Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Noble Lords: No!

Lord Peston: Oh, yes, my Lords. To echo the words that I know noble Lords opposite did not like when expressed by my noble friend the Leader of the House, we will not be clinging to the furniture. We will know that reform implies that a considerable number of us must go. We will then have a House of a viable size, and that number will be much lower than anything suggested by several noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Strathclyde and Lord Kingsland. For the House to shrink to a sensible size, many of us must go. We shall have to face that fact, and I can say only that I look forward to it. I have had a great time here, as has the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley. However, there comes a time when one must go. I do not see that as a problem, and I am delighted that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, has put down the amendment so that others can now place on the record their views.

26 Oct 1999 : Column 209

I should like to record one more point. I do not have the slightest intention of standing for election, either among my fellow Peers or placing myself before the electorate. I have never stood for election to anything, and I firmly believe in achieving high positions by merit, or by being a hack--noble Lords can make their own interpretations. At this stage in my life I have no intention of seeking election to anything.

I believe that we should thank the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, for reminding us that once the Bill has been passed, we shall have to face that harsh reality. I can say only that I look forward to facing it because, for the first time this century, we shall be building a decent House of Lords.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I rise only to say that there is quite a serious objection to a highly amusing amendment; that is, that it wholly pre-empts the work of the Royal Commission that has within its remit the constitution and reconstruction of this House, on recommendations which may well in due course impinge upon what has already been decided by this House on the Weatherill amendment. Furthermore, I do not believe that any of the life Peers can smile too much, certainly not an octogenarian such as myself. I have already made it plain that inevitably, sooner or later, the question of the life Peers will receive consideration. I assuredly would not stand for election for the simple reason that nobody would elect me.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I rise briefly to say that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, is a great entertainer, and once again he has treated the House to his amusing words. Those of us present at the time will remember his marvellous speech on the subject of whether the Bill should refer to "a hereditary Peer" or "an hereditary Peer". However, behind the wit the noble Earl has made a perfectly fair point. I believe that life Peers do recognise that we will have to go. I should like to summarise the attitude of the noble Earl with a misquotation from T.S. Eliot: "This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a giggle". I have to say that I think a giggle will be better than a whimper.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, perhaps I may add to the debate by saying how much I admire my noble friend Lord Ferrers. I am never quite sure what noble Lords opposite think of my noble friend, but his voice has been heard in this House for nearly 45 years and it is always of great benefit to the House. He has an unerring ability, always with good humour, to put his finger on the nub of the matter. He has an ability to identify illogicality in the case made by the Government and home in on it. That is why, sometimes, he appears to get under the skin of the Front Bench opposite. I suspect that he has done so again today.

I do not think that it is possible at this late stage to accommodate my noble friend's proposal in the Bill; and even he might acknowledge that. But I do think that he has raised a question that will not die and that

26 Oct 1999 : Column 210

it should be called the "Ferrers Question". Why, if the heirs to beneficiaries of patronage past are unacceptable in the House, are the beneficiaries of patronage present so acceptable? If it is right, as the noble Baroness the Leader of the House said in a recent edition of the House Magazine, that the election of some hereditary Peers from among the total number of hereditary Peers gives those elected a greater legitimacy, why would the same not be true for life Peers? That is the nub of the argument made by my noble friend Lord Ferrers.

The day that the Government began to push the hereditary peerage from this House was the day that the life peerage--the receivers of present patronage--moved to the front of the stage. This Bill has made it inconceivable that a reform Bill could be introduced without addressing the present status of the life peerage. We may find in time that the "Ferrers Question" becomes part of the Lords' answer, but that would be to anticipate much and to go far beyond any conclusion that our party has yet to reach. Therefore, I hope that my noble friend will not press the amendment to a Division as I would be unable to support it. But, in so saying, I submit that the "Ferrers Question" will hang in the air, and the more Peers that the Prime Minister sends to this House, the more he will need to find an answer to it.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the "Ferrers Question", as I understand it, is that if the hereditary Peers who stay in the House are to be elected, why should not the life Peers who stay in the House be elected as well. That is how the noble Earl posed his question to us. The answer to the question is this: the purpose of the Bill has always been to remove the right of people to legislate on the basis of heredity. That is the limited purpose of the Bill and that has always been stated to be the limited purpose of the Bill. What the second stage of reform will be is a matter for the two Houses of Parliament to decide after the benefit of the Wakeham commission's report on the second stage of reform. So if the aim of the Bill is to remove the right to legislate on a hereditary basis, that is why the hereditary Peers go, subject to the Weatherill amendment, and the life Peers stay. That is the principle of the Bill and that is the principle often stated.

