive them of their right to go there.
§ Mr. Sheldon
That argument might have some validity if it were true. I have deducted a figure for those who have leave of absence, some of whom may be absent for the reason given by the hon. Gentleman.
I am concerned with the residue, with those peers who could have gone to the House of Lords—and some hon. Gentlemen opposite might argue that they would have been of value to the other place if they had gone there—but did not do so. If they were to go to the 231 House of Lords now, their presence would be a drag on the present arrangements of the other place, as well as on the arrangements envisaged in the Bill and the White Paper. I do not think that peers who have not had the kind of experience which I have in mind would be likely to make a valuable contribution to any discussion in the other House.
That, however, is only one aspect of the matter, because our view is that, in respect of a wide range of matters, the exclusion of those people from the councils of the country might even be of some advantage. When discussing economic affairs, one could make a case for including those who have not become embroiled in this issue during the past two years. In some ways it might be an advantage to have in the Upper Chamber those peers who have not attended the House of Lords so far even though they have been entitled to attend.
I should like to set out some of the possible advantages of that, if only to present a fair and honest argument which I can substantiate, rather than put forward a wholly biassed argument.
§ Mr. Sheldon
I should like to point out the contribution which could be made by a number of peers who are at present in industry and have not applied for the writ. I believe that there are people of some value who have not applied for the writ, but who will do so when the Bill becomes law. Peers with a knowledge of industry, with a background of industry, would be an advantage to the House of Lords.
Order. I am not sure whether the hon. Member is moving the Amendment, or opposing it. I think that he is in danger of getting outside the scope of the Amendment, anyway.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Wolverhampton, South-West)
On a point of order. I understood that the Amendment being moved by the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) was being taken with Amendment No. 8, and certain others. If that is so, will it be in order for us to refer to the contents of the other Amendments?
Yes. With the Amendment being moved by the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) we are discussing Amendments Nos. 8, 83, and 102, and it will be in order to discuss the subject matter of those Amendments.
§ Mr. Powell
Further to that point of order. If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for making his point, it occurs to me that, on Amendment No. 8, the argument which he is engaged in evolving might be in order.
The hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne is moving Amendment No. 7. I shall listen carefully, as I have been doing, and intervene when it is necessary.
§ Mr. Sheldon
Mr. Irving, you said that I was putting a contrary point. Surely it is reasonable to put one or two contrary points of view, if only to show that I have taken note of them? This is not an oversight on my part. These are important points, but I consider that they are outweighed by the issues which I shall put to the contrary. I think that it is necessary to do so, otherwise hon. Members who follow me will accuse me of having shown a remarkable lack of understanding. I have considered all the issues involved, and I am trying, I hope successfully, to rebut in advance any points which may be made by hon. Gentlemen opposite.
One matter which I have in mind is the position of certain peers who have not taken the writ for the excellent reason that they are engaged at a high level in industry, and, for that very reason, are precluded from taking part in debates in the other place. That being so, we must consider what kind of contribution they could make to the House of Lords and ask whether the Amendment is more valuable because it excludes some peers for certain reasons, or less valuable because it excludes them.
I think that what we lack in the councils of this country is an understanding of what is going on in industry here and now. The House of Lords, through its Members, has knowledge of what happened in industry 10 or 20 years ago. What is really needed now in the other place is a number of peers who have up-to-date knowledge of industry, but we 233 cannot get them because the House of Lords is now a full-time job. This is why I say that some people who have not applied for the writ might be of immense value to the other place.
My researches into this matter have shown—and here I am open to contradiction by my right hon. Friend—that those with industrial experience who could make such a valuable contribution to the debates in the other place are very limited in number. In the House of Lords there does not appear to be a shortage of peers, hereditary or otherwise, with experience of farming, many of them have City experience, but not many of them have the kind of industrial experience that we need. In fact, this kind of experience is in short supply in both Houses of Parliament. I should be prepared to go a long way towards accepting certain parts of the Bill which I dislike if, in return, there was an increase in the number of peers with industrial experience.
But I found little evidence of this. So far as I could tell, the only ones who are likely to have their numbers increased are those with farming experience and some of those with City experience. So the case for approving this appears, on the lines which the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) seemed to have in mind, to be very small. Although some people will come in, it will not be enough to offset the disadvantage to debate caused by new entrants lacking a working knowledge of current problems and issues.
Those few in industry would have a great contribution to make, on such subjects as the Industrial Reorganisation Corporation, investment grants and the Ministry of Technology. On the last, they would take not a party political attitude. They would ask how it can be improved and not just, "How can we get rid of interference?" This will be useful, but it will not be obtained by these methods. One will find almost the reverse, that the sensible discussion which might take place, admittedly with knowledge of these important matters, will be still further diluted with those taking part having even less understanding. New Members coming in and diluting the level of understanding and expertise means that the advantages of having these people are very limited.
234 We must remember that, during the time, there have been a number of people who have not perhaps been fully conscious of the important changes which the Government are bringing about. Industry and those who have not been in the House of Lords are not likely to be properly aware of these changes and their implications. We all know and treat it as a matter—
I must warn the hon. Gentleman that he has been drawing beyond the line of tedious repetition in his argument during the last five minutes or so.
§ Mr. Sheldon
Tedious I may be—I cannot be the judge of that—but repetition, I suggest, is something which I have deliberately tried to avoid. I am simply trying to show the particular areas in which the exercise and understanding of those Members of the House of Lords who have not taken their seats might—
Order. I do not require the hon. Member to reply to what I said. He is raising the point.
§ Mr. Sheldon
If I may not reply to the purport of the point of order, I shall have to continue in other ways.
One of the areas in which it must be held that those who have not taken their seats in the Lords are not knowledgeable is the social services. It goes without saying that no one who has not been in the centre of political life—in the Lords or the Commons—can understand the real problems of the social services. Understanding—this applies both to this House and to the Lords—is not easy, mainly because the social services do not bear upon the experience of most Members of the House of Lords. This is not criticism—
Order. The hon. Member must come to the Amendment, which refers to people taking the writ in a period of time. He is elaborating his arguments beyond the bounds of order.
§ Mr. Sheldon
But I am saying that, if they have not taken the writ, they will 235 be given extra time to take it. If I delete paragraph (b), I allow only those who have received the writ already to take their places. That is my straightforward interpretation. If I delete (b), I am left with (a), and if that remains, it gives the right to successionist peers to sit in the House of Lords because they received the writ beforehand. If (b) is deleted, as I hope it will be, we will provide that these people who did not sit before the passing of the Act will not be allowed to sit after the passing of the Act. I take it that there can be no disagreement with the objective of this paragraph.
If this is true, I am trying to draw a distinction between those people who apply for the writ before the passing of the Act and those who do not. If I draw a distinction between two kinds of people, it is incumbent upon me to say what are the differences between them. If the differences did not exist, my Amendment should not be accepted, but if they do, it is worth considering and if those differences are fairly great, my Amendment should be accepted—
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Fletcher-Cooke
It seems to me that the hon. Gentleman's speech, although interesting, is very deficient in one respect. He has furnished the Committee with no statistics about whether there is or is not a rush for the writ and, if so, by how many. If there is a rush at this moment, the need for the words that he wishes to excise is less urgent, but if those sleeping peers who have not yet applied for the writ have not woken up to their possibilities, I should be disposed to think that they should be given quite a long locus poenitentiae in which to reply. Perhaps we could have some figures.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone) rose—
§ Mr. Sheldon
I will deal with one hon. Gentleman's intervention and then give way to the other.
The point which the hon. and learned Gentleman makes is perfectly valid. I covered it precisely in Amendment No. 6, which, because of the restrictive nature 236 of the Amendments selected, cannot be discussed. This is what I meant by having to elaborate on that again—
Order. The hon. Member is reflecting on the selection of the Chair. He cannot and must not do that.
§ Mr. Sheldon
I said "restrictive", and I did not know that that was meant in a pejorative sense. Clearly, since some Amendments were not included, I thought that "restrictive" was the right word to use. I was trying to say that the precise point raised by the hon. and learned Member was anticipated, but, unfortunately, could not be discussed now—
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser
In the extremely lambent, cogent and wide-ranging speech which he is making, could the hon. Gentleman animadvert to what happened before about Members who wished to take the writ, and recall that, when Cromwell decided to recreate the House of Lords, of the 72 persons appointed, seven of whom were his relations—either brothers-in-law or brothers or sons-in-law—only 42 actually appeared. This is particularly relevant to this matter, when both Front Benches are united in this approach. Would the hon. Gentleman animadvert for a few moments on this interesting historical precedent?
§ Mr. Sheldon
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for filling in the small gaps in my knowledge of history. I assure him, however, that I am having troubles of my own without accepting his, too.
I hope that, as a result of considering this Amendment, it will be possible for other Amendments to which I have made only a passing reference—I would be out of order in referring to them in detail—being considered further on Report. I have particularly in mind—
Order. The hon. Gentleman is referring to a matter which might be more appropriate on Report. I trust that he will stick to the subject of the Amendment under discussion.
§ Mr. Sheldon
I accept your Ruling, Mr. Irving.
It is important to distinguish between the two different types of people who will be in the Upper Chamber. It is for this 237 reason that I referred to the social services.
Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot go into the social services now. He must stick to the subject of the Amendment. I suggest to him that he has made the point adequately; and perhaps he will now move on.
§ Mr. Sheldon
With respect, Mr. Irving, I had only just mentioned the social services.
How could a peer who had not attended the House of Lords have much understanding of such matters as old-age pensions, sickness benefits, housing problems, the Rent Act and the whole National Health Service? I would exclude people without such experience and knowledge from the Upper Chamber. If they want to take an interest in these matters—
§ Mr. Sheldon
I hope that I will be allowed to point out the important distinction between these types of peers.
§ Sir D. Glover
Is not the hon. Gentleman forgetting that the peers who he is trying to exclude from the Upper Chamber might have exactly the experience to which he is referring? For example, certain peers may not have attended the Upper House because they have been in receipt of aid under the Welfare State and would, therefore, have the experience he wants peers to have.
§ Mr. Sheldon
I confess my admiration for the hon. Gentleman's imagination. Having studied Who's Who and the various other reference books on the subject I have been unable to discover a peer who would so qualify.
Men who have not had experience of life in this way are unlikely to be able to contribute greatly to the other place. It might be said that peers who would be excluded by the Amendment might contain among their numbers a number of younger peers who have so far not attended the upper House because of being active in other ways—laying the foundations of their family fortunes and so on—and who have the intention of joining the other place at a later stage, 238 perhaps in middle age. Having had the advantage of studying the reference books, I have discovered that even this is not a good argument because a large number of older people who are able to sit in the House of Lords have not taken their seats, either.
Order. I am not clear to which Amendment, if any, the hon. Gentleman is addressing himself.
§ Mr. Sheldon
I am pointing to the two classes of peers, the first who have attended the upper House and the second who have not attended. I am referring to the second category and particularly to younger peers who may not have attended because of their activities in relation to their family fortunes and so on.
Order. No doubt the Gentleman is making some preliminary remarks before coming to the Amendment. I trust that he wil come to it quickly.
Order. The Chair is very much aware of what appears in paragraph (b). The hon. Gentleman has not spoken to that paragraph—
I am trying to relate the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the Amendment. I have ben unable to do so. I am asking the hon. Gentleman now to relate his remarks to it.
§ Mr. Sheldon
I am seeking your guidance, Mr. Irving. Is it your opinion that I have got the matter wrong?
The Chair has already expressed its opinion forcibly. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept it.
§ Sir D. Glover
The Committee has been very much influenced by the performance of the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon). It would be helpful, since it is obvious that he has conducted a great deal of research into the subject, if he would give some figures relating to the people whom he 239 would exclude from the House of Lords. Might we know their average age, number and occupations? Would he care to name a few names?
§ Mr. Sheldon
I had originally intended to give some names, but I decided not to do so in view of the request made by the Chair to the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) at the last sitting of the Committee. It was pointed out that anything advantageous to some might be countered by something being disadvantageous, and so unfair, to others. In precisely the same way something disadvantageous and unfair to some might be advantageous to others. If the hon. Gentleman would care to consult me later, I might be able to give him some interesting information on the subject.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Sheldon
I may do so later. The important thing about paragraph (b) is that if it were deleted it would exclude a certain number of peers from attending the House of Lords.
I fail to see why my right hon. Friend should not encourage this reduction in numbers. I should have thought he would be only too anxious to see, on any point of the slightest substance, if he could reduce the numbers in a manner which was equitable and least likely to give offence. The fact that there has been no attempt to seize on any point of this kind whereby the numbers could be reduced is serious. Even on a minor point like this I should have thought it possible to make a concession on an Amendment which is not of crucial importance, but which is of some importance.
If my right hon. Friend, because of undertakings previously given, cannot make a concession on minor points, it reduces the House of Commons to no more than a rubber stamp. It is a most serious allegation that the kind of arrangements entered into are so precise, so exact and such that they admit of not the slightest amendment and what we are to do over the next few days of discussion will not be very helpful. If he is unable to make a concession on some 240 of the points which some of us have studied with some care, it is impossible—
Order. I must remind the hon. Member that many hon. and right hon. Members are anxious to take part in this debate. I hope that he will bear that in mind. He has been speaking for an hour and a quarter now.
§ Mr. Sheldon
I think it of crucial importance that we should have the right to expect that certain points which have been successfully—
§ Mr. Nigel Birch (Flint, West)
There is one point I should like the hon. Member to deal with. Does he think that Welsh peers who become non-voting peers under the Bill should be entitled to attend the Investiture of the Prince of Wales?
§ Mr. Sheldon
You anticipated my comment, Mr. Irving.
There is a case I wish to put about successionist peers who have held office. My researches are not accurate enough to pinpoint any Ministers who have held office, mainly because this point occurred to me after I had concluded my researches. So I was not able to spot whether any junior Ministers of the past had not applied to the writ. Certainly, I would consider whether these should be admitted if a further Amendment were considered.
Clearly, this kind of peer is of great importance in spreading a much greater understanding of what the Government should do and within what constraints the Government act. This is a very important aspect of the work of the House of Lords from which those who have not been in attendance could very well profit. Those who have not taken the writ could well do so. Those who have been Ministers ought to be encouraged to do so. Amendments which have not been selected deal with this point, which should be considered.
My Amendment would remove those peers of succession who have been Ministers but who, because of lack of interest, do not take part in the work of the House of Lords. They are of great importance in the working of the House of Lords. 241 It is of crucial importance to spread information, and spreading of information about the Government machine is lacking at present. Knowledge of areas of deficiency and the amateurism to which I have referred and would like to go into further—
Order. It is very difficult for the Committee to see in what direction the hon. Member's arguments are leading. They certainly do not appear to be leading towards any Amendment on the Notice Paper.
§ Mr. Sheldon
I take that admonition and fully accept it. As you so instruct, I will turn over my notes.
I accept that a point may be made by hon. Members opposite that there will be certain peers of succession who, for special reasons, because of commitments of a family or business nature, might ask for time to consider these matters. If they fulfil the qualifications which the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) had in mind, I would support him—I must warn him not to get over-eager—on a limited Amendment which might embrace that point.
The whole case rests on this distinction. Here I come to a point which was made: by the right hon. Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch), who asked for some figures. I shall give some figures which may be of some interest to him. I am not sure whether I should go into the names, but I shall see how we get on. The number of peers who attended the House of Lords during the period 31st October, 1967, to 1st August, 1968, was 394.
§ Mr. Sheldon
These were successionist peers not excluding peers of first creation, peers because of their inheritance. I have a number of names. Although it would not be repetition, it would certainly be tedious to give them. Certain information may be of interest and importance to the Committee.
The hon. Member is seeking to delay the Committee. I hope that he will not do that. Mr. Sheldon.
§ Mr. Dempsey
My hon. Friend gave way and I wish to ask a valid question. He has told us how many peers attended within a specified period. Can he say how many of them attended only once during that time?
§ Mr. Sheldon
I have in my sample a distinction between the Scottish, the Irish, and the English peers, which I shall be happy to show my hon. Friend later. As to the numbers attending rarely, of the 736 peers other than peers of first creation—these are the peers who inherited their title—342 did not attend at all and 135 attended for only 5 per cent. of the sittings.
Order. This is irrelevant. The question is whether they have taken the writ of attendance.
§ Sir John Rodgers (Sevenoaks)
The hon. Gentleman should go into this point in the greatest of detail, because it would greatly help the Committee—
Order. The Chair has ruled that the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) is out of order. I hope that the hon. Member for Seven-oaks (Sir J. Rodgers) will not incite the hon. Gentleman to proceed further out of order.
§ Sir J. Rodgers
It would not so much help the Committee as help the Secretary of State if these figures were given in great detail.
§ Mr. Sheldon
In view of the Ruling of the Chair, I obviously cannot proceed further on this aspect. The distinction which I must draw is that between those 394 peers and many, but not all, of the 342. Some of those peers had applied for the writ, but had also obtained leave of absence.
Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not seek to delay the Committee by elaborating where he does not need to do so.
§ Mr. Sheldon
I should be ruled out of order if I were so misguided as to behave in that way. I am trying to arrive at the precise number of those with whom we are concerned. Although there are 192 with leave of absence, this leaves a large number. We cannot be precise about the number, except to say that the minimum number of hereditary peers without writs of absence is 81, but it could well be more.
So, if the Bill goes through unamended, the reformed House of Lords will have 230 of the peers that are intended, plus those who came in with the qualification that they had applied for the writ in advance, plus, if my Amendment is lost, those who would be permitted even though they had not applied for the writ in advance.
It is important to consider these three proportions, because the proportion of the last category must be seen by comparison with the other two figures. This is how the Lords will be when we have finished with this wretched Bill. We need to see how we are affecting the Lords by refusing to carry my Amendment. If my Amendment is unsuccessful, there will be 230 nominated peers, plus 600 or 700 successionist peers—this number is not easy to quantify, because some hereditary peers may also be nominated peers—plus the life peers, plus perhaps about 100 of the hereditary peers.
I must repeat briefly, for emphasis only, that we shall then have a vast body of 1,000 peers who will be much more interested in taking part in debates in a House of Lords that has real power than the 80 to 100 at present—
Order. This is getting beyond the scope of the Amendment. This Amendment is not concerned with the powers of the House of Lords.
§ Mr. Sheldon
If my Amendment were carried, these 80 to 100 people would not have the right to attend. Nobody can deny the consequences arising from the attendance of these large numbers of people with no knowledge of the current 244 area of debate. They would be able to move in and take part in a debate, although they might not have been interested in doing so before the passage of this Bill. It may well be that considerable numbers of people will be interested in taking part in debates in a Chamber which has much greater powers and which interests them so much more.
Order. Interesting though this is, the right hon. Gentleman cannot introduce it on this Amendment.
§ Mr. Sheldon
I regret that I am unable to follow up that point. It is very important, and I obviously accept it. I hope to take it up on a subsequent Amendment.
The crucial point is that the second Chamber will have so many people with no knowledge wishing to take part in a serious deliberative assembly, as opposed to the type of assembly it has been up to now. These people cannot be left to roam around in the Lords any more than we in the House of Commons allow strangers to participate in our debates. We must be much more serious about the Lords in its reformed state than we have ever needed to be in its unreformed state. Even though, up to now, we may have been prepared to accept people who have shown no interest in the Lords, we should not be prepared to accept them now that we are trying to improve the Lords.
