§ 2.42 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
THE EARL OF HOME
My Lords, on the occasion, about a fortnight ago, when I followed my noble friend Lord Teynham, who introduced a Motion concerning the reform of the House of Lords, I advanced to your Lordships the proposition that it was desirable, if at all possible, that when we concerned ourselves with changes in the powers or the composition or the practice of Parliament we should proceed by agreement between the main political Parties. The Government of the day must, of course, retain the right to legislate to alter the Constitution, and it may have to do so against the wishes of the Opposition and against the votes of the Opposition; and it may indeed be in the public interest that it should do so.
But I would suggest that before embarking on an exercise of that kind, there is an obligation on the Government of the day to discover how far towards their objectives they can go by common consent. Both from the national point of view and against the international background of an unstable and an insecure world, that obligation seems to me personally to be almost a duty. With the history of the past fifty years very much in our minds, and with the knowledge that the enemy of progress in this matter of the evolution of your Lordships' House 610 has been not so much apathy as the fact that there have been so many plans so passionately fathered that there has been no agreement, my noble friends and I set out to discover, in discussion and through debate, whether there was in fact sufficient common ground to allow us to propose reforms which would lead to the greater efficiency of this House and therefore to the better working of Parliament, and which would bring this House more nearly abreast of the times. For the first time for many years, it seems to us, we can detect an area of agreement—and a significant area of agreement.
First, I would suggest to your Lordships that the debate which we lately held has revealed a large measure of agreement, if not unanimity, on the introduction to this House of Life Peers. For this the arguments are strictly and severely practical. There is, as all your Lordships know, a small number of noble Lords opposite who enable us to present to the world a picture of a House which is efficient and informed and which maintains a high level of debate. But, equally, we know that this is a brave facade and that on a small number of noble Lords opposite there is falling a strain which they cannot and should not be asked to carry much longer, and that this House is perilously near a breakdown in its machinery. That situation can, in the opinion of the Government and I think of all your Lordships, be eased if the Prime Minister is given the discretion to offer life peerages to those persons who feel, for various good reasons, that they cannot accept hereditary peerages to-day.
In the selection and appointment of Life Peers the emphasis will be on the appointment of persons who can help the working of Parliament. In discovering such persons, when the Prime Minister is looking for persons who might be able to help the Opposition he would desire, when and where appropriate, to seek the advice of the Leader of the Opposition; and, in general, quite apart from the problems of the Opposition in this House, if the Prime Minister has discretion to offer a life peerage I think it will give him a wider range of persons from whom to draw those who can contribute to Parliament from their expert knowledge of this or that aspect of our national life. So the Government have concluded, I 611 think with your Lordships' general support, that there is agreement on the introduction of Life Peers.
Secondly, we believe that there is substantial agreement on the introduction of women to your Lordships' House. The need to keep this House up to date is perhaps the most powerful argument for the introduction of women. There are some of your Lordships who may contend—indeed, some have—that women have not made the mark on the political life of this country that was expected of them. Some of our instincts against surrendering this, one of the last sanctuaries of the male, may be very strong. Some may say that women do not understand how golden is silence, particularly when seven o'clock in the evening is approaching. My trouble is that I cannot see any argument in logic or in reason, why, if women are in another place, they should not be here.
I do not know whether my noble friend Lord Airlie will be more successful in finding arguments against the introduction of women than I have been. He may be, because, if I remember aright, there is in his family a considerable history behind this matter. Your Lordships may not be so familiar as I am with his coat of arms, but, if I am not wrong, I seem to remember that right at the top of it is a lady, and the lady is described, I think, as a lady from the waist upwards "affrontée." She is blue. She is standing behind a portcullis with her arms on the bar, looking miserably and pitifully and wistfully to the day when she will be released from her bondage and able to move freely among her equals. So when we come to the Committee stage, each of your Lordships may fancy himself as Prince Charming, releasing this lady to move, as is her right, among her peers. When, added to that, there is the fact that the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, was unable to get a Teller when he considered an Amendment of this kind in a recent debate, I believe Her Majesty's Government are further justified in believing that there is substantial agreement on the admission of women.
In our discussions and debates there has been revealed a deep division in regard to legislation to limit the numbers in this House, and in particular the 612 number of hereditary Peers; but I believe that all of us have recognised that the existence of the large number of Peers who seldom, if ever, attend this House but who, if they did attend, could in theory dominate a vote exposes this House to criticism. The noble Earl, Lord Swinton, and his Committee proposed a method whereby under our own Standing Orders we might grant a Peer leave of absence or, where a Peer did not apply for leave of absence within a suitable time, he might be deemed to have so applied. This is a matter solely for the House, and I should not like to prejudge the debate which we shall have on the Motion of the noble Earl, I believe next week, but I believe that, should we take advantage of the recommendations of the Committee, some hundreds of Peers would avail themselves of this leave of absence, and that, once they had accepted the conditions, the Peers concerned would keep the bargain. That would give us the opportunity, over the next few years, of watching in action a House which would consist in the main of regularly attending and working Peers. That experiment may well assist us to decide whether further action defining the limits of membership more formally, is necessary or wise.
As I have said, I believe that there is a significant area of agreement of which we should take advantage, and that we should do so now. During our debate a fortnight ago one Member or another asked Her Majesty's Government whether, in a Bill reforming your Lordships' House, there could not be included various categories of persons who might benefit under the Bill, in one way or another, in regard to membership of your Lordships' House. There was, for example, the case of Peeresses in their own right; the case raised by the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, of Scottish Peers who are not Peers of the United Kingdom and are not elected, but yet are not allowed to vote in a General Election. There was the case of an eldest son sitting in another place who might wish to renounce his peerage; and there was the question of the inclusion of representatives of the Churches as such, or the direct representation in this House of one section or another of the community.
A good case has been made for many of these categories and the pleas were eloquent; but your Lordships will notice 613 that Her Majesty's Government, with some regret, have left them all outside the scope of this Bill. That has been done because all of them excite opposition and controversy in varying degrees. Her Majesty's Government have therefore deliberately confined this Bill to life peerages for men and women, because we are convinced, after the lesson of fifty years, that if we try to get more we shall end up by getting nothing at all. The major criticism that. Her Majesty's Government have to answer is that they have failed to bring in a more comprehensive scheme. Both sides of the House made that criticism of Her Majesty's Government in our last debate, and if a casual visitor had walked into the Gallery he might have been given the impression that there was unity on the nature of a comprehensive plan. If he had, it would have been utterly misleading, because any proposal to limit the number of your Lordships' House and in particular to limit the number of hereditary Peers, raises at the present time the most acute controversy. I feel that when we are discussing our own affairs in this House it is best to be quite frank, and I wish to be frank on the situation as it is now.
There is one school of thought that is not prepared at present for so rigorous a pruning as is proposed in some quarters of the right of the hereditary Peer to sit in Parliament; and there is another school of thought, represented by noble Lords opposite, who at the present time are not prepared to vote for a scheme of reform involving a limitation of numbers and which includes an hereditary element. I gather that there are those—some on this side of the House—who, because of that Socialist attitude, would argue that Her Majesty's Government should assert some such scheme and use its majority to do so. I must warn the House that that could be done only at the cost of bitter and sustained controversy on a Constitutional issue; that it not only would involve controversy about the composition of this House but would renew the controversy about its powers; and in my opinion such controversy would extend far beyond this Parliament. Pledges would be given from which there could be no retreat and positions would be taken up which would be rigid and fixed, when what is needed, above all, on this question is flexibility, adaptation and open minds. If I thought for one moment that the situation of your 614 Lordships' House or the state of the country required it I would not hesitate to advise my noble friends to issue a challenge to the Socialist Party here and now. But I am not convinced that this controversy is either necessary or desirable; and I am certain that it is not in the national interest.
I do not know whether my noble friend Lord Salisbury, after further consideration, would wish to press the House—because that is what would have to be done, with the use of the Conservative majority—to adopt a comprehensive scheme now, at this moment. It is a matter of judgment. I am a newcomer to this House and I hesitate to set my judgment against that of the noble Marquess. Very surprisingly, and most unwillingly, I stepped into his shoes; and I should like nothing better than to follow his footsteps wherever he goes. But, if I may use the same analogy, he has up till now suggested a hop which would result in too many broken bones, and I am therefore deliberately recommending to your Lordships that we should proceed one step at a time.
I gather that the Socialist Party may take advantage of the occasion of this Bill to declare (as they say) their attitude. Well, by all means. It is nothing new. They have been declaring their attitude on this matter, to my knowledge, for thirty years. But, Party manifestoes—fortunately for the people of all Parties—are not sacrosanct Party manifestoes, and are capable of modification. The noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, may have something to tell us about the findings of recent meetings of his Party on this subject. Until I hear him, all I can say, reading them, as I do, is that I have never in my life seen more "undecided decisions." Of course, the Socialist Party, if they were in power, could abolish the hereditary peerage. But, if and when that distant glory dawned, would they really want to do so?
Their proposal as I understand it, or their alternative, is for a nominated Chamber—a Chamber nominated by the Prime Minister for each Parliament. I do not believe that such a system would receive the support of the people, that they would be willing to put such power 615 into the hands of one man and so to disrupt the continuity of Parliament, which is one of our greatest assets in this country. If they are, therefore, driven away as I believe they will be—from a nominated Chamber, they will come back to another alternative: an elected Chamber. Then they will be driven from that, because they know that an elected Chamber would be a rival to another place—to the House of Commons—and nobody wants that. So I suggest to your Lordships that there is a very good chance that they will be driven back to using the two ingredients which by then will be seen to be working well—namely, the hereditary Peers and the Life Peers, in some combination, in this existing House. I suggest, therefore, that there is a good chance that we shall arrive by agreement in some years' time at a solution which will be dictated by fact, by experience, by common sense and by the force of public opinion.
My Lords, whatever else he does today, I hope that the noble Viscount opposite will not chide the Government with accusations of "tinkering". if this is "tinkering," whose fault is it? Our Government, the Government of noble Lords on this side of the House, have offered time and again to have discussions with the Opposition on this matter in order to arrive at a comprehensive scheme of reform, and it is the other side of the House that has turned those conversations down. Further, my Lords, I hope they will not press the point that the hereditary element in this House is clinging to excessive powers, because I would remind the noble Viscount that the powers which we enjoy to-day are the powers on which his Government insisted in 1948. I have no wish to be unduly controversial, but I thought I would give him notice that he should not use those arguments. I hope I have not spoilt his speech for him.
I would further make this point. We on this side of the House, believing as we do that the hereditary Peerage has a part to play in the Upper House of Parliament, have willingly modified the hereditary principle by the introduction of Life Peers so as to enable the Socialist point of view to be put more effectively from the other side of the House. We have been willing to make that modification and that compromise and if noble Lords opposite in the years to come (I am not asking them 616 to do so to-day), after the passage of this Bill, will show a similar spirit of compromise, and be willing to include in a reformed House an element of hereditary Peers, then we can arrive without much difficulty at the kind of scheme which is outlined by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, at the present time; and arrive at a solution for the composition of this House which will appeal to the common sense of the country.
This debate and this Bill are not the end of the story. Our Constitution has taken us many hundreds of years to build, and it is ours in trust to-day to improve if we can. I am asking your Lordships to take this one step to-day, because I hope and believe that, before very long, compromise will prevail, common sense will dictate a solution and agreement will come. And to-day, my Lords, I ask your Lordships to be content with this Bill because, for its immediate merits and in the long run, agreement on these Constitutional matters is so clearly in the interest of the nation. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Home.)
§ 3.5 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, we have once more had a charming and a would-be quite disarming speech from the noble leader of the House. As he has made reference to his predecessor, the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, I think it is about time that we congratulated the Party opposite on having found such an able successor to one who was for years an able leader. We in this House extend such courtesies more often than is perhaps done in other places in debate.
The Bill before us to-day is a Bill to extend the area of the Royal Prerogative for the appointment of Peers by adding to that area the appointment of Life Peers, including women in such appointments. It is really a one-clause Bill: the other clause concerns merely the Title. In view of the speech that the noble Leader has just made, I am inclined to ask at once a question which I was going to ask at the end of my speech—namely, whether it is the intention to follow a practice which is often followed in this House. When we come to deal with a Bill in Committee the Chairman of Committees moves that the Title be reserved. Is it the intention that that course may 617 be followed this time? And may an Amendment to the Title be accepted? That is a matter of procedure to which perhaps some immediate thought and consideration will be given. We shall all have to consider whether we want to amend the Bill and, if so, to what degree and in what particular area.
The fact that this Bill is a short one cannot possibly hide from us the fact that it is a very important Bill. It will achieve something which has not happened for a very long period: it will achieve a change in, and amendment to, the composition of the House of Lords. In view of one or two of the phrases used in: he speech of the noble Earl the Leader of the House to-day, and in view of the possibility that there may arise a great controversy if certain kinds of proposals are made other than those which are confined in the breadth of this Bill, I am wondering why a Bill of such constitutional importance should first be introduced in this House. If it is a Bill which would create very great interest in another place, and one likely to lead, in one or two of the matters pointed out by the noble Leader, to quite acute and prolonged controversy (and I think I am using terms which he used), why was the Bill not introduced in another place first? Was it the belief of the Leader of the House that there would be such unanimity in this House upon the matters which arose out of consideration of even the limited proposals that he would be able to go to the other place and say, "This is literally an agreed Bill in the House of Lords"? I think it is important to point that Out.
However, as I have indicated on a previous occasion, I do not propose to ask my colleagues in this House to vote against the Second Reading of this Bill, because it has become a convention in this House not to vote against the Second Reading of a Government Bill. That is the reason. The noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack, if he will forgive my saying so, limited somewhat his view of this conventional practice by confining it to:Bills passed by another place that have been publicly proclaimed in the programme of the Parties behind the Government.That is in the OFFICIAL REPORT (Vol. 705, No. 103) for October 31 last at Column
618 The words seem to me to have been chosen, perhaps, to justify the action of this House in throwing out during the last Session of Parliament a Bill to abolish capital punishment which had been passed in another place after prolonged debate by a majority composed of representatives of all Parties in that House. The Government on that occasion chose to accept the vote in this House as being superior to the representative vote in another place. It is not surprising, therefore, that there are many people in another place who regard the Bill which we are considering now—and here I am going to say what the noble Earl the Leader of the House did not want me to say—as tinkering with the problem of the reform of the House of Lords, in that it makes no attempt to deal with the need, advanced now for many years by large numbers of the population, for the abolition of the hereditary principle (and that, as the noble Earl has indicated, has been going on for at least fifty years) nor to give relief to the heirs of Peers who do not desire to receive the Writ of Summons of this House but to be enabled, by Statute, to make a once-and-for-all decision, in their individual cases, to exercise the privilege of Parliamentary service, if they are chosen by the electors, in another place.
I would ask, therefore, what is the real object of the Government in introducing a Bill of the limited nature of the one which we are now considering? The noble Earl the Leader of the House has endeavoured to show again this afternoon, and to prove by various arguments, that it is because there has as yet been no agreement—which, in the last debate, he regarded as essential—between the principal Parties in the State for anything like a measure of reform. Therefore, as was emphasised by the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack in the last debate, they are aiming to come to a point of the least possible disagreement. That seems to me to be of certain virtue, but it has not convinced at any rate a large part of the people in another place.
Now what is the Bill for? I have read through the Reports of the other debates very carefully, and I have listened carefully this afternoon to what the noble Earl the Leader of the House has had to say. I would not have gathered from the previous debates that a principal object of the Bill was to strengthen the 619 Opposition. That is what has been said this afternoon, and I begin to think that there has been some more detailed examination of the case, if a principal object of the Bill is to strengthen the Opposition. So I should like an answer as to the real object of the Bill. The noble Earl seemed to think that unless the Opposition were strengthened there was grave danger of a complete collapse in the kind of use which this Chamber of Government has served in the past and would hope to continue to serve. I should like to have an answer to that question.
As I see it, the great volume of opinion in the country which favours a reform of this House does so on a much wider basis. It accepts the principle that was clearly stated by the late Mr. Ramsay Muir, who I think sat for a time in the other place as a Liberal, and who had great distinction as an author, writing on constitutional and other Government questions. I have been reading again his book How Britain is Governed which he published in 1930. We are kindly in our manners here, and this afternoon we have had put to us very gently and courteously something about lack of decision on the part of the Socialists. Therefore I would point out that in this book Mr. Ramsay Muir reminds us that there was an absolute pledge to deal with House of Lords reform by the Tory Government which existed with a great majority from 1924 to 1929, but in fact they never touched it. Once you begin to throw about charges of decision or indecision I think it should be pointed out that such charges cannot be confined to one particular Parliamentary group. I think that that particular case is proved.
Mr. Ramsay Muir says this—if the House will allow me I will quote from his book:However it is constituted, and whatever its powers, the Second Chamber ought to be definitely subordinate to the House of Commons. Any claim to co-ordinate powers, and still more to superiority of power in any field."—that does not limit it to Acts supported by the Parties behind the Government—would inevitably lead to confusion, deadlock and uncertainty in Government. The supremacy of the House of Commons as the representative of the whole nation in exercising 'control on behalf of the nation' over all the organs of government must be beyond question.620 Is there anything of that kind as a reason for reforming the House of Lords present in this Bill?
From one point of view we can be thankful that there is no reference at all to the powers of the House. Why I say "we can be thankful" is that there is no reference to an extension of the powers of the House: of Lords. The noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack felt, on October 31, that I had shown how easy it would be to rouse Party feeling on a proposal of comprehensive reform which, although it cut down the number of hereditary Peers who sit and vote in this House, increased the prestige and influence of the House itself. In saying that I am almost quoting word for word. I do not need to apologise for having given that impression, because it is simply the fact.
A number of different suggestions have been put to us. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, has been wider in his interpretation of how the election of hereditary Peers could be brought about, but many of the schemes have suggested election of hereditary Peers to Parliament by hereditary Peers in Parliament, with the right to receive the Writ of Summons and to speak and to vote. But to elect Peers to this House because they are hereditary Peers, and by the votes of hereditary Peers, would not remove the views of those who hold that the House of Lords in its present form, and with its hereditary foundation, is an anachronism in a democratic State. Now this Bill does not touch the hereditary principle. Is it introduced to enhance the prestige of the House while retaining the hereditary principle? I feel certain that that is a question which will be asked and debated strongly in another place when the Bill leaves this House. I think that the answer is, Yes.
The other day, the noble Earl the Leader of the House suggested that Life Peers of distinction and eminence would bring added authority and influence. I thought for a little time over that word "authority", which I am sure he chose very carefully, as he is always careful. I accept that there are two different circumstances in which one may use the word "authority" to try and explain what one means; but once we begin to talk about increasing the authority of your Lordships' House we do not invite an extension of popular support for the 621 House. I suppose that it could be interpreted as being the kind of superior authority which was claimed over the Bill for the abolition of capital punishment, because the opposition to it was led in part by eminent lawyers and judges. But what particular authority should they have over the rest of the constituents in a democratic state? In their legal function they have the right to be exclusive and completely authoritarian in carrying out the rule of justice, but it cannot be claimed that that kind of authority should be added to the influence and powers of your Lordships' House. It may be necessary to say again that perhaps that was one of the reasons why Her Majesty's Government chose to accept the vote of your Lordships' House on the capital punishment Bill as being superior to the vote of the elected representatives in another place, the majority vote of all Parties.
is the proposal to be merely a steppingstone to reducing the number of hereditary Peers and thereby to enhance in some way the hereditary principle? I was interested in the speech of the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Samuel.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (VISCOUNT HAILSHAM)
My Lords, the noble Viscount is not "learned"—not in a technical sense.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
I do not put forward any false claims, but to me the noble Viscount is learned—very learned indeed. have so often sat and listened to him with great benefit. I was interested to hear the noble Viscount draw attention to the possibility of a growth in the number of Peers in your Lordships' House as being a problem which obviously beset the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury. I am asking whether this Bill is merely a stepping-stone. I am not quite so much inclined to think that it is as I was then, since comparing the remarks in our last debate of the noble Earl the Leader of the House and the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack. There seemed to me to be just a little difference between the two.
The noble Earl said that before we limit the number of hereditary Peers [OFFICIAL. REPORT, Vol. 205 (NO. 102) Col. 592]:…we have to prove to ourselves…that there is a great measure of agreement between the Parties.622 In my view, putting it simply and frankly, there is no hope of getting such agreement from the Labour Party, which is entirely opposed to the maintenance in any form or size of the hereditary principle in the Second Chamber. On the other hand the noble and learned Viscount, who was anxious, I think, to meet the views expressed by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, and others, said this (Col. 772):I believe, and the Government believe, that the British Constitution is an organic and a dynamic thing, and when we have made this change in the composition of the House, if we reach that position, the Government must—I repeat, must—consider the effect of the change, and whether and when the time has come for a further change.Whether that statement succeeded in bringing any satisfaction to the noble Marquess is another matter, but it seemed to me to be of some significance. It might almost have been described as a strong hint. Maybe there was no such subtlety intended at all, but I noted the difference in language.
Will this Bill, then, bring added prestige to your Lordships' House? I think that that depends largely upon how this purely enabling legislation is operated. How much do we really know, at this stage of the consideration of the matter, of the extent to which the Bill is to be operated? I listened carefully to the noble Earl the Leader of the House this afternoon. What do we know, except that the Royal Prerogative, as always in such circumstances, will be in the discretion of the Prime Minister? If I may say so, I think that in the carefully chosen language of the noble Earl on this point there was a retreat into something not much more than half a promise: when it comes to the question of strengthening the Opposition in this matter, which is essential in maintaining the work of the House, there may be consultations with the Leader of the Opposition. Looking at the noble Earl's language again, I feel that he has not been really so forthcoming to-day as he was on the previous occasion.
THE EARL OF HOME
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Viscount to get this right? I think that the language I used was that, where and when appropriate, the Prime Minister would wish to consult with, or take the advice of, the Leader of the Opposition.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
"Where and when appropriate"? Yet I should have thought, if he had been talking about strengthening the Opposition, that he would have said "at all times". However, I am sure that the noble Earl does not want to be unfriendly about it and I certainly do not wish to be unfriendly, if we can get the matter right, But the answer to the question I was putting, "Will this Bill add to the prestige of your Lordships' House?" will depend on how this enabling legislation is operated.
Another matter on which I should like more information than we had on the last occasion is this: how many Life Peers is it proposed to appoint? We have arrived at the situation now where the Government make no interference with the number of hereditary Peers. Apparently we shall not face an increased number of hereditary Peers by appointment; but how many new Life Peers are to be appointed? If there is to be a strengthened Opposition, then there should be a rapid increase in the number of Labour Peers, if anything like a reasonable position of oppositional power is to exist in your Lordships' House, which so often comes to important decisions. May we have some more information, before this debate comes to an end, on what the Government have in mind upon this matter? I think we are entitled to that.
I wrote down in my notes (I hope that I was not unfair when I was considering this point) that, if I were to interpret the speech of the noble Earl the Leader of the House on October 30, I should say that at present he does not know; and I doubt whether the Government know. They do not appear yet, from any statement they have made to the House on the matter, to have thought how many, when and in what area? We cannot be expected to believe that the only Life Peers to be appointed for a Session or two will be to strengthen the Opposition, either this section of it or, on such occasions as noble Lords on the other side of the gangway wish to oppose the Government, the other section. We in this House ought to have more information, as the Government have introduced the Bill here, of what are their intentions. I cannot expect to be given figures of the annual programme the Government propose, but we should 624 be told approximately what the Government consider should be the maximum number of Life Peers to be appointed while the basic position of hereditary Peers remains unaltered.
