§ Debate resumed.
§ 3.50 p.m.
§ LORD WADE
My Lords, to return to the main debate, we are indeed indebted to the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, for introducing this debate to-day, and in thanking him I should like at the same time to say that we are looking forward to hearing the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Deramore. I think that noble Lords will agree that the noble Viscount 1454 has covered a very wide field, and while I am sure he will not expect everybody taking part to comment upon every point that he has made, there is a great deal of support for the general theme of the speech that we have heard. With regard to one or two of the ideas which he threw out in the course of his opening speech, it has been suggested from time to time that Ministers should not necessarily be Members of either House. My own view is that it is preferable that a Minister should be a Member either of the House of Commons or of your Lordships' House. I think the advantages outweigh any possible disadvantages.
I am all for free votes—the more the better. I do not think that Party political Whipped votes in this House matter much because we know that in the end the House of Commons will prevail. In any case there are occasions when Members of your Lordships' House wish to persuade their fellows to vote one way or the other on some issue which may or may not be Party political, and it is perfectly reasonable in that sense that they should try to whip up support. As to a referendum, I spoke at some length on this subject on March 26 and I must not repeat myself. I will only say that I believe among informed opinion there is a growing realisation of the disadvantages of a referendum. I mention only one point: on all the really important issues it is extraordinarily difficult to devise any question that can be adequately answered by a simple "yes" or "no".
Returning to the general theme of the debate, the noble Viscount referred to the other two debates, one of which was on the financing of political Parties, and he kindly referred to the debate on electoral reform which I opened. Perhaps the three debates might be treated as a trilogy, and having spoken at some length on the reform of the voting system in the first of those three debates I will not repeat what I said then. I was gratified by the amount of support that was then given to the need to reform our electoral system.
To-day I wish to make only a general point. It is sometimes argued that the present voting system should be retained because it is convenient to whatever Government may be in power under our Parliamentary system. I do not accept that as a general proposition. It is put forward as an argument from various 1455 angles: one is that, on grounds of expediency, it is right that the representation of the electorate should be distorted in order to produce a comfortable majority for the Government of the day. A large majority does not necessarily produce good Government. Noble Lords may not agree, but my own view is that probably the worst Parliaments this century were those from 1931 to 1939, when, of course, there was the outbreak of war. The Governments then had very large majorities.
Another reason for not accepting what I call the argument of convenience is that undoubtedly elections are far too much of a gamble and that creates cynicism in the minds of the general public. The third reason for not accepting the continuance of the present system is that times have changed. It was right that the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, should give a balance to this debate and perhaps put the case for the status quo and for politics as they are; but I believe that there is a new electoral feeling to-day, and one of the changes that needs to be made is in the voting system. It would be rash to forecast what will happen at the next General Election because it is so much of a gamble, but I believe that in the foreseeable future no one Party will gain the support of the majority of the electorate. Therefore, this situation brings about a new relevance to voting systems and also to the debate that is taking place to-day.
As to the voting system, if I may just repeat what I said during the other debate, it is no good a Government saying that their policy is based on social justice if they intend to retain a system of electoral injustice. What are we to do? Apart from making some alterations in the methods whereby Members of Parliament are elected and, for example, reforming the House of Lords, what can we do? I must limit myself to two main points because, as I have said, the debate covers such a wide field and one is tempted to cover so many aspects. However, I will limit my observations to a better public understanding of what goes on in Parliament, and secondly, to more co-operation on the great issues affecting the nation.
As to the image of Parliament and the public feeling about Parliament, I have 1456 no doubt that all that one reads in the Press about corruption is damaging. Nevertheless, on the whole, I think the standards in our public life and in Parliament are high, and taking the long view I believe that what is happening now will have a cleansing effect. I do not think it will have a long-term damaging effect. As to a better understanding, there is much that could be done. Televising Parliament, if skilfully handled, would be beneficial. I believe there is great merit in the programme on radio called "Today in Parliament", but we must remember that the team which is responsible for that programme has been built-up over a number of years and the same process would have to happen if Parliament were televised. I do not think Parliament should be televised for more than half-an-hour at the most, and great care would have to be taken to produce a balanced programme. But if well done I think that it would lead to more informed criticism, which would be of benefit to Members of Parliament.
We come to co-operation between the Parties on the great issues of the day, and that I recognise is difficult. It is often said that in times of war there is one recognisable enemy and all will willingly combine to see that the enemy is defeated, but in times of peace that is not so. It is pointed out that there are many different issues and people have different views. Therefore, something in the nature of a National Government or a Government of national unity is not practicable. But I believe that to-day we are in a halfway situation between a time of war and a time of peace. I do not suggest that this is so in a military sense, but the issues are grave: to mention only two, inflation and industrial relations, and the fact that for nearly 15 years we have been falling behind Western European countries. I believe that the issues are so grave that it is somewhere between a wartime situation and a peacetime one. Therefore, we have to think more about co-operation.
On the actual machinery of Government and helping to make it work, there is a great deal of co-operation already. If I may digress for a moment, I think we have achieved a considerable amount of success in that sphere through what are called "the usual channels". I have not come here to throw bouquets to the 1457 Whips—I may be critical of "Whipping"—but I am talking about the co-operation which goes on.
My Lords, I recall the days when many of the colonial territories were gaining their independence. With others I went to some of the independence celebrations and the usual speeches were made about the merits of the Westminster pattern of government, the advantages of Opposition, and the fact that we had a Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition. I cannot recall—and I am afraid I did not myself say it—anyone saying that we believe this is a system which has many advantages, but one of the first things to be done is to try to understand what we mean by "the usual channels". Unless one can appreciate the value of "the usual channels", the Parliamentary system will not work. In this country I do not think our system would last a week, certainly not a month or a year, without "the usual channels", so in that sense, a lot is done. I do not think the general public has an inkling of what happens behind the scenes—and it is essential work. But, of course, "the usual channels" are not concerned with the great issues affecting the future welfare of the country.
My Lords, in spite of the fact that this is the Mother of Parliaments and there is this great tradition of Parliamentary government, and the aptitude we claim to have for the art of constitutional government, very little is done in the sphere of co-operation on the really vital issues affecting the country as a whole. I believe that the general public in a vague way senses that that is so. I think that is what they mean when they ask for a National Government. At the last Election I met quite a number of people who said, "Why cannot we have a National Government?" I do not think they had thought out the details at all, but they felt, rightly or wrongly, that the Parties were concerned primarily with Party advantage and sectional interests. To state that does not mean that we necessarily have the answer. It would require another speech for me to outline what I think is the answer.
The noble Lord, Lord Diamond, had a very useful point to make in the last Parliament when he called for some kind of Council of State on industrial relations. I think that suggestion has great merit. Of course, there will be differences as to 1458 the ways and means of achieving a particular object, even if the objective is agreed on. It would be something if we could set out the ultimate aims on which we were all, or nearly all, agreed; if we could make it known to the country that there was a greater degree of unity than is at present apparent. Therefore I say that the idea of the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, has great merits. Certainly it is an experiment worth trying. It is all the more necessary if we are going to have a period of minority Government.
My Lords, may I conclude with this postscript. I believe that there are loyalties and a sense of values that override Party interests. So long as that is so, our system has a chance of continuing to flourish.
§ 4.5 p.m.
§ LORD DERAMORE
My Lords, in rising to address your Lordships' House for the first time, I would ask for your Lordships' indulgence. I am very grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, for initiating this debate, for I think it is a subject which is as important as anything that we may discuss in this House. Like most noble Lords I have been very concerned at the continuing erosion of our democratic institutions, and not least of the democratic rule of Parliament.
There is a tradition in this House that maiden speakers should not be controversial. I hope that I shall not flout that tradition when I say that the unhappy events in Northern Ireland are just another example of the ease with which powerful minority groups can defy the democratic rule of Parliament. To say that is not to pass judgment on the rightness of the minority's views, nor on the correctness of Parliament's rule. The main thing is that the threat to democracy lies in the ability of the minority to bend the majority to its will.
In the short debate last Wednesday, initiated by the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, the proposition that political Parties should be financed by the State was discussed. Reading Hansard, as unfortunately I was unable to be present for the debate, there seemed to me to be a general agreement that the proposition was well worth investigating, but that it should not be rushed as 1459 there were considerable difficulties and dangers in the suggestion. Nevertheless, I am convinced that the disillusionment of the general public with Party politics owes a great deal to the apparent financial bondage of the two main political Parties to outside sectional interests. Indeed, I think it fair to say that a large number of voters cast their votes for the Party of the noble Lord, Lord Wade, because they felt that that Party was not so bound. The same may well have applied to the National Parties.
Is it not ridiculous to have a situation in which one democratically elected Party Government spends many months drafting and passing into law legislation that suits the sectional interests that support it, and that the succeeding Party Administration spends an equal period of time in repealing that law and drafting new legislation to suit the sectional interests that support it? Some of your Lordships may remember many years ago a cartoon by the American cartoonist Peter Arno in which he portrayed two express trains rushing headlong towards each other on the same track; the signals for both were set at green. Alongside the track was a signalbox, and the signalman looking out and surveying the scene of imminent disaster, said, "Gee, what a way to run a railway!", or we may paraphrase that and say, "Gee, what a way to run a country!". Such procedures are a most appalling waste of Parliamentary time, and are also calculated to destroy confidence in agriculture, industry and in the country at large. Long-term decision-making is difficult enough without being faced with that sort of legislative "yo-yo". Is it any wonder that investment is at a low ebb, and that the word "savings" is to too many of our people synonymous with lunacy?
My Lords, in conclusion, with permission I should like to quote a short passage from a speech made at Bristol by Edmund Burke, as I think that the point he makes is particularly apposite to what I am trying to say. He said:Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests, which interests each must maintain as an agent, an advocate against other agents and advocates. But Parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation with one interest, that of the whole.
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ LORD SHINWELL
a: My Lords, the honour has been conferred upon me, as it happens quite fortuitously, to follow the noble Lord, Lord Deramore, to whom I wish to offer my congratulations on his maiden speech; and, in particular, on his fluency which I should be glad to emulate. The noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, who opened the debate referred to the desirability of having somewhat younger people in this assembly, and the answer is already provided. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Deramore, that Members of your Lordships' House who have heard him, or who will read his speech in the OFFICIAL REPORT when they receive it, will be delighted to hear him again.
The subject of the debate that has been initiated by the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, is one of far-ranging importance. It is a subject that I myself have ventured to ponder over; indeed, I went so far as to commit my views to writing some time ago. I am not proposing to provide myself with a gratuitious advertisement, but the book can be obtained in the Library of your Lordships' House. I ventured to cover the political ground over a period of seventy-one years. My first observation, derived from my researches, is that when we disturb our minds about bickering and quarrelling and contentions between the various political Parties in the State, we ought to study the pages of political history. In any event, this is the last assembly in the world where we should concern ourselves unduly about bickering.
There was an event that occurred many long years ago, before we adopted modern methods of debate, and indeed before we even ventured to inject what one might describe as civilised behaviour into our contentions, when a number of noble gentlemen decided to dispose of a Monarch. I have no desire to enter into details. We should be very careful before we unduly disturb ourselves about these contentions, these disputes, this bickering, this quarrelling and, sometimes, uncivilised behaviour. I confess that over a long period of Parliamentary life I have myself indulged in uncivilised behaviour. One becomes indignant. Sometimes one simulates indignation. One becomes indignant and resentful, because one finds it impossible to obtain the consent of one's 1461 opponents to one's particular views. There are differences of opinion and we resent it.
When the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham was addressing the House in, if I may say so, a delightfully philosophical fashion, although not presenting any constructive views leading to a conclusion on this particular subject, he seemed to think that it was possible to effect changes, but one should be exceeding careful about the approach. Changes take place despite any of us. Changes have occured over the years. Reference was made, by the noble Lord who has just addressed the House, to Edmund Burke. There were differences of opinion in the period when Edmund Burke was regarded as almost an enemy of the State; he was not so highly revered then as he is now by those who study his writings. This I must say: nothing will avail us in this debate—a most important topic of debate, in my judgment—unless we come to some conclusion.
I shall venture to offer a few constructive views before I resume my scat. First of all, let me pose several questions. When we speak of democracy, what do we really mean—the other place, your Lordships' House, the right to vote, either in a Parliamentary or in a municipal election, the right of every citizen to express himself or herself, the right of those who are governed to criticise those who govern? I could put it in another fashion—the right of Members of Parliament to seek to curb the Executive; to question their decisions. Is that what we mean by democracy? Or is it just a machine, a piece of mechanism? It is much more than that. It is an attitude of mind; this more than anything else. Without the right attitude of mind, democracy is a facade, a sham, a mockery. It is what we inject into our democratic system, what is associated with the democratic principle, that counts. Without that, it is of no account.
The noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, said that he would not be provocative, and he was not provocative. If I may say so, I think he was thoughtful, although I would not agree with everything he said. But I was provocative when I ventured to indulge in some memoirs, and I shall tell noble Lords why—because one has to judge by results. This is what matters. All our Parliamentary methods, 1462 all our Ministers, all our Members of Parliament in the other place or in your Lordships' House, all the mechanism, all the paraphernalia associated with Parliamentary democracy and politics are of little consequence unless we achieve satisfactory and beneficial results; in other words, we must have an objective.
I venture to ask this very pertinent question, although some might regard it as impertinent. What are the objectives of our politicians? What are the objectives of our Ministers? What are the objectives of my noble friends who sit on this Front Bench? And what are the objectives of the noble Lords who sit on the Opposition Benches? What is the objective of a Prime Minister? Invariably throughout the years, when he has spoken about a desire to protect and safeguard the public interest, he has been thinking about the next Election. He has been looking over his shoulder, troubled about his competitors. Over and over again, that is what has occurred. There is no question about it. It is what is happening now.
When the noble Lord, Lord Wade, spoke about minority Governments being more satisfactory or likely to occur for many years to come, what was in his mind? I could almost penetrate his mind, his innermost thoughts, when he spoke. He was hoping that if at the next Election the Liberal Party was not so successful as it was at the last Election, at any rate it would be a large enough Party to hold the balance of power. It is not a question of some change in the system being constructive, or the removal of inflation or anything of that sort. It is a question of power; that is what it is all about.
That leads me to what ought to be done about it. Here I venture certain opinions based on my researches and thoughts, which may not be altogether palatable even to noble friends on my own side. I believe in minority representation. Indeed, I have ventured in my time—if I may indulge in an autobiographical note—to provide the minority. I should welcome more minority representation of that kind in the form of Members of Parliament, or even in your Lordships' House; Members who, while not abandoning their ideological objectives—I do not ask for that—can speak up regardless of whether it is pleasant or otherwise to those on the other side of the 1463 political fence. I say to the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, that one of the remedies is the independent M.P. I do not mean the sort of independent M.P. who is neither fish, fowl nor good red herring, and who is injected into Parliament through some by-election or some political misadventure in some locality. I mean the Member of Parliament who is democratically elected by a constituency, but who has the courage to stand up and seek to correct the Executive when he believes that the Executive has been wrong. This is what is wanted.
There is something more than that. Indeed, one could go on for hours talking about this. I venture to say to noble Lords that it would be impossible to come to a conclusion about the matter which the noble Viscount has raised in the course of this short debate. If I may say so to the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, it is not necessary—he seemed to say this, but he will correct me if I am wrong—to have some kind of commission or advisory body. I am sick and tired of commissions. Royal Commissions have always sat, investigated, discussed, argued and reported, but in the end practically nothing useful has happened. All the committees and commissions that are now being talked about as a means of approach to a solution to our problem will count for little. What counts is the will. I come back to attitude of mind; that is what is important.
