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Lord Renton: My Lords, will the noble Lord allow me to intervene. I am sure that he recollects as well as I do that in the debate on defence and the debate on the arts last Session, hereditary Peers exceeded all others.

Lord Palmer: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his intervention. He has emphasised the point I was trying to make. I believe that a reformed House will be a very much poorer place than it is at present.

When we debated the White Paper the Leader of the Opposition said--this was reiterated by my noble friend Lord Chalfont in his excellent contribution--"this is a very sad day". I believe that it is indeed a very sad day. I also believe that it is tragic, not only for Parliament but for the whole of this still United Kingdom.

2.24 p.m.

Lord Boardman: My Lords, many speakers today and yesterday have already spoken about my main objections to the Bill far more eloquently than I can, so I shall confine myself mainly to two points.

My first point is that, as a life Peer--not, perhaps I should say for the benefit of the statistics of the noble Lord, Lord Archer, as a working Peer--I would like to pay tribute to the tremendous work which has been done over centuries and recently by the hereditary Peers. The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, referred to some of the things that he does and to his contribution from the Back Benches in a variety of speeches, his contribution to the arts and so on. Having also had the privilege of serving in the other place, I recall, too, the contribution made by hereditary Peers in this House when they served on the Government Front Bench. Many of those Ministers, as they were then, were at least the equal of the Ministers serving in the other place. It will be a great loss if they are no longer able to take up those appointments.

There is some impression--no doubt stirred up by the spin doctors and their like--that this House consists of elderly gentlemen sleeping on the Benches. The noble Baronesses in this House are seldom referred to in that way. But the image of "fuddy duddies sleeping on the Benches", as we are referred to by some, is, as we all know, quite untrue. That could be far more fairly said of some the life Peers. By virtue of their appointments they inevitably tend to be older than hereditary Peers. I suspect that the average age of all the life Peers is considerably greater than the average age of all the active hereditary Peers. I cannot help feeling that, at this stage, the Bill has only one design, and that is to stir up, as it does, something of a class hatred, which is most regrettable, unfortunate and wrong.

My second point is to condemn, as many have done, the pulling down of this House without any plans or proposals for putting something in its place. The amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, covers this point very well and I shall certainly support him when he moves his amendment.

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The Royal Commission will produce something, but the Government have no idea what. Indeed, we have no assurance that what it produces will commend itself to the Government. In Committee afterwards there will no doubt be an opportunity to discuss a number of amendments. If a better amendment is not already tabled, I will table one to defer this Bill taking effect until the stage two Bill, or whatever it is called, has been enacted. I believe that the Government should agree to that. It would be very useful to them. It would achieve their manifesto commitment--although it may mean deferring the ending of hereditary Peers' existence here for a few more months, after they have been here for 700 years or thereabouts. It would also please the public and media, who find the present strategy of the Government very much one of half measures. In everything the Government do it is half measures, whether it is bombing without knowing what the consequences will be, or whether it is the removal of the hereditary Peers from this House without knowing what will replace them.

If it were not for his legal background, I would have said that the remarks of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor were very near to blackmail, as the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, described them earlier. He said to us all, "You do this or else". That is not the kind of language that commends itself to me. I resent being threatened in that way. I believe it is something that the House does not savour or like.

The Government are removing the hereditary Peers with no plans to replace them. The noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, referred to the problems in 1968 when a Bill was debated and approved in this House and was then debated in the other place. I was present throughout that time. The interesting thing, which must never be forgotten, is that that Bill--or any other Bill which sensible people might wish to promote or alter in this House giving it more power--would mean more power taken away from the other place. That will never be accepted by the other place and it is one of the problems which the Government will have to face when the Royal Commission recommendations come forward.

I urge the Government not to bring the Bill into effect until the Bill setting out stage two is enacted. By doing that Peers who make such a large contribution to the House will remain for a few months and the Government will be able to deny the charge that they are a government of half measures who do something and do not know what to do for the next stage. I oppose the Bill and support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold.

2.30 p.m.

Viscount Allenby of Megiddo: My Lords, when I put down my name to speak on the Bill I mentally jotted down a dozen or so points. Unfortunately, they had all gone out of the window by three o'clock this morning. Therefore, I shall speak more generally and be fairly brief.

If Lewis Carroll were alive today he would undoubtedly have likened this Bill to Alice in Wonderland dealing with the Cheshire Cat. The Bill

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before us is so much more about what is not there, as what is. Starting with what is there in Clause 1, this is the very essence of a radical constitutional change which will bring to an end 800 years of history by terminating the hereditary principle in politics. I do not wish to be an advocate in defence of the hereditary principle as I do not see how on general democratic grounds the imbalance of the composition of the House can be justified. But, on the other hand, there is a certain irony in the Government White Paper Modernising Parliament which, while asserting that the imbalance has led to what is variously described in the White Paper as a "deficiency of contribution" and a "deficit of effectiveness", is remarkably short of examples; perhaps not too surprisingly when it has not yet been agreed what the new modernised House is to do and how it will function. Indeed, the White Paper often seems to do the reverse, positively valuing the questioning independent spirit of the House of Lords as presently composed and its functions and acknowledging that,


    "the most distinctive and important role of the present House of Lords is the specialist expertise and independent perspective it can bring to the scrutiny of legislation".
It hardly goes without saying that you do not have to be an hereditary Peer to have these skills. But what replacement composition will ensure that the skills are not lost? I go further to ask the Government what will be the cost of bringing in the skills and setting up a new Chamber. Surely, this DIY cost-effective Chamber costs the country very little.

It goes without saying that the effect of Clause 1 when enacted will be to leave the House with life Peers, Bishops and the Law Lords. But the transitional House is to be more than this if the Weatherill amendment is agreed whereby a number of hereditary Peers are retained to ensure continuity. At the same time it is the Government's intention to yet again increase the number of life Peers in accordance with the Life Peerages Act 1958 on the recommendation of party leaders and an appointments commission, which will nominate Cross-Bench Peers. So the transitional House will be based on the appointment principle rather than the hereditary principle, the appointment principle being, so we are told, more modern and fair. However, the Royal Commission has yet to consider this point. We do not know what it will come up with.

However, what is clear is that we are to be faced with piecemeal reform of a constitution which must inevitably lead to pragmatic decisions. My concern is that this decision did not have to be implemented before the Royal Commission had reported and its recommendations had been enacted, which I foresee would take at least a couple of years. The White Paper goes on to argue that resolving the issue of the hereditary Peers will free those considering the reform to concentrate not on the past but on the future. But that rather ignores the fact that there will still be an existing composition.

As presently framed, the Bill says nothing about the future of the House of Lords which the Royal Commission has to consider. That is weighty responsibility on two counts. Good government needs a series of checks and balances between the executive and

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the legislature. How the role, functions and composition of the new Chamber are defined could see these checks and balances undermined, all to the detriment of the legislature.

The White Paper tells us that the constitutional developments across the country are reconnecting the people with power in Britain and bringing power closer to the people. The constitutional changes which may flow from the Royal Commission's recommendations are capable of doing precisely the opposite, not least because that questioning independent spirit which the White Paper noted in the House of Lords as presently composed is not being allowed to continue in place to scrutinise new legislation. The White Paper assumes the pros and cons of nominated and elected Chambers, indirectly elected and mixed Chambers. But let us be plain about it. What we need are unfettered individuals with skills, experience, vigour, commitment and accountability. Does Britain really want to enter the 21st century with a second Chamber dominated by party machinery and party individuals? The Royal Commission has to find a way forward towards an independent composition and a role of political weight and value.

Perhaps I may conclude by taking the House back 150 years. In a speech to the electors of the City of London on 6th April 1859 Lord John Russell--I see that the noble Earl, Lord Russell, is not in his place--commenting on the Representation of the People Bill, said:


    "Among the defects of the Bill, which were numerous, one provision was conspicuous by its presence and another by its absence".
My Lords, it is somewhat alarming that almost 150 years later, on an issue of great constitutional reform, I can say precisely the same thing.

2.36 p.m.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, like the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and a number of other Members of your Lordships' House, I should like to begin my remarks by briefly reflecting on the historic nature of the Bill that we are currently discussing.

First, the Bill is not promoting mere administrative fine tuning; it is not proposing a change of direction in policy; it strikes at the very heart of our nation's historic constitutional arrangements which have been in place since the Middle Ages. It really is a milestone in our nation's constitutional development and, using the word in its non-emotive sense, it is truly revolutionary. Secondly, I should like to put on record that, whatever the merits of the reasons for my being here, it has been an enormous privilege and a pleasure. Thirdly, it is always melancholy to take a bow when the curtain drops, as anyone who has ever lost a seat in an election knows. But the show goes on; the show has to go on; and it is important that the new production is better than this one.

I see the Bill as providing the third point of the triangle which defines the Government's plans for the second Chamber, the other two being their manifesto for

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the last general election and the establishment of the Royal Commission. Those plans determine both the form of change and a process by which that change is to be achieved. It is with the latter that I wish to start.

As a matter of principle, I think it is wrong to embark on a process of constitutional change without a clear description of the intended destination. We are being offered, we are told, a two-stage reform where the first stage may be relatively clear while the second is more or less unknown and its timing entirely uncertain. Indeed, there is no guarantee that there will be a second stage at all. It is my view that stage one, with or without the Weatherill amendment, is not an adequate long-term reform in itself, and remembering, as the noble Baroness the Leader of the House has pointed out on a number of occasions, that the proposed changes of 1911 have not yet come to their intended conclusion, I think there is a real possibility of stage one standing alone. I hope that we shall be given a binding commitment this evening as to the duration of stage one, and that an appropriate government amendment will be brought forward at Committee stage to that end.

As a Conservative, and as such an advocate of evolutionary rather than revolutionary change, I see the virtue of the Weatherill amendment as an interim and transitional arrangement until a satisfactory longer-term solution can be found. But I was interested in the remarks earlier today of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor about his construction of the meaning of the Labour Party manifesto at the last general election. With respect, I believe that it is open to at least one other interpretation. I do not agree with the noble and learned Lord's remark that the express manifesto commitment to remove hereditary Peers can only be honoured by the completion of stage two.

It seems to me, looking at the manifesto, that stage one completely satisfies the commitment made. Those hereditary Peers who might sit in the stage one House will do so not by virtue of their inherited peerage but by virtue of the Bill, which by then will have received the consent of both Houses of Parliament. So they will become Peers by Act of Parliament, not hereditary Peers. It seems to me that that meets the Government's commitment. As a result, I see a great risk that the constitution may share the same fate as the musical hall heroine who plaintively complained, after travelling on the north-west mainline:


    "Oh, Mr Porter, Whatever shall I do? I wanted to go to Birmingham But here I am at Crewe".

