§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.
THE EARL OF HOME
My Lords, our debates in this House have been so extensive and so recent on this Bill that I need not. I think, rehearse the arguments which I used to justify it to your Lordships on the Second Reading and which have been repeated often by my noble friends on the Government Benches. I should like to say that I am grateful for the manner in which the House has received and dealt with this Bill. There has been plenty of robust argument but, unlike previous occasions on which this controversial subject has been discussed, there has been no bitterness in any quarter of the House and we have had most objective debates. I hope that that is due to a recognition that this is a genuine and an honest attempt to proceed towards what we all, I think, have as our goal, and that is comprehensive reform of your Lordships' House, and to proceed towards that goal step by step. Because, since we could not find a basis of agreement on a wider scheme, I felt bound to advise your Lordships that the wisest course was to proceed on those two points on which there was considerable agreement: first, the introduction of Life Peers, and, secondly, the introduction of women.
There is the strongest case for enlisting into our ranks persons from all Parties, or from no Party, who would add to the working efficiency of this House. And while there has been vigorous opposition in some quarters to the introduction of women, nevertheless, that question was put straight to your Lordships' House, the vote was decisive, and it has been accepted by this House that in these days, in this twentieth century, women have a part to play in both Houses of Parliament.
There is perhaps nothing very original in this Bill. In a sense it is two long-delayed corrections of decisions of your Lordships' House: one on life peerages one hundred years ago, and the other against women thirty years ago. This is the first time in fifty years that your Lordships have been able to make any progress at all on this vexed question of reform. This Bill is by no means the 306 end of the story, but I hope that it is a significant stage in our evolution; and it is as such that I ask your Lordships to give the Bill a Third Reading and to send it to another place for consideration. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a third time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(The Earl of Home.)
§ 3.34 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Earl for the introductory statement which he has made. I have said all the way through that this Bill was an important Bill because it is for amendment of the Constitution of your Lordships' House; and I felt bound to say that I regretted that this particular Bill should have been introduced in the circumstances it was, in which there was no detailed mandate from the country about the reform of the House of Lords, but only a very general statement in an Election address.
I am prompted to go back to that because the noble Earl has said that this is the first piece of progress in reform of the House of Lords for fifty years and he hopes it will lead on to something much more in the direction of reform than this particular measure affords. It is necessary, therefore, to repeat my case on such a vital matter as amendment of the Constitution and to say that the details of the proposed reforms should be submitted in any general appeal to the electorate for their mandate. It is not good enough simply to say in an election address on behalf of the various candidates, "We propose to deal with the reform of the House of Lords." I hope that that will be carefully borne in mind, especially if the noble Earl wants any future questions of reform to be discussed in the spirit to which he has been so kind as to refer when he said that we had conducted our debates without bitterness. On that particular point, let me add that perhaps what has led to the lack of violent controversy on this Bill has been that there is no proposal in this Bill to amend the powers of the Chamber. If the realm of powers were entered, I am afraid controversy would be absolutely inevitable; and that controversy would be quite hotly pursued.
307 I do not propose to say more, because I have addressed your Lordships at some length on other occasions on this Bill, except that we on this side of the House should have been very glad if we had had a more confident reply to the questions which I have put from time to time on what is to be the practice for the administration of the Bill if it is finally placed upon the Statute Book. How are you going to appoint Life Peers, and what will be the kind of number of Life Peers whom you are proposing to appoint? We have no objection in principle to the appointment of Life Peers; but the Government have been good enough to say on two or three occasions—not always with quite the same emphasis, but still, they have repeated the case—that it is part of their objective to strengthen the Opposition in the position in which we find ourselves to-day. That is something which we should like to see fulfilled. But how is this to be effected to increase the measure of power of the Opposition in the House?
We know that the Bill is formally only one to extend the area of Her Majesty The Queen's prerogative; that the appointment of Peers would be made, we are told, on the discretion of the Prime Minister, and that, no doubt, from time to time—"as required," "if necessary," and words of that kind—there would be consultations with the Leader of the Opposition. Now that, to me at any rate, is fundamental. What we have been told so far seems to me quite useless, from the point of view of seeking to strengthen the Opposition here in carrying out its enormous task with the numbers we at present have in this House, and in making sure that we obtain the people whom we in the Labour Party should wish to have—cannot speak for the noble Lord who leads the Liberal Opposition. The members of my Party would wish to be certain, if we are willing, when the time comes, to help in the administration of the Bill, that the people who are nominated to the Crown are the people who are wanted.