As I have said, I believe in minority representation and I would go so far as to say some form of proportional representation. It is on the record: I have written it. It has been challenged but never been made operative; that is the trouble. I believe in minority representation not merely for the purpose of the Liberal Party holding the balance of power, which is an irrelevance to me—and I say that without meaning any offence; there is nothing personal in this. But I want minority representation in some form or another, so that the opinions of the people can be democratically expressed. Here I come to the very essence of what is meant by democracy—consultation, communication, the right of every person, whoever that person may be, to express an opinion and to have that opinion listened to.
1464 My erstwhile colleagues, who have come from the other place, will recall all the talk about the hard work undertaken by Members of Parliament. So much so that now they require several secretaries to enable them to conduct their business. I never had a secretary in my time at all, except when I was a Member of a Government, but I managed to deal with hundreds of thousands of letters. Never mind about that; other times, other manners, and let it go at that. But when they talk about representing their constituents, what do they mean? I noticed that the other day a Member in the other place said that it was necessary to have an increased petrol allowance, because he had a constituency of 300 square miles. It occurred to me: how often does he go to his constituency? Is he there all the time? He ought to be here. On the other hand, if he is in Parliament three or four days a week and is there for only one day a week, even 300 square miles would not involve him in an expenditure for petrol such as to justify an increased allowance. What is all this nonsense? A little more honesty on the part of some people would be useful. That is simply expressed.
If I may digress, the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, said that he was going to read all his speech, and so did the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, and the noble Lord, Lord Wade. I have not read anything at all. The reason I get up and speak like this—my critics say that I cannot read anyhow, but I assure your Lordships that is not so—is because I am speaking out of my experience. How are we going to deal with this situation? Take, my Lords, the matter of congestion in Parliament—far too much legislation. We have been saying for years, and donkey's years, that Parliament is choked with too much legislation. Now they are talking about possible devolution.
When I first contested a Division—forgive the personal note again—in Scotland in the year 1918, my election address, among other things, contained two items; one was Scottish Home Rule, and the other was prohibition. It was the propaganda associated with prohibition that ejected Winston Churchill from his constituency in Dundee, when the famous prohibitionist Edwin Scrimgeour won the constituency. We have not heard much 1465 about Scottish Home Rule since, but devolution of some kind—I want to express it in simple form—is essential. I would not have any more than 400 Members in the other place representing English constituencies. I do not believe in separatism. I reject it. I believe in a United Kingdom. Although when I come to think of it, after the first World War what was the famous slogan of the period—self-determination for small nations. That is what they said. We all believed in it. But still I prefer the unity of England with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. But some form of devolution is essential. I cannot go into detail this is not the occasion. Some form of minority representation as a result of some change in the electoral law and some form of devolution is essential. But, more particularly, I return to one point again: the independence of M.P.s.
Now a word about your Lordships' House. I am sure I am going to startle your Lordships by saying that this assembly, in its own fashion, is much more democratic than the other place. There they are fighting each other all the time on Party lines. There is nothing objective about it. In the other place—and my noble friend Lord Boothby who was there with myself for a long time will surely agree—you seldom had a free vote and very rarely did we deal with any subject objectively. They might have put some of their political views in cold storage. But not at all; they go on fighting each other and that is the whole purpose of the business.
In this assembly it is rather different. It is true that there is a certain amount of opposition, that side with this side. But this debate, for example, has given us a thoughtful speech from the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, and a very thoughtful, philosophical dissertation by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, and the contribution made by the representative of the Liberal Party, the noble Lord, Lord Wade, who was perhaps less objective than the other speakers because he is naturally anxious to promote the welfare of the Liberal Party. I understand that. And of course we had the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Deramore, which again was a thoughtful speech. I hope that the remainder are of the same quality. We shall not fight each other about this we are concerned 1466 with the interests of our country. We want to preserve our Parliamentary system.
What is the alternative to the present democratic system? It has its defects, of course, and one could speak for hours about those defects. I have pointed out some, and so has the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth. But it is the only possible antithesis and alternative, if I may put it in that fashion, to dictatorship and totalitarianism. Some people want a National Government and the noble Lord, Lord Wade, said something about such a Government being useful, while others have talked in similar fashion. But we have National Governments elsewhere. The Soviet Union has a National Government, Spain has a National Government and Portugal had a National Government until recently. A National Government means what—somebody at the head and the rest just doing as they are told? Is that what we mean? We do not want that. No, my Lords, let us carry on with the Party system.
Let us have a larger measure of independence, and let those who are in control understand that they must be ready to inform and communicate with those who are governed. In other words, where a decision is about to be taken, ascertain the views of the people. I do not mean constant referendum—not at all. But there must be a liaison between those who govern and those who are governed. That is the only way by which we can preserve our democratic system and by every other possible means. There is much more to be said on the subject, but I have spoken long enough. We may return to the subject some other day. At any rate, there is no reason to be complacent for it may well be that people are disillusioned about politics. They will vote at Elections, but may still be disillusioned about politics and Parliamentary democracy, and may prefer an alternative form which is far more drastic than the present system. We must avoid that and hope that, as a result of our deliberations in this House, we shall succeed in preventing such a calamity.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ LORD GARNER
My Lords, despite the gentle suggestion from the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, that Cross-Benchers might find some difficulty in understanding fully the working of the 1467 Party system—possibly that is the reason why no fewer than a third of the speakers in this afternoon's debate come from the Cross-Benches—the fact is that every adult citizen in this country is a practitioner in the art of democracy and no doubt considers himself an expert, and that must be the excuse for my intervention to-day. May I say to the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, whose speech has delighted us so much, that no one can accuse the Cross-Benchers of a lust for power or, indeed, that there is any likelihood of the Cross-Benchers being given control of the Administration in the foreseeable future. I would agree very strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, in the tribute which he paid to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Deramore, which I thought was extremely clear, concise and almost entirely uncontroversial. In any case it was extremely effective. I hope we shall hear frequently from him in the future.
My Lords, these are difficult times; the economy has become extremely sophisticated; the issues with which we have to deal are enormously complicated and the whole atmosphere is totally different from what it was when Parliament dealt with these problems in, say, the 19th century. It is not easy for the voters to understand, or even for the leaders to find, the right answer to some of our problems. Moreover, the complexity of our society has resulted in a number of what I would call extra-Parliamentary bodies which have an enormously powerful influence on the political scene. There is, first, the bureaucracy, of which one is constantly hearing criticisms, of the increasing power of the Civil Service—and there was some reference to that to-day—and there is certainly organised industry, both at management and trade union level who clearly play an increasingly powerful part in our affairs. There is, lastly, the publicity media which do so much to influence public opinion in a way that never quite happened before.
The resultant problems, it seems to me, are by no means peculiar to Britain. Indeed they apply to practically all countries practising democratic Government. The main criticism against democracy voiced this afternoon is that it is inefficient. That is not basically surprising, because only too obviously any 1468 commercial company which operated on the basis of appointing an opposition board, who were paid to deride the existing board and decry the wares produced by that company, will go bankrupt within a month. And demonstrably a dictatorship of tight control is more able to take decisive action in an emergency, particularly when the decisions called for are unpopular. Nevertheless, that is true only in the short term and our long tradition surely satisfies us completely that we need to pay a price for the eternal vigilance which safeguards our liberties. The price is one which is well worth paying.
My Lords, I think we would do well to reflect that, as in all democratic countries established in recent years, a large mass of the electorate has been opposed to the Government in power. For example, since the war most Governments in Britain have been elected on a minority vote. This is true of many other countries. Most United States' Presidents are elected on very little more than half of the vote. We have had a striking example of this in two cases in recent days with the new French President and the new Australian Prime Minister each finding his new place on a cliff-hanger vote.
In some countries, minority rule is becoming almost a way of life. It has certainly been operated over long periods in special conditions; for example, Mr. Pearson, the Prime Minister of Canada for a number of years, never enjoyed control by his Party of the House of Commons. But, of course, minority Government is not necessarily a handicap. It has its advantages in perhaps favouring moderate policies, appealing to a wide spectrum of people and avoiding too partisan an approach. On the other hand, of course, it militates against the execution of long-term policies; it puts the Government at the mercy of rival Parties; and, in effect, it creates a division between power and responsibility. Again, in recent weeks we have seen an example of the capricious use of their power by opposition Parties against a minority Government. Both in Canada and in Australia within recent weeks the Opposition have forced the Government out at a time which has upset the continuity of their programme.
It seems to me that the moral of all this is quite clear: that any Government 1469 should endeavour to rule by consent and avoid confrontation. Of course, in the end it all comes down to the matter of leadership. It has been well said that the top level in Government needs people who can force attention to decisions, imbue them with excitement and engage the public will. By this standard, it seems to me that that sort of leadership has recently often been lacking in the world. No doubt the crisis is most acute across the Atlantic; and, parenthetically, I do not see how one can fail to observe here that it really is most damaging, I think, to the political image in all countries that it has now been revealed, or apparently revealed, that the real man is somebody who is totally different from the public image which was projected over a period of years in the glare of the most complete publicity. I do not see how that can fail to have some damaging consequences elsewhere. In recent years, too, there has been no marked dynamism in the affairs of Western Europe, and perhaps even of Eastern Europe.
To come back to our own country, I think that in Britain, as has been suggested earlier, successive Governments have managed a considerable degree of harmony and continuity of policy in many spheres. I am not suggesting there has not been controversy or difference of emphasis; of course there has. But, very broadly, over the main aspects, certainly of external policy and of the continuing and increasing association with Europe, leaving aside the particular difficulties at this moment of the Community (I am thinking over a broad period of twenty to thirty years); our continuing partnership with the United States of America, in spite of changes and difficulties; the whole business of de-colonisation and the transformation of Empire into the Commonwealth—and, indeed, very often on much more difficult and more controversial issues: defence, immigration and even Rhodesia—there has been a very marked degree of continuity and broad harmony.
But there is one sphere of Government policy—and I suggest it is the most important—where that really has been almost totally lacking, because the plain fact is that no Party has been able to solve our economic problems since the war. Yet, instead of seeking co-operation and building 1470 on the efforts of the other side, each side tends to blame any difficulties on its predecessors and, while pretending to be different (and, indeed, marginally, no doubt there are some differences), in effect they meet the same problems, the same challenges, with broadly a similar response. There was, of course, the short era, which seems a long time ago now, which was referred to as "Butskellism", but that has long since ceased to operate. I believe very strongly that partisan controversy is synthetic. It has been carried to an undignified level; and I think it has done more than anything else to confuse the public, to strain their credibility and to damage their confidence in Government actions. I think the moral of February 28 was quite clear. I think it was the simple message: "We are unimpressed by Party squabbling. Belt up, and get on with the job!"
I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth—and I am grateful to him for bringing this Motion forward—that these are delicate matters, and I would not wish to pursue them too far; but I think one should consider whether there are any practical steps which could be suggested to make Parliamentary discussion more informed and more constructive. I have no concrete proposal, but my mind goes back to two things which happened in the past, neither of which is very specific, neither of which I suggest should be taken as models, but which do point the way to something which I do not think we quite have to-day. The first is the Committee of Imperial Defence, which was set up in 1902. It was headed by the Prime Minister, and the authority was that it should consist of the Head of the Governmentwith such other members as, having regard to the nature of the subject to be discussed, he may from time to time summon to assist him";and in this way Ministers from the Dominions, Service chiefs and others in public life attended as members in their own right, not subject to Government instruction. One of its specific functions was to make possible a continuity of method in the treatment of questions and information available to any Prime Minister.
The second example I want to quote very briefly is the Economic Council 1471 which was set up by the Labour Government in 1930. Noble Lords may feel that that was not a very auspicious time to set up an economic council, and I am not sure that it had altogether a glorious era, but it did survive for some years. The point I want to make is that it consisted of Ministers and five economists—and none of them were known to be Socialists at that time—and also 15 persons of note representing various shades of opinion. As I say, I do not suggest either of those examples as models, but they do point the way and show that some devices were achieved 70 and 40 years ago which do not quite have a counterpart on the modern scene. I am certainly not suggesting the suspension of Party controversy I am certainly not suggesting a National Government; and I am certainly not suggesting that any body which was set up could deal with highly controversial issues like taxation, industrial relations and so on. But there surely is a broad field—world trends, and policy towards the International Monetary Fund, oil supplies, and similar broad questions—which could be usefully discussed in an atmosphere of friendliness which would form a continuing basis and background for action by successive Governments.
In this connection, my mind goes back to something which was said to me once by a very eminent member of Mr. Churchill's War Cabinet in the Second World War who had resigned by that time over the question of Suez. His comment to me was: "This sort of thing could not have happened in the Edwardian era because in those days there were the week-end parties and one mixed at week-ends—Government and Opposition, the heads of colleges and of the Press, a whole variety of people". The sort of thing that he claimed was happening over Suez—the complete conflict beween those who were carrying out the policy and those who opposed it, and the surprise which the exponents experienced when that policy was so strongly objected to—could not have happened, he said, in the Edwardian era. There is no suggestion, obviously, of going back to the spacious days of the long country week-end, but I feel most strongly that we ought to devise something (and the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, was feeling 1472 for this when he was talking of the Council of State in his speech some months ago) to take the place of that, and enable us—both sides, all Parties—to be able to discuss matters more in the atmosphere which is perhaps customary in your Lordships' House, but with civility rather than with acrimony.
Secondly, and lastly, a much smaller suggestion that has already been mentioned, is that there is a difficulty for the ordinary M.P., and still more perhaps for a Member of your Lordships' House, to contribute effectively as he does not have the expertise to decide priorities. For example, issues arise singly; they seldom come along all together, in context. How is one to know whether one should go for a road, a school, or spend money on defence or medical health? Facilities for Members of both Houses are woefully inadequate by the standards of most other Parliaments. I have seen conditions certainly in Washington, Canberra, Ottawa and various other places which positively make one's mouth water. It would be of great benefit if some arrangements could be made for Parties, particularly when in Opposition, to be provided with research and other facilities. I know that matter is under consideration. It would help enormously if we could have a White Paper, as suggested in last week's debate, which would set out the facilities which are available in various countries abroad.
That is all I have to say. I certainly do not look for any dramatic results. It is important that we should change our practices but not change our system. We should do so with all deliberate speed. It is certainly essential that the changes should come about by democratic means. I agree very strongly with the suggestion made earlier that it is most important that public opinion should be informed and should express its views. It is for those reasons that I welcome this debate which may initiate a process of opinion-forming which could in the long run lead to valuable results.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ LORD SOMERS
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, should be speaking next but in his absence I shall continue. Like other noble Lords I am extremely grateful to my noble friend Lord Hanworth for having introduced this debate, because I feel that there are 1473 many matters that need talking about. I am quite convinced that a democratic system of some sort is far better than anything in the way of a totalitarian system or perhaps the all-Party system, or anything like that. But democracy as we know it to-day has many shortcomings. Democracy as originally conceived of, namely,government of the people, by the people, and for the people",has never really existed. I doubt very much whether, because of human nature, it could exist. But we could none the less make some improvements.
This country is not governed by the people. It is governed by a small gathering of able men who have chosen to make politics their profession and who have been fortunate enough to be appointed to the Cabinet. They are the people who really rule the country, though not with absolute rule since we are blessed with an Opposition and also blessed with Back-Benchers who perhaps do not always think as the Cabinet do. None the less that is the main source of government. The chief defect, as I see it, is that government is based almost entirely now on Party loyalty rather than loyalty to the country as a whole. When one reads debates, political propaganda, and things of that sort, at election time, so far as one can see the whole object of any politician seems to be to prove not that what he is going to do will benefit the country, but that the other Party is wrong. In any case we are supposed to have an elected House which represents the people. Do they do so? First of all, who chooses them? Do the people choose them? No, they are chosen by their own local Party organisations and the voter at election time does not vote for the man as a representative, he votes for a Party which, in most cases, I am afraid, he thinks is going to be the most likely to further his interests, not to further the national interests. That, again, is a failing of human nature which I am afraid we shall never be able to overcome.
