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I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, for starting the process, which was followed fully by other noble Lords, of emphasising how important Darwin was as an exponent of scientific method and of careful analysis of what he was doing. The other great theme that came through the debate—a number of noble Lords, including the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, took this up—was the need to be concerned about the extent to which our society is scientifically educated and the necessity to appreciate that, without a clear grounding in scientific

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method, our society will not be well educated. There is a great deal of work to be done. How important that work might be was alluded to by several noble Lords and reference was made to how much the fundamental concepts of Darwin have percolated society.

In a Theos report, as has been quoted today, the percentage of people in the United Kingdom who believe that Darwin’s theory of evolution is so well established that it is beyond reasonable doubt is a minority—I repeat, a minority. This is 150 years after the promulgation of the thesis. If our scientific understanding is such that such a crucial concept still has not permeated among the vast majority of our people, we have reason to be concerned about aspects of science education. In a few moments, I want to emphasis that the Government are using this felicitous year to extend our concentration on the work that should be done in schools.

Darwin is a Briton and we claim great pride in his achievements, but we should not be under the illusion that this year of celebration is merely a UK phenomenon. Australia is holding a year-long evolution festival to celebrate Darwin’s anniversaries. Vancouver in Canada has had a celebration. Milan celebrated Darwin Day in February to kick off a nationwide series of events dedicated to evolution and Philadelphia in the United States is celebrating a city-wide Year of Evolution.

In the UK, as has been reflected in the debate, a wide range of organisations across England, Wales and Scotland have collaborated under the brand name Darwin200 to produce a national programme of events to celebrate the legacy and enduring relevance of Charles Darwin’s work. The partnership includes more than 120 organisations from across the arts, education, heritage, local government, libraries, media, museums, science and tourism sectors, including the Natural History Museum—as all of us would expect— VisitBritain, the BBC, the British Council, Research Councils UK, the University of Cambridge, the Royal Society and the Fitzwilliam Museum. They are all making their contribution to celebrating this year.

None of that work gets done without financial support or funding. The Darwin200 secretariat’s work to ensure that this year is marked appropriately has received financial support from the Natural History Museum, the British Council, the Wellcome Trust, and the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills. Reference was made to the position of Wales. The noble Lords, Lord Bew and Lord Chorley, mentioned Alfred Russell Wallace, the Welshman who was key to the development of evolutionary theory. It was a letter from Wallace, as was indicated in contributions, who independently arrived at the theory of evolution by natural selection, which finally prompted Darwin to share his work with the world. I cannot think of anything more significant than that. We should therefore appreciate that in Wales, too, there is considerable celebration of this anniversary. I had not known that. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bew, for bringing to the House’s attention the fact that there is a celebration in the Irish Republic, too, against a background where 150 or so years ago it would not have been anticipated as a likely development.

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I am grateful also to the noble Lord, Lord McColl, who provided the House with an intense insight into Darwin’s life. I am pleased that he mentioned Shrewsbury because, after all, that was Darwin’s birthplace and where he was brought up, and the small, modest but exceedingly attractive museum in the town bears testimony to this. Shrewsbury, therefore, also has pride of place in this celebration.

There are of course places even more famous than Shrewsbury. I anticipated, but was grateful for, the contributions of both the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, and the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery. They emphasised the significance of the Galapagos and the work that has to be done there. I am pleased to bring to the House’s attention the fact that, as part of this celebratory year, the Gulbenkian Foundation is funding a three-year residency programme which will enable up to 12 leading artists to spend time in the Galapagos archipelago. They will be able to engage with the Galapagos in their own way and to reflect on its unique nature, historic value and current importance, as well as on the human conservation challenges it faces.

There is no contradiction between the theory of evolution through natural selection and being concerned about conservation. There will not be much of a theory of natural selection unless we succeed in conserving the planet, which is certainly a major objective. That is also true of the mockingbird, to which the noble Baroness referred, and other species which are under threat. As human beings we should care about those species because, after all, Darwin was a celebrant of biodiversity and it would be very strange indeed if we took joy in the reduction of that diversity. I do not think there is anything about Charles Darwin and this anniversary that should detract us from our concerns about conservation.

