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Lord Willoughby de Broke: My Lords, I rise briefly to support my noble friend Lord Pearson. The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Randall, seems to have been kicked into the long grass and the amendment tabled by my old friend Lord Pearson is our only alternative to Clause 2, the Weatherill amendment. On that score alone, it is worth your Lordships' consideration. However, I wish particularly to reinforce my noble friend's question to the Government Front Bench with regard to his six questions. It deserves the courtesy of a reply on those fundamental questions.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, the House should be indebted to my noble friend for bringing forward a comprehensive scheme for reforming the House. I know that he has always thought constructively and deeply on these matters and I recognise, as do many Members of this House, that his is a scheme with many merits. First, it meets the demand for broad parity between the parties, which the Government seek and which some feel is the motivation behind the Bill. But as I pointed out at an earlier stage--my noble friend agreed with me--I fear that 240 Cross-Bench Peers in a House of 753 is more than the Government would wish to see. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House expressed a certain restlessness about the 200 Labour Peers and the mechanism for reaching that. But who knows whether
I am very much attracted to the idea that the House should be selected from the best and most able Peers, as my noble friend envisages. He is right to hark back to those days, sadly not to be seen again, when no distinction was drawn between different categories of Peer. That particular poison has now been introduced into this House and I am attracted to the theoretical idea of a House chosen differently.
My noble friend challenges me to answer the questions that he raises. Perhaps I may do him the courtesy of briefly running through them. First, he asked whether a number of excellent hereditary Peers will be excluded from your Lordships' interim House. I agree with him. The second question was whether one of the most unsatisfactory aspects about the present composition of your Lordships' House is the preponderance of Conservative Members. The answer to that is no. His third question was whether the Government have abrogated their manifesto. The answer to that is yes. The fourth question was whether I agreed that the power to legislate in your Lordships' House rests almost entirely on the power to vote. Yes, I agree with that; and I also agree with the fifth and sixth questions. I hope that that satisfies my noble friend, if not the rest of the House.
I know that what I say next will disappoint my noble friend. We have to live in this world, which is defined by the huge majority in another place and a Government often with a narrow mind and closed ears on new and inventive ideas to reform this place. We have to live in a world where, as the noble Baroness the Leader of the House told us only an hour or two ago, the Government are determined to proceed on this without delay. The reality is that this Government have declared that they will not accept this as an alternative to the Weatherill proposal. However heavily we may vote, however right we may be, the Government, as they showed on the matter of the closed list, will use their majority in another place to have their way.
Your Lordships do not need me to say that if the Government are driven to this, we will see every hereditary Peer driven from this House. We will see pass a Bill that almost all your Lordships know in their hearts was, in its original form, one of the very worst ever to come to this House. We shall lose that continuity of tradition and good sense which allows your Lordships to exercise a mild, restraining hand on even such a doctrinaire government as the current one.
I do not relish saying this, and my noble friend may consider it a weakness that I do, but I hope that he and others will do me at least the honour of understanding that the advice I give is the advice that I believe is in the best interests of this House and the independence of this House.
For those reasons, and also because the House has so recently determined the Weatherill amendment, I do not feel able to support my noble friend if he presses his amendment tonight, but I hope that he has some satisfaction in the knowledge that I much admire and respect the way in which he has brought this matter before the House.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, if I have understood the thrust of the observations and submissions made by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, the questions divide themselves conveniently into three categories. The first relates to the text of the amendments, the second to the hybridity and the third to the five questions which are now six.
I understand fully the advice given to us by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman. However, the House, and certainly the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, is entitled to as competent an answer as I can attempt on the question of hybridity.
As regard the amendments, it is desired that there should be a House consisting of 26 Lords Spiritual, any holder of a peerage under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act--which means Law Lords and retired Law Lords--not more than 700 Peers who are elected; anyone who became a Member of this House by virtue of the Life Peerages Act 1958 in any of the four preceding Sessions and any person subject to subsection (2) who receives a Writ of Summons to attend this House by virtue of the Life Peerages Act 1958 after the date on which the Act is passed.
Furthermore--I am not sure that I understood any clear explanation of this--all Peers who have been Members of the House under subsection 1(e) for a period of five years would be entitled to sit, but not to vote, in our proceedings. I am not sure whether the noble Lord explained the rationale for that. If he did and I missed it, I am sorry, but I do not think he did.