The result is that we have the Labour Party for which most working men will vote because they feel that it is going to further their interests; we have the Conservative Party, for which most property owners will vote because they feel that it is going to further their interests; and so on. Though there are 1474 a few exceptions the result is that we have a Government, whichever Party is in power, which is purely sectional in its representation. I do not feel that that is right. A Government should represent the whole country; it should not represent just one section of the community. My noble friend Lord Hanworth spoke of special loyalties in Members of Parliament. These loyalties are very rare. However, I agree with him that it is quite wrong that a Member should have any loyalty other than to the country.
May I make one last observation about the system as it exists at present; that is, about opposition. Many people hold that the duty of an Opposition is to oppose. I cannot see the situation in that way. To me, the duty of an Opposition is to examine carefully the policy of the governing Party, to condemn what they see is wrong in it but to support wholeheartedly what they feel is right in it. To oppose something merely because it is the opposite Party view seems to me to be an entirely wrong principle. One has seen examples of that occasionally when there has been a General Election and the Parties have changed sides; when a policy which one Party was recommending very strongly when they were in Office and which was adopted by the incoming Party has been condemned by the outgoing Party because it is no longer they who are advancing it. That is quite wrong.
§ LORD DAVIES OF LEEK
May I interrupt the noble Lord? His is a fascinating speech, but there is a philosophical point about this matter. A craftsman takes on the same job as another craftsman. But craftsman A says, "If I were doing the job with the same blueprint, I would make a better job of it." And so a Party in Opposition may say, "Yes; it is our policy, but we would do it better than the Government at the present moment." I see no contradiction whatsoever in that.
§ LORD SOMERS
Of course, my Lords, one is always entitled to feel that one would do the job better—I think most of us do—but none the less I feel that if they are at any rate making an effort in the right direction, one should support them.
§ LORD SOMERS
My noble friend also spoke about Ministers being burdened with the additional responsibility of constituencies. The noble Lord, Lord Wade, said that it was essential for Cabinet Ministers to be Members of one House or the other. I quite accept that, but surely some arrangement could be made on the following lines: a Government win an Election and the Prime Minister wishes to form his Cabinet. He makes his choice from those who have been elected and who are Members of the House, but when they join the Cabinet they relinquish the responsibility for their constituency. That responsibility is then handed over to a deputy, who perhaps would be appointed by the Prime Minister or a new Member could be elected following the holding of a by-election. I should have thought that something could be done along those lines.
There was one point which my noble friend made with which I did not agree. He questioned the hereditary principle in your Lordships' House. I have made my opinions known on several occasions on that question. I think it works, as indeed it works in most walks of life. In most trades and professions one finds that those who come from a long line of people engaged in the same trade or profession will probably do the job a great deal better than if they bad suddenly come to it in middle life. Here I condemn myself, because I came to politics in middle life, knowing nothing whatever about it beforehand. I came merely because of the hereditary principle and, as your Lordships can see, in my case it certainly has not worked!
§ LORD DAVIES OF LEEK
My Lords, we did not say that. The noble Lord must not denigrate himself: we think that it is an interesting speech he is making.
§ LORD SOMERS
My Lords, that is kind of the noble Lord, but I do not pretend to be an able Member of your Lordships' House. I can speak upon the few matters that I know about, but on nothing more. In many cases, of course, those who succeed to a title have previously been Members of another place and have had great political experience. I can think of one very outstanding example in your Lordships' House—the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir of 1476 Belhelvie—who had a distinguished career in the other place and an equally outstanding one here. However, I quite agree that the hereditary principle does not always work. I have been told by those who are far more experienced in politics than I am that the Party system, as we have it to-day, is inevitable and that we could not possibly do without it. I am prepared to accept that point, but I should have thought it would be possible slightly to broaden the aspects of the Parties and to make them a little less sectional and a little more national. That is what I hope may eventually happen.
Before I sit down, I should like to say something that I should have said at the beginning. I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Deramore, on his maiden speech, which I thought was one of the best I have heard for a long time. When I made mine, I was about twice the noble Lord's age and had about a quarter of his intelligence; so I think he has done extremely well and I hope that we shall hear him often in the future. My Lords, I can only thank you for having borne patiently with a very inexperienced politician.
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ BARONESS EMMET OF AMBERLEY
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, is not here I think perhaps I might follow the noble Lord, Lord Somers, who has just spoken and has painted a slightly depressing picture of the ordinary politician in the House of Commons and in the House of Lords. Perhaps he will allow me to correct him on one point, which is that the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, was not an hereditary Peeress but became a Life Peeress after having been a Member of the House of Commons.
I am speaking to-day to your Lordships because the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, suggested I might, but I shall not detain your Lordships for long. This is an interesting subject, and one could say a great deal. If I take a slightly different line I hope that your Lordships will bear with me, because I think it has an important bearing on the whole discussion. Next year I shall have been in active politics for 50 years, which is a long time. I have had the good fortune, through being Chairman of the overseas bureau of our Party for 14 years, to see closely not only the inside of our own 1477 organisation but also those of many other countries both in Europe and elsewhere. This has led me to a fairly firm conclusion that you can have every kind of Party organisation and constitution, provided that the people who are running the show are good people, in the general sense of the word "good". If they are good, it does not really matter much what type of organisation or constitution they have.
As your Lordships will know, there have been good Popes—which I suppose was a theocracy—and there have been bad Popes. There have been noble Caesars and despicable Caesars. There have been benevolent and paternal tyrants, and there have been terribly bad ones. There have been juntas, whether civilian or military: some successful and some not. There have been democracies which have inspired freedom and then ended in corruption. There have been kings and queens who have upheld all our ideals, but there have been some who have fallen because they misplaced and misused their powers. I believe we are singularly fortunate in our country at this time with our present Royal Family. The late Archbishop Temple, for whom I had great admiration, said in my hearing at a seminar, "People matter". I do not think he ever said a truer word. The philosophy of Plato and Aristotle and the teaching of the New Testament have had a profound effect on our development, and I do not think that it is the slightest use planning or philosophising on the type of Constitution which one thinks will improve the situation at any given time unless the people who are going to be responsible are the right quality of people to run it.
This brings me to the one point to which I want to draw your Lordships' attention. Far more important than whether we use proportional representation or any other political change is our educational system, and above all, what kind of teachers our teacher training colleges are turning out. I must declare an interest, because I have a grand-daughter who is just finishing her teacher training. Are the colleges maintaining the qualities which made Britain great and a leader among the nations of the world? I fear they are not. Some of these teacher training colleges are infected with a curious humanism which is a bastard form of Christianity. We should be looking for remedies in the educational and teacher training 1478 side to improve our situation rather than planning constitutional changes. In our history these constitutional changes have always taken place through force of circumstances and by evolution and not by paper planning.
Looking at our educational results, I have a fear that our best British characteristics are being undermined—the characteristics of courage, self reliance, a sense of duty and, above all, kindness and lack of jealousy. Instead, we see a yearly increase in illiteracy—I am told we now have 2 million illiterates in our country—truancy, violence and delinquency. One point that especially worries me is this: example is one of the strongest influences in children's lives, and there can be no doubt that it is a destructive force when teachers go on strike. I do not want to give the impression here that I am denigrating the teaching profession as a whole—far from it. I was for six years vice-chairman of the Educational Committee of West Sussex County Council, and I have the greatest admiration for the vast majority of the profession which has a very hard and exacting task. But I think it should be realised, and the teaching profession should be made to realise, that the future of our country is in its hands to a far greater degree than any constitutional change, and I am not at all happy about our educational trend at the present time.
If we can get back to stressing duties rather than rights, and if we can look to personal integrity as a supreme virtue, then I personally do not mind very much whether we have a two Party or three Party system, though I am inclined to think that a two Party system is more suited to our British character: one Party in power and one Party in critical Opposition. I have seen too many weak Governments and corruption resulting from a proliferation of Parties abroad to our going that way. I should like to say: let us hold a candle for the mother of Parliaments, with all the failings that we who have served there are well aware of. Our Houses of Parliament have been the object of pilgrimages from many lands. Maybe we can improve some parts of our system; time will show us how, but do not let us denigrate what is good. Let us rather try—and this is the important point—to improve the skill and devotion of those who are using the tools that are now to hand.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SIMON
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Emmet of Amberley, has reminded us of a fact which underlies all the discussions we can have about our political system—that no political system is of any use unless the people who operate it are upright, straightforward, honest people. I am not going to follow her in a discussion about education; that is a subject which I believe deserves and ought to have a full-scale debate in your Lordships' House before long. I agree with her that the present situation is one we cannot really contemplate without some great concern.
We have had, thanks to the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, a very interesting debate with some interesting speeches, including the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Deramore. The speech with which I found myself in almost complete agreement was that of the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell. He always treats us in this House to his splendid oratory; but some people can use splendid oratory to conceal the fact that they are not talking sense. He uses it to reinforce the very good sense he talks. I disagree with him on only one point—and I might as well get that out of the way—and that was when he said (and he qualified the expression by saying "in its way") that your Lordships' House was a democratic institution. I do not agree with that. But I agree that for many years now your Lordships' House have played a not unworthy part in what is basically the democratic process by which the British people govern themselves. It is well equipped to examine dispassionately the issues that the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, has brought to our notice to-day.
It may well be that one of the things that ought to happen is that this House ought to be reformed. I think there are a large number of Members of your Lordships' House on all sides who believe that. But that is another question, and again it will fall due for discussion no doubt at another time. I am sure the great majority of Members of your Lordships' House believe in democracy; but do we all have the same concept of what democracy is? Here I find myself again echoing the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell—"What is it?" he asked. I do not believe that the principles of democracy have 1480 ever been expressed better than in the words quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Somers, of Abraham Lincoln:Government of the people, by the people, and for the people".It may well be nobody has ever quite achieved this; but to my mind the extent to which a democracy is successful is measured by the extent to which it approaches this ideal.
I would call your Lordships' attention to the fact that it is government by the people, not by the majority of the people. I believe that we have been obsessed with this idea of counting heads; but, as the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, said—and I refer to his words again—everything depends on the correct attitude of mind, and what is absolutely vital is that the opinions of minorities are not only listened to but are taken into account.
The essence of democracy is the broad consent of the people and, while at some stage the mechanics are bound to involve the counting of heads, consent means a great deal more than just a numerical majority. The views of minorities must be taken care of and they must be respected. This, I think, is the great danger of the present system as it has grown up in this country. At present a Government elected with quite a slender majority in the House of Commons could act almost as a dictatorship because of the rigidity of the Party system and because the tyranny of the Whips. I would apologise to the noble Baroness, the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms, because nobody would regard her as a tyrant, and the Whips are proverbially less tyrannical in your Lordships' House than in another place. But it is a fact that a Government with a strong Whipping system that might have quite a small majority of Members in another place and might easily have a minority of votes in the country, could yet act dictatorially.
I do not propose to touch on the defects of the electoral system, to which my noble friend Lord Wade has already referred and which has been the subject of another debate not long ago. But even a perfect system returning a Parliament that correctly reflected the different views in the country would still suffer from the defect that a Government which has majority support in the House of Commons could, during their five years of 1481 office, do almost anything they liked. I know that your Lordships' House has been a bastion in this respect, but we all know how difficult it is in practise to exercise that residual power which we still have.
My Lords, if the Government of the day are to follow policies which have the broad consent of the people we should strive to stop so much wrangling, so much argument, followed as it inevitably is by the counting of heads, and instead should anxiously seek what measure of agreement can be found. We all know that there are issues upon which Members on different sides of the House feel very deeply and are divided, but the more strongly felt the issues the more need there is, as I see it, to find some middle way. I hesitate to use the word "compromise" because that is in danger of becoming a dirty word, but this is what I mean. Look at the terrible situation in Northern Ireland. Can anybody conceive of a solution to those problems unless it is a solution of compromise—some giving and some taking on both sides.
Reference has been made already to a notable speech made towards the end of the last Parliament by the noble Lord, Lord Diamond. I think many of us were greatly impressed by what he said. He was applying his mind at that time to a particular problem and he suggested a particular solution. I do not know that I want to follow that up; I am not sure that the particular solution he suggested is the one that I would recommend. But I think it is undoubted that if a Government are really to govern by consent there must be some better means than they have now of ascertaining the views of the people of the country as a whole. Every Party suffers from the trouble that its information comes from its own loyal Party supporters. This is inevitable, and therefore it tends to have its outlook limited in some way by the views of its supporters reflecting its own leadership.
§ BARONESS EMMET OF AMBERLEY
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Viscount? As a Member of Parliament opinions are expressed to you not only from your own Party members but from members of all Parties in your constituency.
§ VISCOUNT SIMON
I am greatly obliged to the noble Baroness who has 1482 had the advantage, which I have not, of being a Member of another place. I fully accept what she says. I just wonder how far the views of some of the others penetrate into the policy-making bodies. However, she has made a good point and I do not want to make too much of it. I feel it is essential that there should be a real attempt by Government to find out not what their Party wants, not even what they said in their Manifesto but what the country as a whole will take. I am not advocating a permanent Coalition. The Government of the day must obviously govern and be influenced by their own political philosophy. Quite recently in your Lordships' House there have been some Bills which have come back to us having been halfway through their career in the last Parliament. They came back very much the same in content but with the imprint of the new Government thinking in them. This is quite right and proper.
I have to ask myself, is this a realistic idea of mine? Is it possible for Governments to approach the problem of governing this country not in a spirit of dispute but in a spirit of trying to find common agreement? This is obviously very difficult. Old practices die hard; but I would just remind your Lordships that in the international field this is surely exactly what the statesmen and visionaries who founded the League of Nations, and afterwards the United Nations, had in mind—that issues in dispute, that caused bitter feelings on both sides, should be settled not by force but by argument. I ask your Lordships, is it any more right to use political power to force a particular decision upon an unwilling minority than it is to use economic or military power?
I should like to quote two examples of the way I think a movement in this direction might have helped us in the recent past. Consider the negotiations for entry into the European Economic Community. At the time when the last Administration entered into these negotiations all the three principal Parties were agreed in principle that we should go into Europe. There were, of course, individuals in all Parties, even in the Liberal Party, who did not agree; but the extent of the agreement was reflected in the tremendous vote we had in your Lordships' House on the first occasion when the principle was decided upon here. 1483 Why should not the Government, looking ahead to the fact that they were negotiating something that was going to last for years, and almost certainly going to last into the life of another Government, have invited the Opposition Parties to associate themselves with the Government in negotiating the conditions? What a far better situation we should have been in today if that had been done.
Let us come to domestic affairs. What about the—I must call it disastrous—Industrial Relations Act of the last Government? When they came into power with a clear mandate to try to do something of this kind, to put some kind of harness round industrial relations, the outgoing Government were already in discussion with the Trade Union Congress on this very subject. Many trade unionists believed that something of this kind ought to be done, that there ought to be some framework within which they could work. Why did the then Government not take the opportunity of inviting the other Party, and in this case the Trades Union Congress and the Confederation of British Industry, to discuss the matter with them and try to find a solution which might not have pleased everybody 100 per cent. but would have secured general support? What a different history we should have had in the last three years!
If only we could reach this sort of situation, then I believe that the obsession which some people have (and I think the noble Baroness, Lady Emmet, had it) with strong Government would no longer be necessary. I do not like strong Government because strong Government is too often stubborn Government and insensitive Government. I should like to see Government much more sensitive to the views of the country expressed through Parliament and outside, and particularly as the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, said with minorities being adequately represented. If your Lordships have followed my line of thought so far, will realise that my real aim is to see the power of Parliament over the Executive increased.