I want to make one quotation from Bagehot. Every generation discovers Bagehot afresh, and turns to him eagerly for assistance. I find that very relevant; it could have been written this very week. It points out:The House of Peers has never been a House where the most important peers were the most important. It could not be so. The qualities which fit a man for marked eminence, in a deliberative asembly, are not hereditary and are not coupled with great estate. In the nation,"—
Order. I am finding it very difficult to see how the hon. Gentleman is relating these remarks to the Amendment.
§ Mr. Sheldon
I am sure that Bagehot would deal even with that, if given time.
245 The main issue with which he was trying to deal, which is very relevant today, is that the most important peers were not the most important Members of the House of Lords, who exercise their authority in different ways. He went on to say how they exercised it—
§ Mr. Sheldon
I had finished dealing with that point, and I come on to say that there needs to be a closer examination of those peers of heredity who would come into the House of Lords and clutter up its work if my Amendment were not carried. When one considers the kind of examination that has been made of certain assemblies and certain individuals in them, one can see that this is essential in order to judge the importance of the Measure we are enacting.
We know the way in which Sir Lewis Namier analysed individuals and how they interacted within the political system of their time. So we see even now, looking at the House of Lords, what is really needed today to distinguish between those peers who do not go into the House of Lords because they are not interested, or for some other reason, and those who apply for the writ before the time.
Sir Lewis Namier could have drawn that distinction in a very scholarly way. I have tried in a totally inadequate and inferior way, as is obvious. The point that needs to be made is that this is the right approach. If he could do that for the benefit of historical analysis, we should be able to do it to get the House of Lords in the right sort of way—
Order. The Amendments seek to do certain things. The hon. Gentleman is speculating and not speaking to any of the Amendments. I must ask him to come to order.
§ Mr. Sheldon
I am trying to find out what makes successionist peers enter the House of Lords. One cannot do better than to look to the finest model one has as to the way in which we should look at these points. If we look at Sir Lewis 246 Namier's great work, "The Structure of Politics at the Accession of George III", we see that we can deal with the problem in the same way as he did. He said that men went to the House to make a figure.
Order. The hon. Gentleman is seeking to exclude certain Members of the House of Lords, or people who may or may not have a right to sit there. He is a long way from the Amendment.
§ Mr. Sheldon
I consider that many of those people who took advantage of their position to sit in the House of Lords went there for the same purpose as Sir Lewis Namier gives. They went to make a figure for themselves, and those people who did not accept the writ felt that this was not a matter of supreme importance to them. There was a division between those who went to the House of Lords to make for themselves a figure in the world and those who did not go because they did not so wish.
§ Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)
Does not the Hon. Gentleman think that the same consideration applies to Members of this House? Will he develop that point?
§ Mr. Sheldon
Sir Lewis Namier also shows that the problems then were precisely the same as the problems now. There were problems in securing regular attendance, just as there are in the House of Lords today. Those who attended the House of Lords then, like those who attend it today, came because they accepted the writ and wished to be there, as opposed to those who did not so wish. Those people that wished to go into the House of Lords suffered from the same defect—
Order. The hon. Gentleman is not relating his remarks to the Amendment, which seeks to exclude those who have not applied for the writ. If he cannot come to order, I shall have to ask his to resume his seat.
§ Mr. Ridley
On a point of order. I understand that the hon. Gentleman is trying to explain the motivation of noble Lords who do or do not receive the writ, which will affect the Amendment. If the words are left out it will be made 247 slightly more attractive to some noble Lords to apply for the writ quickly rather than slowly. Therefore, it is relevant to inquire into the reasons why noble Lords have or have not applied for the writ in the past.
I understand very clearly what the hon. Gentleman is trying to do. He has not yet done it. He has not related his current remarks to the Amendments.
I understood that my hon. Friend was making a distinction between two different types of peers that would be included or excluded depending on whether or not the Amendment was carried. If we cannot debate those types of peer—what they are and what they are likely to be—I do not see how we can discuss the Amendment.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser
Perhaps on this point we could discuss why some of the peers appointed by the Lord Protector Cromwell did not take the writ. The motivation in the 17th century is almost as interesting as the motivation in the 18th century.
§ Mr. Sheldon
The right hon. Gentle man should not seek to lead me astray.
The serious point I am trying to make is the difference between those peers who have received the writ and those who have not thought it worth their while to apply for it. I contend that in the areas of knowledgeability there is a big difference between those two kinds of peers, both in the way they have acted and the way they are motivated because of the difference of their actions.
Let us look at the qualifications of those who apply for the writ and compare them with the qualifications of those who do not think it worth while to apply. We see very different backgrounds. I take a sample of peers and the work they have done. I would not like to mention peers who, I feel, perhaps did not come up to the standards one would have wished from even a fairly low level in the House of 248 Lords—the reasons for that are obvious—but at any rate I will mention some of those who, having accepted the writ, have done something of which they are proud and not ashamed.
Let us take as an example the debate on the Home Office on 31st October, 1968. Lord Erroll made a contribution which obviously must have broadened the view of those Members of another place who attended the debate. Those who had excluded themselves for lack of interest, not having bothered even to apply for the writ, removed themselves from this broadening influence.
Then there was the debate on economic affairs on 7th November, 1967, when the House of Lords had the advantage of hearing Lord Balogh, Lord Longford, Lord Watkinson and, again, Lord Erroll, as well as others, who had taken advantage of their rights to attend, and who, therefore, cannot have failed in some way—and one can argue about the extent—to have had their horizons broadened at least to some degree.
Those who were there enjoyed certain advantages over those who were not. Yet the latter may, as a result of the Bill, decide to go in and dilute the value of the House of Lords just when it is being proposed that its importance should be increased. When we are trying to make a body of experts, of knowledgeable and understanding people, it is not the time to have peers who have so far chosen to exclude themselves suddenly being encouraged to change their minds.
There is another aspect which some hon. Members would consider most important—the whole subject of our entry into Europe.
Order. I must warn the hon. Gentleman that over-elaboration and over-attention to detail becomes irrelevant in time. The time is coming soon when I must ask him to discontinue this part of his speech at least.
§ Mr. Sheldon
Perhaps I may finish the main point I have to make on that section of my speech.
Obviously, one would find in Europe people of great ability.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
I am intensely interested in the Common Market. This is a subject which might be debated in the other place and I would like to know my hon. Friend's views about it.
§ Mr. Sheldon
Perhaps on another occasion. I shall be happy to oblige my esteemed and right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell).
§ Mr. Sheldon
Not today. I want to come back to the sample I took of those peers who have attended the House of Lords because they were interested or actively engaged.
Order. I have called the hon. Gentleman's attention several times to order, and I must warn him that he is in danger of tedious repetition on this point.
§ Mr. Sheldon
When one moves to a fresh subject, Mr. Irving, it is sometimes difficult to find fresh words with which to introduce it.
§ Mr. Sheldon
As I have said, I took a sample of those peers who had decided to accept the writ and those who had not. It may be that my sample does not accord with the ideal method which one would choose in order to make such an important distinction. If that is so, I ask my right hon. Friend to produce perhaps a better sample to show more clearly what the situation is than is possible for an hon. Member, with his limited resources. Perhaps he can tell me if I have gone wrong.
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
Could the hon. Gentleman help us evaluate the worth-whiteness of his sample by telling us the basis on which he conducted it and the extent to which he made allowance for age, distance of residence from London, and so forth?
§ Mr. Sheldon
I chose the method which I thought ideally right and I believe it to be incontrovertible. It was a purely random selection. It is a method which the opinion polls might do better to use.
§ Mr. Sheldon
As a result of my random selection in trying to draw a distinction between two types of peer, one might not come up with the best of results, but I claim that my method is as good as any usually open to a private Member with limited resources. I claim veracity for the sample. The tests I used were age, date of succession and order of the peerage—whether it was the third or fourth peer, and so on.
Order. The hon. Gentleman is going into too much detail. He is moving into irrelevance.
§ Mr. Sheldon
I only mentioned this because the sample may be contested. I hope that it will not be. I would like my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"]—at least to deal with how he draws the distinction between the two types of peer, because this will be of great importance. We need to know, with all the authority that the Secretary of State can command because of his resources of examination—
Order. The two types of peer are clear in the Amendment. The hon. Gentleman is not addressing himself to the Amendment.
§ Mr. Sheldon
Well, for their benefit, the Amendment would delete from the Bill the right of those who succeed to hereditary peerages to receive a writ.
§ Sir D. Glover
On a point of order. I believe that the Committee has the right to know who would be excluded by this Amendment before we decide whether to accept it. Therefore, I feel that the hon. Gentleman is in order in telling us who is covered.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)
Further to that point of order may I draw your attention, Mr. Irving, to the fact that there was an occasion when an hon. Member spoke for about two and half hours. He is now a member of the Government. Perhaps my hon. Friend will become a member of the Government.
§ Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, West)
Further to the point of order. What my hon. Friend is endeavouring to do is to use the Committee in his own way as an individual Member to oppose legislation which he feels should not go forward. Surely he is entitled to do that in any way he desires?
Order. No member of the Committee wishes to prevent the hon. Gentleman opposing legislation which he does not wish to see enacted. The job of the Chair is to keep him in order and that is what the Chair has been trying to do.
§ Mr. Barnett
Further to that point of order. If I may say so with the greatest possible respect, I think that you have cast a very serious reflection upon my hon. Friend. As far as I can see he has been trying very hard to keep within the rules of order, while giving the benefit of a great deal of long and serious research to the Committee.
Order. The hon. Gentleman is wasting the time of the Committee. His hon. Friend has been speaking now for two hours. The Chair has found it necessary to intervene on many occasions. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not contribute to the wasting of any further time.
§ Mr. Barnett
Further to my own point of order. I really do feel that it is a very serious reflection upon my hon. Friend to say, simply because he has spoken at a little length, that he is wasting time. One has to bear in mind that 252 our predecessors have debated the other place for very much longer. My hon. Friend is giving hon. Members the benefit of a great deal of research. To cast a reflection upon that work is a very serious matter indeed.
I am unable to accept the hon. Gentleman's point. The hon. Gentleman has been speaking now for two hours. He has had many interventions from the Chair. I hope that he will speak to the Amendment.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
Further to that point of order. Whether my hon. Friend has been speaking for an hour and three-quarters, as some of my hon. Friends say, or two hours, surely it is not, with the very greatest of respect, for the Chair to pass comment? He can be speaking for four, five or six hours provided that he is not out of order. The Chair may not like it, the Government may not like it, but if my hon. Friend likes to go on for five or six hours surely no one can stop him, unless the Government wish to move the Closure?
§ 5.45 p.m.
The Chair has complained about nothing but the occasions when the hon. Member has been out of order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will allow his hon. Friend to proceed.
§ Mr. Onslow
Yes. I would like something to be clarified. Is the Committee correct in taking it from you that so long as the hon. Gentleman remains in order there is no limit on the length of time for which he wishes to speak?
The hon. Gentleman is perfectly correct, and no comment of the Chair would suggest otherwise.
§ Mr. Sheldon
I am very grateful for that Ruling. I may have strayed in error, but I can certainly say that it was never my intention to move out of order. The work that I engaged in was carried out solely so that it might be of some benefit to hon. Members of the Committee.
Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not pursue this line. The Chair has had to intervene on many 253 occasions to assist him to keep in order. I hope that he will now proceed with his speech.
§ Mr. Sheldon
I was coming to the investigations I have made into the House of Lords, including my sample of those peers who accepted the writ, my study of what kind of people they were. I am attempting, within the modest limits available to a back bencher, to compare this study with the record of those who do not take advantage of their writ of summons to attend the House of Lords. I see that one of the very important differences in my sample is that those who did not take advantage of their writ of summons to attend the House of Lords tended to hold peerages created many years ago.
This does not tie in with the thought that these peers might have a considerable contribution to make to the working of the House of Lords because of their involvement with industry. It was assumed that it was more likely that they would have rather more experience than those who came later. This was subsequently verified by looking at the biographies of those who attend the House of Lords and those who do not. I feel inhibited from reading out the names on my list, because, as it is only a random selection, it would reflect adversely on some and this would clearly be unfair. I feel under very considerable constraint in going into the background of these people.
I can aver that I have this information here and it is available to anyone who wishes to inspect it. They will be very welcome to examine it and to draw conclusions from it.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
We all accept that my hon. Friend will be 100 per cent. fair and above-board in everything that he says, but unless he gives the details we will not really know whether he is coming to a fair and proper conclusion. We will accept it, but I suggest that he ought to get it on the record, so that people who read HANSARD will know whether he has been fair.
§ Mr. Sheldon
My hon. Friend has a valid point, and it is a path which I am tempted to follow.
The only comment I will make is that a reading of these names, and an investigation of their backgrounds, shows that these people were not professional in 254 the sense that they had any particular expertise derived from study fitting them to go to the House of Lords. This is probably the most important conclusion that I would draw. It is important because the life peers can give just this. Some of the peers who came in earlier can do this, but those who have not applied for the writ do not have this kind of specialist expertise which it is valuable that the House of Lords should have.
That means that they come to the House of Lords without the benefit of any particular study. They come with the epitome of that kind of education which consists either of public school, or public school reinforced by non-practical subjects such as Greek, Latin and philosophy. I am not necessarily attacking those with that background, but I say that if, later in life, they try to express economic arguments, they do so with some considerable disadvantage. They should be aware of that disadvantage. It may well be that we need people who have reached the full flower of understanding having first understood precisely one or two things of relevance to the life of this country at a lower level at an earlier stage. That is what is most required and that is something which the successionist peers who have not accepted the writ do not possess in anything like the requisite quantity.
§ [Sir BARNETT JANNER in the Chair]
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser
I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's argument. There are one or two peers who are perhaps illiterate but numerate. Surely what the hon. Gentleman is advocating is a peerage which is entirely numerate but not necessarily literate. The Inca civilisation was based on this conception. Perhaps the matter should be pursued much more and should apply to many hon. Members.
§ Mr. Sheldon
I do not wish to follow that line of thought.
If one looks at the House of Lords and realises the kind of men required there, one rapidly comes to the conclusion that what we do not require are numbers of people with no more background than a public school or university education devoted to Latin, Greek and philosophy. There is nothing wrong with that. I merely say that it would not strike one 255 as obvious that this was a deficiency in the House of Lords and that if we try to reform the House of Lords we must try first to remedy its deficiencies and to maintain those points about it which are good.
One of our fears—and we have many, unfortunately—is that we have not dedicated ourselves to the kind of education that industry and the country require. We have said that the first-class brain is all and that it is relevant what we do with it. This begs the question, because there are first-class brains everywhere and frequently it has been an excuse for selecting the first-class brain in certain subjects. This has often been the reason for such people gaining in eminence in this country. There should be an objective assessment of what is required and we should go resolutely for it. What is required is less obvious in the case of those peers who have not accepted the writ than in the case of those who have. One tries to defend the barricade which one feels is most important and then, as that is lost, one retreats and defends those further back. That is what I am attempting to do.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
I do not know why my hon. Friend persists in his belief that the people dealt with in subsection (2)(b) have the great advantage of a public school education. Quite a few of them were born abroad and had fathers who left this country for tax reasons and who are foreigners on their first visit.
The Temporary Chairman (Sir Barnett Tanner)
If interventions are made with the consent of the hon. Member who is on his feet they are interventions, not speeches. I hope that hon. Members will note that, because otherwise they will have to wait to say what they want to say until they are called.
§ Mr. Sheldon
The difference between peers who had accepted the writ and those who had not, either through lack of interest or for some other reason, is very much to the fore in questions which currently concern us the most. Those in the latter category may have acquired a certain understanding, but they are least likely to have acquired an understanding of the most important matters 256 which occupy the life of the House of Lords.
The Temporary Chairman
I gather that before I took the Chair quite a lot of this had been said—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I gathered from very authentic information that a lot of this had been said before I took the Chair. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will realise that there is a rule to the effect that there must not be tedious repetition. I ask him to bear that in mind because if he continues to repeat himself he may reach the stage when he has to be stopped.
§ Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Chigwell)
On a point of order. I have sat through the entire speech, such as it is, of the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon). He has only just begun to develop his theme of a lack of expertise among those in the category of peers by succession.
The Temporary Chairman
I have the highest respect for the opinion of the hon. Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison), but after one and a half hours or so the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon), with his skill ingenuity and ability, should now be able to put his case shortly, and certainly in a shorter form than he is doing at the moment.
§ Mr. Nigel Birch (Flint, West)
Further to that point of order. I hope that you will remember, Sir Barnett, that in more heroic days Gladstone rarely spoke for less than five hours. The hon. Gentleman is just beginning to develop his first point.
§ Mr. Sheldon
As I have said, the difference between the peers who had accepted the writ and those who had not was of importance, but I had not detailed one of the most important areas in which that was so. I refer to an area which I have not mentioned at all, even in passing. Enormous changes have taken place in the past few years in matters relating to personal consumption. Peers who have not an understanding of the House of Lords do not know very much about this subject. They are not familial with the arguments, because we have not spread them around as much as we should 257 have done. Therefore, a greater obligation rests on those who attend the House of Lords if only to achieve a greater spread of understanding of our current problems, particularly problems of an economic character about which much information is necessary.
Industry has been encouraged to act in various ways because of the interventionist policies of Government. A peer coming to London from a country house cannot comprehend these matters straight away. These are matters which one has to live with and to feel before they can be understood and contributions can be made. That peers of succession should be able to walk into a House that is discussing urgent topical legislation and make their contribution on a basis of ignorance is something which we should not accept.
Sir Barnett, I will come to a close. I have very much more to say, but a large part of it was previously ruled out of order and I would not like to transgress on the fact that you did not know the circumstances. Out of my respect for you, Sir Barnett, I will end by making two important points.
Those who have put down Amendments have done so first with a view to carrying their most important Amendments and being able to mitigate some of the disasters which are inherent in the Bill. If those Amendments are either not selected or, being selected, are not accepted, we shall find ourselves going down the line to lesser and lesser Amendments which would improve the Bill but obviously to a lesser degree. By the same token, these being lesser Amendments, I hope that my right hon. Friend might find them easier to accept.
The Temporary Chairman
Whilst I appreciate that the hon. Member is coming to a close, he is now dealing with matters which do not arise under the Amendment. I shall be obliged if he will be good enough to proceed on the Amendment itself.
Earl of Dalkeith (Edinburgh, North)
On a point of order. Will you, Sir Barnett, tell the Committee whether the time taken up by interventions counts towards the hon. Gentleman's total speaking time or whether it is deducted 258 from the total under the heading of injury time?
§ Mr. Paget
On a point of order. As I understood the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon), he was arguing that there were various Amendments to the Bill, all of which had a validity and importance of their own, but some of which were more important than others. He pointed out that the one which he is in the process of explaining to us in some detail was one of the more important Amendments. Surely, Sir Barnett, that is in order.
The Temporary Chairman
The hon. and learned Member could put in much better terms than I the answer to what he is asking. He knows very well that these remarks were not in order. I ask the hon. Member to proceed.
§ Mr. Ridley
I heard the remarks of the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon), and I put the same interpretation on them as did the hon. and learned Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman was saying that the Amendment to which he was speaking was an important Amendment. I do not think that it is an important Amendment, but, on the other hand, I do not see why it is out of order to make that claim.
The Temporary Chairman
The hon. Member has made the point; he had better get on with closing his speech, as he wants to do.
