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The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, the noble Earl is not obliged to give way but I wonder whether he will be kind enough to do so. Of course, in the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, I would like to say that I do not propose to trespass on the courtesy of our proceedings by cross-examining the noble Earl. However, does he accept that when I said that the arrangement which had been agreed among the Privy Counsellors on Privy Council terms--and I presume that we all approve that such an agreement could be made--is binding in honour upon the parties?
Secondly, does he agree that I am not saying that it binds any other individual Member of this House, who remains absolutely free to vote as he wishes in the Division Lobbies? Nothing that I said ran counter to that.
Thirdly and finally, does the noble Earl accept that it is a responsible act of a government to explain to the House--and it is not a threat--what are the Government's intentions if a particular course of events follows? It is beyond my comprehension to understand what is objectionable about that.
I clearly heard his words about the honourable agreement, but to most of us it was a secret agreement. We had no idea what was going on. We still do not know what the amendment is. It is unsatisfactory for the noble and learned Lord to present it as if it were a cast-iron case.
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I have said already that I was making absolutely clear what the Government's intentions were in the event that certain circumstances followed. I take the view, and I ask the noble Lord whether he agrees, that that is for the assistance of the House. To label it a threat is to be rather offensive. I intended it to be informative.
I was going on to say that the noble and learned Lord made three other points at the end. He said that the verdict of history would condemn us if we did not pay heed--I shall miss out the word "threat"; secondly, that the patience of the country would be exhausted. Thirdly, he said that the country would be on the side of the Government. Those are bold and definite statements, and I would ask him if he has any cause to make such bold statements other than that he had already arranged a poll which we did not know about.
My experience of speaking to groups from time to time outside the House about the work of the House is that on virtually all occasions there is almost total ignorance of the workings of the House, which is understandable because we have such little press coverage. There is occasional praise for standing up to the Government, and almost always there is an affectionate pride in the history, heritage and pageantry of the House and what it stands for.
I cannot believe that there is a tenable case to rush into hereditary expulsion headlong when the Royal Commission is examining stage two and will cover composition as a separate issue. I do not agree with the noble and learned Lord that the country is impatient.
In the short and medium-term there is an important issue about replacing the working hereditary Peers who represent such a sizeable percentage of the exceptional work of this House. The House achieves a remarkable quality and capacity for work each Session, under the skilful guidance of the Chairman of Committees. I hope that he is satisfied that no damage will be done to the continuity of that work if this Bill is rammed through.
Dismantling part of our constitution is a serious business and the Government have a clear duty to think it through carefully. I am deeply concerned by the acrimonious climate, the threats and the lack of consensus, as was said earlier. I am concerned that it would lead to the wrong answer. I support those who question the validity of the Government in asking Parliament to override the Writ of Summons for the Monarch during the lifetime of Parliament, but I shall be interested to see what happens when the Committee considers the issue of hybridity.
As to the future composition of the House, I believe that the appointments system will not prove sustainable and will in time be replaced by the principle of representation. There are plenty of good opportunities for bringing in Scotland, Wales, the regional areas and MEPs and to give them a voice in this House. I suspect that gone then will be the unpaid Members and the part-time Members and in will come the paid professionals who will tend to cause a considerable rumpus with another place as another place struggles to retain its power base.
Lord Annan: My Lords, I do not want to rehearse the political reasons for this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, has done that several times during the past few months. However, I wonder whether I may draw attention to the economic reasons which supplement something with which the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, began his speech.
In days gone by the ancient aristocracy of our country governed and sat here because they owned land--and land was the source of wealth. If a commoner was ennobled, he took care as soon as possible to buy a country estate, if he did not already own one. Wealth gave a man a right to exercise power--and the aristocracy exercised power, not so much at Westminster as on their land in the counties through pocket boroughs and a multitude of opportunities to dispense patronage.
But far worse was to come. That was the First World War. Between 1914 and 1918, more sons of the upper classes were killed than those of other classes. The death rate of the aristocracy exceeded their death rate during the Wars of the Roses. As a result of the First World War, many Peers were forced to sell their land. That was also due to Lloyd George's Budget. The transfer of land between 1910 and 1922 was equalled only by the Norman Conquest and the dissolution of the monasteries.
Of course, not all noble families lost their land. Those who had the good fortune and the foresight to hold land in greater London, for example, profited enormously, as did those with mineral deposits. It was recognised that those men of great wealth were entitled to a seat in the Lords, like Lord Rothschild in the 19th century and, in our own time, the Sainsbury family. However, I imagine that today no one would seriously advocate turning this House into a plutocracy. My point is simply this: that the hereditary aristocracy no longer wields power by virtue of its wealth and power of local patronage as in days gone by and therefore it no longer has a title as a class within our society to be given, automatically, political power.
