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We heard similar sentiments being reiterated during the passage of the Life Peerages Act in 1958, a long time ago, but we heard them again many years later during debate on the Bill of my noble friend Lord Diamond designed to give women a greater chance of inheriting peerages. I wonder how the young Czechs I mentioned would have reacted had they been able to listen to a debate in which more concern was expressed about the expectations of male heirs rather than any thought of equality except for the rather patronising offer that consideration might be given to a female having the right to succeed if the peerage was in danger of becoming extinct. The rejection of that Bill was to me a classic example of a defence of the rights and privileges of the very few.
Having fought for the introduction of parliamentary democracy in their own country, I am sure that the young Czechs would be bewildered at the concept that for half of Parliament the presence of hereditary Peers creates a built-in majority for one political party irrespective of the popular vote. That is not a democracy they would understand.
Noble Lords have illustrated the effects on voting patterns created by the so-called independent Conservatives, so I shall not repeat the figures. I make the point that I have always believed that taking the
I came into your Lordships' House in 1993. John Major was the Prime Minister. I believe the intake that year was three Labour, one Liberal Democrat and 10 Conservatives, adding to the Conservatives' already huge majority. Surely that was an example of party political advantage. By contrast, the current Prime Minister has made it absolutely clear that rather than packing the House with placemen and women, no one party should have a majority in the future. That will make the House of Lords more independent of any government of any party than it is at the moment. That is one of the reasons why the transitional House will be better. I believe it will also be better because it will be smaller, more representative and will better reflect the society of which it is part. It will also be better, stronger and more legitimate because its Members will have earned their place to participate in this country's legislative process.
In the past 50 years your Lordships' House has seen many changes: the conservation of a sagging House by the introduction of life Peers; women Peers being important Members of our Front Benches; our deliberations being watched by television cameras; procedures being adapted to take account of the increased volume of legislation; and the average working day doubled from four hours in the 1950s to our current average of eight hours. Now we take another step, albeit the first step, to remove its deficit in terms of balance, representativeness and legitimacy--actions that I am sure my friends from the Czech Republic would understand, and actions which are fully supported by 60 per cent. of the public according to a recent MORI poll. In 1908 Lord Rosebery said that the dignity of a Peer and of a Lord of Parliament should be separated. After many attempts, 91 years later, that is to happen.
Lord Renwick: My Lords, the Bill represents a massive constitutional change. It takes something like a massive constitutional change to bring me to inflict myself upon your Lordships, especially at this time of night and especially when the 49 speakers before me have said most of what there is to say. However, it is worth repeating one or two points.
I am astonished that such a massive constitutional change could be brought forward under the protection, as it were, of a manifesto commitment and with the threat of the use of the Parliament Act by a party which, after 18 or so years in the wilderness, comes to power with a large majority which practically ensures the passing of the Bill. I am disturbed by one or two of the comments that have been made in the debate.
I refer specifically to the importance attached by the Government Benches to the bringing to an end of the hereditary principle, which is not I hope what the Bill is about. It is about bringing to an end the right of
In the transitional period, some of the hereditary Peers will be allowed to stay. I do not count myself among the top 200, let alone the 91. My father was one of the last four hereditary Peers to be created, apart from former Speakers and so on. I did not have long to think that one day I would be a Member of this House. In fact, my father died within nine years of becoming an hereditary Peer, and because of illness he hardly attended the House. I did not have behind me centuries of anticipation by my ancestors of becoming a Member of the House. So it was with a certain incredulity that I came to your Lordships' House. That was probably when I realised what an anachronism was. Until then I probably did not know what an anachronism was. It has been a most instructive and valuable experience from my point of view and also, I hope, from the point of view of your Lordships' House.
It is 25 years since my noble friend Lord Radnor and I made our maiden speeches from these Benches. I am one of your Lordships' Back-Benchers. I attend meetings outside the House and upstairs in the House more than I attend debates on the Floor of the House. Nonetheless, if the Bill passes into law, I hope I shall take away some very happy memories.
The noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, who is no longer in his place, referred to change. In my book there is one inevitability in life, and that is change. However, when change is imposed without proper management, it can be extremely damaging and destructive. If the Bill goes through, as seems inevitable, the House will go through a period of very destructive change. I believe that it is only the unexpected that happens in politics, so perhaps there will be a rosy-fingered dawn. You never know.
Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, we have heard some excellent thought-provoking speeches from all sides of the Chamber, very many of them from hereditary Peers. I feel quite diffident as one of only a very few independent life Peers to be speaking at all in this Second Reading debate.
