I was saying, before we were interrupted, that there is more scientific selectivity on the stud farm than there is in the hereditary peerage. Therein lies the basic objection which we on this side have to the bunch of Amendments now before us. If any one of them were accepted, it would enshrine the principle that a special status and special rights attach to hereditary peers. We should simply be underlining it.
It is significant that the only poll conducted among the peers themselves was carried out some time ago by Professor Peter Broomhead, of Bristol University, and that the idea of selection or election of peers by peers to serve in the other House was the only proposition which received general support among all sections of Members of the other place. That seems to me to be the soundest of reasons why we should reject it.
I have some sympathy with the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton), and I am glad that chance has enabled me to speak after the interruption at 10 o'clock rather than before. However, I shall follow not the hon. Gentleman's arguments. It seems to me that this group of Amendments holds within it a fundamental principle of great concern to the country.
The question before us here is whether there should be in the newly reformed upper House a group of men and women utterly independent of the party machine and party Whips, people capable of acting independently and without fear of the Front Benches and the usual channels, as they are commonly called in this place. Of latter years, the country has been concerned that Parliament is not sufficiently strong to control the Executive. The country wants both Houses to be able to exert greater pressure on any Government at any time.
I think that I speak for hon. Members on both sides when I say that we feel ourselves to be diminished by the pressure of Government business perpetually encroaching on the rights of Private Members. What the country wants is that both Houses should exert control over expenditure. But what have we got? We have the power of the modern Whipping machine. Let us make no bones about it.
Hon. Members opposite have referred to their election manifesto. It is true that in 1966 they spoke of the reform of the other place. But let us face facts. In the public mind reform means strengthening, not weakening. One reason why the other place is not popular with either Front Bench is that, by the very nature of its hereditary personnel, it possesses an independence which we here do not possess, independence of the party machine. There are hon. Members on both sides who have had the experience of being requested by their Executives to explain certain little matters which are troubling the Executives. There are also the Whips. Therefore, the other place is looked at askance by the two Front Benches, and with some alarm by the party machines and Whips. I see my hon. Friends in deep collusion at the moment, and the Patronage Secretary is absent. I do not blame him. So we get the spectacle of this unnatural cohabitation between the two Front Benches, the constitutional conspiracy and collusion which has produced the Bill.
Clause 1 provides for the creation of political "Hush Puppies" that will go trapsing up the corridor as a result. Let us consider who these dear people will be. We have it from the hon. Members for Lancaster (Mr. Henig) and Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) that the younger men will come here. We can understand what they expect will go to another place. Those "Hush Puppies" will be sensitive to the party machines and the Whips. They are the people who must never, never change their minds. They will be balanced by others who will never, never make theirs up. What a way to strengthen Parliament! What a thing to introduce when what the country wants is a stronger Parliament and not a weaker one!
What the second Chamber needs, as does this Chamber, are men of independence who can make up their minds fearlessly, and only by the introduction of some such device as my hon. Friends have suggested in the Amendments will that be secured.
The hon. Member for Petersfield (Miss Quennell) wants the in- dependence of the House of Lords to continue. But she should remember that its independence has been shown on some very peculiar occasions and in some very odd ways. When it comes to matters of self-interest, their Lordships have not always shown that kind of independence that comes from a neutral attitude.
The debate has given me an interesting outline of current reactionary views, which have proceeded unknown to me until now. I have not heard current reactionary views for many years. During the discussion of the merits of the Earl Marshal and various people whose duties and performances I did not fully understand, I was brought up to date with what is a small number of people, both in the House and the country, are trying to defend. When I heard the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) talk about the poor Highland crofter going to the House of Lords and not being paid to go there, I found it very difficult to imagine his full plight.
The hon. Member for Windsor (Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe) asked for a certain amount of ballast to be found in the other place, which he considered to be one of its great merits. "Ballast" is a word that sounds very good. It gives the impression of stability, and so on, but when we analyse it we find that it means what it very often used to mean when spoken by Tory politicians. It means men basically of reactionary views, men who are solid in their opposition to change. If that is what ballast really means, there is not a deficiency of that kind. To me, at any rate, there is a surfeit of this sort of reaction.
Then we have heard, as we always do when discussing the abolition of certain aspects of privilege, the plea for the young, because no one will accept somebody who is basically immature unless he is the product of a privileged society. Amongst these immature young men who have the enormous advantage of birth handed to them, it is obvious that one will find here and there those with talent. We find that sort of situation in every nursery or kindergarten in the country. But these young men with a little more talent than their fellows possess are cited as examples of the need for youth, produced from an inner egalitarian society.
If there is so much to be said for youth, we can surely find better ways of producing these young men. I believe that we have not even begun to tap the levels of ability in young men who would be delighted to give something in the interests of public life. We need to look in that direction.