I rather agree with the noble Earl the Leader of the House that there is not likely to be a large waiting list of candidates at the Bar of the House—I thought he put that most appropriately—all awaiting appointment for admission as Life Peers. For one thing, if the basic qualification is to be "eminence and distinction" (and I use the noble Earl's words), there will not be much inducement to Life Peers to give their time to help, as it was put, "in the chores of the House ", unless they are already at the retirement age, if they be offered, as he was alone able to mention in his speech, merely a daily expense allowance. If the Government are sincere in the proposal to assist all Parties in the House by the appointment of Life Peers, I think they must rapidly find an alternative method of adequate remuneration. It would be too bad if this Bill became law and, so far as strengthening the Members of my Party in this House was concerned, it was limited to a very small field of choice, because in that field of choice there would be very few indeed who could afford to come to this House in any circumstances other than those of adequate annual remuneration. We have had no firm statement on that aspect.
I was going to speak rather strongly this afternoon about some of the wider suggestions made by the right reverend Prelate, the Lord Bishop of Chichester, in a speech of considerable interest on the last occasion, but the reference made by the noble Earl the Leader of the House to the kind of controversies which were likely to be aroused this afternoon perhaps renders that less necessary. However, there are certain things that I should like to point out to the right reverend Prelate. In the 37th Article of Religion, in his own Prayer Book, it is stated, for example, thatThe Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this realm.If the right reverend Prelate wanted to introduce Roman Catholic bishops, or Roman Catholics of equal power, as Life Peers, he would certainly be raising a very fierce controversy indeed. And it might well be that with some of the other 625 categories of persons who have been suggested controversy would also arise. On that point, therefore, I agree with what the Leader of the House has said this afternoon.
I now come to the question of the admission of women in the category of Life Peers. I have heard many people, in all parts of the House, say that they thought it unfair that, in giving for the first time the suffrage use of this House to women, the Government should exclude those who already have a right to a current peerage but who are denied the right of coming to this hereditary House. However, I am bound to say that I agree with the Government in not extending that privilege, because I think it would add very much to the prestige of the hereditary principle in the House.
The noble Earl, Lord Home, was kinder to the women than one or two other speakers have been. If it is suggested, as some might suggest after read-Mg his speech, that women have been altogether a failure in Parliamentary life, or at least, have not reached the standard that some. thought they might, I would say, as an article of personal faith, that I would not wish for better Parliamentary colleagues, or more able Parliamentary colleagues than Margaret Bondfield, Susan Lawrence, Ellen Wilkinson and Mrs. Wintringham, one of the ablest persons I ever had the pleasure of associating with in Parliamentary comradeship in the other place. Therefore, I feel convinced that the Government, in their proposal for the appointment of Life Peers, are right in granting women the same privilege as men.
Finally, no amendment of the composition of the House of Lords which leaves the powers of the House of Lords as they are now can be universally accepted. In spite of the Parliament Act, 1948, the present situation is that the legislation of all Labour Governments can be unduly delayed; and indeed. in the last fifteen months of the lifetime of a Labour Government now, if they came into office tomorrow for a period, they would be faced virtually with an antagonistic single Chamber. That is not a position that we can lie down under or allow to remain. I think that requires to be said.
As to our own course of action in the later stages of the Bill in this House, that must be considered at the end of this debate. But I would resist the suggestion 626 made by the noble Earl the Leader of the House that it is entirely the fault of my colleagues on this side of the House, and in their Party generally, that it has not been possible to come to an agreement in dealing with the reform of the House of Lords. I hurriedly consulted my noble friend Lord Attlee, and he says that on the last occasion when conversations broke down they were broken down by the other side and not by us. So, while we need not quarrel about when and why these conversations have broken down, I resist the impeachment that it has been entirely due to the Party which I have the honour to lead in this House.
When it conies to dealing with the later stages of the Bill, we shall have to await what statement the noble Earl the Leader of the House may feel able to make about how the Committee stage is to be dealt with. I have already asked the question, and I repeat it: Will it be the case, when the Bill is in Committee, that the very common practice of reserving the Title will be adopted; and will it be possible, within that provision, for us to move an Amendment to the Title of such a character as will enable the matters in the minds of your Lordships to be thoroughly canvassed through any Amendments which they desire to put down. I wish to thank the noble Earl for his speech in introducing the Bill, and to say that, whatever conies out of it, we shall all hope and pray that the future of our country in this, what he called, "insecure world", will lead ultimately, through its Parliamentary system, properly amended and properly pursued, to a state of security, justice and prosperity.
§ 3.40 p.m.
My Lords, I intend to be brief. From conversations which I have heard, both inside and outside your Lordships' House, it seems to me that the Bill before us to-day can be supported for two distinct reasons: first, that it accelerates the prospect of further reform of your Lordships' House, and, Secondly, that it retards the prospect of the further reform of your Lordships' House. I understand that there are two equally good reasons for voting against this Bill, which are exactly the same reasons. Since a measure of reform has been advocated from these Benches for the last forty years, I personally find no difficulty in 627 supporting this Bill as a small advance to that reform which we, in this quarter of your Lordships' House, consider to be desirable.
I support it because although, unfortunately, it avoids—and, indeed, it is not attempting to take into account—most of the points which were arrived at unanimously at the Leaders' Conference in 1948, it does bring before us two of those agreed conclusions: that there should be life peerages, and that women should be eligible equally with men. In a secondary manner I would suggest that it paves the way for consequential implementation of some of the others of those nine important points, although at present, of course, it does no more than pave the way, and it does not pretend to do more than that. But I derive comfort and satisfaction from the fact that at least it does not negative the recommendations which still remain to be dealt with. It has not shut the door on them and, indeed, in some measure I think it impinges on them in support rather than in negation.
For instance, this Bill is, I think, quite consistent with the first recommendation, which was that, since the Second Chamber should be complementary to and not a rival to the Lower House, any modification here should be based on its existing Constitution as opposed to some system of election. I think that that is a very important point. That recommendation is supported, rather than undermined, by the terms of this small Bill. The second recommendation, aimed towards a more representative balance of the Parties, as the noble Viscount has just pointed out, would certainly seem to be implicit in this Bill and, indeed, I support the Bill only with this interpretation. The third recommendation, that heredity alone should not in itself constitute a qualification, is to many of us probably the most important of the nine agreed points, and if this Bill does not very positively establish that principle it at least goes a long way towards doing it, and it does not deny it. The two remaining major recommendations, about the occupation of your Lordships in another place if not occupied here, and the means of reducing overlarge numbers, particularly of noble Lords who do not attend, are quite different, and I hope will be brought up at a different time.
628 I understand from the noble Earl the Leader of the House that the noble Earl, Lord Airlie, may at a later stage be moving an Amendment designed to exclude women from eligibility to sit in this House. Perhaps he will forgive me if I am wrong, but I hope my comment will neither shock nor offend him. It is this. I am extremely pleased. I congratulate him, and I think he is fulfilling a public duty in putting to your Lordships a point of view which I know to be held much more widely than would appear from the reports of debates held in your Lordships' House. Indeed, have been puzzled and rather worried that this matter should, by default, give the appearance of being uncontroversial. when both inside and outside your Lordships' House there is a case to be put and a case to be met. I can only hope that the diffidence hitherto shown by those who presumably agree with the noble Earl is not attributable to any timidity engendered perhaps by some secret infiltration of the matriarchal system of some foreign Power.
I will not anticipate the noble Earl's argument, but I think he may have a well-founded point if he deplores, as I do, the tendency to take into political account the spurious division of the wellbeing of the State into either anti-male or anti-female camps. Although I and the Party to which I belong have advocated, and will continue to advocate, the equality of men and women in all spheres in which they can contribute equally, or approximately equally—and I think there is no need to point out the spheres in which that is not the case—I do concede that, from a personal point of view, the House of Lords is a peculiar anomaly in a sense to which ordinary tests do not apply, and one whose real idiosyncracy (which I have learnt in ten years to appreciate) is not only beyond definition but can be understood only after a period of service in your Lordships' House. Indeed, on coming to this Chamber one has not only something to learn but something to "unlearn." It is sometimes said that Members of your Lordships' House who have not had the advantage of being a Member of another place are in that sense handicapped. I hope I may say, without offence, that while that may well be true, there is also a soupcon of "unlearning" to be done by those who have been 629 Members of the first Chamber which, of course, is an elected Chamber, but in the opinion of many people is not nearly as representative a Chamber as it ought to be.
In saying this, I seek merely to make this point. I am glad that this Bill does not aim at making this House an elected Chamber, for the very good reason, among other reasons, that the prerogative of being the nation's only elected Chamber belongs to the House of Commons. But none of this, I think, precludes on that account the admission of men and women Life Peers in accordance with the fourth and fifth proposals arrived at unanimously by the Party Leaders in 1948. Perhaps your Lordships would like to know whether ladies who will become Members of this Chamber are to have approximately the same communal style as present wives of Peers, Baronets and Knights, or whether there will be some distinctive title, which I hope may be more happily chosen than the word "Dame" In reference books the alternatives to "Lady" or "Dame" are various and, indeed, your Lordships may have to decide between "Matron" and "Sultana." I shall not detain your Lordships further. The Bill is a slightly disappointing Bill to me in the narrowness of its scope, but there is no reason for spurning the crumb because one does not get the whole loaf. I hope that further legislation to implement the 1948 recommendations will soon be with us, and in the meantime I support this Bill.
§ 3.48 p.m.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My Lords, this Bill is one which affects the composition of your Lordships' House, and it is because we have to consider the composition of your Lordships' House in definite relation to the duties which your Lordships' House has to perform that I propose to-day to concern myself with that aspect of the matter. We have a definite part to play in the Constitution—a great deal more definite than is recognised by noble Lords of the Party opposite.
I begin by saying that we recognise that one part of our Constitution is an all-powerful House of Commons. I do not dispute that for a moment. But I should like to add that that power is derived by direct mandate from the sovereign people; it is not derived from 630 Heaven—and here I come into direct conflict with the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition, because he gave your Lordships an example, as I understood it, of a case where this House had illegitimately come into conflict with another place. His example was the Capital Punishment Bill. If my recollection is right, the Capital Punishment Bill was a Private Member's Bill introduced in the course of the Session, and was never put before the electorate prior to the General Election. There you see, my Lords, the claim of the Opposition that the House of Commons has not a mandate from the people but a divine right from Heaven. That is a thing which is quite inadmissible and which no student of constitutional history could ever have advanced. It was stated, I think by the noble Viscount, that this House was definitely subordinate to the House of Commons. Of course we are; but it is part of the facade which the noble Lords put up in the country and elsewhere that we are always trying to interfere with what the House of Commons do. My Lords, it is an impossible claim that we here should accept as a matter of course any casual Motion, Resolution or Bill which is put to us by a casual majority in the House of Commons, whether that has been before the people or not.
Leaving that for a moment, I concede that the principal duty of the House of Lords is revision. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, paid a tribute only last week to the manner in which this House carries out its duty of revision. I should like to point out to the noble Lord that even for the duty of revision a certain power of delay is essential. No effective revision of Bills such as we get from another House can possibly be carried out in your Lordships' House or in any kind of Second Chamber unless there is inherent in the Constitution some power of delay by a revising Chamber. We claim that over the last forty years our duty of revision and our constitutional duty generally has been well carried out. I believe—and I am not ashamed to say it—that that is attributable to the beneficent working of the 1911 Act. I wonder whether even the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, one of the few survivors of the 1911 Parliament, when that Act was going through foresaw the really remarkable effect it would have upon the constitutional history of this country; for I believe 631 it was that Act and the acquired wisdom of experience which enabled your Lordships to pass, as I think, the supreme test of having a Socialist majority in another place with an overwhelming advantage. I do not think it can be denied that this House carried out its duty of revision of those Socialist Bills, many of which we did not like, in what really was an exemplary manner. It would not be fair to say that without paying tribute to the two men principally concerned, my noble friend Lord Salisbury and the then Leader of the House, Lord Addison.
My Lords, one more thing about revision. It has been said that everybody agrees that there should be a Second Chamber. It is one of those generalities which is true but conceals a great untruth. There are those who, like the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, are confessedly unicameralists. But those of your Lordships—and they sit on the other side of the House—who believe that the only function of your Lordships' House is revision are nothing but single-Chamber men themselves.
I now pass to what is—and I insist that it is—a second essential function of your Lordships' House, having regard to the kind of Constitution under which we live. It is not an everyday affair, but an essential part of the constitutional machinery. That is that your Lordships should be ready—if I may adopt a cricketing metaphor—in case of need to act as a long-stop to wild or erratic bowling, whether delivered by a left-handed bowler or a right-handed bowler. Please note that this is not in any sense a claim to interpret the will of the people. That is what noble Lords opposite always will say: that in exercising that function we should be interpreting the will of the people. If I may change the metaphor to a motoring one, we do not put up a "Halt" sign; what we do is to put up a sign "Danger, drive slowly", in order that the electorate should have a chance to know what is going on.
How wrong is the attitude of the Opposition, in my opinion, I illustrate by two short quotations from the debate only the other day. Our noble Leader made a reference to a cooling process, and the noble Viscount opposite made the comment that this indicated that we might hold up fundamentally the ascertained, collective wish of the sovereign people. 632 Nothing could be further from the truth. Various phrases have been used to describe this particular function. It was described as a brake. The noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, said that what is really meant is to prevent the elected Chamber from doing the job which the electorate has sent it to Westminster to do. The whole point is that this function of your Lordships' Chamber cannot come into play unless and until the House of Commons exceeds the mandate which the people have given it. If the noble Viscount opposite thinks the House of Commons has a divine right, can never lose touch with the electorate, can do what it likes irrespective of what the electorate says, he has a very different view of the constitutional position from the view I hold.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
What is the divine right given to Members of this hereditary Chamber to say that the other place has exceeded its mandate from the people?
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
On what you have just said, as to exercising the mandate of the people. What is this House of Lords, constituted as it is, to restrain decisions or halt decisions of the House of Commons, pleading that it thinks—on what authority I do not know—here in this House that the House of Commons has exceeded its mandate?
§ LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
Let me repeat to the noble Viscount my original argument. Where does the House of Commons get its mandate from?
§ LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
The people, quite so; and when they exceed the mandate it is for this House to say, "Stop a minute. Have the people considered this?"
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
I am asking the noble Lord, where do you get your mandate from?
§ LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
From the ancient Constitution of this country. And please God the noble Lords opposite will never have the temerity to alter it!
§ EARL ATTLEE
Might I ask the noble Lord one question? Could he give me any instance where this House has ever turned down something sent by a Conservative Government?
§ LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
Certainly; the noble Earl is perfectly entitled to ask that. They often did it before 1911. I do not think they have ever exceeded their constitutional duty since 1911. Now the noble Earl is touching on a constitutional point about composition which, if I may, I will come to later.
§ EARL ATTLEE
The noble Lord has not given an instance. He said there have not been any since 1911. Were there any before then?
§ LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
Oh yes. Before 1911 this House frequently did what was wrong, and earned the retribution of the Parliament Act of 1911. Nobody here, I think—least of all I—would say that what the House of Lords did in 1909 and 1910 was right. All I am saying is that for the last forty years your Lordships' House has carried out its duties in an exemplary manner.
§ LORD WILMOT OF SELMESTON
Is the noble Lord saying that prior to 1911 they were reversals of a Conservative Government action? Were they not reversals of a Liberal Government action?
§ LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
Yes, certainly; I did not intend to say that they were reversals of a Conservative Government. I did not want to stand in a white sheet and say that before 1911 the House of Lords did not behave as it should constitutionally have done.
§ LORD WILMOT OF SELMESTON
But the noble Lord has not given us a single instance when this House has reversed the decision of a Conservative Government.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My Lords, I have tried to make the point that we have a constitutional duty to "put on the brake," and I want your 634 Lordships to consider that there is a danger of some extreme body or faction getting control of the House of Commons. I want to refer quite briefly to what happened in Germany between the wars. Hitler started as a Socialist—
§ EARL ATTLEE
I think the term "National Socialist" in Austria was never really Socialist, but merely meant anti-Semite.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
All I can say is that Hitler called himself a Socialist. Perhaps he really was not one. I am quite prepared to concede to noble Lords opposite that his rise in power was aided by elements of the Right Wing. I seem to remember that Sir Oswald Mosley's Fascist "Black-shirts" were ardent supporters of Hitler. However, it happened—perhaps by a combination of wicked people of the Left and the Right—that Hitler established the most foul despotism in history, complete suppression of all the prized freedoms that we hold dear. I maintain that that would have been more difficult in a Parliamentary democracy, such as Germany was, had there been a strong, independent, and authoritative Second Chamber.
I shall be told that that could not happen here. I think it could. One of the pointers which I think is a dangerous symptom of the times is the tyranny of the Party Whip in another place. I am not going to develop that suggestion, but I am quite certain that the tyranny of the Party Whip, the monolithic character of the Party, is a dangerous factor and one which might be of assistance to people who wished to establish their own personal power.
I was interested to see a quotation from an article in Tribune. I must confess to your Lordships that Tribune is not part of my daily reading, but the article was quoted in one or two other papers. It was by a prominent lady member of the Party opposite in another place, and the author of this article said that Life Peers were bad for two reasons: first, that they escaped Party control; and secondly, that they very rapidly become Conservative after they 635 get here. I am not sure whether the article meant Conservative, with a big "C", or conservative with a little "c". If it was a big "C" it is, of course, quite untrue, because noble Lords opposite are just as loyal to their Party after they sit here as they were before. But I think it is true that they do tend to become conservative with a small 'c", and that is another excellent reason why they make good Members of your Lordships' House.
My Lords, truly we must agree that the House of Commons tend to lose touch after a few years in power. A House of Commons so disposed might be tempted to put forward measures for which they had no mandate whatever—they might start, to use a vulgar expression, "fiddling with the franchise"; they might pass a Bill which would exclude people who had not had a particular kind of education, or they might do it the other way round, include only people who had a particular education. This is not a fanciful idea. Your Lordships have only to look round Her Majesty's Dominions to find that very thing going on in one of Her Majesty's Dominions at this particular moment. In those circumstances, with these possibilities, what sort of Second Chamber do we really need? I say emphatically, not a Chamber where Parties are going to be equally divided! We do not want to reproduce acute Party conflicts here; but we do need—I say this in spite of the denunciation of the noble Viscount opposite—added authority. Here we are detached from Party and we already have a very good spirit of detachment. The noble Leader of the House has, I think, more than once said that he is able, as it were, to "call spirits from the vasty deep." They come, but the noble Leader does not know how they are going to vote when they do come.
What is that due to?—here again, I am going to cross swords with the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition. It is due in large measure to the hereditary principle, which is the "King Charles' head" of noble Lords opposite. I am not decrying the value of the great infusion that we have had of first creations. But the virtues of this House, such as they are, are due to some extent to the hereditary Peerage, and I believe 636 that the hereditary Peerage—although the noble Viscount called it a rather rude kind of anachronism—is a unique and precious possession, and in the very independence that it gives to your Lordships' House it is a real protection of the liberties of the subject.
This is a Life Peerages Bill; it is not a Bill for the reform of your Lordships' House, and I do not think any sweet reasonable approach such as that which was made by the noble Leader of the House has ever met with quite such a rough handling as came from the other side. I agree that even if the House of Lords works well at present the addition of Life Peers will improve it. But I hold also that reform requires that we should get rid of the reproach of the absentees. After the reception of this Bill by the noble Viscount opposite, I do not think our noble Leader can have much hope of agreement, and so I would ask him: which is more vulnerable to attack, a reformed House or an unreformed House? What hope of agreement can there be with that Party, even apart from what was said to-day by the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, who declared absolute war on the hereditary principle and declared war on anything which will really add to the authority—not the power—of this House? With the greatest respect to the noble Viscount, that is really a misreading of the British Constitution.
In the light of the hope of the noble Leader of the House for agreement, may I just recall the record of the Party opposite in this matter? They refused to enter into conference on the subject, and while they were in power they passed, without a mandate, the Parliament Act of 1948. It was never before the electors. Moreover, it was passed by the illegitimate and improper use of the powers contained in the 1911 Act. It was not concealed that one of the objects was to secure the passage of another Bill for which their mandate was, shall we say, shadowy, at its very best.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, is the noble Lord suggesting that that Bill was not 637 very properly mentioned in Let us Face the Future, Labour's Election manifesto?
§ LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My Lords, I use my words very carefully. I said that the mandate was a shadowy one. There was nothing in the programme put before the electors to give in any detail the kind of nationalisation Bill which eventually came forward for steel.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, in Let us Face the Future there was a phrase which said that we should take whatever steps might be necessary to deal with the House of Lords in order to secure the passage of our legislation.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, may I intervene for a moment, as I have a recollection of this part of our recent history? If I remember correctly, the case made in this House was not that the Labour Government had not a mandate to introduce an Iron and Steel Bill but that in the terms of their manifesto they limited themselves to a certain extent, and that the Bill which they promoted went beyond the mandate of the manifesto.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My Lords, I am much obliged to my noble friend, but of course his words will have no effect on noble Lords opposite——
§ LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
—because obviously they think that the House of Commons derives its inspiration front Heaven. There is no other possible explanation of the claim that they are making about the way in which this House ought to handle what they do.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, equally might I ask whether the brief reference to reform of the House of Lords in the Election manifesto of the Party opposite gave details of the Bill now before the House?
§ LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My Lords, it was not a brief reference but a definite pledge to put before the House proposals for reform of the House. What could be more definite?
My Lords, I have detained you too long. All I want to say, in summing up, is that 638 reform of the House of Lords has two essential components. One is the introduction of Life Peers; the other is getting rid of the reproach of the absentees. It is a fact that, under our Constitution, with an all-powerful House of Commons there must be a House of Lords to play the part which all constitutional authorities have always regarded as the duty of that House—that is, the duty of being a Second Chamber with sufficient authority to sound a warning note to which the country would give heed if ever a majority in another place, of whatever Party, were to put forward proposals which threatened the liberties of the people and which the electorate had had no opportunity of considering.
§ 4.15 p.m.
My Lords, as the noble Leader of the House reminded us, only a short time ago we debated in this Chamber almost every possible reform which could be thought of, and I suggest it is only too clear that the only reform which appeared to have any kind of agreement in this House was the creation of life peerages. For that and other reasons I should like to add my support for this Bill. The noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, said that many Members of another place considered that this Bill was really tinkering with the whole problem. I entirely disagree. It is certainly a very small Bill, but it may well create a great change in this House as time goes on, and, on the whole, if the powers are used wisely, it may strengthen the House in many directions and in prestige. This Bill is certainly designed to strengthen the Opposition quite considerably, for the reasons that have been given by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh.
During the recent debate on the proposals of Her Majesty's Government I was one of those who were very disturbed, as I think the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, was disturbed to-day, about the number of Life Peers who might be created in any one year. I have always thought that there should be some limitation; but I am not quite so strong on that point now as I understand that there is to be no limitation on the creation of hereditary Peers. I should like to ask Her Majesty's Government whether it is their intention that the proposed recipient of a peerage 639 should be asked whether he is prepared to accept a life peerage or an hereditary peerage. I suggest that this should be done, and I hope that on this question the reply of Her Majesty's Government will be in the affirmative.
I can certainly conceive many Amendments which might improve this Bill, such as one permitting Peers to renounce their right to sit in this House and to stand for election in another place, but I agree with Her Majesty's Government that such proposals should be the subject of another Bill rather than put forward as Amendments to this one. As we know, many possible Amendments are very contentious, and it is important, as a first step in the reform of this Chamber, to get as much agreement as possible and to build slowly on a sound foundation.
