|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Chesham: My Lords, the noble Baroness said in the article that hereditary Peers were lacking in legitimacy. It is unnecessary at this time of night to argue about the difference between "lacking in legitimacy" and "illegitimate".
If we are talking about illegitimacy, I believe that for hereditary Peers to vote any way other than in opposition to the proposed Bill would be totally illegitimate. Our Letters Patent bind us to our heirs and successors. We are only life tenants of our titles. We do not have a right to take any steps which would affect such heirs and successors. Indeed, if we wish to renounce our titles, we can do so only for ourselves, not for our heirs and successors. But suddenly we are being asked to vote to get rid of ourselves. We do not have that right in respect of our children or our heirs and successors.
We are advised today that the Government's proposals are legitimate because they appeared in the manifesto. Indeed, we appear to be being told that we have government by manifesto and that everyone who voted Labour at the last election must have been happy with every element of the manifesto. That is rubbish.
As an aside, this is the first time that the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, and I have spoken in the same debate. I have known him for a long time. He was at Eton with my brother, which of course is condemned by the Leader of the House. I appreciated what he said but I do not agree.
A manifesto is not set in stone. I urge the Government to think again, and if and when reforms are to be made, let us do it properly in a well thought-out manner and taken in context. Mr. Blair--I suppose I should say "Tony"--wrote in the manifesto:
The Marquess of Bath: My Lords, while regarding with pride the role that our hereditary Peers have played historically within the government of this country, I do see it as important at this final juncture that we who hitherto have held a role in government through right of birth should be seen to accept that this should change. This implies that the majority of us should go down on record as supporting the Government in their intention to remove our voting powers. There is no social justice within a situation where we might expect to retain such privilege, and I trust that we shall be seen to assist in this constitutional change.
Before we depart, however, there is still the opportunity for us to let our feelings be known on the nature your Lordships' House should take on once we have gone, my hope being that it will become something even more different to that other place, so that new aspects of the national identity may come to the fore within the continuing debate on the form which our governmental institutions should take.
If in another place party politics should continue to drive in representation by constituency, I am hopeful that in your Lordships' House there might be special emphasis upon our regional identity and upon our European identity. We should be regarding this as the
There are different means by which these new alignments could probably be emphasised so that this House becomes no mere reflection of that other place. I envisage that this House might broadly consist of two distinct categories of life Peer. The first might be nominated by a special committee appointed by the party leaders, not so much because of their party service as because of their national pre-eminence within one field or another. These Peers would furnish the essential background of professional knowledge which would continue to characterise the debates within your Lordships' House.
The second element should be concerned to emphasise regional and European perspectives, with a list of life Peers put forward by each of the nine English regions, as well as a list from Scotland, one from Wales and one from Northern Ireland selected by the county councils within each of the regions, or nations, concerned. It would be the task of these same Peers to investigate the full potential of co-operation between our own regions, and those of Europe, and then to promote this concept of a United Regions of Europe even prior to its actual inception.
If the concept of a Council of the Isles is to be developed further, with its particular concern for any Irish problems that might remain, I envisage that your Lordships' House, thus evolved, and sitting in concert no doubt with an Irish delegation, could become the arena where they might most judiciously be resolved.
A reformation of your Lordships' House on these lines would place it at the forefront of constitutional reform as we move into the next century. Our task would no longer be a mere source of review for legislation that had been decided in another place. What I am suggesting would establish your Lordships' House as the centrepiece in our national transformation towards an emergent identity which I anticipate will be based upon Europe and its regions. Far from suggesting that this House will stand in rivalry, opposition or antagonism to another place, I envisage that it will be opening up a whole new area for our identity in full fellowship with all that went before, and with all who remain in control of these matters.
I welcome the fact that the Government should now be clearing the decks, so that those who determine the precise form of your Lordships' new House should not include those who have taken their seats on a hereditary basis. But I sincerely hope that the Government will not confine their reforming zeal to this measure alone: I look forward to the day when this House will furnish the inspirational blueprint for the upper chambers of all other such European assemblies. And I wish those who take their seats in the new House all the influence and success that they deserve.
