§ 2.45 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD GARDINER) rose to move, That this House gives general approval to the proposals for the Reform of the House of Lords as set out in the White Paper, House of Lords Reform (Cmnd. 3799). The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, to-day the Government are asking both Houses to be good enough to consider the White Paper, House of Lords Reform. They will not themselves, of course, make any decision as to what legislation they will introduce until they have had an opportunity of considering everything which has been said in both Houses, and they hope to hear a good deal from all parts of both Chambers. That being so, I shall not detain your Lordships for very long. I have no intention of going through the White Paper, which I assume your Lordships will have read, but as, out of over 50 speakers to-day, I shall be the only Government speaker, there are certain considerations which I desire to put before the House.
§ The first is this. I think that anybody who has given long consideration to this problem will end by agreeing that there are four ways in which the problem may be approached. The first is: Let us abolish the House of Lords. I, of course, do not agree with that. There are certainly Members supporting the Government in another place who, no doubt very sincerely, are unicameralists. I have ventured to say that I am not, simply because the Spectator last week credited me with being a dedicated abolitionist. 642 I never know why they say these things. I am not an abolitionist, for two reasons. First, because one can observe that there are occasions, as with the recent Transport Act, when through a shortage of time the other place is not able to complete its own work; and, of course, a large majority of the Amendments made by your Lordships to Public Bills are accepted in the other place as being obvious improvements. How on earth it can be thought that one Chamber can do to all its own work and all ours as well, I simply do not understand.
§ Secondly, I think the unicameralist's position is contradicted by all experience. There is no other Western democracy of anything like our size that has not found from experience that it is abtolutely essential to have a Second Chamber. There are, of course, smaller ones which have one Chamber: New Zealand, Israel, Zambia, I believe Liechtenstein, and no doubt some others. General experience has been that it is necessary. I know of one Member of your Lordships' House and there may be more—who is a unicameralist, but I think there will not be a substantial number, and I do not think I need say any more about that.
§ The second approach is: "Revolution and not reform; let us wipe the slate clean." This is, of course, a possible approach. If that is your approach, then I think you start by having what would necessarily be a fairly long Bill to create a Supreme Court because why en earth should your Supreme Court be all mixed up with one of the two legislative Chambers? Then I think you would have a rather longer Bill to disestablish the Church of England, either because you say: Why should this one Church alone have a lot of Bishops here and a lot of votes; or, as I should prefer to say: Why on earth should there be only one Church, which cannot even alter its own Liturgy without a lot of politicians agreeing and whose dignitaries are appointed by the Prime Minister? There are those who would say, I think, that whoever is in the Second Chamber would not depend on titles.
§ So, having wiped the slate clean, you say, "Let us have a Senate and Senators". Who are they to be elected by? It is at this point that none of those who have this approach is, unfortunately, able to agree. Some of them say, "Let 643 us have them elected by Northern Ireland, and Scotland, and Wales and the regions or", more simply, "by the county councils". What sort of a Chamber this would be if it were all elected by the county councils, I should not like to say. Others say "No, that is wrong. We must have them elected by the C.B.I. and the T.U.C." Others say that they should be elected by the Commons. Again, I do not agree, and I do not agree for three reasons.
§ First, while any proposals like the ones before the House can be criticised on one ground or another, I have not seen any two people who agree on a sensible alternative. Secondly, because I believe that, whatever Government are in power, it is absolutely unrealistic to think that the House of Commons will ever vote in favour of a Bill to establish an elected, and therefore rival, Chamber. Thirdly, of course, if one were to follow through this approach, there would be no other legislation this Session—which some of your Lordships might appreciate, but which the Government would regret.
§ The third approach is: do not let us do anything. This, again, is being unrealistic. The reform of your Lordships' House has been hanging over our heads for years. Each of the major Parties has a sort of Sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of the others. From time to time growling noises are made by one side against the other side. There are powers which cannot be used, and it is time that this problem was tackled. Practically speaking, it is no good saying "Let us do nothing", because this is not going to happen. The Government are pledged to introduce a Bill on this subject in this Session. Even if they did not —which in any case they are going to do—the noble Lord, Lord Alport, is sitting waiting and poised to strike, and my noble friend Lord Mitchison has already introduced a Bill. So it is clear that this is a subject which, in one form or another, we have to tackle this Session, and I suggest that the right approach is the fourth: let us reform the House of Lords —not revolution but reform.
§ Why do we want to reform the House of Lords? I believe that there is general agreement about this. It must be something like two years ago that the noble Lord, Lord Harlech, speaking from the Opposition Front Bench, expressed the 644 view that it was really impossible any longer to defend an hereditary Chamber. I believe that under the Mikado before the war there was something of the kind in Japan, but this is impossible to-day. Indeed, I do not know any reasons which would support it. The one reason which is usually mentioned is that it enables large numbers of young men to come into this House who would not otherwise be here. Well, that itself is not wholly supported by the facts. We have over a thousand Members. I have made inquiries about those who turned up at least once in three times last Session. Of the hereditaries under 30 there was only one; and as to hereditaries between 30 and 40 there were only nine. So unless we are to talk about young men up to 50, that argument is not really maintainable.
§ Secondly, is it really possible to justify a Chamber which has a large, built-in, permanent majority for one particular Party? I do not believe that it is. Thirdly, can it be justifiable that this Chamber should be in the position to annul any subordinate legislation in opposition to the will of the elected Chamber? This power arises through an historical accident. It was simply because in 1911 there was hardly any subsidiary legislation, so they did not include it in the 1911 Parliament Act. To-day, as we all know, there is a great deal of it, and some of it is of very great importance. Fourthly, it is difficult to justify not only the length of the period of delay under the Parliament Act but the considerable complexities of its operation.
§ It is extremely important to try to effect this reform, if we can, by agreement. I say this for two reasons. First of all, it is a constitutional reform and nothing would be worse than for one Party, when in power, to alter the Constitution one way, then for the other Party to get in and alter it back again, and later on for the first Party to reverse it. For this reason it has always been recognised how desirable it is, if it is possible, that constitutional reform should be carried out by agreement.
§ When I found myself Chairman of the All-Party Conference I said, without anybody disagreeing, that I wished to detach myself from my colleagues and that I proposed as Chairman to dedicate myself to the sole task of seeing whether we 645 could get an agreement. If I had been asked at that time, I should have thought that the prospect made it very unlikely. But one knows what happens when a lot of people get round a table, at all events in this country: they end up by looking at the larger thing instead of the smaller; they end up by putting their country first and their Party second, and by thinking of the good of Parliament as a whole rather than the good of a particular Chamber. I think your Lordships ought to know what a very considerable part in that Conference was played by Members of your Lordships' House. We had a main Working Party which did an enormous amount of work and which consisted of my noble friend Lord Shackleton, the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and the noble Lord, Lord Byers. They did a very considerable part of all the "donkey work" on behalf of the Conference as a whole. We were also exceptionally well-served by our officials.
§ There is a second reason why I think it is very important that, if possible, reform of this kind should be carried out by agreement, and it is this. As I have already made plain, the Government will make no decision as to the form of the legislation it will introduce until it has heard and considered all the views which may be expressed to-day, to-morrow and Thursday in this House, and to-day and to-morrow in the other House. But whatever the form of the legislation, your Lordships are going to be surprised. I think that you are going to be surprised by the things in the White Paper which are not in the Bill. The reason for that, of course, will be that we have not a written Constitution.
§ Personally, I think that we are lucky not to have a written Constitution. It seems to me that those who have written Constitutions, like the United States, find great difficulties in altering them; and although the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, will probably know more about Australia than I do, I have been told by Australians that whenever they want to make some sensible change in their Federal Constitution—and, of course, they have to have a referendum—everybody always says "No". But if one depends for one's Constitution in part on conventions, then there are conventions which cannot properly be the subject of Bills, particularly where they 646 affect the Royal prerogative. Nor can one properly put into a Bill that ordinarily, subject perhaps to some exceptions, the Prime Minister of the day is to see to it that the Government have a majority of about 10 per cent. in this House over the other two Parties combined, but not over the House. That is the second reason: that if we are to have reform by agreement, then it is desirable that there should be agreement, not only as to those things which are properly matters for a Bill, but also as to the conventions.
§ I should like to say a word or two about the relatively few criticisms which I have read or heard. As a whole, the White Paper may be said to have had a reasonable reception. As I have said, I am not going through the White Paper, because it is one which sets out not only our proposals but also the reasons for them. The most general criticism has been that the proposals put forward mean an enormous increase in Prime Ministerial patronage. To anybody who takes that view, I can only say, most respecfully, that he has not done his homework, because I do not see any increase in patronage at all.
§ This Government has been criticised, I think sometimes quite rightly, for trying to do too much too fast, and for putting forward proposals which have not really been thought through. I can assure your Lordships that this does not apply here, and that behind almost every paragraph of the White Paper there is a mound of working papers. One wanted to see, of course, that any proposal was viable and did not result in too many Peers having to be appointed at one time, so what we did was to borrow a computer—I think I had better not say where we borrowed it from, because I am not sure what happened about that—and to tell the computer what had been the results of all the General Elections for the past sixty years. We then said to the computer, "Now you tell us what would have happened during those sixty years if this scheme had been in force"; and it is perfectly viable from the point of view of numbers. We also asked it to project itself into the future on, of course, alternative hypotheses, as to who would win the next two General Elections.
§ Now I do not know, in the first place, whether it is generally realised exactly how much Prime Ministerial patronage 647 there is now. It may be a surprise to some of your Lordships to know that in and since 1964 146 Peers have been created. Does that mean that we are a debilitated or less interesting House? Is it not in fact a matter of common knowledge that we are a more varied, a more interesting and probably a more influential House than we were before? There is another point which is not always realised—and I have written this down to make sure that I get it right. I do not believe it is generally realised that it is now customary for the Prime Minister of the day to consult the Leaders of the other Parties when he thinks it appropriate to put forward names from their Parties for Peerages. The patronage (if such there be) for the other Parties belongs to the right honourable gentlemen the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the Liberal Party. They are of course responsible to their Parties, in a way which strikes me, at least, as eminently democratic and reasonable, for the manner in which they use their powers.
§ It is therefore true to say that the Prime Minister is responsible only for the selection of members of his own Party and also, of course, for the recommendations which he makes to the Queen in the half-yearly Honours List. As your Lordships will have observed, those who are recommended in the half-yearly Honours List are men and women of high distinction who have something important to say and who, by the contribution which they are able to make, enrich the debates of the House. The question of where those Peers sit in the House, whether on the Cross-Benches or elsewhere, and still more the question how they vote on individual issues, is of course a matter for them. On this, I would ask the House to take into account the Committee which the White Paper proposes, because as your Lordships know it would be one of the functions of that Committee to advise the Prime Minister from time to time on these matters.
§ Lastly, we had to consider this. There is quite a lot to be said for appointing Peers, certainly for something less than life and probably for only the length of the Parliament. This makes the numbers easier. It means that at the end of a Parliament, after a General Election 648 and perhaps with a new Prime Minister, the question of numbers becomes easier. The reason why we ended by rejecting that was because of course it would leave the Party Whips in a position to say, "We do not want him back" or, "We do not want her back", and we thought that we could not adequately safeguard the independence of your Lordships' House unless we ensured that Peers were appointed for life, and only for life. But this, when one is considering Prime Ministerial patronage, in fact considerably diminishes what it would be without that provision. I know one Labour Peer who does not vote often but who, whenever he does, always, I think, votes against the Government. That is all right, because whatever any Whip may say there is nothing he can do to any of the Members of your Lordships' House; and, subject to being convinced by one's colleagues, everybody is free—and this is very important indeed when one is considering Prime Ministerial patronage.
§ Then, my Lords, I have heard it asked, "Why do the Law Lords have to have an automatic vote?" Of course, we are a little short of lawyers in your Lordships' House. I am told, believe it or not—but this is official—that there are 126 lawyers in the other place. I could make a comment about that, but we are always very respectful to the other place so I will not. We have half a dozen other very distinguished lawyers, but we are very fortunate, I should have thought, in having the most eminent members of the Judiciary in the country as Members of this House. As the Appellate Committee is a Sessional Committee of this House its members must be able to vote, and their right should be automatic, because otherwise the unfortunate Lord Chancellor would be put in the position of thinking, "If I ask Lord So-and-So to sit in the Privy Council too often instead of in the Appellate Committee he may lose his voting writ".
§ Then I have been asked why there should be so many Bishops—"Why 16 Bishops?" The art of reform is the art of the necessary and the sensible. The Commission on Church and State is still sitting, and will not, I believe, report until next year. Meanwhile, I think it must be realised that the right reverend Prelates have their Sees to look after, and their diaries get filled up very quickly. If it 649 was to be so limited that only three or four had to cover every Sitting day, they would not be able to run their Sees; and 16 is about the minimum number to ensure that your Lordships always have a right reverend Prelate to say prayers and that occasions do not arise when there is public criticism in your Lordships' House because there are no Spiritual Peers to speak on the matter in question.
§ Then, my Lords, there is the question of representation of the regions. I do not want to take up much time about this, but it is of very great importance, and in paragraph 50 the White Paper stresses how very important regional representation was considered by the whole conference to be. For the reasons set out there, which I will not repeat, we were against regional elections, but I know that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister is fully seized of the importance of ensuring that the several parts of the country are adequately represented in your Lordships' House, and the Committee referred to in the White Paper will also be charged with continual surveillance of that.
§ My Lords, the proposals contained in the White Paper are not, of course, the proposals which the Government would have put forward. They are not the proposals which the Opposition would have put forward. Obviously, if there is to be agreement it is no good—I must not inflame matters by saying "acting like Mr. Smith"—but it is no good saying. "I must get my way 100 per cent. of the time". It is to that extent a compromise, which is, I think, part of our national genius.
§ There is not complete agreement on one point, and that is the date on which any such reforms should start. It is the Government's view that they should start on the Royal Assent. It is another view that they should not start until the next Parliament. I feel in my bones that if one does not take advantage of the right time to do something, then it goes off and it may be years and years before it is done. If one looks at the precedents, there are, I think, rather more cases of constitutional reforms which have been brought into effect on the Royal Assent than there are of constitutional reforms which have not started until the next Parliament; and I myself 650 feel that it is very important that we who have been through all this should do it ourselves in the lifetime of this Parliament, rather than leaving it to an entirely new Parliament.
§ Some say, "Why not wait for the Contitutional Commission? "This, I think, is really the same group which says, "Do not let us do anything". This is just an additional excuse for not doing anything. But the two are in no way in conflict. It will be, I suppose, two or three years before the Constitutional Commission report, and I should have thought that it would have been most unlikely that they would report anything which would be in any way in conflict with the White Paper proposals. On the contrary, of course, if they find some new way for regions to be represented, there is no reason why that should not be effected; but it is very unlikely that they will say that it is very important that the men on the Clyde should be represented by a Scottish noble landowner; it is very unlikely that they will want to reintroduce an hereditary Second Chamber. It is very unlikely that the Constitutional Commission will say that one important thing to do is to have a Second Chamber tuber which is so constructed that there is a permanent majority in it for one Party. Nor are they likely to say that the Second Chamber should have power to overrule the first, the elected, Chamber on subordinate legislation. So whatever the Constitutional Commission may or may not report, there is nothing in it which is likely to be in conflict with these proposals.
§ My Lords, before concluding, may I mention a personal matter? As your Lordships know, Wednesdays are not usually public business days or usually late nights, and I agreed a little time ago to talk to some law students to-morrow night. I hope that the House will not think me discourteous if I leave for a short time to-morrow night and then come back.
§ I hope that your Lordships' reading has extended to Appendix II. One of the great advantages of this reform will be that it will then enable all of us to sit down, in circumstances in which we are no longer battling with another place, to consider together the reform of Parliament; and, as is pointed out in Appendix II, on Public Bills, with a reformed House 651 there would be no reason why a Bill should start in one House and not in the other. It would need the other place to give way on some of their financial privileges, but I see no reason to anticipate that they would not do that if it were for the good of Parliament.
§ One could provide that a Public Bill, after having its Second Reading in one House, would then perhaps have a Joint Committee stage of both Houses. There is a lot of doubling of time on subordinate legislation through having two separate Committees considering it, one in each House. Again I think we should consider the possibility of Joint Committees. And why should not Statutory Instruments be capable of being amended? It has been this difficulty between the two Houses which has so far prevented the two Houses from getting together and thinking, not about what is best for their House but about what is best for Parliament. Subject to the views of the noble Earl, the Lord Chairman of Committees, I suspect that the Private Bill procedure in both Houses really needs an overhaul.
§ Finally there would be no reason why we should not have Joint Select Committees to inquire into matters of public concern, as a further check on the growing powers of the Executive. If these reforms appeal to your Lordships, what we shall really be doing is getting rid of enormous powers which we cannot use and substituting for them sensible powers which we shall be intended to use and which we shall use. There is a criticism by some who say that the Cross-Benchers, in the sort of proportion that is suggested for the House, will have all the powers. That view is held less among your Lordships who know the Cross-Benchers than among those in another place. But we know our Cross-Benchers. Not a great many of them vote regularly. They very often divide in opinion, because they are entirely independent. But if there was an occasion on which all the Cross-Benchers voted either for the Government or against the Government, is that not the very sort of case in which this House ought to use the powers it will have?
§ I believe that following these reforms we shall have every opportunity to do real Parliamentary reform, and I 652 believe, too, that with these reforms the influence of your Lordships' House on the country will be greater than it is to-day. For those reasons I respectfully commend these proposals to your Lordships. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That this House gives general approval to the proposals for the Reform of the House of Lords as set out in the White Paper House of Lords Reform (Cmnd. 3799).—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ 3.15 p.m.
My Lords, entering this marathon debate as the first speaker from this side of your Lordships' House, I am very conscious of the fact that I have been a speaking Member of this House for only ten years or so. Nevertheless, I hold myself second to no Member of this House in my belief that our form of democracy demands a two-Chamber system that we need an effective and efficient Second Chamber and that this House, even as it exists to-day after the reforms of the last decade, is in some respects that Chamber. I should like to explain how I approached the inter-Party Conference of which I had the honour to be a member. I had in mind the three main roles of this House which my noble Leader. Lord Carrington, has so often explained: the function of initiating and revising legislation; the ability to ventilate issues of to-day and to-morrow in more general debate and the responsibility, if need be, to tell the Government of the day, "No; take that back and think again".
I suspect that most fair-minded people would agree that we at present discharge the first two of these three roles, the revisionary and the deliberative, tolerably well. Unfortunately. I was not persuaded, and cannot persuade myself even in my most Panglossian mood, that our House is the best of all possible Houses in the best of all possible Parliamentary worlds. This is in part because we are so plainly prevented from properly discharging our third function: the ability, when need be, to impose a proper period of delay for further reflection. We on this side of the House know this business only too well. If we pull our punches, as time and again my noble friend has been constrained to advise my noble friends to do, the Press reads. "The Lords cave in again". But if the House puts its foot down, no attention is paid to the ground on which we 653 choose to stand. Public opinion is exclusively focused on our right, or lack of right, to make a stand. "Tories to the Tumbrils?", the headlines politely suggest. If the truth of this required demonstration, it was surely demonstrated over the Rhodesia Order last June.
Constitutionally, the effects of this are serious. This House chooses, perhaps naturally, to exercise only a limited check on a Government of the Right—albeit rather more check than outsiders sometimes suppose. Likewise, and rather paradoxically, we are able to exercise but little check on a Government of the Left, since we know that if we stand on our undoubted constitutional rights we are bound to precipitate a full-scale constitutional crisis.
My Lords, by this I am not saying that this House does not work. In many ways, it works a great deal better than most outsiders realise—and largely, if I may say so, as a result of the dedicated work of the hereditary Peers. What I am saying is that we are inhibited from playing our proper part in the work of Parliament by our consciousness of what I would term the "St. Aldwyn's Overkill"—that large, inbuilt Conservative majority which derives from history and hereditary. Time and again we are constrained to pull our punches and thereby to erode our general public standing and our constitutional credibility. The main case, therefore, for reform, as I understand it, is that a reformed House with a logically defensible composition would not only have increased authority in the country but could also play a fuller part, as the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack suggested, in making our Parliamentary machine as a whole more efficient and effective. In large part I accept that case, although my own preference would have been to proceed rather more slowly, digesting the not inconsiderable reforms of the last decade.
But, my Lords, we do not live in an ideal world. We have, after all, a Labour Government. We cannot ignore the fact—and, again, we have been reminded by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack—that the Government are committed to a wide-ranging measure of reform in this Session. It is no longer, therefore, a nice academic problem which we can pick over at leisure in the "Bishops' Bar"—a Bar for which I 654 thank the right reverend Prelates very much. We are now faced with a practical, a political choice. We could, of course, choose to have no truck with a Government who are now, in electoral terms, but barely credible. In general, I see nothing particularly wrong with the old adage, that it is the duty of the Opposition to oppose, but, personally, I draw a major distinction where major constitutional change is at stake. In this special and reserved area, I believe it is incumbent on me—I know that this is the Lord Chancellor's belief as he expressed it—and incumbent on the major Parties to reach agreement if agreement can be achieved without the sacrifice of principle. It would be a real disaster if this House were to become the plaything of Party political forces, a political shuttlecock like the British steel industry, for example. I therefore believe that this Government, wrong in most things, were right in November last year to propose joint talks between the three Parties. By the same token, I believe that it was right for the Opposition to respond.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has, I think, implied in his speech that the White Paper contains the essence of the package which—subject to a reservation of the first importance to which I will revert in a moment —the Conference agreed. I can, of course, confirm that this is the case and, if I may, I should like to thank him for his reference to the small sub-committee of the Conference on which, as is always the case, most of the important work was done by the officials. I should also like to thank the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, for his impartial chairmanship of the Conference as a whole. Like him, I went into this Conference hoping that agreement could be reached, but extremely sceptical about whether it would be.
From the start, as he explained, we were faced with the difficult question of the principle on which a reformed House should be based; whether on the elective principle, or on some basis of regional representation, or through nomination, or through some mix of these various possibilities. He has explained why, in the end, we came back to nomination, and I agree with that explanation. I agree, too, that if we are to have nominations the responsibility for 655 nomination must, in the last resort, rest squarely on the shoulders of the Prime Minister who, in the last resort, too, can be held to account. The critics have focussed much of their criticism on this question of nomination, and the linked question of patronage.
I should like to add only this to what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has said. Apart from the safeguards of independence built into the scheme embodied in the White Paper, to which he alluded, there is a further safeguard against any undue extension of patronage. That further safeguard is the one implicit in the White Paper, that the Prime Minister's existing and undoubted right to swamp a recalcitrant Upper House in the last resort would now, and for the first time, be clearly limited by a clear convention that the Government of the day can never possess an assured majority in the voting House. In view of this, I would submit that, far from the Prime Minister's existing powers of patronage being extended, they are, under the present proposals, and in a significant degree, restricted.
As for the scheme itself, it is there for all to see, and I think there are 117 other speakers who are to have their say on it. I should now like, only very briefly, to emphasise what I particularly like about it. I particularly like the large measure of real independence which, under the scheme, would be built into the structure of the reformed House. I also see great advantage in that constitutional novelty, the two-tier device. It is the best device that I can think of by which in a reformed House we can include the two main types of Members, which the dual functions of the House require; the full-timer, discharging the often pedestrian but often important function of legislation, and the part-timer —whether he be an hereditary Peer, with some esoteric expertise, or the occasional lay expert, or that very important but impossibly busy person who cannot come very often to the House—discharging the function of general and expert debate.
The other great merit which I see is that the Conference was able to discuss and agree on both composition and powers. At the start I feared that, if we could agree on a reformed House so constituted as to render it less vulnerable to 656 criticism, the Government might well be unwilling to concede real power to that reformed House. For me that would have been a clear breaking point. But in the event, those fears were not realised. The upshot is that the delaying power conceded to the reformed House on public legislation is, on average, not less than the powers—"the enormous powers I think the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor called them—which we at present possess, and the point of definition from the point of disagreement— is much clearer than the present extremely erratic yardstick.
That said, I should be less than frank with my noble friends if I did not make clear that in a perfect world there are aspects of the scheme which I should have preferred otherwise. First and foremost, there is the erosion of the constitutional rights of the hereditary Peerage. That is a point which troubles many of my noble friends, and it troubles me, too. The hereditary Peerage is deeply rooted in our history. Hereditary Peers have made, and make, a distinguished contribution to this House. And, while it may go against the grain to surrender rights personal to oneself, it goes even more against the grain to surrender the rights of those who are to follow us.
It is true that a not inconsiderable number of hereditary Peers will doubtless take their place in the voting House by selection as new Peers of first creation, but I, for one, had hoped that we could preserve more in an agreed scheme. I had hoped that we could persuade the other participants in the talks that not only would the existing hereditary Peers be able to continue as non-voting Members, but that they would also have been enabled to transmit their right to their heirs. If the Conference had been able to agree on this, it would, in my view, have bequeathed two undoubted advantages on the reformed House. Automatically, this would have meant a place for the "ordinary bloke"—the Jellicoes and Ferrards of this world, if I may so term them—and automatically, too, it would have given a chance for youth, if it so wished, to take that chance (and I take the Lord Chancellor's point) to make its way in the new House. It is, in my view, a very great pity that the Government felt unable to agree to this.
657 The second area which troubles me is that of delegated legislation. Admittedly, our right of complete veto derives from a quirk of history. Admittedly, in the scheme before us we shall retain the right to make the Commons think again. Nevertheless, I was not particularly happy about the position reached by the Conference on this aspect of affairs when our talks were so rudely interrupted by the Prime Minister. This may appear a rather humdrum area of our legislative life; but it is a significant one, as Stansted Airport has reminded us.
We have witnessed a luxuriant growth in legislation by Statutory Instrument during the last 50 years, with all the temptations which this holds out for an overweening Executive. This is preeminently a field in which the revisory Chamber should be able to operate with effect and with authority. There is a clear case, to my mind, for ensuring that the reformed House has powers of delay over subordinate legislation analogous to its powers of delay over Public Bills. Likewise, we should be able to build in safeguards against an unscrupulous Administration, whether of the Left or of the Right, being able to circumvent the delaying powers of the Second Chamber over Public Bills by embodying in Instruments what should properly be incorporated in Bills.
These desirable objectives have still to be achieved. The difficulties which the Conference faced are explained, and explained quite fairly, in the White Paper. In paragraph 58, the Government advocate urgent examination by a Joint Select Committee of both Houses of the whole field of subordinate legislation. I must emphasise that I, for one, agreed to the surrender of our admittedly somewhat anomalous powers in this field only on the understanding that this review would be carried out without delay and with the objectives outlined in paragraph 58 of the White Paper in mind.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (LORD SHACKLETON)
My Lords, before the noble Earl leaves this very important point—he has put it very fairly—I hope he will confirm that we were confronted with the total impossibility of building in delaying powers into subordinate legislation as things are now. We examined this very thoroughly, and I hope that it will be clear to your Lordships that this 658 is not being done, not because the Government took a particular predetermined view, but simply because it was technically impossible to do it.
Yes, my Lards, I can confirm what the noble Lord the Leader of the House has said. I certainly was not intending to mislead your Lordships. In fact, I said that the White Paper had put this fairly, and I think that the point is firmly embedded in the White Paper. The noble Lord is quite right.
I now come to our most important reservation. The last sentence of paragraph 6 of the White Paper states that:The Government proposes that the reform should come into effect at the end of the present session.This flat statement conceals the one point of flat disagreement between the Conservative members of the Conference and the remainder. We expressed the view that it would be quite improper to embark on this major reform of the composition of the House, in a way which undoubtedly diminishes the rights of some of its Members, save at the beginning of a new Parliament. In our view, such action would be contrary to the letter and the spirit of the Writ of Summons which all Members of the existing House have received. Furthermore, we held, and we continue to hold, that it would be utterly wrong to base the composition of the reformed House on a House of Commons which was elected in 1966 and which now distorts rather than reflects the political situation of to-day. In sum, my Lords, we hold that a grave constitutional change of this kind should not be brought into effect in the dying years of a discredited Government.
But let us make no mistake about what we mean. In its leader to-day, The Guardian suggests that those who take this view are against legislation in the lifetime of this Parliament. The Guardian has got it wrong. What we are saying is that effect should not be given to such legislation in the lifetime of this Parliament. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has talked of the desirability of acting while the constitutional pot is on the boil. All I would say in reply to that is that I can see no difficulty in writing into this legislation, if it comes before the House in this Session and we approve it, a clear 659 requirement that it should be brought into effect in the beginning of the next Parliament.
Where does all this lead us? By the early summer of this year, the Inter-Party Conference had elaborated its proposals and virtually finished its work. Then came that fit of post-Rhodesian Prime Ministerial petulance. The talks were broken off, and all bets from both sides were off with them. Since then the Government have gone through, I understand, a further period of rather trying labour and have now brought forth a White Paper. The responsibility for that White Paper is of course theirs, and theirs alone. Those of us who participated in the Conference could well argue now that it was not we who broke it up and that the bets should remain off. But I would hold that to be neither a reasonable nor, indeed, an entirely honourable attitude for us to adopt. If the package was acceptable to us in June, it should be acceptable in November.
As for the future, we shall see what we shall see. It is perfectly possible that the proposals could be refined during their passage through Parliament. Beyond that I should naturally expect any successor Government to do its level best to operate the scheme both in its letter and in its spirit. But, of course, it cannot be held to be immutable. Certainly the Government's rather gimmicky proposal (if they will pardon the expression) for a Constitutional Commission has added a new dimension to this old problem. In any event, if the scheme goes through I am sure that the right thing to do is to see how it works and for all of us to do our utmost to make it work well. But if, in the light of experience, it becomes clear that changes are needed, then I can see no good reason why the necessary changes should not be made, provided that such changes are backed by a broad measure of agreement.
That, my Lords, is my personal position and the position, as I understand it, of my Conservative colleagues in the Conference. How my noble friends view this scheme is, of course, their affair and quite another matter. St. Aldwyn's Whip will not be flourished on Thursday night when the vote is taken. It would 660 be wrong, as it would certainly be counter-productive, for us to whip on a constitutional matter of this magnitude and on an issue which so intimately affects the personal interests of noble Lords and, indeed, of their descendants. Nevertheless, I hope that my noble friends will allow me, in conclusion, to put the following considerations to them.
I would remind them of what the House could gain under this scheme. If we endorse this scheme, the Party opposite will be agreeing something which, as I understand it, they have never before formally agreed—namely, that a viable Upper House has an essential part to play in our Parliamentary structure. They will be agreeing that this reformed House should never—I repeat, never—contain a majority of the Labour Party's committed supporters. They will be agreeing that this new House should be able to use its powers without the constant fear of bringing down upon its head retribution, in the shape of a major constitutional crisis. They will thus, my Lords, be approving and sanctioning a House which will virtually have as much power, in theory, and a great deal more power and authority in practice than our existing Chamber. Aspects of the new scheme may well be as unpalatable to noble Lords opposite as some other aspects may be to my noble friends. But to both I would say that we are not going to be asked in two days' time to approve every jot and tittle of this scheme. We are being asked to give no more than a general approval to it as a package.
My final reflection is this—and here I know that I must regretfully forfeit the support of the noble Lord, Lord Blyton, if he is here. In my political lifetime, I have seen my countrymen throw away a great opportunity in foreign affairs—the chance of taking the lead in the political unification and advance of Europe. That chance may never recur. I am myself convinced that in the nearer and more domestic sphere we now have a quite considerable constitutional prize within our grasp; namely, the opportunity to build a really viable Upper House, on the basis of a broad consensus of support from all Parties. I would ask my noble friends to ponder carefully 661 in the unsilent reaches of the nights between now and Thursday the consequences of not seizing that chance. As I have said, my Lords, it may not recur.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ LORD WADE
My Lords, as the first speaker from the Liberal Benches in this very long three-day debate I shall not be expected to comment in detail on all the paragraphs of the White Paper. I shall endeavour to follow the good example set by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack and the noble Earl. Lord Jellicoe. There is, however, room for many distinctive points of view. Speaking for the majority of my colleagues and myself, I can express broad approval for the proposals in the White Paper, not as an ultimate solution but as an interim measure of reform which, subject to certain detailed criticisms, deserves support. I should be the first to admit that the proposals in the White Paper have all the characteristics of a compromise, but I believe that the merits outweigh the demerits.
It so happens, my Lords, that from time to time when I was in another place I took part in debates touching on the reform of your Lordships' House; and, fortunately, I do not find myself in the position of having to eat my own words. I have always recognised the dilemma facing reformers: if there were to be a wholly elected House it might become a rival to the House of Commons rather than a complement to it; on the other hand, if it were wholly appointed, there would always he this danger of excessive patronage. There is no ideal and no simple solution. But that is no reason for leaving the present composition unchanged.
Your Lordships will recall that at the time of the Wedgwood Benn case, when Mr. Wedgwood Benn was attempting to be relieved of the obligation of having to leave the House of Commons and of coming to serve in this House, he petitioned the Committee of Privileges in the House of Commons. That was in 1960. When that failed, a Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform, composed of Members of both Houses, representing all Parties, was set un, and sat in session in 1962–63. The outcome of the Report of that Committee was the Peerage Act 1963 which introduced the 662 opting-out procedure. I happened to serve on that Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform. There were some differences of opinion on the interpretation of the terms of reference, and I found myself in a minority: actually, on one occasion I was voted down 19 to l; but I am accustomed to being in a minority. I took the view that as the proposals under consideration involved some depletion and some additions to the membership of this House, the Committee ought to consider the whole subject of composition, and if not permitted to do so should put on record the illogical posit on in which the Committee found themselves. But I was voted down. However, I think my point was a valid one, and I still think that the Peerage Act 1963 provides additional reason for introducing a reform of the composition of this House.
As I understand it, the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, has broadly supported the proposals but has suggested that they should not come into effect until after a General Election. I think it is worth noting that following the Report of the Committee to which I have just re erred, the Government introduced a Bill. There was one Amendment, if my memory is right, which was accepted. When the Bill was passed, it came into effect straight away; there was no question of waiting until after a General Election, although a General Election was only a year ahead. Once it was clear that the proposals were approved by both Houses of Parliament they were adopted.
I think it is fair to point out that the Peerage Act 1963 introduced quite a new principle; namely, that certain particular and very distinguished families in society should have the right, generation by generation, to decide whether or not they should have a seat in Parliament—or, to be more accurate, that heirs on inheriting should have a right to sit in Parliament or not. Some thought that this was creating a new type of privilege. But perhaps that is past history. Nevertheless, it was put into effect straight away, and I think it would be inconsistent not to follow the same precedent today. If both Houses approve these proposals, having examined the appropriate legislation. I can see no point in further delay.
I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe (I hope I am summarising correctly what he said), that the prin 663 ciple of a hereditary House of Lords is no longer the main issue. It is really a practical issue that we have to consider; namely, how to remedy the anomalies in the composition and powers of this House in order that Parliament may function more effectively. It would seem to me that there are four main factors which have to be taken into account. The first is: in this complex society, with the Executive so powerful, with the mass of legislation that we have to deal with, there is a very real need for some form of Second Chamber; and this should not exist on sufferance, but should be accepted as a necessary and proper part of our Parliament. Secondly, quite apart from the principles of Parliamentary democracy that are involved there is a positive disadvantage in having one Party in a permanent majority in this House. I think that even the official Opposition today recognise this, as the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, has pointed out.
Thirdly, there is need for closer cooperation and co-ordination of work between the two Houses. I should put that at the head of the list of the aims in the White Paper; it is extremely important. But, unfortunately, no satisfactory progress can be made until there is reform of the composition of this House. That, I think, is just one of the facts of life. Fourthly—and here we come to the compromise—I think we must acknowledge, and I certainly acknowledge it myself, that there are a number of hereditary Peers who are giving valuable service in this House, and it would be foolish to dispense with their services forthwith merely because they happen to have inherited their position in the House of Lords.
It would seem to me, therefore, that the proposals in the White Paper represent a fair attempt to take all these factors into account. Of course, there are objections. There are some who do not like the idea of a two-tier system, and some who fear that there may be too much increase in the power of patronage. As to the two-tier system, at first I was not very enthusiastic, but it seems to me that the only alternative would be to limit membership to, say, 250 to 300 full-time Members of this House and exclude all others. I can see the objections to that, and therefore I am persuaded that we 664 should adopt the two-tier system, at any rate on trial.
As to the criticism that there will be excessive powers of patronage, this should be taken seriously. I do not think it should be brushed on one side. I hope that the Review Committee will provide a partial answer, but I think we shall have to rely largely on public opinion, both outside this House and within. At the same time, it is important to analyse exactly what is meant by this danger of patronage. It may mean that the Prime Minister will nominate persons solely for faithful service; and I think the answer there must come from the strength of the conventions that are built up, and public opinion. A more serious line of criticism, certainly constitutionally more serious, is that Members would have less independence owing to the pressure of the Party managers. But if Members are appointed for life, this could well be exaggerated. There has not really been very much evidence of this. Since I became a Member of your Lordships' House I have not seen any very marked sign of submissiveness on the part of my fellow Life Peers. It is worth pointing out that in the House of Commons there is a much more serious threat. That is, the threat to a Member that if he does not toe the line he will have an official candidate put up against him at the next Election, and the vote will be split and he will lose his seat. That is a very much more serious interference with personal independence than anything that can be said by a Party Leader or a Party Whip in this House to a Life Peer. Therefore, I suggest we must view this matter in the right perspective, although it certainly must be watched.
I promised not to attempt any detailed comment on the proposals in the White Paper, but I should like to offer three comments which I hope are constructive. The first relates to the functions of the non-voting Peers—I am assuming there will be non-voting Peers. Paragraph 46 of the White Paper, as I understand it, provides that non-voting Peers may serve on Committees; but paragraph 49 states that they shall notvote in any committee for the consideration of legislation.That seems to me unreasonable. Take, for example, the Gaming Bill. There are few subjects on which I know less 665 than on gaming, but I was greatly impressed by the expertise displayed by the Committee on that Bill. On some future occasion where a similar Committee is set up it may well be that a non-voting Peer will be asked to serve. I think it would be unreasonable to ask a Peer to serve on a Committee such as that and not vote. After all, the Committee will report to the Whole House on Report stage, and I do not think we should suffer if non-voting Peers were allowed to vote on Committees in those circumstances.
Secondly—a very short point—on page 14 of the White Paper, paragraph 31, it is suggested that the Review Committee should reportto the Prime Minister or to Parliament".Surely, it would be quite inadequate to report only to the Prime Minister. The Report should be to Parliament, and thereby made known to the public. Thirdly, on remuneration, I am quite sure that the right course is to set up an independent body. I believe that this is the correct procedure. But when the Lawrence Committee were appointed there were also appointed an Advisory Committee composed of Members of both Houses. I was a member of that Advisory Committee. We did not attempt to tell the Lawrence Committee what to do—we should not have presumed to do so. We were there to give background information and advice. Our advice was not always taken, but I believe that that Committee gave useful service; and perhaps a similar idea might be adopted if a "Lawrence Committee" of that type is set up.