I believe that there is one great weakness in the proposals in this Bill, one which at the moment would seem difficult to overcome, and that is the financial question, mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, which will arise when the comparatively young and efficient candidate for a life peerage is approached. I was very glad that the noble Viscount raised that point. An expense account of some three guineas a day, as it is at present. is hardly likely to attract the type of person we want in this House and who would be of great benefit to us. It may be possible to adopt a plan of payment on the basis of percentage of attendance: that is, 25 per cent. of an agreed annual figure for 25 per cent. attendance; 50 per cent, of the amount for a similar attendance, and so on. Perhaps something on those lines could be considered. If the House decides to set up a Select Committee on leave of absence, as has been foreshadowed in the forthcoming debate next week, it is possible that the financial position for Peers could be improved, provided that the proposals for leave of absence are found to work satisfactorily. I am quite sure that something must be done in this direction if the House is to benefit from this Bill in any sound way.
That will certainly apply to male life peerages, but I am not so sure about the ladies, because even three guineas a day would be useful "pin-money" for some of them but I do not propose to say anything further about the inclusion of 640 women. I agree that on few grounds would it be possible to justify their exclusion and I would accept the Bill as it stands. On the other hand, I feel that perhaps they will not add much to the type of debate which we are accustomed to have in this House and also that they may well impart more of a Party feeling, which now, as your Lordships are aware, is rightly of a restrained nature, as I think behoves a good Second Chamber.
This Bill may well be only the "end of the beginning" and we may see further reforms added from time to time. I am sure we on this side all hope, and perhaps even the Opposition do also, that this Bill will be a helpful reform and that it will add prestige to the House. The noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, has said that we on this side of the House claim superiority (I think that was his word) over another place. That is not true at all. What we do claim is the right to delay the passing of a controversial measure so that people of the country may have another look at it. It is no use having a Second Chamber with no powers at all. But this Bill is not concerned with powers, and I hope—I am pretty sure it will be of benefit to the Chamber as a whole.
A great deal has been said by the Opposition against the hereditary principle. May I say just one thing about it which I do not think has often been mentioned before? I would say that our strength and prestige are bound up in the fact that we are really a group of ordinary people—in fact, of men in the street—and that we have not sought political membership like those in another place in any way at all. Therefore, I think we can claim to delay a controversial measure to enable the people of the country to think again.
The noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, emphasised also that the Opposition has placed no difficulty in the way of reform so far as discussions are concerned. May I remind him that in February, 1953, the then Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill. approached the leaders of the Opposition for a meeting to consider the reform of this Chamber; but he was, as we all know, heavily rebuffed and told that, in view of the fact that the previous discussions of 1947 had revealed a fundamental cleavage of opinion on what was 641 the proper part to be played by the House of Lords, they had come to the conclusion that no useful purpose would be served by entering into any discussions. Would the noble Viscount agree that that is a fact? I hope that in the course of time the Opposition will change their attitude and perhaps consider a more extensive reform by agreement amongst the Parties.
My Lords, may I take it that the noble Lord does not mean Liberal Opposition, on which side I think there has been co-operation.
§ 4.23 p.m.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords. I know that an almost unprecedented number of noble Lords are anxious to speak to-day, and therefore I propose to detain the House for only a 'very few minutes. Indeed, I should not have intervened at all, but for the fact that I have an engagement to speak in the North of England on Thursday, and this is my only opportunity of speaking in this important debate on a subject on which. I have worked for so very many years.
It has been suggested to me that I ought to take this opportunity of expounding rather more fully a scheme for the reform of your Lordships House which I was bold enough to adumbrate not long ago in The Times. But I do not intend to do that, because, after all, this is a debate on the Government's proposals as set out in their Bill, and there would be no point in my adverting to others unless I intended to vote against the Bill; and I do not so intend. For I am not against the proposals themselves, though I regard them as sadly inadequate. In particular, I disagree with the provision, which has already been mentioned, by which ladies shall be able to become Members of this House as Life Peeresses, whereas ladies who have a hereditary right to sit cannot become Members under the Bill. It seems to me that there is no rhyme or reason in that distinction, and it is surely quite inequitable Nor can I believe that the Leader of the House is correct in suggesting that the fate of the Bill might well rest on the treatment of these very few ladies. Therefore, on that point I am not in agreement with the Government. But that, I can assure your Lordships, is not the main reason why I 642 am addressing your Lordships this afternoon. My main reason—which I think is the same reason which prompted my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh in speaking just now--is to utter a warning, rather like Cassandra, and I expect with very much the same result. However, it is a warning that I cannot refrain from giving, feeling, as I do, as to what is likely to be the future of this House as a result of failure of the Government really to tackle this problem.
The limited character of the Government's proposals appears to me to derive almost equally from two old proverbs: "Half a loaf is better than no bread," and "Let sleeping dogs lie," and personally, if I may say so, I do not believe that either of those proverbs, however admirable, is applicable to this particular case. So far as "Half a loaf is better than no bread" is concerned, it should, I imagine, be an essential requirement of any diet, whether large or small, that it must be sufficient to keep the patient alive; and I very much doubt whether this particular diet will do that. For as I see it, whatever its other merits, the Government's plan has this fatal defect: that it does not deal (and I think the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, has already pointed this out) with any financial provisions to enable Life Peers to undertake active membership of the House.
I presume that this new category of Peers, like hereditary Peers, will, under the Government's proposals, receive three guineas a day on each day that they attend the House. As the House sits for only 100 days in the year, that would amount, at the maximum, to £315 per annum. Noble Lords opposite can say better than I can whether that is likely to attract young and energetic recruits to their ranks. In my view, it will not attract anybody on either side of the House. It would not by itself attract the lowest paid labourer in this country at the present time. That, my Lords, means, in effect, that it will be necessary for anybody who accepts a Life Peerage under this Bill to have independent means; and that, I should have thought, goes a long way towards destroying the main object of the Bill. And yet we must all, if we are frank with ourselves, realise that it would be impossible even to consider a more substantial remuneration for Peers while 643 the House contains a number of hereditary Peers who seldom, or never, attend at all. That being so, the essential prerequisite of any viable scheme for Life Peers must be to limit the number of hereditary Peers to those who really mean to attend, and can therefore justify payment of rather larger remuneration to them too. As I see it, on this question, on the financial aspect of this question, Life Peers and Hereditary Peers hang together. Yet that is completely ignored by the Government's scheme.
Nor can I personally place any reliance on the other proverb which have mentioned: "Let sleeping dogs lie". I see no reason to suppose that these dogs are sleeping as soundly, even now, as all that. A meeting of the Labour Party a few days ago announced, I believe, that they were opposed to the hereditary principle and also of any delaying power by your Lordships House; and I think I heard some not excessively somnolent snarls even in the speech of the Leader of the Opposition this afternoon. In these circumstances, do the Government really believe, and do they really expect the House to believe, that if your Lordships are as quiet as mice, so as not to disturb the slumbers of the Socialist Party, a Socialist Government, if it came into power, would remain quiescent and allow us to perform our constitutional functions, as we believe we ought to do, without hindrance?
My Lords, that is the situation as I see it. I think it is formidable: I think it is extremely distressing and depressing. I cannot look at the position with the same airy optimism that seems to govern the view of the noble Earl the Leader of the House—I have had far too long experience for that. The noble Earl said that there was a broad area of agreement. He did not say how much wider was the area of disagreement. But that, since he spoke, has been underlined pretty effectively by the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition. If the noble Earl, Lord Home, and his colleagues really think, after listening to the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, that they can find—or that there is any probability of finding—a solution of this problem which will be acceptable both to the Conservative Party and to the Labour Party, then, if I may say so, I 644 think they must be living in a world of illusions which must seem absolutely staggering to most of us.
THE EARL OF HOME
My political life has not been a very long one, but I remember the Socialist Party being absolutely pledged to abolition of the House of Lords. They have moved from that, and they have moved a little further in one or two other matters. So I thought it was possible that they might move a little further yet.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
They have not moved very far. They are still against the hereditary principle; they are still against any delaying powers for the Second Chamber. I should have thought that it would be fair to say that they had not narrowed the gap excessively. That being the case, I believe—and I am afraid that I must say so—that the Government (and it applies also to my Party in this House), by failing to grasp the nettle while there is yet time, are putting in jeopardy not only the hereditary system, to which many of us attach importance, but, what is even more important, the whole basis of the bicameral system, which is, as I see it, the only protection a country like ours, with an unwritten Constitution, can have.
My Lords, that is my view, and I have felt bound to express it. I would add this—and it is the last thing I want to say. Those who feel as I do will, of course, continue, in the years that lie ahead of us, to press for a more effective scheme of reform, while time still remains. But as the Government have already made clear that they are going to embark on a more extensive measure of reform only when they get the agreement of the Labour Party, I am not very hopeful that anything effective will be done. And if we fail, and this House passes, as an effective body, into the limbo of the past, let us not delude ourselves; it will be a Conservative Government and your Lordships' House—I say it with great grief—on whom, above all will rest the responsibility for killing it.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
May I ask the noble Marquess a question? Would he explain, in a sentence, why he is going to vote for this Bill?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Yes, I will explain. It is because the 645 purpose of this Bill is to create Life Peers, and I am in favour of the creation of Life Peers. But I do not think that that is enough. However, I am in favour of the creation of Life Peers and it would therefore be rather foolish for me to vote against the Bill.
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, I do not think the noble Marquess need apologise for addressing this House on this particular subject. Whether we agree with him or not, we all appreciate the immense love which he has for this Chamber, and the immense amount of work he has done for Parliament as a whole. Of course we welcome his intervention, and we have been most interested in what he has had to say. This House, to-day and on Thursday, is indulging in a favourite occupation of most people—introspection. I think that there is nothing people like more than thinking and talking about themselves—and that is what we are going to do. Whether there is enough justification for two days' discussion or not—and I am very doubtful whether there is—nevertheless, I imagine that we shall be embarking on one of the longest debates in the history of this House.
We had a two day's debate at the end of last month. The purpose of that debate was, as I understood it, to enable the Government to get the views of this House upon the reform which they were proposing to introduce. Well, I think they got it in thirty-five speeches. The result of all this discussion was that the Government stood exactly where they were. They have introduced exactly the measure which they forecast, although they could have had very little comfort from the discussion in October, because few noble Lords who spoke agreed with what the Government were proposing to do. Some thought it was too much, some thought it was too little. Some—even on the side of the noble Lords opposite—thought that the hereditary system was wrong. The condemnation of the hereditary system did not come solely from this side of the House. At least two noble Lords on the opposite side of the House—and I hope we shall be hearing them in the course of this debate—also condemned the system.
I hope that I may be able to condense what I have to say into a fairly short summary. I imagine that at the end of 646 the day the real essence will be our views on the hereditary system. Let me put it beyond doubt—if there was any doubt before. We on this side think that the hereditary system is not only illogical but also that it cannot really be justified. And no one has attempted to justify it—not even the noble Marquess who has just spoken—with the single exception of the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
If I may interrupt the noble Lord, may I say to him that I did not fail to justify it because I had not got justification, but merely because I did not wish to take up more time of the House.
§ LORD SILKIN
I think that what I say is nevertheless true; it has not been justified. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, tried to justify it, and I think he made up for logic by the emphatic way in which he spoke. But I do not think he was at all convincing in his attempted justification of the hereditary system. He seemed to imagine that there was some divine right on the part of the hereditary legislators to warn the country of dangers at the hands of people who were the elected representatives of the people. He seemed to think that people who had been elected were in danger of getting out of touch with the general public, whereas we, who are not elected, are, by some means, placed in the position of being able to give this warning and to halt their activities.
There is not, in our view, any justification for a Second Chamber being an hereditary one. I am quite prepared to hear the arguments that may be put forward. I imagine it will be said that there have been produced very public spirited men like the noble Marquess—but the noble Marquess is a law unto himself; he is an exception. Divine Providence does not ensure that the hereditary Peer is the most suitable legislator. And even if the system can be said to have worked—and so far as I can gather the most that may be said for it is that it does work—there is no evidence that it would not have worked better if you had properly selected people, appointed for their suitability for the task of legislating. The question is, has it worked? Is it working? I would say it has neither worked in the past nor is it working to-day.
That brings me to the second point. This House works most successfully when 647 there is a Conservative majority. Then there is complete harmony; there is no interference with legislation; there is no hold-up; there is no reason why it should do anything but revise. When it comes to a Labour majority, then the very fact that there is a Conservative majority in this House is a handicap. I readily admit that the present Conservative leadership—and I include in that the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, as well as the noble Earl, Lord Home—have acted with great restraint. Nevertheless, the fact that there is a permanent majority against us when we are in office means that we often have to bear in mind the possibility that a Bill will be "mauled" in Committee. We have to accept Amendments which otherwise we should feel we ought not to accept, and generally we are not able to deal with matters entirely on their merits, because of this permanent hostile majority in your Lordships' House.
Therefore, this Bill is unacceptable—except as some kind of palliative, about which I will say something in a moment—not for the reasons which the noble Marquess has given, but, first, because it maintains the hereditary system, and secondly, because it does nothing about the permanent Conservative majority. I wonder how noble Lords opposite can justify a Chamber which is constituted as this is, in a two-Party system of Government, with a permanent majority on the side of one of the Parties. How can they possibly justify it? I hope that the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Hailsham, will apply himself to this question. I wonder whether the noble Lords opposite would be so content if we had a majority and were able to say that we had "acted with great restraint" and that we had been "very reasonable." There is an element of patronage about that, under which self-respecting people are not very willing to sit. We do not want noble Lords opposite to act under restraint or to be very reasonable with us; we want them to do justice to their point of view, not to restrain themselves, and we should like to do the same. When there is a Labour Government, we want a Labour majority, and vice versa.
This Bill does nothing to deal with the great hardship of young men who enter another place or have ambitions to get into another place and who are the heirs 648 to peerages. So far as I can see from the terms of the Bill, it is not even possible to put down an Amendment to deal with this matter. The noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor will be able to tell your Lordships if that is so. I find that the Title is so restricted that one cannot even put down an Amendment to enable Peers—not even Life Peers—to renounce their peerages. It may not help very much in the case of Life Peers, but what is wanted is something to enable the heir to a peerage to renounce it on becoming a member of the peerage, and an actual Peer to renounce his peerage, so that his son will not be encumbered, as a number of them are.
There is nothing in the Bill to limit the number of Peers. All that will happen under the Bill is that it will be possible to go on creating hereditary Peers and a number of Life Peers will be created as well. The position will become really intolerable. Next week we shall be discussing the possibility of inviting Peers to ask for leave of absence. So far as it goes, that is all right, but I have grave doubts about whether it is going to lead to any worthwhile results. In any case, it does not do away with the fact that soon we shall have a Chamber of Peers whose number will approach four figures. Unless we do something about it, I feel that we are in danger of making your Lordships' House ridiculous.
There is nothing in the Bill about payment. I would offer a slight correction to the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury. I think that his general thesis on payment was right, but the fact is that the three guineas is intended to be a reimbursement of actual money expended. In theory, and I hope in practice, not one single penny of that three guineas goes into the pockets of any Peer, so that there is no payment of any kind at the moment. I do not know how we can expect to get Life Peers who are really worth having and who will enable the work of the House to be done more effectively without adequate payment. The noble Earl, Lord Home, justified this measure by saying that it had the general support of your Lordships' House. On reading the debate of October 30 and 31 last, I must confess that I have hardly ever seen a Bill which had less general support. Almost every speaker in that debate criticised in one form or another the Government's proposals. Even the noble Lord, 649 Lord Balfour of Burleigh, was critical, because he thought that this went too far.
§ LORD SILKIN
Have it which way he likes, even the noble Lord is critical. Last night I read the debate of those two days and did not find a single speaker who stood up and said, simpliciter, "I support the Bill," or "I support the principle of what it is proposed to introduce." It surprised me then that the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, could not find a seconder for his proposal that women should not be eligible for life peerages. I am bound to say that in my conversations with noble Lords outside the Chamber, I found a large number who were against the appointment of women Life Peers. Why they were not prepared to back their views by supporting the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, I do not know. I am sure that there is a large number who are against women Life Peers in your Lordships' House. That is not exactly supporting the Bill. I think that it is difficult to say that there is general support for it. The noble Earl referred to the appointment of women Peers as logical, and I fully agree with him. But if we are going to introduce the element of logic into this Chamber, I do not understand how we can stop short at peerages for women; we have to go much further and question the whole raison d'être of the constituted composition of Otis House—and when we start to do that, we get into some difficulties.
Like many other noble Lords, I have no idea of the kind of persons we are going to get as Life Peers. I am sceptical about whether we are going to get anybody worth while at all. I want to enter one or two caveats. I have heard names canvassed outside this Chamber particularly of possible women Life Peers. I hope that nobody over the age of fifty-five, at any rate will be appointed as a Life Peer either male or female. I hope that this will not be used as a reward for past services but that Life Peers will coin e here capable of rendering services in the future. If the noble Earl the Leader of the House is really sincere in wanting to strengthen the Opposition in this House as I believe he is and as I believe the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, was, not out of any tenderness for the Opposition as such, but because they feel, as 650 I do, that it is a good thing for the House that there should be an effective Opposition, then they must ensure that the people to be appointed as Life Peers will be the right kind of people.
I wish it were possible to put something in the Bill in the way of qualifications. I know that that might present difficulties, but I hope the Government will not rule out the idea altogether. I would certainly have an age limit. I should myself, mentally, at any rate, require a good many other qualifications. One thing I want to ask the Government to ensure in the appointment of Life Peers is that the people who are appointed are people who are really going to help in the work of the House. If it be a fact that the Opposition in this House needs strengthening, then they must be people who will strengthen the Opposition, and, therefore, they should be appointed on the basis of men and women who have a reasonable expectation of useful service in this House and are prepared to give the necessary time to it.
In the course of the previous debate a good deal was said about this House as a debating chamber; as a forum; as a place where people could, once a year or once in two years, come and deliver themselves of a great speech, with great authority, and then walk out without even listening to the reply, and come again in a year or two. That may have its uses, although I am not certain that it has. I think this House is a place where one has got to know and feel the atmosphere. It is no good coming here and delivering yourself of an address as if you were giving a lecture to the House; we can read those statements without being burdened by listening to them. What we want is that people who come and talk to us should be one of us, and members of this group in the real sense of the word. Therefore, I hope that we shall not have people of distinction in other fields, whose sole claim to being Life Peers will be that they have distinguished themselves in other walks of life and are prepared to make distinguished speeches in this House once in two years.
I do not expect noble Lords opposite to agree with the views of those on this side of the House on the hereditary system. So far as we are concerned, as 651 my noble Leader said, we will not oppose the Bill. For myself, in so far as the Bill goes, and if it is really going to do what I hope it will do—but there is no guarantee of that from its terms—I offer it a welcome, and I hope that it can be made a success. However, I am sure that it will not be made a success unless the two qualifications I have mentioned are fully satisfied: first, that you get the right kind of people here and secondly, that simultaneously you provide for payment. Without those two qualifications this Bill will be worse than useless, because we shall have put up a facade that will make people think we are getting an improved House when, in fact, we are not.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
My Lords, none of us who spoke last time can fail to remember the words of the noble Earl the Leader of the House, when he enjoined on us that if we had spoken before and were speaking again we should at least be short. Therefore, if I am a little brief, I trust your Lordships will realise that it is not because of any lack of respect for the subject or for your Lordships' House, but simply because of that enjoinder. I rise to support this measure as being essential for the effective future working of this House. That support is none the less wholehearted in that, in company with many others, including the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, and the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, I wish it could have gone further by limiting the numbers by cutting out absentees However, this Bill does not do that, and I do not think it is helpful at the moment to carry that question further. I should, however, like to support many noble Lords on the point they have made about the need for reconsidering the question of payment of Members. It would indeed be a tragedy if, after the discussions and the work necessitated by the introduction of this Bill, at the end of it all we found that there was an insufficient number of men of real standing and, as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said, sufficient youth prepared to accept the new life peerages.
There are two points I want to make, without going back on the point of regretting that this Bill does not go further. I think it is desirable that it should be said in this House, and said with a loud voice, 652 that it is not due to any obstruction on the part of Members of the House of Lords that the Bill has not gone further; indeed, there are many of us who regret it. It is true that it is hoped next week to discuss what we call, briefly the "Swinton proposals" for asking leave to be absolved from the obligations of the Summons. Though, I personally have always felt that those proposals do not take us very far, I suppose we can say that they are a beginning. My own view of these proposals will be greatly affected by the recommendations of (I suppose it will be) the Select Committee appointed for this purpose as to what notice will have to be given for the withdrawal of the request for leave of absence. If it will be possible for a Peer simply to pick up an Order Paper, see that a subject in which he is interested is coming up for debate in a week or a fortnight, and instantly write a letter withdrawing the request, then the scheme will not be worth the paper it is written on. If, on the other hand, there has to be a reasonable notice of, say, one, two or three months, or, as some of us may think, even a Session, then the scheme might be made to mean something.
There is one other thing that I feel needs to be said with a loud voice—it has been said before, and I apologise to your Lordships for repeating what I said in the last debate only a short time ago, but so much has been said on the point by noble Lords opposite, and by the Labour Party as a whole, that I think it needs repeating: we are not now debating the constitution of a House that can overrule—and that is the word repeatedly used—the House of Commons. That power has not existed since 1911. From 1911 to 1948 it was a matter of delay for three Sessions, and since 1948 it has been delay of only one Session, which means that a Bill which is held up in July can be reintroduced by a Government not later than October or November in the following Session.
The noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, made a great point of the issue of capital punishment. He could not have taken a worse issue than that. Not only was our decision justified by public opinion, but the House of Commons itself shortly afterwards ratified a Bill that was born of our opposition to the original Bill. The House of Commons was not overruled. The House of 653 Commons was given a chance to think again, and it took that opportunity. If it did not wish to take that opportunity—as possibly, if there were a Labour Government, it would not wish to do—that Bill could be reintroduced in the space of two or three months, and it could have gone through without any opposition from this House. That is a position we are unanimously accepting in this House. Anybody who complains of it can be wanting only one thing, and that is single-Chamber government. I believe that this country is almost unanimously against single-Chamber government. I believe that this House, with the exception of one or two noble Lords, is also against it. Because of that, I say once again, most strongly, that I support this Bill, and I trust that the House will give the Government its full support.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ LORD ELTON
My Lords, I almost feel that I must begin by apologising for not joining in the almost universal chorus of congratulation—from this side of the House, from the Liberal Benches and even occasionally, in somewhat muted tones, from the Labour Benches—which has greeted the reformers at almost every stage of our successive debates, as they dexterously felt their way towards this present scheme for injecting new blood into this venerable Chamber. I cannot even, I am afraid, align myself with those noble Lords (and I know there are some) who, while they deplore, or even resent, the present measure, nevertheless feel that, having been led thus far down the garden path, they had better follow loyally to the bonfire which (I believe) awaits them at the bottom of the garden.
It myself have never believed that this Chamber, as we know it in its working posture week by week, and as distinct from the notional House of Fantasy which invariably takes shape when the Upper Chamber becomes a matter of controversy, was in any urgent need of a blood transfusion. Moreover, if I am going to have a blood transfusion, I like to know in advance how many blood donors there are going to be, and to what blood group they belong. And that has not been so far divulged to us. In fact, the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, was probing, quite without result, for some indication of who the blood donors are going to be. But 654 before I utter some Cassandra-like forebodings as to the eventual outcome of this measure (because it is, of course, only a first step which we are taking this evening), I should like incidentally, and in passing, to suggest one addition to the list which has been suggested, both by the noble Earl, Lord Home, and by several other speakers, of desirable minor reforms or changes which ought not perhaps to be included in this measure, but which may be considered in the near future.
