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The Earl of Longford: I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but is he aware that that was an initiative of a Labour government?

Lord Selsdon: The noble Earl will know that I said that. I worked for a Labour government and later I became part of the economic team assisting George Brown when he was in the DEA. The noble Earl will know that my uncle was Stafford Cripps, who had a large amount to do with the Labour Party. I am being non-partisan in this matter. As I said in my Second Reading speech, I would willingly speak from those Benches opposite, where Peers are often bankrupt of ideas and of proposals for a constructive future.

I should like to see a reform of this Chamber. However, if I were an intelligent thinker, I would ask why people want to get rid of the remarkable wealth of knowledge, experience and relationships that exist not only nationally but worldwide. I refer again to the little document, Towards a Peerless Future. I thought that I might distribute that document to people. It is interesting to note that, if one is a civil servant or a Member of the Government, one "deposits" something in the Library. However, if one is a private person, one does a private placement. You "place" a document in the Library.

The document contains a matter of some interest. I agree on the matter of the voting rights, although I still believe that the Weatherill amendment has certain things to commend it. However, it is wrong to get rid of the hereditaries unless you know what you are getting rid of. Over the past weekend I considered 501 life Peers and Peers of first creation, as they seem to be lumped together. I went through all their backgrounds.

It is interesting to note that in general life Peers have a wider range of interests than Conservative Peers, but much less experience. I have studied those backgrounds and knowledge to try to work out what we could keep and what we could lose. I shall not go into the great grandeur of the past, but I believe that that has some validity. I do not refer to my family, as I am only the third generation to sit in this Chamber. I have only been here for 5 per cent. of the total Parliament. Peers may have inherited their fathers' seats or those of relatives who died in the war. They have served this nation and they deserve to be treated in a better way than is proposed.

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In the note that I shall circulate, noble Lords will find some interesting comments about age. We know full well that, had there been no new life Peers appointed in the past 30 years, there would be only 20 life Peers sitting in this Chamber today and, by my calculation, there would be only 170 hereditary Peers. Death takes its toll and the Chamber would have reformed itself already. I do not think that age is an acceptable criterion for judging the contribution that an upper Chamber can make. The Committee will know that on average 50 per cent. of life Peers are over 70. However, the younger element believe there should be no retirement age. Like me, they appreciate the words of great men from whom I have learnt so much. The average age of those in this Chamber has risen and risen. If stage two of the 1968 reform is deferred to now, 30 years later, let us hope that if there is to be a stage three, it is not deferred for a further 30 years.

As my noble friend Lord Strathclyde pointed out earlier, we would all willingly co-operate to ensure that the right kind of reform is carried out. Those of us who are hereditary Peers know our place. We know that we have no right to be here. We may have tried to earn that right and we may say that we have done our duty. Some of us try to do that, but this is a difficult time. I should hate to see a mistake made that cannot be corrected. I do not believe in trying to argue that a life Peer is better than someone else. We all have diverse and extraordinary experiences. The problem is that the other place, the executive, the Government, or whatever we may call it, has denied us the right to reform ourselves and to improve the contribution that we can make to society. I should like to see that contribution improved whether or not I am here.

The purpose of my amendment--it is not a cunning amendment--is simply to say to noble Lords opposite, "You nearly got it right in 1968; now you have got it wrong. Have a look back; 30 years in 700 years of history is nothing. If only you could think again. But you need the will and support of the House and the relationships of the Members of the House that stretch worldwide. You could have it on a plate if you did the right thing". I beg to move.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux: I wish to speak to Amendments Nos. 14, 29 and 109 standing in my name on the Marshalled List. Briefly, the amendments are concerned with the way in which the hereditary Peers should leave the House of Lords, in a manner that does not weaken the House of Lords. Amendment No. 109 is a complementary amendment to introduce a weighted voting system that ensures that there is a fair and balanced voting arrangement between the government party and all the other parties during the period in which the hereditary Peers will be leaving the House of Lords.

So far, the debate on stage one has been very confusing. That is due mainly to the fact that there is not a strategy on how we should approach the issue. In arriving at my proposals, I have attempted to produce a stage one strategy and then to determine what solution best meets that strategy. I believe that that approach leads to a good degree of objectivity.