§ Mr. Sheldon
Perhaps I did not put the point as well as I should have done. I was simply trying to urge my right hon. Friend to accept the Amendment, and I am sure that this will be accepted as being in order. I was urging upon him the value of accepting an Amendment as limited as this, and I was pointing out that, as I was unable to move the more important Amendments or they were not accepted, I had to move back to a lesser Amendment which, being lesser, I maintained that my right hon. Friend should more readily accept. If he cannot accept an Amendment as slight as this, we all know the reason. It is because there is a blueprint for the final pattern which we are powerless to 259 change. If we are powerless to change it by one comma of this kind, then much of the power which the House once possessed has gone.
There are many countries which make changes in the constitution extremely difficult to put through. We make it extremely easy but, because we make it extremely easy, it is the right and the duty of everyone of us to make sure that when there is co-operation between the two Front Benches the powers of this House be not further diminished.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Although, for reasons which I will deploy, I disagree with the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) in the terms of the Amendment, I fully endorse his closing words. It is far too easy in this country to amend the constitution, and, therefore, when constitutional changes are proposed it is right for the House to take all the time that is necessary closely to analyse changes in our constitution which may well endure for a very long period. Even although this Amendment is not one of the most important Amendments to be selected by the Chair, it is a proposed part of our constitution for the future and we are right to analyse it in just the way, with just the care, that the House chooses for itself.
I will not seek to follow the hon. Gentleman in his gay canter round the outer perimeter of the rules of order, because I am certain that I should fall off and therefore incur your displeasure, Sir Barnett, but I would like to comment, particularly now that the Secretary of State for Social Services is back, on one of his observations.
I think you were in the Chair, Sir Barnett, when the hon. Member read a passage from Bagehot. I did not recognise the passage, and I cannot help wondering whether it does not come from the edition for which the Secretary of State for Social Services is responsible. The Secretary of State among his many qualities has never included accuracy, and it may be that the hon. Gentleman was misled by a misleading misquotation for which his right hon. Friend was responsible.
I note too, that during the hon. Gentleman's speech once again the Liberal benches became empty and that what 260 might be called the wind and water brigade has once again indicated its complete lack of interest in the constitution of this country. So, in the absence of what I might call amphibious forces, I must attempt to deal with the Amendment.
I thought that in his entertaining speech the hon. Member had got hold of the wrong end of the stick in respect of the words covered by the Amendment.
As I see it, it is not suggested that the introduction of this Measure will bring in a panic rush of noble Lords who have never bothered previously to apply for a writ and who will be induced by the introduction of this Bill to do so. Why should it? Their power to vote is being taken away by it. Membership of the other place will be very much less attractive, not more; and, as we were not even allowed to ask whether noble Lords covered by the Amendment would receive the daily sessional allowance, we are left in doubt whether there would be any material encouragement.
The hon. Gentleman really got hold of the wrong end of the stick when he said he thought that these words should be taken out of the Bill because of their danger. The reason why I support the retention of these words and why I hope the Government will resist the Amendment is that the existing wording is designed to cover the case where a hereditary peer dies shortly before or shortly after the coming into force of the legislation.
The hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne said that it would help protect the incompetent. That seems peculiarly unfair when it is observed that one of the two categories whose right to sit in the other place is preserved by the words in question is that of those who have been diligent enough to apply for a writ but the writ has not been issued. In those circumstances, any incompetence lies not with the noble Lord concerned but with the Lord Chancellor's Department. Sir Barnett, though you would rule me out of order if I carried this any further, I find it difficult to believe that any department presided over by the present Lord Chancellor could be anything other than grossly incompetent.
It would be wrong to provide that a noble Lord who, on the death of his 261 father shortly before the coming into force of this Measure, applies for a writ of summons and the stately but rather dilatory processes of the Lord Chancellor's Department are going through the application at the moment when the chopper comes down, should be deprived of his seat on the ground that he is incompetent.
Equally, the six months addition after the coming into force of the Measure is reasonable. Sir Barnett, with your profound legal knowledge, you will recall the deceased wife's sister's Bill. The whole discussion on that Bill was based on the undesirability of someone having a motive for a near relation to die, and die promptly. Take the position of the heir to a peerage whose venerable sire is nearing the end of his distinguished days and who observes, creeping up alongside his father's decay, the coming into operation of this legislation. It is very wrong to put him in so invidious a position that, while he desires his venerable sire to continue, he sees his future in the other place dependent on the precise day on which that venerable gentleman "pops off". Surely it is better to have a decorous period of six months. It might have been longer, but we must be thankful for small mercies. So where a peer succeeds at about the time of the coming into operation of this Measure, he has preserved to him the right that his predecessors may have had for generations to sit in the other place, even though, under another subsection, he is deprived of the right to vote in it. For that reason, I support the retention of these words in the Bill.
It is true that this could introduce an element of absurdity. It is legitimate to argue that it is hard on the hereditary peer whose father dies six months and one day after the legislation coming into force. I accept that. But the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne must not seek to believe that we can prevent absurdity in this Bill. It is an absurd Bill inherently. It is riddled with absurdities, and, therefore, even speeches of the physical endurance of that of the hon. Gentleman cannot hope to eliminate absurdity from it. The only way to do that is, at the appropriate stage, to throw it out. However, we are in Committee, as I think you are about to remind me, Sir Barnett—I am glad to be able to save you the exercise—and we must accept that the Bill has had a 262 Second Reading. We must accept, too, that it is proposed to terminate the succession of hereditary peers to the other place on a certain date. I regret that but, if it has to be done, it has to be done with reasonable transitional provisions, and, much though I dislike most of the Bill, this is a reasonable transitional provision. Therefore, if the hon. Gentleman presses the matter to a Division, I shall go into the Lobby with the Government. At least, I hope that the Government will come into the Lobby with me.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Powell
It is from no failure of gratitude to the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) for the very thorough way in which he moved his Amendment that I declare myself to be of the belief that he misdirected himself in the course of his argument.
In my experience, never have two and a quarter hours in this Chamber passed by so swiftly. Hon. Members who were fortunate enough to hear his speech will bear me out in saying that, charmed both by his eloquence and reasoning, they were barely sensible of the passage of time. However, I think that they would say that their gratitude and admiration is divided between the hon. Gentleman himself and you, Sir Barnett, and your predecessor in the Chair, who so strongly and continuously helped the hon. Gentleman to keep within the rules of order.
It was a poor recognition and a poor courtesy to the hon. Gentleman that the Secretary of State for Social Services should have spent so much of the time engrossed in a book, contrary, I apprehend, to the rules of order—
The Temporary Chairman
The right hon. Gentleman will forgive me for saying so, but I do not think that he is dealing with the Amendment. Perhaps he would be good enough to come to it now.
§ Mr. Powell
Certainly, Sir Barnett. But I hope that you will agree that it is one of the customs of this House that an hon. Member taking part in a debate should refer briefly to those who have preceded him in the debate.
Nevertheless, I believe that the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne misdirected himself substantially. We are dealing with what might be called the cut-off provision in Clause 1. In itself, 263 Clause 1 abolishes the existing hereditary House in preparation for Clause 2, which will replace it by a nominated chamber. Clause 1 also contains transitional provisions whereby certain peers by succession will remain members of the new nominated Chamber, though members without a vote. The question is to decide which hereditary peers by succession shall take part in that transitional provision. That brings us to the cut-off which is provided in subsection (2).
I am at one with the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne in saying that, where we are faced with so many absurdities, it is difficult to find a rational line on which the division can be drawn. However, I would put it to him and to the Committee that more absurdities and anomalies would follow from the omission of paragraph (b) than from its retention. The hon. Gentleman argued persistently that peers who, though qualified to apply for a writ, had not actually done so within the terms of paragraph (a) had failed to do so because they were, as he put it, "unenthusiastic". Admittedly, this could be so in a number of cases, but it is not necessarily so.
I should like to put two cases to the Committee in which lack of enthusiasm could not possibly be the cause for the failure to have received a writ. The first, which was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), is that a peer might have succeeded so short a time before the commencement of the Act that it was, in practice, impossible for him yet to have received his writ, however anxious he was to do so. In that case I apprehend that it would be regarded as inequitable that a distinction should be drawn between him and other existing peers by succession who were no more keen and, in all likelihood, no more able to serve in the new House of Lords.
§ Mr. Sheldon
I am sorry to intervene again. But both the right hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) have spoken about the misinterpretation of that paragraph. The right hon. Gentleman will, of course, be familiar with Amendment No. 6, which is really the Amendment to which I 264 should have wished to have spoken, which is included within that Amendment.
§ Mr. Powell
Like the hon. Gentleman and many other members of the Committee we are in a difficulty here, since we are so often obliged—there is no criticism of the Chair in this; it is the nature of our proceedings—to debate an Amendment and to argue a case which falls short of what is our intention and wish on either side of the Committee. I accept that the hon. Gentleman could have made his proposition more logically than he was able had he been permitted to do so.
But perhaps I might at this point—
§ Mr. Paget
Surely the right hon. Gentleman is pointing out that the passing of the Amendment would affect a relatively small group. It would concern the peer whose parent died within about 10 minutes of the Act coming into force. If the parent died half an hour before he would have time to put in his application if he were really interested.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Sir Barnett Janner)
Order. I hope that hon. Members will keep in mind that interventions are supposed to be short. If they wish to make specific points or speeches they should try to catch the Chairman's eye. Otherwise, we shall be here all night.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
On a point of order. With respect, we are in Committee. Is it not the tradition of the House, whether in Committee of the whole House or upstairs, that there should be some freedom and flexibility concerning interventions and giving way by hon. Members concerned about a point which would properly be deprecated by the Chair when the House was sitting as a House?
§ The Temporary Chairman
I entirely agree. At the same time, the introduction of fresh points, which might be better introduced in the form of a speech, are hardly the subject for interventions.
§ Mr. Powell
Indeed, Sir Barnett, I believe that the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) is 265 correct in saying that it will be a relatively small number who will be affected by the paragraph proposed to be left out. Nevertherless, I do not think that the decease need be as little as a few minutes before the commencement of the Act. It might well be a matter of weeks or even months before the commencement of the Act and the peer still qualifies under paragraph (b) but not under paragraph (a). Probably the hon. and learned gentleman would share my preference on that ground for the retention of this paragraph.
At this, point perhaps I might ask the Secretary of State for Social Services, when he replies, whether he will clear up a question raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames who apprehended that peers who succeeded after the commencement of the Act might also be covered by this paragraph. My reading of the paragraph is that they in any case would not be covered, since, if their predecessors died after the commencement of the Act, they would not have been "qualified at the date of the commencement of the Act" to receive such a writ.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I think that it would be useful if the Secretary of State did clear up this point when he comes to reply. Does it not depend whether the wordsbeing qualified at that dategovern only the first part, or whether they also governhad applied for it before that date or applies for it within six months thereafter"?This is certainly not clear. It would be important to have that cleared up.
§ Mr. Powell
I accept the point made by my right hon. Friend. It makes it all the more necessary that the exact effect of the paragraph should be defined by the Government when the debate is wound up.
I should now like to put another case to the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne where I feel that real inequity, to which he would be as sensitive as anyone, would be avoided if the paragraph remains in the Bill. We can easily imagine that the processes in the Crown Office, whereby a writ is actually issued, do not move at absolutely uniform and foreseeable speed. Consequently, it 266 could happen that two peers who made their applications in different circumstances—one from a change of intention, the other by reason of succession—at virtually the same time might, in the one case, have received and, in the other not have received the writ at the time of the commencement of the Act. I cannot imagine that anyone would wish to introduce such an additional absurdity into the Bill as to exclude the one and admit the other to whatever privileges the Bill may offer to peers by succession who remain Members of the new House.
There were times when the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne seemed to apprehend a panic rush by his 80 or 100 non-writ receiving peers to receive writs. Indeed, one of the most interesting of many interesting passages in his speech was that—or those—in which he surveyed the characteristics of these 80 or 100 peers who might in this Gardarene manner rush into the newly-constituted nominated Chamber, I do not think that this is a real danger. After all, if they be so minded, those peers have all the time which we are giving them and which will in any case intervene before the commencement of the Act. The date of commencement of the Act is one of the crucial points which will later have to be debated and is the subject of a deep division of opinion between the two sides of the Committee.
The great majority of the 80 or 100 peers who are entitled at this moment to apply for writs, if they are so minded, would be able to have their writs issued well before the commencement of the Act and thus not require the easement which paragraph (b) provides. In short, I think that in a highly illogical Bill this paragraph imports a slight but useful and justifiable rationalisation. I think that it avoids more absurdities and unfairness than it imports. My advice to the Committee is that we should allow it to stand in the Bill.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser
I am sure that the Committee was intrigued and spellbound by the remarkable speech of the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon). After all, from Ashton-under-Lyne there has come a long line of distinguished Members of Parliament, including the late Lord Beaverbrook, Sir Max Aitken as he then was.
267 It may be worth talking for a few moments about the motivations of Sir Max in deciding to become a peer, but I shall not go into the idiosyncrasies of that great man. Sufficient to say that towards the end of his life he became a very reluctant peer, and I think that this adds weight to some of the points made by the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne in his disquisition on the thoughts of Namier.
Perhaps we could say something about F. S. Oliver's, "The Endless Adventure", and the time of the Walpole Administration, but I shall spare the House that, and at this stage animadvert to the great misfortune it was for the House of Commons and for our constitution that men of the calibre of the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne were not on the drafting Committee, following which the Front Benches on both sides of the House put forward this absurd Bill.
The hon. Gentleman, at least, showed a deep and profound estimate of values, almost metaphysical values, when he quoted Bagehot—
The Temporary Chairman (Sir Barnett Fanner)
Order. I hope that the right hon. Member will come to the subject matter of the Amendment. I think that he is straying a little wide of it.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
On a point of order. Sir Barnett, you were not here when the Chairman of Ways and Means permitted the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) to quote in full some very interesting passages from Bagehot and Sir Lewis Namier.
§ The Temporary Chairman
I was not, but I still think that the right hon. Member is straying somewhat.
§ Mr. Fraser
I shall spare the Committee a few hundred pages of F. S. Oliver, who deals with various attitudes of party managers and party leaderships which, throughout history, have been in danger of being corrupted by power unless they were controlled by the mass of the House of Commons. One of the conclusions which the hon. Gentleman so rightly drew is that this is why we are determined to debate the Bill line by line, to prevent the collusion between the two Front Benches overwhelming the constitution because some peers in the House 268 of Lords are so idle or so fearful that they are prepared to accept the Bill as it stands.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
I hesitate to interrupt such a charming speech, but is it not unfair to speak of collusion in this matter? Is there any evidence that any concession was made by right hon. Gentlemen opposite to the Leaders of the Tory Party? Was there, in fact, collusion? Was this not a diktat?
§ The Temporary Chairman
I hope that the right hon. Member will come to the subject matter of the Amendment, and will realise that that intervention was entirely out of order, as was most of what he was saying.
§ Mr. Fraser
Sir Barnett, I promise that I shall raise this matter at the Conservative Party conference rather than on the Floor of the House of Commons. I was about to say that I regret the absence of any leaders of the Tory Party, but I see that my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) has just crept into the Chamber.
At one moment during his most elegant and eloquent speech the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne almost convinced me that his argument was an endeavour to help both Front Benches, because surely the Amendment would be greatly to their advantage. There would be a manageable Upper House, even more manageable than that which they proposed. However, on consideration of the hon. Gentleman's speech I have come to the conclusion that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, Southwest (Mr. Powell) is right, and that the Amendment should be opposed.
There are two points which ought to be made at this stage. First, if one makes an actuarial calculation on the basis of the 394 Members of the House of Lords who have taken the writ, one sees that their probable longevity and continuance in service until 1972 becomes a very short one, and that the service which lies ahead of them is circumscribed, inevitably, by the nature of the Bill. Therefore, on that score alone the Amendment should not be accepted.
There is even more reason to oppose the Amendment on rather more moral grounds. One of the grounds put forward by the hon. Gentleman was that this 269 was a sort of punishment for those who had not attended in the past. When the hon. Gentleman referred to disputed barricades, I felt that I ought to remind the Committee about the words of Seeger:I have a rendezvous with Death At some disputed barricade.However, I resisted the temptation.
The punishment envisaged is that of not being permitted to sit in the Upper House, but Members of that place are not to be paid. There is to be no reward, no "gravy train", for the persons who are appointed by the two main political parties. It is to be either a House of no force, or a House of bedlam, and, therefore, very few peers may rush for the writ. In fact, we may find the contrary.
Perhaps I might consider some of the cases referred to by the hon. Gentleman, because I think these are relevant. They are cases in the 18th century referred to by Namier, by F. S. Oliver, and by other historians, when there was a definite advantage in a grand duke or family deciding which member should go to the House of Commons, and which should go to the House of Lords. This may well happen again. To protect the House of Commons from an invasion of lordlings the Amendment should be defeated.
Let us assume that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Social Services is created a duke, and that he has two sons. Let us assume, too, that one is asked to stand as a Labour peer, Lord Lordling, M.P., and the other as a Conservative peer, Lord Lordling, M.P. This is what will happen. These lords will be joining all parties, they will be standing for Parliament, and they will be defeating others—
§ Mr. Ridley
Surely the most effective position of all will be that of the cross-bench peers, because they will be able to curry favour with whichever party is in office?
§ Mr. Fraser
If my hon. Friend will be good enough to do the two Front Benches the favour of reading the Bill in greater detail he will see that once a peer accepts the writ he will not be able to stand for Parliament. I am sure that this is the final and clinching argument for saying that the more Lords we can stick in the House of Lords the better 270 the interests of this House and of democracy will be preserved.
§ Mr. George Brown (Belper)
Is not the situation described by the right hon. Gentleman exactly present now? Does not he, in the House of Commons, represent exactly such a situation?
§ Mr. Fraser
No. I am only a doubly hon. Gentleman. I am honourable because I was born honourable and I became right hon. because I was a Minister. It has nothing to do with being a peer of the realm, because I am a younger son—
§ Mr. Brown
The right hon. Gentleman does not understand. He is the younger son of a peer and he is in the House of Commons because we run our affairs this way, so we have exactly the position which he said would arise—and he is, by marriage, on this side of the House. Is not he himself exactly in the position which he has forecast will arise? It has already happened.
§ Mr. Fraser
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend—not to such nice people, perhaps.
Vital though the debate has been on this matter, what lies before us in an area of what is called "guided democracy" in another place—guided by the appointees of the two Front Benches. Anyone who wishes to join in this system, instead of facing the electorate as I have done, is not the sort of person that we should encourage to take part in the government of the country.
§ Mr. Paget
I will not go into the question whether the result of the Bill will be more absurd than the present method of selection. I merely want to ask my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) to explain how it works in some instances. I am interested in this particularly, following the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser), who is the younger son of a Scottish peer.
I think that a Scottish peer has either a United Kingdom peerage or a peerage of 271 Great Britain, but Clause 1(1) provides for the exclusion of peers by inheritance, that is, the holders by succession of hereditary peerages, whether a peerage of England, Scotland, Great Britain or the United Kingdom. The Amendment is an exception to that exclusion, of those who, being qualified at the date, receive the writ.