Viscount Torrington: My Lords, while thanking the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for providing the opportunity for this debate, I have to say that I share with many other noble Lords who have spoken the suspicion that the Government have a less than wholehearted commitment to stage two. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, gave us some vision as to where this whole process might end. However, it was fairly obvious that that was not shared by the Government Front Bench.
As a hereditary Peer I have enjoyed some 18 years making a small, largely non-political and I hope useful contribution to the affairs of this House both in its committees and on the Floor of the House. I accept that my right to do so is an accident and that my continued tenure, in common with all hereditary Peers, is difficult to defend. Sadly, I missed the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff. I am told that he managed to defend even that principle quite well.
In practical terms, however, I believe that we, the hereditary Peers, have earned the right to have some say in what comes afterwards. One would like it to be said that nothing so became the hereditary Peers in this House as the manner of their leaving it. It would appear that the noble Baroness would deprive us of that right, and that leads to further suspicion that stage two may never happen.
Much scorn has been poured on the idea that the hereditary Peers are independent. I am here by an accident of birth. I do not owe my position to anybody. I take the Tory Whip entirely voluntarily. My noble friend Lord Strathclyde, for all his bulk, will know that entreaty rather than flagellation has been the way to get us through the Division Lobbies. To abolish the rights of this independent element in your Lordships' House as a precursor to a vague, distant, theoretical and ill-defined reformed second chamber is simply to sweep away the well matured vestiges of old patronage in favour of a brash new variety.
Arguably, one of the fundamental purposes of this House is to act as a political running average, or a kind of sea anchor, against too rapid or ill thought-out political change. There may be a theoretical Tory bias in this House at present, but it does no harm for the Government to be reminded, even when the electorate have forgotten, that the latter until quite recently and for some considerable time, favoured Tory policies, even if they became a little bored with the Tory executive. In any case, the allegedly Tory hereditary Peers never gave the Tory administration an easy run for its money and would, if left alone, give a Labour Government no harder a ride.
Nevertheless, the present Government clearly believe themselves to be confined or restricted by the gentle disciplines imposed by this House as presently constituted--that subtle mix of past and present patronage and historical continuity--and clearly believe that by abolishing the hereditary element they will be able to appoint a House, however they protest to the contrary, which will mirror the Commons majority and
As my noble friend Lord Cranborne pointed out, there is also the convenience that throwing what the Labour spin doctors are increasingly going to paint as a gang of reactionary fox-hunting dukes to the lions will ease the discomfort now felt by the "sans-culotte"--to use that French revolutionary metaphor again--of the old Labour left, which they feel is the result of New Labour's lack of left-wing policies.
As my noble friend Lord Ferrers said, many of us, not just Members of your Lordships' House but people from all walks of life, feel that this Government have already unleashed a flood of ill-controlled constitutional changes the consequences of which may have immense and possibly disastrous effects on this nation and its fabric. In such an event, it would seem wise to leave at least one institution intact while the other changes take place. The captain, whatever his political colour, may yet be grateful for the sea anchor. A purely nominated second chamber, whose allegedly temporary existence may last for 15 rather permanent years, will command no more respect than the present House and probably a lot less.
I find myself drawn to the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, that simply making all present Members of this House into life Peers would mean that the hereditary principle simply came to an end as a result of anno domini. This seems a sensibly British compromise but I suspect it will not appeal.
In the meantime, to borrow the metaphor given by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, it cannot reasonably be expected of turkeys, especially those who have a lot more to contribute than mere gobbling, to vote for an early Christmas, even if the Labour Party manifesto calls for that festival to be advanced. The turkeys need a clear vision of what the afterlife is about, to expect them to go through the Division Lobbies in support of a Motion for their demise.