I have been thinking about how things might appear to a future independent Member. The Prime Minister has stressed that the new second Chamber should have a strong independent element. I was very fortunate to become a life Peer. It was awarded as an honour for my part in the Gulf conflict. I feel very privileged to have been given this mark of esteem. But there is no obligation, even if the wording of Her Majesty's summons strikes a chord of obligation, to attend at all, let alone regularly. It is the interest of this place and all it involves which keeps me here. And when one brings a guest, it is a great experience for them.
The place is redolent with our history. It captures the imagination. There are wonders to behold, wherever you look. The Library is fantastic. And, seriously, the House is a working part of Parliament. It does its job as the second Chamber in an effective and widely acceptable way.
I enjoy the subject of politics. I have always taken an interest in it even though I have never had any desire to fight for a seat in Parliament. I have served the government of the day over many years in my profession, so much so that my loyalty to the government of the day was more important than casting my vote at a general election. I never voted while I was in the services. Now I cannot! My five years on the Science and Technology Select Committee has been a great experience. I have relished the work. It is stimulating. It often has some impact for good. But now we peer into the unknown.
We face change in two stages. This Bill addresses only the first. That is wrong, as so many other noble Lords have stated. What is not clear is how the new independent element, a responsible and respected cohort, is to be found. If we continue the present life Peer arrangements, will their like be attracted to serve as independents in the second Chamber? What is here today will no longer be. Its living history, its sense of continuity, its mix of individuals, the unique way that we do our business, will all change. Even the dropping of the title "the Lords" to describe the Second Chamber is significant.
Some assert that the best of what is the Lords will remain. I doubt it, apart from the red carpets and the leather seatings and these marvellous surroundings, and, it is to be hoped, the great Doorkeepers and Attendants. With a sizeable body of elected Members, with their commitment to their particular party, the second Chamber will come to mirror the other place, not this place as it today. We may start without a Mr. Speaker, but will that last?
Even today we have to be reminded, and not all seem able to remember, what our self-regulation requires to keep not only the Lord Chairman of Committees happy, but the Chamber itself able to deal with its work. So I muse, were it possible (I am not of course suggesting that it should be, I am fantasising to make a point) to be offered an appointed, independent seat in the other place, how attractive would that be, without the gravitas, without the special atmosphere which is the Lords? In The Times on 1st June 1988, the late Lord Wyatt of Weeford wrote,
It would be nice to know whether the Prime Minister's concept of a strong independent element is a continuation of what we have today without the hereditaries, or whether it is to be a quite different beastie. I fear that it will not be the former. The appointments commission can choose only from those who are keen and willing to serve.
Finally, I wish to record my undying admiration for the role that the hereditaries have discharged for centuries right up to the present day. Their contribution to the good governance of the country has been remarkable, as the history books will surely record. It has all been done out of a strong sense of duty to the Monarch and their country. They should be thanked mightily by all. It saddens me when some of those who cannot wait a moment for their departure seem to take a vicarious pleasure in demeaning the hereditaries' contribution. It is not right. Their contribution has flowed from what in the catch-word of the moment, but none the less deserved for that, might be termed institutionalised duty.
Let the knockers desist. Let them show the appreciation which is called for, or at least keep their mouths shut. I salute the hereditaries. The country has been well served by them. With no clear path to a new Second Chamber, it is premature to ditch that which we have. As my remarks have indicated, I favour the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold.
Lord Howie of Troon: My Lords, I support the Bill. However, I should have been happier if, instead, the Government had merely taken out the 1968 Bill, dusted it down, updated it, brought it in and pushed it through. I say that because that Bill was based on cross-party agreement and not on a sentence in a party manifesto, which I confess I did not read. In fact, I would not think of reading such a piece of literature.
I have no problem with the hereditary Peers. In my 20 years in this House, I have worked with them perfectly happily and made if not close friendships at least acquaintanceships. One of my noble friends spoke earlier about ancestor worship. While she was speaking, I was looking at the Liberal Democrat Benches opposite, where the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, was sitting. I remember his grandfather, who was a beacon of the socialist movement when I was young, in the days of what was then known as "red Clydeside". Every time I see the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, which I often do as we are colleagues on the Science and Technology Committee, I am reminded of his grandfather, David Kirkwood, and of my own roots and past. That is not ancestor worship; it is ancestor admiration, and it is not all that bad.
The problem is not one of hereditary Peers but one of arithmetic. In a formative part of my political life, I was a government Whip in another place and was therefore schooled in a somewhat brutal view of politics. I believe the arithmetic of this House is the key, not the heredity element. We have been very philosophical until now, but let us fantasise for a moment. Suppose it had come about that the vast majority of hereditary Peers, several hundred of them, had been not Conservatives but Labour. I imagine that when the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, then Mrs Thatcher, came to power in 1979 she would have dealt with that situation pretty promptly. She would have looked at it arithmetically, as I would have done, and we should not be having this debate now. That thought puts the matter into perspective.
