Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, if Kinnock refused to nominate people for peerages and therefore they did not get them, they cannot complain. It was because the Labour Party would not put people forward.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, that is not true. There are at least two of us who know that not to be true. One is me, and one is my noble friend Lady Jay who sits behind me. He did not refuse to nominate us; his approaches were spurned.

Some interesting questions have offered themselves and crystallised in our work here over the past two days. The first is: how is a permanent Conservative majority to be justified? There has been no answer to that. The real reference to it on the Opposition Benches came from the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, who robustly condemned it.

Secondly, what is the official Opposition's attitude to the Salisbury convention? We have had no clear answer. I shall come back to that in a moment.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I hoped I had made it perfectly clear at the end of my remarks at the beginning of the debate. We will observe the Salisbury convention during the course of the passage of the Bill.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am most obliged. I did not hear that when the noble Viscount opened his party's contribution. I listened carefully to it and in particular to the statement by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, late last night, because he said that the Opposition would observe the convention. Equally, I listened with great care to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, the

15 Oct 1998 : Column 1162

Shadow Lord Chancellor, from the Opposition Front Bench today when he was not accepting the Salisbury convention. Please allow me to finish my observations. He spoke of a five-year delay and when my noble friend Lord Carter rose with some correspondence, the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, said that his remarks had been personal and he was not speaking for the Opposition.

Lord Shepherd: My Lords, will my noble friend pursue this for a moment? In the light of the intervention by the Leader of the Opposition, does this mean that when we have the Third Reading and Bill do now pass, the noble Viscount, as Leader of the Opposition, will ensure that his party does not obstruct the passage of the legislation?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the noble Lord has put his finger more precisely on the point than I might have. It is a legitimate question because we have had differing signals. Perhaps it is because the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is brighter and cleverer than I am, but I did not get the message plainly. So I ask again now: what is the position? Is the Salisbury convention going to be accepted by the official Opposition throughout all stages of the first-stage Bill?

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I thought that I had made it perfectly plain, but I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way yet again so that at least, like the Bellman, I can say it three times and perhaps it will be accepted as being true.

My clear understanding of the Salisbury convention is that for a manifesto Bill your Lordships' House will not oppose such a Bill at Second Reading. Although it has an obligation to amend a Bill during its passage in the later stages, those amendments should not constitute wrecking amendments for that Bill.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I take it that that applies also to Third Reading.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I am again grateful to the noble Lord. As your Lordships know, I am sure better than I, unlike the other place, we have the right to suggest amendments at Third Reading. I suggest that those amendments should be subject to the same rubric as amendments to previous stages. If those amendments were deemed to be wrecking amendments, they would be breaking the Salisbury convention.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am most grateful, as always, to the noble Viscount for his courtesy and promptness in reply. I shall not ask him to respond to this. I shall further assume that his unambiguous statement about manifesto commitment legislation applies to other legislation which was in our manifesto.

15 Oct 1998 : Column 1163

I continue. The third point for which I was contending before I was so helpfully assisted by my noble friend is this. We suggest that the hereditary principle--which means sheltered employment for the undeserving classes--must cease and cease now.

A noble Lord: Cheap!

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it is not cheap. I will explain why and I shall do so in a little detail by referring to one or two words from the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, to which I listened with great care.

Now that the noble Viscount has clarified that matter, I need to develop our further agenda. This is only one part of a scheme for constitutional reform and renewal. We want to wreck nothing. I have been in your Lordships' House a relatively short time. I hope I can say that I am aware of its advantages. I believe that all governments should be subject to restrictions and controls. Very often the best controls are those that governments impose on themselves. There is a wide-ranging debate to be had about the future of this House, and many of the options have been set out by noble Lords. The Government believe it important to have a Royal Commission to consider this matter in the light of other constitutional changes.

One or two points have been put, sometimes humorously and sometimes vigorously, about why the Government have not come to conclusions in the past 18 months. There are plain answers to that. We have conducted a vast amount of legislation--more than 50 Bills by the end of this Session--that has often been the subject of complaint. More fundamentally, the process of devolution and the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights, which your Lordships have already considered, are very important constitutional changes. It would be folly to consider the future of this House except in that distinct context.

The House is also aware that the report of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, on possible changes to the electoral system is to be published shortly. The Government believe that once the rights of hereditary Peers to sit and vote have been removed the longer-term future of this House should be considered against the background of these very significant developments. I believe that that is a prudent way to continue. It is the right way to reform but also maintain the best of this House.

