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Lord Hesketh: My Lords, can the noble Lord assure me that all life Peers have a merit which exceeds that of all hereditary Peers?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I would not dream of assuring the noble Lord in that respect. Indeed, he knows that I would not do so. On what basis could it possibly be the case that all life Peers exceed the merits of all hereditary Peers?

Lord Hesketh: My Lords, on the basis that the noble Lord just said it.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, well, for example, the Government are determined to make destitute genuine asylum seekers by making it more difficult for some of them to apply for asylum in this country.

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Of course, there are good hereditary Peers and there will be means of ensuring that some of them stay in the House. Indeed, the report of the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, said that the hereditary Peers would move over in favour of an effective second chamber. I do not believe it can be argued that a 100 per cent. change in the composition of the House could provide an effective second chamber. Therefore, those Peers would have to remain for the time being. I give way to the noble Lord.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I am much obliged. The noble Lord referred to good hereditary Peers, presumably differentiating from the bad and indifferent; but who is to choose? Who is to decide who is a good hereditary Peer? Further, once that has been decided, how many of them will there be? What is to be done? Surely this is all pie in the sky.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the questions are accumulating. The Conservative Party decides who is good in its party: and the Labour Party decides who is good in its party. As to how many there would be, that is a matter for negotiation. There is plenty to negotiate; and, indeed, we must not forget the Cross Benchers. They are perfectly capable of making choices from among their colleagues.

This debate has had the huge benefit of adding to the anthology of reactionary prose which I have been collecting for a number of years. We have a number of real jewels of reactionary prose. We have been told that this would be incalculable folly; a constitutional outrage; a hasty and ill-considered change; that it will bring shame and dishonour; and that it will destroy the constitution. In the words of Mandy Rice-Davies: "They would say that, wouldn't they?"

I conclude by expressing the wish, if my noble friend Lord Richard will forgive me, that we had had a vote on the Motion. It would have been valuable to flush out those who, in the end, would be prepared to give way to instinctive reaction rather than to constructive thought about the future of our constitution and of our country.

It is quite clear that the Conservative Party no longer has the thrust and impetus of being the radical right, as it was a few years ago. All the enthusiasm has gone; all idea of constructive contribution to politics has gone; all we have are tired reaction and tired ideas, and this debate has shown that.

10.40 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, there falls to me this evening the task of making the final speech of a debate which, over two days, I believe has been of unrivalled quality. I suggest that it has shown your Lordships' House at its senatorial best--deliberative, informed, good humoured and, for the most part, non-partisan. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, questioned yesterday whether it was desirable that such a debate should be held. He said it was an unasked for debate. All I can say is that if the noble Lord had sat through as much of the proceedings as I have done he might think otherwise by now.

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We have had over 80 speakers and many more would have spoken but they imposed a self-denying ordinance. I submit that we are all grateful to them for doing so. I, on behalf of my noble friend the Leader of the House, accept the thanks of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, for holding this debate. I am also delighted that the timing of the debate pleased the Labour Party. Its pre-election document is so thin it needs all the help it can get.

I am not sure that I have been listening to the same debate as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. Of course many noble Lords are interested in constitutional reform--so are the Government. What has been so interesting about the past few days is not your Lordships' dissatisfaction with the Government but the wholesale incredulity at the proposals emanating from the Labour Party.

As a Scot and a hereditary Peer, it would be all too easy for me to take personally some of the proposals for constitutional change which we have been debating. As the noble Earl, Lord Longford, observed, I am insecure in my position here. After all, the party opposite plans, if it wins the next general election, to take away my right to vote in your Lordships' House and to condemn me to live in possibly the most highly taxed part of the United Kingdom. But, self-justification is rarely convincing or attractive, and I shall do my best, as other noble Lords have done, to rise above the purely personal.

It seems to me that there is a common thread running through the fabric of all the constitutional reforms which are at present a matter for debate not only in your Lordships' House but more widely also. That thread is the undermining of the power of Parliament, and in particular of the elected Chamber that is another place. As a Conservative and Unionist, I believe in the supremacy of Parliament, and that within Parliament the House of Commons is pre-eminent because of the authority granted to it by the electorate. I do not think I differ in that belief from anything the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, said.

Parliamentary supremacy is a simple concept, readily understood, and the one from which most of our other constitutional arrangements flow. My noble friend the Lord Privy Seal spoke earlier today about the clarity of our constitutional arrangements, and that is something to be treasured. Yet look what the party opposite would offer us in its place: a muddled constitutional brew which threatens the authority of Parliament, regional assemblies in England, a parliament in Scotland (with or without the tartan tax), and assembly in Wales and a Bill of Rights to be interpreted by the courts. All these would tend to reduce the authority of the House of Commons. They would conflict and compete in their exercise of power, and how would the citizen know where he stood? How would we maintain a strong voice in our international relationships if Parliament were being undermined at home by a plethora of new bodies each seeking to justify its own existence?