There have been two subsidiary arguments against this Bill--both are well known; both are well worn. The first is that nothing should be changed until we are all agreed on what should take the place of the House in its present form. This is a device to postpone action until
The second argument is the old saw; if it isn't broke, don't fix it. The assumption here is that this House works so excellently, so efficiently, that no reform of its procedures is needed. This is an example of the fatal complacency that from time to time surfaces in this House. As a revising Chamber we are far from being perfect. We carry amendments and they are normally disregarded by the Commons. Of course, the reason for that is that the Commons are able to argue that we are an anachronistic body and that our deliberations can be quite legitimately disregarded.
But there is much more to it than that. Surely we need to change our procedures for considering a Bill. The custom by which we take the Committee stage on the Floor of the House is incredibly time wasting. There is no limit to the number of times a noble Lord may speak. Not only Back-Benchers but government and opposition spokesmen often make speeches that simply repeat what has been said at Second Reading. Many amendments are probing amendments, but they are debated exactly as if the proposer intended to put them to a vote. I suggest that the Committee stage should be taken upstairs in a committee room, and only Report and Third Reading, when a noble Lord may speak only once, should be taken on the Floor of the House.
Then there is the matter of the hours the House keeps. Is it efficient to continue to sit after midnight or later when moving amendments which, at the end of their consideration, the mover will say, "At this late hour I do not wish to divide the House and will return to this matter at Third Reading"? We do not sit on Fridays often enough so as to consider Unstarred Questions or Bills introduced by Back-Benchers. Noble Lords speak as if this House was perfect, but it suffers, it seems to me, at times too much from self-congratulation.
Great play was made in the two-day debate on the White Paper that on no account should the House surrender any of its powers. I am not at all sure that I agree. I was shocked when the House sent back the Bill on the voting procedure for European elections not once or twice but, I believe, five times. In the end the Bill was lost and the Parliament Act had to be invoked. I did not think that that was a great constitutional issue.
I turn to the Prime Minister's Statement; that the Government believe that no one political party should have a majority in the House of Lords. That means, if it means anything, that the Cross-Benchers will hold the balance. I do not like that. Cross-Benchers are nearly always old. I was very lucky indeed to be appointed when I was 49. Unless a retiring age is brought in, the
I know that the opinion of the House will be totally against me on this, with the exception of the noble Marquess, Lord Bath, but I favour a retiring age of 75. The noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, recently spoke against any such proposal. He said that old age brings wisdom with it and that we cannot afford to lose that wisdom. As a doctor he could hardly disagree that old age also brings prejudice and a hardening of the arteries and of the mind, so that we judge issues from the standards that we remember from when we were very young. That is why I fear a Cross-Bench majority holding a balance in the House.
We shall never be legitimate as a House until we are totally elected by universal suffrage. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, was of course quite right about that. Only then could we hold the other place to account. But I wonder whether the noble Lord really wants a clone of the House of Commons here. It might take an election or two to produce that, but, to begin with, I am quite sure that some hereditary Peers would stand for election and would be very likely to get elected. However, sooner or later the Whips would operate, take over, and free votes would be unknown. Of course, there would be no Cross-Benchers; and, as in America, the Government in the House of Commons would find themselves thwarted by a majority led by the Opposition in the Upper House.
The alternative to this is the mish-mash. I do not believe that the Government would support a purely nominated House such as the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, seemed to be advocating. The alternative is to have a House part elected and part nominated so that men and women of distinction could be brought here as Cross-Benchers, not to troop through the Division Lobbies day in and day out but to speak on subjects of which they know a great deal.
However, I shall not continue with that line because those are matters for the House to consider when the Royal Commission has reported; nor will I speak on the Weatherill amendment. I shall wait until the amendment is moved. But I do not like it. The arithmetic of the allocation of seats between the parties is perfectly astonishing. The parties in the minority will get two and three seats, the party in the majority will get a vast number and the Cross-Benchers will get a positive bean feast. Well we know that our Convenor is a renowned negotiator and politician; but, on this occasion, his audacity and skill surpass anything that I could ever imagine.
Despite my beliefs, I shall be genuinely sorry to see the departure of the hereditary Peers. I implore one of my favourites, the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, to disclaim his title and make it known to his party that he would
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