So far as the peerage of England is concerned, I imagine that being so qualified means that such a peer's father is dead, that he is 21, that he is not insane—although I am not certain about that—
§ Mr. Paget
Are they qualified if sane or only if certified sane, and what if it be only temporary insanity? Perhaps my hon. Friend could deal with these points. This is the position of the peerage of England. But I think that there is an element of election among Scottish peers. Or am I wrong, and are not all Scottish peers automatically—
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser rose—
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Sir Barnett Janner)
May I direct the hon. and learned Gentleman's attention to the Amendment? We are dealing with peers who are qualified on a certain date to receive a writ, and the Scottish peers do not come under that heading.
§ Mr. Paget
But I am just asking who this covers. Subsection (1) debars, roughly, peers of inheritance unless they have—this is subsection (2, a)—received the writ when the Bill becomes an Act or—this is paragraph (b), which is what we are dealing with in the Amendment—they will qualify to receive it at that date.
I was under the impression that the qualification of peers of Scotland to sit in the other House is not as with a peer of England—that is to say, that he has inherited, is of age, is not insane and is not a foreigner—but something else. As I understand, he has to be elected by his fellow peers—
Earl of Dalkeith
May I try to help the hon. and learned Gentleman? He is absolutely correct: this was the situation until approximately 1963, when the last 272 change was made by the previous Conservative Government. Now they are on exactly the same footing as the English peers.
§ Mr. Paget
I am most grateful. The noble Lord has corrected me and cleared up the position.
I now come to the peers of Great Britain and of the United Kingdom. I do not know whether my hon. Friend can tell me whether there is any distinction between these two classes. Who is a peer of Great Britain, in whose disfavour we are seeking an exception, and who is a peer of the United Kingdom? Are they the same, or should they be treated differently?
These points have occurred to me in considering this rather abstruse and difficult Bill. It is the kind of difficulty which makes a very careful examination of the Bill necessary. Every hon. Member is extremely indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne who, in the absence of criticism from the Opposition Front Bench, has had to take upon his own shoulders the duties usually taken by an Opposition, but neglected on this occasion, to ensure that an important and far-reaching change in our constitution should have proper examination.
It is odd that, on a constitutional Bill of this sort, the Opposition are so poor an alternative Government that their job has to be done for them by Government back benchers—
§ Mr. John Hall (Wycombe)
Why does the hon. and learned Gentleman expect opposition or criticism from the Opposition Front Bench? Is it not an established fact that the Bill is presented by agreement between the two Front Benches and that the criticism must, therefore, come from the back benchers on both sides—
§ Mr. HARRY GOURLAY in the Chair]
§ Mr. George Brown
The question having now been allowed, may I put the question to my hon. and learned Friend? Is it true that the right hon. Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling), who is looking after this matter on the Opposition Front 273 Bench, has agreed this Measure with the Government?
§ The Deputy Chairman
Order. Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman will relate his remarks to the Amendment.
§ Mr. Ridley
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) made an erudite contribution to the debate and I thank him for his analysis of those who will be affected by the Clause.
The most valuable service which the hon. and learned Member performed was to question my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, Southwest (Mr. Powell) about the effect of the Amendment if it were either carried or rejected. He pointed out that only a few hours would have to elapse between the death of a peer and the heir to the peerage putting in his application for the writ. We should send out a message from this Committee to peers who may be frightened at the prospect of their fathers' early demise, telling them to have their applications for writs written out, placed in addressed envelopes and stamped with a 5d. stamp so that they reach the Lord Chancellor's office before the Bill becomes law.
Although the Amendment was moved ably and impressively by the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne, we are, at the same time, discussing an Amendment standing in my name which seeks to lengthen the period from six to 12 months during which time peers may be eligible to receive the writ, having made application.
There is some inconsistency in the Clause because in the subsection following the one with which we are concerned a peer who has received the writ is given one year in which to decide 274 whether or not to disclaim his peerage and right to sit in the House of Lords. It seems odd that we should give this period of six months to those who might wish or might not wish to make application for the writ, while we extend the period to 12 months for those who may wish to disclaim. Need we have this inequality of timing?
A later Amendment would remove any time qualification for a peer who might wish to disclaim his right to sit in the Upper House. While it would be out of order to discuss this matter at length now, it seems extraordinary that any peer who is allowed to attend the House of Lords is not empowered to give up that right and say that he does not wish to continue to sit there.
Hon. Members of this House have an opportunity to resign by applying for the Stewardship of the Chiltern Hundreds at any time. We need not do it within the first year of being elected. I therefore have doubts about the wisdom of putting any time qualification on a peer to allow him to disclaim his peerage. As the period of one year appears in the Bill, it would be consistent for the same period to apply in both subsections, so that instead of having the first period of six months, it would be one year in both cases.
I have a further reason for thinking that there should be a period of one year in this case. One year from the time when the Bill will come into force brings us to October, 1970. The Bill as drafted comes into force at the end of this Session, which will presumably be in October, 1969; and a year from that date brings us to October, 1970. I imagine that by that time there will be a General Election. There might be a different Government and then there will be an opportunity for peers to reconsider their position. It would be prudent, whatever we may do about the date of the coming into force of the Bill, to make provision for peers to rethink the matter should there be a change of policy and a change of Government.
I was impressed when my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) referred to the reasons why noble Lords might be tardy to apply for the writ and make up their minds whether or not to accept it. However, the Bill does not mention whether peers 275 may continue to call themselves Lord this or Duke that or Viscount something else after the Bill becomes law.
There will be three categories of peers—voting peers, non-voting but attending peers and peers who may neither attend nor vote—and of these 5d., 4d. and 3d. peers, so to speak, we do not know who will be allowed to call themselves Lord Smith or whatever other title might be appropriate or whether they must revert to Mr. Smith. We do not know what title or style will be allowed.
If there is a threat to remove the titles of those who cannot vote, there will be the same headlong rush to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) referred to put in applications for writs as soon as possible; and the longer the period is extended, the more there will be who will qualify. This may result not only in extinguishing the political rights of peers, but also their names.
Although it may be argued that it is right that those who cannot vote in Parliament should not carry titles, I suspect that many Lords are more keen to retain their titles than they are to sit in Parliament. The actions of a large number of peers by succession and who are entitled to receive the writ will therefore be determined not by whether they will be allowed to go to the House of Lords and draw their 4½ guineas a day, but whether they will be allowed to continue to call themselves "Lord this", "Duke that", or have to refer simply to "Mr.", I suggest that this will be a greater determinant than the question of voting rights.
This brings me to the question of there being something to be said for exploring further the question whether the 4½ guineas will be eligible—
§ The Deputy Chairman
Order. We are not discussing the remuneration or titles of Members of the Upper House, but the subject of the Amendment.
§ Mr. Ridley
As this has been such a long and wide-ranging debate, I thought that it would be in order to go into some of the reasons which motivate peers in applying for the writ, Mr. Gourlay.
276 I was putting forward the proposition that both the prospect of losing their titles and the prospect of losing 4½ guineas a day motivate a large number of peers, and I also thought that to sort out this question the Minister should say whether the expenses provisions will apply to non-voting as well as to voting peers. This matter is of interest to a wider number of people than myself. Indeed, it will be of considerable interest to the peers concerned, who will be hanging on the Minister's reply to know how their future will be shaped.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Social Services (Mr. Richard Crossman)
I do not think that it will be a surprise when I say that it is the advice of the Government that the Committee should resist all three Amendments, although the first two should be resisted on very different arguments from the third which has been eloquently put forward by the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley).
I also resist the blandishments of the arguments brought into the debate. I do not feel that I would be in order in discussing the future titles of those who would be no longer Members of the House of Lords, nor payment of expenses. I must refer to the remarkable oration of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon). In view of something which was said by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), I assure him that I was not guilty of any discourtesy, but during the course of my hon. Friend's long speech I was anxious to find a quotation which was hanging in my mind. It was a quotation from Bagehot, but I could not find it. I shall have to use it in a later reply in a later intervention on a later Amendment.
I am glad to feel that even my hon. Friend regarded this as a minor Amendment. Although he felt he should show his sense of the importance of Amendments in his oration dealing with what he described as minor Amendments, I think that he showed that quantity was a good substitute for quality in that sense. I shall confine my remarks to the admirable reasons for rejecting the Amendments which were put forward by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West and the right hon. Member 277 for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter). There is no connivance between them and me, yet, without connivance, as sensible and prudent men, we can agree—as we happen to on this narrow matter—about the effect which the Amendment would have on the purpose of the Bill which we hope will be an Act of Parliament.
There has not been any spread of agreement between them and me except on this miniscule issue on which my hon. Friend detained the Committee for so long. I was deeply grateful for the careful and meticulous way in which the right hon. Gentleman rebutted by argument the points put forward in favour of the Amendment. To avoid tedious repetition I wish to summarise what I think was the substance of their arguments. We had two questions to discuss. In the first Amendment we had to discuss whether peers by succession should be limited to those who have received a writ of summons. I agree that this would not be the purpose we had in view when conceding what they very much dislike but which they recognise in the nature of the upper House.
We did not want to exclude those who are not qualified peers of succession, yet would have the right to speak, only because at that time they had not obtained the prerequisite of a writ of summons. I should have thought it reasonable to believe that a peer by succession might be in the process of proving his title, or he might not have applied for a writ as he had been ill or abroad at the critical time. There are plenty of reasons why someone we would wish to include in this category should be included although he had not received the writ of summons.
I come to the second of my hon. Friend's Amendments, in which he seeks to exclude the period of grace within which a peer by succession can apply for a writ of summons. This is a powerful argument if he is against anyone, but a peer with a writ being allowed to sit and speak in the House. Clearly, he would make it as difficult as possible by excluding the six-months' period of grace. All the arguments which apply to his first Amendment apply to the second. For the purpose of those propounding this Bill it makes sense only if the two Amendments are not accepted.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the two Amendments, could he give an interpretation of the words for which both my right hon. Friend and I asked?
§ Mr. Crossman
I am sorry that I omitted to answer the specific question which the right hon. Gentleman asked. He asked about persons who succeeded to a peerage after the commencement of the Act. If he thinks about that he will realise that they would not be qualified and would not receive a writ of summons and the question would not apply after the Act came into force.
Turning to the third Amendment, I agree that there is great difficulty in the drafting to which right hon. Gentlemen opposite have called attention. It is not perfect and we might be able to improve it. I am grateful to them for calling attention to an obvious ambiguity. The representations were very elegantly made by the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury, who wanted us to have not six months but a year of grace, kindness or forbearance. With considerable ingenuity he suggested that in the particular circumstances we are in this might tide over to another Parliament and a different situation.
If the hon. Member wants to do that, he should know that there are other places in the Bill in which he could do it instead of by slipping it in on a minor Clause. There are major issues, such as that saying when the Act shall come into force, by which a new situation will be created, under Clause 19. I do not think that the hon. Member would like to make this change on a minor point in a subsection of Clause 1. Whether we should have 12 months rather than six months, there should be a long enough time for a peer to make up his mind. We should reduce the uncertainty to the minimum and we consider that six months would be sufficient time.
§ A mendment negatived.
§ Sir Lionel Heald (Chertsey)
I beg to move Amendment No. 140, in page 2, line 28, at end insert:
"or(c) is appointed as a Lord of Parliament.
§ The Deputy Chairman
With this Amendment, for the convenience of the 279 Committee we may take new Clause 5—Peerages for a limited term—new Clause 19—Lords of Parliament to be created after consultation with Advisory Committee of Privy Council—and Amendment No. 139, in page 1, line 3, leave out from 'and' to end of line 8 on page 2 and insert:whereas it is essential that the House of Lords should continue to play its proper part in the Legislature as a Second Chamber capable of exercising the valuable functions of revising Bills sent up from the House of Commons, and initiating discussion on public affairs, and also to ensure that there should be available to the country a legislative body composed of men and women of mature judgment and experience gained in many spheres:And whereas the following principles were agreed at a conference of Party leaders in the year 1948 as to the future composition of the House of Lords—
- (a) the Second Chamber should be complementary to and not a rival to the Lower House, and, with this end in view, the reform of the House of Lords should be based on a modification of its existing constitution as opposed to the establishment of a Second Chamber of a completely new type based on some system of election;
- (b) the revised constitution of the House of Lords should be such as to secure as far as practicable that a permanent majority is not assured for any one political Party;
- (c) the present right to attend and vote based solely on heredity should not by itself constitute a qualification for admission to a reformed Second Chamber, but a certain proportion of the Chamber should be taken from the hereditary peerage;
- (d) members of the Second Chamber should be styled "Lords of Parliament" and should be appointed on grounds of personal distinction or public service. They might be drawn either from Hereditary Peers, or from commoners who would be created Life Peers. It is a matter for consideration whether a certain proportion of the Chamber should be chosen on a regional basis;
- (e) women should be capable of being appointed Lords of Parliament in like manner as men;
- (f) provision should be made for the inclusion in the Second Chamber of certain descendants of the Sovereign, certain Lords Spiritual and the Law Lords;
- (g) some remuneration should be payable to all Lords of Parliament;
- (h) peers who were not Lords of Parliament should be entitled to stand for election to the House of Commons, and also vote at elections in the same manner as other citizens; and
- (i) some provision should be made for the disqualification of a member of the Second
280 Chamber who neglects, or becomes no longer able or fitted, to perform his duties as such:And whereas effect can properly be given to the said principles by the exercise of Her Majesty's Prerogative in respect of the creation of new Peers:
§ Sir L. Heald
You have agreed, Mr. Gourlay, that with this Amendment we may consider Amendment No. 139, which deals with the Preamble. I think that I can explain the background to this matter shortly. It will be observed that we are proposing the addition of a third exception to the main provision to Clause 1, which excludes the hereditary principle. The peers to whom we refer are to be called Lords of Parliament.
To make it clear why that is, it is necessary to turn to Amendment No. 139. I appreciate that we are not concerned at the moment with the amendment of the Preamble, but it is generally understood—indeed, it follows from what the Chairman said earlier—that it will be in order and, indeed, necessary to refer to the Preamble for the purpose of discussing Amendments which will necessitate an alteration in the Preamble if they are accepted.
§ The Deputy Chairman
Order. Amendment No. 139, dealing with the Preamble, has been selected for discussion with this group of Amendments.
§ Sir L. Heald
I am obliged, Mr. Gourlay.
The proposed Preamble in no way represents any brainwave on the part of those who put it forward. It has what I believe will be regarded as very respectable ancestry, because it is based almost entirely upon the Agreed Statement which was published as a White Paper—Cmd. 7380—in May, 1948. That statement had the backing of some very distinguished Parliamentarians. All three parties were agreed on proposals for the composition of the second Chamber. They were unable to agree upon its powers and, therefore, it was impossible for any settlement to be arrived at.
However, the three parties were agreed as to the composition of the House and the proposals that they agreed upon had as their essential feature that there should be a departure from the hereditary principle—that is provided for in Clause 1—but that the Members of the second 281 Chamber should be Lords of Parliament and should be nominated.
In adopting this approach we are adopting the same line of approach as the Bill does, because Amendment No. 139 contemplates that this arrangement, which is based upon the 1948 Agreed Statement, will be carried into effect by virtue of the use of the Royal Prerogative. We are on all fours as regards the machinery. The principles set out in the Amendment match almost word for word what is contained in the White Paper, Cmd. 7380.
Those who made this Agreed Statement in 1948 were, for the Government, the Prime Minister—Mr. Attlee, as he then was—and the Lord President of the Council—Mr. Herbert Morrison, as he then was; for the Official Opposition, Mr. Anthony Eden and Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe; and for the Liberals Lord Samuel and Mr. Clement Davies. Those six men agreed upon the principles which are set out in the White Paper. We take the view that the House of Commons, in considering this vitally important question of the future of the second Chamber should at least consider very seriously what was agreed amongst those distinguished Parliamentarians of all three parties to be the proper principle.
The principles agreed by those Parliamentarians go a long way with what is set out in the Bill, but differ in some important respects. Those Parliamentarians began by saying this:(1) The Second Chamber should be complementary to and not a rival to the Lower House, and, with this end in view, the reform of the House of Lords should be based on a modification of its existing constitution as opposed to the establishment of a Second Chamber of a completely new type based on some system of election.There is not much difference there.
Next, they said this:(2) The revised constitution of the House Lords should be such as to secure as far as practicable that a permanent majority is not assured for any one political Party.That principle is stated simply, but is not deal with easily. However, it is far better than this complicated balancing act which is to be done, and it also avoids the two-tier structure which has been criticised in many quarters.
282 Next:(3) The present right to attend and vote based solely on heredity should not by itself constitute a qualification for admission to a reformed Second Chamber.That has a direct bearing upon Amendment No. 140.(4) Members of the Second Chamber should be styled 'Lords of Parliament' and would be appointed on grounds of personal distinction or public service. They might be drawn either from Hereditary Peers, or from commoners who would be created Life Peers.(5) Women should be capable of being appointed Lords of Parliament in like manner as men.(6) Provision should be made for the inclusion in the Second Chamber of certain descendants of the Sovereign, certain Lords Spiritual and the Law Lords.Apart from getting away from what we submit is a complicated and impracticable balancing and juggling act, there is little different in the general machinery set out in this Agreed Statement from what is in the Bill.
Next, the statement proposes that some remuneration shouldbe payable to members of the Second Chamber.That is a matter to be settled in due course. The proposals continue in this way:(8) Peers who were not Lords of Parliament should be entitled to stand for election to the House of Commons, and also to vote at elections in the same manner as other citizens.That, I think, is to be found in the Bill.
Finally:(9) Some provision should be made for the disqualification of a member of the Second Chamber who neglects, or becomes no longer able or fitted, to perform his duties as such".In such a system it is clearly desirable that there should be some provision for hereditary peers to be nominated. To this proposal of the then wise men of Parliament we have ventured to add a new Clause—No. 19—which introduces a proposal for which, again, I do not claim originality, although it has not been mentioned in these discussions. It provides thatLords of Parliament shall be created only after consultation with an independent Advisory Committee of the Privy Council.That proposal is worthy of consideration, whatever else is decided.
To complete the story with regard to the Preamble, the tentative agreement 283 broke down because it was impossible to agree on what should be the period of delay. There is no question that but for that it would have been possible to reach agreement.
In the absence of Liberal hon. Members, I think that the Committee would like to know what those very eminent former leaders of the Liberal Party said and did about it. The White Paper says that they… had originally criticised the Parliament Bill on the ground that it did not provide a sufficient suspensory period.But they were able to accept the alternative proposal made by the Government. The White Paper also says:Having regard to the measure of agreement in principle on proposals for the revised composition of the Second Chamber, the Liberal Leaders deplored the breaking off of further discussions by reason only of a matter of three months in the suspensory period.In their view, that was a minor matter.
The White Paper continues:The representatives of all three Parties were united in their desire to see the House of Lords continue to play its proper part in the Legislature; and in particular to exercise the valuable functions of revising Bills sent up by the Commons, and initiating discussions on public affairs. It was regarded as essential, moreover, that there should be available to the country a legislative body composed of men of mature judgment and experience gained in many spheres of public life. But the Government representatives and the representatives of the Official Opposition considered that the difference between them on the subject of powers was fundamental …I want to call only one more authority to my support, and that is that great man Lord Samuel. This is what he said about those proposals which he had advised, in conjunction with the other Parliamentarians, should be adopted for the future second Chamber:Here you have a plan endorsed by the leaders of the Labour Party which would have carried forward as an institution into the new age this House of Lords, with its name, its procedure, its place in the Constitution and its traditions, with the one exception that heredity was not to be regarded in itself as a sufficient title for a share in the powers of legislation.Later, he said:… especially, as the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, has said, that we should take care that youth should have its 284 day, and should not create a new Chamber which, being nominated, might have all the signs of senility. Those younger members who have already been able to show talent and energy in the country's service "—again, every word applies today—ought not to be deprived of an opportunity of continuing that work. I think it will not be denied that if the question of the powers—of the year or two years—could have been settled, the rest—the composation proposals—would have been agreed with very few dissentients. Had that been done, the country would have said that the House had given an outstanding mark of farseeing political wisdom in putting forward such a scheme."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 8th June, 1948; Vol. 156, c. 464.]With these words, I commend the Amendment to the Committee.
