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Lord Elton: My Lords, does the noble Baroness suggest that we have the democratic weight of appointed Life Peers? What is democratic about them?

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne: My Lords, I find it difficult to agree with the argument that modern

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patronage is somehow worse than previous patronage when it is put forward by the inheritors of past patronage. Further, many life Peers--I do not place myself among them--come here by virtue of the excellence of their professions. I believe that the next stage of reform of the House of Lords should be to examine closely and carefully which groupings in our society should be here. I do not shrink from paying tribute to the many excellent qualities that individual hereditary Peers have brought to your Lordships' House, but I believe that the task now is to keep the good parts of the House of Lords--I shall identify them--and discard the outdated parts that distance our legislators from our citizens.

I have no personal criticism of those who fill the seats here by inheritance and gender. But surely the concept of inheritance as a password to power reeks of corruption--not the financial corruption that ensnared some Members of the other place in the previous government but the corruption of "jobs for the boys". It is the antithesis of competition that is the modern mantra of acceptability in Her Majesty's Opposition. There is no competition among hereditary Peers to get here; there are no examinations, just inherited titles. It is a fraternity that for many generations has continued to exclude the powerless.

I believe that your Lordships' new house must be refashioned to reflect and inspire today's citizens to become involved in politics. If there is change, which I welcome, let us not hark back to worn out democratic practices. I speak of representative democracy achieved as in the other place. To me that is a worn out concept: representative democracy depends upon prior and full information for authority over citizens, for its usefulness to citizens and for its defence of citizens. That is outdated simply by the technological advances with which we are so familiar. Today, our citizens are overwhelmed by knowledge that is available all round the clock, and they are a fully educated society.

What do we have to offer as a governing body if the people have the knowledge and can take power themselves? The original concept of democracy was the involvement of all. Although in Athens that excluded women, slaves and the poor, nonetheless in the Athenian definition it was the involvement of everyone. Yet when I sat in the other place, which time I valued immensely, the first-past-the-post system achieved exclusivity in another way. It is virtually impossible for the disabled to enter the other place because of the exhaustion of campaigning. I do not know how the great Member of Parliament Anne Begg has managed it. Another wonderful example is the Secretary of State for Education. For virtually everybody else who is disabled the task is impossible. The exclusivity of the other place reigns supreme against the disabled.

One also has in mind the black and Asian communities, Moslems and other religious minorities, and women. We are a majority in numbers but we have other business to attend to. Very often we are the carers as well as the bearers and nurturers of society. We have many other tasks.

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The system of democracy that we have adopted excludes all those groups. Therefore, the democratic model that we have adopted is outdated because it does not reflect our multi-faceted society--a society in which everyone is working in the marketplace as well as having a home life. I see democracy as being made up of three parts, of which the obtaining of the vote is just one step. That may be the starting line of equality but just to have the vote is not enough. All the elements of our society should have a part in the voting of our legislators into power and in the framing of the legislation and its implementation. Westminster is responsible for the framing of the legislation. When your Lordships look again at the way in which the new House of Lords will operate, I believe that we should retain or create places for those groupings to which I have referred. We must take time to ponder on best practice for second chambers globally.

The alternative is to revert eight centuries and merge again with the other place. That may be something that is worth looking at, because there is so much that is good in your Lordships' House. But we must look at the techniques of modern governance. Modern governance respects the people--so much so that its disciples aim to flatten the pyramid of generally patriarchal inherited power--"we rule, you cower"--and draw in creative thinking from all corners of society to spark the engine of state. Modern governance techniques search out ways to match the global flow of knowledge to empower a nation's citizens positively.

Lord Beloff: My Lords, the noble Baroness has put forward a very interesting idea about a form of government that she regards as democracy. I am not sure that I regard democracy as a very good thing anyhow. But I should like to hear examples of countries where this kind of popular participation through computer terminals functions. The countries with which I am familiar, and about which I thought the noble Baroness knew--France, Germany and the Low Countries--appear to work with some measure of parliamentary government that relies on votes at general elections as we do for major matters. Can the noble Baroness provide some examples, or is all of this part of the imagination of the noble Baroness?