Looking ahead, I do not fancy working towards an elected Chamber. That is because I have seen elections in operation, in this country and elsewhere. We have confused "democracy" with "election", as though an election naturally leads to democracy. It does not. You will recall the doctrine of elective dictatorship put forward by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham. It can be a real thing. It is certainly electoral, but it is not democratic. It is too easy. Our present electoral system has resulted in not one Conservative MP in Scotland or Wales. Some of us might rejoice in that. It is electoral, but it is not democratic. The Scots and the Welsh are entitled to two or three Conservatives MPs, if only to abuse them!
The system of elections is to be reformed by having closed lists and things of that nature. Closed lists may well be electoral, but they are not very democratic. I am what one might call an unenthusiastic admirer of elections, though I do like democracy.
Let me turn to the Bill and mention two matters. The first is what might be called the Weatherill amendment--or perhaps the Cranborne accord. I do not believe that we have seen it yet, but there has been a good deal of talk about it over a substantial period. It allows 91 hereditary Peers to survive in the following proportions: 42 Conservative; two Labour; three Liberal Democrat; and 28 Cross-Bench. I have in my hand a chart from tonight's Evening Standard which many noble Lords may well have seen. It is said that my noble friend Lord Berkeley, who is the hardest worker, will probably go. That would be a great pity. As a fellow civil engineer, he is an ornament to this House and should remain. But what I find interesting about the table is that part which describes the most active 91 hereditary Peers. That is the figure which is booted about. It turns out that of those 91 hereditary Peers, 12 are Labour, 49 Conservative, 12 Liberal Democrat and 18 Cross-Bench. That does not really fit with the figures that have been put before us.
I do not object to the Conservatives having 42 because that is reasonably close to their 49. I do not object to the Cross-Benches having 28, although that is substantially more than 18. But the Labour and Liberal Democrat hereditary Peers are due more than two and three and probably should have a dozen apiece. I sincerely hope that when the Weatherill amendment
I conclude by referring to a matter alluded to by the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, in his extremely elegant speech, as we have come to expect of him during the four years that we have known him. Although he did not want it, he hinted that phase one might last. I sincerely hope that it does, for the very simple reason that the 1911 solution was supposed to be phase one but lasted for quite a time. Incidentally, it did not ever suggest what phase two would be. Therefore, a good deal of the current dispute about having phase one without phase two being put before us is fantasy. I believe that phase one should remain. Whatever the commission comes up with--and I believe that it will produce something pretty ingenious--it will be no better than phase one; possibly it will be worse. I do not go as far as to commend the Bill to the House, but I support it and hope that it proceeds relatively quickly with the Cranborne-Weatherill accord amended along the lines as I have hinted.
Viscount Torrington: My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Waddington and others on these Benches and the Cross-Benches, I cannot help feeling that this is a somewhat mean-minded little Bill, the introduction of which owes more to a kind of messianic fervour cloaked in democratic sheep's clothing than to sound common sense. Along with Scottish devolution and other matters, it aims to cause a further quantum leap in the unpicking and destabilisation of the British constitution. Further, we are led to believe that provided we, the hereditary Peers, go quietly a small rump will be permitted to remain, albeit for a year or so, although many of us suspect that it will probably be for rather longer than that. I certainly do not believe that we should go quietly.
I shall reserve my judgment on the Cranborne-Weatherill amendment, but I believe that we should preserve the conventions of this House, at least for the present, and give the Bill a Second Reading. The noble Lord, Lord Cobbold has given us the opportunity to do this with dignity and I have no difficulty, indeed I have pleasure, in supporting his amendment.
Like many noble Lords, I am astounded by the Government's arrogance in treating a major constitutional matter in much the same way as any other Bill. This could be a Bill on dog licensing or on newt-fishing rights, for all the difference it seems to make.
I am sure that the Government are aware that there may be some technical challenges to this Bill as it progresses. I want to pick on just one or two of these and consider the consequences of any such challenge. I want to fantasise, as the noble Lord, Lord Howie said.
I cannot say that all the technical arguments which are likely to be advanced are legally watertight; but if any of them are--and certainly some of them are--the Government have problems. My noble friends Lord Glenarthur and Lord Chesham both touched on the matter of Letters Patent. My noble friend Lord Norrie first raised this in the debate on the White Paper. He said:
I repeat my noble friend Lord Norrie's assertion that he and I, and those like me, sit in this House as a result of a personal compact with the Sovereign, which is not revocable by a Bill such as that before the House. In fact it may not be revocable by any Bill at all. It is even questionable whether it is revocable by mutual consent between the Peer and the Sovereign, since both are only life tenants, as my noble friend Lord Chesham said, of rights and obligations which are unassignable.