Lord Ellenborough: My Lords, it was a Labour Minister in the 1930s, Mr. Clynes, who said that the House of Lords cannot be mended; it must be ended. Yet some 70 years later the House of Lords has not ended and it has not been mended. It was never broken. It has successfully evolved and worked remarkably well. If it had not, it would have been scrapped decades ago.
During the long time I have been privileged to be a Member of your Lordships' House, I have never detected any mood for change among the public at large. It has been a non-issue, never a matter of much discussion or great interest, because most people are aware, or are vaguely aware, that it works. Of course, the abolition of hereditary Peers may still raise a rousing cheer at a Labour Party Conference, a sort of symbolic ritual rather akin to singing "The Red Flag".
I am not by any means against change or reform in principle. Indeed, I spoke in favour of life Peers in 1953, before they arrived a few years later. But it would be disastrous to scrap hereditary Peers in one fell swoop, with no proper plan for further reform. Any such reform will be all the more difficult because of serious doubts as to the future shape, and even existence of the United Kingdom as we know it today and what voting system there will be for the House of Commons. All this must be relevant to any real reform of the Upper House.
I am not particularly impressed by all the talk of White Papers and a Royal Commission because I am afraid history suggests that there will be no stage two or real reform in the foreseeable future. In the meantime, the loss of hereditary Peers would mean the independent element in the House would be lost. This is very much underestimated. I speak as a Conservative hereditary Peer who has always taken the party whip. However, that has not inhibited me from taking an opposite line and voting accordingly on a good many occasions, as I am sure my noble friend and former Chief Whip will agree. I believe that the same goes for many of my noble friends. Further, continuity would be lost in the event of the sudden demise of the entire hereditary peerage. It would result in considerable disruption in the work of the House.
In the absence of full reform there is a lot to be said for proposals similar to the Labour Government's scheme of 1968 which was mentioned in the moving speech by the noble Earl, Lord Longford. At that time it was agreed by all parties that hereditary Peers would become non-voting but would be able to speak, ask Questions, serve on Select Committees and so on. There is also the suggestion made on several occasions by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, a former Labour Deputy Chief Whip with a long and distinguished career in this House, that the right to a seat should cease on the death of the present holder although the title would continue. Such proposals would cause little disruption and preserve the much-needed continuity during what might be a long interim period.
I regret that it is the Government's firm intention to proceed with stage one and eliminate the hereditary peerage, which will inevitably create, whatever may be said, the largest quango of all time. Further, if it is also the intention of the Government to proceed to stage two, it is difficult to see what urgency there is to implement stage one separately with all the resulting confusion and difficulties in manning the House that would be caused thereby.
As one who has taken some part in the ongoing devolution debates, it is obvious that the difficulty of the Government is their obsession and mania for incoherent, half-baked and piecemeal constitutional reform, thereby endangering so much of what has served us so well in the past. As other noble Lords have pointed out, there must be a strong case for reform of the Lords to follow other constitutional stages and not precede them. Thus, the Government have the perfect excuse indefinitely to delay stage two.
We are in a state of flux and unknown territory. What is the point of trying to reform the second Chamber when we do not even know for sure what kind of nation it should serve? Will it be the United Kingdom--or will there be a United Kingdom? Will it be England or regions submerged within Europe? What is the point of trying to reform the Upper House in advance of settling the right electoral system for the Commons? That will be the reason for delay. But it is becoming obvious that in the meantime we shall be left with the largest quango of all time. That message should be rammed home, and it will not be one that the people want.
Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, I am entirely in favour of appointing a Royal Commission for the reform of this House, but it should be appointed now and consideration of the future of hereditary Peers should be part of its remit. It must be wrong for any part of a reform of such grave and far-reaching consequence as the reform of this House, which will affect so many other areas of government in this country, to be pushed through on its own by the Government with the object of eliminating a source of opposition to their policies and, given their enormous majority in another place, perhaps the only source of opposition.