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, quite rightly challenges me but I am not the Royal Commission and it is not for me to pre-empt its thinking this evening. The framework within which this debate takes place is the manifesto of the Labour Government. We cannot go too deeply into these matters but I would willingly discuss these matters further with the noble Lord. Modern mechanisms and methods to disseminate and use information have broken all boundaries and created a new society. Today we live in the information society and must recognise that within our legislation.

The virtues of your Lordships' House are many and we have to incorporate them in our future, but the timescale of the reform must surely be within this reforming Government. I beg them not to leave it so long that the loss of a general election may loom. In this

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century, 70 years of Conservative government have left a House of Lords which I believe is unreformed, and therefore, partially, at least, powerless in a way we would not wish.

Finally, a reformed House of Lords and a revised House of Lords should have more power because the other place, without the balancing factor of a real second Chamber, is omnipotent and omnicompetent, and that cannot be fully democratic either.

8.50 p.m.

Viscount Cross: My Lords, Her Majesty's Government seem to be obsessed by what is in their manifesto. At election time parties sometimes put extreme measures in their manifestos. To propose to alter the constitution of the country and to abolish part of Parliament is an example of such an extreme measure. I have never heard anyone say that the House of Lords does not perform its job extremely well. Perhaps it does it rather too well. The last administration did not like some of their measures being sent back to the other place for further consideration and possible amendment. I believe that the present Government do not like it either. The House of Lords is simply doing its job and, of course, the will of the other place will always prevail.

As your Lordships know, the present composition of this House is a well balanced mix of hereditary Peers, life Peers, bishops and Law Lords. As the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers, told us yesterday, there are no fewer than 203 hereditary Peers on the Cross Benches. What a pity it would be to lose them. Does the public realise that if you abolish the hereditary Peers and alter the manner in which the life Peers are appointed, making them a reflection of the composition of the other place, then you are halfway towards single chamber government and an elected dictatorship? Does the public really want that? I think not.

It is rather like the French Revolution all over again. These hereditary Peers are a lot of "aristos"--off with their heads. But what crime have the hereditary Peers committed? None whatever, I believe. On the contrary, they have given many hours of their time for very little reward, endeavouring to ensure the good governance of this country. They are democratic. Time and again, they have been shown to reflect the wishes of the people. They are representative for among them are experts in every field. They live all over the country and bring great independence of mind to bear on every subject.

May I venture to say that the proposals put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, have great merit? They would enable the great wisdom and experience of older hereditary Peers to be retained, at the same time allowing the voices of younger hereditary Peers, in their twenties, thirties and forties, to be heard. As your Lordships know, life Peers make an invaluable contribution to the House, but having already had careers of great distinction many of them belong to an older generation.

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The Government seem to think that there are too many Conservatives in this House, but this is a revising Chamber and therefore likely to be conservative with a small "c". Nonetheless, the Government, the Liberal Democrats and the Cross Benches together can outvote the Conservatives and have been known to do so on many occasions. Furthermore, as your Lordships know, Peers who are busy elsewhere are able to apply for leave of absence and do not have to attend the House for the length of that Parliament.

As mentioned by other speakers, there are certain political families on all sides of the House who have served the country in this House extremely well for many centuries. Hereditary Peers have a priceless asset in that they owe allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen but otherwise are beholden to nobody. They speak and vote without fear or favour for what they believe to be right, just, true and fair. With the greatest respect to the Government Front Bench, I believe that it would be an act of the greatest folly and madness to throw all this out of the window. When a government proposes to alter the constitution of the country, it should, at the very least, hold a referendum, or even a general election, on the subject.

The House of Lords is a happy accident of history. The country is very lucky to have it. It is much admired and envied throughout the world. This House works extremely well as it is. For heaven's sake, leave it alone and let it get on with its job.

8.56 p.m.

Lord Cooke of Thorndon: My Lords, in 1949 the New Zealand National Party's election manifesto said,


    "The Legislative Council as at present constituted has failed in its purpose as a revisory chamber and should be abolished. As the government, the National Party, will examine the possible alternatives to provide for some form of safeguard against hasty, unwise or ill-considered legislation".