Reference was made to the threats to certain species about which we ought to take a particular interest. We all know about the threat to the humble bee at the present time from disease, and we also know the potential catastrophic effect that could have on food production unless we are successful in protecting the species.

Government support for Darwin200 is provided by the DIUS and the programmes receive ministerial support from DCMS, the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. A cross-ministerial government group has been working to make this year as successful as possible.

Although I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Lea for bringing Milton into the debate—he is certainly a different figure from Darwin, although educated at the same college—not much reference was made to the extent to which Darwin has inspired many plays, books and films which celebrate his life, and many debates about the issues he raised. This is one of the features to be celebrated at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, which will explore the influence of Darwin’s ideas and discoveries on the work of visual artists such Landseer, Turner, Degas, Monet and Cézanne. So there is a breadth to the celebrations this year beyond the science, although the science is of the greatest importance.

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I want to mention the point that the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, graphically expressed, that the Great Plant Hunt gives us an opportunity to get young children, at primary school level as well as secondary, interested in the issues that Darwin identified, to go on nature walks in their school grounds, to explore habitats, to collect seeds, to grow plants and to explore the concept of the chest, which the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, identified. That is a most exciting project. There are 25,000 of these chests; the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, referred to that, and expressed his gratitude to the Post Office. We are similarly grateful. This is all part of the necessary public engagement with science. When we come to judge the effectiveness of this year of celebration, it will come down to the question of the extent to which we have enhanced scientific interest and education in our society and the true legacy of Darwin.

I want to mention an additional point from the Dispatch Box: the important aspect of government policy. The noble Lord, Lord McColl, in his description of Darwin’s life, described all that I need to do with regard to the significance of Down House in Bromley and its surrounding landscape. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport submitted a bid last month to UNESCO to confer world heritage status on Down House. The house is an outstanding aspect of Darwin’s life and, when we are successful with this bid, as we hope to be, it will have the enhanced guarantee of the nomenclature of the world heritage position. We look forward to that.

This has been an absorbing debate. I have not done justice to the debate between the right reverend Prelates, the noble Lord, Lord Birt, and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, who engaged with the fundamental issue of the debate that took off in the 19th century on the nature of religion and the origins of the universe. I indicated, as did the noble and right reverend Lord in his contribution, that there is still an extraordinary degree of ignorance about the evolution of the species and in understanding the fundamental concept of Darwin. That part of the debate will continue in our society, but on an increasingly sophisticated level. We heard today the extent to which that debate can be engaged with to the advantage of us all, without the insults and the acrimony that distinguished it 150 years ago and which scarcely added to the enlightenment of the nation.

That, though, is a debate on which the Government probably ought to observe a dutiful silence; we all have our viewpoints, but hearing the Government’s view on the matter would not aid the position. I simply reflect that in this debate, despite the diverse opinions that have been expressed and the wide range of issues that have been raised, there has been one unifying factor: the debate celebrates the contribution of one of the greatest of all Britons and one of our greatest scientists. I thank the noble Baroness for giving us all a chance to participate today.

4.19 pm

Baroness Hooper: My Lords, I feel totally justified in having brought this Motion before your Lordships. It has been a serious, well informed and inspiring

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debate, and as I anticipated, I, for one, have learnt a great deal. I found it fascinating, in listening to every word from every speaker, is that there has been a refreshing lack of repetition. Each intervention has introduced a new theme or a different approach without much, or any, orchestration from me. I am glad to learn that we may have an ongoing debate on the role of science in the coming year when we celebrate the 250th anniversary of the Royal Society.

I am most grateful to all the noble Lords who have contributed so thoughtfully and informatively. I think it will make today’s Hansard a really good read. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Lea, has been reassured that the work of the Galapagos Conservation Trust is not to contradict Darwin’s conclusions about the survival of the fittest, but to ensure that we humans do not upset the balance of nature and the process of natural evolution.

I have been greatly encouraged to hear what is being done for the future in terms of science education and especially about the Kew treasure chest, the Great Plant Hunt and the Beagle project. The Minister had a difficult task expressing a governmental rather than a personal viewpoint. However, the great list of activities that he referred to will enable anyone with the time and interest to pursue further the information gathering that has gone on this afternoon.