What practical steps could we take in this direction? I have only two suggestions to make. I make them humbly because I know little about the workings of Parliament. The first point I wish to 1484 make is that I think there is a great deal to be said for a wider spread of the practice which they have in another place of appointing Select Committees to deal with particular subjects so that Members there, and I would add in this House too, can get well acquainted with particular problems, and are thus able to take a more intelligent part in the work of the House in dealing with those problems. In the debate last week we were discussing how information can be conveyed. This would be one way in which I am sure Members would be better informed.
My other suggestion is, I regret, completely revolutionary: it is a hobby-horse of mine. Why is it not possible for the advice which civil servants give to the Government to be given to Parliament as a whole? This is, after all, what happens in local government where the local government officials give advice to the whole council, not merely to the ruling clique. I should have thought that there was every advantage in this procedure by which when matters are brought to us by Ministers very often we know they are speaking from Ministerial briefs, but we do not know whether they are expressing the views of their advisors or are differing from them. It seems to me that an ordinary Member of Parliament should be entitled to hear the advice that is given to Ministers, and to judge for himself whether the Minister is correct in accepting that advice or in rejecting it.
If those two things could be done, I believe that it would be possible substantially to relax what I have called the "tyranny of the Whips", and to turn Parliament not so much into a boxing ring in which one side is trying to knock the other out (a boxing ring with three or four sides in it is something that one does not like to contemplate), but rather into a Chamber, in the other place and here, wherein issues can be discussed intelligently, dispassionately, and we can try to find the right solution for the country.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ LORD GORE-BOOTH
My Lords, it is a great privilege to enter this debate immediately after the humane wisdom of the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, much of which I agree with. This debate began in a truly classic style for which we are 1485 greatly indebted to my noble friend Lord Hanworth, and also to the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham. Perhaps we cannot quite keep up that standard of frankness and fluency, because as the debate proceeds we become naturally more and more of a seminar. We speak more and more for the Record, in some degree, of the matters which perhaps may not have been picked up earlier in the debate.
If there is a theme to this debate I think it represents the urge of many people in this country towards the middle. With great respect to some noble Lords, I do not think one can, over any length of time other than in war, have Government by consensus. There is certainly a feeling in this country at the moment that there is too much emphasis on division between the "unscrupulous society" at one end, and the "jealous society" at the other end. This is emphasised by the media. We feel ourselves to be in somewhat of an unhappy state. We wonder whether this can be blamed to some degree on our institutions.
If I might criticise my noble friend ever so slightly, it would be because his most useful and provocative discourse tended to urge people in other lines of activity to behave a little better, or to be a little bit unlike themselves. This is no bad thing to do. On the other hand, the rules of the game in politics, as I have seen them from my distance, differ somewhat from the rules of the game elsewhere. I am acutely aware that if I were to make at the street corner the kind of speech which your Lordships tolerate, I should create a vast emptiness in front of me.
If I may, my Lords, I should like to say a few words on three aspects of what we are discussing: first, how do we elect people; secondly, are we satisfied with the Parliament to which we elect people; and, thirdly—a point which has not really been dealt with in any detail—is democracy in any special danger which compels us to show concern about our present situation? On the question of how we elect people, I should again, rather in the spirit of the seminar, simply put forward a question. We conduct elections these days in a highly emotional and almost feverish spirit, which is bound to ensue by conducting them in the presence not only of the press and radio, but also of television. I should think that if this 1486 whole question of elections were examined, one of the things that should be examined is whether there ought to be, in this very intense process, some kind of let-up, an interval in the middle, or perhaps, as I believe the Australians do, whether we should stop the campaign a little earlier than we do. Or should there be some limitation on the number, degree and timing of opinion polls—not because they are bad or should not be free, but because it may be that they have an effect on voting which has nothing to do with the issues. I put all these points with a question mark, but they seem to me to bear on a 1970s election, and to be a consideration with which our fathers, and those before them, had nothing whatever to do.
On the subject of Parties, I think that Government really have very little to do with this. It seems to me that Parties surely generate themselves; they prosper and decline, and split and come together. But this is a spontaneous political process which has little to do with academics, theory, plans or combinations. It is a spontaneous process. I would only say that there is one other consideration which militates against what may see theoretically fair; namely, the existence of many Parties. I say this from the point of view of a former civil servant. If there are a great many Parties, this means a constant series of negotiations to form and maintain Governments. Speaking as a civil servant, we really need our Ministers there and on the job for a great part of the day. If they have to spend their days constantly negotiating with other factions, this is a real impediment to the efficiency of democracy which can be avoided.
There is one other question which I will put a little provocatively. Another aspect that anybody examining the functioning of democracy ought to look at is the relationship between Party manifestos and the programme of the Government that goes into power. This is not because I am prejudiced for or against any particular Party Manifesto. But it is true to say—and the American politicians understand this very well—that the Party outside office does not know all that goes on, or why it goes on. The wording of a Party Manifesto may turn out to be incompatible with what the Party find when they actually get into government. I think 1487 it is a mistake for a Party to feel itself bound, word by word, with what it had to say publicly in conditions of emotional enthusiasm at a Party conference.
Are the places to which we elect people the right places? Like the noble Viscount, I do not propose to make any comments on the other place at all. Speaking of our own House, what I would do is simply to re-echo what the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said, with, I thought, great deftness, in his speech in the debate on the Address when he expressed regret that efforts to reform this House had been frustrated. It is interesting to reflect, as part of the motif of this debate, that the reason why these reforms were frustrated was that two people, professing radical views, managed thereby to frustrate progress. This is again the theme of this debate: that we want a little more of the middle.
However, having said that I, like other noble Lords, see great advantages in this House. If I may say so without undue immodesty on behalf of my noble friends on the Cross Benches, the invention, whether purposely or in a sense by accident, of the Cross Benches has caused us to steal a little bit of a march on other Second Chambers. Round the world I think there are few democracies which have managed to infiltrate into themselves people who have no particular power or wish to exercise it, or who influences, but who, at least, can give a few expert words in the middle of an otherwise political debate. I would profess myself in this connection to be a very committed bicameralist. I do not think that a single-Chamber Government would be any improvement on what we have. This is not because I think one House would suddenly go berserk and need pulling back by the other, which is the conventional argument. What I think is that we shall continue to be governed intensively, because the requirements, economic and social, of people require this, and it cannot be denied that a good look at a complicated Bill by two Houses will produce a better Bill than scrutiny by one and no further scrutiny.
May I say one more word—and I apologise for jumping from one point to another—about Civil Service and Government. First, as curious things are said about civil servants, may I say that no 1488 civil servant wants to be left to govern this country, or part of it, without the guidance or the political sense of Ministers. This is a total heresy. Civil servants do not have that kind of training. If I may analyse this matter a little more deeply, the reason why it would not be possible for meritocracy to be carried on satisfactorily for very long is that civil servants have to live with each other, as it were, for ever, they have to be polite to each other and to make concessions to each other, and the frictions which cause progress cannot operate unless the frictions which make politics are there to compel people to make up their minds one way or the other.
There is the point made by the noble Viscount, that it might be desirable for civil servants' advice to be made public. I regret that I simply cannot agree with that, certainly in my own sphere, because the essence of advice on external affairs is that one must be able to say things to one's Minister which might upset foreign Governments, and if that was published then we might as well not have a Foreign Secretary. But the Minister must know what one thinks if it is extremely unfavourable to a foreign Government. Then you can decide between you, in mutual consultation, how much he can say or should say and how much should remain confidential between you.
My last point is this question of dangers to democracy. Between 1832 and the time of the last Labour Government we went through a whole cycle of political reform and Parliamentary reform which has ended us up in a position of equality between the sexes in voting, and a voting age of 18. In a sense, therefore, we are at the end of that particular road—in the sense that I suggest we are not suddenly going to lower the voting age to 16, nor are we going to detract from the franchise rights which both sexes have. When we reach that point it is classically a point at which heresy begins to develop, because there is no further to go on the straight road. Quite recently, we have had the horrifying promulgation of doctrines to the effect that in future freedom of speech should be "absolute except sometimes". It is very frightening, not just that students should have voted this—because they will change their minds, or many of them will, in some lapse of time—but that persons 1489 calling themselves academics should have subscribed to this theory. This is the kind of situation which is the beginning of decadence, unless those engaged in politics—Government, Opposition, or outside—very firmly express the degree to which they deplore a doctrine of that kind. Otherwise, this really is the beginning of the way out of democracy.
And another danger is going to develop. One has seen the danger of it in other countries as well as ours. It is the danger of democratic institutions being used to introduce undemocratic practices. I do not wish to spoil our harmony this afternoon by speaking about Chile, but I have to do so for just one moment. Whichever side one may sympathise with, that is a classic case of somebody being constitutionally elected and then gradually using his position to introduce practices which led to non-democratic conditions in the country. That is a real danger which can threaten any country if we are not heedful of its existence. So I urge, not as a reform particularly but as a practice of members of the legislature, that they are very vigilant about heresies of this kind; because, as I say, since we have reached a certain point in the rights of franchise, people will look out for variants which are not democratic at all, whatever their first appearance.
So my conclusion, my Lords, is that our discussion has been of the greatest possible value. I hope very much that it will lead on to some kind of assembling of views about democratic practices, and that we may gather more information from other countries as to how they practise their democracy—and I suggest we do not overlook the possibility of using the Diplomatic Service to collect this information—and, in the meantime, we express again our great obligation to the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, for raising this question, and our great interest in what all of us have had to say to each other.
§ LORD PEDDIE
My Lords, before the noble Lord resumes his seat, I wonder whether he would be good enough to explain a point he made in the course of his speech. He asserted that opinion polls have their effect upon Elections. It was an interesting point but he did not develop it. Would he indicate what, in his opinion, is the precise influence of opinion polls upon Election results?
§ LORD GORE-BOOTH
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Peddie. I was not expressing any certitude that the movements of opinion polls in fact influence voters. But it has been suggested that they do and that this draws a kind of red herring across the real purposes of an Election. This theory may be quite untrue, but it seems to me to be one of the matters that should be inquired into, if at some stage we are inquiring into our methods of voting and all the accompaniments of an Election.
§ 5.49 p.m.
§ LORD ALPORT
My Lords, I am sure the House enjoyed as much as I did the thoughts that the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, placed before it—for me, in particular, the idea that we should introduce into our electoral system the principles of hire-purchase legislation, by allowing a "cooling-off" period between the onslaught of the electoral machine on the individual voter and his final decision of casting his vote. It is perhaps a salutary idea—I would not know—although I think it would be difficult to persuade politicians to withdraw from the field for a period of time before the voter made up his mind, when for the preceding three weeks they had made such desperate efforts to persuade him to vote the right way.
I must begin by apologising to the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, for not being present to hear his speech, or indeed that of my noble Leader, Lord Windlesham, but I was engaged on something I could not avoid. I hope, however, that the remarks I shall make will follow the general theme of the opening speech of the noble Viscount, because he was good enough to send me some notes on the kind of matters with which he intended to deal. I should like, if I may, to take the opportunity, at the same time, of congratulating my noble friend Lord Deramore on his maiden speech. I hope that he will continually be able to give time, energy and talent to this House.
I agree very much with the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, in his distaste for very strong Government. The trouble is that the English as a whole dislike being governed strongly by anybody. On the other hand, when one becomes a Government, whatever shape or form that may take, the need to exercise power becomes increasingly great. Therefore, there is 1491 always a difference of opinion between the governed and the governors on this particular subject. If, however, we need a case study of the problems relating to the Motion of the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, all we need do is to look around our House. When I first became a Member of your Lordships' House I was determined to make an effort to seek to introduce changes in the procedures and, if possible, in the composition, in order to bring it into line with what, in my conceit, I believed to be the present-day needs of our contemporary Party and Parliamentary system. I realised that my time was short. I knew that it would not be long before the extraordinary anodyne to dissent and unconformity which history has compounded in this Chamber would soon blunt my zeal and soothe the pain of political irrelevance.
And so, my Lords, it has been. Nevertheless, I welcome the opportunity which the Motion of Lord Hanworth gives me to inflict upon your Lordships' certain views on the contemporary problems of our Party and Parliamentary system. Sometimes I console myself with the thought that most of our problems—the trouble in Ireland, financial uncertainty, civil violence, administrative muddle, corruption in public life and ostensible spiritual decline—have troubled the minds of long successions of Englishmen and Englishwomen, as they did, indeed, my noble relative Lady Emmet this afternoon. Yet somehow or other, my Lords, we have survived. Nevertheless, there are two factors which make the England of 1974 different from the England of the last ten generations.
First, the problems which a national Government have to tackle have increased beyond the capability of contemporary statesmanship. Secondly, the emasculation of our traditional social system, and the loss in war of two generations of men who would have provided the cadre for the leadership of this country, have undermined the foundations of many of the institutions upon which we have hitherto relied for our national Government.
I remember, in passing, three of my contemporaries—Ronald Cartland, Richard Kay Shuttleworth and Jock Butler. The fact is that we who have survived have failed to produce the qualities of leadership 1492 which our institutions need for their effectiveness, and to which our people will willingly respond. Churchill, Attlee and Macmillan were the fortunate survivors of the trenches of the First World War. It is possible that the late lain Macleod and the late Hugh Gaitskell, as survivors of the Second World War, might have bridged the gap and produced the sort of leadership which our country and our institutions need. But fate has decided otherwise. Nevertheless, I am coming increasingly to the conclusion that even with that sort of leadership, even with the inspiration which that leadership can give, even with the resources which it can call to the assistance of, and deploy for the benefit of, our national life, the institutions which we have inherited are no longer capable of meeting present-day needs while they retain their traditional forms and characters.
For instance, my Lords, take the Parties. I know that I am following what has already been said on more than one occasion during this debate. I recall, however, that when after 1945 we were concerned to revive and restore the Conservative Party we were able to go back to Disraeli's three principles: the maintenance of our institutions; the improvement of the condition of the people; the safeguarding of the Empire. It is very difficult to-day to see how those principles are as relevant to the problems of our contemporary world as they still were 20 years ago. Again, when Hugh Gaitskell was trying to modernise the Labour Party in the 1950s, it was by trying to persuade them to abandon the principles of Clause 4 and to give up their traditional pacifism and tender conscience. The events of the last 20 years have, in my view, rendered irrelevant most of the broad principles upon which our present Party alignment, with all its inherited loyalties and prejudices, has been based.
Then, my Lords, take Parliament. In the House of Commons, as has been said, the life of a private Member is one of deep frustration, subjected as he is to great financial and psychological pressures. For Ministers—again, as has been mentioned during this debate—there are the demands of his Department. We had a very good example in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth. He said that as a senior civil servant he expected his Minister to be there, and not 1493 to go and engage in negotiations with other political Parties in order to make the political complexion of any particular situation right and proper for the benefit of agreement and political consensus. But, my Lords, the result of these pressures has been that many of those who need and seek the joys of a normal family life find that it is necessary to end their political careers and their work in the House of Commons, in order to go and look for better paid jobs and less exacting careers elsewhere, when potentially they still have years of leadership and service to give to the country. Hence, my Lords, the arrival in your Lordships' House of a constant stream of able and experienced men who in earlier generations would have had the best years of their leadership ahead of them.