I could not agree more. If we are to have the House of Lords proposed in the Bill—and I am opposed to it—I concede the case for some younger people than perhaps the 60-year-olds who look like going there. We can surely find a better method of making use of the talent available in the country and which is only too ready to be harnessed to public life.
The Amendment deals with the election of hereditary peers by their own fellows. Clearly, the crucial part rests on the basis that these people have something to give to public life that cannot be given by others in selecting a group of people to represent particular interests. If these people had something extra to give than is available to the commonalty of the people, the argument might be acceptable, but one of the most striking features about those who have had privileged upbringing resulting from privileged birth is that the kind of understanding they have of the world is not particularly valid.
They have suffered little. They have struggled hardly at all. Although no one wants to increase struggle or suffering, nevertheless we understand that some of our basic attitudes are largely based on a certain amount of suffering that is inescapable in life and on a certain amount of struggle which is also part of the process of reaching understanding and reason. The ordinary day-to-day problems—the worries of earning a living, of feeding and clothing children—which are the bread and butter of politics because they concern people so deeply, are essentially the problems from which the peers are very largely exempt.
Of course, they have different kinds of suffering, based on the struggle of per- sonalities, but they do not have the problems of earning their living and knowing full well that, if they fail, there is the dole queue, unemployment benefit or sickness benefit, and "little more on which to depend. That is the sort of situation which the vast majority of our people have to face and the peers are exempt from feelings of this kind. That is their shortage of experience. But such things are essential if they are sensibly to discuss the life of the people.
I agree 80 per cent. with the hon. Gentleman that suffering and struggle are a great purgative, and we have all in the House of Commons gone through this fiery furnace: but does not the hon. Gentleman concede that it is possible that it is a good idea to have, perhaps in minority proportions, certain people who are above this struggle and who therefore have an independence of mind and who can look at the thing more objectively than either the hon. Gentleman or I can?
The hon. and learned Gentleman has made out a case for those people to speak on matters about which they know very little. I suppose that a case of sorts could be made for people not knowing anything of a subject about which they are trying to influence opinion, but it is certainly not a case which we should discuss seriously. As they do not have the kind of understanding of the problems presented daily and weekly to all sections of the community, the need for their representative voices on these problems strikes me as being of rather less importance than has been made out.
One thing that strikes me most strongly about the influence wielded by the other place is that the best example is this very Bill. It came about as a result of the pressure on the peers. It was they who decided this Bill. Why does it have anomalies and why are we discussing peers of succession? Does anybody seriously think that my right hon. Friend had this at the back of his mind as the great social reform which he wanted? He bowed to pressure and we all know that he did, and the pressure came from the House of Lords itself. That is where agreement had to be made, and that is where concessions had to be granted, and I believe that to be wholly wrong and wholly unacceptable. When we are discussing important matters like the very constitution, the House of Lords itself and its attitude to its reform need to be questioned and questioned vigorously.
Mr. Gresham Cooke:
I do not think that we shall get a great body of men traumatically seared by suffering from the elderly superannuated M.P.s who are to be pushed into the House of Lords after the next election, a body of nominated men of about 60 to 75. I believe that the wishes of hon. Members opposite, particularly the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) and the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), will be met by the Amendments suggested by Opposition Members.
The hon. Member for Fife, West wants younger men in the other place and we are more likely to get them from the representative peers elected by their own peers than from any nomination. The hon. Member for Walton made a powerful plea for democracy, but we shall get more democracy and more injection of independence from the Amendments suggested by my hon. Friends than we ever shall from the Government's proposals.
I accept that there has to be a large number of nominated peers in the reformed House of Lords. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] A certain number anyway. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] One has to be realistic.
I put forward a suggestion for a balanced House of Lords, which is what we want—a package deal. I accept the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings), which puts it at 75 peers to be elected by their co-peers. When it is taken with the suggestions which I will make, together with my hon. Friend the Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) for elections by the associations and societies, men of science and industry, trade unions, agriculture and commerce, we shall get a large body of men who will be independent. It is imperative that we should adopt the principle of having a certain percentage of Members of the House of Lords independent, and not just nominated by the Prime Minister of the day. My hon. Friend the Member for Peters-field (Miss Quennell) called them "Hush Puppies". I would call them lap dogs.
Mr. Gresham Cooke:
Not those who are elected. About 50 per cent. of the House would be independents of one sort or another. Why should the hereditary peers have the right to select some peers for the House of Lords? I put it on these grounds—that for 600 or 700 years the hereditary peers have been the backbone of the House of Lords. There have been life peers, bishops and lawyers, but by and large the great body of the peerage has been the hereditary peers. Of the present peerage, over 70 per cent. are hereditary.
