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Lord Richard: My Lords, I must respond to the noble Lord before he sits down. I cannot allow what he said to appear in the Hansard report unchallenged, so to speak. The noble Lord firmly said that the Conservative Party did not have a majority in this House. However, 476 Peers take the Tory Whip. There are 286 Cross-Benchers; 109 take the Labour Whip; and 52 take the Liberal Whip. If one adds up 286, 109 and 52, one gets a total of 447. Therefore, the Conservatives do have a majority of the people who come to this House. In addition, there are approximately 150 or 160 Peers who do not come to this House. I think it is a fair bet to say that they are not natural Labour voters.
Lord Boardman: My Lords, I will not try to cross-check the arithmetic. However, if the other Members of this House, other than those who take the Conservative Whip, turn up to vote, I think we would find that they would always beat the Conservatives. In that I include those on the Cross Benches. I am not sure whether the noble Lord did so.
Lord McConnell: My Lords, I should like to comment briefly on some of the suggestions that have been made for the reform of this House. First, there is the suggestion that we should have an elected second chamber. If that were to be done in the normal
A mere duplication of the House of Commons would not be accepted by the other place. Moreover, it would produce conflict and would lower the standard of this House. Have we such an admiration for the other Chamber that we want to have a duplicate of Prime Minister's Question Time in this House, with Front-Benchers snarling at each other across the Dispatch Boxes? I feel that we can offer something better.
If Members of such a chamber were elected by other means--like, for example, from local authorities--again, I do not believe that that would produce a better House than the one we have at present. Indeed, my fear is that it would be much worse. If such people were nominated by professional bodies, such as trade unions and so on, that would be undemocratic. The nomination of life Peers is a much more efficient way of representing specialist interests. I am also very much against the blanket abolition of the hereditary Members of this House. We have some very good young and able hereditary Members--and, indeed, even some older and able hereditary Members--who give considerable service to the House. It would be a great loss to do away with them.
However, it might be possible to get rid of some of the dead wood. The figures available give rather a false impression of the situation. Indeed, I looked through the attendance records for the 1994-95 Session and found that nearly 350 noble Lords never attended during that time. That included 68 Peers with leave of absence, which should only be granted for a good reason--and I am not sure how good a reason one has to give in that respect. Moreover, there were over 200 Peers who had never taken the oath. Therefore, to have those people listed as Members of this House gives a false impression and does little good.
I believe that there should be some method of dealing with that situation. For example, I suggest that if a noble Lord does not attend a certain number of times during a Session he should not be entitled to attend, vote or speak in the subsequent Session. Alternatively, the suggestion has been made that hereditary Peers might do as was done with the Scottish representative Peers--and the Irish representative Peers before them--and select a goodly number of their Members who were fit to attend and anxious to do so.
I believe it is wrong to have two lists: there is the Honours List and there is the list of working Peers. I consider that all people appointed as life Peers should be working Peers and that no distinction should be made between one or the other. I feel it is irresponsible to accept the honour and not carry out the responsibilities.
The great thing is that the House of Lords works. That is an important consideration without going into a lot of theory as to what is good and conforms with political theory. We should preserve what we have. There are minor amendments to be made, such as I have mentioned, which probably would improve this assembly. However, I do not think we need any root and branch amendments to this House. I support what has been said; namely, that there should be full consultation. I think that any alteration of the composition of the powers of this House should, as far as possible, be done by agreement between the different parties. One side should not impose its will on the other side. I commend to noble Lords the few matters that I have mentioned.
Lord Strabolgi: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, has had a distinguished career in Northern Ireland. Although he was too modest to say so, he came here through the Honours List and not through the working list, although he has shown since he has been here that he is also a working Peer. We are glad to see him and to hear his speech today.
I wish to say at the outset that I support my party's policy of curtailing the hereditary right to a seat in this House. This hereditary right is surely difficult to defend today and, as my noble friend Lord Carter said, it is absolutely indefensible. I accept, however, that many Peers by succession have made distinctive contributions. However, the wholesale removal of all the hereditary Peers by succession who attend regularly would not only deprive the House of many senior and distinguished Peers, but it would mean considerable disruption to parliamentary business, and a notable loss to Lords' debates.
The Labour Party, I think, recognises this problem and proposes that a number of hereditary Peers should be granted life peerages, as my right honourable friend the Leader of the Opposition in another place has said. I think that is absolutely essential, frankly, if the Chamber and the work of the Chamber are not to collapse.
But who is to decide on the quota for each party, and who are the chosen Peers to be? This will surely not be an easy task. I understand Labour says it can be left to the parties. But who is to decide among the large group of independent Cross-Benchers who are not organised in this way? Who among the parties are to decide? Will it be based on the number of useful and hard-working Peers who have made a contribution over the years? Is it to be based on party numbers so that the
It is also proposed, I believe--although not by my party--as a way round this dilemma to allow the Peers by succession to elect a certain number to represent them for the duration of a Parliament. I do not think that such a solution would be acceptable in the country, which I am sure would not tolerate an aristocratic electoral college of this kind. Even if we could reach agreement on the quota system for the transfer to life peerages, the way there will not be easy. There will be a long interval between losing the right to a Writ of Summons, after the Bill has received Royal Assent, and the reintroduction to the House as a life Peer, presumably with a new title and the usual elaborate ceremony if the College of Arms has anything to do with it! Will the hereditary Peer have to give up his hereditary title if he takes a life peerage? These are all details which will have to be addressed and which I do not think have been thought through, as far as I can see. All that is said is, "Oh, well, some of the hereditaries--a good number of them--will be given life peerages". It is not made clear how this will be done and how long the interval will be after the Bill receives Royal Assent and their reintroduction under their new titles. That could take a great many months. During that time the House will be deprived of many of its key Members, who will be in temporary exile. They will indeed be some distinguished people.
I believe the best way to solve this problem with the least disruption is for the hereditary right to a seat to cease with the death of the present holder, although of course the title could continue. As about 25 hereditary Peers die every year, there would be a fairly rapid reduction in just two parliaments. If such a provision had been included in the 1958 Life Peerages Act, there would be hardly any hereditaries left in the House today, and time would have brought its own solution. It seems to have been forgotten sometimes--I think this has been so during this debate--that your Lordships' House nearly 30 years ago rejected the hereditary principle as a basis for membership. The 1968 Government White Paper stated amongst other proposals that succession to a peerage was no longer to carry the right to a seat. That proposal was approved by this House by the large majority of 251 votes to 56.
What I am suggesting therefore is not new. It is just one of the reforms that could be brought in as part of a gradual process that I have seen over the past 40 years since I have had the privilege of being a Member of this House. The House now is absolutely unrecognisable as the one that I first knew when I took my seat in 1954. It was then an all-male, all-hereditary and much smaller House. There have therefore been a good many reforms in the past 40 years. What I have suggested tonight would be a further extension of that. I am sure it is the right way to proceed and would cause the minimum of disruption, until we are ready to move to Labour's long-term proposal--as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Richard--for consultations to take place to decide the form a second Chamber should take.
Lord Marlesford: My Lords, I am glad that we have had this fascinating two-day debate. It is rather fascinating that the reform of the House of Lords has such a high profile since Mr. Blair became Leader of the Labour Party. However, I suppose it is not really surprising as he became Leader rather unexpectedly and in sad circumstances. He wanted to produce a fairly safe and radical-sounding policy. The Labour Party--
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