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Lord Richard: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. The point that I was making, obviously not very successfully, was that there is precious little difference between a House which has a wholly nominated element and a House which has an indirectly elected element. In other words, the difference between nomination and indirect election seems to me to be paper thin and, frankly, not worth the paper it is written on.
The point has been made that the White Paper seeks to strengthen Parliament. I believe that we all agree with that aim. However, I agree with my noble Leader that it is odd that in seeking to strengthen this House and Parliament one should consider reducing its powers. I believe that this House will be strengthened when its legitimacy, in the broad sense of that word, is understood better by and is acceptable to the public and Members of the other place.
It is sometimes thought that our legitimacy is not acceptable solely because of the antiquity or peculiarity of hereditary peerages. I do not believe that that is the sole or even the dominant reason. I believe that the dominant reason for the failure to accept this House as a credible part of Parliament today is the political imbalance. That was the comment that I took from the debate in the other place. I shall not follow my noble friend Lord Waddington in disobeying what I believe to be the rules of the House by quoting the Member who said it. However, it was said in the other place that the Government and the Opposition have no plans for the reform of the House of Lords. It is generally agreed that the House of Lords has a political imbalance which must be changed. I believe that that is right. It is one of the reasons why I welcome the transitional arrangements which have been agreed. It is also one of the reasons why I believe that all parties to the agreement were typically wise and pragmatic in making the evolutionary arrangements on which we depend.
Finally, I issue a word of warning to my noble friend on the Royal Commission about innovations and alterations. I hope that he will remember what scientists do with new drugs. They look extremely carefully at the side effects. I believe that the side effects of the removal of the hereditary Peerage, and the alteration of some of our rules which has been proposed, need examination. I do not ask the commission to reject those proposals but I ask it to examine the side effects very carefully. I wish it well and I have the greatest confidence that my noble friend and the Royal Commission will produce a set of proposals which will enable a sensible and durable reform of Parliament to take place.
Lord Lamont of Lerwick: My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Aldington. We have heard some remarkable speeches in this debate. If I single out in particular those of the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, and my noble friends Lord Denham and Lord Cranborne, it is because they are all hereditary Peers.
Everyone who has spoken knows much more than I about the House of Lords. But I know a little about the House of Commons. My great fear is that the Government propose to make this Chamber much more like the House of Commons. By saying that, I intend no disrespect to the House of Commons. Indeed, I tried my hardest to stay there. But this country does not need another highly political Chamber. After reform, this place will inevitably be much more political.
What is valuable here, and what strikes those of us who come from the other place, is not just the value of the Cross-Bench element but the atmosphere of quiet reflectiveness and detachment on all sides of the House.
I add my voice to those speaking against a wholly elected Chamber. I am slightly surprised at the emergence of some Tory Jacobins wanting to go down that road. If we have a wholly directly-elected second Chamber, why should it have any less legitimacy than the House of Commons? Why should it be bound by any Salisbury rules? A continuation of the Salisbury convention would make no sense. A second Chamber would be just as legitimate as the first Chamber. Every elected member would have his own mandate.
Whatever the starting rules may be, a wholly elected second Chamber would fight for, and in the end would acquire, more powers. The settlement of 1688 meant that a veto of a Bill by either House caused it to be defeated. That arrangement did not work then; it would not work now; and to go anywhere near that sort of conflict of interest would be disastrous.
The Government have decided to alter the composition of this House, conveniently leaving its powers unaltered for the moment. But when one brick is removed from a wall, the rest of the wall tends to shift. It is not possible to separate composition and powers. If we are going back to first principles--and the Government are forcing us to do precisely that--powers should come first and composition second, as my noble friend Lord Norton said yesterday. We should surely ask first what is the House of Lords is for and then we should decide the question of composition.
It is said that history sometimes repeats itself. In 1968 the Labour government put forward proposals for a stage one and a stage two reform together. Then, as now, Labour claimed to be strengthening the second Chamber but, at the same time, it proposed to lessen the time that the Lords could delay legislation approved by the House of Commons. The then government proposed to remove the right of this House to reject secondary legislation. Today--surprise, surprise--on page 40 of the White Paper, the Government float precisely the same proposals; namely, to reduce the length of time that legislation can be delayed and to remove the right to vote against secondary legislation. Perhaps these proposals, 30 years on, were written by the same civil servant sitting at the same desk.
There seems to be a fundamental contradiction in the Government's attitude. On the one hand, they say that those powers are theoretically available, implying that they are never used. On the other hand, their whole case for reform is that this House uses its powers too often. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Carter, will explain that to me. I was not entirely convinced by the noble Baroness's attempts to do so yesterday. To tell us that the Royal Commission will consider the question of powers is not to answer the question as to why there should be any reduction whatever in the powers of this Chamber.
I do not see a case for reducing the powers of this House. The Government say that they are making this House more legitimate. If it is more legitimate, there is surely a stronger case for increasing its powers rather than reducing them. I could have mentioned also the proposal being considered in the House of Commons by the Modernisation Committee that a Bill not completed in one Session should be carried over to the next Session. If that proposal were implemented, that would drive a coach and horses through the powers of this House to delay legislation.
This House is seen as a revising Chamber, a modest and valuable role. But another important function surely is that this House should also act as a constitutional long stop and as an ultimate guardian of people's liberties. That is why, in many countries, there are second chambers--to be that ultimate safeguard. That, perhaps, is why a newly reformed, more legitimate House of Lords could have new reserve powers and be able to challenge the House of Commons.
Why should the House of Lords, if it is made more legitimate, not have the right to defeat legislation passed by the House of Commons if two-thirds of the Members of the House of Lords so decided? On constitutional Bills, why should the House of Lords, if it is more legitimate, not have the right to insist, again with a qualified majority, that constitutional Bills be considered by a referendum? Why should the House of Lords, if it is more legitimate, not have similar powers in relation to Money Bills and budgets, as the Bundesrat has in Germany? I agree with my noble and learned friend Lord Howe that our finance Bills and our tax legislation are not so perfect that they would not be capable of further improvement.
The House of Lords should bow to the nation but it is entitled to hold in check the tendency of elected representatives to go on frolics of their own. The other day I listened to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor casting doubt on the phrase "elective dictatorship" coined by my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham. But elective dictatorships can be a real danger, whether a minority government or a very popular government deciding to abuse their powers, although the latter is more difficult to define and identify.
To my mind, the Salisbury doctrine is not entirely convincing. Manifestos are extremely long documents these days, usually only read by one's political opponents. No one can say which part of any manifesto
I regret the passing of the hereditary element. But the hereditary principle has been an inhibiting influence on this House. If this House is to be liberated from its inhibitions, it should not be afraid to demand more powers.
I welcome the terms of reference of the Royal Commission and, in particular, that they include the role, functions and powers of your Lordships' House. Many of us have said over the years that to consider composition before functions is to put the cart before the horse.
It would be unrealistic to expect great increases in the powers of your Lordships' House. But I suggest that three points require specific consideration. The first is constitutional Bills, which were mentioned by my noble friends Lord Cranborne and Lord Waddington. They are of special importance. I refer to the constitutional Bills which were pushed through another place in the last Session of Parliament under a guillotine. I regard that as wholly unacceptable. They were not fully discussed, and in such circumstances your Lordships need greater powers. I suggest that if the Speaker of the House of Commons certifies a Bill as being a constitutional Bill, then your Lordships' House should have the 1911 powers of delay restored to it.
My second point concerns secondary legislation. I do not believe that this will be controversial in any part of the House. The amount of secondary legislation both in number and in importance has grown enormously over the years and will not diminish in the future. But we have quite inadequate powers to scrutinise such legislation effectively. I suggest that the time has come when this House should have the right to delay or to amend secondary legislation if that is felt to be appropriate. I realise that that proposal also has implications for another place.
