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Lord Waddington: My Lords, let me finish this passage and then I shall certainly give way. Secondly, the removal of the hereditary Peers--constituting more than half the total membership of the present House--will obviously make it easier for a government to dominate the House by packing it with people prepared to do their bidding. Thirdly, now that the Government have embarked on constitutional change, it is no answer to a demand for safeguards against possible abuse to say that that has never happened before. Our job, when we are creating a new House which may well be a permanency, is to make sure that this new House will be an effective barrier against the abuse of power. If it is not going to be that, there is little point in having it at all.
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. The noble Lord said that hereditary Peers are independent. Can he explain why 300 hereditary Peers take the Conservative Party Whip and only 18 take the Labour Party Whip?
Lord Waddington: My Lords, clearly they have come to the conclusion that the Conservative Party better reflects their values than the Labour Party. The noble Lord fails to recognise the fact that they do not have to take any Whip. They do that of their own volition. They are beholden to no one. They could
In my submission the Bill should put appointments in the hands of a statutory appointments commission charged with the task of recommending appointments from the various parties in numbers which ensure that the government of the day have a small majority over the other parties but not in the House as a whole. Your Lordships will recognise those words. As such an amendment would reflect more or less precisely what the Government say in their own White Paper, it should not present any problem for them. I hope to get an encouraging response from the Government. I certainly hope that I will not be told that that is merely a Committee point, let alone that it is outside the scope of the Bill, because--I emphasise this point--the question of whether there will be adequate safeguards should be at the very centre of the debate. Without such safeguards, the Bill is a constitutional enormity.
I believe that we should go further than the modest proposal that I have just made. It would be a massive mistake--I am repeating myself now, which I do not often do, but I have an excuse for doing so because I want to support what was said by my noble friend Lord Carrington--if the Government, now that they have embarked on a sweeping change to the composition of this House, did not make another change, which would chime in well with the Government's enthusiasm for referendums. Now that we are embarked on great constitutional change, we should bear in mind that there are few safeguards in this country against a government, supported by a hefty but perhaps very temporary majority, destroying our most precious institutions, including the monarchy. And yet most people recognise that these institutions are not the playthings of politicians, to be tampered with at the whim of a temporary majority, but are held in trust by us for our children and our children's children. Should there not
It is wrong that we should be required to debate this Bill without the Government revealing their long-term plans. If the Government were determined on the two-stage process they could easily have postponed the introduction of the Bill until they had decided on their reaction to the conclusions of the Royal Commission. Instead the Government have decided to pander to the class warriors in the Labour Party. Now that they have introduced this measure--which they may never be able to replace--we are entitled to insist that it contains provisions which prevent the kind of abuse of power which must be a risk if one of the two Houses of the legislature is composed wholly of the Government's nominees.
I am prepared to give the Government the benefit of the doubt and assume that they embarked on this exercise without realising how gravely weakened was the other place. But they must know the score now and, given the present position, this Bill, far from being, in the words of the Labour Manifesto,
It seems to me that the underlying current of feeling of many noble Lords is that nothing should be done or any definitive action taken until the Royal Commission has reported and put forward proposals on what it believes will be an independent body, or a body as independent as possible. Until its report has been carefully considered, it would be wrong to tamper with your Lordships' House.
I take issue with the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby. I do not agree that that is a devious method of trying to scotch the whole Bill. I can speak only personally, obviously, and, like the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, I am in favour of reform. Reform is necessary. We are on the eve of the 21st century. I felt uncomfortable--particularly when I was with the party opposite--that there was perceived to be an in-built majority on that side of the House. It is a privilege for any Member of your Lordships' House to sit here and to speak. I question--and always have questioned--whether that privilege was not perhaps undermined a little when the Conservative Party, on very few occasions, used the big stick and whipped in a great many Peers, who are commonly called backwoodsmen, who were seen very little from one year's end to another. I always thought that that was perhaps taking things too far. If that limited point could be addressed I should have thought that the fundamental principle of objection by the Labour Party would have been removed. Unfortunately, when it says that that objection would not be removed, it leads me to feel that the Bill stems from the politics of envy. The Labour Party does not like privilege. I can understand that.
Other noble Lords who have spoken at length have said that the present system undoubtedly has its merits. I believe sincerely that, by and large, the pros of your Lordships' House outweigh the perceived cons.
Furthermore, I question whether Parliament as a whole, and even this House, should be deciding upon the principles of the Bill. We all have parochial interests; we all have our own axes to grind; we all have vested interests. It is better that as independent a body as possible does all the thinking about this issue. It should listen, find out what functions the House has, and recommend a measure for Parliament to ratify. I do not
The noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, made an interesting speech in which he put forward a suggestion in broad outline and said that we need to achieve a balance in this House. That is right. His words are worth reading. I hope that the Royal Commission will take that point on board. It is close to the views that I have held for some time.
It will be argued that the removal of the hereditary Peers is part of the Labour Party's manifesto. I read in one newspaper this morning that it had emerged in a poll that only 2 per cent. of those who were asked remembered that this proposal was in the manifesto in the first place. I venture to suggest that if people had realised that such dramatic effects would be visited upon this House without there being the slightest idea as to what would come after it, 2 per cent. of those who supported the Labour Party in the polls might have voted the other way, and possibly more. It is a terrible thing to do.
We must not pre-empt matters before the Royal Commission reports, but it has been said that a few hereditary Peers might remain in the transitional stage. I may be a bear of very little brain, but I really do not understand that. I honestly believe that it is grabbing at the wrong end of the stick. We are here to consider whether or not there should be hereditary Peers in this House; that is a matter for the Royal Commission. I do not believe that the House should be tampered with. I believe that the idea of a suggested number agreed by both sides is an artificial fix, a sop. I do not like it. Something about it "smells a funny colour". Why not 121? Why not 11? I do not follow that argument. I thought it was Conservative Party policy, before that suggestion was mooted by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne--for whom I and everyone in this House have the greatest regard--that we should resist most strongly, with all the power at our disposal, any Bill to alter the framework of this House until the Royal Commission had reported. I may be mistaken, but I believe that was the policy. If it was not, it should have been.
This is a bad Bill, produced at the wrong time, in the wrong way. Perhaps I may remind your Lordships of Hilaire Belloc's Cautionary Tales, which are all rather jolly. There is a cautionary tale in this:
Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, this is a momentous debate. There are nearly 200 noble Lords who wish to speak and I am sorry that the Government have insisted that the Bill be compressed into two days. I very much
A number of us on this side of the House had intended to intervene during the discussion last week. Unfortunately, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor rose so swiftly to put the Question that we were not able to do so. Perhaps we should have stood up more quickly, but I hope that the noble and learned Lord will take great care in the future proceedings on this Bill to allow all of us to express our view.
The noble Lord, Lord Carter, has suggested that we should confine our speeches to seven minutes. A number of noble Lords no doubt wish that mine should be confined to even less. Be that as it may, on a Bill of this nature that is not an appropriate suggestion. I confess that I have no intention of being so confined, except in accordance with the Standing Orders of this House.
On numerous occasions during the various discussions on this matter before the Bill came before the House, a number of government spokesmen, including in particular the right honourable lady the Lord President of the Council and the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, chose to make some pretty disobliging remarks about the motivations, qualities and antecedents of hereditary Peers which many of us have not much cared for. Happily, the noble Baroness did not repeat those remarks today and I very much welcome that.
I turn now to the Bill itself. The Government stated in their manifesto, and again in the recent Queen's Speech, their intentions to bring forward this measure. The noble Baroness is right to say that it appeared in the manifesto, and we are right to acknowledge that fact. That said, it is clearly a constitutional measure of momentous importance and has not yet been adequately considered in parliamentary terms, less still in the country. I hope that we can correct that in this House.
As our debate on the White Paper demonstrated, this debate is again showing the depth of interest among your Lordships on reform of this House. I wonder whether the Government have yet realised how tough a battle they now face.
It will come as no surprise that I am opposed to this legislation. I am not opposed to the principle of reforming this House if the outcome leaves us with a second Chamber in a stronger and more independent position in its relationship both to the other place and to the Government. As was stated in today's Daily Telegraph:
Indeed, the Bill quite clearly and somewhat fundamentally ignores any discussion on the powers and independence of Parliament, which surely must be addressed when considering Lords reform. That lack of
In his important speech, my noble friend Lord Carrington referred to his view as to what the future constitution of the House of Lords might look like. I rather share that view. A wholly elected Chamber is perhaps the most intellectually sustainable of all the solutions that have been canvassed. But Ministers often point to their manifesto commitments. Let us take just one of them. The Labour Party manifesto stated:
This Bill is not driven by what is necessarily right for the future of parliamentary democracy, but by a long-held and well known political disrespect, not to say contempt for this House in its present composition.
I have heard it said that Ministers, especially in the other place, do not understand the workings of this House--for example, the fact that we do not need an umpire to help us get through our business or to keep order. And the very fact, which perhaps rankles most, that the Whips cannot hold patronage over Peers, sends shivers down the backs of the apparatchiks in Downing Street and Millbank. It therefore comes as no surprise that the Government should introduce this Bill that ends the right of hereditary Peers both to sit and to vote in this House without offering any serious alternative.
Of course, Ministers will argue that it will be the job of the Royal Commission to come forward with proposals for future reform. But let us not forget that the decision by the Government to establish such a commission was a belated and reluctant concession. And, as many of your Lordships have said previously, it is wrong to have stage one reform without stage two. That view is also held by the Financial Times, a newspaper which more often than not supports this Government. It states today that the Government are wrong,
All this raises additional questions. What is to stop the Government making the so-called transitional House a permanent fixture? What will happen if the Government are opposed to the recommendations of the Royal Commission? Again, to quote the Financial Times,
What have Ministers told us about the composition of this House in the transitional stage and their reasons for removing hereditary Peers? They have this obsession with the so-called built-in majority of the Conservative Party. They forget the number of defeats inflicted by
What is the view of the Labour Party at large on this matter, including, in particular, the more venerable members? Experience confirms that the Labour Party will go to great lengths to ensure that the leadership maintains its steely grip whenever it can. Look at how they ensured that only Blairites were chosen to fight seats in the Scottish Parliament, at how a splendid Blairite candidate has become the leader of the party in Wales and at how the members of the NEC are not allowed to say anything after they have attended meetings.
My suspicion is, therefore, that, once the Bill has cleared its parliamentary process, the Government will do more than seek broad parity of number; they may even ensure that they have an overall majority, and this House will then lose its independence. We shall be left with a wholly nominated House, with all the obvious disadvantages of that arrangement.
I understand that my noble friend Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare intends to propose an amendment restricting the right to vote of Peers who do not attend sufficiently regularly. I do not see my noble friend in his place. This topic has been discussed as a matter of principle by noble Lords who have spoken earlier and I believe I am entitled to refer to it. Such an amendment will need careful drafting, but I do not necessarily disagree with it. Peers who are Members of this House are in a special position and we must be certain that in limiting one right we do not inadvertently undermine another. Furthermore, we shall need to have regard to the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights, which has a great deal to say on parliamentary and related freedoms.
In his proposed amendment, my noble friend is no doubt responding to the oft-repeated criticisms--which we have heard again today--of so-called backwoods Peers who choose to come to the House only on selected occasions. But it is a fact that many life Peers, especially, I am sorry to say, some of quite recent creation, also choose to come only infrequently, and I very much hope that any amendments that are proposed will not be confined to hereditary Peers but will also include life Peers--and, for that matter, right reverend Prelates and Most reverend Primates.
I turn now to the so-called Weatherill amendment, by which the noble Lord apparently plans to allow 91 hereditary Peers to be elected by their colleagues and to remain in the House during stage one only. Since
Perhaps I may add one further point. Among the hereditary Peers to be excluded under the Bill are a small number of very senior Peers, to whom my noble friend Lord Strathclyde referred, who may well not choose to offer themselves for election but whom we should all wish to remain as Members of this House. I hope that the Government will find a way of making that possible.
I conclude by confirming my opposition to this measure. As drafted, it undermines the independence and effectiveness of your Lordships' House in a way which one day we shall all regret. I and others shall therefore want to suggest a range of amendments to correct these shortcomings. I anticipate lengthy discussion on these matters, but these are issues of momentous importance and I make no apology to your Lordships for the prospect of a long and difficult progress through this House. It would be so much better if the Government would wait for the views of the Royal Commission and then proceed on an agreed basis, but they have chosen not to do so. So be it. I consider that we have a duty to oppose with all the vigour at our command, and I pledge myself to that process.
Lord Shepherd: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition for his very kind association of my name with the names of old friends from the other side of the House. It is certainly an honour to be associated with the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe. I felt that there was a name missing, that of Lord St. Aldwyn, but he is dead, of course. I shall always remember him with affection. He was the party opposite's Chief Whip for many years. They were my tutors in my early days in this House, just as, in 1945, when my father came to the House, where he became Chief Whip, the grandfather of the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, was equally helpful and solicitous on all occasions. I believe that that has provided the continuity of this House.
However, it has to be recognised that it was a dying House. Due to the economic circumstances, the hereditary principle was not throwing up sufficient men of nobility and experience to maintain this House and enable it to perform what were then its duties. When the first life Peers came to the House--whom I remember with great affection and respect--they brought a new life and a new approach within the traditions of the House, and I believe that that led hereditary Peers to feel that this was a place worth coming to. This was not a dying House but a place in which something could be done. To be frank, I believe that friction that once did not exist is beginning to build up between the hereditary Peers and the life Peers. Here we are allowed our personal opinions.
I support the Bill, but do so with some sadness having been in this House for some 44 years. I have had my best times and my best friends here. However, I understand, as do noble Lords opposite, that my son and particularly my grandson will not have the privileges that I have enjoyed in this place. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, was less than fair in observing in his remarkable speech that my noble friend the Leader of the House had not been well disposed to hereditary Peers and failed to acknowledge what they had done in the past. I believe that taking the speeches that have been made overall that accusation is not sustained. My son and grandson accept that by birth they have no right to legislate in the 21st century in a civilised and democratic state.
There has been criticism of the Bill itself. The Government have done exactly what I said they should do: they have kept the Bill short and dealt with one issue only. They have learned the lessons of 1968 when one of the most complicated Bills was introduced and frustrated on the issue that we are now discussing, because reform of this House made this place more respectable and therefore was a challenge to another place. It is unfair to place the entire blame on Michael Foot. I believe that Enoch Powell was somewhere on the scene. It is also true that the Conservative Party removed the whip at the very moment that they should not when there was agreement to the White Paper and the principles within the Bill. Therefore, the Government are right in what they have done: they have kept the Bill short and precise.
I do not believe that this Bill should deal with anything about the future. I doubt whether the Government are right to expect that the Royal Commission will deliver forth a major paper in such a short space of time. I say to its chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, that I thoroughly approve of what (I hope) is his order of priorities: role; function; power; procedure; and, finally, composition. Unless one can deal with those earlier issues one cannot appreciate the form of composition of this House. I heard my noble friend the Leader of the House refer to various other modernising Acts. I do not believe that we are part of the wind of change, to use that great phrase coined by Mr. Harold Macmillan. There is a great wind of change in our constitutional structure. It may well be that there will have to be some adjustment--though not a dramatic one--and reform in the other place and here so that the
I turn to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold. Despite his vigour, I do not believe that his heart was really in the amendment. I suspect that he would have preferred to move a Motion that this House do not approve the Bill. The noble Baroness nods her head and I am glad that she endorses my impression. It has been said that we should regret party political interest. I am all for the Labour Party seeking a degree of parity with the party opposite. I do not regard that as party political interest in the way that it was meant to be. I believe that this House would be a healthier place with parity. It is not right that we should have to retain a large number of Peers here night after night, no matter how immaterial the Government legislation may be, just in case the noble Lords opposite decide to call a Division or merely to maintain a quorum. I am all for parity. The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, drew attention to the 1968 agreement that the Government of the day should have only a bare majority over the other two political parties. I do not know whether an amendment to that effect can be drafted, but in principle I go along with it. It would apply to the two parties in this House. Therefore, there would have to be some adjustment to the composition.
I turn to the last point made by the noble Lord relating to consultation and consensus. It has been with us for the whole of the century. In 1948 we had an agreement, but it all fell apart because of disagreement on powers. In 1968 we had an agreement. Thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, we had a massive majority in this House to abolish the hereditary principle. It must be remembered that a massive majority of Conservative Peers voted with us for the abolition of the hereditary principle but it was lost in another place. As it is a simple Bill the issue is now before us at the end of March. We have all the time in the world, although the Government Chief Whip may not think so. We have at least three months in which to examine the Bill. Sooner or later we shall recognise whether or not there is a degree of frustration.
I turn quickly to the Weatherill amendment. The Leader of the House has made it clear that the Weatherill amendment depends very much upon the way in which the Conservative opposition react to the Bill. I should like an assurance from the Government that even if that amendment were passed in Committee and later the Opposition sought to frustrate the matter, the Government would take the necessary steps in another place to overturn it. Unless it is clear that that is what we shall do, I do not see how we can accept the Weatherill amendment. I much prefer that it be done in a different way if hereditary Peers are seen to be necessary in a transitional House. I do not know how the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, believes we shall vote for hereditary Peers. Will it be done by the hereditary Peers in the Conservative Party or by all members of the party? I have not heard from my noble friend how it is intended to do it. We have only two. I do not know
Earl Russell: My Lords, Richard Cromwell, our second Lord Protector, was a victim of the hereditary principle. He did not share his father's reputation sometimes, but he did make one memorable remark. He said,
I would not wish to pretend for a moment that the position we enjoy here could be described as greatness, and it would be a gross discourtesy to pretend that membership of this House had been nothing but a burden; but the desire to avoid bloodshed often has something to be commended. When the King returned in 1660, Richard Cromwell was allowed to resume the life of a Hampshire country gentleman. It may please some of your Lordships and alarm others to learn that he continued to ride to hounds until his death, 42 years later. Peace has a price and that price is often worth paying.
I listened with great care to what the noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal had to say about the concept of birthright. I was reminded of one of my current pupils who is writing a long essay on the philosophy of liberalism, advised, I hasten to say, by someone a great deal more impartial than myself. She has seized on one quotation to argue that one of the keys to the whole philosophy is a belief in equality of birthright. As the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, would put it, "Well, there is no arguing with that". Since I intend to insist on that principle on behalf of those disentitled to benefit or on behalf of asylum seekers, I must equally insist on it against myself.
The noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal will remember that when we were undergraduates I could see no reason why, by a mere accident of birth, I was allowed membership of the Oxford Union and she was not. Equally, I can see no reason why, by a mere accident of birth, I should have an automatic right to membership of this House when she did not. She has known me long enough to know that this is no abandonment of competition; but I hope to compete on equal terms without hiding behind a tariff barrier of privilege.
It is often said that we do a good job. I believe that on the whole we do; but it is not a sufficient answer. The question is why we should have the right to do the good job. The only defence is on the ground that our selection was a lottery; but a lottery which has produced about 10 old Etonians to every old Harrovian is one which the noble Viscount, Lord Long, might have some difficulty in defending.
Some resent privilege. It has usually done them no harm. The noble Baroness, after all, is now Lord Privy Seal. If it does harm, it is to those who accept it, who believe therefore that they are lesser people than we are.
I recall an occasion on which I had been agreeing exam marks with David Starkey, my fellow examiner. I was driving him home very late one Saturday night and was stopped at the wrong end of Islington by police who clearly suspected that we were drug-running. I told them that my name was Russell and I lived in Kilburn, which did not appear to reassure them--until David Starkey adopted his very highest moral tone, which as some of your Lordships know is positively stratospheric, and said, "This is Professor the Earl Russell", whereat the police all scarpered! The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, knows very well that we have deplored the process of stereotyping in the police force. I must admit that I enjoyed that moment, but I do not think that I should have benefited from it.
At the same time, however, we have the same right to scrutinise proposals for our successors as we have to scrutinise any other government proposal. There are real fears, which the noble Lord, Lord Richard, has addressed in a speech which I heard with great pleasure, about the composition of the future House. Ministers will say that those fears are misplaced. I will be very glad indeed if I find that is true; but I beg Ministers to recognise that those fears are perfectly genuine. Our chances of getting this Bill through peacefully and quietly depend on the Government's success in reassuring those fears.