I think I am right in saying that, after all, Disraeli was 70 in 1874. Gladstone, so far as I know, was still Prime Minister at the age of 80, and a very effective one, too. Baldwin was still Prime Minister at 70. Churchill and Salisbury were both Prime Ministers at 70, and I think I am right in saying that in more recent times Mr. Macmillan was also 70 when he was Prime Minister. It is unlikely that in our present generation we will see survivors to that age in the foremost political leadership of this country. Indeed, the complexities and pressures of the system are too great to permit anybody who does not have private means, or who is not consumed by the urge to exercise power, to survive across the normal span of a political career.
Then, my Lords, there is this House. For all its undeniable charm and urbanity this Chamber, consisting of 1,000 Members or thereabouts, largely hereditary in composition, completely unrepresentative in character, bereft of political power, is incapable of performing the role of an effective Second Chamber in the second half of the twentieth century. No doubt we serve according to our lights, but, my Lords, I do not think there is a single Member of this House who would, in his heart of hearts, disagree with that.
§ LORD ALPORT
My Lords, I know that my noble relative disagrees with me, and this will become a family disagree- 1494 ment in due course. Perhaps I am quite wrong in this, but that is my impression and certainly that is the impression widely held outside. What then, my Lords, is our problem? How is an island which is no longer an Empire, which has a population of 50 million and whose traditional social structure has been debilitated by war and economic change and disorientated by modern technology, supposed to order its affairs in the next 100 years?
There are of course factors over which we have no real control: For instance, the ambitions and interactions of the super-Powers; the instability of the international monetary system; the availability—or otherwise—of world energy resources; the kaleidoscopic changes of the political systems of our neighbours in the Western World; the effects of inflation and the inevitable consequences of human fallibility and mortality. Despite all this, I believe that there is in this country a pervading sense of national unity; despite again the current and well publicised descriptions of class conflicts and faction, and despite also the irrelevant and salacious preoccupation with the incidence of small-scale examples of immorality and corruption.
I believe that, although I am what is known as a Conservative by heredity and conviction, the style of national leadership offered by the Conservative Party—which I think might be described as the conservatism of a corporate State—is unsuited to the English character. Equally, the socialism and egalitarianism of the Labour Party will not, I believe, give to this country a sort of social political system which tends to its progress and good government. On the other hand, I cannot believe that our existing system of Parliamentary government, with its present House of Commons based upon territorial constituencies and our present House of Lords with its large hereditary membership and non-existent powers, can much longer be relied upon to reflect the political aspirations of our people or provide the pattern of government which we in Britain will be prepared to accept for the next 50 or 100 years.
Let me then offer your Lordships a series of propositions which may or may not command your Lordships' assent. The present Party alignment in Britain no longer represents the real divisions of 1495 opinion among our people or the real issues which face us. The Party system needs to be released from the grip of the Party machines and to pass through a period of fluidity and re-orientation. Secondly, the complexity of modern government makes it impossible for our representatives in the House of Commons to carry out their duties as territorial constituency members, their Parliamentary duties, and, if members of the Government, their proper functions as Ministers, without undergoing intolerable strain. Thirdly, the trend in government, as in industry, to try to meet the increasing complexity of the problems facing them by evolving larger units of administration and greater concentrations of resources is contrary to the need to equate the scale of administrative responsibility to the capability of the manpower and leadership resources which are available. Fourthly, if there is to be a second Chamber of the Legislature with appropriate powers, it must have some representational relationship to the power basis of an industrial technological society—that is, to the representations of organised labour, of management and of the Arts and the learned professions.
What I am really trying to say, and what is in the back of my mind, is that sectional interests should be represented in this House, which would not be an elected Chamber in the same sense as the other place, and that the other House would not, so far as possible, have any sectional or power-based affiliations other than the normal ones that come with an elected political system. I fully confess that I have not thought through these various ideas. In any case, they are neither original nor clearly formed; but what they lead me to is some form of election to the House of Commons which is not territorially placed or vulnerable to sectional pressures, some form of indirect election or selection for the House of Lords, some form of regionalisation for Great Britain as a whole; perhaps some division between the Legislature and the Executive; certainly a realignment of Parties leaving the extreme Right and the extreme Left to pursue their mutually destructive paths.
These are the kind of things which must be evolved during the next few years. I realise that the chances of doing 1496 this are relatively small. We in this country have a strong desire to maintain continuity, which on the whole makes change slow-footed and partial here. But I think these far-reaching changes—or some changes—must come, and if they do not come by consent and with preparation, then they will come as a consequence of social upheaval or following a recognised breakdown of our present political system. If this Chamber has a service to give to-day it can best do so by deploying its resources of experience and wisdom in creating a climate of opinion capable of assimilating these changes when the right time comes.
§ 6.07 p.m.
§ LORD PLATT
My Lords, my general opinion of this debate, which to me has been extremely interesting, is one of rather too much complacency. For instance, the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, gave me the impression—and this may not be what he intended—that these things have happened before; we have had these crises, we have worked through them and then settled down again. But I think the last two speakers, the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, and the noble Lord, Lord Alport, have shown a greater sense of urgency and that is certainly my purpose in anything I intend to say this evening.
The situation is different from anything we have had before and it is different because we have seen the failure of the last two Governments. I believe democratic Socialism failed because it could not get sufficient discipline among its own ranks to make a long-term Socialist policy work and a frightened electorate then went to the other extreme and elected a Tory Government which set out to bring back the Tory principles of free enterprise, competition and so on, and had to go back on almost every policy which they put out in their election addresses, and ended with the ignomy of the three day week.
I think Socialist democracy or democratic Socialism is still in grave danger from being taken over by the militants in the trade unions who now wield enormous power and can see how to use it for their own ends, because I think the Party cannot exist without the support of the trade unions. I am second to none in my respect for the trade union leaders of the past who built up a splendid system in 1497 this country, but I think they are now threatened. I think the Conservative Government broke down for a large number of reasons. They adhered to the old principles of capitalism which have gone out of date because the family business, the personally-owned shop, the craftsman, the agriculturalist, and so on, and the manufacturers, are taken over by the enormous business corporations, whose declared object is not to make cloth or to sell meat, but to make money. People do not know to-day who their bosses are, or if they do, they do not know who their bosses will be to-morrow, and do not even know who their landlords are. They may change over their heads overnight without people knowing anything about it. As I said to this House in July, 1972, this may represent the last stages of capitalism.
My Lords, if matters develop on these lines, as they have done in America where enormous financial power rests with the few and then is taken over—as it has been already some would say, while others would say there is the danger of it being taken over—by the criminal elements of society, the dangers in this country at present are extremely serious. I cannot see how we will get out of them if the two-Party system is allowed to continue. When I say "two Party system", I do not want to replace that by any kind of dictatorship; quite the contrary. My purpose is to try to say something to preserve democracy in this country, but I do not think it can be done by two sharply divided Parties. I think the Election clearly showed that large sections of the public were disillusioned with both Parties, and I would go further and say, with both their leaders.
My Lords, we must urgently study all the various forms of proportional representation. I think it will be found that there are a large number of people who are really "in the middle of the road". They are not industrialists, they are not capitalists, they are not people with enormous hereditary wealth; nor do they want to be governed by the trade unions. If there were a chance of getting some Party in power, or holding the balance of power, a large number of people would vote for some middle Party. I think that must be tried as a matter of urgency. It is difficult to see either of the major Parties voluntarily giving in to such a 1498 system. In 1972, therefore, I suggested it was time wise men and women from all Parties got together to discuss the future of democracy in this country from first principles, and not from doctrinaire notions. The sooner that is done the better. I call the attention of your Lordships to the fact that in this House, where we are under no necessity to represent any section or any political colour or Party, there are, never mind if the numbers are not exact to the last few digits, 136 Cross-Bench peers and about 140 Liberal Peers, and if I am right, that makes together about 276.
§ LORD WINDLESHAM
My Lords, if the noble Lord will forgive me for interrupting, I think he has his arithmetic quite wrong. There are not 140 Liberal Peers, or anything approaching that figure. It is for noble Lords on my right to speak but I would have thought the figure was below 30.
§ LORD PLATT
My Lords, I am quite wrong. I was told 40 to 50 Liberal Peers. I am very grateful for that correction. Is that right?
§ LORD PLATT
My Lords, I am grateful for that correction. I was wrong. There are 40 to 50 Liberal Peers, and about 136 Peers on the Cross-Benches That makes a rough total of 176 out of an active House of 400 or 500 Peers—176 who do not have allegiance to either of the two major Parties.
My Lords, I have said nearly all I want to say, but finally, a good deal of talk is always going on about the reform of the House of Lords. I would not go so far as to say we need no reform. Personally, I do not find the hereditary principle either wholly unacceptable or wholly illogical. I think that being elected in some of the small towns of Britain by the kind of people one sees on television being asked what they think of proportional representation, or something like that, and who clearly do not 1499 understand any of the issues, is much more illogical than a hereditary peerage. I think a good mixture is healthiest. But if we are thinking of reforming our Parliamentary system, surely the experience of the last two Governments is that the reforms should be in the House of Commons before they come to the House of Lords.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ LORD SUDELEY
My Lords, the terms of reference of this debate are wide, and in attempting to narrow down the scope of what I want to say, I referred to the wording of the original Motion as put down in the No Day Named List before a date was fixed on the Minutes. The original wording was the same as the present wording, only in a more detailed and provocative way. Whereas the present wording refers to the desirability of changes in our present Party and Parliamentary system, the original wording went so far as to complain about the rigidities of our Party system and actually state that the system of voting for Parliament fails to express the wishes of the people.
My Lords, let me consider first faults with the Party system. One fault I would say is that our Parties are polarised doctrinally between the Right and the Left, and so the man in the street gets confused as to what these two labels stand for. For the lines of Right and Left in politics get crossed so easily, it is like Alice in Wonderland. For instance, devolution has been taken up as a cause by the Liberal Party, historically of the Left, and yet in essence devolution is an issue of the Right. If medieval feudalism signifies anything at all. It was the devolution of power. Historically Liberal politics have been identified with a free economy, but the Labour Party, being further to the Left, took up controls, and it fell to my own Party on the Right to preach laissez-faire. Towards the end of our last term of Office we bit our own tail and enacted a policy of financial feudalism which disgusted some of our supporters, but delighted the Disraeli Tories among us whose views on certain questions to do with the economy, coincided with those of the Labour Party. The crossing of lines of Right and Left in politics 1500 occurs not only towards the centre but at the extremes, which as it were joins hands behind the back. Sir Oswald Mosley might have become Prime Minister indifferently of the Labour or Conservative Parties, and in his biography he remarks that Bismarck, as paragon of the Right, introduced National Insurance.
My Lords, another fault with the present Party system is one already touched on, that much of our public life has a false or synthetic character because of the practice of opposition for its own sake. It was during the last century that the two major Parties started sometimes to oppose one another not as a matter of principle, but as a question of tactical convenience. To the disgust of Lord Salisbury, who was a man of principle. Disraeli brought in the Reform Bill of 1867, scarcely consonant with Tory principles, merely in order to outbid the Liberals. Further examples are recent and remain fresh in our minds. The Labour Party opposed Conservative measures to counter inflation; yet if the Labour Party had itself been in power it would have done something very similar. Just before Christmas the noble and learned Lord, Lord Shawcross, said in his speech to the House that he had stayed away from the House for some time because he disapproved so much of the disreputable practice on his own side of opposing for the sake of opposition. So much for the reasons for thinking that a change from our present Party system is, in the words of the Motion, desirable.
I come now to the main gravamen of my charge, which is against the Parliamentary system, the voting in this being so organised that, in the wording of the original Motion, it notably fails to express the wishes of the people. Let me start by saying that as "democracy" is a clean word, as it used not to be two centuries or more ago, it is not my concern to usurp that form of government in the way that it is defined in the Oxford Dictionary; that is to say, government by the people direct or representative. My concern, on the contrary, is that voting should be organised for just that purpose in a way which, as I shall show, does not happen on the present basis of voting, geographically with the universal franchise. The present system would have reality if there were a genuine measure 1501 of contact between the voters and the form of government which they receive, and such might exist in a small country; for example, a Greek city state; but where there are tens of millions of voters and each man votes as an individual citizen inevitably the degree of contact is greatly diminished. And this is no mere armchair conviction. On the question of immigration, for example, Enoch Powell has shown how huge the gap is between Westminster and so many of the people at large, so that no matter how well-intentioned Westminster may be it is way out.
Our Parliamentary system fails on another score, it seems to me. The present wording of the Motion declares that it is not in line with present day needs; according to the original wording there is a habit among politicians of ignoring facts which are crucial to the country's destiny. The needs which should be rectified and the facts which are ignored lie, I would say, in the economy. It is a general principle of large States governed by universal franchise that that elusive entity, the power within the nation, which should, in theory, rest with the elected representatives, comes in a large degree to lie in the economy. In many countries it has been possible to form an equation, Government by universal franchise equals plutocracy. Such is the fate of America. G. D. H. Cole said of France in the last century that here was a victory not so much of the broad mass of the people as of the Liberal bourgeoisie who took advantage of a free economy such as had not existed in the old days of the monarchy.
Now in this country, as in France and America, the Government fail to exercise sufficient authority over the economy, only with the result that the trade unions are too powerful. Back in 1970 the noble Lord, Lord Brown, mentioned in a speech to the House that in the matter of wage differentials the Government have the constitutional authority to intervene but not the power to uphold that legislation. Lord Donovan said in his speech on the Second Reading of the Industrial Relations Bill that he held out little hope for the Government, and even though that Act was placed on the Statute Book he was perfectly right. So much for the ills of our present Party and Parliamentary system.
1502 Let me now think of solutions, the first being proportional representation, which would not, it seems to me, go far to rectify the present harms. Government by proportional representation tends to lead not so much to a Government of one of two Parties as to Coalition Government, such as exists in Belgium and other countries on the Continent. Two consequences tend to flow out of Coalition Government, neither of them very conducive to giving people exactly what they want, the first being that long periods of time tend to elapse without any Government at all. In Belgium, for example, coalitions are formed for a period of about two years, and then after the first year everything has changed so much that the very basis on which the coalition was formed has become out of date. The coalition has to be dissolved and a good interval of time often elapses before any new one is formed. But coalitions are also unsatisfactory inasmuch as they cannot be formed unless the various Parties to them compromise on their principles, and in this way all who voted for the various Parties at the time of the Election get cheated of exactly what they want. Moreover, I am not sure that government by proportional representation would exercise much more power or authority over the economy than government by universal franchise.
The solution, therefore, which I would favour, is representation of the people according to the various interests to which they belong in a corporate chamber. I know that this suggestion is controversial. In politics language is a powerful thing, and the mere words for things tend to evoke in people's minds a degree of excitement which cold analysis of their implications would never yield. Owing to the fortuitous course of events in this century, the idea of a corporate chamber tends to be associated in people's minds with violence and anti-semitism. But there is no reason why these things must flow from the existence of a corporate chamber, and I think it would help to rid people of any psychological impediment they have in their minds over this if they paused to reflect that in its ancestry another place was a corporate chamber; in mediaeval times another place was a chamber of communities composed out of two specific interests in the land, those of the knights and 1503 burgesses, and it might well have comprised a third, the clergy, if it had not been for the accident that the clergy were so very rich that it suited them better to sit by themselves in Convocation to vote what rate of taxes should be paid out of their property.
§ LORD SHINWELL
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord. He was postulating the idea of a corporate chamber. That corporate chamber would obviously have to represent, as he said, a variety of interests. If there is to be a variety of interests—and there may be a great variety of interests—is not that the kind of coalition to which he objects?
