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Lord Rochester: My Lords, I was coming to that point. I have been re-reading the White Paper outlining the proposals at that time, and I take leave to commend it to the House. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, referred to this point earlier but perhaps it bears repetition. Basically the idea was that existing hereditary Peers
I very much hope that as an interim measure a solution can be found with all-party agreement on some such basis. In my experience, in general problems are best solved by building constructively on what is already there rather than tearing things up by the roots and starting again.
I refrain from expressing any view on how the role, functions and powers of the House should be reviewed and reformed in the longer term, save to say that I welcome the assurance given earlier this afternoon by the Leader of the Labour Peers that there would be full consultation on these matters.
In the same subjective way as I began, I end by saying that my own son and heir fully supports the view that, when I die, he should not have a seat in this House; and his heir, my grandson, now old enough at 25 to know his own mind, agrees.
Viscount Tenby: My Lords, first, I declare an interest in the subject of this debate in so far as it relates to this place. The admission of such an interest is perhaps not entirely unexpected in someone of my particular background. I must also say that I had the privilege of serving on the small informal group already referred to, established by my noble friend Lord Carnarvon during the first half of 1995, to study the problem of reform. May I atone for my part in the arrogance with which the noble Lord, Lord Richard, so entertainingly charged me by saying that when we started the process I was sure I knew the answer; after six months of listening to evidence from constitutionalists and politicians of every colour and hue, I was sure I did not.
The subject of the debate specifically relates to the role and structure of Parliament. However, it would be presumptuous, and again probably arrogant, for an amateur like myself to refer at length to another place, save to make two general observations and to say how very much I agree with the sage remarks of my noble friend Lord Weatherill, who speaks with unparalleled experience of that place.
It is, however, reform of this place which understandably preoccupies most speakers today, and not to accept the need to seek reform is, in my view, not an option. The fact that this House works well and more often than not compares favourably with another place, the fact that there would appear to be a sizeable body of opinion either indifferent to the idea of reform or even opposed to it and the fact that the present set-up costs the taxpayer considerably less than any other second chamber in the Western world, I would suggest, are irrelevant to resisting change. Whether we like it or not, any opposition party gaining power will seek to make such changes, irrespective of the many skeletons littering the past roads to reform. I shall not go over again the voting patterns, the inherent inequality to one side which the hereditary peerage makes inevitable, despite the presence of Cross-Benchers, because these facts have emerged and will emerge again and again during this debate.
In thinking about change, however, we ought surely to ask ourselves: what is the purpose of a second Chamber? Are we in existence to compensate for the inadequacies of another place or to complement it? This House is an amending Chamber or it is nothing. Does its importance, therefore, rise in direct relation to weaker and more ill-conceived legislation coming to it from another place? These are the kind of questions, I venture to suggest, that we should be asking ourselves. This self-examination is crucial. It is quite simply unrealistic and negative to contemplate the reform of the Lords in isolation. It must be part of a package of constitutional reform--the Commons, regional assemblies and so on.
To remove a tyre and repair a puncture you must first unscrew all the studs on the wheel. You will not get very far by unscrewing only one. Even I know that, and I am not very good at that sort of thing. An inability to grasp this point, fed perhaps by an understandable but overriding passion to right what is conceived of as a past democratic affront, will most certainly end in an unsatisfactory and piecemeal solution. I need hardly add, too, that if there is uncertainty about the role of the Lords, it is difficult to evaluate whether it is discharging its duties effectively or not.
Of course, politicians and constitutionalists have sought the removal of hereditary Peers for very many years, and it is interesting to recall, as someone has already mentioned, that the preamble to the Parliamentary Bill of 1911 gave as its objective:
The Labour Party has said that if successful at the next election it proposes to bring in a short Bill at the beginning of the Session to remove the voting rights of hereditary Peers and that, thereafter, widespread consultations will take place to complete the second stage of the reform. There are probably three main candidates for that reform, most of which have been mentioned already: nomination only, an all-elected Chamber and a mixture of the two. We are now talking about the difficult bit of the operation and I fear that other priorities will intervene, as they invariably do where necessarily long drawn-out consultations are concerned. Inevitably, other competing demands will be made on any incoming government of whatever complexion, so we will be left, for who knows how long, with a purely nominated Chamber, carrying very little more democratic legitimacy than it has today.
