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Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. I should point out that during the period of government in question I had an 82 per cent. record of attendance and an 84 per cent. voting record on many of the Bills. It was felt on this side of the House--and this does not apply only to me--that when it was a matter of government legislation, as put in the manifesto, the honourable thing to do was not to vote. However, that does not mean that I did not attend; it means that I did not vote.
Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords, with respect, I have my own speech to make. I do not want to become too much embroiled in this matter. All I can say to the noble Lord is that he should perhaps think very carefully about this. When he reads the Official Report, he will find that I have said nothing out of place.
As it happens--and I mention this with some diffidence--the Evening Standard publishes a table of working Peers. Of course, all this information is open to misinterpretation; indeed, all such figures can be looked at one way or another. However, the simple fact is that nine out of the top 12 working Peers in this House are Labour working Peers. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, who is not now in his place, used a different method to try to show that Labour working Peers were much more influential than the raw figures suggest.
During the debate much has been said about the independence of hereditary peerages. The implied suggestion, sometimes put very starkly, is that life Peers, especially Labour life Peers, rely on patronage for being here and, therefore, are much less responsible for carrying out the business of the House. Perhaps I may gently remind the House that every one of us is here as a result of patronage. The forebears of the hereditary Peers came to Parliament either because they performed some service for the king or the king was short of money and was trying to raise funds by selling peerages in order to fight the French. Alternatively, their forebears served previous governments with distinction or indeed gave service to political parties. We all recall the little notices in the Honours List twice a year of those elevated with a peerage "for political services", mostly in cash.
I accept that I am here because of patronage. The only difference is that the hereditary patronage goes on so long as there is issue, whereas mine goes when I am finished. As always, I concede--and have said so in previous speeches--that a nominated House would be no more democratic than the present one. It could and can be more representative. I also concede that in a fully reformed House the continuation of the life Peers is an anomaly which is probably untenable. Indeed, sooner or later, the life Peers will follow the hereditaries out of this place.
Many noble Lords who have spoken have professed an undying desire for reform over many years. Some have done so with greater enthusiasm than others. I have to say that they all qualified their desire for reform with
If there is not to be a nominated House, there are certainly attractions for a wholly-elected second Chamber. I note a very unlikely alliance--indeed, an unlikely attraction of opposites, one might say--who support that solution. I have in mind the right honourable Tony Benn and the right honourable William Hague, as well as 150 Members of the other place who have signed the Early Day Motion.
I understand that potted history is very dangerous, but the history of the constitution of this country was, first, the struggle between a monarchy and Parliament as to who was supreme; and, secondly, the struggle between the two Houses of Parliament as to which was supreme. That has largely been resolved. I cannot see the House of Commons giving greater powers to this Chamber in a wholly-elected Chamber. I believe that we will have great debates about that later.
If we do not have a nominated House or a wholly-elected House, what about the mishmash; that is to say, the proportion elected/the proportion nominated? I have great respect for my noble friend Lord Shepherd. I noted that in yesterday's debate he said:
I understand perfectly well that there are differences and failings in the other place. Indeed, I should be aware of them because I was there for 27 years and I may certainly have contributed to those failings. However, it seems extremely odd that in order to reform the other place, in order to make it more effective and more efficient and in order to make it do its job, we have to have a second Chamber which is contrived only for that purpose. I fully appreciate that the tenor of my remarks suggests that the preferred solution, and certainly my preferred solution, would be a unicameral Parliament. My only regret is that that is not to be discussed by the Royal Commission.
Perhaps I may make one further point before I sit down. Some of the statements made about the House of Commons and the fact that the Government do not have a majority here seem to present a kind constitutional absurdity--that elected governments have no right to a majority in a second Chamber. Of course they have. I believe that the Government have been excessively modest in simply seeking broad parity between the
In conclusion, every constitutional reform has been opposed on the grounds that it would lead to bad government. The Reform Act 1832 was opposed on precisely those muddled-headed and self-interested grounds. This reform is no different; indeed, it is being opposed for precisely the same reasons. It is argued that it will lead to bad government. I believe that it will lead to much better government, much more responsible government and much more accountable government. I fully support the Bill and commend it to the House.
Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, as a relatively new life Peer I feel it important and appropriate that I contribute to this debate and so give my perspective regarding the hereditary Peers and the hereditary principle. During my early months here I have been overwhelmed by the extraordinary contribution that hereditary Peers make and the stability which they provide towards our parliamentary process. I am also conscious of the fact that few outside the Palace of Westminster understand and appreciate the part that the Members of this Chamber play.
We have heard much about the abolition of the hereditary Peers being right, not least because it is a manifesto commitment. This is simply an excuse. After all, it was, for example, a New Labour manifesto commitment not to raise taxes and this Government have already done that 17 times in less than two years. The Government are, in reality, interested only in reforming this place in order to throw out a particular group of people. It is a kind of inverted snobbery prevalent among New Labour. It is about perceived popularity, although the populace has not shown an interest in this. Old Labour, or at least real Labour, would have been more open about its reasons. It is not about modernising; it is about diminishing this House with no clear intent of where we are going. We are told that it is all about more effective government and is but part of improving our constitution. In fact, it is about controlling our constitution and diminishing, by stealth, in a most uncourageous way our United Kingdom and our democracy.
It is lamentable that we have had to accept disorganised devolution which, as it stands so far, will not in my view, be sustainable. How long will Wales be content with a mere Assembly? Surely that is discrimination when Scotland has its own Parliament. How long will it be before those of us living in England declare that we are no longer content to be governed by Scottish and Welsh MPs here at Westminster? What role
That is all the more reason for safeguarding the independence and standing of this House. The role of this House has probably never before been potentially so crucial and perhaps this is why New Labour is so anxious to destabilise and diminish this place. It knows that, as presently constituted, we have among us largely independent, civilised and a wise group of people who are not afraid to alert this nation to the dangers that we now face. While I believe that reform is overdue, I ask in response to this Bill, who will replace the hereditary Peers? If it is to be a fully nominated House, it will be a House of wealthy "yes" men. It is suggested in the White Paper on reform that we should have a broader representation of people, including more younger people and I must now add the commonplace, patronising reference to women and ethnic minorities.
These people are supposed to come here without payment and fulfil the important role of scrutinising Bills, probably for a limited period of, say, 10 years, and then return to their chosen career. What a marvellous idea. New Labour is very hot on marvellous ideas that sound good on the news wire, but are totally unworkable.
That is proof, yet again, that this Government are out of touch with reality. That is understandable, I suppose, when so few of their representatives have had real jobs beyond the protective confines of the public sector. How naive to expect to invite people of calibre from all walks of life, who are succeeding in their chosen goals to step back and come here without an income during their formative years. As a mother with three young children to be cared for properly, I know that being a Member of this House is a very expensive privilege, and one which I would guess less than 0.1 per cent. of the population of Britain today could enjoy. In essence, few people could afford to be here, let alone would want to be here if the standing of this House is diminished. What would be the point?
So what about an elected House instead? Is this what the Government intend? I think not. Once again and, as with other devolutions, they have unleashed a potentially fundamental and far-reaching constitutional change for a much more powerful Upper House; a development which they will not be able to contain. As the noble Lord, Lord Saatchi, has already warned in this debate, pressure will grow for a fully elected House. If we are genuinely concerned to protect our democracy and to strengthen our constitution, then surely an elected House is the only credible alternative.
The noble Lord, Lord Richard, has said that we should have a partly elected and partly nominated House. I really cannot see how you could have a little bit of each. We should think of the wonderful rivalries. How on earth could it work? But then we all know that this Government do not want a fully elected Chamber because they would not wish to risk being unable to control it, and "control" is their mantra.
