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Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, I beg your Lordships' waning attention, for I am sure it is after about 142 speakers. I hope I may seize your Lordships' attention by recalling the history of the Plantagenets when Richard II courted the Church, Parliament and the people for eight years until eventually in 1397 the Estates were summoned to Westminster and all showed due submission. King Richard II then revealed his true agenda, took vengeance on Gloucester who was murdered at Calais by Richard's agents, on Arundel who was decapitated, and on Warwick who was exiled to the Isle of Man. Richard II was supreme and had all England before him, and Parliament was called on only to legalise these events. Today the Prime Minister and his Government are nearly supreme after only two years and are only held accountable by the Lords, Temporal and Spiritual, who stand in their way of total supremacy.
The point of dire concern that I wish to address today concerns the overall picture of the modernising of this nation's constitution by our Government. I could wax lyrically on in defence of the Peers, in defending accountability, in the justification of appointed and hereditary Peers, the privileges and wealth enjoyed by some Peers, and the myth that the overwhelming majority of Peers support the Conservative Party. But then we would lose sight of the overall picture and fail to analyse this dire concern. What is the reform of the Lords all about? Where is our constitution heading?
Most seek reform. Reform has been attempted on a number of occasions over the past century only to be rebutted. Most hereditary Peers, I believe, are content to step aside provided an equally efficient and equally independent Upper House will be the end product of this reform; an unequivocal legitimacy to sit in this reformed House will produce a stronger House. So why do we see this Government bringing forward a Bill which will occupy so much of the Government's business time and, if it succeeds, will reduce this House into arguably little more than a political poodle? Surely the Government would do better to wait for the Royal Commission and the Mackay Report to be appraised of all the facts and options before embarking on such a Bill.
Many noble Lords believe that the basis of any reform should include the following: there should be no increase in the Prime Minister's power of patronage, direct or indirect; the compostion of the House should be different from that of the Lower House; it should be an independent reformed House, not owing its place to patronage; it should be a reformed House that is representative of the whole of the United Kingdom, especially of the rural areas; it should be a reformed House whose marriage to the Lower House would not produce a divorce; and it should be a reformed House that would operate equally as well or better than the present House.
For myself, the key question is why do the Government intend to bring forward stage one without revealing what the reformed House in stage two will be. As my noble friend Lord Hurd so wisely observed,
In the historical past the balance of power has been a delicate equation between Monarchy, Parliament, with its Upper and Lower Houses, the general public and, more recently, the media. Today the balance of power has swung heavily in favour of the executive of the Government. In the past two years since the Government came to power, only the Upper House has successfully held the executive to account. The Government, with their undefeatable majority, have significantly weakened the Lower House to a rubber-stamping Chamber. Their control of the media is manipulative. Those attempting to hold the Government to account by criticism or revelation are quickly felled. The executive is so controlling that it attempts to deny some people the ability to stand for elections. It attempts to ensure that other people are more electable, to the extent that in the European elections, Members of the European Parliament are only accountable to the party and not to the people. Is this a modern reform of the constitution, or rather control of the constitution by a dictatorial executive?
Let us take the case of the appointed, non-democratic European Commissioners who resigned en masse due to corruption. We now see a couple of European Prime Ministers wishing to catapult an Italian, Romano Prodi, into the top job, a man known for his redefining of democratic socialism through the "third way". I am sure that there are many noble Lords who wish they knew what the "third way" is. Perhaps it should be a modern "third way".
If the Government go forward with stage one without stage two, they will not be reforming this House but controlling it. In effect there will be a monopoly of power in the hands of the executive. This is a critical time, when the Government are modernising our constitution; when the Government are seeking ever closer irrevocable ties with Europe; and when some sovereignty and financial autonomy will have to be conceded to Euroland. In the future, questions are bound to be considered as to whether we will change from case law to European Roman law and as to whether some control of our Armed Forces will be passed to Europe. Surely it is not a time for experiment and destabilisation of our constitution.