I have already described the Royal Commission as the second point of a triangle. It has been widely criticised as being designed to create a genetically modified poodle with no teeth for not one, but two, masters--that is to say, the executive and the House of Commons. It might be able to yap at each of them, but it will not have the bite, the willpower or the political legitimacy to go for the jugular of either if circumstances require it. Its lap-dog status is to be guaranteed by the stipulated pre-eminence of the other

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place, which is both the electoral college which creates the Government and is also too often subordinated by the Government it creates.

"Pre-eminent" is not the kind of word that is in regular use in the public bars of Britain, or, for that matter, outside them either. But it is a word which can quite properly mean a number of different things in the specific context of its key position in the Royal Commission's terms of reference. Indeed, that may be why it was put there.

What matters is that, even if the second Chamber is not a coequal to the first in all of Parliament's doings, it should nevertheless be an equal partner, with equal legitimacy and fully complementary to the first Chamber within the parliamentary process taken as a whole. Given the vagueness associated with the crucial word "pre-eminent" at the heart of the Royal Commission's remit, I hope that the Minister will be able to help the House and, as importantly, the Royal Commission, and say exactly what the word means in this context. After all, it is the Government's word, not mine.

In short, do the Government believe that Parliament should be genuinely bicameral, as I believe it should be; or will it, beneath the form and veneer of bicameralism, acquire the substance and character of a unicameral institution? If that were to occur, it would be a very damaging development and bad for Britain.

I remember when I was at school learning about the South Sea Bubble and the various ingenious enterprises intended to take advantage of the contemporary mania for speculation in South Sea stock. A firm was created, so I was taught, for purposes so secret that they could not be divulged to the public, and subscribers were sought. The Government's plans surrounding this Bill are somewhat similar. Other than displacing hereditary Peers, no one other than, or possibly even including, its promoters, the Government, knows exactly what the project of which this Bill is part is all about. We are being asked to take too much on trust.

2.44 p.m.

The Earl of Clancarty: My Lords, one of a number of somewhat contradictory stereotypical views--and the noble Lord, Lord Boardman, has just mentioned one--which people outside who know little of this House have of it is that it is mainly characterised by a body of enthusiastic, keen-minded independent people, although there is a sense of vagueness about what the term "independent" means. When I first arrived in this House, as someone who had no previous experience in any way of Parliament, what surprised me most was to discover the extent to which this second House is controlled through party politics--clearly and significantly less so than the Commons, but that is nevertheless its major aspect; and finding, too, that the hereditary Peers as well as everyone else are also in a sense woven into this system, even if they are Cross-Benchers.

I want to say at the outset that I support this action by the Government in so far as I believe that the presence of hereditary Peers en masse in Parliament is regarded by the people as simply no longer an

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acceptable part of it, although at the individual level some contributions are made which would be inconceivable from either life Peers or elected Peers. My noble friend, Lady Mar, for example, who has been mentioned a number of times already, is a lobbyist who probably has one of the more direct connections with the world outside Parliament. The Government should bear that in mind in their reforms. There should be far more lobbyists like my noble friend in Parliament.

As politically naive as I am, I think I can see why the Government have done what they have done in this way. This is a political Bill, and it is a case of biting off only as much as you can chew. The problem is that tackling as a first step the internal problem solely of composition, there is the implication that the solution to the problem of government in the more general sense is to be discovered in this way. Much debate has turned just on that aspect--what is the best system or model for a second Chamber designed for the business of "running the country"?

The central problem that the Government should be addressing is not the running of the country but the question of what is the real relationship between Parliament and the people, how best one can improve the accessibility to people of Parliament and vice versa. Those are the central, crucial questions which should determine reform. Parliament cannot be discussed in isolation. I believe that the Government need to address the clear feeling of alienation, the sense of distance that exists between the ordinary person and central government. One thing that has happened over a period is that, with greater knowledge and awareness of the world through the media, education and so on, there has become a greater desire for involvement. People's relationship to politics and politicians has in part become a voyeuristic one (it is a one-way relationship) and the vast majority of people still have what is increasingly perceived as a tenuous relationship to politics through the vote at elections. But as the expectations and desires of people change, then democracy itself must shift.

Yesterday's Daily Telegraph leader said this on the Bill:


    "Democracy is an absolute term and something is either democratic or it is not".

I disagree. We have not yet formulated democracy. Democracy is still a goal, a place where we have yet to arrive. Most crucially, we cannot assume what new forms such democracy may (or will) take. That is why, although tempted to do so, I cannot support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, as from his speech I felt a presupposition that we already know what democracy is.

One broad mistake that the Government make is not to consider more their own role or position within this important constitutional change and to believe that the Labour Party, too, even though it has been in existence for far less time than has the hereditary system, does not also manifest similar or analogous "establishment" characteristics. So much has occurred, so much history has been compressed into the 20th century, that one could say that the Labour Party was conceived and born, in a sense like the hereditary peers, many ages ago. Like

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most other political parties, it has developed over a long period its own strong family atmosphere, with all the attendant problems that that brings; its own professionalism and its sense of professionalism; its party politicians as a body of professionals, like doctors or lawyers; its own protective shell, which also constitutes a barrier; and its own self-interests. All of these are aspects of party politics, to which I believe, over a period perhaps dating from around 1945, the public have become more sensitive or even sensitised. This is in no way an indictment of individual politicians; it is a problem of the system that has evolved.

In looking at the relationship between the people and Parliament, the Government should consider the idea of random selection: that one could become a member of the Upper House as part of a true lottery. That idea is listed as a possibility in the consultation paper. I believe that it should be tried out as it would provide an opportunity for ordinary people to become directly involved in the activity of central government and would be a direct line from the people to central government. The idea is not taken seriously by the media or by the Government, although it was the subject of a serious and comprehensive study by Demos. I think the people are ahead of the game on this matter. Almost everyone to whom I talk outside Parliament has said that it is a wonderful idea but that the party politicians would never accept it. Why not? Because it is not in their interests. So we come full circle to the system which instigated the Bill in the first place. The message one gets from the public is that the party politicians must give up some of their power. This Bill ought to be part of that process, as well.

2.52 p.m.

The Earl of Malmesbury: My Lords, due to my age, I have been a Member of your Lordships' House for many years and thus I am not unaware of its activities. This House is rich in knowledge and experience. There was a major reform of the second Chamber in 1958, which I have always thought was an extremely good reform. The Lord Chancellor of the day, when speaking on the 1958 reform, said, "We now have the King, the Queen and the knaves", and, with a smile on his face, he said, looking at a certain Peer, "And we have the joker, too".

One of the advantages of the hereditary system is that politically the hereditary Peers have no ladder to climb. Among the hereditary Peers is a wide fund of experience and knowledge. This is a professional age. Many of the hereditary Peers are professionals--and I can claim membership of that group.

A noble Baroness on the Benches opposite made the point last week that we are only part-time politicians. I agree entirely with her. In my opinion it would be a mistake for the second Chamber to be anything else. When we go outside the House to our place of work, or for other reasons, we gain a tremendous amount of experience, and from that experience we can enrich the debates of this House.

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Another valuable point is that the old hereditary system produced Members of great differences and of all ages, with, naturally, a variety of experience. It would be difficult for a nominated House to produce the wide views that we have here, and old age would creep up on many Members of such a House.

I wonder why the Government are being so cagey about what is to take the place of the hereditary Peers. Perhaps the answer is a "don't know", but the question is being asked from all quarters.

I acknowledge that the success of the hereditary system is difficult to explain and to interpret. The important thing is that it has worked over the centuries, it keeps up to date and it is continually being modernised. Why attempt to destroy or interfere with a system that has worked so well, so loyally, so efficiently and so patriotically?

2.56 p.m.

Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, the noble Earl and I agree that there is a great wealth of knowledge and ability in this House. That is something that has been very obvious to me in the relatively short time that I have been here. However, I disagree with his assessment that the House has worked very well. When I served in another place I did not discern that the House of Lords worked particularly well, especially since we occupied the opposition Benches for about 87 per cent. of my previous parliamentary experience.

It was recently said that the House relied upon the Bishops' Benches for views concerning the conditions and aspirations of the regions. I think that that may have been an overstatement. I have heard important views and comments concerning the regions from both sides of the House. However, I should welcome continued contribution from the Bishops' Benches in a reformed House of Lords, especially if the voices on those Benches included those of representatives of other faiths. I say that because, after 18 years' contribution to paganism, it would not be wise for the House to dispense with advice from those quarters.

I do not want to speak for too long, but I wish to reflect my interest in history, particularly local history. I come from a part of South Yorkshire which a hundred years ago would have been described as a Fitzwilliam fiefdom. The Fitzwilliams were the dominant family and for most of their time in public service were not given to support of the Conservative cause. The first important person to serve Parliament from what was my constituency was Thomas Wentworth. The next, and perhaps far more interesting, was that great Whig leader, Thomas, Marquess of Rockingham, who on two occasions was briefly Prime Minister. He led an important group of politicians in the 18th century, the Rockingham Whigs, a group of ducal Peers with enormous wealth, experience and power. They appear to me to have demonstrated, more than any other political group in the distant past, the spirit of noblesse oblige, to which I shall refer later.

When Prime Minister, Rockingham, while leading that group, employing Edmund Burke, engaging in good works and developing the landscape which we still

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enjoy in my area today--especially where it is no longer ravaged by opencast mining--also sought to establish a balanced and just peace in Europe. He constructed a very tall commemorative building--I shall not describe it as a folly--that is currently being refurbished. Over the doorway is a carving that bears the inscription that Rockingham sought to achieve a just and balanced peace in Europe. It is interesting that under the shadow of that building, Hooper Stand, William Hague, the present Leader of the Conservatives, spent his formative years. One wonders whether Rockingham would have agreed with William Hague's acceptance that the principle of inheritance can no longer apply.

Rockingham died without male issue and through his daughter the estate and the Whig tradition passed to the Fitzwilliams. The eldest son of the Fitzwilliams, Lord Milton, was invariably in the House of Commons. In 1832 he was one of the champions of the Reform Bill. The arguments that Lord Milton heard in Parliament in 1832 are being echoed in today's debate: yes, it would be right to reform but not now. That kind of argument has been echoing for a very long time, not merely in the 100 years or so since Parliament decided that the House of Lords should cease to rely on the hereditary peerage.

Unlike my noble friend, for whom I have great affection, I am not a believer in the unicameral system. If I had been a believer in that principle my experience in the 1970s would have changed that view. I was taking a Private Member's Bill with all-party support through Parliament in 1975. When it had completed its passage through the Commons it was realised that six amendments were needed to achieve legislative rectitude. The only way to get through those amendments was by service of a number of individuals, including the late Viscount Cranborne, in order to get that Bill through. The unicameral system can present hurdles to progress.