The Bill before us, however, seems to recognise its own flaws because it makes the assumption, quite correctly in my view, that even when the Bill is passed hereditary Peers will all continue to sit in the House after the passing of the Bill. Therefore, to sweep them out it employs the mechanism of terminating their Writs. That is fine. The Bill possibly can make it legal to terminate an existing Writ. The Peer whose Writ is withdrawn would seem to me to be within his rights to demand a new one. By custom and usage, a Peer who is the beneficiary of Letters Patent has the right to a Writ, unless he is either bankrupted, convicted of treason or mad. The Bill does not address that point, largely, I suspect, because it cannot.
There is also the question as to whether the Government can reasonably ask the Sovereign to sign into law a Bill which breaches some 750 contracts to which she herself is a party by succession. Recent governments of both persuasions have already mucked about with the contract law in the housing field. So far as I know, however, no Bill has heretofore put the monarch in the position of being required to change the law to allow unilateral changes to contracts to which she herself is directly a party.
The conclusion which follows these arguments--the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, touched on it--is that, contrary to popular belief, there may actually be an immovable and immutable brake on constitutional change in this country. That brake may be the hereditary peerage; and if, as I suspect, it is possible that no legislative process could remove them, then it is, de facto, the ultimate guardian of both the constitution and of the residual powers and privileges of the Sovereign. That is an awesome responsibility, which hereditary Peers would have a duty both to discharge and to protect against an overbearing executive.
I do not wish, and I know that most of my hereditary colleagues do not wish, in any way to impede genuine constitutional progress, improvement and modernisation. But a less arrogant government would have approached the entire matter from a different perspective. Instead of regarding the hereditary Peers, notwithstanding a few modest pats on the back from noble Lords opposite, as a gang of reactionary eccentrics and leisure park operators, they should have come directly to the hereditary Peers and ascertained whether they were voluntarily prepared to restrict their rights. It might well be that they would have been prepared to do so as they were in 1968, and still would be if the Government withdrew this deeply flawed and offensive Bill.
I suggest that hereditary Peers might well be prepared to undertake the role of a standing committee on the constitution and to use their votes only on a restricted basis on other matters according to, perhaps, a new
This is, of course, all idle speculation. Her Majesty's Government will dismiss it as wishful and reactionary thinking. When they finally bar the doors to the hereditary Peers, they could well find that their authority and the legitimacy of subsequent legislation is called into question in the courts. My Lords, they have been warned.
Lord Forbes: My Lords, this little Bill with the deadly sting of a scorpion concerns the composition of this House. What is the point of altering the composition when the future role of the House has not been decided? The role of the House will probably be influenced by devolution, and certainly by the Royal Commission which as yet has not even sat.
Government thinking regarding this Bill is completely back to front. In fact the situation is so bizarre that anyone must wonder whether it is a case of muddled thinking by the Government or part of a sinister ploy. My suspicions are that the Government's immediate priority is to weaken the second Chamber by altering its composition so that they can then steamroller their ideas for the reform of this House through Parliament; or, if it suits them, come to the conclusion (as has happened in the past) that the matter is so complex that it must be shelved. Either way, having altered the composition of the House by virtue of this Bill, Ministers will become more powerful, and Parliament will become sidelined. Indeed, a situation such as this would have the great danger of leading to abuse of power. Abuse of power, as history tells us, often brings disaster in its wake.
Before supporting this Bill, one has to be convinced that it will lead to a more efficient second Chamber. In fact until the Government can state categorically the reasons why the workings of this House will be improved, this Bill will continue to lack all credibility. So far we have heard very little from the Government on this matter.
The people of this country feel that this House is doing a good job. Why, therefore, do the Government bring this Bill before us? Let us be honest: the reason is that there are too many Conservative hereditary Peers today who can pass through the Division Lobbies. So let us be constructive. There is a way to overcome this problem without taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut, as the Bill does. It can be done by limiting the number of Conservative hereditary Peers who can sit and vote. A certain number of those Peers could be elected to sit and vote: they would be elected by all Conservative hereditary Peers as representatives, rather like the Scottish representative Peers used to be elected. Election of Scottish representative Peers came in under the Act of Union and continued right up until 1963.
Those Conservative hereditary Peers not elected would be denied voting rights. However, there is no reason why any of them who so wish should not sit and speak in your Lordships' House. Indeed this would be desirable, because any Conservative hereditary Peer could stand for election at the next election. After the initial election there would be a further election each time there was a new Parliament.
One of the great merits of adopting this course of action would be to cause the minimum constitutional upheaval and would leave the whole matter of the reform of this House wide open until at least after the Royal Commission had reported. If the Government were to amend this Bill to accommodate this idea I would have little objection to the Bill. The noble Earl, Lord Perth, who follows me, has even more experience of the election of Scottish representative Peers than I do, and I hope he will say something on this subject.