I do not put it too high, but to get rid of the hereditary element altogether is striking a blow at the principle of our hereditary monarchy. That is a point which should not be overlooked. We should keep a definite but fairly small element to mark the principle that we have had for the last 600 or 700 years. Our Amendment is a more modest proposal, which, taken with the one-third elected by the outside organisations, would mean that nearly half of the House would be independent. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire puts it at 75, and I am ready to go along with that. The guts of these Amendments should appeal to the hon. Member for Walton. We are offering him independent voting peers, who will be free from the influence of that horrible Front Bench opposite.
It will not have escaped your notice, Mr. Gourlay, that this group of Amendments is tabled by a number of my hon. Friends and myself, all of whom voted against the Bill on Second Reading. We hope that in Committee, by making positive suggestions, we can make this a useful Measure. I would have preferred that some of the rather broader and more constructive Amendments which we have tabled might have been taken before this one, which has a controversial element about it. Let me outline the basic thinking that has gone into it.
My hon. Friends and myself feel that we have a serious gap in our constitution and that the Bill gives us the opportunity to do something about it. It is a commonplace in the Press, at public meetings and in the country, that there are elements in our national life which are unrepresented at Westminster. It is dangerous for democracy that people should think that, and it is extremely dangerous if it is true. I think that it is. I hope that the Committee stage of the Bill will be an opportunity to fill some of the breaches in our constitution which have developed by drawing up a clear and workable basis for the establishment of a new House of Lords.
There are many people not represented here. Looking round the Chamber, when we are debating one of our biggest constitutional problems, a lot of people on both sides are not represented tonight.
Not only is there a gap in our constitution to be filled, but there are certain undesirable trends which ought to be corrected. One problem is the over-mighty Prime Minister. I am not trying to be personal, but it is a matter of common observation that the power of the Prime Minister in our constitution has become too great.
—and which the Bill, as envisaged by the Government, will not do either. This is the reason why we are putting forward a series of what we hope are constructive Amendments.
I have referred to the problem of the presidential Prime Minister. I think that there is also general agreement that we are facing increasingly the problem of the unmanageable civil service.
I was merely drawing attention to the fact that the Amendments under discussion are concerned with the numbers which should be elected to the new Chamber.
On a point of order. In fact, the question of the independence of the hereditary peerage is directly related to the power of the Prime Minister. Anyone who has any instruction in this matter must see that. Therefore, I urge that my hon. Friend should be allowed to proceed with this line of argument.
I will explain it more clearly. I believe that the Upper House, as envisaged in the Bill, will not serve to correct any of these faults. But the Upper House, as my hon. Friends and I envisage it, might be able to do something about it. One feature that I hope we might ultimately have in a reformed Upper House will be a body of people who are absolutely above party influence and absolutely above the influence of the Prime Minister of the day.
I feel that another of the undesirable trends in our constitution is the decline of the monarchy as a corrective. Perhaps 100 years ago in a situation such as we have at present, where a Government has repeatedly been shown in by-elections to be out of touch with popular sentiment, the monarchy would have had power to dismiss the Prime Minister of the day and to ask another man to come forward who could command the confidence of the Houses of Parliament. I am assured that that would not be possible today. This is why I say that the monarchy has declined in status, and this is giving rise to undesirable strains in our constitution.
Finally, I should like to refer to what I might call the horrid triumph of the party system in the conquest of the individual thinker. Here I feel that we have an opportunity to do something. I hope that as a result of our discussions, which I expect will be lengthy, but I do not think they will be any the worse for that, we shall be able to evolve, first, a House representing all the best elements in our national life which are not able to be represented in the House of Commons.
Secondly, I hope that the reformed House will be based on what might be called "constituencies" of our national life, other than the purely regional constituencies which are the basis of the representation in this House, constituencies which would confer on the people chosen authority as real as that which is conferred on Members of the House of Commons.
What I have in mind is a House elected not on a purely territorial basis, but able to bring to bear on the Government forces which correspond to the views of broadly based movements among the people at large. I hope that the new Chamber will not be merely what, in electronics, is known as an echo chamber. I do not want it to be a nominated Chamber. I should like it to be a meeting place for men and women who have a contribution to make of popular origin, but unable to be represented in this House.
We have, through the courtesy of the Chair, dealt at length with the question of heredity on the previous Amendment. To those who, on this group of Amendments, spoke very strongly, and I think perhaps rather irrationally, against the hereditary principle, it is worth pointing out that on those Amendments the Committee showed by an overwhelming vote that it respected the value of the hereditary principle. Whether they like it or not, hon. Gentlemen opposite should accept that respect for the principle of heredity exists in Britain as an element in our society, and that it should also be an element in our constitution, albeit perhaps a small one.
