§ 2.43 p.m.
§ THE MARQUESS OF EXETER rose to move to resolve, That this House is of opinion that no Peer, except he has obtained leave of absence under Standing Order No. XVIII, should vote on a Division of this House unless he has, if resident in England or Wales, attended the House at least x times, and, if resident elsewhere, attended at least ytimes, during the previous Session in which the House has sat for Public Business on twelve or more days; provided that this Resolution would not apply (a)in the case of a newly created Peer until after the expiry of a complete Session following the date of his introduction, nor (b)in the case of a Peer succeeding by descent until after the expiry of a complete Session following the date of his succession. The noble Marquess said: My Lords, I hope your Lordships will bear with me if I make use of very copious notes, but the Resolution which I have put down takes a good deal of 6 explanation, and I do not think that my memory is good enough to enable me to move the Resolution without such notes. With that preamble and before I move the Resolution, I must give some explanation with regard to the origin of this proposal.
§ When the last Parliament Act was being discussed, it was suggested that your Lordships, if you so wished, could, under the present powers of the House, include a Standing, Order to deal with noble Lords who seldom attended your Lordships' debates. I do not wish unduly to criticise that action, for I think we all realise that in some cases it is almost impossible for Peers to make regular attendances. But I do think that before a Peer votes he should have heard something of the debate. I suggest that a Standing Order should be inserted to give effect to this Resolution. If your Lordships will cast your minds back, you will recall that there has always been some justifiable criticism of the fact that Members of the House could vote without having firsthand knowledge of the subject on which they might be called upon to give their vote. I am prepared to admit that communications, both written and oral, have become so rapid that a Peer nowadays may have sufficient data on which to make up his mind which way he votes. But, on the other hand, I think your Lordships will agree that it would be less embarrassing for this House if Members were to attend more regularly. If they had not qualified under the Standing Order, they would still be able to speak on any subject before the House, but they would not be entitled to vote. It is not the purpose of this Resolution to deprive anyone of a right, but merely to impose a simple and obvious qualification before that right can be exercised. Of course, if the right to vote is temporarily forfeited, owing to a Peer's non-attendance in a previous Session, it can at any time be regained by subsequent attendance. As a Committee is now sitting dealing with the, revision of Standing Orders this seems to me an appropriate moment to consider the suggestion. The question arises, however, whether such a Standing Order would infringe the Royal Prerogative, and also whether the Committee's terms of reference cover the insertion of a new Standing Order or only the revision of existing Standing Orders. This matter 7 must be settled before any action can be taken; hence the Resolution.
Your Lordships have always had power to insist on the attendance of Members, and I quote the following as bearing upon this point. When the revision of Standing Orders was carried out in February, 1889, the Lord Privy Seal, Earl Cadogan, used the following words:
Your Lordships are aware that there has always been power in the House to enforce attendance of its Members. That power has not been exercised for many years and it is hoped it will never be necessary to exercise it. The two rules proposed are these: XVII, (Absent Lords may be called upon to serve upon Committees) and XVIII, (Leave of absence). The latter reads as follows: 'Lords may obtain leave of absence at the pleasure of the House upon cause shown.'
In further support of my contention, there is in the Journals of July 25, 1820, a long list of occasions when this power has been used. Round about 1700, many Lords were "ordered into custody for not attending," and the Earl of Ailesbury was "fined £100 for being absent." On May 9. 1642, the House ordered
that Lord Savill, for refusing to come when sent for, shall not sit nor vote during the Session of Parliament.
That is very much in support of what I suggest.