However, I became convinced of the need for reform of this House during the long years of the administration of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher. Two issues in particular stand out. In 1980 my constituency, which had not previously experienced post-war unemployment, saw jobs go by the thousand and hope diminished. In one school just four children managed to find work at the end of the school year. I met 40 or 50 young children who had been brought to Westminster by the Church of England Children's Society. That was the saddest day of my political life. Those 14 and 15 year-old children had seen nothing but poverty, had experienced hopelessness and no challenge or opportunity confronted them. When poverty was developing in my constituency the government of the noble Baroness decided to inflict greater hardship on the poor. They were told that if they needed new blankets they could borrow money. I am aware that Liberal, Labour and Cross-Bench Peers, Bishops, and even some Conservative Peers, were troubled by that approach. That approach succeeded because the skills of the then government's Whips' Office brought in the backwoodsmen. I recall that two Peers came into this House who had not been here for years. They did not live in Britain, presumably for fiscal reasons, but they

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came back to oppress the poor in areas like mine. In my view that was a matter that could not be allowed to pass without criticism or condemnation.

I accept that for generations the hereditary peerage has provided people who have given great service to our country. Indeed, the service may have been such as to forgive the original patronage that created the peerage. My noble friend referred to the fact that all of us are here because of patronage, whether or not through generations.

The second crunch issue was the poll tax. I remind the House that occasionally newspaper cartoons can provide very telling political messages. The great house of the Fitzwilliams, Wentworth Woodhouse, is about to be sold, perhaps for a price less than that of a semi-detached house in the more affluent areas of London, even though it has 88 acres, many facilities and is in a suitable position. However, I am not an estate agent. I live two miles from Wentworth Woodhouse and so I view it with great affection.

When the poll tax debate was taking place the Daily Telegraph published a cartoon which showed that great house in front of which stood two men. One held a Gladstone bag marked "poll tax" and the other, the single occupant of Wentworth Woodhouse at the time, is saying "Just one". His poll tax bill for that great house was the same as for those who occupied the little cottages on Wentworth main street. When built by the Fitzwilliams, they represented superb accommodation for the working class but today appear to be rather small and crowded. Nevertheless, the occupants of Wentworth main street cottages were to pay the same as the occupant of the big house. The cry that went up, which was welcomed by too many people on the other side, was that the dustman and the duke would pay the same. The dukes may be there, but not the dustmen.

When that measure went through without sufficient challenge and question the hereditary Peers, too often slavishly supporting the Conservative Party, had blown it. Democracy cannot now be restored. Britain must become a meritocracy if it is to survive. It cannot be a meritocracy if it depends on inherited privilege.

3.6 p.m.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, your Lordships may recall that last November I withdrew a Bill in my name entitled the Hereditary Peerage (Election) Bill before its second Reading for which the Government had been generous enough to provide a whole day's debate. As a number of your Lordships have since expressed disappointment that the debate did not take place, I hope your Lordships will find it helpful if I now put on record some of the thinking behind that Bill, and the reason for its withdrawal, in the hope that this may be helpful to the way ahead.

The Bill was drafted in July 1997 after discussion among a number of us appointed Peers who feared that the Government would wish to press ahead with their manifesto commitment to remove the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in your Lordships' House. We saw the 1998-99 Session, which then lay ahead, as the last chance for the House to come up with its own reform.

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We felt that it was worth a pre-emptive attempt to persuade the Government not to bring forward the unfortunate Bill which we now have before us.

The Bill was drafted to achieve four aims. These were: first, to respect the Government's manifesto commitment to remove the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in your Lordships' House. That is not the same thing as to remove all of them from the Chamber permanently. Second, having abolished their right to sit, the Bill envisaged forming all Peers with a reasonable attendance record into an electoral college to elect 250 hereditary Peers to serve on a rolling basis for five years at a time. Third, the Bill thus maintained the whole pool of hereditary Peers available to give service to the country for the foreseeable future, until Parliament agreed full reform. Fourth, we wanted to reduce the number of Conservative Peers whose dominance we regarded as just about the only thing wrong with your Lordships' House. Indeed, I cannot help feeling that over the years the Labour and Liberal Parties, and also many on the Cross-Benches, must have found the preponderance of Conservative votes in your Lordships' House rather more irritating than the hereditary principle.

I do not pretend that our Bill was perfectly drafted but it could have been substantially amended in Committee. For instance, I see now that it was a mistake to set up the whole House as a single college to elect a number of hereditary Peers across the board, or across the parties and Cross-Benches of the House. I feel sure that each party and the Cross-Benches should select their own representatives, as we learn today is proposed by the Weatherill amendment, up to quotas which the House should decide. There is also the difficult question as to whether only hereditary Peers should elect other hereditary Peers or whether they should be elected by us jumped-up parvenus as well. Our Bill was drafted to reflect the latter option, even if we knew it would cause understandable irritation with some of your hereditary Lordships, because we felt that such a system would earn more sympathy with the public since it relied on a more broadly based and knowledgeable electorate. But of course it would have been for the House to decide.

Another of our Bill's major shortcomings in retrospect was that it proposed to select only hereditary Peers by internal election, because they appeared to be the most immediately threatened at the time. But of course there is not anyone who knows how this House works who could honestly pretend that the best of the hereditary Peers do not give far greater service to the nation than do many of us appointed Peers. So if the hereditary Peers are to be weeded out, why not us appointed Peers as well? And not only us appointed working Peers, as my noble friend Lord Archer suggested this afternoon. Why should someone who may have given less than helpful service to the country in some previous Cabinet be granted an infrequent and disinterested place here?

Such was the Hereditary Peerage (Election) Bill. I withdrew it because I was persuaded by Peers whom I respect that a detailed debate in your Lordships' House on its merits would have so horrified the left-wing

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ideologues in another place that they would have made it impossible for the Government to accept anything along the lines proposed. I also heard on the grapevine that my noble friend Lord Cranborne was up to something, and I did not want to upset his plans.

Therefore, perhaps wrongly, I felt that the right time to bring forward solutions of the kind that the Bill envisaged would be during the Committee stage of this Bill. Of course I have known from the start that to gain maximum public sympathy, the leadership in this matter should come from an eminent Cross-Bench, appointed Peer, and not from a maverick Back-Bench Conservative such as myself. I have to confess that my name was only attached to the Bill because of a procedural misunderstanding.

That brings me to the Weatherill amendment--which, with all due respect, does not seem quite good enough, because 92 hereditary Peers are not enough to ensure the proper functioning of this House until stage 2 is completed. We have been given no justification for that number. It would appear that somebody thought that 10 per cent. was a reasonable compromise, plus a few extras. Now we are threatened by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, in somewhat unpleasant terms, that we must take it or leave it.

I, for one, hope that we shall examine the Weatherill amendment in our usual way in Committee, and amend it if it seems necessary to do so and if the justification for such an amendment can be proved. Anything else would surely be a dereliction to our duty to the country.

The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan and others seem to take it for granted that the hereditary principle is indefensible. As an appointed Peer, I am perfectly happy to defend it. Hereditary Peers are the only part of our legislature who do not owe their position to patronage or the vagaries of the ballot box and who, after all, only sit in a revising and delaying Chamber. As such, they are theoretically of great value to the country, but they are of great value not only in theory. All noble Lords have acknowledged that the best of our hereditary Peers are of great value in fact as well.

Before introducing my Bill, I spent much of a weekend on what your Lordships may regard as a rather impertinent exercise--reading through "Dod's", comparing the CVs of hereditary Peers with those of appointed Peers and, a somewhat less absorbing exercise, with the CVs of those who have been elected to the other place. I recommend that exercise to the Government, if they really have the nation's interests at heart. From even my knowledge of the quality and performance of most of the hereditary Peers who come here regularly, I concluded that the country would be mad to dispense with the services of at least 150 Cross-Bench and Conservative hereditary Peers. I did not look at Peers from other sectors of the House because I assumed that they would all be retained in the interests of a political balance.

Simply to throw away those hereditary Peers, those good servants of the country, and to abolish the pool of wisdom and duty from which they come without replacing them with something obviously as good,

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seems to me to be an act of such political vandalism that it must be resisted with every means at our disposal. If that means learning to enjoy regular breakfasts in your Lordships' House over a long period, so be it. However, I hope that it will not be necessary to grow too closely acquainted with such culinary treats. That will be up to the Government of course and I cannot see why they should be unreasonable. After all, they have conceded the principle that 92 hereditary Peers should stay on while the Royal Commission sits and until Parliament agrees stage 2. I hope that the Government will not be so small minded as to stick to their unjustified number of 92. If they are, I hope that noble Lords will not feel bound by the Salisbury convention, which I cannot believe was designed to facilitate the destruction of your Lordships' House without an adequate alternative insight.

I also trust that the Government will not make too much of their manifesto commitment to remove the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in your Lordships' House. After all, that commitment, according to a Written Answer that I received recently, was only one of 177 manifesto commitments, so it is not surprising that in a recent poll only 2 per cent. of the population were even aware of it.

If amendments along the lines that I have outlined come forward and are supported, they would in any case meet the Government's manifesto. The right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote would have been removed. All we would be arguing about is the number of hereditary Peers who should continue to sit for the short space of time until stage two is complete. I look forward to that argument.

3.16 p.m.

The Earl of Longford: My Lords, it is my pleasure to follow such an attractive noble Lord, who claims that he is a maverick Conservative. I do not know how many maverick Conservatives are about these days. I was one 70 years ago and your Lordships can see where I have got to now. The noble Lord might think that I am an example of what he might turn into. He will forgive me if I do not follow his arguments in detail.

We have listened to more than 100 notable speeches, many of them inspired by the words of the famous poet, Julian Grenfell:


    "The black bird says to him, 'Brother, brother--if this be the last song you shall sing Sing well, for you may not sing another Brother sing'."
Many noble Lords have sung to some purpose. For my part, I rise to support the Second Reading of the Bill with a sad heart. I repeat, with a sad heart. I get the same pleasure as I would if somebody told me that I must have my left hand amputated. On such good advice, one would have to accept that opinion but I would not get any pleasure out of it. I do not see how anyone could get pleasure from eliminating so many noble Lords who have done such good service. I do not say that they have all done such good service because more than half of them seldom come here. The fact is a lot of them have done wonderful work over the years and we are now eliminating or sacking them. I have

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been lucky to survive by some sort of strange procedure, and there are a few others who were created Peers--including the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, who spoke so well--and were allowed to come here as life Peers for the time being, until they introduce an age limit, which I hope will not be too soon.

We are engaged on the very sad job of eliminating some of our best friends--people we have come to know well and respect so highly. Who can get any pleasure out of that? When we think of hereditary Peers, some of us recall that half the Leaders of the House over the past 50 years that I have been here were hereditary Peers. No one would say that they were inferior to those appointed on merit. The noble Baroness who leads the House so well is a wonderful example of both traditions. She has a life peerage but, I am glad to think, she represents the hereditary principle at its most distinctive. When we hear her speaking so well, it must be hereditary genes operating in her case--which is encouraging.

