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Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, he talked about the lack of qualification as legislators of certain elder sons. I wonder whether he could tell the House what is the appropriate qualification to be a legislator. Indeed, could he say what qualification those of us who come to this place on appointment have as legislators? I suppose there may be something to be said for those who come from the other place, but after 60 years or more on this earth, I have some doubts about even that.
Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, I believe that the people who are appointed as life Peers are seen by the parties who put them forward as people who have a substantial record of public service and who would make a useful contribution to debates on public policy in this House. It seems to me to be an obvious point.
Lord Haskel: My Lords, I too found the arguments about democracy mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, quite extraordinary. We need a democratic second Chamber because more and more we recognise that power remains over-centralised, too remote and too insensitive. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, spoke of "an elective dictatorship", yet we live in an age where at work we empower people so that they can give of their best. I too say that it is time
So how should we bring about reform and modernise your Lordships' House? In a word, in stages. I say that because we are conservative and pragmatic in constitutional matters. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, that a bold, all-embracing policy in this case would bring loud complaints from noble Lords opposite. They would be right, because at the moment other major changes are taking place: the assembly in Wales, the parliament in Scotland and elected mayors. These changes will all have an unexpected impact. Change is like that; it has unexpected results. We need to see what unexpected surprises there are in store for us.
I say "in stages" because change in the House of Lords is part of reforming our entire constitution. It is much more than just removing hereditary Peers, we are going back to first principles and asking what the second Chamber is for. What is its role in a modern state? As my noble friend Lady Jay said, it is important to establish its legitimacy and its authority.
Legitimacy is why the removal of hereditary Peers is long overdue. It is because they no longer have legitimacy. It is not because of vindictiveness on our part or low achievement on their part. It is because it is no longer acceptable or rational that someone becomes a legislator in a democracy simply because of the death of a relative. Perhaps life Peers too are undemocratic. They were recently described to me as,
The debate shows that many hereditary Peers agree with this. But, quite rightly, they are concerned with what will follow. So are many life Peers. The concern we all share is for the legitimacy and acceptability of a House of Lords during the transition and when it is reformed. Without this, a reformed House will be nothing because it will lack respect and authority.
This reform is not a quick and easy matter. That is why I would welcome a Royal Commission. I shall welcome even more the limit on time. Noble Lords are concerned that this commission would be an excuse to delay further reform. I do not think so. First, during the transition, even without the hereditary Peers, Labour will still be in a considerable minority in your Lordships' House. So legislation will still have that big hurdle to overcome. This will encourage the Government not to delay reform.
Some noble Lords are concerned that a large number of Labour life Peers would be appointed. On present performance, I do not think that is likely. This Government have been honourable and generous to the Opposition in appointing life Peers. Look at the figures:
The noble Lord, Lord Harris, made the point that the previous government did not act in that way. When I entered your Lordships' House five years ago, the previous government had allowed the numbers on the Labour Benches to dwindle to a level where we hardly had enough people to carry out our duties, never mind win Divisions. So the Prime Minister has not pressed his advantage and flooded the House with new Labour Peers. Also, we have the Prime Minister's undertaking on this and the idea of an independent appointments commission.
In Britain, decentralising power to the regions is an idea whose time has come. Not only will we have a Scottish parliament and a Welsh assembly, but we already have the integrated regional government offices. The regional development associations are on the way.
But all that will not satisfy the desire for regional representation. On the contrary, it will have the effect of making people aware of what they have been missing--one of the unexpected results of change to which I referred earlier. Reform will give us a rare opportunity to reflect this in our new Chamber. I hope that the Royal Commission will consider it.
We are an old institution in need of reform and modernisation, not because of our work but because people are disenchanted with the way politics works. The reform must start now. Without modernisation, we shall be perceived by a disenchanted public as part of "theme park Britain". Theme parks are fine for entertainment, amusement and pageantry, but totally inappropriate for an upper House.
The Lord Bishop of Winchester: My Lords, my colleagues and I noted the variety of comments and questions yesterday by noble Lords to and about those of us who sit on these Benches. I begin by seeking to respond to some of them. The noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, spoke of the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, and I welcomed his doing so.