Then I come to the question of the Royal Prerogative. I contend that such a Standing Order as I propose would not be in conflict with the Prerogative. The following are instances where it might be said that the Royal Prerogative may have been interfered with—although, so far as I know, no definite action was taken. In the year 1856, when Queen Victoria wished to make a Life Peer, Lord Wensleydale, the House ruled
that neither the said Letters Patent, nor the said Letters Patent with the usual Writ of Summons issued in pursuance thereof can enable the grantee therein named to sit and vote in Parliament,
because the grant was for life only, and was not hereditary. Another case is that of the Scottish Peers. Between 1715 and 1790, the House refused to allow to sit those Scottish Peers who had had Great Britain Peerages conferred upon them by the King. It may further be noted that on at least one occasion since the O'Connell case in 1844, when the principle was established that non-legal Peers could not vote in Judicial causes, a lay Peer has attempted to vote, and his vote was disallowed. In passing, I should like to draw
your Lordships' attention to the words, "the principle was established." Yet another case is that, apart from Standing Order XII, there is no authority for the exclusion from the House of Peers under twenty-one. Such Peers did, in fact, sit during the reign of Henry VIII, and at some time between then and 1685 the House, by Standing Order, decreed their exclusion—and I emphasise the words "Standing Order."
§ It seems to me important to explain that the purpose of the Resolution which I am moving to-day is to obtain an expression of opinion on the general principle. And if the House agrees to the Resolution, I suggest that a Standing Order should be framed in conformity with it, and that this should then be submitted to the House. No question of Prerogative can arise in considering the Resolution: it is only at a later stage—that is, the Standing Order stage—when this might occur. If it is thought that it does, I shall be prepared to move another Resolution asking that the question be referred to the Committee for Privileges. If it should be decided that the Prerogative has been infringed, the appropriate action could be take at the direction of the House. I think that this is the correct procedure.
I should like once again to call your Lordships' attention to Rule 18 with regard to "Leave of absence." This rule, by inference, makes it clear that the House has power to grant this leave, and pre-supposes that Peers are expected to attend the House regularly. Therefore, the House of Lords has laid down certain procedure if they cannot do so. But—and I hope your Lordships will note this—it is your Lordships who grant this permission, not the Sovereign. To end my statement. I quote the words of the Writ of Summons by the Sovereign which:
…strictly enjoins and commands a Peer on his faith and allegiance to be at the place of Parliament on the day named to treat and give counsel upon the affairs aforesaid.
All that this Resolution does is to reinforce the Sovereign's command. I beg to move.
§ Moved to resolve, That this House is of opinion that no Peer, except he has obtained leave of absence under Standing Order No. XVIII, should vote on a Division of this House unless he has, if resident in England or Wales, attended the House at least x times, and, if resident elsewhere. 9 attended at least y times, during the previous Session in which the House has sat for Public Business on twelve or more days; Provided that this Resolution would not apply (a) in the case of a newly created Peer until after the expiry of a complete Session following the date of his introduction, nor (b) in the case of a Peer succeeding by descent until after the expiry of a complete Session following the date of his succession.—(The Marquess of Exeter.)
Before the noble Marquess's Motion is put, may I ask him to elucidate two points? The first is this. What would be the position of a Peer who is disqualified but who had to bring a Motion before the House and perhaps press it to a Division'? Would he be entitled to divide the House? Secondly, what would be the position of a Peer succeeding to his father, or succeeding by right of blood, who was absent from the United Kingdom on duty for more than one Session? Would he still be disqualified until the lapse of the Session?
THE MARQUESS OF EXETER
Surely the "Leave of absence" rule would come into operation for that kind of case: the Resolution has been so drawn as to give as much latitude as possible in such a case. The noble Lord will see that if he reads the last few lines. That will give him some indication of what would happen in such circumstances. There is no reason at all why the Peer should not have leave of absence. With regard to the noble Lord's second question, the Peer would surely be able to speak in the House at any time, and he could divide the House.
§ House adjourned during pleasure, and resumed by the Lord Chancellor.