Yesterday a legitimate question was put about where matters slotted in. The overarch is the devolution of power to those who are the proprietors of it, transparency of government and democratic legitimacy. The theme that I try to address, which has been put by so many noble Lords in different ways, is the intention of the Government. I repeat that the Government are intent on the immediate abolition of the right of hereditaries to sit and vote. Your Lordships are aware that it is not proper for me to anticipate the Queen's Speech, and therefore I do not. But I believe that our intentions have been made pretty plain. We are intent on the publication of a White Paper. That will take place in the context of the publication of that Bill. A Royal Commission will be appointed. The details of its chair

15 Oct 1998 : Column 1164

man or woman, members and terms of reference will also be in the White Paper. There will be a timetable within which the Royal Commission will be required to work. There will be new transitional arrangements. I say without any partisan overtone and, I hope, without irritating anyone opposite, that it is a rare Prime Minister who has the confidence and moral standing deliberately to shackle his discretion. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, says that he has not done so. He announced his intention to do it as recently as the Labour Party conference. My noble friend Lady Jay repeated it. I believe that it would be a shade disagreeable not to accept what has been said.

There is no question of a 15-year delay or an intention to stop at a transitional House. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, asked me specifically whether or not the committee had re-met. The answer is yes. But there are not always easy answers to difficult questions. We must think about it. It may come as a surprise to some that I value not simply the traditions of this House but those of another place (never having been a Member of it) and the institutions that make up the complex society in which we are fortunate to live. We are fortunate to live in a changing society, not one that constantly looks back and thinks that things were always good.

It is a fact, and again I do not want to be unduly disagreeable--just moderately disagreeable--that the history of this century is one of failed attempts to attend to hereditary dominance. The failures have come from a lack of will and determination allied to the insidious doctrine of unripe time. Those of us who have been lawyers know it all well enough, and I see the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Weedon, in his place. This time is ripe and we shall not deviate and we shall not blink. We intend to put this legislation through, if both Houses agree, as I believe they will.

There have been a number of ingenuous and ingenious attempts to defend what I suggest is indefensible. Personally, I shall be sorry to see many of the hereditary Peers go. I hope I can say this with their approval: I enjoy their company; I enjoy their courtesy, their grace, their charm and also their contributions to this House. Those concerned know of whom I speak, but the Indian summer is past now. I am sorry that people will feel disappointed, that they feel that their service over the years will be spurned. It will not be. I hope it is fully recognised. But the fact is that all these things must pass.

I promised, when I responded to a complaint that I had said something unworthy, to return to what the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood said. He described his pride in his family, in history and in public service. I respect that. I honour it. I know him well and I think he would identify himself as one of those I described earlier. He said of his ancestors and relatives, quoting Yeats, "they are no petty people". Perhaps I may explain why some of us have a slightly different view of society, history and tradition.

My own father was a village schoolteacher. His father was gassed in the First World War and could not, therefore, work properly thereafter. His father, my father's grandfather, remembered the evictions in West

15 Oct 1998 : Column 1165

Wales of tenant farmers because they voted according to their consciences in parliamentary elections before the secret ballot Act of 1870 was passed. They were evicted from their homes and their farms and many of them had to emigrate. They were back country people. They lived unremarked, though not unremarkable, lives, and I take up the noble Lord's words, of duty and service. There are millions like them in our country today. All I would say is this: "they are no petty people".

That is a small illustration, just a tiny cameo--and forgive me my indulgence this late at night--but I am entitled to say, as long as I can breathe, that I am proud of their service and duty, but equally I do not look to them for any advantage in this world, except their memory. I do not look to them to have provided me with any personal or political advantage. I believe it would demean them and demean me similarly.

The noble Baroness, the Leader, said that we would listen and look forward to a wider debate. I repeat that. We will not change our minds on the fundamental aspect of stage one. As regards the future, I believe that we have a conjoint duty to see what are the best reforms that can be brought about. That is why we want a Royal Commission. That is the burden upon our shoulders. It is a yoke, because we shall have an independent

15 Oct 1998 : Column 1166

commission, quite separate from government, able to take evidence, to hear submissions and--I stress this above everything--to produce disinterested conclusions and proposals.

The relationship between your Lordships' House and the hereditary principle has to come to an end. I think that I have listened to virtually every speech apart from two, when I left the Chamber for a moment or two yesterday. In a moving speech the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, who regards his ancestors with affection and fondness, said that this House was disfigured by his presence upon that basis. That is a courageous thing to say.

We shall not be moved from this first stage. We intend to limit the power of patronage of the Prime Minister. We intend to look for the best possible outcome for a thriving, revived second Chamber. Whether one has been here for a moment or two like me, or perhaps since before the last war as in the case of the noble Earl, we all feel regard, affection and devotion towards this place. But it is not perfect. It can be improved; and that is what we are intent upon doing. I commend the Motion.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

        House adjourned at seventeen minutes past eleven o'clock.

15 Oct 1998 : Column 1165

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page