We have heard, for example, of the desirability of allowing eldest sons to renounce their peerages and take their seats in another place. Could not this, or some future Government, restore to us our right to vote in General Elections? After all, the Peer still contributes quite extensively to taxation, and he has no more influence over its expenditure than any other man in the street. There is, surely, a touch of the macabre about the present exclusion from the suffrage of lunatics, bankrupts and Peers. True, some reformers of the House of Lords have spoken so critically of our membership that they may perhaps point out that these three categories not infrequently overlap. But if this Government, or some future Government, could at any time see fit to restore to us this basic and elementary civic right, I hope that only a minority—I put it no higher—of our membership would find itself still deprived of the suffrage on one or both of the other grounds for exclusion. That, of course, is a far cry from the Bill before us, and my only apology for introducing it is that several appendages to the Bill have been suggested already.
Of the Bill itself—and I know I am ploughing an unpopular furrow—I would say at once that, until eminent figures, in this House began to insist upon the urgent need for reform, so far as I am aware in recent years no one outside this House had either shown any sign of distrusting it or evinced any desire for its reform. On the contrary, until speaker after speaker from the Conservative Benches began to speak of its pernicious anæmia, all the evidence which came my way—and it was not inconsiderable during the war and in the year or two after the war—as to the opinion of the man in the street, suggested that he regarded another place, primarily owing to the straitjacket 655 of Party discipline there, as in much more need of reform than your Lordships' House.
I myself have no doubt that until this controversy arose, and the imaginary House of Fantasy inevitably took shape, your Lordships' House enjoyed a widespread prestige, not least owing to its very ancientry, for which I have no doubt, from plenty of evidence, the simple man in the street has a very high regard. Once, however, admired figures in this House, most of them from the Conservative Benches, began speaking of the urgency of reform in tones of such sepulchral anxiety that they might almost have been mourners round the death bed, and not protagonists of what was still the most distinguished Second Chamber in the world, then the sequel became inevitable; for, of course, this Bill is only the first step. None of your Lordships can suppose for a moment that this mild 230 words-worth of measure which we are considering this evening is the end of the story. On the contrary, it is the first chapter; and possibly not even that, perhaps only the foreword. A process has been initiated in which others outside this House, and certainly not belonging to the Conservative Party, will say the last word, For, alas! it is the first step which counts; and we shall proceed with ever-increasing momentum during the next four or five years towards that semi-continental Senate which has loomed, in one guise or another, behind so many of the speeches of the critics of the present House. Already the ideologues of the Socialist Party and the Press are dreaming up their conflicting fantasies of the future, ranging from total abolition to some brand new Senate, recruited, one gathers, from pensionable trade union officials, Methodist divines and inscrutable and somewhat ambiguous figures from the nuclear-fission laboratories. I hope that we shall all have in mind that the present Bill is a mere foreword to a book in which the last chapters will be written, as every indication has already been given this afternoon, by some future Labour Government.
For it seems to me to be one of the main defects of the present Bill that, try as they would, the Government have been unable to obtain any satisfactory agreement between the main Parties before 656 introducing it—a fact which, in my humble judgment, would have been a very good reason for not introducing it at all. I distrust it, therefore, because I feel that I shall not be voting, if there is a vote, for this measure, so much as for a whole series of sequels. But I distrust it also because I believe that, until this controversy was revived, your Lordships' House was rendering this country very valuable service; and not least—in spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Silkin has just said—because it possessed the unique merit of being able to draw upon a peripheral pool of the occasional attendance of men of high distinction and expert knowledge, active in the outside world and not confined, like Members of another place, to the stuffy corridors of Westminster; men who would, most of them, be reluctant to accept membership in the sort of whole-time, or semi-whole time, Senate which is now visibly taking shape before our eyes.
So much has been said in the debates which have led up to this Bill about the desirability of regular attendance and of Party affiliation that I am afraid—and still more so after the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin—that the occasional attender, and with him much of the distinctive tradition of this House, is doomed. For, my Lords, the truth is that you cannot partially reform an institution such as the House of Lords. It is impossible. You can have a sweeping reform or you can leave it alone, but you cannot partially reform it. Once you tacitly admit that it is an anachronism, once you accept new principles and admit new elements, then something like the equivalent of Gresham's currency Law comes into operation, and the new inevitably drives out the old. That is why it seems to me that, however mild this measure may seem, what you will in fact be doing, if you pass it, is to give some future Government—and presumably a Labour Government—a blank cheque to re-write the English Constitution.
Some noble Lords who may feel misgivings about the Bill may perhaps be consoling themselves by the reflection that it is going to introduce into our counsels Life Ladies as well as Life Lords. I am afraid that I cannot share their enthusiasm. I see only one reason why the admission of Life Ladies to this 657 Chamber should do more to raise the standard of our debates, or indeed of successive Cabinets, than has their presence in another place; that is that there is likely to be a much higher proportion of them. For this Government is so certain to wish to appear progressive in its nominations to life peerages by creating a large number of ladies, and any future Labour Government is likely to be so determined to out-do the number of female creations by its Conservative predecessor, that we are likely to have a very formidable proportion of the distaff side in this House.
We can, of course, console ourselves with the reflection that we are being progressive; that we are abreast of the times, as, I think, Lord Home said. And no doubt those who are most certain that the times are moving in the right direction will be most delighted at keeping up with them. For myself, I can only say that it is a melancholy thought that the twenty-three years of membership of this great House which I have had the honour to enjoy are undoubtedly drawing to a close, for I feel sure that within the next four or five years selection boards and exclusion will be the order of the day, and there will be little chance for an undistinguished and politically unaffiliated Back-Bencher. But it is much more melancholy to think that we are, in fact, looking almost our last on the oldest Parliamentary Assembly in the world, which has played so splendid a part in our history and which still deserves, and until only the other day received, the confidence of a majority of the people.
§ 5.17 p.m.
THE EARL OF AIRLIE
My Lords, this is a big step which we are contemplating. I am not going to follow the noble Earl, Lord Home, the Leader of the House, along the way he went and the kind references he made to my family arms, except in this way: that he suggested that the lady over the portcullis was dressed in blue, and I presume he felt she might have been a Conservative. I do not know what her politics were. I can tell you that where it is wrong is that that lady should be stripped from the waist upwards, and I hope coming events are not casting their shadows and that Lady Peeresses would be expected to attend in that way, because there would be opposi- 658 tion by the Peeresses and some from the noble Lords.
I should declare myself. I am not a normal Peer; I am a Scottish Representative Peer. I should make it quite plain from the start that I speak in no anti-feministic vein—and I have taken great trouble to make quite certain I use the right word. I went to the dictionary, and I found that it defined "feminist" as one who advocates social changes as will establish political, economic and, it adds, "so-called equality" of the sexes. I do not know what that "so-called" means. No one can vie with me, and I am sure it is the same with your Lordships, in our admiration for the work of women in most spheres. Nearly all of us work with them in local government and on local committees, and often they are not only as good as, but better than, many of the men. Nevertheless, I personally am inclined to feel that it will be extremely difficult for them to fit into your Lordships' House as we know it. The great function which this Chamber has now to perform—and it is one of the few left to it—lies in the revision of hasty and ill-conceived legislation. I, for one, submit, though I may be wrong, that that is not the particular métier of the female sex.
I am going to divide the few words I have to say into two parts. First, may I deal quite briefly with the question of reform generally, as it really is connected with life peerages. I myself am somewhat sceptical about any reform at all—in other words, I doubt whether reform will improve the work of your Lordships' House. It must be remembered that this work on the Floor of your Lordships' House is not the only work. A great deal of the work of your Lordships' House is done upstairs, in the Committees. I think that the work of this House during the last ten or twelve years will support my view that reform will not necessarily improve the work of this House. As a matter of interest, I am wondering whether Her Majesty's Government would tell us why this Bill has been introduced now. Have they not enough problems of greater magnitude on their plate to deal with—the Middle East, Sputniks, a sick President of the United States, inflation and a great many other things? I should have thought they had enough to deal with without bringing this Bill 659 forward at the moment. But I may be wrong.
My Lords, the world is moving very fast—too fast perhaps; and I should be grateful if your Lordships would not consider this as a platitude: it is a statement of fact. However, I fully realise that this House, as it is constituted to-day is difficult, if not impossible, to justify on paper, though its practical use as a Second Chamber will be hard to beat. You have only to serve in this House to know just how and why it works. It is quite impossible for an, outsider to be able to gauge why it works. However, we have to face up to the fact, that it is likely that we must face some change. If that is the case, I prefer the scheme of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, because it is a total scheme and not a piecemeal one. But in these days we are apt to live by slogans. We get slogans for breakfast with our papers; we get slogans for lunch, and we get slogans at teatime, with our evening paper. Perhaps this Bill should come into the category of the slogan, "Ah, we must move with the times, however piecemeal." In my humble opinion, that could mean that we must act for the sake of acting rather than do nothing, or, what is worse, act for the sake of political expediency. I myself do not believe that this is right. As a young man I was taught in military tactics that to move for the sake of moving was a sin and that you must wait for events to justify action. My Lords, having dealt with reform generally, and quite briefly, I would reiterate that I do not feel that reform of any sort will, in fact, help or improve the work of this House; but if reform must come, I support the scheme of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury.
Now I turn to that most vexatious question, the inclusion of the ladies—and, for my part, I prefer that term to "women". Apparently, the Government draftsman does not—probably he has very good reasons. As I see it, there are three points here. First (this is a personal viewpoint), I cannot say that I feel very happy about the inclusion of the ladies in your Lordships' House. I speak from some experience—not a great deal, it is true, but extending over thirty-odd years, which includes some time as a Whip in your Lordships' House; though, perhaps, owing to the fact that I have had many 660 duties in the North to fulfil, I have not been able to attend so frequently lately and have got behind the times, so that such experience as I have is of little or no value. That brings me to something which I wish to say, not so much to you' Lordships who, I feel, more than understand it already, but to others—because it may be that it is not fully appreciated by wider circles outside your Lordships' House. I think perhaps it is not fully understood that those who come to this House to speak or to move Amendments from time to time often do so rather unwillingly, for the reason that then there is a chance that some important subject can be fully threshed out.
This question we are discussing to-day is a very important subject, though it may not appear so to the people outside. Whether it should be dealt with now is another matter. Quite often, people write articles about this House and its inmates. Some of those articles we enjoy; some we do not. I think we all enjoy the cartoons because most of us, luckily, have kept a sense of humour. But I would suggest that the writers are mostly extremely ignorant and know very little about this subject, and in that way perhaps do ineffable harm. As I have said, one has to serve in this House fully to understand its workings. May I point out, as your Lordships know only too well, that institutions such as this one have been evolved over generations? "Tinker" with them (I am afraid I am bound to use this word despite the abhorrence of the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, of the word); pull out a card here and there, and the whole fabric can collapse. I have said this before in a different vein, and I do not want to repeat it unduly, but it is a fact that the whole fabric can collapse. When I was a young subaltern and coming home from the 1914–18 war, there used to be a dear, delightful lady (I did not know her) who used to sing a song something about "the gipsy's warning". Well, I am not a gipsy, but this is the second time that there is a warning—I repeat the whole fabric can collapse. Your Lordships do not have to use your imagination to know to what I am referring.
That does not mean, of course, that these institutions must not be adapted to modern conditions—far from it; of course they must. But great care must be taken 661 that nothing is done without the most careful scrutiny and consideration first; and that is the duty and function of an Assembly like this. Outsiders may not like its constitution or its inmates, but I suggest that, taken over a long period, this House has proved itself to be a pretty good Second Chamber and that, with all its incongruity, the country might do well to leave it alone. This is no exclusive club, as is often said in the Press, of old gentlemen, although it is true that we are getting older. I think we should dispel that illusion of an exclusive club once and for all. Noble Lords come here to take part in the Business of the House, often at great inconvenience to themselves, because they are doing jobs elsewhere—in local authority work, or similar spheres. They come because they possess some real knowledge of a particular subject.
Quite often, your Lordships will know of someone who comes down to the House, almost for the first time, addresses your Lordships for ten minutes, and in those ten minutes imparts knowledge which far transcends anything else that is said in the House during the whole of the debate. He then goes back to his backwoods or fastness, or whatever you choose to call it, and may not come down here again in his lifetime. But he has done more service by coming than anybody else who has spoken—well, with n 3t so great a knowledge of the subject. As I say, Peers come because of their very real knowledge of a particular subject, o: because their conscience tells them that they should be here because of some very important debate or something that has to be discussed. So far as I know, there are no groups and little lobbying is done in this House. A Peer comes down, expresses his viewpoint; and if other Peers support him he goes to the Lobby, if he thinks he has sufficient backing, and your Lordships divide. That is the way we work. We do not lobby and have groups.
Now, my Lords, I come to my second, and perhaps my main, point. Would it not be wiser to wait for the inclusion of the ladies until we have seen how the reform works, whatever form the reform is to take, and then, if thought proper, take in the ladies? Once they are in, they are in for keeps! I am not going to give an analogy at the moment but if you put a cat in the bag and it does not 662 want to come out, it is not an easy matter to deal with—I said "cat", my Lords, not "cats". Lastly, your Lordships have always been most scrupulously fair, and therefore, if it is thought right to include the female sex in life peerages, surely, unless Her Majesty's Government no longer believe in any form of representation, they must in all fairness include ladies who are Peeresses in their own right. That seems only common sense to me; otherwise it is simply political expediency.
Finally, my Lords, one word on the hereditary principle. Though I heard some rumblings from the Opposition Benches I have no idea what exactly the Party of those noble Lords intend to do if and when they return to power: whether they will actually abolish this Chamber altogether and have single Chamber government, or whether they will merely entirely abolish the hereditary principle. I trust that they will not do the former and I hope that they will not do the latter. Your Lordships had only to listen to the speeches of the Mover and Seconder to the Address in this House a week or two ago to realise what a wealth of capability lies in those who (I do not like this term: I believe it comes from the United States) "stem'' from the hereditary principle. I came "wondering" to that debate and went away" heartened and considerably comforted." These, I think, my Lords, are all the points I wish to raise on the Second Reading of the Bill, but I give notice that I should like to reserve the right to move an Amendment on the Committee stage, if the debate on the Second Reading warrants it. I have great faith in the wisdom of this House and shall rest well content to abide by your Lordships' decision, if it comes to that, on Tuesday next.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
My Lords, the Motion before the House is that this Bill should be read a second time, and I rise to support that Motion, for the reasons that have been fully given to-day by my noble friend Lord Rea and those which I myself offered to the House at some length in the last debate a month ago. I do not propose to repeat anything of what I then said, and in view of the number of speakers who are still on the list I shall keep my eye on the clock.
663 As for the speech that has just been delivered by the noble Earl, Lord Airlie, I confess that I find nothing very new in any of the general arguments that he has advanced against the admission of women to your Lordships' House. His speech was redolent of the speeches which we read about having been delivered in this House by our predecessors in the first half of the nineteenth century, whenever any perfectly reasonable and obvious reform was brought before the House of Lords; and from the speech to which we have just listened I rather suspect that the noble Earl, in an endeavour to adduce some new points in a debate which has already got a little threadbare, has been busy in the Library reading up the speeches of the late Lord Eldon.
For my own part, I cordially support both the provision for Life Peers and that for the admission of women to this House. As it happens, I had the honour a good many years ago—in the year 1918—to move from the Front Opposition Bench in the House of Commons the Resolution for the admission of women to that House, a Resolution which was carried with practically no opposition and which led to the introduction of a Bill immediately, in time for the General Election of 1918, which admitted women to that House. It is therefore a matter of interest to me that I find myself now in another Chamber pleading in much the same cause—and I trust that it will be with the same result. As for the Amendment which the noble Earl says he proposes to move at the Committee stage, we will deal with that when we come to it. I hope that his supporters on that occasion will exercise that virtue of absenteeism for which they have been so greatly praised and on which they are experts. But if the Amendment were to be carried in your Lordships' House I should not be unduly distressed, because I feel sure that when this Bill reached another place the wording would be immediately restored by a very large majority.
With regard to the question of Peeresses in their own right, nowhere are the vagaries of the hereditary principle so fully exemplified as in this case, where a woman who inherits one of these ancient peerages is allowed to keep the peerage alive in her family, not 664 extinguished, but suspended. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, mentioned the disease of pernicious anæmia, but that is not the real example of this extraordinary practice; for the case of women being enabled to inherit, but not to have the symptoms of, a peerage is exactly exemplified by that very unpleasant, and sometimes fatal, disease of hæmophilia, or bleeding, from which women do not suffer but which they can transmit to their heirs and inheritors. Apparently a peerage is for this purpose on exactly the same footing as hemophilia. It is not really a practice that can be justified.
It is difficult to decide on this Bill whether special provision should be made for those who are Peeresses in their own right and who hitherto have been excluded. To maintain the sex disqualification is wrong, and therefore apparently we ought to vote for their admission. On the other hand, to base membership of this House on heredity alone is also wrong, and therefore in this House at the present time we ought not still further to extend the hereditary principle. Different Members of your Lordships' House will weigh in different degrees those two considerations and decide for themselves which way the balance lies. For my own part I should be inclined to vote for the admission of Peeresses in their own right, but if that is not agreed, the same result could be obtained to some extent if, out of recognition of the injustice done them for so long, these particular ladies were to be considered not with absolute right but with a certain degree of priority when lists of new Life Peers are being drawn up.
The main criticism which has been made against this Bill, inside and outside this House, is that it is inadequate. Many of us hold that the hereditary principle is quite indefensible, and. looking about for alternatives, we should not abolish the Second Chamber—certainly members of the Liberal Party have no desire to do so—nor should we look around for any alternative Second Chamber on a representative basis, whether proportional representation or any other; because it seems to me wrong in principle for two authorities to be created side by side, both deriving their authority from the people. As the all-Party Conference of 1948 decided, we 665 ought not to seek to create a new second Chamber which would be a rival to the House of Commons. Looking across the Atlantic to the American Constitution we see the great difficulties that the Americans have there from, not two, but three authorities, all deriving their powers from the people. The House of Representatives consists of representatives of the whole nation elected by universal suffrage divided into comparatively small single-member constituencies; the Senate is elected by the same people but arranged in States; and the President is also elected by a plebiscite of the whole country as a single constituency. The result that we see there is constant friction between those various authorities, leading not seldom to open conflict. Therefore, none of these alternatives seems to me to be in any way desirable.
The noble Earl, Lord Home, the Leader of the House, dealt with this difficult question with great ease, simplicity and amiability, and I will read his words He said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Lords, Vol. 205 (No. 102), col. 588]:I think there are two matters which, in the debate over these two days, we can probably agree to by-pass. The first is any alteration in the powers of this House, and the second is the abolition or reduction of the right of hereditary Peers to legislate. I do not propose to argue the merits or drawbacks of either of those matters …We all know of the politician who said, "I look my difficulties firmly in the face and pass on." And that is precisely the principle that we see advocated by the Government Front Bench.
The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, has not followed altogether that easy and ingenuous—or is it ingenious?—course. He has given reasons for preferring a scheme to which he gave publicity quite recently and since our last debate, in The Times newspaper. I do not support that scheme. I should acquiesce in it only with the greatest reluctance, for the reason that instead of abolishing the hereditary principle for the choice of members of the Legislature which I should like to see carried into effect, this scheme would strengthen it—not merely continue it but strengthen it. For who are to be the electors? Who are to decide which of the hereditary Peers are to sit in the House? The same people over again: the hereditary Peers themselves.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My Lords, if the noble Viscount would forgive my interrupting him, I would say that that was not Lord Salisbury's scheme; he proposed a Committee to select.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
I should have been happy to give a conclusive answer to the noble Lord if I had been able to hear him. Unfortunately, I am nowadays immune to interruptions owing to the disabilities of old age. I was saying that it is the same hereditary Peers who will decide which hereditary Peers are to sit in the House; so it is not a process for getting rid of the hereditary principle but one of distillation. We are to get the essence of it—those who are selected—by getting rid of undue dilution and diffusion of the principle among 600 or 700 people, and concentrating it into a smaller and probably much more active, virile and effective body. This distilled liquor may well prove much more heady than that which we have already, and the temptation of ill-considered action might be greater and not less.
I favour the provision of Life Peers and I am not so greatly concerned about the abolition of the hereditary Peerage; I am more concerned to get the right people in than to get the wrong people out. The point that troubles me most is how the selection of the new Life Peers should be carried through. The noble Marquess in his scheme suggested that a Select Committee should draw up a list which should be open to review at the beginning of every new Parliament. That seems to me entirely wrong, and other schemes proposed by the Labour Party which suggest a short period of five years or something like that for Members of this House also seem to me wrong. With all its faults and defects, this House has one great advantage that has been mentioned by noble Lords already this afternoon, and that is the independence of its Members. They sit here not beholden to anyone. They have no terrors in store if they act in inconvenient ways on any particular occasion.
But once you make the tenure of a seat to last for only a single Parliament, or even to be subject to review—to go on unless altered at the beginning of the next Parliament—you destroy that independence completely. Whenever a 667 noble Lord is going into the Division Lobby he will have to consider what is likely to be the effect of this upon his chances of being re-selected on the next occasion, and the one virtue that comes from the hereditary principle in mitigation of its many disadvantages will have been destroyed. And the effect also would be that selection of this kind, to my mind, probably—I do not say surely, but probably, certainly possibly—would strengthen the control of the Party organisations over the House of Lords, as it has already been established so completely in another place. We want to relax the powers of the Party leadership, not to increase them, and it would be a disaster if, when we established our Life Peers with the right to sit in this House, we found that the persons chosen were chosen simply for Party reasons and as a valuable part of Party management.
And here my feeling that there is that danger has been increased by a letter that appeared in The Times, by a member of the Labour Party who is in the House of Commons and who wrote a few days ago, on November 23, this contribution to our present discussions. It was written by Mr. Henry Usborne, Member of Parliament for the Yardley division of Worcestershire, and I venture to quote these few sentences because I believe that this represents an opinion very widespread among the active members of the Labour Party:Apart from revision and initiation, which are important chores an Upper House can well discharge, there is another, even more valuable piece of assistance it provides for the Commons: it is somewhere we can send our old war-horses out to grass. Is there a human institution which hasn't been the better for the ability courteously to ' pension off' some of its members? In this regard, the ability to confer life peerages will, I suspect, give the Labour movement a benefit which the Conservatives who don't bother about those distinctions have long had over us.Mr. Usborne ended his letter by saying:We seldom explain the full, reason for our curious actions. But there may be times when someone should blurt it out.This is a good example of what would, I suppose, nowadays be called "blurt-manship"! It is proposed to give to the Life Peers substantial salaries. Indeed the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, regards that need as being the main reason why he wants to proceed on different lines. If that is the reason, then indeed 668 the old Party hacks will find when they are put out to grass that the grass is very nourishing and even luscious. How are these dangers to be avoided? I would not suggest that we should put new categories in the Bill. If categories of suitability and forms of service are to be put in the Bill, either the wording would be too vague, if all those whom we wished to bring in were to be included, or else, if they are vague, it would not prevent abuse. I do not suppose that the categories would specifically include old Party hacks, but they might come in under many other forms of designation. I do not think that that is a suitable way of proceeding with the drafting of the Bill, and I do not believe that it could be effective.
