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In my speech, I shall take your Lordships back in time a little. I should like to begin at a point shortly before the outbreak of the civil war in 1642 when your Lordships' House was surrounded by a mob which was shouting, "No Bishops, no Popish Lords". The mob was successful and the Bishops and Popish Lords were effectively kept out. I believe that 12 or 13 Bishops--I am not quite sure how many--ended up in the Tower for sending a petition protesting against their exclusion.
Those were times of great turbulence. I do not imagine that we shall have a repetition of such furious passions--at least, I very much hope not. I do not foresee the probability of a mob surrounding this House shouting, "No hereditary Peers!" There is currently no passionate demand for our exclusion. Our constitution is flexible and yields to popular demand, but in our case there certainly does not seem to be any.
This House is, I believe, the oldest parliamentary assembly in the world. It has, over the centuries, adapted itself well to current trends of opinion and political philosophy. It is still adapting and changing. Indeed it has changed a great deal since I first came here in 1964. However, I can see no obvious reason for the revolutionary changes which are at present advocated by the parties opposite, and many reasons against them. At all events it is evident to me that all the proposed alternatives are worse than the present parliamentary arrangement. As I understand it, the present Opposition policy is to get rid of the hereditary element as a first step to an elective upper House, or conference, or whatever it is. I am a little confused about that. I understood that it was a first step to an elected upper House. That would mean that at the end of the day we would have got rid of all the Bishops, the judges, and all the people here who have distinguished themselves in public life other than in politics. Also, we would no longer have the advantage of listening to former Prime Ministers, Foreign Secretaries and so on. That would include my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy who spoke so convincingly yesterday as a former Secretary of State for Scotland. Among the hereditary Peers it would exclude my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal, the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, and a former Whip, the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi.
The hereditary peerage gives to this House a large number of Members whose interests are only secondarily political and whose presence is a symbol of the continuity of our national institutions. All that would go, along with the capacity for objective judgment which this House uniquely possesses. An elected upper House would be subjected to the same pressures as the other place. I wonder whether that is what we want. However, I am not saying that this House is perfect. Of course it is not. I have criticisms of the way in which our affairs are conducted but I believe those faults could be corrected.
There must be some way in which very occasional attenders could be prevented from coming here from God knows where and voting. We have all been here on certain days and seen many unfamiliar faces. In spite of all that has been said, those people do not come only from this side of the House. I, and certain noble friends on this side of the House, and noble Lords on the other side of the House, have been victims of those voters. That occurred three years ago at the time of the discussion on the referendum on Maastricht. On an ordinary day those of us who supported a referendum might just have won, but the voters came in from the highways and hedges and effectively prevented us from even looking like winning. Of course we had the three parties against us.
I believe my other criticism has already been voiced today; namely, that the Labour Party has been the other party of government for most of this century and I do not think it is sufficiently represented here. I believe the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, made that point. Most life Peers are of necessity of a certain age before they come here and cannot be expected to soldier on on the Front Bench into extreme old age. However, at present I do not see any noble Lords on the Opposition Front Bench
In both Houses we represent a broad spectrum of history. As has been said frequently today, it is a constitution in which reform has always succeeded in running ahead of revolution. It has its roots in the past giving us a stability which is lacking in less fortunate lands, including nearly all our European partners. I regret that we have surrendered many of our powers--I speak of Parliament as a whole--to the European Union, but that is another story. However, in my opinion it would be a catastrophe if, by destroying the balance of our Parliament, we also destroyed the sense of permanence and stability which has stood us in such good stead over many centuries.
This House and the Union of Scotland and England are under threat if the Labour Party carries out its present proposals. If we give half our powers to regional assemblies and the other half to Europe, and go further by emasculating this House, our descendants, I believe--I do not refer only to the descendants of the hereditary Peers of this House--will not thank us for it.
Mr. Attlee long ago was able to bring his very far-reaching proposals to the statute book, despite the existence of this House. I hope that in his quieter moments Mr. Blair will consider that he might be able to do the same. If the party opposite believes that we on this side have gone too far in matters like privatisation, and so on, if it is elected, it will have the power to remedy what it sees as defects in the way in which this country is currently governed.