To your Lordships, the chord thus struck may seem to have a certain familiarity. The background was that the New Zealand Upper House, a nominated body, did not enjoy high public respect. Moreover, the National government, for it did win that election, was faced with the opposition of a Labour majority in the Upper House. So the Upper House was abolished. In the ensuing half century there have been three inquiries by parliamentary Committees and many suggested solutions, but still there is no second Chamber. It is unicameralism by default. Legislation is sometimes enacted with a speed that prevents mature debate or the formation of reasoned opposition, introduced perhaps on a Thursday and receiving the Royal Assent on the Saturday. I need scarcely underline the moral that in this controversial field of second Chamber reform, the piecemeal can easily become the perpetual.

The first committee of inquiry produced an extensive report saying that it was beyond the wit of man to create a perfect second Chamber. The dilemma is of course that, if predominantly elected, it will be a rival to the lower House; if predominantly appointed, it will be seen to lack sufficient importance, independence and standing. The committee recommended appointments

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according to party strength in the lower House, with a power to delay legislation for two months: which was bathos.

There is a second possible parallel from New Zealand experience. A young couple were murdered in their farmhouse. A neighbour was charged and was twice found guilty by juries, despite suggestions that some of the evidence against him had been planted by the police. The Prime Minister of the day disagreed with the juries. On his advice to the Queen's representative, the Governor General, the convicted man was pardoned and given compensation. That done, the Government set up a Royal Commission to inquire into the conduct of the police. The commission's proceedings were dogged by controversy as to the extent, if any, to which the pardon tied the commission's hands: that what the executive had already done precluded the commission from making full investigation. An unsatisfactory report emerged. It generated acrimonious litigation. Incidentally, the murders remain officially unsolved. The moral again needs no underlining; a Royal Commission should have a clear field.

When the New Zealand legislature abolished its Upper House, regrets were expressed that there was nothing equivalent to an hereditary peerage. The United Kingdom was envied its House of Lords, and the standing of the House in the eyes of the British public. May it not be shortsighted and a cause of wonderment to the rest of the world if this unique national asset is now totally thrown away--if an Estate of the realm which has played such a part in British history is denied any place at all in the legislature? A democracy is a complex organism. One person, one vote does not and cannot represent the true distribution of power in the community. Consider only the influence of the Fourth Estate.

Although coming from an egalitarian country, in the past two years I have learnt to appreciate the contribution to your Lordships' proceedings made by hereditary Peers. During the time of the last government, I was less impressed with another factor. Clearly no one party should have a permanent in-built majority. But I venture to think that some quite modest representative hereditary element--perhaps about 100--might be a useful and sensible compromise, because it could be an option at least open to consideration by a Royal Commission.

Nor do I share the pessimistic view that a Royal Commission must take years. The field of second Chamber structures is well ploughed. Comparative reading and reflection about practicalities need not be prolonged. Evidence, which in the end must largely be no more than expressions of opinion, could surely be controlled. Independent scrutiny by a Royal Commission seems to be the right constitutional course. But if half the answer is pre-empted, half the advantage will be lost.

9.5 p.m.

The Earl of Dudley: My Lords, I am greatly encouraged by the wise words of the noble and learned

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Lord, Lord Cooke. His experience from the antipodes is as vintage as the New Zealand wine which I drink with far too great regularity.

As one of the 750 defendants in the dock, I have studied the prosecution's case with great care. Before I comment on it, I should like to apologise to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House and my noble friend Lord Cranborne. Having been granted bail by the Government Whips yesterday to keep an unavoidable previous engagement, I was unable to hear their opening briefs. But I have read them in the "court record" available today.

I think that most of my fellow defendants, at least those on these Benches, are aware, as I am, that this is a kangaroo court. The verdict has been reached before the trial has begun. The prosecution has asked for a sentence, described variously as "Getting rid of the hereditaries", by the noble Baroness on television, and in the Daily Telegraph--a kind of political ethnic cleansing--as "eliminating the hereditaries", by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, which sounds even more drastic; or, more discreetly, "removing the hereditaries", by other noble Lords. The Liberal Democrats, represented by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, want to drop us through a trapdoor. Although I know my fate is sealed, in the true spirit of a Bolshevik trial, I propose to enter a defence even though I know it will do no good and that I am faced with execution.

I shall dismiss summarily the minor charges against us such as that we are an anachronism. Although the past two days tend to belie it, latest scientific evidence reveals that time does not exist, so that we can disregard anachronisms. I also disdain the old cliche that we are here by accident of birth. I am here by virtue of contracts between two former first Ministers of the Crown and my forbears, giving their heirs in succession the right to sit and vote in this House; a contract which the present Government seek to break.