May I briefly deal with the three options already mentioned, the first of which is an all-nominated Chamber. Though not entirely appropriate today, I cannot resist quoting Bagehot because there is some relevance in what he says and, delightfully, some provocation too:
All this disposes me to towards a judicious mixture of the two, a British compromise if you like, and what better place to celebrate and embody such a typical feature of British life than in the House of Lords.
It is interesting to note that the two leading statesmen of this century, Lloyd George and Churchill, both spoke of this place in highly inflammatory terms some 85 years ago. Neither entered the House as Members, although the former could have done so. Were they alive today it is doubtful whether they would have taken the same tone. Their reservations about the composition of this House would almost certainly have remained, but its decreased powers, coupled with its record over recent years of dedicated and knowledgeable debate, amendment to legislation and committee work, would certainly have made the criticism milder. Of course, there would not have been the political urgency with which they were confronted in 1911.
I submit we are not faced with such urgency today. Long-lived democratic wrongs have to be righted, it is true, but such a need, however compelling, cannot justify hasty and ill-considered change. If we are to dismantle what we have now, may I say with the greatest possible emphasis, let it be for something demonstrably better in every conceivable way.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, it is a real privilege to follow the noble Viscount, who epitomises in one speech the whole value of the Cross Benches in your Lordships' House. How right the noble Viscount is when he says that we have to know the purpose of the second Chamber and we have to consider, in detail, the proposed consequences of reform before we can start to take any steps. I wonder if the noble Viscount would agree with the conclusion at paragraph 260 of the Constitution Unit's report on the House of Lords. That independent organisation concludes that,
So why is there this sudden, volcanic urge to devolve, disunite, codify and dismember your Lordships' House and to destroy the existing structure? I have not been in the House for all that long, but your Lordships' House, as constituted as an integral element of Parliament, appears to me to be wholly defensible as an institution, not only by the manner in which it has discharged its functions and will continue to do so without confrontation with another place but also by the manner in which it is able to introduce reforms, has introduced them and constantly does so. It is unnecessary to add to the masterly exposition of my noble friend Lord Renton in defence of the value of our institutions.
On these Benches we are committed to conserving our ancient institutions by a consensual, evolutionary process of practical change as distinct from any imposed legislative reform. We welcome the creation of the intermediate institutions of democracy, such as the Grand Committees. The proposals of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister to improve the quality of legislation, which is a by-product, will tend to ease the tension between the judiciary and government over judicial review, a process which it is not always appreciated is in no way properly concerned with either morality or the merits of ministerial decisions.
As to the imposition of legislative reform, the lid of the fateful box was lifted by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, on 22nd November in his speech in the debate on the Address. Accept--they say--that by instant legislation the hereditary entitlement to sit and vote shall be abolished and accept that they will split up central government into a series of regional assemblies and create a new form of federal structure. If either of those proposals were to be implemented, they would invoke the ancient ill omens of disaster and a swarm of evils and be a prolific source of troubles.
I have attended the House throughout today and read everything that was said yesterday in the debate. As yet, I have not heard any justification for the proposed change. Of course, I accept that change must always be made. I only deal with the change proposed by the Labour Party: just to abolish the entitlement to sit and vote.
I share the sentiments of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, that this debate on the abolition of the hereditary entitlement is essentially political and polemic, and is a constitutional matter on which consensus should be sought. I may have misunderstood the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, but I do not think that he took quite the same approach.
The noble Lord, Lord Richard, fails to appreciate today, as he failed to appreciate on 22nd November, that in the wake of the conflict between the two Houses reflected by the Parliament Act a working relationship evolved, which established an entirely new dimension of constitutional amity. Your Lordships' House has introduced measures of self-restraint to curb the exercise of its powers and also abuse of the hereditary entitlement to sit and vote by a non-attender. If leave of absence had been more widely used as originally intended--there is to be a Question on this matter on 18th July--voting by non-attenders would not have afforded any pretended or legitimate concern. But this is essentially a matter for discussion, compromise and consensus on an all-party basis, not for imposed reform by legislation at the behest of any political party. In this I am in entire agreement with my noble friends Lord Cranborne and Lord Denham.