I wish that the party opposite would concentrate on these issues rather than on destroying the constitution, for which, so far as I can see, there is no popular demand except possibly in Scotland; and I believe that my fellow Scots might change their minds when the full implications of devolution sink in.
The exclusion of all hereditary Peers would make this House almost entirely subject to political patronage. This could not be a good thing and it would go a long way towards destroying the independence of Peers to vote and speak as they please, as we have heard today.
If we exclude only some hereditary Peers, as has been suggested, and allow, or introduce, a system whereby others are chosen by self-election, as has been suggested, or by some other form of selection, we shall be guilty of the sophistry of introducing patronage by other means. I believe that any far-reaching methods of revolutionising this House will inevitably result in its destruction; and we would be doing a fatal disservice to the future of our nation if we pursue the policies at present being put forward by the parties opposite. I would ask them seriously to reconsider what they propose to do.
Lord Kilmarnock: My Lords, I am in full agreement with the principle enunciated by the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, and his fellow authors at the beginning of their paper on the second chamber. He read it to us earlier, and I hope that I reproduce it correctly. The principle is that,
The problem is that that does not appear to be on offer. I do not make a mere debating point to get us--the hereditary peerage--off the hook. I am prepared to vote for my extinction as a political animal as of right, but not until I have a much clearer vision of what is to replace the Chamber to which I have been privileged to belong for 20 years.
Since the Home Report of 1978, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, was quietly shelved, which proposed a mixed elected and appointed House with the eventual elimination of the hereditary element, the government side have shown little interest in the matter until a recent flurry of activity in the face of the Labour threat. One manifestation of that was the article in The Times yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, to which various noble Lords have referred, advocating that Conservative Peers should elect 100 from among their number in order to redress the large balance in their favour vis-a-vis the other political party. The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, referred to the possibilities of an electoral college. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, pointed to some of the difficulties.
I do not think that this is the way ahead. These watered down versions of the hereditary principle have one severe defect. Hereditary Peers (or Peers by succession, as I believe we should call ourselves) have survived as an estate of the realm, albeit with diminished powers, largely through lethargy and lack of consensus for reform. It is quite a different matter to reaffirm by Act of Parliament in 1998 or 1999 the right of the hereditary peerage to a stake in the legislature by awarding it an electoral college, or party colleges, through which it will continue to send some of its members to Parliament. There is the further anomaly that all Labour and Liberal Democrat Peers by succession would qualify automatically and have to be topped up by additional life creations. So I do not believe that that is the way ahead. The analogy which was drawn by the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, and the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, with the 16 representative Scottish Peers who sat from 1707 to 1963 does not seem to me to be apt either. That arrangement was part of the Act of Union settlement and they were representing a territorial and not a party political interest. Those are some suggestions which have come from the Government's side and I do not wish to dwell on them further.
I wish to turn to the Labour Party's proposal which we all know has triggered the debate and which is much more open to criticism, of which it has received quite a lot. It is a half-cock reform which could well become permanent. It would be a cheap and simple piece of legislation for the first 100 days, with possibly some populist appeal, but we do not know that yet. But there is one huge flaw in the scheme. According to Mr. Blair's speech of 7th February 1996, the debate on,
The problem is that if the Labour Party comes to power, we are to be confronted with a two-phase reform, of which the second stage is unknown in any detail and may never take place. This is a danger which has been adverted to by a number of noble Lords: the noble Lords, Lord Denham, Lord Desai, Lord Campbell of Alloway and Lord Mottistone. Paragraph 109 of the report of the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, states that,
It seems to me that there are only two respectable ways of going forward. The first has been advocated by a number of noble Lords. It is to defer a reform Bill until after a party leaders' conference--I discard the alternative of a Royal Commission as too time-consuming--in an attempt to establish a
The other way is for the Bill to be brought forward immediately covering both phases within a strict time-frame so that we can all see what is on offer from the outset. The noble Lord, Lord Hesketh, might then recognise it as an honourable Bill. The Labour Party should have the courage to unfold its whole vision to the people and seek to implement it within one Parliament.