The noble Baroness the Leader of the House also called hereditary principles of selection "anomalous", which means "irregular" or "abnormal". After some seven centuries of regular use, I would have regarded them as customary.

I turn to the main charges against us. The first and original charge, as implied in the Labour Party manifesto and restated by the noble Baroness in her opening speech yesterday, is that we are undemocratic and unrepresentative, and that our removal will make the House more democratic and more representative. The composition of the whole House, including the life Peers, is undemocratic and unrepresentative.

The noble Lord, Lord Richard--I see that he is not in his place--will forgive me if I remind him that in an earlier debate on the subject he argued, in response to my question, that a House of Lords consisting wholly of life Peers would be more democratic than the House as now constituted. With all due deference to the life Peers, a nominated or appointed meritocrat is no more democratic than an hereditary aristocrat. There may be other arguments in his favour but they have nothing to do with democracy. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord

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Elton, the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, just tied herself in knots when trying to address the same problem.

Of course, I would regard an elected second Chamber as more democratic and more representative than this House. If the noble Baroness's Motion and the Labour Party manifesto undertook to replace the hereditary peerage with a truly democratic elected second Chamber, I would have nothing further to say tonight. The rights and privileges of the hereditary Peers, or even what the hereditary peerage has to offer to the House of Lords and to the people of this nation, do not outweigh the constitutional benefits of an elected second Chamber.

I believe that the Prime Minister does not want a second elected Chamber; nor does the other place. They want to have it all their own way. I heard some noble Lords say yesterday that they regarded an elected second Chamber as unnecessary, or extravagant, or a waste of time. I do not agree. I seldom disagree with my noble friend Lord St. John of Fawsley, but on this particular point I do.

Then there is the charge that we are unprofessional. A number of noble Lords have debated this point and I do not intend, in the short space of time available, to enlarge much on their arguments, except to say that in putting forward this argument noble Lords opposite must be meaning political professionalism. The only real improvement in that sense would be provided by an elected second Chamber.

Then there is public opinion. I do not believe that the outcome of the last election entitles the noble Baroness the Leader of the House to say, as she did in the Daily Telegraph yesterday, that the large majority of the British people want a reformed House of Lords and the removal of the hereditary peerage. If you want to quote public opinion, hold a referendum.

Nor is this a matter of voting majorities. On this side of the House we know that it is a sham to cite the voting imbalance between hereditary and life Peers as a cause for removing the hereditaries. In agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, I defy the Government to give one example where their legislation has been permanently disadvantaged by the hereditary Peers.

I do accept that in overall numbers, for public presentation, and to set at rest the unjustified fears and allay the prejudices of the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties, there is a need to redress the balance. I favour a screening process, aimed at reducing the hereditary Peers in the Lords to anything between a half and a third of their present number. Moreover, I think it is a matter of regret that no previous Conservative administration pre-empted this debate by some such reform. However, as I understand that the Government have rejected similar attempts at compromise--such as that of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster--I shall not at this late hour weary the House with the details of my proposal.

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All in all, I think that the Government have a very shaky case for removing the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in this House.

Now for my defence! There may be no moral justification, no practical reason, no political advantage, for hereditary Peers sitting and voting in the House of Lords. But, in many instances, remembrance of the deeds of their ancestors, of their families' role in our history, commemorated by their descendants attending, speaking and voting in this House, symbolise tradition and continuity, which, together with the annual gracious presence of the Sovereign, Her Majesty's family and entourage, and the glorious craftsmanship of Pugin, give this House a mystique which renders it unique among parliamentary second Chambers. And without--I hope that the majority of the House will agree--any politically harmful consequences. Quite the contrary. Moreover, many of these despised hereditaries, apart from their ability, are very good company; and the House will be the poorer without them.

Our weakness is not the charges levelled against us; our weakness is to have lost political clout. And in that respect, one thought consoles me. I assume that my eldest son, disenfranchised from the Lords, will have the right to stand for election to the other place, irrespective of how he styles himself. It would be ironic if one day the wheel turned full circle and the British electorate, in their wisdom, voted for a Parliament consisting mainly of Lords!