Finally, as to the future, looking further ahead, may I say that this will not be the last reform, my Lords. I am not going to say that we must wait for the Commission, because I do not yet know whether the promise of a Commission is a delaying tactic or something to be taken seriously. But, Commission or no Commission, we must contemplate the possibility, maybe the probability, of a Parliament in Scotland and in Wales. In saying that, I am not advocating separatism, which I think would be harmful to Scotland and Wales; but it would necessitate a review of the composition of this House. Again, the day may not he far off when we have some kind of regional government with regional assem 666 blies. That also will require a review of the composition of this House. I am not afraid of an elected element. I think it will come, and it may provide an opportunity to younger people to gain entrance to this House.
However, there is one essential condition that must be fulfilled, which is that we must have a different voting system. I think it would be very harmful to the composition of this House if we copied the voting system adopted for Elections to the House of Commons. I regard that point as absolutely essential. If that is true, then there is much to be done. There is agreement to be arrived at with our friends in Scotland and Wales; the question of boundaries has to be decided; the length of service in this House has to be considered, and the method of electing representatives. All this will take time. Meanwhile, we cannot stand still.
There has been some discussion in the Press as to whether, if these proposals are adopted, the Commons will get the best of the Lords or the Lords the best of the Commons. I am not really interested in that. What matters is the reform of Parliament, and to achieve that there must be closer co-operation between the Lords and the Commons. Unfortunately, we can make little progress until we have overcome this problem of composition. There is, alas! a kind of psychological barrier between the two Houses. So far as this House is concerned, it is regrettable because there is a considerable waste of talent as well as duplication of work. I agree that there is a high standard of debate in this House; I agree that we have the value of great experts coming here; but I sometimes wonder how many people read what they say. I believe their membership would be much more valuable if there were Joint Committees of both Houses for such matters as foreign affairs, defence, the economy of the country; also science and technology and great social problems such as poverty and housing, and of course the ever-present question of how to stand up to the Executive. This is far more important than the reform of the House of Lords: it is that that "brooks no delay".
The reform, my Lords, is therefore necessary as a means to an end; namely, a more efficient Parliament. If the choice lies between doing nothing and accept 667 ing something broadly along the lines of these proposals, I certainly would vote for these proposals. Once both Houses approve, I think the sooner they are implemented, the better. Then we can insist on a more satisfactory, a more efficient and a more sensible co-ordination of work between this House and the House of Commons.
§ 3.58 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF CHESTER
My Lords, I am confident that I command the support of those who sit on these Benches in giving our full encouragement to the reforms set out in the White Paper. I believe them to be a victory for common sense. As the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack has reminded us, the White Paper proceeds by way of reform rather than by revolution. It does not attempt to impose a new system upon us untried by time or experience. In the past decade there have already been considerable constitutional reforms in this House which have come in easily and peacefully and have been greatly to the strengthening of the work of this House. It seems to me that these reforms follow naturally and easily upon those things with which we have been accustomed during this past ten years. It emanates from the agreement of the Parties concerned; and that is a great commendation in itself. I believe that these reforms will go far to remove the anomalies which are generally recognised to exist in the constitution and functioning of this House, and open new opportunities for effective action in the good government of this country.
Again, I am confident that I speak for the right reverend Prelates who sit on these Benches in thanking Her Majesty's Government for the consideration that they have given to the place of the Bishops in the reformed House. I should especially like to express our gratitude to the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack for the sympathetic and understanding way in which he approached our presence here in his opening speech. The representative Committee was good enough to receive a small number of us, led by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and to listen to our views upon the place and usefulness of those who sit on these Benches. The White 668 Paper may not give all that all of us would have liked, but on the other hand the proposals are equitable. In a House of reduced size it is reasonable that the number of Bishops should be reduced from 26 to 16. It is proper that the historic Sees of Canterbury, York, London, Durham and Winchester should remain ex officio. Some of us, however, regret that the rest should be deprived of their voting rights and would have hoped that the same privilege in this respect should apply to the reduced number of Bishops as applies to the Law Lords.
We feel that on controversial issues, while it may take courage to make an unpopular speech it takes more courage to record an unpopular vote, and yet by so doing one can put the seal upon a conscientiously held point of view more effectively than merely by making a speech unaccompanied by any responsibility for implementing what one may have asked for. And it should be remembered that on controversial issues the record of the Bishops is carefully scrutinised outside this House, as we are all only too well aware.
Again, in respect of legislation by Church Assembly Measure, which is a significant part of the duties of this House, it seems strange that the majority of those most directly implicated should have no power to express an opinion by vote in the case of a Division. Nor do I think it wise necessarily to attach voting powers solely to the five ex officio Sees, for it may well be that one or other of their occupants may not be particularly interested in the work of this House. He might well have other interests and expertise, and so the House would be deprived of the services of one or more of its voting Members.
These are, however, matters of detail which can be examined when we come to consider the finer points of the scheme. I mention them and leave them for the moment lest I should incur the criticism levelled against that ghostly episcopal predecessor released from his frame for a short time in the Hall of Ruddigore Castle who voted in a minority of one against the penalty to be required of the new baronet and received the reproach. "Oh, you are never satisfied."
Those of us who sit on these Benches are not insensitive to the view held by 669 some, and mentioned in the White Paper, that the presence of the Bishops in this Chamber as a separate estate is an anomaly that should not be allowed to continue in a modern legislative assembly. This view has been expressed as well in one way or another in letters to the newspapers, accompanied, I regret to say, with a certain amount of denominational tail-twisting which accorded ill with the ecumenical temper of these days, and displayed some ignorance both of the facts and of the constitutional issues involved.
But here let it be said—and I am sure that I speak for other Lords Spiritual—that much as we recognise and greatly as we value the privileges which we enjoy in this House as Bishops of the established Church, we should be among the first to support the view that a place should be found for the leaders of other religious bodies. The contribution made to the deliberations of this House by such noble Lords as Lord Soper and Lord McLeod of Fuinary can leave no doubt about the enrichment which would be brought by a still wider representation of those who bear responsibility for the religious life of the nation. Even so, there are those who question the propriety of the Bench of Bishops enjoying a place as of right in this Chamber, and since this is an opportunity for a frank discussion of such issues I hone your Lordships will bear with me if I say something in explanation of what we who enjoy this privilege greatly value. In so doing, I shall try to be as dispassionate, as objective and as impersonal as I can be.
First, there is the historical issue. The presence of ecclesiastics in the Councils of the nation goes back unbroken, except for a short period in the Commonwealth, to Anglo-Saxon times. The reason for their presence and the extent of their influence has varied from century to century. Originally, they were summoned because they were powerful and wealthy landowners. Later they made their contribution as great Officers of State. At the accession of Henry VIII it was estimated that 15 out of the 17 diocesan Bishops had held high office in the State. In the 18th and early 19th centuries they represented valuable votes in your Lordships' House. This was the time when the Bishops reached the nadir of their representation in Parliament. 670 Bishop Bell of Chichester, speaking in this House on a similar occasion in 1957, quoted a well-known historian as saying of these times:The Bishops were almost a laughing stock for their subservience. They could not even stay away without exciting comment. When only 7 of the 26 appeared in Parliament during the ticklish Regency crisis of 1788 Lord Bulkely remarked that it was a proof that crows soon smell powder.If Anthony Trollope is to be trusted, the scandal of political appointments to spiritual cures lasted into the 1850s, for devotees of Barchester Towers will recollect that the prolongation of the life of Bishop Grantly for a few hours after the fall of the Government meant that his son, Archdeacon Grantly was, in Trollope's words, deprived of his "desire to sit in full lawn sleeves among the Peers of the Realm"; while the diocese instead was subjected to the rule of Dr. Proudie—and Mrs. Proudie.
With such a record so close at hand it is not surprising that some should share the acid comment of Bishop Hensley Henson:Is it not notorious that few arguments against the Establishment are more effective with the multitude than a cold recital of episcopal action in Parliament? The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge.Yet in fact we have done much to rid our mouths of the bitter taste of a questionable past. Bishops no longer live in their London houses, visit their dioceses during the off-season months, and turn up in solid phalanxes to vote for the Government which nominated them to their Sees. They have a greater sense of responsibility for their primary spiritual duties in their diocese, while at the same time recognising that those duties are given special opportunity by a voice in Parliament.
I think it can be claimed that the historic right to a seat in this Chamber on these Benches has brought to its counsels many men of great wisdom, courage and prophetic insight, who would not otherwise have been here: to name only Archbishop Davidson, Archbishop Temple, Archbishop Garbett and Bishop Bell. I do not believe that we do the nation a service by disregarding the past, by rejecting institutions because the reasons for which they came into being have ceased to have any relevance. To sterilise the present from its contact with 671 what has gone before by removing those institutions which remind us of our his tory and tradition may in subtle but powerful ways upset the balance of our political machinery. So long as we can adjust and adapt the old to meet the demands of the new we render a double service. We serve the present with the maturity of the past. And that, I hope, the Lords Spiritual have in some measure been able to achieve.
It would not be right to justify a position solely on grounds of history and tradition. In this case there is also the important constitutional issue. By reason of our history, the threads of Church and State are closely interwoven in the fabric of the nation. That is an inescapable fact. There are some, both those who claim to be churchmen and those who do not, who regret this state of affairs and would like to disentangle the threads. Indeed, it is in order to examine the desirability of a modification in the relationship between Church and State that the Archbishops' Commission is at present sitting, though we cannot yet tell exactly when it will be able to report. If that Commission should recommend a change in the Church-State nexus, then all the points of contact, of which Bishops in this House is one, would need to be reexamined. The balance of relationship is, however, a delicate one, and I suggest that the White Paper is fair and just in recommending that any basic alteration in the status of the Lords Spiritual should await the more general survey which we may expect from the Commission.
Finally, I come to the practical issue. The influence exerted by the Bench of Bishops has changed greatly over the years. At the Reformation Parliament in 1529, there were present 48 Lords Spiritual and 44 Lords Temporal. In the reign of Edward VI the number was fixed at two Archbishops and 24 Bishops. Three hundred years ago this House consisted of 80 persons in 1900, of 590 persons; in 1957, 872; today, 1,062. The number of Bishops has remained the same. The Lords Spiritual therefore constitute a tiny minority, but, I hope your Lordships will accept, a significant one. The Bishops are entrusted with a responsibility in this place not for any narrow ecclesiastical reasons, but because they, along with others whose mouthpiece 672 they endeavour to be, are deeply concerned—and specially concerned—with the spiritual, moral and social well-being of the nation.
Never has there been a time when these issues were more vividly before us. Issues of war and peace, of international morality, of racial discrimination, of educational reform, of the welfare of different sections of the community; issues of personal morality, abortion, divorce, homosexuality, gambling, drug addiction and the like. This House has a wealth of experience and expertise over the whole range of these problems. I hope it is felt that those who sit on these Benches make a constructive contribution to our discussions, by virtue of their training, their experience and their contact with all sorts and conditions of men.
In paragraph 23, the White Paper stresses the need for regional representation in the House of Lords; in paragraph 25 it declares its desire for "a degree of genuine independence". I hope I am not claiming too much for the Lords Spiritual in saying that they are tailor-made to fit these requirements. They represent a wide geographical pattern and can express a point of view fresh from the place where they live and work. The Bishop of Durham on the problems of the North-East, which surround him in Bishop Auckland; the Bishop of Truro, straight from the beaches befouled by the "Torrey Canyon". They are beholden to no one, and can and do express their minds without restriction.
I must not end without expressing, on behalf of all of us on these Benches, the value which we place upon our privileges which we hold in this Chamber. We are proud of the tradition which we represent; we value the opportunity of leading the House in its Prayers; we value its many friendships, and, above all, we prize the opportunity of taking part in the government of our country. We trust that, though diminished in number, we shall be given the opportunity to continue to serve to the best of our ability.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I hope that the preceding speakers will forgive me if I do not follow them at length into all the interesting arguments which they have put forward this 673 afternoon: it would take up far too much of your Lordships' time. Though, no doubt, I shall cover much the same ground, my purpose is to concentrate in as short a time as I possibly can on the main issues that seem to me personally to be raised by the Government's Motion which we are examining this afternoon.
The subject which we are discussing, the Reform of your Lordships' House, is not a new one—at any rate, to those of us who have been Members of this House for any considerable time. I think it is the third time that it has come before the House of Lords since I have been a Member. All the aspects have been explored again and again, both with regard to the composition and powers of the House, and all possible alternatives to the present system have been exhaustively examined.
The main target, of course, has been the hereditary character of this House, and that is perhaps not surprising; for, after all, the conditions which so many centuries ago brought into being the hereditary system have long passed away. In those days, as I think the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester has just reminded your Lordships, the main qualification for membership was territorial power—the territorial power of those feudal magnates without whose support the King could not govern at all. That, as I understand it, is the real origin of those Writs of Summons which your Lordships still receive. But to-day, as we all know, great territorial magnates no longer exist; and if the hereditary system has continued into the modern world, it has not been because it is any longer defensible on any logical grounds, but because, as I understand the position, it has, like so many British institutions, on the whole worked not too badly; and, in addition, it has provided a check on possible actions by a House of Commons which has ceased any longer to represent the people who elected it—a check which up to now, at any rate, the British people have believed to be required, if democracy is to mean what it says.
I may be told that the fact that some such check may he needed does not of itself justify anything in the nature of a hereditary system. I should entirely agree with that view; and as some, at any rate, of your Lordships, may know, 674 I have personally long advocated a drastic pruning of that system. I should think there can be few people in the world to-day who would still attempt to maintain the view that the fact that a man is the son of his father could of itself justify a claim to be a Member of this House. There must be some other qualification as well. To this extent, I largely agree with what was said by the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor.
On the other hand, I believe that there is still one reason against the disappearance of the hereditary system, as is, as I understand it, envisaged in the Government plan now before your Lordships. It has nothing to do with principle at all—it is purely practical—but it is, I believe, very important. It is a very simple one. Without some hereditary Peers, I do not see how there is going to be, under the Government's proposals, any even fairly young Members of the House of Lords at all. I have been at pains and it is really a monumental task—to go through the list of Peers who are Members of this House at the present time. And what have I found? Except for hereditary Peers, there would not be a single Member under 40, and only three under 50. And yet, my Lords, the House is, under this scheme, now to lose all its hereditary Peers. That does seem to me a formidable defect to these proposals which we are discussing.
The House of Commons, in this particular respect, is quite differently and far more fortunately placed than us. For a young man, however young, can always offer himself to a constituency organisation for selection as a representative of one or other Party in the House. But a young Peer, under the White Paper proposals of the Government, if I have understood them aright, has to be selected by the Prime Minister of the day himself. And how is the Prime Minister to know, among quite young men, who are good and who are not? The experience we have already had with Life Peers clearly shows this. They are all, if I may say so, fairly elderly men, and some of them are quite old. It is quite true that, for one generation only, existing young Peers are to he allowed to speak, if not to vote. But this is again, if I have got it right, only for one generation; and 675 after that there will presumably be practically no Member in this House who is under 50 and very few under 60. Unless this difficulty can be got over, this does seem to me a very serious defect in the proposals. For your Lordships' House will tend to be only an armchair for the old, comfortable no doubt and probably well deserved, but sadly lacking in youth or imagination or vitality.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, before the noble Marquess leaves this very interesting point, how many young Peers does he think are essential to modify the "armchair" quality of this House? I wondered how many under 40 he could see at this moment. I can see about two or three.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I can see some. I am not defending the present position; what I am saying is that under the Government scheme it would be infinitely worse. I would personally prefer to leave at least a residue of, say, 50 hereditary Peers and entrust the selection of those either to the whole body of hereditary Peers, stressing the importance of youth, or to an all-Party Select Committee of the House of Lords as an alternative, and I would put that suggestion very diffidently to your Lordships as a solution to this very real difficulty. While, therefore, I am not pretending that all young Peers at present pay attention to their duties exactly as they should. I do see some here this afternoon, good ones too, who would not be here in the reformed House.
And now I should like to say a word about powers, with regard to which the defects of the scheme seem to me even more glaring. Perhaps the main argument, as I have already said, that has been used in the past against the hereditary system is that the mere accident of birth should no longer be regarded as entitling a man to perform the immensely important and responsible duties that might well fall on him under the Constitution. But that argument, if the White Paper scheme is passed into law, will no longer have any validity. The dead wood will all have been cut out. A new membership will have been provided, consisting of men and women selected because of their ripe wisdom and experience. 676 Surely, that being so, the quid pro quo should be that the new and wiser Second Chamber should be given more independence, more authority to play its part under the Constitution. But, strangely enough, it appears that, under the scheme of the Government, the exact opposite will be the case.
This wise new House is to have not more, as one would have expected, but far less powers than the old one. That surely does not make sense at all. There is always, it seems, in the future to be a Government majority for whatever Party it may be, whether in the Lords or in the Commons. Both Houses will have a majority of the same Party. That runs directly contrary to a very sensible observation, if I may say so with family pride, on this very subject once made by my grandfather, when he was leading this House at the end of the last century, with regard to the proper relationship between the two Houses. He said that if one has a door with two locks, one does not want to open with the same key. That observation seems to me to be as true now as it was then; and that is where I disagreed, I think, with some words that were spoken by my noble friend Lord Jellicoe.
There is, it is true, a rather odd proviso—not, strangely enough, mentioned at all up to now this afternoon—that the Cross-Bench Peers, under certain circumstances, should be able to hold the balance. But what does this in fact mean? It means this: that in a really serious crisis, when the main Parties in the State, representing between them the great majority of the British people, are unalterably divided, the final decision would rest with a group of individuals who, however distinguished, have shown, by the very fact that they sit on the Cross-Benches, that they do not represent any body of opinion at all but themselves. What protection is there to the country in that? The very fact that they have found themselves unable to agree with the policy of any political Party makes it very improbable. if they will forgive me for saying so, that they will be able to agree even with each other or will represent anything that could be described as a corporate opinion on any question whatever.
That being the case, the effect of what the Government are proposing to do will 677 be to remove any effective curb on the House of Commons and give the Government of the day, whatever it may be, an automatic majority in both Houses of Parliament, even if that Government has clearly ceased to represent the majority of the people. And that is something dangerously near single-Chamber government. Indeed, it is really no figment of my brain that such a situation might occur; it is exactly the position we are in at this very moment. It is surely rather significant that this Government that is asking to be freed from all constitutional restraints is one that may have a majority in the House of Commons but certainly at the present time has not one in the country, or anything like it. Such being the case, one cannot help suspecting that it is not so much the elimination of the effete hereditary Peers that is the real purpose of this exercise. We are merely the smokescreen.
The real aim of the Government and their supporters in another place is a much more far-reaching one: it is to take the country a big step nearer to single-Chamber government; and that is something, my Lords, that I do not believe for a moment the electors want; and though we are sometimes apt to forget it, it is they, the electors, the British people, and not we, who should be, under Her Majesty the Queen, the real rulers of this country. We are only their servants, and they, the British people, ought, I submit, most certainly to be asked to give their approval to this scheme at a General Election, before any change so far-reaching, affecting their whole future, is passed into law. That was the course, I would remind Lord Wade, which was adopted by the then Prime Minister in 1910. It was the right course then; and even after listening to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor I feel that it is the right course now; and I was glad to hear my noble friend Lord Jellicoe support that view.
By all means let us eliminate heretary right as the sole basis for membership of this House, if that is the will of the people. We have gone quite a long way in that direction already. By all means if that is what the country wants, let us have a Council of State composed of men of ripe experience and independent mind, capable of exercising their 678 own judgment on public affairs. But to shackle a Council of State of that kind with a permanent Government majority simply does not make sense. It is a contradiction in terms. Nor, I repeat, do I believe that to free Governments with temporary majorities in the House of Commons from all constitutional restraints is what the British electorate want. On the contrary, their present mood, so far as I can gauge it, is one of deep suspicion of all politicians. What they want is not less restraints but more.
I fully realise that in speaking as I have to your Lordships this afternoon about the constitutional importance of this House I may be regarded by many, perhaps in all parts of the House, as just an old reactionary, or at any rate an anachronism, looking back into the past, hankering after the past. But, my Lords, I do not hanker after the past. I know as well as any of your Lordships that the past cannot be recalled. What I do feel—and feel deeply—is that it this country, as in every country so far as I know at the present time—even in democratic countries—there is a great and growing danger. It is of the ever-increasing power in the hands of the Executive. That, my Lords, is the danger: and it is my strong belief that, to guard against that danger, there must always be some Second Chamber that does not merely say "Ditto" to the first, and I gravely fear that this scheme that we arc discussing this afternoon, with its statutory built-in majority for the Government of the day, and with, as I still feel, even after listening to the Lord Chancellor, its increased patronage in the hands of the Prime Minister of the day, and with its placing of a responsibility on the Cross-Benchers much too heavy for them to bear—that this scheme, my Lords, far from protecting the country from that danger will only increase it.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester said that he regarded the scheme as "a victory for good sense". For the reasons I have given, I am afraid that I cannot agree. And in saying this, my Lords, I am certainly not a reactionary. Indeed, now that the noble Lord, Lord Foot, in this House, has approved of something I have said on this subject, and now too that I have found myself in almost complete agreement with what was said by Mr. Maurice Edelman in the 679 Daily Express last week, I am beginning to think that I am moving rapidly, and almost dangerously, to the Left. But what I am, and what I hope I always shall be, is a constitutionalist; and I believe that this scheme of the Government will upset the whole balance of the constitution, on which the stability of the country depends. I understand that it has been put about in some quarters that, if we do not accept this, we shall get something worse. Indeed, that was inherent in the speech of my noble friend Lord Jellicoe—if he will forgive me for saying so, a rather pusillanimous, even a defeatist, speech. That was also the argument, if I understood it aright, that was put forward by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor this afternoon. But I personally do not regard as a convincing argument in favour of doing something bad the belief that if you do not do it, you may get something even worse. Moreover, frankly, for the reasons I have stated, I do not believe that we can have anything much worse; and for that reason, I personally shall feel it my duty to go into the Lobby against the Motion, when it comes to a vote.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ LORD S1LKIN
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Marquess in any debate in this House, and I do so this afternoon with special pleasure because we all know the great part that he has played in the past in matters of this kind and the many negotiations in which he has taken Hart in connection with the reform of the House of Lords. I did not find his speech this afternoon entirely reactionary; I found it partly so. In his references to the fact of the Government having a majority in this House, I thought he was rather overlooking the fact that that has been the case for centuries past in the case of a Conservative Government. I do not remember the noble Marquess ever protesting that there was virtually unilateral government at the time of a Conservative Government and that the House of Lords came ino active operation only when there was a Labour or Liberal Government.
However, I want to be critical myself of the White Paper, and I hope that the Government and my noble friends will not mind if I am comnletely outspoken 680 and say things of the White Paper itself which may be even rather hurtful. I want to make it quite clear that I am speaking only for myself and for nobody else. I wish, first of all, to question the urgency or even the necessity for dealing with this matter at the present time. There is no crisis, and no crisis is being threatened. After all, for many years we have had the situation of a majority of Conservative Peers in this House and we have had the hereditary system—anomalous as these things have been —and I do not remember, at any rate since 1910, that the actual policy of a Labour Government or of a Liberal Government has been seriously interfered with. I could have understood it if this Government had introduced a measure for the reform of the Lords immediately they came into office; they might have feared that there would be a certain amount of interference with the work which they intended to do. But to bring in a measure of this kind four years after they are in office, when they realise that they are in no danger whatever from any interference from this House, seems to me a somewhat untimely action.
The powers of delay which this House possesses have not proved to be serious. It may be said that this House can interfere with measures that are introduced in the last Session of Parliament. But looking at the gracious Speech and the measures which are being introduced in this Session, it seems to me that there is nothing radical which is threatened for either this or the succeeding Session. Therefore, there seems little danger that this House will interfere with anything that the Government may wish to do either in this or in the next Session. Of course we have frequently made Amendments to Bills against the wishes of the Government. We did so in the case of the Transport Bill, but, as I think the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack pointed out, a great many of these Amendments were eventually accepted by the Government because they effected an improvement in the Bill. Therefore, no harm has been done by passing such Amendments even when they have been opposed to the Government's own ideas.
§ LORD SOMERS
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord for a second? Is it not also true that those Amend 681 ments to which the Government did not agree we agreed to withdraw?
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, that is perfectly true, and the Transport Bill is now in force. Moreover, in many respects this House has shown itself in recent years as more progressive, or at least as equally progressive as the other place. I need mention only one or two measures of social reform, controversial I agree, which have originated in this House: measures on homosexuality and abortion, and the willingness of this House to accept the abolition of hanging. In these respects, and in many others, I think we have demonstrated that this House, certainly in the last twenty years, has changed in character and is to-day a much more progressive House than it ever has been. So this talk of urgency, of "brooking no delay," which has gone on for a century is really no reason for introducing a measure of this kind at the present time. Admittedly there has been a crisis from time to time in the past. There was a crisis in the days of Gladstone when the Home Rule Bills were rejected by the Lords. In 1893, when Lord Rosebery was Prime Minister, and his Home Rule Bill was again rejected, he said that it wasurgently necessary that something should be done about the House of Lords".But in fact it was not until 1910, when a Budget was rejected, that there was a measure to deal with the House of Lords by limiting its powers to deal with finance. Even at that time it was stated that it was only as a temporary measure that this had been done. But may I quote from the Preamble to the 1911 Act:… and whereas it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists a second chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis, but such substitution cannot immediately be brought into operation …"?We have waited a very long time for a House of Lords constituted on a popular basis, and we are not even getting it to-day.
Apart from the Act of 1949, which reduced the powers of delay of the House of Lords, and of course the Life Peerages Act, which was a first-aid measure when the Opposition at that time had virtually ceased to exist, the House of Lords has remained exactly as 682 it was in 1910—without, so far as I know, any ill-effects. The White Paper again refers to the fact that the now proposed reforms are temporary; and that has been stated by virtually every speaker who has supported these measures. I wonder for how long this "temporary" measure will continue. If it is the same as was promised in the Preamble to the 1911 Act it will be a great many years before there is any real modification of the Act.
Moreover, there is no popular demand for this change. It is creating little or no interest in the country. I realise that the proposals are based upon an agreement between the Leaders of the Parties, but in fact there are very large sections of the followers of those Leaders who are not prepared to agree with the proposals in the White Paper. Certainly in another place, if a poll were taken among my own supporters I should think that a very large number would be against the proposals in this White Paper, and I do not know what would happen among noble Lords opposite if they were free to express their views.
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord for one moment? I thought I made it perfectly plain in my opening remarks that, so far as this House is concerned, there is no Whip, and even if there were it would not make the slightest difference.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, I do not know the relevance of that remark. All I am pointing out is that although the Leaders have come to an understanding their respective followers have not necessarily done so and I think we shall find during the three-day debate that that is perfectly true.
I have said that I can see no urgency about these, proposals, nor is this the right time to be making such proposals. The Goverment have announced their decision to set up a Constitutional Commission. I presume that this will be considering, among other matters, the functions of Parliament as a whole: how it works, and how it can be improved. I hope that it is not only the House of Lords that will be under consideration, but even more so the House of Commons, which is very much more in need of a face-lift, of modernisation. To deal with the House of Lords alone strikes me as 683 being not only a complete waste of effort but a wrong priority.
Furthermore, we are living in rapidly changing times, and a House of Lords which might appear appropriate to-day would be completely outdated within a very short time. There are movements in Scotland and Wales, which we cannot ignore, for self-government, and whatever happens they are bound to result in the near future in a greater delegation of powers. This must be reflected, or should be, in a changed membership of the Lords. Then again we are waiting for the Reports of the Maud Committee on Local Government and on Regionalisation. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack did not think that they were relevant. I think that the Reports are very relevant. We are moving towards more and more regionalisation in this country, and I am sure that it would be wise to have this reflected in a reformed Second Chamber. Until we have a clearer idea of the shape of things to come, it is absurd to be embarking upon this wholly unnecessary, or at least premature, legislation.
I know that proposals for the reform of the Lords have been incorporated in the Labour Party's policy programmes for many years, but it has become progressively less and less important and, as I say, is to-day quite untimely. In 1910 an Election was fought on the reform of the Lords. At that time one could arouse passions about the non-representative character of the Lords and its built-in Conservative majority. They were matters which aroused fierce controversy. Could we do this to-day? Could we today conceive of an Election fought on the reform of the House of Lords?
We are being asked to give general approval to the proposals of the White Paper. I am sorry about this. I find it difficult, personally, to give general approval. There is so much, apart from the time factor of the proposals, with which I cannot agree, that I should have preferred that we had a discussion and listened to the views of large numbers of noble Lords who are going to take part in this debate, before we finally decide to give our general approval. I observe, incidentally, that the Commons are not being asked to give "approval" to the White Paper; they are merely being 684 asked to "take note". I hope that it is not because we are more pliable or less critical of the White Paper. I hope that noble Lords will speak very freely about it.
I wish now to make a few comments on the proposals themselves. I have talked hitherto about the untimeliness of these proposals and, indeed, about the necessity for them at all. I agree that if we are going to deal with the Lords, we must tackle the two points which cannot be defended: the hereditary system and the permanent Conservative majority; and, of course, we must settle the powers of the Lords vis-à-vis the Commons. The agreed proposals are an attempt to meet these criticisms and to regulate the relationship between the two Houses. But, in my opinion, this is the wrong way of remedying the anomalies. It is only substituting one anomaly for another. Personally, I am not satisfied that a nominated House, in practice nominated by two or three individuals, is going to be much of an improvement in composition and character on the present House. It is certainly no more democratic to have a House composed in this way.
Neither the proposed House nor the existing House are in any way representative of the general public. The present system of Life Peers provides the possibility of getting into the House persons of distinction, specialised knowledge, ability and character and, to a large extent, the House has been enriched as a result of the creation of such Life Peers. But—and here I tread on thin ice—it has also been a means of patronage, of rewarding people for past services who to-day have no particular contribution to make, who have either rendered long service in the other House or are no longer able to get a constituency, or of people who will be soon reaching the proposed retiring age.
We shall have the enormous disadvantage of eventually losing our young Peers who, as the noble Marquess has pointed out, are making so admirable a contribution to the work of this House. I cannot see either the Prime Minister or the Leaders of the Opposition of any Party deliberiately seeking out young people as Life Peers; young people who have not yet made a mark in the political world, but who have decided to make the House of Lords a career. In spite of the statistics 685 which have been given, many of them are dedicated and show much public spirit and considerable ability. Admittedly, under the present scheme a number of existing young Peers will probably be used, but when the present generation of hereditary Peers dies out, there will be no young Peers to replace them. And then, as the noble Marquess has so clearly pointed out, the House will be composed of elderly ladies and gentlemen with an average age considerably higher than the Commons and, as distinct from the Commons, will remain here for life. Nor do I like the idea of appointing Peers for life. With all its difficulties and problems, I should have much preferred an elected Second Chamber. I appreciate the argument that the Commons do not wish to have an elected Second Chamber, and that they will never be persuaded to have one because it might appear as a rival to themselves, but I must say that I see little force in that point, because it is the powers of the House that will count. The powers of this House are, and will be, severely restricted in such a way as always to leave the Commons as the predominant Chamber. That is what will matter.
In fact, very often the House of Lords, even with its truncated powers, to-day acts as a rival to the Commons. Many of our debates are far better, better informed and more objective than those in the Commons; and if one has a nominated Chamber partly composed, as the White Paper intends it to be, of eminent persons with specialised knowledge and experience, one will never get away from the idea in the public mind that the House of Lords is the more intellectual and capable Chamber. I realise that in paragraph 13 of the White Paper it is proposed to set up a Committee to consider broadly how the House of Lords is working, but this will be after the event and after the leaders of the various Parties have nominated membership of this House. It will have no authority to deal with the vexed question of the increasing powers of the Executive and the fact that Members of the House of Commons are becoming more and more ciphers with the feeling that they have little authority over the Executive.
I said that I did not in any event like the conception of membership for life. It is probably meant as a kindly gesture 686 to people who have given long years of service in the Lords but who are no longer capable of making a real contribution and therefore cannot be trusted to vote. It is true that there is provision in the White Paper for the removal of Members who neglect, or who are no longer able or fitted to perform, their duties. It is not clear whether this will be on the grounds of age or who is going to decide that a particular person is no longer able or fitted to perform his duties. In the vast majority of cases over-age Peers will take a very passive part in the work of the House. They will regard it as a club and—I hate to say it—possibly as a dormitory. And since they cannot vote, it will be an invidious and impossible task to have to decide who are no longer equipped to be Members. Who will undertake that task? I would much prefer, sad as it will be for me personally, that there should be a definite retiring age. Make it 75, make it some reasonable age; but let it be assumed that once a person has reached that age he is no longer in a position to render effective service in this House.
§ LORD BOOTHBY
My Lords, may I interrupt my noble friend for one moment to ask him whether he would also apply that age limit to Ministers occupying executive positions in the Government?
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, I would indeed, of course, though I believe that there must be very few Ministers who are of the age to which I have referred. I can only regard it as an act of kindness or mercy on the part of the promoters of the White Paper that they should permit of membership of this House for life. I know that one can point out A and B as people who are over the retiring age but who are still capable of rendering service, but one can always do that. Even in public companies there is a retiring age at which the chairman has to go, however eminent or fit he may be. It is true that for a year or two he may be appointed as an adviser or consultant to the company, but it is up to the company to decide and it is not automatic that every director of a company, once he attains the age of 70, 65 or whatever it is, shall remain an ex officio (or whatever it is) member of the Board. So I would much 687 prefer that there should be a definite retiring age and that Members should retire from this House at that age.
My Lords, I have no particular criticism of the proposed functions of the House as set out in the White Paper. I think that, on the whole, they are about right. They will impose a minimum of interference and delay with the decisions of the House of Commons; and I think there has been general agreement on them. However, in conclusion I would make two proposals for the more efficient working of a Second Chamber. There is a suggestion in the White Paper that more Cabinet Ministers might be allocated to this House. I think that would be all right in the case of non-Departmental Ministers, but it would be a great mistake to appoint Departmental Ministers to this House. Their work must be primarily in the Commons, to whom they should be answerable. But I appreciate that in this House we are suffering from the fact that we have not enough Ministers of calibre to speak for and justify major Bills, or to discuss really serious and important topics. I would suggest that we might go back to the Middle Ages and permit senior Ministers from the Commons to address this House on such occasions. This would not be creating a precedent, and I am sure the idea would be dear to the noble Marquess, who referred with nostalgia to some things in the past.
My second proposal is not touched on in the White Paper and is probably a matter for this House itself. I have from time to time advocated that we should conduct our proceedings in a more orderly way, and ensure that the Standing Orders relating to debates are strictly observed. For instance, I have noted that many speeches recently have been wholly irrelevant to the subject under discussion. I remember several recent speeches which really had nothing whatever to do with the Motion before the House; but there was no one to call the speakers to order, and consequently a good deal of time was wasted. Very often Amendments are put down which have no bearing on the Bill before your Lordships' Committee, or which are outside its scope or powers. The same applies to Questions, which are becoming more and more irrelevant, particularly supplementaries.
688 I would therefore suggest once more that we have a person in charge of our proceedings other than the Leader of the House: an independent person who would preside at our meetings and be in a position to deal with Motions or Questions which are irrelevant or out of order. It seems to me completely anomalous that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor— and I am glad he is not here at the moment—who is nominally in the Chair, should be responsible for calling Motions or Resolutions, should then take two steps to the left to act as a Party spokesman and then, when he has finished, should take two steps to the right and collect the votes. It is very decorous, no doubt, and quite historic, but is it not completely out-of-date for a person of such eminence to act in this time-consuming manner? I am sure that any Lord Chancellor could make much better use of his time than merely sitting on the Woolsack and taking no part in our procedings other than on the occasions when he is speaking.
My Lords, I have said my say. Your Lordships will gather that I am by no means enthusiastic about the proposals in the White Paper. I regard them as unnecessary at the present time, not sufficiently thought out and, in any case, as untimely in the light of probable future developments. I do not think we are proceeding along the right lines. Although I recognise that on the two matters I have mentioned changes are required, I do not think that the proposed changes are the right ones. A writer in to-day's Daily Telegraph says:… what is being designed is not a perfect constitution but a perfect accommodation between political parties".But I submit that it is not being put forward by the members of the political Parties, and that the political leaders have been speaking only for themselves.
If your Lordships consider that these reforms are right and sound, and are prepared to approve them generally, then I see no reason why they should be postponed and put into operation only after the present Parliament ends. I would therefore not support the Opposition on that particular point, although I gather that they are not dividing on it. I do not know, but if they are I would not support them. For myself, I propose to abstain from voting.
§ 5.9 p.m.
§ LORD ANNAN
My Lords, I hope your Lordships will bear with me if I take a rather different line from that which I suspect some speakers will take on the White Paper. It seems to me that the main point in the White Paper is not to eliminate the delaying powers of your Lordships' House, or even to alter its composition, but to ensure that Parliament as a whole can function rather better.
My Lords, there are two sides to our Parliamentary system, and the first, which I do not believe we should ever forget, is that it provides strong Government. I say that because a moment ago there was an enthusiastic cheer when the noble Marquess reminded us that of course it is our duty to check the Executive. But the boon which this country has in having a Constitution which provides a strong Government must not be forgotten. Of course, Governments can be weak; but even if they are, there is nothing in the custom of the Constitution which prevents them from governing. The two parts of the Legislature are not divided perpetually against themselves; nor, for that matter, does the Legislature combine permanently to thwart the Executive. Similarly, the Judiciary has no power to overrule the Legislature.
It is difficult, perhaps, to remember how fortunate we are in this, because almost exactly a hundred years ago the Reform Bill was passed which produced in its train the Party system which has given us this kind of government; and we have not experienced in this country those weak systems which have collapsed, those weak systems of democratic government such as existed in the Weimar Republic and in the Third and Fourth Republics in France. The only time the principle was seriously challenged was in the period of Mr. Asquith's Administration; and the Parliament Act of 1911 was the result.
I say this, my Lords, because there are well-meaning people outside Parliament who seriously urge the setting up of a regional Second Chamber or a House of Lords elected by popular vote. This, as the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack reminded us, would mean turning this House into a Senate—and we do not want a Senate here. The American constitution groans under 690 the shackles of its complicated checks and balances, and only the fact that the President of the United States is both Head of State and leader of a political Party enables him to govern at all. If the Second Chamber were to be given real power—and power outside the Party system— the House of Commons, I think would dwindle and Cabinet Government as we have known it would become an impossibility.
But, my Lords, we are all concerned about the second part of our Constitution, which is the check the Legislature keeps on the Executive, and we are aware how necessary it is for Back-Bench opinion to bring its power to bear upon legislation. Paradoxically, I believe that some of the most important paragraphs in the White Paper come right at the end, in Appendix II. There, the White Paper sets out some of the functions which a reformed House of Lords would fulfil. If these reforms were to be adopted, more Bills could be introduced in this House, so enabling Public Bills to be spread over the session and divided more equally than they are at present between the two Houses. This House might revive its practice of appointing Select Committees with power to send for persons and papers On matters which have been approved by the House of Commons Standing Committees on the machinery of Government, or on subordinate legislation, or on delegated legislation or on statutory powers, and time could be given for their deliberations to be debated on the Floor of the House.