I am not enamoured of the two-tier system, of making two different classes of peers, which the Government have put forward in their White Paper and in the Bill. I feel that this will create a degraded class of representative in the Upper House. Words like "soft-shoe shuffle" and "Hush Puppy" have been used. I envisage a sort of macabre dance of the eunuchs when serious issues are being debated, with what Disraeli called "transient and embarrassed phantoms" taking part, but not able to contribute anything of any substance to the debate in the other place.
What is here envisaged really a kind of tontine, which, I believe, is a word for a group of people which constantly diminishes until, ultimately, only one person is left, and I cannot help foreseeing that one day the last survivor of the 1969 vintage of peers may still be seen occasionally in this Palace, shuffling about, a sort of voteless wonder, as a reminder of something which has long since past. I would prefer to see some peers who are entire members of the House of Lords, senate, call it what one will, and have the same rights and privileges as all the other members.
I am not committed to the number. The Amendment to which I have put my name suggests 20. This figure occurred to me because it is about one-tenth only of the number of peers which is envisaged in the White Paper. I think that my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) made an extremely good point when he said that there would be a shortage of talent available to be recruited to the other House. If, therefore, the Committee decides that it would like to have more than 20 such people, I should not be against that, but in the hope of getting agreement to the Amendment I would not wish to pitch the number too high.
Nor am I particularly convinced as to the method of election. Whether it is desirable that they should be chosen by the hereditary peers or by a Committee of the Privy Council or by a third method is a minor consideration. But I hope that there could be a certain number of peers who could maintain the continuity and sense of organic development in our constitution and that there will not be this macabre element surrounding the hereditary peers, making them creatures of no substance, there by grace so long as they do not make a nuisance of themselves.
It is worth remarking also that many peers are likely to be present in a reformed House by virtue of their other merits and not simply because they have been chosen as representatives of the peers as a whole. I am not recommending the precise wording of the Amendment, but I hope that the Government will take note of the concept. Even if they will net accept any of these Amendments, I trust that they will bring in one of their own in the same sense.
I have no wish to join in the general argument about age, because I do not consider it to be a great factor in the consideration of the second Chamber or even of our own House, but I should like to take up one or two arguments. First, I find it difficult to accept the proposition that the greatest protection against any future tyranny will come from some hereditary peers in the reformed Chamber—[Interruption.] I am sorry that the hon. and gallant Member for Knutsford (Sir W. Bromley-Davenport) is getting rather excited. Perhaps he could try to contain himself—
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has made one of his characteristic remarks, which needs no comments from me.
The point about protection from tyrrany is important. If we are to have some protection against a possibility, which, I hope, will not arise, it will come in protecting the democratic rights which the country has at the moment and not from hereditary peers in the House of Lords. As a democratic Socialist, I am all in favour of maintaining our democratic rights and extending them—which is not something about which hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite are very concerned, I believe.
We have also been told that the hereditary peers, selected or elected, will be independent. But time and time again, hereditary peers have defended the narrow class and property interests. It is surely foolish to say that such people will become, after all these hundreds of years, independent. When it comes to property interests, there is no real division on the Tory side in the House of Lords. It is impossible to accept that for independence, for the neutral voice, we shall have to rely on some hereditary peers—
I am always pleased when people join the Labour Party, regardless of their motives.
One only has to remember the Rent Act of 1967 and the Leasehold Reform Act to recognise that it is impossible to accept that the hereditary peers will ever be independent when it comes to property interests. Right hon. and hon. Members opposite know full well that what I am saying is basically correct. They know what the result has been in the other place during the last 10 or 20 years when a Labour Government have put forward Measures that were regarded as anti-property.
That point does not basically contradict what I said earlier. I quoted two examples, the Rent Act, 1957, and the Leasehold Reform Act.
I turn to the quality of hereditary peers. When right hon. and hon. Members opposite have spoken on the Amendment, they have implied that, somehow, people who have inherited a title are better than the vast majority of ordinary citizens who have never inherited one. I do not accept that. Also implied in some of the remarks of hon. Members opposite in support of the Amendment has been a dislike of democracy. One hon. Member said that the movement of progress of the last 200 years was to be deplored. I do not deplore it. The movement of progress in the last 200 years towards greater equality and greater democracy is something which I welcome. If anything, I hope that that movement will continue at a far greater pace.
I cannot accept that simply because a person has inherited a title, no matter how far back the title may go, he should have special rights and privileges in our democracy. I am a believer—obviously, some hon. Members opposite are not—not in one man one vote, but in one adult one vote. One of the reasons why I support the Bill is that it takes away some of the privileges which should not continue to exist in a modern and up-to-date democracy. I hope, therefore, that the Amendment will be defeated.
One extremely useful point, however, which has emerged from this debate is that there are still right hon. and hon. Members opposite who basically dislike democracy and the idea that each individual should exercise a right to vote.