Finally, I have two further strictures that I cannot leave unsaid. They are directed not at noble Lords opposite but at my noble friends on these Benches and on the Front Bench. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Baker, will forgive me--he is not in his seat--for expressing surprise at some of his remarks which could be summed up as, "Shoot the prisoners, but not until you've got the ransom money". Secondly, I have observed that in preparation for this constitutional conflict the Leader of the Conservative Party, whose Whip I take, appears to have donned the ermine and strawberry leaves of a Duke; a Duke with a reputation for leading from the rear, the Duke of Plaza-Toro. I earnestly hope and pray that the coming months will prove me wrong.

9.16 p.m.

Lord Norton: My Lords, "Trust in me. Trust me" were not the words of Kaa the snake in The Jungle Book but those of our Prime Minister. How many times did we hear those words in the run-up to the last election?


    "We will clean up politics, end the hereditary principle in the House of Lords".
Those words indicate the superficiality of Labour policy contained in the famous manifesto. If only it were so simple.

To me, this debate is about trust. We are being asked to consider the Government's proposals for the reform of this House; yet there are no proposals. The debate is a clever trick; it is all conjecture. We are not discussing proposals; we are letting off steam. Later we will no doubt read that we have discussed the Government's proposals for the reform of this House. That would be a

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lie. As the Government have no meaningful proposals they want somebody else to do the job; a Royal Commission. "Trust me. Get out and we the Government, on behalf of the people, will replace you with something better." That is the proposal.

Like it or not, we are the trustees of the constitution. It is not government property, as they would like us to believe. Being a trustee involves acting in utmost good faith. But leaving that aside, what indicators, what barometer, can we look for when considering the trust rating of this administration? Financial accounting and accountability have a place in such an indicator. Funds are scrounged for the Millennium Dome on an unknown basis. Who knows all the reasons why supermarkets are funding the Dome? They are certainly getting a bad press about British lamb.

"Trust me". At present we have a Government whose Foreign and Commonwealth Office is prepared to enter into secret commercial agreements with large corporations. Large sums of money, hundreds of thousands of pounds, were accepted from companies such as BP, BT, Cannon, Dell Computers, Group 4 and the Rover group to subsidise the summit meetings recently held in the United Kingdom. Why the secret commercial agreements for the funding of the G8 and other intergovernment summit meetings? Is this what is meant by involving professionals? Is this clean, open government? What happens when such a company tenders for government business? Is this the ending of sleaze? If it is, I fear for the future of this House.

"Trust me". Of the major contributors to Labour Party funds, one-third had their trust repaid. They received honours.

The Government appear to have no idea of the future composition of this House. One fact is certain: future Members will have to be paid if there is to be a sensible number who turn up for debates. How much are the Government proposing that the elected or voluntary members should be paid? Once salaries and expenses of, for example, £50,000 or even £100,000 are introduced to this House, then all that can be done is to sit down with a blank piece of paper and start again.

What is the purpose of trying to retain a similar place once the decision that the hereditary Peers are to go is taken? What is so sacrosanct about life Peers? We have a duty to the people of this country to ensure that the power of the executive is not increased as a result of the reform of this House. On the basis of the current track record of clean, open and accountable politics, we have a duty to reject the "trust me and get out" policy until something better is proposed.

9.20 p.m.

Earl Haig: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for initiating this debate and congratulate her on the position that she has now assumed. Contrary to what the noble Lord, Lord Norton, said, most of us would agree that this has been a worthwhile debate. He said that the case is already dismissed and we are already condemned. This debate provides an opportunity to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, and the noble Baroness to

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listen to some of the interesting and complex points which have been put to them this evening. I hope that they will think about them and not leave us, as my noble friend Lord Dudley said, condemned and that is it.

I share the concern of my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition that there should be no immediate elimination of hereditary Peers until there is an agreement about the form of the proposed House. Over the centuries hereditary Peers, through membership of this House, have rendered service to the governments of their day. Although in the main power has been vouchsafed to them by birth and although they have usually avoided the strains involved in a political career, their responsibilities have been carried out in a special way which is unique to this House.

The changes which are proposed do not close an era of oligarchy but rather mark a stage in our evolving democracy. It is important to preserve the best of the present system. The Government's aim to achieve a more democratic and representative House would not be enhanced if there is to be a gap between the departure of the hereditary Peers and the time when the new arrangements come into being.