My third proposal concerns pre-legislation procedures. I give the Government great credit for now introducing some Bills in draft so that they can be discussed both inside and outside Parliament before they are set in concrete. Your Lordships' House is well suited to consider those draft Bills. There are experts on every subject under the sun in this Chamber. I realise that a suggestion has been put forward that there might be a joint committee of the two Houses to consider draft Bills. I would prefer a Select Committee of your Lordships' House to consider them and to carry out the usual procedure--to take evidence from Ministers and officials and to produce a report which could then be
Those three proposals would improve the effectiveness of your Lordships' House without in any way threatening the pre-eminence of the House of Commons. A further point I should like to make briefly is that reform of this House should be considered in conjunction with reform of the other place. The two interact on each other. It is not generally realised that another place will be a very different place after devolution. At the moment it spends most of its time on domestic issues, and virtually all government Bills involve domestic issues. Indeed, domestic issues dominate the workload of Members of Parliament--a workload which increased enormously in my time in another place.
When those domestic issues are removed from Westminster and are decided elsewhere, what are Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland MPs at Westminster going to do? I hope that they will not interfere in English domestic issues. There is an unanswered question here which could build up great trouble and great resentment. Of course it concerns your Lordships' House as well. Whatever the House of Commons decides about the number of MPs there should be from the other three countries of the United Kingdom will have relevance as to how your Lordships' House decides to deal with those issues. That question should be decided before and not after the next general election.
Another unanswered question mentioned by my noble friend Lord Belstead is the so-called "West Lothian question"; I prefer to call it the "English question" because it concerns England. Unless this problem is tackled and resolved, we shall have a situation in which Members of Parliament in Westminster from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, will have a say in English domestic issues whereas English MPs will have no say in the domestic issues of other countries. That is asking for trouble; it is asking for an English backlash. That is also directly connected with your Lordships' House because the way in which the other place decides to handle English domestic issues will have great relevance for the way in which they should be handled here.
The third unanswered question concerns the financial relationships; the amount of money which should go from the Treasury to the other countries of the kingdom--the Barnett formula. We are now in a position where the Barnett formula is being discussed. It is no good the Government saying, "Tuck it under the carpet; we will deal with it later". It will be a burning issue and your Lordships' House will wish to have a say in those matters also.
As a result of the actions that the Government have taken, both Houses of Parliament are now in a state of flux. This is bad for Parliament though it may be convenient for the Government. In his foreword to the White Paper the Prime Minister referred seven times to "modernisation". But modernisation is not necessarily to improve; it can unsettle; it can weaken established institutions and it can destroy continuity. The
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, it is a pleasure to listen to the wise and measured words of my noble friend Lord Dean of Harptree. I propose to focus on two aspects of the task set out for us by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde in his excellent opening speech to this debate. That task is: what kind of strengthening do we plan of a Parliament that is weak, poorly regarded and struggling (both Houses) to adjust to a totally transformed pattern of world conditions and a society which is taking shape outside these Chambers and outside the traditional apparatus of legislation which we inherited from the previous century?
I believe it was the late Lord Iddesleigh--the former Sir Stafford Northcote--who said in conversation with Lord Salisbury 120 years ago when they were discussing the eternal problem of Lords' reform, "You must understand that the strength of the House of Lords lies in its weakness." That was a profound statement. What he meant--this was touched on by my noble friend Lord Cranborne in his excellent speech--was that the hereditary element which was then totally dominant in the House of Lords has always held back; except on one or two occasions, it has never pressed all of its powers. For the most part it has always operated with one foot on the brake. As a result of that restraint it has enabled the second Chamber to proceed in an influential and effective way over the years.
Having read the White Paper from cover to cover, I still do not believe that the Government have grasped the central point of what they are now proposing when they talk about a "legitimised" Lords, a Lords without hereditary Members. That legitimised Lords will inevitably be more assertive, more self-confident, more busybody (dare I use that word), and, in the language of the media which dominates all--I shall come to that shortly--more high profiled. Of course it will be. Even if the Government were so unwise as to go against my noble friend's amendment and try, as in section 7 of the White Paper, to reduce the legislative, formal powers of how we handle and deal with legislation, I venture to assert that the reformed, legitimised House of Lords will be a noisier and more influential place. Influence will merge with power in the modern sense.
I believe that what is not understood by everybody, and maybe was not known to our forebears such as Sir Stafford Northcote and others, is that when we talk about power we are dealing not with the old-fashioned hierarchical power that could be governed and called to account by Parliament over the executive and handled through the due process procedures of law making, but with a new distribution of power which is flowing away from the other place.
We all know--it is the commonest of common knowledge--that the House of Commons is rapidly losing its power and the respect which it has. We all know that the power is moving away from the Chamber, which is empty most of the time. Yet we continue to talk as though there was this "lump" of power that somehow needs to be curbed by the appropriate traditional accountability. Where has that power gone? Some has gone to supranational levels, as we know, and to the international agencies which now govern and restrain the actions of every government and every national legislature. Some has been devolved. However, much the most part has gone, not to the identifiable institutions, but into the network of communications by which the world is now governed.
We no longer live in a world of hierarchies but in a modern world almost entirely governed by a network of new power centres which are not in the traditional, hierarchical pattern. They are, of course, the media barons who have a power of life and death; the great regulators of markets who can make and break and crush lives; the rating agencies which can wipe out a government--indeed, they can destroy a nation in a morning just by re-rating its credit--and the Internet servers, the lords of cyberspace, who can cut off the communications of nations. All those colossal powers have grown up in the past 10 years. They are all potentially--sometimes for good reasons but often for more sinister reasons--curbs on our liberties. People expect parliamentary institutions to be able to call those to account, not just the executive and its traditional law-making powers. They expect the institutions of their parliament to be able to call to account those bodies, those great powers of today. They carry power far in excess of anything imagined by our forebears or even by Members of the two Houses 10 or 15 years ago.
The Commons has not been idle in the face of all that. There has been a real attempt over the years, and during the years when I was a Member of that House, to respond to this development. I was proud to be involved in the Select Committee system. There has been an attempt to develop, certainly through that system, a way of trying to interface with powers outside Parliament and the executive, which need to be called to account.
What will a reformed House of Lords do? Of course, it will do the same thing. We are already very good and up and running at European committees; we perform that function excellently. Such committees will probably be conducted in an even more powerful and influential way. The cameras may be brought in, linking up to the network of communication and the media. I have never understood why--and I would welcome this--we do not have a Select Committee on Foreign Affairs in your Lordships' House. I speak from experience when I say that the whole system in the Commons there is hopelessly overloaded. The load has grown like a mushroom over the past 10 years. The Select Committee on Foreign Affairs comes to grips with about one in 10 of the major issues which intimately affect the lives of the citizens of this country. I do not refer to vague foreign policy but to intimate developments around the world which affect the way in which we live and work.
I believe that that will happen in this House; it is bound to. It probably would have happened whether or not a decision had been made to remove the hereditary Peers. As noble Lords have said, the die is cast. A legitimised House of Lords will develop additional power whether or not the executive wants it to. We have no idea what the executive really wants from the House of Lords.
That is my warning, if I may put it that way, to my noble friends. We face a much more active and visible House of Lords which has an opportunity of influencing and calling to account power in a way that neither House has been able to do and which, as a result, excites ridicule and contempt by the general public who see power being exercised without any control at all by any of the people they elected or appointed.
I shall quite enjoy seeing the fact dawn on an unsuspecting government that they have set in motion all sorts of things which will produce all sorts of developments that they perhaps did not intend. In short, we are about to see the law of unintended consequences have one of its most spectacular manifestations of modern times.
I wish to concentrate on the future powers of your Lordships' House. However, before I do so I must take issue with the noble Baroness the Leader of the House and her obsession with the word "time". She seems to have difficulty in understanding the importance of time: time to think and time to reflect. After all, what we are about with this White Paper and subsequent Bills is matters which have not changed much in decades. Indeed, if one does one's analysis, one could argue that very little has changed since the Reform Act 1832.
It is surely not acceptable to this House to be told that the Government have set a demanding time schedule. Indeed, it is so demanding that the chairman of the Royal Commission indicated in his speech that he found it to be "equally demanding".
So often this Government, in their haste to be seen to be modern and to want to change things, forget about the lessons of history. However, I suspect that your Lordships do not forget about history and I hope that many of us learn from it.
In thinking about Chapter 7 and the longer term reforms, I went back to Walter Bagehot's English Constitution. He highlights the fact that it was really since the Reform Act 1832 that your Lordships' House has been a revising, or what he calls a "suspending" House; that is, it could alter or reject Bills for a period. Indeed, it almost had a theoretical veto--a veto of delay.