The White Paper itself draws attention to the fact that present procedures in relation to subordinate legislation are very time-consuming. It suggests that a Joint Committee might be set up to exercise the combined scrutinising function of the Special Orders Committee and the Statutory Instruments Committee. If there were a general reform of the functions and procedures of this House, with special emphasis on Joint Committees, as suggested in paragraph 9 of Appendix II, the use of Joint Committees could be extended to the consideration of Private Bills. The Appendix also draws careful attention to the way in which both Houes might agree to set up joint specialist Committees, for example on law reform.
691 I believe that it is in this way that the power of this House can be preserved and extended, not by emphasising the formal voting procedures as at present exist in this House and as the noble Marquess also reminded us. But none of these changes in the functions of Parliament such as many of us have for years wished to see could possibly be envisaged unless the Upper House were reformed. If Parliament itself is to be reformed, and if its procedures are to be overhauled to meet present-day needs, it can be done only if the present anomalies in the House of Lords are removed. It seems to me that these anomalies have grown very much more marked and obvious since the creation of Life Peerages which have transformed the character of this House.
My Lords, there is a school of thought to be found on both political wings which holds that the hereditary composition of so large a part of this House should be maintained. Some desire the hereditary principle to continue so that the House of Lords will remain as absurd and useless an institution as it is possible to devise. On the other hand, there are those who want it maintained because they believe that dangerous legislation can then be thrown out by the hereditary Peers in this House. At a time when every concern in this country is being urged by the Government to become more efficient, is it really possible to argue that one part of Parliament should remain so anachronistic as, in one respect, is the House? As for the defenders of the hereditary principle, I will not argue at length against their position. I see they are now arguing that to abolish the hereditary principle in this House would be to weaken the Monarchy. If the institution of the Monarchy were really to rest upon the principle of hereditary Peers voting in this House, it would long ago have been abolished. The Monarchy rests upon totally different foundations.
My Lords, I think that the proposals before us are the kind of reasonable compromise which it is worth while accepting. They ensure that strong government will continue, they hold out the promise that the functions of Parliament will be revised and they also ensure that the Second Chamber will survive. I think that the onus on those who wish to 692 abolish the Second Chamber is to explain how, if it were to be abolished, the volume of business conducted by this House could be conducted in a single Chamber. So far from abolishing the delaying power, the abolitionists would find that they had enormously increased delay in passing legislation in another place; that they had whittled away their last chance of scrutinising the processes of the Administration and particularly those processes which give rise to legislative needs—we should have a Stansted on our hands every single month.
Many of us dislike this or that proposal in the White Paper. I think that the Labour Party has conceded a great deal in these negotiations. I should like to congratulate the leaders of the Conservative Party in their adroit defence of the present status quo. It will give us, I am glad to say, the opportunity of hearing the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, who spoke so admirably in the debate on student unrest—we shall hear him speaking as a Peer by succession in debates 70 years from now. I am unhappy about the voting privileges given to retired Law Lords. Like the noble Lord, Lord Wade, I am unhappy at the refusal to allow non-voting Peers to vote on Committees, if they serve there, since the process of the Committees will in the end be submitted to the scrutiny of the House.
There are other points which worry me. I am worried about the position of the voting Cross-Benchers. Will they perhaps be a very senior lot? Here, of course, it depends on what view you take about the functions of the House of Lords. We have had two views put to us. If you take the view of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, they will be an etiolated, pale lot, carefully scrutinised to see that they have no political bias or blood in them. They will be colourless individuals. On the other hand, if you take the line of the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, you look forward to sharp conflicts in which the Life Peers who vote will hold the balance. Then what a lot is theirs! They will be wooed; they will be wined; they will be dined Every inducement. endearment and blandishment will be lavished upon them.
My Lords, may I put a question to my noble friend the Leader of the House? There was one small point of 693 reciprocity which I wanted to raise with him. According to the White Paper it will be possible for a Duke to sit as a Member of the House of Commons. May we have reciprocity and allow commoners to sit as Members of your Lordships' House? There are some of us who would have preferred to sit in that way, and not to have been exposed to the "Chinese tortures" inflicted by the Heralds.
But whatever doubts I have are largely put at rest when I reflect on the White Paper as a whole. The Press comments on the White Paper seem to me to neglect almost entirely the strength of custom of the Constitution. It is now part of the custom of your Lordships' House that it only very infrequently votes against the will of the Commons on a major issue. For the most part, I believe that the Cross-Benchers vote for the Government, unless they are convinced —and they take some convincing—that it is their duty to vote against the Government. With the new composition proposed in the White Paper I do not believe that the House of Lords will be the scene of continually narrowly balanced votes which are as liable to go against the Government of the day as they are liable to go for it. I must say that I was a little alarmed when I heard the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, look forward to the time when these CrossBenchers would be exercising their rights with such vigour. If there really were an attempt on the Floor of this Chamber to put, as it were, "teeth" into the House of Lords when we vote, I have little doubt that there would shortly be amending legislation by the House of Commons.
Where I think we can ask for the House to be given greater responsibility after the House has been reformed is over those functions described in Appendix II. There it is that the influence of this House can legitimately be brought to bear. That is why I support the proposals in the White Paper. I believe in their common sense. I believe in the good sense that governs our Party life, despite superficial appearances to the contrary. I believe that this reform will make the system work as it is intended to work. If that is so, then I believe that the way will be open for the far-reaching reforms in Parliamentary procedures which paragraph 70 and 694 Appendix II of the White Paper suggest are so valuable and necessary.
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ BARONESS ASQUITH OF YARN BURY
My Lords, I am sure that we have all enjoyed Lord Annan's interesting and very optimistic speech. I do not know that I share his optimism to the full, but I go quite a long way with him. I think that my first duty—our first duty—should be to congratulate the Government on their courage in tackling this tricky job of House of Lords Reform; a task which over 50 years ago we were told "brooked no delay" but before which successive Governments of every kind, colour and complexion have quailed. That said, my Lords, I must confess to some surprise at the timing of the operation. For as we know and as they have announced, the Government are going to set up a Constitutional Commission, and this must cover, among other things, the wider field of regionalism. It may well include—I personally hope that it will; and in this I differ from some of the past speakers—a measure of regional representation in this House, by indirect election or otherwise.
It cannot be denied, I think, that the House of Lords is part and parcel of the Constitution and its reform would seem to be part and parcel of any constitutional measure. With respect, I suggest that we may to-day be putting the cart before the horse, and that we may be involving ourselves in the future task of unpicking our own knitting. However that may be, I question only the timing of the operation. I certainly do not question the necessity for the operation itself, and I agree wholeheartedly with the general principles which are set out on page 1 of the White Paper, I think in paragraphs 4 and 5.
No one, I think, could seek to justify the anomalies, as the noble Lord. Lord Annan, said, of the composition of the present House. They are quite indefensible; although I must confess that I, as a relatively new Member, have been amazed since I have sat on these Benches to find how well a flagrant anomaly can be made to work. Here we are, a mixed bag; hereditary Peers, life Peers, Bishops and Law Lords, without even a Speaker to keep us in order—without a Speaker to impose the faintest shadow or degree of relevance on our speeches. I remember 695 complaining of this on one occasion, but I have now learned better and I welcome it; because these digressions from relevance in speeches of noble Lords nave brought me an enormous amount of useful and miscellaneous information. If I may digress for one moment, in the debate that we had on dog licences (I think it was last week) I learned, to my amazement, that we import no fewer than half-a-million tortoises into this country every year. And I learnt with regret that we treat our tortoises even worse than we treat our dogs. This is the sort of advantage that we have derived from the anomalies of this House which we are now going to banish from our midst, perhaps for better things. And in spite of our somewhat bizarre habits and procedures, what good work we have done not merely in amending and revising Bills but in initiating bold and courageous legislation!
Then also, another advantage, what freedom we enjoy. Nobody could possibly accuse us, I think, of being what is called "Lobby fodder". I cannot of course answer for other Parties, I can only say that since I have sat on these Benches—only for two or three years, it is true—I have never received from our Whips any instruction or hint as to which Lobby I should vote in.
§ BARONESS ASQUITH OF YARNBURY
Well, my Lords, I have sometimes sought advice for myself when I have lost my bearings in that jungle called Committee and Report stage. So we have some advantages, even if we are an anomaly.
My Lords, I came to this House, as many others of my generation must have done, with what amounted to almost Freudian bruise about its inky past. Of course, I belong to the generation, the very old generation, which lived through those tempestuous years before the Parliament Act was passed and before the Veto was abolished. Those were the years in which Winston Churchill called this House—I copied out his words:a one-sided, hereditary, unpurged, unrepresentative, irresponsible absentee.Every one of those epithets was richly deserved, in my opinion, with the possible exception of "absentee". For, alas the 696 House of Lords was never absent. It was always with us, and it was always the same: a fortress of reaction, a road-block to reform, an evil monster wielding absolute power. That is how I saw it and that is what it was. When I compare it with the House as it is to-day, this body infused with moderation, with reason, with tolerance and with independence of mind, it makes me feel that perhaps power is an evil drug and that there is something to be said for not having too much of it—although I think it is absolutely necessary that we retain just enough to make us feel that what we are doing here matters; that it counts; that it is going to change things, and is not just an empty ritual or an exhalation of gas.
I want, if I may, to make two criticisms of the scheme outlined in the White Paper. First of all, I am opposed to a Second Chamber which is entirely nominated by the Prime Minister of the day, whoever he may happen to be. I disagree with those who think that this will not increase patronage and extend it unduly. I think that it will open the door to wider patronage. I want to make clear beyond a doubt that this criticism has no reference to our present Prime Minister. I am not accusing him of any of these malpractices. On the contrary, I want to pay tribute to him for the admirable, moderate, just and fair way in which he has used the considerable powers he already possesses. But, as we all know, there are Prime Ministers and Prime Ministers, and, as we also all know, there are sins of omission as well as those of commission.
I am in rather a delicate position because what I am now saying involves a declaration of interest, not financial but political, both for my Party and for myself. I want to illustrate my point by a short chapter in fairly recent history. When Mr. Harold Macmillan initiated Life Peerages—and I think it was an admirable innovation for which we should give him full credit—one of the stated reasons for the reform was that it should increase the representation and strength of the minority Parties in this House, which were at that time admittedly underrepresented—namely, the Labour and the Liberal Parties. Well, during his term of office Mr. Macmillan did not create a single Liberal Life Peer. His successor, Sir Alec Douglas-Home followed suit—not, I think, through any malice towards 697 the Liberal Party but probably because he thought that as Mr. Macmillan did not do it it was just one of those things that are "not done". When the present Prime Minister came to power, he immediately created three Liberal Life Peers, of whom I had the good fortune to be one. That is why I declare my interest. Since then he has added to our number. I have told this story because I think it is very relevant.
I know that we are going to be told that this "Watchdog Committee" which will be set up is going to safeguard us against the vagaries of Prime Ministerial patronage and whims. I have watched many Watchdog Committees in my life, and my experience is that though they sometimes bark they rarely bite—at least, they never bite a Prime Minister. The Committee proposes, but the Prime Minister disposes.
My second criticism (and I hope that I am not keeping the House too long, because I realise how many speakers there are to follow) is of the so-called two-tier structure, by which we shall have a House divided in two classes: a first class and a second class of Members—those who can speak and vote, as we all do at present, and those who may speak but who may never cast a vote, even in a Committee, as we have just heard. I do not think that any legislative body anywhere should contain first-class and second-class citizens. I think that we should all serve on equal terms and have equal rights.
Have the Government, I wonder, been inspired to suggest this scheme by their experiment in first-class and second-class mail in the Post Office? I devoutly hope that this House is not going to be run like the Post Office. It is very strange, but everything now seems to be labelled first-class and second-class—the very last thing one would expect from a Labour Government. I am an old-fashioned Liberal. In our household, class was always a dirty word, almost a four-letter word. Now everything is first-class or second-class, from Peers to postage stamps.
Voting is a vital political function. Voting is action, the only action we politicians can take outside the Cabinet. If I were forbidden to go into the Lobby and cast my vote for a cause about which 698 I felt deeply, I should not wish to remain a Member of your Lordships' House. If I were asked to choose between being a dumb voter and an impotent spouter, I should certainly choose to be a dumb voter. Speaking is no fun and it is much more trouble than voting. I do not come here just to say "Bo" to a goose: I come here because I hope to cook a goose. I think that we should have both functions or none; and any Member who is not fully fit, whether by reason of age or otherwise, to discharge both functions, should be discharged from duty in this House.
I gather from the White Paper that the non-voting Members will be, first, hereditary Peers and, secondly, Peers who have reached the age of 72, which I suppose is now considered the official age when dotage begins. May I remind the House that such a dispensation to-day would disfranchise, for example, the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, one of the most active, ardent and indispensable Members of this House. To my mind, to disfranchise the noble Lord would be quite unthinkable.
May I point out one strange and glaring anachronism in the conception of this scheme? For instance, all Law Lords and those who hold high judicial posts are engaged in the most strenuous and precise intellectual work. Their minds have to be in athletic trim. But they can go on for ever. And, even more extraordinary, so can Cabinet Ministers. This really is very strange. I suppose that a high standard of mental preservation is more necessary in a Cabinet Minister than in just one of our Back Bench trash. We do not matter. But apparently, no. Lower standards of mental preservation are tolerable in a Cabinet Minister and he also can go on functioning past the age of 72. Meanwhile, in another place, let me remind your Lordships that octogenarians are flourishing like the green bay tree. I really cannot take this dispensation seriously, and I devoutly hope that it will be dropped. I shall certainly do my best to oppose it.
Finally, may I give strong support to the attendance requirement. May I say that I think the low-water mark of 33 per cent. is really unduly indulgent and charitable. When I read it, I rushed 699 upstairs to the accountant's office, eager to check my own record and full of fear that it might not come up to scratch. To my intense relief, I found that in this year my attendance was 84 per cent. plus; and last year, although not quite so good, it was 79 per cent. plus. So although I may be a dotard, and I shall never become either a Law Lord or a Cabinet Minister, I think I can say that I have tried to do my duty in that state of life into which it has pleased the Prime Minister to call me. I intend to cast my last vote in the last ditch against becoming a fourpenny stamp."
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ LORD DENHAM
My Lords, every organisation is capable of improvement by reform. Indeed, once the members of any organisation no longer admit that it can be improved, it is usually a sign that reform is not only desirable, but essential. I think the achievement of the All-Party Committee in reaching agreement over so many points is remarkable. Like many noble Lords, I have serious reservations over many parts of the package deal, but, on the whole, I can accept the proposals as probably the best compromise one can get, with one exception. I cannot accept that the eventual elimination of hereditary Peers from the second non-voting tier is either necessary or desirable. I believe that this proposal would present such a risk to the essential character of this House that, if it cannot be removed, it makes the whole package deal unacceptable. May I say at this point that if I vote for the White Paper, I shall do so because I accept the main proposals, and not because I am prepared to accept any Bill that in its final form includes this particular provision.
My Lords, all change is not necessarily for the better. We know that the House with its present composition works. If you cannot be certain of getting something better, or at least of getting something that will not be worse, it is wiser to leave well alone. As the noble Lord, Lord Annan, has said, the onus of proof that something should be altered or done away with lies with those who want to make the change and not with those who want to retain the status quo. Yet, whenever people discuss the reform of your Lordships' House, the one statement that 700 it seems to be permissible to make without producing any reasons whatsoever is (and I am quoting the White Paper),that the hereditary basis of membership should be eliminated".I know that the hereditary principle has for years been anathema to the Party of noble Lords opposite. Whether this is an emotional prejudice built up over the years, or whether it is a dislike based on reason, or a bit of both, I am not quite sure. Inasmuch as it is prejudice, it is difficult to argue against, except to say this: that the reform of Parliament is too important a matter to be obscured by prejudice. If noble Lords are going to eliminate the hereditary basis of membership, let them only do so having considered how it works in practice and having come to the conclusion that it is no longer necessary, and not because they object to the abstract concept of heredity.
My noble Leader, Lord Carrington, has said on several occasions—and my noble friend Lord Salisbury repeated it to-day—that it is no longer possible to justify a seat in this House by virtue of heredity alone. Of course this is true, for whether we are here because we are our fathers' sons or because we are eminent politicians, soldiers or businessmen, because we are Bishops, or even because we are the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, we justify our seats by what we do while we are here, and not by the method of selection or election that brought us here. Is a seat in this House to be regarded as a reward for services rendered, or as an opportunity for services to come? Which is more important: who has the privilege of doing the job, or whether it is done well? If, as I believe, the answer is the latter, the only questions to be considered are these: does the hereditary element in this House contribute anything that is (a) desirable, and (b) cannot be provided by any other method of election; and will the House be a better or a worse place without the hereditary Peers?
My Lords, I believe that the hereditary element is justified in the present House and necessary in the reformed one, for four reasons. The first is that it provides this House with continuity. I think that most noble Lords have agreed this afternoon that it would be the 701 greatest pity to exclude young men from the House. Not only do they counterbalance the septuagenarians and bring down the average age, but also, when subjects particularly appertaining to youth come before your Lordships, it is useful to have the views of some to whom youth is not too distant a memory. But the real value of having young men in this House is not so much what they can add to debates between the age of 20 and 30, but the contribution they can make between 30 and 40, or between 40 and 50, having had 10 or 20 years' experience of your Lordships' House.
This House has a character that is formed partly of customs inside the Chamber and partly of inter-Party cooperation and friendship outside, which produces an atmosphere that is quite unlike that of any other legislative assembly in the country, and probably in the world. In the 19 years that I have been a Member of your Lordships' House I have noticed that, though the faces change, the atmosphere remains the same. But if it is to continue to do so, it is necessary that those who exert most influence in the House at any particular time should have had the opportunity of seeing how things worked well in the past.
This is made possible by the inclusion of hereditary Peers, because most hereditary Peers go through three stages in this House. The first, soon after they succeed, is a period of apprenticeship, when they come from time to time, as their commitments allow, to listen and to watch, more than to take part. Those who feel they can do so, and want to do so, then enter the second stage, when they come as often as they can and speak whenever subjects which they know something about are discussed. At this stage their influence on the character on the House is at its greatest. Finally, the third stage is when age or other commitments make their rate of attendance, and therefore their opportunity to influence the House, less.
Life Peers miss out the first stage altogether. By the very reason of their appointment, their attendance is at its highest and their influence at its greatest when they first arrive. In the jargon of modern advertising, they are "instant Peers". By the time they have had 702 much experience of this House they are well on the way to the final stage.
Of the 100 noble Lords (it was exactly 100) who attended over three-quarters of the Sittings in the 1966–67 Session the last full Session for which I have been able to get attendance figures, just under half were hereditary and just over half were created Peers. Of these noble Lords, who were most in a position to ensure the continuity of what is best in the House, those who were hereditary had been Members of the House for an average of 19 years, whereas those who were created Peers had been Members for an average of only eight years. Taking the combined Government and Opposition Front Benches to-day, who perhaps have the most practical opportunity to influence what goes on, the hereditary Members have been in this House for an average of over 16 years, and the created Peers for an average of less than five years.
With the House restricted to Life Peers, there would be virtually a complete turnover every ten years. There would be hardly any continuity. The character and atmosphere of the House would change constantly. And as former Members of another place would certainly form the largest group, and with their knowledge of Parliamentary matters would surely exert a lot of influence, the House would become more and more a shadow of another place, whereas it would still have completely different functions to perform.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? I am interested in his statistics. He will realise that statistically, since the great majority of Life Peers have been created in the last five years, it would not be possible for them to have had more than five years' attendance.
§ LORD DENHAM
No, my Lords; Life Peers and first creations added together. In saying "created Peers", I was using the words used in the White Paper.
The second reason I would advance for the retention of the hereditary element may at first hearing seem to be rather an argument against it. It allows for the inclusion of nonentities in your Lordships' House. The House of the 703 future must to a large extent consist, as it does now, mainly of the eminent in various fields: the chairmen of banks, the leaders of industry, the famous surgeon, the trade union boss. All these we have to-day as first creations or Life Peers and it would be easy to fill the House with top experts in every field. But the great advantage of the present House is that it also includes as hereditary Peers the not-so-eminent, lesser men in commerce and industry, the general practitioner, the rank and file trade-union member, men and women who have practical knowledge in many different fields from many parts of the country.
If I may give your Lordships a personal example, when I am not in your Lordships' House I am a small shopkeeper. There are at least three Life Peers in this House who control, or have controlled, vast and successful chain stores. They are among the greatest experts in their line. But when legislation to do with shops is before this House I think I know more about the problems that might beset the thousands of small shopkeepers in the country than these noble Lords will ever know.
As a revising Chamber, we are concerned to a great extent with small matters. The larger issues of policy are settled in another place, and, though we go through the motions of dividing on them on Party lines, the real achievement of the House is in perfecting the many small Committee points, relatively unimportant in themselves but collectively of great importance. Can you expect a House of experts to interest themselves in matters which are individually insignificant? There is about your Lordships' House an amateur spirit which it would be a very great pity to lose. The devoted amateur in almost any field can afford to spend time, effort and interest in getting details perfect that would be commercially unjustified to the professional. In a House composed entirely of experts—a "meritocracy"—will not each Member tend to be biased in favour of his own particular expertise? Where will you find the true all-rounder without the hereditary principle? There are always two or three noble Lords in this House (and your Lordships will know at once who they are) who contribute little or nothing inside the Chamber but who, 704 by their character, their good nature and friendliness, contribute very largely indeed to the background against which this House works so well. How do you find these without the accident of heredity?
The third reason, and I think one of the most important reasons, for the retention of the hereditary element is that it will prevent this House from getting too exaggerated an idea of its own importance. If anybody criticises another place, they shout for the Committee for Privileges. If anybody criticises this House, your Lordships are rather inclined to agree with them. This is not because your Lordships are more high-minded or more modest, but simply because, not having been elected by 40,000 voters, and many of us not even having been appointed on merit, we are in a position to realise what every other political assembly ought to realise: that as a House we can justify ourselves only by what we do and the way we do it. If you remove the hereditary Peers this may change. The House would be in a position to feel itself a real "meritocracy". How often has one heard created Peers, usually newly-arrived created Peers, say in this Chamber, though they are much too polite to put it in exactly these words: "What an absolutely first-class place this would be if only we could get rid of these layabouts of hereditary Peers. Once we get rid of them," one can feel them saying, "we will be a collection of splendid people sitting in a splendid House, saying. doing and deciding splendid things." In the words of Miss Nancy Mitford:How lovely to be lovely us!The fourth reason is that the proposals in the White Paper will stand more chance of success if hereditary Peers are not excluded. Everyone is agreed that it will take a great deal of good will on all sides to make the package deal work. How are we going to get this good will if we exclude hereditary Peers, and insist on their abolition, which many of us consider is unnecessary? The two-tier system is tailor-made for the inclusion of hereditary Peers in the second tier, as the House could get all its advantages and none of its disadvantages. Those who are against the hereditary system would get all they ever asked for. No one would get a vote by virtue of heredity alone, and the imbalance between the Parties would have 705 been put right. Those who support the hereditary system would be satisfied because hereditary Peers who made the grade would be able to gain promotion from the second tier to the first.
There is a great danger that the White Paper proposals will make this House more Party political. The whole system of selection of voting Peers will be based on a particular Peer's being of a particular Party, or of no Party. I can foresee the introduction of three-line Whips in this House, and I can see the introduction of pairing. Once that happens, what is the use of having a vote at ail? Hereditary Peers are inclined not to be very Party political; it is quite true, my Lords. Many newly-succeeded Peers do not join the Party of their father but sit on the Cross Benches. It is very much more difficult, as I know from bitter experience, to persuade an hereditary Peer to give blind allegiance to the Party Whip. Their inclusion even in the second tier would do much to take the emphasis off Party.
Lastly, I can see friction developing between the two tiers, as the noble Baroness, Lady Asquith, did. The voting Peers will be liable to show impatience if a speaking Peer joins in a debate, as they might consider unnecessarily, thereby postponing the time of the Division in which they will have to vote and he will not. Speaking Peers are liable to show understandable resentment if during their speech most of the voting Peers are out of the Chamber and they are left with an audience of other speaking Peers, who may be convinced but will not be able to vote. There will be a very much happier relationship between the two tiers if there is a two-way traffic between them. As well as retired Members of the first tier joining the second, young Members of the second tier should be aspiring to get into the first. I cannot see this happening after the phasing out of hereditary Peers.
These are the advantages that I believe the hereditary principle brings to your Lordships' House, and it is these advantages that, with the hereditary principle, Her Majesty's Government are in danger of destroying. And, my Lords, why? Because of something Keir Hardie said at the turn of the century? Because noble Lords are so keen on achieving the appearance of democracy that, in 706 order to do so, they are prepared to put up with something that is in fact less democratic? Or is it just mother symptom of that rather strange instinct that occurs in all human beings and some animals, that when you see something you do not understand you have to destroy it?
Do your Lordships remember the story of Sir Isaac Newton's mathematical bridge at Cambridge? The story is probably apocryphal but, as Sir Winston Churchill once wrote about another legend, if it is not true it ought to be. Newton, so the fable goes, designed a wooden bridge over the River Cam with such ingenuity and mathematical precision that the component pieces of wood, once they had been laid in place, held together without the aid of nails, bolts or any other form of fastening. This confounded all the greatest brains in the Cambridge of the day. They could think of no good reason why a bridge constructed in this way should work. They could think of a number of very good reasons why a bridge constructed in this way should not work. But the one thing that was abundantly clear for everyone to see was that the bridge did work and carried out admirably the purpose for which it was intended. Such was Newton's prestige in the Cambridge of the clay that, while he lived, none dared to tamper with his bridge; but when he died their curiosity got the better of them and his contemporaries could resist it no longer. They took the bridge to pieces to find out how it worked. From this piece of vandalism they learnt only two things: the first was that, by taking the bridge to pieces, they could get no further forward in discovering how and why it worked; and the second was that, having taken the bridge to pieces, they were quite unable to put it together again. My Lords, if Her Majesty's Government have not quite closed their minds on the issue before us, they might well find a moral in this story.
§ 6.0 p.m.
My Lords, this is my maiden speech, but I am glad to know that in the light of the Bill it need not be my "swan song". I do not see that the present Government have reason to introduce the Bill. If it is popularity which the Government are seeking it is 707 right to regard the Bill as something of a bagatelle, for it is surprising how little is the popular interest which has been provoked by a question of such great constitutional importance. If it is practical results which the Government seek, then they will obtain very few, for already the House performs very well its principal function of amending legislation, especially Socialist legislation of which there is so much.
The motive of the Government must be a doctrinaire one, which I would criticise. To the Socialist way of thinking, the House of Lords cannot be justified as an elected Chamber, yet while making a sacred calf of the principle of election Socialists do not represent a large body of good opinion. Disraeli's Angels in Marble by which is meant the many working men who support the Conservative Party would, I think, say that if the House of Lords cannot be justified it does not need justification. The feeling which they entertain for the Peerage is one of affection.
To all Socialists the House cannot be justified because it is founded on the hereditary principle. In this I believe the Socialist to be unrepresentative of a large body of good opinion. Any attack on the hereditary principle is an attack on the family, and for this reason it is unpopular in many quarters. Moreover, the hereditary principle is here made to look more spurious than it really sounds, simply because it is represented in the House of Lords. Many of us today maintain that we cannot seriously countenance the inheritance of political power, while inheritance of economic power by way of someone succeeding to a fortune is never so severely criticised. Why make this distinction between political and economic powers? But I know that it is futile to say what I have said. Saint Thomas Aquinas has remarked that if argument is to take place there must he a common point of agreement, but here on a question of doctrine plainly there is none. Dialectic serves merely to harden, never to conciliate opinion. It is, I hope, with more profit that I shall glance at the proposals themselves.
Speaking for the White Paper, I would say that it would ensure a good standard of debating in the House. If the CrossBenchers are taken into account the Gov- 708 ernment of the day are not assured a voting majority. Because the votes of the Cross-Benchers are to be swayed, the debates in the House will always be real debates in the sense that debates in the other place are not. In every other respect, however, I am against the Bill. First, it is claimed that when the Bill becomes law it will be possible to introduce controversial legislation into the House as into the other place, but I do not see why this fine saving of Parliamentary time cannot be effected anyway. As now constituted, the House would at all events agree to controversial Party measures introduced by the Conservative Administration. Since the House has played the sophisticated role of bowing to all that it finds distasteful the House would likewise agree to controversial measures introduced by a Socialist Administration.
My second objection is that the vote is to be given to Peers who attend regularly and who are to receive, we may anticipate, a small salary. This is scarcely to invite the best services. Most private fortunes are no longer what they were, and now that politics as a profession is so much discredited surely those who will give the best will prefer to make or earn more money elsewhere.
My third objection is that already adduced by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, that a totally insufficient check is placed on the Executive. Especially after its third year of office, by which time circumstances may have changed so much, the Executive may wish to do many things which form no part of its mandate and are indeed directly opposed to the will of the people. At the end of its term of office, the Executive may on the specious plea of a national emergency move to preserve itself in power. For this reason more than for any other, unless I am persuaded by the speeches that come after my own, I shall vote against the Motion.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ LORD WALSTON
My Lords, in this permissive age it would not be surprising if maidens were not what they were, and are not what they were; but it is refreshing to have a maiden speech such as that to which we have just listened and which to a large extent follows the normal traditions but in certain respects admirably breaks away from them.
709 I am delighted, as I am sure all your Lordships are, that the noble Lord has taken his seat in time so that, no matter what comes of our deliberations, and those of the Government, in forthcoming months, we shall be able to listen to him often on even less controversial subjects that this.
I find myself to-day in the somewhat unusual position of agreeing with Her Majesty's Government in almost every respect and of agreeing at the same time with a very large part of what the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, has said. It is refreshing, frankly, to find oneself in that position and, still more important, to find that the Leaders of the three Parties have arrived at such a large measure of agreement on such an important subject.
I will not go over the arguments, which have already been so ably adduced by speakers who have come before, as to the reasons why the reforms outlined in the White Paper have my support. Very briefly, I will start with the premise that it is right for there to be a Second Chamber—we do not want a one-Chamber form of government—and that that Second Chamber should be complementary to the House of Commons that it should not in any way try to rival it or to perform the same functions, or draw its members from the same sort of people in the same sort of way, but should he there to carry out those things which the House of Commons, for one reason or another, is unable to carry out. That being so, it rules out immediately any form of democratic election, in the accepted sense of the word. As other noble Lords have said, that would create a Senate—and the noble Lord, Lord Annan, put it very forcibly indeed: we do not want to follow the example that we see in such countries as the United States and elsewhere, where there is a Senate.
The second point is that the Second Chamber must be independent of outside sectional pressures, and it must not be continually looking over its shoulder to ensure its own survival: its individual members should not be put into that position. I am not saying anything, I hope, disrespectful to the House of Commons or its Members, but it is an essential part of democracy that those who are elected should to some extent be guided and 710 directed by the views of those people they represent. It is not only natural but right that when a problem comes up before Members of another place they should ask themselves, "How will this affect my constituents, and how will it affect my representation of my constituents?" That is the way of democracy: it does work, and I have nothing against it at all. But we do not want the Second Chamber asking itself the same questions. It must have a degree of independence analogous to the independence of our judges who know that, regardless of the decisions they make, they are there for life and have no fear of offending those who may at some later stage be responsible for appointing or electing them. I do not think we need look back very far in the history of this House to see the enormous importance of the independence which we have enjoyed so far and must preserve, and which the proposals in the White Paper do preserve.
The second thing we need in this House is what one can call professionalism or amateurism, depending which way one looks at it. What we want is amateur politicians who are professionals in other walks of life, whereas the House of Commons is of necessity becoming increasingly a place for professional politicians who, even if they have been professionals in other walks of life in the past, have now become amateurs because they have to devote so much time to the profession of politics. Therefore we must have our Second Chamber organised in such a way that those people who are professionals—and respected professionals—in banking, industry, the law, medicine, architecture, agriculture and many other activities, should be able to practise their professions, understand their professions and be leaders of them, and should be respected in their professions yet at the same time be able to come here, when necessary, and give this Chamber the benefits of their professionalism. So I believe that the proposals in the White Paper make those two essential needs possible and probable in our new reformed Chamber.
However, I believe there is one weakness in these proposals, which has already been touched on by other speakers—my noble friend Lord Silk in, the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, and 711 in what, if I may say so, was an admirable speech (although I did not agree with it) of the noble Lord, Lord Denham, which bears out my point to some extent, as did the maiden speech to which we have just listened. I am referring to the importance of having young, or relatively young, people in this Chamber. It would be a disaster if in the days to come there were nobody here who had not already made his mark in the world—or who was thought to have made his mark in the world—and therefore who was presumably 50-plus. But in addition to the 72-year-olds, whether or not they are allowed to vote or are allowed only to enjoy their dotage, and in addition to the small middle group from 52 to 72, we want younger people. In my view it is quite possible for this to be achieved without continuing with the hereditary principle.
I will try to put these suggestions forward briefly, in view of the large number of speakers who are to come. We have already had put before us the proposal of a two-tier system. I suggest that we should add one more tier to this.
§ LORD SHEPHERD: Oh, my Lord!
§ LORD WALSTON
Well, my Lords, once we have two tiers, why not have three, or even four, if it is going to make the Second Chamber more efficient? I suggest that the additional tier should be not Life Peers but Peers created for the life of the particular Parliament. A small number of those appointed at each new Parliament, as outlined in the White Paper, should not be Life Peers but should be Peers for the lifetime of that Parliament; and they should be drawn primarily, if not solely, from the younger age groups of men who would like to go into politics, who have an interest in politics but have not yet established themselves sufficiently in their own professions to be able to devote the amount of time which fighting for a seat, nursing a constituency and, eventually, succeeding in getting into the House of Commons, now entails.
At present, these young men turn their backs on the House of Commons, not because they do not want to go there but because they have neither the resources nor the time to do so. Nevertheless, they want to learn about politics 712 and to serve an apprenticeship in politics. And if, from young men of all Parties—probably not Cross-Benchers—a small number of Peers of Parliament were selected, they would be able to come along in the same way for 30 per cent. of the time indeed, I hope for 50 per cent. or 60 per cent. of the time—yet still be able to devote time to their professions and to learning about the world at large as well as politics. At the same time they would begin to understand the Parliamentary processes and could decide whether in fact they liked politics and had the aptitudes to make a career out of it. If they did that then, at the end of one Parliament, or possibly two, they would hope to be selected for a Parliamentary constituency and would enter the House of Commons with the experience they had gained in this Chamber and would then devote themselves whole time to politics.
Such a system would encourage young people, giving them a stepping-stone which is now lacking, and would make it easier for so many people who now say that there is no point in going into politics, and it would give us (those of us who remain) the advantage of having younger people representing not only youth as such but, far more important, the younger attitude of the particular professions which they represent.
I hope that the Government will give serious thought to a proposal of this kind before the Bill is prepared, because in my view it would greatly strengthen both the new Chamber and also the whole political picture, and would give encouragement to just those people who, from the national point of view, we want to encourage to take an interest in politics. With that sole proviso I congratulate the Government on this White Paper and on their proposals, and I hope that, with very few modifications, it will shortly become law.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
My Lords, I should like to add my congratulations to those which have already been uttered by the noble Lord, Lord Walston, to the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley. I am sure I echo the hope of noble Lords on this side of the House that we shall have the benefit of the speeches and views of the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, many times in the future.
713 Your Lordships will be relieved to know that my contribution is going to be very brief. I give general support to these proposals, and I submit that each one of us who has given deep consideration to the issues which are before us must judge on the balance of advantages and disadvantages—and of course there are disadvantages—as against the position which will arise if we reject the proposals contained in the White Paper. Many criticisms have been made by noble Lords to-day, and so far as I can see many more will be made within the next two days. No doubt it is possible to make many improvements to the scheme, and the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has said that Her Majesty's Government will listen to all suggestions and criticisms which are made during this debate.
I believe that we have to judge on the main considerations, which are two and which are not unfamiliar to your Lordships. I cannot myself defend—and there has been no defence of it here today, except for a skilful defence from the noble Lord, Lord Denham—the hereditary principle as giving a right to a legislative function whether, I regret to say, it be voting or non-voting, although I would fully support the gradual phasing out of the hereditary principle on the non-voting category as put forward in the White Paper. My noble friend Lord Salisbury made the point that this loss of hereditary principle will mean the loss of youth. There is much force in that argument, but in a moment or two I shall make some suggestions on a regional basis which might be of some slight assistance in that direction.
I must confess that I was somewhat puzzled by the speech of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury. He carries great influence, quite rightly, in your Lordships' House. He has rendered great public service and we respect everything he says, and all his actions as well. He did not tell us, however, what he would like to have as the alternative. I am puzzled as to what his alternative is to stopping what he called "the drift to single-Chamber government" that he sees as a danger in this White Paper. If we have to reject, as I feel we must as practical men, whatever our views may be, the possibility of an elected Second Chamber, how are we going to stop this 714 position which the White Paper envisages —although I would not admit that it is a drift to Single Chamber government?
The noble Marquess rejected a permanent Party majority, as we all do. He rejected the power in the final event resting with a limited number of Cross-Benchers who, he said, represented nobody but themselves. If the House of Commons will never contemplate an elected Assembly, what does the noble Marquess propose? I wish he were here to tell me. Perhaps he will have the opportunity on some other occasion. Does he envisage, in order to p-event a permanent majority for the Government, a Socialist majority in your Lordships' House when there is a Tory Government and a Tory majority when there is a Socialist Government? That seems to me the logical outcome of the noble Marquess's views.
In saying goodbye to the hereditary principle I believe we should, with great respect, pay tribute to the way it has worked so splendidly for our country over the past centuries. It is fascinating to go to the Library in your Lordships' House and look at the signatures to the Act of Union between England and Scotland. So many of them are signatures of men who were in public life and whose families are still in public life and playing a distinguished part in your Lordships' House. It is a fine thing. But all good things, perhaps, have to change in differing circumstances, and I do not believe that the hereditary principle can or should survive.
The second main issue is the built-in majority, where again the noble Marquess's speech somewhat puzzles me. On the question of powers, the third big issue, I regret, as I am sure we all do on our side of the House and maybe noble Lords on the other side also, that the power of delay is being cut down, but I suppose this is a price we have to pay for a package deal. Six months' delay is not insignificant. I wound remind your Lordships of the wise leadership of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, between 1945 and 1951 when, if it had not been for his wisdom, we might have had a constitutional crisis at almost any time, in which case we should not be discussing the future of your Lordships' House as we are tonight.