Having sat here from 10 o'clock and listened to what has been said since—[HON. MEMBERS: "Half-past three."] I deliberately did not come in from 3.30 till 10 o'clock, because I cannot imagine how an assembly which is meant to represent the nation can spend so long dealing with such a trivial issue. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] If the speeches to which I have listened since 10 o'clock have been typical of the debate since 3.30, Mr. Gourlay, I cannot imagine how you have managed to stay awake. I have heard nothing but piss and wind all the time I have been in the Committee.
Since the expression has been challenged, Mr. Gourlay, I can do no better than quote one or two sentences which I jotted down during the time that the hon. Member for Kensing- ton, South (Sir B. Rhys Williams), who has now left the Chamber, was speaking. The hon. Member said that he was not enamoured with the two-tier system and that he envisaged a macabre dance of the eunuchs. What sort of language is that?—[HON. MEMBERS: "Really!"] That is what I would call piss and wind.
On a point of order. Before you reply to that point of order, Mr. Gourlay, may I ask you if it is right for an hon. Member to challenge a Ruling which you have already given? While you deprecated the use of the term, you did not instruct me to withdraw it. Now an hon. Member is trying to get you to reverse a decision which you have already made.
I have not asked the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the particular words concerned, but I said that the Chair strongly deprecated the use of such words. I hope that we may now proceed with the debate.
I hope that I will be allowed to proceed with my speech. I entirely accept your Ruling, Mr. Gourlay, and I will be very careful in deciding whether to use that expression on future occasions. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shocking."] As long as the content of the debates in which I may take part in future do not justify the use of that expression, as this debate has done, I—
On a point of order. Are we to take it that although the Chair has deprecated the use of the expression used by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), hon. Members are at liberty to use it if they feel so inclined? In other words, are we to understand that it is a Parliamentary expression which we will not be asked to withdraw if inadvertently, it slips into one's speech?
The point at which an hon. Member is asked to withdraw something is when accusations have been made against an hon. Member or hon. Members. I hope that we can now proceed with the debate. I do not wish to hear any further points of order on this issue.
Had the hon. Gentleman been listening to me he would have heard me explain why I have not thought it necessary to take part in the discussion between half-past three this afternoon and ten o'clock tonight. The hon. Gentleman may also like to know that I have been engaged on a Select Committee this afternoon. That work has, I think, been of considerably greater importance than the matters that have been discussed in this Chamber.
I hope that hon. Members will bear in mind that this is an important debate, which raises great issues of principia. I do not want to delay or prevent any discussion, but I should like to reply to the various points that have been made. I am not seeking to place an obstacle in the way of any hon. Member who may wish to speak, should he catch the eye of the Chair, but, as Leader of the House, I should like to reply to the Amendment.
I should be grateful if the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) would allow me to proceed. He knows that I would not absent myself from the Chamber unless I had important business elsewhere. I have already explained to him that I have been engaged on a Select Committee this afternoon, which, in my opinion—
I accept that the hon. Member considers it more important to serve on a Select Committee than in this Chamber. But there are 12 Liberal Members in the House of Commons, and not one of them has been here to consider a Bill of great constitutional importance to the future of the country. I should also like to remind the hon. Member that it was the Liberal Party which raised the whole question of peers against the Commons. They are the people who—
Order. Some of the difficulty which has arisen, from what I have seen, is that hon. Members forget that they should address the Chair and not each other across the Floor. I hope they will remember that.
I am not sure whether the hon. Member for Walton realises that the speech that I am attempting to make, without very much success, is against the Amendment, because I believe that it is quite improper that the hereditary peers should be allowed the privileges which are suggested for them by hon. Members on this side of the House. So perhaps I will take him with me that far, at any rate. I do not think that this is a great constitutional issue. The whole thing is a storm in a teacup. I am shocked and astonished that the House of Commons should waste so much of its valuable time discussing what to me is essentially a very trivial issue.
I was present on Monday evening for the Second Reading of the Housing Bill, and I can see tonight in the Chamber many hon. Members who were not present on that occasion. If I were asked which is the more important of those debates, I would say—
Surely the Chair should allow me to defend myself and my party against the accusation that we have treated this debate lightly. I am trying to explain to you, Sir Myer, that I consider that this is a light matter in comparison with many others that have been discussed in the House this week, and, in particular, that I did not notice the benches as crowded as they are this evening when a matter of far greater importance to the country was under discussion on Monday afternoon.
I did not notice the hon. Lady the Member for Petersfield (Miss Ouennell)—
I understand that while I was not in the Chamber this afternoon, but was engaged in a Select Committee, a number of hon. Members from this side of the Committee attacked me for my absence, in particular, the right hon. Member for one of the Flint constituencies—I cannot remember which, but it must be a very funny place if it sent him here.
I know that the hour is late, which may account for some of the behaviour of hon. Members, but I must tell the hon. Member for Orpingion, with respect, that if he intends to persist in defending himself for his absence this afternoon, which I think he has abundantly done, I shall have no option but to ask him to cease making his contribution.