Careful thought must be given to the problem of maintaining standards after the doors are opened to a wider intake. Hereditary Peers form the main tap root which has been nourished over the years by generations of Members of all political persuasions. It is important to decide what kind of House we are trying to achieve and how to preserve the best of the present system. My hope is that agreements may enable a number of working hereditary Peers to be selected for their ability.

Over the years I have taken part in many debates where the discussion has been on a non-party political basis and in which views have been exchanged which have been of some benefit to the wider world. There have been a few small victories, one of which the noble Baroness the Leader of the House may remember when she was shadow spokesman for health. She was pressing for changes in the mental health legislation. On that occasion I put down an amendment concerning the movement of patients from England to Scotland, where the laws were different, which was accepted by the previous government to the satisfaction of the noble Baroness.

The reason I mention that is just to show that many of the interventions in this House on mental health have been made by hereditary Peers like my noble friend Lord Mottistone. It is important, before we lose speakers like him who speak from individual experience and with the authority of the organisations to which they belong, that we know who will replace them. My concern is that the replacements may easily be appointed because of their political allegiance to a party. They will not be able to speak with knowledge about the realities of the issues in hand.

I fully realise the importance of maintaining a party balance; a system involving working Peers--some of whom may be hereditary but most of whom will be life Peers who are appointed for their skills as legislators--and one which offered the opportunity for debate by

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Members from all political and social backgrounds. The danger is that political appointments may not always be appropriate, as I have seen during my lifetime here.

It would seem sensible to eliminate those hereditary Peers who cannot attend regularly, who are old or infirm or who have no expertise to offer. There should also be a non-working category, which includes life Peers who are experts in their field but who are unable to attend regularly, as well as hereditary Peers who represent voluntary bodies or who have experience in the arts, medicine, agriculture or industry; people who have given their services over the years and who are recognised authorities on their subject. Those busy people would attend debates only on their specific subjects.

If these proposals were accepted, it would be for a joint committee or Royal Commission to decide whether occasional Peers had a vote and whether they would receive an expense allowance. For them there would be no whipping and no hanging about waiting for the Division Bell. There is a difference between speakers who speak purely from individual experience about a cause close to their heart and legislators whose response is fair and just but with more of a political motivation.

Finally, I offer full support to my noble friend Lord Cranborne in his efforts to find a solution to the problems in designing a reformed House. He has a specific heritage to preserve. As the guardian of this precious trust he looks back to his forebears for guidance. In a much lesser way I remember as a new boy in your Lordships' House in 1945 being shown the ropes by the then Clerk of Parliaments, Sir Henry Badeley. All of us on all sides of the House must look for guidance on how to handle these difficult problems.

9.27 p.m.

Lord Tanlaw: My Lords, it is always a delight to listen to the noble Earl's contribution; many has he made to this House. I hope that he will feel I am not disagreeing too much with him when I attempt to make a subjective contribution, as most noble Lords have done, on the principle of how power is handed down through the hereditary system rather than the hereditary system itself.

I was born the youngest son of a hereditary Peer and therefore for me the hereditary principle of primogeniture has always been fatally flawed. Surely there must be some younger sons or daughters who are better suited to inherit a title on merit rather than those who have done so under the system of primogeniture. My grandfather was created an Earl in 1929 for services to the shipping industry in this country. Today, all other things being equal, he, like many others of his time, would almost certainly have been created a life Peer instead of a hereditary one. I am sure that he would have accepted that honour with the same gratitude, as, indeed, I did but for different reasons.

The question was raised by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House as to whether there is any other second Chamber in the world where political power is passed directly down through the hereditary principle. Is

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the noble Baroness correct to say that your Lordships' House is unique in this respect? Does not the Dewan Negara in Malaysia and its equivalent in Brunei not have a majority hereditary element incorporated into the constitution? Perhaps the powers of appointment to it by the Supreme Head of State under Islamic law do not make it exactly comparable to your Lordships' House. But is it not similar in many respects?

It may be worth recalling my family's Far Eastern experience of the hereditary transfer of political and constitutional duties. Their experience seems to me to demonstrate how hereditary powers can only be successfully transferred down within the family, especially when two completely different constitutional legal systems are involved, if the system of primogeniture is not employed. Members of my family on my mother's side were the supreme heads of state for more than 100 years over a greater part of what is now referred to as East Malaysia.