There are other areas from which Life Peers can be appointed—people of eminence and distinction, perhaps of no political Party, and people from either of the other Parties with similar qualifications. But when we come to look at 308 certain members of my own Party it would be exceedingly doubtful whether, in view of the provision for expenses now made, you would be able to get substantial reinforcements of the Opposition on the basis of appointment as Life Peers unless some proper remuneration were provided. The noble Earl in his reply to me on that particular point was certainly not inclined to commit himself in any way; and, indeed, I thought—perhaps he will recollect the occasion—that there seemed to be no likelihood, certainly in the near future, of any attachment being made to the appointment of Life Peers who would be able to give us real help in the Opposition.
At the same time, you would have no difficulty in getting appointed as Life Peers other people who would strengthen either the Cross Benches or the Government Benches—people who would well be able to afford to do it. Therefore the Opposition would be worse off even than they are now. Unless we can get reasonable assurances on that point, therefore, the Government ought to understand that when the Bill comes from another place we shall have to look at it very carefully indeed.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ LORD WINSTER
My Lords, I trust that the noble Earl the Leader of the House will not think that I am discourteous if I say that I am doubtful whether this Bill is going to improve in any way the working of the House. I do not think it will. I have read and re-read the debates which have taken place and the lengthy Press comments on the Bill. I notice that the Press has recently announced that all interest in the Bill has by now been lost, and I think that perhaps the proceedings to-day illustrate that fact. In spite of all I have read and listened to, I still do not know what really is the object of the Bill and what it is hoped that the Bill will do.
Looking at the state of the world at the time when the Bill was introduced, I must confess that I was surprised that the Government could find time to introduce such a Bill when there were such grave matters of international concern to consider. As regards the working of the House, I imagine that what is wrong with I it is that there are so many Peers with 309 no wish whatsoever to attend. I do not share the contempt in which what are known as "backwoods" Peers are so often held. I have had the pleasure of knowing a number of them and I have been impressed with their intelligence and common sense. I once heard it said that the typical "backwoods" Peer had three qualities: he knew how to kill a fox; he knew how to get rid of a bad tenant, and he knew how to discard an unwanted mistress. I think that a man who possesses those three qualities would certainly have something to contribute to the work of the House. I only wish that those noble Lords thought it worth their while to come here more frequently than they do.
The fact is that they do not come because this House does not possess any power. In saying that, I hope that it will not be thought for one moment that I am advocating that the House should have more powers. Even some noble Lords who do come are lukewarm. In a week-end speech the noble Earl, Lord Attlee—I do not say this in any critical spirit at all—speaking about your Lordships' House, said, if I quote him correctly, "I do not mind making a speech now and again." That I would describe as a little tepid, as rather tepid praise of this House.
But why is it thought that Life Peers will be more assiduous than Peers of first creation? In making Life Peers, the Prime Minister of the day will have to draw very much the same coverts that he now draws to get Peers of first creation—men of experience, of knowledge, with a record of public service, and so on. When the novelty has fallen off, I fear that these Life Peers will be likely to come to the conclusion that so many Peers of first creation have come to—that the game is not worth the candle, or rather, that there is no candle at all in the game. I can think of three Peers of first creation, men of exactly the type from which we are told Life Peers would be drawn. One, I believe, has not thought it worth his while to take his seat; another has taken his seat but I do not think he has spoken here. Yet he made an important and valuable speech on a subject on which he can speak with great authority, and said things of which I think more might yet be heard, but he did not consider it worth his while to make that speech in your Lordships' 310 House—he made it to an outside audience. Another Peer of first creation who also can speak with authority on the subject of civil aviation made a most valuable speech, but again he did not think it worth his while to make that speech in your Lordships' House, but to an outside audience.
These facts are a bad augury for this system of Life Peers. I do not know why Life Peers should show any more activity and assiduity than do many Peers of first creation. We are told that we do important work; in particular, that we amend Bills sent up to us from another place. To my mind, the long correspondence that is going on at this moment in the columns of The Times newspaper is an argument for the reform of another place; and were they to reform their procedure, they would be able to send up their Bills in better shape and those Bills would not require so much attention here. Again, we are not often in Committee on those measures, yet we are told that that is an important part of our work; and I have noticed that when we are in Committee the attendance, never very good, sinks to its lowest point. We are told that our debates are most valuable, but they seem to arouse little public attention. The Press, for instance, with one or two exceptions, completely ignores them.
§ SEVERAL NOBLE LORDS: No.
§ EARL WINTERTON
My Lords, the noble Lord must really be factual. if he will read the more responsible newspapers—The Times and the Daily Telegraph—he will find that they give just as much space to the debates of this House as to those of another place.
§ LORD WINSTER
My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Earl. Two or three of what he describes as "responsible" papers do report our debates, though, I would say, not quite at such length or in such detail as they report proceedings in another place; but the great bulk of the Press which is read by the public and which perhaps plays the largest part in forming public opinion 311 because of its enormous circulation, completely ignore our debates in this House. They do not give them even a paragraph.