I agree precisely with the noble Lord, Lord Richard, that the purpose of this House is the reduction of executive power. I therefore also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, and I do not look with favour on any suggestion that the powers of this House should be reduced. We need to be able to challenge the Government in the Division Lobbies. We need to be able to send legislation back to another place a second time. We need to recognise what this House has described as its unfettered freedom to vote on secondary legislation. However, perhaps most important of all, one of our greatest powers is our freedom to control our own allocation of time.
I hope that those fighting the abolition of the hereditary peerage in the course of this Bill will remember that in defending one thing which is precious to them they would be unwise to threaten something which is even more important, because that freedom, like others, survives only so long as we do not abuse it.
Since legitimacy has been put in issue, election is now the only thing which is widely recognised as conferring legitimacy. We need predominantly an elected and not a nominated House. Were a proposal to appear for election by a closed list, there would be room for dispute in which of those two categories it should be placed. I do not, however, join those who say that it should be all election.
In the defence of the hereditary peerage which we have heard, and which I must admit I heard with some element of pleasure, one also hears a distrust of the party machinery and of its tendency to drift towards oligarchy rather than democracy. That feeling is real in the country at large. I do not believe that we are the right mechanism to carry that feeling, but it is there and the lightning needs a conductor.
It is vital to bear in mind that speeches in this House do sometimes change votes. I believe that we need Cross-Benchers. My position therefore remains the position of the Cook-Maclennan talks: a predominantly elected House in which there should be a nominated element. That might be something which we could keep hold of and take forward. If we look in these directions, I hope this Bill may survive, like Richard Cromwell, without undue bloodshed.
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, perhaps I may start by congratulating the Government on this Bill. Congratulations do not come thick and fast to governments, so I thought that they might like that. I congratulate them on the length of the Bill and not on its composition.
The Bill ends a 700 year-old right for some 700 Peers to sit in Parliament. Whatever views one might have about the worthiness of that, it is pretty heady stuff. I can well understand noble Lords opposite thinking that it is wrong for hereditary Peers to have a place in Parliament. That is a perfectly respectable argument and one which is often deployed, even though I do not share it myself. Members of another place have always disliked your Lordships' House and none more than the Labour Members of Parliament. The curious thing is that they all queue up to come here. And they do. We see serried ranks of them--slightly less serried at half past six in the evening than at three o'clock in the afternoon. But we love them and I like to think that they love us too. But once they are here a curious thing happens. They metamorphose into cuckoos and try to hook out of the nest the eggs already there, the very eggs that have given the nest its character and--dare I say it?--possibly a little of its attraction.
Whatever happens as we progress through the Bill, I hope that we shall be able to treat each other with courtesy. I congratulate the noble Baroness the Leader of the House on her opening remarks, in which she showed greater understanding. That was not exactly the case heretofore from Members of the Front Bench when there was a certain amount of spikiness. Whatever happens, the chances are that the hereditary Peers will go, and too much war-whooping for joy or vitriol is rather like kicking spaniels. I hope that we do not have too much of that. Even those accused of the most heinous murder are given the best possible breakfast before they go to the gallows. It does not do them much good, but it is a nice, thoughtful gesture.
Where the Government stand condemned over the Bill is that they are upheaving one of the Houses of Parliament without agreement, discussion or consensus, and no one has the slightest idea what is to follow. It would at least be understandable if the Government said, "We're going to get rid of hereditary Peers and remodel the House of Lords in this way". But to set up a commission of political people who have been appointed by the Prime Minister to say what they think should happen, but after the Bill has been passed and after the constitution has already been altered, seems to me to give scant respect both to the constitution and to Parliament.
Stages one and two of the reform should have come together. It is literally beyond comprehension that the Government should have deliberately separated them. After all, what is the hurry? Is 12 months in 700 years that much of a delay? I do not think so. The motivating force seems to be based on no greater intellectual basis than the beat of the tom-toms: "Get rid of hereditary Peers; get rid of hereditary Peers". That is the theme which underlines everything, as though it was the only thing that matters.
But is it? What do the Government want? They do not seem to know. They do not want to get rid of all hereditary Peers. That is what the Bill states. Members of the Government have spent the past 18 months castigating hereditary Peers saying that their presence in Parliament is an offence to democracy. But then the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor says that he is quite prepared to retain 91 hereditary Peers. What do the Government want? Do they want 91 hereditary Peers? If they do, why do they introduce a Bill which says that there are to be none? If they want 91 hereditary Peers, why do they not say so in the Bill? It seems to me illogical.
The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, made an extraordinary remark. He has vanished already, but he is allowed to do that. He said that it depends upon the way your Lordships behave as to whether or not 91 should be allowed. That is a most astonishing way to seek to alter the constitution. We should be a little more grown-up than that.
In my view of this Bill, the Government have a tiger by the tail. It will pull them heaven knows where, and the effect will be felt not just by hereditary Peers but by the House of Lords as a Chamber, by Parliament, the constitution and the people. No one knows where we are going, and no one knows where we shall end up. I hesitate to say this to noble Lords opposite, but the fault lies entirely with the Government for their impetuousness in bringing forward a totally inadequate Bill.
We have heard possibilities discussed by my noble friend Lord Carrington and the noble Lord, Lord Richard, today. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, said that now is the time to start debate. That should have been done before the Government introduced the Bill. For example, are the Government right to ask Parliament to override the Writ of Summons from the monarch? The Writ of Summons summons a Peer for the lifetime of a Parliament. The Bill states that that will cease in mid-Parliament. Can a government or Parliament usurp the command of the monarch when they or it feel like it? It is the command by which we all justify our presence here. Can the Government say to some Peers, "You may continue to have the authority of your writ", but to others, "You may no longer have the authority of your writ". I well remember the aircraft and shipbuilding industry legislation of 1976. It was a hybrid Bill because some ship repairing firms were being nationalised while others were not. It became hybrid because there was discrimination against people who were doing similar work. Is there not discrimination in this Bill against people who are doing similar work?
It does not seem to have occurred to the Government that when the hereditary Peers go and your Lordships' House consists of appointed people it will be no more democratic than it is now. Let us remember that. The life Peers will say, "Thank goodness for that. Now we have got rid of the baggage. Now we can do the job we were sent here to do", and the House of Lords will perpetually amend legislation without the restraint which the presence of hereditary Peers provides. And it will do so on secondary legislation, where until now it has always been a convention that your Lordships' House does not usurp the supremacy of another place. But that will happen; and another place will hate it and the relationship between the two Houses will be one of growing acrimony.
I fear that the smile on the face of the life Peers over the demise of hereditary Peers will soon vanish because life Peers will be the next to go. If there is to be an elected Chamber, or a partially elected Chamber, will many of your Lordships feel motivated to go to the hustings and seek the approval of the voters? Will the voters want to vote for many of your Lordships who are left here? But if there is to be a House in which some have been elected and some have been appointed, is that not a recipe for first and second class citizens in your Lordships' House?
Do people really want to have a second elected Chamber? Most people think that one is quite enough. Will people want to have to vote not just for the House of Commons, the European Parliament, local authorities, national assemblies and possibly the regional assemblies, but also for the House of Lords? Will people want to come to this House with its limited powers and no pay? Of course not. As sure as night follows day, we can see what will happen. They will want to be paid. Then the Peers who are here will want research students. They will want more and better accommodation. The costs of the second Chamber will soar. For all their Early Day Motions, the last thing another place wishes for is an elected second Chamber. They will hate that, too.
Do the Government want a stronger or weaker second Chamber? The Prime Minister has said that he will pack your Lordships' House with his own people so that the elected Chamber can get its way. At the same time, the Government say that they want to have a strong second Chamber in order to act as a check on the Executive. That is what they say, but they rise up in fury if your Lordships exercise even a scintilla of strength. Who will believe that that will change just because there is a change in the composition? If there is to be a stronger Chamber, it will be of necessity at the expense of another place because power is finite and will shift from one place to another.
Your Lordships may say that this is fantasising and nothing to do with the Bill, but I suggest that it has everything to do with the Bill. The Bill lays before your Lordships a Pandora's Box, full of the unknown. The Government refuse to open it because they have not thought it through, but in their obduracy the Government are wholly responsible. Is it not a sign of extraordinary pettiness that if and when the hereditary
We were glad to listen to my noble friend Lord Carrington this afternoon. He has had a distinguished record in public service. He will not be able to come back. The doors will be barred against him and all other hereditary Peers, too. What an astonishing reward that is for a lifetime of public service! And it will be the hapless doorkeepers who will be given the jolly task of keeping your Lordships out. Whether they have been trying their skills at a half-Nelson or in rugger tackles, I do not know, but it is pretty indecorous stuff at the best.
The Government obviously think that your Lordships' House, or anyhow the hereditary Peers, are either old-fashioned, too traditional or ought to be extinct. I think it is important to remember the difference between "old-fashioned", "traditional" and "extinct". The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich--he is not here today because, if I might respectfully remind the Government Chief Whip, this is Holy Week and he has other things on his mind--put those definitions very well, in circumstances which have nothing to do with this Bill at all. He said:
This Bill, limited in scope, as the Government would have us believe it is, will have an effect on our country, on our constitution and on our people which will be far, far greater than ever the Government have begun to realise. I regret that and I think that for that reason if for no other--and there are plenty of others--the Government are wrong.
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede: My Lords, I probably have the most unenviable speaking position in the whole of this debate in following the noble Earl. He is of course the quintessential hereditary Peer. He is an extremely good example of the service given to this House by hereditary Peers and there is no doubt that he could have made a tremendous career wherever he wished. Nevertheless, the noble Earl, whether he is pulling the tiger by the tail or a cuckoo pushing others out, will be able to roam free in whatever comes naturally for hereditary Peers once this Bill has passed.
The noble Earl made much of the rights of hereditary Peers who attend this House once this Bill is passed. It is my understanding--I am sure that my noble friends on the Front Bench will correct me if I am wrong--that that would be a decision for the new House, and the new House will decide whether certain hereditary Peers, or indeed all of them, will be able to come back and use the facilities of this House. I think that the noble Earl was wrong on that point, if I may say so.
I wish to concentrate my comments on one point: that is that the transitional House will be a strengthened House and it will be the better for that. I will quickly rehearse some of the figures which we have heard, but which have been skipped over. There will still be over 500 life Peers. This House will still be the largest second Chamber anywhere in the world and so, for goodness sake! it is still going to be able to operate very much as it does now.
We have heard that no party will be in overall control and that the Prime Minister has said that he seeks to have broad parity between the two main parties. But the Prime Minister of course has done much more than that. He has said that he will give up the right to appoint Cross-Bench Peers and he has also given up the right to veto the nominations of the other parties. No other Prime Minister has done that.
Another point which should be made is that of course life Peers are more legitimate than hereditary Peers. It is a point that a number of your Lordships have made, including my noble friend Lord Shore. The legitimacy of the life Peers will inevitably legitimise the transitional House. Another, perhaps less palatable, fact is worth repeating: some 70 per cent. of the contributions in this House are made by life Peers and not hereditary Peers. Yet another point which has not been made, which probably reflects the composition of this House, is that women and ethnic minorities are a very small minority here. That can never be rectified while the hereditary Peerage remains, and that is something which can be done during the transitional period.
A final point, more constitutional, is whether the Salisbury-Addison Convention will apply in the transitional House. I would argue that the removal of the hereditary Peers will lift a dead weight from the party opposite who are inhibited from working properly. They will be free to act in a more "free and easy" way.
I notice that a Labour Party press statement came out today which pointed out that Labour's life Peers work far harder than Conservative life Peers. So once the hereditary Peers go, if Conservative life Peers wish to take advantage of their new-found freedoms they will have to start working a lot harder. Although I do not think he is in his place at present, I should like to quote the words of the noble Lord, Lord Denham, at col. 1067 on 15th October last year. He said:
I will say just one word about the second stage. Everybody has his or her own model, but it is absolutely unthinkable that hereditary Peers would be part of this House after the second stage and, if I am to put myself in a particular camp, I would be a "mishmash man" of different elements and different methods displayed by people coming into this House. However, I have one criterion above all: that is that the House of Lords should be different from the House of Commons.
In the opening speech of my noble friend the Leader of the House, she paid a very fulsome tribute to hereditary Peers in general and made it clear that this Bill in no way undermines the work of individual hereditary Peers. The Leader of the Opposition the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, also paid tribute to many of the hereditary Peers and he named a number of them. Of course we can all point to individual hereditary Peers who have made a tremendous contribution to this House, but I really think it is incumbent on the Opposition Front Bench to say whether in principle they approve of the hereditary Peerage. Do they approve of the hereditary principle: yes or no?
In my maiden speech some eight years ago, I spoke about the mixed feelings which I had on entering this House. I have to say that I still have mixed feelings about being a Member of this House, even though I readily acknowledge that it is a tremendous privilege. I think I understand better the sense of history, vocation and service which many Peers have who contribute to the business of this House. I have to say that I have discovered many more noble kinsmen than I would care to admit to my Front Bench. However, none of this adds up to a justification. It is simply a reflection of many a late night spent in the Bishops Bar, chewing over old glories of our families. That is not a justification of the hereditary principle.
The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, who unfortunately is not in his place at the moment, spoke about the European Convention on Human Rights. I have to say that I thought this was a bit rich because it is very doubtful whether, if we were to apply to become members of the Council of Europe even now, we would ever be accepted with a wholly nominated House.
One of the privileges that I have through being a Member of this House is that I go to the Council of Europe. When I explain to members of parliament from the countries of the former Soviet Union how I came to be a Member of Parliament, they laugh out loud and think it is extremely funny. There are light-hearted exchanges about why I am a Member of Parliament.
But there is a more serious side to that because they believe that democracy applies to them as members of the Council of Europe but that we have found some clever way of circumnavigating democracy in the House of Lords. And of course that is true.
It is not only hereditary Peers who have a sense of duty and public service. I am struck constantly by the MPs, the life Peers, councillors and school governors who I know who also have a sense of public duty which
The Earl of Lytton: My Lords, it is particularly appropriate to follow the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby. This will probably be my only contribution on the Bill and to the debate generally about reform of this House. As is usual, I declare an interest both as an hereditary Peer but also as a Peer who has an active dislike of party politics. But, contrary to popular belief, my blood is indeed red and the commonest of all blood groups that can be found. I went to one of the greener of the red-brick universities.
I must make an apology to the House. Unfortunately, I am unable to attend tomorrow's debate and it is with great regret that I say that. I am sorry also that I shall not be present to support my noble kinsman Lord Cobbold. Although I am not sure that his amendment would achieve much, I very much agree with the sentiments it expresses.
Heredity is not an inherently defensible principle, as we have heard; it is a fact of life. I regard accident of birth as being at least as irreversible as colour or race. No one sits here by dint of democracy. We are all nominees, whether for several lives or for one. While the manner of my admission here may be disliked, it was perfectly valid, legal and accepted by your Lordships' House at the time and commonly assumed to be for life. As we heard from the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, termination of the hereditary seat sits uncomfortably with continuation of life peerages. So the Bill's effects are asymmetric.
This House clearly helps to hold the executive to account. When faced with a bundle of manifesto commitments and a huge parliamentary majority in another place, that is obviously an extremely necessary safeguard. But in this House we have never been able to hold out indefinitely against the will of another place. So there is no fundamental operational reason for change; merely, I suggest, political ideology.
I do not fear reform but this Bill is not about reform. The Government make their case based only on party mantra. They talk of a more modern and efficient House but do not want to see any shift in the balance of power with another place. They talk of more professionalism. What profession would that be? They support a large Cross-Bench element consistent with present proportions but then they wish to enlarge their own representation to achieve parity with their political opponents. They parade hereditary Peers as an undesirable societal elite--I believe I can quote the noble Lord, Lord Richard, on that--but they are in fact settling an old political score.
I support the setting up of the Royal Commission but this Bill seeks to pre-empt its work, as we have heard. That is a political fix and not a candid attempt at an independent assessment of functions and membership and constitutional need. The public may assume that the commission's findings will be taken as read but, as we know, they will not. They will be referred to a Joint Committee of both Houses appointed by I know not what method but as a non-party politician I can make a good guess. The Bill sets out to preserve a reduced membership of pure appointees with or without 90-odd hereditaries to be added on. For how long would that be? Would the powers and duties of the job description remain the same or will it just be a caretaker role? We are not told.
Fewer Peers producing the same output means more work per capita. Speaking from experience, I should say that to give up much more than one day per week to come here one needs to be retired, unemployed, wealthy with time on one's hands or in extremely accommodating professional employment, preferably living and working in London or, perhaps, on the payroll vote. To me, a substantial contribution on those terms hardly equals occupational normality. Hence the need for a large pool of Members in what is ultimately a voluntary Chamber.
So what is the future of this House and will it be operationally competent during the transition? None of that seems to have been considered. Politicians do not create power; it is earned by commanding respect. Let us compare National Trust membership with that of the political parties and noble Lords will see what I mean. The precipitate and ill-considered haste with which this Bill is being pursued is typical of the political disrespect for Parliament. Reform is undoubtedly necessary. There are practices which are rightly criticised, although many could be removed by internal rule changes. Packing the Lobbies with people who have no interest in the matter being debated is matched only by threats of reform to ensure co-operation. Both are perpetrated for party political advantage and, I am afraid to say, enormously damage the authority of this House. It leads to accusations of toothlessness followed by complaints that we defy the elected will of the Commons. Now we have the spectre of a party manifesto bypassing the constitution. But the message is that Parliament is there to be bypassed. I disagree with that most profoundly. That must change.
The Cross-Benches are chided for their voting record. What about the attendance and voting record of the Prime Minister? For myself and in all conscience, I feel that it is wrong to vote on an issue that I have not understood or on which I have not heard the arguments. The criticism is dishonest and conceals another practice--that of putting party policy before the free and principled thought with which this House is especially associated.
I made my maiden speech on what became known as the poll tax but there are other examples of incompetent legislation forced through by political force majeure in another place. The system as we have it is neither honest nor trustworthy. Ministers give misleading answers; governments are less than candid about what Bills
I am a technician, not a politician, as now must be apparent. The only amendment I would make would be to defer consideration of this Bill altogether until a referendum has been held on the proposals following the Royal Commission's deliberations. But I very much doubt that that will be an option. This Bill will make the House more partisan. If the Government cannot guarantee pre-eminence of the Commons by effectively making this place its poodle, then it will simply not be worth having a second Chamber at all. The power of the political parties should be reduced, but that is a forlorn hope.
My position here is in the gift of the nation, not, I suggest, of a particular political party. I am a volunteer, a kind of unpaid trustee. I do not regard myself as being here as of right but through an honour with duties attached. Equally, I do not believe that a manifesto commitment alone should form the basis of abolition.
I do not represent the interests of vast landed forebears. It is true that I still have an amount of land but I am primarily a working professional chartered surveyor. Party politics mean little to me. I am certainly in touch with the great and the good but also with the lowly and impecunious. My constituency is the cause of the average middle-class person who simply wants fair play and straight dealings. Such people often write to me here as an independent parliamentarian or consult me as a professional.
I have enjoyed coming here over the past 14 years. I hope I have made a useful contribution during that time but I am not hooked on parliamentary life. Of course, I shall miss the company of your Lordships. I shall probably miss even more the wonderful staff within the Palace of Westminster who look after us and who are absolute gems, as I am sure we all agree. But, like the first 35 years of my life, I can spend the next 35 in the political wilderness and I am sure that there are other ways in which I can usefully serve my country, as was pointed out by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House.
I accept that my time is up in every sense. Most people subjected to a vote of no confidence of the kind implicit in this Bill would conclude, as I have, that they are not indispensable. In recent years, I have felt that my contribution in your Lordships' House has counted for less and less. However, I regret my inability to defend economic sense, common decency and moral principle. My fear is for the future scrutiny of legislation and my dismay is for a so-called reform that starts with destruction but without any tangible vision of what is to be created thereafter. In the meantime, I shall continue to serve this House as best as I can, but, speaking purely personally, I am not unduly dismayed at the prospect of going.