Once again, I thank noble Lords for their contributions to the celebrations of the bicentenary of the great Charles Darwin. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion withdrawn.

House of Lords Bill [HL]

Bill Main Page
Copy of the Bill
1st Report from DPC

Committee (1st Day)

4.43 pm

Moved by Lord Steel of Aikwood

That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I would like to speak very briefly to the Motion that the House should go into Committee because I would like to bring to the House’s attention that I may have inadvertently misled it when I spoke at Second Reading.

The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, said in his speech:

“Some may say that the Bill is a device for delay, but that is not my noble friend’s”—

the noble Lord, Lord Steel—

I took up this reprise at Second Reading, for which I may be embarrassed. I said that I had learnt a new fact in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, was in fact in favour of an elected second Chamber. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, did not demur from that fact, and he is not doing so at the moment. However just a couple of years ago in the columns of the Guardian newspaper no less, the noble Lord, Lord Steel, wrote an article headlined:

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“An elected upper house would cause huge divisions. Its members should all be appointed”.

When I discovered this, imagine my consternation and confusion that I might have led your Lordships to believe one thing about the noble Lord, Lord Steel, when the other was true. The article goes on:

“During my 12 years as leader of the Liberal party I regarded myself as hereditary keeper of the Asquith pledge to replace the House of Lords with a chamber constituted on a ‘popular basis’. Now that we face a new attempt to reform the upper house, it is time to stop and ponder whether we are proceeding in the right direction”.

The noble Lord rhapsodised on, with the enthusiasm of the newborn baptised, to extol the virtues of an all appointed House. If I am confused, I suggest that the House is confused—the noble Lord, Lord Steel, may be confused—but we need to set this matter right before we go into Committee because it lies at the heart of the debate that we shall have.

This morning noble Lords will have arrived in this House to find that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, was confused not only about whether he is in favour of an elected or an appointed House but also about the purpose of his Bill. This is the second or third time that we have debated the noble Lord’s Bill, and one would like to feel that he understood what his purpose was; but yesterday afternoon, when the noble Lord rose from his lunch or his slumbers or whatever it was, he cried, “Eureka!”. He rushed to the Printed Paper Office—it was almost the middle of the night by the time he got there—and laid a manuscript amendment because he thought that the House did not yet know the purpose of his Bill. When I came in this morning, I said that if we were going to discuss yet again the purpose of the Bill, because I thought that we had done that at Second Reading, it was only fair that I should seek to amend it, and I have myself put down a manuscript amendment.

I hope that I have not delayed the House, but I would very much like to know what on earth is in the noble Lord’s mind, not only in terms of his purpose clause but also whether he is in favour of an elected or an appointed House.

Motion agreed.

Amendment A1

Moved by Lord Steel of Aikwood

A1: Insert the following new Clause—


Provisions contained within the Act

The four purposes of this Act are—

(a) to establish a statutory Appointments Commission,

(b) to end entry into the House of Lords of hereditary peers by byelection,

(c) to enable peers to retire, and

(d) to enable the House to exclude members from the House.”

Lord Steel of Aikwood: I must first apologise if my voice does not carry as well as normally because I have a heavy cold. Since I had to make this speech, I could not resort to my usual, favourite Scottish medicine to

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chase it away. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, only that the salmon did not rise to fly. I am sorry; I am not going to be caught out on that issue.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Steel of Aikwood: My noble friend Lord Tyler was absolutely right. I can listen to debates in the House and be moved by them. When it came to the votes on the composition of the House, I voted against the mixed House, but I accepted that an elected House was probably the will of the House. However, the point that I want to make today in tabling the amendment is that we have moved on from the discussion about whether we have an appointed or an elected House. This amendment would unite those who are in favour of maintaining the House as it is and those who are in favour of an elected House. This can be done by accepting the four points in the amendment.

Amendment A1 is aptly named because it is a first-class amendment, supported by all four quarters of the Chamber. It is right that, before we get into the detail of 95 debatable amendments to the Bill, the Committee is provided with an opportunity—and this is a perfectly open and transparent device—to come to a specific view on whether it wants to see these measures brought into effect.