715 To remind your Lordships, I would point out that the noble Marquess said to us then on the Conservative Benches that anything which the country had voted for in principle—the nationalisation of railways, of aviation, of electricity or of other industries—we should pass in principle on Second Reading and we would do our best to improve the Bills. But when it came to steel, we said that the Government had not got a mandate for the nationalisation of that industry, and we used our powers of delay and sent the Bill back to the Commons. A General Election took place and the non-elected Opposition here were proved to be more representative of public opinion at that time than the elected majority of the Government. Therefore I do not think we must in any way reduce in our minds the value of this power of delay.
I believe that the value in your Lordships' House is not in voting strengths so much as in the power of debate, to ventilate and to expose to the public great issues which another place are often unable to do, either through unwillingness or through lack of opportunity. When we vote in your Lordships' House I think we vote with regret. We do it as a necessity, unlike the Commons where we leapt into the Lobby and had a lot of fun when we could defeat or get near to defeating the Government. There is an essential difference in the outlook between the two Houses on political issues.
As to the regional importance of the future Chamber, the White Paper rejects regional representation. I accept that, just as I accept that we cannot have a Chamber elected regionally. I do not believe that we can have it nominated regionally, but I believe we could edge some way towards improving the regional aspect within the boundaries of the White Paper scheme. To some extent Life Peers are appointed now to your Lordships' House on a functional basis. We have great trade union leaders, leaders of industry, scientists and past diplomats. The Lords Spiritual, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester pointed out, are both functional and regional. Certainly they are functional. We have old House of Commons Members, functional as Parliamentarians. All those are expected to be represented in your Lord- 716 ships' House. Could we not combine this functional aspect with a regional aspect? I have in mind some regional advisory machinery, private and well-balanced, something similar to the advisory machinery which the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has in respect of the appointment of magistrates, a certain number of regional advisory committees which would submit regional suggestions—and only suggestions—to the Prime Minister of the day to fill up the functional appointments. I think it is very important that we should try to improve the regionalisation as put forward in the White Paper, which by and large I support.
Unlike some of my noble friends, I am not afraid of the Prime Minister's patronage. It is arguable whether there is, or is not, a great increase in patronage. It is already great, but I believe that common sense and a sense of decency in the public cannot be ignored in this matter, and that if the patronage is beyond a certain point abused and offensive it will rebound upon those who have been exercising their licence unfairly and unduly and will indeed be a lesson to anyone who feels like doing the same thing in the future.
I finish as I started. The scheme is not perfect, but it is as good as any I can see. Belonging to the third category of noble Lords in Lord Denham's classification of peers, aged and with no influence, I cast my mind back to World War I and to the cartoons of "Old Bill" by Bruce Bairnsfather. There was one cartoon of Old Bill, nearly up to his neck in water in a shell hole, with a companion beside him in the same plight, the splinters rattling down on their tin hats. And the other man complained to Old Bill that it was not a very comfortable position to be in. All Old Bill said was, "If you knows of a better 'ole, go to it!" In this scheme I know of no better place, not of political refuge but of political security, for this House than the broad proposals put forward in the White Paper.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ LORD ROBERTSON OF OAKRIDGE
My Lords, the first thing I must do is to apologise for speaking to-day as I am only able to attend the debate to-day, and to-morrow, and when the winding-up speeches are made, I shall not be able to come. I will try to make up for my 717 offence by speaking very briefly. When this White Paper first appeared, the newspapers—that is to say, those that I read—started to "crab" it, and they have been busy "crabbing" it ever since. I must make an exception in one respect, because the Guardian this morning started its leader with a sentence saying:The good points in this scheme outweigh the bad".That seemed to me to be clear guidance to its readers. Almost it persuaded me to be a Liberal—but not quite.
This problem reminds me of several other problems of which I have had experience in my life. These are problems that go on through the years, and every time a fresh attempt is made to solve them there is always somebody ready to come forward with a bright idea which is not a runner but which is quite sufficient to muddy the water so that nobody can find his way through it. There is always somebody ready to say, "Before we solve that problem we ought to give our attention to this one first"; somebody ready to say, "The time is not ripe and we ought to put this thing off a bit". It may seem to your Lordships a curious analogy to make, but this problem of ours reminds me in this respect of the Channel Tunnel. They dug the first hole at Dover before I was born, and they are talking still, and in just the same way. As the White Paper tells us, the movement to reform the House of Lords gathered its first real strength in the late 19th century; that is to say, about the time I was born, which is a long time ago.
Unfortunately, these problems do not improve with keeping; the longer they are kept, the more difficult they arc to solve. It seems to me that our problem ought to have been solved in 1948, and could have been, with a little more give and take between the Parties. Moreover, it would have been a better solution that is available to us now; and it is tolerably certain that if we prove ourselves unable to solve our problem now, some of our successors will have to solve it, and they will find that an even less satisfactory alternative is then open to them. I say "even less satisfactory", because, of course, it is quite easy to pick holes in this solution. Our newspapers have done it for us. It is, in a way, their job to tell us the bad points 718 of a scheme as well as the good. And there are some bad points, and I shall have a word or two to say about one shortly.
On the other hand, there is one extremely good point about this proposal, and that is that it is supported by the leaders of the three political Piffles, incidentally by the Bench of Bishops and, to the best of my belief, by the Law Lords. It is reasonably certain that if you try to amend this scheme in any important respect you will destroy the agreement that has been given by the Parties. As to some of the wilder notions that have been uttered o the extreme wings of the Right and the Left, I think it is reasonably certain that they would not be acceptable to the ccuntry either.
I said that I would have a word or two to say on one weak point. Despite what the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, said, I am one of those who think that the Prime Minister of our country—I do not refer to our present Prime Minister particularly—already has too great powers of patronage, and it seems to me that: this proposal, while it will riot increase the total extent, as it were, of that patronage, will increase it in one very impertant direction. In the White Paper it is said that it is proposed to set up a Con stitutional Committee which shall watch over the working of this scheme and shall enable Parliament and the contry as a whole to satisfy themselves that the powers are not being abused. I thought I heard the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, call it "gimmicky". I am sorry to hear him say that. He knows much more about this subject than I do, of course, but this proposal did not seem to me other than a reasonable attempt to curb this additional power of patronage which the scheme gives.
My Lords, I wonder whether I may interrupt the noble Lord for a second. I was referring to the Government's proposal for a Constitutional Commission. I was not referring to this watchdog committee.
§ LORD ROBERTSON OF OAKRIDGE
My Lords, I thought I might be wrong; I apologise. There is one other point I should like to make about 719 this matter and I put it with great trepidation. The noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, mentioned that our Constitution is not a written Constitution and there are a number of things in the White Paper which will not appear in the Bill; and that that is because we govern ourselves partly by conventions and traditions. That is so. What I should like to say on that point is this. It is a tradition of our Constitution that nominations to the Peerage are made to the Monarch by the Prime Minister, and I do not see any way of getting round that. I have tried to think of some other way that might suit, but it seems to me that any alternative would be very wrong. On the other hand, I hope that in the interpretation of this new plan it will also be recognised by our Prime Ministers that while they have the right to advise the Monarch, the Monarch also has the right to give them some advice.
In paragraph 70 of this White Paper we read of the Government's desire to review the functions and procedures of the two Houses, and that has been welcomed by several noble Lords, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Annan; and I welcome it very much indeed. I would refer particularly to the second paragraph in Appendix II, where it says that it may be desirable to increase the number of Cabinet and other Ministers in the House of Lords. That is indeed very desirable, not only in the interests of the prestige of this House—but that is important, and maybe it will be even more important after this rather severe surgical operation—but also in the interest of good government. Our Foreign Secretary, for example, is given responsibility for all our external affairs. He is a terribly busy man; he has an enormous range of matters to think about. Is it right that he should be subjected to the hurly-burly which is inherent in the atmosphere of another place, when he has so much to think about? Yesterday, for example, there were 70 Questions down for him to answer. It does not seem to he reasonable. And there are other Ministers, too, whose functions are coordinative, who are not responsible for the budget of any particular Department. Surely they would do their work better in the Upper Chamber rather than in the Commons.
720 I should like to say one word about the Cross-Benchers. I do not speak for the Cross-Benchers. Nobody can do that. The White Paper rightly says, in paragraph 72, that we do not act as an organised group, nor do we possess a sense of corporate identity. Those words have led some people to have a certain amount of fun at our expense; even to be a little rude at our expense. "Neuters", one much-respected elder statesman has called us, and the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, was to-day very critical of us and of our way of acting. Well, as the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, has just said, the noble Marquess did not make clear what alternative he wanted.
How does he expect us to behave? Does he not like us being independent? Does he want us all to work the same way? Does he want an Upper Chamber which consists of men who all have Party labels round their necks, and who do exactly as the Whips tell them? It seems to me that that is not very reasonable. I hope that when the Bill is drafted it will include a provision to ensure that the proportion of independent Peers shall not fall below a certain limit. I also hope that it will become a custom of the House that the independent Peers shall be independent not only of the Parties, but also of each other.
That is all I have to say, my Lords. I should like to close by reiterating the chief point which I have striven to make. It is the great virtue of this White Paper that it offers us a plan in outline for the reform of this House—a plan to which the main political Parties and the Bench of Bishops and the Law Lords are prepared to agree. Reform is essential. No alternative which differs in any important degree from this is likely to be acceptable, and so I support the Motion before the House.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, I shall do my best to be really short. I am bound to say that any exhortation from the Front Bench to be short does not encourage someone whose activities in the future are likely to be confined merely to speaking. I am only a "four-penny Peer", whatever limit you put on me. Why did they choose 72, I wonder? I have come to the conclusion that it was 721 either a protest against the decimal system, or an uneasy compromise between 70 and 75. Whichever it was does not really matter. The substantial point about this White Paper is that it has been introduced at all.
I should like to remind the House—nobody, I think, has mentioned this; and I have listened to every speech in the course of this debate—that it is all very well to say what the electorate would or would not approve. In the 1966 Election Manifesto, the electorate were given a quite clear statement of what the Government proposed to do. It was not a statement of what they proposed to do if the other side would agree with them, but a statement of what they were going to do, anyhow. This is what it was. They were going to safeguard measures approved by the Commons from frustration by delay or defeat in the House of Lords. You cannot do that absolutely. You cannot correct a minimal delay. But the shorter you make the period of delay, the more you will attain the object that was quite clearly indicated in that section of the Election Address.
It is not only in that respect that the proposals now before us fall short of what was put before the electorate. It is a very important part of the White Paper, as I see it, that the House of Lords should have the power to call on the Government of the day to think again. I have heard that claimed again and again, but I have never heard a reason for it, and I do not think there is any reason. This is a non-elected Chamber. It has no better knowledge—indeed, a much worse knowledge—of what the electorate is thinking than the House of Commons has. And why should it be entitled to pick and choose what the Government have to think again about? I have never understood any reason for it. Exactly the same point was put forward in regard to the Iron and Steel Bill, and the Amendment which the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, mentioned today, and it was denied, and hotly denied, from the Labour Benches at the time. Mr. George Strauss, who was speaking for us, said the Government quite failed to recognise any right in the House of Lords to call on the Government of the day to think again. So what this White Paper represents is a considerable dilution of what was put before the electorate.
722 This is a time when the reputation of our Parliamentary institutions does not stand as high as it should with the ordinary voter. It is perfectly true that he will not study an Election Address with detailed care, but, by and large, he knows something about it. So it is highly important, I suggest, that Parliament as a whole should be absolutely honest, and should pay more attention to the pledges of the last Election which were quite clear. I do not mind which way it is put, but we ought to remember that to promise one thing and to do something less because you can get agreement on it is not a democratic procedure. On those grounds, I regret that the Government did not take the alternative which they could have taken.
If they had paid attention to this subject a little earlier, they could have cut the powers in the way indicated in that Election pledge. If any of your Lordships are interested, I have produced a small Bill which I drafted myself the other day and which indicates what can be done by way of cutting powers; and cutting powers only. It does no more than what was said quite clearly in that Election pledge. One has to remember that if the Government had done that, they would have been doing something which they had promised to do, and promised to do for, I think, the first time.
I have heard some talk to-day about pledges in Labour Party Election Addresses since the war, but if your Lordships will look at them I think you will find that they were all pledges to do something horrible if the House of Lords did not behave itself. It did behave itself well enough, and those pledges were never carried out. I do not complain of that, but in this case there was an unqualified pledge, irrespective of the behaviour of the House; and I think it a great pity, at a time when confidence in Parliamentary institutions is not at its height, that we should be going back on that pledge in favour of an agreement between the principal political Parties.
I must, of course, recognise, as a practical person—I hope I am—that the agreement has been reached, and that it is now extremely unlikely that the Government will go back, literally and exactly, to what they promised to do. 723 The practical conclusion is that this agreed set of proposals should be as flexible as possible, and I was much heartened by what the noble Lord, Lord Annan, had to say about Appendix II. I think he is perfectly right. There is an attempt, a slightly uneasy attempt, to make these proposals thoroughly flexible, and to make them depend on what may happen in the future, and perhaps, particularly, on the Constitutional Commission, and on other changes, too. I hope that is going to be done in practice, and that, because we have dealt with this White Paper, the subject is not going to be shoved on the shelf which it has occupied for so long, and left there for another generation or two. I hope, therefore, that these proposals will be treated as flexible, and that it will be borne in mind that they are rather less than was promised in the Election Address which the electorate approved.
I turn from that (and so far I feel considerable doubt about whether or not I ought to support a resolution approving, in principle, what is in the White Paper) to some of the points in the White Paper itself. I assure your Lordships that I am not going to be long. I have the highest regard for the personal integrity, the intelligence, if I may humbly say so, and the general capacity of the people who negotiated this compromise, most of whom I happen to know personally. Having said that, I would admit at once that the pathway to this reform of the House of Lords is indeed paved with their good intentions—some of it is rather crazy paving. I really think they might ponder a little more about some of it.
As I said at the beginning, I am a condemned "fourpenny". The "five-pennies" are going to have all the fun. They will be allowed to vote they will go into the Lobby and have those funny wands waved at them. It is not just that. The point is this: is it going to lead to a change in the character of the Chamber, to have first-class and second-class Peers? There is some extremely unfortunate language in some parts of the White Paper which quite unnecessarily makes that sort of distinction. I hope it is not going to work out that way in practice. I do not say that because I shall stay here for long— 724 I am seventy-eight. But I should be sorry if it were kept, not only on account of the aged Peers but on account of other people who will be "fourpennies", too. The Law Lords are, of course, in a separate position. I think they could fairly be treated as "recorded delivery". They cost a good deal, but one pays a great deal of attention to what they say.
Turning from that, but still to some extent on it, I would call attention to a rather remarkable provision in one sentence or two in the White Paper. The critical age is seventy-two, unless you are a Minister. If you are a Minister you can stay on after you are seventy-two and go on voting. That is a complete non sequitur. The two things are completely different. Not only that, but the reason given for it is completely illogical, because the Prime Minister ought to have complete freedom in his choice of Ministers. Does anybody seriously suppose that the Prime Minister is going to create many Ministers over seventy-two, or, if he does, that he is going to pay the faintest attention to whether they are class 1 or class 2 Peers? I think that a little of what I think is probably ministerial arrogance ought to be taken out of the White Paper in any subsequent dealings with it.
There are one or two other points I could make. I have long tried to persuade the Chief Whip on my own side to give me a cash consideration not to speak, but I have never succeeded in getting it. This was probably my best chance to-day. Not having had it, I had to speak. I hope that I have remembered how many of your Lordships are on the list of speakers, and if you start working out when we are likely to stop the position gets worse and worse.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack and my noble friend Lord Jellicoe opened this debate with speeches of model persuasiveness, and, though neither of them has convinced me of the merits of this White Paper, I should like at the outset to thank them and their colleagues on the Inter-Party Committee for the sincerity and trouble they have taken in bringing these proposals to fruition. I think all those who took part in those discussions want this House to 725 come to an honest decision, and everybody who contributes to say what he really thinks.
I suppose I am the first speaker who does not in the least mind if anybody calls him a reactionary. What is reaction? The most typical example of reaction is being sick. But the merit or demerit of the performance depends on what it is that the system is refusing to assimilate. I put that thought before the House with some confidence. We are asked to approve great constitutional changes. I will mention three. First, there is the ending of an historic right of an hereditary Peer, after the death of the present Peer, to sit and give his counsel in this House. Secondly, there is the creation of a Second Chamber with two classes of members, first and second-class members. Thirdly, there is the passing of all real power over subordinate legislation to the unfettered control of the House of Commons, though everything now requiring legislation (by which I mean an Act of Parliament) can easily be accomplished by subordinate legislation if, as so often has happened, the necessary enabling Act has been passed.
These are great constitutional changes, and especial care binds all of us when constitutional changes are proposed. It is often pointed out that our Constitution is unwritten. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack drew our attention to that point this afternoon. I think he will probably agree with me that Professor Dicey was right when he pointed out that the more important distinction was not whether the Constitution was written or unwritten, because in either event you could ascertain the law, but whether, as I think the noble and learned Lord had in mind, it was rigid or flexible. Of course ours is a flexible Constitution.
Unlike most great Constitutions, our Constitution does not lay down any special legislative procedure for effecting a change in the Constitution itself. The same process could change our Constitution as is applied to the most trivial and temporary Act of Parliament. Yet in this country Parliamentary Government has achieved a continuous and glorious history unrivalled by any other country in the world. This is not due to the safeguard of any special legislative process for changing our Constitution; it is due 726 entirely to the maintenance of political wisdom and to the innate conservatism of our people when constitutional change is proposed. I am not there using "conservatism" in a Party sense.
If I might remind noble Lords of a well-known and great sentence of Burke:I would not exclude alteration neither; but even when I changed, it should be to preserve.I believe that the changes proposed in this White Paper are unwise in themselves; that they do not remedy the evils that worry the public, but on the contrary, make those evils worse; and that the proposals themselves result from a procedure which sets a bad precedent the final result of which cannot be gauged.
Let me take first the two-tier system, which it is convenient to consider with the proposals about age, attendance and remuneration. For the first time this system introduces two classes of members in a Parliamentary assembly. Clearly that is undesirable unless the change is justified by necessity. The age proposals are quite astonishing. I differ from the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, since I have been officially declared to be "ga-ga" for only four years. He has been so for a longer period. But let me mention some-body whom both he and I will regard as rather more important than either of us. In 1955, the late Lord Attlee came to this House after a long and distinguished service in war and peace. Had the proposals in this White Paper then been in force, Lord Attlee would have been considered a second-class Peer ab initio. He would never have been thought lit to vote. Suppose that Winston Churchill had been persuaded in 1946 to come to this House; he would have been too old to vote. It is interesting to speculate on his conversation with the man who came to make that proposal to him. Both Churchill and Attlee would have been unable to vote in this House. There is, as the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, and others have pointed out, one exception to the rule; under paragraph 45 Ministers would be exempt. No prizes are offered for guessing why.
I come now to attendance. Many of the most distinguished Lords who contribute to our economic debates are much too busy to attend this House often. 727 Will it not be a public loss if, whatever may be the occasion or whatever may be the national crisis, these distinguished Lords must never vote? Then there is remuneration. Have the authors of the White Paper thought out the difficulties of their proposals for remuneration? How on earth is the "independent body" mentioned in paragraph 52 to assess a figure fair both to the man who attends full time and to the man who attends a third of the time? In this White Paper they simply throw this problem on the independent body. They must know, if they think, that there is no possible solution except the choice of a perfectly arbitrary figure.
Many might be prepared to accept the two-tier system, with all its disadvantages, if that system had been put forward to preserve the hereditary right to attend, for which, I think, the two-tier system was originally put forward many years ago by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and a former Clerk of this House. Had it been intended to preserve the hereditary right to attend beyond the lifetime of the existing Peers, that might at least have provided a reason or excuse for adopting the two-tier system, with all its disadvantages; but to have that system, with all its disadvantages, merely as an adjunct to getting rid of our historic Peerage is, I submit, an absurdity.
Every thinker about the reform of this House has come to one conclusion; that its powers and composition are indissolubly connected. That was the unanimous decision of every Party in the 1948 Conference. If now it were proposed greatly to increase the powers of this House, of course everybody would agree that heredity could not possibly provide the basis of the House to whom such increased powers were entrusted. If, however, the only powers to be exercised by this House are powers to impose a short delay, then the simple question is whether the hereditary basis is better or worse than that proposed to replace it.
The hereditary system, in my submission, offers both advantages and disadvantages. The disadvantages are obvious and have often been mentioned. There is no certainty that the man produced will always be a worthy man, but 728 it has the advantage of history and continuity. It brings some young men to this House, and it has this tremendous advantage: that the Peers by succession are absolutely independent of the Executive. And we see how it works. This is not open to speculation without knowledge.
Let me put two simple questions to the House. Are my noble friends Lord Carrington and Lord Jellicoe really inferior to other Peers? Are the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, much less competent than other Ministers? Everybody knows that the four I have mentioned give distinction to this House and do their work admirably. I cannot give an example from the Liberal Benches because they have not recently enough been in office. But perhaps I could cite one former hereditary Peer on their Benches to show what I mean by an hereditary Peer who enriched this House, who contributed something to debate that nobody else at that time could quite contribute. I am referring to the late Lord Esher. We know the distinction that the hereditary Peers can bring to this House. I think it is fantastic to do away with them, especially since there is not the slightest necessity, if the only power that is to be left to this House is a power of short delay.
It may be said that no other Parliament has a hereditary House. Quite so. But no other Second Chamber is worked on the two-tier principle, and in no other Second Chamber, as far as I know, does the Prime Minister nominate a majority for himself among the Party Peers. There are plenty of things that are going to be unique. We are abolishing the one thing that is ancient, continuous, and tried; we are adopting two institutions unknown in the rest of the world, wholly untried, and, in my submission, altogether inferior. That is what is proposed in place of the hereditary Peerage; nomination by the Prime Minister with all the patronage that that involves.
Now I respond willingly to the quite reasonable challenge given by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. He points out, quite rightly, that patronage already resides in the Prime Minister. So it does; but it is not a patronage that enables him to promote and give payment, until he reaches the age of 72, to 729 any man in the House of Commons whom he chooses. Further, the patronage is much more serious if you abolish all the hereditary Peers after the present generation, when that is the body that at least gives to its membership independence from the Executive. What is it that is worrying the country, as contrasted with Parliament? It is not the House of Lords. It is the tyranny of Ministers; the inability of the House of Commons ever to check them; the fact that, after a General Election, the Government easily tend to become a tyranny of the Executive. The public do not want more patronage but less; not more laws, but fewer and wiser laws, that they could understand.
My Lords, one of the worst things about this White Paper is that, while it records all the convenient arrangements made between Parliamentarians for the convenience of Parliament, it scarcely ever mentions the public outside and what that public are thinking and saying. Somebody in the course of this debate, I expect, will say that I have made a speech agreeing with many Left Wing speakers in another place. I dare say that I have. I do not regard that as discreditable. There are men of every shade in the political spectrum who love Parliamentary government and they may well be united in their opposition to the scheme in this White Paper.
What has brought it all about? The noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, mentioned a sentence in the Party Manifesto at the Election. It was a single sentence, and I agree with him that it made a statement about delay. It made no statement whatever about composition, and it certainly did not mention doing away with the hereditary principle. I should have thought that, in a constitutional change of this kind, at least the electorate might have been informed. In the Queen's Speech last year the intention was declared to eliminate the hereditary basis of this House. With that pistol at their head, very busy Leaders of all Parties discussed, in their spare time, the drastic reform of an ancient Constitution that has given us the most famous and continuous Parliamentary government in the world. To my mind that sets an intolerable precedent. I shall oppose it with conviction.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF IDDESLEIGH
My Lords, I have listened to two most brilliant speeches from masters of Parliamentary debate. They will, I am sure, excuse me if I do not attempt to follow them in all their arguments. I assure them that shall to-morrow read their speeches with very great interest, and they will affect my voting in a final Division. But, for my part, I am at present disposed to welcome this reform, and almost any reform, on the ground that our national prestige is beginning to suffer through our inability to solve our constitutional problems, and to fin ourselves out with a Constitution which foreign countries can regard as rational and sensible. When I was a boy it did not matter in the least what foreigners thought. I am afraid that it does matter to-day, and I am sorry to say that our prestige is suffering very largely through our failure to amend our governmental and legislative institutions.
I pass from that to my main reason for speaking which, curiously enough, is to revert to points made by the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Chester, and to tender to the Bench of Bishops (empty though it now is) such support as I can properly give them. It is known to some of your Lordships that I do not myself acknowledge the spiritual authority of the Establishment, but I have the highest regard and respect for the Bishops in the House of Lords; and I agree with the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Chester, in thinking that in the White Paper they have not had as much consideration as they ought properly to have received. It is perhaps a little surprising that a Labour Government, for whom the right reverend Prelates have so frequently voted, should be so very restrictive in their treatment of the Bench. I fear that Her Majesty's Government will be accused of "biting the hand that blesses them".
But my real objection is this. Next year, I suppose, we shall have a report from the commission established by the most reverend Primates, and we shall be engaged in a great national debate to determine the value of the ecclesiastical Establishment of this nation. I do not know what line I shall take in that debate, but I have long considered that, whether you keep the Establishment or 731 get rid of it, it is a great mistake to whittle away the Establishment; and it seems to me that in so drastically reducing the number of Prelates in your Lordships' House we are in fact "whittling away" an important feature of the religious establishment of this kingdom. I respect the Prelates and I value their presence here. When I was a boy I was taught a rhyme which ran,Patience and perseverance Made a Bishop of His Reverence".I trust that the Bench of Bishops will show those qualities of patience and perseverance in standing up for their rights, and I trust that they will accept my suport in that resistance.
It is particularly lamentable that there will be no representative of the Midland Prelates among the voting Episcopate. There are to be the two Archbishops, of course, and the Bishop of London, and one North See and one South See. Surely a concession which might reasonably be made by Her Majesty's Government is to acknowledge the value of the Midland Prelates, especially at this time, for one of our great preoccupations for many years to come is likely to be the racial problem. It seems to me that the Bishops of Birmingham, of Coventry, and of other Mercian Sees, will be particularly valuable in counselling your Lordships on that problem.
I pass from that question to the analogous one of the representation of religious interests in this House. I can recall many debates in which the House has benefited by the ability of some of its Members to speak as members of a particular religious body. We have had, as I recall, three debates in which Jewish noble Lords have spoken about their religious convictions —and very well they spoke too. We have had a debate in which Humanist Peers have spoken. I have always considered the Humanists as an essentially religious denomination, and I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, that they ought to be regarded as religious people. That was an admirable debate in which Humanist Peers expressed their point of view, to the benefit of the whole House. I recall the late Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, who so often spoke, and spoke with great vigour, as a Baptist. I can even recall one debate which took place soon after the war in which no fewer 732 than three Peers of the Christian Science Church came down to the House to object to a piece of legislation which damaged their interests. Other religious bodies have also from time to time troubled your Lordships with their opinions. I can only hope that this has not been too troublesome.
My Lords, I trust that in the constitution of the reformed House of Parliament which I believe will result from this White Paper the importance of representing those interests will be remembered. I do not propose to go into the quite separate question of whether those interests are better represented by clerics or by lay persons. That is a difficult problem on which there may easily be two opinions, and perhaps the fairest thing to say is that some Churches may benefit by having clerical spokesmen and others may be more fittingly represented by laymen.
There is one point, however, on which I should disclose my thoughts to your Lordships. It concerns a suggestion made from time to time, not yet in this debate but in the public prints, that the Archbishop of Westminster should become an ex officio Member of your Lordships' House. In what I am going to say I speak purely from my own convictions: I do not attempt to represent anybody else's point of view. But when I say that it would be a profound mistake to confer ex officio membership of this House on that high Prelate, or indeed on other Prelates of my Church, I feel that I am on safe grounds. Consider the method by which the noble and reverend Lord, Lord Soper, and the noble and very reverend Lord, Lord MacLeod of Fuinary, were appointed. It seemed to the Prime Minister a good idea that they should be in the House. He offered them a Life Peerage, and they were free either to accept that Peerage or to refuse it. It would be a totally different matter if a High Prelate of my Church were to become an ex officio Member of the House; if he were not free to refuse that honour.
I am anxious to put on record and this will be the concluding passage in my speech—a conversation which I had nearly forty years ago with Cardinal Bourne. I ventured, with the rashness of youth, to ask his Eminence whether he would consider it an advantage to have a seat in the House of Lords. His Eminence said: "I have often been asked that 733 question and I have always replied that I would not desire that honour. I should always be having to give my opinion on all sorts of questions on which I would much rather not give my opinion". When I reflected on those words of the eminent Cardinal, I remembered that he had been in office first as Bishop of Southwark and then as Archbishop of Westminster throughout the worst of the "troublous times" in Ireland; he had been in office when the Orangemen were engaged in gun-running, and when the Sinn Fein movement were persuading Ireland to give up any hope of constitutional remedy for their supposed wrongs; he had been in office during the Easter Rebellion and its aftermath; he had been in office during the days of the Black and Tans, with all the murders, the burnings, the bitterness and the hatred that those terrible times produced.
How much my community must have been divided in those days: the English Roman Catholics being for the most part conservative in opinion and Unionist in principle; the vast mass of the faithful springing remotely, or more often recently, from Irish stock! It was the task of Cardinal Bourne in those difficult years to hold the Church together. It was a task that he could not have performed had he held a seat in your Lordships' House, for even if he had assiduously refrained from any discussion on the greatest political issue of the day he would still have incurred blame for what he did not say. Well did he say that a position in the House of Lords would have embarrassed him!
My Lords, I believe that the same objections might still exist to any ex officio membership by a Prelate of my religion in this House. Ex officio membership is something which the Anglican Prelates must accept as a part of the Establishment, but it is not suitable to a Church which, "not being Established", has just as much right as any other Church to call herself "Free".
§ 7.28 p.m.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
My Lords, it is going to become increasingly incumbent upon those taking part in this debate to be brief and to avoid repetition, and I shall therefore content myself with saying, on the general 734 principles, that I am glad to accept the advice of those who advocate in favour of this White Paper, and I hope that I shall be able to vote for it on Thursday. But I should like to mention two points of detail on which I think further consideration is necessary and which have not, I think, so far been fully covered. The first of them concerns Sessional and Select Committees; and I raise this, although it is a point of detail, because I rather suspect that the legislation which is in store will have to cover this point.
Paragraph 49 of the White Paper sets out the functions of non-voting Peers and says:They would be able to serve on committees, but would not be able to vote in any committee for the consideration of legislation.With respect, I think this is less than clear. So far in this Session we have set up a number of special Committees, and the membership of them has been chosen, I have no doubt, from those Peers who could make the most valuable and suitable contribution. As an example, on the Standing Orders Committee on Private Bills 8 out of 10 noble Lords are hereditary Peers. On the Select Committees which we have set up to deal with contested legislation, in one case two, and in another case three, out: of five noble Lords are hereditary Peers; and so it goes on.
If the hereditary Peers are not automatically to have a vote then a proportion of these Committees will be made up of one sort of Peer and a proportion made up of the others. It is true that some of the hereditary Peers may get Life Peerages, and, equally, that some created Peers may not wish to take up their voting rights. An even worse situation arises on some of the Joint Committees. Nearly half the Consolidation Bills Committee membership from this House will be hereditary Peers; at any rate, that is so at the moment. All the noble Lords that we sent to sit with the Commons on the Plympton By-Pass Special Parliamentary Procedure Order are hereditary Peers, and it is within my knowledge that a large number of the noble Lords who go with Members of another place to look into contested private legislation in Scotland under the1936 Act are hereditary Peers. I feel that it would be wrong to make this particular distinction between those who 735 sit on such Committees. Surely the correct rule should be (and I think this would answer the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Wade, about the arrangements that were made for the Gaming Bill) that if this House puts such confidence in a noble Lord as to place him by name on any particular Committee then, for the purposes of that Committee, he should have a vote whether or not he has a vote in the House in general. This would apply to Sessional Committees, as well as to private legislation, but not to Public Bills.
My Lords, I go on to a matter on which I have certain reservations although I do not consider them to be so fundamental as to prevent me from voting for this White Paper. I wish to join my noble friend Lord Denham in a plea for what he termed the "less than eminent." The fact that he used his arguments in favour of retaining the hereditary right to sit in the second tier does not seem to me to detract from the importance of what he said. He drew attention—with what I thought penetrating perception—to certain qualities and contributions that are made by some of the Members of this House. He gave examples of which every noble Lord can think of for himself, of speeches made by those who certainly would not call themselves, in the terms of the White Paper, "leaders of the community" or, in the phraseology of the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack, "persons of the highest distinction". Yet those were speeches that contributed greatly to the debates in this House.
I thought I saw on the faces of some noble Lords sitting opposite a certain opposition to what the noble Lord, Lord Denham said. Surely their opposition is not to the principles of what he said, so much as to the method of achieving that type of quality and contribution. For myself, I do not mind whence comes that quality or that contribution so much as the fact that it will be available for the service and enlightenment of the House. Therefore I hope that a little thought may be given to the desirability of finding methods to bring here people who can make the contributions about which my noble friend was talking.
It is not just a question of youth; although it is interesting to see that if 736 they stay the course there will be nine noble Lords under 40 speaking to-day in this debate and another four to-morrow, according to a list that I have seen. I do not think it is just a matter of continuity either. Your Lordships can think of many Members of this House who now occupy positions of high distinction and are listened to with respect and affection by your Lordships; you may think of the origins of those noble Lords, of the fact that they very likely started here by listening, by taking part on the more humble occasions and gradually adventuring into matters more and more important until now they hold the positions that they do. I do not think it is just that. I think that under the new scheme it is going to be a matter of time.
I have taken account of what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said, and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Annan, about the importance of Appendix II. With that type of duty placed upon the House to an increasing degree, voting Peers are going to have their hands full—and properly so. As I understand it, the second tier is to consist of the most distinguished in the land. They are going to be people who cannot be expected to come here more than on infrequent occasions, to deal with subjects upon which they are the best qualified. They are to be selected, at any rate largely, for the role that my noble friend Lord Jellicoe pointed out: that of bringing lustre to the general debates, of bringing information to this House and to the country and to keep up the standard of debates which this House has always enjoyed. They are going to be, from their very nature, busy men who cannot come here to deal with the minutiae.
I think there is room in the second tier for others of a slightly different calibre. We shall wish to have the day-to-day experience of their lives outside Parliament to help us in our legislation and in some of the less exacting and exciting occasions in this House. I do not think we can do without them; because those are the people who will have the daily experience of the problems. And although I suspect that many voting Peers will find it necessary to supplement what they do in this House by outside activities of one sort or another, I do not think they will have the time or the range 737 to cover the whole of the field. Therefore, I believe that in the second tier there should be some of the less-than-eminent. Things do not always look quite the same from the top of the ladder as they do from halfway down it. It is true, after all, that the majority of people in this country are not leaders of the community, are not persons of the highest distinction. It is for them that we legislate; it is their lives that we are going to regulate.
My Lords, is it not important—to quote Lord Denham's example—to have the views of the small shopkeeper when we are talking about the Trade Descriptions Bill? Is it not important to have the views of someone who drives a bus when we are talking about the Transport Bill? Is it not just as well, however many noble and learned Lords we have who come here and who sit on the Appellate Committee, to have the views of those who take part day by day at the less elevated levels, perhaps in some rather specialised subject of the law? I make a plea for the continuance of people such as those. I believe that Her Majesty's Government would agree that they have their contribution to make and that they ought somehow to be fitted in. I trust that a method will be found. If it is not, I do not think the scheme wholly fails; but there is no reason to suppose that we should not try to continue the best of the old when we launch forth into the new.
§ 7.38 p.m.
VISCOUNT DE L'ISLE
My Lords, I have been in this House for quite a long time—for some 23 years. I sit both as an hereditary Peer and as a created Peer, so I have had the opportunity to observe the workings of this House for a considerable time. When I entered the House it consisted entirely of hereditary Peers; and those Peers could not stand for Parliament. They had to retain their Peerages, whether they liked it or not; there were no Life Peers and there were no Ladies in the House. I think it would be not unfair to say that we felt ourselves, by force of circumstances, a class apart, with obligations and duties and privileges. In the course of the last twenty years or so the creation of Life Peers, the entry of Ladies and, perhaps even more important, the power of Peers to renounce their Peerages, have totally al- 738 tered the balance and complexion of this House.
I will not pretend that I do not look back with affection and many regrets for those days. I think it was a good House. Its authority rested on prescription. Now that has changed. We face to-day a situation presented to us by the Government. I do not like the situation, but it is there. If, after I sit down, I may be accused of damning the scheme with faint praise, that would be true, because there are many aspects of it which I much dislike. I should prefer as an alternative to an hereditary House an elected Second Chamber. I am not one of those who delight in criticising and in making snide comments on the American Constitution. I think theirs has been a great democratic political experiment. Above all, they have shown throughout their political history that they have been great lovers of liberty. We should not sneer at them. But it is quite clear that there is no practical chance of being able to create in this country an elected Second Chamber.
So far in this debate, and I suspect that it will continue throughout the debate, there have been no more practical suggestions than those made for the creation of Life Peers on the nomination of the Prime Minister. But we must remember that it is patronage on a very large scale, and I do not in the least underestimate the power that it will give to this and to future Prime Ministers. It is an extension of patronage which has not been seen since the 18th century. I confess that. I dislike the prospect, because not only the creation of the Life Peers but their payment which will give the Prime Minister so great a power.
But supposing that there is no other way, how can we maintain and if possible increase—or at any rate not see diminished—the power of Parliament as a whole? More than one noble Lord has said, and I think truly, that the prestige of Parliament is not as great as it was. I, for one, would advance as one reason that the House of Commons is paid out of the Exchequer and that the Government of the day has more than once increased that remuneration without any reference to the electorate, and on its own ipse dixit. We have seen also a very great increase in the number of members of the Government who sit 739 in another place. I believe that I share with millions of my fellow countrymen a doubt whether in present circumstances there is enough independence in the House of Commons to keep the Executive in check. When I was a young man Mr. Winston Churchill, as he then was, once said to me, "When I see a Government I want to kick it—unless, of course, I am a member of it". I share that sentiment to the full. I want the electorate to want to kick the Government. I want Members of both Houses to want to kick the Government, whatever its complexion—and unless I am a member of it. I am sure that is a very healthy attitude, and I fear that a nominated House, nominated by the Prime Minister, may be much less inclined to kick the Government.
My Lords, I am a convinced bicameralist. I was glad when we heard the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack say that he shares this conviction, though I do not know whether he shares it to the full. My mind and my attitude to the White Paper will be greatly affected by the replies which the Government can give (I hope they will give these replies at the end of this debate) to two questions. Is it their settled conviction that whatever further constitutional changes may be adumbrated the proposed powers and the composition of the House as set out in the White Paper will be inviolate? I am sure that in order to maintain its prestige and the confidence of the people at large the Constitution as a whole must rest very largely on prescription. We must not start to fiddle about with it, or our Parliaments will share the fate of many Parliaments in Europe and elsewhere.