I am sure that your Lordships will have noticed that the Press has been full recently of the question of civil aviation. Great publicity has been given to the proposals for the amalgamation or co-operation of aircraft firms, and a great deal of stress has been laid upon the glittering prizes which await the aircraft industry in the export trade. There was a debate in your Lordships' House before Christmas in which every one of those points was brought out and emphasised. There were only four speakers altogether and only one speaker from the Benches opposite, and he intervened, not to say anything about the problems of civil aviation but to ask, as a good Scotsman, for improved services between Scotland and England. If a subject of such vast importance as that of civil aviation can attract no more interest than that, it really is difficult to believe that our debates are of such value and importance.
§ THE MINISTER WITHOUT PORTFOLIO (LORD MANCROFT)
My Lords, I feel that I must interrupt the noble Lord, since it was I who had the honour of winding-up that debate. It is only fair to say that a number of noble Lords could not take part in that debate, as was stated on the occasion. Three or four noble Lords who could have spoken with great authority were prevented from doing so by the fact that they held office in one or other of the Corporations and therefore were muzzled and unable to speak. But they were present.
§ LORD WINSTER
I entirely agree with the noble Lord. I realise that point and I think that I mentioned it in my speech with regard to the noble Lord Lord Balfour of Inchrye. But I do not think that those who have great knowledge of civil aviation were present. I do not wish to be invidious, but it is certainly in my memory that many noble Lords with great knowledge of civil aviation were not present on that occasion. What does attract a good attendance? The Wolfenden Report was certainly "good box office", and I have no doubt that when we come to debate A.I.D. there will similarly be a good attendance. But even such tasty morsels as those do not produce an abundance of our numbers.
312 Two points, particularly, in my mind are these. With regard to Life Peeresses, I am not an opponent in any way of admitting Life Peeresses to your Lordships' House; they may attend better than some of the Peers do. However, I do not know how much they will add to the value of our proceedings. Many women have entered the Government in the other place; but women having the vote, clearly a certain number of them have to be put in the Government, otherwise how would the Government face a General Election when it comes? But I have yet to be told that women have received posts in the Government because they were manifestly superior to any man who was available. If Life Peeresses are to come here—and, as I say. I do not oppose that in the least—I should like to ask this question: are Peeresses in their own right to be eligible to become Life Peeresses? If not, it seems to me that the hardship from which I believe they suffer will be doubled. They are not allowed to sit as Peeresses in their own right, and if they are not to be eligible as Life Peeresses, then, as I say their hardship is doubled.
§ THE EARL OF SWINTON
That question has been answered quite often. The noble Lord has said that none of us attend; but if he had attended or listened more frequently he would have known that I myself put that question and it was answered quite specifically.
§ LORD WINSTER
I apologise. It has not always been easy for me to attend recently, and I may not have been in attendance on that occasion. I am sorry that I missed the point, and I am glad that it is settled so satisfactorily.
I think this Bill will have a rough time in another place, although no doubt it will be passed. But as far as we can look ahead, it seems to me that, although the noble Earl has spoken about step by step, the first measure of reform, and so on, this will be the last measure of reform that we are likely to see in the lifetime of the present Government. I do not think the Government will find it easy to bring forward yet another Bill. I do not know what is in the minds of the Executive of the Labour Party, but when a Labour Government comes into power, as it undoubtedly will at the next General Election—
§ SEVERAL NOBLE LORDS: Oh!313
§ LORD WINSTER
I am afraid noble Lords have not been watching the results of the by-elections, but we can resume the argument after Rochdale has voted. As I was saying, when the Labour Party come into power, as a Back-Bencher I feel certain that that Government will have far more important work to do than to proceed with a measure for the reform of the House of Lords. We are told by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, that this House is dying on its feet. I doubt very much whether the Labour Party will think it worth while to try to put it on its feet again. They are more likely to watch with interest the effect of this blood transfusion of Life Peers to see whether or not they should rescue this House or whether to allow it to continue to sink into desuetude.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
My Lords, I do not propose to join in the somewhat grudging send-off which has been given to this Bill by the two noble Lords who have already spoken. On the contrary, I think it is a very useful measure. Its scope is limited; its purpose is excellent, and I think it will prove in large degree effective for that purpose. As to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Winster, I do not know whether he was deploring the inefficiencies of your Lordships' House or rejoicing in them. The conclusion of his speech seemed to nullify all his earlier points. He pointed out in how many ways this House is inefficient: how even the new Peers do not attend; how the debates are not worth reporting in the Press; and he ended up by saying that when the Labour Government come into office they will be only too pleased to leave that situation just as it is. He also pointed out that the new Peers do not often take part in the proceedings of your Lordships' House, and he asked: why should it be otherwise with the Life Peers? The answer is obvious and complete. Those who would be appointed Life Peers would be men and women who keenly desired to take part in the business of your Lordships' House and would undertake to do so. Therefore, the whole of that part of my noble friend's speech disappears.