Therefore, casting about for some possible contribution to this discussion, I have thought of a suggestion to make on lines which I do not think have previously been discussed, a suggestion on which I do not ask for a reply to-day. I do not propose that these ideas should be put into the Bill: in fact, they would not need to be if they were accepted. The House, as originated 600 or 700 years ago and as indeed constituted in this generation still, springs from the Crown. The Crown issues to some individual a Patent of Peerage which holds good in perpetuity for him and his heirs as defined on the principle of primogeniture, and at the beginning of each Parliament the Crown issues Summonses to the individuals concerned to attend during the meetings of that Parliament. And this it is proposed to continue just as now when Life Peers are created.
The most important point in all these matters is to keep the Crown out of political controversies and particularly to prevent its being tempted or induced to show favour to any one Party. Therefore, the Crown acts in modern times, in this matter of the creation of peerages, on the advice of the Government of the day. Indeed, all the honours are now within the recommendation of the Prime Minister, except the Garter and the Order of Merit. With regard to the creation of Life Peers, it is suggested that there should be consultation and a kind of joint agreement at the outset that the new Peers should seek to redress the Party balance here, and that the choice should be on grounds purely of fitness and ability to serve the nation. That 669 may happen in the first instance when the attention of the nation is fixed upon what is being done, but afterwards, when Life Peers are being created one by one and over the years, generation after generation, we might find, or our descendants might find, that they had slipped into the same kind of Party patronage that other honours have slipped into.
I have long held that the Privy Council, which is the most ancient of our institutions next to the Crown (it is older than the House of Lords) should play a larger part than hitherto in many of our proceedings. I do not support the suggestion of Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn that the present House should be abolished and that the Privy Council should become the Second Chamber; I will not go into the reasons because it is beside the mark. The question is, who should advise the Crown on the creation of Life Peers? And if there is to be selection from within the hereditary Peers, the same might apply there. Should it be those members of the Privy Council who form the Cabinet with the Prime Minister as their spokesman, or should the Crown, seeking advice in this matter, look elsewhere? Why should the Crown not seek advice on this particular mater from a non-Party or all-Party body like the Privy Council which has these advantages: it contains all the Cabinet Ministers of the day and all living members of previous Cabinets; it contains all the principal judges, ambassadors, civil servants, Commonwealth governors, and some statesmen front Commonwealth countries. It commands great confidence, and has high prestige. That is my suggestion for consideration.
If we are at a loss to know how to prevent abuses from slipping into these appointments, it might be referred by the Crown to a Standing Committee specially appointed by the Privy Council. The Privy Council now consists of nearly 300 members—277 to be exact—of whom 115 are already Members of your Lordships' House. This would require no legislation, no formality of any kind. It would form part of the ordinary Privy Council business. No doubt the great Dominions, as they have been called, some Commonwealth Governments, might prefer to be directly consulted whenever they were concerned in a particular case. I venture to put forward that suggestion as one who happens to be now the senior Privy 670 Counsellor in your Lordships' House, dating back to the time of King Edward VII, with only one more senior—namely, Sir Winston Churchill—in the other House.
I trust that your Lordships will not miss the opportunity provided by this Bill of securing that a forward step be taken. A great opportunity was missed after the Conference in 1948; I think your Lordships made a great mistake in not acting then. I believe that no Labour Government will touch this subject if they can help it; they have no clear policy to pursue. The only danger is that in some future time a Labour Government with an extremist majority might, perhaps without any mandate from the people, abolish your Lordships' House and establish a single-Chamber Constitution. If that were done without mandate of the people it could he undone by the repeal of such a measure when the electorate had more fully considered the question, as was done in the 17th century.
No Liberal Government is at hand, though possibly it is within sight—of the long-sighted. A Conservative Government has its difficulties, as we now find, and I think that your Lordships should recognise that that is so and endeavour to help them to overcome those difficulties. Several proverbs have been quoted to-day by the noble Marquess and others. A proverb which does not yet exist but which, I think, might well exist, would be:Never try to push in a pin head first.In this case it is much better to proceed in a manner that will not do you any damage and is likely to achieve a useful result. Let us pass this Bill and see how it works. It is inadequate; it is illogical; but we are not likely to get anything better. And this Bill is far better than brooking delay for perhaps another forty years.
§ 6.0 p.m.
My Lords, the noble Viscount is happily insulated from any interruptions from us, but we always hear him, and, as usual, we have been edified this afternoon by what he has had to say. If there is one thing that strikes one about this debate, as about every debate on this subject, it is the great differences of opinion that have existed in the past and obviously continue to exist. Since 1911 the only agreement 671 that there has ever been on this subject is agreement to do nothing. If there is any agreement about this Bill now, frankly, it will be only because it attempts to do very little and because the Government have judiciously avoided dealing with, or even pretending to tackle, any of the real difficulties.
The different points of view make the subject difficult. There are two main schools of thought. To one no scheme of reform would ever be acceptable. On the right, there are the extremists who believe that your Lordships' House is perfectly all right as it is; it has gone on very well for 500 years and they see no reason why it should not go on for another 500. On the extreme left, there are those who believe in single-Chamber government, who say disarmingly that they would like to abolish your Lordships. Obviously, no reform is going to please them. There is another curious school of thought, which I can never pretend to understand: those people whom I might call crypto-unicameralists—that is to say, people who appear to be quite ready to let this House exist so long as they are sure that it is incapable at any time or in any circumstances of challenging, or even delaying, measures from another place. That is an outlook which I have never been able to understand, because it seems to me that in a bicameral Legislature, if one Chamber is impotent, or virtually so, it amounts in practice to exactly the same thing a; single-Chamber government.
That is really the attitude of the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough. For reasons which I do not pretend to understand, apparently the noble Viscount does not like to come out and say that he believes in single-Chamber government. He may feel—and I think he would be right in feeling—that it would be unwise for his Party to go nakedly to the people and ask them to support single-Chamber government. Therefore it is a convenient device for the noble Viscount and those who think like him to have the facade of an impotent House of Lords, which is a useful whipping boy when things go wrong and a bogy which can be held up to the people, whilst the noble Viscount has the substance of what he wants in another place. There are others, of course, who, perhaps 672 for different reasons from those which I suspect are in the noble Viscount's mind, take this rather curious point of view.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves that point, is that not exactly the present position when there is a Conservative Government in office?
That is exactly the present position as regards this House; this House can do nothing—but I will develop that theme for the noble Lord in a moment, if he will wait. As I say, there are these crypto-unicameralists. I would say that the noble Viscount and those who feel like him will consider this Bill reasonably acceptable. Certainly it gives no extra powers to your Lordships' House and nothing whatever to enable the House to make effective use of the very limited powers it already has. On the other hand, the Bill may preserve the crumbling facade for a few years more. Frankly, I do not believe that a mere façade either can or should be preserved indefinitely. We ought to face up to the situation. It would be better either to have single-Chamber government and admit it, or have a Second Chamber which has the approval of the people of this country and which has the authority to use certain limited powers in certain circumstances with the approval of the people, without the fear that if it does so it is merely signing its own death warrant. I believe that no Second Chamber can function under a perpetual threat of this kind.
I consider that under the sort of Constitution we have, such a Second Chamber is vital. It seems to me that it must be so. Because of the large number of speakers, I propose to omit the arguments which I wished to advance on that point, as they have been already rehearsed by other noble Lords. But I would take up the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, on his extraordinary observations about the death penalty. If there was ever an issue on which it was perfectly clear, as was seen through the Gallup Poll and every other indication, that the people of the country were against another place, that was the issue. If ever there was a time when this House acted in accordance with the feelings of the people, that was the occasion. The noble Viscount took up my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh and asked him 673 whether there had ever been any measures put forward by a Conservative Government which had been turned down by your Lordships' House. I do not want to give a long list, but here are a few—Aliens Bill, Inventions and Designs Bill, Shops Bill, the Heroin Regulations, a large part of the Regulations under the Road Traffic Act and one or two other minor Bills. That is a short and recent list. I dare say I could go back to 1911, although I was neither a Member of your Lordships' House nor on this planet then, and find many more, but I hope that that is sufficient for noble Lords.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, I shall have great pleasure in conveying that to my noble friend Lord Attlee, who asked the question.
Perhaps the noble Viscount will be good enough to do so: I merely wish to help noble Lords opposite. While I am convinced of the importance of an effective Second Chamber, I am equally convinced that your Lordships' House, as at present constituted, neither is nor can be considered as capable of performing that function. I wish that I could share the enthusiasm of the noble Lord, Lord Elton. I wish that I could feel that your Lordships' House is all the things that I should like it to be. But consider the facts. We pride ourselves on the high standard of our debates. We like to feel that we really influence the people. Is it not really true—let us face it—that unless we happen to be fortunate enough to forestall another place in discussing some topic of immediate public importance—and that is rare—the deliberations of your Lordships receive no more than a bare reference in the popular Press? I sometimes wonder how many people know about the work of this House. Men like Lord Derby and Lord Lonsdale were well-known, but I doubt whether the average man in the street to-day is aware that your Lordships are sitting here at all. Anyway, if he does, he is a clever fellow, because certainly his newspaper tells him nothing about it.
Then a lot is talked about the importance of this House as a revising Chamber. It is not particularly difficult to be a fairly good revising Chamber when you consider the sort of Bills that are sent up to us—I said "Bills", my Lords. We 674 have greatly improved a lot of pretty moderate legislation that has been sent to us from another place. But again, let us face the fact that we all know perfectly well that nearly all the concessions that are going to be made by the Government have been made in another place, and few major Amendments are allowed here. What is more, we know perfectly well that if this House really wished to insist, as it has the right to do, on some Amendment which it feels is important, it is immediately faced with threats by noble Lords opposite of what they will do to us when they come into office.
The same applies to the delaying power. In theory we are able to delay any measure for a year. I should emphasise that I am the last person to suggest that such power should be extended; I think it is enough. But I do suggest that we should be in a position to exercise that limited power, when we think it right, without risk to our future existence every time we do so. Then the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said that he deplored this measure because he thought it gave noble Lords opposite an excuse for abolishing this House, or reforming it in some drastic way, when they came into power. But since when have noble Lords opposite wanted an excuse? What about the Parliament Act, 1948? They did not need an excuse or a pretext for that; and they had no mandate for it. They did not want to reform the Constitution, but wanted to get the Steel Bill through, and the Parliament Act, 1948, was passed. So we need not have any illusions about noble Lords opposite and their Party when they come into power. If they want to do a thing, they will do it.
In my belief, if this House is ever again to play an effective part in the political life of this country some major reform is necessary. For that reason I must admit that I am a little disappointed at this Bill. I know that the question of the inclusion of ladies (I defer to my noble friend Lord Airlie) has caused a certain amount of flutter in various quarters, but basically I do not think it is of great importance, if you regard this House as a rather agreeable club, which is what it is rapidly becoming, then, on the whole, I should rather be without the ladies. Equally, if you regard it as a political institution, then I do not think they will make a great deal of difference. But, like 675 certain other noble Lords, I can see no logical reason why they should be excluded, and I accept that without further argument.
We then come to the proposal for the creation of Life Peers; and that I fully support. I believe it will do something to broaden the basis of this House, and, above all, it will reinforce noble Lords opposite. Here I should like to pay tribute to noble Lords opposite for what they have done to preserve this House; they have done a great deal. If you put the noble Lords, Lord Silkin, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, Lord Ogmore and a few others in a taxi (and you could get them all into a taxi) and drove them over a cliff, it has been said that that would be the end of the House of Lords—I merely state that as a fact, of course; it is not a suggestion to the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon.
Much more effective; but I have a certain affection for the noble Lords and I do not want Lord Faringdon to "pop" them into a taxi and drive them over a cliff. I am certain that if any House is to exist there must be an effective Opposition. Therefore I cordially welcome this part of the Bill. I think the Bill will preserve a facade of a House; but I do not believe the preservation of a façade with an empty shell behind us is of very great value in the long run. I do not believe that busy and eminent people are going to come here indefinitely to make speeches which nobody can ever read, and make minor Amendments in the Government's Bills. If this House is going to attract the right people, and if it is going to have any influence or importance in the country, I believe it must be allowed the free and unfettered exercise of its present powers; and there must be no further diminution of those powers.
I do not think the people of this country will accept the free exercise of those powers by a House where the vast majority, even after this Bill, will sit here by virtual heredity. Therefore I think some reform of the hereditary system is absolutely inevitable. On the whole, since 1945 I think the hereditary system has worked reasonably well; 676 and, as we all know, the hordes of backwoodsmen with which noble Lords opposite terrified the electorate never, in point of fact, materialised. But the composition of this House cannot logically be defended; and although I think the proposals of my noble friend Lord Swinton are quite ingenious, and no doubt will do something to ease the problem, I do not believe they are sufficient to disarm the criticism. Therefore, I think we must have a scheme limiting the hereditary peerage, and, on the whole, I favour the scheme that has already been put forward by my noble friend Lord Salisbury. If, however, a better scheme can be produced by the Government, then I have an open mind.
I think we have to face the fact that the choice is no longer between radical reform and the status quo; the choice is between radical reform and the gradual extinction of this House. When I am told by people that we shall never get agreement to such a scheme in your Lordships' House, then my answer is that, if we are going to survive, we have got to get such agreement; there are no "ifs" and "buts" about it. Then one is always told that another place and the Labour Party would never tolerate any scheme which made this House more effective. But since when has another place or the Labour Party or this House been the arbiter of the Constitution of this country? The people of this country are the ones who decide the Constitution of the country. I believe it is high time that this matter went once again to the electorate. The last time the question of the House of Lords was put fairly and squarely before the electorate of this country was in 1911. Noble Lords opposite did not dare put the Parliament Act, 1948, before the country—and I am not surprised. The present Government, although at the last election they gave a pledge that they would reform your Lordships' House, did not put any definite proposals before the people, and obviously it was not a live electoral issue.
To conclude, I feel that this Bill is quite inadequate. I congratulate the Government on being the first Administration to make a move since 1911 and on their courage in making that move—not much courage, you may say, and not much of a move; but a move, all the 677 same. What I hope is that we are not new going to leave the matter there. I believe that to-day the mass of the people have little or no knowledge of the important constitutional issue involved. I believe that the people of this country are very sensible and pretty shrewd. If they, knew the issues, I should be surprised if they would really want to entrust their whole future to a single Chamber of professional politicians. I think that if the ordinary man in the street had heard the arrogant claims made by the noble Viscount for another place this afternoon he would have been profoundly shocked. I believe that if the issue were put to the people, and if an imaginative scheme of reform which included something of the best of the old, of the great traditions of this House, and something best of the new, were put before the people of this country, they might well support it. That, in my Opinion, would be one of the finest things that could happen politically in this country, or has happened for a great many years.
§ 6.21 p.m.
THE EARL OF WOOLTON
My Lords, I listened with a certain amount of dismay to part of the noble Lord's speech, because it seemed to me that he was taking quite an unnecessarily pessimistic view. I rise to speak (I rarely trouble your Lordships) because I wish to give somewhat critical support to this Bill. I have been concerned with this problem since I joined political life in 1946, and have made, with others, many efforts to try to find some solution on which there could be some general agreement; and always I failed.
Your Lordships who have listened to the debate this afternoon—which, of course, has not been mainly about this particular Bill, but has roamed over the whole issues of the reform of the House of Lords and the existence of a Second Chamber—will realise how little agreement there is in your Lordships' House about the need of the reform which some people regard as so necessary. We have talked of proverbs, and may I add one more to the list? There is a great deal of wisdom in hastening slowly. Your Lordships' House has been in existence for quite a long time. Changes are, I think, inevitable. There is one change in our social life to which none of your 678 Lordships has referred. I believe that our present system of taxation will make a change necessary. Both the Socialists and the Conservative Governments are apparently determined that they will tax to the uttermost the savings of people who have succeeded in amassing at any rate a sufficient amount of money to support a peerage. I can quite believe that we may to-day be agreeing in principle to a small Bill which will have considerable effect. As I look into the future, I can see that wise men who may have earned, either in industrial or political life, the reward of being sent to your Lordships' House, may have grave doubts about the wisdom of passing on to their sons a rather expensive honour which they may not see any means of maintaining in its proper status.
I hope that we shall not, because this Bill has been brought to our notice, take too despairing a view about ourselves. As one listened to the speeches this afternoon one might have thought that we were not a very effective body of people. That is not the public view. It has been my duty for some time, if I may use a political phrase, to keep my ear very close to the ground, and I have always found that, political platforms apart, the House of Lords was held in great respect by the public—a respect held for one reason more than any other: that this House was independent of the public, and the debates which took place here most certainly were never influenced by the Press reports that were going to be made in some particular constituencies. I believe that a great deal of that respect existed, not because this was a revising Chamber, but because it has not for a long time—I have been in your Lordships' House for over fifteen years—been a political forum. We have discussed the Bills that have been sent up to us and have done our best with them, but Party rancour has been no part of the normal debates.
I am obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, for giving some examples of the ways in which Conservative Government measures have been turned down. It happened that I was leading the House, in the absence of my noble friend Lord Salisbury, when the Inventions and Designs Bill was brought in. I thought early in the debate that Conservative 679 Members did not like it. It was a Conservative measure, and I moved that the debate be adjourned. And that is the last your Lordships have ever heard of that measure. The Shops Bill provided an interesting example of the skill with which your Lordships worked. At the time, I thought that was a lamentable Bill. I did not speak on it, because I did not want to oppose the Government. But what did your Lordships do? You passed it, remembering Cough:Though shalt not kill but need not strive Officiously to keep alive.After the debates we heard no more of the Shops Bill. That, I think, is characteristic of the way in which your Lordships can work so quietly, without bringing any head-on clashes which disturb the political atmosphere.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, are we to understand that the Shops Bill, which I know was greatly criticised in many parts of the House, owes its demise to the effective opposition of the Conservative Party in this House? If so, I should like to be able to inform the Union of Shop Assistants, Distributive and Allied Workers exactly what was the reason for the Government's final dropping of the Bill altogether. It would certainly be most helpful to me.
THE EARL OF WOOLTON
My Lords, the noble Viscount knows that I am no longer in a position to speak for Her Majesty's Government. I am not in their confidence in the matter, but I think—as probably the noble Viscount who was interested in the matter must have thought—that after the reception the Shops Bill had in this House any Government would have been foolish if it had persisted in it.
The point of this Life Peerages Bill about which I am critical is its vagueness. I am sure that it is right that we should have Life Peers. But how many? I wonder why the Government have not told us how many. Because, of course, if the number is very large indeed, then it is going to alter the whole nature of this House, and I think we ought at some time to be told. What distresses me most, if my noble friend who leads the House will forgive my saying so, is that the speech which he made indicated that this was a Bill primarily devised to strengthen the Labour Opposition in the House.
THE EARL OF HOME
May I interrupt my noble friend? I did not mean to give that impression—if, indeed, I did. In my earlier speech a fortnight ago I indicated that it would be useful in that respect—clearly, it will be—but that is not the primary purpose of it. The purpose, as I said to-day, is to strengthen the House with people who will help with the working of the House but who may not be able to accept hereditary peerages at this time.
THE EARL OF WOOLTON
I am very glad indeed to hear that: I will come back to it in a moment.
I do not think we need strengthen the Opposition in this House. It is a great mistake to assume that the opposition always comes from noble Lords who sit opposite to us on these Benches. I well remember one occasion when, in Lord Salisbury's absence, I was leading the House, and I had to go away to the Prime Minister, leaving Lord Mancroft in charge. When I returned I said to him, "How is it going?" He said, "Very well; right up to form." I said, "What do you mean?" He said, "We have had seven speeches up to now, all against the Government—all of them, of course, coming from our own Back Benches." The truth is that most of us who sit on this side of the House belong to a most extraordinary body of people called "the independent Peers". What are we independent of? We are independent of the Government Front Bench.
The idea that there is a Conservative majority on which the Whips can always rely in this House is entirely fallacious. That is why we never have a three-line Whip. The Leader of the House dare not send out a three-line Whip because he does not know what will happen when noble Lords come in response to it. We are not (this is where the House, in my opinion, is so excellent, and where we should be so proud of it) a great political forum in which we can have clashes between the different Parties: we are a body of people, independent, capable of expressing our own views, owing obligations to nobody; and, as a consequence, the House has its very high reputation.
I was most attracted by the remarks of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, about who would nominate the new Peers. That is a problem which must concern us very greatly. I hope the new Peers will not 681 all be members of the Socialist Party, not because I am opposed to the Socialist Panty in this matter but because I think it is so important that we should call in as Life Peers men of great distinction who would not, perhaps, be prepared to take hereditary peerages but who would come from any Party, from all Parties or from no Party, and who would help in the debates in the House. We certainly do not want to add to the number of aged people in the House—and I know that I speak as one of them. We do not want these new Peers to be pensioners who have come here in order that they may have a pleasant place in which to spend the remaining years of their lives. I do not think this reform will do what I am sure the Government hope it will do. What we want is to attract to this House people of all ages, of varying capacities, who are entitled to attend. Is it not ridiculous, that being our object, that we should meet at 2.30 in the afternoon when, certainly in these days, the great majority of young men (by "young" men I mean men under fifty) have to earn their living? If the House really wants to encourage either life Peers or hereditary Peers to a greater attendance of the House, then I am sure we ought to make our hours such that they can attend the House as well as earn their living.
On the subject of women Members, I do not see how any Government in these days could bring forward a Bill such as this which did not include women; but, since I believe in the hereditary system, I should like to see hereditary Peeresses admitted to the House.
THE EARL OF AIRLIE
May I put a question to the noble Earl before he sits down? I am very interested in his remarks—naturally, we all are. Has he any definite views on the question of the attendance of women in this House? As I tried to say, is it not reasonable to suggest that we should wait to see how the reform works before bringing ladies into this Assembly? Once we had made up our minds that it was settled and working, then, if it was thought right, we could bring in the ladies. I should very much welcome the views of the noble Earl.
Tim EARL OF WOOLTON
If I may be entirely indiscreet in replying to that 682 remark—I should not dare to do so if I sat on the Benches lower down—I do not think it will make any difference at all. I do not think it will make any difference whether women come into this House or not. The reason why they should be allowed to come in, in my opinion, is just a matter of elementary justice as between the sexes.
§ 6.36 p.m.
When I spoke about two weeks ago on the Motion introduced by Lord Teynham, I was bold enough to be somewhat critical of the proposals which were disclosed to us by the Leader of the House during the debate, because, as I said at the' time, I did not feel that the proposals for reform went far enough, and for that reason I was reluctant to give them my support. Having listened with care to the long debate on the previous occasion, and to the many important and interesting speeches, particularly those which have come from the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, this afternoon and from the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack, who wound up the debate on a previous occasion, I have now joined what I believe to be the rather large body of noble Lords who are prepared to take a very little bread rather than no loaf at all.
Although I have gained the impression that there is a large body of your Lordships who would like to see a greater measure of reform at this stage, and an altogether more comprehensive scheme, I have come to the conclusion, as I say, that I should join that band of people who would have preferred to see a larger measure of reform at this stage but who care, nevertheless, glad to support this Bill, inasmuch as it may be a move in the right direction. However, I have not in the least departed from my conviction that further reform is needed, and I hope the Bill will not be considered as more than a first step. I believe that the Government have indicated that they are not committed to this as being the only step towards the reform of your Lordships' House.