It has been the position of the Church of England, that, at least since the Chadwick Report on Church and State in 1970, we have encouraged and welcomed the appointment as Peers of distinguished people who would be representatives in your Lordships' House both of the other Christian traditions--the appointment recently much to be welcomed of our ecumenical colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson--and people of the Anglican tradition in other parts of the UK, such as the appointment of the noble Lord, Lord Eames--whom I saw coming in a few moments ago--and representatives of the other faiths, active and
We who do so in your Lordships' House are not here as representatives of the Church of England but, rather more broadly, representatives of the Christian religion in every aspect of the Queen's Government. We sit in this House as a sign of and a contribution to the Christian foundation of the public life of this country. It is one element of the responsibilities that we are called to carry out in every other aspect of our public life and ministry. Those are the roots of the intricate relationship between the Church of England and the monarchy, which has a similar function.
A number of speakers yesterday suggested that the character of episcopal appointments to your Lordships' House might be a model for others. I am not sure it is as widely known as perhaps it should be that unless Peers spiritual and Members of your Lordships' House were appointed to their present posts before January 1996 they are bound to retire at 70 at the latest. After that we are allowed to use the facilities of your Lordships' House but not to sit and vote. That has an effect on our presence and ability to participate. Last night there were comments about the number of bishops present. There may be similar comments today. The fact is that we are in London en masse for a meeting of the House of Bishops. The reason for our departure, in time for the last train or its predecessor, is that often we have commitments early the next day in what for the vast majority of the inhabitants of the UK is the real world away from London.
That may be a stopper--as may be the next point to which I shall come--for the proposal put by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, who I do not see in the Chamber today. I have valued him over the years since I was a member of the Cambridge college of which he was provost. As to the noble Lord, the parallel may be the appointment of people who have held other public posts ex officio to membership of your Lordships' House, but the position is significantly different. For very many centuries it has been the understanding of Church of England bishops that at some point they have these responsibilities, as have others, that are all of a piece with the other responsibilities that I have just described. All of that has an effect on our reactions--I cannot speak for my colleagues--to this debate.
We are neither hereditary nor life Peers, although we share the characteristics of each. But all of us corporately and some of us individually are the present holders of posts with the longest possible inheritance and service to the country, its regions, localities, the Crown and this and a number of other matters. It is worth noting that my title was already 200 years old when one of my predecessors was among King Alfred's councillors. I believe that the arms of four or five of my predecessors as Chancellors of England are on the walls of your Lordships' Chamber. On the other hand, crucially all but two or three of us are resident primarily outside London and are closely and constantly engaged in the poorest and most pressured areas of England, both urban and rural. We are professionals in understanding and working with the grain of what may be called the
In light of yesterday's debate all of us are accustomed to having to win our way and argue our case for whatever powers we judge it right to take to ourselves and to propose to others. Bishops have no power or influence, and certainly no majority, in another place, which saves us the patient business of building alliances or winning assent. It may be that others on these Benches will join me, on the one hand, in frankly not having much of a view on the issue of hereditary Peers or, on the other hand, having a keen eye on both the quality of the arguments and issues and the extent to which participants understand both this institution and a range of institutions of which this is part and with which it is intimately connected. On neither score was I impressed by most speakers on behalf of the Government yesterday. I heard assertion, slogan and even mantra rather than argument. But for nearly 20 years now--20 years of would-be energetic attempts at modernisation by government of institutions of every kind--these have surely left many others all over the country as well as myself needing to see cases argued and the character of specific propositions, as well as the general need for reform, which in this case is crystal clear, carefully established.
Finally, with an eye on the clock I should like to make three specific points. I was struck by the lack of clarity and slithering in speeches on all sides of the House yesterday on the issue of hereditary Peers as such and the issue of an in- built majority for a particular political party. In the light of the belief expressed by so many noble Lords yesterday, particularly those who have served in the other place, that another place may well be unwilling to allow a largely elected second chamber, and therefore the possibility that it will remain largely a chamber of appointees by whatever means, is it not wiser for the Government to concentrate on their second leg--the in-built Conservative majority--and find ways of dealing with it as everyone agrees it must be dealt with?
Secondly, is the pre-emptive strike of the stand-alone reform of the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, to be preferred in these day to patient perseverance in order to reach a negotiated agreement? To put down a marker today in relation to the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Charteris, and others yesterday, are the Government confident that their root and branch denial of the legitimacy of the hereditary principle here does not undermine their stated support, which I welcome, for the monarchy?