I am delighted, Sir Myer, to hear that I have convinced you. I hope that hon. Members who have not allowed me to make my speech in an orderly and effective way will agree to withdraw the scurrilous remarks which they have made both during my speech and prior to my entry into the Chamber at 10 p.m.
I was attempting to show that the issue whether we have 20 or 75 hereditary peers elected by their fellows is of no consequence. I cannot understand why the Committee has spent so much time on it. Surely if we decide as a matter of principle that we intend to eliminate the hereditary peers from another place, the faster we reach that situation the better.
Why do hon. Members on this side of the Committee try to delay the implementation of a principle on which all sides are agreed, unless it is that they realise that hereditary peers are inclined to support the Conservative Party and they want to preserve the shrinking vestiges of their power in another place? That, I believe, is what motivates hon. Members on this side of the Committee, as it has all along, in considering the powers of another place—ever since 1910, when the Parliament Act was passed. In this debate we have had echoes of the reactionary speeches made 50 years ago.
To talk of this as a big constitutional issue, as did the hon. Member for Kensington, South (Sir B. Rhys Williams), is a gross exaggeration. If the Committee agrees in principle to eliminate the hereditary peers from another place as quickly as possible, then, in logic, it must reject these Amendments. The speeches of Conservative hon. Members on this side will be taken for what they are—an attempt to preserve the party political power of the Tories in another place for as long as possible.
I will try to reduce the temperature of the debate and to bring the Committee to the Amendment. We had a most interesting and vitriolic speech from the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), but he did not mention the Amendment once in 20 minutes.
I want to make my position quite clear. I voted against Second Reading of the Bill. I do not like the Bill, because it is not the right answer to the problem. If it were not for the jealousy of the Lower Chamber—on both sides—of having a second Chamber with any power, we should probably be debating this issue in a totally different atmosphere. But we are so hag-ridden with 500 years of history that we are not prepared to let anybody have any power to control us.
It would be far better if we were to debate this matter in a totally free atmosphere—although that cannot be done in politics—and tried to produce a second Chamber with equal, or semi-equal, powers to ours, but we are not doing that. The Bill has had a Second Reading, but some hon. Members on either side of the Committee do not think that this is the answer to the problem. We are not happy that the Prime Minister of the day, whether he is the right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. Harold Wilson) or the right hon. Member for Bexley (Mr. Heath) or some other person at present unknown, should with the then Leader of the Opposition decide on how to produce a second Chamber.
What influence would a second Chamber created under those conditions have? It would be bound to be a lap dog or a "Hush Puppy" Chamber and would certainly not have authority. The present second Chamber has a great deal of authority because it is independent of anything the Prime Minister of the day might do. Of course, it works much better when the Tory Party is in power than when the Labour Party is in power. I do not say that there should be no alteration in the composition of the Chamber. If I were on the benches opposite, I would want radical change of another place, but being in favour of radical change does not mean that we should produce an even greater nonsense than we have at present.
Many hon. Members opposite who voted for the Second Reading of the Bill do not actually support it. Many on this side did not vote because a free vote was allowed on the Opposition side. There is no great enthusiasm for the Bill. I admit that this Amendment is open to much objection from people who take an egalitarian line, but it is far more logical and would give another place a far greater feeling of independence than do the Clauses of the Bill as it stands. As the Bill stands, we would have a so-called second Chamber basically appointed by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition of the day, but if this Amendment were carried there would be a microcosm in the second Chamber independent of anyone. That would be a good thing to have in a second Chamber which, if it has any relevance in our constitution, should be there to control the House of Commons.
The whole discussion about the composition, appointment, or election of a second Chamber is that the House of Commons, Tory, Labour or Liberal, after 500 years of Parliamentary government would hate like hell to have another Chamber with power to control effectively what we do in this place. It is rather like shadow boxing. The Front Benches have got together and said, "What can we produce which will have a facade of decency, which will be a revising chamber, but which will have no power and which will not be a nuisance to anybody in the House of Commons?" I should prefer an elected Chamber which had nearly the same power as we have, with perhaps not the same powers on finance.
The Amendment merely seeks to give some small percentage of election to the second Chamber which is not controlled by the Establishment of the day—not the Establishment of the Labour Party at that particular moment, nor the Establishment of the Tory Party at that particular moment. I accept the weaknesses in our argument. We want an element of election by a group of people who are not excessively wise and who are not excessively stupid. It would have a hereditary principle behind it, and I know this is not acceptable to the other side. This group would elect people who would not be controlled by the Whips or by the machine, whether it be Labour, Liberal, or Conservative. In other words, we want a really independent element in the other place.
