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Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws: My Lords, the notion that a person should be able to participate in our legislature simply as a birthright is a shameful anachronism. The inherent discrimination against women in the hereditary principle is one that shocks women up and down the country. It adds insult to the nonsense of the hereditary principle and is unacceptable in the modern world.
The present composition of this House is indefensible. I share the view of my noble friend Lord Gordon that it is much more fitting for hereditary Peers to contribute to debates in this House, rather than dig in their heels and resist change, and join in the very challenging process that will confront us in modernising this Chamber. To do otherwise only strengthens public perception that this is the last bastion of a dying species incapable of reinventing itself or adjusting to the modern world. I urge all noble Lords to take part in the process rather than resist it.
Lord Elton: My Lords, can the noble Baroness tell the House when the opportunity will arise for hereditary Peers to take part in the process since the Government have said that it will not begin until they have left?
Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws: My Lords, it is open to all noble Lords in this Chamber to give their views as to how a second Chamber should be composed after they have gone. We would value your views and it would be helpful to hear them. No doubt noble Lords could offer to the Royal Commission their views by way of evidence which would be listened to with great interest and value would be attached to it, but I believe that the majority of people in this country consider that prompt action should be taken now.
I welcome the establishment of the Royal Commission which has been promised by my noble friend Baroness Jay, but I hope that it is given a finite period in which to report. Reform is not only about the composition of this House. As the Leader of the House has said, other constitutional issues are linked to it. There are also important questions about the role of the second Chamber and what its relationship should be to the House of Commons.
It is useful to hear suggestions from those on the Benches opposite about how a modern second Chamber can operate. The Institute for Public Policy Research, the Constitutional Unit that is now based at the University of London and other groups have been
The existing relationship between the two Houses should be maintained, except that the reformed House of Lords would have equal standing with the Commons in constitutional matters. It might even have a special concern for human rights. The role of committees should be expanded to provide comprehensive pre-legislative scrutiny. Other areas of responsibility would include scrutinising delegated and European legislation. The House could be involved in the monitoring of public appointments. The transition to the reformed second Chamber would be phased in over a period of seven to 10 years, allowing for the concerns that some of the noble Lords have expressed about alacrity perhaps being dangerous.
Proposals of that sort have a number of obvious advantages. They define the relationship between the two Chambers in a way which retains the supremacy of the House of Commons. They allow a reformed House of Lords to make a significant contribution to the legislative process, reducing the pressure from the House of Commons and so encouraging better governance and more detailed scrutiny of legislation.
Such proposals reflect the emerging regional level of representation in the United Kingdom. Devolved levels of regional government and the regional structure of representation in Europe could provide a basis from which regional elections might take place.
Although most of the reformed House of Lords would be elected, the Chamber would lack the legitimacy of a wholly elected House by having that appointed component. This appointed element could bring expertise to the House of Lords and could incorporate individuals who would not normally stand for elections.
If we are to have sensible debate in this House we need not fear the chasm of the unknown. There are many interesting proposals for us to look at. We could look at other ways in which representation could come forward on a regional basis. Appointments could be made on a regional basis by regionally based appointments committees. My preference would be that this should be done on the basis of democratic election.
The arguments are well rehearsed and it is time to act. When we come to reform this House we should be prepared, for those who act in this House as members of a legislature, to abandon front-loaded titles which go with membership of this House. It would no longer be necessary once the hereditary Peers have gone. One might have after one's name the word "Peer" or the letters "MUH"--though perhaps "ML" might be better.
Lord Rees: My Lords, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of the Shaws, will forgive me if I do not follow her into the intricacies of her argument, either on heredity and hereditary positions in the 20th century or on the details of a reformed House of Lords. That can await the White Paper which we have at last been promised.
The proposal that we are debating today can only seriously be justified on the basis that it would be a major step to improving the constitution. The context is understandable. Last year, the Labour Party won a signal election victory. It was remarkable for the number of seats won; less remarkable for the actual number of votes cast for the Labour Party. It seems to be common ground that we have and should retain a bicameral Parliament, to judge from many of the interventions and from the preview of the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, which we read in today's Telegraph.
The need for a second Chamber becomes more acute as we move to a more presidential system and as governments resort more to referenda on issues that have not been properly explored and debated in Parliament. Although in this House we must respect the wishes of the public, however defined and however expressed, and we do--and the Salisbury Convention is evidence of that--a second Chamber has a right to interpret those wishes in a way that may not necessarily conform with the aspirations of the government of the day and it has a duty on occasions to provide an opportunity for further reflection on important issues. Against that background, and against the background of the Labour manifesto, we are now told that the most pressing measure of constitutional reform in the next Session--initial, self-contained, not dependent on further reform in the future, as it says in the manifesto--is a measure designed to end the right of hereditary Peers to sit and to vote here.
It is fair to point out that the Labour Party has never enjoyed a majority in this House. Whether, with the increasing creation of life Peers and with the inevitable and gradual extinction of hereditary peerages, this would always be the case we need not debate here. It is also right to point out, however, that we have had a number of Labour administrations since the war, sometimes with considerable majorities in the Commons. All have lived with the disadvantage of not having a majority in this House. All have managed to enact their most important measures. All have accepted,
One of the difficulties of this Government is that, having accepted the economic and fiscal framework they inherited after 18 years of Conservative government, they must feel the need--and I sympathise with the feeling on this--to establish their credentials as a radical government of the Left. Indeed, the tenor of their speeches, with nostalgic echoes of class war, on the need to bring order to a body of arrogant and reactionary hereditary Peers who are bent on frustrating the Government's modernising measures, might have been appropriate in 1910 but bear little relationship to the circumstances of today. The noble Baroness might at least have explained to the world the basis of the 30 defeats the Government have suffered in the past year, might also have explained which they have managed to swallow and why, and generally put that problem in perspective.
If the Government wish to perceive of measures of constitutional reform, they might eschew the rather petulant demagoguery and search for a measure of bipartisan agreement. They might explain more effectively than they have done today why the proposals we are debating should be self-contained and taken in advance of their longer-term measures to reform the House when, according to the noble Baroness, "They have worked"--the long-term issues--"in detail in sub-committee". Why are we limited to one question, and one question only, on the composition, but no questions on the powers of a reformed House? We have read in the manifesto that the powers of the House are to be retained on their present limited basis. Is it because the Government do not propose to alter the balance of power between this House and the Commons that we have heard no more on that today from the Labour Front Bench?
In the absence of a written constitution--that may have to be debated at some time--institutions are legitimised by history, the passage of time and their effective contribution to the life of the country. Few whom I have heard inside or outside this Chamber have argued that this House does not adequately perform its duties. The only criticism might be that its powers are so limited that it cannot adequately revise or improve great measures. Indeed, the noble Baroness hinted as much in her article.
In the light of this debate, I hope that the Government will reflect, and approach the question of constitutional reform in the next Session with a little more modesty, a little more candour and a little more realism.
Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, I shall repeat an argument I have made previously in this House about the hereditary principle. I am all for it in cattle where one selects the sires and dams with great care, and the matter is not subject to the vagaries of human emotions. I can tell the noble Baroness that I am also in favour of hereditary plumbers. They receive the conventional upbringing. In the case of the younger Pitt, it was his
I totally agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, that the hereditary Peers must go. And they must go before anything else is done. How will hereditary Peers be objective about any future plans? Turkeys are seldom objective about Christmas; and I am afraid that that is the case with hereditary Peers in this House.
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