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)
I rise to speak to new Clause 5. I am not clear why it was selected for discussion with the Amendment we are debating, but I do not look a gift horse in the mouth, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to it, although it is a little unrelated to the other Amendments before us.
I cannot say that I have very much in common with the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald). The only point he made with which I can find some agreement is that about younger Members of another place.
The object of the new Clause is to empower the Crown to… create Lords of Parliament who shall be voting peers, but who shall hold their peerage only for the duration of such number of Parliaments as may be specified in the patent creating each such peerage".There was a time in the Middle Ages when the Crown had complete discretion when calling people to the House of Lords. It could call a person for one Parliament and fail to call him for the next. As the tradition of an aristocratic oligarchy grew, the Crown lost its power. One could regard that as a means by which another place defended itself against the power of the Crown. Individuals obtained the right to be summoned regularly and for their sons to be summoned in their stead when they died.
I notice a smile on the face of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) who has written a book on the subject. I trust I am summarising part of it correctly when I say that originally, the Crown had a fair 285 measure of discretionary power to summon whom it wished, or to fail to do so.
There was an attempt to restore this power in the 19th century, when it was desired to create life peers for the purposes of judicial peerages. By that time their Lordships decided that the Crown had no power to do this and that an Act of Parliament was necessary. By a much more recent Act we have given the Crown power to create life peerages.
What I desire to do is to give the Crown power to create peers not merely for a peerage shorter than a hereditary one in the sense of being life peerages, but for even shorter peerages, in the sense of peerages for a single Parliament. This would be a more flexible power than the present law gives. My main object is to enable the Crown, at the wish of the Government or Opposition of the day, to appoint younger people to the House of Lords. A young man might be regarded by his party as a very good candidate, but be unfortunate enough not to secure immediate election to the House of Commons, though he might be elected in his forties or later. In the meantime, he could be appointed to another place. If one's belief of his abilities turned out to be mistaken he need not be appointed to the next Parliament. One cannot imagine very many young people being appointed as life peers under the present law for periods that might be 30, 40 or 50 years.
It seems to me that this will inhibit the possibility of the Government or Opposition appointing young people. I am trying to remove this disability or limitation so that the Government and Opposition can feel that they can appoint younger people for a short period, which can be extended or not as desired.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser
This is an interesting speech. One of the great fears among hon. Members on both sides is of the power of patronage which will fall to both Front Benches. Will the hon. Gentleman explain how that danger would be avoided by his proposal?
§ Mr. English
I recognise the valid point made by the right hon. Gentleman. The fear is shared by many of my hon. Friends. Therefore, in drafting new Clause 5 I carefully added, after "such number of Parliaments", the words 286… as may be specified in the patent creating each such peerage".I agree that it would be undesirable if it were the case that a peerage could be created, but automatically rescinded. I do not think that that would be desired by many hon. Members. Perhaps it might be by the Front Benches, but certainly not by many hon. Members.
The term of appointment could be shorter than a period of life. It could be for any number of Parliaments. But it could not be altered once specified in the patent of creation. So, if the individual who went to the House of Lords decided occasionally to vote or speak against his party, he would be in no danger of losing the term of appointment he was granted originally. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it would be undesirable if a peerage of any type could be rescinded because of a vote cast or a speech made in the Upper House. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would agree with that as well.
I do not want to go on for the length of time which seems to be the average today. I merely put the point that my proposal is desirable. If my right lion. Friend cannot accept the Amendment, perhaps he will at least say what is the Government's policy with regard to the insertion of relatively younger Members in another place, which I hope will happen. If one could appoint people for a shorter period than for life, it would be easier to appoint younger people.
§ Mr. Airey Neave (Abingdon)
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) spoke with skill and clarity and the Committee should congratulate him. I will not follow the speech of the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English), but will return to the Amendments standing in my right hon. and learned Friend's name. They are very important and provide a scheme for the composition of the Upper House which was agreed in principle in 1948 and which avoids many objectionable features of the Bill and of the 1968 White Paper to which many of us object so much. In particular, it would avoid the two-tier structure, the 10 per cent. majority, and the Upper House would not be dependent on the nomination by the Prime Minister of its 287 Members. We have quite a different proposition in mind.
My right hon. and learned Friend went through the 1948 agreement, which, to a great extent, was the high-water mark of agreement in the last 50 years on the composition of the House of Lords. Its terms are similar to those of the Rosebery conference of 1908, where the description, "Lords of Parliament" first appeared.
Amendment No. 139 sets out the principles which were then agreed and which are very important today—indeed, are modern in context. In sub-paragraph (d) we have made a few additions ourselves, in that we say thatmembers of the Second Chamber should be styled 'Lords of Parliament' and should be appointed on grounds of personal distinction or public service. They might be drawn either from Hereditary Peers, or from commoners who would be created Life Peers. It is a matter for consideration whether a certain proportion of the Chamber should be chosen on a regional basis;",Apart from the last sentence, those words are actually part of the 1948 agreement.
New Clause 19 would specify thatLords of Parliament shall be created only after consultation with an independent Advisory Committee of the Privy Council."The expression "Lords of Parliament" emphasises the idea that the second Chamber should be complementary to and not a rival of this House. This was one of the basic principles of agreement 20 years ago, and should be today.
If our Amendment were carried, a "Lord of Parliament" would have the right to attend and vote in the Upper House. The instrument for the appointment we propose is of some importance. It is an Advisory Committee of the Privy Council, which would consult upon such appointments to enable Her Majesty to exercise her Prerogative. The Privy Council has a special status in our history. There are many grounds for thinking that it would be the best body to perform this new function. Those of us who are not in favour of direct nomination through the Prime Minister, but who see some difficulties in direct or indirect election to the Upper House, will, I hope, seriously consider the proposal put in new Clause 19.
Privy Councillors are historically the Royal advisers. The Privy Council has 288 special status. That status could be used to recommend the peers of Parliament. The Privy Council has sufficient members over a wide range of occupations and personal distinctions to elect and appoint its own committee for the purpose. I suggest that the members of that committee should not be members of the Government or of the Opposition Front Bench and they should not, of course, be appointed by the Lord President of the Council, We know of the existence of ad hoc committees of the Privy Council, and of course, of the Judicial Committee. It would be possible for the Privy Council to appoint a committee entirely free of Government influence.
This proposition should not be confused with the Review Committee proposed in the 1968 White Paper so far as its composition is concerned. The Committee's function would be to make recommendations to the Sovereign. The names of nominees would not only be submitted by the Prime Minister, but by other bodies and, if necessary, by individuals and also by the regions, trade unions, industry and the professional bodies mentioned in the other Amendments we are discussing.
This type of machinery, even though it may not be perfect, would get us away from the odour of patronage which runs through the White Paper and in the background to the discussions of the Bill. Of course, the Prime Minister would make recommendations to the Committee, which would consult upon them. It would be possible historically for the Privy Council to advise Her Majesty on the question of selection and appointment of "Lords of Parliament". I hope that this point will be taken further later.
§ Mr. English
As I understand, the Privy Council consists in practice, of such three people as happen to be at each meeting. When the hon. Gentleman says that the Privy Council should decide this, that or the other, is he suggesting that the entire body, such as assemblies on the accession of a monarch, should do so, and, if so, could he tell us its political composition?
§ Mr. Neave
If the hon. Gentleman will read new Clause 19 he will see that it speaks of an independent advisory committee of the Privy Council. I am referring to the possibility of the whole Privy Council electing a body to advise the 289 Crown on these appointments. The political composition of the committee must surely be a matter for the Privy Council as a whole. There is surely no objection to the suggestion of guiding the Privy Council in this direction.
Through this machinery it would be possible to have a considerably less politically-orientated scheme. We are not proposing any form of built-in majority for the Government, because this is the principle of the 1948 agreement. It would provide the same opportunities, which most hon. Members seem to want, for a group of people to be drawn from different occupations, no doubt adequately remunerated. This point appeared in 1948. This proposal gives the Committee the opportunity to investigate a new method of getting away from what I regard as the odious aspect of patronage surrounding a great deal of the Government's proposals.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
I want to address my remarks principally to what was said by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald). I must begin by apologising to him because I was out of the Committee for a minute or two while he was speaking. If I say something which would have been made superfluous had I listened to the whole of his speech, I apologise to him in advance, and I am sure he will correct me if that is the case.
I want first to refer to a matter raised by the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English), who moved new Clause 5. Comparing new Clause 5 with the other Amendments we are discussing, I cannot see what close connection there is between them. I do not wish to make any criticism of the selection; I am just a little puzzled about the exact connection. I have listened to my hon. Friend's case, and I came in with some sympathy for it. Even though I hate this Bill, I am prepared to see whether it is possible to amend and improve it, and I listened to the case for new Clause 5 in that sense.
The more I listened to my hon. Friend's case the more I thought it was difficult to amend the Bill in this particular direction. That is no criticism of his Amendment or of my hon. Friend's speech, but 290 of the Bill itself. It just goes to prove that, not merely is it not possible to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, but one cannot even make a tolerably inoffensive receptacle for utilitarian purposes out of a sow's ear. I fear that this is the situation in which we are placed—those of us who are opposed to the whole Bill.
It would be an extremely marginal choice as to whether it was desirable to have peers appointed on a limited period or varying periods or for life, or for life to the age of 72. The 72-year rule has some peculiarities, and we will no doubt be discussing them later.
If my hon. Friend's purpose was to illustrate how much deeper we get into the mud as we go along with this Bill, he has done it extremely effectively. The same criticism must apply to the Amendment, supported by the hon. Member for Abingdon, about the Privy Council. It is a bit hard on the Privy Council that it should be dragged into this Bill, because it may come out of it with a reputation not quite as high as it was before it went in.
Once we start to examine the Privy Council and ask whether it is the kind of body qualified to do the impossible job of helping a Prime Minister to select those whom he ought to nominate, then the Privy Council is brought into some question. Most of us regard the Privy Council as a harmless affair. It does not do much harm to anyone. The only harm it has done to Members of this House is that its members interfere with the rights of backbenchers. That is the only thing that I have against the Privy Council. I have not heard anything to its discredit for years.
When the suggestion is made that some real power should now be given to the Privy Council, we may get into difficulties. I do not know how many Privy Councillors there are—I think it is about 250—but I would wager that it has a good Conservative working majority, despite the fact that my right hon. Friend has assiduously made appointments to guard against such an eventuality. I am sure the Prime Minister foresees all these things and makes the appointments to deal with these possibilities. Even so, I would be willing to bet quite a large sum of money that there is a substantial Tory majority on the Privy Council.
291 Here we are faced, without this matter being explained in any detail, with the proposition—if we accept new Clause 19—of giving considerable powers to the Privy Council. We would have to examine this very carefully. Sometimes the Prime Minister appoints himself a Privy Councillor or fellow members of his Cabinet. If the Privy Council is to have powers, then peculiar questions are raised.
Lord Melbourne was once asked by, I think, King William IV why he would not accept the Order of the Garter. He replied that it was a ridiculous proposition—he could not bribe himself. He therefore rejected the honour, and that is something like the situation we would have if we give greater powers to the Privy Council, because the Prime Minister would then have the incitement to appoint people to the Privy Council who could have influence of this nature and we would be dragging the Privy Council into the whole of this unsavoury business. I hope that the hon. Gentleman, on second thoughts, will leave the Privy Council where it is. It has not done much harm for several centuries. Let us not besmirch it by bringing it into this Bill. I hope that he will consider the withdrawal of the Amendment on that count.
I come to the main matter I wish to discuss, and that is the question of substitution, in one sense or another, for the proposals of the Government and the official Opposition—because despite all the disclaimers of the right hon. Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling), everybody knows what the situation is. What we have not had fully explained to us is whether it is possible to discard a particular part of the package and retain the rest. I hope that by some suitable Amendment being carried in Committee we shall put this question to the test and see whether we have to pass through this Committee and the House the exact package with which we were presented at the beginning. It is very important that we should establish the right to unwrap the package and to say that we will discard part of it. Many of us would discard the lot.
It is wrong for the Government or the official Opposition to suggest that on a matter concerning the constitutional 292 arrangements of this country and the balance between the different Houses of Parliament there should be some foregone arrangement which it is impossible to upset. That would make a farce of our Committee proceedings. Therefore, we wish to see some flexibility on these Clauses exercised by the Government and the Opposition. The right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey has moved his proposal in that sense.
However, I strongly dissent from the right hon. and learned Gentleman's view, because, although the proposals of the Government and the official Opposition for dealing with the House of Lords are bad, the 1948 proposals were even worse. But it is extremely instructive that we should have looked at what is proposed today in the light of what was proposed then. In that sense, the right hon. and learned Gentleman may well claim that by making this proposal in a debate about the Preamble he is asking the House to examine more closely than we have been able to do the history of proposals for the reform of the second Chamber. It is right that we should take into account what happened in 1948, how it occurred and why it collapsed.
This is the most extraordinary Preamble ever presented in any Bill which I have known to come before the House of Commons. I am sure that many times in the history of Parliament there have been Clauses which were outside a Preamble, but we have never had a Preamble which was outside the Clauses. This is a topsy-turvy arrangement. As far as I know, it is unique in Parliament's history. I should be glad if my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who is so learned about Parliamentary precedents, would tell us whether a major Measure has ever been presented in which the preamble went so far beyond any of the Clauses which the House was able to debate afterwards. I have not looked up all the precedents, but, in my opinion, it is a gross abuse of our legislative arrangements that a Preamble should be used to push through a principle which the Government are not prepared to define in much closer detail. We are being asked to open the gates much wider than is reasonable.
Complaints have been made about Statutory Instruments and the way in which they sometimes go beyond what 293 Parliament has decreed. But we have set up numerous committees to guard against this peril. There is the Statutory Instruments Committee, part of whose function is precisely to see whether Statutory Instruments go beyond what the House of Commons wish to see enacted in legislation. But here we have a Preamble which is much wider than the Measure itself. What happens if the Statutory Instruments Committee or any other Committee has to examine the meaning of certain Clauses. Will it be able to say, "This matter is not dealt with in the Clause and therefore it cannot be done, even though the Preamble goes much wider?" What will happen in the courts? Suppose that a judge has to decide whether somebody is entitled to sit in the House of Lords and he says, "When I look at the Clause, I think that this person is not entitled to sit. But when I look at the Preamble, it is a free-for-all, the matter is wide open".
Before the Bill is allowed to leave this House, the Government should either bring the Clauses into conformity with the Preamble or the Preamble into conformity with the Clauses. This point will arise on a series of other Clauses. Before we part with the Bill, this constitutional question must be properly settled. A Government is not entitled, under the normal constitutional procedure of the House of Commons, to use a preamble to push through measures which it is not prepared to define in detailed Clauses. This is especially a matter which it is right to raise in Committee. The purpose of a Committee stage is precisely to decide whether each Clause is satisfactory and whether each part of each Clause is satisfactory. However, the Preamble in the Bill casts an aspersion on all the Clauses.
We shall have to have this debate again and again. The Government are inviting inordinate debate unless they clear up the question of the Preamble once and for all. In my opinion—and I give it as a complete amateur in these matters—there is no way in which the Government can clear up the profound discrepancy between the Preamble and the Clauses without altering the Preamble. If they have to alter the Preamble, they are in this difficulty: they wreck the Bill. It is only under the Preamble that the bargain is enshrined. It is only under 294 the Preamble that the arrangement in the White Paper is brought into the Bill.
The Government have placed themselves in great difficulty. I do not know what advice they have received. If the point about the Preamble is not answered in this debate, then, great as my respect is for the legal knowledge of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, the Attorney-General should at some stage pronounce on the Preamble, which is an extremely serious matter which we cannot allow to go through on any casual phrase. The Government must understand that there will be several other opportunities for raising the question of the Preamble and we must have an authoritative legal pronouncement. I do not say that it is not possible for the Government to state that it is legal for them to do this, but it is extremely doubtful whether they can produce any creditable precedent for what they are doing concerning the relationship between the Preamble and the Clauses.
§ Sir L. Heald
I said that I was proceeding on the assumption that the Government were right in saying that they could do what they wished to do by way of the Prerogative. I should not like to say that I do not agree with a great deal of what the hon. Gentleman is saying.
§ Mr. Foot
I am sure that we are all extremely grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his advice on this subject. If it is a question of the exercise of the Prerogative, it might be done by some form of resolution. That might be a proper constitutional way way of dealing with the point. There might be a general resolution to the effect that agreement had been reached by the two Front Benches on the form of appointments which were to be made and that it should be enshrined in the resolution. I do not think that that would be a very satisfactory way of doing it, but it would be more satisfactory than by stretching a preamble to cover something which has no precedent. It is improper to use a preamble for this purpose.
If, as I am sure is the case, the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey is correct in saying that the matter could be dealt with by the Prerogative, let it be done openly and clearly by the Prerogative and not by a preamble. If I am 295 merely repeating what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said with much greater authority, I am sorry, but I wish to emphasise my support for him on that aspect.
I will now come to the main matter on these Clauses to which I wish to refer, and that is the history of 1948, which is extremely relevant to the Measure that is being presented to us. Some hon. Members remember very well the arguments we had in 1948 when some of us were as bitterly opposed to the proposals of 1948 as we are to the proposals of 1969. Some of us played our part then in wrecking the proposals of 1948, destroying them, and we may be equally successful, who knows, on this occasion.
On that occasion the Parliamentary Labour Party debated the future of the House of Lords, and we were faced with the same sort of situation with which we are faced now. We were faced with the same problem that the House of Lords might be able to use their power to upset what we regarded as the legitimate decisions of the lower House, and we had debates in the Parliamentary Labour Party on how this should be dealt with.
Mr. Herbert Morrison and others speaking for the Labour Party appeared before the Parliamentary Labour Party and said: "We want powers, we want your authority and your approval for negotiating and discussing these matters with the Front Opposition Bench and with Mr. Clement Davies". Mr. Clement Davies was at that time the Leader of the Liberal Party. Many of us had a suspicious turn of mind and we said that it would be much better not to negotiate with them but, if they must, they should take all the battery of long spoons to which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch) recently referred. We made all these provisions and precautions, and we said, "All right, if you discuss it with them you must go well prepared and make it clear that you have no power to make any settlement; you have no power even to make recommendations to the House. You will have to come back to us before you have any authority to go ahead". It was only on that basis that Mr. Herbert 296 Morrison and the others were empowered to enter upon those discussions in 1948.
Mr. Herbert Morrison returned from those discussions with the proposals which the right hon. and learned Gentleman read out to the House. Mr. Herbert Morrison came to the meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party and hoped, and argued as far as I can recall, that we should accept the proposition. We debated it, the matter was discussed with powerful arguments on all sides, and I am happy to say the cause of justice and right was victorious. Mr. Herbert Morrison's paper was torn up, and he had to go back to those with whom he had negotiated and say, "It is a washout, they will not agree to it".
