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Lord Kingsland: My Lords, as I think the noble Lord's remarks were at least obliquely directed at me, I think I ought to respond by saying that as regards the Opposition there is no doubt that the Salisbury Convention will be observed in relation to this Bill, and of course the remarks that I made about referenda--as I think I made plain in my intervention--were entirely my own.
Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, in that case I fail to understand the beginning of the noble Lord's speech, which is entirely inconsistent with what he has just said. I repeat that I think it would be idle to pretend
Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, I am glad to hear that I have a degree of Conservative support at least for that point. There are three issues I wish to touch on this afternoon: first, the central argument concerning hereditary Peers and their future; secondly, the role of a reformed House in the future; and, thirdly, the need to ensure that the membership of such a House should not be determined solely by the Prime Minister of the day.
I come to the abolition of the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in this House. It cannot be seriously maintained that the Government do not have a mandate for this proposed Bill. Their commitment is spelled out helpfully in Appendix 2 to the report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, and his colleagues on the options for change in a new second Chamber. On this point at least I know I shall carry the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, with me. He may recall that his grandfather, the then Marquess of Salisbury, speaking in 1949 on the Bill to nationalise the iron and steel industry, pointed out that it was right to take into account the votes secured by the major political parties at the previous general election. He argued that if the votes given to the Liberal Party, which opposed the Bill, were added to those given to the Conservative Party in 1945 there was a small majority in the country against iron and steel nationalisation.
Let us therefore apply this argument to the proposal which we are debating today. If one does, it is clear that the Government's proposal enjoys the support of a substantial majority of the people of this country because the Liberal Democrats made their position clear both during the Cook/Maclellan talks and subsequently. Given the fact that if one adds the votes secured by the Liberal Democrats to those secured by the Labour Party, that indicates there was 60 per cent. support for removing hereditary Peers from this House. It is quite clear it was a major political issue which, interestingly, was not joined by the Conservative Party during the general election. I suspect that they took the view that there was no way in which they would receive public support for the stand that they had adopted.
It would have been absurd for my party to have taken up any position when considering the question of constitutional change--for how could we possibly have defended the proposition that a male child born in the right bed should automatically be allowed to be a Member of one of our Houses of Parliament whether or not he was qualified to be a legislator? Also, why should the hereditary majority, overwhelmingly Conservative, be allowed to give the Conservative Party a majority in this House even after the electorate has rejected that party in a general election, as they did so decisively in 1906, 1945 and in May last year?
The power of the Conservative Chief Whip in this House is absolute. If he puts down a three-line Whip to his followers, as we all know perfectly well, he can win any Division. As my noble friend Lord Wigoder pointed out--
On a number of occasions we have seen tramping into this House a large number of people who have clearly not been here for many years. How did the then government put through that height of absurdity, the poll tax? It was by devices of this kind. A three-line Whip was laid down. The Conservative Party in this House--
Lord Elton: My Lords, the noble Lord is wise to choose me rather than my more formidable noble friend Lord Beloff. I merely wish to ask the noble Lord how on earth he can square what he has just said about the inexorable power of any Conservative Chief Whip in this House with, for instance, the total defeat of Margaret Thatcher's attempt to remove school transport from Roman Catholic children against an enormously hard three-line Whip? That was just the first of a whole succession of defeats of the previous Conservative Government, some of which I suffered myself.
Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, of course there were defeats. I am glad to say that I was involved in some of them, often late at night when the Conservative Whips were taken by surprise. I am referring to major issues of public policy which the government of the day were quite determined to force through. The poll tax is an overwhelmingly obvious example. Here was a tax which eventually brought down the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher.
I now turn to the role of a reformed House in the future. With great respect to the other noble Lord who interrupts, I have two answers. I have given way twice and I have put up with a substantial amount of barracking from noble Lords--which I do not mind in the least--and I am making a Front Bench speech. That is the term used by the noble Lord, Lord Carter. I merely adopt it. I also noted the length of some of the speeches made by Conservative Members yesterday, which were rather longer than eight minutes.
Turning to the role of a reformed House in the future, I find myself in fairly strong agreement with some of the proposals in the report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern. A number of the ideas proposed are extremely sensible. I welcome in particular his proposal that the House should have a special responsibility in the area of human rights and over our relations with our colleagues in the European Community. I certainly support the central argument that our bicameral system should be maintained. Those who suggest that we might as well rely on a single Chamber do not always appreciate the damage that could be involved in pursuing such an approach. Given the frequent use of the guillotine in the House of Commons, a procedure used by all governments, much legislation would go onto the statute book without even being discussed. An effective revising Chamber is thus essential in our democracy. However, it must be a revising Chamber which possesses political credibility, which in our view this House as presently constituted does not.
That brings me to the third element of my case; namely, the way in which new Members should be appointed to this House before the proposed stage two reforms are carried through. It is essential that the stage two proposals should be placed before the electorate before the next general election, following a careful examination, as we now understand it, to be undertaken by a Royal Commission. In the interim, it would be right to change the arrangement for appointing new life Peers. There was a strong hint of that in the speech made by the Leader of the House yesterday.
The most sensible way forward, also referred to by my noble friend Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, would be to have an appointments commission to make recommendations for new Cross-Bench life Peers. We consider, as do many, that around 20 per cent. of Members of the reformed House should consist of Cross-Bench Peers and that no party should secure a majority in this House.
It might also be desirable for the same commission to be asked to approve the appointment of those recommended by the political parties. Our view is that the 80 per cent. or so of those taking a party Whip should broadly represent in percentage terms the way in which the country has voted at a previous general election.
I think it right to express a mild level of surprise at the remarks made yesterday by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. He said that until stage two was carried through, this House would become Mr. Blair's poodle. I express my surprise because of the noble Viscount's rather delayed discovery of the possible misuse of Prime Ministerial patronage. Where was he during the premierships of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, and Mr. Major?
Let us consider their records. The noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, appointed well over 50 per cent. more Conservative life Peers than Labour and Liberal Democrat Peers put together. Mr Major's record is slightly better. But again, more Conservatives were appointed than Labour and Liberal Democrat Members
The debate that we are having over these two days will be the forerunner of a long and arduous series of debates on the Government's proposals. Again already the air is full of Conservative threats about what they propose to do if such a Bill is introduced after the next Queen's Speech. They would be well advised to calm down a little. In the final analysis the Government will, if compelled to do so, put this legislation through on the basis of the Parliament Act. If the Conservatives--or as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has described them, a "grand coalition", which appears to be the Conservative Party plus our old friend, the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon--are seen by the general public to be behaving wholly unreasonably, they will pay a very high price for doing so. I suspect that they recognise as much. That is why a number of members of the Conservative Party in the House of Commons are understood to be far less enthusiastic about root and branch opposition to this legislation than are the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and his colleagues.
It would now be sensible for the Conservatives to acknowledge that they lost this battle in May last year. There is overwhelming support for the abolition of the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in this House.
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