The noble Lord then goes into some detail, which has been touched on: 240 Cross-Bench Peers, elected by Cross-Bench Peers 200 Labour Peers similarly, 200 Conservative Peers similarly and 60 Liberal Democrats elected similarly by the Liberal Democrat Peers. Then there are various details about elections.
None of the amendments is acceptable to the Government. They are not acceptable to the Official Opposition. Both the Government and the Opposition have said that to your Lordships, and therefore to the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, on two previous occasions.
My advice to my colleagues would be that we should vote against it. I understand quite clearly that that is the stance adopted by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. We simply cannot accept this. As has been rightly said from the Liberal Democrat Front Bench, it drives a coach and horses through the point of the Bill. Certainly, it is wholly incompatible with the Weatherill compromise, for the reasons identified by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. Those are our objections to the amendments.
On the question of hybridity, Clause 2 gives all hereditary Peers the same chance. It does not specify any division. The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, gives Tory Peers a different chance of continuing membership from Labour Peers. The Earl Marshal and the Great Chamberlain are in a class of their own. It is, I readily concede, quite a small class, but it is in fact a class which is treated equally within itself.
The same is true of Clause 1 in relation to all hereditary Peers. I see the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, smiling very charmingly, but he asked me this and I am telling him. I am assisting your Lordships in your deliberations. That is the short answer to the question of hybridity.
If the question of hybridity arises prima facie--it does on Amendment No. 11--my advice, which I transmit for your Lordships' assistance, is that it would be necessary for the Chairman of Committees to table a Motion after the conclusion of Report stage to refer the Bill to the Examiners in respect of what is presently Amendment No. 11. The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, asked what the consequences of that would be. Plainly, there would be a very substantial delay. He might be able to bear that with some fortitude; we would not. I hope I am putting our cards as clearly face upwards on the table as I possibly can. I further understand, if I have the advice correct, that there would be an opportunity then for Petitions to be made and there would be a very substantial delay. That is the problem of hybridity and the consequences are as I have described.
Then there were the six questions, which I paraphrase. They are not in exactly the same form as they were earlier when the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, asked them, but they are generally in similar form. His first question this evening was: would some excellent hereditary Peers be excluded and would some less excellent life Peers remain? I do not think it is for me to say who I regard or who the Government regard as excellent or not. I hope not to appear to be using words inappropriately. I have said, as has the Leader of the House and the Lord Chancellor on many occasions--the Chief Whip said this earlier this evening--that of course there are many hereditary Peers who have given excellent devoted service to this House over a period of many years. There are also many hereditary Peers who have not graced us with their presence, until recently. I shall not put the goats on one side and the sheep on the other. Perhaps they divide themselves of their own volition. There are equally very many excellent life Peers.
The noble Lord spoke of the benefit of continuity and good sense. May I take a name or two at random? I do not even know, because I have not looked recently, whether the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, is in his place. No, he is not. But does he not give us the benefit of continuity and good sense, abundantly so? Does not the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon? Has he not selflessly done that over many years?
I can continue, but the point I think is made, if it is to be made at all. The point is not whether people have served well or ill; the point is the point of principle upon which we shall never agree. It is the same as the debate between the Flat Earth Society and those who prefer Columbus. We are not going to agree. I have said before, and I make no apology for repetition, that honourable people can honourably disagree on this matter, but our objection is to the capricious donation of birth which gives a hereditary Peer the right to take part in the workings of this second legislative Chamber.
The second question, as I had it noted, was whether the most unsatisfactory aspect of continuing the hereditary attendance in this House was the fact that there was a preponderance of Conservative Peers. My answer to that, curiously, would be the same as that of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. No, that is not the most offensive, unsatisfactory aspect. The reason for that is as I said a moment ago. We find it unacceptable as a matter of principle that the hereditary element should continue on the basis as I described. It would not matter tuppence to me whether all hereditary Peers, or 99 per cent of them were Liberal Democrats, Labour or indeed were Communists or Welsh Nationalists; the principle is wrong. That is the answer to the second question.
The third question was put a little more harshly this evening than when the question was put by the noble Lord earlier. It was whether the Government had abrogated the party manifesto--clearly not. We have come to an accommodation which is a compromise judged to be necessary for a brief time only. It was said by the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, that the scheme of my noble friend Lord Randall of St. Budeaux was for a transitional period. That is not so. If one looks at the terms of the amendment contained in the fourth grouping we considered this evening, even a moment's reflection shows that to be wrong. The noble Lord's amendment said,
Finally, I agree without any reservation with the answer given by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, to the sixth question: is it our clear duty to ensure the best possible interim House? Yes. We made a compromise as an indication that that is our intention also.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken, especially those who were good enough to support this amendment. I will not therefore comment on those who supported me more than to thank them.
