Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The Earl of Longford: I oppose this amendment. I am a strong supporter of democratic principles applied to the House of Commons. I suppose that everybody here is a democrat in that sense. Churchill said that democracy is not a very good system but anything else is much worse. Therefore, for the House of Commons, let us accept that democracy reigns supreme.

20 Apr 1999 : Column 1064

The last speech seemed a bit dubious about democracy. I do not know which side the noble Earl was on in relation to democracy. But in my opinion, democracy does not apply to a place like this. If the Bill goes through and the hereditary Peers are no longer with us, what shall we have? We shall have a group of highly qualified persons--bishops, judges, leading ex-government officials, former Cabinet Ministers and many high-minded, well-qualified persons who have not been elected. It would be an appalling tragedy were we to have an elected Chamber. What should we have here then? We should have the dregs of politics--people who could not get into the European Parliament. That is the last thing we want.

We want a highly-qualified, high-minded House. We have that to some extent now. I support the Bill. Do not let us talk about democracy any more in that connection, please.

Lord Northbourne: I rise to speak to Amendment No. 5 which is grouped with this amendment. In doing so, I assure the Committee that, with typical Cross-Bench independence, I did not consult the Opposition; nor do I intend my amendment in any way to be in opposition to the Government. I hope that it may be helpful.

Also, I have no pride of authorship and if the Government prefer the opposition amendment or if they would prefer to take away and consider the idea of a purpose or object clause to reword it, I should be more than happy with that.

I was greatly impressed when I listened to and read the enormous number of speeches which have been made over the past four days on this subject. It seemed to me that two clear themes emerged: first, the vast majority of speakers from all sides of the House agreed that the days of the hereditary Peerage were, alas, over. But I was impressed by the selflessness with which so many hereditary Peers expressed that view, which is obviously to the detriment of their own personal enjoyment of serving with your Lordships.

I do not know whether the Government are trying to get the Bill through by consensus or whether, in the end, they want to be seen to be carrying a flaming sword against the anathema of the hereditary Peerage. But if they want consensus, it seems to me that those speeches indicate that they are pushing at an open door; that a consensus is within their grasp if they are prepared to make concessions. Indeed, by implying that there will be a concession in relation to the Weatherill amendment, they have gone a long way down that road. I believe that some sort of object or purpose clause would help in that regard.

I shall tell the Committee why that is so. The second common theme which I noticed in so many of those speeches was a genuine concern--and in most cases I believe it was not just a delaying tactic but a genuine concern--about what comes after the hereditaries. Will the House be as good and in the best interests of Parliament and the people? It is interesting that in those speeches more than half the speakers were concerned

20 Apr 1999 : Column 1065

about the reality of the Government's commitment to retaining this Chamber as an effective revising Chamber and as a check on the executive.

They fear that the Government's ultimate objective is to have a rubber stamp. I confess that I share that fear. I hasten to say that that is not because I impugn for a moment the integrity and sincerity of Ministers on the Front Bench. But in the end, when push comes to shove, will the Government be able to deliver? When phase two is on the table, will the Prime Minister and his Cabinet want and accept a solution which retains and enhances the powers of this House? Will they not feel that such a Chamber may inhibit their ability to do all the good things that they plan for this country. I know, in the field of families and children, that wonderful things are being done. Will they not be tempted, at the last moment, to prefer a rubber stamp?

The second critical question is whether, even if it can be got through the Cabinet, it can be got through another place. As I see it, the purpose of an object clause is to place on the face of the Bill some of the commitments which have been made verbally to this House. I suggest that an object clause could go some way to calm the very reasonable fears and anxieties, particularly of noble Lords opposite and those on the Cross-Benches, which have been expressed in those speeches.

I believe that an object clause does not conflict with the Weatherill agreement. I also believe that in any business it is good practice to have an object clause. When that clause goes back to the other place I believe that it will help to clarify their views and thinking. Finally, I believe that an object clause will help the Government to get this Bill through by consensus, if that is what they want to do.

6 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: I support Amendments Nos. 3, 4 or 5. They seem to do roughly the same thing. I did not speak on Second Reading partly because there were so many speakers and I was not quite sure whether I could stand the pace until three o'clock in the morning. To that extent I apologise to the House for not having taken part.

I hope that the Government will take very seriously the notion that there should be a purpose clause in this Bill of all Bills because there can be no justification whatsoever for doing anything to this House if it does not make it more legitimate and democratic and if it does not increase its independence and ability to scrutinise legislation and to hold the executive to account. That must be the purpose of a Bill such as this. If the Bill is not about that, I hope that it is not simply about the vindictive act of removing hereditary Peers because the Government believe that the Left-wing of their party does not like hereditary Peers. I do not believe that that is what they are trying to do; they are trying to improve this House. If the Government are doing that they must accept a purpose clause of this kind. This is a serious and important amendment. I hope that we shall not hear the Government say that they do

20 Apr 1999 : Column 1066

not want a purpose clause of this kind because if they do they will be admitting something which I hope is not true.