Perhaps I can say, unusually, that I absolutely and entirely agree with almost everything that the noble Earl has said. I do not go quite so far down the road that leads him to dislike political parties, but I go quite a long way with him. However, I cannot echo him on his promise that this will be his last contribution on the subject. This is my first--the ground has been well travelled before me--but it will not be my last.
Perhaps I may begin by reflecting on the virtues of your Lordships' House, which are sometimes ignored by those--who, one feels, ought to know better--who enjoy sneering at almost everything. When I entered the House for the first time in 1983 I was struck, principally, by the fact that here was an assembly of people with a great deal of experience who were not looking for anything for themselves. A second point that struck me was that in the Cross Benches--I do not want to flatter them too much--we had an assembly of people unique in the world. I do not believe that any other country in the world offers facilities to a group such as the Cross-Benchers, who owe absolutely no allegiance to any political party and, as far as I am aware, have very scant respect for them.
Perhaps I can briefly refer to what the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, said. I thought he was very kind and honest because he gave me, as a life Peer, the credit for being more legitimate than he was. I have never regarded this House as embodying competition between those whom I shall describe as illegitimate, people who are partly illegitimate and people who are thoroughly illegitimate. It seems to be a totally bogus affair.
Facing this terrible little Bill, this absolutely miserable, pedestrian measure of which the Front Bench ought to be thoroughly ashamed--I know very well that they will not be--I would have thought, being optimistic, that at the moment the Government have more than enough on their plate. I do not want to go into any of the issues, but the Government are involved in Kosovo, the Good Friday Agreement is at a most perilous stage and, to put it politely, European arrangements are in a state of some confusion.
If the Government had said that Parliament, as a whole, could do with some improvement, I would have been noisy in my approval. Had the Government said that we must have a second Chamber, but that they cannot tolerate a second Chamber with a permanent in-built majority for one party, and that they must have a Royal Commission and the guidance to that commission will be to avoid the present situation, I would have found it extremely difficult to oppose them.
As it is, I am very confused. We have a second Chamber which revises and restrains an over-eager House of Commons. The House of Commons, in its eagerness, may be spontaneous, but it is more likely that it is engineered by the Government Whips. Just how far will the second Chamber be permitted to restrain an over-eager House of Commons or to put any holding reign on the executive? We have been told in the White Paper,
I was in the House of Commons at the time when the last effort was made by Harold Wilson's government to reform the House of Lords. I was a very junior, totally unimportant and insignificant member of a coalition of people who disliked the ideas then being put forward. Michael Foot, Nigel Birch and others came together in a rather unusual assembly. My own particularly strong reason, and it is still my reason, was my dislike of giving to any government such wide patronage as to enable it to handle the second Chamber. Immediately, the independence of the second Chamber would disappear. At the moment, I can say with affectionate admiration that the party Whips are of no inconvenience whatever to me. I very much fear the time when the party Whips may become seized--I dare say it will not happen at my age--of new powers which will make younger, more hopeful, more vigorous people much keener and easier to control.
The Government have not done what I hoped. They are seeking to manhandle your Lordships' House, largely because from time to time your Lordships' House is a source of slight inconvenience to them. On the other hand, it is a matter of regret to me that the House of Commons has been a source of nothing but comfort to a government I am not inclined to applaud wholeheartedly.
Incidentally, I am rather inclined to give to my noble friend Lord Wakeham, whom I greatly respect, more credit on this occasion for his courage than for his wisdom, but we shall see. How long do the Government expect the Royal Commission to take? What guidance have they given the Royal Commission or its individual members? Presumably, they have passed down the line the word about what they would like to see--if they know. That is an inquiry which I hope that Ministers will find the time to answer.
I turn to the question of the powers of the new second Chamber. Am I right in thinking that under no circumstances will either the Government or their legions in the House of Commons agree to any increase in powers here irrespective of whether they claim to have produced a more powerful, more enlightened, more tolerable second Chamber? That is a real fear for the Government, to which the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and my noble friend Lord Waddington referred earlier. The Government are sowing a seed of great distress and anguish for themselves if they produce anything like a respectable second Chamber, anything other than a mere kennelful of tame poodles. That is what they will be doing if they produce a second Chamber which is sufficiently virile and robust every now and again to be a source of inconvenience to themselves. Am I right, however, in thinking that the Government have no intention of doing that? If so, the alternative is a collection of tame, docile creatures who will go along with the Government's wishes.
I sit down on this note. Whereas the Government could have handled this in such a way as to attract sympathy--even if some anxiety on the part of those like myself--as it is, they have simply awakened my very strong hostility to what I regard as a pettifogging and mean measure.
Lord Aldington: My Lords, it is always difficult to follow my noble friend Lord Peyton, whose spicy, attractive and humorous style of address always hits the nail smartly on the head. But it is preferable to speaking before him in case he were to lash out at me! My noble friend said that it would not be his last speech on the subject--thank God for that! However, I must take issue with his concluding remark. I thought that the one important power we possess under the Parliament Acts is to reject absolutely a proposal from the other place to prolong its life. We should hang on to that power. I hope that both he and my noble friend Lord Wakeham are not considering altering that in any way.
I join others in saying that this is a bad Bill and that the Government's behaviour in failing to try to seek any consensus is wrong. The reasons are well set out in the amendment and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, on his speech in moving it. However, bad and wrong as the Bill is, it would be bad and wrong for this place to fling out what is manifestly a manifesto Bill. It would also be silly to do so because we have an opportunity and, indeed, a duty to try to improve it. That is our duty today and in Committee.
I say that this is a manifesto Bill. What reasons for it did the Government give the people? In so far as anyone read that part of the manifesto or talked about it in pubs or anywhere else, what did people understand about it? They understood that the Government were saying that this House is undemocratic and must be made more democratic. This Bill does not add one jot of a democratic element to the composition or role of this place, so we should get that idea wholly out of the way.
In Chapter 5 of the White Paper, the Government viewed the issue differently. They referred to the fact that this House is dominated by hereditary Peers. Actually, in my recollection of the voting of the past 10 years or so, that is quite untrue. It is also untrue on the face of the White Paper. Chapter 6 is perhaps not as honest as it could be. The graphics indicate that life Peers, and particularly Conservative life Peers, dominate the place. A little later the figures show that that is not true at all.
Like a number of my noble friends, I do not believe that those are the motivating reasons for what is now being done. What motivates those who attack the composition of this House was mentioned earlier. I refer to the political imbalance in this place and the fact that many more Peers, both hereditary and life, take the Conservative Whip than any other. I happen to think that it is wholly respectable
I should like to consider at some point, as I think the noble Earl, Lord Longford, suggested in a recent debate, the question which was considered in 1968. I refer to allowing some noble Lords sitting and speaking rights, but not voting rights. If this Government or any future government, or our constitution, are to be adapted so that the composition of this House somehow or other reflects either parity between the main parties or the majority of the government party, consideration will have to be given to the idea in the 1968 settlement of some Peers having the right to sit and to speak but not to vote. After all, we know--the White Paper shows this well--that one of the strengths of this place is the contribution made by individual Peers on the great subjects of the day. Many of the contributions that I remember best in my time here have been made by my hereditary friends and by hereditary Peers on the Cross-Benches and opposite.
One's time is constrained today. It is almost a scandal that on a Second Reading debate, on a subject of this importance, noble Lords cannot put their points for longer than seven or eight minutes. I notice that most of those who spoke before me were not able to keep within that rule. I cannot understand why the Government Chief Whip, who is much liked and respected, decided so to torture your Lordships' procedures as to cram 180 speakers into two days. We can imagine them as two dungeons; worse than the Black Hole of Calcutta. It tortures the procedures, not just noble Lords. We have no chance of putting in front of the Government the reason for the amendments we are likely to propose. In my two remaining minutes I should like to mention those that I have in mind.
I am in favour of the so-called "Weatherill amendment". I happen to link it with my noble friend Lord Cranborne. The proposals set out in the statement of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, if followed in the amendment, will prove to be for the better for this House. I believe that the reason the Lord Chancellor accepted it was because the Government were persuaded that it would be for the benefit of the running of this House and the effectiveness of this House if those 91 hereditary Peers were kept on during the transitional phase. For this Bill is about the transitional phase. It is a bad thing that it comes in two stages, but we have got it and we must look to the transitional phase. I hope that we will consider and support that amendment.
I am not minded to take seriously the threats put to us by the noble Baroness, Lady Jay--or at least I was not minded to take them seriously until I heard to my astonishment today a declaration of the policy of the Liberal Democrat Party. It was said that it would decide whether or not to back the Weatherill amendment solely on the grounds of whether we had taken more than four days in Committee stage. That is a form of Liberal policy I do not understand. The party must want to rid itself of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, very much indeed.
I was rather depressed to hear the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, follow the same lines. I believe that he had disclosed his discomfort with the Bill and that this was his way of getting back on side with his noble friends on the Government Benches. I am sad about that because I felt it was a good solid reason for supporting the Weatherill-Cranborne-Lord Chancellor agreement. I look forward to seeing it. We should have seen it in draft form already. I do not know what has gone wrong in that regard. I wonder whether there is a hybridity hitch or whether it is just tactical. I feel it is just tactical. However, we will wait and perhaps hear from the noble and learned Lord tomorrow morning.
The other block of amendments I should like to see were touched on by my noble friend Lord Waddington in an excellent speech earlier today. I am minded at the moment to suggest to the House that we should try to incorporate in the Bill a number of points contained in the White Paper chapter on the transitional stage, including the methods of appointment. But in particular we should include in the Bill, with the Government's acceptance, that in the transitional stage the Prime Minister--any Prime Minister--will be limited in his appointments to a parity between the Conservative Party and the Labour Party. That is what the White Paper said, and if so it was said for a purpose. Presumably the purpose was that the Government wanted people to understand that that was what they were going to do. They wanted the press and the public to understand what a fair government they are. We should test that and press for it to be included in the Bill. One of the dangers to any reform of this place is that an unscrupulous government--I do not suggest that those opposite are unscrupulous--could simply pack this Chamber, as a number of my noble friends have said.
If both those amendments could be included in the Bill, they would improve it and it would become a much less horrid Bill. However, in my opinion it is still a horrid Bill and the wrong way to go about tackling the important matter of this second Chamber.
Baroness Lockwood: My Lords, I want to confine myself to speaking in support of the Bill and therefore by definition against the amendment. I do so not in criticism of any individual Members of the House, to whom my noble friend the Leader of the House rightly paid tribute for their contributions, but against the principle of inheriting a seat in this Chamber.
The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, referred to the great service that a number of hereditary Peers have given to the nation, many of them holding high office. No one would want to detract one iota from that. But I suggest that even without the privilege of membership of this House, because of what, not who, they are, they would have found other ways of giving distinguished service to the nation. In those circumstances, they would not have expected an automatic right to a seat in the legislature of the country.
During the final debate on the Access to Justice Bill on 16th March this year, the noble Lord, Lord Renton, expressed gratitude to my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor for the explanations he had given to the House, and congratulated him on the open-mindedness
I am sorry it has not been possible to approach the Bill before us today in that same spirit. I do not believe that any Member of your Lordships' House can, in an objective way, defend the principle of the automatic right of hereditary Peers to a seat in this Chamber. Even the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, did not say that he supported that principle, nor did the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold. Certainly, over the years there have been many written and spoken words from all sides of the House against that principle.
In my years of membership of the House, I have never tried to defend that principle, but in talks to schools and other organisations I have said that while it is an indefensible principle, making a strange legislative Chamber in the 20th century, somehow it works. It did. It worked well under a Conservative government for the simple reason that no matter how many coalitions across the House were brought into play, the government could, if they were really determined, bring in sufficient supporters to carry the day. The community charge or, if you like, the poll tax, is a prime example of that. But that is certainly not the case with the present Government.
I am not saying that there were not defeats in this House for the previous administration. Indeed, all of us know that there were: on average, some 13.5 times per Session, as my noble friend the Leader of the House indicated, compared with 38 defeats in the first Session of the present Labour Government. The truth is that when a Labour Government are in power the situation is exactly reversed, with the official Opposition having an overwhelming majority over the government party.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Shepherd, who said that this situation does not make for a good revising Chamber. It inhibits and makes more difficult to form those ad hoc coalitions that can come together from time to time in opposition to government proposals on individual issues when the Government of the day are in a majority situation. Instead, it fosters a partisan approach on both sides. That is not the best role for this Chamber.
I agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, when he reiterated this afternoon his previous views that there were two problems facing the House of Lords; the hereditary system and is its inbuilt Conservative majority. How right he is in that view. However, I did not agree with his accusations against the Labour Party's 1997 manifesto, nor his reference to placemen on the Labour Benches. I would remind the noble Lord, and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, who referred to Labour packing the House, that when their noble friend Lady Thatcher was Prime Minister she appointed 98 Conservative Peers, compared to 56 Labour Peers. Moreover, their honourable friend Mr. John Major, in his shorter period in office, appointed 75 Conservative Peers
There are some who criticise the Bill on the grounds that we are rushing it and it is too early. Those who say that forget that this issue has been on the agenda for many years. In a memorandum to Queen Victoria, Lord Rosebery (when he was Prime Minister) referred to the Conservative Members of this House as being a permanent barrier to a Liberal government. I think that they have been a permanent barrier to any government, other than a Conservative government, throughout the century.
As I said, the issue is not a new one. The first Bill to remove the hereditary principle came in 1907 and was promoted by a Conservative Peer. The issue was a live one in the early part of the century and in the 1920s and 1930s. Indeed, it returned to the agenda in the 1940s after the 1939-45 war and has been with us ever since. I reckon that there have been at least 10 attempts to reform the composition of the House in this century. However, I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, that they have been abortive, like the 1968 White Paper, or that they have merely made the House appear a little more acceptable, as did the 1911 and 1949 Parliament Acts and the Life Peerages Act 1958. They have not removed the fundamental anachronism of the House; that is, its reliance on the hereditary principle. This Bill deals with that fundamental anachronism and prepares the way for further reform which the Royal Commission is now examining.
I have spent nearly 29 years in Parliament--a mere flash in time, I know, compared with some who sit here. However, eleven-and-a-half of them have been in this House. I believe that your Lordships' House does an important job and that it does it rather better, I have to say, than the House of Commons now performs its role. Yet, for understandable reasons, many hereditary Peers find it difficult to defend themselves, although they are frequently traduced and caricatured. I believe that life Peers who have had the opportunity to observe the remarkable contribution of many hereditary Peers over the years, and who share their legitimate concerns about the way in which the Government are handling reform, have a particular obligation to play a vigorous part in the examination and amendment of this Bill. That contribution is made by Peers both young and old. There is no sound case for age limits and we need to find a way
Like many who have spoken in recent debates, I believe that a central purpose of a reform Bill should be to improve the performance of Parliament; and that must include the House of Commons. In recent years the other place has ceased to be an effective forum for national debate, for the proper examination of Bills; or an effective check on the executive. The power of the Government Whips now seems almost absolute and Ministers appear to hold Parliament in contempt.
The claim implicit in that sentence of the White Paper is not one that would have been made by any previous Prime Minister--certainly not by Churchill even when he was at the height of his own personal power and the British state faced its greatest ever threat. His immediate predecessor had learned painfully that power does not reside with those on whom it is conferred by the people for the formation of a government. He was removed from power by the House of Commons. It was an assumption that was never made by the Prime Minister under whom I served, who was punctilious in her attendance and in seeking support in the House at all hours of the day and night.
One virtue of this House is the wide variety of its interests, knowledge and experience; another is that most of us are not beholden to Ministers and Whips for future employment or place. Since I joined the House of Commons in 1970 there has been a decisive shift to a Chamber in which a high proportion of Members have no other profession than politics, and in which too many of its Members are office holders. One of the several drawbacks of the proposal that the second Chamber should be wholly elected is that it is likely to produce a House which mirrors the faults of the present House of Commons.
This Bill is not just about the House of Lords; it also provides for membership of the House of Commons. Perhaps we should pass amendments reintroducing the rule that newly-appointed Ministers must stand for re-election, or that there should be an upper limit to the number of Ministers and PPSs. The number of PPSs has
One difficulty that faces those of us who agree with the noble Lord, Lord Richard, that our object should be to strengthen Parliament as a whole and that reducing the scale of central power is, or ought to be, the main priority for constitutional reforms, is that for all the talk of redistributing power from the centre to the citizen, there are not many indications that Ministers have any real intention of surrendering power if they can avoid it, as recent events in Wales so clearly show. Nor have they given any indication that they have even begun to think about the proper role of the two Houses of Parliament in their new constitutional arrangements.
The Royal Commission has an immensely difficult task, made much more difficult because it is asked to make recommendations about the role and functions of the second Chamber without being able to make proposals about the role and functions of the House of Commons. It is a huge mistake that the Royal Commission, charged with such an important task, is being asked to work to a timetable decided only for the convenience of Ministers.
On 22nd March the Leader of the House defended the timetable on the grounds that the issues had been extensively discussed for a hundred years. However, her own White Paper emphasises the complexity of the task and underlines the point in paragraph 8.17 that we are in a period,
We are having to deal with this Bill when there can be no certainty that the Royal Commission can complete its task within the timetable suggested by the Leader of the House, or that its proposals will be accepted by the Joint Committee speedily and without disagreement and change, and no certainty that the commission's conclusions will be acceptable to the Government. We on these Benches are not alone in doubting that the second stage will come quickly, if at all. Mr. Benn speaking in the other place on 16th February said,
Then there is the question of numbers referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank. It does not arise only because of the proposed amendment on the retention of some hereditary Peers during the transitional period, which will itself create a requirement for the creation of a substantial tranche of life Peers to balance the numbers. It arises as well from the easily stated, but much less easily implemented objective that over time party appointees as life Peers should more accurately reflect the proportion of votes cast at the previous general election. Let us assume for a moment that such a rebalancing takes place in the transitional House, but that in a subsequent general election the Government's majority is overturned. Are we to have another large-scale creation of life Peers to adjust the balance, followed as the years pass by another, and another, and another? As Mr. Benn, looking back all the way to Adam and Eve, told the other place we would be faced with,
As to the Cross-Bench amendment which we have yet to see, the Government refused to accept an amendment with a similar objective moved in the Commons, but will apparently accept it if it comes from this allegedly illegitimate House, but only if we behave ourselves. It is always a mistake to give in to blackmail.
The final subject that I shall refer to is, I believe, of central importance, although its significance seems hardly to have been recognised in the other place. We are to have an appointments committee which will have the function of nominating Cross-Bench Peers. It is supposed to take over that responsibility from the Prime Minister, yet it is to be set up by the Prime Minister. That fact astonishes me. Surely this Bill now before us should provide the authority, and provide for necessary and appropriate safeguards. It is to be a non-departmental public body. I have been the chairman of a non-departmental public body and I have been closely involved with others as a Minister. On the basis of that experience I am concerned and puzzled. Whatever the good intentions at the start, Ministers and civil servants do not much like NDPBs that are genuinely vigorous and independent; and this is an NDPB that has to select those whose role is to be so independent that they may well prove an irritant to Ministers. Government departments have much experience and are skilled in techniques of neutering such bodies. I am far from convinced that it is enough to say that the appointments committee will be appointed in accordance with the rules of the commission for public appointments.
There are to be representatives of the three main political parties and independent "figures" who will comprise a majority, one of whom is to be the chairman. Who will select the "figures"? Who will appoint the chairman? Why include representatives of the three main parties and, if it is only three, what happens if the nationalists have sweeping gains in Wales and Scotland? One of the great virtues of the Cross-Bench Peers is that they are self selected; they are not there to fit a profile
The Earl of Erroll: My Lords, I rise to make a brief protest because this Bill has no vision. It is basically founded in the politics of envy which should be outdated by now. I do not defend the hereditary peerage; I ask who will govern our grandchildren, because that is what we should be worrying about? If these people over-reach their powers, who will be able to remove them, because that is what a democracy is about?