Secondly, Bagehot's analysis suggested that if there were such a thing as a perfect elected Chamber, an upper House would scarcely be of any value at all. However, as that is totally unachievable, a revising and more legislative second Chamber is extremely useful.
Furthermore, Bagehot went on to say that the validity of that Chamber would be enhanced if it were a Chamber of an opposite sort, differently composed, and with a clear mandate to revise, regulate and delay. We should reflect seriously on the words "opposite sort". I think that that remains a key element. Without such a Chamber, the Executive Government, with a strong majority such as we see today in the Commons, could virtually do what it liked, particularly in the area of minor legislation which may well slip by the media and the public. I listened with considerable attention to the remarks made on that point by my noble friend Lord Dean.
So, the lessons are there. Our UK Parliament needs a second Chamber. When I read paragraph 26 of chapter 7, I begin to shake my head. The Government suggest a reduction of the theoretical available powers with a trade-off that they may be used more frequently. That is a temptation that should be resisted. As we know, delay has two or three effects: time for reflection; time for consultation, something in which we all believe today, and time to decide priorities. Shorten it and the pressure is off.
Secondary legislation--so much a feature of present-day government, which is rarely, if ever, mentioned in any party's manifesto--presents a real problem of a lack of democratic legitimacy. It is vital to keep and use our powers to reject. Indeed, in that area of work, we need to have a long, hard look at the way in which we handle such legislation at the moment. I do not believe that either House is doing an adequate job
A more insidious element has crept in, even in the past few weeks. A number of statutory instruments have changed the emphasis from a situation whereby a party that is affected is assumed to be innocent unless taken to task or taken to court by the Executive. That emphasis is now changing to a situation whereby a party has to prove its innocence or that it is within the powers of that statutory instrument, rather than the other way round. That is an area of considerable work for the future.
The next paragraph, paragraph 27, suggests that the Royal Commission might consider procedures as well as powers. The time has surely come when the control and chairing of debates should pass to a team of our Members, elected by us. There is no greater democratic deficit than having a member of the Government, the Lord Chancellor, as the arbiter of our proceedings. Indeed, that point is raised at paragraph 9 of chapter 3. It is my belief that whoever presides over us in this Chamber must be independent, be seen to be independent, and have his or her legitimacy sanctioned by being elected from among the membership of this House.
Finally, this debate is not really about our future membership, but chapter 8 asks the Royal Commission to think about it. I conclude by suggesting that we should not forget the dependent territories. As matters stand, some thousands of British subjects, scattered around the world, have absolutely no representation other than through the Foreign Office. I believe that your Lordships' House would be greatly enhanced if we could hear the voice of the Falklands, Gibraltar, St. Helena and the myriad of tiny islands in the Pacific. Such a move would be a real step forward in democratic legitimacy.
Lord Moran: My Lords, it is odd that in the face of a constitutional change as sweeping as that described in the White Paper there has been so little fuss--nothing like the upheavals of 1911. We hereditary Peers look set to depart, "not with a bang but a whimper". Perhaps that is because our Parliament now has less and less power and authority. We have handed over to Brussels control of our trade, agriculture and fisheries. If the Government have their way, we shall before long give up our own currency. More and more powers are moving from Westminster to Brussels. Meanwhile, we are devolving other powers to new assemblies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Westminster Parliament, like an old oak, is losing limb after limb. I fear that it is, in fact, slowly dying. But while it still exists, we must consider the Government's proposals for this House, which bring to mind the saying,
Does the present House of Lords work well? I think it does. At a time when many of our great institutions have, sadly, lost much of the esteem that they once had, this House seems to me, ever since it was first televised, to have gained in public standing. The work of its Select
When we do oppose and delay proposals that have come to us from the other place and are not being called for by the public--as over closed voting lists for the election of MEPs, discrimination against students from England and Wales going to Scottish universities, or the lowering of the age of consent for homosexuals--it is sometimes argued that we ought not to go on asking the Commons to think again, as they are the elected representatives of the people and we are not.
But our differences are not really with the Commons, but with the Government. They have complete control over the present House of Commons. Some of the Members of that House notoriously respond to pagers, through which they are told by Labour headquarters at Millbank not only what to do, but even what to say and what to ask. The trouble lies with the overmighty Executive. Where decisions still remain within our national competence, the Government have too much unfettered power and seem to seek even more.
I welcome the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. When I spoke in our debate on 14th October, I said that the Government's proposals were bound to reduce the independence of this House and to increase the party political element. I am against that. A reduction in the powers of the second Chamber, a possibility suggested on page 40 of the White Paper, would increase the already excessive powers of the Executive.
Perhaps the greatest power that this House still has is our unrestricted ability to veto a Bill extending the life of a Parliament. This is a safeguard against the assumption by any government of dictatorial powers. I should like to ask the Government Chief Whip whether he will confirm that, as I hope, the wording on page 24 of the White Paper means that the Government have no intention of tampering with that power.
The Government's main objection to the present House is the presence of the hereditary element. We all know that hereditary peerages are today intellectually indefensible, but I still believe that there is a good deal to be said for heredity; and there are dangers in arguing that the hereditary principle is always wrong, as Mrs. Beckett came near to doing when she opened the debate in the other place. Like a latter-day tricoteuse, she mocked us while the tumbrils roll. Her speech tended to confirm the suspicion that the real objective of this measure is to give a sop to the unhappy ranks of old Labour.
The White Paper proposes a transitional House which will be a rump, no longer a true House of Lords, enjoying less credibility and standing than the present House. The historic precedent for a rump Chamber is not encouraging. After the transition, we may move to some form of senate, the composition and powers of which are still unknown to us, and perhaps to the Government as well.
The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, suggested in an admirable lecture this month that the reformed House should have power to order a referendum on constitutional issues--a good idea, I think, but it comes a little surprisingly from a Conservative who spoke against the 1993 amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Blake, proposing a referendum on the Maastricht Treaty and from one of the 445 Peers who voted it down. I continue to believe that that vote sounded the death knell of the existing House of Lords.
I should say something about what has variously been described as the Weatherill or Cranborne, or even the Alistair Campbell, amendment. Though it was, I know, promoted with the very best intentions, I have reservations about it, which I have expressed to our Convenor and to some of my colleagues. First, I think it is wrong to describe it as a Cross-Bench initiative; it is no such thing. Cross-Bench Peers were not consulted--I certainly was not. The initiative was taken by three individuals whom I greatly respect; namely, my noble friends Lord Weatherill, Lord Marsh and Lord Carnarvon. They were perfectly entitled to do this, but they are not entitled to expect their Cross-Bench colleagues to support them, nor can they speak for the Cross-Benches as a whole. We all speak and vote purely as individuals.
It was excusable for the media to describe what happened as a Cross-Bench initiative, since the three Peers were all distinguished Cross-Benchers and one was our Convenor; but the Government know perfectly well how Cross-Benchers operate. It seems to me misleading for them to talk, as they do in paragraph 11 of Chapter 5 of the White Paper, of the "cross-bench peers" promoting an amendment. The Cross-Bench Peers as such can do nothing of the sort. I am not happy about the way in which collectively we have been associated with this initiative without our views having been sought. Incidentally, it is bizarre that an amendment on precisely these lines, moved in the other place by Conservatives, has already been defeated on the instructions of the Government Whips, while MPs are expected to vote for the amendment if it comes back to them from this House. It is also rather odd that the plan involves non-elected Peers electing some of our own number to remain in the House.
Secondly, I think that my three noble friends and the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, after their secret negotiations with Ministers, came out with a poor bargain. What they got is described accurately on page four of the White Paper as an agreement,
Finally, one of the most unfortunate results of the deal that the four Peers made with the Government was the effect it had on the public standing of hereditary Peers. Before the deal, we were seen as having, mostly, a respectable position. In general, we thought that hereditary Peers would, sadly, have to go, but that they should do so only as part of a single, coherent reform when the Government have made up their minds--as they still have to do--on what they propose for a new second Chamber. But when the deal was disclosed, we were made to appear as if we were all of us scrabbling selfishly to preserve our membership of the House for a little longer. As a result, many people said: "Let them go and good riddance".