Accepting that principle, what is the point of choosing again between those life Peers who have already been chosen? Every life Peer in this House has been explicitly selected on the basis of his or her past career or potential contribution to this House for the purpose of being a Member of it. There is no other proper rationale for a person to be in this House as a life Peer. For as long as it is necessary to have a peerage to be a Member of the second Chamber, all those explicitly selected for that purpose, which is life Peers and hereditary Peers of first creation, should continue to have that right to sit. So that is my answer to the "Ferrers Question", as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, put it, and I think it is the answer that we have been giving throughout the proceedings on the Bill.

26 Oct 1999 : Column 211

Quite separately from the question of principle, the amendment itself also seems to be unworkable. First, for example, it provides for the electorate of the 400 life Peers to be all the holders of life peerages. Perhaps wisely in the light of last week's debate, it does not say anything about a party split. Neither, of course, does the present Clause 2 of the Bill; but nor does Clause 2 contain any provision ruling out the Standing Orders making provision for separate party elections. This amendment does. We think it highly unlikely that Standing Orders could ever override the specific provision in the Bill. Perhaps it is the noble Earl's idea that the House in the future should be entirely non-political. But we have to start from where we are and many life Peers are party political appointments.

Secondly, I am not at all sure where in the future the candidates will come from. Why should anyone accept a nomination as a potential working Peer if he has no guarantee that he will ever be called to work in the House? Why should anyone offered a peerage on the basis that he is good Cross-Bench material actually decide to stand for election? Could one force him to do so? I am also slightly puzzled as to why the noble Earl (who I thought was of the school that the existing life Peers, after the hereditaries had gone, would find it quite difficult to cope with the workload of the House) thinks that they could cope when their number was down to 400. If there are 400 who care enough about the House to stand for election, presumably they care enough to turn up and fulfil their responsibilities anyway.

As we have said again and again, this Bill is not about life Peers; it is about hereditary Peers. The Royal Commission will report shortly. That is the time to consider what transitional arrangements might be needed for life Peers. I urge the House to reject the amendment.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I am grateful to those noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. I was surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, said that this was the continuation of a sixth-form debating society. I do not think that it was anything of the kind. It happens to be a very serious amendment, as I endeavoured to point out.

My noble friend Lord Campbell said that it is an amusing amendment. I do not know whether it is particularly amusing. He also said that the one reason why it could not possibly be accepted is that it pre-empts what the Royal Commission is going to do. But the whole Bill pre-empts what the Royal Commission is going to do. So that, even coming from my noble friend, is a rotten argument!

I knew that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, would try to destroy my amendment through a mass of rhetoric; and he did not do too badly--in the eyes of some! Did your Lordships notice that he did not use the word "legitimacy"? He changed it to "rationale". I bet he crossed that out at the last moment. He said that my amendment would not work because there would not be enough noble Lords to undertake the workload and he asked who on earth would do it. That is not much of a compliment to the

26 Oct 1999 : Column 212

life Peers. I presume that they would just have to choose the very young, hefty packhorses to stay up all night.

I am interested in the amendment because I introduced an amendment in your Lordships' House earlier in the Bill's passage to suggest that your Lordships should be known not by their title--because that is not what people want to come here for--but by their surname followed by ML, which I knew would meet with the favour of the noble Baroness the Leader of the House because she wrote an article about it. However, when I came to put the amendment to the test I found that the Government Whips had been put on, and noble Lords on the government side marched into the Division Lobby in order to be able to continue to call themselves "Lords", including the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, because of course she was under the direction of the Chief Whip.

The Chief Whip made a curious remark this evening. He said that he did not think that we had had very many Divisions. I am going to have a Division on this amendment because, even if the Government have put on their Whips and said that the amendment is not acceptable, I just want to see all the noble Lords on the Benches opposite traipse through the Division Lobby in order not to be elected.

5.59 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 15) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 186; Not-Contents, 238.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page