§ 2.53 p.m.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I think it may be for your convenience if I intervene early in this debate to give the views of Her Majesty's Government with regard to the extremely interesting proposal which has been put before the House by my noble relative, Lord Exeter. I should add that my noble and learned friend, the Lord Chancellor, will also be speaking later to give to your Lordships information in regard to the more technical aspects of this question—and it is, as your Lordships will have 10 gathered from the speech you have just heard, an extremely technical topic. My duty is to give general guidance to the House; and let me say at once that I am afraid that any answer which I could give to-day on any aspect of the question of the reform of your Lordships' House would have been bound, in the nature of things, to be of a rather anodyne and even negative character. Your Lordships must not expect any earth-shaking pronouncement from me. That, I think, is inevitable in the circumstances in which this debate takes place.
As your Lordships know (if I may range a little wider than the actual topic of the noble Marquess's Resolution) the Prime Minister recently sent out an invitation to the leaders of the other main Parties in Parliament to take part in inter-Party discussions on the whole question of the reform of this House, on which no inter-Party agreement was reached on the last occasion when an attempt was made, in 1948. Mr. Clement Davies, on behalf of that body of Liberals for which he speaks, accepted that invitation. The Party of noble Lords opposite, the official Opposition, to the great regret, I may say, of those who sit on these Benches and, I suspect, to the great regret of some, at any rate, of the noble Lords who sit opposite, decided to refuse.
It is not for me in any way to criticise the decision to which the leaders of the Labour Party came; that is a matter for them; it is not a matter for me. But I am frankly sorry, and I am sure the country was sorry, too, that they came to the conclusion they did, for I feel personally that it would be very much better if it were possible to reach an agreed solution of this difficult question. However, it is no good crying over spilt milk. What is done, is done. But their decision has undoubtedly created a new situation, and I would say frankly that Her Majesty's Government have not decided in that situation exactly what the next step must be. That, perhaps, is partly my own fault, because unfortunately I have had to be away ever since the Labour Party's reply has been received. I can assure the House that there will be no avoidable delay in reaching a decision.
I understand it has been suggested in certain quarters that nothing further can be done by the Government, pending a 11 change of heart on the part of the Labour Party; that any reform must be subject to their approval. I cannot help thinking that that is rather a strange doctrine for a Party that only five years ago themselves brought in unilaterally, when they were in office, without any agreement from the Opposition, extensive alterations in the powers of this House. I do not remember Labour spokesmen at that time putting forward arguments which I understand are now current; and I personally should not be prepared to accept those arguments. But, at any rate, I am afraid the House must accept the fact that I am not in a position to make any firm statement of policy this afternoon; and I should, therefore, as I explained earlier, have been obliged at this stage to return a negative answer to any specific proposals for the reform of this House, whatever they might he, as being premature. That would have applied to schemes of the kind which the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, put forward in this House not long ago; and it would apply equally to the more limited proposal which the noble Marquess has put forward this afternoon.
But there is, unfortunately, another reason of a different character which forces me, very reluctantly, to say that this particular proposal which the noble Marquess has put forward is likely in any case to be unacceptable. I confess to your Lordships that I do not do this at all lightheartedly: for, let me say at once, that for me, at any rate, the proposal has very considerable attractions. As the noble Marquess has said, one of the reproaches most commonly levelled against this House is that there are large numbers of Members of the House who seldom or never attend to their Parliamentary duties. We all know that there is a very considerable measure of truth in that reproach. It is, indeed, perhaps inevitable in the times in which we live. Whatever some people may think, Peers of the Realm are to-day no more rich men than any other British citizens, and all, even those who have nominally large incomes, are weighed down by the burden of taxation. They are not given large salaries, like the Members of another place. They are not given any salaries at all. They have, therefore, to supplement their straitened resources—what is 12 left of them by the Chancellor of the Exchequer—by hard work in other spheres. For that reason, as we all know—and it is as familiar to noble Lords opposite as to those on this side of the House—there are many Members of this House who cannot spend their lives as their fathers used to do in the service of this House.