Your Lordships may think that it is in the interests of good government, the well being of the people and the avoidance of conflict with another place that such hereditary entitlement should remain in some effective form. The destruction of the identity, ethos and independence of your Lordships' House, referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, would be nothing short of incalculable folly and ill-conceived as pre-empting the working relationship. A particular concern arises lest the wealth of reason on the Cross Benches, with over 180 Peers by succession, is jettisoned and the second Chamber becomes an exclusive party political institution, save perhaps for the Spiritual Benches and the Law Lords.
The proposal to dismember your Lordships' House was first envisaged in the preamble to the Act of 1911, but it was a transitional measure pending the setting up of an appointed second Chamber. Since 1919 it has been the manifesto pledge of the Labour Party, and part and parcel of its policy, to establish unicameral government in one form or another. Lloyd George went to the country on this issue. A referendum was not needed, as would have been the case with a written constitution, since under our unwritten constitution Members of another place are elected representatives, not delegates. In a situation of conflict between the Houses Lloyd George acted constitutionally, but that battle was won and finished with some 85 years ago. Since then there has been a working relationship between the two Houses that has rendered abolition of the hereditary entitlement not only inappropriate but obsolete.
There is no justification whatever for the abolition of the hereditary entitlement, least of all during an interim period pending establishment of a second chamber under a system, be it appointment or election, as yet unknown. Is it appropriate to embark upon a piecemeal means to an end without any assurance as to whether that end may be achieved and, if so, in what form? If, as the Labour Party suggest, it is proposed to establish an appointed or elected second chamber, why should an interim paving Bill be relevant? Why has the abolition of the hereditary entitlement become an early election pledge? Why is the identity, ethos and independence of your Lordships' House to be destroyed forthwith on a new government taking office? This is being done to ensure, without due consideration or discussion, that the proposed constitutional changes are introduced with immediate effect. The broomhead of old Labour is to be fitted with a new handle to sweep clear the path for instant and effective unicameral government free of the incidence of the Parliament Acts. This is a constitutional outrage which infects the quality of government and is worthy of your Lordships' condemnation.
The pretended justification to redress voting imbalance is but a contrived nonsense. The Government shall continue to have their business without resort to the Parliament Acts. As my noble friend Lord Denham has explained, any voting imbalance before a change of government will require further correction after a change of government. This occurs under any system, whether elected or appointed. There will always be a voting imbalance. There is no evidence of abuse on the part of hereditary Peers as compared with life Peers. This discrimination is not well conceived. The study of the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, Second Chamber, rightly finds (in paragraphs 63 and 66) that the backwoodsman of mythology is largely mythological and that the work of the House of Lords cannot be maintained at its present level without Peers by succession.
By what curious process are some 200 Peers by succession to be selected to serve only for life, or to volunteer for life Peerages, as part of a proposed process of protracted euthanasia? It is a wholly unacceptable resolution which ignores the unique value of dedicated service of hereditary Peers.
I conclude with a question: on the basis of the evidence and the speeches that we have heard over the past two days, why should we, as an interim measure with no certain end, disown our heritage, disturb the patents, sever our bond of allegiance, rubbish the Writ of Summons, disband the ceremonial and symbolism and dissipate the disciplines of convention and tradition? If these be but the trappings
The Earl of Longford: My Lords, there is no more thought-provoking a speaker in the House than the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway. If I may say so, he reminds me of a passionate novice. I do not believe that he was present at the time--if he had been, I am sure he would have made it known--but in about 1968 his own leaders agreed with those on this side of the House about a Settlement. When the noble Lord has studied what happened in those years, he may speak to us in a way which to us makes a great deal more sense than the party tirade that he has just delivered. I hope that he will not mind my saying that. I have great respect for him.