People have complained about the length of time we have been debating this matter. However, we are not here to debate the pros and cons of a policy; we are deciding how those decisions will be made for the future. Noble Lords should not kid themselves that we are talking only about a brief transitional House. Actions speak louder than words. We are looking at rule by regulation; we have been for many years. We are looking at closed-list party choices at elections. It has been 88 years since the 1911 reform of the House. Why should the next stage of reform go through any quicker? We have to remember that the Executive and the legislature are now totally intermingled in another place and it is a question of who controls whom. I think we know that the balance has shifted. So when people start talking about unicameral systems and whether a strong House of Lords matters, the answer has to be that somehow we must check the Executive. To do otherwise is not an option.
The Labour manifesto stated that this House requires democratic authority. We need a system of governance that will separate the powers properly again. This may be an opportunity for change that would improve the accountability of the Executive. But there was no thought of that. This House was irretrievably weakened in 1911. Efforts to improve it were approved by our collective forebears, but the reforms were not turned down here; they were turned down in the Commons. It is not a party issue--it is not a Labour versus Tory issue--but an issue where the Commons has resisted reform, particularly when it has seen that the moment one starts considering reform it must impinge on the Commons as well. That is the real problem.
As someone who works to earn money--like 80 per cent. of hereditary Peers, the taxman has taken the estates and everything else--I am very aware of the consequences for ordinary people in the street. I would be very worried if Parliament were filled only with professional politicians. As a businessman and a citizen of this country, I am worried about the lack of vision in the Bill. There is no objective. The transitional House will probably go on for another century. Noble Lords should not be deceived; it will be like a rudderless ship. If one does not know where one is going, one will not get there. Noble Lords' grandchildren will probably be living with what the Government and the Bill give us. I find the belief that there will be a stage two rather naive and touching in many ways, or even the belief that stage two will be acceptable.
Lord Stanley of Alderley: My Lords, I can agree with practically everything that the noble Earl has just said. That is strange because, subject to a little matter of illegitimacy, he is a noble kinsman and I do not usually agree with my noble kinsmen.
My main concern about the Bill is that the Government seem to have forgotten the song "We don't know where we're going until we get there". Of course, if the Government do know where they are going, then they can easily prove it by accepting some of the amendments that will be tabled along the lines of no change until the reformed House is agreed", a matter mentioned by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell a moment ago and by my noble friends Lord Waddington and Lord Strathclyde. This must be agreed and passed by the Commons; or should I say "the Government", because, as has already been mentioned, the Commons do not seem to have any influence these days.
I am highly suspicious about the arrangements for any interim House for I see it remaining in situ forever; and why should interim turkeys vote for Christmas? Moreover, when the Royal Commission comes up with recommendations, we must remember that they will be recommendations for the Commons and the Government to approve, recommendations that are sensible, democratic, in line with what my noble friend Lord Carrington said and which spell out the powers of the reformed House--powers that are conspicuously absent from the face of the Bill--to enable the House to be an effective revising Chamber. I cannot believe that the Commons and the Government will agree to those recommendations unless the new Chamber is deprived
Perhaps the Government do know where they are going and wish to end up with a unicameral Parliament. I am sure that the Government will say that my logic is flawed and that come hell and high water they will press on with their interim Chamber, followed by a guarantee that soon there will be a fully reformed House. As has been mentioned before, the Liberal government said that in 1911. As the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, was pleased to quote in a debate in your Lordships' House two years ago, my grandfather supported such a reform. I agree with my grandfather, but even to one as aged as I am, 1911 is quite a long time ago and nothing happened. Why oh why should it happen now?
Assuming this botched, if I may use such a word, and ill thought out situation is to be what the Government will force upon your Lordships, not least because the public is not in the slightest way interested in your Lordships' House--only 2 per cent. remembered that the proposal for reform was in the Labour Party Manifesto--I shall be interested in some of the amendments that will examine the Government's good faith as regards the composition and powers of any future House.
The Leader of the House in the Commons kept saying that this is "a simple Bill", but it is simple only because neither the future composition nor the powers are spelt out. As your Lordships know, it is your Lordships's decision as to what can and cannot be discussed in Committee. I know that only too well from nearly 30 years in your Lordships' House. I trust that your Lordships will accept the vital importance of deciding what we may or may not discuss in Committee. I am not objecting to being removed or, perhaps as the Front Bench opposite would like to say, guillotined while the Government Front Bench sit there doing their knitting and giving no effective plans for the future of our House. It is like a dentist taking out all your teeth and giving you no suggestions as to how in future you should eat.
I hope, too, to see amendments to ensure adequate agricultural and rural representation and to ensure that, if any future House is to have similar powers, or, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, suggested, fewer powers, its members will receive the same or lesser expenses and, of course, no pay. I hope, too, that the noble Baroness will follow up her suggestion as to what future Members of the House should be called, a matter supported in a recent debate by her noble friend Lord Judd.
Provided that the Government spell out and guarantee what the future House will do, how it will be constituted and what powers it will have, this turkey will happily vote for Christmas, and return to my farm--to be eliminated, no doubt, there, experiencing the lack of foresight that this Government have shown in so many ways recently. I shall need an awful lot of persuading.
In the European Union, Sweden, Belgium and Spain have kings, while Denmark and the Netherlands have queens. All of those countries have thriving monarchies, yet none has a hereditary aristocracy in its legislature.
Swedish history is especially instructive. In 1865, during the reign of Carl XV, Sweden had four longstanding parliamentary estates--the nobles, the clergy, the burghers and the farmers. A Bill was brought forward to abolish the parliamentary estates and replace them with two chambers elected on limited franchises.
The leader of the opposition to the Bill was a prominent member of the House of the Nobles, Count Henning Hamilton. He urged that the parliamentary estate of the nobles was the bastion of the monarchy, the chief support of the king.
In the event, the farmers' estate and the burghers' estate approved the Bill by massive majorities. The House of the Nobles debated the Bill for four days, finally voting in its favour by 361 to 294. The clergy concurred, and thus the parliamentary estate of the nobles passed into history.
One hundred and thirty-three years and four reigns later, Count Henning Hamilton's forebodings have proved groundless. Carl XV's great, great, great nephew, Carl XVI Gustaf, is the monarch today. Year in and year out, surveys show him to be the most popular man in Sweden. I commend Swedish history to those of your Lordships who--like Count Henning Hamilton--fear that the Bill before us endangers the monarchy.
I come to my second point. One argument raised against the transitional House is that the Prime Minister might seek the creation of a Labour majority in that House. However, the Labour manifesto and the White Paper both pledge that no one political party should seek a majority in the transitional House.
Looking at the record, the Prime Minister has been in office for nearly two years. He has not even sought to increase the Labour life Peers to equal the Conservative life Peers, let alone to establish an overall Labour majority in the House of Lords. My noble friend Lord Callaghan did not seek such a majority, nor did any previous Labour Prime Minister.
While the Liberals in 1911 and the Whigs in 1832 threatened to secure majorities in the House of Lords, a Tory ministry is the only one that has ever actually done so. In December 1711, the Tories lost an important Division in the House of Lords by eight votes--54 to 62. Within weeks, Queen Anne, at the request of her Tory Ministers, created 12 Peers for the express purpose of ensuring a Tory majority to approve the Treaty of Utrecht.
Three centuries later, should the Conservatives come to power during the currency of the transitional House, I should not expect them to emulate their ancestors and, contrary to the Government's undertaking, establish a majority in that House. I should be grateful if the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, or the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, or both, would declare in your Lordships' House whether the Opposition in this House are committed to the principle that no one political party should seek a majority in the transitional House.
This is a solemn occasion and a time to pay tributes. I think of my fellow hereditary Peers, many of whom have worked so hard in this House. I think of those individual hereditary Peers on all sides of the House who would grace any second chamber anywhere--for instance, on these Benches, my noble friend Lord Shepherd; on the Benches opposite, my noble kinsman Lord Cranborne; on the Cross-Benches, my noble kinswoman Lady Darcy de Knayth; and on the Liberal Democrat Benches, the noble Earl, Lord Russell.
Finally, I think of my only child, my son. Some day I should love him to sit in this House. But if he ever does, it is right that he will do so not because of his title, but rather because of his talents.
Lord Glenarthur: My Lords, when I tried to distil my thoughts on what to say about this Bill today, despite all that has been said over many months and all that I have felt about the Government's proposals I was surprised to find it enormously difficult to know how to tackle it. I attempted to analyse why that was. In the end, I put my difficulty down to one simple reason: the constitutional enormity of the Bill based upon the intellectual bankruptcy which is its genesis.
The Government have offered no valid or coherent reason for ejecting hereditary Peers from this House in the way that they propose. They can only claim that it is unfinished business from 1911, but not their business; that their intention was set out in their manifesto; and that there is therefore a popular mandate for this Bill.
Many of us, most perhaps, would accept reasoned consideration of the composition of this House either on its own as part of a review of the constitution as a whole, or of the totality of Parliament. But no, the Government, true only to ideology and pandering to egalitarianism and those who cannot abide any institution which appears elitist, introduced this Bill to change massively one House of Parliament, one immensely important part of our constitution, whose Members owe only a small part of their allegiances to party politics, or none at all.
The Government cannot seriously claim that there is a huge popular demand to reform this House substantially in the way they propose. There may be perceptions, and possibly misconceptions, about what this House does and the role of its Members. But I suspect that there is a broad understanding of what it does and the real role of hereditary Peers within it, and in particular the independence for which they stand. It is revealing to know that recent opinion polls on this issue do not support the Government's proposals--quite the reverse.
Practical examination of any complex matter requires a sensible appreciation of the factors surrounding it, a clear understanding of the subject and its strengths and weaknesses, a proper evaluation of alternatives and careful consideration of the courses open to achieve the chosen alternative. But in this case, the Government simply take a stab in the dark without thinking through the consequences of their misconceived ideas.
Even the Government's reluctant agreement to a Royal Commission would carry more conviction if they were to have it report, and even have a joint committee of both Houses meet to consider the recommendations, before considering whether to proceed with reform. That point has been clearly articulated by nearly everyone who has spoken in this debate. The consultation paper which the Royal Commission has just published--thin as it is in so many ways--sets out many of the imponderable issues which any responsible government should consider before emasculating the present House.
I was interested that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, referred to the four elements contained on page four of the consultation paper: role and functions, powers, procedures and composition. The noble Lord said how right it was that composition came last; but nevertheless the Government seem to have tackled it before they have even thought of the Royal Commission, let alone given any advice on the contents of that consultative paper.
If there were ever a case of putting the party political cart before the constitutional horse, this is it. It lends credence to the view that the Government do not want, and may not have, a stage two. They do not even have to accept the recommendations of the Royal Commission; they can thwart its recommendations just as readily as they try to thwart any view which is not theirs. Their blind arrogance will not let them temper their attitude with common sense.
Anyone who has contemplated or studied peerage law and how it relates to the constitution will realise that it is a hugely complex and even arcane subject. I am no expert on it, but it is the stuff of history, part of the fabric of our constitution and as relevant to the role of the hereditary peerage in the House of Lords as it is to the hereditary principle itself.
Let me give one example, relating to Letters Patent, to which the Government will have to give consideration in due course. Letters Patent become effective when they pass the Great Seal. Once the Great Seal is affixed, there is no way in which they can be altered except by an individual Act of Parliament relating to those Letters Patent. Letters Patent are instruments which are individual to each Peer. They contain hallowed, historical phrases which not only grant an hereditary Peer and his or her heirs and successors a seat, place and voice in Parliament, but also bind the heirs and successors of the sovereign under whose sign manual the warrant for the patent is granted to continue to allow the Peer and his heirs and successors that seat, place and voice.
As has been said so clearly this afternoon, the other place barely touched on the practical, legal and constitutional issues surrounding the Bill and, unsurprisingly, dwelt mainly on the political aspects. Here things will be different. There is a host of exceedingly complex issues to explore, and we shall explore them with all the vigour that we can muster.
This is a vindictive Bill. It rides roughshod over history and part of a constitution which has served this country well for hundreds of years and still serves it with independence to protect the interests of all its citizens against abuse of power by governments. It pre-empts any serious consideration of the working of the constitution or Parliament within it. Its foundations lie in dogma and spite. It is of doubtful constitutional validity and its legal basis will be tested to the full. On these grounds, and on many others, this House must examine thoroughly what is proposed and take whatever action is necessary to maintain or devise the independent legislative safeguard which the people of this country expect of us. I support the amendment.
Baroness Strange: My Lords, this is a very sad debate for all of us who have, for however short or however long, enjoyed the privilege and the happiness of serving in your Lordships' House. It is even sadder when the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, makes such lovely jokes. It is being so cheerful that keeps us going. It is also sad because it is unnecessary. All that any government ever needed to do to reform your Lordships' House was to remove voting rights--but not, of course, speaking rights--from all Peers, hereditary and life, who did not attend and contribute on a regular basis. This would, at a stroke, remove all the so-called backwoodsmen, life and hereditary, trundling in to vote, but would not deprive your Lordships of the pleasure of hearing the voices of noble Lords on matters that they really know about. It would also restore to your Lordships the proper name of "Peers" for, whether we are dukes or barons, life Peers or hereditary, men or women, we are all equal, we are all peers.
The House of Lords has its origins in the Saxon witanagemot, and William the Conqueror created something very similar, which was first described as a parliament in 1181. And so the House evolved, with more hereditary Peers being created over the next 900 years, a current renewal and refurbishment like the tide and the seasons. In the 19th century Law Lords were introduced as life Peers and the House of Lords became the highest court of appeal in the land. Nineteen fifty-eight brought life Peers, and some were ladies. By 1961, hereditary ladies had set in, too.
I should like to talk briefly about trees, a subject about which many of your Lordships know a great deal. Trees have long roots going back into the soil. Trees live longer than human beings and are possibly more
Because ancestors are part of our heredity--and we are all in this world hereditary--we all have parents and grandparents and remoter ancestors, and we are all proud of our own ancestors. The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, moved us all when he spoke of his own ancestors with such love and pride. That is part of our humanity. We are also proud of our children and grandchildren. My eldest son, the future Lord Strange, is today sitting on the steps of the Throne and my youngest daughter is also present in the Chamber. Last week my noble friend Lord Northbourne introduced a debate on marriage and the importance for children of growing up in a family. That is what heredity, and the hereditary principle, is all about. To use it as a smear word is to smear all of humanity.
Our world is daily becoming swifter and more instant. Messages flash backwards and forwards on e-mail. We are as aware of the weather in Auckland as we are of the weather in Aberdeen. But we still need stability and continuity--boiled eggs and grapefruit for Sunday breakfast, turkey and Christmas pudding on Christmas Day. We are all as ephemeral as the flowers of the field. But we need to be aware of yesterday's flowers, for we are as much part of them as tomorrow's flowers will be of us.
I have talked briefly of the continuity of time. I should also like to mention the continuity of space. In this House we have noble Dukes of Argyll and Fife, noble Earls of Glasgow, Perth and Dundee (or, indeed, their Royal Highnesses, Edinburgh, Rothesay and Inverness). I will not venture south of the Border, but the picture is the same. Many noble Lords have lived in the same place for a considerable time. They are "of" the place. My Drummond ancestors have been at Megginch only since Whitsun 1664, but there have been Drummonds living in Perthshire, as my noble kinsman and clan chief, the noble Earl, Lord Perth, can confirm, since the Hungarian sea captain Maurice, who brought Queen Margaret to Scotland, was shipwrecked at Queensferry in 1066.
But I have digressed from trees and their long roots. If you want to improve--perhaps I should say reform--a tree, you cut out the dead wood; you prune it; you may pollard it. You do not pull it up by the roots, for then you will have no tree left.
Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, I know that a number of your Lordships who will speak in this debate, like many who have already done so, will cover the intellectual, philosophical, constitutional and historical arguments. I shall not do any of those things.
I came into this House in October 1993 and was immediately struck by the uniqueness of this Chamber, not simply because I was privileged to join what is regarded worldwide as the finest revising Chamber anywhere but because I was overwhelmed by the one thing that could not be recreated anywhere else. I refer to the blending together of the past and the future with history and tradition on one hand--the many years of public service of families whose descendants sit here--and the careful work that we do today to create new legislation in this House and to revise legislation that comes from the other place, to debate on Wednesdays and on Unstarred Questions matters for which the other place has neither the time nor in many cases the same expertise, and our attempts to hold the executive to account at Question Time.
I make no apology for believing in the hereditary principle. Like most people I believe that husbands and wives who are blessed with children work hard in order to pass on to their descendants not just their names but their values, what they want from life; and some of the worldly goods they may have been fortunate enough to collect. Family businesses have formed the backbone of this country. It is interesting that many families enter medicine and the law. Certainly, farmers have great pleasure in ensuring that their descendants inherit the land so that it passes from generation to generation. I believe that families who have served this country well through decades of public service have brought to this House a stability and continuity that is practically unknown in any other legislature. I only wish that their devotion to duty and service was properly recognised and acknowledged. I was pleased to hear the noble Baroness the Leader of the House refer to that matter earlier today.
However, we are told that this House must change because the manifesto for which the people of this country voted overwhelmingly stated that hereditary Peers had to go. But the manifesto referred to four other things to do with reform of this House. Most people have little or no idea of those other four matters. My noble friend Lord Crickhowell has already referred to the statement that,
The third part of the manifesto refers to the commitment to maintain an independent element, but nearly 70 per cent. of Cross-Benchers are hereditary. Therefore, how can we be sure that this will happen in practice? The fourth part refers to a committee of both Houses to undertake a review of possible future change. How wise that is. But in normal circumstances should not consideration be given to that before the destruction of one part? Would not a serious attempt at reform not include consideration of all the issues before destruction of just one part? Would the Royal Commission that the Government announced have come about had there not been so much pressure for it from this House?
This House suffered a grievous loss last week with the death of Lord Beloff. He would have spoken in this debate far more eloquently that I can. He would have drawn to your Lordships' attention the fact that in the last two years power has been gradually slipping away from Parliament. He would have mentioned too the rigid discipline imposed on members of the Labour Party in the other place, with the threat of de-selection for those who go "off message"; the devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly; the intended regionalisation of England through the regional development agencies; the ceding of a huge number of powers to the diktat of unelected officials in Brussels; and now the proposal to turn your Lordships' House into a giant quango in which the complementary system of the two Houses working together will be changed. It may be a competitive system, but certainly the balance will be destroyed for all time. I, for one, support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold. I believe that the situation is now so dangerous we must do all that we can.
I also support the Weatherill amendment. As my noble friend Lord Cranborne and others have said, that amendment makes a bad Bill better. But we all need to know what the amendment says in much more detail. I
Lord Kennet: My Lords, there is an old chestnut about the later stages of very long debates. A younger statesman says to an older statesman, "Surely, everything that can be possibly said on this subject has now been said". The older statesman replies, "Yes, but not everybody has said it". I am not feeling like that at all. I expected to be, after so many hours; by tomorrow night everyone will expect to be. I am finding this a fascinating debate, because noble Lords of all parties and none are bringing out so much of their own experience, their own personal history, their own education and bringing it to bear on what is, for the hereditary Peers, an existential question. There is nothing like an existential question to bring out the best in speakers.
I am one of those hereditary Peers who believe that we ought no longer to sit as such in Parliament. We were once necessary to good government because we owned most of the land and commanded the subordinate feudal allegiance of most of the people who lived where we lived; but by now we are the result of chance among the better-off.
I thus accept this Bill, though its character and timing--out there by itself, way ahead of the general reform either of this House or of the other, and unconnected with other concurrent constitutional changes--seems to betray a lack of self-confidence on the part of the Government; even perhaps a lack of ambition. The ship of state is being re-engined, but there are no designs and the new machinery has not been ordered. We must therefore make up our minds about the Bill in vacuo. We must also remember that the interim House will be no more democratic than this one, despite the importance of the decisions it will have to take about the long term.
If I knew that the composition of the eventual House was to be half or more elected and was to be sufficiently independent of the executive to take the broadest view of the national interest, then I would depart in peace. The possibility remains, however, that we may be succeeded by a bureaucratic body or one representative of partial interests and not those of the people as a whole.