The future of the Weatherill/Cranborne amendment appears to rest, first, on whether it is generally supported in this House; and, secondly, on how the House treats the Bill. If we behave nicely and let it through with only a few token amendments, then we shall be tossed our bone as a reward; namely, a small number of hereditaries temporarily preserved with government agreement. If we give the Bill a rough passage, what Mrs. Beckett has described as,
Both those possibilities seem to me to be unfortunate. I should much prefer that the Government should seek a genuine consensus on the way forward, as they say they wish to do. But to do that they would, in my view, need to make a much more substantial concession. I believe that the best move that they could make would be to accept that hereditary Peers, while losing their right to vote (thereby meeting the Labour Party's legitimate concern about the political imbalance of the House) might still attend, speak and serve on committees. After all, this was proposed some time ago from the Labour Benches by a former leader of the House, the noble Earl, Lord Longford. Somewhat similar proposals were made in the cross-party plan of 1967 which, again, came primarily from a Labour source; the late Richard Crossman.
I know that the other place has defeated an amendment on these lines, but if they could be made to change their minds on the Weatherill amendment they can do so on this one. I would gladly support a consensus solution along these lines which might well
Viscount Weir: My Lords, I am afraid that I find this White Paper--apart from its nicely coloured cover and charming photograph of the Prime Minister-- a document of indifferent and depressing quality. For a start, it is constructed so as to give the impression that--taking them together--the Bill to abolish the hereditaries, the Royal Commission, the Prime Minister's noble self-denying ordinance on patronage, the suggested transitional arrangements, the Joint Committee of both Houses, and indeed the White Paper itself, all form some carefully thought-out constitutional master plan. I think that is nonsense; half these elements were simply imposed on the Government by reality. To pretend otherwise is just humbug or worse.
Then there is the endless repetition of the words "modern" and "modernise", which several speakers have already remarked upon. This is presumably supposed to give some sort of general justification and attraction to the proposals, but I find it tedious and misleading. Surely the word "modern" properly relates to time and history rather than to quality. Is modern architecture automatically better than Robert Adam, and Hymns Ancient and Modern surely suggest no differentiation on quality? But let these comments pass, perhaps I am over-sensitive to the importance of truth and meaning.
Then we come to the mild insults with which the document is so liberally peppered--unresponsive to political and social change, lacking legitimacy, anachronistic, unrepresentative. So it goes on. Only "antediluvian" was omitted. My goodness, after such a barrage, how little self-esteem can any of us have left. But I will let all that pass, except to pick up one remark in the Prime Minister's introduction: that the role of hereditary Peers is based on birth rather than on merit. Of course he is half right as, by obvious definition, a hereditary Peer sits here through birth--a situation, incidentally, which I do not support.
But when it comes to merit in the context of our role, then surely the remark comes close to implying that the life Peers have all the merit and the hereditaries do not. For example--and I hope I am not seeming immodest--after 43 years in manufacturing and being chairman of engineering companies with £5 billion of turnover, my own views on industrial matters might just conceivably have as much merit as those of trade unionist life Peer. But let those remarks pass. I am probably being over-sensitive again.
I turn now to the membership of the Royal Commission. One journal irreverently described them as the "usual suspects". To be kinder, and to use cricket parlance, if Alec Stewart led the Royal Commission out to take the field he would be comforted to be surrounded by so many pairs of safe hands. But I do hope those hands are not too safe. Logically, a better House can only be achieved by either or both improving its membership and improving its powers and way of doing business. Quite radical proposals may indeed be needed to do either, so I hope we do not just have safety first.
Before the Royal Commission is tempted to propose reducing the powers of this House, it really must consider the overall political background. Much has rightly been said about the growth in the power of the executive. In the 17th century parliamentarians--like the ancestor of my noble friend Lord Clitheroe--literally fought to establish the superiority of Parliament over the executive in the shape of the king. In the 20th century, in another place, their successors have just rolled over and acquiesced. So without legislation, without any great debate, and with little public understanding of what has happened, our Prime Minister today has for all effective purposes more power than the directly elected presidents of many countries.
Others have already mentioned symptoms of this process: bending news; closed lists; and the general diminishment of Parliament. I do not need to repeat the whole sorry list, one that is so offensive to democracy. The Royal Commission therefore must certainly keep all those considerations in mind. Indeed the true democracy deficit surely lies in those directions, rather than in the deficiencies of your Lordships' House. Yet it is towards this House that the priority of reform is being directed, and how strange and irrational some of us find that.
As to the future membership of this House, I first remind the Royal Commission that the public hold politicians in rather lower esteem than politicians often hold themselves. In opinion polls, in the bottom places in the league of admired occupations and deep in the relegation zone lie lawyers, estate agents and politicians. So whatever system of selection is proposed, let us hope that perhaps the number of politicians is rather limited. Nor should any future system give us mere delegates, or produce a new class of professional, full-time Members of this House.
Finally, I was much struck by some remarks regarding legitimacy. While I do not defend hereditary membership as legitimate, it is hard to argue that appointment of political friends is wholly legitimate either. I hope that the Royal Commission will have the courage to consider the issue. Indeed I conclude with the unpopular suggestion that when the day comes for most hereditary Peers to leave this House, those life Peers who are political appointees might care to offer themselves for reselection. That would indeed be a truly noble gesture.
First, in opening the debate the noble Baroness the Leader of the House dismissed any suggestion that the Government were moving too far and too fast in eliminating hereditary Peers before full consideration had been given to what might succeed them. She said that reform of the House of Lords had been under discussion for some 100 years. As the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, said--this has been echoed by many who have spoken since, but bears underlining yet again--in the first place we are talking about 700 years of history and development. Secondly, we are going through a period of considerable constitutional upheaval with devolved parliaments in Scotland and Wales, increased powers for the European Parliament and, let us not forget, the proposals for a mayor of London.
My own preferred option would have been for the Government to announce their intentions clearly and then to set up a Royal Commission to look at the whole of Parliament and its role in the 21st century. I believe that this would have been welcomed on all sides. Only once the role and functions of both Houses have been considered and all the necessary checks and balances built in, should we consider the composition. Therefore like many others who have spoken I condemn the piecemeal approach of the Government as outlined in the White Paper. However, in the absence of what I would call a full and appropriate mandate for a Royal Commission on the whole of Parliament, I hope that my noble friend Lord Wakeham and his team will do their best to act upon all the helpful suggestions that have been made in the course of this debate. I add my own by asking my noble friend to endeavour in his difficult task to safeguard the good points of your Lordships' House, as we were urged to do by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, in his remarks yesterday. I refer him also to the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Longford, not only of today but those made in the debate last October when he said that it would be a tragedy if the new Chamber lost the essential values of the old one. These he enumerated as an involvement in the culture, beliefs and charitable work of the nation and in the spiritual and ethical qualities which your Lordships bring to bear on legislation and policy debates.
I draw my noble friend's attention to the other way in which the present composition of your Lordships' House has been both beneficial and effective; namely, that its membership represents a pool of talent and expertise which will be hard to replicate. That pooling system results in Members tending to speak only on those subjects of which they have knowledge and in which they have interest. This ensures the high level of debate which is generally acknowledged. Indeed, the Government have acknowledged the principle of a pool of talent in their references to the bishops and their function in the House in Chapter 7 of the White Paper.
By and large we have few generalists here. This is why many noble Lords do not appear here every day. The jibes in this respect made at the opening of this debate show a lack of understanding of how this House
I turn now to the style in which these proposals have been introduced. The failure on the part of the Government Front Bench to acknowledge the role played by hereditary Peers in helping Parliament to survive and evolve, and in ensuring that legislation is effectively and thoroughly reviewed, is reprehensible to say the least. There is failure, too, to acknowledge that hereditaries have been the first to admit the need for reform and indeed were the first to welcome the Life Peerages Act which, after all, reformed this House more than anything up until then. Happily this failure on the part of the Government Front Bench has been somewhat rectified by two of the rare Government Back-Bench contributions to this debate on the Government's Motion. I refer to the noble Lord, Lord Judd, who spoke yesterday and the noble Lord, Lord Richard, who spoke today.
