Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Milverton: I support my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley. I appreciate the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, but my noble friend made some good points which need to be taken into account. Although I have been a minister all my life, I started out in Kenya studying agriculture and practising there for a time. Therefore, I have an interest in agriculture. I have also spent most of my ministry not in a large town or city but in more rural areas. There may be many representatives in this House on agricultural or rural matters. Even so, there could be a danger that those matters are not properly defended, as it were, or looked after.

4 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley has given the Committee an opportunity to have a brief discussion on what the

13 May 1999 : Column 1304

House may look like after reform and the important aspect of the rural community, agriculture, fishing and so on. There is absolutely no doubt that your Lordships' House has a range of people very expert on rural matters, obvious examples being farming and forestry. My noble friend the Duke of Buccleuch springs to mind as someone with an unparalleled knowledge of forestry. Although he may not attend often, when he speaks on forestry matters your Lordships listen, quite correctly, attentively.

My noble friend's amendment simply asks for an indication from the Government that when Peers are appointed in future the rural interest may be taken into account and that the balance of new creations is such that the important role that rural communities play in our lives is represented in your Lordships' House. The simple fact of the matter is that the other place is a lot less knowledgeable and representative of countryside matters than it was, for example, when I joined it in 1979.

One takes the example of beef on the bone. The other place voted overwhelmingly to ban it and this House voted overwhelmingly to retain it. From press reports, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly are about to vote fairly overwhelmingly to lift the ban. That is an issue which my noble friend Lord Stanley teased out a week or two ago when it was discovered that the Government had made an about-turn from the position explained by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, during Committee stage on the Welsh Bill.

The countryside rally held some time ago showed that there were real fears in the countryside that people's interests were being overwhelmed not just by urban interests but by urban interests pretending to be countryside interests. If one looks at the 56 Labour life Peers appointed since the general election and checks their addresses in Dod's and Who's Who, even if one throws in the geographical designations of their peerage one finds only about three with strongly stated rural connections. That may not be a very scientific way of doing it; I may have missed a holiday cottage or two, but it is significant and not very reassuring.

One is also aware--the noble Baroness the Leader of the House was also involved in this in part--that the three main accusations made against hereditary Members in your Lordships' House are: first, that too many of them are Conservatives. In my view, that just shows good sense. Secondly, it is said that too many of them went to Oxford or Cambridge. I find that a bit odd. I have just checked and discovered that the three people who lead for the Government in your Lordships' House went to Oxford or Cambridge. I did not. I thought that it had something to do with British vintage motorcars, but there you are. The Prime Minister also went to one of those universities. Therefore, to have attended Oxford or Cambridge cannot be too great a crime, although I understand that for too many of my noble friends who are hereditary Peers it is considered in that light. One can almost say that too many of the senior members of the Government went to Oxford or Cambridge, but a good number attended Scottish universities.

13 May 1999 : Column 1305

The third accusation is that too many hereditary Peers are farmers and landowners. I do not believe that someone is any the worse for being a farmer or landowner. In its evidence to the Royal Commission the Labour Party said that the House of Lords should be fully representative of the different interests of the country. One wonders whether three new life Peers out of 56 can be considered to be fully representative of rural communities. I hope that the Committee will receive a constructive reply from the Government on this issue so that those who come from rural areas, and those of us who would rather live their than in cities, will feel that in the House of Lords to come rural interests will be properly represented.

Lord Desai: Before the noble Lord sits down, does he agree that three out of 56 is about 6 per cent, which is more than the proportion of the labour force engaged in agriculture?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: But it is a good deal less than the total land area of the United Kingdom.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: I believe that the point is related to land ownership.

Before I respond to the important points which the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, raises in his amendment I should like briefly to reply to the matters touched on by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, about the way that the Government have attempted to respond to earlier amendments and intend to speak to them. I draw the Committee's attention to the fact that, in my estimation and that of most people who judge the appearance and substance of these proceedings, five government Ministers have tried to respond in detail and with great concern and care to a number of issues which, in some cases, are somewhat repetitive. I suggest to the noble Earl that simply because he does not necessarily like what is said in reply to the amendments does not mean that those points have received an inappropriate response.

I turn to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley. As the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, said, this is the first of a number of amendments that deals with the future size and type of membership of the House and the possibility of an appointments commission. I recognise that individual noble Lords wish to speak to their particular amendments, and they should do so. Those amendments deal with specific points to which we shall respond thoroughly as they are raised.

