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Noble Lords: Ah!

The Earl of Onslow: I enjoy my privileges and, above all, enjoy the contributions that I try to make to your Lordships' House.

This House must be reformed; it must be reformed so that it represents the powerful, and it is the powerful of the land who come and advise the chief executive. If they think that the chief executive is making an idiot of himself or herself--as all chief executives do with

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monotonous regularity--we have got to have something that checks, but checks with an authority which is less than that of the Chamber of the commonality or the community.

How do we arrive at that? I have already suggested that I do not think that I represent power, nor, frankly, do life Peers represent power. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, was an excellent deputy Chief Whip--a man of charm and ability. He arrived here because that great socialist, Ken Livingstone, stabbed him in the back. So what happens? He gets a peerage. This does not represent power; he has contributed. The father of the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, is a Labour Peer, and her ex-father-in-law was a Labour Peer. She has not defended the ridge at Mont St. Jean--she has not even slept with Charles II--but she is still a Labour Peer. She is a lady of ability and charm--we all know that--but she does not represent power. How are we going to ensure that this House represents power and can check the executive?

I could go on about the fact that any constitution that has me in it because my forebear got tight with George I, George IV, or whichever one it was that we all got tight with, deserves reform. But what I hope and pray is that when we are reformed we can act as a check and a balance. When stage one has been passed, it will be interesting: the Salisbury Convention will go out of the window because the Salisbury Convention was, "You don't muck about with our constitution and we don't muck about with your programme". You, noble Lords opposite, have now mucked about with the constitution, so it is now the turn of the House of Lords to muck about with your programme. I think that is excellent because all governments need to have their programmes mucked about with.

When we come to the chairman of the Royal Commission, no Chief Whip has ever had any morals or any sense of right and wrong. They are there as overpromoted Oberfeldwebels in the Prussian Guard to get the government business through. The noble Lord opposite agrees. All I hope of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, who is not present--it cannot be helped--is that he will cast aside the habits of either a Chief Whip or an Oberfeldwebel and take on the mantle of a rebellious, stroppy Peer who speaks to you now.

I shall end with yet another quote from Macaulay because it is a good quote and it is what I hope we shall do. He says:


    "The main principles of our government were excellent. They were not, indeed, formally or exactly set forth in a single written instrument; but they were to be found scattered over our ancient and noble statutes; and, what was of far greater moment, they had been engraven on the hearts of Englishmen during four hundred years. That, without the consent of the representatives of the nation, no statute could be enacted, no tax imposed, no regular soldiery kept up, that no man could be imprisoned, even for a day, by the arbitrary will of the sovereign, that no tool of power could plead the royal command as a justification for violating any legal right of the humblest subject, were held, both by Whigs and Tories, to be fundamental laws of the realm".

That is the constitution for which we should aim. If the Bill that is to come before us goes just a little way to that and makes this House better, then I will support it.

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10.33 p.m.

The Earl of Iveagh: My Lords, I thank my noble cousin Lord Onslow for his history lesson, I have learnt greatly in the process. I must first declare that I have no objection to losing my right to participate in the Lords as part of my inheritance. That having been said, I will be willing to go only when it is shown that the reformed House gains legitimacy in its capacity as a check and a balance on whatever government, whatever their colour.

In defence of the inheritance principle, I should like to make the perhaps quite obvious point that every one of us has characteristics that are a direct and indirect result of our family, from genetically inheritable characteristics such as eye colour and height to indirect considerations such as where we live, the values that have been nurtured in us by our family, our reaction to them, and so on.

We all inherit something. It is a universal human experience and will continue to be so so long as science laboratories do not produce and nurture entirely cosmetic clones. I genuinely believe that there is a significant danger that this reform will substantially reduce the universality of this House, reducing the spectrum of its membership to the party faithful and its age range. As someone in his twenties, I must plead with the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, to consider opportunities for the young. This reform may additionally reduce its breadth of personal experience and the divergence of individual Members' ability.

On the last point, it is perhaps ironic that the Government who are challenging the principle of grammar schools on the basis of their elitist tendencies are the same Government who propose an even more elitist second Chamber by the introduction of exclusively appointed Members, at least in stage one of the reform, and possibly thereafter.