My mind goes back 50 years, although the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and others have been here longer. Fifty years ago, I heard the grandfather of the last Leader of the Opposition, Lord Cranborne. A Labour Peer who had criticised him sharply went up to him and apologised. Lord Salisbury said, "If you felt it was your duty to say that, you were right to say it. This is not a club. It is a House of Parliament". That noble Marquess did more than any other person to make sure that this is not only the best club in the world but a fine House of Parliament. We recall such people with great admiration.

In referring to Lord Cranborne, I should mention his counterpart, Lord Addison, the leader of the government for six years after the war when I first joined the House as a relative youngster. He was a worthy opposite number to Lord Salisbury. I used to sit beside him; I was a kind of pupil. On one occasion I thought that I was making a good speech. He kicked me on the back of the legs and said, "Sit down now. You've got the House with you. You'll lose it if you go on longer". So I sat down. Those were great men in those days.

We now come to the hereditary principle. I have talked about individuals and I now refer to the atmosphere. It is impossible to define or measure it. No one can deny that the hereditary Peers have done much over the years to create the atmosphere of this House. No one can deny that. It is hard to prove it. People flock to come here. They come to lunch; they come to watch, they sit on our Benches or any Benches. They visit this House because it arouses so much admiration so widely. No one can measure it but no one can deny the influence of hereditary Peers in creating that atmosphere.

We have to ask ourselves whether we are going to throw all that away. Will hereditary Peers disappear without trace? They cannot stay. Hereditary Peers have had it in the broad sense of 750 Peers; more than half of them are not playing any part here. No doubt they are otherwise occupied. We cannot justify that. The time had come when tremendous reforms had to come about. I simply say this. Let us make sure that the traditions of the old House are maintained as far as possible; that continuity is maintained as far as possible.

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We have the possibility of the deal. I do not know whether or not it is going through. I hope that it does. I support it. But my mind goes back to 30 years ago when I was leader of this place. I brought forward the two writ plan under which first generation hereditary Peers would attend and speak but not vote. It was not my brainchild, but that of the late Henry Burrows who sat at the Table where the Clerk Assistant sits now. He used to take me to play golf at Rye every Sunday. When I missed a putt, he used to say, "You do believe in the two writ plan, don't you?" I could have brained him. But the two writ plan was his. I still say that that was, and remains, the best plan. The two writ plan was agreed to by the leaders of all the parties here and elsewhere: that first generation hereditary Peers should speak but not vote. It was sabotaged in the House of Commons. I hope that someone with a more contemporary influence, a leading figure such as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, or some other notable person, will bring forward that plan. If no one else does so, I shall bring it forward myself, but I hope that someone better will do so.

This is an historic occasion. The House has been a wonderful place. Many of us have come to love it. It should not be disposed of by a series of soundbites. It is too serious a matter. It is an historic moment. I agree that there is no easy way out. The 750 hereditary Peers had to be coped with. The problem had to be solved drastically. However, I hope that it will be solved in a humane way.

3.24 p.m.

Lord Bowness: My Lords, in the words of my noble friend Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare I am a party hack, and a rude mechanical. Perhaps I may say how much I appreciate that fact not having been brought to my attention by other noble Lords who sit here by virtue of succession or other appointments.

I shall not revisit all the arguments against a Bill which sets out to remove a large proportion of the membership of your Lordships' House without any firm proposals to replace what is currently in place, save to say that I agree with what has been said in that regard. It is clear that the Government's motivation for the Bill is quite simply the removal from this House of those Peers who sit by succession and while that has been expressed in more measured terms in this House some of the comments in another place had the resonance of mere prejudice and spite rather than any great constitutional ambition.

So obsessed are the Government with this so-called principle that they cannot even allow those who have hereditary peerages of first creation to remain, but would rather abolish their right to sit and then offer them a life peerage in their own right.

Simple fairness has no part in this Bill. The Government are prepared to ask us to remove the right of Members to sit in this Parliament who had no vote at the last election on the basis that they had a seat in Parliament in their own right. Even if the measure is to proceed, it should not come into force until the next Parliament. In my submission it is a manifest injustice.

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To use a phrase that I recall hearing when I sat on what were then the Government Benches--used by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and which has remained with me--an injustice to a few is no less an injustice.

The Government have said that it is essential to secure the removal of the hereditary Peers before an alternative can be proceeded with. But is that really the case? In the debate on the White Paper and in this debate, noble Lords who sit in this House by succession have made clear their willingness to step aside and embrace suitable reforms. Do the Government really believe that a solution which has eluded everyone for so many years will emerge and that the absence of hereditary Peers is the factor that will make it possible?

I do not accept that that is a well-founded belief. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House indicated in the debate on the White Paper that the Royal Commission should be able to report within the timetable that has been set for it because there are not many new arguments and not much new evidence. If that is the case, why will this attempt at reform be any different from previous occasions; or have the Government a solution which they intend to implement irrespective of what the Royal Commission may recommend?

I remain highly sceptical of finding an alternative significantly different from the present arrangements that is acceptable, especially to another place. The Government have already stated that the House of Commons is to remain the pre-eminent Chamber. I believe that the notion of an elected Chamber is something for which this country's political system and culture is not yet prepared.

The political culture of this country has evolved in which another place is now considered to be the very centre of political importance to the virtual exclusion of anywhere else. It does nothing particularly for relations with local government, the European Parliament or your Lordships' House. But it is a fact and it remains to be seen how relations with the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh and Northern Ireland assemblies turn out. The other place has become, as many noble Lords have said, an instrument of government rather than a means of calling the Executive to account; and, indeed, new ways of calling that Executive to account are needed.

However, I do not believe that that will be through a second Chamber, elected or otherwise. Control of the Executive should properly rest with another place, unless revolutionary change were accepted to give an elected second Chamber parity with the first. In that event, it would become the creature of the parties and not be the revising, advising, independent body that everyone says it should be.

Those in the other place and Government who advocate an elected second Chamber would, I believe, balk at the notion if it were to become a reality and threaten the supremacy of the other place. It would not suit the other place or governments who draw their authority from their majorities in the other place.

I would be the last, and it would be wholly inappropriate for me having been recommended to membership of your Lordships' House by the then Leader of my party, to suggest that there is something

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disreputable about party politics. But how would another Chamber, tightly bound into the party political machine, help us to achieve what is required of the second Chamber? An attempt to introduce a partially elected legitimacy into the second Chamber would lead to more problems.

Those elected might consider they had the right to challenge the other place, and if such rights were written out by law what would be the point of being elected to this place? It would undoubtedly lead to problems within the House. The cry that a vote was lost on the votes of the hereditary Peers would likely be replaced by the cry that it was lost on the votes of the appointed Peers. Some members would then be more legitimate than others. I believe that this Bill before the House, if it is to be proceeded with, needs revision to ensure that robust arrangements are in place for the interim House, since the interim may be rather longer than is currently envisaged by some.

The arrangements for the future appointment of life Peers do not feature in the Bill. One asks, why not? The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester indicated how much those of us who are privileged to be Members draw from traditions and approaches that have been brought here over the centuries by the hereditary peerage. I make no apologies for expressing my preference for the present arrangements, with one particular and important exception to which I shall refer later, and thus I want all the elements of the present House to carry through into the interim House in a robust manner. I well understand that if we were in the business of writing a constitution we would not introduce the hereditary principle in the legislature; but we are not starting from scratch. This nation has not had the misfortune, as a result of war, invasion or dictatorship, to have had the need to produce a new written constitution. We have been able to allow our own unwritten constitution to evolve over a period of time. The present House is a result of that evolution and the presence of life Peers is an example of that evolution. As are the present powers of the House which have evolved, some by statute others by convention. The hereditary Peers sit in this House not by virtue of holding on to power or usurping power, but because they have the legal and constitutional right so to do given and confirmed by Parliament. I regret that comments in another place indicate that some people believe differently.

The system has given, and continues to give, to Parliament many devoted Members who have sat for party or no party and who have brought to the House a wealth of different expertise. The powers of this House are such that, however composed, the Government can, rightly, always get their business. The will of the other place will always prevail, even if it does have to resort to the Parliament Acts. However, given the number of occasions they have been used, there is hardly a record of outright defiance on the part of the second Chamber.

Apart from the instances of the use of the Parliament Acts, I reject the statistics of defeats. I do not consider votes lost by the Government in this House to be defeats as such. If in reviewing and revising legislation this Government, or any government, see such votes in the

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second Chamber as defeats, that is tantamount to saying that they do not really want a second Chamber with any meaningful functions, however composed, to question or have the temerity to delay their onward march of progress.

There is a very delicate balance between this House and the other place. The interim House needs to be composed in a robust fashion and we need to keep within it a hereditary presence. For that reason, I support the arrangement proposed in December by my noble friend Lord Cranborne. This leaves the House with a hereditary representation that will remain in place if, indeed, an agreed formula can be found in the next few months, unlike the past 80 years.

It is a great regret that this Government, which have changed in their outlook so much from the traditional outlook of the Labour Party, cannot find the vision and generosity of spirit needed to address the question of the future of your Lordships' House in an evolutionary manner, recognising that not all is bad about the present arrangements and that, defying all logic, the hereditary peerage has given us many independent Members, and even those with party allegiance of independent views, and that, put quite simply, the House has worked and the supremacy of the other place maintained.

Instead, they remain committed to the onslaught against the hereditary Peers in the same way that they were once committed to other policies now consigned to history.

The arrangement referred to ought, in the hands of men and women of good will, to have showed the way forward for a permanent solution, not just for an interim one. As a life Peer, I believe that it is entirely appropriate that hereditary Peers should have the right to choose their representatives. I hope that in Committee we will be able to explore properly how vacancies which arise should be filled. We must ensure that future Peers who inherit by succession have a right to participate in the electoral college.

All that is in the context of and using some acceptable formula to ensure that the overall numbers in the House do not give one party an advantage. I well understand that noble Lords opposite do not accept a position in which one party has dominance. I believe that the arrangement described as the Weatherill amendment enables that problem to be addressed. The reasoned amendment reflects many of our concerns. I hope that the Committee stage will enable the interim arrangements to be given enough substance and form to ensure that the House may continue its useful existence for many years if reform does not appear as quickly as expected.

3.36 p.m.

Lord Naseby: My Lords, I begin by paying tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, and his amendment. Whatever hour the Division is called, I shall certainly support it. More than 40 years ago, he and I were trainee RAF pilots together. We devised a badge for our corps, for the Phoenix, and a motto Cogito Ergo Sum, at least we borrowed it from Descartes. Your Lordships will

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know that it is, "I think, therefore I am" and one reflects that it might have helped the Government had they done a little more thinking about this issue.

The very holding of this debate and the number of Peers who wish to take part demonstrates more than anything else that today and yesterday are moments in history. I shall draw on history and make analogies with the Cromwellian period and with the ditchers and the backwoodsmen of 1911.