I said that I oppose the Bill. It is a bad Bill. The basis of selection for the other place is thoroughly bad. The Amendment tries to bring a small degree of independent election into the Lords. I do not object to the view that candlestick makers, butchers and bakers should have some right in the election, but that is not the Amendment. The Amendment seeks to give the hereditary peers the right to elect some people who at that moment would not be under the control of the then established thinking of the Labour Party, the Conservative Party, or the Liberal Party.
If we are to have a second Chamber which is worth a damn, a degree of independence there would be a very' good thing. The Amendment is a serious one, not a wrecking one. I do not think there would be a majority on this side for the Lords to be elected in toto by the hereditary peers. Knowing that there is an enormous majority in the House of Commons on a free vote against the privileged appointment by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition of people to form the second Chamber, we are trying to produce a very small but very important independent element. If this Committee could forget its prejudices about hereditary peers, within the context of the Bill it would make the second Chamber a better second Chamber if it-accepted the Amendment.
We have had a good debate. I put on record at the outset that I do not accept that this is a trivial matter. I say that especially to the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock). [Interruption.] That is my opinion. We can be judged together. The hon. Member for Orpington is entitled to his opinion, but I would rather he stood if he wishes to interrupt. That is not being pompous. I hate to be a school master, but I think that, on reflection, the hon. Gentleman will regret his contribution to the debate tonight.
There are differences here of great principle. I accept the view of some of my hon. Friends. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) concisely portrayed the whole development of our democracy, and I hope that hon. Members will look carefully at his speech. I respect the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) for the way in which he put the Amendment to the Committee. I disagree with him fundamentally, but I believe that he is sincere in what he proposes. I never complain when hon. Members are sincere in their views, although I may disagree.
The hon. Gentleman sought to defend the hereditary principle and showed how important his Amendment is in raising a fundamental issue. It is on the question of principle that I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to reject the Amendment. for the reasons which my hon. Friend the Member for Walton and others gave.
We could have a substantial debate on whether the second Chamber should be elected or nominated. The hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) put his view, but I would argue that that is not the fundamental issue behind the Amendment.
Yes, but the question whether there should be an elected second Chamber or a nominated second Chamber is not raised by the Amendment. I do not say that it is out of order, but it raises another major issue which divides hon. Members, and not just on party lines.
The hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire, in defending the hereditary principle, said that his figure of 75 peers as stated in the Amendment was not an arbitrary figure. In my view, he was right when he said that this question went to the heart of the Bill. The hon. Gentleman put to us a series of interesting philosophical and political arguments, the relevance of which I do not deny, and I certainly take his Amendment seriously, as he asked us to do.
The hon. Gentleman argued that there had been great assaults on the hereditary principle, and he went into the history of the matter. We had an interesting discussion about the qualities and benefits of the system in the Soviet Union and other countries. It would be wrong for me to follow that line, but I must express disagreement with the hon. Gentleman when he says that we are living in an age of diminishing virtue. I intervened to refer to the development of Nazi totalitarianism in a sophisticated Western European country in the 1930s. I believe my view to be right. I am not as pessimistic as the hon. Gentleman is, though I should be trespassing on the time of the Committee if I were to go into the reasons now.
The hon. Gentleman argued that since this is an age of diminishing virtue, it is necessary to go back. That was the impression which he gave to me of his argument. But the Amendment, by defending and sustaining the hereditary principle, would frustrate the desire to have a reformed second Chamber, a desire which has been accepted in principle by many people of all parties who believe sincerely that the time has come for reform. The Bill and the White Paper elaborate this; we are now dealing specifically with this immediate point.
The intention of the Amendments is to provide for the permanent representation of the hereditary peerage by 75 peers elected to sit, with voting rights, in the reformed House of Lords, irrespective of age or attendance qualification. It is not clear whether all peers by succession, including peers of Scotland and Ireland, are to take part in that election. It is to be presumed that the Scots would do so since they have all been members of the House since the Peerage Act, 1963, and that the Irish would not.
Schemes for the reform of the House of Lords based on election by the hereditary peers or a proportion of their numbers have been frequently brought forward both before and since the reform of 1911, but they have never found favour with the parties on my side, on the left, and those who believe in a radical solution.
The Amendment would conflict with the three basic principles of reform stated in paragraph 5 of the White Paper:
Most hon. Members opposite who have spoken tonight have taken a contrary view. They defended the hereditary principle fundamentally and rejected the philosophy that I am putting forward. The hon. Member for Windsor (Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe), whose views I always respect, strongly supported the Amendment.
This is a very serious matter. When one puts down such an Amendment one is not saying that the figure of 75 is sacrosanct. We would probably accept 25. The question is whether there should be a principle of election among the hereditary peers. The right hon. Gentleman has been rather pedantic in his arguments.