I have tried to suggest that a very fair way of limiting the voting rights of Conservative hereditary Peers could be achieved by amending this Bill and would still leave the House as an effective second Chamber until such time as full reform of the House could be considered. If the Government would do this I would support them. If the Government are unwilling to amend the Bill to bring about this change, one has to conclude that this Bill as it stands will do absolutely nothing to improve the working of Parliament. If that is the case, the Government should think again before proceeding further with the Bill. They simply have not thought through the reform of this House, and it is another instance of the Government having ideas but being unable to think things through.
Absolutely no government have the right, even under the guise of modernisation, casually to cast away any of our great institutions which have served our nation so well. My ancestor first sat in Parliament in 1445. I support the amendment.
Constitutional change is in the air. We face the possibility of the break-up of Great Britain and, at best, its division into four parts--and the central Westminster Parliament is to be divided into two Houses. I believe that the year 2005 is rather optimistic for that. Even that may be changed if Scotland opts for independence, which I much hope will not be the case.
But today we are considering change in the composition and powers of our House. Anyone who studied the debate last week on democracy initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington--and I recommend its study by all noble Lords--will know that things in the Commons are also changing; for example, its ways,
I repeat that constitutional change is in the air, wherever we look. That takes me to my first point. Whatever may be the respective powers of the two Houses, the Lords must--I underline the word "must"--retain the power of veto over any Bill which seeks to extend the life of the Commons. Page 24 of Modernising Parliament Reforming the House of Lords is intended to mean that, and the Cabinet Office agrees with that. But we must remember that we are legislating for many, many years to come. Therefore, I ask the Government to confirm that the power of veto will remain in the hands of this House; and the best way to achieve that is by statutory amendment to that effect.
My second point concerns Scotland's position in the modernisation process. There is an all-party association of Scottish Peers, generally known as the Scottish Peers Association. Its origin lies in the Act of Union of 1707. Because there were too many Scottish Peers relative to the number of English Peers, it was agreed that we should elect only 16 of our number to watch out for and take care of all matters affecting Scotland. In 1963, as your Lordships have already heard, a change was made by which all Scottish Peers became UK Peers. Some of us protested, foreseeing what possibly lay ahead. However, it went ahead, and the 16 Peers have vanished as representative Peers. Indeed, I suspect that I am the only Member of your Lordships' House who was part of that regime.
With the experience of the Scottish Peers Association, I am very much afraid that Scottish affairs may suffer neglect in this House because most members of the Scottish Peers Association are hereditary Peers.
We are minded to submit a paper on this point to the Wakeham Royal Commission. I shall say no more, except to stress to the Leader of the House that this is a matter of real importance and to express the hope that a way around it may be found in any reform.
I have one last, unplanned point. I refer to the very interesting speech of the noble Lord, Lord Richard. Not only was it very good, but it was potentially very important. I read it as a potential olive branch, giving the House a chance to achieve what we all want: the proper and fair role and composition of the two Houses. He suggested a date by which that could be achieved, the year 2005. I beg the Conservatives, the Liberals and the Cross-Benchers to study that speech and to follow it up in the hope that the Government will recognise that it could be a basis for the olive branch blossoming into what we all want, to the great benefit of our country.
Lord Winston: My Lords, I rise with a great sense of humility and of sadness because, with the passing of the Bill, we shall be losing both friends and colleagues. I have made my views clear in previous speeches, and I do not intend to go over old ground. Above all, I do not intend to reiterate what various noble Lords have
I was deeply impressed by many speeches from hereditary Peers, particularly the speeches of the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, and the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell. They advocated the abolition of the hereditary peerage. I am a life Peer, and as a life Peer it is not easy for me to be objective about the abolition of a different category of Peer. It is a strange situation to be in. It is not easy to be objective about things that do not directly concern me. I can put myself in the position of the hereditary Peers only by thinking how I would feel if I were called upon to support the abolition of the life Peers. In many ways I would feel easier about voting in that direction because I would be taking responsibility for myself and not for others. In fact, I believe that we may well be in that position in due course and that we may well have to vote for our own abolition. I recognise that we have to face that, and possibly quite soon.
My key problem in voting for the Bill is not just that we would be voting for reform, which I believe is undoubtedly and clearly needed--reform is good--but that, effectively, we may be voting for revolution. There is a risk that any such constitutional reform, even that which is most carefully controlled, well thought out and orchestrated, could lead to totally unpredictable consequences for which our democracy and government did not wish or even envisage. Inevitably, one must also be concerned about, and must think through carefully, how the law, the Church and, indeed, the monarchy would be placed with the passing of the Bill.
We do not seem to have an absolutely clear idea of what we want from our bicameral system. We do not fully understand what we need our second Chamber to do. That is a serious issue. It would be best to have a strategy, a mission statement for the House, and, indeed, a job description for the occupants of the House.