I am not saying any of that out of veiled obstructionism or prevarication. My personal vision is clear. It is my belief that the honours system and the political system should be separated. It is the entwined and luxuriant growth of the two together that has led to the large over-supply of under-attending Peers which is simply not compatible with a modern political democracy. It came as something of a shock to learn from the 1968 White Paper that the total membership of the House was 590 in 1900. Today, just under a century later, it is almost exactly double that figure. Whatever winnowing process is adopted to sift the chaff from the grain, it is bound to be arbitrary and unsatisfactory. Therefore I support a predominantly elected chamber. However, that does not mean that I am prepared to sign up to botched surgery by the Labour Party.
One should not talk of composition without relating it to powers and functions. However, it is very late and I shall not go into that in any detail. I believe that the powers are broadly right, but need to be somewhat redesigned with particular reference to the growing volume of subordinate legislation. The noble Lord, Lord Desai, had an interesting proposal in that regard which we should perhaps explore further.
The main point I want to make is that I strongly believe that it is incumbent on the Labour Party, if it comes to power, either to try for all-party agreement, which it achieved between the Front Benches in 1968, or to present us with a Bill that not only extinguishes hereditary rights but also maps out the further stages of reform that Labour wishes to achieve. I am reliably informed that there is no reason why such a Bill should not incorporate requirements for orders to be laid, making provision for elections and appointments to this House under certain conditions and for certain tenures of office which could be spelt out in the Bill. One Parliament cannot bind its successor; but there is no inherent reason why a government with a working majority and the prospect of four or five years in office should not carry out the whole of their reform programme for this House, and for the joint working of both Houses, within that period.
The Labour Party, as the prospective party of government and the promoter of reform, owes us a comprehensive statement--I believe that was the word used by the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone--of its ultimate intent, which we have not had and does not appear in its publication issued today. Therefore, one might be tempted to say: either put up, or shut up.
If the Labour Party wins the next general election and produces nothing better and nothing more than a short Bill to abolish hereditary Peers, it will be doing less than justice to itself, to Parliament and to the country. I very much look forward to hearing the response of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, to that charge.
Viscount Mountgarret: My Lords, I am very grateful that my name was last on the list of general speakers. At the beginning of the debate one had certain ideas as to what one might contribute to it. But having had the opportunity of listening to nearly all the contributions, I find that a few points have become abundantly clear and perhaps need reiterating.
Some noble Lords may be surprised to hear that I am in favour of reform. Unless this House reforms itself or is reformed, I do not see with any great clarity what its future will be in the next century.
Having said that, this House works, not in spite of the hereditary element but, I venture to suggest, because of it. Those of us who are hereditary Peers, although we may attach to ourselves the label of Conservative, Labour or Liberal, have a freedom of mind and greater freedom of speech and thought than those who have been elected or appointed. That is common sense. The point has been mentioned already in this debate.
One area concerns me enormously. It is the nub of the argument. It was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, in his opening remarks. It is perceived, not only by noble Lords opposite but by a great many people outside this House, that from time to time we could be accused of abusing the privileges that we enjoy; namely, by being able to call upon, if so required, the inevitable large, in-built majority of Conservative Peers. That gives me concern.
The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, referred to the proposals in 1968 which went a long way to meet this problem. I should have liked to see something develop along those lines whereby those Peers who for whatever reason find that they are unable to attend your Lordships' House on a reasonably regular basis might be expected not to exercise their vote on the few occasions on which they are called to give their support.
I recognise at once that there are a number of Peers--and the noble Lord referred to his distinguished position earlier in the debate--who are extremely expert in their field but because of their commitments find it very difficult, in fact impossible, to attend your Lordships' House regularly, but without their wisdom and guidance this House would be the poorer. That is an aspect that would have to be addressed, and I am sure that it would be.