§ LORD SUDELEY
No, my Lords, the form of coalition to which I objected was one based on proportional representation. Let me continue. If Parliament is to be reconstituted on its original or corporate basis, in order to make sure that it is a valid chamber it ought to comprise within it those great interests in the economy which, as I say, elude the control of Parliament based on universal franchise. In the speech that I recalled he made in 1970, the noble Lord, Lord Brown, adumbrated the need which I had in mind, as he spoke of an economic zone intermediate between the citizens and the Government, and the desire which he had for an institution which might resolve differences in that area. At the other end of the political spectrum, the Monday Club, in its policy document of last January, adumbrated the same need and advocated the existence of an industrial congress where trade unions and employers might decide, together with the Government, on incomes and domestic spending policies.
Let me conclude by saying to those who, despite the arguments I have put forward, may still find the idea of a corporate chamber a dirty thing, that it looks very much as though, whether we like it or not, our politics already have a corporate basis. It suits so many small interests to go directly to the Government, by-passing Parliament altogether. When I year ago I brought before the House a debate on the export of manuscripts, the Director of the Institute of Historical Research thought that the best way of getting anything done was by writing a letter directly to the Prime Minister.
1504 In his book The Body Politic, published a few years ago, Mr. Ian Gilmour wrote:On current issues groups usually prefer to deal directly with the Government. Instead of themselves being intermediaries, they regard back bench M.P.s as intermediaries and unwelcome intruders. The B.M.A. by-passes medical M.P.s. Similarly, Dr. Johnson M.P., himself a publisher, when trying to help the book trade over the Restrictive Practices Bill, found that the matter had been agreed between the publishers and the Government without his having been informed, far less consulted.'As to those great interests, the trade unions, occupying the independent field of the economy, it is easy to say more of the extent to which they lie right outside the sphere of Government.
Also in his book on The Body Politic, from which I have already quoted, Mr. Gilmour wrote:Arthur Deakin told his union not to think they were going to get an advantage by people asking questions in Parliament affecting employment and those things, which are most properly dealt with by the union on an industrial level.Further evidence of the impotence of Parliament, based on a universal franchise, to control the trades unions as great corporate entities within the nation is provided by the conflict with the miners which led to the last Election. Parliament, which was in theory sovereign, came to lose, and this was tantamount to saying that we have had our revolution.
§ 6.31 p.m.
§ LORD DAVIES OF LEEK
My Lords, I apologise for intervening, but I intend to speak for only about five minutes. Having listened to pretty well all this fascinating debate, and having noticed that only my noble friend Lord Shinwell has spoken on this side of the House, I venture to trespass on your Lordships' time for about five or six minutes.
I listened with fascination to the noble Lord who has just sat down. I have seen corporate States in action, and I saw the beginning of this when I first heard Hitler at Heidelburg, and it frightened me. There is nothing wrong in the trade union movement or the C.B.E. approaching the Prime Minister. When we were the Government, it was well known that the trade union movement had its talks with Ministers and others at No. 10. When I worked there it was well known that the C.B.I., and such an august body as the B.M.A., had the right to put their points of view 1505 before the Prime Minister. I would consider that a part of democracy.
Now to the essentials of the debate. The noble Viscount has introduced a fascinating topic. If I may say so without sounding pompous, I congratulate him and I am grateful to him for introducing this debate. Let us see what we are talking about. It is the desirability of considering changes to our Party and Parliamentary system to bring it into line with the need to improve democracy. I think that I agree with the first question that the noble Viscount posed. Let us put the 64,000 dollar question. Can Parliament decide anything? I have raised this matter about four times over the last month. Parliament is more and more becoming an echo machine. It echoes the wishes of the Executive; it legitimises those wishes and makes them law, but it does not itself initiate legislation. That is why I agree that as Back Benchers we need more tools to make this machine work.
I listened with fascination, as anybody would, to the depth of knowledge and profundity of the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, and I tried to follow him carefully. He has had more experience in this noble House than I have, but I have had 50 years in the rough and tumble of politics in many parts. I found it fascinating to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Alport. I always listen to him with interest. He may not agree with me politically, but I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alport, for the point of view that he put forward. It proves that on all sides of the House, and this moves over Party lines, there is a realisation that we have to find some answer to the problem of democracy in the modern technological world, for this Chamber and Parliament to mean a thing.
Democracy is based on a terrible assumption; the assumption that, since the beginning of all time, has echoed through logicians' minds that all men are reasonable. I am certain that we are not. I picked up my daily paper to-day and looked at a figure—well, it is a human being with feminine architecture—giving the "victory" salute, or some other dirty salute, in a part of the world where there is no hope of democracy working because nobody believes in anything. I am told that it is the most Christian part of the world. But mankind does not seem to 1506 know the difference between religion and religiosity. I had better not be so didactic and dogmatic, but one of the first things that we have to rethink is, is man, this pompous creature who is polluting the earth, and soaking the soil with his own blood and that of others of all colours, that reasonable being? Is he managing his affairs as well as the beasts of the field? It is doubtful.
I now come to a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Emmet, about education. Somewhere, somehow, we have to inculcate into the minds of youngsters to-day the importance of running society. They scoff at citizenship. They scoff—and I am using the word "politics" in its best philosophical sense—at politics. These are the essential problems of human existence in the shrinking world of to-day, over which you throw your voice in seconds, and throw your body to the edge of the moon in hours. You cannot bring to that kind of world the politics of the the monetary system of a Brutus or a Caesar. I wish I knew the answers to all this. I do not.
The word "groping" was used. I hope that you will not think that was a perjorafive word. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Alport, said that he was groping after answers in the setting of this Chamber. I find this fascinating. Do not let me pretend that I am better than I am, but I find it rather sad, with my Welsh Non-conformist background, because I was brought up with a faith. It may not be so strong as it was, but I am sure that mankind believes in nothing to-day, and we have to find a hook of faith on which to hang the hat of progress. How do we discover this? Every morning millions of people listen to prayers and hymns. There are more hymns sung on the radio and television to-day than ever we used to sing when my mother was called the "cantur da cochyn o'glyn"—the red-headed singer of the valley. We sang our hymns with gusto. I do not believe that singing hymns will save mankind, but all I want to point out is that massive television religious services are having no effect on mankind, because there is doubt about the purpose of these things.
There is more discussion about politics with experts than ever before in the history of mankind. There are so many 1507 instantaneous decisions on politics through this daft method of the television, of putting a microphone in front of a Member of Parliament, or a noble Lord, or a person in the street, and saying, as though talking about a cup tie, "What do you think about corruption in Parliament?" Then, because they are expected to make an instantaneous decision, somebody utters a piece of buffoonery over the microphone. This is where the problem of education comes in. We should beware of these so-called modern instruments.
Now collaboration. Of course there is collaboration. We only exist here because of that collaboration. We had collaboration over the Common Market. If 69 Labour Members of Parliament had not voted with the Conservatives over the Common Market, we would have had a General Election. Parliament did not make a decision. Parliament was impotent. We went through the process of pretending that we were dealing with the Common Market. We did not change a comma or put a dot on an i, and did not change a phrase in the Common Market Bill. Is that correct? It is absolutely correct. It was a denigration of the powers of Parliament. We were throwing away Parliament—we, the people in Parliament in the other place and here—by allowing any Government, Labour or otherwise, to do that to us.
I am tired of the Press, with its pomposity, attacking Parliamentarians. There are men on both sides who have made a sacrifice to be in politics. I would not have changed my life for that of a millionaire. The thrill and joy of serving my constituents to the best of my modest ability enabled me to live a rich and full life. We must try to recapture that again, and give dignity to British politics. If the Press wants to follow the Areopagitica that was written by Milton in his defence of the Press, if it wants to regenerate this country, then the sooner it drops the dirt about British politics and helps the Fourth Estate, this Estate, to find an answer to this question, the better it will be for England. Last, but not least, I beg of Parliament to give the other place the tools for the job, so that we in Parliament can stand up to the Executive and make Parliament not an echo machine but something that is worthy of these great peoples, the British.
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down may I congratulate him? I saw his football team, Leek United, last night, and so did the honourable Member for Ipswich, a great friend of mine.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF CORK AND ORRERY
My Lords, it is a terrible thing to have to follow the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek. I had to do it once on the radio and that was bad enough, but at least I knew that it was going to happen. I ask myself, and who would not, after so much euphonious Welsh eloquence will noble Lords want to listen to the popping of a Cork? The noble Lord will forgive me, I am sure, if I make no attempt whatever to follow him into his great heights of eloquence, which I admire. I only wish that I could emulate him. I will keep myself firmly and ploddingly on the floor and I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me.
It is a curious fact of political life that practically every politician's quiver-full of clichés contains one to the effect that the public has a low opinion of politicians. From time to time a politician takes out this cliché, looks at it, observes that it is still in mint condition, despite the patina of age, and returns it reverently, unused, to the quiver. Nothing is done. So, broadening down from Parliament to Parliament, the general disillusion grows, or rather would grow if it were not inhibited by an integument of apathy. All this perhaps is too deeply embedded in the national subconscious to matter very much, but it does begin to matter a good deal when the general disillusion is extended to embrace Parliament itself. This is a condition which has been growing, unhealthily I think, for some years now.
Some may think, or hope, that with this strange, sleep-walking Parliament it has reached its peak, and that if an early General Election brings a majority Government it will fade away. I doubt it, for the thought behind this line of reasoning is that what we need is strong Government. But the primary need is not for strong Government, it is for good government, as Lord Simon and Lord Wade in still in mint condition, despite the patina front of me, and others as well, have pointed out. And good government, it is just possible to think, is a commodity that is not all that common nowadays and may well be growing even scarcer.
1509 This debate has not been ostensibly about Government but about Parliament, and some may suppose that Government can go serenely on unaffected by any shortcomings that there may be in the Parliamentary system under which we operate. If this were true, surely we should be seeing now a Government on their toes to meet the challenge of minority Government, and a Parliament eagerly collaborating in meeting the task for which it was created, that of solving the tremendous problems that beset the nation. But what do we see? We see a Government unable to govern and looking for a cue to go to the country without irritating a long suffering electorate beyond endurance; and an Opposition apparently determined, if it can help it, not to give any such kind of cue to the Government before the whole precarious system blows up in their face. An atmosphere of irrelevance and unreality drifts through the corridors like a miasma. Altogether no bad moment, as the noble Viscount has shrewdly seen, for a little self-examination.
As to what is wrong, if anything, there are many answers, of which one of the shortest and possibly one of the most fundamental, is simply too much Party. Party politics has always been a tough business and not always a very edifying one. Indeed, inter-Party rivalry has at times been a good deal better than it is now. There is no need to go back to the time of Cromwell to see that, but even in so comparatively mild an era as the heyday, say, of Devonshire House, of which I dare say most voters have not heard, or of the Pallisers, of which probably everyone has heard, fiction being stronger than truth, the division between Whig and Tory or Conservative and Liberal was so great that it ran right through social life as well as through political life. But that was only at the higher and more rarified levels. It has not run through the pub and across the factory floor, as it does now.
I do not mean to imply that a politically-conscious electorate is in some way a bad thing; far from it. But I do say that too much Party consciousness in the wrong places can be very bad. There is no need now to dig up the past. We all know—indeed it happened in the lifetime of most of us—which Party it 1510 was which first put up candidates in its own name at local government elections and which Party thought, misguidedly, or so I suspect, that it was necessary to follow suit. The significant fact is that push-buttons in Westminster and Whitehall, in Smith Square and Transport House, now ring bells in every municipal office in the country. The independence of local authorities has gone, along with privacy and cheap whisky, as something to regret but something that presumably will not come again.
It is the Parties in Parliament that have done this, and it has been done deliberately. They may be satisfied with their work but I, for one, think that it is not only bad, because it tends to reduce the citizen to a statistic in a Whitehall file, but also dangerous, because what is thought good by somebody at the centre is not necessarily still good when it has seeped out to the circumference. Possibly the best or most glaring example of this comes with the growing power of trade unions. They are the paymasters of the Labour Party. There is nothing improper in that. The Conservative Party gets much support from big business, but there is a vast difference between the results of having these two perfectly respectable sources of supply. I use the word "respectable" in deference to the noble Lord, Lord Somers, who does not, I think, agree. I have yet to hear of the lock-out being used as a political weapon; but the strike as a weapon against Government is now a familiar phenomenon and we have recently seen a more sinister development—the strike against Parliament as the fount of law. We can certainly expect more of this menace and it is one that will confront Governments no matter of what complexion. To describe this latest manifestation of trade union power as a menace, is, I dare say, probably to invite some hysterical person somewhere to call me a "union basher." Well, I cannot help that. It is a menace to the authority of Parliament, and so vitally germane to the purport of our debate.
Observe, my Lords, that a union exists solely, according to its own General Secretary,For the purpose of securing and promoting the interests of its members.Yet it is ready to use its power—a power that nobody but a fool could deny—to 1511 try to influence Government policy, not only at home, but in foreign policy as well. Men who are prepared to use that kind of power in that kind of way have at their disposal the political facts of which I have complained. Thanks to the dominance through Party politics of Central Government in local government their writ can and does run—and let us make no mistake about it—right through Whitehall, to the town halls and out beyond. I repeat, this is a menace to the authority of Parliament and of any Government, and Mr. Wilson knows it quite as well as Mr. Heath, no matter how differently their respective Administrations may react. I have no more to say about trade unions. My purpose in bringing them into the debate was only to underline the danger of having the whole political organisation of the country slung like strings of onions from the shoulders of the men at the top.
This brings me to the first (and it is the only one that I mean to take up) of the noble Viscount's arguments: the absolute necessity, as I see it, to take certain fields of Government right out of Party politics. Others may enumerate such fields if they will: I confine my observations to one alone—Defence. I believe this to be the field in which the Party system is a most dangerous intruder. Normally at about this time of the year we would expect to be debating the Defence White Paper. This year, it is held up while the Government conduct a review of the whole subject of Defence. I have not the slightest idea what the outcome of that review will be, but I hope, and indeed I expect, that it will be disappointing to some of the Government's supporters—to those, that is, who hope to see Defence expenditure cut by £1,000 million a year. I do not know whether anyone on my side of the political fence entertains any such hope or indeed anyone on the other side whose opinion is worth having, but I doubt it. But that is by the way; I make no Party political point either now or in any other part of my speech.
The point I am making is that it is possible for a Party—any Party—to decide to reduce Defence expenditure for one particular reason; namely, that they choose to spend the money on something 1512 else. Thus, Governments embark on the enormous exercise of fixing priorities: so much for housing, so much for education, so much for hospitals, roads, grants, subsidies, pensions and anything else you care to think of, including Defence. But, my Lords, how can you do this with Defence? Is Defence more important than pensions? Is housing more important or less important than the Navy? The very questions are meaningless. One might as well ask whether artificial insemination is more or less important than bicycles. Defence is something that stands entirely on its own as a responsibility of Government. That is not to say that it ought to come first in any list of priorities, or first in some table of allocations: it simply ought not to be in any list at all.
The Defence responsibility of Governments is paramount, and is not to be shared with or whittled away by any other consideration whatsoever. Ultimately, of course, actual expenditure will have to be conditioned by what the country thinks it can afford, which is not, incidentally, necessarily the same as what the Government would like to pay. That will be a matter for decision by the Government of the day, and it may be that at that point Party politics will intrude. But they ought not; and they certainly ought not to intrude, in my submission, at any stage before that point is reached. This could be brought to pass. A Defence review requires, I believe, the collaboration of all Parties. That implies a review committee functioning at a supra-Party level with full access to secret information and therefore composed of Privy Councillors, whether from within Parliament or outside it. Its functions, working with the Defence staff and its advisers, would be to assess the potential and actual threat, and to form an opinion as to the level of Defence required. I will not elaborate; the time for that will be in the eventual Defence debate. All I shall say on this subject now is that I am sure, as others have declared themselves sure before me, that Defence not only ought to be but could be removed from Party politics. Perhaps, in the context of this particular debate, it would be better to say that Party politics should be removed so far as possible from Defence and from other 1513 fields as well, particularly local government, although I dare say it is a little late for that now.