My Lords, I think this is a question of prime importance. I have referred to it to-day because I saw last week it was reported in no fewer than four newspapers that Mr. Crossman, when addressing the Parliamentary Labour Party, said that he did not expect the proposed constitutional changes to last.
VISCOUNT DE L'ISLE
My noble friend, Lord Conesford, said, "He has said it frequently", but that is the only 740 time I have myself seen it reported. I think it of great importance that the Government should be able to reassure us that in respect of powers and composition their proposals are not going to be varied by a future constitutional commission.
The second assurance which I should like is that the powers which the White Paper would give to a reformed House would be exercisable without constant blackmail on the part of the Government of the day, and particularly the present Government. In one or two of the speeches which have been made, I think in that of the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and possibly in that of the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, I have noticed it was said that this House should not oppose the will of the Government, which they regarded as co-extensive with the will of the people. I believe that no bicameral system worthy of the name can exist unless both Chambers have powers and unless the Second Chamber has a very positive and exercisable power to refer legislation, and subordinate legislation, back to the House of Commons, if necessary forcing a General Election.
I think that it would be wrong, in the circumstances in which we find ourselves, to reject the proposals in the White Paper. But my mind will be very much made up by the replies which the Leader of the House can give to the House on these particular points: the inviolate nature of the composition and powers and, if not a pledge, at least a forecast that it is the assenting view of the Government that the powers which the House has been given should be allowed to be used.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ LORD FRANCIS-WILLIAMS
My Lords, I speak as one of those ancient Life Peers to whom the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, referred; indeed, I think I was among the first batch of them to arrive in your Lordships' House. I remember with what feelings, both of apprehension and revulsion, I arrived here some six years ago—revulsion because to be a Member of the House of Lords ran contrary to my earlier political philosophy and ideas. In a way, I speak to-night as a reformed Peer, in that I have come to see some merit in a House which in earlier days I should have regarded as without any.
741 I was, as I say, apprehensive, and I am glad to remember that on my first day here, after being introduced, I was somewhat cheered up as I walked along the corridor by feeling a hand clapped on my shoulder. I turned round and found that it was the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein. He said, "Nice to see you again, my boy": which, at the age I was then feeling, was, I thought, very pleasant of him. Then he said, in a voice which rang throughout your Lordships' corridors, "You will like it here—all decent chaps here!". And I must say that on the whole I have found it to be so, though on occasion I could not help feeling that some of them were decent chaps with somewhat indecent opinions.
I was asked by the late Hugh Gaitskell whether I would agree to allow my name to go forward as a Life Peer to the then Prime Minister, Mr. Macmillan. I remember that I first said, "No", with a good deal of indignation at the proposal, but Hugh Gaitskell went on to argue. What I think finally convinced me was when he said, "I don't want you to think of this in any way as an honour or as a reward for past services. It is an invitation to new services." I feel sure that it is in that spirit that most of those who are Life Peers have come to this House.
I must say that I have found a little objectionable some of the references that have been made to the evils of patronage, rather with the connotation that any Life Peer nominated by the Prime Minister or, as in my case, by the Leader of the Opposition to the Prime Minister, is a victim or associate of patronage and thereby in some way is subservient to the Prime Ministerial or other whim; that by becoming a recipient of the so-called patronage, he gives up his freedom and independence. I remember Mr. Gaitskell, after saying that he regarded his invitation as an invitation to service, went on to say to me, "And I hope you will appreciate that although I know where your general political sympathies lie, I do not expect that you will always either speak or vote on our side. I want you to go as your own man and your only value is if you speak as you feel and believe." I believe that all of us who have been, or who may in future be, nominated for membership of your Lord- 742 ships' House would accept a similar sense of obligation to themselves and to the traditions of this House. I think that the records of participation in the debates by Life Peers on any Bench in this House do not suggest that any Members are likely to become simply the slaves of a master voice in another place.
A good deal has been said, wittily by the noble Baroness, Lady Asquith of Yarnbury, and by other speakers, about what the noble Baroness called "five-penny and fourpenny Peers". I take a slightly different view of this. I see the division between the voting and the nonvoting but speaking Peers as a division, an acceptable and, in my view, an important division, between two conceptions—the conception of power and the conception of influence. The powers of this House are theoretically to be reduced but practically to be increased, because it will be given powers which it can use in a way it has never felt able to use the much larger powers that theoretically exist at present. It will be the function of voting Peers to exercise that power which will reside in your Lordships' House under the new reformed Constitution and which I think will be particularly important if the various suggestions in Appendix II come into being.
But let us not ignore or denigrate the importance of influence. In many ways it is not the power of this House to effect governmental decisions but the influence of those who speak in it from substantial authority or expert experience which gives the House its particular glory and distinction. I do not see that those who, for one reason or another, are speaking but not voting Peers will be in any subordinate position, because they will be exercising what is one of the great qualities of this House, the quality of influence by the impact of the speeches that they make from the special points of view and experience they can bring to bear.
There is only one small amendment in regard to this that I should like to suggest, and I hope that it can be taken into consideration—that is, although the speaking but not voting Peers should normally not have the power to vote, there should be an exception to this: they should have the right to vote in any Division which follows a debate in which they have taken part. It seems to me 743 that if one of those Life Peers of much greater distinction and experience than myself attends this House to take part in an important debate on economic, educational, scientific or social affairs and by his experience and power of lucid exposition succeeds in some measure in swaying the House, it is entirely invidious that on that occasion he should not himself be allowed to exercise a vote. So I would suggest the small but I think significant amendment, that where a nonvoting Peer speaks in a debate which is followed by a Division, he should be allowed to vote. It could not by its nature much affect the balance of voting but it would be a logical development of this situation.
My Lords, I do not want to take up too much time, because there are many noble Lords still to speak and many whose words and wisdom your Lordships are trying to absorb. I agree with all those who say that the White Paper and the solutions contained in it are not perfect. But I remember as a young man having an opportunity of talking with President Franklin Roosevelt. He said to me, as we talked about political life: "One of the great dangers besetting any politician, and particularly a reforming politician, is to let the perfect defeat the possible." This is not a perfect solution, but it is a possible and commonsensical solution. My Lords, I hope that we shall support it.
§ 8.1 p.m.
My Lords, I speak as only the second Baron in my family, but I think the House should know that we Peers who are of the younger ones in Debrett are just as proud of our titles as those Peers whose peerages go back many generations.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord. It may be that some new arrangement has been made, but I do not see the noble Lord's name on the list at this time.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
It may be that noble Lords opposite have a more up-to-date list, in which case it would be a kindness if the Whips on the other side would tell us.
§ LORD FERRIER
My name appears following that of my noble friend Lord Grenfell. A revised list has been arranged.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, will not think that my intervention is in any way personal. Perhaps I can appeal to the Whips on both sides to keep each other informed.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
I think this has been done through the proper channels, since a revised list has been printed.
My Lords, I speak also as one who succeeded in 1925, took his seat in 1932, and has been a regular attender since 1947. There can be no doubt that the immediate future is going to be an unhappy period for hereditary noble Lords on all sides of the House. Over the years there have been constitutional crises, always involving a diminution of the powers of this House. Now we have before us a constitutional change which is undoubtedly the most controversial of all, as it cuts right across the system of heredity in this country. Therefore it is only natural that I have given careful and anxious thought to what I was going to say to the House to-day.
I have always been convinced that a change of this magnitude must come about with the greatest possible degree of agreement of all Parties, and I was deeply distressed when all negotiations were broken off. I now understand that to a high degree the White Paper reflects the views of the Committee which studied in such detail all aspects of the subject until consultations were discontinued. Like many noble Lords, I have been unhappy for a number of years about the image of the House of Lords in the country and in the Press. We have seldom, if ever, received the credit which is undoubtedly due to us for our advising role and our work in Committee. It is clear to all of us what a mess the Transport Bill would have been without the careful scrutiny of your Lordships' House. And looking back into the days of the major nationalisation Bills, when I was an assistant Whip in Opposition, under my noble friend Lord Salisbury, 745 we worked hard and wisely, and a great many Amendments were incorporated in the various Bills.
If we ask ourselves why we have not received this recognition, there can be no doubt about the answer. The country as a whole, and the Press, will no longer accept the fact that in the Second Chamber there is a voting purely through the hereditary system. It does not necessarily follow that the son of a famous father is as good as his father, but it is true that any parent who hands on a peerage should train his son up to the responsibilities of what is a tremendous heritage in the service of his country. After that it is up to the son.
My Lords, I have been building up my case, I hope fairly, on both sides of this problem, but I must now state quite clearly to your Lordships that I am utterly convinced that this House must, in the interests of itself and of the country, reform on the broad basis of the White Paper, not at some future date, but at the earliest possible moment. It would in my opinion be quite useless to put this off until after another Election, as I am absolutely certain that the public at large are not in the least interested in the House of Lords as it is now constituted.
The remainder of my speech will be Second Reading or Committee points, but I think they are sufficiently important to mention them now. In passing, I should like to make a plea that due consideration may continue to be given in a reformed House to remuneration for the Members. There has been an onslaught in another place on this subject, but many in this House have given years of their lives to the House, and I feel that, with the work that we are rightly demanding of voting Members, they should be given the rate for the job.
My Lords, I have two points only to raise from the White Paper. In the first place, I am disturbed about the ruling of the White Paper that sons of Peers after their death would not be able to sit in any capacity on succession. It appears to me that, if this House is to be able to hear the views of the younger generation, those who succeed should be able, if they are willing, to become non-voting Peers and, if they 746 prove themselves, should be eligible to be made Life Peers as vacancies occur. I feel deeply that the total rejection of the younger generation is a retrograde step.
Then, turning to paragraph 73(h), I am disturbed, with my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross, about the fact that non-voting Members will not, as I interpret it, be able to vote in any Select Committee upstairs. As your Lordships will know, I have been Chairman of some rather controversial Committees upstairs, and have been ably supported by Members who, through interest in the Committees, have given their time but owing to many other commitments will in all probability not be able to accept a Life Peerage. It appears to me to be vitally important that these Committees should be manned by experienced noble Lords. After all, the Report stage and Third Reading come on the Floor of the House, where Bills can be and on many occasions in the past have been, challenged. I would firmly recommend that non-voting Peers should be able to give their experience, either as Chairmen or as members of these vitally important Committees, and should be able to record their vote in this one instance. Finally, I would say that, whatever the outcome of this Bill, I shall endeavour to play my part in your Lordships' deliberations in any capacity which you may require.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ LORD FERRIER
My Lords, I feel I must remind myself that we are discussing whether we generally approve of the proposals in a White Paper; and consequently, in a measure, the issue is narrow. But I have been tempted, not only by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, who has just sat down, but by that of his predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams, to mention the question of the image of this House in the eye of the public. This point was raised in the earlier speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wade. So far as Lord Francis-Williams is concerned, I cannot confess that I am a regular reader of his articles on the Press in Punch. I am rather an "old fogey" in these matters. I was a Life Peer four years before he was; I think I am one of the first. I read Punch for something funny, and I find his articles extremely important and thought-provoking, which are not reasons 747 why I read Punch. Therefore, I beg your Lordships' leave to begin my speech by sketching in what I believe to be a most important part of the background of this debate.
The noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams, talked about the influence of this House on the people. The noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, said that it is practically unnoticed, and that is what Lord Wade also said. But I personally believe that the public as a whole are, and have been kept, broadly ignorant of what the House has done since the passing of the Life Peerages Act in 1958. This is the period which I have been able to observe. This brings me to the point which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, when he spoke of the Labour Party's Manifesto in the Election of 1966; because it was only in the spring of 1965 that the B.B.C. were persuaded invariably to include a reference to the House of Lords in their programme "Today in Parliament", provided of course that the House sat. They have done so since. I believe that the position to which Lord Mitchison referred of 1966 is now changing, in that a good deal of water has flowed under the bridge, and people are a good deal more conscious of what we do here. I think we are grateful to the B.B.C. for that, although I am still critical of their Saturday programme "The Week in Westminster", which I think should be called, "The Week in the House of Commons", except on the one or two occasions when they have some reference to your Lordships' House.
The so-called popular Press seldom mentions the House of Lords, unless our proceedings contain something with a sensational or a salacious overtone. The principal papers are better, but not so very much better. I have with me a cutting from Monday's Times, and I feel I am justified in trespassing upon your Lordships' time in this matter. Here it is:Thursday, November 14.—Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Bill read second time. Expiring Laws Continuance Bill read first time. House rose at 6.45 p.m.On that afternoon, for three hours your Lordships debated an Unstarred Question of the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, and 17 noble Peers took part in the debate. And yet that is what is 748 in The Times Diary of last week. I produce this only to illustrate the point I make in approaching this White Paper: that the public are ill-served, this House is ill-served, by the Press. This has a direct bearing upon the background of the discussions relating to the White Paper.
My next point is that the background to this debate is also confused by the treatment of your Lordships' House by the present Government. I think it is a bit of a snub that a synchronous debate is running in the other place. My own view is that this may be an attempt to cover up the petulant spirit in which the White Paper has been produced. Forgive me if I use the word "petulant", but the noble Earl, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, used the words "rudely interrupted" when he referred to the discussions which led up to the break after which this White Paper was produced. Is this the old trick of attacking the House of Lords in order to cover up failure in the field of Government? And, as Lord Silkin said, what is the hurry? Where is the crisis? I view this action as an endeavour to force through a fundamental and, to me, unacceptable formula for a change in the Constitution; and I greatly welcome the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, who put his points in terms infinitely more persuasive, and infinitely more wide, than anything I could say. Also, I agree with the noble Lords who have said that this Session is the wrong time to think of a change of this importance and of this magnitude. My Lords, should we not be wiser to stick to the process of "broadening down from precedent to precedent?" I agree that some measure of reform of this House is necessary, but I think that the reform should be taken more slowly. This is my first objection to the White Paper.
There is general talk of reducing the powers of the Second Chamber, and I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, said, rather than with what other Peers have said; namely, that this alteration in the powers will possibly be the other way about. But in terms of the problem of subordinate legislation, I take the view that this White Paper reduces the powers of this House. And if the powers of this House be reduced, what type of man or woman is expected to serve a Chamber with reduced powers? 749 We have little enough power as it is. I personally feel that those who demand that the House should be totally abolished have some reason in what they say if the powers which now exist are to be still further truncated. The White Paper's proposals in regard to subordinate legislation will result in a reduction of these powers, but if this point could be improved upon after these debates then the Bill which stems from the White Paper might easily be one which is acceptable. But so long as conditions remain that a Government can take powers which the Second Chamber cannot resist, they are unacceptable to me, my Lords. This is my second objection to the White Paper.
I feel great sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Denham, whose most persuasive and excellent speech said a great deal of what I was going to say and therefore has saved your Lordships' time and mine. I congratulate him on the way he said it. But we must remember that we live in an age of Fabian catch-phrases: a Socialist Government which calls itself Labour; Government control described as "bringing into public ownership"; the "pound in your pocket" story, and so on. There is an element of double-talk, to my mind, behind a great deal of what is going on to-day. So I feel that this attack upon the hereditary system may well be nothing more than a Socialist inspired shibboleth. Indeed, that has been suggested already by other noble Lords. I have said before and I say again that, though a Life Peer, I have come to believe that in a large measure the hereditary system should be retained as a passport to a seat in Parliament's Second Chamber; and I feel that this point was extremely well made by the noble Lord, Lord Denham, when he expounded what I feel is also the right solution: that if the hereditary system is to be reduced in influence, which may well be the proper step, then this two-tier system should be applied so that young Peers will have the right to sit as non-voting Peers in order to serve what the noble Lord, Lord Denham, referred to as an apprenticeship. I think that might well be the right solution.
Before leaving the hereditary system, I should like to refer to the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, who suggested that the White Paper was erod- 750 ing the hereditary system. I do not think that that is the right word: the fact is that it is eliminating the hereditary system. I believe that erosion might be acceptable as part of reform, but this White Paper aims at the elimination of the hereditary system; therefore I do not agree with the noble Earl my Deputy Leader. But before we leave the hereditary problem, as a countryman I cannot leave this point without reminding he objectors to the hereditary system that heredity simply cannot be disregarded in any context concerning life—horses, sheep, dogs or hens. When I think of one of the principal objectors in another place, I wonder what he does when he buys a homing pigeon—does he study its pedigree? I bet he does. Admittedly there is an element of serendipity in the hereditary method of selection, but it must also be admitted that this very serendipity reduces the margin of error and thus justifies its use in the selection of younger men for an apprenticeship such as the noble Lord, Lord Denham, mentioned.
The other point in the White Paper to which I wish to turn is the matter of payment. An annual stipend is proposed, less tax, which I regard as claptrap. I am sorry if I offend, by Lords, but I am opposed to the payment of Life Peers referred to in terms of a stipend. I do not seek reward and I did not seek reward when, like the noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams, I was offered a Life Peerage—I am sure his reaction, though quite different from mine in regard to your Lordships' House, was rather the same in regard to responsibility. Neither of us sought rewards; and I do not want to be patronised. In that respect my mind is perfectliy clear. I should prefer to see an actual allowance paid for expenses incurred. Why do I say this? It is because I can see no other way of compensating for the comparative expenses of Peers resident in London or thereabouts and those who reside at a distance. This point is referred to in the White Paper, as your Lordships know, but it seems to me that the method of recompensing a Peer for the time and treasure that he or she gives to the service of your Lordships' House should be a method which makes it more possible for Peers who live at a distance to attend, and attend regularly—because otherwise they would not be able to take part as voting Peers.
751 Incidentally, I look forward to hearing what some of the Scottish Peers are going to say on this subject: I understand a number of them will speak to-morrow. Though myself resident in Scotland, I am after all a Peer of the United Kingdom, and I should like to hear what they say. Living at that distance this question of sitting on Mondays and perhaps on Fridays is a very important one, not only in terms of these obligations but in terms of qualifying for remuneration; and if remuneration or recompense is to be based on a certain number of sittings, then the number of days on which we are asked to sit is a matter of real importance to the individual when he has to decide whether or not to take his place. There is also the matter of postage, telephones, telegrams, stationery, secretarial assistance and the like: they are all important and they are all more onerous the further one lives from here.
There is yet another point which will have to be considered: whether speaking Peers will be entitled to travelling expenses even though, if the conditions of the White Paper become law, they will not be entitled to receive remuneration.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord, because he is speculating about something which is left entirely open in the White Paper. There is no suggestion that there shall be an annual stipend or that speaking Peers may not receive expenses. I do ask him not to follow the example of certain honourable Members in another place and jump to conclusions.
§ LORD FERRIER
The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, the Lord Chancellor, said he hoped that the Government would profit by the debates in this place and the other place. If I have suggested that this has been laid down, then I apologise, but the point I make on these matters of remuneration is that so far as I am concerned the term should be not "remuneration" but "recompense".
My Lords, much of what I was going to say has been said by other noble Lords and therefore I will pass over matters such as the age limit, and so on. These may be considered at another time, but I have outlined some of my objections to 752 the proposals in the White Paper and some of the reasons why I shall vote against its approval. I feel that a wide cross-section of the public as a whole are having suspicions of the growing threat of a dictatorship which a compact group of intellectuals can bring to bear on public affairs. The public, I feel, want a Second Chamber to have a considerable measure of power. They want a rule to be thought out, I believe, and introduced more gradually than this one; and perhaps the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack was right when he said that people thought that this Government had been inclined to tackle too much too fast.
Before I sit down, I should like to mention the matter to which the noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams, referred; namely, this question of the Life Peerage being an honour. I have referred to this subject before, and I notice that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack talked of it when he mentioned Honours List Life Peers and other Life Peers. Looking back to the time when I was offered and accepted a Peerage, I felt it was an unenforceable obligation, and my personal feeling is that this matter of a Life Peerage should be regarded as an unenforceable obligation and not necessarily as an honour.
Your Lordships will notice from what I have said that, with the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, and others, I am one who believes that an egg which is good only in parts is better rejected altogether; and if there is a Division I shall vote against approval, even of the general terms of the White Paper.
§ 8.30 p.m.
VISCOUNT MASSER EENE AND FERRARD
My Lords, I feel I should blush at the kind of things which my noble friend has just said regarding the hereditary Peerage. I am a hereditary Peer and my ancestors have been hereditary Peers for some considerable time past. In spite of that, however, I have always been an advocate of reform. But I admit that in the White Paper there are three suggestions that I find hard to stomach. For instance, I do not want the reform for the reason suggested by one or two noble Lords, that the House does not perform its functions efficiently. I cannot agree with that.
753 I have been a regular attender in this House for 12 years. I can quote a number of lifelong Socialists, ex-Ministers, who have extolled the virtues of this House, including the late Sir Stafford Cripps, the late Lord Jowitt and the late Lord Walkden. I think the latter went so far as to say that it was the finest senate in the world, and I could quote many similar remarks. I think we should have reform, but not for the reason given by the Government. In the White Paper, the Government say that we should have reform in the interests of being modern. But I can give many instances where institutions have been modernised and where the result has been disastrous. That is an extremely lame reason.
The reason why I have been an advocate for certain reform is that the whole conception of the Peerage has changed, especially in the 20th century. What started the change was the Reform Bill of 1832. As we all know, before that date the conception of a Peerage was that it was a dignity appertaining to an individual because he had vast territorial possessions, and on account of those possessions he had great State duties to perform. During the reign of George III, a great many people came into this House. I think the membership then was 300, but it can be fairly said that, up to the time of the Reform Bill, the country, through this House, was ruled by a small group of aristocratic families. They were, first and foremost, politicians. One may not approve of that, but if we compare our conditions then—our prestige, our wealth, our power—to our position now, I consider that they did a very good job.
After the passing of the Reform Bill, the floodgates to the House of Lords opened, and it was quite right that they should. That is one of the reasons why I should like reform, but not completely in accordance with the White Paper. After the Reform Bill, at the end of the 19th century, there were something like 500 Peers. This House was opened to merchants, to bankers, and to almost every strata of society. I have never quite understood the logic of the idea that if you wish to honour a man—for instance, a great merchant or a soldier who has given invaluable service to his country—he should at the same 754 time be made a legislator. I have always believed that honours should be divorced from the duties of a legislator, but that is only my personal opinion.
It is the change in the composition of this House that has made me rather in favour of reform. I have held that view since I was very young, and a long time before I was in the House. It is surprising to look at the House to-day, and to think that at the end of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I there were only 59 Peers. Even in Stuart days there were only just over 100 Peers. I think the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said that in the last four years 164 Peers have been created, and vie now have over 1,000 Peers. In my view, that number in itself calls for some reform.
I do not personally object to the two-tier system of the voting and the nonvoting Peers. I am not qualified to speak on the legal aspect, of course, but there may be some great Constitutional point, that if you have a Peerage under patent it may not be correct to take away the powers of voting in this House which are granted in that patent. One Peerage which I hold in this House was granted under patent, but for my oldest Peerage I have no patent. As far as I am aware it has just grown up through usage.
Where I do not agree with the White Paper is that I do not see why the eldest sons of hereditary Peers should not be allowed to come to this House after the death of their fathers. They may be great experts in certain subjects, and why should they not be able to give their advice to the Government and to the nation? If one looks through the list of Members of this House—and, naturally, I am speaking now of the hereditary membership; I fully appreciate that we have extremely distinguished Life Peers, but I am not bringing them into this argument because I am talking only of hereditary Members—we have in this House experts in every field. We have great philosophers, great businessmen, great Generals, authors—every strata of society is represented.
I think the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, said that the House of Commons was far more representative of the people than the House of Lords, but I do not agree. The House of Lords comprises an all- 755 embracing cross-section of the people. Do your Lordships realise that in this House there are more Nobel prize-winners than in any other institution in the world? I am quite sure the public do not realise the immense talents in this House. I am, I admit, the wrong person to expound this. I have no talents; I am a jack-of-all-trades. This is a unique institution and the Government get all this advice free. It is Government on the cheap. Large corporations pay Members of the House thousands of pounds for their advice, but these same Members come to this House and give advice free. The Government want to destroy all this.
It must be remembered that in this country we have a universal franchise. That is a very good thing; we are a democracy. But a great number of that franchise are naturally not qualified to understand the great issues of State. Therefore, I think it is essential that there should be a Second Chamber, which must be independent of the Executive. It must not be a "Yes man" to the House of Commons. As has been said before in this debate, I am afraid that under the present reform mentioned in the White Paper we are going for what I might call Parliamentary dictatorship. This House will not have any power to overrule the other House in any way. We are going to have a short delaying power, which will be of little importance.
I should like to know why the Government want to do away with the hereditary system as regards advising them and the nation. I can understand why they want to do away with the hereditary system on the question of voting, although I may not agree. But it is not logical to throw away this great fount of knowledge, this free advice to the Government. The Government are not being logical.
Last Session the Government introduced the Agricultural (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, which I think is now law, to make hereditary the rights of all tenant farmers in Scotland. That means that they can hand on their farms to their sons or other children, to their wives, and even to their adopted sons. Here a Socialist Government are creating a group of people, who will have great power by producing food in Scotland, 756 made subject by that Socialist Government to the hereditary system. In this White Paper the Government are saying that they cannot have this free expert advice through the hereditary system. It is not logical. That is rather a nasty one to answer, and I am sorry that the noble Lord the Leader of the House, for whom I have a great respect, is not here.
The noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams, made a good point when he suggested that non-voting Peers, if speaking on a subject, ought to have the right to vote. It would make very little difference, and I think that is a good idea. Another subject about which I am worried, and on which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor spoke, is that of patronage. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack assured us that there would be no increase in patronage. But as I read the White Paper—I agree it is only a suggestion—it appears that the voting Members of your Lordships' House are to be paid quite an appreciable salary—£2,000 or £2,500 a year. That completely alters this question of patronage, because it will be very nice to be appointed to a Chamber which one need not attend so very many times. One has only to attend one-third of the sittings. I attend over two-thirds of the sittings. I agree that there is going to be a committee, a watchdog, to look over this, but great patronage will be involved and I do not like it.
For a long time, Parliament has been fighting to be independent of the Executive. When Members of Parliament were first paid, Parliament lost a round, and it has lost many rounds since. Parliament is now, I am afraid, the tool of the Executive. That is a great pity, and I am quite sure that when Peers are paid £2,000 or whatever it is, the power of the Executive will be even greater.
Another point which I find disagreeable is the permanent majority of the Government in power over all other Parties. I agree that there will be Cross-Bench Peers, but how are they to be chosen? Presumably, they will be chosen by the Prime Minister. I do not think that is very satisfactory. I should have preferred a House where 757 there were a great many Members completely divorced from the patronage of any Prime Minister.
I cannot understand why a certain section of voting Peers, say a half or a third, cannot be chosen by all the organisations in the country: why they cannot be nominated by, say, the trade unions, by all denominations of the Church—Catholics, Methodists—also doctors, the scientists, the C.B.I., every organisation in the country, to represent them as Life Peers. You would then get away from the patronage of the Prime Minister.
I should also have preferred to see, say, a third of the voting Peers hereditary Peers chosen by a Select Committee of all Parties. We do want to get away from this appointment of all Peers by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister to-day is a very powerful individual; he is really nearly a dictator. He is to all intents and purposes as powerful as the Crown used to be 300 or 400 years ago. It was, after all, the Peers who in Magna Carta secured the Civil Rights from the Crown, and from that the liberty of our Parliamentary institutions has grown up. It was owing to the independence of the Peers that the basis of our civil liberties has grown.
The other thing I must say a word about is the subordinate legislation. As we see the power of the Executive growing and growing, we are going to get more Statutory Orders. I quite agree that if this reform goes through according to the White Paper there are going to be, I think the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor said, conferences on the question of subordinate legislation and regarding the powers of this House. We are now getting increasing government by decree, and it is going to increase. I do not feel at all happy about that.
There are two other points that I should like to make. There is the question, which is going to be discussed at length to-morrow, of the Scottish Peers, and I should like to bring in the Irish Peers, because, as some of your Lordships may know, I fought the case for the Irish Peers to be represented in this House. After all, according to the White Paper, we are to have Irish Peers. The idea is to have Peers who represent the North of Ireland. I cannot see why the Irish Peers, or at any rate a certain num- 758 ber of them, elected by themselves, cannot be allowed into this House in the non-voting tier, and from that nonvoting tier a few of them, four or five, chosen to represent the North of Ireland. The other point I would make, very briefly, is on the question of the Scottish Peers. Representation of the Scottish Peers was an integral part of the Treaty of Union. I do not think it is really adequate to allow the Prime Minister to appoint the Peers for Scotland. I think it is breaking faith with that Treaty. Any reform affecting the rights of Scottish Peers should be the subject of a special Statute.
There is one point that rather amuses me. Of course through the ages we have had many schemes for reform of this House. In fact the first scheme for reform was brought about indirectly by the Treaty of Utrecht. The Tory Government of that day got the Crown to create 12 extra Peers in order to have a majority in this House to get the Treaty through. But at that time it was thought to be a very arbitrary act that the prerogative of the Crown should be used to have a majority in this House for the Government of the day. It was an extremely arbitrary act which was looked upon with great apprehension. And so it came about that when the Whigs came into power they did the same thing to have a majority in this House. So it went on, and people began to fear that every time there was a different Government more Peers would be created by that Government in order that it should have a majority in the House.
We then had a reform in 1719 by the Whig Government; and the reform was to try to stop this increase in your Lordships' House; the idea was to try to keep this House independent of the Executive. The idea was that the membership of this House would not increase by more than six. The reform was thrown out by a Whig House of Commons, which was rather surprising because it was brought in by a Whig Government. The present reform is to ensure a majority for the Government in this House. When we look back in history it is interesting to see how the idea of having this House reformed in that way was looked at askance.
There is one other point that I would like to mention, and it is one than will 759 probably please the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison—I am afraid that I have hardly ever pleased him. I was rather surprised to hear him say that he apparently does not agree that any reform of this House ought to be by agreement between the Parties. I will not go into that now. I am going to say that I really do feel that the age of retirement for voting Peers of 72 is an insult to extremely brilliant and extremely able men. I can quote many instances, as I think have been quoted already, of men over 72, even over 80, with minds like needles. I greatly deplore this proposal. I quite agree that we have to have youth, and therefore I think it would be a great pity to destroy the hereditary system as regards the non-voting Peers. But I do honestly deplore that Peers of 72—I have quite a long time to go yet—should have to retire from the voting category.
With regard to voting on this White Paper, I am really torn "between the devil and the deep blue sea". I agree with some suggestions, but I find it very hard to stomach the eradication of the hereditary system as regards eventually not having any non-voting Peers to give advice to the Government and the nation, because I have already said that you have running through the hereditary Peerage a body of expert and illustrious people, although I naturally do not count myself among them.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ LORD BELSTEAD
My Lords, for many years now the presence of a considerable Conservative majority in this House has presented an unfair advantage for the use of the delaying power. The predominance of hereditary Members has been represented as an indefensible element in legislating. Thus, the position of this House has become impossible, and this reform at least finds a solution. If there is to be reform, as the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, held, the two-tier system is in many ways the best device imaginable; and I must say I think that the dangers of patronage on those who are nominated voting Peers for life are surely overplayed by some. With no joyful heart, I nevertheless support this White Paper which results from consultations on which the participants are surely to be congratulated.
760 Despite a continual majority of one Party in this House for so many years, perhaps noble Lords will agree that a rare degree of independence and scrutiny has been achieved in the revision of Bills. The six months' delaying power proposed in the White Paper must, whether we like it or not, be a factor in our thoughts, unless anyone really believes that a Government must automatically receive general electoral support all the way through to the end of its term of office. I must say that this is a theory which the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, dealt with quite effectively when he spoke. But if conflict between the two Houses does not form the basis of one's thinking, then six months from disagreement should provide real opportunity for various opinions to influence the second thoughts of the House of Commons. It is therefore no part of my case to criticise the new proposed delaying power for Public Bills.
However, I would draw your Lordships' attention to the deletion of any real check by this House, as proposed in the White Paper, over subordinate legislation. Paragraph 16 of the White Paper declaresThere can be no justification for a non-elected second Chamber having co-equal power with an elected House of Commons in this important area of Parliamentary business.Quite possibly. But are not Statutory Instruments the offspring of Acts? Surely, therefore, is there not a logical case for some period of delay analogous at least to the six months proposed for the delay in Public Bills?
Paragraph 58 continues with the wordsThe concept of a period of delay is not, however, part of the present power of the House of Lords—and it declares that a considerable survey would be needed to decide on a period of delay as such. I submit that this argument is specious. The present power is for annulment—that is, for indefinite delay—and presumably some thought has been given to the matter before recommending the almost complete abolition of this power. I quite realise that otherwise paragraph 58 draws fair attention to the difficulties. With other noble Lords, I was listening when the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, intervened earlier in this debate and quite briefly explained some of the difficulties. But this is hardly enough, and much apprehension 761 would be dispelled if the Government, instead of giving an indication, would give a definite undertaking that further consideration will be given to this question.
Perhaps your Lordships will not accuse me of muddled thinking if I illustrate the importance of this point from what was originally a Private Bill. In 1962, the late Lord Birkett successfully moved a mandatory Instruction to that part of a Private Bill which sought to give Manchester Corporation power to extract large quantities of water from Lake Ullswater. The power of complete delay, as it were, mobilised by Lord Birkett's wonderful last speech, gave opportunity for a conference to he held under the chairmanship of the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe. This affected the order subsequently produced by the Manchester Corporation. A public inquiry ensued, and then the Minister of the day, under the Labour Government, imposed conditions protecting water levels, natural beauty, future demand and public access.
On this evidence, can anyone doubt that the power of delay did not merely satisfy the whim of a noble House but ensured that those who had not chosen to have second thoughts thought again? Let Her Majesty's Government have a care in this matter. Few actions so readily cause a gulf between Parliament and people than decisions against which there seem to be no appeal.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? He certainly is on to a most important point. We went into this matter thoroughly. It is difficult to impose a power of delay, for instance, on subordinate legislation which is already in force. That is one of the many categories of subordinate legislation made by successive Governments. The point that I should really like to make is that this is a real tangle, and one of the things the investigation into this reform has brought out is that it is an area to which Parliament has to direct its attention. I assure the noble Lord that it is not for lack of will that we were unable to solve this problem.
§ LORD BELSTEAD
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his guidance. I realise that there is a difference between what the White Paper calls "urgent" and "less urgent" Statutory Instruments. I was rather hoping that the noble Lord 762 would say something, or perhaps something would be said before the end of the debate—this is what I am angling for—to the effect that there will be a definite undertaking that this subject will be looked at, and not just that the will is there. Possibly the value of delay in subordinate legislation which was illustrated by what happened with what was originally a Private Bill is not so entirely wide of the mark as it may have sounded. I believe I am right in saying (and I approach this subject with a certain amount of diffidence) that in certain circumstances Special Procedure Orders provide an alternative for Private Bills, an alternative with attractive advantages in regard both to time and expense. May I therefore also ask the Government, before the debate concludes on Thursday, whether Special Procedure Orders are to be included in the White Paper's recommendations regarding subordinate legislation? If so, for the first time the House of Commons will be able to override this House on a matter of Private Bill character, and this will be contrary to the recommendations on Private Bills in the White Paper itself.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Denham, has proposed a strong case for the inclusion of future hereditary Peers as non-voting Members of this House. The point has been made again and again that appointing young Life Peers will not be easy in the future; and many existing Life Peers are so very busy that they simply do not have the time to devote to work here if it falls outside their field of interest. It is this aspect of the reform which I fear may slowly transform this House into some theatre, a place in itself artificial and lifeless, where performers, themselves full of life perhaps, simply come and go. The noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, referred to the contribution of what he called "the less eminent in the second tier", and. said that this would be helpful in many ways. It would do harm to none, and of course such Peers would then have the chance, if they made the grade, to go on and possibly become voting Peers in due course. By projection, Lord Denham's case would. I feel, continue to add to our pool of specialists who attend but rarely.
Your Lordships may remember the book on the House of Lords written by 763 Professor Bromhead, then of Durham University, in which he said:In the unreformed House it is still possible for a Peer suddenly to emerge from political obscurity and to make a valuable contribution. … It is difficult to see how any reform which restricted membership of the House to 300 elected or appointed Peers could preserve intact the advantages of the old arrangements.Those words were published ten years ago, and to-day the White Paper proposes to fly straight in the face of this warning. I beg that the prejudice of to-day, which exists among some people, may not threaten the work of this House for the future.
To those outside this House, may I end by suggesting that our procedure may sometimes mask two essential ingredients to the despatch of business; namely, courtesy and brevity. It was, I believe, the much respected late Lord PethwickLawrence who said that the difference between the House of Commons and the House of Lords was that in the House of Commons a speaker must begin by proclaiming a depth of disagreement with the previous speaker, and then will go on, broadly speaking, to agree with what has previously been said; whereas in the House of Lords a speaker will invariably begin with a tribute to the Peer who has spoken last, then perhaps say a few disarming words about how unfitted he is to be taking part in the debate at all, and then make his points of disagreement as incisively as possible. To the long-winded, we sometimes find that the use of our hearing aids can be intimidating. If a speaker is dull it is not so difficult to fall asleep as ostentatiously as possible, and then at the end of a particularly boring sentence to let fall your hearing aid with a clatter from your nerveless grasp.
He who underrates the attention or the mental capacity of this House does so at his peril. It was, I believe, the late Lord Halifax who said:It is the accustomed boast of this House that we can command the services of experts in relation to whatever topic may engage our attention".And to-day tribute has been paid to the revising and initiating of legislation, and to the general debates in your Lordships' House. In these respects surely the mixture of hereditary and Life Peers has proved valuable. Let us never forget the time given by Peers attending Commit- 764 tees and the time given by our Deputy Speakers, to whom I think a debt is owed. If "continuity", about which we have all talked so much to-day, is to mean anything, there must be young Members of this House; yet such Members are very conscious of the lead given by the more senior Members of your Lordships' House, some of whom are among our most regular attenders. Whatever final form this House is to take, it will do well, I think, if it continues to make a similar contribution to fair and well-ordered government.
§ 9.14 p.m.
§ LORD FEVERSHAM
My Lords, it is beyond doubt that this is to be a marathon debate, and I fear that only those of Ethiopian physique will survive the course. I apologise that I shall not be able to hear it all. I have to go to Yorkshire this evening for a meeting in Leeds to-morrow morning, which cannot be avoided. I shall of course, follow most carefully in Hansard whatever I may miss here.
The reform of the House of Lords is something we have all been hearing about for a number of years. It seems to have become as much a part of the London season as feeding the ravens on Tower Hill, together with those other little things that one knows one should do but somehow never gets round to doing. At last we have some proposals in print, and it really looks as if reform is on the way. I think that nearly everybody in this country, apart from one or two noble Lords of the hereditary type, agrees that the hereditary element in Parliament should be phased out of action. The correspondence columns of various newspapers have carried some strange attempts to define the hereditary Peerage. I have read that I am both a congenital idiot and a passenger on the top deck of a Batter-sea bus. Most extraordinary of all, apparently I do not blow on my cocoa but merely fan it with my top hat.