Lord Bruce of Donington: I would like to deal briefly with Amendment No. 4. It seeks to insert, before the commencement of the Bill, what the noble Lord described as an "objects clause". The amendment states,

    "The purpose of this Act is to increase the independence of Parliament and to enhance its ability to scrutinise legislation and to hold the executive to account". I read the Bill as doing nothing of the kind. Its purpose is to abolish the hereditary peerage. The Bill seems to me to do that adequately. I have been in the party for a long time--namely, for the past 65 years--and since that time the objective of getting rid of the hereditary peers has always been on the cards. The Bill is quite simple and I do not see the need to argue with it.

There is another reason on which I am bound to address the Committee and it is intimately linked with the question of independence, which this Bill does not affect. I sincerely hope that your Lordships' House will give this Bill a speedy passage and that it will reach the statute book with the minimum of delay. But it should not be done with any illusion that it is enhancing the independence of Parliament.

We shall spend hours and hours discussing this Bill and while doing so the independence of the English Parliament is disappearing week by week. To me the language of priorities is the religion of socialism, which is how I came into the party to begin with. As regards the independence of Parliament this Bill has no relevance at all. It has no relevance to the real priorities that need to be addressed in our country. Every week at least two pieces of European legislation go through Parliament without scrutiny by the scrutiny committees in either House; without even the Government reading them or the Prime Minister knowing about them. Such legislation goes through week after week.

Parliamentary reform in its broadest sense is dealt with in the Government's very good memorandum on the subject. I sincerely hope that we proceed with sufficient speed, particularly with modernising the regulations and the scrutiny machinery, with the bureaucracy being required to inform people of the truth instead of trying to pull the wool over their eyes. If that is done quickly it may well be worth while.

I am well aware that Members of the Committee know my views on this subject. I have had the indulgence of the House for a long time, particularly that of my own Front Bench. But I say to them that all this constitutional paraphernalia on which we are now engaged, and on which I believe we shall be engaged for weeks, raises very little relevant to the real needs of our country in terms of the relief of poverty and the gross inequalities of income and status. I hope that that will be borne in mind at some time or other.

I support the Bill and I wish it Godspeed. I hope that it will enable us to attend to the nation's real concerns and problems when it is passed.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale: Not for the first time I find myself very much in agreement with the noble

20 Apr 1999 : Column 1067

Earl, Lord Onslow, as to what we need in the form of a second Chamber and the spirit in which we should frame amendments. But I doubt whether too much importance is being placed on a purpose clause. On the Government Front Bench there is the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate and on the opposite Bench his predecessor. There is also the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, a former chairman of the Bar Council. My conception is that the only objective and service of a purpose clause is as an aid to interpretation, and that only arises if there is ambiguity in the Bill and the ultimate statute. As the Bill stands, I cannot descry any ambiguity. No doubt some of the proposed amendments might introduce some, but I hope that we shall have ironed out any possible misunderstandings by the time this Bill leaves your Lordships' House.

There are three purpose clauses--if the Committee believes that we need one--before us. I prefer Amendment No. 4. Amendment No. 3 uses the word "democratic" which has been very loosely canvassed during discussions on this issue. "Democratic" has been taken to be virtually equivalent to "elected". We hear about the democratic Chamber meaning that it is the elected Chamber. But democracy goes far beyond that. A society is democratic in so far as that the mass of the people can influence the decisions which affect them. Representative government is only one. A far more important one is to vouchsafe the decision actually to the people themselves. Whatever else one might think of Thatcherism, at least that was done under the previous government.

My other objection is to the word "legitimate". Again, it seems to be considered that the only legitimacy is that conferred by election. But a constitution or part of a constitution is legitimate in so far as it serves a valid constitutional purpose. I confess that I find the hereditary principle perfectly easy to accept within that conception. It has served this country admirably for many years and I strongly agree with what I believe was implied by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow; namely, that an hereditary element is an independent element. What we should be seeking throughout the proceedings on the Bill is a strong and independent second Chamber where the first is always bound to a great extent to be subservient to the executive.

When I entered the other place nearly half a century ago, the three rising stars on the Benches opposite were the son of Mr. Arthur Greenwood, Viscount Stansgate (Commander Wedgwood Benn, just previously) and the son of Mr. Alderman Jenkins. That does--does it not?--say something for heredity. It would be idle to pretend that political ability is genetically transmitted, but I think that it is well established now that intelligence and intellect are genetically transmitted. What happens is that certain people grow up in an atmosphere of political culture.

When I was in the other place, I was a member of the One Nation Group. By far the most commanding intellect there was Mr. Enoch Powell, but his was not the best political judgment. Indeed, the best political judgment was made by a member of the group who belonged to a wide-ranging political family who

20 Apr 1999 : Column 1068

automatically, almost instinctively, arrived at a wise political decision. I hope that it will not be embarrassing if I mention that we should not close our eyes to the fact that two of the most distinguished Members of your Lordships' House, two Members who have contributed as much as anyone, are sons of the House of Cecil and the House of Russell.

If we are to have a purpose clause--and I somewhat doubt whether it would have any real value--I hope that noble Lords will adopt Amendment No. 4 which expresses the aspiration which we should have in these deliberations.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page