The noble Lord, Lord Richard, will correct me if I am wrong, but I was amused to hear my noble friend referring to a revolution taking place in the matter of our constitution. I feel that your Lordships' House is not dissimilar to a perfectly well patient but one who needs a very delicate and gentle operation. This matter needs the delicate handling of a surgeon's scalpel and not the
Reference has been made to the fact that we have evolved; we have a firm basis in evolution. Revolution is its opposite. There have been few revolutions in the world in past years which have succeeded or had any basis of strength for long periods, certainly not for 700 years or for however long your Lordships' House has been in existence. Therefore, it is vital that this matter is addressed carefully and deliberately, with a great deal of thought.
The essence of the situation has emerged in the observations made by many of your Lordships this evening. We are an endangered species. The evolution is already taking place. Hereditary Peers are no longer created. The custom of former Prime Ministers being offered earldoms has ceased. The Speakers of another place were traditionally offered a Viscountcy--the last was the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy--but that has gone. I suspect that it will not re-emerge. Therefore, the change in composition will evolve naturally. The hereditary element eventually will disappear. However, there are those who might think that that will take too long, as many of us have descendants, grandchildren and others.
Perhaps I may make what I hope is a constructive suggestion. Consideration might be given to the way in which the Irish Peers were treated in 1922, when it was painfully obvious that the position of the Irish Peers was such that they did not have standing in your Lordships' House at Westminster, for every obvious reason under the sun. But it was said to those 24 elected Peers, "Well, this is rather bad luck on you. But fine, you have been elected to be at Westminster. We will let you stay for the rest of your life but when you die you will not be replaced". I just wonder whether there is an element of sense in thinking that the same might apply to the existing hereditary Peers.
Finally, I refer to the extremely amusing and touching story told by my noble friend Lord Denham at the end of his speech. It reminds me of something which might be put to good use when this matter will be, as I sincerely hope, very carefully discussed in all sorts of places--in Parliament, outside Parliament, in Select Committees, in Royal Commissions and so on. I hope that all those who take part in that discussion will always bear in mind Hilaire Belloc's lines:
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, this has not only been a good debate; we also face the prospect of getting home a little earlier than some of us thought at half past three this afternoon. I rise with a good deal of hesitation as a very junior and new Member of the House. I echo the noble Lord, Lord Winston, in saying
This House is less partisan than the other place. It is more open to reasoned persuasion. I am conscious that there are those, some on my own Benches, who fear that any major reform will risk losing that precious quality. To follow from what the noble Lord, Lord Annan, said, I recognise in addition that those of us who also struggle to earn our living outside and who operate as part timers here sometimes find the task extremely difficult and our children regard it as an odd way to spend one's evenings.
But, even here, we should not be too congratulatory or complacent. The best debate in which I have taken part was on the proposal to privatise the recruitment and assessment services. The debate was very well attended. I think there were between 150 and 200 Members present for most of it. If I remember accurately, two Members rose in the gap to say that in view of what they had heard they would change the way in which they had intended to vote; and there was a very clear majority against the proposals.
It concerns me that the Government are still pushing on with that proposal. It does not seem to me to augur well for the future of this House if that kind of behaviour continues. I have also been worried, like many other noble Lords on this side, during discussions on the Asylum and Immigration Bill, by the sense that there were those on the Government Front Bench who sometimes were more resistant to reasoned persuasion than the traditions of this House would consider appropriate. So we should not congratulate ourselves too happily on our current state.
I suspect that the Government Front Bench has been surprised and disappointed by the tone and tenor of this debate. If I understand it correctly, the intention of the Motion that this House take note of the United Kingdom's existing constitutional settlement and of the implications of proposals for change was to assert, as the noble Viscount the Lord Privy Seal said in his opening speech, that what we want is political stability and that we are happy with the current constitutional settlement even though we accept the need for economic change.