The basic problem for me is the very random nature of the life peerage. Let us make no bones about it: we talk glibly, and we hear glib talk, about hereditary Peers not contributing. Many life Peers do not contribute either. Many seem to use this House as a resting place. There has been a tradition on all sides of the House that this is a good place to lodge people who have perhaps extended their usefulness in a different place.
However, I am also conscious that I feel genuinely unfit in many ways to be a life Peer. I have said before in this House that I know very many doctors and scientists who are undoubtedly more qualified than I for membership of this House. I recognise that there is a random nature about my appointment. That very much concerns me because I believe that if we are eventually to end up with a predominantly unelected House, we must consider how to get the best expertise into this House because it then becomes an expert revising Chamber. It has been a real privilege for me to be part of one of your Lordships' expert Select Committees, the Select Committee on Science and Technology. When I sit in that committee I do not know who is a hereditary Peer, who is a life Peer, who is Labour and who is Conservative. It does not matter. I see a group of people
The problem about being a life Peer like myself in one's 50s--I believe that to be a very good age to be a life Peer because one is in one's prime--is that one is constantly compromising. It is a constant juggle. It is extremely difficult to get here, to vote, to contribute and to be effective. I recognise that I am even more diluted and even less effective as a life Peer than I was before becoming a member of this House. However, I also feel that if I am useful at all, it is because I have training, expertise and a background in science which may contribute in some way to the working of Parliament. Generally, we cannot get that from an elected Chamber. That is a difficult consideration.
As I have said, many successful scientists and doctors are much better placed than I for membership of this House, but they would not be encouraged to become Members, even if asked, because of the requirement to take sides--to take the Whip. I wonder whether, if we were to have a largely unelected Chamber, we should consider the possible removal of the Whip because that would demonstrate the independence of the House.
Let us have no more talk of class war, rancour or arrogance. Those words do not sit well. They diminish Parliament. We are not here for personal reasons or to vote because we have certain feelings about class. We are here surely because we want to promote good government for the benefit of our nation.
In the second century there was a great rabbi, Rabbi Hillel, who, it is said in the Mishna, a book of the Talmud, saw a skull floating on the water. He said to the skull, "Because you have drowned others, they have drowned thee. And at last they that have drowned you will in turn themselves be drowned".
Let us recognise that we cannot continue our discussions with rancour. We have to do what is best for the nation. We are not drowning; we are reforming. We are not committing a crime; we are trying to do something which is best for our democracy and for the health of the nation. In a modern democracy, however we look at it, it is now absolutely clear that we cannot defend the principle of a hereditary peerage. I shall support the Bill.
Lord Denman: My Lords, at this late hour, I shall not detain the House for long. I am deeply grateful to my noble friend Lord Eden who described so graphically how Britain faces the world tonight. I do not believe that sufficient emphasis has been given to the cataclysmic events. The events inside Europe, starting with the Strasbourg-Brussels problems, which are deeply acute, are a national disaster.
I have never been through a hurricane, but I am told that when they build up it is customary, when the damage is assessed, for countries to declare a national emergency in order to deal with all the aftermath and the problems. I suggest that this is very much the
It is necessary for this House to join with the other place in order to work out a unified policy for dealing with these crises. That would be an extension of the work done by the Prime Minister last week, which must have been superficial. What one can acquire and do in only one day must be trivial.
To achieve what I have in mind would mean our adopting exactly what the noble Lord, Lord Saatchi, suggested; that is, to have dissent across the Floor of the House removed. That can be done in the case of a national emergency. The Conservative Peers would be willing to retract from their present position; to take leave of absence or relinquish their voting powers, in order to achieve a settlement of the dreadful situation which is in front of us.
Lord Sudeley: My Lords, if axed as an hereditary Peer, I shall not be moving out of politics altogether. Rather, I shall continue with my present work on usury and bankruptcy arising out of the unfortunate experience of my own family, in the hope of moving towards a conference at the QEII Conference Centre. It could all be very timely bearing in mind that in a recent Mansion House speech the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry said that at last the Government will be taking a fresh look at bankruptcy.
I cannot be accused, as an hereditary peer, of being out of contact with the bread and butter concerns of ordinary people; far from it. Most of the electorate live in houses on which they take out a mortgage and so have to be worried about the unfair balance of creditor over debtor and the tricky problems of foreclosure. If axed from this House, I shall persevere with those questions and express the confident hope that in this House, especially on usury, to which the Koran objects, one of the Prime Minister's most recent creations, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, will follow in pursuit.
Scepticism has to be expressed about the Cranborne deal, conceded by the Government not as a matter of principle, but with alarm because the House has to obstruct what the Government regard as more significant legislation. The House of Lords holds many of the weapons, and if my noble friend Lord Cranborne had been a businessman and not a politician, he would have negotiated for far more.