Moreover, there is another reason, and it is this. The burden of local work is to-day much heavier than it used to be, say, fifty or one hundred years ago, and there are a great many noble Lords who feel—and we cannot criticise them—that they can perform more useful work there, in their own parts of the world. At any rate, it still remains true that there are, as a result, many Peers who are not nowadays here as often as either they or we should like. This is frequently pointed out by the enemies of your Lordships' House, and it is equally said, as we all know, that they could come down and flood the Division Lobby at any time on some issue affecting them. In fact, I am pretty certain that they would not do so, and the proof, I suggest, is that these normal absentees, who are sometimes rather flippantly called the "backwoodsmen," did not appear in 1948 or 1949 to vote against the Parliament Act, which drastically limited their powers. But, technically, they could have done—that is the argument. That is a point which is elaborated, as we all know, by those who, in reality, hanker after single-Chamber government, on platforms all over the country every week-end that they can find an audience.
The proposals of the noble Marquess, if I understand them aright, are designed to enable this House to do away with this reproach by our own action and by a simple alteration of the Standing Orders of the House. Peers who are normally absentees could continue to sit and continue to speak, if they wished, but they would be unable to vote in any Division unless they had attended a certain number of times in the preceding Session. I think I have stated the proposal of the noble Marquess fairly. Your Lordships will perceive the advantages of this proposal which is, if I may say so with all diffidence, a credit both to the ingenuity and to the public spirit of the noble Marquess. I repeat, I must confess that I was at first greatly attracted by it, and even now 13 I only wish that it were practicable. But I understand that there is to it a fatal objection which the experts who have been consulted regard as insuperable. Even if it does not involve an actual infringement of the Royal Prerogative, which I understand is not absolutely certain, it would certainly involve too serious a departure from the ancient customs and traditions of this House to be regarded as practical politics.
As your Lordships know, every Peer of the United Kingdom has the right to have a Summons to Parliament issued to him, which includes the right to vote. That is a right which has been hallowed by the constitutional usage of the centuries, and the view of these experts is that it cannot be denied. In such circumstances, as I understand the position, they regard it as out of the question that the House itself, by a mere alteration of Standing Orders, should take away or even limit that right. That is the broad argument, though I recognise, from what the noble Marquess has said to us this afternoon, that he would not accept it.
May I ask the noble Marquess a question? Does that right apply to noble Lords who have not taken the Oath?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
If the noble Lord would allow me to say so—I am dealing with this subject briefly because I do not want to keep the House—the Lord Chancellor is going to speak on the constitutional aspect of the matter, and I have no doubt that he will answer the question which the noble Lord has put. As I was saying, I am not a constitutional lawyer, or even a constitutional expert, and I should not have the temerity to enter into a detailed controversy with the noble Marquess who has moved this Motion. I shall leave that to my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, who is to speak to your Lordships later in this debate. But, in view of the advice which we have received, it is clearly impossible for this, or indeed any other Government, with the best will in the world, to accept the Motion of the noble Marquess. The last thing that we wish to do is to vote against it, because we recognise fully the purity of the motives and, above all, the concern for the good name of your Lordships' House which 14 have led the noble Marquess to put forward his proposals. I hope, therefore, most profoundly, that, when he has heard what the Lord Chancellor has to say, he will be willing to withdraw his Motion. We owe him, think, a debt of real gratitude for having raised this subject, and I am only sorry, for the reasons which I have staled, that it is not possible for the Government to accept the Motion.