In conclusion, I believe that there is a noble cause "to know the destination before we leave this station" and to be certain that this reform is not a cunning conjuring trick to control our constitution. For those reasons I will contest the Bill in its present form.
Lord Napier and Ettrick: My Lords, this has indeed been a marathon debate, and I shall endeavour, therefore, not to detain your Lordships for too long, but there are a few things that I simply must say.
I am of the old aristocracy. My family, in one way or another, has been in the service of the Crown for generations. One of the things that I am perhaps most proud of is the fact that we were specifically excluded from Cromwell's so-called "Act of Grace and Pardon".
I have always believed that whenever any matter was before this House every Member had a duty, not a right, to consider that matter as it affected the Crown and the people of Great Britain and then to conclude upon it by voice and vote. I do not see how any responsible and self-respecting body could act in any other way. Indeed, we used to be bound in honour so to do; and that is what I believe we have done.
As has already been said by several other noble Lords, we are no different from any life Peer. We are, once here, all equal. I should also like to remind your Lordships that when a difference does arise between the two Houses we, as presently constituted, have been a stabilising influence on the other place.
The noble Lord, Lord Richard, referred to this Bill yesterday as a paving Bill. I would say that it is, or could be, but a stepping stone, the first of many threads to be pulled to unravel and destroy the constitutional fabric and foundation stones of our social and political community. Indeed, what could be at stake here is the survival of the Monarchy into the 21st century. At the moment the Government are trying to skirt around this issue, but it needs to be watched most carefully.
I have to say that the Government appear to be obsessed with a desire to rubbish our history and traditions, all of which have played such a large part in the evolution of our tolerant society over the centuries. I do hope that as they gain experience in office this will change. It is my belief that, if in due course the Bill eventually passes, this upper House should become a senate, or whatever, and not be a House of Peers. Its members should sit as senators or some such other name. I hope that the Royal Commission will take note of what I have just said and consider it.
I believe that the new House should be elected, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. I accept that the Cranborne-Weatherill amendment was conceived with the best intentions, but I consider it to be a stitch-up which is beginning to unravel; and if the oration of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, yesterday and the remarks of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor today are anything to go by, I would think that it is probably a non-starter anyway.
Now, we are all to retain our other privileges. In all my 44½ years' membership of your Lordships' House, I have found that the title, if anything, tends to increase the estimates one seeks and the costs and charges. There is, however, one particular matter upon which I seek clarification. I have not myself heard it mentioned, although it may have been. I should be grateful if the Minister when he comes to reply could confirm that our undoubted right to attend the Sovereign at his or her Coronation is inviolate. My first ennobled ancestor accompanied King James VI of Scotland to England when His Majesty ascended the English throne and some 30 years later he was one of the four Peers to hold the King's Canopy in the State Procession when King Charles I took possession of the Scottish Crown. I myself will almost certainly be dead by the time of the next Coronation. But I would like to think that my son will be able to make his homage to his sovereign.
I believe that the people of this country know that their hereditary Peers are the defenders of their rights and freedoms. This is not a case of Lords versus the people. Rather it is Peers for the people and, strangely enough, we are much more in touch with what the people really want than some of the elected Members of another place.
We have already heard that there is absolutely no evidence that there is any popular demand for the Bill. Only 2 per cent. of people polled recalled that it was mentioned in the Labour manifesto. It is, therefore, totally misleading for the Government to claim that they have a mandate for this reform.
The Prime Minister has impertinently dubbed us an "affront to democracy". Rubbish! What is an affront to democracy is the fact that the Government have so far shown no inclination to put this matter to the people in a referendum. Let the people themselves decide. That is democracy. I challenge the Government to do so, and I hope that the national press will give this full coverage.
Let the British people decide what they want to happen to their hereditary Peers, and if in their wisdom they do decide that we no longer serve a useful purpose for them here, then of course we will go. I can do no