With the deal as it stands, it appears to be a trap set by the Government. Stage two is likely to mean the removal of the remaining 91 Peers; indeed, any other form of stage two is unlikely due to the inherent intractability of the problem. The other place would hardly tolerate another elected Chamber in competition with itself. So we will be left by default with a quango of the Prime Minister's nominees which will put at risk the exercise of the quinquennial Act whereby we have to have an election every five years. Therefore, we will be easing the Government's road towards totalitarianism and dictatorship.
We would all like to see useful reforms to provide a better and stronger House. There are only nine Ministers on the Government Front Bench and that could be usefully expanded. The excellent work that the Government do to scrutinise the legislation of the European Union and the work of the committee on science and technology could be expanded into further areas. But such practical reforms to strengthen the House do not seem to be in the mind of the Government at all; instead, they are moving in the opposite direction to weaken the House. They are going down the path not of construction but of destruction.
It has emerged from debates in the other place that half of the work is still done by the hereditary Peers. There is no depth in the White Paper. Modernisation is assumed to be a good thing and anachronism a bad thing, without any argument about why. The Government's position is founded not on argument but on prejudice. There may be nothing wrong with prejudice, but the Tory political philosopher Edmund Burke said that it was the bank of capital of ages and of nations. It is odd to see this particular mantle assumed by the Labour Party. Having won the election by stealing the Tory clothes over the economy, no doubt the Prime Minister became alarmed about the danger of members of the Labour Party becoming divided against one another and so has sought soft targets--hereditary Peers and the kidnapping of General Pinochet--to hold his own side together. He has done so even in defiance of public opinion, which we know from a Gallup poll resists stage one without enactment of something more satisfactory to take its place.
As the debate develops I hope that the argument will shift away from the red herring of the hereditary peerage to the real issue; namely, the proper control by Parliament of the executive. For that, we have to go back to the barons' insistence on Magna Carta, and how many of our liberties flow from that. Here we cannot be encouraged by a report in the Observer on 7th March stating that the credibility of the Select Committee system of the other place suffered a serious blow when a committee chairman admitted that his clerk sent advance notices of questions that Ministers would have to answer to Whitehall departments.
In their assumption that they can force through stage one of House of Lords reform, are the Government riding roughshod over the constitution? We do not yet know the answer to that question. The reply from the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, to my Question for Written Answer before Christmas, about whether it was legal or constitutional for one House of Parliament to dismantle the other without its consent, was evasive. Her reply was restricted to what I already knew--namely, that financial legislation in the other place can be delayed for only a month and that there is also the reserve power of the House of Lords to insist on the quinquennial Act. Here we have an important legal question for which the full answer may yet have to be decided in the courts.
The Earl of Clanwilliam: My Lords, this debate is about the powers of your Lordships' House being emasculated by the Bill, as well as the future of the hereditary Peers. That has been the essence of today's debate so far and no doubt it will continue to be so tomorrow. The removal of the rights of hereditary Peers raises the question whether it is the intention to secure the long-term future of the House without weakening its power. Unless that position is secured, the Government's contribution to the revision of the constitution will remain in question.
The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, in his usual eloquent speech, spoke of the wind of change running through the country. Indeed that is so, but we have not yet reaped the whirlwind of devolution which may have unforeseen consequences for the unity of the United Kingdom. This is no time to be fiddling with the constitution in the face of all the other enormous events that are happening around the world.
It is the privilege and duty of the hereditaries to ensure that a viable alternative is secured in place of them. To have a situation where Parliament is dominated by the Executive while the Parliament consists of an elected first Chamber with a large majority and an Upper House appointed by it is unacceptable. Indeed the words, "a strong and effective House of Lords" have been accepted ever since they were incorporated into the 1911 Act.
Such a House, if it evolves, by definition, would have more authority from a credibly elected and appointed membership. It might consist of Members representative of professions, academia, industry and particularly agriculture which incidentally will lose a large degree of expertise with the removal of the hereditary Peers. They should be chosen on a proportional basis, either elected or nominated, preserving a level of independence while retaining that remarkable element unique to this House, the Cross Benches.
There is nothing on the face of the Bill to provide for the arrangements necessary to set up the committee that the Prime Minister has spoken of. As the noble Lord, Lord Winston, has said, there is no mission statement. That is an enormous failure of the Bill. For that reason it is right that this House should insist that the Bill does not take effect until the nature and structure of the reformed House have been debated and referred to the electorate through a referendum. This is particularly important in the light of the feelings in another place about the powers of this House and the importance of retaining the right of this House to vote down a Bill extending the life of a Parliament. As my noble friend Lord Carrington has suggested, it should have the right to call a referendum on matters of constitutional importance.