The Bill before us is not long, but I remind your Lordships that neither was the Maastricht Bill. Short Bills have a habit of creating gigantic change. In my judgment, this is a vindictive and dangerous Bill as it panders to the Labour Left and the rather simplistic argument that the hereditary principle is outdated. For the Government to claim, as they do, that it was in the manifesto and therefore under the Salisbury convention is must be accepted, is in my judgment a Salisbury too far. I do not accept that the Salisbury convention was created to betray the integrity of this House and of Parliament. Indeed, the experience of 1911 and the gallant role played in that debate by the then Lord Salisbury clearly underlines the fact that so far as he was concerned the convention never included constitutional reform.

I return to the manifesto and the last election. I fought that election. Was this issue ever discussed, debated, talked about, spun over or anything else? No, it was totally ignored during that election. Labour could have highlighted it, but it chose not so to do. When the Government took over they could have moved with speed and commitment by establishing a Royal Commission within a week or so of the gracious Speech. If they had done that then we could have had the benefit of those results by now and certainly within the timetable that they are setting for the present Royal Commission. But only now do they set up a Royal Commission and at the same time decide that the hereditary Peers must go. Yet in a little more time than a series of focus groups take, even under the shortened version they will have the findings of the Royal Commission.

So far as I am concerned, sadly there seems to be no sense of history on the Government Benches; no understanding of the true heritage of this country and certainly no vision. The hereditary Peers are a part of our history and of the uniqueness of this Chamber. They are part of the character of the United Kingdom. In the past, and to some extent even today, they represent land ownership. The majority have taken their role as revisers in this Chamber extremely seriously. In my judgment we should not be so cavalier as to throw out centuries of history and certainly not until we have the recommendations of the Royal Commission.

I mention history. Indeed, in all my speeches on Lords' reform I have referred to history. History demonstrates evolution. Parliament has never been static. It has changed and evolved. Certainly I for one am not against change, but almost all change is evolutionary. Yes, there have been exceptions when change was abrupt and not evolutionary, but revolutionary. Cromwell is one such example. He

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removed in order the King, the House of Lords and then the House of Commons. Towards the end of his life he recognised the need for democratic legitimacy and restored the House of Commons and also the House of Lords.

Cromwell himself recognised the need for another House--our House. He said,


    "I should name another House. I named it of men who shall meet you wheresoever you go, and shake hands with you, and tell you it is not titles, nor lords, nor parties that they value, but a Christian and an English interest. Men of your own rank and quality, who will not only be a balance unto you, but a new force added to you, while you love England".
For me that encapsulates what drives much of the House of Lords since I joined your Lordships' House.

As one thinks about that I for one reflect on the way the present Prime Minister treats the other place, only voting, when I checked, in 14 Divisions out of 325, which is probably the worst record for any Prime Minister this century; how he switched Prime Minister's Questions from twice a week to once a week to make it easier for the Prime Minister; how he must be the one who sanctions leaks by Ministers instead of making Statements to the other place; how he encourages his followers to leak confidential Select Committee reports and how his Government's reforms ensure that that House is sitting less. In essence, the other place is becoming virtually ignored.

Now it is us who are to be emasculated. It may be that there will be an interim of 91 hereditary Peers, but to match them there will be at least, we are promised, 50 more life Peers from one party. So by the time of the next gracious Speech this autumn, a few months away, we too will be emasculated and the Bills that flow from that speech will have relatively little difficulty in being rubber stamped by an ineffectual second Chamber.

So to this Bill, driven through on the abstract concept of modernisation, but with no thought of ever strengthening our democracy. We all know the Executive is too powerful and the other place too subservient, but the unique opportunity that is there to create a Chamber of significance; to create one with real checks and balances against ill thought-out legislation, is postponed and may never be achieved. It is a lost opportunity to really update our democratic institutions in a thoughtful and well-considered way.

Of more importance to the Government is to drive through the almost total removal of those who have proven their worth over centuries and even today provide more than half the number of activists in your Lordships' House. There is no great populist desire to get rid of the hereditary Peers. We should remember the ditchers of 1911. They saw the reality of appeasement.

I want a British second Chamber, not a copy of somewhere else and not some transitory, allegedly modernised Chamber totally subservient to the Prime Minister of the day. The lessons of history cry out to your Lordships for us to have a strong Parliament if we are to have a strong democracy. To me I smell a wider plot by the Labour modernisers and the writers of manifestos. It is no less than to undermine the

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supremacy of Parliament. Tonight we can and should make our presence felt. In my judgment we owe it to the British people and to our democracy.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Shore of Stepney: My Lords, I have been in this House long enough to learn a number of new and important things; the quality of the House and its debates and the very valuable contribution that so many individual hereditary Peers make to our deliberations. Therefore, I well understand the sense of sadness, to some extent, and nostalgia which has been occasionally expressed by noble Lords on both sides of the House. I also read history when I was at university so I have some idea of the contribution and place of the Lords in the remarkable and marvellous history of this country.

But perhaps for very opposite reasons to those given by the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, in expressing his concerns, I express, as it were, my support for the measure which we are now introducing. I support it because I am concerned--and more so than before I came here--about the weakening of the House of Commons and the dangers of an over-powerful executive. It is precisely because I want to see that danger scotched that I wish to see the House of Lords, in certain aspects of its work, strengthened and not weakened. I genuinely believe that the measure that we have before us will produce that effect.

I had better spend the time I have explaining why I come sincerely to that conclusion. It is partly based on my experience in this House. I have not always agreed with my noble friends on some of the measures that have come from the other place. Indeed, with the best will in the world, the House of Commons, with its huge majority, can get things wrong. We have a vivid example--and I am sure that history will vindicate my judgment--in the methods by which we are in future to elect members of the European Parliament, which in my view, are a disgrace. The use of the powers that legitimately belong to this House were absolutely justified. One could argue that they should be strengthened in such issues where constitutional matters are to the fore. One or two noble Lords have already drawn attention to the constitutional role of the upper Chamber.

I have learnt another lesson from this House. Governments with large majorities can do foolish things, but this place lacks the authority and legitimacy to act as a genuine bar to them when they get things wrong. Why is that? Again and again, when we rejected that wretched Bill, the Government's public relations team, not my noble friends on the Front Bench, came forward with the explanation, "Oh, we dismissed it almost without looking at it because X number of hereditary Peers voted for it". The truth is that the authority of this House is not enhanced by hereditary Peers. It is very largely reduced by them. That is because public opinion, not only here but almost anywhere, does not now accept the legitimacy of the expression of opinion of a House dominated largely, as it is, by Members who are present simply on the basis of hereditary rights.

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In my view, that is an almost fatal weakness which we must remedy, and this Bill does that. I believe genuinely that we shall have a stronger Chamber when that kind of remark can no longer be made about the measures which we turn down and return to another place. It will not be possible to say that a provision was turned down because the reserve army of Conservative backwoodsmen came suddenly to the fore and voted it down, but rather as a result of the considered judgment of Members of this House who are here on their own merit and in recognition of their achievements and the contribution they can make to the affairs of this House.

I find other advantages in the House as it will become which have not been touched on but which should not be ignored. The imbalance is important. I leave on one side entirely the 90 or so Peers who may remain. But when the bulk of the hereditary Peers cease to have the right to vote, the two main parties are virtually in balance. There are slightly more Conservative than Labour Peers, but that does not matter. It is almost level pegging.

Thirdly, the Cross-Bench Peers, whom I certainly value, will be able to play, as they already have, an extremely important role. But the Government must stick to the two commitments that they have made. The first is that they will not seek nor accept a position in which they have an overall majority of Peers in this House but will seek only parity with the Conservative opposition. The second is that there shall not be less than, for example, 25 per cent. of non-party Peers. If that were so, we should have erected a barrier against the kind of electoral tyranny which so many noble Lords genuinely fear. It really will be a barrier and it must be taken into account by all those who legislate in another place.

I want to return to the matter of the constitution. We have an almost non-controversial role as a revising Chamber. I believe in bicameral government and, therefore, that is very valuable. But in addition, we should be responsible for constitutional matters. As we abandon, one by one, our powers of government and the powers of our people to the European institutions, I can see a situation arising in which a majority in the House of Commons would virtually give away the rights of the British people unless it were checked. A non-elected Chamber alone has the power to stop that. The great constitutional questions which we face in the future can best be dealt with--and this is the irony and paradox of the matter--not by turning this into an elected Chamber, where there would simply be gridlock or madness in the sense of being merely a rubber stamp for the other Chamber, but rather by having a Chamber which, provided that we can reach agreement on how its Members should be appointed, will have a built-in independence which will provide a safeguard for the rights of our people such as they have never had before. I find that an attractive prospect and not one which is too difficult to achieve.

I look around this Chamber at the number of life Peers who have been appointed since Harold Macmillan had the wisdom to introduce that innovation 40 years ago. Who has been chosen? It is irrelevant to speak of "Tony's placemen" and we know it is. Seven or eight

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very different Prime Ministers of considerable distinction have selected a number of people to serve in this House. Who are the people they have selected? They are mainly fellow parliamentarians from the other place and people of obvious distinction in terms of the public services which contribute so much to our lives--heads of the medical profession and the universities, and lawyers. We all know of the great range of people of real distinction. They have never been party people. Anyone who has had responsibility for a ministry knows about the recommendations which come up through the Civil Service--people of obvious merit and selection. A judgment must be made, but one would be very silly to refuse to pass on such recommendations to the Prime Minister as being something of which one approved. They are not placemen. There may be a handful of those, and we must find ways to prevent that.

One of the strongest components of this House, which will still exist as soon as the Bill becomes law, is the presence here of nearly 200 former Members of Parliament. They are men with considerable and relevant experience in the business of accountability and legislation. Their skills are not to be discarded or disparaged in any way.

The great secret is that once they are here and once they are appointed for life, whipping is a voluntary activity. It is; of course it is. I do not fear anything from my noble friends. Why should I? I have no ambitions. I have a good relationship with them. Those of us who take a Whip do it because we broadly agree with our party's policies. But when we do not agree, what can be done? We are as free as the Cross-Benchers in terms of how we vote and speak. That is a very strong feature of life-appointed Peers. Do not let anyone say in future that there should be a limit of five or 10 years because that would remove precisely that independence which all life Peers enjoy. I believe that I have said virtually everything I wanted to say--so I shall now sit down.

3.58 p.m.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick: My Lords, it is always a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Shore. I frequently find that I am in agreement with him these days. However, on this occasion, although I agreed with his premise, I believe that that premise could equally have led to another conclusion; namely, to support the hereditary element and not to support proposals which may result in the House being weaker than it is now.

When we had the two-day debate before, the noble Lord, Lord Carter, said that he thought it was inconceivable that anyone could say anything new on this issue. We heard one remarkable, new thing today, and that was the speech of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor who gave us an encomium for the hereditary principle. We were told about the Cecils, we were told about Melbourne and even Lord Liverpool who is normally dismissed as a complete reactionary received a highly favourable mention. He told us how Lord Rosebery used to sing Rule Britannia. If he had reminded us about Lord Rosebery listening to the Eton

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Boating Song on his death bed, we would have been calling out on this side, "Over here, over here, he's one of us".