The nettle which I believe requires to be grasped is the question of the hereditary system. In the debate a fortnight ago, the noble Lord, Lord Silk in, on the second day, I seem to remember, said he did not quite know where I myself 683 stood on this matter, and also where stood certain other noble Lords on this side of the House who had been somewhat critical of the present working of the hereditary system. I should like, very briefly, to make my position perfectly clear on this point, because I am, I believe, one of the few Members of the Party on this side of the House who hold the views I do on the hereditary system. On the previous occasion I said that I firmly believe that in this day and age the hereditary system is entirely unacceptable to the British public as a means of selecting Legislators. I went on to say that I should now like to see the introduction of some way of limiting the automatic right of hereditary Peers to attend the House and vote. My Lords, in supporting this Bill, to which I hope your Lordships will give a Second Reading, I want to emphasise that I in no way depart from what I said a fortnight ago.
§ LORD SILKIN
I was in some doubt as to what the noble Lord meant, because of the use of the word "limiting" the hereditary system.
I should like to enlarge upon that point; that is what I was intending to do. I believe that as a means of selecting people the hereditary system is not acceptable in this day and age. I do not think that is necessarily to advocate the immediate and complete removal of all those noble Lords who sit in your Lordships' House as a result of the hereditary system. I should like in time to see the hereditary principle probably die completely—that is my own view. In the meantime, I should certainly like to limit the right of the existing hereditary Peers to sit and vote. I am, on the whole, a supporter of the scheme which has come to be known as Lord Salisbury's scheme, which envisages that type of limitation either by some scheme of election or selection. I am also rather attracted by the proposal, or the suggestion, which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, made in the previous debate, where he suggested that all peerages might be life peerages. I understood that all future peerages would then be life peerages and that over a period of some fifty years the gradual change which many of your Lordships have advocated would occur and we should, in fact, arrive at the position which would be satisfactory to my view.
684 As I say, I am not advocating any immediate or violent change in propounding this principle. I recognise the value of the knowledge and experience of those Members of your Lordships' House who attend at present and who are hereditary Peers. However, I should like to see this change of emphasis in the composition of the House come about or be tackled in the very near future. My own opinion is that this present Bill for the creation of life peerages, even when coupled with the Swinton proposals, does not go quite far enough. I hope that I have made myself clearer to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, by elaborating that point.
My Lords, if I may be permitted, I would make one or two comments in reply to those people who have defended the hereditary principle during the course of these two or three days' debates. We have been told that the House of Lords works extremely well, being composed largely of hereditary Peers. We have been told that it is the best Second Chamber in the world, and I gather that one deduces from that fact that the hereditary system is a satisfactory way of selecting people. Quite frankly, I believe that to be an unacceptable deduction, and that if you really put this issue to the test of public opinion you would get extremely little support. I will not detain your Lordships further on this point; I know that it is controversial. I believe that I have very little support from noble Lords on this side of the House, but I hope, nevertheless, that these important matters which concern the composition of the House will be tackled before much longer, and that the whole issue will not be allowed to rest on this Bill.
My Lords, if you would allow me I would make one further point, and it concerns the question of pay, which has been raised by several noble Lords—and I say this as one of the younger Members of your Lordships' House. I think we should bear in mind that when the next generation—possibly my own generation—arrives in your Lordships' House, they will have suffered another lot of death duties, and they are more likely to be very much less able to live off unearned income than the majority of noble Lords here to-day. It appears to me that it is not just a question of refunding expenses but of paying people sufficient to replace other earned income.
685 In considering this aspect, it is necessary not only to consider the number of days the House sits, and the amount of time it is necessary for noble Lords to spend here, but also the amount of time that people have to give outside your Lordships' House. If one is to take an effective part in Parliament and to speak occasionally even on limited subjects, it is essential to spend a great deal of time in research and consideration, reading the debates in the other place and so forth. The young man who is working full time in a profession or industry must give up a large part of that time to Parliament if he is to take a serious part in its affairs. I believe that this applies to existing Members of the House, and it will apply ever more forcibly if we are to get the right sort of Life Peers to join the House. I would ask the Government whether this matter, as a separate issue, could not be given urgent and sympathetic consideration.
§ 6.47 p.m.
§ LORD WINSTER
My Lords, if I may refer for one brief moment to the wise and delightful speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, I would say that I also read that letter in The Times from which he quoted and the suggestion that, with all its faults, the House of Lords served a useful purpose as a place in which the Prime Minister of the day could turn his old horses out to grass. If the Bill goes through, the Prime Minister of the future will not have to confine himself to his old horses. I think that what was at the back of that proposal was a certain discontent on the part of ambitious Back-Benchers in another place because Privy Counsellors are given priority over them in being called to speak. The writer had no doubt read the American book entitled They Shoot Horses, but, feeling that it is not really quite feasible to shoot the Privy Counsellors, he fell back on the suggestion of turning them out to grass in the House of Lords. That, I think, is what lies at the back of that letter.
There is a great deal of history behind this Bill and the talk about reform to which it has given rise. In fact, as I looked at some of that history and read some of the remarks which have been made I was reminded of a line from a verse by Kipling:They heard old songs turn up again.Some of the songs which have turned up have been very old indeed. I notice that 686 in the reign of Edward I the attendance of Lords was obligatory, but only the rich Lords could afford to attend, a situation which seems to be to some extent repeating itself to-day. For this reason the summons to attend became confined to the great landowners, but this was felt to be not altogether satisfactory and a small contribution was made towards the expenses of other Peers, to enable them to attend. In fact the Peers of those days had the equivalent of the three guineas which we are lucky enough to have today. Then there are those who would abolish the House of Lords. Well, Cromwell did it; but the Lords were reestablished by Charles II who, with his usual good sense, however, made the Commons supreme in finance. But, in spite of these and other things which have happened, the position remains to-day as stated by Lord Lansdowne in 1906 when confronted by the Liberal victory of that year:The Tory Opposition is lamentably weak in the House of Commons and enormously powerful in the House of Lords.I have had many letters dealing with this Bill. One of the last that I received, from a thoughtful and intelligent man, spoke of it as a "meaningless compromise"; and to my mind that just about describes it. I agree that the Bill is not described as a reform, but that is how it is talked about, and if the Bill passes it will probably not be long before the Prime Minister is heard to say that everybody talked about reform for fifty years but that he did it. I notice that the defenders of the Bill make the traditional excuse of wrongdoers that "it is only a very little one"; and the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, criticised Her Majesty's Government on the grounds that they had brought in a measure which was in accordance with the proverb that "half a loaf is better than no bread." But when my noble friend Lord Stansgate asked the noble Marquess on what grounds he would vote for the Bill, all that the noble Marquess could say was that he preferred half a loaf to no bread, and that while he did not think much of the Bill on the whole, at least it conceded one point which he had in mind and so he would vote for it.
To my mind what is proposed has no relation whatever to reform. This Bill proposes only a method of extending the membership of the House. It reminds me 687 of what happens when a club finds that its membership (and consequently its revenue) is falling off. The club then takes off the entrance fee, it may reduce the subscription or may extend the scope of membership of the club; and it opens a Ladies Room. I find those ideas very much at work in this Bill. That is really all we have here. It is much ado about nothing. Perhaps it is not polite to call the Bill a sham, but it really represents only a slight variation in the method of manning the House while making no alteration whatever in the functions, powers and duties of the House, and preserving all the old objections.
This Bill would not be put forward unless it were felt that there was something really wrong with the House, but in what way will these proposals improve matters? It has been suggested to-day that one of the motives for bringing in the Bill is concern for the Labour Party. In that case I imagine we may assume that the leaders of the Labour Party were consulted before the Bill, designed to help them, was brought in. I feel quite sure about one thing: that a Conservative Government will not propose anything which they feel will weaken the Second Chamber. At the back of their mind is far more likely to be some idea of gradually increasing the influence of the House.
This Bill preserves the hereditary principle. It leaves the existing powers of the House unimpaired. But I am quite sure that if the Labour Party have the time and think it worth while to get round to reform of the House of Lords, the hereditary principle will be swept away and existing powers curtailed. I noticed what the noble Earl, Lord Airlie, said this afternoon: that he was astonished that, with what is happening in the world to-day, the Government could find the time (I am not sure whether he said "waste its time") to bring in an insignificant Bill of this nature. I have heard it said—I believe it was said by the noble Marquess Lord Salisbury—that the House of Lords is dying on its feet. I should say that one outward and visible sign of that state of affairs is that the attendance is poor because so much of our work seems unreal. The debates are certainly of very high quality but they tend to be academic. They frequently, perhaps most often, take 688 place amid empty Benches, they attract little or no public attention and they lead nowhere. The noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, said recently:When politics cease to be discussed robustly they cease to be interesting.I most heartily agree and I wish more politicians introduced into their speeches that robustness which the noble Viscount does, in which case there would be little reason to complain of lack of interest in politics.
Work on Bills in Committee, which has frequently been referred to this afternoon, is carried out by a handful of Peers, but, by general consent, it is done very well. I have seen figures quoted that out of 1,400 Amendments carried by your Lordships' House only forty were rejected by another place; therefore the work is being done very well. Is it thought that the addition of a few Life Peers will result in the work being done any better? However brilliant these Life Peers may be, I do not think they can improve on that percentage—forty rejections out of 1,400. In any case, it has always seemed to me that the fact that this work has to be done up here at such length is more a reason for reforming the House of Commons than for reforming the House of Lords.
I come back to my point about lack of powers. I trust your Lordships will not think for one moment that I have at the back of my mind any wish to see the powers increased—far from it, as I shall mention later. But I believe that the lack of powers is a reason for poor attendance and lack of interest. The type of man who will be offered a life peerage will, I believe, be the type of man who already comes up here as a Peer of the first creation and in many cases, as your Lordships will have observed, finds the position hardly worth while. He is a type of man who has had great experience and responsible duties and possibly has exercised great powers. Is it to be supposed that he will be a type of man of such high power and quality that hereditary Peers may well say, with Lord Mount Ararat of lolanthe fame:Now that the Peers are to be recruited from persons of intelligence I do not really see what use we are.and that such a man, of such qualities, will find his interest absorbed by the largely academic nature of our work 689 here? I think the answer is obvious and has already been given by Peers of the first creation who have been given their peerages for most valuable public services, often in high positions in the Government, but who sometimes do not trouble to take their seats or, if they do come here, do not speak.
I have noticed, as I dare say many of your Lordships also have noticed, that quite recently two such Peers have made speeches on matters of particular interest to your Lordships at the moment. They are men of such experience and knowledge that their contributions to the two subjects were of the greatest importance, but they did not think it worth while to make those speeches here—here where the subjects could have been debated and criticised and an answer from the Government could have been elicited. No, my Lords; they made their speeches to audiences outside your Lordships' House, and, by so doing, I am bound to confess, they attracted far more publicity for their views than they would have gained by putting down a Motion here and subsequently withdrawing it without a Division. Why should it be imagined that Life Peers will avail themselves of a platform which Peers of the first creation, of the type which I have described, reject for their speeches?
My Lords, it was decided centuries ago that it is no use trying to put new wine into old bottles. I think if you are going to reform the House of Lords the first thing you will have to decide is whether a Second Chamber is really necessary. I am not competent to give an opinion about that. But it may be only a mental habit, a sort of mental cliché, to assume that a Second Chamber is absolutely necessary. But suppose the answer to that question, after inquiry, is found to be "Yes, a Second Chamber is necessary", then the next logical step is to settle what powers and duties it is to have, and this must take account of the fact that a future Labour Government may decide to curtail the existing powers of the Second Chamber. But, having plumped for a Second Chamber and settled its powers and functions, the third step is to decide how it is to be manned, again remembering that a Labour Government, in all probability, will sweep away the hereditary legislator. I said it is not advisable to put new wine 690 into old bottles, and in this connection may I quote some words used by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, I agree in another connection. The noble Earl said in 1945 after the Election:The old pattern was worn out…We had not been elected to try to patch up an old system but to make something new.And if you are to have a Second Chamber, then it may be a mistake to try to patch up an old system, and more advisable to try to work out something new.
May I say in conclusion, having listened to the debate so far as it has taken place, that I think it is very instructive to compare the decorum and the moderation with which this debate has been conducted with the thunder and lightning which raged in your Lordships' House when the People's Budget and the Parliament Bill were under discussion. Mr. Churchill (as he then was) prayed that the Peers would throw out the Budget, describing the House of Lords asone-sided, hereditary, unprized, unrepresentative, irresponsible, absentee.It may have been the old leaven which prompted those remarks and which has led him to reject the idea of a peerage to-day, unlike some lesser fry who have jumped at one. But by way of retort to Mr. Churchill, the Duke of Beaufort (as he then was) said he wouldlike to see Winston Churchill and Lloyd George in the middle of twenty couples of doghounds.It was a Peer who described the first Old Age Pensions Bill—that very modest proposal—as likely "to undermine the whole fabric of the Empire." The then Duke of Buccleuch cancelled a guinea subscription to a football club because of the taxation in the People's Budget; the Duke of Somerset said he would have to discharge estate hands and reduce his charities; and housemaids were adjured at the Albert Hall never, never to lick Lloyd George's stamps. Things that have been said in this debate have been moderate, though things have been said, and no doubt things will be said, which will be regarded in the future as just as absurd as the quotations from the past which I have given are regarded to-day.
My Lords, I spoke about decorum and moderation. I have been told that in one of these old debates a noble Peer was so tipsy that he had to be conducted 691 to one of the Committee rooms, where he was attended by another noble Peer who was a fully-qualified doctor. And the tipsy Peer said (using an expression which is usually represented by a "b" followed by some dots or a dash), "Take the So-and-So away. He wants to get two guineas out of me." But, nevertheless, that Peer voted in the following Division.
I think this Bill is an exercise in unreality. It is quite impossible to contemplate the House of Lords ever being given more powers than it exercises to-day; it will more likely have its existing powers reduced. Yet it is my firm belief that without more powers you will not get an influx of men in the shape of Life Peers who will devote themselves to its work, for the reasons which I have given. They will sink into the apathy which already characterises some Peers of the first creation, who are of the very type which the Government hopes at some date to recruit as Life Peers. Probably it is the hereditary principle which stimulates some Peers to give of their best out of a sense of duty; and, in any case, the House does fulfil its functions, the work gets done, and we are assured that it is done satisfactorily. A hybrid assembly such as is proposed by this Bill may not do the work half so well; and on that account alone I do not feel that a case has been made out for the Bill.
§ 7.9 p.m.
§ LORD STRANG
My Lords, as one who is a relatively new Member of this House I approach this subject with some diffidence: yet it does appear to me that all of us have a duty to come to a conclusion on this important matter and, if it seems good to us, to deliver an opinion. I support this Bill. I support it for two reasons: first, because of what it does contain and, secondly, because of what it does not contain. Broadly speaking, the Bill does three things. First, it reasserts the right of the Crown to create Life Peerages, with a seat in the House, and it does so. I think rightly, without limitation of numbers. Secondly, it partially removes an out-moded sex disqualification—I say "partially" because it does not make any provision for Peeresses in their own right. These two points are what one might call constitutional points. 692 The third thing the Bill does is a more practical matter: it provides a possible means of reinforcing the slender ranks of the Labour Opposition.
These, my Lords, are modest steps, but I think they are steps the scope and effect of which ought not to be underestimated. They do, I think, mark a definite step towards a rationalisation of this House—a process which I think will be more evident if the Bill is supplemented later by changes in our Standing Orders, proposals for which are to be debated next week. The effect of the change, if it comes about, will be voluntary but regularised abstention from attendance of Peers who have no wish to attend.
I have said that I also support the Bill because of what it does not contain. I think the Government are wise not to go further at this stage, for the reasons most cogently set before your Lordships at the opening of the debate by the noble Earl the Leader of the House. A great many people, among them many of your Lordships, maintain that steps should be taken to reduce the number of hereditary Peers entitled to sit and vote, and numbers of schemes have been put forward to that end. One which was put forward by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, would be a process of selection by a Joint Committee. Another scheme put forward some eleven years ago, in 1946, by a group of Conservatives, proposed that the selection should be governed by the satisfaction by the candidates of a number of stated qualifications relating to their public service. There have been other schemes, but all the schemes for the reduction of the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in this House have a general characteristic: that they depart from the hereditary principle or, rather, from the principle of primogeniture, to the extent that of Peers sitting and voting in this House not one would owe his seat to the hereditary right alone. That would be the effect of these schemes.
This is not the occasion on which to debate these and other schemes, but it is worth observing, first of all, that these schemes do represent good Conservative policy, and it is also worth observing that, in the light of history, they are not in any sense revolutionary. If one looks into the history of the peerage, and the 693 history of the House of Lords, one finds that, historically, the two things are not the same: the peerage and the House of Lords are, historically, in origin not the same. I would infer from my reading of history that there was no inherent or necessary connection between the possession of an hereditary peerage and a seat in this House.
If our historians are to be believed, annexation of the Upper House by the hereditary peerage, according to existing Peerage Law, is a result of historical development and is not inherent in the Constitution. If this is so, it means that, constitutionally, there would be nothing particularly revolutionary if legislation were passed now or in the future by which, as at present proposed, the Crown addressed Writs of Summons to persons who were not already hereditary Peers or to persons who were not at the same time so created. Equally, there would be nothing particularly revolutionary if there were legislation by which—as proposed by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, and others—the Crown were to address Writs of Summons to some hereditary Peers and not to others. There are historical precedents in earlier times for both these procedures.
I am in favour of schemes of this kind for drastically limiting or curtailing the right of hereditary Peers to site and vote in this House. I think it is right to say that the possession of an hereditary peerage should not be the sole qualification for a seat. Equally, it should not be a disqualification. And I am inclined to think that the Labour Party sometimes suggest that it ought to be a disqualification.
§ LORD STRANG
I am glad to hear the noble Viscount say that. In my view, on broad grounds and on merits, an hereditary peerage should rather be a qualification, or one of a number of qualifications, for the receipt of a Writ of Summons. But these schemes have the disadvantage (and this is what the noble Earl, the Leader of the House, pointed out) that they are likely to arouse serious controversy both within Parties and between Parties. And I think it is also true to say that they would raise rather difficult legal and constitutional questions which would need to be carefully worked 694 out. Therefore, I think it is better that schemes of this kind, desirable though they may be in themselves, should not be put through in the later part of the life of a Parliament.
For that reason I should be inclined also to leave aside for the moment—as the Government have done—the question of making provision for Peeresses in their own right. That could be dealt with later, when any further and more general scheme of reform of the composition of the House was undertaken. If that were done, I would think that they ought to receive equal treatment, as it is proposed to give equal treatment to women in the provision for life peerages.
I have another reason why I feel it would be wise not to go further for the moment. It has been pointed out again and again in this debate that it is best that constitutional changes should be brought about by consent and not pushed through by Parity majorities. As we all know, there have been cases in the past where changes have been pushed through by Party majorities. But, to my mind, there is no reason why the attempt should not be made in the future to secure change, if it can be done, by agreement. Therefore, it would be wise, I think, to let the present changes operate for a while and see what happens.
Fortunately, the House of Lords is a subject on which people have been known to change their minds. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, told us the other day that he had changed his mind on one point. It may be that there are other members of the Labour Party who might change their opinions also. I hope so, and I trust that what I found a rather disappointing speech by the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, does not reflect the unchangeable view of the Party now sitting on the Opposition Benches. It is possible, too, that Members on the other side of the House will change their mind. I am bound to say—if I may say so with clue respect—that some of the most enlightened ideas on the reform of this House have come from the Conservative side. One would hope, therefore, that, in the course of time, under the scheme now proposed in the Bill, some of the myths, and what Lord Elton called the fantasies, which surround this House might, little by little, be dissipated.
695 Those who frequent this House know well that it is nothing like the picture which most people outside carry about in their minds. What they have in their minds is much more like the picture which Lord Winster has just resuscitated from the past. One would hope that, under the impact of these changes now proposed, when we have a growing proportion of Life Peers in this Chamber and a due proportion of women, the House may be better seen by the public at large to be what it is and not what it is often supposed to be. It might be seen, for example. as a deliberative Chamber of the very first order, as a revising Chamber which can work with skill and despatch, in the light of great knowledge and large common sense, and as a Chamber which has used, and can be expected to use, its already much curtailed delaying power with moderation and with a strict sense of the legislative primacy of another place.
As a Cross-Bencher with no Party affiliations, I most earnestly hope that in future both Parties will bend their minds to the problem of grafting a new Chamber upon the old in a way in which tradition and continuity can be preserved in some measure and so far as possible, but by which present anomalies and absurdities can be removed. It would be, I hope, a House based not on Party alone, a House where minorities and trends of opinion which are not directly or adequately represented in another place can find a seat and a voice, where the non-Party spirit can flourish and where independent opinion can find expression. If we can move on from the present changes, we shall have a chance to see to it that this ancient House can enter upon a new era in its history. It is a House which in its later history has gone astray in some respects, through exclusive and excessive devotion to the hereditary principle. If, in setting a new course, we look back to some of the characteristics of its early days, we may be able at the same time to fit it more closely to the spirit of our own times. These are matters for further debate on another occasion. But taking this Bill as it stands, I think that the Government have done well to take what it is hoped will be a first step towards that end.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ LORD TEVIOT
My Lords, I am going to touch lightly upon what the noble Lord, Lord Strang, has just said about what I consider to be an important question. We all know the feelings of noble Lords opposite on this hereditary question. When one thinks of it, there is something rather absurd in a democratic country having an hereditary Chamber such as this, dominated by the hereditary principle. The noble Lord, Lord Strang, spoke on that subject very well. I feel that we have come to a deadlock on that question, and if we could remove it that would be a useful advance. I should like the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, to listen to this, as I am going to make an appeal to noble Lords opposite to see whether we cannot find a way of dealing with this very natural feeling in regard to the hereditary principle, which I think is quite illogical. Supposing that noble Lords opposite were on this side of the House with the numbers we have, and the Government were trying to do what we are trying to do now, they would not listen to it for a minute.
I believe that it is a natural result of history that the hereditary principle should go on. In the days when it originated, of course, there was no Labour Party at all. I feel that if we could only get together on this question, we could wipe out this strong feeling, which is quite understandable, on the part of noble Lords opposite, and we should be able to do a great deal more than we are able to do at the moment because of this feeling. I should like to ask my noble friend the Leader of the House a question on something about which I am not sure. Did he intimate in his speech that the Life Peers would be Socialist to a great extent? I would be grateful if he could tell me.
THE EARL OF HOME
My Lords, I hope that there has been no confusion. As I said, that is not the main purpose of the Bill. The main purpose is to enable your Lordships' House to be reinforced by people who do not feel able at the present time to take an hereditary peerage and who would add to the efficient working of the House. Obviously, a number of them should be Socialist.
§ LORD TEVIOT
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that explanation. I hope that there is going to be no alteration of powers. The noble 697 Lord, Lord Winster, touched on this matter. If there is not a Second Chamber with some definite powers, then there will be dangerous periods when there would be virtually single-Chamber government, and I think that none of us would agree with that. I hope that the Second Chamber will have the powers of delay and revision which it has now—I think that delay and revision must go together—but with no veto. I suppose that in some senses we have a veto, but we have never used it. Noble Lords opposite will remember that when they were in office, owing to the statesmanlike leadership of my noble friend Lord Salisbury we always dealt with Bills for which there was a mandate and did our best to improve them. So far as I remember, it was seldom that Amendments which were carried through this House were not accepted by another place. We did a good job of work in improving some of the Bills that came before us.
There is the question of payment for Peers; that is going to be a difficult matter to decide. I understand that it is hoped that an adequate amount might be paid in order to encourage young men and others who cannot afford to come here to accept peerages and work in your Lordships' House. Where are we going to end with that? There are plenty of noble Lords who are very hard up indeed and find it difficult to carry on the work we are trying to do here. I should like to know whether there is going to be a limit to this contribution to the expenses other than the three guineas, because, though that does a little, if one comes to London and stays a night, the three guineas, one way or another, is not much good. I hope that the question of pay will be taken into consideration, so that it does not mean that only Life Peers will receive pay.