Thirdly, if there is to be a Royal Commission--unlike some, I trust the Government's intention to establish one--the Church of England will be glad to offer every possible assistance to it based on the longest possible experience of these matters through both participation, if required, and the offering of evidence.
Lord Denham: My Lords, this is no time for false modesty about your Lordships' House. At the time of the first post-war Labour government, when your Lordships voluntarily renounced the last vestiges of equality with another place by adopting the Salisbury-Addison Convention, the House took on two new roles in exchange; that of an informed debating forum for discussion of the questions of the day, great or small, and that of a revising chamber.
From the former sprang at least two great liberalising measures which had their direct origins in debates in your Lordships' House, as have many other changes in law and practice. As a revising chamber the House defeats the Government of the day in the Division Lobby between 15 and 25 times a year. More important, many times that number of amendments--some 50 or even a hundred times--are won by argument on the Floor of the House.
In times of landslide majorities of one party or the other in another place, your Lordships' House provides the only effective opposition. And it has always been at the height of its powers when its views, on a particular matter, are closer to those of public opinion over the whole country than are those of the elected first chamber of the day.
The existing House, with all the advantages, and disadvantages, of its hereditary ingredient, has served the country well; it has served Parliament well; and, not least, it has served the party opposite well. That is not to say that I would fight to the last ditch for the retention of the hereditary peerage; far from it. But it does mean that I would sell it dearly. The price of getting rid of the hereditary Peers must be putting the best possible alternative in their place.
Her Majesty's Government's declared commitment in this respect, together with their enormous majority in another place and the public interest that has now been aroused in reform, could have presented the best chance for years of getting an agreed reform through both Houses of Parliament, if only it were being done in one comprehensive Bill. But to do it in two stages, banning the hereditaries first, then pausing for a year or two's consideration and discussion, is giving the mouse all the cheese to eat first, and only then, when it has almost forgotten about it, setting the trap. Finding a comprehensive package of reform with which a respectably-sized majority of people can agree has never been easy. That is why it has not proved possible to achieve it at any time during the past 87 years.
In the early 1980s there was a strong rumour that the Labour Party was considering putting the total abolition of your Lordships' House in its next election manifesto. The argument ran like this. Nobody has ever been able to agree on a new composition for your Lordships' House. Even those who believe in a second chamber cannot justify the hereditary principle. Therefore, a single chamber parliament is the only answer. The Conservative Constitutional Committee in another place was so appalled by such a prospect that they booked an
Going further back still, the 1968 proposals for reform were supported by all three main political parties and by both Houses of Parliament, and it still proved possible for them to be talked out and the withdrawal of the Bill forced on the then Labour Government, by the combined efforts of two Back-Bench Members of another place, my right honourable friend the late Mr. Enoch Powell and the right honourable gentleman, Mr. Michael Foot, who was subsequently elected leader of the party opposite. And eminent though those two right honourable gentlemen were, they could not have done it without the active support of other honourable Members. The fact had become increasingly clear that any reform of the composition of your Lordships' House would alter the balance of power between the Houses--and in your Lordships' favour.
And that, undoubtedly, is still the case now. The Salisbury-Addison Convention, which was devised to enable a massive Conservative majority in your Lordships' hereditary House to live with a massive Labour majority in the elected House, will have lapsed the moment that the preliminary Bill becomes law. Its Members will no longer be under the same constraints in exercising the considerable powers which we still possess as we are now. I very much doubt that they will sit still and see amendment after amendment returned to them, as seems to be the policy of Her Majesty's Government at the present time.
When the time comes for the second stage to implemented, Members of another place will already have seen some of their power transferred in this way and would be reluctant to see still more go, as it inevitably would once the definitive reform had been enacted. And what of the partly reformed second chamber? It will already have had time to settle down into its new format and those of your Lordships who had escaped the axe during the next Session would scarcely be eager to put your necks on the blocks next time round.
I do of course accept that Her Majesty's Government are sincere in their undertaking, once the first phase is in place, to seek agreement on a comprehensive reform Bill. But I really do not believe that it will in the event prove possible for them to get the definitive Bill through both Houses of Parliament. Furthermore, I think that
Yesterday morning's newspapers carried the fifth report of the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Neill of Bladen, on Standards in Public Life, in which it ruled that the Government should remain neutral on referendums--another constitutional matter--and not spend money to promote one side of the argument. That must, to a greater or lesser extent, be taken as an indictment of Her Majesty's Government's handling of the Scotland and Wales referendums, in which they even ensured that they be held a week apart in order to influence the Welsh result, overturning an amendment of your Lordships to the contrary by use of their majority in another place.