The undemocratic nature of the present House as described in the much vaunted manifesto was a clarion call to the republican element in the Labour Party which hid the main thrust of the leadership to replace us with a unicameral system. This has been borne out by the statements of the noble Baroness the Leader of the House. Our removal, she has said, is a stand alone clause which is not dependent on further reform. That is an uncompromising threat--your Lordships may agree--to cross-party consensus.
However, hereditary Peers--and life Peers no less--can be, and may have been elected to public office and have thereby proven their status as elected representatives of the people, a qualification which is much in the thoughts of the present Administration and has been referred to as its legitimacy. I therefore propose an amendment that will allow those hereditaries who have been elected to and held public office, and have thereby proven their worth at the ballot box for a period of seven years, to claim their Writ of Summons to sit and vote in the revised House of Lords. Such Peers will not only have to establish their legitimacy on one side of the blanket but also at the ballot box. I intend to speak in greater detail to that amendment at the Committee stage.
While I personally do not claim any residual right, nevertheless there is a strong feeling among many people who approach me on the matter and demonstrate that there is a great deal of support for the new Chamber to include the ancient right of hereditaries to sit and vote because of the service they are seen to have given to the country and to Parliament. As I have said, the claim in the manifesto was a clarion call for the republicans which misled the public to think that that was all there was to it. Not so. As we have seen with the separation of the act of removal of the hereditaries from the resulting need to reform the House, there has arisen the possibility of a reduction of the powers of this Chamber. That is what I am here to obstruct.
The Viscount of Oxfuird: My Lords, this very important debate has begun to reveal some extremely complex constitutional issues. In seeking to remove the sitting and voting rights of hereditary Peers from the House the Government are relying on the mandate given to them by, I understand, some 43 per cent. of the electorate, arising from a pledge that appeared in the Labour Party manifesto. It is becoming clear, however, that this move has far wider constitutional implications that will gravely weaken this House and will, in effect, remove the only true brake on the growing and over-bearing powers of our government executive.
Already a number of noble Lords have indicated that a real problem arises over the definition of a hereditary Peer. Any definition must be subject to the analysis of the origin of the creation of each peerage, and it is clear that the method by which some of our peerages were created were by no means uniform. Here I refer to my own peerage and the debate ensuing, following my late noble kinsman's succession to this peerage, in June 1977 in which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keith of Kinkel, said:
The real right of most hereditary Peers to sit in your Lordships' House, I would contend, arises not by virtue of the Writ of Summons but by virtue of our Letters Patent, granted to us by the Sovereign. Our constitution has evolved over time and has served us well. First we had an absolute monarchy. Those powers were diluted at Runnymede by Magna Carta, leading to the power of the sovereign being shared with the barons. This situation was institutionalised into the embryo of our present House, with the sovereign acting on the advice of his Council of barons, whose number was extended from time to time by the creation of new barons by Letters Patent. Later, as the concept of representative democracy grew, the power of the barons was shared with the Commons and, as we all know, the Commons appropriated more and more powers, leaving your Lordships' House only with such powers as it retains today.
The House of Lords remains, however, essentially that same body of barons, sitting by virtue of their Letters Patent, to give counsel to the sovereign. In that sense, our House has become an enduring guardian of the constitution and of the residual privileges of the sovereign. I would contend, therefore, that the only way that the rights of hereditary Peers can be removed is by the removal of the sovereign herself.
None of this means that we should oppose sensible reform. As I have outlined already, reform has been an endemic part of the evolution of our constitution. A very real problem arises, however, in that interim period of intermediate length after hereditary Peers have been removed from the House but before the new arrangement, which yet has to be proposed and agreed by the Royal Commission and the joint committee,
It seems clear that, as we dig deeper into the manifest and genuine concerns that have already been raised by so many noble Lords in this debate, issues will be raised at the Committee stage which will be almost impossible to resolve in the timescale proposed. We have in your Lordships' House a working institution that is acknowledged to perform an extremely important constitutional role, and perform it well. No case has been made for proceeding with the unseemly haste that has been forced upon us by the Government in their rush to make ill-considered change before we know the recommendations of the Royal Commission. The Government have an overwhelming majority in the House of Commons and are using that to force through a plethora of constitutional changes, many of them ill-considered. We have a duty to use those residual powers that we still retain to urge more considered reflection.
I have already taken up some time with a history lesson about the origins of the House. Perhaps I may remind your Lordships of the words of William Blackstone in his commentaries on the Laws of England in 1765. He stated:
The other evening, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, gave me a ride to the railway station, for which I said "thank you", but I should like to say "thank you" again. During the journey he used the term "scriptured aggression", which fascinated me. He was referring to some Members of your Lordships' House who spoke in the debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington.
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