The majority of speakers yesterday and today have accepted that we no longer have a stable constitutional settlement and that the choice is between piecemeal and ill-thought out change and carefully considered reform. As the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, said yesterday, there is no status quo. The Government's preferred position is as set out in the Prime Minister's speech last week to the Centre for Policy Studies: that the British
I understand that a number of the members of the Select Committee on the Public Service have been shocked to learn of the radical reduction in the independence of the public service in the past 20 years. My noble friend Lord Rodgers reminded us that we have created 110 executive agencies whose relations with Ministers and accountability to Parliament are extremely unclear. There has been dispute between the Prison Service and the Home Secretary over the past few months. The doctrine of ministerial responsibility has become unclear, even if it still exists. The reaction to the Scott Report took the whole idea of ministerial responsibility further than many of us, who learned about the British constitution from the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, and others, would have believed.
The degree of Executive dominance in the other place, and over government as a whole, is acute. The noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, quoted Dunning's Resolution. The number of King's friends (as Dunning would have put it) in the other place has risen to an absurd degree. We have a situation in which government responsibilities have been reduced, executive agencies have been created and the number of Ministers has risen rather than shrunk. We have had minority government resting on a vote of 42 per cent. in successive general elections. For most of the past two years the Government have enjoyed a steady 30 per cent. or less public opinion support. Nevertheless, the Government have pushed through changes, many of which were not in the manifesto, do not command public support and have not been adequately explained to the public. I read in this week's Economist--a good Conservative journal--a couple of articles which state that yet again the Government have voted to change part of the British Constitution, revoking some aspects of the Bill of Rights of 1688 and casually tossing aside in the Security Service Bill individual freedoms for which Britons have fought for centuries.
I have been struck by how few noble Lords have referred to the growing level of public disillusionment with Parliament and politics as a whole. I have just been asked to write a book for Penguin on the subject "Why vote Liberal Democrat?" I was told by a senior editor that Penguin had seriously discussed whether on this occasion there should be four volumes rather than three and that the title of the fourth volume should be "Why vote at all?" since that is a question that a large number of people and the younger generation are asking. When it is possible, with modern techniques, to focus on 100,000 voters who are the ones who matter
The Leader of the House focused his attack on the Labour Party proposals and rather passed over the Liberal commitment to constitutional reform, which is a good deal older and more cut out of whole cloth than that of the Labour Party. It is a commitment to liberal democracy and citizenship rather than to subject-hood, which dates back to John Stuart Mill and W. E. Gladstone. One of the ways in which I came into politics as a student historian was by reading the debates on the Irish Home Rule Bill in the 1880s and 1890s in which the Lord Privy Seal's ancestor spoke vigorously about the qualities of the English versus the Irish and the desirability of maintaining the privileges of the imperial Parliament over those of lesser races.
The Lord Privy Seal said today that these sorts of changes were alien to our tradition and to the constitutional settlement which we enjoy. I was thinking of the echoes of those early debates because the constitutional settlement which we are thought to enjoy does indeed date from those home rule debates. A. V. Dicey gave his lectures on the constitution in the context of Irish home rule, to which he was bitterly opposed. Indeed, he ended up as a member of the Ulster Volunteers. The whole strengthening of the myth of parliamentary sovereignty, which the late Victorian English wished to stress, had very much an anti-Irish and, to a lesser extent, an anti-Scottish dimension. There is a real problem in constitutional debate of conservatives finding themselves again as the "English Party" sounding more and more anti-Scots and anti-Welsh.
As regards reform of the House of Lords, I believe that we have all accepted that there has been a great change since the Life Peerages Act; that the House has evolved over the past 40 years; and that it could not now operate without its nominated Members. What the Labour Party is proposing is the most modest further reform possible. It is a mouse; even Saatchi and Saatchi could not persuade the public that it is a tiger. It is the first step towards reform, though not a stable step in reform.
There seem to me to be three alternative models if one is looking a long way ahead. The first is an appointed House--in effect, a senate. I was very puzzled to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Young, call that absurd. There are a number of appointed senates in other democratic countries. If we were to move in that direction we would clearly need an appointment process that was a good deal more transparent than the very secretive processes whereby myself and the other life Members of this House came to join this Chamber. An appointed senate seems to me an option which would indeed preserve many of the specific characteristics of this House which we so value.