Am I going too far if I draw a parallel between this and their present proposal to set up a Royal Commission on the future of your Lordships' House, only after they have deliberately taken one element out of the equation? I am not naive enough to suggest that any Royal Commission would advise no change in the composition of your Lordships' House, but they might, for example, suggest an elected second chamber, or one appointed on a regional basis, but adding the rider that if another place were not prepared to accept that, it would be better to retain the status quo rather than have change for change's sake.
The main tenor of the rest of the debate so far has been on the promised White Paper. But, as the overwhelming opinion in the debate so far is that it will never be enacted, I am far more concerned with the conditions that will govern the interim House. If there were a virtual certainty of getting the definitive reform through, it could probably muddle along for the four or five years that are generally believed to be the timescale envisaged by the party opposite. But we must be prepared for it to last for a considerable number of years, possibly a very considerable number of years. There must be cast-iron safeguards to ensure that it is properly equipped to do the job that we do now for an indefinite period of time.
I am far from happy, for example, about the way in which candidates are at present chosen to be submitted to Her Majesty for inclusion in the lists of working Peers. As the working Peers lists are intended to improve this House, you would have thought that the Chief Whip of a particular party here would at least be consulted. But I was informed only after the choice had been made. I did once manage to get myself included in the final discussions but, whenever I had the temerity to suggest a particular name, I was given a metaphorical pat on the head and told, "You don't want him, you want him". However, I did not want him, I wanted him, and when I eventually got him I did not think very much of him anyway. After that, I found it far less frustrating to stay out of the discussions altogether.
The Chief Whip in another place is "Patronage Secretary" and I gained the very strong impression that the names were chosen more to suit that House than this, and little that I have heard since has shaken me in
The manifesto commitment states that no one party should have an absolute majority in the interim House. But exactly what will the comparative figures between the various sections of the House be? In this part-time, amateur House, even the present large disparities of numbers manage to sort themselves out. But the closer you get to equality, the harder the battles will be fought, and the more vital it becomes that the relative numbers, between the parties and those of no party, are scrupulously fair.
The more professional the House becomes, the harder it will be to find Peers prepared to do a full-time job for out of pocket expenses alone. The House would become a plutocracy, only the very rich being able to carry out those duties whereas, if it is decided to pay them, it would give a wholly unacceptable amount of patronage, not only to the Prime Minister but to the leaders of the other parties as well. And who is to select the names to be put forward for new Cross-Bench Peers?
We are told that there is to be some form of commission which would take over the job of recommending candidates for this House in the near future and it may be that this will provide the answer to some of these problems. But who is to appoint the members of that commission? Exactly what would their terms of reference be? Would they be able to put forward names themselves, or only to consider those names submitted to them by others?
Your Lordships' House is a major part of the constitution of the country and it would be wholly irresponsible to gamble with it. The removal of the hereditary Peers will create a vacuum and it is essential that exactly how that vacuum should be filled should be written in precise detail on the face of the forthcoming Bill.
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede: My Lords, yesterday we were treated to a story from my noble friend Lord Shepherd. He said that he went to see Mr. Attlee when the disclaimer Bill was passed and asked, "What do I do? Do I renounce my peerage?" Mr. Attlee puffed on his pipe and said, "You're more bloody use there than you will be down here". I have a similar story. Seven years ago I went to see Mr. Kinnock--he too was smoking a pipe--and expressed my reservations about coming to this House. He said to me, "You'll never become an MP. Don't mess about. Go to the Lords".
I wish to concentrate on two particular issues which bear repeating. In her opening speech, the Leader of the House said that even after the removal of the hereditary Peers, which is a manifesto commitment, there will still be 510 life Peers. I think I am right in saying that the
I have researched the speaking habits of Peers. Since our new Government came into power some 75 per cent. of all Second Reading speeches in this House have been made by life Peers. In addition, about 70 per cent. of all the committee positions are held by life Peers. It is obviously invidious to compare the quality of the contributions of Peers. But it is clear that life Peers drive the work of this House; and while some will be missed, once the hereditary Peers have gone, there is no doubt that the House will work perfectly satisfactorily.