I have been in this place 39 years. When I succeeded to the peerage I wondered whether to renounce it, because I believed that hereditary peerage was unjustified. I was then a member of Harold Wilson's advisory panel on disarmament and international security, he being leader of the Opposition. I asked his advice. He said, "You go in. We are going to need you". I did and, in due course, they did need me. I have spent 17 of those 39 years on various Front Benches and thus
I regret that the Bill is being put through in advance of the report by the Royal Commission. I know that many hereditaries throughout the House would go with a good grace in the interests of democracy but dislike going into a void, where we could see ourselves replaced by creatures of bureaucracy, faction and global Mammon.
I shall vote for the Bill if a Division is called at this or any other stage, since its principle was in our party manifesto and I have supported the principle for a very long time. By far the greater number of upper houses in the world's democracies are elected or have a large elected element, so there is no lack of models.
A lot rests on those who, if the Bill passes, will then take the responsibility of completing the package of Lords' reform. I wish them success in helping to create, from this stumbling start, a Parliament worthy of the people it is to govern.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, when I entered this House I was introduced by a much loved and admired Tory Peer, now dead, Lady Faithfull, and by a Labour Peer, the noble Lord, Lord Barnett. The first time I voted was on an educational issue and I voted against the Government. The Labour Peers in the Lobby helpfully said to me that I was in the wrong Lobby. I said no, I wanted to vote that way and that was at once understood. My maiden speech was immediately preceded by the exodus from the Chamber of nearly all my Tory colleagues. They had gone to hear the Prime Minister speak, but I did not know that and was much taken aback. The warm reception I had from all sides of the House as a maiden speaker completely reassured me, however.
Since then I have voted in the same Lobby with Peers of every party and from the Cross-Benches on such issues as student loans and fees, health, the public service, foreign and defence policy, and Northern Ireland. They were all issues of principle and right across party lines.
I hope I have said enough to explain why I value and admire the generous and civilised society that is the House of Lords. Until recently battles have been fought with passion and conviction but without personal rancour. I want to make an urgent plea for the same spirit of mutual respect to inform the passage of this Bill. There will be time in Committee to argue the detail. We are one of the two Houses of Parliament debating the first step in a major constitutional change, even more significant than devolution in Scotland and Wales because we are still the Parliament of the United Kingdom.
This Bill is not, as the media and the other place would have it, simply a measure to remove some irrelevant dinosaurs who, as a Minister in the other place who should know better has said, are trying to continue "Living like a lord at the taxpayers' expense". We all
The hereditary Peers must, because their forebears are in many cases part of the history, tradition and the very fabric of the House--their coats of arms hang in this Chamber--feel a particular sense of loss. Many have served their country well, both here and in their professional lives. There are plenty of them who are doughty fighters still.
It is worth remembering that, when the House of Lords voted for its own reform in 1968, of the majority of 251 who voted in favour 128 were hereditary Peers. It was the House of Commons under a Labour Government that killed the Bill.
The hereditary Peers are realists. They believe, as we do, that we have a duty to ensure that the work this House does so well--work which requires, for instance in the European Committees and the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee designed to keep the executive in check, considerable experience which many of the new Members of the House have not yet developed--shall continue to be properly done until the Royal Commission and, after that, the Committee of both Houses say what is the future role of this House.
The Cranborne-Weatherill amendment proposes what the Government themselves should have been considering: an interim arrangement to retain a proportion of the hereditary Peers who play so necessary a part in the work of the House, until the future nature of this Chamber has been determined.
It is amazing that the Leader of the House should have indicated that this proposal must be regarded as conditional on good behaviour; namely, an agreement not to do our plain constitutional duty of scrutiny and amendment. That apparently constitutes "Pitched battle which would jeopardise the proposal". Is the House then to be neutered even before the future is defined and decided? It is only too clear from the White Paper that the Government would like to see our powers yet further reduced. It will not be for the good of the country to remove the checks and balances. The battle is about the best way to effect constructive constitutional change and all Peers, hereditary and appointed, care about that equally.
I dislike the Bill and I believe that the Government have failed in their duty of thinking out the consequences. We have a duty, however, to ensure that we do not allow the question to become trivialised. We must fight a clean battle, with mutual respect, without rancour, without personal animosity and what I can only call class bitterness.
I am sure that the late Lord Dean of Beswick, who I was proud to count as a friend and who will be sorely missed, would have fought robustly to remove the hereditary Peers on principle; but he would have done it decently and would not have assumed, as some do now, that all hereditary Peers are effete and useless. He knew better and he would have treated them as opponents worthy of respect but not as enemies.
I was glad to hear the noble Baroness the Leader of the House speak in the way that she did today. It was right and reassuring. This House has produced such universally beloved and respected figures as Lucy Faithfull and Nancy Seer, life Peers now dead, and also such equally respected hereditary Peers who are still with us: the noble Earl, Lord Russell, the noble Earl, Lord Longford, the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, my noble friend Lord Carrington, and the noble Countess, Lady Mar, to name only a few. It is too valuable an institution to be treated as just one more political pawn on the board for the spin doctors to play games with and the media to mock.
Although my noble friend Lord Ferrers said this much better than I can, I still wish to say that we, the servants of this House, owe it to the many other loyal and infinitely valuable and devoted servants of the House--the officers, the Clerks, the doorkeepers, the attendants, those who have helped and guided us all especially in our first years here--to conduct our proceedings throughout the Bill with honour and restraint and to come, if we can, to a wise conclusion. They are as proud as we are of the traditions and work of the House. I think that they must find it as disturbing as I do that lately there has been a miasma of uncertainty and insecurity and a degree of personal rancour and triumphalism which is both alien and unwelcome. An example of that new pettiness and meanness of spirit is the provision in the Explanatory Notes that hereditary Peers may no longer use the Library or the facilities of the House. I hope that that will go by the board, and that we can fight a good fight on issues of principle and not allow the media or the other place to demean a great institution which is ready to change but wants to change for the better.
Lord Plant of Highfield: My Lords, I support the Bill and wish to dwell for a few moments on the issue of heredity, in particular since it was raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Strange and Lady Miller of Hendon. The noble Baroness, Lady Strange, worried that the principle of heredity is being seen as a smear. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, spoke about everyone having pride in his own family. That is entirely right. One is proud of one's own family and background. I usually have to disabuse people: most of my colleagues seem to think that I am the son of Sir Arnold Plant, the economist, and not Stanley Plant, the Grimsby fireman. Nevertheless, having overcome that hurdle I take pride in my own family.
However, the critical difference is surely whether heredity gives a right to political power, however limited in this House. It is not a question of whether we have pride in our families; of course we all do. With due respect to the noble Baroness, it seems wrong to consider bequeathing a business through generations as analogous to bequeathing a kind of property right in the governance and administration of the country. If the
The usual Burkean justification for heredity cannot now work because it rests on two assumptions which have become fatally eroded. The first is the shared notion of authority, natural hierarchy, natural authority, prescriptive rights and a loyalty and deference to that structure of natural order underpinning natural authority. That has disappeared and cannot be reinvented. Once it has been eroded, one cannot put it back together again, no matter how much one might want to. Let us put it another way. If one asks, "What is the authority of tradition?", then tradition has already lost its authority because it is only authoritative when it is a matter of custom, practice and habit. Once one seeks to rationalise it, it has lost its authority.
Secondly, the hereditary principle has rested on the view that political wisdom and judgment is vested in a hereditary political class. That seems to me incredible these days. It would make a mockery of what all governments have sought to do over the past years; to improve education, civic standards, and so forth. We cannot surely think that those insights, and so on, are available only to a hereditary class. The notion of heredity has to be left behind.
However, as the noble Baroness the Leader of the House said, there remain the considerable qualities of the hereditary Peers as individuals. Most of them are assiduous and conscientious in the performance of their duties. Many of them are independently minded. They have wide experience and discharge many public duties and services. As President of the NCVO, I am always running into hereditary Members of this House who are actively involved in charities, and so on. That is all true. The hereditary peerage brings with it a geographical spread of Members of the House and an age spread. But those qualities of mind and character of hereditary Peers are nothing to do with the principle of heredity. They are the characteristics and qualities for which the individuals themselves should take credit and responsibility. There is no genetic stream that creates a sense of public duty and service. Those are qualities that hereditary Peers have but, as my noble friend Lady Jay said in her speech, they are widely shared across the population. Those qualities of mind and character do not of themselves confer a right to sit in Parliament.
Several noble Lords opposite have said that the case to remove hereditary Peers has not been deployed. There is a strong argument to remove the hereditary principle in the exercise of political power. But the important point is that the qualities that hereditary Peers have--they are shared by many other people--are preserved in a reformed House while enhancing the legitimacy of that House compared with the present Chamber and enabling it to use its revising and deliberative powers more effectively than it is able to do because of the constraints of hereditary membership. In the later stages of reform, I hope that a greater role will be given to this House in relation to constitutional affairs.
Expertise--it is a feature I am happy to concede to hereditary Peers--could be introduced by having a more imaginative committee system. There could be pre-legislative debates and debates on White Papers and Green Papers which would bring expert testimony to committees considering those issues. We could have expertise in a different kind of House. Nevertheless, as they say, things have moved on and I do not think it is very likely that we shall end up with a wholly elected House. There are four or five arguments that are now being deployed against it, which obviously have to be taken seriously.
The first is that the House of Commons will not wear it; an elected second Chamber would have too much authority relative to the House of Commons. Secondly, there would be few, if any, independent Members. We could get the expertise in by the means I have suggested, but not independent Members who would vote. Thirdly, there might be "election fatigue". I think the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, listed the number of different elections that we currently have. Finally, there is the worry about possibly having a Chamber of purely professional politicians. Therefore, it is much more likely that we shall end up with a mixed Chamber, or what was called earlier in the debate a "mish-mash" kind of Chamber; perhaps that is rather a pejorative way of describing it.
I am not against the idea of a mixed Chamber, both to enhance legitimacy and also to constrain it, vis-a-vis the House of Commons, but there are a number of issues which the Royal Commission will have to look at carefully. First, how the elected and unelected Members will cohere together. It has been an argument with regard to electoral reform in the other place that you could never have constituency members and list members in the same House, because they would have a different kind of relationship with their electorates. How much more would that be true of an upper House if one group stood for election and the other did not. There are great dangers there which we shall have to look at.
Then there is the question of pay and conditions. This brings me back to one of the issues concerning hereditary Peers. One of the great things about this Chamber is its geographical spread. However, let us suppose that we move to a mixed House of nominated and elected Members, the nominated Members not being paid a salary. The nominated Members would have to be retired, of independent means, or live within such a distance that they could actually make their living somewhere else in London. The issue of how to create a new House with the geographical spread of the current House of Lords is very important.
Finally, if we opted for a mixed Chamber there could be the anomaly of nominated people holding the balance of power in a clash between the two elected groups, or more, in that Chamber. There are some difficulties about that. Nevertheless, the hereditary principle has had its day and there are good reasons for thinking so, as I have tried to indicate. We must make sure that we focus on all that has been good about this Chamber and I think it can be recreated, with imagination, in a new Chamber. I look to the Royal Commission to do that.
Lord Vivian: My Lords, this Bill will have the most profound effects on the history of the Parliament of this nation since the time of Oliver Cromwell, because as it stands, without amendment, it will emasculate and render impotent this House during the transitional period that is being proposed. It is such an important constitutional matter that I find it deplorable that threats should be made against these Benches and that this issue is treated as a party political one, and not as a seriously important constitutional matter.
This is widely illustrated by the refusal to allow your Lordships to debate for more than two days, when there are some 176 speakers. I find it unreasonable that speakers should be restricted to seven minutes for such an important constitutional matter. This Bill, as envisaged, with its proposed transitional stage, does not in any way improve your Lordships' House: in fact the exact opposite will occur. It will be weakened.
There is a further point that I should like to make, which relates to the effects of this Bill and the longer term proposals for the future of this House when the Royal Commission reports and when the joint parliamentary committee deliberates its report. It is a very simple point: that is that if hereditary Peers confine their remarks solely to this Bill, the abolition of hereditary Peers, and if this Bill is passed in its present form without considerable amendment they will never have the opportunity to make their thoughts known about the future of your Lordships' House.
Perhaps that is the very intention of the Government, to muzzle the voices and opinions of the hereditary Peers. There is therefore good reason for us to speak out now in this debate about our ideas on the future reform of what has generally become known as stage two of the reform of the House of Lords.
This is probably the most important constitutional matter that has come to your Lordships for some 700 years. As such, it is far too important to be dealt with on a petty party political basis. Every one of us on all sides of the House must do our duty and put aside our party political feelings so that we can debate, amend and work on this Bill to improve your Lordships' House in the interests of the nation.
I should like to turn attention to the Bill and I should like to emphasise the fact that the Government stated in the White Paper that they are minded to accept the proposals to allow a small number of hereditary Peers--currently 92--to sit temporarily in the transitional House if an amendment to the legislation is supported. I have also noted that there is to be no change in the role, function and powers of this Chamber during the transitional period. Therefore the burden of work will not decrease.
I should like to draw to your Lordships' attention that the records show that this current workload requires 400 Peers on a daily basis, in order that this Chamber can function effectively. It is therefore logical to assess figures for the transitional stage of the Chamber on a daily attendance of 400 Peers if all the work is to be done. I regret having to worry your Lordships with some statistics, but on this occasion to understand the logic it is necessary to refer to a few figures. Based on a working House of a minimum of 400 Peers, and knowing that a maximum of 228 life Peers attend daily, if you add the prospective 92 Peers to that figure there will be only 320 Peers to run the Chamber, leaving an overall deficiency of 80.
The Leader of the House, during an earlier debate on this matter, informed the House that approximately 500 life Peers will remain. That is true, but this figure is not relevant, as only 228 attend daily. There is very little likelihood that any more will ever attend.
I do not believe that 320 Peers is a sufficient number to run this House during the interim period if the existing roles, functions and powers are retained. Therefore, I suggest that illustrates that there could be a case for increasing the number of hereditary Peers by an additional 80, giving an overall figure of 172 hereditary Peers to cover the shortfall during the transitional period.
However, it is not as simple as that if parity between the two major parties is to be created--a factor required by the Government--because there would be a preponderance of Conservative hereditary Peers. It should be possible to adjust the daily attendance figures for Conservative hereditary Peers from 97 to about 75, for the Liberal Democrats from about 14 to 10, the Cross-Benches from about 46 to 35, or some such similar adjustment. That would give a figure of about 135 hereditary Peers to be retained during the transitional stage, which includes the 14 existing hereditary Labour Peers.
There will also be a requirement for parity so that an extra 37 Labour life Peers will have to be created in order to achieve that. If all that is done, it might just provide the knowledge, experience and wisdom for this Chamber to function effectively in the interim period. However, a word of warning should be sounded, as currently the House achieves a daily attendance rate of 400 Peers from a total availability of 1,170 Peers.
How can a figure of 400 Peers be sustained to sit in this House when it is possible to draw from an entitlement of a future total of only 400 Peers? I suggest that it is totally unrealistic and, indeed, impossible. I shall return to that point in Committee. The Government's planning figures for the transitional stage of your Lordships' House are deeply flawed.
I turn briefly to the powers and composition of your Lordships' House in stage two, should that ever come about because, if I do not comment now, I may never have the opportunity to do so again. I have already covered the roles and functions of a stage two reformed House during our previous debates and I shall not say any more about that.
That brings me to the future powers of the House of Lords and to the problem of legitimacy in its composition. If this House is to be made more legitimate, it could become so only by changing to a fully elected Chamber. If that occurs, the upper House will inevitably demand increased and formidable powers which may well bring the two Houses into direct conflict. Furthermore, it will lose its independence, and that can only be to the detriment of Parliament. Alternatively, if the House is wholly appointed, it will retain its lack of legitimacy. I believe it to be far better for the House to retain its independence with a strengthening of its powers as opposed to an elected House with formidable powers which, as I said, may bring it into conflict with another place.
I have commented on the composition of this House in the transitional stage. However, in stage two, if it ever occurs, there may well be additional responsibilities and therefore there may be a requirement for a daily attendance marginally larger than 400 Peers. That new figure could be based on 450, of which there would be about 250 life Peers and up to 200 hereditary Peers, which would then ensure that the additional work would be undertaken effectively and the parliamentary committees and all-party groups properly sustained.
I remind your Lordships that only 31 per cent. of the electorate voted for the Labour Party in the last election; that an opinion poll revealed that only 2 per cent. of the electorate recalled the promise to reform the House of Lords; that in a recent opinion poll only 25 per cent. stated that they would like to abolish hereditary Peers now whereas 75 per cent., which included 7 per cent. with no opinion, said they wished to keep the status quo or at least wait until the proposals for long-term reform are known. I have not met anyone, nor do I believe that there is any sensible person, who supports the Government's proposals for a transitional stage. People are completely unable to understand why the reforms are not being undertaken as a complete package.
In conclusion, I believe that the proposed reforms in this thoroughly bad Bill will weaken the authority of your Lordships' House during this transitional stage. This Bill does not change the role, functions and powers but changes only the composition of the Chamber during that interim period by removing all the hereditary Peers, except perhaps 92 of them. That will leave the House with fewer Peers. Without the 92 hereditary Peers, there would be only 228 life Peers to do the same amount of work.
Irreplaceable knowledge and expert advice will be lost to the nation, and the reduction of Peers will leave a Chamber with about 320 Peers to undertake the same amount of business. As many of your Lordships have said before, it makes no sense whatever to decide on the composition of this House before determining its roles, functions and powers. It is totally illogical and an act of madness to proceed in that way. It is an act of vandalism.
I remind your Lordships that this is not a party political matter but an issue of grave constitutional consequence. The checks and balances on the executive so well imposed by this Chamber may disappear with the weakening of this House. A citizen of the United Kingdom is in danger of losing his liberty and protection and guardianship from an over-demanding Government. Parliament will be damaged for ever and the status of the nation will be degraded. The government of this country will not be better but infinitely worse and the country must be protected from any elected dictatorship now or in the future, whichever political party is in power.
I ask your Lordships to cast aside any thoughts of party politics and personal preferences. This is far too grave a constitutional matter and must be given the greatest consideration and thought to ensure that the constitution of our nation is improved. With that in mind, I ask the Government to think again about this Bill and its very many shortcomings.
As we have heard, the justification for the Bill is a manifesto commitment. The Government appear to believe that that commitment is necessary and sufficient for the purposes of enacting the Bill. The manifesto commitment may be necessary, but it is not sufficient. It is not sufficient because it embodies a false premise. The Bill is put before us as a,
The House of Lords has several functions and, by general consent, fulfils them well. Let me single out one in particular. The House scrutinises and revises public Bills. In so doing, the House plays to its strengths and adds value to the political system. It is qualitatively distinguishable from the first Chamber. By fulfilling that function it does not challenge the democratic accountability of the House of Commons. It is complementary, although not subservient, to the elected Chamber.
Scrutiny in this House is frequently informed scrutiny. The knowledge and status of those engaged in debate induces Ministers to engage in a real discourse with Members. Ministers not only respond to, and engage in, debate; they also variously concede the points made and agree to amendments or agree to introduce amendments of their own. As Ministers concede, the result is better legislation. There are some good recent examples.
The essential point is that the hereditary Peers help to make that possible. They comprise over 40 per cent. of the active--the very active--membership of this House. The organisation, Common Sense for Lords Reform--I declare an interest as a patron of that organisation--has produced figures showing the extent of the involvement of hereditary Peers in the running of your Lordships' House. My noble friend Lord Vivian produced detailed figures. I do not propose to repeat them. The point is that hereditary Peers help to keep the House going and enable those who are engaged in outside work to contribute to debate.
Without the active hereditary Peers, it would be difficult to maintain a full-time House based on part-time membership. A substantial burden will fall on those who have outside jobs. They will either have to curtail or give up their jobs, in which case their expertise will no longer be current, or the House will not be able to fulfil its present functions. In other words, this House will suffer if the hereditary Peers are taken out. The House simply cannot carry on as before. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House has claimed in a Written Answer,
To assert that new life Peers will be created for the purpose of political balance, or that the Government are minded to accept the Weatherill amendment, does not challenge my thesis but, if anything, reinforces it.
The measure cannot be seen as "self-contained" in terms of its effect on the workings of the House. Nor can it be seen as "self-contained" in terms of the constitution. The Government have embarked on a number of changes to the constitution. They treat them as being disparate and discrete. Each is seen, in effect, as self-contained. That is a false and dangerous perception. Each impacts on the other and on the constitutional framework of this country. The constitution is being changed, and changed fundamentally, but without a clear view of what will be the end result.
