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Baroness Jay of Paddington: I do not think that the noble Lord will necessarily be told that, but I suspect we may continue to remind him that that evidence relates to the Royal Commission and its proposals for the second stage of reform. It does not relate to the present Bill.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: It may not relate directly to the present Bill, but it gives us an indication of what the Government are thinking in the matter of the composition of your Lordships' House.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am sorry, I mean the Labour Party. There seem to be two distinct organisations in this country. One is the Government and the other is the Labour Party. I suppose it is a bit like the two distinct governments that we shall have in this country: the Labour Government in Scotland and the Labour Government in the United Kingdom. But I had better not trespass on the patience of the noble Baroness the Leader of the House by going into any more detail about the goings-on north of the Border, to which I hope shortly to return in order to get closer to them over the weekend for my enjoyment. On Monday I shall report my findings to your Lordships.
"A large number of members currently attend very infrequently and play little part in the work of the House of Lords. If there is to be a minimum attendance obligation, the Royal Commission should also consider how it could be enforced".
Lord Williams of Mostyn: The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, referred to the fact that there were two thriving institutions: one, the Labour Party and, two, the Labour Government. I do understand how discomfiting that may be for him as the Conservative Party has neither a government nor, as far as I can detect, much of a party at all. Certainly in Scotland and Wales, the Conservatives managed to succeed in having no directly elected Member of either the Parliament or the Assembly.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I would hate to allow the noble Lord the Minister to stray into error, especially with regard to Wales. We did manage one first-past-the-post seat in Wales. But I have to say that
Earl Ferrers: I did not fall into error at all. I was merely doing what I thought was correct in so far as the Bill refers to "a hereditary peerage"; and, as I said earlier, when you are in Rome you do what Rome does. I therefore referred to "a hereditary peerage". It was only the noble Lord's automatic judgment which made him go to "an hereditary peerage", which is what he should have accepted.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: Being Welsh, I do what Welsh people do in Rome and I stick to "an hereditary peerage". But that is a matter of personal taste. Personal taste is not always coincident with present government policy.
In principle, all noble Lords have a duty to take their responsibility seriously. In practice, we know that not to be so. Frequency of attendance is not the appropriate criterion on which to base judgments. The noble Lord, Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, indicated that fairness is a useful lodestone--I agree--and so is rationality. I do not accept his constitutional doctrine that if one is asked to come here as a working Peer by a particular Prime Minister one's duties as a working Peer are limited to the incumbency of that Prime Minister. I have not heard that suggested before and I do not believe it to be correct. Indeed, both my noble friend Lady Jay of Paddington and I were invited here by letters originally from Mr. Major--of course it was Her Majesty who actually determines these matters--but there was nothing in my letter, or I think in the postcard of my noble friend Lady Jay, that required us to do anything.
In fact, had we been required to serve only during the incumbency of the person who had originally suggested us, neither of us would have to have turned up at all, because Mr. Kinnock was never Prime Minister. If the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, has a claim for back pay of £30 million and compound interest, my noble friend and I have a similar claim, because we have attended here selflessly for so long, to the entire satisfaction of your Lordships--and certainly to our own entire satisfaction--that I think that we ought to have been properly remunerated.
I understand the reasons behind the noble Lord's amendment but it confuses quantity and quality. The quality of a Peer's record is not really to be judged on attendance alone. Many of those who attend frequently make a considerable contribution. Many who attend frequently make no contribution that is readily detectable. As the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, said, even making a contribution in the sense of joining in a debate does not necessarily or indeed at all advance the argument, as we have recently been able to note.
We cannot accept the amendment as a matter of principle. The Bill is about the removal of "the" hereditary Peers as a class from membership of the House. We have accepted the compromise--a generous one, as was said earlier--to allow 92 hereditary Peers to remain. The position of the life Peers is not in question in stage one of the reform. I have to say yet again what was said a moment or two ago by my noble friend the Leader of the House. We are discussing this Bill at this stage. I beg the Committee's pardon. We ought to be discussing this Bill at this stage.
We have said that people can conscientiously differ and we do, in the same way as some believe the world is flat and others insist it is round. We believe that it is not right for anyone in this legislature to have an automatic right by virtue of heredity. There is no similar argument for removing life Peers. All life Peers, by virtue of the Act of 1963, are here for life. I do not believe that a system of elections would work. I may have misunderstood the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Archer. I did not understand how he arrived at the figure of 338.
The noble Lord says that his amendment is directed to so-called working Peers who do not work. However, it does not deal with the question of those who were put in here on a purely honorific basis. Indeed, a more fundamental criticism which he might accept is that the amendment would allow working Peers, on the noble Lord's definition, to be removed if they were not elected. Even in the terms of his own approach, I believe that would be a significant defect.
There is no mention of a proportionate breakdown of life Peers between the parties. After the initial election, on the basis of previous attendance figures, the Labour Party would do considerably better than the party opposite. If we take the figures for the latter Session, the proportion of Labour life Peers--I exclude those on official leave of absence or those who have not taken the oath--attending over 220 times out of a possible 228, that is on over 88 per cent of possible occasions, was almost twice that of Conservative life Peers.
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