As a newcomer to this House and as a life Peer I should feel the least affected by this Bill and its consequences. However, I am affected. That fundamental change to our British constitution taking place by piecemeal devolution, and now piecemeal reform of our legislature, is lamentable. It is hard to articulate why the hereditary principle as part of our constitution is of such value and I was not properly aware of its value before I came to this House. However, I am now. There is no question but that this House is about to be diminished because of this Bill, which offers no credible, workable alternative and is expressed by this Government in a manner which has stunned me by its arrogance and lack of good manners and humility.
The distinguished noble Lord, Lord Carrington, is right; no one has found a solution. The only sane reason for changing this House must be to make it stronger, more effective and more democratic. This mean little Bill fails on all counts. It removes a valuable, independent element and diminishes the standing of this House. The noble Baroness the Leader of this House says this Bill represents a pragmatic approach to the development of our constitution. On the contrary, this Bill represents a chaotic, unintelligent approach and should be strongly resisted.
Without a doubt change is a good thing if it really is for the better and many of your Lordships who have taken part so far seem to think that this dramatic constitutional change is not going to be for the better. Like many of your Lordships, I deplore the fact that stage two is unknown whilst Her Majesty's Government wish to debar all hereditary Peers from their right to sit and their right to speak. One thing is for sure, any change at all will be very much more expensive than the present system, as many other noble Lords have mentioned.
The Government's plan for reform of this House is somewhat similar to the idea of building a factory and having no idea what you are going to manufacture. If, for example, you wanted to process fish, you would have completely different machinery from that required if you wished to make biscuits.
A tremendous amount of "hot air" has been bandied about the Labour Party's manifesto commitment to the abolition of hereditary Peers, as particularly mentioned by my noble friend Lord Cobbold. I find it difficult to believe that there are more than a few people who actually read the Labour Party Manifesto, and it has now been proved that only 2 per cent. of them could recall any mention of abolishing the rights of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in Parliament. I also believe that the vast majority of people outside Parliament could not care one iota about this place and certainly they have no idea as
I am firmly in the camp of the noble Earl, Lord Longford, in that I could live with the idea of not voting, but I deplore the idea of not being able to speak. There are those in your Lordships' House who would say that would mean that hereditary Peers would become second-class Peers. I have to admit that, personally, I would rather be a second-class Peer than not a Peer at all.
I am fiercely proud of our family title, which is one of the very few hereditary peerages which was not given for political services, albeit that both sides of my family have been Members of another place representing the Liberal cause. The first Lord Palmer was created a Peer for his services to the arts and music in particular. He helped to establish the Royal College of Music, with which to this day my family has still strong links.
I have also been proud to serve on two committees in your Lordships' House, one being the Advisory Panel on Works of Art and the other--which many Peers, both life and hereditary, might consider the most important committee--and of course I refer to the Refreshment Sub-Committee. Having been into every nook and cranny behind the scenes, it is indeed a miracle that any of your Lordships ever get anything to eat, let alone drink!
I feel also honoured and privileged, in conjunction with the present Government Chief Whip, to have defeated the previous Government on two amendments on the Agriculture Bill. I also treasure the moment when, with the noble Lord, Lord Boardman, who is to follow me, the Government accepted our joint amendment during the Third Reading of the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Bill. I suppose one of the most exciting moments of my parliamentary life was when with the noble Lord, Lord Cavendish, we put our amendment on that same Bill to a vote and we won by a two to one majority. I shall never forget afterwards being interviewed on the green for News at Ten and one of your Lordships said that I looked exactly like Trevor McDonald without the spectacles.
Almost every time that I have spoken in the past 15 months I have started my speech by saying that had hereditary Peers been banned from speaking the number of speakers on the list would have been dramatically reduced. Let me give one small example. In one of our debates on agriculture at the end of last year, there were a total of 21 speakers, 17 of whom were hereditary Peers.
I will miss three things most particularly. First, the wonderfully kind and friendly staff throughout the House; secondly, the camaraderie and the many lasting friendships that I have made in the eight years that I have been here; and, finally, the learning curve and learning more about a subject in order to take part in a debate and the privilege of talking to the real experts in those particular fields. All these I have found most rewarding. I think that the House will miss the
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