A second alternative is an elected chamber. That is not totally beyond the bounds of possibility. There are many different forms for electing a second chamber which would not interfere with the first chamber. For example, we could elect it one-third at a time every
Thirdly, we could go for an indirectly elected chamber. I was struck by the fact that only the noble Lord, Lord Desai, proposed that today. If we were to reconstruct local government and go for the construction of regional government, indirect election is also a possibility. I suspect that the least satisfactory outcome would be a partly elected, partly appointed House in which there would be two halves who would fail to agree with each other.
It is clear, however, that the constitution must be seen as a whole and that piecemeal changes in some parts impact on others. The remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, about piecemeal reform are extremely apposite. Reform of this Chamber interacts with whatever changes are made in the other place. The reform of local government will change the way in which both Houses of Parliament operate. So we need an overall approach, a new constitutional settlement. I hope that that will move us towards a different style of government, a less adversarial style of government, in which the complexities of modern politics and the extent to which we are talking about "less and more" and not about "all or nothing" would be built into the system. That is part of the attraction of special standing committees--we need more emphasis on Select Committees and less on the Chamber--and that is part of the attraction of having a different electoral system.
If the Government's hope in launching this debate was to find an issue on which to frighten the electors and embarrass the Opposition, it has not worked so far. I hope that this is the opening of a broader constitutional debate, not just about the future of this House but about the structure of the British constitution as a whole. I look forward to that debate widening, and I am confident that the arguments for change will gain support as the debate proceeds.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I start by expressing the heartfelt thanks of the Labour Party to the Leader of the House and to the Chief Whip for finding the time for this debate. I do not say that because of the quality of the debate. We have had some of the best speeches that I have ever heard in this House--and some of the worst. I shall not cause offence by particularising. I express my thanks particularly for the Government's enormous act of sacrifice in providing two days of prime time during the high legislative season which is timed beautifully to coincide with the launch of the Labour Party's new pre-manifesto document, in order to provide assistance with that launch; to help the Labour Party to promote its ideas; and at the same time to expose the reactionary nature--"reactionary" in the full sense of that word--of the Conservative Party's attitudes towards constitutional reform. We have heard some of the classic statements
Today's debate was supposed to be about Parliament, but really only the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, and to a lesser extent the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, and another Liberal Democrat, spoke about the reform of the House of Commons. It is understandable that Conservatives would not speak about the House of Commons. I too attended the Prime Minister's speech at the Centre for Policy Studies last week. He was billed as being about to make significant statements on the reform of the House of Commons. We were told that he would introduce two-year Sessions to facilitate better debate on legislation. Alas, that did not happen. Instead we had the timid mouse of the proposal that draft Bills should be published somewhat earlier and that there should be a draft Queen's Speech for the second year. In every other respect, however, the Conservative Party is clearly planning no significant reform of the work of the House of Commons.
In contrast, the Labour Party's document published today contains specific proposals about ministerial accountability, about increasing the work of Special Standing Committees and about providing fully in legislation for the Nolan recommendations, not just for MPs, but also for quangos; and the welcome indication that at last the House of Commons is to participate in the examination of European Union legislation, which has been left to us until now.
It is also significant that nobody except the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, paid any serious attention to proportional representation or to voting reform, although I should have thought that was a significant element in the consideration of the role of Parliament. I do not suppose that the noble Lord will be at all reassured to have it reaffirmed that we are proposing a referendum on voting reform. Your Lordships chose to concentrate almost entirely on the role of the House of Lords.
In asking ourselves whether any change in the role or the membership of the House of Lords is called for, perhaps I may put just one proposition to your Lordships. If we had in this Chamber 476 Labour Peers, whether they were hereditary or life Peers, and 109 Conservative Peers, do your Lordships think that the ranks of the Conservative Peers, who have been defending the current situation for the last seven hours, would have been quite so vociferous in their defence? I suspect not. I do not believe that if we had 476 Labour Peers and 109 Conservative Peers that this would have been exactly the dictatorship of the proletariat. New Labour has probably moved on in some ways--in some ways, regrettably.
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