That was a perfectly proper proceeding, and I only wish that something similar had occurred on this occasion. I am underlining that it is all very well for the right hon. and learned Gentleman to talk as if there were such unanimity or near agreement in 1948; but it was an agreement on which, as was shown by the facts, Herbert Morrison did not carry with him the Labour Party. He did not carry with him the Labour Party on that occasion for precisely the same reasons that some of us oppose the Bill today; because we think that the proposals of 1968, like those of 1948, leave too great a power in the hands of the House of Lords, although the proposals of 1948 left greater powers in the House of Lords than the proposals of 1968; but both of them are bad.
However, it is interesting to note the inconsistency in these matters, that is, the change since 1948. Some of us can claim to be perfectly consistent. We fought against the proposals of 1948 and were victorious; we are fighting against the proposals of 1968 and will probably again be victorious but, whatever the outcome, we are consistent in our opinions. I am not saying that consistency is the final virtue, but nor do I accept that it is the hobgoblin of feeble minds, or any such jeers. There is a great deal to be said for consistency in politics, particularly when the arguments are almost precisely the same as before.
§ Mr. Foot
I am glad to have support from that quarter. The inconsistency of 297 my right hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench is apparent to all. They have, as they claim, made a better deal than in 1948, but they have in my judgment gone very far towards accepting the proposals which the Labour Party rejected in 1948. Most remarkable of all is the somersault of the Front Opposition Bench and of some noble Lords in the other place. I do not know whether it is out of order, Mr. Gourlay, to suggest that noble Lords turn somersaults, but so they have.
The case put by the Conservatives in those days, particularly by Lord Salisbury—I know that on this occasion he has opposed these proposals, but that does not alter my argument—was that the House of Lords should act as a check upon this House. Such a check has always been difficult to devise. How could a constitutional arrangement be devised to ensure that when there is a Labour majority in this House there should be a Conservative check upon it in the other place, and when there is a Conservative majority in this House there should be a Labour check upon it in the other House? That is an extremely difficult constitutional puzzle which has baffled constitutional experts ever since the day of the Abbé Sieyés, and I dare say even before him.
As far as I know, only one solution has ever been devised for this puzzle, and that was proposed by my friend Geoffrey Bing, who was once a most astute and well known Member of this House. He is the only person to have devised an automatic check in the other place upon either a Labour or a Conservative majority in this House. His proposition, and it is better than the present one, is this: that all victorious candidates in an election should come into the House of Commons and all defeated candidates should go into the House of Lords. If that principle were to be applied there would be an automatic check. It was urged upon us at that time that this was exactly what was wanted. Lord Salisbury was the chief advocate of the "check mate" principle. He was the chief person to say that we must have an arrangement whereby the House of Lords can deal with the House of Commons when it becomes obstreperous, whoever in this House may be obstreperous.
298 Let us look at what has happened. In one sense that proposal of a check in the other place is enshrined in the amorphous paragraph (b) which the right hon. and learned Gentleman is seeking to insert in the Preamble to the Bill:—(b) the revised constitution of the House of Lords should be such as to secure as far as practicable …I suppose that is a concession to commonsense—… that a permanent majority is not assured for any one political Party;That is an obstacle on which the Government have stumbled on this occasion, although they do not seem to have noticed it. They imagine that nothing has occurred, but they have come forward with this elaborate contraption about crossbenches and so on, because it is impossible to discover a reputable constitutional method to ensure either what is in paragraph (b) or what was demanded by the Conservatives way back in 1948, that is, to have a permanent check in the other place on a majority here.
It cannot be done. There is no way of devising a method that can stand up to criticism. That is why these discussions appear to be continuing so interminably. My prophecy is that the longer the House discusses the implications of what is proposed in the White Paper the more absurd it will become. The longer we discuss the proposals, the more apparent will it be that even the purpose designed by the Government cannot be achieved. Evidence of what I have been saying is further adduced by the fact that when the right hon. and learned Gentleman, abhorring what it is proposed to do, looks for some better method of achieving a more sensible answer he then goes back to the proposals of 1948, which are equally impracticable. The sentence which I have read cannot be translated from vague platitudes into practical application. We are faced with a situation now where many hon. Members opposite ask us in this debate to return to the proposals of 1948. I do not think that we can do that. Those proposals are no better and in some respects are worse than the present ones. But I hope that that fact will be an object lesson for the Government to go over the history of the matter. If they had learned from what happened in 1948, they would never have got themselves into these difficulties.
299 One of our criticisms is that, in proceeding with this bargain which the Government have made with the Opposition Front Bench, they have rejected all the advice given them over a series of years by right hon. and hon Members on this side of the House—and not merely from the back benches. One of the best speeches delivered in this House by Aneurin Bevan was one on this issue warning the House of Commons what would happen if it tried to patch up the House of Lords by the kind of methods proposed in this Bill.
The Government are in their present difficulties because they have rejected that kind of advice. They have rejected the advice of this House. They have rejected all the advice given them at the lengthy and frequent meetings of the Parliamentary Labour Party, which we thought, bemusedly, had been called for the very purpose of warning the Government about falling into other traps. They have rejected all that advice. They have rejected the history on this question of the future of the House of Lords, which is a fundamental matter. It is one affecting the constitution of the country. It is one affecting the balance of forces in the country between what some of us would call the cause of progress and the cause of reaction.
My objection to these proposals and to the Amendments which have been tabled is that they would perpetuate the situation under which the constitution of the country is weighted permanently on the side of reaction, the elderly, the Establishment and all other similar forces in our society. That is what the Labour Party has been opposed to for generations on this issue and, in my opinion, rightly so. Why should we abandon it now? No arguments have been adduced to persuade us, and that is why so many of us are determined to resist it.
There should be no criticism of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) for speaking at length on these questions because, as I say, they are fundamental questions. However, we are not asked by the Government to treat this as a fundamental constitutional question, nor is the country being asked to treat it in that way. We are told that the country is bored by it and that we 300 need not worry too much about it. The country is more interested in the Nabarro inquiry, or something of that sort.
Our duty in this House is to try and put these matters in proper proportion and in a different perspective. If we look at them in a proper perspective, what the Government are asking us to do is extremely dangerous from the Socialist and Left-wing point of view. What, in effect, we are being asked to do is to strengthen this institution for generations to come and give a permanent weighting to that part of Parliament. Ever since there was a Labour Party, we on these benches have argued that we must change the situation under which the constitution is weighted against the left and in favour of the right.
It has been said, though it confuses the argument somewhat, that right hon. Gentlemen like the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) and others who, in my terms, are reactionaries of the depest dye, are also opposed to this Measure. If they are, they can explain their reasons better than I can. But what the Government cannot dispute is that the overwhelming majority of right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition Front Bench and of Conservative peers in the House of Lords are passionately in favour of the Measure. Many of them have spoken in the strongest terms, saying that it is a prize which must not slip from their grasp. I do not mean any disrespect to the hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), but they do not seem to have joined in our debates very much. That is a curious state of affairs in itself. It is odd that in proposed legislation to reform the House of Lords, a Measure which presumably they have been waiting for and have been working for, in these debates the Opposition Front Bench have shown so little interest that they have participated hardly at all.
The right hon. Member for Flint, West has said that they are ashamed of themselves. Well, I do not like to speak for them, any more than I do for those who oppose the Bill for reasons different from my own. However, I appeal to my hon. Friends, not that they are so numerous on this occasion. However, in quality, they are superb. In my 301 opinion, this Bill weights the constitution heavily against the left and heavily in favour of the right for a long period ahead. I do not expect anyone to accept that opinion from me alone. It is upheld and supported by the views expressed in the other place, and supported overwhelmingly by those who see the advantages which they can get from this situation.
Those of us who oppose this Measure are in difficulty. It is difficult for us to amend it so as to make it more appetising or acceptable. It is equally difficult for hon. Gentlemen opposite, who have deep and sincere objections to it, to find ways in which they can improve it. This group of Amendments is proof of that, because their acceptance would make an amorphous situation even more amorphous.
The right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey has illustrated the difficulty that he and his hon. Friends are in by tabling an Amendment to the Preamble. Like me, he is against using Preambles for purposes which cannot be defined in Bills. However, in this situation, he has had to go ever further and commit the same sin that we know the Government are committing in using a Preamble of this nature. That is a further illustration of the problems involved in dealing with such a Bill.
As I said when we discussed the previous Amendment, even though there are differences of opinion about the reasons why we object to the Bill, there is nothing discreditable in hon. Members on different sides of the House who have different reasons for objecting to the proposals in the Bill voting in the same Lobby against them. We are entitled to say to the Government that, as a House of Commons, we have examined this Measure carefully and, the more that we examine it from our different points of view, the more unsatisfactory it is exposed to be.
Those hon. Members on this side of the House who oppose it cannot be accused of any lack of consistency. All the consistency is on our side. Among right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, there are many who object to it for different reasons. But both sides are in the position of having had presented to them an agreement between the two 302 Front Benches on a matter which can affect the constitutional position of the country to the end of the century and beyond. Apart from being a betrayal of what the Labour Party has always said about a second Chamber, it is not satisfactory for the two Front Benches to say to us not merely that we have to accept that agreement but that we have to accept the whole lot without qualification or substantial amendment—
§ The Deputy Chairman
Order. We are not engaged upon a Second Reading debate. We are discussing Amendments and new Clauses. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will relate his remarks to them.
§ Mr. Foot
I apologise, Mr. Gourlay, if I have gone too far. But I think that the Amendment, which has no doubt quite rightly been called by the Chair, is extremely wide. It is an Amendment which refers in the Preamble to all the discussions which took place in 1948. It is a Preamble which proposes a different set of principles to be incorporated in the Bill. It is an Amendment which, if carried, would alter the whole of the position that is presented to the Committee and to the House of Lords, because it will go to the other place eventually. Therefore, it seems extremely difficult to limit the debate that might take place on a Clause of this nature once it is admitted not merely as a Clause in the Bill, but as part of the Preamble. That is part of our case.
I come at the end to the point that I was making at the beginning. If the Government wish to escape from debates like this which, like the British empire of olden days, will get wider and wider, they must deal with the Preamble. They must give us an authoritative legal answer to the questions which have been put about it. They must describe to us the limitation that they are proposing to set upon their own Preamble. They must describe to us how it is possible to have a situation in which a Preamble hints at Measures which may be taken without defining them in any way which can be amended by the Committee. They must deal with all these major constitutional matters.
This is not some tuppenny-halfpenny Bill. This is not some Waterworks Bill 303 in some minor parish. I have nothing against a Waterworks Bill of a major parish, for that matter. But the Bill deals with powers which we will be able to retain over many years.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne—although not with the full scholarship that he brought to bear on the matter—I say that the Government are getting into deeper and deeper difficulties over the Bill. I think that they should be prepared, at an early stage, to move to report Progress so that the whole matter may be reconsidered by the Government again. I think that they should take account of the fact that there is hardly any support on the back benches on either side for a Bill of leading constitutional importance.
If the Government say, "We do not care about that. We can force that through. We do not have to worry about that", many other hazards will come. There will be the hazard of trying to get this Bill through, which will become increasingly more difficult as time wears on. There is even the possibility that the House of Lords might revolt at some stage and put down Amendments to be sent back here. So the Government will not reach the end of the journey, even when they have got it through the House—and there are not many signs of that yet. The Government cannot say to me, or to anyone else, that this is something we have thought up late at night or early in the afternoon or that it is some stunt of Opposition that is being prepared. We told them at the very beginning that this is what they would encounter. We told them in private meetings and in public meetings. We told them on Second Reading of the Bill and on other occasions. We told them that it was a gratuitous affront to this Parliament to force through a Measure of this nature. We urged and pleaded with the Government not to go on bashing their head against this brick wall.
I repeat the plea to the Government which we made on earlier occasions. I ask them to reconsider the matter before we come to the end of this debate. I think that this wide Amendment proves how difficult the position will be on many future Amendments. I urge the Government seriously to consider the matter afresh. No doubt the proper, natural, 304 constitutional Parliamentary way to do that is to move to report Progress at some appropriate stage. I urge the Government, tonight or tomorrow morning, to consider the matter afresh in the Cabinet. I urge the Leader of the House to report to the Cabinet the strength of the opposition that exists on both sides to this Measure. I believe, if he does, that he will not only be reporting the truth, but doing a service to the Government as well.
We all know it is difficult for Governments to drop Bills when they have reached Committee stage, but it has been done before. The Government can properly say, as has been proved already, that no Whips operate on the Bill. Everybody knows that the Whips are withdrawn. It is already evident—[Interruption.] On Second Reading, I announced from this place that we were to have a free vote on the Bill. I can assure hon. Gentlemen opposite that that applies to the Committee stage as well. The Government and the Committee are fully aware of these circumstances. Therefore, I urge the Government again to reconsider the position into which they are getting under the Bill. I think that they would be wise to do it in their own interests. If they are determined to proceed with this bargain between the two Front Benches, which should never have been made, they will encounter the same kind of difficulties which an earlier Labour Government encountered in 1948. The back benchers of the Labour Party in 1948 repudiated the tentative agreement into which Mr. Herbert Morrison had entered. They said that they had never agreed to it and did not want it. We have as much right today to say that we will not accept the bargain of 1968 as we had to repudiate the bargain of 1948. I urge the Leader of the House to understand what we are saying before it is too late.
§ Mr. Powell
While the Lord President of the Council is reflecting, I hope, on that appeal from the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), which also comes to him from the majority of Members on both sides, I hope that it is not tactless on my part to follow the hon. Gentleman immediately by using the sole function of the Privy Council which he found objectionable.
First, I want to refer to nomenclature, which is raised by the first of these 305 Amendments that we are considering together. It imports, for the first time in our debates, the term "Lord of Parliament".
I hope that the Bill will not become law. Indeed, I believe that for one reason or other it will not. But if it were, by ill chance, to find its way on to the Statute Book, few things could be more absurd—come to think of it, that is rather an exaggerated claim having regard to this scheme—at any rate, it would be as absurd as many other things in this scheme, if we were to continue to refer to the Members of the new nominated Chamber as peers.
"Peers", in its elementary sense, means those who are equals one of another. In the Bill we are setting up a Chamber which is deliberately designed to ensure that one set of Members is unequal, and unequal in a crucial respect, to the other Members. There could not be less "peers" than the prospective Members of this new Chamber of nominees.
Besides that, the term "peer" for Members of another place, though not absolutely accurate in its application to the entire membership, since the right reverend prelates are not also peers, goes back very deep into that history with which we are apparently bent upon cutting all real ties. It goes back, in particular, to the period to which the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) referred, when he described how, at a certain point in time, we were threatened by an oligarchy which had seized and monopolised the right to be summoned to the councils of the monarch in Parliament. It was at that stage that, borrowing the term "peers" from France, they declared themselves to be the "peerage of the realm", and arrogated to that peerage the representation of the realm. Once again, it would be inappropriate to carry that term forward into the new nominated Chamber.
§ [Mr. GURDEN in the Chair]
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ It so happens that "Lord of Parliament" is not a new term. It was used about 600 years ago to get over the very kind of difficulty with which we would be confronted if ever we were to have the sort of animal that is envisaged 306 by the Bill and by the Preamble to it. The first occurrence, so far as I have been able to trace, of the term Lord of Parliament was in 1350. It was adopted then because the Crown was succeeding in again recruiting to Parliament new men whose status was by no means clear, who were finding their place amongst the older aristocracy; and for the whole of this new assembly, which Edward III, in his greatest period, was forming, a new term had to be found. It was in those circumstances that the expression "Lord of Parliament", which long remained in use—it began to die out only in the 17th century—was devised. Thus, if we are to have this thing at all, it is far better to describe the nominees as "Lords of Parliament" than to desecrate usage and defy common sense by using the term "peers".
§ I turn from nomenclature to content. I am sorry to have to discuss new Clause 5 in the absence of the hon. Member for Nottingham, West, whose absence is, I am sure, unavoidable. The hon. Gentleman was anxious, as I think all back benchers on both sides of the Committee have shown themselves anxious from the beginning, about the prospects of patronage; but I must confess that anything more obnoxious to patronage, more vulnerable to patronage, than the system proposed in his new Clause is difficult to imagine.
§ The hon. Gentleman says that he would not necessarily give the Prime Minister power to create "Lords of Parliament" just for one Parliament; they could be created for two or three. There are two points on that. The first is that if a Prime Minister here wanted to get control—and what Prime Minister does not?—over the votes of his nominees in another place, he would be very chary of advising Her Majesty to order the making out of patents for any but the shortest period which the law permitted to him. So on the whole a kind of Gresham's Law would apply and we should find that we were making peers for the minimum period, and they would be to the maximum extent subservient to the Executive in this House.
§ Suppose, however, that by way of extreme generosity, or credulity, the Prime Minister were now and then to make a peer for two Parliaments, or even for three Parliaments. As that period came 307 to an end—unless blissful 72 supervened—the holder of the peerage would still be in the same position. We are not allowed to refer to the possibility of salary. I suppose that he would want his 4½ guineas, and that he would want whatever else it was in the power of Government to give, particularly a renewal of that situation to which, presumably, though goodness knows why, he had originally aspired.
§ Mr. Fletcher-Cooke
My right hon. Friend says that we are not allowed to refer to salary. Amendment No. 139, which seeks to amend the Preamble, directly mentions the question of salary. It says thatsome remuneration should be payable to all Lords of Parliament".
§ Mr. Powell
I am obliged to my hon. and learned Friend. Perhaps those of us who took part in an earlier debate, when the subject matter was much narrower, have become almost brainwashed by the efficiency, Mr. Gurden, of your predecessors in the Chair in keeping us within the bounds of order, so that there has been a certain carry-over from the one debate to the other—something not unknown as a result of more serious forms of brainwashing.
But, granted that a man goes to another place under the new conditions, presumably he wants to be in another place. Therefore, as the end of his term approaches, he will be particularly malleable to the Executive and to the majority in this House. So the new Clause which the hon. Member proposes, although, like the rest of us, he is penetrated with anxiety about the exercise of patronage, immediately discloses that patronage would be rampant under such a situation.
Then there is new Clause 19, which is supported by some of my hon. Friends. I must confess that I share all the difficulties of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale in imagining how the Privy Council could function as the body which effectively controlled nomination to another place. It is easy to say that there would be a committee of the Privy Council. Certainly, there is a considerable number of committees of the Privy Council. In fact, technically, in terms of our constitution, the Cabinet itself is a committee 308 of the Privy Council. But these committees are not committees which the Privy Council itself—which I believe has a collective function once only in the reign of a Sovereign, namely, at the declaration of the accession—forms, but committees formed by the power of the Executive; and when the Executive changes, or changes its mind, the composition of these committees is altered.
So, if one takes it that there will be a committee of the Privy Council doing this job, we are on the horns of a dilemma. Either it is done by a committee appointed by the Executive, in which case we are back to the Executive as the nominator or, alternatively, we have this extraordinary, unwieldy body of scores of people who came by their Privy Councillorships under many different circumstances, which is likely to be of a political preponderance one way or the other, either nominating direct, which is almost inconceivable, or appointing a committee to do the job.
I will not go into all the ramifications of the difficulties which I think that that would cause. One possibility is that we would get a monotone political complexion of the nominating committee—
§ Mr. Julian Ridsdale (Harwich)
I was wondering whether my right hon. Friend, in his great wisdom, could suggest any other constructive independent body.