In conclusion, I would say one more word. The noble Marquess, in the closing phrases of his speech, stressed his desire to submit this matter to the judgment of the Committee for Privileges. If lie still wishes to do this after hearing the Lord Chancellor, I can assure him that the Government have no wish to deter him—if, indeed, he can find a proper form of putting the question to the Committee, which, I understand, is not without its complications, but no doubt the Table will advise him upon that. But I should tell him and the House that it would be an unusual procedure; that no general question of this kind—at least, that is my information—has been put to the Committee for Privileges since 1750. However, there is that very distant and remote precedent. Moreover, in view of the strong advice which the Government have received, I should not like the noble Marquess with the best will in the world, to think that it was likely to lead to any very satisfactory results. However, that is a matter for him and not for the Government who, I repeat, would not in any case be committed by his action. I can only assure the noble Marquess once more that, if he wishes to take that course, the Government will put no difficulties in his way. I think that is all I can say to your Lordships this afternoon. As I say, the more detailed and technical side will be dealt with at a later stage by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor.
§ 3.8 p.m.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, I very much regret to say that because of other business my noble Leader is unable to be present this afternoon, but he has asked me to convey, on his behalf and on behalf of every noble Lord on this side of the House, our very good wishes to the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, on his return to duty once more. Noble Lords opposite understand very well what 15 his leadership of their Party means to them. They, no doubt, have views as to the value to attach to his services as Leader of the House. I think it is right and proper that we on this side of the House should say that, if the Leader of the House has to be someone other than a Labour Minister, we would prefer the noble Marquess to most other persons with whom we come in contact. We wish him many happy returns and a successful period for the remainder of the Session.
In view of the attitude taken by the Government towards this Motion, I will not go into great detail about the rights and wrongs of the matter. There may be other opportunities in the future, as foreshadowed by the noble Marquess, to enable us to do that. But in view of what the noble Marquess himself has said, perhaps I may be permitted to say a few words on the general issue. It is true that the Government recently asked the political Parties to meet them in conference concerning the composition and powers of your Lordships' House. It is also true that the Party to which I consider it a privilege to belong decided not to accept that invitation. But that refusal to accept the invitation should not be misunderstood. It will be remembered by noble Lords that the Prime Minister's letter covered two points—first, the composition, and second, the powers of your Lordships' House. I do not think I am giving anything away if I say that the Party of which I am a member, and of which noble Lords on this side of the House are proud to be members, are somewhat alarmed when noble Lords opposite begin to talk about the powers of this House. We would rather hear them talk about the authority of this House. We think there may be danger to all of us in the extension of power.
It is sometimes said that this power is required because, on a General Election, there may be a swing of the electorate in the wrong direction: that we in Parliament might find ourselves confronted by a revolutionary majority and that, therefore, it is essential that your Lordships should have an increased power in order to prevent harm from being done. We have seen revolutionary powers at work in Europe during the 16 last twenty years. If a revolutionary power arose in this country at all like those we have seen abroad, then the power which your Lordships' House has been claiming would not stand in the way of those revolutionaries' accomplishing their aims. If there were a Communist majority in this country the first thing that would be done would be the complete abolition of the House of Lords—it would not be allowed to meet. That is a fact. So when noble Lords opposite talk about an increase in power they are surely not thinking about the return of a majority of that kind: they can be thinking only about the return of a Labour majority—a majority that wants to go faster than noble Lords opposite, but does not want to go so fast that the ruin of the country is accomplished. If that be a fair picture of the position, noble Lords opposite need not be surprised if the Labour Party decide, that at this present time they do not want to decide (a) the composition of your Lordships' House and (b) the extension of its powers.
Now I should like to say a word about the Motion now before the House. As I see it, the Motion is in part an expression of opinion, although in the proviso it assumes that it can be operated. In expressing an opinion, I should have doubted whether it would effect the purpose that the noble Marquess had in view. It does not ask for the appointment of a Committee to consider a new Standing Order, nor does it ask that the Motion be referred to such a Committee; it is simply an expression of opinion. The second pointis that Standing Order No. XVIII appears to me to be an Order of a permissive character. Therefore, if we were to have a new Standing Order, Standing Order XVIII would require some alteration. I rather doubt whether noble Lords would find it convenient always to ask for permission to be absent, especially when they have to find a reason for it. It may be very embarrassing for some noble Lords to say that they want to be absent from the counsels of your Lordships' House for a period of time. Moreover, we on this side of the House somewhat boggle at the use of the words "if resident". The noble and learned Lord who sits upon the Woolsack could probably tell us what those words really mean, but we on this side 17 of the House feel that it would be difficult to bring anybody to account under them.