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Perhaps I may start by listing what I think should be some of the key elements of our reform strategy for stage one. First, the hereditary principle is not sustainable and must therefore go. That is now a widely-held view in the House and is also a government manifesto commitment. Secondly, the passage of the Bill must not weaken the House by rapidly depleting the number of Peers at a time when the House of Commons, certainly from my 15 years of experience there, is weak and is failing in many ways to bring the executive to account, which is the key purpose of the parliamentary system. To weaken the House during a period of reform is nothing short of absurd. I cannot see the case for rapidly ridding the House of a large number of Members. I do not know what the case for that is. Certainly, it could undermine the Government's constitutional reform programme, which has been successful so far.

Thirdly, neither the Government nor the rest of your Lordships' House should take an absolutist or rigid approach regarding the speed at which the hereditary Peers leave the House of Lords. We should all recognise that there are conflicts of interest between the executive and the Labour Party and the House of Lords--that is inevitable--but neither side should take a steamroller approach. Instead, we should go for consensus. That means accepting that there are conflicting interests, but there must be compromise on both sides. Fourthly, I do not believe that it is sensible for one party to have a large overall majority in this House. That must be dealt with immediately in this Bill.

Fifthly, we must minimise the risks of reform by avoiding a Big Bang approach. As I said at Second Reading, the House of Lords is about people, not buildings. If we suddenly deplete the number of people in this House very substantially, I defy anyone in this Chamber to tell us exactly what the consequences would be. It is not a question of hereditary Peers. If it were life Peers who had to go, I should treat the matter in exactly the same way. I do not distinguish between hereditary and life Peers.

My sixth point is that the Government, in formulating policy, should not treat our hereditary colleagues as if the Government were a bad Victorian employer. As I also said at Second Reading, I believe that a number of our colleagues who are hereditaries are hurting as a result of the way they have been treated so far. That is not in my view what the Labour Party stands for.

My seventh point is that the solution to reform must be simple. Complexity does not help at all. There are two parts to my proposals. The reason I put them forward in that way is that I believe them to be simple.

My eighth and final point is that we should also, during this stage, improve the democratic legitimacy of the House by having a voting system that reflects the proportion of seats held by the government party to those held by other parties in the House of Commons. That would diminish the large Conservative majority and would help the Government to get its business through. However, there is a win-win solution in this, and I believe that everyone can benefit.

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I now turn to the two amendments that are central to my suggestions. My proposal in Amendment No. 29 is that this House would initially remain as it is now in terms of membership, but on death an hereditary Peer would not be succeeded by his heir. The information produced for me last year by the Library indicates that, with that policy, there would be an enormously rapid decline in the number of hereditary Peers. After the first Parliament the reduction would be 20 per cent.; after the second Parliament 35 per cent.; and after the third Parliament 51 per cent. That amounts to a reduction of just under 400 hereditary Peers over the period.

The reason for that rapid decline is that the graph resembles, as mathematicians will be aware, an exponential curve. I understand that it is against the rules of the House for me to attempt to draw pictures in the air. That approach would remove hereditary Peers in a way that I believe meets the strategic needs of the House and the Government. I shall place a copy of the letter, dated 13th March 1998, in the Library, in the event that any noble Lords wish to see the detail to which I have referred.

I now turn to Amendment No. 109. This is the second part of my proposal. It introduces into the House of Lords a weighted vote system to ensure that the total number of votes eligible to be cast by Members of the House belonging to the government party in proportion to the number of votes eligible to be cast by all other Members of the House reflects the number of seats held by the party or parties of government in the House of Commons in proportion to the number of seats held by the parties in that House. I am sorry that that is so complicated, but it has to be said that the concept is simple, it is proportional.

What does all that mean? It means that initially all Peers would have a vote. It is quite possible that on a particular voting occasion the Peers on the Government's side might have, for example, 1.3 votes to reflect the effect of the general election in the House of Commons. The Government would get their business immediately and the House of Lords would be spared removing large numbers of Peers in one go.

It is easy to scoff at such matters. I do not mind it. However, I believe that, as trustees of the House, we ought to think what is in the interests of the House. Although politically it may not be acceptable to some people, I believe that to go about it in a rash way could be damaging. I believe that it is my duty to say what I think is right in terms of ensuring that the interests of the House are preserved.


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