I have always regarded the noble Lord, Lord Denham, as the chief shop steward of hereditary Peers. The noble Lord seemed to admit the point I make. He said that the Chamber will possibly muddle along. From a former Chief Whip, I think that that means the House will work satisfactorily. The only Peer who picked up the point in yesterday's debate was the noble Lord, Lord Shore. The burden of his argument was that if wholly appointed the House of Lords would not be more democratic but more legitimate, and that that would change the nature of the relationship between the Commons and the Lords, and for the better.
On top of that, the Government have said that no party should seek a majority in the House and that there would be an independent body for appointing Cross-Bench Peers. No other government have had that self-denying ordinance. I think that there can be some comfort during the transition period.
Another fact bears repetition: that of women in this House. At present there are only 16 women hereditary Peers out of a total of 750. There will never be many more than that. That is because the rules were set at a time when women's place in society was very different from that of today. Many of the peerages were created when it was beyond the imagination that women would play such a prominent role as they do today. There are already 121 women in the House of Commons and I hope that there will be even more in the future. Yet however many women life Peers are created, there can never be equality in this House while the hereditary peerage keeps its seat.
The position of Britain's ethnic minorities is far more extreme. Only two hereditary Peers are from ethnic minorities and it is unlikely in the extreme that that situation will ever change. Surely it is unsustainable that this House should have such an unrepresentative make-up into the next century.
I have spent much time reading yesterday's debate. Few Peers attempted to defend the hereditary peerage on principle. I wish to address some of the points raised. The first relates to a sense of public service and history. I agree with those arguments. I think that I have a sense of public service and of history. I also think that certain families have a sense of public service, and that often runs through many generations. There are many examples of such families here today. But that is no argument for preferment. Many life Peers have a sense of public service and of history. Many MPs, local councillors, and school governors have managed to
An argument advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, was particularly novel; I have never heard it before. He asked, "What's wrong with inheritance? Why does virtually everyone in the world have children if not to let them inherit?". That is a daft argument. I find the idea that people have children so that those children inherit something tenuous in the extreme.
Another argument was advanced by the noble Viscount, Lord Torrington. He spoke about his independence. He said that he took the Tory Whip entirely voluntarily. I should hope so too. I take the Labour Whip entirely voluntarily. The trouble is that there are 18 of us and 300 of them.
Another point made was that hereditary Peers train themselves from the cradle to the point where they take a seat in this House. It is a joke but with a germ of truth in the argument. But my experience is the reverse of that. When I was attending a selection meeting to become a councillor in London, I did not want the selection committee to know that my father was an hereditary Peer. At each job interview I never made any reference to this House. It would have been the kiss of death to the chance of a decent job.
I have spoken of duty, inheritance, independence and training. I say this to my own Front Bench. Release us from these shackles. I want my son to grow up in a world where he can continue a tradition of public service if he wishes, but where he is governed by a Parliament that is both democratic and meritocratic. I believe that the Government's proposals offer a decisive step in that direction.
Speaking as a hereditary Peer who has attended regularly for the past 10 years, I do not defend the hereditary principle in your Lordships' House. Nor do I oppose reform. It seems to me there are two basic and interrelated unfairnesses in the composition of this House: the presence of people who sit here because of what their ancestors did; and the huge imbalance between the two major parties. With the former it seems to me that the House can do a respectable job; with the latter--the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester alluded to it and I agree with him--it is more difficult. If I were in the Government's shoes I would feel as they do if the votes were always stacked against them.
It surprises me that their manifesto is so much more relaxed about this practical problem--aiming to bring party appointees into line "over time"--than it is about the philosophical objection which it seeks to put right at once regardless of all other considerations. I believe, with the Government, that this whole reform is overdue, but I am not convinced of the wisdom of doing one part of it very quickly in isolation. One can be in too much
While that may be the case, there are, as we have heard, some more fundamental questions to be decided. Until everyone is clear about what the second Chamber is for in a changed United Kingdom and Europe, what it is supposed to do, and what powers it should have, it is surely, as many speakers have said, neither logical nor sensible to start on questions of membership. If, for example, the suggestion is that a selected few hereditary Peers will stay on under the new regime, how, until those larger questions are answered, can one determine how many should be involved or indeed what kind of people they should be? Powers and functions will determine to some extent the nature of individual membership.