The noble Baroness the Leader of the House has sought to justify the Government's approach on grounds of pragmatism. Pragmatism can be used to justify a singular change within the existing constitutional framework--that is quite a good conservative approach--but it cannot be employed for a raft of changes that will replace the existing framework with something else. In constitutional terms, we have left the port, but we have no idea which destination we are heading for. Those on the bridge do not appear to have a chart. The likelihood is constitutional drift.
The Government should have identified the constitutional framework that they favour before embarking on change. The Bill should come as a result of considered debate, as a consequence of a clear approach to constitutional change. At the very least, we should begin by looking at Parliament as a whole. That point was well made 30 years ago during debate on the 1969 Parliament (No. 2) Bill. On that occasion, one Member of the other place declared:
The case for looking again at this Bill, and for waiting until the Royal Commission has reported, has been made by no less a body than the Royal Commission itself. In its consultation document, published last week, it recognises that consideration of powers and functions should precede discussion of composition. The document also lists 11 characteristics that membership of a second Chamber may collectively fulfil. In my
My short analysis leads me to conclude with three questions for the Government. First, what serious study have the Government undertaken as to the effect on the functions of this House of the removal of hereditary Peers? As I said, assertion is no longer adequate.
Secondly, why bring forward the Bill at this time, ahead of the report of the Royal Commission? The manifesto commitment may justify the introduction of the Bill, but not its timing. The Government are committed to a step-by-step approach to reform. A step-by-step approach implies caution, but usually some awareness of where one wishes to step. Waiting for the report of the Royal Commission is thus completely compatible with a step-by-step approach.
Thirdly, what is the approach--the intellectual approach--to constitutional change which the Government have adopted and within which this measure can be located? The noble Lord the Government Chief Whip studiously avoided answering that question during the two-day debate on the White Paper. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House sought to answer it today but failed adequately to do so. The time has come when we are entitled to an adequate and substantive answer.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, it is very difficult to defend the hereditary principle. Indeed, the tide of history is probably against it. Having said that, I believe that hereditary Peers, in their individual capacity, have contributed much not only to our history, but to the present House. Furthermore, I do not believe that an appointed system would be any better because it would lead to all kinds of problems, cronyism being one. I think that we have too much cronyism these days; we do not want to make it worse. If we leave this by abolishing the hereditaries, all that we shall have, as my noble friend Lord Desai pointed out in his brilliant paper, is the biggest quango in the country. I am sure that none of us wants that. What is more, if we have an appointed House, we shall lose the benefit of randomness which the hereditary principle gives us.
I want something more than is in this very short Bill. In fact, the Bill is far too short. I regret its piecemeal approach. At present there is a great opportunity to reform the whole institution of Parliament, as the noble Lord, Lord Norton, has just said. I refer not only to this House, but also to the House of Commons. The House of Commons is going down the drain and it needs a great deal of reform. This opportunity for reform may not come along again for a very long time.
It would have been far better to have had one all-encompassing reform of the parliamentary institutions through, if possible, all-party agreement. That is the way reform sticks. That would have been far
But we are not getting rid of the hereditary principle. We are going to retain 91 hereditary Peers, for what period we do not know. They will be allowed to remain for an interim period--whatever that period will be--provided the House votes for what I consider to have been a disreputable deal cooked up by some noble Lords and the Government without proper consultation with the hereditary Peers and other Members of this House; and if this House behaves itself, as one of my noble friends said.
But this is only an interim stage. A Royal Commission will report on the next stage apparently by December, whether or not it has done a good job. That is most unfortunate and I hope members of the commission will protest and not be put under such a constraint. Otherwise it will be another rush job. But we already know the Government's intention, through their White Paper and Statements. They do not want a more effective second Chamber; they want a less effective Chamber, preferably one with some existing powers removed, such as secondary legislation, and the length of delaying powers reduced. In other words, the House of Lords will simply be an advisory Chamber in what will effectively be a unicameral system without proper checks and balances on the House of Commons itself. Indeed, that is taking place at a time when the Government are treating the House of Commons as their poodle, and the House of Commons is behaving like a poodle, even to the extent that British Armed Forces are sent into battle without parliamentary approval or proper debate beforehand. That is a great shame.
I do not necessarily disagree with unicameral legislatures, but they must be under the proper control of the people, probably through a written constitution, the courts and by means of shorter parliaments and referendums on great issues and constitutional changes, with a 60 per cent. vote necessary to make any constitutional changes. But I do not believe that there is any great support for a unicameral system. Therefore we ought to create a bicameral system which has authority and strikes a proper balance of powers and duties between both Houses, and which ensures a real parliamentary democracy to hold government to account and to prevent arrogant administrations riding roughshod over the sovereignty and the rights and powers of Parliament.
In my view that calls for a second Chamber with stronger, not weaker powers. If it is to have reasonable and adequate powers, and parity of esteem with the first Chamber, then it must have the same legitimacy; and that can only come about if the second Chamber is elected. There is no getting away from that. If the
In the past, the greatest opposition to an elected second Chamber has come not from this House but from the House of Commons, which has been unwilling to have its sovereignty constrained by a second Chamber with electoral authority. However, that might be changing. We have heard about the EDM, which now apparently has nearly 150 names with, no doubt, more to be added. So perhaps this is the time to be really radical. We should consider supporting a fully-elected Chamber--one, incidentally, that cannot be abolished at the whim of the first Chamber. That is most important. I say that because, apparently, what we will see here if this House disagrees with the House of Commons is an Act of one House being able to abolish part of the other House. We should think about that most seriously.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, so we are on our way at last. One knows that one is a lost cause when one is supported by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon. It is not so much that we are riding off into the sunset, but rather that the rest of you are riding off into the night. Indeed, you do not know what the next day will bring and you do not even know how long the night will last. This seems an extraordinary way to conduct constitutional reform--to pitch one into such chaos and uncertainty when everything could have been resolved by taking time. Surely this Government believe that they have plenty of time to do this properly. However, that is the way it is to be.
As someone who will be departing, I cannot see that I have a role to play other than perhaps corresponding with the Royal Commission in saying what the stage two process should be. We have an absolute and overriding duty as guardians of the powers and privileges and place in the constitution of this House to ensure that we pass that guardianship on to a House--the transitional House--which is capable of performing that role at least as well as we can.
If we were to introduce a Bill into this House to remove the wheels from a car, everyone would know that the important question was, "What use will the car be afterwards?". Even though the rest of the car was not mentioned in the legislation, we would still know what the question was. If we had a Bill to remove all light from a library in which books were not mentioned, we would still know that the important question was, "What use would the library be afterwards?" So it is with this Bill. It talks about the removal of hereditary Peers, but the legislation is really about what the transitional House will be like afterwards. In other words, it is what is not in the Bill that is important. It is our duty to concentrate on putting into the Bill provisions that will ensure that what we are looking at as guardians of the powers that
It is our duty to judge the proposals for the transitional House. We have to form a view of what we want to see in that House. I believe we all know that we want to see an independent and useful House, with quality Members, who are independent of the whims of government and of another place, that can continue to play the role in the constitution that we have played with reasonable effect. I am sure that we can be improved on. Doubtless my noble friend Lord Wakeham will find ways to improve us. However, in the transitional House we are merely looking at something that will serve as well as we have done.
To my mind there are two key propositions which need to be inserted in the Bill. The first is to set out what proportions the various parties and elements of this House should bear one to the other. The Government have said that they have no present intention of seeking a majority and will merely try to look at coming up to parity with the principal opposition party. That just will not do for an important constitutional edifice like the House of Lords. It leaves it totally open for the Government to change their mind at any time. It cannot matter to a government who are really determined on seeing the end of the transitional House within a couple of years if we have some safeguards in the Bill that would bite on the government only if we found the transitional House running for much longer than that. Therefore I hope that the Government will look favourably on enshrining what they have already said in the substance of this Bill.
The other aspect that needs to be in this Bill is something on the way in which Cross-Benchers will be selected in future. It is crucial that the Cross-Benchers should be truly independent, that they should have a great breadth of experience and that they should be people who will contribute time to this House. There is nothing in this Bill about how the committee, or commission, which will appoint Cross-Benchers will be appointed, about what its mandate will be and about how its performance will be reviewed. All these matters need consideration. We perhaps do not need to go into every detail in the Bill, but we need an anchor for it. We need to know that as regards that crucial part of the transitional House--the transitional House which will play a part in deciding what stage two will be like--the anchors for the make-up of the Cross-Benches should be in the Bill. Again, the Government have been equivocal but, again, they have pointed in the right direction.
I view with optimism the discussions we shall have in Committee. The Government have shown in their acceptance of the Weatherill proposals a willingness to look at compromise and improvement. That, to my mind, is wholly laudatory. But those who are departing must look at these proposals that the Government make with fairness and with individual independence, not swayed by some party political games being played by our parties down the other end. It is an individual decision for us. Beyond anything else, we must not be bought. The Weatherill proposals will be worth nothing
We shall have to work hard in the course of the Committee stage and we shall have to work with a will to make this a Bill which is worth passing. I am sure that we will all do it. But if we cannot do that, we must face up to our duty and to the consequences of that duty and not shirk taking this Government to the wire if they make us do so.
Lord Birkett: My Lords, like so many of your Lordships I much regret that the Government have not seen fit to announce their full, long-term intentions for the composition and constitution of this House. Of course that places an additional burden on the Government. It means that they are obliged to listen to advice on the subject from doomed hereditary Peers like me.
I notice that a number of your Lordships are keen on the notion of an elected second Chamber. I rather wish that I could think so too, but in my heart of hearts I cannot because I fear that if this House was subject only to election, those selected would not be the ideal Members of your Lordships' House; they would be selected according to the party they most faithfully served. Like a good Cross-Bencher, I believe that party politics play far too big a part in the life of the nation as it is and an elected second Chamber could only make that worse. If anyone wants to see the effect of two really powerful Houses in a legislature where politics and party politics rule, one has only to look at the dismaying events in the United States over recent months to see where that can lead one.
But there has been a great deal of debate today about the danger of an elected second Chamber in relation to another place. There are fears that it could lead to rivalry and, indeed, to open hostility. That is quite possibly true, but I think there is something more to it than just the dangers of political warfare. I believe that a reformed House will need, as it has at the moment, an extraordinary width of experience, knowledge and expertise. If all the hereditary Peers are to leave in a body, that expertise will be sadly lacking. That is what appointment can do. It can seek out people of real wisdom and expertise.
I am not as frightened of the dreaded word "patronage" as some of your Lordships seem to be. Sooner or later people have to choose the best man and, with a degree of good will in the world, which I believe exists on all sides of the House, I do not see why they should not do so. There have been several notable additions to your Lordships' House in recent months and many of them have already contributed enormously to our debates. I am not too frightened of that principle.
Some noble Lords have a particular corner to fight. I have spent almost 40 years in your Lordships' House defending the arts from all the dangers that continually beset them and I would hate to think that this House did not have a good number of Peers ready, able and willing
Viscount Chandos: My Lords, I warmly welcome the Bill and its lucid introduction by my noble friend the Leader of the House. It is not spiteful, petty or small minded, as some noble Lords opposite and their colleagues in another place have claimed. Nor is it, perhaps, as momentous as the most extravagant of the contrasting claims would have it. The Bill proposes a simple change in the composition of your Lordships' House, one that was envisaged at the time of the Parliament Act in 1911, discussed regularly thereafter and clearly and specifically foreshadowed in the Labour Party manifesto in 1997. The abolition of the right of hereditary Peers to speak, sit and vote will certainly change the membership of the House, although I think proportionately among active Members, it will not be significantly more acute than what has occurred in the House of Commons following a single landslide general election such as those in 1906, 1945 or 1997.
To those of us in your Lordships' House--particularly those of us who are hereditary Peers--it will represent a great change, but we should not deceive ourselves that, to the world outside, this limited reform of a revising Chamber with generally modest powers will seem all that earth shaking. As my noble friend the Leader of the House has already argued, the underlying principle nonetheless attracts widespread popular support and, whatever the attempts by the Opposition and their allies to make people's flesh crawl, there are no great constitutional threats arising from the Bill.
The Bill is not spiteful or vindictive, as I can bear witness to the strong appreciation among its supporters on all sides of both Houses for the work done by hereditary Peers and a recognition of the personal impact the changes will have on the most active Members who may leave your Lordships' House. The Government's motivation for introducing the Bill is based first and foremost on democratic principle, the inappropriateness of hereditary as a qualification for membership of the legislature. Of course there is also a sense that the innate unfairness of the party balance in this House should be addressed. But as the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, argued last October from the Benches opposite, that would surely be felt by all noble Lords opposite if the situation were reversed.
I make no claims to be able to reflect the feelings of the most active of the hereditary Peers, since, as a Baker Street irregular, I have always combined my participation in this House with a full-time business career. Nonetheless, the pride and satisfaction that I have gained from my time in this House and the loss that I shall feel when I leave, only partly mitigated by relief from chastisement by my noble friend the Government Chief Whip and his cohorts, give me a clear idea as to how much the proposed change will take away from those of my hereditary colleagues who, unlike me, have chosen to make this House the main focus of their energy and attention.
I believe that that is felt no less acutely by my noble friends on the Front Bench and their colleagues in another place. But rightly, it has not diverted them from introducing this Bill in order to address what is now widely acknowledged to be an indefensible anachronism, a shadow over our parliamentary system. The Government have, moreover, always made clear their openness to facilitate the return of the most active hereditary Members, as their willingness to consider the Weatherill amendment as one means of achieving that demonstrates.
Of course, with any change, large or small, we move into the unknown, and there is a risk that not all will go as we expect. In winding up the debate last October, my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn spoke strikingly about the desirability of change generally and its beneficial effect on our lives and the society in which we live. I suppose that, just as in 1984, George Orwell suggests that everybody has their secret fear, there are particular changes to which I am resistant. But, in general, as my noble friend expressed more articulately than I can, I find that the prospect of change excites and invigorates me, adding a dynamic to our democracy, as much as it does to our economy.
I believe that the appetite and enthusiasm for carefully considered change expressed in the Labour Party's manifesto and by the Government's subsequent actions have struck a chord with the country at large, explaining the unprecedented level of the Government's continuing popularity. That, in turn, reinforces the argument that the manifesto commitment to this specific measure of constitutional reform justifies the applications of the Salisbury-Addison Rules to allow the fair passage of this Bill through your Lordships' House.
Noble Lords opposite, such as the noble Lord, Lord Lamont of Lerwick, in last month's debate, have attempted to argue that the length of modern manifestos makes the electorate unable to absorb specific commitments such as this. Even if that was the case, which like my noble friend the Leader of the House I doubt, the Bill is so representative of the broad reforming thrust of this Government that I believe there can be no question of the mandate in that regard bestowed on the Government by the electorate.
The relentless chant of "patronage" from the Benches opposite can only be described as rich since the exploitation of patronage to a point close to abuse was polished to a fine art during the long period of the last government. Unabused patronage, as the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, said a moment ago, seems to be an essential part of the political process, whether in nominating life Peers, members of public bodies or any number of men and women to arduous and usually unremunerated positions.
While I believe that there are many challenges to be faced in determining the right balance of power, and the means of enforcing it, between the executive and Parliament, as my noble friend Lord Richard said, this should not lead us to denigrate the political process and the position of political parties within it. It is easy--as I believe the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, is wont to do--to elevate independence to a fetish, but the flip-side of independence is accountability to nobody but oneself.
I have felt that my membership of a political party and the taking of a party whip, which has been the case for most of my time in your Lordships' House, has conferred a small degree of democratic legitimacy on my participation in the House. A willingness to be guided by the work and thought of fellow members of a party, colleagues in this House or another, informed and moderated by reasonable independence of judgment, seems to me to lie at the heart of healthy and productive political activity. I see many noble Lords on these Benches and elsewhere who achieve that amalgam to an extent that I can only aspire to--and they are in overwhelming numbers life Peers who have, in many cases, been nominated by the leaders of their particular political party.
I do not believe that the consequences of this Bill will be to diminish the independence of the continuing life Peers--I shall not embarrass my noble friend Lord Desai by again singling him out as an example--nor to lead to the arrival of a kennel of poodles, as the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil, offensively suggested. I therefore believe that the central role of the political parties in the transitional House, and indeed in the fully reformed House, should be enthusiastically confirmed.
This should not be taken as in any way a denigration of the role of the Cross-Benchers, who I fervently hope will be as vigorously active in a fully reformed House as in the transitional one. One of my most memorable experiences was working with the then Italian Minister of Finance, Guido Carli, a nominated independent senator, whose courageous pioneering of privatisation in
On the other hand, I was struck while reading the journals of Woodrow Wyatt, the late Lord Wyatt of Weeford, by the following entry shortly after his nomination for a life Peerage by the then Prime Minister and his decision to sit on the Cross-Benches:
While I do not believe that that account of Cross-Bench co-operation is in any way representative of noble Lords generally on those Benches, it is a fair warning that aspirations held by some for an ostensible purity--a politics-free House--are probably illusory, and certainly impossible to police.
I shall end, therefore, by reiterating my passionate belief that the hereditary principle for the legislature is fundamentally wrong--and I remain unclear as to whether the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, unconditionally shares this view--that the two-stage reform as started by this Bill is the best way to proceed, and that the proposed transitional House will be no less effective than the present one and indisputably more fairly balanced. I strongly support the Bill and reject the reasoned amendment.
Lord Chesham: My Lords, I was slightly surprised by the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, to whom I believe I may refer as my noble kinsman. He said that in his view everyone on his side of the Chamber was totally behind the Government. Just before his contribution, an interesting speech was made by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, which did not reflect what his Front Bench had said. It is a pity that the noble Viscount is not now listening to my comments.
Undoubtedly, during this debate with some 200 speakers there will be a degree of repetition which I believe is perfectly legitimate. The whole attitude of the Government to this Bill and to this House, let alone another place, is nothing short of outrageous. To allow against all entreaties only two days for this debate on Second Reading, even if one day is extended, is discourteous in the extreme, to say nothing of the unnecessary impingement on our loyal and supportive staff in this House. At this early stage of the debate, I should like to thank them for their unfailing good humour, courteous manners and devotion to duty. I wish that I could say the same for the Government but nobody could. I believe that the last straw was the suggestion by the noble Lord the Chief Whip that speeches should be restricted to seven minutes. The Government have been reminded that this House is responsible for running itself and does not need self-seeking political intervention in the way that it conducts its business. I am sure that many other noble Lords will take the time that they need to make their
When, if ever, have a government embarked on major constitutional reform without giving the electorate any indication of what may replace it? The politicisation of constitutional reform, notwithstanding the protestations of the noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal, can only be the politics of envy. Have we perhaps reached the stage where there are five types of Peers; hereditary Peers, Lords spiritual, Law Lords, life Peers and now, it appears, dynastic Peers? Why one type should be singled out for exclusion over any other holds no water on a constitutional argument, ergo it must be political. Why should a hereditary Peer be less legitimate, or "hardly legitimate" (in the words of the noble Baroness), than a dynastic or life Peer?
I turn to the specifics of the Bill to which a number of speeches have made no reference. I am amazed that the Bill makes no reference to Letters Patent. As I understand it, my forebear was rewarded for services rendered to this country with a peerage. Such Letters Patent appear to be a personal contract between the Monarch and his or her heirs and successors and my forebear and his heirs and successors to have a voice and seat in the Parliament of the country. The Government now wish to intervene in this personal contract. In the same breath they say that that does not impinge on the Monarchy. There is no logic in this argument.
A hereditary Peer is an unusual animal and I do not believe that the Government have understood that. A hereditary Peer is solely a life tenant of his title and cannot bind his heirs and successors. In evidence of this, a hereditary Peer may disclaim his title within a period of time after that inheritance. However, he may not, and cannot, disclaim it on behalf of his heirs and successors. The noble Baroness, Lady Jay, I repeat, has described hereditary Peers as "hardly legitimate". Surely it would be totally illegitimate for any hereditary Peer to do anything other than vote against this Bill; otherwise they would be binding their heirs and successors in a way that they have absolutely no power to do under their Letters Patent and which is not covered by this Bill.
