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Abolition Of Peerage

Volume 885: debated on Wednesday 5 February 1975

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4.30 p.m.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide (except in respect of members of the Royal Family) for the extinction of all titles attaching peerages, for the cessation on death or statutory renunciation of all hereditary rights to attend as a Member of the House of Lords, and for the appointment of Senators as Members of the House, including the conversion of present life Peers.
This is a very modest measure, and it may be that some of my hon. Friends will say that it is too modest. When I sought on 11th June last year to introduce an almost identical measure, it was attacked by the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) on the spurious and irrelevant ground that it was a piece of creeping republicanism. Since any question of republicanism is an entirely separate question of great importance in itself, for the avoidance of doubt the wording of this Bill specifically excludes it from the scope of its operations. The Bill is not concerned with republicanism.

I should say straight away what else the Bill is not concerned with, because it is not concerned with the merits or demerits of the existence of a second Chamber. In past years, every time that anyone has attempted to investigate the peerage, his inquiries have been bedevilled by the overlapping but distinct question of whether there should be a second Chamber.

The object of this Bill is simply to expunge the archaic and ridiculous feudal titles which most Government supporters regard with derision if not complete indifference. In one minor respect it can be said to impinge on the question of a second Chamber, though not on the question of its existence, because it also seeks to remove the hereditary right to sit in the second Chamber so long as that second Chamber continues to exist.

No other modern society confers titles with the pretentious nomenclature of duke, marquess, earl, viscount and baron. In almost every case the creation of such titles lapsed no later than the end of the First World War. Some countries abandoned them many years before. To take a pertinent example, the French did so a long time before the 1914–18 war. What is more, in the last few days President Giscard d'Estaing has said that he intends to abolish the titles which survive from French monarchical days when they were created in large numbers, some 1,500 of which are believed to survive.

It is clear that for a number of years there has been a tacit, unexpressed understanding between our two leading political parties that no further hereditary titles should be created, at any rate outside the scope of the Royal Family. None has been created since the Resignation Honours List of Sir Alec Douglas-Home, now Lord Home of Hirsel, and none was recommended during the time that the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) was Prime Minister.

That contrasts with the situation with regard to baronetcies after 1951. The House will recollect that between 1945 and 1951 the Attlee Government, most daringly, abandoned the creation of baronetcies. When the Conservatives returned to office in 1951, they resumed the creation of these titles as well as continuing to create hereditary titles on an ever-increasing scale which reached its climax during the Macmillan years. But, that apart, the system has been falling into gradual disuse.

No non-Royal dukes have been created since 1900, and even that one was for a person marrying into the Royal Family. No marquess has been created since 1936. Even in the case of Prime Ministers and Lord Chancellors, who by tradition have been entitled on retirement to earldoms, since the Second World War there have been only two cases of each—Attlee and Eden, and Jowitt and Kilmuir. It is clear that this is a system which slowly has been dying.

The ridiculous situation is that, although the system of creating new peerages has, to all intents and purposes ceased, apart from these absurd life peerages, there are a sufficient number of them in existence to survive for many centuries. We are left with a situation where the peerage, far from becoming more democratic, year by year becomes less, and where its members are few enough in number to constitute an élite and not sufficient in number to be totally insignificant socially.

If this measure passed into law, one consequence would be that the political imbalance in the other place would be redressed quickly. As title holders died off having no rights of inheritance to pass on, the balance that we have always known in this century of one party governing the House of Lords might reasonably be expected to alter.

I hope that my choice of the word "senator", which is in many ways of even greater antiquity than that of "peer", will not deter hon. Members from supporting my Bill. Although it is of greater antiquity, it has democratic connotations by virtue of its association with a number of elected chambers. As I have said already, my Bill has nothing to do with whether we want the continuance of another Chamber. For what it is worth, I feel that there is a marginal case for a wholly consultative Chamber with no powers save that of textual revision. But that is a matter of secondary importance.

As I have also said already, the Bill is not concerned with whether the monarchy shall continue to exist, and, for the avoidance of doubt, I have incorporated words to put that on one side. If any question concerning the monarchy arises, I cannot believe that so radical a constitutional departure could be made without the full-hearted consent of Parliament and the people, just as this Government will not make any change in the British constitution with regard to the Common Market without the full-hearted consent of Parliament and the people.

Does the hon. Gentleman rise to oppose the motion?

I do, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I do not believe that such a root and branch reform as this Bill proposes should be introduced in this way by a Private Member.

More fundamentally, the Bill is objectionable in itself in that it seeks to make a violent, almost revolutionary, change in the constitution of this ancient Kingdom. The constitution has been refined and handed down to us over the centuries. It is in part monarchic, in part aristocratic and in part democratic. I know that in the end this House usually gets its own way and that the democratic principle is finally supreme. But the checks and balances in our constitution are also important and play their part in our national life.

Like the monarchy, the House of Lords provides for continuity in British politics. With its roots in the distant past, it gives a much needed stability to our constitution. In an age where we have far too many changes, the Lords themselves, by their very presence, represent something abiding and unchanging.