But it may assist the Committee if at this stage I respond fully to the Government's overall attitude to the amendments that deal with a public appointments commission. I recognise that these amendments are intended to be helpful to the workings of the transitional House and to clarify certain mechanisms that may be involved in that. However, the Government are not sympathetic to the principle which lies behind the amendments. We believe that the individual proposals are either somewhat technically flawed or raise more questions than they answer.

13 May 1999 : Column 1306

Addressing first the underlying principle, I am sure that the Committee does not need to be reminded--as on Tuesday night, I shall not now invoke the manifesto--that the Government intend the Bill to be a self-contained statute to end the automatic right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in this House. This Bill is not about life Peers or life peerages; nor does it intend to prescribe the regulation of the transitional House. This is precisely because the Government are resolute in their determination that the transitional House should be just that; that is, a temporary institution. If, for example, the Royal Commission made proposals--the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, referred to this--to include nominated Members of the second Chamber that would be the time to consider legislation to achieve the appropriate systems for nominating those Members. I respectfully suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, that that would be the time to discuss the functions and future role of the second Chamber.

Perhaps I can most clearly express the position of the Government on the appointments commission and its possible place in this particular Bill by turning the question round. I ask the Committee to consider the reaction if the Government had themselves proposed a statutory prescription for selecting Members of the interim Chamber in this Bill. I can well imagine the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, asserting vigorously that that was a clear signal that the Government intended the transitional arrangements to be permanent. The question raised by any noble Lord would be: why go to the trouble of establishing an appointments commission or quotas of different types of Peers in primary legislation for a short-term arrangement? It must mean that the whole arrangement is designed to last for years.

I understand that many of the amendments related to the appointments commission are concerned with the underlying issue. We are engaged in building confidence about the intentions of the Government in this area. I say again that our intentions are as soon as we can to take the action set out in the White Paper on the interim House and to move to the second stage of long-term reform as soon as we can. Everyone who has spoken from the Front Bench on this side of the House in the many debates on this subject, notably my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor in Tuesday's debate on Amendment No. 31, has underlined those long-term intentions. Of course, I am happy to do so again.

In the short term, in relation to the transitional House, I hope that I can persuade your Lordships that our plans meet, or in some instances exceed, many of the proposals and suggestions incorporated in some of the amendments which are to be discussed this afternoon.

I turn to Amendment No. 71, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley. We have had a brief discussion this afternoon, but we have had several debates on this general point before. This amendment reflects the genuine concern felt by some noble Lords about the representation of agricultural and rural interests in your Lordships' House, particularly once the hereditary Peers have left.

13 May 1999 : Column 1307

Certainly, the agricultural sector contains a formidable lobby among the hereditary peerage. I shall not hesitate to underline what the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, said when talking about the unrepresentative nature of the total peerage. We have recognised that that background must extend beyond the ancient titles which, in your Lordships' House, were always based in land, to the representation of more recent interests.

I have no difficulty in reasserting that the Government think that that is one many unrepresentative aspects of the present House and that the balance of the House will be changed--in our view for the better--in terms of being more balanced once the hereditary Peers leave.

Specific interests need to be properly reflected and articulated. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, said, that is something that I am sure we can leave, with confidence, to the life Peers.

To say that we do not think that there should be a specific or particular representation of agricultural and rural interests is not the same as saying that we think that those interests should not be represented at all. Of course, we believe that they should be represented, but that representation must be commensurate with the importance of those interests in the national economy. My noble friend Lord Desai made that point succinctly in his intervention.

There are a number of important industries whose value and importance to the economy and the general nature of our community must be protected in some way, but none should be uniquely protected. There are many ways of life which are of importance to us all and to everyone who benefits from those different ways of life. The countryside is important to us all, but a vast range of interests is involved in that, and agricultural interests and rural interests are not necessarily the same. I sometimes wonder whether the great attention given to this subject by noble Lords opposite, and other members of the hereditary peerage who purport to represent agricultural interests in general, is concerned more with agricultural land ownership than anything broader.

The key point is that the membership of the House should be "balanced". The Government's intention is that it should be more balanced once the hereditary Peers leave. We shall make every effort to bring that about and in the future we intend to maintain that broad representation of interests, but not to the particular protection of any one group.

If the noble Lord intends to press his amendment, I hope that the Committee will not support it.

4.15 p.m.

Viscount Bledisloe: Perhaps I can seek clarification from the noble Baroness. She has spoken generally of the Government's attitude to the appointments commission. A sizeable group of amendments, starting with Amendment No. 75, deals with the general desirability of the appointments commission. Am I right in understanding that those of us who are interested in the appointments commission should speak at that stage

13 May 1999 : Column 1308

about our views on that commission, despite the fact that the noble Baroness has expressed the Government's position at this stage?


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page