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Lord Carter: My Lords, the purpose of the new clause is to provide for a further 90 non-voting hereditary Peers to be retained. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, for going to some lengths to correct the technical faults in his previous approach during earlier stages of the Bill.

I am afraid we have to disappoint him by saying that we still do not accept either the underlying principle or the arguments which he has adduced. I shall deal first with the principle. Our manifesto commitment was to remove the right of hereditary Peers to sit as well as to vote. We have agreed to a modest transitional measure in respect of the Weatherill Peers. That, however, is as far as we are prepared to go. Our commitment to the principle of ending the right to a privileged access to this House by reason of birth is not dimmed, and it applies to those who may not vote as much as to those who may.

As has been pointed out in our earlier debates, on most normal Bills votes are taken comparatively rarely. Indeed, even on this Bill, despite the many days we have spent discussing it, we have had comparatively few Divisions. If that is not a Chief Whip tempting providence, I do not know what is! They happen to have included the issue of whether a two-Writ system would be desirable and the number of hereditary Peers who should be excepted from the effect of the Bill. But this proposal would give a further 90 hereditary Peers a privileged right to have a voice heard; a privileged right to hold Ministers to account; and a privileged right to examine witnesses before a Select Committee.

The noble Lord says that he wants a bank of expertise to be available to the House from those who could contribute, but do not have the time or the stamina to make a full-time commitment. Is he proposing any way of ensuring that the Peers he desires to fulfil his proposals are actually the ones who do so? What is to prevent Peers turning up to speak on subjects on which they are not experts? There is ample experience, both inside and outside the House, among the life Peers.

The noble Lord's proposal cannot be entirely to do with numbers. I recall at an earlier stage that he did not think the House could function properly without the

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help of the hereditary Peers, because something over 500 life Peers would not be enough. How would 90 who are only intended to be part-time and experts, and non-voting, help with that?

Moreover, as the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, pointed out at an earlier stage, would such a proposal not spoil the free and frank way in which all Members of this House are given equal attention? There were also doubts expressed in our earlier debates, which I think are justified, about the wisdom in a parliamentary Chamber of giving anyone the right to speak without also giving him the responsibility to decide.

To summarise, two-Writ systems are not acceptable to the Government. Changes to the number of excepted hereditary Peers are not acceptable to the Government. If the noble Lord is, after all, minded to put his amendment to the vote, I hope that the House will join us in voting against it.

The Earl of Longford: My Lords, I am going to vote straight; in other words, vote obsequiously. But I cannot sit here and have it assumed that there is something in Labour principles which is against the idea of some Peers coming here and speaking but not voting.

I was meaning to go back to Keir Hardie or to 1960 when the Labour Party--

Lord Carter: My Lords, perhaps my noble friend will give way. We are at Third Reading and the only person who should speak after the Minister is the person who moved the amendment, unless there is a particular question of fact which the noble Earl wishes to put to me.

The Earl of Longford: My Lords, I do not know about the relevance of that, but I am sure that it was! I thought I was docile but I am not servile. The noble Lord needs a lot of refreshing to cope with me! Thirty years ago this House--Labour leaders, leaders of all parties and everyone--accepted the principle of some hereditary Peers coming here and speaking and not voting. No question of principle was involved; it was accepted by the Labour leaders long before some of the younger fellows here were born.

Now I am docile so I shall put it straight because I am instructed to: I cannot accept the idea that there is something wrong in principle with the notion of two kinds of Peer.