§ Mr. Powell
I was coming to that, because I believe that my hon. Friend, like the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale and so many who are taking part in this debate, are forming themselves into the two jaws of a nutcracker in which this whole notion will be smashed to pieces. I conceive that we are all engaged together on that task, by whatever line of reasoning we approach it.
I do not want to go on labouring the—I was tempted to say "absurdities", but at any rate—extreme difficulties of imagining how the Privy Council could perform such a function. So this second attempt to escape from patronage and the power of the Executive, to get some independent, all-wise or at any rate impartial, or perhaps accidental "toss-a-coin" type of nominator for a nominated Chamber, falls to pieces upon examination.
That leads us to what I believe is the important conclusion, that a nominated 309 Chamber, however it is constituted, and whatever machinery is invented for setting it up, will present an insoluble dilemma. Either it will be a creature of the Executive and of the majority in this place, or it will be a rock-hard, indefeasible opposition to this place, which this House will not for long tolerate and will, therefore, destroy and attempt to replace by another scheme.
The majority of hon. Members were agreed in our first debate on the White Paper last November that this state of affairs would not be satisfactory. What none of us can imagine is another place in which they is an entrenched opposition to this House. None of us believes that there could be such a thing. But equally none of us wants to see a carbon copy in this House or a puppet of the Executive.
Most of us—though I agree not all—want to see another House which has some sort of independent life which springs from a different principle of existence and which, although it cannot defy us, can take—though perhaps only temporarily—and express a different view; indeed, can express a point of view which, for various reasons, it may be difficult or impossible for us fully to bring to expression in this House.
With all its weaknesses and imperfections, we at present have a second Chamber which does, however imperfectly, fulfil that specification; a Chamber based on prescription which, however illogical, nevertheless performs that function. Whether or not hon. Members agree with me in that praise of what prescription can give us and has given us, one thing is becoming clearer even at this early stage in our debates. It is that a nominated second Chamber such as is implied in the Bill and prefigured, as through a glass darkly, in the Preamble, will not work, will not be tolerated, and is unacceptable to the majority of hon. Members.
§ Mr. Sheldon
The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) dealt with the important question of how Members of the House of Lords are to be chosen. New Clause 19 introduces the possibility of a different and, I admit, somewhat complicated structure.
310 This question of selection is one of the most crucial aspects of the revised House of Lords. It is easy to define, with a fair amount of exactness, the qualifications one would wish to see possessed by Members of the House of Lords. Hon. Members can make this judgment without difficulty. We obviously want a balance, with representatives of different parts of the country, such as those aware of life in the North in Scotland and in South-West England. We want people who can bring to bear experience of industry, agriculture, the Services and all other aspects of life.
The balance, and getting the balance, is something on which most reasonable people sitting round a committee table could come to some sort of agreement as to the kind of person in abstract that should be represented in the House of Lords. The difficulty comes when we start going from this abstract distribution of people we would like to see in the House of Lords and get down to discussing the precise individuals who should be going to the House of Lords.
The crucial problem is not that of discussing the balance in the House of Lords, but of discussing the selection. This is what it is all about, because whoever does the selection confers on those selected power of immense size. This is immense power which we should give only if we were utterly convinced of the necessity of giving that kind of power, not to present members of the Government, but to generations of Governments ahead so that they will have this power to make changes of immense importance.
When we get down to the selection we see that it is very easy to arrange an agreement between the two Front Benches because these are the recipients of that power. This is what it is all about. When two people meet together, whether in a "pub" or over an office table, and both see that as a result of agreement an access of mutual power can come to them, those people will leave that meeting very close friends. I am not saying that the friendship is extended in all directions, but no one who believes in the value of constant abrasion between Government and Opposition has any right to be happy about an agreement of such value to both of them and, 311 I believe, of such detriment to we ordinary Members of the House of Commons.
We see particularly in the absence of hon. Members from the Liberal Bench their attitude. They have benefited and do not wish to defend the agreement from which they benefit so much. So they have been quite happy to accept the benefits that they are to derive, but there is a sense of shame in knowing full well to what they have had to give way in order to accept that particular political bribe which will now be in the hands of the Liberal Party. The petulance we heard from the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) at the last meeting of the Committee, in his customary honesty, was an indication of some thought of shame at taking this kind of powers knowing full well that they were undeserved.
The power we are giving the House of Lords and its effect on the kind of Member of which the House of Lords will be composed are questions of time. There are those who say that with the six months' delay the increase of power will be very small, but we know that time is of crucial importance in so many affairs. The time taken to introduce the Industrial Reorganisation Corporation was an illustration of the importance of time. As the Government find themselves more and more involved in industry and with this degree of involvement in public life, time will be of greater importance, not less. So the six months will increase in importance because time will increase in importance. This is something we shall see adding to the powers that Members of another place are already to receive under the Bill.
The whole reason for the introduction of the Bill and the crucial part about the functioning of the House of Lords is its bias against Left-wing politicians and their enactments in the House of Commons. The Committee will forgive me for again quoting from Bagehot, but he puts these things so much better than I could ever hope to do. He says:Errors are of various kinds, but the constitution of the House of Lords only guards against a single error—that of too quick change.This is what it is all about. The House of Lords is biased in only one direction. 312 Those who talk about second thoughts, about different ideas, about men of substance having another look at legislation, mean only that the House of Lords has a bias against change.
I come to one aspect which is of serious importance to certain hon. Members on this side. What will be the consequence if I am right in my belief that the power of patronage will be greatly increased to an extent which we have not seen for generations and if I am right, also, that the power of patronage in the House of Lords will lead to powers of patronage in the House of Commons as people think of themselves as eligible for one of the 230 positions in the House of Lords? We must remember that for every one Member going to the House of Lords, there will always be many more who either deem themselves worthy of going or who think of themselves as being in the running; so the effect on a wide range of ability all over the country will be great.
If my belief is correct and the power of patronage does have such an effect in this House, it is not merely that the democratic forms of government with which we have been so well endowed over past years will be put in jeopardy. There is a particular argument affecting me and certain of my hon. Friends. I was present when my hon. Friends the Members for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) and Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) were having a debate with certain people representing Black Dwarf. Black Dwarf is not a movement of much consequence, but the argument it was advancing was that Socialism cannot be achieved through democratic processes and through the House of Commons.
I felt utter revulsion against that argument. The Socialism of Black Dwarf could be extreme, but I could still feel some sense of communication with the movement. This argument was put in The Guardian today by Mr. Peter Jenkins. On the occasion of the debate to which I have referred I heard the argument with utter revulsion. Although Black Dwarf claims to have ends not dissimilar to my own, the fact that it was able to accord to the House of Commons no place of any consequence filled me with such dismay that I felt that it was something of very great importance. If we enact the Bill as it stands, I will have 313 not the same number of arguments to level against these people as I should otherwise have.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Harold Gurden)
Order. I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman can relate what he is saying to Amendment No. 139. I should be obliged if he will do so.
§ Mr. Sheldon
Thank you. Mr. Gurden. It is Amendment No. 139 with which I particularly wish to deal. Although the question of payment to Members of the House of Lords has been dropped from the Bill, we all know it to be an inevitable consequence of the implementation of the Bill. The one leads to the other without any shadow of doubt, because the delaying powers of the House of Lords will become more important with time, not less, and Government must involve themselves, whatever shade of Government they are. I accept some of the arguments of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West that Government must become involved in a legislative Chamber which affects their legislation. They cannot be neutral.
If the Government are to involve themselves in this way, the most obvious way in which they can do so is by payment of Members of the House of Lords. That, plus the need to make sure that nominated peers attend, is as near to proof conclusive as one can achieve that payment will follow. The relationship between the two Houses will have the most devastating effect. With payment in the House of Lords, its duties and privileges may well become little less than the privileges accorded to this House.
We see in the Preamble a new principle of law to which we should give a great deal of thought. We are seeing the usual channels enshrined with the force of law. One of the things we know about the usual channels when they get together to fix something up to their satisfaction is that they deal with constantly changing events, and, the Opposition, realising that the Government must have certain powers so as to govern, and the Government, realising that the Opposition must maintain certain privileges, because they have the power to enforce them if they wish, some arrangement is usually worked out. But the Preamble gives the force of near static 314 law to a changing situation. It makes a nonsense of the usual approach.
The Government's dilemma was how to get into an Act of Parliament the important part that they wished to leave out. They cannot put it in because it says that the usual channels will always fix things between themselves. So they are trying to get that kind of meaning into an Act to try to bind successive Governments and Oppositions. The result will be a failure, as was brilliantly explained by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale.
The crucial point of the whole discussion in Committee is what we are debating when we debate the provisions of the Bill. If it is a blueprint that has been gone through Clause by Clause between the Government and official Opposition, all we do here is to talk to no avail, because nothing can be changed.
I should like to know what in the Bill is negotiable. How much of a precise blueprint is it? What can be amended, and what is unacceptable for amendment? I urge my right hon. Friend to "come clean" on this, because we shall have debate after debate after debate, and if we are under the impression that nothing can be changed, and the country gets that impression, the disadvantage will be not just to the House but to the country as a whole.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Ridsdale
I think that there is an unholy alliance between the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) and his hon. Friends and some of my right hon. Friends and myself. We are united in our desire to destroy the Bill.
I welcome the Amendment. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale, in his desire to oppose the Bill, leans towards the abolition of the House of Lords altogether. But the 1948 proposals, which we support, were put forward, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) has pointed out, by such men of long Parliamentary experience as Mr. Attlee and Mr. Eden, as they then were, and Lord Samuel, who endeavoured to find some constructive proposals which could possibly be an alternative to the House of Lords as at present composed.
315 To me, the principle at stake is that the House of Lords exists not to veto the will of the people but to ensure that it is made effective. How can the will of the people be made effective if both Front Benches nominate the Members of another place? How can we ensure, with such patronage, that we retain the safeguard that the will of the people shall be made effective? That, after all, must be the objective of a properly constituted second Chamber. This is why I welcome the Amendment.
At a time when the power of the political machines has been and is growing and should be diminished, the Bill underlines the fact that it is putting more power into the hands of the Executive than a true democracy should allow. The safeguards I believe in are going. This is why I welcome the Amendment because, underlying it, is the wisdom of Lord Attlee, Lord Avon and Lord Samuel, and the thread of the value of independence and of people of independent thought and independent means who are not tied to any political machine—people who care nothing for the manoeuvres of the machines and who will in another place safeguard the will of the people.
I welcome new Clause 19, although I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) that it is far from perfect. Indeed, the more I examine alternatives the more I agree with him that we should leave well alone because, fundamentally, only where there is independence can democracy flourish.
When I was in Korea once a young Korean said to me, "You cannot be a democrat on an empty stomach," How true this is. That is why the 1948 proposals are so much better than the 1968 proposals, which have been put forward by both Front Benches because of the patronage involved. In the 1948 proposals, it was suggested that it should be possible for some of the young peers to take part in another place, again underlining the importance of the independence of the Upper House. I support the Amendment because I am certain that the proposals in this Bill, agreed by both Front Benches, will, in the long run, if we are not careful, be a death-blow to democracy itself.
316 These may be harsh, strong words, but democracy cannot flourish without independence. It cannot flourish where there is patronage and nomination; where more and more people are made pensioners of the State; where it is increasingly impossible for people to be independent and to speak independently against the Executive or big business. This is why I repeat the words of Dicey who says that the purpose of a second Chamber is to ensure the supremacy of the electorate, where ultimate sovereignty lies. It has the power to delay where the will of the people is either unknown or clearly hostile. I look not for a second Chamber nominated by both Front Benches, but instead for one composed of people of independent means and outlook, who will be able to stand fairly and squarely against the manœuvring of the political machine.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) was saying, "Leave well alone", I chanced to remember some words from long ago, which say:Where there is an ancient community built up across the generations, where Freedom slowly broadens down from precedent to precedent, it is not right that all should be liable to be swept away by the foolish acts of a small set of men.The Front Benches on both sides of the Committee at present are showing themselves as small men because they are saying, "We can wipe away the precedents of generations in a few moments." I hope that people will realise the value of independence, because without it democracy will not flourish.
§ Sir Brandon Rhys Williams (Kensington, South)
In retrospect, I believe that we will look upon much that has been said today as forming part of our constitutional history, not only because of the length of the speech made by the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) but also for the very good sense of so much of what he said. There have been contributions of the greatest interest from all parts of the Committee. I hope that our Front Benches will pay due attention to the points of view expressed.
The hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne quoted Bagehot and implied that the House of Lords must necessarily be a House with a bias against change. We are speaking to a group of Amendments 317 which are part of a larger body of thought which has governed the series of Amendments tabled by my hon. Friends and myself. Our hope is that if some or all of them are incorporated in the Bill, the House of Lords which will emerge will not be one biassed against change, but will fill the gaps that may now be seen to have emerged in our constitution.
In spite of the remarks of some hon. Members, I am still proud to have put my name to new Clause 19. People who study our remarks will be able to say in retrospect that at any rate there were a few Members—looking round I am sorry to see how few—who realised the significance of this occasion, who realised that this was a critical time in the evolution of our constitution. We have had opportunities before in this century to amend our constitution, and we have muffed them all. Are we also, in 1969, to muff this opportunity which may be the last?
There was an opportunity in 1911 or thereabouts when the crisis of opposition between the two Houses reached its peak. I believe that it was a wrong decision by Lord Curzon and the Unionist peers of that time to allow their consciences to be bent by their interest in their own survival. They should have insisted on the Government flooding the Lords with enough people to carry their will. Had enough Liberal peers been created in 1911, that would have ensured the survival of the House of Lords because so much fresh blood would have been introduced. It would have done away with the bias towards one party only, which is one aspect which we hope we shall eliminate by this Bill. That is one of the few really worth while objectives of it. The opportunity was lost before the First World War and the decline of the House of Lords in influence and value started then.
A great opportunity was also lost in 1948. Although I have always admired the brilliance of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), I have never admired his good sense. I do not think that he does himself credit—I am sorry that he is not in his place. I think it was not particularly wise of him to have helped to wreck the 1948 conference on House of Lords reform. He would deploy his brilliant gifts to better effect if he would contribute positively to improving rather than wrecking this Bill. 318 Be that as it may, in 1948, when the parties came very near to an agreement which would have put the House of Lords on a much better footing, the opportunity was lost.
In 1969, we have another opportunity, but, judging from the Government's attitude so far, I fear that all that we are doing is so much emptiness, because no notice is taken of anything that back benchers say. I cannot help reflecting on the words of Bryce on the decline of the Holy Roman Empire. It is many years since I read the work and I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I do not quote him strictly accurately. I remember a remarkable chapter which ended in this way:While they talked the heavens darkened and the waters rose and swept away them all.If we fail to take note of the danger to our constitution of allowing existing trends to continue, we shall have muffed our opportunity in 1969.
An hon. Member said that the power of the Prime Minister had increased, is increasing, and should be diminished. This is only one of the unfortunate trends in our constitution which are not assisting democracy. I know that some hon. Members opposite think that if the House of Lords could be swept away altogether, if the House of Commons could triumph and we could achieve unicameral Government, it would bring us nearer to the achievement of complete democracy or possibly the attainment of Socialism. I do not think so. It might be true that if we had a bicameral system in which one Chamber triumphed completely and the other Chamber was turned into a luxurious annexe to its library facilities democracy would be well served. But I do not think so, in the light of the trends which are beginning to develop—and I have mentioned, in particular, the growth of the power of the Prime Minister.
The Bill attacks our constitution unconsciously by weakening still further the already far too much diminished power of the monarchy. It is a matter of pride to us that we have achieved the constitutional monarchy which we all understand so well and whose duties are filled so magnificently by its present incumbent. But there is a danger in allowing the monarchy to become simply the mouthpiece of the Prime Minister. When we learnt about our constitutional 319 history long ago, we were told that the monarchy was the keystone of the arch and that it was above party and influence and the ultimate safeguard of the people's rights. That was the constitutional monarchy as one was taught to respect it.
But we now have the unpleasant spectacle of the monarch, once a year, reading what is supposed to be the Queen's Speech but which people who are attuned to the conventions know very well is not written by Her Majesty at all. It may have been in order, 300 or 400 years ago, for the monarch's speech to have been drafted by his or her Ministers because his or her ministers had been chosen by the monarch. But in this century we have seen the reverse happening. The monarch has been chosen by the Ministers. It is a regrettable development that the Queen's Speech should be so patently a party matter—
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Harold Gurden)
Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will relate his remarks to the Amendment.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Sir B. Rhys Williams
Mr. Gurden, I am aiming to speak to New Clause 19. I am grateful to you for bringing me back to the narrow path.
Apart from myself, a number of hon. Members have objected to the additional power of patronage proposed for the Prime Minister by the right which the Preamble gives him to nominate Members of the other House. In this Amendment, we suggest a method by which this patronage could be exercised by a body of people closer to the Sovereign and further removed from the party battle than the Prime Minister.
It is my fear that, if Members of the other place are to be salaried, which seems almost certain eventually, the power of the Prime Minister to nominate his friends to the other place will give rise to an even more serious abuse of democratic rights. During the short time in which I have had the privilege of serving in this House, too often have I seen the ugly spectacle of the Government Front Bench steamrollering through a Measure in defiance of the views of many of their own supporters as well as of the Opposition. But, at all events, in the other place there has always been some degree of 320 freedom from the power of the party machines.
How are we to safeguard that in the future? My right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) threw a good deal of cold water over the idea that a committee of the Privy Council might be used to select those who are to serve in the other House. Nevertheless, I feel that the proposal is worthy of further study. The Privy Council ought to be above party, by its composition. It may well be that it is. But it is yet another of the elements in our constitution which are rapidly losing value. Indeed. I believe that the majority of our voters are ignorant of what the Privy Council does. However, it is a lingering remnant of a time when our constitution worked very well, and it would be a great pity if its powers were extinguished altogether through lack of use.
I would like the Sovereign ultimately to nominate the Members of the other House, in keeping with our very long tradition, but to be guided by people who know their business and are beyond the criticism of association with the party machines. I can see that it would be an innovation if the Privy Council were to meet to select a committee from among its members to carry out this function. However, it is not a very great innovation, and it deserves further consideration in the absence of any other constructive suggestion.
I am afraid that if the Prime Minister of the day has the power to choose the Members of the other House—and to bring in the Leader of the Opposition does not alter it—and if this disgraceful Preamble survives, with its suggestions that the composition of the other House should be fixed on party lines in advance, we shall get in the other House only people who are extremely safe. They will not be innovators, and they will not be able to make a fresh contribution; they will simply be, ultimately, employees.
There are two purposes which we aim to achieve in new Clause 10. One is to retain the non-party character of the Sovereign, and the other is to diminish the means of influence in the hands of the Prime Minister and the party machines. These proposals should be read in conjunction with the body of Amendments which we have put forward in the hope 321 that something can still be made of the Bill. I believe that the objects of new Clause 19 are well worth attaining and will be supported by hon. Members on all parts of the Committee. If the critics can do better, let them do so; but if they cannot, let the Minister show his good sense by accepting the new Clause.
§ Mr. Fletcher-Cooke
The hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) has earned the gratitude of the whole House today, and I thought him particularly forceful in his second speech in his denunciation of the Liberal Party for their absence during debates which directly concern them and of the reason for their support, which is well known.