The Brooke dynasty was founded on Islamic and English constitutional law. Although it was hereditary in principle, it was, in effect, based on merit within the family. The Brooke dynasty, which was totally undemocratic in most respects, may have succeeded for 100 years because it was, in effect, an hereditary meritocracy. Only those members of the family considered best suited to take on the difficult responsibilities of absolute ruler over a multi-racial population were selected.

Furthermore, their system of government even allowed for retirement from office. The only defect of the dual constitutional systems in so far as I was concerned was that under Islamic law women, who included my mother, could not accede to the title.

Therefore, I feel that, on balance, I must support the Government in their basic premise that the hereditary system of primogeniture should not form even a part of a reformed second Chamber of government. Are there not too many Peers here at the moment--both hereditary and life Peers--and will not the exclusion of the hereditary element at least help to rectify this situation?

If I can just go "off script" for a moment, I have never before seen the House so crowded than in these past two days. The essential services, both outside and inside the House, were clearly strained, even to the extent that some noble Lords were unaware of their location.

I do not understand the Government's proposal to mean that hereditary Peers or their descendants should be denied re-entry through any of the new doors which I assume will be open to them in a reformed Second Chamber. Many families of hereditary Peers--much older than mine--have played an important part in the work of this House. Some, I have no doubt at all, will continue to do so in a reformed Chamber but under a different guise from that of an hereditary Peer.

A reformed second Chamber, if it is to succeed, must surely be capable of looking above and beyond the event horizon of party politics. In my view, it can achieve that end only if there is a strong independent element represented on the Cross Benches--an element not restricted to men only, but with men and women who are aware of the latest developments in science, business

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and information technology relevant to current legislation. Should not national associations be encouraged by the proposed Royal Commission to put forward ex officio candidates of both sexes for the new Chamber, as suggested by my noble friend Lord Annan? I would hope that these professionals would be both articulate and competent to guide noble Lords on these matters without political bias.

I would find it particularly helpful in debates where knowledge of time, space or astrophysics was required to have the Astronomer Royal here in person or at least his nominee present. He or she would at least, I am sure, make their professional contribution in such a way as to help non-professionals better understand the subject and any proposed legislation connected with it that one day may be passed in this House.

I also agree with my noble friend Lord Annan that there should be a retirement age set for all Members of a reformed House. I think that 75 is an accepted maximum age for most professions. I will get my bus pass next year. I am just not sure whether I will catch the right bus once I am 75, but there are many examples here of those who clearly do. However, that is the usual and accepted maximum age. If it is accepted in the professions and elsewhere, why should it not be accepted in a newly reformed House? That would also help to reduce the number of Peers while making space for the new arrivals.

Without having the benefit of the White Paper before us, there may be a hereditary element included in the reformed House on account of the Royal Appointment. I ask the noble Baroness and the Government to consider that, if there is such a hereditary element through the Royal Family, with its historical role in our House, they give up the idea of primogeniture and appoint those members of the Family best suited to make their contribution in this House; and they too should be subject to an agreed retirement age.

9.35 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, hear, hear! The noble Lord made a very good speech. I have heard a number of very good speeches during this debate. I enjoyed most of the speeches whether they shared my views or not. I appreciate the passion and firmness with which people have used this opportunity. An earlier contributor said that this was an important debate. It is something that this House does very well by providing the opportunity to air views, to trail coats, pinprick and to try to make progress. It began with the excellent introduction to the debate by the Leader of the House and has continued throughout the discussions.

I hope that next year I am invited to go through the Lobbies to support the abolition of the vote of hereditary Peers. I shall look on it as one of the supreme political moments of my life. As I go through the Lobby I shall echo the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, saying, "Rejoice, rejoice" because great will be my reward somewhere, if not in Heaven.

I believe that Members of this House who oppose the Government's point of view do not fully grasp the depth of feeling that Members who share my political view

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have against the hereditary principle. What is more, it is what it has meant in practice. If there were a text as regards what I am about to say it would be simply that "by their deeds shall ye know them". We have heard a great deal from Members on the opposite side of the argument to me with which I cannot agree. I believe it was the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Fawsley, who said that the system works. I ask the question: for whom?