The suggestion that hereditary Peers and therefore this House do not have democratic legitimacy is, I believe, to misunderstand the definition of democracy. I have had many discussions on this matter with those involved in setting up the new democratic systems in central and eastern Europe after the demise of the Soviet system during my years on the Council of Europe delegation. Democracy is about freedom of speech, openness and transparency of government, accountability of government, guardianship of human rights and having elected representatives. The House of Lords represents all of those elements except the last one. The Government have, so far, not suggested replacing hereditaries with elected members. So I feel that there is absolutely no reason why the House of Lords should be ashamed of its democratic credentials.
During the 14 years I have served in various capacities as a life Peer in your Lordships' House, I have come to realise that in the House of Lords we have a unique resource. Genetic research is a very modern thing. The importance of genes, and the gene bank which the House of Lords represents, was referred to as an important element of this House some months ago by the noble Lord, Lord Winston, and yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, and the noble Baroness, Lady Strange--all of them experts in this area.
Lord Harris of High Cross: My Lords, my own considered view on the White Paper was well anticipated by the courteous dismissal of my noble friend Lord Chalfont. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, during my 20 years' membership of your Lordships' House, I, too, have tried to respect the established convention by sticking to economic affairs, in which I might claim some professional competence. But I have most assiduously followed Hansard, and particularly Select Committee reports, on a very much wider range of topics. I have been repeatedly impressed--even astonished--by the remarkable, consistently high contribution of working Peers, not least the hereditaries, performed without publicity and without payment.
The problem remains: what exactly have the Lords done wrong? What have we done wrong, especially when compared with the misdeeds of another place? I join others in saying that, if reform is required, a good start could be made along the passage by culling about half of the teeming total of 659 paid and whipped MPs.
Now that I have retired, I can whisper that economic problems are often much exaggerated, especially by economists. As we saw after 1979, a free economy has almost spontaneous powers of recovery so long as politicians do not muck it up. But the constitutional upheaval that is now threatened is altogether more serious. No one can foretell the results of disrupting the delicate balance of a sophisticated political system. And no one can doubt that Britain's envied stability--unique in Europe since 1688--owes everything to the evolving checks and balances of the British constitution, with this historic House somewhere near the centre.
Like the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, as a devoted Savoyard I often take refuge from present troubles in the wisdom and wit of W.S. Gilbert. I never did agree with the Earl of MountArarat in Iolanthe, who said that:
As the noble Lords, Lord Eden and Lord Trefgarne, and others, have wondered, how can any process of popular election or appointment guarantee such independence? It is not only independence, but independence buttressed by the confidence which comes either from heredity or from wide experience, variously in law, economics, banking, business, technology,
I regret very much that the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, shows so little respect for this unique assembly--so rich in talents and characters, not least on the Labour Benches. If this House ceases to exist, it could certainly never be reinvented. Yet it is to be casually dismantled and a successor House conjured up--just like that. Here we see old Labour reverting to its primitive shibboleth that a new institution is always better than an old one. We should beware of the same empty slogans--modern, progressive, democratic, comprehensive--that we heard in the 1960s and 1970s when old Labour destroyed proven grammar schools and undermined state education in the space of a single generation.
The country is endlessly told that there are 750 wicked hereditary Peers. Yet only 300 are Tories. Two hundred are independents and most of the rest never attend. Is it not sensible that the role of a checking and revising Chamber, acting on the periodic excesses of raw "democracy", is best performed by more mature senators of a traditional, even conservative inclination? We have learned to defer, mostly gracefully, to the tyranny of the manifesto. Yet new Labour, in 1997, was supported by only 31 per cent. of the electorate--and most of its footling pledges would separately command even fewer votes. It is time that we pricked the absurdly inflated pretensions of so-called "representative democracy", with its focus groups, single-issue lobbies and media management.
So where is the popular mandate? Where is the public clamour for abolition? Despite all the manipulation of opinion, the latest ICM poll in December confirmed a rump of around 25 per cent. of the population as abolitionists, leaving the vast majority of 75 per cent. divided between keeping the status quo permanently or allowing hereditaries to stay until their long-term future has been decided.
Let me briefly touch upon the approach of the two Houses on three recent issues. I need hardly mention the shabby question of the closed list for the European elections, a system which, in the 1930s, might have excluded Churchill from Parliament at the behest of the Tory toffs of the time and which was steamrollered through against our principled objections. Second, on fees for Scottish universities, we had an absurdly Scots-dominated administration overruling us to favour Scottish and continental students against those from England, Wales and Ulster. My third example is more down to earth. On the repeal of restrictions on Sunday shopping, this House led the way with a Private Member's Bill by the then obscure, independent, Conservative Back Bencher, the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington. Yet when a Bill to repeal the Shops Act was first moved in the other place, it was voted down on Second Reading in craven response to lobbying by USDAW and other vulgar pressure groups from which this splendidly undemocratic House was and remains gloriously immune.
I fear that the Royal Commission is not constituted to resist the trendy clamour by the political elite for a fudged compromise. I despair of the studied absence on that commission of a single hereditary Peer; I resent that absence. I worry a little at the chairman's reputation as a fixer. I recall A.P. Herbert--a splendidly independent university MP, before Labour abolished such valuable anomalies. In an IEA Hobart Paper back in 1960, APH warned against the temptation for Royal Commissions to fall for what he called,
What struck me about the White Paper was its internal contradictions. It starts by listing all the roles that the House of Lords plays. It says that those are all important jobs for a second Chamber. It points out that the workload is increasing and that the contribution of the House to the legislative process is greater than it has been in the past. The White Paper goes on to praise our specialist expertise and independent perspective and the valuable function of scrutiny which we conduct and makes the point that there is a likelihood that real expertise will be available in the House of Lords, which is an important factor in giving its debates authority.
After all that praise, it is something of a surprise to read that we lack political effectiveness. One might have expected that the conclusion of the praise would be a recommendation that we should at least retain our present powers. But in Chapter 7 we see the Government's proposal that our powers should be reduced. That is in spite of all the praise which we receive earlier in the report and in spite of the Labour manifesto which said:
I have a second point. There has been much puzzlement about the fact that the Government propose no stage two. There is puzzlement about the reason for their failure to do so. The reason is probably that they could not be confident of proposing a stage two which would be acceptable both to the public and to the Labour Party in another place. To be acceptable to the public,
I make the point that, like the Liberal Government of 1911, the present Government could perfectly well have put forward proposals for stage two with stage one if they had wished to do so. The point has been made several times, but it is worth making it again, that if they had brought forward even the Royal Commission proposal 18 months ago, we would now be in a much better situation than we are today.
The suspicion must be that what the Prime Minister wanted was a House composed exclusively of life Peers. Fortunately, he and the Labour Government have been driven off that position and into accepting a proposal for a Royal Commission by the opinion polls, which of course they follow closely, and by the appointment of the committee under the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern. We know of the Prime Minister's enthusiasm for the appointment of life Peers. He has appointed 101 since the general election, of whom 55 are Labour. According to the White Paper, he intends to appoint another 15 to bring parity between the Labour life Peers and the Conservative life Peers.
If the Weatherill amendment is accepted, according to the White Paper he will appoint about another 40 Labour life Peers to match the Conservative hereditary Peers who will be able to continue during the transitional period. One wonders, incidentally, whether those appointed for the transitional period under the Weatherill proposal will be happy to disappear after the transition when the permanent arrangements come into force, a point touched on by my noble friend Lord Jopling when he spoke yesterday. If they do not leave the House at the end of the transitional period, the Prime Minister will have a majority over the Conservative Peers.
I have a third point. Numerous noble Lords have referred to the increasing tendency for more power to be taken by the Executive, mostly at the expense of Parliament. That tendency has accelerated under the
The Viscount of Oxfuird: My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, because what he has said epitomises the wisdom that exists in your Lordships' House. When I was due to take my seat in 1987 I read Dod. If anyone who has not been involved in Parliament or administration takes Dod as a first sup, he is bound to feel inadequate. Looking at the qualities, the education and the service of Members of this House produces a severe effect. However, I managed to get over that. I took heart in the fact that one of my ancestors apparently split the atom and that another two were, by marriage, American Presidents. So whether blood has anything to do with it, we wait to see. I do not know.
I am in complete agreement with many earlier speakers. This is one of the most important debates we have had for many years. The White Paper, Modernising Parliament, which was presented to us in January, contains a variety of interesting facts. But it is unlikely to go down in history as one of the great pillars of the constitution. I shall restrict my remarks entirely to the contents of the White Paper.
