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Lord Mancroft: The noble and learned Lord has been most persuasive and helpful, as always. Can he tell me how fair it is that you sit in your Lordships' House merely by friendship with the Prime Minister? Is that a good idea? What principle does that have?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: No, I shall not ignore it. As regards the appointment of life Peers, it seems to me that they are entitled to be regarded and appointed on merit and on the basis of their past experience. I am happy to be judged on that basis and it seems to be appropriate that I should be.
Lord Mancroft: Perhaps I may be forgiven if I have misled the Committee and, indeed, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer. I did not aim my remarks at any noble Lord in particular, nor would I dream of so doing. However, the issue has been raised and it is a correct issue. I do not defend the principle of the hereditary peerage. I have always said that to either attack it or defend it is ludicrous. But the principle that the executive that commands a majority in one House should also have the sole ability to appoint to the second Chamber is completely ludicrous. If that is a better principle than the hereditary one, I understand nothing of the principle.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: First, I apologise for misunderstanding the noble Lord's remark. I took it too personally when I should not have done so. Secondly, the position as regards the comments of the Prime Minister in relation to this matter is that we seek parity with the Conservative Party. We do not seek in any way to pack the House, nor do we have the ability to do that. Thirdly, it seems to me much more sensible that people should be appointed on the basis of their own qualities rather than those of their parents, and they can be so judged. It might be appropriate for me to finish my speech rather than continue with this argument.
We set out our position perfectly clearly. It seems to us that we have principle on our side. It is a clear and easily understood principle. It is the principle that goes through the Bill. The proposal of the noble Earl cuts right across that principle by allowing hereditary Peers to sit, albeit not vote, in this Chamber. We therefore object to it and ask the Committee to resist the amendment.
Perhaps I may deal with two other points in this regard. First, it is said that the Labour government proposed such an amendment in 1968, so why do they not agree to it now? That is a point made by my noble friend Lord Longford. The position in 1968 was that there were fewer than 160 life Peers, none of whom had over 10 years' experience. The position now is that there are 500 life Peers, appointed over a 41-year period. That is a radically different situation when considering the position in relation to this Chamber.
Our guiding principle throughout this Bill is that we believe it to be wrong for anyone to be a Member of Parliament on the basis of inheritance alone. That point was made clearly in the manifesto when we said that the right we sought to remove was to sit and to vote. So there can be no question but that we have made our position clear in the manifesto. I also agree entirely with the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, who deprecates the idea of a two-tier system in the Lords. For all those reasons, I urge the Committee to reject the amendment.
Earl Ferrers: The noble and learned Lord--I believe I am permitted to call him such--as usual makes a very persuasive speech. I apologise if I referred to him as the Lord Advocate. That was a slip of the tongue. I should have said "the Minister of the Dome" and then I would have been all right.
The noble and learned Lord makes a persuasive speech; obdurate, as all the government speeches are because they just say "No, no, no" to everything, regardless of the argument. That is a great pity. He said that I put forward this amendment without any shame or apology. He is quite right. I feel no shame in putting it forward, and offer no apology either. I am trying to go along with the Government. They do not want hereditary Peers to vote. I say that that is fine for the purposes of this amendment; we are quite happy not to vote. But why not continue to allow our expertise to be expressed by allowing hereditary Peers to speak, should they so wish? The noble and learned Lord finds that difficult.
The noble Lord, Lord Peston, said that he listens to his own Front Bench. That underlines his problem. He listens to his Front Bench a little too much because they will say "No" to everything. He said that hereditary Peers are wrong; that is the beginning and the end of it. That really is, as I said earlier, hereditary cleansing. Get rid of all hereditary Peers. No matter what they can do; get rid of them.
Lord Peston: I heard the noble Earl make that remark earlier. It is most unlike him to use that kind of intemperate language. It is not "hereditary cleansing" because, unlike the analogy that echoes from that remark, none of us is saying that hereditary Peers should not sit in your Lordships' Chamber. We would welcome such people sitting here as nominated Peers. I enjoy that sort of intemperate language, but it is not very helpful on this occasion.
There is no suggestion that this Chamber would be a better place without the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. We are simply saying that he should be here as a Peer nominated by the Leader of his Party, not because his father was Earl Ferrers.
It does not matter which Member of the Front Bench opposite we choose; we can knock them all down like sparrows one after the other. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer; the Lord Chancellor; the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn; and the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, have all said that hereditary Peers are out. I am saying that that is the equivalent of cleansing.
The noble Lord, Lord Peston, shakes his head, but if he will stop shaking his head for half a minute until I get to the end of my sentence, he will hear me say that he said that I ought to be here--it was courteous of him to say so--by virtue of being appointed. But this Bill says nothing about appointment; it says "Get rid of hereditary Peers". It is true that some noble Lords opposite have said that when the Weatherill amendment comes into action, there will be 100 hereditary Peers. But what is this Bill about? Are we getting rid of all hereditary Peers or are we retaining 100 Peers? At the moment, we do not know. The Bill in front of us proposes to get rid of all hereditary Peers. If the Weatherill amendment is passed, 91 Peers, or whatever, can be retained. But is the Bill one for getting rid of hereditary Peers or one for retaining them? That is a pretty fundamental difference.
Noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite are in a quandary. They do not know. They have not told us whether we are all supposed to go or whether about a hundred of us will stay. We just do not know the answer. When that suggestion was put forward in another place, it was turned down. They said that they did not want any hereditary Peers at all. However, now the proposal is before us and everyone talks as if there will be a hundred or so hereditary Peers. That is the mess that the Government find themselves in. Indeed, that is why my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, the Leader of the Opposition, said that we do not know what is happening.
All I am trying to say to your Lordships in the most courteous way possible is that you can remove all the business of hereditary Peers voting to get over the problem that has infuriated people so much and still have the advantage of them talking. If that is a bore, then it is a bore. The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity, said something pretty extraordinary. After all, he has been here for only two years. He said, "All hereditary Peers ought to go. I am all right because I was appointed by my friends." Apparently everyone else has got to go. The noble Lord added that his view has the support of the British people. Frankly, I do not think that it has. The proposal may be in the Labour Party manifesto. That does not mean that it has the support of the British people. I believe that many British people are glad to see the House of Lords as it is.
However, be that as it may--and I do not wish to continue the argument for too long--I think that it would be a good thing if, in the words of the Government, we were to proceed step by step. We should keep the hereditary Peers here who wish to come and speak but stop them from voting. In that way we would satisfy everyone. If noble Lords consider that a good idea, I would be happy if they would demonstrate their agreement. We have sat on these seats for long enough. Indeed, it is time for your Lordships to take a bit of exercise and come down on one side or the other of the argument. I wish to test the opinion of the Committee.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.