So I agree with those speakers who have argued that a reform of the deepest constitutional importance is being tackled the wrong way round, and I have so far heard nothing to persuade me of the opposite.
I also have fears about an interim Chamber. Whatever the Government may say, experience suggests that the interim could be a very long one indeed. It would be absurd if we were left with a Chamber which worked less well than what we have at present; and that is quite conceivable. The undesirability of a wholly appointed Chamber has already been noted.
I would add one more thing. In a remarkable article in The Times after your Lordships had rejected the lowering of the homosexual age of consent in July, Matthew Parris, a former MP, praised this House even while disagreeing with its conclusions. He praised it for its capacity to think unfashionable thoughts, to disregard in contrast to another place what he described as the way the wind was blowing. I find it is something which outsiders tend to comment upon, as indeed, have some of your Lordships--the quality of independence of thought which characterises the House as presently constituted. This is such a valuable quality that every effort should be made to preserve it, both in the long term and, if needs be, under any interim arrangement. That is not quite the same thing as just preserving the Cross-Bench contribution.
I hope that, however, there will not be an interim, and that the needless haste to eject one element of the House will be tempered by the wisdom of doing a proper job of looking at first things first. In the long run, as Simon Jenkins wrote yesterday:
Baroness Linklater of Butterstone: My Lords, there is a specific issue to which I would like to draw your Lordships' attention. It concerns the balance and, in particular, the Scottish element in the reformed House of the future--in whatever final form that might take. Whether elected or nominated, whether for a fixed term or for life, whether ex-officio or otherwise, it will be of crucial importance that some care and attention is paid to geographical balance, and in particular that there should be an adequate and proportionate number of Peers living in Scotland who are members of the reformed body.
There will of course still be Bills coming before this Chamber concerning Scotland after devolution relating to all those matters which are reserved to Westminster and which are part of our common concerns as part of the United Kingdom.
Coming from Scotland, I know just how crucial it is to have the perspective and perceptions of Scots who actually live there. Today, according to the information and statistical office in this building, there are some 117 Peers who are actually resident in Scotland, although there will be some who also have homes in Scotland which are not for the time being their principal base. However, there appear to be only 42 life Peers, of all parties based in Scotland. They are therefore the only ones likely to be in the House immediately after stage one--unless some of the remaining 75 hereditaries are created life Peers. Furthermore, not all of the 42 I have identified are active or "working Peers", whatever that means. The Liberal Democrats have five Scottish life Peers and our deputy leader, my noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood, is going to the new Scottish parliament to distinguish that assembly and will be leaving our ranks sorely depleted for much of the time. I have no idea what plans any of the Scottish members of other parties may have in relation to becoming members of the Scottish parliament. There may be a few, I believe.
This is a real cause for concern and an example of why clear signposts and timescales for stage two are essential as stage one is implemented and the current structure dismantled. Scotland and the UK are at a crucial stage of constitutional transition and must not be left without proper representation in this House and the resources to do the job properly. I urge the Government to keep this issue in mind when planning stage two.
The parallel issue--and here I wholeheartedly endorse what was said yesterday by the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, and the matter has been mentioned again today--concerns the number of women in your Lordships' House, and relates particularly to the representation of Scottish women life Peers resident in Scotland. I am in a minority of one in this respect on these Liberal Democrat Benches; there are only two on the Government Benches and two on the Conservative Benches. In other words there is a grand total of five life Peers who live in Scotland and who are women. If balance is indeed to be a consideration, then some thought must also be given to that of gender.
One is tempted to ask whether in the past the representation of Scots in general and women in particular has been regarded as being of any importance at all. If we are to move on to a new revising Chamber which will have a serious chance of being an improvement on that in which we currently have the privilege to serve, then these are two aspects of future representation which we cannot ignore.
Lord Stewartby: My Lords, like many Members of this House, over the years I have often had occasion to consider some of the great issues which we are now discussing. In 1911 my great-grandfather was on Asquith's list of potential Liberal Peers. When I was in another place and a colleague was faced with the question of whether he should renounce a peerage in order to stay there, I asked myself what decision I would make under those circumstances. One of the reasons I found it a difficult question was that I insufficiently appreciated the role which your Lordships' House plays in our parliamentary process and our constitution.