I should now like to turn specifically to proposed reforms of your Lordships' House. Noble Lords opposite are fervent in their desire for reform of the

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House. Only today--as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, reminded us--in its pre-manifesto document the Labour Party has made reform of this House a significant item. I respect the sincerity with which noble Lords opposite say what they say, but I have to confess that I am at a loss to understand it. Every day we see the Opposition operate effectively in this living, working political Chamber, criticising the Government, gaining concessions and holding Ministers to account.

As my noble friend Lady Young so rightly said, many outside organisations regard this House with increasing respect and make full use of the opportunities which its proceedings present to put forward their own points of view.

And what do noble Lords want to end up with as a second chamber? There is a dilemma at the heart of their proposals. Do they want this House to exercise more or less power? Their pre-manifesto document says that,


    "the legislative powers of the House of Lords will remain unaltered".
But that will not wash. You cannot tinker with the composition of an organism as subtle as Parliament without affecting, however unintentionally, the way in which it operates. Unless the Opposition can say what they want the second chamber to do, how do they know how it should be constituted?

The noble Lord, Lord Richard, said more than once today that the proposal of the party opposite to remove the right of hereditary Peers to speak and to vote will be put to the country. I am not quite sure whether the noble Lord meant something more than that in his speech this afternoon. Is he saying that this is a question which will be put in the same way as questions on devolution for Scotland? Is the noble Lord promising us another referendum? Is there some U-turn to which we can look forward from the Labour Party?

Advocates of change generally advance one or more of four familiar reasons.

Lord Richard: My Lords, the noble Lord could have seen in the document today--it is the basis for the manifesto--what we say about this issue. It is there. It will be put to the country at the next general election, as I said about six times today.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, it is interesting that different constitutional proposals will be dealt with in different ways: on Scotland and Wales they will go to a referendum; electoral reform will go to a referendum; but not, I point out to your Lordships, reform of Parliament.

As I said earlier, advocates of change generally advance one or more of four familiar reasons. The first is that the House favours Conservative governments and frustrates Labour ones. The second is that the House is an insufficient check on the elected Chamber and on the intentions of government. The third is that the hereditary peerage is out of date. The fourth is that the hereditary element of Parliament is "just not fair". I intend to deal with each of those reasons in turn.

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The first reason, that the House is biased against Labour governments, is the one on which noble Lords opposite have concentrated today, and indeed on previous occasions. They make much of the fact that the Labour Government in the 1970s was defeated in Divisions in your Lordships' House on many more occasions than was the Conservative Government in the 1980s and 1990s. That is indeed so, but it is not the whole picture. A more thoughtful reading of the relationship between the two Houses in the past 25 years indicates that the times when your Lordships have been most ready to invite another place to "think again" have been the times when the House of Commons has itself lacked the authority to act decisively. It is worth noting, for example, that in the Parliament of 1974 to 1979 when noble Lords opposite complain that this House was showing unreasonable bias against the Labour Government, that Government was defeated on no fewer than 42 occasions in the House of Commons.

In any case, numbers of government defeats are a very blunt instrument to use in interpreting the relationship between the elected and unelected Chambers of our Parliament. I entirely agree with the points that my noble friend Lord Denham made. A glance at the number of disagreements between the two Houses shows that there is no significant difference under one government or another. It is clear, therefore, that whatever the number of defeats your Lordships may initially inflict on a government, this House does not seriously seek to frustrate the will of the elected House any more often under a Labour government than a Conservative one. Ultimately, your Lordships recognise that the government of the day have a mandate from the people and must be allowed to "get their business".

That point is the second reason often put forward for reform of the House. Some people complain that the very fact that your Lordships allow the Government to get their business demonstrates the inadequacy of the House as an effective second Chamber. But surely that is seeking to have the cake and eat it too. No less distinguished a parliamentarian than Mr. Enoch Powell said in 1968 that it was,


    "neither desirable nor tolerable that much more than the present degree of check upon the decisions",
of the first House should be exercised by the second. I entirely agree, and I think it likely that many of the current Members of another place would do so too when it came to the crunch. A more powerful second Chamber, however constituted, would detract from the authority of the House of Commons and make decisive government more difficult. Perhaps that is the Opposition's real motive.

The third reason was plainly put by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, today. He said that the hereditary peerage was past its time and could not continue in Parliament into the 21st century. The fact that it has survived so long is one of its strengths. The fact that it has survived through the social upheavals that we have witnessed in this century suggests to me that it has considerable strengths still.

The fourth reason often advanced for the reform of your Lordships' House is that it is not fair that there should be any hereditary element in Parliament. But the

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essence of heredity is that it is not fair. It embodies the basic human wish to ensure the well-being of future generations. In parliament the hereditary element enriches our constitution with some of the unpredictable and random nature of real life, in complement to other aspects of our institutions.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, and his colleagues may mock now, but he himself said how very impressed he was by so many hereditary Peers in this House. I can say to the Opposition Chief Whip that one of the first things I learnt is that life is not fair. The noble Lord sometimes makes that plain to me when he wins a Division.


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