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Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, could he clarify something? I think he said that about 250 hereditary Peers attended each day. The exact number does not matter, but was he implying that it was the same hereditary Peers who attended each day?
Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, I rise to speak to two aspects of the gracious Speech. The first is the access to justice Bill, which was effectively dealt with by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury. No doubt the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will comment on the noble Lord's remarks.
Anyone who has been a Member of Parliament for a constituency, as I had the privilege of being for a number of years, cannot but help reflect on those occasions when poor, well-driven people came to their Member of Parliament--not to solve their housing problems, educational problems or immigration problems, but because, by one means or another, they had strayed into a need for access to justice.
Although we are well aware in general of the good work done by the legal aid system, in my experience there has always been a great need to improve access to justice. As I see it, the access to justice Bill is part of a broader programme of modernising justice. It would aim to fulfil a manifesto pledge to create a community legal service. It would help to create a fair and efficient system of justice, operating in the interests of the people who use it and the wider public. It would encourage a greater range of high-quality, value-for-money legal services for those who need them most. It would make the best possible use of the public money which supports legal services, reduce restrictive practices in the legal profession, simplify and speed up civil court procedures and help government initiatives to tackle crime by reforms in the courts.
I have listened to the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, and I respect his vast experience. He has laid a number of challenges before the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor to be dealt with in his wind-up speech, which I have every confidence he will rise to. Apart from that, I am not competent to make any further comment. I
Secondly, I applaud the Bill to deprive hereditary Peers of the right to sit and vote in this Chamber. I have listened, sometimes with sadness, to the way in which Members on both sides of the argument feel it necessary to sneer at and attack the motives, the background and the historical interest which Members of the hereditary peerage bring. That is not the way to win arguments. Over the next period I look forward to taking part in debates which are well fought, hard fought and in which those on both sides of the argument will speak with passion.
I can fully understand the feelings of an hereditary Peer whose family has enjoyed the privilege of that position for 100, 200, 400 years and the sadness with which he and his family may view the loss of his ability to sit and vote as being the end of the world. It is not. All that it says is that it deprives the person of the right to sit and vote in this place. I listened very carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, when he objected to the spurious difference that had been cleaved between hereditary and life Peers. I make no distinction. We are all politicians. We are all members of a political House. The basis and the raison d'etre for the Opposition fighting so strongly is that it is selectively to be deprived of one of its most powerful political weapons: that before a vote is taken, because of an accident of birth, they can rely on a whole swath of people. When people say "Well, Ted, if it was reversed what would you say?", I think I would fight just as hard not to lose the privilege, not to lose the majority. They have got it. We ought not to be mealy mouthed. The Opposition is fighting to retain something which has been in their party interests for hundreds of years. We are entitled to try to deprive them of it.
In the past few weeks I have been interested to see how the Opposition have tried to turn the issue into one of "Tony's cronies" and have suggested that the House will be filled with Labour nominees. Not for the first time the Library has produced some interesting statistics. I have before me a document setting out Peerage creations between 1958 and 1998. According to the record, over the whole of that period 945 life Peers were created. Of those 945 life Peers, the present Prime Minister has to his credit 105, which is 9 per cent. of the total. Under the column headed Thatcher, we see that 216 life Peers were created, which is 23 per cent. of the total. Under the column headed Major, we see that 171 life Peers were created, which is 18 per cent. of the total. The administrations of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, and John Major created four times as many life Peers as Tony Blair has created. Therefore, the party opposite ought to reflect seriously on whether they are misusing the argument.
Earlier this afternoon the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, wondered where the Government's right to act in this matter as they are acting has come from. The answer is simple. It comes from the other House. The other House is largely peopled by Labour Members of Parliament who were put there by the electorate. The doctrine of the mandate is clear and the mandate indicated that, as a first self-contained step, the Government would proceed with these matters. I am well aware that, although a party may win one general election, there is no guarantee that it will win the next election. It ought not to take the electorate for granted. I do not believe that my right honourable friend is doing that.
The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and others have argued that we are acting too hastily. They say that they share our view that reform is needed and change is required. For 18 years, with absolute power, the party opposite did not lift a finger. However, as soon as this Government bring forward their plans, there is a cry of "haste". I make a genuine offer to all the hereditary Peers to whom I want to give their cards. I have in my hand a postcard. It states, "Labour clears the way", and on it there is the House of Lords being battered by the workers. What I have in my hand is a facsimile of a poster by the Labour Party in 1910. We have been attempting to make a change of some kind--noble Lords will be aware that the policy has changed over the years--so I do not think it is fair to argue that we are acting with undue haste.
What propositions have been advanced by the other side? I do not think that we have heard anything sensible. The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, alleges that the House is being sold snake oil by snake oil salesmen. I can advise him that the best way to apply snake oil is to rub it in, and I enjoy doing a bit of that using snake oil at the moment. For too long Members on this side of the House have won the argument on many an issue but have lost the vote by virtue of the votes of hereditary Peers.
Perhaps I may remind the House that when last week noble Lords on the Benches opposite argued against the Government they constantly used the term, "We are doing it on principle". I remind the House--
Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, perhaps I may ask the noble Lord to address a problem which has perplexed English government for a long time. I refer to the enormous executive control of the House of Commons. A former leader of the Labour Party reminded his Members of Parliament that unless they wore his dog collar they could not get elected. Does the
Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, I find it rich to hear that coming from the party opposite, which has enjoyed an in-built majority of 300 or 400 over Labour's hereditary Peers. I find it rich that those who have enjoyed and misused their power here are now, when the boot is on the other foot in the other place, arguing for the Government to call off the dogs and to give them a chance. The people of this country were invited by the noble Lord's party and by mine to express their views in a democratic election. The party opposite was whipped; it was rejected; it was run out of office. I am not going to wave goodbye. What has happened is the result of democracy. We know what happens to people who argue that it is better to run the ship with a smaller number. All I say is that the House of Commons reflects the will of the people in a free election.
We hear the constant cry, "Why change the House of Lords? It works". Of course it has worked: it has worked for the party opposite. That is why it does not want to change the House of Lords. It wants to keep the House as it is. Let me remind the House of some of the issues on which the party opposite felt on principle it ought to use its hereditary majority and get its way. On 12th February 1996 an amendment to the Community Care (Direct Payments) Bill, extending grants to people with learning difficulties, was rejected on a majority of the hereditary Peers' vote. On 24th June an amendment to the Asylum and Immigration Bill, to exclude unaccompanied children from fast-track asylum procedures, was rejected by the party opposite on the weight of the votes of the hereditary Peers. On 25th June an amendment to the Housing Bill, giving greater security to temporarily housed homeless families, was rejected. Where were their principles on all of those issues? The principles they operated on were, "We have power and we are going to use it and abuse it".
Many of us will remember that during the war Churchill said to Roosevelt, "Give us the tools and we will finish the job". On 1st May the British people gave us the tools, and this time we intend to finish the job.
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