I conceded the argument of the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire. I said that his figure of 75 was not arbitrary. I said that he was arguing the principle. I am not keeping him to the figure of 75. The main argument is that there should be in a new reformed House of Lords a certain element which would be based on the hereditary principle. I am not being pedantic, and I am taking the argument seriously. It is a matter of major principle.
The hon. Member for Windsor very strongly argued that we should have a kind of ballast. I think that he later used the words "a balance" between different sections and the parties in a reformed second Chamber. He argued that this element of hereditary peers there would be preferable to cross-benchers. There is virtue in his argument if one accepts the hereditary principle, but I reject this.
The hon. Member also argued that if the Amendment were carried there would be more opportunities in a reformed second Chamber to have a greater proportion of younger members. I do not accept this. The argument was rejected by my hon. Friends the Members for Walton and Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) and others, who said that if younger people wished to enter the hurly-burly of politics there are opportunities in this House.
But the hon. Gentleman also developed another point which is important. It quite rightly roused the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) to defend some of the great hereditary titles we have and the great positions in the State—the Earl Marshal, the Lord Great Chamberlain and other great public figures responsible for our ceremonial. I agree with him. They have done wonderful service for the country and both sides will acknowledge it. In rejecting the Amendment, I do not mean any disrespect to the Duke of Norfolk and the others. The right hon. Gentleman asked me to give a specific answer, but I cannot do so now. This is something which the Lord Chancellor should perhaps examine. I certainly appreciate the point put by the right hon. Gentleman and I join in his tribute to these public figures, whom we should not denigrate.
In what the right hon. Gentleman has said about the great officers of State, he appeared to be conceding that there was some force in the point made by my right hon. and hon. Friends, and he said that this was a point which the noble Lord the Lord Chancellor might well consider. Can he explain more fully what he has in mind? Does he mean that consideration might be given to the question whether exofficio these great officers should be Members of the new House of Lords? If not, what was the meaning of the right hon. Gentleman's expression?
I would not like to be committed precisely. Nothing has been decided. All I am saying is that I think that the right hon. Gentleman for Kingston-upon-Thames made a very important and valid point. I said that this should be considered sympathetically and that my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor should perhaps look at it. I am speaking off the cuff and I promise the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames that I will follow this up.
On a point of order. We are now dealing line by line with the Committee stage of the Bill. The Leader of the House tells my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) that he will give consideration to the point he raised, but he does not say that, on Report, he will bring in an Amendment. How do hon. Members decide how to vote if he does not know the answer to the argument?
I am surprised at that intervention. I am not departing from the Amendment. I am resisting it. There was an intervention by the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames, whose views I respect, as I respect views of the hon. Member for Ormskirk. I hope that the right hon. Member will realise that the reply I gave was right in the circumstances. I have gone as far as I can and I therefore recommend my right hon. and hon. Friends to reject the Amendment for the reasons I have given.
The debate to which the right hon. Gentleman has just replied embraced Amendment No. 68, standing in my name. It is similar to the Amendment eloquently moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings). I do not know why the right hon. Gentleman decided to reply to one Amendment and not the other. [HON. MEMBERS: "The hon. Gentleman should have spoken earlier."] I would have spoken earlier, but the right hon. Gentleman rose to speak and I was unable to do so.
Some of the objections which the right hon. Gentleman made on technical grounds to the excellent Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire would be met by the Amendment standing in my name and in the names of my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) and others of my hon. Friends. The right hon. Gentleman said that it was not clear whether we were including certain categories of hereditary peer, and he referred to the constitutional change whereby the peers of Scotland had become peers in another place.
Amendment No. 68 suggests that the holders of hereditary peerages in England, Scotland, Great Britain or the United Kingdom up to a number of 20 would be enabled to continue in the House of Lords. The number is not important. My hon. Friend stressed that the principle was important. We are trying to establish the principle of the retention of a proportion of hereditary peers.
An hon. Member opposite asked why hereditary peers should have representation when there were not to be representatives of other avocations. The difficulty about dealing with that understandable question is that we are confined by the rules of order to discussing this Amendment, but later Amendments would provide for exactly what the hon. Gentleman wanted, namely, representation of different interests and professions within the realm. What we are asking by this Amendment is that the body of hereditary peers should be treated as an estate or interest and have a modest representation.
We ask that partly for the sake of continuity, partly to have a younger element in the reformed House of Lords, and partly as a salutary corrective to the exaggerated claims which are made for the process of democratic election. [Interruption.] In this country we have an elected House and we have a hereditary House. It is only hon. Members who say that everybody who comes here by election is more intelligent, more able, more worthy than any member sitting in another place. It is only hon. Members who are so insulated from reality and so cocksure of themselves that they can say that. It is not so. All systems of Government are imperfect, but my last reason for saying that a proportion of herditary peers should be retained in Parliament is as a salutary corrective to arrogance of that kind.
I beg to move, That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again.