Although I am eager to see reform of your Lordships' House, there are a few points I should like to make on the White Paper. I am a young man. Parliament and politicians do not command very much respect from me and, I believe, from many of my generation. I believe that the structure of Government in this 765 country is partly responsible for such a lack of respect, as is the species of political animal created by that structure, which appears to me (that is to say the structure, not the political animal) to be a horrifying Party-political load of "old cobblers".
The noble Baroness, Lady Asquith of Yarnbury, called a speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, "optimistic". I expect that the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, may call my speech pessimistic. The heavy suspicion of bureaucracy is settling over me to make me feel like a wanted man. We seem to bury ourselves in committees and sub-committees and safeguard ourselves with unions. We seem to lose all sight of where we are going or what we are aiming for, and merely grope about in the dark muttering "Fair shares, fair shares". I have not met one person of any intelligence during the last few years who has not grumbled at the state of Britain and at the incompetence of Government. From time to time the phrase "constitutional crisis" is used in Parliament, usually with the wave of an accusing finger at us fellows who merely fan our cocoa with our top hats. Surely there has been a constitutional crisis in this country for some time, and politicians have gone up to their necks in mud before admitting it, and many would probably go down before they did so. Parliament and people are out of touch, and if that is not a crisis in democracy then I do not know what is.
We all know how slowly the cogs turn in the great British machine. But at last a young man sees some hope of action. The House of Lords is to be reformed; the Royal Commission on Local Government is due to report, and a similar Commission on the Constitution is to be set up. I hope that the job of putting Parliament into touch with me—with people—is about to be undertaken. The proposed reforms for the House of Lords do not seem to me to fit very convincingly into this framework of hope. There is an unfortunate air, despite the much-flaunted inter-Party talks on Lords Reform, of "Under the carpet with the top-hatted cocoa boys". This is all very well, but the vital need is for a Constitution that works in this country. I think that the general agreement is that such a Constitution should contain an effective Second Chamber.
766 I find that I am in difficulty because, having stated that I think the proposals in the Government White Paper rather feeble-minded, inconclusive and short-sighted, I want to qualify this by adding that I think they are the best proposals we shall see put forward in the circumstances. To a young man without much experience, British law and the British way of life appear to evolve, through short-sighted years of feeble-mindedness, into something almost miraculously worth while. They do not change overnight to the rattle of tanks up St. James's. I am going to say in a moment what I as a young man would like to see in the way of a Second Chamber of use to Parliament and the people. But first I want to look at the timing of these proposals for reform of your Lordships' House. It seems to me odd that such a significant change in the Constitution as reform of the House of Lords would entail should be discussed before the Constitution as a whole comes under the scrutiny of a Commission, something of the sort which we have now been promised. It also seems odd that the White Paper does not advocate a Second Chamber based on a regionally-elected membership—partly because no machinery exists at present to elect a regional membership. Yet we are led to believe that we are on the threshold of reform in local government to give it a more regional influence.
My Lords, if I have any politics, then they are formed out of regionalism. I am a regional Peer, and my doctor has told me that a visit to any place so central as your Lordships' House is almost certain to put me down with a severe attack of Mao's 'flu. I think that a regionally-elected Second Chamber could be of use to Parliament and people; although I agree with the point which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, that we do not want a federal system in our country. I am sad to see that one of the reasons for rejecting a regional Second Chamber is, in effect, that we have yet to see the Report of the Royal Commission on Local Government. This seems to point to bad timing in the consideration of how to reconstruct the Second Chamber of Parliament.
But against this we have the kind of argument which I think the noble and 767 learned Lord the Lord Chancellor employed. We have the fact that if we wait to see every Report of every Commission and Committee then we shall wait until Doomsday, as we have waited from Doomsday for reform. This kind of paradox seems, again to a young man, typical of democracy. The best hope for me, eager for reform, lies in the fact that should the proposals in this White Paper pass into law they will remain open to revision and improvement thereafter.
George Washington was once asked at a teaparty where he considered the value of a Second Chamber to lie. Pouring some tea out into his saucer he blew over it and replied: "Like that—we don't want our legislation too hot." My Lords, much debate has taken place, and will take place, on the powers of a Second Chamber. In a modern context, in Britain, I do not believe that Washington's valuation of a Second Chamber holds true. However many powerful Chambers there were to our Legislature, I do not believe that committees, subcommittees, bureacracy and compromise would allow any legislation hotter than tepid tea
There seems to be great concern over increasing the power of the House of Commons. Here, I can see that I am going completely to disagree with the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, and, I am afraid, with a whole host of noble Lords. My concern is that the House of Commons, in a streamlined Constitution, should have all the power that we can accord to it. The loss of power to politicians in a denser and denser jungle of red tape is synonymous with an increasing lack of respect for those in political life. I believe that the main job of a revised Second Chamber should be to provide as wide a forum of public opinion as possible, so that in debate, and with limited powers to delay legislation, it could demonstrate with authority whenever a Government began to act out of step with the electorate. It would be essential for this task that any revised Upper House should reflect as wide a section of public opinion as possible—and here I am in sympathy, I think, with some of the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Denham, and the noble Viscount, 768 Lord Colville of Culross. My main argument with the proposals in this White Paper is that as they stand they just do not do this job. It is a job which is more successfully done by the present system of hereditary Peerage. It is essential that the useful qualities of hereditary Peers should be incorporated in the revised Second Chamber on a nonhereditary basis—and here I come to the main issue in my speech.
With all the diffidence of the noble Lord, Lord Soper (I again mention the noble Lord, although I am not quite sure that I should, as he is not here), when he speaks for himself but also feels that he is dipping in an oar on behalf of the non-established Churches, I speak for myself but feel that I represent at least some of the people in my age group. The proposals of this White Paper will eventually eradicate young people from membership of this House, both as voting and as non-voting Members. I think that this is wrong, particularly in a House which should purport to field a cross-section of public opinion. Soon members of the public over the age of 18 will have the vote, and if they are to have any voice at all in Parliament, other than the electoral vote, then it should be heard in the forum of a Second Chamber. That young people should have a voice in Parliament is important to me: that they should have a vote there less so.
I really cannot go along with the vision of the noble Lord, Lord Denham, of Peers of my sort of age going through a kind of pupilage for sterner stuff later on. Nor do I support the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, when he feels that the hereditary system is the only method for injecting young blood into the House of Lords. I am sure that a method other than the existing hereditary one must be found for putting it there. As the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has pointed out, quite clearly young hereditary Peers are almost a figment of the imagination when it comes to attendance figures.
I do not want to go into all the difficulties of selecting young people to sit in a revised House of Lords. The greatest difficulty is that people remain young for a relatively short time. I merely make the suggestion that perhaps university students could send a small number of 769 elected delegates to speak in the Second House for a period of, say, two years before the election of new delegates. This sort of suggestion is difficult to uphold under proposals which still insist on calling people "Lords" and under restrictions "life-sentencing" them to a Second Chamber. What with these proposals and Lords of first creation, "lifers", "voters" and "speakers", we are going to have more breeds of Lord than there are monkeys in the trees. Some people say that the Second Chamber, consisting as it does largely of older and wiser owls, is no place for young people. I say that young people have more respect for age and experience than their parents give them credit for—perhaps because the parents feel cut out of any special relationship which their child may strike up with his grandparents. Whatever reform is carried out of the House of Lords, I hope that the idea of its containing some young people will not be eternally shelved.
My Lords, I want to end on a personal note. If I am to be a non-voting speaker, I shall be young for a few years yet to give service to this Second Chamber, to uphold what I believe to be the valuable and unique position of the young person with a voice in Parliament in a democratic country. I am not a politician: I have no wish to go to the House of Commons to be of service. The electoral vote which I should receive under these proposals is of no use to me. There is no political Party at the moment which contains the ideas, the ideals or the power to hold me. Outside my region there is little service that I could do for my country other than by writing or speaking from an independent position from a Cross-Bench.
§ 9.27 p.m.
§ LORD BROCKWAY
My Lords, I propose to begin by invoking what the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, described as the "courtesies and customs of this House". I think he was quoting the late Lord Pethick-Lawrence. I want to do so, particularly in relation to the speech we have just heard. The noble Lord, Lord Feversham, said that I might regard it as pessimistic. I do not. I am not a pessimist, because I believe the great hope of the world lies in youth to-day, and I welcome the speech which has just been made because it expresses the mind and mood of so much youth in 770 this country. We have to face the fact that some of the most alert and intelligent of the youth to-day are cynical about politicians and about politics—and not only about the House of Lords but about the House of Commons. One of the most urgent issues of our time is to find some way to bring to the alert youth of our nation, reflected as they are in nearly every nation in the world, a belief in great imaginative and constructive policies. I very much hope that during his period of contribution to our national life, the noble Lord, Lord Feversham, speaking for youth in this House to-day, will give a lead to them which will find expression in those directions.
I am intervening in this debase only because I shall be saying things which no one else will say. Perhaps that is not unusual. Certainly, what I am to say has not been said so far in the debate, and I do not anticipate that the conclusions I have reached will be expressed by any subsequent speaker. I am against a legislative Chamber which is either hereditary or nominated. I regret that the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, is not in his place, because I was going to make a comment on his justification of the hereditary principle. He was saying that pedigree was important in the production of horses, cattle, sheep and chickens. I have not had much experience in those spheres, though I have had very considerable experience in breeding racing pigeons. It was one of the only two things I learned at school; the other was rugby football.
What I want to say to the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, is this. He should be very careful indeed in justifying hereditary Peers in this House on the grounds of pedigree. Honestly, my Lords, we must not begin to make that kind of examination. If we did, it would be very unfortunate for the stalwarts who now occupy not only the Benches opposite, but some Benches on this side of your Lordships' Chamber, and who claim, because of their ancestors, that on the grounds of good pedigree they have the right to be in this House. I am a tolerant person, and therefore I hope that no one who belongs to my profession of journalism will take up the challenge of the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, and begin to examine the ancestry of our hereditary Peers.
771 This House of Lords, and any Second Chamber, has two arguments in its favour. The first argument is that it serves as a revising body for what is done in another place; and, sometimes, when the programme of another place is crowded, as a body for initiating legislation. That is a technical matter. It is a matter of finding the correct device by which we shall enable another place to give proper revision to its decisions, and enable its legislative programme to go through effectively.
I admit at once that, with the present procedure in another place, a Second Chamber is necessary for that purpose. The procedure of another place—and, like other Members of your Lordships' House, I have had a good deal of experience of it—is mediæval. We talk about modernising industry, science and the universities. The place which needs modernisation more than anywhere else is the Lower House of our two Houses of Parliament.
For many years I was a Back-Bencher in another place. I have never known such frustration as I experienced there. I was elected to the other place. I was keen to contribute to the legislation of the country, I was keen to contribute ideas about its administration, but I had little opportunity at all to do so. The average Member of Parliament spends 50 per cent. of his or her time as a social worker, rather than as a contributor to either administration or legislation.
I will say at once, on a point which I shall develop later, that I have experienced much less frustration as a Back-Bencher in this House than I did as a Back-Bencher in another place. What I am arguing is that the argument in favour of this Chamber or any Second Chamber is in the first place a technical matter. If we could find in another place a procedure which would enable proper revision to be given to legislation which was hurried through, if we could find in another place an opportunity for the Back Benchers to take a real part in administration and legislative initiative and consideration, then there would be no need on those grounds for a Second Chamber at all.
It is not our duty, although Members of another place often accept it as their 772 duty towards us, to make detailed proposals for that change. I believe that the solution for another place will be found by making every Member of Parliament, not a talking Member or a Member seeking to talk, but a working Member through membership of some committee or commission responsible for legislation and actual administration in the different Departments of State. I understand that under the initiative of the former Leader of the House of Commons proposals on these lines are being made. I believe that if those proposals are followed through to their logical conclusion it will be possible to have in one Chamber the necessary consideration of legislation which is now rushed through in a rather impulsive way.
There is a second ground for the justification of your Lordships' House and of a Second Chamber, and to this I want to pay great tribute. This is the informed and specialised debates which take place in your Lordships' House. I admit at once that on many subjects the debates in this House are of a far higher standard than any I have ever heard in another place. We had a debate last week about qualified married women. They could never have had that in another place. We have had debates in this House on higher education, on colonial administration and on many other subjects, of a high standard because Members of this House have given their lives to work in those spheres and have been able to contribute immensely to our knowledge and to our consideration. Yes, that is true.
We have also this advantage: that because in this House we are not dependent upon popular prejudice we have been able to be pioneers in a number of spheres. I am thinking particularly of the sphere of sexual morality, where Members of another place are frightened about their votes. That is a contribution which this House, or any Chamber which consists of those who by their experience and knowledge are able to contribute ideas, is able to make to the community.
The idea which I wish to express to-night, as I reach a conclusion of these considerations, is, as I have said, one that your Lordships are not likely to accept. If you can have modernisation of the procedure of the other place, I do not believe that a Second Chamber or 773 the House of Lords is necessary for legislative functions. I should deeply deplore the disappearance of men and women in this House of great knowledge and experience, who, because of their contributions to political ideas, are really formative in the thinking, philosophy and practice of politics. But I would have a Second Chamber which had no legislative functions at all, provided that in another place the technical problems of revision and so on are solved. It is now humiliating: the Opposition here bring in Amendments; after long debates we send them to the other place who reject them; then the Opposition just say: "We will bow to the other House." It is humiliating; it makes this House an absolute cypher. With a change in the procedure of the other place, that function of this House would become unnecessary.
But those of experience and knowledge, those representing different spheres of life—and I include among them students at universities—could make a contribution to ideas, to formative thought, in a Second Chamber which would be a kind of permanent political British Association. If we made that our function, I believe that we should end the prejudice against the House of Lords, arising from our interference in legislation, and that we should receive some respect for the contribution of creative ideas.
Because of this, my Lords, I shall be unable to vote for the proposals which are now before the House. I am not going to vote against, because I would not be seen in the Lobby with many of those on the other side who stand for the hereditary system and who believe in this idea of aristocratic pedigree. I will not vote with them against the proposals, but it is honest to make clear the point of view which I hold as I abstain.
§ 9.44 p.m.
My Lords, the noble Lord who has just sat down has always been a fund of new ideas, and this evening he has displayed them to a degree which one can only describe as most interesting. I am sure he will forgive me if I do not follow him down the garden path which he has traversed. When the Government first announced their new determination to reform your Lordships' House, my basic instinct was 774 to feel that, despite the idiosyncracies of your Lordships' House and its peculiarities, of which there are many, and despite its almost curious anachronism in modern-day society, it has done, and is doing, a job of work far more complex and more vital, and doing it far better than that which it is usually given credit for. Therefore my first reaction was that it would be a pity to alter it.
On the other hand, over the years it has become increasingly more difficult to defend, both in public and in private, a House of Parliament the main membership of which consists of those who are there by the accident of birth. It so happens that in practice this system has proved to work well, but in this day and age, where the proof of the pudding is not so much in the eating but in the accurately computerised diagnosis of its contents, your Lordships' House as at present constituted finds difficulty in being readily acceptable to a substantial section of the public. Therefore I would concede the case for a change, not on the ground that your Lordships' House is at present unsatisfactory but on the ground that the hereditary principle is increasingly difficult to defend as one of the main criteria for membership of the Houses of Parliament. But that does not mean that what will replace your Lordships' House as we now know it will necessarily be a better House of Parliament or a more balanced House of Parliament, or will result in the will of the people being more accurately reflected.
I would at the outset vindicate the Government of any charge of endeavouring by these proposals to destroy the House of Lords, which is what we were always told a Labour Government would do, and indeed which is what I think many members of the Labour Government sought and hoped that they would do. Labour Governments have always been understandably needled by the power which your Lordships' House has had, small though it has been, and which it could use against the Government; and they have always given the impression of being determined, therefore, to cut the House of Lords down to size. But things do not always work out the way they are intended to.
I have made a little law which I have had the audacity to call Ferrers Law, 775 which says quite simply that everything has the reverse effect of that intended. When there is an economic crisis, for instance, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer says that in order to protect the pound nobody must take more than £50 abroad, the result is that more people go abroad than ever before. If you have an egg and you clean it and subject it to the most vigorous scrutiny to make sure that it has no dirt or impurities or cracks, and to display its excellence you stamp it with a "lion", nobody wants to eat it. When the Goya painting of the Duke of Wellington was stolen from the National Gallery, more people went to see the place where it used to hang than ever went to see the picture when it hung there.
So, my Lords, it is possible that with these proposals for the reform of your Lordships' House we may very well find that they have the reverse effect of that intended. We should be mistaken if we thought that, by removing the powers which hereditary Peers have had up to now, we should be striking a mortal blow to your Lordships' House, because we shall not. We shall in fact be making it far stronger. If anyone thinks that one of the results of the White Paper will be that your Lordships' House will emerge like a dove with clipped wings, he will be in for a very big surprise. And if the Government were irked by the vote on the Rhodesia Order, let then not be under any misapprehension, as I am sure that they are not, that the White Paper is just retribution for those "naughty boys" who took part in the prank; because once these proposals become law the House of Lords will be divested of the one thing which made it reluctant and chary to use its power; namely, the hereditary Peers. Instead, there will be clearly defined Members and clearly defined powers, and these powers will be used far more frequently and with far less caution, and in such a way, I should have no hesitation in forecasting, as to make the Rhodesia Order vote seem like a little local difficulty.
The great advantage of your Lordships' House has not been the power which it has had but the influence which it has had by what has been said in the course of debate. And though I sup- 776 pose that every hereditary Peer who attends regularly and who is summarily "axed" by these proposals will be sorry to find himself no longer a voting Peer, I have always, rather truculently, thought that if the Government had really wished to damage the House of Lords it would not have taken away the right of voting and left the right of speaking: it would have left the right of voting and taken away the right of speaking—on the basis that what is said in your Lordships' House carries far more weight than the way in which your Lordships vote.
One may criticise these proposals, and indeed any proposals, and especially those in regard to the House of Lords, because everyone has his own ideas as to what should be done; but there is one major criticism which I have and which again adds to my point that everything has the reverse effect to that intended. The object of these proposals is to bring the House of Lords more into line with modern-day practice and thinking, and to cut out the old-fashioned, archaic system. Yet what will be the results of all this? As has been said by many noble Lords, it will cut out all the young people. One can visualise few people being made Life Peers at the age of 50, and certainly not before the age of 40, and I am bound to say that the statement made by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor this afternoon, that there were only 9 peers under the age of 40 who attended regularly in the last year, was to me greatly surprising.
But, my Lords, that statistic may conceal one important thing, and it may give a wrong impression. The impression one would receive is that on any day one would see only 9 peers under the age of 40 in your Lordships' House. That is not the case at all. If your Lordships' House is depicted at present, quite erroneously, by some of the less generous cartoonists and columnists as being a House full of old "fuddyduddies", we would hardly seem to be bestowing upon the new House the "swinging", "with-it" image which is so much demanded nowadays, by directly and deliberately excluding from its future membership anyone under the age of 50. Indeed, it seems odd specifically to design a new Chamber the working Members of which will be aged from 50 to 72. By the mere passage of time, 777 statistics would show the majority to be near the top end of the scale, so that we shall run the risk of having a Second Chamber which, whatever may be its advantages—and there may be many—will certainly be accused of being out of touch with young thinking.
One of the strongest arguments against the proposed idea of a selected number of voting Peers is that they will become placemen, put there by the patronage of the Leader of their Party. I do not here wish to comment on the patronage question, because I again believe that the figures which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor gave really squashed the patronage question completely. But it could well be that, having been put into the new Chamber by the Leader of their Party, these voting Peers might feel an inborn obligation to vote, on all of the most important and controversial occasions, for the Party to whose allegiance they owed their seat.
It is said by those who take the contrary view that, at least in theory, this will not happen, because once a Life Peer always a Life Peer, and Peers will be able to express their views and vote according to their consciences. In practice will this happen? When making up his full complement of Life Peers, will a Prime Minister or a Leader of the Opposition deliberately choose those who are noted for the frequency of their deviations from the Party Whip, or will he be tempted to choose some good old faithfuls on whose support he can rely? I do not know at all, and I would not venture to suggest. But there would be one method of dispensing with at least this general and very real fear that, once here, Life Peers would tend to vote too frequently with their Party; that is, by holding a secret ballot. Then, in fact as well as in theory, voting Peers would be able to vote according to their consciences. This could be done by having some form of mechanism in the Lobbies which would enable each Peer to record his vote by the pressing of a button.
This may seem an unattractive innovation. Maybe it is. But in my view it is at least one worthy of consideration. Life Peers would be given their place by their Party Leader; they might even feel obliged at times to voice the Party's 778 view, for good measure, but they would always be able to vote according to their consciences and not necessarily according to the dictates of their Party Whip.
While such a system would be wholly unacceptable in your Lordships' House as it is at present constituted, and while such a system would be intolerable in another place, where Members are sent as representatives of the people and are required to account for their views and their actions, it may not be so intolerable here in the future, where the whole essence of the House is—or should be—complete freedom of individual thought and opinion, and when no Member should be obliged to look over his shoulder to determine the reaction he creates on a constituency, on a Party or on a Whip. If the membership of the new House is to be—for want of a better expression—deliberately "cooked" then we must do all we can to see that the voting is wholly free.
My Lords, I admit to harbouring a nostalgic feeling that it is a pity to "mess around" with something which has worked well. I would fear the move from the present, admittedly vague and indefensible, system to the clinically precise and statistical system. I would fear that we might move from being a wholly independent body of people to being a more professional, tightly knit body of people. I would fear that we should lose the immense diversity of interests and thought and might replace that with a narrow and restricted Party thinking. I would fear that in our endless quest for a logical basis for membership we should end with a House less individualistic, both in complement and in operation. But I accept that there must be change; and if there is to be change then mercifully no one person's views will predominate.
I believe that this package which the Government have produced will in fact prove to be not wholly acceptable to anyone but largely acceptable to a great many people; and while everyone may have his fears of the unknown, I welcome this White Paper on the basis that if there is to be change this is as good a way of making the change as one is likely to find. It is one which, in my view, will result in a stronger Second Chamber, and I shall vote for it.
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ LORD BIRKETT
My Lords, I speak to-night as one of those most carefully considered by, and most emphatically rejected by, the White Paper, for I sit in your Lordships' House as of hereditary right only. Until my noble friend Lady Asquith of Yarnbury warned me that I was about to become a "fourpenny stamp" it had not occurred to me that I might be left forcibly overnight in a postbag. It will therefore be no surprise to your Lordships if I say that I am bitterly opposed to the suggestions contained in the White Paper. I hesitate to call them reforms as the White Paper so blandly does, because although they may well re-form your Lordships' House I very much doubt if they will do so for the better.
I should not like your Lordships, however, to think that I speak out of personal pique. I believe my personal position does not come into the matter. My attendance and my contributions to this House have been so infrequent, and I daresay so ineffective, that if they were to cease altogether to-morrow it would be idle to suppose that the nation would be a whit the poorer. But to many hereditary Members of this House this most emphatically does not apply.
More important than any individual Peer is the principle behind his presence here. I defend this hereditary principle, well aware of the arguments for it already urged in this debate. I do not forget the accumulated wisdom and notable public service attributable to the great noble families of this land, but I hope it will not be thought disrespectful if I defend it for a simpler and perhaps more unusual reason: simply because it is random. I also hope it will not be thought that I intend any disrespect upon the many distinguished Life Peers of this House if I commend to your Lordships one sentence from G. K. Chesterton written at the beginning of the century, an imaginary look back over the 20th century:To think what time was wasted in arguing about the House of Lords, Tories saying it ought to be preserved because it was clever and Radicals saying it ought to be destroyed because it was stupid, and all the time no one saw that it was right because it was stupid, because that chance mob of ordinary men thrown there by accident of blood, were a great democratic protest against the Lower 780 House, against the eternal insolence of the aristocracy of talents.Like many witticisms of great men there is more than a germ of truth in that passage.
I fear, however, that these changes, urged by the Government upon us for the greater efficiency of Parliament, lay the country open to far greater dangers—dangers stemming almost entirely from the nature of Party politics. For no matter how long a history there is of discussion of these changes, and no matter how great a measure of agreement between the Parties has been reached, I doubt if a Government not faced with an Opposition majority in this House would so strongly advocate reform. The substance of these measures is all towards offering no threat to the free exercise of power by the Government of the day.
The present composition of the House seems to me to provide some bulwark against the tide of political dogma which washes across the floor of the other place. More importantly, it provides some defence against the abuse of power to which dogma can lead. Once remake this House into a Chamber where any Government can be assured of a majority over all other political Parties and the changes which may result over a seven-year span may do irreparable damage to the nation. It may be objected that some degree of independence is assured by the proposal for life tenure of a seat in this House once someone is promoted to it. But if the basis of this promotion is to be political, and above all if the choice is to be within the patronage of the Prime Minister, then this House will be able to rely on a high degree of political loyalty from almost all its Members.
In an age when politics is an increasing interest and yet "politician" almost a dirty word, such political loyalty is dangerous. Indeed Party politics seems to me the curse of our century. The pointless bickering in speeches up and down the country, on television and even in the debating Chamber of the other place makes one almost despair of common sense and individual conscience. If Party political loyalty were not so often in question why would there be Whips? Not, I take it, simply as schoolmasters, to discourage laziness or unpunctuality. Surely Whips exist to make sure that no Party member votes against the views of 781 his Cabinet or his Shadow Cabinet. One may ask what would cause a man to vote against his Party. Once again, I take it not often personal greed or eccentricity or ignorance; simply that he finds it difficult to agree with the Party line. In other words, his loyalty to his Party is in conflict with his conscience or his common sense. Loyalty itself I take to be one of the virtues. Yet Party loyalty seems often merely the distortion of a virtue.
Again, it may be objected that a Government rules by a mandate from the people and through the elected representatives of the people and it must be allowed to do so. I would reply that Elections have long ago become mostly the election of a Party, a Party whose claims have been urged with all the specious power of a commercial advertising campaign and based on a platform of which only the biggest and most obvious planks have been in question. Indeed, I wonder if elections to-day are not more concerned with which Party should not govern. I sense in this country a despair that casts more votes against the political Parties than ever are cast for them.
How then, once a Government is formed, is the freedom of those who elected it to be secured and safeguarded? For in seven years the people of this country may grow sick and tired of a Government, they may grow frightened of its power; but so long as Parliament functions efficiently that Government cannot readily be changed unless a large measure of political independence is retained by this House. That the present political convictions of the active hereditary part of this House are Conservative does not entirely please me, I confess, but I think it infinitely less important than the safeguard of individual conscience built into any assembly which can disregard the Party Whip whenever it chooses. If anyone had proposed a scheme whereby that degree of independence could be safeguarded and at the same time the hereditary right of Peers abolished, I may well have welcomed it, but they have not, and I have no talent for suggesting Constitutional amendments.
I find no difficulty in agreeing that the hereditary system is arbitrary and irrational; in spite of the formidable weight of experience and expertise fielded by the 782 present holders of such titles, it will have no appeal to those who believe in the possibility of meritocracy. But I hold that liberty is better defended by an arbitrary or even random system than by a further streamlining of Party political domination. It cannot be an accident that British justice places its trust so firmly in good men and true picked quite at random. It may perhaps seem somewhat melodramatic to your Lordships, amidst the sunshine of tolerance and courtesy which always prevails here, to prognosticate too fearsomely on the evils which this much-canvassed constitutional change may bring, but although the present structure of this House may seem ramshackle and even old-fashioned, once its bonds are loosened I am sure the power of the State over the individual will grow with ever increasing swiftness. Once the almost accidental qualities in this House are removed, regulation will supersede them, and regulation is only one step from regimentation.
If this prophecy seems too like fiction to your Lordships, let me remind you of the most famous and the most dire of all such predictions—1984. What gives that book its abiding power is partly the courage of its title, not a piece of science fiction 2,000 or 2 million years away, but today, 16 years on, if you like. What frightens me is no how nightmarish is the world that book imagines, but how closely day by day we seem to keep in step with it, as if Orwell, like so many great artists, was also a prophet, and as if we had a date with totalitarianism which we were keen to keep punctually. In fine, I urge Her Majesty's Government, and indeed all the political Parties and all the Members of your Lordships' House, to consider whether all the streamlining and efficiency in the world is worth the risk of abandoning that precious streak of almost abstract independence which makes this House what it is, because I feel that this debate, so coolly debated and so politely argued may be crucial to the nation and I fear that tomorrow or the next day, unnoticed Or even applauded, will start a tiny crack which will one day sink the raft of freedom on which we have floated for so long.
§ 10.10 p.m.
§ LORD MARGADALE
My Lords, as a comparative newcomer to this House 783 I feel diffident about speaking in this debate. However, after a number of years in another place and a short period here—and we are asked to give our views on this White Paper and to vote on it—I venture to do so. I find myself considerably in agreement with the noble Lord who has just spoken. I put the simple question: will this House and all that it means in the whole of Parliament and the government of the nation be a better House when the White Paper, as we read it and possibly amend it a little, is implemented? I know that at the present time there are shortcomings and difficulties, particularly so for the two Front Benches in this House. But the answer I give, having thought the matter over most carefully, is that if the White Paper is carried then the position of this House will be not so good but will be worse than if the House is left as it is at the present time.
Having said that, I do not rule out reform of various sorts. But when I read the White Paper, as I understand it the possibility of area representation is ruled out because local government reform has not as yet reached that stage. Also election is ruled out because those in another place would think that it would lessen their powers. I speak, I hope, freely to-night, in that I am a first creation and therefore, as is written in the White Paper, am not necessarily to be "knocked on the head" or have to seek patronage of any sort. If I wish, I can remain as a voting Peer provided I attend sufficiently. But of course there are a great many who have 784 taken part in this debate who will not be able to do so.
I must say that I feel considerably in agreement with what the noble Lord, Lord Denham, said in his most amusing speech. If this White Paper goes through, I believe that the House will be an ageing one, a too-political one, and that many leaders in education, industry, trade unions and all sorts of things that go on in the nation as a whole, will, if they live outside the metropolitan area, find it difficult to partake in the new House. This would be of great detriment to the conscience of the nation.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, in a most persuasive speech, made reference to Appendix II, saying that legislation would go more fluidly through both Chambers. My own humble opinion is, I am afraid, contrary to what probably is his opinion. My opinion, shared, I believe, by 95 per cent. of the public of this country, is that we suffer from far too much legislation, and that we could do with a lot less. I am afraid that with that handle the noble and learned Lord has not persuaded me.
I shall not keep the House any longer. I am not approaching the age of seventy-two and shall not be, I am glad to say, for a considerable number of years. But I was rather shocked to hear from Lord Mitchison's lips that whereas those not in Government were expected to retire at the age of seventy-two, apparently those in Government could remain on indefinitely. I cannot believe that that is a very good thing.
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ LORD GIFFORD
My Lords, I find myself in the happy, if somewhat unusual, position of agreeing wholeheartedly with the Motion before us and with the Government, and of disagreeing with many of my noble friends on these Benches and comrades in another place; and it is particularly to them that I should like to address my remarks this evening. Before I do so may I deal with one argument which has come mostly from the other side, and which perhaps I ought to touch on before I sit down? That is the argument about young people. With the exception, perhaps, of the noble Lord, Lord Feversham, I feel that this argument has been a red herring trailed across this debate by those who seek to advocate the retention of the hereditary principle, cm possibly some system of election, because it seems to me that those are the only two methods by which young people could be retained.
Now what about young people in this Chamber? My noble and learned friend on the Woolsack made the position very clear, and he pointed out that really our contribution is somewhat insignificant. No doubt we provide a diversion from time to time, as no doubt I am doing now; but it cannot seriously be argued that the loss of young people to this House would seriously impair the efficiency with which it discharges its functions. In any case, let us look at those functions, the functions of a subordinate, revisory, patient, scrutinising, spillover House. I have every respect for those who spend long hours in the painstaking work of this House, but I ask you: would any young man worth his political salt, given the option, choose a lifetime of that service, and turn down the possibility of fighting the real battles in the hustings and in the rough and tumble of another place? I do not think so. I am quite content to leave the calm, deliberate atmosphere of this Chamber to my elders—I do not say elders and betters, but my elders—because I think that, given the functions this House performs, they are most fitted to fulfil them.
Turning to the arguments from the Left on this side of the House, I would say that they seem to be, broadly, that it is an imperfect, botched-up scheme; that it increases the power of patronage; 786 that it makes the Second Chamber too influential; that there should be a clean sweep reform around some other lines, and until such reform is arranged it is best to leave this House as it is. I must say, in all sincerity, to my noble friends on this side of the House who want to argue in that way that I believe they have completely missed the point. There is really only one vital issue of principle in this debate, and that is that the Government have at last had the courage to initiate a reform which will, once and for all, rid this Parliament of its hereditary composition and its hereditary element.
I said in a previous debate on this subject that in so far as this Horse was composed on hereditary lines I found it an abomination; and I stand by that statement. There is no more pertinent reminder that the battle against the inequalities of the class system are yet to be won than to see such conspicuous representatives of that system still taking part, by reason of their birth, in the Legislature. It pains me to see members of this Party, whose whole history has been one of a struggle against class, stand by and, in this counsel of despair allow such an abomination to continue.
I believe that the continued presence of aristocratic elements in this Chamber contributes quite significantly to the prestige of the aristocratic aura in society generally as an ornament to our society. I have no doubt that the power and influence of those lackeys of the system, the gossip columnists, the functionaries of the Court, the companies who need a Lord on the board, is very much bolstered by the fact that Lords, hereditary Peers, have a right to take part in the Legislature of this country. Let us do away with it, and let us not get into involved and endless wrangles about the ideal Utopian form of Constitution. I agree that if we were to sit down and try to devise a perfect blueprint Legislature for this country, we would not come up with a scheme in which all Members of the Second Chamber were nominated by the Prime Minister. Of course not.
But then again if 630 M.P.S were all to devise their systems, there is no doubt that as a result 630 different plans would be put forward. There is no consensus or agreement about this. 787 Everyone has his pet scheme. We have unicameralists, federalists, regionalists, and all sorts of other curious hybrid beasts. These arguments about structure, about the exact way to form the Constitution, are side issues, in my view, as compared to the wider, more basic principle of ridding this House of its hereditary elements. Let us not waste time on this.
The noble Lord, Lord Feversham, talked about the alienation of people, and young people in particular, from the political system. I would suggest to him that it is not the organisational structure of our Parliament that alienates people. If anything alienates them—and I agree that they are alienated—it is the policies which the Government are pursuing. These are the issues we should get worried about, not the exact framework through which they are pursued, although, of course, reform is needed. The fact that Lord A or Lord B would like a clean sweep and cannot get it, because this is not the moment, is not a case against reform of this Chamber. The only case against the proposed White Paper reforms would be if it could be shown that something much worse would result, and surely that is not so.
The argument that this Chamber would have greater influence is true. But should we shrink from that? Looking back over some of the major issues which have confronted us over this past year, I am not so sure that a reformed House would not exercise its influence in a way which was quite embarrassing to Conservative interests. A reformed House would have passed the Rhodesian Sanctions Order by an overwhelming majority, given the great episcopal and other turn-out that there was. A reformed House might well have thrown the Commonwealth Immigrants Act, 1968, into the dustbin where it belonged. I am not worried about the possibilities of the exercise of influence by a reformed House. As for the power of patronage, I feel that this is a spectre haunting this debate which is not very relevant. Perhaps it is not altogether realised that when the public in the gallery come back here in a year from now they will look down on a reformed Chamber and will see a sight not very different from that which they now see. Already a huge proportion of the burden of work 788 in this House, particularly on this side of it, but significantly around the rest of the House, is already carried on by nominated Peers. And those who say that the power of patronage will be an evil should now be able to point and say, "We already see this evil spreading among us", and I submit that with the Life Peers as we know them this is patently not the case.
I therefore support these proposals, and will end with only one criticism. It is not so much a criticism as a suggestion about an aspect of reform which I do not think is really covered in the White Paper. The effect of this reform will be finally to separate membership of this House from membership of the aristocracy. There will no longer be any tie. In that case why on earth should Members of this House be saddled with the title of "Lord"? I do not see it. Why should we not be "Mr. Shackleton" and "Mr. Gardiner"? Why should this Party, of all Parties, this movement to which I should have thought "handles" in front of names were anathema, particularly when those handles are identical with the handles borne by the holders of antique titles, seek to perpetuate the bearing of those handles when we have such a marvellous opportunity to remove them? If there is anything in this argument about the power of patronage, I should have thought the prospect of bearing a prestigious title probably was more alluring than the prospect of quite painstaking drudgery in the service of this House. I support these reforms because they will send the hereditary Peers into the backwoods where they belong, but I should very much like to send their titles with them.
§ 10.27 p.m.
§ LORD MILVERTON
My Lords, over the past twenty years, during which I have had the honour and privilege of being a Member of this House, this is the most important Motion that has come before us. I appreciate the need, in view of the phenomenal number of speakers still wishing to speak, to be very brief. Unfortunately, time does not allow any detailed examination of the White Paper, and I shall therefore confine myself to a few general observations.
First of all, may I say at once that the hereditary basis of membership runs contrary to much modern thought, but 789 a contemplation of possible alternatives inspires some caution against a too hasty and comprehensive elimination. Admittedly, if one were building an entirely new Constitution to-day one would not consider a personal composition of this House in its present form. But what we are doing is to examine the case for a fundamental alteration in an institution which has its roots in our remotest history and which over the centuries has undergone steady development and change in composition and powers to meet the ever-multiplying complexity of democratic government. My Lords, before throwing the whole system into the dustbin of an outmoded past, should we not be quite clear about what we want and why we want it? In other words, should we not await the conclusions and recommendations of the Constitutional Commission and be careful to preserve an integral part of our unwritten Constitution until we know what part the House of Lords is envisaged to play in the future?
Is there really, then, any immediate need to emasculate a House which is performing its duties with marked responsibility and ability, however incongruous and indefensible its basic composition may appear to be, and at the same time to speak very vaguely, as the White Paper does, of a future extension of its function and scope? Surely no man's ipse dixit is an acceptable substitute for the prolonged study of a commission of picked men.
What sort of man and woman, with what qualifications, are considered ideal for this House? Surely not primarily geographical qualifications; not popular choice by an electorate; not as representative of a specified interest; not crusaders for a particular political doctrine; but men and women who have graduated in the university of life, whose beliefs have been fashioned by trial and error in the many walks of life, whose intelligence has been sharpened by experience and whose judgment has reached a tolerant maturity and an ability to apply to the problems of public affairs a minimum of prejudice—Peers about whom you could reasonably quote the lines:Comes now to search your manhood Through all the thankless years Cold, edged with dear-bought wisdom The judgment of your peers.790 There is no known way of selecting such persons in bulk, but by a lucky accident that has, generally speaking, been the result of the somewhat random present method of recruitment to membership of this House and of an instinct, if I may say so, which leaves the bulk of its work to an instinctively self-chosen group of about a quarter of its total membership.