A major concern, as a number of noble Lords have already indicated, is that implicitly within the White Paper we are stepping into the unknown by tinkering with only one part of the constitutional arrangements without properly considering what the impact of those changes will be on the overall governance of this country.
Over a long period of time we have evolved a system which provides a real and tangible role for this House. We are a revising Chamber with a clear duty to scrutinise, amend and approve legislation initiated in another place. We have another important role; namely, to ask the elected politicians from time to time to think again, particularly when their proposals have a moral dimension which is out of sympathy with the will of the electorate. Given that role, what should the composition of this House be? I submit that we need to be widely representative in a sense that professional politicians can never be.
I have friends of all political persuasions in another place, but it is clear from the manner of their debates that they are unable to shake off the ideological and party-political baggage that put them there in the first place. The present Parliament is probably worse in that respect than any Parliament has ever been. That makes it doubly important that this House should draw from a far wider representation. The method we have chosen to
If we look around the world we see many forms of government--military dictatorships, unelected commissions, anarchy and what we choose to call democracy. It is fascinating that each of these systems throws up an element of the hereditary. If we look at the United States, which prides itself on the purity of its democracy, we find that some names, Roosevelt, Kennedy, Rockefeller and now, of course, Bush, seem to pop up again and again. As my noble friend Lord Cranborne observed when the present Leader of the House was appointed it is very reassuring that she is the daughter of such a distinguished and noble father.
I would therefore urge the Royal Commission when it reviews these matters widely, not to reject absolutely the hereditary principle, at least in part, when defining the composition of a second Chamber.
The present proposal, as framed, carries great dangers since it tinkers with a well-established protocol of checks and balances. I believe that the simple removal of the sitting and voting rights of all hereditary Members of this House, without defining clearly what will replace them, is a dangerous step which will be both destructive and divisive. It will further tilt the balance in the direction of the overwhelming power that the Prime Minister and his executive Cabinet already wield.
This country does not understand the way in which your Lordship's House as it is currently composed carries out its duties. Sadly, our education curriculum no longer teaches the importance of our constitution to the ranks of students and citizens of this country. As a result, the so-called modernisers are able to pursue a path of radical and ill-conceived change without a full understanding by the public at large of what is going on.
A difficulty is that your Lordship's House, irrespective of its composition, must depend upon the public understanding of its role within our constitution if it is to have a credible future. I believe that we must fight to maintain a second Chamber with the widest possible representation and with a degree of dignity and wisdom that is above the hubbub of the daily political cut and thrust.
Viscount Addison: My Lords, as with previous debates on reform of this House, we tend to create more questions than answers and are accused of debating at length rather than in depth. Yesterday, it was suggested that the time would be better spent discussing health, education and welfare rather than the future functions and powers of this House. That so few Labour Peers are speaking in this debate does not surprise me. If, as
Sadly, what the Government have failed to realise is just how much time and effort, for no financial reward, many regularly attending hereditary Peers put in to trusts, charities and other organisations outside this House which need, and often deserve, a voice in Parliament. Those organisations could well be connected to the three topics that the noble Baroness the Leader of the House mentioned yesterday: health, education and welfare. For my part, as an example, I visit and speak for the National Parks of England and Wales; and on behalf of the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, to name but two interests. I act as a rural voice in policy and legislative scrutiny--an angle not guaranteed in the other place. The White Paper does not come near to touching the ramifications involved in what so many of those organisations require; namely, to lodge a voice in Parliament.
Just like the farmer and the hereditary Peer--I have been privileged to be both--we are not all tarred with the same brush. A farmer's financial position can vary widely, from wealthy landowner to tenant farmer with farming sons whose land is financed by the collateral of the father's land, to farmers who have only family as staff to work the land and eke out a living. So we hereditaries are diverse. The Oath of Allegiance has given many of us the chance to put something back through this Chamber. My past efforts have given me the opportunity to afford the time to be involved in this place and to put time in, for want of a better expression, to good works in which I believe. Does the noble Lord the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms believe that the action the Government propose to take can be lawfully entered into when our Letters Patent conferred on our ancestors, giving them, their heirs and successors rights which include a seat in Parliament, and given by a deceased sovereign, could be said to be a binding contract in perpetuity? I do not mean our Writ of Summons.
I cannot believe that the Government appreciate the diversity and value for money offered by the present make up of this Chamber. The only imbalance in this House has been the over-weighted vote of Conservatives in a rare and heavy Whip which has not been democratic in my view. Democracy should have sorted that imbalance many years ago. However, we are a revising Chamber and should be able to press the Government hard without having to hear so much spin on so-called defeats.
Both my grandfathers sat in this place. I must be a rare breed. The noble Lord the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms--I am sorry he is not in his seat--will know, as a fellow agriculturalist, that there is an interest in the revival of rare breeds. My father's father was in Attlee's Government and became Leader of this House. (How often are we reminded of the Salisbury-Addison convention). My mother's father was a Lord Spiritual in the true sense of the word, a Bishop of London. If I learnt anything from them it was this: if you sit anywhere in the House of Lords, except on occasions on the Government Front Benches, you may
It is the honesty and true feeling that exude from this place that must be preserved. So-called modernising will lose that identity, just as modern buildings thrown up with little thought will destroy the identity of an historic town or city.
Around the world we are seen as the Chamber of common sense. Are we shortly to be seen as an impotent second Chamber? In this debate I have listened to many adjectives describing which way this House should be reformed: strengthening, not modernising; it is hard to build but easy to destroy; underpin not undermine; reforming, not replacing; evolution, not revolution.
During reform it must be right to retain those who understand the workings of this House. A full-time, paid up Chamber is far less likely to take up the needs and fears of outside organisations. This country should have no illusions. At present, there will be a Member of this House who will have knowledge on virtually any subject you care to mention. There must be technical expertise in agricultural, environmental and financial matters in government legislation, and experience from the real world outside politics and from beyond the M.25.
This House already has the letters QBE after its name. This House is already Qualified by Experience. I support much of what many speakers have already said: the noble Lords, Lord Trefgarne, Lord Norrie and Lord Norton, spoke of the consequences of government actions; that there should be reform of the House of Commons before the House of Lords; that our costs are one-tenth those of the House of Commons; and that we should remain as we are until the country, through the Royal Commission, knows the outcome of stage two. We have heard so often the phrase: do not embark on the journey unless you know the destination of the train. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, said that we should look more in depth at attendance figures. We should be seen for what we have done, not for what we are.
We have the chance to continue to evolve. If hereditary Peers are to die out and their sons and daughters not to take their place, then so be it. A cull is no better than the horrific BSE cull. A cull of QBE, a cull of many qualified by experience, makes no sense. I support the call to wait for the Royal Commission to report and I shall support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde.
Lord Hankey: My Lords, I am sad that there are so few representatives on the Government Benches. I sincerely hope that that does not reflect a lack of enthusiasm or commitment to what I believe is an extraordinarily important White Paper.
Yet even now the Government have little idea of the role to be played by your Lordships' House, the composition of membership or the means of selection that is appropriate. So should we not ask how much less can the public have been aware of the consequences of their policies for constitutional change that were outlined in their manifesto? The Government will, I believe inappropriately, argue that they have the right to carry out all or any of their election manifesto pledges; and because we have no written constitution in this country there is no rule setting out whether or not their present actions in introducing fundamental constitutional change are legitimate.
I believe that their actions are neither appropriate nor legitimate when they concern the variation of constitutional arrangements of this country without a specific referendum. Let us take their own example. In the case of devolution they have been scrupulous in demanding referenda, but they have failed, I submit, in their haste, to allow adequate time for the development of consensus and popular support for measures that are often quite reasonable. The result is indifference, and at times alienation, in the public's mind. That worries me.
I want most earnestly to draw the attention of noble Lords to the dangerous precedent set by any tacit acceptance that a manifesto pledge can or should be allowed, alone, to alter constitutional arrangements. We know well that in our legal system the setting of precedent prevents or at least undermines the prevention of similar and subsequent action or policy. So I beg noble Lords to consider what future constitutional change might be introduced on the basis of a manifesto and whether it is desirable to permit such methods of introducing constitutional change on the basis of the Salisbury doctrine alone.