With regard to the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, he surprised me very much when he said that there was no mandate 314 for this Bill; that it was not enough for a Government, before a General Election, to say that they would deal with the House of Lords, but that they must specify and get authority from the people for particular measures. Fresh in your Lordships' memories, not so many years ago, will be a Bill introduced by the previous Labour Government altering the Parliament Act, with no mandate of any sort or kind, which was passed into law against the strongest opposition. I have no doubt that if and when the time comes the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, will have that example quoted to him by many speakers.
I do not propose to repeat in any degree the full debates that took place on the Second Reading and Committee stages of this Bill, but there are two points to which I would wish your Lordships to give attention before the Bill passes from this House. They are points quite proper to be raised on the Third Reading, because they relate to the way in which the Bill is likely to be put into operation when it comes to be an Act of Parliament. The main point is one that has already been referred to: what is the actual procedure that will be adopted in choosing the Life Peers, and what is the spirit in which they will be appointed?
The chief reason why I, for one, support this Bill with cordiality and I expressed it in the earlier debate—is that I think the British Constitution as a whole is working faultily in present conditions; and the reason is that the principle of Party Government has too great a dominance in the working of our democratic institutions. The reason why Life Peers are likely to be a valuable element in the State is precisely that they may be an element which is not yet sufficiently represented in either House of Parliament—particularly since the University Members were abolished—and who, while being persons not fitted or desiring to be Party leaders, are fitted, and may be desiring, to exercise a national influence through their status, their experience, and their capacity for exposition and persuasion. If we had a larger number of non-Party Members—those who sit on the Cross Benches, who represent the Services and the great professions—I feel convinced that the working of our institution, of our Parliament, would be greatly improved.
315 But is that likely to be so? There have been questions of a gentlemen's agreement in the choice of the new Peers which would prevent any one Party any longer having dominance in this House. But are we to have in place of that merely a large number of new Labour Members, who have no particular qualifications, except, no doubt, personal good character and some ability, and who are merely faithful Party men? In the Second Reading debate I quoted [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 206, col. 667], not a speech in the House of Commons, but a letter in The Times by a member of the Labour Party, Mr. Usborne, who said that an Upper House would be—and I quote his words:somewhere we can send our old war-horses out to grass".The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, speaking in this House, quoted that letter, and said that the principle was not wholly wrong. I thought that was somewhat ominous, coming from an ex-Labour Prime Minister. But it is an important question: By what procedure are we to obviate an agreement between the two main Parties to exercise, one after the other, an even greater measure than now of Party patronage, and to fill the House with the new life peerage which, on the plea of trying to get a more equal balance of Parties, would leave its composition and merits worse than they are to-day?
I have ventured to put forward a suggestion. If it is desired by the House of Commons and by this House that there should be Life Peers, and that they should be not merely partisans but of the character I have been describing, there should be some procedure for selection other than is now proposed. The noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack dealt with this point in his speech, and he said that it would be necessary for the recommendations to the Crown to come from the Prime Minister of the day. I think, pro forma, that is so, but he need not be tied in his selection, either by the recommendations of his own Party managers or by, as apparently suggested by the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, the recommendations of the Party managers of the Labour Party. The suggestion I ventured to put forward was that there should be a Standing Select Committee of the Privy Council (which could easily 316 be constituted of suitable persons, seeing what the composition of the Privy Council now is) which should have the duty of making suggestions for the decision of the Prime Minister of the class of persons that we have had in mind
I could quote a precedent for this course, on a smaller scale and of much less importance. When, some years ago, public opinion was very much concerned about the conferment of honours—not only peerages, but other honours—and it was alleged that not seldom consideration was given unduly to contributions to Party funds, it was decided by general agreement that a Committee of the Privy Council, or selection from the Privy Council, should be made of a few individuals to whom all recommendations for honours should be submitted, and who should have the right to investigate them. That Committee, I believe, is still sitting. I remember that my noble friend Lord Crewe was a member of it for many years, and I think it numbered three. I believe that that procedure still continues. It may serve as a precedent, if precedents are desired, for this particular proposal. The suggestion was commented upon by one or two speakers in the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Brand, said that he thought it might be a good course to take, and my noble friend Lord Layton took the same view. I trust that, either in another place or afterwards, when the Bill is passed, this suggestion may receive some measure of consideration.