Do the Government believe that their wheeze of withdrawing writs of summons answers the question of personal contracts into which the Government appear to want to intervene? I believe your Lordships are entitled to know whether this is to be effective and whether indeed it is legitimate.
The next issue on which I wish to address the House is the Statute of Westminster 1931 and its relationship to the House of Lords. Any hereditary Peer who is a Commonwealth citizen is entitled to claim his right to sit in the House of Lords. In contrast to MPs, their citizenship does not disbar them from being members of the UK legislature. In effect, and at least in theory, this supports a mechanism whereby Commonwealth representation is delivered to the Westminster Parliament. Indeed, there are a number of hereditary Peers who currently attend the House as passport- holders of Commonwealth countries. I myself am one,
By extension, the Commonwealth has a vested interest in the provisions of the House of Lords Bill in that it will, at a stroke, remove the mechanism for this representation. The preamble to the Statute of Westminster states:
As drafted, the House of Lords Bill manifestly contravenes this. Within the terms of the clause cited, it extends to a number of the dominions referred to but nowhere on the face of the Bill is it expressly declared that those dominions have either requested or consented to its future enactment. I would like to know whether the Government have such consent from Commonwealth countries to this Bill. If they have not, I believe that the Bill is flawed and this must obviously lead to a number of amendments at later stages.
The current Government set great store by the Statute of Westminster. During the Second Reading of the Succession to the Crown Bill, introduced by my noble friend Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare on 27th February 1998, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, stated that:
Lord Bragg: My Lords, I feel diffident about speaking in this debate, being new alike to this House and to the expert and opaque art of politics. Therefore, if I may, I shall take a rather personal tack.
At school I had a history teacher, Mr. James, who said that everything that ever happened came from three causes. I have observed this often enough in today's debate. Perhaps we all had the same history teacher. However, I am grateful to him today because I am
There is of course a negative side, a darker seam--and how we have been made aware of it over the past 50 years, when our history has not only, rightly, been scrutinised from the outside but, less acceptably, often turned inside out in a mistaken zeal to revisit the past using only the lamp of a current fashionable correctness.
But the history I was taught, and was lucky enough to go on to study at that historic university, Oxford, though not blinding me to the sewers under the roads to greatness, left me in some awe that fallible individuals ever came together with such force to do what they did here in this country and over centuries. One of the great creations of the British was a constitution which, despite expert battering and acidulous attacks, most fiercely from critics in our own country, has in a relative world served better than most, even any--though sometimes most reluctantly and late--to represent and express the people in whose name it exists. Two cheers for democracy, said E.M. Forster, and our least worst of systems has weathered well.
Such a constitution is not likely to be subjected to radical surgery. The fact that it is at this time--and that the electorate agreed that it should be done, which gives it all the legitimacy it needs--does not dent or lessen the momentous and solemn nature of the debate now before your Lordships' House. It gives us all pause.
The second cause of diffidence was well expressed, I think, by the noble Lord, Lord Stafford, in his maiden speech last November, on the day when I, too, made my maiden speech. In the final paragraph of the speech, which he called a digression, he said:
Perhaps I may mention just one out of many: my fellow Cumbrian, the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, whose care of his family's past and his country's best interests has been exemplary. Of all the silent choirs which haunt even this comparatively modern building, surely the most resonant are those ancient voices, the chorus of past noble Lords. Their names and deeds, at
But I have ancestors too. I did not find their names in the books of history I read at Oxford. But they too had fought in wars: my grandfather, Herbert, and several of his brothers served in the Army in World War I; my father, Stanley, and his brothers were in the Air Force in World War II and doubtless before then they made up the numbers in battles which raged in the Borders between England and Scotland for several centuries and in bloody battles various around the world and in other battles here at home.
Just as they added to the wealth of the country by ploughing its fields and digging its coal, the women, too, strained to bring up decently its often inadequately provided for children: foot soldiers, housewives, manual workers, men and women, and as far as I can discover any records, decent people whose patience and tolerance helped this country, and so this House, to be what it was and what it is.
As your Lordships would expect, I am proud of my ancestors--as proud, I may say, as any hereditary Peer. They wanted betterment for themselves and their families; they wanted what was fair; they knew that the world must change and, perhaps of all people anywhere, they stalked change with caution and forbearance. But one well defended castle after another finally fell: in the franchise, in education, in health, in housing, and in a multiplicity of areas and in the sense that opportunity is equally possible. Now, perhaps the last citadel is reached: the constitution. Perhaps I feel a little less diffidence here.
But my third cause of diffidence is that I am no constitutional historian. Nevertheless, even as a new Member of your Lordships' House, I believe that to function with the power which will be of the greatest benefit to this country your Lordships' House can no longer be so spectacularly tilted and biased to one form of entry--thus by a chain reaction causing disproportion in gender and background and, to an overmarked extent, in political allegiance. To legislate for the country, even to amend legislation; to debate for the country, even though such debates can be lonely vigils--this demands that the House represent far more truly the vivid, changed and varied groups in this country now taking us beyond the year 2000.
Will the new House be elected or will it be representative--or to some extent both, to the advantage, I hope, for the former? Whatever it is, I am sure that the very newness will release new energies and new vigour. Will it be as independent as before? Will it be as eccentric as before? Will it have the style it had before? I hope so and I believe so. Style is not the monopoly of one section or class in our society; neither is eccentricity, and neither is independence of mind. All these qualities are liberally dispersed across all sections of the British people.
What most of us want, I am sure, is a stronger House, a more grounded House, a House able to look another millennium straight in the eye because the tradition it calls upon and the new ancestors it serves come from a far wider, more diverse, less-the-icing, more-the-cake, an unconfined range, able to give Parliament and our democracy the best energies of the British people and so be in safe hands. For that reason, I support the Bill.
Baroness Perry of Southwark: My Lords, it is a very great pleasure to follow the eloquence of the noble Lord, Lord Bragg. He is right. To anyone with a sense of history this Bill does indeed arouse very strong feelings in all of us. For me, it arouses feelings rather akin to watching the close of Empire in Hong Kong. While one knows that what is happening is right and timely, at the same time one is allowed a moment of sadness at the closing of an important chapter.
It is quite right that we in this House should take the matter very seriously. It affects all of us personally as part of our lives and our work, but I think that we delude ourselves if we imagine that for the woman on the Clapham Tube it is quite such a vitally important matter of debate. Indeed, my concern is that to the general public the House of Lords has been so lampooned and caricatured that if you ask the average person, the woman on the Clapham Tube, or even your London taxi driver, the image of the House of Lords has become one of elderly gentlemen eating cream buns in the Tea Room or nodding asleep on the red Benches. That is a much more common view of what happens than the day-to-day work which those of us who are privileged to be here know takes place.
Before any further reforms of the House take effect, I hope that there will be a real attempt to inform the general public and to bring them into the debate. I hope that that is done much more realistically to help them to understand what the House is really like. In particular--and I speak with personal interest--it would be good if the general public understood the role of the life Peers. We have heard a lot today about the contribution of the hereditary Peers and the importance of all that they have done. We have heard less about what life Peers have brought to this House. The Life Peerages Act 1958 was a major breach of the hereditary principle and I believe that on every Bench we have distinguished life Peers, many of whom are able, although some of us are not, to give a full-time commitment to the work of the House.
As has already been said, even in recent months some extremely distinguished Members on the Benches opposite as well as on the Cross-Benches have entered this House, much to its benefit and to the benefit of the country and the passage of legislation.
I rather resent the assumption that life Peers are all mere "placemen", as though we had all been brought in from some kind of political secret list. Many of us do not see ourselves as recipients of patronage. The letter which I received from the Prime Minister over eight years ago did not mention on which Bench I should sit, how often I should attend or how I should vote. I regard myself as independent in the best sense of the word.
I do not subscribe to the idea that an elected second Chamber would be as independent and free as those of us who are life Peers have been able to be. An elected upper House would create a political and whipped upper House which would be extremely detrimental to the work of the House of Commons and also to the passage of legislation. I see no reason why nominations, if widely and wisely distributed, could not provide the same breadth and independence. Why not disperse the power of patronage from the Prime Minister, as the current Prime Minister has said he will willingly do, and give such power of patronage, for example, to professional bodies, the trade unions, the CBI, the financial sector, various faiths and so on?
The House has proved itself as regards three important traditions over the years. First, and many noble Lords have referred to it, Members of this House bring a sense of duty which is enshrined in the restriction of our powers. We cannot be power-mad in a House which has those restrictions. Moreover, there is the absence of any remuneration or pay for the work that we are doing. An elected House would not bring those two principles into play.
Thirdly, there is the expertise to which many noble Lords have referred. A wide distribution of patronage should be designed in such a way as to reflect that wide expertise. I have often had a sense of privilege in this House merely through sitting and listening to the expertise which those who know and understand a subject bring to bear. Although most of us try to speak only on subjects about which we know well, we are privileged to sit and listen to that expertise. That is possible with a nominated House.
I hope that we can move towards such a House in the future. That will bring with it all the traditions which we rightly cherish but which will make a House of Lords a second Chamber fit for the next millennium.
Baroness Crawley: My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the distinguished life Peeress, the noble Baroness, Lady Perry of Southwark. I agree with noble Lords who have called for good humour and tolerance in debate on the Bill. We can all agree about the great amount of humour and tolerance that has been displayed and the very moving moments that have occurred throughout the debate. My noble friend Lord Bragg's intervention was extremely moving.
This Bill represents a great deal more than its two pages and its 29 lines. It represents the first stage of Labour's clear election manifesto pledge, a manifesto responded to with record-breaking enthusiasm and gusto by the British people on 1st May 1997.
In my time as an elected MP I have known many attitudes to manifestos, many of them quite eclectic. I have known the manifesto skimmers, the manifesto devourers and those who use manifestos as suitable material for the art of origami. However, I worry about a
The Bill also represents the Government's unwavering determination to bring an end to the hereditary principle as a part of British government on the grounds that we do not believe any longer that government influenced by the hereditary principle is the best democratic model that should be on offer to the British people today.
We begin the next millennium in the sure knowledge that the world's most developed and successful countries are also its most successful democracies. Better government is our goal and this Bill assists us hugely in the realisation of that goal. The British people know that nine months before the 21st century we cannot run a modern, dynamic, devolved democracy on ancestor worship.
For most families in Britain today it is only their talents and hard work, their effort and energy that give them rank and reward. In a modern democracy the values and structures of the government are expected to reflect the best of your own. As my noble friend Lord Ponsonby said in his excellent contribution, duty and public service are not, and never have been, the sole domain of only certain British historic families.
This Bill also represents a recognition that the Britain of 1999 is changing, that it is gloriously multi-racial and multi-cultural and that the majority of its private and public institutions take for granted the principle of gender and race equality, even if the practice still has a long way to go.
As an elected representative, I have spent much of my time dealing with issues of gender equality. I can report from the front line that modern Britain is packed with women who have rightful ambitions at local, regional and national level to influence and change our institutions for the better.
It is a fact that many private and public organisations in my present constituency of Birmingham, East have women as their chief executive officers and leaders. That rapidly evolving race and gender profile of a vibrant British society is not, and never can be, reflected in the profile of the hereditary peerage.
For all its clarity, its brevity and its simplicity, this Bill has endured more name calling by noble Lords on the Benches opposite than the worst England manager at the most unpopular phase of his footballing career. It has been described by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, the Leader of the Opposition as "narrow", "offensive", "evasive" and "betraying the spitefulness of small minds". The noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil, today told us that it is "miserable and pedestrian" and a "pettifogging, mean measure".
I have to say that such accusations are more appropriately laid at the door of those noble Lords who, during the many hours of debate on this subject so far, have quite outrageously questioned the legitimate
The reason given by many noble Lords who oppose the Bill is that they are genuinely concerned that the Government's reform plans will not bring forward a new second Chamber fast enough or effectively enough. Despite the fact that I am not by nature a cynical person, I do believe that such supposed "concern" for the process of reform is a tactic hidden behind a red herring which in turn is lurking behind a smokescreen--a smoked red herring in fact!
It is an old trick, deployed for nearly 100 years by noble Lords and, in the belief that it might still just work, noble Lords are mercilessly trying it on, hoping that once again reform will be derailed, as it has been so many times in the past. How much better it would be for the dignity of this House and the proper functioning of the legislative programme arising from the Queen's Speech if noble Lords opposite would accept that the Bill represents the will of the people and if they used their considerable skill and energy to find ways of working together across the Chamber to find the most appropriate way forward within the terms of the Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, talked earlier of guillotines and front-row knitting persons. In that context, I was reminded of a recent visit to the bleak old prison known as the gendarmerie in Paris. Indeed, as we all know, in the 1790s in France, aristocrats had their heads--how shall I put this delicately?--chopped off, for their pains. How differently we approach these things from our European partners! In the 1990s in Britain, we are asking our aristocrats to leave government with all our thanks, with dignity and with their heads held high. This time, however, despite the occasional appearance of the excellent red socks of the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, I do not see the Scarlet Pimpernel swinging down from the rafters to save the day for the hereditary peerage. It is time for a dignified exit--and this Bill is that dignified exit.
Lord Montagu of Beaulieu: My Lords, perhaps I may bring the House back for a moment from the subject of the French Revolution. Over the past year, I have followed with great interest the debates on the future of this House, but did not speak as the arguments from all sides were effectively rehearsed in a rather predictable fashion. Now comes the crunch: the Bill is before us. I shall not repeat the many points that have been made so far, but I should like to cover one particular point which, happily, I see is one which has been chosen to be discussed by the Royal Commission. I refer to the desirability and importance of young persons being Members of this House. It has been the tradition for Peers who are minors to join the House soon after their 21st birthday and subsequently to serve an apprenticeship, which stood them in good stead for future contributions to the work of the House.
Recently it came as rather a shock when I realised I was one of the few Peers who have sat in the House for more than 50 years. Now I am sad, but resigned to the fact that probably my time is up. But looking back on the subjects in which I specialised, I see no reason to feel ashamed of what I have contributed since those early days.
So it would appear that young Peers under 30 will almost certainly disappear, in spite of exemplary efforts of such hereditary Peers as the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, who, in his early twenties, won pension rights for war widows. If ever there was a case for retaining and encouraging such young Peers, this is it. Otherwise, who will represent the young? To appoint them from the outside world would be very difficult, as they would have to live and work in London. Most of today's young Peers, have jobs, but many of them still attend because they have a special commitment born out of a deep-seated sense of family duty. However, I am sure that the committee of my noble friend Lord Wakeham will discuss this matter seriously.
One is always hearing criticisms of the House as being unchanging and unrepresentative, right-wing dominated and hostile to any radical decisions; and when we do defeat governments, we are blamed or praised depending on who is in power. But I should like to point out, as one who has served for over 50 years, that unchanging the House of Lords is certainly not. Since 1947 I have witnessed that small traditional House of the 1940s welcome life Peers, women Peers, trade union Peers, Peers of Commonwealth origin, showbiz Peers and celebrity Peers. I submit that when its history is written it will conclude that the House has never been better composed or offered more comprehensive expertise or conducted better informed debates than it does today. I doubt it will ever be better, regardless of the Royal Commission--that is, if the Government accept its recommendations.
The media and parties opposite love to scoff at the claim that many hereditary Peers do in fact pursue an independent viewpoint. But such independence is very much reflected in the Lobby, as Chief Whips know to their cost. I have never hesitated to vote contrary to the Whip if I was convinced I should, and once even led a revolt in alliance with opposition parties to defeat a government amendment to a Bill. But to build such independence into any new House will be very difficult, given the overtly political selection procedures that are now in operation. However, it would be a triumph for
Finally, I find it sad that previous statements about the present House and future plans with regard to hereditary Peers, however hardworking they may be, were tinged with a certain amount of malice and meanness. But that was certainly corrected today and I thank the Leader of the House for her remarks about hereditary Peers which were supported by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde. For we have sat up all night; we have done a lot of Committee work. Now, apparently, it is the intention to deny past Members all access to the House, which is sad. I suspect the biggest sufferers will be the bars and the catering department.
Throughout its history, particularly in the 18th century, Members of the House of Lords have never shirked from raising taxes in time of national crisis, even if the burden fell most heavily on them. So the final chapters are being written, sadly, without any formal recognition of past work--just good old class hatred. How sad, how undignified, and how typical. Naturally I am confident that my fellow Peers will work to the end, when I suppose we will be expected to fold our tents and silently steal away. Perhaps some of us may be a greater nuisance outside the House than we are today. Only time will tell.
I firmly hope that the new House of Lords will emerge stronger and more credible in order to act as a much needed bastion against the dictatorship of the ruling party. After all, second Chambers must be "conservative", with a small "c", as a radical second Chamber is a nonsense and would be unable to play its proper part in the constitution. Let us hope that a reconstituted House of Lords will at least sometimes be in a position to point out that the government of the day might occasionally be wrong. But it will need adequate powers; indeed, powers are the whole point.
I may be rather suspicious and cynical, and perhaps it was a red herring on someone's part, but I believe that attacking the hereditary principle all the time was a smoke screen to divert public discussion from powers. That is what really matters to the country in the future. So the country wants to know what the Labour Party's plans are with regard to powers. Do they really want lots of yes-men who will not have the courage to take objective and independent decisions? I believe that we ought to do everything that we can to prevent that happening.
Viscount Thurso: My Lords, my father was a very competent Greek scholar and, therefore, when I went to school I thought that it would be a very good idea if I also took Greek. Unfortunately, Greek and I never got on one little bit and I achieved 9 per cent. in my Greek O-level. However, I am left with one phrase--namely,
When I put down my name to speak in this debate, it was my original intention to give the Bill a brief but warm welcome and to suggest one possible small area of improvement. However, as the debate has gone on and I have listened to it, I have felt that I might perhaps like to expand a little on my welcome and explain why I believe that the Bill is both a good and necessary one.
When I came into your Lordships' House some four years ago, I had never actually expected to be here. There were two reasons. The first was that I did not expect my father to die quite so young and, secondly, I thought that your Lordships would have got around to reforming the place before I ever got here. As it had never been my expectation that I would be a Member of this Chamber, I have rather viewed the past four years as an unexpected boon and one which I hope I have been able to make some little use of. I came here with the very typical view of the outsider who perhaps has not given it a great deal of thought. I clearly understood that the hereditary principle was intellectually indefensible; in other words, there is no defence of it. However, it rather seemed that your Lordships were mucking along rather nicely and that it sort of practically worked. So why not leave it alone?
My experience over four years has radically changed my view to one of understanding that this House is actually fundamentally flawed. It seems to me that the fundamental flaw is not quite so much the hereditary principle itself, although that is quite clearly fundamentally flawed: it is the fact that every time your Lordships take an important decision and every time your Lordships have a very valid argument with another place, this House is held up to ridicule because of the heredity element. That is why the time has now come without any question to change the composition of your Lordships' House.
It seems to me that the role that this House must play in the future is that of strengthening the checks and balances on the executive. I have heard that from all parts of the House; indeed, I have heard it from the Government Front Bench, from the Opposition Benches and from the Cross Benches. I believe we all agree that the role of your Lordships' House is to produce a strong, effective and proper check and balance on another place. We can only do that if the composition of this House is such that the people generally, and those who occupy another place, feel that we have some legitimacy. Ultimately it may well be that that means election. However, what is quite certain is the fact that the hereditary element detracts from that ability. Therefore, I have come to the view that I am very happy to accept this first stage of reform on its own as it will make this House a more valid Chamber. Even if the second stage is not reached, at least the House will be a better place for that first stage of reform.
Having expanded slightly more than I meant to on my welcome to the Bill, I should like to turn to one small specific point which the Government may like to bear in mind. While this is a stand alone measure, and while it is very much hoped that it will be a transitional measure--I do not doubt the Government's integrity and I do not doubt they have every intention of producing
If that were to be the case, I wonder whether we would not be wise to look at one or two possible additions to the Bill which might make that transitional period more sensible over a longer period. I stress that I do not necessarily believe that to be the case, but I think it is wise to plan for the unexpected. I have one particular suggestion to make to the Government; namely, to allow Peers to resign their place in this House after this first transitional period is over. I believe there are two reasons which make this a good idea. The first is that there are a number of Members of your Lordships' House who have successfully reached a great age and who have expressed their desire to give up. But for so long as the law obliges them to attend your Lordships' House they have no means by which they can honourably give up membership of your Lordships' House. For those who want to--there should be no compulsion--it might be worth creating a mechanism which allows Peers who wish to do so to retire.
