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Lord Marsh: I am grateful to the noble Earl for allowing me to intervene. I am puzzled because, under the present system of appointments, which could be enormously improved on, there are a considerable number of life Peers in the House--the Government Chief Whip is one and the noble Lords, Lord Mackie of Benshie and Lord Prior, are others--who have considerable experience of agriculture. It would be difficult in this country to have any appointments system that worked at all if it did not reproduce what we already have.
The Earl of Caithness: I was intending to deal with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Marsh. There are one or two notable exceptions, but if the noble Lord had listened to what my noble friend Lord Stanley said about the composition of the committees, he would know that the great majority of Members of your Lordships' House who take part in agriculture debates are hereditary Peers. The majority of those who take part sit on these Benches. If we are to have an influx--as undoubtedly we shall--of new Peers in the interim House--the Leader of the House said on Tuesday that about 40 new Peers would be introduced--it is important that the interests of the countryside are taken account of.
Further, as we move into a more full-time House and there is less time and opportunity for people like my noble friend Lord Stanley to attend, it will be essential to hear from those who live and work in the countryside. Too often the view of the countryside is that portrayed by the townie--that the countryside should be preserved in aspic and that it is not a living and working environment. As the Committee knows, that is exactly what it is. It changes and adapts. Therefore, the people who work in, and who have produced, the beautiful
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: This seems to be an important discussion. The noble Lord, Lord Marsh, made the point--and I can see why he made it--that there are a number of life Peers under the present system who know about agriculture. But it is a larger subject for this House than the noble Lord probably appreciates. That is mainly because of the European Union where agriculture is, and will continue to be, an enormous issue. The interests of the various member states of the European Union diverge. The interests of this country diverge because our agriculture is different. I know the noble Lord appreciates that.
It takes more than three or four Peers to cover the whole discussion that must go on. The agriculture sub-committee of the European Communities Select Committee is a sizeable one. The subject crops up in other areas too. It is extremely important that there should be a good spread of people who understand the issues.
The problem in regard to agriculture as opposed to other subjects is that it is both technical and cultural. If one lives in the countryside and are engaged in it, one cannot help knowing quite a lot about it, and one can easily find out a great deal more. If one does not live in the countryside, it is rather theoretical and not so easy to deal with. The character of this House would change very quickly if everyone who dealt with agriculture had to "mug up" on the subject, as working Peers must do on various subjects. It is important to retain a proper spread of people in this area. If there is to be an appointments commission, there should be some form of requirement on it to consider this matter above all others when the spread of expertise is considered. The noble Baroness laughs. I do not think she either understands what I am saying or wants to understand it.
My noble friend's amendment is extremely important. I hope that the Minister's reply will be sympathetic and that the Government will find some way, if the committee itself cannot find one, of placing some requirement on the appointments commission to consider this matter carefully.
Lord Goodhart: This is the first of a considerable series of amendments dealing with the appointments commission. The Government's White Paper proposed a non-statutory appointments commission which will make non-political nominations, leaving the political appointments to be nominated by party leaders. That aim is limited but welcome; it removes the possibility that the making of non-political appointments through
A large number of these amendments propose to bring the appointments commission onto the face of the Bill and make it a statutory body. All of them, however, do rather more. Some extend the powers of the appointments commission to cover political as well as non-political appointments. This amendment does not do so and I do not propose to say much about it at this stage. Other amendments are concerned with the basis on which non-political appointments will be made, and this amendment falls into that category. It is concerned with ensuring the representation of agricultural and rural affairs in the transitional House.
Implicit in this approach is an important constitutional change in the nature of the creation of peerages. At present, we have two categories of new Peers: first, the political Peers, who are either galley slaves like myself, appointed as political working Peers on the basis of an undertaking to turn up and work; or distinguished alumni of the other place who are appointed through the dissolution or resignation Honours List. The second category of new appointees are the non-political Peers, usually appointed through the Honours List as a result of outstanding service to the country. It is hoped that they will turn up and take part in the work of the House, particularly on matters in which they have expertise, but there is no obligation or requirement on them, moral or otherwise, to do so. Most, but not all, of the Peers appointed through the Honours List take seats on the Cross-Benches.
What seems to be proposed in this amendment, and in some others to like effect, is that Peers who are now appointed through the Honours List will be nominated by the appointments commission in a representative capacity and therefore necessarily on an implicit basis of commitment to take part in the business of the House on issues on which they have specific experience. That creates the new concept of the appointment of a working Cross-Bench Peer. There is a good deal to be said for that concept.
If the second Chamber is ultimately to be partly appointed, the concept of expert, working Cross-Bench Peers in the sense in which I have used it--namely, people appointed specifically in order to work--will be plainly desirable; indeed it may be essential. But that is a matter for the Royal Commission and what follows after the commission has reported. It seems to me to be jumping the gun to alter the nature of the appointment of non-political Peers to this House in the transitional stage. I suggest it is more appropriate that non-political
Turning to the specific amendment under discussion, I do not think that special representation for agricultural and rural affairs is justified. Many Members of this place have such experience. Indeed, those interests are represented well beyond that which would be justified simply on the basis of agriculture as a share of the economy or employment in this country. That representation may indeed be reduced as a result of the Bill, but there is no reason to suppose that it will be reduced to a level where agricultural and rural affairs will not be adequately represented in the debates and the working of the committees.
In addition, under the Weatherill amendment which has been passed by the Committee, 42 Conservative and 28 Cross-Bench Peers will be elected and will no doubt include a number of people who can speak from great personal experience of agricultural and rural interests. What is more, the grant of special rights for one interest would be bound to lead to a request for special rights for others, which would not be appropriate, certainly not in a transitional House. We on these Benches are therefore unable to support the amendment.
Baroness Strange: I support my noble kinsman Lord Stanley of Alderley. Although my words may seem irrelevant, they are not. I wish to talk about the practicality of farming. Some time ago I attended a reception at the Russian Embassy. One of the Russians said in conversation: "Of course, you are a Peer, and I am a peasant". I said, "That is very interesting. Have you picked blackcurrants and redcurrants, raspberries and strawberries?". He replied that he had not. I said: "Have you picked potatoes, or planted potatoes, carrying a sack round your waist and putting them down one by one as you go along the drill?". His answer was no. I said: "Have you milked a cow by hand?". Again, his answer was no. I said: "Have you ploughed, using a horse?". He said that he had not. I said: "I have done all those things, so I reckon I am just as good a person as you are".
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