The speech of the Lord Chancellor was an unusual combination of self-deprecation and heavy menace. He went on to say that the hereditary principle could not be justified. He said that it had survived, "because of the balance of forces". Then, without a hint of irony, he told us about proposals for 91 new ways of choosing hereditary Peers, a product, I may say, of the balance of forces--not much principle there.

The noble Baroness the Leader of the House was also rather realpolitik in her approach, but rather more overtly. In opening the debate, she told us why it was right to tackle this subject in two stages. In doing so, she also demonstrated why it is wrong to do it in two stages. She argued that it is necessary to do it in two stages, otherwise the measure would never get off the ground, and we would start disagreeing among ourselves and in the other place. After all, that is what happened last time. So we must simply get rid of the hereditary principle.

That is a very odd approach. It does not seem very sensible. If you have a problem to which you do not know the answer, first, you deal with the little bit to which you do know the answer and you are left with the bit to which you do not know the answer and you still have the problem.

In truth, the approach of the Government may tactically be right, from their point of view, but it is wrong in principle. The Lord Chancellor was not right when he said that the objections on this side were objections only of process. The objections are also objections of principle. It is wrong that something as important as a second Chamber of Parliament should be constituted on an interim basis. A country that has an interim constitution is a country that is at risk; a country that is exposed; a country that runs the danger of the use of arbitrary power.

It is odd that noble Lords on the other side have continually underlined that point. Endlessly, they have reminded us that the present composition of the House of Lords is the result of an interim solution. Having identified a wrong way of going about it, they now propose to take the course to which they objected in 1911. An interim House has to be justified, not by what it may do, but on its own merits. It has to be able to stand alone and to answer the test: can it be an effective second Chamber?

An interim House may last much longer than the Government intend. Dare I say, they may lose an election before the second stage takes place. The Joint Committee may take a long time after the Wakeham Commission. The Cabinet may find it difficult to come to an agreement. Back-Benchers may reject it, as they have rejected proposals before, and the Labour Party in the House of Commons is split between bicameralists and unicameralists. Of course, an interim solution may be followed by another interim solution.

Even if an interim House lasts a short period, it is important that it does its job properly because in the next few years it will have to deal with profoundly important

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constitutional matters. It may have Bills to deal with proportional representation and the single currency. The single currency may be settled by referendum, but the arrangements for that referendum will be important constitutional matters that this House ought to consider very seriously.

An interim House has to be examined and judged against the test: will it be suitable as a permanent solution as well? Will removing the hereditary Peers and having a House that is appointed to reflect more closely the results of the general election, guarantee that the House will be more effective and more independent? I suggest that the proposals for an interim House will make this House more subordinate to the House of Commons. I am not sure that that is a good idea at a time of massive constitutional change which may confront this country.

In 1978 the late Lord Home, the former Prime Minister, in his report on the constitution said:


    "The natural consequence for our institutions of the crude equation of Parliamentary Government with the right of a majority in the House of Commons to authorise a Government to do anything for which it claims a mandate, must be unicameral Government".
The real danger is that the Government are, in effect, giving us unicameral government by stealth and that will leave a House that will be less effective than at present.

Many noble Lords have emphasised the important role of the House as a revising Chamber. I believe that that misses the important point about the House. A revising Chamber is convenient. It is convenient for Government and convenient for civil servants. However, the House of Lords has an important role to play as a constitutional longstop. The need for a second Chamber is on constitutional issues. Like the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, I am a House of Commons man. Even when measures go through the House of Commons, I believe that constitutional change should be slow and careful and should have the explicit consent of the people.

When this House uses its power to protect the constitution, it does no more than safeguard the birthright of the people. It is no more relevant that this House is unelected than that a High Court judge who has the power to set free, by habeas corpus, those unlawfully detained, is unelected.

So many aspects appear not to have been thought through in the Government's approach. On the Salisbury convention, the Labour Party says that it should continue after the House is reformed, but the Salisbury convention was introduced as an answer to the in-built Tory majority in the House. They never stop reminding us about the in-built Tory majority in the House. If the in-built majority in the House goes, so, in logic, must the Salisbury convention.

Other aspects of the Bill appear incoherent when put in the context of overall constitutional change. The Government say that they are in favour of bicameralism. I very much doubt that. There are plenty of people in favour of one Chamber only in the Labour Party in the House of Commons. However, we will now have a constitution in which we have unicameralism in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and bicameralism in England. What kind of commitment to bicameralism is that? What kind of coherence is that?

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As we have bicameralism in some parts of the country and unicameralism in others it makes the idea of having an element elected in this House much more difficult because that would import into the House a new West Lothian question. Why should elected Scottish Peers sit in a second Chamber when there is no second Chamber for Scotland?

Finally, in a previous debate I asked the Government about the proposals in the White Paper on page 40, concerning the possible reduction in the powers of this House, for which I see no case. The answer was that this House is theoretically the coequal of the other House. It has powers that it cannot use. Would it not be better to have fewer powers that it could use more frequently? However, that gives the game away. The Government want this House to be less powerful. That is why I shall vote for the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, on this half-baked, ill-thought out measure.

4.9 p.m.

The Earl of Kintore: My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Lamont. As a result of the final revision of the speakers' list, I have been advanced up the list by 65 places, but the House will be genuinely pleased to hear that the very short speech that I had expected to make at two o'clock on Wednesday morning, I shall make now.

This is an unfortunate Bill which seeks to extinguish centuries of history, tradition and service without any clear idea of what to put in its place. There will be debate--and probably quite vigorous debate--on the Bill, but it will not be to preserve the hereditary peerage, but to try to ensure that the House goes forward stronger and more effective after this major constitutional change. If in the parliamentary context an elected Chamber is the only legitimate one, let us have a fully elected upper House.

I see that The Times has done a little research on the reference of the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, to the Lesotho Senate. I am an hereditary Scottish clan chief and am reliably informed by my noble friend Lady Mar that I am a tribal chief as well. So, in that I would probably be acceptable in the Lesotho Senate, may I please remain here as well?

4.11 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I am delighted that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is in his place because if he were not, I would not say what I am about to say. He was more than brutally frank this morning; he was positively menacing.

I agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, said about the right of the Government to have their business at the end of the day, and so on. That is not in question. However, is it not the mark of an authoritarian administration to seek to foreclose on due scrutiny in Parliament? That is precisely what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is seeking to do. I speak only for myself; I never speak for my party; but I suppose that that is why it is proposed to weaken the second Chamber and to confer the process of Parliament to the sidelines. Here we speak, as I

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thought that the noble and learned Lord would have known, upon our honour and according to our conscience, not at the behest of government, to give this Bill to the Government, a compromise stitched up by a handful of mandarins, members of the Privy Council, acting with total honour and integrity in the interests, as they saw it, of the body politic. We are not committed to that. It has no electoral legitimacy and assuredly we are not to be put under pressure of any kind to seek to make that contact.

I want to mention another matter about the dignity of Parliament. In the early hours of this morning--at about two o'clock--the Government's distaste for Parliament was expressed in a very unfortunate way. There was a continuous stream of mirth and so forth, carried on on the Benches opposite; mirthful chatter initiated by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor on the Front Bench to the overt manifestation of distaste and disrespect for the contributions being made from this side of the House. I was there; I resented it; I said nothing at the time, but I mention it now. I hope that when the Official Report is available, your Lordships will see that I have not misstated the situation. My earnest hope is that it will not happen ever again, and surely not this evening.

In addition to that, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor indulged in a form of cross-examination at the end of the speeches of noble Lords on these Benches, putting two or three questions, and saying, "I want the answer. Yes or no? Where do you stand?" Well, to save the noble and learned Lord the trouble this evening, may I tell him and your Lordships where I stand?

First of all, I accept that Clause 1 of this Bill reflects the manifesto commitment. Secondly, for reasons given by many noble Lords on all sides of the House--I shall not weary your Lordships with the repetition--I put it that the current known state of public opinion has rejected that manifesto commitment. It is a monstrous disregard of the will of the people to invoke this stale manifesto commitment and a wanton, flagrant abuse of power to have resort to the Parliament Acts. If that is not clear enough, that is where I stand on that.

I accept that the extent of the entitlement to membership by succession of your Lordships' House must go. "By virtue of" in Clause 1 of this Bill, as interpreted on page 8 of the White Paper (paragraphs 15 and 16) relates to Peers by succession. I do not accept that Peers of first creation, hereditary Peers, should go.

But it is not accepted that the "status quo" as to the composition of the membership of your Lordships' House should be excluded until the opinion of the people has been reaffirmed on a referendum, conducted after the report of the Royal Commission, as suggested by my noble friends Lord Strathclyde and Lord Carrington, the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, and many others. "No stage one before stage two is right", said my noble friend Lord Cranborne. No guarantee that stage two can ever take place, as was suggested by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, can ever be given. One can say it, but it means nothing. There is just the hope, as expressed by the noble Lord,

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Lord Callaghan, that in some form or another some agreement between the parties, acceptable to another place, may be made. That was guidance from, if I may say so with the greatest respect, a most experienced parliamentarian.

A hope expressed in the early hours of this morning by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, in justification of stage one before stage two which, in fact, as I think my noble friend Lord Lamont just explained, justified the precise reverse.

The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, said in his remarkable speech that you simply cannot control what is going to happen in the future. No assurance can be given of an effective safeguard, as my noble friend Lord Waddington put it. No satisfactory assurance may be given. Indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, put it, it is dangerous to accept any such assurance.

I take the view that enactment should not be opposed at Second Reading, but that implementation should be delayed pending the result of the referendum, for such is the wish of the people. The Weatherill amendment, made by the mandarins, albeit honourably, in the interests of the body politic, but under the cover of Privy Council secrecy, is not acceptable to me. The noble Lord was asking where I stand; I am saying that it is not acceptable to me. Whether it is acceptable to other noble Lords is a matter for them. Neither the people nor the rank and file in this House were consulted. The amendment lacks legitimacy, and the criticisms made by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, and others in this debate, are well founded. As my noble friend Lord Strathclyde conceded, if supported it would fall short of making a bad Bill better.

The purpose of this speech is two-fold. First, it is to support the principle of consultation and consensus as expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, in his reasoned amendment. Secondly, it is to put down a marker for a Back-Bench Conservative and Cross-Bench referendum amendment at Committee stage to delay implementation of the Bill until the opinion of the people has been expressed in a referendum conducted after the report of the Royal Commission.

It is not my intention to indulge in confrontation; it was the noble and learned Lord this morning who threw down the gauntlet to confront your Lordships' House. I am not prepared, as my noble friend Lord Cranborne put it, to be bushwhacked into any form of submission. That does not, with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, justify the designation, if he ever sought to apply it to me, of a "rebel" Peer, at all events on this occasion.