If there is to be a new Standing Order, then obviously the question of how it should be framed is not one for this House as a whole, but one for some delegated arrangement that the House cares to make. Finally, I question whether it is wise to have such a Standing Order. I can imagine that there was a time when the membership of your Lordships' House was such that if any portion of it was absent the business of the House came to a standstill. I can imagine that in those days serious consideration may have been given to a regulation compelling attendance. But surely in these days it would be embarrassing to have nearly 900 noble Lords all assembled at one time to participate in our Business. Therefore, without saying whether or not we are in favour, I say merely that I have doubts about this Motion, and that I hope the advice given by the noble Marquess the Leader of the House will be accepted.
§ 3.16 p.m.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
My Lords, I do not intend to pursue the point of whether or not the Party for which the noble Lord who has just sat down speaks was wise in turning down the invitation to an all-Party Conference on both the powers and the composition of this House. Suffice it to say that I thought the reasons he gave why his Party turned it down were somewhat poor. First let me say that I am delighted to see the Leader of the House back with us, although I am somewhat disappointed that he has not been a little more forthcoming towards the Motion before your Lordships to-day. Of course, there are some people who will always attack a House of Lords, or indeed any Second Chamber. We are always liable to be attacked until we ourselves become an elected Chamber—if that ever happens; I doubt whether the House of Commons would allow it. But there are aspects of our composition with which I should have thought we ourselves could deal.
One thing that can be said about us is that although a large number of Peers are entitled to attend this House and to legislate, comparatively few do so regularly, and, even when they are most populated, our Division Lobbies do not account for more than a small proportion 18 of our numbers. I do not know what would happen if all 840 Peers who are entitled to come here were to turn up; it would be an extremely crowded Chamber. But what I think we have to face is that with every year that passes—it has happened in fact, with every year since 1900—an average of ten new peerages are created. Our numbers have gone up by 512 since the beginning of this century, which accounts for a considerable proportion of the 840 Peers who are entitled to sit in this House. Yet, whilst there has been this increase in the growth of the tree, there has been no pruning other than the normal pruning occasioned by death or a Peerage disappearing. So we have arrived at the position that in the last fifty-two years the growth of this House has been out of all proportion to that of the House of Commons, and the question is whether we have got to wait for a Bill which limits our numbers, as it would, I think, be bound to do if it dealt with the composition of this House. I do not know who of those who are at present entitled to sit in this House would, under the terms of that Bill, as finally agreed, be allowed to sit thereafter.
The virtue of the Resolution moved by the noble Marquess is that those who would not be allowed to vote under its terms would be those who had eliminated their right by reason of their absence. If there was good reason for being absent, they could apply for leave. I find, on looking through the Records of this House in the Library, that back in the reign of Henry VIII, the Archbishop of Canterbury asked leave of the House not to sit, on the ground of illness, and he was granted leave by the Lord Chancellor of that day. That rule could come into force in the case of anyone who properly went abroad to represent this country—perhaps as an Ambassador, perhaps as a Governor, perhaps in some military or other capacity. A further virtue, surely, of the noble Marquess's Resolution is this. It would not prevent any Peer who wanted to come here and advise your Lordships—as ins House was originally called to advise the Sovereign—on some matter on which he (as is the case with so many of your Lordships) was an expert, from coming here and giving that advice. The only thing he would have precluded himself from doing, if he had not been a regular attendant, would be from actually voting in the Lobby. I expect that the 19 noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack will have made considerable researches into this matter. I do not know whether he has been reading them, but I found that a number of books which I wanted to look at had been borrowed from the Library by the Lord Chancellor's secretary, and I hope that the noble and learned Lord has been studying them. There were about four books I sought which, quite rightly, of course, had gone to the Lord Chancellor.