There is a further problem in the Bill. Our present system of two-Chamber government works—and works so well as to be the envy of the world, and that is so, however much a few hon. Members opposite may laugh. Thousands of people come every year to see it at work. The Bill proposes the appointment of senators. The difficulties entailed in such a proposal were fully explored in 1968, when the matter was last debated at large in the House.

I believe that the strength of the Lords is due in part to the very illogicality of their selection—due perhaps to the workings of an inscrutable Providence, which produces a level of competence among hereditary peers which is quite as high as, and is often higher than, in this place, where we all arrive by a somewhat different route.

The Bill would have the effect of further isolating the monarchy, and in this connection I deplore the fact that since 1964 no further hereditary peerages have been created. Whatever the hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr Lee) may have said, this realm is not a republic and the hereditary peers support the hereditary monarchy. We must not make the mistake in this House of thinking that we are the only popular people. The English people love a lord and have a great love for the other place.

The great virtue of the other place—or at least of those who entered it because their fathers were there before them—is that they were trained for the position for an early age. They were born to it, and they bear its responsibilities gladly,

Division No. 83.]


[4.45 p.m.

Allaun, FrankAtkinson, NormanBray, Dr Jeremy
Anderson, DonaldBain, Mrs MargaretBrown, Hugh D. (Provan)
Archer, PeterBates, AlfBuchan, Norman
Ashton, JoeBidwell, SydneyBuchanan, Richard
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)Booth, AlbertButler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green)

both in peace and in war, where their record is second to none. They never have to play to the gallery but can speak their minds fully—and that is important in what is otherwise an almost wholly democratic society, dominated by the media and obsessed with the trivial, the trendy and the so-callecl progressive.

I believe that the ordinary people whom we in this House claim to represent still look up to the aristocracy of this nation and consider them a vital part of our constitution. I believe that the age of chivalry is not dead. The Lords are considered honest, brave and true, and many ordinary people would prefer to be ruled by a 14th earl than by a 14th Mr. So-and-so. There is no feeling whatever of Watergate about the Lords. They provide colour and pageantry, and remind us of our glorious past in this somewhat drab epoch. Their close association is with the land, and people like to see estates passing from father to son.

It is said that we live in the age of the common man, and those who hear this debate may feel like echoing that. The Bill would make us commoner still. The strength of this country lies in our traditions and in our high standards, and even hon. Members opposite, who may laugh now, if they by some extraordinary turn of fortune's wheel are moved to the other place, quickly develop a mellowness and independence which go hand in hand with their new status and privileges.

Finally, I believe that this Bill would upset the balance of the constitution, would deprive the nation of the unstinted services of a valuable section of our society, and would make a sudden change which is neither necessary nor desired. I hope, therefore, that the House will deny leave for the Bill to be brought in.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 13 ( Motions for leave to bring in bills and nominations of Select Committees at commencement of Public Business):—

The House divided: Ayes 150, Noes 168.

Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)Hughes, Roy (Newport)Roderick, Caerwyn
Campbell, IanJackson, Miss M. (Lincoln)Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Canavan, DennisJenkins, Hugh (Putney)Rooker, J. W.
Carmichael, NeilJohn, BrynmorRoper, John
Clemitson, IvorJohnson, Walter (Derby S)Rose, Paul B.
Cocks, Michael (Bristol S)Johnston, Russell (Inverness)Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)Jones, Alec (Rhondda)Rowlands, Ted
Cox, Thomas (Tooting)Jones, Barry (East Flint)Sedgemore, Brian
Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill)Jones, Dan (Burnley)Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne)
Crawford, DouglasJudd, FrankSillars, James
Cronin, JohnKelley, RichardSilverman, Julius
Deakins, EricKerr, RussellSkinner, Dennis
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)Kilroy-Silk, RobertSmall, William
Doig, PeterLamond, JamesSmith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Eadie, AlexLee, JohnStallard, A. W.
Edge, GeoffLewis, Arthur (Newham N)Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)Litterick, TomStewart, Donald (Western Isles)
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)Mabon, Dr J. DicksonStewart, Rt Hn M. (Fulham)
English, MichaelMcNamara, KevinStott, Roger
Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)Madden, MaxStrang, Gavin
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)Marks, KennethTaylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Evans, John (Newton)Marquand, DavidThomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Ewing, Harry (Stirling)Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Ewing, Mrs Winifred (Moray)Meacher, MichaelThomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W)Mikardo, IanThompson, George
Flannery, MartinMiller, Dr M. S. (E. Kilbride)Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N)Tomlinson, John
Foot, Rt Hon MichaelMitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen)Walden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)
Forrester, JohnMorris, Charles R. (Openshaw)Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)Newsns, StanleyWard, Michael
George, BruceOrme, Rt Hon StanleyWatkins, David
Golding, JohnOvenden, JohnWatkinson, John
Gould, BryanPadley, WalterWatt, Hamish
Graham, TedPalmer, ArthurWelsh, Andrew
Grant, John (Islington C)Pardoe, JohnWhite, Frank R. (Bury)
Grocott, BrucePark, GeorgeWigley, Dafydd
Hamilton, James (Bothwell)Pavitt, LaurieWilliams, Alan (Swansea W)
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)Penhaligon, DavidWilliams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)
Hardy, PeterPerry, ErnestWilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Hatton, FrankPhipps, Dr ColinWilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Heffer, Eric S.Prescott, JohnWilson, William (Coventry SE)
Henderson, DouglasPrice, C. (Lewisham W)Wise, Mrs Audrey
Hooson, EmlynPrice, William (Rugby)Young, David (Bolton E)
Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)Radice, GilesTELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Hoyle, Douglas (Nelson)Reid, GeorgeMr. Gwilym Roberts and
Hughes, Mark (Durham)Richardson, Miss JoMr. Eddie Loyden.