The noble Lord, Lord Newby, pointed out what he regarded as the technical defects of this amendment; for instance, that there would not need in the first election to be an election at all for the Labour Party or for the Liberal Benches. That is so, but the noble Lord will see that I explained that that was the position and why that came about when I moved the amendment in Committee.
The noble Lord also said that there was an anomaly in the wording which he did not understand because, as an appointed Peer who has not yet been here for five years, as far as he could see he would not need to stand for election. I am advised by those who helped me to draft it that that is not what the amendment says. As a new appointed Peer he could sit and vote for the first five years, but after that period of time, when the next election came along, he would be able to continue to sit but would not be able to vote unless he was elected to do so by his peers.
My noble friend Lord Strathclyde resists this amendment. I have to put it to him that later in our proceedings I understand he is going to move an amendment which will allow for hereditary Peers who die under the Weatherill agreement to be replaced. Perhaps his enthusiasm for this amendment or one like it will rise when he considers the question that, if all Peers are not left with speaking rights in your Lordships' House, how will your Lordships know how to vote when replacing those who may have died?
My noble friend Lord Strathclyde then said that 240 Cross-Benchers would be too many, but, as I suggested on recommitment or possibly in Committee, he would, would he not, because he was a former Chief Whip. Be that as it may, if the apportionment between the political parties and indeed subsection (10) of this amendment are to be taken out and put in Standing Orders, as is the position for the Weatherill amendment, then my noble friend would not need to hold that against this amendment in future.
My noble friend Lord Strathclyde was then very generous, in that he agreed with Questions 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6 almost without qualification. I think he misunderstood Question 2 a little, which is whether the amendment actually prolongs the Conservative preponderance in your Lordships' House. It does not really matter whether that to the Benches opposite is the most seriously disagreeable aspect of the present composition of your
My noble friend then invited us to live in the real world and in effect to go along with the Weatherill amendment even though it does not fit with his answer to Question 6 which I posed to him. In other words, it does not set up the best possible interim House. I have to put it to my noble friend that the real world would also include the power of the Conservative Whip, and indeed many Cross-Benchers, who do have the ability to frustrate the Government's business until they agree to the best possible interim House, which is in the interests of the nation. However, for reasons which I and I think other noble Lords find completely incomprehensible, my noble friend does not wish to exercise that power, and I would like to put on the record that I very much regret that.
Finally, I come to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, and he also, I think, is not quite clear on the meaning of the amendment. I would confirm to him that I believe it to say that newly appointed Peers could sit and vote for five years and then after that they would have to face election if they wished to go on voting. Hereditary Peers on the other hand would be allowed to sit but only to vote if they were elected. I see the noble Lord is nodding his head, which is very gracious of him, and I hope that that sets the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Newby, at rest as well.
When we come to the six questions, however, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, is a little more difficult. I do not think he really answered Question 1, which is quite simply whether he agrees that there will be a number of excellent hereditary Peers who are excluded--I think he agrees with that--and my question really was, would there not be quite a number, a larger number indeed, of appointed Peers who are less than excellent who would remain? Obviously I shall have to see what he actually said in Hansard, but I think he ducked that with a lawyer's skill and charm.
Coming then to whether the Government have abrogated their manifesto or not, I would only pray in aid what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said from those Benches in one of our earlier debates, which was precisely to the effect that they have abrogated that aspect of their manifesto by allowing some hereditary Peers to stay in the interim House. I do not have the reference here but I did hear the noble and learned Lord say that and I can find it if necessary.
The fourth question, the power to legislate being the power to vote. I will simply have to disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn. It is of course true that the brilliant barrister can persuade the jury to deliver a verdict but it is the jury that delivers the verdict. If the very best of the hereditary and appointed
As to the question of hybridity, I will defer to the noble Lord. I will have to have a look at it. In those circumstances, it would be better to bring this amendment back with the leave of the House because if it were to be denuded of the aspects of hybridity, I think it would, if your Lordships were to agree it, produce a very much better interim House than what Weatherill achieves. Weatherill is simply the result of a deal to which we all appear to be sticking for no very good reason and I hope that your Lordships will at least grant me the indulgence on Third Reading of looking very briefly at this amendment, denuded of any aspects of it which give rise to hybridity. In those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.