Turning to some of the points made by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House in opening the debate, I wish to challenge her assertion that:


    "We have before us Bills which are central to the cares and concerns of most people in Britain".--[Official Report, 22/2/99; col. 847.]
An ICM opinion poll as recently as 9th February this year found that only 2 per cent. of the electorate recall the manifesto promise to reform the House of Lords. Two previous polls, both in November, conducted by ICM and MORI found that over 60 per cent. of the electorate were in favour of a clear strategy before implementing change to this House. In view of those points, surely the noble Baroness's statement is at best questionable. The noble Baroness also lamented the fact that the House has spent so much parliamentary time on reform of this House. But surely the Government have more than just a little say in deciding the parliamentary timetable?

In the opening months of this Government's term I introduced a Private Member's Bill to restore full British citizenship to Saint Helenians and those in the Islands' dependencies. This House passed the measure, only to have it blocked by the Government in another place. Still, no measure to address this issue has been incorporated in the Government's programme. Delay

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and prevarication have been the order of the day. While we sit in our places tonight, there are British people who feel proudly patriotic but who are denied any political representation at national level. These people's freedom of movement is unnecessarily burdened by red tape and bureaucracy. Their opportunities for work are severely curtailed by cumbersome work permits and visitors' visas. The noble Lord, Lord Naseby, has already made the point that the Overseas Territories should have some representation in a reformed Parliament. I unreservedly join him in that plea. The Saint Helenians are being denied some basic human freedoms. There are presently two types of Britishness; there are first and second-class subjects. The Government should get their priorities right and begin by giving the under-privileged a better start in life. That would be a far more laudable form of social engineering than the present measures to bar hereditary Peers from this House in the absence of any substantive outline of how this House will finally be constituted.

I conclude by wishing the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and his commission every success in their Herculean task. I urge them to uphold the independence and integrity of this House and not to bow to the inevitable government pressure for reducing the powers of this House. I urge the Government to treat the constitution that they inherited with kid gloves. It is far too precious to do anything other than handle it with care.

10.38 p.m.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal appeared to resent the holding of this debate. However, my noble friends Lord Strathclyde and Lord Henley are fully vindicated: first, because it has been an excellent debate; and, secondly, because this is the only opportunity to debate the White Paper ahead of receiving the narrowly focused and spiteful little Bill to remove the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in this House. The Bill owes more to prejudice, class warfare and party politics, and rather less to good governance.

I regret very much not hearing from more Members of the Government and Liberal Democrat Benches. I also regret not hearing from the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, Convenor of the Cross-Benches, whose contribution on the White Paper and the future of the second Chamber would have been much valued. This is a debate which ranges much wider than the terms of the Bill in another place. This debate is concerned not only with the consequences of stage one reform but also all further reforms to determine the future of our second Chamber.

It is unfortunate, to say the least, that the record of this House, and in particular the role of the hereditary Peers over the centuries, has been so grudgingly recorded. I wish to pay a wholehearted tribute to the work of this House, for its dedicated public service and sense of duty, for the quality of its debates, the outstanding work of the Select Committees and for the assiduous and painstaking way in which the House scrutinises and revises legislation.

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The set piece debates on such matters as social policy, foreign affairs and defence are read and respected widely. Many academic institutions use them to bring contemporary comment on serious issues to the notice of their students. This House harnesses the talents of the professional, the highly skilled, the highly informed, the compassionate, the enthusiastic and the occasional eccentric. It is a uniquely effective and cost-effective second Chamber, admired throughout the world. I would not have set about its destruction without the secure knowledge that something better was to replace it.

I have searched in vain for the intellectual case for the Government's proposals. The White Paper was certainly prepared in haste. It is very badly drafted, repetitious to a fault and lacks any philosophical comment. It is preoccupied with stage one reform. Reluctantly, and at the eleventh hour, the Government have put a Royal Commission in place. But they have given it an almost impossible timetable. If the Government are in such a hurry to receive the report of the Royal Commission, then why, oh why, is parliamentary time taken up with creating an unnecessary interregnum--time which would be better allocated to dealing with more pressing legislation?

As for the opening remarks of the noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal, accusing my noble friends of self-indulgence by her comparison of hours spent by this House on reform of the House as opposed to education and the homeless, it was not only offensive to noble Lords on all Benches, who take those subjects extremely seriously, but it also displayed a total lack of understanding of the gravity and far-reaching effects of constitutional change. A strong, independent and effective second Chamber is an essential prerequisite for the role of holding the Executive to account.

It is a disappointment to many people inside, but more especially outside Parliament, that the tone set by the Lord Privy Seal and her right honourable friend the Leader of another place was hardly conducive to achieving a consensus on reform. Rarely have I witnessed such vitriol and hatred heaped upon the noble hereditary Peers of this House. Such an attack on hereditary Peers is an attack on us all and it is shameful.