In the debates leading to the Parliament Bill of 1910-11 Lord Lansdowne stated, in referring to the possible slender majority of the Commons and the patchwork of causes upon which the majority might have been returned, that the most fundamental issues are to be at the mercy of the House of Commons:
I take most seriously the fact that there is deception, in my opinion, in the manner in which the Government have succeeded in bringing us to the point of altering the constitutional arrangements. They have done so without making any clear assessment of the long-term nature of the constitutional arrangements that the country might enjoy, without holding a referendum on the basis of the changes to the constitution, as they have seen fit to do on other constitutional measures that they have developed, and without a reasoned, specific and unique mandate from the people. Quite obviously, the Government do not care adequately about voters--the primary stakeholders--since they have made little attempt outside the general election to obtain their support or build a consensus as to how they might benefit from any new arrangements.
Such is the Government's confidence in their power and majority that they do not adequately promote their often very good policies and manage their implementation. I have watched with great interest the development of the policies of the present Administration, in particular the proposed arrangements for the devolution of power through the regional development agencies, the Greater London Authority and the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly. The introduction of these devolutionary policies has been accomplished with great urgency and not too much concern for the legitimacy given to those policies by a sufficient turnout at referendas. The turnout in the GLA referendum was particularly poor; only some 34 per cent. of the electorate voted. I felt strongly that the timing of the referendum was related to the timetable of the Government and not to generating the support of the people.
I believe that the Government did little to develop consensus and enhance the participation, sense of ownership and involvement of people in the policies supposedly being developed for their benefit. Yet I know from my experience in the planning of institutional and development policies in countries around the world on behalf of the World Bank and other international agencies that the support of the primary stakeholder--the voter--is critical for the implementation of reform policies. It is not the Government who carry through reform but the people, and their support can be achieved only if there is adequate time given to developing the policy and planning its implementation and integration into the particular social, economic, institutional and political environment. Policy must be given legitimacy through the adequate building of consensus and approval and, thereafter, continuous adjustment in the light of people's changing needs.
I wonder whether we see these correct principles being followed in the White Paper. We see a pattern of laudable government objectives as expressed in the manifesto. The enormous good will shown by the people
I believe that the lessons of what I have mentioned apply very much to the present debate. The people of the United Kingdom face the added danger that there is no guarantee that the Government will succeed in achieving a positive and beneficial outcome through the deliberations of the Royal Commission. That possibility was not put to the people at the last general election. Are we not witnessing in the White Paper, sadly, a deception of the British people, not because of poor intentions--for reform is undoubtedly necessary for the whole of Parliament--but because of the Government's illogical means of implementation, lack of analysis before synthesis and inability to analyse appropriate functions before giving form to the policies for change?
These failings, especially on matters of great national importance, do not respect the increasing power of discernment and reason of the people of the United Kingdom. Cannot the Government find a more consensual way of instigating a constitutional change, perhaps through the holding of a referendum, that would follow the sound precedent of their other devolution policies, before carrying out the irreversible action that is proposed in the Bill for the abolition of the hereditary Peers that is now before the House of Commons?
Lord Geddes: My Lords, this is not the occasion for a Second Reading speech nor given the time and the fact that there are 27 speakers to come, do I believe that there should be repetition of the extremely good points that have been raised in noble Lords' speeches to date. I shall concentrate, therefore, on seven specific extracts from the White Paper. I start with Chapter 7, paragraphs 15 and 17. This is the one occasion on which I believe I can agree with the White Paper. It lauds the work of the Select Committees of the House and in paragraph 17 it states specifically that in regard to EU policies,
We have to go through five chapters out of the eight in the White Paper to get even to a transitional House. It seems that the Government are trying desperately to justify themselves in Chapters 1 to 5. Increasingly, the
In the current situation I submit that the onus on this House is very considerable in that context. Change in and to this House must take place only if it is for the better. I take no comfort at all from Footnote 5 of the House of Commons Research Paper 99/6 on the House of Lords Bill Options for "Stage Two". It reads:
The White Paper sets out New Labour's plan to modify genetically the structure of this House by replacing the hereditaries with mutants, likely to be neither fish nor fowl. Whoever the authors--possibly Mandelson, probably not Monsanto--they lack manners and style by dumping us hereditaries so brusquely and unceremoniously before the end of the lifetime of the present Parliament for which we have unexpired warrants; or before some of us of long standing had time to die in harness; and before the geneticists had time to consider the biological make-up of our mutants.
The White Paper airs Labour's prejudice against the hereditary principle; ventilates the Government's grievance about the inbuilt Tory majority; panders to prejudice; and seeks to remedy the grievance and redress the balance by getting rid of the hereditaries. The Government have given little thought to the consequences of their reforming zeal. That is left to the Appointments Commission, the Royal Commission and the Joint Committee.
I do not propose to waste your Lordships' time especially at this time of night in defence of the hereditary peerage. I could say more, but much would be repetitious; and all would fall on deaf ears. On this point Labour have been consistent for many years. However, I do not share the optimism which seems to prevail on all sides of the House, including from some unexpected quarters, that all will proceed merrily as before without the hereditaries. Our defenestration is a profound constitutional change, which may well have unexpected and unforeseen consequences. For instance, until now, no one needed to concern themselves unduly as to whence much of the membership of this House would come, and who, or how many they would be. Now this has become highly controversial, with calls for deliberations by a Royal Commission, and a large
I am happy to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, although its signal, and the Government's reaction to it, are largely of academic interest as far as I am concerned, since I am unlikely to be affected by its repercussions. I support it because, like the noble Viscount, Lord Oxfuird, I was brought up to believe in the efficacy of constitutional checks and balances; and because I see this House as the only counterweight to the power of the other place, which is still powerful enough to kick me out of this House despite the technological advances to which the noble Lord, Lord Howell, referred and which he considers circumscribes the power of that House.
Whatever the constitutional future of this House, the White Paper makes two important declarations about its powers which seem to me to reflect their qualified acceptance by the Government. The first, on page 40 is as follows:
In this day and age when parliamentary powers in a democracy are a mandate of the people, this admission about the derived powers of a parliamentary chamber so remote from the electorate is remarkable. No doubt the same thought occurred to the authors of Chapter 7 paragraph 26, which is the subject of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. It should also be a source of satisfaction to those noble Lords who prefer their future to be in a cosy and minimally reformed Chamber, where the life Peers, responsible to no one but themselves, and secure from the disturbance of the hustings, can continue to enjoy the perks, pomp and circumstance bequeathed to them by the hereditaries.
I ask myself how the House will fare without the hereditaries--a thought doubtless shared by other noble Lords. A great deal has been said about the amendment to be moved by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, when the Lords reform Bill comes to the Committee stage of this House. It is supposedly in conformity with the Cranborne agreement, now apparently restyled the Weatherill amendment, perhaps to spare the susceptibilities of Mr. William Hague. No doubt when the time comes the noble Lord will reveal his reasons
This so called concession, allowing dead men to walk for one year, has been cobbled as a short-term stay of execution for the hereditary elite. I for one shall, when the time comes, be unwilling to accept a Trojan horse and shall expect powerful persuasion from those supporting the amendment, and greater flexibility from the Government Front Bench, not to vote against it.
That is to state the obvious. The Government, having put retribution before reform, are left without a choice. When we hereditaries go we leave behind us only the 500 or so life Peers, plus the bishops--or should I say the right reverend Prelates? Without the life Peers there would be no House of Lords, especially as the bishops alone would not constitute a quorum of 30 for Divisions on legislation. But, as several speakers, led by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, have pointed out, the life Peers have no greater legitimacy than the hereditaries. They are neither representative nor democratic. I hold them in high regard as meritocrats for their proven wide experience and ability. But the Life Peerages Act had consequences unforeseen and unintended by the Macmillan government, of which the noble and learned Lord, (then Viscount), Lord Hailsham, was a Member.
The aim was to recruit for the Lords those eminent persons, especially the Labour elite, whose consciences did not permit them to accept hereditary peerages. Lord Brand, in a prophetic speech, foresaw the day when as a result no Prime Minister of whatever political complexion would want to create further hereditary peerages. But no one imagined the flood of life Peers which would erupt into this House from the other place, from the Civil Service, from the Armed Services, from local authorities, from industry, from the City, from the teaching profession, the media and the arts. They are now, we are told, to be followed by chefs, bus conductors, taxi drivers--an excellent source of good debating material--and, it is to be hoped for noble Lords, a few air hostesses.