My only other point is one that I made previously, but I should like to emphasise it again to-day, without entering into the arguments. It is that life peerages might form a useful means of bringing the other members of the British Commonwealth into closer touch with this country and with this Legislature. One reference made to this proposal by the noble Lord, Lord Ellenborough, seemed to me to be of great interest, and I would quote a few sentences from his speech. He said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 206, col. 913]:Only this autumn I had the privilege of addressing one or two meetings in Canada on the subject of your Lordships' House, and I was both surprised and impressed at the interest and enthusiasm shown in the subject—probably a greater enthusiasm, indeed, than is shown within this country. I am sure that if we could get more Commonwealth Members in your Lordships' House, a fine and splendid link between the Commonwealth and its centre would be opened.317 I trust that this suggestion also may receive more consideration than has yet been given to it. I do not complain that the Government have said nothing on the point, because it is a matter that has to be handled with great delicacy. The Governments of the Dominions must be able to feel assured that their status and their powers will not in any way be diminished, and that when it is proposed to appoint some of their own citizens to life peerages, that will not be done without their full and formal consent. For that reason, I would not press the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor to deal specifically with this matter, but I hope that the Government may bear it in mind, and that both these points will be carried into effect when the Bill passes from the Legislature and comes to be dealt with as an Act of Parliament by the Executive.
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, has greatly enriched this debate, as he enriched the previous debates we have had on this great subject. The only reason I intervene is that I wish to say a few words on a subject that he and, I think, he alone has raised. He gave what seemed to me a devastating reply to what the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, leading the Opposition, said on the question of mandates. He gave the example of the last Parliament Act introduced by the Labour Government without a mandate. I venture to give another example of a constitutional matter. Before constitutional changes are made, there has grown up over a period of many years the practice of attempting to secure some measure of agreement through the method of the Speaker's Conference. There was such a Speaker's Conference towards the end of the life of the wartime Government. That Conference came to the unanimous conclusion that the University franchise should be preserved. The Labour Party, so far as I remember the Election of 1945, never said that they were going to throw over the recommendation of the Speaker's Conference and reverse that decision. Nevertheless, they did so and abolished the University franchise.
I had the honour of being one of the last University Members in the House of Commons, and in the last few weeks two of my colleagues in the representation of 318 the University seats, Lord Waverley and Mr. Walter Elliot, have passed away. My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, spoke of the loss of independence due, among other things, to the loss of the University seats. I was sorry that his Party in the House of Commons were not unanimous in their defence.
The other matter to which I wish to allude, because it was mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, was the question of enriching this House by some men of independent mind; and I think on that we are all agreed. But I think he went on with the sort of suggestion which I believe to be false: that a man was less likely to have an independent mind in politics if he belonged to a Party. I do not believe that to be true. A man can be independent if he is a Conservative; he can be independent if he is a Socialist; he can conceivably be independent even if he is a Liberal. Independence is far more a question of character than a question of whether or not you have found a Party with which you are in substantial agreement. One of the reasons why the University Members differed somewhat as a body from other Members of the House of Commons—they were not very different—was the difference in the method of election. They could never meet the scattered people by whom they were elected; they had to address them through literature, through an election address which was expected to be, and could be, sufficiently long to be intelligent and to cover the whole field of politics. That appealed to a certain number of people who might not wish to face the hustings.
There was another thing which encouraged their independence. They were the only people whose chance of reelection would, if anything, be increased by the withdrawal of their Party Whip. No Party Whip could in the least affect any University Member. That did not mean that the University Member did not respect the opinions of his Party, if he belonged to one. On this question of a Member's quality, I wish to refute as emphatically as I can the absurd idea that an independent man in politics cannot be a Member of a great political Party. It is untrue. In order to prove the point, may I repeat an argument that I have used on another occasion?
319 If anybody wishes to have as his representative in Parliament a man of independent mind, if he is inclined to think at first sight that he wants a man who is non-political and does not belong to any political Party, let him test that view by asking himself four questions. The first question is this: Does he desire as his Member a man who has never thought about politics at all? Secondly, does he desire as his Member somebody who has thought about politics but has never been able to make up his mind where he stands? Thirdly, would he like as his Member somebody who has thought about politics, has made up his mind where he stands, but has never found anybody else who agrees with him? Or, finally, does he wish to have as his Member somebody who has thought about politics, made up his mind where he stands, has found a body of men who agree with him, but prefers not to tell the electors who they are?
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ EARL ATTLEE
My Lords, I was very interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, said about independent-minded Members. I quite agree you get independent-minded Members in all Parties; they are generally regarded as a nuisance by the Whips but they do enliven the Parties—people like Lord Stansgate. With regard to the University seats, one of the troubles was that they were regarded by the Tory Party as Pocket Boroughs; when a Member was pushed out they made way and shoved him into a University seat. When I raised the matter in the House of Commons, Sir Winston Churchill said, "It is monstrous to do away with the University seats. We should have had a majority."
