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Lord Varley: My Lords, I apologise, but I believe that it is extremely rare that a three-line whip is issued on the other side of the Chamber. The Conservatives do not have to do so because of their dominant position in this place. It is a bit like the story related yesterday by one of my noble friends. When Lord Wyatt of Weeford was made a life Peer the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, expressed surprise that he did not join the Conservative Benches. He said that did not need to do so. According to Lord Wyatt's diaries, he simply had a word with Bertie Denham. He did not want the whip to be sent to
We all know on this side of the House that when necessary the Conservatives can at any time defeat the Government or Opposition in this House. During the past 20 years when there were four successive Conservative governments they did nothing to redress the imbalance or unfairness. It is no use the Opposition Front Bench saying that during our 18 years in opposition we should have brought forward something. We have brought something forward in the form of this Bill. Other things will follow. During the period when the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, was Prime Minister she added to the distortion of the representation in this place. I do not know whether noble Lords opposite agreed with what she did at that time. When life Peers were appointed she always ensured that there were fewer supporters of other political parties than those in her own party. The arithmetical distortion by virtue of the hereditary peerage in this House cannot be defended. I have not heard anyone here who really defends it. So far in this debate I have not heard the answer to that problem.
The Conservatives have been quite content to remain in control. The Official Opposition in this House needs to get only about one-third of its supporters into the voting Lobby to wipe out the entire Labour Party representation. That is why the ratio of government defeats is so high during the first two years of the Labour Government compared with any comparable period when the Conservatives were in office. Irrespective of the will of the people, the Conservatives have been in power in this House of Parliament for most of this century. That is why the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, is so bizarre. For example, to include in his amendment "for party political advantage" is absolutely ridiculous, and I believe that most people regard it as such.
Faced with this Bill the Opposition now claim that they have been reformers all the way. I do not believe a word of it. I have no doubt that during what will be a long Committee stage we will hear a lot more about the reforming fervour. This new enthusiasm for reform will be predicated on the basis that this Bill is not the right one. The message that goes out is that they are all in favour of reform but not by this particular method. The only way to reform this House is to do it on a step-by-step basis. First, following enactment of this Bill there should be a transitional House that will not be dominated by a single political party. Secondly, the new appointments system will ensure that the Prime Minister does not have control over appointments to this House or he will give up more control than any of his predecessors. The Royal Commission consists of experienced people with qualities and qualifications to make realistic recommendations for Parliament to consider in future. The hereditary peerage is unrepresentative, although I pay tribute to everything that it has achieved in the past. This Bill will bring about a welcome and long-overdue reform of Parliament. It is
The Earl of Buckinghamshire: My Lords, I listened to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Varley, with great interest and some trepidation, as I have to follow such a powerful contribution. My participation in your Lordships' House over the years that I have been a Member has been confined mainly to the subject of pensions. That is a somewhat dry and technical, but important subject. As the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, reminded us today, this is a debate full of emotion and strongly held views by both life Peers and hereditary Peers. I believe that it is all the stronger for that. I have enjoyed listening to the noble Earl, Lord Longford. I apologise. I see the noble Lord, Lord Ewing of Kirkford, in his place. I take on the noble Lord with great trepidation, but I shall have a word on the kilt. My son who is a Scot wears a kilt. I believe that he is in the majority in that he likes beating the English. That is perhaps not a joke for your Lordships' House given Scottish devolution.
We are living through a period of constitutional change and potential turmoil in future years. We still have not settled the issue of Europe. We still have debates on the supremacy of the Commons in regard to Europe and on the power of the Executive, and we have concerns about that power. We have also considered Scottish and Welsh devolution. It is now our turn to be modernised. What does the future hold? Perhaps we should wait and see. But the words of the Scottish nationalist leader yesterday does not fill me with any optimism for the future constitutional unity of this country.
As the noble Earl, Lord Devon, said in his admirable maiden speech, opposition to this Bill does not necessarily mean opposition to the idea of reform. I make no apologies for the fact that it is the process of this reform to which I object. Tension between the House of Commons and the House of Lords is not new. I shall tell noble Lords a little about the life of John Hampden, my illustrious forebear, on the basis that noble Lords will at least go away knowing something about my ancestor even if I do not add very much to the debate. John Hampden was sometimes known as the Patriot and, in the words of the Earl of Clarendon, the Father of People. He said in response to a cry for help from Archbishop John Williams of York that he was unable to assist because of,
I mention John Hampden because he was a natural Leader of the House of Commons and (I dare to say) the Houses of Parliament at the time of our last despotic ruler Charles I. He was, in the words of Professor John Adair, "a brainy leader". I pause for words in awe and wonderment as I consider my colleagues in the other place. John Hampden lived and died in the cause of limiting the power of the Executive. The greatest danger to democracy in this country is not the future or
Professor John Adair, on his own admission, is sometimes in the business of quoting the "What if?" question. If John Hampden were alive today, what would he think about the Bill? Like me and many of your Lordships, he would regard it as a high-risk strategy. I do not believe that there is any real vision or strategy but he would, like me, be broadly in favour of reform. What reform? Reform has never taken place because there is no consensus on what shape reform should be. That is the question we must all consider.