My Lords, I conclude by reverting to my earlier statement: our Party and political system is bedevilled by too much Party. This has long been so, but I suspect that it infuriates the electorate now as never before. Government after Government undo the work of their predecessors. Oppositions threaten to dismantle additions and alterations being built into the fabric of the State. The idea that existing but unfavoured major systems should be made to work, with modifications if necessary, in the interests of continuity, stability, the credibility of British Governments at home and overseas and of general sanity is subordinated to Party ideology; and the whole idiotic process is carried on, thanks to television, in full view of an ever more exasperated public.
There is too much Party—and, by a happy paradox, too few Parties. If the two main Parties are not, in their efforts to tear each other to pieces, to tear the nation to pieces, there must be a third Party—a third, but no more; and if a dangerous fragmentation is not to take place, that third Party must be the Liberal Party. Of course, I do not approve of the Liberal Party—nobody but a Liberal could do that—but I do believe we need them, and I believe that for that reason we probably need proportional representation. This is something which no other Party will ever support so long as it means asking its members to vote for the probable loss of their own seats. Perhaps, therefore, we should pray for more politicians who will put the interests of the nation first, of Parliament second, of their Party third and of themselves last. There are plenty who are prepared to put the nation before Party and both before themselves, but what I suspect may come as something of a novelty to some, or even to most, is the idea of putting Parliament before Party. Perhaps some will find the idea worthy of their attention, even if only as an alternative to the possible conclusion that the best answers to the questions which have been raised in this debate would be Government by the House of Lords.
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ LORD WIGG
My Lords, I apologise to the House for not having attended the whole of the debate, but I put my name down and then withdrew it because of other business which made it likely that I would not be able to attend even the major part of this debate. I apologise particularly to the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth. I wrote to him to say that, although I had withdrawn my name, the subject interested me so much that I would endeavour to speak. If I had not given him that notice, the last two speeches from the other side of the House would certainly have provoked me to speak. To the noble Earl who has just spoken, may I say with the utmost sincerity that I have never listened to such nonsense in my life, and I propose to prove it in a few short words. If I did not say that, I would have to charge him, as he sits on those Benches, with complete humbug. Here is a noble Lord who has lived through the major part of this century and who comes and preaches from those Benches that on the subject of Defence the Conservative Party puts the country first and the Party second. Was there ever such nonsense? Has he forgotten—
§ LORD WIGG
Will the noble Earl let me finish? I will give way in a moment. Has the noble Earl forgotten the 1935 Election? Does he remember what Mr. Baldwin, the then Prime Minister, said when he came to the House of Commons? I will quote the words to him. Fortunately, I happen to have them in my pocket. Mr. Baldwin said:Supposing I had gone to the country and said that Germany was re-arming and we must re-arm. Does anybody think that this pacific democracy would rally to the cause at that moment? I cannot think of anything which would have made the loss of the Election from my point of view more certain".If the noble Earl wants comment on that, these were the words of the late Sir Winston Churchill:This was indeed appalling frankness. It carried naked truth about his motives into indecency. That a Conservative Prime Minister should have avowed that he had not done his duty in regard to national safety because he was afraid of losing the Election was an accident without parallel in our Parliamentary history".
§ THE EARL OF CORK AND ORRERY
My Lords, this is extremely interesting, I have no doubt, but I should rather like to know why the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, addresses this as a form of attack on me. I have not said anything about the Conservative Party or the Labour Party, or what either would have done in particular circumstances in connection with Defence; or what I would rather they did or ever would do. I was at some pains to say that I was making no Party point whatever at any stage of my speech.
§ LORD WIGG
Of course, the noble Earl makes it slightly worse. He does not make any particular Party point because he does not mention the Labour Party. He says, "I won't say who it was." But who introduced Party into local government? It was the Labour Party. That is why I acquit him of humbug. He is so stupid. Why does not he ask himself why was it that ordinary men risked being sent to Botany Bay? They were forced to combine against the laws of the land conspiratorially, and why?—because the Government by the Tories of the day were treating men of their own race as if they were slaves. Men who have their families to support will stand so much and no more.
But then, Mr. Baldwin was not the only example. My noble friend Lord Shinwell will remember when he was Minister of Defence in 1951, there was a debate on defence and the Labour Party had a majority of five. Mr. Churchill and his Conservative Front Bench thought that here was a marvellous opportunity to get an Election to split the Labour Party. He did not disagree with the policy. So what he did was to put down a Motion agreeing with the policy but saying that he did not think that the Ministers responsible were able to carry out the policy. Yet the late Mr. Aneurin Bevan made a speech that night that wiped the floor with the humbug of the Conservative Party. I say this with some feeling because the one thing I have done in my political life from the day I came to the House of Commons here in this Chamber when it was the House of Commons, was that I pleaded that defence should be taken out of politics because there was only so much to spend and the objective facts of defence had to be faced.
1516 But I do not run away from the Party label. I do not think that Party politics as such is a crime. I recollect where democracy was born. It was not born in this mealy-mouthed place where men say one thing and do, the opposite. Democracy was born in the agora: a rude rough thing in which men of honest opinion put forward their views and strove for them. And it was the rank and file, the men who made the Labour Party, who brought the trade unions into existence. But may I mention to the noble Earl—I see he has left the House, so he will have to read it; as usual he can hand it out platitudinously, but cannot take it—that when the hour struck in 1940 and the policies of Mr. Baldwin in 1935 had carried this country inexorably to the brink of military defeat, who was it, regardless of Party considerations, who joined the Government? I am one of those who hold tile view that if there was one man, who won the last war it was not Sir Winston Churchill, it was the late Mr. Ernest Bevin because lie through his lifetime was able to talk to the trade unions and have their trust, whereas in those days the rank and file in the trade unions, when they thought of the name Churchill, remembered Tonypandy. They remembered the General Strike.
In my judgment, one of the major factors that led to the coming of the war was that Hitler misread the signs and believed that this country was split, was divided. It is ironical that the Kaiser had made the same mistake in 1914. I was interested in what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley. He listed the defects and then listed the remedies, but he never stopped to ask what are the virtues of democracy: the supreme virtue, the most civilised way that men have yet discovered of settling their differences in which they can have differences across this Floor, in the Press, fight an Election and then say, as I always said in the seven electoral fights I fought and won, "Now that I have won the thought in my mind is that our democracy works only on one condition, that the things that unite us are greater than the things that divide us". Throughout my political life, starting with defence, I have always been conscious of that fact, and I am not mealy-mouthed about it. I say what I think and I try to think before I say 1517 anything. The point I want to make is that democracy is not a political device. It does not depend upon Parliaments; it does not depend upon the ballot box; it is a moral principle.
Some comments were made when the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, spoke about our inequality. Who but a brainless ass would ever assert that we were all equal? Of course we are not! There are young and old, fat and thin, men and women, stupid and clever. Of course we are all different. But that is the glory, that we are different. The glory is not in the sameness. But we have one thing that is the same—and here I am preaching from a sermon that was taught me many times. I go back to the words of Rainborow in the 17th century:The meanest he in this realm hath a life to live no less than the greatest He.And our equality comes not from the sameness but from the fact that we all have a life to live and that life, however it may be lived, is unique, like the tapestry of a Persian carpet composed of a lifetime's work by a whole family. Take away one thread and it makes no difference, but take away enough threads and there is no carpet. It is the assertion of that principle that gives us all an interest in the richness of our common life which has made up our democracy since the 17th century.
This was certainly the view that influenced the Labour Movement right through from its inception in the 19th century into the 20th century—that what men were preaching, what men were pleading for, was not only a fuller life in the material sense but also a fuller life in the cultural and, if you like, in the spiritual sense. That is what they were fighting for. One of the dilemmas of our time is that the satisfaction of our material ones are perhaps at the price of the starvation of our cultural and spiritual ones. So that our young people are like fruit which rots as it ripens. For a mean society produces mean people. That is what we have got, a mean society.
Again, may I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, that he would stop and ask himself one question: make a list of those countries that survived and those that collapsed in the two wars. One of the striking facts is that those who survived were those where there was a 1518 diffusion of power. I do not believe that any country in the world would have battled on as Britain battled on in 1940. It may be that it was from stupidity. It may be that the mass of the people did not realise the dangers that faced us. But the truth is that when the challenge came there was a response. I always like to think—and I put it back in simple Army terms—that if you give a squad of British troops the job of building a bridge with nothing to do it with but their hands, you would get a frightful display of bad language—
My Lords, will the noble Lord give way? On 5th June I was a great parachutist. I have a great chapter in a great French book, and the noble Lord is going wide of the mark at the moment. I am just asking whether he could gently pay attention. I am going over there for the 30th anniversary. Will my noble friend be there?
§ LORD WIGG
In that case, the noble Lord should listen. What I am trying to say to him is this. If one makes a list of the countries that survived in the First World War and the countries that survived in the Second World War—those who collapsed and those who survived—they come under two broad headings. Where there was a diffusion of power, they managed to meet the strains and stresses just because there was a diffusion of power. One may or may not call diffusion of power "democracy", but, in my judgment, that is just what it is. It draws its strength not from any corporate chamber but from the quality of its individual citizens. Democracy—I have said it before and I will say it again for the benefit of the noble Lord—is essentially both a moral and a political principle. When men believe in it, and when they have something to struggle for, they will struggle as the British people struggled in the last war.
I tried to say earlier that I did not believe there was any other country in the world which would have survived as we survived from 1940 onwards. I am 1519 going on to say that perhaps it was not nobility or the mere strength of our political institutions as such. It may be that if we had known the truth and if Hitler's propaganda had been good enough to make us aware of our limited resources, we should have collapsed. But I just do not believe that. I was going on to give an example of what I regard as the essential difference between different systems, and it was at that point that the noble Lord interrupted me. Perhaps he wishes to interrupt me again.
§ LORD WIGG
My Lords, I am doing my best to understand. I still do not understand, but I am going to make this point. If you take a squad of British soldiers and tell them to build a bridge when they have no resources of any kind, their language will be unprintable; I might understand it, but I doubt whether any others of your Lordships would. But, at the end of the day, with no resources and lots of bad language, you will find that a bridge has been built. It might be a Heath Robinson operation but the bridge will be built, because that is the kind of people we are. If the same order were given to a troop of German soldiers, I believe that they would in a disciplined way examine the terrain and find someone who had trained to be a construction engineer, who would proceed to tell everyone that the job could not be done. So they would not start it. That, as I see it, is an example of what can flow from the diffusion of power and the fact that we are a pragmatic people.
If I may, I want to speak for four or five minutes more and I want to say—I shall keep on saying these things—that I believe that one of the things that is wrong with our society is the fact that power has accumulated in the wrong place. If one reads Laski, Crossman or Ivor Jennings—any of the great theoretical thinkers on the institutions of Government—one will find that they come up, time after time, with the idea that Party is associated with the fulfilment and the carrying out of the law. But for the law to be carried out there must be a continuous reforming process.
The fact is that in both Houses there is one section which is dominant: it consists of the lawyers. The hours of meeting 1520 and the practices of the House revolve around the needs of the Bar Council. Let any Member of Parliament take five shillings as a fee from some organisation or other which is not in the schedule, and that is declared to be a corrupt practice. But a barrister can come to the House and, provided he makes the right sort of speeches and is in favour, he will get brief after brief given to him by the Government. I have never understood this: I could never understand it when I was a Member of the House of Commons. I could see some Members of no great merit or intellectual status being appointed recorders, merely because they were Members of Parliament. I shall not mention names because many of them are dead. But this was a great shock to me. It is a fact that there are now between 1,500 and 2,000 practising barristers. But there are well over 2,000 jobs, and all you have to do is pass your Bar examinations, be cautious and say the right things and eventually you will become a judge.
§ LORD WIGG
No, my Lords, but I did not come here to discuss my military record. Anyway, I have much more service than the noble Lord has, if I may say so, and I received much less pay for it, so let us not deal with that. I should now like to say that, as regards the law, this needs to be a continuous reforming process. It has not happened. The great hope that I had in the 1964 Parliament was that when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, went to the Woolsack he would introduce a vigorous reexamination of the whole system of law in this country. Of course, in this country we hide behind the belief that we have the best legal system in the world. I do not believe that. And it is not only the lawyers who have the grips—though I could put it in more vigorous terms than that—on our society. What do they get for it? I understand that lawyers, stockbrokers, accountants and the gentlemen who pontificate upon the rates which working men get for spending hours doing a monotonous job on a production belt, get more thousands than these chaps get pounds per week.
If this goes on long enough, then the body politic in this country will grind to a halt, and I believe this will happen. I am 1521 no optimist where the future is concerned. I have said that time and time again, and I will repeat it now: I believe that conditions exist or could be brought to exist in which, despite all the difficulties that face this country, we can emerge successfully. However, a price has to be paid for that. All sections of our society have to be examined under the microscope. The learned societies, whether they be of lawyers, accountants, stockbrokers or what you will, cannot go on taking more and more out without weakening and enfeebling society as a whole. I apologise for taking up so much of your Lordships' time, but it was not altogether my fault.
§ LORD LYELL
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I wonder whether he could possibly tell me where he puts the trade union workers in this background among these accountants, lawyers and so on?—because he has been pretty strong on one section of the community. I do not really think that this is in the service of democracy, but possibly the noble Lord may be able to illuminate me further.
§ LORD WIGG
Again, my Lords, the majority of trade union workers engaged in a productive role are subject to timemeasurement—their jobs are measured against the clock. If the noble Lord would do a little homework he would see that in the motor-car industry, in particular, men are tied to the movement of the belt. That is what happens to them day in and day out, week in and week out, year in and year out; and the rates of pay they can earn are conditioned not by how much muscle they use or how much time they spend on the job, but on the speed of the belt—oh, he taps his head as if there is some great intellect in the professions. This is where I was kind. When I was a Member of the House of Commons I saw the calibre of some Members of that place who had been made recorders. I would not have had them as unpaid lance-corporals, and I have said that before. So the effect is that you have one section of your society doing monotonous jobs for which their rates of pay are fixed for them not by their own efforts, but by the designers of the job, while other people are exercising scarcity value. I say without fear of challenge that there is no section of our society 1522 which is earning more for doing less than the legal profession.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD ELWYN-JONES)
My Lords, after those "encouraging" words relating to the legal profession, which is a fascinating subject which we can perhaps discuss on a more appropriate occasion, I think it would be suitable to turn to the subject matter of this most valuable and, indeed, exciting debate. The House will be grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, for moving his Motion to-day, prompting and provoking this wide-ranging discussion on the functioning of the Party and Parliamentary system, and enabling us to do what the noble Earl. Lord Cork and Orrery, called "a little self-examination".
I should like to begin by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Deramore, on his notable maiden speech. I hope that we may have the privilege of hearing him frequently hereafter. The debate has brought back vividly to my mind the discussion which I attended, with the leave of the House, on Parliamentary Government at a meeting in Strasbourg a fortnight ago of the Speakers and Presidents of the Assemblies of the Members of the Council of Europe. The prevalent mood was one of deep pessimism, which has been reflected to some extent in your Lordships' House to-day in the speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Alport and Lord Platt. Speaker after speaker in Strasbourg spoke of a state of crisis in European Parliamentary democracy. The memorandum prepared for our discussion by the office of the Clerk of the Assembly described this as a timewhen Parliamentary institutions have lost much of the prestige which they previously enjoyed.Without, I hope, being complacent, I ventured to doubt whether that was true. When was this golden Parliamentary age from which we are alleged to have declined?