The other point I wanted to mention was in regard to the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel. In the last thirty years the Liberals have been very strong on independence and independent representation. I cannot remember a time in the heyday of Liberal strength when they were any less keen on Party discipline than any other Party. When they had a majority they pushed things through as far as they could. That seems to be an example of minority-mind, which is quite admirable here; but it is useless to accuse other Parties because they have some discipline, and rejoice in a Party 320 that has no discipline, when the real reason is that they have no hope of power.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, may I remind the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, of some of the last Members of the University seats? Does he really think that Sir Alan Herbert represented Oxford University as a nominee of the Tory Party? If he will examine what happened, he will know that nothing of the sort is true. When I became a Member for the Combined English Universities in succession to the late Miss Eleanor Rathbone—not, I should have thought, a typical nominee of the Tory caucus—there were several candidates who I was afterwards told were Socialist in politics but who carefully concealed that fact from the electors, but it was regarded as such a hopeless seat from the Tory point of view that practically nobody else wished to contest it in the Tory interest. I won the seat.
§ EARL ATTLEE
I congratulate the noble Lord on that. I quite agree with regard to A. P. Herbert. There are a good many instances of people of no particular academic standing being shoved in—Ramsay MacDonald was a case in point—and for years Cambridge University were represented by respectable people who might have stood for other constituencies.
THE EARL OF HOME
My Lords, perhaps I might point out that, having looked very carefully at this modest Bill, I can see nothing about the Universities and really nothing about all this high-minded independence stuff. I just thought I would say that in case other members are inclined to develop the subject.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ LORD HANKEY
My Lords, as an inveterate Cross-Bencher, I feel it is rather an impertinence to take part in this debate. As the late Lord Baldwin used to say, "You are an inveterate mugwump". Whether or not that is so, I did not take part in the earlier debates because, quite frankly, I had not made up my mind. There were certain points which I had communicated to the Committee that sat under my noble friend Lord Swinton, but, broadly speaking, I had not made up my mind, and I did not think, in the tremendous galaxy of talent that took part in the debate, that I could 321 usefully speak. Perhaps that is true today. At the same time, I have made up my mind now that this Bill, as it stands, will not do very much to strengthen the House of Lords. That was the first point made by my noble friend Lord Winster, and I am not sure that I should have spoken to-day unless he had mentioned that subject. I feel that, except for the Labour Party, with. whom I sympathise very deeply in this matter (as I have said, I have never been a member of any Party, but I have worked in intimate and most friendly contact with all Parties, and I admire them all) and who require something, I do not see how this Bill is going to help; nor do I feel that it will help them sufficiently substantially to be worth while. Unless it is worth while, I think it would be better not to do it just yet.
In my earlier life, practically from the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 onwards. I was in close touch with international affairs, for many years as Secretary of international conferences taking me all over Europe, and in later years I have been taken to the Dominions and a great deal to France and Egypt. Again and again in all this period I have discussed, with foreign statesmen this question of the House of Lords. I did not raise it; they always raised it. They asked about the House of Lords, and invariably, both in foreign countries and in the Dominions, I found that the House of Lords was much admired. I used to say to them, "I am told that it is completely illogical", and they said, "Well, it does not matter; it works." A Netherlander once said, "It does its job and on no account should you alter it." They regarded it like the Monarchy; it is part of the Constitution of this country. Once you begin to tinker about with it, it is the thin end of the wedge—" It is the first step that counts", as the French proverb says. I am rather timid about this particular step. I wished to place that thought before your Lordships.
But there is another thought. The prestige of the House of Lords is high in a great many quarters. It is high all over the world. It does not depend, by any means, especially outside this country, on what is happening with the day-to-day conduct of Bills, and whether the Bills that come up from another place are properly examined, and so forth. For my part, I believe that they are extraordinarily well handled, although I know 322 it is a hard task for the Labour Party; nevertheless, according to my observations, they do it extraordinarily well.
But the prestige does not depend upon that; it depends on all sorts of other considerations and work done by Peers who cannot often appear in this House. I am not talking only of Bishops or of the Judges or other legal authorities who necessarily cannot attend very regularly, especially for any routine business, but I am speaking of people all over the world. How many Governors and Governors-General are there who are Members of this House? I do not know, but I can think of quite a number in Africa. Then there is another in the West Indies. There are also a great many noble Lords who have contacts with foreign countries over a great many other subjects which take them away from here a good deal. The Peers who do these jobs get their prestige largely from being Members of this House, and when they do well, as they generally do, because all over the world they are listened to, whatever may be the subject, they add to the prestige of this House. It is mutual—both the Peers and this House get prestige.