The noble Earl, Lord Woolton, asked how many Life Peers are to be appointed. We haw riot had that information yet; perhaps we shall have it before the end of this debate. Then there is the question of selection. Who is to select these Life Peers? Mind you, I think it is going to be difficult to find many, if any. But who is to select them? We do not want to have Life Peers of strong political mind. We do not want to have Life Peers coming here with strong Party feelings. We want to have the type of people, as my noble 698 friend explained just now, who will help in the conduct of our business and will bring to our deliberations knowledge and experience that perhaps we are short of now. If they are going to be selected by the Prime Minister there is bound to be the feeling: "I must make Life Peers of people of my own persuasion." I should like, if it could possibly be arranged, a body of people (I thought the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, was very good on this point) such as the Privy Council, which will embrace all walks of life, most of them men without political prejudice, to have a big say in the selection of the Life Peers.
Then there comes the question of leave of absence. I believe it is not going to be difficult with a great many. I think some people are rather torn as to whether they should come or should not: they want to do their job, and they have a very responsible duty in carrying out anything they can to help the affairs of the country. There might be a regular, simple system of leave of absence, say, for a Parliament or a Session or a year; that can be easily arranged. But we should, I think, have to provide for exceptional circumstances, even if a Peer had taken leave of absence; and I will say what I have in mind so that noble Lords can see how easily one could get into a mess over this question. There might be a Peer who was so hard up that he could not possibly come here and would be glad to have leave of absence. Then some old uncle of his in the backwoods of Australia might make a fortune and die and leave him a million pounds, and he might want to come and do his job here. These exceptional circumstances should be kept in mind when consideration is given to the question of leave of absence, so that the Peer might, in certain exceptional circumstances, be able to come back.
I have not talked for long, but there were just those one or two points that I wished to put before your Lordships. I hope that this Bill will go through. I agree with what my noble friend Lord Salisbury said: that half a loaf is better than none. I should have liked a more comprehensive Bill, but I think we should be wrong not to give this Bill a Second Reading and make it as comprehensive as possible.
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ LORD MATHERS
My Lords, I shall not delay your Lordships for long. Thoughts have been going through my mind, seeing the great turnout for this debate and the wonderful galaxy of speakers we have on the list, that this is a very small Bill to have aroused such attention. My thoughts have been that, for all that this Bill can possibly achieve, I think it should be possible for us, in the atmosphere of good will that generally prevails in this House, to get over all the difficulties that the Bill is seeking to remove. That, of course, is not saying anything about the hereditary principle which I, like my noble friends on these Benches, do not accept as a qualification by itself for being a legislator. Looking at the Bill I felt that here was a portrait of myself. Clause 1 (2) says:A peerage conferred under this section shall, during the life of the person on whom it is conferred, entitle him—That is exactly my position. Here stands a Life Peer in actuality. We are seeking to make more of them by means of this Bill.
and shall expire on his death.
- (a) to rank as a baron under such style as may be appointed by the letters patent; and
- (b) subject to subsection (4) of this section, to receive writs of summons to attend the House of Lords and sit and vote therein accordingly,
THE EARL OF HOME
Is not the noble Lord giving us the strongest argument we have yet had in favour of the Bill?
§ LORD MATHERS
In any case, you can take me as a portrait of a Life Peer, because that, in effect, is what I am and the title I have will die with me. I have not sought to inquire into the position of other Peers, but there may be others in the position in which I find myself; that is, a Peer of the first creation, with no heir.
The question of women Peers has been canvassed, more particularly by the noble Earl, Lord Airlie. I must say that I find it difficult to visualise women Peers in this House, but I could not find it possible logically to oppose their entry here, in view of the capacity they have increasingly demonstrated over ever-widening spheres of activity. I am sure that we should all agree about that. It is in keeping with modern tendencies to give women 700 the same opportunities that men have, and I think it would be wrong for this House to remain as a sole shelter for men only. Even so, when I think of the Bill framed by the Government to provide for Life Peeresses to come into this House—and this matter has been referred to, also, by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh—it seems a curious thing still to deny the right of those who are Peeresses in their own right to come and sit here. I do not want to make much reference to the Scottish Peers—that is, those with peerages extending before the year 1707—but it seems anomalous, if the Government are thirled to the idea of maintaining the hereditary principle—
§ LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
May I interrupt the noble Lord? I doubt whether the Government will understand what the word "thirled" means.
§ LORD MATHERS
That seems too simple a word. There is far more than "tied" in the word "thirled," as I am sure Scottish Peers will agree. I think it is clear to the whole House what I mean. If the Government are tied to the hereditary principle, it seems to me that they might have taken this as an opportunity of putting in a different position the small number of Scottish Peers who have to be elected.
When we debated this question in October, the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Chichester made what I considered a rather sweeping reference to the possibility of bringing in others, in addition to the Anglican Bishops and Archbishops who have the right to sit in this House. He seemed to suggest extending that very widely indeed, and naturally, of course, he mentioned first of all the Church of Scotland, because the Church of Scotland comes nearest to the Church of England in comparison for purposes of this kind. I am not able to speak for the Church of Scotland, but I have heard some discussions about the question of the standing of the Church of Scotland vis-à-vis the Church of England in this House. When I have heard discussions of that kind I have said, "Well, 701 I think the Church of Scotland logically has as much right to have representatives here as the Church of England."
I do not want to be boastful, but I am quite certain that, if representatives of the Church of Scotland were brought here, we should see more of them than we see on the Bishops' Benches at present, because they would attend to their duty I assure noble Lords that many of those who would be sent by the Church of Scotland to this House are well equipped, not merely to represent the spiritual side, but also to take part in our major debates. I know from attending the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and through being a member of the Church and Nation Committee, that matters of great political moment are discussed and decisions taken upon them by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, led by those who are in charge of the different committees. Whilst I am not seeking to advocate this at all, I do say that if anything of the kind is within the bounds of possibility, contact should be made with the Church of Scotland to ascertain what they would wish arranged in this regard.
The Bill is a small one. One might almost say that it has been damned with faint praise. Even the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, spoke about its being thoroughly inadequate for its purpose, and the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, made similar references. The noble Marquess made a strong criticism of the fact that, although life peerages are proposed, it was a fatal omission not to have any arrangement made for the attraction of those who might be appointed Life Peers, because there is no provision made for the adequate payment of them to enable them to come and make their contribution here. The Government have set their mind upon this Bill. I have no doubt that it will get its majority, but it seems to me that the biggest thing about this Bill is the fact that it makes a break with tradition. It would appear that that may lead to greater things in the future than we can at present foresee. This is only a small measure, but it may lead to much that is to come in the future.
§ 7.46 p.m.
THE EARL OF MANSFIELD
My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Teviot, I welcome this Bill, but at the same time, again like the noble Lord, I regret that 702 it does not go considerably further. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, spoke of it as being "half a loaf" and "better than none." To me this is not half a loaf—it is merely a single slice. Let me add, however, that I would not welcome the whole loaf of the noble Marquess, for to me the dough in that is sour before it has been baked.
I will detain your Lordships only briefly with one or two comments on where I think the Government have been over-timid in not going rather further. We have heard that the reason is that they wanted to get an agreed Bill, and that if they had gone any further they would not have got agreement from the Benches opposite. Even now they do not seem to have got any agreement from those Benches, and I am convinced that if we are to have a Bill in that form it will be necessary for the Government to take their courage in both hands and pass the measures they consider necessary, and pay no attention whatever to the anguished, and often, I fear, not over-sincere, howls from the Benches opposite.
What I should have liked to see incorporated in this Bill—and I hope it will appear gradually in others—is, first, elementary justice to the Peers of Scotland, which they have not had since 1707. That is to say, a Peer who is not also the holder of an England, Great Britain or United Kingdom peerage and is not a Representative Peer, should be permitted both to vote in Parliamentary elections, and to stand for another place. Secondly, I should like to see what I know the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, would like, and that is the power of someone, on succeeding to a peerage, to opt whether he should take it up or whether he should remain in, or stand for, another place. Of course, that matter is extremely controversial, and I know that a great many of your Lordships would disagree with me. I am not going into the merits or demerits of that at the present time. Thirdly, I again put forward a proposal which I first laid before your Lordships something like twenty years ago, soon after I became a Member of your Lordships' House—that is to say, that legislation should be introduced to make it possible for a Minister of the Crown, by invitation, to sit and answer questions in the House of which he is not a Member. The suggestion was turned down by the Conservative or 703 Coalition Government of the day, but without any real reason as to why it was impracticable. With those comments on what I should have liked to see in the Bill, I will now try to deal with what is in it.
I feel that the attitude of the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, and the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, towards this measure has been ungenerous in the extreme, because although it is not specifically (and the noble Earl, Lord Home, has categorically denied that it is) just a measure to help the Opposition, it is obvious that the Opposition will derive from it a great deal of assistance, assistance which they badly require. Let me say at once that I pay full tribute to the Opposition for the way in which their totally inadequate numbers have striven to cope with all the manifold subjects that come before your Lordships in the course of a Session. But the fact remains that at the present time they have neither the numbers nor the quality to cope with the task that is before them. We need in both Houses a virile and competent Opposition, and this measure should go a considerable way to restoring that position in your Lordships' House. I think, therefore, that the Opposition's attitude might well have been slightly more accommodating.
The noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, made great play with the prestige of your Lordships' House—or, rather, he seemed to imply the lack of it. The fact of the matter is that the Socialist Party has a tremendous inferiority complex so far as this House is concerned. They realise, in their hearts, although nothing would induce them to admit it, that the prestige of your Lordships' House is very high and continues to rise, whereas the prestige of another place is not as high as it was and continues to fall. As I say, that is something which they understand, although they would never admit it. One of the chief reasons for our great prestige is the independence of thought, view and mind which is expressed from Benches on all sides of the House, and often also when it comes to voting. One has to admit that in voting such independence stops abruptly at the "iron curtain" on the other side of the Table, because, however courageous members of the Opposition may be in speech, seldom, 704 if ever, do we get any support in the Lobby from noble Lords opposite, although on occasion some of us on this side of the House have voted with them.
It is a sad fact that in both Houses the independence of Members, particularly of Back-Bench Members, of the Socialist Party has been so sapped as to render them nothing more nor less than "Lobby fodder". That is a great misfortune. But, apart from noble Lords on the Benches to which I have referred, we can do as we like; and even from those Benches we sometimes get a welcome independence of expression, even though it is not carried into the Division Lobbies. This independence of thought and expression is largely due to the preponderant hereditary element in your Lordships' House. We have been brought up to think as individuals, and to speak as individuals; and we continue to do so. And I am certain that to substitute any other form of Second Chamber for one that is predominantly hereditary would be to lower both its effectiveness and its prestige at home and abroad.
There is yet another reason why it is good that we should have the hereditary Peers. Indeed, there are several such reasons, but the one I have in mind is that it means that we get a number of young men. I think it will be agreed that in this House to-day we have a number of men still quite young, many of them under thirty, who are showing great promise. The great defect of almost all Second Chambers throughout the world is the excessive age of the members. Hardly anywhere is a person allowed to stand for them under the age of 35; and in most cases it is 40. The result is that in all too many of these Senates or Second Chambers one gets a mental ossification which leads them to be over-conservative in their outlook. That does not happen here. To say that by a system of nomination, or even by the creation of Life Peers, we should continue to have this is quite ridiculous, because it is obvious that, in most cases, one will not be able logically to put up a case for the election of a man or woman before he or she comes to the age of 35—certainly not under 30—so the result of the total elimination of the hereditary element would be to raise the age level in your Lordships' House. And I think that that would be most unfortunate.
705 There is another and even more important fact, and that is that there is no legislative or deliberative Assembly in the world which possesses the talent and wealth of experience and knowledge that can be found in this House. Many other of those who have this experience and knowledge are not persons who are by nature politicians. Many of them are the so-called "Backwoodsmen," who come only on infrequent occasions to your Lordships' House. A number of speakers to-day have dwelt on the methods which should be adopted to eliminate these "Backwoodsmen." I think that to do so would be most unfortunate. There are, as I have said, many of your Lordships who are experts on the most recondite subjects, and it is because of this that the debates in this House are usually of such an immensely high standard; and it is debate that counts here, not what happens in the Division Lobbies.
I will take just one example—I hope that the noble Lord whose name I shall take will forgive me: I do not know whether he is here; I do not know him by sight; I refer to the noble Lord, Lord Herningford, whose father, Sir Denis Herbert, was our very much beloved Deputy Speaker in another place when I was a Member, Lord Hemingford is an expert on the education of the African, and that, at the present time, is most important, having regard to the developments which are taking place and will take place in Africa. Is it, then, going to be a good thing that he and others like him, who are experts in their own particular line, should be debarred from giving their counsel and advice in your Lordships' House, just in order to get rid of these so-called "Backwoodsmen," who, as many speakers to-night have pointed out, have at no time in any way impeded the passage of Bills introduced by the Socialist Government, no matter how much they, as the rest of us, objected to those most objectionable pieces of legislation?
If one were ever to accept a limitation upon the number of Peers who come to your Lordships' House, I suggest that it should only a limitation of the number; of those voting; that by some method or another—perhaps by election, though I will not delay your Lordships by discussing the merits of the proposal to-night—we should choose, say, a House of 300 706 (or whatever the number might be) Members with voting powers, but that all hereditary Peers should continue to be able to come here and give their counsel and advice to your Lordships. I am certain that, if that is not done, both your Lordships' House and the nation and Empire as a whole will be very much the worse.
There is much more I should like to say, but time is passing quickly. Consequently, I now move to the second and rather less important point, which is the admission of women. Here I am afraid I cannot agree with the words which were uttered by the noble Earl, Lord Airlie, because, although I do not particularly welcome them, I see no logical reason why women can or should be excluded at the present time. There was an interesting exchange of views between the noble Earl, Lord Home, and the noble Earl, Lord Airlie, apparently on the subject of the female form divine. So far as I could see, it seemed likely that they would form a committee of two to vet prospective applicants for your Lordships' House by taking what is now called their "vital measurements". All I can say is that I hope that I am not co-opted on any such committee, because I do not want to take part in anything which might lead to unfortunate consequences.
I do not oppose the admission of women, although I do not particularly want to encourage it. I do not think that they are going to do very much good but, equally, I do not think they will do much harm. It is a peculiar fact that although women are the mainstay of practically every constituency association in either Party, though they do all the Party work, few of them wish to stand for election. Few constituency associations, even when mostly composed of women, will accept a woman candidate; and, quite frankly, very few women Members of Parliament do much once they have been elected to another place. Would they do more here? I doubt it. When they come here they are not likely to be the nuisance that some of your Lordships seem to expect, because membership of your Lordships' House has a most salutary effect upon even the most ebullient former Member of another place. Even if it should happen that in future we should have among us the newly created "Lord Ebbw Vale", he would be in a very short time cooing 707 like a dove—though possibly a dove with a sore throat.
There is one point upon which a number of your Lordships have spoken today and which I support most strongly: it is absolutely necessary, if women are to be allowed to sit in your Lordships' House, that their numbers should include the hereditary Peeresses in their own right. It is an absolute insult to your Lordships to suggest that ladies who, but for the accident of sex, would sit among us should be excluded, while unknown female "whatnots", with Heaven knows what qualifications, are to be put among us. I therefore hope that it will prove practicable, despite the narrowness of the intitlement of this Bill, to move, and, I trust, carry, an Amendment to that effect on the Committee stage.
As I have said, the whole genius of this country is to proceed by degrees. The Government have taken a small and rather hesitant step forward. I hope they will take another step or two and gradually put the position of this House on a slightly more satisfactory basis; not because I think there is anything wrong with the way it works now, but because its present constitution renders it vulnerable to unscrupulous attacks from the Socialist Benches and from the country outside. If the reforms I advocated at the beginning of my speech could be carried into effect, it would go a long way to cut the ground from under the feet of our detractors, and y our Lordships' House would then continue with very little change to do the excellent work it has done throughout the centuries.
§ 8.4 p.m.
My Lords, a great deal has been said in the course of the speeches this afternoon of the high quality normally expected from noble Lords, and with that I most heartily concur. I regret that at such a late hour I feel this high standard is about to suffer a severe setback. However that may be, I consider that this reform of the House of Lords, as it has been called, has been a matter of discussion for many years and this is the first time something really concrete has been put forward. Let me say at the outset that, in my humble opinion, any alterations that are to take place in your Lordships' House should 708 be accepted with considerable caution, not because one is not anxious to reform, but because one is anxious that the existing influence and stability which your Lordships' House at present enjoys should not be impaired. Therefore I feel that "reform" is a bad word, because "reform," if that word means anything, means radical alteration; and that, to my mind, would be wrong. I should like to feel that it is more in the nature of altering the present composition of your Lordships' House, and such alterations should therefore, in my humble opinion, be done slowly and. if necessary, in several steps, so that each step in turn can be incorporated into the existing entity without destroying the balance of the House.
This Bill, my Lords, is a definite move. It is a definite attempt at altering the present set-up of your Lordships' House, and I should welcome it but for one provision, and that is in Clause 3. The noble Earl, Lord Airlie, said that the Government had used the word "women"; he preferred to use the word "ladies." I prefer to be non-controversial and refer to them as "females." I hope very strongly that this provision will not become law, because, in my humble opinion, I think it would be an unmitigated disaster to have women in this House. It is fashionable to deride and laugh at people who consider that the introduction of women into the House of Lords would be a mistake. Indeed, there was a good example of that last Sunday in the Sunday Dispatch newspaper. There was an article headed, "What is wrong with women milords?", and it portrayed a picture of the noble Earl, Lord Airlie, thundering down from his fastness at Caith, as it put it. I came here to-day not to thunder but to clap, and I must confess that the storm which we had expected has blown aside; we did not hear much of the storm he was about to produce.
However that may be, may I continue to quote this article? I feel it is important simply because I do not wish any observations that I have to make against the introduction of women to be taken in the same vein as articles such as this attempt to portray. It said:It is not only the House of Lords that needs reform. It is their Lordships' state of mind. There they sit over their pheasant and port, busily cutting their own throats.709 And it continued about the introduction of women by saying:But some elderly Peers are rebelling. The voices from the backwoods are raised in crusty anger.I do not believe the criterion of rebellion should be age or a desire for port. I feel that there are many people, not only old people, not only noble Lords, but many people throughout the country, who distinctly feel that the introduction of women would be a mistake.
Of course, if ever it looks as if the House of Lords will not give its consent to a rather extreme piece of legislation, it is the fashionable thing to say that the House is putting a rope round its own neck, and that if it does not agree to such a measure it will rot on its own feet. But the great merit of your Lordships' House is that it has always done what it considers right, despite all the threats that are from time to time put forward, and I therefore hope that your Lordships will do what your Lordships consider is right over this particular clause of the Bill. I fail, I must say, to see any sound reason why women should be made Members of your Lordships' House. I believe the noble Earl who leads the House said that he failed to see any argument put forward why women should not be introduced. It is a moot point. I confess I prefer to take it the other way.
THE EARL OF HOME
My Lords, I do not think my noble friend has it quite right. I said that if they were in another place I could see no reason, argument or logic, why they should not be here.
I beg the noble Earl's pardon: I misunderstood him. It was fortunate that he mentioned that point, as I can enlighten him on my views. That is precisely one of the arguments put forward: that because there are women Members in another place, women should therefore be Members here. I do not believe it is universally accepted that the introduction of women into another place has been a roaring success, and I suggest that we should profit by our failures. Members of another place are, of course, delighted at the thought, because they can elevate their more rumbustious female elements to this House. I hate the idea of your Lordship? House becoming a repository for over-exuberant female politicians, 710 and unfortunately we are unable to elevate them further, for that prerogative rests with the Almighty.
Frankly, I find women in politics highly distasteful. In general, they are organising, they are pushing and they are commanding. Some of them do not even know where loyalty to their country lies. I disagree with those who say that women in your Lordships' House would cheer up our Benches. If one looks at a cross-section of women already in Parliament I do not feel that one could say that they are an exciting example of the attractiveness of the opposite sex. I believe that there are certain duties and certain responsibilities which nature and custom have decreed men are more fitted to take on; and some responsibilities which nature and custom have decreed women should take on. It is generally accepted that the man should bear the major responsibility in life. It is generally accepted, for better or worse, that a man's judgment is generally more logical and less tempestuous than that of a woman. Why then should we encourage women to eat their way, like acid into metal, into positions of trust and responsibility which previously men have held?
If we allow women into this House where will this emancipation end? Shall we in a few years' time be referring to "the noble and learned Lady, the Lady Chancellor"? I find that a horrifying thought. But why should we not? Shall we follow the rather vulgar example set by Americans of having female ambassadors? Will our judges, for whom we have so rich and well-deserved respect, be drawn from the serried ranks of the ladies? If that is so, I would offer to the most reverend Primate the humble and respectful advice that he had better take care lest he may find himself out of a job. These examples may sound a little excessive, but I fail to see any reason whatever why, if one allows women to become Peers, this form of emancipation should not extend into those other positions of trust and responsibility which in the past have been carried out, and to such good effect, by men.
There is one other reason: in this age of science and statistics, where everything has to be accounted for and tabulated, where even the atom and the molecule are no longer a mass of red 711 and green balls attached by pieces of wire which no well-intentioned student could ever understand, there are nevertheless three virtues which evade such tabulation: common sense, intuition and judgment; and I do not believe that the common sense, intuition and judgment of the public will allow women to be taken into those positions of trust of which I have spoken. I hope, therefore, that your Lordships' judgment and logic will be such that women will not find their way here. If it should come to pass that there was a vote upon this matter, I trust that the outcome would portray the feeling that I feel sure nine out of ten noble Lords have in their heart—namely, that we like women: we admire them; sometimes we even grow fond of them; but we do not like them here.
§ 8.16 p.m.
§ LORD AILWYN
My Lords, I have to confess to being a bit of a "die-hard" in this matter, and if it were not for the very clear and imperative necessity of reinforcing that gallant band of noble Lords opposite, and the difficulty of so doing without some such measure as this one now before your Lordships' House, I should have been strongly inclined to range myself alongside my noble friend Lord Glasgow. I do not agree that your Lordships' House is dying on its feet. I do not agree that this House is perishing from inanition. In spite of all the anomalies and the lack of justification, in theory, for its composition, nevertheless, in practice, in my opinion, it does its work extremely well—I almost said superlatively well. But the price to be paid by the heroic few opposite in order to achieve efficient functioning in the day-to-day work of the House is obviously too great. None of your Lordships who has attended regularly these last few years can have failed to be impressed by the indefatigable way in which the noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite have carried out what must often be a very invidious and thankless task; and if it is not impertinent for me to say so, they have earned our great respect and admiration for the smiling and good-tempered way in which they have invariably emulated Casabianca of old. But the burden is too heavy for them to carry indefinitely, and so, most reluctantly, I come down on the side of 712 Her Majesty's Government in support of this comparatively innocuous measure.
As has been said by others, there is nothing new in the creation of Life Peers, and in the circumstances I see no great objection to reinstituting this practice; and if we are to have Life Peers then, in spite of the somewhat ungallant remarks we have been hearing about the female sex, I do not see how we can well exclude women. I am not impressed by the arguments against admitting them; I find them unconvincing. Moreover, I should like to see Peeresses in their own right admitted under this measure, although I see the difficulty of such a step. It would mean further extending the hereditary principle and, therefore, at the present time would be a little unwise, and so perhaps they should take their chance with the remainder of their sex.