When one examines what it has meant in practice, I believe that the hereditary Peers have been digging their own grave for a very long time. I very much enjoyed listening to my noble friend Lord Richard. He said in yesterday's debate,


    "Much is said of the independence of the hereditary peerage as a group. I accept that large numbers of them sit independently; they listen independently; they weigh the arguments independently; and then they independently vote Conservative".--[Official Report, 14/10/98; cols. 945-6.]
It will not be a uniform situation, of course. There are colleagues around the House who disagree with the Government from time to time. But the evidence is quite clear. I refer to the use to which this House has been put by previous administrations during my time. It was a great privilege to serve in Whips Offices in both Houses for more than 20 years. Therefore, I take an interest in numbers. Despite the overwhelming disparity between the numbers on the Labour Benches and the Conservative Benches over many years, that did not stop previous administrations under the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, and Mr. John Major in the years 1979 to 1995, taking into account deaths and succession, increasing the Conservative numbers by 33 while the Labour numbers decreased by 28. Over that period there was a disparity of 61 between the two parties. The party opposite tries to maintain that that has been good for democracy--and the word democracy has been sneered at more than once tonight; indeed, I hope that we are all democrats and believe in democracy--I should tell them that that is something which I believe the people of this country cannot stand.

When I say, "By their deeds shall ye know them", I should point out to your Lordships that from 1974 to 1979 the Labour Government were defeated 343 times, which is an average of 69 times a Session. From 1979 to 1996, the Tory Government was defeated 231 times, which is an average of 13 times a Session. Of course, that can be accidental; it can be something which is par for the course. Indeed, as other colleagues have said, it is something which means that the House works. It certainly worked for the Tory Party, although it does not work for others.

I carried out some research to determine in what issues the preponderance of hereditary Peers meant that the Tory Government won when they would otherwise have been defeated without hereditaries. I took, first, the year 1996 and a debate on an amendment to the Community Care (Direct Payments) Bill as regards extending grants to people with learning difficulties. The Tory Government won with the support of hereditaries. Secondly, I looked at a Motion calling for Opposition spokespersons to be given reasonable time to study the Scott Report. It was rejected by the then government, with the support of hereditaries. Thirdly,

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there was an amendment to the Asylum and Immigration Bill designed to exclude unaccompanied children from fast-track asylum proceedings. That, too was voted down by the government. Then there was an amendment to the Housing Bill which would have given greater security to temporarily housed homeless families. Again, that was voted down with the support of hereditary Peers.

There was also a further amendment to the Housing Bill to prevent the sale of the MoD married quarters estate without consultation and parliamentary approval. Again, that was voted down by the government. I also found an amendment to Commons amendments to the Asylum and Immigration Bill which would have ensured that asylum seekers claiming asylum within three days of their arrival in the UK would still be eligible for social security benefits. That was also voted down. I believe that all that is a shameful, shoddy and disgraceful record. It is one which is part of the debate and part of the argument. I believe that the people of this country are entitled to hear from the Government.

I have with me a facsimile of a card. It is a post-card depicting a poster, which was produced by the Labour Party in 1910. It shows the House of Lords and workers of the time bashing at the door to break it down. It says, "Labour Clears the Way". What the Government have done tonight is to continue unfinished business and business which the party opposite had 20 years to stir and stimulate but about which they decided to do nothing. I repeat: when I am invited to go through the Lobbies next year, I hope that it will be with a full heart and that I will be fulfilling the destiny not of someone with 14 or 15 generations behind him but, in my case, as someone following 14 or 15 generations of the Graham clan who were Border reivers and who have just as much right and entitlement to have their views expressed and heard in this House. I shall support the Government in their policy.

9.43 p.m.

Lord St. John of Bletso: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Graham, will not be surprised to know that I disagree with much of what he said. Obviously, the years that he served in the Whips' Office of both places have put him in good stead to determine the hour at which noble Lords will speak. I casually asked the noble Lord at about ten minutes past three this afternoon what time he estimated he would be on his feet to speak in the debate. Without any hesitation the noble Lord replied that he expected to rise to speak at 9.30 p.m. When he began to speak, I looked up at the Clock. It was 9.31 p.m.


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