My Lords, I think it is admitted that the work of this House is, on the whole, very well done. Why then does it need basic reform so urgently? The answer is mainly political, and not necessarily based, as I see it, on the interests of this country: first, that membership based on heredity offends democratic principles as they are known to-day, and, second, that it involves a permanent Conservative majority. The House naturally tends towards conservatism (with a small "c") because the Members of this Howe are mostly of mature age and judgment who naturally tend to have a right-of-centre political bias. If the quality of work done here were the only test of the present system of membership there would be no case at all for reform other than a steady selective diminution in the right of hereditary membership.
I appreciate that the White Paper, on page 33 in Appendix II, merely claims that its proposals are ideas—obiter dicta on reform, put forward to pave the way to a review of the functions and procedure of the two Houses of Parliament. I retain my feeling that a review of the functions and procedure of the two Houses of Parliament should precede the so-called reform of the composition and powers of the House of Lords and not vice versa. This seems to me to make very much of the principle made known by those famous lines of Kipling in which he described how the amateur evangelist (who was, incidentally, a pugilist) fist of all knocked the sinner down before leading him up to grace. That, apparently, is the treatment which is being provided for this House.
I say "so-called" reform because in my view this reform would effectively destroy the quality of the House of Lords, as well as its small remaining powers, and so would inevitably facilitate its ultimate disintegration and loss of public respect. The offer of pay at £2,000 a year, with an obligation of a minimum attendance of one-third of the Sittings 791 and retirement at the age of 72, seems to me derisory and incapable of attracting to this House the sort of person who is now giving invaluable service free of charge. The House of Lords, even now with reduced powers, is still the final bulwark of freedom. That is why some people want to see it deprived of power and respect.
My Lords, may I quote a few sentences from an article published in the Daily Telegraph last week? The author said:I readily understand public disquiet about hereditary Peers … What I question is whether to substitute for them Mr. Wilson's, Mr. Heath's and Mr. Thorpe's nominees will remedy a more basic and valid disquiet about our incapacity to challenge often enough and fiercely enough excessive administrative power.The truth is, my Lords—
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? I think he was one of Mr. Attlee's nominees. Has he felt very inhibited by this?
§ LORD MILVERTON
My Lords, I am afraid I did not catch what the noble Lord said. May I continue with my quotation?The truth is that when the last remnants of independence, against which we are induced to feel strong social prejudice, have been flattened, bureaucracy, not democracy, will reign instead—and without challenge.If we mean business here, as a constitutional party should, then we had better look in other directions. One, at least, is to find fresh means of sharpening Parliament's weapons against the armour of State Departments, which few Ministers can now penetrate and not many more even understand.We often hear quoted in praise of our democracy the lines about "the ways of freedom" broadening "down from precedent to precedent." Recent experience has taught us that it is not only freedom that "broadens down from precedent to precedent." There has been a steady erosion of the rights and freedom of the ordinary citizen in face of the centralisation of Executive control in London, and 792 real authority recedes steadily into the hands of a hidden and entrenched Executive. There can be little doubt that the method proposed in the White Paper for packing this House with nominees of the Prime Minister in order to ensure a Government majority is a mockery of democracy; and apart from providing a dangerous increase in the powers of patronage of a Prime Minister, of whatever Party, it would not, and could not, conceivably bring to the House the same degree of collective competence as is secured to-day under its present system.
Bryce described the outlook proper to the composition of a Second Chamber in this way:A certain proportion of persons who are not extreme partisans, but of a cast of mind which enables them to judge political questions with calmness and comparative freedom from prejudice or bias. No assembly can be expected to escape party spirit, but the excess of that spirit can usually be moderated by the presence of a good many who do not yield to it.The responsibility of the Lords is illustrated by the rareness of Divisions against the Government or, if one likes to put it that way, by their knowledge of what will be tolerated. At present Members of this House, because they do not depend for their seats on submitting themselves to the electorate, can afford to take a line more independent of their Party's policy than can a Member of the House of Commons.
Many of our iconoclastic friends of to-day would like to abolish the House of Lords. Its prototype was old when William the Conqueror arrived in this country and through long centuries it has steadily evolved—or perhaps I should say, devolved—to meet the changing needs of time. It continues to provide highly qualified assistance to the complex work of modern government, free of charge. Its Members are not paid but give their time and attention largely out of a sense of public service. I think it should remain so. I think it would be a subject of very great regret if any system of payment were ever introduced into this House. This House is unique in the world in many respects, and it is the only Chamber of importance in the world whose Chairman presides, but neither has nor needs any power to rule, because order is kept instinctively.
793 There are so many ideas in the White Paper with which I cannot agree, and so many assumptions that I cannot accept, that I cannot bring myself to give a comprehensive approval of it. After all, an effective cure cannot arise from a false diagnosis. The work of Government to-day has such potentially calamitous repercussions throughout our society that it reminds one of the truth of the old lines:For forms of Government let fools contend.Whate'er is best administered is best.Looking at this White Paper, one is almost tempted to think that it was originated by some political Omar Khayyam, who has come to life here and, looking at our condition, has slightly varied his own lines:My Lords, couldst thou and I with Fate conspireTo grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire;Should not we shatter it to bits and then Remould it nearer to our heart's desire?My reply to that is in the negative. I cannot bring myself ever to be an agent or a supporter of the idea of remoulding this House to be an impotent tool of bureaucracy incarnate. I shall therefore register my vote against this Motion.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I intervene for a moment? I was anxious not to interrupt him, but some misstatements have been continually repeated and may be believed. I do not know whether the noble Lord appreciates that there is nothing in this White Paper about £2,000, and there is nothing in these proposals to tie in the remuneration to a one-third attendance. It is suggested that the right to be a voting Peer should depend, or may depend, upon a one-third attendance, but the amount of any remuneration and the qualifications for it are proposed to be left to an independent Committee. I venture to interrupt the noble Lord only because it has been repeated so often this evening that everybody is going to get £2,000 a year for attending one-third of the time.
§ LORD MILVERTON
I thank the noble and learned Lord for correcting 794 my misapprehension in this matter, and I withdraw the statement.
§ 10.46 p.m.
§ LORD MILFORD
My Lords, I have sat in your Lordships' House for some five years, and this is the third time that we are debating how to patch it up and give it a more modern image, to make it look more respectable—this completely outdated institution. We shall never succeed. When the very foundations of an ancient building are rotten, decayed, to add another floor to make it a two-tier edifice is dangerous, bad engineering. But that is what we are being asked to do, and this at a time when most people do not want this building at all. Even to many noble Lords opposite the hereditary basis of this Chamber has become embarrassingly difficult to defend. Its abolition was due hundreds of years ago.
When the Labour Government came to power with a large majority, with their built-up image of science and computers, we Socialists certainly hopes that when they got around to dealing with the House of Lords they would ruthlessly sweep away this ancient feudal institution—after all, abolition of your Lordships' Chamber was a prominent plank of the Labour Party policy for many years. Instead, we have this White Paper. Our Labour-Socialist Government have polite joint discussions with their diehard opponents in this House, with those who are the backbone of the present Establishment. The result is that the hereditary Peerage is not abolished in one fell sweep; instead, it is apologetically asked gradually to change its clothes. If the Labour Government had wanted a real radical step forward, they would have done far better to go to their own Party, to their own supporters, for lengthy discussions. No wonder many hereditary Peers do not feel the winds of change are too cold!
Paragraph 6 of the White Paper says:… existing members who sit by right of succession would lose their voting rights but would be able to remain as non-voting members for the remainder of their lives. Voting rights would therefore be confined to those on whom a peerage has been conferred but some of the peers by succession who are politically more active would be granted life peerages and so become entitled to membership of the voting nucleus.795 There is no qualification whatever on what issues we have been more active. Some of us have been very active in attempting to hold up progress; holding back, for instance, the Transport Bill and Rhodesia. Many vested interests deeply entrenched in this Chamber will still have power to vote, and they will not have got this power to vote from having gone through any form of election. What is more, till old age finally overtakes them they are safe in their seats and cannot be ousted.
In paragraph 46 of the White Paper we are told thatThe Government contemplates that about 80 new life peers would be needed … in the first instance, the great majority of whom would be drawn from existing peers by succession.So the top storey of our new building is to be constructed from some of the condemned material from the old House. It is true that as the present hereditary Peers die out the hereditary principle will disappear. But it will take quite a long time and will be a very gradual process. Why must it be gradual? The plea of continuity keeps creeping in. Continuity of what? The world social systems and forms of Government are changing fast. Why do we cling to continuity so hard?
To come into the modern world, the House of Lords should be abolished quickly, and now. The question of whether or not there should be a Second Chamber is another issue, which should be examined and debated by the people's elected House of Commons in the light of whether it would help it in its task of governing this country, and also whether it can bring about greater democracy. For to-day our democracy is being encroached on more and more. Greater and greater powers are being taken over by the Prime Minister and his personally picked Cabinet. Parliament, the Labour Party Conference, Trades Union Congresses, are being openly flouted. However, if the country decides for a Second Chamber, let it be the newest, best model, taking into account the experiences of other countries. I am sure the British people would demand that it was elected in some way or other. I am also sure that no modern country in the world would 796 alter its Constitution so that the Second Chamber consisted of nominees of the Prime Minister. What a danger! More power still to the Prime Minister; less democracy.
This system of nomination will lead to creating a group of servile "Yes-men", careerists, who, whatever their private convictions, in their ambition to avoid the hustings, the battle of Elections to the House of Commons, and to go into a House of Parliament where they are safe and cannot be turned out, will fawn and seek the notice of any Prime Minister. What right have a Prime Minister and other leaders to determine the composition of a Chamber of Parliament? The problem to-day is how to extend democracy and popular participation in Government, and overcome the growing alienation between the Government and people which is now causing such great concern. But the country may decide that, instead of a Second Chamber, it would prefer Bills to be scrutinised by Committees and specialists.
The way we Cross-Benchers are described as "non-Party", a kind of body of umpires assessing the course of debate in a wise, detached way, is extremely misleading. I, for one, am a Communist, far from detached: I could never support a Tory Motion against Socialism or for any form of imperialism, colonialism or racialism. I have heard them in action on racial policies; I have heard them on Rhodesia, Vietnam, Greece, as well as in debates supporting this Paper. I also notice among the CrossBenchers around me that there are very few indeed who would support true Socialist measures. Any Socialist, however mild, can sit without a qualm on the Labour Benches. It is true that experienced past diplomats, past and present high legal personalities, and other experts, sit on the Cross-Benches. But I would venture to say that they are all in favour, perhaps with slight modification, of the present structure of society and the Establishment. So in fact Cross-Bench Peers will always be able to tip the balance in this Chamber towards the retention of capitalism, against Socialism.
The general public and the working people would be shocked by the section on remuneration, in the light of the 797 present financial policy of the Government, which reduces the real wages of large numbers of people. We can get 4½ guineas a day. For how many hours? Hours are not mentioned at all. We can come here and more or less "clock on". We can come here and go to sleep, taking no part in the actual proceedings for months and months, and still get 4½ guineas a day. And if we have attended one-third of the Sittings, whatever we have done or not done in this Chamber, we can claim travelling expenses. Now I gather that voting Peers, including nominated Peers, may get much more.
No, my Lords, these reforms are to strengthen the prestige of this House, to give it in fact more power and importance. When we were not respectable, as noble Lords opposite have explained to us, we did not dare use these powers too blatantly; when we are respectable we shall feel able to go ahead and use them as much as we like. We are not cutting out the delaying powers of a non-elected Chamber. These reforms are attempting to put this Chamber back on the map, while nobody except your Lordships wants it to exist, and for the Government to bring in these reforms as almost the major issue of this Session of Parliament I consider is treating the British people with contempt.
The standard of living of our people is going down. Wages are frozen while productivity per man goes up. Prices are soaring, racialism is raising its ugly head more boldly, education is being cut, and other social services whittled away. The reform of your Lordships' House is a red herring and is of no value whatever to the British people. Bring in a White Paper for the abolition of the House of Lords, get rid of the rank of Peers and all titles and privileges, make the first priority the tackling of the real problem facing us to-day.
THE EARL OF BESSBOROUGH
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him this question? If he is so disparaging and critical of the work of this Chamber as he appeared to be in his earlier remarks, and indeed in his final remarks, why did he decide to take his seat here?
§ 10.58 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF CORK AND ORRERY
My Lords, I hope you will forgive me if 798 I seem to take a moment or two to get into my stride, because I confess I find myself in a state rather more confused at the moment than is conducive to the making of a reasoned speech. I feel as though I had struggled up, gasping from the depths of the Red Sea, and I am also conscious that I bear a small part of the responsibility for this White Paper, because one of the basic reasons for its existence is that your Lordships' House contains too many people like me—Conservative hereditary Peers. But I have no personal feelings in this matter, and when I say that, on the whole, I cannot support the White Paper it has nothing to do with the hereditary system and its continuance or abolition, but is simply on the matter of patronage.
The House that the Government propose will, whatever one may say about it, consist eventually of 100 per cent. nominees—the Prime Minister's or otherwise. That means patronage on a scale that this country has not experienced before, with all the pressures and temptations to political jobbery that that implies. In the White Paper, the Government referred to a suggestion that this might be referred to a committee, but they abolished that suggestion in these words:… but the members of a committee which possessed such a power"—that is, of nomination—
would be placed in an extremely embarrassing situation, and would be open to pressures and representations of a kind which would make it very difficult for them to do their work effectively.So it is proposed that the extremely embarrassing situation that would be too much for a Constitutional Committee is one that a Prime Minister would be perfectly well able to cope with on his own. I do not believe it, my Lords.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, and one or two other noble Lords, spoke of patronage (and I hope I do not misquote them) as though it were something which might be exerted by the Prime Minister on Parliament, or through Parliament on the country. But I am thinking of it in another way, as a force that might be used against the Prime Minister. The pressures and representations would be not used by him against 799 Parliament, but by others through him ultimately against Parliament; and that would be exceedingly hard for him to stand up against. Such a proposition opens up the possibility, which I am sure would be at least partially realised, of a Second Chamber manned by professional place-seekers and "Yes-men".
I do not in the least follow (or I very slightly follow, rather to my surprise) the remarks made on this subject by the noble Lord, Lord Milford. I in no way agree that the result would be either as unpleasant or as violent as he described. But I see that the germ of the possibility exists, and that would make for a far worse House than the House we have now; and that means a worse Parliament. Surely the overriding object of any proposals for reform ought to be a better Parliament—an object which, astonishingly to me, is nowhere mentioned in the White Paper.
We are asked to give our general approval to these proposals as a whole. Believing as I do that they tend towards the result that I have described, and that that result is injurious to Parliament, I am sorry that I cannot do it. I am sorry, because I confess that there is much in the Paper that appeals to me. However, may I try to make some small amends by means of a suggestion which I hope your Lordships may think at least constructive? One of the things that I like about the White Paper is that it seems to me to have been composed with a certain balance of fairness and in lucid and polished English, and its proposals are set forth, on the whole, with the support of thoughtful argument. It is for that very reason, however, that one proposal, in particular, stands out uniquely in contrast with the rest of the Paper.
The intention eventually to abolish membership by succession is dropped into the Paper unaccompanied by reasoning or argument of any kind, as has already been pointed out by my noble friend Lord Denham. Even more than that, it is done in such a way as to arouse a suspicion that it has never been thought out logically at all. The Government's Election Manifesto, which we have heard quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison (if it was not Lord Mitchison, it usually is), made no mention of it. Nor did the White Paper of 1948 which said, I think rightly: 800The present right to attend and vote based solely on heredity should not by itself constitute a qualification for admission to a Second Chamber.That still leaves open the possibility of a right to sit, but not to vote.
The Queen's Speech of 1967 spoke of "eliminating the hereditary basis of the House," and so does paragraph 2 of the present White Paper. It is not until we reach paragraph 5(a), that we meet for the first time the proposal to eliminate the hereditary basis of membership. For that particular item, therefore, the Government presumably claim no mandate. Whatever the words "hereditary basis" may mean, it seems clear enough that "basis of the House" and "basis of membership" are not synonymous.
What have we here, then? Confusion of thought? In so very carefully thought out and highly organised a Paper, I hardly think so. Perhaps there is a clue in this: that the proposal to eliminate the hereditary basis of membership is the first of the five "objectives" listed in paragraph 5. Now if we are to abolish the hereditary legislator, as will be done under the two-tier system, this paragraph 5(a) has no effect on any of the other "objectives". The presence of nonvoting Members—and there will be some, in any case—will not affect either the balance of the Parties in the House or the powers of the House itself. So paragraph 5(a) stands entirely on its own feet; and first at that. Why then has it been put in, and, above all perhaps, why first? I think we have here simply an expression of a Socialist article of faith; in fact, a dogma. "Out with the hereditary Peers!" There are some on this side of the House, though certainly not all, who have some sympathy with that attitude. Indeed, I have myself, though not much. But this is not a light matter. This is a matter of the Constitution, of changing the character of Parliament itself, and that, my Lords, is an area in which the application of dogma unsupported by reasoning can be a pretty dangerous sort of exercise.
The removal of the hereditary right to a seat in Parliament means negativing the Letters Patent that confer the right, which touches the Royal Prerogative. Such things can be done of course, but I gravely doubt whether they should be 801 done without putting forward some convincing reason. This being so, I feel that we have a positive duty, regardless of our feelings in this matter, to call upon the Government to disclose their reasons for this proposal and justify them if necessary in debate. I therefore address this specific request to the noble Lord the Leader of the House. Will he please state the Government's reasons for the inclusion of paragraph 5(a)?
Now I approach (your Lordships may say, "at last") the constructive part of my remarks, and the text for them which occurs at the top of page 2 in the third sentence of paragraph 6 which begins like this:Membership would for the future be by creation alone …To that I disagree. I accept, however, the words which immediately follow:… succession to a hereditary peerage would no longer carry the right to a seat in the House.To that I agree. Those two statements need a little reconciling, I quite see that, and I shall try to be succinct. I venture to propose a procedure which I will call for convenience the Conditional Writ. "Conditional" refers to certain conditions under which a Writ of Summons may be granted, the Writ itself remaining unchanged.
What it means is this: A newly succeeded Peer shall retain the right to apply for a Writ of Summons. The right to receive such a Writ, however, shall be unconditionally and permanently withdrawn. In other words, he loses his right to a seat but retains the right to apply for it. The result would be this: he makes his formal application for a Writ, and his application is considered here in Parliament. Whatever persons or body of persons shall have the responsibility of considering his application—the proposed constitutional committee perhaps—they shall decide whether or not they think he is a fit and proper candidate and likely to prove a useful Member of the House. If their judgment is in his favour, the issue of a Writ may—not necessarily "will" but "may"—be recommended. No patronage is involved here, as he is already a Peer. On receiving his Writ he will—not "may" but "will"—take his oath as a non-voting Member with certain minimum obligations as to attendance and service, and from there on it 802 is up to him to qualify for a voting, Peerage or not as the case may be.
I must say that I do not see, at present anyway, what objections except on dogmatic grounds the Government can have to such a scheme as this. It certainly has advantages over the present system and also over the totally negative arrangement that the Government themselves propose. May I briefly consider what is likely to happen under my scheme. I call it "my scheme", which is rather arrogant of me. It turns out that after I had thought of it I discovered, to my pleasure and surprise, that my noble friend Lord Glasgow had had exactly the same idea. I will call it our scheme. To begin with, the number of those who apply for Writs of Summons will be greatly reduced, since no one will apply unless he is ready to meet the necessary condition of intending to take his membership seriously, and to accept the duties and obligations that it would impose. Then, having applied, he may be refused, and that may be a discouragement to some. Finally, if approved, he still may not get his Writ. That would depend, roughly speaking, on whether or not there was thought to be a vacancy.
I suggested that the right to receive a Writ should be withdrawn permanently. That implies that having received a Writ for one Parliament he is not thereby automatically entitled to receive a Writ for any subsequent Parliament, though in practice he would, I think, unless he having failed to give satisfaction, his later application were not approved. So it will be seen that, though there is no question of selection in the sense of choosing one candidate rather than another, yet the system itself is selective and only the most useful of Peers by succession will ever appear eventually on these Benches. Further, the influx of such Peers into the House would always be under complete control.
A further argument in favour of such a scheme is this. I have already said that I have some sympathy, though not much, with the prejudice that undoubtedly exists against hereditary Peers in Parliament, with or without votes. I also think that this is a relic of the class war (which I am heartily sick of) and is therefore out of date. But in any case, 803 prejudice is not the best basis for constitutional reform. Moreover, this particular prejudice may fade with time. It may fade, particularly with the disappearance of the hereditary legislator. Future Parliaments of whatever complexion may think differently. Is it not a fact that it would be wise to keep at least a loophole open for second thoughts? Under this scheme the loophole would remain even if no Writs were actually issued. But the Government's proposal for statutory exclusion is irreversible because it is based on death. Once the grim Reaper has begun to operate there will be no question of hereditary membership ever being revived, in even the most vestigial form. Per contra, the Conditional Writ system could remain in being indefinitely, even if not actively operated, and no harm come to anyone. In the meantime, there would remain at least the chance, and perhaps the only one, of securing a touch of youth in an otherwise ageing House; and it would also, incidentally, provide the only possible way that I can think of by which the House can obtain such Members as the noble Lords, Lord Gifford and Lord Milford, who have both left the House.
May I now invite your Lordships' attention to paragraph 32 of the White Paper, at page 14, which says:The Government takes the view that a two-tier chamber, organised and chosen in the way proposed, provides a sensible method of transition from a largely hereditary to a wholly created House without disturbing that blend of the active parliamentarian and the independent expert which gives the present House its special distinction and special qualifications for performing the functions assigned to it".Is that altogether true, my Lords? Are the Government really right in thinking this? I think there is a third thing that gives the House its special distinction and qualifications—that is, the presence in it of a number of people who are neither parliamentarians (meaning, I take it, old hands from down the corridor) nor experts. I personally hate to imagine the Second Chamber composed solely of those two classes of person, especially if they had all arrived here under the umbrella of patronage. What is needed is a good leavening of non- 804 experts of the general duties type, chosen not for their special knowledge of education or of Scotland, or of Company Law or trade, but for their personal qualities. The Conditional Writ will provide a few of those at least. And when they get here they will, as has been said before, be the most completely independent Members in the House, since they will be beholden to nobody, just as they are now.
I have put forward the barest bones of a proposal. I dare say it has drawbacks, like any other scheme, but it also has advantages that I could enlarge upon. However, I feel, as a hereditary Conservative Peer with a 350-yearold Patent and less than two years service, that it might be thought unseemly of me to talk too much, especially at this time of night, so I lay it respectfully before your Lordships and leave it at that, although I suspect my noble friend Lord Glasgow may have some further thoughts on the subject. But I hope the Government will forgive me for feeling unhappy about the proposals as a whole (although not particularly about losing my vote), and give some little thought to my suggestions which I believe to be for the benefit of Parliament.
§ 11.16 p.m.
§ LORD AUCKLAND
My Lords, the White Paper which we have been discussing for nearly the last nine hours, and which will be further discussed during the next two days, has on the whole had a rather frigid reception, so far as one can judge, from both Houses of Parliament; but I myself, on balance, feel that this frigid reception is completely unjustified. I believe that the White Paper has a good deal of merit in it, and I would remind the House that we are discussing a White Paper, and not the Second Reading of a Bill. I cannot help feeling that some speeches have been rather akin to speeches on the Second Reading of a Bill; and certainly if it were the Second Reading of the Bill that we were discussing to-night my speech would be rather more critical than the brief speech which I shall inflict on your Lordships now.
I think the real nub of this whole discussion is: is reform of this Chamber necessary? I believe that it is. I think 805 the onus on those who criticise reform is to find a better solution, because I think it is common ground that the present composition and working of this House is by no means perfect, although it is certainly by no means as inadequate as some critics would have us believe. Although I was never a Member of another place before I came to this Chamber I have had a certain amount of experience in the political field in a Labour-held constituency, so I did come, at the age of just under 30, with a modicum of political background. I am still thoroughly active in a speaking capacity outside this Chamber, both in a Party and a non-Party sense, and I have been the recipient of a great deal of comment on this White Paper. I am bound to say that much of it has been very much more favourable than some of the speeches inside Parliament would have us believe.
I think certainly that people of the calibre of my noble friends Lord Carrington and Lord Jellicoe, and the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, would hardly have embarked on an exercise such as this if the likely result had been such as some of the critics would have us believe. In fact, I think they have done a workmanlike job. A good deal has been said about patronage, but obviously if you are going to have Life Peers somebody has to create them, or somebody has to decide who shall be created, and I do not find myself at all convinced by the argument the Cross-Bench Peers are going to be "poodles", to use a rather current expression, of the Prime Minister in office. I believe that our present Cross-Bench noble Lords are, for the most part at any rate, genuinely independent, and I have no reason to think that, whatever measure of reform is put into action, this will not be so in the future.
So far as the future of the hereditary system is concerned, I am naturally saddened that the proposal is to end succession completely. I hope that the Government will have some second thoughts on this, but I do not believe there should be automatic succession merely because a son succeeds his father or because any other relative succeeds. I believe that any Peer who is likely to succeed in this way should not come under a kind of Selection Committee, but should have some kind of distinction to his name, either through having served as a Parlia- 806 mentary candidate or through having had some grounding either in politics or in public life. This may mean that the age of succession, instead of being 21 should be, say, 25. I hope that perhaps between now and the Second Reading of the Bill in another place the Government will give serious thought to this idea. So far as the numbers are concerned under this possible scheme, this would have to be thought about very carefully.
I believe that this House, in whatever context, has a great deal of communication with the electorate at large. I have heard people of all Parties say that what emanates from the House of Lords is a lot more convincing than what emanates from another place at the present time. But at the same time I think that it would be a great pity if this reform, whatever form it takes, ever became a kind of signal for warring between the two Houses. I believe we have to make up our minds on this idea. There is a genuine feeling of interest in these proposals, but one point seems to have been overlooked. The mere fact that hereditary Peers of the present generation can sit and speak—and if this legislation goes through many of us will not be able to vote—means that there is no immediate urgency for the proposals under this legislation in relation to the hereditary system. I think this is a matter which can b the subject of continuous thought, and therefore we do not necessarily have to make up our minds within five minutes on this point.
One of the most advantageous parts of this White Paper is the two-tier system. I do not think there is an anomaly in having both voting and non-voting Peers. After all, one has voting and non-voting shareholders. Perhaps the comparison is a little illogical, but it is not entirely out of place. It is quite clear that if a Bill reaches this House a great deal will need to be said during its various stages here, and at this late hour prolonged speeches on the White Paper are not desirable. But I hope that the Government will have serious thoughts on some of the more practical proposals which have been put forward in this discussion.
§ LORD MILFORD
My Lords, may I apologise to the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough? I am very hard of hearing, and I did not realise that he had 807 asked me a question. That is why I did not answer it; but I will do so at any time.
§ 11.26 a.m.
§ THE EARL OF GLASGOW
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, has practically made my speech for me, but we have passed the point of no return and I realise that in a debate of this sort, when noble Lords are searching their consciences to try to sort out in their own minds what their views are, some repetition is inevitable. But I assure your Lordships that I shall be brief. Like the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, I should like to pay a tribute to those noble Lords, on both sides of the House, who have managed to achieve such a very large measure of agreement over such an absolutely impossible problem. I think the White Paper, though I disagree with a great deal of it, offers a possible basis on which an acceptable solution might be found; but I do not think that this problem should be rushed.
Again like the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, I had intended that my text should be: is reform necessary; and, if it is necessary, will the White Paper produce the answer? The first point I wanted to make has also been admirably made by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury. It concerns the powers of this House; and I will only say that I find it extremely illogical that if we are to reduce the powers of this House we should then find it necessary to alter its composition. If the object of this reform were to increase the powers of this House, then indeed, I think, some alteration would be required. The only argument for reform which I find really convincing is the difficulty of the built-in Conservative majority. This has the double disadvantage of making a Labour Government apprehensive and the Conservative Opposition reluctant to use its majority for fear of precipitating a constitutional crisis. This is one of the main problems which the White Paper has attempted to solve; and it has in part done so.
But, my Lords, a Second Chamber, under any form of Government, tends to be more conservative than the other place. Even some of the noble Lords who norm- 808 ally sit on the Benches opposite have (I think we must admit it) lost a bit of that socialist fire with which, in their earlier days, they enlivened proceedings in another place. This is a natural and very healthy phenomenon, and gives the people of this country the protection which they have the right to expect from too hasty reactionary or revolutionary legislation. At the core of this problem lies the hereditary principle. The automatic right to govern or legislate by virtue of birth is indeed difficult to defend. Nevertheless, it has served this country well for a thousand years; it is a very British concept indeed; and it has undeniable advantages. We have heard your Lordships thinking to-day of other ways to choose our leaders and our legislators, and when we have gone right round the circle it is extremely difficult to improve upon the present system. Many of our finest institutions are illogical—not least our unwritten Constitution—and they are all the better for being so.
The hereditary principle automatically solves three problems which have clearly exercised those who drafted the White Paper. The first is the problem of regional representation; the second is the problem of patronage, about which much has been said, and the third is that of ensuring a place for young men of ability in the Upper Chamber. To abandon the hereditary principle would also take a lot of colour out of our national life and out of the proceedings of this House. No longer could the backwoodsman from the Welsh valley or the Highland glen buckle on his sword and come storming down to this House to speak passionately on some subject on which he felt very deeply. My father was just such a one. He appeared rarely in this House; but when he came he came for a purpose, and whether it was in his early anti-Communist days, when the gutters were always running with blood, or in his more recent speeches on India, on the unmarried mothers, or on the Ladies in the House of Lords, he always "rocked" this House. Many of the more senior noble Lords will no doubt remember it.
My Lords, the proposals in the White Paper will produce eventually a smaller House, and an older and duller House, with noble Lords tied to London and less representative of the country 809 as a whole. It will be a more professional House but narrower in outlook and not so stimulating. Speaking as an hereditary Peer, I believe that some of the disadvantages which I have described could be mitigated by leaving the door ajar for our sons to win their spurs as non-voting Members when we have been gathered to our fathers. Some suggestions to this end have already been made by noble Lords. On the general issue I find myself in agreement with my noble friend Lord Denham, and I also strongly support the excellent proposed solution put forward by my noble friend and namesake, Lord Cork and Orrery. For some such concession I would gladly forgo the right of Peers to vote and I would require those who wish to stand for election to another place to renounce their titles for life as at present.
In conclusion, I am not convinced that reform is necessary or in the interests of the country. Nevertheless, I am very conscious of a strong feeling in both Houses, and perhaps to a lesser extent in the country, that some measure of reform is overdue—although few members of the public are aware of the mass of often tedious and selfless work done in this House on their behalf, much of it by hereditary Peers. I shall therefore vote in favour of accepting the White Paper as a basis; but I intend to keep my powder dry against the day when the Bill comes to this House in its final form. In preparing this Bill, let those whose business it is, try to avoid political expediency and keen their eyes on the wider issues. I regard some concession to the hereditary Peers of the future as an essential ingredient and a vital link with the ancient traditions of this great country.
§ 11.34 p.m.
§ LORD WOLVERTON
My Lords, I rise to speak to-night with a certain amount of trepidation. I am not a constitutional expert, but I have sat in this House for something over 33 years; I have had some experience of its working and I have been very gratified to be a Member for so long. On Thursday we are to be asked to give general approval of this White Paper as a package deal. I cannot give my approval to it as a package deal unless some alteration is made to allow for the continuation in 810 some form or another of the hereditary principle.
If we are to adopt this new system of two-tier voting—"A" and "B" rolls—and to get rid of the Conservative built-in majority, which seems to have been for a long time a thorn in the side of the Party of noble Lords opposite, I cannot see why we should not in future continue some form of hereditary membership, even if it be in the form of younger Peers being allowed to come to this House, naturally not in the "A" but on the "B" roll, as speaking Peers only. If they win their spurs, and should any vacancies arise on the "A" roll, one hopes that some of them would eventually be included in the "A" roll. But I cannot see the Prime Minister of the day ever being able to know, until they have been tried out, whether the younger Peers are going to be good or not.
My Lords, when I came to this House before the war it sat at four o'clock. I was working full-time as a junior partner in a banking business, but I was able to come and learn a great deal in the evenings. Gradually, I got very interested in the work here, and I started to speak. Then the war broke out, and I was away on military service; but after the war I gave a good deal of my time to the work of this House. I feel that this is such a major alteration in our Constitution that I would beg the Government to think again about that point. They may be frightened that they will be defeated because of a built-in Tory majority, but if we adopt the two-tier system that will not happen in the future.
I am worried, my Lords, about the balance being held by Cross-Benches. I have a great admiration for the present occupants of the Cross-Benches, but who will appoint new Cross-Benchers when the present ones die? We are told in the White Paper that it will be the Prime Minister of the day, and naturally he will not appoint Cross-Benchers who are too unfavourable to his way of thinking. So will they really remain independent?
The other point I wish to raise relates to the remuneration. I do not like that at all. I think it would be better if a larger expense allowance could be given in lieu of pay. Here again, if remuneration is given it will be giving too much patronage to the Prime Minister of the 811 day. I am sure he would try to be fair, but I think it a wrong principle and I should prefer that this House was not a paid Assembly. When it is necessary for a Member of this House to keep two homes going (and if one lives away from London it is necessary to have somewhere to stay in London) no taxation relief is allowed because it is necessary to keep a second home in London. I think that the payment of a salary would make difficulties over patronage, and I should therefore prefer that there was a larger tax-free expense allowance.
That is all I wish to say, my Lords. I hope that between now and the end of the debate the Government can give us some hope that they will look again at this matter of hereditary Peers. It is vital that there should be younger men in this House. During the years that I have been here the membership has always been refreshed by hereditary Peers. We have got on very well with a mixture of Life Peers and hereditary Peers, but, as has been said so many time to-night, the Life Peers, although they are men of great distinction, are, if I may say so without appearing rude, getting on in years. I do not think that they would be prepared to do the donkey work which has to be done, such as serving on Committees, preparing Amendments and that sort of thing. A tremendous amount of work has to be done behind the scenes in the preparation of major Bills, and this House may find itself very short of those who were called by my noble friend Lord Carrington the "ordinary working Peers". I am afraid. therefore, that I cannot support the White Paper as a package deal.
§ 11.40 p.m.
§ LORD SOMERS
My Lords, I begin by apologising for the fact that I shall not be able to be here to-morrow, as I shall be working all day at my other job. I hope that your Lordships will forgive me. Your Lordships have already listened to well over thirty speeches, so not a great deal remains to be said. I think that throughout the debate it has been sufficiently obvious that there are not many, even on this side of the House, who do not feel that some reform in the composition of your Lordships' House is necessary. What I am in grave doubt about is whether the reforms sug- 812 gested in the White Paper are the right ones.
I shall start with what is the most controversial issue of all—that is, the hereditary system. I do not defend the hereditary system in the way my noble friend Lord Ferrier did, when he referred to the pedigree breeding of dogs, cats and cattle. That has nothing whatsoever to do with it. There is nothing in the blood which makes one a good or a bad Member of your Lordships' House. But there is something in the fact that one has been brought up to think along those lines. Think of the position in other walks of life. Take, for instance, the legal profession. Surely a boy who is the son of a High Court Judge or of an eminent barrister will have heard famous cases discussed ever since lie can remember. He will have read all about the various problems of the law. Surely, by the time he comes to the age when he has to decide which profession he will take up, he is far more qualified to be a lawyer than someone who comes from a family who have had no connection with the law. The same could be said of the medical profession, and the same, to a more limited degree, of the arts.
I do not think that the hereditary system is so illogical as is generally imagined. It is so imagined chiefly by those who are outside the House. Of course, on paper one must admit that it looks a little illogical, but its critics have not come here to see how the House works. And, as other noble Lords have emphasised this afternoon, the proof of the pudding is in the eating: it certainly does work. However, I feel that the hereditary system must be controlled a little more. How it is to be done I am afraid that I am not expert enough to suggest, but it certainly is not right that those who take no interest in the House, who never come here and who have no connection whatsoever with it, should still have the right to come on any occasion when they please and to vote. That is all wrong, and I am sure that a great many of us on this side of the House were just as embarrassed as were noble Lords on the other side when so many strange faces turned up during the debate on the Rhodesian Order. That was entirely wrong. That sort of thing could perfectly easily be controlled on a basis of attendance. One does not get the vote until one has a certain rate of attendance. 813 The White Paper suggests that the hereditary system is to go and we are to have instead appointed Peers. But appointed by whom? The White Paper suggests the Prime Minister. But I suggest that he—I am not referring to the present Prime Minister alone, but to any Prime Minister—is about as little qualified to know who are the most suited to be Members of your Lordships' House as anybody could be, because he has never had any experience of debates in your Lordships' House, and nor has he had any connection with it. Therefore, I should have thought that, if we are to have appointed Peers, it would be far better if it were done by the respective Leaders of the Parties in your Lordships' House. But I still do not know that appointed Peers is the answer. Apparently, we are to have this two-tier system. It is an odd thing, my Lords, that a Government who have been so anxious to eliminate second-class citizens should be so anxious to create second-class Peers. I am perfectly willing to be second-class. On the other hand, it is not for my own interests that I am speaking, but what is best for Parliament and the country.
One thing that the appointed system would do would be at once to increase the Party feeling and rivalry within this House. This is something that has always been kept fairly well below the surface, and I feel that it should remain there. I think one can only accomplish that if one retains the House more or less with its present composition, because appointed Peers will almost certainly be those who have political connections. The fact that the Party feeling has been kept so low has been one of the great merits of your Lordships' House, because it has eliminated the consideration of legislation from a purely Party point of view. I well remember the time when our own Party were the other side of the House and I had spoken five times in succession against my own Party. Even this brought forth only the mildest remonstration from our Chief Whip, who asked me whether I did not feel that. I might sometimes speak in favour of the Government's policy. That is as it should be. We want to keep away from an atmosphere of the three-line Whip.
I now come to the chief point, which is this. What is the true function of a 814 Second Chamber of Parliament? Surely, it is to consider the legislation which is sent to it from the other place in as objective a manner as is humanly possible; to retain that which is good, and to eliminate that which is bad; to make suggestions as to drafting et cetera, and to return the Bills to the other place much better Bills than when they came here. I say that they should be considered in as objective a manner as possible, and that can be done only by keeping the Party spirit out or, at any rate, at a very low ebb. I feel that the suggestions in the White Paper are not likely to provide that kind of House.
I will tell your Lordships what I should like to see, although I have no doubt it will be condemned as completely unworkable and impracticable. I should like to see a House where one tad a nucleus of each Party on the respective Front Benches as at the moment, and I should like the whole of the rest of the House, apart from the Officers such as the Lord Chairman and others, to be independent. Under the system that we are considering there will always be a permanent Government majority. That will be a majority over the Opposition, but not over the whole House. So it remains for those who sit on the Cross-Benches to decide which way the House is going to vote.