Adley, RobertDavies, Rt Hon J. (Knutsford)Hayhoe, Barney
Aitken, JonathanDean, Paul (N Somerset)Higgins, Terence L.
Amery, Rt Hon JulianDodsworth, GeoffreyHolland, Philip
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesHordern, Peter
Baker, KennethDrayson, BurnabyHowe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Banks, RobertDurant, TonyHowell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Bell, RonaldDykes, HughHutchison, Michael Clark
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torboy)Eden, Rt Hon Sir JohnIrvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)
Benyon, W.Elliott, Sir WilliamJames, David
Berry, Hon AnthonyEyre, ReginaldJenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd & W'df'd)
Biggs-Davison, JohnFairbairn, NicholasJessel, Toby
Boscawen, Hon RobertFairgrieve, RussellJones, Arthur (Daventry)
Brittan, LeonFarr, JohnJopling, Michael
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)Fell, AnthonyKellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine
Bryan, Sir PaulFinsberg, GeoffreyKing, Evelyn (South Dorset)
Buchanan-Smith, AlickFisher, Sir NigelKing, Tom (Bridgwater)
Buck, AntonyFletcher-Cooke, CharlesKitson, Sir Timothy
Budgen, NickFookes, Miss JanetLangford-Holt, Sir John
Bulmer, EsmondGardiner, George (Reigate)Latham, Michael (Melton)
Butler, Adam (Bosworth)Gilmour, Rt Hon Ian (Chesham)Le Marchant, Spencer
Carr, Rt Hon RobertGlyn, Dr AlanLester, Jim (Beeston)
Chalker, Mrs LyndaGoodhart, PhilipLewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
Channon, PaulGoodhew, VictorLloyd, Ian
Churchill, W. S.Gorst, JohnLuce, Richard
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)McAdden, Sir Stephen
Clegg, WalterGower, Sir Raymond (Barry)McCrindle, Robert
Cockcroft, JohnGrist, IanMacmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)
Cooke, Robert (Bristol W)Grylls, MichaelMcNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)
Cope, JohnHall-Davis, A. G. F.Madel, David
Cormack, PatrickHamilton, Michael (Salisbury)Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Corrie, JohnHampson, Dr KeithMarten, Neil
Costain, A. P.Hannam, JohnMather, Carol
Critchley, JulianHastings, StephenMaude, Angus
Crouch, DavidHawkins, PaulMaudling, Rt Hon Reginald

Mawby, RayRees, Peter (Dover & Deal)Stainton, Keith
Maxwell-Hyslop, RobinRees-Davies, W. R.Stokes, John
Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)Stradling Thomas, J.
Moate, RogerRhys Williams, Sir BrandonTaylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Molyneaux, JamesRidley, Hon NicholasTebbit, Norman
Moore, John (Croydon C)Ridsdale, JulianTownsend, Cyril D.
More, Jasper (Ludlow)Rifkind, MalcolmTrotter, Neville
Morgan, GeraintRoberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)Tugendhat, Christopher
Morrison, Charles (Devizes)Roberts, Wyn (Conway)Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Morrison, Peter (Chester)Ross, William (Londonderry)Wakeham, John
Mudd, DavidRossi, Hugh (Hornsey)Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Neave, AireyRoyle, Sir AnthonyWalker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
Nelson, AnthonySainsbury, TimWalters, Dennis
Neubert, MichaelSt. John-Stevas, NormanWarren, Kenneth
Normanton, TomScott, NicholasWeatherill, Bernard
Onslow, CranleyShelton, William (Streatham)Wells, John
Page, John (Harrow West)Shepherd, ColinWiggin, Jerry
Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)Shersby, MichaelWinterton, Nicholas
Paisley, Rev IanSinclair, Sir GeorgeYoung, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Percival, IanSkeet, T. H. H.Younger, Hon George
Powell, Rt Hon J. EnochSpeed, KeithTELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Rathbone, TimSpicer, Jim (W Dorset)Mr. Ivor Stanbrook and
Rawlinson, Rt Hon Sir PeterSproat, IainMr. Michael Brotherton.

Question accordingly negatived.

I observe that no one declared an interest in that discussion.