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Lord Kennet: My Lords, in that case I beg the pardon of the noble Lord, my noble friend Lady Jay and that of history and geography. It therefore behoves us to study those places very carefully to see whether a 100 per cent. appointed chamber is a good idea and whether it works well.
What worries me is not the Government's commitment against the hereditary principle; it is their commitment to appointments. That is another way of saying that I wonder whether their commitment to democracy is sufficient. It may be or it may not be. I cannot work it out.
I have been arguing for a democratic, directly-elected House of Lords for more than 40 years. I came here 38 years ago on the death of my father. At first, I was minded to disclaim the peerage and do nothing about it. However, at that time I was advising Harold Wilson on disarmament, arms control and foreign affairs in general. Therefore, I went to him and asked him whether I should disclaim or whether I should go into the House. He said, "You go in. We are going to need you". My experience was paralleled by that of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, when he went to Attlee, who was Prime Minister--of course, Wilson was Leader of the Opposition in 1960. I did that and, the system being what it is, I fetched up with housing and local government; but that happens to us all.
We all hold convictions that are shaped by our experience. I had an experience while I was in that government which has shaped my convictions ever since; it was the attempt to reform this House in 1968.
It was a small thing that we attempted and has been described today several times. It was not one-tenth as difficult as the total reform of the constitution of this House will be, and yet it failed. Why? We all know the history of the Foot-Powell alliance in the House of Commons. But tactically, organisationally and politically it failed because it was not taken at full tilt; it was left lying about for too long. There was bickering; the bickering led to filibustering among strange bedfellows and so to failure.
After another 30 years it seems to me that it would be extremely risky to allow a programme with any delay in it. I am afraid that we may repeat the earlier failure on a larger scale--we are trying to do something much bigger--especially if we take it in leisurely laps with long pauses between for coffee and discussion.
There are therefore two courses open to the Government. One is to set up the necessary machinery now and push the necessary Bill through during this Parliament. The slogan would be, "Let us reason together now". I believe that would stand a good chance of success. The second way would be to sit down now; think out and write down the various stages in leisurely detail, all the bodies that would have to be involved and all the Bills which would be necessary with a precise timetable over two Parliaments. The whole programme would be put to the vote now in both Houses. The slogan would be, "Think some now; then vote; then think lots more; then vote lots more too".
The first alternative in my view is better than the second, but the second is certainly better than nothing. The second alternative, which would be to eliminate the hereditary Peers now and then sit back and think, would be almost courting failure. All my experience and instincts incline me to take the tide at its flood, not to dawdle and risk it turning.
The relationship between the beginning and the rest of the process appears on the 19th page of the manifesto. It says nothing about the bedding down of the other constitutional changes which are now being called in evidence beside the main proposal.
Lord Rowallan: My Lords, we are here today to discuss the future of the House of Lords, the second Chamber and Upper House of Great Britain's democracy. This Government committed themselves, by means of their election manifesto--I wonder how many of their electors actually voted Labour to get rid of us from the Lords and how many for other issues--to divest themselves of a so-called in-built Conservative majority. The fact is that those Peers taking the Conservative Whip cannot defeat this Government alone with the numbers who regularly attend. They need the help of the Cross-Benchers and/or the Liberals. The maximum figure the so-called Conservative majority
Are we not putting the cart before the horse? With the devolution that this Government are committed to--a devolution which I must say I enjoy and approve of--is it really sensible when we are providing parliaments and assemblies for Scotland, Ireland and Wales, and further assemblies possibly for the English regions and city authorities, as well as the erosion of power to Europe from Westminster? Is there a role for a second Chamber at all in the 21st century? The primary issue is therefore surely the powers and role of a second Chamber and its place in the broader programme of constitutional reform which this Government have set their heart on.
If we get rid of the hereditaries, four things will happen immediately. First, the power of patronage increases. Secondly, two-thirds of the independent Cross-Benchers are wiped out at a stroke. Thirdly, the independents of the House will be eroded because even those Peers who take a party Whip often regularly ignore their Whip. The so-called Conservative majority managed to defeat its own government 242 times while it was in power. Some majority, some independence, I say. Fourthly, the powers of the Lords could quickly increase as new life Peers would not be under the constraints of the Salisbury Convention, for instance, that the hereditaries allow.
No one ever seems to complain about what we do or, indeed, about the diligence with which we do our job. Why, then, change? It is not reform that this Prime Minister wants; it is control. He wants control of everything. I venture to say that this so-called reform would not be taking place at all if there was a Labour majority in this House. We have not had a Labour Government for a long time and who is to say that very shortly many of the new hereditaries who will take over as their fathers die would not become Labour supporters in the near future? Politics is very fickle these days and people are no longer voting as their parents or grandparents did. Take note of how many Peers around this Chamber now sit on opposite sides to their parents or grandparents.
Is it bigotry that is the prime cause of this? I know the fine words we hear are about the political incorrectness of hereditary Peers being able to attend and vote because of their birthright, but is that really the reason? Is it not truly the Conservative so-called in-built majority and bigotry that we are really talking about? Have we really thought through the consequences of ridding a democratised parliament of its hereditary element? We in your Lordships' House are not paid, and we cost the taxpayer one-tenth of the other place--that so-called bastion of democracy--where in fact the vast majority of MPs are elected by just a few citizens in each constituency--their selection committee.
Every hereditary who is ousted increases the power of the Lords and in tandem decreases the power of the Commons. Is that what they want? We are uniquely independent of government because we are not beholden to anyone. Only those hereditaries who want to, turn up
So the problem is inheritance, is it? What is wrong with inheritance? Why does virtually everybody in the world try to have children if not to let them inherit? Even the Bible said the meek were to inherit the earth. Inheritance is the very pillar of family life that this Government say they stand for. Inheritance is the true reason that we have fought for years to bring peace and prosperity for all. It is not about inheriting money and property only; it is about inheriting our future. It has been a central plank in all societies in our country for ever. It was good working practice for our forebears to hand on jobs in every trade to their sons. That was true of the miners, the dockers, the shipbuilders and the car workers. All ensured that their jobs were founded on the principle of inheritance.
Labour should have no objection to inheritance but it hates the independence of the hereditary Peer who will not be told what to do by his own party Whip, let alone by that of any other party, or by spin doctors. Labour hates the fact that we inherited the right to vote in the Lords from our forebears. But we do not misuse it. The contrary is true, as we are brought up to look after and protect our moral responsibility to the country. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. There are always some bad apples in any orchard, but they are very few in number and are controlled by your Lordships yourselves. We do not need a Speaker like the sheep and rabble at the other end. We do it ourselves--and woe betide you if you fall foul of that discipline.
Why does this Labour Government want to change so drastically that which has served us well for centuries? Why change for change's sake? Our European neighbours have suffered from tyrants, despots, dictators and the secret police. We, on the other hand, have enjoyed rules, institutions, customs and standards which have given us the society of today, where everyone can look forward to a future without deprivation or starvation and have the security of a home and our envied social service programme to help those who unfortunately fall by the wayside.
Let us look at the alternatives to second Chambers around the world. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, will pay close attention here. The Canadian Senate is a pure quango. It votes on strict party lines. It has become stronger than the lower House, as it can amend or block any Bill. Deadlock is frequent and the membership does not change until Members die or reach 75. It has no young members and is moribund.
The German Bundesrat is a hybrid composed of representatives of the 16 Lander. They vote as they are told by the state governments. It is a permanent body with only a few Members changing at state elections, and most Germans think it does not work.
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