I have the greatest respect for the Cross-Benches. Some of our most distinguished and eminent Members sit there. I certainly would not wish to say that I have any disrespect for their opinion whatsoever. But I do not think it right that any—I repeat, any—one section of the House should have its hand on the tiller, so to speak, to steer the decision of the House one way or the other. I do not think that noble Lords who sit on the Cross-Benches would desire it, either. It would place a great deal of responsibility on them, and on the whole it would not prove a satisfactory solution. My Lords, I cannot feel happy about this White Paper. It certainly has offered some possible solutions, but I do not think that in the end we shall get a better House than we have now, which is the only object of producing it.
§ LORD FERRIER
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, as he has referred to something I said I suggest that 815 when my noble friend reads what I said to-morrow he will see that I was not as narrow as he suggested. I said that the hereditary system was not the right way to select people but that it narrowed the margin of error; and I have felt often that there has been too much talk of the word "random" in connection with the hereditary system as a basis for selection. I agree with him—and have said so before in your Lordships' House—that upbringing, which often goes with heredity, is a very important factor in a man's suitability.
§ 11.53 p.m.
THE EARL OF LYTTON
My Lords, on the last big debate when we were summoned from the Recess we discussed Czechoslovakia. A day or two later I received a postcard, closely typed, from a stranger, a Jew, formerly a German who lived in Berlin, now a British subject living in London: a man who knew what persecution was and who wrote, as it were, out of the blue saying that he had attended the whole of that debate, which was a long one, and had listened to it spellbound. The spellbinding was due to the odd mixture of Peers we have. But he mentioned three or four by name whom he considered pre-eminent, and they happened to be hereditary Peers. I mention this because I think that outsiders who know anything at all have not lost their esteem for those hereditary Peers who do regular work in this House.
I do not claim to be one of the regulars. Naturally I was pleased because I am an hereditary Peer on both sides, from my mother a seventeenth Baron, with an Earldom from my father. I have two sons, and if they should predecease my daughters without issue I have three daughters, one more formidable than the other, each of whom could succeed to the Barony under the hereditary system. Therefore I speak to your Lordships as an hereditary creature of this House, who would not be here at all but for the fact that I am the son of my father and my mother.
I should like now to mention the main points as they have been set out in this debate by the Leaders in this House, to say where I stand. I would begin by 816 saying that, owing to a confusion of posts and my papers, I read the White Paper for the first time on arrival in this House from Somerset this morning. Previously I had read only a number of newspapers, and I was extremely hostile to the White Paper. Having read it, however, I became quite open-minded and decided that I would listen to what was said in this House and, studying it in connection with the White Paper, would draw my conclusions afresh. Therefore, I scrapped what I had written and these are my reactions.
Heredity is not to be the sole qualification. I think hardly anybody in this House has claimed that it should be. The noble Lord, Lord Milford, claimed that it should be an active disqualification. With that view nobody else seems to agree; and in fact one supposes that those who like hereditary Peers will incorporate them in the list which is submitted to Her Majesty for the creation of Life Peers. If that is so, of course, many will be satisfied and will get what they want in a different form, and we may see a number of the familiar and friendly faces on both sides that we have here to-day. Very well: I object to nothing of that. That there should be no built-in majority for one Party has, I think, been accepted by everybody. I have not heard it defended anywhere. Certainly it seems to me to be an absurd anomaly and, if anything, more of a red rag to a bull, in connection with the other place, than even heredity. It may be foolish to be disturbed by red rags, but it is better to remove them and put on another suit.
Thirdly, life membership is a factor which tips my marginal views in favour of the White Paper. Had it been a "wangle" of Parliamentary Peers for a Session I think I should have opposed that part. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor mentioned that point, and to me it is a convincing one. It produces an element of independence which would be far from real at the beginning but which would grow, unless every Peer was appointed when he had reached the age of about 68.
A built-in minority appears to be the intention as well, and this seems to me to be a renunciation of power which is discreet and quite admirable. I am not the person to say that the Cross-Benchers should be those who, in a case of a 817 tight vote, should determine the issue. In any case I do not think we Cross-Benchers deserve the sneers of the noble Marquess on the ground that we can never agree with anybody. It is true that on one subject in this House I was in a very small minority for a long time, and I owed the fact that I was not entirely alone to the noble Lord, Lord Somers; but on other occasions I have been sometimes with the majority, sometimes with the minority; sometimes with Labour, sometimes with Conservatives, and having decided to be independent I do not think that I deserve—or that any of us deserves—the kind of disparagement which the noble Marquess, with all his magnificent authority, chooses to sprinkle upon us. I think he was making in part a quip, and I hope that he will think better of it. However, do not let it ever be said, so far as I am concerned, that I speak for the Cross-Benches or have the slightest desire for power on any single occasion. That my vote should determine anything is not a thing I aim at or should in the least like.
As regards membership, I feel that if it might be considered a transitional House that we are forming it is not too bad and not objectionable. As regards powers, I should like to quote Queen Victoria, in a letter to Gladstone in 1884, when similar unpleasant noises were being made at the House of Lords and we were being described as "interesting ruins" and due for demolition and so on. She wrote:The Monarchy would be utterly untenable were there no balance of power, no restraining power.Now to-day the Sovereign, this particular Sovereign of ours, I would say is in a stronger position than Queen Victoria in 1884, in an impregnable position which is not in question and could not be, whatever these debates run into. It could be different if she were somebody less unselfish, less robust, less glamorous; but in the present instance the Monarchy is in no question. But I do suggest that it is desirable to assure the public good by this balance of power and some restraining power.
And why? I think the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, said that he had never heard of any reason why. It seems to me that the noble Lord, Lord Cones-ford, expressed the matter pretty well. 818 The power of the Executive between General Elections tends to grow; the Executive tends to ignore the House of Commons. It is not going to brook this House as a rival. It does not want it to have a mandate from the people lest it should appear in that guise. I am not myself sure that a dictatorship of the Cabinet in between General Elections is a healthy symptom.
Are there any possible amendments? The two-tier arrangement is unpleasant, but if I were invited to be a second-class Peer because I was not worthy of being a first-class one I think I should accept. I wonder whether it would be possible for those who would like to have a two-tier arrangement in perpetuity to suggest to the other side that if they do not like hereditary Peers as a non-voting element then they might find some other counterbalancing element which they might like better. I do not know what it might be, but it could be a selection of representatives from the Commonwealth for a period of five years. We greatly lack representation in this country from the Commonwealth, and a few coloured faces in this House would lend colour, if nothing else, to our debates. I put that as a suggestion together with my support, little as it is, for Lord Conesford's suggestions regarding examination of the actual powers.
My own feeling, however, with regard to the powers of delay is that whether they are a little more or a little less is less important than Parliamentary reform as a whole of both Houses, particularly the House of Commons, and particularly perhaps the system of producing Members of Parliament. I am always worried by the low level of discussion at Parliamentary meetings in the constituencies; by the fact that no elector who chooses a man for a very important post need have the smallest qualification of any kind, and that the person for whom he votes need have none either. You would not choose a doctor, or a lawyer, or a soldier or anybody else in this world for an important place, without being relatively certain that he knew enough to do the job. Only in politics need you know nothing and be voted for by others who know less. I wonder whether that point should not be studied at some time, because I am not satisfied with the age of the common man.
819 When the Recording Angel summons the representatives of the twentieth century to the Judgment Seat, I think it will have to be pointed out that it has been a century of carnage and wars beyond any precedent, with the imminence of the most sophisticated and civilised people on earth being able to produce 80 per cent. of Armageddon in a couple of hours. I am not sure that he will not call the representatives of the people to book for this, more than he would have had occasion to do in previous centuries with Princes and Emperors. That, I think, is the more important thing. If the dispute between the two Houses—the tension, the feeling that we are wholly unrepresentative, and this built-in majority—is got rid of, then we might get together and do something useful for the Constitution as a whole.
§ 12.7 a.m.
VISCOUNT MONKTON OF BRENCHLEY
My Lords, I speak once more, finding it hard to be dispassionate and finding it very hard not to over-simplify what we have heard and read, as all soldiers are apt to over-simplify. I cannot help but think straight away of what your Lordships are going to be like in time to come:Forty years on, growing older and older, Shorter in wind as in memory long, Feeble of foot and rheumatic of shoulder, What will it help you that once you were strong?Just look round this House, my Lords, at this moment, even after the plea by the noble Lord the Leader of the House. At least the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor recognises those words, because he, by accident of birth I suppose, was also at Harrow.
I believe the most serious failing in the future House that is now proposed is the lack of youth. To hear, early on in the debate to-day, that so few of the young have attended one-third of our debates pleases me enormously. That they should attend more, God forbid! We want them to come in when they have something to say on affairs that concern them, as we did in the university debates. We want them now to be learning their own professional jobs, earning their wages, but coming here occasionally to hear what goes on, to get the feeling 820 and to learn the procedure of the House. But God forbid that they should come here regularly, now or in the future! What is good—I hope noble Lords opposite will not mind my saying this as it applies to both Parties—is that young men, here by accident of birth and not representing a class or anything like that, should stand up and demand answers from Ministers of both Parties. That must be good, whatever Party is in power. That is one of the things which will go if the proposals should be adopted. Another point that worries me—we have not heard much about this, but it is clearly in the White Paper—is that the change is going to be continual, and I dread your Lordships living under this system. I have lived under it in the Services for the last ten years and it has been agonising and desperate to be under the continual shock and change which your Lordships will have if the proposals are accepted.
I should like to make one constructive point on the assumption that the changes must go through; and I am sorry that the right reverend Prelates have not been able to stay, even though they made a demand to retain their powers. There are very few Catholic Life Peers at the moment. I speak as a Catholic hereditary Peer, and most of the Catholics in your Lordships' House are hereditary Peers. I hope some thought will be given to representation of that Church in the new House to be, and indeed to other religions, most of which are, I think, represented here by Life Peers.
I supposethe test of the legislation which is to come before us on this subject will … be in how much it succeeds in preserving what has been good … in the past and removing the weaknessesthat have appeared at the present. No. that is not my phrase; that is taken from the excellent speech of the noble Lord, Lord Delacourt-Smith, in moving the humble Address to the gracious Speech. But I suppose it also sums up a lot of what we must feel: that of course change must come, but we must try to preserve what is best. What is the object of all this? Surely the criterion should not be ourselves or even our children. Certainly it surely should not be our Party. It must be for the good of Parliament and, above all, for the good of the country. If you 821 honestly feel that the proposals we have heard meet those criteria, then I suppose you will vote for them; but I submit that they cannot meet those criteria.
Again I have always seen things in black and white and as right and wrong, too simply, I suppose. I have believed in promises and treaties, and I have agreed with criticism of people who break treaties and promises. I do not think that anybody has reminded your Lordships of the actual words of the promise in the last few hundred years, made by the Sovereign to the first created hereditary Peer. Among those words—the quotation is quite short—are these:that he and his heirs male aforesaid and every one of them successively may have, hold and possess a scat. place and voice in the Parliaments and public assemblies and councils of Us, Our heirs and successors …Apart from the fact that our sons are excluded, that goes some way along with the White Paper. It promises a seat and a voice, but no vote in actual words. But it does promise on to the next generation, and so on, and that is a promise of the Sovereign which those of you who vote for these proposals are forcing the Sovereign and previous Sovereigns to break; and to my simple mind that must be wrong.
I am going to be short as time is short. We have heard so much that it is difficult to find anything new to say, but I feel that at the moment we speak on our honour, and I doubt whether your Lordships will be able to do so under the new system. At the moment we ignore Party Whips. The noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, said that if he had put on a Whip it would not have been of the slightest use. No Whip of the future in your Lordships' House is going to be able to say that, because the plan is mathematically exact, and nobody will be able to do as I did—change sides and come across to these Benches. So far as I can see, the whole mathematical balance and statistics would be put out.
And how are you going to choose those 20 or 30 Cross-Bench Peers who are to hold the balance and take the decisions? You must either castrate them mentally or you will accept their contrary vote. I do not think that the other place will accept a contrary vote. You will be shot down, and yet further changes will come. 822 How can you expect 20 chaps to shoot down the will of the Commons, or what is in fact the will of the Executive?
§ LORD FERRIER
My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt the noble Viscount, but does he suggest that once one takes one's place on a certain Bench in the new House one will not be free at any time to move to the Cross-Benches if one wishes?
§ VISCOUNT MONCKTON OF BRENCHLEY
I am suggesting that you are free to do so, but I do not see how the mathematical system is going to work if you do. Above all, I believe that we must avoid—
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, may I answer the noble Viscount on the mathematical system? Since he is a soldier he will be aware of operational research, and the mathematical system has been worked out with the aid of the Ministry of Defence. I can assure him that he will be free to move to whatever part of the House he wishes.
§ VISCOUNT MONCKTON OF BRENCHLEY
When I was in the Ministry of Defence we did not change sides: we were always on the same side. But, above all, I dread the day when this House becomes a House of professional politicians. It is surely its strength that all of us nowadays are professionals in one way or another, but not, thank God!, in politics—not, anyway, in my own ease. The more I see of it the more I dread that happening. We are extremely catholic in our background. The fact that we have titles by descent means nothing; it is the catholicity of our buck-ground that matters. There is a noble Lord who was a bus driver for five years sitting behind me. I am a farmer, having been a soldier, and I do three days in the City and take one day a week off for rest. We have an enormous variety of backgrounds, which surely it must be good to contribute to this House.
I noticed that one suggestion was the difficulty of selection for this new House, whether it is by appointment, by vote, or by other system of election. One Liberal Member suggested a lottery to select Members of your Lordships' House. I would almost humbly suggest that we have that in the Peers' bedrooms already. 823 It is an accident. Those of us who are hereditary have been stood up and counted on which way we have voted. God knows why, because I thought the one thing that the word "Peer" meant was equal. But it is a lottery already; it is an accident of birth. I think this is really the only major point of issue that I personally have with the White Paper.
May I just make one quotation, which is from a famous Lord Chief Justice:I have laboured to make a covenant with myself, that affection may not press upon judgment, for I suppose there is no man that hath any apprehension of gentry or nobleness, but his affection stands for the continuance of a house so illustrious, and would take hold of a twig or twine thread to uphold it.That was not said about this House, but it could well have been. It was said by Lord Chief Justice Crew in the Oxford Peerage case, when he was already accepting that change must come. That was the speech which included the wordsWhere is Mowbray, where is Mortimer?
§ VISCOUNT MONCKTON OF BRENCHLEY
My Lords, I hope there will always be a Mowbray in your Lordships' House.
§ LORD MOWBRAY AND STOURTON
My Lords, when the noble and learned Lord Chief Justice made that remark Mowbray, after 500 years' hard labour in your Lordships' House, was in fact merely having 100 years' abeyance in the womb of Stourton before coming forth with renewed energy.
§ 12.18 a.m.
§ LORD GRIDLEY
My Lords, after that last altercation I do not intend to keep the House for very long. First of all, I should like to pay my tribute to the noble and learned Lord for his speech opening the debate. He said in most conciliatory terms that he would bear in mind everything that was said, and that the Government would consider the points of view expressed from all sides of the House. I should also like to say how fortunate we are, in the circumstances in which we are here tonight, to have a 824 noble Lord of the calibre and respect in which we all hold the Leader of the House Lord Shackleton. Similarly, I include my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition, Lord Carrington, and particularly my noble friend Lord Jellicoe who has, I understand, been greatly immersed in the all-Party deliberations.
I can go along with the recommendations in the White Paper in all respects, but with one exception, which I shall cover shortly. Apart from that one exception I consider it an admirable document. I agree that it is undesirable that when a Labour Government is in power we, in a Conservative Opposition, should have a permanent majority of hereditary Peers by succession who can vote against the Government. It does not make for a smooth relationship in the business of this House, and indeed that view has been expressed by many speakers who have taken part in the debate this afternoon and evening. Of course, it is particularly difficult for hereditary Peers by succession, of which I am one, to decide an issue and in a clear conscience vote against the Government. Therefore, I consider the proposal for a two-tier structure of Peers wholly admirable, but with one important reservation. In the future and from outside this House I should like to see some provision made for the inclusion of the hereditary Peer by succession, and by selection if necessary. We heard a remarkable speech on this point by my noble friend Lord Cork and Orrery, and there was some merit in what he said on the subject. But as the White Paper stands at the moment, a hereditary Peer by succession is to disappear in the future. I think that the country will lose because of this, and I will give my reasons.
Is there any objection of substance in the White Paper to the part played by the hereditary Peer by succession in the work of this House? My Lords, there is none. There is nothing of any substance, and it is the Labour Government who in due course will bring before Parliament the proposal to abolish the hereditary system. One of course appreciates the struggles of the Labour Party in its early days, way back in the past, when most unjust things happened in this country, and one can well understand how some people in the Labour Party feel. I saw the General Strike, as no doubt did others of your Lordships. They were 825 the most dreadful times, and it is understandable that people who went through those bad periods in the history of our country hold the views they do about the hereditary principle.
But there is another side to the coin. It is remarkable that when one talks to Australians and Americans, they praise the impartiality of our Parliamentary system of government in this country and support the idea of the hereditary system by succession, which, looking at the matter from outside this country, they consider to be impartial. Here I will say something about my own Party. We believe in initiative and free enterprise and the right of the individual to progress, but are we in future to have an aristocracy of wealth and is only wealth to count for merit? We need to preserve an aristocracy embracing the ideal of service inherent in the traditions of succession.
The facts are—and I am sure that this is accepted by noble Lords on both sides of the House—that hereditary Peers by succession have from time to time made a very valuable contribution to the work of this House, and they have done this out of a sense of duty. There would seem to be no reason, if hereditary Peers in the future were included in the two-tier structure, as I have suggested, why this should not be of benefit to your Lordships' House, to Parliament and to the country. It is therefore my hope that there will be some sort of provision on these or on similar lines in any Bill which we are to consider.
Finally, I want to say something about tradition and heredity, because basically it is these things which are under attack. I am not interested at all in my antecedents or from where I came. I am intensely concerned about the fact that I have a hereditary Peerage. I resist the attack on tradition and heredity with every fibre in my body. As for 27 years I worked in the Colonial Service overseas, I inherited a great tradition on this score alone. This tradition carried with it obligations—and so does a Peerage. My father was for twenty years a Member of the House of Commons, and I do not suppose that in all the time of nearly thirty years in which I was abroad I did not receive a weekly letter from him. They were momentous years for 826 both of us. Then war came to Malaya, the country was overrun in South-East Asia, our correspondence ceased, and for four long years there was silence. Now let us see what happened in the furtherance of an inherited tradition.
My Lords, in the circumstances in which the Colonial Service found itself in Malaya at that time, the decision taken was that if we were no longer able to administer the people for whom we were responsible to a British Parliament—and that includes this House as well as the other place—then our duty was to stay with them and share their suffering. I do not need to elaborate beyond this. It is well known that imprisonment in a criminal gaol followed, with starvation for all of us and torture and death for others. But, my Lords—and this is the point—not only was the high reputation of a British Parliament in how we behaved at that time in our trust, but when man is faced with almost insuperable adversity the inheritance of traditions which are right gives him an unconquerable will to survive; and surely the obligation of service is not only decreed to us by tradition but is inherent in an inherited Peerage.
Frankly, I do not worry very much about what may happen to me, but I do care most deeply about what may happen to our country as a result of our deliberations. I am not the possessor of material things, and I am an Oversea Civil Service pensioner drawing his pension. I look upon the inheritance of a Peerage as a call to give service, as I am sure do other noble Lords who perform a duty in coming here. It is this position of the Peer by succession in the future, by the method I have suggested of recruitment to the two-tier structure, that I should like to see included.
My Lords, this is the age of the common man, but it is also the age of unbridled attack on our institutions. All of us in common justice wish to see the advancement of the standard of life of all our people, but this is the aspiration of all Parties and is not confined to one Party or Government in power. But at the present time, my Lords, who will deny that there is not too much preoccupation in glorifying man's personal advancement to the exclusion of his spirit? Man needs something outside 827 himself, and a part of this is to be found in tradition, qualities and standards bequeathed to all of us from former times. It is this spirit outside oneself which illuminates the darkness and points the way.
§ 12.23 a.m.
§ LORD ILFORD
My Lords, many proposals for the reform of your Lordship's House have been made in the sixty years which have elapsed since the Parliament Act of 1911 was passed. All those proposals have come to nothing, and all have failed for the same reasons. They failed to make proposals which would ensure a Second Chamber which, at once, had a measure of independence and was not a political reflection of the House of Commons. Now, how do these proposals deal with that difficulty which has defeated the reform of your Lordships' House for so many years? What is proposed in the White Paper is that the Members of the voting House shall be so arranged that the Government of the day have a majority over the minority Party in the House of Commons, but there are to be inserted into the voting House votes which would be exercised by the Cross Benchers, and if the Cross Benchers and the Opposition Parties combined they would have a majority over the Government of the day.
The first thing that I want to say about that is to ask Ministers whether they regard that safeguard as a reality. Do any of us really suppose that the Cross Benchers will unite and form something like a Party or a special group, and use their voting powers for the purpose of defeating the Government? That is exactly what they will not do. The Cross Bencher is an individual primarily, and his Cross Bencher aspects are attributable to the fact that he is unwilling to co-operate with anybody else and is unwilling to join any Party. It is really a sham to pretend that this provision in the White Paper is going to result in any real degree of independence in the new Second Chamber.
§ THE MINISTER OF STATE, FOREIGN AND COMMONWEALTH OFFICE (LORD SHEPHERD)
My Lords, will the noble Lord allow me to intervene for a moment? I think he will remember an occasion in the early stages 828 of this Government when the Burmah Oil Bill was discussed. It was a nonpolitical Bill. My guess, knowing the views of the Cross Benchers, is that if on that occasion we had had the reformed House the majority of the Cross Benchers would have voted against the Government. I think that in terms of a political question how they split is problematical; but on that particular occasion I think they would have voted against.
§ LORD ILFORD
My Lords, I am not so well informed about the feelings of the Cross Benchers as the noble Lord. He may be right. I hope he will be right, and that this device will prove an adequate safeguard to protect and ensure a measure of independence in the Second Chamber.
May I turn now to a rather different matter? I think it is unfortunate that the White Paper should propose that the Members of the voting House should be paid for their services. Many noble Lords in the course of this debate have referred to the very substantial degree of patronage which this Bill is going to give to the Prime Minister of the day. Nobody suggests that the Prime Minister will use this patronage in other than a proper manner, I want to make that perfectly clear. That is true of all the Prime Ministers I have known—going back quite a number of years. But it is not exactly how the patronage is exercised that matters; it is what appears in the public gaze.
The noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack met this point by drawing attention to the very considerable degree of patronage exercised by the Crown at the present time. I have no doubt that Crown patronage, exercised by the Prime Minister at present, may even be equal to the patronage he would get under this arrangement. But it is patronage of a different sort from the patronage he will get under this proposal. It is not patronage which meets the public eye to any great extent; but this patronage will meet the public eye and may be very much a subject of doubt and suspicion in the public mind. I think everything should be done which is possible to be done to ensure that the exercise of this new patronage by the Prime Minister does not arouse suspicions, uncer- 829 tainties and so forth in the public mind. I am sure that is very important to the success of this scheme.
There is one other matter. I think it is unfortunate that voting Peers should be required to forfeit their position as voting Peers on reaching the age of 72. I suppose I have some interest here because I am a "fourpenny Peer", as it has been called this afternoon. I am out of this picture. I suppose, for ever. I believe we shall be losing many men such as some of us know and have known who retained considerable powers late in life. I remember that when I first came to your Lordships' House Lord Alexander of Hillsborough was the Leader of the then Opposition, and a very vigorous and formidable Leader he was. I do not know how long it had been since he was 72, but he was well past the age limit which would have put him out of action under these proposals. There was Lord Morrison of Lambeth, and I remember that when we sat up all night debating the London Government Bill Lord Morrison conducted the whole of the opposition himself with considerable vigour. At that time, under these proposals, he would have been excluded from taking any part in the work of your Lordships' House. I say to the Government that they should think again about this matter and not allow themselves to be misled by the popular feeling of the day that at 70 a man may be no good for any further work. That is not the case.
My Lords, I should have liked to say something about the hereditary principle and the part it has played in this House in the past, a part which some of us would like to see it continue to play, but so much has been said with which I agree that I think that at this hour I should not be justified in detaining your Lordships with any further observations on this subject.
§ 12.36 a.m.
§ THE EARL OF SHANNON
My Lords, with over forty speakers before me there is practically nothing left for me to say. I must, however, say that I feel most heartily for those noble Lords who are to speak tomorrow. What on earth are they going to find to say? A clever and carefully prepared speech would have been shot to pieces long before now, and 830 I cannot even claim to have prepared one. I do happen to have a few notes scribbled on the back of an envelope.
I support this Motion, in spite of the comment one hears everywhere outside your Lordships' House—"All right! Reform; but first things first. Why start with the Lords?" My Lords, we have had plenty of speeches about this not being the right time, but if we go on saying that it is not the right time, it will never be the right time, and for this reason I think we must make a start, even though many people do not consider it appropriate to start here. At least it will be a start. I have always believed in my heart of hearts that I was a little bit radical. I now find, however, after listening to the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack, that I am not a radical—I am a revolutionary. I had cherished the hope when the White Paper arrived that we should have a real elected Second Chamber. I was hoping to see proportional representation—say, far the sake of argument, one appointed Peer by Parties for each 100,000 votes cast, and a special election with voting for Parties or independents, and not for candidates and not for regions. I regard all monopolies as bad, and I can find no real justification for it to be written or unwritten in any Constitution, in letters of gold or otherwise, that only one Chamber shall have the divine right of being the only elected Chamber.
I know that the reason given in paragraph 22 for not adopting such a principle is that there would be rivalry between the two Houses. I think this a pity; I believe it would improve both Houses. But having listened to all the speeches I realise that my cherished illusion must go and that this is an impossibility. I think, however, that the Government horror of an in-built majority has been a little overplayed—the inbuilt majority at present on the Opposition side. I know that it must give the true hidebound Whips the "willies" to think about it. I think that noble Lords who sit on these Benches had a corporate identity of pleasure when we saw that paragraph 72 said that we have no corporate identity. That just shows that we have, as independents, fulfilled our task correctly and that it has been appreciated as such.
831 Many noble Lords, mostly on the opposite side of the House, have asked the Government seriously to consider keeping some hereditary element. That has been lucidly expounded by such noble Lords as the noble Lord, Lord Denham. I agree that this is worthy of consideration, but I do not intend to labour that point. It seems to me that the item of age brings most credence, and perhaps it might be possible for the Committee envisaged in paragraph 31, when making their recommendations to the Prime Minister, to balance age as well as Party strength.
This is a package deal and therefore it is a compromise, and gravely deficient, as many noble Lords have pointed out. However, it is a welcome move to end the unwelcome situation that at present exists between the two Houses. For that reason alone, it deserves our support. The present House cannot use its powers without having many critics watching it, ready to shout about there being a constitutional crisis. It gives the critics outside the House the opportunity to dash into print and to air their ignorance about everything in your Lordships' House. It is surprising how often otherwise eminent people tend to do this. Probably no other institution in the world has been such an inbuilt Aunt Sally as your Lordships' House, at which anybody can take a shy with impunity. The White Paper, if translated into legislation, will greatly help to remove this image. Perhaps we are much remiss in that our own public relations have not been all that they could have been. We take no steps that one can see to project our image to the public and such image as exists is often stated to be that this place is purely a shower of sparks from a lot of hereditary Peers grinding their own little choppers.
I come to my last point, your Lordships will be pleased to hear. I should like to take issue with the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury. I must completely debunk the theory, which has been rapidy gathering credence throughout this debate, that the Cross-Benchers are going to hold the balance of power. I cannot conceive how that can be the case. As the Whips will tell us, they 832 cannot count on their supporters. I do not see that even the appointed voting Peers are going to be such good Party members, if they hold their seats for life, and are going to be counted upon so rigorously that it will finally be left to the Cross-Benchers. No, my Lords. I think that the number of defectors on major issues from both sides of the House will be more than the number of Cross-Benchers.
There is one point that has not been mentioned (I have been able to find one), which is that there is one power that your Lordships have and must retain, for the reasons that we have been listening to for the many hours that this debate has continued. There is one thing that your Lordships can do. The House of Commons, if it wishes to prolong its own life. must, I think I am right in saying, get the concurrence of your Lordships. This I would regard as vital for your Lordships to retain, and at no time should your Lordships be in a position just to rubber stamp the application of the House of Commons to prolong its own life because your Lordships have been constituted in such a way that you can only rubber stamp.
§ 12.46 a.m.
§ LORD MACPHERSON OF DRUMOCHTER
My Lords, I should like to apologise in advance for not being able to be present in your Lordships' House on Thursday afternoon when this debate is concluded. There is to me a great deal of merit in this White Paper, and the one point on which I agree and sympathise with the Government is the built-in majority of one particular Party. I feel strongly that somehow or other we have to devise a system where this can be corrected. But I should like to urge the Government to reconsider the position of the hereditary Peers of the future. If the Government consider that the present hereditary Peers can make a contribution, which by their retention today they must do. I cannot understand why they do not think that the hereditary Peers of the future could make a contribution to your Lordships' House.
However indefensible the hereditary system may be, as many other speakers have said in this debate, this system has worked for some hundreds of years, and I think particularly well over the last 833 thirty years. I know that possibly both main Parties have had some of their policies amended, and in extreme cases opposed, but they have suffered very little and I think gained a great deal. It is usually unwise to scrap a system which has withstood the passage of time and replace it with something which is untried. I therefore suggest that the future hereditary Peers be given a chance of attending the House as non-voting Members—that is, if we must have the two-tier system. If no further hereditary Peers are created, this old right will in the course of time gradually die away.
As a Cross-Bencher I should like to say how much I have appreciated the courtesy and consideration that I have received from the past and the present Leader of your Lordships' House, and I hope that the friendly and pleasant atmosphere of your Lordships' House will not be lost with these new proposals. I understand that our attendance and the way we have voted has been closely studied, and I should like to point out, particularly to those who have been giving this matter this study, that we on the Cross-Benches may not have recorded a vote in certain of the debates. This does not mean we are "don't knows", but possibly the subject was a political one and at the time some of us did not wish to side with, nor necessarily agree with, either of the main political Parties. Or perhaps in our own individual view the case had not been made out one way or the other. I know it would he impracticable to record abstentions, but to me this is a third type of vote.
In my own particular case my votes have been mainly against the Government as I have not agreed with their policies on two important issues: Stansted and Rhodesia. In the latter, the main case of Her Majesty's Government has been their insistence on "one man, one vote". Now the Government are suggesting a two-tier House and no longer one man, one vote. I can of course see the strength of the argument for the two-tier system. But will it result in the loss of those very talented Peers who attend on special occasions? I fear that they may not attend if they are deprived of their vote. There are a large section of the public who still look to your Lordships as a final control, if Governments of the future take action contrary to public interest.
834 Lastly, I, too, must take issue with the noble Marquess. We Cross-Benchers are worthy of consideration. Just because we do not allow our views to be swamped by Party interests it does not follow that we are incapable of using our vote properly and sincerely. So far as one can ascertain, most of the Press's and the general public's reaction to the White Paper has been the fear that we may make your Lordships' House a Party Chamber, as is another place. This could be overcome by including in the new House an even greater number of independent, non-Party Members: in tact, Cross-Benchers.
§ 12.53 a.m.
§ LORD TEVIOT
My Lords, having been in your Lordships' House for so little time, I hope that your Lordships will not think me too impertinent in speaking on this subject of reform. I confess that at the moment, I have no idea which way I shall vote, and I shall therefore wait for the winding-up speeches. One has been buffeted about this afternoon from one side to the other and will probably continue to be so tomorrow and Thursday. Before I go on to the basis of my own speech, I should like to deal with one or two points. The noble Lord the Leader of the House said at the time of my noble friend Lord Salisbury's speech that there were two or three Members of your Lordships' House under the age of 40. I have since counted up, with the assistance of my noble friend Lord Redesdale, and I make the number 20. I will give the list to the noble Lord after the debate.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords. perhaps I may interrupt the noble Lord by saying that he need not give me the list. I fully accept what he said, but I can only say that quite a number seem to be hiding beyond the Bar, or in the bar.
§ LORD TEVIOT
My Lords, I can only say that these Benches are so popular that there is no room.
Now I must refer to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, and l have warned him of my intention. He tcld me that he had an early appointment tomorrow morning and could not be here for me to attack him. But I am afraid 835 that I find his speech utterly contemptuous and odious. There was nothing in it in any way that one could class as being constructive, particularly when he referred to young Peers and hereditary Peers. I did not interrupt him because I did not think it suitable, and he agreed that it was not a suitable debate in which to interrupt; but he also said that he enjoyed being interrupted. However, I am afraid that I did not give him that pleasure; nor did any other noble Lord. I find myself more in sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Milford. It is true that I disagree with a great deal of what he said, but at least he operated under his own label, and I gather from my noble friend Lord Bessborough that the noble Lord, Lord Milford, has since apologised and would have liked to make his statement here. However, I see he is not present now, so that he cannot make it.
There are two points in the White Paper that I wish to discuss. Up to now Life Peerages have been granted to distinguished people, either to Members of the other place or to men and women at the top of their trade or industry, or in the public or social services. This is as it should be, and I am not objecting to it at all. But I should like to suggest that in addition there should be selected a group of operative Peers, consisting of men and women who work among people in a subordinate position and who have first-hand knowledge of the views of the working population. As we all know now, every member of the electorate votes for the candidate of the political Party of his own persuasion in the area in which he lives. The elected member therefore becomes the constituency Member and he goes to the other place, representing the interests of all his constituents.
I suggest that in your Lordships' House members of the public could have their own representative of the industry or public or social service to which he belongs. He (or she) would be appointed by a special selection committee. He would not be a figurehead but would be a person who would remain at floor level, engaged as a worker in various parts of the country, gleaning first-hand information with regard to future legislation. After I had returned this summer from 836 a fact-finding mission on drivers' hours in connection with the Transport Bill, your Lordships would be surprised at the number of letters I received from drivers who were appreciative of the fact that there was a person in this House speaking on their behalf.
These men and women representatives could deal with all sorts of fundamental points. I have heard it said that both here and in another place there are experts on all subjects. This is largely true, but not completely so. For example, at the moment there is not a policeman of any kind sitting in either House; but there are quite a few Bills which deal with justice in one form or another. I know that there are a great many legal representatives from all branches of the profession, except for the one section whose function it is to maintain law and order and prevent crime. But the policeman is only one of the examples that I had in mind for the actual working, trained Peer. I suggest that we might have a nurse, among many others; and a skilled engineering worker. I am aware that there are many noble Lords who could be first-class engineers in their own right, but it must be a long time since they actually worked at a machine.
Turning to another point (I do not mean to be contentious or to ask for "kicks"), would it not be beneficial, in order to assist in racial integration in this country, to have one or two West Indian and Afro-Asian Peers in this House, dealing specifically with their own problems? I am sure that it will be quite a few years yet before there is a West Indian or an Afro-Asian Member of the other place. So would not such a person help us? And we, in turn, would help him to sort out these important problems and so help in racial harmony. I submit that this group of operative Peers would give the country a more balanced and representative House than it is today.
My next subject concerns the people who are over 72 years of age. Various speakers have already referred to this, and therefore I shall be as brief as possible. I do not speak on this aspect because I am trying to curry favour with my elders, or to be branded, "If you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours," and a great many people have spoken 837 about the under-40s. One of the main reasons I feel qualified to speak on this matter is that I had the privilege of growing up with a very much older father. I clearly remember the year he was 72, in 1946. It was the year he played as captain of the Royal and Ancient, at St. Andrews. At that time, and until I took my seat in your Lordships' House, I thought he was a remarkable man. Whilst not denigrating my father as remarkable, I would say that he is not in the least untypical of many in your Lordships' House who have done immense service far beyond that age. The over-72s have done tremendous service in the last Parliament and many others.
I know that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has advocated that magistrates should not sit beyond the age of 70. That may be absolutely correct: that they should not sit in judgment over others; but that does not apply here. I have consulted the opinions of a gerontologist. I always believe in consulting experts, and this eminent gerontologist I spoke to thought it was absolutely crazy to draw the line at a certain age. I ask your Lordships to consider this matter.
§ 1.0 a.m.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, am a simple man with simple tastes which dictate to me that I should be far away by now. To my mind this debate is most premature, and I think it was the noble Lord. Lord Silkin, who said so delicately that we have started at the wrong end. For some reason that is still, after 11 hours of debate and opinion, obscure to me—sinister, I think, perhaps to some other people—there appears a strong desire to pick a team before the opponent is known. In this rather sophisticated technological age I should have thought it would have been rather better to have something like a job analysis; job evaluation, first of all, of what a Second Chamber wishes to do, has to do, must do or could do. This job of work having been decided. I think it would be very much easier to find the members to fit the team. We could then debate and decide how best this could be done—because to my mind, from the short time I have been in your Lordships' House, the job is certainly not at all clear.
838 But if this is the way we are to do things, I make my short comment on the position as I understand it. I find it quite impossible to accept the two-tier. the first-class and second-class, the differential system of Peerage: because any differential system suggests, rightly or wrongly, a first-class and a second-class, all equal but some "a little more so". I find it illogical that it is proposed that any Peer, hereditary, sitting by succession, created, may come until he drops dead (I understand this point) and participate; that he can talk, can debate, can listen, yet is refused the opportunity of taking his argument to what appears to be the logical conclusion in a Division Lobby. This seems to me extraordinarily unfair. I think that such a position, such an insistence on non-finality could quite easily lead to a disinterest and an apathy; and since there is already enough disinterest and enough apathy, within and without the Parliamentary scene, I believe that any change we make should be designed to induce greater interest and greater participation.
The hereditary system has, of course, come in for some fairly stiff buffeting this afternoon. I do not know that I defend it particularly, but for this. I think that only a few people regard the hereditary system as creating something of a privileged class; something very privileged, something that they cannot be. But I have found, since I succeeded my noble father just over twelve months ago, that it has brought me a great de al of responsibility. Your Lordships will probably remember very well the maiden speech by the noble Lord. Lord Tedder, earlier this year, I think in June. when he so adequately described his feelings regarding this sense of responsibility and why he came to your Lordships' House. I suggest that it is this same feeling of responsibility that brings sons of their fathers, hereditary Peers, to play their part, to accept their share of the responsibility by coming and taking their place in your Lordships' House.
The White Paper suggests that Peers in this second-class category may not be allowed to vote, and if they withdraw their participation. as I think they may well, that will he a great loss. I cannot feel that any person or any committee or any computer could effectively select that broad span of age, knowledge, interest, experience and enthusiasm which is such 839 a feature of your Lordships' House. I would refer to the incident of birth, rather than the accident of birth, that brings all these things, and that most refreshing and most useful absolutely random selection of people to what may otherwise become a Chamber of probably older, certainly more politically mature and more politically minded people. possibly even the professional Parliamentarian, which I do not think is quite what those of us who like our particular and very odd Parliamentary system really feel they want.
§ Moved accordingly and, on Question, Motion agreed to.