Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, as the Minister only has three minutes left to speak, could I beg him to comment on the 27 per cent compared to the 62 per cent figure in Germany, and only 20 per cent of pupils getting A to C grades in French? That is indeed a worrying situation for a state system.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Yes, my Lords. I had just about reached the point where I was going to say that I would respond to some of the points raised in the debate. Perhaps I may start by utterly rejecting the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington--and, I am afraid, of my noble friend Lord Longford--that independent schools can somehow be called comprehensive--

The Earl of Longford: My Lords, I never said so!

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I thought that my noble friend said that Eton, 80 years ago, did not select by ability.

The Earl of Longford: Yes, my Lords; but I did not say that it was comprehensive.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I accept my noble friend's correction. However, if the definition of "comprehensive" for this purpose is not "selected by ability", which I think has been the theme of the debate, there is, nevertheless, some validity in my point. Of course that is not the case. Academic ability depends not only on innate ability but also on all kinds of social factors, as we know perfectly well from education statistics gathered in every country in the world over many years. The idea that performance in independent, fee paying schools--what are laughingly called public schools--can be compared with that in comprehensive schools does not hold water. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, made that clear.

I was asked particularly about Northern Ireland. I am sure that the statistics that have been given with regard to the social origins of those who get into university are valid. However, I believe it is also true that the gap between the achievements of the lower and the higher deciles in Northern Ireland is greater than in this

30 Jun 1999 : Column 363

country. It is also true--the noble Lord ought to recognise this--that Scotland which has a completely non-selective system has high academic achievement.

As regards exam results, my noble friend Lady David discussed that point effectively and pointed to the rise in examination results both at GCSE and A-level over the period during which comprehensive schools became prevalent in this country. We must recognise that although, as I said, some forms of selection for some purposes--for example, in particular subjects within schools--may be justifiable, we shall never go back to the abstract concepts of intelligence which were dreamed up or calculated by Sir Cyril Burt, whose memory is somewhat tarnished, and which achieved a quite unjustifiable scientific plausibility in this country in the years after the war. Those concepts are utterly unacceptable. The concept whereby--the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, recognised this--it was possible to say to a vast majority of the children of this country, "We have assessed you on a single scale at the age of 11 and you are failures" is a concept to which we shall not return.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, do children who do not get into the Oratory or into St Margaret's in Hammersmith and Fulham also feel that they are failures because the education they receive is not as good?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I shall certainly not answer questions about individuals. I never have done and I do not think that the noble Baroness should ask such questions.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.35 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.33 to 8.35 p.m.]

House of Lords Bill

8.36 p.m.

Consideration of amendments on Report resumed.

Lord Kingsland moved Amendment No. 53:

After Clause 3, insert the following new clause--


(" . Nothing in this Act affects the power of the House of Lords to entertain a petition from a claimant to an hereditary peerage to succeed to that peerage or the provision made by that House for such a petition to be referred to the Committee for Privileges.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the effect of the Bill as presented to your Lordships' House is to eliminate hereditary Peers from your Lordships' House. But it is not--and never has been, as I understand it--the declared aim of the Government to have eliminated the hereditary peerage itself. So long as there is a hereditary peerage there has to be some way--a legally authoritative way--of determining disputed rights of succession or contested claims. Hitherto these disputes

30 Jun 1999 : Column 364

have been determined in the Committee for Privileges of your Lordships' House, where the authority of noble and learned Law Lords has been available to guide your Lordships' House.

The Crown is the fount of honour. But the Crown has delegated the role of determining questions of a claim to a title, or proving succession to a title, to your Lordships' House. This amendment touches on a matter which is important to the integrity of the hereditary peerage. It affirms that present arrangements should remain intact. We hope for a categoric assurance from the Government that they have no intention of advising the Crown on, or proposing to the House, an alteration in present procedures. If they have, it would be helpful to your Lordships' House to have some insight into their alternative thinking now for members of the hereditary peerage. I beg to move.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am happy to give that assurance. We have no intention of changing any of the rules of succession and inheritance of the hereditary peerage. We do not intend to remove any of the rights or attributes which do not relate to membership of Parliament. I am grateful for the way in which the noble Lord has expressed this matter. I can assure the House that this amendment is not necessary because the Bill does not affect the rights of either the House or the Committee for Privileges in this matter. They will continue to have their present jurisdiction in relation to all hereditary peerages, just as--I hope to add this as a word of comfort--they retain it in relation to Irish peerages, even though the latter have no right to be Members of this House.

Lord Kingsland: I thank the Minister for his extremely helpful and constructive reply. In those circumstance, I am happy to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Viscount Torrington moved Amendment No. 54:

After Clause 3, insert the following new clause--


(" . The Secretary of State shall petition the Sovereign as to the striking of a commemorative medal to be awarded to peers who have received a writ of summons to attend the present Parliament and who become disqualified by this Act from attending any Session of Parliament after the Session in which this Act is passed in right of an hereditary peerage.").

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, in moving the amendment standing in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Liverpool, I must at the very outset admit--for those of your Lordships who have not yet twigged--that it is a device to raise a slightly more serious subject.