Reform preceded by what I consider to be a neutered Royal Commission, given its limited powers of remit, will in all likelihood give us the worst of all worlds. We may end up with a partly nominated Chamber, a partly elected Chamber or whatever, coming from the regions. The noble Lord, Lord Shore of Stepney, said that an elected or partly elected Chamber--I cannot remember which he mentioned--would have greater credibility or legitimacy than your Lordships' House currently. That has to be proved. I would be extraordinarily pessimistic, given the way that I have seen the European Commission behave in the past few weeks. In that regard, the late Lord Benson, who pursued the fraud issue on your Lordships' behalf, has been truly vindicated.
Do we move to an elected Chamber, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, or back to a unicameral Chamber, as proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes of Woodside? While I might support the former, I recognise the dangers. We only need look back to 1975, when there was a constitutional crisis in Australia, to see the dangers of an elected two-Chamber system. With a unicameral Chamber, I remind the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, of oligarchies.
I believe that the process we are going through is wrong but tactically it is probably right. By this method, the Government will achieve what they want--the removal of the hereditary system and the ability to "modernise" the House. The process is wrong because we have no idea or guarantee of what will follow. There is no consensus in the Labour Party in the other place of what the future House should be. Or even whether one should exist. Without consensus in the other place, I fear for the future here.
Despite the failures of the past, the right process would have been to appoint a Royal Commission immediately after the Labour Party's huge election win, give it a wide remit--not the narrow one it has at the moment--then debate the issue fully in the House.
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, that was an historical tour de force, and I am terribly jealous that I cannot follow it. I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Devon, on his maiden speech. It is awfully good being one of the oldest peerages in England--I use the word advisedly--to sneak in under the wire just before the guillotine falls. I congratulate him on that. The noble Lord, Lord Varley, is absolutely right about the imbalance. The difficulty is that the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, sits on the Opposition Front Bench; and the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, takes the Conservative Whip--as do all the grandchildren and children of those Liberal plutocrats who signed cheques to Lloyd George's Liberal Party fund with new names, because they did not trust him to deliver. So they signed their cheques with their peerage names. That is the thought.
I have always been a reformer. I wrote to the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, in 1979 asking whether we could please reform the House of Lords--because if we did not do so, the Labour Party would do so in a silly way. The noble Baroness said that she would not. I am having quite immense fun saying, "I told you so". Nothing on earth is more pleasant than saying, "I told you so".
The noble Earl, Lord Buckinghamshire, referred to the danger of the Australian situation, but I suggest that is exactly the situation for which we should be asking. The Macaulay Whig constitution worked beautifully. The House of Representatives in Australia was in deadlock. The Upper House said no. As Dycey said in the 19th century, the Upper House only rejected a government measure when it wanted to force an election. The Governor-General dissolved Parliament and forced an election. That is what balanced Whig constitutions are supposed to do. We should surely be aiming at that.
The Government have had the attitude to constitutional reform that is cross-Islington, cross-Voltaire. It is incredibly intelligent and lacking in any common sense whatsoever. One only has to look at the muddle into which devolution is heading. When a system of constitutional government is enthusiastically backed by those eminent people, my noble friend
Where are we? It seems that there is miles more agreement below the surface than appears at first reading. It was hard to drive a sliver between what is wanted by the noble Lords, Lord Carrington, Lord Callaghan of Cardiff and the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. I have a feeling that we are all going in the same direction. I do not know whether or not we will get there because this problem has gone on for years and years.
Political courage is needed. If Government Peers can show political courage and say, "We will listen constructively to reformers", then I see no reason for my being here just because my forbears got plastered with George IV. I love it and I have even tried to contribute. Occasionally, I have even tried to take the mickey out of the noble Baroness, Lady Jay. If I am one of those elected, I hope that I shall be able to say to her that I am elected and she is not. I shall rejoice quite enormously in being able to say that. I want reform to work. So I shall give the Government the benefit of the doubt even though I wish that they were not coming from here on the Cromwell aspect.
I hope that I shall have the following undertaking from the Government: that the Lords will continue to be a House of the powerful and influential, not a House of the commonality. That is for the Commons. We are not, and never have been, a House of the people; so do not let us pretend to be that. Let us be the House of the influential. As I have said previously in your Lordships' House, I no longer represent power. My forebear spent 20 per cent. of the annual army budget on his house. I am redoing my kitchen and I am pushed to afford half a corporal's wage on it.
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