Lord Coleraine: My Lords, I am more than grateful for the entirely factual intervention of the noble Earl. I shall not spend much time replying to the Government Front Bench. However, I want to say to my noble friend Lord Strathclyde that I am sorry that the wind has changed as far as he is concerned. I detect that perhaps he has been speaking with my noble friend Lord Cranborne or reading earlier debates in which he spoke. The noble Viscount first suggested that a non-voting Peer was a second-class Peer. If that were the case, I should be happy to be a second-class Peer, but

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I am not given that opportunity. For one reason or another, I do not think that this is an opportune moment to test the feeling of the House on such an amendment. I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Kingsland moved Amendment No. 8:


After Clause 2, insert the following new clause--

NUMBER OF MEMBERS OF HOUSE OF LORDS

(" . The maximum number of persons entitled to receive a writ of summons to the House of Lords and to sit and vote in that House is 750.").

The noble Lord said: My Lord, Amendment No. 8 seeks to place a limit of 750 on the size of your Lordships' House. Those of your Lordships who have had a chance to glance at the manifesto of the Labour Party and the Government's White Paper on reforming your Lordships' House will be aware that distinct principles underlie the plans for the composition of your Lordships' House at stages one and two.

For the composition of the House at stage one, the principle will be that each time there is a general election there will be an adjustment in the number of life Peers to reflect the overall result. The principle for the transitional House is that there will be broad parity between the Government and the main opposition party, with proportional increases for the other parties and a substantial representation by the Cross-Benchers.

Today we are considering the transitional House, but I cannot resist saying, in passing, that the plans for the House at stage two, if they reflect what is said in the Labour Party's manifesto, are seriously flawed. I say that for two reasons. First, if we have to adjust the number of life Peers each time there is a general election in order to reflect the result of that election, your Lordships' House will grow in size exponentially. Very soon its membership will exceed 1,000 and more.

Secondly, if the composition of your Lordships' House reflects the composition of another place, if this House is a photograph of another place, what control will your Lordships' House be able to exercise on that other place? Therefore, I hope that between now and the time when the Government consider their plans for stage two they will reflect on the principles set out in their manifesto and reconsider the position.

As regards the composition of the transitional House, the principle of broad parity has been made crystal clear by the noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal both in Committee and at Report stage. Perhaps I may draw your Lordships' attention, first, to the Hansard report of 11th May 1999. The noble Baroness said, somewhat late in the evening:


    "Let us say that we have agreed that x will be the number"--

that is, the total number of Members of your Lordships' House. She continued:


    "Within x, the Government will merely seek to ensure that there is almost precise parity with the official Opposition. That is a guarantee of the overall ceiling, which is rather clear, on the size of the House".--[Official Report, 11/5/99; col. 1194.]

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Just before that, the noble Baroness elucidated the meaning of the expression "Official Opposition", by saying:


    "There is only one Official Opposition party in this Chamber at any one time. But if the government of the day--that is, the Labour Party--are to have broad parity with the Official Opposition, that means parity with the Conservative Party".--[Official Report, 11/5/99; col. 1191.]

Just over a month and a half later, on Report on 30th June, the noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal again addressed her mind to this particular matter. The noble Baroness quoted paragraph 7 on page 32 of the Government's White Paper, Reforming the House of Lords, which stated:


    "We set out in our manifesto the broad principle which we believe should govern the appointment of life peers but our present intention is to move towards broad parity between Labour and the Conservatives. The principle of broad parity and proportionate creations from the Liberal Democrat and other parties would be maintained throughout the transitional period".--[Official Report, 30/6/99; col. 347.]

It is my submission that nothing could be clearer than those statements about where the Government stand on the situation which will be maintained throughout the life of your Lordships' House in its transitional stage.

The noble Baroness also hazarded on Report a view of what the total number would be that would properly reflect those principles in the event that--I should qualify myself--the Weatherill amendment were to pass and become law. The noble Baroness estimated that the size of your Lordships' House would be in the order of 700 Members.

Your Lordships will no doubt be pleased to hear that Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition have made their own calculations. Taking into account the Weatherill amendment and applying to it the principles of parity between the Government and the Official Opposition party, proportionate increases for the Liberals, and a substantial representation for the Cross-Benchers, we believe that the figure that will be arrived at will be somewhere between 715 and 720 Members.


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