He, like the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) and one or two hon. Members on this side, has fallen, perhaps unconsciously, into a mistake. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale referred to the bargain of 1968 and compared it with the bargain of 1948, and this has been echoed. I cannot too frequently say that in 1968 there was no bargain. The Prime Minister broke off the talks before the bargain was made and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling) pointed out, support from the Front Bench of my party is on the merits of the proposals and not as the result of any bargain.
We are therefore entitled to hope, when we make our contributions in criticism of the Bill, that we shall be heard with an open mind by our own Front Bench, as much as by the Front Bench opposite, because they are not in any way bound. They may think that these proposals are good, or the best they can get, and that is a perfectly honourable position, but at the same time they are still open to conviction that this is not so. There is no bargain of 1968, because this was to have been a package deal, and no bargain is struck in a package deal where people give on one topic in the hope of getting something back later on another topic, until the package is finally tied up and sealed, as it never was.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Harold Gurden)
The hon. Gentleman must relate his remarks to this group of Amendments. I assume that he could do so.
§ Mr. Fletcher-Cooke
I think I could, and I think I will, Mr. Gurden, but I felt 322 that I was entitled to nail an inexactitude which was becoming extremely prevalent.
However I will pass on to the subject matter of Amendment No. 139. It is here for the first time that the Committee comes up against the problem of the Preamble and its legal effect. Any instructed person knows that a Preamble has no legal effect, that a judge may look at it if it is brought to his attention, but it has no statutory effect in the binding force that we understand by those words.
It is important, and it may become more important in future, because the principles of construction of Statutes are in a state of flux. There is a high and learned body of opinion—I am not sure that the Lord Chancellor does not share it—which says that in future the old view that the judge had to be blinkered not only from such things as the Preambles and side notes and all that, but even from statements in the House of Commons and what the continental lawyers refer to as travaux preparatoires, should not obtain, but that they should all be taken into account in constructing a Statute. I am not sure that I support it, but I believe that this doctrine will grow. If so, it is no idle exercise that we undertake when we seek to amend the Preamble, because in future Preambles will acquire a force of law which does not at present obtain.
I fear that I cannot support my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) and others who have put down their names to Amendment No. 139 and the previous paving Amendment, for several reasons. I believe that if we are to change the present composition of the House of Lords—and there is a lot to be said for not doing so on the lines adumbrated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell)—it should be on the lines of the Bryce Report. I said this in the debate on the White Paper. I have in fact put my name down to various Amendments to this effect put forward by the right hon. and learned Member for Ipswich (Sir Dingle Foot).
I still do not understand why, if every other civilised country in the world has an elected second Chamber, it is forbidden to us. I believe in a second Chamber. I believe that it is posible to so arrange the method of election that it is not a 323 rubber stamp or a mint copy of the House of Commons. I believe that it would acquire a proper respect and authority uncontaminated by the state of patronage which troubles us all so much. That is why, of all the proposals put forward, I support the Bryce suggestions contained in his letter to the then Prime Minister in 1918.
The 1948 suggestion put forward in this group of Amendments runs counter to that, because Amendment No. 139 states:the Second Chamber should be complementary to and not a rival to the Lower House, and, with this end in view, the reform of the House of Lords should be based on a modification of its existing constitution as opposed to the establishment of a Second Chamber of a completely new type based on some system of election.I disagree with that. I think that only a second Chamber based on a system of election would have the independence that a second Chamber should have and which my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale) so rightly emphasised. I fear that in a Chamber—
§ Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)
Will my hon. and learned Friend enlighten us about the suggestion of a system of election? Is he proposing to advise us on his proposals either now or later?
§ Mr. Fletcher-Cooke
I hope to do so at some length when the various new Clauses dealing with the system of election that I support are selected, as I hope and believe that they will be, because I regard them as the only true alternative, other than the virtual abolition of the second Chamber. I will, with alacrity, respond to the flattering invitation of my hon. Friend to give a prolonged exegesis of the Bryce proposals and the modifications in those proposals which are proposed in the various Amendments to which I have referred.
§ Mr. Fletcher-Cooke
But not now. You take the words out of my mouth, Mr. Gurden. These proposals, and particularly Amendment No. 139, which continues the system of nomination and also says that some remuneration should be payable to all Lords of Parliament, to my mind, although in a much more respectable form than the present pro- 324 posals in the Bill, suffer from the same vice, namely, that of the over-mighty Prime Minister. I do not wish to labour this point. It has been laboured; and will be laboured over and over again during this prolonged Committee stage. This is the factor in the Bill which I think is most repellant to back benchers on both sides.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Mendelson
As I said when the White Paper was debated—and I had the support of many hon. Members—the most objectionable part of the Bill from the point of view of many hon. Members on this side of the Committee is the retention of delaying powers which will be used effectively if the Bill goes there, as they could not be used in the past because the Lords were not a credible Chamber.
§ [Mr. SYDNEY IRVING in the Chair]
§ Mr. Fletcher-Cooke
There we must disagree, because if the Bryce proposals were accepted—they are not before us now, but I was invited to expatiate on them by my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch)—it will be an even more credible Chamber because it will not be nominated in the way that we find so objectionable.
For those two reasons, the question of remuneration, and the fact that the new Chamber is still to be nominated, according to Amendment No. 139, it is with a heavy heart that I find that I cannot support my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey, who understands that we cannot hold with patronage.
I echo what was said by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale, who invited the Government to withdraw the Bill, and to withdraw it tonight. The hon. Gentleman said that there was no shame in withdrawing the Bill, and that is true. There should be no shame in withdrawing when voices have been heard unanimously from the benches all round, except the Treasury Bench. All the voices were heard in the previous debates.
325 None of those who support these proposals has spoken today. Those who support I hem cannot feel strongly on the subject. None of them has sought to support the Bill in its present form. Its supporters have not risen in their places to speak. In fact, I do not think that any of them has been present. If that is so, surely the Government must take notice of that?
It is true that on any Bill the critics are more vociferous than the supporters. Everybody knows that, but there are usually present in the Chamber some voices of support. Our debates have been quite long, and I believe that they will get longer. If day after day, morning after morning, and night after night, no voice supports the Government, surely they must realise that they must reconsider their position about a Bill which affects the Constitution of the country? There is no shame in this. I think that they would do much better to do so, because sooner or later the Bill will run deep into the sand.
§ Mr. Mendelson
The hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) started his speech with a complaint about the absence of the Liberal Members. I do not agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman. If we are to have a repetition of the speech made on a previous occasion by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), I think that we are better off if he stays away, rather than takes part in the debate. I say that particularly as on the last occasion we had such an excellent substitute contribution from the right hon. Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch). As the benches opposite are fairly empty, and we might perhaps hope for a repetition of that tonight, I do not regret the absence of the Liberal Members.
The right hon. Member dealt with some aspects of the Amendments and there are two in one of them and one in the other with which I want to deal. One concerns the Privy Council and its possible rôle and the other the phrase in Amendment No. 139, about a body composed of men and women "of mature judgment". The implication is that, ipso factor, if a person is in another place, that person is a man or woman of mature judgment. This is one of the unrealistic 326 views floating about in this debate about Members of another place.
In our last debate, one or two hon. Members opposite committed themselves even to the far-fetched view that the quality of debate in the other place is higher than here and that it is particularly high. I shouted across the Chamber on that occasion, "Tripe !", and I had the support of some of my hon. Friends, but the hon. Member who was speaking did not agree with me. In a more formal way, I want to say now that this view is nonsense. I pay not infrequent visits to another place and in preparation for this debate I have paid some more. I stand there and listen carefully—[An HON. MEMBER: "A brave man."] Perhaps I am, but some of my hon. Friends come with me and sometimes hon. Members opposite are there as well.
The only memorable debate that I can recall is the debate on the water supply for the Corporation of Manchester. It was of a very high level and brought out a number of people from the countryside and one or two with a particular interest in the area. But on all the main items of economic and foreign policymaking—
§ Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the question of the Manchester water supply, will he not agree that a much bigger issue was involved than that? Would he not concede that, if the Government have their way, none of the splendid, independent Lords whom he so admired would have a chance to speak in the Upper House again?
§ Mr. Mendelson
I did not say that I thought that they were independent, but that that was the only memorable debate that I could remember in recent years. I agree that some larger issues were involved and that is why I referred to those with "interests". But I should be grossly out of order if I went into the background of the supply of water to Manchester Corporation. Otherwise, I should be delighted to follow what the hon. Member has said.
On all the day-to-day subjects which come before Parliament, all the major problems of economic policy, industrial relations, colonial affairs and 327 foreign affairs, I maintain—if pressed, I am prepared to provide evidence going back over many years—that the level of debate in this Chamber is much higher than in the other place.
It is very important, when considering a Bill of this kind, that we should not accept any myth about the quality of debate over there. True, there are sometimes two or three interesting speeches, but there are many more speeches. If one considers all the 27 speeches that I once listened to in a major debate, one must conclude that most of them are only repeating leading articles in the Yorkshire Post or the Morning Post going back to years from 1911 to 1945 and that very little independent research or originality is shown.
The myth about the alleged high quality of debate in the other place has arisen because there are some over there who had some expertise in their previous professions. Most of them have left that behind. A few are still in their professions or trades, but very few have the kind of expertise which often comes up in a debate dealing with legislation. I deliberately emphasise legislation, because I regard Parliament as a workshop. I do not believe that anyone would dissent from that view.
I have opposed our proceedings being televised because Parliament is a workshop and not a stage location. If our procedures are to be reformed, we should undertake that task and not leave it to outside machinery and publicity. This is a place of work. Our debates require detailed knowledge gained from experience of industry, commerce and other walks of life. We have an abundance of experience in hon. Members. That is why our debates on subjects like the coal industry are always of a high calibre; because those taking part have had a lifetime of experience of the industry and of those who earn their living in it. They speak from knowledge and not by quoting from articles in Conservative newspapers. I hope, therefore, that the myth of debates in another place being superior will be buried once and for all and will not be resurrected by hon. Gentlemen opposite.
Nor can the phrase "mature judgment," be substantiated from the point of 328 view of those in another place. While I agree that there are men of mature judgment there, the speeches in the Lords often betray very little judgment. I can recall a number of debates in the House of Lords when the Lord Chancellor has replied for the Government. Some noble Lords having advanced an argument, the Lord Chancellor has interrupted for a couple of minutes saying, in effect, "I wish to put the facts"—and, having put them, the noble Lords in question have replied, "You must be right. We therefore withdraw what we said."
We in this House do not take that attitude. We listen to the Attorney-General carefully and if we consider that he has put his point of view rather than the facts, we let him know in no uncertain terms. He knows better than to make the sort of large claims which the Lord Chancellor makes in another place without being challenged. The phrase "mature judgment" implies that there is a centre of mature judgment in the House of Lords. This is poppycock.
§ Mr. Crouch
I have not been able to appreciate either of the two points advanced by the hon. Gentleman. Is he aware that the Amendment is concerned with what is proposed and not with what exists? Is he suggesting that mature judgment is not a sound thing at which to aim in a revised second Chamber?
§ Mr. Mendelson
Though difficult to achieve, it is an excellent thing to aim at. However, a second Chamber selected in the way suggested—for example, after consultation with the Privy Council—would not result in a House of Lords with an agglomeration of mature judgment. The best type of mature judgment is tested through the discussions which take place before people are democratically elected. It is misleading to imply that an agglomeration of mature judgment would result by the means so far suggested.
Those who have argued for the retention of an hereditary element, with a body selected as a result of consultations with people of considerable standing, such as the Members of the Privy Council, have implied that there is some right of prescription which would make a chamber so formulated a better one than a chamber otherwise selected. Hon. Members have referred to this question 329 of prescription in different ways. It was used to reject an Amendment moved earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer).
The measure of prescription has to be set against the background of the necessities and qualities required of a modern Parliament. Hon. Members may not mention powers when they talk about precise forms of composition, but the whole debate is meaningless unless we keep in mind the question of powers. Obviously, we want a Chamber with different kinds of powers. In a modern Parliament the right of prescription should have no relevance when we judge the qualifications of Members of another place to deal with problems which come our way. The right is an undemocratic conception advanced by those who do not believe in democracy and do not trust the electorate.
What is the meaning of having a Chamber based partly on prescription which has to have powers as against the elected Chamber, if it does not play the traditional ultra-conservative distrust—not in a party political sense—of democracy and of the judgment of an elected Chamber? Conservatives have always argued that we cannot leave things to the elected Chamber, that we must have people who come to their position by prescription because then we have a less violent, more mature set of people who will be able to say "No" at times to the elected assembly when the elected assembly is about to run away with itself and advance revolutionary, or radical, reformist ideas which they consider not good for the country.
Therefore they want another group of people, composed largely by prescription who will say, "We call a halt". That is the essential Conservative philosophy implying distrust of democracy and of the elected Chamber. Unless we bring this into the open we are not properly discussing the proposals which have been made.
I have never been able to see why my right hon. Friends engaged in these negotiations with the other side of the House, and the Leader of the Liberal Party, and why the then Leader of the House, now Secretary of State for Social Security, who is a radical in many ways and cer- 330 tainly by philosophical unbringing, should accept these proposals, based on this pessimistic attitude to democracy. There can be no excuse nor justification for him and his colleagues having accepted these proposals.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
Surely it is not a question of trusting the electorate. We are inclined to trust the electorate. The problem is in this House, when a Government are pursuing a policy which is anathema to the electorate and is not even liked by their own supporters. The Government can pursue the policy because they have a majority. It is necessary to keep that in mind and not to say that we have a pessimistic attitude to democracy and should not worry about anything else.
§ Mr. Mendelson
We cannot always discuss the same points. We have discussed at length, and will do so again in Committee and on Report, the question of the proposals in relation to patronage. I said in an intervention that I regarded not as a main objection that there will be considerable patronage.
My main objection has always been, and is now, that the powers will be retained in the other Chamber. I cannot see why my right hon. Friends have accepted, in spite of the pressure and even at the price of a bargain or agreement with the other side, the retention of these powers, for that meant accepting the whole case of pessimism about democracy and an elected Chamber. It does not matter whether one party is in office or another. This argument applies whatever party is in office.
For instance, the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) referred with pride in last Sunday's radio programme "The World this Weekend" to his period in office as Secretary of State for the Colonies. The right hon. Gentleman has taken pride in the fact that he led on behalf of Britain and its then Government a number of African countries to independence. The right hon. Gentleman has said that he has taken a radical view on this and is proud of his radical past. That is the right hon. Gentleman's view, and I think that it is a very respectable view which will find an echo among many hon. Members on both sides.
331 However, when the right hon. Gentleman as Secretary of State for the Colonies in the Tory Administration produced those proposals and ideas he was maliciously attacked in another place. The attack on the right hon. Gentleman, which to some extent has impaired his political career, was led by Lord Salisbury, who called the right hon. Gentleman "too clever by half" and made some snide remarks about the right hon. Gentleman which he should not have made if he was a gentleman. I shall not repeat those remarks now. This vicious attack upon the right hon. Gentleman was made in another place. There were some people who said then, "The House of Commons is running away with itself. There are many people who want this radical colonial reform. The right hon. Member for Enfield, West is giving it to them. This second Chamber should be in a position to call a halt and say to the elected House of Commons, 'There is no maturity of judgment there and we must do something about it' ".
What I have objected to is the fact that, given that this is the possible composition that we are discussing, it is designed to retain the delaying powers. The proposers of the Amendment do not want to abolish the delaying powers. I see that I carry one of the sponsors of the Amendment with me—he wants to retain the delaying powers. Therefore, a wholly unnecessary and undemocratic situation would be perpetuated.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
Is the final result of the hon. Gentleman's argument that he wants a single-Chamber Government? If so, does he think that it is a good thing?
§ Mr. Mendelson
I believe that there is a long-term view and a short-term view. I must state the short-term view so as to take account of the Government's intentions and anxieties.
Generally speaking, I believe that it is possible over a period of time to abolish the second Chamber and so reform and rearrange the business of Parliament that the work can be done in this Chamber. I am on record as having advocated this during 20 years of public speaking. However, I take account of the views and anxieties of my right hon. Friends in the Cabinet, who 332 are concerned for the future of immediate legislation.
I therefore say that I should have preferred what I believe was the first impulse of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. He was reported as having this view at the time that the House of Lords rejected the Rhodesia Order the first time round, and it has never been denied. I should have preferred a short Bill to remove the delaying powers of the other place. I should have liked that to have been carried with an impressively large majority. That is all the reform which would have been necessary for this year of grace 1969. That is my view on both the long-term and the short-term question. In this, I have the support of a considerable number of hon. Members and certainly of a large majority on this side.
Once the Government agreed to the bargaining which has been referred to, they are in a very difficult position logically to oppose many of the additional proposals which are being made; because if there is one bargain why should there not be another? If some powers are to be retained by right of prescription or, later on by consultation between three men only, why not others? I should have liked to have heard the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal Party giving us his views as to the rôle he will play. I, too, deplore the right hon. Gentleman's absence. Once the Government accept bargaining as the basis for major constitutional reform, they are not in a strong position to reject other bargains such as that which has been offered by the hon. Gentleman.
It is, therefore, a matter of great importance to me that my right hon. Friends have accepted these bargains. They would have been much better off had they rejected these proposals, which imply distrust of, and pessimism about, democracy and the work of this Chamber, had they introduced a simple Bill to abolish the delaying powers of the other place and then looked to the future with confidence in democracy and in the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser
I do not wish to delay the Committee for long, nor do I think that there is much need to answer most of the points raised by the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson). I shall not pursue him into the 333 subjective value judgments as to whether debates in this House are superior to those in another place. It is very difficult for us to judge these matters. I do not, alas, think that the public regard debates in either House as of very much value. That is one of the enduring troubles of our time. One amendment is of some importance. It is on the question of nomenclature. We are in a totally illogical position in describing a two-tier system as consisting of peers or equals. There must be an adjustment. "Lords of Parliament" is the obvious answer.
Two far more profound matters have been raised. First, there is the point raised by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) and echoed by many hon. Members on both sides, about the problem of putting before the House a Preamble which leaves all decisions in the hands of the Executive. This is a major constitutional point on which I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling) will give us the benefit of his views. We should know how the Opposition Front Bench stands on the matter. This country has survived so far without a written constitution because of the good sense over the centuries of this House and another place. When we get a Measure of this kind put forward by a Government and sup ported by an Opposition Front Bench we feel that we are getting into the hands of a junta which has no regard for constitutional matters. That is why I stand absolutely four-square with the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale on this issue.
The important point that follows is the question of patronage. I know that some hon. Members say that it does not matter and will not be used, but I should like to take up the point made by the hon.
§ Member for Penistone. Of course, this proposed system will not work unless patronage is used in a most vicious way. If it is not used, the system will break down and there will be an immediate conflict with this House. That is the other important point that alarms us very much. I hope that my right hon. Friend will tell us the Opposition Front Bench view on this as well.
§ Before the debate ends we need a very serious and considered answer from the two Front Benches on how they are to meet these two problems. First, there is the problem of a Preamble which cannot stand up in a court of law. It would immediately be ruled out of court by any institute of justice such as the Supreme Court of the United States. The Government would be told to do their homework and make more sense of it.
§ Second, there is the question of imposing on the country a machine which can work only by the intensive use of patronage, thus creating all the evils either of the massive use of patronage by both leaderships or by failure to use it, resulting in an inevitable conflict between this House—
§ It being Ten o'clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again.
§ Committee report Progress.