The second occasion was more recently. A few years ago in this House the question was raised as to whether older sisters should take precedence over their younger brothers. As my wife is the daughter of a Peer by inheritance and is older than her brothers, it did strike me for one awful moment that she might have the opportunity of coming here and checking up on me.
More recently and more seriously, since I have been a Member of your Lordships' House I have shared an office not only with my noble friend Lord Marlesford but with two Peers by inheritance, each of whom has made an active and valuable contribution to the proceedings of this House. Under the proposals before us, in the relatively near future they would no longer be able to do that.
I ask myself what would be gained by such a change. I do not want to go over all the arguments adduced over the last day-and-a-half on this subject, but I agree with pretty well everything that has been said about the anomaly of trying to deal with stage one without dealing with stage two, and without even knowing what stage two might consist of. I particularly agree with other noble Lords who have been Members of another place and who have expressed the view that because of the interests of another place it is extremely unlikely that stage two will ever take place. It is particularly unlikely that a stage two containing an elected element to this House would ever happen.
My only reservation about agreeing with them wholeheartedly is that it seems to me that there are now fundamental constitutional changes--some of which are already in train; others of which are in contemplation--which may raise the whole structure of the balance of our constitution again in a few years' time. I refer not
An issue rarely raised in the debate relates to composition and function. One cannot change the composition of any body of people--whether it be a House of Parliament, the trustees of a charity, the board of directors of a company, the board of Admiralty and so forth--without changing the policies which it follows and the way in which it conducts its business. The Government have not paid sufficient attention--and perhaps your Lordships have not sufficiently focused upon the matter--to the change of function if suddenly half the active Members of your Lordships' House are removed.
When I was a Minister in the other place almost 10 years ago I had to handle some long and complicated legislation. I had no hesitation in saying that it was more greatly and necessarily improved by the process of going through your Lordships' House than through the House of Commons. Of course, that was not only because of the superior quality of the membership of your Lordships' House; it was also because it was necessary for the Government to stop and think about the impact of the debates in the Commons and their implications for further amendment. As a revising Chamber, your Lordships' House plays and should continue to play a very important role. It is not a prominent role in the public's perception, but it is an exceedingly important role in the good governance of the country. I am worried that a sudden change in composition will unbalance that process and at best will be only nearly as good as what we have now.
The vacuum cannot suddenly be filled. I agree with my noble friend Lord Denham that the other place has lost its breadth of experience and is becoming more professional. It is most important that this House continues to have as Members people with wide experience who are not professional or full-time politicians. Until we have a formula which achieves that we should tread most carefully. The last thing we all want is to see this House filled with superannuated party hacks like me. We want the breadth of experience and contribution which we have had for so many years.
I do not know what transitional arrangements might best be made. A number of suggestions have been mooted; for instance, to retain some hereditary element of those who have been active for a limited period. I entirely accept the belief of the Government Front
I have no magic solutions for stage two. I remain profoundly worried that we are taking the first step without having thought the matter through. The Government do not appear to have a clear idea of stage two, but it would be reassuring to know that their mind is open and not vacant.
Lord Winston: My Lords, this issue is one of the most difficult I have had to address during the three years that I have been sitting in your Lordships' House. I arrived in what I believe an undeserved capacity as a life Peer. The issue is complex and is made doubly so because we are looking in on ourselves and trying to do so in a disinterested fashion. Many aspects trouble me. The first was addressed briefly yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Charteris, and today by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester. They pointed out that we may well believe that the hereditary principle is indefensible. It is difficult to defend, except perhaps on the grounds of genetics. For various reasons, I doubt whether we can defend it. However, if we regard the principle as indefensible it plays some part in how we see the role of the Monarch and the Crown, which has been part of the stability of our society and the centre of our democracy. That is a serious issue for the future.
When I look at hereditary Peers opposite, I immediately see the hereditary principle working. On the whole, they are taller than the life Peers and when I look at the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, I see that they are certainly more handsome. The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, might be slightly taller, but in the 1590s the first Viscount Cranborne was fairly short.
There is not a genetic argument which is anything other than flawed for the clear reason mentioned by my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal. As she said, women have been denied the hereditary right to sit in the Chamber. There can be no argument that women are genetically less able, qualified and ready to serve in that capacity. I hope that the Government recognise that the hereditary Peers have played a great part in public service. We all have flawed reasons for being here; in the main, we have been altruistic and have done important things for the Government--
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