The second reason is that I have noticed. particularly on the Government Benches, the arrival over the past few years of a number of extremely able and quite young new life Peers. That is admirable. Those younger life Peers may find over the next few years that they develop a taste for politics and they may wish to stand for election to the Scottish Parliament, the European Parliament, or whatever. I believe fundamentally it is wrong that anyone should be able to be a Member of two Houses of Parliament. My proposal would allow a mechanism whereby someone who was a Member of the Scottish Parliament or the European Parliament would be able to resign his or her writ in this House.
I make that suggestion as one of the possible improvements which might be made, bearing in mind that this transitional Bill may be with us for much longer. However, I return to my early theme which is warmly to welcome the Bill as a much needed improvement in the workings of your Lordships' House and to say that perhaps we have looked at it very much through the spectacles of history in today's debate whereas I would rather look forward. I believe this to be a Bill about the future. Perhaps, after all, I come back to where I started: perhaps it is a rosey-fingered dawn.
Lord Grenfell: My Lords, I refrained from taking part in the two earlier debates on this great issue. I told myself at the time that it was because I preferred to await the Second Reading of the Bill on the first stage, but I think that if I am honest with myself it was probably because as an hereditary Peer taking the Labour Whip I found the whole exercise extraordinarily intimidating.
Having said that, I do not suppose that Socrates would have been all that keen on making a commercial endorsing the efficacy of hemlock! I find, as a much lesser mortal than he, that it is rather difficult to support a Bill looking to one's own demise from this House. But there are good reasons for doing so and in a few short
My father, on the other hand, had the good fortune to sit in your Lordships' House for 49 years. I like to think that in many ways he was the very model Back-Bench hereditary Peer. He was assiduous in his attendance; I am told he was a very good committee chairman; and he confined his speeches to subjects of which he had knowledge and experience. Outside the House he was active on his local hospital board and pursued with great energy and devotion, right up until the day before he died, his charitable activities, notably and for a very long period, for the mentally handicapped and for invalid children. He was very fond of quoting the words of a famous kinsman of his, Sir Wilfred Grenfell, the missionary doctor and explorer of Labrador, who said that,
We hereditaries can, and we certainly should, honour the memory of our hereditary predecessors in the House, but we can no longer claim the rights through which so many came to be deserving of our admiration. The time has simply come for us to go and for your Lordships' House to be reconstituted on lines that better reflect the imperatives of the end of this millennium and to become the kind of House which in its composition my noble friend Lord Bragg so brilliantly depicted just a few minutes ago.
I therefore warmly support the Bill as a means of ending the anachronism of a second Chamber based on the hereditary principle. Whatever the merits of the presently constituted Chamber--they are very many--a right to legislate based solely on the accident of birth has long been unsustainable and can be sustained no longer.
But I would be less than honest with your Lordships today if I did not tell you that I would have preferred the reform of the House to have been elaborated as part of a reform of Parliament as a whole. I do not often have the pleasure of agreeing with my noble friend Lord Stoddart of Swindon, but on this matter, happily, I find myself in agreement with him. I believe he is gaining new friends in the House today. While the removal of the hereditary Peers should undoubtedly be a central pillar of an overall reform, and would probably and properly have been the first stage within an overall broad reform of Parliament, a piecemeal approach seems to me to make a wider reform rather more hazardous and uncertain. I fear we may be building to incomplete specifications on inadequately surveyed terrain, with the risks that that entails.
But the Government, for their own very good reasons, have decided otherwise. I have to say that I feel a little uncomfortable about that but I will vigorously support the Bill because to refrain from doing so would be totally inconsistent with my fundamental belief that the hereditary element in our composition no longer has a place here and that a House condemned to an eternal lack of parity in a modern democracy is, frankly, intolerable. Above all, to be a more effective check on the Executive, the House must have unquestionable legitimacy. No one has better made that point than the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, a few moments ago.
I believe that we are moving inexorably towards a predominantly elected second Chamber, if not a totally elected second Chamber, somewhere in the future. I do not believe that it is beyond the genius of the British body politic to devise and agree upon a proper balance of power between two elected Houses. So for many reasons I would welcome an elected Chamber. But that is not precisely what we are debating today. I raise the matter because regrets have been expressed about the inevitable reduction in your Lordships' House of that vital element of youth. The noble Lord, Lord Montagu, spoke eloquently about it a few moments ago. It is bound to happen with the departure of the hereditary Peers. However, election to a second Chamber could, and I am certain would, ensure a proper age balance in a way that membership by appointment is less likely to do. So the greater the elected element the better, and I hope that one day, within the framework of a broad constitutional settlement, election will be the primary method of filling these hallowed Benches. That said, I believe that an appointed element would also be highly desirable to ensure that a revising and scrutinising Chamber, which this must continue to be, is free to add as it sees fit to the sum of its expertise and to the diversity and independence of its views.
Let me close with this final thought. I am a strong believer in a constitutional monarchy. I believe also in the peerage as a keystone supporting the edifice of monarchy. That keystone risks being progressively weakened if doubts and resentments over the rights of the peerage to exercise legislative powers and privileges are left unresolved. They can be resolved in only one way. I therefore take the view that the peerage as an institution will be better safeguarded and less contested by its withdrawal as an institution from the strictly legislative arena. With that prospect in mind, I shall leave your Lordships' House with the all the regrets of one departing from a well-loved place, but I shall be sustained at the same time by my belief that the hereditary peerage, if true to its spirit of public duty and service, can remain a force for good within a constitutional monarchy. I pray that, by example, we may prove that to be so. In the meantime, I wish the Bill safe passage through your Lordships' House, followed soon, I hope, by a broad reform of the whole of Parliament.
I know that earlier today the Leader of the House gave statistics showing that that was not necessarily so and indicating that it was the attendance of the hereditary Peers that made the difference. But when the balance is around 100 to 120 on either side, she knows quite well that if all noble Lords in her party had turned up to vote, the Government would have won most of the Divisions that they have lost in the current Session. The noble Baroness knows, too, that if there is severe opposition to any measure in this House, there is always the fallback position of the Parliament Act.
But if this House has no right to delay or amend legislation, one begins to ask oneself: why do we have this Chamber at all? It must be here to deal with the duties that we have had for generations. We are certainly not in favour of a unicameral Parliament. But, given the way in which the Government view our achievements in this place, it makes one begin to wonder.
Our duty is the scrutiny, revision and improvement of legislation, and there is opportunity for the Government to introduce amendments to improve the legislation, either in another place or as a result of what happens in Committee, Report and Third Reading debates in this Chamber. But it seems that the present Government object to that. It confirms our view that the Labour Government are not interested in democracy but are just forcing their policies through Parliament. Parliament is sidelined. Everyone agrees with that, from the Speaker to the Doorkeepers. But now, at last, I believe that the media are beginning to see through the spin doctors who have worked so assiduously for the past two years.
I have spent 35 years in Parliament, half of that time as a Front Bench Member. Two things stand out. The first is the skill and experience in legislation of the hereditary Peers in government or opposition. It has been a tremendous asset to this Chamber. As a life Peer, I am proud to serve with them now on the Back- Benches. Both as Ministers and Opposition Members, they take on highly complicated Bills from the Commons and progress them through this House. Continuity of membership is a great asset. All governments, including this Labour Government, should be loud in praise of what this Chamber has accomplished since the war and for generations in the past.
The second is the matter of youth, touched upon by the noble Lord, Lord Montagu. The Government are always shouting about youth, and rightly so. This Chamber gives youth a chance through the hereditary system. Frequently, younger Members are able to operate as Ministers on the Front Bench or in opposition. It is an opportunity that they would not have so early in another place. Noble Lords in their twenties or thirties with no constituency to serve and no axe to grind, free to express sometimes radical opinions, are
That variable and unique contribution is to be scuppered by this Bill. One begins to ask how the Prime Minister or any committee could appoint Members of this House in their early twenties with no track record or experience of life to entitle them to a life peerage; and with the Peach Nolan arrangements for appointments to quangos and other bodies it will be even harder in the future.
For those reasons our hereditary system has been an outstanding success. It is comparatively rare for Members of Parliament to be elected in their twenties. Constituencies just will not select people without experience, and rightly so. But that is not a problem when it comes to this Chamber, with the number of hereditary Peers who can come here in their early twenties. Yet that system seems to be attacked continually by Labour and is not supported by Liberal Members either.
The questionnaire provided to us last week by the Royal Commission was fascinating. Over 120 questions were posed. One begins to wonder how many tens of thousands of responses the Royal Commission will receive. Any government with an element of fairness, not merely a throw-away line in a manifesto, would have postponed this legislation until after the Royal Commission had reported and we could have seen what stage two was going to be.
We should be discussing the role of the House, not its composition, at this stage. We want to see what is best for Britain, not what is best for the Labour Party. Everything this Government do is for political expediency or advantage: the referenda; the constitutional changes; the failure to reduce the number of Scottish Members of Parliament at Westminster by the next election; the West Lothian question, still unanswered; and the voting systems, whether for Scotland, for Wales or for Europe. Everything is done for the advantage of the present Government, with their vast majority. We are worried that the Bill is not in the best interests of the country but merely in the best interests of the Government.
As the noble Lords, Lord Vivian and Lord Norton, showed in their fascinating statistics, the new House would have of the order of 200 to 300 new Members, however appointed or elected. The difficulties with regard to an election cause me great concern. Those 200 or 300 new Members will be professional politicians. They will want to be paid. They will want accommodation and facilities on a par with those of the other place. They will note that the other place is spending £250 million or so on a new building. They will want individual rooms and accommodation for secretaries and computers. I wonder where that could happen in this building. It could certainly not be down
As I have said before, I am in no way opposed to a reform of your Lordships' House, but I can see no argument for leaving its reform to what in the 17th century was called a rump Parliament. It is true that there has been debate on several occasions in this Chamber, but that is not the same thing as consultation, which can only be done systematically. It is surely for this reason that no consensus as to the future role of the House has been achieved.
I can see nothing particularly democratic about the temporary survival of 91 Peers. The present Bill leaves the floodgates wide open to any of the options proposed in the White Paper, or even to the options not contained therein. This is an empty Bill which is not constructive and which does not even enforce what has been promised--a stage two reform. It puts an unnecessary burden on the Royal Commission, whose report should properly be discussed by the whole House, not simply a surviving part of the House. These are flaws which will need detailed discussion when we reach Committee stage.
I call particular attention to Clause 2 which provides for the removal of disqualification of hereditary Peers from membership of the other place. On the face of it, it looks very handsome. Hereditary Peers can vote in elections to the other place and stand as candidates for or serve as Members of it. The first part puts all hereditary Peers into a kind of limbo, for we shall have no voice or vote in those constituencies in which we happen to reside until there is a general election. Clause 4 states that the Bill will come into force at the end of the Session in which it is passed. Can the noble and learned Lord who is to reply say whether it would be more democratic to await the dissolution of Parliament?
There has been a great deal of talk about the Government's election manifesto. I believe I am correct in saying that no government have ever fulfilled all of their manifesto commitments, so what is the hurry now? I detect no general feeling in the country for the abolition of the rights of hereditary Peers. One can subscribe to a manifesto and vote for any party who proposes it without committing oneself to any particular detail in it.
A poll released on 18th November last suggested that no less than 68 per cent. of voters would prefer to leave matters as they are until every detail of Lords reform has been decided. In such a case it seems to be entirely appropriate to have a fairly conducted referendum on the main issue. If the projected reform of your Lordships' House is to stand the test of time, there should be a firm disclosure of the Government's intentions in regard to stage two; otherwise, we shall be left to wonder what the final result is intended to be. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Richard, that the Government should proceed with the second stage as fast as possible.
Would not one solution be to allow only those Peers who attend and listen to a debate to speak, and, in the case of a Division, to vote? Those who do not attend would lose those rights. I believe that the Bill requires much scrutiny and attention to detail as it appears to raise more questions than it answers.
Lord Eden of Winton: My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss. I very much agree with what she said. I hope that I shall not be misunderstood when I say that I feel a sense of guilt at taking part in this debate. Great events are taking place outside this House, some outside this country, that affect us and the future of our nation: the fact that our forces are currently engaged in warfare in Kosovo; the deep uncertainty hanging over the developments in Northern Ireland in relation to the Good Friday agreement; the extraordinary situation that has overtaken the European Commission; and the rather unsatisfactory outcome of the deliberations in Berlin. Yet here we are in the second Chamber of the British Parliament spending two days debating a Bill which will change the composition of this House. That is why I feel a sense of guilt. I believe that it is wholly irrelevant to the needs of this country.
The Government propose to affect the composition of this Chamber without giving any indication of what they regard as the future powers of this House. It is a most extraordinary time for the Government actively to take steps to weaken the House of Lords, which is what they are proposing to do. The noble Lord is frowning at me. He will have an opportunity to explain his frown later this evening.
By removing the right of so many distinguished Members of this House to continue to take part in our proceedings and to be Members of this place, the Government are weakening Parliament. They are doing so at a time when they should be concentrating on other, greater, more significant matters and when we should be debating those issues, not debating this particular Bill.
The Bill is before us, however. It has been described as short and simple. As the debates continue and we move on from Second Reading into Committee and then into Third Reading, Government Ministers may well find that it is anything but simple. They have set their hands to something which is immensely profound in altering the composition and nature of this House.
I was grateful, as I am sure were other noble Lords, for the kind remarks of the noble Baroness the Leader of the House concerning hereditary Peers. That is a change--a considerably important one--from her observations when the subject was first raised. It is certainly a change from the observations of the Leader of the other place, who seemed to take great delight in making her views on hereditary Peers abundantly clear.
I should add here that we are not considering the ending of the hereditary principle. Many say we are. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, most eloquently stated, the hereditary principle will continue. I believe that that is the view of Government Ministers. In fact, I ask them: is it their view that the hereditary principle will be supported by Her Majesty's Government in the future? It is not the hereditary principle which is under examination in this Bill; it is the right of anyone to be a member of this House by virtue of heredity. The hereditary principle as such will continue, even after hereditary Peers have ceased to have the right to sit in this place. It is very important to underline that and I hope that Government Ministers will support it because, as the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, again said, it supports and gives strength to the position of the monarchy in this country.
The question which has to be asked over and over again is what function or what role do the Government see for this House. The Royal Commission has asked a large number of questions. One of my noble friends indicated the number. The questions begin by referring to the powers, functions and role of the second Chamber. They do not begin by asking questions about its composition. That indicates to me that the Royal Commission believes that priority should be given in its consideration to the examination of the role, function and powers of this House. Yet we are invited to support the Government in taking a step which will alter fundamentally the composition of this House before we know what they intend shall be the powers and functions of this House. I hope that we shall hear more about the functions that the government foresee for this revised second Chamber before the Bill progresses much further through Parliament.
Some noble Lords--one or two of my noble friends among them--suggest that it would be appropriate to replace the hereditary Peers with a fully elected Chamber. I do not support that view. If this were to be a fully elected House a constituency basis would have to be established for elections; there would have to be some form of electoral procedures; there would have to be some means of paying the Members so elected; and there would be enormous complications resulting in the variations in the election of Members to this House and to another place. There would be a conflict in the mind of the electorate.
I believe that it would be wrong to have a fully elected Chamber. But I can see that there might be the opportunity for some element of election to this House. If that were so, then elected Members would find themselves alongside nominated or life appointed Members. I see no difficulty with that. I believe that all Members of this House are first and foremost Members of this House. One of the worst things that could happen would be for Members to come to this House believing that they represent a specific narrow interest, section or faction and speak only to that. That would gravely weaken this House. Therefore, every emphasis should be given during whatever may lie ahead to ensure that those who have the privilege of ultimately serving Parliament through membership of this House recognise that their commitment is to Parliament and not to a narrow sectional interest.
Like other noble Lords who were formerly Members of another place, I have seen changes take place in that House because of the development of a large number of committees and standing committees resulting in much of the interest and debate being taken away from the Floor of the other place. If that were to occur in this House, it would weaken Parliament.
Much needs to be discussed and considered. I find it extraordinary that we have no indication, no hint, of what is in the Government's mind. They must have some vision of the future. They must be able to give some indication of what is going on. They must have discussed it at some stage. Why do they not share that knowledge with this House during the course of the debate?
I said that there might be some elected element to membership of this House in the future. The Bill will give an opportunity for Members who are barred from sitting here by virtue of their being hereditary Peers to be able to stand as candidates for the lower House. It might be a worthwhile proposition, if this House has really effective powers and functions and if it had been the intention of the Government that this should be a strong second Chamber, that Members debarred from entering the House because they are hereditary Peers should be free to seek election to this House as well. There is no reason why that should not happen. If they are going to be debarred from attending this House by right of heredity then that is one bar against their membership. But it should be the only reason why they are excluded for all time. This matter could, I believe, be considered at a later stage.
Most important of all is that this Chamber, whatever happens to it in future, does not become an enfeebled echo of the other place. We now have colour and diversity: do not let us follow a course of action which would introduce drabness and uniformity.
The noble Lord then went on to say that this had been done without consultation. I would argue that we not only put this matter in our election manifesto but, if that is not regarded as sufficient, we have put it in every other election manifesto that we have ever had. In addition, there has been widespread consultation in the country for the last 88 years. No one has suggested anything other than that the hereditary Peers' right to sit and vote in this Parliament should be removed.
Therefore, I would have been much happier if the noble Lord had, as it were, rejigged this amendment and said that, "After consultation with the electorate and consensus, thanks to 80 years of debate on the reform of the House of Lords", and so on. It is obviously a moderate, modest Bill. I will give it two cheers, but let me say this. Many speeches from noble Lords opposite have suggested, first, that the Bill is small, modest, mean and despicable, and, secondly, that it will do a lot of harm, is enormously important and is very dangerous. I would say: make up your minds!
Obviously what happens--and it happens in a variety of majority cultures--happens between men and women in a patriarchy. What men do is natural, good, honest and truthful by definition and men are always superior to women. Women can never do anything better than men--until of course women challenge and then things happen. We suddenly find that men are not always superior. The same thing happened in the colonies. The British were the best when I was a child because the Indians did not know how to do anything for themselves. Of course, it was the assumption of the system.
Noble Lords opposite assume that what they do is always in the national interest and what we do is in the party political interest. When they have a majority, they look after the nation's interests. When we have a majority, it is an elective dictatorship. That is an interesting contrast. Therefore, whatever this Government did, even if they had incorporated all the various suggestions made by noble Lords opposite, it would not have been right because it is this Government who are doing it.
I have been surprised by the rather tepid response by noble Lords opposite. Not one of them has defended the right of hereditary Peers to sit. What has happened to English romanticism? I could have done a better job, but I have other things to do right now.
The best that noble Lords opposite can do is to say, "We do not defend the hereditary principle but we do not like this Bill. It does not go far enough. It does not do everything holistically in one stage. We are only reforming the House of Lords and not the House of Commons, local government and everything else as well.".
The noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, said that pragmatism is all right if used in a small way as the Conservatives do, but pragmatism is bad when adopted by the Labour Party because, obviously, too much harm is done by being pragmatic. This Bill is extremely pragmatic for the simple reason that it has been shown, since 1911, that anybody who tries to introduce a two-stage Bill will not succeed. If noble Lords have read the history carefully and reflected on it, they will know that there is a better approach. It is like railway privatisation in that the problem must be "unbundled" and dealt with in two stages.
The noble Lord, Lord Eden, asked: what are the Government's intentions; what are they hiding? The Government intend to have a Royal Commission and for that Royal Commission to consult the people. The Royal Commission will decide what the shape of the second stage will be. As regards the first stage, there has been a consensus for 88 years. Nobody from the party opposite has ever said that the hereditary Peers should stay for ever.
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