I shall speak more briefly than some other speakers. I shall speak dispassionately, up to a point. I am a created Peer and inherited a Peerage. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, might argue the point, but in my eyes I am the only person in the House who possesses that combination. I am not sure that my position is absolutely safe. There may be some rule which disqualifies a person of 90 years of age but if it were an elected Chamber, such a person might not dare face the electorate. I am not absolutely secure, but more secure than some noble Lords who have spoken.
I shall speak to three propositions very briefly. We have in this House the best debates in the world. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, is a great authority on such matters and I am sure that he will agree. We have the best debates in the world, but the worst voting system. We have the best staff in the world, and I am sure that no one is going to disagree with that last statement.
Noble Lords opposite are of course at least as intelligent as I am and maybe even more so. They are younger and fresher, although they do not always appear to be so. I am surprised that people cannot see that the present voting system is ludicrous. It is incredible that any objective inquiry could arrive at a conclusion other than that it is a fantastic arrangement. There are more than 750 Peers who have inherited their titles. Of that number, I am told that 16 take the Labour Whip. I did not know that so many did, but we have had some very valuable recruits recently. How can anyone believe that such a system would be accepted in any chamber in the world which had been constituted on rational grounds? It is a ludicrous arrangement, but it has grown up and we must take things as we find them to a certain extent before we try to improve them.
I have said that our debates are the best in the world. We think they are and there is no reason to believe otherwise. No one has ever come forward and told me about debates that are better elsewhere. Therefore, I assume that our debates are the best in the world.
I pay one compliment to hereditary Peers, not in intellectual terms, but as regards civilisation. In terms of kindness and courtesy this House ranks very high indeed. That owes an incalculable amount to the hereditary position. So hereditary Peers are a very valuable element, apart from any oratorical gifts they may possess.
How do we solve the problem? How do we maintain these debates which are the best in the world and provide a rational voting system? An answer has been alluded to more than once today. A plan was originated by one of the Clerks. A certain Henry Burrows, an assistant Clerk at the Table, invented a system he called the two-Writ plan. When we played golf together at Rye every weekend he used to come up to me when I had just missed a putt at the seventh green and ask, "You do believe in the two-Writ plan, don't you?". So I was thoroughly indoctrinated with the plan. When I became Leader of the House I brought it forward.
If one looks at the diaries of the late Mr. Richard Crossman, one sees that the plan was derided by him when he was the housing Minister. When he became Leader of the House of Commons he took to it vehemently and he was its most eloquent exponent. That plan would allow hereditary Peers to sit in this House and speak but not vote. That plan was agreed by the leaders of the parties of both Houses. The two-Writ plan was sabotaged by an unholy alliance between a distinguished Labour Member and a Tory Back-Bencher in another place.
The truth is simple enough. There was a solution then. I am not saying that nothing has changed since. It is slightly more awkward now because in the interval the Tory Government have increased the disparity between the number of life Peers on each side of the House. However, the principle is still there. That plan was accepted by all responsible leaders on both sides in 1968. Today I am simply saying that what was right in 1968 is right today.
Lord Elton: My Lords, but, of course, what is proposed today by the Opposition Front Bench and the Front Bench on the other side in another place, is not what the noble Earl, Lord Longford, argued so cogently a moment ago. I remind your Lordships that what precipitated this debate, whatever its terms, was a bald statement by the party opposite that it would abolish the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote. We heard the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition in this House say so in terms again this afternoon. It is an extraordinary proposition for all the reasons which my noble friend Lord Denham mentioned a moment ago. I remind noble Lords that it is all to be done in the name of democracy.
This House is a vehicle with four wheels. It has life Peers, Law Lords, Lords Spiritual and hereditary Peers. The proposal made in all seriousness an hour or two ago--it seems rather more now--is to remove one of the wheels. The moment the party opposite has been put behind the driving wheel it will stop the vehicle, remove one of the wheels and then summon a massive public consultation in order to decide what to do next. I do not know what is to be done with the travelling public in the interim. Are they to continue on three wheels in a House which is entirely produced by non-democratic means in the name of democracy, as the noble Lord has
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