So far as I have been able to understand the history of this House, there is a doubt whether or not it is a direct descendant of the old Council of the Saxon Kings. But whether that be so or not, I think it is undoubted that William I called in the Earls and the Barons to advise him, and they were the nucleus of the original Parliament in this country. We all know that the squires were called in by Simon de Montfort, and we can also read that the first time the two Houses sat separately was, apparently, in 1332 in the reign of Edward III. From 1339 onwards they always sat separately. The two Houses were called together in order to voice their views. It is often said that "voicing" meant shouting: "Content," or "Not-content." I do not believe it meant anything of the sort in those early days. It meant that the Members of the Houses lifted up their voices to advise the Sovereign as to what action he should rake. I have traced down the records, and though it may be that it actually happened much earlier, the first vote of which I have been able to find a note was recorded by this House in 1691. So for some 360 years—359 to be exact—this House, so far as I have been able to gather, never did more than the noble Marquess, if his Motion were carried and put into Standing Orders, would allow Peers to do who did not regularly attend. For those first 360 years—more than half the life of this ancient institution—apparently no one ever voted at all. The Members only advised the Sovereign.
I was a little surprised to hear my noble friend the Leader of the House say that to accept anything such as the noble Marquess's Resolution would be too serious a departure from customs and tradition. Of course it has not often happened that a Peer has been excluded from voting in this House. The noble Marquess, Lord Exeter, quoted the case 20 of a Lord Savill, who was so excluded. There was also an Earl of Middlesex, who in his age and time occupied what was then a somewhat lucrative job—the job of Paymaster-General which is now occupied by the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell. This Earl of Middlesex of those days apparently put not only his hand but the whole of his arm into the till, with the result that he was impeached and sent to prison. When he came out of prison, having served his sentence, he then attempted to come back and sit in your Lordships' House. He was whitewashed by his Party but your Lordships' House would have nothing of that. They passed a Resolution the effect of which was to exclude the noble Earl for life from sitting in your Lordships' House. It is true of those Peers who do not often attend that none of them has done anything of that kind, and no one is suggesting anything to the contrary. But there clearly has been in the past exercise by this House of the power to exclude people from sitting and voting in it, if the House has voted accordingly. As I say, it has been done only in isolated cases—not, of course, in a general way. But even the isolated cases, I submit, prove the rule and show that we have the power to do it if we will. Whether we do it or not is, of course, another matter.
I believe I shall long have ceased to be a Member of your Lordships' House before it is altered in any way at all, because if this matter has to wait for agreement between the Parties, I can see no change at all taking place. Some people do not wish to be deprived of the target for their stones, and if they agreed to any reform they would at any rate have to agree to the fact that the Second Chamber is of some use. I believe we shall go on justifying ourselves by what we do. At any rate, the business of the House of Commons would be more difficult than it is to-day if we did not "have a go" at the Bills that come to us from another place and put in, as we did a number of times in the last Parliament and in the Transport Bill last week, a number of Amendments on which the Government of the day had second thoughts.
Frankly, I should like to see us take this step, to see if we cannot do something to take away one of the blemishes on the record of this House as a whole. In his 21 capacity of Lord Chancellor, the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack is asking new magistrates to visit assizes and quarter sessions and take some course of instruction before they sit and administer the law. This Motion does the same thing: it asks Peers to come here and listen before they come and make the law which magistrates will have to administer afterwards.