As the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, said, there is nothing new about disenchantment with our political system. At regular intervals, the forthcoming demise of Parliament has been confidently forecast throughout the 700 years of its history. But the pessimism expressed in the Conference disturbed me greatly, and clearly 1523 gives cause for anxiety. I was happy to quote to the meeting the observation of that greatest of Parliamentarians of my time, Winston Churchill, who said,Parliamentary Government is the worst form of Government, except for every other form of Government that has been tried.That is my belief and I apprehend it is probably the belief of most Members of the House. It was an opinion which in my personal experience was reinforced by the year I spent in Nuremburg, prosecuting the major war criminals. Our examination of the records of the Nazi dictatorship highlighted not only its murderous violence, but its incompetence and its corruption and, of course, its total abuse of power. It confirmed the words of that other great Parliamentarian, Aneurin Bevan:Trusting everything into one man's hands is to invite the risk of being destroyed by him.And the speech of my noble friend Lord Shinwell confirmed this view. The experience of the corporate State, if I may say so, has certainly not been reassuring in this century, least of all the experience of corporate chambers. Nor does study of one Party regimes present any indication that the peoples they rule enjoy either greater freedom or better conditions of living, or that they promote to a greater degree than our European Parliamentary systems the greatest happiness of the greatest number.
The core of democracy is that power is in the hands not of a minority, but of the whole people. Its essence, as the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, said in a speech which I greatly enjoyed, is the consent of the people. An educated electorate is given the power and freedom to choose its political rulers. I have said "educated electorate", and I respectfully agree with what fell from the noble Baroness, Lady Emmet of Amberley, about the importance of schooling and education in providing a healthy basis for our democracy. It is the case that no representative system of Government has achieved perfection. But we must not lose confidence—and I saw a certain lack of it in one or two speeches to-day—in the basic declaration of democratic faith pronounced by Colonel Rainborow, to whom the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, referred. I hope I may be forgiven for repeating it. It was made in the great 1524 debate in Putney Church in 1647, and Colonel Rainboro said:The poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he, therefore I do not think and am still of the opinion that every man born in England cannot, ought not, neither by the law of God nor the law of nature, to be exempted from the choice of those who are to make the laws for him to live under and for him, for aught I know, to lose his life under.Those were very great words which have inspired our forebears in the struggle for Parliamentary power ever since.
Since the 17th century Parliament has been engaged in a constant process of slow evolution, as we have been told in the debate, made easier by the fact that our Constitution is unwritten. It was described by one of the old writers as "a nose of wax". It is capable of alteration and flexible enough to develop to meet new demands. Those demands have increased enormously in depth and breadth in the course of this century. The business of Government has become more complex and difficult. The social and economic expectations of all classes of our people rightly continue to expand and universalise. The luxuries of yesterday have become the necessities of to-day—proper feeding, adequate housing, decent domestic sanitation, like the provision of indoor lavatories and baths, good schools for all our children, the right to work, proper provision in the whole range of social welfare services. The list can easily be multiplied.
To satisfy these needs has involved the massive apparatus of public finance and massive Government intervention in the economic and industrial life of the nation. I am not going in this debate to enter into the controversy as to how far that intervention should go and what its nature should be. It suffices for my purpose to say that the size and nature of the problems of Government do mean that Governments must have the authority and ability to govern. Strong Governments have been referred to with disapproval throughout most of this debate, but weak Governments have been the root of the destruction of many Parliamentary systems. In this, I should like to echo the views which have been expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Emmet of Amberley.
Traditionally in Britain we have for most of the last two centuries enjoyed 1525 a combination of a strong, but I hope not oppressive, Government and a strong Opposition. At least in part, the stability of our system has been the result of the feeling that there is always a genuine alternative to the policies of the Government of the time. It is the Party in Opposition which presents this alternative and ensures that important issues are properly discussed. I hope the Government will do that anyway—I am sure that this Government will. But this is one reason why I am glad that the Government have raised the question of financial help for the Opposition Parties.
The noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, summed up the debate we had last week on the financing of political Parties, and stressed the need to free them from the influence of those who provide them with funds now. My Lords, I shall not recover that ground. I would only remind your Lordships of what my noble friend Lord Harris said on that occasion. He was particularly concerned with the immediate question of providing assistance to Opposition Parties in another place and in this House. There have been consultations with the Parties on this, and we hope progress will be rapid. But direct aid to political Parties is a much wider and more controversial proposition, and there are weighty considerations to be borne in mind. Perhaps the march of events will make such a step inevitable, but here to progress carefully must be our guide. It is important to encourage public debate on this subject, recognising its importance for the health of our body politic.
My Lords, in examining the functions of a Parliamentary Opposition, the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, spoke of the need for Opposition Parties to consider the national interest and not to oppose simply for the sake of opposition. As a member of the Government now in Office, it would be surprising if I did not find that statement fully acceptable. The difficulty, of course, is that we sometimes disagree over what is the national interest and, more frequently, as to how best to achieve it. The glory of a democracy is that there is no room to fear the expression of different points of view. Politically those differences, as the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham said, are expressed through the various Parties. They have taken something of a bashing—if I may use the language of another 1526 place perhaps—in the course of this debate to-day, and the noble Lords, Lord Sudeley and Lord Somers, had harsh words to say.
But when there are conflicts between Parties, which is the very basis of our political system, I do not regard that as cause for alarm. On the contrary, if the differences were sham we would indeed be going through a meaningless minuet. The differences are real. They were underlined with great sharpness in the last Election, and it fell to the electorate to make the difficult choice. But differences are the heart and soul of an effective Parliamentary democracy. But, of course, on some issues the Parties compromise, and it does not shock me when that comes to pass. I do not think it points necessarily to cynicism on the part of the political leaders, and this is a point which I think the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, indicated as indeed something that is desirable rather than something to be condemned.
There was a reference to referenda in the course of the debate as one means of putting the issues direct to the electorate. That may well be desirable from time to time on certain matters; I think particularly, and perhaps solely, in regard to issues which involve fundamental changes in our Constitution. But I do not myself believe, and I do not think anyone else supported the idea, that we could make widespread use of referenda. Most of the problems of government are interwoven and, as the noble Lord, Lord Wade, said, are not capable of resolution in isolation, or by the process of asking for an answer to a single question.
My Lords, various aspects of the role of Parliament have been considered in the debate, and the question has been asked: what is required of Parliament? I suppose that, besides debate and legislation, it has to scrutinise the work of the Executive and of the Administration, and it has been pointed out that it is a check on the abuse of power. That this is happily almost entirely a latent function makes it none the less important, I think, and I believe that we would be unwise not to stress this function of Parliament. Then Parliament must examine the work of the Administration, to highlight what would otherwise be hidden, and, if I may say so, perhaps the most vital function of 1527 Opposition is not so much to oppose but to expose.
The principal role of Parliament remains that of legislation, and I am sorry to indicate to my noble friend Lord Shinwell that there is no sign of diminution of the flood, and it is indeed inescapable. In this part of the work of Parliament it is, I think, not often recognised by the public how much time is spent on the frequently mundane and tedious, usually non-contentious work, of scrutinising legislation. I think it is unfortunate, as has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Wade, and others, and a pity that the public does not know more about what goes on here. As the work of Government has become more complex, these tasks—checking on the Administration and scrutinising legislation—have become more important and certainly much more onerous. Finally, of course, Parliament must debate the great issues of the day, for this is how the Executive is held responsible; this is how the electorate is both represented and informed.
My Lords, we have heard this afternoon a number of suggestions for expanding the role of Parliament and for changing its functions and machinery. If I may say so, I hope that the discussions will stimulate further debate. But I put in the forefront those traditional functions of Parliament which are its very heart. The noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, has suggested the appointment of a corps of Ombudsmen, or intermediary officials, between the Member and the person who needs help. I must confess, my Lords, that I would be wary of anything that comes between the Member and his constituent. The responsiveness of Parliament surely depends on there being the closest links and I think we should encourage them.
In this context, I was interested in the suggestion that some senior Ministers should not have to represent a constituency. The Government Ministers who perform a vital role in this House are, of course, so placed. But I should have thought it imperative that Ministers should be Members of the one House or the other, and that those in another place should represent a constituency. When I was a Minister in another place in the last Labour Government, I did not find it unduly difficult to combine Ministerial 1528 duties with my duties towards my constituents—and I do not think the office of Attorney General was exactly a sinecure. The noble Lord, Lord Alport, in his Ministerial experience thinks that the burdens are perhaps extreme. I am fairly confident that the feeling that Ministers who are in the House of Commons should represent constituents would be one which was shared by most Ministers there. I think it would not be tolerable to have Ministers sitting in another place (where inevitably most senior Ministers will be located) representing nobody. Nor do I favour an Executive divorced entirely from the Legislature, as in the United States.
My Lords, it is interesting that the position of Ministers in Parliament has been raised in Parliament since the earliest times. Indeed, the first move by the Commons to exclude all holders of office under the Crown was in 1348. I think that was about the time when for the first time Parliament was deprived of its lawyers. It has gone down through history ever since as the "mad Parliament". I must not make a point of provoking my noble friend into a resurrection of the issue. All through the 18th and 19th centuries, and up to nearly 50 years ago, Ministers accepting appointment had to submit themselves again to the judgment of the electorate. No doubt there were contemporary reasons for the rule. But I doubt whether the citizens often declined to reelect a Minister on the grounds that overwork might prevent him from representing their interests.
I believe that it is one of the strengths of our system to have our Government drawn from the Legislature, and to have most of our Ministers, if I may say so, drawn from another place, although it is vital that there should be a strong segment of them here in your Lordships' House. A further strand of thought that has run through the debate is the need to secure more representation for Opposition Parties. Since the General Election there has been no shortage of interest in the idea of electoral reform. On March 26 there was an excellent debate on the subject in the House on the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Wade. There has been no shortage of proposals as to what sort of reforms should be made. Several more have been added 1529 to-day by the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth. To-morrow, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister is due to answer a Question in another place on the setting up of machinery to consider electoral reform. In the circumstances it would not be right for me to anticipate his reply to that Question.
I am not unmindful of the frequent criticisms that in Parliamentary systems the Executive arm has become too powerful, and that Parliament itself has become simply a rubber stamp for Executive decisions. That was the anxiety expressed by my noble friend Lord Davies of Leek. There is also the suspicion, which was referred to, I think, by the noble Lord, Hanworth, that within the Executive itself it is not the Ministers who make the decisions, but the permanent officials—the "top brass" of the Civil Service. It was Lord Acton, as the House will know, who coined the famous phrase:Power tends to corrupt. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.It has been said that the text has been revised in Whitehall to read:Power is delightful. Absolute power is absolutely delightful.But we have the high authority of the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, for the rejection of that.
I think two things are important. The first is that Government should take the Legislature into their confidence with as much open Government as the business of Government will allow, by unfolding as they go along their policy, intentions and designs. The second point is that Parliamentary procedures should provide Parliament with such power of scrutiny and control not only over Government decisions, but over those of international bodies whose decisions are binding upon their separate constituent members. If our peoples have no confidence that Parliament has the means or ability to look after their welfare and interests, they will look for remedies outside Parliament by direct action of their own, whether through trade unions or other corporate bodies or organisations.
My Lords, a good deal has been said about the apparent decline in the conduct of Members of Parliament in both Houses. I am sure noble Lords will have enjoyed the delightful and autobiographical observations of my noble friend 1530 Lord Shinwell upon this theme, about which he has great expertise. But it really is nonsense. The fact is that we have become—I hate using the ugly word "mealy-mouthed"—more mealy-mouthed than the ancients used to be. I do not know what would happen these days if noble Lords were to use the kind of language that, for instance, Lord Salisbury used when he called Disraeli:a grain of dirt clogging the political machine",or when in another place a Member was called to order for saying that a Minister was a liar, and he said:On your instructions I withdraw that observation. But if on my way home tonight I see the right honourable gentleman walking across Westminster Bridge with Ananias on one side of him and Sanphira on the other, I would say he was keeping excellent company.I do not know, my Lords, whether that would be permitted to-day; there is much more restraint now. I do not accept that conduct is deteriorating; least of all do I accept that quality of membership of another place has deteriorated. But the quality of this debate has been a pointer to the quality of the Members composing your Lordships' House.
§ LORD DAVIES OF LEEK
My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord give way for one moment? In order to defend the integrity of noble and learned Lord Chancellors like my right honourable and noble friend, would he check for me who his great predecessor was who used to cook pancakes for his girl friend in the Royal Seal?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, that is an intriguing possibility which I shall investigate forthwith. It sounds a very difficult operation these days, particularly since the exercise is now done by electrical power, and I do not think there would be very much pancake left. However, I must not be drawn by the wickedness of my noble friend into sheer irrelevance.
My Lords, as I was saying, perhaps I may be complacent, but in my 29 years in Parliament, I have not seen this deterioration in the quality, the integrity, the commitment of Members of Parliament of both Houses to their duties. The dedication to constituency responsibilities, for instance; the weekly or fortnightly "surgeries" has become part of the pattern. The Member of 1531 Parliament has become a kind of moral and social midwife of the whole community. He has taken the place of the parson and the family doctor. I am sorry, I am tempted to wax almost eloquent on them. My conviction that equality and dedication of Members of Parliament to their constituency duties is certainly no less great than it has ever been, and I think more committed. So, my Lords, while I think we have had a most useful and valuable discussion to-day, and a good deal of gloom has been expressed from certain quarters, and interesting suggestions have been made by Lord Garner and others about a Council of State, basically in my view the heart of our political institutions in the Palace of Westminster is sound. In regard to the suggestion of the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, my own view is that it is premature to suggest the setting up of an all-Party Commission at this stage; but that discussion and consideration of the problem raised should continue, I have no doubt. But I refuse to be a pessimist, my Lords. It would be deplorable if the message of gloom went out from this Mother of Parliaments:If the trumpet shall not sound,Who shall lead the battle?
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT HANWORTH
My Lords, I should like to make just one remark in connection with the noble and learned Lord Chancellor's last remarks. I certainly never wished to spread any gloom about our democratic system. The whole purpose of raising this issue (and I think it was clear from what I originally said) was that we should keep our democratic system at its peak, and that only by considering changes where they are necessary will we succeed in doing just this. Equally, I made no criticism whatsoever of the quality of Members in another place. All I said was that, in order to maintain this quality, I felt we had to look carefully to ensure that everybody who was suited could be available, otherwise there was a danger that some time in the future there might be a reduction in the quality we now have. Remarks of that kind applied almost throughout my speech.
The debate, I felt, was very useful and certainly from my point of view it has 1532 been extremely satisfactory. It has lasted a good deal longer than many of us expected and therefore I do not want to detain your Lordships long. It would be quite wrong of me, and quite invidious, to mention noble Peers' speeches individually. It would take far too long and I see no need to do this—except in one case. I would join all the other noble Lords who have congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Deramore, on his maiden speech, which I felt was excellent.
At one moment I was tempted to take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham. The point of view he put forward was one that should be put forward in this debate, but I am in a way rather sorry that it came from the Front Bench. There are many points that I could make about the arguments he made, but this would not now be appropriate. A large number of other Peers have made the points. I would make however, one point. Despite history, there comes a time when things have changed to an extent where some Parliamentary change may well be desirable. It is so easy to say that all this has happened before. I believe and for a large number of reasons the circumstances we are in to-day are very different from what they were 10 years ago, or possibly even five years ago.
I believe change will come. I hope that it will not come irrationally and that at least the possibilities will have been considered beforehand. That is really all I am asking anyone to do. I agree with some noble Lords that perhaps Committees are not the answer to this situation. But I hope the various possibilities will be considered by the Parties quietly. I believe that changes in some areas will have to be made very soon—they should be made with the Parties having had discussions to find out what is likely to produce the best results. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.