It is clear that there has been a major shift in opinion from our debate in the previous Session of Parliament to that of the other Friday, when we had 27 speeches in favour of the Bill and only five against. If the Committee carries the amendment, as I hope it will, it will be a clear signal to the Government either to take over the Bill and thereby introduce the four measures into the legislative programme or to introduce them into the constitutional renewal Bill, which we expect in the next few weeks. In either case, there would have to be a carry-over, but I think that we are all agreed, whatever our views on the merits of the Bill, that it would be far better conducted by the Government than by a private Member.

Therefore, perhaps I may spell out briefly again the four purposes of the Bill and remove any confusion in the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. First, on the creation of a statutory Appointments Commission, we had the welcome support at Second Reading of the noble Lord, Lord Jay, the new chairman of the Appointments Commission, who is very strongly in favour of a statutory basis. We know that it was a pledge in the Labour election manifesto of 2001 that there should be a statutory Appointments Commission. We look forward to the Minister of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who has the task of replying to this debate, telling us how much work has been done in Government since that manifesto commitment was made. We hope that some work has been done and that they will take over this section of the legislation, with their own views as to how the statutory Appointments Commission should work.

4.30 pm

The second part involves an end to the by-elections for hereditary Peers. I am indebted to an academic who sent me an advance article to appear in next

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month’s Political Quarterly, which pointed out that we have experienced in this House the only election of a Member to the British Parliament in which the number of voters was exceeded by the number of candidates. There were 11 candidates and three voters in one election. As for the promise made in 1999 that the 92 hereditary Peers would remain until stage 2 of Lords reform, nothing was said at the time about what stage 2 would consist of. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, who made the commitment as the Lord Chancellor at the time, regards the four proposals in this Bill as constituting stage 2 and therefore an acceptance of that promise. We are, in this Bill, being much kinder to the hereditary Peers than was envisaged in 1999. We are not saying that the 92 should disappear; we are saying simply that they should not be replenished and that, therefore, the hereditary Peers would become de facto life Peers, unable to be succeeded either by their heirs or by election of new Members. That seems a sensible provision in this day and age. It means an end to entry into this Parliament by heredity.

The third part enables Peers to retire. I think that we have all agreed that the House is too large, at more than 700, and that numbers should be reduced. Of course, there can be legitimate argument, under the amendments tabled, about whether there should be a fixed age limit, a fixed length of service or a mixture of the two, as they have in the Senate in Canada. I think that it is agreed that Members who never come should be taken off the list and that an effort should be made to reduce the size of the House. That is what the third part of the Bill allows for.

The fourth part enables the House of Lords to do what the House of Commons can do, which is to suspend or expel its Members. Even if those accused of wrongdoing at the present time turn out to be completely blameless, the fact is that the press coverage has exposed a weakness in our constitution that ought to be remedied. In fairness to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, he accepted that at Second Reading.

In spite of the merits of these four proposals, there is still an attitude of “let’s do nothing until something more major happens”. I have two objections to that. First, what is the something major? We have the White Paper, which has never yet been debated. It is not even a White Paper; it looks like the tail fin of a British Airways plane. In fact, that is entirely appropriate, because that is all it is: it is a tail fin; it has no body and no wings. We do not know whether it will be 100 per cent elected, or 80 per cent elected; we do not know how it is going to be elected or whether the Cunningham committee recommendations for a complete change of the conventions between the two Houses are going to be accepted. We do not even know what it is going to be called. It has no body and there are certainly no wings, because we have no date for the take-off of this project at all. In fairness to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, I thought he made a very valid point at the end of Second Reading in spelling out what he thought would be the priorities of an incoming Government—and I think that applies to whatever Government is created after the next election. They will not include the replacement of the House of Lords.

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We are in an extraordinary situation in which it is clear that opinion in the House does not coincide with the opinion of the two Front Benches. They are united in a new maƱana party, which reminds me of the tale in 1588 of the shipwreck of part of the Spanish Armada in the Western Isles of Scotland. One of the ships was wrecked off a very small island with a population of 100—a part of the country where the pace of life is much slower than in the rest of the United Kingdom. There was only one survivor. He came ashore and the islanders decided that the only thing they could do was to teach him how to speak Gaelic and he would teach them how to speak Spanish.

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