There would have been little resistance from my noble friends on these Benches and I suspect on other Benches too, had the Government decided, before embarking on changes, to take a root and branch look at the constitutional arrangements in the United Kingdom. It is timely to consider the workings of Parliament as a whole, to examine the role, the power and the functions of both Houses, the relationship of Parliament to the Church, to the judiciary and, most significantly, to the people of this country. Only after the most detailed analysis, examination and careful study, including the widest possible consultation and an attempt to secure the broadest possible consensus, should major constitutional reforms be undertaken.

Sadly, what we have instead is nothing less than constitutional vandalism on a massive scale, the effects of which will only become apparent some time after the damage has been done.

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I do not believe that many people, other than my noble friends led by my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish who deal with constitutional issues on these Benches, have even begun to contemplate the ramifications of Scottish devolution and regional government. Certainly, my right honourable friend John Major warned of the fragmentation and weakening of the United Kingdom that would result from such ill-thought-out legislation. Already we feel the tensions growing and the almost desperate attempt by the Government to create new committees to shore up the United Kingdom.

As for Wales, the arrogance and contempt shown by the Government are staggering. They were arrogant to describe a 1 per cent. majority on such a small turn-out in the referendum "as the settled will of the people" and for the cursory way in which the Welsh Bill was dealt with by another place. Then, having promoted devolution in the spirit of "let the people speak", the Welsh people did speak, only to be crushed by the might of the block vote. Such cavalier contempt for democracy is truly breathtaking as well as hypocritical. The closed list system of proportional representation for elections, so fiercely defended by the Government, will increase the gulf between the people and Parliament, give power to the party apparatchiks and remove from the people the right to select and deselect an individual Member of Parliament.

The fragmentation that will result from many of the changes will mean a loss of clout for the United Kingdom within and beyond Europe. Without any doubt this is a most dangerous government. The democratic deficit that will result from these changes will be realised only when it is too late. It is against this background that the debate we are having on the amendment of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, which I support wholeheartedly, acquires great significance.

The hallmarks of this Government are: central control; government by spin doctors and political advisers; lack of proper respect for civil servants; disregard, even contempt, for Parliament and its processes--note that they have turned government by leak into an art form--and a greater concern for the next day's headline than for the real issue. The latest autocratic phenomenon is for Ministers to refuse to answer Parliamentary Questions. The need for an authoritative second Chamber is absolutely essential.

Much has been made of the so-called massive Tory majority. I and my noble friends Lord Mackay, Lord Henley, and others who were defeated regularly as Ministers, know that in practice this House cannot, nor should it ever be, taken for granted. The strength of this House is the independence shown by Members on all Benches. By and large, in this House one must win the argument in order to receive the support of one's noble friends as well as the hearts and minds of Cross-Benchers and others. No "yah boo, sucks!" policies here. On many occasions the quality of argument used against me in debates on Bills strengthened my arm as a Minister to return to my department and fight for amendments which were then accepted by the House. It is that independence and the

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readiness of Members to subordinate party interest to what is perceived to be the greater good that is so precious and is at serious risk from the proposals of the Government.

The noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal cannot get away with saying that the powers of this House will not be weakened. Whatever their manifesto says, to restrict the circumstances in which a power can be used as suggested in paragraph 25 of Chapter 7 is a restriction of powers. The list contained in paragraph 26 of that chapter provides even greater proof of an intention to reduce our powers. The real agenda of this Government is to increase legitimacy but to render the House impotent to be effective in its role of holding the Executive to account. Nor can the noble Baroness claim on the one hand that the hereditary principle is fundamentally wrong in a modern society and on the other hand deny that the Royal Family will not be affected by reform. Perhaps not now, but the constitutional position of the Royal Family will become more vulnerable to reform with the passing of the Bill.

Under the present Government inexorably Parliament is becoming an irrelevance. One has only to watch the serried rows of government pager-controlled Back-Benchers in another place and to witness the number of occasions when the media rather than Parliament is informed of an issue. It is obvious that the Government would like to neutralise the effect of this House. Yet meanwhile the Executive is growing more powerful and the centre of gravity for decision-making is moving to Brussels.

The Government use slick and glitzy presentations. They describe policies in warm, glowing PR-speak while at the same time they are engaged in ill-thought out and piecemeal constitutional change without any care for how it will develop. The White Paper signally fails to address comprehensively constitutional change and the effects of the interaction between one set of reforms with others within the United Kingdom.