Then there are other people who are down in the City, people who are Lords-Lieutenant, and heads of agriculture down in the counties. There are several famous doctors who occasionally come here and give us their advice. They generally "down" me when I raise the question of nutrition. There are some great scientists. The first mention I ever heard of the hydrogen bomb was made by a Member of this House who spoke only once, and on that occasion, several years before the hydrogen bomb came into existence, he told us exactly what was going to happen. That most remarkable speech is on the records of the House. Then there are people in the City who control vast enterprises all over the world. Some of them are Members of this House who could not take part in the routine work of the House. I mention those points only to venture to suggest most humbly to the Committee that is being set up now to work out the details of leave—is that it?—
§ LORD HANKEY
But I do not think it is quite irrelevant—at any rate, I hope not—to ask that they will be careful not to do anything which would upset in any way the work of those people, or make it felt that when people cannot come regularly to this House it is necessarily derogatory to them.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF SWINTON
My Lords, my intervention will, I hope, not be irrelevant, but the noble Lord has said so much that I think it would be well that certain facts should be on record. Of course, we are not debating now the Committee which the House has agreed to set up on Standing Orders, and I do not really see what the casual attendance of very distinguished people has to do—either for or against—with the making of Life Peers who can give regular attendance. So far as the proposal of the noble Lord is concerned, the House has endorsed the findings of what it is good enough to call the "Swinton Committee" and has merely referred the matter to this machinery Committee to put those recommendations into the form of Standing Orders. But in that Committee we were most careful to say to the House that it was fully within the competence of the House, if it so desires (as assuredly it does), to say that those Peers who cannot attend regularly because of other avocations but are willing to come whenever they can, could reasonably be regarded as attending whenever they reasonably can and therefore as discharging the obligations of the Oath. I apologise for getting away from the Rules of Order, but it is important that wholly erroneous things should not be on record in this House and perhaps cause misunderstanding; therefore I thought that the noble Lord and the House would allow me to say what I have said.
§ 4.32 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, may I first ask your Lordships' indulgence if I return to the question before the House, namely, the Third Reading of this Bill. I wish to deal with a point which was first raised by the noble Viscount who leads the Opposition—he has been good enough to tell me of arrangements that he has made by 324 which he is forced to leave the House. The special question with which he asked me to deal was the question of how the Bill would be brought into effect. The same point was dealt with by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, in what I hope he will allow me to say was an admirable speech.
It seems to me that the two noble Viscounts raised very important and difficult angles of the same position. I believe they were both agreed—the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, was good enough to say so—that I was formally correct in what I said on the constitutional position. May I put that very shortly? At a former stage of the Bill my noble friend the Leader of the House said that 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 I have myself dealt with the point on one or two occasions. I believe both noble Viscounts (who have infinitely longer political experience than I have had) will agree that it is beyond question that the duty and the responsibility for advising the Sovereign in matters of titles and honours must, and must necessarily, rest with the Prime Minister of the day; and also that it is the duty of the Prime Minister to decide what advice he will seek in order that he can discharge his responsibility in the public interest. That is the position from which we start.
The noble Viscount who leads the Opposition has raised the very important point that if some of the Life Peers are to have the purpose and aim of assisting the Opposition in this House, he would like some assurance that they will be persons whom the Opposition as a whole consider suitable to carry out that work—I hope that I am putting fairly what he says. On the other hand, the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, wants to be sure that the procedure will provide for recruiting independent persons. My answer is that both of these objectives can be attained, and I should like both these noble Lords to remember that, apart from what we put into Acts of Parliament in regard to constitutional matters, there is another factor of supreme importance in the British Constitution. That is the factor of the conventions worked out over the years, with the concurrence and aid 325 of all Parties, which modify the rigours of the Statutes when necessary. Above all, they give an opportunity for the exercise of that great political sense which is one of the blessings of our country and among the greatest that it has enjoyed.
Speaking to-day on how a convention will work out in the future—here I must move into the field of prophecy; and the mantle of Elijah is a very un-chancy garment to try to don—I think that I can go only so far as to say that in regard to the particular problem of recruitment for the Opposition. the practice, the convention—except in the most rare and exceptional circumstances—would so work out that the suggestions of the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition, so far as that section was concerned, would be accepted. I believe that that is how it would work out. I cannot give an undertaking, nor would noble Lords opposite want anything that I say to-day at this stage to cause future trouble to them or to their Party. I can give only my own view as to how I believe things would work out.
At the same time I want to say to the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, that that does not mean that there would be any limitation on the ability of the Prime Minister to invite people completely independent, in the ordinary accepted sense of that word—as my noble friend the Leader of the House put it, to recruit from no Party as well as from every Party. And, of course, one has in mind not so much the technical meaning of "independent" as my noble friend Lord Conesford expounded it, as the fact that the people chosen would be people who have gained their eminence in affairs and experience in life not from the political struggle but from some other field of human experience. That is the way I would put it, and I hope that the noble Viscount. Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, will accept from me that I have given to him, rashly assuming the prophecy, my own view as to what is likely to happen.