I should like to see this matter pursued still further. I believe it would be in the interests of all who have the welfare of he House at heart if the noble Marquess. Lord Exeter, tried to pursue it further to see whether there is not something we ourselves could do. As I said before in a speech on the Bill proposed by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon—a speech which I am afraid received some notoriety because of a couple of sentences—I do not believe that we should be doing anything against the Royal Prerogative. If noble Lords look at their Writs of Summons, they will see that we should be taking some effective action to exclude those who do not obey those Writs. We should be backing up what Her Majesty requests of every new Peer and what her predecessors almost from time immemorial have requested of Peers—to attend in this place and give of their advice. I hope that whatever the noble Marquess does about his Motion to-day, he will not let the matter drop, but will try to see whether he can get the Committee for Privileges or some other body to investigate the suggestion fully.
§ 3.33 p.m.
My Lords, I certainly support the principle of this Resolution, because I believe that it goes part of the way to lessen the reproach sometimes levied against this House, a reproach already mentioned by a number of noble Lords. I refer to the reproach that Members who take little part in the work of the House can at any time appear and vote on legislation; that a sort of rearguard force can come along and go into action at any time they choose, although they may not have been in the Chamber for, perhaps, twelve months or more. I appreciate the argument put forward by the noble Marquess the Leader of the House, that under Standing Order No. XVIII we may be interfering with the Royal Prerogative. For this and other reasons, I should 22 prefer to see the principle of this Resolution embodied in a more comprehensive reform—which would, of course, mean a Bill before Parliament. The Motion indicates voting in a Division, but the Division might be on a Motion of "No confidence" in the Government. If a Motion of "No confidence" in the Government were carried in this House, the Government would not fall. But I should think that "voting on a Division" is perhaps a little too broad, and I should prefer to confine this proposal to legislation.
It can be argued, of course, that unless reform is approached step by step, nothing will ever be done. I think there is a good deal of force in this argument but, on the other hand, I suggest that the proposed reform envisaged by this Resolution does not go far enough even for a first step. It would mean that at any time a large and variable number of Peers could attend and vote on legislation, provided that they had complied with the terms of the Resolution. I suggest that the first step in reform should include a definite limitation in the number of Peers who could vote on legislation. At the risk of wearying your Lordships, I should like to refer for a few moments to what I said in a previous debate. I suggested that some 200 Peers of Parliament should be elected from the present Members of this Chamber by a Joint Standing Committee of all Parties in the House. It should also be provided that all Members of the Second Chamber who were not elected Peers of Parliament should have the right to attend and speak in debate, but not to vote on legislation. On that point my proposal was very similar to that in the Motion before the House to-day.
A further provision would allow Peers who did not wish to be elected Peers of Parliament to be candidates for the House of Commons. I suggest that it would be the duty of the Joint Standing Committee to keep a balance of Parties in the House corresponding in proportion to the Parties in the House of Commons at the commencement of each Parliament. It is true that there are not yet sufficient Peers amongst the Opposition to create such a balance, but no doubt by the process of time this difficulty would be rectified and some adjustments could be made by the creation of 23 a limited number of Life Peers, somewhat on the lines of the recent Bill brought before the House by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon.
I need hardly point out to your Lordships that one of the great advantages to be found in this Chamber is that an expert can be found on almost any subject amongst its large and varied membership. Many such Peers are unable to attend the House very frequently, as they may be engaged in local government work or industrial activities in the provinces, and probably would not wish to be Peers of Parliament. But by the reformation I have suggested their advice and experience would not be lost to the House. I am sure that it would be a great mistake to try to go much further than the reform I have briefly outlined. If we do, this House would become a rival to the other place, something which I am quite sure the country, as a whole, would not accept. Whatever may happen to this Resolution, may I hope that its principle will be embodied in a more comprehensive form, somewhat on the lines I have put forward, at some time not very far ahead?
The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, mentioned the question of powers. I hope he is not suggesting that the present powers of the House should be reduced in any way. The power of delay which we have varies, of course, according to the time taken for a controversial Bill to pass through both Houses. I suggest that with a small adjustment, which I will not go into now, the powers we have are probably adequate. I feel that this Motion would be well worth considering as part of a larger reform, but I cannot support it to-day because I think that by itself it does not go far enough.