I, too, wish the Commission well in its task. I hope that it will not be constrained by Chapter 7 of the White Paper nor intimidated by the Government and that it will take fully into account the terms of my noble friend's amendment. However, the ultimate test will be whether a stronger, more effective and independent second Chamber will result from its work. But I have to say how sad it is that this House, as presently composed, will not be here to apply that test.

I take some comfort from this two-day debate. The support for a strengthened, independent and effective House, irrespective of whether noble Lords support or do not support the continued presence of hereditary Peers, has been overwhelming. Over the centuries hereditary Peers have performed their public service duties with great distinction in a second Chamber which is admired throughout the world. Evolutionary change from time to time has been enacted only after painstaking discussion and with a broad consensus of agreement. My plea, even at this stage, is to bury prejudice and engage brain before exercising the legislative pen. I salute the hereditary Peers. I regard it as a privilege to serve with them. I believe that the country will come to regret their wholesale abolition.

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10.52 p.m.

Lord Beloff: My Lords, something like 100 noble Lords have taken part in this debate. It must be rare for so many estimable persons to spend so much time discussing a document so void of intellectual content and presented in such a dishonest fashion. I thought it dishonest, but it is only half dishonest. It is presented in terms of the modernisation of Parliament and reform of the House of Lords. I now understand that the computer went wrong. The original title was "The marginalisation of Parliament" and the rest follows.

One then begins to wonder why a Government which claim to have the interests of ordinary people at heart in terms of the social services, education and the usual mantras, spend most of their first two years in office putting through a number of constitutional proposals, all of them ill-conceived and most of them unnecessary.

But there is usually an answer to any question of motive. As with some other phenomena at the moment, the answer is what might be called, for shorthand purposes, the Blair/Mandelson project. It is not for me to define it. Fortunately, it has been defined by an impeccable source. A week ago on the radio I debated the question of constitutional change with a Dr. Tony Wright. The doctor is not a real doctor--there is just a D.Phil--but in new Labour circles that makes him an intellectual. This Member of Parliament, who took some notable part in the debate on the Bill which has been going through that House, used part of his time to indulge in verbal abuse at my expense. I do not object to that; good manners are not something automatically to be expected from new Labour! But he did proceed to explain the Blair/Mandelson project. I paraphrase as I do not have the transcript. He said that the intention is that the Labour Party should expand in order to include all the constructive elements in British politics and British society. It welcomes Liberal Democrats, gullible Conservatives, if they can be found, and anyone who will join in progressing towards the goals which that movement has set. Some people might say that that was the very definition of totalitarianism. So much for Dr. Tony Wright.

The noble Lords, Lord Chalfont and Lord Desai, referred to the fact that the only person quoted in the White Paper is Thomas Paine. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, was a little indulgent about his biography. He did not admit that this radical, atheistic republican was also a traitor, that he always sided with the enemies of his own country and that he would have been indicted for treason if he had not fled to France. In France he teamed up with the wrong kind of revolutionaries and only narrowly escaped the guillotine.

One may ask: why Thomas Paine? There is again an answer to that. He is the great hero--the icon, if you like--of the ci-devant Viscount Stansgate, known as Tony Benn. Therefore, one must assume that giving this prominent place to Thomas Paine was a way of bringing even Tony Benn aboard this Blair/Mandelson project.

One then begins to wonder what is the purpose of the House of Lords part of the Blair/Mandelson project. It has become abundantly clear in the course of discussion

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and listening to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House that the Government object to the fact that a second Chamber might, unless its powers were drastically curtailed, get in the way. It would be an irritant upon this great forward movement which we are asked to admire. The difficulty with taking that view, and intending also to change the membership, is that the White Paper takes for granted what it should prove. It takes for granted that the hereditary principle is somehow illegitimate. I find that quite extraordinary since, as I have pointed out in your Lordships' House previously, it is a principle which has had a part in the government of many countries and civilisations and appears to be a natural element in the way people perceive their rulers. But then one comes to the question: if that is not legitimate, is there a good deal to be said for the alternative method, which is elections? One might say that elections are very modern. They go back only a mere few centuries. But then one would have to look at their result. If one reads the debates on the Bill in another place or if one goes to watch its proceedings from our Gallery, it is quite obvious that the electors can get it wrong too. There are a large number of wholly uninformed but very voluble people. There are a lot of young women who flit about like a flock of demented starlings with their little microphones, enabling them to receive Mr. Alastair Campbell's instructions. The electorate is entitled to make a mistake. I have no doubt that the electorate will remedy it.