I want to say only one or two words about the two discordant speeches that we have heard front the noble Lord, Lord Winster, and the noble Lord, Lord Hankey. Of course, when someone takes the line that Lord Winster did—I suppose I ought to put it into Parliamentary language and call it a piscine olfaction, but 326 I think your Lordships can translate it into more direct English terms for yourselves—when anyone takes that line about an institution, there is this difficulty of reply; that if one urges the other point of view, one is immediately accused of complacency and self-satisfaction. All I can say to Lord Winster is that I profoundly disagree with his valuation, either of the debates or of the examination of Bills by this House. I speak with great diffidence to your Lordships, because I am a very junior Member of the House, but I have been here for three and a half years, and I have probably heard more of what has taken place in the House than any other of your Lordships present. All I say with regard to the standard achieved when we are discussing great topics, and also to the examination on which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and I have spent so many hours in dealing with various Bills, is that it is a standard of which, in my respectful view, no legislative body need be ashamed.
The only other thing I would say to Lord Winster—for the consolation of his soul, it may be—concerns the fact that he complained about the lack of attention he got in the Press. Speaking from a memory of a quarter of a century, I cannot remember that Commander Fletcher in the House of Commons got any more inches in the daily Press than Lord Winster, whom we are delighted to hear.
§ LORD WINSTER
If I might interrupt the noble and learned Viscount, I feel that he has fallen into the same error as the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel. I do not decry the work done by your Lordships' House in amending Bills sent up from another place; I merely pointed out that if reforms for procedure in another place now being advocated in The Times were carried out, there would be very much less work for us to do in that respect. In regard to debates, I do not criticise the quality of the debates in any way at all; on the contrary, I deplored that they were not better reported and not better attended than they sometimes are.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, if I misunderstood the noble Lord, I am sorry. I am sure that your Lordships will be relieved at the summary 327 of his views which the noble Lord has given, and which, of course, I accept at once.
§ THE EARL OF SWINTON
It is a pity that the noble Lord conveyed to the Lord Chancellor exactly the same impression which he left upon every other Member.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
At all events, it has given me the opportunity (and I hope your Lordships will not take it amiss) of expressing my own view; and I do not think your Lordships are under any doubt as to that.
I now wish to answer, in only a sentence or two, the second complaint of the noble Lord, Lord Winster, in which he was supported by the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, that whatever be the present position in value of your Lordships' House this Bill will not improve it. My Lords, we have discussed this aspect over and over again, and I would make certain points which I do not believe have ever been sought to be controverted in these long debates. The first is that the restoration to the Sovereign of the power to create life peerages carrying a seat in this House will extend to a section of those experienced in public and other affairs the possibility of coming to this House when they could not have contemplated it otherwise. The second point is the extension to include women. I do not know whether these two noble Lords are dyed-in-the-wool supporters of my noble friend Lord Airlie or not. But let us state it quite clearly: this House, by 135 votes to 30, declared that it wanted that extension; and at the end of the day I am quite sure that the House was right in taking that line. Therefore, we have these two fields of extension, and I believe that they are well worth having.
My Lords, I agreed so strongly with the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, that, despite the relative brevity of this debate, this is an occasion which should not go unmarked. After all, it is nearly fifty years since your Lordships' House first passed a Resolution desiring reform; and this is the first time, as my noble friend 328 the Leader of the House mentioned earlier, that a measure of reform in composition of the House has ever reached this stage. I regard that as an occasion which anyone would be very wrong to pass by without some feeling in their hearts and in their minds.
I used the phrase at an earlier stage in the proceedings on this Bill—and I stand by it—that the Bill is a demonstration that your Lordships' House is both organic and dynamic. It is organic because, whatever the noble Lord, Lord Winster, may say—and no one has suggested reforms of the House of Commons which would prevent this—unless a Legislative Assembly can send out Bills that are something more than the mere milk of Party dogma, and are fitted to the lives of the people whom they will affect, that Legislative Assembly fails. And over the thirteen years since the war this House has shown that it performs that task; and it is essential to the working of the Constitution of this country that that task should be well done. Therefore, it is an organic part, a live and organic part, of the Constitution. That is the first thing it has shown.
Secondly, as to being dynamic, this House has shown (the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, followed the same train of thought) that it desires to make its working play the best possible part in the great problem of the new scientific age on whose threshold we are. What is the problem for everyone to-day? It is that their thoughts, their words and their actions should play the greatest part and be most fitted to these vast problems with which we are faced. If your Lordships had sat back and said, "Do not let us worry"; if we had used Lord Hankey's words, "Let us leave it a little longer: do not let us try to fit our working to the best operation of men's words and thoughts and actions," I think that this House would have ceased to be of importance. But your Lordships have not done this. We have taken this step. It is in that spirit that I ask your Lordships to give a Third Reading to the Bill.
§ On Question, Bill read 3a, and passed, and sent to the Commons.