A Royal Commission would, I believe, give impartial consideration to all aspects of the purpose and composition of this House, as well as to wider constitutional issues which would need parallel consideration. Many of us do not believe for one moment that, having got rid of the hereditary Peers, the Government would implement the recommendations of a Royal Commission when it reported.
We heard the Prime Minister deny any intention of flooding this House with his supporters. No doubt he meant what he said, but that is no guarantee that later he would not succumb to the temptation to do just that. He might not be able to resist pressure put on him to do so, particularly when his majority dwindled and the going got tough, and what he says cannot bind his successors. I think that it would be much more honest if the Government were to propose to abolish this Chamber altogether and be done with it. Then the people of this country would realise that they were being offered single-chamber government, with all the danger of dictatorship that that implies, and would not be deceived into believing that the very limited checks and balances that this House at present provides still existed.
A Royal Commission would be able to consider all kinds of ideas for the reconstitution of this House, untrammelled by the envy and jealousy of the hereditary Peers which has always motivated some Members of the Labour party. Untrammelled too perhaps by the mindless parroting of the fashionable and politically correct shibboleth, that the hereditary principle is indefensible. I really enjoyed the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff. I should like to hear reasoned and intellectual as opposed to emotional argument for it being worse than any other form of selection.
It has been suggested that the Government might give life baronies to any hereditary Peers they wished to retain, to help them to run the House for the first few years. It does not seem to have dawned upon them that some of the hereditary Peers, on whom they might might wish to confer the inestimable honour of a life barony in order to retain their unpaid services, might not be prepared to accept it, having immense pride in their hereditary peerage and in their predecessors' record of service to their country: service which many of them continue to give, often at some personal sacrifice. By some, the acceptance of a life barony might be regarded as a betrayal of their predecessors and of their successors.
What they would not regard as a betrayal is the kind of suggestion which a Royal Commission would be able to consider; that is the idea of a hereditary Peers' election, on the lines along which the Scots Peers themselves elected 16 of their number to represent them between 1707 and 1964. It was an excellent system, because it very successfully weeded out anyone unsuitable. If the Scots Peers did not all know one another, they certainly knew all about one another, and someone unsuitable would not get elected. It has been suggested to me that the UK Peers do not all know one another and would not be sufficiently well informed about their fellows, but I think that, even if that were true, there are ways round the difficulty. Of course in the first instance it would not arise because most who are regular attenders know their colleagues.
The noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking--he is not in his place now--touched upon this, but, with great respect, I do not think he got it quite right. The Scots Peers elections took place every time there was a general election. They met in Edinburgh. Each Peer in turn read out his list of 16 names, the last one being "and myself". The convention was that you voted for all those who had been elected before (for all your sitting colleagues) unless there was some reason not to do so, such as that he no longer wished to stand, or that he had disgraced himself in some way, such as he had found himself in clink. If you did not, no one would vote for you next time. In that way you got continuity.
Another convention was that when someone died, his successor was not elected in his vacant place. That way you got change, and you got young Peers in. Of course they were elected on the understanding that they would attend regularly and really represent the interests of Scotland. It worked very well.
Finally, lest the noble Baroness the Leader of the House should think that she can do nothing right in my eyes, I was delighted to read some weeks ago in the paper that she had suggested that members of a wholly elected or appointed House should not be called Lord anybody nor should their children be entitled to call themselves "honourable", but that they should simply be
Baroness Flather: My Lords, I am conscious of the fact that I am the 50th speaker and that all arguments may have been put forward by everyone but possibly not in exactly the same order. However, we all wish to say our twopenny worth, not necessarily in the hope that it will find favour but because we want to get it off our chests.
I have always believed strongly that reforms are needed. Anyone who was prepared to listen to me about three or four years ago would know that I went around saying, "Doom, doom, doom", like Cassandra. However, I received no joy from anyone. I thought that the writing was on the wall, but when I said to my noble friend Lady Strange that the chickens had come to roost she pointed out that the two did not go together too well.