There is no conflict between the Peers and the people; that battle was won years ago by the people, in 1911. No cause has since arisen to implement the preamble to that Act: said by some on the Benches opposite, to finish unfinished business. That business was finished years ago. The conflict today is between a self-styled people's government and the people, two-thirds of whom want to retain the status quo as the composition until they know what sort of reform is to be enacted; and only

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2 per cent. of whom read the manifesto. It is a conflict as to implementation of a tenet of political dogma and such is the order of the business.

I conclude by saying that, in a situation such as this where the nation is substantially divided against the Government--and it is--it is the function of your Lordships' House to seek to provide some measure of constitutional protection and safeguard and so to delay this Bill by amendment. That is a function of your Lordships' House which, reading the report of the proceedings in another place, another place does not appear to recognise, and I am not at all sure whether it is recognised by this Government.

4.24 p.m.

Lord Harris of High Cross: My Lords, in following the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, let me be the first to pledge support for his proposed amendment calling for a referendum before the implementation takes place.

I was listening yesterday to the many splendid speeches from hereditary Peers, some with more than 30 years' service, and could not help thinking that despite some tardy pleasantries from the Front Bench, the Government have treated them at times with less respect and consideration than Ministers accord to members of Sinn Fein. How can the Government justify the calculated exclusion of a single hereditary Peer from the Royal Commission? It is not only a harsh affront to some of our most distinguished and dedicated Members, but it also deprives the commission of anyone with wide and deep experience of this place with its many-sided activities. It appears to pre-judge, even pre-empt the continuity of any significant independent hereditary element in a future House.

Many speeches have dwelt upon the central objection that this Bill will dismember this historic House without offering any alternative. What is implied is that its real or imagined shortcomings are so bad that absolutely anything would be better. The noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, talked about putting the cart before the horse; it is far worse than that. It is a fraudulent South Sea Bubble prospectus inviting support for purposes hereafter to be revealed. If the Government expect us to fall for such a pig in a poke, these new Labour innocents must think the rest of us, like themselves, were born or reborn yesterday.

We are supposed to be reassured, even anaesthetized by the appointment of a Royal Commission. My principal objection to that is based on previous attempts by governments to pass the buck for difficult decisions in this way. A lifetime's study of the role of committees of inquiry into the process of economic and social reform raises profound doubts about the suitability of the beast for such purposes. In our previous two-day debate a month ago, I ventured to quote a warning of A. P. Herbert 40 years back in an IEA paper, significantly entitled, Anything but Action. APH criticised the habit of Royal Commissions pursuing what he called the "nonsense of unanimity". He dramatised the danger by pointing out that the Gadarene swine were unanimous.

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As a caution against expecting very much from the commissioners I want to recall briefly three past examples of their unanimous folly. First, there was the Radcliffe Commission on the monetary system appointed by Peter Thorneycroft before he resigned as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Its report in 1959 fatally reinforced the muddled, post-Keynesian consensus and unleashed the record Wilson-Heath inflation. My second example is the Robbins Report on higher education. Even my esteemed mentor, Lionel Robbins, privately confessed to downplaying contentious issues of cost to achieve unanimity. He later published his own second thoughts coming out in favour of student loans.

My third example of evading difficult issues by official committees is the momentous issue of trade union reform. I regard this as so important that I must risk offending at least two members of the Royal Commission. It is almost impossible now to recall the forgotten and unanimous inquiries into post-war industrial relations in the 1950s and 1960s. They were all barren; indeed, in hereditary Peers' terms, they were committees without surviving issue. If we had left it to committees of inquiry, there would have been no end to closed shops, no respite from oppressive picketing, no recourse against secondary action and no trade union ballots. When we come to think of it, there would then have been no New Labour Party and perhaps no noble Baronesses, Lady Jay or Lady Dean. To break the settled consensus on trade union immunities, it took the personal leadership of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, and the political courage of the Tory Party at its historic best, strongly supported by the Cross-Benches in this House, to carry the day. Leadership and courage are the missing elements in this paltry, petty Bill.

In last week's debate on the report of the Select Committee on financing the European Union, the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, as chairman, informed the House that,


    "at the beginning of the inquiry I told the committee that I did not regard unanimity as an end in itself and that if necessary I should be quite happy to see differences of opinion and minority views expressed in print".--[Official Report, 22/3/99; col. 1049.]
It is no personal disrespect to the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, to surmise that he would be unlikely to address his colleagues in like spirit on this commission. It was a former junior Whip who once confided, "Once a Whip, always a Whip". Even without the promptings of the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, for speed and consensus, all the instincts of such commissions are to strain for unanimity, avoid awkward issues and suppress conflicting judgments.

In conclusion, I should like to put forward the findings of my own private "focus group", which is comprised of all the London cabbies whom I have consulted over the past three months. They confirm that there is no revolutionary consensus in this country to break our envied, constitutional continuity to the point of ending a significant participation by independent hereditary Peers in the future House. By excluding a single hereditary Peer from the commission, making a former Chief Whip the chairman and urging consensus, the Government appear to have sought to foreclose

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hereditary participation in the future. If I must choose, I prefer the present composition of this House. Accordingly, I shall support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Cobbold and I will stand ready to vote against this Bill on any occasion that holds out the least prospect of success.

4.32 p.m.

The Earl of Lauderdale: My Lords, it is always a pleasure to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross. He probably will not remember an occasion some 40 years ago when I had just become a Member of Parliament. I see that the noble Lord is nodding his head in assent, so perhaps he does remember. He once took me aside and asked, "Patrick, tell me, are you going to go straight?" By that, as I understood it then, he meant was I going to do what I was told or would I use my head. My answer was that I would do the second. I mention this because, among the hundred or so speakers who we have heard so far this afternoon, and indeed last night, only four, as far as I know, have made the point that I wish to labour.

I am referring to the whole business of resisting and curbing the power of the Executive. My noble friend Lord Peyton of Yeovil put the point with the vigour and the colourful language that you would expect from him. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, touched on the same subject as did the noble Lord, Lord Shore of Stepney, with his usual elegance. Also, my noble friend Lord Lamont of Lerwick took up the same point.

This is not an abstract question. Within the past week your Lordships' House was told by the Government that British servicemen had been committed to combat against a sovereign state. The relative Motion simply appeared without warning on the Order Paper. I only saw it in the morning and, to my surprise, it was a limp and lame Motion simply to "take note" of the fact and not to say yes or no. Apparently the Government also tabled a comparable Motion in the other place which, again, called for its assent rather than its judgment as to whether the action was right or wrong.

The whole issue that we have to address in this Second Reading debate is the problem of how best to control the Executive. We had an interesting debate a week ago initiated by my noble friend Lord Waddington. It was made pretty clear then that one aim which seems to motivate government actions these days is to sideline the influence of Parliament. There is all this business of preliminary leaks to the press about which Madame Speaker has protested more than once.

The key issue behind the Bill before us is: how is the Executive to be controlled and restrained by Parliament? I was always told years ago when I first entered the other place that when you speak in a Second Reading debate you can talk about what is in the Bill and what is not in the Bill. What is in the Bill is plain enough. It is: "off with their heads and may there be a big crowd to enjoy the spectacle". However, what is not in the Bill is any reference to the power of the Executive; nor, indeed, to the duty of Parliament to examine the Executive and, when necessary, to restrain it.

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The White Paper, which we have already debated, made one sidelong reference to the single power which belongs to your Lordships' House; namely, the power to veto any amendment to what is now called the Quinquennial Act, which requires general elections every five years. There was just one reference to that in the early part of the White Paper, which was virtually negatived by a passage later on in the document.

The whole business of resisting the Executive is the business of Parliament. There is nothing in this Bill to suggest a reconstituted House of Lords should be anything else than an auditorium. Parliament is not meant to be an auditorium; it is meant to be a focus and has grown up over the years to be a focus of restraint of the Executive and, on occasions, is able to bring the Executive down.

The Government are loudly silent about your Lordships' absolute power to veto tampering with the Quinquennial Act. There is one reference to it in the interesting consultation paper which was circulated by my noble friend Lord Wakeham with regard to the work of his commission. The only part of the paper which is not interrogative is the statement that your Lordships do have this particular power which ultimately is the real guarantee of our civil rights.

If it were to happen that the Government of the day chose to try to push through an amendment to the Quinquennial Act in order to delay the next election, it might be that by then your Lordships' House had been reduced to such a state of impotence that it would be unable to resist. There is nothing in the White Paper to suggest that our power in that regard will be jealously safeguarded. Indeed, the very silence on that subject is one that fills me with anxiety. Having seen what took place last week when the Government committed British servicemen to fight in and over a sovereign country, whatever the sentimental or the do-gooder reasons may have been, the very fact that the Government launched that operation without first coming to Parliament was a frightening marker for what might happen in the future. A government who can do that can do almost anything.

That is the principal point that I wish to make in this debate, having waited some hours and having listened to a hundred speeches, only five of which touched on the point I make; namely, the curbing of the Executive. My conclusion should be quite obvious from what I have said: I shall support the amendment on the Order Paper.

4.40 p.m.

Lord Balfour of Inchrye: My Lords, I have not participated in any of the previous debates on reform of the House but I have studied Hansard assiduously and in doing so have reached one conclusion; namely, that no clear idea has emerged of the role to be played by a second Chamber, its composition or the right method of selection. The future seems so confused and uncertain that I feel more than justified in amending my kinsman's couplet to read,


    "Oh what a tangled web we weave When we tell hereditary peers to leave".

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I do not hesitate to put much of the blame for the present situation onto the previous administration who appeared to do precisely nothing about reform during its tenure of office. It surely ought to have seen which way the political wind was blowing. I agree with the observation of my noble friend Lord Sandwich--which he made last month--that had it made more effort to prepare for change, it would have ensured greater consensus today. I deplore too--as several Conservatives have done--the spectacle of backwoodsmen being dragooned into steamroller legislation in the House. I think such action did harm both to the reputation and standing of the House and to the hereditary peerage in particular. The inertia and inactivity of the previous government have consequently handed the initiative to the present one.

What has been placed before us? A miserable measure that is nothing less than a piece of constitutional vandalism which seeks at a stroke to put an end to 700 years of history. Now we often hear that the hereditary peerage is somewhat anachronistic, archaic, antediluvian, intellectually indefensible, yet has worked quite well. Quite well? Let us not be unduly modest or mealy-mouthed about this point. The hereditary peerage has been one of the most important factors in our constitution which has ensured that for more than 300 years, excluding the troubles in Ireland, we have been blessed with stable government and have not had any of the upheavals that almost every other European state has experienced and, sadly, is experiencing today. This stability has been the envy of foreign countries. I do not believe that it should be put at risk for purely party political purposes.