How long will this continue? How long will it be before a majority of the British people as taxpayers, as voters, even as lovers of the Lords, say, "This is enough! Why a House of Lords? Let's have done with all this pomp and ceremony". I myself, unlike many noble Lords, favour an elected second Chamber, perhaps of senators from different counties or whatever it takes to fill the need of a revising Chamber. But I have not time
Lord Tanlaw: My Lords, I enjoyed very much the words of the noble Earl, especially those which related to the role of the life Peers in the transitional House. I shall take that up in a moment, but in the meantime I wish to take up two points made in this debate and in the previous debate. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, mentioned that he could not think of a way whereby a younger element could come into the Lords through the hereditary system. As I said in the previous debate, I am the younger son of an hereditary Peer. It is possible to enter this House at the age of 37, as I did, and I do not see why other sons or grandsons of the hereditary Peers who will be leaving us cannot return if they so wish. It is quite possible and thoroughly desirable.
I would like also to expand briefly on the point about the hereditary principle which the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, made on 15th October when winding up our previous debate on the future of this House. If we go further back in time than the noble Lord did--beyond the feudal system, the last vestiges of which will disappear in the modernised House--we will discover, as did the noble Lord, Lord Williams, our real heritage and thereby perhaps gain a more accurate perspective of our true ancestry. Let us hear what Sir Fred Hoyle, the great cosmologist, wrote in his autobiography while tracing his ancestry back through the mists of time. He wrote:
The latest information from the palaeontologists is that the ancestry of humanity might go back more than 5 million years. However, it is only in the past 50 years that mankind has developed the resources which, unless properly monitored and controlled, may harbour the seeds of our own destruction by the end of the third millennium. Is it not a fact that the responsibility for monitoring and controlling forces capable of endangering global society must ultimately rest with legislative chambers around the world--including our own, which is the subject of our debate? The question I am endeavouring to ask is: should not a modern second Chamber have adequate facilities, human or otherwise, to monitor all technical legislation effectively in order to help prevent a major global catastrophe, such
How can parliamentarians in the transitional House be alert to these threats to future society if they are not technically or scientifically competent to do so? Can a democratically elected Chamber provide all the necessary expertise to achieve this end? I doubt it. How well qualified are the existing life Peers? For example, what percentage of life Peers in the modernised transitional Chamber will be computer literate? And I also wonder whether even more can be done to assist noble Lords who might want to prepare for their work in the new House by either updating their existing computer skills or learning them from the beginning. If a modernised and reformed second Chamber is to do its job of scrutinising technical legislation properly, surely it should have modern facilities and procedures to allow it to do so. For instance, there is nowhere to put a laptop, to plug it in, or to receive e-mail within miles of the Chamber.
The question now is: what are the terms and conditions of the 500 life Peers in the transitional House? Will those terms be adequate to persuade the new life Peers selected by the independent appointments commission to give up time from their otherwise profitable and more remunerative activities in order to scrutinise and vote on in Committee the type of technical Bills mentioned? And on the question of time available, will not the reduction in the number of days spent on Bills by the honourable and right honourable gentlemen in another place put even more pressure on the reformed second Chamber and on its old and new life Peers?
Therefore, what incentives, if any, in the form of improved facilities and communications will be made available to life Peers in the modernised version of your Lordships' House? And will the transitional House agree to set times for votes in the evening? That point was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Desai. When there is a key evening vote, why should the unpaid and so-called "amateur" legislators of the modernised second Chamber not be able to enjoy quality time with their families or attend evening engagements? Their counterparts in the other place can do this on Opposition days when votes are taken only at 7 and 10 p.m. Surely it should not be beyond the capabilities of the usual channels in a modernised transitional House to devise an agreed evening voting procedure which takes place, not just on Opposition days but at all times, at 7 or 10 p.m.?
Does not the passage of the House of Lords reform Bill offer the only opportunity for life Peers in the ranks, so to speak, to obtain better terms and facilities for themselves in this modernised, transitional Chamber? Therefore, I suggest to all the 500 life Peers who will be in the transitional House, regardless of where they may sit in the Chamber, that they abstain on any vote which may take place between the hours of 7 and 10.30 p.m. I mentioned that in the Tea Room and the effect on the Government Benches seems to have been electric. I am greatly encouraged by that response.
Seriously, that is the only way that we shall achieve proper terms and conditions under which to work in a so-called modern House. There will be a heavier workload. Pressure will be put upon us to sit on committees because the hereditary Peers will no longer be available to do so. What are we to do? That has not been considered. I suggest that life Peers should continue to be as obstructive and difficult as possible with this Bill until we obtain a proper, sensible and detailed statement from the Government as to what those terms and conditions will be. What changes will be made to those conditions when the new House is formed?
In order to challenge the Executive and to question and scrutinise technical Bills which threaten not only society in this country but beyond, we need people in this House with a scientific background who are articulate and competent to explain the dangers of such Bills. If there is sloppy legislation, there will be unscrupulous organisations which will be only too delighted to take advantage of it.
However, if the terms and conditions for new life Peers in this House are difficult, noble Lords will simply not attend. They all have other and--I do not wish to disrespectful--better jobs to do rather than sit in this House and wait for five or six hours for a vote at some unknown time in the middle of the night. I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that I am afraid that I shall take my own advice. It seems that the vote will take place after 10.30, and I shall not vote in this House between the hours of seven o'clock and 10.30 or at any time after 10.30. I strongly recommend that all life Peers should tell their Whips that they intend to have that time as their own during the course of the Bill until we are told exactly what our conditions are to be; otherwise, we shall not be present. I shall be a permanent abstainer until that information is made clear.
Lord Glenarthur: My Lords, I begin by apologising to the House for not being in my place yesterday but I have returned early from a business visit abroad because I believe that this is one of the most important debates that this House has had and is ever likely to have.
I am afraid that what is being foisted upon this House, upon Parliament and upon the British people is nothing less than an alarming confidence trick. It is dressed up in a number of ways: that this House is undemocratic as it is presently structured; that hereditary Peers are unrepresentative; that this House has too much power; and that, because superficially it seems out of date, bringing it more up to date will make it more efficient and, as a result, the public will have more confidence in it and, therefore, it will serve the totality of Parliament better and so serve the country better.
Beguiling though some of those arguments may be to some people, when looked at objectively I believe that the Government's proposals and those arguments are at best cynical but at worst, a highly dangerous tampering with the constitution which has evolved over hundreds of years, more especially as they do not address the concept of Parliament as a whole.
I have always tried to characterise the constitution--probably over-simplifying it--as a five-legged stool: the monarchy, the Lords, the Commons, the judiciary and the Church. Each is more or less in balance with the other. Cut off any part of any leg of that stool or change the composition of that leg and the whole stool will begin to rock.
Change to any one part of the constitution is certain in time to affect the rest. In the 22 years or so that I have been in your Lordships' House, I have seen it change enormously. I have also seen its relationship with another place change fairly markedly. The increase in the numbers of life Peers and the roles of Select and European Communities Committees are two obvious elements of change. I have seen the need to scrutinise major Bills, not only from a political point of view but most particularly, as my noble friend Lord Cranborne said, from a practical and legislative view as the other place becomes unwilling or unable to attend to the necessary detail emerging from overworked parliamentary counsel and draftsmen.
On no occasion whatever have I heard it claimed seriously that this House as presently composed is not effective; that it does not do its job; has not proved itself a thoroughly responsible revising and, I should add, advising Chamber. The only charge seems to be that by virtue of its constitution it is unable to exercise sufficient power in Parliament.
The noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross, asked whether there is any real public clamour to change the composition of this House. Can the party opposite seriously claim that its manifesto commitment to throw out hereditary Peers was the fundamental reason for its success at the 1997 general election? If it does, why is this debate on reformation so poorly attended by the Labour Party? When the noble Lord, Lord Carter, winds up the debate, perhaps he will explain why his noble friends are unable to support the proposals which those on his side of the House are making.
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