While some of your Lordships who may possibly be forced into early retirement by the passing of the Bill may enjoy or appreciate a long service medal, there is the bones of a case for something just a little more tangible or at any rate more useful. The connection between that and the medal of the amendment is simply that medals struck and awarded on the Sovereign's orders can, and sometimes do, I understand, carry an entitlement to a pension or stipend.

30 Jun 1999 : Column 365

As far as I know, this subject has not previously raised its head in our formal debates on the progress of the Bill. I know that it has generated a little heat outside this Chamber and to give it an airing today might, as it were, clear the air a little. There is an argument which usually runs along the following lines. Since Peers receive only expenses and not remuneration, if they lose the right to sit in the House they no longer incur the expenses of coming here, and therefore they are not in need of any compensation for loss of their rights to sit here. I believe that is a slightly disingenuous argument.

I wish at the outset to get away from the use of the word "compensation", whether for loss of rights to sit, loss of office or whatever. Yes, of course, there is a respectable argument that hereditary Peers are losing a valuable right, a right which, if assignable, could command a very substantial value. Lloyd George proved this in the early part of this century in spades double vulnerable, and I think there have been one or two cases since. There is even an arcane argument which runs that the right of hereditary Peers to sit in the House is a form of real property.

I do not wish to advance either of those arguments, I promise your Lordships. Even I can see that to advance the idea that the taxpayer should, in effect, have to buy back rights from people who are perceived--not always correctly--as members of a wealthy and privileged class is clearly an argument which will not go very far.

My proposal is that those who are being forced into premature political oblivion by the passing of the Bill should perhaps be entitled to some modest recompense for past services in the form of a little assistance, where needed, for the future. As I pointed out in Committee a short while ago when my noble friend Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare raised the idea of a compulsory retirement age for life Peers, the Labour Party's own evidence to the Royal Commission shed some interesting light on this matter. That evidence, in paragraph 6.10, states:

    "The Labour Party is not in favour of a retirement age for existing life Peers who were appointed for life and who may have organised their affairs accordingly". In my opinion, in coded language that means that many life Peers probably have not made very effective pension arrangements and probably expect to rely on their attendance allowance to maintain, or at least supplement, their lifestyles. I asked the other day, if life Peers have organised their lives that way, is it not reasonable to expect that many hereditary Peers have organised their lives in the same manner. Clearly it would seem that the Labour Party believes that its life Peers must be financially protected but that the Tory hereditaries can be thrown to the wolves.

The ending of the right to attend and the loss of allowances that go with it will in quite a few cases lead to dislocation and the need for expensive rearrangement of Peers' personal affairs. Some will need to sell London flats or houses, the outgoings on which have been funded by the overnight allowance; others will have to seek employment for which they have no particular skills or suitability; yet others will simply have to accept a greatly reduced lifestyle, being past employment age.

30 Jun 1999 : Column 366

As I have frequently heard admitted on the Benches opposite, many hereditary Peers have given distinguished service to this House, and thereby to the country, out of a sense of duty over many years. Accepting that duty, that obligation to serve, which hitherto went hand in hand with the right to a seat, has often been a burden and a restriction on the proper development of an alternative career. Now these same people are about to be unceremoniously slung out, with their financial receipts reduced and their source of day-to-day intellectual interest cut off. I particularly mention "intellectual interest" because your Lordships are noted for your longevity. I am sure that it is a sense of continuing involvement, however peripheral, in the great affairs of state which accounts, at least in part, for that longevity. It is quite conceivable that some of your Lordships will die younger than they otherwise might as a result of the Bill. I will not push the point, but it is a possibility.

Members of the other place live with the ever-present possibility that their political careers may be long or short. Either way, as I understand it, they earn the right within a single Parliament to a pension entitlement. Peers are awarded no such consideration.

All of those points seem to suggest that some form of readjustment allowance, relocation expenses, terminal bonus, modest pension--call it what you will--based perhaps on length of service, for forcibly retiring hereditary Peers would not be unjustified. My amendment does not set out to say what it should be or try to quantify it; it merely provides a conduit through which some modest largesse could be delivered. Those Peers who are particularly wealthy could give it to charity; those who are in need of it will at least have some recompense for their past services.

If adopted, my amendment will do the Bill no harm whatever. At worst, from the Government's point of view it would cost a few pounds to run up some cupra-nickel discs with the polite version of "Good riddance" on the back. Much better, it would provide the Government with a chance and a way to show a little magnanimity in victory and that they have a caring heart; to be merciful, as the noble Lord, Lord Howie, said earlier on the subject of ancillary rights.

Of course the easiest and most painless way to deal with this matter would be simply to leave all Peers here and adopt the format of the 1968 Bill or the system proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux. Sadly, I feel that the latter is too mathematically complex, even for my noble friend Lord Ferrers--I am sorry that he is not in his seat--and too much of a sensible British compromise for the Government Front Bench; it is insufficiently cataclysmic or macho. But it has merits and should be considered. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page