For the rest, I would remind those noble Lords who are rather hankering after the rationalisation of hereditary Peers sitting and voting in your Lordships' House that the work of this House is not confined to what goes on in this Chamber. A considerable amount of useful and very necessary work goes on upstairs, and I would hazard the opinion that the work of those whose duty it is to arrange Committees for that work is not going to be facilitated by reducing the pool from which those Peers are to be found. I imagine that even under present conditions it is not always easy to collect five noble Lords who are willing to sit for two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon, for four or five consecutive days, and sometimes longer. And may I say that, in my opinion, such work upstairs is valuable experience for the young hereditary Peers who join your Lordships' House; it forms a useful ground on which they can begin to win their political spurs.
I am thankful at least that Her Majesty's Government have not fallen to the wiles of the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate—I am sorry he is not present—in the matter of eldest sons of Peers, sitting in another place, being able to abrogate or repudiate their obligation to vacate their seat and take up their constitutional responsibilities of succession. I am sure that if the noble Viscount were present he would not take amiss anything I am about to say (and I have 713 much respect and admiration for him, after enjoying over the years the great entertainment, and benefiting by the very real instruction handed out by him so frequently and so joyously), but I am bound to say that it was a great shock to hear him expound his views on this particular subject.
I particularly resented his reference to what he was pleased to call "the incubus" of succession which the heir to a Peerage who was sitting in another place was desperately anxious to renounce. "Incubus", my Lords! That might well be taken as rather an insult to the whole body of your Lordships who are privileged to sit in your Lordships' House, though one knows full well it was not meant to be anything of the sort. At least it could be taken (to borrow the Lord Chancellor's words) as derogatory to the dignity of the peerage. Even allowing for the unusual circumstances of the case in which the noble Viscount is so naturally interested, what he is in fact saying is that the private ambitions of a Member of another place shall take precedence over the age-long constitutional procedure which obtains in these cases. I for one, could never accept such a proposition. Even if it meant the cutting short of a promising Parliamentary career in another place, I would still say that the Constitution is more important, vastly more important, than the private individual; and to legislate for a particular case of this sort is, to my mind, quite unthinkable.
But I do not admit that translation from the other place to your Lordships' House need carry in its train the ruination of a Parliamentary career. Whatever the practical difficulties to-day of having—shall we say?—a Prime Minister in your Lordships' House, constitutionally the only position to which a Peer cannot aspire is that of Chancellor of the Exchequer—and anybody who to-day hankers after being Chancellor of the Exchequer should have his mental processes examined! We had a Foreign Secretary in your Lordships' House before the last war, and well into the war. There is virtually no post, other than Chancellor of the Exchequer, which your Lordships cannot fill and have not filled in the past.
Take the case of the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Hailsham, who I am sorry 714 is not in his place. He it was who started this hare about opting for the House of Commons in his somewhat disgruntled correspondence with the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, who was at the time Prime Minister. He hated the idea of giving up his seat in another place when he succeeded his distinguished father. But what happened in the event? Did his translation to the more rarefied atmosphere of your Lordships' House lead to the ruin of his Parliamentary career, to the strangulation of his many activities? Did this "incubus" that he was unable to avoid serve to hide his great qualities or to paralyse his powers of oratory? He does not appear to be a broken figure, shrouded in gloom, crushed and beaten by the weight of a great grief. Rather do we see a gay and ebullient figure, filling one of the principal offices of State, entering the lists at all points of the compass—one of the leading public figures in this country to-day. A brilliant controversialist, I confidently expect that when his earthly activities come to an end, and he is finally translated to a yet higher sphere, I shall hear him—for I shall be an old inhabitant by then—heatedly debating with those who keep the portals which is the right direction for the goats and which for the sheep, and hotly contesting which is to be his own road. And so, my Lords, I do not think that the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, need be quite so gloomy over his particular case or think that the heavens will fall if what he so greatly fears does in fact come to pass. I only hope that this measure will produce the result that is hoped for, and in that hope I support Her Majesty's Government.
§ 8.27 p.m.
My Lords. I feel that we should support and be pleased with this Bill, even though a small one, because it does mean that we in your Lordships' House are again in very serious discussion on this vital constitutional matter. It is better than no Bill at all. I realise that it has been difficult to secure agreement between the Parties, but this is a start.
I think, my Lords, that we should be looking for an increase in the reputation of this House, but on a rational basis—in fact, an increase in reputation can be acceptable to this nation only on a more 715 rational basis—and I suggest that there is no reason at all why we cannot run the principle of heredity and the idea of Life Peers alongside each other. One of the things we want to avoid, which has not been altogether avoided on the Second Reading, is this idea of a rivalry between the two Houses of the British Parliament. Therefore, in saying we want to increase our own reputation, we do not want to say it in a way which implies that we want to be better than the other place. I think we should accept the other place as sovereign, and I am not sure it would not be a good thing to cancel out even what power to delay legislation we still have. We could then become a House which would be constituted of a number of very fine people both on the life basis and on the heredity basis, and neither category—especially if there were roughly the same number on both sides of the House—need be thought to be an enemy of popular sovereignty. We can be a great House of debate.
I thought that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, rather overdid the question of women in this House. It seems to be a perfectly obvious matter, and I think it is rather a red herring to make too much out of it and to allow ourselves to be deflected from the basic issues relating to the two Chambers. I am not sure that people are so much against the hereditary principle if it operates on a basis of attention to duty, and I am wondering whether any Party could easily go to the country and win support by saying that they wished for the abolition of the hereditary principle. I know I am possibly speaking for a minority of my own Party. I think the hereditary principle is all right if it works in a selected and dutiful way; it is an hereditary principle that is neglected which discredits us and which we must be against.
I imagine that in the launching of the satellites a great many principles must have been involved—not merely one principle such as that of gravity—and I cannot see why we might not launch this revitalised House of Lords on more than one principle. There is one passage in John Stuart Mill's Representative Government that is very much to the point in this connection. The noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, has recently quoted Walter Bagehot to a certain extent. I am not 716 going to quote to that extent, but I think that what John Stuart Mill wrote in 1861 was very wise, and perhaps this is the sort of point which is worth considering. When we are discussing a matter such as this, I think that a question like that of the position of women in this House is really a deflection from the real issue. John Stuart Mill wrote in 1861:The deficiencies of a democratic Assembly which represents the general public are the deficiencies of the public itself—want of special training and knowledge. The appropriate corrective is to associate with it a body of which special training and knowledge should be the characteristics. One house represents popular feeling, the other must be tested…Then the author, in effect, says that the other House is a place where you have people of tremendous experience who have not necessarily been voted for at a General Election. I therefore welcome very much the words in the gracious Speech about progressive development of the institutions of government in this country. I think that if we devote ourselves to developing a Second Chamber on these two principles we shall be approaching a stage when this House will have no reason to feel that we are in any sense inferior to the other Chamber. We sometimes forget—I personally certainly forget at times—that we are in fact talking about the Upper constituted Chamber of Her Majesty's Government. One sometimes feels that one might be discussing plans for some new debating society in the Provinces. The fact that it exists is in itself a most marvellous thing. I must say, speaking as a very junior Member, that I want this House to be very important. I think you will not get the right, important people turning up to a House which is not important. Therefore, without any spirit of rejecting or being unhappy about democracy, we should develop still further in your Lordships' House an Assembly which is not subject to the same influences, however fine they may be, which operate in the other Chamber.
§ 8.33 p.m.
§ LORD DENHAM
My Lords, not one of your Lordships who has spoken to-day did not accept, or does not accept, the need for Life Peers in your Lordships' House. Few of your Lordships do not realise that need, but some, I think, realise it with regret—regret because it may mean that the hereditary element in your Lordships' House, in which so many 717 of us believe, will not move with the times. We have heard a lot about moving with the times to-day. But the hereditary principle in your Lordships' House has been moving with the times for hundreds of years. And now the hereditary principle is liable to stop moving with the times in this year 1957 There is great danger, if you offer a man a choice—as I understand a choice will be offered—between accepting a Life Peerage and an hereditary Peerage, that he will almost certainly seriously consider, for the sake of his son and his son's son, taking a life peerage rather than an hereditary one—I do not in any way mean that as a discredit to your Lordships' House in the way of which Lord Ailwyn disapproved, but because of the great disadvantages (and there will be more of them than there are) of holding a title, outside this House. The hereditary element in your Lordships' House, therefore, if this Bill goes through, as it will, will be composed of creations of and before 1957. There will not be, for example, sons of eminent trade unionists sitting as of right on the Benches opposite. I think it is a great pity that, because of this, the hereditary element will not move with the times.
Like one or two others of your Lordships who have spoken to-day, I do not like the clause in the Bill which admits women as Peers to this House. I think that the consideration that the atmosphere of this House will probably be altered, possibly for the worse, outweighs the advantage that any individual Life Peeress might bring. The important point with regard to the reform of the House is not who should have the privilege of doing the work; what matters is that the work should be done, and done well. And Members of all Parties agree that the work is being done well at the present time, however illogically the House may be constituted. Though I cannot agree with everything that my noble friend. Lord Ferrers, has said, I agree with him that in a change such as this the onus is not on those who object to put forward adequate reasons why women should not be admitted to this House, but on Her Majesty's Government to produce adequate, positive reasons why women should be admitted into this House.
These two points are concerned with the House as a revising Chamber only. I should like to say a word about the House 718 as an ultimate safeguard. The Opposition look upon a Second Chamber with delaying powers as an ever-present, potential menace directed solely at them when they next come to power. They are worried lest the delaying power should be used indiscriminately and irresponsibly, particularly by a House based on the hereditary principle, to hinder them in carrying out a programme for which they have a mandate. I am quite sure that that will not happen.
There is one other point. The Labour Party may not be the ultimate threat for which this ultimate safeguard of your Lordships' House may be needed. We should, of course, hope and pray that it may be the ultimate threat. But it is not inconceivable that a Communist or even a Fascist Party might one day gain a majority in another place. The Communists seem at the moment to be concentrating their activities and energies on the trade unions. For some time they have been in control in the Electrical Trades Union. Now, if what the newspapers suggest is right, they have taken steps to alter the rules of this union so as to perpetuate their control. If they got a majority in another place, is it not possible and even probable that they would try to do the same there, and alter the rules so as to perpetuate their majority? It has happened in the countries of Eastern Europe. It could happen here. But the Second Chamber by using its delaying power, could give the country a year's grace in which to try to extricate themselves. A Second Chamber composed, as has been suggested, of the same political proportions as another place would be likely only to echo their views. There is no method of choosing a Second Chamber which will be as non-Party as your Lordships' House, without incorporating the hereditary principle in it. It would be the most effective if the hereditary element contained Members of both Parties. Your Lordships' House is not a threat to one political Party, and it is certainly not a threat to the wishes of the electorate. To represent it as such is to do a great disservice to the country.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ LORD DARWEN
My Lords, it behoves me to be brief. I support the Government's Bill. I do not pretend that it offers a complete answer to all the ills 719 that this House is heir to; but then no one has put forward an ideal solution, or even one which has received general acclamation. On the other hand, in my submission, the introduction of Life Peers is rather more than "tinkering" with the problem. It is a positive step. It is a departure from a principle which, at any rate among a large number of people, has fallen into disrepute. No doubt I shall be charged by my colleagues in another place (if they will so allow me to call them) with having allowed myself to become infected with conservatism—I am not quite sure whether "conservatism here would be spelt with a small "c" or a large "C". Whichever it may be I would utterly deny the charge. The explanation that I would offer for any change in altitude is that I have been compelled to recognise a certain merit in the conduct of an institution where, being inculcated with strong prejudice, I did not expect to find it.
During the time of the last Labour Government this Chamber played an important rôle, and the then Leaders of the Labour Party were able to carry through far more of their legislative programme than would have been possible if the Party had boycotted the Chamber. In order to do that, they had to create a large number of hereditary Peers—and I am myself, in a sense, one of their children. If the present Bill is regarded as a piece of political expediency—and it has been so regarded—then that charge can equally be levelled at the Party's fence-sitting operation on this Bill.
I am not going to defend the hereditary principle. It cannot be defended in the context of a liberal democracy. Nor do I think it can be justified with the convenient assertion that it works. In my submission, your Lordships' House works in spite of, and not because of, the hereditary principle. At the moment the effective functioning of your Lordships' House depends on half a dozen—or, not to be invidious, let me say, a dozen—Peers with the necessary energy, time, experience and devotion to duty to provide at least the semblance of an Opposition. From what has been said this afternoon and this evening, I am sure that your Lordships recognise that these few Peers carry out with considerable distinction an unreasonably onerous task. Speaking 720 for myself, I say that they have my unbounded admiration.
Perhaps the worst feature of the hereditary system in practice is the intolerable but ever-present threat that hundreds of Conservative Peers may suddenly descend like avenging hordes upon us, and by their votes wreck those very measures which, after patient study and consideration, your Lordships' House and another place have worked out. The inference is that the votes cast will reflect at best narrow sectional interests and at worst purely selfish motives. The mere fact that such a threat continues to exist, however unlikely its realisation, is an absurd anachronism in this day and age. More than any other aspect of this Assembly, it is something which tends to bring your Lordships' House into disrepute.
It is rightfully and properly our business to take whatever action may be open to us to enhance the respect that is accorded to your Lordships' House. Happily, one cannot attribute greed as the motive, though the other night I heard on television a certain lady journalist (whose name I conveniently forget) compute the amount of money that a Peer could draw for attending your Lordships' House in order to have an afternoon nap. She reckoned that he would receive twenty-one guineas a week for that privilege. However, an informed person cannot attribute greed as the motive for such a desire. Nor, I think, is power the motive, since I do not think that, even covertly, the majority of Members of the House would seek additional powers for your Lordships' House. Certainly, if that were the case, the electorate would not stand for it. I think that there is an absolute safeguard there.
I believe that it is desirable to make some attempt to disarm our critics, because I think that there should be a Second Chamber to protect us, as the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, said this afternoon, from possible abuses which could arise from single-Chamber government in a country like ours, where we have no written Constitution. And that Second Chamber should be reputable and efficient. There is no conceivable reason why anyone, except possibly an abolitionist, should seek to make it in any sense ridiculous. I confess that when I first came to your Lordships' House, I 721 looked upon it with the eyes of a sceptic, but your Lordships must remember that I was brought up in a good Socialist family, in which that kind of attitude was taught. As a result of attending your Lordships' House I have come to appreciate not only the quality of debate but also—and I think this is really more important—the value of the work your Lordships' House does in the interests of the nation. Consequently, I can say that I am as anxious as anyone to see that this House preserves all those aspects of its work in which it does contribute to the public good.
For myself, the hereditary principle is not: a "red rag"; and I am not entirely convinced that any other method of selection or election that has been put up is necessarily any better. It seems to me that they are all open to abuse. I hasten to add that this is not a defence of the hereditary principle—I think it is indefensible—but I have not, so far, heard a better principle enunciated. As to the House as a revisionary Chamber, I think it is quite ridiculous to suggest—and I have heard it suggested quite seriously—that Government draftsmen could equally well fulfil this function. By the same analogy, we ought to have only judges occupying the jury boxes of our courts.
As a national forum the House performs a valuable function, one for which the much over-worked other place has time only if the matter is of grave and urgent moment.
I have almost finished, my Lords. The measure the Government have introduced certainly helps the situation, and it will I hope result in a strengthening of these Benches. But I suggest that it is not in the interests of the House for the Crown to confine the creation of Life Peers to distinguished persons, as the noble Earl, Lord Woolton, and other noble Lords have suggested. We already have these in abundance, although they do not often attend our discussions. It seems to me that what the House lacks, both on this side and on the other side, is hard-working and comparatively young men, drawn from all walks of life; men who are able effectively to contribute to the debates and to perform some of the chores which go on behind the scenes, and which are, in fact, an integral part of the functions of an Assembly such as this.
§ 8.54 p.m.
LORD ST. OSWALD
My Lords, in common with other noble Lords, I had hoped that in response to the views expressed by your Lordships six weeks ago, this Bill would have been more far-reaching in its aims. I must confess that I am more sanguine than my noble friend and Leader as to the likelihood of broken bones—that may be because I have suffered so many broken bones myself. But I believe in reducing the body of your Lordships' House, before expanding it through the creation of Life Peers. The Government have recognised the need for a reduction, and they have placed the fulfilment of that need in your Lordships' hands by advising a kind of self-denying ordinance to be entered in Standing Orders. I hope I shall not be thought irreverent if I refer to it as the Leave of Absence ploy. It seems to me that the Government, in tendering that solution, could have sonic hope of convincing your Lordships, but almost no hope of convincing the country. By those unfamiliar with your Lordships' House and the way it works, it will be looked upon as being about as effective as a park order to "Keep off the Grass" in a Russian revolution.
I am convinced that the decision to draw a boundary between Parliamentary Peers and other Peers will be established, and will be established in law, and not in etiquette, before very long. I earnestly wish that this decision lay before us today, and that it could be of our making on this occasion. Methods have been put forward, and I should like to repeat what I said on the occasion of our former debate: that I should not find that sort of painless purge in the least invidious, whatever my personal fate might be, as a result. What I do find invidious, speaking as one who has not earned his seat in your Lordships' House, is to be told, on the one hand, that unelected we have no business taking a hand in legislation, and, on the other, to be refused the right to stand for election. I can see that one of the principal aims of this Bill, as a project of reform, is to satisfy, if not to silence, that first complaint. I do not believe that it will do so, as long as birth confers an automatic right to sit in your Lordships' House. I do not believe that this House will enjoy the full respect and popularity in the country which it deserves as long as that means of entering 723 the House remains unaffected. Because of that, I think that the usefulness of the House will remain impaired.
I know and respect the Government's sincerity in trying to set right this matter by creation of Life Peers, in that way offsetting, to some extent, not only the occupants of inherited seats, such as myself, but also the imbalance between the Parties. I still do not believe that they have gone far enough, and I will say in which sphere their main misjudgment appears to me to lie. My noble friend and Leader felt that we should not embark upon a scheme of comprehensive reform until there was a wide degree of agreement between the Parties. My noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham underlined this official prudence by saying that further measures would cause the whole proposals to founder. Bowing my head, my Lords, I feel bound to say that I think they greatly underestimate the great measure of agreement that does exist in Parliament and in the country already. They have been offered an ell, and they have taken an inch. It must be a rare example of such abnegation on the part of the Government.
These fears of disagreement seem to relate to two particular aspects—the whole hereditary principle as viewed and deplored by the Labour Party, and the limitation of that principle as viewed and deplored by the Conservative Party. It is my thoughtful and, to some extent, tested belief, that there is more Labour support for the first and more Tory support for the second than the architects of this Bill have realised.
In this connection, I feel myself on firmer ground when speaking of the feeling in the country—that is to say, outside Parliament. I expressed the feeling in the earlier debate that the basic and ultimate usefulness of your Lordships' House, and even its survival, must rest on the country's confidence in its judgment and in its composition, and I do not think noble Lords look upon that as a quixotic or idealistic attitude. My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor did me the honour of mentioning my name among others in connection with this anxiety. He sought to persuade us that in fact the anxieties had been fully realised and fully satisfied by the Government in drafting this Bill. Better men than I have been persuaded 724 by my noble and learned friend. It is practically a proof of good sense to be persuaded by him, and probably it is a proof of the opposite to fail to be persuaded by him. But on that particular instance, this normally comforting rule-of-thumb was of no comfort to me. My convictions remained stubbornly rooted.
I am not suggesting that my personal views and convictions would be worth presenting for their own sake, but I have, I submit, a fairly significant sounding-board. I live in a Yorkshire constituency represented in another place by my friend—that is to say, my friend in everything but the most narrow Parliamentary sense—Mr. Horace Holmes. He enjoys the largest Labour majority in the entire country, standing at present at 38,000. Your Lordships will appreciate that had I not Socialist friends in that neighbourhood I should have very few friends indeed. And, my Lords, I do not lead in any way a lonely life. Similarly, those who are ready to declare themselves Tories in such an area are real Tories, and I submit that their views are worth considering. I sincerely ask your Lordships to believe that there are strong feelings among them that once the subject of Lords reform is under discussion it should be whole-hearted reform, and among the supporters of the Party of noble Lords opposite there is a wide and reasoning belief that a restricted application of the hereditary principle is still a good thing for the country
I will quote the words used by one of my friends a few nights ago. They were spoken in a miners' welfare centre, and he said, "We like the idea of a cool, unbiased and interested House of Lords." His emphasis was on the word "interested"—the emphasis is not mine. When I asked him to interpret more exactly, he said, "Sufficiently interested to attend with some regularity." I found that view widely represented, in different words, in my private Gallup poll, in an area which traditionally and firmly votes Members of the persuasion of the noble Lords opposite into Parliament. Another contact, on another occasion, said, "We do not want Reform to produce simply a second House of Commons."
We have heard various references to the fear and unpopularity of any extension of the hereditary principle in Government. There is a far more acute fear 725 to-day of any extension of Party Government. There is a strong and widespread reaction against what is seen in the country as Party autocracy in Parliament. There is a general sickness that, at this critical period in the world's history, almost every national and international issue becomes a Party issue. I say this perhaps rather disloyally, as the great-grandson of a Chief Whip, but I am convinced that if noble Lords on either side of the House ignore this anxiety, they will be ignoring a deep-seated anxiety of their countrymen.
I was even given an objection to Life Peers—an objection which I must say would never have occurred to me, and probably not even to noble Lords with far greater experience. The objection was that it would allow a Government more easily to introduce into the Legislature men and women who had been rejected by the electorate. I am not going to suggest that this line of thought is widely held; still less am I going to identify myself with it. But it does indicate something of the public attitude to this particular question. This uneasiness towards Party dictatorship is relieved by the existence of your Lordships' House. I was surprised to discover how many people were aware of its service in this respect. In this, I find myself in disagreement with my noble friend Lord Melchett, and in practically headlong collision with the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition. I would make hold enough to say that if you are going to attack and discard the hereditary principle altogether, you must find an alternative; and if the country is disagreed on what is wrong with your Lordships' House as it stands, it will be twenty times more disagreed on what is required to take its place.
It is not my impression that the country at large distrusts or in any way disdains the work done in this House as it stands. People see its shortcomings, and some even appreciate the difficulties under which it works. If these problems 726 are to be taken in hand, they would like to see them emphatically taken in hand. I believe sincerely that only a fraction of our countrymen would call for the extreme measure of extinction, or would repudiate altogether the inherited claim to a seat in your Lordships' House. But in this matter, at this hour, we shall be judged on our sincerity and on our own determination to reform ourselves and not to leave others to complete that reform, as they will do once this whole movement has begun. That judgment could make a great difference to the whole future history of our country.
I should like to summarise. The Government have been more courageous than others in launching this very important enterprise. Personally, I am sorry that they should have set themselves what seems to me a very restricted field of exploration. I understood my noble friend the Lord Chancellor to imply, in summing up on the last occasion, that they were so unhopeful of finding the maximum of agreement that they had settled for the minimum of disagreement. That strikes, me, quite honestly, as over-cautious in the circumstances. They have established a base camp and dug in for the winter while the sun is still shining. There are wider prospects in which I feel that great honour and kudos are there for the winning by your Lordships. It seems that they must be left to another day, and perhaps to the initiative of another place.
§ EARL FORTESCUE
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Hailsham, I beg to move that the debate be now adjourned until Thursday.
§ Moved, That the debate be now adjourned until Thursday.—(Earl Fortescue.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.
§ House adjourned at eleven minutes past nine o'clock.