When the Conservative Party was in government, it should have grasped the nettle. I shall seek to be even handed. One significant factor we did not face up to was the built-in Tory majority. I remind noble Lords that when my noble friend Lady Thatcher was Prime Minister, with a large majority in the House of Commons, it was this House, of which I was not privileged to be a Member at the time, which kept her in check. This House voted against her on a number of occasions. It has not always been the case that the Tory majority follows sheeplike into Tory Lobbies. However, we would not have accepted the built-in majority of another party. When we last debated reform of the House I was the only Conservative Member to make that point and I repeat it today. When a party has a built-in majority it is extremely difficult for other parties not to take action.
My noble friend Lord Cranborne spoke about the authority of this House. I do not believe that it will be enhanced or reduced simply by removing hereditary Peers, although if anything it will be reduced. There is a great deal of quality among the hereditary Peers. We will lose that. But ordinary people believe only that we come here to sleep. They do not know what this House does. I am afraid that there has been a conspiracy against informing the public of what we do. All noble Lords who do not actively participate on the Front Benches support an enormous number of voluntary bodies all over the country, and in that respect hereditary Peers are at least as active as we are. No one has mentioned that.
Many things will be skewed if hereditary Peers are removed. The noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, mentioned the work of the committees and other activities undertaken by Cross-Bench Peers. I am sure that a great deal of hidden work is done by many Peers. No one will be ready to take their place.
One or two mistakes were made in the past. I believe that bringing in Members to vote on certain issues was one of the greatest mistakes we made in government. Peers who do not come to Parliament to speak or participate should never have the right to vote. For that reason, I support the view of the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, and have always done so. My noble friend Lord Skidelsky will confirm that we did our best to initiate a groundswell of opinion in that respect.
Bagehot said that a second Chamber should be complementary to the first Chamber. He also said that a second Chamber should provide for the deficiencies perceived in the first Chamber. If we do not look at the main Chamber first, how can we say that this Chamber must be changed? It seems so illogical that it defies belief. We have to start with the main Chamber, which is the ruling Chamber of this country, and move on to this Chamber, deciding how best it will support the first Chamber, provide for its deficiencies and produce the best legislation which the nation deserves.
We are independent. I feel very independent. I believe that we have been effective, but, most interestingly, we are Members of the cheapest second Chamber in the world. While all privilege and so forth will be removed, will we have office space and something to live on? I hope that the Government will give thought to that.
The hereditary principle is being decried so why is this country to remain a monarchy? That is the foundation of all hereditary principles, so why are we not moving towards becoming a republic? If the monarchy is hereditary, then the principle is enshrined in the constitution of this country.
The legitimacy of the hereditary Peers has been questioned. It is their House. We should be questioned as to whether or not we are here legitimately. It is very strange to say to people whose title dates back for a thousand years that their legitimacy must be questioned while those who are appointed by the party machine become more legitimate. It is quality and not quantity in the end which will give this House authority. It will not be a question of hereditary or non-hereditary. We need the best people possible to do the job most needed.
Lord Kennet: My Lords, I start by congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, on her remarkable speech. I do not believe that I have ever heard from the Benches opposite such understanding of our position on this side of the House. Without agreeing with it in any way, she showed that she fully knew what it is like to live year in, year out and decade in, decade out, with a hostile majority opposite, whether or not one happens to be in power. That is a great insight.
That deal was struck because it was needed. It reflected the social reality of the time and avoided trouble. We have as good a right as had those noble men and that monarch to change it after all this time because change is needed in order to effect better and smoother government and to achieve better social justice.
My noble friend the Leader of the House started her speech by saying that no other parliament has a membership based on birth. That is obviously true. If one thinks about it, it is astonishing that there should be such a thing in the world--a parliament in the 20th century based on birth. Its theoretical absurdity would be enough to cause one to wish to change it, quite apart from any practical difficulties.
However, we must admit--and I think it is right to say--that no other parliament has membership wholly based on appointment. There are appointed members here and there but no parliament has a whole chamber which is entirely appointed.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page