After all, we are dealing with an unnatural government and, as many examples would show, the most inefficient government, let us say, since Ethelred the Unready. Of course, as usual, I am being unfair. I mean that I am being unfair to Ethelred. Ethelred paid Danegeld but he did it in the face of massive military might. The present Government are willing to hand the country's treasure over to Frankfurt in the face of no military pressure at all, merely so that Ministers can enjoy the company--I was going to say the embraces but I thought that that is improbable--of Herr Schroeder and Mme Cresson. Who have you in mind?

Then again, Ethelred never took part, as far as we know, in any chat show. He was a relatively silent monarch. And finally, we know for certain that he never asked his monks to ghost-write articles for the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and sign them in his name.

11.1 p.m.

Lord Dunleath: My Lords, it is a privilege and a real pleasure but also a nightmare to follow the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, who always imparts such good sense with such style. It is, indeed, a double nightmare to be the last speaker in this lengthy two-day debate when I know that most noble Lords will be awaiting the wind-up speeches with interest. I say "most noble Lords" because I suspect that I could speak all night and it would still not give the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip enough time to come up with sensible answers to the points which noble Lords have raised over the past two days.

I took my seat as an hereditary Peer a little under a year ago and can claim that, if evicted, I shall not miss your Lordships' House too much after such a short time.

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Equally, I cannot be accused of sour grapes through having missed the opportunity of sitting in this wonderful place. Unfortunately other commitments prevented me from attending the two-day debate on Lords reform last October. However, I have read the Hansard reports with care but am disappointed that this Government have taken so little notice of what was said during those two days. On the other hand, I gain some small crumb of comfort from the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, seems to believe that his party will not be forming the next administration, as he predicts there will be an avalanche of hereditaries elected to the House of Commons.

Now we have moved on and have a White Paper on Lords reform and a Bill to remove the right of hereditary Peers to be Members of this House. This Government and the Labour Party make much of the fact that the reform of the Lords and the removal of hereditary Peers are all to do with democracy. That is a nonsense. Much is made of the fact that the abolition of the hereditaries was contained in that Holy Grail--the Labour Party manifesto of the last election. Really one must ask just how many people other than party apparatchiks actually read the document and of those who did, how many either noticed that element of policy or felt that it was an overwhelming reason to vote Labour. Strange as it may appear, I do not believe that the Labour Party won the last election. It was the Tories who lost it, which was not too surprising, considering the mire of sleaze into which they had sunk after 18 years in government. However, it is a fact that this present Government are in exactly the same sort of sleazy mess after just 18 months in power. So much for squeaky clean New Labour!

In spite of the carefully crafted words of the White Paper and official pronouncements, the supposedly democratic intentions of Lords reform are shown to be a lie because, unfortunately for this Government, Members of the Labour Party are quite unable to resist gloating about the demise of the hereditaries. What reform is in reality all about is envy, spite and jealousy. First, we have no lesser person than the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, in a radio interview broadcast on the day that the White Paper was published, confirming that our removal means that,


    "The patronage of vast numbers of monarchs on our history is going to disappear".
I suppose that is the socialist equivalent of a right and left; a shot at the monarchy with one barrel and at the hereditaries with the other. Sadly, both missed, so there will be no certificate and no tie for the noble Baroness on this occasion.

Then we have the wonderful comments from the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, made in the same radio broadcast, when she stated that she wanted far greater reform of the composition of your Lordships' House than just the removal of the hereditaries. She said,


    "only if you are born great and good or wealthy do you get into the House of Lords".

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Really! I wonder under what category the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, was eligible? At least those of us who are quite poor can take comfort from the fact that we are presumably here because we are great or good.

It is reassuring that there are elements of Old Labour still around who cannot resist having a knock at the rich. Maybe it is nostalgic to say so, but I remember the 'sixties and 'seventies when Labour was in power with some affection. Yes, the noble Lord, Lord Healey, may well have talked about taxing the rich until the pips squeaked, but there was something rather endearing about having a Prime Minister who spent his holidays in the Scilly Islands rather than, as is the case with the present premier, in the Seychelles.

Thirdly, we have the utterances of the Foreign Secretary on the subject of the removal of the so-called "club rights" from hereditaries when he said that we would no longer be able to,


    "live like Lords at the taxpayers' expense".
Poor Mr. Cook; how my heart bleeds for him having to slum it with his new wife at Chevening at the taxpayers' expense. Perhaps he should invite his colleague, Mr. Cunningham, down for a weekend to see how the other half lives and as a contrast to the jaunts on Concorde or in the private jet, the stays in Conrad Hotels and the meals in Michelin starred restaurants.


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