Moreover, let us not forget that while democracy may be thought of as the least unsatisfactory form of government--I agree with the excellent speech of my noble friend Lord Devon today that it should not be sacrosanct--it consists of counting heads instead of what is in them. Do not let us be too ready to discard the hereditary principle out of hand.

The Government have made much of their manifesto pledge to remove the speaking and voting rights of hereditary Peers, and of course they are absolutely entitled to do so. However, I find it interesting to note that a recent survey mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, has revealed that a mere 2 per cent. of the population either comprehended or agreed with that course of action. I do not for one moment believe that such a commitment played any part in the Government being returned with a massive majority, nor do I believe that had there been no mention of this proposal in the manifesto, their majority would have been any smaller. We have read in the White Paper of a "clear appetite for change". If that is so, then I suggest that there is something seriously wrong with the digestive system!

However, I wish to be constructive, even if I consider that improvements, rather than radical reform, are required. I note that the Prime Minister in his introduction to the White Paper wrote,


    "For too long, Britain has got by with a second Parliamentary chamber which is less good than it could be".

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Therefore I will be more than happy to assist him in attaining that state of perfection, even if it means that he continues to walk on water. First, I think it is entirely wrong that one party should possess a built-in majority in the House, as the noble Lord, Lord Richard, in particular has repeatedly and rightly pointed out. I believe that that lessens the authority and lowers the standing of the House. Therefore I am content to go along with either the 1968 proposal of the noble Earl, Lord Longford--I hope that he continues to play more golf--or that of the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, both of which I believe would do something to correct the present political imbalance while at the same time upholding the tradition and continuity of this House. Incidentally, what happened to the proposal put forward by my noble friend Lord Armstrong of Ilminster? It seems to have sunk without trace. It would have been interesting to have debated the Motion.

I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I mention one or two tangential points which I know I should have mentioned last month. I am afraid that I shall enter the submission that I was not present on that occasion because of indisposition. First, I should like to see more women in the House. If some part of the hereditary system is to be retained--as I hope it will be--I would wholeheartedly welcome a reform whereby the first born might inherit an hereditary peerage. Secondly, I am all for having more Members of the ethnic minorities in this House. However, the proposal that there should be a retirement age absolutely appals me. We would lose so much if we were to deprive ourselves of the advice and counsel of the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, the noble Earl, Lord Longford, the noble Lord, Lord Renton, my noble and learned friend Lord Simon of Glaisdale and the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury. I believe that sagacity often goes hand-in-hand with seniority.

Finally, I deplore the proposal to exclude hereditary Peers from using the facilities of this House. I recall in particular the most charming speech of my noble friend Lady Strange last month in which she remarked how wonderful it is to have inherited a peerage but at the same time it is one's duty to help others. I personally feel that in a politicised House there would be rather less sense of duty, although I realise that "duty" is a dirty word in certain circumstances today. This proposal is even more petty and spiteful when one realises that former Members of another place do not suffer this indignity. To me that is just another part of this wretched legislation which reeks of retribution and revenge. However, I shall certainly support my noble friend tomorrow morning.

4.47 p.m.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, I remember when I arrived here eight years ago my old Cambridge tutor, my noble friend Lord Bauer informed me that I now fitted Mark Twain's description of a mule, a creature, "without pride of ancestry or hope of posterity". I recognise that I have been an extremely privileged mule and I regard myself as every bit as fortunate and, on the test of electoral democracy, every bit as undeserving as any hereditary Peer.

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Of course the House of Lords as it is presently constituted is an anachronism. To attempt to explain or justify its composition is not really possible. One might as well ask why Scotsmen wear kilts. The answer is that it is quite simply part of the fabric of Britain. I very much agree with what my noble friend Lord Carrington said yesterday about the genesis of this Bill. It was, I believe, a gesture towards the radical Left by the newly elected Leader of the Labour Party who was determined to hold fast to economic Thatcherism. He felt that the easy cry of "away with the hereditaries" would be popular. I do not believe that when the Labour Party leadership drafted its manifesto commitment, in which the crucial words to me were,


    "As an initial, self-contained reform, not dependent on further reform in the future",
it had much intention of embarking on further reform.

There are some worthwhile ingredients in the Government's Bill. In as far as people contemplate your Lordships' House at all--and I do not think they often do so--there is a perception that there are too many hereditary Peers, that too many of them are Tories, that too many are backwoodsmen and that a very few (the media always mention the same names) are self-evidently unfitted to be legislators. However, a clean sweep of all hereditary Peers is certainly not needed to deal with this problem of perception.

Unfortunately, my own party, particularly in the House of Commons, has taken a line which to me is strange. It says, "You cannot change anything until you change everything", or, "No stage one without stage two". I believe that that is a most unconservative way of thinking. Disappointingly the Government have felt unable to resist this Tory attempt to out-radical the radicals and they have appointed a Royal Commission, with, as many have already pointed out, an impossibly tight timetable. I have some confidence in the ability of my noble friend Lord Wakeham to deliver a sensible answer, but I might perhaps remind him of the words of another of my old tutors, Victor, Lord Rothschild, for whom I worked in the 1970s and who was later chairman of the Royal Commission on Gambling. He said:


    "Royal Commissions, particularly if they are of the second quality, start their work in the belief that they will not be doing their job unless they recommend radical changes...They should be disabused of this idea".

The far better approach is to take the Government's raw proposal and to try to improve it. That is what I believe my noble friend Lord Cranborne did. I believe that the whole House owes a debt to him and to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for the very sensible compromise which they hammered out behind closed doors, which was endorsed by the Prime Minister, and is to be put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, as an amendment to the Bill.

I had thought that the amendment was a serious prospect. I continued to think so during the first half of the Lord Chancellor's speech. I noted that he said that the hereditaries who remained would have a greater authority because they had been elected. The Lord Chancellor said that the agreement was "binding in

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honour". He then went on to lay down conditions as to how we may treat the Bill. As the noble and learned Lord is a distinguished lawyer, obviously his words were chosen very carefully. I suspect that the Government have decided that they cannot deliver their side of the agreement at an acceptable political cost--Lord Chancellor's phrase was, "it trespasses on the patience of the Labour Party". I think that the Government are trying to provoke this House into doing something that gives them the excuse for withdrawing this compromise proposal.

The House has a clear choice. It either passes the Bill in this Session--in which case the Weatherill amendment should and will apply; I hope it will apply--or it rejects it and the Bill then becomes law in its original form, with the help of the Parliament Act, but of course without the Weatherill amendment. In the first case, some hundred hereditaries survive ad interim. In the second case, all hereditaries survive for a further year, that is until the autumn of 2000, after which they all depart.

I have two specific proposals for further modification of the Bill, the first of which--despite the warning of the Lord Chancellor not to meddle--I shall attempt in Committee to incorporate into the Bill. I would propose that the 21 hereditary Peers who are members of the Privy Council and who would not otherwise be entitled to remain after the passage of the Bill should remain as Members of the House. The Privy Council derives from the Great Council of the King, whose origins go back into the mists of history. But at least as far back as 1540 there has been such formal recognition of those who have in this way reached prominence in our national life. It is interesting that there are at present only 21 of them, who your Lordships will be easily able to identify. A number of them do not, and probably would not, attend, so the net increase to the 91 would be small but immensely valuable and recognised generally by the country.

My second proposal is probably one for the Royal Commission to consider. It is that Prime Ministers of Commonwealth countries should, while in office, be entitled to attend as Members of the House of Lords on the same basis as the Bishops do at present. I recognise that there is an anachronism in allowing them to vote, but it is no greater than that raised by the West Lothian question. I believe that this could add a most valuable dimension to certain debates in the House.

There are three ways of selecting legislators: by lot, by merit or by party. With party selection, of course, independence goes out of the window. Many Members of your Lordships' House were Members in another place. I was merely a journalist for 16 years observing it in action. When I started many Members of the House of Commons were genuine, free-thinking, sometimes eccentric and fully independent and who brought great experience to the House of Commons. Now there are all too few. Let me illustrate with four names of survivors from each side. From the Government Benches I would suggest Tony Benn, Dennis Skinner, Tony Banks and Ken Livingstone; from the Opposition Benches I would

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suggest Paddy Ashdown, Michael Heseltine, Bill Cash and Ian Paisley. Of course some of them are the awkward squad, but the House is the richer for them.

Let us take also another crucially important area of expertise, defence. How many Members of the House of Commons now have any first-hand experience of the Armed Forces? And yet the House of Lords has enormous experience of this. That is very important.

Lord Curzon is supposed once to have said:


    "No one should be Viceroy of India to whom that job is an honour".
My noble friend Lord Malmesbury, said that Members of the House of Lords have "no ladder to climb". It is the same idea. The independence of thought and action of this House is one of its most remarkable features. The hereditaries make a special contribution to this, as indeed do life Peers. Nor should the Government forgo the value of the specialised Select Committees of the House of Lords which operate from within Parliament. Outside quangos and commissions are no substitute because they can be conveniently brushed aside. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross, referred to A. P. Herbert. I remember that A. P. Herbert once said that the government are like an elderly hypochondriac--always asking for a second opinion but never taking it.

To me, it is axiomatic that the House of Commons must be supreme. That is why I reject an elected Chamber and, still more, a semi-elected Chamber. For all these reasons, I believe that after this Bill--provided it includes the Weatherill amendment--the House of Lords will be sustainable for a considerable length of time. I paid particular attention to the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, when he described the kind of timescale that will be necessary to consider any further reforms. I suspect that, given the problems the Government are having with this simple little Bill, the Government business managers will shudder at the prospect of the much more detailed legislation which could follow in a stage two reform.

4.57 p.m.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, perhaps I may answer the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, about why Scotsmen wear kilts. Only a very small minority of Scotsmen wear kilts, but they present themselves as representing the vast majority of Scotsmen. That is precisely the problem we are discussing here in your Lordships' House. Only a very small minority of the people of this country are hereditary Peers but they present themselves as representing the vast majority. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross, in what I thought was a particularly--I hesitate--disgraceful speech, based his research on questions asked of London taxicab drivers. Their answers are dictated by the size of the tip; they are not dictated by any study of the political issues of today. If you give them a pound, they will give you the answer that you want; if you give them only 50p they will give you abuse; and God help you if you walk out of the taxi without giving them anything at all. So we have listened to a speech, the research for which was based entirely on consulting London taxicab drivers.

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I wish to pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Callaghan. He has sat through almost the whole of this two-day debate. However, I am sorry to say that he left the Chamber just as I was about to refer to him. My noble friend mentioned two features that had imposed themselves on him during the course of the debate. I would add one more. I was struck forcefully by the total lack of confidence in the Conservative Party opposite that one day it will form the government. Every speech made from the Conservative Benches in this debate has been defeatist. There was nothing from the Opposition spokesman opening the debate today and nothing from the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, opening the debate yesterday about what the Conservatives will do when next they come to power. They have given in. That is one of the features that has struck me forcefully during the course of the debate.


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